Monday, October 29, 2007

The Sartorial, the Sublime, and the Socialist

First, on an admittedly shallow note, I think I have found one of the best places imaginable for a shoe shine in the city. It's called Angelo's, and it's in the 53rd Street/5th Avenue E-V subway station (before the turnstiles). I swear, my shoes didn't look that good when I bought them. I don't know how he did it, but it was amazing. And $3! Run, don't walk. Also, for repairs, I recommend the place on 15 W. 55th Street. Not cheap, but they do a really phenomenal job.

So, on to the sublime! As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was fortunate enough to be one of the New York liaisons for Zélindor, roi des Sylphes, a 1745 opera-ballet by Rabel and Francoeur. Opera Lafayette was conducted by my friend Ryan Brown, and the New York Baroque Dance Company did the ballet at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater. It was a very well-chosen venue, because you could imagine (given its intimacy) that you were at the court of Louis XV. The plot was not the point of the opera, but the singing was expressive and lovely (especially the mezzo, Ah Young Hong), there were pretty melodic lines, and, as the NYT put it, "The evening's strength, however, was the crisp, resilient playing of the period orchestra." (They even managed to make the audience forget about the unfortunate member of the dance troupe whose pants fell off repeatedly. We're not talking a little; we're talking down to his knees.) Bravo, Ryan!

The sublimity continued the next morning, when the ever-delightful Jennifer Tonkovich was good enough to give me a behind-the-scenes tour of the exhibit that she curated at the Morgan Library: Painted with Words: Vincent van Gogh's Letters to Émile Bernard. It is an ideal marriage of what the Morgan is all about: art and literature. There are a marvelous number of van Gogh's magnificent paintings and drawings, and an appropriate number of Bernard's less sublime, more labored efforts. The letters reveal van Gogh as a very grounded, technically proficient artist (as do some of his earlier drawings) rather than just the madman we have come to know and love. His obsession was color and he viewed his canvases as a means to expound upon that obsession. Plus there are translations of all the letters, which could be quite...earthy (see the Post article), as well as some that are read aloud. I can't recommend it highly enough. Go see it! Brava Jennifer!

Now the Socialism. My good friend Marilyn is one of about 6,500 souls who live in Aspen, CO year-round. The City Council, which only allows full-time residents (as opposed to the many property owners who have, I would say, a pretty strong interest in laws affecting Aspen) to vote, has recently passed a new ordinance that classifies buildings that are 30 years old as potentially "historic" and therefore subject to preservation as landmarks. OK, show of hands: who thinks a 1970s A-frame faux-Swiss ski chalet is "historic?" Personally, I think people who elect to raze those pea-green, storm-weathered, rickety-porched monstrosities should get a subsidy. This, my friends, is what is called an uncompensated regulatory taking that is tarted up and masquerading as a historic preservation law. Having this kind of cloud (some might even say pall) cast over your property demonstrably and significantly reduces its marketability, alienability, and desirability. And this happens all the time, everywhere, in every town in America. I mean, it's one thing if your neighbor wants to turn his house into a strip joint, and it's quite another if he wants to improve the property and thereby collaterally increase the value of your house. Plus, the mayor of Aspen seems to be a little unbalanced. I saw a video of him in action: he had the throbbing neck veins and the crazy eyes. Unfortunately, according to my friend and former professor, Richard Epstein from U of Chicago Law, these ordinances are rarely challenged successfully, and usually because of some technical procedural elements that the municipality fails to observe.
I will confess I have a rather unusual fantasy. I would love to paint the houses of anyone who passes a law like this purple and then watch as they come home in sputtering indignation and apoplexy.
Meddling Legislator: "But, but you can't do that!"
Charlie: "Well," I would coolly reply, "it's for the good of the city. Don't you love how it makes your house stand out from all the rest and adds character to the neighborhood? I have a vision: let's turn the City of XXXX into a 'Miami of the North' starting with your house. Isn't that great? Good, you're on board."
ML: "But, but...it's my property! You have no right to do this. I didn't even get to have a proper say in it."
C: "Ah HA! Say that again, what you just said. Now see if there are any analogous situations in which you have played a role recently and maybe rethink that."

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