Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ancient art, modern art

WP_20131026_052 (631x1300)A deep low-pressure area has developed west of England, and forecasters are predicting a “Once in five years” storm to hit the coast tomorrow evening, bringing torrential rain and 80 mph wind.  I’ve serendipitously booked a flight to the US for Monday afternoon, my first in seven months.  Now I have my fingers crossed that the worst will be over so the plane can get out from Heathrow.

Ahead of the gale, the wonderlijke wezen and I determined that it would be a good day to get out to some Gallery shows in London.  Two in particular, the display of Chinese scrolls at the V&A and Sarah Lucas’ modernist works at the Whitechapel, looked fascinating.

WP_20131026_047 Stitch (1300x1266)Masterpieces of Chinese Painting opened today, but the crowds and entry fee were both modest and the exhibit takes about an hour and a half to see.  It features dozens of horizontal and vertical scrolls, many a thousand years old, along with commentary that helped me to make sense of what I was seeing (the direction to read, the figures, the use of colour or application of paints). 

Some works are little more than rough sketches around lakes or impressionistic mountains (shanshui), while others are finely detailed scenes of life in cities extending for many meters.  I liked the portion from 950-1250 best, the blend of poetry and image, the smoky landscapes, the large representations of nature and the compact intrusions of man, underfoot the mountains and trees.

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And the dragons!  Again, highly individual and wonderful faces capping generic bodies, similar to the styles of the Terracotta Warriors.

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I always learn a lot by looking, reading, discussing, comparing with my own experiences.  Water and sky are both represented by whitespace, softer edges against the liquid, harder against the air, the horizon indistinct and implied.  The tree trunks flowed like water between the leaves; the rocks were hard-edged and immovable lower in the same picture.WP_20131026_044 (1300x843) WP_20131026_035 (855x1300)

Black and white mountain receded into the distance just like I saw during my visit: coloured ones were more definite, improbably built of stacked planes.  And the city scenes were delightfully detailed depictions of street life during the period, sometimes wrapped in a story or lesson.

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WP_20131026_083 (1300x732)Sarah Lucas was part of the Young British Artist’s (yBa) group that formed in the late 80’s, creating controversial and confrontational sculpture and exhibiting in warehouse spaces. Damian Hirst is the group’s most famous member; Sarah Lucas was likely the most hard-living (The Guardian had an excellent profile of her).

Her art doesn’t disappoint: it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before and carries a lot of feeling.   There are a lot of repeated motifs and techniques, but I think she’s exploring a space rather than refining the work.  She is not subtle. Her medium, usually toilet bowls, panty hose, balloon-like sacks and cigarettes, are combined into troublingly stained erotic tableaus.

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I’ve been forcing myself to lean into difficult conversations with people lately.  I caught myself subtly avoiding them, taking control of uncomfortable flows and steering into less provocative topics by asking lots of questions and offering personal anecdotes. I’m resisting that temptation now, staying present in their moment and experiencing their feelings (the feminist perspective, applied broadly).

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This show is similar: the full experience demands that I stay present in uncomfortable dialog with her work, letting her visual feeling wash over me, rather than making a small joke and moving along.   I like her “Nuds” a lot, contorted sculptures of soft fabric or reflective metal that remind me of my worst days.  The wire-frame Bunnies are amusing, the schematic depictions of breasts and legs wrapped around chairs are thought-provoking.

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WP_20131026_058 (691x1300)In the end, I liked both exhibits a lot, but for totally different reasons.  There was comfortable and uncomfortable, fusion of feeling with image, expression of poetics in medium, artefacts that are each surprising and individual, separated literally by a thousand years.  The anger of the modernist work contrasted with the calm of the ancient scroll  ,but both implied the separation, sometimes alienation, of social humans from their natural states of being.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Walking the Jurassic Coast

DSC00864 (1300x975)The Jurassic Coast runs for 95 miles along the English Channel from just west of Swanage, near Poole, to Exmore, east of Weymouth.  A World Heritage site, it consists of high chalk cliffs with spectacular beaches and high walks through forests and across the rocks.  Folks had been recommending Lulworth Cove,  a particularly good spot about an hour from Sandbanks.  The weather is deteriorating dag na dag as fall settles in, still warm but wet and windy, so I took an early afternoon’s drive out to see it before the cold arrives.

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The Cove is almost perfectly circular with a small opening to the sea and high cliffs inland.  There was a large group of schoolchildren doing experiments at the shore and a few family groups visiting on half-term.  But the trails were empty and, while slippery in spots, not too difficult to negotiate (eg: I only slipped and fell, hand and leg in the mud, twice).

The lower stretches, rising from the beach into low forests, reminded me of walks in the Olympics, lush and dripping.  But once on the cliffs, the views open to reveal a long stretch of coast and spectacular views of the Cove.

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On the other side of the Cove is the Stair Hole and the Lulworth Crumple, a glistening fold of rock above a crumbling arched natural seawall.

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Further along the coast lies the  Durdle Door, an arch reminiscent of the often-painted Manne-Porte at Etretat.  The sun came out as I hiked down to the formation: the cliffs lit up and the waves glistened.  I can see where this would be absolutely wonderful on a sunny day or when the light was changing color.

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‘Well worth a visit, it takes about a day to explore properly, longer if you want to hike or horseback ride the beach trails.  I’m already making plans.

More pictures, as always, at my Flickr site.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Settling in (II): Community

DSC00979 (1300x967)I like living in Dorset a lot.  The sea has endless variety and character for walks, the family and neighbours foster a normal social environment, and I like my aerie where I work and live above the house.   With the move complete and more time to settle in, I’ve started to turn to getting to know the community better, an hour’s exploration every day.

DSC00977 (1300x1008)So, then, where do I start?  

What is on your ‘have to find’ list when you move into a new place? 

My list shakes out something like this:



DSC00662 (1300x980)Goods:  Where can I buy stuff?

The nearest villages are Canford Cliffs and Sandbanks, but both are focused on restaurants and real estate offices.  I need to know where the grocery and gas station are, where to buy shoes and housewares.  The general answers lie along the commercial roads leading into Poole , but there’s a fine Tesco Express two blocks away.

DSC00664 (1300x975)Services:  Who can get things done?

This is, first, someone who can dry clean the clothes, service the car, or mail a package.  I’ve got a library card and have sorted out computer access to their copy/scan/ fax services.  I have a local Dutch tutor (first things first!).  And, consistent with balans en grens,  a few of us are trying to sort a shared office assistant (half a day of dedicated time each week would make a huge difference).

DSC01028 (1300x992)Transport:  How do I get from here to there without driving? 

I’ve worn driving paths to the ferries and to London in the car, but really need to get on public transport, both locally and globally.  I’m researching and experimenting with the best way to get to Maastricht from Southampton airport, or beyond from Gatwick or Heathrow.  Where, how often, how long, and how much to get a train to London, Bristol, Nottingham, Sheffield, or Cambridge?  Is there a good link to Southampton or a scenic bus routed along the coast?  Unfortunately, my neighbours are not ‘mass-transit’ sort of folks, so this is grunt internet research.

DSC00657 (968x1300)Health:  How do I stay fit and well?

Walks; fresh sea air, morning or evening when the light is just so.  But I need to figure out where the doctor, dentist, hospital and pharmacy are.  I work with University hospitals,so know people if there were anything serious, but everyday things require some digging  And a fitness centre would be nice, but these folks do more yoga, biking and sailing: the costs probably balance out. My only limit is ‘no kite-surfing’.

DSC00914 (1300x976)Social:  Where do people hang out?

A combination of walking-around and visiting with neighbours gives a good foothold on a restaurant or two, the pub with music, and a coffee shop overlooking the sea. The yacht clubs and schools are a focus for many folks,but those are both outside of my sphere for now (although I’ve gladly accepted guest invitations to both).  There are plans afoot to visit parks, museums, and MENSA mixer evenings; a neighbour is hosting a tea this afternoon.

DSC00959Local colour: How can I get involved.

There is lots of money sloshing around (the fabled ‘widows and orphans’ investors) so I’ve reached out angels in the local investment community to see if there are mentoring and diligence opportunities.  The boating connections are also pretty fruitful: people have suggested a couple of places to learn dinghy sailing or to join a club.  All I need is some wet-suit bits to keep me warm.  And then there’s the planning for New Year’s parties, well underway in October.

Personal spaces:  Where do I feel most comfortable?

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There needs to be someplace where I go to relax and renew. Somewhere that I can take a friend for a quiet conversation, or just sit and watch the waves or walk at the sunset.  Someplace for inspiration and renewal.  Its bigger than a park or a pub, closer than Lulworth Cove or the New Forest.  I know the feeling I want, just not the instantiation yet.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tech topics Tuesday

win 8.1Windows 8.1 became available today, offered through the Windows store. I have 8.0 installed on the Vaio Z, where it sits uncomfortably without a touchscreen.   I really wish that I hadn’t upgraded that machine from Windows 7 in the first place, but it seemed best to push on towards the new version with it’s many improvements and see if the edges got smoothed.

