Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Notes to Self--or--Manifesto! The Pre-August Mini-Edition

Every now and then I enjoy doing my own brand of manifesto. Here's last year's version from September of 2009, To Thine Own Self Be True. I still absolutely stand behind my positions of nearly a year ago, right down to the dark nails, my undying love for Barbour, and my Champagne of choice. That said, some additions are definitely in order, so here goes:

1. Frenemies need not apply. If you think that I'm a dreadful correspondent and feel the need to flog me ceaselessly and snarkily, you are not my friend. And if you take zero interest in my endeavors and pout petulantly when the world doesn't revolve around you? Still not my friend. And as for the intimation that my best years are behind me, they are not. I'm nowhere near the halfway point and quite honestly, I'm only getting started, so any "nattering nabobs of negativism" please get out of my way.

2. Never underestimate the amount of joy to be found by eating some of your favorite simple summer meals...Maid-Rite sandwiches, watermelon-feta salad, root-beer floats, Wally coolattas, fresh buttery sweetcorn, and let's not forget, BERRIES.

3. 3-D isn't going to make a poorly written movie any more entertaining. And if the movie is already good, 3-D could quite possibly ruin it. Been there, done that, worn the silly glasses. *next*

4. If you haven't made plans to go to a racetrack near you, well why haven't you? Saratoga is mecca this time of year as are Monmouth and Del Mar, but why not a trip to Suffolk, Arlington, Canterbury? Pick a track that's close and go. Enjoy the horses, play funny hunch bets and people watch--you won't be sorry! Unless, of course you try for the boxed trifecta (as someone I know does...) when you really should have stuck with the simple exacta.

5. In life, proper attire is a must. If you are running, you wear athletic attire. If you are dining out, you remove your baseball cap, if you are (UGH) still wearing it. If you are at the beach, you wear either a bathing costume or other summer appropriate wear. In short, skivvies and foundation garments are NOT--I repeat, NOT--appropriate at the beach. That goes for men and women alike and yes, this comes from a truly shudder-inducing beach experience. Aside from being unsanitary, it's just GROSS. 

6. It is a pretty backward world we live in when Martha Stewart and Lindsay Lohan are such threats to humanity that they have to be jailed, but the villains from BP who have forever altered the eco-system of the Gulf of Mexico are going to yacht races on the Isle of Wight. 

7. And finally, building a mosque near the former WTC site is important. Yup, I went there and said that. No more dumbing down or hiding our lights under bushel baskets. We are the country people fled TO because of religious persecution in their homelands, the beacon of freedom to practice whatever religion you'd like or to practice none at all. How about we all, with a gallic shrug and an exaggerated eye-roll for Alaska's favorite daughter, stand up for what America's ideals really are? That means we show the entire world how strongly we believe in our ideals. We believe so strongly, in fact, that we uphold them even when it makes us a little uncomfortable. We show the world by what we do and how we treat people, we lead by example. Just like writing a book, showing is much more important than telling: show the world we mean what we say, don't simply tell other countries glibly to be more like us. Standing up and pointing out the utter irrationality of her views is not likely to sway the aforementioned former governor, but it might just cause others to take notice. We've missed a number of opportunities in the past 18 or so months to lead by example and put our money where our collective and proverbial mouth is, let's not let this one get away too. 

There you have it, my Pre-August Mini-Manifesto, here's to enjoying the last few days of July!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

BIG weekend...BIG...HUGE

Yeah, THAT big. Okay, so it was just another sweltering weekend here in New England. And not to jump on the already large "pig pile," but this tropical heat and humidity is NOT what I signed on for. I choose not to live in Florida and I'd appreciate it if New England weather would acknowledge that.

What was worth mentioning this week was television, mostly for the Season 4 premiere of my favorite (by a LONG stretch) show, Mad Men, on AMC. I watched a number of the Season 3 reruns to get myself back in the mood, but honestly, I wouldn't have had to. Their writers and creative folks do such a good job of keeping viewers interested and intrigued, watching a new season of Mad Men is like seeing your old friend from school--you catch up quickly and fall easily back into old rhythms and patterns. It just works when you do it that well.

No spoilers here, but it suffices to say that this was a pretty fantastic episode. No huge surprises, that's not their style, but narrative advancing plot twists, nonetheless. You really can't ask for more than that, only they add in characters that you don't just like and recognize, but some that you recognize and want to dislike, but can't. It can be deliciously frustrating when nothing is exactly what it seems on the outside...just like life.

