Friday, July 31, 2009

Wine Tasting, Ancient Style (Assaggio del Vino, Antiche)

Who among us has never gone to a wine tasting party? We're talking about the kind in which the host wraps up bottles brought by party goers, then gives the secret bottles numerical identities, and paper and pen to the guests for writing tasting notes and voting for the favorite.

I enjoy being a bit bipolar in my reviewing technique, mostly for comedy, but if you are going to the trouble of reviewing something, why be bland about it?

If a wine happens to fall below average, I mock it relentlessly with the tasting notes. Things end up on my sheet like 'Old rotten saddle leather ridden by a leaky Cherry Kool Aid Man for weeks' or 'Everything that Cavit strives for, but worse and with a powerful cumin flavor and gorgonzola bouquet'.

But if a wine is better, I skew the results of comments wildly in the other direction. The prose on the notes quickly changes to the likes of 'A wine that thumps you on the head and demands respect. Complex lingering finish with vanilla and currant having just the right amount of French oak aging', that kind of thing.
All of it of course is rooted in a few grains of truth about the wine being tasted.

We have a wide variety of wine available today, but the ancients had a fair selection also. Wine came to ancient Italy from the Greeks at about 600 BC, and has been made there ever since. Pompeii itself was a major distribution port for wine, and if you go there today you can take pictures of the rows and rows of formerly wine containing amphorae like I did.

After Pompeii was destroyed in 79AD, the Romans got a bit protective of their wine trade a few years after that and had vineyards destroyed outside of Italy in 92AD under Emperor Domitian.

Here are some grapes I took a photo of in France near Chateau St. Maur last year that managed to escape Roman uprooting.

At this point, you might be wondering 'how did the ancients get the wine to ferment with no internet and readily accessible Home Booze Kit(tm) or yeast?'
Well, yeast occurs naturally on the grapes. There are recorded instances of birds eating overly ripe fruit and flying erratically into walls because they are over the legal intoxication limit for flying!

Anyway, as the Romans picked and stomped (not in the Country Western music sense), they left the skins in the amphorae with the juice and it happened all by itself. I would like to believe they were smart enough to just pour back part of a bottle into the new batches, so the strain of yeast would become more refined and specialized
over time.

Here is a picture of a remarkably well preserved ancient wine press in Israel, but some have also been found in Italy.

Some random Roman wine fun facts:

  • Senator Cato (contemporary of Julius Caesar) wrote extensively on wine, as did Pliny.

  • It's documented that sweet white wine was the most valuable in ancient times.

  • They used to sweeten some varieties of ancient wine with lead!

I think this weekend, I'll open up a really old vintage Italian wine, unleaded.
Hope yours is good too.

Quando vado a di festa vino (prova di assaggio), scrivo le osservazioni divertenti circa come i gusti del vino. La storia italiana del vino è affascinante.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Awards, Guitar Riff, and Signs

There has been so much work, vacation planning, and tomfoolery going on for me lately. But I've been able to finally finish my old looking dedication sign.

Now I can have a pool built around it because, wow, it is really hot outside.

Also, one of my favorite people Zepo Lopez up in Oklahoma has awarded me the 'Blog it Forward' award. You know, now that I see the words 'forward' and 'award' so close together, it kind of freaks me out because they are so similar... It's a good tnihg I'm not dsylxeic.

Anyway, thanks very much Lopez, and I hereby pass the award along to some incredible *and* funny folks:

Grant Miller Media

GHenry at Goldfish Broth

Heather Cherry

Julia D at Homemade Hilarity

As you can see, I've restricted my choices to a narrow band of the available alphabet spectrum this time. So, please read them and comment favorably because if I send people, I might get a coupon or something. Just kidding about the coupon.

But everyone wait, that's not all... I recorded a little goofy guitar riff (not enough spare time these days to record the whole enchilada) for Lopez because she twittered that she was putting in some quality time at a casino. Let this abbreviated riff be a warning to not ever gamble what you cannot afford to lose (Animals House of Rising Sun).

