Thursday, March 26, 2009

Short interlude on Express Kidnapping

A while ago the Mexican Cultural Institute sponsored a reception at Idlewild Books launching David Lida's new book-"First Stop in the New World, Mexico City, Capital of the 21st Century". David is a New Yorker living in Mexico who has written short stories as well as essays and travel literature. All downplayed the violence reflected in recent press reports ( and now NY Times articles as well as Hilary's great Mexican adventure). But David did concede the reality of the "Express Kidnapping- ie when you foolishly flag down a cab in the street (as opposed to arranging one in advance) and are held up for your ATM card, then usually unceremoniously dumped off- alive -in some suburb or out of the way place to make your way back to your hotel.Well it's better than being kidnapped and actually held for ransom , a fate of many of the full- time residents-
But so what, he says----let's face it, Mexico City still is one of the world's great cities, with the Greatest Anthropological Museum on the planet-oh that statue of Coatlicue can produce a lot more nightmares and excursions into the subconscious than all the vampire and werewolf films combined-

And it is such a world class food capital that even the Wall St Journal recognized it recently in a mouth -watering weekend piece, as well as the home of one of the planet's richest men-Carlos Slim ,who someday may own and control the New York Times..

No,you can't pretend to be a literate and imaginative involved citizen of the world and not visit Ciudad Mexico every few years to keep up with the culture

Express Kidnapper to Jack Benny:
"Your money or yourlife." Long pause and silence. Robber:"I said your money or YOUR LIFE." Benny; "I'm thinking, I'm THINKING."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Today's NYTimes story on The Supreme Court- in Support of Stripsearching the Following:

A Fox news bunny
Suzie Orman for your money
and shot glasses from those in a drunken stupor
Glue sniffers for epoxy
Rush Limbaugh for some oxy--
and jewels in the stool of commodities trading poopers

the 60 Minutes crew
including Leslie Stahl
are they carrying
their interviewees' fetish/devil dolls?

All hedge fund liars
to see if they're now wired
and FEMA employees who're checked for contraband
Southern Governors' rimulus
for some rejected stimulus
and fundamentalists' undies for literature they've banned

Those black robed judges
who guard the Constitution
for evidence they're lubricated for prostitution

Our world's slowed economy might move ahead and lurch
if only it's subjected to a little stripsearch

C2009- All rights reserved

Monday, March 23, 2009

Annals of Bookselling-The 100 Proof Seekers

No, they are not alcoholics,they are the proof seekers, an unlikely, if not somewhat unruly crowd which haunts and controls that area in the corner of the New York City bookstore basement that houses in several bookcases, the uncorrected advance review copies of books to be published.In their hangout, they control admission and departures so thoroughly that the section has been compared to the tribal areas of Waziristan where the Pakistan army dares not show its face.

And they are a motley group, from the 70ish short "retired investor" with wiry hair who is in the shop, I am told , every day, with his adoring wife,to the woman with the brown and white mutt often seen at the review desk downstairs picking up a bundle of 5 books, the guy with the oversized brown tortoise-shellglasses who looks like an aging hippie and who reads with his nose literally buried into the pages, and others of varying persuasions, at least some of whom are quite quite knowledgeable about books.

According to store legend, they have been known to push and shove overtly if not banish hostile proof seekers out of the aisle back onto the main section downstairs, preserving their proximity to the new proofs just dumped on the shelves.

For these are narrow aisles and there is no order ,alphabetically or otherwise to these filings- you just have to plunge in , look fast and grab. And they all cost a mere $1.49(up from 99c two years ago).Do some of them resell these treasures on e-Bay? Who knows- You can wait far and long before a proof even claims a $50 price- Like 2666 by Bolano.

So when I ventured into the basement one recent Friday evening and saw the knot of people hovering over and against the two shelves that had just received a deposit of new titles, I knew I had litle chance of moving them aside. I therefore engaged in a bit of pleasant banter, and with the delicacy necessary to thread between the tentacles of an octopus, reached between them and precisely and gently with two fingers picked out the autobiography of ex 1968 Columbia radical Mark Rudd and the terrific account by Michela Wrong-"It's Our Turn to Eat, The Story of a Kenyan Whistleblower" .

At last the group fanned out over the basement, leading me to forget those critical passages in "Crowds and Power" by Nobel prize winning author Elias Canetti, about the organic quality and latent explosive powers possessed by a crowd.

