Friday, November 30, 2007

Let It Snow . . .

I know I'll regret these words come January and February, but I really wish it would snow several inches - not enough to snarl traffic, but just a few inches to cover the grime and give Manhattan that otherworldly, romantic look one usually associates with glossy postcards or Woody Allen's celluloid paean's to the City. Perhaps I'm also longing for that pall of silence a snowfall can bring - even to New York City - in an effort to recapture the stillness of Vermont last weekend.

I worked on the Upper East Side for several years, close to the 72nd Street entrance to Central Park, and thus a quick walk to the Park's Mall and the Sheep Meadow. I would drop my kids off at their preschool near Lincoln Center and walk east across the Park. On snowy mornings I would be among the earliest walkers, joined by a few eager cross country skiers and dog owners (who were out early every day, regardless of the weather). Walking through the snowy Park at that hour was always an amazing experience. One felt isolated from the City, and at the same time, more visibly aware of Olmsted's vision for Central Park. Given his genius, I have little doubt that Olmsted imagined what the Park would look like in snow. The Mall, in particular, becomes cathedral-like with the stark trees forming an architectural framework for the ceiling, the snow producing a church-like silence.

So yes, I'm longing for snow, even with the reality of the aftermath: coal-colored, foot-soaking slush at cross walks, salt-stained sidewalks, muddy paths in the Park, and grimy cabs piloted by drivers who have no idea how to drive in these conditions. Forecasters are calling for flurries over the weekend, but with no accumulation. I hope they're wrong by three or four inches.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Vermont Revisited, Part II

It's hard to explain the effect Vermont has on us when we visit. Just understand that we tend to slow down, quite a task for New Yorkers . . . indeed, we're becalmed by an environment that is so quiet, uncluttered, and unhurried compared to Manhattan. Oh sure, this is a gross generalization, because Vermont possesses no immunities against the myopia and waste of sprawl and suburbia, from the strip mall shopping centers and fast food franchises that represent the advancing homogeneity of life in America, to the outlet malls and "big box" retailers in the state's largest cities. Still, there seems to be so much less of it in Vermont than in other places I've visited. One can still shop in "mom and pop" stores and eat in family-run restaurants and diners. One can drive without the assault of billboards and mega-sized gas stations. And, as we observed during an unplanned detour on Sunday, one can step away from it all, literally, and live "off the grid," if that's one's goal.

We had finished lunch at our favorite diner and were about to turn back onto Route 9 when we encountered the kind of traffic jam - cars stopped, people milling about - that more often than not signals a nasty accident up ahead. Noting locals pulling off the road and heading onto back roads, I pulled out our detailed atlas of Vermont roads - showing everything from interstates down to seasonal dirt tracks that are impassable in winter - and plotted a route around the delay. We ended up spending about a half hour on unpaved roads, winding through the mountains of southern Vermont. It turned out to be a detour worth the effort. We drove through beautiful forests and saw homes tucked into the hillsides, most with large piles of wood stacked carefully and a curl of smoke rising from a chimney. We also saw homes that had no obvious electrical or phone lines. Were these people living "off the grid" in a pioneer fashion? I don't know if I could go quite that far with the isolation theme, but there were several times my wife and I spied a cozy log home and acknowledged feelings of envy for the solitude these people doubtless enjoy.

On Saturday night we enjoyed the hospitality of our friend Margaret - proud owner of Kip the border collie and shepherdess to the sheep of Scott Farm. (If you're a knitter, check out her beautiful, hand-dyed yarns at Mostly Merino.) At dinner Margaret noted that when people move to Vermont they have a hard time leaving. With each trip we're beginning to understand its pull. Some people make the same argument for living in Manhattan: once here, it is hard to leave. One grows accustomed to its pace, its opportunities, and its energy. And at this point I'm torn. I would miss New York City if we left and find it difficult to entertain the prospect. But I'm likewise sure that if we moved to Vermont - or just acquired a vacation retreat - I'd find it equally challenging to step away from that polar opposite environment.

