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Every Picture Tells a Story, Doughnut

One last vacation-related post, a week after the fact.

As we traveled through the Four Corners region, we had semi-brushes with stories that were topping the news in places that we visited.  Here are two photos that I took -- in an old-fashioned chemical way -- that vaguely relate to them.

Durango_silverton_rrFirst, a photo of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad as it rounds the famed horseshoe curve heading north along the High Line above the gorge of the Animas River.  Because the spot permits those on the correct side of the train their best shot of the locomotive on the entire trip, you can imagine how many hundreds of thousands of photos there must be that closely resemble mine.

[Film buffs may be interested to learn that the High Line begins just north of the Rockwood Cut, which was transformed with papier mache into a tunnel for purposes of Mike Todd's Around the World in 80 Days and which also served as the spot at which the title outlaws jump atop the passing train in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.  Butch and Sundance's famous leap from the cliff was shot a mile or two south (near Baker's Bridge), although the wonder of film editing permitted their landing in the water to be shot someplace else entirely.]

The news story that goes with this photo is a sad one.  Several miles north of this spot, and for most of the rest of the way to Silverton, the track drops down from the cliff and runs immediately alongside the Animas.  Just before noon last Friday, June 17, an hour or so after the above photo was taken and some sixteen miles or so further along the tracks, our train passed by a group of 3 rafts heading downriver.  The lead raft held only a guide, the other rafts carried four or five passengers each, including additional guides.  Everyone smiled and waved.  I am reasonably certain that the group we saw was this one, which ran into severe trouble about an hour later:

A local rafting guide known for his robust sense of humor and a tourist from Texas were identified by authorities Saturday as the men who died on a commercial rafting trip on the upper Animas River.

Darrel Bogenrief of Durango was about 25 years old and Scott Licona of Lumberton, Texas, was 30, said Butch Knowlton, La Plata County's director of emergency preparedness.

* * *

Bogenrief had been a commercial rafting guide with Durango-based Mild to Wild Rafting for at least five years. Local rafting guides said he was renowned for his disarming jokes and his fondness for the challenging upper Animas River.

* * *

High water this year has led to treacherous conditions on rivers. There have been other reported deaths in Colorado this season, Knowlton said.

Two people have died on separate commercial rafting trips since Memorial Day in New Mexico.

The two men died Friday after a raft guided by Bogenrief flipped in the second drop of Ten Mile Rapids, a long stretch of turbulent whitewater north of Needleton in San Juan County.

There were five people in the boat, said Kenneth Blazzard, a tourist from St. George, Utah, who witnessed the accident from another Mild to Wild raft.

Bogenrief briefly turned the raft upright before falling out, Blazzard said. No one made it back into the raft, he said. Three survivors made it to the banks of the river, while Bogenrief and Licona were quickly sent downriver by the racing rapids.

The southbound train that stopped to pick up the party later in the afternoon was not ours.  We did not know anything about the incident until we saw the local paper the following morning, as we were getting ready to head south to the area of our next photo, which relates to an interesting but not so tragic story.

Spider_rockHere we have a picture of Spider Rock, which stands at the bottom of Canyon de Chelly, Arizona.  Canyon de Chelly is unusual among the units of the National Park Service in that it is operated in cooperation with the Navajo Nation.  The Monument exists entirely within the Navajo reservation, and the Navajo themselves have lived and farmed on the floor of the canyon for several centuries.  Because of that occupancy and because of the Navajo's sacred associations with the landscape -- Spider Rock, for example, is associated with Spider Woman, the supernatural being from whom the Navajo first learned the art of weaving -- access to the canyon floor is restricted: with the exception of one trail to the White House Ruin, visitors are not permitted to enter the canyon below the rim except in the company of an approved Navajo guide.

Given the range of interests in play, the 80-year old arrangement between the federal and tribal governments occasionally shows some strain, as evidenced by this story from the Navajo Times -- on the front page when we were passing through a week ago -- concerning a protest by Canyon residents directed against claimed Park Service policies and plans in and around the Canyon:   

A group of Canyon de Chelly residents are tired of living in a time warp.