As a quick side note--no time for a graceful segue here--I really do hope to write a little further on both the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Hospital and the Fairfield State Hospital Campus at Newtown. I'm finding it more difficult than I'd expected to address the topic with the right amount of seriousness while still commenting and discussing the architecture and mental health. As soon as I find the right balance, you'll see another post about one or both.

I'll leave you with one of the best lines from tonight's episode of Mad Men..."I'm from the midwest, we're taught that it's not polite to talk about ourselves."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Sonic Boom in Connecticut

I mentioned the other day that errands took me to the area surrounding Wallingford, CT. I’m always up for a new adventure and I was pretty sure I had not previously explored that part of the state.

Sometimes I do actually look at maps or do small amounts of research when I head into a new place and this was one of those times. While there are several notable homes (of both architectural and historical significance) lining the main and side streets, Wallingford was not what I expected. Don’t misunderstand that I was disappointed in the town itself, that’s not it at all. I simply had a clear picture in my mind of what I hoped/wanted to find and I wasn’t finding it.  Here’s the REST of the story…

The news last week all over Connecticut was that the first of several planned locations of the very popular Sonic Drive-In chain was preparing for their grand opening—in Wallingford. A very big deal in these parts to be sure. Yes, there are Sonics in both New York and Massachusetts, but this one is in Connecticut.  And Connecticut has some great burger history—Louis Lunch in New Haven claims the invention of the modern hamburger sandwich and Ted’s in Meriden has incredibly unique steamed burgers—so we appreciate a good burger in these parts. And I appreciate a well-executed burger—Five Guys or Red Robin, Steak and Shake in Indiana, and my all time favorite, a Shack Burger from Shake Shack in NYC—far be it from me to begrudge a new burger spot a few acres of Connecticut turf.

This is where it all gets a little awkward. I realized, as the news reporters were leading up to the big opening day that the parcel of land where Sonic was building was once the home to a local landmark, The Yankee Silversmith Inn.  Normally, that would mean I was fixing to have a rant about preservation, about long-term value, about urban sprawl…my usual bug-a-boos. But not this time.

First of all, The Yankee Silversmith was damaged (apparently beyond repair) in a fire a couple of years ago, so it is a bit of a moot point.  Also to be noted, the folks who have bought and built this franchise are the old owners of the Yankee Silversmith so it isn’t the usual case of just off-loading land to developers. The circa 1890s railway car that was also part of the dining area was not damaged (or at least not severely) and was sent to a new home at a railroad museum here in Connecticut. I knew all this before I left home, but I was still prepared to stomp my foot in protest, to lament the loss of this structure and more important, the loss of what places like it once stood for. Those instincts of indignation and disappointment at the loss of important or unique sites are hard to suppress, so even armed with the information above, I had this almost innate sense of rising disapproval.

 But as I drove out of Wallingford proper, on North Colony Road (Hwy 5) all I saw was the usual strip mall sprawl. Home Depots, grocery stores, a few bank branches, some little mom and pop pizza shops—the things most of us see on a daily basis while driving to work or running errands. There were also a number of empty storefronts, surely a nod to our dismal economic situation, on both sides of the highway. And even though deep-down I knew better, I still half-expected to see the large shady grove of trees that had once surrounded the bucolic Yankee Silversmith Inn. That was not to be.

As I neared the Sonic Drive-In site, the traffic crush became more noticeable—they actually were turning customers away because the parking area was too full of cars waiting for the drive-thru window and drive-in bays. I pulled into the parking lot of an IHOP across the street to just observe the scene and survey the landscape a little.

What I found myself feeling though, was not indignation, not disapproval, but a weird disappointment that now, Sonic was more at home in this spot in 2010 than the Yankee Silversmith Inn would have been. Looking around at the ubiquitous chains that line the road—literally for miles—Sonic belonged here in a way the old inn could not. Encroaching new development and changes in road and traffic patterns must have made the inn a kind of an oasis of nostalgia (or even kitsch) in a sea of cookie-cutter chain sameness. I was a little wistful, but no matter, the truth was just too obvious to ignore: time, identity, and sprawl had outrun The Yankee Silversmith, that’s all there was to it.

