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Cosmic Cliff

September 24th, 2022

Still flipping out on clouds after Sweden.  One of those full-on “glory” sunrises here in Los Gatos, with those rays…odd looking split in the middle.  Uncool to paint such scenes, I suppose, but might be fun to try.

Can always throw in some UFOs. Once a painting teacher decreed or pleaded with me: “Don’t do blue dog art,” meaning that genre of work where an artist gets a house-brand logo image that they put into every painting. So now and then I hold back and omit the house-brand flying saucer.

Marc Laidlaw, my partner in wacky gnarl, stopped by. We wrote sevem surfin’ Sci Fi stories together over 32 years, that is, over the period 1987  – 2019.  Masterpieces starring, with one exception, our ne’er-do-well transreal stand-ins, Zep and Del. You can see them in my Complete Stories.

Sylvia, daughter Isabel, and I went out to good old Four Mile Beach north of Santa Cruz.  If you walk south along the beach you get to this rock tower with super surf and lots of birds.  I think of the spot as a shrine, a sacred place. I often go there to, like, say a prayer to the Muse when I’m hoping to get some writing going.  I like to write a slogan into th wet sand, “EADEM MUTATA RESURGO” which means “The same, yet changed, I arise again.”

The Swiss mathematician Jakob Bernoulli put this slogan on his headstone in Basel. He was referring to the self-similar logarithmic spiral often seen on growing things like the nautilus shell.  He wanted a picture of this spiral on his stone as well, but unfortunately some pinhead inscribed a dull Archimedean spiral (like an LP record groove) on the stone instead.

Stopped in at the fabulous Whale City Bakery in Davenport and admired the red sticker at the lower right.  The bar/grill has amazingly good crab cakes, made on site from fresh local crab (rather than being frozen pucks assembled god-knows-where).

I don’t think I’ve blogged about the Cosmic Cliffs yet. I’m completely obsessed with this image from the new Webb telescope. Our solar system is about the size of one pixel in this image. Nine lightyears high. The hexagonal star points are an artifact caused by the telescope mirror being a hexagon.

Galaxies. Acrylic, 24″ x 30″, July, 2022
The Webb telescope sees via infrared light as well as via regular light. This is based on an image taken before the Cosmic Cliffs; it’s a painting of a cluster of galaxies some 300 million lightyears away. I started thinking about these galaxies, each of them with something like a million stars, and surely with hundreds or thousands of habitable planets, and about all the other galaxies scattered hither and yon…and it gave some perspective on the headlines that I see when I fetch the morning newspaper from our driveway. What a strange, improbable world we live in! I painted a cluster of galaxies, giving them odd colors to reflect the notion of seeing via infrared light. I tried to make them look as if they’re living beings, interacting with each other. And the black holes at their cores look a little like eyes.

Rudy Jr took us to Free Gold Watch, a pinball parlor one block off Haight Street in SF. So great, although a game now costs $1.00 and you only get 3 balls. Used to be you got 5 balls for a quarter. But there’s a lot of action in these games, and if you get the hang of it, one ball can last a long time. Such a funny name for the place, “Free Gold Watch,” such a classic thing that a con man might promise you.

Here’s some our party outside the place. The Haight is quite a respectable neighborhood once you’re off the main drag which somehow never sheds it’s raffish air. Kind of lovable.

“Outside the Fillmore,” Acrylic, 24″ x 30″, August, 2022
Speaking of the Haight, I have a recurring fantasy about being at a convert at the Fillmore West in San Francisco in 1967. I’m standing outside the hall in an alley, with the wonderful rock sounds echoing out. Peaceful, peaceful. A woman parks her flying saucer and walked down the alley to talk to me. We’re on the same wavelength, very spaced out, without even being high. And then I notice that, how great, it’s Bo Diddley and his band on stage. Well, in reality it’s maybe it’s Quicksilver Messenger Service playing Bo Diddley songs. But I painted it as Bo Diddley. I figure the woman from the saucer came here from the Cosmic Cliffs.

The sun was insanely hot for about a week. Thermonuclear! A beam slants in our window and across the dining-room table.

