Archive | June 2013

Happy 100th, TDF

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For those of you who think of the Swiss as conservative banker types and tightly wound watchmakers . . . apparently not so much during the TDF.

July is always a weird month for me. Mostly it’s the sleep depravation.

I’m a Tour de France fan, which you may already know as the TDF is practically a character in Lily Does Sweden. Sadly though, I’m not in France in July so the race for me starts live — on NBC Sports every day for a month — at 4:30 AM.

Admittedly, I have zero investment in cycling itself. I don’t participate in TDF fantasy cycling. I don’t cycle. I don’t even own a bike. But I like the TDF itself, the scenery, the crashes, the massive athleticism combined with the even more massive denial of drug use.

I view the TDF as a stand alone event, a chance to drop in on an alternative subculture. Kind of like a friend’s wedding really, except way longer.

I know most of the top riders and their stories. I  have a few favs, but overall my go-to is Tommy Voeckler — who is also a French favorite. But I’m tour savvy. I know there’s way more to the Tour than just the actual race and its riders.

There are the broadcasters: Phil Liggett (from the UK) and Bob Roll (aka Bobke, from the US). “Bobke is the best thing to happen to commentating in years.” Say that to anyone about the Tour and you’ll sound in the know. Probably you’ll also start an arguement, but hey, that’s the Tour for you.

For those of you who don’t know, the Tour has great commercials you won’t see anywhere else. And the Bobke ones are some of the very best. There was even once a nude Bobke commercial. . . . Sorry, having a laugh attack. . . . What was I talking about . . . uh . . . oh yeah . . . .

The Tour has wonderful roadside fans, some in costume — most in rather more than the Swiss above, swinging their huge flags. Most of them are cycling enthusiasts or cyclists. The Swiss are cyclists. You can tell by their tan lines.

Some people just set up camp and wait for the Tour to come to them at one. Others  follow the race around all month. But everyone cheers on their nation’s riders, regardless of team. Of course, fans can be dangerous too, they can cause accidents, but so does the odd dog now and then because there are generally no barriers. I mean, NO barriers . . .

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Welcome fans to another up close and way too personal TDF!

Most people, who haven’t actually been to the Tour live, don’t know there is a long pre-race parade that travels through each town a few hours ahead of the first riders’ arrival. It’s a bit like Mardis Gras because people throw candy and stuff off the floats. Also, along the Tour route, each town or district tends to put on displays so when the choppers go by there’s a nice visual. It’s all kinda hokey, but in a good way.

Yeah, I like the Tour. I like the rest day hotel room arrests, the petty squabbling, the sudden withdrawls, the strategic plotting, the swearing in multiple languages, the last 1000 meters, the sprints, the mountains, the time trials, the weird rivalries — even within teams, the accusations, the blood, the sweat, the tears, the weird victory line “dances,” the colorful jerseys, the little stuffed lions, and . . . .

And, ok,  I do actually look for the Clean Bottle mascot at every stage. Don’t ask why.  I don’t know myself. I just like seeing this cheerful 8-foot bottle trotting alongside the riders. It makes me feel good. I want one so bad — a mascot, ok and a Clean Bottle.

I suppose my loving the TDF but not cycling itself says a lot about my level of inexplicabilty. Which reminds me, I have a dog I have to take to obedience class tonight.

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Because people are more than their work

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Portrait of Madame X — which John Singer Sargent considered his best painting of his career even though it was one of his earliest works.

Recently someone asked me why I don’t blog about writing. Yawn. Is there anything more dull than writing about writing? Ok, maybe reading someone’s writings about writing. That could be worse.

People are so much more than what they do, even if they do something interesting and do it very well. Most of the time, people who do something well don’t even like what they do. Rare is the person at the peak of their profession who is also happy in that profession. But profession is the great American obsession. Almost every conversation starts with “And what do you do?”

Fortunately, I’m not very American or very obsessive. I suppose that’s why I’m so fascinated by humans’ beingness. You never know what’s behind the facade of a profession.

John Singer Sargent was a master of his profession. But, he was also fluent in French, Italian, and German, and played a mean piano. He became famous for a painting that also got him run out of town. He tried to “fix” the painting (you can see the original version here) but the damage was done. The girl’s mother thought her daughter had been made to look a whore (read the letter from Ralph Curtis to a friend on the same page). Commissions dried up, he had to leave.

Paris felt the Portrait of Madame X (fixed version above) was shockingly sexual. I suppose Paris might have thought some other things as well. JSS had pursued an introduction to Madame for months. It then took a year to do the painting. People probably thought there was something going on. However, JSS was actually gay.