Of course, she is a seasoned poker player from what I've heard. I kind of think that with enough card hands, poker is more of a game of skill than actual gambling. What do you guys think of skill vs. gambling where poker is concerned?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Strange Photos and Sundials (Fotografie Bizzaro e Orologi del Sole)

My camera phone saw a few strange things today. An experimental street light at the Dallas Museum of Art's sculpture garden... Maybe they didn't think it all the way through.

On the way to work, I saw a horse getting hauled off to jail after obviously being arrested. I wonder what it did? It looked very guilty.

My elevator on the 48th floor was having all 660 feet of cable replaced because the old ones were fraying and about to snap (kidding, they were reclaiming the much more valuable copper, I think). Maybe I'll run down the stairs this afternoon instead of taking the elevator (stairs actually take 6 minutes and 30 seconds).

Over by Southfork Ranch, someone left a few stacks of gigantic number 2 pencils, they must have forgotten the sharpener.

Sunlight streamed in this morning and hit my muse bust in exactly the right proportions to make it light up as if intentional. This made me think of how that actually probably only happens exactly right once every year. Kind of like the Office episode where all the characters are watching the screen saver to bounce in *exactly* one of the corners in pure diagonal movement.

And this is the roundabout way of getting to the subject of time in the ancient world. In antiquity there were a few obvious ways of telling time better than looking up and just observing the sun's location.

One way was to burn accurate candles. In order for it to be big enough for a whole city to see, can you imagine the Roman equivalent of Big Ben being replaced each day? But it would probably be nothing but trouble, since Roman candles shoot firey exploding balls all over the place.

Another way to tell time which had been around for a while was the water clock. But its operation was somewhat sketchy in freezing weather, plus they didn't have electric pumps to refill the water all the time.

The sundials however, were accurate on most sunny days. They even used the sundials to calibrate the water clocks. So maybe it was sundial during the day waterclock at night? Plus, the sundials were portable. Imagine glancing down at this baby on your way to an important business meeting on the Palantine (Collis Palatium).

I might just be motivated enough to build me a proper sundial that throws down shadows and also points out mosaic months of the year. You know, in case my water clock goes dry. Ooops, its a shade past time to go...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Work In Progress and Tour (Lavori in Corso e Chiamata)

Last weekend, I made a bit more progress on the ancient marble sign. Now I only have one line to go plus the thin chamfered marble border I'll be putting around it as a frame. I need to take a better picture with shading for the full effect of how legible from a distance this is, but the sun went behind one of the rare clouds we have in a Texas summer.

I love the way it looks now without any leftover pencil markings, it's more 'real' looking to me now.

Also, my Chi-Ro mosaic is pretty much done. I was thinking about bordering with gold Orsoni tile and offering up to the Vatican in exchange for a special backstage pass for the archaeological area under St. Peters Cathedral. I would be finished with several of these projects by now if not for picking and booking apartments and hotels for Italy. Maybe I'm too particular?

And now, away from the 'normal' format whatever that is... Mr. Condescending asked several bloggers the following questions probably in an effort to determine whose place he wants to visit most with his favorite trailer park family in tow. By the way, to keep it clear, this is no form of invite. If I come back late and you have broken in and are eating and drinking in the media room, I'll be figuratively releasing the hounds on you. Careful, remember this is Texas.
  • What books are on your favorite shelf?
  • What DVD's are on your favorite shelf?
  • What are your TWO favorite cookbooks.
  • Select 1-3 recipes you will cook for your special guest.
  • What will we be drinking that is available?

To drink, there is water of course, various beverages, and access to this open bar. The expensive stuff is locked away until I know you much better.

