Saturday, March 31, 2012

Austin-Healey Sprite

I took this photo of an Austin-Healey Sprite Mark II, III or IV--the three models' exteriors are, to me, visually indistinguishable-- in August of 2008, in the Glen Park section of San Francisco. A 1961 Mark II Sprite was my first car. It served me from my sophomore year of high school (I got a Florida driver's license at 16) into my first year of university. I loved it, but traded it for a somewhat larger Sunbeam Alpine because, after an accident caused by someone turning left out of the right-hand lane in front of me, my mother was convinced that the Sprite's smallness made it invisible to other drivers.

The iconic (I once swore off that over-used word, but it is appropriate here) Sprite was the Mark I (so designated only after the Mark II hit the market), sometimes called the "bugeye" or "frogeye":

The first Sprite I saw was on Virginia's Skyline Drive, as my parents and I were returning to Florida after a visit to my mother's relatives in Pennsylvania. We were traveling the constantly curving highway behind a bugeye Sprite with British right hand drive piloted by a man in a tweed Sherlock Holmes hat. The Drive has many parking spaces, or "scenic overlooks", where one may stop and look at vistas of the Shenandoah Valley and mountains beyond. The Sprite driver disdained these, but eventually pulled over to the shoulder of the road and got out, camera in hand. My mother asked why he hadn't stopped at one of the overlooks, and my father answered, "He couldn't waste his time on that, because it had already been seen."

Earl Scruggs, 1924-2012


I came to love country music when I was about nine. We were living in northwest Florida then--my dad was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base--and we made annual summer trips north to visit Dad's family in southern Indiana and Mom's in central Pennsylvania. This involved driving across parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, southern Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia. Although neither of my parents was a country music fan, driving through this territory it was often all that could be found on the car radio. I enjoyed traveling by car, taking in the scenery, watching passing trains (in those days often headed by steam locomotives), reading the Burma Shave signs (e.g. "Grandpa says/ It ain't too late/ He's gone to get/ Some widow bait/ Burma-Shave"), and listening to the music. I especially liked old-time and bluegrass music, though I didn't know that was what it was called at the time. I must have heard Earl Scruggs, who died Wednesday at the age of 88, along with his guitar picking partner Lester Flatt and the Foggy Mountain Boys many times on these trips. The clip above, courtesy of the Gator Rock Channel, shows them during their and the Grand Ole Opry's heyday, sometime in the 1950s or early '60s.


The clip above, taken from a 2003 PBS show, The Three Pickers, features Scruggs with fellow North Carolinian Doc Watson on guitar, and multi-talented Kentuckian Ricky Skaggs, part of a younger generation of bluegrass musicians, on mandolin, doing three songs.


In this clip, also from The Three Pickers, they're joined by another of the new generation of bluegrass, Alison Krauss, on fiddle and vocals. The song is "Banks of the Ohio", one that I remember clearly from one of those childhood car trips, probably because I heard it as we were traveling through the Ohio River valley somewhere just east of Cincinnati.

Goodbye, Earl, and thanks for the music.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The big and the small: Torm Thames and Patrick Sky

As I earlier noted here, Brooklyn Pier 7, which lies next to Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 6, sometimes serves as a temporary berth for ships between charters. For the past week or so, it has hosted a larger than usual vessel, Torm Thames, a Norwegian flagged chemical tanker with an overall length of 604 feet and a cargo capacity of 47,036 deadweight tons. I took the photo above from Pier 6 while on a morning walk the day after Torm Thames arrived.
Here is a better view of Torm Thames' superstructure, taken the following, foggy, morning from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
Continuing northward on my walk, as I passed the northern edge of Pier 6, I caught a glimpse (and was able to get a quick shot just as she began to disappear behind the pier) of the small harbor tanker Patrick Sky heading south into the Buttermilk Channel.


Here, thanks to FL92002, is a video of Patrick Sky heading south on the East River after passing under the Queensboro--excuse me, the Edward I. Koch--Bridge (also known as the 59th Street Bridge). There's also a photo of Patrick Sky with a snow-covered main deck, taken after the storm of January, 2011, on Will Van Dorp's Tugster: a Waterblog.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lady Day: Henry Ossawa Tanner's Annunciation.

March 25 is the traditional day to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, though on this year's Episcopal Liturgical Calendar it has been "transferred" to Monday, March 26, because it would otherwise fall on a Sunday in Lent. The Feast commemorates the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to Mary, announcing that she will be the mother of Jesus (see Luke 1, 26-38). It is also called Lady Day (apologies to Billie Holiday fans, of which I'm one).

The painting above, The Annunciation (1898), is by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), the first internationally recognized African American painter. A native of Pittsburgh, Tanner studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where one of his instructors was Thomas Eakins. He later emigrated to Paris, and continued his studies there. In the 1890s his work became known to the French artistic establishment, and he had a painting accepted into the Salon in 1896.

The Annunciation (click on the image above to enlarge) is interesting for, among other things, its depictions of Gabriel and of Mary. Earlier paintings of the same subject were quite different. Consider this Annunciation (circa 1644) by Philippe de Champaigne:
In this painting, Gabriel is rendered, as angels were in medieval, renaissance, baroque, and neoclassical art, as an anthropomorphic figure with wings added. Mary is shown in full dress, arrayed as a well-to-do woman might be, in a red gown and blue cape. She has been studying a book, an anachronism, but presumably what she is reading is Isaiah 7, 10-14, anticipating the birth of Immanuel. While her hands register surprise, her facial expression is one of quiet ecstasy: note the slight smile and the keen eyes (for an enlarged image, see here.) She also has a subtle halo.

In Tanner's painting, by contrast, Gabriel is shown as a shimmering (the on-line image doesn't do the painting full justice) shaft of light. This may reflect a modern theological understanding of angels as disembodied entities. (I recall the late Roman Catholic Bishop--later an archbishop; now a Servant of God--Fulton J. Sheen, on his television show in the early 1960s, saying that an angel's theme song might be "I Ain't Got No Body." I wonder if he knew that the song's real title is "Just a Gigolo"?) Tanner's interest in religious matters--many of his works were on Biblical themes--may result from his father's having been a clergyman who became a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. More radical than his portrayal of Gabriel, in my view, is Tanner's depiction of Mary as a simple peasant woman in her bedclothes, with a facial expression not of joy, or of fear, but of acceptance with a hint of wistfulness (for an enlarged image, see here). There is no halo. Tanner, trained by Eakins in the realist tradition, leaves little doubt that this is a real woman.

I'll close this with Sting's live rendition (also see here), of the traditional song "Gabriel's Message", a studio version of which is included in his album If on a Winter's Night....