Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Last Emperor

I have been haunted for the past few years by a story that was in the Times Metro section (you know, back when there Was a Metro section) about Ertugrul Osman, who was the last remaining grandson of the final Ottoman Emperor. My knowledge of the Ottoman Empire comes from a Serb friend (who's a fantastic costume designer) Marija Djordevic; romance novels that feature harems; and Orham Pamuk's "Istanbul."
But Mr. Osman lived most of his life in our world; he and his wife lived in a walk-up on Lexington in the East 70s. He remembered playing in the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul as a child. Ataturk forced his family to leave Turkey in 1924. The photo is of His Imperial Highness Prince Osman and his second wife, Princess Zeynep (she's actually an Afghan princess as well). Mr. Osman died on a trip to Istanbul last Wednesday. He was 97 years old. What things he must have seen!
There's a link to the Times obituary above; the photo credit is Fred R. Conrad, for the Times.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Strangers on a Train

Last night for the first time I saw "Strangers on a Train." I've seen a lot of Hitchcock, but not that one. It's truly wonderful. Based on Patricia Highsmith's first novel (which she wrote at Yaddo), the adaptation was by Whitfield Cook and the screenplay by Raymond Chandler (yea!) and Czenzi Ormonde. Highsmith wrote the Ripley novels later, but you can see the antecedents in this film, despite the changes the writers and Hitchcock made to the nivel.
The two leads are Farley Granger and Robert Walker. I've seen Robert Walker in "The Clock" and "Til the Clouds Roll By." Neither of them prepared me for this. He is absolutely amazing. He really seems like a psychopath you'd meet in real life; not some thriller schlock version of one. Unfortunately, "Strangers on a Train" was his second-to-last film.
Hitchcock's daughter Patricia plays a supporting role, the ingenue's murder-obsessed, bespectacled sister.
Photo credits: Wikipedia.

More Art

Tom's show opened on Monday. The film makers who were shooting when we were working last Thursday have their piece up on YouTube- link above.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

God Doesn't Like Ugly

I have been to St. Paul the Apostle Church (the Catholic Church next to Fordham's Lincoln Center campus) once about ten years ago, to see an early music concert. It's a big church, and Stanford White is responsible for some of the interior decoration (at least the Lady Altar, from what I could tell). The church has an outreach program for visual artists, which includes art exhibitions in the church itself, on various religious themes. This year's theme is God Doesn't Like Ugly, and my boyfriend Tom Bovo has six photographs in the show.
On Thursday night we went to St. Paul's to hang Tom's photographs, and see what the other artists were doing. There was painting, sculpture and photos all over the church. We also got a chance to talk to the priest who organized the show, who seemed like an interesting guy to me. He's a priest and an artist, and his job is reaching out to other artists.
There is art all over the church; Tom's photographs hang beneath the last six Stations of the Cross, and they do each seem connected to each Station.
The show opens on Monday, and the hours are Monday through Friday, 7:30-6:00; Saturday 8:30-6:30; and Sunday 7:30-6:00, through October 29th. The opening reception (and the caterer gets high marks) is Wednesday, October 1st, 7:00-9:00. To get to St. Paul's, take the 1 train to 65th street, and walk to 60th and Columbus Avenue. The link above is to Tom's website, and these are three of the six prints he's exhibiting.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I have had nothing but good questions and good rehearsal reports back from Kristen Kos, the director of the reading of my play Geography In Charleston, South Carolina on Saturday. A link to an article from Charleston City Paper about the reading series is above. The reading part of the Greater Park Circle Play Fest at South of Broadway on Saturday at 6PM. My friend Elaine Romero was there for the reading of her play "Like Heaven" last Saturday, and had only good things to say.
The play is about a brother and sister, Katinka and Antal Medve, who escape from post-revolutionary Hungary and settle in New York City. It takes place in the course of the Monday after Easter, 1957.
You might think this is a strange subject for a play from a simple German girl from Cleveland, but there were actually a lot of Hungarians who'd left in 1956 living in Cleveland when I was growing up there. I was also enough to have a wonderful friend, the late, great photographer Sandor Acs, who told me many stories about growing up in Budapest during World War II, and what the revolution was like. His stories and others are the basis of the play. I'm only sorry he didn't live to see it.
Geography should run around 80 minutes, so it's not too late for dinner afterwards.
The two photographs above are from aworldtowin.net and britannica.com.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

