Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

"God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say 'thank you?'" 
-- William A. Ward

Psalm 100. A Psalm for Giving Grateful Praise.

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving with family and friends!

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Posted by Nicole Bianchi at 4:46 PM |

Monday, November 22, 2010

New York City's Poetry

Musings from a poetry reading hosted by First Things magazine and featuring the poetry of Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine.

I am seated in a small, crowded room on the sixth floor of a building on New York City’s East Side. It is my first time at a poetry reading. Initially, I feel out of place. I am younger than most here – too young even to drink the wine. But I find several familiar faces in the crowd. I realize that all in this room are united by a love for words and especially for poetry.

Christian Wiman, a native of west Texas, came to the city to share his poetry. He laughs, almost apologetically, when admitting that most of the poems are about Texas. But I am fascinated by the way his voice (with a hint of a Texan drawl) lifts words from the page and paints pictures of fields that “wrinkle into rows / of cotton” and dust devils that are a “mystical hysterical amalgam of earth and wind / and mind.”

Leaning forward in my chair to catch the words as they slip past, I wish for pen and paper to write down several of the lines. Wiman knows these poems by heart and does not think to allow a long pause between each reading to let his listeners ponder the graceful phrases.

There is one poem that captivates me. He calls it “Postolka,” the Czech word for kestrel. During a stay in Prague, he saw a falcon land on his windowsill. The poem recounts the moment: “Wish for something, you said. / A shiver pricked your spine. / The falcon turned its head 
/ and locked its eyes on mine.” I love the way I suddenly feel transported to that room. I can feel the eager anticipation pulsing through my body, and the wonder that such a large bird, loose in a city, would choose my windowsill on which to alight. What would I do in this room if I saw a falcon dive through the night air and perch on the fire escape to stare at me?

I am reminded of a passage from Mystery and Manners, a book of essays by Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor encourages writers to take up painting because it forces them to see. This is the basis of all the arts, she argues. Writing is not concerned with just saying things, but showing things. I do not know if Wiman has read O’Connor, but he has surely taken this advice to heart. His poetry is charged by a peculiar clarity of vision that creates honestly detailed portrayals of everyday life. The poems possess all the color and beauty of a photograph. And, yet, they are much more alive than a photograph: they allow a glimpse into Wiman’s mind and transcribe into words the vibrant glow of his soul.

That glow seems to fill the room, subduing his listeners into an awestruck silence or stirring them to applause. We applaud when his words inspire and encourage the glow within our own souls.

When I leave the poetry reading, I am refreshed and renewed. I find myself on the sidewalk in the cool of an October evening. But the city seems different than before, as though I see it with new eyes. I long to draw my own lines of poetry – to capture the emotions welling up in my soul and somehow offer them up to this big city.

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Posted by Nicole Bianchi at 12:39 PM |

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Breakfast at Tiffany's: Book Review

[This book review was written for a college writing class assignment. I was asked to write a brief essay examining a piece of literature set in New York City. In his story, Capote writes of the City: "They must see this, these lights, this river – I love New York, even though it isn't mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house, something, anyway, that belongs to me because I belong to it."]

A Review of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's

The name "Holly Golightly" brings to mind an elegant Audrey Hepburn – slim and beautiful in a chic black dress. Hepburn recreated Truman Capote’s famous character in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s and instantly became an icon of fashion. The film, however, presents a sugarcoated version of Capote’s original story. The 1958 novella is a harsher, cruder, and sadder glimpse of life in World War II-era New York City. Capote weaves a theme of alienation throughout the pages, examining the possibility of feeling terribly alone in a city of over twelve million people.

Told through the voice of an unnamed narrator, Breakfast at Tiffany’s follows the escapades of a young socialite, Holly Golightly, who, though she seems to have the world at her feet, tries to find a place where she belongs. The majority of the story takes place in “a brownstone in the East Seventies.” This is only a temporary residence for most of the characters. When the narrator returns to the brownstone years later, he finds only one resident still living there.

Just as the apartment is a temporary residence for the characters, so too are their relationships only temporary. The narrator and Holly become friends, but constantly argue. This tension drives the plot of the story. The narrator can see Holly’s life spiraling out of control, but seems powerless to do anything to save her.

He first meets Holly when she loses her key and rings him to open the front door for her. Later on, she requests entrance to his apartment through the window, explaining, “I’ve got the most terrible man downstairs.” This encounter reveals the most about Holly: she makes her living as a prostitute (wheedling money out of wealthy, older men) and she does not like to speak about her rather odd past (the narrator finds out later that she was a “hillbilly” and a child bride).

