Reflection: Brazilian Choro Music at Queens College

I love hip-hop; I like pop, alt, and rock; I appreciate classical, and I can, in fact, tolerate country. Ultimately, I’m pretty open-minded, and I’ll listen to just about anything once – anything, that is, except for Justin Bieber.

However, my favorite genre is, and always will be, salsa. La Lupe, Marc Anthony, Celia Cruz, La India, Tito Puente, Hector Lavoe – these are my idols, my teachers.

Salsa, for me, is soul-music – it strengthens me, inspires me, and challenges me. Salsa is my childhood, my grandmother, my summers and my winters; salsa is rose-tone, a trumpet, a fire, and drums, drums, drums. Ultimately, salsa permeates every aspect of my work – it is my cadence, my flesh-rhythm.

Lately, I’ve been exploring other types of Latin music; I want to broaden my horizons. Thus, I’ve dipped my toes into bachata, and I am now absolutely obsessed with cumbia. However, I am woefully ignorant of Brazilian music – or, better put, I was woefully ignorant of Brazilian music until the night of November 20.

Indeed – that night, I attended the Ernesto Nazareth 150th Birthday Tribute, a Queens College Year of Brazil Event. Here, I got a taste of Brazilian music – and what a taste it was!

Ernesto Nazareth. Image from wikipedia.com.

Ernesto Nazareth. Image from wikipedia.com.

Ernesto Nazareth (1863 -1934) was a Brazilian composer and pianist; he is best known for his choro compositions. His influences were many – he drew from African, European, and American traditions.

He served, during his lifetime, at the boundary between classical and popular worlds; now, his repertoire is a critical part of any Brazilian’s musical training. The Tribute, then, was an eclectic mix of Nazareth’s compositions – a primer of sorts on choro, Nazareth, and on the vibrant foundations of Brazilian music.

The New School Brazilian Choro Ensemble was simply fantastic; they played with sensitivity, with silvery quickness and heat. The music is itself fascinating – florid, yet languid, and absolutely ripe with improvisational wit. It is a music of mixing, of webs and crossings and meeting places; it is Brazil as rhythm, as the furtive plucking of strings.

The Ensemble. From qc.cuny.edu.

The Ensemble. From qc.cuny.edu.

On my way home, I wondered: how would I incorporate this beguiling new rhythm into my work? How would it mix with my internal salsa? I am not sure; nevertheless, I am inspired, energized, and excited. Also, I am incredibly excited about the Year of Brazil – there is much, much more to come. To learn more about the Year of Brazil at Queens College, click here; to see a calendar of events, click here.

Choro, like Brazil, and like Queens, is a mixture, a rhythm, and a movement; I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s in store.

* * *

For more information about Ernesto Nazareth, click here.

For more information about choro, click here.

For more information about The New School Brazilian Choro Ensemble, click here.

Looking for an excuse to stop studying? Look no further!

Tired of studying?

Need some art in your life?

Never fear – there’s plenty do to in Queens this weekend!

Oh Bernice! Reading Series: This charming, intimate, and always interesting reading series is currently housed at the Astoria Bookshop. Come by, sit down, and listen to some great words! The Series, by the way, is the brainchild of students from our very own MFA program.

When: Saturday, 7PM.

Art of Ink in America 2013/14: This exhibit is currently housed at our very own Godwin-Ternbach museum! Stop by during a study break and let your eyes feast on the ink paintings! I, for one, will definitely be visiting.

When: Study breaks! Check the website for museum times.

Two Solo Shows at The Greenpoint Gallery: I know, I know; Greenpoint is not in Queens. However, it’s very close – and The Greenpoint Gallery is absolutely fantastic! Take a break from your toils and soak up some fascinating art at this neighborhood favorite.

When: Friday; doors open at 8PM.

Have any other suggestions? Let me know! And remember – there’s always time for art, even during finals!

Thanksgiving: The Art of Cooking!

I love Thanksgiving – that is, almost as much as I love cooking!

Today, I’ll be making one of my favorite dishes – un potaje de frijoles blancas con chorizo y morcilla (that is, white bean, chorizo, and morcilla stew).

Here’s my recipe; try it out sometime! I’ve added pictures for extra deliciousness. =]

Alright – let’s go!

Elena’s Potaje Recipe:

Ingredients:

– 1 green bell pepper

– Olive oil

– 1 onion

– 3 cloves of garlic, mashed with olive oil and a dash of paprika

– Azafran (preferably in leaf form)

– Red sweet peppers

– Sazon Goya (without coloring)

– Adobo Goya (with pimiento)

– Chorizo (chopped up and de-skinned)

– Morcilla (chopped up)

– 1 bag of dry white beans

– 3-4 Bay leaves

– Oregano

– Black pepper

– Red wine (preferably dry)

– 1 can of tomato sauce

– Salt and pepper, to taste

– 1 potato (cut)

– 1 chile pepper (optional)

Note: you need to soak the beans overnight, preferably in a large pot!

