Novak (novak) wrote,
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Personal: Holy Thursday; "Europe Night" with Diane; FOTO: Modernity In Central Europe; Julie Delpy

10 years ago this night, I was in Rome with Erik and Hugh, having torn through the city trying to find our reserved-seating tickets for the Holy Thursday Mass at the Cathedral of Saint John Lateran. Of course, that's ten years ago tonight on the liturgical calendar, not on the Gregorian one. And also of course, by the time we finally got the tickets, went back to our pensione to grab Hugh and then got to the church, we had just missed the time limit in which they held the reserved seats. And so some time afterward we ended up at the least-inspired restaurant we apparently could have picked in Rome, although I found some solace in the fact that apparently Chef Boyardee did have an authentically Italian sauce recipe. The table wine was also outstanding, I thought, for table wine – we were in Italy, after all – and this combined with the jet-lag in a most potent way. So at some point in the conversation I ended up in a too-long tipsy discourse about the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist – the centerpiece of all Catholic spirituality and of the most kick-ass theory of art that I can imagine – which only came to an end when Erik pulled out his camera and shot me in the face, bringing me to a surprised halt/stupor. This was funny enough that I've always treasured the photograph (and the joke at my expense) ever since. (And of course I've tried to learn from the point of his joke, which can be hard for an Irish....)

Again, I found myself thinking about the Eucharist a lot today, particularly as it was announced with simplicity and gusto by weaklingrecords, and, for the first time in quite a while, wishing that I was at Notre Dame for the Easter Triduum, to see the liturgy done as well as it is done anywhere on the planet. With the quality of the music provided by the Folk Choir and the Liturgical Choir, there is an ease in sinking into contemplation of the Mysteries that I've never enjoyed anywhere else. I read and think about such things so much that the idea of simply sitting with them suddenly appealed greatly. I'll at least get a chance later in the week.

I didn't attend the liturgy at the Gesu tonight because Diane had asked me to reserve the day for her. Tonight was our "Europe Night." I met her downtown at the Milwaukee Art Museum after she finished work at the Discovery Center, where she works as a writer. We were (finally!) taking in an exhibition I had been eager to see but to which I had not yet made it: FOTO: Modernity In Central Europe, 1918–1945.

This deserves more comment from me when I'm less sleepy, but I was quite struck. The reviews, like that from The New York Times or from Aperture were robust, with Aperture saying, "the most compelling and important historical exhibition of modern photography at a major U.S. museum of the last decade.". I'll have to take their word for it. I've not studied photography in any real way, compared at least to the effort I've put into reading in some other directions in art.

I wasn't hit in the overwhelming way that I was in Florence by some of Michelangelo's work, like when I was overpowered by the David, which I thought wouldn't make much impact on me as I'd seen it so often in reproduction. Instead, it was the cumulative weight of the new ideas and perspectives I gained about this period – and photography's role in it – that hit me today. Just the sheer simple fact of things like my never having thought about how photography itself would convey being "modern" to people of the time, or that to do "experimental" photography would be Modern in its own right: not "experimenting" with an eye toward achieving some set development beyond the experiements, like Michelangelo's drafts and sketches that are simply steps toward achieving the real thing, but that "experiment" in itself conveyed what it meant to be Modern. Likewise, I had never been so struck by the "democratic" sense of photography's accessibility as an art, which would add to its "Modern" feel: the politics here took that often in a specifically "proletarian" way, but the wider principle is the more true one: it was a more widely accessible art, in much the same way the power of Photoshop and image manipulation via computer has put photographic art in the hands of the populace in an even broader way today.

These are simple ideas, sure, but they're ones I had never quite articulated to myself. As I've done intellectual/cultural history over the years, I've come to realize that it's those little points of perspective – those things that are assumed more than trumpeted – that are the real gems in the history of ideas. The things that lots of these people were "trumpeting" as their Big Ideas, that their photography was about, like Soviet socialism or sexual androgyny, these are the things that are more dated or passé today: it's the underlying assumptions that are oftentimes more the critical or engaging ideas and perspectives over "the long run" of history, it seems to me.



Afterward, "Europe Night" continued. We stopped by a grocery to put together a simple meal of a round French loaf of some sort, cheese and sausage, red grapes and dark chocolate. Added to that was the mid-level Chianti I'd been hauling around in my book bag and soon we were back at Diane and Tim's place, fighting off the cats while cutting up the food and getting ready for dinner.

This is where the second major event of Europe Night occurred. Diane and I watched a DVD I'd bought a few weeks ago when it came out, but which I'd been saving to watch with her. We were both curious to see what I guess I ought to describe as Julie Delpy's feature film directorial debut, her 2 Days In Paris. We had meant to see it when it came out this past year, and when I went to look to see when it would arrive at the Oriental Theatre, which is our art house/independent/foreign theatre in town, I discovered to my shock that that was the film's last night in Milwaukee! Go figure. So we pledged to get the DVD and watch it together. Tim is in Madison for a few days, but he hadn't been part of this pact, so we proceeded without him. I'd made Diane watch Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset with me as part of my mass forcing of those films upon my friends, and as she and Tim are the best sort of folks to watch film with, we'd gotten a lot of discussion out of what those two narratives were saying about love relationships in our generation. So we were curious to see what Delpy would do on her own, but working with the male lead, Adam Goldberg, who is another figure in that Linklater circle. I get interested in these kinds of filmmaking "circles," and so I was curious in this case, being particularly taken with the script she helped write for Before Sunset, to see what she would do as director of her own "relationship" story.

The movie is laugh-out-loud funny. And I point out that this was with only one other person in the room. I think the bigger the audience, the greater the tendency or freedom to laugh out loud. But Diane and I kept looking at one another in glee or horror and bursting out with full laughter or sneak-attack gasps of laughter as we were taken by one line or another. It's a very different piece than the Linklater, to which it bears only superficial resemblance of location and subject. Delpy's writing is bawdy, full of ribald joke and conversation between the characters in a way that highlights some of the cultural comedy of the American/French dynamic, but which also in its way helps highlight the issues and pitfalls of committed love by coming at these ideas from an unexpected angle. If you can laugh at such, you'll laugh at this, and I'm looking forward to inflicting it upon my friends with different but equal enthusiasm. It's really a first-rate piece of filmmaking for a little film, and I can hope that it persuades sensible producers to get behind Delpy as director in the future.
Tags: art, cultural, europe, food, friends-marquette era, historical, liturgical, milwaukee, movie review, personal, photography, sexuality, travel-1998 rome/tunisia
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