Friday, April 30, 2010

Tate Modern at 10

The Tate Modern is London's museum of international art. It sits along the south bank of the river Thames ~ the unfashionable side ~ in a former power station connected by the Millennium Bridge to mass culture and historic architecture.

Yet, as the Tate Modern celebrates it 10th birthday on May 13, it's become anything but unfashionable. The building, home to England's most important collection of modern and contemporary art, is one of London's most sought out attractions. It's helped transform a previously underdeveloped area of London and also given the city a new image as a leader in contemporary culture.

The Tate Modern's galleries are located inside what used to be the Bankside Power Station, originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, which closed in 1981. When it reopened in 2000, instead of displaying its collections in chronological order, the Tate Modern decided upon themes: Material Gestures, Poetry and Dream, Energy and Process, and States and Flux. Displaying art since 1900, it's an inviting place to see modern and contemporary works of Monet, Matisse, Picasso, Lichtenstein and Warhol.

In September, the Tate Modern hosts the first important Gaugin exhibition in Britain in 50 years featuring paintings and drawings from around the world by the master French Post-Impressionist.

During two visits to London, in 2005 and 2007, the Tate Modern was on my "Do List" of places to see ~ and Time Out London readers have nominated the Tate Modern as their favorite London landmark.

The Tate Modern's popularity with both tourists and locals is evident. Forty-five million visitors have ventured through its cavernous entrance since its debut only to be confronted by what The Guardian calls "the strange wonder" of Turbine Hall, "in which, in the annual Unilever Series of installations, they have been whispered to and disoriented, sun-worshiped and helter-skeltered."

I encourage you to explore the Tate Modern both in daytime and at night and to experience how the effect of outside light changes the personality of Turbine Hall inside. No doubt, you'll also enjoy the stunning panoramic view of the city walking along Millennium Bridge, which connects the Tate Modern facing to the south with historic St. Paul's Cathedral facing in the north.

Entry to the Tate Modern is free except for major exhibitions ~ it offers many activities for families with children ~ and it's an especially great place to hang after dark on Friday and Saturday evenings when it has extended hours until 10 p.m. The nearest Underground station is Southwerk (Jubilee Line), about a 600-meter walk from the museum, while the nearest mainline train station is about 800 meters away at Blackfriars. The museum can also be reached from several bus lines.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The pleasure of our gardens, part 3

New spring colors are blooming in our back yard garden ~ red, pink, white, orange ~ and everything's coming up roses.

As April winds down, our rose bushes are taking notice of the rising temperatures and increasing sunshine to produce many stunningly beautiful blooms. A few late-season rain showers the past couple of weeks haven't hurt, either.

Our First Prize rose bush already has yielded two blooms that have reached full maturity with several more just opening their petals. The same holds true for our white rose bush. Other varieties are ready to pop open this week including our All That Jazz, Queen Elizabeth and Mr. Lincoln rose bushes.

Yes, just like the Stephen Sondheim lyric from the song in Gypsy, everything's coming up roses for me and you.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why Treme matters

When the highly-anticipated series Treme debuted on HBO three Sundays ago, it quickly became apparent to me why the show matters.

Series creator and chief writer David Simon (The Wire) cares about nuance in his characters and in his stories. His attention to detail is exacting and he wants to get everything just right, especially when it pertains to music.

One of these nuances is the show's soundtrack. Music plays an important role in Treme (pronounced "Truh-MAY") and several of its main characters are musicians. Much of the 80-minute pilot consisted of watching musicians practice their craft. There's the fictitious Antoine Batiste (brilliantly portrayed by Wendell Pierce, who also played Det. Bunk Moreland in The Wire), a trombone player hustling from gig to gig and trying to make ends meet. There's trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, a real life local music legend, who understands his sense of community even when its in a state of recovery. Finally, there's Steve Zahn as a chatty, hipster local radio DJ named Davis McAlary (based on local musician/DJ Davis Rogan) who is passionate about New Orleans' musical heritage and would like nothing better than for Kermit Ruffins to be recognized by an audience beyond New Orleans.

Davis, who envisions Kermit opening for Elvis Costello on a national tour, confronts the trumpeter after a gig about his lack of seeking greater attention.

Davis: "All you want to do is get high, play some trumpet and barbeque in New Orleans your whole damn life?"

Kermit: "That'll work."

In Episode 2, we see Elvis Costello and Alvin Toussaint recreate the recording session for "Tears, Tears and More Tears" from their album The River In Reverse ~ one of the first albums recorded after the storm at the Piety Street Recording Studio. Costello was one of the first globally-known musicians to visit New Orleans post-Katrina and now performs annually at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

If the first two episodes are any indication, we're in for an abundance of great, inspiring music that is part of the Crescent City ~ jazz, funk, zydeco, rhythm and blues ~ from many who have contributed to the New Orleans soundtrack over time: Johnny Boutte', Rebirth Brass Band, Dr. John, Elvis Costello, Allen Toussaint, Beau Jocque and the Zydeco Hi-Rollers, Louis Armstrong, the Radiators and the Meters.

