The Uncanny Valley

Notes on art, culture and preservation

Archive for March 2010

From Glimmer Train, With Honor

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Short story writers have to learn to live through disappointments if they want to stay in the game. It has never been easy for me to accept an impersonal rejection slip from a literary publication, even though the super high volume of submissions that magazines receive makes that reality understandable. So whatever accolades I can get, I’ll take them.

Without further ado, the news: this week, the editors of Glimmer Train Stories, one of the most respected magazines in the US devoted entirely to short fiction, formally recognized my work. My story has been listed for Honorable Mention in the January 2010 competition for the magazine’s Very Short Fiction Award. I didn’t crack the Top 25, but I came very close — according to the editors, my story placed in the top five percent out of more than a thousand contest entries.

You should by all means check out the contest winners here. They are certainly more than deserving of the honors. (NB For the moment, you need to log into your account to see the list.)

Here’s the Honorable Mention:

2010-January-VSF-HONORABLE-MENTION-list

This close. I swear.

I am now more confident, though, that this story will find a home sooner than later, and I’ll provide an update when that happens. It is quite a thrill to be recognized in this manner. To all fellow writers out there, keep the faith.

Written by cwmote

March 26, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Culturas, Steve McCurry

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The photography of Steve McCurry is the meeting place of journalism and art. It is not just the skill of rendering a piece of the visual world into a colorful, captivating image; it is the hunger for seeing the world, for revealing something about it to a wider audience, something edifying and deep. If you’ve read National Geographic over the last thirty years, even taken a glance at some of the images now and then, chances are you’ve encountered his work. And chances are, whether for a passing moment or far longer, you’ve been struck.

The work of McCurry — as it happens, a Philadelphia native — is the subject of “Culturas”, an exhibit taking place at the wonderful Centro Cultural Borges. It is the first showing devoted to his work to open in Argentina. McCurry’s most renowned photograph will probably always be that of the displaced Afghan girl, taken in the mid-80s during the tumultuous Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Doubtless, the girl’s green, scintillating eyes define the photo, offering scores of unspoken words that delineate the plight of a refugee. And yet, by some trick or generous skill on McCurry’s part, the moment preserved in the photo is both dramatic and natural, beautified but unforced.

That quality carries across much of the work exhibited in “Culturas”. Across the vast scopes of the world that we safely deem “non-Western” — and as a consequence, have often passively deemed Cultural Others — McCurry carries his camera. His photos give light to cultures affected by the usual suspects of global inequality: war, poverty, disease, pollution. Yet while they can overwhelm with their bleakness, they don’t exploit the feeling of their subjects in an attempt to jar the viewer. They are more of a testament to people’s resilience in the face of hardship. The moments of rest, worship, and jubilation among people are documented just as well.

The conscientious mind perusing the stills in the gallery will exit with a sense of amazement at McCurry’s technical brilliance, while feeling a little less centric about his or her place in the world. No one can ever capture the whole world as it really is, of course. Unlike photographs, cultures are fluid and living. But a dignified, artistic rendering of the world as it is will still go a long way. As another superpower has its boots in Afghanistan in the present, it’s clear that some realities are not so quick to change.

[“Culturas” runs through March 31 at the Centro Cultural Borges, on the top floor of Galerías Pacífico, at Viamonte and San Martín. $10 general admission, $8 for students and seniors. For more images, see Steve McCurry’s homepage here.]

Written by cwmote

March 25, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Now Playing in Buenos Aires

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See if you can identify the following Hollywood films based on the Spanish titles under which they get marketed in Argentina:

  1. Vivir al límite
  2. Sólo para parejas
  3. Un sueño posible
  4. La isla siniestra
  5. Un maldito policía en Nueva Orleans

All of the films were released in the US in the past year — some recently, others not. Hint: two of these films recently won Oscars in the “Major Categories” (Picture, Acting, Directing).

