Sunday, November 30, 2008

London Recap, Part Two: Not dining with Mr Jones

Friday afternoon I hit the Andy Warhol, "Other Voices, Other Rooms" exhibit at the Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre. The guidebook lists its contents as "21 films, 1 clouds installation, 40 screen tests, 6 videos, 42 tv-episodes, 16 drawings..." and on and on. I'd never really thought about the direct link between Warhol and Capote, but it's impossible to miss here. That shared hunger for absorbing the rich and famous drove them both and, one might predictably say, cost them both a lot, but what's amazing to see in this jumble of time capsules and ephemera as well as the completed work is just how rich a vein they both mined. Rather than a shallow wallow in pursuit of acceptance (not that it wasn't that as well) there's an endless fascination for what fame is and what people will do to achieve it.

The hunger seems to be at an all time high at present, which amazes me. I'd love to be able to make loads of money with my writing, but I'd prefer that people express no interest in the person behind the words (besides, I am incredibly dull, always talking about the blackness of black pudding, for instance -- you would be bored). Warhol had a genius for touching that hunger in others and expressing it in often macabre and funny ways. I'm going to probably write about these exhibits elsewhere, so I won't go into deep detail here, but the surprising things were the tv soap project which was very funny for being little more than bickering, the fun snippets that filled the tv-scape and the simple delight of the Silver Clouds installation -- mostly because there was a window so you could watch other people go through the room. They tended to just push the mylar balloons out of the way and walk into the gift shop (the latter surely the capstone of the exhibit). Playing with the giant balloons was a delight, though.

Saturday was Rothko day at the lovely Tate Modern, my favorite museum. The turbine room was filled with bunk beds and monstrous thingees as part of Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's TH 2058, but as many reviews had said, it was better in idea than execution. I liked the giant dino skeleton, the big spider, and immense apple core, but it wasn't quite enough. Scale alone isn't enough (big is big, though). I'm not sure what was missing, but it never really affected emotionally and that's a miss.

How was Rothko? Amazing, utterly amazing. Repetition and variation -- things that obsess me, too -- are keystones of his later work. Immenseness of scale and depth of color -- so many of his paintings had been brought together for the first time. I guess I'm still not ready to write coherently about these works. They're hypnotic. Rothko's paintings strike directly into my subconscious. I don't know many painters like that.

Saturday night I had been invited along to the BFI by my pal Hamilton, where Terry Jones was holding a Q&A after a screening of Holy Grail as part of the Time Out 40th anniversary. While waiting for the film to start we saw Anita Pallenberg and James Fox come out of the screening of Performance that preceded it. Waiting in line for Jonesy was Richard "Moss" Ayoade, who is much taller than I imagined and was sheepishly surrounded swooning girls. We were supposed to be joined by John "No Knuckles" Hind (left in photo), but since he is apparently notorious for always being late, we left his ticket at the box office and found our seats.

It was a delight to see MP&tHG on the big screen and with such an enthusiastic crowd. Peter Greenaway's Dear Phone preceded it and seemed an odd match, but there was a humorous post-modern angle to it, so that's some kind of link, I suppose. Jones complained that there were too few laughs at the end of the film, but the crowd clearly disagreed and enjoyed quizzing him about the film-making process (surprise, Terry Gilliam was a perfectionist even then) and his thoughts about current comedy (he likes Eddie Izzard). We finally caught up with Hind in the cafe afterward, where he told us regretfully that we had missed the chance to tag along to dinner with T Jones (Hind knows him and has a brief cameo in Meaning of Life). Ah, well -- so it goes. Messrs Hind and Hamilton nonetheless made sure that I was adequately entertained until closing time.

Next up: Bacon and Brookses (and back to the National Gallery)...

London Recap, Part One

Now that we're back from Robert's where he treated us in the usual style, i.e. stuffing us silly with good food and drink, I'm finally facing the horror of catching up with all I've neglected while swanning off to London. Is writing it up just another way to avoid work? Oh, let's not think about that.

Despite the new camera, your correspondent is as crap as ever at taking pictures, now complicating this with the additional factor of crap video ('auto-focus' my Aunt Fanny) -- when, of course, she occasionally remembers that she has a camera with her.

