Saturday, July 26, 2008

Odes to Summer

Here's a link to Vivaldi's Summer (scroll down and click on movement 2 for the nice adagio) just in case you want to hear a snippet while you read. I know, we've all heard plenty of Four seasons but it's lovely nonetheless. If you prefer, here's the best summer song ever: The Specials, Too Hot.

For your summer enjoyment:
Colorful Southern Phrases For The Inept And Nerdy Northerner To Describe The Hot Weather:
  • It's hotter than a goat's butt in a pepper patch.
  • It's so hot, the trees are bribing the dogs.
  • It's hotter than a two dollar pistol.
  • It's hotter than butter on a biscuit.
  • It's so hot the hens are laying hard-boiled eggs.
  • It's so hot you could pull a baked potato right out of the ground.

Bad Southern Sayings Which Were Too Awkward And Just Didn't Make The Cut (with apologies to Wendy Molyneux)
  • It's so hot, my thumbs slipped out of my armpits.
  • It's hotter than my gun barrel at the fishing hole.
  • It's hotter than my six-year-old at her beauty pageant.
Feel free to add your own.

And finally here's a certain two-year old kitten's version of summer bliss. Does it count as haiku if she doesn't get the meter counts right?

I like the sun,
I close my eyes,
And the sun be's on my eyes.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Attack of the Giant Baby Heads

I took the kittens up to Boston to see the exhibit of Antonio López García in the MFA's Foster and Rabb Galleries. This is a picture taken by David Ryan at the Boston Globe's blog showing the installation of López's large scale sculptures. The exhibition is ending this Sunday, July 27 so we thought we'd squeeze in a trip.

The MFA show is accompanied by a stunning exhibition of seventeenth-century Spanish painting, El Greco to Velázquez, which uses the reign of Philip III as a common thread. In a bizarre review by Ken Johnson at the New York Times (which seems more a celebration of his own grasp of SAT words, and finely crafted rhapsody than a useful review about art) he writes that realism is the common, if unstated theme of that "saves the show from being merely a hodgepodge of Spanish treasures." Hmmmm, then he uses that as a way to describe his favorites in glorious, well-written detail. At one point he dismisses El Greco's "brushy, spectral paintings of white figures with weirdly elongated limbs." I prefer to think that you can learn more from spending a little time with "not great" El Grecos than you can from focusing on your beautiful sentence structure. I'm sorry. Poor Ken. I'm sure I'm just jealous he gets paid to write about art, but it's also that I don't think criticism has a place in art. There are artistic and intellectual merits in so many things that it's fruitless to try to grade or rank them.
By timing the Antonio López García exhibit with El Greco to Velázquez, the MFA means to situate López within the pantheon of the great Spanish masters. Some writers have described him as the greatest living painter. You really have to get up close to appreciate his amazing technical mastery. Here's a good source of images. His work is so complex! In some sections it's so photorealistic I had to check to see if photography or collage was listed as medium, and in some sections you can see a very confident, painterly style of brushwork. He is known for depicting mundane subjects, like people eating dinner, a half eaten plate of food and a bathroom sink with incredible, formal lyricism. That is not unique in the art world, of course, but what sets López apart from so many of his contemporaries is the lack of irony he brings to his subjects. One gets the feeling that he's earnestly searching for beauty in our everyday surroundings. A friend pointed out that because of this he makes us see the mundane trappings of daily life in a new light.

If you miss the Spanish Masters show in Boston --as we almost did-- it will travel to the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC in August. López's Baby Heads as we called them, or Night and Day are part permanent collection at the MFA and adorn the front lawn.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Come on Baby...Don't Fear the Reaper

I spent a long night in the bushes at Cheech Air Force Base (do they plant poison ivy there on purpose?) with my trusty telephoto lens and my high speed film, but I finally have the proof I need to confront Blicky. Our relationship has really been strained since he accepted that defense contract, but I never realized how high-level his work really was.

