Hot Rods and Custom Dreams
The local car show is nothing special, mostly a mix of stock muscle cars from the 60's and 70's. There are a few true classics (the showroom condition '58 Eldorado convertible- for sale for a cool $135k) but the custom cars are the "show-offs" of the event: chopped and lowered, true artistry in color and form. The topper last week was this Pontiac:
The iridescent green paint job made it into the interior as well as the engine compartment:
This definitely is crossing the line into car-porn:
Ooooh, yeah baby!
There's something to be said for not restoring an old machine. All the years of use and neglect it has suffered show up in the wear patterns. As an example, consider this 1922 Harley-Davidson which recently appeared at a vintage car show in my town (its owner rode it in!):
1200 cc's, 18 horsepower, it was original and complete, with all accessories in full working condition:
Who was "W A W", and what adventures did he experience on this ruggged steed? The owner didn't know, perhaps that is just as well.
Some days Sharon is like a machine of abundance and possibility.
Have a ball with Sharon, Fridays at FITK
Used by Permission
It's the end of August, which means it's time for the 2011 Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Competition. It's the 100th show, and I had heard that the photography judge had some new ideas for the photo exhibit this year (that's his tweet above.) I thought it somewhat arbitrary to exclude whole genres of photography (sorry Ansel, not this year), but what the heck- I'd love to see something new.
Not nearly as big a crowd this year, but people watching is always fun:
Waiting to get in can be an art form in its own right:
And yes, once I got inside I did see "Dudes on hogs"and "Chix with guns":
I thought it pretty tacky for the photography judge, Sean Smuda, to showcase his own work (WTF?) in the prime location in the gallery (double WTF?) It's the center piece above- he did a little painting on top of his photo-collage to show us that it was "real" art, I suppose. Overall, I was underwhelmed with the photos. Lots of poorly printed art-school projects, a few nice images here and there to be sure, but kind of depressing overall. Evidently no humor was allowed this year, unless photos of slaughtered chicken heads is your idea of a joke. And the strangest new development of all- NO RIBBONS! (Triple WTF?!) Perhaps The Fine Arts Exhibition is, at 100, too "important" for that plebian rite? THE REASON PEOPLE ENTER STATE FAIR COMPETITIONS IS TO WIN BLUE RIBBONS. It isn't that hard of a concept, although the new powers-that-be that be seem to be unaware of it in their joyless presentation.
The drawings were good, as they usually are, and the painting was definitely better than last year, although there was still plenty of beginner's stuff. Watercolors and sculpture are solid every year, there's enough craft involved in producing them that posers are quickly weeded out. Textiles got short shrift (only 3 "arty" pieces) but unfortunately that is also the norm. There was a selection of work from Minnesota artists of previous years on display and their work was much better (including a black and white photographic landscape!) with this whimsical sculpture (cross your eyes for 3d effect) almost making up for the funeral atmosphere of the rest of the show:
Voyage, Judy Onofrio
Oh well, just like in baseball- "Wait till next year!"- when there will be different judges and hopefully they'll bring the ribbons back.
Here's a mantra for the 2012 Fine Arts Committee to recite when they're planning things:
THE STATE FAIR IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!
(repeat as needed.)
EVEN MORE Summer Reading...
Frank Lloyd Wright in New York: The Plaza Years 1954-1959
by Jane King Hession and Debra Pickrel
Yet another Frank Lloyd Wright book (I've read three this summer!) but this one is a cut above. Focusing on the time when Wright had a New York apartment/studio during the construction of The Guggenheim Museum, this elegant book captures the heady spirit of the times, when New York City was the cultural capital of the world. Home to many of the most important modern artists, it was also the center for print advertising and radio and television production. Wright, who often expressed his distaste for New York architecture, loved the bustle and attention he could command there. With visits from important clients (including a private meeting with Marilyn Monroe) Wright's carefully cultivated image was a natural for the new medium of television. Just as interesting are the stories about his projects of that era which weren't successful, including a deal with Mike Todd, Pat Weaver and Buckminster Fuller to build a chain of widescreen movie theaters and also Wright's foray into home furnishings.
