Cooper Chronicles: I.20

(An ongoing series for the month of January, these are letters written to my family and friends during my college years in New York, when I discovered my love of writing.  Introduction here.)

on Christmas day last year my life was changed irrevocably as i opened one relatively small package; i succumbed to the comforts of Sprintland with “a personal phone, answering machine, and pager *right* in the palm of your hand.”  my parents learned last semester that it’s pretty hard to get in touch with me at school.  if they dared to call before 10 AM, i would answer the phone with something in between a growl and a croak, and would promptly forget the details of our conversation as soon as i hung up; and after that, i was usually at class, in the studio or out with friends until very late.  i didn’t feel right about returning their calls at 2 or 3 AM (once i dared to call at midnight, and the tone of my father’s voice made me glad that i was several states away … ), so sometimes i would go weeks without returning their calls.  they had had enough.  i was joining the majority of Manhattan with a little PCS phone that would put me in touch with the real world.

of course, cell phones are useful.  over vacation, we went to see the van gogh exhibit in DC; when our group left the museum, we were split into three sections, and without the use of two phones, we might still be wandering around out there.  but i have my suspicions.  those little black devils are among the electronic gadgets that appear to be useful, but cause way more trouble than you pay for.  first you have to memorize *another* phone number where you can be reached; then you have to memorize an explanation for why you have a weird area code (mobile units cover a wider range than land-bound lines, so they get codes of their own); then you have to worry about forgetting the phone somewhere, or having it go off during class or on the subway.  once i heard a ring in the train station, and as i looked innocently around pretending that it wasn’t me, i noticed a dozen more people looking equally inculpable.  it could have been any of us. 

when i arrived back at school, my friends were shocked.  i had been branded as the all-natural, no-technology-added hippie girl from the outset; now here i was, as modern as any of them.  raquel looked puzzled the first time she saw it.  “it’s so … not … you!” she observed accurately.  raphael was impressed: “you’re all businesslike and stuff!”  penley mocks me incessantly.  “buy Comsat if it hits 20,” he quips each time i pull it out.  he thinks it would be amusing if i set it up to ring during my next crit and interrupted abraham’s rhapsodizing to answer it. 

i have to admit, it’s nice to be able to call someone back right away.  but at times it can feel like a burden.  the first time i went to a movie with my phone, i realized with a sinking feeling that i could no longer make fun of the onscreen warning to “please turn off all beepers and cell phones.”  i always used have a good laugh at the people who were soooooo social they had to have their phones with them when they went to the movies.  now i just sat grumpily awaiting the start of the film.  darned progress.

our refrigerator is covered with original works in verse; i’ve always been a fan of magnetic poetry, and when i saw the New York edition — complete with words like “SoHo,” “42nd,” “theater,” and “neon,” i couldn’t resist.  the inhabitants and visitors of 14C aren’t exactly typical Romantics, though, so our fridge has phrases like “come and Guggenheim for me,” “Manhattan delis smell unusual,” “eat Greenwiches,” and our tribute to raimund abraham: “produce architecture, you ass!”  seldom does anyone visit without rearranging a sentence or two, and often sara and i can tell who’s been there by the nature of the magnetic comments.

we have discovered the all-night diner culture, something we formerly shunned but now embrace out of necessity.  the guards at the Foundation building have become very strict about closing time with the start of the new semester, and they now force everyone to leave at midnight and turn off the lights and lock the doors.  so if our work is relatively portable — reading or drawing, for instance — we head to Kiev, the Ukranian-owned diner with a bunch of nice waitresses and really good challah bread.  it’s fun to watch people filter in and out, coming from the theater or a party or a bar, full of loud comments and confusing stories to tell.  the local “lite rock” station drones softly in the background.  it’s a great place to have metaphysical discussions over coffee and lentil soup or pancakes (breakfast is served 24 hours).  the staff often conveniently “forgets” an item or two from the tab, knowing that we are destitute students, and we tip generously.  (it’s a very good arrangement.)  Veselka, another Ukranian joint about a block away, is an acceptable change of scenery.  we were impressed when they said nothing about our rather large drawing pads and art books and, after bringing our food, didn’t return to bother us for two hours while we finished our work.  starbucks is trendy, the weather is too cold to be outside, our apartments are filled with distractions, and actual restaurants require the formality of ordering something pricey.  diners offer some of the comforts of home — lovable disorganization, motherly waitresses — at a negligible cost, even for me.  

