Common ground

Ever since I saw Andy Warhol’s rendition of a tin of Campbell’s soup in the San Francisco MoMA, modern art has confounded me. For the most part, my singular lack of appreciation for modern art doesn’t come between me and my sleep. I know what I like, and, better still, I know what I don’t like. Yet I was struck again by this inability to ‘get it’ when I stumbled across the Common Ground Exhibit in New York a couple of weeks ago.
In yet another attempt to understand where I’m going wrong, I consulted the great minds that have gone before me: Napoleon’s A picture is worth a thousand words. Yes, and most of them are unprintable. Oscar Wilde’s A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. That I can identify with – if unique is a polite way of saying ‘completely bonkers’. Albert Camus’ A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession. Isn’t that what confessionals are for? Van Gogh’s
If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. And you can still keep them in your attic!  Finally, I hit on Aristotle’s The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. Now we’re getting somewhere. Inward significance.
But how to find the inward significance of this giant ketchup bottle (2001) by Paul McCarthy? According to the New York Times, ‘Mr McCarthy’s ketchup bottle, aligned with the dome of City Hall, makes a kind of Neo-Pop-psychoanalytic connection between patriarchy and power, with Mr Bloomberg playing the role of a creepy authoritarian rather than a benevolent daddy.’ Now I ask you, how would I ever have come to that conclusion on my own? How many years of education would I have needed to recognise the significance of this piece? What would I have needed to have experienced in my life so far to make that giant ketchup bottle more than just a giant ketchup bottle?
Christian Jankowski’s granite slab was more up my street. This I could get. Or so I thought. A simple expression of the artist’s wish to be buried ‘somewhere on common ground’.  The inward significance in this case is very much mirrored in the inscription. A case of it being what it is and no more. And I checked with the New York Times… and I got this one right!
In Thomas Schütte’s Memorial for an Unknown Artist (2011), I can see the angst of not being recognised. The frustration of no-one knowing your worth. The tragedy of great talent remaining undiscovered. The hands-to-head feverish clutching seems vaguely familiar. Do I recognise it as something I have experienced myself? Is this inward significance thing more about my innards than those of the artist or the art form? Do I feel as though my talent is unrecognised? Am I hiding my light under the proverbial bushel? Sweet Mother of Divine Jesus… do I need therapy?
Stop! Enough! Give it up, Mary, and admit that you have neither the wherewithal nor  the inclination to be arty. So most of it goes over your head… that’s not a bad thing. Just think of the damage it might do if it actually got into your head!
‘Common Ground’ continues through Nov. 30 at City Hall Park, Park Row and Chambers Street; (212) 223-7800,

Bright lights, big city

New York: a city of bright lights and brighter people. A city where everything and anything goes. After my minor altercation with the camera people, we spent the day in the Village, wandering from shop to shop with the occasional cosmopolitan in between. Rents are atrociously high with a flat in the Meatpacker district (smaller than mine here in BP) going for a meagre $6000 per month – yes, three zeros.  A little black bag in the second-hand shop had a price tag of €1200. A far cry from Cream at Corvin Negyed. A couple of cocktails could set you back $25 and that’s not including tip – mind you, the floor show alone (Tom Cruise eat your heart out) warranted the full 15%. But still I’m left wondering what people do to earn enough money to have the same quality of life that I have here in Budapest.

My neck did a great imitation of a periscope as I turned and twisted to ogle one person after another. I use that word advisedly as I was, on a number of occasions, staring quite rudely. The people are fascinating. The neighbourhoods so unique. The sense of ..well… America… is tangible. And of course, why wouldn’t it be? New York ranks up there as one of the most famous cities in the world.  It was the first Capital of the USA. The Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan is the only school in the world offering a BSc with a Major in Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing. Imagine how quickly that one would get you a job in the EU. We forget (or at least I do) that New York is both a city and a state and quite surprisingly, dairying is the most important farming activity with over 18,000 cattle in residence. It has 722 miles of subway track and it would take a week at least to get to grips with the alpha-numerical combinations and permutations so that you can figure your way around.

The New York Post established in 1803 by Alexander Hamilton is the oldest running newspaper in the United States. The pet cemetery in Hartsdale was established in 1896 and contains 12,000 plots. Was that where Stephen King got his inspiration? Ever wondered who Uncle Sam was? None other than Sam Wilson, a meatpacker from Troy. During the War of 1812, he stamped ‘US Beef’ on his products and soldiers interpreted the US abbreviation as meaning Uncle Sam. New York is also home  America’s first pizzeria opened by Gennaro Lombardi  in 1895.

So what did European settlers bring with them? Apple seeds. In the 1600s. But that’s not where the moniker ‘the Big Apple’ comes from. It’s a term coined by musicians meaning to play the big time. And in return, New York gave Europe toilet paper, invented by Joseph C. Gayetty in 1857.

Full of surprises, the buildings are old, beautiful, tarted up and run down. New Yorkers take to the outdoors to have their lunch and parks are full of sandwich- and salad-eating professionals each with their omnipotent cup of coffee from Starbucks. There are so many outlets that I suspect Starbucks is somehow sponsoring the city.

I ate Korean food for the first time at Do Hwa and can recommended it as something to try once before you die. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything quite like it and can only assume that the experience would be greatly improved had I  a native at hand who could just order for me.

Did I enjoy my time there? Definitely. Would I live there? Definitely not. But never say never… stranger things have happened. After all, I did move to Budapest thinking it was near the sea.

Want some more fun facts on New York?

Hope rings eternal

I must be the only person in the world who has not seen footage of 9/11. I was living in Alaska at the time  and I didn’t have a TV. I’ve never felt the need to watch it since as I’m already up to my tonsils in man’s inhumanity to man. I wanted to see Ground Zero though, but the queue was too long and I was too hot and anyway, with that many people crawling all over the place, I suspected I’d have been as disappointed as I had been when I visited the Cistine Chapel. I’m all for limiting the number of visitors at any one time so that that I can actually enjoy the moment and not feel put upon to move on.

I still wanted to pay my respects, so I popped into St Paul’s. It’s hard to believe that it withstood the bombings and has been there since 1766. I quite fancied that I saw shapes in the shadows of the tombstones and spent quite a few minutes wandering the cemetery. One stone in particular caught my eye, erected to the actor George Frederick Cooke (17 April 1756 – 26 September 1812), father of the so-called romantic style of acting. The stone was erected by Edmund Kean, the man who made that style famous. On it is written: Three kingdoms claim his birth; both hemispheres pronounce his worth. Not a bad legacy at all.

Close by stands the Bell of Hope, which was presented to New York by the Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Centerbury in 2002. On each anniversary of 9/11 it is rung in memory of those who lost their lives. It also rang on 11 March 2004 when the bombs went off in Madrid, and on 7 July 2005 when London was hit. Symbolising the triumph of hope over tragedy, it would be nice if it tolled just once a year from now on. It is rung to honor the achievements of all peacemakers who srive, in ways big and small, to work for reconciliation around the world.

Nice one, lads!

A sour bite from a big apple

The view across the Hudson River is spectacular, especially at night. The Empire State looms large and the new World Trade Center towers pink over the skyline. It’s calm. It’s quiet. It’s serene. And  for a built environment, it’s gobsmackingly gorgeous.

I’ve long since been a lover of New York. The accents, the busyness, the sheer size of everything. And although it’s been ten years or so since I was last there, I didn’t think it could grow to dislike me. I’m finding it difficult though to divorce one bad experience and stop it from colouring my whole perspective.

You think too much. You don’t think at all. Both accusations have been levelled at me over the years with neither one nor the other reigning supreme. I had a mission: to buy a camera for a mate. I had a budget. I knew what I looking for. And I wasn’t expecting to be scammed. On 34th and 7th Avenue, there’s a camera shop. Lots of cameras. Nice lads working inside. I had a great chat with one of them. We talked of what I wanted and we bartered. He came down from €499 to €269 + tax. Now, I hear you shout with incredulity, that should have been my first wake-up call. But I say again, in my defense, I wasn’t expecting to be scammed.

He said he’d dump the box as I was travelling and it would be better for customs. How nice, I thought. When I got back to the flat, I googled it so that I could send a picture to BP of what I’d bought. That’s when my stomach turned to lead and I felt completely and utterly betrayed. The self-same camera was on the manufacturer’s site for $139. Of course the receipt said ABSOLUTELY NO REFUNDS. Why hadn’t I noticed that earlier? A little research into NY consumer law showed that I had little chance of getting my money back.

I was gutted. The bright lights were no longer nearly as bright. And the view from where I was sitting had tarnished. Back I went the next day, this time with my mate ST and her smart phone. I breezed in and said a big hello to my old friends, having since decided that stupid was the way to play it. I said that I must have taken home the wrong camera yesterday as the one I had was available for a lot less than I’d paid for it. There was some mutterings about refurbishments until I mentioned the Fuji site. So they offered a replacement – a full exchange. No cash, of course. I came away with more camera for my money but left a piece of me behind.

I’ve spoken before of my gullibility. I know that I can be too trusting. But I simply refuse to believe the worst of anyone, unless they’ve given me reason to. What would the world be like if we didn’t trust each other? I dread to think. But then again, don’t these blokes have daughters, sisters, wives and girlfriends that they would  hate to see treated the way they treated me? Why is it always one rule for me and my brethern and another for everyone else?

I despair. New York will never quite hold the same magic for me. I’m sore. I’m sad. I’ve let it go – there’s no point in dwelling on it. But in case you’re in the vicinity of 34th and 7th Avenue, steer clear of that camera shop!

34th Street Camera and Computers, 460 7th Avenue.