Friday, November 21, 2008

Köstritzer Schwarzbier: A favorite of Dandies and Fops since 1543!

As you might expect, I first purchased this beer for the intriguing image on the box. As luck would have it, it's also fantastic beer. I wasn't sure initially if my impression was clouded by my sheer delight in the cover art, but several repeat purchases later I am convinced that this is my new favorite beer.

Schwarzbier is a lager made with a dark-roasted malt, as you might have guessed. I confess I don't have a lot of experience with schwarzbiers, but I think I should probably try a few more since it's conceptually right up my alley. The Köstritzer has a delicate, frothy head, a light body, and tastes of coffee and burnt sugars. So it's all the crisp effervescence of a lager with the sweet, roasty maltiness you normally expect in a porter or a stout.

But going back to the artwork: I am captivated with the image. If I had described the box as having a picture of someone holding the beer, reclining, and rubbing their leg suggestively, you would have immediately assumed that person was female. This reclining, passive gaze is almost exclusively associated with the depiction of women in the history of art, and in beer advertising in particular. The Art Theory 101 student inside me finds this Köstritzer image remarkably unusual. I could be wrong of course, but I just can't seem to think of other examples of this kind of male objectification, in 18th century period dress, no less. He is of course covered in some kind of blanket or coat, but again there's the notable exception of where he's decided to show us his breeches. If you you have any expertise on this subject, I am dying of curiosity and I'd appreciate your insights.

On a sillier note, the part of me that is easily brainwashed by nonsensical TV commercials has noticed that our dapper gentleman appears to be wearing a snuggie. Because sometimes you're cold, but wearing a blanket would make it difficult to drink your Köstritzer.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Lovely Summer Morning

Today I had a pretty unforgettable experience. I'm currently a sign artist at a Trader Joe's here in Scottsdale, and this morning I was working on a sign on the front door. So I was outside painting, when a Palo Verde Beetle stumbled across the door jamb. I was pretty startled by a large bug walking across my path (and I'd say justifiably so), but it ambled on past me, and I got back to work. About fifteen minutes later I felt a tickle at my knee, so I looked down, but didn't see anything, and figured I was imagining things, still jumpy from seeing the beetle. Then about thirty seconds later, I felt a decidedly less imaginary tickle on my upper thigh, so i reflexively brushed it off, which may well have been the most horrific part of the experience, because that's when I realized there was not a bug on my pants, but in my pants. I don't think I'll forget the sensation of running my hand over that fabric-covered lumpy thing. It combines the startling experience of something unexpected in place of the familiar (in this case my smooth, jeans-covered leg) with the gut-level horror of not being able to physically separate yourself from the object of your fear. I started screaming and jumping up and down and wiggling to get it to drop down out of my pants. But it didn't fall out, and that realization brought my flip-out to a new level. I almost took off my pants right there in front of the store, but instead I grabbed the bug through the pants, ran to the bathroom, and with one hand still tightly clutching the jeans-wrapped bug, removed my pants (which necessitated first taking off my shoes) and flung them away from me. The Palo Verde Beetle started to climb out of the folds of the pants, flailing around his big little arms and antennae, til I picked up the pants and shook him out. I unfortunately killed the beetle by crushing it in my fist while running for the bathroom, which besides being gross I also feel bad about, because Palo Verde Beetles are actually harmless. But I doubt I'll ever reach a point where I'm able to calmly remove a large insect from inside my pants.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Some Perspective

As we're all now well aware, in the democratic primary older women tended to support Senator Clinton, with younger women more often supporting Senator Obama. This rift heated into an ugly little battle between the generations that I was actually quite surprised by (perhaps naively so). The opinion pages were full of rancorous accusations from feminists like Gloria Steinem who felt a vote for Obama was a betrayal of the feminist cause, that we'd be losing everything we'd fought for by not voting for Clinton. And then the unpleasantness of Geraldine Ferraro's comments, the Clinton supporter decrying Obama as an "inadequate black male," and finally the accusations that the nomination had been stolen from Clinton that became entangled with cries of prejudice and sexism.

