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Photo: Youtube.
The way hamsters store food is the inspiration behind a word in German that emerged amid wartime hoarding. It has found new life during the pandemic.

Back in the early 1980s, when I was trying to learn Esperanto, I loved how you could make very specific words by gluing other words together. For example, we had a word in our house for me when I was the one to taste the filtered coffee to see if it was ready: kafgustumistino. If it had been my husband, we would have said kafgustumisto.

Rebecca Schuman at Slate explains why agglutinative languages are perfect for creating pandemic-appropriate vocabulary to suit one’s every need.

“During the otherwise Nietzschean abyss of the early pandemic, ” she writes, “one of the few bright lights was a German word: Hamsterkauf, which first emerged during World War II and began circulating in German media last March. Literally ‘hamster buy,’ this coinage described the act of succumbing to our basest animal-brain instincts to hoard more necessities than we would ever actually need. …

“Ah, those delightful Germans! Always with the single word that describes a very specific thing that any normal language would never have a single word to describe! … Over the past year, German has coined some 1,000-plus new terms endemic to the Now Times — ironic capitalization, by the way, being an annoying method that English speakers use to create new language.

“Speaking of which: Unlike English, whose own recent neologisms often read as nonwords that are only cute the first time you encounter them [such as] coronasomnia, situationship … German’s COVID lexicon just looks German. …

“Now, to really make a decent German compound noun, you have to either memorize a very long if-then chart, be a native speaker, or have what’s called a Sprachgefühl — literally ‘language feel,’ or an instinct for what sounds right. But for a semi-workable shortcut, it comes down to this: You start with two nouns, or an adjective and then a noun. … Now here comes the tricky part: Often you have to put in connecting letters, and which letter you use depends on the smaller words’ last letters; this will ostensibly make your big new word easier to pronounce. …

“There’s already a magniloquent viral Twitter thread in appreciation of new superstars such as Impfneid (vaccine envy) — but what about the particular cacophony of imperious voices bickering over how (or when, or if) to relax social distancing and lockdown measures? That’s an Öffnungsdiskusionorgie (OOF-nungs-dee-skoo-ZEEONS-or-ghee), literally an ‘orgy of discussions regarding opening,’ which is coincidentally also the only orgy it’s currently safe to attend.

“Then of course there’s the ol’ socially distanced drink, or Abstandsbier (AHB-stonds-BEE-uh, or ‘distance beer’), which carries with it the many connotations of the word Abstand, including ‘gap,’ ‘interval,’ ’empty space,’ and ‘difference,’ truly encapsulating just why chugging a Godforsaken Beck’s on a frigid sidewalk whilst avoiding small talk might be an unsatisfying Quarentänebruch (KVAH-ren-TAYN-uh-BRUK), or quarantine violation. …

“Here’s a new one: Risikoeinreisender (REE-SEE-koh-AYN-RYE-sun-duh), literally ‘risk-arriver,’ aka one who tromps undeterred into another country straight from an outbreak-rich region without regard to whether he might infect the entire staff of his $309 cabana at the Cancún Ritz-Carlton. (Hopefully the check-in counter at said Ritz-Carlton was already equipped with my personal favorite of this entire Teutonic enterprise: a clear fiberglass Spuckshutztrennscheibe (SHPOOK-shoots-TREN-shy-buh) — literally ‘spittle-protection separation pane.’)

“While it’s always fun to see exactly which surprisingly singular phenomena have heretofore claimed their own German word, I think that the nomenclatures of the Coronazeit (ko-RO-nah-TSITE) are particularly resonant for non-German-speakers because this really is a singular moment in time. …

“Even I, a blasé Germanist, could ruminate all night on such lexicographic majesty as Geisterspieltag (GUY-stuh-SHPEEL-tak), literally ‘ghost game day,’ or the practice of playing Fußball in an empty stadium. But alas, I don’t have time for all 1,000-plus words, given that my daughter has been in Zoom school for a year and possibly just set something on fire. But here’s one new German word that even I don’t really understand: Coronakindergeld (koh-RO-na-KIN-duh-gelt), the ongoing financial support for parents stuck at home with their kids.” Wow, is Germany really paying parents?

More at Slate, here.

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Photo: Alexander Izilieav /Miami New Times
Miami City Ballet is one of the few national ballet companies this year putting on a production of The Nutcracker.

Holidays go on, one way or another. On Friday, our church had an online carol sing (secret of success: only one person unmuted at a time), and I was able to see my grandchildren in two different states mouthing the words and dancing. Someone else I know watched her friend’s son perform (virtually) as the Prince in a local Nutcracker. In Miami, another Nutcracker is taking place outdoors.

Gia Kourlas reports at the New York Times, “Lourdes Lopez, the artistic director of Miami City Ballet, is facing a new unknown. It’s a fear she’s never had. And it stresses her out.

“ ‘I just hope that at the last minute that they don’t close us down,’ she said. …

“Against the odds during a pandemic, the company will present its reimagined production of ‘George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker’ this month. Normally, Ms. Lopez said, her worries would fall more along the lines of, are the costumes going to be ready? …

“Now she is thinking about the backstage choreography of the crew and the dancers, since masks will not be worn during performances. ‘We have to make sure that when you’re exiting, no one is in that wing,’ she said. …

“ ‘The Nutcracker’ ” is more than a beloved holiday staple. For ballet companies across the country it’s a financial lifeline that supports the repertory for the rest of the year. This year, most productions have been relegated to virtual offerings, but Miami has something that some other cities, like New York, don’t: warm weather at holiday time.

