Thursday, April 25, 2013

Keith Haring exhibit

I went to a special exhibit of Keith Haring's work. Based on pins and posters, my cultural exposure led me to expect that the work would be two-dimensional doodles, a bit like cartoonified versions of the illustrations accompanying Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Some of them were. 
 Many crossed the threshold into cute and quirky.
But not all. Haring worked in other mediums, too:
And almost 100% of his illustrations are NSFW. These do not get made into posters or pins, although I think this one makes a strong wallpaper.
... perhaps for a public bathroom. But I guess those aren't usually wallpapered.

This post's theme word is omphalic, "navel-gazing." Though lacking belly-buttons, Haring's illustrated people invoke omphalic thoughts.

The Emperor's Soul

Brandon Sanderson's "The Emperor's Soul" is a neat little story (novella), which hangs together bewitchingly and has a fascinating magic system and excellent worldbuilding (of course). There is an innate appeal in a story where power accretes on those who study and think. Plus, honestly, I like the idea that a convincing author can write a lie which alters the actual past.

The special mechanism of magic in this Sanderson-work is that artisans (of course) can carve a stamp detailing the past history of an item, which, when applied to that item, modifies its actual past history. The tweak is that the effectiveness and durability of the change depends on its subtlety and plausibility. The plot involves an unusually large and powerful stamp, one specific enough to rewrite the eponymous emperor's soul.

If I had invented this little tale, I would have done some backwards contortions to use the idea of authorship modifying history to manipulate the readers themselves. I would certainly have used my favorite authorial hammer, the unreliable narrator. It would probably have leaned more towards an investigation of propaganda than the paean of artistic mastery that it is. Sanderson does much better by maintaining a rather honest storytelling style (with some omissions reserved for later climactic/conclusive revelation). Just like the puissant scholar-magician in his story, Sanderson's most powerful and effective tool is sincerity.

I liked it.

This post's theme word is impresa, "an emblem or device, usually with a motto." The finished, independent work stood on its own merits, with no hidden impresa to brag of its creator.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


The buildup to Versailles is extreme. The grandest palace, built specifically to overawe the world (and nobles!) with the magnificence of monarchy. The descriptions in Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle --- a work which forms much of my knowledge of world history, 1660 to 1750 --- made it seem the pinnacle of palace architecture.

The approaching walk does not disappoint. On the weekend, everyone in the area is walking to the palace, which contributes to the general feeling of grand power.
Approaching Versailles from the front
The entire front courtyard here --- large enough to encompass many castles of my experience --- was where the carriages would line up to discharge the nobility into this lair of Louis' power.
The front parking lot is large. N.B.: most of the castle is not even visible from here.
The in-home chapel rivals many cathedrals. Here we see the first hint of the overarching decorating schemes (pun intentional): firstly, that heaven descends to earth at Versailles, and secondly, that which can be gilt in gold shall be gilt in gold.
Just a little family chapel.

Serious ceiling fresco.
The gold-and-fresco theme continues in every room. An interesting visual trick is played whereby the 3D corner detailing is blended into trompe-l'oeil 2D painting. I fantasy that this was to spare the expense of having to dust the intricate details of so much plasterwork.

In addition, most of the frescoes are painted with perspective. The point-of-view of we plebian viewers on the ground is taken into account: the soles of feet, bottoms of carriages, etc. are visible as if to continuously remind us how far below the Sun King we stand.
The chandeliers and other fixtures aren't unintimidating, either. More gold! More!
I ran out of time to explore the full gardens (and outlying sub-palaces) behind Versailles proper. Here is one wing --- the queen's, I believe --- taken from a distant enough vantage point that the entire wing could be in-frame.
Our shadows in the evening, rising to meet us.
The visit was fantastic, intimidating, exhausting. Overawing. Even several centuries dead, I am impressed by Louis' power.

This post's theme word is stentorian, "loud and powerful." Versailles makes a stentorian statement about the monarchy; the absence of modern monarchy from France makes a quiet but persistent retort.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Is this art? I guess. It's certainly not functional.

This was on display in the window of an art gallery. Or perhaps an "art" gallery, if you're into scare quotes as indicators of disdain.

A visual metaphor for the diverse, extremely small minority interest groups, which foster their own political statements and accompanying hand gestures? A reference to a theory of zombie origin? A commentary on the historical oppression of left-handed people?

