Thursday, November 30, 2006
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Friday, November 24, 2006
Yesterday, at mid-morning, I’m informed that the cocktail of the National Day of Lebanon, due to take place that same day, was cancelled. I was expecting that, in fact. Beirut was in serious political turmoil with the assassination of Pierre Gemayel. And in mourning too.
When I heard about the funeral in Bifkaya, the stronghold of the Gemayels, I remember to have read a reference to that village in Edward Said’s memoir (“Out of Place”). All was still very fresh in my head, since it was just last week I’ve finished reading it. There, I found it:
“In the early days, there was often a decrease in the number of cars as we climbed the dramatically hair-pinned road to Bifkaya, the large town just below Dhour that I knew for its famous peaches and a fantastic red-and-tinsel-colored toy shop, “Kaiser Amer”. It was only later, in the 1970s, that I knew it as the family seat of the Gemayel family. Pierre Gemayel., impressed with the German black-shirts he saw at 1936 Olympics, was the founder of the extreme-right Maronite party, the Phalanges Libanaises, and was father of two Lebanese presidents - Bashir, whose assassination in September 1982 unleashed the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camp perpetuated by his pro-Israel henchmen, and Amin, who ran a regime drenched in corruption and incompetence. Bifkaya then acquired a sinister reputation as rabidly anti-Palestinian, and I have avoided it and Dhour for almost two decades”.
Said, a Liberal (in American political lexicon) and a Left-wing scholar (in European labeling) had the right to his own, Palestine-oriented, view-point. His positions ilustrate a point I'm very keen on: Political History is never in Black and White - or "Red" and "White" (Krasnii vs Bielii in Revolutionary Russia; or "Red" and "Black" (in the 20s and 30s in Italy and Spain). Everything is so much more complex than the “Us and Them”.
Let us bear that in mind before we rush to quick conclusions about the whodunit in the case of the more recent political murder in Lebanon...
I think - sadly - that descriptions of the cruelty and savagery of mass-killings by the SS have no longer the same potential to shock us as when we are first confronted with it. So, what shocked me as a reader is not the images per se but, if you want, the philosophical implications of these literature-generated images.
That the narrator finds himself in the middle of a landscape alien to humanity as a consequence of his thirst for radicalism and absolute - that's what is really problematic for my reading self. Besides, I had never realized before (it didn't occur to me as personal assimilation of the fact) that places like Kiev or Crimea, where I was happy, where I was in love and made love like a chinchila, were also places of SD butchery and Conradian horror.
The discussions on Hitler's orders to include women and children in the until then adult males-only mass executions are an incredible feat of literary brilliance.
After the first 200 pages I can only say that I'm going to beg my children to read this book as soon as they attain a reasonable age. This is not the universe of Hollywood vulgata, however well-intentioned some Holocaust-related films and TV series might be; this is not "Sophie's Choice" league either; but an altogether different path to understand a crucial moral and historical turning point.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Prompted by the magnificent painting currently in Thyssen's "Sargent-Sorolla" temporary exhibition I decided to refresh my brain data-bank on the Palazzo Barbaro, Gran Canale, Venice. Apart from Barbaro-related Henry James's books ("The Wings of the Dove"; "The Aspern Papers", the "Letters from PalazzoBarbaro") it's Sargent's painting of the Curtises in their Venetian grand domesticity that evokes the best that bygone era. After a quick Amazon.co.uk research, some electronic flashing of one's visa card and the traditional half week of mail-waiting, I got a brand new copy of "Gondola Days - Isabella Steward Gardner and Palazzo Barbaro Circle". In fact the catalogue for the exhibition Russkaya and this blogger of yours visited last winter during the engaging-ring trip to Venice.
Bottom-line: one should allways try to progress from connoiseur to antiques collector and then to founding patron of a private museum.
On that coffee-table book you can find a remarkable example of one tridimensional space converted, in successive atempts, into a two-dimensional image, both in photography and paintings. The State Room, so to speak, of the Palazzo - the Salone or Cameron, to use its correct designations - has been photographed in 1888 ten years before John Singer Sargent finished "A Venetian Interior".
