I woke up today feeling a little less than bright eyed and bushy tailed...
...until I walked outside.
Really...you should click on this image to enlarge it and check out all the amazing texture and perspective that comes out amid the early morning glow.
I love that I've been able to get this view from my back porch for the past several years. I've said it before--probably an annoying number of times--but I'm going to miss living here. I hope that whoever ends up taking this condo when I leave is able to appreciate, as I have, its more sublime amenities.
Around the time I first discovered the Salt Lake Astronomical Society and started venturing out to star parties, a friend of mine asked me something like, "Why do you get so excited about this stuff? None of it is relevant to our life. Looking at Jupiter doesn't help pay rent or influence anything real. It's fine to look at pretty things in the sky, but it doesn't really matter...so why should you or I care about it?" I'm paraphrasing his question of course, but the gist is there.
At the time I had no satisfactory response for him and replied to his query by saying something like, "Well, I guess that's true, but I still like it even if it isn't useful. No one is forcing you to care about Jupiter, but I think it's beautiful.". It is certainly true that being wowed at the view through someone's little 8 inch telescope isn't going to help my finances, and only just getting started with astronomy at my age, it's highly unlikely that I'll progress far enough in the field to make a meaningful contribution to science.
But there's so much more to it than that!
I don't have to be a scientist to find relevance in experiencing what I can of the universe. Even if I never make a great astronomical discovery, even if I do nothing more than marvel at the lovely sights scattered across the night sky (or here on Earth for that matter), even if I receive no direct tangible benefit from being able to recognize and identify a star or planet, it still does me good to participate in the great tradition of human curiosity and imagination that has so far distinguished our species from others on this planet.
While we hurry around navigating highways packed with fellow commuters, chat on our cell phones (ideally not at the same time!...advice I need to heed more frequently as well), swipe our credit cards, email our friends, and participate in the minutia of our daily regimens, we almost never consider the origins of all this convenience. As light from our growing cities gradually washes the stars from our view we often forget that science and its resulting technological and intellectual benefits to the human species began when our distant ancestors looked up into the heavens, marveled at their strange beauty, and asked "why?" As we go about our busy lives, it's certainly easy to forget the fundamental and continuing importance of an action as simple as walking outside and recognizing a planet or familiar grouping of stars.
Johannes Kepler wrote in his Mysterium Cosmographicum of 1596 (translation quoted by Carl Sagan in "Cosmos"):
"We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song is their pleasure since they were created for singing.
Similarly, we ought not to ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens...the diversity of the phenomena of nature is so great and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment."
When astronomers and mathematicians first effectively proved that the Earth was not the center of the universe it was considered heresy in a society that largely believed the universe existed entirely for the benefit of humans (as is poetically suggested in the above quote). Continuing scientific discoveries seem in once sense to make our place in the grand scheme of the universe less and less central. We're tiny creatures on a tiny speck of dust orbiting a relatively tiny orb of glowing gas situated rather inconspicuously in a remote arm of the Milky Way galaxy...itself a fairly typical collection of stars, gas, and dust only one among billions.
To continue this pattern, we could one day discover that we are only one of countless other populations inhabiting the universe (which by some estimates is quite probable). Ideally this information should not frighten, anger, or depress, but rather should serve to fully unite our species and allow us to rise above our trivial, and newly "local" disagreements as we venture out into a vast cosmic community. It's also possible (if arguably unlikely) that we could find ourselves utterly alone in the universe. If this is true, it should also impress humanity into resolving differences if only to preserve our species and therefore the universe's sole expression of life.
The real danger to us all would be a collective forgetting of our inherent curiosity about the world and a dampening of our communal thirst for discovery and enlightenment in favor of a careless and superficial existence. As knowledge progresses, truth has the ability to liberate society beyond the prejudices and petty conflicts brought about by our own fear and ignorance. If we instead allow our baser impulses to drive our destiny, the use of technology originally conceived through the methods of science could also be used to wipe out life on Earth as we know it. It is a delicate balance and one I'm certainly unable to properly address in detail.
In any case, I'm glad I still get a rush from looking at the stars. And it makes me happy to think there are still lots of others who do as well. This, to me, is hope.
I've been thinking a lot lately about how I might contribute to the genre of astronomy art without having to go out and buy a ton of expensive equipment just to take a photo that looks only half as good as what Hubble has already done, or illustrating something in the new-age vein: cliche and kitschy as so much hand rendered astro art can be. I don't really mean to criticize other's contributions, but I am just simply not that moved by most of what is already out there--my voice needs to be different.
