Yesterday, in front of The War Museum and some Portland stone.
How can I forget one of our early Saturdays when Sonnet and I toured Trafalgar Square to study this noble rock? It was us and the Old Age Pensioners, for sure.
For those who wish to wonder: Portland stone is limestone from the Jurassic period quarried on the Isle of Portland, Dorset. The quarries include white-grey limestone separated by chert beds. The limestone is lovingly extracted by hard toil and tears and is used extensively throughout the UK - notably in major public buildings in London such as St Paul's and Buckingham Palace.
It is also exported: Portland stone is the United Nations in New York, for example. Further, all gravestones for British soldiers killed in the First and Second World Wars are made out of Portland stone. However these began to weather and detail such as the regimental badges were becoming difficult to view and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission began to use botticino a white marble limestone from about 1998. Three main "Portland Beds" are quarried. The Base and Whitebed are fine textured and contain few fossil remains, and so are popular for high quality work (the fossils may be otherwise visible. The Roach bed is rougher with many visible fossils - we ooh and ahh at the clam shells visible in the columns of St. Martins in the Fields Church.
Monday, December 31
Yesterday, in front of The War Museum and some Portland stone.
Eitan proudly shows his dislodgement. His other babies are now mis-aligned - perhaps future orthadonture? Let's hope not. For now we'll just say he's looking very English. On a practical note, he receives £2 from the Tooth Ferry.
It's reported today in The Times that the "colonisation" of the middle classes of the best state schools has led to a dramatic widening of the gap in educational performance between the rich and poor children in the past year. The government report shows that the achievement divide between pupils in the 10% richest and poorest areas of England has grown by more than ten percentage points compared with fractional increases in previous years. The figures show that the attainment gap between rich and poor continues to widen as pupils progress - at age 7, the gap widens to 20 percentage points in 2007 and 43% by 16 - suggesting that far from being a leveller, school is increasing the disparity. Michael Gove, the Shadow Education Secretary, notes that the system favours those fortunate enough, or rich enough, to live in areas with good schools - pupil performance in the richest areas had improved at twice the rate that it had deteriorated in poor areas. An additional explanation of the sudden widening of the gap may be the influx of immigrants who do not have English as a first language. Are we then surprised by Britain's yob culture with Europe's highest rates of teenage drinking and pre-marital sex/ pregnancy?
Friday, December 28
Photo from May 2001, before Madeleine is with us. Eitan loses his middle tooth two days ago while we rough-house - it was snaggle for several weeks and awaiting a hard delivery, which I gave with my forearm. We are both momentariuly shocked by tooth-in-hand then the blood spills - he screams. Sonnet comes running up the stairs to find us in the bathroom and Eitan's mouth stuffed with Kleenex. Yes, this is as close to emergency ward as we have come and let us hope it is the most serious. Afterwards, the kids compare missing teeth and wobblies, Madeleine refusing to be left out of the action. Speaking of action: she and I have spent the last twenty-four hours practicing the months of the year - both their order and spelling. Madeleine writes them in her locked diary, practicing on an A4 beforehand. For some reason "October" is difficult - perhaps it sounds like August - but in the end, she is proud of her effort and goes to bed with the work tucked beside her bed. She wakes early so we can practice.
The British love life depends on one's perspective and gender: 22% of married women wish they had chosen a different spouse while 12% of married men feel the same way (Daily Mail). Among divorcees, 56% of women and 44% of men cite unsatisfactory sex as the reason for the break-up. The good news is that persistence pays off: people who stick with their first choice of spouse tend to be happier: 60% of those on their first marriage believe they have found "the one," whereas 29% of those on a second or subsequent marriage say the same (The Sunday Times). Owning a pet may hurt your sex life: 48% of women would spurn a suitor who owned a spider. But it cuts both ways. If a prospective partner were allergic to their pet, 25% of pet owners would take the cat (Guardian). And is our yuff blessed or cursed? 38% of teenagers had sex in 2007, far more than any other European nation, although the Swedes come pretty close at 28% - God Bless those healthy cupids (The Sunday Times, compiled by The Week).