Clara Gorman, who lives near Spider Rock, said the U.S. National Park Service, which oversees Canyon de Chelly National Park, prohibits canyon residents from living in modern houses.

'We are not allowed to have modern homes because it's a monument,' Gorman said. 'But to me, it's like being deprived of life. I'd like to live there comfortably.  But we're only allowed to live in a hogan with a dirt roof.'

She said the reason for the park service policy barring modern homes is for the benefit of tourists.

'It's like we're being on display for tourists,' Gorman said.

The story is somewhat vague concerning both sides' positions, and the Park Service seems not to have had a really authoritative spokesperson available to discuss the protest or the residents' concerns. 

I assume the residents' "modernization" plans would not include a high rise casino with Spider Rock in the atrium lobby.

Continue reading "Every Picture Tells a Story, Doughnut" »

Big Yellow Axum, or, Oh Bliss! An Obelisk!

Don't It Always Seem to Go?:

An important discovery has been made by Unesco archaeologists who were sent to Ethiopia to prepare for the arrival of an ancient obelisk finally returned by Italy after years of delay.  At the ancient site of Axum, underground chambers and arcades were found near the original position of the obelisk, beneath an area converted into a parking lot in 1963.

[Joni Mitchell-invoking emphasis added.  Link via ArtsJournal.]

Classical Glass [updated]

Koyaanisqatsi_figuresI did not become aware until after the fact that Canyonlands National Park, at a far remove from any of the parts that we managed to visit last week, includes The Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon, where one can find the mysterious fellows pictured to the right.  They and the entire Canyonlands region -- including the Goosenecks of the San Juan River, inadvertently omitted from yesterday's inventory -- feature prominently in Godfrey Reggio/Philip Glass' 1983 Koyaanisqatsi, which turned up as the subject of a post by AC Douglas while I was out. 

The Alex Ross New Yorker piece on film music to which ACD links is terrific.  In addition to the Koyaanisqatsi discussion, it includes an appreciation of Michael Giacchino's score for ABC Television's Lost, a score that demonstrates how much can be done with a very few notes when they are just the right ones.  Giacchino's range as a composer of dramatic music is impressive: he also contributed the best James Bond score never used in a Bond movie to Brad Bird/Pixar's The Incredibles, which should rank high on any list of that film's seemingly innumerable pleasures.

ACD offers Ross' essay -- I suspect he would offer much of Ross' work, including his weblog, The Rest Is Noise -- in refutation to "all those mutterings and auguries of doom I read recently in Big Media about the death of the professional arts critic in our new technology-created, democratic journalistic era in which anyone with access to the Internet can be an arts critic . . . ."  (I hopped atop that particular hobby-horse, as expressed rather sloppily by the Los Angeles Times, here.) 

The problem is not that top-notch professional arts critics have disappeared -- Alex Ross is only one of a comfortingly long list of examples of professionals writing regularly and strongly, even for major publications, on arts-related subjects -- as it is that their influence on the larger populace appears to have diminished.  The perception that "critics don't matter," whether right or wrong, drives publishing decisions and in many cases has led to cutbacks in the space allotted to those critics, no matter how talented they may be, or limitations on the type of writing they are asked to contribute.  When is the last time anyone (other than perhaps Robert Hughes on the visual arts) published well-written, erudite criticism in Time magazine, for instance, a publication that formerly at least maintained the appearance that it was making an effort to provide something other than celebrity puffery in the "back of the book"?  The New Yorker, despite being more interested in politics these days than in the arts, flouts the trend somewhat, but do any of the New Yorker critics of today "make a difference" in the way that, say, Pauline Kael and Penelope Gilliat did with their film writing in the 70s?  Probably not, except to the already converted, e.g., those who already care a good deal about the sort of music that Ross writes about and who actively follow his writing because they know in advance that he will deliver the goods more often than not.  So, as good as Alex Ross is and as prominent a platform as the New Yorker provides for him, I am not so convinced as ACD that this single example entirely debunks the general grumping over the Sorry Lot of Professional Critics.

And in any case, those Canyonlands sure are impressive.  As is Koyaanisqatsi.


