I Can See for Miles (and miles)
I thought I would steal the title for this posting from The Who, since this is the second End of the Blog posting I have put up, third if you are reading into
What follows was written about a month ago while I was lakeside at Summer Wind in Muskoka, just before moving back into my place after an 11 month 3 week absence.30, 000 miles later, and I am back where I started
Since my return to the glorious nation of Canada over a month ago, I have been asked many questions about my trip. What was my favourite place?...the best moment?...did the trip change me? Before I left, I could have probably anticipated these exact questions, and would have imagined that the answers would have been of a non-discriminating and oblique nature: "It's really impossible to say which place I liked best...they were each so different and wonderful in their own way, yadda yadda". But, in actuality, I have had very little difficulty jumping straight to the answer: "Rome!" And, as for a best moment, there was one of those, too: my spine-tingling experience of the Bernini sculptures at the Galleria Borghese in Rome. As for me being a changed person: yes, of course I have changed. A year has passed, and even if I were at home and teaching everyday, I am quite sure I would also be a changed person. What I have learned from being away is certainly different, and exciting, but in general I would say that I am still the same person, with the same values, idiosyncrasies and desires. Before I left my extremely decadent and cushy life here in Canada, I was already aware of the fact that my friends and I had won the birth lottery: being born in Canada in the late part of the 20th Century is like being given a 90 metre head start in a 100 metre race. And, as long as you don't look at life as a race, it is hard not to find a happy way here. Seeing less fortunate parts of the world, where life is more difficult merely reinforced this idea. So, instead of crossing the street and discussing these ideas over an imported beverage at Boo's with Phil and co., and at other times feeling overwhelmed and somewhat oppressed by the massive amount of material stuff in my life, I lived out of a suitcase for a year. A suitcase with cameras costing more than an entire family's worldly goods in certain places; while in other places all my travel belongings combined cost far less than the watch on the wrist of the chic women walking past me.
Oh dear, I have just caught myself trying to come up with a conclusion of some kind to my trip/year off/what have you. This however, seems impossible, since such a year cannot exist in any kind of exclusivity from life in general. However, if I had to make a general conclusion about my year off and my round the world trip, it would be that we humans are eerily similar in our ways and desires, for better or worse.
As for change, let me share a journal entry from February 5th, 2008: Some (people) say that India changes you. Well, I have changed. I used to be not just afraid of rats, but rather, I thought they were the embodiment of pure evil. Now, I see they are just another cog in the scavenger hierarchy; which here includes cows, cats, dogs, humans, crows and yes, rats. I just saw another massive one here at the train station in Varanasi...and I didn't jump 10 feet. Yes, a changed man I am.
Meanwhile, here I am up north, writing at the lake just days before I return to my teaching job after 14 months off. And, I am most happy to end this travel blog by saying I am looking forward to it.
Oh, one more thing: I really missed my bath. I am listening to Sigur Ros, thinking about how fantastic it will be to be back in my tub and listening to them again.
Before leaving Vancouver, I did, in fact, pick up one last souvenir from my trip: a 1983 Toyota Landcruiser. Here is my new truck (relative to my '66 El Camino) on its way from sunny BC to rainy Ontario. If you look closely, you can see that the 'cruiser is bringing the sunny weather with it. You will also see that I chose to ship it home, rather than drive it. I sent the Landcruiser (half toy, half winter transport) home on the Matchbox Racing Team truck. This photograph was taken as it rode along the Canadian Shield, a couple hours north of Toronto.
Like the '83 Landcruiser, George Michael is another survivor from the Eighties. One of the reasons behind my decision to not drive the newly acquired truck back home myself was that I had tickets to see George again, this time in Toronto. Here he is at the ACC, as photographed by EO. The Wham! I'm Your Man
man was just as awesome the second time around. The video, lighting, staging, concept and direction was by Willie Williams
, and was the best I have ever seen. If you're going to do it, do it right! ...Right?
Well, this travel blog is pretty much done. I returned home mid-July, but could not move back into my home because it was rented out for another month and a half. Thanks to my friends and family who put me up while I was homeless at home.
Vancouver and Lions Bay
An El Camino outside the Great Canadian Superstore in Greater Vancouver. The strange rickshaw bumper sticker reminded me of India. I feel the design of the rear end of this fifth generation Camino (1978-1987) to be rather intriguing. It has the license plate holder located in the centre of the tailgate, which usually is a no-no, but somehow the chrome frame here adds a certain formality, which seems to work. Then there are the tail lights, low set and integrated into the bumper. Not necessarily the best for safety and visibility, but their absence from the body allows the sheet metal to curve around the corners smoothly, with little interruption. The shape of the red plastic lens recalls Clint Eastwood's eyes in the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, squinting and staring down the enemy with controlled fury...yet parked in the handicapped spot?
Very little of my time in Vancouver was actually spent in the city of Vancouver. Most of the time I was on the prettier and cedar scented north shore. My brother, his son and I visited the old family house in North Van, hiked alongside the Seymour River, and waded in the frigid river where we used to ride old truck inner tubes as kids. I don't recall the water being so cold back then; nor do I remember appreciating how clean and clear the river is. It was so beautiful, the kind of perfect sunny day that makes you want to live there.
Before my brother and nephew came over from Nanaimo to pick me up, I was staying with the G family in lush Lions Bay, around the corner from West Van. Their home is a modern, minimalist tree-fort of a house perched on the mountain side looking out onto beautiful Howe Sound.
After so much travelling around, it was a pleasure to spend time with old friends, and meet their lovely children. I celebrated Canada Day with the G family at Lions Bay beach, after which a fateful event occurred: Mr. G wanted to ride back up to his house with Mrs. G and kids in the G wagon, and asked me if I would follow them in his Landcruiser. I have always loved the look of these trucks, especially, most especially, the wrap around curved back windows. And, I had enjoyed being a passenger in Mr. G's Landcruiser many a time, fully appreciating the headroom and sight lines. But, as soon as I switched sides, got into the driver's seat, started the diesel engine and drove off, I felt an unexpected rush of good feelings. My friend Cal taught me the word the French use to describe this pleasure one feels fully: jouissance. When left unchecked, this joiaissance business can lead to somewhat irrational behavior: like the searching for Landcruisers on-line after realizing I must have one, and that it is the thing I have always "needed", but never realised because my life is cluttered with rational thoughts and careful decision making. So, after many hours of searching and researching with Mr. G, I decided that BC was a good place to get one, and I should see what's available while I was there. As it happened, the day before I drove the Landcruiser I had test-driven a new VW Eos hardtop convertible with Mr. G. Having rented a couple on my trip, I had decided a my next car should be a convertible (lots of headroom with the top down). Although the VW was smooth and new, it provided little in the way of jouissance. Long story short: on the day my brother took me to the George Michael concert I found a suitable Landcruiser in nearby Coquitlam, and we went off to investigate.
Looking out from Dad and M's house in Nanoose Bay on Vancouver Island. Looking at the birds flying, thinking about flying home myself. It's time.
Further north on El Camino Real, I spotted a real El Camino
. This one is a '65 and is the of the same generation as my '66. The front clip, bumpers, rear lights and interior are just some of the year to year differences. Back in the Sixties, when GM ruled the roads of a booming America, they could alter models each year and still make a profit. This owner and driver was proud to point out that the paint was original. And, sad as it is to say, this paint seems to have faired better than GM in the last 45 years.
This picture was taken in Corte Madera where I was staying with Chad and Amy. It's in Marin County just across the Golden Gate bridge, after you drive through Sausalito (...in a Rambler, if you're being true to the Diesel
tune, "Sausalito Summernight" which in 1981 rose to #25 on the U.S. Top 40. It reached #1 in Canada. I did not know that. That is weird, wild stuff.)
After a few days of R and B (Rest and Blogging) I left the heat of Corte Madera and went into San Francisco for a few days.
One of the first things I did there was to visit the DeYoung Museum with my favourite barmaid, who had just moved out there with her man.
The DeYoung, designed by Herzog and de Meuron
, is a sublime structure with incredible details like this fine line where the wood veneered wall meets the gypsum clad wall.
On Thursday June 20, I went to the opening of a show of drawings and prints by Jon Carling
in the back room of the Bell Jar
, on 16th Street in San Francisco.
I remember being in Halifax back in '94/95 and hearing the singing style of The Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan coming out of a beautiful pixie called Michael. She was unique in her Tinkerbell-ish-ness and man-name-ish-ness, but not so much in trying to sound like Dolores. It was pretty common back then, even in Halifax during its when-hipsters-cared-about-Sloan-and-friends-and-therefore-Halifax-was-cool era. It would seem people took the Cranberries' album title "Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?" to heart and started copying their sound. Now, judging from what the singer I heard at this art opening, Leslie Feist has the sound-du-jour that so many people are clamouring to emulate. This is not a bad thing.
My good friend EO would love this shop, and she coincidentally not only looks a bit like Dolores, but is also an English teacher and would appreciate the nod to Sylvia Plath
This bookstore called Abandoned Planet, on Valencia, was in fact abandoned during my days in San Fran. It was a very inviting space, to which no one was invited. It was unclear whether it was shut down temporarily or permanently.
There were many beautiful vintage motorbikes on the streets of San Francisco, but this is the only one I saw with a solar panel attached. I know not what its purpose is. If you come up with a something...let me know.
One more El Camino for the road. This down and dirty beast was so perfectly colour-matched to its enviroment that I couldn't resist a short photo shoot with her.
Santa Barbara, SLO, Paso Robles
This 63 Ford Falcon is the predecessor to the Ranchero that was atop the Los Angeles posting. Even though Ford beat GM to the market with this car/truck hybrid vehicle, it is the El Camino moniker from GM's Chevrolet division that is synonymous with this type of vehicle (in North America, whereas in Australia - and I assume in New Zealand - sorry for the assumption kiwis- they are called Utes). This one was parked across the street from my hotel in Santa Barbara. As it happens, my first car accident was in a Ford Falcon, in Scarborough of all places, to add insult to the injury. As soon as I thought out "first car accident", I immediately became aware of how messed up and North American that statement is. And then I began to think: "How many car accidents have I been in?". Six is how many crashes I can recall: one in Mom's Falcon; one between a '74 Impala and a ditch and a series of fence posts on a Friday the 13th in rural Ontario, just before I was the 13th parachute jumper out of the plane later that day; another one in a NYC Taxi in Queen's on the way to Laguardia; one in an '83 BMW in Vancouver; one in a Buffalo snowstorm in a 95 Nissan pick-up; and one between a VW Jetta and a fire hydrant, also in Buffalo. All pre-airbag, two (maybe 3) without a seat belt (not recommended). I was the driver in just one, the snowstorm accident.
There is, actually, a slight, perhaps bent, connection between the car above and the Santa Barbara Mission seen here. In California, El Camino Real usually refers to the 600-mile California Mission Trail
, connecting California's 21 missions, 4 presidios, and several pueblos, stretching from Mission San Diego de Alcalá in San Diego in the south, to Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma in the north. I am not sure if this is related to the alarming popularity of El Caminos in California, but I willing to believe that it might be, at least subconsciously.
Inside the Santa Barbara Mission church.
Above: St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare.
Below: JC and MM
(all in bronze, all by Bruce Wolfe, Anno Domini Nostri Iesu 2000)
Whilst out for a walk in Santa Barbara, I stopped in my tracks to admire this 1970 Cadillac. Shortly thereafter, a man in a eighties Mercedes station wagon pulled up alongside my spot on the sidewalk and asked: "Do you like that car?". I answered: "Yes, I love it!". He told me it was his car, and proceeded to pull the Mercedes into the lot of the car repair shop he worked at, and that I was standing in front of, apparently. He then walked over to me and we shot the breeze for a bit in the California sun. His name was Mason, and he bought the car from a guy that was driving through town and had to unload it. It wasn't clear to me why the previous owner had to sell it, but it was clear that Mason loved this car.
After Santa Barbara, we headed up to San Luis Obispo, where I saw this Pacer.
Soon after sighting the elusive Pacer, I came upon another AMC product: the Concord. I suppose if you are going to drive one of the ugliest cars ever made, it might as well be brown. In language, we have a term for words that sound like the thing they describe: onomatopoeia. But, is there a word for things that are the colour of the things you associate with them?
The Cheech and Chong dolls on the rear dash seem to be asking for the Border Patrol to impound the car.
From San Luis Obispo we drove to Paso Robles and visited the winery belonging to my friend's son, Minassian Young
. When we left the winery, the thermometer on the car read 105 degrees, and 15 minutes later when we reached the coast at Morrow Bay it was down to 68.
Sky blue Ford Ranchero
, Silver Lake, Los Angeles.
I had a mini Queen's BFA Reunion in LA. My architect friend GS flew in from Toronto, and together we visited our classmate from Kenya, in Santa Monica. We first met at the car rental shop where I had booked us a convertible, which GS had rightly insisted was necessary for LA, especially since we'd be looking at a lot of architecture, and the open top affords a less obstructed view. Despite it bring Pride weekend, there was in fact a Chrysler Sebring waiting for us, and not just a reservation for a car, which I worry about ever since seeing that episode of Seinfeld
The Getty Villa
in Pacific Palisades, near Malibu.
The remodeling of the J. Paul Getty Museum (a re-creation of the Villa dei Papiri, a first-century Roman country house) was by the architecture firm of Machado and Silvetti
. The stunningly detailed renovation cost so much money ($275 Million) that the super-rich Getty Foundation had to actually borrow
money, in order to not dip into their 4.4 Billion dollar endowment. It was oil money that created this vast fortune. Getty used it to buy approximately 44,000 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities, and re-create a Roman Villa to study and house them. All this without the use of slaves, who likely had a fairly integral role in the creation of the original villa in Herculaneum, and in the making of the Getty Villa's collection. I mention this because I am of the opinion that oil, which is maligned for obvious reasons, helped end slavery. It is nice to think that after thousands of years of slavery humans all of a sudden became enlightened. But, seeing as how the demise of slavery came on the heels of the the industrial revolution, one is lead to speculate that if we didn't have oil-powered machines to do the things that were once man-powered, then there would still be slaves. This takes me back to something Ed Burtynsky
said at a talk he was giving on his shipbreaking photographs. He said that in Bangladesh, where it is cheaper to get 100 men to carry a cable, than it is to run a diesel engine for an hour to do the same task, the man-powered option is exercised. So, yeah for oil! It helped end slavery, and built some pretty fantastic museums in LA (which are free, btw). Not only that, I am fairly confident that Getty oil money is also subsidising the restaurant at the Villa: two glasses of Chianti and a platter of artisan cheeses for two cost only $26! So when you plan your visit, plan to eat there, too.
