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Durga Chew-Bose
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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in durga chew-bose (45)

Thursday
Jul252013

In Which There Is A Filmy Glow That Trails Her

Recently

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Three years ago today, Anthology Film Archives screened Andy Warhol’s Empire – an eight-hour shot of the Empire State Building filmed from the 41st floor of the Time-Life building in 1964. I didn’t go to the screening, nor could I imagine anyone who might, but that Saturday afternoon I remember wondering if the experience, much like a runner’s high (though entirely in opposition to the threshold of endorphin release), produced some kind of floating, near-delirious state in its audience. I considered loitering outside the theater around the time the film let out if only to see the faces of those who had lived through it. While oxymoronic, there is something distinctly “summer” about spending a third of a day in the dark, zoning out, watching time pass. Like something very teenaged. In no other season can a person devote the majority of daylight inside and still emerge expecting to see the evening sun. 

Before I met the kittens, a sister and brother named Annie and Dean, Sarah described their toy-sized bodies to me by cupping her hands together. Half an avocado, a squash ball, maybe two, could fit in that space. I was reminded of my friend Kate who years ago before I knew her, smuggled a hedgehog from Korea back to New York. She named it Louise. When Kate tells the story of how she snuck Louise through customs, Kate cups her hands and smiles just like Sarah. It’s funny how holding something small makes us grin as though we are up to no good. As though anything miniature is not yet meant for the world, and yet, there they are, yawning, sleeping, narrowing their eyes.

I never met Louise because she died of depression, but I’ve imagined her in the space between Kate’s cupped hands, and I imagined her again, in the space between Sarah’s hands.

Sarah brought Annie and Dean home on a particularly hot day; the kind of day that if they were babies and not kittens, years from now she might recall the day they were born in a storied, exaggerated manner. Heat waves in retrospect become folklore.

+

After showering, the lotion on my inside elbows always dries last and stays cool longest, especially when air from my fan hits it.

At night, my fan brushes my hair over my face. It feels like spiders are crawling all over me.

+

In June I went home to Montreal for my father and stepmother’s wedding. I began to tear up during my speech as I described a moment from childhood where one afternoon at a café, my father drew on a napkin the algebraic formula for when two people’s eyes meet in a room. While we often spent weekend afternoons together, especially in the summer –at cafes or at bookstores talking about who knows what – this afternoon and that piece of napkin algebra has outlasted them all. It was my father’s way of playing pretend with his daughter. I must have been old enough or tall enough for my feet to touch the ground, but I listened intently, like only children whose feet don’t yet touch the ground listen.

A few days after the wedding my father and I went to a bookstore. He couldn’t come inside with me because now he has Willis, a puppy Welsh terrier. I went in and sat by the window reading from The Selected Letters of Willa Cather while my dad found a bench and a coffee.

Willa in my lap, Willis at his feet.

+

Until you see your friend riding her bicycle, it’s so hard to picture your friend riding her bicycle.

Until you see your friend wearing that shade of pink that half the table argues is coral and the other half argues is salmon, it’s so hard to picture your friend wearing that shade of pink.

+

A couple weeks ago I saw a pregnant woman take a picture of her shadow. She was amused by its roundness. A few blocks later I was still thinking about the woman and soon my thoughts wandered to her future child a few years from now. Instead of a boy or a girl, I pictured a shadow. Mother and child shadows at the beach, feet walking and waddling towards the water – the baby’s shadow arms shaped like mini Popeye muscles, puffed out with floaties.

+

Whenever I see a swimming pool I think about a friend of a friend named Greg who, a few summers ago got a job painting pools. Despite having brown hair, Greg had a red beard, and no matter what time of day or no matter how many showers Greg took, all summer, Greg had specks of blue paint in his red beard.

+

Immobile and in pajamas, Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window is a New York City heat wave personified. He’s stuck and sticky and upset and paranoid. But Grace Kelly as Lisa Fremont is dynamic, lissome, as though her feet are attached to spinning records. She enters the small Greenwich Village apartment in airy Edith Head gowns, tossing on a chiffon shoulder-wrap, lounging in chartreuse. Even her nightgown appears unreal: a filmy glow that trails her.

But Lisa Fremont’s mobility, in all of her gossamer goodness, has a clear purpose. Near the end, she climbs a fire escape and slides through an open window as her boyfriend watches panicked from across the courtyard. She is spry, agile, nimble. And it comes as no surprise.