[06/23/05]: No sooner did I invoke Robert Hughes above as an example of "well-written, erudite criticism" than up popped a case in point: a fine Hughes piece in the Guardian on the new Richard Serra installation at the Guggenheim Bilbao.  Hughes takes as his premise the modest suggestion that Serra is "not only the best sculptor alive, but the only great one at work anywhere in the early 21st century", and proceeds to support that assertion along these lines:

Now 65, Serra has embarked on a magnificent, productive maturity.  Put in the simplest terms - ones that Serra might find too simple, but never mind - his achievement has been to give fabricated steel the power and density, the emotional address to the human body, the sense of empathy and urgency and liberation, that once belonged only to bronze and stone, but now no longer does.  He has achieved a very deep synthesis, and it may not matter whether others follow him.  Once you are in the enormous Guggenheim gallery which these sculptures fill, once you are absorbed in their space and pacing out their convolutions, you feel suddenly free - far from the dead zone of mass-media quotation, released from all that vulgar, tedious postmodernist litter and twitter, from the creepy posturings, tired bad-boy claptrap and squalid sanctimony that characterise PoMo and BritArt.  It is quite a good feeling - rather like the old days, one's inner fogey is tempted to say.  The work is as new as new could be, but when you are experiencing it you may also think of an 18th-century definition of the spirit of classical sculpture: 'A noble inwardness,' wrote Johann Winckelmann, 'a calm grandeur.'  Eine edle Einfalt, eine stille Grösse.  Without the white gods, of course.

Elsewhere, Hughes cites Saint-Gaudens and Rodin, Bernini and Louis XIV, and an unnamed Greek philosopher.  He even offers some high-art gossip concerning Serra and Bilbao's architect Frank Gehry (which I hope does not offend ACD, a known and serious Gehry partisan):

The gallery [Serra's installation] occupies is the biggest in the museum - a vast room, some 430 ft long by 80 ft wide.  Paintings hung in it before, and they usually looked diminished by Gehry's architecture - sometimes to the point of silliness or near-invisibility.  But Serra's work dominates Gehry's space like a rhinoceros in a parlour.  (There's said to be considerable animosity between the two men; if that's so, one certainly knows, in this case, who the winner is.)

Above all, Hughes has the technical skills and the gift for tactile language (also apparent in Alex Ross) to make the reader "see" Serra's work, and to instill the desire to see Serra's work:

***The space inside, the gap between the walls, narrows, widens, breathes in and out (if you can speak of massive iron "breathing", which in Serra's work you can) and eventually rewards you with an inner chamber, from which you have to follow the same route out.  At all points these constructions are open to the upper air, the gallery roof (and hence the architecture of the gallery) or the sky.  But you can see out of them only by looking up, which doesn't really help you locate yourself.  You would think it would be claustrophobic, terrifying, to be in the narrow curving slot between these giant planes, to be unable to see what lies ahead.  Indeed, the fear of being crushed like a bug on an anvil has always been present in responses to Serra's work, a bass vibrato at the edge of consciousness.  But you have to trust him, or lose the work in its entirety.  There is just no way of experiencing these pieces by looking from the outside, or in photos, or on video: the initial view of them from the balcony above the Arcelor gallery is impressively dramatic, yet it's the merest pipe-opener to what unfolds close up and at floor level.

Lovely.  Read the whole thing, whether you are interested in Serra, interested in fine critical writing or, better yet, interested in both.  (Link via ArtsJournal.)

P.S.,  I had thought for a moment that I might draw a full-circle connection between Richard Serra and Philip Glass.  Alas, my memory tricked me: the documentary film for which Glass composed his North Star pieces back in 1977 -- the first Glass music I ever heard -- was not about Serra, but instead about another sculptor, Mark di Suvero.

[Incidental and deeply pointless music trivia: the title piece from "North Star" was later appropriated and worked into the finale of "Platinum" by, of all people, Mike "Tubular Bells" Oldfield.  Odd.]

