From the low-brow satire of Sacha Baron Cohen to the high-brow satire of Irene Nemirovsky…from an obscene film preaching tolerance to a museum depicting the obscene cost of intolerance…it was an interesting, albeit low-key and contemplative visit to New York City this weekend.
Here’s the rundown:
Saturday Morning: I hopped on the bus and endured sitting behind a trio of non-stop nattering nitwits. Luckily I had my Best American Short Stories book with me, and I especially enjoyed reading Johnathan Lethem’s hilariously pretentious “The King of Sentences” in the context of sitting behind my unfortunately histrionic and vapidly loquacious travel companions. If only I could come up with a perfect sentence to describe the situation that would make the King proud!
Saturday Afternoon: I arrived at my friend’s place and we went down to brunch at Harry’s around the corner where they routinely serve up the best home fries on the Eastern Seaboard and as many free mimosas as you can handle.
Afterwards we took a long stroll along the water and Battery Park where we took in some world class people watching. The highlight for me was the toddler sans pants and with only a diaper jogging along with his fitness obsessed parents. I’m all for raising healthy kids, but this seemed extreme. Plus, if he’s capable of jogging, is he not also capable of being potty trained?
Saturday Evening: We took in a screening of Bruno. This film certainly ist un uber accomplishment in bad taste, which means I laughed enough but would’ve rather seen The Hurt Locker or Moon. Still, it makes for an interesting experience to see not only the reactions of the real people Bruno mocks and terrorizes on screen, but also the reactions of those sitting in the movie theater. The “low-brow humor parading as satire through mockumentary” style of shock-comedian/cultural anthropologist Sacha Baron Cohen is already wearing thin, but amidst the groan-inducing and pornographic gross-out scenes, there were some truly inspired moments where Bruno tried to broker peace in the Middle East (or Middle Earth as he called it) through a discussion on the nutritional benefits of hummus or where he exposed the insane idiocy of parents who would do anything to get their kid a part in anything, including having liposuction done on their toddler. Hmmm…perhaps they should consider jogging to lose the pounds first?
Later Saturday Night: Walking home, we passed by a newly blocked off murder scene (where a maid was evidently killed and stuffed in a ventilation shaft) that was inundated with reporters, police and gawkers acting as if they might land a walk-on role in an episode of Law & Order. After watching an outrageous movie that mocked the blurring of reality and public theater, this display was a dramatic and real flip-side. My mind boggles at the psychological make-up of someone who could laugh at a murder scene while cameras rolled, as if this was a great moment to remember and post about on Facebook. Wait…so why I am blogging about it? Just an observation, I guess…
Sunday Morning: We took in yet another brunch, this time at the Ritz Carlton in Battery Park. Naturally the food was very good but over-priced. It was well worth it, though, for that touch of class and excellent service.
Sunday Afternoon: We visited The Museum of Jewish Heritage (just a block over from the Ritz Carlton in Battery Park), which is an amazing testament to the strength of the Jewish Community in New York City. Located on a prime piece of real estate, magnificently designed and impeccably maintained, this is one of the finest museums I’ve ever toured.
The first floor chronicles the basics of Jewish history and traditions while the second floor is a sobering trail of tears dedicated to the Holocaust and contains an overwhelming gallery of family photos pieced together like magnets on a fridge that puts a thousand human faces on a dark piece of history that claimed the lives of millions. The third floor boasts a jaw-dropping view of the water and an exterior wall that juts out as if it’s grasping for the hand of Lady Liberty, whose statue rises not that distant in the harbor.
Also housed on the third floor are the museum’s temporary exhibitions, one detailing the lives of refugee Jewish teachers from war-torn Europe who came to work in America in a Deep South entrenched in Jim Crow Laws. The other one is dedicated to the life, death and works of Irene Nemirovsky, whose Suite Francaise is one of the crowning achievements of the international literary world in recent times. A Woman of Letters is a must for any fans of the book (and I am one them) or anyone with even a passing interest in the fascinating and all too tragic backstory behind the author’s death and the book’s subsequent publication. The exhibition boasts an interactive reading room housed in a gorgeous solarium that has blown-up images of Nemirovsky’s hand-written notes lining the walls, copies of her books on the tables, and computers set up for further research. I had actually intended to see the Nemirovsky exhibition back in November, but the plans were dashed when we found out the museum closed early that day (duh, it was a Friday!) so it was small personal triumph that I finally saw this, especially since it was originally due to close months ago but has been extended through August.
One quote of Nemirovsky’s on the wall spoke especially to the writer in me. It was something simple and powerful that seemed an awfully prescient thing to say given the fate of both her and her magnum opus, Suite Francaise:
Never forget that the war will be over and the entire historical side will fade away. Try to create as much as possible: things, debates…that will interest people in 1952 or 2052.”
Later Sunday Afternoon: I missed my 42nd Street stop while riding the subway (duh again) and had to backtrack to the Port Authority connection. I almost missed my bus. Thankfully, I didn’t, and I had no idea what I was in store for. This particular bus was driven by a woman who I will refer to as “Phyllis”. You haven’t heard the rules and regulations of public bus travel until you’ve heard them come out of the sassy mouth of Phyliss, who reigns over her bus travelers with an iron fist. When she literally stopped the vehicle on the side of the Jersey Turnpike to make a man on a cell phone lower his voice (after asking him politely to pipe down once already), I was both in shock and awe. She seemed like the type of woman who would go toe-to-toe with Bruno on “The Richard Bey Show”. Hell, I can picture her becoming the subject of a new TLC reality show…Bus Boss — Or wait, better yet, Do NOT Make Me Stop This Bus! Phyllis was the perfect tonic to the mindless chattering of the bus patrons I tolerated the day before, and I would get on her in-your-face polite, no-nonsense, quiet, civilized bus any day.
Written by David H. Schleicher