Friday, December 31, 2010

Brooklyn Museum

I went with U-Chan and her mom to the Brooklyn Museum to see the Norman Rockwell exhibit. His works are a bit too archly sentimental for my taste, but it was interesting to see how he designed his pictures. He had his models pose over and over, variations on his chosen scenes, with a photographer snapping away. He'd then basically crop his favorite bits from multiple photos and project them onto the canvas for the final, detailed work. Very cool.

African Art

I like what they've done with their African gallery. This is an antelope headdress from Mali, from the 19th C but it feels very modern with the abstract but clean lines:

16th Century artifact, apparently one of the oldest known ivory carvings in Africa:

This face was beautifully rendered:

A chair for the chief:

A wooden mask:
A beaded elephant mask:

American Art

From the gallery of American art, I really liked this 2007 piece by Valerie Hegarty called "Fallen Bierstadt" (although I've only captured the top portion of the work ... the lower portion is a bunch of broken pieces on the floor):

Here's "Jonah and the Whale: Rebirth Motif" (by John Flannagan, 1937):

I believe this one is called "Cops and Headlights":

Better than a trip to the zoo, because the animals don't hide from you!

Fred Tomaselli

The serendipitous discovery of the day was the Fred Tomaselli exhibit. In a word: Wow! Or maybe: Psychadelic!

Most of his works were essentially collages and other layers (e.g., paint) embedded in resin.

Of the works we were permitted to photograph, here are some of my favorites.

Here's a closeup of one:

Many of his pieces evoke the feeling of mille fleurs, including this one (this is just a close-up):

Some of the more recent works involved painting over the front page NYT photo, often to amazing effects.

I liked this one because it superimposes an Asian style ocean scene on the tent compound; the tents are like barks offering shelter in the storm.

This photo of victims of terrorist attacks in Iraq was striking because I have seen old paintings of martyred Christian saints rendered in this sort of Byzantine style:

Some of the artist's NYT works were more overtly political in nature, such as laser beams coming out of the eyes of politicians of a particular party...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

It was a lovely Christmas. Presents were opened, movies were watched, books were read, puzzles were solved, games were played.

I watched The Secret Garden (1993), Children of the Stones (1977), Point Blank (1967), Cheaper by the Dozen (1950), and two others. The quality of the movies varied. I found Point Blank slow, repetitive and unsatisfying. Although Children of the Stones reminded me of Hot Fuzz (2007), the later movie was far more entertaining. By far the best movie of the week - and one of the very best I've seen all year - was The King's Speech (2010). In theaters now. Go see it.*

Books read or listened to: The Cat in the Hat (Geisel); Emil's Pranks (Lindgren); The Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien); A Fly Went By (McClintock); The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me (Dahl); and Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat (Watterson).

Artists were commissioned for the occasion. Here we have a seascape:

And here a frostscape behind the antique bottles:
We also broke in a Wii which had been lying around for a year. So fun - and kinda addictive. Each game, even the non-competitive ones, had incentives to keep us playing. The whole family tried bowling, and everyone had a chance to shine. Sword fighting and boxing got my heart rate up... My back is still sore!

FN* Come to think of it, if anyone needs a living actor who could pull off the Frank Gilbreth character in Cheaper by the Dozen in a new remake that would be as charming as the 1950 version, I hereby nominate Colin Firth.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pumpkin Soup

I'm suddenly on a great productivity kick. I invented my own pumpkin soup recipe from odds and ends in my kitchen: 2/3 of a can of pumpkin purée, some vanilla soymilk and water to achieve the right consistency, thin slices of bell pepper and onion, then oregano, curry powder, chili powder, nutmeg, salt, and rosemary to taste. It was savory and delicious.

Meanwhile I got two loads of laundry underway in time to watch the finale of The Sing-Off in the lounge. (Just now Sara Bareilles was singing with the Backbeats - pretty cool.)

And did I mention I got the first 5 Christmas cards out the door this morning? Including the card to my visitee.

So it's all good.

Christmas Spirit

The entertainment this weekend was intensely Christmas-focused, with Handel's Messiah on Friday at Lincoln Center, Balanchine's Nutcracker on Saturday (also at Lincoln Center), and the annual FAPC Cider Sing on Sunday. Fabulosity!

At the cider sing, our director wanted us to alternate sacred and secular songs, but we didn't have quite the hoped-for selection of secular songs in our packet. So we added in two from memory: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (very successful! many of us know all the interjections as well!) and Frosty the Snowman (we mumbled our way through the chorus and the first verse). We'll rectify that next year. The crowds were smaller than in previous years, but no less appreciative. And it was nice having Nathan right in front with his amazing voice to guide us and wow the passers-by.

