Budapest for Pestistentialists

Budapest is a strange blend of ornate, picturesque architecture, and bland Soviet-era housing flats.

Sprawling on both sides of the Danube River and featuring both the rolling hills of Buda (west bank) and the organized, gridlike layout of Pest (east bank), these two very different cities united by convenience into one city offer the traveller a Viennese-style aura at half the price.


Buda is located on the west side of the Danube; the area includes Castle Hill and the bulk of Budapest's attractions.

Go there: Only metro line 2 (red) crosses the Danube to the Buda side. Moskva tér, the penultimate stop, makes a fairly convenient entry point to the Castle District from the north.

Castle Hill: Castle Hill was first settled in the thirteenth century, after a Mongol attack led Buda's citizens to seek a more easily defended neighborhood. The royal Hungarian court also decided to move, to the southern end of the hill.

By the fourteenth century, there were an estimated 8,000 residents in Buda. After a long (1541-1686) period of Turkish rule, a 75-day siege left Buda in ruins, and Austrian authorities counted a mere 300 people left.

This would not be the last heavy attack on Castle Hill: in 1849 and 1945 the Baroquified area once more came under attack. A completely surrounded German force held out here for almost a month in 1945.

The Royal Palace: Probably the most popular attraction on Castle Hill is, of course, the Royal Palace (Várpalota). Strangely, it’s never actually been occupied by the Hungarian royal family, and is more of a pseudo-historical mishmash, like the Mátyás-templom.

The first palace, in Gothic style, was built and added onto over 300 years. It was destroyed during the struggle for liberation of Buda from the Turkish occupation in 1686. In 1715, work started on a completely new, smaller Baroque palace.

Reconstruction after the various indignities suffered during rebellions of the nineteenth century finished in 1904. This reconstruction, by Miklós Ybl and Alajos Hauszmann, was undone by German troops holding out at the end of WWII. The roof caved in completely, and had to be rebuilt. Today the building houses three large museums and the National Széchényi Library.

St. Stephen (István) Cathedral: Though often called "the basilica" for short, due to its clerical rank as a basilica minor, it actually is shaped like a Greek cross, with two steeples and a dome on top.

The foremost Hungarian artists of the day designed the artworks within St Stephen's, among them Bertalan Székely, Gyula Benczúr and two men also known for their work in the Opera, Mór Than and Alajos Stróbl. The mosaics were designed in Budapest, but constructed in Venice.

A famous site on Castle Hill for students is the statue of Hussar general András Hadik, a favorite of Empress Maria Theresia. The statue was designed by György Vastagh Jr. and unveiled to the public in 1937. The general is on horseback; take a closer look at the horse's testicles. They are shiny yellow, unlike the patina on the rest of the statue. Engineering students have for years polished the horse testicles on the morning of difficult exams, supposedly for luck.

Mary Magdalene Tower: On the corner of Országház utca and Kapisztrán tér is the Mary Magdalene Tower (Mária Magdolna torony), part of a 13th-century Franciscan church used by Hungarian speakers. Under Turkish rule, this was the only church allowed to remain Christian: all others were converted into mosques.

Vienna Gate: At the northern end of Castle Hill is the Vienna Gate (Bécsi Kapu). This was the market for non-Jewish merchants in the Middle Ages, and is where all four streets that run the length of the hill converge. The Vienna Gate inspired a typical Hungarian parental retort for children who talk back: "Your mouth is as big as the Vienna Gate."

Shown above: Statue, the "twig lady"

At Úri utca 9, there is the entrance to an underground labyrinth, which stretches under Castle Hill. The caves were joined together by the Turks for military use. Today, there is a official tour that takes visitors through a section about 1.5 kilometers long. Unofficial ‘tourists’ are on their own...

Fisherman's Bastion (Halászbástya): This is the large white tower and lookout terrace complex you see hanging over the side of Castle Hill beneath the Matyas Church. It was built between 1890-1905, and is named after both the medieval fishmarket once nearby and the Guild of Fishermen who defended this section of the wall during past wars.

The seven towers represent the seven Magyar (Hungarian) tribes. Each of the chiefs has his own statue, and the steps leading down to the city are dotted with statues of mythical figures or scenes, such as St. George and the Dragon.


