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  1. New Venues For Used Books
  2. The Olympics: A Modest Proposal
  3. Satisfying Paintings
  4. Ferdinand Bardamu Guest Post
  5. Bagatelles
  6. Sixth Avenue, Remembered
  7. Alive and Living in Argentina
  8. Are Sculptors Long-Lived?

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

New Venues For Used Books
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm seeing used books in places I never saw them before. When I was young, Seattle had a large used-book store (Shorey Book Store) in the downtown area. I only visited it once, and since then it seems to have migrated a time or two to ever-cheaper real estate. There are other stores specializing in used books, but I don't shop in them. You see, one of my quirks is preferring new things to used. I prefer to buy cars new, clothes new and books new. I'm not a purist, mind you: I bought three used cars and a smattering of books long out of print and unlikely to be republished. And I do patronize stores that offer a mix of new, remaindered and used books -- Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, for instance. Nevertheless, when book browsing and shopping, I go to certain stores with the expectation that the books I see will be new and perhaps remaindered. An example is the University Book Store by the University of Washington. Yes, the textbook area in the basement has both new and used textbooks, but that's accepted textbook sales practice. Recently I've been seeing used books creeping into the trade books sections. They can be spotted because they have little yellow circles or dots attached near the base of their spines and their price labels are yellow rather than white. I feel that those books don't belong there. Even more startling to me was the appearance of what are labeled "gently used art books" on a table in the Barnes and Noble store in nearby University Village. I remember B&N being a breed of cut-rate bookstore back in the 1960s and early 70s with outlets on lower Fifth Avenue in New York and downtown Boston. The chain went on to other things -- until now. I'm not sure what to make of it. Used books can have whatever markup the seller thinks he can get away with, so I assume they can be pretty profitable if they sell well. Is this business tactic why I'm starting to see them pop up in unlikely places? Are there related reasons? The depressed economy? Competition from Amazon? Or is something else happening in the book industry? I'll be happy to get clued in. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 3, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Olympics: A Modest Proposal
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today's earth-shattering news is that the 2016 Olympics are to be held in Rio and not Chicago. Unlike many commentators, I'll set aside the matter of the incompetence of Our Blessed Leader and his Crack Advisory Team in their public-relations-stunt effort to persuade the IOC to anoint the City of the Big Shoulders as the site. Instead, I express relief that some other nation has to scrape up the money to pay for that increasingly bloated monstrosity of a sports circus. Living in Seattle, I'm only a three-hour drive from the Vancouver, BC fringes of the 2010 Winter Games. That's way too close for comfort, especially because February is the one part of next winter that I'll be here and not in California. I grumble because I consider the Olympics to be too large, too expensive, too professionalized, too politicized and too televised. Turn the clock back to 1924 or even 1912 if it can't be turned all the way back to the 1896 Athens games. Which leads me to the Modest Proposal mentioned in the title above. For some time now, a host nation is allowed to add a new sport to the event roster. This has been one of the bloat factors. I propose that, starting with the 2012 Olympics, the host nation eliminates an event. Immune from this shaving would be the events staged in, say, the 1908 games. Therefore, by 2100, the Olympic Games will be small enough that each remaining event could be better appreciated. So that settles that. And it ought to help reduce the cost of hosting the games. Now we have to come up with ways to dial back professionalization, international politics and lousy TV coverage. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 2, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Satisfying Paintings
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not all paintings need be Significant or Provocative, Disturbing, Edgy or other criteria of Importance that might come to mind. As the title of this piece suggests, paintings might be satisfying -- and I see nothing intrinsically wrong with that role. Given their content, still life paintings have an opportunity to be satisfying (however, objects portrayed might conform to the overtly Provocative-Disturbing-Edgy categories noted above). Even more likely to result in soothing, satisfying results are landscape paintings. I'm not a huge landscape fan, but I've been noticing that contemporary artists are cranking out works that I would be tempted to buy (if I had the money) and hang on my wall. Overpass (print) - Marc Bohne Above is an image of a commercial print taken from a painting by Marc Bohne. It seems that his studio is about four miles from where I live, in a converted elementary school where my mother once taught. As it happens, I've never met Bohne, whose web site is here. The above image does no justice even to the poster, let alone the painting. Some objects appear to be painted in a hard-edge style but in fact are a little fuzzy and painterly; you'll just have to track down a full-sized version to discover what I'm talking about. I discovered the print in the waiting area of the eye clinic I go to. Admittedly, waiting for 15 or 20 minutes after your appointment time to be called in for your examination can put your mind in semi-suspended animation, a dreamy state. Nevertheless, the print never fails to fascinate me. The version I see has the caption at the bottom as well as border areas of the image cropped off (the sky cropping improves the result, I think). The coloring is realistic as are details such as the partly-submerged furrows in the foreground -- something common in the fall here in western Washington. The composition is strong, yet intriguing. Much of it converges towards a focal point, yet there is no special focal object -- just a dark clump of trees. Arques-la-Bataille - John Henry Twachtman - 1885 In some respect, it reminds me of the Twachtman painting above, which hangs (well, it did the last time I was there) in the Metropolitan Museum or Art in New York. Although it doesn't show well in the reproduction, this painting has (for Twachtman) a strong composition using horizontals and slants. In those respects, Bohne's painting echoes it. Another artist whose work I've noticed recently is Romona Youngquist whose paintings can be found in an Eastside gallery hereabouts and elsewhere. Her page on the gallery's site is here; scroll to the bottom for biographical information. Below are example paintings also shown in the above link. The titles are ho-hum, but the works themselves are -- guess what? -- satisfying when seen in person. Sweet Summertime Endless Summer Changing Season What I find a little bit interesting is the similarity of results... posted by Donald at October 1, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ferdinand Bardamu Guest Post
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Several people have expressed interest in guest-blogging at 2Blowhards to help fill the huge gap created when Michael decided to retire from full-time posting. Today guest-blogging begins with an article by Ferdinand Bardamu, who blogs at In Mala Fide and is a contributing writer for The Spearhead. Not long ago Michael linked to Ferdinand in this posting. What Ferdinard has to say might be provocative in some quarters; comments no doubt will tell that tale. Over to you, Ferdinand: * * * * * The Provincialism of Modern Novelists A few years back, I was waiting at the dentist's office, thumbing through a copy of Time magazine, when I came across an article entitled "Who's the Voice of this Generation?" The author was lamenting the fact that not one of the "young novelists" writing today is representative of the attitudes and neuroses of this generation. As is the nature of modern journalism, this reporter was trained to ignore the truth in front of her face. The reason that not one of these "young novelists" can claim to be the voice of this generation is because all of them are nauseatingly parochial in thought and style. Anyone involved in the world of literature is aware of the old cliché, "Write what you know." There's an unstated implication in that phrase; make sure what you know is interesting. The best novelists had no trouble grasping this concept. Ernest Hemingway only wrote what he knew, but the breadth and depth of his life experiences - fighting in World War I, living in Paris during the Roaring Twenties, reporting on the Spanish Civil War - was a large part of what made his novels compelling. Louis-Ferdinand Cé:line's Journey to the End of the Night (as well as his other works) was a glorified retelling of his experiences during WWI and later working in colonial French West Africa and the U.S. The list of great novelists who infused their writing with their varied life experiences is endless: F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Orwell, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski, Tim O'Brien, etc. No more. Today's crop of popular novelists, having missed the subtext, are "writing what they know," the likes of which is small enough to fit into a shot glass. Let's take Jhumpa Lahiri as an example. Lahiri has been widely acclaimed for her depiction of Bengali immigrants in the U.S. in her works. Beyond the fact that the "immigrant adjusting to life in a new land" trope is so burned out at this point its unbearable, Lahiri is incapable of writing anything beyond her dull life as an American of Bengali descent. Her first book, Interpreter of Maladies, was about Indian immigrants acclimating themselves to American culture. Lahiri's novel, The Namesake, beyond being poorly written and having improbable plot elements (Indians nicknaming their child "Gogol"? Uh-huh), was about the exact same thing - Indian immigrants acclimating themselves to American culture. Her most recent short story collection, Unaccustomed... posted by Donald at September 30, 2009 | perma-link | (15) comments

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * When I was young, the primary Yellowstone National Park distraction/hazard/roadblock was bears -- sometimes mangy, usually begging, occasionally too insistent brown bears. On my trip to Yellowstone last year and again this year I didn't spy a single bear. Instead of bears, we see ... * I know 2Blowhards tends to be New York and Seattle-centric. But that has to do with where Blowhards are based. A fact of blogging life is that a good share of content flows from article ideas inspired by everyday life of the blogger. And speaking of Seattle (as I often do), I'll pass along a new blog dealing with architecture, planning and their ilk in the Puget Sound area. The blogger is "GW" and he contends here that in a few respects, Seattle is a conservative -- risk-averse, actually -- place. * While I'm in a Seattle groove, first is a photo showing the Seattle Seahawks football team's uniform as it was in recent seasons. Following that is a photo of the uniform worn in Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears. No wonder the Seahawks lost. With those uniforms, they deserved to. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 29, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sixth Avenue, Remembered
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Aging cusses such as me won't be around forever. That's why I like to post How It Was articles here from time to time. Just for the record, understand. [Clears throat, fiddles with notes, casually leans on lectern] Today's subject is New York City's Sixth Avenue, alias Avenue of the Americas (you can read about the name business along with other info here). As this Wikipedia entry indicates, Sixth Avenue was the site of an elevated railroad from the late 1870s to the late 1930s, when it was replaced by a subway line. Sorry to report that I wasn't around during the "El" era, so I can't categorically assert that the street level was a typical "almost dead" retail zone found below elevated lines. But it probably was. When I first saw it in the mid 1950s, the classiest frontage was that of the Radio City Music Hall on the backside of Rockefeller Center. There might have been one or two other theaters nearby, fronting on side streets. In 1962 I was stationed in the Army just outside the city and got into town almost every weekend from late January till mid May. By that