February 2004 Archives

February 29, 2004

Leap Year Day

We bought our first car on a leap year day - Feb 29, 1984. It was an '84 Honda Prelude. We loved that car, but it wasn't much good if you wanted have anyone ride with you. (One review acknowledged that it was a four seater, but you could only bring your friends along if you cut off their legs and put them in the trunk.)

When the CA state auto registration slip came back, it read "02/00/84".

A visit to Gehry's Disney Concert Hall

After several cloudy weekends out here in LA, we finally got a weekend with decent weather. I took the opportunity to visit the new Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

Architecture has been described as "frozen music." The Disney hall is more like a old-fashioned phonograph record; you are the needle, and ask you walk around it, you play back the recording that architect Frank Gehry laid down.

But like music, I suspect it would take a while - and multiple visits - to appreciate Gehry's building. Most buildings are pretty straightforward - walk around them once, and you have a pretty good idea of them. Look at the outside, and you can figure out what's inside. That's not really true of the Disney Hall.

I've found that I can't really internalize a place until I've been to it. I couldn't understand New York - Manhattan - until I went to it a few times. Then I finally understood how the parts fit together - where the World Trade Center and Central Park were with relationship to each other. I had that same experience with the Disney Concert Hall. I've seen pictures of the Disney Hall, but the picture don't really give you any feeling for how the building fits into the environment, and what it's like to walk around the building. From pictures, you might imagine that the Disney Hall is a big sculpture, with no real place for people. In fact, the Disney Hall invites you to walk around, to explore its nooks and crannies. (And unlike most rectangular buildings, it really does have nooks.)

I took some pictures of Disney Hall. What's unusual about taking pictures of this building is that it just isn't a rectilinear structure - there are an infinity of angles and points of view bound up in this one building.

I took the self-guided audio tour, which costs $10. It's worth the money, but the one disappointment is that you don't get to see the point of the whole place - the tour doesn't go into the concert hall itself.

Photographs - and tv for that matter - can distort the scale of a place. When I saw Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum, I was surprised at how small it was. The Disney Hall is not small; it is in fact larger and more interesting than the pictures suggest. But not overwhelming. It doesn't scream "I'm a great building" like some places do. But like a great piece of music, it's clearly a place that you'll want to revisit.

February 27, 2004

A couple of books for Lent

I always have lots of books in various states of progress; right now I've got stacks of partially read books because I have so much time to read. Mostly I read non-fiction, but Lent just started, so it's a good time for some reflective reading.

Just around the corner from the house where I'm renting a room in Pasadena is a bookstore called The Archives. Before I went in, I assumed it was a used bookstore; instead I found it was a store specializing in church history, bible studies, and theology. It's not really a Christian bookstore as such, but rather the kind of store where one entire aisle is devoted to "preaching," and where you wonder if the people you see in that aisle on a Saturday afternoon are looking for a little inspiration for the next morning. It's sort of a technical bookstore for those in the field of religion. (The Fuller Theological Seminary is just a few miles away.) And although it isn't the kind of bookstore I'd normally go in, it was a bookstore, so I looked.

I'm a relativist in most things: I try to take each person and situation as they come. What's right for me may not be right for you. So when it comes to faith, I don't do well with books that tend towards the absolute.

The first book I picked up was The Ironic Christian's Companion by Patrick Henry. The back of the book had a review that mentioned Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris.

So far, Amazing Grace is the better of the two. It's actually a book of short essays on words of faith: words such as silence, preaching, worship, anger, trinity ... It's an eclectic list, and each essay illustrates some part of Ms. Norris's journey. It's her combination of ambivalence, perseverance, and humility that touches me:

I find it sad to consider that belief has become a scary word, because at its Greek root, "to believe" simply means "to give one's heart to." Thus, if we can determine what is is we give our heart to, then we will know what it is we believe.
  --- from Kathleen Norris's essay on Belief, Doubt, and Sacred Ambiguity

The Ironic Christian's Companion isn't as compelling, but anyone that manages to combine references to Star Trek: The Next Generation, Monty Python's Galaxy Song, Edwin Abbott's Flatland, and Andres Serrano's photo "Piss Christ" in the first 50 pages has something going on. I'm still reading.

February 10, 2004

Biking to work

I'm out in California full time right now. Earthlink's funding for me to go back and forth from CA to Atl (where my family still lives) ended on February 1. Since the $$ are on my tab now, I ditched the Homestead Studio Suites that had been my sporadic home for eight months, and rented a room in a house near to work.

The other thing that went was the rented car. I don't have any real desire to buy a car - when the family moves out here at the end of the school year, we'll already have two cars.

However, I did have the foresight to ship my bike out here last June. The house I'm staying in is less than three miles from work, a perfect distance to do a two-wheeled commute.

So starting a week ago, I left the life of a car driver behind - at least for a short while - and started the life of a person who only goes as far as he can ride.

I can't claim to have anything like Frank Steele's bike commute- Frank goes 9 miles in Atlanta, which I wouldn't try - but hey, I'm at least a little older than Frank, and I haven't ridden a bike regularly in at least 20+ years - not since college. (It's a pretty poor excuse, but I'll take it.)

My ride is much more modest - three miles each way - and in much better weather. (Pasadena's forecast for tomorrow - low of 41, high of 70, with 20% humidity.) It's close enough that I can ride to work in street clothes, compromising only on wearing tennis shoes and changing when I get in.

Still, I rode to church yesterday, and then I rode off to a movie theater, and then rode home. And today I rode out for lunch.

I confess that it won't be this strict for long. This coming weekend I'm going to fly up to Sacramento to see my parents, and they're going to loan me their Nissan Pathfinder. However, Pasadena doesn't allow overnight parking on the street, and the landlady doesn't want to see any large cars around. (The cars have to line up in the driveway.) So I'll park the Pathfinder at work (we have a fenced in lot with a card key access), and I'll I'll use the car mostly on weekends to take longer trips around LA. And I'll keep riding to work.

February 9, 2004

My Architect

I saw a very good movie this weekend - My Architect: A Son's Journey. It's a film about architect Louis Kahn made by his son Nathaniel Kahn. The intriguing part of the story is that Louis Kahn had three families: his wife, and her daughter, a daughter by another woman, and then a son by yet another woman - Nathaniel Kahn.

Kahn died in 1974 in a bathroom in New York's Pennsylvania station. His son takes up the quest to find his father, which means journeying to his buildings as well as talking to people who knew him.

N. Kahn's film is nominated for an Oscar as best documentary, and this past weekend it won a Director's Guild Award in that category.

It's a beautiful film, with better cinematography and sound than you might expect from a documentary. And that's good, because at least part of the story of understanding Louis Kahn is appreciating his buildings.

Perhaps the most affecting building comes at the very end, when Nathaniel travels to Bangladesh. Louis Kahn designed the National Assembly building in Dhaka. The building is huge, and the impact is all the greater when you hear that this huge building was constructed essentially by hand - the workers bringing in the concrete bucket by bucket. The building was completed after Kahn's death, but the impact on Nathaniel Kahn - and on us - is palpable.

At least one criticism I've read knocks the movie for having focusing too much on Nathaniel and his quest to know his father. But that's what keeps the moving from becoming a Travel Planet documentary - the struggle to make sense of this man, what he left behind, and what he was and wasn't to those around him. I'm an architecture buff, but I felt the balance was just right. (One of my favorite parts was his visit to one of Kahn's early buildings, the Richards Medical Center in Philadelphia. He talks to people who work in the building, and they criticize it - too sterile, doesn't work, too cold - and Nathaniel himself admits that as much as he wants to like the building, he can't. That little surprise was the point at which I realized that this wasn't going to be a simple pean to Kahn's talents, but more complicated exploration - much like the man himself.