Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Andrew Dalby's 'Bacchus: A Biography' (2003)

While still slowly going through a hefty book on Mary and her many manifestations, I finished two nifty books by Andrew Dalby, one on Venus / Aphrodite here and here, and one on Bacchus / Dionysos / Dionysus: Bacchus: A Biography (The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2004). There's intertwining of content in all three. An important shared element is wine.  
Bacchus / Dionysos / Dionysus has a rich life story throughout the Mediterranean regions that is depicted widely in art and text. Dalby shows how the Macedonians took this mythology with them through the Middle East and all the way to India, breathing new wine into old wineskin, as it were. 
The origins of Bacchus / Dionysos / Dionysus proceed backward from the present through artists, poets, philosophers, dramatists and various other types of writers, through the Romans and Greeks to at least 3200 years ago -- probably further back than that. 
What is the origin of Bacchus / Dionysos / Dionysus? As Dalby succinctly puts it: "You can try to find the original story, but there is no original story." (Bacchus: A Biography, p. 146). That's daunting, haunting, mysterious -- and cool. 
The mythology of Bacchus / Dionysos / Dionysus was well-known to early Christians, and to observant later Christians, too.  One of the more interesting connections is through "The Marriage of Cana" in the Bible (Book of John 2: lines 1-11). This scene is discussed in the Mary book, too, because Mary inspires the action. When the wedding party runs out of wine, Mary makes note of it, and Jesus performs the miracle of turning water into wine.

Which makes me wonder how some later Christian sects could ever justify their rejection of wine or any other spirits in their formal gatherings or even at home. Jesus didn't turn wine into water, he turned water into wine. But these eccentric sects reject drinking completely. For instance, the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints); Methodists (traditionally); Southern Baptists; "Dunkers" (at least the Dunker from Maryland I once knew); Seventh-day Adventists (Ben Carson is a member, and Mitt Romney is a Mormon); certain Evangelicals; and so on. 

Islam is against wine and spirits in principle, although Sufis and various artist and mystic types have demonstrated different interpretations that allow and celebrate it. 

Finally, Jains and Sikhs shun wine and all spirits. 

Personally, I can't become too excited about any religion or sect that shuns wine or its alternatives, nor would I want to join them -- any of them.  

And so, back to Bacchus / Dionysos / Dionysus: a salute, with wine, is in the offing. 

Today's Rune: Joy.      

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Margarethe von Trotta: 'Vision - Aus dem Leben der Hildegard von Bingen' (2009)

Margarethe von Trotta's Vision - Aus dem Leben der Hildegard von Bingen (2009) gives us a pretty good idea of what life was life in a cloister in the Middle Ages. It also brings into view the very interesting life's arc of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179).
Vision also brings in Brother Volmar, Hildegard's fellow Benedictine buddy and scribe. 
Hildegard von Bingen was just sainted in 2012 -- some 833 years after her death. She has also been designated a Doctor of the Catholic Church. 

By way of comparison, Hildegard was like a mix of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. She was a Renaissance Woman well before the Renaissance. Botany, music, art, writing, and leading a social cohort -- she did it all. 

Meanwhile, the USA has yet to elect its first woman president. 
Vision: nuns with books in the woods. 
Vision: nuns on horseback. Hildegard was very aware of the greater world of and before her time. At one point in Vision, she laments that she has only 400 manuscripts in her library, whereas the Caliph of Córdoba had access to 400,000 volumes. "Can you imagine?" she askes Brother Volmar. She could and she did. The Feast Day of Saint Hildegard? September 17.

Today's Rune: Journey.   

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Andrei Tarkovsky's 'Солярис' / 'Solaris' (1972): Take II

Andrei Tarkovsky's Солярис / Solaris (1972) uses windows, mirrors, water, color and intermittently, black & white film to enhance its existential themes, to great effect. 
"This is my wife." So says Kris Kelvin (played by Lithuanian actor Donatas Banionis) to his colleagues, formally introducing them to Ocean-created Hari / Khari (played by Russian actor Natalya Bondarchuk).
There is a cool driving scene featuring a Japanese cityscape that manifests complexity and pattern recognition in human social relationships. 
The Library on the Solaris space station is a key meeting point; it's also where a gorgeous scene of zero gravity takes place. Solaris explicitly cites Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Miguel de Cervantes, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy, among other cultural touchstones. 
Bruegel, Jagers in de Sneeuw (1565), a copy of which Hari examines with great intensity, looking for clues about human nature. 

