I'm back! Had a lovely time. Once again, this trip was occasioned by a family wedding (as Niall said, my relatives get married in all the coolest places), and at least half the fun of it involved meeting cousins distant and obscure, many of whom I haven't seen in several years, and some of whom I met for the very first time this week, as well as their friends and relatives. The wedding was beautiful and the party in its wake great fun.
I also did the tourist thing, but everyone knows the New York highlights so I won't bore you too much with my version of them. I took a rather laid-back approach to the museums, wandering about them willy-nilly and poking my head into any exhibit that looked appealing. As a result, I had a somewhat dizzying experience at the Museum of Modern Art when I turned a corner and found myself face-to-face with Van Gogh's Starry Night. I had known, on an academic level, that the original of an image I've encountered hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of times in facsimile had to be hanging somewhere, probably at a location of MoMA's caliber, but to come upon the painting unawares really threw me. This wasn't an experience like going to see the Mona Lisa, and discovering that it is too small, and the crowd surrounding it too large, for any visitor to properly appreciate it. I had plenty of time and access to the painting, but I couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that I was actually in its presence. I was left with all sorts of confused thoughts about the value of an original creation when its image has become throughly entrenched into our cultural subconscious, but luckily there was a gigantic Monet triptych in the next room to take my mind off them.
The New York subway system remains, I am sad to say, the least hospitable and comprehensible underground rail system it has ever been my misfortune to use. Confusing, contradictory, and, just when you need it the most, insufficient signage, a senseless enslavement of the underground map to above-ground physical landmarks that is, to add insult to injury, only sporadically adhered to (if you're going to name a subway station 23rd St., why are the exits on 22nd?), a downright bizarre distribution of both stations and lines, and poor maintenance of both stations and trains. I imagine it's a perfectly serviceable system for someone who knows the city, but as a tourist (and last time I checked, New York gets more than a few of these) I found it frustrating, and frequently chose to take a bus.
And then there's this:
Most of them should be readable, but titles are available upon request.
In what is becoming a tradition, two literary awards were announced during my absence (last time it was the Nebula and the Clarke). Anne Enright's The Gathering won the Booker, and Doris Lessing was awarded the Nobel prize for literature. I'm not terrifically fussed about either. Of this year's Booker nominees, I'd only read McEwan's On Chesil Beach (in fact, I don't believe I'd even heard about the other nominees before the longlist was announced), and though I liked it very much, I didn't think it was substantial enough to deserve the award. All I know about Lessing is that Ursula K. Le Guin (who, in spite of my embarrassing indifference towards her novels, is fast becoming one of my favorite reviewers) savaged her most recent novel, The Cleft. Here's Adam Roberts, however, discussing Lessing's SF writing.
On Monday, Strange Horizons published a double review of Brian Francis Slattery's Spaceman Blues, by Martin Lewis and Rose Fox. Neither one is particularly thrilled with the novel, and interestingly, both come at it from the perspective of big city dwellers--Lewis is a Londoner, Fox a New Yorker. I adored Spaceman Blues, but I'm coming to it as someone who has never been more than a tourist in either of these cities, so I'm going to have to think some more about their criticisms of the novel.
And finally, coming from J.K. Rowling herself: Dumbledore was gay. And in love with Grindlewald (though whether that love was requited remains unclear). On the one hand, how cool is it that the Potterverse's Xavier/Magneto, Gandalf/Saruman equivalent is actually canon? On the other hand, is a representation of homosexuality in the form of a character who is ancient, celibate, and traumatized into asexuality something to get excited over? And shouldn't this have been revealed in the book itself, for example in "King's Cross", which as it stands is an almost pointless chapter in which Dumbledore tells Harry things he, and we, already know?