Bye, Bye Brasil

Sunset on the Morro da Urca
Sunset on the Morro da Urca

Just got back (April 2015) from an unstressed two weeks in Brazil and wanted to document just some of the highlights of my vacation for those of you who might be going.

Best Neighborhood in São Paulo (SP) – Vila Madalena

Ok well, those who have been living in Vila Madalena for 10 years or more say that it has been ruined by the publicity and crowds from the World Cup 2014, but it’s still a pleasant walkable place with restaurants, art galleries and bars of all stripes. And if you need a place to stay, you would be hard pressed to find a nicer place than this.

Best Modern Buildings – Edificios Copan and Italia, Centro, SP and MEC, Centro, Rio de Janeiro (RJ)

The Copan is undergoing a facial right now, covered in pale blue scrim, so if you go next year you might be lucky enough to see its beautiful mosaic-tiled brise-soleil facade restored.  In the meantime if you don’t know a resident who can get you into the buidling, you can still visit the free, public art space PIVÔ and get a sense of Niemeyer’s greatness.  Meanwhile, if you’re in Rio’s Centro on a weekday, you really should visit the MEC (aka Palacio Capanema), where Le Corbusier, Lucio Costa and Roberto Burle-Marx created an early masterpiece of urban architecture and planning without the crushing scale of some of Costa/Corb’s later projects.

Best Museum Space – Instituto Moreira Salles, Gávea, RJ

The former residence of Walter Moreira Salles in Gávea is another mid-20th century modern classic, this time on a residential scale, now converted into a elegant public gallery for photography and cultural events. Burle-Marx did the wonderful garden and swimming pool area. The cafe is charming.

Best 19th Century Building – Real Gabinete Português de Leitura, Centro, RJ

This reading room is among the world’s finest tributes to the power of books. The exterior is pretty great, too, with statues of emperors and of course, Vasco da Gama.

Best Espresso Coffee – Coffee Lab, Vila Madalena, SP

These folks are serious about their beans. The baristas ask you personally for your coffee selection and the atmosphere is conducive to philosophical discussions.

Best Drip Coffee and Pão de Queijo – Confeitaria Atlântica, Copacabana, RJ

Go in and get a café com leite at the bar on a workday morning. Super strong and good, and brewed hourly due to the popularity of this corner pastry store in working-class Copacabana.

Best Restaurant Closed for a Special Event – Bossa, Jardins, SP

Stunning wood-screened space in Jardins that is supposed to have great food as well. Too bad we picked the wrong night and couldn’t get in.

Best Restaurant in a Small Town – Banana da Terra, Paraty

We signed up (somewhat unwillingly) for the Thursday night tasting menu, and it was sublime. I’m not normally a foodie, but this was a pleasant experience with nice waiters and a combination of old Brazilian standbys like coxinha, and new ideas like lemongrass and squid soup.

Best Pizza – Ferro e Farinha, Catete, RJ

You have to go 30 minutes prior to opening to find a seat at one of their sidewalk tables. Don’t pass up the ginger spritzer while you eat all of their 5 different pizza combinations.

Best Gelato – Sorvetes Artesanais Nirulas, Paraty

We just stumbled into an art gallery with a gelato fridge in the back by happenstance.  Turns out the Nirulas (based in the city of Itu in São Paulo State) makes some of the best gelato I have had anywhere. Interesting flavors, and a really nice guy who runs the store.

Best Unnoticed Bars – Seu Zé, Vila Madalena, SP and Urca Grill, Urca, RJ

No special reason to go to these places, but they are typical of the hospitality and cheap eats you can find in Brazil. Urca Grill has a fantastic location across the street from Urca’s little harbor. Go at night and hang out at the seawall.

Best Juice Bar – Lanches Hobby, Glória, RJ

Ask for the açaí natural (bananas instead of cane/corn syrup).

Best Caipirinha – Galería do Engenho, Paraty

You can get these with lime, pineapple (my choice) or mango and with a wide variety of local cachaças. Strong, fruity and satisfying. The restaurant serves healthy portions of authentically Brazilian staples.

Best Pousada with Hammocks – Morro do Forte, Paraty

Very nice staff and calming spot above picture-perfect Paraty.  Plenty of shady and sunny spots to recline, ponder and lie in a hammock.

