Monday, April 26, 2010

American Cultural Observation 210 : Modern Art and another Last Supper!

After the cowboyrific experience of last night I counterbalanced it with a visit to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (widely referred to as The Modern).

Gosh, what a beautiful art museum. The Modern was first granted a Charter from the State of Texas in 1892 as the "Fort Worth Public Library and Art Gallery", evolving through several name changes and different facilities in Fort Worth. The mission of the museum is "collecting, presenting and interpreting international developments in post-World War II art in all media."

The current building, designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando was opened in 2002. The "Modern" is located in the city's Cultural District, adjacent to the Kimbell Art Museum, designed by Louis I. Kahn, and near the Amon Carter Museum, designed by Philip Johnson. The building features five long, pavilions set into a reflecting pond. The structural engineering was provided by Thornton Tomasetti.

The Museum currently contains over 2,600 works of art in its 53,000 square feet (4,900 m2) of gallery space, putting it at the forefront of post World War II art collections in the central United States. The Permanent Collection includes more than 3,000 works including pieces by Pablo Picasso, Anselm Kiefer, Robert Motherwell, Susan Rothenberg, Jackson Pollock, Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, Andres Serrano, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol.

Great was my joy to bump into another edition of Da Vinci's Last Supper! I totally forgot that Andy Warhol was commisioned to do a Last Supper. I think he ended doing 2o different variations on the theme.

After many years of silkscreen, oxidation, photography, etc., Warhol returned to painting with a brush in hand in a series of over 50 large collaborative works done with Jean-Michel Basquiat between 1984 and 1986. Despite negative criticism when these were first shown, Warhol called some of them "masterpieces," and they were influential for his later work.

The influence of the large collaborations with Basquiat can be seen in Warhol's The Last Supper cycle, his last and possibly his largest series, seen by some as "arguably his greatest," but by others as “wishy-washy, religiose” and “spiritless." It is also the largest series of religious-themed works by any U.S. artist.

Source: Wikipedia

Sunday, April 25, 2010

American Cultural Observation 209 : Weekend Cowboys and Tornadoes...

A long post, a lot happened, sorry about that! Get a cup of coffee, settle in and enjoy! After a very stormy Friday night with a twister ripping through a neighbouring town and one trying to form quite close to where I am staying (it suddenly hit me at 2:20 am while standing in front of my picture window looking at the severely angled trees, that maybe, just maybe, it is not a good idea...)that it was time for me to head out and explore the city of Fort Worth. On my way I stopped to meet up with some colleagues in Wills Point for the Blue Bird Festival. Uhm, yeah, whohoo, cutesy little city but small gene pool if you catch my meaning! :-) Had a pork 'kebob' for the first time. Oh my, was very very good with the pork truly melting in the mouth.
YUM! Thanks Valerie!

For many years I have heard whispers about Billy Bob's Texas... normally told in a whisper, some love it, most hated it, I have heard the whole gamut. Not so long ago it just hit me that I am not that far from it, less than a two hour drive!

Billy Bob's Texas is a popular country & western nightclub in the Fort Worth Stockyards in Texas. It promotes itself as "The World's Largest Honky Tonk" (a type of bar with musical entertainment common in the Southern and Southwestern United States) with 127,000 square feet (12,000 m²). Billy Bob's opened in 1981 to national attention with Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers as the first performers. Other artists who appeared that first week were Waylon Jennings, Janie Fricke & Willie Nelson. Since, artists such as Pat Green have carried on the tradition. In addition to several dance floors, musical stages, arcade games, and billiards tables, Billy Bob's is the home to a small indoor rodeo arena, in which they have weekend bullriding events.

Whohooo! See my fascination? Built as a cattle barn in the early 1900s, the building was enclosed as a City of Fort Worth Centennial project in 1936. With sloped floors for easy cleaning due to the cattle pens, haha, the building also had the perfect setting for a concert venue. That would have to wait nearly 40 years. During that gap, the building was used as an AT-10 airplane manufacturing plant and a department store. Clark’s Department Store was so large that the stock boys had to wear roller skates. But on April 1, 1981, Billy Bob Barnett opened what is now internationally known as “The World’s Largest Honky Tonk”. With a capacity over 6,000 people, over 20 bar stations, the best in entertainment and live bullriding, it wasn’t long before Billy Bob’s Texas won the first of its five Academy of Country Music’s “Club of the Year” awards. BBT has also been awarded the Country Music Association’s “Club of the Year” twice. The nightclub quickly entered the public consciousness in the early 1980s with frequent references by the Ewing Clan on the TV drama Dallas.

