Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mark Helprin and his Fiction/Food

LITEATART                             WWW.FOODINTHEARTS.COM

(In Process)

 Mark Helprin (b. 1947, Manhattan, NY) is one of my favorite fiction writers. It's not just because he writes poetically from and about my home turf, the Hudson River Valley. It's not because his public persona is politically conservative. And it's certainly not because he is a "foodie writer" - not at all, but his plots are clearly punctuated with lively and meaningful food references that clarify, almost define his characters' style, tastes and values.

    My first read and still my favorite novel is A Soldier of the Great War (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991), which brings forth Helprin's familiarity and fluency of vigorous and fearless action, of dignity, poise and many unusual skills of a European upper class man. Like handling a large sail boat and steering blithely into a strong wind, superb horsemanship, scholarly achievement, being a mindful and devoted son, and an expert at climbing in the challenging peaks of Europe and especially during the Great War in northern Italy as part of the Alpini, the oldest active mountain infantry in the world, established in 1872.  These associations mark him as an elite, possibly aristocratic, certainly outstanding hero.
It's very much old school but without the bluster, false values, and chilling ineptitude.

     My second nomination is A Winter's Tale (1983), which unfolds with his imaginative prose in what certainly may be a called "magical realism." Peter Blake, on a magical white horse, leaves the mysterious and wild Baymen of Bayonne's Jersey swamps for Manhattan, where he comes upon a winter festival celebrating  a burning ferry boat.

     Scenes of inventive feasting are numerous. As on pages 295-6 cured beef boiled in with sacks of carrots, onions and potatoes - garlic, ground pepper and wine are dumped into boiling brine

     In his latest novel, In Sunlight and in Shadow (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), the food stops are rather different. Though his hero is well-born, noble and a born leader, he is also a bit of a straight shooter,... Helprin lavishes his attention on a New Yorker's love poem to Staten Island and its in the 1940-50s ferry, the dunes of the beaches, the Palisades and Manhattan in all its diversity, socially and ethnically. 

    Here is one of his eloquent lines about facing  nature: "And I went out to the ocean. Do you know what it was like? The waves broke, and each time they did, as they slapped against the sand, I could feel it all through my body. And each time they broke, and each time, they thudded down, they said, You have only one life, you have only one life.

   Harris Copeland, called "Harry", the son of an upscale leather goods purveyor, who appropriated the name from the Wasps as a means of shedding Jewish and Eastern European identity and climbing toward success.  His lead characters clearly reflect Helprin's own life, wherein Helprin himself -monied, well- educated, well-connected, and experienced at length in the worlds of both war and peace,

   Harry's first  romantic encounter is takes the couple to a downtown automate for hotdogs. Subsequent meals are mentioned as served in upper class homes on Long Island, a smart lunch with a canny and generous auntie on Staten Island.

   Dinner was over. - nine hundred carefully wrought calories of it, including a chocolate mousse in a cup the size of a half dollar -and the dancing was about to begin.

    Or: The village was called Nea Epidavros. There were some flimsy tables and chairs on the pier  He told me in Greek that the Germans has paid for my dinner. And the next ting he did was take off his shoes and shirt and dived into the water. I thought he was nuts. When he surfaced, he was holding an octopus, which he then spent half an hour tenderizing by smashing it (dead after the first blow) against the concrete...The rest of the afternoon, he marinated it, and by dark I had one of the best meals of my life.

    In the accounts of his experiences in WW II as a pathfinder paratrooper (captain), fear and endurance and sheer capability are described over and over, in a flow And he understood that the next few moments might be his last. At some point, uncontrolled by either will or the prospects of success, something apart from oneself takes over (breeding?) , working alongside and flooding the body with grace, or perhaps failing to do so entirely.

     Of the female heroin on stage, he writes:
 All was at risk, all the time, and ever would be. Therein lay the greatness of her singing, eternally clarified by the oppression of mortality and the rebellion of love.

