Archive for September, 2010

Autumn in Grozny/Grozny in Autumn

September 27, 2010

Recently I dreamed that I was in Grozny on a sunny autumn afternoon.   Don’t ask how I knew it was Grozny, or autumn, or afternoon.   In dreams, these things just are, and ‘how’ or ‘why’ just don’t apply.   I was in a bank, exchanging a pair of 10 [unit] financial instruments of some kind (again, don’t ask) for two medium-sized manila envelopes filled with worn, rolled-up $1 bills.   As I left the bank, I was aware of the need to avoid the attention of a crew of shabbily-dressed “watchers” who were positioned on various sidewalks and street corners.  So I started walking around town.

In Russian "Grozny" means "fearsome," "menacing," or "terrible."

In the sort of inverse flash that sometimes characterizes the dreamtime, sunny afternoon changed to sleety, wintry evening.  The streets were covered with a thin rime of slush, sand and ice, and the dim headlights of ancient cars crept slowly through the gloom as I struggled across the slippery pavement to sidewalks on the other side.  The “watchers” were still following, so I kept moving.

Warm, sunny afternoon returned without warning as I continued my trek through sheds, outbuildings, ruined factories and the green-tiled roofs of houses on the outskirts of town.  The “watchers” were now more numerous, more vocal, and more obviously looking specifically for me (I could understand their language).   Luckily, by this time I had figured out that I was invisible to them.

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Mother was a tailor, Father was a gambling man

September 25, 2010

At first, Lunghu thought it was the journalistic equivalent of taunting or unsportsmanlike conduct (or maybe a case of deja vu all over again):  news from Europe that the Prado has uncovered a previously-unknown painting by Bruegel el viejo during the process of cleaning and restoring an obscure work entrusted to their care by a Spanish collector.   Lunghu even experienced a reflexive twitch in some minor muscles that he rarely uses when he read that the painting, El vino de la fiesta de San Martin, was executed in tempera rather than in Bruegel’s usual oils.   Fortunately, close examination of the garments worn by reveling peasants depicted in the work revealed no trace of denim.

Furthermore, although the Prado has occasionally been the victim of a hoax or two,  it is a world-class museum that can proudly claim status as the cultural standard-bearer of a nation with a passionate commitment to artistic greatness.   Its staff are consummate professionals with international reputations.   So this truly looks like the real deal, which Lunghu is happy to hear:  Bruegel is one of his favorite artists.   To Lunghu’s eyes, Bruegel’s ‘San Martin’ composition shows the clear influence of his predecessor and compatriot Hieronymous Bosch (another of Lunghu’s favorites).  However, (very much unlike Bosch!) one of Bruegel’s admirable qualities as a artist is the non-judgmental perspective that his paintings evoke.  As H.W. Janson would have it, “when [Bruegel] dealt with religious subjects he did so in an oddly ambiguous way.”  For example, is the equestrian figure at the right of the scene Saint Martin himself, or a ceremonial stand-in?   On the one hand, (in illustration of the saint’s principal legend) the horseman has his cloak tucked under his right arm, with his drawn sword preparing to cut it in half:  note the beggar on crutches to his right.   On the other hand…

On St. Martin’s Day (November 11th), children in Flanders and the southern and north-western parts of the Netherlands participate in paper lantern processions.  The children sing songs about St. Martin and about their lanterns.  Often, a man dressed as St. Martin rides on a horse in front of the procession.

Here’s some background to the painting’s revelry:
A fast period following St. Martin’s Day lasted 40 days, and was, therefore, called “Quadragesima Sancti Martini,” which means in Latin “the forty days of St. Martin.”  At St. Martin’s eve and on the feast day, people ate and drank very heartily for a last time before they started to fast.  This fasting time was later called “Advent” by the Catholic Church.

St. Martin is the patron saint of beggars, of horsemen, of France, and of the military.  It’s no coincidence whatsoever that St. Martin’s feast day is November 11, a.k.a. Veterans Day/Remembrance Day/Armistice Day.  [ No jokes about the French military will be permitted on this blog.   To be sure, their officer corps has long had problems (stemming in large measure from what Francois Bayrou euphemistically refers to as ‘occult influences’), but so does the US military –and then some.  However, the rank-and-file poilu is among the finest in the world when it comes to bravery, patriotism (a French word, I’ll have you know), and professionalism.   Faithful readers on Juan de Nova, I salute you! ]

Martin’s status as a soldier’s saint is somewhat unusual in light of the fact that he was also one of the earliest-known conscientious objectors in Euro-American history, preceding Sgt. York by something like 1.5 millennia.   Lunghu’s own attitude toward Martin is similarly ambivalent:  although Lunghu applauds Martin’s compassion and charity toward the poor, he’s not too enthusiastic about the militant religious intolerance that Martin exhibited during his 4th century tour of duty as Bishop of Tours.  For details, start with wikipedia, of course.

