The Walking Dunes

Montauk, somehow, is the place I go for equinoxes. My first visit there was back on March 21st, and I finally went again early this week – this time, straight to Hither Hills State Park, specifically to the Walking Dunes, acres of sand dunes known for moving a few feet in the same direction every year, hence “walking.”

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The “walking dunes.”

I’ve been reading Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer, an insightful book book about a life spent studying moss, including a chapter devoted to the special role moss plays in regenerating forests on damaged land. I’m an amateur naturalist who often makes rookie mistakes identifying plants, but books like Gathering Moss have opened my eyes to forests like never before.

To get to the Walking Dunes you park on the scenic overlook and hike through a thick forest of oaks. Some visitors out here are so afraid of Lyme disease they avoid the woods, but I just wear light-colored, long pants and white socks, and check my legs for ticks, often. I’d have preferred a few ticks to the hundreds of mosquitoes I slapped off my face on my way there.

Once at the dunes, though, you can see right away that you’re in a rare ecosystem:

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I noticed shrub oaks all across the tops of the dunes, and some kind of cedar bushes around them. In the ravines in between were pines, and berry bushes. You got the sense that if the dunes were slowly walking through, then the tree roots were putting up as hard a fight as they could. Knowing even a little, you see drama everywhere.

The water around there is full of shellfish farms. Though not all that inviting to swim in, I was determined. I walked along Napeague Harbor, and felt my bare feet sink into the silty sand, before crossing over the peninsula to the Napeague Bay side, more like the water I’m used to swimming in around Shelter Island. It had more waves, but my walk had taken so long, I was starting to get concerned about making it through the woods again before dark, so I figured I’d skip it till I got clear across the South Fork to the ocean (unnecessarily, it turns out, but getting stuck in the woods at dark is miserable, I can tell you that).

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I can’t explain it – it might have been too cool, though it sure felt hot – but at dusk the mosquitoes were all hiding, and the oak woods on my way out were the prettiest of my walk. I started noticing lots of varieties of mushrooms, and moss. I may get to know moss better, but I doubt I’ll ever be a mushroom forager: one mistake and you’re dead as a shrub oak with the sand cratering beneath it.

By the time I made it to the beach on the ocean side, I saw signs that read “No lifeguard on duty, no swimming,” or something like that. I’m not scared of water, and used to ignoring those signs, but all it took was one look at the violent waves to resign oneself: there was a hurricane someplace far off that shore, and there would be no swimming!

I saw three different kinds of Atlantic water in one afternoon, but the swim would have to wait. I saw exactly zero ticks, one deer, and not many more humans. Kept repeating the same line of Seamus Heaney: “The bog holes might be Atlantic seepage.” Tried composing my own ode to the place but only came up with one line worth keeping: “Take me to the edge of misanthropy but no further.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, writing about the thousands of protozoans and tardigrades found in one gram of moss, says, “But the numbers themselves miss the point. Such lists remind me of the inconsequential facts tossed off by a tour guide, the number of steps to the top of the Washington Monument, or the number of blocks of granite used to construct it, when what I really want to know about is the view from the top and the jokes told by the stonemasons.”

Like many extroverts, I cherish my time alone, and after a day in the the lush world of some very weird yet unspectacular plants, I went to my usual spot in Montauk for a fish and chips, and made a point of talking with strangers. I asked them about the Memory Motel down the road, one of the few old time-feeling hotels left in Montauk, and they shrugged. Any place that inspired such a uniquely sad Rolling Stones song must be a town landmark, I figured, but to them it was a dump. Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to see things right.

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Remembering Grant Hart

Weeks before I got the call this morning that Grant Hart had died, word had spread that he was not likely to survive the end of the summer. His normally barrel-chested frame was eerily thin, and he had some serious ailment, was limiting its treatment to holistic medicine, and was not talking about it with hardly anyone.

His obituaries mostly focused on the importance of his work from the 1980s, and his hot-and-cold relationship with Hüsker Dü’s other frontman Bob Mould, but there was much more to Grant than that.

