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In Awe April 24, 2011

Filed under: Education,Ursinus,Writing — Greg @ 11:48 am

On this gorgeous Easter Sunday, and completely hopped up on caffeine, I read through my advisee’s aesthetic statement for his Honors project. I entered into this project as a reader with feelings of considerable uselessness since I, as I constantly state, dislike poetry, and this was a creative writing project focusing on poetry. I was there though to give him some feedback on the theoretical underpinnings of his project. He was composing a sheaf of poems in a gay male American poetic tradition and was using some queer theory to inform his work. I may have helped; I think he thinks I helped, which is all that I may have asked for.

Oh, by the way, his name is Robert Whitehead. I say his name out loud because he will be known.

I read his poems several times over the past few weeks, and, as I said, I read his final draft of his aesthetic statement this morning. I don’t often come across brilliance, but I wanted to take this moment to just say that I literally wept in the face of this poet’s brilliance. His poetry is robust and tender. His poem on Narcissus makes one completely rethink that myth. His “Ars Poetica” declares his unarguable grasp of his voice and his medium. And, his poem to Tyler Clementi should be published immediately and hailed by all as a perfect paeon/remembrance.

I am so lucky to have known Robert. And, I am so lucky to have a job where I get to know so many brilliant individuals. This year alone, I have worked closely with Aakash Shah, our Rhodes scholar, for whom that award is so deserved and also inadequate for the brilliance of mind and expansiveness of spirit he possesses, as well as Ashley Green, a Fulbright recipient, whose modesty is frustratingly enormous for the caring and intelligence she exhibits to all, worldwide. There are so many more; it’s unfair that I won’t list them all.

To all of them, I just want to say that I am in awe and humbled by who you are. You make me proud and honored to have known you.

 

Oscar February 27, 2011

Filed under: Entertainment — Greg @ 1:13 pm

Winter’s Bone is on our coffee table and High Noon is out of mind; otherwise, the ten best picture nominees have been viewed.

My personal final ranking:

  1. 127 Hours (listen, Danny Boyle makes movies I like, OK? It was fascinating, taut, harrowing, creative; I liked it)
  2. Black Swan (I’m torn about this, in part because we just saw it yesterday, and because I think it might think it’s deeper than it actually is, but I love me some Natalie, and I think it was a fresh take on madness)
  3. The Fighter
  4. The King’s Speech
  5. The Social Network
  6. The Kids Are All Right
  7. Toy Story 3
  8. Inception

Here’s the thing. I’m not sure that I’ve loved a best picture nominee since There Will Be Blood (in which year I also really liked Michael Clayton). Everyone’s been saying it, but I’ll repeat: the Oscars have become boring. We already know who will win in pretty much everything, except there’s a chance for a Bening/Portman deliberation (and I’d be happy with either).

So, what’s you’re ranking?

 

Oregon Must Be Stopped February 24, 2011

Filed under: Sports — Greg @ 11:37 pm

Listen, I’m all for taking risks in design. Hell, I watch Project Runway for chrissakes.

That being said, the University of Oregon must remove itself from the Nike teat, like, now.

First, there is there ridiculous football uniforms that change weekly and involve any number of obnoxious colors and textures. They also feature the ridiculous feathers on the shoulder pads and a horrendous font for the number. This is what they wore for the BCS title game.

Last week, I was flipping channels and came across a ducks basketball game. Take a look at what they’ve done to their floor. Seriously. Like the author of that post, I too couldn’t figure out what the design was at first. And then, there was just so much crap all over it, that I spent more time trying to see what was on the floor than watching the actual game (perhaps their point). Honestly, this floor is ridiculously like a “text” — there is so much to read and interpret. It’s not what a floor should be. I mean, you can be creative (though Boise State also needs to stop it). I actually hate it when the NCAA makes all the floors be the same during the tournament. But please don’t go all crazy. I love what this guy did — is this what we’re facing now? Penn having rowhomes on the court? Wazzu having blocks of cheese? Ugh.

 

The Fighter January 16, 2011

Filed under: Entertainment — Greg @ 12:43 pm

The march toward first the Golden Globes and then the Oscars moves on, as we saw The Fighter today.