In general I tend to enjoy viewing astro photography much more than I do the hand-done works I've seen so far. The images returned from the Cassini mission in particular are sublime. I am mesmerized by the interplay of light and shadow...the simplicity of geometric forms combined with the stunning reality of what is portrayed...and these images were not even originally intended to be art!
One of the coolest images I've come across lately is one taken by the ESA's spacecraft Rosetta. This unlikely portrait features the asteroid Luticia haunted by the distant apparition of the ringed giant, Saturn. It is an unforgettable visual spectacle on it's own, but the photo's intrigue is increased when one considers the vast distance between these two wanderers. It is a striking illustration of interplanetary emptiness as well as a powerful illusion of percieved intimacy.
I've attempted sketches of the moon, Jupiter, and the Orion Nebula (as viewed through a C8 telescope...thus the backwards images) with somewhat pleasing results, but while I've enjoyed working on these observational drawings, they don't really strike me as legitimately "artistic" or "creative".
Tonight I tried something slightly different. This drawing is an attempt to mourn the continuing loss of our dark skies. I wonder how many people have never been able to see the glow of the milky way because the nearest darkness is hours away. In most urban areas only a smattering of the brightest stars are visible above the shine and smog. This is a tragic loss with consequences ranging from emotional, to physical, and possibly intellectual as fewer people are able to experience firsthand the rhythms in the heavens or have their imaginations stirred by the beckoning of the cosmos.
Today I took down the mirror mosaic I'd created above my fireplace during the first few months of my residency in this condo. Now all that's left is a dirty wall covered in little flecks of mirrored paint that I'll undoubtedly have to sand off later.
It was appropriately difficult to remove the mosaic. I had broken one mirror to create it six years ago and broke dozens more today as I chipped the pieces away from the wall and watched as tiny bits of glass shattered against the marble fireplace and peppered the floor with angry microscopic shards.
My first seven years of bad luck haven't ended and I've still gone ahead and added about a hundred more to my tally!
Fortunately I'm not particularly superstitious, but mysticism aside, it is still heartbreaking to have destroyed one of my own creations. Painting over the tree in my bedroom will likely be next week's unpleasant task. After that, I imagine this place will have become just the place I sleep and store all my stuff. Even with the great views, wonderful neighborhood, and lovely remodels that will be completed over the coming weeks, this condo will no longer feel as much my home.
Ok I'll admit, I'm getting a little bored of having my ART SALE page be the only thing I've recently posted. I still hope you are all able to check it out...and purchase something if you'd like...but I'm eager to start talking about different topics again.
While I was chatting with Rob last night, we discovered numerous words that carry a commonly understood denotation and/or connotation for most of us mortals, while in the world of the physicists, they mean the exact opposite. Some of these supposed double meanings are admittedly due to a layman's limited understanding of the sciences, while others legitimately boggle our intuitive sense of vocabulary and would lead readers down opposing paths of understanding based on their backgrounds.
While poking around on wikipedia today I discovered that words like this have a title: autoantonym. And, as could be expected from the famously confusing English language, there is a surprisingly long list of words that fit this description. Here are the ones specifically relating to physics that Rob and I talked about last night:
Background...as in: the cosmic microwave background (CMB).
When I hear this term, I intuitively imagine that the object (or form of electromagnetic radiation) in question would be occupying a space far off in the distance and have no presence locally. I've seen the photos of the CMB and have always pictured it in my head as depicting an unimaginably distant wall enclosing the ever-expanding bubble of our known universe.
In reality these cosmic microwaves are all around us. When an old analog TV flips to a channel it's not able to pick up clearly, a portion of that black and white fuzz is a remnant of the big bang. No matter where a radio telescope is pointed...even towards the blackest visual void...the CMB is almost uniform in every direction. When Rob hears the word "background", he understands it as something that's everywhere...all around us, while for me, I think of something more akin to a painted panel of scenery at the back of a stage.
General vs. Special Relativity.
Now, maybe this is only a mistake that I made for years. Undoubtedly, the rest of you are far more enlightened and never assumed, as I did, that something labeled "special" must be more privileged, intense, and perhaps, difficult than something labeled "general". And I still think that most often this is the case. "General" boarding only begins when the first classers and those needing "special" assistance are taken care of. As an undergrad one takes a mass of "general" classes while perhaps only later deciding what he or she might pursue as a "specialty". When you come down with an illness, in most cases you first have to see a "general" practitioner before later being referred to a "specialist". So special relativity must be waaaaay more involved and interesting than general relativity right? Wrong!
