Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Federer-Nadal: A welcome respite from American politics

Victorious / Roger Federer kisses the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup
trophy Sunday night after winning the 2017 Australian Open

men's singles championship for his 18th career Grand Slam title.

The Australian Open tennis fortnight down under in Melbourne, which wrapped up over the weekend first with the all-Williams women's final between Serena and Venus (won by Serena) and followed by the renewal of the great men's rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, was a very welcome respite for those of us here in the United States as we came to grips with a narcissistic president, who in his first week in office undermined many fundamental principles that shape our American democracy.

While the talk of Federer's stunning comeback – reaching the AO final after being out six months while recovering from a knee injury that required surgery – Nadal's return from a wrist injury was a welcome one, too. The Federer-Nadal final, which didn't exist on most fan's minds at the beginning of the tournament, left them feeling a bit giddy. Going the distance and playing five sets will do that.

There was a buzz of nostalgia in the air when Federer emerged victorious with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win that was his 18th career Grand Slam title. The Swiss is the all-time men's leader and Nadal, tied with Pete Sampras, is a distant second with 14.

Nadal said it was a special thing for both him and Federer to be playing together in the final of a Grand Slam, especially after a couple of years of having problems.

"I am a positive person (so) I never say never because I worked very hard to be where I am," Nadal said after his almost-five hour semifinal victory over Grigor Dimitrov that began last Friday night and finished in the wee hours of Saturday morning, a day before the Federer match. "I really have been working very hard. ... I always had the confidence that if I am able to win some matches, then anything can happen."

If President Donald Trump thrives on his own culture of self-inflicted conflict and chaos, Nadal thrives on a raw emotion that's filled with clinched fists and screams of "Vamos!" However, unlike the American reality TV host-turn-populist commander in chief, Nadal possesses many fine and likable qualities. He's a positive person, polite, mannered and respectful on court – even in defeat. These are a few attributes our new president could benefit from learning from Nadal.

With the old guard on the rise Sunday night, the AO final marked the ninth time that the 35-year-old Federer – the oldest male finalist in 43 years – and Nadal, 30, played for a Grand Slam title. Before Sunday, Nadal had won six of the previous eight finals meetings. Remarkably, they had not met for a major championship since the 2011 French Open, in which Nadal won his sixth of nine titles at Roland Garros. Nadal has long dominated his lifetime series against Federer, 23-12. Although if you eliminate matches on clay in which Nadal has a huge edge, the series tally is now even, 10-10.

"Being honest, in these kinds of matches I won a lot of times against him. Today he beat me, and I just congratulate him," Nadal said.

As Sunday night's final neared its conclusion, it became evident while studying the body language and facial expressions of both Federer and Nadal that neither wanted to lose. After all, there's joy in winning. With joy, it makes the suffering during big matches so much the better – especially ones that go five sets. Federer went the distance in each of his final three AO matches, Nadal in his last two. In victory or defeat, Nadal always shows an indomitable spirit – and it was on display again for the Rod Laver Arena crowd and a worldwide TV audience to enjoy when he and the always gracious Federer, who are friends off the court and foes on it, met for the 35th time in their storied careers.

Federer was thrilled to be back in the spotlight of another Grand Slam final. "Yeah. It's real now," he said. ... "I never ever in my wildest dreams thought I'd come this far in Australia. But here I am.

"Against Rafa it's always epic. This one means a lot to me because he's caused me problems over the years."

When match point was decided by a replay review that was upheld, Federer pumped his arms above his head and leapt up and down with much delight. Both happy and relieved, emotions poured out of Federer. He admitted afterward that it was an awkward way to win.

"I'm out of words, said Federer, as he addressed Nadal during an on-court interview while clutching the champion's trophy. "I don't think either of us believed we'd be in the final here when we were at your academy five, six months ago. Here we stand in the finals.

"I'm happy for you. I would have been happy to lose to you. The comeback was perfect as it was. It's been a difficult last six months, let's be honest. I wasn't sure I was going to be here, but here I am. This was a wonderful run, and I can't be more happy to win tonight."