Apparently he was the lead engineer for the new remote control fighter-bomber aircrafts known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. When asked about the effectiveness of the virtual cockpit, pilots could not comment because they were too busy making "eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh" gun noises, "jjjjjrrrreeeeeeooooww" airplane swoops and pweeeooooouuu" explosion sounds. I finally confronted Blicky with this new project because I really felt he was betraying our family's ideals about peace. I feel so much better now though because he explained that the new technology will reduce deaths on bombing missions in Afghanistan.

Then I asked him, "But Blicky, doesn't this new technology just remove us from the violent impact or our weapons? What about Afghan civilians? Doesn't this just further distance us from the human victims of our actions, be it US or foreign, whom we have already deemed as 'other,' inferior and somehow less human? It doesn't strike you as a little eerie that our news media is extolling the wonders of an air-conditioned command center for these 'armchair pilots' who can drive to work and use weapons dubbed "Reaper" and "Predator" to kill other human beings from 7,500 away?" Blicky responded "Mao, look something shiny!" then ran away.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Blicky Going Geothermal?

We heard about a local company, Coneco, that designs geothermal heating systems for the home so we had a couple of folks come over to check out the Blicky homestead to provide an assessment. Supposedly it's one of the most energy efficient ways to heat and cool your home. The technology taps into the temperature way down in the earth, which because of its density remains pretty constant year-round -- cooler in the summer warmer in the winter. So you get cheap heat, cooling (which we don't presently have) and hot water. Plus you get to stick it to the MAN!

The Blicky house is passive solar, designed during the baby-oil crunch of the 70's but we have too many (well-loved) trees for it to work as it should. The design is pretty labyrinthine so we realized that for any sort of central heating system the major challenge will be the duct work. We'll keep you posted. 

Blicky has his own heating and cooling plan for our homestead. He's planning to heat it with plutonium. I think he wants to suspend the plutonium in water tanks and wrap them around the house. Then in the summer he want to fill the living room with ice sculpture portraits of his hero and mentor, Dick Cheney, and keep them cool by opening the refrigerator doors and turning on electric fans.

What I Learned From TV

I have read so many articles criticizing the effects of television on young people, but they neglect to mention the positive things. Television is what unifies and defines our culture as a big community. Forget big cars, warfare and jingoism. TV is the one thing that truly unites (and edifies) us. I just get teary when I think of it. I was probably eight or nine when I started watching the the Donny & Marie Show, The Love Boat, Wonder Woman and Fantasy Island. They are truly brilliant shows that I'm proud to have watched taught me so much about what to expect from adult life in America:

1. All you have to do to be super hot is take you glasses off and let your hair down. If you don't, no one will ever recognize you or think you're hot.
2. Being smart is for suckers. If you're a woman and you're smart, then she should pretend to be dumb for a half hour in order to get a boyfriend. At least she should take off her glasses.
3. All women grow up to be skinny with huge boobs. If you don't then there's something wrong with you and you need to starve yourself and stuff your bra unless you want to be a freak.
4. Infidelity is hilarious. So I knew that when I grew up and Donny Osmond cheated on me, I would just laugh and kiss him at the end of a half hour.
5. I thought I'd spend much more time wearing low-cut evening gowns than I do.

So as I grew into adolescence I got to appreciate the much underrated 1980's success story movie. I knew that when I grew up and went into the work force I would find something challenging, then an 80's anthem would play to a montage of me in glasses working really, really hard and then I would have a really cool sports car. Although by then, I wouldn't have put Donny Osmond in there riding shotgun anymore. I don't know maybe Sting, or David Bowie or both. They would be enjoying how my giant boobs looked in an evening gown and then I'd really surprise them by taking my glasses off and letting down my hair. We would speed off while laughing uproariously about their latest infidelity.

Blicky Kitty will return after this next commercial. Maybe it's one of the black Burger King ones where the entire clientele is African American and they have way cooler music. Did this places really exist or was segregation just limited to the commercials in the seventies?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Alas, Poor Bean Plant July, 2008-July 2008

I lost my little bean plant,
I think it was a mouse,
I do not know from whence he came,
Perhaps from his mouse house,

He dug with foulest fingers,
Then leered with fiendish pride,
And clapped his hands with pleasure,
As he my poor bud espied,

He seized my little bean plant,
Thrust it in his pointy maw,
And never gave my grief a thought,
As he licked his craven paw.