I didn't go inside and ask. Please hypothesize in the comments.

This post's theme word is quomodocunquizing, an adjective meaning, "that makes money in any possible way." It's not bold, it's not making a statement, it's just quomodocunquizing.

Paris from the Centre Pompidou

There is a pleasant matching nature of the architecture in certain arrondissements. The buildings are at most ~6 stories high, so sunlight penetrates to street level. Things are neat and tidy. The sun is sunny, the flowers are blooming, and even from inside the plastic people-gerbil terrarium on the front of the Centre Georges-Pompidou, spring feels sprung.

It is easy to feel the iconic "I love Paris in the springtime," although I do not remember the song having any lines contrasting with hail storms in Toronto. Truth is more beautiful, and dramatic, than even clichéd song.

This post's theme word is proxemics, "the study or interpretation of physical proximity between people in various situations; the way in which people interact spatially, esp. in maintaining a certain amount of space between themselves and others." Parisian proxemics please plentifully.

Notre Dame de Paris

Many parks in Paris are wired for free public wifi. As if we needed any further inducement to linger in their lovely, blossoming luxury. The weather is warm and sunny, the air is fragrant, and spring is most certainly arrivée. Thousands of people are taking this photo every minute; I joined in.

Once, upon a noontime cheery, while I pondered thoughts on theory
(of the privacy of people's bank accounts and data spoor),
as I brooded, barely heedful, suddenly came tourists needful
of my English, local knowledge, and my helpful demeanor.
Merely tourists, interested in my helpful demeanor.
Quoth the tourists,

"Excuse me, do you know if this church is Protestant or Catholic?"

I thought they were joking at first. Into my tentative pause, they explained, "We just came from travelling in Holland, where Protestant churches all have roosters on them." Gesturing to the weathervane on the roof of Notre Dame. They seemed to think this merited intent consideration, so I gave this a few seconds. Then I informed them that I was pretty sure that Notre Dame was Catholic, because (1) France is a historically Catholic country, (2) Protestants don't usually build giant gaudy cathedrals, and most importantly (3) the cathedral's construction began long before Protestantism existed. I made some effort to be friendly about this; however, a sneer of this caliber cannot be fully contained by any system known to man.

Another step of my assimilation into the aloof French stereotype.

This post's theme word is simony, "profiting from holy things, especially the buying and selling of positions and pardons." I should have parlayed my knowledge into simony somehow.

Accessibly tactile art

The museum has these very neat accessibility features so that the art can be experienced in ways other than the visual. In particular, this tactile display reproduced the painting in miniature but in a three-dimensional metal relief.
It was very cool to witness another way of experiencing and absorbing the art, with different features --- the two-dimensional painting rendered in three squished dimensions.
It was also possible to observe which parts of the relief are most frequently touched, by the change in coloration (oxidization?). I like this interplay between the visual and tactile.

This post's theme word is gelasin, "a dimple in the cheek that appears while smiling." The painting's rendering as a relief made her gelasins immediately obvious to the touch, even though the subtle coloring made them a mere visual suggestion.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Melting building

In walking around, I came across this very interesting building. It looks like it is melting. Odd reflections and unexpected angles. I couldn't tell what the building was for --- business? It was surrounded by residential buildings.

This post's theme word is vitrine, "a glass display case."

Friday, April 5, 2013

Hugo nominees 2013

Again! Another year, with the reading and the enjoying and the planet spinning and words coursing through my brain's word-processing centers.

Best Novel:
  • Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, John Scalzi
  • Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed
  • Blackout, Mira Grant
Best Novella:
  • The Emperor’s Soul, Brandon Sanderson
  • After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, Nancy Kress
  • “The Stars Do Not Lie”, Jay Lake
  • On a Red Station, Drifting, Aliette de Bodard
  • San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats, Mira Grant
Best Novelette:
  • “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi”, Pat Cadigan
  • “In Sea-Salt Tears”, Seanan McGuire
  • “Fade To White”, Catherynne M. Valente
  • “Rat-Catcher”, Seanan McGuire
  • “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Best Short Story:
  • “Mono no Aware”, Ken Liu
  • “Immersion”, Aliette de Bodard
  • “Mantis Wives”, Kij Johnson

[Update: the winners, announced.]

This post's theme word is chalcedony, "a milky or greyish transcucent to transparent quartz." My opinions are to the Hugos as chalcedony to diamond.