Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Friend in the News

Our friend Neil Gaiman won the John Newbery Medal for children's literature on Monday. The book honored is The Graveyard Book, which came out around Halloween last year. It is aimed at a young audience (obviously), but I found it quite enjoyable. The New York Times had a nice interview with Neil in Tuesday morning's edition. He was supposed to appear on the Today Show this morning, but I leave the house by 7:45 and didn't have time to catch it. I'm sure he was charming.

I first met and photographed Neil almost 20 years ago, when he was a rising star in the comic book world for his work on Sandman, a series he did for DC Comics. He resembled a better-looking young John Lennon and that portrait remains a favorite of mine. His work is somewhat intertwined with Len's, for the Sandman (a.k.a. Dream, or Morpheus) has as his companion a raven named Matthew. Matthew is the reincarnated Matt Cable, Alec Holland's best friend. Alec is who Swamp Thing was before he became Swamp Thing.

So well-deserved congratulations to Neil (who is off on a press-junket to promote the animated film Coraline, based on his award-winning novella).

His very entertaining blog is listed under "Eclectic Reading" to the right. For grown up readers, I'd like to suggest his award-winning novel American Gods and any of the collections of his Sandman issues, particularly one containing "Ramadan" or "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (for which he won the World Fantasy Award.)

Horses at the Getty Villa

About five years ago, our friend Sandy Cohen decided we all had too much stuff in our lives and began bestowing upon his friends "adventures" for the winter gift-giving festivals. We've gone to Descanso Gardens to see camellias, played in bumper cars for an afternoon (I missed that one, but Len and Michael had a great time), had a Pirate Adventure down in Anaheim, and solved a murder-mystery over dinner at the Marina. This year's adventure was an all-expense paid visit to the Getty Villa.

The Getty is the only museum I've ever been to that requires reservations for a regular visit. The Villa was the only Getty Museum for many years, but now most visitors to Los Angeles are familiar with the looming buildings which sit on top of a hill above the 405 freeway in Brentwood. The Villa is nestled in a canyon overlooking the Pacific Ocean between Santa Monica and Malibu--technically, it may well be in Malibu. The Villa houses ancient art and artifacts from Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, and Roman eras.

My first visit to the Getty Villa was either the first or second Christmas I spent in Los Angeles while I was attending law school. That was before the Villa and its surroundings were renovated (which happened after the big Getty center was opened.) We attended a reception for the new president of Case Western Reserve University at the Villa in the spring, so Len and I got a brief look at things then but we didn't bother with an organized tour. I'm a big fan of museum shops, but I remember being disappointed in the gift shop because there were no memorable horse items available.

This time, the gift shop window stopped me in my tracks because there were horses on display. I gave serious consideration to the statue of Perseus and Pegasus on the left in the photograph below. Medusa's head is hanging from something attached to the horse (we know it can't be a saddle, right?) The half-horse on the right was only one of several variations on that motif--I was very tempted by a bronze version with Athena and an owl on a chariot drawn by the half-horse.

I also saw a lovely Centaur, some variations on Cupid and Psyche, and Nike driving a two-horse chariot. I noted that the manufacturer is Pacific Giftware and I found an on-line store selling some of the pieces for less than at the Getty here. They are actually pretty reasonable in price, certainly a lot less than I paid for Aragorn riding Brego at the Black Gates from Sideshow.

The shop also had a number of wonderful books for sale. So many books, so little time. In the photograph you can see the Steven Saylor book Rome. I've read and enjoyed a number of the books in that series. I would also recommend John Maddox Robert's SPQR series which covers about the same time in Roman history. I picked up a book which studies mythological themes from a number of cultures, with the aim of discussing the universality of a number of them. It's interesting reading and a good review of gods and myth from around the world.

This time, there were also some nice pieces of jewelry, but $825 for a shell cameo and even $325 for a glass and silver cameo with horses were a bit more than I had in mind (and Len wasn't volunteering.) I did get a cheap gold-toned Pegasus, but I'm thinking of saving up for one of the cameos.

