Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wolf Kahn

In my last post I referenced the artist Wolf Kahn so, since I really love his work, I thought I'd post an example. The first thing that attracted me to his work, of course, was his fantastic use of color. The picture here is a tamer one from him but, even here, you can see that he goes for the jugular with color. They are almost corrosive, like something you'd see flowing in a chemical spill that can eat through rubber. Yet, in his paintings, these colors are fully controlled and come to represent the intensity of light or the coolness of shadows. I also like that his use of color communicates a time of year or day, even though the colors are not at all what you would see in real life.

He seems to focus on landscapes, although his style and approach visually evoke the work of abstract expressionists. The harnessing of the freedom and psychology of abstract expressionism for something as traditional as landscape painting is a really interesting juxtaposition (how's that for the kind of arty-farty analysis like you'd find in a text book?). But I'm serious. I like abstract works, but I have to admit that there's something even more effective in a marriage of abstraction with the concrete. Perhaps this is because I feel that so much abstract art these days is more of a regurgitation of experiments that were done way back in the 40s and 50s. Anyone interested in a ANOTHER artist who does color field or 'splatter' paintings? Not me! I'd like to see something unique and innovative.

After art emancipated itself during the late 19th and 20th centuries, maybe it can back away from the need to rebel, react, or grandstand.

Monday, September 28, 2009

361 Miles

Jim and I did a bike ride yesterday afternoon. Fields of goldernrod with blotches of intense purple from wild asters. All the plants were thick and tall and at their zenith, yet there were some leaves on the path telling you it's not going to last much longer. When the leaves cover the edges of the path, it looks like an ancient, half-forgotten Indian trail. You can hear nuts and things crunching under your tires, and there's often the smell of dead leaves in the air that - to me - is completely invigorating!

At one point, we rode past a field we go by all the time, which Jim says is a soybean field. You can see it through the trees, but it's usually nothing special to look at. This time, we must have caught it just right, because the plats were yellowed and the slanting sun was hitting them fairly strongly. The combination created this intense YELLOW that rolled over the hills into the distance with nothing but a few large, dark green trees splotched in there to break it up. The fields seemed to be glowing; like a Wolf Khan painting come to life!

Overall, it was pretty windy, and it's looking like this coming week will be rainy and down into the low 60s. I'm worried that this might have been the last ride of the season. It was a good ride though, and it's been a good season. Definitely had some muddy rides. See the pic, where you can see the mud splatters you sometimes get. I love getting all dirty when I ride! We saw snakes, frogs, deer, and even a turtle crossing the path at different times during the season. Anyway, I calculated the we've probably gone 361 miles since about May, so that's an average of about 18 miles a week. Not too bad!

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Jim and I watched 'Milk' last night. What a moving, beautiful film! Of course, whenever I see movies or documentaries about the gay rights movement, I'm just so glad these people did what they did. I'm so grateful that their work has made this a country where I can exist as an openly gay man at work and in my neighborhood without facing (too much) bigotry.

This movie mixes actual footage from the times with tremendous acting by a great cast, especially Sean Penn who completely disappears into the role of Harvey Milk. He does the perfect balance of adding some swish to the role without turning Milk into the stereotypical Hollywood-film homo. From scene one, you forget you are watching an actor play the part (let alone an actor we all are very familiar with). That's really the mark of a master. Plus, unlike Tom Hanks and Antonio Bandares who didn't have the guts to do an onscreen kiss in "Philadelphia" and, as a result, insulted the characters they played, Penn and Franco are both man enough to commit to their roles and not shy away from the fact that gay men kiss just like 'normal people'.

What a hateful bitch that Anita Bryant was! OMG! The horrible things that came out of her mouth! It's amazing to me that after all the examples of civil right movements in our country's history, that people still go to the same tired arguments to demonize massive groups of people. At some point, don't they reflect and think: "These arguments were wrong for blacks, women, Jews, etc. etc. etc....so if these arguments are the only ones I have to use against gays, then maybe I'm as wrong as those people were to use them then?"