My Mind's Still on Vacation (but my Weblog's Workin' Overtime)

Hello, all.  This Fool has now returned from one of the Best Family Vacations Ever.  Because that Vacation was computer-free, the return has entailed sifting through and reading or deleting a couple of hundred accumulated e-mail messages, sifting through and (mostly) not reading several hundred weblog posts accumulated in the RSS feed, identifying all the new court decisions that came down while my back was turned that will need to be digested and discussed at the Other Weblog and, of course, the necessity of preparing my report to the class on What I Did on the aforementioned Vacation.

Here is an inventory of places that we visited:

Incidental notes:

  • The "Anasazi" are disappearing.  More accurately, the use of the term "Anasazi" for the peoples who constructed and lived in the cliff and mesa-top dwellings at Mesa Verde and various other locations in the Four Corners region is on the wane.  It is now generally accepted that the builders of the cliff dwellings in the late 12th and early 13th centuries are the forebears of the various Pueblo peoples of today.  It has also been well-accepted for a long time that the earlier peoples are not the forebears of the Navajo, who only entered the area several hundred years later.  "Anasazi" is a term from the Navajo language referring to those who built the by-then-long-abandoned dwellings that the Navajo found when they arrived.  The term is variously translated as "ancient ones," "enemy ancestors," or simply "people we don't know."  Understandably, the Pueblo peoples of today are not all that taken with having their ancestors referred to by a name -- and a none too flattering one, really -- drawn from someone else's language.  "Ancestral Pueblo" and "ancient Pueblo" are therefore increasingly favored as the appropriate description, at least until a term drawn from a contemporary Pueblo language gains general acceptance.  Somewhat more on the subject here (scroll down), as well as here.
    • "Anasazi" is unlikely to disappear altogether anytime soon, I suspect, as the sound of it maintains a compelling air of mysteriousness that we non-indigenous sorts of European origin, and those who market to us, find hard to resist.
  • If you find yourself in the vicinity of Moab, Utah, and would like a very comfortable place to stay, drive 14 miles out of town up the Colorado River to Red Cliffs Lodge.  The Lodge is located at a bend in the river, surrounded by the looming red rock from which it takes its name.  The accommodations are best described unpretentiously plush.
    • The Castle Creek Winery is located on site, producing wines (some of which incorporate not only Moab-grown grapes but also grapes drawn from the seemingly even more unlikely source of southern Arizona) that while not spectacular are certainly pleasant and eminently drinkable.
    • Proof that there can be no true escape from those omnipresent weblogs, even in the Wilds of Utah: our room at Red Cliffs Lodge included a copy of the latest [May/June 2005] issue of American Cowboy magazine, the cover of which touts an article by none other than uberkulturblogger Terry Teachout.
  • For the night before spending our very full day in Mesa Verde, we stayed inside the Park at the Far View Motor Lodge, a study in contrasts.  The room (which had heat -- not needed, with daytime temperature in the 90s -- but no cooling equipment) was deeply mediocre, suited to a mid- to low-level Best Western, with only its location inside the Park (with accompanying spectacular views) to recommend it.  On the other hand, the restaurant at the lodge -- the Metate Room -- is simply tremendous, providing easily the best meal of the entire trip: creative Southwest cuisine with an emphasis on local ingredients, a seriously interesting wine list, attention to detail throughout, and the opportunity to Commune with the Sublime by taking in those views until the sun went down.
    • What's a metateIt's "[a] flat or slightly concave stone base on which grain, nuts and seeds were ground using the smaller mano."  Ancestral Pueblo sites are full of them.
    • What did we drink with dinner?  A fine wine from Colorado, of course: the very tasty 2003 Merlot (unfiltered) from the nearby Sutcliffe Vineyards.  A profile of proprietor John Sutcliffe is available here.
  • Pictures?  I can't promise any.  We are still operating in the old-fangled world of chemical-based photography, so I am waiting to see what will develop.  If there is anything really compelling, perhaps I will post a scan.

And now, back to the workaday world. . . .

Fool's Gold: Mighty Public Works Division

Yes, friends, it's still summer rerun season here in the Forest.  Remember: if you haven't read it before, it's New To You.

While I'm away from my desk and computer in the wilds of Utah or their functional equivalent, here are some links to earlier items from this weblog.  Despair if you will, but today's offerings are drawn from this weblog's surprisingly frequent references to P.B. Shelley's "Ozymandias."

