Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Map You Can't Fold (Una Mappa Che Non Può Chiuso)

Not too long ago I was driving around in my black sedan with dark tinted windows and observed another car to my right while waiting at a light. A lady was getting frustrated trying to fold up a map, which I'd think would label her from out of town. I don't usually have trouble folding maps, unless it has already been misfolded. Under those circumstances, I guess I understand the impatience and stress compounded when someone doesn't know where they are, have no GPS or prototype sextant, and are having trouble with basic eye to hand coordination.

If the lady had been around in late antiquity, she most likely would not have been having trouble folding her map in her car while waiting at a light. Back in those days, they had fancy mosaic maps like in Madaba, Jordan in the images below. It's just another reason that I find ancient frescos and mosaics interesting because maps written on skins and papyrus have long since been destroyed. Imagine folding one of these marble beauties up...

Concerning the Madaba map specifically, I've just read an interesting book from a fellow named Bowersock from Harvard who saw the map as a guide for religious pilgrims about 1450 years ago. Even in the relatively small space it had available to depict cities, it showed characteristic elements of the cities that are known to have existed (towers, walls, buildings within). It's rumored to have sourced some of the information from an earlier Roman map by a guy named Eusebius.

In the book, Bowersock goes on to point out personfication images of a few particular cities. It was kind of weird, but back in the day towns made images of how they would imagine (hmm, image and imagine are eerily similar words) that their city would look if it were a person. And, if that person was a female, seated, usually with a crown, holding a scepter, orb of victory, a television remote, or other item that more or less identified the place. These images are sometimes referred to as Tyche. The seated lady below is from the Tabula Peutingeriana drawn in the 12th century or so copied from ancient map sources that had not yet been destroyed.

In the city of Madaba, a mosaic of personified Rome (left), Madaba (right), and a city of which there isn't a definite record of existence called 'Gregoria' (center) were personified. Is there another 'Pompeii' buried out there? Under a landslide / earthquake? Maybe sunken deeply in a marsh? Notice that the Constantinople from the Tabula Peutingeriana above looks nothing like the 'Gregoria' mosaic below.

Bowersock supposes through tenuous evidence it might be referring to Constantinople, but no one knows. The supposition is that since Gregoria was the wife of Constantine III around 630 AD and Constantinople was her 'hood'. But, the Madaba map creation was about 60 years before the wedding because of buildings known to be created in Jerulsalem in 570AD were not present in the Madaba map, so it doesn't make much sense that the personification would be named that way. So it's time for a treasure hunt?

Ok, enough boring history stuff. I was tagged by Heather at Welsh Happenings to do a meme. I'm too busy to tag people, so if you feel like it, you know the drill (by that, um, I don't mean power tools).

Let's see... 10 things that make me happy.
1) Working with natural stone in various colors
2) Lavazza Blu lattes
3) Spending time in the spa / pool
4) Running while listening to rocking music
5) Traveling to distant lands
6) Speaking Italian and having native people get the gist of what I'm saying.
7) Buying tromp l'oeil paintings
8) Talking with artists I admire like like Andjelka

Monday, January 18, 2010

Edgy Guitar Playing and Ice (Sono Incapace Suonare la Chitarra)

Did I mention that last week in Dallas was cold by almost anyone's standards? So cold in fact, it exposed a flaw in a city required safety device for the pool. Apparently, having two drain holes on the bottom of a pool to prevent kids and adult morons from getting stuck is not enough. There also needs to be a pressure sensor that prevents water from flowing if someone manages to cover both drain holes simultaneously at the bottom of the pool. Since these drain holes are really far apart, I'd say they were trying to end it all if this device is the one that will start up to save them.

Anyway, the device (with water in it) froze up and so did all of my pool equipment. They are fixing the last of it for free today (or I was going to file a complaint or two and have some fun in small claims court). Here is a photo of something you won't see often in Texas.

Last week also, Jenny Mac asked about a comment I made on her post. I realized most people don't know the secret to 'The Edge' guitar playing is to just turn on the 420 millisecond delay, so I thought I would record a video of 420 millisecond delay in action... Don't laugh on some of my messed up notes because I don't have time to play much or practice. Here is the patch in my guitar effects processor, aptly named?

And here is my awful guitar playing... Sorry MiniMac, no sunglasses today like 'The Edge'.

Ok, I hope ears are not bleeding now, you can stop laughing, this isn't American Idol or X Factor.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Conflagration (Conflagrazione)

A recent post concerning fire from Molly Potter made me remember a fun filled fire story of my own.

When I was fourteen years old living in Dallas, my father commuted to a town out west of Fort Worth to help my granddad with the family oil exploration business. When not in school, my seven year old brother and I would stay home with mom and be bored, typically finding some sort of trouble to get into.

That particular autumn weekend of the 'conflagration', I remember very clearly it was two weeks before we were to pack up the house and move to a desolate town closer to where the current land leases on which the drilling was located. Mom had gone on an errand, and we were home alone and thinking of playing around with model rockets on account of it was too cold to swim.

By this point in my adolescence, I was no stranger to model rocketry. I had built and successfully fired multistage rockets using both solid and liquid fuel, some of which had gone a mile or so high (the altitude being inversely proportional to the likelihood of finding the rocket as demonstrated in the chart below).

So in effect, I was overly familiar with rocket engines and had unfortunately lost some of the respect for safety that most normal people might have for devices that create literally tens of pounds of thrust spewing out a firey wake of destruction.

On this day and true to form for being a particularly lazy teenager, I didn't want to go to all the hassle of firing an actual rocket, or even using a remotely controlled electrical igniter as was the fashion in those days. No, of course I did the expedient thing and reasoned out that a well placed lit match in the clay cone nozzle of the engine would do the trick. But I worked out that the thrust had to be controlled (no jokes OWO) so it would be an even burn, much like a NASA test firing of an engine.

So, I logically found the nearest knothole in the wooden fence separating our yard from the neighbor's yard. Behind this knothole was a fencepost that would absorb most of the thrust and prevent the engine from shooting through to the other side. Matches were at the ready and my little brother stood there watching wide eyed...

I have to mention that next to us lived a family with a mean and mischievous little girl. She was always the sort that threw rocks at cars parked outside and was caught by her parents playing with matches on the side of her house a few weeks earlier. I had never heard her parents yelling at her as loud as when that happened.

Anyway, after striking the match and deftly placing it right in the nozzle while simultaneously jerking back my hand in one fluid catlike motion, the engine was lit. And for those of you 'in the know' about model rocket engines, it happened to be an Estes model D-12-3, which is a long burning and high newton thrust engine with a three second pause before an ejection charge designed to clear out a parachute from the model rocket. My brother and I gleefully watched the engine shooting
out a trail of fire over our pool deck, and then it happened.

Something went horribly wrong six seconds into the burn. I had not anticipated lateral motion against the fence post, so the engine (with rocket-like speed) shot through the hole to the other side of the fence. Of course, the first thing I do is look through the knothole and see the sickening sight of the engine spinning around in a circle shooting fire everywhere over dry leaves that had accumulated in the neighbors' yard. My brother asked 'What's wrong?', to which I responded 'We have a problem.'

I had the presence of mind to immediately grab a bucket. I quickly dunked it in the pool, then scrambled around the gates to the neighbors' yard quickly throwing water down and stamping and stamping it out, even while the engine was shooting out it's last ejection charge. I ran back and dumped four more buckets of water on it all just to be sure everything was out. Then I was left with the minor problem of an eight foot diameter circle of charred earth that someone was going to find out about before too long. So I did the dishonorable thing and pushed adjacent leaves over the blackened area.

For the following week my brother and I said nothing. The next weekend as we were packing up the moving van to leave, I could hear the little girl's mother yelling at her and managed to witness some of the ensuing punishment.