When money is no object, the objects that you are afforded to create can be quite sublime: structural bronze railings, cast bronze stair treads, and concrete detailing that lovingly partners with the ever present sunrays of Los Angeles.
After seeing the art of bricks and mortar at the Villa, it was off to the metal and rubber shrine: The Petersen Automotive Museum
. In addition to the permanent collection, there was an exhibition of LowRiders, like this sick Buick Riviera. Notice the coffin in the back seat. This is the kind of machine I want to ride in to celebrate the Day of the Dead
There was also an exhibit on the Pixar movie Cars. It was great to see the original hand-drawn sketches and process work, for a production that is such a technical tour de force in the digital revolution.
Just down the street from the Petersen is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
. We actually walked there, on sidewalks free of any other pedestrians, but after deciding to stay a bit longer, had to walk back and move the car out of the Petersen lot. Otherwise, it would be locked in, and we'd be stuck in downtown LA without a car and horror would quickly ensue!
The LACMA also had a pretty sweet fence detail, sans horizontals.
This Nigerian water spirit was known for his excellent light-sabre skills and heavy breathing.
After we moved the car from one parking lot to another, this little guy was one of our new neighbours.
we stayed at in Silver Lake was perhaps THE find of my trip: views of the Hollywood sign out the windows, sandwiched between two Rudolph Schindler houses, a deck with a BBQ, all in a great location in trendy/bohemian Silver Lake. Four nights=$450. Wifi, full kitchen and organic fair trade coffee included.
Brite Spot diner down the street in Silver Lake headed towards Echo Park.
Richard Neutra's VDL Research House is a paradigm of his perceptions and beliefs. This house faces the lake in Silver Lake and the large vertical forms (louvers) on the right side of the house rotate to adjust to the sun's position.
After Frank Lloyd Wright sent him to Los Angeles in 1920 to supervise the construction of the Hollyhock House, Rudolf Schindler established his practice there in 1922 with his own Kings Road House
, seen here behind a site colour co-ordinated GS.
It was a real treat to see this amazing David Hockney image on display at the Getty Museum in Brentwood.
Dropping GS off at LAX, the "Theme" building
I spent five weeks on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The first week was spent travelling around the island, checking out the North Shore, Windward Coast, and Pearl Harbour.
For the next four weeks I stayed in a rented condo in Waikiki, and made lithographic prints at the Honolulu Printmakers printshop.
The condo I lived in is the plain white one on the left. The one up front, with the wicked cantilever, was my daily eye-candy on my bike ride to the printshop. I had hoped to see some great mid-late century concrete buildings like this one in Honolulu, and was not disappointed. I was disappointed, however, in the lack of all things pertaining to Jack Lord: 20 ft long black Ford coupes, long sleeve Aloha shirts, "Book'em Dano" t-shirts. Seriously, he is all but forgotten, ditto for Magnum, only the TV show Lost matters now.
Looking out my condo window over the canal and golf course. I was near the Diamond Head end of Waikiki.
I met Gary on the way home from the printshop one day. He asked if I was the guy photographing his car the other day. I confessed. The next time I came by, he was there again, applying bondo to the body of his Camaro. He offered me a Bud, then I took this picture of him giving the Bud salute.
The Academy of Fine Arts building, home to the Honolulu Printmakers printshop, a gallery space and a ceramics workshop.
Below, the litho room, where I spent most of my time. The stone sitting on the press has my "AfterLife" image on it.
Kyoto: temples galore and geishas. Before visiting Japan, this was the city I was most interested in seeing. It turned out to be my least favourite place in Japan, but was still pretty great.
I left my little yellow journal in the back pocket of the seat in front of me on the Hiroshima-Osaka train. By the time I realised this, I was sitting down and drinking a coffee near the Kyoto train station. I went to the Lost and Found there, and they called the Osaka station. As you can see, someone turned it in, and they had it at the Lost and Found in Osaka. Japan is amazing that way. I actually do believe that passengers back here in Canada would be good enough to turn such a notebook to a Via Train employee, but I also believe they would just toss it in the trash, rather than have to fill out a form and file it.
The Atomic Dome, Hiroshima, April 21, 2008.
I took the ferry and train to Hiroshima and checked in at the Business Ryokan Sansui, where the whiteboard sign greeting me read: Burke Taters. In Hiroshima I visited the Peace Memorial and Museum, all set in a lush green, tree-filled park. All this, right at the spot that was devastated by the A-bomb in 1945, just below the huge fireball that lit up the sky and burned everything for miles in an instant. On a beautiful sunny day, in such a civilised country, this is all difficult to imagine. But, the museum does a good job to tell the story of the day that made this city famous.
For my second day in Hiroshima, I had a choice: 1) visiting the floating temples at nearby Miyajima*, or 2) tour the Mazda Museum and factory. As you can see from this photo, I went for the Zen experience, and kept the appointment for the zoom-zoom tour I had made when I arrived at the train station's tourist office the day before, when I arrived.
The car pictured above is a 1967 Mazda Cosmo
, the world's first production rotary engine sports car, and a blatant rip-off of the Alfa Romeo Spyder.
This 1969 Mazda Luce
, was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italy.
A mini-El Camino built by Mazda, for mini people.
After the tour of the museum, we were allowed into the factory to observe the assembly line. Watching the factory men at work was truly Zen, as I know it. One is easily lead to contemplate the existence of man, and the intricate relationships of everything in this universe. To see just a slice of the incredibly intricate infrastructure and labour that goes into assembling a car is mind-blowing. Everything is designed to flow, so that the production line never stops. And, to think that as complex as everything in the factory is, it is nothing compared to the earth's living systems.
I watched as one guy worked in tandem with a robot to install pre-assembled dashboard units. He was moving non-stop, quite quickly, too. The tour guide told me the workers get a 15 minute break in the morning, and one in the afternoon, and a 45 minute lunch break. Not too far off Lang's vision in Metropolis, I thought. Around the corner, however, there was a woman working on another part of the assembly line. She didn't appear to be busy at all, and in fact stood around while waiting for the next car to arrive so she could install the rocker panels covers. I asked the guide about this disparity and was told that woman don't do the difficult jobs. It certainly looked that way.
I really do think that watching the factory assembly line at work was one of the more incredible experiences of my year abroad. Here are some of the contributing factors: 1) cameras were not allowed in the factory, so the experience was of the moment, and not filtered through a screen of viewfinder, 2) the repetition and movement was strangely organic, like watching worker ants, because it was a multiple vehicle assembly line, 3) there were only 3 of us on the tour, so quite often I was standing alone, leaning over the catwalk railing looking down to the factory assembly line, the worker's unaware of my existence - again, like watching marching ants, and 4) It was mesmerizing, like watching the water fall over the edge of Niagara Falls.
Form and function merge pleasantly on this bench for the elderly and infirm on the local train in Hiroshima.
The morning tram in Hiroshima.
* as for floating temples, I can wait until I get back to Toronto and bike down to admire Eb Zeidler's Ontario Place. Way cooler.
Mystery Artist on TV in Japan
The following is based on notes I wrote on my WikiTravel print outs for Naoshima, and some from my little yellow notebook.
Sunday April 20, 2008.
Looking for a place to eat on a Sunday night. Everything was closed, and I am the only guest in my lock-less guest house. I felt like I was the only foreigner on this dark seemingly deserted island. The gent at the ferry terminal was kind enough to sell me some snacks, even though it was not his job and he was already into overtime: nuts and dried fried noodles. Then, I went by a vending machine, got some chips and figured this and a couple of beers from the vending machine at the guest house would be dinner. Then, just past Seven Beach (my guesthouse, that is not actually on a beach, FYI), I discovered a small cook-food-over-an-open-flame-yourself place that appeared to be open.
When I went in, the proprietor asked if I was staying at the (Seven) Beach house. Feeling more than ever like the only foreigner on the island, I said yes, and she told me I could pay her for my 2nd night there. As it happened, she was the mother of the woman who ran my guesthouse, in which I was the only guest that night. I suppose, had I not found this place, she would have come to the guesthouse later and asked for my payment.
I asked her if I could get some food, because everything else was closed. She agreed, at first somewhat reluctantly, but soon came around, and after my meal gave me free beer...and the mini KIRIN beer glass I said I liked so much and wished to purchase.
She said I looked like a movie star. I told her I wasn't, and that I make and teach art. With only her limited understanding of English, she was able to communicate to me that making art is a lot of work for very little money.
After getting back to the completely empty Seven Beach House I turned on the TV and started writing a bit. On the TV was a show about a Japanese artist. I couldn't understand a word of it, but the images alone allowed me to construct my own story.I was able to decide who the curator was, the museum director and also the mentoring senior artist. I really liked the platform she used to float over her art as she painted.
(I wonder if I will ever discover the artist's name? I like her work a lot. It inspires me.)
Yuji and Maasa on the beaches below Benesse House, Naoshima.
April 19, 2008.
Naoshima was a great surprise to me. I had never heard of the place until I read about it in the back of the Wallpaper* Tokyo guide book, in a section called Escapes. These handy little guides are actually pretty cool, even if the hotels they list are way out of my price range. So, I feel that I must thanks the editors, because Naoshima was completely amazing! Naoshima is an island located in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan. It is reknowned for its collection of contemporary art galleries and exhibits. Naoshima is best known for the Benesse House complex. There has been extensive domestic attention to the recently (2006) completed radical Chichu Art Museum.
, a contemporary art museum and hotel designed by Tadao Ando.
Benesse House dining room: where you get to eat if you are a guest there. You also get exclusive transportation around the island's various art sites in the Benesse shuttle bus. If you stay at the Benesse House
, you also get to wander around the museum closes; long after plebs like me have gone off to their 3500 Yen ($35) a night guest house.
The Chichu Art Museum
Every single detail has been attended to at the ChiChu, right down to the problem of how to carry your drink and quiche to the outside terrace, without resorting to the all too common prison-style two-handed tray maneuver? Put the drink in a basket, with the quiche over top.
Posting a photograph of one of James Turrell's ephemeral artworks seems almost blasphemous. But here is one form inside the ChiChu, anyway; not to give you the feeling of the piece, but to remind you that there are 4 of his works on permanent display on this wee island that you need to go and see.
ChiChu was also designed by Tadao Ando. The entire museum is set into the ground, so as to not disturb the natural lines of the mountainous island.
In addition to the two fanatastic museums by Ando, there are six Art House Projects
, all within renovated traditional houses on this small island.
A detail of the charred wood finish used on one of the Art Houses.
The idea of Naoshima is brilliant: create a series of sublime art experiences on a beautiful island in the inland sea. The idea of wrapping a waffle around a chocolate topped ice cream bar, so that it doesn't drip, seems equally inspired.
If I hadn't been locked in the train and forced to miss my stop, then have to double back, and thus miss the ferry, I would not have met Yuki and Maasa. We had a great time touring all the sites of the island together.
We even had fun with Godzilla in a traditional Japanese bar, just around the corner from our guest house.
This is the ferry terminal on Naoshima. If you ever find yourself in Tokyo, and are a lover of contemporary art and architecture, then you must go to Naoshima. It is just difficult enough to get to to keep away the tour bus crowd, but easy enough for the devoted to make the pilgrimage without getting lost. Here is how I got there: Bullet train from Tokyo to Okayama (4 hours), Okayama-Chayamachi-Uno (40 minutes), Uno ferry to Naoshima (20 minutes).
The notes for this posting were transcribed (mostly) from notes I made in the back of my Lonely Planet Tokyo Encounter guide book. I recommend this small city guide and map combo, if you are Tokyo-bound with not much of a clue, as I was.
Sunday April 13.
Harujuku reminds me of Queen West and Kensington Market. Lots of skulls, American vintage-sque tees; plus Vivienne Westwood punk, and other UK gear. The girl dressed as a killer doctor in a blood-stained labcoat wearing a pirate's eye-patch seemed uniquely Tokyo youth, circa 2008.
Later, watched I Manchester United beat Arsenal at a pub in Ukebukuro.
In Japan, my Honda Ruckus scooter is sold as a Zoomer. This Tokyo hipster-child has stripped his down a bit further by removing the fenders.
Tuesday April 15.
Ueno Park. Met Jiro, his girlfriend Naomi, friends Assami, Kai and Yoko. All college students studying photography and shooting with old Nikon SLRs. Had cook it yourself dinner together in Ueno. Okonomiyaki is the name of this type of restaurant where you make Japanese 'pancakes', mostly cabbage-based with egg and shrimp.
Wednesday April 16.
-met Keith, went to lovely private Japanese garden, saw a crane eat its catch, then moved onto a gallery building where the first gallery had some nice paintings and beer garden table rubbings. From there to Ginza where I saw the new Nissan GTR and bought a Magnum photographer t-shirt at UNIQLO. Then Keith went home, and I went to Muji for dinner, underwear and tea! Later at home I watched Lost in Translation again. This time, with the Tokyo bits being less exotic, I found the two characters flawed to an even greater degree. She is a spoilt, lost soul and he is a philandering has-been who is selling-out instead of doing a play (his words). But his advice to her is good...keep writing.
Thursday April 17.
Planned, then went and booked all my train tickets for my Japan Rail trip. Tokyo-Naoshima-Hiroshima-Kyoto-Tokyo. Then went to Roppongi Hills Mori Museum to see BMW Art Car Show (weak show, I liked Stella's 3.0 CSL best) Then I met up with Keith again, saw the group show he was in. It was really great...work by stylists, photographers and make-up artists. All very well made, excellent craft and attention to detail - professional, as it were. From there we went to see Lee Friedlander's exhibit at the Rat Hole Gallery where I bought the Lee Friedlander book they published, and a copy of Anders Petersen's book Cafe Lehmitz, which is the source of the image on Tom Wait's Raindogs. From there to an excellent dinner in a place that was a kind of Japanese-beer-hall-tapas-bar-a-rant
Friday April 18
Copied from the back of a guide to Ueno Imperial Park:
I got really excited, like ahhh! Open mouth excited when I glimpsed at all the big sculpture in the Met Museum - the Japanese League of Sculptors.
Then I went and saw the finely made Japanese crafts – masks, ceramics and lacquerware.
Now, I am sitting having a $5 cup of coffee in the National Museum of Western Art (their logo NMWA, all joined in one zig-zag line). I've come to see the Venus exhibition (1400 yen). I am yawning, so I need this coffee...it is a dreary, rainy, yawny kind of day. Okay for a museum...if you have coffee.