+

Neighbors keep their windows open. I hear the clatter of utensils being sorted. I hear someone practicing the trumpet, repeating The Godfather theme. I hear a dinner guest arrive with wine and inquire about an opener. I hear a phone ring; it sounds like a landline. I only hear landlines ring in homes with parents. Has a parent moved next door? But I mostly hear utensils being sorted, twice, sometimes three times a day.

One night I hear a couple argue outside my bedroom window. Upset, she doesn't follow as he walks away.

A few minutes later he comes back and says, "Baby." 

I can hear resistance because I can hear nothing at all, but then I hear two pairs of footsteps stumble and find that sweet spot home.  

+

Sarah and Jesse invited me over for dinner. There was more food than room on the table so Sarah moved the lamp to the floor. It sat at our feet like a pet might, an old family pet that no longer begs for scraps of food, that no longer cares to. I looked down at one point and saw Sarah’s sandals flopped beside the lamp, her legs folded under her bum. In fact, nobody’s legs were under the table. Everyone’s bodies were slightly turned and the floor beneath the table was just the lamp, the sandals, and an oval-shaped yellow yolk of light.

Later that night I went home and wrote Sarah an e-mail. I told her I thought that dreams, it’s likely, are lit with lamps that sit on floors.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about Sidney Lumet.

"Heart Talk" - The Polyphonic Spree (mp3)

"Popular By Design" - The Polyphonic Spree (mp3)

Friday
Jun142013

In Which We Inherit A Readiness To Conspire

Getting It

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Running on Empty
dir. Sidney Lumet
1988, 115 min

“Note-perfect,” was how my friend Akiva described Sidney Lumet’s Running on Empty in a recent gchat. As it often happens, I intuit praise as vital tidings; as if being made aware of something, in effect, hikes up its value. I have since watched the movie four times, three times alone, and once with someone who I feared was not 'getting it' — who I split my attention between, hoping to note a slight smile warming on his face during some of those 'note-perfect' scenes.

Released in 1988, three decades after Lumet's debut feature, 12 Angry Men, Running on Empty tells the story of Annie and Arthur Pope (Christine Lahti, Judd Hirsch), whose past involvement in a 1970s anti-war bombing of a napalm laboratory has forced them underground.

On the run with their two sons, Danny (River Phoenix) and Harry (Jonas Abry), the Popes adopt new identities every time they are forced to skip town. "Hey kid, you," Annie quizzes Danny as she opens a can of tuna in their newest home, "What's your name?" "Michael," he answers only to have Arthur drill him more aggressively. "What's my name? Spell it. What's your mother's name? And your brother?" Danny responds with mocking fidelity, out-daring the very authority his father had taught him to rival all of those years.

But moments like that last one are rare, and the conceit of a fugitive family pales in comparison to the story of a family and its day by day dynamic. Their readiness to conspire — not just as outlaws, but as a little brother who pulls pranks at the dinner table, or as a mother who whispers to her love-struck teenage son, 'I like her,' or as a father who playfully winces whenever his kids speak in surfer slang and misuse the word 'radicaaaal' — that spirit is portrayed with a fullness that tolerates bouts of adolescence in adulthood and prodigious wisdom among children. Like so many of his films, despite his characters' jeopardous lifestyles or expiring freedom, Lumet's capacity for creating an entire world feels triumphant.

In re-watching Running on Empty, I noted, as if pocketing mementos for later, some of my favorite parts. Written by Naomi Foner (Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal's mother) the script really finds its sweet spots when Danny and his music teacher's daughter, Lorna Phillips (Martha Plimpton), fall in love. Lorna, whose assuredness and nervy manner of speaking (and whose voice is deeper than Phoenix's) — "You are certifiable!" is one of the first things she tells him — and who stands with her arms crossed, grins, defends her anger as wit, and impassively talks about feelings, family, and the future, is offset by Plimpton's soft, doll-like hair, her sunken boyish features, and most of all, her protective love for Danny.

