Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rich Folks, They Crazy

Proud to Be Normal

My wife and I get an odd mix of magazines --- most it seems we never signed up for --- and as a consequence see ads very much intended for non-Antelope Valley audiences.

Reading Elle Decor, for example, can be quite a tour.  Not to sound like somebody planning to write a sequel to "You Know You're a Redneck If...", but some of the featured properties and furnishings make me think, "Lordy, you would have to PAY me to live in a place like that!"  Are all rich folks crazy, or don't they ever sit in the same living rooms being photographed?

Look at some examples.

Here's an ad from the Art Institute of Chicago's members' magazine.  Nice sofa, but what's with tagging your own penthouse white walls?  And I don't even understand the message itself.

Some things are just strange.

I get the allusion to the uber-collectable Jeff Koons, but really, is this chair for real?  (This comes from the high-end magazine, Architectural Digest.)

Maybe you would want to sit in while you watch a friend or private chef make your lunch.  This too comes from AD.

This is an ad for skylights, by the way, but it implies what one's kitchen should look like.  In comparison, my life is pretty drab!  My main question at Trader Joe's is who I will run into that I know, since apparently ALL of the AVC faculty (and half the students) shop there.  Maybe when I am there I need to get a different brand of wine.  Here's a white wine ad, though you might think it's for a stronger kind of potion.

This is an ad from Elle Decor for Kim Crawford wine.  The copy reads, "A bright, refreshing take on Sauvingnon Blanc.  Because there are those who find comfort in the ordinary, then there are those who thirst for so much more."  (The headline is, "Undo Ordinary.") 

Note the hands, far right, pushing the lady in the swing; this is such a fun party that even the painting, Harry Potter-style, is getting into the mood.  Yet our Elvis Costello look-alike in the white chair on the left looks a bit zoned out ---- a long day at work, or is this just "chaos like normal" for him?  I went online and priced this wine and since it's under $20 (I think?), it seems reasonable.  It's a New Zealand wine, and in fact, I think I had some a year ago, coming back from Antarctica.  According to their website, they have gotten good reviews.  They link to an article from which this quotation comes:

"You say you need more enticement to part with your hard earned cash? How about descriptors such as elegant, complex, rich, outstanding, mouth-watering, brimming with flavour, exceptional wine and amazing value? These are the adjectives the world wine press used to describe Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2009."

Yes, but does it go with food that a magician has set on fire?  How about white swing sets?  Rich folks, they crazy.  Of course, for me, to take the wine out of the paper bag before serving it counts as "presentation."  Is this a wine to drink in an all-metal chair that looks like a sex aid from Woody Allen's Sleeper?  If I drink it, will I start spray painting my apartment?

This is all too much for me.  Pass the two-buck Chuck from Trader Joe's.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Longest Day of the Year

Long Days, Long Nights, Summer Days, Summer Nights

In honor of the soon-to-arrive summer solstice, my wife and I were at Gladstone's, the famous "EAT FISH" place between Malibu and Santa Monica, trying to decide how long the longest day really is, and, inversely, in winter, is the longest night the same duration as the longest day?

I said one thing, she said another.  As usual, she was right.

She also ordered a prettier cocktail than mine, as shown here in this gold-bordered Polaroid.

Why gold?  Just a whim.  This film is now manufactured in Holland by the "Impossible Project," and they release "editions" of film in colored formats.  I prefer black borders but this one happens to be gold.  Love the retro look of the colors, though, on the print itself.  Sorry about the seasick horizon line.  My fancy dancy Nikon has a built-in artificial horizon (like airplanes have) so you can level everything just-so on the tripod.  My Polaroid camera by contrast has a dim, off-axis viewfinder and a plastic lens.  It is what it is.

Anyway, the days are long now and so the question is, how long?

