Monthly Archives: August 2009

I love the internet

Sometimes the internet fills me with wonder and a deep love of humanity.  Here are some videos that show you why:

Bunnies relieve stress in Japan, BBC reports…

The Onion on Disney Child Stars

Kittens inspired by kittens

The Giant Water Slide (I can’t see how it’s real, but watch anyway…)

Kid parallel parks like a badass (I love how he wants to see the video afterward)

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The Wedding Paradox

“How much does this cost?” I asked as we stood waiting for the cashier to find Josh’s file in the tuxedo rental store. “Too much,” Josh replied. He went into the fitting room, which is the point where I wished I had brought a book. The shop was quite large and full of headless manikins dressed in tuxedos with vests and bow ties colored various shades of shimmering pastel. Three women with manicured fingers and floofy hair stood silent at the cash register. They reminded me of something out of the Stepford Wives. I eyed the bridal magazines lying on the coffee table and wondered how nauseated I would feel if I looked at one. I noticed a different magazine hidden amongst them and got excited, that is until I discovered it was a catalogue for snow mobiles. I didn’t know snow mobiles were a big thing in northwest Indiana, but I figured groomsmen would much rather read about boy toys than weddings when waiting in a shop. After perusing the pictures of the pretty snow mobiles, I got up to look around the shop. Through an open door at the far end of the shop I could see into an enormous room full of hundreds tuxedos on hangers and several men organizing them. I looked at several photos on the wall, each a portrait of a wedding party which, I assume, had patronized this establishment. The similarity between the portraits was stark: all of them looked exactly the same. The bride and groom stood at the highest stair in front of the alter, with the bridesmaids filing down by the bride’s side, the groomsmen at the groom’s. Why, I wondered, do so many people put so much money, time, and effort into weddings that look exactly like each other?

I recently heard that the average engagement period in America is sixteen months. Sixteen months!?! How can a couple bare it? Not only is this an absurd amount of emphasis put into a single day, but how trying it must be to families and couples to endure such a period! And this is only the average! It seems to me that if you decide to marry someone you have already given it a great deal of thought and would very much like to do it soon. I guess I am wrong. But sixteen months poured into a single party that frequently looks and feels the same as everybody else’s party? I don’t get it. How can a couple’s special day be truly special if it looks like everyone else’s special day?

Of course, I mustn’t overlook an important fact: though every wedding may look similar to the next, each couple is surrounded by their closest family and friends and such a day is more than worthy of a gathering, no matter what it looks like or what format it follows. The day still marks the commitments a bride and groom make to each other and to God and God certainly does not care what color the invitations are. I don’t mean to demean the day, the marriage or the joy that comes from the wedding and the union. My complaint is one of aesthetics and symbolism. If a couple chooses fashion over personality for their wedding, I feel like they missed an opportunity to express themselves and their love to their guests.

Weddings tend to follow a similar format, and perhaps the greatest evidence for this is that we all expect weddings to have certain attributes.   We expect that the bridesmaids’ dresses will look compromising on the bridesmaids.  We expect the bride to be in white, for her father to give her away, and for her to throw the bouquet after the wedding.  We expect to dance the electric slide at the reception.  If we apply methods of induction, we may assume that our expectation that future weddings will follow suit with these patters is a result of our experiencing so many similar weddings in the past.  If you drop a glass on the floor a hundred times and it breaks every time, you may assume that the 101st glass will similarly shatter.  But it is when the wedding does something different that it suddenly becomes more memorable.  Hopefully these differences come in the form of creative touches instead of family feuds.  Here is an example.  Last week I attended a wedding where the bride and groom refused to kiss no matter how many people tinkled their glasses with their forks.  They would only kiss if all the guests from each table collectively stood up and sang any song that had the word ‘love’ in it.  I thought this was brilliant, because not only was it a brainstorming exercise, but it also served as an ice breaker for the tables where the guests did not know each other.  It was a small gesture on the part of the happy couple that made the wedding way more memorable and instantly more fun, and all this precisely because they did their own thing and did not follow suit.  In general, I would love to see more wedding traditions traded in for more personal and creative embellishments.

