Saturday, July 31, 2010

Flames in the Air (February 2nd, 2008)

These pictures were taken at a mid-winter fire sculpture exhibition--the Nights of Fire--at Nathan Philips Square in Toronto. The sculptures were created by the French "fire art troupe" Cie Carabosse. The show involved 1500 individually-lit clay pots which burned for a period of about three hours in the early-evening winter darkness.

One thing I loved about the look of this show, and the pictures I was able to take, was the contrast not only between light and darkness but also between the fire in the air and the ice of winter on the ground. And of course as I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I have pyromaniacal tendencies--so there was a special lure here for me.

Though the sculptures were of many different shapes and sizes, I liked best one particular, relatively simple spherical piece (see below). I'm not sure if it was the size and shape of it or the placement at the front of the Square, but I loved the way this piece looked from a distance as one approached the main area of the exhibit or "fire garden". And I wasn't the only one--people seemed drawn to the piece, and indeed there was something both welcoming and hypnotic about the globe of tiny pots, flowering flame.

Why do I enjoy fire so much? Well--I've always felt that there's something 'primal' about fires, and particularly the act of gathering as a group around the fire, which conjures up the state of human existence as it was until very recent times. The several millennia of recorded human history--and the few million years we took to progress to record-keeping--are really just a spark in the long, dark corridor of the aeons, wherein even the earth's several billion orbits around the sun are reduced to a few scratches in the grand cosmic tally-count. Until a short while ago much of humanity still sat literally huddled around flames that brought vital sustenance; and today we continue to rely heavily on technologies that duplicate the functions of fire. Rubbing my hands in front of the flames, I'm reminded of all this.

So fire has had an important role in human society and culture more or less from the beginning. Testament to its importance are the many human myths and legends involving the 'discovery', or indeed the theft, of fire (usually from a god or supernatural figure--as in the Maori myth in which Maui, the 'trickster'/demi-god, steals fire from his grandmother Mahuika). Fire also plays an important role in religious or sacred rituals around the world--even in their modern-day, areligious incarnations--often signifying celebratory purification and rebirth.

Above: As onlookers, to me it seemed as if we were indulging in an age-old flirtation with controlled danger. This is another of the seductions of fire--it seems like a living thing, in fact it even breathes, sucking oxygen from the air as it burns. But while these things help to explain the fascination that fire holds (for me and for many others), it's partly the element of unpredictability, of the unexplained itself, that makes fire worth watching.

The picture above shows a kind of brazier, in this case it looked like charcoal burning in an upright metal vessel. I really like the effect of the light (sparks) in the picture. Another version of this technology is the censer, which you may recognise if you have visited a Catholic church for Mass; it holds hot charcoal on which incense or frankincense is burned.

Below: fire lights the way, as well as providing functional heat.

That we see fire as both a technology and a force of nature (often characterised in the past as one of the fundamental 'elements' of life) is also a tension that shows in the stories we tell; it represents something that is part of the natural world, but which has the potential to be 'summoned' to perform for our benefit. The lessons learned in our stories are often similar: while we may feel we have 'control' of fire, we should always remember that fire has a 'will' of its own, and that mastery of it can only ever be temporary, even though it appears to do our bidding from time to time.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

McMaster at Night (July 23, 2010)

I thought I might quickly post some pictures I took last Friday night while travelling home from the LACUS conference at McMaster. I'm having fun with the new camera and its light-sensitivity in dark situations.

I missed most of an attractive sunset because I was sitting inside, but caught the dregs of it in a few pictures (above, looking towards the Burke Science Building; and below, a closer shot of some of the trees in the centre of the first picture). It was actually darker than it looks to have been, but the camera has a tendency to maximise whatever light is available, so I may create some custom settings for these kinds of situations. Over-exposure changes the quality and colour of the light.

I like playing with night-time shots, particularly those that look interesting because only a fragment of something is visible due to the extremes of light and shade (usually from an artificial light source, but I'm a fan of the moon and of candle-light as well). Above is a picture of one of the lamps across from the bus stop by the Divinity College; I was quite happy with the way the branches were illuminated and then fade into nothing. Below is a shot of the Mills Memorial (social sciences and humanities) library, or rather the outline created by the light pouring through the windows of the "learning commons".