Hippest Haircut (Guys Only) – Barbearia 9 de Julho, Vila Madalena (SP)

Hole in the wall spot with some very good young haircutters. This is where Vila Madalena guys with full beards, coiffed hair and mustaches go for hour-long sessions that are old-world pampering to the max (facials, steaming towels, etc.); but gringos like me can also get a quick cut.

Best Public Art – Escadaria de Selaron, Lapa, RJ

A massive project by an expat artist, equivalent in scope and ambition to Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles. Every square inch of this stairway was hand-crafted. Amazing, even in a country with extraordinary graffiti work seemingly in every neighborhood.

Best 3.5 Km Early Morning Stroll – Aterro do Flamengo, Flamengo, RJ

Aterro do Flamengo
Aterro do Flamengo

Burle-Marx left his masterful mark on the Avenida Atlântica in Copacabana, but his real gift to Rio is the Aterro, a linear park wedged between Zona Sul’s automobile-dominated parkways and the beaches of Glória, Flamengo and Botafogo. Every 100 meters is a new combination of Brazilian trees. People run and walk by without noticing that they are moving through paradise.

Best Park for Meandering or Picnicking – Parque Lage, Lagoa, RJ

Mysterious caves, castles and a swimming pool court in a neo-baroque palace. The grounds are beautifully landscaped.

Best Park for Just Soaking it In – Largo das Letras, Santa Teresa, RJ

The cafe / bookstore / cultural center here was closed, but folks were still taking advantage of the quiet courtyard right above Santa Teresa’s “downtown” square, the Largo do Guimarães.

Best Park for Concerts and a View – Parque das Ruinas, Santa Teresa, RJ

Charming little cafe and terrace at the top of Santa Teresa. We were there on the Dia Nacional de Choro for a lilting noontime choro concert. Perfect views over Botafogo and Pão de Açucar.

Best Overlooked Beach – Cepilho’s, Trindade

Praia do Cepilho
Praia do Cepilho

While all tourists take the bus to the end of the line in Trindade (45 minutes and $2 from the Paraty bus station) and then begin the walk to the isolated beaches in the nature preserve to the south of the town, we jumped off at the first sight of water at Cepilho, a beer-and-shrimp shack on a beach hemmed in by massive rocks. It was a Friday in April and we had the place to ourselves. Space to wander around or sit under a palm tree, just like in the picture books.

Best Bar with Music in the Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Rainforest) – Poço de Tarzan, Penha

Another short bus ride from Paraty takes you onto the former gold pipeline royal road in Penha. Beautiful waterfalls you can surf down, and, slightly up river, the Tarzan bar. Saturday afternoon an MPB trio of guitarists play under a tent while happy vacationing Brazilians while away the hours having snacks and beer.  Apparently this place is for sale if you like the idea of operating a bar with a private waterfall and hanging bridge.

Best Hyped Samba Scene – Bip Bip, Copacabana, RJ

Everybody’s heard about this place that’s been a nightly jam session for sambistas for 30 years or more, but it’s still real and a delightful place to go and get scolded for applauding or talking during performances (snapping your fingers in appreciation is allowed). Newcomers quickly figure out the deal: you leave your name and the number of beers you’ve picked out of the kitchen with Alfredo, who is there every night parked by his telephone with a stack of dishes that act as a cash register and a big notebook where he keeps your tab.

Places We Didn’t Get To (Next Time!)

  • Sunday stroll on the Minhocão, SP
  • Hiking to Dos Irmãos, Vidigal, RJ
  • The top of Pão de Açucar (we only got halfway), RJ
  • The new Saraiva super-bookstore by Artur Casas, Barra de Tijuca, RJ
  • Floresta de Tijuca and Restaurante Os Esquilos, RJ
  • MAC (Niemeyer museum), Niterói
  • Sítio Burle-Marx, Barra de Guaratiba, RJ (currently closed for flood repairs and improvements)
  • Ilha Grande and Angra dos Reis
  • Serra dos Orgãos National Park, Teresópolis
Advertisements

Her: A Gentrified Blade Runner

Her
Her

Update: Of course I’m not the only one to get upset about Her’s Los Angeles.

Her is a movie as we know about a near future where interactions with operating system helpers, our “OS”es, displace those with our fellow humans, until they have no more use for us. This line of thinking, which runs from the Velveteen Rabbit to I, Robot, is well trod, and Spike Jonze adds a well-thought-out story to the canon.

