Saturday, December 22, 2012

I Was Supposed to be in Cleveland by Now

Mike DeCapite reading at The Literary Cafe, Cleveland, March 2012
I was supposed to be in Cleveland last night, reading at another writer's book release party at a certain bar. The storm threats impelled me to cancel my bus ticket at the last minute; although I want to believe that Cleveland is an easy jaunt down the road, that can be less true during the winter months. (The train would have been safer, but I would have had to board at midnight and arrive at 3:00am.)

The occasion: Mike DeCapite's prose chapbook, Radiant Fog, has just debuted, and Jim Mason was reading with him as well. Mike was born and raised in Cleveland, the son of another Cleveland novelist, Ray DeCapite. Since his 20s, Mike has lived in San Francisco, London, and now (for many years) New York. He's a wonderful writer of place, of getting to and from places, and especially of moments in time and place. His recent piece over at Rust Belt Chic, "December," describes a moment in a cold Cleveland evening and reads like a gem of a prose poem. His novel Through the Windshield has been called a “Whitmanesque hymn to Cleveland” (Jocko Weyland, Rain Taxi). I loved his last chapbook, Creamsicle Blue, which traveled from New York to Cleveland to San Francisco and always back to New York. By his own admission, his writing often tells stories but he doesn't write stories per se. As a reader, I love watching him achieve a very delicate balance of description and revelation: as if his art is that of finding the right ratio of interior to exterior. What does a hidden road along the Cuyahoga River have to do with a particular feeling from 1982? Everything. The writer can taste the feeling in his mouth in the same way he can taste the cold air of that particular night, and the reader can taste it, too. Mike DeCapite has the touch for locating himself as a narrator.

Last night's reading was held at The Literary CafĂ©. I had the privilege of reading there with Mike in March of this year: The small bar they call "The Lit" has been serving beer and shots on Literary Road in Tremont since late 1991, and Mike DeCapite has been reading there something like once or twice a year for two decades. The bar itself (which hosts monthly readings and weekly life drawing sessions) is lined in a warm pine wood paneling and exposed brick, with touches of brightness everywhere—Christmas lights, framed drawings, a glowing face in the window, a fake fireplace burning away. The warmth of the customers, who seem to have known each other forever, is also palpable. 

Greetings from The Lit
As a reading audience, the scene at The Lit reminded me most of The New Yinzer Presents readings held at ModernFormations Art Gallery in Pittsburgh, or the Last Sunday, Last Rites reading series at the Baltimore Hostel. In each case, the audience knows each other well, and the coziness starts there. (People congregate in the center of the room and laugh and embrace, whereas at some New York readings, people arrive in ones and twos and hug the walls. Looking out from the stage, the room appears empty.) Beer flows at each of these reading series, but it doesn't interrupt the audience being highly attentive once the reading begins. At The Lit, I was especially impressed; the bar laughed heartily at many of my most subtle almost-jokes, at life's little ironies embedded in not-funny prose. They really got everything I was doing as a writer. In the end, I realized that I owed at least some thanks for that to Mike DeCapite. The degree to which our literary sensibilities overlapped was the degree to which his audience could easily pick up on my innuendos: These people were his readers—many had been reading and listening to him read for at least 20 years. This left me to ponder on the process and patience of building a long-term audience (in a city where you don't live anymore, no less!).

Graffiti on Cleveland Museum of Art's renovations
Cleveland: An old friend was going to meet me there from Ann Arbor. With the pending blizzard, we would have stayed in a hotel room, and in fact he got a last-minute great deal on the Renaissance Cleveland, right there in Public Square. I've only been to Cleveland a few times, but from Public Square I would have known where to eat breakfast (around the corner, inside the landmark Terminal Tower), how to get the city bus to the reading or to the Cleveland Museum of Art (the bus is $2.25, the museum is free), and which direction the Megabus stop was (in fact it's steps from the hotel). Did you know that Cleveland's city bus system runs 24 hours? Or that they have a bus line that's as close to being a light rail as you can get? It's similar to Pittsburgh's Busway, but where Pittsburgh's system avoids the traffic lights but is off the beaten path, Cleveland's Healthline (subsidized by the Cleveland Clinic) has a dedicated lane right down Euclid Avenue, the main thoroughfare between downtown and Case Western and the art museum. Enclosed bus stops have machines for bus tickets, which aren't collected by drivers but bought on an honor system; all doors open at every stop, which speeds service to an impressive efficiency. This all feels a bit like Rust Belt Luxury to me.

Pittsburgh isn't in the "snow belt" of lake effect snowfall, but it feels like a Great Lakes city here this weekend. The wind is blowing fierce and cold from the west, much colder than we've felt in a long time, and last night I went to bed with a hat on. But today I'm feeling, if not warm, then strong enough to handle the cold. I want to say it has something to do with being bundled up in the clothes I'd packed for a potential blizzard weekend in Cleveland and Ann Arbor. See you next time.

Monday, December 10, 2012

December Unblurred

It had drizzled all day on Friday. While that makes for a very dreary, hiding-in-the-house and drinking cocoa kind of day, it made for a glittery evening on Penn Ave for the lat Unblurred of 2012. The streets were alive with lights.
David Bernabo: Having Already Said Quite A Bit
David Bernabo: Having Already Said Quite A Bit
David Bernabo's works were the highpoint of Ghosts, etc. at ModerrnFormations. The installation took up most of one wall in the back gallery. The light, fresh palette made me homesick for spring.

Ghosts, etc.
Modernformations Gallery and Performance Space
Exhibit runs until the 28th.
4919 Penn Ave

Emily Eckel (left) and Joyce Compton (right) at the Irma Freeman Center
Emily Eckel (left) and Joyce Compton (right) at the Irma Freeman Center
This was a really great exhibit! So many incredible variations on the theme of Dolls; some were sweet, some were frightening, but all of them were amazing. The dolls were created by a loosely organized group called the Jane Street Art Doll Collective, who explore the boundaries of dolls and doll-making.

Over the next two Saturdays, Chris Fondi will be conducting doll making classes. If you missed the opening reception, the show will be up for the first Unblurred of 2013, on January 4.

Through January 4th. (closing reception)
The Irma Freeman Center for Imagination
Gallery Hours are 2 -5 PM on Saturdays in December
5006 Penn Ave.

Gary D. Owens at Most Wanted Fine Art
Gary D. Owens at Most Wanted Fine Art

Gary Owens' works at Most Wanted Fine Art were really energetic, almost frantic. Even the somewhat prosaic subject matter of a sleeping pet was approached with this incredible energy. I really do need to get a better camera; these images are a little washed out, but you can still read the texture really well.

The Doors of Perception
Most Wanted Fine Art
5015 Penn
Steph Sciullo at Stuff N Such Society
Steph Sciullo at
Stuff N Such Society

Heh heh. It's a rat. In a box.

This, along with many other oddities, are available for the off beat holiday shopper at the Stuff N Such Society. You know, to celebrate Krampus.

Stuff N Such Society
"The Art of Collectible Culture"
5015 Penn Ave (Basement)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

NY Times Story on how Robert Moses and NYC Government Placed the Poor in Harms Way

Finally, after rarely bringing the issue up, the brilliant caring folks at the NY Times have come to wonder why so much of New York's public housing ended up in highly vulnerable flood zones. 

From The New York Times:

How the Coastline Became a Place to Put the Poor

"It’s impossible to talk about the landscape of modern New York without talking about Moses, who leveraged his position as head of the Mayor’s Committee on Slum Clearance to mass-produce thousands of units of high-rise public housing, often near the shoreline. His shadow looms over much of the havoc wreaked by the storm."
Well, is only Moses to blame? In the more than 60 years since these policies started - few if any have publicly recognised the clear danger.

'Initially, there was a strict screening process to get into the Rockaways’ new projects. Over time, though, those with steady incomes were encouraged to leave, to make room for people on public assistance. To city officials, the Rockaways’ distant location made it an ideal destination for troubled families and individuals. The projects that lined the seven-mile-long peninsula were soon joined by facilities for recently deinstitutionalized mental patients and high-rise nursing homes."
The article is too short but touches on the long history.

My two posts

Sandy and Far Rockaway: Another Tragedy of Urban Planning

Far Rockaway was dumping ground for mentally Ill warehoused in Nursing Homes

I hope very much the New York Times links work.

Zagat's taking Pittsburgh Reviews More Seriously- Sort of

Lots of good and bad economic cross currents are impacting the region- one of the best being a growing rep as a cool, interesting place to live or visit.

After pretty much ignoring Pittsburgh for years, Zagat's finally included 7 restaurants; Capital Grille, Ruths Chris; Mortons Steak House; McCormick & Schmicks....even Cheesecake Factory in a "chain survey".

Response of course was pretty furious. Zagat's promises a full Pittsburgh Restaurant guide in early 2013.

You can participate in the survey- Here.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Give art and make a maker's day

There are several DIY fairs in Pittsburgh every year, focused around the holiday season. These occasions bring together crafters and artists from all over Pittsburgh, and in some cases the region. These events not only showcase talent and imagination, they offer you an opportunity to find unique gifts for special friends and family.

Handmade ArcadeHandmade Arcade has found a home at the David Lawrence Convention Center for their annual holiday fair. There is a list of over 150 vendors, offering Jewelry, clothing, papercraft and more. Many local favorites will be there with their wares. This year's event is scheduled for Saturday, December 8.

I loved this event when I attended last year. There were so many vendors with unique items, it was hard to take it all in. I want to point out that shopping for DIY items does not put any more of a dent in your budget than shopping in more conventional stores. Artists and crafters are very aware of market constraints. Many vendors will have items priced reasonably, and it won't be hard to find gifts that fall within your budget. Some items will be priced as low as $10, and can be great stocking stuffers or a gift for a coworker.

These DIY fairs range throughout the month of December, and new ones come and go. While not exactly a maker fair, the venues along Penn Ave will be open for their monthly Unblurred series. Currently, 707 Penn Gallery, in downtown, has a holiday market in place during regular gallery hours and the Pittsburgh Glass Center will have a Holiday Glass sale as well as an opportunity to create your own ornament on December 8. Although it is over for this year, FE Gallery (Butler St, Lawrenceville) had a series of weekend markets, which will hopefully return next year. I Made It, which took place last weekend, is also an annual event that showcases local DIY crafters and artists.

Box Heart Gallery - Celebrate the Season
Box Heart Gallery - Celebrate the Season

Although most of the fairs are over for this holiday season, there are several venues that consistently carry not only DIY crafts, but fine crafts and art. Several of them have regular holiday shops. Again, opportunities for purchasing inexpensive gifts abound, but the upper end of the price points is much higher. The work tends to be of higher quality, even in their more reasonably priced items.

Box Heart Gallery showcases the work of the artists represented by the gallery during the month of December. It's a great time to get acquainted with their represented artists as well as a time to shop for some special little item. There's a range of beautiful jewelry, holiday ornaments, and prints. Also, there are these great little mobiles by gallery artist Sherry Rusinack that are simply charming. Also, Box Heart will be having a special sale on December 15.

No matter what neighborhood of Pittsburgh you happen to find yourself, there is bound to be a gallery or so that will have a holiday-themed shop. Highlights include:
- Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (Shadyside) has a great holiday shop, showcasing the work of members of Pittsburgh's many arts guilds.
- Society for Contemporary Crafts (Strip District) has an absolutely beautiful year-round shop that showcases the finest crafts.

Enjoy your holiday season, I know I will.