May 31

May 31, 2008

Forty-five years ago today, a Vietnamese monk, Nun Nu Thanh Nuang, poured gasoline and set fire to himself in Hue. Twelve years ago today, Timothy Leary died in his sleep.

After all these years, I honestly don’t know whether Dr Leary’s work helped us understand why the monk’s death was importance to us, or whether he helped mask us from the true meaning by taking us elsewhere. Many saw no conflict in actively protesting and actively tripping. In fact, many claimed then that the “enlightenment” received through herbal and chemical stimulation was an important component of our political activism. These days, I wonder more often whether we were just bullshitting ourselves and simply following the pleasure principle.

In the end, of course, both the revered Buddhist martyr and the revered western materialist trod the same path into being and nothingness.

We and Me & Julio

May 31, 2008

Deciding to check out Me & Julio’s Honourable Mention in this year’s Vancouver restaurant awards, we had dinner there last night. Overall, it it was pretty good.

Me & Julio advertizes itself as the “modern Mexican kitchen” and it lives up to that. The dishes use traditional ingredients and forms (taco, enchiladas, etc) but combine them in new ways and plate them flawlessly with modern style. The menu isn’t long, allowing the kitchen to focus on a few good ideas.

My better half chose the paella, which had also tempted me. Unfortunately, it was bland and uninteresting. It seemed to cry out for salt, but at the same time one knew that would simply change it, not improve it. I had much better luck with the bistec. It was rare as ordered and came with a fine if unoriginal prune sauce. Side vegetables were excellent and the horseradish-avocado mash was very good indeed.

They have a huge serving staff and service was polite and competent. However, they don’t seem to have the same staffing levels in the kitchen and the wait for food was too long. On a more positive note, they have used the space available really well, with a single large room. Decoration is muted and attractive, comfortable to be in. Popular, too: There always seemed to be folks at the door waiting to get in.

An aside: The short menu, the happy bistro ambience created by the one-large-space, and the dominating bar are attributes Me & Julio shares with the Reef. From the outside at least, Timbre looks to be similar. Waazubee was one of the forerunners of this style on the Drive, but their space is too dark and internal to work as well. Charlatans would like to be seen that way, I believe, but the multiple levels takes it out of the one-large-space category. With at least three new restaurants opening with this style, perhaps this is the new Drive look and feel. I don’t mind it at all.

The Highest of Mountains and the Longest of Memories

May 29, 2008

Today is the 55th anniversary of the first successful climbing of Mount Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary.  News of the success arrived in England the day of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation and I remember my father, who was very excited by the news, telling me all about it.  For years thereafter Edmund Hillary was the greatest hero of my young imagination.

I have one or two memories about my brother and me that pre-date May 1953, but Hillary on Everest is the earliest I can recall anything outside the family.  I know from photographs that there were massive street parties I attended to celebrate the new Queen: I remember none of that.  But Hillary on Everest has stuck with me all these years.

The picture is of Tensing Norgay taken by Hillary.  There are no pictures of Hillary on the summit because Tensing didn’t know how to work the camera and, as Hillary said, the summit of Everest was no place to start teaching him!

Kansas Tornado

May 28, 2008

“Kansas Tornado” (2008), acrylics on canvas, 48″ x 24″

My biggest painting to date.  The texture doesn’t show well in the photograph but at least the colours are about right (I have been refusing to post earlier paintings because I could not capture them properly on camera).  I enjoyed painting at this scale.

Line I

May 25, 2008

Good Taste In Vancouver

May 25, 2008

Vancouver magazine’s May edition contains the “19th Annual Restaurant Awards” — the best in Vancouver eateries for 2008.  It is the only edition of the magazine I ever buy.  There are 179 winners and, as usual, only about three of them are east of Cambie.

I was triggered to write this because we went to the Pink Pearl this morning.  We were privileged to enjoy the freshest dim sum either of us could ever remember.  The tastes were subtle, different, clean and delicious.  The Pearl is always wonderful, but this morning was beyond that. And the Pearl was not even acknowledged in the awards.

Three restaurants on the Drive were mentioned.   Rinconcito Salvadoreno received the Silver award in the Best of the Americas category, while Lombardo’s garnered an Honorable Mention for Casual Italian.  Me & Julio’s also received an Honourable Mention in the Americas category, which is odd — it can hardly have been open when the voting took place for this edition.  But good luck to it!

