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College

April 21, 2013 Leave a comment

college

I’ve mentioned in a few recent posts that I read Andrew Delbanco’s College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be during our trip earlier this month to New York and Georgia. I’ve been meaning to say more, as I will do now.

Delbanco is a humanities professor at Columbia who writes on a broad range of issues for non-academic magazines. I’ve long enjoyed his pieces on education at The New York Review of Books. (He also was a college classmate of mine, though I didn’t know him.) When College, a short book, came out last year, I considered reading it. Delbanco’s Princeton counterpart (prominent humanist, prolific writer on many issues) Anthony Grafton reviewed it last May, writing:

As the commercialization of American higher education accelerates, more and more students are coming to college with the narrow aim of obtaining a preprofessional credential. The traditional four-year college experience–an exploratory time for students to discover their passions and test ideas and values with the help of teachers and peers–is in danger of becoming a thing of the past.

In College, prominent cultural critic Andrew Delbanco offers a trenchant defense of such an education, and warns that it is becoming a privilege reserved for the relatively rich. In arguing for what a true college education should be, he demonstrates why making it available to as many young people as possible remains central to America’s democratic promise.

In a brisk and vivid historical narrative, Delbanco explains how the idea of college arose in the colonial period from the Puritan idea of the gathered church, how it struggled to survive in the nineteenth century in the shadow of the new research universities, and how, in the twentieth century, it slowly opened its doors to women, minorities, and students from low-income families. He describes the unique strengths of America’s colleges in our era of globalization and, while recognizing the growing centrality of science, technology, and vocational subjects in the curriculum, he mounts a vigorous defense of a broadly humanistic education for all. Acknowledging the serious financial, intellectual, and ethical challenges that all colleges face today, Delbanco considers what is at stake in the urgent effort to protect these venerable institutions for future generations.

This resonated with me. But also, by the time I finished Grafton’s review, I figured I’d read enough and pursued Delbanco’s book no further.

Then, on the eve of our trip, I saw a link to a piece by Delbanco at the end of March in The New Republic on MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. Reading it, I decided I should read College after all.

I should add that Delbanco’s MOOC article is worth reading in its own right. Here’s one passage near the end (and therefore out of context):

Back in the mid-twentieth century, the Ford Foundation report on “telecourses” asked the key question about technology and education: “How effective is this instruction?” When I came upon that sentence, it put me in mind of something Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a long time ago. “Truly speaking,” he said, “it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can receive from another soul.”I first understood this distinction during my own student days, while struggling with the theologian Jonathan Edwards’s predestinarian view of life. Toward the end of the course, my teacher, the scholar of American religion Alan Heimert, looked me in the eye and asked: “What is it that bothers you about Edwards? Is it that he’s so hard on self- deception?” This was more than instruction; it was a true provocation. It came from a teacher who listened closely to his students and tried to grasp who they were and who they were trying to become. He knew the difference between knowledge and information. He understood education in the Socratic sense, as a quest for self-knowledge.

[snip]

No matter how anxious today’s students may be about gaining this or that competence in a ferociously competitive world, many still crave the enlargement of heart as well as mind that is the gift of true education. It’s hard for me to believe that this kind of experience can happen without face-to-face teaching and the physical presence of other students.

Delbanco touches here–as he does in his book and as Grafton does in the quote above–on the question of whether one attends college for job training or some richer sort of educational experience. Closely related to this is the question of where humanities and the arts fit into a college education, since they sure aren’t likely to lead to jobs to the extent that study in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) does. Delbanco writes eloquently on this.

Science, moreover, tells us nothing about how to shape a life or how to face death, about the meaning of love, or the scope of responsibility. It not only fails to answer such questions; it cannot ask them. …

Meanwhile, literature, history, philosophy, and the arts are becoming the stepchildren of our colleges. This is a great loss because they are the legatees of religion in the sense that they provide a vocabulary for formulating ultimate questions of the sort that have always had special urgency for young people. … One of the ironies of contemporary academic life is that even as the humanities become marginal in our colleges, they are establishing themselves in medical, law, and business school, where interest is growing in the study of literature and the arts as a way to encourage self-critical reflection among future physicians, attorneys, and entrepreneurs … .

[snip]

Certain books—old and not so old—speak to us in a subversive whisper that makes us wonder whether the idea of progress might be a sham. They tell us that the questions we face under the shadow of death are not new, and that no new technology will help answer them.

Delbanco discusses the history of American higher education going back to its origins with the founding of Harvard in the 1600s, looking at the role of religion in the founding of our first schools and as well at the limited social strata from which students came. Even as we’ve moved toward a more open, democratic, meritocratic system, Delbanco argues that something has been lost.

