My Bauhaus: A tale of two cities

by Brooks Riley Racing down a German autobahn at impossible speeds is like running past a smorgasbord when you don’t have time to eat. Exit signs fly by, pointing to delicious, iconic destinations that whet the appetite but that one has no time for: Hameln, Wittenberg, Quedlinburg, Eisenach, Erfurt, Altenburg, Jena, Weimar, Dessau—markers of histories…

Stakes and Ladders

by Brooks Riley The Alps are much grander this morning. I like to think they tiptoed closer in the night, but it’s only an optical illusion created by a local high-pressure system called föhn, which magnifies them and everything else on the horizon. Sitting outside in the loggia, a spacious recessed balcony that resembles a…

Divulging Nature

by Brooks Riley Sometime in the late Fifties, Roman Vishniac, a pioneer of photomicrography, picked up a knife, cut a thick horizontal slice of skin from his own thumb and photographed it under a microscope using polarized light. The resulting image succeeded on two levels: the scientific parsing of human skin’s rich textural terrain; and…

Framing nature

by Brooks Riley When architect Otto Wagner commissioned this large painting by Carl Moll for the Kaiser’s personal railroad station in Vienna in 1899, he might not have seen the irony of an eagle’s view of the city. View of Vienna from a Balloon envisions a future beyond rails in which a bird shows the…

Embracing Dürer

by Brooks Riley “They are shape, form, waiting to emerge. They present the plastic possibilities of life,” Albrecht Dürer said this of the pillows in various states of rumpled use that he drew on the back of a piece of paper he had been using to draw hands, wasting no surface to explore the ‘plastic…

A Matter of Scale

by Brooks Riley According to a biologist who studies the properties of dirt, a single teaspoon of the stuff contains more living organisms than there are people on earth. Not a particularly salient fact, but enough to launch the imagination toward other epic notions and distortions of scale: What if our whole world is just…

THE DINGO STOLE OUR ZEITGEIST

by Brooks Riley I feel a stress disorder coming on. Call it Persistent Trump Stress Disorder. Or PTSD 2.0. This is not about Trump himself, the ‘dingo’ here, whose many inadequacies, fallacies and prevarications are scrutinized, dissected, biopsied, and finally lampooned 24/7 in every corner of the fourth estate, reaching every corner of the globe.…

WEIMAR ON MY MIND

by Brooks Riley National Theater, Goethe and Schiller To paraphrase Heinrich Heine, I dream of Weimar in the night—not the era, but the town of Weimar, a lovely word on its own, one steeped in intellectual significance, historical resonance, cultural audacity, political and artistic enlightenment, philosophical bravura–and in modern times monstrous atrocity. I remember the…

A Tree in Winter

by Brooks Riley If I could hug a tree a day without seeming a complete idiot, I would. Trees matter to me now–how fast they grow, how full their crowns, how tall they are, how odd their leaves, how extraordinary their shapes, how thick their trunks, how nearby they are. This late interest has crept…

TRANSITUS GLORIOUS

by Brooks Riley (who is standing on the bow of the ship above on September 11, 1959) The freight trains at night are so loud that in my dreams they become horizontal twin towers spewing sound into the air in horrifying percussive bursts. Sometimes they sound like jumbo jets landing beside my pillow. Or a…

A YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY

by Brooks Riley In the last year, two extraordinary events have indelibly changed the immediate course of history, for better or worse. In an utterly surprising move, Germany, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, spontaneously accepted over a million refugees, most of them from the war in Syria, only slightly changing the demographic landscape of that…

Old Friends

by Brooks Riley I recently googled an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. Within seconds his image appeared before me, as compelling and alluring as it had once been for me so long ago. It wasn’t a living friend that I googled, never had been. It was a dead one, in more…

HOME ALONE

by Brooks Riley Try to see it this way: You’re up in the attic of your own body, there where the thoughts are stored. The vaulted ceiling of your cranium slopes gently down to the two windows through which you view the world and let the sun shine in. Left and right, two speakers pump…

A KINDER, GENTLER FATHERLAND

by Brooks Riley (I began writing this article months ago, long before the refugee crisis.) —Morgen! (Morning!) —Guten Morgen! (Good morning!) —Morgen zusammen! (Morning, you two!) —Morgen Ihr zwei! (Morning, you two!) —Kalimera! (Morning, in Greek) —Servus! (Hi or bye, in leftover Latin from upper Bavaria) —Buenos Dias! (Morning, in Spanish) —Tag! (Good day, in…