time, Sixth Avenue was entering its great transformation phase. The new Time-Life building (the second in a continuing series of Time structures) across Sixth from Rockefeller Center had been completed. At the time, much was made of the claim that it was really part of the Center. Technically (or legally) that might have been so. But to me, at least, it was not part of the center in the sense of its location and its architecture. Time-Life Building - completed 1959 So far as I can tell, the main link of Time-Life to earlier phases of Rockefeller Center is the use of gray stone facing that can be seen in the photo above. But the large window areas and spandrels effectively removed it from the character of the Center's earlier buildings that had narrower windows/spandrels and a touch of Art Deco trim. The rest of Sixth Avenue from 42nd Street to near 57th was in that state of suspended animation found where properties are being or have been assembled for major developments -- in this case, for massive skyscrapers. Shop leases were running out and tenants were beginning to vacate. Maintenance and repairs to existing low-rise masonry buildings were kept to an absolute minimum in anticipation of razing. Aside from Time-Life and the Music Hall, Sixth Avenue was a dreary, ratty zone. I remember that I seldom tarried there when walking west from glitzy Fifth Avenue to the Times Square area bright lights, and ditto when heading east. What many current Manhattanites and visitors probably don't realize is how low-rise Midtown was in the mid 1950s. There were few really tall buildings along Sixth and the Times Square area as well. Park Avenue was lined by moderate-sized masonry-clad buildings, the exceptions being the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and the shiny new... posted by Donald at September 28, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Alive and Living in Argentina
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today offered this link from London's Daily Mail regarding a finding that a skull thought to have been Adolf Hitler's actually was that of a woman, according to DNA tests. No doubt that revelation will set History Doubters, Conspiracy Theorists and Truthers of all sorts aflutter. I don't much care. Hitler was born 120 years ago 20 April, so I doubt that he's likely to magically appear anytime soon in Munich hale, hearty and rarin' to start the Fourth Reich. The likely explanation is that the Russians simply found the wrong skull when in 1946 they scoured the bunker site looking for remains. There is no reason as yet to seriously doubt the accepted version of the dictator's last hours. The reaction to the news might have been different in the late 1940s. In those days a tabloid called the Police Gazette regularly sprouted headlines asserting that Hitler was alive in Argentina. I was just a kid then and bought only comic books at the drugstore periodicals section, so I never read the doubtlessly compelling proof the magazine surely offered. And why Argentina? The Argentine president, Juan Peron, was friendly to refugees from Germany in the years following the war. For example, Focke-Wulf aircraft designer Kurt Tank went there to develop a jet fighter for Peron's air force. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 27, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Are Sculptors Long-Lived?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Inspired by the self-glorification of certain political personages in Washington, D.C. and some of the manifestations of adoration undertaken by followers, I've been doing some reading about art in 20th century totalitarian countries. A book I just finished is Peter Adam's 1992 Art of the Third Reich. His chapter on German sculptors active in the 1930s caught my attention because of the life-dates he cited for them and a few others whose work influenced them. They are listed below with the approximate age at death in square brackets. (Ages at death are based on subtracting the birth year from the death year. That means some of the cases are overstated by one year. I did this for consistency because I wasn't sure I could easily track down life dates for all the Germans. In any event, the picture presented isn't seriously affected by my shortcut.) Georg Kolbe (1877-1947) [70] Karl Albiker (1878-1961) [83] Arno Breker (1900-1991) [91] Josef Thorak (1889-1952) [63] Adolf Wamper (1901-1977) [76] Kurt Schmid-Elmen (1901-1968) [67] Rudolf Belling (1886-1972) [86] Ernst Barlach (1876-1938) [62] Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1881-1919) [38] Fritz Klimsch (1870-1960) [90] Richard Scheibe (1879-1964) [85] Josef Wackerie (1880-1959) [79] Bernhard Bleeker (1881-1968) [87] Arnold Waldschmidt (1873-1958) [85] To spice things up, I'll add a few sculptors whose names are familiar to me: Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) [77] Aristide Maillol (1861-1944) [83] Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) [81] Lorado Taft (1860-1936) [76] Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) [59] Paul Manship (1885-1966) [81] Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) [81] Alexander Calder (1898-1976) [78] Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) [65] Seven of the 14 German sculptors lived 80 or more years and so did four of the other nine. The only sculptor following the Caravaggio, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh pattern of dying before age 40 was Lehmbruck. What we have here is nothing more than a factoid, something true so far as it goes. A thorough study of the longevity of sculptors would be grist for, say, a Masters thesis. For example, a universe of sculptors would have to be defined in some measurable way. A basis age would have to be selected so that comparisons with populations at large using mechanisms such as life tables could be made. And so forth. Just for fun, I'll draw a few "conclusions" from the flimsy data shown above. Sculpting didn't seem to be a life-threatening occupation in late-19th century and early-mid 20th century Germany. You'd think that with all the dust, sharp tools, hot metal and the rest of the studio scene, that sculptors could cop an early disability retirement. But apparently not. The non-German group seems to have a somewhat more normal mortality pattern, though the proportion living to 80 is nearly as great. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 27, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments