Portlandia

Portlandia is one of my favorite TV shows. I’m not going to say a lot about it, because if you’re a regular reader of Quilas, chances are you already know about it, watch it, and it’s one of your favorite TV shows too.

What you might not know is that you can watch this online, even without Netflix. Check out the sites Project Free TV, and WatchSeries.

(If you really don’t know about it, the Wikipedia page is here.)

I’m linking to a segment* from the current season that I find particularly funny; it’s very representative of the “East Village” also:


With Jello Biafra

* * *

Oh! While researching this piece, I discovered that IFC was having a contest, the grand prize of which is:

  • Round-trip airfare to Portland, Oregon on Virgin America for winner and guest
  • 4-day/3-night hotel stay for winner and guest
  • Walk on role in an episode of Portlandia Season 5
  • Ground transportation to and from the hotel
  • 2 IFC/Portlandia branded prize packs

I was lucky that the deadline hadn’t passed yet (August 21 at 11:59pm PST!). Naturally, I entered. So maybe you’ll see me on an episode of Portlandia soon!

portlandia-quilas

Maybe I’ll even become a regular, and have to move to Portland. I don’t know if I could stand that.

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* If this video doesn’t load, let me know and I’ll find another link.

Stealth Gentrification, Part 2

Regular readers of Quilas may remember a post of mine from this time last year called Stealth Gentrification. It’s mostly quotations from an essay titled “Stealth Gentrification: Camouflage and Commerce on the Lower East Side”, by Lara Belkind.

She examines the period from 1980–2005, dividing it into three “stages”: 1980–1994; 1995–2002; and 2003–2005. Part 1 focussed on the stage 1. Part 2 will focus on stage 2. Part 3 will focus on stage 3, whenever I get around to it.

I posted Part 1 after the announcement that the bar Max Fish was closing. Max Fish was one of the first LES-gentrifying establishments, and people who claim to oppose gentrification were lamenting its closing. (They’ve since re-opened, after a failed move to Williamsburg.)

There’s something to be said for not being ostentatious, but just as glitter and paint cannot cover up the class struggle, neither can graffiti and riot gates.

So what exactly are they lamenting? Let’s take a look, shall we?

* * *

    The rise of content industries ushered in a new era of hyper-consumerism. In this milieu, bohemian concepts of the “avant-garde,” “underground,” and even “authenticity” were increasingly considered lifestyle options indicative of social identity, rather than political choices. In addition, with the declining importance of large-scale industrial production, cultural intermediaries, often members of urban subcultures, became essential to the search for new niche markets and marketable differences. This process depended on continuous diversification and the discovery of new source material.

    It also meant that cultures once thought to be peripheral — including that of the ghetto and the urban disenfranchised — could be appropriated within the culture industry as sources of content.

    For the owners of these businesses, recycling an existing storefront was generally cheaper than a full renovation; but it was, more importantly, an expression of cultural identity. Most of the new Lower East Side entrepreneurs [There's that word I told you about! –Q] saw themselves as operating outside mainstream corporate culture, and preserving the built environment was a way to identify themselves as locals. Nonetheless, they consciously engaged in “new-economy” activities, creating and selling trends of cultural consumption, content and hipness.

    Denise Carbonell is one such entrepreneur. … She bought a corner building with several units and a storefront, and today she lives in one of the units and rents the others. Originally, she used the storefront as her studio, but in the mid-1990s she transformed it into a retail space to sell her work: retro-futurist clothing, textiles, jewelry and mobiles. The store had once been a men’s clothing store, Louis Zuflacht, which closed in 1964. Making few renovations, Carbonell has been careful to maintain the exterior, occasionally reinforcing unstable portions of the facade and the “Louis Zuflacht” sign while being meticulous not to change its worn appearance. Still, she decided, for instance, to retain its storefront windows, which were covered with a film, yellow with age. Today, no sign indicates her business; one becomes aware of it only as a glimpse through the open door.

    Joe Manuse is another local merchant. A painter and printmaker who formerly worked in graphic production, he lives around the corner from the low-key, inexpensive cafe he runs with his brother. The pair opened the cafe in 1997, in a well-worn storefront with no sign. Instead, a single scrawl of graffiti on the security grill reads “Lotus Club,” the café’s name. Across the street is the “Poor People in Action of the Lower East Side” community garden, whose members hold their meetings at the Lotus Club. Here, camouflage was employed to attract middle-class hipsters, but it also created a space without overt class associations.

    In 1999, [Mary Beth Nelson] and several partners, all from the neighborhood, opened a gourmet restaurant, 71 Clinton Fresh Food. … With her partners, Nelson then opened two more restaurants on Clinton Street: aKa in 2001, and Alias in 2002. Both are aptly named because they preserve the facades of their previous occupants, a ladies’ dress shop and a Puerto Rican diner. Ironically, Alias had already been the name of the Puerto Rican diner. Originally, it had been “Elias Restaurant,” but the prior owner had replaced the “E” with an “A”.

