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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4pm on a Monday

4pm on a Monday

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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.

 

carthage

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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Taste in Provo: a compliment despite my best efforts

I have never been kind to Provo. I have no intentions of changing my attitude or moving there ever, but gosh darn-it if Provo doesn’t keep serving me up surprises.

Good surprises.IMG_8695

Not that I recommend anyone visit that city, but if you do, go to Taste.

They make, and sell, chocolate. Good chocolate.IMG_8778

Surrounded by pseudo French styled decor you can sidle up to the bar for an $8 chocolate and balsamic tasting. Or you could spend just a touch more for  afternoon tea, Friday night chocolate and cheese pairings, or, because of where you are, non-alcoholic wine.

I am a bottom dweller so I ponied up 8 bucks.IMG_8735

For that I got a square of 6 different chocolates, 3 balsamics , and a taste of the stuff Nutella is trying to be. The chocolatier explained as we went a long what it was we were eating and the process of its production.IMG_8760By far the best was called Karamelizalt Levendulaviragok Csillaganizsos Tejcsokoladeban. Those are real words. I didn’t make that up. This stuff won a silver medal at the Academy of Chocolate and it is the only milk chocolate I like- because it also has caramelized lavender and anise- and my heart. It also has my heart.IMG_8771What I walked away with is this stuff made in Portland called Pok Pok Som. It is a drinking vinegar with ginger and I think I swooned.

Swooned? In Provo?

Aw-shucks.IMG_8749

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LA’s Favorite Ice Cream Sandwich: Diddy Riese

I do not have survey data or comparative sales reports, and yet I have no hesitation in declaring Diddy Reise as LA’s favorite ice cream sandwich. It just is.IMG_8221

Located right next door to UCLA’s campus this little shop serves up your choice of ice cream flavors to be scooped up and squished between whichever freshly baked cookies you prefer.

For $2 per sandwich. These are confectioner’s quality at McDonald’s prices.IMG_8202

Just know that they only take cash and there will be a line.

There is always, I repeat, always, a line.IMG_8198

If you just want cookies, $4.50 gets you a dozen. Hawaiian shave ice with a scoop of ice cream inside? $2.

You cannot lose.IMG_8212

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The Problem With “White” as a Culture.

Current events and some recent conversations, give cause for more explanation. So here goes.

The problem with “white” as a culture, is that it was manufactured at the expense of others. What I mean by this, is that white, as a race or a “culture” has only existed as a means to restrict those deemed non-white from certain rights or privileges.montgomerymen

For example there were once, English, Irish, Quaker, or Puritan. French were French via geographical origin and Catholics were such by baptism. These people only became white after Africans began demanding rights or intermingling too closely with English, Irish, Quaker or Puritan. In the American colonies, where people came from various nations with differing religions and motivations, to settle a land already populated with people who already had ideas of their own, these immigrants looked for ways to group themselves for protection, or to assert power. The French teamed up with the Iroquois, the Irish and Scots were lumped in with England, and Spain decided they were with the Pope. When the dust settled and the Colonies had a chance to be whatever they wanted, they decided that they were white.sideview

I wasn’t there but the records they left seem to indicate they chose to be white in large part to make sure they weren’t obligated to share or serve anyone who was something else. So money, courts, votes, property, rights, all the things under the umbrella of “American”, could be held by those who were once Irish or English, Puritan or Anglican, but not Black or Indian. There was of course the whole issue with women, which was easily solved by saying women could have access to those things if they married a white man, and then they made it illegal for a white man to marry anyone not deemed white. Because of this manufactured umbrella, many people were maybe still a little bit Scottish, perhaps a whole lot Presbyterian, but also white- AKA American.IMG_7571

Over time, many, like my family, became less of one thing and picked up some others, but kept the white all the while. It was synonymous with American. My ancestors who shared my last name, came to the Americas as Scotch-Irish, were here when it became the United States, but by the time I came around all the Scottish was gone. No haggis, no Gaelic, I found myself Mormon not Presbyterian, but I was, and am, still-and-also white. For my people specifically, white needed to be named and claimed till after 1979. Things have changed since then, but you don’t drop off a part of your culture and identity in an instant, and you don’t drop it by simply shifting your vocabulary- though words do help.

But that whiteness only had to drop off once I no longer needed to prove I wasn’t black so I could have the full fellowship of my faith. Sometimes we didn’t call it white, we called it Ephraim or Joseph, but it played the same role. Whiteness meant one had rights and to get those rights, whiteness had to be claimed.

