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Milestone, V

December 29, 2013 Leave a comment

seven

Ron’s View regulars know that when December 29 comes around, it’s time for my annual post on the number of miles I’ve driven my car in the past year, with additional analysis of the monthly/annual driving averages since I brought it home seven years ago tomorrow. As I observed two years ago, “I don’t imagine anyone besides me finds this all that interesting. Nonetheless, I enjoy doing the analysis, and writing a post about it allows me to record the data in a convenient place.”

In my first milestone post, four years ago, I found that I had driven a total of 11,640 miles, for an average of 3880 miles per year or 323 1/3 miles per month.

Three years ago, I had driven only an additional 3268 miles, for a total of 14,908 miles, bringing the annual and monthly averages down to 3727 miles and 310 1/2.

Two years ago, I had added 3693 miles to my total, yielding an odometer reading of 18,601. If we forget that extra mile, we find that my cumulative averages were 3720 miles per year and 310 miles per month.

A year ago, I added 3634 miles, closing the year with an odometer reading is 22,235. My cumulative annual average was down to 3705 5/6, with a monthly average of 308 5/6 miles.

We’re ready for this year’s result. I just went outside to check, and my current odometer reading is 25,740. Thus, in the last year I have driven 3505 miles, or just over 292 miles per month. My cumulative annual average has dropped further, to 3677 1/7 miles, and my monthly average is down to 306 3/7 miles.

Once again, I wonder if my car will outlast me. One of these years, we’ll need to use it for a major road trip. Last year, there was a three-day trip to Walla Walla, which added close to 600 miles in one shot. No such trips this year. A coastal drive at least as far south as Monterey awaits. Maybe in retirement.

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Categories: Automobiles

The Examined Life

December 29, 2013 Leave a comment

Examined_Life

A week ago I wrote two posts, one about Under Tower Peak, the thriller I had begun reading, and one about The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail, the report on the route from Central America to the US that I anticipated reading next.

As it turns out, we spent Christmas in San Diego. Or, more precisely, Coronado. (I may say a bit about our trip in a future post or two.) I made some headway on Under Tower Peak on the flight down Monday. At one point, the pilot pointed out Lake Tahoe on the left. Thanks to my seat in row 9 in Alaska’s setup of its 737s, I had no window. I’ll be avoiding row 9 in the future. I could see a bit through the window behind me if I leaned way back, though even then, I had to peek between the wing and the engine if I wanted to see anything not way out to the east. Thus, I never did see Tahoe. But when he pointed out Mono Lake a short time later, I had a perfect view, at which point I realized that I was flying over the very country in which Under Tower Peak takes place—the part of the Sierra Nevada between Reno and Yosemite. That was fun, as was the book, whose main character knows this territory intimately. He is a genuine modern cowboy and an Iraq War vet, at home with guns, horses, and mules, all of which comes in handy.

I finished Under Tower Peak on our flight back to Seattle Thursday night. With time to spare, I turned to The Beast. It is not easy reading. Nor did I expect it to be. I’ll get back to it, but Friday night I began looking around for something else.

In reviewing Michiko Kakutani’s 10 favorite books of 2013, I came upon one I had missed, despite her review last July: Steven Grosz’s The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves. In her short blurb, Kakutani writes:

Despite its self-help-like title, this moving book of patient portraits by the psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz will make the reader think of Freud’s keenly observed and literary-minded case studies. Writing with sympathy and insight, Mr. Grosz distills 25 years of work into a series of slim, piercing chapters that read like a combination of Chekhov and Oliver Sacks. As someone who helps his patients connect the dots in their lives, Mr. Grosz suggests, as Isak Dinesen once wrote, that “all sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.”

Here is the description from the author website:

We are all storytellers – we make stories to make sense of our lives. But it is not enough to tell tales. There must be someone to listen.

In his work as a practising psychoanalyst, Stephen Grosz has spent the last twenty-five years uncovering the hidden feelings behind our most baffling behaviour. The Examined Life distils over 50,000 hours of conversation into pure psychological insight, without the jargon.