King Leopold's Ghost

I have a friend who's Belgian, and when I went to visit her in August she lent me her copy of "King Leopold's Ghost" by Adam Hochschild. I know a very little about the Congo- it was a Belgian colony, horrible death toll, and Patrice Lamumba. I read somewhere in the past six months that Roger Casement (the Irish patriot), Kafka's uncle and Joseph Conrad were all there at the same time. Not a whole lot. But I've been thinking about it since I saw "Ruined," Lynn Nottage's play about the civil wars there. It's over three hundred pages, and I was afraid it would be a bit of a slog. I couldn't put it down.
So what follows are the weird and/or shocking "good" parts.
Like some French and German colonies in Africa, the death toll in the Belgian Congo was high. Taking into account direct deaths, disease and a necessarily falling birthrate, Hochschild put it at half the population (and that's not the highest estimate, which is 13,000,000) which would be approximately ten million people. The death toll percentage in Namibia (then German South West Africa) of the Hereros people was worse. German troops had orders, not secret, to exterminate men, women and children.
King Leopold owned much of the Congo- it belonged to him and his shareholders, not the Belgians. Leopold's holdings were so complicated (dummy corporations, etc.) it took years to unravel them. He had a colony because he went colony-hunting for years, and finally settled on the Congo. I told my friend Cheryl this and she said, "Who goes colony-shopping?" For some years the main industry was exporting ivory, which eventually gave way to rubber. They were not originally rubber plantations, but sending workers (who were horribly treated- manacles, savage punishments, holding family members hostage) into the jungle to harvest rubber from wild-growing plants.
Sir Roger Casement served as the British consul in the Congo, and saw what was happening. He resigned from the foreign service in 1913, and went on, with E.D. Morel, to try to bring public attention to the people of Congo's plight. He was was concerned about the Irish people's plight (being Irish) and was executed for high treason (he negotiated with the Germans during World War I) in 1916.
Hochschild points out (and rightly so- I'd never though about it that way before) that much of the Allied propaganda that was generated about Belgium during World War I (cutting the hands and feet off Belgian children, widespread rape, etc.) was precisely what Belgians had done in the Congo ten years earlier. "Heart of Darkness" does not go overboard in its gore of heads impaled on garden stakes, baskets of severed limbs- if anything, Conrad muted it. Orchestrated by the CIA in 1961, Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lamumba was murdered by Belgian officers, and his body was chopped up and dissolved in acid, so there could be no martyr's grave. The Congolese point man for the murder was Joseph Mobutu, who robbed his country for more than 30 years of an estimated $4 billion dollars. Like King Leopold, he acquired large homes in Belgium and France, in addition to Spain, Portugal and Switzerland.
I highly recommend the book.

Mr. Bittman's Way Around Pie Crust

Last month I clipped a Mark Bittman recipe from the New York Times for getting around making pie crust (at which I am a miserable failure). It's called Stone Fruit Patchwork Bake; the link is above. It calls for five peaches, and a pound of cherries or berries. I was lucky enough to find good peaches (pretty late for that) had to buy a plastic cup of mixed berries- there was nothing else left at the vegetable stand. It was pretty easy, and tasted great! He suggests that if you use cherries, you leave the stones in, but I fear I break a tooth. The fruit base would be great as a sauce for ice cream or a pound cake.

Friday, September 4, 2009

South of Broadway

My friend Elaine Romero and I both have plays in South of Broadway's fall reading series, Greater South Circle Play Fest (link above). The theatre is located in Charleston, South Carolina. The readings are each Saturday evening at 6PM. Elaine's play, Like Heaven, is tomorrow night. My play, Geography, is next Saturday. Strangely enough, they are both plays we worked on when we were Playwrights-in-Residence at the Inge Festival. And I know that I heard of the Greater South Circle Play Festival via the Inge's artistic director, Peter Ellenstein. Peter is very diligent about passing along opportunities to Inge alumni. Not to mention the fact that he's a mensch.
Geography is my second play about the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. It's set in my old neighborhood, Yorkville, which used to be heavily Hungarian and German. The play takes place in Carl Schurz Park on John Finley Walk on the Monday after Easter in 1957. It's about a brother and sister from Budapest who are adjusting to New York City, or not. The play is as much about the relationship between these two siblings as it is about Cold War history. To me, sibling relationships are not quite like any other, however much we may take them for granted.
The reading is directed by Kristen Kos, featuring Frank Ponce as Brown and Katie Holland as Katinka.