Sunday, January 25, 2015

A (3D) Model Teacher

by Drew Martin
Hands down, my favorite teacher of all time was Ann Hamilton, with whom I studied art at the University of California at Santa Barbara in the late 80s/early 90s. I love this picture of her taken by Bob Debris during that era.

This morning I set out to try to make a small figurine of Ann as pictured in the photograph of her but my model had too many mistakes and it would not properly "slice" in my 3D printer software.

I decided to simplify it so I took off the hands that were causing problems, as well as the head of rushes, which was even more of an issue. Then I sized it up and made a cavity so it could be used as a vase.

In the end it worked out well. I was still able to print part of the model I had originally set out to make and now it has got some more life to it.

Click here to 3D print this vase from my Thinigiverse post for it.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Printed Matter at the 80 WSE Gallery

by Drew Martin
I just ended my last post thinking about a 1930s hand-cranked press, which was relevant to politically active artists of the show who could make copies of their work to "get the word out." 

In a way, this manual aspect of that show continues down the street, unbeknownst to its curators. If you leave NYU's Gray Art Gallery, hang left and walk a block south on Washington Square East you will find the 80 WSE Gallery. The current show, Learn to Read Art: A Surviving History of Printed Matter, is up until February 14. The exhibition is a physical timeline of the artists' book organization Printed Matter, established by the likes of Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt, and others.

From the galleries press release:

As a non-profit institution that has always been located within New York City’s gallery districts, Printed Matter has remained unique in its ability to democratize the field of contemporary art. In their space, books by Ed Ruscha sit next to zines by unknown young artists from rural parts of the United States and heavy metal guitar players perform while high profile art collectors browse alongside high school students. This sustained and evolving notion of democracy is at the core of the organization’s work.

That being said, in a back room of the chockfull-of-art-books/magazines/zines gallery is a big workshop room were a handful of artists-in-residence create a range of works, which are sold in the front of the gallery. Exit through the gift shop, in a good way.

What I liked as much, is a mini exhibition space at the 80 WSE Gallery, which has up a show until February 5, Re[intent]ion: Adaptation +Subversion of the Wearable.

The piece that I really like there is Brincos, an art-shoe project that speaks about migration. The shoes were “designed” for Mexicans trying to cross the border into the United States.

Judi Werthein (Argentinian, b. 1967)
Brincos, 2005
Mixed media

These sneakers are the result of the public art intervention Brinco (“jump” in Spanish)…Designed to aid migrant workers when crossing the Mexican/U.S. border, the shoes include a flashlight and a compass, a map of the border region imprinted in the insole, and a pocket on the tongue.  The sneakers are manufactured in the colors of the Mexican flag; they also feature the eagle that appears on the US quarter, as well as the Aztec eagle, which signals the point of origin of the migrants. The picture on the back heel of the shoes depicts the Patron Saint of Migrants in Mexico.

One thousand pairs of Brincos were produced in China, with half of them given for free by the artist to possible migrants preparing to cross the border, while the rest were sold at a boutique in San Diego for $250 a pair.

Black History Omitted: Peter Schjeldahl White Washes the Red Decade

by Drew Martin
After reading Peter Schjeldahl’s Jan 26 New Yorker article, Left Turns, on Jan 20, I decided to have a look at the show he reviewed: The Left Front, Radical Art in the “Red Decade,” 1929-1940, which is up until April 4 at the Grey Art Gallery of New York University. The gallery is only a ten-minute walk from my workplace so I stopped by during a lunch break.