I had my prizes, picked up a translation by Anne Carson ,of the three plays constituting the Oresteia, one each from Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and headed for the exit ,happy to escape with a good stash and no fatal wounds.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Baseball and the Baptist/Spring Fever

(last performed in Istanbul to a religion class of visiting Americans from a midwest college)

C 2009-All rights reserved

Baseball is an ancient sport
though the history books don't say it
but long before the Doubledays
it was dangerous to play it
the Mayans gamed on ball courts
with the losers' lives held liable
the first World Serious event
is recorded in the Bible
Slugging John the Baptist led the league against the state
until the day fair Salome
faced him at home plate
Salome was appetizing
John was none the wiser
she wound up to pitch
and he wound up an appetizer
all eyes were on her serpent dance
she dropped all seven veils
John was so entranced
but never lived to tell the tale
She placed her fingers on his lips
kissed his shuttered eyes
dipped his head in dressing
and pronounced him as baptized

Against raw power of the state
this preacher's prowess stuck out
But after Herod's foul play
it was all too plain he'd struck out
when he slammed his bat
returning headless to the dugout
Blazing John the Baptist
had just one run in- with state
But when the preacher took strike three
his head stayed on the plate

They buried him to save some face
between the mound and second base.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Perfect Wave of Dangerous Dining-A Restaurant Recommendation from Yemen

Sometimes the greatest culinary surprises are buried deep in our literature. Thus, for example in the 1991 travel adventure Motoring with Mohammed by Eric Hansen, a fine essayist and writer of whimsical travel a la Eric Newby and Redmond O' Hanlon,we find the author shipwrecked off the coast of Yemen. Rescued by the Yemeni military on Groundhog Day 1978, he and his group of sailing compadres are brought to the capital, Sa'na,an ancient city with fine mud-brick tower houses that dot the skyline and convey along with the many delicate minarets the aura of Scheherezade. There in the country reputed to be once the home of the legendary Queen of Sheba, he stays with an American Peace Corps worker, who recommends to him at his specific request an authentic Yemeni restaurant not frequented by tourists.(How many times have we naively made the same request ?)
We next find him waiting in line to enter an underground eatery with no name displayed, being borne up by the surging crowd in the air and pressed down the "foot-worn" stone steps to enter an inferno of hot earthen ovens--There he is forced to climb over the tables one after another to reach an open chair and winds up being wedged between two quite heavily armed men.They proceed to instruct him in the fine art of attracting the waiter's attention by hitting him with moistened spitballs made from their napkins. (I would love to do this in French Laundry or Taillevent in Paris(and who could object, surely not the French poodles perched under the tables)-it alone would be worth the cost of the meal although in the Oyster Bar in New York it might take a very long toss, with the significant air resistance entering into the calculus )

He then strikes the waiter in the shoulders with some precisely thrown overheads, and orders Salah, a highly spiced potato, garlic, and mutton stew, covered in a frothy sauce called bulba made from whipped fenugreek paste and served in an earthenware pot so hot it leaves scar marks on the table.

And of course it is delicious.Eating with his fingers and energized by the chilis, the author pays the bill and leaves the restaurant in an opium-like daze.

Now that is the kind of dining experience even those of us who have taken far-flung journeys dream about!It's the perfect wave -that once in a lifetime experience of dangerous and delicious dining,from which, even within the constraints of that dreaded word "tourism" you emerge presumably alive with your adrenalin and gastric juices in free flow.
For me, this evoked memories of a trip 30 years ago to the famous Moti Mahal restaurant in Old Delhi, where you trace your steps down narrow alleyways to a step down raffish joint with what was considered by many India's best tandoor cooking. The butter chicken there still melts on my tongue, and it was predictable many years later when the chef was cajoled to go to London to open a well-financed "branch" in Covent Garden that the inevitable comparisons would be made-
I sampled the cuisine in this upscale dining establishment on a recent trip to London
It was quite tasty, subtle, well prepared but lacked the touch of brilliance of the original-
What is it about underground restaurants- are they close to the axis of the world- do they draw sustenance from the roots of the tree of life so that when they cook their pungent specialities one remembers them for a lifetime.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Free Bernie Now! Discarded Defense Strategy?

(Note to the reader)-This piece of discarded scrap paper was found near the defense table at Federal Court in Manhattan shortly after Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty to one of the greatest swindles in history. It may represent an earlier defense strategy to use "the secret trope".

