Monday, May 29. 2006
not firing on all cylinders, a couple sandwiches short, light won't light on one side. we're almost out of here. all the junk we had to buy or managed to accumulate through just being here has got to go, one way or another. miss made and put up flyers with dangly phone number tags for the big items. we got some bites and sold most of the clumsy stuff. not losing tons of money on that, and also we don't have to rent a truck to cart it somewhere to sell it, which saves euro too. had some lousy experiences trying to sell the remaining items at secondhand stores. they pay dirt. at one place i was actually insulted at what we were offered. but we're stuck. it's got to go, money or no.
tons of recycling. piles of paper and boxes and where did it all come from? in only 8 months? well, it's a lot better than when we moved out of the oak st! trying to be merciless in what we save and what we chuck. terminate with extreme prejudice.
we have about $40 in spices that are half-used. half boxes of pasta. anyone want cans of chick peas and a sack of quinoa? how do you get rid of this stuff? in france people don't move very often. way different than me, moving every couple years. there's not a lot of infrastructure for handling it that i can see. maybe the goodwills are just hidden somewhere in the suburbs.
ok, we lucked out and the girl and father who are buying the tv and little table will take our heavy set of plates and dishes and the half-foods and little leftover liquors and thank god the bar which we can't get rid of ourselves. for free they get it all. it makes them happy and us too. they were our only hope. they're hauling it all in a thefted shopping cart. they have no car. three (four?) trips to somewhere that's a half hour shopping cart round trip away. we get the impression the dad just split with his wife and has got a new place for himself. daughter helping him move. he's kind of sad and the idea heartbreaks me and i try to cheer him up by joking as best i can. at least he can have spaghetti bolognaise for free tonight.
also through the grace of god sold the bed to our french teacher. took her three trips with friend's borrowed car to get it all transported. could only get the friend with the big car the day before, so we had to sleep on our little mattress cushion on the floor the last night, in a dusty echoey apt. her and different friend with small car pick up the cushion and sheets today.
then clean clean and get ready to hand over the keys.
everyone in the last days has been so incredibly helpful and friendly (courteous, kind...) i really can't believe anyone thinks the french are snobby or stuck up. well, i can believe it if they're approached by someone with an air of entitlement. there's a little mean streak, but only for those who deserve it. for us, everyone has gone out of their way to help us out and wish us well.
one of the most touching sentiments (if i understood her right) came from our same-floor neighbor. i was telling her i'll miss france and avignon and i hope to return and she said "well, it's your pays now." pays is an important concept, as i understand it, representing the geographical and cultural region a french person associates himself with. it's where he comes from, and he feels ties to the land and the people there. even if one ends up living in a different region, he still consideres himself to be from his home pays. i don't mean to sound corny. i promise no more cultural overextrapolations. i guess i overexplain it because it's pretty foreign to me, who has few ties to any place. and it's easy that maybe i misunderstood her. but i prefer to imagine she meant it as just that, that we had been established here, adopted into it. i'm tired and susceptible to sentiment now, but it was a very sweet thing to say, and i feel quite touched. she got our last giveaway item, the basil plants missy's been growing. one of the main herbs of provence, it was thriving from the windowbox sunlight when we handed it over.
Monday, February 20. 2006
how can such a freakish amazing thing exist?
(note: read the other barcelona posts first to get the context. the main page top-post ordering kinda screws up rapid related posting, just like in email.)
the next day we set aside to see antonio gaudi's work-in-progress cathedral, the sagrada familia. it was started in 1883 and is a ways from being finished. there's still lots of skylight falling in where there ought to be roof, and the main central spire, which will be 500 feet tall, has yet to be started. and there's plenty to do before that. more impressive than the size is the style. it's instantly recognizable to any child that's ever made a sand castle by dripping wet mortar through your fingers. god did that and this is the result.
it's a construction site, really, through which you can piece together images of the future glory of the whole structure. intricate scaffolding grows up the walls 200 feet inside the curvy main vaults. the floor is full of hoists, concrete molds, and makeshift workshops. this is artist architect engineer paradise.
everything about the design is fluid and naturalistic. in form and decoration, gaudi based it all on deep research of natural phenomena. trees provide the main metaphor, with trunks as columns angled inwards to safely channel down the weights above. the nave ceilings imitate the splayed branchwork that protects while letting in dappled light. the rose windows borrow structural strength and visual inspiration from tiny ocean protozoa radiolaria. it goes on. there are informational bulletin boards inside explaining, with diagrams, many of the practical and artistic methods and decisions. i ate it up.
structurally, it was all designed as one unit. in older cathedrals, you can see the large lego pieces, how side blocks got snapped on to the main block, some neighbors differing in date and style by centuries. it's a practical way of dividing the engineering problem. the blocks don't have to interact, and can be added whenever funds allow expansion, and the architect can solve the smaller challenges of isolated forms.
it's also less efficent in terms of materials and less elegant in design, in the same way a lintel beam across a doorway compares to an arch. it was designed with the help of a crazy inverted rigging model. small sacks of shot are attached to a twine web outline of the structure. the shot pulling down impersonates the weight of the stone pushing on the finished building. it naturally stretches out the web to make the most ideal form to handle the forces. brilliant.
there's plenty more to say on it. the photo page captions get into more detail. but it was a great contrast to seeing the van der rohe the day before.