The first person to send me the correct answers gets…well, a shout-out and a big fat plug on this blog. After all, you can’t put a price on glory. And remember: no peeking! (OK, only take a peek on IMDB if you absolutely must.)

UPDATE: My brother came close, getting all except the last one. Muy bien hecho, Dan. See here for the answers: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]  (And honestly, for #5, the Spanish title is way better than the original. Sometimes other countries get it right.)

Written by cwmote

March 15, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Notes from an expat

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Plaza de Mayo, with the Casa Rosada (presidential palace) in the background

I came to Buenos Aires two weeks ago because I could. I had no knowledge of the culture here before my arrival, except for what I was able to glean from talking to a few native Argentines and past visitors, reading guidebooks and the stories of Borges, listening to Piazzolla’s greatest hits and watching a few Ricardo Darin films. All of which was good preparation, I suppose — but nothing can really prepare you for surviving in the culture until you go there and experience it for yourself. And, so far, I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’m making progress. For one thing, I found an apartment to share with a pair of Argentine students instead of one with fellow expats, resulting in a near-total immersion in Spanish. At the same time, I’ve been in touch with travelers like myself, people who are looking to stay in Buenos Aires or venture around South America for a few months, and of course I have my own audience over the web to communicate with in my home language. So I’m in both worlds, and careful not to let one overwhelm the other — but hey, the more Spanish practice, the better.

My first intention was to stay here for a few months, maybe three at the most, but for now I have no definite plans. Finding a steady job would do much to ensure that I can stay longer, and that’s basically where I’m at now, trying to build up a network. In the meantime, the postings here will likely be a mixture of the usual observations on the world of art along with day-to-day reflections on being abroad.

Example: there is no television in my apartment, so I didn’t catch the Oscars (which aired here in the wee hours Monday morning), but I was relieved to hear that Avatar didn’t win Best Picture, interesting and stimulating though it was. In fact, most people here are still celebrating over El secreto de sus ojos, which is the next Darin film on my must-see list.

So there: I still got it.

Thanks to everyone for their wishes and concerns. I know everyone must automatically assume I’m having the time of my life down here, that Buenos Aires is a blast, so let me just be clear about this so that there’s no confusion about how things are going:

I am having the time of my life down here.

Buenos Aires is a blast.

Happy reading…or as they say, ¡Buena lectura!

Written by cwmote

March 9, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Gee, thanks for reminding me of what a cold puritanical country I just left

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OK, so it’s not the best way to introduce the fact that I’ve been in Buenos Aires for the last week, and will be here for several (perhaps many) more to come. That introduction will come later. Why not put off introductions till later when you can cut and paste stories like this here and now?

A New Jersey family said a police officer asked them to cover up portions of their snow sculpture — a nude tribute to the Venus de Milo.

Rahway police Sgt. Dominick Sforza said an officer visited the home of Elisa Gonzalez, who built the snow sculpture with daughter Maria Conneran, 21, and son Jack Shearing, 12, last week on an anonymous complaint “of a naked snow woman”….

And the sculpture really does look like the real thing, even though it’s too symmetrical and doesn’t have a head. And yes, they did put a bikini over it. But please, it’s snow. Do you know how many chances the public actually get to make public art with readily found and free materials?

Of course, one anonymous call does not make for a philistine society. If anything, the fact that a 12-year-old helped sculpt this thing means the suburbs are verging ever closer to enlightenment. But indulge me: I wouldn’t have normalcy if I didn’t have the old sensation-driven media to read through and smack about. Just take it that I’m jealous that I can’t drive up the Turnpike to see the sculpture before it melts.

P.S. If this otherwise harmless public art offends you, don’t come to Buenos Aires. Every other newsstand has a scad of magazines with topless women on the covers. It’s really something. Either censorship is a thing of the past, or the sight of breasts doesn’t shock anymore.

P.P.S. Don’t come here either.

Written by cwmote

March 4, 2010 at 7:54 pm