Wednesday, December 26
We skate the day before Christmas at Kew Gardens, which is otherwise closed to the public. Eitan is reasonably confident while Madeleine bull-sure: she races onto the ice, legs flying and arms flopping. Sonnet and I take turns circling the rink and holding them up, which in my case is a house of cards. Sonnet's Alaska meant icy summers while I mostly missed the winter time - without much regret, I may add. At some stage the circling becomes a race and Madeleine cracks the whip: "Faster dad! F-A-S-T-E-R !" It all ends in tears, of course, and hot chocolate.
Before the rink, I re-union with Arthur for a three hour walk along the Thames covering Richmond to Petersham. He is in town to give his belated good-byes after returning to the US in March, departing in a flurry of packing and construction. Arthur finished the redesign of his penthouse in about one month - following several years work where he single handedly reconstructed the electrics. Yes, he is an engineer employed by TRW (now Northrop Grumman) for nearly 30 years. His skills have taken him from satellites to communications, where he helped build the UK's police radio mobile communications network, among other things. And now Washington D.C. building the missile defense shield. Arthur and I met in '97 around running before his knees gave out and injuries caught up with us both. Now, as then, we hike London covering various locations and subjects - Author's generous and curious soul allows me to ask the sciences questions I missed at Berkeley and Brown.
Monday, December 24
A queue forms at Chubb & Son, the local butchers who have been in business for three generations, I learn. Us dads have our marching orders and stand in the cold, stomping feet and reading the papers or drinking coffee. Brave Madeleine joins me in return for a "treaty" at the next door news-agent (she brings her purse stuffed with various coins and currencies). Chubb tells me today is his busiest day and he fills his cold room for weeks in preparation. "I used to stay up all night sawing, but now trucks deliver frequently enough" he tells me. While Chubb's meat is organic and from farms selected by them, in the old days "butchers used to choose the animals for slaughter, which was done on site or nearby enough to be on the racks that day." Blood, guts and all, I might add. And the most popular selection for Christmas? Goose, of course.
Sonnet is up at dark to run with Stephanie while the kids awake too from a camp-out on Eitan's floor (there was plenty of excitement as Madeleine lined up her buddies next to her sleeping bag). I'm the last one up-and-at-'em, which is just as well given another grey and cold day - surprisingly thick fog makes it festively spooky and I tell the children to mind Jack. Here Eitan reads the football scores while we wait in the queue to pick up our holiday roast beast (FYI Eitan's hero Ronaldo scored the game winning goal for Manchester United yesterday versus Everton, which receives a giant "huzzey!")
I ask the Eitan and Madeleine to shout out the meaning of the holidays:
Madeleine: "Happy! Fun! Exciting! Nice, lovely, chimney, ash, sparkles, glow, God, Church, decorations, angels, bobbles, gold, Frankenstein! (I think she means Frankincense)
Eitan: "Mistle toe, turkey, Santa Claus, Rudolph, Dixon (reindeer), (rain deer) stables, Christmas dinner, stocking, presents, Baby Jesus, Star (of David), feast, Mary, Joseph, Christmas tree, cookies!"
Sunday, December 23
Things have slowed for Christmas and Sonnet and I meet for an early lunch at the Armani cafe in South Kensington last week Thursday followed by a visit to the Lee Miller exhibition at the VA and Danish design at a house owned by Embassy of Denmark in London. Fun. Yesterday we ice skate with Nat and Justin before they holiday in Uruguay and today we spend the afternoon with David and Ashling, whose son Joe-H-Y is Eitan's school chum. Afterwards we go to church and the boys trade Pokomon cards during Silent Night and other carols. Madeleine is transfixed, and I note to my neighbor that even us Jews recognise some of the songs.
I ask Madeleine what happens when we grow old. She: "you grow hair from you nose. And ears too."
