Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Do Not Farm

A few months ago, I got hooked on this Frontline special called Country Boys, a documentary following the high school careers of a couple of mountain boys living desperate, poverty-stricken hills of . . . I forget--one of those mountain places where they make coal. Eastern Kentucky, I'm pretty sure. It's phenomenal and I still think about Cody and Chris, the country boys, all the time.

So David Sutherland, the director, made a prior documentary for Frontline called The Farmer's Wife, and C and I got it the other day and just got through 240 minutes of some pretty gut wrenching stuff. This one follows the farming life of the Bushkoetters, a couple with three young girls. Darrel is married to his land, and it's kind of a one-sided relationship. He can't see beyond the harvest, but his real wife, in the picture up there, sees the writing in the crop circles: they're drowning in debt and their only hope is to leave the land, go back to school, find another way.

What amazes you while watching this is how stubborn Darrel is about it all. The American myth is of the noble farmer taking on nature and perservering against all odds. What I came away with here was not quite as noble. Darrel comes across as reckless, myopic, anti-intellectual.

It makes me wonder how the midwest can still be populated like it is--are all these people working 100 hour weeks to clear $5,000 at year's end? I'm showing my ignorance, I guess, but that was revealing, too. I've lived in farming states my whole life and known so little about farmers. I hope they're not all living this way.

The sole redeeming quality of this farming life shown in the film is the resilience of the kids. A number of shots of the three young girls playing outside, with animals--very little footage of siblin fights of any kind. They seem oblivious to their parent's stress, or cleansed of it by a life that lets them live so close to the land.

I still want to live on a farm, but now I'm pretty sure I don't want to actually work it. My ideal might be to have some of your cuter animals to look at and pet and a nice vegetable garden and maybe an orchard, but not have to do much work. I would wake up early and walk the grounds with my dog or kid or Cath and then go make tea and read some. I would have to get another farm in a different hemisphere, though, so I would have somewhere to go when fertilizer season was going on. Maybe a banana farm in Costa Rica.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

This man should be a star.

The guy on the left, David Berman, that is; not the cheese-head on the right. That's just the guy whose web site I stole this picture from.

Anyway, I finally got to see Silver Jews last night in Ann Arbor at the Blind Pig. It was sweltering and crowded in there (it turns out that they still let you smoke in AA--fascinating) but the place was held together by a palpable, reverent vibe for the event we were all waiting around to kick off. This tour was a big deal for all of us. It's funny, Berman records a lot of anthemic-type rocking tunes, but I think most people sort of appreciate him on a personal "he speaks to me" kind of level and are not actually shouting out the lyrics to "Rebel Jew" in unison with hordes of friends. If they are, I wish I'd get invited to some of those parties where it's happening. Anyway, my point is that it is a special kind of feeling when all these people enjoy a song writer guy as a kind of personal icon but then get to appreciate him in the context of a mass love-in like this was. I can't remember the last time I was at a show and just smiled like I did last night. I just smiled at the wonderfulness of Berman having his act together enough to do this tour and for us to be there and to actually have Sarah and Wes there too made it even nicer.

Berman himself was pretty guileless and endearing, too. His glasses kept sliding off his face and he had to squint at the lyrics on his music stand every couple of lines to remind himself what song he was singing, but never mind that, this band was pretty amazingly tight. I don't even know what else to say. Right now, I can't think of more than one or two other shows that were equally enjoyable and I think they were both Yo La Tengo shows.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Blow Up (1966)

I have a new camera and I like it. It's digital, it's fast, and it's furious. Most of the pictures on this site were taken with it. In the back of my mind, though, I've always known that it missed something. I hadn't been able to put my finger on what it missed, though, until the other day when I checked out Antonioni's classic movie Blow Up (1966), and suddenly realized what it is: the ability to be used in hand to hand combat.

I haven't even seen the entire movie yet because the DVD started skipping, but it's about a detached fashion photographer in "swinging" or "mod" London. It's cool. My epiphany came during a scene where the main character, the photographer, drives up somewhere in his convertable, parks, opens his glove box, and lifts out his 35mm. This was 1966. And the thing is, what struck me, is how you could tell that this thing had some weight to it. I'm not clever enough to know what make of SLR it is, but it was clearly metal, and its parts were metal; when he fits it to his palm, you can almost hear tiny mechanical noises of parts, tiny metal parts, operating or hitting his skin. And all he was doing was holding it. Look at it in the poster there . . . in the film, he doesn't use it to strike the lady under him or anything (well, maybe metaphorically he does) or anybody else as far as I know. But if he found himself surrounded in an alley, I bet he could start swinging that thing and take out a few people.