“Saucer Party” Acrylic, 28″ x 22″, September, 2022
Following on the heels of Outside the Fillmore, I painted Saucer Party. This is supposed to be the view out the windshield of a saucer. I love the concept of space squid, so we’ve got one of those. And a threesome of festive aliens, and a dancing couple Perhaps that’s my wife Sylvia and me. Or me and the saucer woman, which is kind of the same thing, given my transreal ways of writing. Attended, of course, by our trusty dog Arf.

We went up to Point Reyes and stayed in a cottage a few days. Sitting on a tiny beach on the Tomales Bay…this spot is called Chicken Ranch Beach…a seagull, creamy bright in the sun, staring at me, waiting for me drop a scrap of food. I imagine he’s saying, “You talkn’ to me?” Tougy guy.

Tomales Bay is the very essence of a wetland, with those curved inlets within inlets, and clumps of saltwater grass.

I love magical looking tunnels through trees, with light at the end. The door into summer. The gate to Narnia.

We drove to the north end of Point Reyes. Tapers up to a point with rolling hills and a herd of “tule elk” living there. Lower down is preserved old collection of buildings called Pearce Point Ranch. Very photographable. Like the diamond squre inside the triangle, and the Monderey pine.

Another classic shot, with nature’s gnarly stump, and the striving for order barn. The doughty pioneers. I once wanted to write about space settlers, and call them ioneers, after their ion-jet rocket engines.

The tiny town of Point Reyes Station’s supermarket had a ta-da first display of Haloween punkins I’d seen this year. More variety than there was sixty five ago when i was a boy.

Impressive old Point Reyes Station garage with super-duper clouds.

A sawn log on the hills above my home. Wet from a miraculous rainstorm. Hurray. Reminded me of Poincare’s image of a hyperbolic plane, where the edge is infinitely far away, and straight lines are circular arcs that hit the edge at right angles. Now scale this up a dimension to showing hyperbolic space inside a sphere. A character’s skull. A blockhead. Another short-short story idea. “The Woman who had the Universe Inside her Head.”

Meanwhile I’m still working on my painting of the Cosmic Cliff. Kind of ludicrous, the gap between my work and the space telescope image with its hundreds or thousands of stars. My work being crude ape-man daubs of colored dirt on a stretched piece of fabric. But I try. Still needs a blue dog saucer?

And I wrote an SF story based on this latest series of paintings, and it was only, um, a thousand words long. What you call a short-short. Like my writing powers are dwindling. A Zenonian collapse to zero. Maybe I’m morphing into a painter; a new stage splitting out of my literary pupa.

But, nah, I don’t really think I’m not done writing yet.

Stockholm Joy

September 7th, 2022

After I gave my talk in Helsinki, Sylvia and I went and spent five days in Stockholm. I had no idea what Stockholm would be like, but it was wonderful. The city itself is on a number of islands crowded together, and the sky—at least in the summer—is a lovely parade of clouds, very crisp. View from one island to another shown below.

The older Stockholm architecture has an Art Nouveau or Art Deco quality, which I like a lot.

There are really a lot of blond people in Scandinavia. In this shot, we’re riding on a city ferry route, a good cheap way to see the surroundings. We got a four day pass that worked on trams, buses, and ferries.

That’s the building with our Hotel Esplanade. I’d thought the whole building would be the hotel, but was only in two stories, only about thirty rooms. A pleasant place, on a canal where a lot of tour boats and ferry boats had stops. We were in the room at the left corner of the 2nd floor in the first white building from the left.

Our legs get tired from touring, and we often go to museums to dial back the pavement-pounding. The main museum had crafts along with art…something I enjoy. Dig the glass and the decanter. Martian martinis!

The museum had a show about “Swedish Beauty,” including work by post-Impressionist Swedes. I loved this self-portrait, by Bo von Zweeigbergkt. Amazing how he did those colored lines.

And Bo’s name kind of makes sense, as a name. Swedish isn’t as impenetrable a language as Finnish, but it’s enjoyably odd.

Here I am being all Jean-Luc-Godard-movie in our hotel room.

The main tourist site in Stockholm is an island called Gamla Stan. It was about half a mile from our hotel, and Sylvia and I walked there quite early one morning. We found an enchanting old world cafe in a corner of it.

Dig this old Svenska (Swedish) ocean-liner poster on a wall. If you’ve followed my blog, you know how I love rectangular blocks of color, preferably with some peeling plaster.

And, ah, the chestnut leaves overhead, quite wonderful. The living chaos, the peace, the life.

The cafe was actually a bakery. The classic Euro symbol for a bakery is a pretzel. They’ve been using that symbol since the 1600s. The sense of long time there…refreshing to be away from the frantic, tedious, today’s-news-breaks of our US life.

The funny thing about the Hotel Esplanade is that they weren’t super organized about the rooms. This is the room we ended up in, a dream come true. But the first night we were in a fairly crappy room next door to it, about a quarter the size. And in the morning I complained, and said we’d probably leave, and the woman at the desk said, oh, try the room next door, and we got this one. Same price for the two rooms. A stroke of luck, a gift from the Muse of travel.

Colored buildings in Gamla Stan. The museum of the Nobel Prize is in this same square…somehow I didn’t have the energy to look inside. I was more set on seeing old stuff.

A view of a tram perhaps being powered by those solid-looking whipped-cream Stockholm clouds.

Right behind Hotel Esplanade was an enormous city-block-sized Armory from the old times. Gorgeously intricate brick work with a few green bricks mixed in. Forget Legos, man, this is the true source of brickery.

Another cloud picture. At this point we’d gotten on a ferry that went farther than we expected…about ten miles out from Stockholm, weaving among dozens of islands and ending up at this kind dry-dock, ship maintenance, Antonioni-movie zone.

The ferry also passed a really gnarly amusement park with some highly elevated “Swiss swings,” those things that put you on a little board held by a chain—like a playground swing—and then the Swiss-swings assemblage rotates, and you’re completely unprotected, like a lure on a line that’s fishing for Death.

My reaction to Swiss swings. (An ad photo on some wall…I couldn’t tell what it was an ad for.)

The deadly amusement park also had a twisting DNA-molecule-type roller-coaster with no floors in the cars. Sylvia really wanted to ride on it—not. Neither did I.

I’m still recovering from my ride on the Santa Cruz Big Dipper this spring. Beautiful evening light here, and the Swedish evening lasts a long time, up through about 9:30.

We went twice to Stockholm a restaurant called Prinsen. They’ve been open a hundred years. Wonderful, wonderful food. Seems like I never get food even close to this in the US, and I do try. No corners are cut here, everything is perfect, and there’s no fuss about it. Sounds simple, but it takes real determination to follow through.

This bus-stop map made me laugh. As I tend to do, I then got fixated on the phrase Här är du, and repeated it very many times.

There are a few Black people in Scandinavia. They look relaxed. You see a lot of giant plastic bags like in the foreground. They even put bricks and rubble in them.

This building was also behind Hotel Esplanade, I think it housed a museum of theater design. Great cafe on the ground floor, the kind I long for, with the classic gravel garden outside with metal tables beneath huge trees.

More Stockholm clouds. Sylvia and I made friends with two local guys in a restaurant, and they were interested in hearing what we thought of their city, and I went on about the clouds, and they kind of laughed. “Very different in the winter,” says one of them, making a horizontal gesture with his hand. “Just one cloud then, very low. All day. And it gets dark at four.”

I’m thinking of a Sesame Steet routine here. “This scene is brought to you by the number 2!”

I mentioned the Art Nouveau. Wonderful ironwork here.

Sylvia took this photo of me looking out the corner window in our room. Kind of like a Magrite painting.  Looking at the water and the sky? Um, wait, maybe I’m looking at my laptop. Well, let’s hope I’m doing some creative writing.

My view out the side window. Definitely looking outside here. You know that condition they call Stockholm Syndrome? My version was that I never wanted to leave.