Photo: Courtesy of Google Images.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Tuesday Night Memo: Thoughts on turning seven

Michael Dickens / A selfie. 
I've been interested in writing, reporting and storytelling for a long time. So, it's only natural that I turned to blog writing because it gave me an opportunity to hone my writing skills and a forum for writing about things of interest and importance.

As A Tuesday Night Memo turns seven today, here's a little history about it:

I started writing A Tuesday Night Memo on January 26, 2010, as a means for sharing musings about my life filled with music, sport, and urban travel, and to foster community with my friends, family and Facebook acquaintances. People who know me well know that I'm passionate about music, sport, and urban travel. Additionally, I have used my blog as a vehicle for writing about art, food, fashion, religion and gardening – and, more recently, about politics. Sharing news and photos about our flower gardens at home always seem to generate great interest and enthusiasm. Maybe, it's the pretty shapes and colors of our flowers that others find appealing.

Up to now, I have "blogged" 358 entries for A Tuesday Night Memo, which collectively have received  nearly 108,000 page views. Among the many subjects I have written about include: my appreciation of tennis champion Roger Federer, how the city of Seattle fosters community through international cinema, a history of the world as seen through 100 objects, classical music conductor Gustavo Dudamel, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, my love affair with Pink Martini, validating our travel through our photographs, and Jerry Seinfeld's Internet comedy Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. My most recent post focused on the importance of the Women's March held last weekend in Washington, D.C, and across America and the world. I have shared my interest in digital photography within my blog, which has enabled me to illustrate many if not all of my posts with nice visuals to match the words I've written.

The feedback many have shared is not only very much appreciated, but I also find it very useful. Much of it has been positive, but sometimes it's also been critical. Whether good or bad, I've found the feedback you provide to be a valuable learning tool. From time to time, I like to sneak a peek at my blog's statistics, which are the key indicators that show how many total "hits" my blog has received, which stories have been read the most, and what countries comprise the blog's readership. The numbers are modest but nevertheless interesting.

Here are a few fun facts about A Tuesday Night Memo I thought you might enjoy:

Since the debut of my blog, it has been read in dozens of different countries, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, France, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Hong Kong – even Brazil, India, Vietnam, and Australia. The top five countries reading my blog include the U.S, Russia, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. I hope Russia's interest in my blog has nothing to do with wanting to hack me because of my occasional forays into writing about Donald Trump.

* The most widely-read blog entry in terms of "hits" remains one I wrote back in December 2010 about "CNN International: Connecting the world," in which I explored the intelligent – albeit sometimes irreverent – manner that CNN International delivers the news and how it differs from it's American cousin that's based in Atlanta. Other top "hits" include musings about the artist Pablo Picasso and the British comedian Ricky Gervais. (I'm still trying to figure that one out!)

Looking ahead, I suspect the Trump presidency will continue to garner my interest and attention from time to time. How can it not? However, among things that I look forward to exploring, include: the effect digital music and media have in connecting our world, and my ongoing interest in exploring museums – and what we can learn from them.

In the meantime, I've thoroughly enjoyed sharing my writing with you throughout the past seven years, and I look forward to sharing more of my words and thoughts in what is shaping up to be another exciting year awaiting all of us.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Women's March: Inspiration, motivation, galvanization

Unity in numbers / Hundreds of thousands of women (and men), both
white and of color, marched for political activism in Washington, D.C. and
throughout America, and around the world. 

The American writer and poet Alice Walker, who wrote the critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple, once said "Activism is our rent for living on the planet." I think she was on to something because last Saturday women (and men), both white and of color, spanning a variety of economic and religious backgrounds, united for a just cause.

They marched for political activism. Health care, the economy, climate change, immigration, paid family leave, net neutrality, education, freedom of the press.

Millions united worldwide and took to the streets to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump and also to celebrate women's rights. On Saturday, they marched for democracy.

My heart and support goes out to my friends, family and loved ones – and to all – who marched not only in the Women's March in Washington, D.C., but also hundreds of sister marches throughout America and around the world. Through the power of their spoken and written words, as well as through their images and pictures that were shared via social media platforms – and, importantly, in their strength in numbers – we saw that there is such great hope for our country. I'm proud to see so many devote their time and energy towards walking for civil liberties and basic, fundamental human rights for all.