    Helprin remind us of the book's title in the passage that follows: As brave as her husband, she sang into the darkness beyond blinding light, and time stood still. Evenly and steadily, with strength newborn within her, she carried the audience, through sunlight and shadow, effortlessly upon her song. (p. 674) 

   Helprin is a certain kind of artist-spokesman for Americans who happen to be Jews but his cosmopolitanism speaks for humans anywhere. He is neither Philip Roth nor Saul Bellow, Vera Casberry or Bernard Malamud. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Elisa Giovannoni Scalatta (Ladders), 2014

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Arts, Food and Climate Change

 Francisco Goya, The Disasters of War, 1810-1820

 Here is an article, verbatum from the New York Times, April l1, 2014,and it is NOT an April Fool's thing. Please share this with your political favorite:


College Classes Use Arts to Brace for Climate Change

A student presentation in a class, “The Cultures of Climate Change,” offered by the University of Oregon in Eugene. Novels like “On the Beach,” by Nevil Shute, and “A Canticle for Leibowitz,” by Walter M. Miller Jr., and films like “The Book of Eli,” offered a world after nuclear war. Stephen King’s “The Stand,”

 Margaret Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake” and “The Year of the Flood,” and films like “12 Monkeys” and “I Am Legend” imagined the aftermath of biological tampering gone horribly wrong, credit Thomas Patterson for The New York Times

The climate-change canon dates back at least as far as “The Drowned World,” a 1962 novel by J. G. Ballard with a small but ardent following. “The Population Bomb,” Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 nonfiction best seller, mentions the potential dangers of the greenhouse effect, and the 1973 film “Soylent Green,” best remembered for its grisly vision of a world with too many people and too little food, is set in a hotter future.

EUGENE, Ore. — University courses on global warming have become common, and Prof. Stephanie LeMenager’s new class here at the University of Oregon has all the expected, alarming elements: rising oceans, displaced populations, political conflict, endangered animals.

The goal of this class, however, is not to marshal evidence for climate change as a human-caused crisis, or to measure its effects — the reality and severity of it are taken as given — but how to think about it, prepare for it and respond to it. Instead of scientific texts, the class, “The Cultures of Climate Change,” focuses on films, poetry, photography, essays and a heavy dose of the mushrooming subgenre of speculative fiction known as climate fiction, or cli-fi, novels like “Odds Against Tomorrow,” by Nathaniel Rich, and “Solar,” by Ian McEwan. 

“Speculative fiction allows a kind of scenario-imagining, not only about the unfolding crisis but also about adaptations and survival strategies,” Professor LeMenager said. “The time isn’t to reflect on the end of the world, but on how to meet it. We want to apply our humanities skills pragmatically to this problem.”

The class reflects a push by universities to meld traditionally separate disciplines; Professor LeMenager joined the university last year to teach both literature and environmental studies.

Her course also shows how broadly most of academia and a younger generation have moved beyond debating global warming to accepting it as one of society’s central challenges. That is especially true in places like Eugene, a verdant and damp city, friendly to the cyclist and inconvenient to the motorist, where ordering coffee in a disposable cup can elicit disapproving looks. Oregon was a pioneer of environmental studies, and Professor LeMenager’s students tend to share her activist bent, eagerly discussing in a recent session the role that the arts and education can play in galvanizing people around an issue.

To some extent, the course is feeding off a larger literary trend. Novels set against a backdrop of ruinous climate change have rapidly gained in number, popularity and critical acclaim over the last few years, works like “The Windup Girl,” by Paolo Bacigalupi; “Finitude,” by Hamish MacDonald; “From Here,” by Daniel Kramb; and “The Carbon Diaries 2015,” by Saci Lloyd. Well-known writers have joined the trend, including Barbara Kingsolver, with “Flight Behavior,” and Mr. McEwan. 

And with remarkable speed — Ms. Kingsolver’s and Mr. Rich’s books were published less than a year ago — those works have landed on syllabuses at colleges. They have turned up in courses on literature and on environmental issues, like the one here, or in a similar but broader class, “The Political Ecology of Imagination,” part of a master’s degree program in liberal studies at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. 

For now, Professor LeMenager’s class is open only to graduate students, with some working on degrees in environmental studies, others in English and one in geography, and it can have the rarefied feel of a literature seminar. Fueled by readings from Susan Sontag and Jacques Derrida, the students discuss the meaning of terms like “spectacle” and “witness,” and debate the drawbacks of cultural media that approach climate change from the developed world’s perspective.
Climate novels fit into a long tradition of speculative fiction that pictures the future after assorted catastrophes. First came external forces like aliens or geological upheaval, and then, in the postwar period, came disasters of our own making.

Novels like “On the Beach,” by Nevil Shute, and “A Canticle for Leibowitz,” by Walter M. Miller Jr., and films like “The Book of Eli,” offered a world after nuclear war. Stephen King’s “The Stand,” Margaret Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake” and “The Year of the Flood,” and films like “12 Monkeys” and “I Am Legend” imagined the aftermath of biological tampering gone horribly wrong.
“You can argue that that is a dominant theme of postwar fiction, trying to grapple with the fragility of our existence, where the world can end at any time,” Mr. Rich said. Before long, most colleges will “have a course on the contemporary novel and the environment,” he said. “It surprises me that even more writers aren’t engaging with it.”

The recent climate fiction has characters whose concerns extend well beyond the climate, some of it is set in a present or near future when disaster still seems remote, and it can be deeply satirical in tone. In other words, if the authors are aiming for political consciousness-raising, the effort is more veiled than in novels of earlier times like “The Jungle” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Professor LeMenager’s syllabus includes extensive nonfiction writing and film, alongside the fiction, and she said she had little interest in truly apocalyptic scenarios or those that are scientifically dubious. She does not, for example, show her students “The Day After Tomorrow,” the 2004 film about an ice age caused by global warming that was a huge hit despite being panned by critics and scientists alike, though she says everyone asks her about it.
Stephen Siperstein, one of her students, recalled showing the documentary “Chasing Ice,” about disappearing glaciers, to a class of undergraduates, leaving several of them in tears. Em Jackson talked of leading groups on glacier tours, and the profound effect they had on people. Another student, Shane Hall, noted that people experience the weather, while the notion of climate is a more abstract concept that can often be communicated only through media — from photography to sober scientific articles to futuristic fiction.

“In this sense,” he said, “climate change itself is a form of story we have to tell.”

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Jeff Wall, photography in the 21st Century

Note how the blue triangle in upper left corner (Pizza Slice 93 )
pulls together the blues in the sidewalk and otherwise white garments. Moreover, "hanging out" is more atuned to teens than sitting or dancing. This photograph is included in the 2013 exhibition entitled "A Sense of Place" at the Pier 24 Photography Gallery located on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, California.

Most of the people in Wall's photos are actors.

Above: Milk - Instantaneous emotion in an every-day setting.

In his 1984 photograph "Milk," Jeff Wall captures a man's beverage in mid-spill. Some of the Vancouver native's photos are as large as 8 feet by 10 feet.

NEW YORK -- The name is as it should be. Jeff Wall's photographs are just that, wall photographs: the pursuit of murals by other means.
       Wall has spoken of his profound regard for cinematic Neorealism, a regard borne out in the mundane subject matter of so many of his pictures. Neorealism is a black-and-white genre, of course, and Wall's affinity for its content clashes with his general reliance on color. There's a rich tension between the near-irresistible appeal of Wall's chromatic palette and the sheer dailiness of a picture like "A view from an apartment." The use of that indefinite article is telling. There's a ravishing particularity in Wall's colors that's often at war with the generic nature of his content. It's a war he may or may not win, but he enjoys waging it.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Chee Wang Ng, Ai waiwai and other current Avant-Garde Chinese Artists

   Zhang Huan, Meat Suit

Above: Aiwaiwai, Porcelin watermelon,  Sunflower Seeds (installation); Crabs

Cheong Su PiengDrying Salted Fish

Chee Wang Ng  (b.1961, Kuala Lampur, Maylaysia)
Right: Eat Your Fill of Rice
[Chee Wang Ng 吳子雲]

Chee Wang Ng is a Malaysian photographer who was born in 1961.  He has had several gallery and museum exhibitions, including at the  Jersey  city University Galleries.