This extraordinary book is about one ordinary process: talking, listening and understanding. Its aphoristic and elegant stories teach us a new kind of attentiveness. They also unveil a delicate self-portrait of the analyst at work, and show how lessons learned in the consulting room can reveal as much to him as to the patient.

These are stories about our everyday lives: they are about the people we love and the lies that we tell; the changes we bear, and the grief. Ultimately, they show us not only how we lose ourselves but how we might find ourselves too.

I downloaded the free portion Friday night, read the first tale (that’s all one gets, once one gets past the introductory material), then downloaded the full book yesterday morning and finished reading it this afternoon. The stories are short, the book goes by in a flash.

I wouldn’t say the stories show us “how we might find ourselves.” That’s a bit hokey. As Kakutani comments, and despite the book’s sub-title, it really isn’t a self-help book. You will not learn to be your own therapist. Rather, it is a compilation of fascinating tales, many marvelously told, some (different ones, I suppose, for different readers) hitting close to home.

Grosz is careful to say less rather than more. Many tales reach a climax at a moment of awareness, when the pieces come together. Or at least Grosz suggests that they do, whether for him or for the patient. But he never belabors the point. We rarely see what happened next, if the moment of insight changed the patient’s life significantly or not. One may at times feel cheated, but I came to find that this made the book more powerful. No simple tying everything together, like weekly network TV dramas.

I was reminded, in this regard, of a course I took fall semester of my junior year in college. I don’t remember the title, but it was about personality theory, taught by George Goethals, an expert on adolescence. It might just have been the best course I took.

There was an extensive reading list. Harry Stack Sullivan. John Bowlby. Goethals offered enlightening lectures twice weekly, supplemented by weekly section meetings. My superb section leader must have been getting his PhD as a therapist, but he was already working full time as a counselor and associate director at a university counseling center with the odd name Bureau of Study Counsel. And he grew up one town away from me on Long Island. Each student, early in the semester, had to write a report about a relationship in the student’s life. Later in the semester, we had to write a second paper applaying one of the theories we had studied in order to shed light on the relationship.

There was one more component, and this is what Grosz’s book brought to mind. Six times during the course, Goethals stepped aside, bringing in a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School to present cases from his own practice. Each hour, he would tell us about a patient, the case history, the treatment, and the result. We had been reading about theory. He was here to tell us about real life, his underlying message being that real life is messy. He organized the cases in descending order, from complete success to total failure.

I wish I could remember the details. The last one was absolutely devastating. It involved a patient, a gun, a threat to his own life, maybe ending in suicide. Or perhaps I’m conflating the last two cases, one a suicide the other a threatening patient. The lectures left us shaken.

Since Grosz ends his stories in midstream, we don’t know which ones are failures, the revealing moment ultimately less than revealing. But the revelations themselves, some anyway, also have the power to leave us shaken.

Categories: Books

9 From L.A.

December 29, 2013 Leave a comment
Circle Blue, De Wain Valentine, 1970, 70"x5.5"

Circle Blue, De Wain Valentine, 1970, 70″x5.5″

[Melissa Davis, in Seattle Times]

Yesterday Gail and I went to the latest show at the Wright Exhibition Space*, 9 from L.A., sponsored jointly by Virginia Wright, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Getty Conservation Institute. It will run into April. I highly recommend going.

*I have explained in previous posts on the Wright Exhibition Space—for instance, this one—that it “is a small gallery that mounts shows from time to time drawn largely, or entirely, from the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, the largest collection of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest. I highly recommend going, whatever the show, because the art is superb, the mix of art is interesting, you often have the space to yourself or nearly to yourself, there’s an informative little printed guide, and there’s often a docent to introduce you to the show and chat with. The gallery is open Thursdays and Saturday, with free admission.”

The email to the mailing list announcing the show offered the following description:

Following the acclaimed Pacific Standard Time initiative that was held in venues across L.A. in 2011, Mrs. Wright has brought together works from her collection, SAM’s and loans that include important works by L.A. artists including Larry Bell, Ed Ruscha, Robert Irwin, John McCracken, Peter Alexander, De Wain Valentine and more. Wright was also inspired by a show organized by the Contemporary Arts Council at SAM called 10 from Los Angeles.

