Thursday, October 30, 2008

England Right Now

Short update on the state of things in England:

The weather has turned. Gone are the days of beautiful and mild weather. It is now cold around the clock (snow fell a few nights ago but I was asleep) and it's pretty much dark as night by 5 p.m. And it's not even November.

I don't know how much of this news makes its way onto America's shores, but Britain is in an absolute firestorm about some lewd jokes a comedy duo made on a BBC show. True, they were in bad taste, but since when has it been a crime or a matter of public inquiry (the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury have both interjected themselves into the fray) to make a joke in poor taste? Oh, but the BBC is funded by the people, the public shouts — all 27,000 or so that have complained — so they shouldn't have offensive things on there. Well I'm glad that's settled. From now on, there shall be nothing offensive to anyone on the BBC. For that matter, why don't we do away with programming that some people think is poorly made? The whole thing stinks of the farce that was the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident. Half a million people complained about that (who counts these things?), but it didn't make them right that time either.

I feel very removed from the fact that the election — the actual event that has consumed so much of America's last two years — is less than a week away.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Imperial War Museum

Today Teriann and I went to the Imperial War Museum (notice that my blog is at last up-to-date and current!). I made a short visit there a little more than a week ago (that visit was about a music competition — more on that later), on which, because of time constraints, I saw only one exhibition, In Memoriam. I thought the rest of the museum would be good to come see with Teriann anyway, hence the trip today.

In Memoriam is foremost an exhibit about remembering World War One, not necessarily the war itself. It is presented in a light, modern, almost austere series of rooms that are white with light hardwood floors. Everything is bright and clean — even old artifacts and mementos have been scrubbed in the way that only museums can. During both visits I found the exhibit interesting and moving.

The rest of the museum, however, which features among other things an elaborate and relentless permanent exhibit about the Holocaust, is presented in darker, indeterminate tones. The edges of spaces are not defined and items from the horrible corners of our history are not pristinely displayed but thrown and piled together as a reminder of how their owners were likewise treated. The whole thing was sickening — like watching Schindler's List without the constant knowledge that they are actors on a set.

This brought to mind two thoughts: first, how appalling it is that man has over his history invested so much time, energy, and blood into killing each other, and second, what Europe might have been like without either of the wars. The first point needs no comment other than to say that it is clear that man has not, as a species, caught on to this yet. The second idea, however, seems overflowing with possibility if only I had a firmer grasp of history.

I believe that Europe was well on a path to consolidation and peace in the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries (for instance, Italy and Germany were bundled together into nations). Both because of their colonial conquests and their centuries of civilizational development, European countries held arguably the most cultural and monetary capital anywhere in the world (I'm not sure where Eastern countries come into this — China or other nations may also fit this description). The effects of the wars were so deep — I simply can't provide a laundry list — that it's hard to fathom what would new developments would have come in music had not so many Jewish artists musicians moved to America (or been killed) or in science had the kind of cooperation we today see in the European Union been in place in an age of similarly staggering technological advances. The gross inhumanity of it all overwhelms me.

In any case, back to In Memoriam. As I said, the reason for my first visit was a music competition; the museum wants composers to write a string quartet based on something in the exhibit (or on the theme of In Memoriam in general). I have a few options for titles and I thought I'd put it to a general blog-reader vote. (Plus, this may actually convince people to comment! Readers, where are you?!)

Imagine, if you will, that you are sitting down to a concert of music for string quartet you have never heard before. Which piece are you most interested in hearing?

1) Vase fashioned from an exploded shell case

2) Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message

3) But it will have a bitter truth

The first title is a piece in the exhibit that is, you guessed it, an exploded shell case that someone has peeled back to form a crude vase. I love the vase itself as well as the idea of making something beautiful from the worst mankind has to offer, but I'm afraid the title loses something without the visual element.

The second and third options are from a letter the artist Paul Nash wrote to his wife shortly after arriving on the warfront. Paul Nash was commissioned to paint scenes of the war for both government propaganda and historical purposes. The entirety of the quote reads:

'No pen or drawing can convey this country.
I am no longer an artist interested and curious,
I am a messenger who will bring back word
from the men who are fighting
to those who want the war to go on forever.
Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message,
but it will have a bitter truth
and may it burn their lousy souls.'

The last phrase being a bit crude, I still think this is a titanic piece of writing. Truth be told, I'm leaning on using option 2, mostly because in contemporary music these days, titles are typically extroverted and hyperkinetic, designed to convey the most confident and hip composer possible, and I would like to try to stay away from that model. In addition, the 'feeble...' line tells me the most about the writer. Without that line, his writing is almost generic in its righteousness; but a feeble and inarticulate man is moved out of brokenness, out of necessity. It is that characteristic that, for me, makes his writing ring true.

If it sounds as though I've made up my mind, I haven't, and I would still very much value your opinion — especially if you're the kind of reader that has made your way all the way through this insufferably long post.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Venice!

Last weekend, Teriann and I went to Venice to celebrate our six year anniversary. That's right: we started dating on October 20, 2002. We have been together for more than a quarter of my life. Holy monkeys.

We took many, many pictures (Venice is by far the most picturesque city I've ever seen) and since there are too many to post here, there's a link at the bottom of this post where you can see the album.