Had great sushi for lunch after a late departure, approx. 2-3 pm, from the hotel where I spent the first part of the day booking my hotels for Naoshima, Hiroshima and Kyoto. All booked, including trains, yay!
My Bollywood-stickered Canon and my CBC tee. I truly missed my CBC Radio weekends during this year spent away from home. I am excited to hear the new show Under the Covers
by Danny Michel
; one of my favourite musical artists, who, without CBC Radio in my life, I might not have discovered. Which would be a shame, because my life wouldn't be nearly as rich.
I loved Hong Kong. This shot is looking down Hollywood Road on the way to the fabulous store G.O.D.
(Goods of Desire). I found it to be a great walking city.
The oppression of high fashion and the tyranny of choice
* associated with retail in the west is ever present in Hong Kong.
Having come from socialist West Bengal in Calcutta, where fly-overs (raised highways) obscure the beautiful facade of their national museum, it was interesting to see this moment where the right of way was given to a tree. This in Hong Kong, one of the world's most free market economies in its day.
Signs of the former British rule are felt in a general, somewhat intangible way; and sometimes posted more directly.
* I credit this phrase to Samuel, MBA
Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Kyoto. Three places I visited where the first thing I photographed was a car. True story. Oh, and they all have a lot of temples, too. This sweet little Triumph was in Bangkok, near San's apartment, where I was staying in style. If my room at the Hotel Neelam in Calcutta could be described the kind of place where Hezbollah might "interview" hostages, my room at San's in Bangkok was more like the place the where UN diplomats might sleep while doing nothing useful to help solve the world's problems.
These are images from Wat Pho in Bangkok. The quiet bliss one might experience whilst watching this restoration artist paint is how I felt about Bangkok in general. It was so clean and quiet compared to Calcutta. The new skytrain and malls you can see from the raised platforms were all so shiny and new. The streets were full of new german cars, everything seemed to work and the air felt fresh. Of course, this is all relative, I realise. But still, I was very impressed by this metropolis, despite the lack of constant horn honking and general chaos to which I had become accustomed.
Within the city of Bangkok is a little piece of paradise known as the Jim Thompson House
. I loved it there, and wanted to move in for a while. Don't pass it by if you find yourself in Bangkok.
After Bangkok, I flew up to Chiang Mai to see my old friend and former classmate and collegue Suzanne. She and hubby and child live outside the city in the surrounding mountains on the beautiful campus of an International School. The temple in this picture is from within the old city of Chiang Mai, which is surrounded by a moat. There are heaps of temples in Chiang Mai. My tour of Europe back in the early nineties was nick named the ABC tour (Another Beautiful Church). Yatta-Yatta is what I will call my Thailand tour (Yet Another Temple To Adore, Yet Another Temple To Adore).
These lanterns are being lit and sent into the sky to land who knows where. Maybe the gods where, since they are often sent up in their honour. We saw this happening after the dinner and show at Khum Khantoke, which bills itself as "The Ultimate Mega Center of Lanna Arts and Culture" (I am always amused when I see Arts separated from Culture).
I stayed both at Suzanne and Peter's up in the mountains, and also within the city walls at CM Blue House. It was only $10 a night and included newness, cleanliness, towels, toilet paper and hot water, none of which I received in Calcutta for $8 a night.
The owners of CM Blue House also own the Rama bar around the corner. One libation I quite enjoyed in Thailand was the premixed scotch and soda by Johnny Walker, who battles it out with Buddha for total omnipresence in the Kingdom. These chilled wonders were much enjoyed when I was in my recovery mode. You see, I so enjoyed the peace and tranquility of Chiang Mai, that I decided I would stay an extra week or so and take a yoga course. You know, start bending and stretching my 10lb lighter post-India body. As it happened however, my body was thrown across the pavement at about 60 k. On the way down the hill from S and P's the rear wheel of the borrowed 125 Honda Wave I was riding hit a small bit of tree debris that had fallen in the recent rain. I was leaning a bit into the approaching corner and bridge and quickly went down with the bike. Because I was in 35 degree Thailand, I was in shorts and t-shirt, so it was my skin that did the tango with pavement. With my cellphone cracked, but still working, I called Suzanne and asked her to come get me. Then I looked down at my scooter seat and saw big drops of blood, and then re-examined my new skin art. Hmmm...nothing seems to be "dripping blood", so where is it coming from? I wondered in my state of shock. My face? I vainly thought for a moment. I soon realise the blood must be related to the flapping bit of skin hanging from my chin. Apparently I broke the fall using my chin as well as my wrists, elbows, left shoulder, right leg and upper pelvic bone. That was at about 10 am. By 12 pm I was stitched up and in a kind of euphoria because I knew it could have been much worse and that I came out on the winning side of my tango with death.
I was healed enough by the time I got to Hawaii to enter the ocean without screaming. I have a wee scar under my chin and some discoloured skin. I'd say I was really lucky, but that would be a lie. Really lucky
would be not falling at all, falling and living is just lucky
The stats: 1 surgeon, two assistants, lots of iodine and bandages, 16 stitches (8 inside, 8 outside), one cycle of antibiotics and a week of pain killers (not including the Johnny Walkers). Total bill in dollars: 136. Yep, that's all, in a super clean, friendly and efficient hospital (it's no wonder why so many westerners are going to Thailand to get plastic surgery). And, when I went back a week later, the removal of the stitches was free.
Calcutta: chai, coffee, and the ghats
This is the last of the Calcutta posts. I couldn't complete my brief picture of Calcutta without mentioning the chai wallahs (tea men) who are found all over India. This guy here, had a spot on the sidewalk near the Seagull gallery where Dave's show was hanging. The sidewalks in Calcutta are usually for selling and sleeping, which is why there are so many people walking on the streets. That, and because there are just a whole lot of people there. The art adorning this tea stall is quite typical: calendars with Hindi gods/goddesses, and a photo of the deceased father of the current proprietor. The small tea cup he is pouring into is made of fired clay. It is used once and thrown on the ground, with the other garbage. FYI, a cup of chai like this costs between 2.5 and 4 rupees. ($1 = 40 rupees)
Doodh-man. Dude-man. Milkman. Milk is a very important ingredient in Indian tea (chai). The are many doodhs like this riding throughout the streets of Calcutta. Not all of them have such stylin' mudflaps.
Not even in competition with tea, coffee can be found at some places in Calcutta, but almost never in a street stall. The most beautiful and famous place for a cup of (pretty terrible) coffee is The Coffee House, a co-op that was the meeting place of many of the more famous Bengali intellectuals, like Tagore, whose picture hangs on the wall.
Looking down for the Coffee House stairwell. You can see our bikes parked beside the motorbikes.
I rode by this stretch of Bentick Street almost everyday. The green mosque is in the background. It is about half way between Hotel Neelam and Mr. Ghosh's shop. One day, I was on foot here on the way to the art store to buy all of the large french paper I could find in the city (10 sheets). It was then I realised how visible a minority I was in parts of Calcutta, because people I had never met were all asking me "where is your bicycle" or just smiling and saying "bicycle" while miming the holding of the handlebars.
Sundays usually ended with us down at the ghats near the flower market. It was here that I saw one of my favourite Indians: a content little boy with little scissors cutting up little discarded pieces of coloured foam. He was all we should ever want to be.
Retour de Flamme
Calcutta is full of suprises. I would never have imagined that I'd ever be sitting in the grounds of an Anglican church in India watching a frenchman play piano accompaniment to lost film, which had been found and restored films.
It was magical. Among the many great shorts, I saw the world's first animated film, a Buster Keaton picture, and this hand coloured picture filmed in Gwalior in 1908! For more info on Retour de Flamme click here
Serge Bromberg is the driving force behind Lobster films, a company that finds and restores these "lost" films. He was the presenter and piano player, and a great ambassador for the preservation of the world's films.
Speaking of lost images, the images here and in the last posting were lost for a bit. The memory card from my Canon became corrupted during a download attempt (thank you very much, Evil Microsoft) and I couldn't get to the files. But, using my Apple Powerbook and a photo recovery program called Klix
, I was able to recover them.
Sundays in Calcutta were usually spent riding our bikes and exploring different neighbourhoods. After a ride northbound beside the Hoogly (Ganges), we cut back into the city streets and came across this bus. Watching the painter create the numbers was amazing. His hand was fast, accurate and fluid.
After painting "lovley" on the crossbar of Dave's black bike, which he bought in Dehli from Mr. Lovely 3 years ago, he painted "Best Qwalitey" on the rear fender. Painting "best quality" on an Indian bicycle is a bit like painting "we mean no harm" on the side of a B-52 bomber.
Where whitey goes, a crowd will grow.
This horse sculpture has a bamboo armature inside it and is made from mud from the Hoogly River. It will be painted, then brought to the river and thrown in as an offering for the gods during a pooja. The armatures will eventually be fished out and the whole process will be repeated.
"A patina is the surface that bridges the gap between art and nature" -Dave Trattles, on the phone to me in Calcutta while he was cycling to Chennai with Jada and John.
A saree hanging out to dry in north Calcutta.
I think one reason India is so great looking, and therefore an excellent place for taking pictures, is because the people there are a rather inquisitive lot. This means they do things like stand in doorways looking out - framing themselves for the camera lens. They also congregate in groups around all kinds of activities, providing an audience for the mundane, turning a flat tire into a spectacle.
The last stop on my railway crossing of northern India was Bodhgaya, the place where Buddha attained Enlightenment under the bodhi tree. For Buddhists, Bodh Gaya is the most important of the main four pilgrimage sites related to the life of Gautama Buddha.
According to Buddhist traditions, circa 500 BC Prince Gautama Siddhartha, wandering as a monk, reached the sylvan banks of Falgu River, near the city of Gaya. There he sat in meditation under a bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa). After three days and three nights of meditation, Siddharta attained enlightenment and insight, and the answers that he had sought.
Diary excerpt from February 6, 2008.
I just had lunch at the OM Cafe here in Bodhgaya. This place also has clothes for sale (and other wooly things and purses and beady things). The whole place looks and feels like the (hippie) places on Bloor Street in the Annex that sell the same stuff. The sameness is startling. There were places like this in Kingston and Buffalo too.
Everyone here is drinking tea, except for a table of monks (in maroon robes with shaved heads). They are all drinking Coca-Cola from the bottle with straws.
Not far from the filth here, I went to the Japanese Temple and joined their daily 5 pm meditation. Compared to the rest of India I had seen, just being in such a clean space took me half way to nirvana. After only 1/2 an hour of meditation, I had attained enlightenment; proven by the fact my right leg had completely fallen asleep, thus signifying a separation of the mind and body.
The Taj and Varanasi
On Monday February 4th, 2008, I took the 6:10 am Jaipur Gwailor express train to Agra Fort (10:52 scheduled arrival, actual 12pm) so that I could visit the famous Taj Mahal
My Taj verdict: weak to okay. Certainly from the back, the site is very nice: wide bend in the river, green forest area on the other side. But, the scale of the structure was not is impressive (as it seems in photos), the marble pieces not so well chosen, and the reflecting pools lacked sparkle. It's a check mark on the preverbial to-do list. But, I would say that the real reward of a visit here is found through observation of the Indian families in their finest dress posing in front of their national shrine. It is known for being a symbol of Love, and because so many people come here with Love on their mind, the place does have a special feeling.
This might help to put its size in perspective: it is about 186 ft tall, St. Peter's Basilica is 452 ft., and Chartres Cathedral is over 350 ft. high. In layman (prole) terms: if they build a Taj in Las Vegas, it would be the only copy there that is bigger than the original. Yes, I know, it is really hard to believe there isn't a Vegas Taj already (with Russell Peters performing nightly).
The bottom line: The Taj Mahal attracts from 2 to 4 million visitors annually, with more than 200,000 from overseas. Entry Fee for Foreign Nationals : 750 Rs., Entry Fee For Indian Tourists : 20 Rs. I did the math: each year this place takes in 150 million rupees from foreigners, and 80 million rupees from Indians.
Milling about the site are many photographers there to capture the moment for you (on film, no less and get you the prints in less than an hour). This was the only time in India hawkers avoided me (and the other camera ladened foreigners), and focussed on the natives. This isn't completely true, because there are plenty of men wandering about the site about who try and become your personal "guide", which includes showing you where to stand to take pictures so that your own picture will look just like the one you've seen a hundred times before.
"Look, I am holding the dome up with my fingers!"
(It may be silly, but least my hair isn't orange)
Here are some notes I made while on site (notes in brackets added today for this blog):
I am sitting outside the south portal of the monument. I was not prepared for the smell of stinky feet that IS the interior and also the exterior area of the interior entrance! Unreal. My advice: rub (Vick's) vapour rub under your nose before going inside the Taj! My photo was just taken by an Indian couple (they actually asked this time). Title: "Whitey at the Taj". Must get out of the sun and away from wafting dirty feet smell. Unreal!
A couple of cows at the edge of the Ganges River in Varanasi
If you thought my words on the Taj were harsh, then you may not want to know what I think about Varanasi, or as my friend David Packer
so cleverly calls it: Very Nasty.
This is one of the holiest cities for the Hindi. And, because of this, I am not going to say much. (perhaps at a later date on harshmagazine.com)
On my way to Agra Fort train station my bicycle rickshaw was caught up in traffic due to this wedding procession. The lights are powered by a small diesel engine that moves along with the procession.
Because I had given myself ample time to get to the station, I was able to sit back and enjoy the passing festivites. Varanasi is a city of weddings, prayers and cremations; and in the week I spent there one day, I had seen them all.
After visiting the desert, I decided I would make my way back to Calcutta by train: Jaislamer-Jaipur-Agra-Varanasi-Bodhgaya-Calcutta. I arrived in Jaipur from Jaisalmer at five in the morning, had a nap, and then hired a car and driver for the day to take me to Abanheri, about 95 km from Jaipur, so that I could see the stepwell
there. The first stop was a long one, at the train station to get my tickets booked for my chosen route. As a travel incentive for foreigners, at Indian Railway stations we get to use the same ticket window as seniors and freedom fighters. This is meant to be the faster line. However, on this day It took quite a while for my tickets to be processed, because the ticket agent made a mistake and had to re-issue all of the tickets. This delay caused one of the old men waiting in line to get cross with me. This certainly was not the kind of behaviour Ben Kingsley had lead me to expect.
The scenery out the car window alternated between lush green fields and fields of dirt.
Rajasthan is a bit like the Carrara of India; in that it is home to many stone carvers, who can be seen throughout the city of Jaipur and in the surrounding towns.
The next day, back in Jaipur, I visited the City Palace, home to these huge silver vessels.
One of the rooms inside the City Palace that is open to the public.