I eat out often, but in case I get the culinary urge that actually requires instruction, I put on my official Brinker International chef pants with the black and white vertical stripes and my Chilis corporate tshirt and pull out these two cookbooks.
The first one is Emiril's Delmonico and from it I would recommend the Chicken Delmonico with the house salad. The second cookbook is Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Recipies. This one has always fascinated me because I love copying stuff you get out in restaurants. For example, I never would have imagined putting powdered sugar on fried chicken is how Chick-Fil-A makes its distinctive coating. Anyway, I'd recommend the nice prime petit fillet in the style of Ruth Chris' steakhouse from this book.

As for DVD's I usually throw away the cluttery plastic boxes and just keep them in big binders, but I did have some to put on display. If you squint, you can probably make out 'Rounders', 'Tombstone', 'Gross Pointe Blank', 'La Vita e Bella', 'Better Off Dead', and 'Star Wars' among others (by squint I mean seeing the titles on the movie boxes, not the movies on the screen. You'd have to be on the farthest back row for that to be a problem).

And finally, here is a bookshelf. Can anyone spot the book printed more than 100 years ago? I have various books on mosaic, fresco, history, language, sculpture, music and various literature.

Il mio segno di marmo quasi è completato. Se visitiate, immagini sopra che cosa là è di fare. Nessuna preoccupazione, ho parecchie pellicole con di lingua italiana. Ciaooo!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Foundations of a Good Pavement

I've been interested lately in the ancient ways of laying down a foundation because I'm thinking of doing a large 80m sq outside pavement that will more or less serve as a canvas for some mosaics I have in mind. Maybe make a few bronze legged ancient couches and such for lounging around said pavement.

The books of architecture by Vitruvius in classical antiquity really cast a light on how they built things to last, and why some of the buildings in the Roman forum are still standing, even with several tons of stone supported for thousands of years. I also think those Seven-Eleven convenience stores on the Appian Way will be there forever because of this.

In Book 7 chapter 1, Vitruvius covers the proper way to lay down a pavement or foundation. First, they hammered the soil down to compact it tighter than your glutes after an hour of squats, and then set a layer of logs on the ground on top of that. Next, at least six inches of stone were set down on the logs, followed by 12 inches of the smaller stone cemented together with lime which was compacted by beating it with wood.

But that's not all... Then an upper layer of another 6 inches, this time more rich in lime, was set with stones and leveled off. Finally the slab pieces or mosaic tessarae were mortared on to that. So back in the day, they used 2/3 meter thick foundations. Very impressive, much more thick and longer lasting than the foundations of today.

And now for something completely different, OtherWorldlyOne (warning, a bit salty sometimes) picked me for another one of those questiony things. I like her comments and blog, so who am I to turn that down? Feel free to do this one if you like.

So here are ten things not previously published about me (that I'm aware of).

  • On the piano, I can pick out a note I hear in the first try, but it's always exactly 1 and 1/2 steps off. I blame years of playing the trumpet, which is a B flat instrument to the piano's key of C.

  • The tops of my feet have absolutely no hair.

  • I've never had a tattoo or piercing of any kind, and never felt the need to get one.

  • I karaoke sometimes, but unfortunately I sound similar to Billy Joel.

  • As a kid, I always wanted to play hockey, but there was not much ice in Texas so I couldn't.

  • I was blessed with an unnaturally good sense of balance and can still do an unhealthy amount of skateboarding tricks including multiple 360s.

  • When I make margaritas, they always use small amounts of Cointreau and pineapple juice, and are always on the rocks because frozen is just not the way to go.

  • I have never been to South America, even though boat chartering is less expensive there. At some point, I want to go hiking to see Machu Picchu.

  • I used to be able to throw a really wicked baseball breaking pitch, but haven't tried in a while.

  • When I was 12 years old, I took the SAT (college admissions test) because Duke University wanted me to.

So there you have it!

Have a great weekend all, I'll be working the marble and studying the Italian if you know what I mean...
PS - Like my ironic subject made in Photoshop?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Your Most or Least Favorite Remakes?

