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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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  1. Destination Pasadena
  2. Regional vs. Nationwide
  3. A Cream-Pie for Rembrandt's Face?
  4. LACMA Report
  5. Getting Lost in Big Cities

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Destination Pasadena
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- If your scene is hyper, with-it Los Angeles or New York City, "little old lady" style Pasadena, California might not fit your tastes. The town has been a genteel island in the Southern California frenzy since the San Gabriel Mountains were raised, or something like that. Consider the college scene. No ultra-lefty Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and that ilk. No jock-focused USC vibes. Just good ol' nose-to-the-computer Cal Tech in this neck of the former lemon and orange groves. And of course the Old Money. Or archeological evidence thereof, the subject of this post. If you are an architecture buff, those remains might well be worth a Pasadena visit. Speaking of visit, one architectural gem that can be toured is the Gamble House, the winter get-away-from-Cincinnati residence of Gambles of Proctor & Gamble fame. The house is now jointly owned by the University of Southern California and the City of Pasadena; the house web site is here. Gamble House We took the one-hour overview tour, but more detailed tours are also available to suit intensity of specialization of interest (there's one for woodworkers, for instance). The Gamble House is one of the finest achievements of famed Arts & Crafts architects Green and Green. Many years ago I was in Pasadena for a Rose Bowl game where the University of Washington was playing. On our way from the Rose Parade route to the bowl, we must have passed by the Gamble House (still in Gamble hands then). It failed to register, perhaps because its architecture was not fashionable and probably ignored by my architecture history professor. A block or two farther down the hill to the Arroyo Seco, a house partly hidden by vegetation caught my eye. It was a Frank Lloyd Wright house. One from his Imperial Hotel (Tokyo) - cement-block (Callifornia) period. Millard House I immediately recognized it as the Millard House. Earlier this week I tracked it down again, not having seen it in 50 years (literally!). It's still there, the grounds even more overgrown. One of the staff up at the Gamble House said that the Millard was still privately owned, but was up for sale for a lot of money. Its fate will be determined. In the meanwhile, if you have the address (645 Prospect Crescent) and a street map showing Pasadena, you can inspect it from its street address side just off Prospect Boulevard (up close, but not so interesting) or from the other end of the property through a wire fence on Rosemont Avenue. Not many towns besides Pasadena can boast such residential architecture treasures in such proximity, though Oak Park, Illinois comes to mind. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 16, 2010 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Regional vs. Nationwide
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm still in the Los Angeles area, and enjoying it more than I had expected. We buy groceries at a chain called Ralph's. No Ralph's in Seattle. Must be a regional outfit, right? Well ... yes and no. It seems that some of the items on the shelves are house brands for Kroger, a Cincinnati-based company. Moreover, the grocery where we usually shop in Seattle (QFC -- Quality Food Centers) also sells Kroger-branded items. It turns about that Kroger, once a regional company, has tendrils all over the place as can be seen here, (scroll down for a list of "local" outfits controlled by Kroger). Nationwide company, regional brand presence: interesting formula. Banks also used to be tied to areas. In Washington, statewide at most. In Pennsylvania, to a home county and contiguous counties. In Illinois, even tighter geography. Nowadays, some banks have branches over much of the country. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; as a customer I find it convenient when traveling. When I was young [Oh, no!! Not that again!] there seemed be many local and regional products. Consider beer. I grew up with brands such as Olympia (from Oylmpia, WA), Rainier (Seattle) , Sick's Select (also Seattle), Alt Heidelberg (Tacoma) and Lucky Lager (Vancouver, WA) -- eventually drinking the survivors when I got old enough. Later, when traveling, I'd make it a point to drink a local beer. I recall being disappointed in Rhode Island when the bar only had Bud and no Narragansett. There were local food brands, too. And not just dairy products, which remain largely local. In my case, it was Nalley canned goods such as chili (the brand still exists, but is no longer locally owned), Frye's meat products and Buchan's bread. I'm sure you can come up with examples from your own past. Given all the consolidation we've seen in recent decades, are local/regional products a dying breed? Not necessarily. Many nationwide brands started locally, and start-ups are, almost by definition, local. Consider coffee houses. Yes, there's Starbucks, a local Seattle firm that now spans the globe, as they say. Yet even in Seattle one finds stores from regional chains such as Tully (Seattle) and Peet's (Bay Area). Strong in Southern California, Las Vegas and Oahu is an outfit called Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. The old regional beers are largely gone -- crushed by Budweiser and Miller -- but now local microbrews are sprouting. Modern communications, including fast, relatively inexpensive transportation, has indeed "nationalized" a number of products -- look at advertisements in old newspapers to get a feel for which products were still local at various times. But as I noted, local is far from finished. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 14, 2010 | perma-link | (11) comments