The Getty Villa is based on the Villa dei Paperi in Herculaneum. Apparently, it is smaller than the original, which makes one wonder exactly how big that one was. The Villa dei Paperi belonged to Julius Caesar's father-in-law and was burried under a deep layer of lava in 79 A.D. Unlike Pompei, it's harder to dig in Herculaneum, so all of the drawings of the Villa were done by people working underground. This is the pool, which looks toward the ocean. The original pool is something like 16 feet deep. While the plan was to replicate the pool, that depth would have required a life-guard at all times, so this pool is only 18" deep.

The gardens contain only vegetation known to the Romans. Our docent told us that if you look down, it's authentic. If you look up, you'll see non-native-to-Italy plants, because we are in Southern California. Below is the view from the far-end of the pool looking back to the two-story Villa.
The original also has a second story, but we were told that the stairs would have been very narrow. The covered walkways are painted and there are terra cota bas relief insets in the ceiling. A variety of marbles is used throughout the building on both floors and walls.
Since we'd been to the Villa only about six months ago, I decided to devote my visit to looking for horses in the artwork. I came upon a card which said "The horse, a symbol of wealth and status, figured prominently in ancient art. Owning a horse allowed a citizen to participate in social, civic, athletic, and military activities, including the cavalry. In athletic competition, chariot and horse racing were the most expensive and dangerous events and therefore the most prestigious. Ancient riders rode bareback, without stirrups or saddles." Athena created the bridle, however.

In a gallery of things horse, I saw these gold harness decorations.

Here is a bronze horse and rider. I imagined that it could be Alexander and Bucephalus (the first horse in Western history with a recorded name) but it was not so identified.

These bronzes look like Henry Moore could have cast them, they look so modern and abstract. Reproductions of similar pieces were available in the museum shop.
Here's a small group of clay horses. There was a tripod with horses at each of the points, but it was too dark to photograph and flash was not allowed.
Here is a bas relief in marble with horses.
This is from a Roman sarcophagus. The work is beautiful.
The panel on the Labors of Hercules included this bit of information. Why, I wondered, did they not show a mare in the drawing? It was like the day I saw the short on the MGM menagerie and couldn't help but notice that the "Gallant Bess" doing at liberty tricks was not "she."
Horses were a common motif on the amphorae and kraters at the museum. Holding the camera still long enough was hit-or-miss, since I only brought the point-and-shoot rather than the grown-up camera with more control. The relative size of people to horses seems to vary a great deal.
I can't imagine it is much fun for men to ride nekkid. Not particularly aesthetically pleasing, either.
We expected rain, since it had rained and was heavily over-cast in the San Fernando Valley when we left for the museum. That's the nice think about California: Don't like the weather? Drive a few miles. It was much nicer on the basin side of things, but as we left for home, the clouds looked like a new storm would be rolling in. That's the Santa Monica Pier in the photo below, as we drove past at about 50 m.p.h. and I held the camera up out the window. It's always a gamble when you do a "Hail Mary."
Once again, Sandy and his cohorts in this gift-giving put together a memorable day, including lunch, a guided tour, and dinner and games afterwards at Sandy's house. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with next year.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Facts Are Facts

I heard some good news on the way into work this morning: our new President believes that California's lead in trying to control auto emission pollution should be followed and not obstructed. While it is bound to cost car companies, and therefore individual consumers more money, reinstating the California rules (followed by 11 other states and quashed by the Bush administration) is good for the environment. Facts are facts, and I'm glad that science has a part to play in the Obama administration.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Leaving San Francisco