After dinner on Saturday evening I went outside for a walk with Kip. It was supposed to be a full moon night, but clouds left the landscape darker than I'd experienced in a long time. What struck me - immediately - was the near silence. Tucked into the hills outside of Brattleboro, a few miles up a dirt road, I stood on a rock in the front yard and just listened. I could look to the valley below and see the tiny lights of cars navigating Route 5, but heard no sound. All I could hear was Kip exploring the brush beyond the yard and a breeze in the trees. No cars. No stereos. No rumble of subways. No white noise-like hum that I associate with the City at even its most hushed moments. It was a quietude I could grow to enjoy. And standing in the cold air, I even heard the faint voice of the poet that once resided in me in the years before that calcifying dread of middle age hushed the spirit.

The Bush Legacy

If you're interested in the Bush administration's current attempt to broker peace in the Middle East, check out Maureen Dowd's editorial in the New York Times. Clearly this latest endeavour is simply an effort by Bush and the sycophantic Condoleeza Rice to craft a presidential legacy in stark contrast to the one borne of seven years of bellicosity and ignorance on the state of affairs in that part of the world. As one Middle East analyst pointed out this week, even with all the smiles and shaking of hands on display at Annapolis, diplomats will still be trying to bring peace to the region whether one looks five, ten, or fifteen years into the future. This outlook isn't a product of partisan pessimism; it's the reasoned conclusion of dispassionate Middle East observers who recognize the tragedy of the Bush years. In the end, one suspects that history will remember Bush (and Rice) not for this week's convocation, but more for their inability to understand fully the consequences of their destructive actions.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Photo Guesstimation

Here are three photos from the October trip to Vermont's Scott Farm. They were taken with a vintage German-made Praktiflex camera and Zeiss Tessar lens. Unfortunately, I didn't have my light meter on hand, and since this is an all-mechanical camera with no light meter, I had to guess at the exposure based on the conditions. So these are the best of the bunch, and not too bad for a 60-year-old camera and a "guesstimation" on f-stop/shutter speed. (On our trip last weekend I returned with a couple of old cameras, but this time I had the exposure meter. I'm curious to compare the results.)

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Vermont Revisited, Part I

Here's Kip the border collie, one of the sweetest dogs I've ever had the pleasure to meet. For those who believe that there are former human spirits that are reincarnated into other animals, here's a perfect example. Kip just exudes a warmth and affection - along with the playful spirit of a child - that's infectious. And he loves to herd sheep. On Saturday he sat attentively, anxiously waiting for the command that would send him running circles around the sheep. He's easily a better listener than my kids . . . and friendlier than a majority of the people one meets. Truly a prince among canines.

Just a view of a pumpkin among the cider barrels on Scott Farm.

A view of rusty and weathered milk cans at Scott Farm. They proved quite stunning in the late afternoon light.

Detail from one of thee weathered doors at Scott Farm. See earlier posts in October for more photos of doors on the farm. And please note that these shots were taken with the still photo feature on my video camera and aren't of the same quality as other shots on this site. I was hauling around two other heavy vintage film cameras on this day and couldn't carry anything else. When the film is developed I'll scan the images and post the photos - all black and white, by the way.
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Thanksgiving Digested

Well, we made it back last night AND managed to avoid the traffic nightmare. Most people must have gone south for the holiday because we kept hearing reports of traffic snarls approaching the City from New Jersey. The traffic coming through Massachusetts and Connecticut, however, wasn't really any worse than we normally see. So I feel very lucky.

