Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dan Clowes' whimsical fantasy homage to the book

We live in a time of unprecedented change in the book publishing industry, on the verge of the greatest shift in how people read books since the days of Gutenberg. Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader are just the beginning. The world is still waiting for a better, less expensive electronic book interface, but it's clearly coming. We're all waiting to see what it will look like, the end of more than half a millennium of books on paper being printed on presses and bound into collections of pages to be read and turned. That's why I love this cartoon by Dan Clowes, the cover of The New Yorker's current Summer Fiction Issue: In some distant imagined future, a little green man sits in the archaeological ruins of our civilization, amid the wreckage left by humanity in a landscape that nature is taking back. He is smiling, surrounded by broken digital detritus and reading an actual, physical book, printed on paper.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Test ride for the Concerts on the Square folding chair storage system

Test Ride for the Concerts on the Square Folding Chair Storage System
It works, and the chair didn't fall off: Biking to the Concerts on the Square is a great way to beat the traffic and the parking hassles (and take advantage of the Monona Terrace bike elevator). But slinging a folding chair over your shoulder can make for a less than optimal ride. We finally put some luggage racks on the back of our bikes. Now we can lash the chairs to the rack with room for a pannier full of picnic stuff. I tested a lashing system this afternoon that seems simple but functional, easy enough to undo and redo when we're in a hurry to beat the crowd afterwards. Rode it around a bit and it didn't budge. The series of six weekly concerts starts June 24. We're ready!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Biking on the Military Ridge Trail west of Verona and shepherding critters across the path to safety

Riding West Toward Verona on the Military Ridge Trail
We took a little ride on the Military Ridge Trail yesterday afternoon. The sun was mostly blocked by clouds but occasionally broke through. Riding along the Military Ridge Trail, we found ourselves shepherding critters across the trail so they wouldn't be bisected by passing bikes.

Don't Tread on Me!This little guy was enjoying the warmth right in the middle of the trail (click on photo to enlarge). When we used a stick to try to prod him into motion, he attacked it so ferociously we first thought he was a juvenile rattlesnake. But he doesn't look very lethal, no fangs were visible, and I suspect he was just a garter snake putting on a defensive display. Anybody know for sure? (We did get him off the trail by snagging him around the middle with the stick and flipping him into the grass.)

Wisconsin LobsterThis crayfish was making its way across the Military Ridge Trail back to the Sugar River on the other side. We gave him an encouraging prod now and then with a stick and stayed with him till he was out of harm's way. (I know, I could just have picked him up and moved him myself, but I suffer from an irrational fear that these guys will somehow reach around and grab me with those big pincers.) Bigger (about five inches, maybe a bit more) and darker than the ones I've seen before. After some amateur sleuthing, I'm guessing this is an invasive species, the red swamp crayfish, Procambarus_clarkii, indigenous to Louisiana. Anybody know for sure?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The weather was perfect this morning, so we rode our bikes to the Wednesday Farmers' Market

Wednesday Farmers' Market
It's not as large as its weekend cousin, the Dane County Farmers' Market, which stretches all the way around the Capitol Square on Saturday with hundreds of vendors. But the Wednesday Farmers' Market, just a block off the Square on Martin Luther King Jr Blvd., has an intimate, one-block sweetness all its own.

Bike ElevatorWe figured we would probably offend the bicycle gods if we drove to the Square during Madison's Bike to Work Week, so we rode our bikes downtown to Monona Terrace on the Southwest Bike Path. We took the Monona Terrace bike elevator to street level, and the Farmers' Market was just across the street when we came out.

Child TrainWe browsed the herbs, plants and flowers. Bought some veggies. Almost bumped into Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who had her eye more on the flowers than the foot traffic, as did we. And just before we left we had to stop for a train. A child train.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Trying to keep up with Mayor Dave and his gang of bikers in my car

Trying to Keep Up with our Biking Mayor in My Car
Interested bicyclists met up with Mayor Dave Cieslewicz this morning on Hillington Green to bike to work downtown via the Southwest Bike Path as part of Madison's Bike to Work Week.

Trying to Keep Up with our Biking Mayor in My CarSince I don't work downtown, I didn't take my bike, but I thought I'd try to keep up in my car, taking photos along the way. The general idea was to document the start, catch the bike mob at a few intersections and then photograph them at the finish line, Monona Terrace.

Would I be able to get there ahead of them? Which is faster during the morning rush hour -- a bike or a car? Find out at this time-stamped Flickr set. The photos are geotagged -- a frustrating exercise since Yahoo Maps doesn't show bike paths. But at least you can track the bikers' progress in a general sort of way.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Two decades after writing about it, I finally get to see (and photograph) FLW's Pew House for myself


Frank Lloyd Wright perspective drawing of the Pew House, from "Frank Lloyd Wright's Madison," Wisconsin Trails, September/October, 1988


My photograph of the Pew House from the Wright & Like 2009: Madison tour, June 6, 2009


In the fall of 1988, the UW's Elvehjem Museum of Art (since renamed the Chazen) mounted its biggest exhibit ever -- "Frank Lloyd Wright and Madison: Eight Decades of Artistic and Social Interaction." The show celebrated the fact that Madison was the only city for which Wright created designs during every decade of his long career, from his first year of independent practice, 1893, to the year of his death, 1959 -- some never built, some built and no longer surviving. Last Saturday I saw several of the survivors in the Wright & Like 2009: Madison tour.

Like many people, I was excited about the opportunity to tour the Pew House on Lake Mendota, which is very rarely open to the public. I also had a more personal reason. In 1988, I wrote a cover story for Wisconsin Trails magazine about the Wright exhibit. In preparation, I met with Elvehjem staff and selected the drawings we would use to illustrate the article. One of my favorites was the Pew drawing. We ran it across two pages, which is why there's a page break (the drawing, of course, is a single sheet).

The Pew House caught my eye because of its resemblance to Wright's famous Fallingwater. In fact, it's sometimes called "a poor man's Fallingwater," because of the way the house straddles a ravine and the fact that it was built on a tight budget, with salvaged materials. While Fallingwater bridges a stream, the ravine under the Pew House normally is dry, but storm runoff does flow through it (somewhat fancifully indicated in Wright's drawing, since there's no other evidence of a storm in the picture, and the water is a lovely pristine blue.)

I had the Pew House in mind when I wrote that Wright's perspective drawings excelled at showing the relationship of a house to its site in ways that are difficult to capture photographically.
In the exhibit, photos of Wright's buildings supplement the drawings. Viewing the drawings and photos together is a reminder that, in an age when the the camera defines so much of our reality, there still are aspects that escape the mechanical gaze of the lens.

It is nearly impossible to photograph an idea, which is why architects continue to draw -- and why Wright's drawings played such an important role in his career.
I've always wanted to see the lake side of the site for myself, viewing with my own eyes what I've only seen in this drawing and the occasional photograph. It's a hard site to photograph, because the best sight lines are compromised by vegetation, the contours of the land and property lines. As a result, photos really don't do a good job of capturing the way the house relates to its physical environment.

I ran into the same problems when taking my own pictures (when I could get a clear view around the outstretched cameras of my fellow visitors). The photo catches some of the horizontal sweep of the structure, and some sense of the luxurious woodsy greenery of the site. But the house is not a three-dimensional presence, and there's no sense of how it sits on the site.

One man captured it, with just some colored pencils and paper, some seventy years ago, when the house was just an idea in his imagination. I always wondered how Wright's drawing would stand up after a visit to the site in person. Would it still capture the way the house relates to its surroundings after all these years?

Now I know. It does.

Note: See more of my Wright & Like 2009: Madison tour photos here.