The Florida Highwaymen

There is a house in Florida called the Florida House. It is advertised as the only state ’embassy’ in DC. It’s right behind the Supreme Court and catty corner from the Library of Congress (and also just down the street from my first job in DC, at a now defunct nonprofit called the Population Institute, whose main claim to fame is having introduced me to some of my best friends).

As an aside, it was privately funded, but is decorated like an official arm of the state, but is more semi-official. In fact, I have no idea what it even does, really, besides host some meetings.

It also has a nice collection of paintings by the Florida Highwaymen, which fact is not even mentioned on their website.

I made a mini-pilgrimage there (the only difficulty was the hours of the Florida House do not mesh well with working hours, if you don’t work close enough to walk there during lunch).

Sadly, the person who showed me around had no idea who the Florida Highwaymen were, so finding their paintings became an annoying scavenger hunt.

I jotted this post down because of seeing this article about them, so you can read that to get a better idea and, if you so desire, go further down the rabbit hole. It’s not my job to decide for you and I cannot be solely responsible for your cultural education, so take some responsibility for your philistinism or lack thereof, will you?


Mentally Stuck In The Library

civic-center-library-01The Scottsdale, Arizona library has a justly famous sculpture outside. My mother’s most vivid memories of me in Arizona are of me climbing on the pieces that make it up (it was allowed, I gather; and by the way, I am not talking about the ‘LOVE’ sculpture because that wasn’t there during my early childhood days in the southwest).

My most prominent memory of that library is actually of what felt like a terrible failure.

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‘A Philosophy of Walking,’ By Frédéric Gros

I had a B&N gift card, a coupon, and an hour to kill when I bought this book, which is light reading; something playful that is a very good way to kill an hour or two.

The structure is more or less alternating chapters, with a introspective musings by the author on the nature of walking (and of walking in nature; urban walking gets short shrift) being followed by a biographical sketch of writer or philosopher (usually, though also Gandhi).

Overall, the first half or so of the book is the best. The first author delved into deeply is Friedrich Nietzsche and his story of the German philosopher’s mental and physical decline was downright moving and his deftly illustrated the importance of (usually solitary) long walks in the countryside to his process and mental well being. The section on Rimbaud was almost as good. The one on Kant provided an interesting counterpoint to Nietzsche. The one on Rousseau… was okay. I said he gives short shrift to cities (the walking about which Gros philosophizes is more hiking than a stroll) and the chapter on, ostensibly, Baudelaire, the great flâneur, contrives to be mostly about Walter Benjamin and is not terribly respectful of that mode.

But shouldn’t criticize too much. It is not philosophy, in an academic sense, but a brisk read. Perfect, perhaps, to take on a long, silent walk. Silent because, as Gros writes, ‘But above all, silence is the dissipation of our language.’

Growing Up On Anime

As a teenager, we spoke a lot about anime (which, in those ancient days, we sometimes also called ‘japanimation’) and also (though less) about it’s printed sibling, manga (though we usually just called them graphic novels; at that time, we usually just used the term ‘manga’ to refer to either the anime or graphic novels with nudity). I can’t speak for my friends, but I’m pretty sure that, I, at least, pretended to know and have read and seen more than I actually had. But that’s normal for a teenager, I think.

But certainly, seeing Akira on the big screen at the Tampa Theatre was an awe inspiring couple of hours for me and was probably most responsible for my love (though the foundation had been laid by badly edited and dubbed shows on Saturday morning, cobbled together from various animes, given English language names like Star Blazers and G-Force).

I’m forty now and I still watch this stuff. And I get excited when my favorite ones get name checked (this one here points out some similarities between my favorite anime, Outlaw Star, and the glory that is Firefly).

While my better half was gone for several weeks, I watched a particularly embarrassing series aimed at teenagers (though I still maintain the right to make fun of grown ups who read Twilight and/or watch the movies because there is no good god viable excuse for that if you are over 18). I also read the manga (which came first) on my Nook and now it’s done and there probably won’t be anymore (thought there are whole internet sites devoted to desperately praying that there will be a third series of either the manga or the anime) and I’m unaccountably sad.

When you finish a series that has touched for some reason and you know that there won’t be anymore and, possibly even worse, you can’t go back and read it again for the first time, it’s like having your heartbroken in early adolescence because your pain is almost worse for being insensate, because you lack the age and experience to arrange in your brain into something meaningful and more fully comprehensible. I tried to go back to the beginning and even read the first volume again, but Tom Wolfe was right, wasn’t he, because I couldn’t really do it. My mind was too full of the sadness of the fact of the ending (the ending itself was sad, but not unbearably so; it was more sadness that it had ended at all) to be able begin again.

‘Space Mercenaries’ By A. Bertram Chandler

SpaceMercenariesAceM133This is one of those old Ace doubles, which means two books in one. One side has one cover and you flip it around and on the other side is the cover for a different book. This was used a lot for sci fi (and probably mysteries, too). You could take two books of less than 150 pages each and package them together. The flip side is a novel called The Caves of Mars, but I have so far only read Space Mercenaries.

I started with that one because… c’mon, space mercenaries. How cool is that?

It’s apparently the second in a sort of trilogy known as the Empress Irene books, but this one is fine as an episodic, standalone novel (it’s the second of the three). A former empress, now private citizen has taken a top class warship and become a trader and her first job is blockade running. There’s some cool stuff with Chandler’s version of hyperspace/hyperdrive/warp speed – which actually seems more like Dune style ‘folding space’ (they’re outside of space-time and there’s stuff about synchronizing and the like but… I mean, it’s all just hyperdrives, really). A lot of stuff about figuring out legal ways to open fire while smuggling and without violating space law.

The book is a fast an enjoyable read. Style-wise, it reminded me of a less didactic Gordon Dickson (though I’m basing that on a single novel by Dickson, None But Man) and it’s a decent example of silver age sci fi. If you like that stuff and you see it in a used bookstore, pick it up. If you don’t, then you’re probably not browsing the science fiction stacks anyway, so I don’t imagine that it will come up.

Myself, I found this in an awesome little bookstore in Dunedin, Florida called Back in the Day Books that is well stocked in cool little semi-rarities like this (I’ve also gotten a ton of old pulp magazines from them, as well).