What I found more fascinating than the CHI (computer-human interface) plot was Jonze’s depiction of the future of Los Angeles. Having just seen Thom Andersen’s critical film, Los Angeles Plays Itself, about the credibility gap between Los Angeles’s ever-widening economic inequality over the last 70 years and its portrayal in Hollywood film, walking into Jonze’s 21st century Southern California is an even more disorienting and disquieting experience.

Our hero, Theodore Twombley, lives in Beverly Wilshire City (a proxy for Los Angeles’s westside) and works either there or in a simulacrum of Downtown Los Angeles (the One Wilshire building and other towers still standing in this near future). These cityscapes bleed together, so that from higher up there is a vision of Sao Paulo-like skyscapers that extend to the mountains and to the sea.  Gleaming highrises are linked by windswept, uncrowded elevated walkways. Along these paths are gaudy security cameras mounted on every lamppost. By 2060 or whenever, the clunky-looking camera mounts would most likely be a thing of the past, so I guess these are here to assure the public that the L.A.P.D. has things under strict control.

There is no garbage on these “streets”.  Even entrances to the subway seem clean and efficient, with a steady stream of nearly-all-white knowledge workers moving to and fro. The subways run quietly and happily everywhere (the happy Los Angeles Metro map of the future has already been posted on today’s internet for the curious), and bullet trains can take our workers on vacation to Donner Pass for the weekend.

Her Metro Map
Her Metro Map

The people who live and work here are predominantly white and well-educated. There is one scene where a dapper black man busks with a fedora upturned for tips, and a split-second shot of a middle-aged woman sweeping the floors of Beverly Wilshire City while Theodore is not feeling too well about his inevitable break-up with his OS. And while Samantha is being given a early tour of the variety of humans who live here through Theodore’s iPhone camera, we do see one or two Latinos.

The rest are all white hipster or post-hipster young and middle-aged types. They work in what seem to be low-stress, high-paying creative endeavors, letter-writing or game-designing. And they have all gone to or talk about “Harvard”, “magna cum laude”; they strive to become the “class mom”, and if they are not lucky enough to get one of these sweet creative jobs, they can at least work as “lawyers”, so that’s OK. Luckily we can check off that there is no gender inequality in Her L.A. Theodore’s brilliant PhD ex-wife was raised in a household of “high expectations”, he tries to date a Harvard woman with an incredible CV, and so on.

These lucky folk spend their days in workplaces  colored by Deborah Sussman in pastel, so that cube workers are always seeing things through rose-colored glasses. People eat well, remembering to chew their fruit for the fiber (if you want to juice anything, juice the vegetables).  They wear sustainable fabrics in unpretentious styles (lots of sweaters and J. Crewish colored shirts).

They sport overly large messenger bags (Amy Adams’s is especially big) or gym bags or backpacks, and talk blithely to each other or to their OS through earpieces.  There are no dramas beyond those of sexual tension and marriage; apparently no one lacks for money.

What we don’t see is what happened to the 12 million or so Southern Californians who didn’t go to Harvard or didn’t become lawyers. I expect that they have been sent over those mountains to the desert and for the few who are employed as moppers, they can take the bullet trains to work 100s of miles away.

You have to wonder whether Jonze is consciously mocking such a future for Los Angeles or accepting it as the positive end result of the marriage of capitalism and technology. His is a surfer’s dream world, always looking on the positive sunny side of things, a day at the beach of the Emerald City without any economically-depressed denizens.

And I wonder if the beauty and navel-gazing aspect of the whole thing (even the OSes are expert self-analysts following the precepts of Alan Watts) has been tamely accepted by the Hollywood Industry, the folks whose children go to Harvard Westlake school and do actually yacht out to Catalina for a picnic away from the masses on a regular basis.

Thom Andersen had an interesting insight into the environment presented in Blade Runner. Where most viewers saw it as menacing, Andersen delights in the fact that the Los Angeles streets in Blade Runner are filled with real people, density and there are shops and interaction going on.

The surroundings of Her are scarily too similar to where I sit in Kentfield. The “class mom” game is being played out for real every day here, and the one percent meet in quiet cafes to talk about their marital problems; the rest of society (poverty, under-education, a future without the promise of work) is hard to see.

