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    MOSCOW (Project Syndicate) ― Donald Trump’s transition from U.S. President-elect to taking power recalls nothing so much as a forgotten Hollywood genre: the paranoid melodrama. Perhaps the greatest film of this type, “The Manchurian Candidate,” concerns a communist plot to use the brainwashed son of a leading right-wing family to upend the American political system. Given the fondness that Trump and so many of his appointees seem to have for Russian President Vladimir Putin, life may be about to imitate – if not exceed – art.

    To be sure, the attraction for Putin that Trump and his picks for secretary of state and national security adviser ― Rex Tillerson and Michael Flynn ― share is not the result of brainwashing, unless you consider the love of money (and of the people who can funnel it to you) a form of brainwashing. Nonetheless, such Kremlinophilia is ― to resurrect a word redolent of Cold War paranoia ― decidedly un-American.

    Consider the derision shown by Trump and his posse for Central Intelligence Agency reports that Kremlin-directed hackers intervened in last month’s election to benefit Trump. In typical fashion, Trump let loose a barrage of tweets blasting the CIA as somehow under the thumb of his defeated opponent, Hillary Clinton. His potential nominee for deputy secretary of state, John Bolton, went even further, suggesting that the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, was a “false flag” operation designed to smear an innocent Kremlin. 

    Life may be about to imitate art.

    The idea that a U.S. president-elect would take the word of the Kremlin over that of the CIA, and even the most senior members of his own party, is already bizarre and dangerous. But the simultaneous nomination of Tillerson ― the long-time CEO of ExxonMobil, America’s most powerful energy company, which has tens of billions of dollars invested in Russia ― to be America’s top diplomat takes this love affair with a major adversary to a level unprecedented in U.S. history.

    For Tillerson, taking Russia’s side against the U.S. is nothing new. Consider the sanctions that the U.S. and Europe imposed on Russia in response to the country’s annexation of Crimea ― a blatantly illegal act ― in 2014. Instead of supporting U.S. policy, Tillerson belittled it. Instead of fully honoring President Barack Obama’s call for ExxonMobil not to send a representative to the annual Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum after the annexation, Tillerson cynically sent the head of one of ExxonMobil’s international operations. And instead of returning the Order of Friendship that he received from Putin months before the invasion of Crimea, Tillerson continues to celebrate his status as a “friend of Vladimir.”

    Flynn, like Tillerson, has also been feasting at the Kremlin trough. After being fired by Obama for his incompetent management of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Flynn immediately began to cultivate Russian business contacts. And Putin seems to have been more than happy to see that commercial doors were opened to Flynn. There is a now-infamous photograph of Flynn seated next to Putin at a banquet for Russia Today, the Kremlin-backed cable news network that was a prime source of the slanted and even fake news that inundated the U.S. during the recent election campaign.

    The idea that a U.S. president-elect would take the word of the Kremlin over that of the CIA is bizarre and dangerous.

    As for Trump, statements made by his sons suggest that, if the American public ever got a look at his tax returns and business loans, they would find that he has also been feathering his nest with Kremlin gold for some time. He has undoubtedly taken money from countless Russian oligarchs. In 2008, he unloaded one of his Palm Beach mansions on Dmitry Rybolovlev, a fertilizer oligarch, for $95 million. Sergei Millian, who heads the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, is said to have facilitated countless investments from Russians into Trump projects. For Trump, no money is too tainted to pocket.

    Trump’s adoration of Russia ― or, more accurately, Russian riches ― was apparent well before Americans went to the polls, as was his habit of surrounding himself with like-minded advisers. For months, Trump’s presidential campaign was run by Paul Manafort, a political operative who had worked to secure the disgraced President Viktor Yanukovych’s victory in Ukraine’s 2010 presidential election. Trump severed public ties with Manafort only after Ukraine’s current democratic government revealed documents that hinted at the millions of dollars that Yanukovych had paid Manafort, in cash.

    As Trump’s inauguration draws near, Americans must confront three big questions. One, in a sense, is a take on a question that Trump raised about Clinton during the campaign: what happens if the Federal Bureau of Investigation finds evidence of criminal conduct by the president? Or, perhaps more likely in Trump’s case, what happens if the president tries to shut down FBI investigations into his commercial activities involving Russia, or into the actions of cronies like Manafort?

    'Trump the Movie' is unlikely to end well.

    The second question, which the U.S. Senate should ask before confirming Tillerson as secretary of state, concerns the extent of his and ExxonMobil’s financial interests in Russia. The Senate should also probe how closely Tillerson has cooperated with Igor Sechin, the chairman of Rosneft and a notorious ex-KGB operative, particularly in renationalizing much of the Russian oil industry and placing it under Sechin’s personal control. Similar questions should be asked about Flynn but because the national security adviser doesn’t need to be confirmed by the Senate, little can be done about his appointment.

    The biggest question of all concerns the American people. Are they really willing to accept a president who denounces men and women who risk their lives to defend the U.S., and who is equally quick to praise and defend Putin and his cronies when their reckless, even criminal, conduct is exposed?

    At the end of “The Manchurian Candidate,” another brainwashed character – Frank Sinatra’s Marco – escapes his programming to foil the communist plot. But that was Cold War Hollywood: of course the good guys won. “Trump the Movie” is unlikely to end so well.

    © Project Syndicate 2016

    -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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    2016: The Best New York Theatre

    Once again, the New York theatre world has had a banner year, with exciting plays, musicals and revivals on Broadway and off. In a continuing trend, many of the selections are transfers from non-profits or new productions from Broadway non-profits. Little matter; the productions below for the most part transported their audiences.

    Let it be added that two top flight musicals which are likely to appear on most or all of this year's Ten Best Lists -- Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 and Falsettos -- have been omitted herein due to conflicts of interest. (I recently coauthored, with Dave Malloy, "The Great Comet: The Journey of a New Musical to Broadway"; and in 1990 coproduced the original production of William Finn's Falsettoland.) Thus, both are officially unlisted but highly recommended -- and you only have until January 8 to see Falsettos, so what are you waiting for?



    Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen
    Photo: Matthew Murphy

    Word spread like wildfire once Dear Evan Hansen opened at Second Stage in May: here was an excellent musical along the lines of the equally exemplary Fun Home. But how would it translate to the bigger confines of the Music Box? It's even better on Broadway, and it's extremely satisfying to see 'em fighting to get in. Songwriters Benj Pask and Justin Paul have the hit they deserve, Steven Levenson matches them with his emotionally strong book, and overnight-star Ben Platt is joined by seven excellent actors. Go see it! [reviewed here]



    Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders, Lynn Hawley
    and Meg Gibson in
    Women of a Certain Age
    Photo: Joan Marcus

    Author/director Richard Nelson deserves three slots on our list for his Gabriel trilogy (which followed his equally celebrated four-part The Apple Family), but that would be hogging the kitchen table as it were. There was no audience participation component in Hungry, What Did You Expect? and Women of a Certain Age, but theatergoers lucky enough to spend three evenings at the Public with Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders and the rest experienced the true meaning of emotionally and intellectually interactive theatre that packs a wallop. [reviewed here]



    Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays in Oslo
    Photo: T. Charles Erickson

    It's too early to talk about the best American play of the season, but Oslo--which played an off-Broadway run at the Newhouse last summer--is a clear contender. Lincoln Center Theater is reopening the J.T. Rogers play at their Broadway-eligible Vivian Beaumont in April, and we look forward to savoring the play (led by Jefferson Mays, directed by Bartlett Sher) once more. [reviewed here]


    Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub in The Band's Visit
    Photo: Ahron R. Foster

    Coming on the heels of three startlingly good fall musicals (namely Dear Evan Hansen, The Great Comet and Falsettos), who would have expected a fourth of equivalent promise? Yet David Yazbek and Itamar Moses' The Band's Visit appeared last week for a short run at the Atlantic. One expects, and hopes, that this musical--with Yazbek's jasmine-&-honey scented score--will reappear uptown within the year. [reviewed here]


    Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw in Arthur Miller's The Crucible
    Photo: Jan Versweyveld

    Arthur Miller and Ivo van Hove were on last year's list for their A View from the Bridge (in a production originated by the Young Vic). They returned just three months later with an equally stunning production of the 1953 drama The Crucible, starring Ben Whishaw and Sophie Okonedo. With designer Jan Versweyveld placing the action (which takes place in 1692) in what looked like a mid-century America classroom, the play gained startling relevance for today's audience.


    Frank Langella in The Father
    Joan Marcus

    Frank Langella, in yet another "performance of his career," was astounding as a patient descending into deep dementia in Florian Zeller's play, translated from the French by Christopher Hampton. The Father has been consistently successful in other productions in other countries, in other languages with other stars; but it's hard to imagine anyone having the impact of Langella at the Manhattan Theatre Club. [reviewed here]



    Audra McDonald in Shuffle Along
    Photo: Julieta Cervantes

    George C. Wolfe and Savion Glover assembled a stunning array of talent--from performers, designers, et al--into a bountiful musical telling the story of the making and undoing of the legendary 1921 revue. The show itself, starring Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry, did not enjoy a financially successful run, but no matter; Shuffle Along was a gift for us all, and likely to remain unforgettable. [reviewed here]



    Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi in She Loves Me
    Joan Marcus

    Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's candy box of a musical was given a magical revival by the Roundabout, with a delectable Laura Benanti leading a cast that included Zachary Levi, Jane Krakowski and Gavin Creel. She Loves Me--which, according to the record books, failed when initially produced in 1963--has deservedly established itself as one of the jewels of the 20th century Broadway musical. [reviewed here]



    Johanna Day and Michelle Wilson in Sweat
    Photo: Joan Marcus

    Pulitzer-winner Lynn Nottage probes the lives of struggling Union workers in a dying Pennsylvania steel town as their jobs are outsourced, in a play which has not-quite-expected resonance in the here-and-now. A fine cast led by Johanna Day brings urgency to these blue-collar lives in this Public Theater production,
    which is moving uptown to Studio 54 in April. [reviewed here]



    Nathan Lane in The Front Page
    Photo: Julieta Cervantes

    It's comedy tonight at the Broadhurst, with director Jack O'Brien and an expert cast taking the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur classic and showing us how it's done. Chicago, 1928: here's Nathan Lane, at his tip-top best. Here's John Slattery, Jefferson Mays, Lewis J. Stadlen, Dylan Baker, Holland Taylor, Bobby Morse, and more and more. Laughter cascades like lead lightning from one of Al Capone's Tommy guns. [reviewed here]

    Honorable Mention goes to: Sarah DeLappe's The Wolves (Playwrights Realm), Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility (Bedlam), Lucas Hnath's Red Speedo (NYTW), Phyllida Lloyd's Taming of the Shrew (The Public's Shakespeare in the Park), Samuel D. Hunter's The Harvest (Lincoln Center Theater), Colman Domingo's Dot (Vineyard), Robert Waldman & Alfred Uhry's The Robber Bridegroom (Roundabout), and Marco Ramirez' The Royale (Lincoln Center Theater).

    -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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    Has 'Springtime for Hitler' finally met its match?

    What, after all, could be a better example of bad taste than a figure-skating routine performed by a man and a woman dressed as concentration camp inmates, complete with stripes and yellow stars? Clearly, Mel Brooks chose the wrong season for his Hitler-themed broadway scam. Winter is coming, accessorized with Holocaust kitsch.


    Last Saturday's episode of 'Ice Age' (which the New York Times describes as a 'celebrity ice-dancing show on Russian television') hit a particular viral sweet spot: part 'wacky Russian' YouTube video (like the dash cam videos popularized by Jon Stewart after the Chelyabinsk meteor), part Putinist horror story (former Olympic ice skater Tatiana Navka is married to presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov).

    The response in the West is unsurprising and understandable. The comedian Sarah Silverman put it best when she tweeted, 'Oh those whacky Holocaust victims (OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD).' And this is from someone who, just last spring, scandalized the bourgeoisie by making jokes about abortion and semen at a children's education charity gala. Successfully shocking Sarah Silverman is a feat of Olympic proportions.