For these reasons and more, the Prado’s announcement of their discovery has generated a plethora of cultural allusions that have only just begun to reverberate within and among the minds of those who are attuned to perceive and comprehend them.   If possible, reflect deeply on this between now and November 11th.

Fun facts:

  • The food traditionally eaten on St. Martin’s Day is goose.
  • In Portugal, the phenomena of a sunny break to the chilly weather on Saint Martin’s Day which … still occurs today is called “Verao de Sao Martinho” (Saint Martin’s Summer) in honor of the cloak legend.
  • Some practitioners of Santeria associate St. Martin with the orisha Elegua (Yoruba guardian of the spirit-world crossroads, also a horseman).

Kind of Blue

September 19, 2010

From somewhere near the intersection of Art & Commerce comes the news item that:

Art historians believe they have found a [clue to the origins of denim] in the work of a newly discovered 17th-century north Italian artist, dubbed the “Master of the Blue Jeans.”  Running through his works like a leitmotif is an indigo blue fabric threaded with white.

"Beggar Boy With Piece of Pie"

The article  –and organizers of a gallery exhibition in Paris–   go on to make the claim that these paintings establish the birthplace of denim in Genoa during the mid-17th century.   Regardless of the merits of this historical claim, Lunghu is skeptical of the entire narrative:   he smells the distinct possibility of art forgery, hoax, and fraud.   Here are the indicator dots that Lunghu is connecting:

  • “There is blue jean in every painting except one,” curator Gerlinde Gruber said.
  • In a further quirk, the blue tint of the fabric was painted with the exact same indigo as that used to dye today’s denim, according to curators.
  • “The works are very attached to the detail of clothing — it was very rare for a painter to characterize the poor with such detail,” Gruber said.
  • In 2004, gallery owner Maurizio Canesso bought a work (“The Barber’s Shop”) in New York by an unknown artist of the Neapolitan school. [He soon] found a copy [of the painting] in a museum in Varese near Milan
  • [ Gruber’s] search [for the artist’s oeuvre] began after two works thought to be by [the painter’s] hand surfaced within a short space of time — the “Woman sewing with two children” and the “Beggar boy with a piece of pie.”
  • The works’ value is estimated at between 60,000 and 800,000 euros according to the Canesso gallery.

Lunghu would love to see some impartial authentication conducted, beginning with close scrutiny of the provenance of the various paintings in question.  Caveat emptor.

Where’s Tony Tetro when you really need him?


Update: Sept 20, 2010

In light of the startling popularity of this post, Lunghu wishes to make it clear that he considers persons named above to be likely victims –not perpetrators–   of any art forgery hoax that may exist.

Lessons From the Carpet Bazaar

September 18, 2010

When negotiating for Persian carpets, it’s generally a good idea to know the size of the room you intend to adorn with that gorgeous example of fine Isfahan craftsmanship.  You don’t want to spend a lot of time haggling over something the wrong size, especially if time isn’t something you have to spend:  it just becomes an additional component of the ever-escalating price for what is ultimately an unsuitable purchase.

I leave it to the reader to judge how one might best apply these general remarks to the particular case of those misguided American hikers we’ve been hearing so much little about.   On the one hand, President Ahmadinejad could scarcely make it any plainer that he’s willing to trade pawns.   On the other, Secretary Clinton is obliged to endlessly repeat the same old-same old.   Let’s hope that the back-channel conversations are considerably more candid.

Dig It While It’s Happenin’

September 14, 2010

Save the date!  On  September 19th the City of Baltimore will  dedicate a bust of native son Frank Zappa, the legendary 20th century composer and musical performer.  Fittingly,  September 19th is the anniversary of Zappa’s renowned and erudite (by music industry standards) 1985 Congressional testimony in favor of free expression by recording artists.

The bust will be placed at the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Southeast Anchor in [Baltimore’s] Highlandtown Arts and Entertainment District, and plans include an outdoor concert featuring Zappa Plays Zappa, fronted by Frank’s son Dweezil.

Lithuanian artist Saulius Paukstys, founder of the Vilnius fan club which commissioned and donated the bronze sculpture, said:

“We’re honoring the artist who influenced the development of culture for more than a generation.” … “That is how democracy works.  If we have the serious idea, we can implement it.  We like Zappa.  Maybe somebody else will honor Beatles in the same way.”

Spheric Harmony

September 4, 2010

Sorry, he's NOT Indonesian OR Muslim.

Lunghu is gratified to see that some folks can take a hint.   Ten days is plenty of time to seal the deal.   Let’s all be mutually respectful:  (almost) everyone can be satisfied … for at least a little while.