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Posts from the ‘Art’ Category

Joker (2019) and Mental Health

Joker has always been my favorite villain. Throughout the comic lore and the two Joker movies I saw growing up (1989 with Jack Nicholson and 2008 with Heath Ledger) the character was wild and unpredictable, a force of sheer anarchy, in d&d terms a Chaotic Evil. He sat on a billion dollar cash throne, just to torch it for fun. He had no ideology. He “just wanted to watch the world burn.”

Todd Phillips reinvents the character. His incarnation of Joker (played well by Joaquin Phoenix) is the victim of unspeakable child neglect and abuse at the hands of a psychotic mother. Phillips portrays him not as a supernatural force of chaos but the very regular and predictable outcome of a society that left him behind.

Until the 1960’s, mental health patients were placed in insane asylums (“institutionalized”) which were a cross between hospitals and prisons. But eventually, new psychiatric drugs hit the market which could help most of those institutionalized be functional members of society. This, combined with a human-rights-based pushback against asylum imprisonment, created a movement called Deinstitutionalization. Rather than house mental health patients in prison-hospitals, the government would fund “community-based mental healthcare” so that a local distributed network of doctors at small clinics could meet regularly with patients. For most, mental illness was no longer a totalizing thing. It was one illness among others, so why not be free in society, as long as the needed support system is there?

JFK signed the CMHA (“Community Mental Health Act”) in 1963. The asylums were slowly drained of patients and new distributed networks became available so that former patients could integrate into society well. However, unlike the jumbo asylums that could not be easily defunded, the community-based systems had their budgets cut annually. They were never fully funded anyway, and over time shrunk at the hands of austerity. At the same time, the cost of private medicine continued to rise. Mental healthcare was less and less available over time.

Notice that Phillips sets Joker in the 1980’s. This is intentional. During the Reagan administration the budget cuts to mental healthcare accelerated. Reagan repealed the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980 (passed during the Carter administration), allowing state-level austerity to continue to dismantle the system. What happens in the movie? Joker goes to his local mental health office weekly, checks in with his therapist, and goes on with his normal life. Until the city government cuts the facility. Joker asks his therapist, “how am I going to get my medicine?” “I’m sorry,” she replies.

Then, absent his medicine, Joker slowly but absolutely loses his mind. Many people are killed. His bizarre fantasies become grandiose and violent. The film picks up its pace at this point, and the rest is pure showbiz.

Phillips didn’t make a movie about the Joker. He used the Joker to make a movie about us, and about those we have left behind.

After deinstitutionalization and the decimation of community-based mental healthcare, many people with mental illness have become homeless, and even more have become victims of mass-incarceration (so, prison-hospitals without the hospitals). For example, it is estimated that 1/3 of Cook County jail inmates have mental illness. This is why, rather than hire another warden, a few years ago they hired a psychologist as executive director of the prison. This is the insane asylum, but worse: less funding, less treatment, less patient rights, less trained staff, and on an unprecedented scale.

Joker may seem to pose the question “How could someone become so far gone?” Instead, it poses the reverse: “How could we do this to them?”

I’m pro-life. “Unplanned” is not worth seeing.

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Put aside production quality failures and Unplanned still does not work. Forget issues with lighting, camera angles, editing, pacing, colorization, any of it. Disregard whatever expectations you have of cinematography — because, let’s be honest, directors Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman of God’s Not Dead I & II fame are not trying to make a beautiful or sophisticated film. Meet Unplanned where it is at, which is not a film but a message-movie. Let’s focus only on the message.

I’m going to be generous here.

The argument against abortion in Unplanned is threefold. First, abortion looks gross. Visually you cannot watch it happen. To watch an abortion is to watch something bloody, gory, something alien to our sanitized suburban lifestyles. When you see an abortion on-screen you go, “Eww, gross.” It evokes a negative mind-body reaction. Second, the administration at Planned Parenthood is bad. Planned Parenthood makes profit-maximizing decisions and does not treat their employees well. They compare fetuses to french fries and soda, they speak in strict subject-predicate syntax and never use the passive voice, and they arbitrarily reprimand their employees (and later SLAPP sue them). Third, some people who stand at the Fence on Saturdays are good people who want to support women and provide them other options than having an abortion. Other people at the Fence are mean, but these certain ones treat women with respect and genuine kindness.

That’s all.