Thank you Harvey Milk! And thanks to all the people who have shed their blood and lost their lives so we can live in a better world.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Elgin Marbles

The Elgin Marbles are some of the remaining fragments of sculpture that originally were part of the Parthenon. They have been in the British Museum for something like 200 years. For the the last 30 years, Greece has asked that they be sent back to Greece, but the Brits have refused for a variety of reasons. The dialogue has gotten really heated in more recent years, with some who side with the Greeks even accusing the Brits of stealing the marbles from Greece. I have very strong view on this debate, and I'm going to air them here because no one I know has the least interest in discussing this subject with me.

First of all, the British did not steal the Elgin Marbles. The Museum's ownership of them is completely legal. On top of that, anyone who cares about the marbles should thank the British for acquiring them, as it is highly unlikely they would have survived to this day without the careful preservation and safety in which they have been kept by the British Museum. So there is no justification to call the Brits thieves (at least not in this case).

Further, even if the Brits did steal the marbles, Greece has no standing to demand their return. Britain acquired the marbles from the Ottomans (who controlled Greece at the time). I believe some feel that the Ottoman authorization shouldn't be valid since they had no vested interest in the antiquities of any country they were occupying. However, this position really just undermines the Greek position. The marbles belonged to the city state of Athens, so only the Athenian government would have any right to demand their return (as being the 'original owners'). But that government no longer exists.

So, the marbles belong to the Brits and they are justified to keep them as long as they like, especially since the Greeks have been so completely insulting about the whole thing. However...

Sometimes being 'right' doesn't mean you're doing the right thing. Despite the legality of the acquisition, the British Museum should return the marbles for a reason that transcends politics, nationalism, morals, and law. The marbles should go back to reunite - as much as can be done - a piece of art that should ideally never have been separated in the first place: the Parthenon.

The Parthenon is more than just a building; it is a piece of art that visually represents everything that ancient Athens stood for. It is a touchstone of heritage for the entire Western World. Now the British Museum often says that there's no point to return the marbles since they can never be reattached to the Parthenon. Maybe they can't be, but that's irrelevant. Seeing the marbles in the British Museum irretrievably divorces them them from their intended context. It would be like seeing the head of the 'David' statue - without the body - in a museum in Cleveland and expecting to get an feel for what the whole sculpture. It's impossible to get the real - and intended - impact.

I can say this confidently because I have been to the Parthenon. While I understand where the Elgin marbles 'fit' into the whole, it would have been far better to see them at the same time as I saw the rest of the building, even if they were not attached. At least then I have the best context possible for viewing this masterpiece of human architecture and art.

I do not think this would lead to a slippery slope requiring the return of all antiquities to their country of origin. It's not a matter of a single statue or a painting; this is a piece of art that has been broken apart and spread across the globe (for whatever reason). Reuniting the pieces makes this a fairly unique case.

For the Elgin Marbles and - by extension - any piece of the Parthenon, whether the piece belongs to Greece, Britain, or all humanity isn't the relevant issue. Nor is it relevant to discuss how long some part of the Parthenon has been somewhere in determining whether it should go back. The important question to ask is: Do we or do we not want to preserve great pieces of art? If the answer is yes, then the British acted to save an important part of this major site, and they should now complete this act by helping to reunite the pieces of the Parthenon as best as they are able. The Parthenon is a unique object, an architectural artwork, and keeping it scattered across the world - for any reason - is not in the best interests of anyone who cares about art or history.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Some of the latest adds to Peteradio:

"All is Forgiven" - Carmen Rizzo - I am becoming more and more impressed with Rizzo's adventurous spirit. He really works to merge different music together and that creates things that just totally bend your ear. This is a bit of trip-hop-like stuff you find on his albums, but he's into everything from Niyaz to collaborations with throat singers from Northeast Asia.

"Honey" - Lisa Shaw - The voice of smooth house. Her Salted Music debut is stronger than the album she did for Naked Music, but I still feel like it's a bit limp. Some good tracks nonetheless.

"If" - Colette - No summer music playlist is complete without a little house. Colette's music has substance and it sounds like she can actually sing, which differentiates her from house played as 'club music'.

"Dirty" - J-Boogie's Dubtronic Science - His Soul Vibrations album is an instant classic. There's hip-hop grit in the production, smoky live brass, cool-ass keys, and a groove that is just sick. This is one of the best releases of 2008.

