Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

The Long Walk.

I like to walk. If I didn’t taking the bus home from work most days would be a lot more of a chore because I have to walk a few blocks to the bus stop–and these are Nashville blocks which are variable in size and can be large or small, and there may not be sidewalks, and even where there are sidewalks they tend to be pretty narrow. Nashville is a city built on the idea that everybody drives everywhere, probably because most people do, although I wonder which came first: the drivers or the narrow sidewalks? And, funny enough, even on days when I drive to and from work I park in a parking garage that’s at least half a mile from where I work, which means I have to walk a pretty good distance no matter what, so it’s better if I’m not carrying anything heavy.
Once, outside the building where I work, which is at the corner of West End and 21st Avenue, a young woman carrying a tuba case came up to me and asked where the Blair School of Music was, and I felt really bad about telling her that it was about a mile away because I couldn’t imagine having to schlep a tuba all that way. Even worse there’s really no convenient bus route that would take her there. Then, later, I realized that, as a tuba player, she was probably used to having to schlep it all over the place, and also sharing this story gives me a convenient excuse to use the word “schlep”, but that’s another story.
Anyway the other day I made my usual long walk to the bus stop and, for a change, it was a nice day. Nashville had forty days and forty-one nights of rain in February alone and even though I like to walk the rain tends dampen my enthusiasm. As I got close to the stop the bus passed me so I started running, hoping the driver had seen me. The bus stopped at the stop and a couple of people got off. I kept running and got to the bus. The driver smiled at me as I got on.
“I saw you running,” she said.
“Yeah,” I panted.
“It’s a really nice day,” she said. “You coulda walked.”
Sure, and I’ve even thought about it, but there are stretches with no sidewalk, even places where there’s almost no shoulder, and it’s really too far to walk the whole way, even without schlepping a tuba.

Repetition, Repetition.

One of the repeated stories of art history is that Impressionism began with the invention of the camera. Artists, seeing that there was a technological device that could capture an image of the world as it really is, stopped painting in studios and went outside to capture the effects of light with rapid brushstrokes. Like everything else it’s more complicated than that when you start to look closely—the two major artists of the Impressionist movement are Manet and Monet, and there’s a lot more than just a vowel that separates them.

Still in an overarching way it’s true that’s true—the invention of the camera did coincide with a major change in  art, and it makes me think about repetition in art—how artists went from trying to copy nature to creating more and more individualistic works. Before the camera there was less emphasis on individuality and more emphasis on making something that could easily be copied. And maybe—I’m taking a really big leap here, but it’s an educated leap—something similar happened earlier with the printing press. Poetry, with its emphasis on repetition and rhyme and regular meter, was easy to memorize—in a sense easy to copy, because before the printing press literature had to be copied by hand. After the printing press more writers were free to write in prose, free of the restraints of poetry because they weren’t as concerned about creating works that could be easily memorized and therefore more easily copied.

Maybe.

Questions I Asked My Grade School Teachers That Made Them Regret Telling The Class “There Are No Stupid Questions”

How much skim milk do you have to add to half and half to make it a quarter and a quarter?

How many liters are in a kilogram?

Is there such a thing as a cake chart?

How do you pronounce a semicolon?

Which of the four food groups is Jell-O in?

Did the first person to say “originality is overrated” recognize the irony?

How much does the Tooth Fairy give for dentures?

Will a trip to Helsinki finish your vacation?

How do I get my grandfather to give my nose back?

Isn’t AC/DC’s music always current?

If there’s just one is it THE moeba?

Why does the sign on the restroom door say “Teachers’ Lounge”?

Take A Stand..

