Wednesday, December 26, 2012
|Nobody was my first choice for president in this election. But I voted for someone else anyway.|
A wretched fox, driven from his lair by frost and famine, struggles through the heavy drifts in quest of food; and over him, circling nearer and nearer, as he grows weaker and weaker, come the ravens [sic] who are soon to pluck his bones. [citation: Alfred Trumble, "Facts, Ideas, and Opinions," The Collector 4 (1 April 1893), 166]
The subject ... requires a word of explanation as to the fact in natural history of which it is a dramatic illustration. In the depths of winter, when the ground is for long intervals covered with snow along the coast of Maine, it is observed that a flock of half-starved crows will have the temerity to attack a fox, relying on their advantage of numbers, the weakened condition of the fox and the deep snow, which makes it the more difficult for the victim to defend himself. [citation: "Winslow Homer's Latest Picture, 'The Fox Hunt,' at Doll & Richards'," Boston Evening Transcript, 30 June 1893]
[Homer] dramatized the brutal realities of winter on the Maine coast by showing a fox desperately bounding through deep snow in an attempt to flee a flock of half-starved crows. The birds descend ominously with outstretched wings, forming a dark hovering mass above the struggling fox. ... The fox's red silhouette is splashed across a field of oppressive snow; we sense that he is cornered, trapped within the flattened white plane while the aggressive birds break its edges on descent.
Perhaps we are to infer his deteriorated physical condition from the fact that the crows have targeted him. That's possible, but it could also be that the crows are sufficiently motivated to attack him even if he is not yet weakened (i.e., while he was out and about on his usual winter prowls and forays for food). I also found myself wondering if the crows might be taking advantage of a human-led fox hunt, rather than launching their own -- though I'm not sure that we have much of a fox hunting tradition here in the U.S.
(As a side note, Homer was supposedly painting from death - the pelt of a fox and the bodies of crows - and actually re-did the bird figures after a neighbor told him they did not look like crows.)
Afterward, we headed up to Victoria Mansion a/k/a the Morse-Libby House, decorated for Christmas by a variety of local merchants according to this year's theme, "The Gilded Age". Yes, there was a bit of glitz.
I liked this stained glass at the stairwell:
In one of the upstairs bedrooms, there was a nearly hyper-realistic painting of an infant. The setting is truly minimalist: she sits on a bare floor, with a single dark drapery panel in the background. She dominates the portrait, gazing at the viewer. She holds two roses in her hand. A docent explained that these were standard conventions for a portrait of a deceased child. In fact, the body was painted in advance, with only the face customized based on the family's descriptions. That seemed consistent with what we saw.
Finally, we went to an exhibit about the electrification of Maine to pass the time while waiting for a tour of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House. From the website:
Anne Longfellow Pierce, Henry [Wadsworth Longfellow]'s younger sister ... lived in the house until her death in 1901. At that time, in accordance with a deed she executed in 1895, the house passed to the Maine Historical Society to be preserved as a memorial to her famous brother and their family.
Virtually all of the household items and artifacts are original to the Wadsworth and Longfellow families.Apparently, Anne agreed that the Maine Historical Society could electrify and heat the home after her death, but strongly opposed any indoor plumbing or other alterations. They have abided by these wishes.
It was interesting to see the place, but I was a bit skeptical of statements announcing (in effect) "this was the very desk where Henry composed" a particular poem. Even if true, I hardly imagine the desk has been imbued with particular greatness as a result.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Christian: [S]o-called Atheism really is Egoistic agnosticism. … I don't like to get into logical/philosophical debates here on [forum], but Atheism suffers from a preformative contradiction…. There's no room in this for being offended or for sentiment in rational discussion.Seems to me that folks reach their various beliefs or conclusions about religion/spirituality not only through logic and reason alone, but also through personal experiences and deep intuition about how the world works. So there is, in fact, plenty of room for sentiment -- and plenty of need for sensitivity.
Saturday, December 22, 2012
So this is all by way of explaining why I went to Baltimore to see the first movie of the Hobbit trilogy with a good group of Tolkien geeks on opening weekend. I watched it Friday night with a few folks I knew from Mythgard (one I'd actually met earlier this year at Mythcon), then watched it again with the full complement of Mythmooters on Saturday morning.
Jackson & Co. were obviously trying to please many different genre audiences, so some scenes were not to my particular taste (although I'm quite certain they'll appeal to other folks). And yet the movie worked, as a movie.
