Wednesday, May 28

The Pacific Northwest: the Confluence Project

I'm visiting Zack in Portland for a roomy two weeks, and there's so much to show and tell. Today I want to mention Maya Lin's Confluence Project, a series of installations along the Columbia River, ending at the mouth of the river, where it flows into the Pacific at Ilwaco. Lin agreed to do this project for the 200th anniversary celebration of the Lewis & Clark expedition. Her intention was to show the chosen sites not just as they are now, but in a way that makes the visitor simultaneously inhabit past, present and future. Like the work of the archaeologist or fossil hunter, who draws our attention to the life that has been in a place before us and thereby makes us aware of the continuum of time in landscape, Lin's work here recreates past eras in a living way. These sites are not at all like the "living history" exhibits we can see at the Mayflower replica in Plymouth, Mass., nor even at Washington and Cape Disappointment State Park.Plimouth Plantation, nor the recreations at Old Sturbridge Village or Colonial Williamsburg. Those places have their use in giving us an image of human life in a particular landscape and try as best they can to show what life was like back then. But Lin's goal is more subtle: to show the continuity of human life in a specific location. In preparation for the work at the Cape Disappointment site, work was dune on reclaiming some of the dunes and natural features, and Lin's projects, created out of natural materials simply and subtly show that continuity. Her fish-cleaning table, above, was made out of a slab of basalt, which abounds here, and both reminds us of the Chinook's reliance on fish and provides a working space for fishermen now.
This is what we saw in the bay right off the end of the table.

Here's the site where you can read about the project and see a video of Lin talking about it:
Note: The Chinooks, like so many tribes, were nearly decimated by the arrival of the whites, and were about to gain recognition once more as a tribe at the end of Clinton's presidency. But when Bush came in he denied them this courtesy. I hope that the thinking of the people who commissioned this project and others like it and who encourage similar projects in the schools will prevail in the years to come.

Sunday, May 11

So much depends upon...

... a giant spider
passing over the city of Paris,
egg sac hanging below *

Giant spider sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, in the Jardin des Tuileries, in a photo of a picture torn from the New York Times and hanging on my fridge

Like the giant polar bear that used to grace my daily commute, this spider delights my soul. I hope she will come to the US. I might go to see her if she does. She's been to London, so maybe D.C.? Unless the President is an arachnophobe...

* in case you expected a wheelbarrow and a chicken, just wait -- they're coming soon.

Saturday, May 10

My Grandmother and Edith Wharton

Posted by PicasaTaking pictures of pictures isn't the greatest way to show them, but it sure is fun. This one is from a thin black album over a century old. Some of the photos are dated 1912, before my mother was born. The pictures of my grandmother, Evelyn Langley Manchester, and her sisters and friends remind me of the world of Henry James and Edith Wharton, a world I return to time and again in my reading. Edith Wharton was a summer visitor to Newport and might have passed my grandmother on the street or on Bellevue Avenue or Ocean Drive. I think my grandmother is more beautiful than Mrs. Wharton, born Edith Newbold Jones.

In The Age of Innocence, Newland Archer is in Newport at the same time as his forbidden love, Ellen Olenska. He goes out to a farm in Middletown to see some race horses, and sees Ellen down on the shore. My grandfather, David Coggeshall Simmons, was part of a Middletown family whose large farm on the East Main Road is now a land trust and while it no longer has dairy cattle is run by the youngest generation as a demonstration organic farm. You can still stop at the farm stand in the summer and buy fresh produce. It can't be too far from the farm that Archer visited. This man and horse are in my family album, not Newland Archer's.

Literature stands by itself as a deep source of pleasure, but that enjoyment is even greater when the place evoked is known to the reader. Last summer as I drove with my mother along Ocean Drive and some of the side roads, I looked for Wharton's summer cottage. I found one that looked promising, but I need to do a little more research. And I need to find out who the man is. Later: more 1912 photos.