Category Archives: Culture

Travel Theme: Round

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Round.

Round or square—which do you think will last longer through the coming storms?

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Execution Rocks Light, Long Island Sound

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Thacher Island Twin Lights, Cape Ann, Massachusetts

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Romer Shoal Light, New York Harbor

There’s a reason why most lighthouses are round.

On the other hand, Old Orchard Shoal Light, a round lighthouse similar to Romer Shoal Light and just a few miles away from it in New York Harbor, was swept away by Hurricane Sandy.

And the square keeper’s house of Execution Rocks Light, which survived Sandy just fine, is being converted to a Bed & Breakfast, which will probably ensure it a long life…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monument

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Monument.

… there is an attraction, a special charm in the colossal to which ordinary theories of art do not apply.

Gustave Eiffel

He had a point there. It certainly applies to Eiffel’s own Tower; in fact I believe that was his answer to those who questioned why his tower had to be so big. And it applies to Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty, which would be an unremarkable sculpture if it weren’t for its monumental scale—

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And here are some other monumental sculptures, beautifully scattered in a monumental landscape of hills, forests, and fields, in the Storm King Art Center, about an hour’s drive north of New York City—

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We found ourselves there, almost accidentally, in late November 2012. The raw strength of the sculptures fit well into the bare landscape. But no doubt the sculptures will also complement, in a different way, the fresh green leaves that will soon cover the trees all around them. We’ll have to go back this Spring…

Of course, the monumental scale can also be misapplied—

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Autumn Day

By Johna Till Johnson and Vladimir Brezina

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Blame it on Rilke… Or his translators, actually.

On a recent late-fall evening, Vlad was chuckling over the varied translations of the poem “Autumn Day” by Rainer Maria Rilke:

Herbsttag

Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiel den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

The translations are here.

And even if—like Johna—you don’t read German, it’s rather obvious they’re rather, ahem, divergent when it comes to cadence, connotation, and tone.  Different from each other and from the original meaning.

Johna read them over Vlad’s shoulder and burst out laughing. “‘Summer was awesome?’ We could do better than that!”  Well, maybe not better… but different. If it’s acceptable to say “summer was awesome”—well then, that opens up a whole host of possibilities!

So here you go.  “Autumn Day” loosely translated for the modern era:

Autumn Day

By Rainer Maria Rilke (sort of)

Dude, it’s time! Summer rocked, but
It’s over. Sucks.
The sun slants low now.
The autumn wind sweeps through abandoned
Bodega stalls. Across the last bruised fruit,
Fermenting fast.
At least you’ll have some awesome vino.

No place to crash? Tough.
Too late. You’re solo now.
Time to stay out long
And ride the board
Up and down darkening alleys
Where the trash swirls.

Lessons from the Life of Nelson Mandela

By Johna Till Johnson

Nelson Mandela

“We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right” — Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is dead.

It’s hard to believe—not that he’s dead, but that it happened today.

His life was so epic, so mythic, that it’s hard to believe he was actually alive in our time. He has always seemed to me to be one of the heroes of yore, the kind that doesn’t live any more in these diminished times.

And although I know shamefully little about South African politics or history, I’ve always been captivated by one part of his story: that he spent 27 years in prison—a significant chunk of his life sentence—before not only being set free, but becoming President of South Africa.

I often try to imagine that: being sentenced to life in prison, and actually spending 27 years, a lifetime by itself, imprisoned under brutal conditions.

How do you keep believing in yourself, your cause, and in the possibility of having some kind of impact on the outside world? What keeps you from just giving up, as year after year goes by, with no hope, or reason to hope?

Only Nelson Mandela knew the true answer, and now he’s gone. But as I try to imagine it, here’s what I imagine:

–That after the first shock of the realization settles in, you recognize that although you can’t control your circumstances, you can control your response to them. (And really, that’s no less true in the outside world—we think we have control over circumstances, but how much of your day do you actually spend reacting to them, rather than creating them?)

–That you never give up hope that the dream itself will exist one day, whether or not you are there to see it. And you take faith and nourishment from that dream, and from your ability to believe in it.