A view of the National Mall as seen from the U.S. Capitol,
during the Women's March in Washington, D.C. The
number of participants far exceeded expectations,
event organizers said, and it eclipsed the crowd attending
President Trump's inauguration a day earlier.
A day after President Trump's inauguration last Friday, in which he shared his uniquely dark and dystopian vision of the U.S., there was much support, love and light shown during the Women's March in Washington, D.C. According to the organizers of the event, the goal was to send a powerful message to the new administration and to the new President. Initial estimates numbered 500,000 participants in the nation's capital alone – considerably more than the 200,000 expected, and far exceeding the number who attended Friday's inauguration of the 45th President. Demonstrations remained peaceful throughout.

Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist and national co-chair of the Women's March on Washington, said during an interview Monday evening on MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes that she was extremely overwhelmed by the turnout. "Women showed up (all over the world) and showed their power," she said. Asked why the march exceeded expectations, Sarsour said: "We were able to speak to the values of people. We came together in solidarity to stand with the most marginalized people. We were also intersectional. It wasn't just about reproductive rights. It was climate justice and racial justice and immigrant rights. Everyone found a place to be there. We spoke to every one's inner frustrations. We went from Friday's devastation to Saturday's inspiration, motivation and galvanization."

In a New York Times editorial published on its website Monday, it wrote: "Whether President Trump, newly ensconced in the White House, was surprised or even noticed is unclear. Given his reputation, he may not even care. But the Republican Party should."

We are America /
Marching near the National Museum of
the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
(Photo by Carla Morris.)
Actress America Ferrera, who was one of the first speakers at the Washington, D.C. rally, said: "We march today for the moral core of this nation, against which our new president is waging a war. Our dignity, our character, our rights have all been under attack and a platform of hate and division assumed power yesterday. But the president is not America. ... We are America and we are here to stay."

The feminist icon Gloria Steinem, 82, also speaking in the nation's capital, exulted: "This is the upside of the downside. This is an outpouring of democracy like I've never seen in my very long life."

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, marching in Boston, said, "We can whimper. We can whine. Or we can fight back!"

Back in Washington, D.C., singer Madonna said matter-of-factly: "Let's march together through this darkness and with each step know that we are not afraid, that we are not alone that we will not back down. There is power in our unity and no opposing force stands a chance in the face of true solidarity." She added: "Today marks the beginning of our story. The revolution starts here. The fight for the right to be free, to be who we are, to be equal."

Energizing in the name of goodwill /
A sign proclaiming "My Body My Choice" was one of
many causes represented during the Women's March.
(Photo by Carla Morris.)
Among my many Macalester College friends who marched in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, Carla Morris, an independent consultant who is married and the mother of two young boys, described her march experience like this: "It was like we had all individually and collectively found the real America again! I did not see a single act of unkindness or disrespect all day long." On her Facebook page, Morris called the mood in Washington, D.C. "so jubilant. Everyone on the trains going down to the march beamed at each other, smiled, chanted together, clapped, traded stories, helped each other. ... It was so wonderful. A fabulous, energizing day of goodwill."

Among many speakers whom I saw while watching TV coverage via MSNBC and C-SPAN, I was particularly interested in learning viewpoints from people of color and of different religions, groups which are being marginalized by the Trump administration. I heard the passionate voices of Zahra Billoo, the San Francisco Bay Area Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and of Van Jones, founder and president of Rebuild the Dream, an American center-left political organization, and a former Obama Administration advisor.

Billoo, a Muslim-American, said: "Our America ... includes all of us in our beautiful diversity. Our America requires that we march to protect each other. Our America needs us to build a better future. We have our work cut out for us but we are ready."

Marching towards a better future /
The Women's March showed peaceful yet powerful activism.
(Photo by Carla Morris.) 
Meanwhile, Jones, a black male, reached out to both conservatives and liberals during his speech. He said: "This movement has the opportunity to stand up for the underdogs in the red states and the blue states, to stand up for the Muslims and the Dreamers ... but also to stand up for the coal miners who are going to be thrown under the bus by Donald Trump. We're going to stand up for them. All those Rust Belt workers who he doesn't want to mess with but wants to mess over, we've got to stand up for them. We have to have a position that's clear. When it gets harder to love, let's love harder."