His video 108 Global Rice Bowls Installation embodies the spiritual essence of Buddhism. Below

Chinese Equilibrium Rice Bowl 2003-05
Chee Wang Ng 吳子雲

Zhang Hong Tu, Long Live Chairman Mao -  Live Chairman Mao

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bouts, Peanuts and Bach: Food in Church, Synagogue, Picnics and Coffee House

 litfood art


St.Thomas church, near Bardstown, KY, 1940. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott.


Peanuts by Charles Schulz
(re-run, March 28, 2014)

Charlie Brown:And after church, we're all going on a picnic.
Lucy: I didn't know that you're family belonged to a church.
CB: Sure, don't yours?
Lucy: They used to ... now they belong to a coffee house.


 Paolo Veronese, The Feast at Cana ca. 1563

   A biblical scene within a Venetian banquet.

   In Cana, Galilee, Christ is invited to a wedding feast during which he performs his first miracle. At the end of the banquet, when the wine is running low, he asks the servants to fill the stone jars with water and then offer them to the master of the house, who finds that the water has been turned to wine. This episode, told by the Apostle John, is a precursor of the Eucharist. The bride and groom are seated at the left end of the table, leaving the center place to the figure of Christ. He is surrounded by the Virgin, his disciples, clerks, princes, Venetian noblemen, Orientals in turbans, several servants, and the populace.

 Below:  Coffee House in Leipzig, Austria, where J. S. Bach presented concerts

Zimmerman's Kaffehaus, Leipzig, 1732. The site of many Bach concerts.
Georg Schreiber, etching, 18th century

J. S.Bach composed his secular piece, Kaffekontata in 1732-34 and presented it at Zimmerman's, above. 
 BWV 211 Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht
"Kaffeekantate" Di Johann Sebastian Bach, per Soli,Soprano, Tenore e Basso, Coro Soprano, Tenore e Basso
Flauto traverso, Violino uno e due, Viola, e Basso Continuo (Cembalo)
scritta negli anni 1734-1735
testo di Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander) dall´anno 1732

[footnote: Caarlo Goldoni wrote The Coffee House. A Comedy in Three Acts,1750-51 (Commedia dell Arte style]

     Bach wrote dozens of secular cantatas like this, many of which have been lost. This cantata was quite lighthearted and was designed to be performed in the local coffee house. It is still clever the way it portrays a frustrated father and a daughter who can wrap him round her little finger and finds a a way to pursue her much-maligned "coffee drinking habit.". I don't know how anyone would dare limit what Bach might do with his music if he'd wanted to.

     Understanding Bach’s secular performances primarily as an
imitation of courtly ceremony and protocol, however,
risks ignoring the specific characteristics of Leipzig’s coffee-house
     While Bach’s audience undoubtedly perceived the musical pursuits of aristocratic patrons as socially superior, the close ties
between coffee houses, mercantile enterprise
and Leipzig’s trade fairs may well have created an environment
in which musical expertise and the intellectual exchange of ideas
played a more significant role than they did in the power-driven circles of
the nobility.

  Romare Bearden, Shiloh Church Picnic,1965-66

Dieric Bouts, Feast of the Passover, b. Haarlem, Netherlands, 1464-67

Faith Ringgold, Church Picnic, 1988

Also ...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ethnic Food used-to-be

Back in the 1970s and 1980s,folklorists and anthropologists were busy documenting and writing about ethnic foods as they were embedded in their respective cultural contexts. We used the word foodways in our publications and they included such titles as The Minnesota Ethnic Food Book (Minnesota Historical Society, 1986), Circles of Tradition (Minnesota Historical Society 1989). The Taste of American Place (Roman & Littlefield, 1998), and Ethnic and Regional Foodways of the United States: Performance of Group Identity (University of Tennessee Press, 1984).

These days, I study the fine arts and their many transformations in the media of  visual culture, music, (both popular and classical), literature, film, and photography.
And, happy circumstances allows me to pin point comic strips, particularly because they focus strongly on everyday and everybody's foibles, fantasies,
and food is a major topic.

But today, I am taken back to those ethnic kitchens and church suppers as I read one of Charles Schulz's Peanuts cartoons on