Friday, August 31, 2007

Gourmet chili

Gourmet chili, originally uploaded by mrtoastey.

I went in search of authentic cinci style chili. A random guy that I hollered at from my car tried to send me to Skyline but when I balked, suggested Dixie Chili in Newport. While I tried to got there, I instead accidentally wound up at this place down the street. Gourmet Chili 'n' More, I think it was called, on Monmouth Street in Newport. Perfect. Also, chili (mostly) fits my phase 1 SBD.


Awesome!, originally uploaded by mrtoastey.

The absolutely nutz bldg by Daniel Libeskind in covington (in progress). Libeskind said ""This building, while modern in design, is based on shapes that reflect the history, traditions and landscape of Greater Cincinnati." Um, clearly? Regardless, the guy is incredible, is a former faculty member of the UK College of Architecture and we're very lucky to have one of his buildings here in Kentucky. There's more about the project here and here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"Invisible Airwaves!"


I'm 41 years old and I'm going to see Rush on Saturday. That should be depressing but I'm so excited. It's been more than 25 years since I sat in my best friend Tim Haney's basement and boggled over the mystery of Cygnus X-1, a song that ends "to be continued…" Whoa. Tim had filched older brother Jaye's copy of A Farewell to Kings and it was just one of the most intriguing things either of us had ever seen or heard. What would I have thought if I'd known that I'd be going to see Rush so many years later?

There's something about Rush that fires the furnace inside of teenage boys in a way that cannot be denied. I barreled through my teens listening to "Tom Sawyer" and "Red Barchetta" thinking that there was nothing in the world that I couldn't do if I really wanted to. The music of Rush assured me that I had an important place in the universe —that in fact, we all did should we chose to accept such a mantle. Does that sound breathlessly grandiose? Of course it does! That's what Rush is about somehow.

What really excites me is that I'm going to see Rush with some of my oldest friends and, while our friendships are somewhat disparate and we don't always spend a lot of time together these days, we still have Rush. And while we listen to all manner of music (I am an ultra-hip-on-the-newest thing college radio deejay, I must belabor), obscure, mainstream, in a variety of genres, we still have Rush.

So why is it then that Rush inspires a kind of timid or reluctant endorsement as we get older? There's almost "the Rush smirk," the sideways look you know you're gonna get if you bring up Rush among those who claim any degree of modern music fandom or scholarship. It's as if my briefcase (if I had one) fell open and was full of Tinker Toys or Legos.

And what's funny is that this attitude will frequently be adopted by people who quite possibly loved Rush when they were younger. Almost as if we're saying I'm so much more sophisticated now, but when I was a kid… sure! Maybe it has something to do with that delicious burning with which we once felt those Objectivism-inspired Neil Peart lyrics (who among Rush fans wouldn't have given anything to have dinner with our teenage intellectual god? if only to say "Neil, what should I do with my life?") coupled with the oft-repeated — and so inaccurate — labeling of Rush as a 'metal band.' Please. Nothing really against metal for the purposes of this point; it' s just so wrongheaded as to miss the entire point. Which is: There really isn't any other Rush. What's weird is that so few bands ever even come out into the light with their Rush inspiration. (The Smashing Pumpkins used to do "Limelight" in their encore, and Mixmaster Mike of the Beastie Boys does this great "Tom Sawyer" cut-up prior to Beasties shows). Recently, Chuck Klosterman, epic and hilarous rock writer that he is, wrote a fantastic essay on "The Spirit of Radio" for Esquire magazine.

So where am I going with this? Maybe it's this: Rush is just like Star Wars for me. That elemental. And just as I don't tend to watch Star Wars very often these days, neither do I tend to listen to Rush. But they both resonate to this day. They've both lost little of their sway over me and the way my brain works and really the values that I hold.

Recently, I've been reading, for the first time, The Lord of the Rings. I have always felt that not having read the Tolkien tome was an oversight by any supposedly well-read person. And one of the treats of this reading is seeing some of Rush's own influences. "Rivendell" is obvious, and even somewhat hamfisted, one must admit. But "The Trees" shines still, in both word and music.