Sunday, February 19. 2006
so we could talk about the art museums, how i like miró now, or how the only floor of the contemporary art museum open during rehanging packed in more than three normal museums. but boy i want to talk about architecture.
we found out that in the huge montjuic park, along with tons of other stuff, like the miro museum, is mies van der rohe's german pavilion from the 1929 international expo. some better photos than i took. he's one of the early defining modernist architects and i've been in love with some of his other buildings for a while but never seen any in person. this was billed as being one of the most important too, so i was really excited.
well, it definitely lived up to reputation, for good and bad. mostly it's a few low rectangle walls, some glass and some marble, barely holding up a rectangle roof. there's a couple shallow reflecting pools too. you can't get any sparser. it was shocking for being so barely there, yet so strongly defining the space it was in. you had to look hard to see it, but not to feel it. it's hard to photograph for exactly this reason. the difficult part for me was remembering that it was designed for people to stroll through, sip cocktails, and talk about Important things, not to live in. it works great for that, but it was so incredibly impractical for anything resembling normal human occupation. and that spun me out drawing parallels of course to writing software.
there's nothing nicer than looking at a clean algorithm, clean code where you can see the structure laid out and logical saying just what it does for anyone to read. it explains itself in the minimum number of words. that's the code everyone wants to write and read. but if you feed that code something it wasn't expecting, like "orange" instead of -34, all hell breaks loose and it collapses into a smoking pile. for instance: the pavilion didn't have a welcome mat to wipe your feet on when you walked in. i understand architecturally why it didn't, but at some point, someone's got to interact with the mathematical purity, and that's just going to mess things up unless you take care to check your input.
facing that building was facing the impracticality of idealism and that hurt. i knew i had the same fundamental problem with building. you can get away with it for a single-use structure whose point is idealism, but the real world doesn't permit living buildings or living code to operate like that. in living things, robustness is a virtue. being able to accept what the world throws at you, having that integral to the design is a different, maybe lesser, kind of beauty, but it's what we're stuck with.
Tuesday, February 7. 2006
i'm getting a little behind here. so many great stories stored up, but january's been a busy month. let's start at the start - 1 janvier 2006, 0h00!
backstory: i've had some good new year's eves. i had a string of them over a decade ago (ugh, that long?) that got me to appreciate the holiday. it's a rolling global party! miss thinks i have a special connection to it and is a little leery of the nostalgia i have sometimes. but really it's nothing mystical.
the last couple have been of the wrong kind of silliness. some growing pains (sorry about the furniture, travis) and some misplaced bad energy at times. this year i was definitely not excited for it. i was in a winter funk, feeling very introverted and not of the necessary gregarity.
we'd had a club recommended to us a while ago. from what we heard (and were able to understand) le délirium was decorated with secondhand furniture, no two chairs alike, had lots of couches and cushions, was dimly lit, and regularly had live gypsy music. this was in direct contrast to (what corey's well described as) most french bars, which are overly-lit standing room only places for people to smoke heavily, drink bad french beer and watch television.
live gypsy music? that strikes a deep chord. when i was in high school, the family went into Boston for First Night one year. aside from the big red plastic horn i bought (*bad* thing to give to a trumpet player that knows how to use it), the highlight was stumbling on a klezmer concert. an "i had no idea music could be like this" moment. fantastic. and i've been a fan of the movie/soundtrack latcho drom and the director emir kusturica for a long time. to an uncultured american like me, they're all operating in roughly the same sonic and emotional territory. fiery passionate rooted colors.
so that's kind of a draw. but i don't have anything to wear. i brought only like four short sleeve shirts hoping to get some french swag when i arrived, but never did. a last minute shopping run doesn't net anything but frustration. so now i'm going to stand out even more in a fancy crowd. and reservations were recommended, but i was too nervous to call and make them. ugh.
i was all set to stay in, call it a night, and fall alseep before the embarassment of being lame at exactly midnight could hit. luckily, missy was in no mood for that. she had her good lipstick on already, and i learned long ago that that represents an unstoppable force. so out the door we go.
délirium is down a side alley, through an improbable door, up strange steps, down a dark hallway, and into a short line. peering through the door crack i can see folks in their 50's in tuxes and gowns, a well-stocked hors d'oeuvres table, and champagne glasses everywhere. a bouncer type peers out and announces something to the line. something about cards. oh, you're supposed to be a card-carrying member. 6'4" and american is the wrong size for right now.
well, missy's in charge and so we make it to the door, where a nice woman takes our names, (cash), and issues us cards and drink tickets for free champagne. ?? it worked!
it's nowhere near as nice as in the picture. it's not all tuxes. it's all ages (i mean from age five to 75). and most of the snacks are gone already. and it's comfortable! bianca's very much at home here. missy's not as content as i am to stand in the back corner, so she finds two cushions right up by the stage while i get our champagne.