I can never spend enough time in San Francisco. This was our first stay at the Fairmont Hotel and I would love to stay there again. Five days of beautiful weather, and I never saw the outside during daylight. I finally got a look at the hotel in the daylight as we waited for our car to head for home on Tuesday morning.
We had a room in the older part of the hotel. I didn't get a chance to see the newer, high-rise section, but that was just fine with me. If I wanted to, I could have used the stairs to the sixth floor or gone down to the mezzanine where we held our meetings. The only thing we missed was Comedy Central on the large, flat-screen HD television (which is just out of view on the dresser at the far right of the shot.
The lobby was quite elegant. Just past the guest check-in desk was the bar where we spent plenty of time talking to the other folks who were at our meeting. We also had the restaurant on the other side of the bar to our selves for our final meal in San Francisco with the rest of our "blue ribbon team." The Laurel Court Restaurant is normally not opened on Monday evenings, but Russell managed to get it opened for our private party of about 16 people. Robert Silverberg chose the wine, and he has excellent taste in wine.

As we headed down Nob Hill to get to the freeway, we drove through Chinatown. Len went shopping there on Monday and brought me back two necklaces, one with the Chinese symbol for horse and the other with a ceramic horse necklace meant for someone who's zodiac symbol is horse, but hey, I don't care. Under the Chinese zodiac, I was born in the year of the rabbit but my sister was born under the sign of the horse.

What I missed photographing, and only because Len was somewhat inarticulate, was one of the signs for Bush Street which had been changed to Obama Street. Len saw it and gestured, but not accurately, yelling "look!" several times. Each was louder than the last, but I couldn't determine to what he was pointing. If he had just said "street sign!" The news media has picked up on this story of vandalism, but the change was so subtle you would never have known there was something changed.

"Talky Tina," our annoying GPS voice, was almost worthless trying to navigate out of the city. But we managed to find our way to the 101 South anyway. (In fairness, she did a pretty good job of getting us to the hotel in the first place, with only one mistake)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

From the Internets

This was sent to me on an e-mail list serve today. The sender did not know the origin, so cheers to the unidentified wit:

Dear World:

We, the United States of America , your top quality
supplier of the ideals of liberty and democracy,
would like to apologize for our 2001-2008 interruption
in service. The technical fault that led to this eight-
year service outage has been located, and the software
responsible was replaced November 4. Early tests of
the newly installed program indicate that we are now
operating correctly, and we expect it to be fully
functional on January 20. We apologize for any
inconvenience caused by the outage. We look forward
to resuming full service and hope to improve in
years to come. We thank you for your patience and

The United States of America

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It Is Done!

We're still in San Francisco and had our own impromptu party in Joe and Gay Haldeman's room to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama this morning. There were about a dozen of us laughing, weeping, and applauding. (From left to right: Russell Davis, Mary Robinette Kowal, Gay Haldeman, John Scalzi, Sherry Davis, Ann Crispin, Len Wein, and Jane Jewell with Joe Haldeman closest to the camera.)

What a great day. President Barack Obama. What a great speech. Science is back. Tolerance is back. It's about time.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

In San Francisco, Part 1

We've been in San Francisco for two nights now. We are staying at the famous Fairmont Hotel at the top of Nob Hill. I hear the views are spectacular, but I haven't been outside in daylight yet.

The hotel itself is a study in opulent elegance and I'm really glad to be here with someone else picking up the tab. Every president since Taft has stayed here and it is easy to understand why.

The drive up from L.A. was pleasant. We stopped in Santa Barbara for a quick visit to The Territory Ahead to see what was on sale. Len bought a fully-lined leather coat for his trip to New York next month and I got a sweater and a shirt.

When we got back into the car, the news from New York about the amazing plane landing on the Hudson river. I immediately called my brother Tom who flies on US Air to North Carolina a lot on business. I got his voice mail, but we got in touch later during our drive. Tom, it turned out, was in San Francisco! Unfortunately, he would be getting on a plane home about the time we got to the Bay Area. We waved as we drove past the airport around 9 p.m. If I had known that I could have seen Tom (I last saw him two years ago), I would have insisted on leaving Los Angeles earlier.

