31 October 2008

silted-up ports and popping lenses


(Photo by Claudio Pedrazzi, selected for Google Earth)


Francesco Ceccarelli of the University of Bologna spoke last night on "New lands, villas, and towns of the d'Este: the idea of ducal territory in late sixteenth century Ferrara" as part of the SAH chapter lecture series. It was fascinating. Alfonso II, duke of Ferrara, was working on reclaiming the delta lands of the Po River between the city of Ferrara and the Adriatic Sea. What was especially intriguing to me was that the Venetians changed the course of the Po so that Alfonso's Porto di Goro and lovely villa of Mésola silted up and now are not so close to the sea. Not that people haven't always used every tool to best their enemies.

The hunting villa of Mésola is based on Serlio but, above ground, looks more like a medieval castle. Ceccarelli showed a comparison of the plans of Mésola and Chambord: marvelous similarities. Alfonso spent part of his youth at Chambord and generally liked doing things alla francese.

You may remember the silliness of my "loan" to the street fellow a couple weeks ago. A few days ago, I got on the F train at 14th Street. Just after I got on, a guy dropped his sunglasses just after getting on the train. One lens had popped out and he was peering at the floor. A couple people told him that the lens was just outside the door that had just closed. Miraculously, the doors opened momentarily. He picked up his lens and smiled at the folks and said something about miracles. The voice seemed familiar. Yes, it was my "friend" who did tech work for "The drowsy chaperone," still reaping the benefits of the street life where people "lend" you $20 and doors open when your lens falls out there.

Don't know why these stories of ports and lenses go together -- just you have to let the world move along. Christie and I were within relative inches of the town of Mésola as we drove between Mantova and Ravenna in fall 2001. I guess we'll have to go back to see Mésola (and Ferrara) but I'll have to learn how to be more frugal on these mean streets. I talked to Christie last night on the phone and we both decided you need to live now and not let the turkeys get you down.

20 October 2008

right by me

After the morning's silliness, I had a lovely Sunday afternoon. I went out to the Queens Museum of Art for the Cinemarosa films which were quite fine: "See me" by Steven Liang, "Right by me" by Thanyatorn Siwanukrow. Both were coming out stories: the first a first-person narrative from a Chinese American in California, the second in Thai about three young men. During the discussion after, someone described the stories in the latter as considerably easier than (his) real life. It was affecting and effective, nonetheless. I was amused too by the harmony of the titles with the shared word "me"; not the me-ness of it but the rhyme and the double entendre of the "right by me."

I got to the museum early enough to see the "Reason's clue" show in the galleries. If you enjoy works that mix cultures and times, "Reason's clue" is a show for you. Zhang Hongtu has done some objects that wonderfully mix traditional Chinese styles with contemporary pop culture: Coke bottles in blue-and-white porcelain; zodiac figures in Mao suits, done in Tang-style three-color glaze; McDonald's containers in Shang bronze costumes; a series of Van Gogh-ish paintings looking rather like traditional Chinese scroll painting. With my current gig of ARTstor cataloging being Chinese art, this is especially amusing. There are also wonderful Hung Hao maps looking like a combination of western Renaissance style and Chinese content. And Taiwanese Tu Wei-Cheng has created the Bu Num civilization whose excavated steles look suspiciously like Blackberries.

I just love visiting Flushing Meadows and the Queens Museum. Is it the liveliness of the park? Or maybe the chance to walk through the panorama of the city from the 1964-1965 World's Fair? Or the camaraderie of the folks at Cinemarosa? Or maybe the ride in the 7 train, looking at Queens as we zip along?

From the park to the yard. After Sunday in the park, I took off for Alfred early on Monday morning. Raked the leaves this afternoon and helped my brother bag them to take up to his mulch pile. The yard and garden at the family homestead are in need of some attention and I am rather thinking I could manage a bit of that ... next year.

19 October 2008

random acts of MADness

After an early lunch on Saturday with Charles and Don who were down from Syracuse for a Lincoln Center fix, I stopped at the new building of the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), the much-criticized reworking of the "lollypop building" on Columbus Circle by Ezra Durrell Stone. One of the opening shows is "Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary." There were a number of interesting objects in the show. The most compelling perhaps was Michael Rakowitz's papier maché reconstructions of objects that disappeared or were damaged during the looting of the Baghdad Museum in 2003. Most of the works in the show were not so overtly political. There were two lovely cupboards using recycled materials: one with panels of recycled wood by Piet Hein Eek and another with panels of recycled steel by someone (the artist list for the show hasn't yet yielded a match in my addled brain). Jean Shin did a wonderful Hiroshige wave out of old LPs. And Devorah Sperber did a great Mona Lisa out of spools of thread (this is for you, Jenni!). On the floor of works from the permanent collection, there's a nice textile work by Elaine Reichek called "Egyptian Curtain" with a quote from Matisse: "I used to buy pieces of tapestry ... a little museum of samples ... my working library" (ellipses in the caption).

