Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Russell Martin: 'Picasso's War' (2002)

Russell Martin, Picasso's War: The Destruction of Guernica, and the Masterpiece That Changed the World. New York: Dutton, 2002.

The way it's organized:
The Spanish Dead
Remembering the Bullring
Images Spilling from Fingers
Save Spain!
A Wearable Pair of Boots
The Last Refugee
Guernica in Gernika

Highly absorbing book, providing background, context, a detailed account of artistic creation, setting, display, impact, rescue, and ongoing installation.

We see why Picasso was moved to perform his artistic duties on behalf of the Spanish Republic, then under attack by Nazi and fascist-backed brutes from 1936 until 1939. Martin shows how Picasso's response to the German-Italian air assault against Guernica on April 26, 1937 led to the creation of his Guernica masterpiece.  

A vivid account of the bombing, how word of it spread (and was also denied by the usual suspects), and how Picasso's work was displayed at the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris Expo, the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life) that ran later in 1937. At this utterly surreal expo, giant German Nazi architecture ranged against Soviet symbols, even as German and Italian military forces and equipment faced off against Soviet equipment and advisers in the ongoing Spanish Civil War. 

Most of Europe would be engulfed in the Second World War before the decade of the 1930s was out, but only after Spain was left to burn to the ground.     

Picasso's War includes still-current debates over modern Spanish life, identity and policy. The aspirations of people in the Basque region and Catalonia are notably included. 

Since 1992, Madrid has been hosting Guernica in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía; but not without a fight and the creation of a proposed alternate venue at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Basque country. 

I've seen the original Guernica at the Reina Sofía in Madrid and the huge tapestry copy at United Nations headquarters in New York City.  Now I'd like to visit Balboa and, of course, sacred Guernica (Gernika), both in Euskadi, Basque country. 

Here is the author's tribute to his teacher-friend and mentor Angel Vilalta: "Angel continually demonstrated that the best kinds of men were inquisitive and energetic, courageous yet compassionate, attuned to the breadth of the world's worries and pleasures but also equally focused on family and friends." (page 187). 

Today's Rune: Growth. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Attar: 'The Conference of the Birds' (1187 A.D.), Part the Third

Attar, The Conference of the Birds (1187 C.E.), translated by Sholeh Wolpé. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017. 

Sufi Bounce: some of this dovetails with Buddhism and other "Eastern" outlooks, as well as with all sorts of forms of mysticism in various corners of the globe. It also seems like common sense, if only such good sense was more common.

"Whatever you imagine you must have
lasts but for a moment . . .

If you're thrilled at a desire fulfilled,
don't boast; it's just a flash of joy.
If your mood darkens when things go wrong for you,
don't cry; this too is fleeting. . ."

(pages 177-178).

On direction (very important in a bird's life):

"Without direction, you suffer great hardship,
like a stray dog wandering the streets.
Such a dog endures many hardships, yet for what?"

(page 188).

"Do unto others as you would have done to yourself. That so-called infidel has shown fidelity and loyalty; where is yours?"

("Parable of a Dishonorable Warrior," page 206).
"A worthy seer of secrets
is never audacious from rudeness.
To the one who holds civility on his left
and respect on her right,
a moment of audacity is possible."

(page 209).

"As long as you're steeped in your own illusions,
your cries and prayers are worthless, my dear . . .

If you give in to the ego, even for an instant, arrows will shower you from all directions . . ."

(page 223). 

Today's Rune: Defense. lllustrations: Birds from the Panchatantra, Walters Museum; Islamic Medical Manuscripts, National Library of Medicine.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Attar: 'The Conference of the Birds' (1187 A.D.) , Part the Second

Attar, The Conference of the Birds (1187 C.E.), translated by Sholeh Wolpé. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017. 

Another flight with this feathery Sufi-inspired work by Persian herbalist and poet Farīd ud-Dīn Aṭṭār of Nishapur (circa 1145-1220/21).

"The shadow and its maker are one and the same,
so get over surfaces and delve into mysteries." (page 78).

From the story of the Christian girl:

"Her eyes were agents of calamitous love; her eyebrows, twin arches of temptation. A single glance at her beauty stripped her lovers of reason."   (page 87).

"Tonight I burn in longing; I've no stamina for love's mayhem." (page 89).

