Baryshnikov reads the phone book

I saw Mikhail Baryshnikov dance last week in Berkeley because art is a balm to the soul in troubled times, and last week was some troubled times. Baryshnikov is 68, though he doesn’t look a day over 59. Actually, he looks darn good and can still cause a swoon with a flick of the wrist.

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Baryshnikov in Wilson’s Letter to a Man

The performance was a collaboration he did with Robert Wilson, who created works with Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson. You can tell by those names that Wilson likes it modern and likes it surreal.  Which is fine except that surrealism turns out to be better if you have context.

Modern art has that feature. For example, I have always found cubism more interesting if I can discern the original model – a woman’s face, a guitar, a mountain. When the shapes become completely random, I lose the ability to appreciate what the artist was trying to achieve. The Salvador Dali with the melting clock is easier to think about than the Salvador Dali with the melting oblong blob. Labelled Untitled #4.  My reaction becomes Untitled #5.

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The Death of Civilized Debate

A documentary is making the rounds, in the theaters last spring and now on PBS and On Demand, that is a reminder of how politics used to be different. This is not by way of a discussion of the current political season or any commentary on the campaigns or their positions. I will not drag us there; I have promised. But this historical  view, “The Best of Enemies,” which chronicles a series of debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, hearkens back to the days when the tone of debate could be intelligent and civil. What a concept!

The popular notion is that America does not like intellectuals. Our tall tales and folk heroes are often about simple men who get the better of the fellow  with book-learnin’ through common sense and American knowhow. Conventional wisdom is to disdain “eggheads” and to embrace the Common Man.

But Americans do enjoy – or used to enjoy – the intelligent presentation of political opinions that they themselves hold dear. In 1968,  when ABC decided to host a series of conversations between two intellectual giants who held very different views, America watched and embraced – individually – their beloved smarty-pants of the Left and the Right. Continue reading “The Death of Civilized Debate”

The Promise of a Newfangled…

They have promised to bring a new dishwasher and microwave today. This is beyond exciting news.

The old ones were older than my college-aged children, and the dishwasher wasn’t a particularly good one. Always noisy with a groaning noise that went on for a long time – we had to learn to set it when we were planning to go to bed, or we wouldn’t be able to hear each other talk. The dishes also never really came clean, and we had to scrub them in advance. Years of arguing at length, what was the point of a dishwasher, why don’t we just hand-wash everything?

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The microwave has been more reliable, except in that last eighteen months. Sometimes when the fan starts up, the whir would make a strange scientific sound as though it were thinking about whether it wanted to start or not. For about a month, we wondered whether it would start at all. Joe, the installer who came to measure, told me that microwaves actually can last for decades. He had one that he gave to his mother, and when she died, his brother got it, then ended up given it to a cousin, until it eventually came back to Joe, who still uses it in his garage to heat up coffee. Continue reading “The Promise of a Newfangled…”

Carolina on My Mind

In my mind I’m gone to Carolina
Can’t you see the sunshine?
Can’t you just feel the moonshine?
Ain’t it just like a friend of mine
To hit me from behind?
Yes, I’m gone to Carolina in my mind.

James Taylor forgot to mention the trees. North Carolina is a state full of trees.

I’m used to the hills of my Bay Area home, but those are spread with golden grasses that turn gray in the dry of the late summer, where these are waves of rounded green mounds that undulate out to the horizon. We were bombing down the Blue Ridge Parkway all last week, traveling between Raleigh, Charlotte, Boone and Asheville, a trip full of conversation and scenery, heavy on the friendship and light on the tourism.

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The blue of the Western Appalachians is a little unique, according to www.ourstate.com, and can be traced to the isoprene-happy oak trees that make up most of the forests. The hydrocarbon isoprene is produced by these trees in part to protect themselves from excess heat. The hydrocarbon mixes with other molecules and acts like a kind of smog to create the haze of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Continue reading “Carolina on My Mind”

Road Trips: America in Miniature

“Kathy”, I said,
As we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
Michigan seems like a dream to me now.
It took me four days
To hitch-hike from Saginaw.
“I’ve come to look for America.”
–Simon & Garfunkel, America

Everybody journeys. Everyone takes trips on roads, travels to see new worlds, journeys of self-discovery and trips to the store, commutes to work and visits to see family. But there is a particularly American invention – the Road Trip.

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The United States is a large country with substantial variation in climate and terrain, crisscrossed with interstates that allow travel through and to nearly all of it, though it takes hour or sometimes days.  In early civilized history up until the 20th century, towns were near waterways whether in Europe, Africa, or North America.  Now they are all aligned along interstate hubs or around airports and the arterial traffic system is perfectly designed for long car journeys.

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