Hole in the Clouds


December 2012

Your Saturday Morning Infographic: Brick Roof

Dec 1, 2012

Heed this warning. It looks like a brick patio there on the campus of the University of Montana. Most people wouldn't be driving their cars there, off-road, amongst the campus walkways and picnic tables. But somebody might try to get in close to a building to make a delivery, say. We can hope they'll see this sign and stay off the brick patio.

Because it is in fact a brick roof; deep underground below the patio are two big lecture halls. If the brick roof caved in under the weight of a vehicle, hundreds of students could be at risk.

Not only that, but one of our sons used to work as a janitor cleaning those underground lecture halls late at night. There's just no good time for driving onto the brick roofs of Missoula, Montana.

Hank   University of Montana   Missoula   signage  

A Meme Bearing Gifts

Dec 3, 2012

I have it on good authority (from a six-year-old....) that pictures of a dog dressed as two dogs or two pirates or two monkeys, carrying a present or a treasure chest or a box of bananas, have been around the intertubes for so long that they're real yawners now.

They never got to my eyeballs till this weekend, presumably because I don't frequent the cutting-edge neighborhoods of the web. I'm old, after all, and out of it. But I'm not too old to recognize a meme worth spreading around once I finally see it.

In this context, however, it may be worth noting that if I tried to put a costume like this on my dog, he'd pee all over it. 

dogs   costumes   pirates   (h/t: JJ Stein)  

The Big Tree

Dec 4, 2012

The United Nations Conference on Climate Change opened a few days ago in this brand new convention center in Doha, capital city of the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar. The venue is "ironical," according to a columnist for India Today in Mumbai, because "talks about cutting down fossil fuel emissions and sustainable development are being held in the mecca of opulence and fossil fuels."

Qatar has the world's highest per capita income and also generates the world's largest per capita carbon footprint.

The "high-level" work of the conference is set to begin Tuesday, with attending nations each being given three minutes to address the group on climate-change and carbon-dioxide control issues. The conference banquet is set for Tuesday night; although the new building is said to offer banquet seating for 10,000, the climate change banquet will be held at Qatar's Islamic Museum in downtown Doha.

The name Doha is Arabic for "big tree," a theme much in evidence in the conference center architecture. In its central hall is French-American artist Louise Bourgeois's largest spider statue, Maman.

spider   sculpture   architecture   Louise Bourgeois   Qatar   Doha  

Pals

Dec 5, 2012

Music Pals For a Lifetime, by James Conner.

Conner grew up in rural Noxubee County, Mississippi, where he learned to draw from correspondence lessons off the back of a matchbook. He left Mississippi after high school, first for Vietnam and then for about twenty years in Detroit, where he worked as a police sketch artist. But the downward spiral of layoffs that was crushing Detroit eventually reached into the police force and claimed Conner's job.

He was devasted, he said, until he realized that losing his job meant he could finally go home. He'd been homesick his whole adult life, missing Mississippi. 

He was no longer young by the time he got back home, but he married and started a family and went back to school, studying art at the University of Mississippi. He taught art for a while, then took the plunge and became a fulltime painter. He said he was trying to become the black Grandma Moses.

Like Grandma Moses, he is drawn to images from his rural childhood. He seems homesick still for his southern roots. But unlike Grandma Moses, Conner is a trained artist with a twenty-first-century eye, and he is a black artist, with a complicated relationship to southern experience.

In this painting and many others, young men carrying guitar cases venture out into the world. In some of the paintings, they travel, perform, try to make something of themselves. In some, they are headed back home again, for whatever reasons. In at least one of Conner's works, the man with the guitar is stuck in the crossroads. I like this picture; the guys with guitars have places to go, dreams to work out, and probably hard times ahead, but at least they've got each other.

Tuscaloosa   Alabama   Detroit   Mississippi   James Conner   Noxubee County  

No Fishing

Dec 6, 2012

Fish swim amongst rippling reflections in Yves Saint-Laurent's Moroccan oasis, the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakesh.