Now, you have to close your eyes and imagine this. 6,000 Content, happy, white Texans, all bejeaned and most sporting a Stetson of some kind... LINE DANCING! What the heck! What is with line dancing! I stood there mesmerized... elbow to elbow, 3 steps left, jump, tree steps to the right, two steps back, twirl, 3 steps forward, slap your thigh... I felt my jaw drop. These were educated people, weekend cowboys, having the time of their lives. That also brings me to this. Alcohol was flowing freely, but yet these were the most well behaved people on the planet. One guy next to me had a tad too much to drink and was becoming a bit rambunctious. Suddenly there were two strapping cowboys on either side of him telling him that maybe it is time to go home 'Son'. They were the same age! 'Okay' he replied and meekly followed them with no fuss. I would have aoppreciated one prodding him with a cow prod at least, but no fuss.

Bullriding was fun as usual. The first bull out got a clown! Right in front of me. It was awesome! I have neer seen a clown move that fast. Halfway up the fence the bull scooped him and helped him to the top. He had a nasty gash on his leg, but hey he was a clown! i think the bull had clown issues too as he beelined for the clown.

Oh, while ordering dinner I saw something called Calf Fries. Okay, I know what Steak Fries are, slightly larger cut deep fried potatoes, like half a wedge maybe. So, the calf bit confused me and I asked the nice lady behind the counter. She started laughing and then with a sudden straight face told be it is slices of deep friend Bull testicles and would I like some. 'Uh, NO' I replied quickly, but firmly. I went for the house cut steak instead and had her confirm that it was indeed a presentable piece of beef.

The culmination of the evening was a concert by Country and Western singer Robert Earl Keene. I admit that I had no idea who he was but the crowd knew and loved him. Most were wholeheartedly singing offkey along. All in all a great evening out!

Ah, thank you Texas!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Vampire Weekend and other good music...

My new favourite Indie band, Vampire Weekend.

The members of the band met while attending Columbia University; they then self-produced their first album after graduation while concurrently working full-time jobs. Vampire Weekend's name is derived from lead singer Ezra Koenig's amateur film of the same name. He spent time with friends in Waltham, MA. Koenig and drummer Chris Tomson first collaborated as members of the comedy-rap band "L'Homme Run". They are managed by Ian Montone, who also manages The White Stripes.

The band gained attention via a variety of blogs, such as Stereogum.The band claims to be influenced by both African popular music and Western classical music, describing their genre of music as "Upper West Side Soweto", with such songs as "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" referencing Congolese soukous music.

Okay, then I just love the croonings of Michael Bublé - Michael Steven Bublé (pronounced /ˈbuːbleɪ/; born 9 September 1975) is a Canadian singer-songwriter and actor. He has won several awards, including two Grammy Awards and multiple Juno Awards. His first album reached the top ten in the UK and Canada. He found worldwide commercial success with his 2005 album It's Time, and his 2007 album Call Me Irresponsible was an even bigger success, reaching number one on the Canadian Albums Chart, the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, the Australian ARIA Albums Chart and the European charts. Bublé has sold more than 25 million albums worldwide.

The 5 Browns - The 5 Browns are a classical piano musical group consisting of five siblings. Their repertoire includes mostly popular classical tunes, such as George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee and Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King. In descending order of their age, the Browns are Desirae (born 1979), Deondra (born 1980), Gregory (born 1982), Melody (born 1984), and Ryan (born 1986). All five siblings, the children of Keith and Lisa Brown, were born in Houston, Texas, where each began piano study with Yelena Kurinets at age 3. In 1991, the family moved to Utah, and the children continued private study there with Irene Peery-Fox. They were homeschooled. They were the first group of five siblings to attend the musical conservatory Juilliard, which they attended simultaneously for five consecutive years, studying with Yoheved Kaplinsky.

Source: YouTube and Wikipedia

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

American Cultural Observation 216: Space Travel

One of my many favourite TV channels is the obscure NASA TV channel on Direct TV just between ID TV and the Science Channel. For the last two weeks I have been following STS-131 which was a Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS). This is the fourth final mission for the Shuttle program. A bit sad as the shuttles have been such a part of my/our lives.

Watch the launch below. Make sure you listen to the running stats the reporter give as to the shuttle's speed etc. Fascinating!

