Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New York Shutterbug II: Museumification


Thing theory
[Marcel Duchamp, In Advance of the Broken Arm, 1964 {1915}; Network of Stoppages, 1914; Bicycle Wheel, 1951 {1913}]

Across the street is Terry Gilliam's Brazil

[Martin Puryear, Ladder for Booker T. Washington, 1996; Desire, 1981; Ad Astra, 2007]

S/M cool
[Claes Oldenburg, Giant Soft Fan, 1966-67]

Beauty mark
[Andy Warhol, Gold Marilyn Monroe, 1962]


A feather by the urinal in the National Museum of the American Indian

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New York Shutterbug

What do you do when you're in New York City for a week and have to be out of the house by 8am and back after 8pm each day? You become a tourist. I became a New York City tourist for the first time when I visited my friend Lissu in October. My trip coincided with a busy work week at the UN, which meant that I was left to fend for myself on the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan for 14 to 16 hours, Monday through Friday.

I've traveled to New York regularly since 1996, when I spent a month in a pre-college program at Barnard and felt like Manhattan was a teeming urban playground for a high school "rebel." I remember smoking cigarettes out on the dorm patio, sneaking into bars with my city friends, watching salacious videos at my friend Blake's apartment, and going to see Trainspotting in theaters three times. Then there was the sampling of goods at Washington Square Park, which saw our group of three giggle uncontrollably either because we were high or because we thought that's what we should be doing. I even tried my hand at DJing for Barnard's college radio station. It was a pretty awesome summer; by the end of it, I flew back to Hawaii with a suitcase overflowing with books from the Strand and CDs from shops in the Village.

In the decade since my first trip to New York, I've been back countless times to visit friends and their families. With the exception of an eighteenth-century studies conference at CUNY in my second year of graduate school, I went to the city to hang out with people who effectively grew up in and around New York. Whenever I hung out with these people, we tended to avoid the obvious "touristy" activities.

Not so this time around. What follows is a glimpse into the world of "sights" and "attractions" I discovered on my recent trip to New York. I walked the city streets alone, laptop on my back, hopped up on coffee (from the essential Think Cafe -- thanks, Bettina!), and with iPod nestled in my pocket. I did not make it to Washington Square.

Consider, you who peruse me, whether I may not in unknown ways be looking upon you; / Be firm, rail over the river, to support those who lean idly, yet haste with the hasting current...

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The view from Brooklyn's Esplanade, facing Manhattan

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I sat here for a good two hours, watching the sun set

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And the sun did set on Whitman's Brooklyn Bridge

Birth of a Nation?

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Allegoresis: dark skies over the Statue of Liberty

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Photo-synthesis: suits with a view

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Isle of Ellis: way station for immigrants

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Catachresis: a piece of the World Trade Center finds its way to Battery Park

Harlem U.S.A.

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The black press

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It's showtime

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Adam Clayton Powell stands watch

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...and reborn as a movie set

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Sylvia's taste of the South: ribs, mac 'n cheese, candied yams, cornbread

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I too lived--Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine;
I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed in the waters around it;
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my bed, they came upon me.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I'm a 'Baller

Footballer. I'm a footballer. Or at least that's the dream I'm pursuing in signing up with an intramural indoor soccer team here at Duke. I responded to a mass e-mail calling for people who'd like to join a squad that needed players. Even though I haven't played soccer regularly for years, I knew this league was just for fun and recreation and so had nothing to lose in taking the plunge.

Our captain, Michael Albert, is a guy from the Business School. Our team consists of men and women from all over the graduate and professional schools and even includes a few undergrads. Because we were sort of thrown together at the last minute, Michael gave us a team name befitting our ragtag grouping: Identity Crisis.

I've written before about my abiding love for the game, especially as its played in the English Premier League. Even without cable since coming back from Peru, I continue to follow all the fixtures online and to obsessively track players' progress through my online Fantasy Football game. Well, the rec league at Duke has given me my first real opportunity to combine my fandom and vicarious knowledge of the game with sustained physical activity -- actually getting out there on the pitch and playing some football.

