Monster Jam

Reading this week:

  • Christian Missionaries and the Creation of Northern Rhodesia 1880-1924 by Robert I. Rotberg

This past weekend my super amazing fiancée and I went to Monster Jam! In doing so I achieved a bit of a childhood dream, which was to see Monster Trucks doing Monster Truck things and it was indeed pretty awesome. The genesis of us going to this particular event was because I got free tickets from Vet Tix, which is an organization that gives veterans (which includes me!) free tickets to various events. “Various events” seems to include in large part local standup comedy nights, but when the email came across my transom saying there was a chance to get free tickets to see Monster Trucks I was all about it. Since I had never asked for tickets before they gave me tickets, and we had a date with destiny.

The first most surprising thing about the night was my fiancée’s utter unfamiliarity with Monster Trucks. After much prodding she vaguely recalled seeing ads as a child. Now look I don’t know anything about Monster Trucks, but I am extremely aware of Monster Trucks, and am especially aware that they are big and loud and drive around doing things like jumping over things and maybe crushing smaller cars. I mean this is America! And Monster Trucks are the very loud beating heart of America! Plus I knew like, Grave Digger was a thing (which we saw that night!). Helpfully though Monster Jam has a Monster Jam 101 page with tons of useful information, which they not-so-helpfully emailed me only after we went, but nonetheless I now know the trucks run on methanol and generate 1500 horsepower!!! Neat!!!

But the second most surprising thing was how family friendly it was. There were tons of little kids and whole families out for a night of bonding over the smell of burning methanol. In retrospect I think this makes perfect sense since it was my inner 9-year-old that really wanted to see Monster Trucks. Monster Jam also seems to have leaned into this, because in addition to Grave Digger there was a truck that was shaped like a Dalmatian (a monster Dalmatian but still, more info on the extremely extensive wiki) and another shaped like a Megalodon:

We were of course rooting for Megalodon. However despite our earnest support she didn’t do so well:

Can’t win ’em all.

But yeah anyways the point is that Monster Jam was awesome!!!! They started off by racing around and that was really cool, and then they had the coolest event of the night which was all about two-wheel tricks, like wheelies or even making the Monster Trucks stand on their nose which was extremely impressive! I mean seriously the things they make those trucks do can’t be easy, even when you have all that torque. The technical skill is what impressed us the most, but maybe my fiancée and I are not the typical Monster Jam fans. But maybe we are! There is art in any endeavor in which you put your time and effort! Also at halftime they had motocross which was also very impressive and undoubtedly actually vastly more dangerous (no rollcages on these bikes):

After the intermission they had the donut competition which I think mostly illustrated the vast power of the exhaust of the trucks. And also the “flair” move most of the drivers did was take of the steering wheel as they were in the middle of the donut and hold it out the window which um I guess the steering wheel isn’t that important? But the front and rear steering of the trucks was a sight to behold. Anyways it all ended with the freestyle competition which was also an impressive display of skill, but focused way more on the raw power of jumps which made for the best pictures but some of the least interesting watching. When it was all finally over we were so revved up by all the revs and also the ups that we went out and got some fries before heading home for the night.

Monster Jam!!!!

Dalí Museum

Reading this week:

  • Fire-Eaters by Mwelwa C. Musambachime

In a continuing trend of writing blog posts in the reverse order of which they happened, in the morning of the very same day that we visited the Imagine Museum we also visited the Dalí Museum! I had been to the Dalí Museum, a few years back when I was trying to get some peace and quiet in the midst of a Christmas visit to the fam, but my super amazing fiancée had never been and wanted to go. She is amazing and has excellent taste in museums. The Dalí Museum is a fun place and it was a lot of fun to take my mom.

In a three-for-three string of blog posts, the Dalí Museum was also founded by some rich people. They were friends and big collectors of Dalí’s work, and like you do when you can no longer fit your huge art collection comfortably into your living room and are also fantastically wealthy, you start a museum. These people were the Morses. Anyways it is the best museum about Dalí that I have ever seen. The museum has two exhibits. The second is their changing exhibit, which changes. The first is their collection of Dalí’s paintings, which is pretty large and arranged chronologically. The last time I visited the museum, alone, I accidentally went through backwards, so I started with Dalí’s monumental works and as I progressed they went from huge and fantastical to small and realistic. I mean a huge part of Dalí’s talent is that is pictures are so realistic which makes the situations those poor clocks find themselves in so jarring, but when he was a young artist training to be an old artist he was doing stuff like painting fish:

Still Life: Fish with Red Bowl, 1923

I liked this picture because at the time I was contemplating buying a painting of a fish, so I was thinking a lot about fish paintings (I also have a history with fish). I wound up buying a fish painting, which is not particularly related to this museum trip. The painting is from Sarah Sutphin, and I am extremely glad to have it because after looking at all this art in all these museums I really wanted an oil painting, and I had been drawn to some realistic still-lifes of seafood, and she paints a mean sardine. So now there is an oil painting of a sardine hanging in the kitchen, though as of this writing my super amazing fiancée has never eaten a sardine, which she finds incongruous with the presence of the painting. We will eat sardines soon, don’t worry.