The point really is what Rush introduced me to: Rush introduced me to literature. Rush introduced me to intellectualism. Rush songs aren't about girls, they're not about partying, they're not about drugs (okay, okay except A Passage to Bangkok), they're not about being depressed. They're about ideas and dreams, and the epic nature of the world around us. And for a band to inspire unshakeable starry-eyed optimism in teenage boys, well, there are worse things.

I learned so much from Rush, and I can't wait to see them for the 3rd and probably last time. I doubt that I'll need to see them again, honestly; this is kind of a "touching base" with my roots. It's less a testament to any continued adulation, than it is a celebration of who I am in my 40's. This person—this person who takes pride in a renaissance attitude, in a continuing zeal of discovery—owes plenty of that attitude to Rush.

And I don't expect them to be the same band that I loved (although I of course can't help but want them to be), but that's mostly because Rush taught me not to expect that. "Changes aren't permanent, but change is," was just one of the many little life lessons that peek through those overwrought lyrics. This from a band that has, unbelievably by any measure, had the same roster for over 30 years. Almost no other band can claim that. Name one band. By and large they've always been married guys who have shunned the spotlight outside of touring (okay, Alex did get arrested with his son awhile back). I remember hearing, many many years ago, when they played Rupp Arena that they were seen playing tennis at the Hyatt. I've always held the funniest mental image of boney gargoyle-like Geddy Lee in tennis whites with a headband on. (And thanks to the Internet, here it is)

Rush just carries on. They are the essence of what one might call progressive rock. They just keep progressing and kids keep graduating from the school of Rush. It's not like they ever sold out. It's not like they've ever had a bigger hit than "Tom Sawyer." But they have made million-selling record after record and have a die-hard audience of — guess who?— teenage boys full of fire, ambition, and what might be called intellectual angst, I'm guessing.

The funny thing about Rush, is that despite having "outgrown them," I've always trusted them. How does a band inspire trust? I'm not really sure. I have just always felt that Rush wanted me to be the very best person that I was brave enough to be. In Rush's music, the message was always Go! Do! Be! whether in my personal odysseys or even in relationships.

I'm still trying to do that, and I will always love Rush for their unflagging encouragement.

Last note on "The Starman," the longstanding emblem of Rush. Neil Peart says: "All it means is the abstract man against the masses. The red star symbolizes any collectivist mentality."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Final Edit

blow drying, originally uploaded by mrtoastey.

Here it is. This is what I shot over a thousand pictures to get down to. Seems crazy, right? It was an amazing experience. I came to understand how a good (in the care of my teacher, great) photo editor can look at dozens —even hundreds— of pictures … and see a story. Here's mine, edited and laid out by National Geographic Senior Projects Editor Bill Douthitt. What you see here is what was shown a the Big Friday Night show at the Maine Media Workshops, along with the work of the rest of our class, and also the rest of the week's participants. It was a really great time for me and I was very very smiley. Note: It wasn't all girls, actually; but the slightly-extended story, which I'm still working on really concerns the girls and how 4-H figures into their lives. Plus I love the phrase Beltie Girls (although "Beltie Kids" is okay, too). Click here to see The Final Edit.

Rock-A-Fire Hacker

Here's the apex of western civilization: Videos featuring the reprogramming of the Chuck E. Cheese Showbiz Pizza Rock-A-Fire Explosion animatronic band to perform a variety of … other inappropriate songs.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Maine sunset

Maine sunset, originally uploaded by mrtoastey.


Monday, August 20, 2007

The 40

heidi, originally uploaded by mrtoastey.

I've posted a flickr gallery of The 40, the shots that I culled down from around a thousand, which were then culled further down to six with the guidance of National Geographic Senior Projects Editor Bill Douthitt. It was one of the most thrilling experiences that I've ever had sitting in a chair.

The gallery is here.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Belted Galloways are among the most curious and gentle bovines that I've ever experienced. Apparently, the bulls are regarded as even gentler still. From my first day at Aldermere, I found out how relaxing it was to be close to a pen full of "Belties," if not actually in the pen, as the 4H kids were on MWF.