Alright – let’s get started!

1) First, add olive oil to a large sautee pan. Then, drop in your garlic/paprika mix. Let it simmer briefly.

2) Now, add green peppers, onions, red sweet pepper, black pepper, oregano, bay leaf, Adobo Goya, Sazon Goya, chorizo, and a few spoons of tomato sauce. If you’d like, add some paprika and/or a single chile pepper for extra spice. This will be your sofrito (seasoning).

Sofrito. This is your key ingredient! Make sure to taste frequently and add spices as you go along. Cooking is an art, not a chore! =]

Sofrito. This is your key ingredient! Make sure to taste frequently and add spices as you go along. Remember: cooking is an art, not a chore! =]

 Note: make sure to leave a bit of sofrito in the pan! We will use this again!

3) Stir. Let everything simmer for a few minutes.

4) Now, add the sofrito to your pot of beans. Stir well, and bring your stew to a light boil.

Sofrito and stew. Stir well!

Sofrito and stew. Stir well! Also, don’t let the stew boil excessively; we want the beans to be tender, not limp!

5) Do some tasting. Add spices and salt to your liking.

6) Add a few teaspoons of flour to the remaining sofrito and mix it all up. This will thicken the sofrito.

7) Add the flour and sofrito mix to the pot. The flour will give the stew a lovely consistency.

After you've added the flour and sofrito mix, your stew should begin to thicken. Make sure to stir very well - you don't want the flour to form lumps!

After you’ve added the flour and sofrito mix, your stew should begin to thicken. Make sure to stir very well – you don’t want the flour to form lumps!

8) Add a cup or so of chicken stock. Stir.

9) Add a dash of red wine and sherry vinegar. Add azafran to color the stew. Keep stirring!

10) Now, using the same sautee pan, fry up some morcilla with a bit of garlic and olive oil. The morcilla will cook relatively quickly. You can add some extra spices here if you’d like.

12) Add the morcilla to your stew. Cover the pot, and lower the heat.

13) Let the stew sit for at least an hour. Check it regularly – you don’t want it to overheat.

14) After an hour or so, add the chopped potatoes. Taste, and add spices accordingly.

The potatoes will soak up water, and give your stew a nice, thick consistency. We're almost there!

The potatoes will soak up water and give your stew a nice, thick consistency. Don’t worry – we’re almost there!

15) Your stew should be done in 2-3 hours. Just before you finish, bring your stew to a final boil.

All done!

All done!

Enjoy! Have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Love,

Elena

5 Pointz Is Gone – Is Queens Next?

5 Pointz is gone.

5 Pointz, today. Image from nypost.com.

5 Pointz, today. Image from nypost.com.

White paint, dead art. Gentrification at its finest.

5 Pointz was desecrated as we slept; the words, the colors, and the faces, defiant, were wiped away as we curled into our dreams. We are left with a dry, bleached shell of a museum; we are left with a sanitized emptiness.

The destruction. Image from stupiddope.com.

The destruction. Image from stupiddope.com.

But soon, even this will be taken from us; eventually, the shell will be torn down, and a luxury condominium will take its place. A bruise on top of a bruise.

I’ve lived in Queens my whole life; I’ve watched it grow, change, and ripen.

Now, I am witnessing a sort of disintegration – that is, a wiping away, a banishing of art, of unruliness, and, most importantly, of working class neighborhoods, institutions, and landmarks.

To whom does this borough belong?

I am no longer certain.

* * *

For more information about 5 Pointz, click here.

For more information about the demolition, click here.

Stay tuned: I will be following this story closely over the coming weeks.

Angry? Sad? Unaffected? Have any ideas for action? Let me know!

Exhibition: The Librarians at the Queens College Art Center

Friday is my library day. I wake up; I come over, I look for a quiet, comfortable spot; I settle down, and I read for hours. Plots unfold, and characters grow; before I know it, I’ve reached the final pages, and it’s already dark outside. Time flies when you’re at the library.

What is a library? For me, it is a place of imagination – a place of books, of discovery, and of endless time. Of course, everyone has their own definition; everyone has their own library experience.

Few, however, have much experience with librarians; they, indeed, are a mystery to many. What does a librarian do? What is it like to work in that bustling point of imagination?

The Librarians does not try to answer my questions; rather, it complicates them, destabilizes them. Indeed – this dizzying conglomerate of objects, paintings, and assorted installation pieces challenges our understanding of libraries, and of their keepers.

