March 2012

"There's too much people already"


Sometimes, it's about the being there. There being, where people tied by a common thread, come to gather for a common purpose.


That purpose might be one of a serious nature, or something as celebratory as a parade in honor of the hometown team making good. Which was the case last month with the New York Giants; winners of Super Bowl X-L-V-I.


So there we were in a crush of people, at least an hour before the festivities were scheduled to begin. And as one women behind us exclaimed in a cell phone conversation: "There's too much people already." But it ain't about grammar, its about…well what exactly is it about? And why are we here?


We don't even root for the Giants. If anything, the Jets have been our team since the coming of Namath in the new testament. But we are fans of this city. And we are fans of fans, replete with their sarcasm, dark humor and sense of doom— until a day such as this arrives. Those who don't follow sports, would never understand this. We who do follow sports, don't really understand it either. But there we were.


Though baseball is really our game, through all the years of New York Yankees' dominance, we never attended any of those parades through the "Canyon of Heroes." Even during our coming of age, when we lived within shouting distance of these "ticker tape" extravaganzas—where figures of national and international prominence were so honored—we were never there.


There was that one parade though, on Thursday March 1, 1962, that we had badly wanted to attend. John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, would be passing through. Astronauts… were heroes in those days. But our high school, Brooklyn Tech, would not permit its students to take the day off to honor him. Which was ironic, given the role technology and engineering had played in Glenn's great achievement.




Obediently, we trudged off to school that day, hating all those in authority who seemed to revel in raining on parades. But it's only been fifty years. We'll get over it.


Anyway, there we were among the unwashed masses (the 99%?)—of which we really are a member despite any delusions of grandeur—standing, waiting, watching some pre-event time-killing activity. Most prominent being the passing of "footballs" of toilet paper rolls, back and forth across the street divides. And then the cheer, when an errant pass happened to hit a cop. And the cop would turn and smile, and toss it back into the crowd. For this was no Zuccotti Park.


Then there is the dancing to Latino rhythms… the shouts in mock derision— "deez are nobodeez!" aimed at "VIP's" (read 1%-ers?) who would pass by beyond the police blockades... the occasional checking out of the five helicopters treading sky overhead. all begins.


And with each passing float, a collective cheer rings out in tribute to these surrogates for fame and fortune. But also in some vicarious way, we the people, seem to be claiming part ownership of this victory. "We did it man, we did it," could be heard along with the smacking sounds of high-fives!


And as time, and cars and floats roll by, it now becomes about waiting for "The Second Coming." That of quarterback, Eli Manning…biggest… hero… of them all.


The crowd behind us has swelled to biblical proportions—fifteen to twenty people deep. All that is missing, are the fishes and loaves. Then suddenly, while holding the Super Bowl trophy aloft as if the Holy Grail, Eli has arrived!


In the frenzy that ensues, we have all to do to catch him in a frame or two, which can only been seen later, when blown up in Zapruder-like fashion.




And just as suddenly as he appeared… he just as suddenly was gone. His time amongst us was so brief.


Then the crowd begins to disperse, secure in the knowledge that their cell-phone shots, will prove that these scenes of celebration were real. And in departing, we all are seemingly high on the intake of that abundance of camaraderie and good will. It was time for lunch.








The Small Bang Theory



Where were you when you first heard:


that the Titanic had sunk?
that the market crashed?
that Earhart was missing?
that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor?
that Kennedy was shot?
that King was shot?
that Bobby was shot?
that Lennon was shot?
that the Challenger exploded?
that the World Trade Center came tumbling down?


that the first of childhood friends had died?


Those earthquakes that level other hemisphere hamlets
wherein two or three thousand go at a clip?
Isn't that a shame. And where and when
was that Tsunami again?
The one that killed over 230,000 people?


His time was running on the same rails as yours.
His heart once given to a teenage crush
stopped like some cheap watch they hawk on the corner.
He pitched the team to a championship.
He cut up behind the teacher's back.
He took you for a joyride in his uncle's car


The legs turned to jelly
when you first heard


                                                    —Ron Vazzano







The Artist: Silence is Golden



Most years we could care less about the Academy Awards. They rarely reflect our taste in movies. Not to mention all the hoopla surrounding them, which is a turnoff. But this year was different.


Perhaps it was because our movie going had increased substantially in the last year, and that we had actually seen many of the movies nominated. Or perhaps it was because we had a "dog in the hunt." That dog being, The Artist. It spoke to us, so to speak. And as we are about to reveal what it said, perhaps a spoiler alert is in order: If you haven't seen the movie and intend to, scroll down past this piece.


Though The Artist pretty much swept the board on Oscar night in the major categories (also winning two technical awards along the way), we still believe that there is much more to this movie, than the critics have given credit. Even though most reviews were extremely favorable.


Yes, it is a comedic film. Yes, it is about a man unable to make a transition and go with the flow. Yes, it has an upbeat ending, expressed through a spirited dance number, that sends audiences blissfully out the door. But there's more.


The comedy is self evident. As ought to be the tragedy. And though the latter is often indicated in broad fashion, it is in keeping with the style of the Hollywood story telling, way back in the day. And the idea of doing a silent movie in 2011, about the passing of the silent movie era, was simply brilliant. If brilliance can ever be simple.


