Wednesday, July 06, 2005

"We LOVE YOU! Share the experience!!!"

I rode my bike down to the Mall on Saturday and my delightful day was an example of the joys of public spaces (and the usefulness of having a bike in DC).*

Winslow Homer Exhibition at the National Gallery of Art

First I stopped by the National Gallery and looked at the exhibition of some Winslow Homer paintings and watercolours - he's considered to be a classically "American" painter, whatever that means, and it's not a description that ever inspired me to learn more about him.

Classics are classics for a reason, though, and of course there were some very powerful pieces there. Watercolour is one of those mediums that require not only technical expertise but a shaman-level of wizardry with the free-flowing coloured liquid that (perhaps bearing a distant memory of its molecular kin the Niagara waterfall), constantly threatens to splash and crash over your delicate composition: it's picky, tricky and totally unpredictable. Yet Homer coaxes some heart-breakingly subtle effects out of this diabolical medium.

His paintings are also very narrative-ly pleasing - the grim-face sharpshooter in a tree or the wistful school-teacher holding a book or the gang of boys building model ships are all fertile subjects for your imagination to wander, filling in their personalities and musing about their social contexts. Not to mention what he's most well-known for: the vivid sea-scapes that almost have you licking salt off your lips.

But I've got to say, some of his stuff is cheesy. One painting that was apparently extremely popular and widely copied in magazines is "Cracking the Whip," showing a bunch of enthusiastic young boys playing outside. I looked at it and thought, "Yeah...rosy cheeks...the vitality of youth...the wholesomeness of these nature American as apple pie..." It just seemed like a technically skilled Hallmark card to me.

If you do go to the exhibition, please take a moment to enjoy the exquisite potted gardenia tree just outside the entrance, which you can smell from twenty feet away. As I was leaving I noticed an old man stopping to admire one of the flowers; he inspired six other museum goers to pause and start chatting with each other about the rapturous smell, and then the exhibit. It could have been a moment out of a Winslow Homer painting.

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I left the National Gallery and wandered over to the Mall to look at the Folk-Life Festival, which, I was surprised to discover, appeared to be a paean to the moral virtues of vegetarianism and the spiritual implications of reincarnation. There were all these kiosks with pro-vegetarian fact-sheets and a diorama of the Bhagavad Gita with wax sculptures of the ages of man. There were colour photographs of lavish gourmet vegetarian meals, side-by-side with garishly lit photos of huge greasy slabs of steak that reminded me of certain illustrations of surgery in the anatomy textbooks I bought for my yoga teacher training course. Then I came to a kiosk with lots of information about a Hare Krishna food donation program in Russia and it all made sense. Those tricky, tricky Hare Krishnas! Obviously their vegetarian brains have a keen marketing sense, because there were many confused tourists wandering around reading all the kiosks, clearly believing this was the Folklife Festival everyone had been talking about. They're going to go home to Wisconsin and tell all their Republican friends that their tax dollars go to support vegetarian cult propaganda, instead of war-happy paranoia police-state propaganda, as is actually the case.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival

however, was just another block further away, and the first thing I saw was the "Slow Roasting Meat" section where you could buy a sloppy piece of a whole goat to chew on. Fear not, Wisconsin taxpayers! The American government supports meat!

The Festival seemed a bit disjointed this year. There was a vegetable garden for schoolchildren, and South American food stations, and this whole section on Oman with arts and crafts and dancing. If there was a unified theme I couldn't identify it.

I remember, a few years ago, they set up the Festival to honor the Silk Road trading voyage of Marco Polo, with booths echoing the geography of his trip, and I saw the rockingest performance of a philosophical debate by actual Buddhist monks from a tiny village in Tibet (it's an action show! They've got this whole sign language/musical collaboration of stamping feet and waving fists to respond while each debater stands up to proclaim, and then they jump up to interrupt each other and yell and giggle - it's like a slam poetry gig/drum circle/philospher's meeting all in one, and supposedly completely untranslatable.) Anyway, this year is nothing like as cool as the Silk Road was.

But I bought some tasty date juice with rose water and stopped to watch an Oman dance performance, with ridiculously happy and energetic dancers the like of which I've only ever seen at Dukem**. At the end of their dance, the leader grabbed the microphone and implored the audience, "Come to the stage! Join us! Share the experience!" The crowd shared a collective pause and he repeated, "Share the experience! We love you! SHARE THE EXPERIENCE!!!" Then a bunch of people clambered onto the stage (yes, of course I did too) and we all danced around experimenting with ridiculous improvisations of the Omani dance steps. I noticed that Share the Experience Man quickly found a beautiful hippie girl to waltz around with; occasionally they traded twirls, and I think he pinched her butt once.

