Wednesday, November 29, 2006

it was 38º C in the shade yesterday...that's between 100 and 104º Fahrenheit for you yanks. I would have gladly drank death if it had come with ice cubes.

Monday, November 27, 2006

New president

Looks like Correa won for president of Ecuador yesterday. Castro and Chavez-lovers, child labourers and idealists, rejoice! Skeptics, stay tuned. Rightie Banana-lords with a surplus of chickens, weep oh do weep... it wont make up for having lost your third election in a row, but it will look great on camera.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Gerald and Jennifer

Two people to pray for. Two young souls going through times of change and pressure that could shape them into hard rocks or spakly diamonds. 16 years here and a turning point already. too young to make such decisions. one of them wants to shed a family, the other wants to find a brotherhood in a bad place...desperate. the holidays creep up on us here in Ecuador with preogressively rising temperatures and crazier schedules. Campfires and dinners, weddings and puppets, drama's and special meetings...topped off with a country wide bonfire, trip to the beach and a plane ride. forgive me if writings peter out and become less informative. these is just too much, but i think about you as often as ever.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"When time passes, its the people who know you whom you want to see: they're the ones you can talk to. When enough time passes, what's it matter what they did to you?" -John Irving, The Cider House Rules -------------------------------------- "What is hardest to accept about the passage of time is that the people who once mattered the most to us are wrapped up in parentheses" -ibid -------------------------------------- "It isn't likely I'll do anything very terrible. But I mean to have a little fun" "Fun!" Mrs. Frederic uttered the word as if Valancy had said she was going to have a little tuberculosis" -Lucy Maud Montgomery, The Blue Castle -------------------------------------- hey folks. have you ever had such dreams that scramble daily perceptions of what is important? have you ever lost yourself in the bog, only to grab hold of something completely foreign when you try and pull yourself back out...nevertheless attached to your now-muddy body? i've counted days down before. i count days down now with a mixture of everything you would expect. its a little less each time. a little less emotional, a little less hard, a little less interesting, a little less days and hours and minutes- shit! i wish i knew what you saw when you closed your eyes. what imaginary arms embraced you. what you summon to your mind to help you fall asleep at night. maybe you dont have to summon anyone at all, maybe you just drop into a snooze, like some people i envy. it has been harder and harder to sleep for me, lately. it takes time, it takes effort. it takes mostly imagination.

Friday, November 10, 2006

i burned a book once

I was 9 or 10. I remember it was a solemn ceremony. I believe I was the only one in attendance, my sister will have to confirm if she was or wasn’t there. I felt it was a very dark act, the burning of a book, and it had to be kept secret. My parents couldn’t know about it, they had probably given me the book and would want an explanation. If I had to explain why the book deserved to be destroyed so completely, then destroying it would be pointless. It was a shameful book (in my mind at the time). I can’t remember exactly what made it shameful, probably bad language and perhaps a sexual reference or two. I went to a park far from home, I wanted a place that was anonymous, that I had never been to before and had no reason to go to again. I tested a few matches on it, but got impatient and ripped it apart at the binding a few times, so the pages could burn faster. It was like watching someone be naked, or witnessing a crime. The book was about some girl. All I can remember now is that her being in high school, growing out her armpit hair and wanting to become student council president were major plot elements. I think at first I dealt with the book by blacking out the “bad words”, to protect my little sister from the scandal. I realized, though, that she would read it and know I had indeed read those censored words, and thus sinned. So it had to be burnt. If my sister was indeed present for that book burning, she hadn’t read the offensive material. The experience was thus less charged for her, I guess. I disposed carefully of the ashes afterwards, lest someone should discover my dark deed. I know I read a lot of Nazi books when I was younger, so maybe I connected this in my mind with historical books burnings. I believed in the power of words, and that destroying them was deeply spiritual. Of course, I would give a lot now to re-read that book and find out what so deeply offended me. I have read other books with strong language since, but that is the only book I burnt. I read John Irving and Vonnegut now, so my threshold for sexual references and strong language is pretty high. The only book that has ranked low enough in literary value to deserve a burning, in my opinion, was “The Rising”, but even that one lives on. I believe we donated it to some poor library. Strange that I buried this memory so long. But not strange that burning a book would carry such strong connotations within my book-filled, book-shaped and book-loving childhood.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A memory returned to me this week, somehting i hadn't thought about in a long time. It came back piece by piece, as I sat down to scribble about it, I'll record it here when it has arrived complete. I love the mind and the random gifts it gives us.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Birth of Modernism

