Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Decoration as Political Statement

I saw this clever Halloween decoration displayed in the middle of suburbia during my recent trip to the American Southwest. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Native Plants: Finally a Part of Desert Landscaping

Beautifully Simple
Perfect for the Southwest
Oblivious to its Environment
This Design is hopefully a thing of the Past

I recently returned from the American Southwest and was pleased to discover that the era of the lawn and lush landscape has faded. As little as twenty years ago, residential neighborhoods in the arid southwest were landscaped primarily with lawns and water guzzling plants. 

Formality within
the Context of a Desert Garden

In the mid-twentieth century, Americans were fixated on having the picture perfect green lawn, no matter what the local climate. Today, you find desert landscaping and see very little grass. Southwestern gardeners have replaced grass with cacti, succulents, and sand. This trend toward eco-friendly landscapes means gardens work with the environment and can grow without supplemental water.

Mimicking Nature
in the Garden

As a landscape architecture student, I would sometimes include native plants as part of an overall landscape design, only to see these specimens replaced with "client friendly" plants (eg. hibiscus, ferns, willows, and other thirsty plants). That was thirty years ago. These days, people are more receptive to native plants and designs that work with nature. In an age of climate change skeptics and "drill, baby, drill" demagogues, it's gratifying to see Americans moving toward a sustainable world right in their own gardens.

Lush Plantings
that are Drought Tolerant

Monday, October 28, 2013

First Maine Hindu Temple

The quintessential New England
clapboard church as
Hindu Temple
Maine is changing. Within the last 15 years, an influx of refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers have transformed this once staid and homogeneous State into something approaching diversity. And although the latest census figures show that Maine has the second highest percentage of white's in the nation, diversification is making its presence known.

Maine's first Hindu Temple, the former First Universalist Church of Scarborough and South Buxton, is now the State's first and only community temple. I like the way they've complemented the classic white clapboard facade with colorful trim. Inside it's more exotic with brightly decorated walls, burning incense, and pictures of Ganesh and other gods.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Museum Dedicated to Relationships Gone Wrong

The detritus of love gone wrong: an unworn garter belt, a love letter, a mountain of shattered glass. This is Zagreb's newest museum, the Museum of Broken RelationshipsLocated in an 18th century palace, the setting of so many 18th and 19th century Gothic and romantic novels, the museum was an instant success when it opened in 2010.

The museum contains a collection of objects donated by people who have broken up. Each item has an accompanying story. Some are amusing, others sarcastic, and a few are just heartbreaking.

One room contains exhibits about casual or long-distance relationships that didn't work out, and another is dedicated to relationships where one partner died. There's even a rage and fury room containing items that are mostly torn and broken. For example, there's a car mirror on display. A woman broke it off her boyfriend's car when she saw it parked in front of another woman's house. More extreme, hanging on a wall is an ax and next to it is a sign explaining its relevance (a jilted lover used it to chop her ex's furniture into bits). And while the premise of the museum is ironic and even morbid, I think it reveals insight into something everyone experiences at some point in their life.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Five Cent Ice Cream at Thrifty Drug Store

Back in the 1960's and 70's, Thrifty Drug Store sold everything from household detergents to cosmetics. It was the Walgreen's of its day. The chain no longer exists, but I still have vivid memories of it, especially its ice cream.

As a kid I could get a scoop of Thrifty's ice cream for five cents, a double for ten, and a triple for fifteen. Each store had a stand inside selling pre-packaged ice creams by the pint or quart and a walk up counter where you could buy a cone. My favorite was a double chocolate chip. Yummy!

When the Thrifty chain was sold to Rite Aid in 1996, Rite Aid continued to have Thrifty's ice cream stands at some of their stores. Today, I was reminded of Thrifty's legendary ice cream when I visited a local Rite Aid. Alas, a single cone now costs $1.79, an increase of 3,480% since 1970. (The US inflation rate for the same period was a mere 502.8%.)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Oreo Addict

Now I know why I can't eat just one Oreo! A new study suggests that Oreos may be as addictive as cocaine. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ransonware: The Latest Twist on Extortion

Here's an article from the Guardian on the latest malicious software that can damage computer files. CryptolLocker or"Ransomware" kidnaps files and demands a ransom for their release. As always, never open a suspicious email!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