As I later understood when I came to read [Michael Young’s] The Rise of the Meritocracy, Young and Baltzell were talking about … the Anglo-American version of noblesse oblige—a conception that seems much attenuated now that “merit has become progressively more measurable.” In our era of social sorting by academic prowess, which Young placed in an imaginary future but which we know firsthand, the “new upper classes are no longer weakened by self-doubt and self-criticism,” and, all too often, subscribe to “the axiom of modern thought … that people are unequal, and … that they should be accorded a station in life related to their capacities.”

It is hard not to be fortified in this view as one goes through today’s college admissions process, which effectively begins in preschool, accelerates through childhood, consumes much of adolescence, and comes to a climax on the cusp of adulthood. This series of trials and rewards is well designed to convince the winners that they deserve their winnings. … “Today,” as [Young] put it with tart irony, “the eminent know that success is just reward for their own capacity, for their own efforts, and fortheir own undeniable achievement,” and “become so impressed with their own importance as to lose sympathy with the people whom they govern.”

Mitt, I think Delbanco and Young are talking about you.

And finally, here’s a passage that includes a centuries-old quote from leading Puritan clergyman John Cotton (A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, in The Puritans in America, edited by Alan Heimert and Andrew Delbanco):

Our oldest colleges have abandoned the cardinal principle of the religion out of which they arose: the principle that no human being deserves anything based on his or her merit. In that view—too harsh, perhaps, for anyone except a saint to live by—when God announced to Abraham that he had chosen him for an exalted role in history, he did so “without any respect unto any goodness in Abraham,” but rather “freely of his grace … for it is nothing God seeth in Abraham, for which he doth reveal his justification to him.” Such a God was not impressed by any demonstration of meritorious behavior in any human being. To the extent that human beings are capable of worthy actions, they are unmerited gifts from a merciful God, and should be occasions for humility rather than pride.

Amen.

Categories: Books, Education, Humanities

Redneck Riviera

April 19, 2013 Leave a comment

redneckriviera

I’m a little puzzled by my decision earlier his week to put other books aside and jump into Harvey Jackson III’s The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera: An Insider’s History of the Florida-Alabama Coast. I’m sixty pages in so far and enjoying it, but how did I even come upon it? Let’s go back a month.

At the time, in anticipation of our upcoming trip to Athens and Augusta, where we would visit the University of Georgia and spend a day at the Masters, I looked around for books on the state and the tournament. This led to James Cobb’s short history, Georgia Odyssey, which I wrote about here and here. And then, instead of a book on the Masters, I read Ron Rapoport’s biography The Immortal Bobby: Bobby Jones and the Golden Age of Golf of one of the Masters co-founders, which I wrote about here.

I was ready at that point for a more detailed history of Georgia or the South, and contemplated reading (high school classmate) Steve Hahn’s Puliter Prize winning A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration. But instead I turned to a book that had long been on my reading list, Amanda Foreman’s mammoth A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War. In my post on this decision, I quoted Rick Hertzberg’s review two summers ago in the New Yorker, in which he called the book

an immensely ambitious and immensely accomplished—and just plain immense—work of narrative art. At a third of a million words sprawled over nearly a thousand pages, “A World on Fire” is not far south of “War and Peace.” Yet the pages fly like the wind—like “Gone with the Wind”—because there’s so much life, so much action, and so many vivid people in them.

I don’t entirely disagree. I’m halfway through now, and it is indeed filled with life, action, and vivid people. When I pick it up, I’m fully absorbed. Yet, when I put it down—to sleep, to work, whatever—I don’t find myself missing it. Indeed, while part way through, I squeezed in the reading of another book entirely during our trip: Andrew Delbanco’s College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be (post still to come). I was open to interruptions.

Which brings me back to Jim Cobb, author of Georgia Odyssey and a professor at the University of Georgia. He had enough personal asides in his book that I could tell he was a guy worth getting to know better. And guess what? That’s easy to do, thanks to his blog Cobbloviate. He averages about 2-3 posts a month. This opening from a post two months ago gives a sense of the man.

The interim between the end of football recruiting and the start of spring practice is a season of unremitting funk for the Ol’ Bloviator. One of the reasons that his funk resulutely refuses to remit is that when nobody’s playing or practicing, he is more prone to move back a step or two and take a harder look at some of the more troubling off-field aspects of this now thoroughly commercialized amateur pastime that, most of the time, despite himself, he loves way too uncritically.

For instance, we here at UGA have just seen fit to bestow a modest $400,000 pay increase on head football coach Mark Richt, who had been struggling heretofore to get by on a paltry $2.8 million. Hopefully, Mr. Richt will now feel loved and motivated enough to go out and give our lads another season’s worth of hugs and thwacks on the buttocks sufficient to inspire them to give their all for the old Red and Black. If this is not incentive enough, perhaps an additional $800K in performance bonuses will do the trick.

Apparently, we had to give Richt a little boost in pay simply to avoid the mortal embarrassment of having his salary cease to seem less than “competitive” in the Southeastern Conference, where football is not simply the tail that wags the dog but the whole big ol’ dog, who wags his tail and does whatever else he chooses whenever and wherever he by God chooses.