River Phoenix, whose contemplative manner is at once serious and rebellious, anchors the movie. Even the score, a bittersweet piano that is somehow suggestive and nostalgic, both, might very well be one of his pieces; Danny's virtuosic piano playing and Julliard audition marks the beginning of his doubts to remain with his family on the lam. Although he talks like a teenager, "I feel kind of lousy," and reacts self-consciously like one too—removing his wire-frame glasses when he answers a question in class — his withdrawal is burdened by a life changing choice. Like most teenagers in movies who live in city outskirts, Danny’s rare flashes of abandon are captured when he peddles standing up and turns a corner, or how he never locks his bike, or how effortlessly he jumps over railings and climbs in and out of windows.

Annie's birthday dinner plays much like a foreign film: party crowns, a modest yet joyful table, jokes about LSD trips, and a James Taylor "Fire and Rain" sing-along as they clear the table, dance, and do the dishes. Here the Pope family's outlook is at its truest without becoming too darling. They are a unit, accompanied this time by Lorna, who in her tomato-red crop top and rainbow skirt is happily unfettered, a welcome change from her father's chamber music concerts where she "dresses for a funeral" in lace that matches the Phillips’ sitting room curtains.

phoenix & lumet

Especially great about Running on Empty is its endless supply of tokens from that time: Christine Lahti's high-waisted jeans and white baggy turtleneck, Judd Hirsch’s quintessential ‘Dad’ jokes, or those varying shades of corduroy brown and navy blues, or how saying "they look uptight" is the most accurate way of describing 'otherness.' Insulting someone's IQ, that too was once relevant, or how a teacher, if he took a particular liking to you, might say "Get outta here" after class. Or how home economics involved partnering off, aprons, rows of ovens and Formica counters, buttercream mixing bowls, and instructions on how to make tuna-walnut-casserole.

It’s an unusual type of fondness to love a movie that is neither groundbreaking nor particularly dazzling, and that does not occupy a critical place in its director's canon. But like passages from books that I revisit or quotes from teachers I copied in college notebooks, Running on Empty too, has incredibly strong restorative powers.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She twitters here and tumbls here. You can find an archive of her work on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about her mother.

Friday
Feb152013

In Which We Begin To Vacation At Our Leisure

Family Vacation

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

 

× The time will never be right for a family vacation.

 

× It’s been years, nearer to a decade, since the last one.

 

× Somehow, plans for one are hatched.

 

× By way of Reply All, one family member will threaten to withdraw from the trip.

 

× It will happen more than once.

 

× Compromises are remarkably easy.

 

× Keep in mind, the art of bargaining with empty threats can often appear like a compromise.

 

× Once the tickets are booked, doubts about a family vacation are directly proportionate to an increasing yet delicate sense of anticipation.

 

× This type of anticipation is expressed through practical (but thoughtful) text messages.

 

× Some examples include: “thinkin of buying one of those 360 degree spinner wheel suitcases. thoughts?” Or, “Have you seen how hot it’s gonna be!?”

 

× Or (attached with a picture of your passport and approved travel visa) the words: “I win.”

 

× Bottom line: “The youngest” will never grow out of wanting to be “first.”

 

× Family vacations provoke immediate regression.

 

× Reverting to childhood habits is embarrassingly easy.

 

× For instance, you will pack little, expecting to borrow shampoo, toothpaste, and mosquito repellent from your parents.

 

× Clothes, from your older brother.

 

× Coveting an older sibling’s t-shirts is an irrefutable fact of life.

 

× Book choice, on the other hand, requires much deliberation.

 

× Tip! Pack one re-read. Two brand new books (your choice). And one recommendation/gift (someone else’s choice.)

 

×Also suggested: print and pack a few longreads that you’ve recently read and enjoyed and want to share with your family.

 

× On the way to the airport, you’re unexpectedly charmed by the idea of this trip.

× Following a series of delayed flights, bad food, and interrupted sleep, spotting your parent’s face at the airport in Mumbai, shouting your name from a crowd, feels like a hallucination.

 

× A hallucination immediately made real by comments on how tired you look.

 

× Or how thin your face has become.

 

× Or how your jacket sleeve has a hole.

 

× It takes a couple days, give or take, for parents to adjust to being around their kids who are no longer kids.

 

× Stuff gets said that isn’t meant to hurt.

 

× More often than not a parent forgets that you exist in a world where you work and pay rent, and get angry and sad, and have your heart broken and mended, broken and mended.

 

× Still, that initial hug will briefly dissolve all that currently feels unwieldy in your life.