A highlight of 9 from L.A. is Gray Column (1975-76), a towering, polyester resin sculpture by Valentine. Gray Column was recently conserved and the first time it was on view to the public was in Pacific Standard Time.

SAM’s chief conservator, Nicholas Dorman, worked with Dr. Tom Learner of the GCI to bring Gray Column to Seattle, along with a display, developed by Dr. Learner, that describes how the sculpture was originally made and discusses some of the issues surrounding its conservation.

At twelve feet high and eight feet across, Gray Column is a spectacular embodiment of Valentine’s pioneering use of polyester resin for the creation of art– an innovation that would allow him to produce translucent shapes and forms at the scale he wanted. Thicker and opaque at the base, Gray Column gradually tapers to little more than an inch thick at its top almost disappearing into the ceiling.

Virginia Wright offers further background in a short note on the handout available when you enter the space.

When the Getty agreed to install De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column in our exhibition space, it seemed right to accompany it with works by other artists of his generation. I remembered a 1966 exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, commissioned by the Contempoary Art Council and organized by John Coplans, entitled “Ten from Los Angeles.” 47 years later, it still sounded like a good title for our current show, which includes many of the same artists featured in the 1966 exhibition.

See also Robert Ayers’ review in early November in the Seattle Times, from which the photo at the top is taken. He opens with his own description of the exhibition space.

Sixteen years after it first opened, the Wright Exhibition Space is still on the list of Seattle’s best-kept secrets. It is without doubt one of the city’s most beautiful places for looking at art, and you could not choose a better time to seek it out. The current exhibition is an excellent example of what the Wright Foundation does sublimely well.

Sitting pretty between the economic pressures of a commercial gallery and the civic or academic obligations of a museum, the foundation allows Virginia Wright to curate according to her very particular passions. The resulting exhibit delights and fascinates in equal measure.

We entered the space, picked up copies of the sheet listing the fourteen works in the show, and began to make our way around. Soon Sylvia, the docent, invited us to join her and another couple as she began her overview. She then took us to see each of the pieces, grouping them by artist and spending a lot of time on Valentine.

The featured work, Gray Column, is one of two matching columns that were commissioned by a company in Illinois for their new building. When the architect lowered the planned ceiling height, the columns were installed rotated ninety degrees, lying on their sides. This was back in the mid-’70s. Eventually the pieces came back to the artist, and then two years ago the Getty built a show around them, From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column.

Gray Column was one of the largest sculptures De Wain Valentine ever cast with polyester resin―the material with which he worked through the 1960s and 1970s to create his dazzling Circles and Columns. This monumental, free-standing slab, measuring 12 feet high and 8 feet wide, will be displayed to the public for the first time. The exhibition From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s “Gray Column” tells the story of how this extraordinary piece was made and features preparatory drawings and maquettes, videos documenting the fabrication process, interviews with the artist, and a discussion of the conservation of this sculpture.

One of the three spaces into which the Wright Exhibition Space is divided contains some of the material from this show, including a polyester resin cast divided into thirds. In the photo of it below that I took, you can perhaps make out that there are three different sections: the left third is unfinished, the middle is partly polished, and the right is fully polished, with viewers invited to touch.

valentinemanquette

Photos show Valentine and assistants at work, from casting to polishing. Sylvia mentioned that before the Wright show opened, Valentine’s wife was busy re-polishing the column. The resin changes over time, raising conservation questions about whether to re-polish or leave as is. Of course, with the artist still alive and in possession of the work, he is free to make that decision.

Here’s one of the photos in the exhibition, taken from the Getty website:

De Wain Valentine in front of Gray Column, 1975–76, during the polishing stage.

De Wain Valentine in front of Gray Column, 1975–76, during the polishing stage.

[Photo courtesy of De Wain Valentine]

And another from the Getty website:

Gray Column, 1975–76, De Wain Valentine. Polyester resin. 140 x 87 1/2 x 9 1/2 in.

