Unexpected Happy Ending(s)

27 03 2008

Today’s post was supposed to be the first of my book(s about travel) review series. It will be, but not in the way I’d intended. It seems I got sidetracked.

Yesterday’s New York Times UrbanEye email alerted me to the Happy Ending reading series, which held a reading last night at (surprise) Happy Ending Lounge in the Lower East Side. Yes, the bar’s name refers to its seedy past, when it was an “erotic massage parlor.” I’ve never been downstairs but imagine that the self-described “1960’s Las Vegas” vibe must pay more homage to its former incarnation than the sophisticated red velvet booths on street level. Either way its sign-less facade on a deserted street feels a bit speakeasy-esque.

But last night was about the reading series, which was not only phenomenal but particularly apropos given my upcoming (as in—yikes!—next week) writing group meeting, for which I’ve done nothing, except decide (another yikes! for good measure) that it’s finally time to let go of those novel chapters I’ve been hanging onto since college. But the evening was brimming with talent, and, as luck would have it, inspiration. Happy ending number two. But enough about me…

Amanda Stern hosts the music and reading series at Happy Ending on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month (summers off), where readers gather to sip complicated (but delicious) cocktails from Happy’s long list while singers sing and writers read. Each reader must take some sort of public risk while the singer of the evening has to get the audience to sing along to one cover song. (Supple-voiced folk singer Kelley McRae, whose own songs render chills, sang En Vogue’s Giving Him Something He Can Feel but the audience was a little shy—or just too entranced by her voice.)

Artist Matthew Bokkam read from his 2006 project “The New York City Museum of Complaint,” a tabloid/newspaper he created of letters of complaint compiled from the New York City municipal archives. The gist of his findings: New Yorkers complain. About everything. Just last night we heard from a man requesting that Mayor LaGuardia champion the right of burlesque dancers to be more, well, burlesque, and from a woman who had a list of complaints longer than my ever-growing to do list (odd thing was many of her would-be outlandish hardships—like not having heat—were things I’ve experienced). Bokkam’s risk, as an act of sympathy for said women, was to read her letter with a quarter stuck up his nose. Well done. (Un)happy ending number 4.

And now for the book review portion of this post, even if it’s not the book review I initially intended, nor even one I’ve yet read. Tod Wodika read from his newly published novel with the elaborate title, All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well about a mixed up historical re-enactor who takes his re-enacting a little too seriously. Not only well-written but utterly hilarious. I was so excited by the 10 minutes he read that I can promise a more thorough review to come. In the mean time, suffice to say it’s travel enough in its jumps from modern to Middle Age worlds. And if it has a happy ending, all the better.

And one last thought that proved to be an unexpected delight of an evening. I got to speak with Amanda afterward about my latest project, and not only was she excited but willing to partake. The project being that of bringing a part of my beloved Litquake, otherwise known as San Francisco’s amazing, stupendous literary festival, here to New York. More on that one later. For now, it makes yet another happy ending (so many that I’ve lost count).





Capital (with a capital C)

20 03 2008

New cultural capital.

A NY Times travel article called Argentine Nights caught my eye (not surprisingly) on Sunday and then I received a NY Times event email the following day, announcing a Zizek Urban Beats Club show that evening at SOB’s in the Lower East Side. Unfortunately after Ginobli’s eventful St. Patrick’s Day I didn’t make it to the show, but this sudden influx of Buenos Aires renewed my obsession with the city, an obsession that began when, a little over a year ago, I edited and rewrote (the original was too painful for words) the BsAs destination guide for Classic Travel’s newly launching website. Just writing about the sprawling cosmopolitan city had me fascinated and determined that the free ticket I earned with Classic Travel must be used to go there.

And the trip there met all expectations and more. And it occurred to me that I have never once written a blog entirely about the city in which I spent the most time. Perhaps because it would require so much more than just one post. That being the case, I will limit my thoughts for the day to a response to the Times article, which, by comparing BA to Prague in the 1990s, essentially positions it as the modern day version of Bohemian Paris. At once sophisticated and gritty Buenos Aires to the creative set today is what Paris was to Stein, Picasso, and the rest. Creative types from all around the world are taking advantage of the cheap prices in BA and setting up shop (often literally: the Times article talks of new galleries, leather shops, and hotels).

The Times article goes on to talk about a buzzing art scene, inspired filmmakers, and budding writers, all of whom have found a place in the sprawling metropolis. Buenos Aires, it seems, is not just the capital of Argentina any more; some may say it’s the creative capital of the world, at least today. And being there I saw this in action. In my travel writing class alone, six (out of 12) of us were Americans who had relocated to BsAs for some period of time, to learn Spanish, to teach English, but mainly, to write. Because there is something about the pulsing with life city that just inspires.

And I was not immune. In fact, it had me wishing I had thought of that, because, to me, BA is the (much cheaper) New York of the southern hemisphere. It’s just as vibrant, just as cosmopolitan, and just as full of interesting people, most of whom have taken some sort of risk and followed some sort of dream to get there. All the things I love about NYC in fewer letters (and for fewer dollars).

So for those creative types out there that need a new bohemian surge (whether contemplating a move to “the new Paris” or not), a few popular BA resources for expats:

  • What’s Up Buenos Aires: a site that describes itself as “connecting the emerging arts and culture scene in Buenos Aires to the rest of the world” and a source for BA events, culture, and incredible photography.
  • BA Insider: a hip, glossy, and highly portable (read: the size of a thin book and easy to throw in a purse or even pocket) bi-monthly English-language mag with informational and witty insights for the expat (or foreign traveler) in the new cultural capital.
  • The Argentimes: Need I point out the obvious? I will anyway: all my talk of BA being the NYC of South America and then their English paper goes and has the same (well, close enough) name. Way to be a prophet—or something like that—me (and modest too).

There is so much more to say about vibrant, amazing Buenos Aires, but I stop at saying it still has a hold on me.