The east side of the Danube, covering the modern commercial core of the city (Districts V-IX).

Go there: The metro network does a pretty good job of covering the Pest side of the river, with all three lines meeting up at Deák Ferenc tér in the center of the city. The trams running along the east bank fill in a useful gap.

Buda's City Park (Városliget) is the most pleasant of districts and houses a number of interesting if low-key attractions. The area is easily accessible with the yellow subway line (nearest station M1 Hősök tere) and entry into the park, including the castle grounds, is free.

Vajdahunyad Castle (Vajdahunyad vára): Loosely modelled after a Transylvanian fortress of the same name; the building is not really a castle at all: it's a large-scale model built for Hungary's 1896 millenial celebrations.

The structure has three distinct wings, one Gothic, one Romanesque and one Baroque, making it quite a bizarre sight when seen from a distance. But sneak up closer and its magic will be revealed: a moat, and the charming grounds hemmed by trees and footpaths.

The attention to detail has been painstaking, so it's like seeing three extraordinarily pretty castles rolled into one. Located on an island in the middle of the park's lake.

Hungarian Agricultural Museum: Housed in Vajdahunyad Castle's baroque wing, this is the only part open to the public and it now houses the exhibits on rather dull topics like cattle breeding and fishing. But the cheapish entry ticket makes it worth seeing just for the architecture.

Ják Chapel (Jáki kápolna): Another creatively borrowed building, this time based on the Abbey Church of Ják in Western Transdanubia. The outstanding part of the chapel is the portal around the doorway, an amazingly ornate multilayered sculpture of geometric patterns, apostles and lions.

Shown above: View of Pest

Anonymous: Next to the chapel is the statue of Anonymous, a hooded monk representing the unknown historian who recorded the annals of the early Magyars in the time of the mighty King Béla.

He is unknown partly because the King Béla he dedicated his work to could be any of 3 or 4 during the 12 and 13th centuries. Hungarian writers still trek to the statue to touch his quill for inspiration.

Műcsarnok: An "art hall" showcasing exhibitions of modern art by Hungarian and international artists, if you're nearby it's always worth taking a look to see what's happening today. Open 10 AM to 6 PM daily except Monday, admission varies from exhibition to exhibition.


That’s the good news. The bad news -- Pestiside’s yearly “The Worst of Budapest,” covering, as they note, “the nastiest places and ickiest things.”
Just so you know where to find them.

Highlights: Politics and History

Former left-wing Hungarian leader who most looks like
C3PO from “Star Wars”: Péter Medgyessy

Politician of Germano-Hungarian origin famous for converting porn fame
into political power: Cicciolina (Illona Staller)

Former right-wing Hungarian leader who most looks like
Thurston Howell III from “Gilligan's Island”: Miklós Horthy

Highlights: Sightseeing

Most humiliating way to see Budapest: The Queeny B tour bus

Saddest piece of public sculpture not officially commemorating a national catastrophe: The "twig lady" on the roof of the Hotel Liget, Dózsa György út.

First urban beautification project we would undertake if we had a free afternoon and a circular saw with a metal-cutting blade: The kiskirálylány ("little princess") statue on the Duna next to the Budapest Marriott

Least overhyped threat of foreign invasion since the collapse of the U.S.S.R.: British weekenders

Local institution allegedly dedicated to exposing the horrors of communism and fascism, but which makes both look irresistibly stylish: Central European (Soros) University's Galeria Centralis

Highlights: Good Eats

Hungarian-English double-entendre restaurant name that seemed funny until we actually ate there: Fatál ("wooden plate")

Worst place for a drink before a romantic dinner in Budapest: The borbarát borozó, next to the toilets in the Nyugati metro station underpass

Restaurant we've never gone in because it looks like it's run by the Russian mafia: Nosztalgia. Just kidding. Really.

Read the rest of the guide: “The Worst of Budapest” (WOB)

Budapest guide courtesy Wikitravel
Content from “Worst of Budapest” © Pestiside.com

Shown above/Header image: "Anonymous"(1902)
Bronze, height: 58 cm
Courtesy: Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

Read additional travel content, in the FEB/MAR issue of "Arte Six."
This article first posted in the Dec. 2004/Jan. 2005 edition of "Arte Six."

