Tuesday, March 18, 2008


St Patrick's day. It always starts on say, Thursday or Friday, with the decidedly and not-so-decidedly Irish looking tourists crowding the doors of the trains because they're scared it'll take off without them and leave them forever stranded on the grimy platform without benefit of priest.

By yesterday, every red head wears a green hat, the atmosphere is a cross between carnival midway and national disaster area, all bright colors, happy faces, vomit, cops and helicopters. I stand on the corner waiting for the light, thinking, why don't I wear green anymore? I don't go out and drink McSorley's and sing "Lady in Red" at the top of my lungs while a tableful of college boys shout "POST TIME!" and slam back another mug. Maybe because real Irish folk don't, really, anyway. They're too busy taking over the dotcom business, while American Irish desperately celebrate the land their ancestors fled in fear of starvation and disease.

Well, not to bring you down, or blame anyone for partying on a Monday, or taking over 5th Avenue on a workday. If anything, I'd like more of the last two items. New Orleans has had Mardi Gras for centuries, and it doesn't show any sign of losing strength. The whole Carnivale ethos began during the plagues. Per ardua, cogito sumere potum alterum.

I work near the parade route so it wasn't surprising to see maybe twenty girls in Celtic outfits with masses of clip-on curls and Riverdance shoes heading out the lobby doors as I headed in. And later, at lunch, the high fur hats and kilts and knee socks and bagpipes had pretty much taken over the Deuce.

But there were other colors being worn yesterday, mostly saffron yellow, blue and red. With lions, their paws holding a flaming jewel aloft. I happened to know what I was looking at even before the the flags unfurled, but why I felt a swell of pride, I cannot tell. I'm not Tibetan.


At the Rubin , here in NY, the museum provides magnifying lenses so patrons can see the minute details of each piece, tiny gods and goddesses locked in sexual embrace, prostrate humans worshipping or being crushed at their feet, all swirling around the greater gods and consorts who rule the panel. But there's more than an exhibition of Himalayan spiritual art. On a middle floor, there's a live Tibetan artist in residence at work on a large landscape mural, as likely to have the Rolling Stones on the speakers as sitar. His name is Pema Tinzin. He grew up in northern India, and learned under several masters over decades of apprenticeship, and how he's considered a master of the style. His astonishing use of detail even in such a large work speaks not only to the aesthetic of the Tibetan school, but to Pema's mind: he had been a medical student in college, and left to become a painter.

The Saturday we visited him, he seemed more preoccupied with the oppression he was receiving from the art scholars who curate the museum, but that's understandable. Nobody wants to dwell forever on destruction, on loss, even when it's everything you know. Pema's subversive method of undermining the academics' power trip is sublime, the hallmark, to my mind, of the oppressed: a direct appeal in an indirect fashion. Instead of fighting any further with them about what constitutes Tibetan art and why, he's teaching art classes at local and out of state universities and design schools. They can no longer tell him that they know more about his own people's art than he does, because, by virtue of the courses he teaches, he's now as much a respected expert in the field as they are. So he uses the classroom to put forward what he knows in decades of studying and practicing Tibetan painting, and the museum will have to play catch-up. I don't think he has much problem convincing art students that museums don't understand art.

If you want to take a class with him, I think his next stop is Oberlin, Ohio.


So maybe I'm lurching slowly toward a belief in something better, farther down the line. I don't know. I guess it's like a ouija board, the future. If you keep thinking about what you want it to say, you're still going to get an answer. Just maybe not the right one.


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