In particular, I’ve been having some graphics cache problems that prevented Windows Photo Editor from working, issues with Mail that seem to grow steadily worse, and the integration of Skype with IE /Chrome never worked well.  The general recommendation is always to wipe the system and start clean, but I don’t have a day to re-install everything and hope that I didn’t forget some critical key or document folder

So, off I went.

Win 8.1 is an online installation, much like the latest Office, and the computer cycles through the usual number of checks, downloads, and reboots. At 11:0 pm, it was still at it, so I gave up and headed to bed.

…and in the morning I returned toa dead screen.

I tried a few manual reboots, and I could get to a cursor but nothing more.  Windows now has safeguards that prevent entering Safe Mode, the usual way to fix driver and system issues, so the usual arran of F* keys DSC00927 (1157x1300)was useless.  Finally, something clicked and the computer entered VGA mode: low-res graphics and  distorted images.

I found new drivers for the GForce card and the Intel system, and tried to install them. No luck: Sony had created a custom version that NVidia wouldn’t support.  Sony says it won’t upgrade drivers for legacy machines.  So, for now, I’m out of luck.

Nor am I the only one. Many early adopters have been having problems with graphics drivers in particular.  It seems unbelievable that Microsoft wouldn’t do a better job with drivers and testing, but this is sadly becoming their normal. I had multiple driver issues when I upgraded from 7.

My advice would be to avoid any upgrade to the new system for a while until the bugs are shaken out.  And keep a good backup.


On a separate topic, let’s touch on texting.

I can hammer at an on-screen keypad as fast as any (okay, most any) teen to get a message off to my far-flung network of correspondents.  Most devices now offer predictive inputs, where the device guesses at the next word I am wanting to type, and voice transcription of spoken messages.

The Nexus is particularly good at voice inputs, and I use it to transcribe notes into Evernote while driving.  It needs a mobile connection, so I have to hold while driving through the New Forest or various dips around Sandbanks.  But i does a recognizably good job,where my Windows Phone is absolutely awful at it.

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But the Lumia really shines at predictive texting (left, above, vs. Nexus right).  It offers a half-dozen possibilities and is crisp at updating as I type the first few letters of the next word.  Usually, it gets to the right word really quickly.  The Nexus offers fewer words, usually the wrong ones, and forces me to type everything in laborious keystrokes.

Its a bit surprising since the Nexus has better processors and Google’s statistical linguistics library behind it.  But it has a long way to go to catch the Lumia.


bike…and, if you’re weary of computer things, check out the re-invention of the bicycle wheel.  It’s enough to gladden any Dutch heart.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Kleuren langs de weg naar huis.

DSC00919 (1300x976)Home: (from Old English hām, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch heem and German Heim)  The place where one lives permanently, where one flourishes, is most typically found, or from which they originate.

‘Home’ is a slippery reality for me as an expatriate.  I’m distant from both country and family, transient in my work and residence.  Where is home?   It’s alive in select local places and among a small circle of people.  And, of course, the iconic ‘13 boxes of things’ that define and connect me (and fit into a Fiesta).

How many places can I occupy, how many people can I trust? A wonderlijke wezen friend suggests that home DSC00948 (1300x954)has to be restricted to one person, one place: it’s not something you can spread around. 

I had constructed a ‘Circle of Ten’ life, retaining options and resisting commitment, choosing fractional relationships and drop-through residency that never added up to a whole life.  And when businesses ran into difficulty, people schemed betrayal, and places turned toxic, it left no solid ground to take refuge.

Re-building, re-defining, re-integrating became a horrible and consuming task.  I’ve had to come to terms with myself and others, to rebuild identity, confidence, and trust in people, places,and institutions again.

‘To find a way ‘home’.

DSC00941 (1300x1013)I drove up to Cambridge today: a Board meeting, school planning, business activities, closing out utilities and memberships.  A transformative place for me, but no longer ‘home’.  It’s funny how feelings change: I missed the coastal setting and new friends as soon as I left Sandbanks.  We’ve joked that I’ve tried living with smart people and among old people: now it’s time to give rich people a shot.  Maybe. Or perhaps, after four months, its just time to close out and move on, wearily.

Still, there was something in the fall colors along the way, in the trees outside of the old apartment and along Parker’s Piece, in the DSC00950 (1300x974)Biotech Centre lunchroom and our St. John’s offices, in the radio telescopes and churchyards dotting the countryside, that is more than familiar, still connected with memories and people.

still, in some sense, ‘home.