Four days ago, a new Cobbloviate post popped up on my RSS feed. After reading it, I explored the blog anew and noticed an image of a book cover on the home page. Embiggening the image, I found myself staring at the cover of The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera. Further searching within Cobb’s blog brought me to a post from last June in which he discusses the book. He in turn links to three reviews. And then I went to the book’s website at University of Georgia Press, which provides this description:

The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera traces the development of the Florida-Alabama coast as a tourist destination from the late 1920s and early 1930s, when it was sparsely populated with “small fishing villages,” through to the tragic and devastating BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.

Harvey H. Jackson III focuses on the stretch of coast from Mobile Bay and Gulf Shores, Alabama, east to Panama City, Florida—an area known as the “Redneck Riviera.” Jackson explores the rise of this area as a vacation destination for the lower South’s middle- and working-class families following World War II, the building boom of the 1950s and 1960s, and the emergence of the Spring Break “season.” From the late sixties through 1979, severe hurricanes destroyed many small motels, cafes, bars, and early cottages that gave the small beach towns their essential character. A second building boom ensued in the 1980s dominated by high-rise condominiums and large resort hotels. Jackson traces the tensions surrounding the gentrification of the late 1980s and 1990s and the collapse of the housing market in 2008. While his major focus is on the social, cultural, and economic development, he also documents the environmental and financial impacts of natural disasters and the politics of beach access and dune and sea turtle protection.

The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera is the culmination of sixteen years of research drawn from local newspapers, interviews, documentaries, community histories, and several scholarly studies that have addressed parts of this region’s history. From his 1950s-built family vacation cottage in Seagrove Beach, Florida, and on frequent trips to the Alabama coast, Jackson witnessed the changes that have come to the area and has recorded them in a personal, in-depth look at the history and culture of the coast.

I know essentially nothing about the Gulf Coast. I was intrigued. So I downloaded the free opening portion from Amazon and began. I also started studying maps. Here’s one:

gulfcoastmap

You can see the focus of the book, from Mobile in the center to Panama City on the right. Lots of inlets, waterways, islands (or one-time islands, now connected to the mainland).

Once I finished the excerpt, I returned to Amanda Foreman and the Civil War for a couple of days, but images of Pensacola kept floating into my head. So I downloaded the rest of Redneck Riviera. I’ve gone from Jackson’s rapid treatment of the 1920s and 1930s through the war years, military expansion at Naval Air Station Pensacola and Eglin Air Force Base, and into the 1950s, with World War II veterans making the coast a vacation destination. Growth and development are in the air.

It’s all news to me. Not the general arc of the story, but the details, including the geography. I’m learning a lot.

Jackson can’t compete with Foreman on life, action, and vivid people. Not to sell him short. He brings plenty of each. And he’s quite a storyteller in his own right. More than that, he’s an awfully companionable fellow. He and Cobb—they’re plain good company. But the development of a stretch of the Gulf Coast in the fifties simply can’t be as exciting as the battles of North and South for the attention of Britain, not to mention the battles of North and South against each other.

Nor need it be. Keep in mind that the two tales are linked. The development of the South a century after the Civil War is well worth reading about in parallel with the war story itself. I’m happy with my decision; I’ll keep alternating.

Categories: Books, History

Kenwood House 3

April 18, 2013 Leave a comment
Rembrandt self portrait, circa 1665

Rembrandt self portrait, circa 1665

I’ve already written twice about Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London, the current exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum: two months ago, when we had to miss the opening because of a conflict, and a couple of weeks later, after we toured the exhibition under the expert guidance of Susan Jenkins, senior curator of English Heritage.

I’m returning to the subject in order to write about another tour we had the opportunity to take, two mornings ago, this time led by Seattle Art Museum’s own Chiyo Ishikawa, the curator for European painting and sculpture. Recall Chiyo’s description of the exhibition from SAM’s website:

Within the neoclassical Kenwood House at Hampstead Heath on the outskirts of London, resides a magnificent painting collection known as the Iveagh Bequest. Kenwood is home to an exceptional collection of Old Master paintings, including major works by Gainsborough, Hals, Rembrandt, Reynolds, Romney, Turner, Van Dyck, and many others. The Iveagh Bequest was donated to Great Britain by Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (1847–1927) and heir to the world’s most successful brewery. Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: Treasures of Kenwood House, London, a selection of approximately 50 masterpieces from the collection, will tour American museums for the first time. Among other treasures, the exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see Rembrandt’s late Portrait of the Artist (ca. 1665), which has never left Europe before.

