Magnetic Ear

Just heard from my man Martin Krusche after many, many, months. An ex-Red Hookian, he reestablished himself in New Orleans just in time to get battered by Hurricane Katrina. But the hurricane didn't put a damper on his mad saxophonal activities. He sends a link to the webpage of his band, and for the first time in the history of my interaction with the world wide web I couldn't help myself from just sitting there while I let the ill funk vibes of the sick Nwalins sounds, playing off the splash page, wash right over me. I listened for a while, and then finally clicked through to the information page, where I promptly ordered the whole album. I can hardly wait for it to arrive.


eBay singlehandedly rescues Zimbabwean economy from the doldrums

The Zimbabwean 100 Billion Dollar Bill, with a current street value in Harare of somewhere between five and fifteen US cents, is so hard to come by that they are going for up to $100 US on eBay. That kind of action could reverse the tide of hyperinflation.


And I thought the US dollar was weak... UPDATED

the one cent, through to the fifty thousand

and from the five hundred thousand to the fifty million...

Seeing this story about the new 100 billion dollar bill reminded me that our Zimbabwe correspondent, at my special request, sent some photos not too long ago to illustrate the astonishing explosion of numerals plaguing the Zim dollar. Although we are proud that our correspondent has maintained a complete collection of all the banknotes issued throughout the course of Zimbabwe's ongoing hyperinflation, things have been a bit hectic over here at antarcticiana and we never quite got around to running them.

you do the math... and have a close look at the expiry dates

By the time some corrupt functionary admits there is a problem and the determination is made to authorize the printing of yet another round of silly-sounding monopolyesque tissue paper denominated in the multi-millions, the new, ballyhooed note is more than likely already close to worthless. The fifty-million dollar bill pictured here was the biggest available in April. Now it's July and one-hundred billion dollars aren't enough for bus fare. One Hundred Billion Dollars! Why, a normal country could wage war against Iraq for several months, fueling their entire military-industrial complex, with that kind of money! Coming soon, the "one to the nth power" note, with a blank space for the user to fill in the exponent of his or her choice.

Photo credits withheld pending the reestablishment of Zimbabwean democracy

UPDATE: In the latest twist on this farce, renewed sanctions against the government by European powers in the wake of the recent, flagrant, election-theft in Zimbabwe have cut off all exports of bank-note paper. The Guardian has the story. The result is that the government, despite desperately printing money (almost) as fast as they can spend it, has nonetheless run out of currency, and cannot pay the security apparatus that is propping up the regime.

One delicious detail in the story is that the former provider of the watermarked paper is none other than the German firm, Giesecke & Devrient, which both printed Germany's money during the Weimar Republic hyperinflation between the two great wars, and supplied Rhodesia's white regime with their currency. As one might imagine, they have only cut off supplies to Zimbabwe in response to pressure brought by their own government.

Obviously, it is time for the ministry of finance to get serious about recycling the countless sheaves of worthless notes issued over the last couple of years, except that by the time they collect, bleach, and reprint a one dollar bill as a one-hundred billion dollar bill they will have spent far more than the final product is worth. As of this morning, when the Guardian went to press, the Zim 100 Billion was worth about fifteen US cents. I imagine it is worth rather less by now.


A swift kick in the Assateague...

Our major concern after arriving late in the afternoon to camp at the Assateague Island National Seashore, en route to North Carolina, was whether or not we would see horses. An evening walk on the beach revealed a high-tide line strewn with an endless collection of horsepucky, so the beasts were obviously about, but the dusk arrival of dense, vicious clouds of black mosquitos sent us running for cover before any actual horses were to be found.

At dawn, with the sun rising out of the ocean and over the dunes, our fears of missing out proved to be unfounded, when we were woken by a loud ripping sound, as of trees being uprooted. But we were camped in the dunes, and there were no trees within a stone's throw of the tent. I peered through the filmy gauze of the mosquito netting. There, all but nuzzling the tent stakes, munching on the grass only a few feet outside the wispy nylon wall, were the wild horses of Assateague. The sound was so loud it sounded to me as if they were chewing on the tufts of hair growing out of my ears.

(Assateague is no place to forget your tent; it might be better named the Assateague Island National Mosquito Infestation Zone).


Emergency Garden Intervention

The phone rang. An agitated voice on the other end of the line: "we don't have much time." The voice, familiar, despite a tremble in the vocal cords. From the neighborhood, maybe. A pause: "you gotta help us. The demolition crew is coming in next week, and then it will all be over. Curtains." Turns out to be Gita Nandan, calling for backup. One of those fabulous architects, you've heard of 'em, the thread collective. Word on the street was they had yet another major commission to gut, extend and greenify a classic Brooklyn two-family brick number, just across the Gowanus. Rip the house apart. Build it back better. You wanna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs. For a frittata you also need some chopped onions, maybe a little parsley. But I digress. See, the thing was, along with the back wall, the whole garden had to go. Dig it up and move it out, or it was all going under in an avalanche of sheetrock dust and powdered brick. A chlorophyll holocaust. Ugly. The voice finished up the sob story, almost pleading: "What do you think?"