Gray Column, 1975–76, De Wain Valentine. Polyester resin. 140 x 87 1/2 x 9 1/2 in.

Sylvia told us that Valentine’s Circle Blue, which is owned by Virginia Wright, sits in front of a window in her condo, looking out over Puget Sound. A third Valentine piece in the show, also owned by Wright, is only 6″ x 11″ and normally sits on a table at her home.

Oh, I just remembered that Sylvia showed us a NYT review of the Getty show, written in September 2011. It’s here, and it has a bigger photo of Gray Column:

graycolumn2

[Konrad Fiedler for The New York Times]

You can get a sense of how it is reflective below, where it is thick, but translucent higher up.

Although De Wain Valentine’s work is at the exhibition’s heart, the other artists’ works are wonderful complements. The Valentine column and circle are balanced by a 12-foot-high Robert Irwin pillar that has a profile something like two wedges and an eight-foot rectangular solid of stainless steel by John McCracken. Another McCracken piece is below.

John McCracken, Untitled, 1964, 60" x 60"

John McCracken, Untitled, 1964, 60″ x 60″

The different paint textures gave me a sense that I was looking through the triangle into the sky, as if looking out from within a James Turrell skyspace.

One last example, the one contemporary piece, a painting that is exactly the same size as McCracken’s:

Peter Alexander, Big Pink Square, 2012, 60" x 60"

Peter Alexander, Big Pink Square, 2012, 60″ x 60″

You have until April 25th. And remember, they’re open only Thursdays and Saturdays, 10 am to 2 pm. Go if you can.

Categories: Art

The Beast

December 22, 2013 1 comment

thebeast

I have my next book lined up, once I finish Under Tower Peak. It will be Oscar Martínez’s The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail, which came out in Spanish a few years ago, but is appearing in translation only now. From the book’s webpage:

One day a few years ago, 300 migrants were kidnapped between the remote desert towns of Altar, Mexico, and Sasabe, Arizona. A local priest got 120 released, many with broken ankles and other marks of abuse, but the rest vanished. Óscar Martínez, a young writer from El Salvador, was in Altar soon after the abduction, and his account of the migrant disappearances is only one of the harrowing stories he garnered from two years spent traveling up and down the migrant trail from Central America and across the US border. More than a quarter of a million Central Americans make this increasingly dangerous journey each year, and each year as many as 20,000 of them are kidnapped.

Martínez writes in powerful, unforgettable prose about clinging to the tops of freight trains; finding respite, work and hardship in shelters and brothels; and riding shotgun with the
border patrol. Illustrated with stunning full-color photographs, The Beast is the first book to shed light on the harsh new reality of the migrant trail in the age of the narcotraficantes.

I learned of The Beast Tuesday night in going through the Financial Times’ list of books of the year. Some ways down (it’s a long list), I came upon this recommendation of Junot Diaz:

The most extraordinary (and harrowing) book I read this year was Oscar Martínez’s The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail. This is a bravura act of frontline reporting that tracks the horror passage that many immigrants must survive (and some don’t) to reach the US from the south. These immigrants are preyed on by everyone and yet they cling to hope like they cling to the trains that will bring some of them to what they pray will be better lives. Beautiful and searing and impossible to put down.

That got my attention. Minutes later, I was looking at the Wednesday NYT online and realized this was the very book whose review I had passed over earlier in the evening. Larry Rohter concludes:

Migrants don’t just die, they’re not just maimed or shot or hacked to death,” Mr. Martínez writes. “The scars of their journey don’t only mark their bodies, they run deeper than that. Living in such fear leaves something inside them, a trace and a swelling that grabs hold of their thoughts and cycles through their head.” By capturing that grim reality, and in such gripping prose and detail, Mr. Martínez has both distinguished himself and done us all a vital public service.

Later I discovered that The Beast also shows up on the Economist’s list of books of the year:

Drawing on eight trips accompanying illegal migrants from Central America across the border into the United States. Oscar Martínez, a Salvadoran journalist, does a beautiful job describing a world that is hellish, violent and depraved.

