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Author Archives: Erik Schurink
While the English word ‘kermis’ is adopted from the Dutch to connote a fair with the purpose of raising money for a charity, the word in its native environment means fair, where fun is had, and the moneys made go to those who run it.
The Dutch are fond of idioms, and ‘kermis’ idioms allude to the uproarious, frivolous, or even sinful, as such or in contrast. Its etymology combines ‘kerk’ and ‘mis’—‘church’ and ‘mass.’ Kermis finds its origin in the festival of the people typically held on the church square. Blend Bruegel and Bosch:
Een kermisgang is een bilslag waard: A trip to the kermis is worth a spanking.
Het is kermis in de hel: It’s kermis in hell—it rains while the sun is out
Zo blij als een kermisvogel: Happy as a kermis bird (customer)—very happy
Elkaar verstaan als twee dieven op een kermis: to understand each other like two thieves at the kermis—to get along extremely well.
Het is daar kermis: It’s kermis over there—there’s quite an uproar brewing over there
Het kan niet altijd kermis zijn: It can’t always be kermis—life cannot always be as you wish
NYC is seen by many as ‘een bonte kermis,’ a colorful affair. For tourists and foreign business people entering this kermis at JFK, there often is the fear of cabbies taking you for a ride. Many Japanese businessmen fell victim to cabbies tampering with their meters, as word on the New York streets had it that a fare from Narita Airport to downtown Tokyo easily ran the equivalent of $100. “So, why not JFK-NYC?” was the thinking.
In the nineties, a sting was set up in which surrogate Japanese businessmen would take a cab from the airport to the former Vista Hotel. The Vista doorman would open the yellow door, and upon seeing an Asian man in business attire, he’d ask “Are you here for the Kyoto Fair?” If the cab fare exceeded a certain amount, the answer would be “yes,” and the doorman would instruct the taxi driver to drop off his passenger at the Kyoto Fair, at one of the Hudson piers. Upon arrival, police would apprehend the cabbie. That cabbie had “thuisgekomen van een kouwe kermis”—come home from a cold fair.
Darkness, amplified by polluted waters and urban hubbub, formed the backdrop in which thirteen Brooklyn artists embarked on counting crickets and katydids. In five canoes, they paddled down Gowanus Canal and into its shallow arms. Armed with MP3 players holding reference recordings of the seven prevalent species found in the five boroughs, they kept their ears peaked. Expectations of an auditory experience were quickly overwhelmed and enriched by the urbanity of the environs. How come crickets and katydids keep calling, if they are outscreamed by cars, trucks, elevated trains, and plant machinery easily filling 99% of the air dome circumscribed by invisible horizons? How come crickets and katydids keep calling in the stench of petrol punctuated by whiffs of sulfur more potent than those Woody Allen alluded to in Deconstructing Harry, if wind in its purest form, silences them?
But yes, in this landscape of silhouetted industrial and traffic structures, against a cloudy night sky of drizzle, and a syncopation of clearly audible sewer spouts, they did hear populations of field crickets, jumping bush crickets and angel-winged katydids, in rhythms breaking the roar of Brooklyn, like the lit windows of the F train periodically sends a floating ribbon of light into the clutter of stationary light specks, to disappear into the dusk of the Smith and Ninth Streets’ tunnels until a next population comes down the line.
The members of the Gowanus Expedition, guided by Tammy Pittman, co-director of Proteus Gowanus, and Bill Duke, captain of the Gowanus Dredgers, called in the GPS position, time, and identity of the species heard, to the AMNH head quarters to be added to the findings of others participating in the Cricket Crawl.
An hour’s worth of canoe travel below street level, looking down at reflections and up out of the dismal olfactory, their ears made them see their hometown differently. Their ears informed their bitten nostrils that even in the grime of our local Styx there are the sounds of nature they were looking for, extended with an illusion of country, by way of the swishes of the soft waves created by their paddles that helped them glide over Lowe’s blue sign, shimmering upside down in the undulating rainbow stains split by the bows of canoes.
In an age in which corrugated cardboard is the material of choice to build temporary housing for goods on their way to consumers, often to be reused by those who lost their way, to build a home, it was used on April 6 and 7th, 2009 A.D., to rebuild old Rome anew within the confines of Mannahatta, island of many hills. The rebuilding of Rome evolved in the second box of the seven that make the New Museum of Contemporary Art on the new Bowery, the foudroyantly new cultural capital of NYC.
Immigrants, and ancestors of immigrants and various diasporas joined hands to reenact old Rome’s architectural development. The builders crammed the time span from Romulus’ and Remus’ days to the destruction of the city, several centuries later, into 24 hours, and half a gallery. Tape, hot glue, various scales and levels of accuracy were applied by Gabriel, Seung, Lisa, Steven, Katherine, Dylan, Matt, Nayeema, Sam, Mariechen, myself, and several others, under the soft-spoken guidance of LA artist Liz Glynn.
Timed to coincide with the opening of the “The Generational: Younger than Jesus” exhibit, a Katrina of self-appointed Visigoths, Christians and pagan Godzillas gleefully razed this recreation in two minutes flat… Gone again were the Forum, the Coliseum, the Temple of Saturn and those dedicated to other gods of Roman lore, and the arches honoring dead emperors as idols. Gone again was old St. Peter.
Gone again… to be rebuilt, again? To be rebuilt elsewhere? Again, by inquilines?
At the closing party of the gallery’s theme-of-the-year ‘MEND’, flag artist David Mahfouda unfurled his longer-than-a-flagpole-is-tall flag from the roof of the 5-story high building that houses Proteus Gowanus. The flag had been torn in exuberant waving and joyous dancing on Union Square, the night Obama was elected president. For seven months, Proteus Gowanus had been the “Mending HQ” for volunteers helping David restore the flag, and nurturing its spirit. Together they stitched the stripes back together, and sewed new stars onto the flag’s sky panel.
The flag was created in the year leading up to the election, as a bridge to a new beginning, by reclaiming the stars-and-stripes from millions of lapel pins, born(e) in the aftermath of 9/11, by resizing it millionfold into one flag to be held, moved, and cared for by many.
The night the flag became the people’s was the night the rips appeared, the need for mending, and the awareness that mending indeed can be done—that mending is needed to clear the skies, for the skies to celebrate the flag free-flowingly, for anyone to hold hands with that new sky, to take it into one’s circle, the circle of people, the circle of nations.
The night of June 28th, this flag was rolled from the rooftop to be carried by the wind—and torn again by the courtyard’s 19th century brick and mortar—into the hands of those who help mend it, for them to look up that 13-lane highway of red & white to see the big blue with stars, some clear, some still dimmed, and to feel comfort that even in this dire economy, there is a new normal worthy of dancing a jig, even if it’s sponsored by a major credit card.
Who needs a flagpole.
At this year’s Poetry Walk, Galway Kinnell read Walt Whitman’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry for the fourteenth time at the Fulton Ferry Landing, the poem that veiled and unveiled Whitman’s sexual orientation. His poem as yashmak—offering those sensitive to his femininity to look in through the slit he widened with his words, a poem he suspected and hoped might find a larger, more open crowd among the men and women generations after him, seeing mast-hemm’d Manhattan and sea-gulls oscillating their bodies much like he did in his time of thick-stemm’d pipes of steamboats. “Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!” he says, “Stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn! Throb, baffled and curious brain! Throw out questions and answers…”