The Earl of Iveagh’s personal collection was shaped by the tastes of the Belle Époque—Europe’s equivalent to America’s Gilded Age. His purchases reveal a preference for the portraiture, landscape, and seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings that could typically be found in English aristocratic collections. Since the earl was a newcomer to London emigrating from his native Ireland, he may have selected works that would help him fit in with his peers and elevate his social standing.

Chiyo took a group of about thirty of us from SAM’s lobby up to the exhibition’s opening room, where she reviewed Guinness’s astonishing buying spree and a change in British law that made it possible. (Families with agricultural holdings who previously were not allowed to sell their art were now permitted to do so provided they reinvested the income in farming.) She then took us from room to room, focusing on two or three portraits per room and providing context that complemented what we had learned from Susan Jenkins. For example, Chiyo singled out the Frans Hals portrait of Pieter van den Broecke from 1633 (featured atop my second Kenwood post and reproduced below) as the most unusual in Guinness’s collection, because Hals’ work had only recently been rediscovered and was not widely viewed as a worthy painter.

J870218

Chiyo also spent some time contrasting the work of Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, eventually confessing—in case it wasn’t clear—that she was a big Gainsborough fan, more so than Reynolds. She invited us in particular to look at the two portraits below, which are hung on perpendicular walls within a single room.

First, Reynolds’ 1782 portrait of Mrs. Musters as ‘Hebe’.

J910498

From the webpage:

Hebe is the Greek goddess of youth, the daughter of Zeus and the future wife of Hercules. Here she is on Mount Olympus, portrayed by 24-year-old Sophia Catherine Musters. Mrs. Musters sat 18 times for this portrait by Joshua Reynolds.

Mrs. Musters, however, was unhappily married. She had many male admirers and was unfaithful.

In fact, an earlier portrait by Reynolds was reportedly not given to Mr. Musters but instead to Mrs. Musters’ lover, the Prince of Wales.

So Reynolds compensated for that loss by painting a new portrait for the husband. This time he chose to portray Mrs. Musters as that ultimate beauty: a Greek goddess.

And here is Gainsborough’s 1760 portrait of Mary, Countess Howe.

J880100

From the webpage:

Thomas Gainsborough actually preferred painting landscapes to portraits. But early in his career, his landscapes weren’t selling all that well.

He studied the full-length portraits of aristocracy by Anthony Van Dyck and eventually Gainsborough attracted commissions from fashionable clientele such as Mary, Countess Howe.

Countess Howe was actually an aristocrat by marriage and not by birth. So technically the painting should be called “Lady Howe.” But Mary Hartopp became a countess after her military husband became an earl. The couple was vacationing in Bath when they asked Gainsborough to paint each of them.

Gainsborough went all out painting her in pink silk and ruffles standing outdoors on some estate. She was, of course, posed inside Gainsborough’s studio but that landscape suggests the countess as both aristocrat and a landowner.

The couple had come to Bath because Earl Howe was suffering from gout and needed to recuperate. Gainsborough chose to underscore strength and boldness in Countess Howe. She has her hand on her hip, her toe pointed and her eyes gazing straight ahead.

Putting details of technique aside, Chiyo distilled the issues into the simple question, how would we like to be depicted? She then talked about Gainsborough’s marvelous treatment of Mary’s clothing and the pleasure he took in magically creating effects that one must stand back some distance to appreciate.

Oh, but I’ve skipped ahead. For what would English portrait painting be without Anthony van Dyck and his arrival in London in the 1630s to paint in the court of Charles I? Chiyo talked about this while we focused on van Dyck’s 1634 portrait of Princess Henrietta of Lorraine.

J920322

From the webpage:

If art is an escape, then the full-length portraits hanging throughout Kenwood House sent the 1st Earl of Iveagh back to a more civilized time. The paintings of young wives, mistresses and of course, royalty, underscored elegance, grace and poise. The world was nothing but genteel, as seen in this portrait of Princess Henrietta of Lorraine.

But this princess was dripping in scandal: charges of treason, banishment from France, masquerading as a man in order to escape punishment, and even suspicions of orchestrating attempted murder.

There’s only the slightest hint in this portrait that she has suffered: the thorns on the roses held by a page. Otherwise, all is well. She’s wearing pearls and Flemish bobbin lace; standing in front of gold brocade with a boy at the ready.

Van Dyck has painted a 23-year-old princess who is defiant and not a bit defeated.

Chiyo explained that the seemingly disproportionate size of the head compared to the body in this and other portraits makes sense once we understand that at the time, portraits would be hung high on the wall. (One must have a home with high walls! Some of these paintings wouldn’t fit on our walls no matter how low we hung them, though I’d be happy to take a couple home and give it a try.)

The final room of the exhibition features portraits of children. Here’s Thomas Lawrence’s 1825-27 portrait of Miss Murray.

J910513

And from the webpage:

Louisa Georgina Augusta Anne Murray is between three and five years old. She’s got a lapful of petals. Her stockings are rumpled. Her hair is in ringlets. She’s bright eyed and pink cheeked and a picture of purity.