From the Bizarre Files: Jello Theft

One fellow in Pennsylvania decided to take decisive action when he discovered the theft of his jello from the office refrigerator. Not one to ignore this common workplace occurrence, the man reported the incident to the local police department. An investigation is currently underway, but it's unclear whether the culprit will ever be apprehended. I suggest they use DNA analysis. It always seems to work on TV. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Berlin's Festival of Lights 2013

Illuminated Boats Floating
at Potsdamer Platz

This October I'm enjoying New England's magnificent fall color. However, I'm also missing Berlin's Festival of Lights, which runs from October 9 - 20th. This annual event is one of the largest illumination festivals in the world and transforms some of Berlin's most famous landmarks into lighting works of art. I love riding my bike through the streets and taking in the festive atmosphere and wondrous installations. It's definitely a Berlin experience. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mark Twain in Berlin: "There is Nothing in Berlin You Cannot Learn Except the German Language"

Mark Twain said, he "[n]ever knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German." Yet, despite his criticism of the German language, Twain loved Germany and especially Berlin. He called Berlin the "newest city I have ever seen," and referred to it as the "German Chicago" because of its energy and sense of vibrancy. By the end of the 19th century, Berlin had transformed itself from a swampy provincial town into a thriving city where the arts, sciences and technology were flourishing. Berlin was soon to become the third largest city in the world and the center of the "new" Europe.

Twain lived in Berlin during the 1890's, and wrote articles on his everyday life in the city. Many of those stories were never published until quite recently. Andreas Austilat has complied these stories in an insightful book, A Tramp in Berlin. New Mark Twain Stories: An Account of Twain's Berlin Adventures. For Twain and/or Berlin fans, the book is a must read. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Lighting Design: The Key to Good Moving Making

I'm always amazed how different an actor looks in person as compared to his or her on-screen persona. In film, make-up and lighting can transform a frog into a prince and make an old geezer young. I once saw a famous TV actor (his name shall remain my secret) at the gym and nearly didn't recognize him. He looked decades older, had deep set wrinkles, a bad complexion, and was nearly bald. Yet, on TV, he was rather handsome.

We don't think much about lighting when watching a TV show or movie, but it's key to good film making, and it's essential to the success of an actor or actress.  

Imero Fiorentino, a master lighting designer, died recently. Here's an interview from 2006 where he discusses the field of lighting design and its impact on film. It's worth watching. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Traveling Overseas: Does T-Mobile Have the Edge?

T-Mobile, the US cell phone provider, has announced that it will reduce the cost of its foreign cell phone service. That's great news for me. Up until now, I've had to use three different cell phones when traveling abroad, one for the USA, Germany, and Australia.

For years, the cell phone industry has been bilking customers with outrageous foreign service rates, and this announcement will certainly shake things up. T-Mobile's decision follows last year's announcement to eliminate its service contracts. T-Mobile is taking an aggressive marketing strategy in the cell phone wars, and I hope it pays off. 

T-Mobile doesn't have a ticker symbol by itself. They are a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekon, which trades on the NYSE under the symbol DTIt also trades under the symbol DTE on many European exchanges. This is one stock to follow. 

As of October 20, 2013, eligible T-Mobile plans will include international roaming at no charge, unlimited web and messaging, and voice calls at a flat rate of $0.20/minute. For more information visit: international services.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dumbo is Shot Down

Here's more from Banksy. In this video, a group of what appears to be Islamist rebels are seen shooting down Dumbo and then shouting "Allahu Akbar," which roughly translates as "God is Great." It's a spoof of recent videos showing Syrian rebels shooting down government jets and helicopters. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Portland's Entryway Decoration: What Does It Say About You?

My House: Vivid Colors, 
Overabundant Mums and Impatiens,
a Fall Wreath, and a Big Pumpkin.

What does this say about Me?
Autumn in Portland is wonderful, and besides fall foliage, nothing announces the change of the seasons more than the way people decorate their front door, entryway, or porch.

People in the Maine are anxious to celebrate the transition from summer to autumn by decorating the outside of their houses with the familiar images of the season: fall wreaths; pumpkins; gourds; mums; and Halloween props. For me, the fall is an opportunity to add a little punch to the entryway, and it also helps chase away the autumn blues that accompany the shorter days. 

How we chose to decorate our entryways reflects our personalities and how we want the world to see us.  Show me your entryway and I can tell you what you are.  

Here are some houses I found in the West End. What do these homes tell you about the occupants?

