Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

DAY 36 The Bell arrives at the Exploratorium

The current bell housed at the museum is a much smaller bell that was cast in China. The sound quality is thin and high pitched. It is pretty loud but it’s not a particularly rich or interesting sound. A poor replacement and stand-in bell for the once beautiful tones made by the old bell belonging to the Oppenheimers. People wanted to compare the 2 bells. SO we rang them one after another. Back and forth from one side of the museum to the other. As a comparison, the new bell sounded much better. It was like resurrecting a ghost. Suddenly, the museum sounded like it used to, and it was magical and wonderful to be transported back in time. Then, suddenly, both bells were sounding at once, and it was even more incredible. They sounded so good together. Two large, loud bells dominating - for one suspended moment - the entire museum. They were the loudest things going. Louder than the exhibits. Certainly louder than anyone speaking. It was impossible to say or do anything else for a moment, and it was glorious. For an instant, everyone was enveloped in the sound created by these 2 bells and that would be the sound that would close the museum everyday from now on. It couldn’t have been more wonderful.

So. That was that. We took the trailer back to the car, moved the bell into the theater for the weekend presentations and left. End of the road.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Day 36. The last piece of Road

I rang the bell all the way from my house to the museum. Non-stop. I was so sad to be parting from the bell. But once I got the Exploratorium and people were so glad to see the bell, I felt better. It’s like when you need to give the kittens away. When you realize that the kitten will be in a good home, you can let go.

So, off we went. Liz and Jeanne Marie had arranged a welcoming opportunity. Some for the old-timers from the museum were there to greet us, and the public was eager to ring the bell. Someone was mowing the lawn right next to the parking lot, so between that and the bell it was loud, loud, loud. Eventually we unhooked the trailer from the car and Liz and Pam wheeled it inside and I pushed- ringing the bell as we walked through the museum. We walked through a long corridor of people who were all ringing little bells as we passed. It was really nice. So many of those little tiny bells tinkling above the general din of the museum and the clanging bell. When we arrived at the skylight, there were more people waiting to ring the bell and to announce our arrival. Dennis Bartell, the director of the Exploratorium was there to tell people about the project and the significance of the bell in the history and culture of the museum. Then the ringing really began.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Day35 The Final Stretch

Final Stop. Ann's House

Community College of San Mateo

Williams Elementary School. San Jose
Day34.Driving to Salinas and the National Steinbeck Center

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I will drive the bell through San Francisco during rush hour from 4:30- 6:00PM, ringing it as I go. Whenever the car is stopped, passersby will be encouraged to ring the bell. If you have a bell, bring it out and ring it! Or honk. Or yell. Whatever you do, make some noise!
Day33. Los Angeles

When I woke up, Nancy dangled my keys as she said good morning. She had called the AAA guys and they had already come and retrieved my keys. So I went out to the car to get all my stuff and realized as I was about to go into the house that I had a little gift in the car for Nancy. So I returned to the car, opened the back hatch and dug out the little “dream box” from my bag of souvenirs. Then I closed he hatch and started back to the house when it dawned on me that I had probably just locked the keys in the car, again. Which I did. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t seen Nancy in 5 or 6 years and I thought this was a bad way to get reacquainted.

Anyway, we called the AAA guys again and waited and waited. I had a hunch they might see the new call and think it was a mistake so I called back and that’s exactly what had happened so I made yet another request and waited some more. While we waited, some of the neighbors came out and wanted to ring the bell. I explained that the clapper was locked in the back of the car and that they could ring it as soon as the AAA guy came back. They couldn’t wait so one of them went into the garage and came back out with two strikers: a rubber mallet and a brass hammer. They tried hitting the bell with each of the hammers and seemed to agree that the soft one was the nicer of the two. The noise caused the woman from across the street to lean out of her second story window to get a better look and she too approved of the bell.

Then the AAA man pulled up and had the door opened in no time. He rang the bell before he left, and nice as he was, I hoped that was the last we’d see of him.

Eventually, we got to Gelson’s Market at the bottom of the hill and two former Bard students were there to meet us and to ring the bell. Gabe had rung it in NY almost a month ago. Except for Norman and me- for what it’s worth, Gabe is the only person to ring it on both coasts.

Joe was also there and he took me to get a hard drive to back up all the movies I had made on the trip. I couldn’t make any more movies because I had run out of memory, and I can’t say that I was sorry about it. I am about finished here and am limping home.

