Saturday, July 19, 2008
Aka 2008 Maxwell Street Days Summer Sidewalk Sale, the annual shopping and music extravaganza that brings thousands of bargain hunters flocking to Madison's State Street. For more than 30 years, the street that connects the Capitol Square with the UW campus has been turning into a mile-long shopping bazaar for three days in mid-July. I saw an estimate somewhere that Maxwell Street Days draws some 30,000 visitors. That would be 60,000 feet. Here are a few of them, taking to the street in a shopping daze.
Not everybody went to The Dark Knight in Madison last night -- it just seemed like it. This was the line at Star Cinema in Fitchburg.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
I was passing one of my favorite Madison parks when my eye caught what looked like a jet soaring above the early evening clouds -- until I realized it was a trick of perspective, and not a jet at all, but a model airplane at treetop level. But what happened to the engine? I'm not fond of the deranged snarl of model airplane engines, and was happy it had apparently conked out.
As I watched. it came circling back and floated to a stop near the feet of a young man in the center of the park. He picked it up by a wing and launched it again. Spinning around like a discus thrower, he heaved it into the sky as high and far as he could. That's when I realized it had no engine. It was a glider. Since it always returned to his general vicinity after riding the thermals above the park, it must be radio controlled. I walked over between flights. The pilot's name was Ben. It turns out that, although you can buy kits, Ben designed and made his own glider. He's been doing this about 10 years. He referred me to the Madison Area Radio Control Society (MARCS) for more information. MARCS members do powered flights at Kettle Field behind the Dane County Landfill on Highway 12. But sailplanes, as they call them, are flown at Paul's Turf & Tree Nursery in Marshall, east of Madison. (Check website for next date, as there have been postponements due to flooding.)
As I left the park, Ben waa still sending his glider soaring in lazy loops above the park. There was a wonderful serenity about the process. Each time the craft came gliding back, whisper quiet and magically homing in on its owner like a feather with a sense of purpose.
Monday, July 14, 2008
The object of their veneration: "Nail's Tales," the much-mocked work of public sculpture across the street at Camp Randall Stadium.
An infectious blend of indie rock and world music rocked La Fête de Marquette when the LA-based Cambodian-American band Dengue Fever took the stage Saturday. The band is on a North American and European tour promoting their newest CD, "Venus on Earth." It's part of an odyssey that began more than 10 years ago, when California rocker Ethan Holtzman visited Cambodia with a friend. The friend caught dengue fever (and recovered). Holtzman caught a passion for Cambodian rock of the 1970s and returned with a collection of cassettes and an idea (and a name) for a band.
In 2001 he formed a band with like-minded friends, and they looked for a singer in the large Cambodian community in Long Beach. They hit the jackpot with Chhom Nimol (shown after the band's Saturday night show), who had been a well-known singer in Cambodia and in 2000 moved to the U.S., where she started singing in Cambodian clubs.
The Boston Globe described her first meeting with the band.
"I think the first time I did not trust them so much," she says. She came to the United States in 2000, and her English remains heavily accented. "I was thinking, what are they doing, how come they care about Cambodian music?"The joyous, exuberant music we heard Saturday night has poignant roots. The mix of influences in the band's music came together in Cambodia 40 years ago, when the Vietnam War brought with it armed forces radio broadcasts of American and British rock, influencing local musicians, and giving rise to a thriving Cambodian rock scene -- which was shut down by the Khmer Rouge and their genocidal regime.
She brought an entourage to the audition and first practices. Her sister translated. Her friends sized up the band, their intentions, the lyrics of the original songs they proposed to translate into Khmer and have her deliver.
When Chhom arrived at the audition, the other candidates scattered. Chhom had been a big star back home after winning a televised contest in the early 1990s; her reputation was just as strong in the diaspora.
The bizarre pairing worked. Chhom grew comfortable with the band. "The first time we played together I was nervous," she says. "More nervous than before I came to America." But Cambodians and Americans alike grooved to her singing, high-pitched and melodic with overtones of Asian pop against edgy American guitars and keys.
After Cambodia recovered from the Khmer Rouge nightmare, the music was largely forgotten, both in Cambodia and the overseas diaspora. Drummer and producer Paul Smith described to the Globe what it was like to bring the music back.
The Western guys in Dengue Fever have thus been in the odd position of reintroducing Cambodian youth to some of the vintage music of their parents' or grandparents' time. In America, Smith says, he's seen thugged-out Cambodian gangsters start break dancing to the group's live performances. As for the chance to play in Cambodia in late 2005, he calls it simply "mind - blowing."
"We played in a shantytown, on an outdoor stage lit by old car lights, to 800 locals," he says. "We felt like space aliens coming out from a spaceship. It was one of the most gratifying experiences to have."
At the corner of East Washington Avenue and Pinckney Street, visitors to the 50th Art Fair on the Square walked between two state capitol buildings -- the real one in the background, and the miniature one astride the Madison isthmus in the decorative fountain at the corner. Madison's first "Sidewalk Art Show" featured 43 artists showing 50 works, and sales totaled $550. Five decades later, there are ten times as many artists showing thousands of works, and total revenues for the event, which benefits the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, were expected to exceed $2.3 million.