one of my favorite games is to imagine the possibilities of the instruments on a stage waiting for the musicians to arrive. on this one there's three accordions, some with pieces off of them, a mandolin, classical guitar, a small jazz-style drum kit, and a tuba with a mic duct-tape-suspended in the bell. outstanding!
the night is billed as a cabaret. throughout the evening the attention shifts between dancers, various musical groups, projection, and jugglers. i almost don't want to call them jugglers. it's not the same activity as in even the best circuses, in the way that playing fiddle and playing classical violin are not the same. different art forms entirely. it's as much modern dance as brute mechanics. it actually made me question whether mimes might be equally misunderstood.
the music is wonderful. powerful dark dissonant uplifting stuff. the main band, est ŕ l'ouest, plays tzigane (gypsy) flavors in the jazz format of head, solos, head, with lots of great wandering in the middle. the mandolin player encourages miss to dance, but there are enough tipsy couples doing just that in the small space, knocking over champagne flutes with flying hems.
i couldn't be happier. it's not the kind of place i could ever hope to stumble on, or even guess about the existence of. what a gift. when the countdown happens, it's rushed, disorderly, and almost an intrusion into the evening. but quick as it appears, the music flows back in after it, returning us to the unreality and time suspension that lasts for a few more hours, until the transition to the new year is smoothed permanent.
Saturday, December 31. 2005
on the st. benezet bridge, the "pont d'avignon", there's a little area where the stone, earth, and water all meet. someone has arranged a little spot with a small stone wall, heart sculpture, driftlog, and sitting stone. i've been here a number of times; it's one of my favorite avignon places.
it changes over time. the stone wall wanders like a snake yawning in the sun, but always protects the corner. the sculpture shifts. it's spotless though, free of the kind of trash that ought to float there and stay. it's being tended.
there's a note attached to an old iron spike just above. in one version or another it's been there for a long time. the fluttering white is what first drew my eye to the spot. it used to be an unprotected sheet of paper, but now for the winter it's got a plastic sheath. i think this version has got more careful lettering. i can't tell if the text has changed as well. it seems longer now.
my rough google-translate-assisted attempt:
every person has the right to take part freely in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and participate in scientific progress and the benefits that result.
seems a fair balance, and a nice new year's blessing.
also, miss uncovered some more info on the Cézanne studio. this page has a nice photo. here are some more from a different site. the "Panorama 360" link gets you a full spinning view of the main room. see why i want to live there?
Tuesday, October 25. 2005
this was originally going to be a reply to a steev email, but it grew a little larger and i'm interested in broadcasting it, as you'll see.
there's been a lot of quipping back and forth about how having things is a drag. you're either getting them or getting rid of them. stuff gets lost, stolen, broken, corrodes, turns green and rots. why can't we all just eat nuts and berries and live harmoniously with nature like our aboriginal ancestor of choice?
Continue reading "again with the talking"
Saturday, October 22. 2005
i think about most things in the context of evolution. it's a pretty useful and general way to explain things. and one thing you can use it to look at is the whole european colonial process. compare the different english colonies and how they compare to mother england in relation to the time they split off from under her wing. you can use spoken accents as a good guide. the greater the time of separation (age since the colony became independent), the farther from the queen's english the native accent is likely to sound.
one interesting thing about evolution is that you often need to shake things up a bit to really find a better way of doing things. culture as well as anything can get caught in a rut. often, either the environment changes radically, or a mutation pretty far from the norm happens and new options and ways of doing things result.
the founding of america seems like one of these major sideways jolts. maybe it works better, maybe worse, but definitely things are different. the joy of the US is that of big open space and possibilities. (since this is a sociological analysis, we have to ignore the presence of the first peoples and treat it as "empty" land, as did the new occupiers.) but you have the sense of things starting fresh and clean and with vast potential.
of course it's a double-edged sword. children have a lot of energy and a lot of it gets misdirected, wasted, or put to childish things. they also have to reinvent anew what every old person already knows. adults can only look on and roll their eyes.
i'm very curious to see what things have been lost when europe decided to become born again as america. europe has had so much more time to develop. there are many different groups in close proximity interacting with each other. there has to be a ton of built-up knowledge that got thrown out: how to put up with your loud neighboring factions (intolerance as well as tolerance), how to focus on living well rather than on simple survival and expansion.
the flip side of that is stodginess. ruts need shaking up too or things stagnate. the formation and expansion of the EU appears to be doing just that for europe. the BBC had an interesting opinion piece today about just that. back when miss and i were staying in hotels and had a TV, we saw a lot of coverage on Turkey's (still) controversial entry into the EU, about the constitution that was voted down, and how lowering barriers to global and regional trade was stirring up a lot of hornets' nests. it's an interesting time to be in europe. they're getting a much needed jolt, and it'll be interesting to see if they respond properly to become the new best place to be on the globe, economically and socially. there's a lot of potential.
(Page 1 of 1, totaling 7 entries)
short accounts by missy and seth, at least tangentially relating to life in avignon, france.