On the other hand, my camera is plastic. It's nice, and does nice things, but when I put it into my hand, I might as well be picking up a Happy Meal. I can tell myself that all that really matters is how the pictures turn out, but that's like saying that cars are only about getting you to work on time. *sigh* I'm not a violent person, but I wish that if I ever needed to clonk someone over the head with my camera, it would hurt them.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Syrup Day

Here is J on the morning of my newest favorite family ritual, the Maple Syrup Festival up in Somewhere, Indiana--I know it's near a town called "Mongo," but that's about it. This year was different than last--there were people there. Lots of 'em. We had to wait in line for 30 minutes to get in, even, and that was a drag, but once inside they bring the pancakes and sausage to you in abundance and afterward you ride the horse-drawn wagon through the woods where the syrup is rising at that very moment and you see the sincere little Boy Scouts emptying buckets of the stuff into other buckets. We'll go next year, too, I'm pretty sure, even though it seems to have been "discovered."

Did you know you can, in theory, tap any old tree and make syrup out of it? The only real difference is that non-maple trees have lower amounts of sugar in the sap, which means that you have to boil it longer to get the stuff. I'm tempted to try some of the trees in our yard.

Pete the dog.

This is our new dog, Pete. He's the one on the right. On the left, of course, is Mr. B trying to get the ball from Pete. Pete plays ball like he was raised by Labradors, the best Ball players in the dog world, and this is no surprise because Pete's domestic partner happens to be a Labrador. You cannot know Pete and *not* love the little fella. We'll be sad to give him up when his owners get back from cutting records in Nashville.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Good dog

More from the Chicago trip. I like this one because it has a dog in it, mostly, but also because of how the passenger is looking at the cop just like the dog. I wish the shot was composed so that we saw more of the lady, but oh well; the train was bumping me around a lot. A learning experience. This dog was great, leaning against that thin wall and sleeping while standing up, and then he'd wake up and look at his master and he'd scratch him on the side of the head. Should I have asked to pet him? I wanted to--it was killing me to be so close to a beautiful dog and not pet him, but it didn't feel right to ask. He was working, after all.

Sitting here on the couch with my new wireless setup. The kids are in bed and the NCAA games are on tv--I think this has become one of my favorite holidays.

I was right.

I have to go on record as one of maybe three people I talked to all day who thought we'd win tonight. IU, that is. When I talk about IU basketball, I say "we," and that's okay. Those San Diego Beach Bums, or whatever they're called, were better than I'd guessed they'd be, and probably had their best shooting game of the year, but we kept our cool better than they did at the end.

The guy who wrote the wrap-up for the NCAA scoreboard site actually claims that we were "outplayed, outhustled, and outsmarted" for "39 plus minutes," but we had more assists, fewer turnovers, and more steals, so I don't get it. We even had a couple of 9 point leads in the first half. No respect.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

On the El

Here's one of my favorite photos from our Chicago weekend. That's the Mtn Bikin' Mama herself, waiting with me to grab the train back into town after walking around the huge botanical conservatory they have on the West side of town. We didn't have proper change to buy a train ticket, so the CRT employee waived us through for free. How cool is that? We just acted real clueless and she said "well, even I wouldn't walk around in this neighborhood, so I don't want you to go off looking for change for a $20."

There are few things better to do in a city than to rattle around on trains. You can read a book or stare at strangers. You don't have to steer or yell at bad drivers. There is no "train rage;" there is only free time.

Let it Was

I finally got my hands on this movie, though I had to deal with a shady ebay seller to do it. Especially after reading that dang book about 'em, I've been feeling the need to see them at work together. I like Hard Day's Night a lot, sure, but that's early, happy Beatles. I wanted to see the hairy, grumpy Beatles at work and play. And this movie is that. Anybody know why this isn't available in DVD? It's insane that it isn't, really. When I bought mine on ebay, I thought I was buying an old copy--that it used to be on DVD and was now discontinued for some legal reason. After getting it in the mail, I'm convinced it's probably a boot--my first. I'm gonna justify owning it by arguing that it's not available in any format and I really, really wanted it.

Moral quandary resolved, let's talk about the movie. Oh, are they hairy, dirty-looking hippies. I mean, these are my favorite haircuts of all for them, but when you see them living in the hair and the beards and the floppy clothes, it all looks so dirty. Pretty magnificent.

