When is a window not a window?

Arti was in NYC for a week in September.

It was Friday afternoon free admission time when hundreds lined up several city blocks to get into MoMA, Museum of Modern Art. Once in there, it was like inside the Tower of Babel (not that Arti had been there), but just imagine the whole world had converged in this space, all kinds of languages were heard.

After visiting MoMA, some questions came to mind. Here are the Q & A’s. (Photos were allowed. The following were all taken using the iPhone 6)

When is a window not a window?

When it’s encased in plexiglass, with the name Marcel Duchamp placed beside it, declaring it to be an objet d’art. Dada-di, Dada-dum…

Not a window.jpg

Or, when is a spider an objet d’admiration, something larger than life?

When it evokes a Kafkaesque vision:

Giant Spider 1


And why is the arachnid a double-edged sword?

Well, the artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) saw it as a friend when it captured bothersome mosquitoes in her Connecticut country home. As well, Bourgeois also saw it as a symbol of her mother. Wait, not in looks or nature, but in the work that they do. Her mother was a tapestry restorer. Bourgeois saw sewing and spinning web to be a similar form of action.

How do you take a good photo when there are crowds everywhere? A bit similar as how to get to Carnegie Hall, patience, patience, patience. The following are the before and after effects at Monet’s Lily Ponds:


Monet's Water Lilies 1.jpg

What’s the major excitement of the whole experience? The ecstasy of seeing some famous artworks unexpectedly, ones that Arti had never thought she’d see in real life.

Christina’s World (1948) by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009). And what is the blue patch in the middle? Arti’s watermark.

Christina's World.jpg

The only Edward Hopper (1882-1967) at MoMA, Gas (1940). As an avid bird watcher, Arti of course would have loved to see Nighthawks but Gas would do, for the serendipity.


And glad to see Paul Cézanne’s (1839-1906) healthy diet:

Healthy diet

Ta-da! This is probably one of the most compelling reasons for many to visit MoMA, van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889):

Starry Night

Which was the most memorable for Arti?

Jackson Pollack.jpg

One: Number 31, 1950 (1950) by Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

Never thought it was so big, 8′ 10″ x 17′ 5 5/8″ (269.5 x 530.8 cm). No easy dripping.


A few related posts on Ripple Effects:

Arles: In the Steps of van Gogh 

Inspired by Vermeer

Edward Hopper, William Safire, the Visual and the Word

Alex Colville and the Movies

Art and Cliché

Birders: The Central Park Effect (2012)

This is a must-see for all bird watchers, nature lovers, or anyone who lives in an urban jungle, thinking how one can stay there and escape at the same time. And, one would soon find this one-hour documentary just too short.

Beautifully shot, this exquisite gem of a film features its main characters the birds in Central Park. No make-up, no staging, no studio set-ups, all natural surrounding. Appearing also are the humans who dedicate their time, and some, their life in pursuing the sightings of these avian celebrities. The interviews of the birders show they are a species all their own.

Baltimore Oriole

Central Park is another major character in the film. I didn’t know this before, that it is completely man-made. The trees were planted there, the landscaping and ponds designed and built by human hands. But it is also nature. More than 200 species of birds pass through Central Park each year. During migration periods in the spring and fall, it is the hot spot of traffic thoroughfare, the hub of north-south continental flight routes.

Jeffrey Kimball is the film’s producer, director, cinematographer and narrator. I was so eager to see him in person for the Q & A after the film at the Vancouver International Film Festival on Oct. 8. Unfortunately, he had to rush back to his wife due to a medical emergency. I wish her well of course.

Common Yellowthroat

The 60 mins. documentary starts off right away by bringing us up-close to the avian paradise that is New York City’s Central Park, and with interviews of their inhabitants’ human admirers. What’s more interesting to hear than the exhilarating tone of the humans are the cheerful chirping of bird calls and songs throughout the film.

As a newly converted birder, I don’t need Jonathan Franzen to tell me the joy of birding, but it’s good to hear him share his view just the same: it’s ‘addictive’, that he would ‘miss work’ to go out to Central Park to have his fix of birdwatching. Oh, it’s also ’embarrassing’ too.

Jonathan Franzen

Yes, that’s the view of another birder, adult male. He shares that it’s been noted that birdwatching is not manly. There are guys who would carry their fishing rod and tell their wives they are heading out fishing, too embarrassed to admit actually it’s a birding they will go. It’s just… not cool.

Anya Auerbach, 15, echoes that sentiment. Not cool, geeky even. But does she care? The answer is obvious. She is not into fashion like her peers, but she is into something deeply gratifying.

Anya Auerbach

As any birder would readily admit, binoculars hanging on their neck, and maybe a camera with a long lens on the side, they look like walking geeks, to be spotted and laughed at. But as they weigh the joy of actually seeing that rare thrush, to be labelled and misunderstood is a small price to pay.

Starr Saphir is the matriarch of birding in Central Park. She has been leading birding groups in the spring and fall, four times a week for over 30 years. She could well be a walking specimen of the psychosomatic benefits of birding. Diagnosed with terminal breast cancer for a decade, Saphir testifies to how watching birds keeps her going. “Looking at birds really takes away sadness…” When one considers the fleeting nature of life, the joy is even more precious.

Starr Saphir

Chris Cooper disappears from his human social circle every year between April to Memorial Day. His friends know from experience that he has gone birding in Central Park. They understand his obsession. In the film, we can see his contagious enthusiasm.

Chris Cooper

Birdwatching is like collecting. The numbers count, how many species you’ve seen, which ones, the rarer the higher valued. It’s like seeing a unicorn… or, a bit more down-to-earth, it’s like you’ve seen pictures of a movie star, but when you actually see her/him in person, it’s a totally different feeling and experience.