Speaking of art buying, last time I was at the Dalí Museum I bought a print of The Hallucinogenic Toreador. This is a monumental painting which I liked because at the time I think I was reading Hemmingway and thinking about bullfights. So this painting which is gigantic in real life was living in miniature on our apartment walls. This time however we saw The Average Bureaucrat, and my super amazing fiancée commented it was appropriate for us because we are both average (and proud) bureaucrats ourselves. I didn’t manage to take a picture but I suggested we buy a print but she didn’t think we needed to but I did anyways so now we have two Dalí prints decorating our apartment (the second somewhat closer to life-sized than the first), which is a pretty good number of Dalí prints, no?

Mom (center)

While my super amazing fiancée and I were debating the merits of bureaucracy, my mom (a former bureaucrat of sorts herself) was wandering around admiring the art closely. She has had a print for many many years of the succinctly named Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln-Homage to Rothko (Second Version) (which is larger than our prints; I didn’t realize until this moment I great up in a Dalí household?) and was delighted to see the real version finally, though she noted she wasn’t as able to easily see Lincoln when his head was 15′ tall instead of only like 2′ tall. At the time we visited the museum also had this virtual reality exhibit thingy where you apparently got to explore Dalí’s paintings in virtual reality. We thought it was full because the sign said it was but mom went in anyways (showing her much more advanced bureaucratic instincts) and got to try it out and I think she had a lot of fun. She certainly found it interesting and it was the first time she had ever done virtual reality, so it was an educational moment.

Femme Couchée, 1926

Anyways I guess I should probably talk about Dalí? His stuff is good (hot take I know). I am deeply impressed, as I mentioned, with the realism with which he painted his fantastic landscapes. From the exhibits he seems like he might have been a bit of a bother to be around, always wanting to not be a part of whatever was going on (he dropped himself out of art school right before he graduated), but man the guy could do some work. The museum does an excellent job showing and contextualizing the progression of his work and is worth a visit. The space itself is really remarkable as well, with the building a quite the architectural comment. The one drawback of the Dalí Museum however is that it is all about Dalí, which is cool, but man sort of limits what you can put on? The second exhibit like I mentioned is a changing exhibit, and this time it was about dreams, which is a theme in Dalí’s work apparently. But the space is smaller than the first one and I gotta think the curators are working really hard to make it worthwhile.

The most interesting part of that exhibit for me this time was the fact most of the art they were displaying were just prints instead of the actual artwork. They had a sign up noting that “the loan of artworks between museums – a traditional necessity to share the cultural wealth of humanity – has become exceedingly difficult due to leaping costs for transport and insurance. As well, an intense introspection among arts institutions as to their identity and purpose has heightened the difficulty.” Sounds to me like there is some subtext there but at the very least it being more difficult for museums to loan artworks to one another seems to me like a dire situation. Somewhat caught up in the desire for more art restitution, sending say the Benin Bronzes back to Nigeria, is that in addition to that we should be doing a lot of work sending more art that way (and the other way too), so the whole world gets to see everyone’s art. If the British Museum wants to argue that the Bronzes are best in a “universal” museum, that means equally that we should send the Mona Lisa to Benin City as it does that we should send the Bronzes to London. But if you can’t ship art around these days anymore that jeopardizes that dream.

But while you contemplate that, if you are in St. Petersburg (the Florida kind), go to the Dalí Museum. It is a pretty pricey admission ticket honestly but the art is very nice, the building is beautiful, and you will be in a sunny clime.

Imagine Museum

Reading this week:

  • The Sculptors of Mapungubwe by Zakes Mda

The first joke in today’s post is that you don’t have to imagine this museum, it actually exists! That’s right over the holiday break my super amazing fiancée (!!!!!) (for anyone keeping close track she wasn’t actually my fiancée at the time but between then and me writing this she has become my fiancée! Though I gotta marry her soon because getting the accent on the e here is very annoying) and I took my mom to the Imagine Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was my super amazing fiancée’s idea; she spotted their ad in the airport.

A note before we begin. The above piece of artwork is part of a series titled “Flight and Illusion” by Trish Duggan. I liked it a lot. Ms. Duggan’s work is featured fairly prominently, which seems appropriate because she founded the museum. I spoke at length in my last post about how the thing to do if you are unimaginably wealthy is to found an art museum (or two), so some extreme kudos to the then-plural Duggans here. I also made a point in the last post of not looking up what exactly those founders did for a living. But about 3/4 of our way through the museum, when it became evident that Trish Duggan’s name was popping up a lot my super amazing fiancée did some light googling and discovered that the Duggans were some of the biggest donors to Scientology (an organization Mr. Duggan credits for his riches) and since their divorce Ms. Duggan has also become a major Trump donor. So, you know, do with that information what you will!

If what you do with that information however is go to the Imagine Museum, you will be rewarded! Admission is $15 for adults (they gave me a veteran discount), so I don’t know how you feel about putting your money towards this organization but the art is phenomenal! We were all legitimately blown away and my mom especially was just absolutely floored with what these artists were doing with glass. A major item we learned was how young the Studio Glass movement was. We simply hadn’t realized because glass is something has been around for quite a long time, as the lovely display at the museum on the history of glass will let you know. But it was only in the early 1960s that Harvey Littleton invented a small furnace for individual artists. That made the art in the Imagine Museum much more contemporary than I was expecting, and it felt cool to be in the midst of a whole bunch of art that was both of a certain genre but clearly still very early in the experimentation stage of what art with glass could be!

