a dry, mostly sunny week: part one

Bringing the summer full circle, I thought I'd end these four months of school-free blogging with a day-by-day recap of our recent week spent in Oregon.


We left Boston by plane late morning last Wednesday, headed to Portland, Oregon by way of Cincinnati, Ohio. With a five-hour layover on our hands we decided to venture out of the airport, actually in Covington, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, waiting awhile for two TANK buses to take us, ultimately, to Newport "on the levee", Kentucky, home to America's own hofbrauhaus, modeled after the original in Munich, Germany.

I've been to the original but I don't remember what I had to eat and I was only around 12 or 13 at the time so I don't think I drank any of the beer, although I probably could have if I'd wanted to. I do remember it being huge inside, much larger than the Newport version, the first "authentic" hofbrauhaus here in America. I read somewhere that it's actually a franchise of the over 400-year-old Munich establishment, opened in 2003 (catering to Cincinnati's German population, I guess). They serve four tasty regular beers and a monthly seasonal brew from Munich's Royal Brewery, accompanied by a menu of German cuisine and the obligatory hamburgers and chicken fingers.

We were a week too early for the tapping of the Oktoberfest kegs, so we sampled a couple of their four regular beers. Neal had the wurst sampler while I tried the cordon bleu, a difficult dish to find in most stateside German restaurants. While we waited for our food, the hostess told us about other Newport attractions - supposedly, the breakfast scene of "Rain Man" was filmed in a diner just around the corner. We noticed a lot of table graffiti and other customers asking for writing instruments (and they weren't kids' parents requesting crayons) so we figured leaving our mark on the place was okay. I still felt a little guilty, though, as I searched for my trusty Sharpie and added our names to the middle of the table.

We left the restaurant completely stuffed and slightly tipsy, walking the twenty or so minutes back to the transit center to catch the bus back to the airport (a five hour layover flies by when you're not sitting in an airport). On our way, we stopped by the Purple People Bridge, which connects Newport to Cincinnati, crossing the Ohio River. If you have $39.95 (or $59.95 during the weekend...and I thought the Boston Duck Tour was expensive) and about two and a half hours, you can climb across the top of the bridge. They make you change into purple and yellow suits and you're escorted by a tour guide, stopping you from time to time to share tidbits of area history. Tempting, but, you know, we had a plane to catch.

After we landed in Portland and claimed our rental car, we drove about two hours to the Oregon coast, checking into Lincoln City's Captain Cook Inn around 1:30 a.m. east coast time. We stayed awake just long enough to agree that this renovated "autel" sure was charming.

Next time...Pig 'n' Pancake, Tillamook cheese, and a sunset over the Pacific Ocean.


experts with ideals

Sounds like a band name, doesn't it? Like Sisters with Attitude (a.k.a. SWA). It's actually taken from one of the final sections in Robert Venturi's canonical "Learning from Las Vegas," written in 1977, part of my summer reading collection. I spent most of today so far reading over my annotations in this book and Susan Stewart's "On Longing." Venturi (along with Denise Scott Brown and Steve Izenour) is critical of modernist architects and critics, those "experts with ideals" who "build for man rather than for people," suggesting instead that "sprawl and strip we can learn to do well." Granted, Las Vegas was a different place thirty years ago, but I find the book fascinating, especially considering I have little to no background in architectural history or theory, in the way it challenges readers to reexamine the visual communication and influence of the billboards and signage that make up a large part of the American landscape. I also enjoyed comparisons between American cities like Vegas and Los Angeles to European cities like Rome, Florence, and Paris.

More mind-blowing, though, was Stewart's "On Longing." I think everyone, especially visual artists and "crafters," should read this book as she seems to at least touch on so many of the themes I see in the work around me, both at school and at home, as well as in galleries, museums, films, etc. She writes about "the social disease of nostalgia," longing, desire, memory, the miniature (the dollhouse, for example), the souvenir, differences between the individual souvenir and the collection, amusement parks and historical reconstruction, the landscape, the gigantic (from the Jolly Green Giant to "earth works"), parades, travel writing, Tom Thumb weddings, photography, terms of endearment, the saturated meaning of certain objects, scrapbooks, yard art, and flea markets. Reading this book was like meeting your new best friend. Just about everything she writes is brilliant and relevant, to my work right now, at least.

