Whistling in the dark

Yaffa Phillips writes sporadically

Archive for September, 2008

Rosh Hashanah for Vegetarians

Fish Heads for Rosh Hashanah for Vegetarians
Fishheads by Thomas and Bethany

It is custom for the Jewish New Year to have a fish head at the table so that the nation and you may be at the lead for the following year not the tail-end of things.

As a vegetarian I had two thoughts on how to fulfill this: cutting off the heads of gummy fish and having a bowl of them at the table or getting our niece and nephew to draw fish heads – these were them and they made a lovely addition to our table.

Other traditional food items at our table: slices of apple with honey for a sweet year (and two apples cakes), pomegranate seeds for prosperity and numerous good deeds (and pomegranate ice cream), round honey challah symbolizing the yearly cycle (other challah shapes and symbols from last year).

We wanted to do pumpkin pancakes for the Sephardic custom of eating pumpkins because the Hebrew word for gourd is similar sounding to the word call out and you want your good deeds to be called out. There was no pumpkin to be found so we made butternut squash pancakes instead – they came out quite nice.

Spinach and other greens in the salad symbolize a green year (spinach or beets are also connected to the Hebrew word for to remove so it can symbolize having your enemies removed – or anything that holds you back.)

Additional foods on the menu: sweet potato and red pepper kugel, broccoli and spinach quiche, round pizza (for fussy eaters), linguine with garlic lemon and thyme, moonblush tomato and goat cheese salad (includes spinach and rocket salad).

No dates or carrots (though apparently squash can qualify for carrots), but a bountiful meal as a harbinger for a wonderful year.

Wishing you and your loved ones a great Rosh Hashanah and I can’t say it better than Neil Gaiman, “May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”

posted by Yaffa in family,food,Hartlepool,Jewish and have No Comments

Magnum Photographer Patrick Zachmann at the Hartlepool Art Gallery

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing the new exhibition at the Hartlepool Art Gallery. Patrick Zachmann’s “Eye of the Long Nose” is on display for the first time in the UK as part of the Tees Valley Photography Festival.

Based in Paris, Patrick Zachmann has been a freelance photographer since 1976 and focuses on “long-term projects on the cultural identity, memory and immigration of different communities.” The exhibition at the Hartlepool Art Gallery focuses on China from within and in its diaspora.

There are larger, moody, black and white photographs inspired by Chinese cinema of the 30s. There are also smaller postcard-like color photos full of smiles. As he described it last night, one set (the black and white) exposes the seedier face of China that which they do not want shown. The mafia, prostitutes and drug dealers, protesters in 1989 Tiananmen Square all feature in eye-opening, visually stunning photographs. The other set (color photos) feature the public face of China and it’s communities in the diaspora. These are glossy photos of proud moments and cultural celebrations. They are his vision as a “Long Nose” an old nickname for Westerners in the region.

He seemed pleased and somewhat bemused that the exhibition was hung in a (former) church. His work deals with reality and illusions and facades and he felt it appropriate to the setting.

He shared that he worked on this project from 1987-1995. He spent 6 years shooting the photographs and 2 years working on the book of the exhibition and the show. It was shown in 10 countries in Asia, though not in China.

He traveled to China for the first time as a journalist wanting to write a story on 1930s Chinese cinema. During that visit his interest in the region grew. He was determined to return through unofficial channels in a private exploration of what lay to the side of the spotlight the country shines on it’s achievements and was able to do so with the assistance of a man with underworld ties whom he refers to as W.

I asked him if he ever felt in danger while taking some of the photos. At first he responded in the negative but after giving it a few moments of consideration could think of at least 4 or 5 dicey situations he had been in that should be classed as dangerous. The resulting photos are an amazing document.

He is currently working on another project dealing with China called Chinese Confusions. He feels that people feel lost at this moment. Older people feel lost as older districts are razed to make way for modernity. Younger people feel lost as society moves so very quickly, and while feeling an attraction toward Western models, still maintaining a Chinese identity and a duty to their traditions.