JSS’s father was a doctor. Dr Sargent had moved the family to Europe after JSS’s older sister died and JSS’s mother had a nervous breakdown. Some years later, when JSS’s father fell very ill, he basically became his father’s nurse — while continuing to paint. JSS nursed his father till the day dad died. He did it with a patience, compassion, and tenderness that astonished his friends. It was the year after his father died that JSS became a big success. His father never lived to see it.

JSS had a great relationship with his mother. He took care of his mother, who lived with him remainder of her life.  His work gave his mother financial security and social status. It was a good life for her. But JSS really didn’t like being a portrait painter.  He called his work, “the second oldest profession.” JSS did about 900 paintings, but he did 2000 watercolors (and countless sketches and drawings). Although he’s known for portraits, he actually preferred being outdoors painting landscapes.

JSS never married. I suppose he liked his freedom and was too honest about his orientation to go through with a sham marriage. His friends knew he was gay, as did most of his sitters I’m sure. How could they not?  Before starting a portrait, he went a lady’s house and had her maid lay out all her gowns and baubles. Then he picked exactly what his female sitter would wear for her portrait!

When JSS’s mother died, he stopped taking portrait commissions. He finished out his remaining scheduled portraits, which took a year, then closed his studio — for good. For the remaining 18 years of his life, he travelled, socialized, and painted what he liked. Although we think of him as an American painter, he really was European. He was born to American parents, in Florence, and spent the vast majority of his life abroad in Europe.

All of this plays in my head when I look at a JSS’s work.

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President Theodore Roosevelt by JSS, in 1903

I feel there were other artists working in portraiture, around the same time as JSS, who were better at it. To me, the work of JSS has an insipid formal distance, a staged quality, and a whiff of “I don’t really like doing this (or you)”  most of the time. The exceptions occur only when JSS sketched or painted actual friends. Don’t misunderstand, JSS’s art still great art, But the even greater artists of his era, and their works, to this day still lie hidden in his cast shadow. And when I look at JSS’s work, I think about those artists’ lives too.

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Same subject, by Philip De Laszlo, 1908 — of which this is a 1968 copy!! by adrian lamb — and it’s still a way better portrait. It pulses with life and the subject’s actual personality. (And Teddy’s wife liked this one better too, for just those reasons!)

It’s good to do something well. It’s good to understand the ins and outs of a profession. It’s good to be able to cast a critical eye on others of that ilk. It’s good to be able to stand back and objectively consider one’s work and that of others. But in the end, it’s only the person that’s interesting. It’s all the emotional, subjective, goofy, quirky bits of life that are of interest, that make a person a person. Profession? That’s mostly incidental.

If a person’s profession is all you see when you meet them, you don’t see anything. If a person’s profession is all you know about someone when you encounter her/his work, you really don’t understand that work. You can’t truly appreciate Lizst or Rachmaninoff or Tolstoy or Van Gogh without knowing their lives. And every life is like that.

Take for instance my grandmother’s friend’s granddaughter. I’ve never met her. All I know is she’s young, paid a lot of money, and works in military intelligence as an interrogator — at various places around the globe. I suppose I could wing off about extraordinary rendition. But really, she’s someone granddaughter. Just like I am. Her gran is proud of her. Just like my gran is proud of me. She travels a lot. Just like I do. She’s a young woman. Like I am. Maybe she’s the kind of person I could be friends with the way my gran is friends with her gran. What she does is just work she came to do. I’m sure it’s interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the woman herself and how can you understand the work apart from the person?

And now, if you were paying close attention, you’ll understand that I actually just wrote about writing while writing about why I don’t write about writing.

The rational mind is overrated

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Today WP unleashed the not so secret MP6 Plugin on all WP users. It changes the appearances of one’s dashboard rather dramatically.  WP calls it a beautiful makeover. I wouldn’t.

Even though I like WP, I’ve come to understand that it is rationally designed for a certain group of people — the much older computer user / blogger.

There was a time when blogging was new and innovative. At that time, hip young designers thought everything should be grey or black. This “new” dashboard is actually a throwback to that era. What’s actually new about the dashboard’s design though is just what you’d expect to be new if you were designing for older people, the LARGE FONT.

Once you understand WPs’ target user group, you understand the new dashboard design.

Still, I think the new dashboard could have been designed with an option to change the background and text colors as well as the font size. Intelligent, beautiful design would have automatically matched the dashboard colors and font to the selected blog theme, with an option of using the standard dashboard.