Not a very physical player the last time I put on the cleats and shinguards, I was a flatfooted defender in the years I played soccer as a kid. Since then, I spent several years as a competitive swimmer and water polo player, struggled through surgery in high school and college, took up tennis and racquetball, and, most recently, turned to long-distance running. Overall, I became more of a physical presence in my sporting pursuits, strengthening leg muscles through individual activities (swimming, running) and developing a sense of movement, strategy, and team-play in the other sports. While most of my footballing tactics will be derived less from experience and more from electronic observation (Fox Soccer Channel,, YouTube footballing highlights, the aforementioned Fantasy game), I'm ready for the challenge of indoor soccer.

As I prepare to take to the field (or the IM gym's floor, as it were), I hope to mold my play in the style of my footballing hero, the Basque Spaniard and Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso. Known as a "deep-lying midfielder," Alonso is not a holding or purely defensive midfielder per se (such as Chelsea's Claude Makelele or Milan's Gennaro Gattuso) but a playmaker who creates space for himself -- and thus his passes and long-range shots -- just behind the attacking midfielder (in Alonso's club, this would be the legendary Steven Gerrard). Milan's World Cup champion Andrea Pirlo is perhaps the world's best-known deep-lying playmaker. Other notables include Barcelona's Xavi and Roma's Daniele De Rossi.

The deep-lying midfielder is not a standout defender. He's an offensive threat who distributes passes from the defense up to the attacking midfielder and, of course, the striker(s). In addition to being an amazing passer, he'll try his luck with long-range shots and will, on occasion, venture into the penalty area to follow up on scoring plays (or, alternately, defensive mistakes by the opposition). You can see the range of Alonso's skills, typical of the deep-lying midfielder, in this video:

Having said that, I'm probably overstating my case when I say I think I can play this position in our rec league. For one, I lack the basic, day-in-day-out skills of a regular football player. And there's no doubt the deep-lying midfielder must possess a high degree of technical skill in order to be effective at his position. Furthermore, though I consider myself to be a decent passer of the ball, I'll have absolutely zero experience playing with my team before our first match. This is a bad omen, I know, but what can you do when the league starts during finals week? Finally, it's worth noting that indoor soccer takes place in a relatively small, enclosed space (where side walls are inbounds); the deep-lying midfielder works best when there's more space available and when his vision can open up defenses and pick out the free player. Indoor soccer simply doesn't allow for that degree of open play.

Enough fantasy strategizing for now. But on to a related topic about fandom and identification. It has occurred to me that even though Alonso is my idol, when I do take to the gym floor in my blue Target-bought kit, I'll bear a resemblance not to him but to some other Premier League footballers with whom I share certain features. Phenotypically, I may have more in common with Eintracht Frankfurt's Naohiro Takahara or Tottenham Hotspurs' Lee Young-Pyo. I don't recognize myself in them, however. Something about my mixed ethnic heritage makes me look more like:

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Arsenal's talented left back, Frenchman Gael Clichy

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Manchester United's sidelined defender Mikael Silvestre, another Frenchman

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Former Villain and current Bolton sub Gavin McCann (a holding midfielder)

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Theo Walcott, Arsenal's young forward and one player on whom England is hinging its hopes of national football revival (after crashing out of Euro 2008)

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Bolton's substitute goalkeeper, Ali Al Habsi, from Oman

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Liverpool's stalwart shot-stopper Jose Reina

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And yet another goalie, and perhaps the closest thing I have to a doppelgänger in the Premier League, Everton's and the US national team's Tim Howard

Vote for your favorite candidate for my lookalike, or tell me I'm crazy with all of my choices. I'm an aging athlete, I know, and some of these lads are in the prime of their careers. But I figure it's never too late to start.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Nishikawas in History

My friend Exequiel "Che" Lopresti recently e-mailed me with this "fun fact": "Did you know that the biggest Japanese 'Ace' of WW2 (you know, top-gun fighter pilot) last name was Nishikawa?" I had not known this -- in fact, I know very little of my Japanese ancestry. I'm a sansei, or third-generation Japanese American. Though most sansei are close enough in age to their grandparents (issei) to retrieve knowledge about Japan and their family from them, mine passed away long before I was born (my father, a nisei, was born, in Honolulu, in 1927). So, I was left asking, Who was this pilot Nishikawa? Where was he from? Did he, in a fateful moment of irony, participate in the Pearl Harbor attack? Where does his body lie now? And how did my Argentine friend Exequiel hear about him?

