Tag Archives: New York

135JournalsTime Travel: September 13, 1981, Sunday

13 Sep

An excerpt from Volume 51 of the journals of young Alexandra Hanson, 35 years ago today:

The building I work in doesn’t have a 13th floor. Maybe I should try walking up some of the flights for exercise. Hah! I would have to walk up 12 flights of stairs to get up to the second bank of elevators .That’s a little too much exercise for a girl, I’m afraid.

It was a nice day today—going out to the street fair, shopping with Laura and John Flansburgh, and watching him question a woman about why she uses Pampers and not a diaper service.  I got money out of the bank and cleaned up the apt. a little while Brian was out in South Orange, NJ, looking at the place where he’s going to live. He’s very happy about the place; it’s convenient, it’s beautiful, it’s $150 a month, it’s with a woman who’s middle-aged who always has guests over and he likes that kind of thing—guests and friends and visitors . Only, he has some sad thoughts about it, about moving away. He’s glad to get out of this dilapidated apartment building and leave the mice. I saw one today when I opened the cupboard door, leaping over some plates and staying very still in the hole behind the cabinet, only its little tail sticking out. I yelled “BOO” at it and it still wouldn’t move. I wish it would do a better job of hiding if it has to be there. I felt less able to take care of it without Brian hanging around oohing and aahing with admiration at my competence in mouse disposal. Anyway; he not all that happy about moving away from me. He’s very nice. This weekend was happy in a lot of ways. I spend it mostly with Brian and we spent a lot of satisfying time together in a way we haven’t in months. I know he’s finally relaxed about teaching and a place to live. I know he appreciated my weird sense of humor and rambling monologues this weekend.

Before I write anything else I want to say that I hope I write less slavishly in the future. I’m hoping I can break through to deeper, truer writing than I can now. I am afraid of myself. Afraid of writing even the most trivial things.




135Journals Art Corner #42

11 Nov At the lecture, NYC Saturday afternoon. Art project #42. Alexandra Hanson-Harding
At the lecture, NYC Saturday afternoon. Art project #42. Alexandra Hanson-Harding

At the lecture, NYC Saturday afternoon. Art project #42. Alexandra Hanson-Harding

135journals: My husband’s first day as a free man

30 Jun
My dear husband will be wearing these glasses every day until forever. Promise!

My dear husband will be wearing these glasses every day until forever. Promise!

Yesterday was the first day of the rest of  Brian’s life. That is to say, it was the first Monday of his life as a member of the retired. What will he do with this endless expanse of possibility? Right now, his intention is to keep it open. He hasn’t spent the last whatever years of his life teaching Asian literature for nothing. The beautiful spareness of Chinese poetry pulls at his heart. So does the Japanese concept of Ma, or negative space. Although, in the Japanese thought Ma has a much more dynamic and interactive meaning than not being. It is part of the fabric of the whole, a part of the dance of possibilities. Oh dear, I am getting very abstract here. What I mean is, my husband is bravely trying to let himself be open and to find out what calls to him. And I am very interested to see what this human being to whom I’ve been married for the past 30 years is going to discover.

His first no-longer-employed Monday was not entirely filled with Ma. I had an appointment with a famousy-famous hip surgeon to see if I needed hip surgery at the famousy-famous Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. I didn’t think I needed hip surgery, but another one of my doctors thought, well, maybe, I don’t know, just check it out, so grumblingly, I did. I reorganized my gigantic binder of tests and visits and brought it in. And this time, I brought Mr. HH with me. Despite my relative certainty that I wouldn’t need surgery (maybe some kind of injection though because of osteoarthritis?) I did feel afraid. I’ve gone to many scary doctor appointments by myself, and most of the time I’ve managed okay, but sometimes I come out of them with this jumble of notes that don’t make any sense because I’ve felt a rushing of panic clogging my ears when the doctor was giving me information. So the dear husband and I agreed that he would come to scary appointment and be a second set of ears for me. Anyway, I had some X-rays, talked to perfectly nice doctor, don’t need surgery, then husband and I had a pleasant walk around the Upper East Side.

“Look at that building,” Brian said, pointing to an old brick building. “A Czech gymnasium. I see a lot of Czech names around here” (near 70th and York).

“I think  a lot of Czechs and Germans settled this neighborhood,” I said. “Every part of Manhattan is so different.”

“It’s so different when you walk it,” he said.

