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Witness: At Artcurial Photo Auction ‘Eye Feel Photographie,’ Context is Everything

small photo artcurial, JOHN STEWART, ALI'S FIST@Artcurial

small photo artcurial, GAO BROTHERS, GOODBYE TIANANMEN @ArtcurialTop: John Stewart (1919-2017), “Ali’s Fist — Chicago,” 1977. Silver gelatin print mounted on dibond, 49.21 x 49.21 inches.  From an edition of five. Signed with certificate of authenticity on verso. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 18,000 – 25,000 Euros. Bottom: Gao Brothers (Zhen and Qiang Gao), “Goodbye Tiananmen,” 2007. Chromogenic proof, 31.5 x 39.3 (image) and 33.4 x 41.3 (sheet) inches. From an edition of 10 examples. Signed, dated, and numbered in the lower margin at left. Pre-sale estimate: 2,500 – 3,500 Euros. Images copyright and courtesy Artcurial.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

At a time when pictures on auction are more likely to be worth (or at least valued at) thousands of dollars than a thousand words, tonight’s sale at Artcurial in Paris, Eye Feel Photographie, goes against the grain by priming meaning over money, with work at pre-sale estimates that are (relatively) modest and messages that are huge, even as current contexts make many of them troubling, particularly a Helmet Newton nude with sado-masochist and blatantly misogynist overtones and a Michel Comte nude of former French first lady Carla Bruni taken for a 1993 safe sex campaign, but also a Dennis Hopper photograph of the 1965 Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery.

To receive the complete article, with many more photos, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, company members, etc.) by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to our Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $109 (institutions) Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com.

 

Let them eat Paper Towels, or, Puerto Rico: Cry the Beloved Country

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

“We were waist dig in the big muddy.
The big fool says to push on.” — Pete Seeger

“How fragile we are.” — Willie Colon, covering Sting

For Anyta Soto-Canino

In his Puerto Rico fly-by Wednesday, to a people 93 percent of whom were still without electricity more than two weeks after the storm hit, and 50 percent of whom were without water, and where the mayor of whose capital city had just pleaded, “We’re dying,” Donald Trump threw paper towels.

To neighboring countries who might have offered more appropriate solace, Trump has essentially said Fuck you, and Fuck Puerto Rico, by refusing to lift the Jones Act, a hundred-year old law which gives American corporations an exception to the RICO Act, in other words exclusive access to the Puerto Rican market, which translates as more expensive groceries, prohibiting foreign ships, even from neighboring countries and even during natural catastrophes, access to the island.

The alleged president of the United States is treating Puerto Rico — whose people are American citizens — like he’d treat (which is not to say this is right) a Third World Banana Republic which exists solely for the benefit and profits of Chiquita Banana.

If you’ve spent any time in New York, you know that Gotham denizens of Puerto Rican origin, much as they, rightly, prize their Island identity — and notwithstanding their embarrassing portrayal by Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins in “West-Side Story,” which forced Nathalie Wood to pass by darkening her skin — are as integral to its fabric as Crown Heights African-Americans, Bensonhurst Italians, Greenpoint Polish, and Williamsburg Jews. (Puerto Ricans actually have as much claim to the Brooklyn shtetl as Hasidics.)

Whenever I’ve lived in New York, I’ve spent as much time searching for and savoring the Puerto Rican delicacy of Mofongo (Plaintains and Pork principally) as the Jewish savory Kischka (chicken fat and… chicken fat).

During one of the first times I visited New York, as a high school junior participating in a national State Department-sponsored delegation to Israel, one of my best friends was a young man of Puerto Rican origin from Coney Island named Julio… whose accent was above all that of a quintessential New Yorker. (Me and Julio, down by the schoolyard.)

In other words, these aren’t just Americans, these are Donald Trump’s people.

When I DJ’d the marriage of a choreographer friend of Jewish extraction, it was at the Clemente Soto Velez Center, a former synagogue in the Lower East Side (where my people first settled in America) named after, as it happens, the grandfather of a classmate from Princeton, Anyta Soto-Canino, who was a famous Puerto Rican rebel poet.

Anyta has dubbed the cactus-infused deck of her flat in the putatively Jewish town of Highland Park, New Jersey, outside of New Brunswick, the beach, la Playa, so that a reminder of her native state, of where she came from, is always accessible.