    But there's a funny thing about taste, both good and bad: it's not universal. Taste is all about context, culture, values, and power. So the real question is: how could something be so widely applauded in one country and reviled in another?

    Life Is Beautiful, but Film is Tacky

    Before we address the taste gap, we must give credit (or blame) where it is due: Navka's dance routine was inspired by Roberto Benigni's 1997 Life Is Beautiful, an Oscar-winning comedy set in a concentration camp. Benigni plays an Italian Jew who helps his young son cope with the Holocaust by pretending that the camp is a complex game, before finally sacrificing his life to save his family.

    Critics (and audiences) were divided: was this a charming way of making the Holocaust 'real' again through the device of make-believe? Ot was it just in really poor taste? Navka's performance on 'Ice Age' inherits this ambiguity while presupposing unanimity: in adapting Life Is Beautiful, Navka and her partner are clearly convinced of the movie's power and importance.

    The taste gap highlighted by 'Ice Age' is a predictable phenomenon when two mass cultures collide, especially when these cultures are not on equal footing. Thanks to America's continuing global dominance in the entertainment industry, Russian viewers are highly proficient in the codes and tropes of American mass culture, while viewers in the U.S. haven't the faintest notion of what works (or fails) in Russia. This makes Russian entertainment much more vulnerable to a perception of freakishness or 'backwardness.'

    Take, for example, the 2009 rediscovery of Soviet crooner Eduard Khil, who became a viral sensation as the 'Trololo Man.' Khil's fame in the West was based entirely on the perception that his performance was ridiculous and cringeworthy. But when I've raised this point with education Russian scholars of my generation, my interlocutors seem completely stunned: Ridiculous? I though it was happy and kind of sweet.

    Medium and Message

    Still, much more is at stake when dealing with the Holocaust. And much less is at stake when it's a matter of ice dancing. Or is there?

    Twenty-five years after the Soviet collapse, Russia is still the heir to a distinct set of artistic traditions that makes 'Ice Age' understandable. In the first decades of the USSR's existence, art was expected to carry a heavy ideological burden. And not just verbal art, which is presumably well-suited for conveying messages--ideology found its way into unlikely art forms. Yale graduate student Mina Magda recently posted on Facebook a particularly striking quote from a Soviet-era article on ballet that illustrates just how far this could go:

    'Odette dances the aspiration toward freedom, the heroine of Native Fields has to express in dance the desire that her fiancé will arrive to construct an electric power station in the native kolkhoz.'

    By comparison, an interpretive ice dance based on Life Is Beautiful looks easy.

    Whose Holocaust is it, Anyway?

    At the heart of the controversy is, of course, the Holocaust itself. To many in the West, addressing the Holocaust in an ice dancing competition is nigh on blasphemous. The Russian audience is not composed of Holocaust deniers and Nazi apologists. Why aren't they outraged?

    We should recall that the Holocaust does not loom as large in Russian culture and historiography as it does in America and Western Europe. This is partly because the Soviet downplayed the specifically anti-Jewish persecution involved, but I would say that this is a minor point.

    More important is that, for Russia, the Holocaust is only part of a larger narrative: the tragedy that befell Europe in general and the Soviet Union in particular during World War II. With Soviet casualties estimated at 20 million (some of whom are also counted in Holocaust statistics), it is Russia's suffering that occupies center stage. In the West, the Holocaust is the first thing we think of when we think of Nazis. In the former Soviet Union, it is the German invasion of the USSR.

    The Holocaust in the West is both sacred and vexed; sacred, in that its memory is all but untouchable in the public sphere, and vexed, in that the persistence of Holocaust denial by the lunatic fringe requires vigilance about historical memory. In Russia, that same vexed and sacred space is occupied by the Soviet victory. The defeat of Nazi Germany is the primary story unifying virtually the entire population of the Russian Federation, and anything that smacks of revisionism (justified or not) is subject to public attack.

    The independent station TV-Rain nearly had to shut down after polling its viewers about the wisdom of remaining in Leningrad during the blockade. Just two days ago Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky condemned any efforts to revisit the accounts of the Panfilov Division's defense of Moscow or the martyrdom of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya: '[T]hose who question dig, or try to cast doubt on the accomplishments of our ancestors,' he declared, should 'burn in hell.'

    The public commemoration of the Soviet Union's (and, subsequently, Russia's) triumphs and tragedies has rarely embraced restraint as its primary aesthetic principle. If an event is worthy of acknowledgment, then it can (and should) be acknowledged by all, in every art form available (remember the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympic in Sochi).

    So when Westerns (myself included) cringe at 'Ice Age,' we should remember: we are not the intended audience.

    -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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  • 12/15/16--15:03: Meaningful Rituals
  • Holidays can be tough, in part because they come with a certain amount of anticipation and hope for connection and joy. So to kick off the season, I signed up for a wreath-making workshop in the greenhouse of Mount Auburn Cemetery. Mount Auburn Cemetery is a special place. It's a National Historic Landmark, America's first rural cemetery, and an expansive landscape that includes a botanical garden and more than 60,000 monuments. (Mount Auburn is where I found inspiration to both write and perform Regeneration, an account about how I found healing in an unexpected place - a cemetery - following my cancer diagnosis.)

    For over twenty-five years, Maureen Simonelli, with a background in plant science and floral design, has conducted this annual wreath- making workshop. She provides a welcoming space, complete with her homemade pizzelles, burning candles, and samples of her own Victorian-inspired wreaths of dried field flowers (broom corn, tansy, and eupatorium). After gathering us together to describe the wreath- making process, Maureen finished with a poem, The Shortest Day of the Year (by Susan Cooper), which speaks to the need to drive the dark away.

    The supplies were abundant, many harvested from the Cemetery's extensive plants and gardens. Milkweed pods, dried field flowers, gonfrenia (which one elderly woman smiled and said she always called it gonhorrea - scandal), German statice, pine cones, holly, cinnamon sticks, and chestnuts. A few tasteful store-bought decorations, berries, angels, and birds rounded out the supplies. 2016-12-05-1480962521-910057-5D212EB1DAB04FF0AC2F10A6E2AC1B02.jpg

    Traditionally, the evergreen wreath symbolizes eternity, an unending circle of life with no beginning or end, but for many of today's participants it is more personal. They remember who they have lost over the years and their wreath-making is about paying tribute to the person who is gone. Though I may not connect with the symbolism of religious growth and rebirth, I rejoice at my new wreath.

    Whatever we do to get through the holidays, I encourage you to find a meaningful ritual that fills you with the promise of more light.


    -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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    Fifteen years ago, Essential Voices USA music director and conductor Judith Clurman commissioned composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) and lyricist Steve Young to write a Chanukah piece. Although their song, "We are Lights," was performed at the 2001 Lincoln Center Tree Lighting ceremony and broadcast on TV, it was never recorded. Clurman was waiting for the right choral arranger. She finally found him in Ryan Nowlin.

    Now "The Chanukah Song (We are Lights)" is on Seasons of Light, the New York City-based chorus' latest CD, released on November 18th and produced by David Frost with Lee Musiker on the piano. One listen and it's clear that Nowlin's arrangement was worth waiting for. The result is a beautiful blend of voices, and the vocal lines dance like the Chanukah lights themselves. He also created an a cappella section with the voices layering on top of each other, one of the most thrilling moments in the piece, especially for me as a singer--I'll sing it this weekend with Essential Voices USA at Carnegie Hall as part of the New York Pops' holiday concerts: Make the Season Bright.


    Clurman also tapped Nowlin for another arrangement on the CD--composer John Bucchino's "Grateful." Originally a solo number, "Grateful" now sparkles with the choral sound.

    Bucchino, whose work spans classical, pop, and musical theater, and Schwartz are part of an eclectic collection of composers featured on Seasons of Light. Some pieces are traditional holiday favorites such as "Carol of the Bells," arranged here by P.J. Wilhousky, and "Auld Lang Syne," in an arrangement by Tedd Firth. Jean Mouton's "Ave Maria" hails from the French Renaissance, and the carol "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" receives a stunning new arrangement by David Chase.

    Recording session with Judith Clurman, Lee Musiker, and Essential Voices USA

    Clurman takes great care to combine the more established works with modern programming. Benjamin Britten's "Friday Afternoons, Op. 7: No. 5. A New Year Carol" brings the listener into the 20th century as a bridge to the composers of today. "We constantly have to introduce new creators," Clurman said in a phone interview. "We should not just hold on to what we know. Time marches on, music does too. We need the new and the familiar mixed with new composers and lyricists."

    Joining the current composers on Seasons of Light is Jacob Narverud, whom Clurman met while conducting a workshop in Kansas City when he was a student at Emporia State University. Narverud wrote the title song "Seasons of Light," which opens the CD. A contemporary carol that shines in its simplicity, the song brings the listener into the joyous themes of the season. "I love the line, 'For a moment on earth all the wrong turns to right,'" Clurman said of the lyric. "I really believe in that line."

    Lee Musiker, John Bucchino, Stephen Schwartz, Jacob Narverud, Judith Clurman, David Chase

    As the CD encompasses the old and new, it also spans the holiday season from Thanksgiving to the New Year. "I believed in making a seasonal musical greetings card for all people," Clurman said. Seasons of Light can be looked at as a companion album to Clurman's CD Holiday Harmonies, an Essential Voices USA CD from last year with an equally beautiful collection of holiday choral pieces.

    Listening to this CD, one hears a love for this time of year, and for Clurman, this holiday season is a special time. "It really means the season of light to me," she said. "There's nothing more magical than seeing the tree lit up at Rockefeller Center, seeing the streets decorated with lights, and seeing the beautiful displays in the department store windows." Even though not every aspect of this particular holiday season is joyous, she hopes music can help. "We are in a very troubled world," she added. "I hope my CD brings some joy and comfort to the world."

    Judith Clurman, Stephen Schwartz, and Lee Musiker

    Photos by Richard Termine

    -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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  • 12/15/16--15:17: The Prince And The Moon
  • For the holidays and to delight the reader with the pleasures of magical kingdoms, Princes and Princesses, and fantastical journeys, I offer the following fairy tale, excerpted from my coming novel. In the book, an orchestra violinist is telling his little son a bedtime story. The wonderful illustrations are by my friend Sandi Goodwin. -TW


    ©Sandi Goodwin, used with permission

    "The Prince looks at the blue sky and the intense blue of the sea. This is the most beautiful island, perhaps the most beautiful island in the whole of the Mediterranean. He is there looking at his island, the palm trees, and the market with all the fresh fruit, melons, grapes, and pears, and pineapples, and the delicious prepared food laid out on long tables for people to buy. There are rice dishes, all types of meats, fresh fish, lobsters, and shrimps which you like to eat as well."

    The boy smiles and puts his fingers in his mouth. He is quite still and listening.


    ©Sandi Goodwin, used with permission

    "Then the Prince sees her. She is in the distance but he recognizes her even though he has never seen her before. He knows her because she is someone he has been looking for. She has a magical aura and she notices that he is looking at her but she moves away in the dense tangle of the crowd."

    "Why didn't she want to meet the Prince?" "Well, we are about to find out."

    "The Prince is overcome with his desire to meet this girl and rushes into the crowd, which parts before him, bowing like wheat in the wind. But he cannot find her and he returns to his Palace feeling unhappy. Later that day he decides to walk to his private beach and swim. He loves to do this and he is a good and strong swimmer. He can even dive into the water from a rock. The water is cool and delicious and it changes his mood so that he feels as though he is a fish playing in the waves with all the other fish. He dives from his rock and splashes into the sea.


    ©Sandi Goodwin, used with permission

    "His mother sees him from the Palace window and smiles at her son. She notices a girl walking on the beach approaching her son. 'Now how on earth did she get here when we have all those Palace guards,' she wonders? It is not someone she knows and the Prince has not seen her yet. The girl walks to where the Prince is swimming, steps out of her small dress, and dives into the water. She disappears for a few seconds and then reappears near the Prince who does not see her but instead seems to stop in the water looking up into the sky. The Queen decides to come down to the water to understand exactly what is happening so she leaves the window and walks quickly through the Palace and out of the main gates to the sea. She comes to the place where the Prince is swimming but cannot see the girl. So she calls to her son and he swims over."

