December 2009

Posted by Ellen

Unless you've been in France this week, you've missed the tenth annual Fete des Lumieres in Lyon. Actually, folks in Lyon have been lighting up the town on December 8 every year since 1852, but it's only since 1999 that the festival of lights has been cranked up into a multi-day techno-extravaganza. City squares, walls of buildings, even bushes in the parks are not just brightly lit but orchestrated into animated light-show productions.

A city park, for example, goes through all the seasons of the year in ten minutes: snow falls and melts, trees burst into bloom, the grass turns green, flowers beds sprout and bloom and fade, leaves turn red and gold and fall swirling to the earth. Since you and I weren't there, we're probably limited to a virtual experience of the spectacle; try Youtubing it.

The fountain in Lyon's downtown city plaza has been lit up like the Trevi in Fellini's "La Dolce Vita." Characters from 1960s Italian cinema stroll the square. Meanwhile, at the city cathedral, beams of light recapitulate in a few minutes the three centuries of contruction that created the Gothic structure; the effect is of empty space yielding to posts and beams and then courses of stone and arches and statuary and gold leaf.

The church in this photo, Saint Nizier, is lit for a quieter, subtler theme. It's been given two eyes, one brown and one blue, and they move. The whole building seems to move--it breathes in and out, in and out.

Too bad we missed it. Four million people were there.

Posted by Ellen


It seems straightforward enough: juxtapose innocence and danger, and there it is, Little Red Riding Hood. Also, I think, sculptors must like to do wolves.  The bronze interpretation here is in Munich, the stone carving in Hermosillo, Mexico.

Posted by Ellen

In 1958, road construction along this hillside in Bistoun, Iran uncovered a two-thousand-year-old carving of a a recumbent Hercules, in the nude. The Greek inscription on the tablet behind Hercules's shoulder helped date the sculpture to approximately 150 B.C.

There is a lion lying here alongside the hero, difficult to make out in this photo, except for the tail at upper left. Hercules is actually resting one arm on the lion's head. His weaponry--club and quiver--are leaned against the lion's rump. Hard to say what the man is drinking, but he's clearly been eating well.

Posted by Ellen

On a clear night, Chicagoland looks pretty spectacular from the air.

Posted by Ellen

The boy in this picture, who must be in his forties now, was about as lucky as a kid could get on Christmas Day back in 1976. He got THE gift, the very first home video game system. Notice the graphics on the TV--that was Pong.

My father-in-law also was an early adopter of video games, and I remember playing Pong over at his house. It was a nice game. You hit a little white ball with a paddle that slid up and down the right side of the screen; the ball traveled at an angle and "bounced" off the top or bottom of the screen, then off a "wall" on the left side and back to the top or bottom and then back over to the right again, for you to hit it back. As the game progressed, the ball went faster and faster till you missed.

My father-in-law would have wanted the game no matter what, but he had a special interest in it because Ron Bradford, a friend of the family's, had a graphic design contract to do packaging and promotional materials for Pong. Since it was the first home video game, Ron had to invent a "look" for the packaging that screamed "Video games are fun and exciting!!!!!" About ten years ago, he wrote his recollections of the project for a website devoted to the history of classic video games. He said they decided to go with "Explosive!!" as the design theme--the colors and typography of the packaging, the pictures and text in the ads, even the look and feel of the instruction manual--everything was geared toward giving an Explosive!!! impression to new customers.

Pong was a commercial sensation and launched a huge new industry. But the company that made it--Atari--soon went broke, after losing an intellectual property lawsuit. And the store that sold Pong hasn't been doing all that well either; believe it or not, the only place that carried the world's first home video game system in 1976 was Sears.


Posted by Ellen

Helen, according to photographer Sam Javanrouh, is highly skilled and "very focused" at her work as a 3-D modeler/animator/compositor. But for the past few weeks, she's been working 14- to 18-hour shifts, seven days a week--and in this picture, finally, she's not working. She's on her break at the office, relaxing with a little session of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2.

Posted by Ellen

Dutch photographer Leo Koolhaven took this shot at the train station in Odessa.

Posted by Ellen

This salt marsh at Seabrook, New Hampshire, is now the backyard of a nuclear power plant.  When this area was first settled, the marsh was the town hayfield, cut over every August or September for animal bedding, mulch, banks of insulation against the sides of houses, and packing material for shipping fruit, pottery, and other fragile items, back before foam peanuts and poppable plastic. After cutting, the grass was left in the marsh till wintertime, when the frozen mud would support the weight of horses to haul it out. If hay was needed before winter, horses could be driven in on unfrozen marshland by equipping them with huge wooden shoes that spread their weight.

But in the twentieth century, when marsh grass began to lose its value as a cash crop, the marsh was regarded as a nuisance. Drainage projects were expensive, but they were often justified on public health grounds, as mosquito-control measures. The Seabrook marsh, like many, was "ditched" with narrow little canals to dry up mosquito habitat. The project failed because the ditching destroyed habitat for important species of mosquito-larvae-eating fish.

Nowadays, we are beginning to understand the critical importance of marshes and other wetlands, for wildlife, storm-buffering, and many other functions. A handful ofl New England marshes have been restored to something approaching their pristine condition. And many others, including Seabrook, are slowly recovering thanks to protective legislation.

The mosquitoes are not an endangered species.