We all went back to our seats for the next show and a man came to sit down next to me, a little closer than socially acceptable. I didn't look at him though, since I was riveted on the dancers. "That looks like a nice drink," he said and when I glanced at him in annoyance, my frown melted away when I saw that it was George, the father of my first boyfriend Ben (and passionate love and four-year relationship). "It's so funny," said Angela, Ben's mother, coming up. "Everyone was jumping on stage and I was thinking to myself, That's just the sort of thing that Zoe would do. And then I saw you!" George and Angela are among the sweetest people on the planet and I hope to keep in touch with them.

Monkeys Grasping for the Moon at the Sackler

As I wandered away from Oman, my friend Cosimo, who was visiting from New York, called, and I agreed to meet him in the Sackler museum garden. While I was waiting I wandered into the museum; they always have superb modern art exhibits in the main lobby and right now it's half of Cai Guo-Qiang's Traveler: a breathtaking ruined ship filled with broken ceramics, visually smashing*** and poetic and moving. Their permanent stairway exhibit, "Monkeys Grasping for the Moon," is also extremely clever.

Cosimo and his friends were late to meet me in the garden, and when they arrived they breathlessly regaled me with tales of how they went to the wrong sculpture garden in front of the National Gallery, and they were hot, so they jumped in the fountain even though there was a sign saying that you couldn't, and all these onlookers were watching them frolic, and then a security guard kicked them out, except he was secretly sympathetic and just had these bureaucratic rules he had to follow, so he had to tell them they could have been arrested, but he just asked for their names and wrote them down on a scrap of paper.

Cosimo is a philosophy graduate student studying in New York, so he is naturally interested in such anthropologically fertile scenes of passive resistance. In fact, as he told me, he just got funding for a research project in France. He has also fallen in love with a woman he met on the train a month ago, who lives in Harlem and has been taking care of her six younger siblings for the past ten years after their mother died. Cosimo is planning to marry this woman so that she and three of her six siblings can join him in France for the next two years.

Coming from most of my other friends, these would seem like pretty dramatic developments, but with Cosimo I take it all in stride. This is a guy who sells designer hallucinogens to his philosophy professors, after all. He spends about half his life tripping, and seems to have a new epiphany every month. (I believe it's the movie Amelie where some guy worries that there are a limited number of orgasms in the world and so if you have one, it's selfish because you're denying somebody else the chance. Well, I sure hope it's not like that with epiphanies, because Cosimo**** certainly has more than his fair share of them.)

Cosimo and his fiancee took me over to his sister's apartment where we ate some baba ghanoush and they enjoyed some 2CI powder mixed with root beer. I politely declined, since it's become pretty clear to me that with my overactive imagination, an escape from reality is not exactly what the doctor ordered.

Then I rode my bike all the way home.

Total cost for the day: $3 (date juice).


*Yes, I got a new one. It's from Chain Reaction on the corner of 6th and R - they have very good deals, if you're looking.
**The best Ethiopian restaurant in DC (and that's saying something, because there are zillions of 'em).
***Ha! Sorry.
****Of course that's not his real name, and any other possibly identifying details have been removed; in fact, the whole character is my fiction-writing exercise.


Blogger KOB said...

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6:40 PM  
Blogger zzzzzoe said...

Thank you so much! And thanks for the link :)

8:41 AM  
Blogger everyseven said...

I don't know you, but I was reading along in the post, came to the part where people were asked to go up to dance, thought, "That's a thing she will do" -- right before of course reading that you did and before reading that Angela said that to you. I was imagining if everyone in the whole world could be counted on, willing to dance, would join in dancing when called.

12:37 AM  
Blogger pumice resources said...

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My wifes back school crafts shop has similar issues...

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I was searching for Elvis and somehow ended up in your blog, but you know I'm sure I saw Elvis in the supermarket yesterday.

No honest really, he was right there in front of me, next to the steaks singing "Love me Tender".

He said to me (his lip was only slightly curled) "Boy, you need to get yourself a shiny, new plasmatv to go with that blue suede sofa of yours.

But Elvis said I, In the Ghetto nobody has a plasma tv .

Dude I'm All Shook Up said Elvis. I think I'll have me another cheeseburger then I'm gonna go home and ask Michael Jackson to come round and watch that waaaay cool surfing scene in Apocalypse Now on my new plasma tv .

And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . .

"You give me love and consolation,
You give me strength to carry on "

Strange day or what? :-)

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