But perhaps my tale of sadness,
Will not end with woe,
For the end of this rabid beast 
Is one I do not know,

Perhaps he's in my garden,
Helping more bean plants die,
Or eaten by the red-tailed hawk,
With noble gleam in his eye.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Meanwhile in Fifteenth-Century Italy...Part 1

The Marchese Borso d'Este left Ferrara on March 13, 1471 with a magnificent itinerant court for the specific purpose of receiving from Pope Paul II his investiture as the first duke of Ferrara..  Accompanying him on his trip to Rome was a splendid entourage consisting of his principle vassals, the Signori di Carpi, Correggio, Mirandola, and Scandiano, and five hundred additional gentlemen dressed in luminous gold and silver brocade.  Next came the Camerieri arrayed in golden cloth and the squires in silver brocade.  Fifty mules followed the entourage covered with crimson velvet with the coat of arms of the Marchese respendent in the warm spring sunshine.  Another one hundred mules followed, their necks adorned with gold fringes, and tassels and delicate silver bells ringing gently as they swayed along.  They were regaled in embroidered cloths of white, red and green (the colors of the Este livery), which bore the coats of arms of various vassals.  An assemblage of one hundred footmen brought up the rear of the traveling court.[1] (and according to some contemporary accounts the words “mission accomplished” were embroidered on the 15th century aircraft carrier)

Lodovico Antonio Muratori writes of the effect this had of the people of Rome; "The entry of Borso into Rome, for its singular magnificence, filled with wonder the same populace of Rome, which was accustomed to great spectacles.”[2] On April 14, 1471, Paul II declared Borso the first Duke of Ferrara, presenting him with a cloak of gold brocade and a ducal beret.  He also presented Borso with a staff and a golden necklace of precious gemstones.  The investiture itself constituted quite an opulent display. Borso’s entire visit to Rome was comprised of a carefully orchestrated series of ceremonial events where Borso could express his political solidarity with the Pope and his piety through the self-conscious performance of ritual. 

He carried with him on his journey a portable library, which had been commissioned especially for this triumphant occasion.  His traveling collection consisted of an elaborately illuminated breviary which had been presented to Borso by the Bishop of Adria, a copy of the Book of Sidrach, an unnamed Italian book, a copy of the Legends of the Saints in French,[3] a missal which the Marchese intended to present to the Cardinal of Spoleto, and a sumptuous two-volume bible, known as the Bibbia di Borso.  This Bible was one of the most lavishly embellished manuscripts ever produced and it had taken an entire workshop of illuminators six years to complete. The Bibbia measured 375 by 265 millimeters (around 15 by 10 inches) and contained 604 parchment folios.  The manuscript was originally bound in gold brocade and adorned with gilded silver clasps, cornices and medallions, but was rebound during the sixteenth century.[4]  Such a collection of manuscripts would have amounted to a splendid display.  The Marchese ordered them all recovered or rebound for the journey.[5] Why did Borso a book, customarily placed in the service of private contemplation, delectation and learning as a tool for his public project of self-fashioning? Let’s look at the Bibbia with this question in mind.

The Bibbia di Borso can be understood as a public expression of princely magnificence and piety intended to gain favor with the Pope.  It also served as a reflection of the magnificence of his court as a whole.  The complex relationship between Borso as patron, this bible, and the courtly space of the library can be elucidated by the illuminations within the Bibbia; particularly the miniature which depicts King Solomon in his court. 

The court of Solomon is portrayed in the elaborately decorated incipit to the Book of Ecclesiastes (Lat. 429, 293r, Figure 1).  Three vertical bands of flowers, spirals and putti dance and twist in an unruly fashion around the written text.  Two putti sit at the bottom of the page, visually integrating the decorative marginalia with the biblical narrative. The illuminated scene shows us a courtly dance set within a Renaissance atrium, flanked by two halls. The classical geometry of the architecture combined with the composition of the figures creates a sense of balance and order; a metaphor for the social order of the court.  Within the central portion of the atrium three lords and three ladies clasp hands and step in a circular motion, the graceful folds of the dresses indicating the counter-clockwise direction of their movement.  Three musicians play on a high range, a lower range and an S-shaped trumpet (Figure 3). With this visual suggestion of sound we might almost imagine the austere, rhythmically vital Renaissance harmony, animating the dance of the illuminated courtiers.

