Red Jellyfish

Part of the preview (A Glimpse) into the Aurora project in the Arts District, Dallas, Texas. We saw these on the way to see The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity at the Wyly Theater.

”The gods of the earth and sea
Sought through nature to find this tree.
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the human brain.”

William Blake – The Human Abstract

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Klyde Warren Park

In its (probably too late) attempt to convert its downtown from a windblown concrete wasteland into a vibrant city center Dallas has designed a series of three signature parks to add a little green space into the vast steel and glass canyons.

This is a good thing. A very good thing.

The first was the Main Street Garden Park, a block of lawn with some amenities surrounding it built upon the ruins of a demolished parking garage. It’s a great space – even if it is mostly used as a dog-walk by the folks that live in the newly converted condominium and apartment space in that formerly neglected stretch of downtown. I’ve gone to the park a few times, both on foot and on my bike

Main Street Garden

People at Main Street Garden Park

Free Tacos

and the space, and the people in it, have brought a smile to my face every time.

The second garden, which only opened a little while ago, is the Belo Garden. It’s a small spot, right in the heart of downtown, but is a beautiful, peaceful retreat. They did a great job of making the place inviting. I especially like the little green hill they built – it’s a rare three dimensional hunk of nature; not very large or imposing, but better than nothing.

Belo Garden

The third, and most impressive park is the Klyde Warren Park on the northern border of downtown, next to the Arts District.

When I first moved to Dallas in 1981 I worked downtown for a few years and watched most of the present skyline go up. It was exciting to me and I feel a connection to a lot of the skyscrapers, having seen their skeletons and guts rising among the cloud of ant-like workers and bird-like cranes putting them together like a giant child’s construction toyset.

One of the largest and most impressive projects was Woodall Rogers, a freeway connector on the north side of downtown, mostly built as an alternate to the always jammed highway complex to the south – called “The Mixmaster” by Dallasites, which is a perfect description of the hell involved in navigating its confused twisting lanes. Woodall Rogers was built in an excavated canyon. I remember there was a lot of controversy in this method, which was much more expensive than an elevated highway.

The answer was that a road below level would present a less formidable obstacle to the expansion of the city center northward. This has happened, the area of Dallas known as Uptown, across the Woodall Rogers, is now ground zero of the hip and well-connected.

So the powers that be hatched a hundred-million dollar plan to further integrate Uptown and Downtown – the Woodall Rogers park. A massive roof would be built over the below grade highway. This concrete structure would then be covered with dirt and trees and a park would be born. This was an expensive and audacious plan – the sort of thing that Dallas does.

As the plans and the construction for the park (renamed the Klyde Warren Park) progressed I became excited. This was such a great idea and such a grand plan. I love exploring Dallas’ downtown, especially the Arts District, and this was one more really cool thing.

It was with great excitement that I circled my calendar for this weekend, for the grand opening of the park. I wanted to go on Saturday, on the first day, but I had to take my son to the airport and I was not able to snag one of the “Free” wristbands for the concert so I wouldn’t be able to get in to the big opening day concert.

That was alright, I went for a long bike ride in Las Colinas instead and decided to go to the park on Sunday. I took the DART train downtown and walked up Saint Paul street to get to the park.

Right off the start, I didn’t like things. I approached the corner of the park, along with a throng of other folks, only to be stopped by a line of orange cones and a surly security guard. “You can’t get in here,” she shouted, “You got to go ’round to the entrance.” The green grass of the park was right there, right on the other side of the cone, but we weren’t allowed to pass.

So we walked around the block and went through the security check. I had a large camera case around around my neck, which the guard never looked at, my pockets were filled with a phone and other metal objects, but the paddle he waved half-heartedly through the air never made a squeak.

So this “public park” has security fences and ineffective searches on its grand opening weekend. That left a bad taste in my mouth before I ever walked in.