Well, let's see -- I took off a week ago Wednesday after teaching my classes and attending a fairly painless faculty meeting. May dropped me off at the airport (thanks!) and there was really no line at all for security, naturally, because I had left plenty of time. Go figure. Once through security I fell into that zen state that airports always invoke: the knowledge that what happens is completely out of your hands until you get to your destination, so why worry. I suppose it applies to the rest of life as well, but I haven't been able to invoke that view consistently -- something to aim for.

Short hop to Philadelphia, leisurely wait there and then a mostly empty flight which featured the worst meal I have ever been served on an airplane. Beet salad -- what possessed them to think a beet salad would appeal to the broad spectrum of coincidental travelers? I can only imagine a very persuasive salesperson in the market that day ("oh, try this recipe, it never fails!"). I was grateful I'd decided to have a turkey wrap a couple of hours before that. I had a whole row to myself and stretched out to get some sleep. Before I knew it, they were bringing breakfast around.

The first day, inevitably, was the struggle to keep jet lag at bay. Walking around just to keep awake, indulging in a beer and a light meal and eventually collapsing at a reasonably late hour. Friday was the day in which things did not go as planned. While I had mostly planned for arty things this time around, I had hoped to catch one play. Top of the list was Ivanov, but the half price ticket booth had nothing but the usual Broadway transfers and the box office's long line was met with the announcement that there was standing room only. At 2 hours and 40 minutes (and after one day of walking around on that ankle) I decided that maybe I didn't really need to see a play that night. There were a couple of other plays I might have considered, but weren't on that night. While having a think, I wandered and decided to drop by the Portrait Gallery since I don't tend to go there as much. I walked in to find that most of the lights had gone out and people were standing around in knots waiting to see if they would come back, while docents were trying to keep kids from retiring to darkened corners. It was kind of interesting to see the gallery plunged into darkness.

I went around the corner to the National Gallery, only to find it surrounded by crowds of people all staring with the aimlessness of the unexpectedly idle. So, no good there either. I sat on the steps of Trafalgar Square for a bit, writing in my travel journal, then took a leisurely walk in the direction of the British Museum, stopping at Quinto and a few other places to browse, but buying nothing (longtime readers will tremble with shock to hear that I purchased only one book the entire week). There was an exhibit on at the BM, 'Statuephilia' which inserted modern sculpture amongst the artifacts. While it gave me a grin to see Damien Hirst's skulls in the old oak cases around the corner from Doctor Dee's scrying mirror, the exhibit also discarded the artificial division between art and artifact. Antony Gormley, whose 'Case for an Angel I' fills the entrance (making me imagine little kids who assume it to be an artifact and so conceive all manner of strange alternative realities) writes that the BM "is a laboratory of possibility for any creative mind." Indeed!

To be continued...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Yes, I'm Back

...but I won't be giving a London recap until we get back from Robert's, where we're heading for Thanksgiving today, because of COURSE he only has dial up (OMG!). Yes, pictures, yes, fun, yes, friends -- much to tell. I will add because I have to get it off my chest:


Eww, eww! Stay away from Terminal F if you can. They had the most disgusting restrooms I have ever seen in a major airport. It was absolutely revolting -- and not just one, because I tried a couple. Ick. Awful. I have to shower now. I may write a letter to the Times about it (not that it will do any good...).

Monday, November 24, 2008

London so far

BT Openinternet is CRAP! Warhol, Rothko, Terry Jones Q&A, Bacon, and more, cold! Thames... The usual and the unusual, but always a great time. Very relaxed and that's the aim, right? Head full of art, ears full of music, face full of smiles. Home with the Brookses, so feet up and well-fed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

London Bound

This afternoon I take off for a trip to London -- a sort of delayed vacation or early birthday present. Only a week, but I will be able to see the Bacon and Rothko exhibits (ergo, it is also a business trip, as I'll be writing those up, possibly for the newly relaunched Up Against the Wall, whoo hoo!) which I have been thinking about with great envy. Why now? Well, I can squeeze in the time now with Thanksgiving coming up, before finals, and before the "break" which this time around includes going to MLA to interview job candidates for our department, then completing several projects that I ought to have gotten to during the fall, but haven't been able to do. I'm getting better about not over-loading myself, but there's still a lot to do if I want to achieve the things I hope to accomplish in this life.