Both the auditory and visual productions taking place in front of the throne are presumably intended for the King.  The two suggestions of sound; the voice of God and the sound of the music depicted in the illuminated scene compete with one another.  The vibrant tension between the voice of God and the sound of courtly delights emphasizes the piety of the king.  Solomon alone bears the responsibility for keeping his kingdom in the grace of God, while the lords and ladies of his circle are free to frolic about and participate in the courtly delights of music and dance.   In this context, we may view the illuminated page as a microcosmic reflection of courtly society during Borso’s reign. Like the Solomon depicted on the incipit to the Book of Ecclesiastes, Borso presided over an opulent court and sought to emphasize his piety through his lavishly decorated Bible. The story is a model in sumptuous patronage leading to divinely sanctioned political power. The construction of the temple led to divine sanction of Solomon’s rule and assurance that all the king’s descendants would become part of a ruling dynasty. The Bibbia as a visual tool through which Borso could reinforce this theme of divine sanction.

[1] Lodovico Antonio Muratori, "L'Apologia di Borso," in Delle Antichità Estensi, (Modena, 1717), Parte Seconda, chapter IX published in Renzo Renzi, Ferrara Storia, Costumi e Tradizioni, v. I, Il Po, la Cattedrale, la Corte dalle Origini al 1598 (Bologna: Edizioni ALFA), 123-124.

[2] Ibid., 123. L'entrata di Borso in Roma per la singolar sua magnificenza empie di maraviglia lo stesso Popolo Romano, avvezzo per altro grandi spettacoli."

[3] Charles Michael Rosenberg. Art in Ferrara during the Reign of Borso d’Este (1450-1471): A Study in Court Patronage (Thesis, University of Michigan, 1974), 147.

[4] Ibid., 137. Payments made to Gregorio Guasparino for binding the Bible are recorded in the Camera Ducale beginning in October, 1461. For a detailed analysis of the dimensions, probarties and content of the manuscript, see Ernesto Milano et al., Biblioteca Estense, Modena (Florence: Nardi, 1987).

[5] Ibid., 147.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Beware the Hypermiling Feline...

Well, I was just so appalled after reading that Melanie at Bean Sprouts doesn't love her dog enough to give him bottled water that I ran out and bought Blicky a Hummer. We chose the H3 Alpha. Now I was surprised to find that they were even still available. Apparently the liberal media is still convincing people to consume less gas.

So I was finally able to find one and it only cost 40,000 USD. But you get so much! It is 73 inches tall and 6000 pounds. You can haul 1500 pounds of groceries in it and when you peel out of the parking lot, you can go from 0 to 60 mph in 8 seconds. I think it's the perfect vehicle for your pet -- especially if he has a defense contract and needs to haul around some heavy and dangerous raw materials. 

It is such an environmentally friendly car too. According to their Web site it's 85% recyclable. That means if gas goes too high or polar bears take up residence in your garage, you can just drive it to the recycling side of your local dump. The only little snag is that gas is a bit on the pricey side: 13 mpg. But that's OK. We've come up with a new solution: hypermiling. Blicky averages an impressive 20 miles per gallon now, but he often comes home with small animals, various assortments of shrubbery and slower-moving humans stuck in the front grill of the H3 and his kittens all have whiplash and contusions from his whipping around corners.

We prefer a more measured approach:
Were starting to use a bike when possible (tough with car seats).
We try to plan driving carefully and get errands done all on the same day.
We've seen a small increase in our mileage by coasting in neutral at times, accelerating slowly and not braking too often.
We buy local produce either at farm stands and farmers markets or (as we're attempting this year) growing our own.
We're even thinking or buying a more fuel efficient car for our pet next time.

Have any other tips (serious or otherwise) for saving gas? Feel free to email or leave a comment.