Grossness, Meanness, Kindness. These reasons can motivate any given person to become pro-life. I’m not denying that. And they come from Abby Johnson’s personal memoir. I see no real reason to doubt that these three reasons were significant in her conversion to the pro-life cause. (Though other aspects of the narrative are disputed). But they are unconvincing beyond sheer emotional appeal. Unfortunately that was not the case for the pro-choice arguments. As Abby becomes a Planned Parenthood advocate the audience is treated to many of the arguments that convinced her: (1) Women should have the right to choose, (2) Many women are in vulnerable living situations and can’t justify having a child, (3) Many teenagers are too young to responsibly raise children. These arguments can be easily diffused. Watch this: (1) Yes, but choices must be made in the moral-legislative context of democracy, so ultimately, we all must choose what we want our society to look like, whether pro-choice or pro-life. (2) Yes, which is why adoption matters. (3) Yes, which is why adoption matters.

I understand that the arguments are more complicated than this. But these basic argument-objection conversations were 100% absent from Unplanned. The movie didn’t go over any of them, at all. The only ones it attempted to address were that the fetus is a baby and that abortions are medically unsafe. (Neither of these are communicated fully in language, but they do get visually gruesome scenes). However, both of these objections are incorrect given the movie’s own reasoning. The movie depicts a 13 week fetus struggling against an abortion — this is Abby’s big conversion moment — but according to the oft-cited report from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the fetus cannot feel pain until 27 weeks, the third trimester, at which point most States ban abortion. The other point, that abortions are medically unsafe, was depicted with a young woman almost dying from a perforated uterus. However, medical complications from abortion are exceedingly rare. Honestly, let’s admit it, abortion isn’t an unsafe operation (for the woman!). Medical safety isn’t why we should reject it. We should reject abortion on other moral grounds — and anyways, if the whole argument is medical safety, then when medical science advances and abortion becomes less dangerous (for the woman!) than it already is, the argument gets even weaker.

So, Unplanned left me with a powerful emotional journey as Abby converted from the pro-choice to pro-life cause. That is an important testimony and a sign of God’s grace in her life, personally, and the power of God to transform anyone, whatever they are “complicit in,” as the movie interestingly remarks. Not “guilty for,” but “complicit in.” This is good language for discussing sin that we did not ourselves commit

Unfortunately, Unplanned failed to say really anything else meaningful about abortion.

Notice that I have avoided mentioning the technical, formal failures in this movie. There are so many. But in order to not look like a film snob who missed the directors’ point, I’ve withheld my specific critiques. And even now I won’t say them. Just watch the movie yourself, you will immediately, and I mean IMMEDIATELY spot them.

The production failure upset me, though, because abortion is a really serious topic. I believe that abortion is killing and that in the vast majority of cases such killing crosses a moral threshold into murder, so far past that moral threshold that it ought to be outright banned in nearly all contexts. We need a ban for the good of society at large and because abortion will have no place on the Mountain of God. This is eschatology in action, that one day all of humanity “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” The scalpels, clamps and suction devices used in abortion will one day find a new use in the New Jerusalem, a use that builds rather than destroys life.

So when this movie does such an awful job, cinematically, it upset me. Poor filmmaking makes a mockery of its subject. The directors of Unplanned should have known better, tried harder, and done more with their (honestly good-sized) budget ($6m). Abortion deserves a serious film.

I left the theater not more passionate about my pro-life convictions, but less.

5 movies you SLEPT ON in 2018 — and how to watch them now

It happens every year. Some movies don’t get the press they deserve and others become known only after the awards season ends. While in one of these cases it is an outrage that it received no Academy Award nominations (Leave No Trace), the other four simply did not get enough recognition to be considered. Here are five movies that I think deserved awards but got SLEPT ON, and how to view them.

Lean on Pete

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Andrew Haigh directed this movie with enough empathy that a sociopath could feel moved by the end. With an unsuspecting, tired premise (boy and his horse run away from home on an adventure across the Wild West), the plot quickly moves into its own territory. Haigh explores teen homelessness, what a distant father does to masculinity, and having to grieve without support. He does this in a script that easily beats half the Adapted Screenplay nominees. Charlie Plummer gives a stellar acting performance (he won Best Young Actor @ Venice IFF) and is supported by the also-stellar Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevigny. Steve Buscemi deserved the Best Supporting Actor nomination for this, much more than Sam Rockwell playing George W. Bush. Lean on Pete joins the next movie on this list in somehow creating a whole world of transcendence, a world hinting at another world lurking just around the corner or behind the next mountain range. Magical. Was it the camera angles, the shot lengths? I couldn’t tell how Haigh achieved this effect, but when you watch it, you will feel it. Sadly, Lean on Pete got SLEPT ON this year.

