Saturday, April 29, 2006

Sakura Matsuri

Welcome to Brooklyn Botanic Garden's cherry blossom festival!

A key featured entertainment was the "Foreign Barbarian" Go-Go band. The girl on the right appeared to be Japanese (style, face, figure, and motion), the others were foreign barbarians. The back-up singers were not particularly talented vocalists (i.e., not really on key), but every now and then they picked up some flutes and played along. That was a really beautiful sound.

The cherry trees were a little past their prime, but I consoled myself with multi-hued rose/lavender lilacs...

....and purple lilacs:

They also had lovely hyacinths ("they called her the hyacinth girl", my introduction to "new wave/alternative" music)...

...and pansies...

... and wisteria:

Lest you think the garden was sponsored by Welch's grape juice (bringing you the subliminal message: "purple"), near the main entrance, they have some bright pinks and reds, very nice. A lot of people were drawn to them. One woman crouched down among the bushes so her friends could take pictures of her peeking out from them. A 7-year-old girl wearing a red T-shirt couldn't bear to be with her parents away from the rush of colors. (Although this picture shows more purply pinks, I guess. Oh well.)

As a public service announcement: this is what happens when you don't clear off your cobwebs now and then:

The spiderweb gate led to a "native plants" area, which featured a lot of poison ivy. However, there was also a nice Monet-style pond (sans water-lilies):

I explored the garden solo, then met up with friends for dinner (pizza!) and a movie... Chariots of Fire. I think there was a lot of padding in the movie (slow mo closeups and recaps of the runners). They could have done it in less than an hour. And what's up with the theme music - the only part of the movie I knew in advance? That didn't come until the very end. Hmmm. It was also interesting because I thought Abrams and Liddel were going to face off at the end so that one would "defeat" the other. Instead, they both won - and it seemed that even Abrams found some peace of mind and opportunity for happiness at last.

Upstairs Neighbor Kitchen Construction Haiku

It's been a long week,
every day early and late,
bleary-eyed subway.

Ten p.m. Friday
polishing the appeal brief
until commas shine.

Saturday morning
sleeping in, at last!
Pounding starts at nine.

Hammering, sawing,
thumping, drilling, banging clangs -
pillow can't fight back.

I like M. and R.,
hope their kitchen turns out well
but more quietly.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

April Madness

At our book club/fellowship group, the room was a bit too warm, and we were all united in our dislike of the book and its message. So we kept going off on tangents, and for some reason P. and I kept getting more and more giddy, with increasing hilarity, laughing until we cried. T. saw the humor, I think, but not everyone else could.

People are usually quite casual in calling someone a friend; it often means some superficial areas of agreement or interest and ease or convenience of association. Sometimes it merely means non-enmity. Among good or close friends, there can be strong areas of shared or overlapping interests, and active enjoyment of each other's company, non-goal-oriented conversation, etc. (I think of this as good "friend chemistry.")

But every now and then, you run into someone who is exactly on your wavelength. Even if you don't know each other that well or hang out that often, there can be a kind of resonance -- like a kind of wave pattern that is constantly reinforced and builds in amplitude until bridges break or glasses shatter. A more scientific-sounding explanation of resonance: "When the crest of each wave matches the crest of the next as its returns, resonance occurs. This happens at the first harmonic, which is also known as the fundamental frequency."

It has puzzled me for a while, why I think of P. more as a sister than a friend, but maybe the resonance concept explains it -- my brother is the prime example of someone who is literally on my wavelength in the same way. Tuned to each other's natural frequency, he and I have at times triggered seemingly inexplicable hilarity in each other in extended freewheeling riffs, leaving onlookers frankly mystified.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

More on Hearts

V. Two Hearts (Reality)
On February 20, London's Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children removed a girl's heart. Today, they announced her full recovery.

Apparently, Hannah Clark had been given a second heart 10 years ago (a "heterotopic transplant") under the care of a British surgeon named Magdi Yacoub who suspected Hannah's original heart, which was inflamed and performing badly ("cardiomyopathy"), might recover if given a chance to rest. (The article does not mention how old Hannah was at the time, but apparently she is still considered a "child" 10 years later, so she must have been quite young.)