Madeleine on inception: "first there's a lot of hugging and kissing" she opines. Eitan adds: "a little seed with a tail swims around the mum's tummy." How does it get there, I ask? "she eats it." So today, for the first time, I describe the mechanics (this while walking home from the football pitch). Both kids reply: "Ew, dad, that is so gross!" and Madeleine: "did you do that to mom?" When they ask why adults do this, I explain so we can have kids like them which they ponder for a bit.
A frigate, in this case the representative USS Constitution, is a war ship which in the 18th century British Navy was as long as a ship-of-the-line and square rigged on all three masts, but faster and with lighter armament. Frigates were used for patrolling and escort but were also a ferocious fighters with a lower deck carrying 28 to 40 cannon - Jack Aubrey's Surprise had 28. I am on16 of Patrick O'Brien 20-book series detailing Captain Aubrey and companion spy Stephen Maturin during the Napoleonic wars. I was turned onto the story by Eric, who re-read the books and bought the audio - in other words, a serious recommendation. The Master and Commander is now the longest story I have read surpassing Churchill's WWII. I began in '03 and have recently slowed up to allow the stories to drag out - I don't want them to end (O'Brian died in 2000). O'Brian is a cult and on occassion I have been interrupted mid-chapter by some fellow pointing me his copy. We have visited Greenwich so I can look at the naval paintings. Last year, we went to Portsmouth where the old ships are docked for the public including Nelson's HMS Victory. O'Brian slowly brings the reader along with his story and is sharp about the ship's detail - after so many pages I still find myself searching for descriptions of "stuns'l", "spanker" and "backstaff." This, dear reader, is half the fun.
Wednesday, December 19
I attend Madeleine's classroom to help Mrs. Reynolds do some filing and etc. It is over quickly and I spend my morning entertaining the kids and myself. First, we do verbs and the children shout out various conjugations (I run, he runs....). If the class gets a batch right a ruby is popped into the Jewel jar - once full, a secret surprise and the kids buzz: ice cream! After the morning's lessons, we break into tables and I help make snow flakes. We fold a square sheet and make scissor cuts - voila! just like we all remember. Did you know that snowflakes may form columns, needles, bricks and plates (with and without "dendrites" - the "arms" of some snowflakes) based on different temperatures and water saturation? The kids don't care either and Madeleine especially gives me a serious look when I begin my explanation. Christmas music plays in the background and soak up the holiday cheer. Photo by Mark Cassino.
"Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught."
Oscar Wilde from Intentions
Tuesday, December 18
"We meet again" says Jerry Maguire. This photo taken some weeks ago at Kew Gardens with Shai and his family. From fish to Christmas and both Shakespeares want 'tactics. Eitan, in fact, has requested 30 which I tell him won't happen. The boy looks at me slyly: "I know Santa will buy them for me." Yes, we are at that awkward age when the older child knows and the younger clings to fantasy. Eitan is too smart to allow a fat man down the chimney. On occasion he lets his knowledge tickle the surface - met by my stern look and the promise, I assure him, that Santa will most definitely not deliver if he keeps it up. So, Christmas. Despite being Jewish (mom converted) I don't feel particularly conflicted by the Christian holidays. My parents generation assimilated and Katie and I were free to make our own decisions - and we chose swimming. Today, without a religious foundation, it is hard to be - well - religious. Sonnet and I discussed this many times but no longer. England after all is Catholic and our kids go to a primary where Baby Jesus is present and Christmas carols sung in the quire. Above all else, Eitan and Madeleine receive an excellent education. In England they will be allowed, thank goodness, to find their own way.
Monday, December 17
Madeleine loves water and will soon try out for the local swim club - Eitan's team. Eitan's coach BTW has put the boy up for advancement- the only kid from his group. If he accepts, and I am not sure that he will, his weekly commitment jumps 3X and one hour work-outs. Madeleine has the body for swimming - she's a healthy kid whose growth chart suggests - gasp - 180 centimeters (5'11''). Plus man is she competitive. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here (ahem). I was a 14 year-old age-grouper when 16 year-old Mary T Maegher gave one of the most memorable performances in competitive swimming at the U.S. Swimming National Championships in Brown Deer, Wisconsin in 1981. At the meet, Meagher set world records in both the 200 and 100 meter butterfly. The times for both records were considered astonishing, especially the record of 57.93 seconds that Meagher set in the sprint. Both times would stand for nearly two decades - American swimmer Jenny Thompson broke the record in the 100 in 1999 while Susie O'Neill of Austrailia set the record in the 200 a year later. Some have argued that Meagher's records in the butterfly were among the most impressive records ever set in sport, let alone swimming, ranking among such noteworthy records as Bob Beamon's Long Jump in '68. Yes, let us allow Madeleine to decide on her sport first.
