Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Oh, frabjous day!

B is for Blog feed.
          Here at short attention span central, I've been trying to figure out how to add a feed so you can subscribe to my blog and have it appear in your email or Google Reader or wherever you like to read all your bloggishness—except I keep getting distracted by other things. You know how it is. People send you links to videos of rabbits herding sheep (truth!), and then you suspect the herding rabbit of being related to the killer bunny in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, so you go searching for the clip, just to see if there's a family resemblance. And then you wonder where The Holy Grail was filmed. Scotland, as it turns out. And then you remember than you've always wanted to go to Edinburgh, and you wonder if you could find a nice castle to stay in if you did go. And adding a feed slips off into the fog of Google and middle age.
          Finally, because my sister asked nicely, I sat down and figured it out. 
          So there it is, the friendly orange button over in the right margin, under my profile, that says "Subscribe in a reader." Go ahead. Click it. It won't hurt a bit.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Accordion Crimes

"A" is for Accordion Crimes
          K and I were living in France in those exciting days when Europe switched over to the Euro and everyone, including me, was entranced with the pretty new coinage. The rule was that all bills looked the same, no matter which country issued them, as well as the obverse of all coins, but countries could personalized the reverse of coins, and they all did. When I traveled to Ireland that year, I noticed that Irish euro coins have a celtic harp on them, which I thought was kind of cool.  

          If France had to choose a national instrument to put on its coins, it would without a doubt be the accordion.  
          Perhaps you didn't know this, but one of the major stresses that Paris subway riders are subjected to is itinerant accordionists, who board the trains, do some jammin' on the old accordion, and then walk up and down the car with a little cup held out so that you can show your appreciation for the music in a crass, monetary kind of way. I don't think they're allowed to do this, but I rarely saw the prohibition enforced. I've also listened to gypsy violin music and singing, but the accordion is by far the preferred instrument for small crowded spaces like subway cars.  
          Sometimes, the subway musicians are innocuous, or even pretty good. Sometimes they are not. One day, I was subject to the misguided stylings of two gentlemen who didn’t let their inability to carry a tune or their lack of Spanish hinder them from mangling some normally very pretty Tex-Mex ballads. I was particularly wounded by their tone-deaf ravages on "Cielito Lindo," one of my faves. When they finished their selection, to the relief of all concerned (as I imagined), one of them went down the car with his cup. He got a few donations (often, subway musicians don't get anything, I assume because we riders prefer not to encourage this sort of behavior). In my end of the car, three women dug down in their handbags for this guy--a thing I had never witnessed before; it was the subway equivalent of a standing ovation--and I distinctly saw 2-euro pieces (donations are usually 25 or 50 cents).
          Astonished by this unaccountable behavior from hard-bitten Parisiennes, and searching for an explanation, I speculated that there’s a pity donation that goes into action when the musicians are really, truly terrible. Folks figure that if these guys are trying to make a living on THAT music, they'll starve, so they contribute out of Christian charity.  
          A few days after that, I was riding the subway again, and after awhile realized that someone was practicing the accordion. He was squeezing scales to the point of fracture and wheezing out bent and mangled chords. I assumed he was on the way to his accordion lesson, and was getting in some much-needed last-minute practice. I'm sure I was not the only person in the car who was shocked—shocked!—when he produced his coin cup and made the rounds. Apparently he'd been playing SONGS! And apparently he expected us to compensate his efforts.  
          To a man, we were unmoved. Either we were a particularly hard-bitten crew, or my theory about the pity donation was all wrong.  
          At the next stop, we parted ways. We, on to our several destinations. And he, I most fervently hope, to an accordion lesson.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Satisfying Pattern is a Satisfying Pattern, Whatever the Medium

          I mentioned fiction's most famous knitter, Mme Defarge, in my last post. I myself knit, although not with homicidal intent, and sometimes that pastime influences how I see things.
          In this case, I was photographing pretty bits of rubble in Rome's Forum this summer, and I was entranced by the carvings on this stone:

          Not only because they're pretty, but also because they remind me both of a cable knitting pattern and the classic pattern set-up on an Aran sweater: larger interlacing pattern flanked on either side by a smaller, simpler pattern. Like this cable pattern, from Barbara G. Walker's ageless A Treasury of Knitting Patterns:

          You can see that the central knitted motif resembles the central carved motif.
           To see this kind of similarity separated by both centuries and media is to recognize how deeply satisfying this kind of pattern set-up is to humans. And it says, once again, that no matter how much we ignore it and under-fund it and find the stock market or fantasy football more important, art matters to us, just as it always has.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hats of Power