My favorite confusing headline from the morning paper is "Keeping Lawmakers Happy through Gifts to Pet Charities." I was expected something about Leona Helmsley and her billionaire puppy. Instead, it was Congressman Murtha and grants to the symphony orchestra in Johnstown, PA. I'll accept that sort of congressional payout more than grants for military-industrial complexes or "bridges to nowhere."

That article was cheek-by-jowl with an article about the dudes that are storming Sarah Palin rallies. That was scary.

After reading some of the paper with my pancakes at Silver Spurs on Broadway, I walked over to see the Banksy Village Petstore and Charcoal Grill installation wherein fish sticks swim in a bowl, gorillas watch the Discovery Channel, a fur coat sits on a branch swinging its tail, chicken nuggets snack, sausages wiggle like sea lions, a bunny burnishes her nails in front of a mirror, and whatnot. On the way to Seventh Avenue, I ran into a guy who had a hard luck story, locked out of this apartment and if he didn't get uptown by 10 a.m., he'd lose his job with "The Drowsy Chaperone." Well, I fell for it, "lent" him a twenty, and he promised he'd leave a twenty with my doorman in an hour or so. There's the "random act of madness" but perhaps my faith in the street story will be restored. I've made more foolish investments in bum rushes. Not that he seemed to be memorizing my address.

05 October 2008

Raed Jarrar at AFSC

Raed Jarrar spoke to about twenty of us on Friday afternoon at the New York City offices of the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker organization that I have long supported). He is an Iraqi, based in the Washington AFSC office, and is an architect by training. He's lived in the US since 2003 and I was very interested in his use of "we" when talking about Americans. I liked that very much and, if we were running, I'd vote for him for legislator in a heartbeat. Actually I'd vote for him for president but he might have to temper his passion, not that he isn't temperate but we need legislators who can argue well and convincingly. He is strongly convinced that a total withdrawal from Iraq will allow them to return to a peaceful state. He had drawn up a chart showing the religious connections of the separatists and nationalists in the Iraqi parliament. The conflict is not primarily based on religious differences. Even Hussein's government was not segregated. Jarrar is of mixed Sunni/Shiite heritage and married to a Palestinian. One of his Sunni uncles traded houses with a Shiite uncle when the neighborhoods were being cleansed. Jarrar didn't express it but it sure seems to me that such temperance and diversity wouldn't necessarily last forever so let's get completely out of Iraq now. For a profile of Raed Jarrar and his work, see "Mr. Jarrar goes to Washington" in Mother Jones. Actually I got quite a few hits in Google on "raed jarrar" including his blog called "In the Middle."

The New York Times

One thing I haven't figured out about living in Alfred is how to get the daily New York Times. The Unimart gets the Sunday paper and is good about reserving a copy so you don't have to rush down at the crack of dawn to be sure they've come but not disappeared into the hands of willing co-conspirators. When the Alfred University students are around, the campus store (alas, a Barnes & Noble operation) has the daily paper on Monday to Friday. And then there's Saturday. Off to Wegman's in Hornell where you might find it? Yes, I know there's the online version but the joy of reading the paper version is finding the big and small articles, the serendipity. Yes, I know that the web can also provide serendipity. Different, more and less.

On the front page of today's paper, there's an article about Afghan President Karzai's brother allegedly being involved in the drug trade. The Karzai brothers deny it but the whole idea of governmental corruption in the face of so much chaos is very disheartening. I did sign a petition against the Rockefeller drug laws yesterday; it's not like I necessarily want heroin sold freely at the grocery store but decriminalization of certain drugs seems like a viable option (to put it mildly perhaps).

Further into the front section, there was an article about Dubai and how even it is feeling the effects of the financial crisis. But folks are paying up the $25,000 a night for those fancy hotel rooms. They're working on a development that will have the world's biggest mall. Yesterday, Elizabeth and I were looking at a picture of the palm-tree island/peninsula and thinking how we had NO desire to go there. Meanwhile, my university is working on a new campus in Abu Dhabi, part of our "Global University" development. The dean of the Libraries is distracted by development of the new library and its state of the (future) art connections while there's much to be done at home. True, the NYC campus will benefit as will the international programs from the magnificent electronic infrastructure ... but there's much that needs to be done on the home front. I don't mean to be isolationist but the distraction of NYU Abu Dhabi is not helping improve the collaboration and cooperation at home.

This morning's front section wasn't all depressing or frustrating. There was a wonderful article about South Korean bathhouses. "The first thing we Koreans think of when we're feeling stiff and sore is lying on a hot floor." Sounds pretty nice.

A little note on the front page made me realize that like the nationwide chains that are filling the streets of Manhattan, tomorrow's paper will be different. The Metro Section will be absorbed into a "New York" section in the front section. Gosh, just like the National Edition. I'll miss the Metro Section but I guess they're just trying to get me accustomed to the National Edition.

03 October 2008

registered to vote?