Thursday, August 31, 2006

new york state of mind

the art institute of chicago
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
Six museums.
Three architects.
One freakin' Turell Skyspace.

72 hours.

travelin' goos

Gel filled bras? Yes.
Hair styling gels? No.
Knitting needles? Yes.
Mouthwash? No.
Toothpaste? No.
Personal lubricants? Yes.
Permitted and Prohibited Items from the Transportation Security Administration's list of Permitted and Prohibited Items in carry-on luggage for air travel.

(Seems to me that if I'm not allowed to take mouthwash and toothpaste I'm really not going to find a use for that personal lubricant.)

barbarians at the gates

The old social networks in Silicon Valley run very deep, and this reminds us that Sillicon Valley has a common enemy to the north.
Lee Sacenian, Dean of the School of Information at Cal Berkeley, commenting on the appointment of Google CEO Eric E. Schmidt to Apple’s board, as reported in today’s New York Times.

on the elevated

Chicago, IL

Cool. Gaper's Block liked it too. Happy Accident in Rearview, 31 August 2006

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

naguib mahfouz

I don’t read many contemporary novels: Mostly because I can’t be trusted to pick a good one out of a line up. So I wait for them to come to me, and they do, on the lips of friends whose hearts and judgment I trust.

Bel Canto came to me that way from litwit; The Sixteen Pleasures came from opiliones; each title now a fragrant, much-loved memory.

I have During the Reign of the Queen of Persia still waiting for me on my shelf where it took its seat when it was first recommended to me many years ago by a woman who my dear friend TD4 loved, and so of course I loved her too. But she broke his heart before I had a chance to crack it open, and since then it’s simply sat there, collecting dust, because I don’t trust it anymore.

The Bridge on the Drina was pressed into my hands, a gift from someone I’d only just met, when we shared a table in a café and our chat evolved into a passionate conversation about his home, which he missed bitterly, in Bosnia, which then was on the brink of war. (There was an earnestness in eyes as we spoke. When the conversation ended he went next door to the bookshop and returned. “A gift for you,” he said. I never saw him again.)

Midaq Alley came to me that way too, through friends with whom I shared an almost carnal fascination with alphabets and far away places. We read it together on a dare and talked long into the night, loving it and all the people who populated it.

So when I heard today that Naguib Mahfouz had passed away at 94, I was glad that it was 5 o’clock so that I could end the workday and return home, to pull the book off its shelf and visit with old friends.

Before they knew it they were at the end of the street and they laughed aloud in unison. Then they turned and he suddenly realized that their meeting was approaching its end. Thoughts of a dreaded farewell swam before him. Sadness enveloped him and halfway along the street he asked nervously:

“Where shall we say goodbye?”

She understood what he meant and her lips trembled. She asked half-heartedly:


However, he opposed the idea, explaining:

“We can’t just snatch this farewell hurriedly, like thieves.”

“Where do you suggest?”

“Go home a bit ahead of me and wait for me on the stairs.”

She hurried off and he followed slowly. When he reached the alley, all the shops were closed and he made his way dreamily towards Mrs. Saniya Afifi’s house. He moved cautiously up the pitch-black stairs, breathing as quietly as possible, walking with one hand on the banister and one groping into the shadows before him.

From « Midaq Alley » by Nagub Mahfouz, who died today at 94. May he rest in peace.


Ms. Kloeris is determined to quash the rumor that NASA invented Tang, or freeze-drying, for that matter.

From « Taking Humdrum Astronaut Food, and Kicking It Up a Notch » in Tuesday's New York Times.

Somebody has to: this has gone on long enough.


"'Terrorists lie' said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a gathering of about 200 naval aviators in Nevada."
Terrorists lie
Donald Rumsfeld lies
Therefore Donald Rumsfeld is a ...
I know: We've all been taught not to rely on syllogisms. But isn't it fun? reported the "terrorists lie" line »
The New York Times also reported on the event »

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

fig lover

With figs you’re either all in or all out. There’s no half way.

You must bite right through the blue flesh that bleeds milky white when it’s just ripe; into the honey-colored fruit inside that glistens and aches to be eaten. There's no way around it.

Once I served a platter of figs and prosciutto to a guest who insisted on eating out the heart of the fruit and leaving the skins on his plate.

He wasn’t asked back.
Fresh Fig Salad
12 ripe Mission figs
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp honey
a fistful of raw walnut halves
a clutch of fresh mint leaves
freshly ground black pepper

Cut the figs into quarters and place on a platter. Combine oil, juices and honey in a small bowl: beat lightly.

Drizzle dressing over the figs as they lie belly up on the platter; toss gently. Crush the walnuts, tear the mint; sprinkle on top with a crack of fresh pepper.

Serve to guests and politely field questions about the "little eggplants."

Freely interpreted from Viana LaPlace’s « Unplugged Kitchen »

[Photo credit: Figs for Lunch by Xerones]

this next

I spoke back in February at a conference where I posited something like – at least I intended to. As I kicked off my remarks a fever that would soon spike to 103 and eventually develop into pneumonia had just started to consume me – so hell if I know what I really said. The trades reported my opening remarks as the meat of the discussion, so I figure I must have blown it bad. (Thank god for the memory lapses that high fevers bring: they protect us from the pain.)

But to my point: We’re moving toward a new way to shop online, and for those of us who don’t shop recreationally (and maybe even those of us who do) but prefer to find our goods through the recommendations of folks we trust – holds a whole lot of promise for this brave new world of consumeristic-goodness.

The site relies on social networking, so it’ll take a while for it to get some meat on its bones and develop some soul, but it lays the ground work, and it’s extraordinarily cool.

Please pardon my anemic offering – these things take time to bloom; you might want to browse around to see what other folks have going on »

And of course was doing it first, at a more grass-roots level »

the difference a term limit can make

The United States just blew it in Rwanda.
Former President Clinton in Rwanda this week as reported in this morning's paper.

When he was president, Clinton said it like this (in a 1998 visit to Rwanda): "Genocide can occur anywhere. It is not an African phenomenon. We must have global vigilance. And never again must we be shy in the face of the evidence."

Doesn't really pack the same punch. Refreshing, the difference the cloakings of power (or lack thereof) can make.

p.s. We'd like you back please, Mr. President. You can bone all the interns you like -- just please fix our country. Please.

Monday, August 28, 2006

new marine species discovered on ebay

No foolin'.

Here's the Guardian story »

Here the same story in New Scientist »

And by way of follow up: When the Guardian reported on the sea urchin Coelopleurus exquisitus on 17 August, bids were clocking in at $9.50; when the auction closed on 19 August bids had reached $138 -- which will most certainly ensure that there's a nice market for the many many little urchins that were hauled up from the ocean floor by a thoughtful drift net fishermen -- along with a metric ton of other diverse sealife that will never crawl along the murky bottom again.

Because what else are new species of sea urchins for if not to post to eBay to buy and sell for our amusement?

comfort food

I’ve been dreaming about this one since 5 o’clock: Grilled Muenster with fresh tomato and leftover roasted poblano peppers on Great Harvest white bread (Great Harvest made a white bread believer out of me – I never used to touch the stuff).

It was everything I wanted it to be.

