Showing posts with label Langston Hughes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Langston Hughes. Show all posts

Monday, October 8, 2018

“Bring Back our Mighty Dream!”

Written in 1935 by Langston Hughes, but might as well have been written today.  It is a moving call to “…take back our land again ….Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death…” 

Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—

Norman Rockwell's The Golden Rule (1961)

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Upper West Side Visit Continued

It was now our turn for some time together in New York City, choosing to stay at a hotel in the heart of the neighborhood where we both once lived.  The Lucerne Hotel is a venerable place, long standing at the corner of 79th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.  Old fashioned but comfortable, we had an unbelievably quiet corner room.  However, shortly after we checked in, one of its two elevators stopped altogether so one had to queue up sometimes, but this posed no serious delays.  Ann thought the complimentary wine offerings every afternoon mitigated any real hard feelings.

The weather in NYC can be so unpredictable towards the end of August and unfortunately part of our stay was impacted by a typical NYC heat wave, high temperatures and humidity, not much different than in Florida and, in fact, some days, even hotter in the city.  One learns to live with it as NYC demands obeisance. 

Until one night there was a hall announcement in the hotel that Con Edison will have to shut off the power to the hotel around midnight, all power, including our beloved A/C in the middle of a heat wave, but it should be for only one hour.  We all know what a one hour estimate means in NYC so I wondered whether we could even take the elevator down from the 9th floor the next morning.  There is a good side and a bad side to the story.  We lost air conditioning for a while as they had to reduce the power but when we woke up, it was working, as were lights and thankfully our one elevator.  However, the entire hotel was being run on a generator Con Edison brought in that night in a trailer truck.  We were told it was temporary, until the next day and the day after that until we checked out a full week later.

Luckily, for us, we were on the other side of the building and could not hear the constant drone of a powerful diesel generator which they kept going without stop, bringing trucks to refuel it, while they ripped up the entire street around the hotel.  A major transformer had caught fire with the heating demands and below the ground there was a hundred year old infrastructure to deal with.  I talked to the Con Ed guy outside and he said “don’t worry bout it, it’s gonna get better.  We’re gonna have dis wrapped up by tomorrow.”  Tomorrow never came, but credit due where deserved, that generator powered everything without interruption.

This entry is actually a continuation of an earlier one, just trying to catch up on the rest of our stay. That previous one covered thoughts about the neighborhood, our visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, seeing The Band’s Visit, and attending Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, which we learned will next be seen in West Palm Beach so those in our area who were fans of Downton are URGED to see it.  Truly unique.

Early each morning, I would take a walk, choosing a different route to catch as much of the neighborhood as possible. I note in photographs some of the eclectic sights.

Unfortunately, sometimes I passed homeless people who were still sleeping.  These are just a couple, one in front of a Victoria’s Secret store, the juxtaposition creating a sad irony, and another – obviously a resourceful person, picking the perfect spot and surrounding himself (or herself) with umbrellas for privacy. 

Always living in the past, I could not resist seeing my old apartment again at 66 W. 85th Street, seen here on the left. Nearby, was a brownstone with a tenacious tree which thrived as a vine, growing from the basement level right to and beyond the roof.

Also, tenacious, the “shop around the corner bookstore” – right near where I used to live on Columbus.  It’s encouraging to see the independent bookstores thrive again.

One morning I snuck a look at the famous Dakota Courtyard, a building of such historical significance and the home of luminaries.

Staying on the Upper West Side entreated us to try some of the abundant alfresco restaurants along Amsterdam.  When we lived in the area nearly 50 years ago, there were only a handful of restaurants, and not a single one spilled out onto a sidewalk!  Now, they are cheek by jowl.  Obviously, no one cooks a meal anymore; everyone in the area eats out, picks up their meals, or has them delivered.  We ate several lunches at Bluestone Lane, a restaurant with an Australian flair, loving their Bondi Burger and their Kale Caesar or other yummy salad dishes (if you love avocado, as Ann does), this is the place!  