Thanksgiving day was actually nice, punctuated by our family's first trip to the Macy's parade. Thanks to friends, we were lucky enough to have grandstand tickets and thus watched the parade from the comfort of seats in front of Macy's. The only frustrating part of the experience was having the parade grind to a halt for commercial breaks every few minutes. Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera would take a break, while the featured Broadway acts - out of work because of the stagehands' strike - would take their positions for the next round of dancing and lip-synching. Reflecting on the experience, my younger son noted that the giant balloons were his favorite part of the parade. My older son, perhaps more musically inclined, preferred the marching bands . . . AND Ashley Tisdale from High School Musical. (Actually, I'm not surprised by his love for High School Musical, since his favorite movie for several years has been The Sound of Music.) After the parade we had tickets for the "after party" on the 13th floor of Macy's. They put out a complete Thanksgiving spread, including an open bar and a room full of desserts. Plus, the Santa from the parade came up to see the kids and take early Christmas requests.

Late in the afternoon we finally sat down to a typical Thanksgiving dinner with several friends from the neighborhood. Sure, the turkey and stuffing were yummy, and the cranberry sauce - my favorite Ocean Spray brand that slurps from the can retaining the can's shape - brought back fun memories of childhood Thanksgiving feasts. For me, however, the highlight of the meal was my wife's bacon-wrapped shrimp baked in a chili sauce (a recipe her mother always made for the occasion). For those of you who eschew bacon because of either its origins or its deleterious health effects, I offer you a virtual "humbug!" and proclaim that there are few foods on this earth that can't be made better with the addition of a little bacon.

Toss in some football, a Dallas Cowboys victory, and it was a good day. Sure, 2007 has brought its share of bad news and heartache. But there's also plenty for which our family can be thankful. And plenty for which I - individually - can be thankful: family, friends, a roof over my head, health insurance (something I didn't have last Thanksgiving), adequate food, time for leisure and the arts, and a fun job with a great boss.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Routines

Thanksgiving is a rather bittersweet holiday for me, mainly because I miss the routines and rituals of my childhood . . . that "melancholy nostalgia" I mentioned in an earlier post this week. Until I was in college, Thanksgiving was nearly always defined by dinner at my maternal grandparents' home, with my grandfather doing much of the cooking. I always thought it funny to find my him in an apron - this man who had driven ammunition trucks in World War II and worked as a sheet metal press operator until retirement, with mashed fingers and gnarled hands. Yet here was a man who could make the sweetest desserts in the kitchen and grow the most beautiful flowers in his garden. He possessed a truly renaissance personality, remarkable given his background and education. (I know, I've posted this photo before, but it's a favorite, showing me, my grandfather, mother, and great-grandmother in late 1964.)

After his death in 1988 the family moved on to other Thanksgiving routines, with larger groups of extended family, more noise, more jockeying for position at the tables, and generally more angst over the preparations for the holiday. At that point I stopped returning to Virginia and adopted a "no travel" rule for Thanksgiving.

In recent years, my wife and I have kept our little family close to the city, even avoiding the Macy's parade, preferring a quiet day capped off by dinner with my wife's mother. But as many of you already know, this Thanksgiving we're dealing with her sudden death of just five months ago. Slowly we're finding our way to new holiday routines, deciding, for example, to gather with friends - "orphans of the storm" my wife calls them - who have decided to eschew travel for Thursday's festivities. We're also going to the Macy's parade for the first time, having scored tickets for grandstand seats. (If you're watching the parade on TV, who knows, you might see us sitting in the stands!) I can't imagine jostling for position on the sidewalks with the hordes of people who will swarm into the city on Thursday morning, so I'm hoping that the bleachers will prove a little more civilized.

And, as I've mentioned before, we leave early Friday morning for Vermont. I'm trying to keep those terrifying thoughts of the Sunday drive back into the city out of my head, and realize I need to learn to let go and just accept the traffic and the hassle. Does anyone know if there's a patron saint of traffic jams? If I put a springy statue of "St. Fordatus" or "St. Chevrolatus" on my dash, will we avoid gridlock? Will "Our Lady of the HOV Lane" intercede on our behalf and grant us peace and clear highways? If only it could be that simple. Wish us luck.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Another Meme

Here's another meme, thanks to "An Apple Not Far from the Tree." Hmmmm, Platoon? That's a surprise.

