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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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Monument Monday

10 Dec

While walking on Boulevard Henri IV toward Saint Germaine to the Musee Cluny (Medieval Musuem in Paris) I passed a sculpture that I kept thinking about for two blocks.  The New Yorker in me had somewhere to be, but the Southerner in me made me turn back; not actually having to be anywhere at any distinct time.

photo (1)I was glad that I did because as I got closer, I could see the phrase, “L’homme aux semelles devant,” literally, “the man with soles before him” or actually, “the man with soles of wind.”  HIM.  I turned the corner to see the front; simply, ‘A. Rimbaud.’

Rimbaud was second wave adored by the Beat poets, third wave worshiped by the New York punk/poet scene in the sixties and seventies, who in turn has my generation as fourth wave devotees for love of them all.

He was described in his time by Victor Hugo as “the infant Shakespeare,” was Paul Verlaines lover, and wandered most of Europe by foot, hence the inscription on the statue.

A poem-

Morning of Drunkenness by Arthur Rimbaud, trans. John Ashberry, from Poetry (April 2011)

my good! O my beautiful! Atrocious fanfare where I won’t stumble! enchanted rack whereon I am stretched! Hurrah for the amazing work and the marvelous body, for the first time! It began amid the laughter of children, it will end with it. This poison will remain in all our veins even when, as the trumpets turn back, we’ll be restored to the old discord. O let us now, we who are so deserving of these torments! let us fervently gather up that superhuman promise made to our created body and soul: that promise, that madness! Elegance, knowledge, violence! They promised us to bury the tree of good and evil in the shade, to banish tyrannical honesties, so that we might bring forth our very pure love. It began with a certain disgust and ended—since we weren’t able to grasp this eternity all at once—in a panicked rout of perfumes.
Laughter of children, discretion of slaves, austerity of virgins, horror in the faces and objects of today, may you be consecrated by the memory of that wake. It began in all loutishness, now it’s ending among angels of flame and ice.
Little eve of drunkenness, holy! were it only for the mask with which you gratified us. We affirm you, method! We don’t forget that yesterday you glorified each one of our ages. We have faith in the poison. We know how to give our whole lives every day.
Behold the time of the Assassins.

Top Five Holiday Things to do in Nashville

27 Nov

1.  A Country Christmas at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel- complete with World’s Largest Nativity and thousands of lights.  Park at Opry Mills mall next door and walk over to avoid a hefty parking fee at the hotel.  Otherwise, free.

The off the beaten path option (I’d recommend seeing both!) right next to the Opryland Hotel is Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland at the RV park.  It is a drive-thru dancing light display with music and even Santa.  $2 per carload.  2572 Music Valley Drive, Nashville, TN.

2.  The Nutcracker at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center– December 9-23rd come see the Nashville Ballet and the Nashville Symphony beautifully perform this classic Christmas ballet.  From $35.  505 Deadrick Street, Nashville, TN.

Pro Tip:  Before the show, pop in to the Hermitage Hotel around the corner and go to the Oak Bar for an excellent cocktail and beautiful architecture.  The Oak Bar did not allow women for many years so make sure to take a peek at the opulent men’s bathroom (yes, even women).  231 6th Avenue North, Nashville, TN.

3.  Dickens Christmas in Franklin- Victorian street festival with period food and drink, horse drawn carriages, a Christmas market, your favorite Christmas Carol characters such as Ebineezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim, as well as a town sing a long at 4:30.  December 8-9, 10 am – 5 pm Saturday, 12 pm to 5 pm Sunday.  Free.  510 Columbia Avenue, Franklin, TN

4.  Chad Bernard’s Holiday Lights– one of the nation’s largest displays of lights AND it’s a drive-thru.  This is true Nashvegas glitz. $10 per car.  Eat more rhinestones baby!  791 E Old LaGuardo Rd., Lebanon, TN.

5.  Walk-thru Bethlehem– You may have heard that Nashville is Music city.  One thing that will also become abundantly clear when you visit is that Nashville loves it’s churches.  The walk thru Bethlehem at Woodmont Church has goats, sheep, etc. and is supposed to be a window into Ancient Israel.  You’ve got to see it to believe it folks. December 9th 1-7 only.  Free. 3601 Hillsboro Road, Nashville, TN.

Pro-Tip:  After, go for a drink at the Greenhouse down the street.  It’s a truly hidden Nashville gem literally in a greenhouse filled with plants.  2211 Bandywood Drive, Nashville, TN.  Mon-Sun 5 pm- 3 am.  

