30 June 2007

design discovery

22. The magic number for Highlight in Photoshop. Now that I've had the leisure to play with Photoshop features I've skipped over before and experiment with them on batch after batch of potentially good photos, I feel as if I've finally reached pro uz0r status. Some results of these experiments are on Flickr, and more are forthcoming.

By the way, the product of my late-night toils is finally complete: the booklet for the Roosevelt Academy Summer School 2007.

29 June 2007

giant woops

I appear to have spent an hour scanning recipes from Moosewood Cooks at Home for nothing. In the rush to leave Rochester, I left it on my USB key, which I decided foolishly to leave behind, and never copied it to my computer. Or so it seems. Let's see how this couscous turns out...

28 June 2007

Middelburg Day 1

Although the first leg of my flight with Icelandair came with the requested vegetarian meal, the second leg comes without and the stewardess places the blame on me before saying she'll look to see if anything edible remains and never uttering a word to me again (or offering the drink offered to everyone else). The Brooks Brothers yuppie next to me comments on her peculiar overreaction. He turns out to be a Harvard med student nearly fluent in Dutch, though not as fluent as the middle-aged man sitting next to him, who has until now sported a Boston accent with his wife and little daughter. My sensitivity to American accents and obesity is still heightened as I observe my fellow Americans in the plane juxtaposed against typical Icelanders sporting English competency and supermodel looks.

Digression: Part of what I like and dislike about Cambridge is its effeteness, both intellectual and multilingual. There is no need to suddenly switch one's conversation with the J. Press salesman over to French once this commonality is discovered when English is the first language of both parties. The eagerness to engage one's mind and others in deep conversation about absolutely anything reminds me of the naive excitement I sense amongst some ---- undergrads, although here it is sometimes executed in depth and can lead somewhere important. I love its presence but dislike its open display. I'm one to talk, aren't I?

Schiphol is much the same besides the healthy smoothies stand's transformation into a 'DONER KEBAB' haven, but luggage delivery time is seriously inefficient. I end up on a Brussels-bound train with two finance professors from the Fordham Business School (a secular arm of The Jesuit University of New York), Frank Werner (who introduces himself as Frank 'Warner') and one whose name needs no conscious memory effort, Jim Stoner. They are flush with passionate ideas for a new joint book on sustainable finance and explain them wholeheartedly, even stopping to shed light on some of the terminology. Frank has an interesting answer to my question of why the environment has come to the forefront of public consciousness; both Al Gore's deliberate efforts and Bush's unintended botches have drawn more people to a side that Gore shows as sensible and that Bush shows as an alternative for conservatives to his rapidly support-losing brand of conservatism. I am interested in their enthusiasm for change as large-scale as they are suggesting; I had thought of finance scholars as practical-minded analysts, but here are men on a grand thought experiment determined to bring their results to the world. After all, Stoner lists "Ontological Inquiry, Excellence, and Personal and Organizational Transformation" in his university profile. The masses have not heard their voices clearly before but are more likely to listen now; I wonder if they have always approached finance this way or whether they are developing ahead of the game. Here is an obvious display of scholarship and yet I enjoy it more than much I overheard in Cambrdge; they seem hapless to hold their excitement back rather than eager to make more of it than it is. It is already enough.

I pick up a stoptrein at Roosendaal, still in wonder at how expensive Dutch train tickets are relative to Belgian ones. At Middelburg, I wend my way rather indirectly to the Bagijnhof. I don't yet feel the euphoria of return (that will happen when I finally set foot in Antwerpen again, the city truly woven into my spirit), but I feel a strange mixture of ease and discomfort. Walking down the charmed cobblestone streets, knowing that any destination is within an easy stroll, I have my yearned-for freedom back--freedom to go where I please without being prisoner to the motor vehicle. But Middelburg is a small town, and the inhabitants stare openly at me, and the fashionable women are still dressed in the awful frilly look I came to despise and truly hoped would have changed by now. I have come to expect them, but still I am irritated.

two belfries

Gerda is waiting for me and has already arranged for dinner with one of my new housemates as well as a hybrid(!) bike loan from her family. We chat and I give her the ironically selected Ivy League gift I've borne across the ocean -- a handsome crimson Harvard academic planner, from which I hastily peel the price tag.

