Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Not So Shocking 'Shock of the News'

As purposefully noted here, the latest enticing show at Washington's National Gallery of Art is a gem - not only because of its play on words and the fine representation on museum walls of a dying tradition. Recall the playful slogan of yesterday, "What's black and white and read all over?" - the old phrase linked to, of course, the habit of reading ( holding in one's two hands a folded bundle) a newspaper. The exhibit is a take-off and send-up as well as a sentimental recollection of a time when newspapers mattered.  "Just chimney soot on chopped up trees" is the adage posted above artists' interpretations, or, rather, "manifestations" of the newspaper phenomenon from 1909 to 2009, in curatorial words on the flyleaf of the handsome  book accompanying the show.

The phrase Shock of the New is attributed to the late culture critic Robert Hughes from his 1980 BBC TV series. A timely note: Mr. Hughes only died recently. A pity he couldn't witness this witty assemblage of work on view through January 27. For more, see http://www.nga.gov. You might even weep with joy at the familiar form now in the process of being consigned to history. An extra touch (literally) : Visitors can take away a sheet of paper that is actually a work of art by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. You might find the  quoted text printed on the front and back of each sheet less shocking than beguiling.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Washington Walkaround

Can a city offer too much -  to the point of making its citizens immune? Joys of an early autumn weekend brought this sober, unquantifiable thought to mind in inner city Washington. Not only were the two  'red' sport teams in full flower on their respectively well endowed turfs but the Library of Congress and other Congressionally-endorsed institutions were sponsoring shows of note. The seldom heralded Washington Navy Yard keeps its museum open on a regular basis, so it isn't correct to call their permanent installation a 'show.' But it is a spectacularly well endowed history (and hagiography) of the U.S. Navy. Beyond its doors is the scenic walk -  the Yards Park and beyond - along the Anacostia River. The boardwalk stretches from the Nationals door to the 11th St. bridge, past several water works (all notably free of much signage except for the usual legalese, although thankfully under cover). Several long tendon-tingling blocks away northward lay the LOC's annual Book Fair. Long live the oral tradition! But before that came the appeal of  coffee and croissants in the Paul Cafe (801 Pennsylvania Ave. NW ) while viewing the tumultuous marvels of a Latino heritage parade celebration, as colorful a sight as any that could ever be seen on that avenue of presidents.  Banging clashing drums and cymbals, horns and high heels.The  spoken words of authors standing at podiums under high white tents calmed itchy minds and cellphone fingers: this was a celebration of civility. With so many citizens engrossed in literacy, it was easy to slip away underground into the blessed cover of silence at the Smithonian's Museum of African Art full of mosaics, photography, and sculpture.  All worlds covered in a few miles distance from home.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Nice Notes

The reference, of course, is  to the city in southern France, almost a kingdom unto itself: special history, special food, and certainly special seafront. That Nicoise je ne sais pas salad coming foremost to mind  and stomach. Can it really be universal, and what really is its origin? I tried in a few days recent stay in several Riviera towns (though, come to think of it, I'm not really sure about  the correct geographical terms for that long lovely coastline between Spain and Italy) to understand the recipe. It's a grand melange...with canned tuna of distinction at the core, along with the cornucopia of fresh Provencal provisions. One restaurant  - the cafe at the Rothchild Efrussi palace on Cap Ferrat - felt compelled to give it a fancy name, after the artist Tiepolo who was on show there. But I suspect more humble associations apply. At a seaside table in Villefranche, a Nicoise salad appeared in a charming edible basket. A real cornucopia.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Fly By Miles

Try to claim miles for a flight and  you might find yourself talking in the ether to an anonymous gent in Cincinnati saying, sorry (after the best part of an hour) but Air France doesn't allow a customer to use those miles for flights 'over water.'  This is Air France that flies from the US over, presumably, several waters and nowhere else in this land. So what if Delta, KLM, Air France are merged, accumulated miles supposedly shared; there is no mercy for the disenfranchised. A nice young man tried his best, and admitted he was at odds with his employer in more ways than one. Because he never has flown and never intends to. He is scared of flying.