The Plaza Hotel becomes a central character as well, I find it amusing to imagine the fictional "Eloise" would have been one of Frank's neighbors! Wright decorated his own apartment, of course, and there are lots of pictures of it which I'd never seen before. The story of The Guggenheim's prolonged gestation is also told with a great deal of detail, including the behind the scenes involvement of "cousin" Robert Moses.
The book is handsomely designed and reflects both Wright's aesthetic and gives a vivid look at New York of the late fifties (love the fashions!) Many of these Wright books are merely rehashes of Wright's own publications but this is a true original and well worth a check out from the library or even a place of honor on your coffee table (another Wright innovation in the fifties); does anyone actually still have a coffee table with books on it? It is a great little time machine.
Summer Reading, Continued...
A novel by Arnaldur Indriðason
Random House, Canada, 2011
Originally published in Icelandic as Myrká, 2008
Translated by Anna Yates
The latest detective novel by Iceland's most successful living author is the ninth Inspector Erlendur book and the seventh to be translated into English, and although it is part of the series, it really isn't an Erlendur book at all. Throughout the story, Erlendur is off in the trackless Eastfjords; the main character becomes Erlendur's co-worker Elínborg, a middle-aged detective and mother of three who also writes cookbooks as a sideline. A good deal Elínborg's domestic life comes through in the novel. Some critics have faulted the book for this, however I think that it gives a proper grounding to the story; I can never get enough of Icelandic culture in any of these Icelandic mysteries- the culture is part of the mystery. It may well be that I have been putting myself into the narrative a little too closely but it's easy to do when there is so much in the story with which I can identify.
The twist this time is that the murder victim is actually a perpetrator, until Elínborg realizes this the investigation goes nowhere. Arnaldur may have turned to a different investigator in order to breathe new life into the series, his writing seems a touch formulaic, although the translation may have had a part in that. It isn't a bad book by any means, but the series may have reached a peak in the previous book, Hypothermia. I haven't seen this title in a US edition yet, perhaps Minotaur, the US publisher, has passed on it.
Sharon eternal on Fridays at Flippism is the Key
Used by Permission
The Virgin Suicides
Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, 1993
Film by Sofia Coppola, 1999
More impressions from my summer reading/viewing. I was only dimly aware of this story, but enough references to it kept cropping up to force it on my mount TBR. The story is told from a first-person plural narrative- a group of men tell the story of and try to come to grips with the suicides of five sisters in a Michigan suburb, set in the early seventies, when they were teenagers.
The book is terse, the narrator(s) are not particularly eloquent, but meticulous in its description of the suburban life-style and the fantasy world of adolescent males. The sisters exist in a parallel reality, mostly unattainable, imprisoned by well-meaning parents. The film "fleshes out" the story with strong visuals, and in the process creates a considerably different impression. Not better or worse, but the appearance of the girls and boys charges the story with a realistic sexuality which the book somehow fails to project. The book is almost like a dirty joke, the film is a ballet- indeed, one could watch this movie with the sound off and probably get just as much out of it.
Sophia Coppola's films as a director (Somewhere, Marie Antoinette, Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides) feature a certain distance between the characters in them; "Modern" in the sense of lack of resolution. Perhaps that is the type of story which intrigues her. TVS certainly fits that genre. The book's ending felt like it was a bit of a cheat to me, the film's didn't. The girls' vapid languor resonated more on screen; on the page they were quite remote. As a coming of age film, this is hardly Pretty in Pink, or even Heathers. It has been compared to Twin Peaks, but in the film (and the novel) the horror is of the banal, not the perverse. It is an anti-Hollywood ending.
