Roving thoughts and provocations

New York in Slow Motion

J. Hoberman

James Nares

James Nares’s Street, an engrossing and celebratory hour-long, oversized video projection of life in New York City, is a monument to evanescence. Now installed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through May 27, the work was fashioned from sixteen hours of material, recorded in six-second bursts from a vehicle moving through city streets at a rate of thirty miles per hour. The molasses-paced tour opens in Times Square and, occasionally revisiting the midtown area, goes through Harlem, Chelsea, and parts of the Bronx, with extended crosstown trips to transverse busy 125th, 34th, and 14th streets, accompanied by Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore’s unamplified twelve-string vamping.

A Poet on the Road

Charles Simic

Marc Riboud/Magnum Photos

After my first book of poetry came out in 1967 and received some favorable reviews, I started getting calls and letters from schools around the country inviting me to come and read. If the money being offered was acceptable, I’d say yes. Over the last forty-five years, I’ve been to colleges and universities, but also to high schools, libraries, bookstores, grade schools, bars, nursing homes, jazz clubs, coffee houses, movie theaters, abandoned malls, and places that don’t fall into any of these categories, like that storefront where I shared the bill with a magician and a local rock band. It was packed, I remember, with a rough young crowd who were there to hear the band and who were okay with the magician being the first act, but grew unruly once they learned that a poet was to follow.

Russia After Boston: A Free Pass on Human Rights?

Amy Knight

Pavel Golovkin/AP Photo

The close cooperation between Moscow and Washington on the Boston bombing investigation raises new questions about the issue of human rights in Russia. Will the US government now turn a blind eye to Russia’s increasingly brutal crackdown on its own democratic opposition because of overriding concerns about national security, just as it did after 9/11? Will the Kremlin wager that it can get away with its hard-line approach now that, as a result of the Boston attacks, the Obama Administration needs its help in counter-terrorism efforts? A test case could be the trial of Russian anti-corruption blogger and opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

A Music of Overpowering Affection

Geoffrey O’Brien

Julieta Cervantes/BAM

With the heavy lifting of narration shifted elsewhere, Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s opera David et Jonathas is free to devote itself to almost nothing but high points. Characters and situations are isolated and offered up for consideration, giving us more a series of disjunctive pictures than a linear enactment of the whole story. Everything is of maximum intensity. Within a few moments of the beginning of the Aix-en-Provence Festival production of David et Jonathas now playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the music had taken over with overpowering thoroughness.

A Khmer Rouge Goodbye

Stéphanie Giry

Stéphanie Giry

It could have been the setting of any Cambodian notable’s funeral. There was a large wooden house. There was a tall, terraced pyre in the dirt yard. The case for the coffin was topped with a silhouette of Angkor Wat. But this was Malai, a tidy little town in Cambodia’s northwest that for many years has been an enclave for Khmer Rouge holdouts. And the elder being commemorated was Ieng Sary, Pol Pot’s foreign minister and a member of his standing committee, who died last month at eighty-seven while on trial for assorted mass crimes before a UN-backed tribunal.

Clearing the Men’s Room for Thatcher

Jonathan Mirsky

Pierre-Antoine Donnet/Getty Images

Why was I invited to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral? I had never been a parliamentary journalist. My career was as a foreign correspondent in China and Hong Kong. Her visits to China were brief and unsatisfactory. But I did have a little history with Mrs. Thatcher, including four personal encounters. Here’s how they happened.

The Unfinished Race

Hugh Eakin

Dick Raphael/Getty Images

Runners who have completed the historic race from the village of Hopkinton, in Massachusetts’s Middlesex County, to downtown Boston, 26.2 miles east, invariably have their own favorite parts of the course and those they dread. But it seemed beyond any runner’s imagination that the Boston Marathon finish line itself—the final moment of triumph—could turn into a nightmare, a zone of horror and devastation that stood the entire logic of the race on its head.

MoMA’s Act of Vandalism

Martin Filler

filler_1-052313.jpg
Giles Ashford

The only surprising thing about the Museum of Modern Art’s announcement in April that it intends to demolish Tod Williams and Billie Tsien’s American Folk Art Museum of 1997–2001—an architectural gem that abuts the Modern’s campus on Manhattan’s West 53rd Street—to make way for yet another MoMA addition is that this deplorable decision took so long to occur. When in 2011 the Folk Art Museum was compelled to sell its decade-old building because of the worldwide economic crash that had caused its default on $32 million in bonds that financed the $18.4 million scheme, seasoned observers fully expected that the superb structure’s days were numbered.

The Japan Beneath the Snow

Ian Buruma

Keisuke Katano/The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Swept away in the 1940s by a Japanese version of chauvinistic ethnography, the photographer Hiroshi Hamaya embarked on his extraordinary documentation of rural life in the so-called Snow Country of northeastern Japan. The results, however dubious in origin, were astonishing. A world that is now lost forever still lives in his photographs. And it has a stark beauty that is utterly distinctive. In the ice and snow of Niigata prefecture, Hamaya found the style that would make him famous. One of the main themes, apart from rice farming and Shinto rituals, is the snow itself.

Tibet: The CIA’s Cancelled War

Jonathan Mirsky

Lhamo Tsering Collection

For nearly two decades after the 1950 Chinese takeover of Tibet, the CIA ran a covert operation designed to train Tibetan insurgents and gather intelligence about the Chinese, as part of its efforts to contain the spread of communism around the world. Though little known today, the program produced at least one spectacular intelligence coup and provided a source of support for the Dalai Lama. On the eve of Richard Nixon’s historic 1972 meeting with Mao, however, the program was abruptly cancelled, thus returning the US to its traditional arms-length policy toward Tibet.