I was struck, for example, by a number of rough, colorful paintings of faces; they are bruise-like, deep scars on an otherwise smooth surface. Are they smiling? Sneering? Are they librarians? Or are they patrons? Students? I am unsure; I begin to question my own place within the library. Am I merely a patron? Or am I also part of the library? Am I, by virtue of my gaze, my reading, a librarian? Are we all librarians?

I was also intrigued by an installation of thin, multi-colored papers, all of which bore names and titles; as they progressed, slowly, from left to right, their colors began to fade, to run, as though the printer had run out of ink.

Is knowledge, then, fading? Are books a relic? Are they, and libraries, doomed to obsolescence, to blankness? Or will that printer be restocked? Will the vibrant pages return? Again, I am unsure.

Sprinkled throughout the exhibition are the tools, the trappings of the librarian; diagrams litter the glass windows, and an entire apparatus – a desk, computer, stack of books – sits, idly, by the exit. I wonder why they are here; I wonder if they are an anchor, a point of reference, or if they destabilize my experience further.

Ultimately, I am left puzzled – and wanting to speak to a librarian. Indeed, I want to know more – I want to know how that apparatus works, and, more broadly, what a librarian actually does.

This exhibit is a treasure; it has drawn me in to a world I had always overlooked. Definitely go see it – and go talk to a librarian!

* * *

To learn more about this exhibit, click here.

The Queens College Art Center is located on the 6th floor of Rosenthal Library. Go visit!

Reflection: The New Salon at Queens College – Carl Phillips Reading

I love writing. Words, for me, are energy; words are oxygen, light, music, touch. Thus, I write obsessively, read obsessively, and edit obsessively; I pour over every syllable, every metaphor, and every clash of letters. Sometimes, I will even read in my dreams.

Ultimately, I am totally addicted; I am always and already writing. This, for me, is a poet’s life – this is what it means to be dedicated to the word.

However, I am terrified – mortified – of reading my work aloud. This, I believe, is largely due to my infamous shyness; I hate crowds, and I am a poor public speaker. And what, indeed, could be more frightening than sharing your work – your soul! – with a group of strangers? What could possibly be worse? How, indeed, do poets manage?

Readings are an integral part of a poet’s life; eventually, I will have to read. But how will I manage? What will I do? And why should I have to speak, anyway? What is so special about reading a poem aloud? Does anything really happen?

The crowd at Monday night’s Carl Phillips reading was large and energetic – and rightfully so, as Phillips showed us the how, and, more importantly, the why of reading. He taught us the power, the art of the spoken word; he showed us what a reading can be, should be, must be.

Indeed, when Carl Phillips reads his poetry, something absolutely happens; the flesh-tones of the voice mix with the ink, the curves of the written words, and the air of the room thickens; new meanings emerge, and sounds bloom; suddenly, the poem has blood, eyes, a body. This, indeed, is the magic of reading; this is what I had failed to understand.

Phillips has changed my perspective entirely; now, I am fascinated by the prospect of reading. I am even beginning to practice – that is, to mutter poems, to test them on my tongue. I am still nervous, of course; Phillips did not provide me with answers, but rather the sort of questions which are fruitful, which grow and thrive. How can I better myself as a speaker? How can I best perform my work?

At the end of his reading, Phillips began taking questions from the audience; one in particular has stayed with me. The student asked Phillips how he wrestles with the necessity of production – that is, how he manages to keep writing, keep innovating. Phillips answered, in short, that he does not see it as a wrestling or a battle; rather, he sees it as an engagement, a working-together, a project.

This, indeed, is how I will approach reading – as an engagement, as something to be worked with, learned from, and built upon. Now, I will engage with sound – I will add a new, exciting dimension to my work.

* * *

For more information on Carl Phillips, click here.

Phillips’ new book of poems, Silverchest, is out now!

For more information on readings at Queens College, click here! 

Stay Tuned…

Hello all! This coming week, I will be covering two events: the Carl Phillips reading at Campbell Dome, and the opening of The Librarians, a new exhibition at the Queens College Art Center.

Carl Phillips is a brilliant poet; I strongly encourage all of you to go see him! The reading will begin at 6:30 PM. Click here for more information. 

The Librarians will be opening tomorrow as well. Remember: the Queens College Art Center is right in our library, on the 6th floor. Go check it out during a study break!

This week is going to be amazing – I can’t wait to share it with you!

“Lights, Camera, Astoria!” and “Single Stream” at the Museum of the Moving Image

I love books. I live on books. I relish the smell of paper, and I love the dry, soft feel of the spine of an old book. Tablets are, for me, a sacrilege, and, until recently, I rarely, if ever, watched movies.

Now, however, I am absolutely obsessed with film; I want to know everything about it. How are actors chosen? How are scenes filmed? How is everything sewn together?

What, you ask, triggered this new fascination? Simple: I visited the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. Here, I learned the how, and, more importantly, the why of filmmaking; indeed, I was readily, and happily, converted.