Recently, Hannah's body started to reject the anti-rejection drugs, so surgeons removed the donor heart -- and discovered that her original heart had fully recovered.

It seems that "the modern approach to Clark's problem would be to install a temporary mechanical device which could be removed after a few months, but that such a method had not been available 10 years ago."

VI. Two Hearts (Fiction)
As significant medically as Hannah Clark's case may be, it doesn't hold a candle to the fictional character Dr. Who. He has survived apparently hundreds of years with two hearts, all the while gallivanting around the universe across space and time to intervene on the side of Good in the eternal battle of Good vs. Evil. Of course, he has an advantage over Hannah, because his two hearts are not the result of mutation or surgery. Although human in appearance, he is a Time Lord (the last of his race, according to Christopher Eccleston) and thus has a number of unusual qualities, including notably two hearts and the ability to regenerate himself a number of times. His latest incarnation, which I have not seen, is David Tenant, who promises that things will "hot up" between Dr. Who and his assistant Rose (played by Billie Piper). His predecessor, Eccleston, already declared his love for Rose - quite frankly, that was probably quite enough for a children's TV show.

My favorite Dr. Who is still Tom Baker, with his fabulous "keyboard smile" and off-beat sense of humor, and - while we are on the topic - no hint of hanky-panky in the TARDIS. (The TARDIS is a semi-reliable space/time-ship unfortunately stuck in the form of an old British police call box - the name stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space.)

I'm not sure what Tom Baker has done since Dr. Who in the 1970s, but it would seem that he is currently Britain's James Earl Jones. As covered in The Scotsman:
Has Dr Who started ringing you up in the middle of the night? He has me too. This site is an ever growing audio extravaganza of what he has been saying to us all. BT has introduced talking text to and from home phones and for the first three months, they'll be spoken by Tom Baker.
For (Parts I-IV.)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Blast from the Past: Galapagos (1996)

Each island we visited was a new, alien landscape - a different world, unlike the others we had visited before. One island would be lush, green, and misty (that's where we saw the giant tortoises), while another would have ashy gray soil with low scrubby "trees" that gave no cover to the blue-footed boobies. On another, the light-colored rocks were covered with red lichen. Naturally, the fauna varied as well. On one island, there were bold marine lizards on the dark rocks. On another, standing on the sandy beach, we noticed that the shallow waters were peppered with large black lumps -- those proved to be turtles mating. In another place, my brother and I went swimming with a sea lion (it joined us in somersaults) and near some large turtles (they were more aloof), and then I inadvertently swam off by myself among a coven of sharks. We saw penguins as well, but they kept their distance.

I'm no longer sure which of these particular photos (if any) were taken by me, rather than my parents. (I'm pretty sure they brought more film than I did, in any event, so the odds are in their favor.) To the extent that I can use the pictures to illustrate something similar to my diary entries, I'll do so -- without worrying about whether the pictures are from the right island, in proper chronological order, etc. Let my biographers make of it what they will.

12/27/96 - Afternoon on North Seymour Island. As we approached the island, there were sea lions everywhere: on the rocks, in the water, on the coarse tan sand. We came up well to the side of them, but there were still many near us. Red-legged, blue-bodied "sally lightfoot" crabs scuttled out of our way. Light gray lizards watched us. One of the sea lions was much scrawnier than the others, and the pup's fur was a little more oily and matted than the others as well. It has apparently been rejected by its mother and (gulp) will die soon. Apparently, neglected pups will sometimes get so thirsty that they drink sea water and die - not sure if that is any faster or less painful than starvation. The sand in this area is red like sandstone. The palo santo (holy tree?) has a pungent, minty smell - or like turpentine, to some. No leaves, just silvery-gray branches, twisting out. Succulent cacti (prickly pear type). Blue footed boobies - the females are larger than the males and seem to have bigger pupils, although our resident naturalist informs us that it is just extra pigment. They have a light blue-gray or slate blue beak, much like weathered slate-blue paint on wood, and almost a dull acqua blue for their webbed feet. It looks like 4 "toes" in the web, and no other toes. When they walk or raise and lower their feet, they look like they are a little unaccustomed to wearing flippers. The female has a harsh trumpeting sound, the male has a sibilant whistling sound. The first pair was very near the path, and like all the other animals we saw today, didn't pay any attention to the visitors.

