Bike Crawl

I was checking my facebook ticker when I came across this event. It kept showing up posted by various local organizations from The Dallas Arts District to Bike Friendly Richardson. The event was A Bike Crawl through the Arts District on Thursday, hosted by Biking in Dallas. I was off work for the whole time between Christmas and New Year, so I had no excuse not to go.

Let’s see, Dallas Arts District, check… bicycles, check…, Crow Collection museum of Asian Art, check… taking photographs, check… and food trucks, check, check and check. There was absolutely no reason for me not to go. You could not design an event that had more stuff in it that I was interested in.

But I felt anxious. I’m in terrible shape and, even though we would not be riding very far or in any sort of difficult terrain, there would be some talented and experienced bicyclists there and I felt really nervous. I used to be a good bicycle rider, but that was many years ago and it will probably take me a year to get back into anything close to riding condition, shape, and ability.

So I had mixed feelings. Then I realized that what I was feeling wasn’t fear, it was Resistance.

So I went, and I had a great time. I thought about taking the Dart Train but ended up driving and took about twenty minutes trying to fold three dollar bills up into small enough packets to fit through the tiny slot in the parking lot thing. I packed all sorts of warm clothing but the killer Texas sun had everything so warmed up that I ended up in a T-shirt.

Everyone met down at the fountain on the end of Flora street by the museum of art. We didn’t really do a lot of bicycle riding – the Arts District is only seven block long after all. We walked through the Crow Collection – I’ve been there quite a bit lately and had sat through the entire animated film by Qiu AnXiong – but you always find something new in a museum. After that is was on to the food trucks. There were four: Gandolfo’s, Ssahm, The Butcher’s Son, and at the end, Easy Slider – a new truck. When given a choice, I always like to try the truck I’ve never tried before – so I bought some tiny hamburgers and they were very good.

Then we rode down to the end – my bike slipped a gear going up a driveway – a nasty clunk! and my pedals spun, I think I need a new chain. The dark, raked gravel from the Transcendence art installation across from the Wyly theater was still there – now all fenced in (the ice was long melted, of course).

Then we stopped at the Opera House to take some pictures, rode around a bit, and stopped off at The Nasher for a look at the sculptures. I’m always up for a trip to the Nasher.

So I had a good time, great people, and it was fun to get out. I have got to work hard on my cycling and my fitness – there is so much to do with a pedal, chain, and two wheels. I remember when it was easy.

A few more photos from the crawl on my Facebook Album

Biking in Dallas Blog Post

Bike rider in front of the Winspear Opera House. If you are wondering, the photo is cropped and upside down.

Snuff bottle from the Crow Collection

Waiting for some Kimchee Fries at the Ssahm Korean BBQ Gourmet Food Truck

A bike rider in front of the Winspear Opera House

An elderly couple at the Nasher Museum.

These two were very interested in the “Bronze Crowd” by Magdalena Abakanowicz. From the Nasher Web Site:

As a child in Poland during World War II, Magdalena Abakanowicz lived through the German and Soviet invasions, experiencing firsthand the horrors perpetrated by dehumanized masses under the sway of evil leadership. Frequently addressing the theme of the crowd in her sculpture, she has said “A crowd is the most cruel because it begins to act like a brainless organism.” From a distance, the thirty six over-life-size figures of Bronze Crowd look identical, but a closer view reveals their individuality. The spaces between figures become as important to the overall composition as the figures themselves. Viewers can walk between and among the figures, penetrating the imposing solidarity of the group and, simultaneously, stepping into the profoundly solitary experience of being alone in a crowd.

Since this work is widely associated with the Holocaust – whenever I see an elderly couple looking at it I wonder if they could be survivors. At any rate, I would love to hear their story.

At the Nasher. The sculpture is "Gradiva's Fourth Wall" by Diana Al-Hadid. Yes, that is my bicycle locked up to a tree outside.

Alberto Giacometti, some large sculptures and some tiny ones.

What I learned this week, December 30, 2011

This Writer’s 2012 New Years Blogging Resolutions

  • New Years Resolution #1: Post Regularly
  • New Years Resolution #2: Clean up Old Posts
  • New Years Resolution #3: Update Social Profiles and re-engage
  • New Years Resolution #4: My Topic


The Top Five Street Tacos of 2011 (in Dallas)

#1 The Lengua at El Guero (now Tacos La Banquenta: new name, same tacos)

#2 The Steak Tacos Nortenos at Pepe’s Y Mitos

#3 The Selection at Tortas de la Herchizera

#4 The Al Pastor at Chichen Itza

#5 The $1 Fish Taco at Lee Harvey’s


When does the sun rise, set, and in what direction?