The First European

May 25, 2008

So, to finish the sumo thread for this month, the Bulgarian Kotooshu has become the first ever European to win an Emperor’s Cup. On the 14th day he threw down Ama and became uncatchable. Last night, the 15th day of the basho, he won again to finish at 14 wins and one loss.

Kotooshu’s father was in the arena for the last two nights, flying a small Bulgarian flag and shaking the hands of everyone close — “That’s my boy!” Kotooshu, of course, beamed with his signature smile as he hugged the huge trophy.

I was most interested in how the sumo crowd would react and I was pleased to see their cheering acceptance of his victory — you could almost hear them whispering, “At least he isn’t another Mongolian!” Kotooshu is the seventh foreigner to win the Cup, the others being Mongolians, a Samoan and a couple of Hawai’ian Americans.

The accompanying picture shows Kotooshu surrounded by his supporters, and holding up the traditional sea bream prizes. His father is immediately behind him and his stablemaster is sitting to his right.

By the way, my man Asashoryu beat up on Hakuho in the final grudge match of last night.  He then gave Hakuho a small extra shove, which the younger man didn’t care for and there was a most un-sumolike confrontation in the middle of the ring between the two yokozuna.

Memories Are Made Of This

May 23, 2008

I was wandering along on my way to the bus this morning thinking about how quickly the year is passing; it will be June already in a week or so. That got me thinking about how time seems to speed up as we age, that the days seem more fleeting than they did when I was a kid, or even a young man. And that little reverie kick-started a theory of why the passage of time should seem different at different ages.

Let us first suppose that the neural mechanism for working out how long ago an event of a known date seems to have taken place involves flipping through a catalogue of our memories and making a calculation based somehow on the amount — or “bulkiness” — of the memory pile.

Let us next suppose that one suffers from the occasional short term memory loss — a standard condition of getting older it seems — such that a wide range of time is simply not memorialized.

Thus, when the mind flips through the memory for a particular period, the file seems less “bulky” (because of the missing memories) and the time between then and now will appear to have gone past quicker.

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it!

Kotooshu Powers On

May 22, 2008

As an update to my previous post on the subject, I am pleased to report that Kotooshu has beaten Asashoryu and Hakuho on successive nights to sit at 12 wins and 0 losses, with 3 bouts to go.  Asashoryu has three losses and Hakuho now has two in this basho.  Both the yokozuna looked shocked at their defeats, while Kotooshu could not resist a huge beaming smile on each night (against protocol, of course).

If Kotooshu were to lose all of the final three contests (unlikely against lesser opponents), it is still possible for either of the yokozuna to take the Emperor’s Cup.  But in all practical terms, my man is now a certainty for the title.

He will be the first European to hold the Cup, and another in the long run of non-Japanese winners.  The press is already full of “blame-the-foreigners-for-the-sorry-state-of-sumo-in-Japan” stories.  Kotooshu’s win, and the failure of many prominent Japanese rikishi this time, will no doubt add to the pressures on the sport.  But I sure hope they don’t go the route of restrictive xenophobia.

Most sports have learned that the public, given the chance, will usually prefer to see the best in the world play each other at the club level, rather than to be restricted to the smaller, and perhaps less talented, national pool.  The NBA, the NHL, soccer everywhere, and cricket are prime examples of where the use of globally available talent has led to huge successes for local clubs.  Sumo should maintain its current entry policies for non-Japanese rikishi.  And the Sumo Association should turn its considerable energies to marketing the sport in Japan as the best in the world rather than as a national relic deserving of patronage.

Peaceful Morning

May 20, 2008


May 20, 2008

Regular readers will probably know that my wife and I are avid fans of sumo. We have paid extra fees to the cable company for many many years so that we can watch the 6-times yearly tournaments (basho) for the Emperor’s Cup direct and live from Japan TV. We are currently 10 days into the May basho, with 5 more days of bouts to come.

My chief rikishi (wrestler) is a young Bulgarian named Kotooshu who broke into the top ranks of the sport a couple of years ago and raced up to the second highest rank of ozeki. Unfortunately, he then spent a long time with knee injuries and a kind of bored attitude that didn’t do well in basho. He was lucky to survive with his rank intact. At this basho, however, he has come out storming, winning all 10 of his contests so far, many of them with the strength and ease with which he entranced us in his earlier days.