Not directly concerning art or old stuff, but in the spirit of the neoclassic, particularly the retro aspect of enjoying something that used to be, does anyone out there have favorite song remakes?

It doesn't really matter about genre, time period or anything, I was just curious what some of the better remakes are in your opinions. Also, what are the worst of the terrible remakes for you?

Song remakes that might be better than original to me:
'Every Little Thing She Does' - Ra (originally Police?)
'Don't Dream it's Over' - Sixpence None the Richer (Crowded House)
'O Sole Mio' - Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies (traditional Italian)
'Life is a Highway' - Rascal Flatts (Tom Cochrane?)
'Unchained Melody' - Sanchez (Righteous Bros?)

Can't tell if these are worse song remakes or just regular awful:
'American Pie' - Madonna (Don McLean?)
'I Love Rock and Roll' - Britney Spears (Joan Jett)
'Bringin on the Heartbreak' - Mariah Carey (Def Leppard?)
'Walk the Line' - Travis Tritt (Johnny Cash)
'How You Remind Me' / 'Someday' (Nickelback covered themselves)

Completely unrelated, here is a great J. Davenport tromp l'oeil painting, 'Territorial', for you to consider, and while you do that I'll be going through your stuff*.

* Jack Handey reference...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Carving like a Slave (Intagliando Come uno Schiavo...)

I've just been carving marble like a slave this weekend. A highly trained slave with some cold Japanese beer, which I'm pretty sure they didn't have back in the olden days. Well, I take that back, because in the first century AD, 30% of the entire population of Rome was made up of slaves, so they probably had beer readily accessible, but I'm not entirely sure if they'd made contact with the Japanese yet.

Did I mention it was hot outside? It was 103F / 39.4C outside and I was feeling it.

Here are some pictures of the progression as of Saturday. I love the way the V-incised letters cast shadows. This kind of result cannot be obtained through sandblasting with a rubber mat (the quick and skill-less alternative). The curves in the letters are particularly fun to carve (as I found out with the 'D', and then the 'C' on Sunday).

Also, I've been booking hotel rooms for the Italy trip. Mom (who I'm taking) is excited, and I can't wait to be back in Venice again.

Clearly visible is my Tom Perkins book, which is the best book on stone lettering I've ever even heard of. His work is amazing and the book is too, and has helped me realize this project.

Sto intagliando le lettere in un segno di pietra. La birra ha aiutato a me per non essere uno schiavo. Sarò in Italia in ottobre se chiunque ha marmi buona da vendere a me. ;)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Where in the World is The Ancient Travel Writer?

If you are ever chiseling marble, remember to either wear a glove or don't grip the chisel too tightly. It is really hard to type right now because my chisel holding hand is tingling more than it did the time I touched the pretty wires behind the tree at Christmas when I was four.

The paonazzo marble I'm carving has been cutting beautifully under the chisel like snow, really really hard crystaline white snow. But, I'm only done with a small part, so today I'll discuss a possible link between an ancient travel guide book writer and ruins I've seen. This is entirely a wild hypothesis and I've not seen it suggested anywhere.

The picture above is a panoramic picture of present day Delos, Greece. It is an island full of ruins and in many ways was the center of the Western world at one point.

Around 150 AD, a Greek named Pausanias (not to be confused with the famous general of the battle of Plataea in 470 BC), was travelling around the Greek mainland and recording various points of interest, rating restaurants with Michelin Stars and that sort of thing. All in all, he made 10 booklets covering the mainland of Greece. He was like the Rick Steves of ancient Greece.

Missing from this travel writer's ancient version of 'Frommers Guide' were the islands and the Southern Italian peninsula. These might be books that were written but will never be found. It would have been odd for him not to write about the islands since he had traveled at least as far East as Judea and West to Italy.