I of course sought answers to all these questions on -- my first source of all information, broad and obscure. Without any first name to go by, I simply typed "Nishikawa" into the Search panel. I came up with the following "hits," the great Nishikawas in history:

Takanori Nishikawa (b. 1970), Japanese singer and actor. He performs as T.M.Revolution, or TMR, which is supposed to stand for "Takanori Makes Revolution." Takanori is a major figure in J-pop, or electronic-syrupy-teenage-love-style Japanese pop. Here's what he looks like:

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Are those hints of Liberace I see on his poofed-out shirt? Maybe it's more Maxwell Demon from Velvet Goldmine. At any rate, there's Takanori for you, in all his glittering glory.

Heren Nishikawa (b. 1946), Japanese actress and TV celebrity. I can't make heads or tails of the English-language Wikipedia entry on Heren, so I'll quote liberally from the entry, as of today's date:

"Though the American runs in her blood, Heren has no native English."

"She is well-known as the wife of Kiyoshi Nishikawa, one of the splendid entertainer of owarai and manzai." [Oddly, there's no English-language entry on Kiyoshi.]

"Heren was born in Kyoto on the 6th October, 1946. She hasn't revealed her father yet, and after the marriage, she is referring her first name was derived from Helen Keller, her father admired."

"In 1963, Heren's stage debut as a dancer in Yoshimoto Kogyo was held. Her purity and eagerness was beloved and immediately became one of the leading actresses in Yoshimoto New Comedy with the stage name "Heren Sugimoto.'"

"In Japan we have the tendency to regard women with her child and without her child as different social status. Heren still has the actorship or presentership on the TV program mainly oriented to housewives or aged girls." [In these last two quotations, "purity" and "oriented" were actually hyperlinked in the original.]

Given the pluck and circumstance narrative of her rise to fame, her unusual namesake backstory, and her current appeal to "housewives or aged girls," I'm thinking Heren is Japan's answer to Oprah Winfrey. Any help here?

Lane Nishikawa (b. ?), American actor, filmmaker, playwright, performance artist -- and fellow native of O'ahu, Hawaii, to boot. Here's a still of Lane from his most recent, award-winning independent film, Only the Brave:

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Most of Lane's work focuses on Asian American history, culture, and identity. Only the Brave is the third movie in a trilogy about "the unparalleled courage of the Nisei soldiers who voluntarily fought in World War II while many of their families were imprisoned in internment camps back in the States."

This guy seems really interesting. He grew up in San Francisco, attended at San Francisco State, and created his own degree in interdisciplinary studies to reflect his interests in theater, Asian American history, and political activism. He's even an accomplished poet who once performed in front of 3,000 inmates in San Quentin. A distant uncle, perhaps? I should look him up the next time I'm in the Bay Area.

Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1750), "often called simply 'Sukenobu,' was a Japanese printmaker from Kyoto. He was unusual for a ukiyo-e in being based in the imperial capital of Kyoto. He did prints of actors, but gained note for his works concerning women. His Hyakunin joro shinasadame (Appreciating 100 women), in two volumes published in 1723, depicted women of all classes, from the empress to prostitutes, and received favorable results." Here's one of Sukenobu's beautiful prints, titled The Doll Ceremony:

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I have to say I'm drawn to Sukenobu's decision to represent women of all classes in his print series. What lies behind his fascination with the courtly and the "base"? Styles of dress and spaces of intimacy? The differential hierarchy of social strata, on the one hand, and the gestural equivalence of feminine form on the other?


After all was said and done, I didn't end up finding the elusive fighter pilot "Nishikawa" on Wikipedia. Perhaps he hasn't made it onto the English-language site yet. Maybe Exequiel encountered a typo in a historical footnote.

Whatever the case may be, I'd like to think Exequiel had it wrong -- that Nishikawas tend to be lovers, not fighters; artists and dreamers rather than kamikaze pilots. That's the genealogy I'm hoping to inhabit myself.

[For the late Itsuko "Sue" Nishikawa, benefactor, church leader, and infinitely generous soul. She was my aunt by marriage and is fondly remembered.]

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Welcome Aboard

My US summer started off promisingly with a trip to the beach. My friend Kristin invited me to join her roommate Jess, Jess's partner Sean, and a bunch of their ecology friends for a week-long stay at a beach house on the North Carolina coast. This was at the beginning of June. As I had just moved back into my apartment on June 1, I thought I'd go to the beach for a couple of days instead of the whole week, reserving some time to get unpacked, reacquaint myself with my cat, and so on. Fortunately, two other beachgoers, the lovely Spaniards Ester and Lisa, happened to want to go for just a couple of nights as well.

