Sunday, October 10, 2010

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Jean says: We started out bright and early Friday morning at the Metropolitan Museum, moved to the Metropolitan Pavilion in the afternoon and eventually ended up at a performance at the Joyce Theater later that evening. But I'm getting ahead of myself ...

Valerie says: This month, scheduling a meeting with Jean has been like scheduling a meeting with the president. We both work, so usually we have to fit our play around our work schedules. As it happened, there was so much play to be done that we realized the only way to accomplish all our goals was to take a day off, which we did this past Friday. First stop: a tour of Big Bambu, a spectacular human-scale bird’s nest kind of brilliantly chaotic affair created by identical twin artists Doug and Mike Starn, now on view on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For more on Big Bambu from the Metropolitan, click here; for the Starn brothers’ own website, click here.

Anyone can see the ground level of Big Bambu by going up to the roof, but the thirty minute tours to the top of the bamboo construction are by reservation only, and reservations are by standing on long lines only. So, on the advice of the Museum, we took our place on line at 8:50am in hopes of making the first of the half hourly tours at 10am. Here's Jean on the short line ahead of us. The limit was something like 14 people per tour.

To get there as early as possible, I brought my breakfast with me. FOUR - count 'em - FOUR yummy dark chocolate Afrika cookies by Bahlsen, and a banana. To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a banana is just a banana, especially if it references your earrings. (Matchy matchy!)

There were just enough people on line before us to prevent us from making the first tour, so we had to content ourselves with seeing a bit of the Khubilai Khan exhibition first. (Left is the line behind us.) At 10:15, arriving as scheduled, we were told to put ALL our belongings in a locker. Our shoes were inspected to see that they were safe for the tour (in a later photo you'll see I've changed mine), and Jean and I were politely and obliquely told to remove our hats. Cameras were not allowed, and we were even advised to take off our museum buttons for safekeeping, so we wouldn’t lose them and be confronted later, in our buttonlessness, by alert guards. No one thought to have us take off our earrings, interestingly. I didn’t understand about the hats, frankly – they don’t forbid basketball players, after all, and my hat and I are only about 5’9” together, if I’m standing straight. (Jean’s hat, with its Edwardian-length plucked and hook-like plume, admittedly might have been more of an issue.) We felt naked without our hats, but no one else on the tour seemed to notice how scandalously dressed we were. (Jean says: Without my hat, I felt like Samson, who lost his strength when his hair was shorn.)

The tour was wonderful and informative, and the weather perfect. For me, two of the most interesting tidbits were that when the Starn brothers applied to college, they submitted a single portfolio for both brothers, as they see themselves as that close a unit. The other tidbit was that Big Bambu, still under construction (it closes on October 31st), is being put together with the assistance of rock climbers, who are experienced in climbing and tying secure knots. Bamboo is still widely used as a construction material in Asia (particularly for scaffolding), and the brothers could have used experts in bamboo construction. They decided against that because they wanted to use people without preconceived notions on the best procedures. The snaking design you see on the pathway above looks lyrical, but has a practical side: it is intended to help keep walkers from slipping. (Jean says: The nylon climbing rope used to secure the bamboo poles was intentionally brightly colored. Like the Starn brothers' early photo-collages which used highly visible scotch tape to secure the images together, the knots of climbing rope secure the Big Bambu.)

While we were up there, we could see construction from a distance. (If you click on this photo, the blob in the center changes into rock climbers.) There were five or six men, and at least one woman. Our guide said the Starn brothers advertised in rock climbers’ magazines. (Jean says: Their prototype version of Big Bambu was constructed in their studio in Beacon, New York, near a lot of local rock climbing sites. Many of the same individuals who worked on that piece have come to Manhattan to construct their latest creation.)

Like most women our age, Jean and I were raised to be obedient, and like many women our age we think it’s time for a little rebellion. So when we were told not to bring our cameras, we felt compelled to disobey. And how could we not, given the unique view offered by Big Bambu, and the transitory nature of the construction? So we snapped these few pictures. (Jean says: The piece had grown visibly since our previous visit when it towered about 40 feet above the Museum's roof. An additional 30 feet have since been added, including this area called the "living room" in which the climbers had constructed benches on which to rest and hang out with each other.)

We tried to keep a low profile, but one woman, somewhat older than we, asked quite loudly in front of another guide “HEY, HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO BRING YOUR CAMERA UP HERE?" Then, to drive home her point, she continued, while smiling benignly, “YOU CHEATED!”, more or less forcing the guide to make us stop. Jean and I are of two minds as to whether she was merely blurting out her thoughts without considering the consequences, or whether she deliberately intended to spoil the moment for us, since she hadn't smuggled her own camera up. (Jean says: I tend to opt for the latter explanation.)