Quando giovane, ho iniziato un motore di razzo con un fiammifero. Non è stato controllato!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Stone Cold Carrara (Pietre di Carrara)

When in Italy back in October I took a train from Firenza (Florence to you English-city name-in-foreign-country insistent types) to Carrara (also called Carrara in English). This little coastal town is basically one of the best sources of marble and stone processing in the entire world. Michealangelo (Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti, no one ever knows his full name) walked these very mountains and quarries looking for likely pieces to carve famous sculptures in. Isn't it weird how the name Buonarroti kind of means 'good breaking' in Italian, and he was a sculptor? Whoa...

Here is one of the largest processors in town, Marmi di Carrara. Check out the comically large cranes for hoisting the blocks. They have gigantic saws too. I wonder if they ever sawed a car apart? You could make a stretch limo pretty easily there I think.

As a digression, here is an American sculptor I admire who picked out a *huge* piece of marble himself from a quarry in Colorado, then proceeded to carve a grand piano and a lady on it!!!

Back to Italy, Carrara has some of the best state of the art marble processing facilities and is one of the largest processors of marble blocks. Blocks are the form that they get the marble down from the cliffside in. They drill holes in the mountain, blast, and run like hell to avoid hundreds of tons of falling stone.
Here are some blocks that evidently landed perfectly on the back of a transport truck.

The city itself is small, but nice and friendly. Everywhere, the patios use expensive scraps of white marble tile. I felt like Augustus Gloop when he saw the chocolate river since beautiful stone was everywhere. I walked *all* over that town and I was able to make several industry contacts there, so it was a good trip.
Here is an enormous pot carved out of a single block (I hope I don't get any bad searchers because of using the words 'enormous' and 'pot'). You know how your shadow gets larger when the sun is behind you and casting forward? Well, think about how big this pot is now...

From the rough block form, marble goes through a few steps before it gets to the tile that you might walk across in your garage or coat closet. First, they saw these blocks down into smaller block pieces that they then further saw down into slabs (used commonly for countertops, etc). They then take some of the slabs and saw those down into tiles of various thicknesses and sizes. Typically, they'll put these tiles in a polishing maching to get that 'glossy' finish.

Since I like old looking stuff, I always use the back side of the tile and sand that down to where it's smooth, but not glossy. This state of marble is called 'honed'.

Some chunks of the big blocks are left in larger pieces which they carve fireplaces and things like that from. In the industry, these pieces are called 'cut-to-size'. I need to get some of these pieces for some statuary that I want to do, but it's a bit costly since even a piece big enough to carve a lifesized head would weigh around 300 lbs.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Oh, it's on...

I could probably bore you with a chariot race story or something, but I'm about to watch the *said in the voice of the assistant coach on the film 'American Pie'* culm-i-nation! of a great year of college football. Of course by that I mean my university's football team playing in the national championship bowl.

So if you are from Alabama, you can just go to hell. To everyone else, come on in because I'll be watching the bigscreen...


Monday, January 4, 2010

Making Gulasch With Control (Fatto Guilloche e Telecomandos)

I hope that everyone had a great holiday weekend. Mine involved a lot of time in the hot spa under a 6 meter column of steam while having either a nice latte or champagne, depending on whether it was early or late in the day.

I saw the 'Avatar' film in 3D IMax format. It was fun to look at, but I couldn't figure out why they kept talking about Ewoks in the dialog though, wasn't that in Star Wars?

Also on the agenda was mosaic work, so I started operation 'triclinium' with a vengeance. I made mosaic bordering which will go around the actual 'art' mosaics in the center section of my three couches. I followed the Roman provincial style (Arles) of guilloche border (staying true to the colors of the ancient ones).

And finally, advancing the illogical tie between religion and rampant consumerism, I purchased the best thing ever. I'm now the proud owner of a Sony AX4000 remote control. This little device allows me to stow away the 13 different remotes which were littering my home like little unfortunate tsunami victims washing up on the couch or countertops. I even retrofitted some infra-red light dimmers in a few rooms so I could use it to swipe my finger across it to set the mood, if you know what I mean.*

* that is, suavely set the lights in the media room so I can watch the University of Texas Longhorns defeat Alabama this Thursday.

Lo scorso fine settimana, ho fatto i confini del mosaico per un triclinio. Inoltre, ho comprato un telecomando super!!!