Archive for August, 2015

Wee Beests to Boston

August 28th, 2015

After a very unsatisfying and crowded first go at the Strandbeests last weekend, we had a much closer, leisurely and just better time when the small versions arrived in downtown Boston today.

They brought the same pair of relatively tiny TinkerToy-style, wind-in-sail driven models as at Crane Beach. I write tiny because the videos and promo material for Theo Jansen’s fantastical constructions show titanic versions. Sure it makes perfect sense that they would not try to lug and reassemble the biggies everywhere. Just as sure, it’s disappointing to see 7-foot tall models rather than major-motion-picture-scale ones.

Nonetheless, I grew up on construction toys and bought more elaborate ones for my sons, ostensibly for my sons that is. What follows are some shots from City Hall Plaza this afternoon. Geeks and nerds only need look.

 

Don’t let the legs and feet fool you. They are under the Strandbeest to stabilize it. These are sail, wind-driven toys. Beest1
beest7 Dutiful intern types do quick assembly on Jansen’s critters, then pull them to a starting area and wait for a good breeze.
beest4 beest3
beest6 When top and side sails fill up and get some oomph, the beest takes off, the feet and legs churn, and it seems to be walking even running.
The legs and feet really do rise and fall as the beest races along. The illusion is of locomotion beest2
beest5 The worker bees are ever at the ready to do quick repairs (frequently needed) and if necessary to pull the beests back for another run and another wait for a breeze.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

God’s TinkerToys

August 22nd, 2015

Five of us from Boston, Brookline and Worcester joined several thousand at Crane Beach in Ipswich today to jostle each other for glimpses of the Strandbeest. The plastic framed, wind-powered walking thingummy from Dutchman Theo Jansen was hard to get close to and difficult to see. You’ll have many more chances, some to observe the bigger, badder versions.

Rain or shine, wind or not, one or more will be at the Peabody Essex Museum from 9/19 through 1/3/16. On Friday, August 28th, they’ll be at Boston City Hall Plaza from 11AM-1PM and the Kennedy Greenway from 4:30-7PM.

If you look at the stills and vids at the Strnndbeest and museum sites, you’d expect titanic critters of major motion picture proportions. The pair of them that hit the beach today were more scaled-down traveling models…maybe 7 or so feet tall, plus some wind-catching sails.

strandsoloWhile you might expect something like Imperial AT-AT Walkers from Star Wars, these were more in the super-sized TinkerToy or Erector Set models. They are still way cool, just not either as big or animated as fantasy would have it.

Boomers, particularly boys from that era of gender-specified playthings, should feel very comfortable with Jansen’s updated models.

We concurred that real beast in the Strandbeest show at Crane’s today was the crowd. Either Saturday mornings on the North Shore are slow or the PR efforts worked. The roads to the beach crawled, the lots were full, and the beach was jammed.

strandincrowdEveryone seemed to feel entitled to an intimate experience with Strandbeest(s). The poor yellow-shirted volunteers really did try to get folk to stand back. The concepts seemed to be not to hurt the moving sculptures, to stay out of the way of the art, and to let people see the damned things.

People weren’t having any of it. There were several loud women telling off quiet men and women, saying they’d been there for over two hours and were not about to let anyone sit down in front of them. That was just rude and they knew it. So there.

As a couple of hours passed though, everyone interested kind of got a view. A few had parents or friend hoist them on their shoulders. Many wormed their way close enough to see the action. Others held out hope that the promise of the Strandbeest waddling down the beach would bring one or both of them within sight.

strandsailThe yellow shirts first walked the frames down the beach to a clear area for repeated promenades. The crew would attach, then unfurl the gauzy sails. The wind from the ocean would then propel a Standbeest a couple of hundred feet. Then the crew would walk it back to the starting point to repeat.

The large crowd never got rowdy and stayed pretty calm. Again, everyone got to see something, even if the script for Strandbeests lumbering along the beach repeatedly really didn’t happen.

