We are outta here

Everything must end, even the Gatlingburg Regional.

Sunday, tradition has Mike and I playing the first 4 matches of the Swiss, then heading to Knoxville.  We do something educational, then check into the airport Hilton and catch a very early flight home.  The rest of the team finishes the tournament, cooks steaks at the cabin and prepares to drive to Nashville and fly home on Monday.

The team game went well, we won 3 of our 4 matches and had a very respectable number of victory points.  The box lunch provided to the players was hideous, but that’s traditional too.  We shook hands with the team and headed into the rain, having played 154 hands of bridge without a cross word.  There’s a reason I like playing with Mike.

The Knoxville Arboretum was Mike’s first choice of afternoon entertainment, but looking at plants in the rain just didn’t seem like a plan to me.  Looking at plants in good weather doesn’t actually seem much better.

We decided to go back to the Knoxville Museum of Art, where we had been two years previously.  It’s small, just right for a 45 minute visit before closing time.

The Mona Lisa depicted in spools of thread

The Mona Lisa depicted in spools of thread

This piece was interesting, if not groundbreaking.  The Mona Lisa was depicted with 1448 spools of thread.  The stand in front of it holds a spherical crystal, which inverts the image and provides a very realistic image of the hallowed portrait.

Getting closer

Getting closer

I guess it’s an interesting exercise in the science of pointilism and a bit of optics.  Certainly catches the eye.

The downstairs of the museum has the “Thorne Rooms”, an exhibit of scale model rooms of historical value which are so dimly lit (for preservation purposes) that they are virtually invisible.  We noticed this two years ago, and it hasn’t changed.  They may be very valuable and have great historical and anthropological significance, but they aren’t much fun to try to see or appreciate.

It might seem that art should be appreciated for its own sake, but life doesn’t work that way.  How we perceive an given work of art is related to the news, to politics, to social mores, to the zeitgeist of the moment.  Here’s a perfect case in point:

Marion Greenwood, The History of Tennessee

Marion Greenwood, The History of Tennessee


The painting is properly rectangular, it’s just the photo that gives it the odd shape.

Marion Greenwood was commissioned to paint this for the University Center Ballroom, and it’s theme is the music in Tennessee, from Negro spirituals to Beale Street Jazz to East Tennessee religious music.  At the time, it was considered modern and liberal to include the black people, and the mural hung for many years.

In the 1970’s, however, the forces of political correctness decided that the artwork was racist and insulting, wrongfully depicting enslaved people as happy and grinning, and the painting was taken down.

The wheel of opinion keeps spinning, and now the 30 foot long painting has been restored and placed on permanent display in the museum.  Plus ça change, plus ça meme chose.

About this time we got a text from Bob–the boys won the final three matches, although two of them by only 1 imp each, so we were 7th overall in the Swiss teams.  That meant that Mike and I snatched up 86 masterpoints apiece for the week.  I’m a happy camper.

We were the only people in the airport Hilton restaurant, where I had a decent plate of pasta, exactly like the one I had last year and will probably have next year. I played some bridge online with Gail (which is why I ended up winning more points for the week than Mike did) then hit the sack for an early flight home.  By noon Monday I was in San Francisco and by 1 I was in my office catching up on my work–playtime is over, and it’s back to reality.

Smoky Mountain Adventure

No morning game for us this today.  It works out that Mike and I are out the first set and I didn’t have to be at the game until 2:30.

Mike is taking his walk, then staying in his room watching cheesy movies on his laptop.  My housemates are taking their annual drive to Cherokee, NC to eat pancakes, but I’ve been there, done that and got the T shirt.  Then they take a hike to the top of the highest peak in the Smokies, Klingman Dome.  I’m not the hiking type.

Instead of all this fun, I decided to take the drive to Asheville, NC, which is reputedly a very artsy place, some kind of eastern Santa Fe perhaps.  It is the home of University of North Carolina, Asheville, which makes it somewhat more liberal than the rest of the state.  Stress the “somewhat”.