Frigate birds - with a five-foot wingspan, hooked beak (dark in adults, white like the rest of the head in juveniles) - abounded. The males have the crinkly dark red skin haning around the front of their necks, like a bib. To attract females, the male's pouch swells up like a red rubber balloon. The male is a bit vulnerable at this time - if he is out trying to feed, others may come up and puncture his pouch (and supposedly, drink his blood). The story is that frigate birds live for 70 years, but mate only once every 4 years (and not for life). Supposedly, if a male is unsuccessful in attracting a female, he may try again. According to our guide, sometimes two unsuccessful males will team up, and the dual red, inflated pouches side by side are somehow irresistable to females. Why does this remind me of college fraternities? The guides are trained naturalists, but it is not clear how much of this is fanciful exaggeration or wishful thinking. The young are fuzzy white balls in the nests; apparently they need to stay in the nest for 4 years.

We also saw marine iguanas and yellow-tailed warblers.

We saw sea lion pups nuzzling at their mothers' teats. In one case, the upper two teats were vacant and attracting flies which the mother shooed away with her flippers as the pup alternated between the two lower teats. Flies followed as soon as the pup vacated a teat. Flies swarmed all over the sea lions. I would associate this with disease or infestation, but the sea lions appeared healthy. Some of the sea lions were body surfing -- looked like they were having fun.

The survival of the fittest aspect involved older siblings driving the younger ones away from the mother (so the weak ones will starve and die while the strong ones get stronger). There was one exception, a mother sea lion trying to scare off the older pup and feed the little one. It looked like a losing battle, unless she was actually willing to kill or maim the older one.

The land on this first island was really arid, with low scrubby brushes, abundant nesting frigate birds and blue-footed boobies (mostly pairs, though they don't mate for life), sea lions sprawled all over the beach or the occasional mother-pup pair shuffling off in front of us (neither dawdling nor hastening to avoid us).

- We moored off the shores of Batholomew Island, maybe on its western side. Under the bright moon and stars, the land around us rose in dramatic peaks and a sharp pinnacle, as illustrated below.

There are three drawings on this sheet, each showing Bartholemew Island in profile, in successive close-ups. The top one shows a ridge, descending to a beach, with the sharp pinnacle on the right. The other two successively zoom in to the profile of the pinnacle. The text on the deepest zoom explains that a particular portion of the profile "forms one crescent, like a thumb poised above a remote control."

It would have been helpful to bring on this tour (i) a very warm and waterproof sleeping bag, (ii) a beach towel and (iii) a canteen. We ate and drank foods that did not seem "safe" but supposedly had been "specially treated" so that we wouldn't be sick. No one got sick, fortunately.

My last "family vacation" was to the Galapagos Islands in 1996. I'll share some pictures for now, and add text later.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Spring in Central Park

The shadows were long as the afternoon wore on. It was still a bit brisk, so people were somewhat bundled up, but clearly thinking of spring.

It's hard to see in this picture, but the guy in the center seems to be about to throw an apple core. The onlookers are somewhat skeptical, at best; the expression of the woman on the right and the body language of the woman with the crossed arms suggests disapproval.

Otherwise, there were plenty of families ...

... and friends.

Obviously a lot of bicyclists and roller bladers (not pictured here). I'll join them soon!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Spring in NYC

A Masonic Temple on the Upper West Side provides a reflection of the apartment across the way.

I'm not saying that spring is a time for reflection (although it is), but here's the next building over, with a nice reflected view of a limestone building framed by a flowering tree.

Magnolia blossoms against the white winter/spring sky (this weekend):

Dogwood [?] against limestone:

FAPC tower against the blue spring/summer sky (last weekend):

Alice in Wonderland mosaic, 50th St. subway station:

(Featuring the Queen of Hearts ["Off with her head!"], the Mad Hatter's Hat, the White Rabbit ["I'm late, I'm late!"], and Alice. In 6th grade, my friends and I acted out the tea party from Alice in Wonderland - I was the Mad Hatter, Annie the Dormouse, Emily the March Hare, and Tina Alice.)