A few things that won't be conveyed in the pictures: 

One of the nicest parts of town is by the Rialto, an extremely old (I don't know what date exactly, but old enough to be referred to in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. One of the characters asks, 'What's new on the Rialto?') bridge that is distinctively beautiful (in the pictures, you'll see that it's white with black arches). Yes, during the first day we saw some great stuff: the Palazzo Ducale and the Basilica San Marco, but what was truly magical was finding some unoccupied steps at the foot of the Rialto just after sunset. The steps led straight into the water of the Grand Canal and the afterglow shining off the colorful waterfront was warm and calming. We took a couple pictures of each other sitting on the steps, but a photo can't capture that sense of utter peace.

I didn't know this until a week or so before we left, but Venice is actually an island. In fact, there are many tiny islands in the lagoon surrounding Venice proper, and the most famous of these is probably Murano, where glassblowers have worked for centuries. The island is almost entirely devoted to glassmaking, and while we saw a couple workshops (most of them are open to the public), the streets (which are canals) are lined with glass shops that sell everything from tiny trinkets (glass flies and ants) to elaborate chandeliers and birds that cost many thousands of euros. The other notable things on the island were a wonderfully un-restored ancient church (I think some of the mosaics on the floor were Byzantine) and actual, real Italians. Italians that didn't speak English or care to be bothered by tourists. There was a sort of get-together coagulating on the square in front of the church, an old man played accordion outside a cafe (okay, probably for tourists), and everyone bustling on the sidewalks was clearly local. All the charm of Venice, but without the crowds.

We both can't wait to get back... and to see more of Europe :)

Click here to see the pictures!

Hyde Park III

This is the final installment of the saga of feeding squirrels in Hyde Park (do we do anything else with our lives?).

Having been thwarted twice by creatures that, to be fair, are not up there with dolphins or gorillas, we stuck to a straight-ahead game plan. Bring peanuts to the spot where we know they're friendly. Success!







Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hyde Park II

This is the story of the second time we went to Hyde Park to feed the squirrels. This time we learned from our previous menu error and brought peanuts.


What ho? The squirrel is not interested in the peanut?

It turns out Hyde Park is a pretty big space, and since we had chosen to see a different part of the park (the west end near Round Pond), the local wildlife had different tastes. The squirrels on the Knightsbridge end of the park (where we were last time) are accustomed to business folks feeding them on their lunch in the park. These new squirrels however were tough and wild (west si-yeed!) and didn't want anything to do with us humans or our tasty peanuts.

So, like the time before, we went to check out the other fauna of the park, which of course Teriann could not help but to be 'Photographing'...



I even took a couple shots.



There were hungry swans (here is a very brave lady)...


...and hungry geese.




And while this trip wasn't successful in feeding squirrels (better luck next time...), we did hang out with the geese quite a bit. They didn't seem to like the peanuts all that much, but were still rather infatuated with us. I even built up a sort of rapport with this one: I can talk to animals!

video

Monday, October 20, 2008

23

I'm no longer 22.

It forces me to point out that this has been without question the best year of my life. My LSP homies (miss you guys), getting married, and making the big move have made this year unlike any other.

And as Homer Simpson would say: best year, so far.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hyde Park I

This is the story of the first time we went to Hyde Park to feed the squirrels. 

First of all, this is how Teriann looks any time we're on our way to go feed squirrels.



And here she goes...



Hmm... turns out we brought bread and what the squirrels really prefer is peanuts. It's like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Except with squirrels.

The geese liked the bread though, so we still made friends.



And, like she does is any open green space, Teriann continued 'Photographing Wildlife'.




I wonder when I will no longer be surprised by this city. One time we got lost near Piccadilly Circus and found Chinatown. Another time we were walking down Park Lane and happened across Burlington Arcade, an opulent shopping for the fantastically wealthy. On this particular afternoon, we came across a group of urban roller-skaters who set up a skating rink/dance floor in the middle of the park. 

video

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The 'Hood

OK. You've seen our house. But what's around it? What's the neighborhood like? I'm glad you asked! Here's a typical walk from our house to the tube station (around 5 minutes at a leisurely pace).



This house wins for nicest front yard.


And this one for the biggest.




This car has been parked here, dented in, probably since we arrived.


Around the corner lies this family car dealership. Probably a mafia front, let's face it. Note that it was not established in 1958 — nor has it been in business since 1958 — no. It is: 'Established Since 1958'. Classic.


Here, they're offering a BMW 3-series for under 800 quid. It's probably missing an engine or something.


Another friendly local gang cover: Greek restaurant, The Acropolis.


A week or two ago, the new corporate (read: clean) shop moved in on the local convenience store. We locals are loyal to the Polish Beer & Groceries though.


The tube stop.


Just on the opposite corner lies the holy grail of late-night fooding: the Crystal Charcoal. Whoever comes to visit will get to know this place well.


So come visit and see for yourself!

London Aquarium

A few days ago, we went to the London Aquarium. It is housed in a rather impressive building next to the London Eye...


(by the way, here's a more true-to-life view of the London Eye)


...and across the river from the Houses of Parliament.


We soon found out that the aquarium is not actually in the grand old building pictured, but rather in that building's basement. In fact, the whole thing looks kinda shady. Here, Teriann goes fishing in the first display, wondering whether anyone would actually stop her if she had a pole and other necessary gear.


Along the way, one came across not only various fishes and aquatic critters, but plenty of amusing set pieces... like this!



What they're going for isn't entirely clear... maybe something ancient? Fishes in the ruins? We don't know.

The 'Photographing Wildlife' series now takes a plunge into the world of underwater wildlife. As always, our beautiful and talented host, Teriann, takes us on an otherworldly journey to experience for ourselves the mystical magic of these beautiful animals.






One of the highlights of the day was witnessing the epic battle of these two crabs.




Victorious!



I leave you, as I wish I could on every post, with: swashbucklin'!