And now these American citizens are being treated like dirt, like residents of a plantation. A plantation where we military tested an area, Viacas, to the point where we had to make it a Superfund toxic clean-up site (a nomination normally reserved for New Jersey territories that I thought went out with Brendan Byrne), and now are ready to toss into the sea.

We thought it hit bottom with Katrina.

We were wrong.

If this isn’t grounds for impeachment, I don’t know what is.

Acrobats of God — and of Teaching: Remembering Pearl Lang & Marian Horosko

Marian Lang twoLeft: Pearl Lang in Martha Graham’s “Diversion of Angels,” original costume, 1948. Photo by Chris Alexander. Right: Pearl Lang in Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring.” Photos courtesy Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance.

By Pearl Lang
Copyright 1991, 2002, and 2017 Marian Horosko

(Excerpted from Marian Horosko’s “Martha Graham: The Evolution of Her Dance Theory and Training,” revised edition, University of Florida Press, 2002. Our dear colleague, editor, writer, scholar, teacher, and veteran New York City Ballet and Metropolitan Opera Ballet dancer Marian Horosko died on September 11 in the Bronx at the age of 92. As hard to believe as it was that she was already 70 when I first met her in the offices of Dance magazine — where she was education editor mais pas que — energetically bicycling on a stationary device, only pausing long enough to give a young editor a necessary correction. Marian represented that rare combination among journalists: A skeptic and a true believer. Marian’s other books include the 2005 biography, “May O’Donnell: Modern Dance Pioneer.” Special thanks to DL for the alert. First published on the DI, with the author’s permission, on March 10, 2009, on the occasion of the death of pioneering Martha Graham dancer, teacher, and choreographer Pearl Lang. Today’s publication sponsored by Freespace Dance and Slippery Rock University Dance. DI subscribers get full access to the DI’s Martha Graham Archives with more news, reviews, and commentary. To subscribe for one year, just designate your PayPal payment of $29.95 to paulbenitzak@gmail.com or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check.– PB-I)

My mother was a great admirer of Isadora Duncan, and there were photos of her and her various companies in Russia and Germany on our walls. I come from Chicago, and she took me to see Harald Kreutzberg, as well as all the dance companies that played there. I especially remember a performance, when I must have been four years old, of “Hansel and Gretel,” the opera. In this production, when the children went to sleep at night, the angels came down a ladder from the sky two at a time. As they stepped down, each step lighted up and I thought that was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I went right home, got my girlfriends together and did my first choreography, walking them downstairs with lights at every step!

I had lessons with a Duncan teacher and later, ballet lessons in Chicago. And when I was about 16 years old, I saw a Northwestern University series of American modern dancers that included Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Hanya Holm, and Charles Weidman. I took all their master classes and was invited by Martha and Humphrey to come to New York. I arrived when I was 19 years old.

The traditional Graham class begins with the bounces, but in the last years, in watching the company’s performances, the contraction is just not as apparent as I used to see it and the way we danced it. The contraction is Martha’s great gift to dance. I begin the class with it, along with some of the things that are usually done later in the class. The contraction is the most basic use of the center of the body. There is always a stretch before a contraction, which engages the interior muscles and reacts as in a cough, a sob, or a laugh — all violent physical reactions. In order for the contraction to be visual, you have to have a smooth plane before it can happen. I try to make my students aware of the contrast in these movements. I point out that before a contraction is visible, there has to be a stretch in the other direction to make it happen. Aesthetically, too, it pleases me more to see them sit down and do contractions rather than begin with bounces. Somehow, I don’t think Martha would have minded my changing the order.

Nothing in the system begins in the extremities. All the movements begin in the center of the body and move out. There is an overtone here from Duncan. In her book “My Life” (1928) she wrote that movement begins in the solar plexus, the diaphragm. When Martha devised her system, Duncan training was still around. Martha made a technique of the concept of a contraction beginning in the abdominals, while with Duncan it was a style, a quality of movement. Martha worked at a time when even painters were picturing the body in a cubist style. Picasso painted the body broken up into various planes, and choreographers of the time were emulating that kind of vision.

Martha saw Duncan dance in New York at Carnegie Hall and was enamored with her and absolutely ecstatic when she saw her dance. She wrote in her notebooks that she could hardly breathe during Duncan’s performance and that her own hair, combed into two buns, had become completely undone at the end of the performance. Ruth St. Denis and Duncan were dancing at the same time — two famous and unique dancers who influenced Martha. She never talked about Mary Wigman and probably never saw her dance.