Bijin, Karen Lamonte, 2011

Another fun thing the museum was doing that day was having a scavenger hunt. Like I said mom was floored by this museum and I thought it was extremely cute how much she got into the scavenger hunt they had going on. You were supposed to find these little glass cupcakes hidden around the art which did indeed go far in ensuring that we carefully inspected each and every one. The prize at the end was like a 5% discount in the gift shop which we did put to use. On our careful inspection however the first mind-blowing pieces were a whole series similar to the above by Karen Lamonte, who has developed a technique to carefully cast glass so that it models a fabric outfit worn by a woman with all the intricate details of the folds and even the pattern of the fabric. Extremely impressive stuff. There was another part of the series where the same outfit was cast in a variety of materials, including glass, iron, and bronze, and that was really cool.

Matrix Series: Cubism VI Double Core/Meander Construct…D, Brent Kee Young, 2017

I also really enjoyed seeing the above pieces, which are intricately sculpted from borosilicate glass which I guess is a type of glass which lets you do that. Those sphere in the middle are only suspended by a few points and man like, how do you transport this stuff? “Carefully” is probably the answer. I liked how all the different layers interlocked and were different but exposed something of each other. Surrounded by all the other intricate, creative, mesmerizing glass pieces I am honestly at a loss for words. It was all really great! But perhaps the single largest and most intriguing piece was the one pictured at the top, which use what I assume are a series of one-way mirrors to allow you to walk all around the icosahedron and look in every single way, conjuring up the wormhole from Interstellar in the way looking in seems to open up a portal to some other fantastical place. And my super amazing fiancée and I were vindicated in our taste when we finally got around to seeing Glass Onion and discovered the set designers also thought it was really cool.

Portal Icosahedron, Anthony James, 2018

But yeah that was the Imagine Museum. Never meet your heroes and never google your art museum founders, but the sheer breadth of different and phenomenal types of glass art on display will take your breath away if you have any sense in you at all. I can tell you for sure it has a ringing endorsement from my mom, who also was deeply entertained by the scavenger hunt. A wonderful afternoon in St. Petersburg!

Rubell Museum

Reading this week:

  • The Story of my Life by Sir Harry H. Johnston

Every once in a while I get annoyed with myself for not being rich. I think I can rightly say it is entirely my fault. Mostly it’s just that like, look, I am a mediocre white guy so not only do I have that going for me but also I went to Yale. I am also, I sometimes like to think, a fairly smart guy, and have you seen the people out there who are rich? Do you really think they are all that smart? Like so much smarter than you that they get to have a billion dollars and you, and more importantly I, don’t? It is ridiculous to think so. So it’s gotta be my fault I am not fabulously wealthy. Besides me whining about not using my privilege to the utmost, I also have to admit I have made several career moves that were explicitly bad money-wise, not entirely but definitely in part because a buddy of mine, in response to me saying I didn’t care about money, said I did care about money, and I kinda just wanted to prove him wrong. And more firmly than being annoyed about not being rich personally is that I am annoyed at all the very silly things the fabulously wealthy do spend their money on. 44 billion U.S. dollars for Twitter??????? I can think of so many cooler and more fun things to spend even a paltry $100 million on and these people are out here blowing the GDP of Cameroon on things that very obviously don’t even bring them joy!

Which brings us to the Rubells. They are a rich couple with a penchant for buying a lot of contemporary art and then building museums to put it in. They seem nice! I’m not going to verify if that is true or not and it in no way reflects a change in the soft policy of this blog that the rich should be eaten (not me though, don’t eat me when I achieve the fabulous wealth of my idle ponderings). But man if I was rich this is what I would do! This and a lot of other things, let me tell you. Like funding local journalism and showering infrastructure on the village where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and look I haven’t totally gamed out how I would spend $100 billion or whatever but not only would I fund so, so many cultural institutions but I wouldn’t even ask them to put my name on it. That last sentence was not a dig on the Rubell Museum DC (their other museum is in Miami) because it is a very nice place and I recommend you go.

My super amazing girlfriend and I visited the other weekend, making a whole day of it by eating some fried chicken beforehand and going to two bookstores afterwards. We got in for free because I used to be in the Navy and also the Rubells are very nice about only charging the tourists to see their art. The coolest part of the museum, it slowly dawned on me as I visited, is the space itself. It used to be a school and the news articles will tell you all about how Mera Rubell made sure to highlight the vaunted windows and it was a very, very neat thing that they have an exhibition of Keith Haring’s Untitled (Against All Odds) which was inspired (loosely) by Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On and they had it playing in the background and the significance here is that Gaye went to this very school. Like that is such a cool thing to do! But even without the Gaye connection I loved how the building itself affected how I viewed the art. The first room you enter is this gigantic cavern of a hall with four monumental artworks displayed. Then you traverse into the rest of the museum which is split over three floors with different halls and hallways connecting in a few different ways. The more open halls felt more like a regular art museum, but then you also had these tiny hallways where you couldn’t get very far away at all from the art, especially when it was crowded with other visitors. It forced you to get up close to the pieces even when they were large enough to ask for perspective that just wasn’t given to you. And since the rooms are put together somewhat mazelike you filter in and out of the exhibits in a very non-linear way and I hope the curators have a lot of fun thinking about what it means to put art in a space and spaces like that.

