BOOKS: The memoir is not a novel, nor is it an autobiography. It is a selected moment or epoch or era of a life told by the one who lived it. Two such superior examples are newly published: THE LAST RESORT: Taking the Mississippi Cure by Norma Watkins is a recounting of girlhood and young womanhood in the deep South of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Watkins’ story is equally about family – that of her blood relations and of the black servants who raised her -- and her own coming to consciousness of racism and its inescapable contagion. Her daily struggle is with the knowledge that those she loves are filled with hate. Each page is filled with as much lush description as every family meal is with home cooking. Watkins’ flight from her world and its suffocation form an achingly unstoppable trajectory.
HELLO, HELLO, FAREWELL: Laura Cerwinske
The antithesis to Norma Watkins’ memoir is LE FREAK: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny. Nile Rodgers, the brilliant musician and producer, grew up in bohemian 1950s New York, the son of a beautiful 14-year-old black girl and a percussionist who was obsessed with music. His step-father was white, Jewish, and “central-casting” handsome. They and their friends listened to Tony Bennet, Nina Simone, and Thelonius Monk, read Playboy for the articles, talked politics and poetry, and, most of all, loved listening to and making music. They were hipsters, true embodiments of the term “cool”, and they were junkies. Rogers maneuvers through this world of color, cool, and craziness with a sense of wonder and amusement, dazzled by the kindness and open-heartedness that came his way.
MOVIE: THE INFIDEL This terrific comedy about Muslim/Jewish identity centers on a Muslim business owner iand family man in London who learns he was adopted as a baby from Jewish parents just as his son becomes engaged to the step-daughter of a fanatic imam. Iranian/British actor Omid Djalili may have the most uproariously expressive face and body ever to meet stage or screen. Surprise, surprise, Richard Schiff (of the West Wing!) plays a boozy Jewish cab driver who gets enlisted to tutor his reluctant new friend in such behaviors as the Yiddish shrug.
ARTISTS:STRANDBEESTS means beach animals. Dutch artist THEO JANSSEN has spent the past 21 years constructing giant “animals” (out of PVC pipes) that can walk on the beach strictly using wind. power. His complex creatures are made of interlocking networks of PVC pipe bleached bone-like by the weather. They look like a pre-historic scaffolding shambling across the sand. The idea for the beach beasts came as a solution to his concern over rising sea levels that might re-flood Holland reduce it size to what it had been in medieval times. He envisioned self-propelled creatures that would restore the balance between water and land, the way beavers so in Dutch marshes.
He cannot say if he is a sculptor or an engineer. ‘Mine is not a straight path like an engineer’s, it’s not A to B. I make a very curly road just by the restrictions of goals and materials. A real engineer would probably solve the problem differently, maybe make an aluminum robot with motor and electric sensors and all that. But the solutions of engineers are often much alike. Everything we think can in principle be thought by someone else. The ideas, as evolution shows, come about by change. Reality is very creative.” Theo says he envies the original Creator’s supply of countless millions of years for animal evolution and is “sure he could make perfect beach animals, given that much time.”