The two yokozuna (grand champions) Asashoryu (probably the greatest rikishi of our generation) and Hakuho (my wife’s favourite) sit at 9 wins and 1 loss each. Kotooshu fights Asashoryu tonight and Hakuho tomorrow night. If Kotooshu can beat the great Mongolian tonight, then tomorrow’s fight against Hakuho will effectively be for all the marbles and Kotooshu’s first shot at an Emperor’s Cup and a million dollar payday.

Another one of our joint favourites, another Mongolian called Ama, is the smallest rikishi at the heighest levels of the sport. He is often outweighed by 100 pounds and more. Two nights ago he pulled off the greatest sumo move I have ever seen. He was fighting a much bigger opponent who threw him over. However, in mid air, he managed to pull and twist the bigger fellow under him so that the other guy hit the mat with Ama on top. A brilliant victory. To top that off, he defeated Hakuho last night to give the yokozuna his only loss of the basho so far.

It has been a great tournament.

Rich Food Can Be Bad For Your Wallet

May 20, 2008

I guess if you can shell out $11 million for a car, you won’t mind paying $175 for a hamburger.

The burger can be enjoyed in New York at the Wall Street Burger Shoppe on Water Street between Broad Street and Coenties Slip … The burger is made with Kobe beef and topped with seared fresh foie gras, an assortment of exotic mushrooms, shaved black truffle, and golden truffle mayonnaise – another of [the chef’s] creations made from chopped black truffles, truffle oil, and gold flakes … Other expensive menu items found in or just outside of New York City include Nino Selimaj’s $1,000 pizza; the Westin’s $1,000 bagel; Serendipity 3’s $25,000 sundae; Old Homestead Steak House’s $81 burger; and Chappaqua’s $55 bottle of water.

I doubt in the end that this is any better than the $10 burgers at Fets (unless you really like truffles).

Art Is OK, A Ferrari Is Bizarre

May 19, 2008

I have written a lot about the high price of art these days — $33 million here, $50 million there, another $86 million some place else. And I can just about understand it all. But $11 million for a car? That is very strange to me.

It is true that I have a negative relationship with cars, and haven’t owned one for more than 16 years. But even so. Doesn’t it seem truly bizarre to you that someone would put down $10,894,900 for a 1961 Ferrari California Spyder. Other than having been owned previously by actor James Coburn, the car isn’t even unique; fifty-five others were also built.

A $50 million painting can do exactly what it was designed to do — hang on a wall and give aesthetic enjoyment. But an $11 million car cannot be driven the way it was engineered to perform; it can just sit in a multi-car garage and look pretty (if you like that sort of thing).

OK, OK, I accept that some folks would consider the Spyder a form of art. Fair enough. I still think it is damned odd, though.

Who’s Got The Big Money

May 18, 2008

Last week, I spent some time following the big Sothebys and Christies Post War Art auctions. As you may recall, the big items of interest were the Francis Bacon triptych that sold for $86million and Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” that fetched $33.6 million. Now, we know the buyer of both.

Listed as the 15th richest man in the world, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich (who also owns Chelsea Football Club) purchased both lots, shelling out more than $140m (including buyers’ premiums). Abramovich isn’t known as a major art collector. It is assumed these pieces are for display in his not-yet-completed $300 million home in one of London’s prime squares.

His money has done a power of good for Chelsea football; perhaps he’ll now do the same for the art market.

Supernatural British Columbia 3

May 18, 2008

Supernatural British Columbia 3” (2008), PowerPoint and photoshop, 32″ x 40″

This is a riff off a four-panel oil and acrylics canvas, also called “Supernatural British Columbia”.

The Road To Hope, Fall

May 16, 2008

“The Road To Hope, Fall” (2008), oil and acrylics on canvas, 16″ x 20″

A Musical Whine

May 15, 2008

Hot on the heels of my previous post on wine, now there is news that your choice of music can change the taste of wine.

Playing a certain type of music can enhance the way wine tastes, research by psychologists suggests. The Heriot Watt University study found people rated the change in taste by up to 60% depending on the melody heard. The researchers said cabernet sauvignon was most affected by “powerful and heavy” music, and chardonnay by “zingy and refreshing” sounds …

Four types of music were played – Carmina Burana by Orff (“powerful and heavy”), Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky (“subtle and refined”), Just Can’t Get Enough by Nouvelle Vague (“zingy and refreshing”) and Slow Breakdown by Michael Brook (“mellow and soft”). The white wine was rated 40% more zingy and refreshing when that music was played, but only 26% more mellow and soft when music in that category was heard. The red was altered 25% by mellow and fresh music, yet 60% by powerful and heavy music.

