Tag Archives: sculpture

Frank Zappa Conquers Europe

Zappa_VilniusBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Eric Slick is a percussionist with the Adrian Belew Power Trio and Crescent Moon, among others. Most recently, he was part of Project Object, the brainchild of Ike Willis and Don Preston, bringing the music of Frank Zappa to European fans — specifically in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Spain, and Germany. Eric shares with us the sensations and adventures of a musician on tour:

We’re on the way to one of my favorite places in the whole world. a quaint village called Bad Doberan, the home of Zappanale, a week long festival dedicated to the genius of Frank Zappa: composer, filmmaker, guitarist, politician, iconoclast. It’s as close as I’ve come to some form of heaven.

Indeed this drummer compares Zappanale to such ideal locales as Mecca and Utopia and, having participated at 5 successive yearly recurrences, he ought to know. He admires the efficient organization behind the festival, and is especially enthusiastic over the addition this year of a second stage. He tells us — dare we believe it? — that the last band on the last night played “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” in the nude.

No doubt about it, Zappa is alive and well on the Continent. Only last month, at Spiegel Online, journalist Sebastian Knauer interviewed Napoleon Murphy Brock. Brock, who is a vocalist, saxophonist, flautist and comedian, is one of the Zappa friends who ensure that the great one’s work does not fall into oblivion. This apparently brings him into opposition with the widow and guardian of the estate, Gail Zappa. Brock points out here that “her husband collected inspiration from all styles of music and interpreters and was himself a great plagiarist, before making something entirely his own.” He talks about the “Zappa College,” the fresh generation of youth who are discovering and treasuring the music of Frank Zappa, represented by 19 bands at the Bad Doberan event. He especially likes an old-time railway there, called Molli, and says, “Frank would have done a song about that.”

Zappa-vilnius2Vilnius, Lithuania, is another outpost of Zappa-consciousness, as proven by the erection of a statue there in 1995 and visited by Kevin Dolgin, who assures us in The Third Tower Up From the Road that “Zappa never had anything to do with Vilnius, never set foot in Lithuania, and had not a smidgen of Lithuanian heritage.” But who cares? What matters is the power of music to foster international brotherhood, which it surely does in this case. Konstantinas Bogdanas is the sculptor, who must have felt some relief after spending, as Kevin tells us, “something like 50 years sculpting Soviet political leaders.” Earlier this year, a bronze replica of the Kalinausko Square statue in Vilnius was made and given to the American city of Baltimore, Zappa’s home town.

Please send us other evidence of Zappa infiltration into Europe!

In related news, Daniel Cook Johnson enthuses over the new 35MM film release of Zappa’s 1971 classic 200 Motels, which also features Ringo Starr as a dwarf and Keith Moon as a nun. Johnson characterizes the movie as “a mess by design” and reminds us of its historical significance as the first feature-length film shot on videotape.

And at Guba, someone has posted a 1986 episode of the TV talk show “Crossfire” where Zappa appears in short hair and a suit, discussing important matters.

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Brussels Celebrities: Boxer Shorts and Peeing Boy

mannekin pisBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Brussels, says Rick Steves in the pages of The Seattle Times, is one of the great travel secrets of Europe. He goes on to illustrate why, with such examples as:

Belgian fries (“frites”) taste so good because they’re deep-fried twice – once to cook, and once to brown. The locals dunk them in mayonnaise, especially delicious if the mayo is flavored with garlic. My favorite budget meal in Brussels is having simple pub grub in an atmospheric old pub with a gaggle of “beer pilgrims,” who’ve flocked here from around the world…

Which is all very nice, but what made our ears prick up was a mention of the stone mascot of Brussels, the Mannekin Pis statue, located near the Town Hall. Steves informs us that its extensive wardrobe comes from all over the world, as various cities send costumes as gifts, which are displayed in the City Museum. How do they get the right measurements? But that’s neither here nor there.

The astute reader has noticed that certain themes run through the work of Kevin Dolgin and thus, through this column. Statues are one of those themes, and he has written about this archetypal piece of functional sculpture. In The Third Tower Up From the Road, he advises:

Plan on spending a good 12 minutes at the statue of Manneken Pis, a minuscule bronze of a small boy peeing into a fountain … if you’re lucky he’ll be dressed up as anything from a medieval pikeman to Elvis Presley. The residents of Brussels get their kicks as best they can.

When they’re not dressing the thing up in goofy costumes, they’re stealing it. Over the centuries, seven Mannekin Pis thefts have stained the city’s honor. Like any urban hero worthy of the name, the peeing boy is the subject of much folklore. It seems there once was an aristocratic toddler, protected from battle by soldiers who stashed him in a tree, from which he peed on the enemy troops. Or, not from a tree, peed on the fuse of the dynamite planted by the enemy at the city wall. Or merely got lost, and everybody in town helped look for the kid, and he was found doing you-know-what, and his rich dad commissioned the statue in honor of the boy’s safe return. Please, feel free to make up your own Mannekin Pis legend and send it to us.