Green Chile with Garlic and Oil
Roast 4 to 5 long healthy green chiles over burner (those little grill-like contraptions are great for this) until all sides are slightly blackened and the skin is bubbling and separating from the flesh.

Once it’s past hope, drop the peppers in a paper bag to cool.

When cool pull off their skins, pull out their seeds and remove their “threads” and stems.

Slice and stretch out languid and thin on that funky restaurant platter that you picked up for cheap when Opiliones came to town. Drizzle with oil and crushed garlic. Sprinkle with salt. Serve to company for dinner along with some other tasty stuff.

Rejoice when there’s a few left over to grill later with Muenster and that tomato.

Adapted from « A Painter’s Kitchen: Recipes from the kitchen of Georgia O’Keefe »

how cool is that?

Just arrived. Mine's figure 10.97; page 322.

A Global History of Architecture
Francis D. K. Ching, Mark M. Jarzombek, Vikramaditya Prakash
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
ISBN: 0-471-26892-5
816 pages
August 2006

in passing

building on history

One last remark about Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana-Thomas house, and then I’ll let it rest.

In addition to everything else that is going on in that house, Wright framed the cornices and baseline of the home with poured concrete finishes that strongly emulate the lines of Yucatec Maya pyramids. It’s all in the angle – and that angle is all Yucatec – you don’t see these same lines at the Mayan sites in the highlands of Mexico and Guatemala, but they’re all over the place in the Yucatan.

It was exciting to see that line (and mind-bending to see it teamed up with Pagoda-like pedimental details, but that’s another story) -- particularly once we got into the belly of the beast and discovered all those layers and platforms. Sixteen layers worth; overlapping, intersecting, all flowing seamlessly one to the next.

It’s known that Wright traveled in the Yucatan, although to my shame I don’t know the dates of his time there, but I suspect it was early, because the monstrosity that is the Nathan G. Moore house in Oak Park, built originally in 1905, has some styling Puuc-like roofcombs going on (god I hate that house). Just down the street the sweet little Laura Gale house also reflects the simple stucco-ed surfaces of the Mayan pyramid (I like her much better).

I had the good luck to travel to the Yucatan with an architect who apprenticed with Wright at Taliesin. I asked him about the influence of Mayan architecture on Wright and he (the architect’s name was Bob) said only: “It was profound.” Then he went off to sketch. He spent that whole trip sketching.

What I don’t know is what was known about the Maya when Wright traveled there – but here’s what’s known now, and what, so excitingly, seemed to be conveyed in the design of the Dana-Thomas house: the Maya built their new pyramids on top of their old pyramids, and did so reverently. See Rosalila at Copan for more on that reverence.

If you wander among these ruins you’re confronted by a crazy, delightful confluence of lines and steps that merge together to create new forms – new construction on old, building ever upward. Evidence, everywhere, of the Ancestors who had gone before – figures who are very important in the mythology and the daily lives of the Maya people, even today.

The Dana-Thomas house conveys something of the same thing, and the reason I got such a charge out of this idea was because the home itself was built on the foundations of a Victorian home that Sarah Lawrence Dana’s father had built there before for his family.

Most of the evidence of the original house was gone, with an important exception: In the heart of the home, surrounded by Wright’s stunningly appointed Prairie-style furnishings and details, Wright preserved the heart of the original home – with the original hearth still in place.

This is the only room in the house that is furnished in the Victorian-style. Stylized butterflies dot the hearth stone – Wright took that motif and extended it in his art glass throughout the house – a rare example of a crawling critter in his art glass designs (the Prairie Sumac is present here too, and that’s more Wright’s usual style – alluding to green, growing things).

For me, the deal was sealed on this little story that I was telling myself when I turned, and looked, and saw the portraits on the wall, just as the docent explained that “these are Sarah’s parents.”

The Ancestors.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

decisions and revisions

This is not the kind of news story I wanted to come home to right after dropping my sweetie off at the airport:

And please don’t tell me this is a case of someone being stupid and careless:

People involved in the investigation said the lights might have been illuminated on the runway used by the plane, even though an airport notice had told pilots that the lights were off, and that discrepancy might have caused some confusion in the cockpit.

Only the co-pilot survived. Good luck living carefree with 49 ghosts on your back, buddy. Who was it who said "in a minute there is time for decisions and revision which a minute will reverse"*? Pardon my cynicism: but no. Not this time.

* Full points to the little girl in the back who identified that correctly as T.S. Eliot -- and who also pointed out that he leads into that line by asking "Do I dare disturb the universe?"

Frankly, can any of us escape the fact that we do? (g*ddamit.)

sticky fingers

The Rolling Stones’ red pout was first used by the lipstick devotee Andy Warhol to design the album “Sticky Fingers.”
From «The Red Army» in this Sunday’s New York Times, featuring random bits of trivia about the history of red lipstick.

the kindness of strangers

Flickr is like a neighborhood – you’re surrounded by folks, some of whom you know in passing only, and occasionally nod to, maybe say hello. Others you see every day, just briefly, at the dry cleaners or the grocery store, and as they become more familiar you linger a little longer in conversation, reveal a little more about yourself, as they do about themselves.

Yesterday I posted a pic called: "he promised to return; she waited", that captured comments from a couple of my close neighbors – entirely to be expected – I was thinking of them when I posted it, given the things they’ve responded to in the past, and was glad to see they took notice.

After that it didn’t generate a whole lot of comments, but it did generate a lot of “faves” – which is kind of like bookmarking an image for later, so you can come back to it easily and see it again. Most of the faves were from strangers – folks who live in the neighborhood who maybe I’ve only seen on the other side of the street before, if I’ve seen them at all.

That’s usually a good sign that the image wound up in Explore – which is the Top 500 “interesting” photos on Flickr for the day. “Interestingness” is determined by an algorithm that I don’t believe they’ve published anywhere, but I suspect has something to do with the volume of 1) views, 2) comments, 3) faves, and 4) the clout of the folks who view, comment and fave the pic. A quick Scout search uncovered the truth: baby hit 49/500. That’s a good day on Flickr.

And the pic -- called he promised to return; she waited -- generated something else -- something that makes me marvel and adore the crazy jazz scat mash up world that is Flickr – where a bunch of strangers get together and make stuff up and throw it out to the crowd to see if it sticks – it generated a poem from a someone I haven’t met before called *(+..+)*, who slipped this into my inbox without comment:

Emotional baggage

I waited up all night

For you again

And all I got was bags under my eyes

I gate check them, board the plane

And end up at your door

You told me where to go

But I had to find my way here

I stand on your porch like a kid whos missed the bus

And maybe the punch line to lifes joke

Cause Im not laughing

The airport lost my luggage

And Im left naked for you to discover

I said youd wait you told me I was right

Laughing as I sit here alone

Hope you make it before you room-mate get home

I couldnt ex-plane my self if I wanted too

I walk around back

To the sunny side of the house

Hoping to catch a break

And a glimpse of you in it

Sand in my toes and butterflies in my stomach

Fly me back to reality

Its four oclock in the morning

And I missed you again


Saturday, August 26, 2006

spit or swallow?