Here's one of our Prince stumbling from Mayfair's Bouji night club (photo from The Times). Yes, a fine role model for Britain's young who BTW out-binge any other Western European country. As worryingly, young women in the 18-24 age group are now matching, and in some cases overtaking, young men in their alcohol consumption reported by the BBC earlier this year - we are the only country in Europe where this trend occurs. Eitan, meanwhile, corrects my alcohol consumption: recall, dear reader, that we agreed several years ago that I would stop drinking beer if he gave up his thumb-sucking. We shook and he quit - so had I until the boy reminds me of the time I was with Erik... or when I watched a football match in March... or that time with Paul.... Well, yes I argue, but those were exceptions. Eitan is sceptical, and we agree anyway that beer makes people act silly and is not something for kids. On a more serious note, I tell Eitan and Madeleine that one day they will be offered pills which will make them feel different. They will have to make decisions for themselves, regardless of their friends or idiots like Harry.
Sonnet and I see The Chemical Brothers, who play from 11PM Saturday at the Brixton Academy. Think big beat, electronic dance music. Think loud. Think lasers and ecstasy. Numbing - pounding - euphoria. Wow. The UK based band, a duo really, is Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons who work an enormous computer set in the middle of the stage. There are otherwise no instruments nor performers. The Chemical Brothers, along with The Prodigy, Fatboy Slim and The Crystal Method, captured the 1990s rave spirit started in Detroit and exported famously to Ibiza and Europe. I recall a club in Almaty, Kazakstan, in 1997 where the music was similarly intense and young sweaty beautiful bodies deadened themselves to the world - somehow perfect for the location. Sonnet has the good sense to wear ear-plugs (middle age, must take care of ourselves) while afterwards I am deaf-tone from the performance and maintain a ringing 24 hours on. The music's vibrations, felt in the chest, stand my arm hairs on end. The audience is enraptured while visual images cross the gigantic digital screen: marching men with guns, a sad clown intoning "everybody get high," a squadron of bombers and so on. Sonnet and I agree that the only place a show like this could be had in the states is L.A. or Brooklyn.... perhaps Queens. It wakes me up from any sunlight deprived, early winter doldrums.
Friday, December 14
Ah, Jerry Maguire - a film, I must admit, that is dear to my heart. Katie sends me this photo noting it was on late night TV. Back in ye olde England, Fleet Street buzzes Diana which somehow continues 11 years after Paris. And there is more salacious detail - this time, Diana's private correspondence to Prince Philippe who called Dodi Al-Fayed "an oily bed hopper", which we have always understood to be true. Further, after the 1996 divorce from the future King, the Royal Family considered Diana "an irrelevance." And more: Diana's best friend informs the court and us prying public that Diana could not have been pregnant with the Fayed because she had her period ten days before. Egad! (but what a relief to be pure of Dodi). So it goes on and on - supporting a media empire, keeping the unpleasant Al-Fayeds in knots, denigrating the palace and our country, embarrassing the sensitive reader who otherwise cannot get enough really. No wonder Monica Lewinsky took a flat in South Kensington several years ago - she be right at home.
"Don't worry, I'm not gonna do what you all think I'm gonna do, which is, you know, FLIP OUT!"
