Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hi, do you remember me? I'm the kid who had a report due on space.

It is early August and it is scant weeks before the Northwestern football team gathers to practice smashing into each other before attempting to smash into other teams.  The existence of professional baseball mocks Cubs fans and the byzantine NBA salary cap has led to tales of intrigue and double-cross (I enjoyed when the Knicks front office went underground in an attempt to prevent the Houston Rockets from offering Jeremy Lin untold millions of dollars).  Britain is overrun by thousands of muscle-bound athletes who have spent the last four years running, jumping, swimming, and hammer throwing in relative obscurity although I think the world's best Hammer Thrower should appear nightly on television worldwide as the Hammer King to give us advice on how to better solve our problems through the application of a well-thrown hammer.

A hypothetical mock-up of Olympic hammer throw hopeful Ivan Tsikhan winning 
gold, becoming Hammer King, and proclaiming a weekend filled with 
hammer-based precipitation

As we gird ourselves for the beginning of football season, why not check out another excellent preview at Pre-Snap Read?  Paul Myerberg has the 'Cats at #59, excited about the possibilities of the Kain Colter offense, but concerned about replacing stalwarts on the offensive line and defense.


There is nothing more exciting than rooting for a hopelessly wretched team during the trade deadline as you hope for your squad to heartlessly unload any vaguely competent older player for guys you've never heard of.  The Cubs managed to offload Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson, Reed Johnson's disgusting conical goat beard, Geovanny Soto, and Ryan Dempster in two fell swoops for a haul of low-level prospects.  Maholm and Johnson are off to an Atlanta team in the thick of a division race.  Dempster is going to Texas to mentor Derek Holland on doing a bunch of crappy impressions that delight that philistine Joe Buck. He'll be joined by Soto.  That did not mean the trade deadline lacked intrigue.  Last week, Dempster apparently vetoed a trade to Atlanta, Soriano reportedly used his 10/5 rights to block a trade to San Francisco, and Luis Valbuena escaped a strategic marriage to the battle-axe Duchess of Cleves that ensured suzerainty with rich territories in the Low Countries.

The new Cubs management team was foiled again by the Bernhard The Bellicose, the scheming 
Count of Lippe whose machinations have decreased the Cubs' influence in the Imperial Diet

The Cubs can still move players during the exciting August waiver period, where roster moves are shrouded in secrecy and teams can strategically block each other from acquiring players.  Teams may target the slugging Alfonso Soriano or the enigmatic Carlos Marmol, a relief pitcher whose specialty is dead-eyed mystification at how the bases continue to be loaded.  Either way, the Cubs will be putrid for at least several more seasons leading to hopefully more exciting deadline day fire sales and angry Twitter ranting about A ball prospects years from fizzling out.


While Our Lads heroically trounce the world's stiffest big men at the Olympic games, the NBA continues its bizarre off-season.  The Association's impenetrable salary cap has nearly as many arcane exceptions as the English language.  Dwight Howard is annoying everyone all of the time with his unmanly waffling.  And the Bulls have disassembled the Bench Mob and shipped it piece by piece to other states.  Kyle Korver will join Cubs exiles in Atlanta, C.J. Watson will hoist up ill-advised threes in Brooklyn, Ronnie Brewer has hitched himself to the entertainingly dysfunctional Knicks, and John Lucas III has fled the country to the Toronto Raptors although unfortunately LeBron James has a passport and will inform customs that his purpose for entering Canada is dunking on John Lucas III.  Houston GM Daryl Morey cleverly designed a backloaded offer sheet to nab Omer Asik, who I will miss not only for his defensive prowess and resemblance to actor Judge Reinhold, but his spectacular flopping.  Asik has a long career after basketball as a Luc Besson villain who beats up an entire French Special Forces battalions only to get gently nudged by a point guard and go flying off every building in La Défense.

Asik's hands are stony enough that I am convinced he can be equally effective on offense while 
wearing giant foam lobster claws

The Bulls have acquired Former Dunk Contest Champion and Short Person Nate Robinson, Kirk Hinrich With Goggles, Rookie Marcus Teague, and Big Man Who Shoots Threes But Is Not John Shurna Marco Bellinelli.  The Bulls' bench won't matter much since Rose and Deng will miss a serious chunk of next season.  In the mean time, we can root for Deng and Pops Mensah-Bonsu to win a game in the Olympics and bring happiness to the eight people in the United Kingdom who enjoy basketball.

I've recently finished Rome, Robert Hughes's history of the Eternal City through its art and architecture.  The vast sweep of the book begins with Romulus and Remus and ends with a cantankerous attack on twenty-first century mass tourism and an unfair jeremiad against Italians as unworthy stewards of the cities' treasures because they are soccer-loving television-havers.