She was born out of wedlock and her mother’s lover commissioned this portrait. He chose the greatest portrait painter at the time: Sir Thomas Lawrence. The painting might have been a way to underscore the child’s innocence (and obscure her actual social status). The child’s parents were eventually wed.

The artist had been a child prodigy himself, so he knew all about being the center of attention. In a letter to her parents, the painter said he wanted to capture her “fleeting beauty and expression so singular in the child before the change takes places that some few months may bring.”

This portrait of sweetness ended up being one of the most reproduced images of a British child; replicated in Victorian engravings and on biscuit tins.

The exhibition closes May 19. We hope to get back to explore it more closely on our own. If you’re here in Seattle, be sure to go.

Categories: Art, Museums

Georgia Museum of Art

April 16, 2013 Leave a comment
Sowing, William H. Johnson, ca. 1940, gouache and pencil,  collection of Morgan State University

Sowing, William H. Johnson, ca. 1940, gouache and pencil,
collection of Morgan State University

We concluded last week’s visit to Athens, Georgia, with a stop at the Georgia Museum of Art. It is “both a university museum under the aegis of the University of Georgia and, since 1982, the official state museum of art. Located on the East Campus of UGA, in the Performing and Visual Arts Complex, it opened in 1948. Recently, it completed an extensive expansion and remodeling of its building, paid for entirely with externally raised funds, that has allowed it to display its permanent collection continually.”

I had looked at the museum’s website before we left Seattle and identified an exhibition that I thought we would enjoy, William H. Johnson: An American Modern. We made it our first stop. Below is the painting that greets you on entering the exhibition space.

Aunt Alice, ca. 1944, oil on compressed board, collection of Morgan State University

Aunt Alice, ca. 1944, oil on compressed board, collection of Morgan State University

According to the website,

William Henry Johnson (1901–1970) is a pivotal figure in modern American art. A virtuoso skilled in various media and techniques, he produced thousands of works over a career that spanned decades, continents and genres. Now, on view in its entirety for the first time, a seminal collection covering key stages in Johnson’s career will be presented in “William H. Johnson: An American Modern.” Developed by Baltimore’s James E. Lewis Museum of Art, Morgan State University, this Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service exhibition represents a unique opportunity to share the artist’s oeuvre with a broader audience. This exhibition of 20 expressionist and vernacular landscapes, still-life paintings and portraits investigates the intricate layers of Johnson’s diverse cultural perspective as an artist and self-described “primitive and cultured painter.” An exhibition catalogue, funded in part by the Henry Luce Foundation, features essays by such noted scholars as David C. Driskell, on such topics as primitivism, modernism and African American art; African American artists and the art historical canon; identity and aesthetics in art; and art and art scholarship at historically black colleges and universities.

Photos were not allowed for temporary exhibitions, so I can’t show you any more than the two above from the website, which is unfortunate, because there were many wonderful works. For instance, his Byzantine-influenced paintings of Christ and followers, with African-Americans filling all the roles.

I see now that the exhibition was at the Cleveland Museum of Art before coming to Athens. In a review of the exhibition at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Steven Litt writes:

His bright, flat, cartoonlike paintings of jitterbugging dancers and Southern sharecroppers look like the work of a naive outsider on the surface, but they are every bit as knowing and accomplished as the work of such contemporaries as Jacob Lawrence or Romare Bearden. Johnson sought a raw authenticity while also clearly drawing on years of hard-won artistic knowledge.

[snip]

The exhibition illuminates all major phases of Johnson’s career and arouses a powerful curiosity about how he navigated successfully from the Deep South to the upper East Side of Manhattan and then rural Denmark.

Johnson’s harbor scenes of fishing boats in Kerteminde and of the jagged fjord of Lofoten Island in Norway, which he and Krake visited, feel emotionally raw and exposed. Hypersensitive to mood, light and color, they convey enormous gusto through heavy applications of thick paint.

The later works after Johnson returned with Krake to New York have the concentrated energy and simplicity of an artist at the top of his game.

After Krake’s death from cancer in 1944, Johnson turned to religious themes in paintings constructed mainly out of flat areas of color and pattern. As the show’s catalog points out, Johnson was inspired both by medieval and Renaissance European paintings, as well as African textiles and patchwork quilts from the American South.

Sadly, Johnson grew increasingly disabled after he was diagnosed in 1947 with paresis, a form of dementia caused by syphilis. During a prolonged visit in Denmark in 1946-47, he was picked up for vagrancy and hospitalized in Oslo, Norway.