Above: a McMaster student (probably) waits for the #5 bus to downtown Hamilton, by the Divinity College. At this time on a Friday night (about 9:30pm), buses don't run as frequently. I was lucky that one arrived not long after I got to the bus stop. Below: I quite liked this picture of the outside of the McMaster Art Gallery (the Student Centre is in the background), the way the lit part of the frame forms a kind of diamond shape with the four round bright lights balanced by the horizontal and vertical weights of the stairs and the windows on the front of the gallery building.

The last picture, below, is taken not at McMaster but on James Street South as I walked towards the GO Train station. Hamilton has some nice-looking churches, and though I didn't catch the name of this one, it is easy enough to spot in daylight. In this photo I used the streetlamp like a sun, allowing its rays to bleed into the other part of the frame and giving the appearance of the lamp lighting up the church spire. Which of course it wasn't doing--there are lights on/below the church itself--but the lamp did cast its light on the tree, which is actually in the foreground of the picture and not up against the spire. All in all it's quite the optical illusion; the more I look, the more deceptive it becomes.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

New Camera (July, 2010)

Hot, humid weather continues here in Toronto, most unpleasant. It was during the last very humid spell not long ago that my digital camera began to act up. I suspected it was faltering when I was in New Zealand, attempting to take a picture at Kaikoura Beach. When I opened the lens cover, the camera simply refused to focus. It was infuriating, and the problem has returned periodically since then. In June, I decided it was time at last to replace it, since the humidity and heat seemed to be having even more of an effect on the technical problems. I decided to upgrade to a more recent version the same camera, since this one has been very study over the almost four years (12,000+ pictures) that I've been using it.

The camera I chose was the DSC-TX5. Sony now has a number of cameras in the Cyber-Shot line, and though this one was not the most high-end of them, it looked closest to what I had had until now and it was the only one advertised as shock-proof, water-proof, dust-proof, and probably nuclear-fallout-proof as well (and yes--it is supposed to handle the heat well). It had fairly solid reviews online since its release in April of this year. I tended to trust these reviews, since when I compared what was said with what I knew about my Cyber-Shot DSC-T10, I found it aligned with my own experience.

Above: Descending into the Queen subway station, I decided to test both the camera's power-on time and its performance in a low-light, no-flash situation, because I'd noticed in the reviews that there was emphasis on its improved low-light capacity. For the picture, I was halfway up the escalator by the time I looked down and decided I liked the view. Fortunately the camera handled things well, I snapped it open and got the shot within a few seconds and there were no problems with blurring or over/under-exposure.

Above: Mr. Darcy, helping me to test the camera's macro function with some close-up cat shots. Though this is not the best of them in terms of technicalities, it's certainly the most amusing one.

So far I've noticed there are also some things missing with this camera--like a black and white option. I'm getting used to working without it, which could be a good thing since I've been told that the image quality decreases when you shoot in black and white. Instead, I was advised to use image editing software to change pictures to black and white after downloading them onto my computer. This way the images retain more visual information.

Above: Inside the Bloor Cinema near Bloor and Bathurst, Toronto. This was a more extreme experiment to test low-light performance and to put the wide angle to use; I love the picture, which was taken just before the showing of "The Maltese Falcon" that I attended with my friend Joanne, who was in for the day from Hamilton. To me the curtains look like glowing embers in a fireplace.

Yesterday I went in to Hamilton to see a few friends, look for apartments and watch "The Girl Who Played with Fire", the new film version of the Steig Larsson novel. After the movie, which I saw with my friend Alex Sévigny, we went for a country drive during which I took some nice pictures of the farmland around Ancaster and Dundas, bathed in crepuscular summer light. It was nice to get to try out the camera in a non-urban environment.

Above: A shot I took from the car window. The function I was putting to use was a kind of spot focusing, which can be done using the touch-screen by touching the past of the screen where you want the camera to focus. This is really useful when shooting from a moving vehicle because it prevents the camera from re-focussing on objects in the foreground or in other parts of the frame. I quite like the blurring of the grass in the lower part of the image.

Above: Here I was trying to capture the quality of the light in the mildly humid summer evening. I also had to see what the camera could do when pointed directly into the sun (if you've looked through my past posts, you'll notice I love sunlight shots and my last camera did very well with them). Trivia: those splotches of light in the foreground are called "circles of confusion". Which will also be the name of my first band, if I ever form one.

After our drive, we went to Alex's place and (of all things) had cigars and cognac, on the back porch. Usually a bit too grown-up for me, this time I enjoyed feeling like W.C. Fields (stogies!). Alex's cat, Gigi, joined us--a treat, since usually she is a lot shyer than my cats. She usually runs away when I am visiting, or observes from a discreet distance.