This website, suncalc.net is great for figuring out places and times for sunset/sunrise photography. Want to catch the sun rising behind a certain building tomorrow? The site will tell you. More importantly, what date will the sun set behind a certain scene from a certain vantage point? suncalc.net will tell you.

Genius.




Woman in the Dunes

When I was a child, I was always seeing, in small, sheltered areas of sand or loose dust, the cone-shaped depressions where ant lions lived. I was fascinated by these and looked them up in the encyclopedia (these were the decades long before the Internet – I can’t imagine how rich my childhood would have been had I access to that unlimited fount of useless knowledge) and learned of the insect hiding at the bottom of the self-constructed pit. These sand-traps had a strange fascination for me, I would seek them out and study their various sizes, locations, and patterns of distribution.

I never seem to see these anymore. I don’t know why?

For some reason, it was years before I ventured out to an ant lion pit with a simple sheet of typing paper and learned how easy it was to scoop up the sand and sift it off the paper in such a way as to expose the tiny, flat, gray, insect with the immense mandibles that hid at the bottom of the cone, waiting for unfortunate prey.

In looking for a movie to watch from the Criterion Collection I settled on, for no real reason, a strange Japanese work called Suna no Onna (literally “Sand Woman) – better known by its English name – Woman in the Dunes.

I had heard of this movie decades ago – but for the longest time, never was able to see it. You forget how hard it used to be… I’m talking before a thousand channels of cable television, before VHS even… to see obscure foreign films. You could read about them, and I did, but you could never actually see them.

I read the book, by Kōbō Abe, and wondered if the film followed it closely. Finally, about ten years ago, I was able to get a VHS copy at an avant-guard video store. I was very disappointed. The transfer was so bad all I could see was a blur. It really made no sense. I hoped the original was better than this horrible copy of a copy of a copy.

It is. The Criterion Collection edition they are streaming from Hulu+ is crisp and clear. Because of this, the black and white visuals of moving sand are awe-inspiring.

The story is a simple one. An entomologist, scouring a remote seaside area looking for the key beetle that will get his name immortalized into the entomology texts, and simply trying to escape the city for a awhile, is tricked into getting himself lowered by rope ladder into a deep well in the sand. At the bottom is a recently widowed woman (she lost her husband and daughter to a sand cave-in) who needs help it the nightly task of shoveling the sand out of her home.

The rope ladder is pulled up and he is trapped.

The movie is a long one, slow moving, and concentrates on the man’s slow realization of the hopelessness of his situation, of his eventual resignation to his fate, and on the complex evolving relationship between him and the woman. She has trapped him, but she was trapped herself, and really didn’t have any choice. She is terrified that he will leave.

I was young when I read the book. I didn’t realize how universal the man’s fate was. We’re all stuck in that well of sand and all we can do is shovel as fast and as hard as we can.

Ant Lion Pits

The Criterion Collection

I don’t know about any of you, but over the past year I have become less and less happy with the selection that Netflix has streaming online. More and more, I have been going over to Hulu+ which I began paying for a while back. I bought Hulu+ for the television shows. I have been so busy it has been almost impossible for me to sit down and watch an entire film, so I have been diving into the shallow pedestrian seas of TeeVee – both current and classic. Hulu has always been a good place for that. Hulu, however, doesn’t have the best interface in the world and I have been having trouble finding what I wanted.

So a month or so ago I sat down and did some work figuring out the site structure and how to find what I want. While doing this I discovered a staggering fact.

Hulu+, starting in February of 2011 started streaming the entire Criterion Collection of movies online. The entire collection.

More

More

More

So what? – you must be asking. What the hell is that? Criterion Collection? Who cares?

Criterion is a company that is dedicated to putting the best films of international cinema onto digital media (DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming) and doing an amazingly bang-up job of it. Their catalog is up to somewhere around eight hundred films now, with more every day.

If you know me, having access to something like this, from my roku box on the television, to my laptop computers (Hulu+, unlike Netflix, will even work on Linux), to our Kindle Fire…. well, that’s like dumping a big ol’ pile of Heroin in my lap.

Where to start? Well, first off, I found the Criterion Selections after stumbling across a film, I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve been looking for for a while – In the Realm of the Senses. This Japanese film, banned in Japan, has a notorious reputation of being nothing more than high class pornography, with a horrendous, vile, and violent conclusion.

After actually watching the thing, I can report honestly, that the reputation is well earned. So, on to the next film.

What next? I have seen a lot of these over the decades and want to watch them again – but there are a lot that I have never seen… and a few I’ve never even heard of.

I can watch these great classic movies while I’m riding my exercise bicycle. Wait, let me get my list of New Year’s Resolutions out….

