In New York — FOSS, museums, Broadway, and the marathon
by Rob Tiller
New York City is still the greatest! It’s so energizing. I went up Thursday night to attend the Software Freedom Law Center’s fall conference on Friday, and for the weekend we did some fun city things – museums, Broadway, sports, and food.
The conference at Columbia Law School was in part a celebration of how far free and open source software has come, but also discussed less pleasant things, like copyright trolls and security. I enjoyed seeing a number of business friends from leading tech companies and catching up.
On Saturday morning Sally and I went to the Metropolitan Museum and saw two special exhibits – Kongo: Power and Majesty (art of central Africa), and Ancient Egypt Transformed: the Middle Kingdom. After our recent Africa trip, I’ve been listening to African music, and was eager to learn more about its art.
Slavery and horrendous colonial exploitation is what I think of first when I think of central and western Africa, but the exhibit demonstrates that there was an elaborate and well-developed culture and artistic tradition before Europeans arrived. There was extraordinary craftsmanship in their carvings and weaving, and something powerful in their religious objects. If you can’t get to the Met, you can see all the objects here.
As for Egypt, the Middle Kingdom ran from 2030-1650 BC and from the 11th through the 13th dynasties. This exhibit also changed the way I thought of this society. It’s strange, of course, to think that pharaohs were viewed as gods, but all religions have their quirks. I’d thought of the sculpture as normally cold and formulaic, if well crafted, but was struck by how tenderly human and individual some of it was. Here again, you can check it all online.
I’ve generally avoided museum audio guides, on the theory that it’s good to struggle with finding the message of objects than to be spoon fed. But it was well worth using the Met’s audio guide for these exhibits. The commentary was usually intelligent, and it was helpful to hear the pronunciation of the unfamiliar African and Egyptian words.
Afterwards, I went down to the Museum of Modern Art to see a special exhibit of the sculpture of Picasso. Apparently Picasso did not think of himself as a sculptor, but used sculptural tools for exploring new ideas. These were often witty and lively works, in a variety of styles and media. Picasso is really inspiring in his never-ending curiosity and energy.
That evening we went to see Hamilton, a big hit on Broadway about the life of Alexander Hamilton told in the hip hop vernacular. Jocelyn had seen it twice off-Broadway, and was hugely excited about seeing it again. Her enthusiasm had motivated me to do a bit of homework beforehand, including reading the Ron Chernow biography of Hamilton, listening to the cast recording, and listening to some of the big hip hop hits of the last three decades.
I really liked the show. Hamilton’s life story is richly dramatic, and his achievements were extraordinary. That’s a good start, but to bring them into the present with an urban vernacular is such a great idea! At the same time, to take on some complicated history, with a spirit that is both playful and serious, is remarkable! The creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda is surely brilliant, and seems to understand that history is not something that is fixed, but rather always subject to reexamination and new understandings. Anyhow, it’s both a fun show, and richly thoughtful. How often does that happen?
On Sunday morning we walked up to Central Park South to see the New York City Marathon. It is, of course, remarkable that people can run 26.2 miles at any speed, much less the pace that the elite athletes do. We were privileged to see the top finishers approaching Columbus Circle, close to the end. They looked focused, but not miserable. I read the next day that the men’s winner, Stanley Biwott of Kenya, ran mile 21 in 4:24, and only a few seconds slower for the next two miles. That is beyond amazing!