Related booklist: "The Rough Guide to Budapest," "Embers," "Casanova in Bolzano," "Historic Coffeehouses: Vienna, Budapest, Prague," "Time Out Budapest," "Today: An Anthology of Contemporary Hungarian Literature" "Anna Edes," "Be Faithful Unto Death," "Teach Yourself Hungarian"


Through February 27th

In the Dominican Republic, a country in which painting has always prevailed, sculpture is seldom attempted, and performance art is often misunderstood,
this group show includes installation, sculpture, video and painting. Samson Projects presents the most provocative and stirring images from the current Dominican Republic art scene.

Artists include: Elia Alba, Tony Capellán, José García Cordero, Nicolás Dumít Estévez, Mónica Ferreras, Iliana Emilia García, Scherezade García, Pascal Meccariello and Belkis Ramírez. Through their imagery, they reflect their country's most pressing social issues: poverty, tourism and third world politics.

The exhibition decodes and debunks cultural stereotypes as the artists use diverse ways to translate their experiences in relation to their culture.

Mónica Ferreras psychoanalytical mandala paintings attempt to capture the essence of thoughts. Elia Alba's body suits comment on the ephemeral nature
of skin and its cultural labels.

The poignant sculpture by Tony Capellán, included in the Samson exhibit, uses found objects to invoke the hunger pains suffered by the country's children while Belkis Ramírez, an architect by trade, incorporates wire, fences and netting to depict the distressing position of women in this traditional macho culture.

Scherezade and Iliana Emilia García are sisters with unique voices. Scherezade works reflect her fascination with duality. Iliana Emilia's multimedia work is strongly experiential, as the viewer’s imagination dictates each encounter.

José García Cordero divides his time between studios in Santo Domingo and Paris. Cordero creates large-scale paintings that reflect both the duality of his personal experience and the historical clash between European and Caribbean culture.

(Via curator Camilo Alvarez)

The show closes on Sunday, February 27th - Dominican Independence Day. Samson Projects will hold be holding a party in the gallery at 6 PM to celebrate Dominican Independence Day.

Find it: Samson Projects
450 Harrison Avenue
Storefront 63
Boston, MA 02119
Get info: (617) 357-7177

Find art events in other cities, in the FEB/MAR 2005 issue of "Arte Six."

LIVES: Jennifer Reeves, filmmaker

"Creativity takes a certain audacity and insistence. It requires insisting upon the time and space and resources one needs to make work. You have to fight for it, when there are more immediate and obvious concerns competing for your attention. "

The difficulty of being a filmmaker is the problem of making it through endless challenges, doubt and dry periods, to the shorter periods of discovery and happiness at surprising oneself. For doing what seemed impossible, a little better than you thought you could.

Right now I’m feeling good, I have a few new projects I’m excited about.

But six months ago I was feeling creatively dead and I had gotten too many rejections in a row, and was too much in debt, which for the moment seemed to confirm my sense that I had nothing left to say. But that seems to be a regular part of the cycle of making time-based work, for many people.


Making films...I’m thinking it’s like a sunset on a summer night, watching a film under the stars after working seven days straight. Beautiful -- and such a relief! No, that’s too easy. Gratification is further off.

I recall this story I read in grade school: a girl in a future world is bragging about the sun. It only comes out once in five years, and she saw it somehow before the other kids (she moved from another planet?)

So when the sun is supposed to appear finally, these other kids (who only see it as a myth) tie the girl up in a closet to spite her.

So she misses this thing she found so glorious, and will have to wait another five years to see it again.

All that darkness to miss the light, because of being boastful and because of the meanness of others. When they see the light they finally understand the girl a little better, but she’s not likely to tell stories again. But she will if...

Who wrote this story? I don’t know, but it has stayed with me, like the best of films.

I can work on a film for five years, and when it’s done, the difficulty and doubt and hopes were all greater than spending another second with it. The films of mine that people seem to like the most are the ones that embarrass me.


When I got out of college and had no commercial film connections (but a great liberal arts education and introduction to feminism and avant-garde film and no-budget filmmaking), I tried working as a PA on different semi-commercial projects and several educational ones.