My first question was whether or not Schjeldahl had actually seen the show because his article is more a summary of the gallery’s press kit, including what he calls their "handsome brochure," than what I believe one should take away from being there in person. The most glaring omission is that Schjeldahl makes no reference to the African American presence/subject matter, which includes some of the strongest pieces. This oversight surprised me because the show opened a week prior to Martin Luther King Jr., Day and leads into February, which is Black History Month. Even the press kit includes a large reproduction of one of the most poignant pieces, Christ in Alabama by Prentiss Taylor. Taylor, a white artist is pretty radical to have made such a work in 1932. It depicts a weeping black woman (a Mary figure) next to a standing black man, whose arms are raised up in the air. There is a white cross behind him so his gesture of submission to god doubles as a crucifixion. I had always seen this gesture as just a submission to god or a welcoming of a congregation; is it actually a gesture of crucifixion? I had never considered that before but this piece makes me think so. As does the lightly written line under the image: Christ in Alabama  - “Proof.” Does proof mean that it is just an early run of this lithograph, or is it actually part of the title? Is he saying that this black man’s suffering is proof of Christ’s presence in Alabama through his ability to endure an extension of slavery, referenced by the blooming cotton seeds opposite the crying woman? 
Or is Taylor playing on both meanings?

There are a couple other images by Taylor, such as Scottsboro Limited, where a telephone pole assumes the role of the cross, above a mass of young, black men. They represent the “Scottsboro Boys,” nine black teenagers accused of raping two, young white women in Alabama in 1931. Their all-white jury trial and attempted lynching was an inexcusable corruption of justice. All but a twelve-year-old among them were convicted of rape and sentenced to death but with help from the American Communist Party, the case was appealed. Even after one of the young women confessed to fabricating the story, the jury of a retrial came up with a guilty verdict. The case went to court three times and charges were eventually dropped for four of the nine defendants. Sentences for the others ranged from 75 years in prison to death.

A work that makes an even greater visual impression than Taylor’s lithographs (but hard [for Schjeldahl] to see in the tiny thumbnail in the press kit) is Mitchell Siporin’s Let America Be America Again, from 1936. It is tempera on panel and even if you were blind in one eye and had bad vision in the other, you would still take note of this work for its strength, and not to mention its "handsome" white gold leaf frame. How this work could go unmentioned is beyond me. 

“…Let American Be America Again, was also a rare collaboration between artist and poet. Langston Hughes, known as the poet laureate of the Harlem Renaissance, was the most widely recognized black writer in America. A strong communist sympathizer, he agitated on behalf of the Scottsboro boys, traveled to the Soviet Union, and was the figurehead for the Communist front organization, the League of Struggle for Negro Rights. Siporin and Hughes had much in common: politically radical, proudly Midwestern, and passionate admirers of Whitman and Sandburg, they were ideally suited to work together.

Siporin’s painting...portrays a diverse cast of disenfranchised countrymen: white, black, and native-American; male and female; adult and child. The visual anchor of the composition, a kneeling figure...provides the political focus of the work."  source

Another thing that surprised me about what Schjeldahl dwelled upon was the color lithograph by Bernarda Bryson Shah, The Lovestonite. He calls it the “one outright funny work in the show.” A side-step away, on the same wall, however, is an even more comical work by Elizabeth Olds titled, Picasso Study Club. Olds was the first woman to receive a Guggenheim fellowship (1926). The painting satirizes the limelight on Picasso at the time and contrasts the elitism of galleries and museums with more popular art forms.

Included in the show is Alex Tophcevhsky’s print press from the 1930s. Perhaps most viewers pass by it as a curious timepiece thrown into the collection but as a new owner of a 3D printer with a good understanding of the potential this new technology has, this metal, hand–cranked press made me realize not only how modern and empowering that reproduction device was to many of the artists in the collection, but how these works of various media were all very hands-on.

Daily News Delivery Truck Gets Stuck in Snowbank Because of Low Readership!

by Drew Martin
It sounds like a cheap headline: Daily News Delivery Truck Gets Stuck in Snowbank Because of Low Readership! but here is what happened.

I got up this morning at 4:30am, did sit-ups for half an hour and then shoveled snow for two and a half hours from our steps, driveway, and corner property sidewalk. Then I went for my run. I love to run after a big snowfall because the streets are soft, it is quiet, and everything has transformed overnight into fluffy, white objects.