Special relativity basically says that "all laws of science shall be the same to all observers no matter their location or how they are moving in the absence of gravitational fields" (from answers.com) and that "the speed of light in free space is the same for all observers regardless of their motion relative to the light source" (from wikipedia). SR deals with a flat spacetime and most of us first encountered the idea through Einstein's famous thought experiment involving a speeding train car and flashes of light as observed by an occupant of the train as well as a casual Joe on the platform. Rob told me last night that the equations of special relativity don't employ devices more complex than a number with an exponent. You don't have to know calculus to understand special relativity.
On the other hand, you definitely need lots of highly complex mathematics to even scratch the surface of general relativity. GR is a theory of gravitation...or wait...here's how wiki puts it (now, remember how easy it was to explain the basics of SR above?): "general relativity is a metric theory of gravitation whose defining feature is its use of the Einstein field equations. The solutions of the field equations are metric tensors which define the topology of the spacetime and how objects move inertially". Got that?
One thing that stands out to me as an important difference between the two is that while SR deals with a flat spacetime, the spacetime of GR is warped and curved...and it's definitely a lot more challenging to explore. I'll leave the rest to the real physicists.
A related autoantonym is the word Generic.
I encountered the double meaning of this word while reading the first paragraph of Rob's most recently published paper: "Degeneracy measures for the algebraic classification of numerical spacetimes"...you can probably see why I wasn't able to read the whole paper.
Evidently, in the past we could only understood a classical gravitational field by looking at "extremely symmetric" solutions, but now, (drumroll please) because of fancy new technology, we have an unprecedented opportunity to dive into "truly generic simulations"!
Wow...um...generic...is that good?
Well, it certainly doesn't mean that we're all going to Canada to pick up the latest cheap-cheap-cheap black hole simulations. I believe that generic in this context refers to something complex and nuanced...something that more closely mirrors the intricate beauty of nature. Who knew? "Generic" is the new SPECTACULAR!
The last word that came up during our conversation is Theory.
Now, this has certainly been a controversial word lately. When many people hear the word "theory" (as in the "theory" of evolution) they imagine that it refers only to an "educated guess", or even just a random "hmm...I wonder". When I looked up online definitions for theory I found that they run the gamut from "an unproven conjecture", to "a set of sentences in a formal structure" (this one is math related), to "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world". This ambiguity can have unfortunate or even dangerous consequences.
What is important to realize about this word that appears frequently in both popular and scientific circles is how rigorously it is employed when referring to a bit of scientific knowledge. The scientific method begins by asking a question and then attempting to answer that question by formulating a hypothesis. A hypothesis is the real "educated guess" and should be presented in such a way so that it is testable and falsifiable. Once a hypothesis has endured the rigors of intense scientific scrutiny, it then can be labeled a "theory" and is "constructed of a set of sentences which consist entirely of true statements about the subject matter under consideration." (from Wikipedia). Even at this point(and contrary to some popular belief), scientists are always willing to accept the possibility that their ideas may be disproved or revised in the future...as long as the new proof also remains open to the same process of falsifiability as its predecessor, and is equally supported by facts and/or observations.
The "theory" of evolution has endured and blossomed under the watch of thousands of persistently skeptical scientific minds over many years. The mechanisms by which organisms change over time have been observed in nature and employed by plant and animal breeders the world over for centuries. There is no question that the selection of genetic traits, natural and artificial, can significantly mold a living thing to fit its environment or better serve the needs of a human caretaker. Evolution is a fact. It has not been intelligently refuted. So despite all this minor semantic confusion, evolution should be universally accepted as a law of nature.
***UPDATE! Some items are now reserved and pending sale--act quickly to reserve what it still available! Thank you all!***
As you all know by this point, In just under two months I'll pack up the life I've built for myself over the last several years in Utah and take off to start a graduate program at Northwestern University. This is a tremendously exciting development and I cannot wait to see how the experiences, personal contacts, and instruction I'll receive there will enhance my prospects as a professional musician...and hopefully enrich my overall humanity.
As I've begun to assemble my belongings and prepare to leave, I've discovered I still have a good bit of my own art--prints, framed prints, and originals--left over from exhibits and sales I've held in the past. As much as I love having my art around, it wouldn't be practical to keep this inventory in the teensy little studio apartment I've leased and I'd rather not burden anyone else with a whole roomfull of art to store. Plus, as my quality of life will switch directly from moderately-well supported professional to starving grad student, I figure...it certainly wouldn't hurt to hold a sale before I go!
I've really only held one formal art sale in the past: a one-day show generously hosted at the home of Gary Ofenloch (tubist with the Utah Symphony). It was great fun and reasonably successful, but time, money, and logistics would make putting together another such event a bit impractical for me so instead I thought I'd use my blog as a temporary venue for display.
