27 December 2010

Powdery snow blows in a steady stream off the tops of buildings, creating layers of mist that separate groupings of buildings at different distances like the misty mountains of Chinese landscape paintings.

I checked into Snowpocalypse 2010 on foursquare and was unexpectedly awarded what I presume to be a fairly rare badge: Super Duper Swarm. It's hard to imagine how over 500 foursquare users could check into a single location unless that location is defined as a ginormous weather system (or a foursquare mob). Having just earned the Mile High badge a few days ago for checking in from the plane, I seem to be doing well for just having an iPod touch 1G!

26 December 2010


In the blizzard, Times Square looks as if it's underwater. Besides the whoa-I'm-in-Bladerunner feeling the place usually gives me, its air now glows dozens of stories into the air, asserting its palpability as it whooshes past radiant billboards. The limned currents sweeping around buildings are more visible than the currents of any river, seeming more rational for their visibility and more chaotic for their wildness.

On the walk home from the subway in LIC, every vicious needle of snow seems to pierce my skin. Cars whirr futilely on every corner, and I want to volunteer to push, but doubt that my 105 pounds of force would help. From the upper floors of my parents' apartment building, the blizzard looks like a pestilence of locusts, swarming and dissipating randomly, dimming the streetlights almost to darkness as thick clouds rush horizontally across the ground. The windows, not fully sealed against the outside, emit high-pitched whines. I wonder if snow is blasting horizontally past our window up some two dozen floors; there are no street lights to catch it in the act, but I see it billowing past another high rise some stories below.

Just for fun, I imagine that I'm in the great ancient city of Herzog's Lessons of Darkness, beset by an epochal sandstorm. But it's hard to believe it when the corners of the buildings haven't been worn down into curves by the slow but sure grinding wheel of flying sand. I have an easier time imagining the panorama of flickering streetlights as the flickering of celluloid. I'm glad to be a spectator inside, listening to the occasional creaking of the walls as air -- just thin air, but so powerful -- rages past.

25 December 2010

I didn't leave the apartment at all today. Instead, I spent Christmas day lofted high into the Long Island City air over a squat, curlicued red sign that beamed "Drink Coca-Cola" brightly at the multitude of Manhattan skyscraper windows and passing cars along the East River. My parents, a smiling beanbag dolphin, and Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age kept me company.

When I recall Derek recommending the book to me in 2004 as A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, I feel the ironic urgency of my ever-increasing leisure reading list. Near the front door, the massive black first part of Taruskin's twentieth-century music history looms, ready as a brick to be wielded against intruders or to knock me out of my daydreams, should I for a moment think I can afford more than this one indulgence.

07 December 2010


And it hit. Like clockwork. My yearly nostalgia for Europe... today in the form of Christmas in Antwerp (which ironically never even happened -- I was trapped in my room with a broken femur for the holidays). I'm longing to wander snow-covered, winding cobblestone streets and to drink genever in arcaded, candlelit underground brick cellars... Maybe Christmas in NYC and New Year's in DC will at least take care of the ill-advised snow craving.

To feel nostalgia today is particularly odd. This morning I was thinking about nostalgia quite clinically (or at least psychoanalytically) as I pondered Richard Pine's introduction to Creativity, Madness and Civilisation (2007). He points out that unheimlich really translates to "unhomely," relating it rather obliquely but intriguingly to nostalgia (Greek: nostos, the homeward journey; algos, pain). And here I am, feeling a nostalgia for an invented home, constructed in my own mind as a false memory, yet vivid enough to gravitate me towards a place that has no bearing on where I grew up. And I keep trying to critique the American carillon as nostalgic sonic mark of an invented European heritage. Maybe I'd do better if I could first sort myself out.

27 November 2010

the reenchantment of the world

I was all dressed to jog when I looked out my window and saw needles of rain slanting past. Exasperated, I undressed and watched the rest of When In Rome, feeling guiltily entertained and unproductive. Romantic comedies have never been my thing (they make me feel too girly), but what's a guilty pleasure if it isn't unpleasant and dislikeable in some way?

After the movie, golden sunlight made the slick world glow outside, and I bounded back into my workout clothes and out the door. Everyone was putting out free stuff, and just as I nearly fell over myself noticing a narrow, asymmetrical two-story boat-shaped house on McGee, I stumbled upon a curbside box with all the colors of thread I'd been wanting for months, and a seal keychain and tennis balls and poster tape. I couldn't believe how useful it all was and stashed some into my back pocket, resolving to take the rest on the way home. As usual, I deliberately chose random streets I hadn't seen before and eventually wound my way through a charming Victorian-lined lane to the Ohlone Trail, where I discovered that there were two halves to the community garden, one of which I had never noticed. I turned around at Gilman, but not before wandering into a plant nursery and realizing I could buy all the garden things I'd been wanting here and wondering at the beautiful flowering kale and dreaming of having my own garden, built from scratch, a clean doorstep, and time to cook dinner every night. Fat chance, you tenure-dreaming academic, you.

Normally I avoid wide car-dominated streets like Sacramento, but on the way back I was drawn to an outdoor tent on the sidewalk that seemed to be exploding with wooden wares I couldn't quite identify from a distance. To my amazement, it was the birdhouse tent I've often driven past. The artist Michael introduced himself and invited me into the backyard. I picked my way through his garage, which was clearly a basement performing arts venue with an elaborate upright piano and bar, and up a steep flight of stairs where I found myself beneath the shade of trees in a bewildering maze of birdhouses, each so different from the rest. It was another world, right off that busy commuter thoroughfare--a world of debris-turned-magic. Amongst the rows was the birdhouse of my dreams: a chapel with a little belltower. Save that one for me, Michael (how you remind me of Paul and his loft-turned-performing-arts-center), until I have a chance to break open the piggybank and return for the Friday music!

As if this wasn't enough, after picking up the rest of the loot on McGee and doing another double-take at the nautical house I must have passed multiple times and never noted, I stumbled upon Helly Welly's lighting store. I was walking now to cool down and the storefront, past which I had driven so many times, issued a challenge to the greying sky with golden light and musical instrument lamps. Helly led me through a wonderland of clarinet lamps and chandeliers made with transparencies she'd created in 1970s performance art events.

I made the final leg home in twilight, when all the world holds its breath in anticipation of the night. Time comes to a standstill at twilight, and it seems that time could stay stopped forever, and yet twilight is the most fleeting and rapidly changing part of the day, yielding to dusk and then to darkness. I can't love it enough. I was regretting missing Berkeley Artisans Holiday Open Studios this weekend, but the open studios found me, as they often find wanderers.

26 November 2010


I made pie and matzo ball soup for the first time. I biked the Tunnel Road - Grizzly Peak - Centennial Drive loop to completion for the first time. It all proved way easier than I expected. If I had a vacation every month there might well be nothing left in the world to do for the first time.

19 November 2010

shooting stars

Although my short-term memory is abysmal, I'm starting to realize I have a long-term subconscious calendar memory that's uncannily precise. I've suddenly remembered to look up people's birthdays only to find that it was their birthday that day. And tonight I suddenly thought to look up when the Leonid meteor shower, an event I only seem to remember once a year or less, was going to happen, and found that it peaked yesterday. Alas, no staying up late for me until my organ recital at St. John's is finally squared away this Sunday.

11 September 2010

blast from the past

Last December, I ordered a bottle of Liefmans Goudenband from an online Irish retailer for my friend Sue in Dublin. Today, nine months later, I receive the receipt in the mail. It was processed by the Irish post on September 9, so it's not like it ended up in an obscure corner of a USPS facility. I wonder what series of events led to someone printing out and posting this old receipt via airmail to me.

I was much amused by the inclusion of the gift note on the receipt. It concluded, "Keep that bunny [Fionnuala] away from the beer or you might not have any left to drink!"

11 July 2010

highway robbery i say!

Last year I confirmed my suspicion that ZARA marks up all its clothes by $5 or more in the US. But today I discovered the full extent of some of those markups. It seemed like a miracle: a classy high-waist black skirt I'd longed for in April was on sale in my size in July (what?!). Marked down from $39.99 to $19.99 ... what a steal!

Until I peeled off the layers of sale labels and discovered that it sold in the EU for 19.95 EUR retail price.

In the years after I returned from Belgium, I waited each year until I traveled to Europe to shop at ZARA. Then I started to think I was being absurd, especially as I now live so close to ZARA in the bay area. But apparently I had it right the first few times around. It also seems absurd that I only shop for shoes on the fourth floor of the Herald Square Macy's in NYC while living on the west coast, but the payoff in stylish comfort shoes that don't hurt my feet makes the whole absurd procedure almost logical.

03 June 2010

Okay, I finished my essay. The Freudian uncanniness needs to stop. But no, now Hugh emails me with the fb profile of a girl in SY'11 who does indeed look uncannily like me. I guess the effects will take a while to wear off.

An hour of ring time at Harkness and white shrimp pie at Pepe's. Life is gooooooood.

31 May 2010

Another uncanny double in my life. So uncanny I can't even write about it. Something to do with names. Hopefully, when this paper is over, I will be free of much more than just the weight of responsibility of scholarship.

25 May 2010

double trouble

Further proof that I need to stop thinking about Freud as soon as possible: I went to the Media Center today to watch the VHS of Die Tote Stadt I'd requested from UCSD, and saw someone at another video cubby who looked almost exactly like a friend of mine. I gave him a big smile and a wave, then realizing my mistake, apologized and hastily sequestered myself at my assigned television.

Terrifying. What's next?

24 May 2010

Das Unheimliche

"I don't read Freud anymore," Harold Bloom wheezed at our seminar at Yale, which only Harold Bloom could entitle How to Read Poetry. "The more I read back in my student days, the more Freudian slips I made, until my conversations were full of them! So I stopped reading Freud." Hanging on his every word, I duly noted his indirect warning in my notebook.

Yet even Bloom's injunction did not finally prevent me from approaching Freud from two directions this past semester. At Gail's suggestion, I read Freud's essay on the uncanny in order to frame my discussion of belfries and musical automata and their relationship to the supernatural, extraordinary, and violent. Starting on my second writing project with Erich Wolfgang Korngold's opera Die Tote Stadt with the uncanny on the brain, I began to think more about uncanny doubles. The protagonist, Paul, meets a dancer named Marietta--the spitting image of his beloved dead wife, Marie. The same singer plays both Marietta and Marie's ghost, and many directors take the opportunity to splash a proliferation of images of Marie (Paul fetishizes her portrait) across the stage, double other roles and other props, and even double the characters themselves (e.g. Willy Decker's production, shown above).

The more time I spend grappling with the uncanny, the more uncanny doubles have started to appear in my life. It began on the day I was to present the ideas structuring my paper to the seminar. To bolster my self-confidence, I donned the sole pink article of clothing in my wardrobe, a draped, caped McQ shirt that is my pride and joy and surely utterly unique in form and color. The other half of my H&L cohort appeared wearing a multilayer draped pink shirt--one of the only pink items in her closet.

After giving my presentation, I was duly informed by two classmates that a student of Carolyn Abbate had recently given a paper on the same stagings of Die Tote Stadt and highlighted the exact same scenes. (Thankfully, his argument was of a different nature and purpose.)

And today, Bruno informs me that my Doppelgänger is marching around Brussels: a Francophone girl several years my junior. Thank goodness we established that I am surely the evil twin, and she the boring one.

Doppelgängers and das Unheimliche are closing in on me. Why didn't I listen to my sage professor? Bloom knew what would happen to me all along. He foreshadowed it when he sent identical letters of recommendation to the Lizzy for myself and another student at the same time. For which I am still entirely grateful--what a splash we made, whoever we two were!

10 April 2010


It's been years (if ever) since I was able to listen to music and concentrate on my work. Particularly since Eastman, I've found it virtually impossible to not focus on the music playing when I'm trying to multitask.

On the eve of my MA exam, I find myself able to do it again. What has changed? The way I work, the way I pay attention, the depth of my attention, my attitude towards music, my disgust at continuing to labor past the satiation point? As I read and take notes, for chapters at a time I don't notice the music, and its occasional intrusion into my consciousness is proof that I'm not hearing it. This seems vaguely inappropriate for a musicologist, but also a most welcome skill when my life feels entirely too narrow, musically and otherwise.

20 January 2010

Contemporary architecture in San Francisco is certainly on the conservative side, but the Chronicle's top 10 list for the decade highlights a few buildings of some interest, if not innovation.

04 January 2010

[complete the blank] city song

Speaking of music and cultural geography, CNN just published an article on "The song that inspired a nation of remixes" about the way the lyrics of Empire State of Mind have been localized by every American hamlet.