I didn’t stay long, but did snap a quick photo as I was leaving the IHOP lot. The picture doesn’t do justice to the traffic levels that were buzzing around Sonic, but you get an idea of the landscape, or lack thereof. (I fully realize they will be doing more and more finishing of the surrounding grounds, so don’t take this as a slam at Sonic, more of a lament that so many trees had to be lost for parking.) Below my dreary pic is a much sunnier postcard from The Yankee Silversmith Inn.

And no, I didn’t even try to eat there that day, it just seemed the wrong thing to do, feeling how I felt, with the slightly sour taste of disappointment lingering on my palate. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

When Life Gives You Onions...

Like most everyone else, I love summer foods. All the fresh vegetables and fruits, the burgers and salads, the al fresco dining—among the best moments of any summer. At some point during the season, though, I inevitably begin to experience a kind of weariness when it comes to the usual fare. Not wanting to heat up the place too much by baking or turning on a hot oven, perhaps something hearty from the stovetop was still possible.

And that was where I found myself today. I had seen some really nice looking Vidalia onions at the market over the weekend and I couldn’t resist bringing them home.  Real Vidalias (grown in a few very specific Georgia counties, the vegetable equivalent of an AOC for the French) are generally available April thru November, so I could even consider that I was still eating mostly seasonally with my slightly untimely meal. And while they are a lovely addition to most any recipe that calls for onions, these sweet gems are for me the basis for one of my favorite dishes of all time—French Onion Soup.

I kind of consider myself a connoisseur of a good French onion gratinée because I’ve been a lifelong sampler of this classic soup. I don’t ever recall anyone in my family making it, certainly not my mother or her mother and I can’t see my paternal grandmother making it either. Instead, French onion soup was a kind of treat that I’d order from restaurants when we at out. And thusly, I’ve had the best onion soups in the world (my own, thank you very much, plus one in France, obviously) and the worst (places where I should have known better than to even think about ordering it, including London) plus everything in between. Granted, what suits my palate may not be to your taste, so my opinions are clearly subjective, but I’ve found that the finished products I enjoy most are those that have the simplest and highest quality ingredients.

I use Julia’s recipe, plain and simple. (And never fear, I don’t have any aspirations to be Julie Powell so no worries this is going to become some kind of food blog!) The only reason I can imagine using any other formula or buying canned onion soup (perish the thought!!!) would be a food allergy or condition. And I say that because this dish is so clean and elegant, like most of the best dishes are, that anyone can make it successfully—even me.

Now to be fair, I do make a few small tweaks to the recipe of “the great one” aka,Julia Child. I don’t make many meat dishes so making stock hasn’t happened for me, though someday it may—but that means I use stock from the box. I do, however, doctor it up with a bay leaf or two and some ground thyme while it simmers. Otherwise, I follow her method to the letter, right down to using extra dry vermouth instead of white wine. (Consider that when Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in the USA very few people consumed wine the way we do now, so the original recipe uses 1 cup of vermouth, which would have been present in many liquor cabinets.)

And that’s basically it. Onions allowed to cook and then caramelize to a “dark walnut color” (yes, the first time I made it I actually looked at my bag of walnuts to gauge the caramelizing level…don’t judge!) with a little sugar and pinch of salt. A bit of flour and then add the beef stock that has been simmering away with the bay leaf, vermouth and thyme and you’re good to go. Tonight I started early so I was able to let the soup really simmer—for over 2 hours—and that resulted in a very rich, velvety consistency.

Because of the heat and humidity, I opted not to go full gratinée with putting the cheese-covered bowl under a hot broiler. I did, however, have some perfect croutons from day old Wave Hill bread and by putting those in the bottom of the bowl and dusting the top with an earthy, finely shaved Gruyere cheese, it was all just fine.

There is so much to love about this simple creation—the shiny onions as they caramelize and pick up bits from the bottom of the pan; the beefy richness of the broth; the subtle layering of flavor from the thyme and bay. When combined, these basic ingredients are greater than the sum of their parts.  I could wax rhapsodic about my soup for a bit longer, but the delightful aroma wafting from the kitchen means,  pun intended, soup’s on!

Consult your copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking for the recipe, or here’s an online version from a food blog I thoroughly enjoy called, happily, Gratinée. Magnifique, non?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Connecticut, circa 1938

On bold, sans serif Works Progress Administration letterhead, is the following typewritten note from WPA administrator Harry L. Hopkins:

"One of the most fortunate results of the American Guide Series is the opportunity it is giving us to
understand the contrasting character of the forty-eight States and to realize how the contributions of each have brought about the unity of the whole.