Some of this music is plainly seen and heard. The Rebirth Brass Band's "Feel Like Funkin' It Up" is played in the first second-line parade after the storm. Kermit Ruffins plays "Skoiaan" at a gig at Vaughan's, a popular night spot. At other times, the music pops up subtly, like Louis Prima's "Buona Sera" during a New Orleans night montage or Lee Dorsey's "Ya Ya" playing in the background during an interior scene at Antoine's home.

Fortunately, the HBO Treme website,, posts the music featured in each episode as well as how it appears, and much of it is available on iTunes.

Perhaps, one of the enduring legacies of Treme will be that of a great primer for those who want to learn more about why the New Orleans soundtrack matters. And it matters.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Vin Scully: Soundtrack of the Summer Game

Vin Scully loves the challenge of describing things. With his voice, Scully creates vivid word pictures that colorfully illustrate America's Pastime ~ and nobody does it better.

Scully, 82, has broadcast thousands of Dodgers games on radio and television for the past 60 years. From the team's "Boys of Summer" glory days in Brooklyn to its move west to Los Angeles, Scully's voice is synonymous with Dodgers baseball.

A native of New York City, Scully was hired by the Dodgers in 1950 a year after graduating from Fordham University. At age 25, he became the youngest broadcaster of a World Series Game. His distinguished career has spanned 12 presidential administrations from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. In 1982, he was inducted into the broadcasters wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

On Sunday, unbeknownst to him, Scully celebrated the 60th anniversary of his first regular-season Dodgers broadcast, which took place on April 18, 1950. Fast forward to April 18, 2010 where he was behind the mike as the Dodgers beat the Giants 2-1 behind an eighth inning pinch-hit home run by Manny Ramirez ~ a homer exuberantly described by Scully on the Dodgers' TV broadcast.

Scully told the Los Angeles Times that he had "no particular memory" of his first Dodgers broadcast, which was against the Phillies at Philadelphia's Connie Mack Stadium. However, he added, the memories of his first season with the team were clear.

"That first team, the so-called Boys of Summer, that was my graduating class. That was such an amazing collection of players," said Scully. The 1950 Dodgers team included Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider and Roy Campanella. "So I guess that was the team that made the most impression on me."

Among Scully's many broadcast highlights for the Dodgers, there are two that stand out for me, both of them from radio: One I heard as a 10-year-old kid growing up an avid Dodgers fan in southern California; the other happened a generation later after I had become a Twins fan living in St. Paul, Minn. Both show Scully's mastery of the English language and each brings out his enviable personality.

The first highlight is Scully's call of the ninth inning of Sandy Koufax's 1965 perfect game against the Cubs broadcast on Dodgers radio. (An audio link to Scully's play-by-play is below.)

The other highlight is Scully's call of Kirk Gibson's two-strike, two-out, two-run game-winning homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against the A's broadcast nationally on CBS radio. (A partial transcript of Scully's play-by-play call is below.)

"High fly ball into right field, she is gone," said Scully, who then remained silent for more than a minute, allowing listeners to absorb the drama and excitement of the moment. He resumed: "In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.

"And, now, the only question was, could he make it around the base paths unassisted? You know, I said it once before, a few days ago, that Kirk Gibson was not the Most Valuable Player; that the Most Valuable Player for the Dodgers was Tinkerbell. But, tonight, I think Tinkerbell backed off for Kirk Gibson. And, look at Eckersley ~ shocked to his toes. They are going wild at Dodger Stadium ~ no one wants to leave!"

How has Scully maintained his enthusiasm for his profession after six decades in the broadcast booth? "I feel only overwhelming gratitude," said Scully, in the the Los Angeles Times interview. "You feel blessed that you've lived that long, that you've been allowed to do what you love to do for that long, and that my health has held up all those years. It's humbling to think that you've been that fortunate and that God has blessed you with that time."

It's this gift of time Scully has given to baseball ~ and for the Dodgers ~ that is truly an enduring legacy. His voice is the soundtrack of the Summer Game.

(Below, I have attached some Vin Scully links of interest.)

Vin Scully ~ Wikipedia entry.

NPR feature from 2007 with audio of Vin Scully's 1962 call of Sandy Koufax's first no hitter

Vin Scully ~ Biography from Dodgers' website

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The pleasure of our gardens, part 2

Our iris bed has been bursting with activity as it usually does every April.

I am happy to announce the arrival of the first iris blooms of the season.

