Monday, March 21, 2005

Las Meninas, again Posted by Hello

Kennan as in the photogallery of the American Embassy in Moscow Posted by Hello

George Kennan

The Chargé d'Affaires ad interinum 's Syndrome?

George Kennan has died. Many serious obituaries sections say the same. From my Ministry's own daily bulletin (which, perhaps inevitably, always ends up with a sober reminder of the fortunes of one's football team), to serious media, like BBC News or, later on, the Financial Times. None, I'm glad to add, underscored the key feature of George Kennan's diplomatic professional relationship with Russia (in its Soviet Union garish clothes). He was, to my mind, the most accomplished sufferer of "Chargé d'Affaires' Syndrome".

How can one explain it to laymen, strangers to the arcane rules of diplomats behaviour abroad? Maybe I should say a few words about the next-in-succession-line to sovereign Ambassador, the "Number Two", to use the awful and, I suspect, American-originated expression. At the time of his famous Eureka regarding how Western governments should deal with the Soviet regime, Kennan was the Minister-Counsellor at the American Embassy in Moscow, you see? Having been myself a Minister-Counsellor in Moscow, and not that long ago, I can be forgiven for a feeling of camaraderie towards my distinguished, now defunct, colleague. It was precisely under the most telling of all manifestations, or symptoms, of "Chargé d'Affaires' Syndrome", that is, rushing to produce substantial and provocative analysis as soon as his Ambassador leaves for holidays or retires, that George Kennan wrote the 5,542-word "Long Telegram" in 1946. That most famous cable in US diplomatic history who ended up being published, albeit in revised form, in "Foreign Affairs", in 1947, under the pseudonym "X". The policy paper which started, single-hand, the Washington containment doctrine towards Communist Russia for forty years, was, I'm afraid, the labour of a frustrated "Nº2" in all its classic form. (The most delicious example is perhaps Chateaubriand who was send to Rome at the climax of his literary glory and spent his time there signing passports when he felt his understanding of complex international issues was much more accurate than the one of his hated 'ignoramus' of Ambassador.)

When I visited the American Embassy in Moscow for the first time, three winters ago, I got a copy of "Spaso House - a Short Story on the Residence of the Ambassador of the United States". I remember that I laughed with a letter by George Kennan that was included in the neat booklet, as an annex. Some hasted research on un-opened boxes that traveled from Russia to Madrid enabled me to find it, and I rush to blog my re-discoveries.

Kennan, in the capacity of diplomatic secretary and interpreter, accompanied Ambassador William C. Bullit when the latter went to Moscow in the late fall of 1933 to present his credentials as first American ambassador to the Soviet Government. When Bullit left, only to return in Spring and to more suitable weather-wise Moscow, Kennan remained in charge, the first of such periods of not-quite-the-real-thing self-torture. Uncle George returned again to Moscow in the times of Ambassador Joseph E. Davies ( who wrote a book, "Mission to Moscow" which was supportive of Stalin's regime - and which was made into a popular American movie - on top of it al!!!). During a second stint as man in charge he was able to detect a gross Soviet attempt of bugging the Ambassador's upstairs study. But Davies, "whose prime interest at that time was such publicity as he could produce for himself in the American press", as Kennan wrote from Princeton in 1963, "never wanted us to pursue these inquiries". Davies was afraid that the episode might become known and impair the public image of his popularity with the Soviet leaders, and, as fancily recalled in "Mission to Moscow", rebuked his young diplomatic secretary (Kennan) by saying something like "Young man, I have nothing to hide from these people. Let them hear what they like". As George Kennan, ironically noted, in true Chargé mood, "It was true enough, in fact, that he was not in the habit of saying things of any consequence, either in the bugged study or anywhere else...".

So, this is the true angle from which to look at Ambassador George Kennan's (1905-2005) achievements. He returned to Moscow as full ambassador alright, but only for a five months period, in 1952, cut short by his comments comparing the life in the US Embassy to a Nazi internment camp. But the powerful insight and understanding of what the West should do about the Soviet regime will remain the most distinctive example of that Principle-of-Peter-in-Reverse, when the highest level of competence is attained in the one-before-the last step of the diplomatic ladder.

Dazvidanya, Tovaritch Kennan…

Friday, March 18, 2005

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez

Not Diabelli waltz, nor Goldberg but the stuff of Variations, nevertheless.. Posted by Hello

Time for the standard to be posted here. Too soon to write about the painting itself. A couple of dozens of visits to the Prado still needed. Only in the end of my Madrid stay I might find the courage to say something about it. The Variations are just the path to arrive at that. The truth about Las Meninas is dangerously close to the truth about Art?

Francisco Franco II

Should we have equestrian political leaders?

(My blogging illiteracy prevents me from having a photo and the respective text in the same post. Although I suspect that Blogger, Hello and Picasa are a bunch of inapt software non-entities, my apologies for that shortcoming)

Lots of excitement, in the media and in the calle, about the commando-like operation that removed the equestrian statue of Francisco Franco at 2 AM, yesterday, from the last square in Madrid where the Caudillo was still standing. Mercedes, my blondish acquaintance with right wing leanings, is philosophical. She knew it would be, in her words, "too much of a suculent bone to throw at the leftist masses", to be left untouched. What really gets her red-eyed and coarse-voiced in indignation is the fact it happened almost at the same time Santiago Carrillo, an historical leader of the communist Party in Spain was being happybirthdaytuyued by the "Reds and their traveling Companions", she said. I try to engage Mercedes in a little barter session. "How about a finger pointing bronze Lenin in the main square of Kaliningrad? If they remove it, would you give up Franco's statue in Santander?" She looks at me, with flaming irate blue eyes: "Are you putting Lenin and the Generalissimo in the same basket?" I calm her down by pointing to the fact that Santander cannot be compared, in historical significance, to ex-Konisberg, and in being so, my proposed deal is quite fair after all. She's not convinced. She's not keen at all on stretching her arm in fascist salute but she views Franco as History, and the removal of the statue an attempt at revisionism. I happened to have lunch yesterday at the "power table" of that unsurpassed Madrid institution, the restaurant "Jockey". Green covered tables, London club-like atmosphere, perfect langostinos and pretty reasonable cold partridge salad. My host points at the first table from the right when one enters the main area of the U-shaped dining room. Tells me of lawyers who do well under the current political colours. I wonder how they would react to the news of the removal of both horse and jockey? A discrete toast perhaps? Ordering a very old oloroso? How many decades, halfcenturies, full centuries until a political sovereign can safely rest on his bronze horse without 2 AM surprises? Is Marshal Jukov safe in the Ohotniy Ryad entrance to the Red Square? Is Theodore Roosevelt safe in the steps of a New York Museum (oops! an hero of the American-Spanish War..)? Is the "Black Prince" safe in Leeds? Is one's own King John II safe in his sunny Lisbon square?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

J. Ryder did it too!! Posted by Hello

Francisco Franco Posted by Hello

Miles Davis

Sabatchka Sam and Big Ba(n)d Frog
Why whenever I feel good hearing jazz I go back to the once-in-a-life-time concert of Miles Davis in Cascais, before the Revolutionary Military Coup? Because one tends to set standards in youth and stick to it? Anyway, I took the Russkaya to a new live music bar in town, in Calle Barco, cleverly called Bar&Co. A Big jazz Band with 17 guys, 17, was playing, led by a northamerican sax player, Bobby Martinez, but the outstanding musician was the pianist and author of the arrangements (better call it orchestration, really), Mr. Pepe Rivero, from Cuba.

The heavy traffic of signs passing on, back and fro, between the musicians, to make sure the 17 worked-played together with no oops was really amazing to witness. The grand orchestra directing moves were left to Martinez, who has an upper body of a weight lifter and brought the Band to an halt with his arms fully stretched and a paradoxically gentle hand waving. The mix of contemporary jazz and afro-Caribbean rhythms works really well, and the Rum and Pepsi "Mentiritas" ("little lies", 'cos Cuba ain't Libre, get it) were great.

In the interval, the Russkaya told me the story of Sabatchka Sam, who bravely dug out a frozen frog, one meter deep in ice-snow, with his little body, and short arms and legs. Of how he went all the way back, firmly gripping his treasure, to his foster mother, very proud of himself, to offer her that recuerdo from a walk in the Tver woods. Why on heart does it matter that the frog had been dead for at least five months, since the first snow storms on the Moscow area? Was it indeed a disgusting dark-greenish corpse? Does it change in any way the good heart and intelectual curiosity qualities shown by the Sam? Sam, the cocker-spaniel, my man.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Domingo Barreres did it too Posted by Hello

Sussman's Tableau Vivant in HD DVD Posted by Hello

Yermolaev (VVLM IV) Posted by Hello

Sussman and The Painter himself  Posted by Hello

Suzanne Stratton-Priett Posted by Hello

"Dorian Gray" still looking young... Posted by Hello

Oliver Hirschbiegel

Bruno Ganz dangerously convincing as Adolf Hitler?
Posted by Hello

I had almost abandoned the idea of blogging about Oliver Hirschbiegel's "The Downfall" and his treatment of the figure of Adolf Hitler when I opened today's "El Mundo" and saw an article by Eugenio Trías called "Demons with an Human Face". Frias ("filósofo y miembro del Consejo Editorial de EL MUNDO") asks for the same cinematic treatment to be applied to the figures of the Spanish civil war (discreetly called "nuestra pasada contendia civil"). Now, that takes me to that issue I've been obsessing about for a long time (the post on Beevor was about that too) on the crucial need in democracy for political catharsis. I am talking about real confrontation, head on, with past blots, sins, tragedies and not sacrificial rituals like homegrown or International Courts. In simplistic terms, tribunals are good but they're not enough. In the post-mortem of serious crisis periods (revolutions, civil wars, regimes with systematic human rights abuses, proctated wars) ostracizing a particular political family or ideological label, or judging and condemning the culprits fail to address a crucial point. It's the individual self-attained atonement that is needed. There are some examples of when that path was attempted, namely in post-Apartheid South Africa, but the road to 'collective-individual' catharsis has been, most of the times, resisted.
Some people even claim that enforced amnesia might be a better medicine than catharsis, and that current generations should not "fight all over again" the conflicts of past generations . They argue that whenever positions are all well typified and consolidating , revisiting the data available only re-enforces past acquired and strongly held positions. I beg to differ.
I witnessed in Moscow how the young generations refuse to address pre-Stalin Soviet Russia, considering that period already irrelevant for contemporary politics, and that made me sad. I agree that the "window of opportunity" is closing, and that indeed History is a freezing process very different from Political Current Affairs which are liquid and changeable. Not withstanding that, one might note that, for instance, the Vietnam War, after leaving the Current Affairs level and before being glazed into History, remains "visitable" by contemporary Americans (and others) in a way that can still be relevant to today's political process in America (Movies that addressed the Vietnam War decade or two later are a good example) . The Algerian War might still be revisited for catharsis purposes. The Spanish Civil War is hardly revisitable any more. ( Last week, in Georgetown University, Aznar said, incredibly, that "History is history.It's stupid to discuss a Civil War that was over 70 years ago and a dicatorship that was over 30 years ago").
Still, there are a couple of files that resist being taken into the Archives peacefully, and that have not lost the potential (even need) for catharsis that could be relevant to contemporary societies. One of them is pre-Stalin revolutionary Russia, another is the "post- Palestine Mandate file". Another, on a still very painful level, is Nazi Germany.
As the producers of "The Downfall" stressed: " We wanted to shoot a picture in German, with German actors and a German director". The number of viewers, the discussion on the media, the polemic remarks of Wim Wenders, all have contributed to that "un-freezing" of situations already almost catalogued, plainly, as History.
There is a risk of "gigantic trivialization", as Wenders warned, but I rather want to believe also that Hirschbiegel is engaging himself and his generation (to the benefit of the new and future generations) into the required catharsis process.

VVLM III ( cardboard model) Posted by Hello

Pablo Picasso (VLM II) Posted by Hello

4 Posted by Hello

Posted by Hello

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Book context Posted by Hello

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso Posted by Hello

Oliver Hirschbiegel

The Downfall Posted by Hello

Monday, March 14, 2005

Oscar Wilde II

Evil Youth... Posted by Hello

Alfonso Ortuño II

At the Costa de Sol... Posted by Hello

Alfonso Ortuño

Las Meninas in the Costa del Sol... Posted by Hello

Variation (II) on VLM (Vélazquez's Las Meninas), by Spannish painter Alfonso Ortuño.

Eve Sussman

Boy and Dog, post-Velazquez style Posted by Hello

Eve Sussman has gone to another level by using High Resolution video as a cinematic version of a "tableau vivant". With as many actors as the characters depicted in "Las Meninas", suitably dressed and suitably installed in the look-alike Alcazar rooms, similar to the ones in the painting, she choreographed them until the moment (like a pictorial Chronicle of a Death Foretold) immortalized on canvas a few centuries ago. She did a DVD "89 Seconds at Alcazar" and a further one, "The Painter and Niento alone" , which gets the ball on "las Meninas" rolling for another decade of critical exegesis. Unfortunately 89 Seconds, a darling of the art fair circuit, is in Barcelona right now, and I only glimpsed it at ARCO 05, with feet already aching after a full day visit.