Tag Archive: Snow!

  1. More Beautiful Than Untouched Snow

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    Two days after the class-canceling blizzard last week, the pristine layers of snow had been trampled away. What had been white blankets turned into piles of brown slush like left-out apple slices. I walked to the University Art Gallery that Thursday to hear a concert paired with their new exhibit, “Whistler in Paris, London and Venice.” I added my own footprints to the gradual stampede.

    Inside, an undergraduate string quartet sat in front of a small audience. The musicians performed selections from three works connected to the locations and time period of the exhibit. James Abbott McNeill Whistler is the artist in question, an American-born figure from the Gilded Age. Whistler etched (and sketched) like the snow fell that week, his tiny strokes barely converging into powerful masses. The important difference, of course, is that his art—and the pieces performed by the quartet—can’t be stomped on by rubber boots.

    The performance gently placed the audience in mid-19th century Europe. The rivers Whistler often captured with spare strokes felt close, if frozen. Curator Heather Nolin opened the concert by talking about Whistler as if he were a starry-eyed student: at 21, he moved to Paris, got a French girlfriend named Héloise (thanks, Wikipedia), and obsessed over the connections between art and music. Alexander Dubovoy ’16, a student liaison for the YUAG, introduced Camille Saint-Saëns’s String Quartet No. 2 to accompany Whistler’s work from Paris. Saint-Saëns used the piece to “stake a claim” in the French Romantic tradition as young gun composers like Debussy and Stravinsky emerged, and you could hear the stubbornness as the four parts danced in a structured choreography. The performers (violinists Jennifer Gersten ’16 and Emily Switzer ’17, violist Abby Elder ’17, and cellist Benji Fleischacker ’17) knew how to fit the intricate sounds together, especially when the cello’s pizzicato grounded the lilting upper register.

    When I visited the exhibit later, the piece’s echoes bounced around my head as I passed through Whistler’s “French Set,” a series of etchings he did in Paris. They didn’t match the sassy joy of the quartet, but they reminded me of what Dubovoy said about the composer. As an old man watching new musical movements tower over him, Saint-Saëns wrote the piece as an outsider. Whistler’s works in the “French Set” have a similar feeling. Their decaying houses, women working in their homes, and other eavesdropped-upon scenes speak in gritty, shadowed detail. The subjects’ faces are hidden, as if entering their lives would shatter something.

    As Whistler moved to London to find success, his eyes turned water-ward. His “Thames Set” focuses on the changing waterfronts of the city in the same way current neighborhoods quickly gentrify. His pieces are like paused action, the quick strokes of the angular boats suggesting the direction of their paths. At the concert, String Quartet No. 1 by English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams too depicted reinvention, this time with folk songs from Britain. The piece’s chugging, foot-stomping rhythms were smoothed out, peaking out from the veil of the string quartet tradition.

    The final section of the exhibit focuses on Whistler’s time in Venice. The aging Whistler left London after suing art critic John Ruskin for libel. Ruskin had criticized the artist’s painting “Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket,” calling him out for “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” The Venice etchings resultantly look like a string of exhalations — from tension, politics, words. If you go to the exhibit, go for them. The ink grips the paper’s fibers themselves, and the delicate dashes merely guide the colors towards the ships and horizons they represent. There’s even a pastel work so fragile it lives behind a pink curtain, waiting to be revealed by the viewer.

    Dubovoy introduced the Venice-accompanying pieces, by Giacomo Puccini and Hugo Wolf, with Whistler’s artistic departure in mind. Puccini’s “Crisantemi” was written in 1890 for the death of the King of Spain, and its melancholy, unified cries make a grave of layered sound. Elder’s evolving viola solo particularly stuck in my mind. The “Italian Serenade” by Wolf mimicked Whistler’s perspective as yet another outsider, trying to understand the Italian culture as authentically as possible. The performers flew athletically through the intricate piece, and the audience noticed. A man with 90’s bleached hair and his female friend looked at each other multiple times, impressed and raising their eyebrows.

    I understood that man during the concert and, days later, as I sifted through Whistler’s etched waterfronts and anonymous faces. When the Wolf ended, I looked out the lobby windows towards the YUAG Sculpture Garden. A smooth, rounded layer of snow rested on the concrete steps leading to a higher level, but a path of footprints cut sharply through the middle. The storm was over. The footprints, though, were there to stay, just like the memories of Whistler, his influences and the composers featured at the performance. That’s more beautiful than untouched snow.

  2. Snow Scripts

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    The pictures he uploaded were not chronological. Instead of instant images, they rang out from his archive of experience as delicate grams of sound. His verse seemed liked, too. Other listeners within the marble walls sometimes murmured approval from their seats. Hitchcock’s “Psycho” tore him out of his seat when he was just a kid and the film took New York City by storm. In a poem honoring Henry Hudson’s discovery of the New York harbor, the last lines of “The Great Gatsby” melted into his final product. He once had a manx cat named Jeepers and “Cats” the musical, did you know, gusted out of T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” This is the poet John Koethe, as told by John Koethe.

    This Tuesday afternoon, the verse writer serenaded his audience with self-titled “memory poems” in front of a flickering spotlight at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. I listened as library curator Nancy Kuhl provided a graceful introduction, but then Koethe proceeded to track a profile of his own life, in his own style. Kuhl said with Koethe, the “tension between intimacy and public memory falls away,” and indeed, he conjured a link between his words in the air and the other chapters of life in progress. “The years were pages,” he said.

    In one selection, he likened poetry to snow. Koethe, who has written nine books of poetry, spent his undergraduate days at Princeton and graduate years at Harvard. Behind the podium, he certainly stood as a master — of simile, cold weather and the flakes of language he lets fall, covering and illuminating a range of nebulous subjects. In his first poem, “Sally’s Hair,” he describes the titular as object as “like living in a lightbulb.”

    In another poem titled “16A” after a graduate school apartment, the narrator qualifies: “but that’s history, real history, not this private kind.”

    Thinking of his words, my mind drifted to a framed illustration that I have at home, one that depicts two figures in a snowstorm: a young boy following in the footsteps of a bundled man. The caption in the foreground reads: “In his master’s steppes he trodde.” It is a John Hassall, and I have not imagined it in a little while. Hearing poetry as snow conjured thoughts of my own private history.

    Toward the end of his reading, Koethe shared a poem precipitated by Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Village” and a reverence for Proust. Sounds linked the time lost between words — a clang, a bell. It had been after the poem “Alfred Hitchcock” that I noticed Koethe’s reflection in the glass behind him, in the case with the two massive books and flickering spotlight, and then again diagonally to the left of that phantom, traveling into the monument wall. In both panes, his back faced his listeners, his students, as if my perspective were from the opposite side of the space. Minutes later, I caught the phrase: “Meaning lies beneath it or beyond it.” Meteorologists could never have predicted such a timely, tender snowfall.

    If Jimmy Stuart was “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” Mr. John Koethe could be the poet who knows enough. He is the poet who rolls meaning and history into one, aiming across time at the unknown drifting through Jeepers’ stare, and further back, toward Fitzgerald’s green light.

    On social media, stories are told on a vertical track. Below yesterday’s recipe link are last weekend’s wedding pictures and the most-read New Yorker or Buzzfeed articles. They may be outlined, but sometimes it’s difficult — even dangerous — to chart someone’s private history through public statements. That afternoon, Koethe gave his listeners this chance. In pages of verse, Koethe gave them passwords to the years of his life. Catching flakes of his past somehow made everything a little clearer for a spell.

  3. Outlaws

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    In the fall, we spent some time emailing each other pictures of the Grand Canyon and discussing “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” a fantasy novel about blowing up dams on the Colorado River. This book ignited dreams of our own Canyon visit. Plus, we had both seen one too many carefully cropped profile pictures of friends perched “alone” on the “edge” of the vast, red Canyon to put off a visit to another vacation in another season.

    When Diana, who was new to the Canyon, arrived at the South Rim, she quickly saw what was outside of the frame in all those pictures: of course, a canyon of greater grandeur than she could have ever imagined, but also many railings, fences, packs of tourists, gift shops, parking lots, shuttle buses, hotels. During her walk down the trail from the South Rim, she reveled in the views and tried not to be distracted by the mules, the traffic on the trail, and the signs warning her about plague-infected squirrels. When she got to the river that afternoon, ready to set up her tent for a night of solo camping in the Canyon, she discovered an entire city of tents and cabins along a creek, complete with bathrooms, water fountains, and a restaurant, “The Canteen,” that sold Snickers, beers and over-priced chili. It felt like a resort.