I hadn’t seen him in about eight years, but there was a time in the late 90s and early 00s when I saw him frequently, at his solo shows, on holidays, and occasionally just dropping by. If you called Grant back then to ask if you could use a Hüsker Dü song in an independent film, he’d probably tell you to fuck yourself, but if you called to ask if he wanted to see an Orson Welles film that evening, he’d say “What time?”

It was around this time I directed a music video for him, that my friend Heidi Freier both shot and edited. It’s below. (Heidi went on to book his shows for him for about ten years, with a much deeper friendship than I ever had with him.)

Grant Hart

Grant was a big fish in a medium-sized pond in the Twin Cities music scene, and he showed literally thousands of young artists how to be artists. You saw Paul Westerberg grabbing a coffee about as often as you saw Prince: never. The guys from Soul Asylum, when they were in town, you’d see at the liquor store or having a beer at one of their friends’ shows. Grant, it seemed, was everywhere: the 7th Street Entry, the Walker Art Center, Orchestra Hall, gallery openings, fundraisers, and birthday parties.

He liked having an entourage of younger musicians and artists around him, but when he held court you rarely heard him talk about the hallowed days of indie rock. He more often talked about the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the lesser works of the Beat writers, or the differences between middle- and late-period Studebakers. I never once saw him touch alcohol, but he loved coffee and liked to roll joints, and if he enjoyed your conversation he’d leave one behind as a gift.

In recent years I’ve often noted that, unlike people my age, millennials tend to hear music without any generational axe to grind. In the 90s indie rock scene, if you had a secret soft spot for Paul McCartney or Crosby Stills & Nash, you whispered about it. Grant was too big for that. He bristled at groupthink in any form, and cared above all about quality.

Grant did not suffer fools, and liked to take down the proud, and was known as a prickly character in many circles. I suspect it was he who lit a sulfurous stink bomb in the most fashionable bar in town one Thursday night. When he launched into an impromptu critique of a well-liked artist, he’d find people around him gently shushing him, reminding him to be nice, but Grant lived by the principle that you can’t have it both ways: You can’t have a small town arts scene that runs on goodwill and expect your artists to be taken seriously nationally.

Like most homegrown intellectuals, Grant had some unorthodox opinions about politics. During the Lewinsky affair, I once heard him tell a sleeper cell of young leftists bemoaning the ineptitude of President Bill Clinton that anyone who gave out Leaves of Grass as gift to his lover was alright by him.

His vision of history was a Hobbesian slugfest between self-interested factions. I tend to see things more sociologically, like no one is in control, not even of their own actions, and I liked to call Grant out when I felt he was over-simplifying. Being on the receiving end of one of Grant’s tirades is not for the faint of heart, but I never once felt he was capricious or vindictive. He had a genuinely curious mind, and I can’t say that for all that many people.

Other local rock stars sometimes asked Grant why he stayed in the Twin Cities, implying that he was slumming it by rubbing elbows night after night with less-experienced artists. The question was preposterous to him. Why leave? He was a loyal working class son, both living with and looking after his parents as they aged. And he was everything he ever set out to be, an autodidact and a genius in his own category.

It was magic going out on the town with him in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Grant and his two or three smiling friends would show up, and doors would open. He was once scheduled to sing the national anthem before a minor league Saint Paul Saints game (He nailed it.) but took a minute to make sure security let the rest of us in with him. Minutes before, he was playing outside the stadium for people in the parking lot – the local musical act the ball team was showcasing. An octogenarian felt he was playing too loudly and got in his face to holler that he should turn his amp down. Grant stood his ground and shook his head. No way he was turning it down for anyone.

Good night, sweet prince.

My First Tumbleweed Tuesday

Yesterday was my first Tumbleweed Tuesday, an annual holiday on Shelter Island, far out near the eastern tip of Long Island. Businesses close for at least a day, and locals, many of whom work two jobs in tourism throughout the summer, get their island back.