We next headed to the museum’s permanent collection, which has surprising range. I passed quickly over the Renaissance paintings, this not seeming to be one of the museum’s strengths. Looking now at the photos I took, I can see that I focused mostly on mid-twentieth century. Here are examples:

George Schreiber, The White House, 1945:

schreiber

Louis Freund, Transcontinental Bus, 1936:

freund

Robert Gwathmey, Hoeing Tobacco, 1946

gwathmey

I included two other paintings in a post last Saturday previewing coming attractions. Recall Jimmy Lee Sudduth’s self-portrait from the late 1980s:

Jimmy Lee Sudduth, self-portrait, homemade pigments and house paint on tin, Georgia Museum of Art

Jimmy Lee Sudduth, self-portrait, homemade pigments and house paint on tin, Georgia Museum of Art

And R.A. Miller’s All the Devils (no date):

All the Devils, RA Miller, enamel paint on barn door, Georgia Museum of Art

All the Devils, RA Miller, enamel paint on barn door, Georgia Museum of Art

Here’s a detail:

devildetail

Excellent museum. We’re glad we reserved time to visit.

Categories: Art, Museums, Travel

Staring Me in the Face

April 15, 2013 Leave a comment

coneyisland

This post is about a stunning failure on my part to make a connection between visual and verbal data. Or, a failure to see what was staring me in the face.

Eight days ago, we boarded a flight from LaGuardia to Atlanta. Once the cabin door was shut and I had to put away my Kindle, I pulled out the Delta flight magazine. Paging through, I came to the crossword and saw that it was edited by Will Shortz, which meant maybe it wouldn’t be overly easy and hence was worth a try.

I borrowed Gail’s pen and began. Soon I came to this clue: “New York’s _______ Island.” Hmm. Governor’s? Roosevelt? No. Too long. The answer was five letters. Ellis? No, the fourth letter was an ‘e’. I moved on.

In a few minutes, we took off, northeast over Long Island Sound, then turning sharply to the left until we were heading west toward New Jersey, with all of New York City laid out below our window. There was Manhattan, Roosevelt Island, the Queensborough Bridge. Farther down, the bridges to Brooklyn. Ahead, Newark and the Giants-Jets football stadium. South again, the Hudson. Oh, there’s the Statue of Liberty. And another island, which even though I had named it five minutes earlier in trying to fill in the crossword puzzle, I couldn’t identify now. (Ellis). And still farther south, Staten Island, with the Bayonne Bridge crossing south to it from New Jersey. And the Narrows, crossed by the Verrazano Bridge. Now we were turning southward and on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, there was Coney Island, which I pointed out to Gail.

Then I returned to the crossword. Still couldn’t figure out that island. A few minutes later, Gail drew my attention to the view once more and I said that that’s the Delaware River flowing into Delaware Bay. But what happened to Philadelphia? We couldn’t find it. We had come too far. Or was I confused. Then more water. The Chesapeake, Gail suggested. Yes, of course, for there was the Susquehanna River flowing into it from the west near its north end, with the bridges crossing the river, familiar from many a train trip over one of them. Soon we looked down on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

It was getting hazy now. I thought we should be able to spot Annapolis, or at least the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. We couldn’t.

Back to the crossword.

I was nearly done now. That island, though. Oh, first letter ‘C’, which gave me the partial answer “New York’s C _ _ e _ Island.”

And now it was obvious. Coney Island.

Can you imagine how stupid I felt? It had never occurred to me as we flew over the city to connect the islands I was naming to the crossword. I had even pointed Coney Island out to Gail, yet thought nothing of it.

The mysteries of the brain.

Categories: Crosswords, Travel

On Ice

April 15, 2013 Leave a comment
Yale scores over Quinnipiac

Yale scores over Quinnipiac

[Gene Puskar/Associated Press]

It’s been a while since I’ve written about college hockey. I’ve explained before that I used to be a big fan. That happens when your older brother goes to school at one of the great hockey powers out west (which wins the NCAA title his junior and senior years), and then you head to school at one of Boston’s four great hockey powers—ranked #1 frequently during your time there—only to watch another of the Boston powers win two titles in a row, with the championship games played in Boston three consecutive years.

Starting sophomore year, I never missed a home game or a game in that best of all Boston sporting traditions, the annual midseason Beanpot tournament. Boston schools continue to dominate, BC having won three championships in the five years prior to this one and BU another. Harvard, though, has fallen on hard times, with former doormat Yale becoming the best Ivy team of late.

Well, none of this is germane to the point of this silly post, which I’ll soon get to.

In recent years, I haven’t followed college hockey so closely. There was a bit of a revival of interest when Joel attended one of Boston’s big four schools. I followed their hockey fortunes more closely than he did. And at the same time, a good friend of mine became president of a new hockey power, Miami University in Ohio, which lost the championship game way too painfully four years ago after leading BU 3-1 with just under a minute left.

So I keep up. A little. Enough to have learned that the NCAA tournament has come to be run in two parts. Sixteen teams are selected. On the same weekend that the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments reach their sweet sixteen and elite eight stages, hockey’s first two rounds are played, producing the four teams that go to the Frozen Four. (Get it? Frozen Four, not Final Four?)