This book on Connecticut illustrates the point. The third smallest State in the Union, it
has sent out more people than it has kept at home. Connecticut blood is the basis of much that is prized in many States. It is democratic, zealous for education, mechanically inventive, and, being strongly individual, has furnished leadership in every field."

The short missive is signed by Hopkins and is included amidst the front matter of one of (to my mind, anyway) the WPA's great legacies--The American Guide Series. The series was part of the Federal Writers' Project designed to employ out of work writers, editors, etc. All the states (48 at the time) had their own guide in addition to certain regions and some large American cities. Connecticut's edition was published by Houghton-Mifflin in 1938. I think the sentiment I'm most fond of in that little letter is the idea that each state had something of unique value to contribute to the unity of the whole. 

I was vaguely aware of these books, somewhere in the recesses of my cobwebby mind, but I'd not really given them much consideration until I was reminded that they might contain some other information I was looking to confirm. It is a good thing, too, that I'd not delved fully into one until now because I've become a little obsessed with it. The writing is a little dated and many of the buildings (especially from the mid-18th century) are long gone, but the detail and history is very interesting. There are black and white photos and maps and suggested tour routes for every corner of the state. No doubt there are a few tidbits of information contained herein that are long forgotten, which makes these valuable in some cases as oral histories, too. In many instances locals were interviewed for these guides so there is a very personal feeling to some of the stories and anecdotes. It is striking to see how much we used to make in this part of the country and how little we now do. From the ubiquitous hat factories of Danbury to the smaller mills and shops of the surrounding communities, industry in general has really declined.

It will come as no surprise that roads--where they were, where they are,  and what they were called--can complicate an effort like this immensely. (Consider, obviously there was no I-84 and the Merritt Parkway was under construction at this time.)A little detective work, though, and a few miles of trial and error proved to work just fine and I was able to see a little corner of my stomping grounds through a slightly different lens. 

One small digressive piece of information--the little jaunt I made today was slightly haphazard. I had errands that took me near Wallingford yesterday and despite my best efforts, the journey didn't really go as planned. Not a failure, and surely not wasted time either, but frustrating and something that will pop up here later I suspect. Enough said. So today I went with slightly lower expectations and was more than pleasantly surprised with my results. 

According to Connecticut: A Guide To Its Road, Lore, and People, here is the description of my day's travels: "US 7 passes roadside markets catering to the motorist trade, numerous pre-Revolutionary houses carefully remodeled, and an old Lime Quarry (L), at 29.3 m. Traversing rolling, agricultural country, US 7 passes the American Beauty House (L), 31.2 m., a brick dwelling (about 1812) with four chimneys and a stone-arched Palladian window, made famous by Edna Ferber's novel 'American Beauty' (1931). The great house is a monument to days when the fertile fields supported country squires in style."

Unfortunately, most of the pre-Revolutionary houses mentioned are no longer extant, but the "American Beauty House" is. The moment I read the guide's description of the "four chimneys and Palladian window" I had a suspicion that I'd been past such a house one afternoon when I was rather, erm, lost. (I'm never really lost, but I'm happy without a map exploring so let's just say I didn't end up precisely where I'd expected to that particular afternoon.) 

As I drove along the highway and through what I decided was the old limestone quarry in question, I could see the brick house begin to come in to view on my left. (It is now a furniture store and houses the "Brickhouse Collection.") Four chimneys? Check. Palladian window? Check. It all matched. The location, the 1938 description, all of it. I think I actually squealed in the car when I realized that a) it was still there and b) it was THE house I'd been past a few times. I'd wondered about it since it is one of the only old dwellings on that stretch of the road, but I had no idea of this aspect of the structure's history. I find quite curious the mention of the Palladian window and four chimneys, but nothing whatsoever is said of the beautiful ovals (see better views below) at each end of the uppermost level. Writer's quirk, perhaps?
(The American Beauty House today, aforementioned Palladian window above the door.)

Now if you've never read Edna Ferber's American Beauty, don't feel too badly, it seems it was not one of her most memorable works. I can't weigh in as I've not fetched it from the library yet, but it is, from what I've discerned, an American epic kind of tale about a tobacco growing family here in Connecticut. I'm very curious to read it and see how the rest of the area and scenery is described by Ms. Ferber. 