Shelter Island is only 29 square miles, a tad smaller than the island at the opposite end of Long Island, Manhattan, but has just 2,000 year-round residents. That balloons in summer to many thousands more, with all the people with summer houses, along with tourists and day trippers.

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Tumbleweed Tuesday.

I came here around 4th of July to manage the dining room at an historic hotel called The Chequit. I’ve been a waiter for many years, and looking for the right time to make a move to management, and jumped in here with the tourist season already underway. (Hence the long silence here on More Has To Happen.)

Having spent just a night on the island back in late June when my wife and I came to look the job over, I knew I was entering a place with a unique social landscape, shall we say. Because the restaurant I was managing was historically a beloved dive bar that went upscale a few years ago, when the hotel above it was bought and renovated, I was on the receiving end of lots of advice from “locals” about how I should run things.

I say “locals” because that means many things to many people. Every day middle-aged guys came to me and gushed about how great The Chequit’s bar was in the 1980s when they had their first underage drink there. The fact that they’d stopped going there twenty years ago rarely softened their firm belief that it should stay exactly as they remembered it. I suppose if I went back to New Brunswick, New Jersey, where I went to college, and found an osteria where Patty’s Pizza used to be, I’d feel a little heartbroken too, but I wouldn’t go inside and tell the manager about it.

When dealing with locals, I learned to discriminate between the true local and the person who tells you that they’re a local a little too freely.

I think I made some lifelong friends this summer. Shelter Islanders like to say, “It’s becoming like the Hamptons,” meaning it’s seeing more of the Wall Street money that took East Hampton and the sleepy towns around it and turned them into a summer-long eugenics experiment for the wealthy. When a true Islander tells me he’s sad to see people like me selling $100 bottles of wine, I tell him a., I wish I’d sold more of them, I can’t get these people to spend enough; and b., he’s right.

All was forgiven on Tumbleweed Tuesday though. Salt, one of the competing restaurants, hosted a party on Crescent Beach, and lots of restaurant workers who’d come out from the city to make some cash over the summer were drunk as sailors. Summer parking rules were no longer in effect, and lots of pickup trucks lined the road. I saw off duty law enforcement officers sipping beers with their extended families. I took a long swim, past the buoys, and indulged a little myself.

There is pressure, but also comfort, in working for a place with so much history. You get the sense that even if you mess up your job completely, people will still come back next year. The days will get shorter, then longer again, and someone will do your job, and make some slightly different decisions, but fish will get fried, and money will get made, and those remaining will sit on the beach the first Tuesday in September and say that the water is still pretty warm.

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Crescent Beach, Shelter Island, September 5th, 2017.

Lime Tree Arbour

I’ve been finding myself seized by a sweet, powdery smell as I walk down Brooklyn streets, day or night, this week, during the summer solstice. Something like you’d expect if you crushed Sweet Tarts® with a mortar and pestle.

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A linden tree, a.k.a. American basswood or “lime tree” catches the sun in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

I met a Spanish family at the restaurant where I work Greenpoint, and they asked if I knew what kind of tree it was, since it was wafting through the window. I’m known to carry a tree identification book on a hike in the woods, but I usually leave it at home here in the city, so I gave them a “Gosh, I don’t know,” and they started messing with their iPhones.

“It’s a lime tree,” they said, and I didn’t believe them: Limes are tropical fruits.

Well, in Spain they call them tilia, and, so say these strangers from Barcelona, they use the leaves to make a tea that calms the nerves. Researching further, I found that tilia are most often called linden trees in North America, although my Trees of New York Field Guide calls it an American Basswood. In the British Isles they call it a lime tree – which a European, whose smart phone’s search settings are more tuned into British English than American, would quickly discover, whereas I would just find “linden.”

I saw it as a happy accident, since it explained “Lime Tree Arbour,” a powerful Nick Cave ballad I’ve heard several thousand times, no exaggeration, since 2001 or so when I borrowed The Boatman’s Call from the Minneapolis Public Library (!). Like most of that 1997 album, it’s kind of a love song, kind of a hymn.