For the next couple of weeks I'll refrain from posting additional stories and allow this entry to remain first on the list with the hope that the word will spread and I'll make some sales. Because my main goal at this time is liquidation of existing stock, prices of high quality lambda prints and framed prints (including limited editions) will be significantly (and temporarily--through the end of August 2010 only) reduced to cost. Prices of original works (most are unframed) will remain as they are. All limited edition prints will include a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist...Me!...and most framed prints are also hand signed.
To purchase one of these pieces, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and put ART SALE in the subject line. From there I'll communicate with you directly about delivery, payment, and any additional questions or comments you may have. You may also reach me by commenting at the end of this blog--I'll read every comment. Just as a note, I am willing to ship artwork to you, but would prefer to hand deliver it if you live within a reasonable driving distance (about 2 hours from SLC, but I can work with you on that if necessary). Shipping unframed pieces will add a nominal amount to the price, while shipping framed pieces so that they arrive in good condition is quite costly.
Here's what's available (you can click on each image for a better view):
(Sizes are given in inches and refer to the print only. Please email for sizes including frame which are noticeably larger. Prices are in US dollars and reflect the exact cost of high-quality lambda scans, prints, and professional framing as directed by the artist. Discounted prices are good through the end of August. Please email to receive prices of originals.)
13 1/2 x 10 1/2
In stock: 3 unframed prints ($41), 1 framed print ($123), unframed original
I did this painting while still a student at Juilliard. I had attended a workshop one night given by a visiting artist from Cuba (unfortunately I don't remember his name). He related his experiences as an underground artist (one who hadn't attended a state school) and told us how difficult it was to function as a creator remaining true to his personal artistic vision. Only those who'd attended a state school had access to art materials and as a result he developed techniques using mediums as basic as ink and dyes (which he had to procure on the black market) and tools like simple toothbrushes and drinking straws. After telling his story he coached us through the creation of our own painting using some of his techniques. I completed Homage to Caspar (which you'll see below) during his class and rendered the untitled head you see above after I went home that night.
Caspar refers to Caspar David Friedrich: a 19th century German romantic painter whom I was studying at the time in my art history class. I love the vast ethereal quality possessed by his works and he often included figures in his paintings staring out together over a spectacular vista. Homage is my personal (and admittedly stark) reaction to what I saw in his works as a portrayal of comforting and sustaining companionship...and as always, you may read whatever sentiments you like into it
Homage to Caspar
10 x 14
In stock: 2 unframed prints ($41)
FRAMED PRINT IS NOW SOLD! THANK YOU!!! Unframed prints are still available.
18 1/2 x 20
In stock: 2 unframed prints ($59), 1 framed print ($169), unframed original
I completed this piece on the 1 year anniversary of 9-11. I was still a student in New York City during the terror attacks and though I didn't personally know anyone killed, the events on and surrounding that day affected me deeply. On 9-11-2002 I was visiting my boyfriend (at the time) in Hawaii. We had gone to Ala Moana beach at sunset and as I watched the yellow sun sink through the clouds, a flock of seagulls rose up from the horizon. There may be some symbolism in how I later portrayed the scene...souls rising up into the heavens or some such...but I'm rarely too literal with that sort of thing. Mainly it is a picture of peace...of serenity...of hope.
18 x 22
In stock: SALE PENDING--item currently unavailable
No particular story here. Angel is just about the beauty of line and simple form.
18 x 24
In stock:SALE PENDING--item currently unavailable
I drew the first version of Dancer while playing for the Spoleto Opera Festival in Italy during the summer of 2003. The Juilliard Orchestra was the festival's official ensemble that summer and because the main production was Wagner's "Lohengrin" (which requires a whole boatload of offstage trumpeters) I was invited to take part. I completed the final version you see here upon returning to the states. (Forgive the glare in the "detail" photo at right. The prints are glossy and I was unable to remove the shine from this photo.)
I look at Angel and Dancer as somewhat representative of two sides of my personality--one subdued and internal, the other passionate and exuberant. I marry these two traits in my next work...
11 x 24
In stock: unframed original
16 x 13
In stock: 1 framed print ($151), unframed original
Sara is a slightly difficult work for me to talk about. It is a "portrait" of a real person, though the title Sara is only loosely her correct name and the drawing bears only a minor resemblance to its subject. It is an attempt to illustrate the particular and serene beauty of someone with whom I was only peripherally acquainted, but of whom I experienced a sad and distant sort of admiring jealousy.
I drew Sara in late 1999 early 2000 while I was caught up in intense sorrow after my very first boyfriend broke off our relationship and began another. There never were any truly hard feelings, just a typically youthful heartbreak, and of course my wounds eventually healed.