“The company’s production of Balanchine’s 1954 classic already pops with an abundance of color and heat. In 2017, it was given a vibrant Miami makeover, with designs and costumes by Isabel and Ruben Toledo and projections by Wendall K. Harrington. …

“Miami City Ballet’s production is, Ms. Lopez noted, a true community effort. ‘Think of a hospital, a government agency, a real estate investment firm and a ballet company somehow coming to the table,’ she said. ‘Never in my wildest dreams would I ever, ever have thought of that.’

“She hadn’t planned for this to happen.

‘This is not because I’m a visionary,’ Ms. Lopez said. ‘It was just opportunities that arose and it came, honestly, from a “What can we do?” ‘ …

“It was Ms. Harrington who, over the summer, suggested to Ms. Lopez that the company should present a ‘Nutcracker.’ … ‘I’m not like the hugest fan of “The Nutcracker” in all the world, but I do know of its healing effects,’ she said. ‘And right now we need a little Christmas, as the song goes.’ …

“The company has teamed up with a health care partner, Baptist Health South Florida, and abides by a stringent testing and safety protocol. Masked audience members will be seated in socially distanced pods that accommodate up to four people each. The intermission has been cut to five minutes — more of a pause — and the idea is to get people in and out efficiently.

“Ms. Lopez credited early actions that the Miami City Ballet organization took when the coronavirus forced a shutdown in March. It quickly formed a Covid task force, which led to engaging an industrial hygienist who examined the studios for safety. …

“Ms. Lopez was able to hold the school’s summer course — an indoor, in-person program for 100 students — for five weeks in July. ‘We were biting our nails because Florida in July was a red-hot state,’ she said. ‘And we didn’t have one single case in those five weeks. We sent the staff home. You couldn’t come into the building if you weren’t part of the school or faculty.

“ ‘And so there was a real sense that we could do this, that we knew how to do it safely in the building. That’s really how it started.”

“When Downtown Doral Park became available, Ms. Harrington refocused her thinking. … ‘I had to look through the ballet and figure out how the storytelling can continue without the numbers of people that you would want in the party scene and the battle scene. … One big change is an Act 2 overture in place of the young children who usually play Angels. For it, she created a journey from the snow scene that ends Act 1 to the beach, ‘because it’s Miami,’ Ms. Harrington said. …

[Ms. Harrington] was always baffled by the abrupt change in setting, from the Act 1 snow scene to Act 2’s tropical Land of the Sweets. ‘It was snowy and now there’s a pineapple onstage,’ she said. … ‘It was within my grasp to fill in the gaps. …

“ ‘I felt like this could be a thrill. I hope I’m right. I believe in theater and art. … I just needed it to happen.”

More here.

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Photo: Pointnshoot, Flickr, CC by 2.0
What is the exact reason that recreational hockey seems to have a higher risk for coronavirus than some other sports?
Living on Earth says the jury is still out.

Do you listen to the radio show Living on Earth? This environmental news program is nationally syndicated and has a free newsletter you can sign up for here. I have learned so much from it over the years.

Today I’m writing about a story that caught my attention because I have a grandson, 10, and a granddaughter, 7, who are forces to be reckoned with in the sport of ice hockey. And one of them had a quarantine episode after a teammate test positive for coronavirus. I would not want to see these two lose their favorite sport for a year when so many other things have been lost, but I guess I want to know how infection is being carried in ice hockey and what can be done.

Living on Earth reports that “outbreaks have occurred in connection with recreational and youth hockey, and researchers are rushing to pin down the role of air temperature and humidity in creating optimal conditions for contagion. For some advice about getting through winter safely, host Steve Curwood caught up with pediatrician Aaron Bernstein, the interim director of Harvard’s Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment. …

“CURWOOD: There is much that science still has to learn about Covid-19, such as why indoor recreational ice hockey has been associated with outbreaks in several states, not just in the north but also in Florida, where about a dozen people got Covid 19 after a game at a hockey rink in Tampa Bay. … Welcome back to Living on Earth, Ari! …

“Walk us through in basic terms, what about the virus might make it more dangerous for these cold weather sports? …

“BERNSTEIN: The best clues we have right now is that transmission may not be happening as much on the ice, but may be happening off the ice in locker rooms or on the bench when people may take off protective gear or sit too close with each other. We don’t really know. … But we mostly see in in other indoor settings transmission happening when you’ve got people sticking around each other for long periods of time. …

“We do know a couple of things. I mean, what’s clear is that sunlight is really good at inactivating the virus. So, you know, ice skating rinks are not in a lot of sunlight. … Here in the Northern Hemisphere, there’s a lot less ultraviolet radiation hitting us from the sun.

“CURWOOD: So as we move into winter, of course, historically, the influenza virus seems to do much better in the winter. …

“BERNSTEIN: I do think we need to pay close attention to places where we’re asking people to congregate, and being careful about the appropriate precautions. … We’re breaking records in transmission as we speak and there’s a great risk that this virus can spread through the winter. The idea has been floated that herd immunity will protect [us] is reckless and dangerous. …

“[Safety is] the same dull stuff that folks have been talking about for a long time. It’s wearing a mask, it’s washing your hands, it’s keeping physical distance. And those measures can have a dramatic effect upon the spread of disease. … A lot of people, including folks like Tony Fauci and other public health leaders have strongly advised people to not gather in person, because the risks are growing so great, because the reality is that we have more cases today in the country than almost any other time. …

“Part of our action here is not just for ourselves, it’s for the people who live in [our] communities. [For the regular flu, ] there’s a vaccine. … If you take the current coronavirus season, and you add to it even a mild flu season, there are no hospital beds for people to go into. … There are a lot of people who don’t want to get vaccinated for the flu because they think it’s not that bad, or they think the flu vaccine doesn’t work. And neither of those things are true. …

“I should be getting vaccinated against the flu to protect people who are older than me, my family members who may have cancer. … Think about it. If you have a family member who’s pregnant, they often need to go to a hospital. Do you really want them to go to a hospital in which the hospital is overwhelmed with preventable influenza infections? [These] things tie together pretty quickly.”