So I strolled in and walked the length and breath of the place. It is a wonder to behold – suspended in midair over the roaring traffic of Woodall Rogers freeway is a giant green slab of carefully manicured grass and exquisitely placed trees. The paths are curved just so, the designated areas – dog park, child’s park, reading area, games area… all are carefully marked off and fenced. You can’t go in the child’s park without a kid – you can’t go in the dog park without a pooch. There are games – a long series of bocce ball courts, table tennis, badminton nets, chess tables, a vendor checking out all the supplies – trading silver bocce balls for driver’s licenses.

The park dead ends at both ends in busy cross streets and a drop to the massive highway far below.

A big stage was set up facing a lawn and a series of local arts groups were performing. The streets around the park were blocked off and full of food trucks.

It was obviously a carefully planned and meticulously executed space. An army of architects and corporate planners had spent years and a thousand focus groups mapping out the pathways and benches and little metal green chairs so that not a dollar of the hundred million would go to waste. It bills itself as a park for the future, a place for the city to get together, a centerpiece of the Arts District, a front yard for the million dollar condominiums rising all around.

I hated it.

I didn’t want to hate the place, I was excited, I really wanted to love it. But it is so sterile, so pre-planned. It didn’t feel like a park at all – it felt like the lobby of a corporate headquarters… which, it really is. It’s like a planned entryway – without a roof.

The streets around the park were all closed off for the weekend. Most of the fun stuff was off on those side streets. When they are opened back up the two parts of the park will be isolated in a sea of traffic.

This is a typical scene at the opening. Security guards, steel fencing, and signs keeping the public out of where they don’t belong.

I stayed longer than I wanted to, giving the place a chance, hoping to change my mind. I sat down in the “reading area,” where there were racks of books, chairs, and some nice shade. It is sponsored by the Dallas Morning News, and within seconds of sitting down a representative walked up to me and tried to sell me a subscription. “I haven’t held a real newspaper in my hands for five years and don’t see any reason to start now,” was the only possible response I could give. He glared at me and I left. I didn’t speak to anyone else the time I was there. As a matter of fact, I didn’t see anyone speak to anyone that wasn’t in their own group. So much for bringing the city together.

I guess they should have built a “Speak to a Stranger” pavilion. Then folks would have known what to do.

And above it all loomed the ever present, oppressive Eye of Sauron. I’ve written about this before. A huge upper-crust condominium tower, ironically name The Museum Tower, owned by the City of Dallas’ Fire and Police Union Retirement Fund, has reared its mirrored vastness into the air where it is throwing solar-powered death rays into the Nasher Sculpture Center next door. It also shines its burning beams down onto the Klyde Warren Park.

The deadly solar rays burning down from the Museum Tower onto the Klyde Warren Park. The tower builders say this is not a problem, but take my word for it, it was nasty. In the summer, it will be unbearable.

This bright shadow on the wall of the Nasher sculpture garden is not cast by the sun, but by the reflection off the Museum Tower.

The park is divided into two halves. Today, you could walk between them, but once the streets are opened they will be separated by heavy, smelly traffic. The East Half was behind the death ray, while the West was struck straight on. It was ten degrees warmer on the West Side, I would take my jacket off there, and put it back on once I was out of the tower’s reach. This was a cool autumn day, but in the summer, the park will be uninhabitable when that thing is shining on it. Take my word for it, the last thing you need in Texas is an extra sun.

There was an effort to find a solution, but talks have broken down. Apparently the museum tower and their lawyers didn’t play by the rules (no surprise). The museum tower is touting the park “Just outside Museum Tower’s front door,”to sell their multi-million dollar units. I have a solution. The thing should be torn down.

So I walked around for a few hours, trying to find something I liked, and coming up empty. I kept thinking of my car parked in the DART station – a dozen miles to the north. My bicycle was there and I could get it out and ride it where ever I wanted to. The sense of freedom and choice was palpable. So I walked back to the train station, rode north, dragged my bike out, and went for a nice long ride, until the sun set.

I think what bothers me the most is the lack of trust in the park goers. The people that designed this thing don’t think that the people that use the park can amuse themselves. Dallas doesn’t need more bocce ball courts or badminton nets – it needs green space and a place for people to hang out and interact. I would have liked to see grass, a few trees, and maybe a bench or two. Other than that, let people decide what they want to do in their park. But I guess that isn’t worth a hundred million dollars. Of course the park wasn’t really built for people like me (or you). It was built as a front yard, as a nice view from the balconies of the multi-million dollar condominiums.

