Saturday, November 24, 2012

Van Gogh

Seventy paintings and drawings by Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh are on display at the Denver Art Museum, and I went to see it on the day after Thanksgiving.

The show is called "Becoming van Gogh," and it is getting a lot of attention here. Tickets are going fast – so fast, you'd think they were for the latest boy band.

Said tickets are time-stamped. Ticketholders must show up at a specified time, and get the hell out by a specified time. We only had about an hour with Vincent and his stuff.

When we arrived, the place was totally crowded. For a few extra guilders you could rent an audio device, which provided additional info as you moved from work to work. We skipped that little feature. I wrongly assumed there would be some kind of handout available – a pamphlet, or some sort of fact sheet.

One of the first works to catch my attention was the drawing at left, Peasant Woman Pitching Wheat or Hay (1885, black chalk on paper). I leaned in to examine a detail: faint, preliminary lines still visible beneath the finished work, made as the artist's hand searched for the proper form.

But as I bent forward to inspect it, a museum employee materialized and asked me to step back. Politely, she said patrons must get no closer than eighteen inches. To illustrate this point, she moved her hand along an imaginary vertical plane a foot and a half before the drawing.

"Can I breathe on it?" I snapped. The drawing was framed and covered in glass. The employee smiled, said "Try not to," and withdrew.

None of the seventy works on display were the really famous ones. No Starry Night, no Road with Cypress and Star, no Self-Portrait with a bandaged ear. Most of those, I guess, are too priceless to be part of some traveling road show.

We did, however, get an old pair of shoes. We got The Weaver. And we got Restaurant de la Sirene a Asnieres.

Van Gogh liked using ordinary people for his models, as in  Sientje Peeling Potatoes (right). As I contemplated Sientje I wondered how accurate was the likeness. Then it occurred to me it didn't matter; that was hardly the point. And I further made a link between that and my own feeble attempts at fiction. The best fiction is drawn from real life, which is truth, but need not be an accurate rendering of reality.

While none of the really famous works were on display, there still were some very well known paintings and drawings, like The Postman Roulin (oil on canvas, 1888) and an early version of The Potato Eaters (lithograph on Japan paper, 1885, left). The Potato Eaters is an old favorite of mine. But the one in the Denver show is not the well-known painting, which is much darker. The order of the figures in this lithograph is reversed from the painting. The woman pouring kaffĂ©, here on the left, is on the right in the painting. And so on.

Anyway, great show. Runs to January. After that, it's kaput; supposedly, Denver is the only stop for "Becoming van Gogh."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Forty Nine

Being in Dealey Plaza at half past noon on the anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination is an incomparable experience.

Whether you care deeply about who killed Kennedy or think the whole conspiracy thing is a crock, you cannot help being impressed, for better or worse, by the reality of Dealey Plaza on a sunny midday in late November, and by the people who show up there to remember JFK.

November 22nd is a date synonymous with national calamity, like December 7th or 9/11. The implications of the assassination loomed over the United States for decades, but I don’t think it does any more. Between the passage of so much time and the stigma associated with “conspiracy theory,” the issue has been effectively neutered.

As I grew up, though, the assassination seemed ominous and real, especially on each anniversary. The next day’s paper always had a picture of surviving Kennedys gathered at JFK’s grave at Arlington. One of them, usually Teddy, leaned forward to place flowers by that eternal flame, while the rest knelt beside him, their heads bent in prayer. That picture didn’t change much from year to year – except gradually, as strange fates and the inevitable claims of time left fewer family members to mark the occasion.

This post is extracted from a larger work.

See also a similar post from 11-22-11 ...

And, check out some Dallas pictures by Truly Yours Truly (but not Roy Truly). They look best through Safari, or Mozilla Firefox. Chrome is okay. Internet Explorer is not so good.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bicycling magazine

By the time my Bicycling magazine subscription lapsed for good, I had lost most of my interest in that publication.

To be sure, there were still interesting articles sometimes, such as "The 90-Year-Old Who Can Kick Your Ass" – a profile of a nonagenarian, former pro cyclist still riding strong. And there were the recurring staples, like "Get Stronger Legs!" and "Fix a Flat in Two Minutes Flat!"