This morning, as I departed our house for work, I noticed that three irises had opened up overnight. Each iris looks very splendid in its customary purple and white colors with long green stems.

Judging from these first blooms and those that are blooms-in-waiting, it's going to be a good season for our irises.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The pleasure of our gardens

"Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year."
~ Robert Frost

One of the pleasures gained from owning a home the past decade has been nurturing our perennials. Our front-yard garden includes a rhododendron, a camellia, a fuchsia and lots of calla lilies. Ten rose bushes and a bed of irises line our back yard. There is an azalea bush and lavender bushes, too. Previous owners planted most of it; we're merely the caretakers of their legacy. It has been educational to keep them healthy, and fun to photograph them.

Each of the plants has its own growth cycle during the year. Luckily, there is always something in bloom. Now that the warmer spring weather has arrived, our iris bed has been bursting with activity. By the end of the week, there should be numerous purple and white blooms.

The first rose of the year, a First Prize, bloomed last week. Soon, our other rose bushes will create a palette of pretty colors that will last until November. The camellia tree has been in bloom since Halloween, and our calla lilies have dotted the landscape very nicely since Christmas. Finally, a couple of newly-opened azaleas last week coincided with the playing of the Masters Championship in Augusta, Ga., where azaleas reign supreme.

Our moderate Bay Area weather contributes to year-round gardening and enjoyment. It is true, April showers do bring May flowers ~ and, in another month, it's going to be quite lovely and colorful.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A great time of year to be a sports fan

It's a great time of the year to be a sports fan. With so many iconic events taking center stage and grabbing our collective attention, what's not to like?

The first full week of April is here and our sports calendar is filled with great sporting events: the NCAA men's and women's Final Four in basketball, Major League Baseball's Opening Day and The Masters Championship, one of pro golf's premier tournaments. In addition, the NBA and NHL seasons are nearing their "second" seasons as playoffs begin soon. Even in its off-season, the NFL holds its annual draft later this month, which has everyone across the country fantasizing over who's going to be the No. 1 pick.

With three marquee sporting events ~ the NCAA Final Four, Major League Baseball Opening Day and The Masters Championship ~ occurring on or near Easter, it makes for an interesting convergence of the sacred and secular. It's definitely one of my favorite times of the sporting year.

Basketball's NCAA March Madness is very neatly packaged over three weekends and brings together the best and brightest college basketball teams playing down to one national champion. The task is simple: win six consecutive games and attain the spoils of T-shirts and caps, not to mention the joy of cutting down the net before a national TV audience.

In the men's tournament, a Cinderella team (Butler) complete with its youthful, 33-year-old coach, Brad Stevens, faced a team of enduring excellence (Duke) that is coached by one of the game's great masters, Mike Krzyzewski ~ and the two schools provided an absolutely wonderful conclusion to this season in a championship game that came down to the last shot and was won by Duke 61-59.

On the women's side, a match up of top seeds from the East (Connecticut) and West (Stanford) showed why UConn, winners of 78 consecutive games and back-to-back national championships, is the gold standard of women's collegiate basketball. Plus, the team's respective coaches, Gino Auriemma (UConn) and Tara VanDerveer (Stanford), are easily recognized by basketball fans on a first-name basis ~ Gino and Tara.

The Major League Baseball season opener always coincides with the NCAA Final Four ~ not sure why the two have to conflict with one another year after year, but they do ~ and it's a sure sign that spring has arrived. This year, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees met in the new-traditional Sunday Night opener at Fenway Park in Boston ~ and, from looking at how the fans were attired, you would have thought it was the middle of summer as the game-time temperature was in the upper 60s. The traditional Monday openers provided a lot of great highlights, including two homers by St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, the reigning National League MVP.

Finally, The Masters Championship is professional golf's most sacred event ~ an elite field playing on the cathedral-like Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta, Ga., replete with dogwoods and azaleas ~ and its biblical-sounding Amen Corner, which refers to holes 11, 12 and 13.

The term Amen Corner was first coined in 1958 by Sports Illustrated writer Herbert Warren Wind. According to legend, Wind was looking for an appropriate metaphor to describe where most of the critical action had taken place in the tournament that year, much of it involving the legendary Arnold Palmer. Wind borrowed the name, Amen Corner, from a old jazz recording "Shoutin' In That Old Amen Corner."

This year's event takes on even more significance with the return of Tiger Woods to professional golf, and what bigger or better stage to do it at than at The Masters? Expect big TV ratings this weekend as long as Tiger is in contention.

So, whether you're a Dukie or, like so many, have jumped on the Butler bandwagon; have a love or hate relationship with the Yankees or Red Sox, or watch but one golf event a year, there's no denying this: it's a great time of the year for sports in America ~ and to be a good sport, too.