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Cream-Pie for Rembrandt's Face?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This article in the Los Angeles Times (7 January, page D8) informs us that there's an art blog that spoofs paintings by posting alternative captions. It's called That is Priceless, and a link is here. Writer David Ng reports: [The blog] was launched in November by L.A.-based television comedy writer and producer Steve Melcher. Once a day, Melcher spotlights a well-known work of art -- usually a painting -- and gives it an alternate title. ... Since November, Melcher has clocked in about one post per day. He said he chooses works that tell a clear story: "I don't do too much abstract or Impressionist art because readers will have to stop to figure out what the painting is showing. I love Dutch art -- they always have silly things going on in their paintings." The writer said he often tries to tie a painting to recent news, a holiday or a pop culture event. I think it's a cute concept. But I didn't find the revised captions near the top of the stack as of this morning especially side-splitting. Of course, Melcher is a TV writer and I'm totally unplugged from the current scene thereabouts, so my reaction might be because I'm out of touch. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 13, 2010 | perma-link | (1) comments

Monday, January 11, 2010

LACMA Report
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Still in the Los Angeles area, still hitting museums. Saturday, we visited the Getty Villa, a modern version of what was in Pompeii, containing examples of ancient art. It's literally a long stone's throw from where we're staying. Problem is, it takes me a real effort to pay much attention to art from Greco-Roman times. The likely reason is that I'm most interested in arts that I can actually do, and sculpture (which is mostly what survived) is something I did little of. Today I went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). With a director committed to modernism as well as the new building housing the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, it's not a place to see much pre-20th century painting. Actually, LACMA does have a number of good non-modernist works, but they're not emphasized. For example, their European Art collection is on the third floor of the Ahmanson Building (but the gallery's closed for renovation) and the modernist stuff is on the 2nd floor plaza entry level. Non-modernist American art is also on a third floor, that in the Art of the Americas Building; the main floor is reserved for special exhibits -- something about Persian rugs, currently, I think. This means you have to work harder to view traditional art than modernist art. The American Art galleries were open and I was able to check things out. There were nice examples of arts 'n' crafts furniture, a few California Impressionist paintings and an obligatory John Singer Sargent portrait. Also I spied a small portrait by Whistler and one by George Bellows that looks as if it might have been done by Robert Henri (no surprise) plus a mother-and-child by Mary Cassatt. What was a pleasant surprise was a large portrait of his wife by John White Alexander (see image below). The painting looks a lot nicer than this reproduction. It's painted thinly -- almost zero impasto -- though much of it is slightly sketchy with obvious brushwork providing a "painterly" effect without heaviness or drama. The plaza level galleries in Ahmanson have plenty of works by modernists of the 1910-1960 era, something useful for students interesting in seeing painting and sculpture by well-known hands. Having pounded on modernism and PoMo plenty on this bytes & pixels station, I'll spare you my reaction to what I saw in these galleries and at the Broad. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 11, 2010 | perma-link | (0) comments

Getting Lost in Big Cities
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ever get lost in a big city? Or even disoriented for a few minutes? It probably happens to everyone. I have a fairly good sense where I am and how the surroundings are laid out. This is mostly because I try to get hold of a map and study it before entering unfamiliar territory. If nothing else, this prior knowledge alerts me when I begin to drift away from my mental picture of where I'm trying to head. This shouldn't be news to anyone, but it's pretty hard to get lost in grid-pattern cities. I should add that specific places might be a little hard to track down by address in Salt Lake City, Utah. (The Wasatch Mountains to the east make it difficult to get totally lost there.) You see, the street-naming system is partly based on the Mormon temple and major streets' relationship to it: "East South Temple," for instance. Street patterns based on cow paths or influenced by topography are where trouble can set it, especially in overcast weather or at night when the sun's position is of no help. Fairly flat cities with twisty streets and no tall buildings are the most trouble because there are few landmarks to help guide one. So what cities are the hardest to get around? Here are some of my "favorites." Stuttgart, Germany caused me trouble when driving. It's hilly, and hills and relatively flat areas determine how streets and roads are laid out. I wanted to head out of town to the northeast, but to do so it was critical that I make a certain street change. Despite having my wife holding a street map, I missed the turn and eventually exited to the south, which cost us a up to an hour of extra driving to get back on track. Bamberg, also in Germany, was difficult because we were trying to drive to a hotel in the center. But the presence of a river, pedestrian-only zones and one-way streets -- coupled with the fact that I had only a sketchy motel-brochure map -- resulted in 45 minutes of circling and circling until we finally struck the right route. Never try driving in Bamberg without a good street map. One year I had a terrible time trying to drive to our hotel in Montecatini Terme, Italy. I had been there a few years earlier, but didn't have a street map this time. The city has a large park-like area in the middle where health spas and related facilities are located, and the many of the streets are one-way. So, as I struggled to find the hotel, I realized that I was slowly working myself in the opposite direction. Once more, a high-frustration situation. As for walking, Venice in Italy gets the honors from me. For some reason I once wanted to walk from the train station to the Rialto bridge. Even though I had a map showing all the canals, streets, squares and... posted by Donald at January 11, 2010 | perma-link | (4) comments