Technically, of course, she was right, and I suppose the rules are meant to protect people below from having a camera accidentally dropped on them. But we also feel a little bad for this woman, who seems to have bought into all the good girl stuff hook, line and sinker. Bet she never wears white after Labor Day. (Jean says: Don't get me started!)

Here's a great detail picture we took with our contravening camera. It looks chaotic, but there's a method to the madness.

These two photos, taken from ground level on the roof, give you some idea of the size and shape of the maze we toured. Jean, the black exclamation point in the center of the photo on the right, provides some perspective. Jean says: When viewed from above, the top of the piece looks like crashing waves. Nothing is flat and straight, everything is curving up or down, creating the illusion of motion.

The day we were there, both Starn brothers were on hand. Here’s Jean, engaging brother Doug in conversation. Brother Mike was there as well, wearing a suit jacket, but we ran out of gumption, and didn’t stop him for a photo op. (Jean says: I pulled my usual celebrity stalker routine and used my usual line: "We love your work." Fellow stalkers, as I have previously instructed, never say "I", always say "we" because it sounds less personal and less threatening. Here I am, moving in for the kill... Seriously, both brothers were absolutely charming. They were up on the installation while we were there, checking on progress and chatting with the industrious rock-climbers who were all visibily involved in tying new bamboo poles to the structure to create additional height. Construction will actually continue until Halloween, the day the exhibit closes. They anticipate that it will take up to two months to dismantle everything.)

After Big Bambu, we stopped at Valerie's apartment for a visit with her fabulous feline, Clementine. As you can see, Valerie starves the poor thing! After a quick snack (Naked Juice for Valerie and yogurt for me), we jumped in a cab for our second destination of the day: the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show. Because we thought we'd made plans to meet Tziporah at the Metropolitan Pavilion when the doors opened at 1 PM, we rushed so we wouldn't keep her waiting! Somewhere along the way, the wires had apparently gotten crossed. By the time Tziporah arrived at 3:30 PM, we'd already managed to check out most of the vendors.

We'd barely entered the show when we ran into Tim John, whom I hadn't seen since the Easter Parade and cocktails at MOMA. He was rocking a black and white look, wearing a white skirt under a Japanese man's silk shibori heko obi (soft silk sash) as a shirt that he'd cut and sewn himself, with a tank top and skull cap. I told Tim I'd recently described the job title inscribed on his business card ("Creator") to a friend who'd found it as hilarious as I did.

Whom should we run into next but the wonderful Lynn Yeager! Besides the recent New York Times Style Magazine "T" article, she is writing a lot for Vogue these days. Since 1920's clothing from the new HBO series "Boardwalk Empire" was featured in the lobby exhibition and in the catalog for the Vintage Clothing Show, Lynn was right in style with her flame-red flapper bob, burgundy bee-stung lips and crimson rouged cheeks! It is always a treat to see her and what she's wearing.

Our next stop in our tour of favorite vendors was Karen McWharter's booth. Karen always has a great selection of handbags, or what my mother used to call "pocket books", as well as jewelry, dresses and coats. Her booth is always beautiful arranged and easy to maneuver in.

I discovered this great pair of square red plastic earrings described on the tag as "funky 80s" at Icon Style ( The price was right, so they came home with me.

About half-way through the show, we ran into Tim John again, walking around in what my mother used to call "a state" (as in "He was in quite a state when he drove that bus off the mountain."). Tim had found the most spectacularly beautiful black Issey Miyake full pleated skirt about which he was engaging in that inner dialogue (Should I?/Shouldn't I?). When he offered to show us the object of his obsession, we were more than willing enablers. Of course, he gave into his inner demons and eventually took the plunge, doing his part to support the local economy. (Valerie says: we helped by playfully badgering the dealer to lower his price from astronomical to merely stratospheric.)

It turns out that Tim's skirt was in a very interesting booth run by Scout, a Hollywood, CA vendor ( with some of the most interesting inventory and interestingly dressed sales staff in the show, which was quite an accomplishment on both fronts. While we were in Scout's booth with Tim, my fashion A-D-D took over and I found myself pawing through the racks while Tim was trying to mentally, spiritually and financially justify the Miyake pleated skirt. Lo and behold, what did I spy? None other than a red Betsey Johnson 1990s cropped wool cardigan sweater emblazoned with black skulls. And thus I began my own inner/outer dialogue of justification. Check out "Cropped Sweaters and How to Wear 'Em!" @

The "one size fits all" label on the red sweater is overly positive. As my friend Louie likes to point out, "one size fits most". (Valerie agrees: It barely fit svelte Jean; I doubt I could have gotten my entire arm into one of the sleeves.)

After Tziporah arrived and had a chance to cruise the show, we met at the cafe to catch up and compare notes. She was a vision in pink, from her petal hat, scarf, quilted oriental jacket and silk pajamas to her kitten-heel mules and satin drawstring bag.