What did I enjoy most? I was absolutely enthralled by the collection of old film-equipment; I marveled at the bulky antique televisions; excitedly, I made my own stop-action films, and clowned around in front of an actual movie-grade apparatus. The exhibit on film in Queens – aptly titled Lights, Camera, Astoria! –  was particularly informative; I really had no idea that Astoria was a cinematic and artistic hub. I was fascinated, indeed, to learn that independent filmmaking has always flourished here; Astoria was, and is, a place of experimentation, rebellion, and vision.

I admit, however, that I was most enthralled by what I first saw – namely, the film which plays on the front wall of the museum’s lobby, right in front of the concierge. I must’ve spent at least half an hour staring at this film; I was in a total trance.

The slow, dry groan of metal; the wail of gears; the pale, sharp crush of glass and plastic and paper. I realize that I am looking at a garbage dump; I really should not be this interested. And yet, I am fascinated; I, with eager eyes, watch the tubes, the pipes, and the devastating elegance of the yellow-streaked forklift.

What makes a work of art beautiful? Compelling? I am not sure. I do know, however, know that this installation – Single Stream – has broken my eyes wide open; it has sparked in me a world, a gray, shifting landscape of thought and imagination and retrospection. What does it mean for a society to produce so much garbage? What is beauty? What is excess? What does it mean to be thrown away?

This museum is an absolute treasure; I strongly encourage everyone to visit. I, for one, will return – that is, once I’ve finished watching my pile of newly acquired movies!

For more information about the museum, click here. Hint: admissions for students is only $9!

5 Pointz to be Demolished?

Art is what we say it is. Art is what we do, what we live. Or is it?

I am not a veteran of the art world; I admit that I am just a beginner. I do know, however, that art is not a spectator sport. Art is something we work at, something we fight for.

So, it’s official: 5 Pointz is now slated for demolition. All of that history, all of that paint and brick and sheer, unadulterated will – all of this, and more, is to be utterly, and thoughtlessly, destroyed. It will be torn down in favor of a luxury apartment complex; we, the people of Queens, will be left with rubble, with the gutted remains of art and work and dream.

5 Pointz.

5 Pointz. Image from www.theguardian.com.

Will we allow that work, that struggle, to be destroyed? Will we be silent as that monument to “everyday” art is taken from us? Will we allow art to privatized and gentrified? Will we allow Queens to be privatized and gentrified?

Art is something we fight for. Or is it?

If you are at all concerned about what is happening to 5 Pointz, get involved: sign the petition, visit 5 Pointz, and talk to your friends. Get involved – some things are absolutely worth fighting for.

Projeto Morrinho at Queens College

I was planning to visit a few galleries this week; I did my research, prepared my notebook, and got my MetroCard ready. My body, however, had other plans, and I woke up on Friday with a major cold. Headache, sore throat, congestion – I was seriously suffering.

And so, as I was leaving the library that afternoon, I was a bit worried; I wondered what, if anything, I could write about for this blog without leaving campus. And then, as if by a potent and colorful magic, Projeto Morrinho appeared; it was a blur, a castle, a city growing out from the stone of Rosenthal Plaza. Now I knew, indeed, what I would write about.

Projeto Morrinho is an artistic recreation of a favela, and, more broadly, of Rio de Janeiro. It was built by a group of visiting Brazilian artists; this is its first U.S. installation. Here, recycled materials, bricks, plastic, and colorful styrofoam constitute a miniature city; rickety slums grow alongside skyscrapers and statues; an entire socioeconomic, political, and cultural universe is encapsulated in an arrangement of trash, of spare parts. The colors are beguiling, and yet disturbing; it is beautiful, yes, but jarringly so, thoughtfully so.

Projeto Morrinho at Queens College. Image from www.cuny1.edu.

Projeto Morrinho at Queens College. Image from www.cuny1.edu.

Projeto Morrinho inspires us to think, to reconsider our definitions of cities, and of slums; it urges to confront the realities of economic disparity and deadlock. The little favelas are dwarfed by larger structures; their frailty, and their power, is evident to us. What does it mean for a city to have slums? For people to live in slums? What does it mean to struggle in a divided society? An unequal society? What are the consequences of poverty? Of inequality, of differential powerlessness?

All art is political, but political art is rare. What, you might ask, is political art? It is, for me, art which challenges our societal notions; it is art which forces us to think about our world, and our place in it. Project Morrinho is, then, a deeply political art; it is an art of location, of confrontation, and of dialogue. Ultimately, it is beautiful, horrible, strong; it is both manifesto and masterpiece.

* * *

To learn more about Projeto Morrinho at Queens College, click here.

To learn more about the Year of Brazil at Queens College, click here.

Definitely check this installation out – it’s right by the library!