Looking out from the Palace of the Winds in Jaipur. The small openings were designed so that the women of the palace could look out but not be seen.
I decided to travel to the desert in Rajasthan with Adam, who wanted to go there and photograph the stars. So off we went: by plane from Calcutta to Jaipur, then by overnight train to Jaisalmer.
Adam trying to get some zzz's in the morning after a very cold overnight train ride through the desert from Jaipur. He has a copy of V.S. Naipaul's
An Area of Darkness on his lap. Dave gave us each a copy and we were both reading it on this trip. I highly recommend it if you are at all interested in India.
We hadn't anticipated the degree of cold air, or the fact that in sleeper class you have to bring your own blankets. So, basically, I spent the coldest night of my life in India. At least I didn't get frostbitten, like I did in Kenya years ago. I can't wait to be back in Canada where these things don't happen to me.
Kudos to Adam for finding this guest house with a view. It is called the Fifu Guest House, and was nice, new-ish and clean, with hot showers to boot. What luxury!
I liked Jaisalmer because it was a living fort city, even if the holy cow does seem to have the run of the place.
San getting a yard of sweet milk inside the fort city of Jaisalmer. We met San who was visiting from Bangkok, and Mark from Australia, on the train from Jaipur. We all decided to stay at Fifu, and I went on a desert safari with San and Mark.
Looking out across the desert in western India, about an hour from Jaisalmer
Mark and San on their camels
The first time I tried to upload this picture my web browser started going all wonky like its wires were crossed. Perhaps it's because there are so many things that seem wrong in this photograph: I am wearing a hoody with a sports team's colours, I am wearing a wool scarf in the desert, and yes, I do, in fact, have a mustache. I left the 'stache in India.
Calcutta Vintage Car Rally
When it comes to machines, I believe in the afterlife. Specifically, I believe in the resurrection of old cars, trucks and motorbikes that have had life breathed back into them by their loving owner's passion and hard work. And, when these re-born vehicles and their owners congregate, I go to worship; even if it means getting out of bed at 7 am on a Sunday morning. January 20, 2007 A.D. was one such morning, and found me headed towards The Statesman newspaper's annual vintage car rally in Calcutta. Below, fellow worshippers bow their heads in honour of vintage motorbikes.
This was a true rally, which meant in order to participate you had to run your vehicle through the full driving course that meandered through Calcutta's many diverse neighbourhoods. I think it was a combination of whiteness and precociousness that landed me a seat in this 60's Dodge convertible, which just happened to be the closest thing to a muscle car in the whole rally. The car belonged to Mr. Mukerjee, who was driving his 1927 Austin Seven with his wife, while his driver drove the Dodge. The navigator had a computer in his lap and had figured out what our speed should be for each section of the course. With such advanced technology, how could we not win?
Being a Sunday, the roads were relatively quiet.
Mr. Singh is a high priest in the Art of Resurrection. This old Ariel was nothing but a pile of rust before he got to it. The various handlebar levers were all made by hand, cast in bronze, machined, polished, then chrome-plated. Prohibitively expensive at home, but possible in Calcutta.
A flat tire was the first thing standing between our car and Victory. Notice the group of people that instantly surrounded us in this residential neighbourhood. In Calcutta, it seemed that there were always at least 50 people just standing around, ready to give their attention to anything that might pop up.
The second thing to thwart our inevitable victory and champagne celebrations, was the lifting of the car with the jack positioned under the leaf springs (which meant the wheel couldn't drop down low enough to change the tire). I tried explaining this to the driver-cum-mechanic, but no one was listening to me. The same whiteness
that opened the door for a ride in the backseat, now rendered me invisible
. What could paleface possibly know about fixing a tyre? White people only know how to give orders. And, hey, given the history of India, that is a fair enough judgement. However, in this case it wasn't good judgement, because so far the locals had managed to pry and pull the flat tire out of the wheel well, and now couldn't get the spare on.
After all kinds of bad advice from everyone standing around, except me; they finally listened to this white boy (who happens to own a 60's American muscle car!) and put a second jack in the correct position. By the time this happened, all hopes of a victory lap had vanished. Instead, the crowd of onlookers watched as the spare tyre was bolted on, then hoisted me on their shoulders and sang a touching rendition of Jerusalem
that would have made the Choir Master at Westminister Abbey proud. Of course, this was not the case. In fact, I was never even thanked, and sensed that they were annoyed that paleface was right.
As expected, the vintage vehicles were almost all from England, like these three lovely BSA
Hand-painted marquees are one of the benefits of not being able to find the original decals.
Sayan, a college student from Dehli snapped this picture of me about a month before we actually met through Sidhartha, who was also part of the college's camera club. As a paleface in India, it is not uncommon to have your picture taken by strangers, usually on a cellphone.
I originally posted this picture without any description, but have since been asked to say what it is. Perhaps some of you may have thought these men piloted my plane to Calcutta. In fact, they are members of a mahboob band, dressed and waiting in front of a closed shop, a quite typical scene on M. Ghandi Road on a Sunday in Calcutta.
Finally, India! The main reason why I decided to buy a Round-the-World ticket. Originally I was going to spend the whole year in Italy, but was convinced by my friend David Trattles
to go to India. Once India became part of the equation, it made sense to either travel around the whole globe, or to all the places that began with the letter "I", which didn't seem as appealing. I was tremendously fortunate to have Dave and his friend Jada in residence in Calcutta when I arrived. They booked my room at the Neelam Hotel for me and picked me up at the airport. I'll never forget that nighttime drive from the airport to the city centre. The noise and air pollution was like nothing I'd ever seen or heard before, or since. The taxi headlights lit up a dark fog of diesel exhaust and the horn honking was literally non-stop. And even though it was after 8 pm, there were cars and people and rickshaws as far as the eye could see.
After my arrival and check-in (all my life's information filled out in triplicate), I was immediately thrown into the madness of the streets of Calcutta. I rode one of Dave's bikes for the first few days until I bought my own from Mr. Ghosh. It was quite a rush trying to navigate the streets of Calcutta and not lose Dave, who has cycled and photographed in over 60 countries.
This is Mr. Ghosh standing in front of his shop. His father, also called Mr. Ghosh is sitting inside the shop.
As a pale face, there are always eyes on you in India, even when you think you are safely hidden behind a taxi cab.
Dave Trattles is seen here beside his photograph "Mr. India" from his exhibition The Boxing Ladies.
The exhibition documented the lives of muslim women boxers in Calcutta. The three girls pictured here with their mother were featured on the poster for the exhibition. One of my many great days in Calcutta was spent with Dave and Jada putting up posters with this family in their neighbourhood.
Dave twirling a couple of the kids who live on the street out front of the gym where the boxers train alongside vintage Arnold Schwarznegger posters. The girl standing behind is the same girl in the Mr. India picture above.
The owner and artist of Jayshree printers in Calcutta, where Dave had the posters for his exhibition printed. They are holding a poster emblazoned with the image of Goddess Kali, the goddess of Calcutta. When Dave, Jada and John got on their bicycles and headed down to Chennai, I stayed in Calcutta and made my Contempt poster here. Be Cheerful Always To Get Handsome Most
Dave's friend Adam arrived from Toronto and is seen here midway through a head massage (a Calcutta welcoming ritual for all of Dave's friends). Adam and I went to Jailsalmer together via plane and freezing cold night train.
This is my indian bicycle: an Atlas Goldstar. It cost about 60 dollars and weighed about 60 pounds. Here, in week 2 of ownership, you can see the chain guard has already come loose and I have tied it to the frame with twine. The seat has also begun to tilt back. Soon, the seat would get a few welds to stop the tilting, until finally the post bent and snapped off. In my two months of riding I went through three seats and had the chain break three times.
Hotel Neelam: my home on Kyd St. in Calcutta for 2 1/2 months
(click on this -or any picture posted- to view it larger)
here, a pooja there, everywhere a puja, yeah, yeah, yeah! Mr. Ghosh Sr. looks on as worshipers try and wave their hands through the flames of the candles.
A shrine in the temple featuring Ramakrishna on the right, and my favourite, Swami Vivekananda on the left.
In addition to the many poojas that went on while I was in India, there was also this muslim celebration where the men run through the streets play-fighting. I have no idea what it means, but the drumming and running was pretty intense. I managed to catch on camera just a glimpse of the action between two trams, with the famous green mosque in the background.
India: home of Cosio
Boss, and Wood
land. (Casio, Hugo and Timber)
A detail from Bernini's Pluto and Proserpina (Hades and Persephone)
Good Lord, how does one even begin to describe the phenomena of the the Galleria Borghese? Perhaps "Bernini, Bernini, Bernini!"
I am afraid the adequate words to describe the art at the Borghese are not coming forth, so instead just look at these pictures I scanned at the BSR. Especially look at how the marble becomes pliable in Bernini's hands.
Persephone's Head by Bernini
Apollo and Daphne by Bernini
Carlo Nicoli said to me in Carrara that this sculpture of Apollo and Daphne was the first piece of cinema! Maybe he's right. When you walk around it does seem to move; the young Daphne running away from Apollo while simultaneously transforming into a tree so that the forest will hide her. FYI, this photograph is at least 100 years old. I found it in publications dated 1903/1955/1981. It is the image used in the in Rudolf Wittkower's Bernini: The Sculptor of the Roman Baroque
. The 1955 edition has plates that look like photogravures, and are higher quality and have greater tonal range that the 1981 edition.
Trying to write in words the experience of being at the Galleria Borghese is almost as ridiculous as the question: "What was the greatest moment of your trip, so far?" As it happens, I can in fact answer that question: Galleria Borghese.
It was late afternoon in the final week of the year 2007, and I decided it was finally time to walk over to the Galleria Borghese and book my timed-entry tickets to visit the museum. I had ventured beyond it many times to see other museums in Rome, but this was the collection I was most excited to see, and I was saving for last. I didn't think getting tickets would be a problem, because my experience was that the museums were rather empty at this time of the year (Musei Vaticano excepted, it is always busy there).
So, late in the afternoon on December 27, I walked from the BSR through Villa Borghese park over to the Galleria Borghese to get tickets for the following day. I became somewhat anxious when I saw a sign at the ticket desk saying that the next available day for tickets was January 2nd (I was scheduled to leave for for Dubai on Jan 1). Like most signs that say things I find to be in bad taste, I ignored it and proceeded to the front of the ticket selling line and tried to get tickets for anytime before January 1st. It was here that I desperately asked if there was ANY WAY to get tickets: via cancellations? via returned tickets, via last minute no-shows? And instead of hearing a reply referring to a magical ticket that was set aside for me specially by the Museum Gods, I was told "No, No, No...how many times do I need to tell you, No!" At this point, my heart was racing and I felt completely gutted. I can't believe that this is happening!, I said to myself. I walked out of the museum feeling dejected and mad at myself for not checking on tickets sooner. But, at the same time, I couldn't pull myself away from the museum. I decided to walk up to the main entrance and plead my case with the two guards standing there. I tried to explain that I was an artist from Canada and had been at the British School for 6 weeks, and that I really needed to get into the museum before I left Rome, and was there any way I could do this? As much as these lovely Italian ladies nodded and smiled, they didn't really understand much of my distress-signal-English. But, they got the general feeling and called over a man who I assumed was the boss man. I repeated much of my life or death situation to him, and before I could finish he put up his hand and said "You have to check your bag, it is not allowed inside". His hand said "I understand your plight, stop your fretting and leave it to me", and his words directed me to the coat check. With my anxious heart racing at a sprinter's pace, I immediately proceeded to the coat check with my crumpler
bag where I was asked to show my non-existent ticket. I pointed to the outside saying that someone out there had it, which I thought was a fair assumption and not really a lie. I then ran back outside and up the front steps of the Villa, and stood silently to the side of My Saviour while he dealt with a couple of other foreigners. I tried to be cool and pretended that I wasn't about to get preferential treatment.
Long story short (or is that too late, now?), I was then escorted into the museum and passed from one guard to another via walkie-talkie communication until I was in the basement where I was handed the magic ticket; which turned out to be a rather unassuming photocopy with the date written in by hand. I was in! Soon after, my racing heart began to slow a bit, but not for long, because I was about to be overwhelmed by Bernini's greatest work. The museum was quiet with few visitors because it was nearing the end of 3-5 pm ticket holder's visiting time. This was extremely pleasant until 4:40 pm when there was a announcement asking everyone to exit the museum. "I just got here!" I was thinking, but I also thinking it was a pretty great visit considering the words "No, No, No!" were still ringing in my ears. Next, the guards then came though each room sweeping the few remaining people out the door. When I was asked to leave the Apollo and Daphne room, I figured 'what the hell', and reached into my pocket and held up my magic ticket. It really was a magic ticket, because I was given the wave and allowed to stay. All the guards then disappeared for breaks and I was left all alone in this most incredible gallery. I let out a deep sigh, and took in the all the beauty that was surrounding me in my new home.
The 15 or so minutes I had the place to myself seemed much longer, and when the next group started trickling in at 5:10-ish (that Is Italian for 5:00), I heard in my head the line Frank Sinatra used to say when performing in the big rooms in Vegas: "How did all these people get in my room!".
Early Christian Rome
One of the greatest benefits of studying at the BSR is making new friends, and together visiting places I otherwise wouldn't have. Miss Malta Charlene took me to this early Christian church and filled me in on the details as we wandered about the centrally planned structure.
Santa Costanza is an Imperial mausoleum in Rome that was later dedicated as a church (in Italian it is known both as Mausoleo di Santa Costanza and Chiesa di Santa Costanza).
The round mausoleum was probably built in the 360s or 370s. Despite its name, the mausoleum of Santa Costanza was probably built for Constantine's younger sister Helena, who was married to the Emperor Julian "the Apostate" (ruled 361-63).
As the daughter, sister and wife of three separate emperors (Constantius, Constantine, Julian), Helena had considerable status and it makes sense that she would receive a burial place of great splendor. The mausoleum's columns were reused from Roman structures and its mosaics (many still intact) reflect both pagan and Christian imagery.
JC bathes in god-light in the centre of the church, while the Italian guide speaks to her group. You can tell she is speaking because her hand is blurry in the photo, which means it's in motion.
I photographed this "Mary of the Grotto" on a BSR trip to Caprarola to see the Palazzo Farnese. It is not of the Early Christian period, but she is an early Christian...one might even say the first Christian.
After the austere beauty of an Early Christian church, marble clad baroque churches like this one tend to look a little tacky; but you gotta love the star light halo. Mary's got bling, and she is not afraid to flaunt it.
