Evangeline Oak

Evangeline Oak

Longfellow’s poem Evangeline immortalized the tragedy of the Acadian exile from Nova Scotia in 1755. This oak marks the legendary meeting place of Emmeline Labiche and Louis Arceneaux, real life counterparts of Evangeline and Gabriel. It served as a rest stop during last year’s Cycle Zydeco bike ride.

Saturday night, we attended a dinner party with some fellow Saint Louis based Zydeco riders. Our hosts, Phil and Mary are within walking distance. It was a great party, with the long and short of it being that we will be doing this year’s Cycle Zydeco bicycle ride in Louisiana. We still have to sign-up for the ride and make ancillary reservations, but I’ll get on that this week. We might checkout the Gulf Shores area too. For those of you who are keeping score that checks off April, filling our travel dance card until September. I don’t think that any future planning is really warranted beyond that point, at least for now. We are already well on our scheduled way to becoming former Saint Louisans.

In other comings and goings, this Sunday morning, Dan and Britt launched back eastward, to NYC. We really enjoyed their visit and this will leave us empty nested once again. I sent them off with my signature avocado toast in their bellies, wishing them and fueling them both, for their safe travels home. It will be way passed our bedtimes before they make Brooklyn tonight.

With Dan’s departure, I declare the Christmas season officially over. Tomorrow, I’ll take down the decorations, but I think that I’ll leave most of the lights up for a while longer. They look so pretty at night and even though the days are supposedly getting longer now, it still gets dark awfully early and a little more light will help. There are no excuses now, for not plunging into the new year.

Ai Weiwei: Bare Life

I attended the grand reopening of Washington University’s newly renovated Kemper Art Museum. The show was created by Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei. Spanning two galleries and composed of works both large and small his exhibit closes after this weekend. I was glad that I had gotten a chance to see it before it left town and hope to get Anne over there to see it too. Here is the museum’s explanation for his exhibit’s title:

Ai Weiwei: Bare Life, which is organized into two thematic sections, takes its title from the writings of the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, who has long examined the notion of bare, unprotected life and its manifestations throughout human history. In recent years, Agamben’s ideas have gained new force as approximately 70 million people have been displaced from their homelands and deprived of basic human rights.

Forever Bicycles is the largest and most impressive work in the show. It gets its name from a Chinese brand of bicycles that were popular during his youth. It is assembled from hundreds of interconnected silver bicycles. The bikes are assembled in “sheets”. There are ten sheets and the sheets are joined with pipe that runs through each bicycle’s bottom bracket, making it a 3D sculpture. The piece’s basic building block is two bicycles that are joined head tube to seat tube. These building blocks are then joined to each other using the front and rear wheel dropouts, causing most wheels to be shared between two bikes. The overall shape of this sculpture is that of an arch and it is so large that it fills the room. It was too big for me to get it all in one picture frame.

Wallpaper is a recurring medium for this show. The work Bombs, illustrates with life-sized renderings various WMDs from around the world. Another wallpaper work, Odyssey, shows the aftereffects of the use of these weapons, by creating endless rows of refugees, trudging across the wall to nowhere. Pictured is my favorite wallpaper design, Finger. It has detached arms flipping-off the viewer that are arranged in different patterns. Grapes uses traditional Chinese three-legged stools that have been fused together to create a sculpture that is designed to resemble a cluster of grapes. Like in Forever, the stools are interconnected, with each stool sharing a leg with another one, making another Chinese puzzle.

Ai first came to fame through his art. He then used his art and the platform that it provided to fuel his activism. His activism led him into conflict with the Chinese government and to his eventual exile from China. Thrust upon the world stage he has continued to work for human rights and peace. I was initially put-off with the adoration and reverence that the student-staff of the museum held Ai in, but upon reflection, I can accept their hero worship of him and agree.

This is the first time that I have been on the WashU campus for many years. In that interim the east end of the main Danforth campus has been transformed. This is the area below Brookings Hall, which was originally the administration building for the 1904 World’s Fair. After seemingly endless years of ceaseless construction, the parking lot that once existed above ground has been pushed underground. Its compacted footprint allowed for the erection of numerous new buildings, within whose central axis remains a pedestrian mall. Work is almost finished and it is looking pretty good now.