Sparse Symmetry
and a bit Cold
A Row of Orderly
and Size Appropriate Pumpkins
all Neatly Arranged

An Understated Design with Mums and Pumpkins:
Neatly arranged and color coordinated

Dramatic Halloween Window Display, Pumpkins,
Mums, Gourds, and Fall Plants.

Unconventional, Quirky, and Warm

A Study in Orange:
Stylish, Subdued
and Careful 
Carefully Thought Design:
Scarecrow, Barrel, Pumpkin,
and Horn-of-Plenty Wreath.

Symmetrical, Sentimental, 
 Subdued, and Conventional 

Stark, Cold, and Lonely

Classic American: A
Flag, Mums, and Pumpkins.

Sentimental, Conventional,
Whimsical, Generous, Humorous, and Quirky 

Clever Design using Grasses,
Mums and a Pumpkin. A Modest

Entryway that belies a Creative Occupant?
Orderly Pumpkins
that have become

Full of Fun
Don't Forget Me

Monday, October 7, 2013

Is Graffiti Art or Vandalism?


When is graffiti vandalism and when is it art? Simple answer: it's both. Art and vandalism aren't mutually exclusive. But is graffiti ever acceptable? 

Graffiti is, by its nature, a form of painting. After all, the person creating the graffiti uses the same methods and materials as an artist working on a painting. Is a painting art? However, in the case of graffiti, the "artist" is vandalizing private property, a criminal act.

Here's an interesting article in today's Guardian about Banksy whose graffiti is making property owners rich. His environmentally-themed works are fetching hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sexy Naked Men at the Musée d'Orsay

The Musée d'Orsay in Paris has just opened a new exhibition celebrating the nude male form. The exhibit, titled Masculin/Masculin runs through January 2, 2014, and showcases male nudity in art from 1800 to the present day. As the curators of the exhibition note, "there is a shameful double standard when it comes to nudity in art; the female nude is omnipresent, yet the male nude has fallen out of favor in the last 200 years."

Earlier this year, I wrote about the first ever art exhibition dedicated to the glories of the male nude at Vienna's Leopold Museum (Nackte Männer). It was immensely successful, and as you know, success breeds imitation. Masculin/Masculin includes works, by David, Moreau, Munch, Mapplethrope, Cadmus, and LaChapelle. BTW: The Musée d'Orsay's sexy Promo video has models recreating famous works of art from the exhibit. Oh La La.

Bill Cunningham: Fashion is not Frivolity

I'm a big fan of Bill Cunningham. The legendary New York City street photographer has been capturing the glitterati for his famous New York Times spreads for more than 30 years. With his trademark blue smock and utilitarian bicycle, Bill pedals around New York City observing and photographing fashion trends. (Not bad for a 80+ year old.) His keen observations about style have influenced the world of fashion and made this sphere of the elite more accessible.

Bill's recent column demonstrates why Paris is still the fashion capital. In Paris, fashion is not a distinct art form but connected to the world of art, architecture, and everyday living. The 2011 documentary "Bill Cunningham New York" is definitely worth a view. Bill reminds us that fashion is key to the human condition. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Twist on Willard: A Rat Sanctuary

In the 1971 movie Willard, an army of rats carry out
a kind of vigilante justice by punishing unscrupulous and evil people. It was one of my favorite movies as a kid because it portrayed rats as intelligent and loving animals, albeit with a taste of revenge in their hearts. Here's a feel good story from NPR about some folks in Boise, Idaho that have created a rat sanctuary. Listen and enjoy this twist on Willard

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Happy Birthday Yosemite

Yosemite National Park is 123 years old today, but like all national parks, monuments and zoos, it's closed because of the federal government shutdown.

Thanks ObamaCare!

Today, at long last, the Affordable Care Act, dubbed ObamaCare, opens for enrollment, making health insurance available to millions of uninsured Americans. Of course, ObamaCare is not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction, and it certainly will alleviate the financial fear associated with a serious and unexpected illness. (In the USA, medical bills are the biggest cause of bankruptcies.)

In addition, under the mandates of ObamaCare, insurance companies will no longer be able to exclude people from coverage based on even the most minor pre-existing conditions or cancel coverage for those who have been diagnosed with serious and expensive illnesses. Moreover, people denied needed treatment by their insurance companies will now have a guaranteed appeals process. 

In their push to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act, conservative Republicans have cast ObamaCare in near apocalyptic terms. There won't be death panels, seniors won't lose benefits, and the economy won't collapse. All this fear-mongering, initiated by people who should know better, is just politics, plain and simple.