Oh well, maybe next time WP will design a dashboard option for young people with good eyesight who aren’t clinically depressed. We blog too, after all. In the meanwhile? I suppose the rational decision would probably be to stop using WP. Of course, I’ve never been a fan of the rational mind.

There be dragons

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This is Mount Snowdon. It’s in Wales, which is known for its dragons.  The last  dragon sighted in Wales was in the 1800s. Still, if you choose to go to Wales, you understand you may be set upon by dragons. Personally,  I travel to Wales frequently despite the dragons because I like Wales.

The cyberworld is a bit like Wales. There the copious sharing of personal information is normal because the majority of people there believe all data should be available and free — regardless of copyrights or laws or whatever. There is also an understanding that when traveling in that land one’s data might be taken (without consent) and shared (in violation of any and all laws).

That anyone, especially in the tech-savvy US, is shocked by Edward Snowden’s “revelations” or appalled by the NSA’s behavior is just silly. It presumes an expectation of legally enforced privacy in a world where everyone knows privacy and law enforcement don’t exist. Still, I suppose, for those few who were clueless, this is your wake up call: There be dragons.

For the record, I believe Snowden to be an idiot. But the real blame here is on the NSA — for hiring him.

Abnormally interesting or just abnormal?

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Walking through the park, early Saturday morning, as the softball teams were warming up on a cold grey day, I heard a voice. It sounded like Jeremy Piven (but I’m sure it wasn’t). It was loud, NYC-accented, and coming from 30 feet away by the refreshment stand.

Coffee with milk and sugar, stirred three times.

I admit to a giggle. It’s a dollar coffee from a shack in a local park, not Starbuck’s. Stir it 3 times? Is 4 too many? Is 2 not enough? Can’t you even say the word please?

Poor man. He was perhaps trying to be cool, in that James Bond “Vodka martini, shaken not stirred” way. But at a 7:30 am Saturday  softball game? And girls softball at that. And the girls are only 10! It’s simply laughable.

I’m not sure why James Bond ordering a drink made in a specific way makes him abnormally interesting while Ballpark Guy ordering a coffee in a specific way makes him simply abnormal. They both know what they want and have no qualms about asking for it.

Fundamentally, I suppose it’s a lack of proportion. An upmarket guest making an odd request at an upscale casino is different from a city guy making an odd request at a suburban park snack shack.

Still it was nice to walk away and have breakfast with Regular Joe at a regular eatery.  One where asking for whipped cream on waffles is normal.Of course, asking for the whipped cream can to be brought to the table and left? A little less so. And covering the entirety of one’s waffles with whipped cream? Abnormal. Still, when his whipped cream goes flat and Joe resprays all his remaining waffleage? Okay, I admit it, that makes him abnormally interesting.

Phoning It In

My phone fell apart the other day. I won’t go into details, but it’s demise did involve a hacksaw.

Suffice it to say, I took it as an opportunity to get a new phone — a casio ravine, which is built for abuse, won out over the more delicate iPhone 4. Better yet, I got a new ringtone.

With the help of a creative commons recording on archive.org and makeownringtone.com, I was able to create a 27 second excerpt from Boccherini’s Passacalle (used in the video above).

There were other things I might have used, but  I wanted something cheerful and upbeat. Too, I’d just seen Russell Crowe in an advert for Man of Steel. That made me think of Master and Commander, which uses this piece by Boccherini.

I really like my new tune. But, as I look at my phone now, listening to my ringtone, I start thinking about Master and Commander, and men in uniform, and then Superman, and . . . .

In an age without phone booths, where will the Man of Steel change?

Left holding the bag?

By that wonderful artist, Karin Jurik!

By that wonderful artist, Karin Jurik!

I love language. Sometimes I hear a phrase and my mind just wanders off on a ramble through the halls of verbiage (my favorite hangout after museums). Today it all began with someone saying bag lady.

A bag lady is a homeless woman. But a bag man collects money for criminals.

Carpetbags are beautiful. But carpetbaggers, not so much.

Sandbags are great in a flood. Being sandbagged, totally different.

Saddlebags can go either way, depending on whether you own a horse!

Sleazebags, scumbags, dirtbags and doucebags should all be avoided.

Moneybags are always nice to have around though.

Windbags are often a deadly bore. But airbags are a lifesaver.

Getting mailbags? Lovely!

Packing travel bags? Oh such fun!

Playing with beanbags on the beach? Awesome.

Ok, must grab my ol’ kitbag.

Meeting an old friend to share a baguette (the bread, not a diamond)!

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