Bagijnhof 4 is an inefficient maze of heavy purple doors and crazily steep, narrow, creaky (creaks of the vocal, lip-smacking kind) orange staircases (all but the latter quite typical of stairways in old Dutch buildings). My third-floor room belongs to a certain Iliana, who has a penchant for clipping South Park cartoons and Absolut ads. She has not offered to loan her bedding (not atypical in this country), so I trek out to HEMA and pick out all the cheapest sheets while still coordinating them in bright blue. For a bath towel, I pick out a striped bright blue beach towel that will also serve as a blanket on cool nights. The bed and Iliana's orange IKEA folding chair become the proud the highlights of the room. They are trumped only by the tripartite window that overlooks the Stoppelaartuin (now a parking lot) and the little backyards of the surrounding houses, one of which contains a mural of a hand either holding moss or overgrown by real moss. Iliana is taller than me; I cannot see into the mirror she has set in front of the little sink.

A bell begins to toll, sending up a flock of maybe fifty birds who fly high over the slanting mossy rooftops westward.

Only later do I realize that the ceilings are pitched symmetrically, starting at the hip. I cannot decide whether they remind me of the interior of a Quaker meeting house, a Swiss mountain home, or a witch's abode. But I have finally indulged in the Burt's Bees travel set from Jeannene and for a while the room feels rather like a North Carolina spa.

21st-century Middelburg

26 June 2007

ICA Boston

After my debate with Ben on the direction of modern food, music, and art, I was positively riled up to go to the new Institute of Contemporary Art on the reviving Boston harbor. The way there was a bit nerve-wracking, as it involved both buses and walking, some of my least favorite modes of transportation. My efforts were not really rewarded. First of all, the architecture was a disappointment. There was no reasonable pedestrian approach to the building, to the point that I was convinced that I must have found the wrong structure. Picking my way through the heat of a crumbling parking lot, I took my best guess about which side of the building I should approach, as the ass end it presented to approaching visitors gave no clue as to where the entrance might be.

Rather than being drawn into the exhibits upon entry, one had to take the stairs or elevator to the top floor. The huge industrial elevator was a nice reminder of the building's former purpose, but it carried only a small handful of people each time and seemed like a tremendous energy waste. For the stair walker, there were no clear indications to prevent one from getting lost on intermediary floors, as both me and a couple behind me did. The claustrophobic bathroom, glowing in Dan Flavin-ish lights, was also impossible to find, and so cramped that I could barely fit my small person into a stall. All this in a small museum for a big $10 entrance fee.

The one redeeming space was the glazed Founders Gallery with its sweeping gridded panorama of the bay and its ambient soundscape by Teri Rueb, produced by many speakers sounding their own localized parts and luring you from one to another. The hallway framed its visitors magnificently in grey and white. The lack of bass frequencies from the tweeters detracted from the convincingness of each sonic microcosm, but perhaps evoking low-tech science exhibits of yore was part of the intended effect?

One of the most striking works in the museum was Rineke Dijkstra's twin images of Eygenya, a young female Isreali inducted into the army. Startlingly, the first photograph, taken on the day of her induction, conveyed less personality than the photograph taken eight months later of her in drab. The image haunted me for some time, as did the thought of whether this beautiful young woman had joined voluntarily or not and whether she was in mortal danger or perhaps even dead.

18 June 2007

the perfect country and western song

On the road I came across a radio station playing old-skool country and discovered that I enjoy those songs immensely despite my distaste for most of the formulaic upbeat crud on the radio today. The station caught my attention with "Ruby, don't take your love to town," a song I know through Cake's cover but had never heard in its original form. According to Wikipedia it is "one of the world's most popular songs of all time" and covered a subject both "daring" and "compassionate" at the time--the story of a crippled veteran. The final lyrics are frightful and the whole thing seems a bit tongue-in-cheek to me. You figure it out.

My real favorite off this station's playlist was David Allan Coe's hilarious "You Never Called Me By My Name." Any recommendations from readers are most welcome.

06 June 2007

the best buildings you'll ever hear

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg.
Originally uploaded by carillonista
"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." So Elvis Costello or some other fellow quipped. But what if architecture is one of the keys to the future of music?

I finally understand the subject of one of my favorite photos from Germany. Herzog & De Meuron (one of my favorite architectural firms) is turning this building on the perimeter of the industrial harbour of Hamburg into a rather monolithic concert hall. A recent NY Times article describes the exciting marriages of innovative architecture and symphonies taking place today. The dreamlike ballpark interior of this hall will certainly draw me back to Hamburg to attend a performance. I just hope all these new halls incorporate really good organs. At least the organ still seems like a requisite piece of the pie, even if few composers actually use it in their concert hall pieces.