I haven’t given up on the park. In a few months, when all the bocce ball sets have been stolen, the little green metal chairs are broken, the badminton nets torn, when the grass is brown from the burning rays of Sauron’s Tower, the signage has all been covered in gangsign, and the only park occupants are the homeless denizens sleeping off their benders on the lawn… then maybe I’ll go back.

I know I’ll like it better.

Cloud Atlas

“Our lives are not our own, from womb to tomb we are bound to others, past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”—- Cloud Atlas, Sonmi 451

Near where I work, across the highway, there’s this neighborhood that’s really run down. Tucked into the NorthWest corner of the gigantic High Five interchange, there are a few square miles of apartments that are nowhere to be wandering late at night.

When they were built – I imagine in the late 1970’s – they must have been nice… full of young folks hanging around the pools, new wave music pumping out the sliding glass doors, Coors Beer and big hair everywhere. When I moved to Dallas in 1981, a lot of my friends lived in an area just like that, a few miles to the south, around Park Lane and 75. A lot like right now the economy was horrible everywhere in the country except Texas, and young folks were streaming from everywhere to get work. The difference was that interest rates were in the double digits and nobody could buy a house, so the apartment complexes were teeming with these ambitious newcomers. It was an exciting time to live in Dallas.

Within a short few years however, the interest rates dropped and all these people could suddenly buy themselves a house in the exploding northern suburbs. At the same time a new interpretation of federal law made it illegal to have a “singles apartment complex.” Rents fell below the cost of maintenance and these apartments across the city fell… and fell fast. Within a few years it was crack city. Nobody seemed to care, there was plenty of land to the north, but to me – it marked the passing of something special.

As the apartments fell into disrepair the surrounding commercial district fell too, though more slowly. There was a nice multiplex movie theater right across the highway from my work that hung on until a couple years ago – until it too went under and has been sitting vacant.

Now, though, there are stirrings of revitalization, spates of rezoning, threats of demolition of the more neglected properties, contentious City Council Meetings, rumors of big money beginning to move. And suddenly, the movie theater is renovated in an amazingly short time and reopens as a Studio Movie Grill.

I’ve been prattling on about the cycle of a neighborhood that you don’t care about because I’m thinking about the first film I saw in that Studio Movie Grill, a film unstuck in time, a movie about decay, about cycles and revitalization, about evil crimes and disaster, about friendship and love… I went down this weekend and saw Cloud Atlas.

I was eagerly awaiting this movie. The book, Cloud Atlas, was… is… arguably the best thing I’ve read. It is massive, subtle, complex, and with a unique structure. I clearly remember reading the thing and thinking, “Well, there will never be a movie done of this thing, it could never be done.” I was wrong.

You see the book consists of six separate stories – far apart in time, and in tone. They are arranged from the oldest, set onboard a sailing vessel in the South Pacific in the nineteenth century, and progress through time until the sixth one occurs in the far dystopian future. There is no transition between stories -each one ends suddenly, unexpectedly, literally in the middle of sentences and the text then jumps to the next, where the previous story appears as a work of fiction. After the far future story ends(it is the only tale told in one piece) the book winds back down, finishing the tales, one by one, until it ends where it began. The structure looks like this:

  1. The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing
  2. Letters from Zedelghem
  3. Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery
  4. The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish
  5. An Orison of Sonmi-451
  6. Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After
  7. An Orison of Sonmi-451
  8. The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish
  9. Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery
  10. Letters from Zedelghem
  11. The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing

How do you do this in film? I had no idea. I waited for the movie to come out and decided to see it, on opening weekend at the new Studio Grill across from where I work. Ordinarily, I would go to one of the art-house cinemas… but we want to support the place.