I have to thank this show for delivering my sermon to readers. Get your shot for the seasonal flu! More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: UWisc
Ugandan Bobi Wine and Nubian Li. perform a coronavirus alert.

When pandemic restrictions caused the cancellation of African musicians’ concerts, many took the coronavirus battle into their own hands, without having to be asked by any government to create a public service announcement.

Public Radio International’s The World reports on the wave of Covid-19 songs giving Africans reliable information and warning against fake health news on social media.

“When graduate student Dipo Oyeleye heard the song ‘We Go Win (Corona)‘ by Cobhams Asuquo, a Nigerian singer-songwriter,” the radio show reported in September, “he knew what his next research project would be: a study of the myriad coronavirus songs that flourished in Africa at the pandemic’s onset on the continent. …

” ‘I love artists using the moment to create music that actually helps to disseminate the right information to the general public,’ Oyeleye told The World.

“Originally from Nigeria himself, Oyeleye studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he is now researching COVID-19 songs from Nigeria to Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo to Ghana, among many other places across the continent. Oyelele has been able to compile and track the impact of at least 50 songs from various African artists.

“Unlike the US, where very few artists have taken on COVID-19 as a subject in songs, African musicians quickly turned to their songwriting as a form of communication and to disseminate crucial public health information: social distancing, washing hands and staying home during lockdowns. 

” ‘This is a major [pandemic that] directly affects everybody, including the musicians. Some of them had to cancel their shows. I think the personal became political,’ Oyeleye explained. 

“Having battled epidemics such as the Ebola virus, most Africans are used to governments that call on musicians to produce ‘edutainment,’ or songs with a message to sensitize the public. 

“But Oleyele says that what makes the coronavirus songs different is that it was not ‘necessarily initiated by the governments. It’s just, you know, individuals lending their voices to help prevent the spread of the virus.’ 

“Some artists took a direct public health approach, while others used humor or religion to ease fears and connect with various communities. And some songs were specifically meant for people who could only communicate in local languages. There’s really something for everyone. …  

” ‘Wash your hands / love each other / we go win o,’ [Asuquo] croons at the piano.

“In [a] reggae-inspired song, Bobi Wine opens with the bad news that ‘everyone is a potential victim’ of the virus, but also a potential solution … and calls it ‘patriotic’ to social distance and isolate if sick with possible virus symptoms.” More at PRI’s The World, here. Extra details at the Washington Post, here.

I’m impressed with these musicians. Will we get songs to slow the spread here, too?

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Photo: Kate Marling
“Classical Sculpture Mask,” by Kate Marling (2020). But can she breathe?

I’ve really enjoyed how artists have addressed the pandemic situation, whether designing socially distant ballets and theater or specifically coronavirus-related paintings, constructions, and photos.

Today we learn from Hyperallergic that the lowly face mask has been a particular inspiration. Hakim Bishara reports on a Denver exhibition of artistic face coverings.

“Face masks in all forms and colors have become an essential part of our lives. … A new exhibition at the Vicki Myhren Gallery at the University of Denver comes to remind the nonbelievers and the COVID-fatigued among us that face masks are not only crucial to our health but that they can also be delightful means of self-expression.

MASK … celebrates the centuries-long use of masks as ritual and ornamental objects throughout human history with new works by a group of 41 artists. The dozens of masks are positioned on mannequin heads throughout the gallery space. While some of the face coverings on display are not functional, they are a creative reminder of the times, and the creativity that can emerge from isolation. …

“As the COVID-19 crisis continues to worsen in Denver, the gallery says that it hopes that the exhibition will ‘call attention to the [significance] of masking as an issue of public health and a demonstration of civic responsibility.’ …

“As part of the exhibition, the gallery has joined forces with RedLine Contemporary Art Center in Denver to fabricate free, functional masks that will be distributed to members of the community.

“Ranging in style from the classical to the otherworldly, the masks on view offer inventive notions of what face-coverings can look like. Serge Attukwei Clottey’s science fiction-esque mask appears to be constructed from plastic pipes and found industrial materials. Elizabeth Morisette’s avian mask is a beak made out of zippers. Kate Marling designed a mask that invokes a classical sculpture as if freezing half of her face in stone. Trey Duvall’s ‘COVID19 (Mask for the Art World)’ covers the mouth area with a brick fastened over surgical hand gloves, perhaps hinting at the silencing of certain voices. By contrast, Tobias Fike attached a sizeable megaphone to a mask titled ‘Mouthpiece.’

“A virtual panel discussion with some of the featured artists will be held on November 5.”

A selection of the works, including images of some of the artists modeling their masks, may be viewed at Hyperallergic, here.

Looking for an unusual mask for yourself? Check out the variety at Etsy, here, where you can also get beautiful masks by a family member of mine, good for preventing foggy glasses.

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In the summer, I stayed away. It gets very crowded at Walden Pond, a state park popular with swimmers, and since March I’ve been worried about picking up coronavirus in a crowd.

But on a cloudy weekday morning in fall, I thought I’d give it a shot, and I’m so glad I did. It’s lovely, and I was mostly reassured by signs reminding people about masks and social distancing. Moreover, for the pandemic, the path is one-way, counterclockwise around the pond.

It wasn’t quite as empty as my photos make it seem. There were ten or 20 swimmers, gliding quietly with their orange bubbles attached for safety, and a few kayakers, paddeboarders, and fishermen. I even ran into a neighbor who was out for his constitutional.

At the farthest point from the beach house is the railroad track for the train to Boston. I remember visiting with the class when Suzanne was in second grade and studying Henry David Thoreau, and we learned that train whistles would have been a sound Thoreau heard when he lived at his cabin. (But not airplanes, the teacher reminded us.)

I have stuck the photo of Thoreau’s lodging next to the hut-site photo with his famous quotation and the memorial stones, but in fact the cabin is a replica and is located over by the parking lot across Route 126.

I loved the wavy curve of the shore in one shot. Also the woman meditating by the quiet water.

There weren’t any turtles, unless that street sign refers to me. I’m a very slow walker. Fortunately, slow walkers can turn on flashing lights to cross the road and get back to the parking lot safely.

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Back when I was a more regular reader of the New Yorker magazine, I used to love a tiny, bottom-of-the-column feature with the heading “There will always be an England.” The blurbs printed there tended to be about quirky individuals or happenings that struck the New Yorker editors as indelibly English. That’s what I thought of when I saw a recent article in the Guardian.

Steven Morris reports, “The book lovers of Appledore, a picturesque fishing village on the north Devon coast, are a resourceful, determined lot.

“When their library faced closure 14 years ago, they helped save it by launching a literary festival, which grew and developed year by year into one of the most popular cultural events in the south-west of England.

“And when the 2020 Appledore book festival was threatened with cancellation because of the Covid crisis, they came up with the bold idea of holding a coronavirus-secure drive-in event, believed to be the first in the UK.

“Over this weekend, hundreds of people will park-up in a field usually used as an archery range to listen from the safety of their cars to talks and readings on topics including politics, cooking, shepherding and gardening.

“If they are not distracted by the stunning views of the sea, they will hear the wise words of science writers, novelists and environmentalists relayed into their cars via their vehicles’ radios. …

“By March, when the UK went into lockdown, 45 authors had been booked for a nine-day festival this September. … Rather than cancel because of coronavirus, the organisers thought outside the box. They contacted a Devon events company, Waggle, which runs drive-in cinemas, and asked if they could do the same sort of thing in Appledore – but with books.

“They have had to reduce the number of events but are able to accommodate up to 120 cars for each session with up to five people in every vehicle. …

“Appledore and the surrounding area have traditionally been known as centres for fishing and shipbuilding rather than for a thriving arts scene. The festival is changing that.

“The area’s remoteness means that many local people have come to rely on the festival for an autumnal fix of culture. [But] navigating the rules and regulations to stage the drive-through festival has been a challenge. …

“Friends Rebecca Flashman and Debbie Moss, from Braunton, north Devon, arrived in an open-topped two-seater car with just enough room for a hamper packed with cucumber sandwiches and sparkling wine.

“ ‘We’re used to coming to open-air classical concerts,’ said Rebecca. ‘But we thought we’d give this a go.’

“Covid means, of course the festivalgoers cannot freely mingle but have to stay within boxes marked out with whitewash. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was warm and convivial.

“ ‘It felt surprisingly intimate,’ added Rebecca. “It’s wonderful to get out and do something cultural in these difficult times.’ …

Tobias Kennedy-Matthews, a local chimney sweep, had been given his ticket to the Harriott gig as a birthday present.

“He loved the chef’s tales about Ready Steady Cook and his culinary trips abroad. ‘It was brilliant. This is my first literary festival. I’ll definitely come again,’ he said.

“The festival founder, children’s author Nick Arnold, who lives in Appledore, said he had always been keen for the festival to be innovative. … ‘I always hoped that by coming up with new and exciting ideas we would attract attention.’

“Harriott had wondered how the audience would engage and how he would know if they had enjoyed his appearance. He needn’t have worried. He walked off not to the sound of applause but to the enthusiastic honking of car horns.”

More at the Guardian, here.

Photo: Jim Wileman/The Guardian
An interview and Q&A with the celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott opened a drive-by literary festival in England. Car horns told him it was a hit.

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Photo: Visit Samso
This Danish island makes use of woods, water, and fields for school outdoors.

Erik’s Swedish/Danish niece and nephews live in Copenhagen and went back to school quite a long time ago. The youngest went first, taking his seat in a classroom full of Covid-19 protections. Meanwhile, in other parts of Denmark, outdoor learning is getting increased attention.

Rick Noack writes at the Washington Post, “On a balmy Monday afternoon earlier this month, Sebastian Lukas, 27, watched from across a clearing as his third- and fourth-grade students whittled branches into spearheads with sharp knives.

“His gaze turned to another group, who were supposed to be working on math problems. Two students, perched on a log, scrambled to produce their textbooks, just in time to look busy.

“Lukas began the year teaching in a classroom like any other, in Samso Frie Skole, a school on the Danish island of Samso. But when the novel coronavirus pandemic struck, the school, like many across the country, embraced a new way to hold certain classes: almost entirely outdoors.

“Instead of sitting at desks, Lukas’s students wander through a rambling woodland, lush with trees and crisscrossed by dirt tracks. …

“Some countries, including Germany, have a tradition of outdoor preschools and kindergartens, which have begun to catch on in the United States as well. The pandemic may drive more countries to experiment with the model for older students. …

“Samso, a sparsely populated, energy self-sufficient and carbon-neutral 44-square-mile island that was once a meeting point for Vikings, is a windy, hour-long trip by ferry from the mainland village of Hou.

“The Samso Frie Skole — a private school funded, like many others in Denmark, in large part through public grants — first pondered the move outdoors long before the pandemic. Coronavirus accelerated those plans.

“The new, forested area, surrounded by grain fields, includes old farmhouses, where students will be able to take shelter in bad weather, according to principal Anna Mattsson.

“ ‘It’s going to be a combination of indoors and outdoors,’ she said. The aim is to have students learn outside several times a week, with fluctuations based on weather.

“No one at the school said they were worried about the impending winter.

“ ‘We’re used to it,’ said Rikke Ulk, the chair of the school’s support association. ‘It’s a matter of dressing well.’

“Until the new buildings are ready, students must walk or bike more than a mile from their old classrooms to their new forest school. Teachers haul some of the younger children in carts affixed to bicycles.

“Milling about before one such shuttle ride on a September morning, Noa, 11, said she liked the new school setup. It’s ‘just so beautiful — it makes me happy,’ she said. …

“Some said they preferred certain aspects of learning inside. ‘Sometimes, it’s better just being in the classroom, so we can focus,’ said Sally, 12.

“Cian, 9, an aspiring cook or robot engineer, disagreed. ‘It’s better to be here,’ he said, holding his math book. ‘It’s cozier.’

“Lukas said outdoor class works better for some students than others. ‘But some kids who have a hard time sitting love to come out here,’ he said, and some students who struggled to focus on math indoors have shown aptitude outside. …

“One of the most commonly accepted Danish arguments in favor of outdoor schooling centers on health benefits, said Mads Bolling, a researcher at the Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen. Students are able to avoid the adverse affects of sitting still all day.

“But he cautioned that potential disadvantages are not yet fully understood, and some research suggests outdoor schooling appears to provide the most for children who are already highly motivated. …

“Even if outdoor class may not be practical for all schools or in all climates, said Bolling, it is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Samso Frie Skole plans to be flexible about which classes meet outside and which do not.” More here.

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Image: arthénon
A postcard called  “Rue Daubigny, Auvers-sur-Oise” is superimposed with parts of the painting “Tree Roots” (1890) by Vincent van Gogh, revealing new insights on the artist’s last hours.

One doesn’t need to go to Mars or the Himalayas or Sedona to make discoveries. One doesn’t need to skydive or eat insects or tag sharks to have new experiences. Not that people shouldn’t seek out adventure, but the truth is, there’s always quite a lot to discover right where you are — maybe just deepening your understanding of what makes an old friend tick.

I loved this story of a discovery about the great Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, a discovery made just by studying an old postcard and thinking.

Jasmine Weber writes at the arts website Hyperallergic, “In one of the most captivating artistic discoveries made amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a researcher has pinpointed the likely location of Vincent van Gogh’s final painting, ‘Tree Roots’ (1890).

“Wouter van der Veen, the scientific director of the Institut van Gogh, noticed the oil painting’s clear resemblance to a portion of a postcard from the French town of Auvers-sur-Oise, where the Dutch painter took his life in 1890. Dated between 1900-1910, the postcard shows mangled tree roots growing out of the hillside; when superimposed onto the photograph, the painting seems to be a perfect match.

When France lifted its COVID-19 lockdown this May, Van der Veen was able to visit the spot and found the large trunk still looked as it had over a century ago.

“Van der Veen submitted his findings to two senior researchers at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Louis van Tilborgh and Teio Meedendorp. The pair believes there is a ‘high plausibility’ that the the hillside in the town where van Gogh spent the last 70 days of his life, was the same as the motif in ‘Tree Trunks,’ which belongs to the museum’s collection. …

“ ‘On closer observation, the overgrowth on the postcard shows very clear similarities to the shape of the roots on Van Gogh’s painting,’ [Meedendorp] said in a press release. …

“ ‘The site is also consistent with Van Gogh’s habit of painting motifs from his immediate surroundings,’ said van Der Veen. He adds that the ‘sunlight painted by Van Gogh indicates that the last brush strokes were painted towards the end of the afternoon,’ contributing further information about van Gogh’s last hours.

“The Institut van Gogh has since worked with local authorities to build a protective wooden structure around the site.” More.

In one more example of the benefits of having plenty of time to think, the BBC adds that Mr Van der Veen “had the revelation at his home in Strasbourg, France, during lockdown. … [and] visited the site to verify his theory in May 2020, once coronavirus restrictions had been lifted in France.

“A ceremony was held in Auvers-sur-Oise, a few miles north of Paris, [in July] to mark the discovery of the apparent location. Emilie Gordenker, the general director of the Van Gogh Museum, and Willem van Gogh, the great-grandson of Vincent’s brother Theo, were in attendance to unveil a commemorative plaque at the site.” More at the BBC.

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1963-looking-out-windows-BMC

I’m no artist, but once in a blue moon I try watercolor because I find it relaxing. The watercolor above, a view from a window in my college dorm, reminds me of how I learned that Kennedy was shot one sad November day. A girl was running frantically across the campus crying, and I went out of my room to see if anyone knew what was going on.

In the coronavirus era, I feel I’m looking out windows a lot — you know, keeping my distance. Fortunately, outdoor meetings with friends or family and FaceTime can make one feel connected for a bit.

The first photo below shows a tiny vase Kristina gave me the other day. It attaches to the window with a suction cup. After that, I think you will recognize white hydrangea and smokebush. The blueberries belong to a neighbor and the grapes to a local business.

I was glad finally to check out the old shack by the Sudbury River, but the trail that got me there had so much mowed poison ivy, I decided to put my shoes in the machine when I got home.

Next we have a tomb inscription — about a window, in a way. It’s from Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. I went up for a closer look when I saw the word “Pilgrim” because I thought it might have something to do with our New England Pilgrims. No. It reads in part, “The Pilgrim they laid in a large upper chamber, whose window opened towards the sun-rising. The name of the chamber was Peace.

Two plaques follow and testify to the fact that we are loaded with history in these parts. Next, “Owl’s doorknob” has been joined by an additional decorative touch. Wonder what the mystery elf will do next. Then we have photos of day lilies at dawn and purple clematis.

I’ll wind up with some armchair travel. Caroline sent the breathtaking rugged mountain vista from her home in Utah, and Stuga40 sent four pictures from Sweden. First of those is a woodland in Stockholm where she likes to walk and wildflowers she picked. Her last two photos are from the Dalecarlia region a bit further north, where you can get a red-painted wooden Dala horse if you want a souvenir.

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Photo: Peyton Manker via CNN
Illinois teen Peyton Manker made this gorgeous dress out of duct tape for a scholarship competition.

Oh, my goodness! Human ingenuity! Nothing against animals, but it’s hard to think of any animal — even the dolphin — dealing with misfortune by creating something that lifts the spirit like this. I think the product of this young lady’s resourcefulness belongs in a museum someday. After some future prom, that is.

Kiely Westhoff reported at CNN about the scholarship contest with the theme “Stuck at the Prom.”

“In January, 18-year-old Peyton Manker embarked on her journey to make a prom dress entirely out of duct tape for a contest to win a scholarship. After weeks of working on her submission, the Covid-19 outbreak not only canceled her prom but altered the course of her senior year.

“Manker was not deterred by the fact that she would not get to wear her dress to prom. Instead, she felt inspired to create a dress that ‘documents a part of history.’ Her coronavirus-themed dress features multiple images depicting life during the pandemic. …

‘It wasn’t just high schoolers, it wasn’t just America, it was the whole world being impacted by the pandemic so I wanted to show that,’ said Manker.

“She does so by showing an image of people running away from the giant coronavirus to signify the world trying to avoid catching the disease. Other designs pay tribute to frontline workers and people suffering from mental health issues as a result of the pandemic. …

“She completed the look with a creative array of accessories including a ‘flatten the curve’ face mask. … She believes that her anklet displaying the words, ‘This too shall pass,’ perfectly encapsulates her message. ..

“Manker also wants to encourage a spirit of positivity with her work. She believes that ‘we can have some positive things come out of this whole experience and my dress is an example of that.’ …

“Manker says this is her debut as a duct tape artist. Her previous experience is from making small duct tape wallets and flowers when she was much younger. Four months and 41 rolls of duct tape later, she managed to make something far more elaborate. …

“Manker’s mother posted the dress to Facebook, where the post has been shared over 254,000 times. Manker says it is ‘surreal’ that her work was able to make an impression on people all over the world who commented on the post.

“She says that winning the contest, run by duct tape-maker Duck Brand, would be rewarding because ‘it will mean that people saw all the positivity I was trying to show them.’ Duck Brand will be awarding $20,000 in cash scholarships to the winners in July.” See more views of the Manker’s gown are here. Other Duck Brand prom dresses are here.

Photo: Peyton Manker
This fetching little purse ensures you won’t forget Covid-19.

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Photo: Dmitry Kostyukov for the New York Times.
The cast of “Cabaret Under the Balconies,” kept away from their theater by Covid-19, performs at a safe distance for nursing home residents in France.

What hath Zoom wrought? Despite its glitches, Zoom has solved a lot of problems in the coronavirus era and has even introduced new ideas for future activities. Yesterday, for example, one brother and I watched another brother give a lecture on immunology research to a conference — a thing we could never before have imagined doing. Although we hardly understood a word, we both found the experience of watching our kid brother explain obscure transformations of molecules — and gracefully answer all sorts of technical questions — completely delightful.

In today’s story, a theater group in France tapped Zoom to conduct remote rehearsals before performing in front of a live audience.

Laura Cappelle reports at the New York Times, “When circumstances close theaters’ doors, you can count on some performers to find a window to open. Last week in [a] city in eastern France, the residents and staff of a nursing home watched from a safe distance — some from windows and balconies — as five actors appeared in the building’s courtyard in front of a makeshift red curtain. ‘It feels like it’s been such a long time,’ they sang, in a cover of Joe Dassin’s wistful chanson ‘Salut.’ ‘Far from home, I’ve been thinking about you.’

“ ‘Cabaret Under the Balconies’ [was] the first professional theater performance in France since lockdown was imposed on March 17. …

“The relief of the cast was palpable as they performed at the facility, the Ehpad Bois de Menuse. … The 45-minute show was designed to respect social distancing among the cast members as well as between them and the audience, Bréban explained in an introduction.

“Except for one real-life couple, who were allowed to kiss, none of the performers touched. … Bréban, who also performed in the show, capitalized on the actors’ individual strengths, from Antonin Maurel’s clownish energy to Cléo Sénia’s burlesque background.

“Their approach appeared to resonate with the audience, limited to 40 people. (The show was performed twice so that most of the 90 residents could see it.) Many of them were in wheelchairs, yet could be seen nodding or tapping their feet to the beat. In the courtyard, one woman got up, swung her arms and danced with a masked worker from the home. Another teared up as Léa Lopez, a young performer with a lush voice, sang ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’

“Valérie Gonthier, a nursing assistant who stayed by the woman’s side as she cried, said in an interview afterward that music often stirred up emotions for residents who experienced memory loss. The Ehpad has a choir, but French nursing homes don’t typically have the funds to bring in professional performances; Gonthier couldn’t remember anything like last week’s show in the 26 years she has been with the institution. …

“Nicolas Royer, the theater’s director since January, said he disagreed with many French arts administrators who had interpreted government regulations to mean that performances were impossible. He didn’t furlough any employees, instead asking the costume department to make surgical-style masks, welcoming doctors from a nearby hospital in the theater’s guest apartments and hosting training sessions for city workers dealing with the crisis.

“In April, Royer got a call from Bréban, an experienced actress and emerging director who was going stir crazy in her Paris home: She told Royer she was down for anything he dreamed up. …

“The cast of ‘Cabaret Under the Balconies’ rehearsed over Zoom for seven days and, after the relaxing of lockdown in France in May, met in Chalon-sur-Saône for one week of in-person rehearsals — with strict rules. Bréban booked cast members with no health conditions. Daily temperature checks and frequent use of sanitizing gel were mandated, and everyone was offered a coronavirus test.

“By far the most onerous directive for the performers was to maintain a distance from one another of roughly one meter at all times. … ‘We were confident that we were within labor regulations, with an audience that was already confined and highly protected,’ Royer said. …

“The last time I went to the theater, two and a half months ago, Isabelle Huppert headlined Ivo van Hove’s staging of ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ For all the star appeal of that night at the Théâtre de l’Odéon, ‘Cabaret Under the Balconies’ was the more memorable event — a sincere attempt to go back to basics, in the right place, at the right time.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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When I worked at the Fed magazine, I attended a couple conferences on housing for seniors and learned about a thing called universal design. Universal design espouses the notion of making all architecture accessible so expensive alterations aren’t needed later. Someday, you might be using a wheelchair or crutch in the home you love, and wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to reconfigure it for a ramp, flat thresholds, wider doors, handrails, higher toilet seats, etc.?

Similarly during the coronavirus pandemic, architects have been rethinking design so we don’t need too many adjustments in pandemics. Think of all the light switches, doorknobs, and elevator buttons you’re careful not to touch these days! Think of the store ventilation systems you wonder about! What if you didn’t have to worry?

Recently, Carolina A. Miranda addressed this topic in a long feature at the Los Angeles Times.

“In another time, not long ago, an elevator was a conveyance to reach a higher floor, an open office was a spot to clock eight hours while hoping your boss didn’t catch you checking Facebook and a doorknob was one of those banalities of architecture that seemed to warrant attention only when it needed replacing.

“What a difference a virus makes. …

“ ‘If you take the great architectural inventions of the 20th century: the airport, the high-rise, the freeway — those are the things that are challenged the most right now,’ says Brett Steele, dean of UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture. ‘They have great density or they promise movement at high speeds. Those are exactly the things that sit at the crux of the crisis we are going through.’

‘It’s a reset button for the entire world,” says Mark Lee, co-founder of the Los Angeles firm Johnston Marklee and chair of the architecture department at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. …

“ ‘I’m working on a synagogue, and that is a crazy problem,’ says Barbara Bestor, founder of Bestor Architecture, a 25-person firm based in Silver Lake. ‘How do you do High Holidays after COVID with 2,000 or 3,000 people?’ …

“The solution may involve segmenting larger spaces and segregating the most vulnerable in a separately ventilated environment. … Or it may involve designing a physical space that, Bestor says, features ‘a robust video component so that people can watch remotely.’

“Gatherings via videoconference could become a way of life. Architects could find themselves designing spaces just for that purpose. …

“First, architecture firms, like all other businesses, must weather the pandemic. … The economics are dire. And yet there is a determination to not waste the moment.

“ ‘Every crisis is an opportunity,’ says Hernán Díaz Alonso, director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). ‘The optimist in me believes that this will force us to reevaluate everything that we do.’

“This is a time, he says, to ask ‘the big metaphysical questions’ about architecture and its purpose. It’s also about considering the nuts and bolts. ‘If we don’t get a vaccine, what does that mean? What does that mean in terms of physical space? What do you do with a doorknob?’ …

“ ‘Densities of offices will change,’ [says Bob Hale is partner and creative director at L.A.-based RCH Studios].

“This raises questions about one of the most popular — and widely reviled — workplace designs: the open-plan office, in which rows of workers are jammed around long bench desks.

“These are settings that have a poor track record when it comes to producing actual work. They also, according to a Danish study from 2011, account for significantly higher rates of sick leave — a phenomenon that played out in a study published by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April, which showed the ways coronavirus hopscotched around an open-plan call center in Seoul. …

“Instead, many of the architects I spoke with visualize once-cavernous spaces segmented into more intimately scaled settings with small clusters of desks. ‘We work in teams, so it’s easy to think of people in groups,’ says Paul Danna, a design partner in the L.A. office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, a global firm at work on an office development in Pasadena. ‘It’s a matter of putting barriers between groups as opposed to every individual.’ ”

The future of airports, affordable housing, and density of cities are among the many other design challenges addressed in the article, here. Enjoy.

Photo: Tara Wujcik
“Is there anyone out there who does not like fresh air and cross-ventilation or views?” asks Lawrence Scarpa in an article at the
Los Angles Times. The photo below is from a Brooks + Scarpa housing development for disabled vets that maximizes light and air.

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Photo: Walter McBride/ Getty Images
Using drones to clean theaters could have long-lasting effects. Here’s Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre with no people.

The other day, in my friend’s yard (six feet apart), we were discussing whether there were any positive things that would come out of the coronavirus — you know, like people washing their hands more and coughing into their elbows more and hence fewer colds. On this blog, we’ve seen lots of ideas from the arts community that could also continue in some form.  And what about more widespread appreciation of nature and healthy family relationships?

Changes in the way some companies do business may survive, too, but whether they will be positive remains to be seen. I’d be sorry to think the drone in today’s story would put anyone out of work. But as a curiosity, it’s something to talk about.

Marc Hershberg writes at Forbes, “As Broadway executives debate different strategies for reopening theaters following the COVID-19 pandemic, a Buffalo-based start-up company named EagleHawk has developed drones to spray disinfectants in Broadway theaters. …

“The disinfectant is stored on the ground, and pumped through a hose to the hovering drone, which then spreads it throughout the theater. Meanwhile, another drone drifts underneath it to make sure that the hose does not get tangled in any of the seats. …

“ ‘A Broadway theater could be disinfected by a drone in less than an hour, and without putting people on the front line,’ [Will Schulmeister, EagleHawk’s chief operating officer] said.