I learned that I wasn’t going to be taken very seriously as a creative or technically proficient person in that environment. Or, I could see the fight was awfully huge to enter that commercial world that wasn’t particularly inviting to my sensibilities or experience of life.

I’m still not particularly good at costuming or making coffee. And hair grooming may be my worst talent.

I’m being a little sarcastic, but you know it to be true -- the movie industry is male-dominated. Or, the most highly respected positions in the film industry are male-dominated. Sometimes there’s just not a ladder to climb from the bottom.

In avant-garde film and documentary film, women have been much better represented and recognized (as directors) than in the commercial (big-money) films. Although there’s still ageism that women have to contend with.

Men’s careers in all arts are celebrated from youth to maturity. Women, well...stereotypes about fertility unfortunately are very related to how women in our culture are valued in other arenas.

Hurdles are there, but I’m feeling fortunate that I’ve been able to make this much of my own work and that people have found it exciting or interesting.

Shown: "The Time We Killed"

For about three years, I didn’t think I’d have the energy or resources or ideas to finish "The Time We Killed."

But I figured it out, found the help or patience I needed. The film has just been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.

I’m glad now that back then I decided not to pursue production work, but to work on my craft in my own way.

I’ve developed as an artist and I’m able to communicate more complicated and complex ideas; I’ve not been driven to succumb to consumer culture.

I think it would be a much harder life to spend 14 years working six days a week for someone else and having more possessions.


The time schedule is irrelevant until there are people waiting and demanding you finish your film. This is one reason working with grant funding is great. A film can take the time it needs so that it reaches its potential (maybe not in "slickness," but in thoughtfulness, artistic cohesion -- beauty of a more imperfect, human kind).

But time is money. Or so it works out at the moment. So when your film takes "too long" you can feel like a jerk. Or get the rug pulled out from under you.

Personally, I think time is much more valuable than money, because you can’t buy these things (knowledge, discoveries, inventions) that can be accomplished in time/through dedicating yourself [to a project].

So, I’ve chosen to work less and get paid less, and to spend more time on making work that I haven’t made a profit on. If I had pets or kids to take care of, it would be harder to do that.

But there’s the disease of working too hard, having to produce, having to prove your worth, that happens in art-making these days.

It resembles a little too much the competitive money-making world of today’s late-capitalism. It’s not possible to be immune from the pitfalls of your own culture, but you can be mindful of it.


Sometimes my films include references to real-life incidents, but they're usually fictionalized in some way.

In my film "Chronic," a Welsh terrier runs by the main character and an inter-title says "Sparky’s alive!"

That’s in reference to my dog, who had just died. On film he will always live.


I could never imagine one thing I’d like to change in any of my films, because honestly, as soon as a film is done, my awareness of the little mistakes begin multiplying.

I always work on my films as long as I can make them better, or until I have some worthy deadline, or until I’m not going to learn much by sticking with it anymore.

After the sound and picture are "married" on a print, and the negative has long been cut, the film is done for me. I grow with every project, so I'm happy when I don’t make the same mistakes I made in earlier films.


If films didn’t exist, we’d lose an important direct human language and art form, much beauty, and we’d lose a lot of brain-rot too. Some films infuriate me for the wasted resources. Yet I feel nourished by other films.

But in most cases the character of the experience is not the film by itself, but what someone communicates/shares through it. But that points to why I love experimental/avant-garde film, films that really create something unique to the film form (texture, color, visual rhythm, grain, visual poetry, etc).

These are things you cannot get in any other art form or life experience. It’s not "escape," which you can get in other ways. It’s not just entertainment or education or selling you something.

It is what it is; it's individual and personal and beautiful, and nothing can replace it. Many people live without this pleasure already (avant-garde film is not marketable, profitable or readily available), but when I discovered this world of film I felt my life was enriched and my perspective opened up.


Creativity takes a certain audacity and insistence. It requires insisting upon the time and space and resources one needs to make work.

You have to fight for it, when there are more immediate and obvious concerns competing for your attention.

In creativity, openness is equally important and so is being able to admit what many people would like to deny -- awkward, painful truths about life or about how things happened. To be willing to speak out loud with shamelessness.