On the island of Delos, in the House of the Trident, there is a mosaic that matches very closely this old woodcut picture which recreates a different older carving. Notice the Latin and Greek inscription has the name of Pausanias and is related to the travel book writer.

The mosaic on Delos above through various scientific techniques is dated at the late first century (when the travel writer lived). Most people think the mosaic is a symbol of the Delian League related to the earlier general from the fifth century BC. Haha, some people will believe anything, huh? But, it's also possible that the travel writer Pausanias had lived on Delos for a time and the mosaic historically places him or family there.

What do you think? Do the symbols look similar enough to raise the question? Here is my copy of the Delos mosaic done in marble if you haven't seen it.

Also, has anyone ever been bored enough to flip through television channels and try to make words on the previous channel match up with the new channel in order to make sense? You aren't doing that game now are you? Well, I'll try to make the next post more interesting then...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Signs and Lost Marbles (Segno di Marmo, Pazzo)

This weekend between trips to the 24 Hr Fitness pool and such, I got out the 'tools of the marble carving trade' and sawed and sanded the awesome piece of marble that has been sitting in the workshop begging for attention. I tend to forget how heavy marble is until I have to hand-guide it across my diamond saw holding it steady to make precision cuts. This particular piece is a 1 x 0.4 meters and slab thickness.

If you try all this at home, be sure to get a round hammer, because when lettering with the flat chisels, every strike is always flush when you don't have to worry about the striking head turning at an angle. My two chisels are 6mm and 10mm, easily resharpened with abrasives such as sand paper, diamond pads, or toothpaste. They do not have names yet, mostly because that would just be weird and partly because only rock stars who play guitar can get away with that.

The marble specimen itself is Afyon Purple Paonazzo, which in ancient times would have been highly prized during Hadrian's reign because he apparently liked the stone. It has been quarried in Turkey (Phrygia) for thousands of years. I decided to use the non polished side of the slab for the carving because it will make the result look more genuine.

To get the layout right, I tried running it through the printer, but it didn't work very well and it kept saying 'PC Load Letter' whatever that means.

Then, the paper printout of the best version of Trajan font came out like the ambulance sign on the award winning Open Letters Blog, but that was ok, because it helped me with my layout of the text in the next step.

I ended up drawing the line spacing and text with a soft lead mechanical pencil, which worked very well.

Doesn't my paonazzo piece look similar to many of the ancient building floors in Rome? Here is the floor of the Pantheon.

Next, I'll start the v-incised letter carving itself, but the prep work had to be done. Still haven't decided whether to fill in the notched carving with bronze or some other gilded metal. If the notches of the letters are cut deep enough it should be visible from pretty far away, after all Rome had a few years to get the whole public signage thing right.

I'll be passing through Carrara Italy this fall, I wonder how much marble I can carry back?

Ho iniziato un segno in marmo per una piscina. Si spera, sembra molto vecchio. Può essere difficile per la progettazione lettere vecchio.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Aunt Irene's Sugar Jar (Vaso Zucchero di Irine)

Ohhhh... Vel Hellloooo der...

Below is a small realism work that caught my eye at the Ft. Worth Art Fair last year, 'Aunt Irene's Sugar Jar' by Brad Watson, so I bought it unframed. The frame I put on it is a standard barrister type with copper gilding done by yours truly with a bit of burnt umber over it to get rid of that annoying 'new penny' look and mix better with the colors presented in the painting.

A comment a few days ago from yet another funny Brit, The Jules, reminded me of gilding and some of the work I have done in that craft. Let's face it, most people can't afford to manufacture things out of solid gold, and even if they could, for things like crown molding, picture frames, or largish SUVs like Hummers, it would really be too heavy. So the idea is to cover the object with a thin layer of gold so you have the illusion of being gaudier than Donald Trump in a full length fur coat on jewelry bling day.