I'm a sucker for a beautiful brick structure. My grandparent's home in Wisconsin overlooking the Mississippi was a younger (1840s) brick home, but one of the oldest extant structures in Buffalo County. That this home has survived nearly 200 years here--through the on again-off again plans for "Super 7"--is quite remarkable.
Thus endeth my adventure for today, one little piece of circa 1812 Connecticut explored in the 21st century via circa 1938 Connecticut.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Going Once...Anybody Else? SOLD!!

I've been working quite diligently this week on writing projects--so much so that I was in rather a state of information fatigue. Not only did I find many things I was looking for, I also stumbled upon (and trust me, when it comes to me and research, stumbling is the operative word) many more significant threads that are worthy of further exploration. Crazy how well things can go when you've got a little synchronicity and general good fortune on your side!

So after two days of disciplined writing and research, I decided a break was in order if for no other reason than to clear my head and focus my thoughts a bit. I'd seen a good deal of chatter about the Fasig-Tipton sales and when I learned I could watch them online, well, I poured myself an iced tea and settled in for the afternoon of equine fantasy.

Now I've always liked a good auction and in the past have spent many an afternoon and evening attending them--though usually estate auctions and the like where I was buying the occasional piece of cobalt Fiestaware or the odd piece of furniture to refinish for a 4-H county fair project. There was a kind of auction circuit for the local antiques dealers and you would get to know which ones were likely to bid you up and which ones would drop out quickly. Some dealers would show up and you knew you had zero chance of getting the item you'd been eyeing because they always seemed to be willing to pay well above what a piece was worth. And then there were the auctioneers. A few had really good banter and got into a good rhythm with the crowd and their bid takers. At the opposite end of that spectrum were the ones who stumbled, stuttered, lost bids, created chaos and couldn't--for love nor money--keep track of where the actual buyers were. It eventually got to be a bit of game for me and my friends when it came to one older auctioneer in particular. We'd all try to guess how long it was before he'd begin to argue with his son and daughter (who worked with him) over who had the bid and where it was. 

The atmosphere at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale of selected yearlings in Lexington, KY was classier by miles than the country auctions I used to attend. And well it should be, the horses on offer are the beautiful and (hopefully) talented sons and daughters of racing royalty. Colts and fillies sired by Medaglia d'oro, Harlan's Holiday, Street Cry, Empire Maker, Unbridled's Song, Afleet Alex, Giant's Causeway and Jazil were only the tip of the iceberg. But surely some of the buyers--those with the deepest pockets--are not so different from the aforementioned antiques dealers who are willing to pay out whatever is necessary to get the object in question: with horses it is just a more expensive proposition!

The amount of work done by all the farms and consignors has to be immense, but there was some incredibly beautifully horse flesh on display. A few others who were also watching the sales likened them to horse p@rn and I couldn't agree more--and this was high class fantasy stuff. Seeing the shiny-as-a-copper-penny chestnuts and the gleaming dark bays as they came into the auction ring was like seeing an incredible equine fashion show. And the one grey that I totally fell in love with was of course the most expensive of the sale: hip 159, a Medaglia d'Oro colt who brought $450,000. Talk about a stud...*sigh.* (Here's the Thoroughbred Times article on him.)

I sat watching how they'd enter the ring, some more jittery than others. The way the shoulders and withers rippled as the colt or filly would whinny and nicker in the ring; seeing their ears prick as they watched the assembled visitors ogling them, such fantastic stuff. Some clearly were more interested in the proceedings than others and it was fascinating to watch them stand tall in the ring like a runway model at the end of a catwalk. A few enjoyed being cheeky with their handlers and there was some pawing and stomping, but most were quite well behaved for their age, I thought. 

What is exciting to me is all the possibility that was on display these past two days. Could one of these well-pedigreed sons or daughters of a great sire or dam be the next horse to capture a Triple Crown in a couple of years? Or maybe the progeny of a more modest sire/dam combination holds the keys to racing superstardom? They've all got a lot of maturing to do and we'll get to see which ones fulfill their bloodlines and which ones exceed them. As Eva Peron (via Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber) might say...these sales are about the art of the possible. 

So now my head is filled with fantasy horses--like Velvet Brown in National Velvet. She dreamt of The Pie and the Grand National, and I've just enjoyed two days that would surely have brought an ear-to-ear grin to the face of the fictional Ms. Brown. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon Writ Large(r)--Part 1

Last night I was having a discussion about, of all things, the history of mining in Nova Scotia with two friends, @heritagemuse and @maineroots (aka Ryan and Rob). Never mind why we were discussing that particular topic on a Friday night, suffices to say it has everything to do with my silly fantasy of running away to Sable Island and living amongst the wild ponies on the beach.