Here’s a list from Paste Magazine of ten recommended films, this looks good:

  • The Kid (1921)
  • George Washington (2000)
  • The Seven Samurai (1954)
  • La Jetée (1962) (source material for 12 Monkees)
  • Jules and Jim (1962)
  • The Blob (1958)
  • The 400 Blows (1959)
  • Wild Strawberries (1957)
  • M (1931)
  • The Vanishing (1988)

I’ve seen all but two of these… but it is a worthy list.

Here’s a recommendation for:

  • Knife in the Water (1962)
  • Lord of the Flies (1963)
  • Ratcatcher (1999)

This guy is blogging his way through the whole thing. So is this guy… and this guy too, and this guy.

So many films, so little time.

Any suggestions, please leave a comment.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – 2011

Christmas evening is always a good time to go out to a movie. Candy, Lee and I went to see a family feel-good film,  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I had not read the book(s), nor seen the 2009 Swedish film (though I have now started the Swedish version on Netflix and have put the books in my queue, after I get some required reading done).

I very seldom go out to see films anymore – which is odd, since that was a big part of my life for so very long. One reason is that the very act of moviegoing has changed. Like so much of modern life it has become a mass phenomenon, an act of the herd instinct. The local mall grandstand seating googleplex is now the standard – thousands run through the entertainment machine – extracting money and delivering a couple of hours of tepid entertainment.

It has been so long this is the first time I noticed that the refreshment stands manned by local teenagers are being replaced by large touchscreens attached to complex vending machines.

Movie going to me has been a solitary, or at most an activity for two. Sitting there in the dark, peering at the screen, lost in the story. Now, the place is always packed for the hot new release and people keep streaming in after the film starts, wandering up and down the steep stairs looking for nonexistent empty seats. Their travels are framed by a constellation of smart phones lit up by audience members getting in some text messaging while the movie begins.

I even miss the endless silly static advertisement cards that used to rotate by during the interminable wait before the film started while cheesy music played over some pitiful portable picnic player. They were blurry slides for local clothing stores, Italian restaurants, or used car dealers. Now, the advertisements that run during the slack times are loud, slick and have better CGI production qualities than the movies themselves.

At any rate, I get over my old-fartedness and the movie starts. And it was good.

The direction, acting, cinematography was all top-notch. As you have been hearing, Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander is a revelation. I think the whole film can be summed up in the split-second look on her face when Mikael says to her, “I want you to help me find a killer of women.” Daniel Craig does not have as splashy a part – but his performance is every bit as important – and much more subtle. His character has an inner core of goodness wrapped in a clock of confusion. Mikael Blomkvist is smarter than he thinks he is – and that is hard to portray.

I think I approached the film in the right frame of mind. The book is a complex whodunit and there is no way they can get all that stuff up on the screen. So I paid no attention to the “mystery” at all. The guilty person is one of a set of candidates, and it didn’t really matter to the emotional heart of the film which one it was. I simply let the detectives detect.

She is watching the detectives
“Ooh, he’s so cute”
She is watching the detectives
When they shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot
They beat him up until the teardrops start
But he can’t be wounded ’cause he’s got no heart

Long shot at that jumping sign
Invisible shivers running down my spine
Cut to baby taking off her clothes
Close-up of the sign that says “We never close”
He snatches at you and you match his cigarette
She pulls the eyes out with a face like a magnet
I don’t know how much more of this I can take

She’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake

—-Watching the Detectives, by Elvis Costello

After a school of red herrings swim by and the hairy McGuffin fades from importance, there will be a revelation, the hero will be rescued at the last moment, and a twist that you should have seen coming (I did) will appear as if by magic. All boilerplate. We’ve been here before. Hitchcock did it best a half-century ago, so let it fall from the screen.

What makes the film work are the characters and the relationships – and that is what I concentrated on. The film is really not about a locked-door murder on an ice-bound island, it is about Lisbeth Salander and her struggle, against all odds, to become a human being. You see, they tell you that in the English title. The Swedish title (Män som hatar kvinnor – “Men Who Hate Women”) is more descriptive about the plot, but not the heart, of the story.

A couple quibbles… First, I really didn’t like the scene that played over the opening credits. It was slick, expensive, and visually impressive – black oil-like viscous CGI liquid splashing all over everything while Karen O sings her version of Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song” – but it had nothing to do with the rest of the movie. The music was fine – I would have preferred simply wintry shots of bleak Scandinavian scenery. That would have fit the mood better. What we saw was simply showing off.

The movie struggles with the awkward construction of the novel. The two main characters don’t even really meet (well, one meets the other, but not the other way around) until the film is about half over. This works fine in print, but feels disjointed on the screen. You want to say, “Just get on with it.”

There at the end too, the international finance part, seemed a bit out of character to me. I understand the revenge motive, and the desire to help out “my friend,” but still, it was a little much. Again, I thought it was showing off.

