Zen & X-Country

January 28th, 2015

Freshly groomed cross-country ski trails in Durand Eastman Park in Rochester, New York

Donations to the Rochester X-Country Ski Foundation are in order this year. The groomed trails in the parks are the best option for skiing due to the lack of a substantial snowfall that would cushion the trials in the woods. And all that time out in the open covering a vast expanse of open land (golf course) has made us better skiers. When we first started it was clearly a trudge. I would say we skied no faster than we would move through the snow on foot. Then came a slow glide and it was much less effort than walking and we covered more ground. Now we have taken to studying the motion of skiers who ski like you would skate. We mimic them for a few strokes and then stop to marvel at the scenery.

Galaxie 300

January 27th, 2015

Bowling balls at Park View Bowl on Culver Road in Rochester, New York

I’ve read that Rochester used to have more bowling lanes per capita than any other city in the world. Park View Bowl in Sea Breeze might have capitalized on that boom, somewhere in the fifties or sixties, when they busted a hole in the side of their concrete-block building and added a seventh and eighth lane. That’s where they put our crew on Monday night, a perfect spot as we surely would have disrupted the regular’s groove.

Louise wore her Hendrix t-shirt and she and Peggi were the only women in the place other than the owner’s sister who was behind the bar while her brother bowled. But they did have room for us tonight so we each picked out a ball. Louise chose a “Smart Ball.” It was so light it couldn’t fully return on the ramp that brings your ball back. My solid black ball weighed a ton and was labeled “Ebonite.” Peggi chose a blue sparkly ball called “Galaxie 300.” We laughed about that one because Louise’s bother played in a band called “Galaxie 500.” Matthew’s ball was nicknamed “The Hammer.”

One dollar bought three tunes on the juke box. Mine went for the Righteous Brothers, Temptations and Stones. I bought the second pitcher and the owners’s sister started to pour Yuengling. I asked if she could make this one Labatt’s Blue and she gave me a Marlene Dietrich worthy look of exasperation. Earlier, when I asked for size eleven shoes, she said, “I can’t reach those.” Her brother, Kevin, is a sweetie. He tallied up our scores at the end of both games because we none of us could keep score.

Louise tell this story better.

Three Women

January 26th, 2015

RGE circle on street in front of our house

You know how it gets in the depth of winter, you don’t see your neighbors for weeks at a time. Well we headed out for a walk the other day and ran into Jared who told us he was just inspecting the work RGE had done in front of Diane’s house. He said Diane had called him to find out if he knew what was going on out there. If I wanted to know what was going on I couldn’t think of a better call to place either. Jared thinks the power company may be preparing to replace the gas lines that run down our street. Or maybe the artists on staff there were charged with brightening up our dreary, grey landscape.

Our red envelope of the week contained “Finding Vivian Maier” and it is just fantastic. It is fantastic because Vivian’s photos are so incredible, in league with Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus and Robert Frank but a true original. Working as a nanny and completely unknown as an artist in her lifetime, her treasure trove of negatives could be the greatest garage sale find in history. She was damaged in some way but had finely tuned observation skills. She followed her nose on the street and brought back an extraordinary record of of what it’s like to be human.

Diana Vreeland is a dynamo. I knew next to nothing about her other than her name and that Warhol probably did a portrait of her. Seems like she was always in Interview magazine but I just never caught up with her until this documentary, “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel.” Vreeland was a first rate creative artist. OK, she wasn’t the best mother. The movie is exhilerating.

While I’m reading “Kansas City Lightning” Peggi finished “Joni Mitchell – In Her Own Words” by Malka Marom and that led to another viewing of “Joni Mitchell – Woman of Heart and Mind: A Life Story” in which the author of the book makes an appearance. I was knocked out by “Ladies of the Canyon” and still love it to this day. “Circle Game” is one of the songs I’d put on a playlist for my funeral. And I enjoyed the way Joni scolded the audience here when she opened for Dylan in 1998. Performances like that stick with you.

It might be time for another screening of Altman’s “Three Women.”

Bowling And Art

January 23rd, 2015

Park View Bowl on Culver Road in Sea Breeze

Matthew’s company car, a hybrid, lost its charge in Syracuse so our bowling date was cancelled or rather postponed until last night. But the eight lanes at Park View Bowl were all occupied with a women’s league when we got there. The idea contained in the name of a view of the park (Durand Eastman) while you’re bowling is crazy. We had a drink at the bar and I returned Matthew’s “Speaking of Art: Four decades of art in conversation” book. I wanted to show Louise this quote from Nancy Spero, Leon Golub’s wife and one of the artists in the book, but there wasn’t enough light at the bar for her to see it.

“There’s a basic risk in the practice of art itself, in that it’s something that’s not wanted particularly by society. Only a few understand the need for this innocence in a culture, and yet it is the artifact of a culture in the final sense of the word.”

And I thought this one from Ed Ruscha was nice especially because he found common ground between his work and Morandi’s. “One of my favourite artists is Giorgio Morandi, and he painted the same picture for all of his life and did it very well. He fulfilled his destiny without doing any of this pushing into new frontiers. So pushing into a new frontier is not a necessity for any artist. But unless it’s done by someone, things end up at a standstill.”

The night was young so we moved down the road to the Reunion, another bar we had never set foot in. Sea Breeze apparently used to have a small shop that supplied the word with clown shoes and sure enough there was one over the bar. They have a print of Goya’s “Naked Maja” in an ornate frame and a sign that looked vintage but used contemporary jargon. “Wine. How classy people get wasted.” We pumped dollar bills into the juke box and played three games of 8-Ball on the pool table. We were both good and bad.

Cobbs Hill 2000

January 21st, 2015

Not really sure what year this is so we’ll call it 2000. Steve Black was in town from Singapore with his pre-digital movie equipment and Margaret Explosion was a skeleton crew. In case you are not from around here Cobbs Hill is the gravitational center of Rochester, New York.


January 21st, 2015

Paul Dodd "Model From Crime Page G" 2015

Beefheart’s “Circumstances” has been stuck in my head all night. Click here and could be stuck in yours’. It’s not like I heard it recently or anything. It just popped in.

I started this drawing this afternoon and finished in class. It still has a searching, coming into being feel. I like that and find the early, rough stages of my drawings the most exciting but at that stage there is usually structural problems or rethinking at the very least. If I tried to clean this one up I would kill it. These are the circumstances.


January 21st, 2015


When panting class is in session the whole week revolves around that night. We were there a half hour early and tonight’s class still flew by. We are already starting another revolution. To be continually challenged, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Welcome To The World

January 19th, 2015

Saint Ann statue at Saint Ann's Home in Rochester, New York

We parked our car in Saint Ann’s lot across the street from Rochester General in order to save the parking fees. An added bonus was the short walk on a 40 plus degree day. All it takes is one of these days to screw up a winter groove. The rink in front of the town hall looked as sad as can be. We had been on a pretty good X-country ski run until this happened.

Our niece had a baby girl. Penelope. I’m thinking “Peña” as a nickname but me niece didn’t seem to like that one. Penelope is really quite a wonder, not even a day old on her literal “birthday.”

On our way back the lights were on statue of Saint Ann. Saint Ann is Mary’s mother so that would be the future virgin mother standing in front of her. Presumably Mary’s birth was not an immaculate conception. I know my niece’s wasn’t.

Tell It Like It Is

January 19th, 2015

Downtown Rochester New York 1932

Can downtown Rochester ever get its mojo back? Just about every old warehouse, school, factory or department store has been converted to lofts for young urbanites or old empty-nesters but the streets don’t have as much life as this 1932 photo.

Thomas Grasso, president of the Canal Society of New York State, wrote a dreamy guest editorial for the Democrat & Chronicle over the weekend that proposed re-watering the portion of the Erie Canal that used to cross the Genesee River on the Broad Street aqueduct in the middle of downtown Rochester. The idea has been gathering steam for some time now and is really not any more unlikely than filling in half the Inner Loop seemed only a few years ago. It is a far better proposal than Frederick L. Olmstead’s arcade and certainly better than the bone-headed idea of putting city government subsidized shops in the former dank underground homeless refuge.

So let’s make this one happen. A simple diversion of a portion of the canal’s current path would carry water downtown and across the river. This has four season potential as a big draw, a man made marvel created almost 200 years ago, a giant magnet.

And while we’re dreaming, I read Eugene Robinson’s editorial on MLK’s call for economic justice in 1968. “One America is flowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality,” King said. “That America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, freedom and human dignity for their spirits. . . . But as we assemble here tonight, I’m sure that each of us is painfully aware of the fact that there is another America, and that other America has a daily ugliness about it that transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair.” The speech, made just before he was shot, was brilliant but what was more striking than the excerpts was the realization that we have no politician or civic leader today that can talk like that.

Satan In A Bind

January 16th, 2015

Funky signs near Clifton Springs in Rochester, New York

We drove out to Clifton Springs with my parents to attend a birthday party for my. She turned ninety. She was my godmother and one of my earliest memories is being at her wedding. She was a nurse at Saint Mary’s on Genesee Street where I was born and she met her husband while attending to a farm injury that he sustained.

We got off he NYS thruway at Manchester and we took the first left on a road that would take us right into Clifton Spring. Right there, near the intersection I hit the mother-load of content for my Funky Signs site.