My sister scanned and uploaded this pic of three of us four kids to a family website. Through an accident of scanning she captured a ton of white space -- which is my favorite thing about it. (I'm the goof in the middle, with my front teeth only half grown in.)


waiting for the shop to open

In a Screen Age, the eye is glutted and the sense of touch is starved. The electronic book robs us of the erotics of paper. Sure an audio clip could emulate the sound of turning pages, just as a screen could impersonate a specific copy of a book – J. Edgar Hoover’s Lolita, say, replete with obscene marginalia (I’m making this up) – but never its feel.

Smart as it is, electronic paper can’t learn, by which I mean it can’t wrinkle at the touch of wet fingers turning pages in the bathtub; can’t remember the stained ring of that glass of red wine you imprudently used to hold your place; can’t speak volumes, from its margins and endpapers, about everyone who has ever jotted a thought in it. “Implicit in the possession of a book is the history of a book’s previous readings – that is to say, every new reader is affected by what he or she imagines the book to have been in previous hands,” writes Alberto Manguel in his marvelous A History of Reading.

The print medium’s saving grace, then, as any bibliophile knows who has ever caressed an onion skin page, inhaled the musk of old pages, run a satisfied finger along the serried ranks on her shelves. [Nicholson] Baker hints as much when he says, “I love the sound of turning pages. That’s one thing that paper does offer – that sound, as if you’re biting into an apple.”

Mark Dery reflecting on what he calls the “Gutenbook” in «Bound for Glory» in the July / August 2006 issue of Print.

Friday, August 25, 2006

to schmap or not to schmap

Okay. I owe Paul at locussolus some answers.

Q. So, will [Schmap] pay you for the use of the photo?
A. There was no offer of payment – but they did include a statement – which I’m cobbling together from memory because the page is no longer available – that said, in effect: we need your approval to use your photography because, even though you’ve allowed the use of your image under your Creative Commons license, Schmap does sell advertising. From that I inferred: Commercial Use.

Q: I'm curious, why the non-commercial restriction?
A: In the spirit of free play and filling the world with more-derivative-work goodness I choose to assign the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 license to the work that I post here at detritus and at flickr. For folks who may be unfamiliar with Creative Commons, this flavor of licensing allows others to:
• Copy, distribute, display, and perform the work

• Make derivative works

So long as they do so under the following conditions:

• By Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor.

• Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

• Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Here’s the part where things got turned around when I gave Schmap my consent to use my image for commercial use:
• Any of these conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder.
Now on to the meat of the discussion. I suspect we don't disagree all that much, Paul – but I do think I was sketchy about explaining what I meant in my original post. In response to my post you wrote:
But I also see a tremendous value in having the vast majority of that professional world go away. It's not inconceivable now to think about everyone in the entire world having the opportunity to photograph, write, create music, and publish all of it. Surely this possibility for unlimited human expression is more important than the interests of a few professionals whose services aren't valuable enough to really differentiate them in the first place. There will still be professionals; their numbers will just be limited to what the market can support (and yes, there will still be a market) or how much a government is willing to subsidize.
I think we’re all agreed that the publishing Tsunami that’s sweeping across the Internet right now is on par with the changes Gutenberg brought to Medieval Europe. It’s power to the people and it’s all good.

But I don’t think this next comparison is applicable to the current context:
I mentioned pop music before because I seriously doubt that suttonhoo would be conflicted if she were a singer releasing pop songs on her blog for free. What if I posted a novel in this space tomorrow? Nobody would worry about the harm it might inflict on Jonathan Safron Foer's next offering.
If I were promoting my own music or my own novel I’d be all over that – because I’m promoting my own work with the intention of gaining something through that promotion – either for myself, or for someone I designate.

Schmap is – or certainly will, at some point – be making money off of their product, which is a mash-up of royalty-free and copyrighted content. (It’s also, by the way, pretty cool – except for the fact that they require a client-side install rather than running it as a web app.)

What left me uneasy about accepting their terms was this: I compromised my right to collect royalties on creative property that I created that will, if the folks running the show at Schmap do their jobs right, make somebody some money. (I was director of an ecommerce operation for awhile – I can attest to the dollars that come through the door when these businesses are run right – even through advertising alone.)

A quick search on Technorati reveals that hundreds of people were contacted by Schmap in the last few days with a request to use their imagery. That’s a lot of shooters who aren’t going to share in the profits that will be generated by a product that relies on their work. And I suspect that’s only a sub-set.

My concern is that, as photographers, writers and musicians who share our work online, we have a responsibility to police ourselves -- Guild-like -- so that the power remains with the People – because if we don’t, the Man will be all over it and make it his.

The pop music allusion resonates strongly with me because my father is a musician and, as a result of signing a bad contract when he was young and trusting in the 60s, he was precluded from making much money from his own music – because the contract he agreed to ensured that the lion’s share of the profits from his work wound up in someone else’s pocket.

That hurt my father, and that hurt my family. And not just financially.

He went on, as a man with a hard won savvy about the music industry, to try another side of the business and wound up making Elektra and Windham Hill a ton of money -- and yeah, he got a good salary out of that for himself and for his family. But it was always someone else who was making the music at that point and, knowing what a brilliant musician he is and how much he loves to play for the people, that has always made me tremendously sad.

His story is part of our family database -- it shaped me and my outlook on what matters and it taught me this: Nothing’s more important than creating. Nothing’s more important than sharing what you create. And nothing’s more important than owning your story at the end of the day, so you can feed your family and feed your soul.

The fear that I might be compromising that ownership was the hidden penalty that was nagging at me when I posted earlier today.

open wide

A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.

Albert Camus as quoted by Anna Deavere Smith


a found poem

do not expose
do not disassemble
or mistreat

failure to follow
these instructions

may present risk
(explosion, fire,
high temperatures)

From the back of a Dell Battery Module Rechargeable Li-ion Battery Type C1295

Check out this comments thread for more background on this found poetry thing »

harry callahan

harry callahan
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
This woman [who] was talking about my photographing grasses went into some big
philosophic thing. I told her that that particular spot was the only
place I could park my car. I didn't say that to be nasty to her, but to
show that those things are part of life too.

Harry Callahan, Photographer, quoted in 1994

Crushing hard on the work of Harry Callahan, which I saw for the first time ever while I was playing hookey yesterday at the Chicago Art Institute.

Am I the last person in the world to hear of "one of the most important American photographers of the 20th Century"? Sheesh. I gotta get out more.

short listed

national gallery, dublin
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
I am writing to let you know that one of your photos with a creative commons license has been short-listed for inclusion in the second edition of our Schmap Dublin Guide, to be published mid-September 2006.

Clicking this link will take you to a page where you can:
i) See which of your photos has been short-listed.
ii) Submit or withdraw your photo from our final selection phase.

Best regards,
Ali Moss,
Managing Editor, Schmap Guides

I have unsettled feelings about Creative Commons licensing -- like an unpaid bill it nags at me – I’m sure there’s a hidden penalty in there somewhere, and the sooner I look at it the better my chance of doing something about it. But instead I just let it sit there.

I don't shoot for a living (or have any ambition to do so) so I'm flattered when someone wants to use my photography for something like this. But I know that the abundant availability of free imagery that sites like Flickr have made possible, will (and probably has) made it more difficult for working photographers to sell their imagery for purposes like these -- the bread and butter of folks who work in the trade.

I could have refused the short list option -- it steps outside the bounds of the Creative Commons license that I've assigned, actually, which precludes commercial use.