Without question, there was rampant sexism in this race, mainly from the media. Clinton has always been a favorite punching bag of the right wing pundits and probably would've continued to draw their fire had McCain not pulled into the lead, instigating such bizarre scenes as Ann Coulter's quasi-endorsement of Clinton. The fact is, the sexism encountered was (just like the bigotry Obama still faces) a certainty that Clinton's campaign had to face from the outset. She was far and away the favorite in the beginning, and sexism did not lose her the nomination. So please, sisters, take a deep breath and let go of a little bit of your anger. It makes no sense for women who've voted democrat in the past to vote for McCain now, and it's certainly not Obama's fault that Clinton had to endure sexism. That's all our fault as a society, and we have to deal with the reality of where we are now. She was the first, and she had to cut through it with a machete, to make a path where there wasn't one before.

All that being said, I've spent the past few months pretty miffed at older feminists trying to tell me who I can and can't vote for. Last time I checked, women didn't have to put up with that. And I see feminism not as about being victorious over men but about gender equality: shouldn't we try to make a decision about the candidates without regard for gender? I think that's how most Obama feminists see it. But the thing I've only recently realized, which is perhaps blatantly obvious to others, is that we're young. I've lived through four presidents. For younger women, there's no urgency to elect a woman. No, there haven't been any female presidents, but it seems more like a fluke than inequality: I feel like a female president is inevitable. We have grown up in a different world, where women occupy the same positions men do (admittedly sometimes in fewer numbers). It's one where girls graduate from high school at a higher rate, go to college and graduate in larger numbers, and in general experience very little persecution or resistance because of gender. Growing up in Arizona, I lived through an equal number of female and male governors (and I might add, a far more admirable showing by the women: Mecham and Symington stand in sharp contrast to Janet Napolitano, who besides being an extremely competent, smart, and popular governor was also the first Arizona governor and first woman to chair the National Governor's Association). I know there are still gaps and places we can do better. But the feeling of being less, of having lower expectations for girls than boys, is all but gone.

So I would like to say first of all that I'm sorry for being annoyed with women's aspirations for Hillary Clinton. And to say thanks: Thank you to Senator Clinton being a pioneer and taking the blows so that now it's normal and accepted to see a woman running for president. And thank you to the women who stood up for themselves and for all women to be regarded as full citizens and equals. My generation's relative complacency is proof you succeeded: women aren't an oddity in the workplace or politics, but in fact just another person, to be judged and considered on the same merits as a man. Male is not the default, and women are not the exception: we're just people of different genders. So thanks, to all the women and men who changed minds—and had their minds changed—to create a world where I take my rights and opportunities for granted.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Phoenix Aesthetic

Phoenix is probably not on most people's lists of great cities for architecture, and I'm certainly not out to convince you otherwise. In fact, the idea for this post came from watching James Howard Kunstler's TED talk and perusing his Eyesore of the Month page. My first thought was to take some pictures of eyesores to send in for the page. My second thought was the realization that metro-Phoenix was one gigantic eyesore and it wouldn't be practical or constructive to actually try to catalog its entirety or even find some quintessential blight (although I learned recently that my sister's best friend makes a point of showing vistors to the valley our palm tree cell towers, which I think would make a lovely addition to Kunstler's dubious collection). The only thing I was sure of was that Mr. Kunstler had never been to metro-Phoenix: there is such a glut of eyesore to been seen here, both in quantity and in sheer horrific ugliness, that I can't imagine he'd have visited and not added some Phoenix photos to the eyesore page.

While pondering the sad state of beauty, community, and character in our sprawling parking lot, I realized that there are pockets of success. Phoenix does have a sense of place; a unique style that unmistakably feels like Phoenix, and nowhere else. It's fragile and sporadically applied, but it's clear to me that if we're thoughtful about development going forward, we can make Phoenix more beautiful, hospitable, and livable.