Looking back upon this special and unique day, in Washington, D.C., throughout American cities from Seattle and San Francisco to Ann Arbor and Chicago, to Raleigh, Boston and New York, and around the world – a record turnout for protests the likes of which we have not seen since the Vietnam War  – there was great strength found in this peaceful yet powerful activism, and unity in its numbers.

On this memorable day, love truly trumped hate.

Photos: Courtesy of Google images and Carla Morris.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On art and politics: "We the People ... "

We the People of the United States ...

In just four days, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. With a lot of division surfacing throughout the country, many Americans are looking to art as a means of connecting us as human beings.

We the People ...
 are greater than fear.
"We the People are greater than fear," reads the message of a new poster created by Shepard Fairey, the graphic arts, muralist, illustrator and activist behind the iconic 2008 Hope posters he created for Barack Obama. Another new poster reads "We the People protect each other" and the third one says "We the People defend dignity."

There is a lot of division right now. Trump is not a healer," says Fairey. "Art, on the other hand, is healing and inclusive, whether topically it celebrates humanity, or whether it's just compelling visuals to make a human connection."

Interviewed recently by the PBS NewsHour, Fairey said "it was the right time to make a campaign that's about diversity and inclusion, about people seeing the common bonds we have, and our connections as human beings. The idea was to take back a lot of this patriotic language in a way that we see is positive and progressive, and not let it be hijacked by people who want to say that the American flag or American concepts only represent one narrow way of thinking."

Shepard has created three portraits for the "We the People" campaign. One depicts a Muslim woman wrapped in a hijab resembling an American flag. Another shows a young African-American girl and the third features a Latina female.

We the People ...
protect each other.
Two other artists, the Colombian American muralist Jessica Sabogal and the Chicano graphic artist Ernesto Yerena, each contributed to the project in collaboration with the Amplifier Foundation, a nonprofit that works to amplify grassroots movements and which commissioned the project. Together, the artists hope the faces of "We the People" – standing in for traditionally marginalized groups or those specifically targeted during Trump's presidential campaign – will flood Washington, D.C., on Friday during Inauguration Day.

According to Fairey, "All the subjects (in 'We the People') were photographed by people who relate to them somehow. The Muslim woman was shot by a Muslim photographer, the Latina woman shot by a Latino photographer, and the African-American kid shot by a French African-American woman photographer. We realized that this has got to be a diverse coalition of artists for us to do this, and that while it's good for us to be allies, this campaign really has to be authentically diverse."

Fairey went on to say in the PBS NewsHour interview, "We came to a conclusion as a group that in the language (for these posters) we want to say, 'We reject fear-mongering and exclusion.' But we also wanted to do it in a way that doesn't leave the door open for the Fox News type to say, 'This is reverse racism' ..."

We the People ...
defend dignity.
Adds Fairey: "It's hard to encapsulate the complexity of what we're facing, going into this Trump presidency, in three images. But we chose three groups that are vulnerable. In the history of the U.S., there are a lot of people who fled persecution from Europe on the basis of religious identities. The idea of championing the ideals of our forefathers and then limiting the movement of Muslims – it so confounding that this is not riling more people up. And so it's really time to do some (work) that I think is a counterargument to that, and that's not based on division but based on inclusion. We've seen where division has got us."

A Kickstarter campaign has begun that according to Fairey is "getting great traction." He said a goal of his group is funding an ongoing and expanding range of creative projects, with the next wave of people from all different communities. "We want to allow people to express all their social/political views around a number of issues – LGBT rights, women's rights – because a number of those things are going to be under attack under Trump."

Photos: We the People images by Shepard Fairey; U.S. Constitution courtesy of Google Images.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

On couture fashion: YSL and the perfection of style

Yves Saint Laurent / One of the greatest names
in couture fashion history.
The late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008) is regarded as one of the greatest names in couture fashion history. On the day after New Year's Day, my wife and I had the pleasure of seeing "Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style" at the Seattle Art Museum. It was the climax of our recent holiday visit to the Emerald City.