Friday, April 07, 2006

Father Brown

I've been reading some Father Brown stories recently. He seems to be a prototype for Columbo: humble and unassuming, unprepossessing in appearance, but sharply observant of details. Both rely on a deep intuitive grasp of human nature (which allows them not to be fooled, perhaps, by the surface of things or by conventional wisdom) and clear reasoning. (Some have attempted to place Father Brown in the pantheon of detective literature.)

Speaking of conventional wisdom, some interesting rumors on the expiration of the Voting Rights Act. It would seem that the debate is whether "extra" protections are needed, and if so, which ones? (They might or might not be the ones currently enacted in the VRA.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


The Metropolitan Museum of Art drew me in for the second night in a row, this time for a curatorial talk (aka show and tell) on the Hatshepsut exhibit.

There were so many people at the talk that it was probably worse than visiting the exhibit on a regular day. But Hatshepsut is interesting. She was married to one Pharaoh, and the stepmother of the next Pharaoh. But after her husband died, her stepson was too young to take over. So she was Regent for a while... then decided that she would be co-Pharaoh. So she took on all the kingly titles, and had statues of herself with the fake beard that all Pharaohs wore, etc. She kept that up for about 20 years. After her death, when her stepson got to be Pharaoh by himself, he systematically obliterated all of her cartouches (in some places, they are simply rubbed out of the stone, in other places, his cartouche is carved into the depression left by rubbing out her cartouche) and smashed or removed her face and form whenever possible.

This much of the story was familiar to me. But the interesting thing is that archaeologists have recently learned that this was not done until 20 years after her death. So it does not appear to be simple hatred or revenge. There was something else going on, but nobody knows what. Incidentally, one of the things that has allowed them to figure out that it was Hatshepsut's cartouches being obliterated (rather than those of some other Pharaoh), is that the feminine symbols in the rest of the inscriptions were generally left intact.

It was also interesting to hear the curator talk about how the Met gets its exhibits. When a statue is fragmented, and another museum has the other fragments, the museums apparently negotiate and often swap things. For example, where the Met had the face of a larger-than-life seated Hatshepsut statue, and the Berlin Museum had the rest of the body, the Met traded a small, intact figurine of Hatshepsut to get the rest of the body. In another similar case, a Danish (I think) museum had the body, and the Met had the face. But a trade could not be made because the body was a gift to the people of Denmark from their former king -- the museum had no right to trade it. So the Met and the Danish museum worked out a time-sharing agreement, where they reassemled the face and the body, and send it back and forth across the Atlantic every 3 to 5 years. (So far, this many-ton statue has made the trip 2 or 3 times.)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Arms & Armor of Tibet

Tuesday night I attended a preview of the Tibetan Arms & Armor exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The items on display were actually much more plain (utilitarian) than I expected. Most of the helmets, for instance, were simple 8-plate helmets with a little pole on top. They gave the appearance of collapsable metal colanders -- an impression that was only heightened for the "multiplate" helmets. The armor was mostly small leather rectangles, stitched together with what looked like shoelaces. The Himalayan warriors may have been inspired by fish scales. The shields were woven, and looked more like fruit baskets than anything else. The swords and scabbards were often decorated nicely, however. I wasn't impressed with the inlaid stones - those were almost always bits of turquoise or coral (although presumably coral is exotic in the mountains) - but the metalwork was nice. I tried to get a picture of one hilt with a nice dragon carved (casted?) into it, but it came out a bit blurry:

The signs in the exhibition pointed out wavy lines on some of the sword blades. Supposedly, these were intentionally made for aesthetic appeal. I thought maybe it was an error in the casting/smelting process. It's fairly subtle, and I wonder if it affects the strength of the blade.