Above: Gigi--she has such a tiny, delicately-designed little face, with large eyes. It took her a little while to warm up to me, but once we started getting better acquainted I was lucky to catch her in a split second of stillness; she looks quite charmingly posed.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sidetracked: The Polaris Prize Long List, 2010.

My picks for this year's Polaris prize. This has nothing to do with my regular blog posts--nor with my predictions for who the winner will be, since I really have no idea; it just reflects what I liked out of the music they chose this year. Since last year's crop was quite bountiful (I discovered some artists I really enjoyed), I thought I would plunder the spoils again--with overwhelming results. For most of these artists I only listened to one or two tracks to get a 'taste', but I've described below what I heard and why I liked it. I've listed the artists only--specific albums nominated can be found here. I also linked through to their MySpace pages, where you can listen to free music, and to LastFM where you can find more info on the artists and their discographies.

Bahamas: I am just a sucker for folky guitar. Reminds me of Andrew Bird but less produced and softer/more mellow, with a slight bluegrass twang. I found myself nodding along and allowing several tracks to play out. (@LastFM)

Basia Bulat: Classified as "folk/melodramatic", she reminds me of one of the singers in The Be Good Tanyas but with more vibrato, a very unique voice worth listening to--could be as unique as Neko Case and Joanna Newsom, she certainly draws appropriately on some country/bluegrass influences that remind me of those two artists. Nice fiddle, stand-up bass and acoustic guitar, and banjo. (@LastFM)

Brasstronaut: "Mt. Chimaera" is the album. I'm not sure how this can be classified, other than under "Awesome Album Titles". It's relatively mellow, with some acoustic instrumentation, but not actually laid-back--a weird combination of 60s psychedelia and New Weird America (think Devendra Banhart, but maybe more intense); vocals reminiscent of The Byrds, instrumentation that echoes Ida--without being emo. Could be classified as "indie rock" but with many more 'layers' that usual in that genre. (@LastFM)

Broken Social Scene: I usually like their stuff, so I'm happy to give the new album a listen. Sounds fairly good so far. (@LastFM)

By Divine Right: The first tracks I heard show obvious influences from 1960s folk and psychedelic rock (the electric guitar, vocals, strings, and bass patterns), reminds me of the Byrds, echoes of The Pretty Things' one psychedelic album ("SF Sorrow") and Cream--and of course later Beatles albums. I'm also reminded of Beck, who shows some of those influences as well in most of his albums. (@LastFM)

Caribou: Caribou is always good, I have all his albums (back from when he was called "Manitoba", even). This is perky yet gentle electronica, a more melodic, compact variant on genres like glitch and ambient. Reminds me of Four Tet and Plaid, but more often with vocals. (@LastFM)

Crystal Castles: Self-classified on MySpace as "Thrash", these guys have been touted locally as a popular "electro" group (not usually a good sign--in Toronto) so I felt it was my obligation to listen to a few tracks, in spite of receiving a poor first impression some time ago. It sounds like a mash-up of Goth, Epic House, some early 80s electro, disco-a-la-Scissor Sisters/Donna Summer, and the occasional crap track that really does sound "Thrash"-esque. I'm willing to give them another chance--in spite of the fact that they only provide 30-second soundbytes on their MySpace profile (snots). (@LastFM)

Amelia Curran: One of those female singer-songwriters who plays the guitar--and I am a sucker for that, so you've been warned. There's also accordion, and a song about Montreal, again with echoes of folk, bluegrass and 'traditional' music from the southern U.S. (@LastFM)

Fred Fortin: For some reason, there's a lot of folk in here this year. A guy, a guitar, and songs in French--I liked it. Then again, my French isn't good enough to tell me whether the lyrics are any good, so take that with a chunk of salt. (@LastFM)

Hannah Georgas: Sounds like Emily Haines, with less electro: a bit indie-twee ("Her voice, bittersweet yet as spunky as an indie film heroine, will make you swoon as she sings about love, language and awkward situations"--um yeah). Still, I'm trying not to let all that get in the way of listening to the album, since it sounds like it might be pretty good. Another artist on this year's list also had a Haines-type voice (though much more cutesy--too much for me), it must be a trend. (@LastFM)