“I know what we should do!” I said. “We should get a big map of Manhattan and get a yellow marker and color in every street we walk after your retirement. And we should walk every street in Manhattan!”

“Where does anybody even get a map nowadays?” he said. “Everybody has GPS.”

“Huh.” I was stumped, too. Maybe off the internet? Barnes and Noble? I don’t know.

He looks at his phone. “There’s a gourmet shop ten blocks away. We can get cheese.” Cheese is part of his holy trinity of consumables, along with coffee and bread. So we wandered uptown past more stores. We people watched. I saw lots of people walking dogs. I saw a woman carrying a dog. I saw lots of doggy day care businesses. There is no shortage of dogs in New York. And I almost never, ever see dog poop. So, good work, New Yorkers. The Upper East Side is full of uniformed private school kids who burst out into the streets at 3:30 or so, along with moms and dads and nannies with strollers. I see a schlumpy looking guy in a Gilligan hat and pink socks lumping across the street. People wearing neon-bright sneakers–that’s a thing now, I guess. Lots of women with pretty legs and short skirts and little sandals. Workers with hard hats ignoring interested onlookers. Street sellers hawking fruit, scarves, books, watches.

At the gourmet shop we buy two small pieces of ridiculously expensive cheese and linger over other delicious but outlandishly expensive items–gluten free lemon bars, figs, bright red $5.99 a pound tomatoes. As we leave we see the pasta hanging on the line. They had gluten free ravioli for $12.99 a pound. We passed. We’ve made homemade pasta before, but it is a pain. Still, I liked watching it hanging there.

We two flaneurs amble back to our car, driving home through rush hour,  but the traffic still isn’t TOO bad. We listen to a podcast. “The drive was only one This American Life long,” Brian says. He makes chicken and salad and pasta for dinner and I fold clothes. I run off to my book group and when I get home, he is sitting on the back deck in the semi-darkness,  looking at the trees and the sky above.  His hands are folded behind his head. He smiles at me, and in that smile I see a happiness formed of the possibility of a joyful anything to come.

Writing prompt: What possibilities do you see?

Insanely Insane Photo Essay Part 3: New York, New York

1 Nov

And now, the final installment of one girl’s dramatic adventure of crossing New York City.


girl on subway elevator in NYC

This young lady was on the escalator down into the bowels of the subway, looking rather put out about life. But what a pity, because . . .


man sells candy in subway store, New York

There are many stores down in the subway station that sell CANDY!


Selling flowers in subway. New York.

And if you don’t want candy, you can buy flowers in the subway station.


silver shoes, New York subway

You might get some new fashion ideas, like wearing fabulous silver shoes.


Christian against whoremongers

Or you might get some helpful advice. Whoremongers, you have officially been warned.


Mosaic ladies, New York Subway

These mosaic ladies certainly seem to be enjoying themselves on the walls of the subway.

And then, I reach my destination, Port Authority, for a bus back to the Garden State, all too soon. Thanks for joining me!

Writing Prompt: Where did you journey today? Or, if you prefer, In Defense of Whoremongering.

Insanely Insane Photo Essay: Crossing New York, Part 1

30 Oct

Did you ever notice how many blogposts use the word “insane”? I definitely want a piece of that action! Anyway, I went to Le Grande Pomme today to go see another damn doctor. This one is so far on the East Side that I swear to the great Goddess I was halfway into Queens. So I thought I would share the ramble with you, because New York is just fabulous piled on insanely fabulous, even when it’s cold, rainy and getting dark.


chairs barber shop

chairs outside a barber shop in NYC.


Barber shop, NYC

Barber shop, NYC


Diner, NYC

Diner, NYC


bike rider in the rain, NYC

bike rider in the rain, NYC


Shoe fixing shop. NYC

Shoe fixing shop. NYC

More insanity to come!

Writing Prompt: What impression did you get of NY from these pictures? What do you think of New York in general?

135 Journals Theater Review: India Ink by Tom Stoppard

14 Sep

Krishna and Radha, together at last. Painting from the Brooklyn Museum (via Wikimedia Commons).