Hughes recognizes that the sprawling history of Rome cannot be contained in a single volume, even when focused on its rich collection of buildings, piazzas, paintings, and literature, so he feels free to meander.  Thus, we get a discussion of aqueducts and Roman baths as well as a brief primer on Roman military tactics.  He also knows that it is important to pause to discuss Caligula, Claudius, and Nero in order to briefly dispel some myths about their insanity while detailing which relatives came under their innovative incest, torture, and murder by overdose on laxatives programs.  The section on ancient Rome also contains a warning that we too would embrace watching gladiators slaughter each other for our amusement if it were a normal part of our society; it is certainly possible to imagine Hughes seeing an NFL game playing in an airport and throwing a decanter of sherry at the screen in disgust as the crowd  howls in approval for something James Harrison has done .
In defense of twentieth century America, smashing into people about the head is only a small part 
of the intricate ballet that is football and also you cannot use swords

Rome hits its stride in the Renaissance which brought breathtaking works to the city in a confluence of ambitious, powerful Popes, astronomically talented artists, and ideological pressure to reassert the power of the Church through grand artistic statements.  Yet, my favorite part of the chapter revolves around the host of unknown everyday Romans who appropriated classical statues in order to level sarcastic barbs at the government.  Thus, a charmingly dilapidated Roman statue of Menelaus became Pasquino, the mouthpiece for disaffected Romans.  Romans placed flyers depicting Pasquino's sayings under the statue as a makeshift  speech bubble.  Soon, he began to talk to other statues, especially a nearby likeness of Oceanus dubbed Marforio.  In the sixteenth century, Pasquino became an outlet for critical couplets, such as one attacking Sixtus V's vast building projects: "We've had it up to here with obelisks and fountains: It's bread we want, bread, bread, bread!"  The attacks could get more personal.  For example, Hughes describes a dirty shirt that appeared on Pasquino. Pasquino explained to Marforio that he wore the shirt because the Pope's former washerwoman sister had become a princess.  This pasquinade appeared to go too far.  Sixtus lured the satirist to the authorities with the promise to spare his life and give a handsome reward, but then also chopped off the man's hands and bore through his tongue.  According to Hughes, a this punishment did not deter Roman wits: 
The very next Sunday Pasquino was seen draped in a still-wet freshly laundered shirt, set to dry in the sun.  Marforio wondered why he couldn't wait until Monday.  "There's no time to lose," said Pasquino, thinking of His Holiness's taxation habits.  "If I stay until tomorrow perhaps I'll have to pay for the sunshine."

Pasquino and Marforio, the Statler and Waldorf of early modern Rome

Another wonderful section depicts the Italian futurists, who fulfilled the important modern art function of rejecting everything and issuing manifestos about the transformation of society.  Hughes lingers on the futurist Filippo Marinetti's crusade against pasta ("Ugh!  What piggish stuff, macaroni!") and the introduction of futurist food:
Thus the "Aeropainter" Fillia (the pseudonym of the Torinese artist Luigi Colombo) proposed what he termed "Aerofood."  the diner is served from the right with black olives, fennel hearts, and kumquats; to his left, a waiter places a rectangle made of sandpaper, silk, and velvet which he strokes as he eats, enjoying the contrasts of taste and texture.  As he eats, waiters spray the back of his neck with a conprofumo of carnations while, from an unseen source in the kitchen, the violent roar of an aircraft motor (conrumore) and some musical accompaniment by Bach (dismusica) are heard.
 Another dish called "Chickenfiat" involved stuffing a chicken with ball bearings to capture the flavor of the steel balls.

Rome is an excellent tribute to Rome's sublime and ridiculous.  His passion for the city comes through whether he is defending an artist he believes has been unfairly marginalized or rails against blights on his beloved landscape, such as the Victor Emmanuel monument dismissed as a "cyclopean monster" and "national urinal." 


The city of Evanston is significantly less eternal than Rome.  Nevertheless, Pat Fitzgerald and his council of advisers hope to make an architectural contribution by bathing it in the purple light of the Crown tower as much as humanly possible.  With the stagnation of the Cubs into a farm club for more successful baseball teams, an injury-ridden rump Bulls, and the Bears facing unrealistic Super Bowl aspirations, it should be a long August.  In the meantime, we can fill our time by falling into a patriotic fever asserting our superiority against the world in archery and horse-sports.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

"Carlos Marmol, a relief pitcher whose specialty is dead-eyed mystification at how the bases continue to be loaded."

Thanks for that.