In ancient times they used some methods of gilding that, well, let's just say they were not particularly environmentally friendly. One such method was called fire gilding. It involved mixing gold with mercury.
Now not many people know that gold dissolves into mercury, which can be used to greatly amuse people you meet at cocktail parties. 'Who wants to see a magic trick? May I borrow your Rolex for a moment, Miss?'

Anyway, the gold-mercury mixture was brushed onto the object that needed to look like gold and then was exposed to a hot fire which vaporized the mercury, leaving the gold behind in a perfect shell. The color of this perfect shell was a little dull, so they apparently used agates to rub it down to get it back to a more brilliant yellow color.

Back then as today, inhaling mercury vapors is NOT a good thing. Some historians say that 60 workmen were killed by fumes from the fire gilding of the dome of St. Isaac's Cathederal in St. Petersburg, Russia. So whenever I burn mercury in alchemy experiments, I use a diving snorkel with fins and stand way back (kidding, DON'T do this).
Here is a mercury fountain in Spain that would probably help out with all of this.

The method I used for the picture frame border was glue gilding in which adhesive is brushed on, then gold leaf follows (or in the frame example above, copper leaf). In my experience, a fan brush worked best with this technique. Then you let it dry, and don't be afraid to put on multiple layers to make it really thick.

Maybe a really good trick to thwart burglars would be to gild all of your gold bullion bars with Velveeta, unless they were hungry for some queso and corn chips because that must be lots of work moving all those heavy expensive items out of houses. In any case, I suppose it would take them a while to scrape all the gilding off the media room moldings.

Per favore, non utilizzano mercurio per doratura!!!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Limey (Stucco Calce)

In sketching and laying out subjects to paint last night, I imagined a new painting project I have in mind would look best in fresco. And you can't have fresco, or a cuba libre for that matter, without lime. But the lime I'm talking about isn't this of course.

It's this, the same stuff I use as a temporary base for laying out the more complicated marble mosaics, lime plaster putty to be specific. It's different than the stuff that goes on the walls in more modern US construction (gypsum sheetrock).

Two years ago, I made several five gallon buckets of this by burning hydrated lime that you can buy in the local hardware store in large stainless pots (which made some of it revert to CaO which is necessary to get the putty just right). Then I mixed the super dried powder with distilled water and saw more bubbles than a Michael Jackson birthday party.

Be very cautious though if making lime at home. I wore some goggles because when you first pour the water into the lime to make putty, it is reactive in a way that would make a mad chemist's heart warm. And, the resulting splash of lime in the eye would definitely ruin your entire day (and maybe eyesight).

In ancient times, they had very large holes dug in the ground (pits, I think they call them), in which they would toss crushed limestone and burn it with large peat fires. Then they poured water into the pit to hydrate or 'slake' the lime to make it ready to use on walls, pinatas, or a weird army of decorative lawn jockeys.

Two thousand year old frescos still intact and with vivid color locked in is testament to how durable lime is after it dries completely. It basically loses moisture and reverts back to limestone. So after drying, it's now limestone shaped how you want it and with the images you have painted. I imagine if you put your mind to it and with enough effort, you could even make limestone rocks.

If you have the lime and want to do a fresco of your own, you need inert ingredients like marble dust, sand, or perfect diamonds to keep the lime from cracking as it dries and to add strength. Lay down a base coat 10mm thick on a frame (or on a prepared wall) at about 2:1 sand to lime.
After the base coat dries, wet it down and put an 'intonaco' skim coat on that 3mm thick with a 1:1 sand to lime ratio. When mixing the sand and lime, resist the temptation to add more lime even though it looks very sandy and doesn't mix well at first, eventually it will become plastic-ish and spreadable.

Here is one I did earlier this year, the next one will be a bit more involved.

On a completely unrelated matter, does anyone see a typo in the latin below that I want to carve into some marble? I'm not sure if liquid paper or backspace will work to correct any errors in the stone, so I want to be pretty sure it is right.


P.S. - a super prize for anyone that can interpret all parts of the inscription above.