I have to say that I enjoyed the Studio Movie Grill. The seat rows are set wide apart, and each seat has a swiveling table built into it. There is something enjoyably decadent about having a nice draft of wheat beer while a waitress brings you some grilled chicken during the opening trailers. It’s not cheap – but I think I’ll go back. They are building an Alamo Draft House near where we live – that sounds even better.

The film – at first I was taken aback. They solved the problem of the complex structure of the book by making it more complex. Abandoning the orderly stair-like nested structure of the book, the movie jumps willy-nilly from story to story… seemingly at random.

Soon enough, though, I realized the jumps were not random. They were stringing the scenes together by theme. This emphasizes the connections between the stories, the eternal ideas across time, and that works in a fast, visual medium. The fact that the movie jumps across such a wide swath of space-time helps in that it is never a problem to figure out where you are.

I don’t know how confusing all this is to someone that hasn’t read the book… but I don’t think you will have a problem. Of course, you could save yourself the trouble by reading the damn thing. Really, read it.

What didn’t work? Well, first, the language. It’s hard to follow sometimes, really tough to figure out what the hell they are talking about. They should have used only a taste of how the characters actually spoke… and then slipped back to contemporary English. The same handful of actors play multiple roles – and that is generally cool. The only problem is that having certain characters jump across racial lines was a bit awkward – some of the makeup is too obvious and distracting. Now, I do have to say that Hugo Weaving makes an imposing and effective evil Nurse Noakes. The credits show all the characters the major actors play (watch for one of Hugh Grant’s performances – you will not recognize him).

The connections between the stories are much more obvious in the movie than the book. Even little things – all the stories (except maybe for one) – at a moment of extreme tension and risk to the heroes – have someone smashed over the head of the bad guy unexpectedly by an off-camera rescuer. Watch for a blue glass button – it ties together the first and last stories.

So did I like it? I loved it. Not everyone will (it doesn’t look like it’s doing well at the box office). It’s a difficult movie, very long (almost three hours – which went by quickly for me), extremely ambitious – obviously an attempt to make a big-budget, big-star, big-time art house film. It’s surprisingly violent and relies a lot on its special effects. It requires work on the part of the viewer, and a lot of people don’t like that.

But in the end, I gave a damn about the characters – and that’s the important thing. The movie is different from the book – less subtle, more flashy – but in the end that’s actually a good thing. Instead of one, we have two… or more accurately, instead of six, we have twelve great stories.

What I learned this week, October 26, 2012

13 Reasons You Should Start Biking To Work

The ponds at Huffhines.

My Commute Home from Work

Since I wrote this blog entry, the weather has cooled off a bit and now I’m able to ride both to and from work. I shoot for about two to three times a week. Now, though, it’s getting dark sooner and pretty soon it’ll be dark when I leave for work and dark when I come home. I have put lights on my bike but I’ll have to think hard about fighting rush hour traffic pre-dawn and post sunset.


Alice Munro is about to have a new book of short stories come out. I’ve always said I think she is the unquestioned master of the form. Her writing is beyond language.

You can read one of the stories, “To Reach Japan” – Here.


This clip is a few years old; I remember the good old days when this is the biggest problem we had to worry about.


Kindle

Call Me Ishmael

My 6,128 Favorite Books

Joe Queenan on how a harmless juvenile pastime turned into a lifelong personality disorder.


TEXAS Tells UN Poll Watchers: Don’t Even Try It


Sheaffer Inlaid Nib

Sheaffer Inlaid Nib

Notes about Notes
Fountain Pens

A surprising number of very technical people have recently re-embraced the fountain pen for everyday writing. They’re drawn to fountain pens not from nostalgia or from a desire for expensive jewelry, but because they enjoy the way the pen feels in their hand — or the way their writing looks on the page.

Sheaffer Triumph Nib

Sheaffer Triumph Nib

Sheaffer Dolphin Nib

Sheaffer Dolphin Nib


It’s nice to see an Oak Cliff Restaurant, Smoke, get this sort of attention. Nice burger too.