On the way down the steepest hill I meet a desperate man trying to get his delivery truck out of a snowbank. It was a delivery truck for the Daily News. The side door was rolled open but there was only one small stack of papers. I broke off some evergreen tree branches, put them under his tires for traction, and pushed. Another man stopped his car, got out, and helped. The hill was too steep to push him forward so we pushed his truck sideways, into the road, and then I advised him to go back down the hill and told him an alternate route that was less treacherous to get to the place he was trying to drop off the papers.

He was extremely thankful, and explained that because readership of the paper is down, his truck did not have the weight it needed to have a grip on the road.

I continued on my run, went up another hill and took this picture. No news is good news.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

George Takei: Beneficiary Of His Own Optimism

by Drew Martin
What do King George VI, Rodan, the Sulu Sea, and a gay and lesbian running club in California have in common? The answer is George Takei, who is best known for his role as Hikara Sulu, a helmsman on the USS Enterprise in the original Star Trek series. Although he was part of the main cast, he was one of the less developed characters. Surprisingly, unlike his more dominant counterparts such as William Shatner, and Leonard Nimoy, Takei’s stardom gets brighter and brighter as his fanbase expands.

Takei, who was born in America to a Japanese family, was named after King George VI because his father was an anglophile. Ironically, Takei is famous for his deep voice and articulation while King George VI was the stammering leader, more recently popularized in the 2010 movie, The King's Speech.

Takei's family endured hardships and humiliation throughout and after WWII when they were forced to live in internment camps in Arkansas and California, and then turned back out to a biased postwar United States. While he was destined to a life in the limelight, some of his early roles, to his dismay, included playing stereotypical Asian characters, and he even did the voiceovers for the Japanese monster film, Rodan. His most famous performance was as Sulu on Star Trek. When the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, wanted to name this pan-Asian character he choose the name of the Sulu Sea because it touches multiple shores.

Takei has been with his husband Brad Altman (pictured top, lower right) since 1988, whom he met in a gay and lesbian running club in California. They married in 2008. Takei is a proponent of gay rights (It’s OK to be Takei), and has been active in politics, human rights, and Japanese-American relations. One of the less predictable twists of Takei’s life has been his social media success. He currently has more than 8 million likes on Facebook. 

I watched a documentary last night about Takei, To Be Takei, which is an intimate look at his personal and professional life. He speaks about gaman, the Japanese term for enduring with dignity, and that he does not believe in negativity. He also explains what it was like for him to be in the closet; the façade and the layers of tension. He likens the barbed wired fence of his internment camps from his childhood to the obstacles people have put up against gay people. It is difficult to separate the thinking of his Buddhist upbringing and the philosophy he absorbed from Star Trek: infinite diversity in infinite combinations. I liked most his comment that he is the beneficiary of his own optimism.

Watch the trailer for To Be Takei:

When asked in the documentary what his favorite episode was of Star Trek, Takei quickly offered his feverish role in Naked Time:

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Opening a Can of Wormholes: Speaking to Your Children About the Future, As in Sci Fi

by Drew Martin
At a certain point in children’s lives, especially the teenage years, parents should sit down and talk to them about the future. I do not mean about higher education, choosing a career, marriage, buying a home, life insurance...etc. I mean they should talk to them about the future, as in science fiction.

Think of it as opening a can of wormholes. Parents will learn infinitely more about their kids' fantasies and their young, creative minds by exploring the science fiction genre than by asking run-of-the-mill questions that will only yield one-word answers or a shrug of their shoulders such as "How was school today? What did you learn today? What are you thinking about?"

Last night, as I was home with my three kids while my wife worked an evening shift, I asked my 14-year-old son (who answers everyone question with the word "ish") about time travel. To my surprise he launched into a very eloquent response about how in the future there will be one language, which will be shared by humans and computers; a special coding language that will replace the languages of our planet and existing computer languages.