Years later I spent a brief period with the subject of this drawing and as we became a bit more acquainted I grew to admire her greatly. Though I worry that a slightly awkward past may have corrupted any real possibility of beginning a friendship, I still hold her in high regard and hope (though its unlikely) to cross paths again at some point in the future.
15 1/2 x 24
In stock: 1 unframed print ($59)
For Static I used black sharpie, medium bic pen, and (surprise! We're finally getting into some color!) red colored pencil. It's just one of my random musings on nothing in particular. I have always been enamored with trees and they tend to show up in many of my works.
6 3/4 x 10
In stock: 1 unframed print ($41), 1 framed print ($116), unframed original
Here's another foray into black and red. No, that's not supposed to be a bleeding cardinal, and actually, I'm unable to come up with any specifically intended metaphor. It just is what it is for no reason in particular...though some of my "typical" style features and themes are certainly present.
Refuge of Night Birds
18 1/2 x 23
In stock: 1 unframed print ($59)
Refuge is based on a poem by the Nobel Prize winning poet Salvatore Quasimodo. Translated from the original Italian it reads:
Up there is a twisted pine;
intent it hearkens to the abyss,
its trunk bent like a crossbow
Refuge of night birds,
at the darkest hour it reverberates
to the swift strokes of wings.
My heart too has its nest
suspended in the dark, and its voice;
also intent, it harkens in the night.
There is also a hint of my childhood fascination with artist Bev Doolittle in this work. Doolittle is known for her meticulously-rendered western-themed watercolors and in many of them, faces, animals, spirits, and indians can be found hiding in amongst the natural features depicted in the painting. There is a face in Refuge. If you don't see it right away keep looking--it will pop out at you sooner or later. Once you see it, it becomes the dominant feature of the piece and is impossible to ignore.
17 x 19
In stock: 1 unframed print ($59), unframed original
Bad Trip and the drawing below (fish) are featured in my previous blog post "Doodling" from June 2010. If you want their stories, check out the blog archive at left.
5 1/2 x 11
In stock: 3 unframed prints ($41), unframed original
7 1/2 x 1
In stock: 1 framed print ($123), unframed original
This is another piece that tends to get me into "trouble". People often make assumptions about my own leanings based on the fact that I preferentially draw beautiful (and often barely covered) women. There is no definite reason for this beyond the fact that the female form is undeniably lovely. This picture plainly celebrates a female coupling (which, by the way, I certainly support for all who are drawn in that direction--though I am not), and because of its clarity of line and subtlety of color is one of my favorite pieces.
11 x 14
In stock: 1 framed print ($123), unframed original
I didn't start out with this idea in mind, but after I finished this piece, it reminded me of how my innards feel when I'm approaching a tough or awkward situation.
8 x 8
In stock: 1 unframed print ($41), unframed original
This is a simple rough-looking sketch that may have taken me only 5 minutes to render. Still, it is a good representation of the sadness and loneliness that has often driven me to pull out a sketch pad and give voice to the pain that would otherwise eat me away from the inside out. It is unfortunate that in the past my creativity has frequently been driven by bouts with depression, but my ability to beautify these struggles has sometimes helped me work through them.
8 1/2 x 11
In stock: 5 unframed prints ($5), 1 framed print ($65)
Thai was a little terrier mix my family owned for (I think) about 15 years while I was growing up. He was sweet and loving with real spunk and though we never owned horses I imagined this is how he may have reacted had he ever encountered one. The prints available are not lambdas, but are regular color reproductions of the original.
Untitled (mountain hair)
24 x 14
In stock: SALE PENDING--item currently unavailable
This is another of my "doodles" (see Doodling blog June 2010). I really have no idea how the idea evolved, but I'm quite pleased with the result which in spots blends from pencil into bic into sharpie.
13 x 24
In stock: unframed original
This piece is based loosely around my impressions of a short Arthur C. Clarke novel: "The City and the Stars". To find out more you'll have to read the book...which is excellent.
The City is also one of my favorite drawings. I'm proud of its clarity and also the interesting use of color in the "sand dune" like features of the landscape. I feel somewhat connected to the character atop the dune: he does not portray a reflection of loneliness but rather of integrious (a new favorite word of mine: the adjective form of integrity) individuality.