Best Bacon Burgers in the US – Dallas – Smoke


 ONN’s Presidential Debate Gives Average Americans Totally Unsupervised Airtime




The Rise of the DFW Brew

The Rum Diary

Hunter S. Thompson

I don’t like to write negative reviews… in that I don’t like to write bad things about bad things. Why waste your time and mine being snarky about crap that doesn’t cut it? Life is too short – my keys are wearing out – there’s plenty of whining snarky criticism shooting around this interweb thing already.

Sometimes I make an exception. There is stuff that is good, there is stuff that is bad… and there is stuff that is… let’s say, a glorious failure. Now that I think about it, glorious failure is a special thing – you can’t make it on purpose, it takes guts and effort, and when it happens you can wallow in it and enjoy yourself a bit… or a lot.

I am always looking out for interesting new stuff coming out on film or video and trying to hit the literature version first. The book is always better. You never want to read the book after seeing the film.

So it was that about a year ago, I saw that a film version of Hunter S. Thompson’s first book, The Rum Diary, was being made – starring Johnny Depp as Thompson – the second time he has tackled such a roll, after the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas movie proved that that book was unfilmable.

The Rum Diary was Hunter S. Thompson’s second novel, though his first (Prince Jellyfish) has never been published. It was written in the early 1960’s but wasn’t published for almost forty years. I was immediately attracted by the novel and its setting. A tropical location, the late nineteen fifties, a picaresque tale of drunken lost souls careening around an exotic backwater – all themes I find irresistible.

So I read it. It was short, it didn’t take long. I can’t say the book was good overall, or even well-written, but I enjoyed it. The characters were interesting, the setting attractive, the story engaging – but it was a mess. It had no arc. It was a glorious failure.

So I looked forward to the film. The tropical setting looks nice on screen. Depp is talented, of course, and has the Thompson shtick down pat. The rest of the cast is impressive and, in turns, each co-star (Aaron Eckhart can do the slimy businessman in his sleep, Michael Rispoli as the fallen photographer was a revelation, Giovanni Ribisi was almost unrecognizable as a walking corpse of a man, Amber Heard was more beautiful more sexy that the world should allow) did a star turn.

But, on the whole, they took the mess of a story and, trying to fix it, fucked it up completely. I understand that they had to add an overlying structure, add heroes and villains, try to give the thing a point… but it all fell flat. The most enjoyable aspect of the book was the fact that nobody fit a stereotype and in shoehorning everybody into their closest Hollywood stock character the film killed the joy of the book.

For example, really the central character of the book isn’t the narrator, but the woman, Chenault (what a great name – makes me think of the Flying Tigers). In the book she was the fiancée of Yeoman – a slight newspaperman who is adrift in Puerto Rico. Her character is mysterious and confused – a real person. In the book she is the drop-dead gorgeous trophy engaged to the evil businessman – reduced to the object of competition between the greedy developer and the moral-yet-flawed Depp. Nice to look at, but easy to forget.

The climactic dance scene at the Carnival in St. Thomas… so unexpected and horrifying in the book – becomes a mere plot device in the film.

Check out the differences here:

I have never been a fan of text cards during the end credits of a film explaining what happens to the characters in the future (except, of course, for Animal House) – but in The Rum Diary the execrable explanation completely spoils any good will generated up to that point. It ruins everything; if you see the movie, look away.

The biggest problem is that the film wanted to make itself about Hunter S. Thompson. In the book, the young Thompson is more an observer that anything else. It is a proto-Thompson – you can see the future echoes of Gonzo stirring, but he is not there yet.

They shovel a lot of later Thompson into The Rum Diary – culminating in a totally ridiculous scene, straight out of Fear and Loathing, where Depp and the photographer put LSD drops into their eyes and then watch a giant tongue unroll. It doesn’t fit.

So, after this bad review, I do have to contradict myself and say I enjoyed watching The Rum Diary – though I am glad I saw it on Netflix instead of in a twelve-dollar movie house munching ten dollar stale popcorn with “golden topping” on it. It still had the tropical setting, and Depp, and picaresque characters, and a beautiful woman… and what more can we ask for?

We can ask for a lot more… but we don’t usually get it.

The Rum Diary backstory, Episode 1

Oh, this is, as far as I’m concerned, the Real Rum Diary: