Friday, June 30, 2006

Back in the saddle

In the last post I mentioned that I'd had to slow down...and today, finally, I feel like I'm back up to speed. I spent the morning and early afternoon taking stock of what I've done since April- I photographed a bunch of new drawings and figured out lots of things about where I'm going, what I'm up to and where I've been.

None of which has much to do with this painting, Where do We Come From, What are We, Where are We Going? by Gauguin.

While I was photographing my new drawings the whole blue jay family stopped by to flap around in the birdbath. They really get down in to the water- this is no dainty sipping like the sparrows do. The blue jays jump right in the middle of the deepest bath and splash their wings down flat on the water so that they wet all the plants within a four foot range. They put their heads under and smack their tails flat on top of the water and they come out looking like you'd put them in the washing machine. When they are done they wipe their noses nicely on the edge of a flowerpot twice, once each side, then repeat. When they are gone, the water is full of little red bug dots. I think they have some kind of bird lice that itches them, so I change the water faithfully.

After I finished photographing my work Thom and I gave ourselves the rest of the day to walk around the city- we walked from about 3 to 10 at night, with a break for a movie at the Ritz. Our legs are tired, but we feel refreshed and the fleas are off and our noses are nicely wiped.

We wandered through our favorite alleys, watched sparrows and mockingbirds hanging around Carpenter's Hall and had gelato at Capogiro Gelato which is the best, most amazing thing a person can do in Philadelphia on a hot day. Last time I went I tried Nasturtium flavored gelato, which was so good I didn't want to eat anything else all day for fear of diluting the taste on my lips. Today I tried a ginger sesame scoop and a cilantro lime scoop- two great tastes that taste really disconcerting together.

I love days like this. We poked our heads into various shops as we wandered around discussing what we've been reading. I just finished The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington. I had never read any Booth Tarkington, and I'm not sure I will read any more, but I didn't expect what I found. I thought he'd be a potboiler romantic writer, and he isn't- at least, that's not what he's good at. Booth Tarkington struck me as a brilliant essayist who had felt the need to graft his observations on to a really irritating romantic plot. He had a nastiness that reminded me of David Foster Wallace, but he was apparently very interested in making things seem universal: so imagine David Foster Wallace (minus the parentheses and footnotes) writing scripts for Disney. In committee.

The Magnificent Ambersons is, if you ignore the Ambersons, an interesting history of the effect of the automobile on class in America, and it's a fascinating look at changing cities in the early 20th century. There's a whole side theme about the colors that are used in houses as coal and automobiles become more common. People move from light clean colors to dark greens and browns because the soot is so bad they can't keep light colors clean. Apartments become far more fashionable than single family homes because they are easier to clean. As cars come into common use people move as far out of the cities as they can because the air quality is so bad because of the soot and coal. Old money lapses into obscurity as it fails to take account of the new dynamics of distance created by the car. It's also a poignant picture of the death of bicycle culture, which is close to Thom's heart.

Thom is reading Ivan Illich's Toward a History of Need, which was written in 1978. Both our books are, weirdly enough, responses to the problem of technology and culture. Thom's book sounds like a charismatic call for a return to lost craftsmanship in the face of the postindustrial age. It wants people to be more empowered to meet their own material needs. We're down with that, having just had our own chard for lunch, but it was interesting thing to talk about Illych's idealism in light of Tarkington's very clear sighted view of the cultural changes brought about by technology. Tarkington is not anti-technology. His anti hero, the most magnificent Amberson, is a wretched product of the class system that is born of the kind of pastoral existence that Illich seems to advocate. Illych's views push for a more natural existence, which is appealing, but he pushed Thom well past his comfort level. The man wants us to take back our lost abilities to make housing and to learn how to make thatched roofs and feed ourselves, which sounds good. But he thinks toilet paper is over hyped.

Which, of course, it is.

One of my neighbors has a truck with a bumper stickers that says "Cast off the Chains of Market-Hyped Consciousness." This cracks me up; it just seems so demanding. I mean, I pull my car in to the space behind his truck and I think," I have to cast off the chains of market hyped consciousness again? Today, as we were talking about how far we'd be willing to cast the chains, we went into a bar to play this great shuffleboard-like bowling game from the seventies.

The bowling game is in a bar called "Sue's" on third below market. It's a good time, and, speaking of market-hyped consciousness, for fifty cents it's a bargain of a good time. I learned what shuffleboard wax is like, which I love, and for five minutes or so I got absolutely obsessed with trying to shuffle a fake bowling ball/puck into some fake bowling pins more accurately than Thom. Who remembers playing this game with his father, who used to play for money when he was a kid. It was a fifty cent trip down memory lane.

But if you've got nine bucks you should go see Word Play. It's really great. It's a bit like Spellbound, which is to say that it's also great, but is not to say that it's imitative. If you need proof, click on "clips" and check out "Enigmatology." If you don't already have a crush on Will Shortz, you will, and you'll be better for it.

The movie makes the case for puzzles, and the case for puzzles is the same, in a certain light, as the case for a day spent wandering around the city when you know the hot weather is right around the corner.

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