I brought this idea to the table the other day at lunch with friends. “Yea, but, isn’t it all about tradition anyway?” they argued. “All of that stuff is part of the traditional American wedding experience, and it is very important to lots of people.” I guess they must be right. Traditions are wonderful, and I don’t mean to dock them, especially when they are of a spiritual nature, so I will modify my argument. I do tend to neglect tradition, especially when I either don’t enjoy it or never had anything to do with it in my family. When it comes to wedding traditions, my immediate family has always resisted. I’m proud of my parents for many, many reasons, and one of these is the story of their wedding. My mother, like me, never really wanted one. She had no need of dressing up like a princess for a day. She hated the idea of having people stare at her, of seeking approval from so many people with the show that an American wedding typically becomes. Most of all she hated the idea of being given away like a piece of property. When she broke the news to her parents of her intention to elope, or at least to have a very small wedding, she expected my grandmother to erupt in protest. Most unexpectedly, it was my grandfather who broke into tears. Apparently, he loved weddings, he loved everything about them. He went to every single wedding to which he had ever been invited. I look forward to when I can ask him in heaven why this was. In addition to his passion for weddings, he also was the CEO of his company by that point, which meant that his daughter’s wedding could not simply be a wedding but also a grand business function. This made my mother feel like a sacrificial lamb, having to give up what should have been a holy and joyous day for the benefit of schmoozers. But, as anyone who has seen his or her father cry knows, we all would do anything to make the crying stop. So my mother struck a series of compromises. First, if she had to be given away, then so did my father. That way they were given to each other, which makes much more sense anyway. Second, she would not stand to have my grandfather’s business colleagues come to the ceremony, but they were welcome to the reception. What ended up happening was the following: an intimate ceremony took place in Evanston at my parents’ church, and then everyone travelled north to Kenosha (about an hour) where they held a big reception. This way only the people who really loved my parents came to the ceremony. Lastly, my mother really wanted to have a dress suit and look more like Katherine Hepburn than Cinderella, but my Grandmother wouldn’t hear of it. They settled on a lovely evening gown with no bell poof.

A genuine concern in this wedding business is that so many weddings occur because of the desire for a wedding instead of the desire for marriage. Too much hype is given to the parties and not enough to the seriousness, nor the joys, of the mystery of marriage itself. I wonder if it is healthy to let little girls tie sheets to their heads and have imaginary weddings, or dress up their Barbie dolls in white and smoosh Barbie’s face into Ken’s. I am equally as guilty of this childhood behavior, but I get the idea that other women carry this obsession with weddings into adulthood. The number of bride magazines, for example, is a testament to this obsession. Movies like Bride Wars, part of which I watched on a plane out of boredom, illustrate women destroying each other in search of the perfect wedding, whatever that is. I would like stats on how many millions or billions of dollars go into the wedding industry annually. Then again, maybe I don’t want to know. My dad’s bible study had two guys with daughters getting married this year. Dad told me they were both holding their heads in their hands and wondering how on earth parsley could cost $200. Dad tried to lighten the mood, “Hey, why not give the couple 2000 bucks and send them to Vegas? Bada Bing Bada boom!” He didn’t help, apparently.

My argument is that if you have to have a wedding, make it personal. Keep the traditions if you want them, but don’t succumb to fashion. Make it about the love you share with your future spouse. I am sure this will make the wedding not only more beautiful, but much more fun and memorable. I went to the most beautiful and fun wedding of my life this summer. Cheese was shipped from the Chicago cheese company where both the bride and groom worked as cheese mongers. The cakes were made by the bride’s best friend. The couple cut and served the cakes themselves. The ceremony took place in a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church where they had recently become members. They had a Dixieland swing band come to the reception which, as two nature lovers would have it, took place at the Audubon Society. They had badminton racquets and birdies set up on the back lawn. Waiters offered Georgian wine, as in wine from the Republic of Georgia, where the couple had travelled the year before. It was the personal touches like these that made the wedding so far from typical it made me want to cheer. It was the originality and the thoughtfulness put into the wedding and its significance that made it by far the most elegant event I have ever attended.

A few months ago, my sister and I were watching Globe Trekker (only the greatest TV show ever). On that episode, Ian Wright, the lead guide, managed to make himself the best man at an underwater wedding. Bride, Groom, Priest, and Ian all plunged into the turquoise Indian Ocean wearing breathing apparatuses and the ceremony commenced. It was perhaps one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on TV. But in the time it took me to think, man, I would love to do that, but my grandmother would kill me…my sister shouted, “Dibs!” She says that if I beat her too it she simply won’t come. Great. I am still trying to think of something to bribe her into giving up her claim.

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Simple Pleasures, continued

A couple years ago I published a collection of Simple Pleasures in The Fish. By simple pleasures, I mean specifically common occurrences that, despite their relative unimportance to the events of the day, nonetheless manage to brighten the mood in a lasting way. In the article, I described twenty five instances of short joys, including walking in the city on a hot day and being blasted with chilled air bursting out from an opening door. Another example is pressing your lips to screen mesh and feeling them from the other side.

