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Back in the USA

June 11, 2011

San Francisco.

California, of course, will be the state most spectacularly wrecked by the path of population growth America is locked into. First thing I notice in local media is plans to cram 19,000 residents on Treasure Island, a former Navy base now mostly open space in San Francisco Bay. A tragic loss of greenery and another gesture to growth mania,

Treasure Island San Francisco

More serious,of course, is the urbanization of the central valley of California slated to occur over the next 20 years. Tidal wave immigration – which California suffers – requires farmland be paved over for tract housing and shopping malls and car parks. If you sign up for demographic dynamism as the one route to economic growth that’s what you end up with : the end of nature. Some Australians want that too.

Seven billion of us now, nine billion in 2045. Even if you believe only the mildest version of climate change, you had better start worrying about this planetary experiment.

Meanwhile, American entertainment….

As I tipped, the euphoria let loose by the administration’s execution of Islamist mass murderer Osama Bin Laden has been even shorter lived than George H W Bush’s triumph in the first Gulf War. Disappointing economic growth is the only serious story here. Politically the question is whether Tim Pawlenty or Mitt Romney can do what Clinton did in 1992 – win credibility for an alternative economic plan. Because the voters are ready for it.

Has anyone else noticed? CNN seems to be taking a pronounced liberal stance, getting stuck into Republicans…and thus making itself entertaining in the Fox style. They used to be dull but now seem to be taking the stick to Fox and generally sparking. Yesterday was the first time in years I was able to watch them for an uninterrupted hour, all politics, as much Gingrich as Weiner.

Great Art. A thrilling exhibition at SFMOMA, The Steins Collect, the paintings – mainly Picassos and Matisses – bought between 1905 and about 1920 by the two Stein families installed in Paris from the Bay Area and passionate about art. There is Gertrude photographed in her study under Picasso’s Boy With a Horse and Matisse’s Woman With a Hat, the walls dripping with other Fauvist and Cubist masterpieces. And the very paintings are assembled here, allowing us to imagine the excitement of that pre-World War One decade.

The canvasses represented the biggest revolution in visual art since the Renaissance and the two Stein households were, it seems, the first people to appreciate what it meant. The rooms of this intelligent and lucidly-curated exhibition display the paintings purchased. They are drawn from galleries across the world. Old friends, like Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein or blue-period Melancholy Woman and Matisse’s Blue Nude from Algeria. This last appeared in America in New York’s famous Armory Show of 1913 which unveiled modern art (post- Impressionist, Fauvist, Cubist) to bewildered Americans who saw it in the tens of thousands. Former president Teddy Roosevelt was especially bewildered. The Steins kept buying until in the early 1920s the prices sailed beyond their budgets.

The exhibition has the value of telling a story, conveying visitors to the interaction of collectors and painters at the start of modern art. There are the photographs of the paintings on the walls of their Paris apartments ; and there they hang on the walls of this exhibition.

  1. June 11, 2011 9:02 am

    Bob, what brings you to San Francisco? The Bay Area is my new home, as an Aussie expat, and I’m sure other expats might be interested to hear you speak if you’ve got any public engagements locally.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      June 11, 2011 9:13 am

      We are here for The Ring, preceded by a walk in Yosemite and some museum- going, all of which I’ll report on.

      • June 11, 2011 9:38 am

        If you’re a coffee drinker, Blue Bottle or Four Barrel in the city. You won’t find any coffee outside of a large thermos in the central valley. A shock for Sydneysiders. Yosemite should be spectacular at this time of year, possibly obviating the need for stimulants entirely!

        If it’s been awhile since you’ve visited, services like are handy for discovering the lay of the land. We leaned on them a lot when we first arrived. iPhones and the like amplify their usefulness considerably.

        Enjoy America. Perhaps a visit to Costco or Wal*Mart might make for an entertaining blog post. Nothing brought home the scale of America’s consumption than stepping foot into a Costco for the first time. I was stunned to hear they were opening in Australia.

      • Tony Booth permalink
        June 14, 2011 9:51 am

        Lucky you I wondered why SF I used io share a flat in Bondi with a fellow Wagnerian. My father absolutely adored the Ring and I remember as a kid when he bought the complete Solti Ring with 3 record introductory !! was an absolute highlight. He then insisted on playing an opera each night for 4 weeks as a secial treat to fellow work colleagues at BHP and they had to suffer lol! He was privileged to see Furtwangler conduct the LSO in London and also hear the incomporable Flagstad sing in Covent Garden, surely the 20th century’s greatest singer?

        His Tristian was also legendary such sublime music.

        If anyone ever wanted to see a vitriolic debate check out You Tube with any particular search for a clip some amazing historical footage and of course comments from all sides.

        We look fwd to a review later, maybe you can convince Simone Young to bring a decent company to Australia so we can experience it in full glory without a trip to Europe etc?

  2. June 11, 2011 3:03 pm

    A book to read on your flight back – it’s the best explanation I have read yet on the growth of American cities. Edge City. It’s now 20 years old, but still a good read.

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