Her early background in the Denishawn company provided her technique with a strong influence in ethnic dance since their repertoire was built upon ethnic dances. St. Denis was famous for her “Nautch Dance,” which bore little resemblance to the original, but ethnic dances were all very fashionable in those days.

I find that students lose sight of a movement phrase, especially at its beginning. Just as you write a sentence with a capital letter, the beginning of a dance has to have some authority to tell us what is going to happen, and it has to have an end. If it doesn’t have that finality, we don’t remember it. I try to convey that when I teach. There are those students who are naturally going to dance and need some technique, and you have those who study technique, technique, technique and nothing more than that ever happens.
I have been saying for years that, in addition to classes in ballet for all the students, male dancers, especially those studying Graham’s technique, should be required to study flamenco dance because Martha’s posture for men was macho.

Martha listened a great deal to Joseph Campbell [company member Jean Erdman’s husband and author of “Man and Myth”]. Martha was a Jungian [Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung (1875 – 1961) founded analytical psychology]. A lot of Jung’s psychiatry was built upon universal archetypes. The behavior of people interested Martha, so when Campbell made parallels to something in Hopi Indians and East Indian mythology, for instance, she absorbed those similarities. She didn’t want to be specific in her characterizations as much as she wanted them to resonate in other cultures.

For instance, Martha was fascinated with the beautiful Southwest, which was an artist colony in the 1930s and where Georgia O’Keeffe went to live and paint. There, the cross-culture of American Indians and Hispanic Catholics influenced her early work “Primitive Mysteries” (1931).

We are, after all, training dancers for the stage, and they have to have life in them. It can’t just be steps and technique. I see so many young choreographers walk to the front of the stage, look out to the audience, and seem to say, “I’m unhappy and it’s all your fault.” Every company director and teacher has the responsibility to develop the possibilities of a dancer. You have to know what those possibilities are and bring them out of each one. After every class I think about what the students will need in the next class. It takes the director or teacher and the student together to make this happen.
Every class is a prayer. Some of the movements are pious; there is a spirituality in dance. Martha claimed the studio was her church, just as the Asians bless the floor on which they perform. There are so many influences in our society that the student has to ignore — the vulgarity on the screen, on television, and even on stage. If a character is vulgar, then you have to play it that way, but when it becomes pervasive in a society, it makes you wonder how you can teach the subtleties, the refinements, and the nuances and beauty within the movements. There is little or no frame of reference for them. And so little time.

 

The Buzz, October 2: Sunday, bloody Sunday — Journal of the Plague Year

by Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

(Author’s Note: This column was written before I learned of last night’s massacre of 50 country music fans in Las Vegas. The last two paragraphs — Camus’s lesson for the survivors — could apply to coping with this event as well.)

There may be no more euphoric place in the world to inhale the timeless aroma of the Sea and feel the memory of ancient Mediterranean civilizations course through your bones than the heights of the steep stairway in front of the Saint-Charles train station atop Marseille, overlooking this 2000-year old city immortalized by the stories of Marcel Pagnol, the songs of Vincent Scotto, the milky liquor of pastis, the soaps and miniature ‘santon’ sculptures of Provençe and (more recently) the soap operas of ‘Plus Belle la Vie.’ And yet yesterday two young women, cousins each 20 years old, taking in the Sun on the splendid esplanade at the top of the stairs as they waited for the train to take the visiting cousin back to Lyon, had their destinies aborted and their natural timelines cut short by a cult of thugs which blasphemies the ancient civilization and its G-d which it shamelessly evokes as cover for its cowardly cult of death, as another of its fanatic followers stabbed one cousin to death and then returned to attack the other. (At presstime, the identify of the two women had not been released. Full story, in French, here.)

Until hearing this news this morning, I’d felt exasperated by a mainstream media which, with its relentless focus on terrorism, promotes a jaundiced view of the world in which we live — which still abounds in beauty — and, not so much by reporting their crimes (as it should), but by placing them at the top of every newscast in some way enables a major goal of the terrorists’ agenda, which is to *occupy* our minds with their bleak vision of the world.