Requisite Photo of the Cat

I look at a lot of blogs each day and I've noticed that there are innumerable photos of cats. For some reason "cat people" feel compelled to add their kitty friends to their blogs. Fine. I love cats (and dogs) and have had cats around since childhood. So, responding to the queries of friends, here is Jill, my ten-year old cat, whom I've had since birth. She's a total sweetheart (a slut, according to my wife, and she means that in positive sense) and has always been very patient with the kids, even when they were younger and tended to pull her ears and pet just a little too vigorously. She'd just sit there and tolderate the rough treatment until she'd had enough, and then walk away quietly, never hissing or swatting (when a good smack with a paw might have been a good thing to teach little boys a valuable lesson). Each day when I get home she hops in my lap when I sit down, and if I lie down, that's an invitation to sprawl across my chest. Here she is at night, resting in my closet, hiding behind some blazers.

St. James Cemetery

A couple of my blogging friends having posted on their love of cemeteries in the last couple of days, I'm going to jump on the bandwagon and share one of my favorites. These photos are from St. James Episcopal Church in Arlington, Vermont. The shorter stones, featuring carvings of angels, date from the 1790s, while the taller stones, capped by pyramids, date from the 1850s. Isn't it amazing what just a half century can do in terms of style? With the 18th century stones one expects a restraint and simplicity that possibly reflected the reserved demeanor of those laid to rest in this small New England community. It's amazing that these older stones have survived intact, since they seem fragile and are no more than 3" thick.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Autumn Wanderings

I was over at Ornamental's site writing a comment, admiring her good fortune to live in the mountains and have nature and solitude at her doorstep, when I recalled for the first time in ages the forest walks I would take as a kid.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a little neighborhood in southeastern Virginia that was surrounded by ample woodlands, water, and fields. Within minutes we could be running through rows of corn and soybeans, picking our way through thick woods, or stepping onto the muddy shores of a sizable river. When not playing sandlot sports, we were stealing wood from home construction sites to build our treehouses in the woods, which in summer were particularly inviting because they provided some shady relief from the Tidewater heat and humidity. Come winter, however, nearly all of my friends stayed out of the woods, returning only in the spring to observe and repair the weathered remains of their treehouse handiwork.

For me, however, this was the season to wander more deeply into the woods, without the hum of mosquitoes and thickets of poison ivy and oak. Summer was fun, mind you, but by November and December, the woods possessed an eerie hush that at least for me proved inviting and comforting. I remember in particular the sound of my feet crunching over the mattress of freshly fallen leaves and the noisy calls of crows that usually patrolled the adjacent fields of brittle corn stalks. If I went far enough I could explore the derelict remains of an old sharecropper cottage whose walls were plastered in old newspapers and scavenged sheets of linoleum. (I remember at the time puzzling about the people who might have lived there. The only clues I had were a few crumbling photos left behind, an African American family gathered for some unknown special occasion, arrayed in what looked like their Sunday best. A funeral? A wedding? Birthday?) I also wondered about the nearby abandoned pickup truck riddled by shotgun blasts, now locked into the woods by the jail-like bars of young trees.

On the rare occasions that we were blessed with snow, I usually tried to make it into the woods while the flakes continued to fall, just to take in that snowy silence that one can even now experience here in New York City. Central Park isn't exactly a fair substitute for the forests of my childhood, but on a snowy morning, it seems hundreds of miles from the traffic and noise of Manhattan, silenced for a few hours by a little winter magic.

Unfortunately much of that childhood setting has been erased for the sake of "progress." Most of the fields are now subdivisions with overpriced cookie-cutter houses sprouting on treeless lawns. The sharecropper cottage is long gone, and much of the surrounding forest has been stripped away to accommodate streets with names that only echo their presence: Sycamore Lane, Beech Circle, Balsam Way. How sad it is that the kids growing up in these homes will rarely see those sycamore or beech trees. I realize one shouldn't wallow in melancholy nostalgia, especially when the memories are indeed happy ones. But for me, tis the season of nostalgia, for the ghosts of Thanksgiving and Christmas past.

