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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thoughts on the East Village, Culture, & Getting Sleazy

It has a vibe similar to the Theater District in Boston, which you can only say if you've spent a significant amount of time in both (yes, visiting one a good number of times and living in the other counts as "significant").  That is to say, hipsters galore.  But you want to forgive the East Village, because they have really good mac and cheese at S'Mac.  There are people everywhere, wandering, working, searching, tourists and shopkeeps and NYU students and movie buffs on their way to where Sally left Harry in Washington Square Park.  Probably that guy at the store on the corner, selling Iceberg lettuce and crimson peonies, is a burgeoning actor - maybe he's in the off-off-off Broadway show around the corner.  Probably that woman behind the counter self-published a book.  Probably that old couple on the bench have lived here forever, coming to accept the changes in their neighborhood over the years.  And you can be sure they're all eco-friendly, in every way possible.

You don't need to think about whether politics hang right or left in that part of town.  As the streets and avenues count down, you can make your assumptions.  But it doesn't matter.  Because, as you move away from the tourist traps of Times Square (guilty pleasures for natives) and the bustle of suburban commuters in big city jobs, you can see that neighborhoods exist in Manhattan.  And, by God, it's a beautiful thing.  Everyone has a story, but they're quieter here.  Buying groceries matters.  People can make movies about the novelty shops and tiny caf├ęs on quiet streets.  There are big names on the marquees of little theaters; there are little movies hitting it big on the avenues.  Locals know their waiters and restaurant owners welcome newcomers with easy familiarity.  It's just one little neighborhood on the Lower East Side, but visit once and I bet it'll be your favorite.

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Who decides what culture is?  More importantly, why does it matter?

Theater - musicals, straight plays, performance art, and whatever else falls into this category - makes people feel important; you can't deny that.  Personally, I love Broadway and everything it has to offer.  My favorite musical is Les Miz; I saw Through a Glass Darkly last night and I really liked it.  But what is that pompous feeling you get in your chest as you strut out of the theater after sitting through something you either adored or despised?  All that should matter is that you feel you got your money's worth, that you liked it and, maybe, you learned something.  Thankfully, there are often generous discounts nowadays, to ease the pain of two or three hundred dollar per seat orchestra tickets, making theater accessible to a wider audience than in past decades.

So why do some people feel the need to brag about what they have and haven't seen?  I feel pretentious just admitting that I like Broadway.  I could never imagine rattling off all the musicals and plays I've been lucky enough to see (thanks to Mom's superhuman coupon-finding skills and early planning) just to say that I was there.  I tell people I saw the Les Miz revival in ninth grade with my French class because I will forever be thankful that I had the opportunity to do so.  I'll compare the musical Hairspray to the movie to point out one instance (I feel) where the film was much better than the Broadway original.  I think theater has been a formidable force in shaping who I am as a person and how I think about the world.  I don't talk about theater for the culture; I talk about it because I love it and I wish I was talented enough to be a part of it.

The theater is still associated with high class, with aristocracy, with high culture and dressing up for a night on the town.  That's the way I see it, anyway.  But I don't think it needs to be that way still.  The world has changed and theater has, too.  It's still a place meant for silence, for absorption, for showing us a little of ourselves, enough to make us think.  It deserves some class, some distinction.  But you don't have to be snooty about it.

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"Tawdry" is a great word, isn't it?  I read it yesterday in the book I'm reading - the memoir Lit, by Mary Karr.  And it certainly fits a lot of what I've seen in the last year, at school and at home.  Not that I've ever been a part of it.

Seriously.  I don't do that.  Even if I often love songs of the tawdry/sleazy variety.

Every Friday and Saturday night, Boylston Street in Boston comes alive.  There is a city block stretch where most of Emerson College's buildings are located - this is also where you will find two nightclubs and two bars, squeezed in between dorm buildings.  It's probably great for the above-21 set (and those with kickass fake IDs).  But it can also be fun, as underaged as I am, to simply walk and observe.  You only have to see so many girls in short skirts and heels to know what's happening in the Gypsy Bar (arguably the most notorious of the bars on Boylston - I plan to find my way in there before I graduate).  Party buses pull up and drunken young adults tumble out.  Sometimes, young women are clad in feather boas and tiaras, celebrating an imminent wedding, while groups of friends stand, shivering, scantily clad, in a Boston winter.

And then there's the man who stand outside, who once called me an Amazon.  That's a story for another time.

As stunned as I am by the lengths these people (okay, mostly women) go through to look good for a night out and stay that way in Boston, I was surprised (and shouldn't have been) to see a group of young women in a bathroom at Penn, primping for their big night in the City.  Apparently, as she applied mascara, one woman's hair looked like ass.  Another one insisted she looked great, fluffing her own hair as she studied herself in a  smudged mirror and an employee, smirking, walked behind the crowd to sweep a stall.

I didn't know so much work went into being a whore.  Guess that's why I never got into it.

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Please apologize last night's post, readers!  I was absolutely exhausted (from a long week of not doing much, I know) and had to be up for work this morning at 7:30.  I won't let it happen again; scout's honor.

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