There is no real plot to the film, of course--it's just them screwing around with tracks for Let it Be and a few for Abbey Road and talking and what not and what amazes me the most is how well they seem to be getting along through it all. I just finish this book that talks only about the bad blood going on in the studio at this time, and almost none of it made it to the film. We do see Paul kind of being the control freak, but I also feel like they they are kind of cool with him running things. It's strange to see. I'll have to watch it again a few times to see if I can pick up on subtexts.

Speaking of, it'd be nice if there were subtitles so that I could watch it like I watch the British (original and better though the American one is funny too) version of The Office and pick up on lines I can't make out. But there aren't.

Anyway, if you are a friend of mine, you should consider asking to borrow this movie from me. I will probably say no and laugh at you, but you should still ask. You might get lucky.

Monday, March 13, 2006

self-portrait in cloud gate

This here may be my favorite spot in Chicago--Millennium Park, this nutty spread of public sculpture and promenades plopped near the Art Institute. What I'm actually taking a picture of in this shot is the "Cloud Gate," a large silver "bean," to use Joseph's word. It could also be described as a smooth silver brain or bicycle helmet. Click here to see what it looks like. It's just beautiful. This, combined with Gehry's insane pavilion help make Chicago a different place for me compared to the last few times I've gone.

I'd been tired of trudging up and down Michigan Ave and grown too familiar with the same museums, I think, but then Joseph had us park in the Millennium Park lot, making the park itself our gateway to the city and somehow entering town that way got me all giddy for the city again. I can't explain it, really. As we walked through it on the way to our flat for the weekend, I wouldn't shut up. There's just something about a city that is willing to spend so much of its capital on public projects that make people ask questions, that make people stop walking and mutter to themselves "Chicago, you are crazy as hell."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Kids these days

I dunno. In my day, kids didn't eat dirt. We just didn't. It's a different world these days, and I blame the Internet.

This shot is from playing with the kids outside today after getting home from a childless weekend in Chicago. More about that later.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Pure Evil

What with the Enron trial going on, we decided it was a good time to rent The Smartest Guys in the Room. It was a good idea. I had a decent, well, foggy idea of the particulars, but this movie helps to put a human face on it. That's important because understanding this case isn't really isn't about the numbers and the accounting fraud, it's about knowing the people involved and getting a feel for what it takes for someone to pull the kind of crap that these guys as a matter of regular business, day in and day out.

In the trial, it's going to be hard to prove what exactly Skilling and Lay knew, but watching this movie, you get a pretty good idea. By the time it was over, I was tempted to take all of my retirement out of the stock market and put it in, I dunno, paintings or something.

Monday, March 06, 2006

newest neighbor

One great thing about friends who buy an old house and have a baby is that you know they'll be home when you take a Sunday morning walk. This is a. with her mommy. With a new house and a sweet young daughter, the parents have a lot of work, but whenever we visit, they always seem energized by it rather than frazzled. I wonder how they do that.

e4 show

We didn't get there til later, but I think the e4 opening went well. People were still arriving even as we pooped out and left, so that's good. It's always cool when lots of the nice people you know in town end up in the same place.

C and I both kind of fell for the same painting but it was priced at more than we had agreed to spend. Then on the way home we at first joked "hey, we could put less toward retirement this year than we'd planned and get it" and then it wasn't a joke and we were serious. It's a couple of days later and we're still undecided.

Friday, March 03, 2006

"Remember Black Shoes"

This is Tracy and Seth getting ready for tomorrow night's opening reception at the Charlie Cummins Gallery. They and the other two members of their collective, e4, have a show going up there and it's amazing stuff. I wish I could paint. I'm getting that same "I can't do anything cool" feeling like I had after I went to the circus. I did remember that I can juggle, though, which is a little cool.

In the top picture Tracy is demonstrating the new "sign" or whatever for my old school South Side. Look at it--it's an "S"! I need to learn some words besides "cool" because I'm about to say that I think that the "S" sign is really cool.

Anyway, the opening reception tomorrow is 7-11 or so, so stop by if you'd like to support some local talent and all around nice guys. 4130 S. Clinton

$4 TAN

You know you’re tired when this happens:  I’m driving to school this morning and pass a small commercial area and I look at a banner hanging outside one of them and I swear to god, the sign says “SATAN.”

I have to keep driving so I look to the road but have to look back to see if my eyes were deceiving me but no, there it is: “SATAN” in red letters on a yellow banner.  I was sure of it.

I guess it was the third or fourth look that finally worked.  “$4 TAN” it said.  Not SATAN.  What a relief that was.  I mean, Wal-Mart is bad enough, but if Satan got into big-box retailing, things could get bad.