The Last Werewolf
A novel by Glen Duncan
"Reader, I ate him."Popular fiction, especially fantasy fiction, has never been one of my major interests. Throw werewolves and vampires into the mix and I usually recoil in aesthetic horror. But as I was picking over the remnants from the Borders Books bankruptcy sale I spotted this title by the Anglo-Indian (his description) writer Glen Duncan. Duncan possesses a considerable writing talent; this book lets him have some gruesome fun with it.
The book is presented as a journal written by a 200-year-old werewolf, Jake Marlowe. It is set in a modern hedonistic world of money, intrigue and power, a world where, aside from killing and eating someone every full moon (and engaging in boredom-killing sex in between times), this "monster" is the most cultured and honest character. Duncan explores dysfunctional sexual relations in most of his books- this book is no exception- but here he adds the added element of bestiality.
Let me give this warning: If you think that graphic scenes of sex, of dismemberment or scenes of sex during dismemberment might not appeal to you, it would behoove you to avoid this title. If you can appreciate a little "ultra-violence", liberally seasoned with dark humor, literary allusions and comments on the human condition, this might be just the book for you. The plot strays into action-thriller territory near the end, but is redeemed with a surprising finale. This is definitely a more "commercial" book than The Bloodstone Papers was, and I got the sense while reading that Duncan might have written it with Hollywood in the back of his mind.
Sharon's Morning Tea
Asking why is to understanding what sitting is to an upside down chair.
So we have tea.
Steep yourself deeply into the cup of Sharon, Fridays at FITK
Used by permission
Is Anybody Home?
Mineral Point, Wisconsin
It was well past seven p.m. Most galleries and shops were closed, but this one had the lights on, with the door wide open. I walked into the shop and, with the exception of a very old German Shepherd, it seemed to be unoccupied.
"Hello? Is anyone home?"
"Yes, I'm here..." came a voice from behind me.
I turned around and still didn't see anyone.
"I'm down here, I've fallen."
"Can I help you?" There was an older woman in the corner sitting on the floor, wedged between a stairway and a wheelchair.
"No, I can do this. It happens all the time. I'll be with you in a minute."
"You're quite sure you don't need some help?"
"No, no, I'm alright." She was fiddling with the wheelchair, moving it into position, then locking the wheels. I tried to be nonchalant; it was clear that her resolve was firm. I walked around the shop. She began to ask me the usual questions- "Why did you come to Mineral Point? Where are you from?" I answered, and we began a conversation, her on the floor, I turned around so as not to embarrass her. After a few minutes, she rolled up in her wheelchair, evidently none the worse for wear. I asked about the enormous looms (a Glimakra and a Weavers Delight) which sat in the back of the shop, yes, she was the weaver- although from the looks of them (and the general disarray) it had been a while since they had been in use. She spoke of the shop, of her ex-husband who had once been part of it (his wood-working sign was still hanging in the back) and about books. Of course, Halldór Laxness came up; I should keep one of my spare copies of Independent People in my car. We talked for a while, but I had to get back to the cabin, I suspect she was on her way upstairs when she had fallen.
And so I left her, promising to return tomorrow, I asked again if I could do anything, but she said that she was fine. I did return the next day, the door was open, I went back in, but there was nobody there, not even the dog...
Lake Harriet Bandshell, Minneapolis
Almost every time I go see a band play, I begin to think about the audio mix. In my youth too many nights were spent in that curious occupation. I'm beginning to think it may be a lost art. Modern PA systems usually have a limiter or compression on a least one element of the audio chain, sometimes on several. High power drivers and speakers are expensive to repair, and the newer amps can be as much as 10 times more powerful than the gear from the 70's and early 80's. It's a no-brainer. It seems like the people who run these systems are on auto-pilot as well. This puzzles me. There are actually schools that teach this discipline now: one would think that in this era every concert would have stunning, dynamic, exciting sound.