    Where is the girl? asks the Queen.
    What girl? says the Prince.
    She was here and she swam out to you.
    But I saw no one!

    "The Queen looks very puzzled because she is certain of what she has seen. The Prince is also troubled and from the Queen's description can only think that it is the same girl he saw that morning in the market. They return to the Palace and the Prince goes to his rooms to bathe and to dress in fresh clothes but he can only think of the girl. That night he has no appetite for dinner and decides to walk into the town.


    ©Sandi Goodwin, used with permission

    Eventually he finds himself at the farthest end of the long road that stretches from his Palace to the bay where the fishermen moor their boats and mend their nets and gather their catch from the sea. He approaches one of the boats and touches its wooden frame made coarse and seasoned by its many years out in the rough ocean. The Prince loves the sea at night because you can hear it on a calm day sing its quiet song to the sand. It seems to stroke the sand trying to send it to sleep. But the sand wants to know what the sea has been doing since its life is so exciting and it is able to travel to all the ends of the earth. The sand has a boring life and never gets to travel. The sea tells its tales and the sand takes in the sound and the salty water. The Prince listens too and imagines that he can understand everything the sea is saying. The moon high above him is at its largest and brightest and its light allows him to see the full curve of the bay and all the fishing boats. He walks slowly and only then becomes aware that there is someone walking with him. He stops and looks but there is no one. So he walks on but again can feel and hear the soft sounds of other feet matching his exactly."

    Isn't this the most perfect night? He asks.
    Yes, it is and it's because of the light. The moon and the sea have decided to play with each other and they have made me invisible in the process.

    "It is a girl's voice and it sounds like the sea speaking."

    But where are you?
    Just here at your elbow. I am looking at you now and you are very beautiful. I have never seen such beauty before.
    I can hear your voice but I cannot see your form.
    If you want to see me then you must pick up a shell and let the light from the moon reflect on the mother of pearl. Its light will find me and you shall see me for the second time.


    ©Sandi Goodwin, used with permission

    "The Prince quickly finds a shell. It is as large at his hand and the mother of pearl on the inside is perfect and round and unblemished. The shell picks up the light from the moon and its light darkly sparkles sending out messages to the sea and sand. And at that moment the girl appears to the Prince. She is smiling. Her long hair falls to her shoulders and the Prince sees that she is quite naked. Perhaps because of the moon and the shell he thinks that her skin color is exactly the same as the mother of pearl. He has never seen such a color on a person before and he touches the girl on her shoulder. She is warm and dry. She touches his shoulder with her fingers too....

    "They smile at one another."
    Would you like to eat something?
    "The Prince until this moment was not the slightest bit hungry. Now he feels that he could eat a whole fish.
    Yes I would love that.
    Then come with me and we will find our dinner together.


    ©Sandi Goodwin, used with permission

    "She takes his hand and leads him down the beach. His clothes fall away at her touch and they both walk into the water still holding hands. The light from the moon plays with the sea and it attracts fish from the very depths to visit the surface and enjoy its gentle warmth.

    "The girl dives beneath the waves and the Prince follows her. He has never seen anyone swim like this before. She is as fast as a dolphin and can hold her breath longer than a whale. He sees her dive, spiraling down into the darkness of the sea only to return a few minutes later holding a fish. It is still alive and is happy and content with being held by the girl. It doesn't struggle and almost seems to swim pulling the girl along. The Prince follows as she swims towards the beach where she stands with the fish in her hands. The fish is as still as a stone but not at all afraid."

    I will ask him if he would consent to be our dinner tonight.

    "The Prince says nothing and only stands and watches her, mesmerized by her quality of speech and her manner of being in the world. She whispers a song to the fish and then points to a fire just behind them, which the Prince had not noticed until that very second."

    Your clothes are here but let me dress in your shirt. I love to wear clothes when I eat.


    ©Sandi Goodwin, used with permission

    "The girl takes the fish to the fire, cleans it gently with her fingers and then places it in banana leaves from the side of the beach and puts it in the hottest part of the flames. Soon it is cooked and it gives off a smell of the leaves, the strong flesh and the smoke of the fire."

    Please you must eat first. Eat with your fingers and taste the immense joy that this noble fish has given to us with its life.

    "And it is true the Prince has never tasted a fish as good as this before. It reminds him of many things: his mother's cooking when he was very small, the taste of shells when you place them in your mouth, memories of happiness playing in the surf with his favorite servant Ahmed. She then eats and the food graces her lips and then disappears. A little drops on her legs and she scoops this up and places it in his mouth. He devours it like a shark. The meat from the fish seems to continue until they have eaten their fill and then they laugh and lie back on the sand looking at the moon, which seems now almost as bright as the sun."

    Have you ever been to the moon and then looked down on the oceans and the seas of the world that it controls?
    No of course not. No one has ever been to the moon. That is impossible.
    I have been there many times. Would you like to come with me?

    "The Prince is speechless."

    Come it is not very far. We can see it already after all. Just look up until the moon is the only thing you can see and then hold my hand and close your eyes.


    ©Sandi Goodwin, used with permission

    "The Prince does her bidding. He had no idea that the moon could be this big and he was relieved when he closed his eyes and felt her hand in his. But he can still see the moon even with his eyes closed. Then he can see the moon reflected in all the oceans of the world and from the greatest height. His toes touch the sand of the moon and he is looking at the girl who was still holding his hand and not looking at him but at the world above them. Is he dreaming, he thinks? Don't ask questions says the girl who is inside his head now, making him forget about practical and silly considerations that bind our feet to the earth and clay. So he forgets his questions and his earthly thoughts and like the fish that she caught with her tiny hands is led by her to watch the world and smile at its excessive beauty. Then after what feels like a lifetime he finds himself on the beach again but the girl is nowhere to be seen. All he has is a huge shell with the largest expanse of mother of pearl he has ever seen and his pantaloons ballooning in the gentle wind. His shirt has gone.

    "He stands for some time feeling the warm sea air on his body with his mind awash with the most extraordinary images. His mind is not thinking. It is feeling without questions and touching a part of his soul he has never known before.

    "Tomorrow night he will come again to the beach and ask the girl for his shirt and for her again to breathe something of her life and discoveries into his willing body."

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    ZEALnyc, December 16, 2016

    The winter holidays are currently being celebrated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art with its annual presentation of the Christmas tree and Neapolitan Baroque crèche. In addition, there is the display of a spectacular late 19th-century silver Menorah and 18th-century Torah crown, as well as a variety of holiday-themed events at its Fifth Avenue location (82nd Street and Fifth Avenue). The Cloisters, the Met's branch museum for medieval art and architecture in northern Manhattan, is decorated with a medieval theme and is hosting early music concerts for the season.

    Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche

    Each December a brightly lit 20-foot blue spruce decorated with 18th-century Neapolitan angels and cherubs is erected with groupings of realistic crèche figures flanking the Nativity scene at its base. The special holiday display is housed in the Medieval Sculpture Hall in front of an 18th-century Spanish choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid. Seasonal Christmas music plays in the background with daily tree lighting ceremonies taking place daily at 4:30 p.m.; additional ceremonies take place on Fridays and Saturdays at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. The unusual combination of tree and creche was first presented to the public in 1957, and they have been displayed each holiday season ever since.

    Some of the special concerts and events happening during the season are:

    MetFridays: Season Feels

    On Friday, December 16, as part of the MetFridays series, Season Feels will offer an evening of art-making, music, and holiday cheer. Byzantine pop-up performances will take place in the Medieval Sculpture Hall, which will introduce visitors to hymns and carols of the Byzantine Empire sang in multiple languages. Free with Museum admission.

    The Snowman
    Saturday, December 17, 2016, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, The Mannes Orchestra, David Hayes, Artistic Director

    The Snowman has become a British holiday classic. This Academy Award-nominated animated film features a lush score, including the timeless song "Walking in the Air," that will be performed live by the Mannes Orchestra. Tickets start at $40.

    Apollo's Fire--Handel's Messiah
    Sunday, December 18, 2016, 12:30 p.m. "pocket" Messiah and 3 p.m. Handel's Messiah (full oratorio), The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium

    The ultimate holiday tradition. Hear Handel's famous oratorio in its full version, or choose the hour-long "pocket" version. Tickets start at $40 for the "pocket" Messiah; $65 for the full oratorio.

    American Boychoir
    Monday, December 19, 2016, 7 p.m., The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium

    They have performed for every U.S. President since John F. Kennedy. America's favorite boy singers provide a delightful program of holiday hymns and carols. Tickets start at $65.

    Flemish Holiday with Friends and Family
    Wednesday, December 21, 2016, 7 p.m., The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium

    Leonora Duarte was one of the most brilliant composers of the 17th century. In this holiday program, the ensemble Sonnambula recreates a festive evening at the Duarte household with music by Leonora, her friends, and fellow musicians. Tickets start at $65.


    Eastern European Silver Menorah

    For this year's celebration of Hanukkah--the Jewish Festival of Lights, observed this year from the evening of December 24 through the evening of January 1--a magnificent, late 19th-century silver Menorah made in Lviv, Ukraine, will be on display through January 12, 2017. Made in 1866-72 for the Great Synagogue in Lviv, the ceremonial lamp, which is cast, chased, and engraved with elaborate motifs, is one of the largest silver Hanukkah lamps known. The Menorah is on loan from The Moldovan Family Collection.


    The Met Cloisters

    The Met Cloisters continues its much-loved tradition which evokes festive, medieval culture. Immediately after passing through the great archway of holly boughs, symbolizing light, warmth, and welcome--visitors are greeted in the Main Hall with grand displays of fresh ivy and hand-polished lady apples, hazelnuts, rosehips, and pinecones, all locally sourced. Throughout the halls, cloisters, galleries, and arcades, you'll find warmth and inspiration in enchanting displays of verdant topiaries and wreaths, candelabras adorned with evergreens and roses, and fragrant potted plants that symbolize and celebrate the season. It will truly take you back to another time.

    This year's special holiday-themed concert/event is listed below:

    The Play of Adam
    Saturday, December 17 and Sunday, December 18, 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

    The Met Cloisters presents the first fully-staged musical production of the 12th-century Play of Adam, in a new verse translation from the original Anglo-Norman French. Tickets start at $65.

    Read about more holiday performances from ZEALnyc:

    A Sequel to 'A Christmas Carol' Through Tiny Tim's Eyes

    'The First Noel' Brings the Message of Christmas Home

    'Hanna and the Moonlit Dress' Provides an Alternative Holiday Experience

    'Sing!' Melds Christmas Traditions and Lifts Our Spirits

    For all the news on New York City art and culture, visit ZEALnyc's Front Page.

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    Re-gifting is a touchy and sometimes complex topic that can readily turn a delightful gift exchange into an awkward and uncomfortable situation. While re-gifting may be a thoughtful and budget-friendly idea, it can also be potentially damaging to relationships. Re-gifting puts you at risk of getting caught and showing a lack of respect for both the original giver and the new recipient.

    The harsh truth is this: re-gifting can be seen as deceitful. You’re seemingly going behind the backs of your friends and family to convenience yourself. Proper etiquette calls for truthfulness and authenticity which, in turn, makes re-gifting an insincere gesture.

    Despite the negative connotation re-gifting has earned, in certain scenarios it’s appropriate and even heartfelt.

    In honor of National Re-gifting Day, here are guidelines to handle re-gifting altercations and avoid future conflicts.

    Know the gift giver. If there’s a chance this person is going to ask about the gift they’ve given you, make sure you have it on hand and it’s easily accessible. This prevents an awkward conversation that leads to you telling them that you gave their precious gift away.