Dan Mangan: Reminds me of The Weakerthans, but more folky. The are echoes of Ida in some of the instrumentation. Yes, so it's yet another folk-esque entry, but it's apparently been that kind of a year; more reminders Andrew Bird and Devendra Banhart, with a bit of Wilco (the lyrics are not syrupy-sweet, that's for sure). Bonus: has a song called "The Indie Queens Are Waiting". (@LastFM)

Misteur Valaire: It's great to see an album here that doesn't fit into one of three or four categories (e.g. "Indie Rock", "Punk", "Folk") and... the first track to which I listened contained theramin samples. As for the rest of it, I'm not quite sure how to describe it, though I was somehow reminded of Xploding Plastix--and then there was something that sounded like video games, the theme to an 80s action TV show, and funky 70s electro-disco. And that was all within one track, I'm telling you. It must be a win. (@LastFM)

The New Pornographers: I've always felt myself to be somewhat on the fence about these guys, always found them harder to like than Broken Social Scene, for example; but I think they're starting to win me over. (@LastFM)

Radio Radio: Funk, disco (e.g. Bee Gees), hip-hop, all en Francais code-switched with English. Definitely invites a closer listen, as it were. Reminds me a bit of TTC--almost inevitably.

Justin Rutledge: Oddly low-key, new/indie-country style, and believe me it is bizarre to find myself liking country music. I could get into this though--in spite of the fact that his MySpace photo was a picture of him with Dolly Parton. I'm not sure of what it's reminiscent since I don't know the genre very well at all. (@LastFM)

The Slew: The classification provided on this MySpace page is "Rock/Psychedelic/Blues" and their location is listed as Seattle, I'm assuming they are somehow actually Canadian since they have received a Polaris nomination. I find classification difficult here--it's certainly not "just" rock/blues, there seems to be some creative sampling and scratching going on. When I saw that Kid Koala was a member of this apparent collective/group (along with three others I've never heard of), I realised where that sound might be coming from. So there is a heavy mashing of rock and glitch, which could be strangely effective. (@LastFM)

South Rakkas Crew: It's hard to resist a group who'll name their album "The Stimulus Package". Though I don't normally listen to dancehall-influenced stuff, this has heavy layers of production, many influences playing together at once (as you may have noticed, I always find that interesting) including reggae, ska, some forms of electronica (probably drum'n'bass/jungle among others--I hear some of that in the bass). I'd have to be in the right mood to listen to this, but I think there's room for it in my (admittedly over-burdened and eclectic) collection. (@LastFM)

You Say Party! We Say Die!: I already have one album ("Lose All Time") by these guys and I have always felt surprised that I liked it. In terms of the new stuff, though I try not to be too influenced by track names, "Laura Palmer's Prom"--which came complete with Badalamenti-esque synth strings--was temptingly referential. It's squarely in the indie-rock genre, evolving positively in the direction of the kind of dark synth-tinged stuff that The Knife do so well (see the song "Dark Days" in particular), with hints of Controller.Controller. (@LastFM)

Young Galaxy: Last FM description includes the terms "indie/dream pop" and "shoegaze", and mentions Galaxie 500 and Stars as similar-sounding groups. I think all that is fair enough, and of course there's something a bit more original coming through as well; the languidness of Galaxie 500 is brought to a more upbeat and melodic yet similarly intense sound here, and Stars would sound a lot lighter in comparison. In some ways I'm even reminded of again The Knife (certainly not a bad thing!), partly because of the female vocal and also some of the beats and instrumentation. I'm definitely going to be listening to the whole album. (@LastFM)

The Polaris Prize short list was announced on July 6th; artists from this lists who made it to the "final round" are Broken Social Scene, Radio Radio, Caribou, and Dan Mangan. See, I told you I have no ability to "pick a winner" on this list (last year I swore up and down that it had to be K'naan, and I still swear that it should have been. I hate punk, and the prize went to a punk band).

VIA (July, 1997)

I love trains and train travel, as I've discussed before in this blog.

The pictures in this post were taken on the VIA Rail Ocean train, which runs between Halifax, Nova Scotia and Montréal, Québec. These pictures were taken on my second train trip along that route (the same summer I graduated from high school!), and I travelled with Lucas on both of those trips. The first train trip was epic, and I think I'll tell the story here since I don't have any photos to show from that experience.

Above: A pillow by the window in a "lower berth", VIA Rail Ocean train.