Then something incredibly annoying happens. The four finalists are in top shape and eager to go at it. But the next weekend, what does the NCAA do? Okay, get ready. This post is not about hockey. It’s about a pun, one I used in explaining the situation to Gail two weekends ago, when basketball was on but not hockey. Here’s what happens:

The NCAA puts their hockey tournament on ice!

Yes, they put it on ice! Instead of letting hockey get lost amid the basketball, they postpone the Frozen Four a week, as if delaying will focus more attention on the hockey games. I just don’t get it.

But how about that pun? I was proud of it, as you can see, proud enough to devote an entire post to it.

As for this year’s tournament, the championship game was played two days ago, Yale playing another hockey upstart, Qunnipiac. (Imagine that! Suddenly Boston isn’t the epicenter of college hockey. Greater New Haven is, with two schools just six miles apart, though much farther apart in their histories.) Quinnipiac was ranked #1 in the country and had beaten Yale three times already this season. Through almost two periods, the game was scoreless. With seconds to go in the second period, Yale scored, adding three more goals in the third to shock Quinnipiac 4-0. Yale, national champions of hockey. I never would have expected the day to come.

Categories: Hockey, Language, Sports

Athens Restaurants

April 14, 2013 Leave a comment
Five Points, Athens, Georgia

Five Points, Athens, Georgia

First off, I should clarify that I’m talking about the Athens in Georgia, not Greece, and about Georgia the US state, not Georgia the country in the Caucasus.

As I’ve indicated in previous posts, we flew down to Atlanta from New York last Sunday, then drove to Athens, home of the University of Georgia and fifth largest city in the state. (What’s bigger? Atlanta of course. Also Augusta, Columbus, Savannah.)

That night we had our first of many superb meals, though not at a restaurant. This one was at Dan and RuthElizabeth’s home. Ribs, macaroni and cheese, green beans and Vidalia onions (with or without bacon). A great introduction to southern cooking, even if Dan’s from right here in greater Seattle and RuthElizabeth is from Syracuse. And the red velvet cupcakes that their daughter made were a perfect ending.

Monday morning, Gail and I explored the university and downtown. Having not eaten a real breakfast, we were hungry, so we stopped for an early lunch downtown at Al’s Beef, a Chicago chain whose only non-Illinois locations for now are in Athens and Scottdale. Why Athens has one is a mystery, but I tell you what—if you stumble on an Al’s Beef somewhere, give it a try. It’s implausibly good. We both tried their classic, the Al’s Italian Beef with hot and sweet peppers and provolone.

alsbeef

The Masters golf tournament may be what brought us to Georgia, but once we decided to make Athens our home base (getting accommodations in Augusta would have been hopeless by the time we decided to use the tickets we won in the Masters lottery), a visit to UGA’s math department also became part of the plan, thanks to Dan’s kind invitation. I spent the afternoon in the department, after which we were taken out to dinner at 5 & 10, just down the street from campus at Five Points, pictured above.

5&10

This place is great. It is owned by Hugh Acheson. From the website:

Five & Ten is Hugh’s flagship restaurant, started from scratch in 2000. “The menu,” says Hugh, “has always been an open interpretation of Southern food, melding Georgia cookery with French and Italian influences I learned growing up. It’s been a very fun restaurant over the years.”

Acheson’s fresh approach to Southern food has earned him a great deal of recognition including Food & Wine’s Best New Chef (2002), the Atlanta Journal Constitution Restaurant of the Year (2007), a James Beard winner for Best Chef Southeast in 2012, a 2007 Rising Star and 2012 winner of the Mentor Chef award from StarChefs.com.

In 2012, the James Beard Foundation awarded Hugh’s first cookbook A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen, published by Clarkson Potter, Best Cookbook in the field of American Cooking.

newturninsouth

Gail and I shared two appetizers. One is described on the menu as 5&10 “Little Ears Pasta” stinging nettles, garlic sausage, favas, calabrian peppers, lemon. The other was Romaine Hearts classic caesar dressing, crisp parmesan, bacon, pressed bread. I started with the Caesar and didn’t want to give it up. But once I switched to the pasta, I wished I had more of that.

For the main dish, Gail had Low Country Frogmore Stew gulf shrimp, potatoes, corn, andouille, leek & tomato broth and grilled bread. I’m not a big shrimp eater, but it looked fabulous. And at the end Gail let me try it. Fabulous indeed. I had the Roasted Hanger Steak, anson mills farro, fiddlehead ferns, beet greens, abalone mushrooms. No, that doesn’t sound right. It’s what’s on the online menu, but I didn’t have farro. I had oats. Incredibly good oats, as was everything else.

They have an extensive wine list, plus additional choices by the glass. I tried a glass of Sicilian red, as did Brian. Gail had a rosé, and later a syrah-grenache blend, both French. I can’t remember what, but all were good.