I will try to keep up with at least the occasional tweet or Facebook update. I'll blog if I find a wi-fi hotspot and actually feel like typing for a bit instead of exploring all the cool things going on in London (it could happen). I am actually bringing a camera this time, too!

So, please don't send giant files to my email for the next week (Joey, I'm looking in your direction!) and I'll see if I can send some updates that make you envious -- deal?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mr. Moore!

Hey, It's Snowing!

It's snowing right now -- big old flakes. I forget it's November already. This semester has been crazier and more disorienting than usual. In our department meeting yesterday (a disorienting experience itself) I suddenly found myself unable to remember what month it was. At least I knew it was Monday.

Let's hope the snow doesn't last. I have to fly tomorrow. No delays allowed! I don't think there's too much to worry about, however; it's already slowing. It is pretty though.

Hmmm -- content? How about a bit from Theodore Roethke's "The Far Field" (it's got snow):

I dream of journeys repeatedly:
Of flying like a bat deep into a narrowing tunnel
Of driving alone, without luggage, out a long peninsula,
The road lined with snow-laden second growth,
A fine dry snow ticking the windshield,
Alternate snow and sleet, no on-coming traffic,
And no lights behind, in the blurred side-mirror,
The road changing from glazed tarface to a rubble of stone,
Ending at last in a hopeless sand-rut,
Where the car stalls,
Churning in a snowdrift
Until the headlights darken...

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I glory at the wonder of the internet. I know it is fashionable to pooh-pooh its success, how it's turned us into a world of loafers who would rather interact virtually than actually. I know the tendency is there -- I Twittered about not being able to find my favorite sweater, so I know the trivializing tendency of it all.

But I adore the fact that obsessive-compulsive Stephen Fry follows my tweets as I follow his. I love that I can talk to friends around the world in real time and not always over the phone, because I will always imagine that I am better in print than in person. I love being able to bring up images of obscure medieval things in an instant for my students who have no idea what a wimple is or a rebec. I have more publishing opportunities than ever, because I'm not snobbish about print as "the only way to go". I get news from around the world and see films and hear music that I would never have come across before the internet. I was listening to Robyn Hitchcock sing at the Iron Horse while reading a review of Roy Blount, Jr.'s Alphabet Juice.

I love the lively interaction of languages across the globe and I revel in the ability to find cheap travel and obscure books. My mind is alive with ideas and inspiration right now. Life is good.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Willimantic Frogs

The latest podcast is up now at Radio Wombat: The Willimantic Frogs, a new urban legend. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Seven Deadly Sins

Heeeeeeeeelp! I still don't know how I did this ....x on TwitPicOf course, this spider isn't deadly, but it looks as if it were! Okay, there's not really a link to my topic, I just thought this picture Stephen Fry posted on Twitter was terrific. He's currently down in Madagascar and if you follow his tweets, you will get some cool photos.

In class today I had my sophomore class do an exercise I have used before, but the results intrigued me because this is one of those quiet classes that seldom speaks. Consequently, they have made a lot of extra work for me to come up with a variety of techniques to get them to engage with the materials, including making them lead the discussion at the start of each day. Not always successful, of course, but at least they get to feel a little empathy (I hope) for my frustrating situation.

The exercise focuses on our reading of Chaucer's Pardoner's Prologue and Tale. The Pardoner is a swindler who not only tells his fellow pilgrims how he swindles people, but tries to do it to them at the end of his tale. That's some chutzpah! In demonstrating his art, he actually offers a moral sermon on the theme Radix malorum est cupiditas, or avarice is the root of all evil (a subject he knows all too well).

In the course of the discussion, we talk about the Seven Deadly Sins, a popular rhetorical tool in the Middle Ages (and beyond: Marlowe gives us a wonderful parade of them in his Doctor Faustus). Then I mention how the Vatican has come up with a new list for our time, modernizing the medieval trope.

Before I show them that list, I ask them to work in pairs and make their own list. I also ask that they provide people in the news to exemplify them. It's always interesting to see what they come up with. I did a version of this just a week or so ago with the freshman medieval class: their major point of concern? Gang violence, for one, which seemed an odd thing to focus on in this relatively safe city (especially for a bunch of mostly small town and suburban kids). They also came up with some of the same concerns as the Vatican, like environmental damage, drugs and excessive wealth.