In any event, the NEXT/Family Ministries cider sing was my third caroling event of the season - and as always my favorite. We celebrated with burritos afterward.

Christmas Obbligato

This year, I've been much more organized than usual in terms of buying gifts. I was done weeks ago. (Whether the recipients will like the gifts is an entirely different question -- inspiration was a bit erratic.) And they are all wrapped. And some have even been given already. But I've been weirdly unmotivated to do a lot of other things. Like packing for my trip. Or figuring out whether I'm taking a bus or renting a car from Boston. Part of the problem is that my hosts will be coming back from their travels the same day that I've planned to arrive on their doorstep -- and I don't know what time they will be back, or even whether they might (for example) like to have a day to themselves before I show up.

But the lethargy is a bit more far-reaching and insidious than this narrow issue. I feel like I have no energy. All I want to do when I'm not out at some organized activity is crank up the heat to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, eat, sleep, and read the final Harry Potter book in French. In particular, I have been desperately avoiding writing and sending Christmas cards (really, any excuse will do). Also a bit of minimal clean-up and organization of my stuff seems incredibly daunting. (Really? In a Manhattan studio apartment? How extensive can it be???)

The mindless snacking habit is a dangerous one to foster, though luckily I have a lot of carrots, spinach, and romaine lettuce to snack on....

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Musical Weekend

Everyone scheduled their Christmas parties for Friday night, so I went to the one that was most likely to feature riotous dancing. The music was actually somewhat less conducive to dancing than I anticipated... but on the upside, I was invited to a concert Saturday night.

I quickly scuttled my original plans for Saturday because the concert was pretty much one-of-a-kind: a concert for the composer Elliott Carter's 102nd birthday. I am not particularly plugged into the world of modernist classical music, but I just happened to know about Mr. Carter, in particular, by sheer happenstance. (A year or two ago, I once randomly ran into a friend on the subway late at night, and she told me she'd been at an event for Mr. Carter and explained who he was. It made quite an impression!)

This particular "community orchestra" is made up of professionally trained, professional caliber musicians - most of whom are pursuing other high-profile careers. So when they convinced Mr. Carter to show up as the guest of honor, they pretty much pulled out all the stops. The location was both swank and intimate (the Stanley Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center). At the entrance, there was a lovely chocolate cake, home-made by one of the orchestra members and hand-decorated with metric modulation motifs. After the show, each concert-goer could take a cupcake (in a nice cupcake box) in honor of the birthday boy.

The program was more challenging than I'm used to (I take my classical music very classical, thank you very much), but I really enjoyed the Carter works in the first half of the program. The clarinet concerto was playful and even funny at times. Mr. Carter was sitting two rows behind me, so I went up to him at intermission and just smiled and said Thank you, I'm really enjoying your works. The Carter works in the second half were equally interesting but more lugubrious. They were flanked by Stravinsky and Ives, which I liked.

All in all, an extraordinary evening.

So that was Saturday night. Sunday morning I was up bright and early for a service of lessons and carols at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. I went there with friends since I'll probably miss the Travelers' Christmas Eve service at my church this year. I didn't know what to expect, but imagine my delight when I walked in and saw the Redeemer Symphony Orchestra on stage. A full orchestra and a chorus to sing Christmas carols with us and perform Christmas anthems for us. Yes!

After that, I caught up with some folks from my church to sing Christmas carols for the homeless at my church's party. We sang two sets, including secular and sacred favorites ranging from Jingle Bells to Joy to the World. (Hmm. That sounds like we only sang songs that began with a "J", doesn't it?) Probably Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer would have gone over well with the crowd, too, but we didn't sing those.

Three big musical events in one weekend? Sheer bliss.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

My First Hockey Game

My R.A. in my freshman year in college was a big hockey fan, and she awoke in me an urge to see a hockey game. Not an I-must-see-it-now urge, nor even a I-must-see-it-before-I-die urge, but more of a feeling that this would be something fun to do some time with friends.

But in all the years since, though I floated the possibility from time to time, I got no takers. (Z did promise to take me to a hockey game, one of several unsolicited promises he made.)

This Thanksgiving, however, I happened to mention to my parents that I'd never been to a hockey game. We went from talking about it to buying the tickets within 30 minutes! Two days later, we were at a UNH hockey game: UNH vs. Merrimack College!!