The Next Call

January 15th, 2015

Tree on Lake Ontario, January 2015

“This is the return call you requested regarding the back brace commercial you saw on tv.” ‘Your computer is reporting suspicious errors. Press 1 to talk to a Microsoft representative now.”

We registered our home phone number with the “Do Not Call Registry” but got these two calls this week. I went to the government’s site and found this alert on their front page. “Scammers have been making phone calls claiming to represent the National Do Not Call Registry.” I’m trying to decide whether to go skiing or wait for the next call.


January 13th, 2015

Path to Horseshoe Road near Lake Ontario in Rochester, New York

Twelve degrees is the perfect temperature for cross country skiing. Crisp, light snow with lots of plenty of glide. Not so cold you that want to turn back but cold enough to make the experience exhilarating. I remember being twelve. I thought I was on top of the world. It was my lucky number for a while because I won a box of Snickers at the Saint John the Evangelist fair by placing my bet on that number. A whole box of Snickers!

Suicide Bridge

January 12th, 2015

View from bridge on Cornell campus

We’d had been talking about driving down to Ithaca for a week or more. Every day there was some obstacle that prevented us from leaving town. Finally we saw an an opening and took it. Weather is always a concern in mid January. We will never forget the experience of driving back from there with our car doors open so we could look down and see the road. The visibility was below zero.

We stopped in Geneva and had coffee at Opus, a cool coffee shop on Exchange Street that doubles as a sandwich shop and wine bar. The place was hip by international standards but as comfortable as an old shoe.

In Ithaca we parked in the lot near the library and of course stopped in there right off the bat. We walked through the Commons where there is some kind of serious remodeling job going on and stopped in the book store. We would always find something here but it feels more like a junk store now. Simeon’s was still boarded up after the out of control truck smashed through the front. And the newsstand, which had a great magazine rack, fresh ground coffee and rolling papers was now some sort of outdoor store.

From there we began our ascent up the big hill to the Johnson Museum on Cornell’s campus. I took this photo of the netting that is now on all of the bridges in town. I’ve read that one of the families of a recent suicide is suing the town for not protecting their offspring from a jump into the gorge.

Cornell campus from Johnson Museum

Cornell’s campus is like a medieval city with giant castle-like fraternity houses and it looks even more oppressive when the students are on break. But some of those very same Ivy League students go on to make a fortune and endow the Johnson Museum with its fabulous collection.

Giacometti’s “Walking Man” alone is worth the drive. And then there’s Geneva’s Arthur Dove, Otto Dix, Marden Hartley and Philip Guston!

It was snowing by closing time and the walk back into town was beautiful. We stopped in the health food store and the drum store where we suspected new ownership. Nothing stays the same except the Moosewood Restaurant.

Instead of settling in for dinner while the snow came down we drove out of town and stopped n Geneva again where we had a fantastic meal at Red Dove (a nod to Arthur). Geneva is the new Ithaca.

Cushioning The Fall

January 11th, 2015

Peggi skiing on golf course at Durand Eastman Park in Rochester, New York

We were hiking through the woods the other day when we spotted some cross country ski tracks. We had not considered the few inches of white stuff a sufficient base. It’s just not enough for us. Too many roots and fallen branches to trip on and not enough fluff to cushion our falls.

But skiing out on the course where they groom trails on the fairways is something else all together. For the last few days we’ve driven the car down to the lake and parked on Horseshoe Road where we take off on our skis. It is as cold as hell in the open but somehow you get in the zone and it is always quite astonishing to run into other skiers out there.

We set aside the afternoon to make a labor intensive recipe from our new “Mexico: The Cookbook.” Chopping shallots and grinding peanuts, soaking guajillo chiles and straining them into a sliced mushroom mix and wrapping hammered chicken breasts around the contents, tying them up with string and rolling them in flour before browning them on the stovetop and then baking the whole thing. We started at four and didn’t eat until after eight.

Like Noam Chomsky said, “I love the cold weather. That’s when I get my work done.”

Science Fiction

January 9th, 2015

Bench on small lake in Durand Eastman Park

I’ve been meaning to check out the Bad Plus’s version of Ornette Coleman’s “Science Fiction” lp. That album knocked me out when I first heard it and it still does. The two songs with exotic vocals were a great entry point into Ornette’s world. I felt like I had waited all my life for the song, “All My Life.”

But I never cared for science fiction, the genre, or at least I didn’t think I did until Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Solaris.” It took us four sittings to get through it but that was only due to us being knocked out four separate times, so knocked by its beauty that one of us fell asleep.

The movie is not only visually stunning and otherworldly, the soundtrack moves freely from electronic to Bach and at times is totally silent while the main character sleeps.

To top it all off the director uses paintings by Pieter Bruegel to maximum effect. Check out this amazing piece of the movie.

God Is Great!

January 8th, 2015

Frozen creek in commons, January 2015

Everybody Duck.