Instead, there is a studied indifference to arrangements, balance and even the timbre of the instruments. Missed solos are the rule, not the exception. Heaven help us if there is a horn section. And when did the high-hat (one of the essential three elements in percussion along with the snare and the kick drum) stop being miked? At least the sound man isn't allowed to smoke anymore. Perhaps if he wasn't sitting in a different county he could be more responsive.
Perhaps if he wasn't sitting he would be.
Years ago, when I was doing a particularly active mix for a R&B band, a guy watched me the whole set. During the break he came up to me and told me I was "cheating" and I that should set the controls "right" and leave them. Maybe he's now teaching at an audio engineering school.
Something has changed.
Is There an App for that?
A fortnight ago I was sitting in Vinny Vanucchi's Little Italy in Dubuque, Iowa. Vinny's is an old-fashioned Italian restaurant/deli. You can get family-style serving, the food is good, and the atmosphere is friendly and lively without being raucous.
As we waited for our order, a group of three adults sat down at one of the nearby tables. The waiter handed them menus. In a synchronized motion, all three pulled out their smartphones, made the appropriate swiping motions (the digital sign of the cross?) then put them away (in unison) and then picked up their menus.
Were they saying grace? Is there an app for that? My son thought they were using foursquare or Twitter, announcing to the world where they were. I'd like to think that a personalized and timely table prayer was being read, and since they were in an Italian restaurant perhaps a few BVM's were included as well. I'll be the first to admit that my grasp of the modern world seems to be slipping further and further away, although I can see how this kind of ritual is a perfect fit for the digital paradigm.
Stretching her muscles, massaging her organs, calming her nerves.
Attention turned inward.
Thinking of dinner.
Attain inner peace with Sharon, Fridays at FITK
Used by permission
Day Ten: Sweden, Home and Deja Vu
The last day of vacation is sometimes poignant, sometimes welcome. It's nice to sleep in your own bed, to wash clothes and just relax. There are only so many tours, shops and antique stores one can stand, at least until the next time.
There were a couple of items in an antique store, however, which I wished I had brought home- an old electric fan and a calendar from the 1930's. The fan was stylish; I could have rewired it and cleaned it up, just the thing for these hot summer days. The calendar was quite dusty as well, but there was something about the model pictured on the cover that appealed to me. It was almost as if I had known her from some past life.
But that would have been impossible, for it had been printed long before I was born:
Day Eight: Wales
Taliesin, Spring Green, Wisconsin
From the very start of the tour, at the family cemetery, Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin Estate lives up to his family's motto "Y Gwir Yn Erbyn Y Byd" ("Truth Against the World"). This gravestone of his mother's mother is chiseled in Welsh in respect of her family's origin:
Nearby is the grave of his murdered mistress, Mamah Borthwick Cheney:
The estate is spread over hundreds of acres of rolling hills, reminiscent of Wales, and includes such Wright originals as the "Romeo and Juliet" windmill tower, rebuilt several times over the past 100 years:
The estate once included a working farm, with several attractive, if somewhat impractical buildings (the animal barns were upwind of the house) remaining:
The main house itself is nestled just beneath the "shining brow" ("Taliesin" in Welsh) of a hill, blending in with the landscape:
After 100 years and numerous fires, the structures are showing their age, Wright was a master visionary, but not exactly a master structural engineer:
A repeated quirk in Wright's construction is the low headroom of many of the rooms and entryways:
There is also a school with an auditorium, cafeteria and design studio:
And, of course, the resident cat has assimilated the Wright aesthetic as well:
The four-hour(!) tour was capably conducted by Mr. John Jung (the man with the umbrella in the photos above). He delivered a good mix of information with perspective and humor; respectful, but realistic. Anyone interested in home design, especially interior design, would get a wealth of inspiration from the tour, actually walking through living spaces is infinitely preferable to looking at books, although the vivid blue shag carpet (original) in Mr. Wright's bedroom must be seen to be believed.
Day Seven: Terra Incognita