Thunderheads were rolling in, and it was getting dark fast, but we grabbed the shovels and headed for the truck.

Before: moments after arriving, the team makes an initial assessment.

Prognosis: positive. There's enough oregano here to keep the whole block fragrant. If we can get it back across the canal in one piece.

Jens Veneman gleefully displays a particularly succulent specimen.

Laura attacks a massive, tangled mat of irises.

I'm temporarily stunned into immobility by the crazy leverage.

In his urgent tussling with a recalcitrant rose, Veneman pops a sag, also known as "plumber's crack." In the gardening trade we call this "offering the vase," since the quick fingered usually waste no time finding a choice bloom to tuck right in there.

Total committment to the mission: Squadron leader PJ shows off his shovel tattoo. Nice guns, dude.

PJ, a full-time professional (as one might judge from his tatt) looks rather dismayed by some of the amateurish digging going on around him.

Jens and Gita wrestle a massive grapevine into submission. See you at the wine tasting!

After: Mission accomplished. Nothing remains but a manky mat of dianthus. You can't give that stuff away.

What's another name for pirate treasure? The trusty Toyota, locked and loaded with rescued greenery.

Buh buh buh booty! The haul, splayed out on the steps back in Red Hook.

All Photos Courtesy Sophia Fleming Benite


Governor's Island Sculpture Fest

Tootling about the harbor on various subsidized ferries beneath the splishing and splashing of Eliasson's waterfalls, strolling across manicured lawns overflowing with sculpture and perusing the public galleries of Governor's Island, we new yorkers might be forgiven for thinking we suddenly live in Copenhagen. Or Amsterdam, or one of those other civilized cities where recreation and culture go hand-in-hand, provided absolutely free-of-charge to an entitled citizenry by an enlightened government. It's shocking, really.

On a recent trip to see the sculpture of that notorious Red Hook blacksmith, Mr. Norbert Kimmel, we could have left our wallets at home without in the least reducing the fun quotient. And this in the city where Rudy Giuliani urged the populace to go shopping in the wake of 9/11. After taking the addictive, free IKEA water-taxi service through the harbor to South Street Seaport, a brief few hundred yards of cycling down the shoreline brought us to the also-free Governor's Island ferry, which transported us halfway back towards Red Hook from its glorious old copper-green patinaed terminal. Here, on the grounds of the old Coast Guard Academy, in a verdant, tranquil, campus-like setting, we picnicked on a pack lunch and wandered through courtyards filled with sculpture.

A bovine steel offering from Norbert Kimmel. The cow is a sandwich of three curvaceous steel bands, with the central body and head ingeniously suspended between the legs, making a giant spring that balances and nods in the breeze, as if the beast were about to put its head down and start munching grass. An adjacent building, perhaps former officer's quarters for coast guard instructors, was crammed with smaller and less weather-resistant sculptural works, including Kimmel's fabulous mandala-like wall-mounted lamps.

Wandering the island, we came across this shady lane, spookily named "Kimmel Rd."

The anxiety of the crowd: I very much liked this terra-cotta baby army of fat and nervous toddlers clumped together on the lawn, by Andy Liu. Clearly referencing the terra-cotta battalions of Dunhuong, below, this piece manages both historical resonance and science fiction. The portly, buddhaesque children, the seams from their castings running laterally from ear-to-ear, exposed and raw, traces of the cement umbilical cords connecting them to their creator, are obviously waiting for something. What? Intergalactic intervention? Deliverance? Although one hates to break up the set, and I'm generally opposed to putting statues in the garden, I'd love to see one of these out in the back yard, peering up through the jungle of tomato plants.

I also quite liked this squirrel's tail dispensary by Hartmut Stockter, offering cuteness to the rats of Governor's Island. The box, a sort of museum display case on burnished legs, is filled with squirrel tails. A ramp provides access for any rats desirous of beautifying themselves--all they need to do is stop on by and attach.

The trip to Governor's Island is worth making for the Manhattan views alone. On the way over we ran into honorary Red Hookians and fellow IKEA-ferry exploiters Kamilla Talbot and Michael Herstand, en route to enjoying yet another Governor's Island art opportunity. Talbot teaches watercolor painting at the New York Studio School, and one of the Governor's Island buildings held an exhibition of the work generated by her class.

We stopped in and found this beautiful and enormous Talbot watercolor, compiled from many separate square sheets. In a final eery coincidence, it was titled "Kimmel Road."