    Charlie had visited the Canyon before and was, therefore, slightly less idealistic about its magic wilds and opportunities for solitude. He had seen the tour buses, the weeping “junior rangers” refusing to get back into their parents’ minivans, and the families of Midwesterners going hard on their snacks from the canyon-side “soda fountain.”

    This was only the South Rim, though. The trails between the top of the South Rim and the bottom of the Canyon were deemed “corridor trails.” They are the most popular and manicured in the Canyon. At the far end of these corridor trails was the North Rim: the uninhabited, snowy edge of the Canyon. The North Rim was still wild.

    We wanted to go. In the winter, the North Rim’s gift shops and soda fountains shut down. Snow piles up and roads close and solitude is possible. So, after a Snickers breakfast at the Canteen, we began to walk north.

    It was more of a wander than a hike. The sun was high and the trail wide. We ate more Snickers and stopped to play at a skinny waterfall that makes otherwise red and crumbly rock mossy and green. For the first seven miles, we admired the views and thought of nothing beyond Cottonwood Campground, a halfway point between the Colorado River and the North Rim. When we arrived at the campground, though, it was dark. We sat at a picnic table for an hour eating cheese and salsa. We began to wonder if we could actually make it to the North Rim that night, or if we should just stay at the campground.

    To parties less optimistic and obsessive, staying would have been the obvious choice. We were at a campground. We had a tent, two sleeping bags, food, water, and a permit allowing us to camp there (a permit that did not apply to the North Rim). Plus, it was not getting warmer.

    But, after an hour of lively debate, we started walking again. We decided that seven more miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain in the snowy dark would take us two hours, maybe three. Soon, we’d be warm under the round roof of the North Rim yurt. We didn’t have a permit to stay in it, but it was winter. The North Rim, and its glorious yurt, would be empty (the yurt had carpeting and a woodstove). We thought we might read a little before going to sleep. Charlie carried “Leaves of Grass.”

    With one headlamp, we walked. The snow got deeper. We stopped to eat Snickers, from time to time, and listen to our voices echo off the rocks. At one point, we became convinced we had stumbled upon a secret civilization because our headlamp gleamed back yellow eyes from deep in the snowy valley (Diana believed it was Hayduke from “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” haunting the rocks and plotting ways to keep them wild; Charlie thought that it was the secret valley from “Atlas Shrugged,” purported to be about 400 miles northeast of the Canyon but why, if secret, would Ayn tell the truth about its location?).

    Our steps slowed and stuttered. The snow was heavy. We ran out of water. We started melting snow in a pot over our camp stove. We spilled our first pot of water (Diana’s fault). We couldn’t find the last Snickers (Charlie’s fault). We checked for symptoms of hypothermia. We cursed the signs about the Canyon’s geology because they looked, time after time, like ones that might tell us how many miles we had left to walk.

    At 2 a.m., the light of our headlamp ricocheted off of a sign bigger than the others. We started running. There was a parking lot at the top of the hill. We found another sign with a map and were too delirious and ecstatic to read it. We screamed for joy. We had made it.

    We ran around the parking lot and tried to find the yurt. The map said it was 0.2 mile away. Charlie decided we should split up and try to find the yurt off the road by wading through the surrounding waist-deep snow. We ran back to the map many times, searching for clues. But, after an hour of panicked search, the exhaustion caught up with us. We had no water and had not located the ghost Snickers. We were all alone in a snowed-in desert. The only fresh footprints and howls across the parking lot belonged to us. We felt wild.

    Hours later, after setting up the tent on snowed-in pavement, morning light filtered through the plastic walls. Charlie couldn’t walk because of his blisters, but had to pee. He hobbled toward the woods. Then a ranger, standing across the desolate parking lot, started screaming to ask if Charlie was “trying to run away.” The ranger had a radio strapped to his chest and a handgun strapped to his belt and sunglasses strapped to his face. This ranger (Ranger Walker) came over and asked if we had alcohol or marijuana or machetes before walking ominously back to his truck with our names and license numbers. Many North Rim visitors, apparently, get drunk and high and harbor obscure weaponry.