Helsinki Math & Art

August 26th, 2022

Early in August, 2022, Sylvia and I took a trip to Scandinavia. I’d been invited by the Bridges Organization to give a talk at their 2o22 conference at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland. Their annual meetings feature talks and demonstrations and exhibits relating to connections between math, art, music, architecture, and culture. Perfect for me. I was slated to give a talk on math, chaos, writing, and paintings. And I took Sylvia along. We spent five days in Helsinki and five days in Stockholm. Many thanks to George Hart, Kirsi Peltonen, Eve Torrence, and the rest of the Bridges crowd.

Our touchingly eager suitcases just before we left. So many hurdles ahead! Onward.

The Helsinki train station, an amazing Art Nouveau structure designed in 1920 by Eliel Saarinen. So nice to see something like this right away. By the way, Eliel was the father of the Eero Saarinen who designed the Dulles airport near Washington DC.

Another big sight in Helsinki is the Lutheran cathedral of 1930. Very understated in decoration, with statues of the twelve apostles on top. I loved the Helsinki streetcars. This is the number 2, which we used a lot, having bought a pass on the first day. So great to be out in a different world. Makes the immense hassle of the air trip fade away.

Planning my talk, I ponder the fact that a 3D left hand can appear to be a right hand when projected into a shadowy Flatland. Not that I mentioned this in my talk. You can see a written draft for the talk on an earlier post. And a video of the actual talk on YouTube.

Sylvia is from Hungary, and the Finnish and Hungarian languages are said to be related. These Finno-Ugric languages are not at all like any of the familiar European languages which are in the Indo-European group, which include the Romance, Slavic, Germanic and other categories. Finnish and Hungarian are total outliers. And, as Sylvia’s expression testifies here, the two are not very much like each other after all. It was fun to see such incomprehensible signs.

Everything very clean and orderly. Like the subway. Taking public transportation is way that we explore the towns we visit, preferring it to tour busses. No narration, but you can figure some of it out.

We always hit the museums and restaurants, but another kind sights to hit are stores. Weirdly they had lots of Marimekko stores, as this is a Finnish company. Here we’re in a mainline department store with Sylvia in a display shoe. I bought a belt here, and was happy to see a “Designed in Finland” label on it.

No idea why there’s a framed pair of scissors. For emergency use in cutting off your necktie?

I’m always looking for patterns of shade and light. Love this 3D grid of shelving.

The Bridges exhibition of math/art objects was very cool. Shown here are some “Closed Surface Envelopes” by Richard Hammack, who found ways to turn envelopes into odd surfaces like Klein bottles and projective planes. You have to look at his paper to understand.

This is a really cool quilt of some mathematical meaning that I don’t quite remember…I hope a knowledgeable reader can fill in this lacuna in my report. And let me mention that I failed to get a photo of Eve Torrence’s lovely seven-cloor toruses, but you can see them in her paper, “Modular Origami Map Coloring Models“.

Thees are David Plaxco’s “Photgenic Knot Projections On n x n x n Rubik’s Cubes.” Of course!

One of my favorite pieces was a handmade book called “Guises of the Penrose Tiling,” sitting on a stand in front of a lovely patterened cloth that Padilla made.

Her conference paper “Penrose Tiling Arrangements of Traditional Islamic Decagonal Motifs” indicates what she’s up to. I love Penrose’s non-repeating tilings. He used to sell a plastic jigsaw puzzle based on them, called Perplexing Poultry, with no “right” way to assemble them. I played with that puzzle a lot over the years, and my SF novel Freeware incorporates a visual add-on perceptual filter you can use to tessellate your surroundings in a tessellated pattern of 3D Perplexing Poultry.

Riding the metro home from the art show, Sylvia and I made our way upstairs the fabulous dining room of that Helsinki Train station. Nouveau paradise.

I’ve got to mention the time. This sunset at about 10 or 10:30 pm. And the dawn breaks at 3:30 am. Jetlagged as we were, we kept snapping awake at 3:30 thinking it was time to get up. But you do not want to up and about at 3:30. That’s the wrath of the gods. I mean, getting up at 5 am to read is okay, or maybe even 4:30, but 3:30? A hard no. We ended up take lots of long naps the first few days.