The locals really get into the spirit of things, with ceremonies where beer is pumped through you-know-where and handed out to passers-by (there’s a joke in there somewhere) to the accompaniment of live brass band music. This is definitely worth the trip. You might think that one Mannekin Pis would be enough, but no, the darn things are all over the place. Several other Belgian towns have their own, and in one of them he’s known as Il Gamin Quipiche. In France, they call him Le Petit Julien. The town of Tokushima, Japan, has a peeing boy statue that was presented to it by the thoughtful folks at the Belgian embassy. Even Rio de Janeiro has one. And that’s not even counting the millions of Mannekin Pis lawn ornaments all over the globe, perhaps even more numerous than garden trolls.

While Kevin implies that the peeing boy is one of only three tourist attractions in Brussels, this is clearly an underestimation. The city boasts many fine cultural destinations, including the Celebrity Underwear Museum, as we learn from SpiegelOnline, in an article that must be read to be believed. The museum was founded by a manic and rather infamous artist named Jan Bucquoy. Apparently the collection’s piece de resistance is… a pair of boxer shorts once worn by a finance minister. Like Kevin says, “The residents of Brussels get their kicks as best they can.”

photo courtesy of fiona bradley, used under this Creative Commons license

Travel Writing Highlight: Paul Theroux

near Herat
By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

There’s an annual event called the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, that happens over in Denton, Texas. The 2009 edition, which runs July 24-26, features travel writer Paul Theroux. This we learn from Alyssa Aber, spokesperson for the University of North Texas. But we learn even more from George Getschow, who is writer-in-residence and describer of the event. About Theroux, Getschow says, “Readers depend on his uncompromising, sometimes brazen reportage, his witty, acerbic asides and the tremendous breadth of literature he brings to his work.”

He goes on to explain the scope and consequence of Theroux’s work, of which travel writing is only a part, and the aspect of a many-faceted career that interests us. Oh, it’s cool that Theroux is an authority on V. S. Naipaul and Graham Greene. But we like the wheelbarrow full of travel books. This guy has been on a trip in Malawi where he had to go through 14 roadblocks to get from Point A to Point B. He informs us, “The daily annoyance of living in a dictatorship…is like suffering an unhappy family in a locked house.” Theroux is a very smart man who says that watching television results in severe brain trauma.

From Malaysia in 1973, Theroux wrote about a native tree that smells ghastly, but is adored by bats. And about the riots that caused the US military to quit sending its soldiers to Penang for R&R leave, and how this decision caused economic ruin for several hotels, hundreds of trishaw drivers, and most of the hookers.

About another particular place, Theroux says, “Herat is a town of clumsy craftsmen, who have forgotten the fine points of their trade,” and speaks of “women in spooky pleated shrouds.” In 1974, the year after the king was deposed, he arrived in Afghanistan and made the immediate decision to book on out of there ASAP. Due to lack of transportation, he ended up staying a few days, and found the Afghans he met “lazy, idle and violent.” When a seasoned world traveler is so sharply negative about an indigenous population, you have to wonder. On the other hand, the only two local sites he visited were a “hotel” without electricity, water, or food, and an insane asylum.

But if Afghanistan ever pulls itself together, what a great opportunity for literary tourism the country will own. Without even straining, we can think of three books to read before joining up with the traveling book club tour. One is Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner. Two are nonfiction accounts of lives so unfathomably different from Americana that they might as well be fiction: West of Kabul, East of New York by Tamim Ansary, and The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad.

Anyway, back to Paul Theroux. There’s more to this travel writing game than describing one particular place or another. There’s the drawing of conclusions about things that are true everywhere. For instance, here’s a typical Theroux saying: “Any country which displays more than one statue of a living politician is a country which is headed for trouble.

(Speaking of statues, no reader of this page will be surprised to learn that Kevin’s book contains a piece called, “In Search of Frank Zappa: Vilnius, Lithuania.” In fact, he seems to pay pretty close attention to statues, so if sculpture is your bag, some nice discoveries are in store.)

Paul Theroux traveled for many years without a camera, though it doesn’t seem to have been a lifelong rule. The point is, there’s a whole philosophy around being camera-free, having to do with how you don’t really see a thing when there’s a device between you and it. In the spectrum of meditations on the relationship between photographer and subject, the dark end inspires such works as Haskell Wexler’s film Medium Cool, and in fact an entire genre of philosophical fiction and nonfiction devoted to exploring the boundaries of that voyeuristic relationship.

And then, at the other end of the spectrum, there are folks like Kevin Dolgin, who admit to holding the camera backwards. Even this is amenable to a philosophical explanation. Kevin says, “Instead of taking pictures, I have always simply counted on the formation of memories, sitting back from time to time just to reminisce about a place in all its lush (or squalid) detail.”

One of Paul Theroux’s sayings is, “Travel is a creative act.” Another is, “Only a fool blames his bad vacation on the rain.” He also says, “My way of traveling is completely personal.” Exactly. That’s what all these top-drawer travel writers have in common. Nobody else could have done it, seen it, or said, it like they do.

Near Herat photo courtesy of Jayanth Vincent , used under this Creative Commons license