Among the most successful scenes, in my view:
- The dwarves singing the "Misty Mountains" song - quite possibly my favorite part of the movie. The voices are deep, beautiful, haunting. In fact, this one song, more than anything else, made the dwarves utterly convincing for me. Bilbo is not in the room with them, but we see him listening and it is clear that their song has touched him in some way. He is not suddenly seized with a desire to go on adventures, nor does he suddenly "get" the dwarves; it is more subtle than that, but still there is something there in his face, almost unreadable.
- The scene where Bilbo decides to join the quest. This is again done subtly; in fact it was only in discussing the scene at Mythmoot that I came to fully understand what the film makers were doing here. What we see in the book is a child-like Bilbo being manipulated and railroaded into the adventure, without time to think or pack. In the movie, the choice is far more grown-up; in fact, Bilbo declines the adventure, and the others respect his choice. When he awakens, he has exactly what he wants: everything is ship-shape, as if the dwarves had never been there. The nightmare is over, and he has been released to continue his regular life with all its settled ways. He is free. And as he looks around, we see his face. The sense of loss, of emptiness. As if he didn't know how lonely and sterile his life was, until he had a chance to contrast the silent, empty rooms with the boisterousness that had been in them just a few hours earlier. None of this is explained; it is all in his face. Then he sees the contract and he realizes it is not too late. This is a really wonderful scene, and I recommend Sarah's discussion of it in her Riddles in Response blog.
- The flashback to the dragon's attack. There is a lovely visual joke at the very start of this scene, which also picks up on a small detail in the book which I'd never noticed until this year.
- The very last scene - it's a little bit of movie cliche, but it absolutely works.
- And of course the scene with the dwarves throwing Bilbo's plates around is very funny.
- More/better gun control
- More/better mental health treatment
- Less violence in the culture (movies, TV, video games)
- Less/different coverage of mass murders
- Legalization of recreational drugs (less "drug control")
- More guns in schools (i.e., arming teachers)
I don't know whether any of these proposals would have actually prevented the particular incident which has dominated the headlines and op ed pages over the past week. They strike me, for the most part, as well-intentioned but ultimately opportunistic advancement of pre-existing political agendas. I can't help thinking that one's conclusions on these issues are very heavily influenced by one's starting assumptions and personal predilections.
The one political agenda I have not seen advanced anywhere (yet) in response to the incident is home schooling. It is not a "universal" cure, by any stretch of the imagination. But for those parents who are willing and able to homeschool their kids, this strikes me as a highly effective way to steer clear of the danger. First, their kids are not in a large group of children, so they are a less attractive target. Second, their kids are not on government property (which is generally required to be at least semi-open to the public) but on private property, so their kids are less accessible to sickos. Harder to find, harder to access.
UPDATE| Just a few hours after I posted this, I saw Peggy Noonan's op ed in the Wall Street Journal weekend edition. She points out (among other things) that homeschooling could become more popular in the wake of the incident. So now I know for sure that I am not the first or only person to see this particular connection!
Friday, December 21, 2012
There are five Duane Reades on or below Wall Street (i.e., a few minutes' walk from each other). The one on Water Street was closed for quite a while, but is back up and running. The one on Beaver Street has not yet reopened, but it seems likely that they are renovating it so it will as nice as the others.
My office building is still on mobile generators. We lost power this afternoon and were evacuated.
Many shops remain cash only. Long lines at several food and beverage places at lunch time, though, which is a good sign of a return to normal.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Interspersed with that perennial favorite, Tolkien's much admired packing scene, the lovingly re-created meal scenes will doubtless be of great interest to foodies and hungry movie-goers alike; cultural anthropologists and amateur psychologists will be mesmerized by the cross-cultural bonding between Bilbo and Bombur on this subject.
|A presence in Times Square, both above-ground...|
|... and below.|
The main entrance of the subway station has a huge tunnel -- and a lot of wall space...
|Both sides of the long hall, around corners...|
|Each dwarf identified by name|
|The contract is a little more complicated in the film.|
Sunday, December 09, 2012
Survived a much dreaded presentation in White Plains, then somehow caught "The Heiress" on Broadway (recommended by Time Out NY) on my way home. This was really good, although I had a bit of shock of recognition/empathy with the socially awkward heroine. The 1948 movie was highly recommended to me, so I've requested it through the public library.
Small group (aka home fellowship group) - last week, I provided dinner (another variation on chickpea masala), this week I just attended and enjoyed the taco/fajita DIY.
"If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet" on Broadway - I took a chance on another 5-star recommendation from Time Out NY, and was underwhelmed.
Patricia's Christmas party - this was nice. Managed to escape the talent show though.
Hiking in Beacon - 10.5 miles (including 4 miles road walking to and from the train station). Very foggy, so not much in the way of views. But good. I listened to Tolkien Professor podcasts. Let's not talk about the mile I walked up the wrong path (one of those well-trodden and poorly marked trails that are not part of the formal trail system) and slipped on the slick leaves and fell and bruised the back of my left thigh. That will just be our secret, OK?