On my first day, I got there just as the kids' work was winding down, and then it started raining. The Belties really aren't any more fond of rain than these girls and everybody was in the freshly-sawdusted pen. Notice the girl who's actually lying on top of a cow. This scene lasted nearly half an hour, as I recall. If the cows got close enough to be annoying, the girls would slap-slap-slap! them in the snout or just push them away.

I had a different experience, just as I became convinced of the total serenity of the situation. One of the Belties who'd been kind of eyeing me with a bit of defiance, suddenly took a couple of steps towards me and butted me in the side a couple of times. It was a little disconcerting, especially, since she kept her eye on me and kind of followed me as I stepped away. Then she head-butted me again. I kind of quietly made my way out of the pen and over to where the kids were doing some other work and had this exchange:
  • me: "So, um, have you guys ever been head-butted by any of the cows?"
  • 4H girl: "Oh, yeah, all the time." (with blasé)
  • me: "Oh."
  • me: "So, um, what does it mean?" (translation: "Am I being attacked?")
  • 4H girl: "It means 'get out of my way.'"
  • me: "Oh."
  • Another 4H girl: "Sometimes they're sorta bossy."
  • me: "I guess that explains about when I saw you slapping that one cow on the nose a bunch."
  • 4H girl: "Yeah. It's the best way to get their attention."
That was my only questionable moment with the Belties all week long. I loved showing up in the morning and going around and smartly smacking them between the eyes repeatedly, sort of like you do to a cat's tail end. They are just sooo sweet.

One more Beltie story: I was spending some time in a new pasture they are clearing on the back of the farm. It's an amzing piece of land and basically rolls down a hill right to the ocean, with only a grove of trees in the middle. At the top of the hill is a Beltie pen and they have free reign of the in-progress pasture, which on this day was being de-boulderized by a backhoe/frontloader. You know, a big yellow piece of classic construction equipment. A real life Tonka Toy.

The cows stayed pretty much away from the backhoe while the farmhand was digging — I don't know if that was because of volume (the thin's pretty loud) or just because everybody should stay away from backhoes. But after he called it a day and left, I hung around and the funniest thing happened. The cows — about a dozen or so — were under their shelter, standing, lying, staring at me. After a long while—half hour or so—one of them sauntered towards the gate, and slowly they all followed. The lazed their way down the hill, stopping here and there to chomp some grass, before eventually making their way to … the backhoe. And they all congragated around it, and sniffed and licked it for at least 15 minutes before continuing down the hill. It was one of the brightest moments of my day, literally, because it had been cloudy and the sun had now come gloriously through. If you don't believe me, see for yourself. I love them Belties.

I keep thinking about sooo many things… right?

The other day, a fellow workshopper and I were talking about the amazing cross-section of people that are here, in terms of geography. Easily, folks from all over the US as well as places like Iceland, Burmuda and Europe. We were thinking about funny colloquialisms having both had experience with the oft-misunderstood NY'ism, the habit of saying "rightrightright!" or "yeahyeahyeah!" to indicate that you are "following" what a person is saying. But it's frequently misunderstood as an expression of "hurry up." It's (usually) not.

Anyway, I learned how the San Francisco version of "yeahyeahyeah…" is a lethargic-sounding "yeahhhhhhh…" with a slightly glazed-over moment of contemplation. They mean the same thing: "I understand what yr. saying and I'm following you."

Here, I've heard this funny colloquialism that I'm not sure is regional or generational. It's the use of the interrogative: "Right?" It comes after a momentary pause, at the end of a sentence and doesn't really beg an answer. It basically seems to be similar to the above.

Example dialog:
Dude A: "Dag, this party is off the hook!"
Dude B: "I know! ..........right?"

No further comments on the topic of party-off-the-hookness are required at this point and conversants may now move on to the next topic.

PS: This picture also did not make the final cut. It is, however, a shining example of my attempts to emulate the fill-flash style of my teacher, National Geographic stalwart Karen Kasmauski. The idea is to use a strobe as fill-in lighting in a somewhat dark spaces, while simultaneously preserving the "ambient light." Oh, and the ideal is that it not be apparent that a flash is being used at all. This is one of my better executions. Quite a great lesson.

