Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Full Moon & Sunflowers

This week with the passage of Hurricane Sandy we in Florida were lucky, seeing nothing like the widespread devastation experienced across the northeast. Would be good to say that the storm left the coast of Florida untouched, but the wind factor put a dent in that. From early last Saturday through Sunday evening stormy seas whipped up by Sandy eroded beaches badly, washing away dunes and carrying sand by the ton back out to sea. But at least our houses are standing and we have power. Looking at photos of the situation in Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and New York it sounds tame to talk of tides on Florida’s east coast smashing harmlessly against a sea wall fifty feet away, but as I said, Florida got lucky. At the end of it all here’s what it looked like under Monday’s full moon.

A couple of blocks west of me a road runs north and south for a good distance, a route I rarely use. Yesterday I had reason to drive for a couple of miles on that road and at one point came upon a sight I had not noticed before. I last saw sunflowers a couple of years ago when I came upon a small patch of them growing above a river bank, stalks and flowers about five feet tall. The sudden appearance yesterday of sunflowers fifteen feet high at the side of the road almost made me swerve into the opposite lane. I right away wanted to stop and have a closer look, so pulled over to the side. A sign in front of the sunflowers warned me that the area around the flowers was for Buick parking only, so I had to find a spot not so close for my non-Buick. It was hard to get a satisfactory photo without walking into someone’s front yard, so I made do with a poorer angle. The picture below shows the sunflowers in comparison to a utility pole, as well as the Buick parking sign. Nice touch of humor. 

Looking later at the photo below I began to wonder if these are true sunflowers, as the distinctive dark florets in the center are absent. On seeing such tall golden-yellow flowers with large saucer-sized heads my immediate thought was, “Oh, those are sunflowers.” But it’s entirely possible that these are a cousin of the true sunflower with a name I don’t know. I almost want to return to the spot and knock on the door of the house there to ask about the tall flowers. Whatever the true name, look closely in the floret below and you’ll spot a bee tanking up on pollen and nectar.

The view below is another angle that shows much of the same with a soon to unfurl blossom to the left of the flower. Perhaps someone can identify the leaves here as distinctive. Give a holler if I’m off the mark in calling these soaring specimens sunflowers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Math of Flowers & Bees

Throughout history, one particular ratio for the length and width of rectangles has been determined to produce a shape pleasing to the eye. Named the Golden Ratio by the Greeks, the ratio of 1.61803 has fascinated scholars, scientists, architects, painters and musicians for centuries. In the world of mathematics, the numeric value is called phi, named for the Greek sculptor Phidias who used the ratio in finding the best proportions for his statues. 

The number is derived from something known as the Fibonacci Sequence—an arrangement of numbers wherein each succeeding number is simply the sum of the two preceding numbers (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89…). This sequence forms the basis for the Golden Ratio of 1.618—a proportion which recurs with amazing consistency throughout the natural world.

Without benefit of a strong background in mathematics, this phenomenon of numbers and nature didn’t come to my attention until recently, when I read Michael Pollan’s book, A Place of My Own, his account of building a small one-room writing space that he called a “shelter for daydreams.” In sizing the ground plan for Pollan’s studio, the architect determined that the desk should run the length of the front wall. To get an idea of dimensions Pollan extended his arms out to the side, making a span of six feet, then added a depth of two feet for bookshelves on each end. This gave them the room’s width. Using the Golden Ratio, the architect multiplied that length of eight feet by the factor 1.618, coming up with 12.9. In this way he determined the final measurements of the room—a rectangle of eight by thirteen feet.

Nature’s perfect number also fits snugly into this Golden Mean. Odd as it seems to equate math with flowers, we can see shapes determined by this formula in the heads of daisies and sunflowers, in pine cones, leaves and seashells. The shape and proportions of a dolphin’s body, the markings on a butterfly or moth, as well as the facial features of tigers and koala bears all fall into line with the Golden Ratio. If you divide the number of female honey bees by the number of male honey bees in any given hive, you will get 1.618—the Golden Ratio. While there are arguments against it, many believe that for centuries great architecture has been influenced by the Golden Ratio. Some say that the Pyramids of Egypt reflect the Golden Ratio, that the Greeks used it in building the Parthenon, and the French in Notre Dame. It has figured in the thought and painting of Leonardo da Vinci and Salvador Dali, the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, as well as the music of Chopin.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Stuck on a Bench

Tokyo is a vast city incorporating an ever-changing mix of districts and neighborhoods, places differing in style and color and constantly offering up small architectural gems that chart the city’s growth. One of Tokyo’s most handsomely refurbished areas is the commercial district of Marunouchi, located in Chiyoda Ward between Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace. The name translates as “inside the circle” and comes from its location within the outer moat of the palace. Marunouchi is a major center of Japan’s financial industry with three of the country’s largest banks headquartered there. In recent years the area has become a magnet to tourists because of its tree lined streets and imposing architecture, as well as its world class shopping. You will find museums, department stores, multi-floored bookstores, historical buildings, elegant boutiques, theatres and of course the incomparable Tokyo Station.