"Love You" - Maxwell - I am still enjoying his comeback album, and this track is my favorite on the CD. A build up from piano chords to a complete explosion of passion in Maxwell's singing and then a cool down with an organ. No real chorus or anything, but there's a fantastic emotional build in this song and I love to go along for the ride!

"Close "- Raashan Ahmad - This is a mellow joint that sounds utterly contemporary but has at its heart everything that originally made hip-hop great. The whole album this track came from (The Push) is very strong. Ahmad really writes from the heart and, by dealing with meaningful issues, he comes across as far more 'real' than all gangsta-posing twits on the charts these days (none of whom can actually rap).

On the radar: Nelly Furtado has a new Spanish language album out. She worried me quite a bit with the watered-down crap on her last album (which I didn't buy save for a couple tracks - and, no, "Promiscuous" wasn't one of them). Samples from this album sound like she's back to making music, though I'm curious why she chose Spanish rather than Portuguese?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

High Priest And Heretic

poem 8 from The Ancient Elm

Twenty years ago,
Wizard of the Wood,
outcast and alone,
I ciphered
wind earth air trees
into mythology and light.

But today,
I’m the High Priest
of a twisted myth,
practicing a Craft
whose incense invocations icons
reveal nothing.

I must split from
wand and sword and scepter
and become the heretic
who embraces darkness
that is merely new light

Some of the things that got me thinking about this cycle was not only the approach of 40 and viewing myself differently and embracing Zen. Between these two things, there was a feeling of charting new territory and looking at myself in a different way, and that was not always comfortable. For example, it was surprisingly jarring to me to think of myself as a man and not a young man for the first time. Not unpleasant or limiting or sad, but very, very different perspective. This is where the idea of turning from a high priest to a heretic comes in.

In the last poem, the speaker has achieved everything possible along his last trajectory and has stagnated a bit. The thing he sought was never really intended to be the end of all goals, but it became that because he has spent a lot of time getting there and there was never a need to think 'and then what?' Now there is. And, at first, the thinking is to revisit who you've been in the past. However, as shown in the Imperial Triptych, you really can't do that.

A person has to try new things and, sometimes, that requires starting over a bit and not being as effective at everything as you're used to being (turning from a high priest to a heretic). So the speaker splits from 'wand to sword to scepter' which has become a mantra that doesn't really apply to himself twenty years on. He must embrace darkness (the unknown) and view it as a chance to move on to new goals and achievements.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

London (Day 6, last day)

The British Museum is incredible! So many rooms covering so many different cultures! Of course, they had the 'standard' stuff (Egypt - including mummies! - and Greece), but they had excellent pieces and the Museum goes so much further beyond that. There was Assyrian, Cycladean, Cyprian, and wonderfully varied collections from Tibet, India, China, Japan, the Islamic Empire, Persia, etc. etc. etc. The place could be an introductory window into just about any major culture, and I could have spent a week at this museum and not have been satisfied. If you go to London, plan to visit multiple times to be able to drink it all in at a leisurely pace. Truly one of the best museums I have ever been to.

The only downside is the sometimes the uncomfortable feeling that some of this stuff was 'purloined' more than 'acquired'. For example, there were a couple colossal Native American totem poles (see picture) tpurchased from a Western Canadian tribe . However, the offer to buy then was made after diseases introduced by the West decimated the people of the tribe. Purchase or scavenging? It's a fine line. There is also a statue from Easter Island that once resided in a shrine of sorts. Did the people there really just sell it? I suppose it certainly possible. If I knew more, maybe I wouldn't be bothered by this at all.

From the immediate area, there was a wonderful collection of Viking weapons and artifacts. The Vikings fascinate me, maybe because there seems to be so little information about them from before they were Christianized that they have a bit of mystique to them. Maybe I just like the idea of a warrior based culture? There was also plenty of beautiful and unique Celtic artifacts, including helmets and artifacts from the earliest days of England. Some very intricate metalwork on the helmets that is beautiful in a fierce kind of way.