But then, seeing the senseless murder of these two young women (in a place that symbolizes light) relegated by yesterday’s contentious Catalonian vote for Independence to the second tier of this morning’s newscasts here in France, I realized that I was wrong: We can never treat these bloody crimes as anodyne. Two young women with long futures in front of them, waiting in the Sun in one of the most bucolic spots in the world before continuing their journeys, had the promise of their lives taken away from them by a coward who sneaked up behind them and killed them on behalf of a gang of mass murderers which does not believe in anything but death. Which dares to invoke G-d to rob these young women — the most frail of targets — of something that G-d has given and that only G-d can take away.

But if we need to continue calling attention to these crimes and thus calling out these criminals for what they are — lache murderers, whose acts don’t glorify G-d but defile him — we also need to resist ceding to their terror and falling into the abyss of fear, which is what they want.

In “La Peste” (The Plague), Albert Camus’s allegorical novel written during the Nazi occupation of France, Dr. Rieux, the narrator, tells Rambert, an out-of-town journalist set on escaping the quarantine of plague-stricken Oran (like Marseille, a city on a hill facing the Mediterranean) to retrieve his sweetheart, that he does not blame him for trying to rejoin her because everyone has the right to pursue their happiness.

I will mourn these young women (as I mourn the 50 country music fans shot down last night in Las Vegas), I will curse Desh for murdering them, I will pray for a France that does not respond to their deaths with fear but by preserving as precious the country these young women would have merited, but I will also be invigorated by their youth to pursue the happiness that was their just merit, and to continue believing in a France which embraces the tradition of Camus: Just, combating with its intellect and ideas the nihilists, engaging the best it has to offer — its minds — to vanquish this latest plague.

* “La vie à en mourir, lettres de fusillés 1941-1944,” Taillandier, 2003. Cited on Wikipedia.

Fall River Legend: Remembering Eileen Darby — She happened to like New York

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2014, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

First published on November 5, 2014. Eileen Darby — pillar of the dance world, star of publishing, exemplary human being, treasured mother, dedicated friend, the spitting image of Claudette Colbert with a dash of Shirley MacLaine circa “The Appartment” thrown in — died three years ago today.

When I received the news that my friend, my mentor in life and work (we met in 1995 when she was the advertising director of Dance magazine, and she’s been the Dance Insider’s advisor since its founding in 1998), my guide, my ‘repere’ of first resort, my rock, my model for the realization of the New York fairy tale Eileen Darby had passed away, my first thought — after the shock and upset, and I am still in shock, I don’t think I’ve yet realized that Eileen is gone, it’s surreal even to be writing this, as it’s the sort of piece I would send to Eileen before anyone else for input and approval — was that Eileen would have frowned at the euphemism ‘passed away,’ as she did whenever I used it in an obituary. “Just say ‘died’!” And even the first word that comes to mind to describe Eileen — ‘class’ — is one at which she would grimace. “‘Class’ is a word used by those who don’t have it. It’s cheap.” As in, “Classy Chassy Cassie” — George Raft to waitress Ann Sheridan as she turns to pour coffee for him and Humphrey Bogart in “They Drive by Night.” And speaking of coffee, Eileen, who liked to make hers in a French press (they’re actually made in Switzerland), added the touch of stirring the grinds up to better distribute and dissimulate the flavor, a gesture I’d copy early mornings in the narrow kitchen of her spacious two-bedroom on the 8th floor of Peter Cooper, while looking out the window at the green and white road signs along the FDR Drive set against the backdrop of the East River, where Gatsby’s Green Light was mirrored by a purple neon palm tree (“Tacky!” sighed Eileen) on the deck of one of the private boats docked near the heliport: the quintessential New York scene, the New York of my dreams, which always signified this prodigal’s return to the city, Eileen’s pad the traditional gateway as she hosted me for a couple of nights after my ‘aterrisage.’ (Mornings ideally leavened by the best bagels in the world from nearby Essa’s on 21st & First; that Eileen could not eat gluten didn’t stop her from lugging a dozen of them uptown to the Literary Brownstone I was cat/house-sitting at for a bountiful back terrace 50th birthday brunch in 2010.)