“While Broadway theater owners might be afraid of allowing the machines to flutter around their landmarked venues, the executives at EagleHawk insist that it is safe to operate inside. … The technology has been tested in several large venues, including KeyBank Center, the arena of the Buffalo Sabres professional hockey team. …

“While following the government guidelines for cleaning surfaces to get rid of pathogens like SARS-CoV-2, ‘we can control the liquid spray enough to not over-saturate the seats and still meet disinfection requirements,’ Schulmeister stated. …

“ ‘I could see the new drone technology being a good choice for arenas, stadiums, and large performing arts centers with thousands of seats,’ commented Susquehanna University theatre professor Erik Viker.

“While the leading Broadway theater owners declined to discuss their plans for cleaning seats after the pandemic, some facilities folks do not think that using the drones would fly.

“ ‘Actors are super hyper-sensitive to anything sprayed in the air,’ recognized a former theater executive. It is possible that the chemicals used to sanitize the seats might irritate some performers and affect their vocal abilities, much like dust and mildew. …

“Some smaller theaters have been experimenting with other possible alternatives, such as wands that emit ultraviolet light and machines that make antibacterial fogs. ‘We’re spending money on things to make the audience feel more comfortable,’ commented one small theater owner in Florida.” More at Forbes, here.

What coronovirus effects do you believe will last, if not cleaning by drone? More sense of community? More individualism and self-sufficiency? Sourcing food locally?

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Photos: Shelter in Place Gallery
Shelter In Place is a miniature, coronavirus-inspired gallery. It was launched by artist Eben Haines, who built the maquette and invited artists to submit works to scale.

If I didn’t believe that for most of us the lockdown would last a lot longer than the current “opening up” stuff, I’d write a post about happy I am to read books to grandchildren again and how sorry I am to see artists abandon their wildly inventive pandemic pursuits.

But I’m pretty sure most of us will still be self-distancing for many moons and enjoying the output from creative people that might never have happened but for coronavirus. I love following @covidartmuseum on Instagram, for example. Some of the submissions are a little too weird for me, but most of them make me laugh out loud. Another great source is the arts website Hyperallergic, where I recently learned about a miniature gallery called Shelter in Place.

Valentina Di Liscia wrote, “In the past month, a Boston gallery has managed to mount 15 exhibitions of brand-new works, with a rigorous program still to come. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, arts institutions around the globe shuttered one after the other; meanwhile, Shelter in Place Gallery [@shelterinplacegallery on Instagram] was not only founded during the crisis but continues to thrive.

“Of course, there’s a catch. Shelter In Place is a miniature gallery, measuring 20 by 30 inches and exhibiting scaled-down works in a model structure created using foam core, mat board, balsa wood, and plexiglass. Artists can submit works at a 1:12 or one inch to the foot scale, allowing them to create and show even ambitious, seemingly large-scale pieces — a romantic, suspended latex installation by Mary Pedicini; wall-to-wall canvases by B. Chehayeb — while traditional exhibition spaces remain closed. With high ceilings and skylights that flood the space with sunshine, the condensed gallery is impressively lifelike, giving artists room to get particularly creative. …

“The brilliant concept was devised by Eben Haines, a painter and graphic designer for exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston.

‘With the ongoing shutdowns and lockdowns across the globe, artists are having to stay home … So I’ve built SIP gallery as a new platform for Boston Artists (and eventually from all over) to allow for large scale artworks to be made at a desk or dining room table.’ …

“The idea first came to him back in 2018, long before the pandemic, when Haines was asked to participate in a group show at the Porch Gallery in Minneapolis titled Art Fair. The concept was simple: each artist received a 10-by-10-inch, white-painted MDF box that would serve as an ersatz fair booth where they could show scaled work. …

“Months later, as a rainy day project, he decided to create his own 1:12 scale model to house maquettes for large-scale works that he could not produce in his studio due to space or financial constraints. ‘But then the weather got better, and the more or less abandoned model stayed tucked away in my studio,’ he said.

“Enter the current crisis. Haines was one of more than 300 workers furloughed from the MFA Boston, which closed its doors in March … Haines dusted off the gallery model from years back and began making miniature paintings, initially as a strategy to continue working in his reduced studio space, which had shrunk from 400 square feet to a mere 10. But it dawned on him that other artists might be in a similar predicament, confined to less-than-ideal work conditions and aching to share their creations in a meaningful way. …

“All of the works on view are original, and it prioritizes new pieces as opposed to small copies of existing ones. Digital copies are all but prohibited. … So far, all works have arrived ready to be hung, which has made installations easier. …

“Haines emphasizes the project is not commercial; instead, any sales inquiries received are rerouted to the artists themselves, or to their galleries. Nicole Duennebier’s exhibition, for instance, nearly sold out before they could deliver the mini-paintings back to her gallery, 13FOREST. …

“Said Haines. ‘One of my ambitions for this project, besides urging people to step outside of their crisis mode for a little bit, is for artists to be able to use their submission proposals and photographs of their installed work to send to galleries, residencies, or grant programs, and have some momentum when the country opens back up. …

” ‘We’re honestly so busy with the local response we’ve had that it seems daunting to open it up, but once going to the post office gets a little safer and easier, I’d love to be able to show work from outside Boston,’ said Haines.”

Read the whole article at Hyperallergic, here. The pictures are amazing.

Wilhelm Neusser, “Untitled Bog Painting” (2020), oil on linen, a miniature.

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