So the following photo can be seen as the starting point of our visual inquire:
Unknown. The Curtis family in the Salone ofthe Palazzo Barbaro ca. 1888. Gelatin silver print. Private Collection.
Now, let's see four different view-points on that very same room. Clock-wise: a recent colour photography; Water Gay 's 1902 oil painting; B&W photo of the Cameron (with paintings by Sebastiano Ricci and Giambatista Piazetta); and Sargent's masterpiece of 1898.
Does not the Right Honourable Reader feel a overwhelming urge to depart for Venice? .. I thought so..
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Long before Double O Seven...
This blogger of yours shared with Edward Said, Esq. a youthful passion for comics books featuring Sexton Blake... A quick search in the world's favourite search engine ( that broke the 500 $ /share ceiling yesterday in the NYSE) brought these front-covers back from long-buried memories..
Ramallah Diaries in all sorts and shapes...
"Out of Place - A Memoir" by Edward Said. If one has to read one non-fiction book about Arab-British P-2-P (people to people) interaction in pre-1948 Palestine, this is the one. The Proustian-like recalling of school days is a very powerful sub-genre of quasi-biographycal literature. If done with honesty and frankness it's like a psychoanalitical key to the author's positions and ideology. Not that what we are or what we defend is a crude result of our chidhood troubles as seen through the spectacles of Professor Freud . But it helps to explain (to ourselves and to third parties) some of the emphasis we choose to put in our discourse. The emotional underscoring, so to speak, of one's political bettings.
I read Said's auto-bio back to back with another book (" Sharon And My Mother-in-Law - Ramallah Diaries") by another American-educated Palestinian, this time centered on Ramallah during the the Second Intifada. Ms Suad Amiry is an eloquent example of the smiling gentle hard-nut toughness of women who have to deal with politics. This blogger of yours is a social machista by geographical birth but a born-again political feminist after experiencing how crucial the contribution of women can be in changing things and societies for the better..
That takes me to a third book, "I Saw Ramallah" by Mourid Barghhouti, about which I've blogtexted about last year. http://praiagrande.blogspot.com/2005/05/mourid-barghouti.html
I've started yesterday the reading job of the year. Jonathan Littell 's "Les Bienvéillantes". 894 pages. I'll kept the Right Honourable Reader posted about my progress in this task. First impressions ( three pages before Tymka's bath) are overwhelming. Last time I had this feeling of having "found" a tremendous perfectly mature new voice was when I first set my eyes on Houellebecq. Shell my gut reactions be proved right? Well, more about it at a later stage ...
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Monday, November 20, 2006
Roman Catholic Englishmen Abroad
The "Colegio de Los Ingleses", in St. George's Church, where under Jesuit supervision Young English Catholics studied between 1665 and 1767
How to make some sense out of the 1665-1767 mentioned as lifetime of the Jesuit school in St George's Church? The politico-religious war in the British Isles is too complex for a mere blog. Suffice to say that Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660; that by an Act of Parliament of 1678 all Catholics were barred from parliament; that the Toleration Act of 1689 excluded Catholics and Unitarians from his target-audience; that the 1701 Act Of Settlement barred Catholics from ever occupying the English throne. 1707 is the year of the Act of Union (ending Scottish-originated turbulence) . The United Kingdom adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752. George II becomes king in 1760. In 1763 the Seven Year War ends.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Why boring the Right Honourable Reader with all this stuff? Well. Let’s call it background reading for an entertaining masterpiece in the political film category. Go and see Stephen Frear's “The Queen” with a Ms. Helen Mirren more real as Lillybeth than that, you die. The “Courtiers” (from Buckingham, St. James’s L.C.O. or Balmoral) and the Sovereign Herself had to be rescued from pre-Bastille troubles by a political leader who showed a remarkable sang-froid. Blair was for a few days the successful Lafayette that Marie Antoinette, helas, never got.
Okay, the Monarchy was never at risk of sudden overthrow but one still has the words of Tony Benn echoing in one’s ears...