I "speak" best without words sometimes, so I chose the sound and image of film.


I’m really furious that I’ve become so tired of being furious. I just can’t believe that people get so excited about hating and hurting other people that live or look differently.

I just cannot see the purpose it serves (except that it makes you appreciate loving, open-minded individuals). I’m also genuinely puzzled why anyone thinks George Bush is "likeable."


Yes, there is certainly such a thing as creative block, because people believe it to be so. That dreaded condition has different causes in different people.

For me, it’s about being depleted after giving too much energy to a project, and not taking in enough new experiences.

It’s about being out of shape: if my mind has been too focused on the PR and networking realms of being a filmmaker for too long, then it takes some time to shift back into a more creative mode. Creative block can also be about needing a rest (how creative I feel after a good night’s sleep!)


It’s strange how the influences I had 10-15 years ago sometimes stand out more than my recent influences (which, maybe I haven’t yet seen their impact). Bruce Baillie, Su Friedrich, Marguerite Duras, Emma Goldman, Luis Bunuel, Doris Lessing, Tsai Ming-Liang, Claude Cahun, Stan Brakahge, Cannonball Adderly, Rainer Maria Rilke and just too, too many more to mention.


In film, images and sounds are equally important, which is why they should never be redundant, telling you the same thing. Each must be considered vital and independent, complementing each other, not echoing each other too much.

Bresson’s "Notes on the Cinematographer" is a book so concise on the relationship between image and sound, I like to recommend that book to beginning filmmakers.

Sound is often neglected or put on the back-burner in film. I myself do my sound mix as I’m editing. Because the sound is essential in feeling the rhythm of the edit. Sense of time changes for an audience member based on the sound/image relationships.

Shown: "When It Was Blue"
"If films didn’t exist, we’d lose an important direct human language and art form...It’s not just entertainment or education or selling you something. It is what it is; it's individual and personal and beautiful, and nothing can replace it."

I also don’t have musicians score the film after it is done I prefer music to be created independently, to have its own reason for being. In “The Time We Killed,” I showed images from my film (not entirely edited) to musicians I know and love (Elliott Sharp, Pitt Reeves, Zeena Parkins, Marc Ribot) and they all responded by composing beautiful, strong pieces that stand on their own.

And then I brought these compositions into the film in ways not anticipated by the musicians, often editing the montage of picture to the music, rather than the other way around. I like the driving force of a scene to oscillate between picture and sound.


I've made 12 short films and one feature (all that have shown publicly) and I have yet to complete a script before beginning to shoot a film.

I work more from outlines and note-cards and I revise the “script” after I shoot and respond to the footage by furthering the script and then shooting again.

I shoot, write, edit, shoot, write, edit, write, shoot, edit, write, write, write and then edit. (And when I say “shoot” I also mean that to include recording the sound, which is also done from the beginning and not necessarily “on film”; I record sound independently of image.)

This method has worked great for shorts; it’s a proven-effective way to make documentaries and personal or experimental films.

Yet it is an inefficient method for longer-form fiction film -- I learned this in the years-long making of my first feature length work, “The Time We Killed.”

But as long as I went “over schedule”, what resulted was something that could never have been preconceived. The film turns traditional film form on its head, and it works!

The film has done better than anyone might have expected. It just got me nominated for an Independent Spirit Award -- the “Turning Leaf” Someone to Watch Award. I don’t like to be watched (but do like my films to be watched)!

It’s both surprising and encouraging to me that despite not having yet secured distribution for the film, that it has been seen and enjoyed enough at its festival screenings to get this honor.

Shown: "The Time We Killed"

I wrote, shot, edited, directed, sound-designed and optically-printed “The Time We Killed” -- and did most of the errands and phone calls too!

During the last couple years of the production I had a handful of kind and creative souls helping me out a lot: especially my co-producer Randy Sterns and assistant editor Danielle Lombardi and all-around darling Bill Wu.

Their help makes me want work with even more people on my next film (and take on fewer jobs myself) and I think it’ll work out best to have a finer map drawn out first.

My next feature will incorporate some level of improvisation, I’m sure, but I’ll have a more complete script (than I’ve previously written) before shooting the first scene.