Lupa Capitolina (Capitoline Wolf): According to mythology Romulus and Remus were nursed by a she-wolf after being left on the River Tiber's banks. The twin sons of the god Mars and priestess Rhea Silvia are said to have later founded Rome on the Palatine in 753 BC. The brothers ended up fighting over who should be in charge of the city, a power struggle which ended only after Romulus killed his brother. This Etruscan bronze is dated stylistically to about 500-480 BC. The bronze figures of the twins were added in the late 15th century. One of the city's most enduring images, La Lupa can be seen all over Rome: on AS Roma t-shirts, inside things you shake-to-snow, on keychains, postcards, etc.Mythical Roman cave unearthedItalian archaeologists say they have found the long-lost underground grotto where ancient Romans believed a female wolf suckled the city's twin founders.
This story that came out while I was in Rome, to read it go to: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7104330.stm
The Capitoline Museums are a group of art and archeological museums in Piazza del Campidoglio, on top of the famous Capitoline Hill. The collection is vast and there must be a thousand heads if you were to try and count them.
The creation of the Capitoline Museums has been traced back to 1471, when Pope Sixtus IV donated a group of bronze statues of great symbolic value to the People of Rome. The collections are closely linked to the city of Rome, and most of the exhibits come from the city itself. The Lupa, and this Boy with the Thorn are two from the Pope Sixtus IV group.
The Boy with the Thorn, Greco-Roman (Roman copy of the lost 3rd century BCE Hellenistic original), was celebrated in the early Renaissance; and was one of the first Roman sculptures to be copied by artists. It remains a bit of a mystery as to who the boy might be, or why such an unglamourous act was immortalized in a statue? The naturalism and realism in this sculpture help connect us to the ancient world because we imagine he could a boy from any time or place. It helps us to see that when it comes down to simple events like stepping on a thorn, today's Wii kids aren't much different from the kids who used to sneak into Gladiator fights.
On a slightly different tangent, I also think this sculpture represents a valid argument against the idea that naturalism began in the early Renaissance.
Look up, there she is again! However, this time La Lupa has taken notice that she is suckling two young alpha males.
Foro Italico...Duce Duce Duce!
Foro Italico is a sports complex in Rome. It was built between 1928 and 1938 as the Foro Mussolini. It was inspired by the Roman Forums of the Imperial age.
Mussolini built the sports center to encourage young Italians to keep both bodies and mind fit (and faithful to the Fascist regime). As such, the track and the tennis court were embellished with colossal marble sculptures of athletes who preside over all athletic efforts while showing off their fine physiques.
Statues of athletes in the Stadio dei Marmi.
The partially covered Stadio Olimpico is a later addition built for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. It was here, on December 12, that I saw Manchester United play AS Roma. The game ended in a 1-1 draw.
I wonder how Il Duce would have dealt with these skateboarders? Maybe their physical activity would have been encouraged. Skateboard Fascists, what a scary concept.
This image was favoured by Benito Mussolini who cast himself as the founder of the "New Rome". Mussolini used the mythology of ancient Rome to promote nationalist fervour.I think this was a large part of his appeal in a time when the country was struggling and fractured.
It was nice to see a little hometown mythology underfoot.
In addition to the promotion of sport, many of the mosaic images idealise the worker.
At the BSR I was part of Cian's Blood Wizards choir. This performance was at the opening of the exhibition (monstra) "Party at the American Academy". Confusing title, yes, but there was artistic logic
In addition singing (badly) as a Blood Wizard, my neighbour Harri had me play the part of a cow in: Morte de Roma
, the life and death of Pasolini, told through the narrative of the abbatoir and Dante's Inferno.
The Angels and the Martyrs
Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri
(St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs)
The Angels and the Martyrs predate the Sharks and the Jets, the Mods and the Rockers, and the Greasers and the Socs by hundreds of years, and yet have failed to produce a great motion picture soundtrack. However, to their credit, the basilica seen here was built in their honour, inside the frigidarium of the ancient Roman Baths of Diocletian. According to a Wiki article, Michelangelo Buonarroti worked from 1563 to 1566 to adapt a section of the remaining structure of the baths to enclose a church. That would mean he worked on it from the age of 88 until he died at 89, and then for another two years after his death! So, if you were not already amazed that he created David at age 27, then maybe the fact that he continued to work after his death will impress you. At Santa Maria degli Angeli Michelangelo archieved an unexampled sequence of shaped architectural spaces with few precedents or followers. As you can see, there is no true facade. The simple entrance is set within one of the coved apses of a main space of the thermae. It is located in close proximity to the Rome's Termini train station, which takes its name from the thermal baths (latin: thermae
); not from the latin terminus
, as I always thought, incorrectly, as it were. It is remarkable that such an important church escaped renovation during the baroque period. If the architect had been someone other than Michelangelo, it would probably have been 'updated' with a 'proper' marble facade.
The bronze doors were created by Igor Mitoraj. He is a Polish artist born in Oederan, Germany in 1944. Having previously worked with terracotta and bronze, he set up a studio in Pietrasanta in 1983, (following a trip to Carrara, Italy in 1979) and now uses marble as his primary medium. In 2006, he created the new bronze doors and a marble statue of John the Baptist for the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Rome.
I really like this church because so many of the threads that weave present day Rome with its past are visible here. The wall supports and vast scale are from Ancient Rome, Michelangelo's enclosure of the space is late Renaissance, and the new entrance doors are Post-modern. Nevertheless, you cannot help but sweep aside the historical facts and simply be awed by the beauty of the vast, divinely proportioned space.
If your back is facing to the front doors of the Angeli, you look onto Piazza della Repubblica (where, fyi, you can get great Sicilian cannoli if you are tiring of the Roman fare). Far from capturing it, this photo serves to remind me of the magic of wintertime twilight in the north. Having now travelled most of my way around the globe, I can say without exception that the light I saw in Italy in November and December was the most beautiful.
Not far from the Angeli is Palazzo Massimo, one of the many branches of the National Museum of Rome. It was renovated recently and the new space shows off its impressive collection of ancient Greek and Roman beautifully. I was really excited to finally meet this Boxer, having been captivated by a photo of his hands for some time now. He is sometimes called the Terme Boxer, and is a Hellenistic Greek sculpture from the first century B.C.
Villa Borghese is a park in Rome, not a large and luxurious home as the name seems to suggest. In addition to being home to the BSR and numerous other academies, it is the home to many museums, monuments and trees.
In a landscaped park like Villa Borghese, nature always seems to find a way to beautify the man-made elements.
This is one of my favourite sculptures in the park. The Emperor William II of Germany erected this Monument to Goethe (by Gustav Eberlein), where he is shown with Mignon, Iphigeneia and Faust. 1902-04
La Maddalena (1501) tempera su tavola cm. 72,5x76 | Piero di Cosimo
This is just one of the many brilliant artworks on display in the Palazzo Barberini. There are too many to write about here, but if you are interested in seeing more, you should visit the museum's Italian website http://www.galleriaborghese.it/barberini/it/default.htm
This is the only one I managed to snap, just out of the guards' line of sight. I was especially interested in this rather androgynous looking Mary Magdalene because I was reading Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex at the time. This seated figure has a static pose that hearkens back to Piero della Francesca (who I love) and slighted elongated proportions that foretell later paintings by Bronzino (who I also love, and if you are interested - and you should be... "if not now, for your life"- you can see great pieces by both these artists at the Frick in New York).
In another room there is a very different interpretation of Mary's penitence by Guido Cagnacci. Since I could not photograph it, I wrote out the description:
Guido Cagnacci (1601-1663)
St. Mary Magdelene Penitent, 86 x 72 cm
dating to the 1620's.
Exhausted by her physical pain, with no strength left, Magdelene's head has fallen backwards and she has interrupted her penitence; the scourge has fallen from her right hand while her left hand is holding the skull in her lap. Cagnacci's artistic experience in Venice and Bologna, where he worked with Guido Reni, blends with Caravaggio's realism and is reflected in the painting; rather than tarnishing the soft sensuality of the nude, enhances it.
These contrasting depictions of (St.) Mary Magdalene Penitent at the Barberini transcend the biblical story, and speak to the complex nature of the human condition. Beyond their historical relevance as religious propaganda, these paintings are important because they provide a window into a world where anybody, not just Roman Catholics, can reflect on loss and desire. And, individually, they appear to be ahead of their time: the northern/Flemish-looking Piero di Cosimo is pre-Bronzino, proto-Mannerist; while the Baroque Cagnacci has an eroticism and immediacy true to the period, but much brighter lighting that gives it a more modern, Romantic quality.
To date, I have not been able to find a reproduction of this image, not even in the BSR's vast library.
(n.b. Much to my surprise, I did find a Cleopatra by Cagnacci at Calcutta's Asiatic Society)
I must admit, it irks me when I can't take a photo in a museum of an artwork that is otherwise unavailable. In my ideal world, all the works in the museum would be available for purchase in the museum shop and/or online; and no cameras would be allowed in the galleries. This way, reproductions of the images are available is you want them, and the viewing experience wouldn't be disrupted by the idiots who haven't figured out how to turn off their camera's flash. Plus, there is the philosophical argument that trying to see and record an image at the same time isn't possible: that the viewfinder or 2.5" LCD screen is collapsing the true size and effect of the image simultaneous to the eye's unadulterated perception of the said image.
Nevertheless, it is hard to be upset by the 'no photo' policy when you find yourself standing in a room in a palace with two remarkable Caravaggios, and the only other person there is the guard sitting in his chair. Magnifico! Such is the beauty of being in Rome mid-November to mid-December: fewer tourists in the galleries, glorious winter light, and cool, crisp air that results in the beautiful Roman women wearing scarves and gloves, that somehow, as improbable and impossible as it may be, makes them even sexier. Che bella!
One of the bigger realisations from my time in Rome was that this city is very much a 20th and 21st century city. Despite the weight its glorious past throws about like wide-eyed Christians to hungry lions, Rome continues to forge forward and create new places and spaces for the dissemination of culture. Palazzo delle Esposizioni is one such place. It the largest interdisciplinary exhibition area in the centre of Rome and while I was there had three distinct, yet important and engaging exhibitions: retrospectives on Stanley Kubrick, Mark Rothko and Gregory Crewdson. The Kubrick show provided an amazing look at the various aspects of his creative genius; from technical innovator to master story teller. The exhibition catalogue looked to be one of the more impressive volumes on Kubrick, and a must have for fans. It can be found through his official website: http://www.stanleykubrick.de/eng.php?img=img-l-2&kubrick=katalog-eng
Piazza del Popolo
One of the things that makes Rome such an amazing city are its many piazzas/piazzi. When you descend from the BSR down through the Villa Borghese park to the northern gate of the Aurelian Walls, once the Porta Flaminia of ancient Rome, and now called Porta del Popolo, you will find yourself in Piazza del Popolo. The name in modern Italian literally means "piazza of the people", but historically it derives from the poplars (populus in Latin, pioppo in Italian) after which the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, in the northeast corner of the piazza, takes its name.
Inside there are two fantastic paintings by Carravaggio. This one is called Conversion on the Way to Damascus (Conversione di San Paolo) and was painted in 1601. The painting depicts the moment recounted in Chapter 9 of Acts of the Apostles when Saul, soon to be the apostle Paul, fell on the road to Damascus. He heard the Lord say "I am Jesus, whom you persecute, arise and go into the city." According to the Scotman Billy Connolly, JC's appearance was accompanied by a blinding blast of light and Paul's reaction to this was the first ever utterance of the F-word.
This is just one of the many beautiful sculptures that fill this church.
This skull and bones motif, here in cast bronze and imbedded in the marble floor, can also be seen outside in the piazza on the clothing and jewelery worn by the young Italian Goth and Metal kids who like to hang out there.
In the middle of November I settled in at for a six week stay at The British School at Rome (http://www.bsr.ac.uk/). The BSR is an educational institute for the study of awarded British scholars in the fields of archaeology, literature, music, and history of Rome and Italy of every period, and also the study of the fine arts and architecture. Located in the elegant Parioli district, the main structure of the British School at Rome was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, as a copy of the west front of St Paul's cathedral, for the British Pavilion at the International Exhibition held in Rome in 1911 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the unification of Italy.
In addition to the awarded scholars, there are others, like me, there to see and study in Rome while working on their own projects. My time there was relatively short, but it was long enough to fall in love with Rome and become more aware of its many layers. I was fortunate to have a great group of scholars and artists in residence while I was there. In addition to eating together in the dining room and enjoying the occasional "modest nightcap" in front of the fire, these new friends enriched my Roman experience in wonderful and unexpected ways.
This is the view looking out from the top steps of the BSR, as would be seen by Chris S. in the top picture, as he strikes his best Rocky Balboa pose after a run in the park. Those buildings you see are the Academies of other countries including Romania, Egypt, Sweden and Denmark. The Spanish and the incredibly posh American Academies are on the other side of the city near trendy Trastevere. Unfortunately there is no Canadian Academy in Rome.
This is the new Fiat 500, known as the cinquecento, with the BSR in the background. (for Nigel)
I am including this here because my friend Lisa G recently asked me "What the best thing you have purchased?" and this is what came to my mind. It is a magnet with St. Christopher and Brigitte Bardot. I assume the magnet was intended to be attached to the dashboard of a car, since back when Brigitte was making movies most dashboards were made of metal, and because St. Christopher is the patron saint of travel. He is usually represented like he is here, with little JC on his shoulders, much like how Luke carried Yoda. I happened upon it at a Sunday market not far from the BSR. It is special because it is relevant to the work I am doing this year, as it neatly brings together cinema, religion and travel in one kitschy package. Brigitte Bardot was the star of Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt, which was filmed at Cinecitta in Rome, and is one of the reasons I chose to stay in Rome for an extended period of time.
This is a toy car that one of the vendors at the same market gave me. This small act of kindness by an unknown Italian lady completed a lovely day out in the streets and markets of Rome on a perfectly clear, cool fall day. Being given this little toy reminded me of visiting my Grandma and my sweet Italian Aunts with my Mom when I was a little boy. Ummm, now I want homemade Italian cookies, and gnocchi with meatballs. (Mom, you know what I want to eat when I come home. I am arriving on a Sunday specifically so you would have time to prepare dinner for us!)
Here the same car, looking over my window ledge from my room at the BSR.
This cute little Italian car belongs to the BSR's beautiful archivist.
If we look inside, we can see who she has on top of her gear shift.
(that wasn't intended to sound lewd, forgive me lord)
Aloha from Honolulu, fellow earth dwellers. I have put down roots here for a month as I continue eastward on my round-the-world journey. I have rented a condo in Waikiki and become a member of Honolulu Printmakers, where I am working on stone lithographs. The images I am drawing on the stones were born in Italy, which is where the blog previously ended, and will now resume.