In this stunning exhibition showcasing highlights from the legendary couture designer's 44-year career, YSL's fashion featured loads of color and alchemy – and some gender-bending styles, too – and I found it to be plenty of enjoyable, escapist fun. It's no wonder that in 1985 the fashion historian Caroline Rennolds Milbank wrote of YSL: "The most consistently celebrated and influential designer of the past twenty-five years, Yves Saint Laurent can be credited with both spurring the couture's rise from its sixties ashes and with finally rendering ready-to-wear reputable." Indeed, YSL adapted his style to accommodate changes in fashion.

Love Me Forever /
Multicolored silk velvet
coat with appliqué.
In "Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style," over 100 haute couture and Saint Laurent rive gauche garments and accessories, photographs, drawings, films and other elements drawn from the collection of the Foundation Pierre Bergé were displayed. Those who were able to score a coveted timed-ticket over the holiday weekend, a week before it closed its three-month run, were treated to a journey through YSL's life, his creative process and his brilliant career.

Presented in a chronological fashion that began with the prodigy's Paper Doll Couture House that YSL created as a teenager (and seen in the U.S. for the first time), the colorful retrospective chronicled the designer's first days at Christian Dior in 1955, followed by his radical designs of the 1960s and '70s, and continued with the splendor of the final two decades of his career. Finally, the exhibition concluded with a collection of YSL's spectacular evening gowns that were arranged in an order from darkness to an explosion of color.

Throughout, there were daytime ensembles and dresses and evening ensembles and gowns. YSL dabbled in African art, Mondrian and Pop art, and a coat worn by Catherine Deneuve in Luis Buñuel's 1967 movie Belle de jour was displayed.

Cocktail dresses / Homage to Pop Art from Autumn-Winter 1966
haute couture collection.

Through a variety of photographs, drawings and production documents, exhibition-goers were treated to a rare behind-the-scenes look into YSL's creative process of his couture fashion house as well as his private life.

Individual shapes as wearable art /
This cocktail dress from Autumn-Winter 1965
was an homage to Piet Mondrian.
One of YSL's most popular dresses – and one which I took great time to study and photograph – was constructed from individual shapes sewn together to mimic the simplicity of a painting. This "wearable art" was inspired by the modern artist Piet Mondrian.

As I walked through the exhibition – where taking non-flash photographs were encouraged! – it became evident to me that, to paraphrase the famous Henry Miller quote, YSL developed an interest in a life of fashion as he saw it, as well as in people. He realized the world was so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people.

Note: The multifaceted exhibition was organized by the Seattle Art Museum in partnership with the Foundation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris. It was curated by Florence Müller, guest curator for the exhibition, and the Avenir Foundation Curator of Textile Art, Curator of Fashion at the Denver Art Museum in collaboration with Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM's Deputy Director of Art and Curator of European Painting & Sculpture. 

Fashion photos: By Michael Dickens © 2017.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Farewell to 2016: Everyday we wrote the book

Flying over Mount Adams, Washington, en route to Seattle,
provided me this photo opportunity last Friday morning.

We are less than a week removed from the end of 2016,

which is a good thing because it was a very tough year.

We lost a lot of dear and talented people: Ali, Bowie, Wiesel, come to mind.

However, with the arrival of 2017, the first blank page of a 365-page,

year-long book that each of us will author began to be filled.

All of us start the New Year with a clean slate.

Hopefully, each of us will take the time to write a thoughtful book, 

be it a memoir or a best-selling novel,

day by day, page by page.

 With 2017 coming into clearer view, we welcome its challenges.

Remember, the words of Ecclesiastes, who said:

"The race is not to the swift,

nor the battle to the strong."

Life is to be enjoyed day by day,

 one day at a time.

Take time for reading, listen to good music,

master a hobby like photography,

talk to good friends – and listen to them, too.

Here's wishing you and your loved ones a Happy New Year.

May each of you enjoy cheers, love and peace on earth

in the New Year ahead.