The plot of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is anything but new. It follows the basic outline of a romantic novel, though those looking for passion and romance will be disappointed. Capote is more interested in detailing the quiet friendship that develops between the narrator and Holly, rather than her flings with a number of rich millionaires. Further, Capote’s story is intensely realistic. Holly is hardly an innocent damsel in distress and she has no chivalrous knight in shining armor to rescue her.

Indeed, what makes Capote’s story unique is its frank portrayal of ordinary life. Most people will never find the romance they yearn for. Loneliness is a harsh reality – the narrator feels out of place at Holly’s parties, the reader feels as if he were eavesdropping on Holly’s personal life, and Holly herself ultimately finds that she is an outsider to the upper crust of New York City. This is what makes Holly’s pitiful cry all the more poignant – “Not knowing what’s yours till you’ve thrown it away.” It reveals the heart of this cautionary tale. There are two kinds of people in this world – those who find where they belong and those who do not; those who know what’s theirs and keep it and those who throw everything they love away.

Capote wrote his novella for those who are not afraid to examine the heartache and struggle of everyday life. His characters are believable and the dialogue is strong. However, everyday life does not always have a happy ending and, thus, Capote’s story is a bit more depressing than its film counterpart. Yet, this is also the reason why it surpasses the film and must be considered a literary masterpiece.

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Posted by Nicole Bianchi at 10:47 PM |

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Historic Trip Down Market Street: Before and After

1906 San Franciso -- before and after the catastrophic earthquake.

The above movie has gone viral on YouTube with over one million views. The footage is 104 years old -- the first movie to be shot using 35 mm film. On April 14, 1906, a camera was attached to the front of a cable car and captured twelve minutes of busy traffic on San Francisco's Market Street. What fascinates me most about this film, besides the incredible trip back in time, is the absolute mayhem of the traffic -- and not a single accident! Also, it is sobering to think that only four days later tragedy would strike this city and claim over 3,000 lives.

I recommend watching the high quality, restored version of this film that was recently spotlighted on 60 Minutes.

If you're fascinated by the history surrounding the film, watch Morley Safer's full report here. For many years, the film was wrongly believed to have been taken in 1905. However, historian David Kiehn pinpointed the date using theater marquees, car license plates, and weather records.

After watching the above film, view this footage of Market Street following the April 18th earthquake:

At a moment's notice, on a day like the one in the first film, an earthquake rocked the city to its core. San Francisco's devastation eerily resembles a bombed out European city during WWII. It should give us pause when we look at these two contrasting videos to consider how quickly disaster can come upon a city. In the first movie, we see ordinary people going about their daily lives. In the second, we see a nearly deserted street and abandoned, smoking buildings. A few people wander the street, their faces blank -- they know their lives will never be the same. It is saddening that the 21st century man can find such a scene all too familiar with what he experienced on 9/11. We are not immune to such unexpected tragedy.

Most inspiring, however, is the people of San Francisco's perseverance to rebuild their city after the earthquake. I am reminded of the 1936 film San Francisco, starring Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald. It tells the story of "a beautiful singer [MacDonald] and a battling priest who try to reform a Barbary Coast saloon owner [Gable] in the days before the big earthquake." The film culminates in a 20-minute recreated sequence of the 1906 earthquake. In the aftermath, Gable searches for MacDonald in the rubble. Despairing, he promises God he will reform his life if MacDonald is alive. When he finds MacDonald in a refugee camp, Gable falls on his knees, thanking God. Word reaches the camp that the fires have been put out in the city. Gable and MacDonald join the other refugees to march back to the city, singing a hymn, with cries of "We'll build a new San Francisco!" The last scene of the movie shows the smoldering city slowly transform into the modern 1930s San Francisco.

Emma M. Burke, a survivor of the earthquake, wrote these inspiring words: "In conclusion, let me say that this stupendous disaster leads a thoughtful person to two conclusions: viz., faith in humanity; and the progress of the human race. All artificial restraints of our civilization fell away with the earthquake's shocks. Every man was his brother's keeper. Everyone spoke to everyone else with a smile. The all-prevailing cheerfulness and helpfulness were encouraging signs of our progress in practicing the golden rule, and humanity's struggle upward toward the example of our Savior."


Posted by Nicole Bianchi at 7:07 PM |

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