Celebrating the Tenderloin

(K. Brent Tomer),

SAN FRANCISCO was one of several cities dubbed the “Paris of the West” in the early 20th century. The description was inspired by the charms of the Tenderloin district, an area that bustled with commerce and high culture after it avoided the worst of the 1906 earthquake that levelled three-quarters of the city.

From that high point the Tenderloin’s reputation foundered, but its vibrancy did not. It became the place where San Francisco’s supposed undesirables—including a century’s worth of immigrants, as well as gay men in the 1950s and transgender women in the 1960s—found refuge in affordable, centrally located housing and a dynamic community. The area takes its name from the days when policemen working the area accepted sufficient bribes to be able to buy the best meat.

Today, descriptions of the neighbourhood tend more towards the gritty. But these miss the point. The Tenderloin—or simply “the TL”, as locals know it—does have its problems with crime and public drug use. But it is one of America’s most ethnically diverse communities, and its mural-adorned residential hotels and increasingly cleaned-up playgrounds…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Celebrating the Tenderloin

Feel the beat

(K. Brent Tomer),

Music, rhythm and dance are the beating heart of two vibrant exhibitions in Paris. “Beauté Congo” at the Fondation Cartier puts André Magnin’s long experience as a curator and collector of African art to good use, from the discoveries he made at the Africa Museum at Tervuren, Belgium, of Albert Lubaki’s watercolours of the 1920s to the boisterous recent works of Pierre Bodo, who died earlier this year, and J.P. Mika’s “Kiese na Kiese” from 2014 (pictured), which feels almost as if it is pulsating. Across town, at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Suzanne Pagé has overseen the assembly of a dynamic show of music and video art: from the gunshot-operatics of Chris Marclay’s “Crossfire” to the ever more menacing trombones in “Viva España” by Pilar Albarracìn and “The Krazy House”, Rineke Dijkstra’s rediscovery of the joys of youth.

The old ways are best

(K. Brent Tomer),

IN 2013 the American Society of Civil Engineers released its four-yearly report card on the state of the nation’s infrastructure. It estimated that $3.6 billion of investments were needed across the country, and gave the roads an abysmal D grade for their condition. Bridges fared a little better with a C+.

Such results stand in stark contrast to those merited by a 500-year-old road network that is currently being celebrated in an exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. The present-day condition of the Inca Road, which runs through the Andes and links hundreds of communities from Argentina to Peru, is a testament to its age-defying properties. It was recently put on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.

Built at the height of the Inca Empire, the 24,000-mile (39,000 km) network is revered by millions of Quechua- and Aymara-speaking natives of Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador. Stretches of the road are still used for transport, but it also has spiritual associations: it led to Cusco, the Peruvian town believed to be the centre of the Incan…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The old ways are best


(K. Brent Tomer),

The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: The Life and Times of Jacob Fugger. By Greg Steinmetz. Simon and Schuster; 283 pages; $27.95.

ALBRECHT DÜRER’S portrait of Jacob Fugger shows a man with thin lips and unforgiving eyes. He wears a fine fur tippet about his shoulders and a brown cap; for the time, his dress is strikingly plain. Greg Steinmetz, formerly a journalist with the Wall Street Journal and now a securities analyst in New York, declares that he was the most influential businessman who ever lived. He makes a better case for this extravagant claim than for his assertion that Fugger was also the richest man in history.

A late-medieval banker from Augsburg in southern Germany, Fugger has never been as celebrated as Cosimo de Medici and his Florentine sons and cousins, whose reputation as bankers was burnished by their excellent taste in Renaissance art. But Fugger was the better banker. Were he alive today, he would have cut a swathe through Wall Street and the City, and yet his remarkable history is still little known. Mr Steinmetz’s prose does not always sparkle and some arcane…Continue reading

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Did I lock the back door?

(K. Brent Tomer),

Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History. By Francis O’Gorman. Bloomsbury; 173 pages; $20 and £14.

WHEN he is not teaching Victorian literature at the University of Leeds or writing books, Francis O’Gorman admits to doing a lot of unnecessary brooding. “Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History” is his affectionate tribute to low-level fretting—what the author calls “the hidden histories of ordinary pain”—in everyone’s life.

The word itself is comparatively new. Although it was used in the 16th century, in all of Shakespeare’s works “worry” appears just once—as a transitive verb denoting strangling or choking. Only in the Victorian era did its contemporary meaning come into widespread use. The advent of literary modernism in the 20th century placed the personal inner world centre-stage. From James Joyce’s Leopold Bloom to Virginia Woolf’s Mr Ramsay, worriers came to abound in the modernist canon.

Humanity’s sense of anxiety has deep roots. Contemporary angst is inextricably tied up with living in an advanced, hyper-modern society, and yet, when worrying takes hold, it…Continue reading

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Poppy love

(K. Brent Tomer),

A sharp price to pay

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic. By Sam Quinones. Bloomsbury; 368 pages; $28 and £18.99.

AMERICA is battling a massive epidemic of heroin and its pharmacological substitutes. By 2008 drug overdoses, mostly from opioids, overtook car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death. In a related development, the number of annual users of heroin jumped from 370,000 in 2007 to 680,000 in 2013.

The epidemic, as Sam Quinones, an American journalist, outlines in “Dreamland”, a meticulously researched new book, has two root causes. One is a failure of regulation in the pharmaceutical industry; the other is retail innovation in the black market.

In 1995 Purdue Pharma, a drug company in Stamford, Connecticut, was given permission by the Food and Drug Administration to market a powerful new opioid called OxyContin for moderate pain. Doctors, wary about prescribing opioids because of their markedly addictive nature, had previously used it for severe pain only. Many patients duly became addicts and “pill mills”, pain clinics that handled…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Poppy love