I’ve downloaded it and will begin reading soon.

Categories: Books

Under Tower Peak

December 22, 2013 Leave a comment

undertowerpeak

A week ago, in writing about Ian Rankin’s latest crime novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible, I mentioned learning of Bart Paul’s Under Tower Peak. The Wall Street Journal’s list of 2013’s ten best mysteries closes with this brief comment:

And “Under Tower Peak,” Bart Paul’s suspenseful debut, accompanies a pack-station guide in California’s Sierra Nevada through a hair-raising adventure starting with the mountaintop discovery of a dead billionaire inside a crashed plane.

The book appears to have been ignored by many of the usual reviewers, but it did get a full WSJ review last April by Tom Nolan. He opens by observing that

Bart Paul’s scenic and suspenseful debut novel, “Under Tower Peak,” a western thriller set in contemporary Sierra Nevada, displays some formidable influences—Hemingway’s, for instance, in the first-chapter opening: “Early in the season we rode up to the forks to fix the trail above the snow cabin. The winter had been good and the aspens had leafed out down in the canyon at the edges of the meadows. . . . The only sounds were the steady scuff of the horses’ hooves.” Shadows of Cormac McCarthy and Jim Harrison also flutter across the pages of this swift-moving tale, narrated by an Iraq-war veteran returned to the rugged terrain of his youth to work a few seasons as a cowboy and pack-station guide. “I always felt at home up in this country, the wilder the better,” says protagonist Tommy Smith partway into an unexpected adventure that proves as dangerous as anything he encountered in the military. “But now that big mountain half scared me to death.”

Nolan concludes that the

nonstop action in “Under Tower Peak” is well-paced, the plot twists surprising (even shocking) and the occasional humor welcome. In the end, it’s that right-stuff quality known as true grit that may save Tommy Smith’s bacon—and that elevates this fine first novel into a must-read book.

That’s enough for me. I’ve downloaded the book and gotten through the first chapter. No unexpected adventure or shocking plot twists yet. I’m ready.

Categories: Books

Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon, 2

December 15, 2013 Leave a comment
Litter, 750-1375, Peruvian, Lambayeque, North Coast, wood, gold, silver, cinnabar, sulphurous copper, ammonia, shells, turquoise, feathers

Litter, 750-1375, Peruvian, Lambayeque, North Coast, wood, gold, silver, cinnabar, sulphurous copper, ammonia, shells, turquoise, feathers

[Photo: Joaquín Rubio]

It’s been two months since I wrote about the then-new exhibition Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon at the Seattle Art Museum. With its close three weeks away, we returned on Thursday morning for a tour with SAM’s curator of Native American art, Barbara Brotherton. Before I say a few words about that, let me quote again from the exhibition website:

Discover the mysteries of Machu Picchu, treasures from royal tombs and archeological wonders from one of the cradles of civilization in Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon. More than 3,000 years of artistic history reveal a land of rich complexity and startling beauty.

This unusually wide-ranging exhibition covers archeology, ancient rituals, royal ceremonies, conquest and colonization, the formation of the republic and the emergence of a new national identity. Experience the unfolding of culture through the creative achievements of Peru, from gold funerary masks to modern folk art.

The Seattle Art Museum is proud to be the only U.S. venue presenting this spectacular exhibition of more than 300 works, including national treasures never before seen outside of Peru.

And let me quote also from my first post on the exhibition, recounting our experience on opening night:

We made an unfortunate error, relying on habit to pass from the opening room to a second one in a clockwise direction, not realizing that this time the natural route was counter-clockwise. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings were evidence something was amiss, but maybe objects were grouped by medium, not chronologically. Plus, the exhibition showpiece—the forehead ornament—was in a neighboring space. So maybe there wasn’t a strict chronological order.

Off we went, room to room, evidence mounting that we were walking backwards. I should note that we weren’t alone in this choice, the people moving in both directions adding to the confusion. Well, no matter. We saw many extraordinary objects. And we can go counter-clockwise on our next visit.