Anyway, a few other people came walking by and rang it. One woman said she ad been listening to the radio in her car and as the piece was finishing she heard a bell ringing and thought it was a lovely was for the piece to end. Then she switched off her car and was startled when the bell kept going.

Later that evening, I said goodbye to Nancy and went to get Norman at the airport. He is returning for the final leg of the journey. And just in time as far as the trailer is concerned, too. It bounced all the way to the airport. It was pretty frightening, not to mention a little sickening. I stopped near the airport to get some gas and wait until Norman got to the baggage claim since there was NO WAITING at the airport. While I was in the gas station, a few of the other patrons became interested in the bell and wanted to ring it. Since the clapper was unattached, I handed it to the first guy and he wanted to know how hard he could hit it. I said it didn’t seem to matter as far as the bell was concerned so he declined the hearing protection and whacked the hell out of the bell. He really loved it.

I had to go get Norman so I said goodbye but he was still there 10 minutes later when we came back there to check out the wheels on the trailer, Norman was concerned about the bearings, but the guy said that the bouncing wasn’t due to some problem with the trailer. It was the roads. They were grooved a certain way for the rain so that cars could get traction. And that was the problem. Then he asked if he could hit the bell again. He had a friend in the car with him and he told his friend to get out and hit the bell, too. His friend wanted to wear the hearing protection when I offered it to him, but the first guy told him not to be a wimp. So they each hit it a few times and then asked me to take their picture and a picture of their truck to put on the blog. (This is LA…)

As I was putting the clapper away, I noticed several yellow marks on it. It was the paint from the bell. Those guys had hit it so hard; it took the paint off the bell. You could kill somebody with that thing.

We started out the day at the Waffle House. I love those pecan waffles- (the ones with the small squares). It was so hot again, I wasn’t looking forward to the long drive to Los Angeles, but too bad. After breakfast we went to the car and someone drove up to us and asked about the bell. I invited him to ring it and he said “Sure, why not” we had to untie the bell and put the clapper in anyway because Krys wanted to ring it at the airport. So it was like a command performance for the guy. He took the ear protection seriously and then swung the wheel really hard. He looked pretty amazed and waited until it was almost finished ringing before he removed the hearing protection. He loved the bell. It reminded him of firing a shotgun and he said I needed to keep th3 bell. I agreed, he was really happy to have ring it- it made his day and then he left.

We drove to the airport, ringing the bell all the way there. The security guard at the terminal was very interested in the bell. He asked lots of questions about the age, the manufacturer, and he touched it but didn’t need to ring it. He said he already heard it as we were driving in. I was really sorry to see Krys go. We made some nice recordings of the bell and after this is all over, that’s all the sound I will have left. I am going to miss the bell.

On my way out of town, I stopped at my Mother’s old apartment building and rang the bell 63 times- her age when she died. People waved or stopped to ask why I was ringing the bell. With each interruption or missed toll of the bell, I thought about what that year might have been like for my mother. It was really hot. I drove until my lips cracked then stopped for something to drink and to work at the Flying J on the internet before resuming the long drive.

Everything was going smoothly as far as the road went, until I hit the LA area, Then suddenly, the trailer and bell started to bounce. Bam bam bam. The whole car shook and my seat felt like someone was yanking it back over and over again. It was very scary and I had to slow down and put the blinkers on. This was on the LA freeway and I drove like this off and on (mostly-on) for more than an hour. When I finally arrived at my friend Nancy’s house, I was both completely exhausted and really happy to see her. So I hopped out of the car, slammed the door and realized that I didn’t have my keys on me. When I looked in the driver’s side window, I saw them lying on the floor. It was very late so we decided to call AAA in the morning and then go to the Gelsin Market as planned.
Day31.Tucson, AZ

We drove from Lordsburg, NM to Tucson, AZ and it was too hot. My car is a San Francisco car i.e. air conditioner not necessary. However, it would have come in “mighty handy down here, bub”. * We decided to record the Bell in the desert in the evening after it cooled off.

* Nick’s reply in reference to money from “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The scene is Nick’s Bar after Jimmy Stewart gets his wish to see what his life would have been like had he never been born. His guardian angel, Clarence, tells the bartender that he doesn’t have any money to pay for his drink because they don’t use money in heaven.