Bad Choices, Good Choices

Reclining Pan, Francesco da Sangallo, 1535

On the day before yesterday, today’s eve-eve sort-of-speak, we viewed this statue of a reclining Pan. Seeing it on New Year’s Eve it appeared to me to offer a cautionary tale. A caution against too much excess during the evening to come, “Raise your cups everyone, I have a toast. Let’s drink to excess. Excess!” Yesterday, the morning after, dawned sunny and bright and warm too. Perfect weather. A perfect day for a new beginning, a new year.

The kids soon skied to their annual bacchanal, where they lounge around all-day like beached whales. Attire there is casual-casual, Pan casual. Each year some blockbuster movie franchise is featured with a complete re-showing of all of its many constitute parts. Lately though, the choice of new franchises has become problematic as these franchises become ever more bloated. Their marathon viewing now tests the endurance of even the most stalwart of these lads and lasses. This inevitably leads to choices. God forbid! Hopefully, good choices.

Home alone, Anne and I, left to our own devices chose wisely. We went for a bicycle ride. New Year’s Day cycling is sort of a thing among bicyclists. Start the new year right. Get a jump on your annual mileage totals. Strut your stuff. It’s supposed to be a rain or snow, still go kind of tradition, but I’ll take 50 °F and sunny all the same. Unfortunately, the nice weather also brought out the multitudes. People of all shapes and sizes exercising their resolutions.

We waded into the crowd. There was a crosswind, unhappily leftover from this week’s earlier winter storm and there was cross traffic too. The regulars having to contend with the influx of newbies. Cross traffic does not stop. Happy traffic always yields! What do teachers say after being cut off on the bike path? “Now, that’s not making safe choices.”

It is a new year. A time for new beginnings. You have a whole year laid out before you. Experts caution us about making New Year’s resolutions. That’s because so many of us fail at keeping them. Within a week, rain or shine, the bike path will return to the providence of its regulars. Meaning that for many, failure is an option and all too often the most obvious one. 

On our bike route to the park, someone has recently put up a placard. On one side it says, “You Can Do It.” On the other side it says, “You Matter.” Both are affirmative statements. Similar signs appear during our annual big charity ride. Those are usually place on an uphill climb and frequently leave a saccharine aftertaste. I think this sign is different, because of where it is placed. We see the You Can Do It side of the sign within the first mile of our ride. We’ve already done the heavy lifting, we’re out on our bikes. This side of the sign doesn’t feel too demanding, because we are about to make our two-mile descent to the park. We’re coasting. Likewise, the You Matter side appears near the end. Its life affirming message again is not too strident, because we’re almost home. In life as in many things, it is not the drill sergeant yelling in your ear that motivates you, except to run away. It is those nudges along the way that keep you going.

An Afternoon in the Park

McDonnell Planetarium

Thanksgiving came late this year. In the run up to it we were subsumed with the holiday and our guests. Now Christmas is fast approaching. Anne has eleven more school days left before her holiday break. There are a million things to do yet, but why work today, when you can put it off until tomorrow. Today was a wonderful day, sunny, with a high near sixty. So, I took the afternoon off and took off on my bike for the park. Things were pretty quiet there. Allowing me to zone out and enjoy the Zen of bicycling. There are still three weeks left…

Raging Strife

Bayou Backroad

Pictured is Anne bicycling along a backwater bayou in Louisiana. This is from earlier this year. Getting her Cajun on. This particular roadway had been freshly tarred and the pavement was like butter. A departure from the condition of most of Louisiana’s streets. They have a saying, “In England, they drive on the left side of the road. Here in Louisiana, we drive on what’s left of the road.”

I picked this picture to accompany this post’s title, which she first coined. Not that she is mad or anything. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I offer you some testimonials from members of her 1st grade class. One of the Specials teachers had asked the kids to write her thank you notes, in honor of Thanksgiving next week. The Teacher’s Collective had already decided that no one would be doing Indian headdresses or paper bag vests this year, but surely hand-turkeys are still considered PC? I’m sure that their spelling will improve.

  • I am graetful for your keg nice [kindness] Mrs. R
  • Ms. R I am thankful because you are fune [funny]!
  • Msr. R I’m gratful for you because you are kind.
  • Mis. R, I am so gratfl for you because you help us lrne [learn]. 