“Every breath that I breathe, and every place I go/There is a hand that protects me, and I do love her so.”

 

Now that I’ve gotten the smell in my head, I smell it everywhere, at least this week while it’s blossoming. It’s good to talk to strangers, especially ones from far away, and to make time for trees and other plants.

Thank you, Tilia americana, for all the beauty you’ve created out of dirt and sunshine this week.

The Keepers

I was as riveted as just about everyone else was by The Keepers on Netflix this month, but I also couldn’t help feeling like I was being manipulated, double-crossed even. It’s being compared to Making a Murderer and Serial, often favorably, since it courageously disperses the guilt as it goes along instead of pinning it on any one villain – though he gets pinned too.

After three episodes (out of seven) I was overwhelmed by the bald-facedness and frequency of the sexual abuse going on at the Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, and wondering if it could get any worse. Spoiler Alert: Yes it does, and weirder! And the level of shittiness somebody inside the Baltimore legal system stooped to to save this priest from jail, or the Catholic Diocese of Baltimore in general from all that embarrassment, is rotten.

The Keepers

R.I.P. Sister Cathy Cesnik.

I’ve always felt that Bowling for Columbine ended on a dreadful note, when Michael Moore wiggled his way into an interview with Charlton Heston. It felt like he took what was a well-developed and powerful broadside against a business complex and a culture of guns, and grafted a finale onto it by pulling a college prank on the elder chieftain of the gun believers. As if from his lips you will hear the kernel of truth, the damning admission, or whatnot.

Ryan White, director of The Keepers, brings you to that precipice a few times: “Oh, here we’re going to meet the person who committed the crime.” Only by the time you’ve arrived there you’re wise enough to see that the guilt, like the crime, is a diffuse business. You can only penetrate those dark corners up to the points where well-established lies, decades in the making, put up barriers.

The Hollywood Reporter felt that White was being “coy” with some important facts, like whether the main abuser was still alive – and that’s an understatement. I’d call it the glaring flaw. I was deeply annoyed, halfway through, with wondering, “Where is Maskell?” and “What about that other girl who got killed?” and “What is the connection between the two?”

The questions all get answered, but it feels both more sprawling and, in the seventh hour, more rushed, than it had to be. When it came to light that another minor had been abused prior to Maskell’s tenure at Archbishop Keough – and we hadn’t heard about it till this late in the series – I was turning numb.

In literary terms, the series has a problem with voice. White has found two extraordinary characters in the self-taught investigators Gemma and Abbie, alumnae of Archbishop Keough who are close to retirement and have made the murder of their beloved teacher, Sister Cathy, their private passion. When they uncover the sexual abuse – and even that unpleasant a phrase is euphemistic, so call it the systematic rapes – you only figure out after the fact that Gemma and Abbie had to have known lots about the rapes before they even started.

As a story-teller you have to either pick a protagonist who’s the eyes of your story, and the viewer knows only what they know, or you juggle all the elements that the omniscient narrative eye can see and give the viewer access to them in a reasonable amount of time, or else those viewers are going to feel a bit played with. It’s a shame to have such a flaw in a series as rich as this one, since I for one rarely got tired of being there in Baltimore with them.

Partly, let’s be honest, it’s the accent! The Baltimore accent is like the Philadelphian, only more so. It’s where the South begins and yet it’s strangely Yankee. Like the musical Wisconsin accent in Making a Murderer, or the deep south of S-Town, the series satisfies the craving to really be someplace. Surrounded by the regional accent, you feel submerged.

Most reviewers point out the novelty of The Keepers‘ having so many great female characters – since Keough was an all girl’s school, and most of the surviving key players are women, it means more time with women on camera than just about any mystery or crime story – but it’s deeper than that. It’s a collage of late middle-aged womanhood. Gemma Hoskins the amateur sleuth interviews hard-boiled, former Baltimore detectives like a pro, presenting as motherly sweetness but discreetly talking circles around them.

