Author Archives

House of the Century

Illustration by Homestead Studio

Daisy Alioto | Longreads | February 2020 | 16 minutes (3,903 words)

“A house is the physical manifestation of the ego”

Aline Kominsky-Crumb, “My Very Own Dream House”

I. Security

I have always harbored suspicions about fire escape windows. When my mother was living in Boston in the 80s, her TV set sat across from the window that opened onto her fire escape. One night she woke up to a hairy leg entering the window and screamed loudly enough to wake her neighbors and scare away the television thief. An acquaintance who lives in Park Slope listened to an intruder pop the glass out of her fire escape window and watched their iPhone light sweep closer to the bedroom as she silently tried to shake her boyfriend awake. After an eternity, he sprung up and chased the intruder out with a hockey stick.

My boyfriend does not harbor suspicions about fire escape windows, so when he moved to a one bedroom apartment, security considerations became my own research project. The acquaintance in Park Slope sent a link to a $20 window alarm on Amazon. I watched a short video about the installation process and began to read the reviews. The top review was 5/5 stars, written by Mary in Florida and it broke my heart more than any thief ever could.

She writes that she debated buying a door alarm but never did, despite the fact that the rest of the house was baby proofed for two children under two years old. One day, after feeding a bird outside, the younger one slipped back out without her noticing — probably to chase the bird, she says. In a few minutes she sensed the lack of noise in the house, the too quietness. She found him in the pond across the street and he died the next day.

The review continues. “I am a good mom,” she writes, listing the other ways she baby-proofed the home. “I am a good mom.” I’ve forgotten why I’ve come to Amazon. Maybe this is someone’s idea of a sick joke, a manufacturer’s enthusiastic review of their own product gone too far but no… with a little Googling, I find Mary and the local reporting on the tragedy.

I want to reach through my screen and hold Mary. To tell her yes, you are a good mom. It’s not your fault that doors open and babies look at birds. Of course you are a good mother, there’s just so much that can go wrong with a home.

According to Robert Lee’s A Treatise On Hysteria (1871), Greek physician Aretaeus was one of the first thinkers to link hysteria to the female body. “In the middle of the flanks of a woman lies the womb, a female viscus closely resembling an animal.” The womb wanders the body, leaving a slew of undesirable symptoms in its wake. “On the whole it is like an animal within an animal,” Aretaeus writes.
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And They Do Not Stop Until Dusk

"Rats" (Ildikó Regényi / the György Román Estate)

Daisy Alioto | Longreads | March 2019 | 14 minutes (3,722 words)

“I beheld thee rich in sorrow,
Graceful in the bloom of youth,
Where, like gold within the mountain
In the heart lies faith and truth,
On the Danube,
On the Danube, bright and blue.”
—Karl Isidor Beck, “On the Danube”

“At last I penetrate into the distance, into the soundproof blue of nostalgias.” —Jean Arp


I have an adolescent memory of walking along a lake near my Massachusetts home and finding a child’s blackened shoe caught in the murky inch of water at the shore. I knew that not long ago a pilot had died crashing a single-seat Cessna into this same lake, and I had lately been looking at piles of shoes as part of the school’s Holocaust curriculum. The combination of these two facts — totally unrelated — filled me with deep dread, and I turned around and hurried back to my family.

Artist György Román’s childhood was characterized by such dread. The painter was born in Budapest in 1903 and suffered a bout of meningitis in 1905 which left him deaf and temporarily paralyzed in both legs. As a result, “his mind was swamped in the chaos of meanings around visual images,” writes Marianna Kolozsváry in her monograph of the artist. (Kolozsváry’s father was one of Román’s first collectors.) Although Román regained use of his legs, he was deaf for the rest of his life.

Out of vivid dreams and passive observation of the surrounding world, Román formed his own vernacular of symbols and omens. Cats, monkeys, carnivals, and men in mustaches were imbued with evil intentions and disease. The glowing red signage of shops and brothels were both indistinguishable and sinister. Toy soldiers were the protagonists of this world.

The Hungarian actor Miklós Gábor wrote of Román’s work, “He paints dreams, but he is not a surrealist. He paints naively, but he is not a naive painter. He is a clever man, but not intellectual. He sees nightmares, but he is no expressionist.” Read more…