Sunday, May 28, 2006

Surrealism Lives!

In college, I was a bit obsessed with surrealism for a while (especially Magritte and to a lesser extent Man Ray), going so far as to photocopy favorite Magritte paintings from art books in the college library to adorn my cinderblock walls. (One of those photocopied paintings, a plate of meat with its own eye, I labeled "Dining Services.") I have sought out Magritte exhibits or works from time to time since then out of nostalgia, but the moment has largely passed for me. Life is surreal enough. Although there is still some stealthy subversive streak in me: I keep a copy of The Inferno on my office bookshelf in among my legal reference books.

Nonetheless, our crowd gathered to attend the William Wegman exhibit -- styled a retrospective, even though the artist is still alive -- at the Brooklyn Museum of Art on the very last day of its run. It was not very crowded. Although Wegman is perhaps best known as a photographer of dogs (the name of one of his favorite dogs, Man Ray, gives you a sense of his tastes and aspirations), he has ventured into videos, paintings, and drawings.

Many of his paintings connect several unrelated postcards or photographs plastered on the canvas, to surreal effect. His drawings tend to be simple line drawings that become a bit surreal in light of their captions.

I really like his "X-Ray of Peach in Dish" from 1973; it may be possible to find it in the Drawings gallery on his website.
As you may have gathered, Wegman specializes in making somewhat surreal jokes. One of the funnier ones: He took a somewhat retro card entitled "A Confirmation Prayer for A Sweet Girl" (showing a girl kneeling before a bishop and some clerical types), and transmogrified it into "A Flight Confirmation Prayer for A Sweet Girl" (adding the extra word and a pictue of a plane in the background; the figures are now on the plane's stairs).

Some were sillier than others. In the video I remember best, he was dressed up in clerical garb and reading from the book of John[ny] (more precisely, the doggerel "Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be?") and then drawing moral lessons or advice therefrom -- sad to say, this was every bit as illuminating as the sermon today at FAPC.

He often takes multiple large pictures along the length of a single object (usually a dog) and frames them separately next to each other -- e.g., his work "Deposition" (dog lying on its back, but extended longer than its body because of the framing).

The highlight of the exhibition, for me, was item #010, "Untitled", which consists of several very attractive framed black & white photographs of multiple dog legs. The cell phone audio guide invited us to propose a name for this picture. I nominate "Forest".

After this cultural enlightenment, we gathered for a picnic in Prospect Park.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Phenomenon Explained

I was curious why so many people were searching for statue and "4 toes". This apparently has to do with a TV show called Lost.

So now you know.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ode to Target and More

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the last few months, organized thematically (Advertising, Outdoor Dining, and Fashion).

I. Advertising

A visitor from England (we'll call him John, because that's his name) told me that on his first trip to the U.S., his traveling companion -- we'll call him X -- became obsessed with the idea of buying a handgun. Never mind that X had never before seen a gun in real life, had no idea how to use one, had no firearms license and no earthly use for a firearm, and would of course be unable to bring it back home with him to the U.K.

None of that mattered -- X had his heart set on buying a gun. So X chose a likely-looking store, called "Target" (!), marched up to the customer service window with a totally mortified John in tow, and demanded to purchase a gun. The good people of Target kindly explained that they were not in the business of selling firearms. (Apparently they declined to offer any leads as to where X might be able to make such a purchase, and John was eventually able to distract his friend with other American-style amusements.)

Target has a lock on the billboards on the central block of Times Square south of 42nd Street, even though it does not yet have a toehold in Manhattan retail space. (There is a lovely Target store in Brooklyn, however, which is served by the Atlantic Avenue subway station, home to the 2/3/4/5/B/D/M/N/Q/R. There was also, for a brief but glorious period, a Target boat anchored on the Hudson piers which sold 15 or 16 items.)

The advertisements in Target's Times Square space change regularly, but the Target Beetle ad below is my favorite so far. Not only does it look like a car advertisement (even though Target does not sell cars), but it is also strategically positioned over a major subway entrance in an area (Times Square) that is constantly overrun with pedestrians. These Times Square advertisements are 100% branding (red and white concentric circles), as Target provides no address or directions to get to the nearest store or even its web site - and does not even display its name or declare its business. Ironically, if a pedestrian sees the ad and is seized by a sudden urge to travel to the nearest Target, it is very quick and easy (you can catch the 2, 3, N, Q, or R directly there) but only for those already in the know.

There was a wonderful issue of the New Yorker magazine devoted to Target's advertising. Target hired the regular New Yorker cartoonists to prepare red and white circle-themed full-page cartoons throughout the magazine, with no competing advertisements (and of course, no copy on the ads themselves). Along with doubtless millions of other people, I have saved that issue. It was clearly intended to be cool and sophisticated, and it worked.

The interesting thing about these branding advertisements is that, to my mind, they have a distinctly European flavor - as if Target were trying to tackle IKEA head-on. (Target is not the only American company to do this; consider Haagen-Dasz.) According to the company's web site, however, Target's first store opened in Roseville, Minnesota, in 1962.

Speaking of heart-warming advertisements (we were?), I like this one from Manhattan Storage a lot better than the movie it spoofs:

II. Outdoor Dining

Behind the scenes at a 9/11 memorial near Times Square -- I like this because it looks like a rock-climbing wall. This is my back-up location for a quick outdoor lunch. It is not Zagat-rated, but is still frequented by people in the know.

Obviously, the park shown below (which shall remain nameless to protect its identity) is the numero uno location for lunch, complete with flowers and honest-to-goodness tables and chairs. What bliss! What luxury! You just have to be eagle-eyed and a teensy bit ruthless to snag a table, although people are a little bit more restrained than they are on the subway when competing for scarce seats.

