Posts Tagged ‘new york’
The Cooper Square Hotel, New York City, June 5, 2011.
Mariam kept asking the audience, in between songs, “Are you all right?”
“Yes!!” we replied.
She would hold on to Amadou’s tunic, sometimes caress his head or back, both of them swaying in time to the music. It was a cloudy and cool day, and their ornately woven outfits (her in a dress of pinks, purples, and greens that melted together, him in an elegant long shirt and pants) were well suited for the half-uncovered penthouse roof where they were playing. He broke it down on his guitar and she smiled underneath her sunglasses. At the end, when they rocked out with classics like “La triste réalité,” I thought, for the millionth time, when am I going to Mali?
The remix of “La triste réalité” with Jacky and Mokobe:
I moved to New York last summer and took a month-long sublet in Bushwick, or as my striving neighbors liked to call it, East Williamsburg. It was August, and the city was experiencing record high temperatures. We all trudged through the heavy heat, wondering when the wave would end.
My temporary home was half of a faded duplex that I shared with two young actresses who were my age, but who made me feel much older. I rarely saw them; while I was at the office during the day, they slept off the previous night’s debauchery on the living room couch and floor, surrounded by empty beer and liquor bottles. When I got home in the evening, they were gone, out at their waitressing jobs until the early morning.
Our landlords, a boisterous Puerto Rican family, lived in the other half of the duplex. For the first weeks of my stay, I tried to resist greeting them with a “¿Como estan?” But in Bushwick, reminders of Mexico were thankfully everywhere: taco and torta counters run by short men in white aprons in the back of corner stores; girls in tight tank tops on the sidewalk gossiping in Spanish; thumping cumbia and reggaeton music snaking through my window.
Photo by Guillaume Gaudet
I found South Africa to be a strange place: caught between a painful past and an awkward present, and not knowing what to do with itself, kind of like the Deep South. My memories of Cape Town are multi-layered: on one layer, thrilling, because of the sheer beauty and randomness of the city, and on another, unsettling, because of the segregation that was everywhere I turned. Black artists living in South Africa under Apartheid faced endless hurdles. But they somehow managed to thrive through underground and alternative art studios and print workshops.
In two weeks, the exhibit “Impressions from South Africa” will open at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The show is a collection of over 100 posters, wall stencils, and books that display the huge range of printmaking done by artists during and after Apartheid. These prints, products of periods of repression and upheaval, reflect both the personal and political longings of the diverse printmakers. And they also reflect the New South Africa, still unsure of what it wants to be.
Photo via MoMA
I’ve written about my love of ankara fabrics here before, and as several cities celebrate their fashion weeks this month and next, I’ve noticed that a number of labels are also obsessed with the vividly hued cloths with fantastical prints that are imported from West Africa. My two favorites are Boxing Kitten and Duro Olowu.
Boxing Kitten, headed by Maya Lake, who’s a native of New York, is a collection of sweet, flirty skirts, dresses, pants, and blouses that pair extremely feminine cuts and unexpected color combinations.
Duro Olowu, a Nigerian-British designer who’s a favorite of Vogue magazine, just had his first New York showing. His clothes are sleek, sexy, and manage to be a hybrid of couture and edgy street fashion. The colors are bold, the mismatching of the prints is startling, and the textures are luxurious. Both collections feel impromptu and effortless. Cultures are colliding, from Lagos and New York, to Accra and London.
Top photo via Chief of Affections
Ordinarily, I love foreign coins: their strange inscriptions, their unfamiliar weight, their sometimes odd sizes. But what’s interesting about foreign coins is the way, after enough time, they also fool you. Rummaging around in my wallet, my hand grasps a coin I think is a quarter or dime, but turns out to be a 5-peso or 200-shilling piece.
At first, I was amused — I got a little feeling of secret pleasure when I picked it up or if I didn’t notice and accidentally gave it to a cashier who handed it back to me, confused — it was my proof that I haven’t always been here, a responsible, rooted member of New York society. Now, however, the coins have become annoying. Despite how many times I try to purge all of my purses of the foreign money, it still emerges: in hidden pockets, ripped seams, anywhere I could look for change to pay a bill. And when I’m in a hurry the last thing I want is 30 pesos instead of $2.25 for my subway pass. I clean and I empty, yet again, and the coins glare back at me, shiny and resilient. You can’t get rid of us that easily, they seem to be saying.
I’ve been staying in an apartment with possibly the best view of the tallest building in Latin America — and now I’m on way back to the States. It’s been hard to pinpoint, the reverse culture shock I’ve experienced since moving to New York.
It’s weird to say that I’ve even moved to the States after four years away. Because though it’s been nice being back and seeing old friends, meeting new people and going to new places, I’ve also experienced a number of what I call culture aftershocks.
Like how orderly and predictable transportation is: the subway, the buses, even the car traffic to a great extent. And how sanitized and over-purified other things are: the water, the food, the environment. And how reserved and detached people are: almost tripping over themselves as they run through their disciplined daily routines. It takes an enormous amount of effort not to pull acquaintances in and kiss them on the cheek when I see them, instead of the awkward hovering we do when we run into each other. I already miss the feeling of pushing through a tangled crowd, eating a taco spilling chorizo that I bought from a street stand while fielding enthusiastic calls of “Morena!!” and dodging careening cars, buses and pedestrians as I revel in the messiness of my complicated home.
It’s been a long ride. When I left Mexico City at the end of April, I landed in New York. After a brief two weeks there, I was on my way to Nairobi, Kenya. At one point during my four weeks in Kenya, I went to Naivasha, a town in Kenya’s Rift Valley. A few days after I got back, I went to Kampala, Uganda, where I stayed for a week and wished it was longer.
When that week ended, it was time to return to New York. So I boarded a plane that took me from Entebbe, Uganda to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates with a layover in Nairobi. Upon disembarking in Sharjah, I took a bus and cab to the airport in Dubai, where I then had a flight to New York — with a layover in Moscow (yes I know I went further away from my destination, often the lure of price wins). Some observations from this timeline:
1) Hanging in the Dubai airport with a charming, interesting Zimbabwean man and two cranky but funny Nigerian women who ordered me to move from my seat (along with a hilarious Congolese man who kept substituting French for English) — I almost didn’t want to leave for my departure lounge. Almost.
2) Being held by a Russian customs woman who didn’t believe my American passport was real (all the extra pages and African visas!).
3) The deep luxury of the United Arab Emirates embodied to me by the fluffy white caftans of the men and the ornate, almost gaudy royal buildings, juxtaposed with the cold shabbiness of the Moscow airport, which was made complete by a designated smoking stand where Russians huddled, puffing silently.
And now, I am finally settling for a good, long while in New York. Unexpectedly, the idea of staying in one place is very appealing.
Photo by Richard Mosse
I walked forty blocks from Columbia University’s Journalism School to a friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side the other day. It took longer than I thought it would, and it became colder than I thought it would get, but I’m obsessed with taking advantage of New York whenever it’s warm by walking as much as I can. On the Upper West Side, the avenues are long and the streets are calm. The apartment buildings tony and majestic, the sidewalks crowded with cafes and bakeries. I feel serene, if not a little bored, in this neighborhood. There’s an older Jewish feeling here, and not too much diversity until you reach the buzzing upper echelons of Harlem. There, I laugh at the street vendors, promise the Senegalese hair-braiding women I’ll come back another time and walk and walk.
Photo by Paul Riley