The effect of collecting these pleasures was infectiously felicitous. The more pleasures I recorded, the more of them I remembered. One happy thing gave way to another and the world became way more fun. It is the little joys in life which make the big struggles easier to bear. Philippians urges us to rejoice and be thankful, but we all know how difficult it can be when hard times come our way. But if we have a collection of simple joys we can remember our contentment lies with the God and it is through Him that we may experience joy at all. He is good and we have ample proof of this. We just have to pay more attention.

With this in mind, I really wanted to collect more simple pleasures. This is what I have for today:

  1. Licking the back of a yogurt or pudding lid.
  2. Trying to separate the twists of a twisty pretzel with your teeth while keeping the twists in tact.
  3. Thinking you finished your candy bar but realizing you only finished half of it. (This one courtesy of my cousin)
  4. Chipping in a birdie. (I don’t actually know how this feels, but it has been a long time since I’ve seen my brother grin like that)
  5. Sipping hot chocolate after a long winter’s day of playing in the snow.

There will be more in the upcoming days. If you have any ideas of simple pleasures, please let me know!

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Suppress the urge to Photoshop

Check out this site:  Magical Photography to believe that are Not Photoshopped.

fish-eyes

I ran across this site while looking for pictures of fish.  (I am painting mini murals in my bathroom.) I loved it immediately.  Too much Photoshop detracts from the beautiful reality of nature, and because of this I really appreciate photographers who purposefully abstain.

You may disagree here, and please let me know if you do, but using Photoshop for every shot is cheating.  There, I said it.  To the extent that photography is an art of the moment, capturing a scene in nature as originally experienced, touch ups afterwards detract from the value of the work.  A photographer’s job is to capture moments that are so beautiful or moving or quirky they deserve to be preserved.  Even if the image captured is contrived, better to have it represent real life than computerized fantasy.  A good photographer catches glimpses of life that might otherwise be missed.  If you need to use photoshop as a crutch for your photography, you need to practice.

Getting off of my high horse, I fully admit I am an amateur and the main reason I neglect to use Photoshop is out of laziness.  In truth, I love Photoshop.  It is a magical software.  I just don’t think it ought to be used too frequently.  Of course, some situations require it.  It helps fudge over mistakes, experiment with different compositions, erase blemishes, etc.   Most importantly, Photoshop in and of itself is an artistic medium with which artists can create wondrous works that speak to an audience as powerfully as an untouched photograph or painting.  But these works are not photography, they are digital art.  There is a big difference.  Photoshop is useful, but don’t get crazy.

Meg pushing over the Bridge

Meg pushing over the Bridge

Did I mention my brother could fly?

Did I mention my brother could fly?

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Boscobel

One of my family’s favorite summertime activities is heading forty-five minutes up the Hudson for an evening at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival on the Boscobel estate. The evening usually goes as follows: We arrive and pick up tickets at will call and put on a sticker with a cartoon of William Shakespeare printed on it. We then walk down a long path lined with apple trees drooping with the weight of their fruit. After passing through the rose garden on your right and the house on your left, our view opens up to a large lawn over looking the Hudson Valley. Sprawled out on the lawn are groups of people all picnicking before the show. We set up our own picnic blanket and proceed to eat whatever delectable delights I packed and sip whatever wine my dad thought worthy to tote. Twenty minutes before the show, ushers come round to ask the guests to begin moving towards the large tent and to take their seats. At 8pm, the Shakespeare troop puts on a fantastic performance, whether comedy, history, or tragedy. Well fed literally and culturally, we return home along the dark, windy roads. These evenings always struck me as reaching the epitome of civilized life.

Boscobel is a quintessential example of Federalist architecture and is situated in Garrison on a hill with arguably the best view of the Hudson River.

As you can see, some people really know how to live. West Point, as you can see in the right of the picture, is right across the river. Further down the river is the famous spot where the Patriots strung a giant chain along floating logs across the river to stop the British ships from advancing. It was a great victory for the Americans because they were able to pummel the British with cannons from the hills. This place is filled with history, and it is fun to ponder it as you picnic.

The picnic last night, in case you were wondering, included a menu of shrimp salad served on croissants, brie and apple slices served on baguette, mozzarella, tomato and basil, watermelon slices, vegetable quiche, and homemade chocolate chip cookies, all prepared by yours truly.