Thursday, December 13
Here's the Little Shakespeare in yesterday's Christmas production (Silver I see your eyes rolling). The boy corrects me from yesterday's erroneous blog-quote. His line is actually: "we wolves have a bit of a reputation" which immediately becomes my mantra to his and Madeleine's distress. Roger and I used to say: "repetition is the best form of comedy" or at the least, irritating. From wolves to teen sex, the Church of England is Up In Arms as under-16s will be allowed birth-control without parental or GP consent. BTW this only became an issue when girls allowed birth control - condoms have been a drug-store staple forever. Britain, you see, has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Western Europe at 42.3 conceptions per 1,000 girls in 2003. For 13–15 year-old girls, it is 8.0 conceptions per thousand according to the British government (by contrast, her holy of hollies the United States sees 79 pregnancies per thousand for the 15 to 19 year old crowd). Any way, I am all for free birth control until Madeleine becomes a teenager. Then I am against it.
Wednesday, December 12
The Christmas play is this morning and Sonnet nabs front center seats in the otherwise over-subscribed school auditorium. On display are school Years One and Two, pus Reception looking a a bit dazed and confused (Madeleine tells us the Year One's call the reception kids "chubby cheeks"). My photo is taken in Madeleine's classroom after the children have changed into costume - Madeleine is excited to have me there and allows a few photographs - here with friends she is plainly proud of. Moving on to the auditorium, a medley of religious scripts presents itself between chorus and Madeleine's voice is heard above the crowd. From her day at St Mary's when she belted out "The Bossy King" her lungs have never failed. She glows in the back row and looks to her teacher and us for encouragement. Eitan, dressed as a wolf, gets a choice line: "We wolves have a thing or two up our sleeves," says the boy slyly to the crowd before breaking into a rhythm and dance set with the other wolves. And so it goes. Afterwards Sonnet and I chuckle before heading off for the day and me my blog.
"We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatable with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love."
Monday, December 10
Here is my family - ta da! - taken at cousin Kelly's wedding in Akron, Ohio. A key part of that '05 summer's bon voyage was the three days spent at Cedar Point, the world's largest amusement park with 70 rides including the world's second tallest and second fastest roller coaster, Top Thrill Dragster which goes 120 MPH. I stared at it for a half day before deciding: "No f***ing way." Happily for the Midwest, Cedar Point has been voted "Best Amusement Park in the World" by Amusement Today and Those Who Care for the past ten years. We found it particularly "amusing" as Madeleine picked up the mumps the first night of a five week holiday. Oh boy. Back in the day when we visited grandparents in Columbus, Ohio, I would lose sleep before Cedar Point or King's Island. (Grandpa) George would load up the Buick and we would take off for Cincinnati in the early morning hours to max-out our visit. Grandma would sometimes accompany me on the coasters and she was fearless, God Bless Her. Or I would ask for a stranger's hand for rides like "The Demon" and "Racer." These places are generally made with kids or early teens in mind (I think) but man it is great to have an excuse to go back.
Zurich airport at sunset, a picture I took last week and think cool somehow. The Modern World.
Sonnet off to a quick Monday, jogging into work despite the cold wind and rain. As I write, the kids look out the window staring at the trees... thinking about what? So I ask: Madeleine says she is considering eating the candy canes from the Christmas tree and Eitan responds, matter-of-factly:
"Madeleine, the candy canes are very old and you will throw-up."
Madeleine: "I will not throw-up!"
Eitan: "Will so."
Madeleine: "Mind your own bee's wax!"
Eitan: "You mind YOUR own bee's wax!"
And so it goes.
Madeleine, conspiratorially: "Did you know the Shaggy DA is about love?" [Dad's Note: The Shaggy DA is a Disney movie]
Madeleine comes downstairs with her dress "choking me, dad!" When I point out that the dress is on backwards, she rolls her eyes and goes: "aw, man." Yes, we all have our Mondays.