We ate at the one on the East Side right next door to the Guggenheim Museum, adjacent to the beautiful historic Church of the Heavenly Rest, as well as their new West Side location at 80th and Amsterdam.   

We had a couple of sidewalk dinners at The Chirping Chicken (naturally, their Chicken is great), but as we sat outside watching all humanity pass by, kids, dogs, you name it, we marveled at The Chirping Chicken’s cadre of delivery folk on their bicycles, one peeling off with the regularity of LGA take offs carrying a delivery order, one after the other, the last one leaving as the first one returns for the next order.  What a business on 77th and Amsterdam!

We both loved Sweetgreens on 75th and Amsterdam for dinner as well, my becoming addicted to their Caesar Kale salad with tender pieces of roasted chicken.  Then across the street from our Hotel was a new Greek restaurant, Kefi, where we ate lunch once savoring a well seasoned chicken kebab and Greek salad.  We enjoyed the atmosphere and food so much, we returned for dinner as well, all these places jumping, throbbing with a sense of youth and energy.

Perhaps the most “happening” place was Jacob’s Pickles at 84th and Amsterdam.  The sound level alone announces you’ve arrived at a vibrant place, but, the food, Southern Style, is unusual, especially in NYC.  Way too much of course and even though we were twice the age of anyone in the place, they seated us anyway! 

Then there were others, Italian and Mediterranean of course, but we were not there to simply eat, although one would be hard pressed to believe this. 

Our original idea was to concentrate on theatre and museums, which we accomplished in abundance. Luckily we had secured tickets early on to see My Fair Lady at the Lincoln Center Vivian Beaumont Theatre.  I’ve always felt that Lerner and Loewe lived in the shadow of Rodgers and Hammerstein, their collaboration being a little later putting them at a disadvantage as far as reputation is concerned, but My Fair Lady has to be one of the few really great Broadway musicals.  And this particular production at the more versatile, deep stage Vivian Beaumont, gave rise to a stunning production as we’ve never seen, a revolving stage with multiple scenes, and the ability to bring a two story study of Professor Higgins from the back of the stage to the front and to recede as well. 

Oh and I would be remiss in failing to mention a most spectacular lunch beforehand at Lincoln Ristorante, a glass walled dining room elegantly serving  delicate seafood preparations and other delectable Mediterranean dishes.  A memorable experience.

Lauren Ambrose who plays Eliza Doolittle helps one forget the Audrey Hepburn film version and Harry Hadden-Paxton, who was in Downton Abbey, was the perfect Professor Higgins.  It is remarkable how closely the show follows George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, but the show departs from the movie at the end, a more modern, sophisticated interpretation of how this stars-are-crossed love affair (Eliza’s out in the open and Higgins’ suppressed) would end today.  To me the entire production was breathtaking and the first thing I did when we returned home was to break out the score and play it on my piano.

But that is not the only score I broke out.  The other overlooked songwriting team I admire is Kander and Ebb.  Chicago is now one of the longest running musicals on Broadway.  It is now a show mostly for out-of-towners.  I suppose that is what we are now, although we’ve both lived in NYC and never think of ourselves as anything but New Yorkers.  

Ann saw the original show on Broadway early on in the run.  It’s the kind of musical we would normally avoid, but my love of the music prompted me at the last minute to get tickets the day before we left New York, having a pre-theatre lunch at The Glass Tavern on West 47th Street, one of our go to places in the theatre district now, reasonably priced, good food, a quiet ambiance.

We expected little of Chicago but surprisingly it totally exceeded our presumptions by the startling performances.  Anyone looking for the fireworks of the movie adaptation might be disappointed, but this is live theatre, and in so many ways superior.  Amra-Faye Wright, in the role of Velma Kelly, has played the same part since 2001!  Think of playing this role for such a long period of time and STILL bringing on the pizzazz.  Michelle Dejean who plays Roxie Hart performed the role on Broadway nine years ago and returns to the role now after raising her son.  As she says emphatically in the program, “Hey, Broadway! It’s good to be back!  Her performance says it all.