Friday, November 16, 2007

This is the last time . . .

. . . I toot my own horn about selling a painting. I realize this isn't that big a deal for artists and artisans who have been out there selling their stuff for a while. I also realize that I'm not going to make a living as a painter . . . so I won't be quitting my day job! Still, it is exciting to have a buyer connect with one's art enough to want to pay for it and take it home. This time it was the painting of an old fire escape on Perry Street in the West Village, which I had posted here several months ago. This painting probably prompted the most comments during the show, with one observer noted that he could "feel" the sunlight filtered through the iron web of the fire escape.

The buyer, noting that it reminded her of her family's fire escape in their Harlem apartment during World War II, reminisced about growing victory gardens and playing out on the fire escape. This has remained one of my favorite paintings in the year since I completed it, and a part of me was sad to see it go. Nevertheless, it has gone to a good home with someone who appreciates it. And in the end, I guess the image accomplished one of the primary goals of art: it evoked a response and emotions that were figuratively greater than the tangible sum of paint on paper. I've reposted the image below. Again, pardon my enthusiasm; this is all such a new experience.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tis the Season

My friend over at "A Room of One's Own" recently included some lines from Emily Dickinson, whose letters were often as lyrical as her poems.

"To live and die, and mount again in triumphant body, and next time, try the upper air-is no schoolboy’s theme! It is a jolly thought to think that we can be Eternal-when air and earth are full of lives that are gone-and done-and a conceited thing, this promised Resurrection! Congratulate me –John-Lad-and 'here’s a health to you'- that we have each a pair of lives, and need not chary be, of the one 'that now is'-"
Letter to John Graves, late April 1856, Emily Dickinson: Selected Letters
Long a fan of Emily Dickinson, I was really captivated by these lines. Obviously she was a person of faith, indeed, the child-like faith characteristic of an era when acceptance of grace and belief in the promise of resurrection seemed an easier path to take. Sure, Emily lived at a time when science - including Darwinian discourses on evolution - was perceived as an increasingly dangerous threat to Christian canon. But I'm guessing that tucked away in her Amherst home, somewhat isolated from the intellectual tumult of the academy, she found it easier to hold that vision of the "Eternal" close to her heart, unsullied by the assault of reason.

I had noted in posts from several months ago that the last few years have been a period of spiritual crisis for me, punctuated by severe questioning of my Christian heritage, and a curiosity with both Buddhism and Quakerism. I had experienced this drift to agnosticism during my 20s, an age when many people start to question the tenets - religious or otherwise - that have formed one's understanding since childhood. For years, and even more so of late, my family, all pretty regular churchgoers, have regarded me with the same suspicion early Christian bishops likely accorded the Albigensians or Arians, among numerous groups declared heretical. (Some of this suspicion about the nature of my belief is perhaps justified given my occasionally explicit non-trinitarian sympathies.)

A few months ago our local PBS station aired a three-part documentary, presented by English polymath Jonathan Miller, on the concept of "disbelief." (I discussed Miller's series in greater detail in my July 30th post.) Miller's "History of Disbelief" - he eschewed the term "atheism" - examined the philosophical underpinnings of disbelief in god(s) from the ancient world to the present. To a curmudgeonly skeptic like me, the content proved compelling and doubtless prompted me to revisit some of the issues first raised in my youth.