After that we finished the final day with something completely different: antiquing on Portobello Road. Yet another example of how London offered something that captured my interest despite my general disinterest in the topic/area. To me antiquing isn't much more interesting than going to garage sales all day. Nicer knick-knacks, I suppose, but bor-ing! But
I had a lot of fun looking in all the different antique shops here. One had nothing but clocks, another all silver, another all boxes. There were some old books to look at here and there. The best part was how interested Jim was in it. I liked watching him browse and eventually buy a silver Edwardian vase. Of course, there were some more examples of that crazy ornate decoration...and I snapped another picture (see to side: is that not something a complete over the top queen would have in their home or what?). I'm obsessed with this, and I don't know why!

After we bought the vase, it was back to the hotel. Bottom line: We loved London! We saw so much, though we truthfully didn't see everything the city had to offer by a long shot. Still, after all the backbreaking walking, I was ready to go home. I hope we'll come back though.
The End!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

London (Day 5)

Another trip out of London. This time to Hatfield House where Elizabeth I grew up and where she eventually learned she was queen. The actual house Elizabeth grew up in is still there, although you can't get into it other than to see the banquet hall (which is very poorly presented, by the way). Not sure why they don't let people into the house, as I'm sure it would be a bigger draw than the (admittedly impressive) newer house.

The newer house was built during the reign of James I, Elizabeth's successor, and (I believe) it was built by Robert Cecil, Elizabeth's chief minister during the latter years of her reign. It holds several portraits of Tudors and
Cecils, as well as many other paintings from the period and later. The decoration in much of the house is again that gaudy/rococo, although there are some rooms with a sort of old world gentleman flavor that appealed to me. In particular, there is a library with loads of old/rare hardcover books lining the walls. I was drooling over those but I doubt they would let anyone look at them since it seems like someone still actually resides there. Someday I would love to have a library full of great old books like that; it would be a collection and an archive, as well as a source of pleasure to own.

As with the other sites, there were all sorts of little architectural details just fascinated me. Inside, the tour guide gave a lot of great information and pointed out some of the most interesting pieces, which we never would have picked up on by ourselves. For example, there was a set of rock crystal glasses Philip II gave Mary I as a wedding gift. The guide was able to tell us about the history of the set since Mary's time, and I find it so interesting to hear how something like this survives and is passed along. The guide also pointed out photos and paintings of the marquesses (sp?) who owned/own the house, which seemed to be of great interest to the Brits around us though I have to confess I really didn't care to know anything about the present owners. I'm just glad they let a bunch of tourists traipse through their house.

The grounds at Hatfield include a wonderful garden and a path that winds through some of the most massive, twisted trees I've ever seen. I took all sorts of pics of them. As you can tell by now it's a good thing I rely on tour books for the 'money shots' when I travel, as I tend to become fascinated by the most random things. Oh wellbetter to have pictures of that then bad pictures of something I can get in a postcard or tour book.

After Hatfield, we hit the British Museum. (And I might be confused..maybe we did Soho and China Town today, too). It was pretty late by that point and so we just hit some highlights (e.g., the Elgin marbles, which we really wanted to see since we had been to Athens and the Acropolis many years ago). They were great to see, but I am sure to post a separate 'essay' about the controversy around them and my opinion on the whole mess. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 11, 2009

London (Day 4)

Went further afield today. We took the tube to the train and headed out of London for Hampton Court. This was a palace Henry VIII lived in (as well as many subsequent royals). You can click on the pics here (and in all my posts) to make them bigger. While the Crown Jewels got me interested in a jewelry display (which is something I never thought I'd care about), Hampton Court made me all excited about architecture, which is a subject that has never really flipped my switch. I ended up taking pictures of all kinds of little details of the buildings and interiors.

Hampton Court holds many portraits of the Tudors, and it was great to see them in person. Photos in books never do justice to the real thing. The interiors of the rooms and the chapel were plush and very (what I call) 'rococo', meaning beautifully fancy and ornate but today only a very flamboyant gay man or a really old lady with ancient-skool taste would decorate things like that. It works in a palace though. See photo below for an example of what I mean.

They had several people running around dressed up as Henry VIII, Katherine Parr, pages, etc. And they interacted with the tourists. Now I know you're thinking: Ick! However, these people weren't interacting in an overly cutesy kind of way, and they seemed to make a point of referencing something around them in a way that told you something about the court. It was actually a pretty cool way to have someone proactively providing information to people in an engaging and non-intrusive way.

