grey marble

April 30, 2009

Still Walking in the east village

Kore-eda Hirokazu appeared last night at a screening of his film Still Walking. A long jacket clung to his rounded shoulders; a few day's beard dotted his face. The screening was one of the many that make up this year's Tribeca Film Festival, and annouced the U.S. premiere of his film.

He made a few remarks before the film screened. He told us that it was a personal film, made shortly after the death of his mother. She had been ill for some time, and he had spent a good deal of time with her in the hospital towards the end reminiscing and making up for lost time.

He told us a story. A nurse came in to wash his mother's face and make sure she was comfortable. His mother praised the nurse and thanked her profusely. After the nurse left, his mother turned to Kore-eda and proceeded to complain about how she was new and didn't quite know what she was doing. The audience laughed. Kore-eda smiled and said that sometimes he thought his mother complained just to have something to complain about. He told us that he was trying to capture a full portrait of the characters in his film; he wanted to include the good with the bad; he didn't want to paint an overly romantic portrait.

He said he was happy for a full auditorium and hoped we liked the film. He thanked the audience and bowed.

In response to questions from the audience after the film, he told us he had come upon the title of the film first. He said at past screenings, people had come up to him with their deep interpretations of the title; he had kindly acknowledged their interpretations and thanked them. Last night he came clean. He said the title had come from the song used as a centerpiece of the film. It was a song his mother had liked, and he had decided the song would appear in the film before he even had a story. He laughed and said it was probably an irresponsible admission for a screenwriter.

He told us that at least 50% of the dialogue spoken by the mother to the main character had been said by his own mother to him. While he was listed as the screenwriter for the film, he said his mother deserved a co-credit for the lines she had given him.

Of the scenes in the film, he said he had witnessed the broken tile in his parent's bathroom and the support bar installed by the bathtub. He admitted similarities to his own life in other ways, but said that much was interpolated or reinterpreted. He shied away from comparisons to Ozu, instead naming another Japanese filmmaker to which he felt he owed homage, a name I didn't quite catch. He answered all the questions patiently and at length, and thanked the audience and the festival again as the evening came to a close.

Walking out of the theater I found Kore-eda standing by the entrance. He looked tired and I heard him say to an organizer that he was thinking of going back to his hotel. He turned to me and I took his hand. I thanked him for his film. I told him I had the opportunity to spend an extended amount of time with my own parents later in the year. I told him I would take as much of that time as I could.
Posted by eugene at

April 27, 2009

A Bronx trifecta

There are bunnies at Woodlawn Cemetery. One ran to the left of me from one patch of shade to another while I walked the grounds. It paused in the shadow of a small bush to look at me before turning to hop away.

It was my third weekend touring the Bronx. The past two weekends I had spent at the New York Botanical Gardens and at the Bronx zoo, respectively. I had originally gone to the Bronx for the orchid show. Thinking the show was at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, I had made plans to meet a friend there until she asked me if I was sure of the show's location. I checked BBG's website; there was no mention of the orchid show. I did a search and found another, lush site for it. I was confused until I checked the address.

I went to the zoo on a whim. A friend had mentioned wanting to go, and I was looking to get out of Manhattan. Our desires convered and we were soon waiting in line, surrounded by children.

The zoo seems to keep getting better. Soon after we entered we were walking the African plains. Peacocks dotted the grounds and we could hear their cries echoed by those of children. We waited for them to fan out their feathers and watched as collective "ooohs" rose from the crowds.

The gorilla forest remains a highlight. We took our time winding our way to the center and waited patiently for the fim. Afterwards, the reveal was as magical as I had remembered and we spent another hour watching the baby gorillas play while the adults watched. They wrestled with each other and beat their chests. One would occasionally come to the window and beat against the glass, thrilling the children who would beat back on the glass. It was almost as if they were giving high-fives to one another.

Saturday was comparably peaceful. I entered the cemetery from the Jerome Avenue entrance. A security guard asked me if I wanted a map. I said yes and he asked if I wanted the free one or the five dollar one. I chose the free one; he laughed and said they were all free, but for some it was ten dollars.

He gave me a map and a brochure and then drove me to the main office to obtain a photography permit. He told me he had been working there for two years. He was a retired cop, as most of the guards were. He told me a lot of them had worked various details together in the past. I told him the cemetery was beautiful.

There were few tourists on the grounds; occasionally I would see a small family tending a site. Near Miles Davis and Duke Ellington, fresh earth had been removed and a few new sites were being prepared. Trees were in bloom; around some stones lay carpets of fallen petals. As I made my way back to the entrance, I passed a small area reserved for children; toys were arranged on the headstones. Faded stuffed animals crouched here and there. A helium balloon hovered close to the ground, watchfully.
Posted by eugene at

April 1, 2009

Getting to know the neighborhood, years later

This past weekend I met Lillian for dim sum. She had invited a friend, and that friend, in turn, had invited another. The four of us congregated in Chinatown and found a table in the back corner of Dim Sum Go Go.

Lillian's friend was a little late; when he arrived, he introduced himself as S—. We ticked our orders on the menu sheets provided and talkd about this and that. S— had a long history in the area. Lillian asked him what he did and he told us that he had made his money partying. He and a friend had set up a SoHo space in the late70s/early 80s and began throwing rent parties there. As it was illegal to run a club in a private space, they set up an art gallery in the front and made the parties invite only. The parties became exclusive. He told us they were the first "club" to actually use a velvet rope to regulate entry. They hired cutting edge DJ's and he told us that they were the first club to really spin house music. He told us they had started a lot of things and told us to google his partner's name. They've done documentaries, he told us.

As the years wore on, his friend became less reliable, and the business became harder to sustain. S— was getting older as well, and so he sold his half of the business and bought a house in Montauk. He invested in other things, and he told us that his party days had set him up well for the rest of his life. He asked me where I lived and when I told him he asked me when I had moved in. He asked me if I remembered the fireworks displays they used to set off in the raquetball court by my house, but I said I had missed those by a few years.

S— had lived in the area for a while and he told me of the Italian kids who would sell fireworks on Canal street to the commuters heading back to New Jersey. They would store the fireworks in the basements of all the shops that lined Thompson Street. On the fourth of July, they would take the left-over stock and dump it into trash barrels in the raquetball court and light them on fire. S— said you could feel the compression of the air in your chest when they went off. He told me it'd knock the breath out of you.

He told me the kids were crazy. The police would drive by on patrol and they'd toss firecrackers into the car windows. He then stopped himself. "I'm exaggerating," he said. "But they would toss firecrackers under cars as they passed." He said the police would drive by to make sure things were ok; they never tried to stop the festivities.

One year, he said things went too far. They threw fireworks under a car and the driver stopped. S— was standing on the corner away from the action and people started running away; he heard them screaming about a gun. The driver was waving one around as the kids scattered.

He told me one year they shot fireworks off the roofs of the buildings; the leftover paper was knee deep in the streets. He said that was the year the littered paper caught fire, which brought the festivities to a halt. He said they moved the ad hoc fireworks displays to a park near Mulberry Street, but it was never quite the same after that. The neighborhood began to lose character.

As we were leaving, he asked me if I had ever noticed an older Italian man sit in front of the barber shop around the corner from my house. He told me I should introduce myself. "Tell 'em S— said hi," he told me. "He'll tell you stories." I promised him I would.
Posted by eugene at


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