Sunday, December 9
Yes, history repeats itself as I find myself on the pool deck watching my son prepare for his swimming heat (Moe is smiling as he reads, of this I am sure). We arise early and Eitan is full of butterflies as we head to St Paul's and the competition. The age bands go from under-eights to over-14's and it is generally a fairly relaxed atmoshphere with helpful judges and a friendly "starter" who sends the kids on their way. The audience gives a big applause after each race especially for the smaller kids, who seem about Charlie Brown's age. The parents talk about who has swum what and when - the Speedo league championships were Friday and Saturday and apparently Richmond placed third overall when expecting to be eighth on the depth chart. There were some fast times too, sending a few boys and girls to the British nationals (presumably an early read for the Beijing Olympics?). Eitan completes a length of breast-stroke and freestyle, winning his heat in 25.41 as he stabs a triumphant fist into the air.
Saturday, December 8
It is miserable in England, and Eitan is in the goal box. Before, he and I sit on the sidelines enduring a pelting rain while Madeleine plays her group (boy, was she NOT happy about the ride to the park). Sonnet, meanwhile, has been at the school preparing turkey, ham and cheese sandwiches for the Christmas Fair creating a logistics nightmare as after footie Madeleine has to be at performance class. We manage a plan. So back to the goal keeper: Eitan's least favorite position earns shouts from the sideline dads, much to my irritation, who cajole him: "Come forward!" "Stand back!" "Put your hands up!" Eitan and I wink at each other when I tell him he could be England's goal keeper - he knows he's otherwise the best kid on the pitch despite playing in the older group. To prove the point, he makes a sliding tackle taking down two boys while placing the ball perfectly for a follow-up strike. As a reward, he now sits on the couch, under a blanket and in front of the fire, watching football highlights on the tele.
Ah, there's nothing like the British heart-stopper and day starter: the Full English Breakfast, usually ordered by some old codger after a contemplation - as if there really is a choice. Did you know that by 1914, Britain was the world's largest consumer of tinned goods? - a fact that echoes today in its consumption of "ready meals," which are three times more than the European average. In 1937, according to the IHT, George Orwell wrote: "We may find in the long run that tinned food is a deadlier weapon than the machine gun." How true when we observe England's obesity rates, which are fast approaching US standards with over 25% of the population - worse in children and young adults. Tick. Tick. Tick. Of course, the British favorite used to be the Sunday roast, hot from the oven spit, served with gravy and without spices or foreign trickery. It was indicative of the yeoman's strength and pleasure. Today, the roast has been replaced by chicken masala, a popular, yellow-sauced invention of Britain's Indian restaurants. When we arrived in London, Britain's culinary transformation was in the middle-beginning: even as recently as then, the low quality of food and services and few good restaurants was overlooked or so what? Today, London hosts 23 of the world's best restaurants according to Conde Naste. There is a price: Mayfair may charge over $200 per plate, without wine, for lunch. Us, we stick to the good old basics of Sonnet's fine cooking and our household favorite: rice and beans.
Eitan and I do some chill-out moves to Zero 7, a mellow vibe introduced to us by Christian.
Thursday, December 6
I present my final self-portrait in front of a Kapoor mirror. Part of his mystic rests in the materials used for his art: industrial and sleek without the slightest indication of human craftsmanship. I arrive in Munich yesterday from Zurich and have an evening to myself (thank goodness). I force myself to go jogging this despite the dark grey morning and my resolve from the space occupied by my running gear dragged across four cities and three countries. Afterwards, it is the usual rush of meetings, a nice lunch, some more meetings and a plan. I arrive home before Sonnet and Madeleine's first words: "where's mum?" Ah, yes - it is great to be home. And it is.
Sonnet, meanwhile, is baking 20 pounds of turkey for the school Christmas Fair Saturday, where she and other moms are responsible for the concessions. Rather than sell your usual junk-food tosh, the gals are going organic - God Bless 'em - so Sonnet is up late night cooking. I've kept a healthy distance from the affair choosing to ignore the tens of multiples of emails winging around the school community. I read the kids a new "Wallace and Grommit" before their bed and I am soon to follow. Madeleine is a bit incensed, feeling short-changed that we only finish one book. Too bad, her.