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Marunouchi Shopping center, in cooperation with Chiyoda Ward, the Marunouchi Executive Committee presented a street side exhibition of Bench Art for five weeks in September and October of this year. The exhibition was of twenty sculptures either seated on or standing near specially made benches. The figures included famous characters, personalities, athletic heroes and historical figures and also names connected to the area of Marunouchi.

Looking at the sculptures (statues) the first thought is that none of them are very well executed in terms of modeling or delicacy. Some might even suspect that the artist didn’t understand his medium. Still it’s important to realize that because of its scope the project could never be envisioned as a collection of fine art. The artists are unnamed and it would surprise no one to learn that none are well-known names. But the concept is both valid and interesting.

Four of the sculptures (and I imagine the benches as well) are being auctioned for charity with the starting bid of $500.00. The four selected for auctioning are: Albert Einstein, Tatsuno Kingo, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Saigo Takamori. The last two are not included in the photos below.

Not sure why the sculptor chose to accent his portrait of Albert Einstein with the famous tongue-out pose, but it comes across as odd in this case. My guess is the idea was to make identification more immediate, since most are familiar with the 1951 Albert Sasse birthday photo of the famous physicist.

Not well-known outside of Japan, Tatsuno Kingo was an architect who made major contributions to the area during the Meiji period. He is remembered for his 1914 design of Tokyo Station. He also set up the Japanese architecture course at Kôbu University, which later became the Tokyo University Engineering Department, laying the foundations of modern Japanese architecture.

The Masked Rider is a Japanese superhero with the abilities of a grasshopper. The character first appeared in a manga-based television series, where the hero, an ordinary man is transformed on his high performance bike to battle various monsters. The role was first played by Hiroshi Fujioka.

Icon of silent film, Englishman Charles Chaplin was not only an actor, but director, writer, composer and producer of films.

Ryoma Sakamoto was a loyalist involved in the plot to overthrow Japan’s ruling Tokugawa Shogunate in the years between 1853 and 1867. He played a pivotal role in bringing about the 1867 Meiji Restoration.

Ryo Ishikawa, a professional golfer who became youngest money-title winner and the youngest overall winner on the Japan’s professional tour. His shy smile and good looks have attracted legions of fans.

Japanese professional baseball player Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui who in 2009 led the New York Yankees to a World Series win, receiving the series MVP award.

Shun Oguri is a Tokyo-born actor and director well-known for his numerous film and television appearances. He made his directorial debut as the youngest director in Japan with the film Surely Someday in which he also appeared.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

L’Indochine Française

An outstanding part of Vincent Lam’s recent novel of Vietnam, The Headmaster’s Wager, set during the long years of the country’s colonial history involving the French, Japanese and Americans, is description of French influence in Saigon and the nearby Chinese community of Cholon. There are perhaps many who are unaware of just how beautiful the city was during the 1940s and 50s before it all began to crumble under external pressure. Looking for further images of Saigon during those years I came upon a site devoted to the history and culture of Vietnam across the years and it turned out to house a treasure of impressive ads popular during the French hegemony in that country. For those willing to challenge the French language, there are a dozen or more pages filled with pictures and ads from the old Vietnam

Since I do not read French very well, my guess is the above graphic is an undated political propaganda poster by Jean Picard extolling the French as aides in the south’s war against the northern communists.

A fine example of French graphic art, extolling the beauty of Chinese Creek in Saigon.

The poster above advertises a popular tobacco company in Saigon during the period, one producing both cigars and cigarettes. One more superb graphic design.  

In this poster we see a line of workers carrying harvested rice up a slope in the Tonkin Delta of northern Vietnam. The area is known for its rice production.

Poster for a French airline carrying passengers between Hanoi and Saigon

Another poster advertising the natural beauty of north Vietnam’s Baie de Ha Long, written in French as Baie d’Along

This ad for a garage is especially charming with its drawing of a black man. Interesting to note that such images were extremely popular in French graphic art during the early twentieth century.

About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America