Advertising is Nothing New, as this Juxtaposition of an Amish Choir and Alien: Covenant Posters Makes Clear

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Often on Saturday, a choir (I think they might be Amish) sings in the busy Times Square subway station. They set up in front of a panel of back-lit ads that changes from week to week. On a recent Saturday, the juxtaposition of puritanically-styled singers next to a promo for the latest Alien flick seemed to carry a hidden message. The end is near? Ain’t life funny? What we define as ‘alien’ is only a matter of perspective?

In any event, it made me think that advertising isn’t a modern idea. Humans have always tried to sell each other stuff–whether it’s goods, or an experience (like a film), or a religion, or a political ideology.

What’s surprising is that you’d think the pretty sounds of a chorus — their voices are lovely, echoing through a station usually dominated with groaning, screeching trains — would attract far more people than a black-and-white image of an anonymous mouth contorted in a terrified scream. And yet I for one would rather watch Alien: Covenant than hear a sermon of any stripe. And I suppose the fact that in just a few weeks Alien: Covenant has earned over $100 million means that I’m not alone in that regard.

Protest is the new normal

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Jan 29 2017 Rally

It’s not surprising that “the most unpopular new president in modern times” is generating daily protests, including a vow to ensure rallies follow him wherever he goes. The remarkable thing is how many people show up at these rallies–three times as many showed in Washington for the Women’s March as attended his inauguration (and 2.5 million joined them around the world). Of course, numbers can always be questioned but with the president making such a big issue out of them, people seem to be more meticulous in their counting.

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These photos are from a protest and march on Jan 29, 2017 against Trump’s executive order banning refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-dominant countries. The march went from Battery Park to Foley Square. Media reported that about 10,000 attended but, as Trump would say, it looked like more than that to me.

Sense of Risk: A Trampoline in Mexico

 

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When I was a little kid in Illinois, I remember some neighbors had toy trampolines in their backyards. But by the time I was eight or 10, they had all disappeared, and I remember my mother telling me they’d been banned as toys because too many people were getting injured.

Although I can’t find any record via Google that a ban actually occurred in the 1970s, there’s plenty of information today regarding the risks of casual trampolining and the precautions people should take. That’s why it was both alarming and refreshing when I saw these folks setting up a big trampoline for kids to play on in Parque de España in Mexico City.

Of course, safety is crucial. Playgrounds should be safe spaces. And I’m not saying that trampolines without safety belts and mats are safe toys. But I sometimes get the feeling that the average American playground is too safe.

Does every swing and jungle gym need a mat under it? Isn’t it sometimes OK if a kid, while playing, gets a scrape or a bruise now and then?

Exvotos: Mexican Folk Art

I bought this exvoto (or ex-voto) in the Lagunilla flea market in Mexico City from the painter, Rafael Contreras.
I bought this exvoto (or ex-voto) in the Lagunilla flea market in Mexico City from the painter, Rafael Contreras.

I’ve always loved Mexican exvotos (or ex-votos) ever since I bought one in a little shop in Merida in 2006. At the time I didn’t know they were a form of folk art with a long tradition. I was simply struck by the painting’s emotion. Traditionally, exvotos are left in churches to express gratitude to God, a saint or some intercessor for a miracle. The one I bought depicted 9-11 and flames pouring out of the Twin Towers. On the bottom, it expressed thanks that the author’s cousin survived the attack.

The simplicity of the medium–paint on tin–and the earnestness of the message moved me. But I was also intrigued by the contemporary setting and my connection to it. Of course, the whole world is connected to 9-11 thanks to its ongoing impact on international affairs. But I was also living just a few miles from the World Trade Center and remember the day vividly. The weather was confusingly beautiful, sunny and warm, even as we wondered what the hell was going and worried if anyone we knew had died or was trapped in the rubble. I remember playing in the park with my son, a toddler, who remained unaware despite the fact that fighter jets were racing back and forth and thousands of people were streaming on foot through the streets, wending their way home after the shut-down of public transportation. The exvoto reminded me that I, or New Yorkers, or even Americans, weren’t the only ones worrying. The person who wrote the note about her cousin had also been worrying. Who knows how long she had to wait before news of her cousin’s survival reached her.

Of course, I have no way of knowing if the story about the cousin was real–if someone had been expressing her specific thanks for the survival of a specific person through the creation of this particular exvoto. At the time, I imagined that a woman had written her thanks in a note and left it on an altar and a folk artist had picked it up and painted the scene. But now I know, thanks to Google, that exvotos are a votive offering that frequently combine text and imagery. (The National Library of Medicine had an exhibit on “Medical Imagery in Ex-Votos” in 2008-2009.)

I’m pretty sure that if my exvoto had been connected to a real person, it would have been in a church, not for sale in a shop in Merida. (Then again maybe the church where it had been brought as an offering had been overflowing with exvotos and had sold some off). In the end, I don’t care too much about my exvoto’s provenance. I still find it moving, expressing something true even if the “cousin” is fiction.

