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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Cat 4 Glory 

So, having covered myself in glory two weeks ago, I decided to ride the Cat 4 race tonight, a one-category upgrade from my previous work.

It was okay! Even on the fairly tough course we use, I was not adrift amongst the pack. Instead, I could keep up with it easily, and even made a pretty good job of staying close to the front. Though not ideal: I didn't over-work, but I didn't do a good job of going where I could move up when I had to (to wit, the last two laps).

The end result was a perfectly competent mid-pack finish, but it was much more educational than any number of rides off the front of the much smaller Cat 5 pack would be, and at this point I am quite clearly capable of riding off the front of the Cat 5 pack any time.

I'm not particularly happy with my fitness, but I have only myself to blame. Instead of going for a training ride today, when I had a whole morning to myself, I surfed the web and farted away a couple of hours. Bad habit of my flex days.

This evening, I went to see NASCAR 3D, an IMAX 3-D movie. I was going to direct you to the Flash-ridden website, but instead, how about a direct link to the Word-format production notes instead? That's better, right keith?

The film was a marvel, and especially worthwhile since the 5-story-high 3D IMAX yadda yadda was definitely something that is hard to reproduce on a DVD. I went with my father and brothers, in a nice manly male-bonding experience (The Lovely One wisely sat this one out; more on what we did today later).

Interestingly, as good as the racing footage was, we all agreed that the film's best bits were the early part, which concentrated on the technical elements of the cars themselves. Now, part of this is because we are all car geeks and motorheads, but the nature of 3D filming is such that only subjects close enough to give you a sense of depth perception really pop nicely, and that means that a shot that's close on an engine as a technician disassembles it gives you a really good sense of 3D, and looks pretty when projected 5 stories high.

None of us are hardcore NASCAR fans; me and Mike, the two serious watch-it-when-we-can race fans in the family, are pretty cold on oval racing in general when compared to road course stuff, and NASCAR's road course races look pretty lonely on the calendar these days (the movie refers to them exactly never, even as it visits short tracks and several super speedways), and yet you can't switch on a sports channel most weekends without seeing a NASCAR race, so we have a certain familiarity with the sport, its heroes, its major events, and the general race-day spectacle, which is covered in loving 5-story 3D glory.

But you rarely get to see the stuff in the garages, and the detailed film-work showing the behind-the-scenes (and not so behind-the-scenes: one revelation was how much the major teams have transformed their working garages into spectacles, starting with fabulous "halls of honor" where you can check out great cars and trophies, all the way to viewing galleries looking over actual race-prep garages where actual race cars are being prepped by actual mechanics) prep of building a race car from the ground up was lovingly executed, and we ate it up like spilled soup in front of hungry dogs.

Speaking of soup, that was the second-best part of a trip to the Vancouver Art Gallery with The Lovely One. Their showpiece right now is an Andy Warhol show.

The show features a lot of Warhol's sketches, so once again one gets a sort of behind-the-scenes look at the prep work. In this case what impresses is that Warhol may have had less technical ability than any major artist before him. He can't apparently draw much better than I can, and worse than The Lovely One. At best, he can manage some charming primitivism, and I saw a few well-executed cat sketches in the gift shop.

Perhaps that explains why his favourite subjects were recast silkscreens of photos and commercial art. But most of that isn't pretty.

The two pieces I responded best to were his camouflage series (though that probably had to do with my obsessive joy with pattern-matching: once I figured out that all the pieces depicted the same pattern at different scales, I whiled away several minutes figuring out where the close-up prints fit within the pattern as seen on the prints showing the full pattern . . . maybe I'm not the best of art critics), and the set of large-format soup cans. These were the "classic" prints, the ones that were color-perfect reproductions of the original cans--though, as the exhibit copy cannily pointed out, reproductions of the representational way these cans would be shown in an advertisement, not of a can of soup itself. A subtle but interesting point.

I was feeling quite the smarty pants as I trashed all over Warhol to my patient spouse afterwards, and asked the rhetorical question "if what I liked best in that exhibit was the really nice soup can prints, does that mean I liked the work of Warhol, or the work of the commercial artist who originally designed the soup can label?" She sagely pointed out that if it wasn't for Warhol, maybe I wouldn't be looking so admiringly at soup cans, but I think I still prefer the originals, that is, actual soup cans.

One fun thing about the Art Gallery is it has a fairly consistent layout: big popular headline exhibition on the first floor, weirder or more locally-based exhibitions on the second and third floors, and the soothing balm of the permanent Emily Carr exhibition on the fourth floor as a reward for enduring floors two and three.

About floors two and three (look up the details at the VAG site if you care), I will say only this: the best piece was the full-size green-and-white "Now Entering the City of Vancouver" freeway sign that looked like it was straight from the city's Engineering yard. Okay, that's a little unfair. A few pieces had merit, at least for being better visual jokes than usual, but there were whole rooms of utter crap, even descending to that superb realm of design/art hell, a display of artsy but uncomfortable chairs. Well, perhaps some were comfortable; you weren't allowed to sit in 'em, so I can't say for sure. Actually, there was even a room that was crap (metaphorically; you have to specify that with modern art), a badly-built construction that both housed a few pieces of crappy art, and itself was really crappy, shoddily-built art with low ceilings. I assume there was some deeper message; you may assume I wasn't interested in figuring it out, as I had a good guess that doing so would be so much apophenia.

Ah, Emily Carr. Worth the trip to the fourth floor. Worth the price of admission. Always worth a trip to the VAG. Even when she surmounts three floors of Salieri's disciples.

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