When I saw the trailer for this film, I have to admit that I wasn’t all that interested. Boxing? Meh. New England accents? Meh. However, Mark Wahlberg doesn’t annoy me, Christian Bale astonishes me, and Amy Adams charms me, so I could potentially be on board. And then, David O. Russell. Despite his I Heart Huckabees melodrama, I had long enjoyed him, with Three Kings, Flirting with Disaster, and Spanking the Monkey all first-rate. Then, there were inklings from reviewers and laypeople that there was more here than met the eye.

So, we went. It has some interesting parallels with The King’s Speech: good man on a mission with family drama holding him back. What was interesting for me was how much more emotionally invested I was in this film versus the other. I cried at the end, which surprised me, since I didn’t really think that I was or was going to get swept up in the story or the characters.

Russell has a light hand with directing here: other than a great panning back at the beginning of the film and the masterful realism of television coverage of the fights, one didn’t have a feeling (as with Inception as the extreme example) that the film was being directed. However, the gritty reality of the setting and the characters is obviously Russell’s vision, and it’s compelling and all-encompassing.

Certainly Leo, Whalberg, and Adams all put up very fine performances, but Bale is extraordinary. First, he’s really this generations DeNiro when it comes to physical transformation. Second, he brings a sad cockiness and helplessness to the role that, while certainly in the script, is affecting.

My qualm with The King’s Speech was that it didn’t really give me anything new, and one could make the same criticism of this film, but somehow The Fighter was better for some reason for me: it is richer and deeper emotionally. It’s a good film, and certainly worthy of consideration.

 

The King’s Speech January 15, 2011

Filed under: Entertainment — Greg @ 1:19 am

In our effort to get to the prospective Oscar nominees (see EW for their list), we’ve so far seen Inception, The Social Network, and Toy Story 3. On the docket are The Fighter, with Black Swan and True Grit down the line once they come to The Colonial. We’ll catch The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone on DVD, and we’ll see what else makes it.

But tonight was The King’s Speech. And, in many ways, the film is flawless.

First, the story is sweet as all get out. The film is much funnier than I expected, and the film light with its drama. The film is intimate in a nice way for a historical drama about royalty, in some ways like The Queen. The fog of London reflects the fog Bertie finds himself in as a stutterer who doesn’t know why he stutters, and the personal life of the family is sweet.

The acting is spot-on (save perhaps for the slightly ridiculous Churchill). We just saw Colin in A Single Man on DVD, and the contrast is interesting: though two roles of British stiff-upper-lip-ishness, they are also obviously dissimilar in interesting ways, but with both he does great work. Certainly the mannerisms of a stutterer must have been difficult to pull off convincingly, and he does so, without them every being cartoonish. I’ve not really been a fan of Rush, but here he is just ridiculous enough, though strong and entertaining. Finally, though, can I just say how lovely it is to see Helena out of the clutches of Tim Burton? It was the charming, only slightly quirky Helena, not the complete whackjob. She was effortlessly funny and touching and a pure delight.

All of that being said, the film felt a little slight on reflection. There is nothing new about this film, other than insights into an interesting bit of history. It is all done well, but there is no great emotional payoff here: we’re glad that he overcomes, and feel satisfied by almost everything in the film, but there is little tension in a way (we know how this will turn out), and there are no great dramas because of that.

We also of course know how The Social Network will turn out plot-wise, but we get a much more complex insight into its protagonist: we don’t know exactly why Zuckerberg is such an asshole (the jilted lover thing feels like more a excuse than an explanation), but we come to find that Bertie stutters because his family life sucked. Well, then.

It’s a very good movie, but I don’t think it’s great. At this point, I don’t know what I’d say should win the Oscar of the four we’ve seen. Inception was overlong and convoluted, but ultimately fascinating; The Social Network was interesting and entertaining, though ultimately a little slight; Toy Story 3 had some real emotional heft it turns out, but also dragged in spots for me. Hrmmm. We’ll wait and see.

 

My Favorite Podcasts January 11, 2011

Filed under: Entertainment,Media — Greg @ 6:22 pm

Not that anyone cares, but I thought I’d share some of my favorite podcasts. It’s sort of a best of 2010 list in a way, and since I wasn’t around for the end of the year, well, here you go.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: an NPR podcast hosted by a Television Without Pity alumnus that is fun, irreverent, and provides some good discussion on hot topics of the day. Not to be missed. Oh, and very gay.

