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Between Heaven and Hell

2 Jul

Waiting on a time traveling machine…

I don’t spend too much time wishing I could revisit any past, but I am making an exception in this case.  At the turn of the 20th century on the Boulevard de Chilchy (near the Moulin Rouge), there was an incredible Cabaret called, L’Enfer (meaning “hell).  You would enter through the mouth of the devil, essentially selling your soul for a coffee or perhaps something more ‘sinister.’

The decor is like the wet dream of every metal child (i.e. me) who grew up in the 90’s and worked diligently after school on their drip  candle altar to piss their parents off.  In a kind of ‘Melty-Baroque’ style, the facade, ceilings, bar and stage all swirl with devils and demons that  Hieronymus Bosch or Matthias Grunewald would have been proud of.

The wait staff dressed as satan and had shows featuring ‘devilish attractions, torment of the damned, round of the damned, the boiler, metamorphoses of the damned.’  Next door was it’s sister Cabaret ‘Le Ciel’ (heaven), but being that this was the red light district of Paris, it was admittedly less popular than it’s sexier, rebellious brother.



Sensuous Steel

16 Sep

The Frist Center for the Arts is the only museum I have ever been to without a permanent collection. This has been a point of contention for me, especially when Tennessee State University sold their collection of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings several years back and the paintings left the State instead of being purchased by The Frist.

But then they opened the “Sensuous Steel’ exhibit and maybe I’m starting to change my mind. Being able to wipe out the museum to make room for literally anything is rare, and one of the reasons that Nashville has on exhibit some of the most unique art deco cars ever made; housed inside 1930’s Art Deco Frist Center building. I mean, the whole thing is like a scene out of Gatsby. Or Batman.

The exhibit consisted of 18 cars and motorcycles, most limited editions (like one of three made) and all significant. They are a celebration of beauty, an echo of an America where Detroit and booze brought the Country alive, a story of handmade craftsmanship, lost in sea of mass production.

And tragic in the end.

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel

16 Jan

The place really should have been a museum.  A dedication to the poetry, music, art, film, drugs and gonorrhea of New York in the 60’s and 70’s; yet here it sits, closed off from the people it matters most to and a mystery brick skeleton to those who came too late.

In 2010 Patti Smith spoke at Cooper Union and Vanishing New York covered it.  She is quoted as saying, “New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling. But there are other cities. Detroit. Poughkeepsie… New York City has been taken away from you… So my advice is: Find a new city.” And I’m pretty sure we should have listened.  In less than two years gone is the Mars Bar, Duffs when it was by the River and awesome, the original Coney Island Arcade, Shoot the Freak, Cha-cha’s, and Chelsea Hotel like CBGB, Max’s Kansas City, Coney Island High, etc. before them.

But ain’t that New York?  A town of wildly rich people towering above starving peasants across the moat in Brooklyn.  They take more and more land away for their ten dollar sandwich shops that fortify the walls of their castles in the sky.

I was lucky enough to spend a less than classy evening in the Hotel before it closed in 2011 with three of my girlfriends.  It ends as to be expected.


Monument Monday- John Lennon Peace Wall

7 Jan

prague 801Prague was liberated from the Iron Curtain only in 1989.  It was never destroyed in any wars so along with an almost perfectly preserved town, you also have newer monuments to the suffering that the people endured being first under control of the Nazis, then under the Russians.

One such monument is called the John Lennon Peace prague 805Wall, although John Lennon never visited the site.  When John Lennon was murdered in 1980, he became a hero and a symbol for the youth in Prague.  They formed a movement referred to as “Lennonism” that paved the way for dissent and reformist attitudes that eventually lead to the Velvet Revolution and violent protests in 1989.

Since the 1980’s, people in Prague have been writing anti-fascist graffiti, Beatle’s lyrics, and painting portraits on the wall that is an ever-changing example of modern struggle.

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“We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds.” Kafka

5 Jan

Ask anyone who is the most recognizable author in Prague, and many will surely answer Franz Kafka.  Kafka, from a wealthy German-speaking Jewish Family, was raised in Prague; the city which he is quoted as saying, “Prague never lets you go… this dear little mother has sharp claws.”

Prague made him, owned him, and one is never quite sure when walking through the streets if Kafka was the surrealist, or if it is just Prague.  I mean, Prague is Kafkaesque, but really, there is no Kafka without Prague.

I visited the Kafka museum in December and had very little expectations because how much can you do with a museum about an author, right?  I mean, people go see Hemingway’s home, but you’re really just paying to keep some six toed cats alive.  But this, this was something entirely different.  This museum is truly Art divided into two parts: Existential Space and Imaginary Topography and is heavy on audio-visual stimulation.

In Existential Space, you see what shapes young Kafka, and what in turn drives him into despair   You walk in and the first thing I heard was a loud cat meow. WTF?  Then what sounds like a car crash, a pop sound, and then somewhere louder in the distance, guiding you toward it is strange, what I can only describe as “absinthy,” music.  You follow and you are struck with a screen that morphs landscapes from the city around you as you look at pictures of the town, it’s people and Kafka’s relations.

prague 1050Keep following hypnotically on to a striking display of the women in Kafka’s life; their transparent images containing the last of their worldly possessions.  He never married.

You learn about him becoming a lawyer then having a successful, but miserable career in Insurance.  Slowly and physically, you begin to spiral into madness with him; all the while following the light and music.




prague 1055Next you are hit with the oppressive labyrinth of floor to ceiling filing cabinets.  Before it, a looped video of drawings Kafka made of a man at his desk; afflicted. And you begin to feel it too, because you know the sentiment.  Trapped in a cage, making money for some asshole.  Devastating.

We transition sometimes simultaneously into Imaginary Topography as landmarks in Prague melt away and become allegorical place.  He wrote, “We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds.  My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.”  He was tortured by writing and not writing all at once, and it is no different for many of us today.

The museum ends with an installation that starts with a bright white light and ends with a man trudging along.  It is so simply beautiful that I watched it several times.


Like the book you at first can’t put down, only to wait a month to read the last chapter; I never wanted it to end.


Monument Monday: Proudy

1 Jan

prague 1061Controversial Czech sculptor, David Černý’s bizarre presence can be felt all over Prague, but one piece is my favorite.  It is called simply ‘Proudy’ in Czech, or ‘currents’ in English, and features two men peeing in a fountain just outside of the Kafka Museum.

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If your geography is as good as every other Americans I know, you will not notice that they are peeing into a pool that is the shape of Czech Republic.  You will also not notice that they are ‘writing’ famous literary quotes of dissent but now you know!

Pro-Tip:  You too can be a part of such art by texting +420 724 370 770 and they will ‘write’ what you text.

The Many Signatures of Dali

27 Dec

I recently visited the Dali Exhibition in Prague and was struck by how many times his signature changed throughout the years. Just another piece to love of the Surrealist puzzle.

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Rachel Louise Martin, Ph.D.

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