I’ve been reading "The New Yorker" rather ravenously these past six months, because I'm so sick of sound-bite news.


I’m in a period where I don’t listen to a lot of music because my stereo broke a few months ago and I’ve been too busy to get it fixed. And I think I feel too serious right now, anyway. The “election” results really knocked me on my ass and I don’t feel up for dancing yet.


Right now I’m finishing up the shooting/editing of a film and music performance that I’ll be showing in the Premieres program at the NY MoMA.

I’ve done a few of these performances in NYC, Iceland, and at the Toronto Film Festival.

This one is still unfinished, so it’ll be a brand spanking new, shiny, double-projection, 16mm film with a live original score by Skúli Sverrisson (played also with Anthony Burr and a few other musicians not confirmed at press time).

It’s called “When It Was Blue,” and though it is not referencing the recent discussions of “blue” and “red” states, it does talk about the longing for another time, paradise, when water was really blue!

And when art wasn’t so hip and ironic. Life before my dad got cancer. The film will be lush, painful beauty that you cannot hold onto, but you’ll not forget.

I’m using two projectors to superimpose images I’ve made of landscape (islands: Iceland, Manhattan, the Pyramid in Pyramid Lake, New Zealand, and Galapagos) and hand-painted film frames -- tens of thousands of colorful little light paintings.

Not to be attempted on video; if 16mm is going to die, I’m going to give it a nice farewell these next few years.

Shown/header image: Jennifer Todd Reeves/Photo: Bill Wu

Author/artist bio: Jennifer Reeves (born in Colombo, Sri Lanka) is a Brooklyn-based indie filmmaker, whose work has shown internationally (from the Berlin, Rotterdam, New York and Sundance Film festivals to the Smithsonian Museum, the Tokyo Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and the Cinemathéque Français in Paris.)

Her debut experimental-narrative feature “The Time We Killed” premiered at the Berlinale 2004 and was awarded a FIPRESCI prize (from the Federation of International Film Critics).

Reeves, as director of the film, has just been nominated for the Turning Leaf Someone to Watch Independent Spirit Award.

The film also won “Best NYC Narrative Feature” award at the Tribeca Film Festival and “Outstanding Artistic Achievement” at OutFest in L.A. Reeves is a Visiting Professor of Film at Bard College.

“The Time We Killed” is looking for distribution in the US and other countries.

Interested festivals, exhibitors and distributors can contact the producers, Jennifer Reeves and Randy Sterns, at: thetimewekilled@yahoo.com.

In Canada, the film is available from the CFMDC.

Visit official site: Jennifer Reeves

Read in-depth profiles with other creative artists, in the DEC('04)/JAN ('05) issue of "Arte Six."

RELATED EXTRAS: Additional links about Reeves

"The Time We Killed" reviewed at the Vancouver International Film Festival; Essay by Mark Peranson, Berlin Film Festival 2004;"Jump Cuts, New York independents in Berlin" by Dennis Lim

RELATED EXTRAS: Related booklist

"Projections 13: Women Filmmakers on Filmmaking", "Film Fatales: Independent Women Directors", "Women Filmmakers: Refocusing", "The St. James Women Filmmakers Encyclopedia: Women on the Other Side of the Camera", "Rebel Without a Crew", "What They Don't Teach You at Film School", "How to Shoot a Feature Film for Under $10,000 (And Not Go to Jail)", "Digital Filmmaking 101","303 Digital Filmmaking Solutions", "Producing Great Sound for Digital Video", "Nuts and Bolts Filmmaking", "Living in Oblivion"(film), "The Independent Film Producer's Survival Guide", "Shooting to Kill", "Projections 11: New York Filmmakers on Filmmaking", "Visionary Film", "The Garden in the Machine"


NYC/Dance“Sly Verb”
Feb. 15-20, 2005

One of Canada's most exciting choreographers and dance companies returns with a fresh blast of intelligent and provocative dance, in Toronto Dance Theatre’s compelling New York premiere of “Sly Verb” (2003). Exploring touch, perception and boundaries, “Sly Verb” seduces with the beauty of its dancing and the force of its ideas. Phil Strong's score throbs with the pulse of life, while Scott Eunson's inventive set evokes the fragility of the body's architecture.