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Mr. D.J. Madan, from Mumbai 400 026, India, send a delicious Letter to the Editor, in this Saturday's FT regarding an old graveyard in Goa for British soldiers ("The Goan cemetery and the activist prime minister"). He recalled a visit to the area in 1983 from Mrs. Thatcher, who fumed when she realized in what poor shape the graveyard was. The iron baroness-to-be ordered HM's High Commissioner to do something about, no later than immediately. Writes Mr. Madan:
" There was much speculation as to who these British soldiers were and how they came into a territory that was Portuguese from early in the 16th century, particularly as there is no record of warfare betweeen Britain and Portugal in Goa. A clue can be found in an old Bombay Gazetteer which records that although Bombay was cede to the English by the Portuguese in 1641 following the marriage of Charles II to the Infanta Catherine of Portugal, the local Portuguese and their priests who had been in possession of Bombay for a century or more, refused to part with the territory putting forth all sorts of procedural difficulties.
Some of the English ships, which had come for the takeover, sailed back but a couple were sent off to Goa where they were denied entry and the crew banished to an unoccupied island, Anjandiv, "12 leagues to the south of Goa" where they are said to have perished one by one in a few years, due to lack of proper food and an unfamiliar climate. It is possible that the graveyard the then prime minister visited was of those unfortunate sailors."
I rush to calm the Right Honourable Reader who might have found himself under the impression that this blogger of yours cannot disguise his nostalgia for Imperial times. This story merely represents a very proper and well-behaved way to remind a lost era, when crews of ships of Her Britanic Majesty could be banished to the Anjandivs of this world by Europeans less choosy in their dietary habits and less susceptible to climate-change...
Monday, November 13, 2006
Kate Westwood has been writing a sequel to Fleming's set of characters, from the view point of the butler... sorry, the trusted secretary, Miss Moneypenny. Good fun. Aside from the obvious commercial reasons for doing it, there is an almost childish frisson in make-believe stories involving Bond, James Bond. He has an iconic dimension that exerts the same kind of attraction for a novel writer than "Las Meninas" for a Spannish painter or James Brown's "The Sex Machine" for a rapper sampler. The teasing around in "The Moneypenny Diaries" about the near physical relationship between Jane Moneypenny and James Bond was already part of the original Fleming sub-context. As they say in Hollywood, nothing sells more than UST (Unresolved Sexual Tension)...
Sunday, November 12, 2006
" The Two Sisters", 1909, oil on canvas. The Art Gallery of Chicago.
(Beach of El Cabañal,Valencia )
Landscape painters from Britain and other realms of Mid-Europe look down on peripheric artists from the South when it comes to painting skies. No real stuff, clouds, masses of grey or strange blueish shapes in Southern skies, they say... How could one get good at painting it? Want a serious ski? Stay in England or Atlantic France.. Go for Constable, or for Corot at the most. But what about painting the punnishing sunlight in a beach shore on Southern Europe, say Greece, or Valencia or Portugal? You have to be a Southerner yourself, you must have spent your youth jumping in and out of the sea to really get it.. Sorolla shuts all the stif-upper-liped Constables of this world.. An area of brightly-lit beach.. Figures bathed in light.. The 'optical pleasures offered by the play of sun and shadow'.. 'vivid, sun-drenched colour'.. 'sunlit sparkle'.. Light!.. And more light!.. And more light still!..
The Right Honourable Reader should rush to Madrid, to the Thyssen and to the Fundacion Caja Madrid... Or failing to visit this magnificent exhibition, he should go to dear old Sorolla Museum.
The front-cover of "89 Seconds At Alcazar"...
Annotations for the choreography. Clue: "V." means Velazquez...
The video-screen shows the space that was once the stage for a painting...
I told the Right Hounorable Reader about Ms. Sussman before. She had the brilliant idea of imagining the "characters" in "Las Meninas" moving in three-dimensional space in two-dimensional video up to the sacred snap-shot immortalized by Velazquez in his painting. I just bought a book about that video/performance-art stunt. It adds a sense of the fourth dimension (time) in one's enjoyment of that image. Next time the Right Honourable Reader goes to Prado he will understand what this blogger of yours means...