  • Glen Campbell demonstrates the requisite "sneer of cold command".  (11/25/03)
  • The poem yet again, in list format.  (3/28/05)  This experiment led to this year's April Fool's Day post: the PowerPoint version of Shakespeare's Sonnet XVIII.  (4/1/05)

Such posting as passes for 'regular' around here likely resumes on Tuesday.

Fool's Gold: Lyric Muse Division

Yes, friends, it's summer rerun season here in the Forest.  Remember: if you haven't read it before, it's New To You.

While I'm away from my desk and computer in the wilds of Utah or their functional equivalent, here are some links to earlier items from this weblog.  Today, posts of gradually declining seriousness from the Poetry archives:

  • We begin with appreciations of three poets whose work I particularly like:
  • An altogether serious consideration of Edward Lear's seemingly not at all serious sad-romantic masterwork, The Dong with a Luminous Nose.  (9/5/03)

Coming Friday: He's got legs . . . and little else!

Fool's Gold: Celluloid Heroes Division

Yes, friends, it's summer rerun season here in the Forest.  Remember: if you haven't read it before, it's New To You.

While I'm away from my desk and computer in the wilds of Utah or their functional equivalent, here are some links to earlier items from this weblog.  Today, three posts more or less related to film and animation:

  • Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki's latest, Howl's Moving Castle, opened this weekend, and is high on my agenda when I return.  Two summers ago, Miyazaki's previous film, Spirited Away, triggered a Longish Post About Animation. (8/2/03)
  • My reminiscence on actor/high school drama teacher James Rawley.   Note particularly the comments from other former Rawley-ites who have found their way to that post over the past year.  (5/26/04)

On Wednesday: Things only get verse.

Fashion Sense

This will be happy news in certain circles: Alice is at long last back to weblogging in Texas.   Here, she combines clothing advice and a Big Picture Historical Perspective:

If I knew where to find factories to make them, I would set up my own Dignified Clothing company right now, starting off with swirly cooling kaftan dresses for the Texas summer.  There are many advantages to covering up when the temperature is high.  Lawrence of Arabia would not have got as far as he did in a pair of baggy shorts and a t-shirt, because sunburn, heatstroke and various snake and insect bites are not good things to have in the desert.

Sensible shoes were also among Lawrence's secret weapons.  Or so I have heard.

Sooth! My Breast Hath Been Charmed by This Savage Music

Whilst I steps away for a bit: Open your ears, citizens!

  • The Sweet Scent of Eau d'Joy:  On the "classical" side of town, the BBC has gone wacky for Beethoven this month, and is broadcasting performances of, it seems, virtually everything Ludwig Van ever composed.  (See lengthy and detailed Brian Micklethwaite report here.)  O, it's all gorgeousness and gorgeosity, me droogies.

If your timing is good, you can download, for a limited time and for free, performances of all Nine Symphonies: here.  Nos. 1 and 3 are available until Monday June 13; Nos. 2, 4 and (ba-ba-ba BUMM) 5 are available until Tuesday June 14.  Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9 roll out later in the month.

A fairly good "blog-meme" could probably be constructed starting with "Which Beethoven Symphony are you?"  I'm No. 7 myself, particularly the Second Movement.  ["I am not a Symphony!  I am a free man!" quoth Number 6.]

  • We Interrupt for This Bullettin':  Late last month Spoilt Victorian Child, among others, wrote up the self-released freely downloadable mp3 album, "The Secrets," by Delaware-based songy singwriter Monika Bullette.  I, too, endorse it.

