Five Cool Things :: July 8, 2012 {Seattle, Wa.}

Five Cool Things has just completed a corporate move to Seattle, WA. You say you didn’t know? Alas, readers, its true. So this is an inaugural issue of sorts. And to celebrate this first-from-Seattle issue, we’re reviewing a gorgeous, hand bound, limited edition book of photographs — the real physical thing itself — by photographer Alen MacWeeney. (John Simmons you can jump right to No. 4.) In this July 2012 issue — Gertrude, a train journey into the human heart, pictures of Hong Kong, MacWeeney illustrates Yeats, and finally, John McPhee cusses. Salman Rushdie, “We are described into corners, and then we must describe ourselves out of corners.” That last is tricky, Salman.


1. Write Like a Cubist | Gertrude Being Gertrude

gertrude stein

Once upon a time, there lived a writer who was compelled to write about Henri Matisee and Pablo Picasso. Her name was Gertrude…And here’s a little of what Gertrude wrote.

“One whom some were certainly following was one who was completely charming. One whom some were certainly following was one who was charming. One whom some were following was one who was completely charming. One whom some were following was one who was certainly completely charming

Some were certainly following and were certain that the one they were then following was one working and was one bringing out of himself then something. Some were certainly following and were certain that the one they were then following was one bringing out of himself then something that was coming to be a heavy thing, a solid thing and a complete thing.”

“This one always had something being coming out of this one. This one was working. This one was working. The one always had been working. This one was always having something that was coming out of this one that was a solid thing, a charming thing, a lovely thing, a perplexing thing, a disconcerting thing…This one was one certainly being one having something coming out of him. This one was whom some were following. This one was one who was working.”

Want the book? This book is certainly being here>>

Ed. note: This one is always certain to being best read aloud to yourself. Or, always to one whom is unlucky enough to be near you. Try it.


2. “Taste the bitterness first.” |  Last Train Home

Last Train Home is a documentary film by director, Lixin Fan. Told through the story of one family, Last Train Home chronicles a grinding, urban worker-bee existence and the annual migration of 130 million Chinese migrant workers who return home to extended families and children, for Chinese New Year. A stunning film visually and emotionally. This very beautiful work of art will absolutely break your heart and who doesn’t need plenty more of that? Heartbreak or not, you must see it. Stream it on Netflix.

Zeitgeist films is here>>

Times review here>>

Ed note: Via James Fallows


3. Pick Up Some Democracy on Your Way Home | Picturing Hong Kong

Photo by Mark Leong | National Geographic

From the NY Times Lens Blogs — dated June 19, 2012 and posted at 5:00 a.m. The copy for this portfolio, Whimsy & Menace, says that photographer Mark Leong, in the spirit of Ridley Scott, went “looking for Hong Kong on a very bad day.” The street performer above, was part of a commemoration of the anniversary of the 1989 Tianneman Square protests. The Post-It Notes? All about freedom and democracy.

Photo by Mark Leong | Hong Kong candlelight memorial

See the slideshow here>>


4. Love’s Labors Found | Alen MacWeeney Shoots Yeats

title page from under the influence, alen macweeney | book photo by richard pelletier

Here’s Alen MacWeeney and his hand bound book. New York based Irish photographer Alen MacWeeney, (at 20 he was Avedon’s assistant in Paris) has paired some of his exquisite work to selected excerpts of W.B. Yeats’ poetry in a stunner of a hand-bound book called, Under the Influence. In his younger days, Alen had found his way to Robert Frank’s The Americans, which struck him like a thunderbolt as it did me and countless others. For that alone we give thanks. Alen was kind enough to ship a copy of his book to FCT for a hands on review.


Limited edition of 30 – 13 x 18 overall size.
27 black & white photographs of Ireland shot in 1965, the centenary of W. B. Yeats birth.
Photos are interleaved with a vellum sheet — printed with an excerpt of a Yeats poem.
Each book is signed, numbered, hand-bound and slip cased.
Photography and text: Alen MacWeeney
Book Design: Yolanda Cuomo
Associate Designer: Kristi Norgaard
Printing: Erin Mulvehill
Binding: Judith Ivry

The book is created in partnership with Hammond Editions in New York.

Contact Alen MacWeeney for purchase information.

Learn about the book making process here>>

There are multiple pleasures here. The pairing of word and image is really what this project is all about — and, of course, the tactile pleasure of a real book, with sumptuous paper, upon which are printed big, fat, gorgeous black and white photographs. Consider the two images below: one without Yeats and the next one with Yeats and you can see how language and image play off one another. So perfectly lovely. Only a romantically inclined Irishman could conjure this up. For collectors and arts libraries dedicated to book arts and photography, this book is a must have.


photo by alen macweeney

with vellum interleaving, photo by alen macweeney

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you
can understand.

Photography by Alen MacWeeney, “Policeman, man and priest, Rathmines, Dublin” (1966); excerpt from Yeats’s “The Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water.”

“I heard the old, old men say,
‘Everything alters,
And one by one we drop away.’


If I make the lashes dark
And the eyes more bright
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity’s displayed:
I’m looking for the face I had
Before the world was made.


The wind is old and still at play
While I must hurry upon my way,
For I am running to Paradise …


Photography by Alen MacWeeney, “Ruined house, Donegal” (1965); excerpt from Yeats’s “The Curse of Cromwell.”

I came on a great house in the middle of the night,
Its open lighted doorway and its windows all alight,
And all my friends were there and made me welcome too;
But I woke in an old ruin that the winds howled through..


under the influence, alen macsweeney | book photo richard pelletier


 5. New Yorker Chronicles | John McPhee, Fucker

Photo by Peter Cook U.S. MacMillan

John McPhee | photo by Peter Cook

It took years for the New Yorker to print “fuck” in the magazine and now John McPhee talks about it and makes up for lost time. Absolutely hilarious. And he looks like such a nice man. 

“Fuck, fucker, fuckest; fuckest, fucker, fuck. In all my days, I had found that four-letter word–with its silent “c” and its quartzite “k” — more shocking than a thunderclap. My parents thought it was a rhetorical crime. Mr. Shawn (longtime New Yorker editor, legend, prim) actually seemed philosophical about its presence in the language, but not in his periodical. My young daughters, evidently, were in no sense as burdened as he was. Or as I was. Or as their grandparents were. In the car in their middle-school years, they batted that word between the back and front seats as if they were playing Ping-Pong. Driving, and hearing those words reach critical mass, I once spontaneously bellowed (in an even-tempered, paternal way), Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck — I can say it too!”

– John McPhee, in the July 2, 2012 issue of the New Yorker (Subscribers only.)