How to Watch: Amazon Prime, free. iTunes, $3.99.

 

Leave No Trace

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Will and his 13 year old daughter Tom live off the grid in a forest. Unfortunately for them, the State considers this not just an alternative lifestyle but rather homelessness. When they are discovered, they must adjust to life in civilized society. Along the way director Debra Granik captures the most visually beautiful film of 2018, and her leads (Ben Foster and Australian newcomer Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) gave knock. out. performances. marked by subtlety and tension. The cinematography by Michael McDonough and original screenplay by Granik were deserving of full Oscar wins, not to mention nominations, but sadly Leave No Trace got SLEPT ON this year.

How to Watch: Amazon Prime, free. iTunes, $5.99.

 

Eighth Grade

Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade (2018)

Packing in all the cringe he possibly — and I mean possibly — could, director Bo Burnham captured the true essence of the middle school vibe. Hilarious, but also deeply concerning, Eighth Grade will give you an eye into the pressures teens face today. Social media and easy-to-access technology have changed the landscape so much that the middle school experience of Kayla (Elsie Fisher) barely looks like mine. All the same awkwardness, all the same pettiness, but in a whole new world. Despite receiving zero Oscar nominations, Eighth Grade won the Indie Spirit Awards for Best First Screenplay, and was far better than Green Book, winner of the original screenplay Oscar. Though in fairness, Green Book didn’t deserve that award either. Elsie Fisher’s performance and the film’s painful clarity make it worth watching, if not as a research piece then at minimum as great comedy. However, with exactly zero Academy Award nominations, Eighth Grade got SLEPT ON this year.

How to Watch: Amazon Prime, free. iTunes, $4.99.

 

Beautiful Boy

Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet in Beautiful Boy (2018)

This film from Belgian director Felix van Groeningen follows a father (Steve Carell) and son (Timothée Chalamet) as the son’s methamphetamine addiction tears their relationship apart. Heavy drug use — rock bottom — sobriety — critical situation that threatens the tentative stability of newfound sobriety — right back into heavy drug use. We see this cycle unfold four or five times in the fast two hour run-time, and it gets more painful with each. Timothée Chalamet played a difficult role and did it flawlessly, and the artistic directing was also great, evoking a certain light, airy wistfulness while the characters’ lives go to hell. I strongly recommend this film, though it is not for the light at heart. Some critics did not like the editing style in Beautiful Boy which I understand though personally I loved it. But that held it back from getting the major awards recognition that it deserved. For this lame reason and no others, it got SLEPT ON this year.

How to Watch: Amazon Prime, free. Nowhere else, as Amazon produced it.

 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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Mr. Rogers! This documentary made the shortlist for Best Documentary Feature but then… didn’t… get nominated? I’m not sure what happened there, since this was better than all the other documentaries besides Minding the Gap. Following the career of Fred Rogers, this happy little film weaves between Roger’s social commentary (having a black co-star in a children’s program in the 1960’s), the big moments of happiness, the political success of his 1969 Congressional testimony, his doubts about the show, and the religious philosophy that supported his work. You will laugh, you will smile, you will cry, and you will be a better person for having watched Will You Be My Neighbor? Don’t be a fool and ignore this movie, like the Academy, which SLEPT ON it this year.

How to Watch: Because HBO picked it up, you can either pay the full $14.99 to buy it, or you can use your one week HBO free trial (via Hulu or Amazon Prime) and make sure to cancel before the week ends. That way, it’s free.

My 2019 Oscar Picks

What a year for movies, and what a disappointment that became this year’s Oscar nominations. The good, the bad, the ugly, and the downright-snubbed. Several films were left out (Leave No Trace being the most egregious), and others made it that should NOT have (Bohemian Rhapsody for BP, Vice for BP, Skin for live short, Animal Behavior for animated short). I watched all the movies for Best Picture, all 15 short films, four of the five documentaries, and a few other stray 2018 movies that scored nominations. That means that, for the first time, I’m able to have an informed opinion! But not on all the categories. Where I haven’t seen the majority of the nominees, I haven’t voted. That leaves me with 19 selections.