Earlier research by the same Professor Adrian North has shown that listening to accordion music encouraged the purchase of French wine in a supermarket, while playing an oompah band helped sales of German wines. The wine-sozzled mind is a very odd thing!

Red Tulips II

May 13, 2008

Sale Ahoy!

May 13, 2008

Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art sale is underway as I type. Seven or eight lots have sold so far, including a Warhol self-portrait at $3,513,000 (slightly above the upper estimate) and a work by Richard Prince that sold for $1,497,000, about 20% above the upper estimate.

What we are waiting for, of course the Lucian Freud sale and a couple of major works by Francis Bacon.

Things move fast! As I typed the last line, Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies For Self Portrait” went for $28,041,000, in line with estimates from $25m to $35m, and another Warhol, a monochrome edition of “Last Supper” pulled in $8,777,000, near the top end of pre-sale expectations.

Wow! Warhol’s “Double Marlon” screen print just went for $32,521,000 — above estimate! I think that we are looking good for a record with Lucian Freud. The high estimate mood has been set.

Gerhard Richter’s massive abstract “Abstraktes Bild” was sold for an incredible $14,601,000 — way above the pre-sale estimate 0f $7m to $10m. That makes over $100m of sales in the first 30-40 minutes of the sale. Christie’s must be pleased.

Peter Halley should also be feeling pretty good. His “Dream Game” (a rather off piece, I think) was estimated to fetch $90,000 to $120,000 but actually sold for $457,000. He has another piece in a later auction, the estimate for which will no doubt be raised after this evening. Adolphe Gottlieb’s “Cool Blast” (1960) has gone for double the high estimate at $6,537,000.

OK, now we are talking real money. Mark Rothko’s “Number 15” (see right) just made $50,441,000. The pre-sale estimate was private, but I suspect this was way above hopes.

De Koonig’s “Untitled IV” went for $12 million (within estimates) but Clyfford Still’s “1946 (PH-142)” broke through to $14,041,000, two million dollars above expectations.

Getting close to the Freud and another Bacon …

A Warhol soup can (“Pepperpot”) sold for $7,097,000, above estimate. I guess these old cans are like Old Masters in this market.

Roy Lichtenstein’s “Ball of Twine” was estimated at $14 million to $18 million. It is currently under the hammer, and seems not to have reached reserve.

Now, this is the one… Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” was snapped up at the high end of estimates for $33,641,000. This is almost exactly $10m higher than the previous price paid for a living artist (Jeff Koons, November 2007). Must make Freud’s in-the-wilderness days of the 1960s and 1970s seem so long ago.

Blogging a live auction was fun. I’ll see if I can do that again.

Update: Last night (Wednesday), Sothebys had a sale of contemporary art, with many of the same artists represented, and much the same high priced results.   The highlight was a massive triptych by Francis Bacon that sold for an incredible $86 million.  The grave disappointment (especially after #15 at Christies) was the withdrawal of Rothko’s “Orange, Red, Yellow” without a bid.

The Turner Prize

May 13, 2008

The four artists short-listed for this year’s Turner Prize have been announced by the Tate Gallery in London. Once again, the prize judges have decided that installations and film are the “emerging trends” (even though they seem to have been the “emerging trends” in the nominations for several years now.)

According to the bookies, the clear favourite is Mark Leckey and his obsession with Felix the Cat. The others are Cathy Wilkes’ installations, Runa Islam’s short movies, and Goshka Macuga, described as a “cultural anthropologist”, who creates theatrical installations.

The Turner Prize is always controversial.

Dr Stephen Deuchar, director of Tate Britain and chairman of the Turner Prize judges, said the prize did not exist to shock. “You never know what people are going to be shocked by – or say what they are going to be shocked by – so we will have to wait and see what emerges at the exhibition. I should think 50% of the art world will say they hate the list, and 50% will say they love the list,” he told the BBC News website. “The general public look to the Turner Prize to introduce them to what is new. It is not about giving good service medals to artists who have been around for a long time; it is about spotting emerging trends that are especially interesting.”

I don’t know much about these artists nor their works, which I have barely explored this morning. However, the previous winners have rarely been works that I appreciated or liked.