Saturday, November 11, 2006
John Singer Sargent, A Venetian Interior, 1898. Oil on Canvas, Royal Academy of Arts, London
When we start to look seriously under the hidden boxes in the backstage life of a given famous writer strange things happen. The poor dear Danes asked Lepage to come up with something for the bi-centennary of the death of Hans Christian Andersen and they got in return a sexually repressed, latent homosexual,almost alergical to children unsavoury character. In the end of a glorious multimedia hight-tech one-man show, Lepage makes the point that there's another "reading" out there for our beloved fairy tales. (For more about the play, do read Kristin Anderson, a scholar at Exeter College who wrote an excellent text at the Oxonian Review of Books - www.oxonianreview.org/issues/5-2/5-2abderson.html )
I saw a play in London some time ago about Lewis Carrol (with a hint of un-proper behaviour between the author and the abundantly fotographed child friend who became the model for Alice). JM Barrie 's biography reveals also near-paedophiliac streaks in the creator of Mst. Peter Pan and Miss Wendy. Nothing is sacred anymore? Anyway, please reflect for a second on one of Lepage's findings. The love for children was in HCA replaced by a love for animals. Children are worse treated in his tales than animals. What is your thing, dear Honourable Reader, RSPCC or RSPCA?
Friday, November 10, 2006
California sound in "El Sol"...
The singer and the home-videos...
Took the three women in my life, Daughter 1, Daughter 2 and VYW (Very Young Wife) to Josh Rouse's one-night-only concert in Madrid. Is is pathetic to try to connect with a music that touches the raw nerves of a young crowd born thirty years after one's own birthday? Is there a too young to die too old to rock 'n' roll syndrome anywhere? I can still see the point of my younger selves' emotions, though.. Maybe more in a "second degree" way than completely in your face brutal feelings.. But I'm happy to report to the Right Honourable Reader that this blogger of yours can slip easily slip his feet out of his cosy sleepers... Bring on the rock, baby..
ps. Ref. women in one's life. My teacher, in Secondary School, of "Moral & Religion" classes was a Roman Catholic priest with a strange hair-do. One day he declares solemnly: "There are three women in my life".. Total silence in the class-room... Hitchkockian suspense.. "My mother"... Unbearable tension.. "My sister"... Almost hysterical reaction to the long Stanislavsky-like pause.. "and the Virgin Mary".. Disruption irrupted in the classroom.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Monday, November 06, 2006
To see these "Three" and die...
The Kutepova twins (Ksenia-"Irina" and Polina-"Masha") and Galina Tunina (as "Olga")
Sometimes a play is like a short-story on the stage. Can be excellent as short-stories can but it's not in the same league, really Darling, as grand novels. Chekhov's "Three Sisters" directed by Piotr Fomenko and performed by his "Fomenki" is like a theatrical "War and Peace" ... You enter that world, you enjoy, you laugh, you are touched, you have to think, you argue, you (almost) cry.. It's light and frivolous here and there but the mute deep wave of really heavy stuff going on ends up swallowing you.. It is always emotionally tiring to experience a truly relevant work of art (say "Las Meninas" or "Guernica" or "Sacre du Printemps" or "Gottardamerung" or "The Magic Mountain" or "Uncle Vanya" or "Arcadia" or " La Dolce Vita") ... If you dont't feel that "heaviness" something must be missing...
Twins alright but here's a tip: Irina always wear white while Masha goes for black dresses...
Last week in Madrid I went one step further in my love affair with Russian theatre and Chekhov in particular. I've seen his plays in French ("Platonov"), in English ("Seagull", "Vanya") and in Portuguese ("Seagull", "Cherry Orchard"), enjoying every word but feeling the absence of the musicality of the Russian language. I saw, in moving musical Russian, "The Lady And The Lapdog" in Moscow, a couple of years ago, not understanding one word . This time I felt I got it all, thanks to prior hard study of the (translated) text, some progress in my own knowledge of russki izik and to the miraculous aid of subtitles (in Castellano) .
At this masterly level of directing and acting the 3 hours 50 minutes experience of "Tri Siestri" is not an evening out any longer. It's an anchor point of one's inner life. Like the first time you've read "War and Peace" or that full "Ring" you finally manage to complete.
The three dolls have the hair-colour of the actresses: spot the twins...