Thursday, April 28, 2011

Da Vinchi and a Moon Bear

Well... whaddya know? This is my 400th post.

This past week has been all mid-term exams. That means no teaching for me, but a lot of essay-marking and lesson-planning. I'm kind of "pulling an Andy" (he will take it as a compliment) with my next lesson for my grade 3s and making a two day activity plan based on a popular Korean reality show called "One Night, Two Days". I wish I could have made it more like the show with missions and challenges, but there's really only so much time. The idea came about as most do - while flipping through the textbook a while back, I came across an upcoming lesson regarding travelling in Korea - something I've done a fair amount of in recent years. I'll write more about the lesson in due time, but for now let me just say that it was time-intensive, but hopefully fun and engaging for the students. If anything, all of the printing, cutting, laminating, and cutting again gave me something to do while I was sitting at my desk between bouts of essay marking and while listening to intense NHL playoff games online.

As it was an exam day yesterday, I got out of work early and headed down to Samgakji to meet the rabbit for an afternoon suprise. My coupon-loving girl has a knack for finding cool stuff to do and see as well as for finding the best times in which to do them.

One of the exhibition halls at The War Memorial of Korea has been showing a travelling exhibit called "Da Vinchi, the Genius" for a couple of months now - I first heard about it from some friends who stayed with me back in February. Well, the exhibition closes on Sunday, so I'm sorry I can't use this as an outlet to advertise for people living in Seoul. If you haven't seen it already, I'm going to assume that you shouldn't bother this weekend - it's going to be mad-crowded and that's no fun.

To be honest, I found the exhibition for the most part to be a bit underwhelming, if informative. We all know that Da Vinchi was almost as prolific an inventor as he was a painter, so it made sense that probably 75% of the exhibit was dedicated to his inventions. It was very cool to see that so many of his drawings had been built in life-sized 3D wood, metal, leather, and canvas sculpture. Some really inspired stuff - especially surounding aquatics and flight. This is a wild and crazy suit designed for underwater exploration - complete with bamboo tubes and a smallish diving bell.

I was disappointed however to see that all of the reconstructions were not to be touched. Most of the magic of the creations of Da Vinchi, I would imagine, comes through in their movement. I understand not wanting wee tots cranking some cogs and wheels and taking flight through the museum on a precursor to the modern helocopter, but it would have been nice to have had staff there to demonstrate some of the inventions in use - or at least partial use. All of the visually impressive structures at the exhibit ultimately were no more impressive than the paper their plans were printed on after the 25th sign warning you not to touch them.

There was a fun hands-on area though where you could build a smallish version of Da Vinchi's "Emergency Bridge" - using simple notches in the wood, the gravity and stress holds the piece together. Pretty cool stuff - even if it took some overcomplicated effort from the rabbit and I to complete ours.

The real centerpiece of the museum for me, and I imagine for most, was the 25% dedicated to The Mona Lisa - more specifically, the 2006 "multispectral scanning" of the painting by French photographer, Pascal Cotte. The scans revealed a great deal about the painting's original colours as well as the various attempts to clean and preserve the original work. There was some very cool stuff discovered through the process, including a tiny orange spec of paint that had been (presumably) accidentally added to the painting's background during a move, evidence of eyebrows that may have been made from more organic materials and had long since dissolved into the rest of the paint, and closer looks at damage sustained through the years from various crazies looking to make their mark on a masterpiece with thrown acid or a thrown rock.

...and this is the result of the painting's exposure to Captain Howdy when it was kept in the attic of a three-story brownstone near Georgetown University in the late '70s.

Perhaps the most impressive feat of Cotte's is that he was able to determine what the orignal pigments would have looked like upon completion of the painting. The eyes, the hands, the smile, and more are all projected into large format photographs for the viwer to see how time has changed the painting. I offer these comparisons of the background over The Mona Lisa's left shoulder. I had never imagined that there was once any true blue in the painting. The painting as it appears today is on the left, the original colour is in the middle, and the right shows something that I'm not smart enough to describe to you properly. Looking at the painting this way, it does change things, doesn't it?

I'm really glad to have gone. Every time I think about getting a chance to go to Paris to see the famous painting, I shudder at the thought of being rushed through a room with hundreds of others as bulbs flash and the lady stares out from bullet-proof glass. I do get it, but it doesn't sound like fun. I don't know - maybe it is. I will say though that I'm pretty sure I learned a hell of a lot more about The Mona Lisa at this exhibit in Seoul than I ever could at the Louvre. The best part was that waiting until a weekday afternoon to go to the museum allowed us to roam through the exhibit almost on our own.

After the museum, it was haircut time in Itaewon. They still try to make me look vaguely Korean, but the rabbit was on-hand this time to verbally wrestle the K-pop intent out of them. I get my hair cut twice a year - maybe three times, so I don't want to look like a racially and culturally confused potser when I do.

After that, I convinced the rabbit to join me at Craftworks, a great little microbrewery just South of Namsan. It's weird for someone like the rabbit to be in her own city and to be at a foreigner-owned pub, surrounded by foreigners who are listening to foreign music, saying foreign things, and drinking foreign beer. Really, prior to meeting me, the rabbit rarely ventured into foreigner-frequented areas of Seoul. Truthfully, rarely have I. But I was proud of her for giving it a shot. We had a good time - she sampled the more Hite-esque "Namsan Pure Pilsner" and I tried out the new "Jirisan Moon Bear India Pale Ale". The rabbit tried a few sips as well and was intrigued by how un-Cass-uh like it was.

Each Craftworks beer is named for a Korean mountain. Jirisan went a little bit further to honour the Moon Bear (Asiatic Black Bear), an animal which is (controversially) still kept captive on bear farms in South Korea where its bile is harvested for its "medicinal purposes". There are herbal replacements available, but for some, there's nothing like the old way of keeping a large mammal in a cage small enough where it can't turn around or stand up and jabbing a hollow straw into its abdomen for 10 years until its muscles have atrophied and the animal needs to be put down and probably have its fur turned into a purse or jacket lining. What better way to cambat that nagging rhumatism? Protest groups have sprouted up hoping to change the fate of these bears. A friend here in Seoul is a prominent member of The Beat Truth, which seems to be doing a lot of good work in this area. Go to the site and check it out.

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