Thursday, February 26, 2009

Grand Canyon

My family is considering taking an epic trip to the Grand Canyon next spring. An uncle came up with the idea (thanks Jim!) and now it has taken hold. I saw the Canyon about seven years ago, but would love to go back to the area. I love the American Southwest.

So, it's pretty cool that today is the 90th anniversary of Grand Canyon National Park. It was on this day in 1919 that President Woodrow Wilson signed a law setting the canyon aside as a National Park.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How Are You Doing Today?

I recently stumbled upon the How Are You Doing Project and I’m hooked. The project is brand new, just begun this month by Laura Mayer. It’s an audio art project that attempts “to recognize both the beauty in the everyday and the importance in taking the time to ask one another about our lives.” It works like this: There’s an 800 number you can call and leave messages answering the simple question, “How are you doing today?” Calls are recorded, edited (to add music and remove any identifying information left by the callers) and posted to the website. I listened to some of the posts today and it is amazing. Whether the caller is telling a long story about something they’ve been through recently, or just quickly saying they are doing fine, there is a strange but positive feeling that comes from listening to these anonymous people share little slices of their lives. As the website says, it’s “an exercise in everyday empathy.”

I really tried to get some samples to put on the blog, but it doesn't look like that's possible, so you will have to go to the website to listen. Which I really recommend.

The number is here: 1-800-737-6045. Call and let the world know how you are doing.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Literary Shenanigans

I love anything that borders on the ridiculous. Powell’s Books in Portland (well known as one of the best book stores in the country) is sponsoring some stimulating new bookish tomfoolery. Introducing the fifth annual Tournament of Books, beginning this year on March 9th. This is from the website:

We used to drink more than we do now. There’s no reason for it really except that we’re older and we go to bed earlier. We have reduced our number of waking nighttime hours, and as a result we are drinking less these days.

We mention this because the Tournament of Books is one of those concepts that only could have been conceived and subsequently executed by people who used to drink a lot but now drink considerably less. In the absence of too much alcohol, it never would have occurred to us that we should take 16 of the most celebrated and highly touted novels of the year, seed them in a March Madness-type bracket, conscript them into a “Battle Royale of Literary Excellence,” and, in honor of David Sedaris’s brother, present the author of the winning book a live rooster. And if we hadn’t eventually reduced our pint consumption, we never would have found the energy, desire, and increased number of waking daytime hours to actually do it. This will be our fifth year at this and if you ask the previous champions—David Mitchell, Ali Smith, Cormac McCarthy, and Junot Díaz—we believe they would tell you the Rooster is a badge they wear proudly on their highly decorated chests, somewhere between the ones for orienteering and basketry.

No author asks to have his work pitted against the work of another, but that is what all awards do, in effect. The Nobel Prize is an Olympiad of words. The Man Booker is the Premier League Championship of Letters. Everyone knows that, behind the scenes, the National Book Award is both arbitrary and brutal, sort of like Keeping Up With the Kardashians meets Ultimate Fighting. The Tournament of Books is every bit as arbitrary, but we have simply lifted the curtain so the reader can actually see the caged octagon in which the books meet, barefoot and snarling.

The list of books in this year’s tournament are here.
Additional information and printable bracket sheets are here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Art Most Wanted

I recently came across a very interesting art/sociology project that was begun in 1994 by two Russian-born artists, Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid. The artists surveyed people across America to find out what their art preferences were. Questions on the survey were along the lines of “What color do you like to see in a painting?” and “Do you prefer indoor scenes or outdoor scenes?” There were over 1000 responses. The artists then attempted to create a painting based on the preferences from the survey. Here is the result:

Americans preferred idyllic outdoor scenes with wild animals (not pets). They prefer family groups rather than individuals and they like blues and greens to be used throughout. You will notice that George Washington is present as well. This is because survey respondents overwhelmingly stated that if a famous person was including in the painting, they preferred it be a historical figure, not a contemporary.

Komar and Melamid then replicated the study in other countries around the globe. Results were generally very similar, which was a surprising finding. Here are a few of the Most Wanted paintings from other countries:

Denmark's Most Wanted

France's Most Wanted

If you are wondering about what the respondents disliked about art, Komar and Melamid created paintings to illustrate those results as well. Here are a few of the least wanted paintings:

America's Least Wanted

Denmark's Least Wanted

France's Least Wanted

The full set of paintings from the project can be viewed here.
Survey results from each country are here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

About Traveling

I’ve been thinking a lot about traveling lately, in preparation for my upcoming adventure. I’ve now been on four overseas trips—not a record by any means, but most people I meet seem to think that’s a lot (people of my own generation, a little less so). Each trip is a learning experience of course, regarding the area’s customs, landscape, history, and general feeling. But I also seem to learn a little more about travel itself with each new adventure. So here are some things I’ve learned about traveling, some new rules I have come to follow.

Full disclosure: most of these were discovered in cahoots (love that word!) with my co-adventurers Jaima and Gordon.

1. Always know how to say “thank you” wherever you are, even if it is the only word you know. This will earn you smiles from the locals (priceless!) and brighten your day, too.

2. It’s okay to eat dinner in your room every now and then. We had some wonderful restaurant meals in Japan, but some of our favorite food memories from the trip are the dinner sets we bought at the local 7-11 and took home to the guesthouse to eat. This kind of meal is just as ‘authentic’ as something you would buy at a fancy restaurant or from street vendor. It saves money, time, and energy too.

3. Upon arriving at your far-flung destination, I have found it is well worth the money to splurge on a taxi to the hotel rather than brave the local transit system. There is plenty of time to explore your transit options later when you are rested from the flight and more alert. You will feel a lot better about the new place if you don’t spend your first full hour there lugging your suitcase up and down flights of subway stairs and then around several city blocks searching for your hotel.

4. Go to the tourist office. I know, I know. You are protesting, “but that’s so tourist-y!” It is touristy. But the people who work in the tourist office really know what they are talking about. They know the city better than you do, better than your friend does, better than the guidebook does. They can tell you the best ways to get around, the best sights to see. Plus, they will give you free city maps and transit maps. It’s one moment of touristyness (not a word) that you won’t regret.

What about you, dear mysterious readers? What are your own travel dos and don’ts?