If you ever watched Seinfield, you’d immediately recognize John O’Hurley as “J. Peterman.” He is a very credible Billy Flynn and I’d argue that he has a much better voice than Richard Gere in the film.  Special accolades go to Evan Harrington who plays Amos Hart, singing one of my favorites from the show, “Mr. Cellophane.”  Add to that song  some of the other iconic ones, "All That Jazz," "Cell Block Tango," "When You're Good to Mama," the tongue in cheek "All I Care About," "Razzle Dazzle," and my very favorite "Nowadays,” and one can see why Kander and Ebb were at the top of their game when they wrote this musical.

I enjoyed sitting next to a young couple from London, seeing their first Broadway Show.  Their wide eyed wonder was worth the price of admission.

One night we went to see the Emmet Cohen Trio perform with great tenor saxophonist George Coleman in a Generations of Jazz Fest @ Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola.  This is from their Lessons from Our Masters series which features a master of jazz alongside a younger multigenerational band. 

We got there early enough to get a front bandstand table but at an angle where we could view the young but extraordinarily talented jazz pianist’s interactions with the established great in jazz, George Coleman.  This was more than an interaction but true love and respect.  It was a night of awe.  Bassist Russell Hall and drummer Bryan Carter brought it home as well.  No video can do justice to the evening but here is a sample and some photos.

Aside from those shows, one museum almost every day was on the agenda during our two week marathon visit.  I wanted to see the Museum of the City of New York at 103rd and 5th.  This is sort of out of the way, but one of the best museums to spend lots of time in, not only for its permanent collection of New York City history but when we were there it featured a special exhibit of the photographs of Stanley Kubrick who was a photographer for Look Magazine before he was a filmmaker.

Some of the photos reminded me of those of Diane Arbus but most were simply great photojournalism.  I might add (back to food), their café has some delicious selections.

One photo was taken at the 81st Street stop, juxtaposing a couple kissing to a homeless man sleeping below the subway stop sign.I took one of Ann in the same place, the mosaic sign unchanged.

Another day we did too much, starting at the Guggenheim which had a special exhibit of 175 sculptures, paintings, and drawings by the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti.  His elongated figures all reminded me of him.  Everything he sculptured and painted had him in it no matter what the subject. 

He was never satisfied by the finished piece of art as, so he said in a documentary shown there, if he had a thousand years to complete a work of art it still would not be finished.  Fascinating art and artist. There are better shots on line but here are some that especially caught my eye.

Only a few blocks down the street is the mammoth Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Maybe if we had a year we could properly see everything, but tired already, we decided to head to the Japanese art section, less crowded, but impressive, reminding us of the days we used to go to Japan on business.  I love Japanese minimalism and sense of simplicity.There we met Jonathan, our son for lunch and the museum.

We decided to stick close to the hotel during one of the hottest days, out of the subways (although they were fine, air conditioned cars and easy to get around), so a typical touristy visit was in order for the American Museum of Natural History.  I think the last time we were there was at least 45 years ago, probably taking my older son there.  We enjoyed the 3-D film “Amazon Adventures” about 19th-century naturalist and explorer Henry Walter Bates – and indeed, we had never heard of him; one thinks Darwin when it comes to cataloging the species.  Here we are with our 3-D glasses.

The Hayden Planetarium Space Show Dark Universe was equally enjoyable especially as it is narrated by the erudite Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Well worth the price of admission.

Unfortunately, for us, the rest of the exhibits were unappealing, dark, and not clear exactly how one thing related to another.  In fact, the exhibits seem little changed from decades ago.  Better lighting and organization would be a good investment for the future.

The following day, Thursday I think, there is Mah Jongg in Bryant Park.  Ann had brought her Mah Jongg card so we took the #1 subway from Broadway and 79th downtown to Bryant Park.  Ann found the gathering and a group willing to let her sit in with their game and I headed over to the New York Public Library.

The library’s special exhibit drew a very large crowd: You Say You Want a Revolution: Remembering the 60s.  Strange to look back at that time in history but it was a time one lived through.  Of course a lot of it was a blur but now it’s been nicely dissected and mounted and can be explained.  At the time it was a roar, not unlike today’s.