"Love's labor is not superficial work. Safety is not compatible with love." (page 95).

"As empathetic as you may be, you can't understand what hasn't happened to you."  (page 99).

The Hoopoe to the Weak Bird:

"If this quest is wrong and in vain,
and if we die of distress from it right now,
then so what?
Mistakes abound in this world --
add this one to the list."
And here's one for a new Trump Tower ("Parable of the Ostentatious Merchant"):

"Out of vanity, a merchant built a golden mansion. He then invited everyone he knew to his new home with great affectation and pride, so that they could see it and be amazed. On the day of the big reception, the merchant was running around making arrangements when he came upon a Wayfarer.

That lover of the Path said to the merchant: 'Crude fellow, I would love to come this very moment to your mansion to take a shit, but I have to run; please accept my apologies.'

And with this, he took his leave."  (pages 158-159). 

Today's Rune: Partnership. 

Friday, October 06, 2017

Attar: 'The Conference of the Birds' (1187 A.D.) , Part the First

Attar, The Conference of the Birds (1187 C.E.), translated by Sholeh Wolpé. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017. 

Such a cool Sufi-inspired work by Persian herbalist and poet Farīd ud-Dīn Aṭṭār of Nishapur (circa 1145-1220/21)!

At a global conference of the birds, a leader is chosen to guide a volunteer flock of various types to seek the Simorgh, the Great Bird (aka godhead or avatar of Paradise). Most of the the birds are either too scared to go, or find other reasons. But the vast flight journey is indeed made in a self-selecting migration. . .

The Hoopoe becomes migration leader. Addressing the conference of the birds, he addresses people of the 21st century, too:

"Cast off the shame of narcissism.
How long will you keep this faithlessness, this disgrace?
. . . Surrender your ego and step into the Path,
cross that threshhold [threshold] dancing."  (Page 43).

As various birds try to get out of the adventure, the Hoopoe responds. The Heron, for example, wants only to love water, inland or by the sea.

The Hoopoe replies:

"Heron, you know nothing of the sea.
It is full of crocodiles and fierce creatures in its deep . . .
It has smashed many a great ship.
Many have swirled into its cyclone and died . . .

Who can hope for comfort from such a faithless entity?

If you don't step away from the sea,
It will draw you in and drown you . . ." (pages 67-68).
Another message for the 21st century:

"You who are drunk on love of treasures,
suppose you come across one.
You will guard it until you are dead,
and while your life slips away, you gain nothing.
                                     . . . . .
If your heart is flawed by love of gold,
you will enter eternity with a face ugly with greed." (page 70.) 

"This Road is not for the lazy or the idle." (page 74).

(To be continued). 

Today's Rune: Growth.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Joris Ivens: 'The Spanish Earth' (1937)

The film footage alone makes The Spanish Earth (1937), Joris Ivens' 52 minute film shot during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), a priceless work. Ivens (1898-1989) was assisted by film editor Helen van Dongen (1909-2006); both were Dutch.

The intent of this charged documentary was to garner American support for the Spanish Republic, then under violent assault by Nazi (Hitler and German) and fascist (Mussolini and Italian) forces fighting alongside Francisco Franco's Spanish rebels.

Several prominent American writers assisted with writing, narration and distribution. These included: Archibald Macleish (who became the Librarian of Congress in 1939), Lillian Hellman, John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles.

There are multiple versions of The Spanish Earth, each with a different narrator. I've only seen the one narrated by Orson Welles. Because Welles' voice was considered "too cultured" for the average American, Hemingway did another, gruffer version. In French, Jean Renoir delivered yet another variation. 

The script for the narration is so-so, and the music intrusive and horrid about 80% of the time, but overall the film is wild and absorbing.
The defenses of Madrid. Doors from blasted buildings are put to use as support for trenches and earthworks.
Battle for Madrid. Fierce fighting right inside the city. Similarly stark imagery will reappear in Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957) and Full Metal Jacket (1987) as "the Anthill" and Huế.

In 1937, the majority of the people of Barcelona and Madrid fought on the same side against fascism. It's sad to see, eighty years later and more than forty years after Franco's death, Catalonia and Madrid at loggerheads. But such is life.  

