Category Archives: Fiction

Monuments of Golden Gate Park (Weekly Photo Challenge: Monument

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Good Evening:

Taste in monuments sure has changed over the course of a century. Golden Gate Park hosts a large variety, and most are fairly mundane statues honoring various types of artists:

Francis Scott Key

Francis Scott Key

Goethe & Schiller

Goethe & Schiller

Robert Burns

Robert Burns

…which makes me wonder why statues to artists are, um, well, not exactly artistic.

I prefer the simplicity of the modern style.

Entrance to AIDS Memorial Grove

Entrance to AIDS Memorial Grove

Simple, serious, solemn.

But one of the old-fashioned monuments does appeal to me, because the firm of Cebrian & Molera (Jo Mora, Sculptor) brought a little sense of humor to their 1916 effort.

Cervantes and His Two Greatest Fans

Cervantes and His Two Greatest Fans

Presenting the great Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, but not just the great Cervantes; Jo Mora also included Cervantes’ two greatest admirers, Don Quixote de la Mancha and his trusty squire Sancho Panza.

Have you ever read The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha? I have, and not as required reading for some class; I read the book just for the heck of it–and a heck of a good heck it was! Considered by some the first Western novel (great way to start an argument) or the first modern novel (yeah, I’m one of those annoying types who insist that The Tale of Gengi by Lady Murasaki was the first novel overall), DQ does deserve its reputation as one of the greatest books ever, and still reads very today. If you ever have nothing to do and a week to do it in, you would do worse than to read the first and third books which make up the canonical version.

Because that’s what Cervantes wrote. He didn’t write the second book. The second book, a.k.a. Part Two, was a spurious version written by someone using the pseudonym Avellaneda. That sort of plagiarism was winked at/ tolerated/ legal/ encouraged back then, and Cervantes had no recourse but to recruit his friends the good Don and Sancho to serve as um, well, uh–book critics, skewering the “second book” at every opportunity.

Literature used to be very strange.

Vonn Scott Bair

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The Novelistic Imperative of an Email Scam

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Good Evening:

Seems as if we’ll receive a few more email scams from the same source until IT clamps down. Meanwhile, today’s excessive verbiage feels somehow different from yesterday’s:

ourtyard of the temple is shown. at the back is the have you een up to since i saw you last?” he asked at pages danced, ontinuing their song; they wound in and out of one another, seemed that e had never eaten anything so delicious as the beefsteak aux

Feels more like fiction than Eliot or Kerouac. My thoughts incline to a early 20th Century English novel of dismal quality set in late 19th Century Colonial India. Perhaps in the manner of Forster.

His Lordship continued, “In this sepia photographic image the courtyard of the temple is shown. At the back is the-”

Aloysius picked the worst time to interrupt, as was his wont; namely, after consuming his sixth pale ale, strong and hop-laden in the local style preferred by Her Majesty’s officers and men. Oblivious to the true meaning of Lord Banning’s wire-thin, almost flat smile, “Nigel! What have you been up to since I saw you last?” he asked as pages danced, continuing their song; they wound in and out of one another. Nigel’s thoughts floated away from the Etonian’s awkwardness and towards the pleasures of the stomach; it seemed that he had never eaten anything so delicious as the beefsteak in the cream sauce enhanced by a dash of faux Cognac.

San Francisco & The Marin Headlands, 17 October 2013

San Francisco Bay & The Marin Headlands, 17 October 2013

I wonder if perhaps I have discovered a new source of entertainment.

Vonn Scott Bair

Chris Ware, Building Stories & the Resurrection of the Illuminated Manuscript

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Good Morning:

I wonder if my family kept the illuminated manuscript I created for my 8th grade History final project. Historians differ on the precise definition of illuminated manuscripts, but tend to agree that the term describes the handmade books with elaborated decorations including gold and/or silver created in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. My project posed a lot of challenges; for one, even though Crayola’s gold crayon produced results that looked the real thing, I had to use a lot of those, and since you can’t buy individual crayons, that meant buying a lot of boxes. Fortunately, the sky blue and aquamarine colors looked great, and I still think my creation deserved better than the 88/100 (= to a B+) the teacher gave me. He loved the artwork but objected to my choice of text–the lyrics to Don McLean’s masterpiece American Pie.

