Such imperious syllables! Such indomitable ones! — at least when emanating from the throat of Flower Abraham Silliman as she hollers down the empty stairwell to the elevator operator in the lobby to come fetch her on the third floor. “Oh, he never listens. He can’t close his gate properly, or I don’t know what he does wrong but he always has a devil of a time fetching me. Never mind!” she says, deciding to forego the lift and use her walker to pound down the three flights of stairs herself. The apartment we’re leaving is a throwback to British Colonialism, an airy expanse of 3,000 square feet in the heart of downtown Calcutta which includes 16-foot ceilings and cannonball-proof walls for which Flower’s daughter Jael pays relatively few rupees each month, plus more for the two attendants who swab the place wet each day against the street dust and who eat their breakfast biscuits and bananas from seated positions on the tiled kitchen floor — their choice.
A palace for peanuts, basically, because it’s been rented by the family that long. Not that you’d have a hint of its grandeur from the outside. Like all the other soot-stained, crumbly-seeming castles tucked behind dusty high stucco walls throughout the city, the Halwasiya Mansion looks decayed on purpose — a ploy, perhaps, to fool the tax office. Or perhaps not: one can never be too sure. Inside, the heirs of the Jewish families who made their fortunes in Calcutta living lives of tasteful grandeur with racehorses, private clubs, and country palaces are dying out fast. Flower Abraham Silliman, navigating the wide wooden staircase past the faded but still flamboyant red paan juice stains expectorated by generations of visitors, is the last of a breed, the final flower of a once flourishing 5,000 strong. More… “Lotsa Matzo In Kolkata”
Politicians, stop saying mass shootings are tragedies unless you’re going to do what literary critics do with tragedies: actually interpret them.
“This was a horrible tragedy:” perhaps the most common thing we hear after each new incident that adds to the alarming trend of mass shootings in the United States. Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, Umpqua, Las Vegas, and Parkland are only the most notable communities whose names have come to symbolize the phenomenon. Their “tragic” quality is the reason, some politicians say, we shouldn’t “politicize the tragedy” – we shouldn’t refer to it in arguments about policies for the good of the nation. More… “Something Is Rotten in the United States of America”
In late January of 2015, a tree stood wavering on the edge of Detroit’s burnt-out Grixdale neighborhood. A loud, old engine revved. A 100-foot rope tightened. A car strained forward. The tree followed, snapping and dropping into the overgrown yard of an abandoned house. A group of bearded men looked on from the front yard of a fire-ravaged structure across the street. Satisfaction and relief filled them as the final rays of sunlight scattered into the gray horizon. They had lost two ropes and a chainsaw in bringing down the tree, but they comforted themselves with the thought that the abandoned house and the surrounding telephone lines stood unharmed.
They were pretty far from Detroit’s refurbished downtown. Years ago, this neighborhood had succumbed to the rot brought on by the crack wars. Inhabitants fled, homes were torched, and the long blocks, once designed for cars, were left sparsely populated. In 2015, it remained largely abandoned. Sometimes, there were residual flare-ups of violence and theft. Some ways down the road, there remained a crack house. In this quiet, largely forgotten place, however, adjacent to the vistas of empty lots, under the canopy of old-growth trees, there was a new community growing. They lived amongst the neglected red brick houses and chose to call themselves Fireweed, after the pioneer plant species that takes over the landscape after a forest fire. More… “Why Does a Tree Fall in Detroit?”
Kader Attia is a multi-form French visual artist, recipient of the Prize Marcel Duchamp, a prestigious national honor for contemporary artists awarded in France. The following essay is based on a French-language interview between Attia and Thomas Baumgartner on Radio Nova in October 2016. In it, Attia investigates the many layers of fracture that underpin social crises in Western Europe — and a hope for dialogue. All quotes are translations of the writer.
Explaining what motivates his work as an artist, Kader Attia speaks in his native French of réparation. He does not simply mean “fixing” as we might be tempted to translate into English. Instead, réparation can be thought of as transformation. You get a semblance of the original, but in the process of mending an object is always made new. More… “An Artist’s Search for Cultural Reparation in France”
In August 2014, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery was in Ferguson, Missouri covering the protests over the police shootings of Michael Brown. On August 13, his third day on assignment, Lowery was arrested at a McDonalds: a moment captured on a video that quickly went viral. The Missouri protests spread across the country, morphing into Black Lives Matter movement, and Lowery continued to follow the story. His experience and reporting are documented in his first book: “They Can’t Kill Us All.” While on this book tour, Lowery dropped by The Smart Set offices for an interview conducted by Byshera Williams and Richard Abowitz. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
For a long time, most academic studies of metal were as dark and foreboding as the songs appeared to be. With titles containing phrases like “heavy metal music and adolescent alienation” (1996) and “delinquent friends, social control, and delinquency” (1993), these works looked at whether being a metalhead was associated with a higher likelihood of depression, suicide, violence, and a particular kind of adolescent male aggression. More… “The Positive Psychology of Metal Music”
All is not well. But we do not see that at first. The white house and the white picket fence are in perfect order. The sky is blue and bright. The flowers are red and yellow. The grass is green. We’re surrounded by primary colors and clarity.
The man watering his lawn doesn’t notice the kink in the hose. The water pressure is building. The pressure in his neck builds, too. Suddenly, the man grabs his neck and falls to the ground. He is having a heart attack, or a stroke. The water from the hose shoots into the air as he falls. The man’s little dog bites ferociously at the stream. The camera pans down into the grass, into the muck… More…
I can’t get over the first two words of the poem: no sleep. No sleep. That’s how Herman Melville began his poem, which is called “The House-top. A Night Piece.” It was written in July of 1863. America was in the midst of the Civil War — really in the thick of it.
Six weeks after Kari and I sat together in the surgical clinic, I drove to Hyde Park to meet him at his grandmother’s house. The house sat on a narrow two-way street not far off American Legion Highway, which lies just off Blue Hill Avenue, the main road that cuts through Roxbury, Dorchester, and ﬁnally Mattapan before coursing out of the city into the suburb of Milton. The house sat midway down a long row of attached two-story houses, a noticeable contrast from the century-old triple-deckers that lined Blue Hill Avenue standing directly opposite these more modern and modest homes.
Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Trauma and Violence in the Lives of Young Black Men by John A. Rich, M.D., M.P.H. 232 pages. The Johns Hopkins University Press. $24.95.
Kari met me at the door and motioned me to come… More…
Some parties are fun, others are un-missable “cultural experiences.” The strange and exotic festivals held during the French Revolution would have to fall in the latter category. There was one particular event — the Fête de l’Être Suprême, or Festival of the Supreme Being — that was easily the most bizarre. Held during the height of the Terror, with the guillotine casting its gruesome shadow over Paris, it was a giant street party organized to celebrate fraternity and fuzzy warm feelings. It may not have been a barrel of laughs — at least not intentionally — but it was definitely something to see.