27 July 2010

Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

This is why we went on this trip in the first place.
Lincoln Museum people, if you're reading this: I regret having taken pictures where they weren't allowed, but I did it discreetly and without using a flash, because otherwise how could I have illustrated this blog post?  And how could I have idea-mined, which is what all museum people do when they go to other museums?
Ultimately, my impression?  It was, at times, way too literal and really over-designed.

Sometimes, that over-design was cool:
Political cartoons from Lincoln's presidency
Other times, it was way too much -- in the case of this diorama of Lincoln with his cabinet, deciding when to release the Emancipation Proclamation:
My mind immediately associated it with the worst wax museum I've ever been to, the Museo delle Cere on Piazza Venezia in Rome:
Mussolini's Last Fascist Council, in wax.
I'd heard the accusations of edutainment, and honestly, I'd second them.  It was exciting, and there's a fine line between being intellectually rigorous, informative, and boring, but I'd do more of letting the objects speak for themselves and let history come alive that way instead of Harry Potter-inspired dramatics - I guess that's where I prefer to err in exhibits, and where my preference lies.


Instead of blogging about every little thing that happened on this trip (there's some stuff that gets left out!) I had decided beforehand to try to make a documentary about it.  If you can sit through the whole thing, you'll get a pretty authentic picture of what it's like to hang out with my mum and me - a little bit not-PC, some deep thinking and a lot of laughing:

Building Hope ?

Springfield, Illinois is a bureaucratic town -- the downtown, besides having the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, is a solidly 19th century place with enough neoclassicism straight from provincial ancient Rome to choke an Ostrogoth.  It's flat enough to have an almost perfect Cardo Maximus-Decumanus Maximus layout, used as it was designed to be.  The result is a 19th century New Rome -- and the architecture follows, because it has to, in order to reinforce the democratic ideals upon which the state of Illinois and the United States of America are built on.

The ancient center of Naples, Italy, laid out on a grid plan.

Springfield, Illinois, also laid out on a grid plan.

 And so then, following the grid plan, the buildings that must reinforce the democratic ideals developed by the Greeks and ahem, Romans, must follow:
Temple of Athena at Paestum, Italy
Old Statehouse, Springfield, Illinois - right down to the drum columns!
So far, everything fits: democracy, New Rome, neoclassical architecture -- but what happens when that envelope gets pushed?  The next generation, in the late 19th century, after the War of 1812 (at least the British really aren't coming back) and the Civil War (at least the unity of the country is preserved), a country on the verge of the Industrialized Victorian period comes out with guns blazing in a showcase of exuberance and confidence - keeping the vocabulary but yammering away like a 4-year-old with a sugar high.
Illinois State Capital

And so, for almost a hundred years, this vocabulary works.  It continues to work after WWI, and a bit after WWII, because while they're doing crazy things up in Chicago, it must have taken a while for such things to trickle down to Springfield - our guide at the Dana-Thomas House suggested Springfield was 15-20 years behind Chicago... And while I've had the International Style/High Modernism described to me as 'fascist' (perhaps mainly as a criticism of egomaniac architects like Le Courbousier and to an extent, FLW, who wanted everyone to use their buildings as they decided) and impersonal, to me it's quite the opposite.  I've lived in pánelaks, and waxed poetic about it plenty.

To me, this bureaucratic building across the street from the Illinois State Capital sums it all up:
Post-war, functional, transparent.  Technology is still the savior of mankind, and hope in progress is visible here - now, after proving ourselves and the worth of our system on two fronts in a World War, this is how we run our democratic bureaucracy - with efficiency and transparency.  Ideally.

It's rather fitting that in the birthplace of Lincoln and the birthplace of a politics of hope, this is where we see this sort of urban planning in real life.

22 July 2010

Vlog: My Grandfather's Hands

Since I've been back from Slovakia, and even before my grandma died, I've been trying to visit Bentleyville as often as my schedule allows, and even sometimes when it doesn't.  Now it's even more special for me as we all grieve her and realize how much she took with her when she went.  We have to work together more, cooperate more, brainstorm together more, and talk to each other more.  The dynamic is different and to say she's irreplaceable is an understatement.

The ways my grandparents kept their files over the years was different - my grandmother made albums, labeled them pretty well, and they've been a relatively user-friendly resource over the years.  Today, my grandfather pulled out this binder and a pack of college-ruled filler paper, and started showing me letters and photos off the top of the stack from some of our relatives in Slovakia, mostly from the 1980s.  So we read letters handwritten and typed in Rusyn and Slovak, and looked at pictures, mixed in with photos of his parents, grandparents, and cousins, obituaries, commemorative prayer cards, and other newspaper clippings.  Instead of being accompanied by a label, every piece has its story - which begets another story.  For example, those of you who know Svidník and that horrible old rusted-out former hotel - looking at a photo of the funeral of his aunt with that building in the background caused a short and parenthetical discussion of the current bedbug epidemic the world is experiencing.  In the meantime, Aunt Nell's in the background, mischievously taking advantage of me sitting and yelling into his good ear to quietly provoke me into asking him the right follow-up questions to get the whole story.
Aunt Nell: Maria, ask him to tell you about his Aunt Helen Zukovich.
Self: Hey Grandpap, what's the story about your Aunt Helen Zukovich?
Grandpap: She was half crazy! No, she was completely crazy!
Aunt Nell [in the background]: She was alright!
For a while, I've been thinking about how since Our People are separated by an ocean (and the Schengen Agreement, which is almost as bad), we've always used the best technologies that were available and affordable to communicate and record our lives to share with our far away families -- it used to be letters and photographs, now it's Skype and videos (and still letters and photographs!).

Letters and photographs are what my grandfather has left of his grandparents and parents and most of his relatives and friends.  I can also have video to pass along to my potential future offspring and theirs, إن شاء الله, and those photos and letters.  Unfortunately by the time he realized I was recording, he wouldn't let me record any more, even as he was telling me about who these people were and how we're related, which is information that will almost certainly die with him.

In the meantime, I'm often fascinated by people's hands, and in this case by the deliberateness of action, as my grandfather creates his/our "archives" with Scotch tape and college-ruled filler paper.  I post this, not because I think we're special because we really aren't, but to encourage you to take this sort of action in your family as well.

So after all that introduction, here's the video:

19 July 2010


Lots of yinz have been asking lately if I've been blogging, and I've said, not much because I've not gone anywhere interesting.  But here's a preview for the upcoming week.