Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Oracle is In 

Some folks are aware that Amazon.com purchased a technology company to focus on search technology a while ago. That company, A9.com, has just launched their site and toolbar. I’m going to experiment with it because I am a big fan of strong search technology for the Web.

I say strong search technology because it is only with the advent of Google that I feel that Web search has been truly useful. It’s a bit of an esoteric reference, but the subtitle of this blog actually refers to the dawn of Web search.I’m guessing that only those who have been kicking around on the Web for ten years or so probably remember that Yahoo! is actually an acronym.

In the early days of the Web, we didn’t have search engines. We had “oracles”. Oracles were essentially public bookmarks. When you found a useful site, you posted it on a page of your favorite links. Since there were no search engines, when you wanted to find something by a method other than clicking around randomly, you went to an oracle to see if they had a site that might either be exactly what you wanted OR potentially link to what you wanted. When Yahoo! was founded, the name stood for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle. Yahoo! founders Yang and Filo’s original innovation was their hierarchical categorization of links. Their early business was run like….well…a library. They hired tons of people to review websites and categorize them. Can you imagine? Humans! Clicking on links and assigning categories! Wacky. Now sites like Google have ‘bots that just troll the web and collect links.

At any rate, the launch of A9.com made me think that perhaps I should share some of the URLs that I have in my “utilities” folder in my browser bar. You may find some of these to be useful, too. I’d also be interested in knowing what your favorite web utilities are.

Currency Converter
This site is great for when you’re doing some online vacation planning and need to calculate hotel costs. Or for those times when you’re looking at a shopping site in another country that only does currency conversion after you put something in your shopping cart. It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s free.

Internet Movie Database and
Internet Broadway Database
Is the father from I Capture the Castle really the same guy who played the head vampire in Underworld? Did Austin Pendleton open Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung you in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad? If you love movies and theater (or perhaps you prefer to say that you love films and theatre). Or if you’re a trivia nut. If you fall into any of those several categories, these two sites are indispensable.

Manhattan User's Guide
If you want more to do in NYC, this is a great site to learn about great food, shopping, theater, whatever. In fact, I have to admit that it’s not so much the site that I use, it’s their MUG email. I highly recommend signing up for it. No matter how well versed you may feel as a denizen of The City, I guarantee that you will not already be up on 99% of what you learn in their weekly emails.

Stop Your Mail Online!
What’s the worst part about going on vacation? Having to go to the Post Office and fill out forms in triplicate to stop your mail service! No more, my friends. Just go to this site and do it online. You can even tell them when to resume your service. Whew!

How tired are you of getting emails saying “this link didn’t work for me”? Here’s your answer. Just go to this site, paste the URL you wish to forward into the box and hit the magic button. Seconds later is a short URL you can email to people with the knowledge that it will not break up across lines. Hallelujah!

Shield's Up!
This is for our more technical readers. So you want to see how secure your machine is? Just point your browser to this site and follow the instructions. It’ll scan your ports and test your security. It will also recommend how to secure anything it can penetrate. A great, free service.

Street Locator for NYC
It doesn’t matter that I’ve lived in NYC since 1993. I still can’t predict where a building is going to be by its number. Now I don’t have to.

OK. This isn’t really a utility. In fact, it’s in my “amuse’ folder of links. But I had to share it anyway. You know when a friend sends you a link with a wacky eBay auction like the “ghost in a jar” auction or the woman who was selling all the dolls her ex-husband keeps giving her daughter even though he’s been told that his daughter hates dolls? Well, this site is an aggregator of all those weird events. Click away and then forward the best ones to your friends! You can be a productivity killer, too!

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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Masters of Their Domain 

Tonight we're going off to see Sarah Silverman. Hooray! My excitement about this and some recent conversations about Marc Salem's Mind Games prompted me to make a list (surprise, surprise) of some of the more extraordinary solo performers I have seen. I realized in compiling the list that it spanned categories: magicians, actors, comedians, and performance artists. But the common thread of working solo somehow made them a single category for me. Each of these performers has left their mark on me. With many of them, there is some object or visual or moment that for me is now forever indelibly different thanks to their efforts.

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey is a British comedian and polymath who combines comedy, music and his own special brand of lunacy to create his shows. We went to see Bewilderness when it came to New York City. Bailey goes from sheer nutty verbal and musical randomness to truly philosophical, pointed and funny monologues. You never know what you're going to get. And the transformative object/moment? This can only be understood by those who've seen it: "I am the nemesis of the vole!" If you've seen it, it's funny. If you haven't you're...bewildered!

