Saturday, July 12, 2008

The awesome, multitalented Dobet Gnahoré rocks La Fête de Marquette

Dobet Gnahore at La Fete De Marquette
If you missed Dobet Gnahoré (pronounced DOH-bay gna-OR-ay) at La Fête de Marquette last night, clear your schedule for Sunday -- you can still catch this awesome performer and rising world music star from the Ivory Coast at the Chicago Folk & Roots Festival tomorrow, July 13.

When Dobet Gnahoré took the stage on a warm, moonlit summer night, it was clear this was going to be something incredible. Nearly two hours passed in no time at all, as she rocked the audience with songs in French and several African languages, sometimes playing a thumb piano, sometimes drumming, sometimes dancing with a shaker. Her voice was haunting and soulful, especially when the songs alluded to the violence that has torn her native ivory Coast and forced her to relocate in France, where she now lives. When she danced she was athletic, electric, acrobatic and sensual. I ran into the limits of still photography when I tried to capture her beauty in motion. There's no way a single image can begin to do justice to this incredible young singer, musician, percussionist and dancer who won a BBC World Music Award in 2006. This set on Flickr is my attempt to show some of the many sides of a great performer that a single photo can't begin to show.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A new version of Christo's Running Fence for Madison's Wingra Park?

A New Christo Installation in Madison's Wingra Park?
Christo and Jeanne Claude in Madison? I wish. Months ago the city fenced off a section of Wingra Park behind an ugly plastic snowfence, ripped up the grass and started excavating. The project had something to do with protecting the lake from storm water runoff in the neighborhood, but work seems to have stopped for some reason. Right now, weeds are growing behind the fence, and it's kind of an eyesore -- except later in the day, when the afternoon sunlight streams through the fence. Then it looks as if Christo had come to Madison and constructed a successor to his famous California project, Running Fence -- an imagined work that glows in the sun and transforms Wingra Park the way the saffron-colored fabric of The Gates brightened New York's Central Park a few years ago. If only.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The awesome storm front that darkened Madison's skies early Monday evening

Storm Front Moving Across Madison Isthmus: John Nolen Dr.
A dramatic storm front raced across the Isthmus as I was driving home from work early last evening. I jumped out of the car and started photographing the dark, lurid cloud patterns. The wind was blowing so hard it was hard to hold the camera steady. This shot of the cloudbank moving rapidly across Lake Monona was taken in Brittingham Park, and I braced the camera against a tree. That's John Nolen Drive between the clouds and the lake.

Storm Front Moving Across Madison Isthmus: The BirdsThe birds were almost as dramatic as the clouds. When they front was just north of the city, the birds knew something was up. They exploded into the air just as the wind started to pick up. High above me they circled restlessly and called out to each other. Fortunately, the storm looked more dangerous than it was, at least in the Madison area. There was rain and quite a bit of lightning, but not much serious damage. (To get a better view of the birds, click through the photo to my Flickr photostream and then click on All Sizes.)

Monday, July 07, 2008

More fireworks? No, milkweed -- and we need more of it for those migratory wonders, the Monarchs

More Fireworks? No, Milkweed
We need more of these plants to keep the Monarch Butterfly life cycle intact. The annual migration to Mexico by these featherlight living aircraft is one of nature's wonders. In most species, migrations are led by veterans of an earlier migration, and this training of the young by their elders is something we can more or less understand based on our own experience. Not so with Monarchs, which are far more mysterious. The round trip spans several generations, whose individual life spans are shorter than the complete north to south and back north again trek. That's what caused the NY Times to refer memorably to migrating Monarchs as "leaderless orphans" a couple of years ago.

Madison's placebo buttons: Do they control traffic, or just create an illusion of control?

Madison's Placebo Buttons
We pass a number of these on the regular route for our bike rides, but of course they're all over town. You know the drill: You push the button, nothing happens, and cars keep coming. You push it again. And again. Nothing happens. Finally, the lights change, cars come to a halt, and you cross the street. But it occurs to you that the walk sign coming on had absolutely nothing to do with your pushing the button. You wonder if it's even connected, or whether it's a placebo button designed to make pedestrians feel they can control their fate, even if they can't really.

I've only come across one exception to this rule: The walk button at Wingra and Fish Hatchery really does work pretty well, bringing even heavy traffic on Fish Hatchery to a halt in a reasonable amount of time. But that only happened after some dedicated biker set up camp at the corner several years ago and collected signatures for a petition. Maybe we need more petitions.

Is the sun setting on tennis in America?

The Sun Sets on Tennis in America?
Madison tennis courts were far from filled on Wimbledon Sunday. Sure, there were some people playing today -- but in late in the afternoon of a sunny summer day, when the heat of mid-afternoon had started to wane, there was absolutely nobody except a nostalgic photographer on the courts at West High School. There was a time when all of Madison's many public courts would be jammed all summer long, but not now. It's no longer rare to see the melancholy sight of not just one empty court, but many. The popularity of tennis is waning in the U.S., which seems reflected in the nationality of the finalists in the Grand Slam tournaments -- the amazing Williams sisters to the contrary.

I used to play a lot of tennis, and the sight of an empty public court still triggers an atavistic reflex to grab it before somebody else takes it. But for my knees' sake, I'm laying off till I lose another 20 of the pounds I gained when I stopped smoking. Meanwhile, I'm contenting myself with tennis on television. Today I was rewarded with one of the greatest matches I've ever seen -- Nadal's epic 5-set, winning Wimbledon men's final battle with Federer, with all the suspense and reversals of fortune anybody could want. It was one of those matches where you really could say both players were winners, even though Nadal won the championship. After the match John McEnroe felt compelled to give Roger Federer an awkward hug, and you could see why he felt that way.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The best-known chef in Madison?

Madison's Best-Known Chef Is Not Actually a Real Person
Familiar Madison landmark: For more than half a century, the iconic mural outside Lombardino's Restaurant has been welcoming diners. There's no better place in town for that long, special meal on a special occasion -- great food and hospitality in a casual atmosphere.