I probably should have. But I didn't.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

first day

Treat yourself to a great read by a master blogger »

(Limitless thanks to b1-66er for introducing me to Shädy Äcres: The fix like no other.)

killer carp

Dude, one time I was on my boat, and I had this Canadian dancer on there with me. So we were sitting there, and this carp jumped out of the water and hit this girl right in the face. Bam! It split her lip. There was blood everywhere. I had to take her to the emergency room, and she had eight stitches on her lip. It was horrible, man.

Chad Pregracke speaking of the scourge that is the Asian carp (now creeping up on the Great Lakes) in the September | October issue of «Orion»

My country ‘tis of thee: land of the invasive species. (Which, if I’ve got my family history right, would include me.)

turn it on

if today is your birthday

This is for all you double-yod-venus-rising-leo-cusping-virgos out there with a birthday today:

This creature embodies all the alluring qualities which make so many of their admirers want to murmur 'Come live with me and be my love'. The best kind of cusp cocktail, there is fire in the heart, lightness in the wit, and a steadiness of concentration which can impress the cleverest people in the land.

I suspect my life would be very different if any of this were true.

In effect, August 24 catches Leo's last brilliant rays, twists them round a cocktail stick and slips the golden wand into the luscious dark velvet of their psychology. The women are much pursued, not least for their mystery. She doesn't try to be mysterious. On the contrary, she is bright, witty and can sometimes be the gorgeous focal attention of a party.

Does this apply if my mother’s labor was induced? (It was.)

But for all the friendliness, there's that feeling you just can't grasp her. Many give even their closest loved ones a prickly sensation, foreboding of loss, even when there's absolutely no indication of anything but happiness.

“Foreboding of loss”? Me? Miss Merry Sunshine?

You are always trying to hang on to August 24 and always glad you have a firm hold because somebody else is trying to lure them away. Many people pursue some kind of academic career, or at least research. They are clever, yes, but what takes them onwards is dedication to a subject and pleasure in isolation, which of course ain't easily accomplished in open plan offices.

“Pleasure in isolation” is a nice way of saying “no one wants to be near you, Virgo. You’re too picky and you're the only one who laughs at your jokes.”

She favours Italy, in particular the south with its stinging heat and the dusty white light. She brings back terracotta pots and bright scarves which she puts on shelves and hangs on walls.

Italy? Never been. Terracotta pots? Guilty. But the scarves don’t go on the walls: they’re for wearing.

She's a girl who is made for motherhood and can expect quite a few pregnancies, not all planned and very possibly either from different fathers, or a second batch of babies several years after the first.

Now you’ve lost me.

From some random astrolology site.

And did I mention that the weather's in the toilet and WBEZ kicked off their pledge drive today? All. The Stars. Have aligned.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

compression and release

dana-thomas entryway
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
Unity Temple is the only building that’s ever made me cry.

It caught me by surprise -- but I suspect Frank Lloyd Wright knew exactly what he was doing when he designed it. He forces anyone who wishes to enter the sanctuary to first descend into a cloistered walkway (which runs in a tight, squared embrace, around the whole of the worship space – you could lap it in 2 or 3 minutes, easy) and then forces them again to ascend – single file -- into the sanctuary.

It’s that ascent up the steep narrow walkway, into a gorgeous angular space that is three stories high and shockingly intimate; that brought tears to my eyes.

Any FLW fan will tell you how he did it: with compression and release.

Wright was the master of lowering the lid – bringing the space in snug and tight around his occupants -- and then lifting it again into a soaring space that is both theatrical and habitable – to create a frame around domestic life.

I had a chance to see the Dana-Thomas house over the weekend and was reminded of Wright’s flair for the dramatic all over again. Built on 16 different levels, the house frames out multiple stages, platforms, barrel ceilings and performance spaces – all which live organically with myriad intimate nooks and conversation spaces. The massive home was built to be theatrical from day one: Sarah Lawrence Dana-Thomas, daughter of one of the richest men in Springfield (a mason and friend of Lincoln with government contracts) commissioned it after the death of her second husband (there would be one more before she was done) to entertain. She also opened her checkbook wide to Wright.

What more could a drama queen like FLW want?

Not much, it would seem. I have no shots of the interior to share – interior shots aren’t allowed, and the gift shop, for some unknown reason (but almost certainly because someone else owns the copyright) doesn’t sell a color catalog of the house (only one in black and white) – so please pardon my sputtering as I try to explain what happens there.

Through a beautiful accident of history when an attempt was made to auction the contents of the home in 1941 – all of which Wright designed and assigned to their appointed place – no one wanted them. As a result 90% of the furnishings and finishes remain intact. And – in one of those stories that docents love to tell – the State of Illinois (which owns the house now, having bought it back from a publishing company that had used it as offices for many years) re-acquired one lovely Wright designed stained-glass lamp that had gone missing at auction not too many years ago – for $750,000.

When it was built almost 100 years ago the entire house, with all of its furnishings, cost about $60,000. (To be fair: that’s equal to $4.5 million today.) (Interesting to compare what a dollar will buy you -- Mies’ Farnsworth House cost about the same sum, and was built about half a century later.)

The upshot is that the visitor has a chance to experience Wright at his most organic – surrounded not only by the striking modernity of his framed walls – but by the intimacy and elegance and harmony of his furnishings. The long, lean lines of oak; the jewel box details of art glass; and always the progression from stage to stage – up steps to the next level, tight little stairways and passageways which open into great big gorgeous barrel vaulted ceilings.

One of my favorite details was in the lower level – below ground, but it would be too pedestrian to call it a basement – Wright constructed a duck-pin bowling lane, framed by warm stucco walls under an arched ceiling. We encountered it on the tail-end of the tour – I thought for certain, after all our walking, that it was tucked into the back corner of the house – but it turned out to be tucked away right under the front door.

The Dana-Thomas House is unlike anything I’ve experienced before in a building. When folks talk about Wright’s desire to control the contents of the home – down to the dress of the woman of the house – the story is cited (generally with laughter) as an example of his overweening desire to control his clients.

But the space that he created with the Dana-Thomas house is not controlling – it doesn’t force conformity – it creates a stage for people to do what people do. To come together – in conversation and shared meals and experiences – in close, intimate compressions – that evolve into larger, theatrical expressions – whether in the performance spaces (Carl Sandburg read there; John Philip Sousa played there) or in the bedrooms (unfortunately the docent provided no details – but isn’t that where the best human dramas wind up?). And isn't it through human intercourse (conversational and otherwise) that we undergo transformation?

The Dana-Thomas House is a sociologist’s dream.

I have a little bit more to say but I’ll save it for later. In the meanwhile, here’s a slideshow of the home’s exterior »

Regrets that I can’t show you the real workings of the interior – you’re gonna have to roadtrip to Springfield to see it for yourself.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Dana-Thomas House
301 East Lawrence Avenue
Springfield, Illinois 62703

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

a house divided


One of the most impressive presentations at a museum that strives to impress (that would be the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IL – a multimedia spectacular that puts Disneyland’s robotronic Lincoln to shame) is a brief four minute movie -- an animated timeline, actually -- that plots the progress of the Civil War from the point of Lincoln’s election, through secession, his inauguration, and on to battle.