Extra Hot Great: Some more alumni from Television Without Pity (and I found about this podcast from PCHH) mixed in with a great helping of pop culture and regular bits (The Canon, wherein they induct television episodes for a hall of fame of sorts, and Game Time). Very funny and some very good analysis.

Five Hundy by Midnight: A long-time favorite, this is really only for those who love Vegas, but it’s produced by a lovely couple from Minnesota who dish on all things Vegas with wit and wisdom. Listen and you might hear me call in sometime!

Radiolab: This is not really a podcast, but it’s the only way I listen to this NPR show. Each episode deals with a particular science-y topic in a very interesting way — a way in which this humanist can understand and be interested.

NPR Story of the Day: OK, I realize I’m a little NPR obsessed, but this is a great way to hear the best story on NPR since I don’t get a chance to listen everyday to the radio.

 

Italy January 8, 2011

Filed under: Travel — Greg @ 12:40 am

First, let’s briefly acknowledge the slacktitude of this blog and state that I promise to be better.

Now then.

(BTW, some pictures will be below, but all of them can be found on my website, linked to the right, or here; )

We arrived in Italy on 12/26 after a red-eye from Philadelphia. We were Envoy Class on US Airways, so don’t feel bad for us. I’m still undecided whether we should have done it going or leaving, but Rick assures me we would not have slept were we in coach and he’s probably right.

We went to our hotel and found our room ready and amenable.

12/26: Pantheon/Forum/Palatine Hill

  • The Pantheon is impressive and not to be missed; there is something solemn about it, despite the swarms of humanity.
  • The Forum is probably our #1 Rome experience, I think we decided. At a certain point, you have to have a moment where you go, “I’m walking where Julius freaking Caesar walked,” which is amazing and overwhelming. The scale of the Basilica of Maxentius is frankly ridiculous. Again, to think that about its size when it was whole is overwhelming.

  • For both the Pantheon and the Forum (and other sites later) we used Rick Steves’s audio tours (e.g.). Steves is almost intolerably cheesy when he gets on a roll. However, the guy knows how to do a tour that’s just the right amount and covers the important stuff. Largely, I was very pleased with our use of his tours and the Rome and Tuscany guidebooks.
  • The Palatine Hill thing was a great walkthrough of the remains of a palace. It’s really beautiful with great views.
  • We returned to the hotel at that point and met Dad and Erin for dinner nearby (all food discussions will be over at Chicken-Fried Caviar, another to-be-resuscitated blog) and then a relatively early night.

12/27: Vatican

As a soundly lapsed Catholic, I obviously have a complex relationship with the Vatican as a symbol and seat of power. As a place? Holy moley. If they wanted to build it to convince people to be Catholic, they succeeded, because I almost re-upped.

  • The Vatican Museum can become tedious after a while, but the Raphaels and other random rooms (animal statues!) are overall really impressive. Mitigating one’s experience is indeed the hordes of humanity going through it. It’s a hot mess.
  • The Sistine Chapel is really truly all it’s cracked up to be. Rick Steves really helped out here: being able to listen to the descriptions was great and a way to tuning out, again, the masses of humanity surrounding you. It is truly moving and fascinating.
  • We then used a Rick Steves trick to cut past lines into St. Peter’s and headed straight upstairs — literally up 550 stairs to the tippy-top where you can see all of Rome. It was sort of a backwards way of seeing the basilica, but it was sort of cool embracing the external enormity before going inside, which, well, cripes. Again, we were speechless at how impressive it was. Also, this is one of the first places I just started to really consider the amazing marble artistry from the Renaissance — how such a hard surface is made to appear light as a feather:

Just miraculous, which, I suppose is the point.

12/28: Colosseum/Capitoline Museum

  • Relatively early in the morning, we hit the Colosseum. It was interesting, but perhaps my least interesting place, frankly. I mean, I got the enormity of it all, and it was interesting imagining what happened there, but I do wish we could have gone into the lower level to those areas where the “performers” prepared:

  • However, somewhat unexpectedly, the Capitoline Museum was very impressive. In addition to having the She-Wolf and The Dying Gaul, it has the remaining wall of an ancient temple dedicated to Jupiter; for some reason it was really affecting, if only because of how enormous the temple actually was and how little of it remained. I really enjoyed this museum and think it’s probably #3 after the Forum and the Vatican.

12/29: Up to Tuscany

  • This was largely a travel day as we drove up to Vinci, outside of which we stayed at Streda. We popped into the very odd Leonardo museum in Vinci (seriously weird: there was nothing about the man himself, just a bunch of technical stuff about ideas he may or may not have had. Cool building though) before a stupendous dinner with host Claudio and his daughters. A brief tour of the view from Streda:

12/30: Florence

  • We got a ride from Vinci to Empoli, and from there trained to Florence. It might have been the dismal weather or travel fatigue, but I wasn’t overly in love with Florence. Certainly it was a welcome size change from Rome, being smaller and cozier, but I wasn’t all that impressed.
  • Part of that may have been with the Uffizi. Yes, it was something to see Botticelli’s Venus and other amazing works, but there were things lacking. First, the lighting was odd in rooms, with glare on the Venus and other works. Second, the “Tribune” was under construction, one of the more interesting rooms. Third, there were a relatively large amount of annoying people, which is never really good.
  • However, mitigating all of this was seeing the David at the Accademia. Again, I really wasn’t prepared for how affecting seeing this in person was. I really did linger for a long time with the statue, surrounding it, seeing it from various angles. I don’t know what it was, but it was really amazing. I took a picture against the rules with my phone.

  • Almost as interesting as Dave were the “prisoners” — the unfinished works still “trapped” in their blocks of marble. They were fascinating.

12/31: Volterra

  • We weren’t just copying Rick Steves’s suggestion; this hill town is also a favorite of Dad and Erin’s. We happened to go on a market day, so while parking was a pain, the town was excitingly filled with people.
  • I think this is the kind of Italy I’m more interested ultimately — the small town with crazy streets and new things around every corner. It was fun just walking around and coming across a paper store here or an alabaster factory there.
  • It’s also another Italian place that lives so easily with its history. Here’s the 5th Century BC arch that forms part of the wall around the city:

5th Century BC. And right before I took this a car was driving through. Their Roman theater ruins were largely unknown for centuries because it was where people had thrown their trash (not a great Italian trait, btw; the smoky haze from people burning trash around Vinci was a lowlight). It’s just crazy.

  • After Volterra, we returned for a quiet NYE watching a dubbed Independence Day and crazy Italian TV. And drinking. And flipvideo-taking:

1/1: Siena

  • Siena is great. Il Compo is an amazing piazza…where we had pizza. No, but it’s just a really interesting and enormous space:

  • And the town itself is like a hyper-Volterra — not as big as Florence, which I liked. Speaking of interesting, I found Siena’s Duomo to be perhaps my favorite church yet (OK, St. Peter’s probably still wins, but really, it’s not a fair fight). It was just very beautiful inside and out, and had a library with amazing murals and illuminated musical manuscripts. Just very cool. I was even inspired by the place to make an offering, my Catholicism finally erupting after all of the pressure during the trip.
  • Oh and we bought some sick table linens. Seriously.

1/2: Back to Rome

  • Dad and Erin dropped us back in Rome before they headed to Sicily. We tried for another trip to the Borghese Gallery (earlier we thought we had a reservation, but it was for the wrong day). I knew that it was pretty amazing, but I wasn’t really prepared for how much I just loved Bernini. The Apollo and Daphne is just sick.
  • We then went on a Rick Steves night stroll of Rome to conclude our trip. I don’t know if it was normal, but the streets were just jam-packed, and it was very cool to see a city so alive with people and stuff to see and do. The Trevi fountain didn’t disappoint, strangely enough.

Indeed, very little was disappointing on this trip. The sights that I had heard so much about were truly awe-inspiring for the most part. The people were gracious and warm. The travel was largely easy (customs in Philadelphia being the exception). All of that being said, I don’t know if I need to immediately return to the larger cities, having seen much of what I feel like I needed to see. I would go back in a heartbeat though to the smaller towns and to Tuscany to experience that “normal” life of Italy. If you haven’t been to Rome, I think you really must, and I’m so grateful to Erin and Dad for allowing us to do so!

 

 
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