The drive was exciting.  Google took me the shortest way, which was truly beautiful on a good two lane road with no traffic and incessant turns, just swinging the car left and right in a rhythm.  All was fine until I saw the sign “Pavement ends, 1500 feet”.

Yep, Google led me to a dirt road.  I was worried, but decided that I’d either end up where I was headed or get shot for being a damn Yankee intruder revenoor.  The drive was scary, downhill on windy wet mud.  My rented Nissan Sentra isn’t exactly a good off-road machine, but I cinched up the seat belt, put the car in low and drove carefully.  The dirt road finally gave way to pavement, then freeway, and after an hour and forty minutes I was in the big city.

Asheville is a nice looking town, with scads of galleries large and small, book stores, coffee shops and boutiques.  I went to the the insanely large, well appointed, heavily staffed visitor center and left with maps and guides to the arts district and the best galleries.

The big gallery in town is Blue Spiral 1.  Three floors of art and craft.

The main floor of Blue Spiral 1.

The main floor of Blue Spiral 1.

What I liked the most in the gallery was the work of Carole Hetzel, who creates basketwork that I found to be entrancing:

Double woven reed and stainless steel cable.

Double woven reed and stainless steel cable.

Colors and shapes not usually associated with basketry

Colors and shapes not usually associated with basketry


I very much liked this work, and was amazed at the pricing–$675 each.  I think you could buy these at retail, bring them to the Bay Area and double your money.

There was one painting that caught my eye:



In the Studio, by Daniel Robbins.  At $6000, I thought this was priced more in line with current values.

There is a lot of glasswork here in the Southeast, and one piece in particular called out to me:

A wine glass too fine to use.

A wine glass too fine to use.


At $750, this lovely glass by Shane Fero is for display, not for sipping.

The 90 minutes I spent wandering Asheville were pleasant and instructive.  After about 3 galleries, I started to notice something–a serious lack of figurative art.  In fact, the self portrait above was almost the only thing I saw with a person in it. I saw one nude in a gallery of glass work, the Bender Gallery.

Remember, I said the town was “somewhat” more liberal. This is still the deep, deep Bible belt, full of parochial, insular, stiff necked Evangelicals incapable of discerning the difference between fine art and pornography.  Thinking about it, the galleries are full of landscapes, abstracts, geometrics and craft-work.  You can’t make a living offending you clientele, you have to sell them what they want to buy.

And that’s what I have to take away from my trip to Asheville.  It’s a great place to buy some beautiful basketwork, fantastic glass art and any number of craft pieces.  The cutting edge of the art world is somewhere else, but you knew that already.

Mashed by Miller

What it felt like this morning

What it felt like this morning

Today started out well.  I was asleep. Then the alarm went off and things went downhill.

Mike and I are out for the first half in the morning, because I believe that the early worm gets eaten, the smart worm waits until the birds are full.

So I show up for our half of the match, and we are down 44 against the fearsome Billy Miller team.  Normally the pair coming in would sit E/W, but we play the Katz rule where we switch seats if we are losing, so Mike and I got the N/S seats.

We were playing against Leo Bell, a mountain of a man (6′ 3″, about 310 pounds) in bright blue Crocs with black socks and a Hawaiian shirt.  He is a retired lawyer from LA, I think, and a longtime expert player.  His partner is Jay Barron, who I don’t know but surely recognize–he is a relatively young guy who dresses all in black and wears a black do-rag.  I asked him if he was a pirate, because all he needs is a peg leg and a parrot to complete the outfit.  He said no.

When you are down 44 there is only one thing to do–swing for the fences.  You can’t get it back an imp at a time in 12 boards, you need big numbers.  That will either work, or you will lose by huge numbers.  See the illustration above to figure out which one applies today.  I bid game on everything, and didn’t make it. I doubled them in a very distributional auction, and they scored it up.

Mercifully, it finally ended.  Our teammates were swinging too, and had the same luck.  Billy won, we still came in second in the event and will get some points.

I had the Fast Track lunch at the convention center–sandwich, chips and a drink, $8.  They called what I had “ham”, but it looked more like bologna to me.  The chips were fresh, so that ‘s something good.

The afternoon session started, and Mike and I were still not playing happy wonderful bridge, we ended the first half down 13.  Then I went to the grocery store, where I was a raging success.

Yes, I can be bought

Overly made up vixen at Starbucks

Overly made up vixen at Starbucks

Everyone has his price, and mine seems to be a Vente Iced Chai Latte at Starbucks.  I wandered in there this afternoon to get out of the rain, and after I ordered the barista told me she would buy my drink if she could snap my suspenders.  I know that sounds awfully weird, but this is Gatlinburg, after all.  So she got a good snap of both straps, and i got a $4 drink.  I guess we know my price now.

I was wandering after playing my part in the afternoon session, the first session of a new KO since we got trounced by Mark Lair’s team last night.  Just walked from one end of town to the other, wondering if there was anything interesting to buy, or to photograph.  No to the former, yes to the latter.

There was pink dogwood:

This is a very good week to be here.

This is a very good week to be here.

Dogwood comes in pink and white, sometimes on the same tree.

A few raindrops don't hurt.

A few raindrops don’t hurt.

We’ve had rain off and on all week.  It isn’t cold, just a bit wet.  Pretty pleasant, in general.

There are things here you thought you’d never see again:

Is this sign even legal?

Is this sign even legal?

That’s the way the world works here in Tennessee, where we are 2150 miles east and 75 years behind California.  I don’t much understand the no photography sign, either, because it was just a shop full of gaudy crap nobody would want to copy anyway.

Remember that I’m in a place where the State House passed a law a couple of days ago making the Bible the state book.  Even the Attorney General says it’s unconstitutional, so when there is an inevitable challenge in Federal court the AG won’t defend it.

The State Senate Majority Leader, Mark Norris, is against the bill, but not for the obvious reason.

“I sure hope it won’t pass. I think it’ll be a dark day for Tennessee if it does,” he said.

“All I know is that I hear Satan snickering. He loves this kind of mischief. You just dumb the good book down far enough to make it whatever it takes to make it a state symbol and you’re on your way to where he wants you.”

You just can’t argue with that kind of logic.

Meanwhile, I saw this sign on the street:

" an open space outside a mosque that is mainly used for praying."

” an open space outside a mosque that is mainly used for praying.”

You might not think a Muslim prayer area would be too accepted here in the middle of the Bible Belt, but there it is.  I noticed a family walking today, man, woman and two children, and the woman was in stylish clothes talking on her phone wearing a head scarf.  Hardly  any black people in town, but at least one Muslim family.

Tonight’s dinner was at the Texas Roadhouse, which is incredibly cheap.  Some of the guys had the $8.95 early bird dinner and a glass of water and got out the door for $13 including tip.

Gail is strongly opposed to anyone eating farmed salmon, but since I thought it would easily be the least worst thing on the menu, I blew $14.95 on the fish, salad and baked sweet potato. There are no tables in this joint, just booths.  We are 6 large men, crammed into a booth with a table littered with plates, glasses, bread baskets, a pail of peanuts and another pail for the shells.  Just another adventure in G’burg.

On my walk, I saw a local delicacy you won’t find in the Bay Area:

I don't know what they do with the rest of the bird.

I don’t know what they do with the rest of the bird.

Just a small rotisserie with turkey legs.  The nice thing about eating one of these is it makes a good weapon if somebody tries to take it away from you.

Now it’s time to go to bed.  I played all day, then came home and played a session online with Gail–where we had a section third and won 0.39 points, so I can be the high point winner among the team this week.  In the morning we play Billy Miller’s team in the final of the morning KO, then play the semi-finals of the prime time KO at 1.  I gripe about the food and the rednecks, but we sure have a good time here.

Sweet Tennessee


I’ve got a pretty serious sweet tooth.  I use lots of artificial sweetener in my tea, hate to pass up dessert and choose sweet over savory every time.