i’m still in a love/hate relationship with architectonics.  last tuesday the professors called another class meeting, in which they scolded us for “thinking too much” about our projects.  we had stretched the research period out too far, they said — too much discussion, theory and musing.  now they made it abundantly clear that what they wanted was *stuff*: models, drawings, lots of output.  so we halted the research and set to work building some of the things we had learned.  they all but forbade us to work together, so raquel and i agreed on a position for the “floating” bodies and set some parameters of areas to explore, and then set to work on the other components of the model individually.  the “nucleus” can be anything from a sheet (her idea) to a dodecahedron (my idea).  it should reflect the geometry of the cube and the presence of the bodies, and additionally, relate something of what we’ve learned through our research (ours concentrated on studies of light and shadow, time within the cube, and opposition between the two bodies.)  the “armature,” or “interventions,” are concrete objects that relate the bodies to the nucleus in some way.  right now we’re most concerned with the effects of shadow on our ideas.  we’re doing a lot of playing with transparent materials that make no shadow, and choosing positions and objects that will change the way they relate to one another through time and the hours of the sun.  it’s a lot of fun at this stage, but expect me to reach panic by the time crit rolls around on thursday.

i learned how to develop my own film in photo class this week, and we’re supposed to shoot a roll on our own this week.  i can’t wait to start taking my own pictures and printing them — it’s something i’ve always wanted to know how to do, architecture or no architecture, and i can’t wait to stop paying 25 dollars a roll for film and developing (new york prices!)

we had our first architecture history class last week, and i had the eye-opening experience of coming into close contact with a professor who had chip on his shoulder concerning Christianity.  (the chip was so big i’m surprised it fit through the door.)  he began his lecture with “first, a word of warning against the Christian-written primary sources we’ll be reading: you can’t expect these things to be accurate.  it’s well-known fact that the first virtue of Christianity is hypocrisy.  they preach exclusivity but practice accommodation — ” and he went on to tell how the early Church “stole” traditions from the Jewish religion and the pagan sun cults (his explanation of why the churches faced east for so long.)  i was taken aback, but not shocked; in fact, i’m surprised it took me so long to meet a professor like this.  and he was too far off-base to offend me; i just chuckled at his pompous attitude and complete misinterpretation of the facts.  it should be interesting trying to get an A without disowning my religion completely.

on friday night, penley and i gave ourselves a break and went out.  we had dinner at a Spanish restaurant one street over from the school.  the menu looked great; it wasn’t until we sat down that we realized the prices were much too low for the atmosphere and began to suspect something.  all the prices were in two columns, one labeled “tapas” and the other “racion.”  neither of us knows any Spanish beyond “hola,” “mellayma emily” and “cerveza”.  so i swallowed my dignity and asked the waiter what all this meant.  “tapas — like this.”  he formed an imaginary plate with his thumbs and forefingers, about four inches in diameter.  “racion — twice as much.”  he beamed at us, and we realized that we were supposed to order a bunch of these things — a Spanish version of what i used to call a “snacky dinner.”  the food was very good, and very strong — we ate everything along with the fresh bread that they brought to our table about every three minutes.  there was a fish-potato-basil spread, fresh mussels and snails, fried eggplant with paprika and marinated Manchego cheese with spices.  and, despite our fears about the bill, it was shockingly low since we hadn’t ordered any drinks (looking around at the other tables, we could see how they made their money.  yikes!) 

the next day, i told sara about our experience, and she said her sister, who is living in spain for the semester, goes to tapas bars (*that’s* what they’re called!) all the time — apparently, they’re the place to be.  on the cutting edge, as usual.  after the restaurant, we went to see a movie at the MoMA that came highly recommended by the Village Voice, the local liberal-artsy newspaper.  the film was called “the man who shot Liberty Valance” and was hailed as “introspective” and “enigmatic” without actually specifying a subject.  it was free, the Voice has impeccable taste in film, and we were urged to go by a friend, who raved about it.  it turned out to be a plain ol’ cliché Western, complete with the “yer kinda purdy when yer angry” line and the gunfight at the end.  it was the first one either of us had ever seen, and i wouldn’t mind if it were the last.  it was, as my drawing teacher remarked once, “amusing, but not much more than amusing.”

i can feel next week peeking around the corner and grinning at me, so i have to go get a head start before it jumps out and scares me half to death.  (don’t laugh.  it’s happened before.)