Photo: David Hou

Find it: The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street
NYC, NY 10011
Get info: (212) 868-4488

Find additional dance content in the FEB/MAR 2005 issue of "Arte Six."


Feb. 7-12

“Room” creates a space for us all to inhabit. Wynne Greenwood and Fawn Krieger build a utopian living room out of wood, foam, cheap carpet, and video projections that envisions new ideas about community and home, identity and social communication. And just for the hell of it.

An immersive video environment during the day, the installation serves as a stage in the evening for the art punk band Tracy + the Plastics. Greenwood assumes the role of each band member, performing live as Tracy, with bandmembers Nikki and Cola present as video projections.

Find it: The Kitchen
512 West 19th St.
New York, NY
Get info: (212) 255-5793

Find additional dance content in the FEB/MAR 2005 issue of "Arte Six."


Writers Bloc series
Featured columnist: Jacqueline Carey
"Seven Rules: On Writing Good Fantasy"

1. Read within the genre.

It’s an old, old art form with its roots in myth, legend and fairy tale, and there’s very little new under the sun.

Whether it be a cursed ring, an enchanted sword, a lost heir or a fairy court living in Manhattan, your idea has probably been done before.

The trick lies in reinventing familiar tropes to make them feel fresh and new -- but to do that, you have to know what they are.

As with anything, you have to have a good grasp of the rules before you set about breaking them.

2. Read outside the genre.

All the fantasy writers I’ve met have been avid and eclectic readers. It’s part of what enables us to find fresh perspectives, to bring in new elements and make our work vital.

In my work, it’s obvious that the “Kushiel’s Legacy” trilogy was strongly influenced by historical fiction.

But there are other influences, too. The first third of “Kushiel’s Chosen” is structured as a mystery.

Few readers would suspect that at one point during the writing, I asked myself, “Hmm...what would Spenser do?”

What does a hard-boiled private eye have in common with a courtesan heroine with a knack for languages?

Not much on the surface, but they’re both dogged in the pursuit of information, with a tendency to ask questions that will stir things up when all else fails.

From paranormal romance to alternate history to fantasy noir, there’s a great deal of cross-pollination going on within the field these days.

The more you read, the more tools you have at your disposal. You might even create a brand-new subgenre!

3. Establish parameters and follow them.

Magic is good; magic is fun. But if magic doesn’t conform to some internal consistency, your readers will cease to willingly suspend their disbelief. What’s its source? How is it manifested? Does it take a toll? Can anyone do it? Why not?

It doesn’t matter what form magic takes or what the answers are, but you need to ask yourself whatever hard questions apply.

If you don’t, your readers will.

This applies to all aspects of world-building. If you create a system of nomenclature, follow it consistently.

In a family of three siblings, if the eldest is named R’hath, the middle is B’lal and the youngest is Jennifer, it’s going to throw the reader off.

If you’re writing fantastic comedy in the Terry Pratchett vein, that’s great. But if you’re not, then it’s probably not the effect you’re after.

Every reader who opens the pages of a fantasy book is willing to take a leap of faith and believe in the world you’ve created. That’s their gift to you. Don’t give them a reason to take it back.

4. Maintain a sense of awe.

It’s why we read fantasy, and it should be a part of why we write it, too. To escape mundane reality, to be swept away, to open a door onto another place, another time, where a world hangs in the balance and a single person’s courage may change its fate, or the Wild Hunt stalks our city streets.

Whether you’re making the strange familiar or the familiar strange, fantasy deals with powerful archetypes. They will be more powerful if you -- and your characters -- remain mindful of this.

If your mundane and prosaic heroine doesn’t have a moment of seriously freaking out when she discovers her charming new boyfriend is a vampire, the revelation will lack impact.

If, say, your Dark Lord doesn’t have characters groveling in bowel-loosening terror, he’s not all that scary, is he?

5. Keep it real.

Or, more accurately, keep it plausible. Fantasy pushes the boundaries of the believable, but it’s most effective when it’s rooted in a certain amount of reality.

Ordinary horses can’t gallop for hundreds of miles on end. Even heroes need to eat and sleep. A world can’t function without a socioeconomic structure.