Good design, by definition, is not superficially beautiful, but also fulfills some set of requirements that make it useful as well. I could blather on for years about what exactly it is that makes something beautiful and I might still not convince you, but in a nutshell, I generally subscribe to the idea that form and function should not be an either/or proposition. That for something to have lasting beauty, it needs usefulness, and that an object is not really fulfilling its function if it isn't somehow beautiful. For a city to have a sense of place, the built environment must address the climate, history, and the spirit or culture of the people who live there: an aesthetic arises from this naturally. In Phoenix, we must build for a hot, dry climate with sensitivity to our historic architecture (much of which dates to the 1920s and 30s) and native cultures. And it seems that where Phoenix has succeeded in cultivating a distinct aesthetic, this is already happening.

To grasp the essence of a place visually, it's important that the built environment reveal history. Analogously, the history of the English language is revealed in the spelling of various words. We can see the relationship between words borrowed from the same language at the same time (if we know what we're looking for), and that's lost if we all decided tomorrow to spell everything phonetically. In Phoenix we have a penchant for the architectural equivalent of phonetic spelling: we just tear down and start over every ten or twenty years, so as a result the vast majority of our city was built from roughly 1970 onward (though to be fair, I don't think this is unique to Phoenix). This is a combination of rapid growth, cheap building, and a heavy dose of California envy. (I think Phoenix often feels like LA's ugly younger sister. And I defy you to find an Arizonan who as a kid didn't ponder California falling into the ocean and giving us our very own beach.) But where we haven't bull-dozed it, we've got some iconic buildings like the Westward Ho or the Biltmore Resort, a lot of modest but lovely skyscrapers from the twenties and thirties, and a sprinkling of mission revival, all mixed with some rather grim, monumental behemoths from the seventies and eighties. But a lot of this works together for me because there's often a visible intention to bring them together through geometric pattern that also subtly evokes native American visual culture. Through this seemingly disparate mix we get a chance to see the history of Phoenix, like strata of earth showing what came before—what we're a part of.

Building with the harsh climate in mind is something that I think has slipped away in Phoenix over the years. Again, keeping up with the Californian Joneses leads us to build bigger, with lots of windows to let in the light (heat!) and let us commune with nature while sitting in air-conditioned comfort on our sofa. Ironically, the wisdom of building with a sensitivity toward our historical urban landscape is reinforced when you consider the desert climate: anything built before the advent of air conditioning is by necessity built to cool the inside as effectively as possible, and as it becomes hip to think about green building, well, perhaps an adobe bungalow surrounded by a wide covered porch is not such a bad thing after all. A lot of the buildings that look aesthetically appropriate are excellent at deflecting heat, and that's no accident. The climate is an essential practical consideration that becomes part of a place's aesthetic.

I like to think of Phoenix's aesthetic as the Bladerunner look: the strong 80's influence, geometric pattern, pollution, and echoes of Frank Lloyd Wright make it feel that way for me. That may sound sinister and dystopian, but I think it's more of a grim optimism for the future—one we're going to build ourselves, through brute force and ambition. There is a deliberateness, a determination to subdue nature and live here in defiance of it that defines the our character as citizens of this city, and that's reflected in our architecture and built environment.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

About this blog

Hello World!

I've decided to dip my toe into the swimming pool of the internet and start up a blog. Yes, it's 2008, and it seems this internet thing is here to stay. If you haven't already, try my decidedly less verbal blog over at for a lot of (let's be honest with ourselves) rather badly drawn self-portraits. (But I think they're getting better, in fits and starts.)

This blog, as the title vaguely suggests, will be about the often-overlooked. While I'm sure the topics I plan to write about are not completely invisible, I want to discuss my take on these things. (And hey: I'm allowed! If there was ever a more self-indulgent medium than the blog, please let me know what it is.) I'm fairly input-driven and detail-oriented: I like to absorb and investigate. This way of approaching the world probably defines who I am more strongly than any other characterization I could apply to myself, and that's why I'm drawn to pondering minutiae, investigating the inner workings of things, and understanding the world in new ways. I enjoy trying to look at the everyday with fresh eyes, to discover something new in the ordinary.

Thanks for reading!