Letter from New York, Paris, London, and Amsterdam, Part One
December 16, 2010
Catching up with TCDS Alumni in Europe
Europe in November is unique, both embracing and isolating. There aren’t too many tourists, the weather is crisp, and the light is perfect. The pace is slow, and history is constantly in front of you through monuments and museums.
I was in the midst of my first semester back in graduate school. I had spent the last two years working at Sports Illustrated, where I watched the publishing industry buckle and transform. It was my first job after graduating from Parsons School of Design and Eugene Lang College in 2008. It was a humbling experience, but I constantly sought out more: working for a friend’s start-up, freelancing for fashion week, and eventually starting my own freelance design studio.
I eventually left my publishing job in August to begin my master’s in Liberal Studies. It felt good to be back in academe. However, the first thing I noticed in September was that the landscape of The New School had changed. 65 Fifth Avenue, which had been home to The New School for Social Research, had become a construction site, and most of my friends who graduated with me in 2008 had moved away from the city in the wake of the recession. Yet the experience of eating a bagel from Murray’s or walking around the Strand had not changed. (Those of you who have not been here for a while may like to know that NSSR moved two blocks uptown, and its new home is now at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 16th Street.)
On a whim, a dear friend invited me to travel to Paris for a few days in November. I took it further by adding London and Amsterdam to my itinerary, with the purpose of visiting two TCDS alums.
I was in Paris primarily for Paris Photo, an annual exposition focusing on images, photographers, and galleries from around the world. This year’s special focus was Central Europe. Since my academic and artistic inquiry revolves around this part of the world, I let this be the deciding factor for my mid-semester travels. Half a week in Paris was refreshing. I spent my days running from museum to museum with my friend and my evenings working on my projects and schoolwork from my rented apartment in the Marias. We even managed a day trip to Versailles to see a very exciting exhibition by contemporary artist Takashi Murakami.
Paris Photo was good, even though it felt like the New York art world had transplanted itself to Paris for a few days. I appreciated the Central European photography, but was slightly disappointed by what was shown. The pieces from the few Central European galleries were interesting, though I was left wanting more. The images offered a romantic and nostalgic view of Central Europe: black and white grainy images of markets and babushkas. Though these photographs serve as perfect historical artifacts, they do not reflect what Central Europe has become.
In addition to Paris Photo, there was buzz about the Richard Avedon auction held that week at Sotheby’s. The auction had raised over $7.5 million for the Richard Avedon Foundation. According to a recent New York Times article, Paris is perfect for photography lovers in November; now I know why.
Though my attempts at French were in vain, I had success with Polish at a Jewish deli on my last full day in the City of Light. From Paris I took the very punctual Eurostar train to LONDON. I arrived in the midst of a busy day at St. Pancras International. London is hustle and bustle. It did not feel as sleepy as Paris, though it was far from deafening New York.
I met up with Roch Dunin-Wasowicz, a Warsaw, Poland, native and PhD student at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Roch graduated from Eugene Lang College in 2008 and received his master’s in Sociology from NSSR in 2010. In addition, Roch attended the Democracy & Diversity Institute in Cape Town in 2007 and Wroc≈Çaw during the summer of 2009. Over delicious, well-crafted coffee at a trendy cafe in Soho and dinner in Covent Garden, I asked Roch to reflect on his time in New York and at The New School. We talked about his performance freshman year in Witold Gombrowicz’s Operetta at La MaMa in the East Village (which is still talked about as one of the best performances by Lang students), and his time as an intern working in a Harlem public school. He thrived on and really relished the experience of being thrust right into the New York City experience from day one.
In addition, Roch worked on cataloging and preparing the letters, books, and archives of the writer Herbert Ashbury and his wife, Edith Evans Asbury, the first female editor of the New York Times. The collection was donated to Harvard University, and Roch had an integral part in initially making sense of the years of relevant material that belonged to the couple.
Roch eventually decided to leave The New School to attend LSE. It was the most appealing PhD program for his academic interests in defining the concept of European citizenship within the framework of culture. He is looking at it through non-institutional, non-legal forms, primarily focusing on the power of cultural reproduction in facilitating supranational citizenship.
He misses New York but is in a good place at LSE. What I saw was a well-adjusted American, living in London. He resides in comfortable student housing off of convenient Trafalgar Square. As I observed several students preparing their respective dinners in the common kitchen one evening, Roch remarked, Everyone in the dorms is like a zombie. It’s the middle of the term., Even though it is quite early in his PhD studies, Roch is approaching it full force. He was in the midst of reading the 1656-page The Culture of the Europeans: From 1800 to the Present cover to cover, with Eurostars and Eurocities: Free Movement and Mobility in an Integrating Europe and The Production of Space waiting patiently on his shelf. Between reading, taking notes on his iPad, going to class, attending lectures, and studying at the department’s reading room, Roch has found time to enjoy the experience of a new city. He has made new friends but for now still misses the immediacy of navigating the city [New York], something I still have to learn about London.,
Before leaving London I made it to the Tate Modern where I saw one of the most fascinating pieces of artwork that I have ever seen, Sunflower Seeds by Ai Weiwei. I found it a unique challenge to imagine 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds.
Getting on the Tube to Heathrow, the last thing I saw was a student protest working its way to the city center…. This was a topic that Roch wrote about to this site in his recent Letter from London.
I left London as quickly and efficiently as I had arrived. Winter was moving in on this international city and it was time for my Thanksgiving stopover in Amsterdam.
To be continued.
Piotr Kuczynski ,TCDS Associate, Democracy & Diversity Krakow alumnus