We drove into the mountains searching for a quiet place away from traffic. It was not to be. It was pretty quiet with the occasional car and more frequent buzz of a small plane. The incredible nighttime chorus of insects more than compensated for our ideal non-machine sound environment. It was thrilling. The air was thick with sound that you’d walk through like streams of water. Those crickets are so directional –one minute you hear a pleasant mix of all kinds of insect songs and the next second you are jabbed in the ear by the most delicate and precise vibration. It was great!

Anyway, we drove the car into the Saguaro National Park after dark and that meant the park was closed. The road was a bumpy washboard that we bounced along for a very long time before we stopped in front of a sandy wash. There was no way to turn around and even after 6000 + miles, U still can’t back up the trailer. So we decided to record in that spot and deal with getting out of there afterwards.


Yesterday we had recorded the sound of the bell as someone walked away from it into the distance. We never go around to doing the reverse so that’s what we wanted to do. We decided that one of us would ring the bell and the other would walk far away and then come back. We were excited and curious how it would sound with the insects. The moon was very bright so we could see the path pretty clearly. I am afraid of the dark so Krys was the walker and I stayed and rang the bell. If you really think about it though, the stationary person, standing in the bright moonlight ringing a very loud bell is the better target, but I just didn’t want to go wandering off down the road into the desert. So thank you, Krys.

I rang the bell for 20 minuets or so and at one point I thought about the spirits of the Native Americans who had inhabited this land. The giant Saguaros cacti are all around and I remembered someone telling me that they took 100 years to get that big. Each cactus was a man and each arm on the cactus was one of his wives. I hoped that I wasn’t disturbing anyone’s spirit especially since I was surrounded by 100’s of these cacti.

Eventually Krys appeared up the road as a dim shadow that I thought might be wishful thinking. But it was she and we unhitched the trailer and moved it to the side of the road, turned the car around on the narrow little road, hitched it back up and drove off to one more site.

The second site was much like the first. Same desert, beautiful and loud chorus of insects and similar bumpy, awful road. This time I managed to back up a bit so that we could just drive home when we were finished without having to dismantle and reassemble the whole rig before leaving.
Day31. Lordsburg, NM

On the way to Tucson we stopped at a truck stop outside of Lordsburg, and as we were leaving, a man pulled up next to the car and asked us, “What is the Bell Project”. I told him we had already driven over 6000 miles and were finishing up in San Francisco and that we were inviting people along the way to ring the bell. He was really happy and jumped out of his car. Because we were traveling on the Interstate, the Bell was tied up and the clapper was in the back of the car. I asked him if he would like to just strike it with the clapper or did he want to swing the wheel. He was more than satisfied to hit it with the clapper, declined the hearing protection, wound that clapper up like he was waiting for a fastball and swung with all his might. Then he did it again. He then told us a good joke about San Francisco where the punch line is “I left my harp in Sam Clams’ disco”.
Day30. In Search of Quiet Places to Record the Bell. New Mexico
We found several really beautiful places along scenic highway 27 where we stopped to record. It’s not very often that one can find a quiet place, and except for the occasional car and constant wind, we were pretty excited. We stopped by a solid waste transfer station in a little valley that was not at all busy on a Saturday afternoon and took turns ringing and recording the bell- Up close, down the road, in the distance down the hill behind a tree. We used a binaural set up that Krys brought with her where you clip two little microphones onto your glasses. (It was a good thing I had just purchased a new pair of sparkly sunglasses the night before at the gas station).

Near the transfer station

Anyway, as nice as the place was, it was less than ideal because the sound from the few cars that did pass lingered for a long time. So we packed up and went looking for a better place. Sometimes “better is the enemy of good”. We drove around for quite a while and were beginning to get hungry and were just about ready to call it quits for the day when I pulled off the road onto a soft shoulder and got stuck in the sand. Quickly and deeply. It was a lot like snow and I didn’t even bother spinning the wheels until that horrible smell happens.

The quality that made the location we chose for recording so perfect was its isolation. It was a less desirable quality in our current situation. I tried to call AAA, but of course there was no signal. So we grabbed some water, locked the car and set off back down the road to a town we saw about 8 miles earlier. We hadn’t gotten very far at all when the first vehicle we had seen in half an hour came down the road towards us. There was a man and his young son in the car and they said if we weren’t in a hurry they would be right back with a chain to pull us out. So we went back to the car and sat down with the bell until they came back and hauled the car, trailer and bell out of the sand. They didn’t care to ring the bell but the boy took some postcards and they headed home. Gluttons for punishment that we were, we continued to search for a really quiet place on solid ground so that we could make a few more recordings. We did. The cows watched, and then we went to dinner.