35 Journals Theater Review: India Ink by Tom Stoppard


Last night the Mr. and I continued what is becoming the preview of “See-a-play-for-his-birthday” month. And by preview I mean, this is not even his birthday month, and his birthday is at the end of THAT. A few weeks ago we saw a blah play whose name I cannot even remember, but last night’s production of India Ink at the Roundabout Theater in New York, New York, was indeed a gem, as are, in my opinion, all of Tom Stoppard’s plays. The first play I ever saw of his was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. My English teacher took a few of the biggest nerds (i.e; me and my best friends) to see a production of this amazing play, which combines Dadaism and Shakespeare to amazing effect. Thank you, Mr. Denver! That is just one of the ways that Mr. Paul Denver changed my life. But I will write more about that at a later time. The other plays I have seen by Tom Stoppard have been equally thought-provoking, not to mention incredibly well-researched. I have come away from them with much to think about, even when I found them at times, shall we say, discursive and undramatic in parts. Stoppard has enough confidence in his audience to 1. Assume that they are reasonably well-educated; 2. Give them enough information so that if they missed something, there has been enough discussion of the major issues so that by the time the person has left the play, he and she will know where to start digging for more; and 3. He actually does tell interesting stories in his plays.

India Ink is a story set in two different times: in 1930 when a glamorous poet named Flora Crewe comes to India “for her health”—despite the fact that India at that time and no doubt today were infamous to putting an end to one quickly. She rents a small villa and meets an artist named Nirad Das who wants to paint a portrait of the poet (as indeed, Modigliani had—NUDE!!!). Simultaneously, and overlappingly (if such is a word) it is also set in the 1980s, when a biographer named Eldon Pike is overcome with excitement as he reads the correspondence of and interviews Flora’s sister, Eleanor Swan. Soon, Eldon is ready for the fainting couch because it is rumored that there is a painting of Eleanor Swan by an Indian painter, once again, NUDE. Not nude as in “Damn, I don’t know what to wear.” Nude as in an allusion to the Hindi god Krishna’s married lover Radha, the most beautiful of the cowmaidens (Gopis, I think?) who would cluster around him. Radha waited naked in a house waiting for love. Basically, if Flora had been painted naked by an Indian artist at that time, it would be an even more scandalous breach of the times’ mores. Not that Flora would have cared. As her sister archly noted, “Flora used men like batteries. If one wore out, she’d plug in another one for energy.”

Much of the play is devoted to the mystery of seeing if the modern day Eldon and his Indian colleagues—and Nirad Das’s son—will find out the true story of this rumor and who the artist is if it exists. But along the way, one is exposed to a slice of history as rich as the Battenberg cakes and “sponge” that Mrs. Swan stuffs her guests with. It grapples with the coexisting cooperation unrest between Hindus and Muslims that existed at that time, Gandhi’s salt march, the fact that more and more Indians were being invited to join the government, but not the clubs, the ways that the English considered that their great contribution was making India “governable” (although it points to ways that it did not—for example, there were parts of India, notably Rajasthan, that were controlled by princely states rather than the British themselves–) and the idea that what ruined the British/Indian system was when the Suez Canal opened and “Memsahibs”—British ladies—could join their husbands, so the husbands were no longer forced to deal with the local population for their, um, family needs. One fairly sympathetic British character is amazed that the Indians don’t rise up and slaughter the English. The intensely Anglophilic nature of certain aspects of Indian culture is mentioned repeatedly, with affection, bemusement, and dismay. If one knew nothing about India, one would absorb a lot quite painlessly, following the story of the free-spirited Flora. But it is absolute catnip for those who find India, its art, history, theology, and intensely atmospheric way of being itself (which means being a million different things as well as being one things—somewhat like the Hindu gods) endlessly intriguing. As my husband teaches Asian literature and I have not only edited several thick books on India but have had the good fortune to have a number of Indian friends, this was like a parade of hits. We even have a beautiful painting of Radha being courted by Krishna in a clearing in our living room.

One thing that I found interesting, frustrating, fair, brave, and/or annoying (can’t decide) was Stoppard’s choice to write this story—his take on India, basically—from the perspective of /or a story about a white woman. Naturally, it harkens back to (and even refers to) Forster’s A Passage to India (at least in part). It was an interesting choice to write from an English woman’s perspective rather than an Indian one. But then again, in this modern era, when there are so many famous and talented Indian writers who can tell their own stories, it seems less bothersome to let Stoppard choose the story that calls to him. Especially because, as the husband says, I wish I could have read the script over—it was so rich, and it didn’t have that “forced” quality many plays have—four people are waiting in the room waiting to find out who the murderer is or whatever.”

So, will the flutey, flirty, frail Flora be, um, united in a very special relationship with India? As I think I said at the end of every book report I wrote, “You’ll just have to wait and see for yourself.”
In the meantime, four thumbs up from the two of us!