These very large toys are clearly well designed and even better constructed. They stood up to hours of being lugged and led and reassembled. They did in fact walk on the beach, largely under wind power on their plastic stumps.

We decided we’ll have to visit them next week in downtown Boston. I rather doubt they can count on the ocean breeze as they did today. We’re curious to see these in various environments.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Blissful bairn bath

August 16th, 2015

adabatheAt four weeks, granddaughter Ada loved her first bath. That’s remarkable in at last one way.

Her father was terrified. Other than brief-lived jaundice (into the window in the woven carrier per the pediatrician’s orders!), his early months were happy and curious. In fact, the recorded moment of birth in NY is when the crew (I in this case) cut the umbilical cord. Even before that, neonate Aaron looked about with insight and extrospection.

However, laving was different. Sponge bath, in the baby tub or the roomy stainless sink…the method and locale were not relevant. My first-born wanted no part of water and bathing.

Granted, this peculiarity astonished me by background. I have always been a water guy. I still swim in the Y pool many times each week. I was a water safety instructor and summer swim-team coach, and lifeguard and team swimmer in high-school and college. I shower and bathe one, two or three times a day. I love water and never feel more graceful, happy and meditative.

How could this tragedy occur with my son?

I had an aide though. I worked in a smallish publishing group, maybe 30 folk, the count of an elementary classroom. One was a Dutch fellow also in his late 20s or early 30s. I’m not sure his nationality played into it, although the sophistication and open-mindedness may have been factors.

I asked around in the group about whether anyone had children who were or had been afraid of bathing. He was quick to teach.

My wife was home mom during this period, only too happy to get relief when I returned from mid-town Manhattan after my commute/work/commute. Aaron was our first, he was very intense, nursed incessantly, and was still always looking, looking, looking. When I entered the West Village apartment, she’d greet me by thrusting our son into my chest, saying, “Here!”

It makes perfect sense to me that I could connect with him by bathing him while I chatted and grinned and he babbled. Except, he screamed and fought.

My Dutch colleague played Obviousman very well. He had been there and knew the answer was, “Get in the tub with him.”

Huh?

I explained that I showered and shaved in the morning before heading to American Management Association. He fairly snorted and said that this was about my son and not about me. It wasn’t going to hurt me to get wet again and that if my son was frightened, being in the tub with his father was all he would need.

Righto.

I’d run water into the adult tub, undress us both, and climb in with him. He’d cling to me and sometimes lie back on my hands as I washed his hair. We’d chat and laugh. We’d reconnect after my day away. Perhaps as important, my wife and his mother has time to herself after 10 or so hours of intensity.

It’s nice that Ada likes her bath. Yet, I have to wonder what my son and daughter-in-law might be missing.

Glum Hour Persists in Boston

August 9th, 2015

One of New Jersey’s legal oddities is a ban on self-service gas pumps. They occasionally debate reversing that, but it’s been the law for 70 years. Only Oregon has the same restriction.

happymanyhoursLikewise, only highly starched Utah shares MA’s 31-year-long prohibition on happy hour…in any guise. The law here is carefully restrictive, as in no two-for-one drinks, no discounted drinks at all, no contests where the prizes are alcoholic drink, no women-drink-free events, no jumbo drink with more alcohol without raising the price proportionately, no this, that or the other.

A couple of other states put minor restrictions on happy hours, like cutting them off at 9 PM. Here the dolorous day grinds on. In fact, in Boston a HAPPY HOUR sign is invariably some food deal, like $1 oysters. Shellfish have not been shown to contain booze.