In some parts around the second episode we see shots of Jean Hardagon Wehner, the survivor of perhaps the worst of the rapes and the motor behind much of the plot, stretching and meditating. At first you get the idea that this daughter of the Church, a loyal Catholic well into her adulthood, has finally looked beyond the Western traditions for her spiritual well-being. Once you’ve really taken in the enormity of the weight she has carried, and how her 60-some-year-old body is still agile, you realize that one of the themes this series captures is the resilience of the human body and spirit.

Steven Thrasher in Esquire, of all places, takes issue with what he sees as the series’ racial myopia, since racism and racial segregation were such hot buttons in cities like Baltimore at the time. I guess you could argue that racial integration of public schools made lots of Catholic parents value their parochial schools more highly all of a sudden, and made them more prone to trust a counselor like Father Maskell. But was there something toxic about Catholic middle class whiteness around 1969 that made its men more prone to sexual violence? That sounds like sociology too deep for a documentary.

I saw it more as a bunch of families and a community of faith struggling to cope with the changing landscape brought on by the sexual revolution and the counterculture. “Come Together” was a Top Ten hit the week Sister Cathy got murdered, but so was “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies (in its tenth week!). These were the “Sugar Sugar” teens who valued innocence, and whose families trusted priests and policemen, and didn’t have the vocabulary to discuss sexual abuse if they ever had to.

Sister Cathy the acoustic-guitar-playing nun was the best possible ambassador of the counterculture the Catholic families of Baltimore could have hoped for, but she found herself behind enemy lines.

Reality Wins!

I just watched a Fox News report on Reality Winner, and boy are those guys scandalized!

I’ll spare you the link – I’m sure there’s much worse to come for this woman. Agree with her or not, she is courageous and fascinatingly flawed. Kind of naive in her mis-steps, it turns out. There was a shadow on a document indicating a crease on a piece of paper that got scanned. I’d hate to be her ex-best friend who has embarrassing photos of her from a New Years party and keeps seeing the same black SUV outside the house.

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Reality Leigh Winner: What a name!

This is where our side is crossing its fingers that she’ll come off as mature and credible and up to the part, and the other side is hoping she seems privileged and irritating on camera. All I can say is, What a name! Reality Leigh Winner. Reality Winner! Reality Wins!

Sojourner Truth, who chose her name in a religious conversion, had a damn good one. Her name implies that the Truth will come out in force one day, but that for now it is on a Sojourn in her heart. And I’ve always felt like President Lincoln’s first name was almost too accurate to be true: Abraham, the patriarch whom God commanded to kill his own son. But if she ends up on the right side of history (and leakers usually do) then “Reality Winner” ranks right up there.

Why No Man Should Ever Sing “House of the Rising Sun” Again

Music can give you sustenance during spiritually meager times, and this spring I kept going back to Joan Baez’ first album again and again.

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Recorded here in New York City in the summer of 1960, Joan Baez (the album) is a spare production of folk classics. She was only 19, and no one had heard of Dylan and she wasn’t a spokesperson for anything just yet, and the songs are all stories more than statements – and sung by that voice. Lots of them, songs like “East Virginia,” come off as so lively precisely because she’s still such a girl, and the heartache of lost love is palpable in them. “Silver Dagger” is her version of  “Katie Dear,” a ballad of doomed love which, because it’s sung in the first person from the girl’s perspective, is darker and scarier.

These songs also evoke the macabre Appalachian heart of America, our people, and an old soul of a girl who can stare into it without fear, with nothing but clarity.

Last week when the President announced his decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, I naturally started thinking hard about Appalachia and its mythical meaning to us (more on that soon). Coincidentally, it was also the week the art scene in my former hometown of Minneapolis hosted a controversy about racism in art, in Sam Durrant’s Scaffold at the Walker Art Center. A white artist was the wrong artist to tell the story of the mass execution of Dakotas during the great uprising, they said.

