Asking museum visitors for feedback… and getting it

The (awesome) Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark holds five restored 1000-year-old ships:

The museum also features seaworthy replicas on which visitors can travel in the summer.

One fun part of the museum was the feedback wall:

Dressing up is popular:

There is some passion for American culture:

The Vikings had only two gender IDs:

“Send Them Back” stickers in the adjacent parking lot:

I wonder what would happen if American museums allowed this kind of open feedback whiteboard!

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ARKEN: Copenhagen’s contemporary art museum

Some pictures from a summer visit to ARKEN, a waterfront concrete museum that opened in 1996.

The entrance…

The regular collection is heavy on Damien Hirst…

More exciting… Benedikte Bjerre built an airport conveyor system out of IKEA bed parts (she says “the work addresses our dreams and hopes of the good capitalist life and social mobility across global borders”):

The museum was doing a big show of work by Australian Patricia Piccinini:

Does your dog like to jump up and share the bed?

Can you explain this traffic accident to Hertz?

Is it fair to say that not all concepts for Little Mermaid sequels are successful?


Many of the artists claim to be concerned about “marginalised individuals and groups,” but how many of those folks will ever purchase or view a contemporary artwork?

Exit through the gift shop…

And then fold your big Danish frame into a tiny Danish car…

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Movie: The Last Breath

Apollo 11 is an interesting way to relive the first moon landing through documentary footage (restored and organized into a 1.5-hour experience).

The Last Breath (streaming on Netflix) is the flip side of Apollo 11. The mission is equally dangerous, but the direction is down into the sea rather than up into space. Instead of certain fame and possible fortune that astronauts enjoyed, the aquanauts of The Last Breath will receive a modest paycheck at best.

The movie involves a group of people who choose to live on a small ship being tossed around in the North Sea. (No gender IDs are provided explicitly, but male pronouns are used for everyone in the film who goes onto or under the water. This page shows that 0% of people certified to do the kind of diving shown in the movie identify as “women.” Therefore I will use male pronouns in this post.)

Being part of the crew is horrible, battered regularly by 45-knot winds and 20-foot waves. But the divers must live at 100 meters of pressure (10 atm) for 28 days straight, the monotony of living in a small pressure chamber broken up only by visits to the ocean floor. For 28 days they will breathe a mixture of helium and oxygen and depend on technologies such as diving bells, diving suits, and umbilical cords.

Typical of the Scottish understatement that permeates the film… Regarding the Donald Duck voice from breathing helium: “The first thirty seconds is always quite humorous. After that, the novelty wears off.”

I don’t want to ruin the suspense by saying more, but I recommend the film and would be interested to see comments from readers who have seen it. (Folks who don’t want any spoilers can refrain from clicking on the comments.)

Readers: Obviously the pay is going to be better than what one could receive working in a supermarket, but what else motivates men to take these kinds of jobs?

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Taxpayer-funded favoritism for one gender

There are approximately 58 gender IDs (NBC News story on Facebook). Yet government officials apparently feel comfortable saying that 1 out of these 58 is more important than the other 57.

Convicted (by NYT and Facebook) rapist and Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh: “I am proud that a majority of my law clerks have been women.” (NYT)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Justice Kavanaugh made history by bringing on board an all-female law clerk crew. Thanks to his selections, the Court has this Term, for the first time ever, more women than men serving as law clerks.” (Washington Examiner)

Here are the items that were featured in July 2019 at the front of the American Art Museum (Smithsonian, which receives $1 billion/year in taxpayer funds) gift shop:

What else did they have at the museum, you might ask? A 19th century sculpture of sleeping children embracing:

… and they also have another sculpture of two humans embracing. Before you look, see if you can guess to which of the 58 above-referenced gender IDs they might belong…

Louise Nevelson, famous for (a) being a great artist, and (b) explicitly saying “I am not a feminist” (she refused alimony, for example, and one pillar of modern feminism is getting regular paychecks from male former sex partners), is parked in the “Feminism in American Art” section:

And some works that don’t relate to gender ID at all, e.g., Nam June Paik’s Electronic Superhighway.

Circling back to the main topic… why is it okay to use taxpayer funds to promote one gender ID above the other 50+ gender IDs?

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Keep obscure languages (such as Irish) alive via free videogames?

My Irish host’s son is just finishing what we would call high school. At great cost to the Irish taxpayer and himself he is now fluent in Irish. I asked whether this had any practical value. “Not really,” he replied. “There are only about 80,000 speakers of Irish.” Had he ever used Irish outside of the classroom or organized immersion program? “No.” Would he be able to use Irish to shop at the local supermarket or any other nearby merchant? “Not a chance.”