Los Angeles 1973 in 12 Acts

The Outside Man
The Outside Man

Last night I finally had the opportunity to watch Thom Andersen’s superb meditation on the politics, public relations and naivete of filmmakers who have used Los Angeles as a backdrop or a character in their movies. Andersen who grew up in Los Angeles, was associated with the USC film school and now is a professor at Cal Arts, created Los Angeles Plays Itself in 2003.  The two-hour film is apparently “unplayable” outside of personal screenings because it makes use of clips of more than 200 copyrighted works to demonstrate Andersen’s points about what is and is not in the frame. Obtaining the clearances for these beautiful images (including some from my personal favorites: from Kiss Me, Deadly to Zabriskie Point to The Long Goodbye) apparently would require a very large budget (perhaps AFI could step in and foot the bill?), so you have to find a time and place where Andersen might want to show the film privately if you want to enjoy it on the big screen.

However,the film is available on YouTube either as a single video, or in a series of 12, with an index to the set provided on the Open Culture website, which is the way I saw it. After watching you can see also find the complete list of films referenced in a posted copy of the script or in a Letterboxd list.  All that remains is for the book to be published, with footnotes to further reading on the history of Los Angeles’s studios, city politics and events.

Andersen covers the Los Angeles built environment in the first half of the film but then gradually shifts focus to the social. In his view of the history of movie-era Los Angeles, there are a series of earthquake-like events that have occurred decade after decade and that reveal how the public image of Los Angeles as portrayed in just about every Hollywood production (as well as in the movies of artists and European outsiders) has become ever more distant from the reality on the ground. He also goes to other well-know critics of Los Angeles’s built environment, David Gebhard and MIke Davis, to support his argument of the social decline of Los Angeles.

Chronologically, he relates these damaging events:

The 1920’s consideration and subsequent rejection of a regional, municipal trolley system that would have been a complement to the ever expanding influence of suburban development and the dominance of the automobile.

The Zoot Suit riots of 1943, that exposed the cruel victimization of the Los Angeles Latino community.

The 1949 Los Angeles City Council rejection of a light-rail plan, in favor of postwar freeway expansion.

The debate over public housing in 1951-53, where newly appointed police chief William Parker conspired with media and business interests in the McCarthy era to portray the public housing movement as Communist-influenced. The program was abandoned, prefiguring the further decline of poor areas of Los Angeles.

The Parker era’s step-by-step deepening of a climate of paranoia (coinciding with the Film Noir years), where the L.A.P.D. strove to meet the idea robotic, all-powerful, all-seeing ideals of Jack Webb’s Dragnet.

The Watts riots of 1965.

The destruction of downtown’s Bunker Hill neighborhood, unleashed by real-estate deals set up by the Richard Riordan administration from 1973-86.

Coincident with the sterility of downtown redevelopment was a planned further deteriorization of public transit. Andersen gives examples that were brought in a class-action suit: reductions in routes, de-publication of route maps, etc.

The Rodney King riots of 1991.

Andersen carefully observes how “enlightened” filmmakers from the Hollywood tradition realized how Los Angeles’ dream era has ended and that the social fabric is torn, but could not work outside of their privileged viewpoint and their scant knowledge about the vast plain of the Los Angeles basin, confining their protagonists’ psychological problems to the white suburban motifs of Raymond Carver (as in Altman’s Short Cuts). Finally, Andersen finds praise in the film’s last segment for the more truthful people- and family-focused work of African-American neo-realist filmmakers working in the 90s in the films Bush Mama, Killer of Sheep and Bless Their Little Hearts. He also returns again and again to the rarely seen Kent MacKenzie neo-realist picture about Native Americans in downtown, The Exiles, made in 1971, at a time when the dream mirror was really cracked.

Parallel to the main line of social commentary, Andersen does bring up the treasure trove of film stock that can be mined for archeological and historical purposes. For me, an outsider who arrived in Los Angeles in 1973 to study its architecture, and remained there until 1982, watching the film was a beautiful nostalgic journey, and the concept of nostalgia or period-piece films is a large theme in Los Angeles Plays Itself.  In particular, I now need to find a copy of Jacques Deray’s 1973 film The Outside Man, which Andersen describes as an almost perfect snapshot of the city at that moment in time. He separates the non-Hollywood films of the 70s and 80s as either “low-tourist” or “high-tourist”. The distinction for me is that “low-tourist” films play Los Angeles for laughs or thrills through stereotypes, and “high-tourist” films attempt to reveal the kitsch, the ugly and the dysfunctional parts of the basin with more sublety, using art-film techniques.