And I still think there is way too damn much sugar in everything here in Gatlinburg.

I had a cookie at the snack bar, your basic white chocolate macadamia, and it was almost pure sugar.  The rolls in the restaurants are very sweet.  My chicken salad sandwich was as sweet as an Oreo cookie.  There are candy and fudge stores all up and down the street.  The hospitality gift last night was candy. No wonder the average weight around here is measured in metric tons.

Not that I’m forgetting about the ubiquity of high-fat foods.  Last night’s dinner included a choice of side dishes, and one of the was deep-fried corn.  None of us had the nerve to try it.  That’s what Gail calls turning something healthy into death food.

Nobody will ever call me a health food fanatic, but I try at least a little to pay attention.  Mike is considerably more careful about his diet, and we agree that this is a week to just give up and indulge, there’s virtually no way to find a meal not loaded with sugar and then deep fried.

Meanwhile, back at the tournament, we got killed in the KO yesterday, then played in the loser swiss at night.  It was a great night–we only lost imps on 2 boards all evening, but one of them cost us a match.  We finished tied for 9th overall, which is not exactly something to crow about.  The real winners of the evening were our friends Chuck Wong and Lauren Friedman, whose team sat down in the loser swiss to face the Lynch team–Mike Passel, Carolyn Lynch and two Polish world champions.  Chuck and Lauren beat them bloody and won the match.  That’s enough of a success to justify the entire trip as far as I’m concerned.

The photo at the top is a dogwood flower.  I had some time yesterday and went out photographing in the Great Smoky National Forest.  I think I’ll use a few more photos from my excursion this week, there isn’t much around here I haven’t already photographed and written about.

Why they travel


Some men go on trips with the boys so they can drink, gamble and chase other women 

The guys I travel with want to watch basketball, talk bridge hands and eat ice cream. This is what our freezer looks like, and there isn’t a beer in the joint. 

Such is the high life of the itinerant bridge player. 

Back to Gatlinburg

Two thirds of a lifetime ago, my college roomie Carl A. Oeser, AKA The Big O, and I had 10 days to spare before the fall quarter began, so we went out to run some errands.

I wanted a Denver Omelet, so we headed to Denver.  There was a girl I wanted to see in St. Louis.  We needed smokes, and they were cheapest in North Carolina.  I wanted to have a legal drink, but was only 20.  The drinking age in New Orleans was 18.  We wanted to see Vegas.

So we gassed up his ‘Stang and headed out on the idiots version of On the Road, minus any semblance of hipitude.

We got snowed out of Denver, saw the girl in St. Louis and managed to drive all the way through North Carolina without stopping to buy a single carton of Marlboros at the fantastic price of $1.75 for 10 packs.  I did get my first legal drink in Pete Fountains on Bourbon Street.  We lost all our money in Vegas, and had to charge cokes and smokes to get home.

I thought of that today as I changed planes in Charleston, NC on the way to the annual boys trip to Gatlinburg for the nations largest regional.  The airport is huge, exceedingly busy early on a Monday morning (because I got stuck on a red-eye from San Francisco), very modern and nice looking.  I landed at the far end of terminal B and had to walk to the far end of terminal E, which is about as far apart as you can get.

On a whim, I looked for a place to buy cigarettes.  Even though North Carolina is the big tobacco growing state, you can’t smoke in the airport, but I did manage to find a store which had a small stash of smokes for sale.

Not a high traffic item anymore.

Not a high traffic item anymore.

Not quite 17¢ a pack anymore, either.  $7.80, plus tax.  If I didn’t already have plenty of good reasons not to smoke, that would seal the deal right there.

I spent more time walking to the gate, getting on board and then taxiing than the flight to Knoxville itself took.  Mike was waiting, getting the car was quick and we were off to the big game.

There are only 2 of us here yet–the other guys kept winning in an event at home, so they will arrive late Monday night.  Mike and i played pairs today, and had a great first session:

Nothing is better than winning.