So now we approach the holidays and, beginning on Sunday, December 2nd, enter the Advent season, for those of you who follow liturgical calendars. And with Advent and Christmas one has to face again the theological questions of the immaculate conception, the virgin birth, the star, and the magi. Santa and the commercial blitz aside, isn't this what we're supposed to be celebrating on December 25th? I guess for those with "the faith of a child" it's easy to take that step of acceptance and just believe in these miracles. For me, tis the season of doubt. I want to believe without question. Yet that uncertainty is like that cough that won't go away, the wound that never heals.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Art Show

I've mentioned several times over the last couple of months that I was going to be one among 12 artists in a group show - my first. The show is this week and last night was opening night. The turnout was quite good - perhaps more than some of us had expected - and . . . (sound the trumpets) . . . I sold a piece! My first real sale! And, as I had hoped, it was the painting of the homeless man, which I had posted here several weeks ago (and I'll repost again, below).

I have to admit that initially, when I first saw my paintings hanging on the walls, there was a strange disconnect, as if I hadn't been the one who had painted them. But there they were, framed and matted (which by itself gave me an odd feeling), and available for comment by passers by. Thankfully, the crowd was very complimentary and, surveying the works of the other artists, I felt like I belonged in the show, certainly from the standpoint of technique and composition. So thus far the experience has been a real morale boost, and perhaps has acted as a spur to drive me to the next level - getting a little gallery to take some of my works.

Although last night likely offered the best chance of selling pieces, perhaps I'll sell something else over the next few evenings. I'll keep my fingers - or brushes - crossed.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

On November 28th crowds will gather to witness the 75th annual lighting of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. This year's tree is a 60-year old Norway Spruce, found in Shelton, Connecticut. In the last week local news outlets have waxed poetic about this year's selection, treating us to video of the tree being wrapped for transport - and cut down.

Am I the only one who thinks it's criminal to cut down a mature tree for the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree each year? Sure, the trees are recycled, with the mulch going to the Boy Scouts and much of the trunk going to the U.S. Equestrian Center in New Jersey. But I still have a problem with the idea of cutting down a living thing just to make Rockefeller Center look pretty for the holidays. And what about the environmental benefits of these large trees? Why can't they use an artificial tree? Plenty of other cities in the U.S. put up 80+ ft. Christmas trees, and they're artificial.

Mind you, I love Christmas and decorating Christmas trees. Decorating the tree is one of my favorite holiday activities. When I lived in Tennessee, I often had two trees, a traditional tree (artificial) in the living room with the usual ornaments, and one of those kitsch aluminum trees in the dining room with vintage ornaments - including bubble lights - from the 40s and 50s. And I'll never forget the first Christmas tree we put up for the boys, decorated on Christmas eve after they had gone to sleep. The look on their faces on Christmas morning was priceless.

But back to my beef with Rockefeller Center's tree. New York City - and Mayor Bloomberg - like to make a lot of noise about how "green" our city has become. And it's true: compared to other large U.S. cities, New York does an admirable job with recycling and other manifestations of "green" public policy. So why not advocate the use of an artificial tree at Rockefeller Center and set an example for other communities on the issue of stewardship of our forest resources. No doubt many will think I'm wrong-headed about this. Indeed, one could certainly make a case against artificial trees because of the resources used to produce them. Just call me a "tree hugger." It simply comes down to the flawed idea of killing a beautiful, mature tree for Christmas. And I'd guess that most of the viewers who watch the lighting of the tree on NBC each year - or brave the horrific crowds on the plaza - wouldn't notice if the Rockefeller Center tree was real or artificial. Nor do I think they'd care.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


I've been reading a new book, Graham Robb's The Discovery of France, which was recently reviewed in the New York Times. It's a historical geography with the conclusion that the idea of a relatively homogeneous, largely French-speaking France is an altogether recent invention. Indeed, the France we see today, both in physical/geographical and linguistic terms, is really a product of change wrought since the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The conclusion that surprised me the most was the degree to which the French language was spoken by so few people. Hence the concept of the regional patois. Among the dozens and dozens of local languages there was Alsatian, Burgundian, Savoyard, Breton, languages indigenous to Brittany, the Pyrenees, the Alpine districts, Normandy, Lorraine, and the Mediterranean coast. Robb notes that in some regions it was possible for a person to travel just a few miles and find oneself completely incomprehensible to the locals. So what's my point?