Here is what the good men and women of the US Naval Observatory have to say:

"The longest day is longer than the longest night, and the shortest day is longer than the shortest night, for the reason that sunrise occurs when the upper edge of the disk of the Sun appears on the horizon, and sunset is at the moment when the upper edge disappears below the horizon. These are the instants of first and last direct sunlight; but at these times the center of the Sun's disk is still 50 minutes of arc vertically below the horizon, because the semidiameter of the sun is 16 minutes of arc, and in addition the Sun is seen 34 minutes of arc above its actual geometric position on account of atmospheric refraction. Consequently, the length of every day exceeds the time that the center of the Sun is geometrically above the horizon by the intervals of time required for the Sun to move through these extra amounts of 50 minutes of arc in altitude at both rising and setting, or 100 minutes of arc altogether; this shortens the night by the same amount.

On any two dates when the center of the Sun is at equal distances north and south of the equator, as it is at the summer and winter solstices, the center is geometrically below the horizon on one date for the same length of time as it is above the horizon on the other date; but on both dates the upper edge of the disk is visible longer than the center is geometrically above the horizon by the time required for 100 minutes of arc of motion in altitude, and therefore the day that is the longer exceeds the night on the other date by twice this amount, i.e., by the time equivalent of 200 minutes of arc in altitude. This excess is greater the higher the latitude because the path of the Sun at rising and setting is at a smaller angle with the horizon, and more time is required in this slanting motion to cover a given vertical distance."

There you go: you read it here first.

Short version?  My wife was right, Malibu is a nice place to have lunch, and if you're driving (as I was), make sure you just have just one cocktail only.

The link to the rest of the "longest day" discussion is here, along with moonrise data, leap year tables, and the answer to the question, "when did asteroids become minor planets"?

If you have seen Men in Black III, you know that not leaving a tip can put the Earth at risk for being wiped out by a rogue comet, so at Gladstone's I made sure to do my part towards preserving the planet for another few days --- and to make sure my server went home that night with a living wage.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jerusalem, City of Faith, City of Cell Phones

The Many Faces of the City of Three Faiths

In the Islamic and Hebraic traditions, Jesus is a prophet --- just not "the" Prophet, the way that He is in Christianity.  All three religions overlap in Jerusalem, which among other things was the site from which Mohamed ascended into Heaven.  (Like the body of Jesus, His body is no longer present on this earth.)  What is Jerusalem today?  A site of warfare, a site of pilgrimage, a place of commerce, a place with quiet gardens and posh restaurants and ancient temples and underground parking lots.  it is, above all, a place of humanity --- our common shared bond, as human beings.  Below is a tour of some of the faces of Jerusalem today.  This will include a self-portrait of myself in a falafel shop mirror and will end with candles inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built over the site of Christ's execution.  (This place, holy as it is, does not necessarily bring out the best in visitors --- as I told my pastor, my private name for it in my journal is "the church of push and trample."

Here is the face of the city --- or I should say, the many faces.

This is a complex city, with 5000 years of history and violence, hope and destruction and rebirth.  Yet during my visit, there was very little visible animosity, other than maybe over a parking place or two.  Right now Israel controls Jerusalem; by some political views, this is wrong: they are occupying land that rightly belongs to Palestine.  There probably is no easy, single, just solution.  For now, it is an uneasy truce, but one that is, at least for the moment, working.  Perhaps if we can just endure like this --- moment by moment, day by day --- that very "waitingness" and lack of resolution will become a workable reality. Until then, we will pray and light our candles, we will face Mecca, we will raise our children as patiently and justly as we know how.  Peace be with us all.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Herman Melville, Vampire Hunter

Trying Hard to Talk to the Dead

After he wrote Moby-Dick and more or less sealed his reputation as a failure and a nutcase for the rest of his own lifetime, Herman Melville took a little-known trip to the Holy Land in the winter of 1856-1857.  He visited cemeteries and leper colonies and stayed in fleabag dives and worried about the fate of Christianity.  His journal of that trip, known only to specialist scholars, has launched my own writing project, exploring his mental perspective at this time (he had what we might now call some kind of bi-polar disorder) as well as just the landscape of 19th century Levant.