Writing Prompt: When you think of India, what images, tastes, bits of history, and more come to mind?

An Evening of High Culture in New York including a Snooze. In Pictures.

5 Mar


1. Get to New York. It is possibly -8000 degrees. Plus I am half hour late (curse you for being on time, NJ Transit trains, so I must take sad, wheezing bus because I am 2 minutes late).


2. See those coats? Everybody but everybody is wearing their freaking sleeping bags in NYC.


3. Presence of food and husband is somewhat mollifying.


4. Famous scholars start talking about aspects of Buddhism about which I am in a great state of unnowingness. What does he mean about Tantric Buddhism spreading across Asia at approximately 800 of the Common Era? Remember . . . mmm, dukkha? Samsara? Catch word here and there. They all have thick accents. My eyelids grow heavy. So heavy. I am suddenly floating away, so far . . . wait, am I in an auditorium or some sort? This isn’t my bed? Oh yeah, um, dukkha. I remember that word. It means, “anything that sucks to any degree.”


5. Two sets of beautifully dressed monks sing slow chanty songs. I am jealous of their socks. They each sing a couple of songs. It is beautiful. But a whole evening of this would kill me.


6. And now, time for the ladies room, Japanese style (we Americans are sooooooooooo backwards.)
By the way, sorry, I swear I photoedited these pictures and they just came out all wrong or SOMETHING.

Writing Prompt: What was the Last cultural experience which you attended


July is Journaling Month bonus: Drawing NY

12 Jul

July is Journaling Month bonus: Drawing NY

Things that I saw in New York one coldish day (from my journals).

July is Journaling Month 6: Your Favorite Place

11 Jul


“Spinning class, brought to you by Citi Bike!” (courtesy of the talented Maria Chang)

Nobody should be dressed in the full white plastic body armor of a Federation stormtrooper on a steamy July day. After all, It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.  but there he was, leaning against a garbage can on 42nd street , shoulders slumped. He looked too tired for the indignity of begging tourists to take photos with him and give him a tip. What a painful way of making a living, I thought. But then I think the same of all the Elmos, Minnie Mouses, gold-painted Statues of Liberty, Spidermen, the Naked Cowboy and his new competitor, the Naked Indian, and other characters who roam Times Square, hoping for a buck or two from the one out of 100 or more who pass by with indifference or mild curiosity, jostling with the vast crowds that pour through the area. I feel poignant wonder at what leads a person to that kind of thankless, excruciating job. I wonder—what is that man’s story? And that is why I love New York. Because it is filled with wonder and stories and questions. That very plump family sitting next to me at Mickie D’s where I’m having a very large and icy diet Coke and finishing my$%@#$  captions for my bee book  sounds as if they’re speaking French, but it’s not really French—is it even Indo-European? Are the two black men who have their arms around each others’ shoulders brothers or lovers? What is the story of the large statue at a park on 33rd Street of Minerva presiding over two bell ringers and a massive bell that says “New York.”  (I read on—the statue once actually worked like a clock on the New York Herald Building back in the day, the two brawny bronze workers actually hammering the giant bell once an hour). Now, the park is guarded by fierce owl statues on pedestals, symbols of Minerva).  Why Minerva? I can’t remember what she has to do with bell ringing. I see rows of Citibikes, my husband’ s new passion, and see Citibike riders in the new bike lanes of the much-improved city since the dark days of the 80s. Everywhere, busy walkers weave up and down the streets, creating new tableaus of color and expression.

I had gotten to Penn Station at 12:44 and started walking east from 7th Ave. Old men talk with big hand gestures by the side of the road, next to rusty chained up bikes, with those ubiquitous old man flat caps. A monk in a long white robe and short white cape struggles along with his cape, long string of rosary beads dangling from his belt and carrying a small black  pocketbook, or, I guess the kindest thing I can call it is a Murse. Where is he going? How does he keep that robe so white? I’d have Nutella stains on it in two seconds.

“Que calor!,” says one middle-aged woman to another, fanning her face with her hand. A guy has cut his hair so the top looks like a pencil eraser. A Korean guy wear a button down shirt in an eye-popping tangerine.Has he been in this country long? I have seen so many young Korean immigrant men slowly change their bright, imaginative wardrobes to the duller, more subdued American style of dressing. It seems a pity, as if we clip the wings of their creativity so they can fit in.