Another aspect of the museum is that it feels unfinished in a pretty exciting way. The walls are all brick but certain portions are covered with like drywall in what fells in spots to be done very randomly. You sort of float in and out of regular ole’ art museum walls and then these old bricks, some replaced by wooden blocks that are falling out. It makes the whole space feel more exciting and the art even more exciting by association. I noticed the floors would be updated in spots and then old in others. And the final space you wind up visiting is just sorta the basement and it feels like a basement with graffiti still on the walls in some spots and painted and unpainted brick and unfinished, low ceilings and twisty passageways with art just sorta stuck in there. It’s great! We should never design an art museum ever again and instead just stick art in repurposed buildings.

Chalkboard Drawing #3 by Gary Simmons

Anyways here are some of the pieces I liked. I liked the above piece, Chalkboard Drawing #3, because it is a chalkboard and the museum used to be a school and so I liked how that all fit together. They didn’t mention anything in the description about putting a chalkboard in a school which was a very hip move, if you ask me. Anyways that’s why I liked this piece.

Big Black Rainbow (Smoky Eyes) by Vaughn Spann

The next piece, Big Black Rainbow (Smoky Eyes) was one of the four pieces in that first gigantic hallway. My photos don’t convey the scale but it is huge. What I found really interesting about this piece is that it was painted on terrycloth, which is not a painting medium I would have ever thought of. I have documented my interest in impasto and this picture for me was all about the impasto. So that was very neat.

Existing in Rose Thoughts by Jamea Richmond-Edwards

The final piece I wanted to highlight is Existing in Rose Thoughts by Jamea Richmond-Edwards and I hope to be in enough with the art crowd someday to own one of her artworks. This one reminded a lot of the painting/collage Vendor by Prudence Chimutuwah with the use of different media to highlight the themes of the painting and the fact they both center similar figures. It’s just such a beautiful piece with so many layers.

So that was my experience at the Rubell Museum DC. Maybe we’ll make it to the one in Miami someday.

Emily Dickinson’s House

Reading this week:

  • Water, Wood, and Wild Things by Hannah Kirshner (beautiful)

The very same day that we visited the Green Mountain Spinnery we also visited Emily Dickinson’s house! In fact we visited it first but because I was so worried about forgetting the steps to spinning I wrote that first to ensure I got everything down. So it got published first. But now we are here to revisit the morning.

You may think that it was my super amazing girlfriend’s idea to visit Emily Dickinson’s house. You would not only be stereotyping the both of us, but you would also be wrong. It was my idea. In fact, the house is in Amherst, and my super amazing girlfriend had gone to college there, and never even been! You see what had happened was that while I was goofing off at work I read an article in the New York Times about the pandemic remodel they did to bring the house back to its “Technicolor 1850s glory.” I am a big fan of color, and pattern, and boldness, and this is a trait I share with the Victorians and Emily Dickinson. And Emily Dickinson is a famous literary person so I am right in my aesthetic opinions. Also like I don’t know much about Emily Dickinson nor am I sure I have ever actually heard one of her poems (though I did read another article about her baking so that is nice), so this was probably the only thing that was going to draw me to this house, and boy did it deliver:

I also really liked the bevy of rocking chairs. I should get a rocking chair. I could be a rocking chair kinda guy. Anyways the house tour. It was really nice! Our tour guide was obviously a huge fan Dickinson and really tied together the different experiences that Emily had in the house with the imagery and themes and language that came through in her poetry. Given that Dickinson wrote a lot of her poetry in the kitchen while waiting for bread to bake, etc, it is probably a little unfortunate that the house’s kitchen is now the entryway and gift shop, but there were plenty of other parts of Emily’s personality. One nice coincidence is that in the car on the way up I was reading American Eden, which talks about among other things the rise in popularity of botany as a pursuit in the early United States only to arrive and discover that Emily was a huge fan of botany and had a conservatory in the house where she spent a lot of time. The conservatory they have is rebuilt but with the original windows, and is a lovely spot that yeah I could see being the inspiration for a lot of poetry:

Besides the conservatory, the tour takes you through her dad’s office, which had a lot of neat furniture and a selection of the books she owned (the originals are at Harvard, apparently), to the entryway which had a very neat shellacked canvas floor covering, and into the parlor where the Dickinsons entertained guests and did other parlor-type things. There the tour also highlights the people who labored in the house, both Black and Irish servants. From there it is upstairs where there is a short lecture with some fun visual displays that talks about how Dickinson labored over the word choice in her poems and how she never titled any of them. An interesting perspective into an artist’s work. Apparently they date some of her poems by her handwriting. A particular highlight of our tour is there was a brave little boy who got volunteered to man a lot of the visuals and also play the piano in the house. A very talented fellow, that kid.