The three of us left Durham on a sunny Wednesday afternoon in Ester's car. Our trip to Oak Island was largely uneventful up to the point where we arrived in Wilmington, the major city on North Carolina's coast. Now Ester had printed out MapQuest directions to the address of the beach house -- something to the effect of 1010 Main St. But when we arrived on the island and drove along the coast on Main St., we couldn't for the life of us find the beach house. We drove to the end of the island, into a gated neighborhood whose gate was up and whose attendant was missing. We asked some folks if they knew where our house was -- they could only guess that it lay back at the entrance to the island.

After half an hour of fruitless searching, Lisa finally got a hold of Sean on her cell phone. It quickly became apparent that we were in fact on the wrong island. MapQuest had taken us to Holden Island, not Oak Island -- though, to be fair, both islands' primary roads sport the name "Main St." We were about an hour's south of Oak Island, so Ester, Lisa, and I shared a laugh over the confusion and joyfully made our way to the correct Main St.

That early snafu was the only snafu any of us encountered during our stay at the beach house, named "Welcome Aboard." The weekend experience was, in a word, bliss. Upon finally arriving at Oak Island, our group enjoyed a hearty seafood stew for dinner and, drunk on red wine and laughter, retired to the living room to watch the shark episode of the BBC's amazing Blue Planet series (ah, ecologists!). Kristin, Ester, and I stayed up late into the night drinking and sharing stories about recent turns in our life.

The next day I stumbled out of bed and onto the beach -- literally. Welcome Aboard was situated right on the shore, and it only took a jaunt down some stairs to feel the sand beneath one's toes. Our group spent the day alternating between chatting, sunbathing, and swimming in the pleasantly chilly Atlantic currents. This is a great shoreline photo of Ester, Lisa, and Jess (looking pensive, as always) in the background:

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There was something so natural to our leisurely activity as a beach group. Some would go in the water while others stayed on shore. Some would retire to the house for a siesta while others took their naps under the shade of the umbrellas. Some kissed in the water and others walked along the shore. We were friends, old and new, and our movements and conversations were relaxed and sincere.

When the final bunch of beachgoers arrived Thursday afternoon, we took to the sand-pitch and played a lively game of soccer. It was the Red Team versus... er, the Red Team. Hey, at least I got to wear my brand new Liverpool #14 Xabi Alonso jersey, which I got in Lima. Yeah, yeah, it was hot, but at what other time could I imitate my favorite soccer player's moves?

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Faint though my figure may be, I'm making a trademark Alonso pass to Ben Best here. Note that he doesn't even need to break his stride to receive the feed. Fernando and Ted are positioned in ultra-safe, Chelsea-type defense, but I'll grant that, especially in this next photo, they look good in their red trunks.
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Toward the end of the day, when everyone was cleaning up and preparing for dinner, I brought out my camera and took some photos of our house...

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...and of the beautiful sunset-shadowed shoreline.
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We again ate well that night: everyone pitched in and contributed to a meal that included grilled tuna, cooked vegetables, and delicious hogfish filets that just melted in your mouth. Here's a photo of Fernando and me playing sous chefs to the master himself, Sean McMahon:

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We spent the next day, Friday, in much the same fashion as we spent Thursday. This time, instead of soccer, we played surf basketball, whereby Kristin held a floating basket steady while two teams tried to stuff a squishy ball into it. Andre's team benefited from his height, but the waves themselves were the great equalizers, often leveling a player who had thought he was standing on steady ground. For our intense waterlogged workout, our group was rewarded with another memorable seafood dinner, this time featuring Spanish-style shrimp prepared by Lisa and me.

By the time Saturday rolled around, those of us who had arrived late in the week rued not having more time to spend at Welcome Aboard. We were all at peace with ourselves, and in tune with each other, even after only having spent a few days together. The one positive twist to our leaving was the fact that we didn't need to clean the house from top to bottom -- a basic maid service was included in the rental fee.