For dessert, in addition to their pastries, they have a daily selection of ice cream, sorbet, and cookies. I went for a scoop of coconut ice cream and an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. I can’t remember what Gail had. The online menu lists Chocolate Nemesis cake with malt ice cream, white chocolate crumb, brandied cherries, bruleed banana, whipped cream. I know she didn’t have that, but maybe she had a variant.

I was learning fast that people eat well in Athens.

Tuesday was Masters day. We were on the road to Augusta with Dan and RE by 6:45 in the morning, back around 7:15 in the evening. Once we collected the girls (well, they were collected in stages, but no matter), we headed to Cali-N-Tito’s, which is just a block up from 5 & 10, in walking distance of both our on-campus hotel and Dan and RE’s house. It’s a Cuban restaurant, the kind of place where you order and pay at the counter, take a number, and wait for the food to be brought to your table. The line to order was about 25 minutes long, giving Gail and me loads of time to study the menu.

Given Cali-N-Titos’ proximity to campus and the preponderance of students among the diners, I might have had low expectations if not for Dan and RE’s having chosen it. The food came quickly after ordering, and it was good. More than good. I’ve never had a better Cubano sandwich. Standards are high in Athens.

Wednesday Dan and RE joined us for a tour of UGA’s Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. It’s the UGA sports Hall of Fame—the central atrium anyway—with the offices of the Department of Athletics, workout space, and more in the corners and below. And it’s amazing, to the extent that a university sports museum can be amazing. National championship trophies, Heisman trophies, history, photos, old football helmets, and on and on. One could wander the space for hours.

UGAhelmets

Next stop was the Georgia Museum of Art, the university art museum that doubles as the state art museum. We were running into time pressure at this point, since we were all supposed to meet Natalie (another Washington native who has found her way to Athens) for lunch, after which Dan and Natalie had to get on with their days. So we cut the museum visit short in order to get over to The Grit.

Natalie had suggested The Grit while we were texting back and forth from the art museum, and I remembered reading about it before the trip, so I instantly agreed. We would meet up in about half an hour, with Gail and me returning to the museum on our own after lunch.

According to The Grit’s wikipedia entry—which is where I must have read about it, since the website information is minimal—

The Grit is perhaps best known for its relationship to the Athens music scene. It is located on the edge of downtown Athens, site of numerous performance venues. The Grit is a popular stop for touring performers and local musicians. Although he is not involved in the operation of the restaurant, the building is owned by R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe. In 2001 the restaurant’s owners published The Grit Cookbook: World-Wise, Down-Home Recipes, which contains testimonials from many of The Grit’s fans in the music industry and elsewhere. Admirers included Stipe, Kate Pierson (of the B-52’s), Kevn Kinney, Vic Chesnutt and Spalding Gray, along with members of Pylon, Widespread Panic, Fugazi, The Jayhawks, Counting Crows, and even Hee Haw’s Marianne Rogers. The Grit’s menu is entirely vegetarian, and a significant portion of items are vegan.

And from the website:

If you’ve never visited The Grit, you should know that we’ve been an old favorite in Athens, GA for more than two decades. We serve vegetarian food in a way that appeals to ALL kinds of eaters. The lure of delicious homemade food served in generous portions at inexpensive prices, coupled with a lovingly restored pair of handsome dining rooms in a splendid historic building…it all brings people back and back again. So again, welcome to TheGrit.com!

gritcookbook

I started with the day’s soup special, the lentil soup, though the split pea dal sounded tempting too. Then I had the Falafel Platter: Five chickpea fritters served with lemon-tahini dressing, pita points, cucumbers, carrots, celery and radishes. I’ve been eating falafel a long time. Like, since my Israeli cousin ordered them for me in an Arab restaurant in Jaffa in July 1970. And these were as good as any I’ve ever had. Tasty and light.

Another option is The Grit Veggie Plate, in which you choose three items from among the dishes on the special board or from a selection of regular menu items. Gail went for this. I can’t remember which three she chose, other than one being two falafels and another being one of the soups. Maybe the other special of the day, a bean soup. Oh, and tabouli salad. She was as delighted as I was.

We don’t seem to get to vegetarian restaurants too often. One thing we realized is that when it comes to desserts, their offerings aren’t much different from the offerings of non-vegetarian restaurants. For instance, a beautiful red velvet cake from which one can order slices. And homemade cookies. Natalie and I split a cookie. We all shared a slice of cake.

The Grit’s website description is accurate. Their food does appeal to “ALL kinds of eaters.” It is indeed “delicious homemade food served in generous portions at inexpensive prices, coupled with a lovingly restored pair of handsome dining rooms in a splendid historic building.” And it would bring me “back and back again.”

That last line applies, by the way, to Athens dining—and Athens—in general. I’m hooked.

Categories: Restaurants, Travel