We could see what looked like a bay from the balcony of our room. I walked down there one morning and found a cemetery, a minigolf course, a fairly grungy beach-like area, and this nice big-toy construction vehicle. Was so interesting to walk at random around a completely strange city where I had not the slightest idea what was going on.

Did these art nouveau pillar-men holding up the building. I think they’re technically called caryatids. We say a lot of them. They always have a towel or rag over their shoulder and the backs of their heads to make things a bit more comfortable.

Inisde a Catholic church was an image of Saul seeing the White Light.

Outside the church some Helsinki freaks had painted a nice image of the White Light seeing Saul. No idea what the underground characters are like in Helsinki. No easy or obvious way in. I’d dreamed of finding some connection to the circles of my Finnish beat poet friend Anselm Hollo, but there wasn’t time to find it.

We rode the trams a lot. Dig this one with the big flowers. Europe so clean and tidy and pleasant. Not everything just built as cheaply as possible.

Spotted some nice deco windows. Helsinki isn’t medieval quaint, but it’s 20s and 30s quaint.

They have a couple of icebreakers they’re proud of. This is the Poalaris. When the Baltic sea freezes over, the Polaris will pound its way out, clearing a channel, and then lead a commercial ship in. The cahnnel doesn’t stay open for long, and if it freezes up the Polaris circles back and opens a path for the commerical ship again. If worst comes to worst, it tows the ship. The bow of the Polaris has very thick steel.

We went to a design museum in Helsinki which was kind of interesting. Loved the tiles in the hall on the first floor, the way they have a convex texture.

In search of freakiness, we made our way to the very weird Amos Rex art gallery. The exhibition hall is underground, with big skylights covered by tiles above it. And a big pile of broken-up furniture on the roof. Only when I got home did I learn the broken furniture was an installation called “The Nest” by the artist Tadashi Kawamata, who assembled the pieces from around the Helsinki areal.

Art in the basement gallery tended to relate to the theme of being underground. Like this cool old Italian painting of the view from a grotto.

And a boat made of painting canvases…maybe it’s Charon’s boat.

Saw a great woman near a really big Greek Orthodox cathedral near the harbor. Dig her tats. And the little toddler pushing her stroller, as they like to do, and really large dog.

Here’s that cathedral, like of like a Mandelbrot set.

Lots and lots of rental electric scooters in use. We kind of wanted to start using them…but we’ve never done it before, and there’d be a very real chance of breaking your ass, which is contraindicated if your 5,000 miles from home.

Back to that Lutheran cathedral, here’s one of the apostles. At the time I thought this was supposed to be an avenging angel, but apparently it’s Bartholomew, who was eventually slain by a sword, and the scimitar he wields is, like, his logo. Dig that bright sunlight around him.

Near the cathedral we blundered into some big central library…I was thinking of “The Library of Babel” in the great story by Jorge Luis Borges. Levels and radiating aisles.

Downstairs they had a display of some of their holdings. Like this bad-ass book.

And here’s a fine sample of the local tongue, expressing a phrase in Finnish, Swedish, and English.

And then it was off through the loops and reflections of travel from Helsinki to Stockholm. To be continued…

Podcast #113. “Logic, Gnarl, Writing, Painting.”

August 3rd, 2022

August 1, 2022. I was invited to give a plenary lecture at the Bridges group’s “Mathematics & Art” conference in Helsinki, Finland. Over my long career, I’ve used math, computer graphics, writing, and painting as ways to express myself, and to get clearer images of certain things that interest me.  Four channels, all looking at the same thing. Mathematical logic, fractals, science fiction, post-pop surrealism. It was good for me to give this talk, as I’d never quite realized that for me it’s all the same thing.  A draft of the talk appears with the slides in my previous blog post.  To hear the audio alone, press the button below to hear “Logic, Gnarl, Writing, Painting.”


Alternately, you can play a video of the talk on YouTube, and the video includes the slides.

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