Category Archives: places

Coit Tower: what I imagine an actual ivory tower would look like

I work in an ivory tower, but I’m kind of like the door man there, not the sage- or the king, or a princess. But I’m okay with this. Well… I’m mostly okay with it.img_1733

You see the problem with staying in ivory towers is that you can get lost and isolated up in the clouds. Clouds aren’t quite the same as the ground. On the ground, a person can just sort of stand there, naturally. Clouds are immaterial, and for a human to be there requires some sort of extra construction or apparatus to hold them up.img_1748

Its good to work at the door of the tower because you can walk around and remember what dirt feels like and how plants grow. From up above trees look small and while you might be able to see over walls, it gets easy to forget how hard it is to climb either one.img_1907

But if you spend all of your time in the weeds you never get to see more than a few feet. It can be hard to come up with new ideas, or to even really see what is going on, with limited vision.img_1910

So with my role in the tower, standing on the ground floor showing people the door, I get a little bit of both the up and the down. I head upstairs and see what they are doing up there, then I go back outside and try to tell people about it. Its good work.img_1825

Truth be told I would probably enjoy more time in the books. I like the stuff in books and I like the view. But in my mind the stuff in and up there are pointless unless it does something down and out there, and I have been out there enough to know that the gap between in and up and down and out is huge.img_1816I hear and read a lot of things about the environment in college, but few of those opinions or descriptions are coming from people who work in college. Or are currently attending college. Sometimes it comes from people who remember college. People in the weeds are talking about the tower.

Then I talk to, or read the work of, people in the tower, and to them the people in the weeds are a “them.” A them is very different than a we. Making the we bigger than it is now is a big deal to me.

The best thing for we requires both the tower and the weeds.

So I’ll stick with my job.

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What Your Car Says About You: but should your car even be talking at all?

Where you live plays a large part in what you experience. It isn’t the only thing, just a big thing. For example, I am solidly “middle aged”. I have lived in several cities and traveled all over the United States, and in all that time and in all of those places, I have attended exactly ZERO cars shows- till I moved to California.

I have now attended 2 in the proportionately short span of 2 years- because of where I am.

I am not a “car guy” as most would define it, yet I drive one every day. Roughly 100 miles on weekdays, Saturdays about the same, Sundays vary. My car works just fine, but I wouldn’t mind a better one. You see, Mine has crank windows and manual locks, which work just fine- but I can’t open the door for my wife from the outside of the car. It is a stick shift, which is no big deal, yet it makes the stop-and-go LA traffic that extra little bit taxing. But I can afford it and every time I turn the key, the engine starts.

All that being said, I think one would have to be blind or beastly not to appreciate a convertible Shelby Cobra upon meeting one. That car is what happens when design bridges the gap between engineering and art. I am in no position to act on my appreciation of this car, and had I the means, I’m not sure I would choose too. But this doesn’t change the fact that this car is hot.

If cars and money were both infinite resources and spending on a car had no bearing on any other aspect of my, or anyone else’s life or resources, I would probably still not get a Cobra. I’d probably just get a Jeep Wrangler- or maybe a remade version of the old Ford Bronco.broncoblack

Because I like those. A lot. But you might not know that about me, my taste in cars, by looking at the car I own, or even if you sit in the office next to mine. Which is fine with me. I am not my taste in cars, nor does my taste really tell you anything important about me-

Or does it?

I have had, or heard, plenty of people where I live now, and to some extent where I grew up, who say differently. And they say, or said, it with conviction. In fact my boss once went on in some detail how diverse her staff was, in that she had one woman who drove a large SUV working right next to a convertible VW bug woman. Because those are vastly different cars, and hence, two very different college educated upper-middle class income white women.

I can only guess what kind of employee, or person, I am, because no one talks to me about my car. It isn’t worth talking about. It isn’t to be pitied like my old car, which communicated poverty loudly enough to have once inspired a church where I knew no one, to offer my family a free turkey one Thanksgiving. No, my current car is just nothing, and I am mostly okay with this.