The show on the program last night was Pericles. Though warned it was a weird show that may not have actually been written by Shakespeare, I enjoyed it immensely. I have never been disappointed by a Hudson Valley Shakespeare production, and last night was no exception. I thought they did a marvelous job striking a balance between humor and drama, alternating seamlessly between ship wrecks and dance breaks. Though the plot is a strange one, or at least strange when compared with Shakespeare’s other works, and though the rhyming patterns in the verse are decidedly different, it was nevertheless a pleasure to see a Shakespeare play previously unknown to me. It felt like finding an antique in an old attic, or discovering another piece of candy in the box when you thought it was empty. I look forward to studying the play a bit. There were many poignant lines I hope to find and memorize in the text.

Pericles is the sixth production I have seen at Boscobel. Others included As You Like It, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Richard III, Cymbeline, and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged. I can’t wait for next summer.

There is something to be said for high culture and civilized evenings. Sure it may include snooty folks, but that needn’t ruin your enjoyment of the activity itself. I don’t think that anyone need feel guilty about evenings like this, tossing around words like bourgeoisie with contempt. I choose rather to rejoice in the fact that human beings strive for beauty and find it abundance. I love evenings at Boscobel because it sets some of the most beautiful plays in the English language in a stunningly beautiful location. It is a testament to human accomplishment. It is a wonderful way to live life to the fullest.

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Oh Frick

Today I went to the Frick museum for the first time. In retrospect, I can’t understand how I’ve never visited before. Growing up near New York City has always been a privilege for me, being so close to cultural and educational stimuli, and I had thought I had taken full advantage of it until today. Somehow the Frick got skipped. I am so happy I discovered that Sunday afternoons are free at the Frick, because today I got to go.

Henry Clay Frick—robber baron, art collector, and the original owner of the 5th Avenue home that now constitutes the Frick museum—made his fortune during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the coal industry. At one point, his company controlled 80% of coal manufacturing in Pennsylvania. Frick also partnered with Carnegie Steel Company, a partnership that eventually blossomed into the American Steel company. His success and its subsequent cash explains why the contents of the now museum surprises the first time visitor. (The story of Frick’s life is actually quite fascinating, if you are up for a brief trip to Wikipedia. Apparently a disgruntled worker tried to assassinate Frick, and despite shooting him twice in the neck point blank and stabbing him four times in the leg, the assailant failed in his attempt and was tackled and turned over to the police by Frick himself. I recommend this foray to Wikipedia, but for now I want to talk about the museum).

The first thing to note about the Frick is that it was once a home. It is built like a home, albeit, quite a glamorous home. It feels lived in. When we think of museums we rarely imagine anything but a series of windowless, rectangular rooms with tall ceilings housing frame after frame underscored with little blurbs. The Frick shifts that paradigm, setting the paintings and sculptures as a backdrop of a home which, especially given the genres, is how the artwork was originally commissioned. Few of the pieces have blurbs. Instead, each visitor has the option of carrying around a free audio guide. Pressing a button shifts to a curator explaining the life of the subject, the inspiration for the artist, the techniques and symbolism employed, and what in the painting appealed to Frick. This setup allows the visitor to appreciate the multi-dimensional nature of each painting, or in other words, the many stories the artwork can tell. Most works in the Frick collection not only stand alone as precious in and of themselves, but they also remind us those fascinating relationships between artist and audience, artist and patron, and artist and subject. Further, each piece in the Frick tells something about Frick’s own character, for through the artwork we develop of better understanding of what this particular collector found beautiful, and we in turn get to ponder on whether we agree.

The Frick houses somewhat of a hodgepodge of different genres and periods, ranging from medieval alter panels to several Whistler portraits, but the overall effect is enchanting. The museum is small as museums go, especially when you consider New York’s other art options in the Met and the MOMA, but the house nevertheless contains many priceless gems particularly of the Baroque, Neoclassical, and Romantic periods. Among the artists represented stands Stuart, Turner, Rembrandt, Goya, El Greco, Vermeer, Renoir, Whistler, and many others. I had to catch my breath when I found myself standing in front of the most celebrated Rembrandt self portrait, about which I once had to write an essay in my Baroque art history class. Of course, for the essay, I had to work from a shoddy print in my textbook, so needless to say, the real thing stunned me. The Turners, mostly marine scenes with some sailboats peacefully sitting in harbor at sunset with others tossed by stormy waves, made you feel like you could smell the salt of the water. The light in the Vermeers makes you wonder what the true light of the Netherlands really looks like in order to inspire such artistic greatness. I would love to spend more time in the museum studying and sketching the different works.

 

 

Like I said, Sunday has some “Pay what you want” hours from 11 to 1. This does not mean, as we found out, free. This means you make a donation of any amount. “Whatever you can pay,” said the cashier, “Money.” Despite this, it’s still a good deal. I highly recommend the trip. Quite the way to spend a rainy Sunday.

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