This brings me to the exvoto I bought today. Perhaps it isn’t really an exvoto because it doesn’t express thanks. It simply tells a story. “Calixto Verrera and Carmen saw in the sky a flying saucer that followed them to the Zumpango Lagoon.–Zumpango, April 1940.” I asked the artist, Rafael Cardenas, where he found the story. He pointed to his head and fluttered his fingers, indicating he’d made it up. But the date–where did that come from? I asked. Again, he fluttered his fingers around his head and smiled. I asked (not sure why I bothered) about the levitating Lucha Libre fighter, which has nothing to do with the text, and he just laughed.

I found an article about an exhibit, Favores insólitos (Unusual favors), at the National Museum of Popular Cultures in Coyoacán, Mexico City, in 2012 that featured a new brand of exvotos. Contreras’ work was among those featured in the exhibit. According to the curator, Raúl Cano Monroy, classic exvotos became far less common in the 1980s when the painted plates were replaced by “copias fotostáticas, fotografías y recetas médicas, objetos varios, como trofeos, muletas y prótesis” (photostatic copies, photographs and medical prescriptions, various objects such as trophies, crutches and prostheses.)

But the exvoto lives on, as demonstrated in the museum’s exhibit. As Monroy explained in the article: “No obstante, el exvoto tomó un nuevo camino, en el cual hay dos vertientes: la primera es imitar milagros ya existentes en los exvotos tradicionales, cambiando nombres, escenarios, milagreros, ciudades y hasta santos intercesores, con la única característica de que se trata de milagros ficticios. La segunda se deriva de mostrar temáticas desde inusuales hasta transgresoras, que van en contra de la religiosidad y la doctrina católica.”

(However, the exvoto took a new path, in which there are two approaches: the first is to imitate miracles already existing in the traditional exvotos, changing names, scenarios, miracles, cities and even intercessor saints, with the only characteristic that is Of fictitious miracles. The second is derived from showing themes from unusual to transgressive, which go against religious and Catholic doctrine.)

I suppose the exvoto I bought in 2006 fits the first category as it may be fictional in regards to the person named but not fictional in spirit. And the second may be transgressive for not only depicting a UFO as a reality but for not offering thanks to a saint or spiritual intercessor for saving Calixto Verrera and Carmen from being captured and experimented on or perhaps being whisked away to a distant star.

New Animated Video Highlights Ways Courts Can be More Sensitive to Diverse Populations

I helped write, direct and produce this animated video that encourages courts to become more user friendly for diverse populations. Although it might seem simple and straight forward, a lot of discussion and planning went into every aspect, from the script to the animation to the music.

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Post-Election Post-Its for Post-Traumatic Stress

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The Union Square subway station is full of emotional Post-its mourning the outcome of the election. What’s remarkable isn’t the sheer quantity. What’s remarkable is that three weeks after the election no one has torn them down. I would have thought a Trump supporter would have tried; or someone tasked with cleaning the subway would have done it. At the very least, I’d expect a homeless person to hear a voice telling him to do so.

Maybe people are taking them down and other people are adding new ones every day. In any event, it’s a remarkable record of the shock, grief and fear generated by Trump’s victory.

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Paul Zeigler’s Piano Concerto No. 2

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Music is a mystery to me. How a composer composes. How a musician plays. How an orchestra collaborates.

I was reminded of the mystery today when my husband and I attended the premiere of our friend Paul Zeigler‘s Piano Concerto No. 2 performed by the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey. The piece was amazing: vibrant, exciting, imaginative. It made me marvel at how Paul was able to compose something so complex–keeping all the melodies and instruments in his head as he invented the piece at this piano.

I wonder if it isn’t that different from writing a novel. Sometimes I have trouble keeping track of the characters and the plot lines, especially as a story grows long and intricate. But then maybe characters are like the instruments of an orchestra, each with his or her own voice, attitude and role. I’ve used various stratagems to keep track of the plot–an outline that I keep updating and periodic surveys of the entire manuscript. But it ain’t easy!

Not too Noisy in Boise

I spent a few days in Boise, Idaho, this week working on a video about the Ada County Domestic Violence Court.

The downtown was old-style and human-scale. The domed capitol building, surrounded by a lovely park, conveyed the sense that democracy was within reach of the people. And I found something comforting in the presence of coin operated newspaper dispensers, which I haven’t seen (or at least noticed) in ages in New York.

I’d expected to see Trump signs everywhere but I didn’t see any. Nor did I see any for Hillary. Perhaps it’s because there’s no question that Idaho is a red state so people don’t feel it’s necessary to promote their candidate; or maybe people don’t want to antagonize their neighbors. Then again, I only saw a small sliver of the community, mostly the downtown area, and I suppose people tend to muzzle partisanship in commercial districts so as not to offend customers.

There are diverse opinions everywhere, a fact I was reminded of when an attorney told me she was a fourth generation Idaho Democrat. Idaho Chief Justice Jim Jones also offered encouraging words in a short speech about the social and legal progress that’s been made regarding domestic violence. He noted that when he was a child, people never talked about violence that occurred within families, partly because it was thought to be shameful and partly because some still held notions that a father/husband could treat his wife and children like property. Fortunately, that’s no longer the case and society and the legal system are better prepared to offer help and support to victims while holding batterers accountable. One line from the speech that surprised me, and has therefore stuck in my memory, is that people also now realize “that they can’t beat the gay out of their kids,” he said. Amen to that.