    He listed our many offenses: camping without a permit ($75), camping in a non-designated campground ($75), camping with a side of disorderly conduct ($250).

    He emphasized that he was letting us off easy, only charging us $75 for camping in a non-designated area, even though our conduct was clearly disorderly. Charlie felt noble and offered to sacrifice his previously clean national park criminal record. Ranger Walker wrote the ticket in Charlie’s name. As the ranger wrote the ticket, he told us it got lonely on the North Rim in the winter. Then, he took us in his pickup truck to get non-snow-melted-water. The truck was full of guns. When he dropped us off, Ranger Walker told us to walk back to the other side of the Canyon.

    On the way down from the North Rim, we talked about blisters, almond desserts and fidelity. We admired icicles dripping low from the cliffs across the way and rhapsodized about ravens gliding on a shaft of wind above us. The memory of Ranger Walker occasionally came back against our will, as we retraced our steps past signs about geology and plagued squirrels and runners who run too far and die of thirst.

    We found our way back to the campground by the Colorado River, where we had a silent, Snickers dinner in the Canteen. The next day, we had a jolly walk up to the South Rim beneath the only clouds we had seen since arriving in the Canyon. We discussed this new sky at length and decided we were grateful for it. The clouds splattered shadows and showed us colors we hadn’t yet seen in the Canyon — purples and blues in the red rocks.

    After racing up the trail all day, we stopped just short of the South Rim and watched the sky move. Diana squinted at ravens she was sure were condors. Charlie made promises about coming back to the Canyon. Then, we walked up to soda fountains and hotels and parking lots and the shuttle buses from Las Vegas and to the airports and parents and bluebooking and goddamn email threads.

    Diana took a photo of the Canyon at sunset that’s still her iPhone’s background and Charlie took a rock from the Canyon (which is illegal) that still sits on his desk. Back in New Haven, we still find time to ask each other, “Why aren’t we in the desert?” and also “What if we were on the North Rim right now?” It turns out it is possible to long for a place even if it accused you of a felony, even if it is full of plagued squirrels, and even if it isn’t the wilderness you imagined it to be.

  4. Takeaways from the Great Snowprise of 2K12

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    The National Weather Service predicted yesterday morning that three to five inches of snow would fall in New Haven, tapering off in the early afternoon. We blogged accordingly — stay inside, watch a movie, whatever 2K12, this is just standard winter.

    Turns out the storm was a lot more serious than the NWS first thought. By nightfall, eight inches had fallen in New Haven proper. The state high was in North Haven, which received 12 inches. Not quite a snowpocalypse, but certainly a snowprise.

    Mayor John DeStefano declared a snow emergency in downtown New Haven, which allowed him to tow all cars parked on downtown streets between 2 and 6 a.m. (We watched a car get towed on Howe Street at 3 a.m.)

    All that snow made driving hazardous, so there were hundreds of wrecks across the state, the Courant reported. In the peak of the storm, at around 11:45 a.m., we drove to IKEA yesterday with our mom, and conditions were near-whiteout. The IKEA was totally empty, too. By our 7 p.m. trip to Lowe’s, though, the streets were in large part clear. And in keeping with the chill vibe of our first post yesterday, no one was seriously injured in a car crash and no one lost power. Children of all ages came out to play. It was perfect.

  5. Wake up, it’s snowing!

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    The weatherman wasn’t lying this time — Snow Bulldogs across campus are waking up to several inches of freshies on the ground. Total accumulation will be between three and five inches, mainly before 3 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. State officials aren’t too concerned about “light, fluffy snow” that “should taper off by mid-afternoon,” but a number of towns — including Hartford — have issued parking bans, anyway, the Courant reported.

    Looks like we’ll be fine. You probably shouldn’t drive, and you probably should do all of the following:

    1) Put on your biggiest, puffiest clothes. It’s not actually that cold out, but you want to look like it is for the Facebook pics.

    2) Roll around in the snow at least once. Snow angels are adorable and if you are wearing a big coat you’ll stay warm.

    3) Go back inside, act like it’s a huge storm, sip cocoa/cider and smile. It’s a beautiful day.

    4) Watch this, and this, and then the whole movie.

    Stay cozy, Yale.