Archive for October, 2013

The Floating World

October 17, 2013

It’s probably time for Angeleños, Santa Barbarians, and folks in San Diego to start seriously worrying about “The Big One.”  Why does Lunghu say this?  Because rare creatures of the deep are washing ashore on the Southern California coast, and if US Navy sonar can’t be blamed, shifting tectonic rifts may be at fault.

Jasmine Santana of the Catalina Island Marine Institute was snorkeling off the Southern California coast on Sunday when she spotted something out of a fantasy novel: the silvery carcass of an 18-foot-long, serpent-like oarfish with eyes the size of half dollars.  She needed more than 15 helpers to drag the fish to shore [after she had pulled it to the surface].

The oarfish, which can grow to more than 50 feet, is the longest bony fish species in the world. They dive more than 3,000 feet deep, [so] sightings are rare and they are largely unstudied by marine scientists.

Pics or it didn’t happen:


You want more? We got more:

A rare whale that has a dolphin-shaped head and saber-like teeth has been found dead on Los Angeles’ Venice Beach, even though it prefers frigid subarctic waters. The 15-foot-long female Stejneger’s beaked whale was alive when it washed ashore Tuesday night, said a spokesman for Marine Animal Rescue. Its body was covered in bites from so-called cookie-cutter sharks that feed by gouging circular pieces of flesh from larger animals.

The Stejneger’s beaked whale typically dives deep in subarctic waters to feed on squid and small fish, and is rarely seen in the wild. It is believed to migrate as far south as Northern California, but how the whale ended up [near Los Angeles] will probably remain a mystery.

Blame it on the waxing hunter’s moon.

Because no one would notice if she weren't pointing ...

Because no one would notice if she weren’t pointing …


October 10, 2013

If you don’t know who Licio Gelli is, and what he represents, you will never be able to understand Italian politics.  Or American politics, for that matter.  And your comprehension of recent history on either side of the Atlantic will be notably incomplete.

Although it’s entirely possible that Lunghu’s scant few readers have no interest in understanding politics and history of any kind, one would have to wonder why such folks are reading this blog to begin with.  The timeless prose? The carefully curated selection of images? Probably not.  Who knows why they read? Who knows their interests, and what they understand? Or what they seek to understand.

Meanwhile … back in Tuscany … for Signor Gelli –like the rest of us– two things in life are certain: death and taxes.

Licio Gelli_1998

Italian finance police seized the family villa of Italian financier Licio Gelli in a tax-evasion probe in the central city of Arezzo, investigators said Thursday.  Gelli, 94, his wife Gabriella Vasile, their three children Maurizio, Maria Rosa and Raffaello, as well as a grandchild, Alessandro Marsilli, are all under investigation for an alleged scheme to avoid paying taxes that authorities say amounts to 17 million euros.

Faced with large tax arrears and an imminent [lien on the property] by the tax collection agency Equitalia in 2007, ownership of the villa was fraudulently signed over to Gelli’s wife and grandchild and then, in a subsequent transaction, to a [shell] company set up in Rome … which was traceable back to Gelli.


So What?

[Until the 1980s,] Gelli was the leader of [Italy’s] P2 Masonic lodge, an influential secret network that included the billionaire tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, politicians, magistrates, bankers and military commanders.  The lodge was officially banned by an Italian court in 1981. Gelli has been convicted several times for financial crimes and has been under house arrest since 1998. He was implicated in the secret anti-communist paramilitary organization Gladio and the collapse of the Vatican-linked Banco Ambrosiano bank in 1982.  A police raid [that year] found 179 gold ingots weighing 370 pounds hidden in planters around Villa Wanda.

It’s interesting –but not surprising– that the Guardia di Finanza has waited until the definitive(?) downfall of Silvio Berlusconi before pursuing the Gelli tax investigation to its next adminstrative step.  Recourse to the incremental process of Italian justice and its numerous rounds of legal appeal should keep Signor Gelli and his heirs very busy for several years to come.  As the old song says, there is rest for the weary / on the other side of Jordan.


Corse-Grained Imagery

October 2, 2013

Yet another art discovery!  How many has it been this year alone?

A portrait of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, thought lost for two centuries, has turned up in New York. The painting, created by Jacques-Louis David in 1813 when Britain and Prussia were threatening to occupy France, shows Napoleon I pledging to defend the country from invasion, wearing his national guard uniform.  The portrait had been in the Borthwick-Norton family at their castle outside Edinburgh and was [bequeathed] to the Royal Scottish Academy in 1988. Thought to be a copy, the painting was sold in 2005 to a New York private collector for around £15,000 ($24,000, 18,000 euros).


The buyer had it cleaned, then asked French art expert Simon Lee from the University of Reading (UK) for his help in authenticating it.  “Although the painting is signed with David’s genuine signature, the cleaning revealed the word Rouget and the date 1813 appeared in the underpaint,” Lee said.  Georges Rouget was David’s assistant for almost 10 years, and had a role in putting images on the canvas. “Some collectors or museums might be put off by having two names on the canvas — but in many ways that is proof that it is an authentic product of David’s working process.”

Although Lunghu loves a juicy art forgery hoax, this particular episode seems to have a sonorous ring of actual authenticity. The work was in the collection of an ancient Scottish clan with a long history of royal military service and plunder:

Lord Borthwick is a title in the Peerage of Scotland. Tradition asserts that the progenitor of Clan Borthwick was Andreas, who accompanied the Saxon Edgar the Ætheling and his sister, Margaret, who was later queen and saint, to Scotland in 1067. However recent research has suggested that the Borthwicks may have come to Scotland with Julius Caesar’s roman legions.  Alexander Nisbet noted that “this family was dignified with the title of Lord Borthwick in the beginning of the reign of King James II,” which commenced in 1437.  Of the first Lord, Burke’s Peerage (1999) merely states: “knighted before his father in 1430; one of the magnates who according to contemporary records habitually plundered the Customs.”  The ancestral seat of the Borthwick family is Borthwick Castle in Midlothian.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, numerous Borthwicks served in the British armed forces at home and abroad, including during the Napoleonic Wars. Certainly there would have been ample opportunity to have brought home a war trophy or two.  After all, the clan crest features the black head of a Moorish captive.  A mere portrait of Bony would have been a poor substitute, but perhaps the next best thing.


Fifteen works that make up the Borthwick-Norton collection were bequeathed to the Scottish government by Mrs Eva Sardinia Borthwick-Norton at the time of her death in 1988, in lieu of tax.  Mrs Borthwick-Norton stipulated in her will that the collection be exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy . The collection includes two Gainsborough portraits, Murillo’s The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, a portrait by Rubens and works by Albert Cuyp, Louis-Léopold Boilly, Nicolas Lancret and Jan van der Heyden.

Although no one is explicitly laying out this painting’s chain of custody, there don’t appear to be recent gaps in the provenance: always a good sign.  Lunghu predicts that the “New York private collector” will eventually seek to sell this premier example of  Jacques-Louis David’s 19c propaganda art to a deep-pocketed French museum such as the Louvre … or perhaps to an art aficionado with a Napoleonic complex.

An Interesting Twist

Note the coincidental(?) resemblance of the Borthwick clan crest to the emblem of Corsica’s separatist movement, the FLNC.  Is somebody making a statement?