In my last post, I suspended the blog because I was without access to an Apple computer. That has changed: In order to complete an art project I was working on in Calcutta, I purchased a used Apple Powerbook. Now that I have untangled myself from the shackles of Microsoft Windows, the blog can continue. I have decided to blog retroactively, in fairness to the places I have visited, and because, although I do enjoy non-linear plot lines in movies, I prefer my blog to be served straight up.
So, I ask you to travel back to early November 2007, and take a short train ride with me down the coast from Carrara to the city of Pietrasanta, per favore. If you think of Carrara as the region's gritty working town, then Pietrasanta is the neighbouring picture-perfect tourist town. Similar to what Edinburgh is to Glasgow, or what Niagara-on-the-Lake is to St. Catharines. Whereas Carrara has plenty of marble quarries and workshops, but few hotels, and no tourists maps; Pietrasanta has loads of hotels, lots of pretty retail shops, and is home to some internationally renowned sculptors - attracted by the high quality of the the local stone and craftsmen, not to mention the allure of living in a place that Michelangelo helped make famous. Here in the main square you can see Bar Michelangelo, one of the many local businesses that use Il Divino's first name to attract customers and honour the artist. In the background, lit-up on the hillside is an old Roman wall fragment, a testament to the town's history and endurance. It is a charming town and I imagine would be a great place to visit again in the summertime when the festivals are numerous and the tables are spilling over with fresh seafood.
The main street in Pietrasanta at nightfall.
Carlo with his daughter Francesca, the following day, seeing me off to Roma outside the Carrara train station. I include this picture because one of the projects I am working on is photographing people with their chosen means of transportation , usually cars. But, only people who are passionate about such means. I knew Carlo fit the profile because he took such delight in telling me how wonderfully his car performed recently when had to race all night long through the Alps to pick up scale models from a client's studio in Switzerland. He knows and loves his Subaru STi so much, that he insisted he stand off-to-the-side, so that he would not block the view of the Brembo brakes through the front rim.
Although this is just a snapshot with my Canon digital elph, I find it is good when working up an idea to produce lots of images around it. Then, by looking at the results, one is able to see things that work, and problem-solve the things that need work. Sometimes new ideas and methods may show themselves; and sometimes it may become clear that the idea as imagined isn't working and is best abandoned. I find this helps to prepare for when you eventually begin the project "proper" with the "right" equipment et al. In other words, just get started somehow on whatever it is you are wanting to do, whether it is writing a novel, making a movie or producing a play. The process work is never a waste of time. The waiting around to begin is wasted time.
The End of the Blog
"Replicants are like any other machine - they're either a benefit or a hazard. If they're a benefit, it's not my problem."
These are the words of Harrison Ford's character Deckard in the movie Blade Runner.
For some reason they often run through my head when I have no choice but to use a Microsoft Windows-based computer, commonly called a PC (versus a Mac...which is a type of Apple computer). I think this is because I am having difficulty imagining how PCs aren't my problem.
I am not going to waste our time going into a rant about the ways in which PCs upset me. Those who have used a Mac or an ipod or an iphone will maybe understand why I have decided to suspend my blog until I have access to an Apple computer. Sitting in front of a computer is in itself a grim enough experience; when it is a PC it verges on the obscene. The reality for me is that with an Apple this blogging stuff can be quite pleasurable, but on a PC it becomes work.
This is the main reason why that my blog is currently 3 months behind. Since it is unlikely I will see a Mac for some time, it will become further and further from where I actually am in my travels.
A Goodbye Update:
Currently I am in India: I arrived on Jan 6 in Calcutta. I left Calcutta to go a trip across northern India (Jaisalmer-Jaipur-Agra-Varanasi-Bodhgaya). I am now back in Calcutta and will stay here until at least March 6...I am thinking of extending it a week or two because there is still so much I would like to see and do in this amazing city. It is by far the best place in India I have been.
Before coming here I had spent 6 weeks at the British School at Rome. In short, Rome was absolutely incredible. Perhaps it was partly the experience of living in the overwhelming beauty of Rome that has added to my disdain and repulsion of the ugly world of Microsoft's operating platforms. I said it before on this blog: Life is too short to use a PC. My travels thus far have only strengthened this position.
So like the Rebels in Star Wars, I will now go into hiding from the evil Empire and the dark side of the Force.
If you want real time travel updates, you will have to call me.
My mobile phone number here in India is (91) 9748182483, and please remember that I am 10.5 hours ahead of Toronto time.
ciao for now,
-Burke, refusing to give in to the Dark side.
(n.b. All you PC users: don't forget to turn off your computer when you are done - you will find the "turn off" button by clicking "start")
Before settling in at the British School in Rome for my 6 week stint there, I had plans to do at least one more trip in Italy. I was wanting to go to Capri and visit Casa Malaparte, the cliff-clinging house made famous in Godard's Contempt (Le Mepris). But, when I contacted the foundation that manages the site, it became clear that a visit would not be possible. So instead, I decided to spend more time in Carrara and Pietrasanta.
When I first got to Carrara I could hear Withnail's voice in my ear saying "we've gone on holiday by mistake". It seemed like a dead town, a bit like my recollections of Watertown, New York...a working class town without any work...grim. The streets were nearly empty, the shops closed, and there was a distinct absence of the kind of polish one becomes accustomed to whilst visiting the kind of towns that people visit. There were reasons for this: 1) It was off-season 2) it was lunch and the whole place was shut down until 3:30 and, 3) this isn't a town people tend to visit so it lacks any of the touristic charm found in abundance in neighbouring Pietrasanta. Carrara is a working quarry town. There are hundreds of quarries (cava, in italian) in the surrounding hills. People have been cutting marble out of these hills since Roman times, making it one of the oldest continuously operating industrial sites in the world. Michelangelo toured these quarries to select the marble for his sculptures and his face and name can bee seen all around town, including the place where I stayed: Hotel Michelangelo. This would have been a posh palace of a Hotel back in its day (1950's), worthy of a scene in a Fellini film. Now it has a Coen Brothers quality to it that is hard to describe: a bit like an aging Hollywood starlet without money for plastic surgery; Sunset Boulevard meets Barton Fink.
In addition to the business of selling marble, the carving of marble is big here, too: There is a school that teaches the science behind marble, and the techniques of carving it; an art school with spacious new carving studios set into the hills just north of the town centre; and private studios that will take your sculpture in plaster form (or any 3D form) and have their artisans carve it in marble for you. One of the most famous is that of Carlo Nicoli
It took me three visits before I could track down the man who runs this studio. Lucky for me, when I meet Carlo he was leaving his office, and I was just in time to enjoy some appertivi (Campari and soda, bar snacks...a kind of Italian happy hour) with him. The next day we visited some of the quarries with his fiery daughter, Francesa, who runs the business with him. Below, Carlo is inspecting some statuary quality stones that have been put aside for him by the guy at this particular quarry. Meeting Carlo and spending time with him made my time in Carrara really special. Not only do we share a love of art, but Carlo is a bit of a motorhead, too. He drives a black WRX Sti, and was quick to point out to me the Brembo brakes his Subaru is equipped with to reign in its 300 horses.
In addition to making works in stone for a host of artists worldwide, Nicoli Studios also has artists work on site on their own pieces. I was so stoked when I was there that I thought that once I got home in July, I would head directly back to Carrara to carve for three weeks (and bring some other artists/carver-curious ppl with me). Now, I think that is a bit crazy, and besides there are weddings I must attend. But looking ahead to summer 2009, I am thinking days of carving marble, swimming in the sea, and leisurely preparing Italian meals is a very good use of time. And it would be rude not to rent a Land Rover for weekend transport between towns.
Not all the artwork in Carrara is made of marble, some of it is sprayed on to marble. God Bless this stencil. Post-modern Jesus art. He is the original energizer bunny...he keeps going, and going.
Back to Rome and Musei Vaticani
After short time in Venice I returned to Rome. Roma, Caput mundi ("capital of the world"), la Città Eterna ("the Eternal City"), Limen Apostolorum ("threshold of the Apostles"), la città dei sette colli ("the city of the seven hills") or simply l'Urbe ("the City"), is thoroughly modern and cosmopolitan. As one of the few major European cities that escaped World War II relatively unscathed, central Rome remains essentially Renaissance and Baroque in character.
Well, that's the word from wikipedia. "The City" title has arguably been taken over by New York City, but Rome retains and remains "eternal". Rome has been an important ancient city, renaissance city, baroque city, early Christian city, cinema city and fascist city. And each of these cities is still visible in some form or another, making it a place that you could never know in a lifetime. This makes it a wonderous, if not daunting place to call home for 6 weeks.
Rome is Roma
, which backwards is amor
, which in latin is Love
(thanks to Dr. Reuter for that bit of trivia). I do love Roma, and I'm not referring to the football/soccer team. However, I do think AS Roma's colours and logo are smashing!
From another point of view, Rome is a bit like an grandiose Italian wedding cake: It has many layers, is full of symbolism, and often has a water feature. This cake's waterfalls reference the wonder of the ancient Roman aqua ducts; the pillars embody the power of Caesars Forum; and the flowery icing mimics the intricately carved marble details adorning the city's many Baroque churches. FYI, the monument to Vittorio Emanuelle II, built to commemorate the first King of unified Italy is sometimes called "the wedding cake". No picture of it right now, as it is under renovations and surrounded by another famous Italian contribution to world culture: scaffolding!
My first destination when I got back to Rome was the Vatican Museums and their stunning art collection that spans the eras of ancient and modern art (there is actually one of Francis Bacon's Popes hanging here!) This is good place to immerse oneself in the symbolism, blood and gore of christian/catholic art. Long before Sam Peckinpaw and Quentin Tarinto saw the light of day, the catholic church was in the business of creating spectacular images of violence. To their credit, these artworks replaced the pre-Holy Roman Empire's live public gore-fests of gladiator fights and animal sacrifices. These artworks are often compelling and beautiful; and since Christianity is still the world's largest religion, it is clear they make for highly effective propaganda tools, too.
Archaic Torso of Apollo
by Rainer Maria Rilke
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
Translated by Stephen Mitchell
This may not be the specific torso he was writing about, but it's the one I think about. Rilke was probably referring to the Apollo torso in the Louvre, since he lived in Paris. However, I am sure that this is the torso that Michelangelo admired so much, and that had great influence on Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque sculpture. This statue was discovered in the Campo de' Fiori, in Rome during the period of Pope Julius II (pope 1503-1513). It was once believed to be a 1st century BC original, but is now believed to be a copy of an older statue, likely dating to the 2nd century BC. Thanks to A. G. Darby for introducing me to this poem so many years ago.
Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague in 1875. He resided throughout Europe during his lifetime, including a 12-year residency is Paris, where he befriended and worked for the famed sculptor Auguste Rodin.
On the way out of the Vatican Museums you exit via a huge double helix staircase.
Symbolic? Was the designer 'taking the piss out' of his patrons with the DNA shaped structure, or is it just an intelligent design to get people out of the building efficiently?
La Biennale di Venezia
I quite enjoyed my time at the Arsenal Venice biennale site with its many pavilions showing contemporary art under the flags of numerous nations. It is a beautiful site full of trees that were wearing their fall colours. The Biennale also includes many off-site installations like this one by an Australian artist. The top image is me inside the structure shown below it. Sadly, the elevators did not open, nor was there a small person inside attending it; but there were some sounds...maybe sirens and/or mumbled voices...either way, not so memorable since I can't remember. In general, the Biennale was a pleasant experience with good showings from South Korea and Russia. But nothing so great that I feel compelled to share it with you. Please note that I didn't actually get around to see every pavilion, and may have missed the proverbial manger hidden behind the inn. Nevertheless, I would definitely go back and see another Biennale in Venice, and for sure do it in the fall.
And on my next visit, I would revisit the Peggy Guggenheim collection. Like the New York version, it has a so-so permanent collection, but puts on some superb temporary exhibitions. The one I saw was a beautifully installed exhibition on the work of Medardo Rosso (born Turin 1858, died Milan 1928). He was an early modernist sculptor who also did experimental photography which involved re-photography. Here is one of his sculptures, and one of his photos. If limited to a single word, I would call his work ephemeral.
My visit to Venice was too short, but very sweet. Having been before I knew what to expect, but it isn't until you arrive again that you get caught up in its magical spell. The canals and paths combine to create a labyrinth that you are almost sure to get lost in. And its art offerings are like the city itself: intimate and spellbinding. And of course, the light is marvelous!
The high point of this visit was visiting the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari church. A massive church completed by the Franciscans in 1338, it is made of brick in the Italian Gothic style and contains two brilliant Titians. The one that took my breath away was the Pesaro Madonna.
"When Titian painted this altarpiece, he broke with a centuries-long tradition of placing the devotional figures (the Virgin and Child) in the center of the painting and the painted space. By doing this, he allowed for a greater sense of movement through the painting, presaging the Baroque period's more complicated compositional techniques."
I took that from wiki, but it matters not what anyone has written or said about it, or that its subjects include the Madonna, baby Jesus and St. Francis. What matters is that it is alive and can arrest every movement in your body with a single glance. Leaving you standing there, more aware of your heartbeat than you were seconds before. For me great works of art are like silent prophets...they speak visually and their messages transcend time and space. It awes me that Titian stood in front of this same painting almost five hundred years ago, took some paint and brushes and created an image that can command my attention and give direction to my life. This is as much a miracle to me, as the Virgin birth is to Christians. And artists like Titian, come along about as infrequently as prophets like Jesus. All of this probably sounds like complete twoodle if you have only seen a reproduction. But alas, it is all I can provide...and this advice: go to Venice and see this painting, and you might just become a believer of the Gospel of Tiziano. You might discover that this painting, though inanimate, can ask you questions, make you feel deeper, and more alive. And by making you feel more alive, illuminate your own mortality and the fleeting nature and meaning of life. If you were wondering, the answer is "Yes", being in Italy does make you prone to the dramatic. It is a dramatic place, with a dramatic history and dramatic people. That is why Italians wear sunglasses all the time: to keep private some of the tears that collect in their eyes as they go about their lives surrounded by such agonising beauty. Or to try and contain their excitement, and keep their cool while driving through Rome at night in a Cadillac with Marcello.
Florence is the Renaissance theme park of a city that is the heart and soul of Tuscany. The birthplace of many revolutionary artworks and ideas that are the foundation on which much of my world is built. Still tied very much to its past glory through museums and architecture, this once walled medieval city is a paradise for art lovers and a major tourist destination. This means throngs of tourists fill the streets, museums and markets. Fortunately it is also a small place so you can walk everywhere and discover pockets of calm away from the maddening crowds.