Today's Rune: Gateway. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Jim Robbins, 'The Wonder of Birds' (2017)

Jim Robbins, The Wonder of Birds: What They Tell Us About Ourselves, the World, and a Better Future. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2017.

This is a fun, interesting and thought-provoking read. You can catch bits and pieces of similar thoughts and developments related to birds in news outlets and specialized journals, but it's helpful to have a bunch of them concentrated and reviewed in one place. 

I knew from previous reading that crows are smart, but there's always more to ponder. For instance: "It depends on how you define it, but the most intelligent corvid could be the New Caledonian crow, which is also in the running for the smartest animal on the planet." (page 155). It's funny, because a few days after reading the section on crows, while I was at a red traffic light, I looked over and saw a crow in the median, holding with one foot half a muffin, still partially wrapped in paper; while with the other foot, said crow pushed the paper off, so as to get at the delectable morsel inside. Groovy, man! All before the next green light. 

In any case, Robbins gets into migrations (what do they mean? How do they work? How is human activity disrupting patterns and habitat?); ideas like "emergence" and "murmurations" (mass avian spiral patterns) and neurogenesis (regeneration of thinking bits), theory of mind (being able to suss out other creatures' desires, &c.), chronesthesia (mental projection through space and time) and panpsychism; and sudden species collapse (such as of the passenger pigeon). 
The Wonder of Birds contains a lot of big ideas, and many specific examples of bird types and behavior, plus much about the positive impact of birds biologically and culturally.

Only in his consideration of cities / urban areas does Robbins step into weirdville: Tesla and pigeons, social work with eagles and other bizarro tales. 

I think that if Robbins has a blind spot, it's in "pigeonholing" cities, reducing them to one imagined uniform place where people are so "hyper-focused" that they barely realize the presence of birds, &c.  

Because there are many varieties of urban spaces, depending on geography, population size and density, planning, presence of nature preserves, cultural attitudes, historical factors and everything in between. One thing I can assure him: I've never been to a single city anywhere in the world that only contains pigeons.

Other than this urban quibble, I'm good with The Wonder of Birds; certainly I'm an advocate for the book and for birds and sustainable ecosystems. Essential to the future, given the outlook: "Temperatures and ocean levels, already on the rise, will increase further as the climate changes . . . more, and more immense, hurricanes and other storms, withering drought, punishing floods, and destructive winds." (page [297]).

And don't forget the hummingbirds! From what I've seen, they're very competitive, and I can often  pick one out in a tree, placed for optimum interception of other hummingbirds, sometimes chirping out a sort of tiny, fast Morse Code. 

Today's Rune: Movement. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

"That's Like Hypnotizing Chickens"

"In North America alone there are 10 billion chickens, compared to 4 billion wild birds." Jim Robbins, The Wonder of Birds: What They Tell Us About Ourselves, the World, and a Better Future. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2017, page 81.

In the USA: "Until the 1940s, chickens were raised primarily for their eggs. Chickens themselves assumed a starring role in the American diet during World War II because chicken, unlike beef and pork, wasn't rationed . . . The chicken [now, as of this post] is the most industrialized animal in the history of the world." Ibid. page 83.
"Chickens can solve problems and display an ability to think about the future." They also have a sense of object permanence (when they see something go out of line of sight, said thing does not go out of mind -- they remember). Ibid., page 88.  
Interested people are attempting to save enough wild chickens to prevent the collapse of all but genetically stunted industrialized populations. "Experts liken the loss of these genes for survival to the destruction of a library without knowing what's in it. That's why the Livestock Conservancy searches out genetic diversity in chickens, ducks, turkeys, and geese before these local breeds blink out, and it encourages farmers to raise those birds." Ibid., page 91. 

"Oh love love love
That's like hypnotizing chickens
Well I am just a modern guy
Of course I've had it in the ear before
'Cause of a lust for life!"

"Lust for Life" (1977) Iggy Pop and David Bowie


Saul bij de heks van Endor / Saul and the Witch of Endor by Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen (1525/1526), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Close-up by Erik Donald France, June 2017.

In the field, Brugge / Bruges, Belgium, EDF, June 2017.

Gustav Klimt, Gartenweg mit Hühnern / Garden Path with Chickens (1916). Klimt died during the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918; the original of this World War One era painting was destroyed near the end of World War Two, in 1945.

Today's Rune: Breakthrough.