I started thinking about the different languages and dialects that one hears in New York City on a daily basis. Obviously the linguistic permutations aren't as extreme as those chronicled by Robb. One can travel between Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx and make oneself understood . . . although it's not always an easy process, particularly in some of the more ethnically homogeneous enclaves. Walking around the neighborhood of my midtown office I regularly hear Spanish, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, French, Arabic, Italian, Polish, Mandarin and Czech. And I'm sure I've left some out that I just can't identify. I even heard a group of teens carrying on a lengthy conversation in pig Latin.

The variations in English are astounding, from the Caribbean-inflected varieties (some of which I have a hard time understanding) to the conversations that blend English with words from the languages listed above. Naturally one also hears the many U.S. regional accents, from transplanted southerners and midwesterners to Bostonians and twangy Texans. I'm also regularly surprised - and often amused - at some of the regional slang that has survived the trip to New York City. The most obvious regionalism - worthy of an articles in the Times at some point in the last couple of years - is the term one uses to order a soft drink: soda, pop, soda pop, and Coke (which is used by some Americans to refer generically to any carbonated beverage, not just the cola variety).

Still there are some funny surprises. Just yesterday, for example, I heard a 40-something guy in an expensive suit, looking every bit the Wall Street-type, carrying on a cellphone conversation in which he referred to the merchandise at some store as "bitchin." "Wow, they had some bitchin stuff in there," he noted, "some way cool hi-def TVs." He sounded as if he had just stepped out of a 1980s teen movie . . . like "Valley Girl," one of Nicholas Cage's early efforts. When was the last time you heard something called "bitchin"?? I'm still laughing over that one. And hey, I've just gone from the historical geography of France to 80s-era American slang. Bartender, I'd like a gin and tonic with a Strattera on the side, please. Perhaps then I'll prove more able to organize my thoughts!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Older Works: Yarn Shop Cafe Still Life

Going back through older paintings again I found this still life from early 2006. I think this was one of my early attempts to render clear glass and reflective metal . . . which I tackled several times earlier this year with my homage to Ralph Goings condiments. I had done an earlier watercolor sketch of this scene employing the same size paper and narrow cropping that I used on the recent image of a Lambretta scooter. Several months later I returned to this subject with my usual larger format, 9" x 12". It's from a cafe in the West Village that specializes in yarns and knitting supplies . . . one of my wife's numerous outlets for her knitting hobby. I should have included knitting needles and a skein of yarn on the table. Hmmm, maybe I'll come back to this theme and do just that. The main difference I see between this and more recent works is that my painting now seems more confident and the color blending is more carefully controlled. I also think that my initial pencil sketches are more assured now than they were back then . . . and they're less noticeable now. Still, I'm pleased with the selzer bottle and sugar shaker. (Pencil, watercolor, Fabriano paper, 9" x 12")

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Bush: Post-Presidency

Thanks to Shimmy's blog (see my favorites in the sidebar) for pointing out this editorial on how Bush should spend his time after leaving the White House. Here's an excerpt:

In a recent column, Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times speculated on President Bush's post-White House plans. What should he do with himself?

Alice Collins of Oak Lawn has an idea.
"Three hundred and sixty-five days a
year, in the wind and snow of winter and the heat and humidity of summer, let
him tend to the graves of the almost 4,000 men and women who have given their
lives in the debacle of Iraq. They honored their oaths, obeyed their
commander-in-chief and sacrificed their lives of promise to a lying,
unprincipled warmonger. "He can begin at the grave of my grandson, Lcpl Jonathan
W. Collins, killed in action on 8/8/2004."