It is an almost vertical climb up California Street to the Fairmont--it looks like a 60 degree climb, which is probably not possible. It was a little scary in the dark. We ran into Joe and Gay Haldeman in the lobby--Joe's a favorite writer of mine who teaches at MIT in the autumn and lives in Florida the rest of the year. Then Len and I went off to a restaurant near the hotel for a late supper. It was called the Nob Hill Cafe. Convenient, close and not bad.

After all day in a meeting Friday, we did dinner with Joe and Gay and half a dozen others in Chinatown. We had Peking duck, great spareribs, and spicy salt crab, among the other terrific dishes in the menu. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the place or the street on which it was located.

I was pretty much brain-dead after 9 hours of meetings, so I wanted to go to sleep early. Len, unfortunately, woke up with indigestion, exacerbated by panic, about 3 a.m. He's better now, but I was close to finding out if there was a doctor in the house.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Packing Bags

Len and I are getting ready to head to San Francisco on Thursday. I dropped the car off for service this morning and that's going to be a bit of a hit--but still a lot cheaper than the payments on a new car. I don't mind the fact that the Odyssey is almost 11, but it is getting a little battered looking. It's comfortable, gets me from point A to point B, and it does O.K. on fuel mileage. It can't haul a trailer, but I wasn't even taking riding lessons when we bought it, much less thinking about having a horse own me. The best thing about it is that it seats 6--four really comfortably in bucket seats and two more on a bench seat--or I can drop the last seat into the floor and take out two of the bucket seats for a lot of cargo space, all on the frame of an Accord. The newer models have sliding back doors, but mine are like a sedan, which I really prefer.

The agenda for the meetings which I will attend (while Len gets to enjoy the amenities of the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill and the wonderful city of San Francisco) included the note "semi-formal attire" for the closing dinner on Monday night. Does this mean I've got to bring a fancy dress or can I get away with a simple black number? And what is Len supposed to wear? A suit or a black tuxedo (it is "semi-formal," after all)? This is California and a bit of a surprise. Most places are fine if you wear socks with your shoes.

San Francisco is my favorite city in the U.S. While not quite a European as New Orleans, it is very much a walking city with all sorts of wonderful neighborhoods. It is a great place to photograph and I've already packed the camera and the Mac so I can digitally process on the road. Over the years I've done some gorgeous shots of the Golden Gate Bridge on transparency film. This will be my first opportunity to shoot digital. Maybe I should slip in one of my film cameras, but I don't know where I'll be able to get it processed.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Catching Up

A Happy New Year to everyone. I've been out with the cold from hell. I've lost a week of riding and three days of work and five days of vacation time to it. Yuck.

Looming ahead is a five-day trip to San Francisco, starting next Thursday. We're staying at the Fairmont on Nob Hill. I hear it is really nice. I just wish the San Andreas fault wasn't grumbling away down here. When I step out in San Francisco, I always wonder "is today the day?" But I don't let that stop me from visiting my favorite city in the U.S.

My friend Lisa Klink is in Las Vegas competing in the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions. The shows won't run until March and I'm sorry we couldn't accept her invitation to watch the shows being filmed. The first day of shooting was yesterday and the finals are tomorrow. If we had gone, we'd know the results. Now, we've got to wait until March to find out what happens. No fair asking because she's under a gag order until then.

Len and I actually missed an episode of Jeopardy! this week when the TiVo hiccupped. I don't think we've missed one in years. It is our mutual addiction. I spent one of my three days home from work re-reading Bob Harris' book, Prisoner of Trebekkestan. I recommend it. It's the story of his experiences on Jeopardy!, but a lot more. Bob attended Case Western Reserve University, where I went to law school, but was there at a different time than I. We met him through What's My Line? Live on Stage when he and Len were panelist together one night and it was an instant bond. He travels a lot and writes a terrific blog, which you can link to from the list on the right.