I rarely get excited about artists or writers overstepping the bounds of what content they’re allowed to take on. Is this my white male privilege? Maybe, but I’m more inclined to agree with Jerry Saltz of New York Magazine: “The real problem with [Scaffold] is that ALL its supposed content is in the work’s explanatory wall label,” a damning comment about lots of political art, no matter who’s controlling the story.

But even I had just determined, after listening to Baez’ “House of the Rising Sun” dozens of times this year, that no man should ever sing that song again. The Animals’ version, which is part of the classic rock canon you just can’t avoid, is utterly lifeless. “It’s been the ruin of many a poor boy” changes the meaning of the story. Eric Burden wasn’t the first man to sing it – even Dylan had a version of it – but that doesn’t mean we should ever  have to listen to it.

It’s about a girl in a whorehouse, a “ruined” woman, and devastating in a first-person version by an artistic giant like Baez:

Can we at least agree on that? If your telling the story is going to screw it up, leave it alone.

Jonathan Demme

I can’t say much about Jonathan Demme that hasn’t already been said better by A.V. Club, among others, but his vision certainly touched me.

Celebrity deaths come so often these days, it gives me an eerie feeling. Not about death, about the mass production of artistic soulfulness itself. Aside from the outliers like Prince and Michael Jackson, who died way too young, many of the deaths are within the statistical range of when it typically comes. Some combination of the Baby Boom, TV syndication, the explosion of vinyl records in the 1970s, and maybe, actually, a great generation of artists that had its day – and what a time it was – is coming together again at harvest time, and Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Mary Tyler Moore, Don Rickles, Carrie Fisher, and Chuck Berry and the entertainment giants of our childhoods are dying and going to keep dying till there are fewer and fewer of them, and one day we’ll get a Tweet, or however we’re saying “hey check this out” at that time, that says, “Remember Charlie, from ‘Charlie bit my finger‘ in the early days of YouTube? Well, he’s dead too.”**

I’ve never watched Silence of the Lambs! I don’t like sociopath movies, and never have: If thrillers are defined by the kind of evil inside the villain, then the sociopathic killer, to me, is just too plain a copout. Philadelphia seemed a little heavy-handed at the time, but we have to remember what a breakthrough that was, and I’m glad Demme’s getting lots of credit for that.

But I will always love him for Stop Making Sense. As a teenager I saw it at the State Theatre in Ithaca, NY, and joined dozens of Cornell students dancing in the aisles. I didn’t understand it, but the title put me right at ease: don’t try making sense of it! You could tell, however, that something about the period was being defined on that screen

**I feel like I have license to be so callous about death while eulogizing an earnest guy like Demme, because his pal Robyn Hitchcock handles it much more so in Demme’s film Storefront Hitchcock, which I’ve written about in the past.

Rest in Peace. We’re lucky you were so productive while you were alive, and your films are going to be around a long, long time.

Touched by the Devil

The most Python-esque movie on Netflix right now is a documentary about a Dutch painter who’s been dead for 500 years. Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the Devil is 90 minutes of great TV. Even if it peters out as a film with a single narrative thrust, who doesn’t want to hear Bosch scholars going off script about what they see in his paintings?

I think of Monty Python first, not just because of Bosch’s obvious influence on Terry Gilliam, but because the comic levity in Touched by the Devil (written and directed by Pieter van Huystee) comes from the straight-laced curators poring over the minutest details of a painter with a head full of superstition and hallucinatory ch-cha-cha, reminiscent of John Cleese playing the prim foil to the surrealism unfolding around him.

Bosch detail one

Like a good adventure film, we meet the A team early on: the conservator, the photographer, the dendrologist, the infra-red specialist, et cetera. With the nerdily handsome Matthijs Ilsink as its leader, the Dutch team visits museums trying to make deals to borrow the major works of Bosch for a commemorative show in his hometown, Den Bosch, for the quincentennial of his death in 2016.

But how do you identify a true Bosch? The team has so much digital technology at its disposal, including infra-red photos that show the drawings underneath the paint – apparently Bosch “took notes” like anyone – that they’re able to speculate on which specific assistant helped draw which composition, and which revisions “the master” himself painted.