What struck me as somewhat odd, overall, was that the more finely crafted works tended to be a bit earlier than the more clumsily crafted works. I didn't take notes, unfortunately, but my impression is that they reached the height of their craft somewhere in (say) the 13th-15th centuries, and then the crummier works were maybe in the 17th-18th centuries. Did the artisans lose their touch or fail to pass on the secrets of their craft? Was there just a lucky streak of skilled one or two naturally giften artisans in the earlier period? Were the artisans diverted into other fields in the later period due to societal changes (e.g., maybe in a period of relative peace and prosperity, the best artisans were being asked to cast religious statutes rather than going into the arms & armor business)? Or maybe the best stuff from the later period is being kept by other museums who don't want to lend it out to the Met.

On the way out, we went through the exhibits of Latin American and African artifacts. This one was interesting, a relatively large and very detailed ear ornament. It looked like you are supposed to cup it over your ear (i.e., not for pierced ears):

Weekend Update

Here's a recap of highlights from the weekend. The entertainment got more entertaining each day, so feel free to skip ahead to Sunday. (G-San, these are reviews of two plays and a short Belgian film; I don't think you're about to run out and see them, but this is just a word to the wise.)

Friday - "Festen" (Broadway play). It's Dad's 60th birthday. His three children have come to visit. One of them, Michael, wasn't invited because he was out of control last year and couldn't be bothered to attend his other sister's funeral. Doesn't matter - he comes bickering with his trashy wife and their angelic child, Dad's first and only grandchild. Turns out that the dead sister had a twin, Christian, who is still alive. Christian, it turns out, has suddenly developed an itch to tell The Truth. Which to him means denouncing Dad at the dinner table on his birthday as an incestuous rapist. The play is more interesting in the first half, when you are trying to figure out if the denunciation is true. Once you figure that out, the rest is a bit tedious. Mom has been in denial for 20+ years (she actually witnessed at least one incident but did her best to ignore/cover up). The twin sister killed herself and left notes for her siblings all over the house. Christian is no longer willing to have sex with the female servant who is his usual plaything when he is at home - one assumes for a while that he is on the verge of declaring his affection for one of the male servants, but it turns out that he was just a little uptight until he finished denouncing Dad. The family has an elaborate way of celebrating Dad's birthday, bizarre rituals and enforced pointless gaiety. There is a subplot with the sole purpose of demonstrating that the family is not only complicit in Dad's sexual deviance, but also a bunch of racists -- in a heartbeat, they switch from their pathetic birthday songs to "Little Black Sambo". Despite the apparent attempt to generate controversy by flaunting "taboo" subjects, it is all considerably less engrossing than it may sound, unfortunately.

April Fool's Day - "Ring of Fire" (Broadway Johnny Cash tribute). What can I say? I'd never heard any of the songs before, but it was much better than I expected. The performance was good, although there was no discernable story, and a few of the songs made me think (for a moment) that maybe it would be worth buying the album. It isn't enough to make me watch "Walk the Line" though....

Sunday - "Asbury Shorts New York" (film festival at the Brooklyn Lyceum, supposedly a former bath house). They showed 11 short films. One of the best was a Belgian film (both of the Belgian films were in Flemish, interestingly, and both were particularly good). This one, "Fait D'Hiver" (oddly, a French title), was about a guy who decides to call home while stuck in traffic on a gray winter day. His 5-year-old daughter answers, and tells him Mommy isn't available because she's upstairs with Uncle Wif. He says, "But we don't have an Uncle Wif!" The little girl is adamant, Mommy and Uncle Wif are in the bedroom with the door locked. So he sends the girl to knock on the bedroom door and tell Mommy (falsely) that Daddy is home, and report back. Still stuck in traffic, he waits.... The camera reports to us for her: Sure enough, Mommy comes out of the room naked and distraught - Mommy runs to the bathroom, while Uncle Wif is putting on his pants. There is a thud from the bathroom as Mommy commits suicide. Uncle Wif panics and runs out the back door and inadvertently crashes through the ice on the swimming pool and drowns. At this point, Daddy interrupts the narrative: "But honey, we don't have a swimming pool!" As the truth sinks in, he hangs up the phone in horror. Oops, wrong number.