“It’s mystical,” another birder articulated.

And to correct a misguided notion, birding is not a hobby, as one dedicated birder explains. Like raising children, it is a “deeply human activity.”

The Annual Central Park Christmas Bird Count is the longest running citizen science survey in the world. It is disheartening to note that the bird counts are dropping significantly in recent years.

Birds are nature’s celebrities, seeing them gives a birder deep pleasure and exhilaration. What’s most precious though, they are oblivious to their fame. They don’t flaunt their beauty, they don’t pose for pictures. They are as natural as can be.

As the credits roll at the end of the film, we see all those deserved to be named: species of birds that have appeared in the film.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

CLICK HERE to the official site of the documentary Birders: The Central Park Effect.

Photo Source: BirdwatchingDaily.com


Let The Great World Spin: How not to judge a book by its cover

There was a lot of buzz when this book came out a couple of years ago but I’ve been avoiding it, albeit a bit curious to know what it’s about. My reason? I just didn’t like the cover, still don’t. This is what I see in our local bookstores:

But after two years, and knowing that it has won the National Book Award  (Fiction, 2009), I could not resist anymore. I read it recently and was pleasantly surprised by its structure and intricately woven content. Allow me to offer a glimpse into what’s inside the cover… for those who still have not ventured into it.

The book begins with the true event of the Man On Wire. On a fine August day in 1974, NYC, in the early morning hour, an extraordinary feat took place in front of unbelieving eyes on the streets in Manhattan. One hundred and ten stories above ground, between the newly built Twin Towers, a man was walking, dancing, even lying on a wire strung across the two buildings. Interestingly, the novel is not so much about this man with extraordinary courage and skills, his name not even mentioned until the “Author’s Note” just before the back cover. Instead, the book is about the ordinary humanity on the ground. On that day they are joined by amazement of one man walking precariously in midair, oblivious that it is a metaphor for some of them and their life down on the streets. Here are the stories of a few individuals on that otherwise very ordinary day:

Corrigan, a young priest from Dublin, lives in a rough and drug-infested neighborhood, fending for and befriending prostitutes and the poor. McCann’s characterization is complex and layered. On the surface, we see an altruistic worker, sacrificing his youth, health and even life for the lowly, abused, and despised:

“The comfort he got from the hard, cold truth–the filth, the war, the poverty–was that life could be capable of small beauties. He wasn’t interested in the glorious tales of the afterlife or the notions of a honey-soaked heaven… Rather he consoled himself with the fact that, in the real world, when he looked closely into the darkness he might find the presence of a light, damaged and bruised, but a little light all the same.”

As I read deeper, and with McCann’s captivating storytelling of Corrigan’s broken home while growing up in Dublin, and his strained relationship with his estranged father, I suspect that his transplanted life in NYC could well be a search for redemption, or maybe subconsciously, a defiance against a cruel world, an act just to spite his past.

We read too about a mother and daughter’s entanglement in the underworld of prostitution. We see the reality they have to deal with, as another generation of young daughters are growing up under their care. And yet, as if life has not dealt harshly enough, tragedy strikes. But McCann does not leave us in despair. Through the ingenious weaving of characters and circumstances, he skillfully lifts us out of a miry mess onto a higher plane.

We also read about a support group of mothers who have lost their sons in the Vietnam War.  McCann has sensitively shown us that, even sharing the same loss and grief, their common ground could easily be shaken by the nuances of class and race, as those magnified in the interactions between Claire, the wife of a judge living on Park Avenue and Gloria, a black woman from a housing project in the Bronx. And yet, we are gently led to experience the exhilarating triumph of how compassion can turn mere common ground into powerful bonds, changing grief into commitment and purpose.

Finally we are led one full circle back to the man on wire, and the judge who has to handle his case. Judge Soderberg himself is a father who has lost a son in Vietnam. Like the man on wire, his son had taken the risk to enlist by his own will, not as a fighting soldier but only to offer his computer expertise. No matter, risks are what the two face and one of them succumbs to it. As a judge, how is he going to rule this 25 year-old risking his life to do something he believes to be purposeful and rewarding?

The book ends in the modern day, when a younger generation witness an extreme act of malice done to the Twin Towers. But we also see a new generation raised by grace–fruits of the very individuals who were impacted on that fateful day when the man walked on wire a thousand feet in midair decades earlier. It’s about the choices we make, despite the miry mess we tread on the ground.

While McCann presents these characters and their stories as separate threads in different chapters, he eventually weave them together, tying all loose ends to make a beautiful human tapestry. Like the wire walker, their own lives are no less challenging. They too have to take risks to step out and deal with their circumstances. Theirs is a balancing act as well, in their choices to do the right thing, in their search for meaning, every step of the way.

McCann’s storytelling is visual, his descriptions stylish, many scenes made alive by real-life dialogues that one would expect in the filthy, dark corners of NYC. The book offers an experience quite like my reading of screenplays, but with its literary form, it is much more gratifying.  Also, I was not too surprised to find out that Colum McCann is not only a novelist but a screenwriter as well. Further search leads me to the info that “Let the Great World Spin” is now a film in development by producer J.J. Abram of “Star Trek”(2009) fame.  mmm… let’s just hope the movie adaptation won’t be a 3D spectacular, but a real, human experience as the novel has so sensitively portrayed.

~~~1/2 Ripples

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, HarperCollins Publishers, 2009, 349 pages.


If I’d seen this cover in the store, I would have grabbed it at first sight:

CLICK HERE to Colum McCann’s beautifully-designed website, and an exploration of the cover art.

CLICK HERE to go to the artist Matteo Pericoli’s wonderful website which I highly recommend.