French painter Jacques Majorelle designed the gardens in 1924 as a botanical conservatory for desert plants and a celebration of Moroccan style and color. But ever since the 1950s, when Majorelle suffered serious injuries in a car accident and returned to France, the gardens languished unattended. Saint-Laurent, who had a vacation home in Marrakesh, bought the place in 1980 and worked for years to restore it. Per his directive, his ashes were scattered here following his death in 2008.

fish   garden   pond   Yves Saint-Laurent   pool   Morocco   Jaques Majorelle   Marrakesh   (Image credit: K. Maldre)  

Same Time, Same City

Dec 9, 2012

A lot was going on back in late October, on Philly Photo Day 2012. Eighteen hundred people around the city took note of some piece of the action, snapping photos submitted to the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, which printed each and every image for its current show. This one is by Daniel Groff; for others, look here and here and  here.

Step Children

Dec 13, 2012

During World War II, service flags like the ones hanging in these windows, could be seen in houses all over America. Within the red border of the window-hanging was sewn a blue star for each family member serving in the military. Gold stars acknowledged those killed in action.

The steps these children were playing on in 1942, along N Street SW in Washington, DC, were bulldozed a dozen or so years later as part of one of the country's largest "urban renewal" projects. All the residential and commercial neighborhoods in the city south of the national mall were condemned and all the residents evicted. The buildings were torn down and even much of the street grid scraped away, as a team of builders and designers led by I.M. Pei sought to start over from scratch, to create a 1950s-style urban utopia.

Before the urban renewal, Southwest Washington had been home to several generations of European immigrants and African American migrants from the South. Irish, Italian and Eastern European immigrants, possibly including these families, lived in the neighborhood west of Fourth Street SW, which was then known as Four and a Half Street. The street addresses here would have been very near Four and a Half Street. East of that street, mostly in more decrepit houses, lived African Americans, some of whom had come to Washington as freed slaves before or soon after the Civil War. The two adjacent neighborhoods both produced musical stars in the twentieth century: Marvin Gaye and Al Jolson.

Urban renewal wiped away all the homes, schools, stores, and other buildings except for one church, a fish wharf, and Bolling Air Force Base. A freeway was built through the middle of the new emptiness, with office complexes and new apartment buildings on either side. The project went the way of much mid-century city planning: people did come to work in the office buildings but went home every night as soon as they could, and people did live in the apartments but got in their cars and drove away to shop, play, and generally live their lives. Except at rush hour, neighborhood streets were empty.

It took another half-century, until 2003, before Southwest Washington got its first real grocery store. There has been something of a revival in recent years, as new stores opened and area parks were developed, giving people a reason to go outside and walk around. New apartment and condo projects have increased neighborhood density.

What happened to the thousands of people who were expelled from Southwest in the 1950s, possibly including the people in this picture? I'm not aware that anyone has kept track of them. Not to belittle their fate, but in one way or another, what happened to them happened to millions of Americans throughout the last century. In America, city people rarely stay put in the same neighborhoods generation after generation. People change and seek out different kinds of neighborhoods, and/or the neighborhoods change, pushing people out or leaving them uncomfortable and precariously clinging to homes in places that aren't what they used to be. 

children   Washington, D.C.   streetscape   World War II   service stars   rowhouses   (Image credit: Louise Rosskam)  

Kilroy Was Here

Dec 17, 2012

Not Kilroy, actually, but Ygarzabal, and Laxague and Goytia and Ibarriet. The writing on the trees is perfectly clear, if you can read Euskara, the Basque tongue: "Felix Arospide was here in 1897." "Josto Sarria, August 1962."

"Long live the sheepherders," proclaims a tree in Elko County, Nevada, "the ones who can take this place."

Wherever there have been sheep in the mountainous parts of the American West, there have been sheepherders from the Basque country of Europe. And for well over a century now, in the aspen groves at the edges of high country sheep meadows, names and dates and drawings and even poetry have been carved into the aspens, some of the text in Spanish, a little in French, but much in Euskara, a language long forbidden by government officials back home in France and Spain.

Gora Euskadi! read many of the inscriptions. "Long live the Basques."

But a more common carving is Biba ni! "Hooray for me."

And most common of all are sentiments along these lines: "Hooray for the whores of America. Long live the whores of Biscay as well!"

Most Basque shepherds in the United States were not shepherds back in Europe, and Basque people back in Europe did not carve pictures and smutty sayings into the bark of Basque trees. In America, however, the loneliness and tedium of life in the wilderness with sheep led resourceful people to innovate. For example, on a mountainside above Lake Tahoe, at the edge of a meadow with a multi-million-dollar view, a shepherd took his knife to a large aspen and inscribed: "I'm bored and we sheepherders lack a woman."