A strange mistake; if any song lyrics from the 20th Century deserve illumination…

Which brings me to my first unboxing picture for Chris Ware’s new book, Building Stories, and yes, you unbox this book:

Building Stories Unboxing Picture 1

Building Stories Unboxing Picture 1

Ware has a well-deserved reputation for his graphic novels, including Quimby the Mouse, Acme Novelty Library, causing others in the field to mutter dark imprecations about how they’ll have to work all the harder. Well, they will have to work much, much harder after Building Stories. The excellence begins with the box, backside seen below:

Building Stories Unboxing Picture 2

Building Stories Unboxing Picture 2

Inside the box one finds “14 distinctively discrete Books, Booklets, Magazines, Newspapers, and Pamphlets” to quote the box itself. Note the use of the capital letters and the extra comma. Mr. Ware has studied the graphic design, cartoons, decorations and language of American periodicals and newspapers circa 1900 for years and writes in that style more easily than I can write modern American English. “…within the walls of an average well-appointed home.” Mr. Ware has filled Building Stories with language gems like this. The distinctively discrete goodies look like this before you unwrap them from their careful packaging:

Building Stories Unboxing Picture 3

Building Stories Unboxing Picture 3

And when I took everything out and set them side by side, I realized that I needed a lot more space that I thought:

Building Stories Unboxing Picture 4

Building Stories Unboxing Picture 4

So where do you begin? Well, that’s the whole point: you build your own story beginning with any item you please and as far as I can tell, you can begin at almost any point in each item. For example, I found a poem (for lack of a better description) in the inside cover of the plain book (middle right edge of the above photo) where the words are kind of sort of somewhat arranged in a figure 8. I don’t think the poem has a first word. You can start anywhere you want and read it over and over as long as you please. It’s an infinite poem written on a two-dimensional Moebius Strip with a finite number of words. For lack of a better description. I won’t publish any more pictures because at this point copyright issues might come into play.

So what’s Building Stories about? That’s another good question. Mr. Ware’s works require very slow and careful study; they contain millions of details, he put every detail there for a reason, I respect him enough to try and decide why each and every detail is there. At this point, I have uncovered two stories: the story of a three-story brownstone walkup; the story of a one-legged woman who lives there. I suspect that a third story lurks within; Building Stories, a three-story building, and Chris Ware’s obsession with detail combine to make me think I can find one more.

And the apartment building is a character, probably a male, too; the embellishments on the front windows look like mustaches styled as men wore them circa 1900, and you will never find an accident in a Chris Ware graphic novel.

Consistent with the earlier works, Building Stories‘ themes focus on social isolation, loneliness and life’s disappointments. One particular story (for lack of a better word) entitled “Disconnect” portrays the heroine in a grocery store surrounded by people on cell phones completely oblivious to each other and the food they purchase. Just as she finishes mocking the other customers and her husband, our heroine received a call on her cell phone from her husband who says exactly the things she wants to here. In the final panel, she looks lonelier than ever.

Chris Ware worked 10 years on Building Stories; I have no problem working for a few months working on his work. I think Chris Ware is brilliant, but that doesn’t mean that I understand him.

Which brings me back to the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages. They’re back! We don’t use gold, silver, and ground lapis lazuli, we use pixels in all the shade of RGB and CMYK. Thanks to computer graphics and digital publishing, artists and writers have resurrected the lavishly illustrated illuminated manuscripts of long ago. They don’t quite look the same as in days of old, of course, but the infinite variety of the modern illuminated manuscript (really, doesn’t “graphic novel” feel totally inadequate?) make them just as read-worthy as ever.

Vonn Scott Bair