At the moment I am in Istanbul, trying to pick up his trail.  Melville knew it as Constantinople.

Some of the views today he would be familiar with, other than the size of the tankers.

Istanbul though has become as modern as Paris or Las Vegas or Hong Kong, and some of the present world would seem to Melville as more futuristic than Blade Runner.  Here is the facade of a boutique hotel in the oldest part of the city.

Is this a hotel or the set for some kind of space opera set inside a nightclub the size of Venus?

Melville's era still exists, albeit not for long.  Once real estate prices zoom back up again (as in time, I am sure they will), the last bits of the pre-Modern era will disappear under the wrecking ball.  Here is a quick survey of things that seem to connect me to his journal from 1856.

This little series above may make Istanbul seem like some kind of Greek Orthodox version of post-Katrina New Orleans, but the point is that buildings such as these are no longer the norm.  More typical of my experience would be a picture such as this one, the wrap-around ad for a tram that will take me to the Castle of Joyful Shopping:

or this one, tagged on the side of a bridge over ten feet tall....

or this one, with a wall of merchandise floor to ceiling.  Istanbul has to have more touts per square meter than any city in Europe.

Or this one, the most authentic restaurant for the next five feet. 

 Or this one, the Turkish Delight that include authentic rubber ducks.

I do not to be mistaken for saying something I am not.  Let's not mock the modern world.  I am a very big fan of the modern world.  For example, travel guides advise against drinking the water in Turkey, which means no ice in your Coke.  I for one miss it --- and after the third day of the air-con being out in my hotel room, I asked to be moved.  Well, of course it wasn't just air-conditioning: the toilet didn't work either.  Note to self: when I next come back, don't stay in this same hotel.  It is not that I don't want happy toys when I buy my candy, just that having come here to chase the ghost of Melville, I find such a ghost harder to conjure up than I expected. 

One of the questions to ask is what has changed about our lives compared to Abraham Lincoln's time or the not-so-long-ago reign of Queen Victoria?  The same pigeons and seagulls are in Istanbul as were wheeling around during Melville's visit --- he comments on pigeons multiple times in fact.  (Our pigeon is actually a dove that originally came from Africa.)  The gulls, too, are the same.

The Blue Mosque, other than being nicely lit these days, is the same as when it was built hundreds of years ago.  Melville appreciated the staggered domes, and wondered if some ur-architect had based his design on the layered crown shape of cypress trees.

Even what's for lunch is probably the same, with the added benefit now of Seran wrap to keep the flies off the demonstration plates.

What has changed the most --- what might cause him to reach for his garlic, his Buffy crucifix and silver bullets, what would make him wonder if the zombies have won after all --- are us: the Americans, and our friends the Germans and Italians and Japanese.  Here is a visual survey of humanity, 2012 style.  All of these pictures come from the same stretch of Old City open space that in the time Justinian and Constantine was the public race track, known as the hippodrome.  Here we are, the devout and the infidels, the trendy and the timeless.  Who's who I leave it with you to decide.

In the end, maybe I need to slow down, just go back to the journals, as his prose is the best time machine of all.  He says that a camel has a stiff, crane-like neck, "like a clergyman in a stiff cravat."  He also in his journal says that a camel is a cross between an ostrich and a giant grasshopper, and in describing the winter mud, says that a camel's large hoof, soft and mud-covered, makes it seems "as if he is stalking along on four mops."

I try to imagine lingering over coffee with Melville, and try not to wince at how he would descibe me, afterward, in his journal.  In the end, maybe we would just be too elderly gents, tryin to puzzle out our places in the world.

Next stop, for this blog and for my book project?  I will follow Melville to Jerusalem.  Until then, time for another glass of strong, milk-less tea.