Detail of the Arch of Septimius Severus, Roman Forum
          The reason I'm posting this photo is because of the Phrygian cap on the figure (or figurehead) on the right. I was photographing interesting bits in the Forum in Rome when I looked up and said, "Hey, that's the French Revolution hat!" I've always thought these were spunky little caps, all lefty and revolutionarily cool because worn by French revolutionaries, as depicted in Delacroix's famous Liberty Leading the People:
You can see the Phrygian cap on Liberty herself
          During the French Revolution, the Phrygian cap symbolized liberty, and so was the headgear in hottest demand in revolutionary circles. I suspect Mme Defarge* knitted her share of Phrygian caps.
          I didn't realize that the Phrygian cap also had special meaning in Classical Greece and Rome, but the Wikipedia enlightened me. To Greeks, the cap, which was originally worn by—go figure—Phyrigians**, denoted a non-Greek, and thus, symbolically, an outsider. To Romans, the cap denoted a free man, which eventually led to its symbolic identification with liberty, and thus to its being a hot commodity in the 1790s.
          I thought it would be fun to include a knitting pattern for a Phrygian cap, and the first thing I found when I went looking for a pattern was a blog post from a woman who is—delicious irony here—knitting Phrygian caps for people at Occupy D.C. She includes her knitting pattern if you want to try. I think red is the obvious color choice.

*Who's Mme Defarge? Drop everything and go get yourself a copy of Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities. You will meet Mme Defarge. You will never again look at someone knitting without getting a frisson of dread. Go. Read. Now.

**Phrygians were from central Anatolia (modern-day Turkey and environs).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Make It Art!

         We were in the pretty little town of Sognefjorden, Norway last summer to see fjords and do some hiking, and we came upon this installation as we were walking around town:

Instant landscape!

          A helpful plaque explained that it was part of a project to encourage viewers to make their own art by using it the frame to frame a scene, or to compose a scene within the frame.
          K obliged, with a kind of Old Man and the Sea vibe:

Is it art? It is indeed!
          Here's a challenge: take a piece of cardboard. Cut a 3" x 5" or a 4" x 5" square out of the middle, so that you have a window in the middle of your cardboard. Venture forth with your cardboard frame and your camera. Look through the cardboard and frame scenes. Use your camera to photograph the ones you like. You can show the cardboard frame if you want. Voilà: art!
          Then post a comment here to tell me that you've made art, and I'll contact you to arrange posting of your art here! Live! On this blog! (with your permission, of course) for all the world to see on February 1.
          (The small print: please, no images that violate any law or could be considered to violate any law. No images that are not created by the person submitting them. No nudity, pornography, or gore. Thank you.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Famous Playwright—or Demented ‘Toon?

          This is in reality a sculpture of Norway's very own Famous Playwright, Henrik Ibsen. It stands in front of the National Theatre, in Bergen.
          But really, doesn't he look just like Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

I'm Rich! Well…Not So Much, Actually

Yessirree, one hundred trillion dollars (Zimbabwean). That's a lot of money.
Except that it really isn't. And it's not in circulation any more.
          A couple of summers ago, my dad purchased this very pretty, dead real banknote with the enormous amount of zeros on it from a Zimbabwean artist and gave it to me. My dad does indeed love me, but he didn't set me up for life with this little gift. He paid $6 for it. Since this particular note was worth about $5 when the currency was was briefly in circulation, the artist came out ahead on the deal. And I have a pretty one hundred trillion dollar banknote and my dad's love. I came out ahead on the deal too.
          Zimbabwe itself, obviously, didn't fare as well. This, Gentle Readers, is what we call "hyperinflation." Those of us of a certain age (and those of us who've cracked a Modern European History survey) will recall reading about hyperinflation in pre-Nazi Germany, when a wheelbarrow full of banknotes couldn't buy a loaf of bread. Some of us thought that no world leader, with the benefit of the lessons of history and also access to economists who are trained to detect hyperinflation and other monetary woes, would ever have to make that particular mistake again. Some of us are Tragically Naïve.
          The Zimbabwe Dollar was abandoned as the country's official currency in 2009. They still haven't gotten that economic chaos thing under control, though.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Monument to the Unknown Housewife, Copenhagen

          Sure, everyone wants to get their picture taken with the Unknown Housewife, whose monument this obviously is, but I don't see anyone volunteering to gut and scale that fish for her, or heaven forbid get out a broom and tidy up around the place a little.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Found Mah Grooooooove

          So Jim Borgman and Jerry Scott, the creators of the comic strip Zits, are totally surveilling my life.

          I mean, that's my groove, ironing hankies and listening to NPR.
          I'm Officially Old™ now, aren't I?