Archive for August, 2012

Hudson Bay

August 17, 2012


  Broke out laughing on the subway deep in the bowels of Philadelphia a week or so ago.  Kids had finally convinced me to load music into my Iphone and I was listening to Beethoven’s Sixth as it ended and “shuffled” into Jimi Hendrix and All Along The Watchtower.  Yep, life in the big city fer sure. 

  I was there with great purpose toward which was made significant progress along with interesting new friends.  I enjoyed myself immensely as perhaps you could tell.  Nonetheless it was good to get home and empty my suitcase even though roommate and little black angel had made north.

  To Marine on St. Croix, MN they’d traveled for the latest in an incredible succession of artist-in-residencies.  Plan was for me to join them just a few days later, but I didn’t relish the thought of more time in the saddle so soon.  Reports were very good however, and I lonely, so en route I went.

  Seven hour traffic jam.  Last two miles took one hour.  I was furious and could only barely tone down my requests for directions to the off grid destination.  “Jeesh, I’m going to have to do this again day after tomorrow to get home.”  “Don’t worry, she chuckled, you’re going to love it!”    

  Finally there they were by the side of the highway on an unsigned barely perceptible path through the woods.  Drove the mile in to a modest dwelling at the edge of a cliff looking over the St Croix River.  No sounds but us, the birds, and the bees.  Been record hot at home, but got so cold that night we had to pull up the Hudson Bay.  It was glorious.

In the middle of the night, when we get up
……we look at each other in
complete friendship, we know so fully
what the other has been doing.  Bound to each other
like mountaineers coming down a mountain,
bound with the tie of the delivery room…
surely this is the most blessed time of my life*

* From True Love by Sharon Olds

beats museums all to hell

August 10, 2012


  OK.  I’m really good at shopping for women’s clothing.  Scratch that.  Really good at accompanying roommate and/or daughters while they’re on the hunt.  It’s great.  They’re not the least bit interested in my opinions so I’m free to occupy myself as I see fit.  If you’re still with me, take note:  The nature of the particular venue makes all of the difference. 

  The trick for outlet malls and other similarly dismal points of the built environment – in which everything seems bland, temporary, and, well, cheap – is to take along reading material.  Given the opportunity to plan ahead, I usually take a copy of Le Monde and a small dictionary.  My rudimentary French draws broadsheet perusal out over several hours and at day’s end I’m left with interesting insights.

  By contrast, a visit to an establishment characterized by considered sensitive design can be more than pleasant.  Take the above for example.  That is the entrance to Anthropologie’s flagship store in Philadelphia.  It was designed by the prominent Boston firm of Peabody and Sterns as a townhouse for a member of the Drexel family in about 1898.

  Sarah Drexel Van Rensselaer and her husband Alex were wealthy, active, and generous members of Philadelphia high society.  During a 1901 circumnavigation, they were received by the Japanese Royal family, The Court of St James, The Viceroy of India, and the Rajah of Singapore.  A contemporary account of the housewarming for this pied-a-terre at 18th and Walnut said that they wore $10 million in jewelry*.

  Anyway, as I’ve indicated (and you can see), the place has been repurposed and gloriously so.  As Sir David Chipperfield said of another great spot: “…people need to go inside and be there for a while before realizing that, you know, this is actually quite a nice place to be…”**    

  It is indeed wonderfully generous space in which to simply move about.  And the opportunity therein to watch loved ones – and others – preen makes for a singular emotionally tumescent experience.  No one in my family will believe this, but I think it beats museums all to hell.

*From the Drexel University Archives

**As quoted in the August 2012 United Airlines Hemispheres in-flight magazine describing his Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

***During a recent visit I attempted to photograph a few lovely young birds adjusting their feathers, but was advised that a few of Philadephia’s finest were on their way.  I decided to leave and allow them to enjoy the experience on their own…


We Are Alive

August 3, 2012


 In the July 30, 2012 issue of The New Yorker there is an interesting profile of rocker Bruce Springsteen.  Interesting to me for something “wingman” guitarist Steve Van Zandt said.  Back in the day one was judged by how well he was able to duplicate play from the radio – “cord for cord, note for note.”

  “Bruce was never good at it.  He had a weird ear.  He would hear different chords, but he could never hear the right chords.  When you have that ability or inability, you immediately become more original.  Well, in the long run, guess what: in the long run, original wins.”

  OK big deal you say.  Well, Pythagoras found, more than 2500 years ago, that there is a mathematic correlation to music that pleases.  Vibrating strings of different lengths, but in certain ratios make sounds good to hear while other relationships will be dissonant. 

  Subsequent observations of the universe led him and his followers to wonder – if musical harmony could be described by numbers, why not the whole universe – a “harmony of spheres”?  An almost contemporaneous biography of Pythagoras held that elevated minds such as his could audibly perceive the music made by the regular motions of heavenly bodies.

   No question that math does an excellent job at describing the cosmos with such things as the Golden Ratio and Fibonacci Numbers being found in wide and disparate corners of it.  And through the ages, artists and musicians of all stripes have attempted to tease out methods of their employment that might yield grand success.

  To no avail.  “History has shown however, that the artists who have produced works of lasting value are precisely those who have broken away from academic precepts.”*  Duh again. OK.  But what is truly amazing to think about are these relationships on the grandest of scales. 

  Einstein showed that without the presence of matter or energy in the universe, there would be no space-time warp.  No gravity.  No harmony.  No dissonance.  No originality.  Perfection. Boring.  But, of course, not to worry.  There are inclusions, imperfections, noise.  As the Springsteen article is entitled: “We Are Alive”.

*Golden Ratio, Mario Livio