Wednesday, October 24, 2012
October 22, 2012 Issue
Pick of the Issue (POTI) this week is a contest between four pieces: Nick Paumgarten’s “Less Europe,” John Seabrook’s “Grand,” Evan Osnos’s “Boss Rail,” and Peter Schjeldahl’s “Challenging Work.” Paumgarten’s “Less Europe” is a Talk story about a “Euroskeptic” named Nigel Farage. It contains this inspired sentence: “He has a smoker’s marbly laugh and tawny skin, and, as he credibly claims, ‘relatively hollow legs,’ into which, at the reception, he poured a fair amount of gin.” Seabrook’s piece, also a Talk story, is a mini-profile of Iris Dement, “one of the brightest talents in the new alt-country genre.” It describes Dement’s recent visit to Steinway Hall (“Steinway Hall has the ponderous stillness of a funeral home, and the grand pianos are like polished caskets”). Osnos’s piece explores how a high-speed train wreck in Wenzhou, China “became what Hurricane Katrina was to Americans: the iconic failure of government performance.” It’s best part is the penultimate section, wonderfully narrated in the first-person, in which Osnos, accompanied by a tunnel builder named Li Xue, takes us inside a tunnel that Xue is constructing in “the rocky hills of Hebei Province.” Osnos writes,
Li spat into the mud and handed me a hard hat. Inside, the tunnel was cool and dark, about thirty feet high, with a smooth ceiling, faintly lit by work lights along the edges. Li had dug ten tunnels in his life, and this would be the longest – two miles end to end.
Schjeldahl’s “Challenging Work” is a review of a Ai Weiwei retrospective at the Hirshorn Museum, in Washington. Regarding photographs of Ai “dropping a millennia-old Han-dynasty urn, which smashes on the floor,” Schjeldahl says, “The act strikes me as mere vandalism.” I agree. Schjeldahl's bluntness is tonic. And the winner of this week’s POTI is Nick Paumgarten's "Less Europe" for its marvelous “He has a smoker’s marbly laugh and tawny skin, and, as he credibly claims, ‘relatively hollow legs,’ into which, at the reception, he poured a fair amount of gin.”