–That you remind yourself constantly that your adversaries are humans, too, and seek a genuine connection with them. (Mandela learned Afrikaans in prison, and ultimately succeeded in making friends with the guards.)

–That you refuse to let your failures define you. By then, Mandela had failed many times in his life—he didn’t pass his law examinations, his first marriage ended because of his unfaithfulness, and the fact of being imprisoned (no matter how unjustly) had to have felt like a failure. But none of those defined him. What defined him was his belief in the dream.

These are all easy to write, and inspirational to think about.

But living them—day by day, hour by hour, moment my moment—must have been difficult.

Each moment he had to have made up his mind to resist hopelessness and embrace the dream, to work passionately towards his goals while detaching himself from the desire to be present when they were achieved.

And do all that not once, or twice, but over and over again—there are a lot of moments in 27 years. That takes not just inspiration, but persistence (stubbornness, if you will) and consistency.

There are many lessons here, but this is the lesson I take away from the life of Nelson Mandela: The way to survive, and triumph, is not just to believe in your dreams, but to work doggedly, persistently, with a strong heart, towards achieving them. Day by day. Moment by moment. And focus not on your failures, but upon your efforts.

RIP Nelson Mandela.

And thank you.

Seen from a Kayak

By Vladimir Brezina

Some works of art were surely put there for the sole appreciation of passing kayakers…

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More marine art, specifically of New York Harbor, is here.

Spooktacular!

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

DSC_0112 cropped smallMy favorite holiday is Hallowe’en. What’s not to love? There are small children, gaudy costumes, and plenty of candy. Plus, my Goth-girl side revels in the idea of celebrating darkness, death, and the onset of winter.

But over the years, I’ve celebrated more in the breach than in the observance, since the end of October is one of the busiest times in my industry. (I’ll never forget hearing the joyous noises of the Austin Hallowe’en parade from my hotel room, where I was chained to my computer with an imminent deadline.)

So this year, I was delighted to break free from work and meet Vlad over at the Third Annual Halloween Spooktacular. It’s an Upper East Side block party, or rather mini-street fair. The organizers block off the street and hold costume contests—not just for children, but for adults, families, and pets too. There’s a DJ, a bubble artist, and did I mention the candy? And the houses are lavishly—indeed, extravagantly—decorated. (After all, this is the Upper East Side.)

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Eerie

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Eerie.

I hope all of you had a lovely Halloween…

Eerie

It’s That Scary Time of Year Again…

By Vladimir Brezina

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… and the residents of our neighborhood don’t let you forget it!

(click on any photo to start slideshow)

Last year’s Halloween photos are here, and the previous year’s here.

Book Review: From Pigeons to Tweets

By Johna Till Johnson

From Pigeons to TweetsFrom Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Changes in Military Communications, by Clarence E. McKnight and Hank H. Cox. History Publishing Company, Palisades, New York, 2013.

Okay, I know I have weird tastes in reading material. But when I picked up “From Pigeons to Tweets”, I didn’t expect what I actually got.

The subtitle is “A General Who Led Dramatic Changes in Military Communications”, and the author is Lt. Gen. Clarence E. McKnight Jr. (along with journalist Hank H. Cox).

Given that, plus the relatively staid promotional blurbs from a range of military luminaries, I was expecting a dry treatise on the history of military communications technology.

That would have been interesting enough. I’m fascinated by military technology in general, and military communications technology in particular. (I told you I have weird tastes!)

What I got was (in part) a rollicking and thoroughly absorbing memoir by a man who rose to the highest ranks of the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps (the branch that focuses on communications technology) and who had a reputation for hands-on effectiveness in setting up communications systems. (“McKnight could communicate from Hell,” says one of his colleagues—as a compliment.)

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Travel Theme: Architecture

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Architecture.

Manhattan, of course, is full of dramatic architecture. But it’s sometimes hard to grasp it all from the inside. You need to stand a bit apart—or even better, sit in a kayak!

Here is some of Manhattan’s architecture that we saw on our paddle just this last weekend (full set of photos is here):

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