It was a blast, and the UNH band was one of the real highlights of the occasion - great spirit and great tunes. My favorite was their cover of a Lady Gaga song:

Although a close runner-up was the Darth Vader theme they played at another point in the game:

The UNH goalie Matt DiGirolamo made an amazing 41 saves over the course of the game, allowing Merrimack College just one goal. As this statistic may suggest, the rest of the UNH team didn't quite have its act together in the first half of the game. It seemed like every time they tried to pass the puck to each other, it went to a Merrimack player! But luckily UNH pulled it together and got two goals in the third period, leading to a 2-1 victory.

All in all, it was an exciting game, especially in the final 2 minutes when Merrimack replaced its goalie with another player and put all their efforts on offense. They kept the puck near the UNH goal and kept going at it, again and again - but to no avail. (Hooray!)

One interesting phenomenon - the crowd chants. It seemed like part of the UNH fans' team spirit involved telling the opponents "You suck!" Really? Seems a little unsporstmanlike, but maybe I misheard.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Gone with the Wind

A colleague gave me a copy of Gone with the Wind and so, despite its daunting bulk, I decided to give it a shot.

What did I know about the story, going into it? I knew that it was supposed to be a sweeping romantic saga set in the antebellum south. I knew the names Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara, and I knew that the former said to the latter something along the lines of "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." I knew there was an unauthorized parody (or putative parody) from a slave's perspective called The Wind Done Gone, which was at loggerheads with the author's estate in the copyright arena. And that's about it.

One of my high school friends was crazy about the movie and had watched it many times. (This same friend used to invent variations on the plot and characters from the original Star Wars trilogy, which had similarly captured her imagination; I have the impression she did the same with GwtW.)

So. Some reactions. To be perfectly honest, the writing is risible at times -- the opening paragraphs are filled with clumsy and unnecessarily specific detail in the style of "I'm so happy to survey my plantation, Tara, with its red clay soil and 327 slaves, Scarlett O'Hara thought, as she put her lily-white hand on her 16-inch waist. For her mind could not handle complex thoughts, a quality she inherited from her irascible father, Gerald, who had killed a man on the corner of Walk and Don't Walk back in his small Irish hometown of Incroyable, as opposed to her saintly mother Ellen who would have died rather than speak harshly to another human being." In fact, the Scarlett-Rhett interactions remind me of Bella and Edward from the Twilight series, in that the characters flip back and forth between just a few basic settings rather than a fully nuanced, compelling range of emotions. But still . . . somehow . . . I found the story compelling.

I spent most of the book thinking Scarlett is evil . . . and yet, though I didn't like Scarlett, I still wanted her to figure out that Rhett was the right match for her.* At about the half-way mark, when it looked like Scarlett was going to marry anyone and everyone but Rhett, I skipped ahead to find out the context for his famous quote. I'd always figured it was a reckless, devil-may-care, passionate statement (i.e., I want to be with you, I don't give a damn what anyone thinks) and was shocked to see it was just about the opposite.

This slowed down my reading considerably, now that I knew that all the misery Scarlett was going through was not even going to be redeemed by a union with the man who was made for her.

But still I had to come back to the novel. The tragedy here, for me, is not the loss of the amazingly gracious and civilized antebellum south. It's Ms. O'Hara-Hamilton-Kennedy-Butler's total inability to see the difference between real love and her fantasy of what love is supposed to be. Ashley never gives her any reason to believe they would be a good match. Not one. And yet her stubborn devotion to her idea of Ashley destroys her chance for real happinesswith Rhett.

How incredibly depressing.


FN* C.S. Lewis explored the distinction between liking someone and caring about their well-being in his discussion of the mandate to Love thy neighbor as thyself:
[W]e might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbor as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself?

Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently 'Love your neighbor' does not mean 'feel fond of him' or 'find him attractive'. ... In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do. ... However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. ...
Even while we kill and punish [evil-doers] we must try to feel about [them] as we feel about ourselves -- to wish that [they] were not bad, to hope that [they] may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish [their] good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving [one's neighbor]: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.

(Mere Christianity, Book III, ch. 7).

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Wish List

My mom asked me over Thanksgiving what I wanted for Christmas, and I couldn't think of anything. All I could say at the time was I have everything I want or need (with the silent qualifier, ...that money can buy). My mom was disappointed with this response, and I felt bad about it too. But who wants more stuff to store in a NYC apartment??

Now that I'm shopping for the rest of my family, however, I can think of a LOT of things I want. Neither extravagant nor routine, but perfectly suitable gift items that would be useful and enjoyable, a real treat. And it's too late! My parents are incommunicado until just before Christmas.

It's all I can do to keep my self-gifting to a minimum. The secret (I think) is to keep a running list of what I want so I will know the next time people might want to get me something.