    Like what you’re re-gifting. If you’re giving a gift you aren’t proud to give away, chances are the other person isn’t going to like it either. However, if the gift is new and something you know someone else would appreciate, feel free to pass it along.

    Re-gift, re-wrap. If after careful consideration you’ve decided to re-gift, make it special with new wrapping. After multiple handlings, the old wrapping will likely have a tattered and wrinkled look. Be sure to inspect the gift itself before wrapping, double checking for a name tag or gift card you may have missed.

    Never re-gift anything that has meaning. When someone takes extra time making or finding your gift, it’s polite to acknowledge the effort by holding on to it. Even if you’ll never wear the unsightly earmuffs Aunt Sue made for you, it’s important to her and implies sentimental value.

    Only re-gift new items. Never re-gift anything that’s been used, damaged or worn. In simple terms, it’s tacky. It also demonstrates bad etiquette. Instead, if you’ve worn or used the gift and decide that it’s not for you, offer it to someone but not as an official “gift.” Just tell them that you originally received it as a gift and decided you didn’t need or want it and propose that they can have it. These types of offerings are always left unwrapped.

    Be honest. In the unfortunate case that you get caught, it’s best to stick to the truth. Say something like, “Rebecca, I wasn’t trying to be a lazy gift giver. I received this sweater and it didn’t work for me. It happens to be your size and favorite color and I thought it would look much better on you. In retrospect, I should have been upfront with you.”

    When in doubt, donate. If you’re stuck with a gift you don’t love, but someone else may be able to use and enjoy, consider giving it to charity. In doing so, you’re not at risk of hurting anyone’s feelings and can still feel good about where the gift is going.

    For more of Diane’s etiquette tips, visit her blog, connect with her here on The Huffington Post, “like” The Protocol School of Texas on Facebook, or follow her on Pinterest and Instagram.

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    With an on-stage band and enough energy to light Manhattan, Mother Africa: My Home is a colorful celebration of Cape Town life. Now at the New Victory Theater, the South African Circus der Sinne revels in daily existence.

    The show is pure physicality -- acrobatics, jugglers, dancing -- and the result is an exciting and eye-popping spectacle. It's lively, occasionally scary (the unicycle routine) and even a bit crazy -- all in an entertaining way.

    The musicians are essential to the high-charged performances, with some engaging drum work.

    And the children love it.

    There is an abundance of song and dance, as vignettes transport the audience to a South African community. Mother Africa produces an intimate, you-are-there feel, whether it's in a market, home or high-rise. Such intimacy is laced with a sense of heart, energized by amazing feats. That's thanks to the talented performers, who come from an array of African countries -- Ethiopia to Zimbabwe.

    Consider this a treat for the eyes and ears.

    If only Richard Greenberg's The Babylon Line had been as interesting. Now off-Broadway at the Mitzi Newhouse/Lincoln Center, the playwright has returned to familiar turf: the varying degrees of fractured people.

    Past efforts, Our Mother's Brief Affair, The Assembled Parties, examined city and suburban Jews of a certain generation. Both were nuanced, smartly acted, with wise-cracking characters who offered a touch of surprise. Here, it's 1967, and all the stereotypes of Jewish suburbanites, like the overbearing Frieda Cohen (Randy Graff), are on display. Yes, there is some truth to the portrait, but it tires quickly.

    The Babylon premise: Aaron Port (Josh Radnor), a writer looking for extra cash, teaches an adult-ed course in Levittown. He takes the Babylon, Long Island, train, hence the title. He's palpably bored and going through the motions; his students are not. True, many of their essays are tiresome, but as the semester proceeds, their personal stories -- and heartache -- are revealed.

    The most interesting character, Joan (Elizabeth Reaser), is a recently liberated shut-in. She yearns to give voice to her unhappiness, while reaching out to Port, the man she hopes will respond to her emotional longings.

    Greenberg, best known for his thought-provoking Tony-winning Take Me Out, seems to have phoned it in this time.

    It gives away nothing to note that few of Port's students -- or the audience -- leave with high marks for the class.

    Maintaining the transit-title theme, In Transit, the first a cappella musical on Broadway, is a mystery. The mystery is why it's on Broadway, since it functions largely as an audition showcase for its talented 11-person cast. 2016-12-16-1481911114-9793607-InTransit.png
    While the Circle in the Square show is a series of sketches, quick-hit stories about millennial New Yorkers, staging it in the subway, hardly anyone's first choice for an extended visit, is confusing.

    Most of the action happens above ground, save for the occasional exchange with a musician who spends the lion's share of his time in the subway. The stories are familiar -- a temp trying to be an actress, gay couple hiding from religious mother -- rather than compelling. The setting is singularly uninteresting.

    It would have been just as easy to set the musical in Washington Square Park or a local Starbucks, since neither is germane to the reed-thin plot.

    The one high note are the actors; all boast strong voices and they click as an ensemble. As for In Transit -- it missed its stop.

    Photos: Mother Africa: Hans-Juergen Herrmann / In Transit: Joan Marcus

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    First, A Salutation to Hanuman

    Hanuman, the "monkey grammarian" of Octavio Paz's book by the same name, stands beautifully in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. His eyes look sparkling and alive, his face reveals the enunciation of a word, wonderful and pleasing no doubt, and his body is alert and his finger is raised. Hanuman is making a point, obviously, and he looks so delighted in the act of speaking (to his beloved Ramayya and Sitamma possibly), that we can only wonder at the beauty of the thoughts that must be in his mind.

    When I picture Hanuman it is often in depictions of his physical prowess and accomplishment, in flight usually, with the mountain in his palm. But this Hanuman, embodiment of the perfect word, kind Hanuman, impeccable Hanuman, the friend who appears and wins Rama over with the perfection of his speech, this is how I will now think of and adore him when I write, speak, and indeed, think of him.

    Along with this speaking Hanuman, there are many other treasures on display at the exhibit; painting scrolls with vivid Jatayus, elegantly beautiful and divine Sitas, towering stone Ramas and Hanumans, and numerous pop culture nods as well. Projectors played loops of Doordarshan type Ramayanas, as well as Southeast Asian dance drama. It was a good museum experience. But then, we might ask the question that critics of colonialism and cultural appropriation have asked many times before: it is art, sure, but is it just art?

    Just who is speaking for this living tradition here? Is it anyone close to having a sense of the fact that this tradition for many of us is indeed life itself? We name our children for Rama and Sita and confront our fears and illnesses with the name of Hanuman. We measure our pains and triumphs by the ordeals and deeds of our gods. We have lived and died for them, from Hampi to Ayodhya. And, for the most part, we have not killed, harmed, or even hated in return. We have pushed ourselves enough to preserve and protect our meanings, and even that we often concede, when we walk into the university classroom, the literary festival, and sadly, yes, the museum. A people who have absorbed desecration and a commitment to mere survival will not see more, instantly at least. But more, there certainly is.

    Tales of Power
    Consider the ways in which the "Rama Epic" is presented. That the title of the epic is punctuated with some sort of a literary hobby-kit is obvious enough: "Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe." Would four non-English names, a simple Rama, Sita, Hanuman and Ravana be too taxing for the museum-goer to see and learn? We don't go to the Uffizi in Florence and find words saying "martyr," "child-killer" or "father-eater" for their mythological characters. We are expected to just know their names. But why, in this day and age, in cool San Francisco at that, do the gatekeepers of the Ramayana tradition, somehow think that it is their mediation, their expertise and authority, that should be foregrounded?

    I doubt that anything would have been lost in the Rama exhibit for immersing visitors into its world, our world, simply. Yet, from the giant banners that greet the visitor from the top of the museum announcing "Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe" to the relentless use of words like "character, action, setting, plot" and the like, what we are being invited into is not a humbling, honest and direct observation of a tremendous cultural phenomenon but a subjugation into the colonizer's gaze instead.

    Consider the main description of the exhibit on the website: "Bloody battles, passionate romance and a shape-shifting monkey warrior... discover and be thrilled by one of the world's greatest works of literature." Someone must have been munching some imaginary popcorn with that sort of attitude. And interestingly, another exhibit there is titled "The Goddess: Images of Power," and tells us that the "goddesses of Asia range from bloodthirsty destroyers to heroic warriors," and at best "benevolent wish-granters." But that one word a billion people and more know their Goddesses by is absent: Mother. One comforts one's self that most of the Indian tourists there will just say "Ammavaru" or "Durga Ma" when they see her (and contrary to academic myth, thinking of her as a mother in no way reduces our capacity to be in awe of her feminine and some might say feminist power).

    The museum states that there are 135 art works on display in the Rama exhibit. On occasion, the texts introducing them add, in addition to the usual art and literature terminology, a word or two like "sacred" or "divinity." One might be tempted to think that perhaps that is all the sacred deserves, a passing acknowledgment ("the story... is also, for many, a sacred tradition"). And the language of the presentation is not necessarily disrespectful, or outlandish (no theories about the "side-hero" secretly having "sexual tension" with the "heroine" while the "hero" chases a deer in the manner of an alternative historian of the Hindus). Well-meaning families who come to see the exhibit with their parents and grandparents visiting from India would probably not be too puzzled by the politely scholarly tone even.

    And yet, there is that very real and obvious odor of orientalism and cultural appropriation, and unlike the old days, this time it is so finessed you will need to be a propaganda expert to realize you are being marketed to, and marketed down to, just like those at the wrong end of the old civilizing missions did.

    The danger of the museum discourse is that it is not inaccurate. It is inadequate. And perhaps, even if that limitation is not nominally intentional, it is in its professionalism and use of privilege very deliberate indeed.

    There is a formidable stone statue of Rama from Vijayanagar on display. His left arm with the bow, and a large part of the left side of his body are missing. There are other artefacts too with signs of mutilation and savagery. There is no mention anywhere of the cause. On the other hand, in another part of the museum, a charming painting by M.F. Hussain is used as an occasion to express genteel puzzlement at how some Hindus could have ever got upset with him.

    The Silenced Chisel
    The act of reducing Rama to the Ramayana and the Ramayana to literature is not innocent. On the one hand, the self-relativizing distance of seeing one's beloved deities as character-prototypes ("ally" et al) is perhaps educational in its own way. A certain sort of mythologist might like it. Yoked to some bhakti, it might even hold some ethical-pedagogical water. It has its place. In India, with temples and with people who live by them still (the subaltern billion whose devotion, whose Hindu devotion, somehow vanishes from accounts about them by those who speak for them in academia, unfortunately), the proliferation of elite-driven Pop Po-Mo Hinduism doesn't still have a monopoly on the narrative. Pop Po-Mo might persuade its elite base, and some aspirational secularists, but the bodies of grandmothers and grandfathers and gurus and TV gurus in the vernacular are all there, for good and for bad.

    In America, though, that discourse holds a fanatical monopoly. Its products are everywhere. In classrooms, in the media, in the museum in the way in which our gods are presented, and in the finely curated reading the museum bookstore has to offer. One definition of culture, one definition of kitsch, one ring to rule them all...

    What then might a museum and its expert advisors do? Is there a better way of presenting (or representing) Rama and his world to the museum audience in a way that is true to those who live in its world still? Surely, the choices are not simply between a sterile, objectifying outsider's museum gaze and the insider's supposedly blind and "religious" kind of "faith" in his "idols." Both are inventions and both must be overcome.

    It is telling that there is not one photograph of an actual temple of Rama in India in the exhibit, let alone photos of devotees or devotion. There is a nod to the fact that Ramayana is a "living tradition" but that is not what life or tradition really means is it? To the grand narrator in his or her postmodern purview, the "living tradition" of the Ramayana only means that anyone (in his or her charmed circles) can say whatever they want about it, apparently. They can "do politics" around it, mostly based on a baseless colonial-racist theory about light and dark skinned people which falls apart before the reality of complexions in any temple but they do politics, sure. They will even burn Rama's effigy and claim Ravana as the good guy in their war against Brahmanical-Aryan hegemony (another matter that Ravanabrahma as we called him was seen as a Brahmin by some of us). No, that's not a "living tradition" in the sense that Rama's India sees it at all.