The sophomores also focused on greed, citing Enron, the oil companies, Hollywood and, perhaps unfairly, Bill Gates, as examples of avaricious wealth. The big thing for them, however, was adultery. I think every single group listed that, citing either Brad Pitt or Bill Clinton (they ran neck and neck throughout). Pity that this seems to be the legacy for Clinton, not that balanced budget and lack of debt that we're all paying for now with the no-tax-but-plenty-spend (AKA après moi, le déluge) practices of the current administration. There was one group who blasted stupidity and named W and Palin as examples, but by far Clinton was a favorite target. Those who named murder as a key sin also mostly named O. J. Simpson as the example. I mentioned that he had been found not guilty in his criminal trial, but they seemed to disregard that detail.

Paris Hilton was the equivalence of conceit for several of them. There was a group that found flashy dressing to be a sin and mentioned a co-worker as an example (too much glitter). One group mentioned rape as well as murder (Ted Bundy and Charles Manson respectively), but on the whole I was struck by their very personal and judgmental focus. There was little perspective on the larger world around them or vision beyond their own immediate concerns.

I always learn from my students, but I don't always like what I learn.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Flash Vacation

After dropping Gene off at work Friday morning, I made a quick escape to Connecticut (I blame the midterm craziness!). I tore through the Berkshires in some thick fog, filling up on cheap gas. My first stop in Willimantic was to surprise Perilous Cheryl, but the surprise was on me. I stopped by her office and they told me she was out sick. I was just about to call her when the QoE called me and mentioned that The joey Zone had been sick, too, so I decided maybe I ought to leave them alone and let them rest and recuperate.

Instead I decided to annoy Marko at the Punk Rock Jukebox -- hee hee! I got to pick the tracks from the Swill of the Day CD (so yes, blame me for "Rhinestone Cowboy"!), and to make him crack up on the air as well as distracting him so that he didn't realise there were no songs cued to play next. Always willing to do my part to make things a shambles. The new WECS studio is swanky and huge. As always, I came away with some recommendations on new music to find.

The QoE arrived before the end of the show, so we both picked on poor Marko and then headed off to the pub for lunch. I was pleased to notice they had free (albeit s-l-o-w) wifi at the pub, yee ha! So I got to show off Ianto some more. This was when I discovered my nice new leather bag is so thick that it muffles the ringer on my phone. I didn't realise that I had missed the calls from Miss Wendy until I got out my phone to take a picture of the Queen (but what a great picture, eh?).

Off to Miss Wendy's next, who took me to services at her temple which were very welcoming and relaxed. They said a kaddish in remembrance of her father Norman, who was a very sweet man. After the service -- which also had a young man reading who was becoming a Bar Mitzvah -- we shared food and drink, including some really good chocolate chip cookies.

Next we were off to the Aloha Alcohula AKA the best damn tiki bar in Connecticut® for some Żubrówka and a variety of cheeses and other snacks. It was a girly night, although one without any nail painting or home perms (we did, however, talk about boys). You can see Wendy's post for the possum update. We finally made our way back to Wendy's, where she and I sat up for a bit longer chatting, finally going to bed sometime after 3, so no surprise we slept late Saturday and then watched movies.

All in all a very relaxing trip and much fun. There's always time to steal a little vacation even in the middle of the semester.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

One Step Forward

And next, a WOMAN!

Vote Today!

I don't usually focus on politics, but today all USA-ians have the opportunity to change our country and our influence on the world. It is your duty as a citizen to get out there and vote. Of course, I have definite opinions about who are the best candidates, but my haranguing you here won't affect your vote. I will say that I'm voting to end the horrors of the last eight years, a culture of deceit and cynical war-profiteering by old men who can't remember how many houses or factories they own, who show contempt for their fellow citizens and got us mired in an illegal war based on lies and personal aggression.

I am tired of fear-mongering fools who use their own mental faculties to disparage intellect and education, to the extent that the education system in this country has reached a crisis of over-management and discouragement to both instructors and students. I despair at a nation that values the arts so little, obsessing instead about their own fifteen minutes of shallow fame.

Vote! Your life, your job and the survival of the world may just depend upon it.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Who rules? Perilous Cheryl rules!

Why would anyone else even try? Oh yeah, because it's fun! See fabulous photos of Cheryl's prize-winning costume (and The joey zone's too) at her MySpace page.