In the Renaissance this was a small and wealthy city state, and home to the Medici family riches. As such, it lived under the threat of attack from its larger neighbours and identified itself with the David from the Goliath story. Currently it is home to both Donatello's David (currently laying on his bronze back while under restoration in the Bargello
), and Michelangelo's David (seen here from the outside of the Accademia dell'Arte del Disegno "Academy of the Art of Design"). You are no longer allowed to take photographs on the inside, which I actually prefer because it allows for a more mellow atmosphere, and as you can see from the crowd here it is a very busy place.
It wasn't always so busy, as you can see in this image from 1972. It was taken by my friend Felix Russo, who is the founder and editor of PhotoEd
magazine. This picture is in the PhotoEd GUIDE to Photography, in a section that discusses "scale". I contributed to the GUIDE (sometimes with the assistance of former students) and we use it at my school as a textbook; as do many other schools and colleges throughout Canada. It is a good intro guide because it covers both traditional photography and newer digital forms of image making. Felix was was also my photography teacher at the Etobicoke School of the Arts, and the person who organised and lead our school group trip to Italy in 1986. So, he played a big role in developing my interest in two of my great loves: photography and Italy. I will never, ever forget seeing David for the first time with my 17 year old eyes. It is still very special seeing the real thing now, but it is a different experience seeing it as a "grown up".
Brunelleschi's massive Duomo dominates the clay coloured skyline of Florence. I am showing this view because it was shot from where the marble statue of Brunelleschi sits looking up at his masterpiece.
You can buy a ticket and climb the hundreds of stairs that take you to the top of the dome. This is the view looking down from the bottom edge of the dome. The people on the floor look like ants. Do ants have souls?
Looking across the dome you will see this image of a demon, designed to put the fear of God into you. Repent, repent all you sinners, or you are going to Hell and will be eaten by demons...head first! It is hard to know if this image produced any converts or confessions, but one thing is for sure: it was imagery like this that inspired future artists who would find work creating album covers for heavy metal bands. Below you can see how this image fits into the overall program. It is within the light yellow parts on the upper levels where you find the saviour. After all, Roman Catholicism has a fierce hierarchical order, which is completely against the teachings of JC, which makes it such a great religion. Great because it is chock full of this type of conflict. Think of all the great art in the world that has conflict as its starting point: Shakespeare's Tragedies, Coppola's Godfather, Picasso's Guernica. Do you think it is a coincidence that the first examples that came to my head were all created by artists who grew up as catholics. I think not. Sure, the Catholic church's hands are covered in blood and their ears are full of the crying souls of tortured young altar boys. History and present day lawsuits reveal these truths all too clearly. But under their vengeful, totalitarian leadership a lot of great art was produced, and I for one would argue that the dominance of western culture on our planet grows out of the strong visual language created by Christian iconophiles. Are storyboards for films not just a variation on the series of images that tell the story of the Passion. The New testament, B2: The Sequel, may not be as vengeful as this first book, but man, do they ever up the ante of the dramatic narrative with the introduction of the Jesus and Judas characters! The greatest story ever told? Maybe, maybe not. But for me, the images that came from this book are some of the greatest in the world. Not for their religious content, but for their humanity. This little rant doen't really relate to these images, which are just okay. It is just hard to write about Italy and art and architecture in any meaningful way without mentioning christianity the catholic church. And a wee blog reminder here: if you click on the pictures, you should be able to view a larger image.
Walking further up the dome you will eventually find yourself between the inner and outer domes. It was Brunelleschi's genius two dome concept that made it possible for such a massive dome to be constructed.
Graffiti is ever present in Italy, even on the walls of their sacred buildings. Mostly names and dates, sometimes political, and sometimes celebratory, like this one below.
Dante is one of the city's favourite son's. Here is a statue of him outside Santa Croce, and below, later in the evening when the sky began to paint his Inferno.
Dodging a bullet: an aside.
Some of you may remember back when I was going to spend my entire year off in Florence studying at 19th century academy style drawing school. Well, not far from Santa Croce is one of the schools I was thinking about attending. I visited it, and while the art being copied was technically strong, the students there were awfully young and their space to work in was less than inspiring. I don't think it would have been as fulfilling an experience as I am having now. Anyway, my allegiance has now shifted to Rome.
Basilica Sancti Petri, Basilica di San Pietro , St. Peter's church, the flagship store of the multi-national corporation called the Roman Catholic church. Call it what you want, it's the house that JC built, and it is in Vatican City. Huge is a word. St. Peter's is the definition. On the A-B-C tour of Europe (Another Beautiful Church), St. Peter's takes the prize - if you are in the camp that believes size does matter. The current structure is largely Renaissance and Baroque, built on the spot where Old St.Peter's one stood, which itself was built over a Roman site that was the Circus of Nero. Ironically, for work on St Peter's, Pope Nicholas V brought 2,522 cartloads of marble from the Roman Colosseum which was named after the statue of Nero.
Bernini's bronze baldacchino is itself massive, and yet it doesn't even begin to fill the floorspace in this heavily decorated basilica. Some of the bronze for it came from the interior of the dome of the Pantheon.
Bernini designed a lot of what is seen at the at St. Peter's today, and created many sculptures for it. I do not think this is one of them, because I could not find it in a book that was devoted to Bernini' Vatican work. However, I assume it is from his era (baroque) because of the way she is breaking the "fourth wall" of the niche with her active pose. If anyone knows who did sculpt this, please tell me.
I landed in Rome back on November 3, which seems like ancient times. It was the beginning of 2 months in Italy which were so wonder-full that I got two months behind in this blog. It didn't help that the weather was so great. It is really quite impossible to force oneself to sit at a computer when the sun is shining so beautifully and the streets are beaconing you to come and explore. I highly recommend Italy in November and December; fewer tourists, and weather similar to fall at home, or most places in the northeast.Like a lot of people back home, my favourite season is fall, and I planned my trip hoping that I could make autumn last four months...and it did!
The first couple of days were spent walking around the city and taking in some of the sites, like this one, above, named after the colossal statue of Nero that once stood beside this brilliant amphitheatre.
The Pantheon, below, is one of the best preserved of all Rome's ancient monuments. Somewhat understated from the outside, it really is a breathtaking space inside.
Looking up you will see the engineering marvel of its massive concrete dome. The Pantheon still holds the record for the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the history of architecture. The interior of the roof was possibly intended to symbolize the arched vault of the heavens. The Great Eye at the dome's apex is the source of all light, except for what comes in through the front doors. Architects, like Brunelleschi, who used the Pantheon as help when designing the Cathedral of Florence's dome, looked to the Pantheon as inspiration for their works.
Italian Mob take over the Louvre
The mob of people headed to the Italian painting galleries to see her majesty.
The Louvre may be a French museum, but the massive crowds are there to see the Italians. And why not? Long after Marie Antoinette lost her head, there still remains an immortal Queen holding court in this former Royal Palace. And mon dieu, she's not even French! Her name is Lisa del Giocondo, and she has, one could easily argue, the most famous face in the world. I think the Mona Lisa is absolutely incredible, and that she deserves all the attention she commands. Unlike her fellow celebrities over in the New World who get photographed exiting limos whilst knicker-less, or videotaped cavorting with ill-bred commoners; Mona Lisa never loses her poise. And what poise! She shames the crowds who gawk at her, pushing cameras in her face, blasting millions of flashbulbs into her delicately rendered eyes. Through it all she sits calmly, smiling just so
, in a way that suggests she has seen more and knows more than we could ever imagine. The kind of knowledge that only immortals know. And in some miraculous way, in spite of the seas of people in front of her, she can communicate with you directly, look into your soul, and give you only as much as you're willing to give her. Skeptics may disagree and instead focus on the size of her canvas, or get annoyed by the crowd's barbaric behaviour, or only look for clues to crack the fictional Da Vinci code (in fact, the Lourve rents out headsets based on the popular novel.) But if you approach her without an agenda, try to see her for what she is - versus the monumental myth built over a lifetime of multi-layered memories of billboards and magazine advertisements - she will not disappoint. In this picture, you can see how some people choose to perpetuate the myth by having their picture taken in front of her, as if they were standing in front of Niagara Falls or above the Grand Canyon. She is similar to these phenomena, in that a photograph cannot do her justice. But, she differs in that unlike the natural world, we actually know her maker: Leonardo (with whom we're on a first name basis), who, over 500 years ago took a brush, some pigments and oil, and created a legend.
The Less-Crowded Louvre
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Bather of Valpincon, 1808
Since the most asked question at the Louvre is "How do I get to the Mona Lisa?", it follows that all the routes to Lisa are jam-packed with tourists. The upside of this, is that on the upper levels, relative tranquility may accompany your visit to the canvases from France, and northern europe. As one might expect, the collection of French paintings is vast. Writing about them after a spending a month living in Italy - where Italian painting dominates the museums and churches, I can't help but compare. In the French, Dutch and German galleries of the Louvre I was certainly awed by the mastery of skill and illusion in many of the paintings. In retrospect, however, I must admit it was a fairly rational experience. It was quite possible to remain cool while standing in front of these paintings...identifying, admiring and acknowledging their greatness. This experience seems to pale when compared, for example, to how a single face looking out from a crowd of faces in a Titian has the power to throw the viewer into an immediate existential crisis! It is disconcerting in the most arresting and fantastical way. But, I digress. I was intending to show you some of the paintings at the Louvre, and instead have somehow directed you to Italy if you seek paintings and sculpture that will tear at your heart and soul. I beg your pardon.
This is one of many French canvases of epic proportions that you might have all to yourself to enjoy. In fact, I had to wait a bit for the woman in the background to enter the frame, so that she could unknowingly provide some sense of scale. Merci.
A small oil sketch for the massive Raft of the Medusa by the French painter Theodore Gericault. Not to be missed if you liked the full size version downstairs. The drawing beneath the painting visible in this image reveals much about the artist's working method and his mastery of anatomy and gesture. If you click on the image to see it bigger you will see how the character with the red headscarf is holding a lifeless man. It seems as if he is waiting, with growing boredom, for Gericault to add some colour (life) to his poor pale shipmate.
In addition to seeing the often reproduced, Hall of Fame artworks in the flesh, another wonderful thing about these massive museums is discovering little treasures that were previously unknown to you. Like this one where you can literally follow the light as in travels through the window, hits the floor, then illuminates the underside of the mysterious staircase.
In this famous Gericault from 1821, long before the science of stop motion photography revealed the truth, we can see how some people used to think horses galloped.
The Vimy Memorial
The Figure of Canada (a.k.a. Sorrow), by Walter S. Allward. Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
Of all the places I planned on visiting this year, the Vimy Memorial is the site for which I had the highest expectations. After seeing the emotional Easter Monday broadcast on the CBC last year commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, I had it in my mind that it might be the most beautiful (and moving) memorial in the world. Yes, including pyramids, archs, and the Taj. It is a memorial to all those who fought the battles of the Great War; and as some suggest - a monument to the moment in time when Canada became a nation.
So I headed out to Arras, France to visit this place I had grown fond of from afar. It did not disappoint. It IS the most beautiful memorial I have ever seen. In the photos below, I try to capture a bit of the experience, hoping that someday you will visit the site. Ever Canadian must, everyone else should.
The Flemish town of Arras, France is where you will find a place to stay closest to the momument. As you can see, it is beautiful. Less than one hour on the TGV from Paris Gare du Nord (175km)
The land surrounding the monument has been planted with species to evoke the Canada landscape.
These re-constructed trenches are one of the first things you see when on the tour of the underground tunnels. They may not be inhabited with the foul stench of death and rats that the real trenches were riddled with, but they do give you some idea of just how close they were to the enemy.
The surreal landscape all around the site has been sculpted by mortar shelling and land mines.
Much of the surrounding area is still full of land mines, so you have to stay within the prescribed safe zones. Sheep belonging to a local farmer, too light to set off the mines, are used to keep the grass trimmed.
We're getting there. It is a long, and at times, an emotional walk.
This is, for lack of a better term, the 'back' of the memorial.
This is the front, with Canada standing by herself on the edge.
Sympathy of Canadians for the Helpless
I love how his foot breaks the implicit frame here.
A perfect end to the day. Getting a drive back to Arras from Georges who has been driving Canadians to and from the site for years. He is a fixture at the site, and a great friend to all those who work there. In this picture, taken at the graveyard for German soldiers, he is showing a fellow Canadian the map of the area.
Moo.com, cool handbags, and Abba Gold in Paris, mon Dieu!
As I mentioned in the last posting, train travel can be rather civilised at times. I had a lovely journey from London to Paris and met Fran from America and Yasmeem from Paris (but originally from Beirut). At this point I am going to make a shameless plug for moo.com
, and their cool mini-cards, postcards, and sticker books - they can all be ordered and made from your facebook or flicker pictures. You can check them out on line, but until you feel an actual matt-laminated mini card in your hand, you might not fully get it
. That's okay. Order them anyway, trust me. (and I'm not just saying this because Lisa work's for them. Her blog is the Rodwellian link, btw.) Order them now and you can use them at Christmas...my goodness, did i just use the c-word! It must be all the moo.com excitement.
Anyway, these moo mini-cards are really fun, and are a great thing to give to people as you travel through life. I gave one to Fran, and this piqued Yasmeen's interest. (she had been happily listening to her ipod as we north americans sat across from her talking and talking, as we're known to do) It turns out Yasmeen is a designer and found the cards really beautiful. She was travelling with a silkscreened leather bag she designed herself. Fran bought a couple of bags from her right then and there. You can look up Yasmeen Farah's bags and notebooks at www.gingerlily.fr
Anyway, we all got on famously, and in Paris I hung out with Yasmeen and her friends, ate steak frites and went to Abba Gold, of course: Voulez-Vous
. The picture outside the theatre is of Yasmeen and her photographer friend Nicolas, who looked to me like a french Joaquin Phoenix, so I called him Joaquin Paris.
I was lucky enough to have been in Paris to see some of the fall colours. I decided to take the Eurostar train to there because it gets you to downtown Paris is less time than the three frickin' hours you are supposed to be at Heathrow before your flight even gets off the ground. Terrorist jerks! That and also because it freed up an extra stop on my round-the-world ticket to see friends in San Fran next June. And rail travel can be so much more civilised than air travel. In Paris, I had dinner with my tres pregnant friend Pet and her beau. She choose Hotel du Nord as our dining destination, where we were joined by another friend of theirs. Coincidentally, I was staying at the Nord Hotel, right across from the Gard du Nord; a place I recommend if you're looking for decent, relatively inexpensive Paris accommodation and will be travelling in and out of the city from the Gare du Nord train station, as I was. Not top choice for neighbourhood strolling, or dining, however. For that go to the very french
Hotel du Nord. Not only does it share names with my hotel, but it is film-themed, in a way, like my year off. Check out their nifty website www.hoteldunord.org
And by the way, the food was excellent. It won't be quite as french
in the near future, as the new smoking ban takes effect.