Ying Zhu, Ph.D describes the cinema that intrigued him initially as follows, “If China today is in the midst of a massive and massively ambivalent transformation, it is not the first time. In the 1920s and 30s, China was similarly engaged in a great identity crisis, and Shanghai was at its forefront. Shanghai was the city where Western influences were most keenly felt even as anti-Western (anti-imperialist) nationalism also thrived, and where China’s richest and poorest people lived side by side…Shanghai came to symbolize the allure of modernity and cosmopolism [sic]… Shanghai ushered in Chinese cinema’s first golden era, producing many of the Chinese classics, including Goddess (1934), Song of the Fishermen (1934), Street Angel (1937), and New Women (1934). The Shanghai depicted in these films was corrupt and promising at the same time.”

The China and Chinese depicted in Patrick Zachmann’s photographs can be described similarly.

I asked him what he thought of the Olympics. He was very against China hosting the Olympics. It seems to him like China has won in every respect. Not only is China an economic superpower the Olympics has allowed them to win hearts and minds in the international community. Additionally, with support from Asia Societies in the U.S. many schools, from elementary schools to universities, are now teaching Chinese in language curricula (1, 2, 3) Also see this Beijing Evening News summary of a NY Times article on the Olympics. As the blogger who did the side-by-side comparisons of the article puts it, “every single statement that could possibly be seen as negative – and there’s quite a lot – has been expunged from the Beijing Evening News article, and almost every nuanced phrase that carries any negative connotations has been turned into one of unqualified praise.” It would be the equivalent of looking at only the glossy photos in Patrick Zachmann’s exhibition.

While walking through the exhibit my overwhelming sense was of the universality of the issues he is dealing with in his photography. Migration, wanting to build better lives for families and how we are perceived as individuals and communities are struggles common to the human endeavor. If you are in the Northeast this exhibition is definitely worth a special trip.

Patrick Zachmann‘s Eye of the Long Nose is on at the Hartlepool Art Gallery 13 September – 9 November, 2008.

posted by Yaffa in art,Hartlepool,photography and have No Comments

Bon Iver kicked my ass tonight

Went to see Bon Iver perform at the Sage Music Centre in Gateshead tonight. It was in the smaller Hall 2, sound is as amazing as Hall 1. We were on level 3 (as high as you can go) and the view was still great.

Anais Mitchell opened for them. She was pretty good…best song of the set Cosmic American from her 2004 CD “Hymns for the Exiled”. Her latest CD is “The Brightness” released on Ani DiFranco’s Riteous Babe records.

The main event was Bon Iver (pronounced: bohn eevair, though when I heard Anais Mitchell say it it kind of sounded like bonnie bear) is mainly Justin Vernon plus Mike Noyce and Sean Carey and a bass player who I can’t find the name of for the life of me.

Justin Vernon has a gorgeous voice and a wicked collection of guitars and the four musicians on stage work together tightly for a really rich sound. You can hear the album (there’s only the one) on their virb.com page. They also have a myspace page and an official site.

Mike Noyce was stunning as he sang a beautiful cover of Graham Nash’s “Simple Man,” and the whole group sang a cover of Sarah Siskind’s “Lovin’s For Fools” after it was requested by an audience member. The video to the right is the same cover, different night.

Justin Vernon kept commenting on what a nice, professional venue the Sage is and the caliber of the crowd…he seemed a bit surprised and bewildered to be there at times. For me I can’t imagine hearing Bon Iver in a place with flawed sound – what a travesty it would be not to get the full range of emotion and beauty in the songs.

All well and good, the part that kicked my ass – the song that came on after the encore song when the lights came on: “Love Me Sexy” by Jackie Moon aka Will Ferrell in Semi-Pro (one of the many movies I saw on flights on this summer, surprisingly entertaining).

Get live music on amazon

posted by Yaffa in movies,music and have No Comments

Home in Hartlepool – Happy Anniversary

I have been away working in NY, Poland and Israel and am now back home with Kevin. Today is our one year wedding anniversary. The photo was taken a year ago today by the amazing Chris Armstrong. This year went by really quickly and it seems strange that we have been married for a year. A wonderful year, looking forward to many more without so much time away.

posted by Yaffa in family,Hartlepool,photography and have No Comments