Are you thoroughly lost yet? Baader-Meinhof, Sable Island, mining in Nova Scotia? Right, well, as the evening wound down the talk turned to the elegant moments of synchronicity or fortuosity that we all experience from time to time when a place, theme, or symbol seem to randomly appear in our daily lives. The romantic in me likes to think of them as little nudges from the universe or instances of the fingerpost (with all due respect to Iain Pears) that point us in the direction of some subtle clues or hints. Perhaps an idea or bit of information that deserves more consideration, even.

I can hear you querying, “whatever is she on about?” So say you’re having lunch with your friends and after a couple of drinks (hey, this is MY example…no judging) someone at the table begins to talk about the Baader-Meinhof gang. You’ve never heard of them, but there it is now, part of your consciousness. Then, a few days later, you notice a small newspaper article on the Baader-Meinhofs and think to yourself, hmmmm, I just heard about that at lunch the other day. Not too long after that you’ll overhear a conversation about terrorism and they’ll reference the Baader-Meinhof gang. And the synchronicities and coincidences can start to snowball from there.

Here’s a full write-up on what is generally meant by the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon (and why it is so named) http://wikibin.org/articles/baader-meinhof-phenomenon.html that for me started with the often ridiculously funny Bulletin Board column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

So what about these Baader-Meinhof moments? Most of them don't lead us to great discoveries or breakthroughs, but sometimes they do. Occasionally they are pivot points or connectors that point to more information or even, for other writerly types out there, a research breakthrough. If you’re researching a topic or even say, a family tree, if you start to notice a theme, a place, or name popping up, your gut instincts/intuition probably urge you to investigate further in that direction, right?

I’ve had this experience with a few projects lately and I’m consistently surprised where even seemingly incongruous threads can lead. A few days ago I wrote a post about a Dr. Who episode where The Doctor and Amy visited with Vincent van Gogh in Auvers, France. While it is always the art that really impacts me with van Gogh, what I found most touching in this episode was the artist’s well-known and well-documented fragile mental state. And truthfully, the whole issue of van Gogh’s tortured psyche was at the forefront of my mind as a result of two recent outings.

Not long ago I stumbled upon a couple of architectural shells—the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Hospital (Pauling, NY) and the Fairfield State Hospital (Newtown, CT) while I was out traipsing around. Here were these large campuses that had been left, as it appeared to me, just as they were the day they closed. (And not surprisingly, both sites exude a very sad and rather haunting vibe.) I became more than a little interested not only in what happened to the patients once these institutions closed down in the 80s and 90s, but I wanted to know more about the history of treatment for mental illness. So many questions began to nag at me.
(Fairfield Hills State Hospital)
What began as two utterly undirected country drives grew into curiosity about both campuses—they are each architecturally very interesting—and then into an interest in the people who lived and worked there. Seeing van Gogh’s pain so poignantly expressed just added fuel to the fire for me to learn more about this topic that now seemed to present itself to me with a certain frequency. My curiosity was practically begging me to investigate further. 

So, reader, investigate I did. Over the next few weeks I’ll post a couple of follow-ups to this post with some background on both hospitals, etc. I think it is curious how we become interested (or obsessed) with certain ideas or questions and how we are compelled to learn more about a subject from the smallest nugget of information. Inspiration is to be found if we but look for it, even in the unlikeliest of places.

I do hope you’ll stay tuned!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Keep Cool and Carry On

Refreshing fountain pool, Copley Square, Boston

I know, the real poster says Keep Calm and Carry On, but cool is more the issue today than calm. It is going to get hotter before it gets any cooler, or so the weather forecasters tell us. And the water in Long Island Sound is the temperature it usually is late August--ALREADY!!!--so the relief will be less than we'd hope for in early July. As we in the Northeast slog through another day of sweltering heat, I thought I'd post a few photographs intended to instill a sense of coolness in addition to a reminder that, in some cases, we'll be remembering these hot days with a certain measured fondness when we are mired knee deep in snow and slush. Stay cool, y'all!