Free Bernie Now
C 2009- all rights reserved

He never killed or raped
He's no Jeffrey Dahmer
Free Bernie now
He pacified investors
made them feel much calmer
Free Bernie now

Avoiding all the market's nasty twists and turns
He gave us for so many years such great returns
Before him all the Wall St. wizards once did bow
Free Bernie now

He knew for what a larcenous heart ever yearns
Free Bernie now
and taught us all a lesson each investor learns
Free Bernie now

When your 401K account approaches nil-0
and there is little left to hide under the pillow
"It wasn't cause of me that it dropped- the Dow"
Free Bernie now

Free Bernie now
Free Bernie now
When the world is in the shitter
don't throw out the kitty litter

If it takes a thief well look
there is no one finer
who could suck out all the wealth
all the way from China
when it comes to fields of cash
who's the one to plow
Free Bernie now ( yeah yeah!)
Free Bernie Now!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What Should the Obama Team Do Now-A Swiftian Solution

What will the Obama team do
Please don’t hold your breath
The quickest way to jumpstart us today
Is prescribe the remedy- death

Surround the bankers with controls
And give them asset protection
But if they fail
don’t put ‘em in jail
give ‘em a lethal injection

Don’t allow the subprime makers
a balance sheet surprise
Bury them instead
Up to their head
With sand that covers their eyes

If you find the hedge fund cupboard
Has been stripped quite bare
Extinguish sins of commission
or omission-
use an electric chair

If a money fund fails to hear
The redemption bell when clanging
Tow those in charge
On the deck of a barge
And give them death by hanging

If you find on audit that
Your broker’s records are odd
Go on a spree – issue a decree
And a YouTube firing squad

If it appears a long recession
Like Japan’s is being cloned
Get the past heads
Of the Fed
Together to be stoned

If fraudsters have been sewed
Into the web of financial embedding
I recommend
You effect their end
and do it by beheading

if interest rates have spiked
take your economic team
for an overhaul
to that part of Gaul
that will use the guillotine

If the banks
Even after TARP fail to lend at last
Shower their CEO’s with praise
And then with poison gas

Don’t give the winning sports teams
Parades ,or toss confetti
Just take the losers
And the drug users
And get out your machete

Don’t let private equity
Managers cause more pain
Take them at night
On a pleasure flight
And toss ‘em from the plane

What will the Obama team do
Please don’t hold your breath
The fastest way to recover today
Prescribe the remedy-death

C 2009 by Moncure C-All rights reserved

Monday, March 9, 2009

An Anecdotal History of the Strand Bookstore-Part I

The Strand is the Foyle's of New York City-Foyle's being a British institution since 1906 and the Strand existing on Book Row and Broadway since 1927, having moved to its present location in the late 1950's.Owner Fred Bass had the foresight to purchase the building at Broadway and 12th St many years ago and thereby was able to insulate his successful business from blinding increases in rent as well as take advantage of New York's lucrative real estate market for commercial space.

I have spent a decent portion of a lifetime haunting its nooks and crannies, and watching it grow in value and importance to bookselling in, and the cultural foundations of, New York as other stores on Book Row-4th Ave running up to Union Square- closed and were boarded up to be replaced by a host of branded irrelevancies.

And we all have tales to tell- some of which must remain classified to protect the
not so innocent.

Not fabricated embarrassing story of enormous social importance No 1-

In the mid 1960's and for a couple of decades thereafter , the Strand had an interior bathroom in the middle of the first floor, which was neither air conditioned nor well ventilated. This was all in the period before the furnishing and ventilation were enormously improved in the 1990's; they remain so to this day. The Strand bathroom during the 1960's was tiny, malodorous and even more difficult to adjust to than the commode on an airplane.

On a cold winter's day, I sat on the throne, did my business and as is my wont peered briefly beneath my shivering legs to watch gravity carry off what appeared to be two purple pieces disappearing down the bowl- In a state of shock, I spent 15 minutes feverishly looking in the medical section for an encyclopedia that would shed light on this bizarre and I thought potentially life- threatening symptom. I found nothing definitive, and still overcome with anxiety, went to a nearby coffee shop to have a diet coke and a piece of pie. As I was pulling my wallet out of my back pocket, it suddenly hit me that the purple material was two opera tickets to see Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera(part of an assignment in my Music Humanities course at Columbia College). They had fallen out of that pocket as I contortedly wriggled my butt to get out of the stinking toilet as quickly as possible.Relieved that the source of this crepuscular vision was two pieces of paper, but annoyed that I would have to repurchase tickets for myself and a friend, I proceeded to do so ( standing room only) and waited on line in the snow outside the old Met Opera House on west 39th st for over two hours, contracting bronchitis as a result.