In other news, it has begun and sooner than I had expected. This morning, the water company came a knocking on our front door. They asked, if we could move our Prius, so that they could park their enormous rig in front of our house. I had noticed them working down the block, earlier in the morning. It being a Saturday and that it was raining, I figured that a water main leak had sprung. I launched into my normal drill, getting the dishes done and filling pots with water, all in anticipation of the inevitable water shutoff. I even risked a shower, but only a very quick one. As it turned out this crew was surveying the laterals.

Looking for lead pipes. Their rig comprised a dump truck pulling a trailer, on which sat a huge Ditch Witch device that I came to understand is a giant vacuum cleaner. Working in pairs, one man would loosen the soil with a pole, while his partner maneuvered a long hose to suck out all the dirt. I wonder if they do carpets too? What we are left with are two postholes covered by orange cones.

The good news is that we don’t have lead pipes. Surprisingly, it is copper. I’m surprised because when we bought the house all of our interior piping was galvanized. I had had that replaced with copper years ago, mostly. Some remains on the other side of the meter and disappears into the front wall. I just assumed that it was all galvanized to the main. What I think now is that like our sewer line, up to ten feet in front of the building line was put in by the developer and the utilities handled the rest, but who knows. Some day I will find out, but I’m not looking forward to doing that. It will be expensive.

Update: A second rig has appeared after lunch. They are filling in the holes dug by the previous crew. “Just because Bob’s not here to plant the trees, is no reason that the rest of us shouldn’t get paid.” 🙂

Weekend Update

Autumn Cedars

We’ve enjoyed this busy fall weekend. Starting Friday night with dinner and a show. Dinner was at Big Sky, our local Montana themed restaurant. The show was nearby, at the Rep. Lifespan of a Fact is a one act, three actor play. Tension ensues and the truth is held hostage in the balance, between a famous essayist and the young Harvard intern tasked to factcheck his latest work. On Broadway, Daniel Radcliffe played the intern. Acting as referee, the magazine’s editor rounds out this threesome.

Along the adage of never let the facts get in the way of telling a good story, this play’s theme revolves around the dichotomy between factual reporting and artistic license. Things are guaranteed not to go well, when the temperamental essayist is confronted by an overzealous intern and is forced to defend his 16 page essay from a 400+ page spreadsheet of “questions.” Based upon actual events, this story predates our current fake news, alternative facts universe, but also mirrors their issues with the truth.

On Saturday, we got out-of-town and drove down Farty-Far, to Gray Summit and the Shaw Nature Reserve. There was a huge traffic backup, caused by a combination of construction and an accident. Crazy how those two thing always seem to go together. Fortunately, it was going the other way and had dissipated by the time of our return. Shaw is part of the Missouri Botanical Gardens, so as members, our entry was free. This reserve was originally purchased, because Saint Louis air pollution was killing the garden’s pine trees and the preservation of their specie was sought through their relocation.

Our afternoon walk began in woodlands, following a stream, but soon we transitioned to the reserve’s tall-grass prairie, which we marched through, over hill and dale. Wide mowed trails permitted easy passage through this savanna, but I’m always left wondering at how early pioneers were able to navigate such an over your head sea of grass. The low, but still brilliant sun always seemed to be in our face and we both ended up peeling layers on this warming day.

Our hike ended by the above pictured pond, with its lining of cedars. This oft shot scene usually is photographed closer to sundown, when the light is more golden and the wind driven ripples have subsided. In the past, I have gotten near perfect reflections of these trees, but on this day that was not to be. Or was it? Enter Photoshop and see nature as God intended, if only, as in this case, in a highly stylized form. In the past, Anne and I have gone around and round over this issue of factual versus artistic photography. This picture may not show how things actually looked, but rather it shows them better than they really appeared.

Afterwards, we late lunched at Frisco, Webster’s newest hot restaurant property. We’ve tried to dine there on our regular trips to the Rep, but have always been shutout. Their mid-afternoon fare seems to be more our speed.

On Sunday, our possible trifecta of dining out came to a screeching halt, when I served lunch in, but I was able to lure Anne out on a bike ride to Forest Park. It was another perfect Fall day, whose memory we will savor in this week to come, because the weather forecast looks more like Winter than Fall, with both cold and snow predicted. We saw a snapping turtle beside the bike path. It looked like it had just crawled out of the primordial ooze, which it better be crawling back into again. We saw fellow teamies Chris and Anne on the bike path and again at the DeMun Kaldi’s. We sipped caffeinated brews together and enjoyed the last light of what has been a wonderful weekend.