Thursday, March 28, 2019

Book Review of BUILT by Roma Agrawal

Built by Roma Agrawal

Built is a lucid well written book on a subject that would frighten most folks—i.e. the complicated high end world of engineering with its dependence on math, physics, chemistry, computers, and history.  Undaunted into this subject comes Roma Agrawal, a woman in a traditionally male profession,  who has a remarkable gift for explaining the most complicated things using clear prose and simple examples. The scope of her discussions covers literally the entire history of structures from the Stone Age to modern skyscrapers.

Did you know the complex history of the simple brick, the structure of the arch, or the creation of  bridge spans, sewers, and skyscrapers?  Roma covers them all with supreme ease and a nice sense of humor about her position in conference rooms the world over as the only female in large groups of men.  

If you have done any kind of world traveling, you can truly enjoy this book because you’ve seen a lot of the structures she talks about like the Pyramids, the Pantheon, the Eiffel Tower, the great Cistern in Istanbul,  and the Gherkin and the Shard (which she helped design) in London.  But mainly it was her lucid explanations and wry humor that appealed to me.  I mean what author can get away with a whole chapter devoted to the “Turd Trade” and can put it to rest by simply noting “That’s probably enough of poo.”

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Lost City of the Monkey Gods Book Review

 Preston, Douglas    Lost City of the Monkey Gods                            

Archaeology and Anthropology have been in my blood since college. The theatre kind of sidetracked me for some forty years, but I remain today an avid consumer of the life and lore of ancient societies.  The cover of the Lost City of the Monkey Gods jumped at me and almost immediately I was immersed in the  search for a hidden city lost for five hundred in the tropical jungle of Honduras. The early chapters of the book recount early legends and the search for this city over the last hundred years. Then with the introduction of new ground coverage penetrating radar and satellite imagery enough evidence was produced to set up a ground expedition to visit it.  

Then came chapters devoted to the expedition itself.  We learned about the difficulties of securing the necessary permissions and permits and then about the logistics for establishing a camp in an area of unexplored jungle that was deemed to be filled with poisonous snakes, predatory mammals, and hordes of nasty insects.  The city was there and there were even undisturbed artifacts to preserve.  

As the public and other scholars learned about the discovery efforts were made to attack the scientific credentials of the explorers, but they persevered. Unfortunately, while fighting the public relations battle, a number of members of the team came down with a dangerous and life threatening tropical parasitical disease. The affliction has been traced all the way back to the dinosaurs and is still a scourge in many jungle environments.  A complete cure has not been found even today.  

At this point the book shifts to a discussion of pandemics in human history and how they spread. The prime exemplar was the decimation of New World populations by Old World conquerors carrying diseases which the New World population had no immunity to. Preston feels that our new problem is that the current First World is faced by a potential attack by Third World diseases. He observes that as the climate warms tropical diseases will begin to infect more and more northern latitudes. Aids, Zica, West Nile, etc. are increasing as the climate warms. The sand flea that carries the Leish parasite (which infected the expedition members) has now been recorded as far north as Oklahoma.  

While starting as a thrilling story of archaeological discovery the book turns into a scary trope on the next possible threat to world population. Fascinating.   


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Yume Japanese Garden--Tucson

My wife and I took advantage of a pleasant sunny Saturday to pay a visit to the Yume Japanese Garden in Tucson.  It has a couple of interior galleries and an open air garden that is full of delightful Japanese spaces that just plain invite you to sit and contemplate or to take photos.  Enjoy!
There are Zen gardens
Complete with warnings for the uninitiated .
There are pleasant spaces with tantalizing views into other areas via circular cubby holes. 

One section has a lovely dry stream. My friend Harlow Blum will appreciate this.

Another corner gives onto a traditional koi pond


compete with hungry koi
A quiet nook gives you a chance to refresh

You can then resume your walk to look at some large rocks hauled all the way from the Santa Catalina mountains and now arranged in a henge like ring.

Everywhere you stroll you come across simple but powerful arrangements.



Seated in one little nook you can look through a bamboo screen into another part of the garden.  I really enjoyed this space.


My wife took a liking to some of the artifact exhibits.

Since our long time friends, the Waltershausens, love
Tetsubins (iron Japanese teapots, I had to take a shot of these two just for them.


Thanks for taking a trip through the Yume Japanese Garden at
2130 N. Alvernon in Tucson, AZ.  Their tiny little parking lot is just two turns after the Tucson Botanical Garden.  Check their website for hours etc. 



Thursday, March 14, 2019

My take on If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk, (a film by director Barry Jenkins, who also directed Moonlight).

The film was nominated for three Oscars and Regina King did win best supporting actress for her portrayal of Tish’s mother. The movie, based on a novel by James Baldwin, definitely takes viewers on two different paths depending on their racial background. For many African-Americans a belief in the endemic racism of our criminal justice system overrides all. The young lovers Fonny and Tish, like Romeo and Juliet, are doomed and no efforts to stop the tragedy will be successful.  As a white male I still empathized with the lover’s plight, but did find that I was asking a few more questions about why certain things could not be altered in spite of the racial divide and why some continuity gaps seemed so bothersome. Both groups (and most critics) agree that the film features excellent acting, interesting cinematography, and a compelling musical score. But I am still in the camp that would like to know why certain issues were left unresolved.  


For instance, what happened to Fonny’s friend?  Did the alibi he was to provide stand up or did he renege under pressure from the DA? I am still wondering why Tish’s mother and not the lawyer was dispatched to Puerto Rico to talk to the rape accuser. As one reviewer noted that scene simply pitted two aggrieved women against each other in a conflict that neither one could win. Tish appears to be living at home during her pregnancy, then all of a sudden she is back at the love nest to have a water birth in the scummy tub. Not sure I can explain that continuity jump. The fathers resort to thievery to help raise money for the lawyer raising the old question of does one wrong justify further wrongs.  This may just emphasize the difference between Baldwin and Martin Luther King. In the last scene Fonny and Tish’s son seems at least five or six and Fonny is clearly still in jail. Did he plead?  Was he tried and convicted?  Was he still waiting to go to trial?


In spite of my minor reservations, the film admirably portrays the broken relationship between the justice system in America and the African American community. It certainly resonates as much today as it did when Baldwin wrote the novel.  I give it four stars out of five.


Monday, March 11, 2019

REVIEW: Mary Zimmerman's The Secret in the Wings


Mary Zimmerman’s The Secret in the Wings is the latest offering at Tucson’s Rogue Theatre. What is not a secret is that hiding in the wings is a Rogue company that is a superlatively talented and well-oiled theatre making machine.  They give and get with never a sense that someone must be the star. And always they exude an absolute joy in working together. This is a true ensemble of players whose composite is far more than any individual within. They are also the ideal set of actors to generate the milieu needed for a show like this. Kudos to Cynthia Meier for her outstanding work in bringing this early Zimmerman piece to the stage.

I believe The Secret in the Wings was first performed professionally in 1991 in Chicago by the Looking Glass Theatre with Zimmerman herself doing the directing.  The plot retells a series of fairly unfamiliar fairy tales that are truncated near their climaxes in order to start telling another one. The conclusions to the tales occur as the show winds down.  A frame story also tracks through the piece.  It features a Beauty and the Beast narrative in which two parents leave their daughter with a neighbor to babysit while they go out. The beastly neighbor is an ogre who has a real tail and fills the young girl with terror as he continually asks for her hand in marriage. Director Meier notes in her excellent program comments that “This structure makes the stories seem even more dream-like as we in the audience try to piece the different elements together.”

We could go on from here to muse on the cultural significance of “fairy tales” and how they have tapped  the deep unconscious feelings of all humans for hundreds of years, but suffice it to say that those thoughts only occur after the fact and never bubble up during the performance of the show. I was thoroughly held by the stories, the beautiful piano accompaniment, and the swirling activity of the players as they metamorphosed from character to character simply by donning a new crown or dress or cloak.  The tales are a bit “Grimm” at times, but there is plenty of humor to balance out the scary parts. e.g. the beheadings are managed with black hoods, a phony knife, and semi-deflated bright red balls. 

I have implied that there is no pressing need to label outstanding performances in this beautiful ensemble piece.  If I applaud any individuals it would be Patty Gallagher and Joe McGrath for their ability to match the physical energy levels of the younger folks in the cast.

Technically the show is lovingly smooth. The lighting is subtle and colorful. Most interesting to me was the razor sharp square on the floor that the young woman in the "Two Pennies" story clawed at several times. The costumes were often drawn deliberately from past Rogue productions.  I was particularly pleased to see the snake puppets from the company's last Zimmerman production getting an encore.  Mr. McGrath’s set was full of earth tones and pointed nicely to the world of dreams and the unconscious by putting us in a basement reached by a long set of stairs. The space  was filled with the detritus of an attic which became the props and costumes used in the show. There were buckets, old clothes, a model ship, dress forms, and a striking set of elaborate practical old floor lamps. 

The show only runs for another week and if yesterday’s full house was any indication, there will not be many seats left for the rest of the run.   See it if you can.