Andrei Tarkovsky's 'Солярис' / 'Solaris' (1972): Take I

To date, there are multiple versions of Solaris, starting with Stanislaw Lem's 1961 novel and proceeding through movies, plays, radio programs, albums and operas as recently as 2012. It's a compelling story.
In this case, let's consider Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 movie version, Солярис / Solaris. This is a very cool film. The basic setup is this: a research station, mostly depopulated due to Earth-bound decision making, hovers above Solaris, a planet with super consciousness by way of Ocean. Ocean can create human beings out of cosmonauts' memories, and put them on the space station. How the different beings relate to each other is the nexus of the story. Spectacular! 
Today's Rune: The  Mystery Rune.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Picasso and Dora: Take I


I love reading about the lives and work of artists. Here's another really good book of this type that I finished reading a few weeks ago: James Lord's Picasso and Dora: A Personal Memoir (New York: Fromm International, 1994; hardback published in 1993). 

Among the many real characters breathed back into life, there are three principals: James Lord (1922-2009), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Dora Maar (1907-1997). Not far behind is Françoise Gilot, who even now in 2015 is still very much alive and kicking at 93 (born November 26, 1921).

Dora Maar, one of Picasso's key -- and romantically doomed -- muses, has some of the best quips and observations in the book.

Of Picasso: "'He doesn't know how to stop making things,' she said. 'It must be terrible for him. Of course, it's terrible for us as well.'" (page 107).

Of Picasso: "'It's simple,' Dora said . . . 'He would submit to anything to be able to keep on painting, and he knows that what matters in the end is not whether people say good things or bad things about you. What matters is to be talked about.'" (page 118).

And: "'I felt so alone I got into a taxi and told the driver to take me out of Paris. The trees were like balloons ready to float up in the sunrise . . ." (page 149). 

Because it's based on Lord's notebooks and scribblings made at the time things were happening, Picasso and Dora has an exceptionally crisp and intimate feel.

(To be continued . . .) 

Today's Rune: Partnership. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Surrealism and Nella Fontaine Binckley (1860-1877-1951)

Nella Fontaine Binckley (1860-1877-1951), "The Last Analysis. Woman's Rights -- the total sum -- Right man and right income" (1906). Is this satire?  Is this social commentary? Either way, it's in the year 1906.

"A Tongue of Good Report. Tell not your wife of others' sins / Or of yours she'll get a notion; / For you should know that 'Ignorance / Is the mother of Devotion.'"
"Verily. No man, poor slave, can ever save Enough to pay the rent, Howe'er he strive, howe'er he thrive, Without his wife's consent."
"A wife not too clever / Is a joy forever" ~ Nella Fontaine Binckley (1906).
"All is Vanity. . . Of the wise men of Greece and of Gotham we hear, / Bur we know, if we're older than ten, / that since the first woman arrived on the sphere / There haven't been any wise men."

Today's Rune: Strength. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

History and San Francisco: The Artist Nella Fontaine Binckley (1860-1951)

Late in 2014, I started coming across references in biographies to various people living in San Francisco, which got me to thinking about the place after a hiatus of many years. Then, earlier this year (late in June), I was lucky enough to travel there to attend a library conference in the city, which is how I found a beautiful, historic place to stay: the Hotel Majestic, built in 1902 and survivor of the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires. My gratefulness for all of this is boundless.

On the astral plane (as it were), two people in particular led me back to San Francisco: Tina Modotti and Howard Thurman. I've posted about them elsewhere.*

Since my return, I came across a third person specifically connected to the place: the artist Nella (sometimes Ellie, Nellie or Ellen) Fontaine Binckley (1860-1951).  I came across her while researching her grandfather, Harvey Mitchell (1799-1866), who was also an artist.
Even from what little I've discovered about her so far, Nella was quite a character. Born in Washington, D.C., where her father (John Milton Binckley) worked for the U.S. Government, she studied art and eventually moved to San Francisco in the late 1800s, where she sketched and painted in Chinatown, among other places. She worked at a studio at 932 Sutter Street, which is right next to the "Hotel Vertigo" of Alfred Hitchcock fame. The Hotel Majestic is at 1500 Sutter Street, just six hilly blocks away. At the turn of the century, Nella went back to the East Coast and lived in Washington City, Philadelphia and Manhattan. She died at about age ninety-one in a fire in Washington, where she is buried (in Oak Hill Cemetery).

One of the great things about Nella is that, after 1900 or so, she somehow managed to convince people that she was born in 1877 rather than 1860. How fun is that?

Check out her California State Library authority card from 1911. 
Name in full: Nella Fontaine Binckley. 
Present address: "Caramella[?]," 525 Locust Ave., Germantown, Philadelphia, Pa.
Place of birth: Washington, D.C.
Date: Too remote to mention.
If married, to whom? No -- spinster.
Years spent in California: From 1898 to 1900. . . San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara.

The illustration at top by Nella Fontaine Binckley is from Smoke and Bubbles (1906). She was 46 at the time -- or was she 29? I love it!

Today's Rune: Wholeness.  
*Tina Modotti and Howard Thurman  links.