This time we did go counter-clockwise. Not that there was any chance of erring, since we were following Barbara’s lead.

Thanks both to viewing in chronological order and to Barbara’s comments, we were able to appreciate everything much better, and to realize just how fabulous a show this is. One passes through rooms of objects from the Mochica culture of 100-800, then the Lambayeque culture of about 750 to 1375 and Huari culture of 700-1200, leading to the Inca objects of the fifteenth century and then, suddenly, the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the early 1500s. As one leaves the Inca room to enter the first room of art and artifacts influenced by Spain and Catholicism, one experiences in some small way the dramatic shock of that time.

Barbara opened our eyes to the ways that the locals, through their art, adopted Catholicism yet grafted onto it their own native culture. One memorable example is a painting depicting Mary in a triangular gown from neck to feet that gives her the shape of a mountain, realizing her as both Jesus’s mother and traditional earth goddess.

There’s still time to see the show. And still time for a tour. I recommend both.

Categories: Art, Museums

Saints of the Shadow Bible

December 15, 2013 Leave a comment

rankinsaints

I explained a week ago, in my post on Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land, that I began it a few Thursdays ago when my copy of Ian Rankin’s latest Edinburgh crime novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible, failed to arrive from the UK. I had pre-ordered the Rankin book from UK Amazon so it would ship immediately on publication, unwilling to wait for its US publication in mid-January. But when it didn’t come on that Thursday, I downloaded and began reading the free portion of Shavit’s book. The Rankin book arrived the next day, but too late. I was hooked on Shavit.

Since finishing the Shavit book, I have been slow to turn to Rankin, despite my love of his famous character John Rebus and my eagerness to learn of Rebus’s newest exploits. The new book and last year’s The Impossible Dead are unexpected gifts, what with Rebus’s retirement in Exit Music a few years ago and Rankin’s introduction of a new character, Malcolm Fox, in two subsequent novels. It didn’t appear that Rebus was coming back.

But he has, twice now. Why wasn’t I diving in? I suppose the problem is that I have grown accustomed to reading on my Kindle or iPad. No need to turn on a light when I go to bed or wake up. Thus, I’ve spent the last week avoiding Rebus, instead downloading opening portions of other novels and trying them out. Like, for instance, Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, which I considered reading when it came out earlier this year, and which I saw mentioned by someone last week in an end-of-year list of favorite books. And another book, Bart Paul’s Under Tower Peak, which came to my attention two nights ago when I was reading online yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, with its own best-of-the-year lists. The Paul book makes the list of ten best mysteries as the closing recommendation:

And “Under Tower Peak,” Bart Paul’s suspenseful debut, accompanies a pack-station guide in California’s Sierra Nevada through a hair-raising adventure starting with the mountaintop discovery of a dead billionaire inside a crashed plane.

I hadn’t recalled seeing mention of this book before. On further investigation, I found that the NYT hadn’t reviewed it, but the WSJ did, back in April, with Tom Nolan concluding that “the nonstop action in “Under Tower Peak” is well-paced, the plot twists surprising (even shocking) and the occasional humor welcome. In the end, it’s that right-stuff quality known as true grit that … elevates this fine first novel into a must-read book.”

Wow!

Yesterday morning, I read the free opening portion, at which point the moment of decision had come. Download the rest and keep reading? Or turn to Rankin and Rebus? I chose Rebus, mostly for fear that if I keep delaying, its US publication will occur. I dare not leave the book unread that long. I paid the extra cost of shipping from the UK, after all, in order to receive the physical book. (One can’t download the e-version of a UK book onto a US Kindle if the book hasn’t been published here yet.) I can’t let it sit until the US Kindle version becomes available.

I’m now a fifth of the way through and enjoying it immensely. Too bad I deferred reading it.

What next? Maybe back to Under Tower Peak. Probably not The Interestings. Another possibility is Alice McDermott’s Someone, a novel that is on some book-of-the-year lists and whose free portion I read some weeks ago. Or one of the many history books on my reading list.

Categories: Books