Nothing is better than winning.

I think it’s a little scary to get 66.66% here in the middle of the Bible belt.  Hope we don’t get burned at the stake.

The second session was a bit softer, but we held on to win the event, so our buddies will start the week 33 masterpoints behind us.  Darn.

Having gotten virtually no sleep on the way here, I napped rather than ate between sessions, then had a hot dog during the game.  The good thing about G’burg is that the food is lousy everywhere, so it doesn’t much matter.


Now it’s 12:30 at night, and the guys just stopped at WalMart in Pigeon Forge (home of Dollywood), to stock the house for the week.  They flew across the country to Nashville, then drove 185 miles across the state to get here.  It’s cheaper that way, if your time is worth less than $7 an hour.

More tomorrow.

Aloha San Rafael

Three years ago we went with Kate and Brad on their honeymoon in Maui, and spent an evening at a concert by Ledward Ka’apana, on of the worlds preeminent ukulele and slack key guitar players.  He is currently touring the area, and Thursday night we went to the Fenix in San Rafael to see him.

The very modern lounge before it filled up.

The very modern lounge before it filled up.

The Fenix is on 4th street in downtown San Rafael, which was closed to traffic due to the Farmers Market, but we got there anyway.  The show was at 8; we arrived at 7 to order dinner.  Big mistake.  The food was mediocre to poor, the service was execrable. Dinner at Burger King beforehand would have been a better idea.

Skipping smoothly to the show, Ledward and his partner Mike Kaawa without fanfare and commenced to entertain for 90 delightful minutes.

Led and Mike are not pretentious, they just play.

Led and Mike are not pretentious, they just play.

Led is a genuine Hawaiian country boy, raised in a house without electricity.  He had a fraternal twin brother, improbably named Nedward, who died just a week ago.

Led plays the acoustic guitar and ukulele, while Mike adds the bass line from a 12 string electric guitar.  They sing in Hawaiian–Mike may have the better voice, Led is better at the falsetto yodeling.

It's amazing how fast his fingers can move.

It’s amazing how fast his fingers can move.

The music is great and the atmosphere is warm and friendly.  Led and Mike aren’t big time divas, they’re just a couple of nice guys who came over to your house to have a few beers and jam.

The bar is behind the stage, but you can sit there and watch the show:

The bar is not a bad place to enjoy the show.

The bar is not a bad place to enjoy the show.

Eventually, it was time to close the show.  They asked what anyone wanted to hear, and someone shouted out “Pipeline”, which isn’t exactly Hawaiian slack key material, but it’s tailor made for a pair of guitar virtuosos who blew us all away with their rendition of the ultimate surfer anthem.

After the show, it was time to make a few bucks selling CD’s.  That’s probably not a great business plan anymore; we just got rid of every single CD we owned and listen solely to streaming music.  Still, it’s a good way to meet the folks and press the flesh.

Shaking hands like a Baptist preacher after the service.

Shaking hands like a Baptist preacher after the service.

The life of an itinerant musician isn’t easy.  San Rafael, Felton, Concord and Redwood City this week, Santa Barbara and San Diego next week.  No time to go home for your brother’s funeral, the bills have to be paid and there is no bereavement leave for touring musicians.

He’ll be back next year, and I think we’ll go again to enjoy the music and his artistry.  We won’t be having dinner at the Fenix, though.

It isn’t all black and white.

The above horrific video of Police Officer Michael Stager executing an unarmed man who had been stopped for a bad taillight has once again ignited Americans in a furor over the way the police treat the black population, apparently killing them at will and with impunity.

Only Rush Limbaugh would deny there is a problem with racial discrimination in American policing. I just don’t think it the only problem on display here.

Look at the video, all of it.  Notice where Slager’s partner comes in.  The partner is black–whatever his flaws, hatred of blacks is probably not one of them. Observe that the partner is utterly unconcerned when Slager trots back to where the original altercation took place, picks up the taser and drops it next to the victim.  Planting evidence is so automatic that he just doesn’t care.