Day Trips from Nashville- Tiffany Lampshades

13 Nov

Last weekend I went to the Brooks Museum in Memphis, a three hour drive from Nashville.  Fall is a spectacular time for a quick road trip in Tennessee, with all the leaves changing it appears as if the whole world is glowing.

The Brooks Museum is located in Overton Park, an expansive 342 acre park nestled almost silently in busy Midtown Memphis.  I had gone specifically to see the traveling exhibit from the Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass permanently housed at the Queens Museum of Art.  Tiffany lampshades were hand manufactured between 1895 till about the mid-thirties under the inspiration of Louis Tiffany, a lover of nature.  Many of the lamps in the collection take their beauty from the natural world with flowers, feathers, and pastoral scenes.

The exhibit contains some of the more impressive works, such as a Dragonfly overhead lamp, wisteria library lamp, peacock lamp with base made for oil and more, but perhaps the most interesting part of the exhibit was a display showing how the lampshades were made.

The exhibit artfully showed the skill and detail it required from their factory workers to choose the proper colors of glass with two versions of the rose lamp; one well chosen with a green background, and one with flowers that ‘bleed’ into the background in a sea of pinks.  The artists had a template wooden bowl where after the glass was chosen, and wrapped in copper foil, they were put on the bowl in the correct place.

The Neustadt Collection runs until January 13, 2013 in Memphis and returns to the Queens Museum of Art in New York.  If you are close to either it would be well-worth seeing.

Punk as Fuck

31 Oct

Last night I went to see former Tennesseean Wayne White’s new documentary, Beauty is Embarrassing at Nashville’s Belcourt Theater.   He is best known to low brow weirdos like myself for his work with puppetry and voices in Pee Wee’s Playhouse:


And with the Art Basel set for his ‘offensive” and humorous word paintings set atop junk-store landscape paintings:


But for me, his influence started before either of those.

When I was young my parents moved us from Houston, TX to a farm going up the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee.   My father had been sent away to a military academy no longer in place in the nearby town of Lebanon and I think they thought it would be better for my brother and I to grow up in the country to grow our own food and live simply.  We were only allowed to watch three television shows in our time out there; Marty Stauffer’s Wild America, Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and Mrs. Cabobble’s Caboose.

Mrs. Cabobble’s Caboose was a local Nashville program that was supposed to teach children music because they were pulling music programs away from most of the county schools.  She lived in this fantasy land that was by far more mysterious and almost dangerous than boring old Mr. Rogers, and I worshiped her at four years old.  I was unaware at the time that this was my first experience with Wayne White’s puppetry and set design, and seeing his film I realized he is, without question, the first and the greatest artistic influence in my life.

After the film Wayne White hosted a Question and Answer portion where he patiently waded through the “I’m a pretentious art student questions” to more serious professional artist curiosities of process and time management, but the driving force behind each answer was almost always the same; do what you were born to do.   He encouraged everyone to make time for what they love doing, and cautioned to do what you love because it will haunt you if you don’t.

He is not only an artist that I absolutely adore, but he was also the most inspiring speaker due to the simplicity of his answers and it made me think about the other times I’ve been taken off-guard by the honest beauty of an artist or performer and I can point to only one woman.

I saw Patti Smith two summers ago on Bastille Day at Castle Clinton in Battery City Park, which is now under water from Hurricane Sandy.  My best friend was working for the company that sponsored it and was able to get us VIP tickets.  I wasn’t expecting much other than her legendary presence but from the moment she got on stage she had me.  I wanted her to only look at me.  There was something wild about her nonchalance.  She is Mother to the world/Rocker/Woman all in one tiny body.  She covered Perfect Day, Gloria, and sang Rock ‘n Roll Nigger but dealt a crushing blow when she started the Jim Carroll Band’s “People who Died.”  She called out their names one by one, “These are the people who died, died,” and shouted ROBERT, JOEY, JIM, and so on.  After each chorus, another name until I burst into tears.

I had no idea how infectious her spirit could be.  She closed the show with the following advice, “Life is hard and will give you a lot of shit, but it’s all you’ve got.”  No one talked leaving the concert and I imagined that must be what people that like church get out of religion.

Upon leaving Wayne White’s documentary/Q&A I didn’t feel the heaviness that Patti Smith gave me, but just as impressive warmth.  She stuns with words, he stuns with the visual manifestations of his mind.  It’s not just art, it’s seeing inside a mad genius’ brain.  I arrived home with something he said playing over and over in my head, “ I’ve always depended on the negative reinforcement of others,” and thought, “Both of them are punk as fuck.”

Rachel Louise Martin, Ph.D.

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