The Union and Confederacy are represented in blue and red (ya think they could have used blue and grey, but oh no -- had to be blue and red), and as the clock ticks -- with one second equal to one week -- the battlefront oscillates and morphs and serpentines, punctuated with the brief explosions of battles (Shilo, Antietam, Gettysburg), as the body count tallies in the corner (over 1 million before the war is done). Then Sherman marches to the sea and cuts the final gash that seals the surrender of the South.

The movie closes with Lincoln’s assassination.

Edward Tufte would be proud – it’s brilliant information design.

I, frankly, was a wreck.

[Image Credit: The flag graphic above is by Rolyn Barthelman of NYC who created it after the last presidential election.]

Monday, August 21, 2006

wholesomeness and pureness

I know a guy who married a girl from Springfield, Illinois. When I told him I was heading down to Springfield for the weekend he said: “I’m sorry.” And then he recommended the Maid-Rite – home of the famous “loose meat sandwich”.

The Maid Rite is a classic Midwestern success story: The kind of World Famous you’ve never heard of. Here’s the story from the Xeroxed hand-out that they keep behind the counter, right next to the matchbooks that look like they were typeset in 1932:

In the early 1920s, butcher Fred Angell created a special cut and grind of meat, then added selected spices, to create a new ground beef sandwich.

A delivery man, upon tasting the sandwich, remarked that the sandwich was ‘made right’. The name MAID-RITE, adapted to mean “wholesomeness and pureness,” has remained part of the Midwestern landscape ever since.

Making it perhaps the first – and last time -- in our American culture that “loose meat” has been associated with “wholesomeness and pureness”.

A Maid-Rite sandwich is -- as the man who married into Springfield described it to me -- like a sloppy joe without the sloppy -- no sauce, just spices. Dressed up just like a burger, with mustard, onion and pickles. And to add to the novelty, the Maid-Rite also has the distinction of having “one of the first” drive-through windows -- which may well be why it landed itself on the National Register of Historic places.

Whatever the reason, the good news is that because of the designation, the homemade root beer and loose meat of the Maid Rite – franchise-that-failed-to-flower though it may be – isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Which is good news for those of us whom, having done pretty much all there is to do in Springfield, won’t be passing through again anytime soon. (Unless it’s for another fix of Wright’s Dana Thomas House. Details to follow soon.)
Maid Rite Sandwich Shop
118 N. Pasfield Ave.
Springfield, IL

el hefe

We are a sports brand. We are making products for athletes, we are not making them for leaders.
Travis Gonzales, head of public relations for Adidas, commenting on Castro’s jacket in the shot the Cuban government released of the leader during his convalescence, in this morning’s New York Times.

For what it’s worth, he added, Adidas also provides athletic shoes to President Bush.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

a. lincoln

a. lincoln
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
Young America is very anxious to fight for the liberation of enslaved nations and colonies, provided, always, that they have land.

As to those who have no land and would be glad of help, he considers they can wait a few hundred years longer.

Abraham Lincoln on the Mexican-American War

opening franco's graves

There is no place where there are no graves.

Francisco Extxeberría, a forensic doctor who volunteers with ARMH (the Recovery of Historical Memory) quoted in Mike Elkin's piece «Opening Franco's Graves» in the September/October issue of «Archaeology» about the mass graves of Franco dead that are beginning to be disinterred in Spain.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

all food-on-a-stick; all weekend long

We’re trying to keep a dinosaur alive that’s probably outlived its purpose.

William M Napoli, a State Senator from South Dakota, commenting on the money that’s funneled into supporting state fairs – and how little of that is actually returned – in yesterday’s New York Times.

Seems like we’re considerably behind the curve on this one: Driving the old Route 66 down to the Springfield this weekend for a State Fair fix (the website of which is worth checking out for the cheese factor alone) and to spend a little quality time with my boy Abe.

I’ll be moblogging all the food-on-a-stick offerings I can scare up – and anything else worth shooting in scenic Southern Illinois. (Woo. Hoo.)

The road show begins Friday night »

whole lotta sweetness

Unlike some brave souls I passed on a full weekend of Patty doing the Rose at Ravinia -- fearing mostly that, after a night like Friday, I’d be left like Semele when she begged Zeus to give it to her full on – and was split in half by the force of what he had to give.

I opted instead to hang out in a dark cellar of a theatre with the playwright Jeffrey Sweet.

Not a bad trade.

I only knew a little bit about this guy going in – the Chicago Dramatists blurbed him as an influence behind Wicked, so I was ready to be disappointed. A succession of phone calls on Saturday morning that pushed back the start time by three and half hours only added to the dread. But that turned out to be Amtrak’s fault, and the workshop – which was billed as a Playwriting Nuts and Bolts Intensive -- delivered the goods.

Two days later I came out with moleskine packed with techniques for turning it on, and a head full of stories from a man who’s lived his life in the theatre.

Sweet is a fierce technician with a great sense for a good story. He's also a gorgeous gossip and a name dropper and I loved every minute of it: How can you not get excited about hearing someone tell a story they got straight from Jack Klugman -- about being there the day that Clifford Odets returned to NYC (to run Golden Boy through rehearsals) from D.C. -- where he had just named the names of half of his Golden Boy cast and crew to Joe McCarthy. (Talk about a rough day at the office.) (Rat fink.)

Also came away with a list things to read and watch and listen to – some for a second time:

The Apartment
Beyond Culture
Fires in the Mirror
Waiting for Lefty
Daughter of Time
The Collection
The Gin Game
The Cradle Will Rock
The Dramatist's Toolkit

The weekend also succeeded in splitting me down the middle (kinda like Semele) -- torn between the impulse to do nothing but write and the impulse to do anything else at all.

Mr. Khaitan

a found poem

colored slippers
car parts, and
bloodied flesh

his brother
his son

Mr. Khaitan paused

unlike many
he looked young
with only a few strands
of gray

he held up the cover
of the local paper

his son
and the other children

smiled from within small circles
that would fit in a locket

Found poem rules remain the same: edits only; nothing re-sequenced. Found in a piece that Damien Cave wrote for the New York Times on a bomb blast that recently went off in Iraq.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

what’s that in girl-years?

Long before the dawn of calculators and inexpensive desktop computers, the grinding work of large problems had to be broken up into discrete, simple parts and done by hand. Where scads of numbers needed computing—for astronomical purposes at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, or to establish the metric system at the Bureau du Cadastre in Paris—such work was accomplished factory-style.

In his book When Computers Were Human, a history of the pre-machine era in computing, David Alan Grier quotes Charles Dickens’s Hard Times to capture the atmosphere of such workplaces: “a stern room with a deadly statistical clock in it, which measured every second with a beat like a rap upon a coffin-lid.” The most famous modern example of such work is probably Los Alamos, where scientists’ wives were recruited in the early stages to compute long math problems for the Manhattan Project.


In the history of computing, the humbler levels of scientific work were open, even welcoming, to women. Indeed, by the early twentieth century computing was thought of as women’s work and computers were assumed to be female. Respected mathematicians would blithely approximate the problem-solving horsepower of computing machines in “girl-years” and describe a unit of machine labor as equal to one “kilo-girl.”

