Saturday, December 29, 2007

This is such a brutal winter, can't we bring back Kites on Ice?

This Is Such a Brutal Winter, Can't We Bring Back Kites on Ice?
I took this photo nearly five years ago, in February of 2003. Kites on Ice was a midwinter kite festival that was held several times in Madison, originally at the Monona Terrace convention center. People came from all over the world to fly kites and attend seminars and workshops in Monona Terrace. It was a wonderful way to brighten the long Madison winter, a festive occasion complete with wonderful kite demonstrations, both indoors and outdoors. You could warm up in the building, watch the kites while sipping a hot chocolate. When you got warm, you could go back out on the ice and visit with the kiters. And on Saturday night there were fireworks. It was so cool. And then it all went away. One year the ice was too thin, and the kite flying was moved across the lake to Olin Park. The final year there was a schedule conflict and it moved to Lake Mendota, with the workshops shoehorned into the Memorial Union. The next year it didn't come back.

I always thought it was a missed opportunity to establish a real midwinter festival on the Madison lakes, with Kites on Ice anchoring the event. Anybody up for bringing it back? We could sure use some of that excitement and color in a sky that this year has produced nothing but snow.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

How did Santa know?

How Did Santa Know?
Because I made a list, of course, and made a point of putting Exit Ghost by Philip Roth on it. I'm about 70 pages into the book. It's hard to put down, a great read. A sequel of sorts to The Ghost Writer, the first of Roth's novels about his fictional and literary alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. The two novels bookend the Zuckerman series -- the first about the young Zuckerman, a sprinter in the literary race, and the last about the 71-year-old Zuckerman (the age Roth was in 2004, the year the events in the book take place), nearing the end of the long marathon, an incontinent, impotent prostate cancer survivor who has distanced himself from the world but is swept by a last wave of passion for a much younger woman. All while being revisited, almost 50 years later, by his youthful encounter with the novelist E. I Lonoff, his wife Hope, and Lonoff's young lover Amy Bellette, portrayed in The Ghost Writer. Humorous, poignant, satirical and written in Roth's characteristically supple, effortlessly fluid style -- it has all the Roth elements. He's one of the greats, and he just keeps on keeping on -- one of my favorite writers. Appropriately, the jacket design is by another cool older dude who just keeps on keeping on -- 78-year-old Milton Glaser.

1/03/08 UPDATE: Dr. Diablo's skepticism in the Comments to the contrary, I did finish all 304 pages. An updated review is posted at The Book Book.

A whole herd of illuminated sheep pays its respects to the Baby Jesus

A Herd of Illuminated Sheep Pays Its Respects to the Baby Jesus
I'm concluding this year's holiday coverage with my annual attempt at an image of one of Madison's most amazing Christmas displays, the lighted Nativity scene on Tokay Boulevard between Midvale and Segoe. It's sort of a Malthusian population explosion of worshipful illuminated sheep.

They're hard to photograph: If you come in close for more detail, you lose the widescreen kitsch grandeur of the entire scene. If you photograph the assembly in total darkness it doesn't read right, but the lights don't get turned on till it's nearly dark, so you have to come at just the right moment. And then everything has to go right. As usual, it didn't -- I had left the lens on the macro setting from an earlier photo, so the focus is a bit softer than I would have wished. Next year...

(Click on photo to enlarge in Flickr.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday light show at the Overture Center

I was walking down State Street in Madison after sunset when a pillar of light in the lobby of Cesar Pelli's Overture Center for the Arts caught my eye. I went in and got a belated look at their holiday decoration, a pillar of light ascending to the atrium dome. It had a science fiction feel to it.

Beam me up, Scotty!

Ascending to the Starship Enterprise.

Caught in the Chronosynclastic Infundibulum.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Dr. Jack Kammer's Annual University Avenue Tree Lights Display

Rainbow of Holiday Lights Along Railroad Right of Way
One individual really can make a difference. In 1986, Madison dentist and UW-Madison alum Jack Kammer planted 228 arborvitae trees next to the railroad right of way along the 2700 block of University Avenue. It took awhile for the trees to grow up, but in 1995 the fun began. His website states:
In addition to his professional accolades, Dr. Jack is no stranger to his community. His annual University Avenue Tree Lights display has become a local tradition since 1995. Every late November for a decade, Dr. Jack dons his 'Santa' cap for Madison by stringing over 120,000 holiday lights on a beautiful row of 228 arborvitae trees three and a third football fields long which run parallel to University Avenue. Dr. Jack planted the trees eighteen years ago, and continues to maintain them to an identical height of 6-7 feet for his impressive display each winter.
The lights are a magical part of the holiday season in Madison, and I'm sure I'm not the only Madisonian who alters his driving route this time of year to pass them regularly. A few years ago he started phasing in energy efficient LED lights, and since last year, they've all been LED lights. Some of the expensive, hard-to-find colors regularly got swiped. That might have discouraged a lesser man, but not this dedicated fan of winter lights. Thank you, Dr. Jack!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Wishing You a Merry Ho! Ho! Ho! Rather Than an Oh! Oh! Oh!

Wishing You a Merry Ho! Ho! Ho! Rather Than an Oh! Oh! Oh!
Several years ago, this scene brightened the last stretch of my homeward bound commute. It was on Drake Street in Madison, in an area with a lot of student apartments. The painted plywood figures seemed to have been made by a student with a flair for woodworking. For four years or so, the figures appeared after Thanksgiving and were illuminated through Christmas. They always made me smile about all the mishaps of the season, funny when they're not happening to us. Haven't seen them for a few years now. I always assumed their maker graduated and moved on.

Here's hoping your holidays have more in common with the former spelling than the latter.