Snowy park bench, Central Park, NYC

Stables, Mayowood, Rochester, MN

Central Park, NYC

Snowy peek-a-boo squirrel, Central Park, NYC

Saturday, July 3, 2010

How Dr Who Made Me Cry

 I'm not a real sci-fi kind of girl. I much prefer nearly any other genre of film or book to be perfectly honest, but now and then even I am drawn to aliens and time travel. I'd noticed on the BBC that Dr Who was featuring a plot wherein the good doctor and his ginger assistant, Amy, would be visiting Vincent van Gogh in France for an upcoming episode. While I may not be an aficionado of Dr Who, I am fanatical about van Gogh and so I had to watch.

I remember very clearly the first time I saw a real live (you know what I mean...) honest-to-goodness van Gogh at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I'd never seen anything like that before but I knew I loved it. His frantic, swirling brushstrokes, his love of color and the passion that absolutely flooded out of the painting--it was overwhelming. I then looked at pictures of his other works in the library (no internet back then, kiddies) and learned more about his life and grew to respect him even more. I do love a tortured genius (TE Lawrence is another of my favorite people ever) and van Gogh was certainly that. 

Anyway, back to the doctor. The episode opened with an exhibit of van Gogh pieces at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris with an uncredited and (as always) brilliant Bill Nighy as an art historian leading some tourists through the show. Dr Who and Amy recognize an alien within the window of one of the paintings (The Church at Auvers) and the travel back in time in the TARDIS to rural France ca1889. 

You'd be correct to assume that while things didn't go exactly according to plan, Dr Who, aided by van Gogh did eventually neutralize the capon-ish looking alien thereby making countryside safe for the villagers once again. But the twist--and what got me all choked up--was the end. Van Gogh was famously unappreciated during his lifetime so during the episode his friends from the future resolve to take him back to 2010 and show him how much his work has meant to the world. It's a little Capra-esque device that might sound cloying, but it wasn't, it was quite poignant. Once in the Musee d'Orsay van Gogh sees the throngs of people gathered to view his work and Dr Who himself even engineers it so Bill Nighy's character speaks to the great humanity and passion he sees in Vincent's work. Upon returning van Gogh to his own time, now knowing how beloved he will be, Amy believes that the artist will now not take his own life at 37 and will accumulate a large, new body of work. Dr Who knows better but they rush back to the museum to find nothing changed...van Gogh having died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the young age of 37. When Amy lashes out that they didn't save him or help him after all, the doctor replies to her with the comment that all of us have piles of good things and piles of bad things and that the trick is to not let the bad pile outweigh the good one. Dr Who reassures Amy that they definitely added to van Gogh's good pile.  A lovely sentiment, to be sure, as to how we impact on others, and vice versa, in large and small ways.

So there I was, all choked up over Dr Who--of all things--and half thinking how brilliant it would be to be able to go back, meet and spend time with artists or writers that we admire; the other half of me thinking how wonderful it would have been for van Gogh--and so many other talented artists, writers, poets, dreamers--to have known while they lived that someday the world world would come to appreciate their talents. As with van Gogh, I'm not sure that knowledge would really change anything, but it is an intriguing thought. 

I'll leave you with a little Vincent then, and a little Henry...The Olive Trees by van Gogh and A Day of Sunshine by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Two of my very favorites and I think they go very well together...van Gogh's painting, in some ways, bringing to even more realistic life, Longfellow's beautifully worded poem. Enjoy, and have a safe and happy Independence Day weekend!

(The Olive Trees)

A Day of Sunshine 

O gift of God! O perfect day,
Whereon shall no man work, but play;
Whereon it is enough for me,
Not to be doing, but to be!

Through every fibre of my brain,
Through every nerve, through every vein,
I feel the electric thrill, the touch
Of life, that seems almost too much.

I hear the wind among the trees
Playing celestial symphonies;
I see the branches downward bent,
Like keys of some great instrument,

And over me unrolls on high
The splendid scenery of the sky,
Where through a sapphire sea the sun
Sails like a golden galleon,

Towards yonder cloud-land in the West,
Towards yonder Islands of the Blest,
Whose steep sierra far uplifts
Its craggy summits white with drifts.

Blow, winds! and waft through all the rooms
The snow-flakes of the cherry-blooms!
Blow, winds! and bend within my reach
The fiery blossoms of the peach

O Life and Love! O happy throng
Of thoughts, whose only speech is song
O heart of man! canst thou not be
Blithe as the air is, and as free?