“Job jobs jobs, 10 to eighteen dollars an hour” calls one man.

A tour guide tries to yell over him, “Affordable prices, guys, check it out. Affordable prices.”

I pass through the garment district and its wholesale clothes— “Al por Mayor.” Affair Lady Evening Gowns, Fashion 5, Alamoda, Janique—sparkly gowns, ridiculous hats with gauze and feathers, “fascinators” with stiff spiral ribbon-covered whirls—who buys that stuff? And who thought “Affair Lady Evening Gowns” was a good name? Not a native speaker, I’m guessing. And the furs!! I am dripping with sweat and my feet burn. The air feels thick enough to eat with a spoon.

“Anywhere special you want to go?” asks tourist Mom.

“The Diamond District!” says teen daughter. I wonder what they’ll think of the street of sparkling gems and the little shops of Chasidim and Indian merchants–merchants from everywhere.

Old and new buildings mix together. The details on Art Deco buildings are full of symbolic meaning. One I love is a doorway framed with elegantly carved peacocks, and one stern word carved in Roman style capitals. “FREIGHT” it says—from a time when work and workers were honored. . .

Oh, so much more to say about New York City, its secrets and its iconic places. Everyone knows what New York is like, but it never runs out of surprises. It is unoriginal to love it, and yet it is filled with such originality.  It is so sad, so sweet. And being there feels like a fresh breeze on your back, even on a day hot and moist enough to stew your flesh.

Writing Prompt #6: What’s a place you love? What does it feel like to be there?

Is Evil Banal? Part 1

19 Jun

Strangely enough, nobody else seemed too eager to join me to see the new movie Hannah Arendt. Go to a movie about a philosopher’s musings on the nature of evil? What a laff riot! And action! Can’t wait for the special effects! But it was one of the best movies I have ever seen. It was dramatic, lively, and so full of ideas that I found myself writing down sentences in the darkness of the theater.

Jewish-German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt coined the term “the banality of evil” when she covered the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem for the New Yorker and later a book. I was very curious about this idea. As a card-carrying member of the Formerly Bullied Club, I have experienced my own small measure of evil, and from my point of view, “banality” doesn’t cover the sheer spiteful glee my tormentors used toward me. I made it out of the leafy suburb where I was bullied alive and well, and although I don’t think bullying =Holocaust, it’s important to remember that the cruelty of bullying can be fatal. A few days ago, a 12-year-old beauty, Gabrielle Molina, hanged herself on a ceiling fan at home in Queens, New York, after months of harassment.

Therefore I was very interested in—and somewhat dismissive of—the idea of how Hannah Arendt could find the idea of evil as banal. But it was much more complex than that. It was complex because much of her thought was formed by philosopher Martin Heidegger, her teacher and lover, who became an active member of the Nazi Party and never publically renounced his connection to it. But was the part of him that allowed him to become of the 20th century’s most influential philosophers the same part of him that allowed him become a Nazi? Can brilliant people also be stupid in other areas of their lives? I ask that question sincerely because I don’t yet understand enough of Heidegger to make a judgment on that point. Would Arendt—who had suffered as a prisoner in a Nazi camp herself—be compromised by that association, or would there be a part of his thinking that could form a useful substructure or framework for thinking for his most brilliant students, such as Hannah Arendt?

The film shows Arendt’s happy life in New York, rich in friends, love, and work. However, the substance of the movie is about Arendt’s coverage of the famous trial of Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann managed many of the logistical elements of how to send Jews to concentration camps, and had escaped to Argentina after World War II, until he was captured by Mossad operatives and brought to trial in Jerusalem in 1960. The film shows real footage of the trial interspersed with Arendt’s (as played by brilliant German actress Barbara Sukowa) reactions to it. In conversation and thought she wrestles with the idea of how a mediocre man such as Eichmann, who would readily admit to making bureaucratic decisions about (I believe) the number or schedule of trains that were being sent off to death camps, but who would take no responsibility for where they went—“That was another department.” And, as he had pointed out,he had taken an oath to follow Hitler and “an oath is an oath.” Furthermore, as in the Nuremberg Trials, he had not broken any laws—at least, the laws of his own nation at the time. In fact, he had followed the law with enthusiasm. What right, he asserted, did Israel have to try him?

For more, see part 2.

Writing Prompt: Do you think it’s fair to try people for war crimes if they were legal at the time? And how do you think a truly brilliant thinker could be caught up in Nazism?