I found a few of Andersen’s grind-axes a bit humorous. He is a consummate East sider and mocks the gilded movie-industry that can’t bear to locate a movie east of Vine St unless the location is in the hills, at landmarks like Griffith Park or Union Station, or downtown with its dead-world skyways and office towers. He does admit to overcoming his East-sider prejudice against Jacques Demy’s exquisite Model Shop, on subsequent rewatching, at least. And he is repulsed by the acronym “L.A.” That kind of crankiness is widespread in the Bay Area, too, where “S.F.” and “Frisco” and “San Fran” are looked down on.  I love L.A.

I had a few great flashbacks while enjoying Los Angeles Plays Itself. And I will be adding some of these great and not-so-good films to my Letterboxd watchlist, thanks to Andersen’s teasers: D.O.A., Detour, The Night Holds Terror, The Street With No Name, Love Streams, Messiah of Evil, and Gone in 60 Seconds (the 1974 H.B. Halicki original, that Andersen describes as the best car-chase movie ever made). I don’t think I will be watching these however (you have to draw the line somewhere): The Glimmer Man, The Omega Man, Earthquake, Escape From L.A.L.A. Story or Hanging Up.

If you love or hate Los Angeles (Andersen delights in showing quite a few apocalypse-L.A. film clips), don’t miss this film.

 

Great men aren’t always world movers

Roger Hooper, 1917-2010
Roger Hooper, 1917-2010

My father-in-law, Roger Hooper, died earlier today at age 93.  While I don’t expect to be eulogizing him at his funeral, I would like to note why I considered him to be a significant person in my own life and a great man in his.

Roger attended Groton and Harvard (Art History as an undergraduate, Architecture in graduate school) in the 1930s and 40s with names that have made headlines: statesmen-to-be such as JFK and Bill and MacGeorge Bundy; and influential architects like Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, Philip Johnson, and I.M. Pei.  His own father wanted him to follow family tradition and become a Boston Brahmin lawyer, but Roger had fallen in love with the Pacific and the promise of postwar California. So instead of having his name etched in hardwood in the hallowed halls of a law office overlooking the Boston Commons, he left his mark by creating his own architectural partnerships in the back-alley haunts of North Beach and the San Francisco waterfront.

How liberating and engergizing it must have been for him to explore the possibilities of modern design in wood and glass in the era when building codes were not restrictive, redwood and fiberboard were cheap, and clients could afford spectacular settings in the San Francisco Bay Area, Big Sur and beyond. Competition must have been fierce; I picture Roger winning over prospective clients with his sociability and good taste, and giving those clients a 110% effort after the contract was signed.  Listening to Roger and his architect partners, you could tell that he loved all of it–discussing the program, sketching the designs, producing the construction drawings, making decisions with clients and contractors, working with the amazing landscape architects of those times, getting the photography and publicity for the finished projects.  And there was his ongoing appreciation of great European architecture; after each of his extensively photographed trips to France, Spain and Italy, his family (now including me) would be treated to his entertaining slide shows that might go on for two or three hours. That was a great lesson for me–that you must love your calling and profession if you want to live a happy life–and certainly reinforced my own decision to go to architecture school after college.

Balancing his dedication to his work was the energy he gave to his home life.  He and his wife created and lived the Bay Area dream in Marin County, moving their growing numbers from Sausalito, to Corte Madera, to a run-down but unique Bernard Maybeck house in the then-sleepy town of Ross, to a summer place in Inverness, and finally designing and building their stunning glass-house home for the next 45 years on the top of a Ross hill.  His son and daughters grew up learning to hike, swim, sail, go horseback riding, and play tennis, all in the great outdoors of Northern California.  When I met Roger (he was in his 50s, my future bride his daughter in her early 20s), it seemed that every weekend, he was dedicated to sharing the fantastic opportunities of Marin County with his family–I was immediately recruited for small sailboat races on Tomales Bay, or asked to informal doubles matches at the local tennis club, or to barbecued steak dinners cooked on the porch of their Ross house. He enjoyed life and his surroundings, but more importantly, he wanted his family and friends to enjoy it with him.  This I also consider an important lesson.

Finally, Roger gave his family and friends important daily lessons about appreciating and enjoying the natural environment.  Because of his interest in Democratic politics, he and his wife became intimate friends with many important leaders in the environmental movement in San Francisco in the Rachel Carson era, at America’s awakening that strong political action had to be taken if the destructive effects of development and industrialization on the environment were to be reversed.  Many of Roger’s close friends in the 1960s and 70s, such as Clem Miller, Peter Behr and Marty Griffin, helped create the incredible coastal preserves of Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate Recreation Area.  Roger gave what free time he had to the cause by becoming a board member of the Marin Conservation League and a supporter of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust in their efforts to channel Marin’s necessary growth into areas and practices that would create the least damage.  He passed on these important environmental values to his wife and children, who are all involved in one way or another with environmental efforts small and large.  This is another thing about great men: they don’t have to do everything, but if there is something they see as wrong that they can help right, they step in.

