Escher Slice

I think the year was in the early 90’s. A worldwide tour of M. C. Escher prints, all, or almost all of his life’s work, was visiting the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, where I lived. The Baloneys all bought tickets. They seemed expensive, but you got to go twice. I think you had to schedule your visits in advance.

As with most of the Baloneys, I had been familiar with Escher since my high school days. Some of us had even read Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach. We had all paged through large-format books of the prints and were conversant with much of his oeuvre. Some of us had hung Escher posters on our walls.

Our first visit was late afternoon on a summer’s day, or maybe late spring. A fine one, whatever the season. Grasshopper had brought an Aerobee™ and some frisbees, as was his wont, and we were flinging them about a lawn. Come to think of it, it must have been spring, as will be obvious. I’m not that great of a thing-tosser, but the other Baloneys were doing it and it isn’t un-fun and I was trying to get into the spirit. Prompted by repeated bits of unsolicited critique about my technique, I was feeling somewhat wrathful and vengeful. In my wrath, I flung the aerobee with rage-high angular-momentum, on a flat, ground-hugging trajectory, ostensibly towards my would-be coach but clumsily at rather the wrong angle. Here’s how I know it was Spring: the cursed object turned out to be aimed at a bed of blooming tulips. We noted the toy’s progress through the flowerbed, not by observing its actual flight but as revealed by the appearance of a shallow, ‘bee-wide rectangular trough, carved by the spinning blade’s premature decapitation of the dazzling petals. Turns out you can put a lot of angular momentum into an aerobee, and tulip stems don’t offer much resistance to spinning knife-edge disks. The craft plowed all the way through the tulip bed, landing in the lawn a ways beyond. I don’t think there was any constabulary patrolling the area, or maybe they simply took pity on us rather than confronting, as we sheepishly retrieved our bloom-slaughtering projectile and decided it was near enough to our scheduled visit time to slink over to the Science Center.

After viewing only the first or maybe the second print we realized the genius of the two-visit conceit. We knew our brains were going to have to digest what we were seeing before returning for more study. Irrespective of the high resolution of the large reproductions, the prints themselves had a presence well beyond the reprographics. The infinite was slightly more infinite, the illusion that much more illusory. There were many works I couldn’t remember having seen, some smaller than the more famous prints, bookplates and the like. My second visit, I believe just with Mrs. Dean-to-be (we were not yet affianced), I thought to spend more of my time on the less familiar works, but I wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped. All of his works simply draw the eye and the mind. Even familiar old foot stompers had unremembered or novel details on second viewing.

I’ve watched some Escher documentaries, and I’m familiar with Roger Penrose’s and his father’s mutual influences with Escher. Geometry fascinates me – spherical, Euclidian, hyperbolic. Ever since I learned about tesseracts, I think in third grade, I have felt that there must be a way to envision geometry, to “see” theorems in an intuitive way that gives the correct answers, so that even if you can’t or don’t know how to write it down, if you did you would see it truly proven.