Oh, Van Gogh/Go Bocelli

Years ago, on first hearing of the immersive experience of artists, I imagined the wonders I might experience in Paris or New York City. And sure enough, Dallas was late coming to that game. Suddenly, Van Gogh was coming! Tickets were available, good because my default is that things I want to do are sold out. I purchased two in March, well ahead of the October event date. And with a certain discount, they weren’t expensive, good because my other default is that such things are expensive.

Two glitches: The app wouldn’t transfer my friend’s ticket to her easily. This was easily solved at the venue.

The second issue needs more discussion: Where was the thing to be held? The tickets said Choctaw Stadium, formerly Globe Life Field. Other sources—the newspaper, for example—gave an address in downtown Dallas, 507 S. Harwood. Was it the same event, different venues? Different events? How to distinguish? Google, I thought you were on my side!

The problem arises from the names of these two experiences. Immersive Van Gogh Dallas versus Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience. They are so close that my brain cannot seem to separate them even now. This link explains both, and it’s easy to see which one is favored. 40 pictures vs 8? The prices are comparable, but which experience (oops! copyrighted?) is better?

This writer favors Immersive Van Gogh for reasons including a better musical accompaniment and less cheesy effects. It’s a long article, though, and quite subjective. This shorter one promises “thoughts” but actually offers only summaries. And finally, this one explains the rivalry. Not unexpectedly, the one we saw is not the one with the better reputation. Although The Dallas Morning News (no link—subscribers only) prefers Arlington’s, the reasons have more to do with the fact it may be more educational. A VR addition for a mere $10 also influences the writer’s decision. The complaints about ours include marketing and scamming, and while Google may not be completely at fault, I do feel I was had. The app Fever sells the Arlington version while the Dallas one is through a Ticketmaster partner. In case you want to go, too

All that said, I will probably go to the second/better one as well. But here’s my question finally: Could this have been on purpose? Were the rivals not really that at all in the planning but calculating a greater turnout than one alone might have generated? It’s a theory, of course, but the close similarity in names makes me wonder why the first didn’t sue the second for copyright infringement. Probably not, but I wonder.

A brief diversion and then a story. Andrea Bocelli came to Dallas with his Believe Tour, so my friend and I went. She has grander ideas than I. These shows are beyond my expectations. Believe started 30 minutes late. By the time the orchestra took the stage, any grievances we had were gone: The great man arrived! He has a certain stage presence that reflects a lifetime of performances to an adoring public, currently enhanced by lights and images, videos and co-performers.

This link describes the same concert in Milwaukee. And by “same,” I mean identical—the same timing of entrances, the singers on the tour, the program. Even the same “spontaneous” comments. The writer is brief but ecstatic about Bocelli. Among the others was a young cellist named Ayanna Witter-Johnson playing and singing “Roxanne,” a cover originally by The Police. (People seemed to have heard of it.) She was dressed in a bright white pants suit and stood to play, the cello on a long endpin. Who knew? It was more electrifying than the versions on YouTube. Back to Bocelli. Arias and pop songs, must-haves like “Time to Say Good-bye” and three (four?) encores, and we’re off to the traffic believing we had gotten our money’s worth. (The famous version with Sarah Brightman is, well, 59 million views. I saw her years ago, same friend.)

To my odd story—a few weeks ago, I visited a granite shop to commission a new coffee tabletop. The woman said it would be about two weeks out, ovals being more complicated to make. The next day, she called to tell me it was ready. Back I go, and it’s not close. When I arrived, she asked if she could help me. I thought I was clearly the customer from the day before but just said she’d called me. She acted as if she didn’t recognize me, and then this: “Oh, it was that other woman who brought it in yesterday—your mother maybe?” I was stunned and said no, it was definitely me. Hair up today, different make-up maybe? She never let on anything more than a mistake. After recovering, I began to think about other possibilities.

Like the art, like the concert, was this scripted and intentional? Did she do it more than once? Weekly, even? I have no answers. Perhaps it’s just cynicism not just for her but for the larger sphere of entertainment. What is real and what is calculated? Night after night, the same things sung and played. And why is a da Vinci worth $450 million? Why is Van Gogh the most represented artist on the list of most expensive paintings? Value as prescribed ? An odd power, influencing. Bocelli is wonderful. Only a few others would have tens of thousands applauding Italian opera while waiting for the more familiar. Only he could sing “Amazing Grace” with its line “Blind but now I see” and send a shiver into millions of hearts.

We may never spend real money for a painting, but we can spend some for an experience, manipulated or not. No, I think Google is not my friend. It’s become the arranger of what is best. We are all completely predictable, easily manipulated, easily algorithmed. How wonderful that must be for commerce.

Dear GOP: It’s Him or Me

An Open Letter to Jennifer Stoddard-Hajdu:

Recently, a visiting grandchild called for his favorite Lucky Charms at breakfast. He also prefers a certain bowl with favorite cartoon characters on the bottom and a built-in straw for the final milk slurp. Everything was ready—the rather plain nutritious bits, the colorful nuggets of marshmallow, the milk—when I decided to tease him: “Want a fork now?

Without missing a beat and with no hint that he knew I was teasing, he corrected me: “No. We use spoons.”

Notice the importance of that “we.” Even 5-year-old children recognize the essential nature of the group which nurtures them. He will say “I” for his preferences, but for procedures, he will remember how things are done in his family, the basis of his emotional stability and moral training whether he recognizes it or not. He loves that “we” and is perfectly comfortable correcting an erring grandmother when she stumbles into something dumb.

The Republican Party is not, of course, my family. I did choose to affiliate late in life for several reasons, however. In this post called “Overmorrow,” I discuss some of them. For years, when asked, I would say that I was an independent. Technically, at least in Texas, that’s not a real thing because primary elections require a party choice. So, technically, I was a Republican, but would never say so. The change came because my son (part of the 5-year-old’s “we”) worked with a judge he admired while in law school. During a conversation about politics, the reasons for not choosing a party came up. The judge said that lots of people don’t choose, but they should. Outside a party, you can’t be of use to it; inside, you can. So in early 2020, I decided to say, “I am a Republican.” It was never a problem to be a conservative, but to affiliate implied that I wanted to help. So I did, volunteering at the Dallas headquarters for several months. Although I would have loved to write some speeches or advise some candidates, newly-minted Republicans just answer phones and take messages, but that was fine.

A word about President Trump: I was not/am not a fan. Not a never Trumper, I thought I could be a party person (well, in this sense) and not a loyalist. This list offers 30 things the writer thinks he got right. This list of 10 is from 2020 only. That writer, Marc A. Thiessen, also gave 10 things he did wrong in 2020. I can agree. Problems arise when the wrong outweighs the right.

Books will be written about the events following the election of November 2020. Many already have been. Some flattering, most not. This list has 174 titles to consider. Perhaps no one has counted articles, 174 a week? Interviews, rallies, emails, tweets, posts, blogs, personal conversations even—who knows how long the controversy will continue? In this circumstance, however, I do not see any distortion of what the statements might mean regarding not only the election (not stolen) but also the man (still frightening to some).

I have arrived at a last straw. Trump sent a message to his “followers” with this statement: “If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in ‘22 or ‘24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do.”

About that “WE: Not my “we,” sir. Partly lie, partly threat, totally wrong, these words go against my sense of leadership or decorum. It could not be more self-serving. This article suggests an even more difficult conclusion, one the writer calls “sinister.” I’d go a step further. It is impossible, unsupportable, and party-killing. No, a family cannot survive when there is no core of accepted behavior or practice. Such values do not change on a whim. And each individual’s action must be of her own free will, not the behest of someone who sees himself as the puppet master, his success/ego more important than that of the family. I could go on, angrily, but there is no real point. I am not in that we.

So, if I am to be a Republican—which is not the same as being a 5-year-old spoon user—I am going to ask the Party to reject Trump. He has made his choices; I can make mine. It’s just that simple. I don’t need you, but in the long run, you will need me and, I assume, the others like me who prefer truth to fiction, honor to ego, and the good of America above all.

Memory Jar

It’s not that I haven’t written about memories before. A bit over a year ago, I posted this blog called, well, “Memories.” It includes a reference to the madeleine cookie. Or cake, whichever you prefer. Recently the youngest local grandchild—referred to on Facebook as the CEO—had a taste for them inspired by a teacher. One could bake the little shell-shaped buttery cookie-cakes, but Costco sells lovely ones, prepackaged for safe keeping. I have had two; the CEO, the other several dozen. It was a nice memory of last year’s memories.

Yesterday, scrolling through the computer files, I came across the article below, written a bit over 10 years ago. It wasn’t published, and I didn’t follow up on it. Worded carefully, the piece does not mention how proud I was of my brother because I had not shared the information that this was, in fact, my brother. This link features 10 of the most famous 20th century photographs. This one said brother took at USC in 2015.

“Special to the San Angelo Standard-Times

Former San Angeloan Co-Curates LA Photographers’ 75th Anniversary Exhibit

You may not know their names, but you know their work: The photo of a little girl running from a napalm attack or that first shot of Bill Clinton playing the saxophone. Marcia Clark explaining a chart at the O.J. Simpson trial. These iconic photographs have one thing in common—all were taken by Los Angeles photojournalists.

David Sprague, a San Angelo native, recently co-curated an exhibit commemorating the Press Photographers of Greater Los Angeles (PPAGLA) 75th anniversary. The setting? The historic Queen Mary, now moored at Long Beach, California. She’s also celebrating her 75th.

Sprague was pleased to talk about this exhibit. ‘It took hours and hours of hard work, but I’m really proud of it,’ he said recently. ‘These photographers are among the best in the world. Several have won Pulitzers, and all work in a great city for journalism.’

While it’s true that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ usually there’s a story behind the scene. Sprague agreed. ‘The picture everyone calls ‘Napalm Girl’ was taken by Nick Ut; he won the Pulitzer for it. What happened after the shot is more important, at least for Nick. He put the girl in his car and got her medical help that saved her life. They’ve been in contact ever since. And the picture of John F. Kennedy after an impromptu swim at Santa Monica— Bill Beebe got the shot because he was waist-deep in the Pacific—in a business suit.’ These stories and more complete the history of the 175 photographs on display.

Growing up in San Angelo, Sprague had many opportunities to develop his craft. After working on Central High’s Campus Corral, while at the University of Texas he continued at The Daily Texan and later Alcalde, the UT alumni magazine. Following internships in Oregon, Idaho, and Florida, Sprague began his career in Georgetown at The Williamson County Sun. ‘It was hard to leave, but when I had an opportunity to work in Los Angeles, I leapt at the chance. I come back regularly, though, to see family and for food fixes like barbeque, Tex-Mex, and chicken fried steak. Sometimes all in the same day.’

After 25 years of newspaper photography, Sprague now freelances, contracting with groups as diverse as Wells Fargo Bank and Universal Studios. He has also taught visual journalism as an adjunct at USC. The PPAGLA show runs through 2011; the exhibit is free with Queen Mary admission.”

It’s tempting to go back in and make changes or additions, but that’s not the way memories should work. Adding links is now easier than 10 years ago though these would seem clumsy and cluttered, so this will stay as it is.

Today’s topic is memory jars, of a special kind. We like to preserve memories. One way to store objects. Many people have wedding dresses tucked in special boxes, perhaps with petals from a bouquet nestled in. I have a box of memory clothes with two dresses from my senior year in high school and two from a year in Korea. In the attic, I’m sure there are maternity clothes and some baby’s worn-once blessing outfit. In jars, we put tiny collections of coins or shells, buttons or rubber bands. One can purchase jars with ready-made questions to be answered, cut apart, and sealed. “What was your first memory? How did you meet your spouse? If you had the ability to go anywhere or do anything, what would it be?” And so on.

Effort. I’ve done all of those things in jars. (Well, not rubber bands.) It’s a work of sorts, special in certain ways, but not as profound as the gift of memories I heard about today.

A friend was leaving the home she’d shared with her husband. They’d lived there not decades, but togetherness doesn’t care about days. They’d painted its walls together, planned its patio and plantings, bought and given away furniture. And he’d died there. When it was time for her to go, a friend took an empty jar and, entering each room, invited their memories to fill the jar. The lid then captured them forever.

This action and its intent to soothe and ease a difficult transition reflect a deep and beautiful grace, an act of service that won’t fade or crumble as things do. And, oddly, it offers others (me?) a strength to go on and change as well. To move on, remembering that the past is never gone. It was swept into our hearts with the gesture of a hand, welcoming in memories that weren’t lost but just had nowhere to go for a moment. No hint of fantasy, no bit of magic, could do anything better.




Finger Pointing

Four quotations and an observation on finger pointing:

  1. This definition goes beyond literal use (a finger points) and history (first use 1914) into the realm of editorializing. But if Merriam-Webster can do that, it’s fine with me. Its “explicit and often unfair accusations of blame” does not gloss over the fact that the gesture offers judgment. This one from YourDictionary.com isn’t necessarily reliable, but it expresses and even more pointed (sorry, unintended) layer: “The act of assigning blame as for a harmful policy or unwise decision to another or others, often in an effort to deflect blame from oneself.” That “deflect” exceeds judgment by several degrees. In all fairness, the intention of the pointer probably isn’t deflection, but the definition does suggest more than simply unfairness.

According to Alyson Noel, “There is an old and very wise Native American saying: Every time you point a finger in scorn—there are three remaining fingers pointing right back at you.” Perhaps this is a teaching tool for parents, many of whom don’t like tattletales. The entire cancel culture seems to rely on this mechanism. Those three fingers pointing back? Words like “hypocrite” come to mind.

  1. Before you start pointing fingers, make sure your hands are clean,” Bob Marley (or maybe Jimi Hendrix) said. People tend to believe what they believe is the right thing or the true thing or the best thing. Why else would they go to the trouble of believing it?

These days, the element that is most striking to me is not so much the hypocrisy that the supposed rightness of belief versus action—that’s common—but the fact that “whataboutism” prevails. If you look at the definition from Merriam-Webster, you’ll see two fingers pointing at each other. So you point at me for doing something wrong, and I point back at you saying you did something worse, earlier. Do we both have dirty hands? Yes. But if both think the other hands are dirtier, then not much good gets done.

  1. Our next exploration is more difficult. Daijian Huineng was a 7th century philosopher, or more likely, a fabrication by an 8th century Buddhist monk, Heze Shenhui. For reasons not entirely clear to me, the latter used the former’s “teachings” to attack yet another teacher, Yuquan Shenxiu. There were certain shenanigans involving the mummy of the mysterious Huineng, all of which sounds like finger-pointing that you can read about here, if you like. Regardless, the quotation does make sense:

“Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?” So if we can accept that there is truth (not to be confused with the currently popular “your” truth), then we can look for that instead of each other’s flaws. One might add “as if.”

  1. Finally, my favorite, sometimes called a Texan proverb: When you throw dirt, you lose ground.” It has that subtle double meaning that is graphic. Here are some possible origin stories. It nicely unites the three other quotations above. As in “higher ground” or “casting aspersions.”

My conclusion relies on experience working with people of different “leans,” center or left instead of mine, which is right. Lean, not “correct.” It seems to me that not pointing fingers—or sighing or rolling eyes or saying “ugh” when you think no one can hear you—requires significant maturity. Age and experience do not equal maturity, however. Perfectly intelligent, usually thoughtful, presumably professional people sometimes cannot gauge the potential of their words or actions. More simply, most of us do things we shouldn’t. Finger-pointing may seem intentional, but I wonder if sometimes it is just frustrational (sorry, not a word, but I like it here for the parallelism). Regardless, it should be rejected for that intelligent, thoughtful, professional response.