But the special appeal to me of the New York Public Library was to visit its collections, to look for some of the books I published during my 40 year career.  I found one after another in the reference section.

 The NYPL call numbers covered the imprints on the bottom of the volumes, obliterating most, but I could easily recognize the distinctive black panel and gold foil we used to highlight the book titles on the spine.  Every such volume I pulled out was indeed one of my publications.  I started to photograph them, but stopped.  Just too many and to what end?  But here are some of the recondite titles I published, all those years ago.

Another fascination was just to walk the halls again.  Early on in my career we had worked with the NYPL to republish their precious collection of Edward Curtis’ 20 Volume The North American Indian.The work comprises narrative text and photogravure images. New York Public Library would not let the work leave for reprinting until properly prepared so I went there every day, I forget for how long, and went down, down, into their rare book collection to prepare the work. 

The images are startling and today one could easily access the work on the Internet to appreciate Curtis’ accomplishment.  In the mid 1960s, reprinting was the only option (other than microfilm).  So special attention was paid to the preparation and the final product to reproduce it as faithfully to the original.  I remember ordering a special “300” year heavy printing paper, neutral pH for longevity, calendered to highlight the numerous photogravure images.  It was one of the proudest achievements in my early years in the industry, on the production side.  I remember them fondly, and the NYPL was a big part of those days.

So a visit there, concurrently with a 1960s exhibit, was a double pleasure.  Afterwards, I picked up Ann at Bryant Park after an “exhausting afternoon” of Mah Jongg in Bryant Park.  Well it was in the 90’s with 100 percent humidity.  She had suffered.

Perhaps we saved the best for last.  Another organization I worked with in my publishing days was the New York Historical Society.  Their collection and museum is stunning. 

But it was a special exhibit I wanted to see, one that was closing that following weekend, Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms.  First, Norman Rockwell is among my favorite artists, and Roosevelt among our greatest Presidents and the topic of this exhibit doesn’t get more relevant than in times such as these. “The traveling exhibition, which was organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, explores how Rockwell’s 1943 paintings—Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Fear, and Freedom from Want—gave visual voice to Roosevelt’s call to the defense of freedom worldwide and took their place among the most enduring images in the history of American art. “

But with those four freedoms comes a responsibility, so the museum also had on display Langston Hughes poem, How About It, Dixie.  Ironically, it was written in 1942, the year of my birth, and, still (unfortunately) relevant to our day, maybe as relevant in these times as the day it was written in response to the Four Freedoms:

How About It, Dixie

The President’s Four Freedoms

Appeal to me.

I would like to see those Freedoms

Come to be.

If you believe

In the Four Freedoms, too,

Then share ’em with me —

Don’t keep ’em all for you....

Looks like by now

Folks ought to know

It’s hard to beat Hitler

Protecting Jim Crow.

Freedom’s not just

To be won Over There.

It means Freedom at home, too

Now — right here!

Langston Hughes

But many other Norman Rockwell paintings and drawings were on exhibit.  One forgets what a great prolific artist he was.  I love his work, one that captures the essence of the American spirit, one that is struggling to survive in these times.  What would a Rockwell painting look like today?  He wasn’t averse to taking on highly charged political themes, such as this one “Murder in Mississippi,” painted in 1965.  This was an unpublished illustration for Look.  One does not think of Rockwell in this light of reality.

Well and here I go again, but there is no way I could not mention the remarkable café that is attached to the New York Historical Society.  Caffè Storico is in the most pristine space surrounded by all white ceramic dishes lining the high walls up to the ceiling.  They conjured up the most amazing crispy but juicy chicken and vegetable dish as well as mouthwatering salads. It is worth slipping into this restaurant just to enjoy the food even if the Museum doesn’t interest you.

One would think that once we arrived at LaGuardia our history lesson would be done, but no, Jet Blue flies out of the old Marine Air Terminal where the Pan Am Clippers first flew.  The old luncheonette is still there, 1940s style showcasing walls filled with memorabilia from those days.  It was the right place to leave the memories of the prior two weeks.