So I'm feeling a little bit better about quickly approaching the start of another school year. Perhaps it's my recent unemployment. Yep, Friday was my last day in retail, for now at least. Working in retail, as many of you probably already know, takes unbelievable people skills and an abundance of love and forgiveness for humanity in general. I can fake it when I need to, and I think I'm socially well adjusted, at least on a smaller scale, but otherwise I'm somewhat lacking in these skills. The effects of a self-righteous crabby customer would linger with me like the smell of smoke in your hair and on your clothes, particularly in the last couple of months. So I won't miss that, especially considering Labor Day weekend seems to be the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. What I will miss, aside from my co-workers and employee discount, are the little old ladies from Saks, people-watching when it was slow, gazing longingly across the corridor toward Califoria Pizza Kitchen, not taking my work home with me, and the Massachusetts law-enforced time-and-a-half pay on Sundays.



I haven't felt much like blogging lately and I'm sensing the same blog fatigue in fellow bloggers. Must be a summer thing. Or rather a summer-nearing-its-end thing. I've had a productive enough summer. Various family and good friends visited, we saw a little more of Boston and the surrounding area, worked at two jobs, got all sorts of domestic projects done, read three books all related to what I think my thesis might look like, scribbled various ideas in my sketchbook from time to time...And yet as I approach the last couple of weeks of summer I feel overwhelmed by all the stuff I didn't get around to and probably won't finish in time for September and the start of another school year. Exhibition opportunities will call for work still living in my head somewhere and I'll be "brushing up" on technical skills I haven't yet acquired. Not to mention the fact that I still haven't made it to the Cape.


Neal and I had Sunday off together so we made a small effort at doing something outdoors (the weather, aside from increased humidity yesterday, has been unusually mild and dry for about a week now), driving to South Boston's Pleasure Bay and Castle Island. The drive there was easy and we managed to find parking despite a late start. We walked around Fort Independence but decided not to join the tour, which was free (a shock after our week of tourist fees back in late May), but lasted a little over an hour.

There's just one place to eat on the "island" - Sullivan's, a hot dog and hamburger joint that looks like a pub from the outside. This is probably unwise, but I had my heart set on a lobster roll so we decided to "scope out" South Boston instead, consulting our Not For Tourists guide for local eateries. We passed by a couple of promising joints we'll try to remember to check out later, trying instead to make it to the Barking Crab (a place with a name like that ought to have lobster rolls, right?). At just one of many crazy intersections where construction is ongoing and street signs lacking we turned onto a road that, according to my map, should've taken us pretty much right there but instead quickly turned into a limited access quasi-military gate of some sort. This kind of thing happens to us all the time. Which, perhaps, helps to explain how quickly we admitted defeat, turned around, and headed back to make an early dinner at home. Enjoying life in Boston takes an awful lot of determination and tenacity.


rank my tin!

After about two months in my inbox, I decided to give an e-mail about Fossil's watch tin design competition a closer look. I haven't done much graphic design work but one of the first things out of a teacher or fellow student's mouth when they see my work (a.k.a. critique it) is invariably a comment on how "design-y" it looks. Like I told all of my mentees this summer, art is like curly hair. You can spend your whole life trying to straighten it or you can let it work for you. Why fight your natural style, you know? Easier said than done, but I thought Fossil's challenge might be a fun way to brush up on my Illustrator and Photoshop skills, especially considering I'll be the teaching assistant for a class called Publication Design this fall.

About my submission...When I first glanced at the e-mail, perhaps because I was simultaneously reading Susan Stewart's "On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection," I immediately thought of clock towers and liked the idea of putting something large and public on packaging for something small and personal, if not private. The first clock tower image that came to mind was the recently renovated San Francisco Ferry Building. I miss California, the Bay Area in particular, a lot more than I thought I would, and my nostalgia reminded me of the many postcards I've seen of the Ferry building during various eras. I think the postcard thing might be a little overdone, so I let the inspiration be enough, just including "Greetings from San Francisco" on the bottom of the tin, as you might turn over a postcard to read the message. You can rank my design here. Unfortunately, you have to create an account and login to rank the designs, but there are a couple of boxes you can uncheck to minimize future junk e-mail. I hovered, mysteriously, between the first and third spots earlier this week, after I first posted my submission. Since yesterday I've jumped down to eighth place. At this point, I'm simply hoping for inclusion somewhere in the top 30 so I can get a free watch. I haven't worn a watch for years, just waiting for a competition like this one to come along.

In other creative pursuit news, I've been researching the crazed craft of scrapbooking, not so much for the purpose of creating scrapbooks. I'm interested in using some of the paper and tools used in scrapbooking for another ongoing project. It's a long story and I'll be sure to tell it here just as soon as I'm ready.