Pal/cottage-mate Jenna

Pal/cottage-mate Jenna, originally uploaded by mrtoastey.

jenna's lookin' all contemplative but really she's couch chillin. Also jenna's a swell photographer of tattooed love boys.

The class bldg

The class bldg, originally uploaded by mrtoastey.

Or at least my class bldg

Kate's Cottage

Kate's Cottage, originally uploaded by mrtoastey.

My home. Not on the web map for some reason. It's on the south end of "thw homestead."

Watching The Workshops go 'Bye

Photo_08, originally uploaded by mrtoastey.

I've been sitting in the dining tent for hours. After a crazy night of post-workshop jubilation—it's always strange and exciting to go to parties where people don't really know each other that well—I dragged my somewhat-slightly-dazed ass out of bed at 8am and shambled to the tent in hopes of a greasy breakfast. This wasn't easy for other reasons, too, namely, it was pouring down rain for the first time all week and I was all done. That makes for a pretty convinding case for staying in bed, no?

But I didn't want to. I love this place and the people that are here with me, and I just want to drink it in some more. Today is a day of teary goodbye's for most, and I've just kind of camped out since breakfast, through lunch, talking, laughing, sharing photos, and really having my eyese well up with tears more often then I would admit.

Every conversation seems to yield new things. I've even made new friends among people who were on their way to the airport in moments. I can't wait to talk to Molly some more about Holga. I've talked endlessly to various people about the contagious exhuberance of Bob Sacha, who I'll be revisiting in a month at the Mountain Workshop, along with a few others from here. And I've delighted in the shared wonder of nearly every person here at The Workshops.

My class is over, and this week is pretty much closing down. I'm alone in the dining tent, and the industrious kitchen staff swabs the deck, the rain relents, the sun comes out on a glorious Maine day, and the staff falls back and prepares to do it all again for tomorrow's incoming students.

It's not a wrap for me yet, though I now kind of move into a different mode. I'm staying to cover the Union Fair and my "Beltie Girls" as they show their cows for ribbons. And delightfully, I've made arrangements to stay exactly where I am until Tuesday, my room in Kate's Cottage (the students here are scattered around in a variety of dorms and motels and houses; Kate's Cottage is kind of ideal in terms of being "right down the road" from the campus.) and I even get to keep my "eatin' priv'leges." So I'll be kind of a lurker, but will get to visit with a few of my fave peeps who are staying for yet another workshop.

It is so great here. I've got tears again.

Beltie Girl

Beltie Girl, originally uploaded by mrtoastey.

One of my "Beltie Girls," 4H kids who take care of and show Belted Galloway cows at world-famous Aldermere Farm, in Rockport, Maine.

Documenting them was my photo project.

I made over 900 images, that were then culled by me to 80, Wednesday night into Thursday morning. I can barely explain what a strange and intense experience this was. From the 80, my pal Casey, our diligent TA, helped get me down to our instructor's mandate of 40 images.

The next thing that happened was one of the most amazing and hard-to-describe experiences of my life: sitting next to National Geographic Senior Graphics Editor Bill Douthitt (my teacher!) as he edited my photos down to … six. I was very, um, concerned about this. I don't know how to express how I felt. I felt nervous, I was kind of afraid that he'd say "Mick, there's really not quite enough to work with here. I want you to go shoot some more."

But Bill and his wife, Nikon Legend Karen Kasmauski (also my teacher) were among the strongest "the carrot not the stick" proponents I have ever met. I sat with Bill, and he consoled me by saying: "Just wait a minute, Mick. You're going to be amazed at what's about to happen."

So from 900 to 80 to 40 to 6. I'll put the show up soon.

Holy cow. It was presented last night at the Big Show (all the collected work of the Workshops this week) and there have been a stream of people complimenting me on them since then.

Which feels so great.

(By the way, this picture did NOT make the final cut!)

A glimpse

Well, I didin't really expect that I wouldn't write annything for nearly a full week, but … wow. It's true. I guess taking over a thousand photographs tends to hamper free time.