Then I offered my own poor-man’s guide to time travel that I was contemplating earlier in the day, which led to the evening discussion. I mused that one way to time travel back in time is to show up an hour early for a party to which you were invited and you can see what the place is like before you are supposed to be there. Many of us have shown up early or arrived late for something but we are so embarrassed or miffed by the misstep that we do not take in the moment and look at it as a type of time travel. For a culture so interested in the idea of time travel it is interesting how militant we are about being on time and how being late or too early, being in the right (or wrong) place at the wrong time, and being born at the wrong century are all negative.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Not So Brave New World: A Cartoon Is Not Just A Cartoon

by Drew Martin
The murders in Paris last week and the fire bombing yesterday in Hamburg in reaction to profane cartoons published by newspapers in both cities, launched a public outcry, and with that a bolstered defense of freedom of speech.

There are no grounds for taking another's life, and with that I could never condone the attacks but I am equally shocked that people want to continue flaunting images that sparked the violence. They are not just cartoons. Many of the images are obscene, racist, and incredibly offensive messages.

Humor is a great social relief valve when it is self reflective and self humiliating. No one used this better, and with such a high level of intelligence, than Monty Python, who ridiculed British culture. But when it is directed across borders or inwards, at a minority group, then it works very differently and becomes hate speech.

In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. source

The only time this is overlooked is when a minority yields it as a payback to a majority who did them wrong, but only when the majority can digest it and absorb it as a final confession, and acceptance of their actions in lieu of a sincere apology or proper retribution.

There is also something wrong when freedom of speech is used as a shelter for extreme insults. Freedom of speech and freedom of press were abused in this instance because it ignored the duty attached to it, which is to speak sensibly and decently.

In the United States the Supreme Court has ruled that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech..." but it is not an absolute right and limits are defined for dangerous speech, slander, and public morality, which keep in check threatening language, harmed reputation, obscenity, and profanity. The cartoons crossed many lines. This is not a matter of censorship, or self-censorship, but rather human decency and the sensibility of a professional editor. Instead of empathy and sensitivity the papers decided to cash in on shock value.

It also has to be understood that an image, especially a cartoon, which in many ways is more intentional than a photograph, works very differently than speech and written words. Sometimes it becomes the very thing it is trying to depict. One of the interesting distinctions of what one can and cannot say without crossing the boundary of hate speech is that one can freely profess a hatred for a religion, abstractly, but not for the people in the religion. It is the responsibility of the cartoonist to not cross that line and to understand that you cannot illustrate a person of a faith and try to pass it off as a metaphor for the concept of the faith.

Friday, January 9, 2015

These Diets Are A Changin: Leftover Food Expressions

by Drew Martin
If you are the bread winner of a family, that means you bring home the bacon. And if someone says you are la crème de la crème or calls you la leche, then you should feel pretty good about yourself. For a society that lectures how these foods are out to kill you: gluten...pig fat...artery clogging cream, and lactose laden milk, we still hold on to a lot of frowned upon edible expressions.

The bring home the bacon expression reminds me of this Enjoli perfume commercial from 1980 I remember watching when I was 10 or 11 years old.

Which was derived from Peggy Lee's original version from 1963, which has no mention of bacon, though it does of lard.

The lyrics for the commercial and the original song are below:

Enjoli commercial:

'Cause I'm a woman! 
I can bring home the bacon! 
Fry it up in a Pan! 
And never let you forget you're a man! 

(male announcer voice) Give her Enjoli, the 8-hour perfume for the 24-hour woman.

I can work til 5 o'clock.
Come home and read you Tickety-Tock.

(husband's voice) Tonight I am going to cook for the kids.

And if it's lovin you want I can kiss you and give you the 
shiverin' fits.
(male announcer voice) Enjoli, the 8-hour perfume for your 24-hour woman.

