Trains, Public Nudity, Modigliani, and what is truly weird.

Modigliani painting

Our path to the train is rather quick, its the kind of short walk that would raise the price of our house considerably were it anywhere near Tokyo, or some other less-car-ed and more civilized place. Here we are though, I imagine it actually lowers things in many of our neighbors eyes – which is fine for us now, as the low price allows for more room for paintings. We can pretend we are in Japan as we walk to the train.

In a recently attended town meeting where we live, we were both saddened to discover that there was in fact a strong voice in our community that felt no connection to the station, and in fact felt an opposition to its presence that needed to be voiced – rather aggressively.

I feel of course quite differently, seeing things like the train station and expanded possibilities for walking everywhere as a kind of futuristic salvation for not only our neighborhood, but most of the world. Unlike Cars which murder 1% of our population every year, and also lead to the stagnant lifestyles of heart disease, Trains and walking are bodily focused transportation that develop ours senses and our health – spiritually, physically, and socially.

These ideas of course make me rather weird in my neighborhood, and rather certainly weird for someone living in the U.S. But weirdness it seems to me is a path to the future, and a salve for the boring of things. Ideas once weird become normal , and what is normal now are the things most in need of change – see for example statistics for obesity, heart disease, and happiness spread across our history.

But weirdness doesn’t happen individually, even if at times it happens in isolation.

In an interview with Jón Gnarr, former mayor of Reykjavik posted last year on the Atlantic, I felt reassured to discover the inroads and reach of weirdness. Gnarr, a comedian turned politician (weird?), has throughout his term as mayor been noted as the world’s coolest mayor.

Gnarr mentions the accomplishments of his term as constructing bicycle lanes and maintaining a culture that allows for people to comfortably leave their strollers parked outside while they shop, and the importance freeing the public pools and supporting the culture there.

All of this I think appears weird to Americans. These are not very serious things, etc., etc. Certainly they must seem weird to Philadelphia, where we cannot even figure out how to help educate and support our children(whether in strollers or out). The conversations here are very often about destroying the social and the public. When we discuss transportation it’s about more cars and less interaction with each other. I imagine the harsh freakouts that would occur if some ‘weird’ Americans were to start socially swimming and promoting public nakedness.

But the more you think of the things Gnarr is talking, and the more you imagine what life in Reykjavik is or could be like, the more you realize that it isn’t Jón Gnarr and his city of social swimmers that’s strange, it is in fact we in America that are the oddity, the outliers. And perhaps in a most dangerous way.

This was re-enforced in my mind during the media coverage of the sale of Modigliani’s ‘Nu Couché’ earlier this month. Reporting typified in the following image:

Censored Modigliani Nu Cuche

To me, doing this to a painting is  indicative of a kind of social disease. A kind of fear or hate of the female body and form at worst, and a fear and loathing of painting at the other worst. Despite what one may think of this painting (imagine having that level of discussion on television!!!), censoring this seems to reiterate that we are not to see  woman or a painting. Instead we are simply to see sexuality.

Doesn’t equating nudity to sexuality make one weird?

And sadly for my daughter, I realize in looking at this that women are most easily tolerated when acting like and approached as men. That is when women are presented as and through euphemisms for masculinity like ‘badass.’ A common descriptor for ferocious cars as well.

The relaxed, the languor, the sensual (not sexual mind you) are evil, but the violent, the tough, the ‘badass’ they are acceptable and celebrated.

A girl with a vibrator is a threat. A girl with a gun is ‘cool.’

Cool of course is a contemporary antonym for weird or thought provoking. Cool now means acceptable and is thus a marker of boring. So I prefer to think of Jon Gnarr as simply weird, not cool.

And of course what is acceptable and boring, what is ‘cool!’ Is televised violence. Speaking of social diseases, it’s appalling how much violence happens daily on the very networks that are so offended by breasts and vaginas. I can’t see a Modigliani painting, but certainly I can see gunshots, explosions, and hand-to-hand violence early in the morning while watching the weather.

In conversation, we may hate the methods and means of Daesh, but they certainly make for compelling television?????

This should be un-surprising, I suppose. But, I sort of choose in my life to be continually surprised by such ideas. A kind of weirdness perhaps? Yet I can’t help but think that this both is and keeps me healthier.

And I can always be heartened by a good bit of reality. I came across this clip of Stephen Colbert about the Modigliani painting censorship. Perhaps you have already seen it, but it is hopeful in its knowing glances at the absurdity of our culture.


Before getting too far along in my frustration with mad censors and longings for an Icelandic exodus, I hear the sound of a train pulling into our nearby station. A soft and reassuring sound. A weird sound of a living heart still pulsing and waiting for the future.