We loved Hampton Court and all it's splendor, but I didn't take to many pictures because I knew I could get a book at the tour shop that would have better quality photos than anything I could manage to get. I prefer this because then I can put away the camera and really absorb what I'm seeing and catch little details I might otherwise miss.

After Hampton Court, we came back to London and got into Westminster Abbey. Very impressive architecture, and so extraordinarily Gothic (in the Siouxsie and the Banshees sense). Dimly lit and full of dead bodies and effigies and Latin and crumbling stone. Again, seeing a place like this would normally send me into a yawn spiral, but this was just so top notch for this kind of attraction, that you are engaged in spite of yourself.

We then walked around Soho for a while, which I didn't find especially interesting. Maybe because I lived in a city? It just didn't seem at all trendy or cutting edge to me. Luckily, we spotted Chinatown and wandered in there to find a good restaurant for lunch. After that, we took a stab at the Victoria and Albert Museum, but I was so exhausted from walking around at that point that I could only snap a few pictures of some particularly gaudy/rococo-like beds, mirrors, and interiors that they had on display. I was becoming obsessed with this stuf that I started taking pictures of the extreme examples I saw.

The bad thing about Europe is that you spend so much time walking and standing and looking that your feet and lower back just start screaming by the time nine hours have passed. We had to head back after this especially grueling day. And I thought this was a vacation!

Yellow Belt

Went to Hapkido last night and had a great work-out, as always. Also found out that I passed my rank test and am now a yellow belt! Sweeeet!!!!

PS: Now that work seems to be finally calming down and the London trip is done, I need to start lifting again. It's been a month since I last lifted, and I feel like a big lazy blob.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

London (Day 3)

Bright and early, we took the tube to the Tower. Once again, I could see we hit London at a great time because the place was dead! We got in with practically no wait! We made straight for the Crown Jewels...no obstacles. There are loads of roped lines leading to the Jewels, the kind you see for a popular Disneyland ride, so they clearly usually get quite a crowd.

Now, believe me, before the trip I was like: "The Crown Jewels? It's a bunch of ancient-skool bling. Who cares?" But I was impressed. One sceptre had a diamond the size of a large shot glass, and the crowns are just covered in giants rubies and all sorts of big gems. No pics allowed, sorry! Even so, I question whether I would have felt it worthwhile to stand in some huge line to see them.

Near the jewels are other royal treasures: gold plates, gold dining room implements, and huge cisterns. Part of me sees all this and thinks: how much faster would Europe have advanced if all this wealth had actually been used as capital rather than horded by a bunch of interbreeding dictators? But I suppose one must suspend ones morality to enjoy any of this royal stuff, right?

The Tower also had an exhibition with armor and weapons worn by Henry VIII or those at his court. Plus we had a great view of Tower Bridge, saw Traitor's Gate, examples of torture implements, and of course the famous Tower ravens. All in all, an interesting time.

Then we left for the South Bank. The hurricanes in the mid-Atlantic were sending loads of clouds that flew over London so that we got brief microshowers before quickly reverting back to sun. (So the weather was probably better than we had any right to expect, as well).

London Eye gave us a worthwhile panoramic view of London, with a rainbow over the city, Whitehall, and the Thames. Incidentally, this was the day of our 13th anniversary, so it actually turned out to be a great day for this kind of a ride. More relaxed fun on the South Bank included plenty of street performers, some of whom were very entertaining. We sat on a bench overlooking the Thames and took a load off.

Then we re-crossed the Thames to walk by Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. We thought about going into the Abbey, but it was closed. At this point our feet and backs were aching from standing and walking so much and we went back to the hotel to crash.

Happy Anniversary!

Monday, September 7, 2009

London (Day 2)

This morning, we started off with the included guided tour, which actually turned out to be worth it. It was a spin through London, seeing the neighborhoods and major sites, including a stop at the Albert Memorial (gaudy beyond belief), Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Parliament, etc. etc. London is certainly worth seeing in this way, because everywhere you look, the architecture snags your eye.

