Flowers In A Bowl

IMG_4819Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a room brighter.  Kish has a knack for those little touches that add a dash of color in an unexpected place and, in the process, bring a smile to your face.  These neon yellow flower blossoms, cut from their stems and floating in a crystal bowl placed on our black granite kitchen counters, are a good example of her special talent.

The Fine Art Of Fakery

An interesting case that combines art and crime is proceeding in New York City.  It involves an art dealer who had a reputation for selling undiscovered pieces by famed modern artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko — paintings that prosecutors say were fakes.

According to prosecutors, Glafira Rosales and her boyfriend sold more than 60 phony paintings in the scheme.  They found a painter in Queens who produced the paintings and they applied techniques — such as heating and cooling and exposing the paintings to air and sunlight — to give them an artificially aged appearance.  They then sold the paintings, claiming they were early pieces produced by modern art icons that had been part of collections by overseas clients who wished to remain anonymous.  Amazingly, people fell for the scheme and paid millions for the paintings — including two Manhattan galleries that allegedly paid more than $33 million for the fakes.

It’s the kind of case that raises questions — questions like how supposed experts could fall for such a simple scheme, and how much phony art is out there on the market, being sold to unsuspecting but wealthy people who want to say that they own a Pollock or a Rothko.

It also raises an even more fundamental question:  did the people who bought this art buy it because they liked it, or because they wanted to invest in a piece that they expected to increase in value?  If it’s the latter, maybe that’s the big mistake on their part.  Art should be about the art itself, not the name on the piece.  People should buy and collect what they like — whether it was actually painted by Jackson Pollock or by a random artist in Queens.  If you’re just in the market for a name, perhaps you only have yourself to blame for ending up with a counterfeit.

Shocking Pink

IMG_1372Our path to last night’s wedding reception at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium took us past the flamingo enclosure.  I haven’t been to the zoo in years — having kids who are grown will do that to you — and I had forgotten just how brightly colored and ungainly flamingos are.  The birds pranced and preened, squawked, unscrolled their necks and dipped their beaks into the water, as I enjoyed the vivid pinks.

Planning For Parkland

The Columbus Downtown Development Corp. is hoping to create more parkland in the downtown area.  If it happens, it will be a good thing.

The plan is to put the parkland in the area around COSI and where the Veterans Memorial Auditorium now stands.  Vets is supposed to be torn down and replaced by an amphitheater and a different kind of veterans center.  At the same time, the damming on the Scioto River as it sluggishly moves through downtown is to be changed to allow the river to return to its more natural, narrower, more swiftly flowing state.  The narrowing will create an opportunity for additional parkland.  And, a third part of the plan — a 50,000-foot “indoor adventure” structure operated by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium — will be built just south of COSI.

It’s an ambitious plan, and, in Columbus, ambitious plans often are greeted with skepticism.  The urban landscape is dotted with plan and concepts that have never become reality, and Columbus is no exception.  When a planner says their vision is of Columbus’ version of Central Park — which is a bit of an overstatement in any event — the question of whether the project will get off the ground becomes even more compelling.

Still, the idea of more parkland is a good one.  The future of downtown Columbus is as a residential area, not an industrial center. People like parks and playgrounds in their neighborhoods, and urban dwellers also like things to do within walking distance.  That means parks, theaters, restaurants, bars, and other potential entertainment venues.  A plan that provides parks, an amphitheater, and a downtown aquarium fits those needs.  Putting those sites on the west side of the river in the Franklinton area also makes sense.  In Columbus, as in other cities, the river is a real dividing line, and most downtown workers don’t venture over the bridges.  That needs to stop, and putting some real attractions in Franklinton will help.

Columbus is changing, and most of the changes are for the better.  Adding green space that makes downtown living more attractive will accelerate the positive trend.

Back To The Midwest

Russell will be leaving Brooklyn and the New York City area in the few days; he’ll be heading to the Detroit area to begin the Master’s program at the Cranbrook Academy of Art.

DSC02096Moving from the East Coast to the Midwest can be an adjustment.  Kish and I had the same experience years ago, when we moved from Washington, D.C. to Columbus.  On the East Coast, you travel by subway and walk a lot.  In the Midwest, it’s a car culture.  On the East Coast, you tend not to make eye contact with people on the street.  In the Midwest, you’re likely to get a friendly greeting and a cheerful hello from a complete stranger you pass in the street.  On the East Coast, the tempo is rapid.  In the Midwest, the pace is slower.  The cultural and social differences are many, and frequently you don’t fully appreciate them until you’ve moved and you’ve noticed the abrupt change.

Even when you were born and raised in one area, you adopt the rhythms and mores of your new home.  Russell’s lived on the East Coast now for six years.  We’ll be looking forward to welcoming him back to his roots and getting him back into that Midwest state of mind.

The Day Schultzie Got Stuck In A Drainpipe

We were messing around in our yard on a summer Saturday when we saw it happen.  Schultzie, the McCormick’s ferocious black dachshund, had spotted a skunk and raced after it as fast as his stubby legs could carry him.

The skunk ran into a small drainpipe that ran under the road between our yard and the field beyond, and Schultzie followed without hesitation.  The skunk came out and waddled into the weeds of the field, never to be seen again.  Schultzie did not.  Keith called for him, but he didn’t come out.  We looked in one end of the drainpipe, then in the other, to see if Schultzie was close enough to grab.  He wasn’t.  We was back in the pipe, his stout weiner dog body firmly lodged back somewhere in the gloom.  We heard him, barking furiously.

We all went home to tell our parents.  Soon a crowd gathered.  The adults discussed and attempted various forms of rescue, but they all failed.  So, the adults did what adults did in the ’60s when something weird happened and there was no other apparent solution:  they called the fire department.

The fire department!  They’d never come to our neighborhood before!  That was exciting news, so the crowd clustered around one end of the drainpipe grew steadily.  The Dads decided it would be a good idea to bring over a cooler of cold beer, and maybe a bag of chips or two.  By the time the fire department got there an impromptu party had broken out, with the adults chatting happily and savoring their beers on a hot summer day and kids racing around for a better look at the fire crew and their equipment.  The trapped Schultzie, on the other hand, was largely forgotten.

The fire crew decided to try to flush Schultzie out using some kind of foam concoction.  As they prepared to do so and more beers were drained, the tension built.  The flushing went forward, the foam shot into the drainpipe . . . and soon Schultzie came jetting out the other side in a gout of foam and water, soaking wet and a bit scraped but otherwise none the worse for wear.  The mob of kids and Moms were happy that Schultzie had survived all the excitement.  The Dads, on the other hand, decided they may as well crack open another beer and discuss the fire department’s rescue technique, so they did.

It was a red-letter day on the Circle, and it was tough to sleep that night for all the excitement.  That day has always been vivid in my memory.  I thought then, and still think now:  this is what a neighborhood should be like.

The Horror Of Chemical Weapons

There is something particularly horrific about chemical weapons — which is why the reports of Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own citizens are especially appalling.

It seems odd to argue that one way of inflicting death is “better” or more civilized than another, and a massacre of unarmed people is a massacre whether it is accomplished by gunfire or some other means.  And yet . . . the use of chemical weapons seems to be uniquely wanton, indefensible and barbaric.  The indiscriminate way in which poison gas reaches its victims, and the ugly and painful circumstances of the resulting death, with victims convulsing and foaming at the mouth, all reflect a murderous mindset of a government that no longer feels bound by the conventions of modern society and will lash out and kill without cause or purpose.

Any government that would use chemical weapons on its own citizens, killing innocent women and children in the process, has lost any pretense of legitimacy.  I’ve written before of how the United Nations has become a hollow force in the modern world, incapable of preventing mass killings or effectively shielding those unfortunates who trust in its promises of protection.  The Syrian situation may be the acid test, however.  If the UN cannot lead effective international action against a criminal government that has used chemical weapons against its own people, why should it exist at all?

Fewer Law Students, Fewer Lawyers

The number of people applying to American law schools is dropping sharply.  A recent report of the Law School Admission Council states that applications to law schools fell almost 18 percent from 2012 to 2013.  That drop-off continues a trend; the report says approximately 20,000 fewer people applied to law schools in 2013 than submitted applications only two years earlier, in 2011.

Why the drop-off?  The economy has changed, and there is less need for lawyers.  Would-be law school applicants recognize that many recent graduates are unemployed or underemployed.  The employment statistics compiled by the American Bar Association show a significant number of graduates struggle to find any kind of law-related job.  In the meantime — because law school is incredibly expensive — many recent graduates are saddled with tremendous student loan burdens.  Working at a waitressing or bartending job in a desperate effort to pay your debts while looking fruitlessly for work in the field for which you’ve received costly but narrow training is not an attractive future.

I think this change is permanent — which means we’re going to see some of the less well-regarded law schools close their doors and we’re going to see a change in the power equation between the shrinking pool of applicants and law schools that want to fill out their classes with well-qualified students.  The latter result apparently is already occurring, as students are negotiating more lucrative financial aid packages with law schools competing for their acceptance.

Optimists might foresee other, positive long-term effects from this trend.  Lawyer jokes aside, lawyers tend to be intelligent, well-educated, highly motivated people who could contribute to the American economy in many different ways.  I’m hoping that people who might have gone to law school in the past now apply those traits and abilities in opening and managing their own businesses, devising new approaches to products and services, and letting their creativity and passions guide them to other productive roles.  The fact that the door to a career as a lawyer may be closing just means that other doors should be opened.

A Tangible Sign Of Friendship

-1As everyone who reads the Webner House blog knows, we recently spent time on Peaks Island, Maine.  I was on this beautiful island four days before Bob and Russell joined me, so I had lots of ‘alone’ time, mostly spent walking, biking, reading and eating more lobster rolls than I care to admit.

On one of my trips walking the periphery of Peaks, I found this granite bench on the far, more remote back side of the island.  I was touched to think of the friendship that inspired this gesture — a lone bench, with this simple but moving message, with a beautiful and breathtaking view out toward the Casco Bay Islands and the Atlantic beyond.  I found myself thinking of the acts of friendship and loyalty that surely inspired this gesture, and how fortunate any one individual is to have made such a dear friend, or to have been the friend who inspired this special gift.

Here’s to Ric Rhodes, whoever you were, and to your friend who remembers you in such a special way.  May we all be fortunate enough to have such friendships of our own.


Rendang Prada From Aromaku

IMG_4804Last week I took Kish to Dinin’ Hall for the first time, and already she’s hooked.  Today we again headed to the Hall, where we had the good fortune to find Aromaku — another one of many great food trucks found in our fair city.

Aromaku serves Indonesian food, and it’s fantastic!  I ordered the Rendang Prada, which apparently is a traditional Indonesian dish.  It was so good that it made me wish that I was raised in an Indonesian family.

Rendang is a beef stew — rich, dark, and full of spices and dripping chunks of beef in a succulent gravy.  It’s served with Prada, which is a chewy kind of roti bread.  You spoon the rendang onto the prada, roll it up, and eat it like an egg roll.  At least, that’s how I gobbled it down in an embarrassing display of gluttony.

IMG_4806Rendang prada is one of those dishes that Food Network shows would say reflects Indonesia’s mix of cultures and influences from neighboring lands.  If so, it’s an awfully good mix.  I loved the taste, and also loved that the dish was served piping hot — so hot, in fact, that the prada left a mark on the stryofoam container it was served in.  Having the prada also allowed me to greedily mop up every last drop of that awesome rendang gravy.

Kish got the bakmi ayam, a dish of noodles and minced chicken, and loved it.  We also tried the Indo-Dutch ball — no doubt the authentic,native Indonesian name for the dessert — that was a kind of pastry filled with cheese.  It also was terrific.

Not surprisingly, Kish wants to make our Dinin’ Hall lunches a weekly feature.  Why not?  There’s lots of food left to discover.

Dissing The Sneads

During our recent vacation, Kish and Russell had high times making fun of these tennis shoes.  Kish said they looked like golf shoes and called them the Sammy Sneads every time I put them on.  Russell, on the other hand, shook his head and sadly advised that shoes made by Skechers are per se uncool.

IMG_4800I bought the shoes at Kohl’s.  They were on the bargain shelf and cost a small fraction of the other gym shoes.  I didn’t know whether they are socially acceptable or not, because I pay no attention to shoe fashion.  I didn’t care whether popular people wear shoes with square toes, round toes, or pointed toes, or whether stripes on the sides are “in” or “out.”

What I did know is that I rebel at the notion of paying more than $100 for a pair of gym shoes that I wear around the neighborhood.  The prices of such shoes seem ridiculous for mass-produced rubber, plastic, and cloth creations.  Obviously, people are paying for brands and status symbols.

I could care less about that.  I admit I’m a cheapskate.  I’ll go for low cost and functionality over “branding” any time.  I’m not a runner.  I don’t play competitive sports.  I’m not trying to make a fashion statement when I go for a walk.

Give me durable shoes that fit and leave money in my wallet, and I’ll wear them happily — “Sneads” or not.

Maine On The Brain

IMG_4285After I’ve been home from for a while, and that vacation glow has fled, I like to look through my photos of the trip, remember it anew, and try to recapture a bit of the vacation feeling.  Tonight I’ve been looking through my photos of our recent trip to Maine, and recalling what a fine trip it was.  The memories of our travels makes being back in the workaday grind a bit more tolerable.

Kish has always loved Maine, and I realize that, after several trips, I’ve come to share her affection for that craggy, rockbound state on the Atlantic.  We’ll be visiting there again.

School Starts Too Early

Yesterday — August 19 — as I began my drive to work, I was surprised to see the neighborhood kids gathered at the school bus stop.  Unbeknownst to me, it was the first day of school.

It’s jarring to see school start in the middle of August.  It’s not the way it was when I was a kid, when school always started the Tuesday after Labor Day and ended right around Memorial Day.  That calendar left June, July, and August as idyllic, undisturbed summer months, when kids could play from dawn to dusk without worrying about homework or tests.

Why has the school calendar expanded to eat into the summer months?  At New Albany Plain Local Schools, our local system, the calendar is dotted with random days off — for Staff Inservice Days (in September and February), Central Day (in October), Potential Waiver Days (in October and January), Conference Makeup Day (in November), and a No School Day (in April).  Throw in a two-week Christmas break, a one-week spring break, and holidays like Labor Day, President’s Day, Dr. Martin Luther King Day, and Thanksgiving, and you’ve got the modern school calendar.

Why all the days off during the school year?  My guess is that it is a combination of teacher, administrator, and school board interests in building in breaks and allowing people to get away.  Some of the days are strategically positioned to create three, four, and even five-day weekends.

That might be great for teachers and parents — but what about kids?  We fret about overweight kids spending too much time sitting on their butts, watching TV or playing video games, rather than engaging in unstructured, creative play.  Summer is the best time for the latter, but the modern school calendar cuts two weeks out of that prime period.  When is a kid more likely to get some healthy outdoor exercise — in August, or during an “Inservice Day” on a wet and cold Friday in February?  And don’t even think about what it does to kids to send them to sit in classrooms during the broiling dog days of August.

Our schools should focus more on what is best for kids.  I think that means cutting out the random off days, compressing the school calendar, and letting August be the magical, outdoor summer month it is meant to be.

A Car Too Nice To Drive

On Saturday, a 1960s car was sold at an auction in California for $27.5 million.

You read it right.  One car, sold to one buyer, for more money than most of us could ever dream of making in our lifetimes — even if we lived to be 200.  Such are the lives and capabilities of the fabulously wealthy.

The car is a Ferrari NART Spyder.  It’s a beautiful car, with classic lines . . . but, $27.5 million?  I don’t care how much money you have, you’re not likely to do much driving with a car that costs more than the gross national product of some countries.  I’d be terrified of dings, a scratch from a little loose gravel, and the other mayhem that can befall any car on an American road.  And, if you’re not going to drive the car, why pay $27.5 million for a very expensive occupant of a spot in your garage?

Cars are meant to be driven.  I’m sure the designer of the Spyder wanted people to enjoy taking it out onto the highway and experiencing its performance, rather than treating it as a very mobile investment.