    Nelson made minimal changes to these facades, too — and not just because it was cheaper to do so. … Nelson explained the design was based on a “recycling aesthetic — of grafting onto and transforming.” Her intent was to identify the restaurant with the existing character of the neighborhood and create a spot for locals. Besides, she said, camouflage is the “ultimate New York insider” design strategy.

    … The expanding economy of the 1990s also shaped the Lower East Side not simply as a place to consume the products and services of new entrepreneurs, but as a cultural space which could be consumed for its atmosphere. The sense of the neighborhood as a cultural destination was greatly assisted by a cluster of fringe storefront theaters and music venues that added to a layered experience of working-class authenticity, counterculture, and urban edge — and by a proliferation of bars, the ultimate purveyors of ambiance.

    Luna Lounge … preserved the industrial frontage of a defunct Chinese herb warehouse — with no signage, just a large, dark glass window. Arlene Grocery adopted the name and hand-painted sign of the bodega it replaced, and at first might be confused with another bodega down the street with a sign by the same artist.

    … [B]ars were some of the most creative businesses employing camouflage to create image and mystique. For example, in the mid-1990s, one owner opened two theme bars, one which recycled a recently defunct beauty shop, and the other a pharmacy. Named Beauty Bar and Barmacy, they are high-kitsch celebrations of a not-so-distant working-class past.

    Camouflage could also be used to heighten exclusivity. The Milk & Honey bar is located behind a dilapidated facade disguised as a clothing alteration shop, and it seats only a dozen people. Its address and phone number are kept unlisted, so potential patrons must first obtain these from friends. … Happy Ending, a bar which opened in a Chinese massage parlor shut down by the police. Happy Ending was a euphemism for the “total-release” massage reportedly delivered on the premises, and the bar maintains the awning and frontage of its former occupant, imprinted with Chinese characters. Nothing at all is visible from the street which might reveal its new use. … Though “invisible” to an uninitiated neighborhood resident, the bar is highly visible among global trend-setters. It has an elaborate website and is recommended on a number of Internet culture sites and weblogs [such as] superfuture.com, a site with listings for New York, Tokyo, Sydney, and Shanghai that describes itself as “urban cartography for global shopping experts”.

* * *

These are the small businesses Jeremiah Moss wants to save.

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1Lara Belkind, Stealth Gentrification: Camouflage and Commerce on the Lower East Side, Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, Vol. 21, No. 1 (FALL 2009), pp. 21-36.

http://iaste.berkeley.edu/pdfs/21.1c-Fall09Belkind.pdf

Foreign Scientific Jargon

I am working on a piece, the second of three, that deals with stealth gentrification, and I noticed that the author of the essay I’m quoting from uses the word entrepreneur to describe small-business owners that moved into the Lower East Side during the period of her study. “Why does she use that term?” I wondered.

I thought about other French terms: bourgeois, petite-bourgeois,* proletariat, that fall into the general category of French terms that describe (or obscure) capitalist social relations, but these terms evoke a different response in the reader than entrepreneur. Some people even consider them to be cliché (although they’re fine with the word cliché!).

It’s not that they’re French (or non-English, as it were), that people shy away from these words, it’s that they denote class position. Despite what George Orwell says: “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent,” if you were to replace these with English terms, e.g., if you were to say “small-business owner,” instead of petite-bourgeois, it changes the meaning. The first is “the lifeblood of our economy,” the second is a deviationist, and resorts to fascism in times of crisis.

“Working class” is better than proletariat; the terms for the capitalist class are the problematic ones. Nobody says bourgeois as a compliment. No one ever says “Those are some fine bourgeois values you have!” If I say I want to open a store, no one would say “You’re a real petite-bourgeois now!”§

I still don’t know why she used the word entrepreneur though, even if she doesn’t say petite-bourgeois. Instead of:

    Such tactics have been deployed by a diverse succession of actors — from squatters and artists, to local entrepreneurs and hipsters, to real estate investors and brand-name retailers.

why not say “local small-business owners”? She must have had a reason, I just wonder what it was. She doesn’t write “bourgeois” (petite- or otherwise) anywhere in the essay. She uses the term entrepreneur 18 times!

I don’t like the word entrepreneur. The etymology of entrepreneur in the Oxford Concise Dictionary is “Origin: early 19th cent., from French, from entreprendre ‘undertake’ (see enterprise)”. “Enterprise” as in “free enterprise”. It’s understandable why capitalists prefer euphemisms to “capitalist,” but why the author of an essay on stealth gentrification?

Un…less…

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* I prefer petite to “petty” because “petty” means “insignificant” or “trifling, and while small businesses might be insignificant or trifling, it’s their smallness that I mean to convey.
§Actually, friends of mine would probably say this!
Politics and the English Language. Accessed August 18, 2014.

MoRUS 2014 Film Festival Photos

Quilas readers may recall from such posts as MoRUS Film Festival at Orchard Alley that I took photos of their two screenings at Orchard Alley Community Garden. Given that I’m a member of that garden, I do this.

This year, I agreed to take pictures of each night’s screening at the other gardens. Here’s one, at La Plaza Cultural, August 7:

morus-at-la-plaza-20140807

The rest can be viewed here.