The little argumentative voice inside my head says that any assumptions or judgement placed on me, on account of my car, says more about the other person than it does about me. So What should I care? I don’t really.

Except I live in California. In California my ambivalence about cars, or rather the comparatively low priority I place on cars, makes me unlike those who surround me. And because they surround me, they play a large role in my experience living here- no matter what I think about cars. They will judge my car, and me, and because there are so many of them, I cannot escape the consequences of the thoughts they may have about me.

I can deal with it. It wasn’t like this in Philly. I imagine even less so in New York. In those places I am sure people still judge and make assumptions, just on other things. Maybe my shoes. Perhaps my furniture. Or my hair. My race.

Skin color. Cars. What I think about either doesn’t really matter if it matters to everyone else around me.

 

 

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Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: aptly named Antelope Island

To my knowledge there are no homes where this buffalo roams and I did indeed see antelope play.IMG_8952

The best part was I didn’t have to go far to see these animals. I didn’t even have to get out of my car- but I did get out of my car. My wife and children were screaming, “What are you doing? You are going to die! That thing is going to eat you!”

None of those things happened (the dying that is. I really did get out of the car).IMG_8969

They didn’t happen because while I can be categorized as a tourist, I’m not exactly the kind you call stupid. At least not when it comes to interacting with wildlife- though I have been known to metaphorically poke bears.IMG_8877

First, I know both bison and antelope are herbivores, and second, I didn’t try to touch anything while staying far enough from the animal and close enough to the car, to run if I had to.

I’m not new to this game.

Though I did see some guy in a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off creeping up through the grass toward the buffalo. he didn’t die either though I did think he was stupid. I didn’t say it out loud, just in my head, which was still not nice despite its truth.IMG_8917Antelope Island is out in the middle of the Great Salt Lake but you can drive there on a causeway. You can see it from the city but not many people go there. Which makes it kind of nice.

If you don’t want to be around a lot of people.

I don’t mind people but I love expanses. Vistas. I love being in the center of everything or the middle of nothing. It is those in-betweens that I don’t like, speaking geographically not ideologically.

Though the extremities are where you normally find sleeping bears to poke.

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Seven Magic Mountains

It is as if they sprung up from nowhere. Unnatural bright colors in unnatural formations framed by the natural vastness of Nevada. You can see them from the freeway. You almost can’t not see them.

Ten miles south of Las Vegas, in that stretch of nothingness between there and LA, is an art installation only planned to be there 2 years. It opened May 2016 and is now more than half way over.

It is worth a trip to nowhere.IMG_8998

It was built by the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone with a commission from the Nevada Museum of Art. I like it more than I like Vegas.

Which isn’t saying much thanks to how I feel about Vegas, which was kind of the artist’s point.IMG_9011

The installation, called the Seven Magic Mountains, is a human construction in a completely unnatural place for no other reason than human entertainment.

It is a pile of rocks and I think it has ten times more meaning than Vegas.IMG_9004

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Statues are Not About Yesterday, They are About Right Now

Let me state up front that I have indeed, seen Confederate monuments that I feel are appropriate. I admit they exist.

I have seen a lot of statues in a lot of places over the years. While standing in front of them and looking, I have learned that statues are much less about then, than they are about right now.

You can see it when you look at them.DV IMAGE

Some are majestic, others are humble. Some mark a spot, others glorify an ideal or occurrence. But what almost all have in common is that they appear to be built to communicate something. They tell those before them something about where they are. They address the viewer and try to make tangible through stone or bronze something the artist, or community, or someone, feels that person standing there right then needs to know.

They communicate. That is their job.

So, to me, they key is in discerning what it is they are saying.

Some spell it right out. Others are more subtle.

 

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I have stood at the feet of a giant Abe Lincoln and considered the “most fearful ordeal”. In that spot I turned around and looked at the marks in the marble spelling “I have a Dream”. Both of those things were put there for me to consider in that moment.