These are preferences for what should win, not predictions for what will win. The only one I will rank fully is Best Picture. As a courtesy, though, I have listed my second favorite in each award.  Speaking of favorites…

 

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Best Picture: The Favourite, then, A Star is Born

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Best Picture, Ranked:

1. The Favourite
2. A Star is Born
3. Roma
4. Black Panther
5. BlacKkKlansman
6. Green Book
7. Vice
8. Bohemain Rhapsody

Actor in a Leading Role
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody, then, Christian Bale, Vice

Actress in a Leading Role
Olivia Colman, The Favourite, then, Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born

Actress in a Supporting Role
Emma Stone, The Favourite, then, Amy Adams, Vice

Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali, Green Book, then, Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman

Directing
Alfonso Cuarón, then, Yorgos Lanthimos

Adapted Screenplay only 2/5 😦
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
BlacKkKlansman, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee
Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins
A Star Is Born, Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters

Original Screenplay
First Reformed, Paul Schrader, then, Roma, Alfonso Cuarón

Foreign Language Film only 1/5 😦
Capernaum, Lebanon
Cold War, Poland
Never Look Away, Germany
Roma, Mexico
Shoplifters, Japan

Animated Feature only 1/5 😦
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Original Score
Black Panther, then, Mary Poppins Returns

Original Song
“Shallow,” A Star Is Born, then, “I’ll Fight,” RBG

Documentary Short
Period. End of Sentence., then, Black Sheep

Cinematography 
The Favourite, Robbie Ryan, then, A Star Is Born, Matthew Libatique

Best Documentary Feature
Minding the Gap, then, RBG

Production Design
Black Panther, then, Roma

Sound Mixing
Black Panther, then, A Star Is Born

Costume Design
The Favourite, then, Black Panther

Film Editing
BlacKkKlansman, then, Vice

Sound Editing
Black Panther, then, A Quiet Place

Animated Short Film
Late Afternoon, then, Bao

Live Action Short
Marguerite, then, Fauve

Makeup and Hairstyle only 1/3 😦
Border
Mary Queen of Scots
Vice

Visual Effects only 1/5 😦
Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

 

Thanks for reading! Be sure to comment all the reasons why I’m wrong!

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Don’t Lurk

Your biology class lectures happen in an open field. Philosophy class is done while you rock climb. Your major classes are held during competitive team sports. While you practice archery, a professor explains how to write good thesis statements. Who knows the things you can learn about while white water rafting?

Can you imagine a college like this?

Everything is FUN!

Everything is EXCITING!

Nothing is BORING! 

 

A professor told us about this school — supposedly real, though I don’t care enough to research where this college is located or if this characterization is accurate — in class one day. And my mind wandered to how awesome this school would be. How I would be so, so much more happy in this kind of environment than where I am now. But my professor took a different angle. One that has stuck with me.

He said, “You would be so bored, so fast. In a few weeks, you would be over it. College isn’t about entertaining yourself with fun activities; it’s about creating something.”

Yes! This is true… but I am bored, too. Normal college got so boring, so fast. It only took weeks for me to be over it. So maybe I’m making in my own life the mistake that Fun Outdoorsy School is making at an institutional level?

Question: what makes college so boring? Answer: that we aren’t creating anything, anything meaningful. Creative work is our original calling. God has created us to “image” him back to the creation. We do this by working and tending things in this world, ruling over and taking dominion of the created order.

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” …

2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. …

19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

A task of ordering, shaping, dominating, tending, sorting, and ultimately, creating. It is only because of the Fall that this ordering, working, sorting task becomes tedious and painful. God curses humanity (represented by Adam):

3:17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

This curse applies to all people because Adam and Eve represented all people in this narrative. And so, we too feel the “thorns and thistles” of frustration, pain, suffering, and meaninglessness while we try to fulfill our calling from God to create. But it wasn’t meant to be this way! This is a diversion from the original purpose! We were made to “image” the glory of God in all that we do. And so this creative work is basic to finding meaning in life and to being fulfilled as a human being.

Another angle, less theology this time: Social Media has three types of people. Content Creators are the 1% of users who make and share new content of their own. Interactors are the next 9% who comment, like, or share other people’s content, but they don’t make things of their own. Lurkers are the next 90% who intake Content Creators’ work and Interactors’ interaction with that work, but do nothing with it besides see and enjoy it. They do not share, they do not comment, and they make nothing of their own.

Here are pictures.