ps- Next time I bought opera tickets -to Siegfried with Birgit Nillson I believe- I stapled them to my shirt and by accident to my chest- thus presaging the invention of punk years before its time.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Congo LIne

The Congo is the name of a new travel guide issued by the venerable travel guide publisher Bradt and authored by Sean Rorison.Bradt is known for its coverage of such exotic lands as Madagascar ,Niger and Chad as well as Iran and Iraq, American intervention and hysteria notwithstanding.
The Congo, where millions have perished in recent wars in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo- until recently known as Zaire, and the ex-Marxist Republic of the Congo(formerly part of French Equatorial Africa, as all philatelists should know.
These wars have involved Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, Uganda, Rwanda, Namibia, and Burundi in a continuous struggle for control over natural resources-including gold, oil, lead, zinc and uranium in what has turned out to be the richest failed state in the world.
And the Congo has been the source of a drive for exploration and extraction since King Leopold of Belgium purported to annex it as his private reserve( separate and apart from the Belgian state)and loosed a reign of terror and extermination that brought cries from the world and anticipated along with the killing of the Hereros by the Germans the actions of the Nazis in the 20th century.

It has been the subject of a number of famous books, from Conrad's Heart of Darkness to Stanley's Through the Dark Continent to Colin Turnbull's pygmy tome The Forest People and Michela Wrong's account of the years of Mobutu Sese Seko, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz.

And the Congo is where Bogie and Katherine Hepburn went upriver in The African Queen-how many times have you seen that film..and the site in Kinshasa of the Ali -George Foreman Rumble in the Jungle, in which Ali won back his heavyweight championship after playing possum in the famous fifth round Rope-A-Dope.

Sounds like it's worth a trip now- after all it's the center of the Ituri pygmy population, once called sorcerers by Herodotus and one of the remaining hunter- gatherer tribes ( even as they were literally hunted down and cannibalized by fighters in the recent Civil Wars.) It's home too to the bonobo ape-with its steamy promiscous sex reminiscent to some of Southern California and immortalized in Will Self's scathing satire, Great Apes(which has little to do with California by the way).As well as home to the leopard, pangolin, okapi and male gorilla- see Diane Fossey and Jane Goodall for more reading in this area.

The Congo was at the center of African Marxist politics in the early 60's when Patrice Lumumba, a young idealist Marxist was assassinated by you know which intelligence agency and when the country's polity dissolved in a battle between Joseph Kasavubu and Moishe Tshombe until the accession of Mobutu Sese Seko stamped a brand of corrupt military dictatorship over the land for almost 30 years. Most recently, Laurent Kabila, who trained with Che Guevara in an unsuccessful Cuban 60's sally, and then his son Joseph have ruled over parts of the land, and Laurent NKunda, a charismatic Tutsi priest- soldier with a pet goat named Betsy,chalked up more than a few crimes against humanity before being returned to his native Rwanda for some R&R and downtime.

Yes, this is the place for those truly lunatic travellers among us, who throw caution to the winds and execute codicils to their wills at each airport they frequent-

You'll learn from this thorough guide that if one needs surgery it is advisable to be "evacuated to a neighboring friendly country" with better medical standards and God forbid you should need a transfusion and try to secure one within the parameters of this nation- your trajectory is likely to be vertical- straight into the ground.

Diseases to watch out for- bilharzia,malaria, meningitis, tickbite fever,pneumonic plague(but only in remote unsanitary areas) and the not to be discounted ebola fever- You remember that one of course- it's when every opening of the body bleeds as you become a living(but not for long) stigmata.

In this connection, it is advised to avoid handling dead chimpanzees-hopefully that is not the reason why you are here, after your hedge fund advisory position was lost.
And do not under any circumstance try to show anyone a magic trick, for the accusation of sorcery is common in an animist culture which associates disease and bad fortune with witchery. Many children, abandoned by their parents, and adults have been torn to pieces as a result.And just think what would happen if the Crucible opened in Brazzaville?

All this and more can be yours when you pick up a copy of Congo at Idlewild Books, the lovely travel/fiction store recently opened by former UN Press officer David Del Vecchio on 19th st in Manhattan where books are arranged by country in a manner reminiscent of the downstairs of Dent Booksellers in London