Monday, July 7, 2008


Summer squash blooms! I must confess somewhere I had assumed that our lack of knowledge and experience in our food growing venture would lead to disappointment. So even though we've only harvested a few nibbles here and there. This in itself is a rewarding sight. The second picture is of the cucumbers, lettuces and beans. The third is a stairway my brother built for us. I love it wild, but I'd like to keep it tidy and add a retaining wall on the right. The last image makes me think we'll need to build some more faerie houses soon.

Positive Spin: The Upside to Our Mortality

Well we've almost returned to normalcy on the Blicky homestead. Blicky was quite bereft all weekend after hearing about the loss of his friend, colleague, mentor and lover Jesse Helms. I have to admit at first I was uncomfortable with Blicky's reaction. I mean I always thought Jesse Helms was a racist, fear-mongering homophobe. Bill Hick's elegant, subtle diatribes always gave me the impression that he might not be a very nice man.

Well thanks to Fox News I now feel so much better. How relieved I was to learn that he was a "Giant of American Freedom."

I think I must have just heard it wrong when he argued against the Kennedy Hatch AIDS bill in 1988 by saying "There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy."

Perhaps I was experiencing a hypnogogic or hypnopompic hallucination and only thought I was reading a quote from a 1950's senate race: "White people, wake up before it is too late. Do you want Negroes working beside you, your wife and your daughters, in your mills and factories? Frank Graham favors mingling of the races."

Maybe I unknowingly suffered a head injury or too much blood went into my head during my last crow pose or something because I thought at late as 1981 the New York Times quoted him as saying "Crime rates and irresponsibility among Negroes are a fact of life which must be faced."

Good ol' Fox News always makes me feel so much better. From what I can gather it's really only his political opponents who think he's a racist bigot. Gotta go now, it's hot out and our central air is broken so I have to park the Hummer near the front door and crank the AC up to cool the house.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fun with Composting

In another life, I had a passionate environmentalist boyfriend who used to live in a bookmobile, eat rotten fruit and time my showers. Dad truly loved him. Needless to say it was fun to rebel for a while after that, but learning about environmental stewardship has been far more gratifying now that I'm doing it on my own. So if your insistent, van-dwelling ex-swain left you wanting to clean your house with round-up, mercury and hydrochloric acid, don't despair!

I found a funny site about all the stuff you can compost. It's called 163 Things you can Compost; And the List Keeps Growing! My favorite things on there were dryer lint, tea bags and dried jellyfish. 

Finally! I have a whole damn closet full of dried jellyfish. I was saving them for a craft but apparently they don't work well as hair for toilet roll puppets and they don't turn grapes into grape jelly. In a letter posted on the site a woman describes how she had her husband urinate in the compost bin, but that idea only elicited a raised eyebrow in the Blicky homestead. We actually use that around the garden in an alpha dog way to discourage animals. So far no unwanted visitors this year. There are so many fun composting tips too on my new favorite blog, Bean Sprouts.

The thing I'm learning about composting is that aside from the obvious benefits for your garden and the environment (I just learned recently was that composing lowers greenhouse gas emissions by preventing organic materials from decomposing anaerobically in a landfill), it gets me thinking about all these objects and sundry substances that float in and out of our lives and how I want to manage it all. Lately I'm finding it easier and a bit liberating to make stuff homemade and avoid all the packaging and preservatives. Making graham crackers, for example, is really not too hard and it makes the house smell way yummy.

Blicky is finally inspired to start his own recycling bin. He's submitted a list of composting ideas based on things he's composted on our property so far:
1) Kitty litter
2) Plutonium
3) Egg shells
4) Human hair
5) Fuel rods
6) Broken welders
7) Chemical weapons
Things have been a little different around here ever since Blicky won that contract with the Defense Department.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

East Berlin, December 23, 1989

I've been meaning to share these images for some time. By sheer accident, I found myself in East Berlin on December 23, 1989 -- the day they opened the Brandenburg Gate. It was a pretty amazing year to be abroad and it was a gift to stumble upon a part of history. I'm just sad a better photographer wasn't there in my stead. This was super high speed b&w film that I had been playing with in my manual 35 mm camera. I wrote in my journal that the band played Soul Man, Dock of the Bay and When the Rain Comes. It started to rain pretty hard otherwise I would have stayed longer.

Here's a link to the rest of the images on my Flickr acct.