Secondly, regarding the interpretation of that which drives the protagonist, George Valentin—stunningly played by Jean Dujardin, as his Best Actor Oscar might indicate— we think the critics came up short. Which is why we have been so strongly touting this movie to family and friends since we first saw it.


Conventional wisdom has it, that George Valentin is simply an arrogant man who stubbornly refuses to change with the times. And that he mocks the coming of "talkies" because of an outsized ego. We have a different take. One that says, he is hiding behind a shield of arrogance, because in truth, he is deeply insecure. This is indicated over and over throughout the movie, in ways both direct and oblique.


For starters, the only one with whom he can make a connection, is his dog Jack; in movies and in life. The dog (played by a Jack Russell named Uggy, who steals a scene or three along the way) goes with him everywhere. The dog's constant presence is more than just a warm and fuzzy story-telling device.


Then there is his marriage which has turned sour, because he has trouble communicating with his wife. In effect, he never talks.


Though his on screen persona is one of a dashing man, a Lothario, he is far from it when off camera. This is particularly in evidence, in the scene in which he finds an aspiring starlet Peppy Miller (played by Bérénice Bejo brilliantly) in his dressing room, embracing his jacket while imaging being in his arms. He doesn't take advantage of her in a situation where it would be so easy to do so, given what he has just witnessed. Instead, in a loving moment, he pencils in a small beauty spot on her face, which will come to be just the right touch that will help to put Peppy on the road to movie stardom.


Now it is 1927, and the "Talkies" are about to come in, big time. Which of course, if you think about it, can only be a death knell for the career of an actor in American cinema, who has a French accent. Although we don't know that at the time, and therefore are unable to make that connection.


Soon enough, the inevitable happens. No longer a bankable box office star, his life hits the skids. And it is important to note that the studio boss does not bend over backwards to convince him to go with the times and move on to talkies. The boss, John Goodman, just sadly shakes his big fat head. Because he realizes that with his "impediment," Valentin's days are numbered. In turn, via those very talkies, it is Peppy Miller who becomes the new megastar.


Finally, after all the trials and tribulations of George Valentin, we come to… That Dance Number. And now the movie is one of sound, with the click clack clacking of happy feet. It is a transformation as surprising and captivating, as was the going from black & white to color in The Wizard of Oz, the first time we all saw it.


When the dance concludes, the director asks if they would do another take. George Valentin responds with the only two words he will ever say— "With pleasure." And with a French accent. And we lost it. The movie now came in on us in a rush, bringing it into immediate and sharper thematic focus. Those two accented words take the film to a whole other level. A place beyond a boy-meets-girl "feel good" movie.


Peppy had come up with that dance idea as a means to get Valentin back on his feet; figuratively and literally. Even though she now has the kind of clout, wherein she could have gotten the studio to write a part in a new movie for a man with a French accent, she instead gets around it all, by getting George a part in which he doesn't have to speak, but dance!


And there it is: unconditional love and gratitude. All told in a way, we had never quite experienced before.


In the absence of dialog, in the absence of a vocalized "I love you"—which we once stated in a poem as having the value of all of twenty-nine cents—it is the audience that has to fill in the blanks and tie it all together. And when we did, we found ourself reaching for a tissue.







Picture a Palindrome: #3











Lin: A New Twist in the Great American Story



Regarding fame, and who is or isn't famous, Jay Leno once said:

You're not famous until my mother has heard of you.

And soon, our mother at age 91, and decidedly not a basketball fan—having almost no inkling of the sport other than the fact that she used to catch us playing it in the park on a winter's day without our jacket on ("You're going to catch a cold! Where's your jacket?")—even she, will know the name of Jeremy Lin. Belief-defying stories invariably have crossover appeal; they wind up in the main news.


It is a story that reads as if it that might have been written by some Hollywood hack. Imagine pitching this "high concept" to studio heads:


"A Chinese-American… devout Christian… Harvard graduate…turned professional basketball player, is cut by two teams. Riding the bench with a third team, the New York Knicks—sleeping on his brother's couch because he has not gotten his own place yet in the city—is suddenly put in the lineup 23 games into the season. And at that, only because the team has been going so badly and run out of options. He turns out to be a superstar! He immediately leads his team on a long winning streak, and becomes the talk of the town. And the nation!"


Not even Steven Spielberg could make this work.


And yet in a sense—albeit with a new twist—it is an old story. It is the Great American Story: Child of an immigrant to America, or member of a minority, gains fame and fortune. And it is an especially melodramatic one, when witnessed through the lens of sports.




This "Linsanity," as it has come to be called, has begun to spread across the globe. There are now even New York Knicks fans in Taiwan, where Jeremy's parents were born. And soon enough, everyone's mother will have heard of him.






Quote of the Month



When I find myself in times of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me
speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

There will be an answer, let it be


                                                   —Sir Paul McCartney







Meanderings from New Orleans



                                                                                  February 27, 2001
                                                                                  Tuesday 11:55 pm
                                                                                  Fat Tuesday


Finally got to see this piece of Americana, Mardi Gras. "See" is the operative word. It is about seeing, it is about being seen. The exhibitionist; the voyeur. The breaking of taboos. The forbidden fruit…see but not touch.