Today, when I was waiting for the tea water to boil, I found myself at the living-room bookcase, paging through those big picture books that designers love to publish about each other. After looking at the Tibor Kalman book again and the Alexey Brodovitch book, and after thinking that I should call Sears and ask them if my propane stove should really take this long to boil a damn teapot, I came upon my well-worn copy of the tome of famous graphic designers, one of the big books that tells students in design-history classes about who went before us and about who, therefore, we are. I found myself stuck on the pages that chronicle the work of Walter Gropuis, one of the very first modernists, and that led to my rummaging around for the tome of famous architects, so that I could look at who architects say he was, and meanwhile the tea water boiled, and I absentmindedly turned off the burner. I began to think about Gropuis not as the icon we all studied but about who he actually was before he became an icon. I began to wonder what urged him to design, what drove him to make things. I found myself thinking that since he was in on the beginning of things, since he is such a lauded designer, and since he exerted such an influence on design in its infancy, what urged him to design might well tell us something important about how we design, and how we came to believe what our role should be as designers. If I could figure out the way he looked at the world, I might find a good place to jump into my search for the origins of our design perfectionism. By then, the tea water was stone cold. I had to start all over again, this time holding a tea bag in my teeth so as not to forget my main mission. Here are three important things about Gropuis’ early life. First, he was Peter Behrens’ assistant and shared studio space in that office with Adolf Meyer, Mies van der Rohe, and le Corbusier. Second, he served with distinction as a German cavalry officer during World War I. And third, he founded the Bauhaus, a radical reorganization of the Weimar school of arts and crafts, right after the war. When you read those three facts, you may have skimmed over the second one because it seems to have so little to do with design. But go back: it is the most important fact of the three. The first fact is preamble; the last is response; but the middle one contains Freud’s call to action, the designer’s call to action, the change that insured Gropuis’ everlasting place in the tome. If ever there were an experience that could change a nice, self-satisfied, middle-of-the-road socialist designer into an evangelical utopian idealist, serving at the front in World War I would be that experience. Some people don’t know much about World War I. It seems so long ago, and yet it’s not. My grandfather, the same man who sat and listened to me conjugate Russian verbs when I was thirteen, fought in World War I. But when I look at my students, I know that the war is as far away to them as the Crimean War is to me. It’s history: they recognize the name, it’s dusty and vaguely familiar, but it’s not related to life as we live it now. Yet for designers, that war is very important. It destroyed so much that it created the opening for a basic change in the way life would be lived in the west from then on. Here’s a quick summation: ten million soldiers died and twenty million were wounded in the four years of “the war to end all wars,” which was declared in 1914. The numbers don’t include the civilians who died, the children caught in crossfire. At the Battle of Verdun alone, a “battle” that went on for six months, 350,000 Frenchmen and 330,000 Germans died: 680,000 people. That’s about 3,778 people killed a day – that’s one World Trade Center a day, for six months, in one battle. Verdun – one battle in a long war – killed the equivalent of every single person in Manhattan. Imagine coming back to your nice Victorian home after that. Imagine just having lived through four years of watching your friends die hanging in the tangled barbed wire of no-man’s-land. Imagine yourself, hunkered down in your trench, listening them scream all night until the screaming stopped. Imagine coming home after that, putting on a dinner jacket for mama’s evening musicale, and listening to a matronly soprano singing “the last rose of summer.” how were you supposed to sit on your little gold ballroom chair, wearing your dinner jacket and sipping your digestif, after what you had been through, pretending nothing had changed? The war made Gropuis a reforming zealot. It made his friends reforming zealots. They would do anything not to go through that blood and chaos and futile misery again. And they blamed the Victorians for a lot of what they saw wrong in the world. They hated Victorian sentimentality. They hated the stuffiness and façade of bourgeois society. They hated the falsity of society as they knew it, and they wanted a radical change in the way society worked. They wanted to clear off the table with the sweep of an arm. “Start from zero,” as Gropuis used to say, erase the slate, begin again. Gropuis and his friends fought against anxiety and meaninglessness, fought against the dull, futile ignorance they had seen all around them at the front. But instead of turning to human connection, to love, as a path out of the darkness, they chose to build a new world out of the mud, to build a utopia that did not admit death and disease and rain and trenches and blood, did not admit the primal, brutal, unkempt side of people. They just pretended it wasn’t there. Now, I ask you. This man who started the Bauhaus, this great patriarch, one of the greatest influences on design in our time, did he design from fear or love? Natalia Ilyin is a Washington-based writer, graphic designer and design critic. Her first book, Blonde Like Me: The Roots of Blonde Myth in Our Culture (Simon and Schuster) was published in 2000. This piece is excerpted from her book, Chasing the Perfect (Bellerophon Publications, 2006).

Thursday, November 02, 2006

"Godamnit I told you this wasn't a date"

i got invited to a concert tonight, but i think i will stand the guy up, because I'm not sure if it counted as being asked out on a date...if it did, and he meant it as a date, then i'm terrified, and if it doesn't count as a date, then what's the point of going all that way on my night off and getting all nervous for nothing? rock solid logic for you, folks. yes, Katie, the guy is Erick villegas.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

At least to pray is left, is left O Jesus! in the air I know not which thy chamber is- I’m knocking everywhere Thou stirrest earthquake in the South And maelstrom in the sea Say, Jesus Christ of Nazareth Hast thou no arm for [him]? Dickinson conversation went late last night. i think we were all glad for it, though. sometims conversation just flows so fluidly, and its gets the the places you wanted it to get to without having to rush it. Cesar came overlast night. He lost his mom 3 weeks ago and i haven't really talked to him about it, but last night, around 11, he started to tell of the day that it was a tragic story. janna's tears flowed before his did, but his did come. The story wasn't over until 12. Before that, we had been listening to the three guys, Pedro, Galo and Cesar, talk about different ways they have seen people die (electrocuted, shot, hit by a truck) was mind blowing, for me at least, and i just wish there weren't so much hurt in the world. I mean, i've never seen anyone die, not even in a hospital bed...I've never been used as a human shield during a jail shoot-out, or had to sell everything to bribe a doctor to save my mom, or get arrested for searching for my sister past neighbourhood curfew. I've never had a dead man's blood on my clothes or seen a machete go through a high tension wire. So why do some get picked to suffer more? Bastión is a rough place to grow up. God forbid I ever idealize that fact, or make it sound like paradise. And may I never forget the gift.