Haus der deutschen kunst' or 'House of German Art' and where I am today, was constructed from 1934 to 1937 following plans of architect Paul Ludwig Troost as the Third Reich's first monumental propaganda building (Troost was also a furniture designer). The museum was opened in March 1937 as a showcase for what the Third Reich regarded as Germany's finest art. The inaugural exhibition was the Grosse deutsche Kunstausstellung ("Great German art exhibition"), which was intended as an edifying contrast to the condemned modern art on display in the concurrent Entartete Kunst exhibition, which was eventually sold in foreign countries or burned. Hitler inaugurated the building and later used the main hall for speeches and radio addresses.
After the end of WWII, the museum building was first used by the American occupation forces as an officer's mess; in that time, the building came to be known as the "P1", a shortening of its street address. I see the building's swastika-motif mosaics in the ceiling panels of its front portico - when I ask a cab driver why Germany did not destroy Kunst, he shrugs and says "it would not be efficient."
Between meetings I visit the hausderkunst to see the Robin Rhode exhibition and Anish Kapoor, pictured. Kapoor is a Turner Price winning sculptor born in Bombay and attended the Doon School, located in Dehra Dun. He moved to England in 1972 where he has lived since. He studied art , first at the Hornsey College of Art and later at the Chelsea School of Art Design. In the early 1980s, Kapoor emerged as one of a number of British sculptors working in a new style and gaining international recognition for their work (the others include Richard Wentworth, Richard Deacon and Antony Gormley who we saw earlier this year at the Southbank Centre). As of 2007, Kapoor works in London, although he frequently visits India and has acknowledged that his art is inspired by Western and Eastern cultures. Kapoor's pieces are frequently simple, curved forms, usually monochromatic and brightly coloured. Most often, the intention is to engage the viewer, evoking mystery through the works' dark cavities, awe through their size and simple beauty, tactility through their inviting surfaces and fascination through their reflective facades. I first became aware of his work in 2003 when he filled the enormous Tate Modern hall with a giant "cochlea" shaped object of red and black. Magnificent. Today's exhibition is equally dramatic and showcased by a red track of wax, dripping plastic and Vaseline that extends the gallery representing the messy natures of human fluids and life.
Tuesday, December 4
I'm in Rotterdam to meet with several pensions and try a Michelin star restaurant, which is excellent.
It is a good day which goes from London to Amsterdam to Rotterdam then The Hague and now Amsterdam and bed. My photo is by Central rail station surrounded by massive development. I learn from my afternoon that Rotterdam is the second largest in the Netherlands after the capital, Amsterdam by population size, and the largest city in the South Holland (no American, including me, can get Holland, The Netherlands and Denmark right.
Adding to the confusion: Nordea and Scandanavia. Oh boy). The port is the largest in Europe and was the world's busiest port from 1962 to 2004, when it was overtaken by Shanghai. Rotterdam is situated on the banks of the river Nieuwe Mmass ('New Meuse'), one of the channels in the delta formed by the Rhine and Meuse rivers.
The name Rotterdam btw derives from a damin the Rotte river. Sadly its ports made Rotterdam a prime target for the Germans in WWII and the city was flattened during the war.
Monday, December 3
Here's a snap from yesterday's visit to Sonnet's museum and the Haute Couture exhibition, which is quickly becoming the VA's most popular exhibition ever (the lighting doesn't really do the dress justice). I learn from Sonnet that haute couture, or "high dressmaking," refers to the creation of exclusive custom-fitted fashions in Paris. The couturier Charles Worth (1826-95), is widely considered the father of haute couture as it is known today. Although born in England, Worth made his mark in the French fashion industry while creating one-of-a-kind designs to please some of his titled or wealthy customers. He was best known for preparing a portfolio of designs that were shown on live models at the House of Worth. Clients selected one model, specified colors and fabrics, and had a duplicate garment tailor-made in Worth's workshop. Worth combined individual tailoring with a standardization more characteristic of the ready-to-wear clothing industry, which was also developing during this period. Following WWII (and the focus of the exhibition) the Parisian design house flourished establishing Chanel, Dior, Vionnet, Fortuny and others under the leadership usually of one high-profile designer. By the the '60s a group of young designers who had trained under men like Dior and Balenciaga opened their own establishments which included Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, and eventually Lacroix, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler.