MoRUS Films Festival at Orchard Alley

There is an organization in my neighborhood called the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space. They’re located in the same building as an existing squat, called C‑Squat, at 155 Avenue C.

One of the things they do, aside from holding talks in their space and giving walking tours of the neighborhood, is sponsor a film festival. This year the theme is “Women of the Lower East Side.”

We at Orchard Alley Community Garden*, where I’ve been a member for ten years, were very happy once again to host screenings. Saturday night was “Your Day Is My Night,” directed by Lynne Sachs, about immigrant residents of a “shift-bed” apartment in Chinatown. The director and many of the cast were in attendance, and answered questions after (with translators). Sunday night was “Sweatshop Cinderella: A Portrait Of Anzia Yezierska,” directed by Suzanne Wasserman, about the Jewish Lower East Side in the 1920s through 1950s, and the life of novelist Anzia Yezierska. Again, the director was present and answered questions afterward.

film-fest-20140802-0611
That’ll be $5, please!

film-fest-20140802-0610
Setting up

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* Quilas is not associated with Orchard Alley Community Garden.
In honor of the 180th anniversary of the birth of John Venn (August 4, 1834), creator of the Venn Diagram, I will demonstrate the relationship in graphic form:
 
quilas-oa-venn-diagram

Tompkins Square Park 26th Police-Riot Reunion

Time certainly flies. It seems like only yesterday I was writing about the Tompkins Square Park 25th Police-Riot Reunion, and here we are now at year 26.

It’s raining as I write this (8/2 – 08:15) — it’s forecasted to rain all day — but the show will go on, rain or shine, says the promoter.

The weird thing about weather.com is that when you look at the summary forecast, it says one thing:

26-tsp-reunion-weather

but when you check the hourly forecast, oftentimes it says something completely different:

26-tsp-reunion-weather-hourly

What’s up with that? How are you supposed to know what to believe?

Another thing I don’t like about weather.com is that when you connect, to find out what the weather will be, you’re met with links to videos that have nothing to do with the weather:

26-tsp-reunion-weather-videos

* * *

Since it’s Saturday and I’m not working, I don’t have to plan ahead what to wear or take with me. I’ll base my decision on whatever’s happening at 12:45. I’ll take an umbrella, just in case. I don’t want my camera to get wet. And it’s six hours long, so I’m going to bring my book!

This year there are only two days of concerts. The bands are:

Saturday
Iconicide
Nihilistics
Ruckus Interruptus
Transgendered Jesus
Urban Waste

Sunday
Bowery Boys
Hammerbrain
David Peel
Penguin
Rosabelle Selavy
Sewage
The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black

* * *

Saturday

I arrived at Tompkins just before 1:00pm, when the flier said they would begin.

Little did I know that they meant begin building the stage!

26-tsp-reunion-building-stage
12:48

I called my wife and told her I could help her take her books over the The Strand to sell now, after all, as she had wanted, instead of at some unspecified time in the future, as I had wanted.

When I got back over to the park, at around 2:30, Chris Flash was introducing the weekend’s events:

26-tsp-reunion-chris-flash
Concert organizer Chris Flash

He talked a bit about the riot, the days that followed, and the inception of The Shadow. When he was finished, he said there were still ten minutes left and anyone “who can speak coherently, who isn’t a complete lunatic” could come up and speak. Fortunately, only one lunatic spoke. Unfortunately, he wasn’t incoherent.

The bands finally started at around 3:00. I couldn’t stay for the whole show, though. I had to get back to the garden where I’m a member, for the screening of “Your Day is My Night,” part of the MoRUS “Women of the Lower East Side” film festival.

* * *

Sunday

It’s clear to me now that the flier distributed to promote this show was wrong: it was not scheduled to start at 1:00. I arrived just before 1:00 again, and sat on a bench watching the stage builders rebuild the stage.* I thought about waiting until 3:00, but it rained earlier and it was very humid, and I had a lot of work to do at home, before picking up my son from Grand Central, so I decided to just pack it in and go back home. I didn’t see any of Sunday’s show, so the only video I have is of the first three bands that played on Saturday.

But before that! One of the people in the video featured prominently in a previous Quilas piece. Do you know which one? The first correct responder will receive the Quilas Certificate of Recognition, suitable for framing!

certificate-of-recognition

Now, on to the video!
 

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* Wasn’t the deal with the city that they would provide a temporary stage, in exchange for tearing down the bandshell? Did the time expire on that deal, or did they just renege? Or is it something else? Answer in the Comments section. You won’t get a certificate, but doing the right thing is its own reward.

Which Good Old Days?

Hardly a day passes that I don’t read a comment on some blog or news site that longs for a return to an earlier period of “East Village” history. So I thought it might be fun to see which period people would prefer.

Below is a poll, with descriptions taken from Janet Abu-Lughod’s book
“From Urban Village to East Village: The Battle for New York’s Lower East Side.”

1

 
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1 Janet Abu-Lughod, From Urban Village to East Village: The Battle for New York’s Lower East Side (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 1995), 342-345.

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