During the nine years that I lived in France, our tradition was that I’d call Eileen right before my parties for last-minute aperitif advice, famously including one year her recipe for Oysters Rockefeller, but the best advice was when she counseled me to make everything ahead of time so that I could actually mingle with my guests and enjoy the party; we also liked to argue over the most authentic recipe for Manhattans (rye-based, with bourbon a suitable back-up). Even the anonymously bleak red-brown brick buildings of Peter Cooper (in which Bogie also made his swan song, as a down-and-out press agent who resided there in “The Harder they Fall”; Eileen always kept good company — or maybe it’s the other way around) — no one would ever think to break in here, Eileen pointed out — concealed, more than the occasional material treasure, a rich cosmopolitan life, above all intellectual. Early in her New York career, Eileen worked for the Modern Language Association, forming friendships with a literary coterie (some of whom would grow up to become essential elements of the city’s intellectual nucleus) that would last a lifetime. It’s this association more than Madison Avenue (or, as another pillar of that nucleus John Leonard wrote in “The Naked Martini,” “the canyons of lower Lexington”) — she spent most of her professional life in advertising and marketing, starting out with Annenberg’s Gourmet and Good Food magazines — that defined her mental life. (Sitting next to Joyce Carol Oates at a dinner organized by one of these figures, Eileen gave me a much needed ego boost by reporting that when she mentioned she was friends with one of the prodigious novelist’s former Princeton students, Oates remembered me.)

If I’ve put off writing this ‘memoriam’ — Eileen died September 27 — it’s because it means recognizing that Eileen is gone.

After my return to New York in 2010, our get-togethers usually involved Cosmos mixed by Eileen in her apartment. (Paul: “It’s fine, but could I have an ice cube?” Eileen, while fetching ice cube in its own petite glass tea-cup from the fridge: “I never use plastic ice trays, because the plastic leaches into the ice.” Grandfather-clock-sized cuckoo clock in entree-way with a different bird popping out of its trunk every hour: “Tweet! Tweet!”) En route to Eileen’s I sometimes stopped for a slice of $1 pizza at the corner of 23rd and Park, really just an excuse to have a NY moment as I chomped the slice down while gazing uptown at the Chrysler Building. I seized another gem of a moment one early morning in 2012 while transferring from Greenpoint digs to Eileen’s place, drinking my thermos coffee on the boardwalk while gazing across the river at Brooklyn; the evening before, on the type of vanishing ramshackle pier you used to be able to access by climbing through an improvised hole in a wire fence made by other pioneers, I looked across the river from the other side at the sprawling Peter Cooper buildings and tried to reconnoiter Eileen’s place to toast her. On my last visit to her place, push/wheeling my luggage from Penn Station south and eastward, I paused in an anonymous parking lot off 7th avenue to munch a slice of whole wheat bread and cheddar while contemplating the water towers set against the grey-charcoal late-summer sky; never mind if I was getting doused by a downpour — I felt euphoric to be on my way to Eileen’s and a much more elevated air.) I felt a bit guilty about always inviting myself over as opposed to inviting Eileen out, but really, who could desire a more idyllic New York scene than drinking Cosmos while overlooking the East River from Eileen’s vast windows, the shelves on the opposite side of the room crammed with the genre of books that marked the second half of the 20th as the New York socio-politico-literary century? It also allowed us to ‘control’ the environment.