After that you go into Emily’s room where she spent much of her time especially in the later years of her life. The room included a recreation of her writing desk which looks like a nice little desk indeed. Her nieces and nephews would apparently play pirate games outside under her window and she would lower them booty in the form of cookies and the like, which is very fun. After this we were led outside to the back of the house where you can see an oak tree that was there in Dickinson’s time and could contemplate the span of nature that she also contemplated as inspiration for her poems. It was a touching and serene moment only punctuated by a poor lady who was walking through slipping and falling. She was fine but that poor lady. After that we bought souvenirs and then got some noodles for lunch. All in all a wonderful visit and I can’t wait to redecorate our house with the exact same wallpaper and carpets that she used because they are beautiful and historic and as long as we avoid the arsenic ones it’ll be fantastic.

Green Mountain Spinnery

Reading this week:

  • Slaves for Peanuts by Jori Lewis
  • The Brutish Museums by Dan Hicks
  • Blockade and Jungle, edited by Christen P. Christensen from the Letters, Diaries, etc. of Nis Kock

For Thanksgiving week my super amazing girlfriend brought me back up north to her family’s ancestral home. We had a lovely time, I assume for the whole week, because it is actually Thanksgiving when I am writing this but will be the deep dark depths of winter by the time you read this (for the record it has snowed twice here already so maybe the Deep Dark Depths are already upon us). Anyways what I am driving at here is that to get out of town and to feed, irresponsibly for not, my super amazing girlfriend’s yarn passion/obsession we went to Green Mountain Spinnery!

It is a lovely place. It was started a long long time ago (the ’80s) by a group of knitters who were in a book club and the book that week was Small is Beautiful. Inspired to get into small business they started a small spinnery in a gas station. The small factor here is important because what they mostly specialize in is spinning the output of relatively small flocks of sheep (or other fiber-producing animals). Bigger spinneries have much larger minimums so the boutique flocks can’t get their yarn spun. I am gleaning all this information from the tour they took us on. Turns out you can just show up and ask for a tour and the extremely nice lady behind the counter will take you on one along with the other nice patron who happened to have also travelled up from the same town as you which is also where the aforementioned counter lady got married. New England is a small world, apparently.

Anywho it is a very interesting process involving a lot of old machines. When Green Mountain was setting up shop a lot of other shops were taking down shop and so the founding knitters travelled to and fro across the land buying the requisite machines. The process started in a rather large sink where the lanolin on the wool is removed via a good long soak in a mild soap. Then comes the tricky part, which is rinsing and drying the wool without turning it into a large lump of felt. That is the specialty of the above machine, which rinses and presses it firmly but gently before it is moved into the oldest machine in the shop (not pictured), a washing machine from 1898 which spins it right round baby right round. Then it goes into a regular ole’ dryer.

After being dried it then goes into a picking machine which opens and blends the fibers (so the website tells me, I missed that bit during the tour) and also moistens them nicely. The wool can go through this process a few times and this, I am to understand, is where you can figure out the colors so they’re all nice and stuff. The spinnery apparently goes through a cycle where they start with natural colors and gradually move to darker or bolder colors over the course of a few months. The day we were there it was clearly a bit early in the cycle as you can see from the pictures. How long it takes to go through the cycle depends partially on how often the machines break down. They are old and worked hard and there are also little bits of wool flying everywhere so I can imagine the works get gummed up regularly. When we were there two guys were working on fixing this neat-o conveyer belt that goes between the two carding machines and as you can see above there is an in-house mini machine shops decorated with extremely twee hand feed lever covers.

But like I mentioned the carding machines. These things were impressive. I imagined at one point making a tiny little one because even the tiny little ones can cost like several hundred dollars, but seeing this on an industrial scale, even if that industrial scale is relatively small, is extremely impressive. All the chains and belts and stuff! It comes out of this carding machine in a sheer layer of wool. That neat-o conveyer belt I mentioned gathers it up and spins it 90 degrees and then feeds it into another carding machine. This apparently makes the fibers extra strong and cross-linked and stuff which is cool.

The output of that second carding machine are these “pencils,” which are approximately pencil-width bundles of yarn. These get put on giant bobbins and then finally these bobbins are put on the actual spinning machine. The spinning machine takes these relatively fragile pencils and spins two or three of them together to finally produce the yarn. It is just a little bit more steaming from there before the yarn is finally split into skeins and then either distributed back to the people who sent them the wool (70% of their business) or else sold directly by Green Mountain (the other 30%).

My super amazing girlfriend threatened at one point to do this whole process in our spare bathtub, and I am disappointed that she hasn’t carried through with this threat both because I think it would be extremely neat and also because I would be excited to brag about our in-apartment sheep to shawl process to all the yuppie friends I would make specifically to brag about my super amazing girlfriend, not that I need an excuse. But if my bathroom fantasies can’t come true seeing it in person all the way up in Vermont is a very nice (if distant) second-best plan. My super amazing girlfriend of course bought a few (four) skeins of yarn from the shop they had there and we had a lovely time touring the place. I highly recommend a visit if you are in town even if you don’t like yarn. I forgot to mention the place smells like sheep. That isn’t really apropos of anything besides the artisanal authenticity of the spinnery. They are nice people who think a lot about their craft and hopefully if my super amazing girlfriend ever lets me raise a flock of sheep in our apartment I can use their services. Until then I will simply have to admire the shawl she’ll knit from the yarn.