Did the Irish language have any communication value? I.e., among those 80,000 speakers were there any who did not speak English? “Maybe somewhere on the Aran Islands you could find one person.”

How can he possible maintain his fluency under these circumstances?

One idea: Dedicate 1 percent of the current Irish instruction budget to developing video games and apps that require reading, writing, listening, and speaking Irish. Give them away free. Refuse to make a version in any other language, no matter how popular a game becomes. If successful, maybe young people in China will learn Irish so as to be able to enjoy the games.

Readers: Could this work? Would it be more cost-effective than other methods of keeping a mostly-dead language alive?

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Why don’t rock stars have dogs?

An Irish friend who is unaccountably fond of English music and English cars (haven’t the English in Ireland mostly been unwanted immigrants and/or oppressors/exploiters?) took me to see Rocketman. The subject is portrayed as lovelorn and alone in bed, partly due to others’ disapproval of his heavy use of drugs and alcohol and having had sex with a prodigious number of partners. Who would forgive this behavior? Not Elton John’s parents or friends, we learn.

Similar scenes were included in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Why wouldn’t the managers/handlers for these rock stars have set them up with loyal dogs as soon as their popularity began to soar? A golden retriever wouldn’t complain about a pop star’s need to ingest drugs or indulge in Roman Emperor-style sexual exploits. Perhaps a Bernese Mountain Dog on tour would reduce a pop star’s need to rely on groupies for companionship (or at least reduce the groupie count slightly by taking up space in the bed).

Enya has essentially complete control over her life and has organized it around companion animals, though not dogs (The Sun).

How was the movie? Friend’s review: “It glorified cocaine use. His only worry was if he would still be just as good when he came off it. It also glorified therapy. One trip to rehab and he was cured. That’s bullshit. They were always breaking out in song, like a 1950s movie.” He preferred Bohemian Rhapsody. (Wikipedia suggests that the movie was essentially based on the subject’s own perspective: “Elton John and husband David Furnish had tried to produce a film based on his life for almost two decades.”)

I thought the “have ordinary folks break out in song” elements were creative and interesting. I noticed that the discredited practice of heterosexuality was written out of the lyrics. “I miss my wife” in the “Rocket Man” song turns into “I miss my life” in the movie version. (Doesn’t make sense unless sung by a dead astronaut?) Also, as in Gillette’s toxic masculinity video, wisdom in the film comes primarily from the non-white-males, e.g., some African-American musicians helping Elton John realize his true potential as a flamboyant gay singer and a black therapist who turns him sober through the miracle of talking about his childhood (just as victimhood is being celebrated worldwide, we learn that Elton John was a major victim of emotionally abusive parents, at least according to Elton John (the parents are dead so can’t defend themselves); Elton John now describes himself as a “survivor”).

[Elton John was born in 1947 to parents who were both 22 years old at the time (the father in the movie, though, is given an elderly appearance). The standard of parenting back in the 1950s was much less exacting. The movie shows the father completely indifferent to the son’s spectacular success (a fact check), which does not ring true. Mom is passionate about having sex with a neighbor, reminiscent of the Specsavers Golf Course ad]

The dialog is anachronistic. For example, Elton John admits to the group therapy session that he is a “sex addict.” A pop star drenched in naked groupies was not considered an “addict” back in the 1970s, I don’t think.

Readers: Who has seen Rocketman? What did you think? And should every young rising rock star have a companion dog to keep him or her steady?

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Novel: Bright Air Black

Bright Air Black is a much more detailed imagining of Medea’s inner life than we get from the ancients (the element that she killed her own children was likely tacked on by Euripides; in previous sources she kills only her younger adult female rival with poison (and then the king/father of the victim dies accidentally from contact with the poison) and then her children are killed by an angry mob).

The male-named author (David Vann) is careful to offer his feminist bona fides before purporting to mansplain:

I first read Medea when I was an undergraduate at Stanford, in a year-long Great Works of Western Literature course (the final year it was offered). The instructor, Leslie Cahoon, was a classicist and feminist who shaped nearly all my future interests. Because of her I took a feminist thought workshop with Adrienne Rich, learned Latin and am currently translating Ovid, studied all of Chaucer’s works in graduate school, learned Old English and translated Beowulf, became interested in depictions of hell from Bede to Dante to Blake to McCarthy, and of course became influenced by the Greeks. My novels are all Greek tragedies, I’m a neoclassical writer, and it was a particular pleasure to try to bring Medea more fully to life after twenty-five years of thinking about her. So I want to thank Leslie for her enormous and lasting influence.