So I will think in awe of Roger Hooper as a great man long after his death, by looking at his architecture, his family, the open space that was saved in Marin County, and that my wife is saving throughout California in her profession as an environmental lawyer. I have no such feelings of respect for most of the conventional “great men” whose autobiographies fill the best-seller lists.  Roger’s passing leaves me with immense admiration for what he accomplished in a lifetime of 93 years, and humbles me.

Zaha a Roma

Still under construction, this will be an extremely interesting
building for a number of reasons: the architecture, the concept (hey,
this IS the 21st century), and what it will do to a very backwater
neighborhood of Rome. There will now be an axis between MAXXI and Parco
della Musica (that includes the poor old Palazzeto dello Sport); who
will cut in for the next dance?

The pay as you go future

Sometimes, even comfortable Brits can shake us out of our complacency. I just got around to seeing Michael Winterbottom’s Code 46, which was first screened at the Venice Film Festival in 2003.

Shanghai, from Code 46

The screenplay, a cooperation between Winterbottom and his longtime writer associate, Frank Cottrell Boyce, hits on all the right cylinders: the cordoning off of the power centers of world cities even as the the rythyms and languages of India, China, Latin America and the third world overtake the anglo culture, pervasive privacy intrusions by quasi-governmental investigators (I love the firm name they chose, “Westerfields”), and ethical dilemmas resulting from easy human genetic engineering, to name a few of the topics that enmesh a simplistic love story.

Winterbottom chose to wing across the axes of population and the growing centers of world power: Shanghai, Dubai, and Rajasthan. The division of this not-so-future world between the cities and the fuera outside the checkpoints is where we are going. Maybe what was not so clear in the film is the police state required to keep the majority of the world’s population fuori le mura. What is clear is that everywhere you want to go, you have to present proof that you belong to the first world. Little holographic papeles show that you have “cover”. Without them, you might as well be Tsotsi.

All the details are telling: Tim Robbins’ P.I. character who flies from his oh-so-tidy Seattle home (wife, genetically engineered perfect child) to practice his powers of ESP on suspects in Shanghai and tells his mate, “I’ll be back in 24 hours.”

For the doomed lovers, the only escape from their inside lives is to venture out. The trip is to Jebel Ali (can anyone say “Dubai Ports World”? John Hagel can). From there, you have to go without “cover”, without the protective cocoon of technology, to make a connection with your past and with the human race. But you’re not really fuera. If you slip off the road, the helicopters and SUV’s of the state are on the accident scene in a matter of seconds to make sure that your memory is erased and your dissident lover is disappeared. Lo siento, but it’s verdad.

The mother of all snowstorms

Upper east side, 2/12/2006 Palermo "Annunziata" at the Met

It was the best of times, even though, or possibly due to the fact that, life itself (as well as all the trains, boats and planes) was running at half speed. The only depressing note in this otherwise
strange world (strange in that it was almost identical to the feel of the Chronicles of Narnia movie) had nothing to do with the snow.

If you travel anywhere in this country, you had better rent a car or pay for a room in a hotel, because you are not going to be able to leave your bag anywhere else in the city. Forget trying to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Forget the quaint notions of “cloak rooms”, or “deposito bagagli”. These niceties have long since been eliminated due to the one in a million chance of someone putting a malevolent device inside a rolling suitcase. Maybe Bloomberg’s ultra-efficient 21st century New York could afford to put bomb-proof concrete baggage checks every 20 blocks or so up and down Manhattan, now that they have been systematically scoured from the important places of our culture (the places that tourists like me must visit, trundling roller bags over the snowdrifts that barricaded the corners of the Upper East Side almost as high as the fortified walls of Palermo).

Finally, I was able to find someone to take pity on me in my quest to see six paintings by Antonello da Messina. A Madison Avenue shopkeeper with a heart of gold whose identity will be withheld from the authorities reading this blog accepted my bag for 90 minutes so that I could share the mystical combination of quiet contemplation of a renaissance room in a quiet city with my son.