An article over at CityLab looks at seat design for public transit around the world, taking in the good, the bad, and–in the case of the Los Angeles bus lines–the psychedelic designs. Many use moquette, which is the peculiar fabric so popular on planes, trains, buses, and and occasionally hotel pillows, although as I’ve mentioned previously Nashville’s new WeGo buses have plain plastic seats that may be easy to clean but are also slippery and with their complete absence of any design are just begging for a permanent marker makeover, although I haven’t seen any redesigned just yet. And there are the moquette-covered seats with a musical design, pictured at left, which is an interesting idea–Nashville being known as Music City–but the printing job was so badly botched no one can name that tune.
The article’s author, Feargus O’Sullivan, gets a bit snarky–a Warsaw, Poland bus seat design evokes “some biblical rain of blood”, Boston’s old MBTA trains have a seat design that “looks like a diagram of a serial killers brain synapses”, and seats on Dublin’s Luas light rail have a design that suggests the city’s “monuments apparently sinking Titanic-like into a sea of fire”–and those are some of the nicer descriptions. He acknowledges the difficulty seat designers face, though:
Seat-cover fabric designers have to create something that looks pleasant for—or at least doesn’t actively offend—the eyes of hundreds of thousands of people. That’s an all-but-impossible task. It’s somewhat cheering that fabric intended to please as many people as possible ends up being not bland, but often wildly eccentric. If nothing else, the interiors of these public vehicles are certainly way more interesting than the interior of almost any private car.
Almost any private car. I think we’ve all had that friend–or maybe I’m just lucky–who eats a lot of fast food and has never cleaned the interior of his 1976 Dodge Dart so when you hitch a ride with him your feet rest on a decade-old detritus of drink cups and burger boxes.
And distinctive seat design–whether creative or horrifying–does serve the function of drawing attention to public transit, which it desperately needs. With increasing traffic congestion public transportation is increasingly important. As a guy I used to work with would say, “People really should use public transit. It’s better for the environment, better for the city, and I’d have an easier time finding a parking space.” And I’d look at him and think about suggesting he should get rid of all those burger boxes on his floorboard, but that’s another story. It just has to be the right kind of attention. An important thing about seat design, O’Sullivan says, is it “shouldnt be so bright and busy that it turns stomachs”. The reason for that is practical as well as aesthetic. A lot of riders of public transit–kids, pregnant women, people too drunk to drive–are already likely to be sick, and a dazzling design could just serve as camouflage. With some designs I’d rather stand and admire them than worry about what I might sit in.

Naming Names.

Several months ago I took a picture of this graffiti and spent a lot of time thinking about what I’d like to say about it. Where should I even begin? Should I say that it’s interesting because animal iconography seems to be pretty rare in graffiti. Well, I just did. That’s all, folks!


But wait–there really is more. Some, particularly fans of the literary movement known as New Criticism would say the work can only be judged in itself without any reference to outside influences or the artist’s background or intent. And that’s pretty much all I can do since I don’t know anything about the artist. But what if I found something that shed a little light on it and meant I didn’t have to wrap up quite so soon? That’s where this helps.

From this I think the camel is the artist’s tag–essentially their name. What’s a name, after all, than a symbol? Sure, most names are symbols made up of letters–there are some exceptions, such as that thing Prince used as his name for a while–and letters themselves are symbols that we’ve mostly agreed all make the same sounds, although I did have an uncle who wouldn’t spell anything with the letter Y because he was convinced it would sneak onto his farm at night and tell dirty stories to his cows, but that’s another stor.
Anyway that reminded me of the Dutch aristocrat, art historian, and dealer Jan Six–who is actually the descendant of ten previous aristocrats with the same name, making him the eleventh Six. The first Jan Six (born (January 14, 1618, died May 28, 1700) was painted by Rembrandt and amassed a considerable art collection. The current Jan Six continues to collect with a particular emphasis on Rembrandt and in the past few years discovered what he and some scholars think are two previously unknown Rembrandt paintings at auctions. And keep in mind that a painting by a lesser known Dutch master–say, one of the guys from the cigar box–can sell for thousands but a Rembrandt can be worth millions, and if they are legit he got them at bargain rates because the auction houses didn’t know what they had. Even with a decline in the study and even collecting of older paintings–the prices on modern works are rising while the old ones aren’t–there’s enough interest in them generally to make them, especially the ones done by well-known artists, valuable. Although further complicating all this is the fact that, with his many pupils and large studio, it’s almost impossible to know whether Rembrandt himself painted a painting alone or whether he had help, or whether it was just one of his students copying his techniques.
That difference can also seriously affect the value of a painting, but shouldn’t it be the work itself and not just the name that matters?