Medea is dirty. She has sex with Jason in public and surrounded by the bloody corpse of her brother. While sailing away with her father in pursuit:

I let him have me, she yells to her father over the water. Here on deck, in front of his sailors. The daughter of a king. Or what used to be a king.

Medea takes a piece of her brother, a thigh, heavy and tough, muscled, and licks blood from it, dark and thick. She spits, licks and spits again and again, three times to atone. Mouth filled with the taste of her family’s blood, and she throws this piece of Helios into the waves.

Greeks put themselves at the center of the world, but Vann reminds us that they were pathetic when compared to Egypt:

What she realizes is that they haven’t built the Argo. This is an Egyptian ship, somehow captured or given or bought. The Argo not something these people could have built. She looks again carefully at the wood worn smooth at the locks, walks back to the mast to see how the deck has chewed into its sides, walks back farther to see the rudder posts worn and infirm, loose. An old ship, not new. The bow and stern platforms gone, the heavy rope that runs the length of the deck, held up by forks, gone. Crude short benches added along the sides for the oarsmen to sit. But otherwise this is the same as Egyptian ships that have come to Colchis. She has given up everything to live with scavengers.

Vann writes a strong scene of Pelias and circle laughing at the tales of the Argonauts. It takes a long time before she can finally prevail over this foe, with the help of his daughters. I don’t think these details are in the ancient tales:

Your father can be made young. We can rejuvenate him. That’s the gift that will set you free. Asteropeia’s eyes open. You can do that? Bring another of your sisters, and bring an old ram. Tomorrow night. We must hurry, before the moon changes. I will make this ram young, and then we’ll do the same for your father.

What makes him old is in his balls, Medea says [to Pelias’s daughters]. Old ram same as your father. His children have taken his life. But if you break each one in your teeth and then spit into the cauldron, all that constrains him will be broken. This is how he will be made young again. Death will lose its hold. Peisidike looks at the dark meat in her hands, wet hide, testicles unsheathed and wrapped in vein or worse. But she raises this horror to her mouth, bites into a testicle, breaks it, and vomits onto the floor.

Medea with a long thin paddle made of wood stirs the great vat, pushes the pieces of the ram under, chants to Hekate in her barbarian tongue, song unintelligible to the sisters. Hekate, she calls. Tonight I kill a king. My sons will not be slaves. I will not be a slave. My husband will not be a slave. Tonight I kill a king and feed his balls to his daughter. Hacked into pieces with no burial, no funeral rites, fed to his family. Son of Poseidon cooked in a stew. The only great waves to form will be from whatever I stir. I will rule Iolcus, and all will be my slaves, and my sons will walk on streets of flesh. Torches, Medea says to Asteropeia and Peisidike in their ugly tongue. Light torches in the fire and go outside to pray to the moon, to Hekate, for this old ram to be made young. We must pray to Hekate until a young lamb emerges from the cauldron. That body is forming now, but we must help it along, help Hekate and Nute give birth in night.

There is a sexual relationship between Medea and a daughter of Pelias that the ancient Greeks probably wouldn’t have recognized.

The competition is introduced:

Jason held close between Kreon and his daughter, Glauce, who stretches her neck and tilts and coos and studies his arms and eyes and mouth. Young, very young, hardly more than a girl, and never made a slave or mother. Her only concern is ornament. Glancing at her own wrists, at gold bracelets, how they fall, folds of thin Egyptian cloth over her breasts. If her breasts were cauldrons, she would fall in, drawn by her limitless desire for herself, and Jason would fall with her. He speaks with Kreon and never sees him, sees only young flesh.

Their children will inherit Korinth and have a claim, also, to Iolcus, surrounding Athens. Kreon’s dreams, but Jason will want only that ripe young body and release from a wife who has been difficult from the first. Night without end. Rise and fall of breath, her sons’ hearts beating beneath her hands, feel of their ribs. Her own body engorging, filling with hate and hollowed, void under pressure increasing in her head and chest, unfairness so enormous nothing can be done. Jason does not return. Sounds dying away, no more music, no more shouts, quiet of night, and still no husband but gone to another bed. Medea’s breath fast, in panic, though she only lies here holding her sons. Glauce in some royal bed very close, only a few arm’s lengths away, lit in torchlight, baring herself for Jason, spreading her legs, untorn by children.

Jason is not a hero in this book:

I know who you are, bitter woman, butcher, barbarian. I’ve brought you to this civilized place. I’ll marry Kreon’s daughter, and our sons will have royal brothers. You should thank me.