    What is a living tradition? For one thing, it is right there all around the Asian Art Museum too. Drive a few miles South or East from there in the Bay Area and you have one of the largest clusters of living Hindu temples in North America, and of course, one of the largest and most eclectic collections of Hindu Americans living here as well. Does the museum so much as acknowledge the existence of this world? That the same Rama and Hanuman who stand here in the museum, some of them mutilated, missing an arm or ornament, are also right there in the temples, alive to those who behold them, alive not only in their hearts and "beliefs" but visibly, palpably so in the practices that herald their existence day after day as well?

    And even in talking about the past, do we not have an obligation to truthfully recognize a few things at least about who the people who breathed shape and meaning into these "artefacts" were? Were the ancient people of Vijayanagara mere consumers of "Rama-literature"? Or "art," in the museum sense, or South Asianness in the postmodern sense perhaps? I am reminded of a panel I was on in a literature festival a few months ago where a fellow panelist insisted that Rama and Krishna were fictional characters. I do not know if people build temples and conduct elaborate ceremonies for Sherlock Holmes or Harry Potter. And I seriously doubt that the devotees at Vithala or Hazara Rama or Yantrodharaka were going there to be amused or even distracted.

    No. They were the ancestors of the same people who live all around your circle of privilege in the museum, even now.

    I do not know what right the custodians of "art" have to take Rama out of his world that brazenly. But having sought to secularize what was actually not even really "religious" in the Western sense at all, they have forgotten everything, even the artists who live in this world of Rama and Sita and Hanuman in ways that the theorists don't quite know how to represent it appears. And it is not too difficult at all.

    In the Satyanarayana Swami temple in Milpitas (far closer to the museum by the way than Cambridge, Massachusetts from where expert speakers came), a descendant of the Sthapati family teaches children and adults about the rules of traditional sculpture in small, inexpensive classes every weekend. His ancestors built the temples, the loot from which now adorns museums. He is right here in the Bay Area, helping to build temples and a love of their beauty to children, without forgetting the precision, the knowledge and the sanctity which makes up this world. Does the museum, or shall I say, "Museum," even know he exists? Would it invite him to speak, along with all the academic experts and professional "story-tellers" it has lined up on the weekends? Could we hear the music of Tyagayya or Purandara Dasa or the words of Tulasidas there perhaps? Is anything being done to help visitors connect the dots between artefact, music, memory, and the future, and I mean the future beyond the fantasy-art world?

    In the textual sarcophagus that is the museum, I did not see myself. I did not see my family, my past, or my future (or maybe I saw that future and did not like it at all). I saw only the inevitability of endless appropriation, erasure, silencing, denial, and ultimately cultural destruction, all the things that precisely the nice people who put together shows like this would believe that they want to avoid. Even as the museum preserves objects perfectly, it renders them lost to generations of children and grandchildren. They may be smart enough to recognize racism and supremacism when they see it, but are unequipped to fight it still by generations of parents and grandparents who were too busy working in post-McAulay India to have figured out how to enshrine and express what it was they felt, who they were before their Rama, just right, just so, just enough for the future of their civilization to know it too.

    You walk out, and in the museum bookstore you see more of the same, the highly learned and credentialed academic books on Hinduism and South Asia, the same old colonizer's gaze, now recast into a mercenary subaltern premise, promising to liberate Hitler's victims, Aryan Invasion (aka Migration) victims, the real and unreal all mixed up, all dolled up and going nowhere close to the heart of the soul that Hanuman, with his brilliant thought steeped in friendship and perfection, seems to want you to go.

    Lovely books at the store, handsome university-press interventions into the meaning of everything in South Asia. But I missed the presence of the footpath book-stalls of the sort you see outside temples in India. One or two selections from there in the museum store would have been nice.

    First published in Creative India

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    A serial about two artists with incurable neurological disease sharing fear, frustration and friendship as they push to complete the most rewarding creative work of their careers.
    Read Episode Thirty-Three:In the Clench of Critics. Or, start at the beginning: An Illness's Introduction. Find all episodes here.

    In the days leading up to the January 7, 2015 unveiling of the Montana Women's Murals at the Montana State House, Hadley racked up some serious numbers. 18: the hours she painted every day. 18 was also the number of paint layers on the murals' elaborate borders, for which she recruited help from friends and her daughter, Sarah; they took 245 hours to complete. Hadley wore out 38 small brushes articulating the paintings' finest details.

    When she wasn't painting, Hadley slept on a mattress she'd moved upstairs to her studio so she wouldn't disturb John. Her eyes burned and blurred, her body throbbed, her mind numbed as she applied every ounce of focus to the canvas in front of her. On the afternoon of January 5, she texted me.


    Then, she shepherded the two 5 x 10 foot murals to Rick's Auto Body, where they were powder coated, a protective treatment that would eliminate the need for plexiglas once the panels were mounted at the State Capitol Building.

    I didn't have to twist my friend Cary's arm to fly to Helena with me for the mural unveiling. An artist herself, she was very excited to meet Hadley and to document the event with her camera. On the second leg of our flight, I noticed the man in the seat across the aisle from me had a hand tremor. Other afflictions cause tremors, but after a couple more furtive glances, I noted he was wearing a rubber bracelet imprinted with the words "whatever it takes to beat PD." He was young to have PD and was flying to Helena; he had to be a friend of Hadley's, I reasoned. I touched his arm lightly and asked if he was headed to the unveiling. He laughed. Yes, he said; he was coming from Portland. Thanks to social media, the world of people with YOPD is not that big.

    Temperatures were in the teens in Helena and for the first time in more than thirty years, I drove on roads packed solid with snow and ice. The landscape shone like satiny white frosting. Navigating our hotel's ice-paved parking lot in our smooth-soled city boots, Cary and I must have looked ridiculous, barely keeping our feet under us.

    The next day before the unveiling ceremony, we met Hadley at the Victorian B & B where she was staying with John and Sarah, her mother, Jana, and her uncles and aunts from Texas and Nebraska. She appeared calm and serene -- a heroic demonstration, considering the heavy strain she'd been under and the important public performance she had ahead of her.

    It wasn't until Cary and I arrived at the imposing Montana State Capitol -- like so many other capitols, domed, Neoclassical, built at the turn of the 20th century -- that I felt the full significance of the contribution Hadley would be making. The muscular building's sandstone and granite merged with the grey wash of winter sky, smeared now with sunset pink. Inside, all pretense of solemn restraint dropped away and we found ourselves in an enormous rotunda whose classical details were painted like a children's carousel: red, gold, green, yellow teal. I welcomed the space's vibrancy and warmth on the bleak, frigid day. Historic paintings adorning the rotunda reminded me of the reason women legislators had determinedly lobbied for the Montana Women's Mural. Four circular paintings on the dome illustrate a Native American Chief, an explorer and fur trapper, a gold miner, and a cowboy. Other paintings in the space depict Lewis and Clark and President Ulysses Grant wielding a sledgehammer to drive the "golden spike" that announced the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Women were conspicuously missing from the narratives on display, despite their influential roles in America's history. Montana boasts the first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress, Jeannette Rankin, who won her seat in 1916 and helped to pass the 19th Amendment that gave voting rights to women.

    My legs were shaky as Cary and I climbed the grand staircase rising inside the barrel-vaulted hall. We were there early to claim our standing spot against the stair balustrade on the third floor. There we'd have a good view of the program's speakers and both murals -- now covered with blue cloth -- that hung on facing walls on either side of the open stair. We people-watched until Hadley arrived with her family. Finally, Hadley come up the stair, holding the rail and taking each step very slowly, greeting people she passed.

    By the time the dedication ceremony began, more than 250 people had jammed the stair and the space that wrapped around it. Montana's first lady, Lisa Bullock, was the first to speak, calling the mural unveiling a "monumental moment." Julie Cajune, who had been especially helpful to Hadley with her research on Native Americans, spoke from the heart about both the murals and Hadley. "Not only is Montana the only state to recognize American Indians in its constitution," she said, "but now our state capitol recognizes that women have been the sinew to keep body and soul, community and spirit together...Women have not just been homemakers. They've been healers, pharmacologists, teachers, spiritual people and warriors. Women have done everything..." When she spoke about Hadley, Julie audibly fought back tears. She told the crowd that she and Hadley had worked "soul to soul." "I want to tell you what a fine artist she is," she said. "But also what a fine human being she is." She expressed appreciation for Hadley's genuine desire to explore the customs of Native Americans in order to paint their story. "Thank you," she said to Hadley. She spoke a few words in Salish, her tribe's language, then presented Hadley with a handmade quilt that she wrapped around her shoulders. By that point, I was the one holding back tears.

    Hadley stepped to the microphone with Sarah by her side. "It's truly an honor to have you all here," she said, thanking the crowd. She spoke of how meaningful the project was for her as an artist, a lifelong Montanan and a collaborator with the many who made the murals possible. She read her artist's statement:

    The generations of women in my family have set examples and carved paths for my mom, my daughter, and me to have the life and experiences we live today. That is what this project is about. This piece is about the generations of women in Montana who built families and contributed to their communities, to the economy, and to politics by working together to build strong communities for generations to come. It is not about one single important woman, but about all women. It is a broader picture of women. Hopefully, any woman can look at these images and see a piece of herself in them.

    Other dignitaries contributed comments to the unveiling ceremony, including Montana Senate President Debbie Barrett, Speaker of the House Austin Knudson, as well as Senator Diane Sands and former Senator Lynda Moss, who partnered to get the Senate bill passed that authorized the mural commission.
    A lot of pomp and circumstance -- it was a government affair, after all -- but knowing the monumental effort that had gone into the murals, to me, no ceremony would've seemed too grand. The murals waited behind their blue shrouds; the suspense in the hall was palpable. When the curtains were finally pulled away to reveal both panels, the crowd erupted in applause and exclamations. The Montana Women's Chorus sang: "A woman's voice raised up in the silence can be heard a long way...Revolution starts in a circle rising up from the ground. We believe in the power of women to turn this world around."

    Cary sprang into high gear with her Nikon, turning it on the crowd and the murals with the rigor of a professional journalist. I couldn't take my eyes off the paintings. From a distance, they radiated warmth and liveliness and seemed perfectly at home, as though they'd always hung on those walls. Hadley had told me she'd made sure that her colors would complement those of the building's architectural features, including the enormous stained glass skylight of the barrel vault. This had been masterfully accomplished. Close up, I marveled at the abundance and variety of activities taking place in the murals' scenes and the precision and sumptuousness of the details.

    Women's History Matters, a website created as part of a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in Montana, explains the history brought to life by the two murals:
    Panel one, titled "Women Build Montana: Culture," is set in the spring in the late 19th century. It depicts Native women having come to a homestead to trade for goods. In keeping with the theme of Montana women as community builders, the scene portrays a meeting ground in which women acted as traders and cultural brokers. Montana women, Natives and newcomers, often lived quite near each other, trading knowledge and offering support as well as goods. The four corner vignettes depict women and children engaged in the paid and unpaid labor that helped build Montana... Women are digging bitterroot, an important food source for Native peoples and the plant that would become the Montana state flower. The two Euro-American women stitching a Montana flag, inspired by a historic account, represent the mixing of domestic arts and formal politics. Children harvesting sugar beets represent the Mexican-American families who contributed to the economy and community of eastern Montana. The Native mother and daughter beading and preparing a hide illustrate the teaching and learning of traditional arts across generations.

    The central scene of the second panel -- which is titled "Women Build Montana: Community" -- is set in the fall of 1924, in an eastern Montana town. While women won the right to vote in Montana in 1914, that right was not extended to Native women until 1924 with the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act. The scene marks the tenth anniversary of Montana women's suffrage and acknowledges the year in which Native women gained citizenship and the right to participate in formal state politics...The vignette of a woman canning fruits references not only the work of homemakers, but the important role of home extension agents. The telephone operators personify Montana cities' and towns' clerical workers and women as labor union members: the first union of telephone workers in America was organized in Montana. Thousands of Montana women joined voluntary associations that supported women's education, here represented by members of the Montana Federation of Colored Women's Clubs giving out a college scholarship. Education is also depicted in the vignette of a Native woman teaching botany. Botany was one of the few sciences that welcomed women, and Native women's knowledge of the medicinal and nutritional uses of Montana plants was, and continues to be, important to both Native and newcomer communities.