David Skinner writing about David Alan Grier's book «When Computers Were Human» in The New Atlantis

beware of dog

It's Gaper's Block appreciation day. Beware of Dog was featured in Rearview on 15 August.

Thanks, guys.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

veggin' out

Tonight’s Green Earth haul inspired a some balsamic braised fennel with halibut, and a tasty batch of beets and beet green salad which the darlin’ companion immediately pegged as “yuck”. (Important to note that the judgement was made without ever tasting the salad. Our man of the meat and potatoes also opted for fish & chips while I downed my halibut. Oh well: It’s quick, it’s cheap, and it keeps the peace.)

Big batch of kale to dispose of too – which means I'll be pulling out the Kale and White Bean soup recipe that got us through the last batch. (No yuck on that one -- the kielbasa eased the way.)

Beet and Beet Greens Salad adopted from Viana La Place’s Verdura
1 bunch of small beets of equal size, with fresh, leafy green tops
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh lemon juice
Viana La Place wrote up a beautiful recipe with telling details and instructions on how to serve this salad in a lovely way – complete with lemon slices on a large platter. But I’m tired from all that beet boiling, so here’s a quick recap:
Boil a big pot of water. Salt it.

Drop in the beet greens for a quick parboil – before you do that be sure to strip out the stems. And wash them, of course. The beets too, while you’re at it.

Pull the beet greens out with tongs just as soon as they go limp. Drain in a colander.

Drop the unpeeled beets in the boiling water and simmer until tender – about 15 to 25 minutes, depending on their size. (This is when your husband walks into the kitchen and says: “Smells like dirt.” ‘Cause they do, a little bit, while they’re cooking, if they’re fresh. Or maybe I didn’t wash them well enough. But that’s cool: it’s boiling water anyway.)

When they’re tender (test them with a fork) drain, rinse under cold water, and peel. (At this point you can slip the peels off with your fingers -- they're slippery and ready to give. Of course, that'll leave your fingertips pink for a little while.)

Slice them the way you like them (I like wedges) and chop the greens a bit. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and garlic to taste.

If you’re like me (ravenous omnivore) eat it right out the bowl. Otherwise serve it up nice, just like La Place would like, garnished with lemon slices.

Monday, August 14, 2006


I stumbled on a brilliant little half block of decay and decrepitude just off North Green Street over the weekend. All of these shots are from that little patch of the city (will be uploading a few more over the next few days) »

only in chicago

only in chicago
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
I love the way the Chicago Sun Times writes their headlines.

My favorite Sun Times headline ever was when Pope John Paul was still alive and he announced -- just in case folks had lost track -- that Catholicism was the one true faith. The Sun Times ran a headline in the upper left hand corner of the page -- alongside the masthead -- accompanied by a picture of the pope with his staff raised and his other arm lifted in blessing. Basically: both arms raised, and a single finger pointing straight up.

The headline read: "We're Number 1!"

Saturday, August 12, 2006

the tip of the iceberg

Any work the caliber of a masterpiece carries a load of meaning of which its author is quite unaware.

James Bridie, the Scottish dramatist, used often to ask my opinion about his new plays. They usually seemed to me fascinating, witty, original and hard to understand. I would ask 'What d'you mean? What is it about?'

His invariable reply was 'How should I know? I only wrote the thing.'

At first I thought this was just an ironic joke. But gradually I came to see that it was profoundly true. Of course he knew in a limited sense what he had tried to say; but he knew also that, if the work were any good, his conscious intention was comparatively insignificant.

The important part of the work would have, without his conscious intention, often in spite of it, have slipped in 'between the lines.'

A masterpiece, he used also to say, is like an iceberg; ninety per cent of its meaning lies below the surface of the author's consciousness.

Tyrone Guthrie writing in his autobiography «A Life in the Theatre», published by McGraw-Hill in 1959.

you’ll never get away from me

When I was a kid, being a child of divorce had one advantage that set me apart from many of my peers: I had three sets of grandparents.

And as any kid knows, grandparents are for goodies.

Because of the particular mash-up of my family's breeding tendencies I can trace my heritage – and its peculiar influences on me -- to three inimitable communities: Sonoma County Catholics, Pacific Northwest Lutherans (with a sprinkling of lapsed Scots-Irish), and New York City Jewish.

My Grandpa Schufmann worked in the garment industry in New York, and I’m pretty sure my passion for textiles took root in the elaborate silk Parisian scarves that my stepmother received from him and wore, Rhoda style, through the 70s.

He also gave me Broadway.

Grandpa was a collector, and an avid Broadway attendee (who wasn’t in NYC in 40s and 50s?) and he saved every Playbill he ever received. After my grandmother died, he started the slow purge – he missed her terribly (“You have no better friend,” he told me when he was grieving, “than your spouse. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently. No better friend.”) -- and I suspect at that point he knew he would be checking out soon.

During the purge he sent me some of those playbills. The covers read like a history of the American theatre: Anne Bancroft in the Miracle Worker, Ingrid Bergman as St. Joan, Dorothy Sarnoff and Yul Brynner in the King and I, Paul Muni in Inherit the Wind, and an ancient cover for Kizmet that I’m confident must have been drawn by Al Hirschfeld, but even the folks at can’t source its provenance (“our records don’t go back that far,” was their email reply).

There's also Ethel Merman in the premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy.

I think Grandpa S. would have dug Patti LaPone last night, turning it on in Gypsy at Ravinia. There was something raw and real about her performance. Some folks were grousing that her voice was weak in spots, but I didn’t hear any of that, probably because I don’t know her at full strength well enough to know when she’s tipping in the other direction.

I just know that she struck some kind of chord with her performance that ruined me. The way The World According to Garp ruined me to John Irving novels – the story, the tragic arc, the revelation were all too perfect, and all too horribly painful. It’s one of my favorite books ever, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to read Irving since. I can’t bear to go back there.

It’ll take me a while before I want to see musical theatre again. Already my diet was limited to Sondheim shows, and now he's like Irving to me. What I saw last night filled me up – it’s all I need for now.

Besides -- I don’t know how to process it or understand why it left me so deeply unsettled and so entirely satisfied.

So I’ll just give it time. I’m sure it’ll make more sense with time.

Because right now I'm a wreck.

(Here are some more write ups on the show from litwit and
little voice.)

surreal cross-selling

Things have gotten a little surreal for me over at Amazon since I checked in on the Tuscan Whole Milk reviews. (Which are now clocking in at 670, btw.)

Current recommendations include Prada shoes. Used textbooks. Men's watches. Project Runway miscellany.

Iceberg lettuce.

Not my usual fare.

balance + disorder

I was packing up to leave Los Angeles (after living there for about nine months) when the riots following the trial of the police offers who beat Rodney King broke out in 1992. The memories of that week are stuck in my head like one of those traumas that play out in slow motion while you’re living it. The whole week was like that. Smoke, fire, army tanks driving by under my window announcing: “stay in your homes; if you are on the street you will be shot”.

Strange days.

On the morning of day three of the riots a disturbing scene played itself out on TV. One of the local news shows was showing a helicopter aerial of the local highways and commenting – incessantly -- about how free they were of traffic congestion.

It was a beautiful shot, actually – almost meditative, like watching a fish tank.