And the small, visceral details that convey these things -- a lumpy pallet, an imperial profile on a coin, the aroma of spiced skewers of meat grilling in the marketplace -- serve as touchstones that anchor the reader’s belief in your world.

Pay attention to emotional and psychological details, too. If a character has lost his family in a traumatic accident, he’s going to grieve for a long, long time. Grief doesn’t pass in a chapter.

If something dreadful has happened due to a character’s folly, she’s going to carry guilt around like a millstone. You don’t have to harp on it, but don’t forget about it, either.

If the effects of a serious event don’t cause ripples throughout the story, it’s not going to resonate.

6. Do your homework.

This is what enables you to keep it real. If one of your characters is an herb-witch, study up on herbal lore.

If you’re writing a fantasy set in a desert climate, do some research! It doesn’t have to be dry and scholarly, but finding a source of information that will provide some of those anchor-point details and feed your imagination is crucial.

Older source material, which often already contains an element of the fantastic, can be excellent for this purpose.

While doing research for “Kushiel’s Avatar,” I found some wonderful journals by an 18th century British doctor traveling through Ethiopia. It’s a great way to look at the world through fresh eyes.

Don’t neglect field research. Never ridden a horse? Visit a stable that offers trail-riding. Never held a sword? Try a Renaissance fair.

You don’t have to become proficient at the things your protagonists do with ease or in their areas of expertise, but the more experience and knowledge you have to draw on, the deeper and richer your writing will be.

7. Every rule about good writing applies.

Fantasy -- good fantasy -- doesn’t get a pass. Show, don’t tell. Avoid infodumps. All the rules apply. Good writing is good writing in any genre.

Things are changing, but the perception persists in some circles that fantasy is easier to write because, “Oh, you’re just making it all up anyway.”

In the first place, there’s nothing easy about “making it all up.” And in the second place, a good fantasy requires the same level of craftsmanship that any piece of well-written work does; and perhaps even more.

There’s a double burden involved. You’re asking readers to laugh and cry and rejoice with people who don’t exist in a world that never was.

It’s not easy. But if you do it well, they will.

Bio: Jacqueline Carey is the author of the critically acclaimed “Kushiel’s Legacy,” a trilogy ("Kushiel's Dart," "Kushiel's Legacy," "Kushiel's Avatar") of historical fantasy novels concluding with "Kushiel's Avatar." Her new novel, "Banewreaker," was just released. It is the first volume of “The Sundering” duology.

An avid reader, Jacqueline began writing fiction as a hobby in high school. After receiving B.A. degrees in psychology and English literature from Lake Forest College, she took part in a work exchange program and spent six months working in a bookstore in London.

While living abroad, the desire to write professionally emerged as a driving passion. Jacqueline enjoys doing research on a wide variety of arcane topics, and an affinity for travel has take her from Finland to Egypt to date.

She currently lives in west Michigan, where she is a member of the oldest Mardi Gras krewe in the state. Although often asked by inquiring fans, she does not, in fact, have any tattoos.

Official site: Jacqueline Carey

About this series: The Writers Bloc series is an ongoing column featuring practical advice for writers. Nope, not a support group. Not until someone busts out the tequila, anyway...

Find additional books/writers content, in the DEC/JAN issue of "Arte Six."


ART/LA“In the Bright Room”
Through February 12th, 2005

Somewhere between the realms of reality and imagination lies the photographic art of Mayumi Terada. Terada’s moody images suggest not a physical place, but a state of being.

Terada builds diminutive domestic sets she calls ‘dollhouses’, then photographs them. Her large monochrome pictures show a world filled with scenes and objects which are completely familiar, yet eerily devoid of human presence. Thus, a soup plate sitting on a table, an empty trash bucket, or a shower stall with water droplets still lingering on the glass door have a mysterious sense of reality.

The viewer can’t help wondering who might have just emerged from that shower, who left the bed wrinkled and tossed, whose suitcases are packed and waiting. Yet no matter how seductive these speculations, the real subject of her photographs is light -- streaming into windows and illuminating stories suggested by the imagination.

Find it: White Room Gallery
8810 Melrose Avenue
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Get info: (310) 859-2402

Find other art exhibits worldwide, in the FEB/MAR 2005 issue of "Arte Six."