Marine Lance
Cpl. Jonathan Collins of Crystal Lake was killed by enemy fire in the Al Anbar
province of Iraq in the summer of 2004. He was 19.
For the full text of Roeper's column, go here.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Brooklyn Bridge

Long before I moved to New York City, I think I had made up my mind that my favorite landmark in this city was the Brooklyn Bridge. Sure, there were plenty of other logical choices that might seem more obvious, particularly for a non-resident: the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center towers pre-9/11, Ellis Island, Times Square, and even Macy's (yes, if one is a shopaholic). But there was just something about the Brooklyn Bridge that set it apart, an intangible quality that I guess encompassed its strength, beauty, and the engineering innovation that went into its construction.

Reading David McCullough's wonderful history of its design and construction, The Great Bridge, one realizes that this iconic structure is a modern marvel and triumph of late 19th century engineering, without succumbing to the sterility that often characterizes "modern." And this doesn't even begin to address the demographic and socio-cultural changes wrought by the bridge, most pointedly for the future history of Brooklyn, which had cultivated a very separate identity from Manhattan. Obviously the Brooklyn Bridge plays a special role in defining the character of New York. It appears regularly in popular culture, referenced in songs, stories and film. I love, for example, Frank Sinatra's version of the 1940s Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne song:

"Like the folks you meet on
Like to plant my feet on the Brooklyn Bridge
What a lovely view from
Heaven looks at you from the Brooklyn Bridge

I love to listen to the wind through her strings
The song that she sings for the town
I love to look up at the clouds in her hair
She's learned to wear like a crown

If you've been a rover
Journey's end lies over the Brooklyn Bridge
Don't let no one tell you
I've been tryin' to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge

All the folks in Manhattan are sad
'cause they look at her and wish they had
[ Lyrics provided by ]
The good old Brooklyn Bridge

If you've been a rover
Journey's end lies over the Brooklyn Bridge
Don't let no one tell you
I've been tryin' to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge

You'll miss her most when you roam
`cause you'll think of her and think of home
The good old Brooklyn Bridge"

Naturally I had to paint it at some point . . . So about two years ago I took my younger son for a walk across the bridge. I was amazed at the amount of foot and bike traffic, and not just from the army of tourists admiring the bridge (and there were plenty of them). We snapped a boatload of photos, enjoyed watching the people, and marveled at the stone and steel up close. I was most surprised by the color variation in the stone used for those incredible Gothic arches. From a distance, the bridge looks pretty uniform in color, reflecting the gray of the water on a sunny day, and taking on a rusty hue at sunset. I'm also partial to the bridge lit up at night because on our first date, my wife and I were at the South Street Seaport, overlooking the bridge from the balconies that face the river. So even after all these years I get a little thrill when seeing the Brooklyn Bridge.

This painting was done nearly two years ago . . . so when I'm a rich and famous artist (ha!) critics can categorize this in my "early period." (Actually, the fact that I'm willing to let this earlier piece see the light of day reflects my continued satisfaction with the final product.) My aim here was to capture the bridge in a way that didn't appear cliched or typical, which would be so easy to do given the number of photographs and paintings depicting the Brooklyn Bridge. I also wanted to show something of the color and textural variation that defined these iconic arches. And finally, I wanted to convey the sense of being there, staring upward, admiring the handiwork of Roebling and his workers. (Watercolor on Fabriano paper, 9" x 12")

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Friday, November 2, 2007


Here's my latest, a quick watercolor sketch of a vintage, Italian-made Lambretta scooter, finished last weekend. I know, I know . . . This seems an odd subject to paint after my exercises in architecture and the more recent portrait of a sleeping homeless man. I guess I did this just to take a break from my usual subjects, and also to experiment with a different size (4" x 9") and perspective, with the odd cropping of the image and sense of narrowness enhanced by the pen and ink border. (I was also between ideas for larger works, but wanted to keep painting. In case you're wondering why I would chose this odd subject . . . I like old Italian scooters, particularly the iconic Lambrettas and Vespas which one sees fairly often on Manhattan streets. I'd love to have one . . . although I think if purchasing a scooter to drive around town, I'd invest in one of the sharp new Vespas just for the sake of safety and reliability. (Watercolor, pen and ink, Fabriano paper, 4" x 9")