Day30.New Mexico. Morning.

Las Cruces. First thing today we went to a coffee place Krys read about in one of the hotel publications she found in our room. It was a great place, called Milagros- the best coffee yet. As we were leaving Krys decided to pass out postcards and informed the other patrons that we would be available for ringing if anyone was interested. We had two takers from the coffee shop and another person passing by stopped to watch and reminisce about the bells she had known and rung as a child.

As we were leaving, the woman serving the coffee hollered out the little drive by window and said she would like to ring it. So we drove the bell as close as we could to the window, but when she still couldn’t reach it, she asked the boss if she could come out and ring it. She was very excited and the boss took a break from roasting the coffee (which smelled really incredible) to hang out the window. She rang the bell, he offered us some coffee for the road, and we set out for a quiet place to record the bell.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Day29.Ciudad Juarez.

one bell, one honk

We sailed over the bridge into Juarez as we look across the road at the bumper-to-bumper traffic headed towards the US and thought about how we’d have to deal with that later.

In the meantime, Krys had brought her audio recorder and binaural mics and we were excited. We drove all over the place, ringing the bell as we drove the congested streets, adding to the already sound saturated air. Music blasting from speakers on the sidewalk, people walking around singing to themselves, cars, shouting- it felt very different than where we had come from.

In an alleyway: an arc welder being used to fix a vending cart, music and voices spilling from the doorways, the bell

People were in the streets- moving, sitting, standing. All very close by and moving at a human pace, not fast. So we could talk to people as we passed, and they could talk back or jus walk behind the car and ring the bell. People were curious about the bell. Some pointed. Many smiled. Others gave a thumbs’-up. And lots of people rang the bell.

the bell playing on the upbeat

It was very hot but we stayed for a long time, bumping along some very rough streets until we decided to leave. By then we were so disoriented that we didn’t know which way to go. So we stopped and asked someone how to get to El Paso. The tallest building in the town was the Cathedral and the only instruction on the map was a fairly detailed drawing of that structure (including the cross) and some well-placed arrows. And a single reassuring little indication of our destination: “TX.”

around the cathedral of Juarez for the third time: trucks, drumming and bell

The line back to El Paso was very, very long. Vendors sold fruit, water, candy apples, nuts. Someone had a statue of an eagle on a rock in one hand and a painting of “Mary Queen of Heaven” in the other. That was all he had to sell. We moved very slowly and rang the bell upon request by slamming on the brakes now and then to get the bell moving quickly. Once we saw a woman looking all around as she tried to locate the source of the bell, and when she saw it, she seemed really happy and pleased to ring the bell. And we passed out the postcards to everyone. By the time we got to the checkpoint, we’d had enough of the bell for the day, but the border guard was curious and so she was the last one to ring it and wish us well.

Then we set off to La Cruces. Krys rang the bell once more in the parking lot at Best Buy where we got the audio cable we needed so we could start posting the sounds of the day.
Day29.El Paso

Krys is here!

El Paso.
After taking Jessica to the airport, I had some time to kill before getting Krys so I started towards the oil-changing place. On the way, I thought I’d stop and make a few phone calls. Of course, I sat there with the lights on and so when I was ready to go, the car wouldn’t start- again. A homeless man stopped and tried to help me push start the car but even together we could hardly budge the car. While we were resting, he noticed that I had a flat tire. We chatted a bit more, he rang the bell and left.

This was only the beginning of my good fortune for the day. Up on the hill was some kind of car dealership, and when I went in there, they had a portable battery-charging unit. It was so small I didn’t know what it was, but the man assured me it would do the job and off we went. He declined to ring the bell so I rang it for him and then he went back to work.

When I finally got to the oil changing place they were really busy and said they could change the oil in an hour or so but that aside from filling the tire with air they didn’t have time to deal it. I figured I’d go someplace else for the tire and left them with the keys and took off to find someplace with a wi-fi connection while I waited. I was gone for more than an hour before I returned to see the car, bell and trailer sitting right where I had left it and I was really disappointed that they hadn’t gotten around to it. Then I looked a bit more closely and saw that it had been moved a tiny ways forward. My good fortune multiplied. These guys had not only changed the oil, they greased the wheels for the trailer, filled all of the tires with air, found the nail in my tire that I had been riding around with and plugged it up. And they only charged $25.00. If you are ever in El Paso and need something done to you car, go to the Super 5 Auto Center on 1140 Airway Blvd. These guys are terrific! AND they rang the bell.

To the airport- no Krys. So I waited until the guard came over and informed me that I couldn’t sit where I was and had to keep circling. But she rang the bell to send me off and I rode around the little airport a few times ringing the bell upon request each time I passed the terminal. When Krys finally appeared, the first thing she did was ring the bell and then we took off.

But not so quickly. After circling around and around so many times, you’d think I would have noticed how to exit the airport, but I didn’t. In fact, we ended up in a very long line of what turned out to be parked taxis. Since I couldn’t back up the trailer, we settled in and figured we would have to wait for hours until we got to the head of the line. Unfortunately after 20 minutes or so, one of the taxi drivers who had been playing cards came over and said we would get a ticket if we didn’t move. We said we would like to move but couldn’t back up and so someone came over who used to drive an 18-wheeler. He backed that little trailer up in almost no time (with advice from the rest of the card players who had come to watch). After ringing the bell, he gave us directions to Juarez and we set off.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Day28. Riding through west Texas
Day28. Marfa and points west, Texas
By Jessica

In the morning we headed to the Chianti Foundation in Marfa, built on a former army base, where Donald Judd set up his museum and100 mill aluminum boxes on the grounds. Brenda rang the bell in the parking lot, tolling against the sound of wind and the highway.

On our way out of Marfa, we stopped at a gas station to use the phone, where two guys jumped out of a pick up truck and asked to ring the bell, as their dog Diva, a domesticated dingo, responded with both fear and fascination.

We headed on through the desert, past Valentine, Texas, with its deserted roadside buildings. The landscape slowly changed from brown elevated desert to a rockier pink, the speed limit going up to 80, with the constant image of the border patrols on the highway.
Almost to Marfa

(Check out the video below)

Day27PM.Marfa, TX
By Jessica
The Marfa Mystery Lights. This was one of the wildest things I've ever seen. There are all sorts of theories explaining this phenomenon: scientific, metaphysic, science fiction. My favorite is that these are the ghosts of Conquistadors, still searching for gold.

As the sun set over Marfa, people gathered at the viewing sight outside of Alpine, Texas, all waiting for the arrival of the big mystery. I looked out into the horizon with the others, and heard Brenda ringing the bell from the parking lot. "What's that, a train?" a teenage guy asked his friend. "No, that's the bell lady." "Shut up," the other said. "No. Seriously. There's a lady with a bell. Go out and take a look." His friend looked at him skeptically, then took off to get a look for himself, as if the Bell Lady was as much of an extraterrestrial phenomenon as the lights.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Day27. Ciudad Acuna, Mexico
by Jessica

In the afternoon we headed into Mexico, to the border town of Ciudad Acuna.

It's a very brief ride along the bridge that connects Del Rio to Acuna-- about as long, it seemed, as going about a ten or twenty block distance in Manhattan-- but once there, you know you're somewhere else. The feeling is immediate.

The signs and buildings have different colors, different designs. And every other block there's another dental office.

The streets were much narrower than in Del Rio, and we moved slowly, the bell tolling periodically. We got a lot of shout-outs from people hanging out along the sidewalks, some quite enthusiastic. Our favorite reactions were from children. School had just gotten out. A group of girls giggled, and seemed to enjoy the spectacle of a large passing bell. They especially loved it when we made the wrong turn onto a one-way street.

Three boys stopped to ring the bell and took postcards, waving as we drove off. My favorite reaction was from a schoolboy sitting on the sidewalk, who called out "Viva America" as we passed. It was hard to tell from his inflection how he meant it-- sarcastic, joking, mocking, supportive, some kind of verbal pat on the back-- I don't know. But I liked it.

Coming back into the US, a group of border police came close to the car, looking at both of us, and at the bell, with severity, and asking a lot of questions. But it changed fast. The group of police around the car grew a little. Their questions about where the bell was going and where it came from took on a new tone; lost the edge of looming trouble. One guy seemed to particularly like the idea of the journey onwards to Marfa.