As a Seventeen year old I stood outside a jail in Carthage Illinois where Joseph Smith was murdered. That statue of Joseph and his brother Hyrum, together, in the place where they both died helped me feel something. It was more than a text could provide.

I have read some make similar statements about when they first saw the statue of liberty from the deck of a ship.

I have been to the battle fields of Gettysburg and Antietam. There in those grassy peaceful places I looked up at pillars marking where soldiers stood, fired, and violently died. I would not have experienced those places the same way without the aid of monuments. I am glad they were there.IM001537

But I have seen some others too.

We once lived in a charming small town called Greenville. It had an accessible downtown with shops and a square. At one end, the official side with the courthouse, there was this.confederatepoem

Up top was a confederate soldier and down below was this message.

“All lost but by the graves

Where  martyred heroes rest

He wins the most who honor saves

Success is not the test

The world shall yet decide

In truth’s clear far off light

That the soldiers

Who wore the gray and died

With Lee were in the right.”

The statue was of no specific person and nothing remarkable in history happened there. I read the inscription and looked over at the official government building and thought, “Wait… Lee was right? How was the Confederacy right? I realized I was standing in a place where those in charge wanted it to be quite clear, to me, that they believed that those who died with Lee were right. Not Grant. Not Lincoln. Lee.

It made me feel I didn’t belong in this place, and that was the point. I am just me and my words are hot air- these words were stone.CIMG0415Charleston is a gorgeous city. The food and architecture are both worth the trip. Colonial era homes line the shore with manicured grass and mossy oaks between their columned front porches and the water. Multiple eras of history happened here and the monuments reflect that. There is a marble plaque explaining that here they hung pirates. There is also a statue of George Washington. But the tallest of all and the grandest, is the one built for confederates.

I know enough to know that they did not use shields or fight naked. I also knew that there was no event that included a Greek Goddess. Yet that is what was built. Here on the spot where America’s bloodiest war’s first shots were fired, the biggest monument is a celebration of the ones who started it.

This was not about history, it was about glory. I found that idea disappointing.yalenathanhaleOn the campus of Yale, right next to a dorm, stands a statue of a young man about to die. Nathan Hale, once a student at Yale, was executed by the British for spying. He is depicted standing tall and proud, not whimpering or afraid. It was meant to inspire a respect for ideals, possibly learned in this place, worth dying to uphold. I was inspired, maybe a tad bit intimidated, and that was the point.monk statueAt Boston College, in front of some classrooms, is Saint Ignacius. I am not Catholic but this depiction was contemplative and reached down to me. As if he intended to lift me up. It was both inspiring and inviting. And that was the point.roberteleeAt the center of Duke’s campus stands a cathedral. It was built in 1930 and its entrance is flanked by statues. Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, and Robert E Lee. No matter my denomination, I understand the religious reverence expected of any figure placed at the front of a church. I also understand what Lee fought for. He did not just own black people as slaves but he led a war to keep doing it. He did not fight that war on campus, or in this church, and by 1930 the war was long over, but standing there in that moment- I understood how the officials here felt about him. And I understood how he felt about black humans. In that moment I knew this place was not meant for me.

The point.

In looking at the statues we need to consider what they are saying and to whom. We need to know that these figures and plaques make statements that last and have meaning. They are indeed endorsements. what are we collectively endorsing?

I despise the confederate flag like I would a swastika. It has no place in my life. But there was one time, while visiting a graveyard in Greenville, that I saw that flag as okay. There lay buried the remains of men who had died in a war. Those flags marked both who they were and where they are in a way that had meaning. I endorse that.

I also endorse that the ideology of that war, that a whole segment of humanity is inferior, should be laid to rest in those graves with those men and that flag.

So let Mr. Lee come down.