Eric Bogosian
The true New Yorker's solo act. I saw Bogosian first in the mid 80's doing Drinking in America. It was part of what inspired me to pursue theatre. (For those of you who don't know me, I no longer am.) The many characters Bogosian did with no costume or set changes, just wearing a white button down shirt and jeans was astounding to me. And his commitment to his characters, his full frontal assault on every unattractive nook and cranny. It was mind blowing. I continued to see him right up until he went to try out Hollywood. (That doesn't seem to have worked out so well.) And I miss him onstage. The big takeaway moment? A moment in Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead when I realized that the character he was doing was frighteningly like a family member and I looked at K. and we mouthed the name at the same time. Frankly, I will never view a guy and a grill quite the same way again.

Steve Cohen
Steve Cohen is a terrific close-up artist. He does intimate magic shows at a suite in the Waldorf in NYC and at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco. You will sit no more than 6 feet away and he will blow your mind. Doesn't matter how much you know about magic, his hands are incredible. The moment? This man took my wedding ring, somehow linked it someone else's ring ,and held the two joined rings in front of my face while spinning the rings in turn, while they were hanging from a pencil in his hand. I have no idea how he did that. Neither will you.

Eddie Izzard
The one and only executive transvestite comedian. We were fortunate to see him when he came to a tiny cabaret space in NYC years ago to do Dress to Kill. We were in the FRONT ROW. My god, you have no idea how charismatic he is when you're that close. He was just unbelievable. My FACE HURT after the show it was that funny. The most incredible moment: he was doing a bit about Englebert Humperdinck and talking about the outrageousness of the fact that this was not his birth name. That this man chose this name. And after a funny bit about that, he deadpanned, "You know, he just died." The audience went silent. Then he said, "No, he didn't." And everyone started laughing again. And then he said, "Yeah. Actually he did." And the audience stopped. Then he removed language all together and shook his head "no". Laughter. He nodded, affirming "yes". More laughter. He drew this out for a good ten minutes and people were sobbing. After that, for the rest of the show he was able to simply shake his head or nod to return the audience to that bit and it was hysterical again. I had never seen such a simple, stripped down form of humor provide such endless results. Brilliant.

John Leguizamo
He's been doing film lately, although not to my taste. But I saw John Leguizamo first in his 1991 breakout show at the Westside Theatre, Mambo Mouth. Then Spic-o-Rama and Sexaholix. Leguizamo is one of the most high-energy performers you will ever see. Every vertebrae is working during his shows. And when he's being funny? Forget about it. His stage presence, his characterizations and his observations are so deep and resonant. His most deeply personal show was Sexaholix and the scenes with him caring for his grandfather were heartbreaking. The memorable moment? In Mambo Mouth he ran a segment as an Hispanic man who had assimilated into America by becoming Japanese (!) and offering a seminar teaching other Latinos how to follow his example. Pointed, frightening, and blisteringly funny. He took zero prisoners.

Dimitri Martin
Dimitri Martin's not quite where some of the rest of these performers are, but just you wait. He's very young, he's brilliant, and if you haven't heard of him yet...YOU WILL. He's one of the most original comedians I've ever seen. His pieces are highly conceptual, completely unexpected and often very, very deadpan. We saw him first on his Comedy Central special and then at his one man show at UCB. I have to say, the moment where he brings his mother out on stage in his special was wonderfully surreal. Track him down.

Ricky Jay
The master. There can be only one. Ricky Jay is the most knowledgeable man in magic and the master of the close-up artists. When you see him, he will educate you as he blows your mind. He's begun doing larger shows in the last few years, but I loved it when he only played 50 seat theatres. It's still well worth your while to see him. I can't pin down a single moment so much as his aura. It's like being with someone who could just as easily have been a Harvard professional as a criminal. And thankfully he's decided on a third course of action: entertainment.

Sarah Jones
Sarah Jones right deserved the kudos she received for Bridge and Tunnel. She's another deep character performer, although with a penchant for changing coats. I was afraid from the reviews that Bridge and Tunnel was going to be totally hokey, but I left profoundly moved. It's no wonder that Meryl Streep produced the show. The moment? Her portrayal of a totally traditional Chinese mother lobbying the audience for her daughter's right to have a gay marriage. Strangely wrenching, beautiful and amazingly...hopeful. An inspiring performer to watch.

Marc Salem
Prepare to be totally freaked out. Marc Salem CAN READ YOUR MIND. He says he's not psychic, but frankly, I don't believe him for a minute. Sure he's got a PhD in psychology, sure he uses some standard tricks. But then watch him walk of the scale of what you know to be possible with an audience. I don't want to blow his show for you. I'll just say that his vacation bit stumped everyone I know who knows magic and psychology. None of them know how he does it. And neither will you. He's playing right now. GOOOOOOO.