Claire Wilcox is the curator of Haute Couture - bravo!
Sunday, December 2
We meet Erik, Dana and Dakota and new friends Brad and Deborah and their two well behaved children at the museum for a rainy-day tour of Haute Couture. Brad I recently met at an investor conference and we hit it off around politics. He's a pragmatic, ie, disillusioned, Republican whose roots are in North Carolina where his kin are part of the political establishment. From a small town to Chapel Hill, Brad received his Masters and Law degrees before striking for the financial community where he helped create the CDO market in the mid-1990s with First Union and then Wachovia following an m&a. Brad is a self-professed geek, proved when somehow the quadratic comes up and he bats off the polynomial formula without a hesitation: ax2+bx+c.
Over lunch we talk about America, Obama's chances and whether the country is racist (Erik says yes; Brad and I demure). We all agree that Barack is what the country now needs and debate why his campaign cannot shore up support even from his hometown Chicago. Photo of Madeleine inside the V&A and taxed following the exhibition.
Katie yesterday at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas - the same place where Evil Knieval attempted to jump the towers (presumably pictured). On the day and after doing his normal pre-jump show and a few warm up approaches, Knievel began his real approach. When he hit the takeoff ramp, he felt the motorcycle unexpectedly decelerate. The sudden loss of power on the takeoff caused Knievel to come up short and land on the safety ramp which was supported by a van. This caused the handlebars to be ripped out of his hands as he tumbled over them onto the pavement where he skidded into the Dunes parking lot. As a result of the crash, Knievel suffered a crushed pelvis and femur, fractures to his hip, wrist and both ankles and a concussion that kept him in a coma for 29 days. No wonder we loved him.
Motorcycle recklessness aside, Katie is in Las Vegas with her Woodhill Institute where UNLV hosts a panel discussion exploring the beauty and pop cult. According to Woodhill and Katie, Only 2 percent of women around the world choose beautiful to describe their looks: 75 percent of women strongly agree that they wish “the media did a better job of portraying women of diverse physical attractiveness—age, shape and size.” 72 percent of girls 15 to 17 withdraw from life engaging activities due to feeling badly about their looks. More than 90 percent of girls want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance, with body weight ranking the highest. On the panel are Naomi Wolf, author of “The Beauty Myth” and co-founder of The Woodhull Institute, Courtney E. Martin, author of “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters,” filmmaker and teacher and others, while Katie is the Moderator. You go, Girl!
Saturday, December 1
Evil Knieval died yesterday, age 69, and probably 20 years past his shelf-life. As a kid I, and everybody else, had the Evil Knieval Motorcycle Action Kit which included a wind-up and ramp to mimic Knieval's feats like the Caesar's Palace Jump which landed him 40 broken bones. Just the name was fascinating to us and somehow a secret window into the weird ways of Adults. And of course the crazy outfits and insane daredevilry - his audience was the eight to eleven year old crowd and us at Washington Elementary happily obliged in those 1970s. Knieval began his career barn-storming in the West, doing motorcycle jumps from Colorado to California. He became a part of America's pop culture on September 8, 1974, for his attempt to clear the Snake River Canyon in Idaho in a rocket-powered "Skycycle" (pictured, photo from the Knieval archive). The Skycycle could be purchased (of course) and became a valuable addition to any boy's toy collection. The jump failed spectacularly when Evil's parachute opened early but still netted him more than $6 million from ticket sales, paid sponsors and ABC's "Wide World of Sports" (this during the era of "That's Incredible!" where idiots swam in shark tanks and etc. for money and the viewing public's titillation). At the same time, Mohammad Ali was The Greatest In The World and we school boys had some real heroes to aspire ourselves to be.
On the walk home from football, I ask Madeline to list her favorite things (in order):
2. My family
7. My school
8. Charlie & Nugget (horses in Colorad)
9. Dad (who is happy to make the Top 10)
10. Performance class