They patched in an audio signal of another broadcaster who was roaming through the Crenshaw district – the neighborhood in South Central LA where most of the damage had been done (in equal parts by folks driving *into* the city from the outskirts, I should add. I saw many of them on their way out, loaded down with television sets and other big box booty).

While the Zen-like aerial shot of the highways continued to run on screen, cutting back periodically to the anchors in the studio, the fellow in the Crenshaw district talked about the difficult conditions in that neighborhood – how it was without water and electricity, how telephone service was cut off, and how many of the businesses were still smoldering.

He sounded terribly earnest and concerned about what was going on. And the folks in the studio sounded terribly earnest and concerned about what was going on.

And then our man on the ground said: “Excuse me a minute.”

There was an animated conversation off-mic – also very earnest, but hard to hear – and then he returned to the microphone, sounding exasperated now, and saying: “Sorry about that. A man just stopped me – his wife is having a baby – they can’t get her to the hospital and they can’t call for an ambulance – I don’t know what he thought I could do for him.”

My jaw dropped. Something strange surged up in my belly. It was bile.

The anchors back at the studio shrugged it off with a sort of “geez – how strange – like you could do anything for him” – one gal actually said, in one of those faux-joke voices: “what – did he think you were a doctor?!?!” – and then got back to being earnest and compassionate about the good people of the Crenshaw.

I started screaming incoherently at the TV. I don’t remember what I said – but what I was thinking was: Well, let’s see f*cker – you’re a newsman in LA – do you have a CELLPHONE on you? Let alone A BROADCAST SIGNAL?!?!?! Think MAYBE you could broadcast a location and get an ambulance dispatched to help this guy out?

Holy f*cking crap.

And all the while the free-flowing, almost poetic highways and byways of the LA highway system filled my screen.

That same strange feeling surged up in my belly when Katrina blew threw the Southern US last year, and the images and the stories started coming through on the wires.

So many people stranded, so many people in desperate straits, so many people needing help – and so many people DOING NOTHING ABOUT IT. (That would include me, safe in my home way up North.)

Seafood truck near Buras, LA • Copyright © 2006 Aric Mayer

So why am I dredging this up now? Well, there’s the anniversary of the event of course. And there’s also an extraordinary exhibition of photography that just opened in New Orleans, that captures the feeling I had that day in LA, watching the Zen-like stream of images on my set, while something so disturbing played itself out just off camera.

I’ve written about Aric Mayer’s images before – I’m a big fan, not only because Aric is a dear friend who’s company and far ranging conversations I never grow tired of – but also because his images of Katrina’s aftermath – which are breathtakingly beautiful – awaken that deep, disturbing feeling that something is not right here.

Aric tells the story true. And we need some more of that. Especially during days like these.

You can see many of the works that are hanging in New Orleans at Aric’s site,

And if you’re going to be in New Orleans, you might want to stop by to the see the show.
Balance + Disorder:
A Response to Hurricane Katrina and the Photographic Landscape
Photographs by Aric Mayer
Gallery Bienvenu
518 Julia St
New Orleans, LA
August 5th-September 30th, 2006

Thursday, August 10, 2006

rhymes with bitch

Sometime back, when Elaine Stritch appeared in an interview session at Steppenwolf's Traffic Series, a fawning fan in the audience stood up to remind her that they had met, that he was a big fan, that he had interviewed her in Detroit, yadda yadda yadda -- taking forever to get to his question -- and of course the thing that made it so funny was he kept getting her name wrong. She corrected him several times (which he failed to hear through his yammering) and then finally said: "It's STRITCH -- rhymes with BITCH."

Brought the house down.

Now I adore Ms Stritch (rhymes with bitch), so I feel a little uncharitable posting this video clip, shot the other week when litwit and I hit her dry run for the Carlyle -- but it's precious and it's true and it's just that she was tired after putting on long show, and her insulin dose was ebbing low.

And seeing her cranky as all get out just makes me love her more.

(Warning: It's dark and hard to see -- and there's another fawning fan in the wings -- and yeah, I was goof enough to think I could turn my camera sideways to shoot video and everything would come out all right in the end. It won't happen again.)


Creativity is cheap. All you need do is concoct a stupid idea - that Venusians invented marshmallows, for instance - and you'll be creative. As for self-expression, you express yourself every time you break wind.

For this reason, no decent artist worries about originality. Shakespeare cribbed his plays from everyone from Plutarch to Marlowe; we remember Shakespeare, not for his originality, but for his craft. Raphael produced the most lovely paintings of 15th-century Florence, but not one of them was original - Raphael merely did what his teacher, Perugino, did, except that Raphael did it better.

Edward Ingram getting cranky and platonic in «Pop Idol Judges Understand Plato» in the Telegraph. (Many thanks to MGL @ (...) for the link.)


situational awareness

Originally uploaded by Tomasz Nowak.
Travelers should go about their plans confidently, while maintaining vigilance in their surroundings and exercising patience with screening and security officials.

From a 10 Aug 2006 Press Release from the Press Office of the US Department of Homeland Security

"Don't panic." ~Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

A timeline of the day's events from the Telegraph »

water as commodity

"Whenever you flush a toilet, take a shower, drink a glass of water, someone is making money," he said, noting that the water stocks he tracks went up 10.65 percent in 2005, compared with a rise of about 3 percent in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index.

Timothy M. Ghriskey, chief investment officer at Solaris Asset Management, «There's Money in Thirst: Global Demand for Clean Water Attracts Companies Big and Small» in this morning's New York Times

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

affectionate regard

Yorktown, VA

tuscan whole milk: the reviews are in.

I was in Tuscany recently, and despite my sincerest efforts was unable to sight any Tuscan Wholes. Given the rarity of this creature, I find it hard to believe that anyone one has managed to domesticate them, let alone convince them to give milk.

Alexander Strommen "The Z" -- one of over 575 (at this writing) reviewers on Tuscan Whole Milk, in Amazon's new grocery channel.

It seems the folks at are responsible.

(But they ain't got nothing on the Choka.)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

bikini beach

This shot cracks me up, but I may be the only one. Certainly taught me a thing or two about netting views on Flickr -- include the word "bikini" and you're golden.

Yorktown, VA

dare to be dumb

In science, feeling confused is essential to progress. An unwillingness to feel lost, in fact, can stop creativity dead in its tracks.

A mathematician once told me he thought this was the reason young mathematicians make the big discoveries. Math can be hard, he said, even for the biggest brains around. Mathematicians may spend hours just trying to figure out a line of equations. All the while, they feel dumb and inadequate.

Then one day, these young mathematicians become established, become professors, acquire secretaries and offices. They don’t want to feel stupid anymore. And they stop doing great work.

«Weird Science: Why Editors Must Dare to be Dumb» by K.C. Cole writing in the «Columbia Journalism Review»


A found poem

‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,’

Joan Fontaine says in a strange,
sing-songy tone.

‘For awhile I could not enter,
for the way was barred to me.

Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed
with supernatural powers
and passed like a spirit
through the barrier before me.’

But of course we see
what she is talking about
and it isn’t a dream at all

It’s a shifting picture of a dark and tangled wood

And we peer through the trees
at a black and jagged ruin
a Gothic scramble of turrets
and mullioned windows.