Peggy Lee original:

I can wash out 44 pairs of socks and have 'em hangin out on the line
I can starch and iron two dozens shirts 'fore you can count from 1 to 9
I can scoop up a great big dipper full of lard from the drippins can
Throw it in the skillet, go out & do my shopping, be back before it melts in the pan
'Cause I'm a woman! W-O-M-A-N, I'll say it again

I can rub & scrub this old house til it's shinin like a dime 
Feed the baby, grease the car, & powder my face at the same time
Get all dressed up, go out and swing til 4 a.m. and then 
Lay down at 5, jump up at 6, and start all over again 
'Cause I'm a woman! W-O-M-A-N, I'll say it again 

If you come to me sickly you know I'm gonna make you well
If you come to me all hexed up you know I'm gonna break the spell
If you come to me hungry you know I'm gonna fill you full of grits
If it's lovin you're likin, I'll kiss you and give you the shiverin' fits
'Cause I'm a woman! W-O-M-A-N, I'll say it again 

I can stretch! a green black dollar bill from here to kindom come!
I can play the numbers pay the bills and still end up with some!
I got a twenty-dollar gold piece says there ain't nothing I can't do
I can make a dress out of a feed bag and I can make a man out of you
'Cause I'm a woman! W-O-M-A-N, I'll say it again 

'Cause I'm a woman! W-O-M-A-N, and that's all.

Monday, January 5, 2015

You Can Never Go Home Again Movies

by Drew Martin
Thomas Wolfe's (one of my favorite writers) title You Can Never Go Home Again is a perplexing phrase, and one that sideswiped me earlier today when I finally was able to hook up my old Panasonic video camera to our flatscreen and look at a couple tapes from the early part of the millennium, when our first two (of  three) kids were toddlers. The initial feelings of magic and joy from the audio/visual time travel were met later with a general feeling of depression that was generated from the overwhelming flood of emotions and contrasts: we were younger, had less sleep, looked happy then too, had less money, less clutter, etc. It was after our rickety house was freshly painted but before we renovated it, and it was before 9/11. And yes, the grass in the backyard footage was greener (and there was much more of it). It is great having footage from the past but there is also something so haunting about it. I used to love when my father would set up the 8mm projector in our house and we would watch our old home movies on a white wall (with the nail, of the frame that was removed for the makeshift screen, still protruding). The sound was the clattering of the film feed, and there was a smell of the hot projector bulb. Seeing home movies as a kid fueled my childhood and made me feel complete.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

An Object of Beauty

by Drew Martin
One of my recent light reads about art was Steve Martin's An Object of Beauty. I actually took it from a lonely, makeshift library in my parents' church, which I attended on my father's 75th birthday in November.

The summary provided by the publisher reads "Steve Martin's latest novel examines the glamour and the subterfuge of the fine art world in New York City."  The feeling I got while reading it, however, was a kind of Art World 101 but not as in-the-know as Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World. And this is not an introspective book about art for artists as is Anne Truitt's Day Book or Lawrence Weschler’s A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin, but rather more like a showcase of Martin's peripheral experience as a collector and his understanding of art as a final commercial product, which might also have the benefit as something pleasing to look at.

That being said, I enjoyed reading it for Martin's casual understanding of the art market, which is greater than my own, and the book itself is nicely designed. What works is the main character, Lacey Yeager, a young, sassy, smart (but not intelligent), millennial go-getter who, less politely, could be classified as an art whore. Martin uses her flirtatious personality the same way she does, to get our attention.

What does not work (because it is totally unnecessary) is the fizzless character Martin dons for his guise, a young art writer named Daniel Chester French Franks, who wants to write about art clearly, and idolizes (as does Martin in real life) The New Yorker's Peter Schjeldahl.

While Martin and Schjeldahl are absolutely right about the befuddlement of bad art writing, Schjeldhal is a little too smug in his assertion that artists should, in his words, “shut up” and let him explain their work. Martin’s shortcoming is that in his attempt to write clearly about art he ends up dumbing it down. But while the reflections within the novel do not work the way he wants them to, what does work is the use of the novel to explore a theme of art in a way that none of the aforementioned books can envelope. In this regard, An Object of Beauty is very much like The Devil Wears Prada, only that the fashion backdrop is swapped for one that shows us some characters you might find in auction houses and galleries.

What I would liked to have seen less of in this book is Martin's attempt to create hype around a hip, trending fictitious artist named Pilot Mouse who has a Banksy-like (yawn) aura to him. And I would liked to have seen more of the character Martin eventually and romantically pairs up with Yeager, an FBI agent investigating some of her dealings; not his wham-bam-thank you-ma'am visits to her gallery office, but rather his understanding, and one could say appreciation, of art through his agency's training, with which he can carry on a post-coital conversation about the varnish finish of a painting.

Likewise, regarding the artists he focuses on, Martin does better with the lesser knowns, and if he does not stray too far from painting. Instead of trying to work out why Warhol is important, I enjoyed more his writings about Milton Avery, Rockwell Kent, and Giorgio Morandi. 

I am glad I just now saw that Amy Adams was cast for the movie version to play Yeager, otherwise I would have not been able to see the character as anyone else. I do not know where the movie is at this point. The announcements about it going forward are a couple years old, without any further mention of the project being delayed or abandoned. Adams would be a good choice, and I would love to see it made into a movie although a lot of this material was already covered in Boogie Woogie, which came out at the same time as Martin’s book.


by Drew Martin
One of the first surprises when we bought our 140+ year old house 15 years ago was that the stiff, green carpet that covered the stairs was hiding a dilapidated staircase beneath it. The ancient treads sagged like rubber playground swing seats, and were covered over with pieces of brittle plywood. I ripped up the carpet, and rebuilt the stairs but the new standard treads are thinner and narrower than the old planks so I had to do some additional trim work. Somehow this turned into a little art project: there are twelve stairs so I bought wooden letters that read,



It was a playful and subtle word game; when I first put the letters in place, they were white on white.

Over the years, however, the words were overlooked. A W fell off and disappeared. A U lost one of its sides. So last night I painted the backdrop blue, cleaned up the letters and 3D printed replacements for the missing W and the broken U, which are visible in the picture of the staircase. The new 3D print of the U is also detailed in the bottom image. I used Constantia Bold font at 40mm tall and extruded 15mm.

The initial idea was from the perspective of the stairs; what it knows of humans, always passing by in a hurry - up, down, up, down. I am sure it also had to do with the title of the book/movie/play Up The Down Staircase. The book, by Bel Kaufman, was published in 1965 and was on The New York Times Best Seller list for 64 weeks. It is a story about an idealistic English language teacher at an over-crowded, inner-city high school in New York.

Click here to 3D print a full set of these letters from my related Thingiverse post.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Graven Images and a Birthday Buddha

by Drew Martin
I remember this like it was yesterday: I was a tween/young teenager and my father had asked me for some feedback on a gift he had just bought his brother/my uncle for his birthday (or perhaps it was for Christmas). We were standing in our laundry room when he unwrapped a small, golden Buddha statue. I thought it was so strange and bizarre looking that I suggested he return it for something else. He did; a safer, wood inlay picture of a sailboat.

I have always felt bad about my reaction, and I cannot fully understand it to this day. It was at a time where I appreciated sculptures but I think it felt too occult to me. The town I grew up in was mainly Catholic and Jewish, while I was raised Protestant.

For this Christmas I sent my uncle a small cast iron Buddha in memory of this reaction, more than thirty years ago. What had bothered me the most about the incident was knowing how much more my uncle would have liked the statue than the sailboat picture. We spoke on the phone yesterday and I relayed the story to him. He asked me if it was because I was Christian. I never have felt very religious but the fact that I was raised in bare Protestant churches had a lot to do with it. I was always shocked when I saw religious statues in cathedrals, or objects and ornamentation in churches and synagogues. At that time I had not been in a Buddhist temple. The most we had was the minimalism of a bare cross, and stained glass windows but never a carved human form, which seemed excessive, if not grotesque.

Around that same time I spent the summers camping as a  Boy Scout for two weeks up in New York state. We did not have electricity and most of the structures in the region were canvas tents on wood platforms. Religious services were held outdoors. Once I missed the Protestant service so I tagged along with another scout to a Catholic ceremony. The priest and the small congregation were making so many bizarre gestures with their hands, and kneeling that I ran away crying, thinking that it was some kind of devil worshiping.