    After the ceremony, Hadley was quickly swarmed by reporters, TV cameras, friends and family. She never sat down. I figured adrenalin was propping her up, keeping her from collapsing or even fainting -- her specialty. I inched toward her through the crowd and caught her mother's attention; she had tears in her eyes. When Hadley's father, a history professor emeritus, embraced his daughter, he did too. "Just imagine," he said. "They'll have a Hadley Ferguson file in the state archives."
    I finally got close enough to give Hadley a congratulatory hug. When we made contact, I felt as if the seams keeping me together might split. "I can't believe you pulled this off -- they''re amazing!" I burbled over her shoulder. With her usual modesty, Hadley said, "I can't believe it either. They turned out the way I wanted them to. I'm just so happy."

    The seams gave way; I cried. Not "Oh, I'm so happy for you" tears, though I was thrilled for her. They were the kind of tears that surge from your innards when you or someone you care about has just survived a near-death experience. Tears full of knee-wobbling relief and joy, mingled with the pain of everything I knew Hadley had been through and what she still had ahead of her. Creating the murals had been a yearlong marathon, both depleting and sustaining, during which Hadley had courageously kept her illness, multiple system atrophy, outside her door. It had banged hard on that door, but she had another calling. And she emerged victorious, unveiling a gift to Montana, to women everywhere, that's nothing short of astonishing.

    The real miracle? Not the masterpiece revealed, but rather, the multitudinous, veiled minutes of its making.

    Find all episodes of An Alert, Well-Hydrated Artist in No Acute Distress here.

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    In 2012, the German artist Thomas Bayrle caused a stir when he presented a series of running engines that he had cut open at one of the world's most important art events, Documenta 13 in Kassel (Germany). Accompanied by soundtracks that are largely excerpts from pertinent passages in the ecclesiastical liturgy, the artworks demonstrate the aesthetic of machinery as well as the rhythm and condition of human life in the mass society. The complete set of these pieces are now on view at Lehnbachhaus in Munich (Germany), together with a huge site-specific wall installation and all his early films.

    Thomas Bayrle was born in Berlin (Germany) in 1937. Bayrle's work was on view at the Venice Biennale in 2003 and 2009 and at documenta, Kassel, in 1964, 1977, and 2012. The artist lives and works in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. He currently also has a solo exhibition at the ICA in Miami (until March 26, 2017).

    Thomas Bayrle: Hochamt, 2010 (Radial engine, electric drive, sound).

    The exhibition at Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau München is curated by Eva Huttanlauch and runs until March 5, 2017.

    For more videos covering contemporary art and architecture, go to VernissageTV.

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    The Prospect NY, a new initiative founded by Laura Currie, is reimagining the way that people collect and engage with artists through limited edition collaborations.

    Last week, Laura teamed up with The Curateur Collective to launch the first set of editions by Baron von Fancy with a private dinner and exhibition at Hôtel Americano. The "Twice as Fancy" collection was featured throughout the dinner, including cocktail glasses and candles that highlighted the artists signature witty phrases. Baron von Fancy has worked with major brands such as Converse, Rag & Bone, Louis Vuitton and Nike.

    Visit to snag some last minute holiday gifts.




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  • 12/18/16--20:25: My Art Safari in Havana
  • 2016-12-18-1482072442-3376659-1.Calle_Arte_Nouveau.jpg
    Virtually every Havana street is a magical surprise of vintage decorative architecture, which housed many of the artists' studios that we visited. Photograph by Nestor Kim Enríquez.

    Cuba's contemporary artists have long enjoyed unique attention from the art world's critics, collectors and curators. Since Cuba's "special period" of the 1990s, following the fall of Cuba's patron, the USSR, artworks produced in Cuba have been objects of fascination by the acquisition committees of some of the world's most elite arts institutions, including New York's MOMA, Paris' Centre Pompidou, and London's Tate Modern. Over the years, I personally had discovered the remarkable works of native Cuban artist Kadir Lopez, and had become mesmerized with his local vision and penchant for adaptively re-using materials with a collage aesthetic, such as embellished vintage metal advertising signs, for example, that he has accumulated from around the island. Given his kind of genuine talent, I wanted to encounter Kadir's colleagues and see for myself what was going on in Cuban contemporary art. With President elect-Donald Trump threatening to reverse President Obama's relaxation of restrictions on travel to Cuba, my wife and I decided to seize the moment and head to Havana.

    Cuban art, like Cuban culture, is an exceptionally diverse synthesis of African, Latin American, European and North American elements, which reflect the varied demographic makeup of this enchanting place. Historically, Cuban artists have embraced European schools and movements, especially the modernism of Picasso protégé Wifredo Lam, and Lam's contemporaries in the early part of the 20th century.

    The streets of Old Havana are filled with moving vendor carts, adding a distinct charm to the area. Although commercial billboards seem to be banned, exceptions are made for political imagery, adding a surrealist juxtaposition of the old and new. Photograph by Bruce Helander.

    After the revolution, Cuban art as an institution went into a retrograde period. Even as the country developed a great, if still unfinished academy of fine arts, the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), many artists decided to leave Cuba, along with an exodus of residents, to produce their art independently and out of the shadow of censorship. Fine arts on the island became an instrument of mass communication in the Soviet style, where art was to serve the revolution. Finally, in the 1990s, following the Soviet Union's fall, contemporary art created in Cuba began to reflect a genuine personality of independence, invention and uninfluenced representation, providing a kind of rebirth of post-modernist expression that was affected greatly by the emergence of a new post-revolutionary generation of Cubanos.

    Outdoor Havana is sometimes a canvas of crumbling, pastel walls and gorgeously faded hand-painted signs, like this one for the Siá Kará Café, which is still open for business and considered the best pub grille in town. Photograph by Bruce Helander.

    As my wife and I started to make our plans, it became clear to us that we needed expert help to make the most of our long weekend. Some friends from West Palm Beach urged us to seek out the services of Havana VIP Tours, a full-service concierge-style independent tour operator with offices in Philadelphia, and a full staff in Havana. They referred us to ARTempoCuba, a collaboration between Cuban and American-based artists and curators (including Kadir Lopez) who publish an invaluable book, Cutting Edge Art in Havana, which profiles more than 100 artists living and working in Havana today, complete with the artists' contact info, and even maps to their studios.

    With the experts paving our way, we landed at the modest but bustling Terminal 2 of Havana's José Martí airport, where we were met by our smiling lady chauffeur, Maribel, who is the proud owner-operator of a perfectly restored 1957 Chevy Bel Air. We were thrilled that for the next three days, she would chauffeur us around town in this classic car with traditional música Cubana playing from the old-fashioned radio on the dashboard that had been discreetly retrofitted with powerful air conditioning.

    In between grand estates and charming apartment buildings, occasionally an art lover can discover unique 1950s moderne public architecture like the one pictured here, a former soccer stadium, which never recovered from a direct hit by a hurricane. Photograph by Bruce Helander.

    We started with a whirlwind tour of greater Havana, which any art lover would adore as the urban environment simply has not changed in fifty years and holds a wonderful aesthetic that art people appreciate. Our first guide was Olivia, an Architecture Professor at the University of Havana, who gave us a crash course in the architectural history of Havana. From colonial and art nouveau to art deco and 1950s jet age modern, Havana's eclecticism is a joy to behold. Our next guide, Magalys, gave us a walking history lesson through the cobblestone streets of Old Havana. Once we had gotten the lay of the land, we concentrated on visiting a number of artists and their studios, arranged by our own "Art Safari' guide, Mayret González, hot shot director of ARTempoCuba and co-author of Cutting Edge Art in Havana. We had consulted with Mayret in advance of our trip and provided her with a selection of artists from her book that we wanted to meet.

    Duvier del Dago, Humano 2, in the dramatic setting of del Dago's cavernous studio in the 300-year-old El Morro Fortress. Photograph by Nestor Kim Enríquez.

    Our first visit was to Duvier del Dago, whose studio housed in the bowels of the spectacular 300-year-old El Morro Fortress, is the most unusual studio that I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Duvier works in fiber and light, sketching complex full-scale 3-D war planes, battle tanks, and human bodies as simple line and color. When he switches off the work lights in his vast studio and switches on the UV lights of his creations, it's nothing less than dazzling. His work is about militarism, consumerism, and where we, as humble humans, fit somewhere in-between. Duvier's work is seen in collections around the world, including the Museo Fundación JUMEX in Mexico City. I wouldn't be surprised if some great U.S. institution should get a hold of Duvier and present his compelling works to an American audience.

    The artist Osy Milian in her home and studio. Milian's work often mixes innocence with sexual innuendo, as well as popular branding symbols of youthful marketing. Photograph by Nestor Kim Enríquez.

    Our next visit was to artist Osy Milian, who is now twenty-four, but was a child prodigy winning Cuban national prizes since she was nine. Osy recently was named one of Adidas' first Cuban brand ambassadors, and her pop-influenced paintings and multi-media installations make it clear why the sport apparel giant chose her. Osy's work is cool, young and vibrant, but it's not shallow. Despite Osy's own bubbly enthusiasm, there's a longing and loneliness in her work. Maybe it comes from so many of her family and friends having emigrated.

    William Pérez (left) and Bruce Helander in the artist's studio, converted from an old pharmacy, with Pérez's recent works on display. Photograph by Nestor Kim Enríquez.

    While in Centro Havana, we visited an old pharmacy that has been transformed into the studios of Marlys Fuego and partner William Pérez. Marlys describes her multi-media work as erotic kitsch, whereby she plays with the viewer's preconceptions between object of art and object of fun. William Pérez also works across various media, but his metaphorically charged cast aluminum sculptures, one of which, a life-size rhinoceros, recently was acquired by the Museum of Latin American Art in Los Angeles, all elicit powerful political overtones. Look for big things from William and Marlys in 2017, as they were awarded a highly prestigious Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship.

    Also in Centro Havana, we met another artist couple, Adonis Flores and Marianela Orozco. Adonis was sent as a young recruit in the Cuban army to fight in Angola, widely referred to as Cuba's Viet Nam. His artwork features the soldier as clown, as pawn, as peon, in a biting visual commentary. His partner Marianela's sophisticated conceptual interventions are no less profound, but are serene and quietly contemplative.

    Showroom installation of Kadir López's Havana Monopoly. Photograph by Nestor Kim Enríquez.

    Finally, at the end of the day, we were happy to meet Kadir López at his home studio. Like most great artists, Kadir is a non-stop creative machine. His artworks tell a story of Cuba from the 1950s to the present day using salvaged advertising signs and famous photographic images from Cuba's past. A Shell gas station sign is overlaid with a photo of Havana casino kingpin Meyer Lansky. A Norge refrigerators neon sign illuminates photos of dancing girls from the 1950s Club Tropicana. Kadir's works are at once glamorous and sardonic. One of my favorites is Havana Monopoly, a big shining monopoly game board featuring a photo of Fidel Castro wielding a baseball bat.

    We became so engrossed while talking with Kadir that we lost track of time and missed our dinner reservations, but were rewarded by a happy surprise: Kadir is part owner of a paladar in Old Havana called Tres Monedas. Tres Monedas is Kadir's take on the post-modern speakeasy. Tucked into a building on a side street away from Old Havana's beaten tourist track, the space is filled with Kadir's art, as well as his custom-designed furniture. But if you just come for the art, you'll be missing out, because the chef at Tres Monedas has created a delicious menu of updated classic Cuban cuisine. We ate, drank and talked about art for hours. What a great capper to a wonderful trip.