When not pursuing these interests, I'm avoiding my list of summer reading and studio projects to watch television. Last night, as some of you may know, was the first part of the season finale of "So You Think You Can Dance." I was satisfied with the top four, considering Allison was eliminated a couple of weeks ago. I think I would have voted for her. In the end it was difficult to pick one person to vote for. I almost voted for my top girl and guy but since Donyelle seems to have quite a following, I decided to phone in just once for Travis. It was a tough decision because both Heidi and Benji are incredibly talented and entertaining but ultimately pretty limited to their specialties. Travis is a lot more versatile and equally entertaining. Allison should've won, but I'll be pretty happy with any of the remaining four dancers. Now I just have to convince Neal to buy me tour tickets for my birthday!


hotter than a hot tub

Ain't that the truth! And I was starting to miss writing about the extreme winter weather. Good thing we have extreme summer weather, too! To properly navigate the New England summer, you can't just check the thermostat before you head out the door. The reality of the digits you see is a complex relationship between temperature, humidity, dew point, and wind (probably pressure, too, but I'm not sure how that one factors in). The temperature doesn't have to be all that hot for "oppressive" conditions as long as the humidity is high and the dew point is above 70 degrees. I'm not exactly sure how it all works but it explains why it's 88 degrees out right now but feels like 99...and it's 9 o'clock in the evening.

Anyway, I thought I'd take a break from blogging about So You Think You Can Dance, realizing that perhaps there are a couple of readers out there not watching the series (and you are lame and should be ashamed of yourselves), and catch y'all up on my summer film festival. I haven't made much progress, and by the time I get around to watching a movie from my list, I've already added a few more. But in the last few weeks I've seen four films that I think all qualify.

After "Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants" I watched "Next Stop Wonderland," not only for the transitional story told from a woman's point of view but it's also based here in Boston. I like Hope Davis (also, interestingly enough, in "Proof," which I watched about a month earlier) a lot. Did you know she was in "Flatliners"? Anyway, I enjoyed the story although I found parts of it to be distractingly dated. After a year in Boston I was able to recognize a few things here and there. I haven't been to Eastie yet but I have been to the aquarium, where much of the story takes place, and I swear the exterior apartment shots were filmed on that little side-street section of Mass Ave. in the South End. Any locals have the scoop? There were a couple of details and story developments that bugged me. Firstly, Davis' character Erin should have gone to Brazil with that guy she met. I know it's crazy, but a.) it's just a movie and b.) it would have added a nice travel element to the story, making it a near-perfect match for my film festival requirements. Secondly, the way she and Alan finally meet, with her awkwardly resting her head on his shoulder in the packed Blue Line subway car, and then getting off the train together and going for a walk, I found totally unbelievable. I know I just said it's just a movie but we can't forget it's set in Boston. I have a hard time believing anyone would let a stranger rest their head on their shoulder for more than a second or two. And it wasn't even really his shoulder, more like his chest, his right pectoral to be precise. It was just a little creepy for me.

I also watched "Bring It On" for about the gazillionth time. I'm not sure if it counts...I just like it a lot ("Missy's the poo. Take a big whiff.").

Next came "Shopgirl," recommended by a co-worker. I went into it expecting more of the retail experience dramatized (the way she stands at the glove case at Saks is exactly how I stand at the pen case at the store!) not thinking it might qualify for my film festival, but in the end, I appreciated it a lot more for Mirabelle's story outside the store. The actors were all good (Jason Schwartzman is so great), the screenplay was quirky, the SoCal apartment totally believable, and the cinematography luscious. The only thing that bugged me was Steve Martin's narration. And her new job, toward the end of the film, at the front desk of an art gallery, is only a small step up from retail clerk.

Most recently I watched "Real Women Have Curves," another recommendation from my friend Mer, who recommended "Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants," which also co-stars America Ferrera, the lead in RWHC. The first line of the plot summary on IMDB says it all: "This is the story of Ana, a first generation Mexican-American teenager on the verge of becoming a woman." I realized that a lot of these coming-of-age-from-a-female-perspective stories have an immigrant element to them. Like Amy Tan books (add "Joy Luck Club" to the list...see what I mean?). And I appreciated the way the film, while it focused on Ana's story, incorporated women's stories from many different age groups. I enjoyed it overall, but ultimately, it's not at the top of my film bibliography.