While a part of me wants to protest that this kind of history lacks poetic imagination, the defenders of a more intuitive approach to art history in Touched by the Devil are the duo from The Prado, who seem like real jerks. “You either have an eye for it or you don’t,” one says about her eye for identification. It seems like a cover for snobbery, or fear of what we might find out, what assumptions we might have to throw away.

Bosch detail two

You have to admit, though, that the jerks from The Prado raise a fair question: Are we really willing to stop seeing “a Bosch” as the work of a singular mind? Is it a modern prejudice, to believe in “a master” making an artistic (or religious) statement? Can we really know what that person, Bosch – Jheronimus van Aken, El Bosco, Jerry from Bosch – was trying to say? It’s something we who love old art have to think about – or maybe, resign ourselves to giving up on.

The conflict Touched by the Devil prepares you for is whether or not The Prado, which has the most Bosches of any museum, agrees to lend them back to the Dutch for the quincentennial show in his small town museum. Spoiler alert: They co-operated, except for the one piece Ilsink and the Dutch really wanted, Bosch’s most complete masterpiece, The Garden of Earthly Delights. Like the British Museum refusing to lend the statuary taken from The Parthenon back to Greece for the 2004 Olympics, some masterpieces just look so perfect right where they are, adored by people who can truly appreciate them.

Writer-director van Huystee is of course Dutch, and his sympathies are clear. You get the sense, partly from his interaction with John Hand, the U.S. National Gallery curator who delivers his historically nuanced opinions about Bosch with a Trumanesque twang, that there’s an affinity between Dutch and American people.

It’s a fitting conclusion when Ilsink, who’s spent much of the film busting curators’ bubbles, figures out with scientific certainty that a painting of Saint Jerome in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City is actually a true Bosch. The pride with which that curator comes to Den Bosch to present the painting resolves the dramatic problem presented by The Prado.

Rarely do I see a feature documentary and wish it were a TV series, but I’d have watched hours more of this.

Spring Comes To Montauk

The spring equinox is the start of the calendar year in many traditions, and it feels like a new beginning these past few weeks. I was lucky enough to be in Montauk, New York, with my wife when March 21st came. We were almost the first New Yorkers to see the sun rise in the “new year” – almost, that is, except we chose to sleep in a bit longer rather than drive the ten minutes from town to lighthouse, the easternmost point, to really be the first.

We had beers and fish and chips at Shangwong’s, and took long hikes through Camp Hero, and Montauk Point, and around the lighthouse, and just took in the emptiness.

I’ve noticed tourists everywhere have a habit of going to the end of peninsulas, seemingly just for the hell of it. We enjoyed Montauk so much, even in the off season, that I made a short list of things to see when I go back, almost all of which were closed in March: the Lighthouse Museum; the Montauk Indian Museum; a hike by the “Walking Dunes” in Hither Hills; a spa in a salt cave; and the Maritime Museum in nearby Amagansett.

Or maybe next time I’ll go even earlier in the season, when fewer things are open.

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Sunrise in Montauk, March 21, 2017.

Montauk

The beaches on the ocean side

come sloping down from shrubland –

these piles of boulders and dirt

scraped from the Berkshires and pushed

sloppily to sea. It still invites

a sleepy person to sit and face

the south, luxuriating on

an Ice Age glacier that lost its

vitality and shriveled. There’s

nothing to do in Montauk but

watch the sun and moon come and go.

You hear the jingle of keys from

your motel room: your neighbors,

also from the city, people

who have lists of miniature

experiences that must be had,

detailed plans for where to go and

what time to get there and what to bring,

and cherish crossing things off their list,

are up before the light: They’ve heard

the best precise place, the point

to which the sun reveals herself

while wearing her most garish bonnet,

is furthest to the east, beside

the lighthouse, but you’ve succumbed to

the nothingness: You plant your elbows

in the sand outside your door and crane

your neck and watch the shadows

stretch out and breathe in, the way

the continent sees them.