Azad Blog 1

The same thing is true in college. In high school you are a Lurker just intaking ideas and information. But college makes you start to Interact with ideas, critique them, argue about their merits, and share them with underclassmen who are starting to wade into the discussions. The ultimate goal is to make you a Content Creator, someone who knows enough about the topic to really contribute new work that other people can take in. This means you have to specialize in one thing, because a 22-year-old doesn’t have the knowledge to speak into more than one debate at a time. So you pick a major and start to work, and work, and work, until you can produce new, quality work of your own.

That’s the point of college. The more time you spend creating something, the less tedious and frustrating and boring it will be. Those classes you hate? They are so painful because you have decided they won’t help you in your creative project. Even if you aren’t sure what that project is, you have a sense, and this History of Chinese Politics class just ain’t it.

(It could be that the class really isn’t helpful, and Liberal Arts colleges suck. Or maybe you just have a bad attitude and refuse to see how the class will help. Probably both.)

All of college boils down to Neil Gaiman’s dictum, “Make Good Art.” But instead of art, it can be anything. Make good biology research. Make good athletic training preparation. Make good philosophy writing. But whatever you do — whatever you do — do not Lurk. Find meaning and fulfillment by doing what you are created to do: create.

🛴

Check out my new playlist on Spotify, “🛴”.

This playlist is ideal for long solo car rides, for background music while studying, and for walking quickly (to the beat!) during the winter, and so, not lollygagging in the cold.

Photo is Albert Einstein as a boy. My friends suggest that either I’m secretly adopted and am his grandson, or that I am his reincarnation. Okay.

The title, 🛴, was the clear favorite over a distant second, 🎠.

Enjoy.

The Berlin Holocaust Memorial: Dehumanizing, haunting, and larger-than-life

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The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe  by architect Peter Eisenman was built in 2003-04 in the urban center of Berlin. The abstract, grayscale memorial occupies the space of one city block with rectangular prisms (“stelae”) rising out of the uneven ground. Stelae are situated into a row-column grid, though slightly uneven. The stelae are mostly the same height, but as the viewer walks to the middle of the field, the ground sinks to reveal deeper “heights” of the concrete blocks. The memorial is controversial, yet not an outrage or a scandal; it presents the subject matter in a way that reasonable people can reasonably disagree. And disagree they have. However, despite the at-times divided public reaction, the memorial makes a memorable and effective impression on the viewer through its desolate presentation and uneven construction.

Eisenman’s design was selected in 1997 as the replacement for a previously selected memorial which received backlash from the city’s Jewish community. After years of stalling from politicians maneuvering to avoid losing public support, and eventually the Bundestag itself taking on voting authoring for the project, construction began in 2003. It was not long until the press reported that anti-graffiti-coating company was also the company that produced Zyklon-B, the hydrogen gas that was used to kill millions of Jews in the Holocaust — to understandable outrage. The decision was made to proceed with the construction anyways — also to outrage — and the memorial opened on May 10th, 2005, near the 60th anniversary of the end of the war.

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It is worth sampling even a few of the reactions, as catalogued by PBS Frontline. Michal Bodemann criticized the memorial for existing at all, saying that a constant focus on Germany’s racist past is used as a shield against Germany’s racist present. Julius Schoeps writes, “I find it regrettable that they decided on a design that can stand for everything and for nothing.” Ilka Piepgras comments that an effective memorial to an atrocity like the Holocaust should overwhelm and overpower one’s emotions, though even that cannot be enough to match the true tragedy of the events. She claims that the Berlin memorial fails to do this, and asks, “Shouldn’t it be disturbing rather than inviting a picnic on its stones?”

Conversely, Heinrich Wefing praises Eisenman’s work, calling it “a new type of memorial”: a beautiful abstraction that “does not dictate what its observer should think or experience.” An American critic of architecture, Nicolai Ouroussoff, claims that the memorial “conveys the scope of the Holocaust’s horrors without stooping to sentimentality — showing how abstraction can be the most powerful tool for conveying the complexities of human emotion.” Many more have opined on the success or failure of the memorial, in proportions that do not seem to overwhelm each other.

The memorial, in my brief experience, successfully and lastingly impressed upon me both the dehumanization at work in the Holocaust, and its grave extent. Though often cited in criticism of Eisenman’s design, I found the lack of names, or placards, or designations, or really any other words at all, to be disturbingly plain. The barren stone bespoke a time in the not too distant past when humans themselves were reduced to barren, lifeless bodies — alive, but only in a strictly biological sense. In the same way that the stelae are “memorials” only in the strictest sense (after all, they would not memorialize anything in particular without the whole field being given a title), the Jews had become “humans” only in the strictest sense. In every other way, they were reduced by the Nazis to the status of mere animals. I found this aspect of the memorial compelling and haunting, even nearly three months later.