Aspen trees live no more than about eighty years, and the trees selected for carving were usually large and already mature. Old-style sheepherding ended in America around 1970, so most of the Basque carvings are dead or dying now, falling to the ground and rotting.

"I am not coming back here," says one sun-bleached log near a Montana lake. "Except to fish, maybe."

sheep   Nevada   Sierra Nevadas   Basque   Tahoe   shepherds   herders   aspen   arborglyph   West   carving  

Moonstruck

Dec 22, 2012

For their very first date, Linda and Wayne went out to dinner at Victor Cafe in South Philly, where the waiters are all trained opera singers who serve up Puccini along with the pasta. Now that Wayne and Linda have been together for a while, they decided to come back to Victor's for an evening out with Linda's two daughters, Gina and Erin.

The way this restaurant works is that every few minutes, somebody rings a bell and stands up to sing. When Linda rang the bell and Wayne stood up, we were all pretty sure of how the scenario would play out: Wayne had probably had a few drinks, and now he was about to start singing, and those two young girls were going to sit there wishing they could fall through the floorboards.

Instead, Wayne lifted a glass and spoke a toast, telling the world how wonderful Linda was and how important to his life she and her daughters had become. And then he was down on one knee, asking Linda to be his wife.

"Of course," she said.

And the bartender was the one who broke out in song: "Some Enchanted Evening."

Victor Cafe   South Philly   restaurant   opera   Wayne   Linda   Erin   proposal   Gina  

D├ętente

Dec 25, 2012

When the Cold War thawed, old Russian cultural traditions became new again, and Ded Moroz–Father Frost–emerged from hiding up near the Siberian part of the North Pole to resume his holiday responsibilities.

To acknowledge the new cultural politics, Ded Moroz's many colleagues in northern and eastern Europe–notably Joulupukki, Finland's Christmas Goatnow seek him out at border crossings and Christmas markets across the continent. The two Nicks typically engage in a little winter diplomacy, sometimes competing in endeavors such as chimney climbing.

This picture features Ded Moroz presenting a gift to Joulupukki during a diplomatic mission in Minsk, capital of Belarus. 

Incidentally, Ded Moroz can sleep in Christmas morning, because in Russia, the gift thing doesn't happen till New Year's. Happy New Year's one and all......

Russia   Belarus   holiday   Christmas   Finland   (h/t: Katrin Maldre)  

Winter Wonderlands #1: France

Dec 27, 2012

In the wintertime around the French ski resort of Les Arcs, the sun sets early; to get his tromping done, Simon Beck has to wear a headlamp along with his snowshoes. He'll stomp the snow, guided by his orienteering compass, for days on end, from can to can't, filling pristine snowfields with enormous works of art as big around as six football fields and impossible to fully apprehend except from high above. 

Beck is an engineer by training and a longtime orienteer by profession. He roughs out the geometry of his designs using what he calls "a kind of reverse orienteering." Then he fires up the music on his MP3 player and slowly, painstakingly, stomps in the details.

He made his first snow designs in 2004. "The main reason for making them," he said, "was because I can no longer run properly due to problems with my feet, so plodding about on level snow is the least painful way of getting exercise.

"Gradually, the reason has become photographing them, and I am considering buying a better camera."

art   winter   snow   (h/t: JJ)   France   Simon Beck   orienteering   earth art   (Image credits: Simon Beck)  

Fiat

Dec 29, 2012

When gas costs something like $9.50 a gallon, people run out of gas. Last April, this woman was pushing her car (and dog) through a neighborhood in Rome.

About half the pump price of gasoline in Italy is taxes, which have increased recently. Drivers have been driving less, and new car sales declined by 18 percent this year. As demand for gas fell, the price slowly started to drop; last week, a gallon cost only $9.17. Of course Italians buy by the liter, not the gallon, and they use Euros instead of dollars, but it all works out.

The photographer says that after taking the picture, he helped push.

car   Italy   goat   (h/t: K Maldre)   economy   gasoline   Rome   (Image credit: Allesandro Bianchi for Reuters)