One with Eternity

Reading this week:

  • Out of the Corner by Jennifer Grey

The other weekend, which will be a while ago when this post finally hits the presses (which I now note will be Christmas, merry Christmas!), my super amazing girlfriend and I went off to see the special exhibit at the Hirshhorn, “One with Eternity” about the work of Yayoi Kusama. The exhibit is remarkable for a variety of reasons which are helpfully detailed in the exhibit itself, but the most amazing one for the purposes of this post is just how absolutely instagrammable it all is considering that she started doing this stuff half a century ago! Extremely prescient. Or maybe humans have just always enjoyed mirrors

Anyways the upswing of it being instagrammable is that it has been in our friends’ instagram feeds for quite some time now. Doing some googling for this post I am discovering the Hirshhorn had a much larger display of her work back in 2017, but this smaller exhibit has been up since April. We hadn’t been able to go, because you had to show up early to get tickets and we just weren’t about that life, but now you can get them online and my super amazing girlfriend did so. So we arrived at the extremely reasonable hour of 1:30 in the afternoon and got to admiring.

It was a much smaller exhibition than I had thought given the density of instagram photos, but the major things on display were the pumpkin at the top (titled Pumpkin) which was very nice and vibrantly orange, and then the two other big things were infinity rooms. My first observation is that infinity is pretty tiny, fitting nicely as you can see into a large box of a small room with a door and a short pathway for you to enter. You are not allowed to bring bags or unworn coats inside, but there are cubbies for your convenience. There were not that many people in the exhibit the day we arrived so the Disney-esque lines they had set up were not really in use, but each group of two adults max got to see the art for 30 seconds. This was an interesting way to experience art, in regimented 30-second chunks where you are shut into the box that is the art with just yourself and your one other adult. I don’t think this was part of Kusama’s intention but it was a lot to fit all the desired contemplation into so short of time.

Also a major thing I hadn’t realized from the instagram posts is that this piece is titled Phalli’s Field, so this is a field of dongs, and an infinite one at that, all lovingly (I assume) sewed by Kusama herself. Fantastic. I hope she told the person at the fabric store what she was up to.

Anyways from the first infinity room you proceed to the next infinity room, which despite the fact it is just as infinite as the first it is about twice as big. This one you walked through instead of just into, both tricky things to do with infinity under normal circumstances, but since it was twice as big you got twice as long, a full minute to contemplate the uncontemplateable. My super amazing girlfriend liked this one, titled My Heart is Dancing into the Universe, a lot more because the big space balls meant you couldn’t see yourself as readily, though I perhaps disliked it by an equal amount for just about the same reason because I was also much less able to see an infinite number of her. For my camera it was moot in any case because the best picture of it I was able to capture is the below one, which is still a great picture though doesn’t manage to capture it exactly:

And so that was Yayoi Kusama, by far the most popular artist of the modern era if we only go by, as I have mentioned, my friends’ instagram feeds. I was glad we saw it. Worth the wait!

Harpers Ferry

Reading this week:

  • The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787 by Gordon S. Wood

The other weekend my super amazing girlfriend and I went to Harpers Ferry! We had been meaning to go for a while. I have fond memories of Harpers Ferry. There are a number of hiking trails in the vicinity, not to mention the Appalachian Trail itself, and it is a convenient middle distance away from where I grew up (over by Annapolis) which made it an excellent destination for hiking back when I was in the Boy Scouts and I did that sort of thing more often. Meanwhile my super amazing girlfriend wanted to go because we both enjoy day trips and she is trying to go to as many states as possible. However she has strict rules for when it counts as to whether or not she’s been to a state; she has to do something substantial in that state in order to tick it off her travel to-do list. Spending the day in Harpers Ferry, which is conveniently in West Virginia, is substantial enough to count.

Back in my Boy Scout days we didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the museum portions of Harpers Ferry, not that I really had enough American historical context to really appreciate the message they convey anyways. Being young Boy Scouts who by the time we were visiting the town would have been hot off the trail, we were more interested in the touristy candy shops and the like. I therefore learned a whole lot on this visit. Harpers Ferry is a very old town (in American terms) and I was surprised to discover what a center of industry it had been, being one of the major producers of weapons for the United States. There is little evidence of that today, given that they tour down all the gun shops, though just by the geography it is evident there is a lot of potential for water-powered works. If you haven’t been it is an extremely picturesque town on the point of land bordered by the meeting of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, surrounded by the Appalachian hills and exposed bedrock that speaks to the ancient nature of the site. Plus we managed to time it so we arrived on perhaps the peak fall day of the year, as I am sure the picture at the top attests to.

Within its long history the main claim to fame for Harpers Ferry is all the ties it has to specifically Black history. This is probably the aspect I’ve only relatively recently acquired to the tools to grasp. The single most well-known event is of course John Brown’s Raid. The “museum” portion of Harpers Ferry is actually a number of different buildings all focusing on different things, and they have an entire building dedicated to John Brown. I learned a good chunk about the raid. For example, I had always imagined it has John Brown as the only white guy along with a handful of formerly enslaved people, so I was surprised to discover he had a relatively sizeable group with him. I think that goes to show that for all the discussion about the abolition of slavery being a difficult choice for so many people in the United States pre-Civil War, there were always a lot of people who knew the right answer and were willing to act on it. Violence is usually an ineffective way to promote political goals, as I think actually the history of the Civil War shows, and I condemn it, but people like John Brown and his compatriots willing to do what they did shows that moral clarity was to be had even in that era.