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The uneven, disorienting construction also left a substantive, lingering impression. As I walked deeper into the belly of the memorial, the ground itself shifted and sank. Rather than have the blocks grow higher and higher (though that was partially happening), Eisenman had the floor sink from beneath the viewer. Viewer may be the wrong term, for in an all-encompassing, larger-than-life experience like this, I became a more than a viewer: a participant, all of me caught up in the remembrance of the murdered Jews in Europe. As the floor sank, so too did the depth of the dehumanized concrete reveal its true depth; as the Holocaust progressed, so too did the depth of dehumanization become more and more pronounced and intentional.

To create a memorial that is not just viewable, but inhabitable, is to create something on the border. Not the border of “void and monument, between vague symbolism and a denial of interpretation,” as Tom Dyckhoff wrote in the London Times. No, more than a void, the other pole of the tension is tangible experience, something that could do much to help regular people remember the tragedy of the Holocaust.  

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Rome, Vatican City

The final leg of the trip was in Rome.

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St. Paul’s Within the Walls church, an Anglican church near our hotel.

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Castel Sant’Angelo. This was Hadrian’s Tomb, and then over the years various additions have been made, each in their own architectural style. A very strange shaped building.

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The EU flag flying over the Tiber river.

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Trajan’s Column, depicting his victory over the Dacians.

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More ruins from Trajan’s forum.

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Monument to Victorio Manuelle II, the king who unified Italy in 1871.

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Interior dome of the Pantheon.

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Pantheon Oculus + Clouds = the Moon?

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Facade of the Pantheon.

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Onward, to St. Peter’s.

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All Cathedrals face east, but not all have a 16-point compass rose around a 50 foot obelisk just to make sure you know it.

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The School of Athens.

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No photos allowed in the Sistine Chapel…

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… but you can’t stop a man with a blog.

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Nave of St. Peter’s Basillica.

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Altar at St. Peter’s

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Holy Spirit as a dove bursting into the Vatican.

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Trevi Fountain.

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Some ruins from the Roman Forum.

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The Colosseum.

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The Arch of Titus.

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The Arch of Titus was a victory monument to Titus’s sac of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in AD 70. Here are Roman soldiers carting away a Menorah.

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More ruinous columns from the Forum.

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Some invisible people…

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View from inside the Colosseum.

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Another view, the remaining top half.

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Pope Benedict XIV in the 1700’s added a cross to the ruinous site of the Colosseum, which then made it a holy place. So then the destruction ended, and it became a historical site rather than another stone quarry.

Florence, Cinque Terre

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The Duomo.

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The Palazzo Vecchio, from which the Medici family ruled.

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Probably a Medici if I had to guess.

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Martyrdom site of Savonarola, in the square of the Palazzo.

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Sunset over Florence.

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It was common in the middle ages and early modern period for people to build entire buildings on bridges. These houses or shops are just… on the bridge.

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View from the Dome of the Duomo.

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Another sunset.

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A forest we found on accident.

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The Arno.

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The Duomo at night.

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Greetings from the Italian Riviera! This is from Riomaggiore.

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More Riomaggiore. All the buildings looked like this.

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The view north, with rain.

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The view south (from Manarola).

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More mist, fog.

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A few relaxing hours on the beach at Monterosso al Mare.

Salzburg

Welcome to Salzburg, Austria, the home of…

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Yes, that’s right, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He lived here until the Prince Arc-Bishop didn’t like him anymore and drove him out of town.

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Lock-bridge number 5 of the trip.

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The Cathedral of the Prince-Archbishop (the entire square in which this was taken is his palace) has a statue that, if you stand juuuuuust right, looks like the angels on the Cathedral are crowning the statue of Mary.

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Interior of the Cathedral.

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A very high-up castle. Probably not best to walk the whole way up it…

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Part of the Mirabell Gardens.

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Is this the ugliest statue in Europe? Talks Atlas Obscura for directing me to it.

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View over the Salzach.

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View of the city from on high.

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Sunset over Salzburg.

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Continued. From the Castle to which no reasonable person should ever hike.

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Our hotel gave us Marmelade.