    With more than one hundred artists listed in our guide book, it obviously was going to be impossible for us to see all of them in one long weekend visit, so before we even had left Havana, my wife and I already were planning our return. When we said goodbye at the airport to our still-smiling chauffeur Maribel, we told her that we would be back soon. She replied, "We will be here for you. Now we are friends forever." Hasta pronto Cuba!

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    A few months ago I did a post about getting back to my roots with Hallmark's Rainbow Brite property and enjoying someone of new products they were releasing - specifically two very well crafted children's books. Then, last month, after over thirty years of waiting, they released an official Stormy doll. This month, the creative team at Hallmark has continued to dazzle fans with several new releases that, in addition to being perfectly timed with the Holidays, are sure to bring a smile to the face of any Rainbow Brite fan.

    A few new books have hit the shelves including:

    A Brite and Stormy Show
    An itty bittys® storybook, written by Cat Hollyer and illustrated by John Sprengelmeyer, it's a cute little story, told in rhyme, about friendship and how we should celebrate the differences that make us unique. A carnival has come to Rainbow Land and how while everyone seems to adore all of Rainbow Brite's beautiful colors, Stormy feels left out because she doesn't think anyone enjoys her storms and thunder. But when Murky and Lurky show up to make a gloomy mess of things, Stormy is right there to save the day. It's the first in this style for the Rainbow series and even comes with a Stormy itty bitty (which is as cute as can be).


    The Art of Rainbow Brite™ Coloring Book
    What better way to celebrate Rainbow Brite then by coloring her world how you want it to be? with 45 easy-to-remove, perforated pages, the book contains several classic images as well as a few new ones from recent releases. Printed on high quality paper it's ideal for gel pens, colored pencils and fine-tip markers and even includes a protective page to pull out and place between coloring pages to protect from bleed through and pencil markings.


    Adventure in Rainbow Land
    As a child I would've loved this book as it's personalized, so it allows your child (or you) take a trip to Rainbow Land to help Rainbow and her friends fix the colors in Rainbow Land. The book allows you to choose the gender, eye color, skin tone, hair color and hairstyle of the character to fit your child (or you).


    There are also several new toys / collectables including:

    itty bitty® Starlite doll
    To be honest, Id never even heard of these itty bitty until Hallmark started releasing Rainbow Brite characters. Now, I'm obsessed with them. They're cute and colorful and everything you'd expect / want in a Rainbow Brite toy. Going by the art in A Brite and Stormy Show the dolls for Canary Yellow, LaLa Orange, and even Murky and Lurky are going to be just as adorable.


    Rainbow Brite™ Pouch
    Designed to be a sort of carrying case of little trinkets and treasures, the zip-up pouch is Rainbow Brite's head in the style of an itty bitty. It's a quaint little thing, but very adorable and perfect for any little girl (or boy) to cary star-sprinkles in that they can use to bright your day.


    There are also several new ornaments, including both the classic style, the itty bitty style, and a new one done in the popular POP style.


    With as strange as bizarre as 2016 has been, it's nice to know that I can still, thirty years later, return to someone so pure and wonderful to bring me joy. With as successful as this year has been for Hallmark and the Rainbow Brite brand, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what 2017 has in store.

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    By now, if you're a fan of manga and anime, you'd be hard-pressed to find at least one title in library not released by VIZ Media. They're a powerhouse in the industry who have brought some of Japan's most beloved characters and stories to American audiences. Recently they've been expanding on their already amazing library with some pretty interesting titles, a lot of which would make the perfect gifts for any fans of the genre.

    Animation titles include:


    Sailor Moon Crystal - Season 1

    The popularity of Sailor Moon is by no means a secret. Usagi Tsukino and her sailor soldier sisters Ami, Rei, Mina, and Lita are some of the most beloved characters in Japanese animation. For the titles 20th anniversary a new anniversary was commissioned. The US broadcasting rights were acquired by VIZ media and they have been streaming the series on venues like Hulu since July 2014. This August, VIZ released the first season on bluray.

    Created by Naoko Takeuchi, Sailor Moon in 1991 Sailor Moon became a global phenomenon that has sold over 35 million copies worldwide and one of the most successful magical-girl series of all time. The original anime series, released in North America by Dic, Enterprises, was cheese-ball to say the least but the camp was part of its charm, but Crystal is nothing short of beautiful. The art, the story - everything about the series fantastic and unlike the original English adaptation, Viz has taken great pains in ensuring the scripts are not only more accurate, but not over-raught pop-culture slang.

    Presented in 1080p HD 16x9 widescreen the four-disc set includes the 14 episodes that encompass the entire Dark Kingdom story arch. The series retells the origin story of the crybaby turned superhero for a new generation of fans. It also includes both English and Japanese audio, subtitles, interviews with the English cast, and an art gallery. The set comes in two versions. The Limited Edition Combo Pack has an MSRP of $79.99 U.S. / $99.99 CAN while the Standard Edition Blu ray Combo Pack MSRP: $69.99 U.S. / $81.99 CAN There is also a Standard Edition DVD Set which has an MSRP of $39.99 U.S. / $51.99 CAN

    Sailor Moon S - Part One

    In addition to Sailor Moon Crystal, VIZ Media also continues to release their re-dubs of the classic Sailor series with the release of Sailor Moon S - Part One.

    The third season of SAILOR MOON begins with Rei, Sailor Mars, who has been plagued by disturbing visions of the Apocalypse. This coincides with a new enemy who appears in the city. They call themselves the Death Busters, and are lead by a maniac Professor called Tomoe. In the mix of it all two new sailor scouts appear - and they're also searching for the same heart crystals that Tomoe and the Death Busters are. They also have no interest in working with Sailor Moon or the others. They have their own agenda.

    Also presented in 1080p HD the set has an aspect ratio of 4x3 full screen. The Limited Edition set contains episodes 90-108 plus a chipboard box with premium printing, booklet, including art and profiles and filler box with a space for part 2. Like previous Sailor Moon sets there are three versions. The Limited Edition Blu ray Combo Pack has an MSRP of $79.99 U.S. / $99.99 CAN while the Standard Edition Combo Pack has an MSRP of $69.99 U.S. / $81.99 CAN. There is also a Standard Edition DVD Set with an MSRP of $39.99 U.S. / $51.99 CAN

    Hunter X Hunter
    Based on the manga series by by Yoshihiro Togashi the series follows Gon, is a young man who wants to follow in his father's footsteps to become a Hunter. A person who specializes in fantastic adventures like locating rare or unidentified animal species, treasure hunting, surveying unexplored enclaves, or hunting down bad guys. There's only one problem... the adventures come with a risk that could cost him his life. Along the way, he meets other applicants for the Hunter exam: Kurapika, Leorio, and Killua. Can Gon pass the rigorous challenges of the Hunter exam and become the best Hunter in the world!? His wild and epic journey is about to begin!! The Standard Edition Blu-ray Set has an MSRP of $54.97 U.S. / $63.99 CAN while the Standard Edition DVD Set has an MSRP of $39.99 U.S. / $51.99 CAN

    The company also has some impressive collection of print materials including:

    Super Mario Adventures

    MarioTM and LuigiTM are two of the Ninendo® company's most memorable characters. With dozens of games, books, and even an animated series, the characters have only seemed have gotten more popular with time. With as successful as the Super Mario series was (and is) it was not surprising that they had their own comic book series. With a story written by Kentaro Kawamoto and art by Tamakichi Sakura (a pseudonym for Charlie Nozawa), Super Mario Adventures was first released over twenty years ago as part of Nintendo Power Magazine. True to the story of the games, the graphic novel (which received a remastered full-color print release) follows the adventures super plumbers Mario and Luigi on their quest with their new friend, Yoshi, to save Princess Toadstool who has been kidnapped by the diabolical deadbeat BowserTM. Will they be able to stop the Koopa King before he forces the Princess to be his bride? The book has a MSRP of $14.99 U.S. / $17.99 CAN. "This fantastic new edition will delight legions of video game, pop culture and comic fans with imaginative adventures inspired by Mario and Luigi from the classic Super Mario Bros. games," says Beth Kawasaki, Senior Editorial Director for VIZ Media. "Join the fun as gaming's most legendary pair of brothers attempt to rescue Princess Peach from the clutches of the Koopa King!"

    The Art of Castle in the Sky

    A few months ago I did a piece of the series of artbooks that VIZ Media was releasing in their library of Miyazaki films. While they've released several including Ponyo, My Neighbor Totoro, Howl's Moving Castle, and my personal favorite Kiki's Delivery service, on October 18th they will release The Art of Castle In the Sky.

    As the first film produced by Studio Ghibli, Castle in the Sky is the story of Sheeta, a girl who has the power to defy gravity who is on the run from pirates when she meets Pazu, a young inventor. Together they explore the secrets of Laputa, a flying castle built by a long-lost race of people. Beautifully animated with a well-crafted story, the film includes the themes that have become standard in all Miyazaki's films: The bravery of young women, a worled wrecked by change, and of course, the power of flight the release of the book coinsides with the films 30th anniversary.

    "We are proud to release this gorgeously illustrated book that celebrates the extraordinary artwork of Hayao Miyazaki's groundbreaking film," says Masumi Washington, Senior Editorial Director. "This comprehensive edition is packed with the film's art, from conception to final release, as well as commentary and insights from Miyazaki himself. It makes a fitting addition to our extensive Studio Ghibli library." This beautiful hardcover edition has an MSP of $34.99 U.S / $39.99 CAN.


    Continuing the popular manga series, Part 3 marks the beginning of the acclaimed STARDUST CRUSADERS Arc! It follows a fiendish villain once thought to be dead who has resurfaced and become even more powerful! To fight the new evil, Joseph Joestar enlists the help of his hot-blooded grandson, Jotaro Kujo and together they embark on a perilous adventure that will take them around the world. The book has an MSRP of $19.99 U.S. / $22.99 CAN


    The dvd and books are available from online retailers like Amazon and Right Stuff anime as well as through VIZ Media directly.

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  • 12/19/16--08:20: She Would Have Fallen
  • Peggy Guggenheim was a legend when, in Venice, my college roommate and I wangled an invitation to have tea with her at her palazzo on the Grand Canal. She is said to have slept with a thousand men in Europe. Whether or not that is true, her second husband was the surrealist artist Max Ernst. When I was still in grade school, she was already assembling a collection of modern art that included works by Chagall, Dali, Duchamp, Klee, Ernst, Magritte, Miro, Picasso, Man Ray, and many others.
    I suppose she deigned to invite two young anonymous guys to tea because we had sent a letter from the president of our college asking people to show every courtesy to recipients of our traveling fellowships. It was the year Venice made her an Honorary Citizen.
    The collector was around retirement age when we met in the spring of 1962, but still delightfully naughty, still enjoying a glorious laugh. Over tea, she told us risqué stories, and one in particular has stayed with me. A woman was coming to visit her by boat and losing her balance she grabbed at a nearby outdoor sculpture. It happened to be a naked modernist horseman with a generous erection. The visitor's desperate hand clutched the nearest point of apparent stability, which happened to be the rider's bronze penis. Over the years did I add the flourish that the organ was detachable and that the good lady kept her grip as she recovered?
    In any case, I now find on the internet that Miss Guggenheim acquired a 1948 sculpture by Mario Marini, "The Angel of the City." Judging by a photograph, this piece of art could have been involved in the story. Her house, I gather, is now a museum open to the public, but without the collector, who, I suspect, was the best part. Although the Massachusetts Puritans who started our college might not have been amused.

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    Eric Bogosian grew up going to rock concerts. When he was around 17, he saw Jimi Hendrix perform at the intimate North Shore Music Tent in Beverly, Massachusetts. He will never forget the rush he felt when a shredding Hendrix connected with the crowd. "I adored Jimi Hendrix. He played and spoke to us and I was in heaven," says Bogosian. "An audience gets very turned on when the person on stage addresses them directly. That became really clear when I saw bands."