On my way out of Welcome Aboard, with bags and boxes of leftovers and appliances in tow, I glanced at the rental information sheet that was affixed to the refrigerator by magnet. The sheet listed phone contacts and instructions for how to properly close the refrigerator door. But in naming the actual house in which we were staying, the sheet (accidentally) read "Welcome Abroad" rather than "Welcome Aboard." The typo was fitting, I thought, given that my experience there made me feel as though I had, for one weekend, escaped from reality and retreated to a paradise of communal living on the beach.

One Night at Mochileros

The eight months of summer I've enjoyed between South America and the United States came to a screeching halt yesterday. All the stress and anxiety of "being back in school" (even though I'm not taking classes, I feel the weight of academic work -- i.e., my dissertation -- pressing down on me, flooding my conscience) came to a head in a situation that left me wondering, How'd things go so sour so quickly? The signature line of G.O.B. (from my latest TV obsession, Arrested Development) rang all too true for me: "I've made a huge mistake."

Whether or not yesterday's situation could have been avoided, one thing is clear: I feel old habits creeping up on me. Or, more precisely, I'm losing touch with the self I became while living abroad and traveling around in South America. Which is why I'm taking this opportunity to remind myself of the great joy I experienced there and to imagine how I might continue to live a happy, fulfilling life based on friendship and openness.

What better way to bring this experience back to the fore than to present scenes from a bar in Lima? The night was May 11, and I joined Jorge, Tammy, Emily, Angela, and others on a wild bar-hopping trip around Barranco. Most of these photos were taken at Mochileros, a trendy bar housed in a quaint colonial-type building just off the main square. Jorge and Tammy knew the owner of Mochileros, which meant that we got a free drink or three thrown into the mix. All photos are courtesy of Emily Jump and her awesome travel blog survey of the universe.

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Things got started at Juanito's, where Barranco's most recognizable roaming guitarist serenaded Angela with a little ditty. I forget the specific lyrics of his riff on a famous love song, but I do remember Jorge's chorus: "Por atras."

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Jorge: writer, philosopher, drunk.

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Don't worry, folks: Angela and Emily are only playing innocent.

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Longtime compañeros: Jorge and Tammy doin' the dance once more.

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I may have wished for another bottle of Cristal.

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Jorge to himself: "Emily's got issues."

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Sandra thinking, What have I done to deserve this?

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An unforgettable tableau: Kinohi singing, Emily growling, and Jorge wondering, Who the fuck are these people?

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Not a camera effect: by the end of the night, we were all seeing blurry. Only the next shot of pisco showed up clearly.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bad Taste?

Dan Collyns from the BBC reports on a Peruvian measure to thank international aid sources for their help in the relief effort following the 7.9 earthquake. As you can read below, the name given the specially made pisco has caused quite a stir.

Bottle of Pisco 7.9
The bottles were labelled with the magnitude of the quake
A Peruvian initiative to thank countries and international agencies for aid it received in last week's devastating earthquake has turned sour.

One thousand specially produced bottles of Peru's famous alcoholic drink, Pisco, have had to be withdrawn amid claims of bad taste.

The bottles were labelled "Pisco 7.9", the magnitude of the earthquake which killed about 500 people.

The city of Pisco, which bears the name of the drink, was especially hard hit.

But adding to the label the numbers 7.9 - the magnitude of the earthquake according to Peru's Geophysical Institute - has left a nasty aftertaste.

The public outrage and media criticism prompted the withdrawal of the bottles.

Even the Peruvian Prime Minister, Jorge del Castillo, said the bottles' title was in poor taste but emphasised that it had been a private venture.

However the Production Minister, Rafael Rey, was behind its promotion.

Following the torrent of press and public criticism, Mr Rey said it had never been his intention to make fun of Pisco.

Still in need

Nevertheless the labelling of the bottle has been seen as a monumental faux pas.

Three-quarters of the city centre of Pisco, nearest to the epicentre of last week's earthquake, was destroyed and some 300 people killed.

Pisco, the drink, is made throughout the grape-growing regions of Peru and Chile, both of which consider it their national drink.

But the existence of a city called Pisco is seen by Peruvians as proof that the drink originally came from Peru.

Meanwhile the opposition has questioned why the government is wasting resources on producing special edition pisco when some victims of the earthquake have still not received aid.

Some aid agencies say rural communities just 50km (31 miles) outside Pisco are still waiting for blankets and food more than a week after the earthquake struck.