Foxfire (or Firefly)
14 x 17
In stock: 1 unframed print ($51), 1 framed print ($191), unframed original
Around the time I began this colored pencil drawing, I had read Bill Bryson's wonderfully entertaining account of hiking the Appalachian Trail: "A Walk in the Woods". He told of seeing bioluminescent mushrooms in the Great Smokey Mountains that would light up the night with what is referred to as "foxfire"...I was intrigued. I've also had a thing for faeries and fantasy all my life. This was drawn on a white piece of paper and all the blackness you see represents hours of filling in space with a black colored pencil that was barely a nub by the time I finished! The idea for the glowing orb the fairie is holding was conceived when I noticed some circles of glare in the lenses of my glasses during a music theory class at Juilliard. I used the color pattern I observed in my glasses to provide the illusion of glow. The framed print of this picture is particularly gorgeous. The frame is dusty silver with 3-d patterns of curling lillies set atop a grey-blue suede mat and a thin textured white accent mat.
I have many more original artworks available for purchase, but I've made this blog entry plenty long already!
Please feel free to visit my art website (there's a link on the left-hand side of my blog page) and email me (email@example.com) with specific inquiries. I'll be adding works over the next couple of days so check back to view any new posts to that site. PLEASE feel free (and encouraged) to pass this blog on to anyone you feel might have an interest in my art. I am also available for custom musical instrument or ipod engraving, and can consult on creating a personalized mirror mosaic for your home (for an example of my work, please see my blog "Holladay Home" in June 2010).
As tonight is going to be my last night with Rob (this trip anyway) we decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner at the best restaurant in Ithaca. I'm not calling Moosewood "Ithaca's best" based on having seen that ranking in a paper or on a banner somewhere, but because it is impossible to imagine that similar ingredients could ever be combined in a better way anywhere else. So, maybe Moosewood is not only Ithaca's best, but the universe's best as well.
Moosewood is kind of a hippie restaurant. It has been continuously run by a collective of 19 individuals (a few of whom remain from the restaurant's beginnings in 1973) who rotate through various jobs from busser to cookbook writer and always strive to keep the business effective and the food delicious. It serves a strict vegetarian/vegan menu, though at least one fish choice is available per day, and the meal options change from lunch to dinner and day to day. Before going you can download a copy of the daily menu from their website to see if one of the entrees suits your fancy, though it's difficult to imagine anything they serve as being less than utterly delectable.
Rob and I had eaten lunch here a couple of days ago and both his Vegetarian Lasagna and my Pecan-Encrusted Salmon were to die for, but I think that tonight my Fish Nicosia was slightly outdone by Rob's Spinach & Cheese Ravioli. At this point I'll just have to admit that I could never be a food critic...pretty much all I can say about dinner is that it was fresh, colorful, and YUMMY!
Shortly after we were seated, Mark, a buddy of Rob's who's visiting from Caltech this week, was also seated near us. He tapped Rob on the shoulder as he walked by, and then hurried over to his table where he immediately pulled out a laptop and started working. "Just like a typical numerical relativist", quipped Rob. We had finished our food before he'd even received his and as we awaited dessert (which I'll get to in a minute) Rob leaned over to me and said "I thought about sending him an email suggesting the ravioli". I guess emailing someone 10 feet away would also be typical of a numerical relativist! Mark eventually came over for a more substantial hello and I gave him a hearty thumbs up after learning he'd gone with the ravioli even without receiving an email.
Now for dessert...
When we'd had lunch the other day, I couldn't resist trying the chocolate mousse (made with real ricotta--blew me away!) and Rob enjoyed an equally delectable peanut-butter chocolate tart. Tonight I wanted the tart all to myself and Rob ordered what is billed on their dessert menu as the #1 customer favorite for 30 years: the chocolate fudge brownie...a la mode...mmm. I thoroughly enjoyed my tart, but after stealing a bite of the still-warm brownie bathed in creamy home-made chocolate ice cream, I have to admit I can understand its rating. Rob obviously enjoyed it as well...
We walked home hand in hand with satisfied, if slightly overfilled, stomachs, and now to top off the evening are about to sit down and watch an old Hitchcock gem: "The Man Who Knew Too Much"...just as soon as I finish writing this blog!
This past weekend I was served the best lemonade I've ever had in my entire life.
On Saturday afternoon Rob and I walked down to the Cayuga Lake shore for a look around the Ithaca Farmer's Market. Ever since I made my first haul of fresh tomatoes, peaches, raspberries, peppers, bread, and goat cheese at Salt Lake's farmers market a few years ago I've eagerly awaited the first of June and with it the arrival of real fresh clean local produce. Almost nothing sold at my neighborhood grocery can match the flavor and wholesome quality of anything you can get at the farmer's market, and once you've tasted the beefy tang of a vine ripened tomato there's no going back.
It's still too early for tomatoes, but the Ithaca market featured an impressive spread of other seasonal produce, mostly leafy greens, and a smattering of specialty items, sausage, duck eggs, currants, honey, maple syrup, pastries, wines, cheeses, and a wide variety of hot and fresh ethnic cuisine. Both of us eventually settled on a lunch of cuban food (I know...those plantains were certainly not local) and pomegranate-lemon iced tea.