The next Manhattan Vintage Clothing show is February 4 & 5, 2011. For more info, go to

Jean says: Two down and one to go!
Valerie says: When I heard that the Japanese dance troupe Sankai Juku was coming to town, I rushed to buy my ticket. Knowing that Jean is a former dancer and remains an aficionada, I had to buy a ticket for her too, so she could sample it. We wound up with fourth row center seats. (These first two photographs from earlier Sankai Juku productions; photo from The Egg and I by Alan Eglinton.)

Of all the things I left behind when I left Japan, Nihon Butoh – a form of dance that defies accurate description – is one of the things I miss the most. Anyone familiar with Japanese art has seen its fabulous renderings of ghosts and demons. They are awesome (not in the California sense of the word), terrifying, disorienting, mystical, incomprehensible and grotesque, yet at the same time they are difficult to turn away from. While some performances of Nihon Butoh are dreamlike, others can evoke the union of classical Japanese demons and 20th century nightmares, and the landscape through which they dance could have been painted by Heironymous Bosch. The dancers almost always have shaven heads. They wear minimal costumes and cover themselves from head to toe in white powder, which flies off in dramatic clouds when the dancers make sudden movements.

Butoh rose from the ashes of WWII, and its images are often discomfiting, but riveting. The western dance lexicon is entirely absent, and the viewer strains to understand the presentation. Lacking understanding, one is forced to simply enjoy and contemplate and wonder, and take away something very personal and thought-provoking from the experience. “Oklahoma, where the winds come whistling down the plains” it’s not.

The piece we saw, Tobari, was not as raw or as stark as many as the works that preceded it over the past several decades, but still quite fascinating. (This photo by Andrea Mohin for the New York Times. Click here to read the New York Times review by Roslyn Sulcas.)

For best effect, Butoh needs to build up over the course of many minutes, so this clip from the Joyce Theater, which shows several brief snippets from Tobari, is not nearly adequate to give you an idea, but it’s a start.

In searching the internet, I came across a longer clip from an earlier piece (click here to see that), as well as a short video showing very brief Sankai Juku clips all strung together. The selection of the several short videos dates back to 1986, and is an allusion to a horrific accident that killed a Sankai Juku dancer during a Seattle performance in 1985.

For more on butoh, look in Google Videos for such names as Tatsumi Hijikata (the father of Butoh, who died in 1985),

Dairakudakan (one of the best troupes still active, which performs on occasion at Japan Society),

Min Tanaka (who danced in Julie Taymor’s version of Oedipus Rex, a stunning opera featuring Jessye Norman), and

Kazuo Ohno, one of the founding figures of Butoh, who died earlier this year at the age of 103, and performed well into his 90s (shown here with his son, also a professional Butoh dancer).

And, in the end...

Jean says: Rule number one in subway photo shoots: Don't lean on any of the walls or poles and don't touch anything!

After the show at the Joyce, we walked to the E train station at 16th St and 8th Avenue, where Valerie went to the uptown and I to the downtown platform. Even though we'd started our adventure over 13 hours earlier, we were both still amazingly energized. As Valerie's train pulled into the station first, I got this shot across the tracks of her waving adios just before the doors closed.

When I told Valerie I was including the shots I took on the subway platform and she asked about the one with her face smashed against the glass, I gleefully told her it did come out. (You'll probably have to click on the photo to confirm that.) One can only imagine what her fellow riders thought of the rather colorfully dressed woman in the turban who had her face pressed against the subway door! Valerie says: More than forty years after its debut, I am still stuck on the graphics for the Rolling Stones Through the Past Darkly album. Smushing my face against the window for a photo is my form of a tribute.

Valerie is wearing: a vintage velvet red and yellow turban labeled Best & Co. New York Fifth Avenue; vintage plastic fruit earrings; vintage yellow and orange polka dot jacket by Missoni, knitted bracelet of unknown material, vintage plastic and metal circles and squares bracelet, Gustav Klimt-inspired orange polyester shirt by JuanSilk New York, unlabeled vintage red suede harem pants. Red sandals worn on line, whose heels after fewer than ten wears are already severely worn down, by Nicole; unlabeled sturdy rubber and cotton mola shoes for climbing Big Bambu from Pan American Phoenix.

Jean is wearing: a black straw Ignatius hat, Kyodan jacket, vintage black Bakelite necklace and rings, deco black with white dots Bakelite dice earrings, Brigitte harem pants, Ralph Lauren neoprene slip on training shoes (for traction on Big Bambu) and black patent coin purse from Enz.

Attention, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea! Dumpling Diva alert! Marja Samsom will be "cooking up a storm" on CHOPPED on the Food Channel on Tuesday, October 19th. For a real treat, be sure to tune in and/or set your Tivos!

1 comment:

  1. somewhat randomly found your blog... thanks for the mention of scout! and love that the skull sweater made an appearance... see you in february! - joey from scout