Even if, by her own admission, Eileen did not go out a lot in her final years in New York, she insisted that she liked knowing that it — it being New York — was there if she wanted to take advantage of the city’s myriad stimulations. (When she did go out, she usually had adventures. On one blustery New York late afternoon of the type that turns the city’s belly into the vortex of a canyon, Eileen’s response to a woman who stopped her to compliment her tan beret was to give it to her.) Sometimes Eileen would order Chinese food delivered for our confabs and insist I take the leftovers with me; sometimes she’d cook up a Portuguese specialty stew combining pork, beans, and usually sweet potatoes or yams. We consumed these feasts on a simple, huge but elegant light mahogany rectangular table which Eileen proudly boasted was built by hand by her late second husband Roger, as manually adept as he was mentally sharp. (Eileen insisted that her daughter Diane, about whom she also never stopped boasting, got her smarts from her father, but, ‘Mom’s math’ not withstanding, I’m sure a healthy dose came from her sharp mother, not so incidentally a ‘numbers-cruncher’ sans pareil, who helped make the owners of Dance magazine rich.) The table (long enough so that Eileen could keep her work papers on one end and dine on the other) was one of the few things she took with her when she moved from New York to Miami Beach to be with Diane, along with Beat era paintings that she and her first husband, Jimmy, had collected in the late 1950s ‘at the scene’ in San Francisco, where they met at Enrico’s or another North Beach club. (Jimmy would later work at the Old Spaghetti Factory.) Another in Jimmy’s party was courting Eileen, but Jimmy took his time and persisted, and they ended up together. I think Eileen never stopped loving Jimmy (she might refine that to just appreciating the adventures they had together). I liked the synchronicity between that Jimmy was the first president of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady, and that from 1995 to 2001 I lived next door to the legendary recording studio on W. 8th Street, where my favorite singer, Carly Simon, also recorded her early albums “Carly Simon” and “Anticipation.” (Another synchronicity: Carly’s children played with Diane when they were neighbors on the Upper West Side.) It seems that Eileen and Jimmy were everywhere where the Scene was being created in the late ’50s and early ’60s — they probably helped create those scenes in San Francisco and Greenwich Village (not to mention Ebiza), where they rented the classic cold-water flat for $25 a week. It’s no accident that when Hollywood tried to make a movie musical about the Village at that time, they called it “My Sister Eileen.” (Later Eileen would visualize, and she and Roger would subsequently — consequently? — find, the brownstone of their dreams, complete with yard. Eileen was sure she was psychic, and the many many times she anticipated what I was going to say confirmed this gift.) As far as Roger was concerned, she appreciated that when he accepted an executive post with Metropolitan Life, his condition was that his (by then ex-) wife Eileen and daughter would get the apartment in Peter Cooper, then owned by the insurance company. “He wanted to make sure we were taken care of — that’s the kind of man he was.” This is typical Eileen; far from harboring rancor towards her exes, she appreciated how they’d enriched her life and that of her daughter. She also didn’t waste negative energy on those who might have exasperated the rest of us. If it’s true that on the political level Eileen didn’t ‘suffer fools gladly,’ as a colleague has recalled (nor on a societal level; looking out her window on the FDR Drive, packed at NY’s extended rush hour, she’d excoriate the commuters who gassed up the planet instead of taking public transportation), when confronting a fool face to face, her advice was to smile and say “Thank you” or “That’s nice.” It wasn’t so much that Eileen believed in turning the other cheek, but that here too, she didn’t like to waste energy.

Much as she herself made fun of it, Eileen’s practical side was also revealed in little manias like insisting that the guest unfortunate enough to spill water on her floor be made to traipse over it afterwards with paper towels under his stockinged feet while maintaining his glass on a paper plate to avoid recidivism. And her practical-political side was revealed during elections. In the Bush era of lock-step banana Republicans, she campaigned relentlessly under the banner of “Vote Party!” While her contemporaries were e-mailing silly jokes to their friends and colleagues, Eileen’s solution to the Times’s segregating Krugman and Hebert behind a pay-wall was to share their columns with her circle. But if Eileen was a liberal, she was not opposed to having fun. When she treated me to Cosmos and Manhattans during Christmas 2010 at Smith & Wolensky’s, a favorite since her Annenberg years when she’d entertain clients there, I was not at all surprised that a man 20 years her junior tried to pick her up. Partly because of her gluten-free diet, Eileen had the energy and sparkle of a woman 30 years younger; if it sounds strange to be shocked and stunned at the sudden death of someone 78 years old, it should be pointed out that, notwithstanding her self-deprecating comments that she was becoming batty in her dotage, Eileen hadn’t yet passed through the ‘elderly’ and decrepit stage. Which, fortunately, didn’t mean she never talked about her childhood; I remember and carry forward her memories of Star the goat on her grandparents’ farm, a farm ‘right in the middle of a city,’ in this case Fall River; of a father, born at the turn of the last century, who, marking the ingenuity he’d bequeath to his sons Raymond (“so smart”) and Billy (“perpetually handsome, always with a dazzling younger woman on his arm” — Eileen) and their ‘little sister,’ turned to manufacturing all sorts of parts (related to fire-arms for the military, I believe) at the outbreak of World War II. Too old to serve, he still wanted to be ‘useful.’ When Eileen wanted to move to New York City, instead of trying to bar the way, her family moved with her, setting up shop in New Jersey. They were not misguided in wanting to keep an eye on her as little sister soon became the bell of the Gotham ball; one night, even Knick star Walt Frazer turned from basketball court dazzle to dazzling courtship, ultimately escorting her home in a taxi.