I don't feel like I can really explain what's happened here; I arrived at dinnertime last Sunday and came around the corner, a stranger, into the vicinity of the dining tent ((yes, I said dining tent) and the picnic benches (picnic benches! Am I going to have to repeat everything?) were full of high school kids. My first thought: OMG: I'm at camp. I'm the oldest person here") turned out that this pace is bustling with people of all ages. (there is also, a contingent of hs kids who are kind of segregated from those of us taking the workshops who range in age from 20-60, at least)

I've almost cried a few times, walking around these very dark rural main roads, past old shingled building after another, feeling the deep cold water that's just out of sightc. This place is sort of a collection of ramshackled yet memory-filled old houses mixed in with a couple of capital building projects (a dorm building) and a whole bunch of photography and film related notions, props, tools, and most of all— thoughts, ideas, stories and curiosities.

The Workshops are full of creative warm people. everybody smiles and I quickly learned that it's best just to go straight to outright friendly. I meet new people every day, have laughs with people every day, talk photography and philosophy and "life the universe and everything" every day. and there's beer to drink – good beer — every day! It appears in plastic cups next to plastic cups of box wine every night after the frayed rope is pulled aside and the dinner bell is rung, announcing the opening of the serve-yourself buffet line which as featured all manner of vegan and carnivore delights. The beer, though— that's been my first stop every night, somewhat serrepticiously filched w/o waiting in the long line. After that, I've been content to sit at a table, have a conversation with "somebody new" or in busier times, furiously plow through some of the hundreds of photos that I've taken of the belties and the kids who take care of them, in preparation for the Union Fair, which begins sunday. I'm staying extra long here so that I can finish out my project with images of the kids showing their cows.

Today was actually the last day of our class, and that makes me sad if I were to stop and think about it. I'd rather think about what I'm going to take next year, though. This place is … paradise. On the one hand, it's coastal Maine. It's pretty, rural, cool, foggy at night, it reains nearly every day for a bit, etc. I wouldn't want to live here, it's pretty rich and white, but as a place to … focus on something, or a place to take a step back from the harrying world, I doubt it can be beat.
And then there's the workshops. The Workshops. The Workshops! By that, I don't mean "the workshops" but rather the proper noun that is the casual reference to the Maine Media Workshops, which is just simply one of the greatest educational resources/concepts for photography and filmmaking in the world. Rather than me blabber on about its history, why don't you just check it out here?

I gotta go on to the next post. I know there's typos here. I don't care.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I'm back

Well, it's been a long time away from the blog, but I'm coming back now. I felt like I had to let things sit for awhile after losing Jamie. Now it's time to pick up telling tales, I reckon.

Today was supposed to be the day that I've been preparing for for literally months. That's to say, I was supposed to get on a plane today and go to coastal Maine to take part in an amazingly cool photography workshop that I registered for in November 2006.

I'll get back to that. First of all, USAirways can bite me.

They have beyond amazed me lately with their amazingly poor customer relations. I'm not going to dwell on this, but suffice it to say that at about 1pm today — 4 hours before I was due at the airport — I received an automated phone call telling me that my flight had been canceled, with no explanation, and the instruction that "should I want to reschedule my travel" to call their standard-issue 800 number. As if that wasn't bothersome enough, what followed was — I am not kidding — over 3 hours on the phone, literally an hour and a half on hold, two regular employees, three supervisors and an eventual begrudging agreement to fly me all over creation tomorrow, rather than today. Again, thanks US Airways, you sorry bastards.

But here's the bright side: I've spent actual months trying to "clear my plate" so that I can go be a photography student — in relative peace — and I've done quite well with that mission, though it has been harrowing and unbelievably frantic. But, as I sit here three hours after I was to catch my canceled flight, I can see that I really needed this one extra day to tie up a few remaining loose ends. So it all works out.

Next time I'm going to tell you about how I'm going to be studying assignment photography with a Nikon Legend and a venerable NGS senior editor, photographing and writing about kids and cows for the next 10 days on a celebrated Maine farm.

I'm sooo excited!