A lot of the museums displays are probably ripe for an update or at least a sprucing up, but Harpers Ferry also does an excellent job I think of contextualizing the history it presents. A good example is the above stone that is displayed on the street in Harpers Ferry with a sign next to it. The stone is a monument erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy that tried to rewrite the history of slavery (as all these monuments try to do), claiming that Black people were somewhere between content and happy with being enslaved. The sign next to it calls out their bullshit. I know it is hard to read in my picture but it talks about a woman named Pearl Tatten speaking up during the ceremony to say that the story was untrue and the enslaved people were always fighting for their freedom, to the astonishment of the people there to celebrate slavery. Probably still better to take the stone down entirely but it is an excellent moment to explain the false narrative these monuments try to impose on American history as part of a political project.

A final note on the Black history on display at Harpers Ferry was a large exhibit on Storer College, a school and college founded originally to educate those recently emancipated in the Civil War which found a home at Harpers Ferry. It was a pivotal institution and I was extremely interested to learn about it during our visit.

Besides the national park site we also explored the environs of Harpers Ferry. There is a place called Jefferson’s Rock, which is a rock that Thomas Jefferson stood at, and in the above picture I am standing near the ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church. I liked it because it reminded me of Niamkolo Church. Our biggest adventure of the day was hiking up to Maryland Heights for the view. To get there you have to hike a fairly easy but unfairly steep trail which takes about two hours round trip. It was a gorgeous day as I mentioned and maybe even a little hot for fall and we utterly failed to bring any water with us. We pressed on though and were rewarded with a stunning view of the river confluence and the town itself and that Appalachian fall foliage which my super amazing girlfriend would never admit is anywhere as good as what you get up in New England. It was great though and after we managed to get back down we quenched our thirst at one of the local bars which also had a pretty excellent spinach dip. Then we drove home, happy to have had a wonderful day and learned not a little about history.

Winterthur

Reading this week:

  • The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (beautiful)

Winterthur [“Winter-tour”] is a very nice place. I have been writing this blog post in my head for a few weeks and I have a few critical points to make but I want to be clear up top that I very much enjoyed my visit! It was a stunningly gorgeous fall day and me and my super amazing girlfriend were off to see our friend get married but it was conveniently an evening wedding and we had a few hours in the afternoon and were in the neighborhood so we went to go see Winterthur. It is apparently (so my super amazing girlfriend tells me) very big in the museum business as being a particularly thoughtful and well-run museum. This was the major draw for us. Whatever there was to actually see was somewhat secondary.

“Whatever there was to actually see” is broadly split into three major buckets at Winterthur. Bucket one is the grounds. Winterthur is the former estate of an astoundingly rich member of the du Pont family, the sort of astoundingly rich where you have “grounds” along with a whole model farming community to provide you nice views and where you can raise prize-winning dairy cows as a hobby, as opposed to you know because it’s your job. We arrived at the visitor’s center where we paid our admission fee and then hopped on a bus for a guided tour of the grounds which was extremely lovely. It is pictured above. The lady both driving the bus and giving the tour was bubbly and enthusiastic about the grounds and extremely knowledgeable.

A diversion. There is no such thing as a natural forest. That’s only a little bit of an exaggeration, and the exceptions are some parts of Africa. Worldwide, forests evolved over eons as part of an ecosystem that were inhabited by megafauna, like gigantic sloths or wooly mammoths and all sorts of gigantic creatures. The forest evolved to take these creatures into account, but then whether a coincidence or not humans started going out into large swaths of the world and all of these megafauna died off, with the exception of some of those elephants in Africa because they evolved alongside humans and knew how to handle themselves. So the forest ecosystem lost a huge part of itself in both a literal and figurative sense and exists in an unnatural state. The lack of megafauna I think was compensated for in some ways by the humans themselves however. It is a very recent development to think of anything as “nature,” that is separate from like, just the world. These days people know what you mean when you visit nature, but like 200 years ago and for the rest of human history before that you wouldn’t go into nature, it would just be another part of the landscape, where you also lived. Forests were actively managed to provide food and fuel (done better in some places and done worse in other places) and I think the felling of trees and active management but in a way that tried to sustain the forest (because you wanted to keep using it) went to some lengths to replace the megafauna. I bring this up because du Pont there practiced the tenants of The Wild Garden which, so our bubbly guide told us involved making your grounds look like a natural forest. So like, while I acknowledge that in fact all forests to more or less degree are a product of human meddling, this still feels like I dunno cultural appropriation from nature??? I didn’t know how to feel about it. The trees were lovely though and the landscape is designed so all the colors change throughout the year rewarding revisiting and careful contemplation which does indeed sound like the bees knees. Anywho.

The tour drops you off at the museum, which represents bucket two. The museum, and this du Pont himself, focused on Americana material culture. While we were there they had a big exhibition about how du Pont helped Jackie Kennedy remodel the White House. That was neat to see and was very informative because I had seen all the rooms they were talking about in the exhibit. They also had a very intriguing display of an old clockmaker’s blacksmith shop which was extremely neat. But the picture above was some even more quintessential Americana, a bunch of imported ceramics from China. I really enjoyed this display. The picture above is just a tiny fraction of all the stuff they had, including just buckets of ceramics that were centuries old and had all sorts of cool designs. Of course I like the ones with boats on them the best but they had stuff of all flavors. A chunk of the ceramics had been salvaged from old shipwrecks which is also pretty neat.