We wandered St. Paul's Cathedral and saw the crypts there. Then back to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard. Everyone had told us: "You can't miss this." But we thought it was a waste of time. Some uniformed people march by and are inspected before the palace. Yawn city! But we can certainly now say we've seen it, and the crowds were not that bad so I think we hit London at a good time.

We got back to the hotel, found a nearby pub, and had a fish and chips lunch (and a pint). It was good and fun (because it was London and a pub and fish and chips, you know) but, generally, as far as British cuisine goes, all I can say is I'm glad London has lots of ethnic restaurants. After lunch, we went ahead and signed up for an optional tour of the Royal Mews and then Buckingham Palace.

The Mews are a stable, a fancy stable, but a stable. It does offer you the chance to see this massive golden carriage used for coronations, which is straight out of Fairytaleland. (You can click on the pic here to see a much larger view). Very impressive. Of course, we had to laugh at some of the other displays. Anyone want to see the Queen's chauffeur's shoes? Not me! Yet, lo and behold, herds of people actually took pictures of them! Pictures of shoes! Guess the people running the Mews know their audience.

The inside of Buckingham Palace was very impressive (as a palace should be, right?). No pics allowed, but that is a blessing because you spend more time really looking rather than snapping. Lots of art, mainly Italian and Dutch Masters. Loads of massive portraits of royals. Some intriguing (Charles I), others epic (Victoria's coronation), and some sadly hilarious (some military garbed paunchy latter day kings, who didn't look as if they could even get on a horse much less go into battle).

The Palace was definitely worth the time. Though, in a way, it's strange. The furniture and decor are very ornate and impressive...in a palace. Yet I'm certain that any single piece taken out of that context would look like something you'd expect to find in your tacky Aunt Minnie's annual garage sale. It definitely works in the Palace though!

This was our only day with a tour group. From here on in we were on our own, and we went to sleep after plotting what to do once we were cast adrift on the streets of London.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

London (Day 1)

We got to London in the afternoon, so there wasn't a ton of time to see much that day. However, since we arrived just at the beginning of the Carnaval, we walked all the way from Paddington to Notting Hill (it wasn't clear to us newbies which tube stops were even working since some were closed down for the event).

We only had a vague idea how to get to Carnaval, so we just followed the sounds of crowds and music. At one point, two women came running by and asked: "Do you know where Paddington Station is?" Very broad accents, skimpy clothes, and one had a huge tattoo covering her back. They were definitely party girls. We pointed them in the right direction and they ran off. As we walked away, I heard them call after us again. "Are you guys gay?" I laughed and said "Yeah!" (as in 'of course, girlfriend!'). She looked like I'd just given her a Christmas present early. "Oh I love it!" she cried out. She opened her arms, so did I, and she ran back over to me, and we hugged. I was in a great mood after that, and I can't think of a better welcome from any city I've ever visited!

Needless to say, the festival was totally vibrant. There were some elaborate costumes, and the energy was terrific all around. There were stacks of speakers sitting along the streets everywhere. Lots of great music, food offered from the restaurants, and people could wander around with open beer bottles. On one corner, there was a stage with a DJ spinning some really crushing beats and a crazy guy shouting into his mike to get the crowd worked up. I could feel the bass reverberating in my chest cavity as we passed by. I found it exhilarating, but Jim seemed a bit unimpressed by it all.

We had arrived well before the full tilt insanity, though it was obvious what was coming. The barricades were set up a dozen blocks before we even got near the crowds, and many shops were completely boarded up as if they were expecting a hurricane to come through. We later heard that there were fist fights and a decapitation, so I'm glad we went at a relatively tame period. I've long since had my fill of event hysteria, and I was way too tired from the flight to get drunk.

Anyway, after we wandered around and snapped pictures like good little tourists, we found our way out, strolled through Kensington Gardens, walked past shops and hookah bars, and had dinner at a little Lebanese restaurant (a new ethnic experience for both of us). Great food, with free baklava for dessert. The best baklava I've ever had actually. Then we called it a night; we needed to rest up for our first full day in London!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Mind The Gap

No, I did not get lazy and quit blogging. The gap in blogging is because Jim and I just got back from London and, believe me, this was not a trip for lazy people. We were on the go pretty much constantly. We had a great time, but I'm completely wiped out. I'll start posting all the details tomorrow!