    It has a not-quite-finished quality -- some musical elbow or knee is always sticking out when you don't expect it -- but I can't say that the best parts of it would be improved at all by any extra buff and polish.  The stylistic range is wide, to say the least: "Show Me" sounds like the Monkees, in a "Steppin' Stone"-ish bad mood, fronted by PJ Harvey; "Little Bird" is sweetly Vashti Bunyanesque (with whistling!); "Don't Start Believin'" is a Mama/Papa/Spoonful of harmonious pop; "Lemonade" is a fine dirty blues ["Stir that pitcher/Make the ice cubes clink/You're making me thirsty/For more than your drink"]; and "Disappearing Act" is a languid, saxophone-spiced bossa nova number (which needs to be translated immediately into Portugese and performed by a real Brazilian so that Ms. Bullette will be rollin' in royalties).  The closing synthe-drone songs don't do much for me, but the project as a whole displays ambition, potential and talent to burn.  Acquire and to the whole thing listen you should.

  • Something Oblique:  From a Guardian interview with a fellow described as "the brainiest person in pop," name camouflaged to allow you to make your own guesses:

The problem lurks among the series of whiteboards propped against the bookshelf.  Some merely contain the kind of things you would expect to see in the workspace of the man that journalist and broadcaster Stuart Maconie dubbed "Professor Eno" - "From Hydrogen to Emergence" reads one, above a diagram of something impenetrable.  Another, which carries a list of Eno's appointments, is more worrying.  It's not so much seeing your own name there, with the time of the meeting and its purpose meticulously noted in different coloured markers, but seeing the company it keeps.  There's a lunch with Tom Stoppard.  A dinner with Paul Simon.  A meeting with Anita Roddick.  Somehow, you get the impression that your interview might not be the highlight of an otherwise dull week.

Who could it be?  Click through and see.  (It wasn't really a surprise, was it?)

  • Peanut Butter and Chocolate: To your list of combinations that shouldn't work but do, add steel guitars, heartfelt yearnin' and sociopathic evil genius.  escapegrace points the way [through Fluxblog] to Jonathan Coulton's Skullcrusher Mountain, the endearing tale of a fella who just can't hit the right notes with the girl his assistant Scarface has brought back to the lair.  You can tell he's sincere because he assures her in the chorus that even "the voices that control me from inside my head/Say I shouldn't kill you yet."  Much, much more cheerful than That Other Psycho Killer.
  • Also of musical interest, thanks to Tim Elsenburg of Sweet Billy Pilgrim for posting a link to my post in praise of his band, and for his very kind e-mail message.  The least you can do is take my earlier advice and download some of their music, or perhaps buy their single while awaiting the hoped-for autumn release of their first album.

Whoosh! Swish! Zap!

Too many shadows, whispering voices
Faces on posters, too many choices
If, when, why, what?
How much have you got?
Have you got it, do you get it, if so, how often?
Which do you choose, the hard or soft option?

        -- Pet Shop Boys, "West End Girls"


Snipped and saved nearly a week ago, from a much longer piece by Michael Blowhard:

* * * As far as the media go, we're living in a very different state than people were only a few decades ago.  We no longer have three or four TV stations, but hundreds.  We no longer share top 40 radio; we can tune into tons of segmented music markets instead.  We no longer rely on a couple of dozen magazines, but are able to easily access hundreds and hundreds of publications, whether on paper or online.  Not to mention the web's infinite other temptations, and not to mention the kinds of design developments (spinning imagery, lotsa color, dancing typefaces, etc) that we like to keep track of on this blog.

This new media environment is great in one sense -- it's a media cornucopia!  But this new media environment also seems to play a hard-to-deny role in a lot of conditions many of us may not be crazy about: decreased reading, increased inability to think straight, kids who are jaded about everything by the time they're 12, the sexualizing of children, the degradation of culture generally.

An example: computers have enabled filmmakers to soup up movies.  The kind of movie rhetoric -- the kind of imagery and sound -- being presented to us in theaters these days is much richer than it was just a few decades back.  The imagery is so much swoopier and the sonics are so much ka-thumpier that many kids raised on these movies seem unable to see anything going on whatsoever in older movies.  They don't know what they're meant to be watching or listening to; old movies, however great, just seem dull to them.  Yet few people (aside, presumably, from such media-battered kids) would make the case that we're living in an era of good movies.

Jon Hastings, who appears to have returned to more active posting at The Forager Blog, nicely synthesizes M. Blowhard's commentary with other recent "too many choices" items from around the cultural weblogging neighborhood.  I'd offer to do the job myself, but I must be going . . . .