That brought us to bucket three, the house. Like I said above the du Ponts were astoundingly rich, the type of people with “grounds,” but to have grounds you typically have to have a house in the middle and boy did they ever. There was a glimpse of the outside of it in my forest picture, but that is just a tiny fraction. This house they lived in was nine stories tall and had 175 rooms! What do you do with all that space? Why do you have it? I assume you have a house that big because your rich friend has like, a 150-room house and you have to one-up him because that is how rich people measure dick size. But also you are astoundingly rich and old money to boot so you can’t be too ostentatious so you try to fit the house into the landscape so it looks like you are only living in a 50-room mansion or something. In fact they made the house into a museum during their lifetime and so to retire they built said 50-room mansion next door and called it a “cottage,” hoo boy dude I am ready to start the proletariat revolution via this here blog written by a government knowledge worker who has time to go visit rich people’s grounds. You only get to see a tiny fraction of the house, approximately the portion that Jackie Kennedy toured when du Pont was trying to convince her that she should remodel the White House using American stuff instead of French stuff. I saw a lot of similar rooms? Like they had different themes, but it seemed to be a lot of sitting rooms? I liked the bold colors, and the oil paintings of ships, these are two things I like and du Pont had that decoration style right for sure.

After the house tour it was more or less time to get glammed up and go to that wedding, which was awesome. Our friend got married and she looked so beautiful and the ceremony was beautiful and it was in an art museum and we got to see art though of course it paled in comparison to the sublime and timeless beauty that is love. Also they had a live band that exclusively covered the hits and lemme tell ya they had range. Maybe I should learn to play the bass so I can get weekend gigs playing weddings. I think that would be fun and my bass playing wouldn’t annoy my super amazing girlfriend at all. The point is like I said at the top Winterthur was quite nice and I would love to go back in the spring to see the different colors and explore the grounds a bit more. And maybe steal liberate a gilded candlestick or two.

White House Garden Tour

Reading this week:

  • The Voltage Effect by John A. List (Chicago school…)

On the appropriate day my super amazing girlfriend and I got to go on the White House Garden Tour! It was interesting. We arrived in the line at the appropriate time and waited to be let in. The Secret Service had set up some metal detectors in the middle of a field and a dude in gloves carefully looked at my phone and keys to decide they posed no threat to the Rose Garden. Then we were on the tour!

Branded traffic cone. I had to take a picture. Who decided they needed branded traffic cones? Why weren’t the orange ones good enough? Who is in charge of the traffic cones? How many did they order? When do they order new ones? Who approves this?

What the tour was, specifically, was a self-guided thing where you walk along the paved ellipse (Secret Service agents were on-hand to tell anyone who strayed to get off the grass please sir) and then to the fountain they got there. I had previously gone on the interior White House tour so this was a whole exciting new perspective on the place. The outside perspective, specifically. There was also music, provided by an Air Force band on the portico. They alternated between light jazz and military marches.

Most of the highlights of the tour were various trees planted by various presidents and/or first ladies. This is a thing that you do, apparently, when you’re president, at some point you plant a tree. And then forever afterwards twice a year on the garden tour days they have a sign with a picture of you planting the tree for people to look at. I am writing this to sound very silly but I took several pictures of trees. The oldest trees they have were planted by Andrew Jackson in 1830 and are held up by wires. The other exciting part is looking at the kitchen garden that Michelle Obama planted, and the coolest part about that was the White House Beehives, in which there are Presidential bees. Besides the sign, however, they did not get special branding:

Anyways I was going to not write a whole blog post about this but then I noticed in the booklet they gave us that the south lawn is designed to create “a setting that gives the impression of a rural landscape, with winding paths and private spaces.” There are some other design features, like “a series of low hills that appear natural, but were created to provide security” and how a lot of the trees are planted in order to hide and further secure the perimeter, but I want to focus on the rural setting thing. That’s weird, isn’t it? I mean isn’t it? Here is the President in the very heart of Washington, DC, surrounded by a whole dense city full of people, and the White House is designed so the President can pretend he is in a bucolic setting somewhere? I mean the hills I get, that makes a great esplanade so you got a nice field of fire, but why are we going for rural? What I am getting at here is once I read that the view outside the White House reminded me of James Madison’s Montpelier, which was built at just about the same time and most importantly here was a plantation house. So is the White House going for a plantation vibe? Not great! Very ick. I didn’t like it.

But like I said the tour was fine. Besides the bees and the music and the trees, they also had “the Beast” out on display, which was probably the single most popular thing on the grounds judging by how it held up the crowd as people were taking pictures. It does indeed look pretty nice and I assume that no one ever minds that it is parked right across the road. After we had checked everything out we exited via the open-air gift shop, where my super amazing girlfriend got a bookmark and an exclusive Christmas ornament, and I got the exact same Christmas ornament, but for her mom. Then we hiked back around the White House to visit the White House Visitor’s Center where they had the centerpiece of my dreams.