Still, quibbles aside, I enjoyed the film and look forward to the books, and the Swedish version, and the sequels, and the Swedish sequels, and the inevitable spinoffs (HBO series?)….

Oh, the motorcycle was way cool.

This long trailer contains a few spoilers. Also, watching it right after seeing the movie – I can notice the subtle censoring of the trailer (necessary). I have a rule, I don’t wear clothing with words on it (I don’t like being an unpaid advertisement – well, except for my employer… they give me shirts for free) but the black t-shirt Lisbeth Salander is wearing when Mikael first shows up at her place has a pretty cool saying on it (it’s blotted out in the trailer).

WordPress Blogs on the film (a small selection, here’s how to find them):

Bistro B on Christmas Day

The wrapping paper has been rent and Santa has been sated. The day now stretches sleepily on – sports on television, fudge on the kitchen table, a cold, gray spitting rain day outside. What is there to do other than lounge around in a mouldering Snuggie® and watch the entropy increase?

For my dollar, there is no better way to spend a few hours on the Christmas Holiday than to go for an afternoon lunch at Bistro B. Actually, I like the pho at Pho Pasteur near our house (the broth is just right) but Bistro B is such a hopping place, even on a holiday, that is impossible to pass up. Plus, Pho Pasteur isn’t open on Christmas Day.

The place, as always, was packed. We waited for a few minutes, which I enjoyed. I stood by the little altar with the burning incense spiral, the electric-powered prayer wheels, and the little shrines decorated with offerings of change. I looked around at the tables to see what other folks were ordering. There were a lot of butane portable table burners heating hot pots that were being shared by a whole family – three generations or more – packed around the big round tables. I love watching a family eat, the heads bent, concentrating on the food, with a ballet of chopsticks dancing in a circular chorus while everyone picks up their food, talks, and laughs.

Its a noisy, happy place, with an army of black-clad waiters rushing, cleanup crews pushing a big square cart, a thick crowd at the registers – some clutching inscrutable bills, but most there for take-out. Some odd genre of electronic dance music pulses… loud but barely audible over the conversations, and a phalanx of flat-screen televisions incongruously simultaneously shine out an NFL documentary. The kids reported that the restroom was, “Like a nightclub.”

It didn’t take long before we were seated and began to attack the menu. There are too many choices at Bistro B – the menu is a little spiral bound plastic laminated book, with page after page of wonders, many with photographs of the food. It is intimidating. (you can download the main menu here – but be warned, it’s a seven megabyte PDF file) Lee recommended shutting my eyes, thumbing through the menu blindly, and then picking something at random. He said he did that a couple of times – once he had something good, but the second time the waiter had told him, “No, you don’t want to order that.” I tried it and came up with Chicken Curry… no, too tame.

The menu items are numbered and the numbers go up 523 – though there seems to be some gaps here and there.

It was cold outside so I thought about some hot soup. I ordered the #43, Special Bistro B Noodle Soup. The waiter asked what type of noodles and I asked for rice. The kids had smoothies and Candy and I hot tea. Nick had Pho, Candy and Lee had chicken. We sent for a couple orders of spring rolls… it was too much food.

Spring Rolls and dipping sauce

My soup as it arrived. What mysteries await in these warm and fragrant waters?

But it was delicious. My Special Bistro B Noodle Soup didn’t have the perfect simple balance of subtle flavors that I like in Pho – but it was like eating a Forest Gump box o’ chocolates – you never know what you are going to get. Every time my chopsticks would dive into the spice-murked liquid they would emerge with a new surprise. After eating whatever came to the surface – I was able to figure out more or less what it was about half of the time.

Like all Pho – serving places, the table was equipped with a bounty of condiments and additions. Plates of bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño, Thai basil, and cilantro. Bottles of soy sauce, fish sauce, rooster sauce, hoisin, and two unlabeled bottles of mysterious somethings. Plus little containers of chopped garlic, pepper oil, and the most flavorful (and hot) chili paste I’ve had in a long time. I spent some time working on the flavor balance of hot and sweet, salty and savory, in my broth. Then I used the hoisin and rooster sauce to draw a bright red and dark caramel ying-yang symbol (for good luck in the coming year) in one of the little plates they supply and used my chopsticks to dip various morsels in there before I ate them.

The soup after I added sprouts and other vegetables. Those little eggs were hiding down in a nest of rice noodles. I don't know what creature they originally came from

I ate ’till I was full and then I ate some more. And it was good.

There was a separate menu on our table that outlined the group meals. We thought about the dinner for four – but there were too many fish items on it for Candy. They had a dinner for ten that looked fabulous. I need to get ten people together to go down and do it. That sounds like a plan. Drop me an email if you want in.

The outside of Bistro B - complete with a vaguely unnerving inflatable snowman.

WordPress Blogs that ate at Bistro B: