Helen warned me that pigeons—were I to emphasize them—could put people off, “ever since Woody Allen called them rats with wings.” (It was a character in “Stardust Memories” who said that.)
But then she started telling me, in tones of awe, why she loves them. “You know they dance. The males dance for the females—every time they see a female they start dancing. There was this male pigeon I will never forget. Well this guy, it was a snowstorm, a really bad snowstorm, and he was down by the Chelsea Pier, and he had no feet, just stumps, but he just started dancing this really wild dance for a female nearby him. It was as if he was saying, ‘Hey baby, come on, we’re all going to die anyway, let’s dance.’ It was just amazing. Pigeons are very stoic, exceptional animals.”
(from "new york too busy to care? center rescues city’s injured birds," epoch times 08.30.14)
at JFK i overheard her telling another member of our group that she'd once gone to the ukrainian border to examine the potatoes grown for chopin vodka, but i'd have picked her out anyway: there's a certain kind of lightweight trench coat one only sees on traveling wine-and-spirits journalists. when we were on the jetway waiting to board our plane to reykjavik, her companion wondered if martin miller was still alive. "he died in december," i blurted, because i am only sometimes able to remember that real life is not like watching jeopardy! in your living room.
we coincided a few days later when i was working my way through the group with questions about ethics; it had shocked me to learn that, for example, the new york times asks its travel writers to sign statements saying that they haven't taken a press trip in the last five years (my magazine allows its writers to go on press trips and has given its blessing for each of mine). she'd just written a book about press trips, as it happened. her co-author used a pseudonym; "i, of course, will be the baroness," she said.
i didn't really get the baroness thing until we shared an armrest on our flight back to new york the next morning. i mentioned somewhere over greenland that joe and i would be celebrating our wedding anniversary that week, and she told me that her marriage had soured quickly. she'd lived in her husband's castle for four years,* she told me, and was miserable; after nine years, he wrote a single line—I DISINHERIT MY WIFE—and killed himself with a shotgun.
we exchanged contact info when we parted at customs. "i don't have my other cards with me," she said, "so i'll give you a baroness card." "i haven't got one of those yet," i said, and she laughed.
*09.16.14: four months, that is (i tracked down a copy of her memoir and just finished it).
i'm a really lousy multitasker, so it's terribly exciting when i manage to pull off something like rolling into a friend's daughter's first birthday party with a handmade gift and a big weekender full of clothes for an international press trip.* behold your sock dog, wee violet! i'm martha sandiego or carmen stewart or something! i'd been staying up late reading the first two books in laini taylor's daughter of smoke & bone trilogy, though, and i managed to sew one of the poor little sockshund's forelegs ninety degrees past the direction in which it should have faced; thematically appropriate for the series, but potentially disturbing for a stuffed animal.
this laini taylor trilogy: you know of it, yes? last week i was reading a think piece on supernatural YA fiction—not that new yorker piece on dystopias, another one i can't seem to find now—that name-checked taylor's stuff with glowing praise. that's just the sort of thing i should check out from the library and read on the subway and at three in the morning so i'm not tempted to bring it on the plane to reykjavik and squander hours in which i should be resting up for my one half-day of free time, i thought, and i was right! i don't want to say too much about the plot, as it features some excellent surprises, but i will say that it revolves around karou, a seventeen-year-old blue-haired art student in prague who was raised by devils who collect teeth. like john cry-your-face-off green,** taylor has a knack for dialogue that's both smart and plausible; it's particularly enjoyable as the story gets weirder and the conversations shift from gossip in a local cafe to other topics in other places. she's also fantastic at tucking supernatural flourishes into previously-conventional settings, à la neil gaiman's wonderful london underground in neverwhere. she also also burdens her heroine with brutal consequences for seemingly-trivial decisions, as philip pullman does with lyra in the his dark materials trilogy, and has a stunning, kelly-link-esque imagination.*** it's probably terribly lazy to describe an author primarily by comparing her to other authors—here's a diligent review if you'd prefer one—but in my defense, i think reference points can be particularly useful when one is clattering around in this subgenre. there are walls full of supernatural YA at what remains of brick-and-mortar bookstores, and trails of names are handy when the covers all look the same (these books, i'll warn you, have silly covers). on silly, i was prepared to fling daughter of smoke & bone from my person when it became clear that romance was quite central to the story, but don't make that mistake: karou is a real character, not a vampire's girlfriend like twilight's bella or even a cool fighter and eventually-catatonic wife like katniss in the hunger games. if i have the willpower to wait a few weeks before going back to the library, i'll be reading the last third of her story on the beach in california, and probably crying my face off.
*it's also terribly exciting, if we're being honest, that i managed to cram clothes and shoes and plastic animals enough for an international press trip into a big weekender. imelda marcos i ain't, but joe's the packing talent at our place, and asking for his help before flying off without him would have been kind of shitty.
**i did not cry my face off when i read green's the fault in our stars, though i did like it and did almost cry a little bit when i saw a skinny foreign tourist girl on the subway with an "okay? okay." shirt a couple of weeks ago.
***neil gaiman: "kelly link is probably the best short story writer currently out there, in any genre or none. she puts one word after another and makes real magic with them—funny, moving, tender, brave and dangerous. she is unique, and should be declared a national treasure, and possibly surrounded at all times by a cordon of armed marines."
i flew home from iceland on tuesday morning just before another flurry of earthquakes turned the aviation alert orange. i don't really want bárðarbunga to erupt and flatten the tourism industry again, but i wouldn't have minded being stuck in reykjavik for a while.
teach yourself icelandic
mér er kalt á fótunum, i have cold feet
á laun, in secret
jafna sig, steady oneself
vera i goðu skapi, to be in good spirits
innst í hjarta sínu, in his innermost heart
hábúar (colloq.), "air-dwellings"
a year and a half later, a nurse at the university hospital wheeled my bed up to a wall-mounted phone so that i could call my mother and tell her i'd tried to kill myself. i've been thinking about what sort of feeling i'd share with robin williams if i could, and i thought at first that it would be how i felt delivering that news—but shame doesn't save people.
can love? as andrew solomon writes in the noonday demon, "love forsakes us from time to time, and we forsake love. in depression, the meaninglessness of every enterprise and every emotion, the meaninglessness of life itself, becomes self-evident. the only feeling left in this loveless state is insignificance." could all of our anecdotes and multimedia tributes and exhortations to look out for one another have made a difference? do they make any difference now?
i'd share the shore re-exposed when the tide of my depression went back out, no one but the moon to damn or thank for it. i would share being nineteen. i don't think he was able to feel that.
the missus and i headed out to sunset park last night for a rooftop screening of pulp: a film about life, death & supermarkets. the director, florian habicht, saw pulp's farewell show at radio city* in 2012 and invited jarvis cocker to his latest project's debut at the london film festival. they decided at an ensuing cafe meetup that florian would go up to sheffield, scare up and film a bunch of locals, and then follow the band's final hometown performance in motorpoint arena. the documentary they put together (quite together: jarvis watched three different cuts back to back before giving florian notes) is even more enjoyable than i, the easiest of easy marks, thought it would be: butchers at castle market speak of jarvis's family's affinity for fish,** a tween girls' dance troupe performs to "disco 2000," an elderly singing group accompanies a guitarist upstairs at the market through "help the aged," an old knifemaker notes that if he had his life to live again he'd spend it making knives. the concert footage is as marvelous as that radio city show was for me (i still can't bring myself to delete the long, terrible iphone video i took of "this is hardcore"). the rooftop venue is as close as we get to something as lovely as cinespia (no graves out there among the warehouses, but the moon was bright and the whole block smelled like baking bread). i came extremely close to breaking my no-talking-to-celebrities rule and introducing myself or awkwardly asking for a picture one of the ten jillion times jarvis walked by, but my willpower kicked in right when my nerves settled down, thank god. i'm a little sorry that i didn't try out for the pulp karaoke contest jarvis and florian judged at the afterparty even though "like a friend" wasn't on the song list—in the words of youtube's jerseygurl620, there is a dark remote corner of my heart only [that] song can access—and a smidge sorry that we left just before a nine-year-old won the whole thing with "this is hardcore," but who am i kidding? nights like that are the superb fairy-wren songs that tell me this town's my baby.***
YOU CAN EVEN BRING YOUR BABY: PEOPLE YOU WILL MEET AT PULP KARAOKE
01 the girl who marched up to jarvis and said, "mister cocker, may i shake your hand?"
02 the guy who asked jarvis to autograph his relish
03 the pregnant woman who performed "monday morning" with a talcum-powder finale
04 the guy in a hoodie pulled up over a ball cap who earned the chance to perform "sorted for e's & wizz" by photoshopping his head onto lil' kim's body
05 the girl in the gin line with panther-frame glasses
06 the gangly frizzy-haired kid who wore a marvelous cockeresque maroon suit, performed the first half of "babies" with flawless moves, then fell off the back of the stage ("i have fallen off the stage many times myself," jarvis noted)
07 the guy who "performs karaoke in bars around the world," showed up in a white jacket with black piping and an embroidered crest ("a good jacket," per jarvis) and simulated his own reverb for "disco 2000"****
08 the girl who earned her spot when, informed that the nine-year-old had already claimed "this is hardcore," said "i can fucking beat a nine-year-old," then went for it with a delivery that sounded like nancy sinatra talking in her sleep ("you had a difficult song with a minute of nothing at the start, and you handled that well," jarvis said; "also you drove me to this place, full disclosure."*****)
09 the girl who came onstage dressed like an old lady ("help the aged") and sang-talked slowly (joe: "she's shatnerizing this?"), stripped down to a black one-piece bathing suit over the course of her performance, then asked for the glasses she'd whipped into the crowd ("i actually need those to see.")
imaginary reading group discussion questions
01 would you have introduced yourself or awkwardly asked for a picture with jarvis cocker?
02 what would you wear to pulp karaoke? what would you sing for it?
03 what would your family's superb fairy-wren song be?
04 is it reasonable for a nine-year-old to sing "this is hardcore"?
05 is it reasonable that joe wanted me to come home with him even though i don't get sleepy? (the walk back to the subway was sketchy, he argued.)
06 should i hunt down those panther-frame glasses?
*gather ye dirty while ye may indeed.
**not quite as squicky as it sounds; his saturday job was at the fishmonger, which, as he explained, made it difficult for him to chat up girls later that night (he soaked his hands in bleach for ten minutes to try to get rid of the fish-stink, "and then i smelled of fish and bleach, which was even worse").
***so are brooklynvegan commenter fights about show recaps, if we're being honest.
****he weathered some serious glitches on the part of the karaoke machine with professionalism. "if we were scoring for accuracy you'd be the top, but we're not," said jarvis.
*****i thought that was a metaphor until he explained that he was afraid of not having a ride home. the crowd booed her (high) score.
i'd been working on a second post about my trip to hawaii, but i realized somewhere around the catholic church on my walk to the subway this morning that i need to write a poem about it? as the F train rumbled up i pulled out the little muji notebook in my giant mom-purse and discovered a rumpled piece of hotel stationery covered with notes from my second night on maui, maybe ten flights below where i took this photo. being forgetful is both a pain in the ass and occasionally quite exciting. i took a few more pages of notes.