Michael Wood writing about David O. Selznick’s «Rebecca» in «The London Review of Books»

Monday, August 07, 2006

ex libris

home sweet home
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
Okay, b1 – I’ll bite. Because I’m just a little bit of a book whore anyway.

A book that changed your life:
I don’t think that any one book has -- but knowing books and spending time with writers through their books -- has definitely shaped my life.

There is one book that was especially important -- not because of what it said but because of what I decided while I was reading it -- before I read this book I thought that to "like" a book I had to swallow it whole and agree with everything in it -- this particular book (some obscure title of feminist deconstructive criticism) -- made me realize that I didn't have to agree with everything a book said to take some good away from it. As with people, there's good and bad in a single book -- light and shadow -- and you can love a book without agreeing with everything in it.

Before that revelation hit me I worshipped books too much. I wanted them to be more than what they were, instead of just accepting them for what they are. (It took me another ten years to realize the same thing about people. Once that clicked life changed for the better.)

And books are like people, aren't they? We encounter them for odd random reasons, but sometimes that encounter -- either then or later -- seems strangely fated, entirely significant, and very important.

A passage from a book that was particularly important to me was lobbed my way by my father, just at the time that I -- as a stormy, gripe-y adolescent who didn't have enough cash to put herself through the private college she'd been accepted to -- needed to read it:
All education must be self-education.

Let him realize the truth of this, and no school will be a danger to him. … The man who goes into a school to educate himself and not to be educated will get somewhere. He should start out a master, master of such that he has, however little that may be. By being master of such as he has in the beginning it is likely he may later be master, after years of study, of much.

He should not enter the school with any preconceived ideas about his destiny. In fact he should be open and free. His aim should be to search deeply and work hard and let the outcome be what it may.

The best art the world has ever had is but the impress left by men who have thought less of making great art than of living full and completely with all their faculties in the enjoyment of full play. From these the result is inevitable.

From The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

That one passage has shaped my life from then until now. (The rest of the book is pretty dang good too, but that one passage was just what I needed right then. Thank you, Mr. Henri. And thanks, Dad.)

A book you’ve read more than once:
Does it count if I’ve never finished it? Ulysses. I’ve tried and tried again to get through the battered copy that I inherited from my grandfather with the inscription in his handwriting that reads: “Received on the Island of Guadalcanal, July 13, 1943”.

Recently I had a frightening experience when I opened it again, fresh home from Dublin, read the first chapter and understood the whole thing.

I shut it again, quickly, in a state that felt a little like terror.

Strangely, the only other book I’ve read more than once – outside a bunch of pulp when I was a kid that I couldn’t get enough of – is the Odyssey. I could read that book over and over again for the way it's told, alone. It's so rich and humane. I only just now realized the connection between these two books that haunt me – they’re the same story. (Sort of.) A journey and a homecoming.

A book that made you laugh:
I read David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day on the Channel Tunnel between Paris and London on a very quiet train car and had to squelch my laughter repeatedly for fear of coming across as a gauche American. Still it got away from me, in big obnoxious bursts.

Later, on the flight home, the woman who sat next to me (Swiss, trés chic and trés feminine -- at first glance I made up my mind that she was a blonde airhead) looked longingly at the book I was reading (Minotaur, about Sir Arthur Evans) and said “That looks good. I wish I brought a book.” I handed her Me Talk Pretty and she was off. The whole flight home she was squelching herself too. (It also led to a conversation in which I learned that she was a physicist on her way to an annual conference. Very interesting person with a whole lot of interesting things to say. That’ll teach me.)

She hadn’t yet finished when we touched down so of course I told her to keep the book. Her gratitude was genuine – she so didn’t want to let go of that book until she had finished it.

A book that made you cry:
Tracks. Big blubbering gasping sobs – that came out of nowhere. If you’ve read the book you know when and why I cried. If you haven’t read the book, and are in the mood for a good cry – and an adventure story about a gal crossing the Australian Outback alone on camelback -- I highly recommend it.

A book that you wish had been written and a book you wish had never been written:
I can’t summon the passion needed to answer these two questions. I’m pretty content with what’s out there, and pretty confident that if it comes to mind, someone will have written something about it.

Books you’re currently reading:
Several stacked on the bedside table right now:
Ways of Seeing by John Berger
Interaction of Color by Josef Albers
The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time by Edward Hall
Time and the Highland Maya by Barbara Tedlock

A book you’ve been meaning to read:
Ulysses. And Captive and Cousins – because I suspect it might lend some interesting insights in to the whole Maya captive thing, even though it’s about the Native Americans of North America. I’ve also been meaning to reading Gödel, Escher, Bach for something like 14 years. (It scares me a little.)

I tag litwit and anali (and opiliones [aka heatherlorin] and enyasi if they can squeeze it in). Lolabola, you game?

the golden touch

I'm not sure when it dawned on me that the Yorktown Motor Lodge -- the only available room within spitting distance of Gloucester, VA where Kathryn's burial took place -- referred to THE historic Yorktown -- of Schoolhouse Rock fame. (Sure the story's been recounted elsewhere -- but anywhere more impactful than Schoolhouse Rock? I think not.)

So we did the circuit -- a walk along the Riverfront, a trek through the battlegrounds, a short stint with revolutionary artillary under the command of a WWII vet. (A story in itself. I got video.)

And then coming back into DC (because I was brilliant enough to think flying into DC was a *good* idea. yikes.) we stopped by Mt Vernon -- mostly because Monticello was out of reach, and because neither one of us (me or my darlin' companion) had ever been.

George Washington has always struck me as an aloof guy -- I don't buy the cherry tree story, and there isn't a lot to go on outside of that and the wooden teeth. There's nothing more in his mythology to build a serious crush on, like there is for Jefferson and Lincoln. (You really don't want to get me started about those two brilliant hunks.) But tooling around his grounds lent a little more insight into the character of the father of our country.

It turns out that Wasington was a bit of a convservationist, which I didn't know, and insisted that when wood was required fallen trees should be harvested first -- because he felt the forests, by and large, had been over harvested. (In the 1700s already he had figured this out.)(Of course it was the slaves who did the harvesting, which introduces some distasteful issues. But this is meant to be a short post so we won't go there. For now.)

He also said something (or rather wrote something, to a friend of his) that was exactly what I needed to hear on what was yet another difficult series of days in which events outside my control were raining chaos and uncertainty all around me:

When I speak of a knowing farmer, I mean one who understands the best course of crops; how to plough, to sow, to mow, to hedge, to Ditch and above all, Midas like, one can convert everything he touches to manure.

There was evidence of that everywhere we looked at Mt Vernon -- even the "Necessary", or three seater outhouse, where human waste was collected in drawers that could be loaded into the compost pile along with all the other goodies from the stableyards.

I decided (because I had very little else to lean on just then) that I would take this message to heart, and consider that maybe the way to cultivate the scary things that visit us, uninvited, in the night (or via email, as the case may be) is to convert them to manure. Midas like.

Because shit makes things grow.

And the whole point of any of this is to grow, baby -- grow. (Because your turn to compost will come soon enough.)

there is a difference

But we may never understand what it is.

The Yorktown Motorlodge
Yorktown, Virginia

Not to be confused, under any circumstances, with the Duke of York Motor Inn.
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