There were also many fresh lemonade stations set up throughout the market and every time we passed them, the tantalizing smell of squeezed citrus (I know, once again, certainly not local...but who cares when you're talkin' fresh lemonade!?) would fill the air and tempt my salivary glands. Rob was the first to cave in and order a glass, but of course once he had it in his hand, I had to try a sip. It was incredible! The flavor was perfectly balanced without being too sweet, syrupy, or "sticky" and I can't think of another beverage I've tried that's ever been as refreshing. Rob ordered a glass for me right away and I must have exclaimed "this is unbelievable" about 50 times while my sipping lasted. I went to the booth and asked what they used to sweeten the juice and they said it was their own blend of natural sugars and didn't contain any corn syrup. The sweetener looked a bit like agave nectar, but it's tough to tell for sure. In any case, now I'm sold on getting a citrus juicer!
It was a gorgeous day--cool and sunny with a pleasant breeze--and after inspecting all the goods we went and sat out by the lake to enjoy our drinks and the happily lazy atmosphere. Faced with such a luscious spread it's easy to get carried away, but as we are only two people and already had a fridge full of food, I suggested that we just pick out a good head of lettuce to supplement our meals for the week. I also indulged a bit and picked out a couple of clothing items: a very cute shirt for me and an equally adorable present for someone else...(it's still a secret who:)
I've now been in Ithaca for several days and have only finished 2 posts...and one of them wasn't even about Ithaca. So for the next couple days I want to try to make up some lost time and show you bits of this lovely little town.
I thought Ithaca Falls would be a good place to start. Ithaca is surrounded by deep shale gorges that carry many little streams and bigger rivers into the local "finger": Cayuga Lake. If you REALLY want to look like a tourist (or an over-enthused local) you can get one of the ubiquitously available bumper-stickers or t-shirts sporting the punny logo: "Ithaca is Gorges". As campy as this may sound though, the gorges are indeed...gorgeous! Ithaca Falls is literally a block down the road from Rob's current apartment on Gun Hill.
Until 2005, the Ithaca Gun Company owned and operated on the land surrounding the falls using it as a power source, convenient dumping location, and live ammunition testing area. Because of this, the ground has been severely contaminated with lead and was designated as a superfund cleanup site. This is easy to forget, however, when you wander along the wooded banks of Fall Creek and confront the continuing majesty of the falls.
It's difficult to get a sense of the size of this cascade from a photo, but here's one Rob took of me during one of my past visits...look closely...I'm standing, arms outstretched, right at the base of the falls. What an amazing thing to have in your backyard eh!?
In 1970 Robert Smithson, assisted by foreman Bob Phillips and other local construction workers, completed one of Utah's most unique artistic installations: the Spiral Jetty. It turns out that Mr. Phillips is Rob's uncle so during his first visit to me in Salt Lake back in 2008, I suggested that we make a pilgrimage out to the Jetty and see firsthand this odd assemblage of black basalt, white salt, and pink water.
The Great Salt Lake is divided north from south by a solid railroad causeway a little south of Promontory Point. South of the causeway the lake's salinity is most favorable to a blue-green tinted species of phytoplankton and to the north a purplish-red variety of bacteria. For this reason, Smithson chose to locate the Jetty in the striking pink waters of the north. It was easy to see the appeal of this palette as Rob and I walked over lines of dark basalt edged with salt encrusted rocks bathing in the pink shallows. I had never seen the north Salt Lake and had always assumed that photos of the pink water had been doctored for effect, but it is truly no illusion.
The Jetty takes a bit of work to get to. About 2 hours north of Salt Lake City is the Golden Spike National Historic Site where in 1869 the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroad lines were joined with the fabled driving of a golden spike into the final tie that would complete the country's first transcontinental railroad. The rough uneven cattle road that leads to the Jetty lies just past the monument. Most websites insist this gravel road is well maintained and suitable for all vehicles, but if you're driving a little Toyota Yaris hatchback, as I was that day, be prepared for a slow and bumpy 9 miles.
As we neared Rozel point, the road conditions worsened and, not wanting to repeat an unfortunate incident where I punctured my previous vehicle's oil tank on just such a road (a story for another day), Rob and I decided to walk the rest of the way. The day was hot, but fortunately we'd come prepared with hats and water. We had no idea how far the Jetty was from where we'd stopped, but pressed forward anyway. Finally, we rounded the point and a familiar shape started to take shape in the distance...we'd made it!