Eileen’s allure (which no doubt owed something to the regal Cabral blood from Portugal, which reference I’ll also use as an excuse to vaunt her hand-made Portuguese tea-cups, a pair of which she gave me) — and smarts — were eventually passed on to Diane. Eileen wasn’t just automatically proud of Diane because a mother should be; I have a feeling she’d have remarked her brilliance even if they weren’t related. That they were merely gave her bragging rights — never empty, but always supported by the beyond-her-years observations Diane had made since childhood and the School of Ethical Culture. But she was just as apt to point out that Diane had studied with Chomsky at MIT as that Diane is the kind of intelligent, intrepid, and resourceful woman who sometimes scares insecure (and sexist) men away, because she can do anything; she once took apart and repaired the engine of a glass-bottomed boat stalled in the middle of the Everglades.

I am sure that Diane is hurting now, and all I can offer is some inadequately anodyne second-hand words of guidance:

**After she moved to Miami Beach, Eileen never stopped saying how happy she was to be near her daughter.

**When you have a problem you can’t resolve, let your brain continue to work on it overnight while you’re sleeping.

** (This might apply to me more than Diane, but… just in case:) Whatever it is, no matter how bad it feels, it won’t last.

** You’re better than that.

** You’re gorgeous *and* smart.

** If it pleases you, don’t deprive yourself of the occasional trip to the Azores, dear to Eileen.

In December 1996, a colleague invited me to a New Year’s Eve party on E. 4th Street. I’d been complaining to her that I never met any women. I told another female friend about the party. Meanwhile, I started the evening at a holiday party hosted by a pal of Eileen’s in Chelsea, a tranquil event with some of Eileen’s older and, let’s say, more staid friends, and Diane. When I was about to leave for the East Village fete, Diane gave me a look as if to say “Get me out of here!” (a comment not on her mom, nor her mom’s friends, but on what even Eileen admitted was the relative tameness of her friends’ New Year’s parties). When we walked into my friend’s fiesta, where my other female buddy and one of her girlfriends had already arrived and introduced themselves as “friends of Paul,’ the hostess took one look at me, entering the party accompanied by the instantly most stunning woman in the room, and burst out laughing, my complaint now seeming ludicrous.

We capped the evening by dancing at an anonymous club in the wall at the corner of Avenue B and 7th. What I remember most about Diane that evening is her calm and repose. I know that, having already lost her father, Diane must be living the most turbulent moments of her life right now. My wish for her is that, without forgetting, she find assurance, if not solace — where is the solace in such a profound loss? — in that repose which is still within her somewhere. That she know that she will continue to make her mother proud — or, if you prefer, to live a life that would make her mother proud. And for the future, if I can be so bold and presumptuous, I think her mom would want for her that she is able to find a way, without giving up the tropical climes so important to her, to be surrounded by, or at least have some smart people in her life. (I think Eileen would have similar advice for her nieces, Caroline, whose independence as a teenager on her own in Paris she never stopped vaunting, and Susan, whose smartness she also frequently praised.) Because the fools are plenty, the sages few.

PS: Wondering whether to use ‘wise’ instead of ‘sage’ reminded me of another citation from Eileen which I have often had resort to. It’s from W.B. Yeats, concerns ‘wise love,’ and (paraphrasing) goes something like this:

In wise love, the beloved, refusing to see the daily self of the other, sees his higher self, and reflects it back to him.

For myself, I’ll remember a brilliant Summer Day in 2012 when, the light suffusing 23rd Street as I made my way Eastward towards the river through the throngs and past the second-hand stores to Peter Cooper for Cosmos with Eileen, I was never happier.

Eileen, you really hit the nail on the wall!

Musical comedy focus: ‘It’s Great to Be Alive’ in a manless world, baby, at MoMA

moma alive smallNewly preserved by the Museum of Modern Art from a unique nitrate print in the museum’s collection, Alfred Werker’s rollicking pre-Code musical comedy “It’s Great to Be Alive” (1933), above, produced by the Fox Film Corporation, is set in a near future where every man on Earth has succumbed to the fatal disease of “masculitis.” As Edna Mae Oliver leads a team of female scientists in a desperate attempt to create an artificial man, one lone male — an aviator, played by the Brazilian star Raúl Roulien — is discovered living on a tropical island. Returned to civilization, he becomes an object of hot contention, claimed by his fiancée (Gloria Stuart — who’d portray the aged Rose in James Cameron’s “Titanic” 64 years later) but kidnapped by a gangster (Dorothy Burgess) who plans to auction him off to the highest bidder. Final showing tonight at 7 p.m. at MoMa in New York City. Image courtesy MoMA.