III. Fashion Trends

For our fashion-conscious readers, the "earrings" on this lovely young model are actually two-piece animal magnets (featured here - one fish, one frog). These will be all the rage in Paris this summer, just mark my words.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Parable of Oprah

A business student of Oprah's approached her and said, "I'm passionate about cooking, ... but my parents have spent nearly $100,000 on my education. For me to now announce that I want to cook.... How can I change my mind?" Oprah looked on her with compassion and replied, "Is $100,000 worth a life not fulfilled? How much of your life will you have to consume before you can please you?"
--Adapted from The Best of Oprah's "What I Know for Sure"

Five things I'm grateful for this morning:

1. My body's ability to tell me when it needs some rest.
2. Sunshine.
3. Oatmeal (a real surprise to me - I used to think my mom was crazy for loving the bland, pasty stuff).
4. Colleagues who respect me and value my work.
5. A little bit of a crush on someone who may become a good friend.

I have only six days to wrap things up at work (not counting the holiday weekend), or nine days to finish preparing for my adventures in Tuscany. Wow!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Yankees Game (Rangers)

I'm no Yankees fan (go, Mets!) but went with some friends to a game against the Rangers today. Last baseball game I saw was the NH Fisher Cats, about a year ago. That was a blast with the somewhat intimate stadium experience, inter-inning competitions and entertainment (e.g., dogs catching frisbees) -- and the Fisher Cats are apparently a big feeder team for the Red Sox). A Yankees game at Yankee Stadium is a somewhat different experience, but this was fun too -- everyone got into it. Two of the gang had never been to a baseball game before, and another two were a bit shaky on the rules (Marcello wanted to know how much time was remaining in the inning - a question that is difficult to answer).

We also had with us a die-hard Yankees hater (that's not me - to paraphrase one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons, I don't hate the Yankees, I just have issues with the Yankees). Poor guy, he sat glumly while the crowd got wild over a home run. As for me, I left after the most exciting inning, when the Yankees came back from their early losses (I think they were losing 1-9 at the end of the third inning) to lead 11-10 at the end of the fifth inning. They ultimately won by one point. I hear that was pretty exciting too.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Natural Yogi

"Remember, if money could buy happiness, there would be
high-priced happiness stores on every block."
-- David Niven.
A natural yogi is blissfully unaware of a cousin's watchful hands.

Here, she demonstrates the Relaxed Cobra pose.

She's a year younger than my niece, but already every bit as doted-on by her extended family.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Getting your ducks in a row...

...can be more of a challenge than you'd think, as shown in this rather modest February 2006 footage from Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

I just thought it was cool that they were literally swimming in circles. As the old saying goes, "When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout." But the ducks keep rather calm and collected. They clearly let trouble run off their backs like, um, water off a duck's back? OK, let's move on.

But there is something inherently funny about ducks - in high school it was always "Psst! Wanna buy a duck?" "Does it quack?" "Of course it quacks - it's a duck!" I'm not sure if the humor lies in the word or the animal, or both.

And the duck theme has continued to dog me (note to self: should that be "duck"?) to the present day. In fact, two weekends ago I ended up playing Duck, Duck, Goose with some rambunctious 4-year-olds. Very interesting, although we may or may not have had a firm grasp on the rules. But maybe I should duck the question entirely.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Life in Flux

We all pile in to a big yellow school bus at the corner of 55th & 5th in Manhattan.
A businessman looks over casually and does a double-take: a school trip with 40 chaperones? Or have these schoolkids all been held back a few years too many in 3rd grade??

As New York City rolls into the distance behind us, the sun sets. The sky is lovely on our way to the Poconos. Taking a picture directly to the side through the bus window reveals serene, classical beauty:

Pointing the camera forward out the window of the bus, however, shows that we are moving along at a good clip.
We enjoyed many sports, including canoeing in a miniature pond, hiking a yellow-blazed nature trail into someone's back yard (complete with unleashed german shepherd), and volleyball (where, after serving incessantly for 1.5 hours, I pretty much destroyed my right wrist which is now scarily swollen), as well as late-night foosball and ping pong.

There was also basketball, as the two following pictures demonstrate. Here, Sue - coincidentally later revealed to be a mafiosa extraordinaire - has just launched her shot:
In this one, Heidi strides after the ball (which almost looks like it is spinning on Pablo's finger), Pavan stands ready, Andrew shoots, Sue crouches for the next shot, Courtney waits her turn:
Alas, our chief photographer was captured (and shot) during the retreat.

Just like the ski trip, we played a game called "Mafia" - the story is told by a moderator, who orchestrates the sleeping and waking cycles of a village replete with more than its fair share of assassins, as well as a few cops and a magical healer. The innocent villagers must try to determine who the bad guys are before they are killed; the accused are offered the opportunity to defend themselves (usually by blaming others), but lack both legal counsel and an impartial decision-maker. Success in this game (for the assassins) involves maintaining a falsely innocent facade, while diabolically scheming to pick off one's friends and fellow churchgoers. Sue was particularly good at this. The blonde hair and sweet demeanor help.

We considered Exodus this weekend in light of our continual wrestling with (or embracing of) changes in our own lives, including the sometimes-yawning gaps between where we are now and where we hoped or expected to be at this point.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


It was high time to strap on the skates. Went for a spin around the park, and then the adventure began. Many pictures came out fuzzily because I took them without stopping. Here's an on-purpose action shot, in case you are curious how I look when I'm skating:

Training wheels and piers:

The Yellow Arches (boarded up McDonald's):

The Red Arches (sculpture near the Brooklyn Bridge):
A quick skating video on the Brooklyn Bridge:

A great day for kites:

An exhilarating day.