Space shuttle Discovery launched on 5 April 2010 from Kennedy Space Center and landed this morning - 20 April 2010 at the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility. The mission marked the longest flight for the space shuttle Discovery.

The primary payload was a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module loaded with supplies and equipment for the International Space Station.

Image above: Seated are Commander Alan Poindexter (right) and Pilot James P. Dutton Jr. From the left (standing) are Mission Specialists Rick Mastracchio, Stephanie Wilson, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Naoko Yamazaki and Clayton Anderson. Image credit: NASA

Discovery delivered a multi-purpose logistics module filled with science racks to be transferred to laboratories on the International Space Station. Mastracchio and Anderson conducted three spacewalks to replace an ammonia tank assembly, retrieve a Japanese experiment from the station’s exterior and switch out a rate gyro assembly on the S0 element of the station’s truss.

STS-131 was the 33rd shuttle mission to the station.

The landing was postponed a few times due to poor weather conditions. Discovery brought 7 astronauts back to Earth. They spent almost two weeks at the International Space Station, carrying out space walks and maintenance work. Three more shuttle flights are planned by NASA before the programme is suspended later this year.

Below is the landing, 30 seconds before landing the shuttle was still steaming along at 370 mph!

Sources: Wikipedia, NASA and Russian TV

Friday, April 16, 2010

7,500 shoppers unknowingly sold their souls

Thousands of shoppers unknowingly signed their souls over to a computer-game store after failing to read the terms and conditions on their website.

GameStation added the "immortal soul clause" to online purchases earlier this month stating customers granted them the right to claim their soul.

While all shoppers during the test were given a simple tick box option to opt out, very few did this, which would have also rewarded them with a £5 voucher.

The store claims this shows 88 percent of people do not read the terms and conditions of a website before they make a purchase.

Bosses also say they will not be enforcing their rights and will now email customers nullifying any claim on their soul.


An inquisitive family have uncovered a bizarre church which has been hidden under their Victorian home in Shropshire for 100 years.

The Farla family made the discovery while investigating what was under a metre-long rectangle metal grid in their hallway.

The hole under the grid was just big enough for son Gareth, 20, to squeeze down and see what was under their living room.

And he couldn't believe his eyes when he saw the dark chapel complete with a large wooden cross on the floor.

But that was nothing compared the the shock the rest of the family got when he followed a staircase in the chapel and came out of a cupboard in the dining room.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

American Cultural Observation 201 : The Unasuming Green Barn...

Today I have seen something so unexpected that it shook my whole day. While location scouting for an upcoming video shoot, we ended up at a plantation outside the small town of Ben Wheeler just down the road from us. We met the owner and asked if we could use his magnificent plantation house as a backdrop for our video and he was delighted to oblige. He knew about our work with Mercy Ships and we talked for a bit as he explained the history of the house.

He suddenly asked us if we would like to see his ‘surprise’ house. ‘Uhm yeah’ answered Scott and I, anything to get us to shoot the video on his property… He took us to the back a few buildings in when suddenly we saw an unassuming green -blueish metal barn. Okay, so by now I had visions of a replica doll house and Scott thought of maybe an 1800’s tractor or something that he was burning to show us. We simply had no idea…

I might not remember all the details as I was simply standing there as a courtesy listening with one ear… The gentleman started telling us a tale about how the previous plantation owner went to Europe in the 1950’s. As a side note he reminded us that it is not like these days when you can just pop over for the weekend! She saw and fell in love with something so exquisite while in Italy that she commissioned two local Italian artists to recreate it in detail for two years. After building the ‘barn’, she had one of the artists fly over to install it.

With that he let us in and my heart stopped. I saw something of such incredible beauty that took my breath away.

In this dark barn and with just the far back wall illuminated was…

Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

Think it through, we are in a barn in East Texas, and before me suddenly was a life size replica of The Last Supper! Like the original this one measures 450 × 870 centimeters (15 feet × 29 ft) and where the original covers the back wall of the dining hall at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy, this one covers the back wall of a barn. Exact dimensions, and with intricate detail as if it was painted yesterday by the master himself.

I found it hard to breath. Both Scott and myself let out a flabbergasted ‘OH MYYYYY GOSH’ at the exact same moment.

It was beautiful.

I don’t think I have ever seen such unexpected beauty. No expectations or studying a guidebook to prepare you… Just suddenly, there it was… in all its unadulterated beauty.