Sarah Silverman
I'm going tonight!

Anna Deveare Smith
Anna Deveare Smith does something unusual. She interviews people for a long time to get the untold story of an event, such as the LA Riots. Then she talks the documentary text of the interviews and weaves them into a portrait of the human side of the event. No costumes, just a chameleon. Watching her move from a Korean woman to an orthodox Jewish man to whatever she wants is amazing. She seems to be *doing* so little. But somehow she does a lot.

Reno feels somewhat like an NYC-specific version of a younger, highly political, Bette Midler. We saw her 9/11 show, Rebel Without a Pause . I can't tell you what it was like to be in the tiny, Zipper Theater with Reno, except to say it was like being near a friendly, funny, hurricane. She was so raw, so real, so present and so generous. I literally laughed, cried, held my breath and laughed again. She is very special.

Paul Zaloom
Paul Zaloom blew my mind when I first saw him. I was in high school. He crosses puppetry, comedy, politics and science in the most peculiar brew. If you can find him performing, you really must see him to get a sense of what I'm talking about. He pulls together the most disparate topics and physical objects into astonishing agitprop theater and comedy. So while you or your kids may know him as Beakman from Beakman's World (a TV show I've never seen myself), but I know him as the man who during one of his early shows (I think it may have been Fruit of Zaloom) transformed two ordinary kitchen blenders into the Three Mile Island disaster. Honestly. I have never looked at a blenders the same way since.
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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

You Are Now Entering the Narrative State 

The Toronto Film Festival is going on right now and thanks to Dan C., I'm a newly minted Film Festival addict. Unfortunately, I'm not in Toronto.

About a year ago now, Dan sent me an email asking if we were interested in going to Sundance. It's something that I've always been curious about and we all know that I love movies. But somehow, I'd never made it to a film festival.

Well, thank god for Dan. Because Dan makes your life sooo much easier. He's the world's most meticulous project manager. And once we said, "Yes, we'll go", Dan was off and running. Forwarding all the details you'd never think of and following up to make sure we were on top of everything. It was great.

We decided to do the last (awards) weekend of the Festival, arriving that Thursday night. By the time we left on Monday AM, I had seen 11 films Friday to Sunday. YOWZA. It was so great. Highlights included:

Ah, the joys of Lars von Trier. Every time I watch a von Trier film, I say in the beginning, "Wow, he really hates women." By the end, I say, "Wow, he really hates EVERYBODY. He is disappointed in the whole human race." That said, Dogville is a very strong work. What I have to admire about von Trier is that nobody walks out and says, "Eh." You either like it or you feel violently opposed to it. There's no middle ground.

The Five Obstructions
Everything I said about von Trier above is true...except when speaking of The Five Obstructions. This is a film that defies categorization. It might be a documentary, but it's hard to say. Von Trier took one of his film directing idols, Jurgen Leth, and made him remake one of his early successes five times, each time placing tremendous challenges in Leth's way. He has to do it in what he finds to be personally the scariest place on earth, he has to do it with only a specified number of frames between edits, he has to do it as an animation (which he loathes) and so on. The film is indescribable, but it is also strangely new and wonderful. It leaves you with a tremendous admiration for Leth and ultimately for the twisted von Trier. These are creative people who push themselves to the limit.

The latest no-budget, science fiction breakout (e.g., Pi) and the winner of its category. You'll be seeing this one eventually. Again, a wonderfully creative mindbender that shows just how much you can do with your parents house, a motel, an office building and a rented "u-stor-it" storage space. Time travel, stock market schemes and murderous betrayal. Gotta love it...if you can follow it.

This animated documentary is a film for alchemists and micro-historians. It explores the lifelong work of obsessive biologist and artist extraordinare Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel was something of an ecstatic visionary and he fused science and art in his illustrations of microscopic sea life. It's coming to MOMA in December 2004.

A documentary that tells the story of North Korean spies who were held hostage and tortured by the South for THIRTY YEARS and refused to renounce their communist beliefs. Finally set free in the South, these poor old men work to get "repatriated" to the North. Since the Koreas are somewhere most of us know little about, this documentary is eye-opening on so many levels. You get to see life in a small South Korean town where these unrepatriated men are placed with families. You observe how they affect their hosts and how they try to make lives for themselves in a country they believe is fundamentally corrupt. The tension between their being essentially elders and grandfathers to the villagers and welcomed as such, alongside their unrelenting efforts to sing red songs and convert the unconverted is wrenching. Their final repatriation brings a wellspring of mixed emotions. Will they find out the truth about the North's desperate poverty and be heartbroken? Or will they be shielded from reality by the Northern government and left to die with their illusions intact?