 

× You will spend the rest of the vacation dodging all topics related to what is feeling unwieldy in your life.

 

 

× Avoid deflecting to your sibling’s life.

 

× Just dodge.

 

× Dodge. Dodge. Dodge.

 

× Until that one afternoon, a very sunny one where your skin feels warmed from within and everyone is off doing his or her thing, and you suddenly feel compelled to put down your book and talk to someone.

 

× Less the actual conversation, but the desire to speak candidly and kindly, is the vacation’s sweet spot.

 

× Similar examples: Drinks at the hotel bar with your brother on your father’s tab. A wedding reception at the hotel keeps you both distracted enough to not get on each other’s nerves.

 

× Or, watching as a parent delights in a snack he or she hasn’t delighted in in years.

 

× Better yet; if you find the snack particular gross.

 

× And a personal favorite: The four of you walking in a narrow line. (The market was too crowded and loud to walk and talk side by side.)

 

× Inevitably, when a family is forced to walk in a line, the eldest member always appears the youngest.

 

× At a spice plantation, biting into a peppercorn and burning your tongue, you are more present than you have been in a very long time.

 

× Parents look older the more present one feels.

 

× But their happiness looks freer too.

 

× E-mailing a friend frequently — as frequently as possible that is — is essential.

 

× But just one friend.

 

× Choose someone who won’t expect elaborate details about the trip, but a continued conversation from before you left.

 

× E-mails concerning the vacation, unless funny, are rarely enjoyable to read or to write.

 

× Choose a friend who you’ve recently felt emotionally near to.

 

× One that your parents do not know or have the knowledge to ask about.

 

× These emails will feel secret and with ten hours separating the two of you, your good mornings will be her good nights. Her insomnia will feel like company.

 

× She will be, for the next two weeks, that side of you which is witness to yourself. An orbit.

 

× Long car rides through windy mountaintop roads in Kerala will make you devastatingly nauseous.

 

× Nausea is the most regressive sensation, ever. All you want is parents, and luckily, they are there!

 

× Offering to sit in the middle is both a literal and figurative way of hoping to take up the least amount of space.

 

 

× Missing an ex when travelling with family is expected.

 

× Missing an ex’s body, especially when sleeping in hotel sheets, will feel cruel and comforting, both.

 

× An “I miss you” e-mail will be sent and regretted.

 

× Nostalgia becomes unusually relevant on family vacations.

 

× One morning, late in the trip, a big fight will push someone to his or her limit.

 

× Your stepmom will walk away from breakfast having not eaten a bite.

 

× Do not follow her.

 

× Irritability levels are higher than usual when one isn’t accustomed to eating three meals a day with a father, a brother, and a stepmother.

 

× It’s to be expected.

 

× Out of the blue, hugging your brother seems vital.

 

× He does not hug back.

 

× It looks like this.

 

× You will spot and study other families also vacationing.

 

× All fathers have Beckett legs.

 

× Grown-up siblings speak in a code they themselves are trying to decipher.

 

× Everyone dresses down and wears hats.

 

 

× Other families seem quieter than yours. Laugh louder sure, but are by some means quieter.

 

× If you’re not someone who naps, don’t be surprised if you do on a family vacation.

 

× Activities are tiring.

 

× Tours are exhausting.

 

× So rarely do you do or attend things that aren’t urgently interesting to you. 

 

× Parents enjoy the company of their adult children, remembering them as babies.

 

× Adult children are suddenly moved to sit very close to their parents.

 

× Or to knock on their hotel room doors for no reason.

 

× To sit on the edge of their bed and watch as your stepmother chooses from a very tiny box, which earrings she will wear.

 

× Vacation photographs:

 

× Hope for a good one.

 

× Anticipate terrible ones.

 

× On the last day, take slow and steadied bites at breakfast. Have seconds.

 

× Read a newspaper.

 

× Go for a walk with your brother.

 

× After a long journey home, it’s cold in New York and nobody is there to greet you.

 

× But you turn your phone’s data on again and a slew of text messages pop up.

 

× Pop. Pop. Pop.

 

× Text your roommate: “Shady’s back.”

 

× In the cab ride home, you send a quick email to your family. “Landed! Love you.”

 

× You send another one: “Home first!”

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about The Mindy Project.

"Anthophobia" - The Love Language (mp3)

"Horophones" - The Love Language (mp3)