The trip usually takes about 20 hours, with 26 (potential) stops along the way (many are by request only). The train travels roughly north-west from Halifax to Amherst, and into New Brunswick via Sackville and Moncton. It works its way up to Chaleur Bay and passes through Bathurst and Campbelltown before heading into Québec at Matapédia, turning south-west at Mont-Joli and following the St. Laurent all the way to Montréal. The reason the train travels so far north is so that it can connect with another VIA train that goes up into the Gaspé Peninsula (Parc National de la Gaspésie).

Below: Photographing from the back window of the train, in the caboose lounge. The lounge was only accessible once we had upgraded our tickets.

The VIA Ocean to Montréal had been the first real train trip I'd taken--during the previous winter, when I'd been to visit a high-school friend in Toronto. That turned out to be a trip and a half for a variety of reasons, among them being my illness--I'd has a pretty serious 'flu shortly before I was scheduled to leave, and the doctor was warning my mother that it might not be best for me to travel at all. I remember I was adamant, and I'm sure I was insufferable about it, too--a good strategy for a teenager, since it makes one's guardians glad to see one leave the house (and in this case, the province).

The trip was during March Break of my last year in high school. Unfortunately, what happened is that we managed to get caught in what may well have been the biggest snowstorm of that winter. The train's regular schedule takes it through an afternoon and overnight, and I remember how slowly that night passed. The further north we progressed, the worse the snow was and the more the train was bogged down with mechanical problems. I had been living in Canada for under three years at that point, and I think this was my first experience of extreme Maritime weather--it made an impression.

During the night the train stopped often, far more often than usually necessary--and a number of times for what seemed like (and actually was) hours. At the time it was hard to figure out what was going on from our position, though the conductors were very helpful and informative. We were told later that the train had had to stop twice to have the engine replaced, due to ice caking on the electronics. While the snow that covered the tracks could be pushed out of the way by the plough on the front of the train, it was the ice and snow driven directly into the engine by the wind that created the real problems. The snowbanks at the sides of the track grew ever-higher as we travelled north towards the border of Québec and New Brunswick.

Above: a picture taken from the "observation deck" in the caboose, from the landscape this looks like somewhere near the Bay of Fundy.

At that time there were fewer people taking the long-distance trains, and even if your ticket was economy class you could usually pay an extra fee in cash and upgrade to a berth overnight (if berths were not sold out). Because I was still evidently unwell, we were given some priority and able to upgrade so that we had (the equivalent of) a bed in the train. I remember that as I lay there, I could see nothing from the window but the pale streaks of snowflakes flitting by as they were lit up periodically by the yellow-orange station lights and the white-grey streetlamps of the sleeping towns. There was a lot of darkness, muffled darkness made somehow tamer by the submission of the landscape to snow.

When morning came, the snow had left a magical white wasteland that magnified the early view of the fields of riverside Québec that had opened up around us overnight, the new landscape now sliding by smoothly, the lights of distant houses gradually blinking off as the sun rose. Signs were now in French, something I had only glimpsed briefly several years before on a family drive through from Ontario to Nova Scotia. I experienced for the first time the feeling of living in a small country that somehow lay within another, vaster one. In New Zealand, which I knew better, I felt the opposite way--so much variation within such a small space, rolling by within a period of a few hours' travel, a thousand tiny landscapes. In Canada, the land continues on in great swathes of sameness, often beautiful sameness but still (to my eyes) a great series of homogeneities.

Below: crossing the river at Miramichi, New Brunswick. I love the darkness at the edges of this picture.

Even upon reaching Montréal after about 12 hours' delay, I had another train to catch--on to Toronto, a further 6 hours to downtown's Union Station. I remember how considerate the VIA staff were in allowing passengers to use their cell phones; I had been able to call my friend and keep her updated about my progress later in the trip, so that she and her father were waiting for me when I arrived in Toronto at around midnight the day after I'd left.

Below: inside the caboose lounge, looking up towards with observation deck. I like the many small clocks set to display different times in various cities around the world.

In the end, the complicating events of the first trip gave us the means to travel again to Montréal in July of 1997. VIA Rail, as well as providing the best possible service under the circumstances, also supplied us with an amount of credit that covered most of the fare for a return trip. We decided that since the trip came practically free, we'd go for only a single day (not even wasting money on accommodation!). The train schedule worked well, since we'd be arriving at 8am and leaving around 8pm.

