~opá! opá!~

January 5th, 2007

This week I taught a class in forensic analysis of surveillance videos. All my media involved people in ski masks robbing banks. The class was for the Transit Authority on Randall’s Island and to get there I left my house before the sun came up.

Randall’s Island is on the East River between Manhattan and Queens. In the 1800s the city schlepped the bodies from the cemeteries at Madison Square and Bryant park, built a poorhouse for destitute immigrants, a House of Refuge for juvenile delinquents, an Idiot Asylum (open since 1863, still going strong with nearly 5,000 patients my students said are now criminally insane), an Inebriate Asylum, and a rest home for Civil War veterans on the island. In other words, my kinda island…

The class took place in a building constructed in tribute to legendary public-works czar Robert Moses who brought you all the above plus many highly contested bridges and such.

The students very sweetly gave me a keychain, pocket flashlight, and day-planner with the Triborough Bridge logo to commemorate my visit. Everyone called me “Kimberly”, though I said more than once that my name is Kim.

I had my picture taken (closed eyes, thank you very much) and wore it everywhere I went. Every move all the staff and I made (except presumably in the bathroom?) was recorded by cameras no one bothered to hide. Classroom, parking lots, hallways, you name it.

Here are my feet, in a totally illicit photo taken while standing under two surveillance cameras. I loved the deco building, the spiraling staircases and the chrome winged details of everything. I wasn’t allowed to photograph any of it, so all you get are my boots…

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At 11.30 my boys took me in the official truck to lunch in Queens. We went to Sal, Chris & Charlies, aka The Sandwich Kings of Astoria. They open at 5 am and have a sandwich called “The Bomb.”

We also went to a local Greek joint called Opá! Opá! that was made to look like a cave inside. The term means essentially “I feel you!” and is exclaimed when watching an espcially good performer.
In my mind is means “Joy! Sorrow! Life!”

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I first heard it in the 1920s cabaret or Rembetika music I adore–by Roza Eskenasi and friends–about hashish dens, philandering boyfriends and back-stabbing girlfriends. This music is rather like the blues.

Speaking of blues, I think I never mentioned a video Tom played for us at Macdowell before dinner once–it has Billie Holiday singing Fine and Mellow and it is a-maz-ing. She sits on a stool and all the dudes stand around her blowing their horns. When she says “treat me right baby” and she knows he never will, and her mouth sneers a little, it sends a zing right through your bones. Hey! Found it, so here it is:

One Response to “~opá! opá!~”

  1. Habib says:

    I’ve never seen her sing before. When the musicians play their solos, her face responds like they’re having a conversation. Jazz is the coolest.

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