I’m Free

January 6th, 2015

My computer in Apple Store at Eastview Mall

I know desktop machines are outdated. I know I am outdated but I still like the big monitor on my iMac. So I took it in to the Apple Store to have them run diagnostics on my machine. It passed. So why do my external hard drives, even the Apple DVD/CD USB SuperDrive get disconnected when my computer goes to sleep? It has been a minor problem since I bought the computer six months ago and I probably would have lived with it if there wasn’t this other issue. My monitor, which is really the whole machine, has lost its ability to hold its position. It just falls to the most downward facing slot. A gravity-related hardware issue.

It’s all covered by the warranty so I left it in the store. They are replacing the motherboard but they told me this may not fix the problem. They said they’d call in five days or so, the longest I’ve been without a computer in years. I’m thinking of that Who song from Tommy, “I’m Free.” I know the Stones did a song with the same name but I’m thinking of the Who song. And I’m happy Amy checked in. Wondering which song she and Eric would chose for the occasion.

If Not Exists

January 5th, 2015

Amaryllis blossoming in living room on New Year's Day 2014

Following directions this morning for backing up a database through phpMyAdmin we were instructed to uncheck “Add IF NOT EXISTS” in the SQL Options. That always gets me going. “If not exists.”

Somehow the conversation at our dinner party on Saturday turned to speculation as to where missing socks went. Statically stuck inside other clothes was the best answer. I tried to end the topic by announcing that I always buy the same socks, black, Gold Toed in six packs at Lord & Taylor. I never notice a missing sock because all of my socks look the same.

I don’t blame them for not liking my smart aleck answer but the point is it is harder to get a good group conversation going with eight people. Too many people to stay engaged, not enough space to find an opening, not enough opportunity to elicit responses or to take wild turns into deeper subjects. Too many passengers to expect to hang on as the conversation diverges or even disappears.

So in a splinter conversation I told Louise I really liked her Disappear post. She apologized for the diversions in the post but that is exactly why I liked it so much.

I feel as I have really stumbled on something that has been right in front of me forever and it is endlessly fascinating. It is therapeutic even. “Letting go.” And this is why I liked Louise’s diversions, invisible in her parents home and Jesus in the temple.

You can’t try too hard to meditate. When we’re playing the magic happens when I have no idea what I’m playing, not that it is complicated by any stretch, but my contribution is out of my control. It is just happening and I have essentially disappeared.

Some Margaret Explosion songs, these days a five way conversation, just slip away as we’re playing. They just turn into a daydream that slowly evaporates, while we’re playing. Some, even on playback, just seem to disappear while you’re listening so the concept became a cd title and eventually a song but the concept is still the thing.

My father uses the word to discuss his condition someday, an eloquent way of putting it. I am practicing.

Uncertain Future

January 2nd, 2015

Sergiy Lebedynskyy photo at Lumiere Gallery in Rochester, New York

Sergiy Lebedynskyy is not an old school photographer but he went old school when the situation called for it – photographing the mineral/mud springs of Arabat Spit in his native Ukraine. His photos, on display now at Lumiere, were taken with a Horizon camera, a Russian film panoramic camera, and he printed them on a Russian photographic paper that was discontinued in 1990. The results, yellowed and unpredictable, fit the subject matter and paint an exotic picture of people caught between the Soviet era and an uncertain future.

Abba’s “Dancing Queen” was echoing through downtown as we walked over to RoCo to see the annual Member’s Show without the crowds. The sound was surely coming from the ice skating rink at Manhattan Square Park. I would like to have been on the ice for that one. This RoCo show is always one of my favorites but you have to work a little harder this year to outdo the efforts of Director, Bleu Cease to boost membership. We took our time and found plenty of gems.

First Friday Fanatics that we are, we pushed onward and climbed the four flights of stairs in the Hungerford building to find the Rochester Art Club doors closed. A woman in the hall told us, “They’re pretty good at getting out of here on time.”

Love, Peace, and Soul

January 1st, 2015

Martin answers the door at his Art Deco apartment in Rochester, New York

Like Boy Scouts we were prepared for anything last night. Peggi even ran down “Auld Lang Syne” before we left the house and we finished the evening with a rousing version. Bob brought his laser lights and pointed them toward the band. The circus movies he grabbed from YouTube played on the wall behind us so I kept my eyes closed the whole night. We went an hour and a half before taking a break only because the line at the bar was so long we would have never got a drink.

We were thinking we would invite some friends back to our our house to ring in the New Year but Martin sent us a message just before we left that said he was having a party in his Art Deco apartment on East Avenue. Good thing I brought my iPad because he was having a hard time getting the sound from Pandora on TV out to his speakers. Maria Friske organized a Soul Train revue and I found some James Brown, Marvin Gaye and Kraftwerk that did the trick.