That trip--pictured here--went much more smoothly, which was fortunate for us given the time constraints. We spent a really enjoyable day in Montréal, and the train left on schedule for Halifax that evening. I have this memory of buying my Minolta SLR camera on that trip--the previous camera was a Pentax that was actually stolen from me while I was at school--but then I'm not sure how I would have ended up shooting these pictures. I can't think of any other time when I could have bought it, though (I know I bought it in Montréal, at CamTec Photo I think), so it's possible that I borrowed one for the first part of the trip.

Above: Montréal's downtown, seen in the early morning from a rail bridge spanning the St. Laurent river. I love this moment, the feeling of the bridge ties clacking under my feet and the big river below and the first sight of the city, with a whole exciting day ahead to explore: every time I visit I feel the same sense of exhilaration.

Obviously the Great Snow Storm of '07 didn't put me off further train travel (I also travelled shortly after the Great Ice Storm of '08, a year later). I've made the Ocean trip a number of times since then, though not for a long time now--my last trip was in 2000, from Montréal to Halifax and back. These days I tend to stick to the Toronto-Montréal train that runs along the Québec City-Windsor eastern "Corridor". I still hope for another train trip to the East Coast at some point.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hot (July 7, 2010)

We're in the middle of a heat wave, here in Toronto. It's extremely unpleasant. I've been somewhat concerned about the cats, since the dehumidifier I bought seems to pump out hot air and there's only so much the floor fan can do. This evening I found them stretched out, stupefied, on the bathroom floor--where the tiles provide a relative respite from the suffocating heat (often they wrap themselves around the base of the toilet). The only comfortable place for me is standing between two fans, seemingly weak streams of moving air hitting me from two directions.

The temperature on the Weather Network is deceptive; it claims this "feels like 43", but it really feels like 50. Just sitting in my chair I feel as if dribbles of perspiration are running down my legs--and perhaps they really are. I consume gallons of water and juice, and it leaks out slowly through my pores, covering me with a permanent sheen and causing ambient cat fur to adhere to my skin.

For the past couple of days it's been impossible to work at home, so I've haunted the local Starbucks (for shame!), which seems to have unlimited free wireless and a table placed conveniently next to an outlet. Today I spent four hours there with my laptop, enjoying the Germany-Spain football match (quite satisfied with the result) and completing notes for a paper for publication.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Giant Floating Naked Man (May 16, 2007)

These pictures were taken on my first solo stroll through Milan. I had the luck to encounter some very interesting public art during my explorations--well, either I was lucky or Milan is just an artsy place, and I'm inclined to believe the latter.

I ended up at Parco Sempione, the park that opens out behind the Castello Sforzesco. Walking out into the park I turned to the right, following signs that seemed to lead to a public aquarium; but I wandered down the wrong path and ended up over next to the Arena Civica Gianni Brera. Soon I saw something unusual that seemed to be hovering just above the trees, and I made my ways towards it:

I admit it was a bit startling, seeing this large pink nude fellow simply drifting calmly in the gentle breeze. It certainly seemed, from a distance especially, that he wasn't held in place at all--just lolling randomly, though bobbing a bit as the tension on his tethering cables occasionally dragged him down slightly.

I found it strange (for some reason) that he wasn't making any sound. This was the first time I remembered the video function on my camera and put it to work. I lay back on the grass and pointed it into the air, and managed to capture something of the real-life effect:

The only sounds come from the birds, the breeze, and the quiet thrum of traffic (though a there is the loudly distinctive sound of an Italian ambulance blaring by in the background).

Here is a close-up shot, showing the, er, anatomical detail of the piece. I was impressed by the way the skin had been articulated, wrinkles and all; he even had stubble on his chin.

My timing was fortuitous. As I sat watching, the floating body began to bob and sink gently, and I realised they were 'reeling him in'. I had a pretty good view of the process from where I was sitting nearby, on a small knoll. I noticed that many of the cables hanging from him were designed to keep him weighted down in a certain more-or-less horizontal position--most of them didn't reach to the ground.

I enjoyed sitting in the sun, watching this spectacle unfold before me...

Of course I was keen to find out what this art piece was and who the artist might have been, but then never got around to finding out--until I set out to write this blog post. The first link in English was unexpectedly provided by FOX News, where the piece was described as "a [70-foot-long] balloon self-portrait by Polish artist Pawel Althamer". The piece was part of a show being held in the Palazzina Appiani, the building that can be seen in the background in my last photo above.

That's probably the most creative (and certainly the most eye-catching) self-portrait I've ever seen.

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