Perfect Timing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sa1TgAeZlQI’d rather have a root canal than go to the dentist.
Maybe that’s not exactly true, but I did have a dental appointment for a regular checkup and cleaning, so I left work early to catch the bus. The Nashville MTA app is now defunct. It used to show riders when specific buses were due to arrive. Now it just lists the scheduled arrivals at different stops which is pretty useless because its rare that buses are ever on schedule. I was reminded of this when I was standing on one side of the street and the bus I wanted, not due for another ten minutes, pulled up to the stop across the street, paused for a microsecond, and went on its way. Once on that side of the street I set off on my merry way with plans to catch the next bus or walk to the dentist’s office, whichever came first. Fortunately I did catch the next bus, and when I got on the driver said, “Nobody’s ever at this stop at this time of day,” and I said, “Well, someone was today!”
Then at the dentist’s office the hygienist asked me if I were feeling better and I asked, “Was I feeling bad six months ago?” I’d forgotten that I’d had a dental appointment the week before but had to reschedule because I had a cold, which is how my short term memory is, but that’s another story.
When I left the dentist’s office I checked the bus schedule, thinking I’d catch the bus going back, and while I was doing that the bus, due in about five minutes, sped by, so I started walking.
As I was standing on a corner waiting for the light to change a young guy and his large black Labrador Retriever came and stood next to me. The Labrador Retriever looked up at me and I asked the guy, “What’s his name?”
“Oliver,” he told me.
“Hello, Oliver,” I said, and Oliver wagged his tail and rubbed his head against me, and I petted him, which made us both pretty happy. And I was actually glad I missed the bus because if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have met Oliver.

Don’t Steal This Book!

Source: imgur

“An Ohio library says a 1968 copy of Life magazine with the Beatles on the cover has been returned by a borrower who apologized for stealing it as a ‘kid’ and sent $100 to cover late fees.”
-Associated Press

It never occurred to me to steal anything from the library. Maybe this came from an early experience with the library in the school I went to from kindergarten through sixth grade. We were only allowed to check out one book at a time on special weekly visits and we were expected to return each book the next week. And each week she’d read out all our names and what we’d checked out the week before, which didn’t make any sense to me because I didn’t care what anybody else checked out. In second grade I checked out a book about dinosaurs and I’m pretty sure I returned it the next week but the school librarian was just as sure I hadn’t. And she read my name and the name of the book every week for six or seven weeks so I became a class joke, at least during library visits, and really only to my so-called friend Troy who, I’d later realize, felt that if he could deflect attention onto someone else no one would make fun of him for being the only kid in the class whose parents were divorced. I didn’t realize this then because the school library was very small and its entire psychology section was a copy of Freud’s Totem & Taboo that someone had left there by mistake.
I finally found the book. A kid in a different class had pulled it off the shelf and the school librarian’s system was so rudimentary she didn’t cross-reference records so it never occurred to her that it was checked out to two of us at the same time. When I pointed this out she said, “Well, next time you need to return your book directly to me rather than putting it back yourself,” which I hadn’t done. This taught me a valuable lesson: some librarians are jerks. And I wouldn’t make another mistake until sixth grade when I accidentally gave the school’s copy of The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by Daniel Pinkwater to the public library and a very nice librarian mailed it to my school with a note that said, “It would appear this belongs to you,” because not all librarians are jerks.
I liked the public library better anyway because it was bigger and there were books that could only be reached by climbing up ladders, although for a long time the only thing I checked out was Octopus Lives In The Ocean by William Stephens, which was a very detailed book about the life cycle of the octopus. I read it so many times I had it memorized and once gave my grandfather a lengthy description of the ins and outs of octopus sex and he was silently impressed, but that’s another story.
I still love libraries. I like owning books too, and I own a lot of books, mostly ones I reread, or at least plan to read again, or just keep for reference purposes even though I believe sometime in the future there will be a vast computer network that will give everyone connected to it access to vast swaths of information. Lately I keep hearing about the Japanese concept of tsundoku, the idea of buying books but never reading them, although I think every book is purchased with the idea that it will be read. Some books we just never get to, but they’re there just in case. Once, in the library where I work, a guy showed me a book of obscure mathematics and he said, “Who reads this stuff?” Not me, but someone, I hope. Why put something into a book if it’s never meant to be read? And it’s why I’m very conscious of always returning library books. I’ve had epic overdues and once, by mistake, I had a book checked out for years and built up an epic fine but I still returned it and some librarians understand that to err is human and they’ll forgive a fine.
And that brings me to the anonymous person who returned the stolen 1968 copy of Life magazine in the throes of Beatlemania. The library probably had more than one copy, but if it didn’t that meant no one else could read it. Maybe the library bound its 1968 run of Life magazine with that one issue missing so it was still unavailable, and maybe later on they got rid of their bound volumes and replaced them with microfiche, which probably contained that issue of Life with the Beatles on the cover, but if you’ve ever tried to look up anything in microfiche you know it’s unreadable anyway.
Still the person returned it in the end and even paid the late fees, and I just hope the librarian who checked it in isn’t one of the ones who’s a jerk.

 

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