Still sorely missed.
I have tracked the photos of Nolareno, a Flickr user, for a few months now. They are stunning, mundane documents about the current architectural truth of New Orleans. Nolareno photographs the demolition of supermarkets, shoots wonderful snips of architectural detail, and otherwise walks and snaps as the city moves on. With very little commentary but great location detail, we see the state of 3401-05 St. Claude St., 1330 Simon Bolivar St., and 1208-12 Orthea Castle Haley Blvd. It’s not all bleak, but it’s all true. A fine descendant of Chicago’s Richard Nickel.
Our current president’s recent trip to Asia had me thinking about my own journey there. So I dug up all of the black & white images I took during my trip to China in December 1990. I scanned them and uploaded them to Flickr. I was obsessed with China at the time, mainly because of the Tiananmen Square Massacre of June 1989. I was (even then) a New York Times freak.
I will never forget when I read the first stories from Nicholas D. Kristof in mid-April of that year, where he wrote daily in increasingly excited text that students had veered from mourning the death of an obscure (to me) Chinese leader, Hu Yaobang, to a full-out assault on the front door of the Chinese equivalent of the White House. And that the protesters were not leaving the square. And that news was stunning. So I followed the story all the way to the end.
I was crushed. Really emotionally disturbed by the whole thing. More than one person in my life has told me that I have at times cared more about what’s going on at the other end of the world (Beijing, Sarajevo, Rwanda, etc.) than what’s right in front of me. I guess it depends on what is in front of me.
Certainly, as a father now, I cling to my children with a fierce protection and interest that could never rival what I feel while holding newsprint. But in 1989, the students of the square were my fantasy. They looked to us in the U.S. for their symbolism and language with the Goddess of Freedom and Democracy, but I envied them so much. It was one year into the presidency of the first George Bush, and I was still bitter that a CIA Director was our leader. I wrote a lot of poems< in those years.
I was just learning to define myself as a poet. I would read the paper and write a poem. It was natural. I was aching for something substantial to do. I had no war to attend or resist, I had a comfortable, arty life that included plenty of education, food, drug, and alcohol. I envied them their sticks and outrage. I wanted to commandeer buses like they did. They were lucky. On June 4th and 5th, they were decisively attacked. It was a massacre.
I fired up an indignant handwritten missive and went down to the Chinese Embassy on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. There were no people outside, no TV or protests. All I did was go up to whatever floor it was on and knock on the door. It looked like a converted dentist’s office, all waiting room and glass partition. I waited. A Chinese man came out and I quietly sputtered a formal demand that the massacre cease and that the entire leadership of China resign. And do whatever else the students wanted. He was very Asian and polite, sucking in short bursts of air as I spoke. He gently refused to take my letter from me. I tried to hand it to him again and again. Polite refusal to accept it. We sat side by side on a nice couch. I laid my letter on the table and said goodbye to him.
My obsession with China and the students didn’t dissipate. I wrote a play, “The Goddess Speaks.”, that we produced in the summer of 1990. It included a 14-foot replica of the Goddess of Freedom and Democracy. Hooded Figure #4 ripped open the belly of the Goddess and pulled out a blood bag, pouring it over the Seeker of Freedom. It was great. But I wanted to go to China. And I did, that winter. More on that later.
My fondness for the writing of John F. Burns is not a secret. But he is a foreign correspondent and doesn’t turn his typing to the cares at home.
Dan Barry seems to be our domestic Burns. He takes the same warm stare, the same courage at putting the obvious, but painful, things into print. And he isn’t afraid to note w/o apology that he is human, and present, at the story’s centerpoint. Here’s more of him:
A disturbing question comes too quickly to the mind. Which was worse: the attacks of Sept. 11 or the attack of Hurricane Katrina?
THE overwhelming loss of life, of course, and the crippling tolls to the economy, to the infrastructure, to the community’s sense of self. But more than that: the denial of that basic, sacred need to claim and bury the dead. Four years have passed, and 1,152 of the 2,749 victims of 9/11 have not been identified. Two weeks have passed, and who knows how many bodies still bob in dark waters.
Which is worse? Let the question go.
Just know that emergency telephone numbers and wrenching news updates trickle across the television screens here, just as they did then. That volunteers from across the country are here to help out, just as they did then. That people here vow to rebuild, just as we did then.
One night four years ago, a city sanitation worker started sweeping the debris of chaos from Church Street. And one afternoon this week, a shopkeeper on deserted Royal Street did the same.
John F. Burns is the best writer in American newspapers. That’s why I maintain an archive– currently containing 93 of his most recent articles, going back pretty comprehensively to the beginning of the Iraq war– over here at http://johnfburns.blogspot.com/. Couple of points I want to make:
- The New York Times is my favorite publication, the only thing I read every day. It is my literature. They are my heroes. I approach this archive with respect, not disdain
- I am a practitioner of a form of art– research art. In the same vein as what my friend Shane Swank is up to in his Stolen Pixels series
- The act of archiving– seeing the item, bedding down a spot for it, copying/ pasting the item into the archive– is my art. Out of all the items from all the newspapers in all the world, I choose these to save & group together
- What I am making can be considered a "derivative work" of copyrighted material owned by the New York Times Company. I have not sought or obtained permission from them to create such work. I believe that there should be a change in copyright that allows this work without permission. See more here at Derivative Works Manifesto
If John F. Burns asked me to remove this archive from the internet, I would do so. Otherwise, let’s get started on making the law match the methods of artists.