Remember the Rodney King video?  The one where the 5 police were beating him with sticks?  Notice that there were 16 California Highway Patrolmen standing there observing, and not one of them stepped forward to stop the felonious assault.

The thin blue line has little to do with race and everything to do with the corruption brought by unbridled power.  Police today live totally above the law.  Only the ubiquity of cell phones has been able to rein in a few of the rampant abuses of power.

When Johannes Mehserle executed Oscar Grant, the BART police attempted to confiscate the cell phones of the onlookers, but a few people got away to post their video and that’s the only reason justice prevailed.  None of the other officers involved in the BART fiasco were disciplined in any way.

Remember Joseph Wambaugh’s series of books about police work, including The Choirboys, the Onion Field and The New Centurions?  Wambaugh was a former police officer who wrote from experience; he made it clear that cops divide the word into cops and assholes.  If you aren’t the former…………….

Police still live behind the Blue Wall of Silence–no cop will ever testify against another. Police unions have provided errant officers with tremendous protections.  Police review boards almost always find office involved shooting justified.

This is a broken system.  We have a set of laws for the citizens of this country, but it simply doesn’t apply to the police forces.  Until that changes, all of us, not just black people, are in danger.

Shopping in the big leagues

Harry was in need of some ‘retail therapy’, so he took us to Lebreton Gallery, on Jackson Street in the City.  It’s a cross between an art gallery and a furniture store. The place is so amazing I had to share a few items.

We like frogs. We have lots of them.

We like frogs. We have lots of them.

We entered the store wondering How Much is that Froggy in the Window?  It was gorgeous, bronze and crystals.  Gail wanted it.  She didn’t want it $16,000 worth, though, so it’s still there if you just have to have it.

Everyone needs a coffee table.  Here’s one that would fit Gail’s insect sculpture collection:

Welded brass, agate and amethyst butterfly

Welded brass, agate and amethyst butterfly

This is a beautiful piece, created in 1970 by, well, somebody, but “Attributed to” Jacques Duval-Brasseur.  No, I don’t know who that is.  I know that a work of art attributed to him is selling for $14,000.  Imagine if they actually knew who made it.

The next item that grabbed my attention was a table lamp, Or a sculpture.  Or decor.  Hard to tell, a bit of everything, but a brilliant piece in any event.

I really like this lamp.

Silvered bronze, iris-motif table from Maison Charles, circa 1950

I love this lamp, and could easily find a good place for it in the house.  Brother, can you spare $6,500?

Every house needs a vase, someplace to show off a few flowers from the garden.  Really big houses need big vases, I guess.


This is a tulipiere, designed in 1963.  If you have an enormous entry way, and a huge table, and $24 grand to spare, you can show off your tulips and make your neighbors very very jealous.

Most of the wares in Lebreton are at least nominally furnishings.  I saw a mans valet stand, for hanging your coat and holding your wallet and accessories, manufactured in 1950, very beautifully finished, which actually has a use but possibly not $8,500 worth.  There was a beautiful patio table and white wire chairs with yellow upholstery, for a mere $38,000.  Maybe it would fit on Donald Trump’s balcony.

Then there are some article of pure fine art, like this stone sculpture:


Femme Athlete, by Antoniucci Volti, circa 1947

A nice, relatively modern sculpture of French origin. $68,000. Fine art has no intrinsic value, it is worth what you can get someone to pay for it.

One more:


Adam.  Janine Janet, 1968

This sculpture is one of a pair–Adam has an Eve.  Made of plaster,  they can’t go outside.  The little cards the store places to describe each item call almost every thing “exceptional”, but these two pieces deserve the honorific. The price tag for the pair is $295,000.

Who can afford this store?  Hereditary trustafarians? Internet bazillionaires? Columbian cocaine druglords?  Beats me.  Somebody is making a ton of money, that’s for sure.

Going to Lebreton Gallery was as much fun as going to the museum, and you get to touch the goods, too.  Give it a try.


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