A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Exercise in Fugality

Two weeks ago, I dropped a married couple of my acquaintance at Logan Airport in Boston. Today I returned to fetch them back. Their plane was an hour late leaving London, but I couldn't assume their arrival would be delayed by a corresponding amount. Flights traveling west frequently make up time in the air. I wasn't sure how early or late they'd be exiting customs, so I had to pay Logan's outrageous rates to park and go inside.

The plane was, in fact, an hour late. I spent about half of that time people-watching, trying to guess from passengers' footwear what country they were from. The rest of the time I spent watching a mesmerizing kinetic sculpture in the hall. It's "Exercise in Fugality" by George Rhoads, constructed in 1986.

This playful motorized sculpture uses a variety of mechanical devices--levers, pulleys, gears, inclined planes, and so forth--to send balls of various sizes and materials around a track. Bells, xylophonic tiles, and other percussive devices are used to produce sounds as the balls roll along. The pinging, dinging, whirring and clicking draw people as they proceed through the concourse.

Similar sculptures by this artist may be seen in other airports (LAX or Philly, for example), in the Port Authority, in several children's hospitals around the world, in malls, science museums, and at least one ballpark. They range from tabletop size to mammoth outdoor rooms. Although most famous for his rolling ball sculptures, Rhoads also paints, designs clocks and other types of sculpture, and has recently authored a book.

"Exercise in Fugality" had people clustered around it, hypnotized, most of the time I was there. Children had to be dragged from it. At one point, two girls of about five or six, one speaking English and the other Dutch, made friends by running around and around the plexiglas case which housed the piece. Now that's kinetic!

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Creepy Crows

This morning I was awakened about 4 a.m. by loud, insistent cawing. LOUD, insistent cawing. I listened for a couple of minutes, then got up and dressed and went out on the front porch to see what I could see.

The trees in front of the house were black with crows. The trees behind the house and in the park were even blacker. Every so often, a bunch would start flying, wheeling over the house and then settling back in the trees again.

The Emory House is a dead ringer for the Bates Motel (well, not the motel exactly, but the big house on the hill). In fact, second-empire Victorians are the quintessential haunted houses: very high, spooky and mysterious. With the moon high above it, black branches outlined against the pre-dawn sky, and thousands and thousands of birds cawing and swooping, my house was giving off a very Hitchcockian vibe. I started to snap a few pictures, and then I thought, what if a few of these guys decide for some reason known only to crows to divebomb me?

Crows are my very favorite birds. But thirty thousand of them ganging up around me was really creepy. For a moment I savored the eerie bird happening. Then I went back in the house.

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