    As a playwright, monologist and actor thinking about what makes theater riveting, he sought to create that similar audience bond and intimacy. He wanted to talk directly to the audience and have them feel more included. "I was in love with theater. I wasn't specifically thinking about monologues. I was mainly thinking what makes theater exciting," he shares. "I found this mode of direct address to the audience to be pretty incredible."

    Between 1980 and 2006 Bogosian wrote and performed many spellbinding solo shows Off Broadway, including Men Inside, FunHouse, Drinking in America, Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead and Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. His Pulitzer Prize-nominated play Talk Radio, about a shock jock, also contained monologues. "Even though I was in a radio station, I was facing the audience. They could really look into my eyes and I could speak to them," he says about Talk Radio

    Over and over Bogosian's monologues got people seriously juiced. Frank Rich, who was Chief Drama Critic of The New York Times described Bogosian as "what Lenny Bruce was to the 1950's, Bob Dylan to the 1960's, Woody Allen to the 1970's."

    Bogosian created a vastly eclectic potpourri of richly constructed fascinating characters. There was an unsympathetic doctor, a clueless British rock star, a fire-and-brimstone preacher, a much-too-peppy airline ticket agent, a subway panhandler. "I would basically do a dozen of them in an evening and jump from one to the next," he explains of the kaleidoscope of personalities. For him it was like a music set riffing mixes of notes and rhythms -- "doing fast songs, slow songs, ballads, funny bits." Revered director Jo Bonney, (who is also Bogosian's wife), directed the shows.

    The poignant monologues not only speak volumes about who we are, our society and our values, they are also extremely satisfying for actors to perform and use for audition material. His monologues have often been practiced in theater schools across the country. "I didn't know until people started telling me," says Bogosian, who for several years played Captain Danny Ross in Law & Order: Criminal Intent. "Often a waiter at a restaurant will approach me and say, 'when I was in theater school, I did your monologue.'"

    The more he thought about it, the more he realized that if acting students were doing the monologues in school, how amazing would it be to see skilled actors do their version of them? "It could be a kind of resource for young actors," says Bogosian who takes delight in sharing his knowledge with artists who are starting out. "This particular form of acting requires a certain level of skill."

    So Bogosian created the webseries where actors from TV, film and stage perform his monologues. Now containing more than six hours of free material from gifted artists -- (including Vincent D'Onofrio, Marin Ireland, Tate Donovan, Michael, Stuhlbarg, Dylan Baker, Michael Shannon, Marg Helgenberger, Sebastian Stan, Stephen Lang, Peter Dinklage, Ethan Hawke, Jessica Hecht, Michael Chernus, Billy Crudup, Glenn Fleshler, Peter Scanavino, Craig 'muMs' Grant, Bill Irwin, Jeremy Sisto, Chris Bauer, David Cale, Josh Charles, Matthew Maher, Danny Mastrogiorgio, Jennifer Tilly, John Markus, Yul Vazquez, Jonathan Ames and many more) -- new videos are posted regularly. "I love actors and love these people who are on the site," says Bogosian.

    One of the newest monologues is a particularly eerie one from Peter Dinklage. In another new one Mary Wiseman performs an illuminating piece about God and faith. During Rash, from Bogosian's play Griller, a man (deftly played by John Markus) cooks barbecue in his backyard while complaining to a friend about all the poor people in the city. "He's hilarious in the piece" says Bogosian of Markus. "And he managed to capture a very particular mindset."

    Also satisfying for Bogosian is to see monologues that he performed now interpreted by actresses. Alison Wright offers a comical and brilliant take on an overly earnest real estate agent in Gated. In Melting Pot, Marin Ireland is a devoted and hard-working diner cook. "They have taken us into all kinds of unchartered territory," Bogosian adds. will continue to feature an exciting mix of actors. In fact, several actors play characters who they have never tackled before. "Many of them are specialized character actors and are rarely given monologues in a movie. The actors have to be of the highest quality to inhabit these characters and make them jump to life."

    Bogosian revealed more of the back story of and offered guidance to young people beginning their careers. Read the full story here at

    Lisa Joyce (Photo by Monique Carboni)

    Eric Bogosian and David Zayas (Photo by Monique Carboni)

    Matthew Maher (Photo by Monique Carboni)

    Josh Charles (Photo by Monique Carboni)

    Eric Bogosian and Dylan Baker (Photo by Monique Carboni)

    All photos used with permission.


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    By Mercedes Vizcaino, ZEALnyc Contributing Writer, December 19, 2016

    What milestone is left to achieve for the most influential rock n' roll band with a career spanning over 50+ years? Create an interactive and immersive retrospective exhibit in their honor? That's precisely what iEC Exhibitions, led by curator and native New Yorker, IIeen Gallagher did for the Rolling Stones with Exhibitionism. Debuting in London earlier this year, the New York City version took almost 4 weeks to construct with complete collaboration from Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie. Rolling Stones fanatics and music lovers alike will implode with excitement after touring this exhibit.

    As you enter the Industria warehouse in New York's West Village, which houses the exhibit, your attention is drawn to the ticker on a large red screen rapidly spewing digital facts on the number of concert tours and countries the Rolling Stones have performed in around the world, from 1962 - 2016; nearby is a jumbo wall with multiple screens showing concert footage of fans and the band throughout the years. Their longevity is quite a feat--really. As you walk through the swirling maze, the recreation of their 1962 Edith Grove, London flat is striking with its varying rooms. Dirty dishes piled high in the sink, beer bottles everywhere, and soiled clothes strewn throughout the bedroom. Yes, it's gross at first glance - but interestingly, among the heaping mess, there are blues records dating back to the Stones early musical influences from Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy. This is where the band's journey began. Recordings of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards via loudspeaker are heard saying how they would steal food and go back to their tiny apartment and rehearse.

    Past their apartment are artifacts lent to the exhibit by members of the band: rare guitars belonging to Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards that are in mint condition, with an adjacent room allowing visitors to use a mixing console to altar The Stones' popular songs--one of the true gems in this exhibit. Then there's Mick Jagger's harmonica collection, which he admittedly had a hard time learning to play, followed by display counters filled with Keith Richard's personal diaries and handwritten lyrics by Mick Jagger from "Miss You," "Hey Negrita," and "Worried About You." Vintage tour posters from their first British and North American tours promoting acts like Chuck Berry and Smokey Robinson, all on the same bill.

    When you reach the second floor, you're greeted by the Rolling Stones' larger-than-life iconic tongue and lips logo structure, spinning with psychedelic patterns. Throughout the exhibit's walls are written text and quotes from the band and the people they worked closely with, notably the logo's designer, John Pasche, describing the story behind it. There are numerous colorful concert tour posters representative of the band's Voodoo Lounge and Sticky Fingers tours (artwork by Andy Warhol of Mick Jagger), and their breakthrough contributions to concert stage design.

    The room with the Rolling Stone's costumes is mind-blowing. Here you have the evolution of the band's wardrobe from the 60s to present day. A photograph from 1963 shows the band dressed by their manager, Andrew Long Oldham, in matching dogtooth jackets - a look they quickly abandoned in favor of bad-boy rebellion and what became their signature trademark for breaking boundaries in fashion with the infamous white dress worn by Mick Jagger's Sticky Fingers 1971 album cover.

    One noteworthy room has clips of Martin Scorcese's 2008 Shine a Light concert film depicting the band's performances and emphasizing the joy of making music and the camaraderie they share as a group, as well as the director's insights for making it. Towards the end of the exhibit, visitors see a recreation of a backstage area with equipment and gear in tow, just to get a sense of what it feels like to hang out with the band before they head to the stage. You are handed 3D glasses and you are able to witness Mick Jagger performing in one of his stadium shows.

    Exhibitionism--The Rolling Stones is not just for their fans. If you have a penchant for design, fashion, music and the cultural influences this band has had over these genres, then this exhibit is for you. For more information on schedules and to purchase tickets, click here.

    Mercedes Vizcaino, a Contributing Writer with ZEALnyc, writes about lifestyle and cultural events in and around New York City.

    More features from ZEALnyc:

    'Sweat' is as timely and powerful as a freight train

    'Homos'--Stellar Performances in a Questionable Play

    Finding your inner Olaf at all the NYC area ice skating rinks

    For all the news on New York City arts and culture, visit ZEALnyc Front Page.

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    What is the difference between "elite" and "elitist"? Both words are used in today's increasingly polarized society, often with pejorative connotations. However "elite" defines something or someone to be admired, while "elitist" or "elitism" suggests exclusion and recalls classist posturing. In reality they are quite different, and that distinction needs to be clear for any upscale brand that strives to capitalize on the notion of "elite."

    For example, during a recent press opening at the Museum of Modern Art to preview the exhibition Francis Picabia: Our Heads are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction, I was especially aware that I was among a group of visitors that could clearly be disparaged as "the elite." I applaud MoMA's courage in mounting this show because Picabia, who is not a household name, doesn't neatly fit into traditional art categorizations nor is he widely praised by the artist community.

    His stylistic adventures in painting and drawing suggest that he was a restless "journalist of art," chronicling the creative energy of the time embodied in Impressionism, Cubism, Dada, Futurism, and commercial illustration. The exhibition showed his explosive artistic vitality and skill that will appeal to some and disliked by others. MoMA took a risk with this show because Picabia's work demands a deeper appreciation of art history to understand his aesthetic references. But it is exactly this curatorial courage that keeps them among the "elite" museums in the world.

    However, even these world-class institutional brands are not immune from popular cultural distractions of today: celebrity, spectacle, and sex. Competition for our time is fierce, and museums often rely on their own "celebrities" -- Picasso, the Impressionist, Van Gogh -- to entertain, inspire, and educate, all in an attempt to attract visitors. This is a risk of another sort.

    An unfortunate example of this attempt to counter the image of elitism is in branding for cultural institutions. Trendy logos recently designed for legendary museums like The Met, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Stedelijk, and the Whitney signals a desperate attempt to appeal to "millennials" and to appear contemporary.

    Fortunately, museums are much more than their logos. Indeed, many museums have learned to play the "relevance card" successfully. Exhibitions focusing on fashion, technology, and pop icons have drawn huge crowds without compromising their cultural mission. In these instances, they've demonstrated that as a brand they are connected to both modern culture and their roots.

    Museums always try to strike a balance between education and entertainment, but are often accused of catering only to the elite. However, the general public has little problem with admiring "elite" quarterbacks, racecar drivers or bass fisherman, because it signals a rarified ability or talent worthy of our respect.

    For cultural institutions, the risk is that the novice feels marginalized at best and stupid at worst. The reverse could also be true. Yes, I'm an art lover but why doesn't Nascar try to be more inclusive to me? I might not enjoy the thunderous looping of gas guzzling automobiles around a track, but I may nevertheless be interested in how these incredible machines work.

    Museums need to create "threshold experiences" that invite the novice art lover to decide if they wish to discover more or just check the tourist box. You can't force-feed high culture, however, but blending the scholarly with the familiar is possible. Yes, Picasso was an icon that disrupted our very concept of painting. But did you know that he was 5'2" tall, left-handed, a child prodigy, created his last drawing three days before he died at age 99 and never came to the United States? This humanizes the artist and makes him more relatable in a way that can appeal to an art scholar and a casual tourist.

    If "elitism" is the word institutional brands seek to avoid as they attempt to democratize their images, maybe "eliteness" can be used to describe an essence of distinction worthy our respect, whether it be a master painter or hockey star. After all, Francis Picabia and Wayne Gretzky BOTH possess the air of eliteness in their ability change direction in their approach to their craft.

    Today's museum visitor is not a monolithic model. With record crowds approaching seven million at The Met, that doesn't sound like an elitist destination. Visitor attendance remains an important measure of success but the enduring legacy of an institution that transcends generations, remains the ultimate goal. Key to this is delivering a memorable and inspiring experience to all visitors irrespective of their knowledge of art.

    Museums have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to rethink what "elite" means for their current audiences and newcomers. Rebranding how visitors internalize the notion of elite can help usher the experience from a barrier to entry to a badge of accomplishment.

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