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Mural of former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo in Philadelphia’s Italian Market

Through American history there have been waves of people, or groups of people, Irish, Jewish, even those from India or Iran, who have had to assert and fight, to be called white- so they could be considered American. In 1923 a “High Caste Hindu” from India took his case to the Supreme Court and argued that he should be considered white- so he could be American. He lost. A few years earlier, 1915, a man from Syria sued to be considered white and won. His skin was brown but “white” meant American so he had to claim and become it. He did not become Syrian-American, and the previous man wasn’t arguing to be Indian-American, and there were no English-American, because they didn’t need those hyphens- because they had the word white.

So again, whiteness only existed to separate people from blackness and brownness, to claim power. In the days of Jim Crow, because laws on the books allowed some Black people to be technically American, policy and practice were put in place to make sure power was protected, and it centered on the word white. Public schools were funded by all, but public college was only for white people. The draft for war was open to all, but the GI Bill was only to be claimed by those who were white. HUD provided affordable housing- as long as you were white. You can sit on a jury, hold an office, pursue life and liberty, no matter your Irish, or French, or Russian, or Persian roots, as long as you could claim you were white.

I am white.IMG_8456

There is no need for me to deny it. I was born this way and that is fine. It is my experience, I do not hate it. I do not hate my white family, or my white coworkers, or the white people I meet in the street. Due to my ancestors, geography, history, and some biology, I am American, male, straight, and thanks to my experience, I am also white. I cannot deny my whiteness because it has granted me protection and rights and assimilation without being challenged and without having to claim it. All that was just naturally gifted.

But not so for those who are born black or brown. They have and still do, need to claim those rights so naturally enjoyed by myself. Those who were and are legally deemed Black, who then came to celebrate their skin, were and are not doing so to crush anyone else. They are reclaiming their rights and their joys that whiteness was created to steal. Black is beautiful, Black and proud, Black power- none of them were created to oppress or condemn whites as people, but very much a response to why the race “white” was created and the effects it has caused. Despite what laws are written or what words some might say, Black and Brown people still have to wrench and grip and rip their unalienable rights from the historical and sociological grasp of whiteness.

And that is not God’s plan. That is not what the American Declaration says. And that is why I don’t shout white pride, yet can support black power without hypocrisy. That is why I feel no need to say “all lives matter”, when reminded that Black lives matter too. This is why I am fine with myself and all the good that I am, skin included- but will not elevate the word white.

Because that idea and that construct- must be undone.

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The Icarus Conundrum: a flight manual for conformity

While many know the tale of Icarus, the guy who flew with waxen wings, then traveled too close to the sun and fell, few realize that his father, Daedalus, made it through that flight just fine. In our focus on failure we forget that a guy crafted wings and successfully flew like a bird.heylook

Sure one of the two who attempted it died (a full ½) but the one who lived, accomplished something so amazing and absurd, that he should be celebrated. Focusing on failure can be such a downer.

I have flown many times myself and no one considers it an accomplishment. So I’m pretty much the same as Daedalus. On the other hand my nephew has learned to be more than just a passenger, taking control of his own story, which my wife fears makes him destined to be Icarus. She protested us flying together and made me show her documentation of my life insurance policy before reluctantly consenting.

It is on odd thing for those of us accustomed to regimented boarding procedures that begin curb side, and march you to, and through, seat belt instructions, to just walk right up to a small tin can, then simply climb inside and fly. The process felt so… casual- but I was too excited for it to be just that.IMG_8658

This was a first for me. New ground.

Or new air.

Whatever.

I had never been so happy to be crammed into such a small place, overlapping the passenger next to me. He happened to be my father. I am used to sitting at a desk, or in traffic, and when my miniature mother took over the controls, despite us flying between two mountains and her not being able see over the dashboard, I was happy. I loved it. I understood how Icarus would want to climb higher and higher, I wanted my nephew to roll and loop, but I had been warned by that myth and I didn’t want to die.

So we flew straight and lived.backseat

Thinking back on my little voyage and appreciating the value of humility in youth versus vain hubris, I wonder a little about Metion- Daedalus’s Dad. Had Deadalus never ventured out, pushing beyond and above his own father like his son Icarus did, no one would have ever flown at all. Where is that lesson taught?

Thus is the paradox of generations and family. Of innovation and respect. Of wisdom or adventure. How does one, or we, value both in these couplings or all in the big picture? Should we be conservative out of respect for the wisdom gained by our predecessors at the expense of progress toward things that could be better? Do we strive and push past the others that came before, risking separation when they are unable or unwilling to make the same trip? Where is the balance? Where is that myth?

Much like Sway, I do not have the answers.

What I do have is an offering for “The Trad”, mocker of my footwear and needler of my regular faux-pas, at the risk of Icarus-ish disrespect toward my parents, who are truly wiser than I… I have indeed flown past the footwear from whence I came- though my journey may admittedly not be complete. I am also much larger and younger than they which will be necessary in defending myself once they read this. Mom taught me the value of kicking shins when you can’t reach your opponent’s chin.

Which would hurt more were she not wearing socks and sandals.

parents

 

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