Our happy-hour ban came in the midst of national concern about drunken driving. The Greater Boston chapter of Mothers Against Drunken Driving lobbied stalwartly for such a ban. Ostensibly, the legislation came via George R. McCarthy, chairman of the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. In reality though, it was from Gov. Michael Dukakis (right, and amusingly enough in a recent pic shot at Doyle’s bar in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood). He continues to pronounce that happy hours mean more death. He’s an academic as well and it’s hard to find any data to support that, but his wife, Kitty, is a recovering alcoholic and shares his aversion to free or discounted booze.

duke1I know and like them both. The Duke, as many call Michael, is razor sharp and has sponsored sheafs of solid legislation. I am still sure he would have been a far better President than the candidate he lost to in 1988, George Bush the Greater.

However, happy-hour bans were not among the Duke’s best crusades or ideas. Alas, doing so falls in that great pit of fallacy known as it’s only common sense. That means, “I have nothing. Don’t challenge me.”

Millions are inconvenienced and even lose out on small pleasures to satisfy the whims and emotions of others. The unproven and unprovable are no reasonable bases for legislation. I can hear Science Officer Spock, “That is illogical, Captain.”

Regardless, the rest of the nation and most of the world end their business day with a mini-celebration in the form of discounted drinks. We don’t.

There are current efforts here citing the pending casinos. Everywhere, they ply their marks customers with free booze. We’ve decided to go with casinos here. The likelihood is that this will loosen up the discounted-drinks rules. You can then be damned sure that restaurants and bars won’t be limited if gambling parlors can play at that.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Very close sounds in the Village

August 7th, 2015

denhert2Without question, my favorite intimate NYC music venue is the 55 Bar. My Boston drinking buds and I visit when we go to the City. While it humbly advertises itself as a Prohibition Era dive bar, it really is a wee place that features jazz in the broadest sense, one where you can sit within touching distance of the musicians.

This Wednesday, the three of us went for KJ Denhert with guest, her long-term singing bud, Vicki Genfan. They have been singing together for decades since college (one at Ithaca and the other down the hill at Cornell. They both sing and play, with KJ specializing on vocals and Vicki on guitar. Each will occasionally guest on the other’s gig. They like each other and it shows in the music.

As always, we arrived 10 minutes before showtime and trotted to the barstools next to the band and johns. The early sets at the 55 don’t have a cover, just a two-drink minimum per very long set. Out stools were literally right there.

Genfan2Pix notes: Click a pic for a larger view. These are Creative Commons, so use ’em if you want; just credit Michael Ball once. I won’t apologize for the grain and such. The light inside the 55 is Dis as befits the underworld. The bulbs are in fact red, so these are even color corrected a bit. I won’t use flash when I’m close to musicians. I have some upbringing.

Back to the 55, if you go look carefully for the 55 street number to its down-the-stairs entry. It’s, if you pardon, cheek to jowl with the famous Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher. It seats maybe 60 at deuces and quads, with another 20 or so at the bar. There are no bad seats, you are all close to the music.

KJ likes to scramble her style(s). She sometimes is urban folk, but does real jazz licks and her own blues. She performed mostly originals for us, with beyond Genfan on some, the combo’s drums, guitar and bass guitar.

She and Genfan performed together on an off. Sometimes KJ sat next to me while her friend went solo. Again, they like each other.

To Vicki, I’d never heard or seen her signature style. After the break, she came over and I asked her if there was Denhert4a name for that spanking the frets just above the guitar body. She turns her guitar into more of a percussion instrument…think piano. It’s a hell of a lot more powerful than beating the body for a thump or 20. She creates a combination of rhythm and melody with the flourishes.

She was impish though. She could have told me that she’d named the style. I found that out by clicking around to read about her. She calls it slap-tap. Good stuff.

As every other time we’d gone to the 55, the music was superb, particularly because we were a few feet from it. I guess it also helps that it is such a small room that they don’t have to blast the audio to the point of making your ears bleed. (Don’t you hate that?)

This is kind of like the Lowell Folk Festival. I have some CDs to buy. I also chatted with both of the lead singers. Is it true that memories are free?

You should go out to their sites or YouTube or Amazon and listen. You’re allowed to buy their music even if you didn’t sit next to them.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.