Arts & Culture

Despite all of our modern conveniences and all of our carefully thought out philosophies and all of our civilized contrivances ... our clothes and cars and technology ... we are, in the end, mammals. It's a fact we seem to forget.

Among the most significant impacts of civilization on our animal existence is that we have become freakishly sedentary. No other animal sits around us much as we do.

(Even the incredibly slow moving sloth is strong enough to hang from tree limbs for an entire lifetime, so don't even go there.)

Half the Fun.

Getting there that is. This implies that being there is the other half. Two halves make one. What about planning and getting ready? That's a lot of fun, too. So the end result is better than 100 percent.

I like that and my right brain looks for that kind of solution. If it were math, maybe it'd qualify to be called "an elegant solution." Well, maybe a little brother of one.

Unlike some major movie stars of today, George Clooney is not reluctant to take on roles that don't always reflect the best in human nature. In "The American," Clooney plays Jack, a high-priced assassin who works in Europe. Jack knows that the rules of his profession don't permit sentimentality or mercy, and, in the taut opening scene of the movie, set in deep snow in the beautiful Swedish wood, he acts accordingly. The scene, with cold and ruthless efficiency, sets up the rest of the movie, both its tone and its tale.

Francesca Williams and sculptor Don Wiegand stand before a shrouded mockup of the proposed statue of Tennessee Williams.
Sheila Rhodes

When Francesca Williams put on scuba gear for her first lesson on Saturday, Aug. 14, she was on the 37th day of an attempt to do 50 new things in 50 days to celebrate her 50th birthday on Aug. 28.

50 by 50

Since she kicked off her 50-things marathon on July 10, Francesca Williams had already tried shooting a hand gun, flying in a glider, getting ordained as a minister, writing 50 haikus in a day, attending a strip club, eating a fried Twinkie and spending the day at a nudist resort.

Pamela Vanegas and Manuel Torres discuss civics in their final study session before the 81-year-old takes his citizenship test.
Kristen Hare | St. Louis Beacon | 2010

They sit across from each other at the table. She asks questions. He answers them.

"OK, please stand up," Pamela Vanegas says, and Manuel Torres does. "What did I ask you to do."

"To stand up."

"OK, please raise your right hand."

He does.

"Do you swear to tell the truth today?"

"Yes," he says with feeling, then sits down.

James Cameron's To-Do List

____ 1. December 2009. Release "Avatar" in theaters. Make quadrozillion dollars.

(Note: Whine loudly when Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" pushes it off screens three months later.Those are my theaters, Tim!)

Almost everyone knows of renowned author Samuel Clemens -- especially here in Missouri, where we're proud to call Hannibal his home.

But the life of the man whose pen name was Mark Twain is far from an open book.

For example, few people realize that a chance meeting in his early 20s with a young girl may have sparked and sustained his writing career and provided the inspiration for the character of Becky Thatcher in his most famous novel, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."

Cecilia Nadal (standing at right in green) talks with Yanith Carranza (left) and Elizabeth Morales in Amherst Park after the unity concert. Morales came from the Festival of Nations in Tower Grove Park.
Robert Joiner | St. Louis Beacon file folder

Karen Cox Miller seldom thought much about the growing presence of foreigners in the Alpha Garden and Alpha Village apartment complexes a couple of blocks west of her home near Hodiamont Avenue and Skinker Boulevard.

On Sunday, however, she decided to get to know some of the new arrivals by attending the neighborhood's first Amherst Park Concert for Unity, which sought to build better relations between African Americans like herself and immigrants.

The three works in Exposure 13 at UMSL's Gallery 210 are decidedly minimal in style and scale, though not in content. This is a good thing, give that they are exhibited in Gallery B, the smaller of the spaces at 210.

Even with all the ways to access the Beacon that I talked about here two weeks ago, one place you won't usually find us is on paper (unless you print out an article yourself, of course).

Liberty Bell of the West on Kaskaskia Island
Rachel Heidenry | St. Louis Beacon | file photo

Several floods have scarred the Kaskaskia Island, the most recent being the Great Flood of 1993. After that, Illinois prohibited residents from moving back unless more than 51 percent of their home remained standing. And current building codes virtually prohibit new construction.

Kaskaskia Island was created by flooding. Originally not an island at all and on the east bank of the Mississippi River, the town was settled by French fur traders in 1686 just south of Ste. Genevieve. It was an administrative center for the area and became the first capital of Illinois.

St. Louisan Big George Brock has performed at past Bluesweek festivals.
File Photo | Bluesweek

The history of St. Louis blues festivals -- like the lengthy, proud tradition of St. Louis blues music -- is a story that can be confusing. It's also a story that has plenty of different perspectives and fascinating characters, just like many of the famous blues songs born here on the banks of the Mississippi.

I LOVE great ideas. Solutions. Effective approaches.

If I were asked to nominate "the best idea wasted," it would be the IBOT wheelchair invented by Dean Kamen using his Segway technology.

Segway, you'll recall, is that two-wheeled device that takes a standing rider and never tips over due to the gyroscope technology created by Kamen's company DEKA. It's a remarkable invention.

For four years -- more than twice as long as an elephant's gestation period -- Karen Brody labored over her play about the ultimate conclusion of pregnancy. Then, "Birth" was born.


Walter Metcalfe
St. Louis Public Radio file photo

This time last year revitalizing the Arch grounds seemed to be the impossible dream. An idea put forth by the Danforth Foundation to create a museum above ground on the Arch grounds was nixed by the National Park Service, and with that decision an enormous amount of money and the prestige of the Foundation took a hike.

The impossible dreaming did not take into account the determination of St. Louis lawyer Walter Metcalfe Jr.

While on vacation, I read an interesting New York Times story about five neuroscientists who took a wilderness trip. They wanted to see how immersion in nature might affect their digitally overloaded brains.

For "Screwed Again," a reprise of sorts of 2008's "Screwed In" at the Gallery of the Regional Arts Commission, nine local artists spent days painting a mural that occupies three walls of the enormous main gallery.

Last week, the location wars got serious. The same day that Foursquare was featured in the New York Times Fashion & Style section, Facebook launched its Places application.

Author Sara Paretsky will be in town for a book signing at the St. Louis County Public Library on Aug. 31, the day "Body Work," her 14th novel featuring the exploits of private eye V.I. Warshawski, officially reaches the nation's bookstores.

Preparing for its major fall season opener, the Rivane Neuenschwander survey, the Kemper Art Museum is playing out the summer with “Gesture, Scrape, Combine, Calculate: Postwar Abstraction from the Permanent Collection.” 

But this show is anything but a placeholder in the exhibition schedule. It’s a solid survey of mid-century modern painting and sculpture that reveals some surprises and reminds us of the excellent quality of the Kemper’s collection.

Dan Parris, at the white cliffs of Dover, England
Provided by the film company

Dan Parris

Dan Parris has made it his calling to try to get by in life on not much more than pennies. With two compatriots, the 26-year-old St. Louisan has hitchhiked halfway across America on $1.25 a day. He is nearing completion of a documentary film intended to motivate others, particularly his generation, to do something about extreme poverty.

In trying to spread his message, Dan Parris nearly died in a plane crash in Nairobi, Kenya, last summer.

Jim Manley
Devin Rodino

Interview with Jim Manley

HOME: All the guys in the band are from St. Louis, but all of us have played throughout the country at one time or another. I did a show called Trumpet Party in Amsterdam that was a blast! (no pun intended!)

AGE: Wild Cool & Swingin' started about 12 years on Wednesdays at BB's Jazz, Blues & Soups.

INSTRUMENTS: We are a nine piece group - featuring Charlie B on the vocals ... backed by a four-piece horn section and keys, guitar, drums and percussion.

Walter Metcalfe at Arch news conference
Rachel Heidenry | Beacon | File photo

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar came to town today to take his own look at the five final competing plans for the Gateway Arch grounds and its surroundings, calling them all "truly exciting for me and for the nation."

And as he did on a visit here last July, months before the design competition got underway, he once again pledged his support for getting the winning design built by 2015 -- the 50th anniversary of the Arch.

Many Glacier
Susan Hegger | 2010

One family, three cars, seven days, 14 people, ranging in age from 2 to 83.

That could have been an unmitigated disaster, but for us, it all added up to an incredible vacation, with fleeting but memorable stops in some of the most breath-taking places in the world. Here's a whirlwind look at a whirlwind tour.

Day One: Flathead Lake, Montana

OK, technically, it was Day Two. (Day One was one long travel day; it's not easy -- or cheap -- to get to Somers, Mont.)

One of the main reasons for heading to California for a vacation was so my partner (and Beacon bookkeeper) Martin Kaplan could participate in a reunion of performing arts alums from Palos Verdes High School, from which he graduated in 1978. Marty described the rehearsals that occupied him last Friday and Saturday as "surreal." It felt, he said, as if he'd been catapulted backward in time, to the 1970s, when he was a student at PV High School, and during rehearsals it seemed very little had changed.