The day after dinner with my old friend from Toronto, I went to see the new Cinematheque built by Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry. On my way there I came across this modern, grass-covered structure built for sporty people activities. I don't really know much about it, but I liked the way the sun was illuminating the grass and plaza area so I laid down on the ground and took some pictures. That's kinda sporty, isn't it? Up, down, click, up.
In the same way Hotel du Nord was very french
, this newish Cinematheque was very Gehry.
Lots of curves, playful, surreal. The back street-side and the side that faced a neighbouring building were tamer; that is to say more geometric and therefore more traditional than the corner facade. They fit harmoniously with their surroundings, while still speaking the same language as the facade, which, being more organic, both faced and reflected the adjacent trees and park area. I really like the way the cube in the black and white photograph seems to float and drift away. I think this sensation of motion is very apt for a building that is devoted to the moving image.
Almost Paris. London, actually.
This post should really be dated late October, when I was in London. However, it's actually late November, and I am currently settled for a while at British School in Rome, and finally able to get caught up on this travel blog thing. So I have been thinking back to my week in France , looking through my photos and trying to distill the whole experience down to a few word and images. I have opted for more pictures than words. The reality of this whole blog thing is that when living my normal, non-sabbatical life I barely have time to read blogs, never mind write one. Cian, another resident artist here in Rome, suggested that a good title for a blog would be "I Don't Even Have the Time to Read a Blog, Never Mind Write One". I thought this would indeed be a good name for a blog, but only if the author were to write massively long and complex daily blogs that would require no less than a full day of thoughtful writing.
This blog, lucky for you and me both, will not be so word-y but rather more picture-y.
(It is Cian, btw, who so generously lent me his lovely Macbook Pro, that I am working on right now. Really, why do people bother with PC's? Life is too short to work on a PC if you don't have to!)
Anyway, before I get to Paris, let me go back to London for a bit to tell you about the best pizza ever. It was at a little place at 91 Brick Lane called Story Deli. It feels a bit like Commute on Queen West in Toronto. Sorry, no picture, but here is a link for Londoners and those London-bound. Go and eat organic pizza and drink organic beer.http://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/reviews/6710.html
This bit of pizza was had after seeing some shorts films by Lotte Reiniger at the Tate Modern. If you have not seen her work, check it out. They are ground-breaking paper cut-out animated films. Very beautiful, very lyrical.
...and very much sampled by American artist Kara Walker.
London: Eh to Zed
From Cornwall I went to London where I saw loads of art, visited some of my Canadian friends (who live there for now, but have promised to come home one day), and got in touch with my deeply spiritual side, by which I mean The Force.
I stayed with my Uncle in Highgate most of the time, but spent a few nights with J- and L- too. Here is a picture of a wall in the Highgate tube station. The "faith" in the corner is fitting because George Michael lives in Highgate, just a hop and a skip from where my Uncle lives; and because I love George Michael (yes, Arrested Development George Michael Bluth too, as it happens) and in fact bought a copy of his brilliant record Listen Without Prejudice in a charity shop in Leicestershire because it is really good looking. The entire 12 x 12 cover is a reproduction of Weegee's picture of the crowded beach at Coney Island. Sadly, I have not seen his highness in my Highgate wanderings, but I did see Queen Natalie Portman when I was in New York! And yes, she is heavenly in real life, and totally cool in a grey t-shirt, jeans and flats. Silver-ish flats if you must know, space boot silver because she is out of this world. Oh, and you think I'm being nerdy now...just wait!
I saw a lot of great art in London. Ed Ruscha's new drawings of busted glass were a highlight. He is a complete inspiration. These drawings were new and fresh, yet totally recognizable as his work. At the Tate Modern I saw the big crack in the turbine hall. It was supremely executed. The best part was seeing the school kids sit down and put their legs down the crack.
I also went to the gallery area of Bethnal Green with my former student Tessa, but it was pretty much closed and in between shows. Bethnal Green was bombed heavily by the Germans during the blitz. People in Highgate could see it burning from the Heath. The rebuilding means you get a lot of interesting architectural juxtapositions. I think this one works well.
Since the galleries were mostly closed, it gave me time to investigate the Nissan Figaro, a cute little car that has been catching my attention while visiting these green and pleasant shores. They were made for the Japanese market for just two years, so all the ones in the UK have been imported from the land of the rising sun. Here is Tessa trying one on for size. She is now in grad school at Slade. In painting, in case you missed seeing the paint on her jeans.
So after seeing some trendy galleries, the venerable Tate Modern, and the blue chip art galleries of the West End I was pretty saturated. But the best was yet to come: Star Wars - The Exhibition! True story. It was an amazing exhibition. Partly because I am such a fan (a.k.a. geek), but mostly because of the original Ralph McQuarrie drawings, the storyboards and the models. Really great source material for my drawing project, too.
This storyboard image should be called the Resurrection of the Everyman. To my eyes, the way Han Solo is glowing reminds me of the way Tintoretto painted Christ. May the Force Be with You
Signs, signs, everywhere signs
I left New York on October 6 and flew to London, crossing the Atlantic Ocean. For those interested in buying a Star Alliance round-the-world plane ticket, you should know that it requires that you cross both the Altantic and Pacific, and with my ticket I can stop in up to 15 cities and have up to 24 flight segements with a total mileage of 30,000.
When I arrived at Heathrow I hopped in my Uncle Robert's car and we drove 7 hours to Cornwall to visit his sister, my Aunt Margaret. The quiet coastal countryside was a welcome respite from the noise and filth of the great metropolis.
I like how many of the houses here have names. At home it is something I have only seen done by University students: The G-spot, K-Mart and Stonehenge, of course.
I have learned that a lot of signs are getting pinched here and sold as scrap metal! It is such a shame, but it meant I was fortunate enough to meet Oliver when he was in the midst of casting in iron a replacement road sign for the town council. This is the foundry he built in one of his farm's buildings. The furnace is melting iron to pour into a mold made from the white pattern of the sign on the lower left.
Here is a sad looking Subaru Brat on Oliver's property. The Brat is the japanese cousin of the El Camino. This one has handles welded on to the roof because it was used for hunting hares.
On one of our walks to Mylor Harbour we came across these amusing signs. Danger signs aren't suppose to be funny, but I can't help laughing at this one. Maybe the Brits laugh at this fellow's misfortune too, perhaps referring to it as schadenfreude - a term they may have picked up whilst fighting off the jerry's in either of the World Wars.
The roads in rural England are often very narrow, and what might be a one way lane in North America, is actually a two way road here. So, every now and then there are these wider bits referred to as a "passing place". Here is a picture of a sign that has either: (A) has been vandalised by teenage hooligans (Arse
nal fans no doubt), or (B) is an artist's "intervention" short-listed to win the Turner prize?
I am not going to give you the answer. You'll have to think: Does it look like the work of teenagers drunk after a few pints and "taking the piss" out of roadside signage; or an artist deconstructing the structures that control our every move, including where we "take a piss" when nature calls?
I call this one sign-painting-buddy. I love this moment. Here is a guy who has survived two World Wars, the Depression and Margaret Thatcher! But at this moment is completely focussed on the matter at/in hand, and the rest of the world and his long history in it have fallen aside. His mouth is even open, he is that focussed! He is my idol.
I walked down 57th countless times while in New York. I should say walked fast, because the pace on the New York City's streets is amazingly fast. I learned to do a shoulder check if I was going to change direction, because there might actually be someone about to pass me, and I walk fast...or at least move fast due to my stretched frame. Anyway, the glitzy and glamourous windows of the posh shops inevitable become commonplace, just markers on a landscape of glass, stone and concrete. Markers that help you know have much ground you have covered, how much further it is to school, when to turn and go use the cool and free iphones at the Apple store to make dinner plans, etc.
But like certain trees in a rural landscape stand out, there are a few shop windows that remain more that just a blur. And surprisingly theses stores are purveyors of widely counterfeited, conservatively designed, soccer Mom handbags. So I am not really sure why these caught my eye, maybe it's that the pink and turquoise coloured tights take me back to the days of Miami Vice, the first TV show I remember that used cool music to illuminate the story and characters. Beyond that nostalgia, the outfits are pretty sexy: mini skirts, high heels, lots of un-done buttons...a world away from the staid style of the knocked-off Coach bags. But when I think about the magazine ads for LV and Burberry, they do seem a bit edgy...yet their handbags are so conservative and safe, almost anti-fashion. I think the bags for these labels have become like the their perfumes - staple moneymakers that allow the designers to concentrate on the haute couture lines for the few uber-rich fashionistas, while allowing the many rich conservatives, and not so rich climbers a sense that they are a part of the window display and magazine ad celebrity fantasy.
My attraction to the Darjeeling Limited display is less mysterious: I like Wes Anderson's films, I like stylish luggage sets and the fantasy of first class travelling they represent, and I'm really looking forward to visiting India. Just look at the yellow - in a few months I imagine I'll be eating daal that colour.
NYC is The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met is perhaps my favourite place in Manhattan, I feel at home there. It's home where I can get lost, discover new treasures, and visit with old friends. I love to re-visit "my paintings" there over and over again, and see how they've changed as I change over time. Vermeer's Girl Asleep is still top of my list.
I went to The Met three times on this visit to the city, always at opening time, before the crowds. I discovered a bunch of Sargent paintings in glass storage cases, but the ones in the galleries are the ones I prefer. I am with Rufus Wainwright when he sings "I looked at the Rubens and Rembrandt, I liked the John Singer Sargents." These four for example.
I also spent a lot of time in the recently renovated Greek and Roman galleries. It is such a privilege to be able to spend time with these works under beautiful natural light. These artists were well educated in anatomy, gesture and lust.
While in New York, staying with an old Queen's friend, Bass, we were visited by Lisa from London - also a Queen's friend who studied Commerce with Bass. I am sitting in Lisa's kitchen with Jonathan as I write this. Anyway, we went out for a long walk though SoHo and Nolita with our gracious host Bass, and Lisa decided she needed a new leather bag. This picture was take mid-justification for the purchase of another bag. Great expression. Verdict: Lisa bought a sweet green leather bag.
Sculpture: a mini man in clay then plaster
For the month of September, when I was drawing the figure every afternoon, I spent my mornings down in the basement of the Art Student's League working form the figure in clay. My teacher was Jonathan Shahn, who is a great artist and has sculpted countless heads of all types. He actually went to school with my old Professor from graduate school, Tony. That's how I came to choose him, and I am so grateful that there was room for me in his class, because it too was really inspiring.
The Art Students League is a unique place. In my sculpture class there were all type of people.The retired types: Harold the dentist who had a practice down the street in the Steinway Building for 41 years and always dreamed of taking classes there; Peter the English engineer who reminded me of Malcolm McDowell, but insisted he was more like Lawrence Olivier, and Oscar the Columbian baker of french pastries who claimed to have opened New York's first true french pastry shop with his French-Canadian wife. Then there were the Israeli's: three dark, beautiful and mysterious older ones, and the young and precious one called Noa. In addition there was Allston from South Carlolina with has the most genteel accent ever; Mark the ceramicist from Portland who like me, was only there for a short time; Christine the hairdresser from Cape Cod; and let's not forget William, the Chinese immigrant postal worker who won the scholarship for figurative sculpture. The week I spent getting all covered in plaster while casting my 30" standing figure was greatly enriched by the casting teachers Beth and Steve, not to mention Renee who works as a counsellor in a lower east side Manhattan public school. All in all, I have to say it was a totally amazing experience. It also reminded me how much I miss making messy sculpture, and the full pleasure dervived from cleaning one's body after a day work, rather than before.
The sculpture pictured here shows my clay figure on the left, and the plaster casting of it on the right. The clay one has an armature in it and is supported by the black pipe, whilst the plaster one has metal rods through the arms, legs and torso. He lives in Manhattan now, where I hope to join him when I'm old(er).
focus on drawing
Drawing is the main focus of my year-off from teaching. The decision to visit many of the places on my itinerary reflects my desire to explore the many different ways this 3-dimensional world is translated/rendered into two dimensions. The subjects of my drawings are films about filmmaking by great filmmakers. Contempt by Godard, Day for Night by Truffalt, and 8 1/2 by Fellini are three of the most inspiring. In these films, and others like them, the directors pull away the camera's viewfinder and expose the structures behind the art of filmmaking. I want my drawings to make visual the structures behind drawing. I will in essence be making drawings about drawings based on films about filmmaking.
The Art Students League turned out to be a great place to start. I had the most amazing teacher, Frank Porcu, for my Anatomy Drawing class. He knows anatomy like Uncle Ben knows rice. He has dissected every part of the human anatomy and many animals, too. And he is a truly gifted and giving teacher. He is full of energy, and talks and draws really fast: think of Martin Scorcese as a life drawing teacher. I learned a completely new and effective way to approach drawing the human figure. His method challenges the 8-head convention that has been in place since the Renaissance. His method is based on true life; the Truth, not artistic convention. It works out to be a 7 1/2 head figure, but it is based upon what he calls visual phenomena. It's a theory based on what we see, and as he demonstrated many times - it is based on actual anatomy. Visual phenomena: what is the visual information in front of your eyes? Use this plus the 7 1/2 head theory and an understanding of the size of the pelvic box, and go back and forth between the two like a szchizophrenic (this comes quite naturally for me). I wish I could spend a few years studying with Frank Porcu. I now better understand JC's disciples.
Welcome to BMAD: The Blog!
B.Mad, the 'zine has been replace by BMAD: The Blog.
BMAD is the acronym for Burke Manufacturing and Design, but it is also a call to be mad!
Mad as in madness! The good mad. The Brit-anglo mad. Mad as a Hatter!
I would still like to return to the physical 'zine format at some point, but right now I am busy travelling around the earth.
Here is the basic itinerary for the coming academic year:
Toronto - New York City - London - Paris -Rome - Dubai - Calcutta - Thailand - Cambodia - Hong Kong - Shanghai - Tokyo - Honolulu - Los Angeles - San Francisco - Vancouver - Toronto.
The first stop was New York City, where I reprised my role as an art student, this time at the Art Students League of New York on West 57th Street.