9am service at Trinity Wall Street, followed by some progress on my "Songs of Peril" paper for an upcoming conference, and then Handel's "Messiah" at 3pm. Which was really good. Although I was surprised to see how many "female" singing parts (alto, and even soprano) were taken by men.
Just saw "Meet Me In St. Louis" for the first time. Funny. And very sweet. Absolute treacle. But also with a side of weird violent child fantasies that would probably never make it into a modern movie. It's also weird to see a movie in which the key point of optimism is the decision NOT to move... I'm speaking as one who moved every 3 or 4 years throughout my childhood. There are some "surprising" innuendos (surprising only to those who assume that the 1940's were a more innocent time). Of course, this was a 1940's movie set in the 1900's...already self-consciously nostalgic.
Saturday, December 08, 2012
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Monday, December 03, 2012
Sunday, December 02, 2012
|NIX: Because the Abhorsens in a way are executioners — they make the dead stay dead. So I went looking for a name that was not particularly well known but that would resonate as an executioner, and I looked through lots of historical sources as well as eventually turning to Shakespeare, and choosing that name from the name of the executioner in Measure for Measure.|
Saturday, December 01, 2012
|A vine grows in Peekskill.|
And that's when I saw a bald eagle, perched on a tree overlooking the Hudson River. So cool!!! Alas, no photo.
Details: It was about 1.5 total miles of road walking to and from the train station. I actually left the pedometer running the whole day until I got home, and clocked a total of about 9 miles.
|The stark winter landscape was softened by fallen leaves...|
I suddenly remembered a book I read as a kid (Ghost Town Treasure, by Clyde Robert Bulla) where two children find the diary of a now-deceased relative, who had gone out prospecting or something. Thrillingly, one of the last entries says "Gold in the cave" -- and our hero's family is facing dire economic straits -- so the kids spend most of the book looking for the cave, and eventually find it. Somehow they figure out at the end that the entry actually said "Cold in the cave."
|On Frozen Pond? Supposedly it was 43 F today.|
|The road goes ever on and on|
There were patches of snow on the Nelsonville Trail, even at lower elevations.
I spent most of the trail time listening to the Tolkien Professor podcast, specifically the last few sessions of his Faerie and Fantasy class, where he talked about Sabriel, by Garth Nix. I had an idea for a paper (comparing Sabriel with Silver Chair), although I'm wondering if there might be a third one to throw into the mix.
Some additional connections came to mind as well - Kerrigor with Rowling's Dementors, for example (because of the attempted kiss). Kerrigor is probably worth some additional thought; he was apparently seeking to enslave Sabriel rather than to suck out her soul, and the scene is described in a way that actually brings to mind an attempted rape, rendered extra creepy by Kerigor's suggestion of a family relationship between them.
Dr Olsen pointed out some Shakespeare connections I'd missed, particularly the name Abhorsen and Touchstone. Abhorson is an executioner who appears in a single scene of Measure for Measure; he is offered a bawd as a helper, and insists that execution is a mystery.* I don't feel bad for missing that one, as I've only seen the play twice and I don't recall seeing that particular scene. But Touchstone is the fool in As You Like It, and I should have picked up on that.
Dr Olsen also mentioned that Rogir and Touchstone were brothers, one (I assume) legitimate, the other the Queen's bastard, but raised in the same household. That reminds me, of course, that in Shakespeare, it would be the bastard brother who goes rogue -- but in Nix, it is the bastard brother who is good.
On my way back to the train station, I stopped at Le Bouchon for a salad and a glass of wine. Bliss.
Just had time to change clothes and go out again for a Camerata Notturna concert. Wonderful, esp. the Schubert Symphony No. 9.
FN* Provost describes Abhorson to Pompey as "a common executioner, who in his office lacks a helper." When Provost makes his pitch to Abhorson that Pompey could be Abhorson's helper, the following dialogue ensues:
PROVOST: [Pompey] cannot plead his estimation with you; he hath been a bawd.
ABHORSON: A bawd, sir? fie upon him! he will discredit our mystery.
PROVOST: Go to, sir; you weigh equally; a feather will turn the scale.
POMPEY: ... what mystery there should be in hanging, if I should be hanged, I cannot imagine.Measure for Measure, Act IV, scene ii.
ABHORSON: Sir, it is a mystery.
ABHORSON: Every true man's apparel fits your thief: if it be too little for your thief, your true man thinks it big enough; if it be too big for your thief, your thief thinks it little enough: so every true man's apparel fits your thief.