I was surprised at the sculpture's size. At 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide, it is suitable for walking when the lake's water is low enough (in the photo below, you can just make out tiny people wandering out on the spiral). The Jetty has been submerged and unseeable off and on since its completion. It had disappeared for 3 decades before drought conditions briefly dropped lake levels in 2004, but was flooded once again in 2005 after a record snowfall. I guess we lucked out on this trip! The pinkish water was just high enough (an inch or two on the Jetty's outer edges) to gently lap against the sides of the stone pathway and provide an etherial and shimmering canvas for the dramatic spiral.
The Jetty's future is uncertain. Over time, a combination of human and environmental factors may erode it into oblivion and there are those who wish to buttress the spiral against such damage. Artist Smithson however tended to favor the idea of natural entropy: a system's deterioration, decline, or breaking down over time. The Jetty's gradual change and perhaps eventual demise could be considered part of his original artistic intention.
Experiencing the Jetty firsthand was well worth the effort and, while it is still visible and reachable, I highly recommend others who are able to make the journey.
"We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars."
On my first full day in Ithaca Rob and I decided to head downtown and take part in the Carl Sagan Planet Walk. This installation, built in 1997 to honor the famous resident astronomer, is a scale model of the solar system and winds for 3/4 of a mile around the streets of the city and ends (interestingly, still with Pluto as the 9th planet) at the Ithaca Science Center.
It begins with the sun...
Around the main pedestal is etched the quote from Sagan above. Carl Sagan was a professor at Cornell University--Rob's current employer--from 1968 until his death in 1996 and posthumously remains one of the most recognizable advocates for astronomy and scientific philosophy. While walking the halls of Cornell's astronomy building it is exciting to imagine Sagan working and teaching within its walls.
And progresses forward to Mercury...
A planet with long days, long nights, and incredibly large swings in temperature. Mercury rotates on its axis only 3 times for every 2 trips it completes around the sun and its days are over 58 earthdays long. Because it has no protective atmosphere, the side facing the sun heats to 427° celsius, while its dark side plunges to minus 183° celsius.
whose incredibly thick atmosphere, dominated by the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, contributes to its surface reaching temperatures of 450° celsius...hotter than Mercury despite being much further away from the sun than its tiny rocky neighbor.
At each stone station, the glass in the middle continues to represent the size of the sun while a model of the planet sits suspended in its center. If you start the walk with the rocky inner planets, this is a bit confusing at first until you realize that the planet you're looking for within the glass may be no bigger than a spec of dust. Mercury was utterly invisible to my camera, but venus came through as a black dot against a white background and our own planet appeared as a little blue smudge about to be trampled by an unwitting passerby...
Mars, of course, comes next in the line up...
And is followed by a monument to the asteroid belt complete with an actual iron meteorite...
The asteroid belt lies between Mars and Jupiter roughly the spot where another planet "should" reside. It is believed that a planet does not exist there because Jupiter's tremendous gravity may have prevented a large world from forming. Instead we've been left with hundreds of thousands of these oddly shaped space rocks fumbling through the blackness.
On this marker there is a convenient diagram showing the size of a few asteroids as compared to the local "finger": Cayuga Lake. For me, this proved a potent illustration and as we continued the walk I kept imagining the lake turning end over end in the vastness of space...quite an image!
Science fiction movies all seem to illustrate the asteroid belt as a virtual mine field of small to gigantic rocks. In reality, this area of space is still relatively empty and collisions are rare. Models like the planet walk are excellent ways to try to wrap your brain around the sizes and distances that exist in space, but its vastness still boggles the mind.
Up next is Jupiter...which shows up in the glass much better than the others...
And, then perhaps the most striking of our solar system's planets: Saturn...
...Followed by Uranus
And after crossing a bridge featuring a decorative display of all the planet's signs, Neptune...
And...WHAT!!...Pluto and Charon?!
Everyone knows that these two icy little specs out in the Kuiper Belt are no longer considered true planets...right? I can accept that the original Pluto monument was left here for historical purposes, or perhaps out of deference to Carl, but why not an additional plaque or at least a note updating the status of our former 9th planet to "dwarf planet" and then perhaps adding some of Pluto's neighbors to the line up? I'm sure Dr. Sagan would have been more than happy to acknowledge this new bit of astronomical knowledge...
These are all Kuiper Belt Objects that also happen to cross the orbit of Neptune...a collision between a gas giant and an icy dwarf?...what a thing to imagine!
We finished up the planet walk and spent a bit more time dawdling through the gardens that surround the Ithaca science center. They are filled with plants and trees meant to illustrate the cost and energy saving benefits of wise local planting practices. All in all it was a lovely stroll.