When both Scott and I got our breath back, we beelined to see what the Da Vinci Code was all about! Haha!

Did you know that Leonardo Da Vinci was quoted as saying "Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen." Uhm, I am also sure he said it in Latin and not English, but hey, thanks Lennie, I will take that break now!

What ever next will I find in an unassuming blue barn in Texas!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

So long cowboy! Texas Stadium implodes

The former home of the Dallas Cowboys has come tumbling down in a planned demolition set off by an 11-year-old boy who won a writing competition.

Texas Stadium had not been used by the American football team since it moved to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington after the 2008 season.

It took six months of planning, but only seconds for more than a ton of dynamite to demolish the stadium famous for its hole in the roof.

Source - BBC & cuatro44 on YouTube

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why we do what we do best

Okay, so I always only talk about the positive and shiny aspects of the work we do, we after all proclaim to bring hope and healing. It is only human to gloss things over. Working so behind the scene – I feel like I need a roadmap to even find the scene - the reality and fragility of life was driven home hard for me recently… I will use bits of a nurse onboard the Africa Mercy’s blog to help tell the story.

During the morning shift, Anicette, one our babies, had passed away. She was in our infant feeding program. This program helps malnourished infants receive the nutrition they need in order to get them to a healthy weight for their age.

Following her from our last field service in Benin, the nurses knew her and her mother well. Having trouble digesting any of the formulas they had tried, it was thought she had a serious malabsorption disorder. This time when Anicette arrived on the ship, she was already quite sick. She had lost weight, despite her mother working with Mercy Ships over the last year. Several of the nurses had grown close to the mother and baby. Anicette slipped away in her mother’s arms around eleven in the morning. She was only fourteen months old.

During the shift prayer, there was a different feel. There was a stark reminder as to why Mercy Ships would always be needed. There was the cold truth of a young life lost in a ward surrounded by life changing surgeries, new bodies, and rebuilt spirits. In the back right corner of the ward, her body was behind a pulled curtain, still on her bed, awaiting her father to come take her and her mother home.

As the shift progressed, I watched as nurses came by to pay their respects to Anicette. Some would silently walk in and go behind the curtain. I did not even notice them except for the quiet prayer coming from their lips. A few of the nurses, as they stood there, remained silent. Others would stop by, go to her bed, and leave the room quickly, eyes wet with tears. An hour into the shift, I went behind the curtain. There she was. Wrapped in swaddling clothes, both eyes shut with a slight smile, she looked like any sleeping baby. A look of quiet peace was on her face, such a calm expression. As I stood there, I could not help but wait, subconsciously hoping for some sort of breath, some stir, some sign of life. But she remained still. I’ve seen older people die before, even family and friends, but this was different. How do you tell a mother who lost her baby death has no sting?

Continuing with my day, the shift went on smoothly. There was a couple new admits, but nothing pressing. All the sudden one of my patients began to have serious trouble breathing. She was quickly unstable. Within minutes we had all manner of doctors and nurses helping with my patient (they did an amazing job!). My Mercy Ships experience quickly felt like home again. Seeing death come after my patients is always terrible. But in the same room that Anicette was lost? On the same day?

Throughout his ministry, apostle Paul became well acquainted with death. Does death rule in the world we live in? Yes. Does it still have its sting? Of course. In Christ though, death loses its power. Death becomes of little significance. Paul goes far enough to say that, “we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:23-24) He even says how his, “desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Philippians 1:23) Death may rule on earth, but it is not triumphant. Our victory over death was nailed to a cross two thousand years ago, on a rocky hill outside of Jerusalem.

When I started my shift on Tuesday, new life was on the ward. After shift prayer, one of the translators had pulled out the guitar. As he began to play, caregivers, patients and translators joined in song. Within minutes there were sounds of loud singing, shuffling feet, clapping hands, giggling children, beating drums, a strumming guitar, and behind it all the contagious spirit of joy and happiness.

Instead of running to help with an emergency, nurses were coming from the hallway to join in the song and dance. Where the curtain had been now sat Yaovi, playing the guitar. In the same spot where I was standing the day before, watching my patient struggle to breath, sat a set of African drums, played by one of our other translators. The room was bursting with life.

We might not always see God at work, but once in a while, just for a split second, we do get to see.

Please keep our crew and staff of our 15 offices around the world in your prayers.

Thank you for your faithful support, in prayer and in finances. Without your help I cannot be part of this amazing organization and get to live my dream.

May God bless you as richly as you bless me.