Super Size Me
This is out now and you've read the press. Look. Just go see it. Morgan Spurlock's documentary is groundbreaking on so many levels, not least of which is his mix of animation, music and agitprop film making.

We Don't Live Here Anymore
Recently released and well worth seeing. Fantastic performances from Mark Ruffalo, Peter Krause, Naomi Watts, Laura Dern. I don't want to go into plot too much. Suffice it to say, it's the fearless investigation of two intertangled marriages. The actors are fearless and the camera never looks away. (P.S. If you liked In the Bedroom, this is also an Andre Dubus adaptation.)

OK. So much for the Sundance recap. This was just the beginning for me. Then came the Tribeca Film Festival with Dan (the highlight of which was Paperclips, a wonderful doc about Tennessee middle schoolers who built a Holocaust Museum) and in a matter of weeks, the New York Film Festival with Dan. (Yeah, Dan!)

As noted by the title of this post, what I'm really headed towards here is WHY I'm a film festival addict. I think it was in Master Kevin Gallagher's class in high school that I was introduced to the concept of the narrative state.

As I recall, he used the phrase "narrative state" to describe the interior state we enter as we read; the mindset where the room disappears and we feel our consciousness enter the story. I realized when I heard this that I had been a devotee of the narrative state for years. I spent winters curled up on the radiator covers at my parent's house, lost in my books. I had my entire class exit the room when I was in third grade and I was so concentrated on my book that I didn't even notice.

One of the things that I love about film festivals is being able to devote so much time to exploring the narrative state of consciousness. It isn't about escapism. There is something simultaneously exhilirating and meditative about seeing lots of films in a few days. In addition to being exposed to so many creative products that I enjoy, I find simply the process of opening myself to that high volume of content in a compressed time period to be extremely satisfying.

It makes me wonder, is this a common reason or sentiment for being a festival junkie?
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Monday, September 13, 2004

Restaurant Find: Share 

So K and I had a terrific weekend. On Saturday, we went down to some of our favorite places in Soho to snack and pursue our various obsessions. We had another mission. You see, we are devoted to Queer Eye. And in the last episode, the boys went off to help some of our neighbors (we didn't realize they were our neighbors at the time) open a restaurant in the East Village called Share. The food looked yummy and we'll go quite a distance for a meal. Plus, the couple seemed adorable and who doesn't like to help nice folks out? So we headed up to East 9th Street to try our luck on what we knew was a very small space.

The downstairs dining room is tiny, but proprietor Winston Shih offered us some seats upstairs at the bar. This is a great choice, btw. We got the bench on the left. It was fun sitting up there and watching folks come in.

The concept of Share is that the food is meant to be shared and frequently comes in two sizes, tasting and sharing. We took advantage of this and ordered as many things as we could in the tasting sizes and shared them. Lots of variety that way and everything sounded so good.

We started with the three herb salad with fresh fava beans, manchego and lemon dressing. It was super. It was incredibly fresh and open tasting and the fava beans really grounded the dish. I've never had them raw before and I loved them.

We had to try the lobster, corn and mushroom risotto and the black cod (sable) dishes. The risotto had a lovely consistency. Risottos often fail on that, either too mushy or too much resistance. This was pretty much just right. And a nice amount of lobster claw, too. Just enough to be real and not so much as to overwhelm the dish. And the mushrooms were bursting with flavor.

Sable is one of my favorite fishes (thank you, Barney Greengrass) and this piece was gently place on the thinnest haricot vert I've ever seen, mixed with chives. Superbly buttery with a nice green (the beans) and subtle acid (the chives) to balance it.

The fact that Kay (the chef) believes in butter was evident in most of the dishes, although Winston credited the sable for the buttery-ness of this dish, which is fair.)

K. got a bee in her bonnet to try the potato gnocchi with Swiss chard and chanterelles. I often find gnocchi a bit heavy and in a worst case flavorless, but these were unbelievable. First of all, they're cylindrical and small. Second of all, they were incredibly tasty.

We really wanted to try as much as possible. So after all that, we ordered a sage roasted fresh bacon with golden lentils and leeks. OK, so bacon is really a misnomer here. We're basically talking about boneless spare ribs! YUM!

We finished with a cheese plate that was quite accomplished. For instance, I have only found Roomano cheese (this is Dutch cheese and not the Italian Romano) at one other restaurant, Artisanal (and they're cheese specialists). A few figs, some quince paste were composed alongside the Roomano, some gorgeous Gorgonzola and an American Goat.

My advice if you want to go to Share is to go early and if you can't get a reservation, sit at the bar. We'll do it again soon!
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