I never understood the term graven image in the context of an idol. I thought it implied something serious, of the grave, or sorrowful, like a graven face. But it is a technical term meaning carved (as opposed to molten) and shares its origin with engrave, and graphic.

I found this explanation on a religious site interesting: 

The progression of idolatry in a pagan religion generally starts with the acknowledgement of a power that controls natural forces. The presence of the force is then thought to indwell an object, like a stone, or a place, like a mountain. The next step is altering a naturally occurring object, like a standing stone, a deliberately planted tree, or a carved Asherah pole and asking the force to indwell it. When the idolatrous culture has had time to contemplate the personality of the god, they then make corresponding physical images—a statue that looks like a woman or a relief carving that looks like an animal.

While I now like Buddha statues, I still appreciate the minimalist/conceptual approaches to religion that are less involved with graphic markers. That being said, it is curious how a kind of worship of images and sculptures has persisted in the art world even though the religious meaning of the objects have been drained away since the Renaissance. 

A Consolation Dream With An Active Volcano

by  Drew Martin
I returned to sleep after my early morning note about my Brazil dream, which I posted a few hours ago (because I couldn't sleep). I recently awoke from an even more vivid dream. This time I was on the road, traveling with my family and my parents, but I could not actually figure out where we were. It looked a little bit like Pennsylvania but it also had elements of Europe.

I walked away from our small hotel to take a stroll in the countryside and noticed the sky behind a distant hill turn a midnight blue. It reminded me of El Greco's
View of Toledo. I moved back up the hill towards the hotel because I wanted to take a photo, and frame the shot so that it would be an obvious reference to the famous painting. In the short while that it took me to ascend, a bunch of tourists had gathered to observe the changing sky. By the time I was among them, the sky had lightened and there was a beautiful rainbow. Then all hell broke loose and the hill had a volcanic eruption, which showered the region in mud pellets. 

I ducked into a little alcove and was spared from the filthy downpour, but still got messy. I realized everyone I was with was probably packing up to leave and that my father would be concerned about his rental car. I could not remember our room number so I found the somewhat hidden front desk, and a seated southern European man behind it kissing a deformed styrofoam head, which was decorated with a stylish little hat and had some elements of a face. 

He was taken by surprise but not embarrassed, and not very helpful. I returned to the narrow hallway by the lobby and saw a young American couple wearing swimming trunks and a bikini. Their healthy, youthful skin was covered in a thin coating of mud. They had apparently been to a local mud bath spa, related to the active volcano, and gave a funny look to all the guests running around who were worried about getting dirty.

A Wealthier Me Went to Brazil And All I Got Was This Lousy Dream

by Drew Martin
Before the holiday season I suggested that we all pop down to Rio for the holidays to visit my youngest son's friend's family who moved back to Brazil. Then I looked into flights: $1,700 each - times five of us. That plan got shelved, and we stayed back in our town in New Jersey.

This might have had something to do with a half-hour-long dream I had last night in which I stood in one place the whole time: the check-out line of a large, nondescript grocery store in Rio. The cashiers were all pleasant, young people but the process was bunda-backwards. 

There was something that resembled a cash register but the cashier only used it to enter some information for each product, which then spat out a green label with rounded corners that had the Portuguese word for the item in a black, bold Helvetica font. The cashier would stick the label on the item or on the outside of the thin, clear plastic bag that contained it. He would then turn back to the counter, lean over a little piece of scrap paper and scribble down the cost with a dull pencil, and add that to the accumulating sum. There were a lot of interruptions so it took a couple minutes to process each thing. It took so long that my first cashier had to be replaced, twice. I stood there, beside myself, wondering if it was a wise decision to buy so much fresh milk (four, gallon-sized containers) - that it would probably spoil by the time I got out of the store.

Finally, I asked if it would be easier to at least use a calculator. A woman came over, shouted something negative about Facebook and chided me for wanting everything immediately. The second cashier looked up from his manual calculations and convincingly said, "It's better this way."