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the Getty

To get to the Getty you take a tram from the parking lot. No, that isn’t completely true. I took a tram, you can walk up the hill, but it was hot outside and it is UP the hill. Don’t worry the line moves fast.IMG_8181

While walking into the modernistic rotunda looking for our tour guide, I wondered aloud why this place was so busy. “I don’t think I’ve seen an art museum this crowded since the Louvre.” My wife gave me the side eye and asked, “When is the last time you saw a Rembrandt and Van Gogh for free?”

Good point.IMG_8222

They also had Gauguin. And they had, I mean have, Monet, Manet, Goya, and my favorite- tourists taking pictures.pic1

As a painter, I have always appreciated other’s work in that same medium, but as an appreciator of history, I have learned to love sculptures.

For example, while the tour guide was talking about the technique used to craft marble or get stone to look like silk, I was learning that long before plumbing, before electricity, even before we understood the human circulatory system, men were taking the time to groom super cool mustaches (their opinion not mine) and dress with a little swagger. There is art in the subject not just the medium.IMG_8060

Or maybe there was this woman, Mary Seacole, a Jamaican who treated wounded soldiers in the Crimean War- which I should note was before America’s Civil War- who taught me not only about an artist’s skill with chisel, but that the look a black woman gives when someone says “confederate statues are history” rather than a celebratory memorial to racism, has been the same for more than 100 years.

I can hear this statue better than I can see it. I had several seats after viewing it.IMG_8217

I also learned that even before digital media, there were pixels. Poor resolution and revivalist mosaic are pretty much the same thing.IMG_8046

What struck me about the Getty, even more than the sculpture, and crowds, was the space. I am too lazy to investigate the planning process or theory in its creation, but it functions as a location first, and houses art second. There are gardens surrounded by architecture placed on a hilltop overlooking LA.

It is a place. A space. To be in. To be surrounded by and lounged in and enjoyed. It is an environment.

And I like that.IMG_8232

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Mission San Carlos Borromeo del rio Carmelo

At one time Mission San Carlos Borromeo, just outside Monterey California, was the capitol of the Spanish Empire in Alta California. Junipero’ Serra, the founder of the California mission system, and now a Saint, is buried in the chapel. Jose Antonio Romeu, the second Spanish Governor of all California is buried there too. Today it is beautiful and celebrated, but by 1863, the place was in ruins.

What happened?img_2267

The short answer is the end of slavery in Mexico.

When the missions were first established they technically “belonged” to the local inhabitants aka Indians. It was their land and their buildings, but the management was sort of leased to the Catholic priests for a period of time to help get things up and running. At least that is how it was drawn up on paper.img_2260

In reality, the way it worked out, was that the Spanish forced the local native inhabitants to build, and then work in, these palatial compounds.

They were indeed palatial.img_2281

When the lease on Mission Carmelo ran out, the Franciscans in charge simply kept control. There were no non-European authorities nearby to force them otherwise, and the native locals were already effectively slaves.

So the place stayed splendid.img_2310

Then, in 1821, Mexico won its own American revolution and kicked the Spaniards out. Soon after the new government issued a proclamation of emancipation (42 years before Lincoln), freeing the enslaved Indians, who then left the missions.img_2283

Without an unpaid workforce the missions couldn’t support themselves and they began to decline.img_2280

Then the Mexican government went a step further and confiscated the missions from the Catholic church and started selling off the surrounding lands and most of the fancy stuff inside got ransacked- or carried off by retreating friars.img_2284

As a side note, this same crack down on Mexican slavery caused a dust up in what became Texas, since the white Americans who recently moved there still wanted the right to keep other people as slaves.img_2290

But eventually California became America, Catholics, Indians, Mexicans, and all- and in 1931 real work got underway in restoring Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, or just the Carmelo Mission as most people know it, to its original glory.img_2311

They didn’t exactly tell that story when I visited. The pamphlets have bits and pieces, and the tour guides are happy to tell you about some artifacts, but mostly its just a church that hosts touring 4th graders.img_2269

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