Women baring their breast for beads; men bearing their beers…a man has to show nothing, but up.


The whole Mardi Gras sub culture is fascinating to say the least. I mean, perfectly sane adults donning masks and wearing outlandish costumes?

                                                                                  February 28, 2001
                                                                                  Wednesday 10:45pm
                                                                                  Ash Wednesday


For the first time in 35 years…I received ashes. (Remember man, thou art dust. And to dust thou shall return.). Hearing it in English…is particularly poignant. The place: St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest continuously active cathedral in the U.S.


Then got caught in the rain, and the ashes upon my forehead smeared. A very interesting birth to death to rebirth metaphor.


James Carvelle was the speaker and he was great…funny, charming and mostly what I'm taken with is his sense of humility.


He closes with a response he would give to a hypothetical question he would one day get from his daughters, as to why he would so staunchly defend Clinton in the Lewinsky scandal. "There are good friends who do bad things. Forgive the bad things and support the good friend."


"You are good girls who will one day do a bad thing. And when you do, come tell your daddy first because he will be the first one to forgive you."



Thursday conference…Gail Sheehy—highlight. Dinner as guests of AOL.




                                                                                  March 4, 2003
                                                                                  Tuesday 6:55pm
                                                                                  Fat Tuesday


Somehow when I did this two years ago it seemed more adventuresome?


                                                                                  March 7, 2003
                                                                                  Friday 2:55pm


We catch the 544 Club—"Gary Brown and the Feelings" presiding. We stay through two sets. The place empties out and we are still there. The guy plays just as hard with just as much passion—even more in the second set than the first—even though there's a handful of people.


From the moment we enter we are assaulted by waitresses…they hold one end in their mouths, the recipient, the other. Two vials at once. They remind me of high school chemistry test tubes.


I had hit it off with them the night before at the hotel upon returning from the Forbes dinner. We went to our private party at the House of Blues.


Walking down the dying streets, a gregarious black man on a bike calls to us. Next thing you know he and I are crooning "Up on the Roof." He then does a solo of "Amazing Grace"…it is wonderful. He is tipped well.
As a token to me, his partner, he offers his neckwear: beads and plastic breasts. "You the Tit Meister."



This part of the city is mesmerizing. Walking down quiet streets, balconied buildings, wrought ironed embellishment, brick and shutters…in praise of the small moment.



                                                                                  February 21, 2012
                                                                                  Tuesday 4:20pm
                                                                                  Fat Tuesday


What happens in Vegas…stays in Vegas. What happens in New Orleans…stays on the internet.


A woman at around noon, strolls up Bourbon St. totally naked. Except of course for paint on her breasts, and paint where a thong might go.


                                                                                  February 22, 2012
                                                                                  Wednesday 8:20am
                                                                                  Ash Wednesday


The mask, the beads, give way to Ash Wednesday in this, "…a surprisingly devoutly Catholic city." (Frommer's)



                                                                      photo by Ron Vazzano©

                                                                                  February 23, 2012
                                                                                  Thursday 9:20am


"Compared with recent years, gun violence was minimal along the parade routes, although a pair of shootings did mar the festivities." (The Times-Picayune)


                                                                                  February 25, 2012
                                                                                  Saturday 7:05pm



We spent the day visiting the "Louise" and "Oak Valley" plantations. Oh how complex has been the history of our nation. Slavery up close. No political commentary necessary.


                                                                                  February 26, 2012
                                                                                  Sunday 11:05am


This time I drink the Kool Aid…the hurricane…sazerac…"Goodnight Irene"…bedpost beads…roasted oysters…Commander's Palace …cemetery across the way: "Don't get up" …streetcar with no name…life—two hours— on the Mississippi…up the river WITH a paddle…mules in diapers; no wonder no dumps on the streets…Preservation—jazz tradition—Hall …on every other corner Royal music breaks out…Club 544 still here…singing a different tune though…Stella!…Ann Rice lived here…Tennessee Williams drank there…alcohol in plastic cups…Truman Capote slept here…art every twelve feet…Blue Dog…the Idea Factory no longer makes cows…"Pops" is bigger than any bishop…Fountain still spurting…"brides" on Bourbon lift up their gowns…in a flash they are gone…a dog named Okey-Dokey…



…Laura sold the plantation and married a Protestant…no women cops…no fat cops…no Asian cops…no politically correct cops…a cop poses with a bare breasted woman…Spanish, French, Caribbean, African, Native American…Joan of Arc is golden here…why do Jesus people bother? Who is going to see the light tonight?…voodoo and Catholicism…"Cathovodoocism"…everything is haunted…then there's the vampires…Code Noir: but who could enforce it?…copper-sided dueling pianos…the pianists are women and come in pairs…I have seen through the almond holes, the view…a sight to "bebold"….dogs are in costume…gays are in costume…straights are in costume…and an accountant named Handy is Rex…a reason to like the French. Finally.






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