Be grateful, Jason says. A woman is never grateful but always wants more.

Definitely recommended if you’re interested to see how an old story can be told in the modern style.

More: Read Bright Air Black.

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Storm King, Donald Trump, and DC-3s

An afternoon in the Northeast, occasioned by a friend needing a ride from KBED to KSWF.

Over Bradley Field in the Cirrus SR20

Parked in the family airplane area…

After a 13-minute ride in the crew car (Thanks, Signature!), the Storm King Art Center. (Note curved wall by Andy Goldsworthy and the all-glass ice cream sundae “folly” by Mark Dion.)

Learned something new about one of my favorite artists. Louise Nevelson sometimes used gold instead of black!

For the kids, another Mark Dion:

On to KOXC where a squadron of DC-3s are preparing to leave for Europe to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Then an easy flight home over Hartford, Connecticut:

Fuel burned: About 25 gallons (on the trip home, with a bit of a tailwind and the mixture set for lean of peak operation, the Cirrus was getting roughly 20 mpg).

On returning home, I found that Mindy the Crippler was #Concerned about the trade war with China:

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Don Giovanni by Boston Opera Collaborative

Mozart’s Don Giovanni is seriously out of step with our times. The producers at Boston Opera Collaborative realized this and posted a trigger warning on the door to the theater:

The original libretto, written without the benefit of the latest batch of Marvel female superhero movies, has Donna Anna’s honor defended (to the death) by her father. Mom is nowhere to be seen. In the modern B.O.C. version, it is a single mom who defends Anna at the cost of her own life, then comes back as a vengeful ghost to kill Don Giovanni.

The Boston Opera Collaborative’s update does not address one of the more problematic parts of the story for a modern audience, i.e., that nearly all of the women (2,000+) who had sex with Don Giovanni apparently did so voluntarily, attracted by his wealth and position or his fine words:

With blondes it is his habit
To praise their kindness;
In brunettes, their faithfulness;
In the white-haired, their sweetness.

As former Harvard Winthrop House dean Ronald Sullivan might be saying soon at Harvey Weinstein’s trial: “He had thousands of satisfied customers and just a handful of complaints.”

B.O.C. gives Don Giovanni (played convincingly by Junhan Choi) a modern way to reel in the females: he is a fashion photographer with a studio. He has a female enabler assistant (played silently, yet dramatically, by Felisha Trundle), just like a lot of the guys who’ve been #MeTooed. convincingly delivered the love/hate situation of Donna Elvira.

Sarah Cooper as Zerlina has some of the most troubling lyrics, delivered with an amazing voice and acting talent. In “Là ci darem la mano” she is considering abandoning her fiance for the just-met Don Giovanni because he is rich, has a fancy castle, and can raise her standard of living:

I would like to, and I wouldn’t,
My heart is trembling a little.
True, I could be happy,
But it could trick me again.

The only thing that she knows about this guy is that he is richer than the person she has promised to marry. Rich guy says “I will change your fate.” and she is coming around to the idea (“Soon…I won’t be strong anymore.” then “Let’s go!”), but Donna Elvira (Isabelle Zeledón; great), the spurned earlier lover, intervenes and proves Don G’s villainy by showing Zerlina evidence from a smartphone (texts?).

Her apology to Musetto (acted with appropriate frustration by John Bitsas) is what should generate a trigger warning. “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto”:

Batti, batti, o bel Masetto, Beat me, dear Masetto,
La tua povera Zerlina; beat your poor Zerlina.
Starò qui come agnellina I’ll stand here as meek as a lamb
Le tue botte ad aspettar. and bear the blows you lay on me.
Lascierò straziarmi il crine, You can tear my hair out,
Lascierò cavarmi gli occhi, put out my eyes,
E le care tue manine yet your dear hands
Lieta poi saprò baciar. gladly I’ll kiss.

The sets were spare, but reasonably effective. Quotes from men in modern headlines were projected during the overture. Big Harvey made the list and, of course, Donald Trump (full quote used: “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy.”).

As with previous Boston Opera Collaborative productions, I enjoyed not being one of 3,800 (Metropolitan Opera House seating capacity). In the age of 4K video and good microphones, I would rather see the big productions electronically and get up close to rising stars.

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Gender Bending Fashion show at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

If you need help completing your summer wardobe, our Museum of Fine Arts has a “Gender Bending Fashion” show through August 25.

Not sure what “Nonbinary” or “Genderqueer” mean? There’s a glossary placard:

Ready for inspiration next time you visit Amazon Fashion?

After you exit, there is helpful restroom tutorial:

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