But too often, Bicycling seemed little more than a shill for the bike industry. Their regular "buyer's guide" issue seemed like free advertising – and a not-so-soft sell, at that.

The magazine had enough interesting stuff, though, so that I saved a bunch of old copies. And recently I've been leafing through them in search of past articles, like the one about the 90-year-old.

I noticed that not only was Bicycling a shill for the industry it supposedly covers impartially. It was a shill for Lance Armstrong.

It's really sad to see all that old stuff, now that Armstrong has suffered his spectacular fall from grace. There are countless articles from Armstrong's heyday, with titles like, "How Lance Will Win Tour #5." For years, he was Bicycling's cover boy.

I've written elsewhere that Armstrong almost certainly used performance-enhancing drugs. That topic is not the purpose of this essay. I guess I don't really know what the purpose is, except to illustrate what I consider media hypocrisy. It is true that I haven't checked out Bicycling magazine on a regular basis in years. But it is also true that I heard its editor talking disparagingly about Lance Armstrong in an interview on NPR about a year and a half ago, before the fish really hit the fan. He said he had the goods on him: yes, he doped. He was a cheat. What a sad day for cycling.

Now that Armstrong had served his purpose to Bicycling, this editor was prepared to piss all over him.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Why Are You Here?

Lung gets very little traffic. I wish I could do something to boost readership; no one likes having their stuff ignored. But first and foremost, I enjoy writing. I like doing these posts. If no one reads them – well, so be it.

Lately, though, there has been a jump in readership. Nothing huge, but noticeable. I can only measure this by the hit counter provided by Over the last couple of months, it shows readership going from almost nil, to an average of thirty or so hits per day.

How come? I have a theory...

The most popular (if that's the right word) post here is a little ditty from 2011 called The Amazing Toilet. It is not a particularly amazing post. It is not particularly amusing, either, or insightful. Nothing like that. So why the sudden increase in hits?

I think that out there in the vastness of cyberspace, there are lots of people with backed up or broken toilets. Rather than search the Yellow Pages, they turn first to the all-knowing Internet. With just a few carefully chosen keywords, they wind up at "The Amazing Toilet." It tells them nothing about fixing a busted potty, but does go on for several paragraphs about how ingenious is the modern commode.

It's gotta be something like that.

A distant runner-up to The Amazing Toilet is Litterbugs, Part 10: Zug Island, a reflection on an industrial dump in Detroit. Its popularity really stumps me. Well behind the toilet post and Zug, in position #3, we find a rather charming, uncharacteristically sentimental ode to a dearly departed ballyard entitled Last Look, to which I will admit being proud of.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

President Obama: Election Aftermath

Too often, I fear the worst is about to happen.

Like last week, when I all but resigned myself to the election of Mitt Romney as President of the United States.

Of course, I was wrong. And happily so. And when all is said and done, there isn’t much change in this post-election era. Same president. Same Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate.

Yet I honestly believed that the zealots were about to storm D.C.

On Election Day morning, I left the house fearing the worst. The sign at left had caught my eye a week or so before and I wanted to make a record of it. It was about a half-hour’s bike ride from my house, and on the outskirts of town – a liberal bastion in Colorado.

Later in the day I got what turned out to be the last of countless robocalls that have come in recent months. A woman’s voice, simultaneously sultry and outraged, said, “President Obama has failed to unite us.” I hung up.

That evening I settled before the idiot box for what I assumed would be a very long, very painful night of election returns. I was most interested in the Presidential race, although there were other races and ballot issues I hoped to hear about. Imagine my surprise when Obama’s re-election was called before 9:30!

It turned out to be a great night for the Democrats. Some lunatic Republicans went down to well-deserved defeat (I’m thinking of Akin and Mourdock in particular). Strides forward on gay marriage. A couple of states, including my own, even legalized marijuana, although how that shakes out remains to be seen.

On Wednesday I went back to where that nutty sign had been, wondering whether it might have been taken down, or perhaps amended with some new dire warning of the coming apocalypse...

Postscript: I went by a second  time later that day, and the entire sign had been removed!