Monday, January 22, 2007

An Afternoon in Harlem

So last weekend I went with Dana and her boyfriend Luis (who just started a job at Google, which may well be the coolest place to work ever. Its like Tom Hanks crazy loft in the movie Big. They always have food, booze, massages and scooters to drive you around the building. Scooters!!) for an afternoon in Harlem, where we went to the Studio Museum Harlem and then took in some local culture, you know White Castle (ah, White Castle ... if you have never been you are missing nothing except really awful food and the chance to see someone actually order 100 burgers at the same time) and a bowling alley upstairs in a hotel. Other than its location and the price, which was a typically high New York price (though i was informed that it was very cheap for bowling in the city), the bowling alley was fabulous, with leather couches and a kind of retro, cartoony theme. I could also see very good disco bowling there ...

I was terrible, kind of getting close to 100 and missing the pins entirely on several frames. In fact the only thing good about my jerky, discombobulated bowling attempts was my inconsistency, as I managed to get two spares after missing the pins completely on the first ball. Miller would have been mortified. Still, I managed to pull out so good frames at the end to barely overtake Dana for 2nd, and Luis killed us. We only had time to play the one game, as I needed to get over to Astoria to meet Aviva and her friends to go to dinner (which, by the way, I was late to because I took a bus that dropped me more than 3 miles from her house and had to run about 1 mile in 25 degree weather only to arrive late enough to bascialy just catch her as she was leaving ... typical New York transit story for me).

But the most interesting, and kind of sad part of the day was the first part, the Studio Museum Harlem. The extremely kind entry clerk let us in for the student price, and we meandered into the back to check out the two exhibits on display. The frst was a photo exhibit from a cuban photographer, and his somewhat (I am told) iconic photo of a wave breaking over the malecon in Havana took my breathe away. I really like photography and I love to see pictures where you can stare at them intently and feel like you are really seeing the image as you would if you were there, like for this one you could see more than just the wave, but the power and feel of the wind and kind of antiquated elegance of the place. There were a number of other impressive photos as well, many showing the interesting dichotomy between the way Havana was in the 50's and the way it is now, with photos of a carpentry shop in an old theatre and a stage inside an old church, showing what was and what is now.

The second exhibit was African comic strips, from Senegal, Congo, Rwanda and other nations, mostly in south and central Africa. After we spent half an hour trying to decipher the strips, which were mostly written in French, we found the translations and went back to read them for real. Honestly, I had been a little distrubed before reading the translations, but after I was really bothered. These were comics about rape, police corruption, stealing peoples souls, theft and being set on fire as punishment, genocide and a lot of brutality. The comics were well drawn and some of the styles were really interesting, but the messages were so cold and sad. It certainly prompted thoughts about life in Africa, about how hard it must be that this is the fantasy they have to share, and also about the use of comics. I mean, I naturally assumed it was fantasy as in the US that is what comics are about, but in Africa the comics were maybe the way of telling their stories or getting news of what is happening around. It made me sad to think that these are the stories that needed to be shared, kind of guilty that I was here enjoying my super hero comics because we have the facilities and the societal structure to not have as many of these types of problems and to report them when they happen. It also made me wonder if there were places in the US where this type of thing occurs, maybe graffitti on a bathroom stall or comics in a local paper tell a story that needs to get out but no one pays attention to ... all in all a sad but very tought provoking experience.

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