Monday, December 17, 2012

1967 45 years ago

And then came 1968
Pivotal is not even the word for it.  On Boxing Day in prime time on BBC 1, the Tour that filmed the material for the subsequent film of Magical Mystery Tour, was broadcast.  The end of 1967 proved to be the end of an era.
This evening, evidently for the first time in the USA (and never again in England) that hour-long film for TV, and following it the movie as released, were delivered up for Christmas on Public Broadcasting in America.  I had the LP, and in retrospect I think that I figured it out right: the Music Hall connection of Beatles music and their roots in 1950s (and earlier) British humor, even to an "over-thirty" American, who usually listened to classical music and who owned no TV set but owned all the Beatles LPs so far released, made sense, and the 2-LP White Album (frontal nudity banned) would confirm that.  I doubt that the Beatles would like to be reminded of the likes of Cyril Smith, but I already knew that they wouldn't object to Gracie Fields,   What Martin Scorsese said about the actual tour photography and its use in the finished movie was very interesting, and one was repeatedly reminded that 1967, the Beatles' peak year, was actually the last year before 1968.  I'd have to research on line the dreadful events in Bologna and London and Paris, all I think in that year, but those in the USA overshadowed even at the self-centered University of California its centenary celebration that year.  MLK and RFK assassinated, riots at nearly every university, those in Chicago at the Democratic Convention (all with riot police and usually the National Guard, too, Kent State with fatalities) all wrung the joy out of every kind of innocent licence—and innocent licence is what the Beatles were all about.
It was such a pleasure 45 years later to see the Tour footage feature that the BBC wished they hadn't broadcast, directly followed by the film that we never (at least, not in Oregon where I lived) saw in America.  1968 has left such a mark on me (and I guess on almost everyone who remembers) that we hardly dare hope that anything joyous can last.  I suppose that "resilience" means the act of will to remain confident in spite of it all.  That is right and necessary.  But Mayor Bloomberg is right that we must find the way to a less violent social order.  Need I say what I think of automatic firearms everywhere?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Mary Norton, Miyazaki, and Arrietty

The Questions I have about Animated Versions

It is no longer so simple: First there were Silent animations originating (not just their storyboards) with paper.  Then, second, there were gels used for the animated parts (in the case of Pinocchio, especially in the toyshop, the quantity was very labor-intensive), and in Disney’s Snow White, the stylistic difference between her or her prince and the dwarves’ world was very obvious, even to a six-year-old child (who later saw that the woods also were in another style).  As I grew older, I noticed that Pinocchio and Fantasia and Bambi were much more unified.  The world of Pinocchio was pretty purely in an illustrator’s style, meaning that a unity of the settings and the figures was kept in mind, and in Bambi the woods and the animals both alike were humanized, as illustrators usually did.  In Fantasia (for example, in the Pastorale Symphony, since each of its episodes has its own manner) both the Grecian mythological characters and their landscape were in much the same sort of classicizing moderne as was used for Balanchine’s Apollo Musagetes of Stravinsky.  In other words, to sum up briefly, Snow White stands alone as somewhat primitive but triumphant (Pinocchio proclaims the presence of Europeans who had signed on with Disney after Nazism drove them from their homes).  And so, throughout the pre-digital age.  It is quite obvious that all of these (I don’t remember Dumbo very well: I saw it once more than 65 years ago) bear witness to the tight control of Disney over the products.  Even after his death, and (in my opinion) especially in The Lion King, the unified vision prevails, a sort of Hollywood Pan-African.  The African elements of design and expression are greatly modified, but they have been carefully researched. 
Now, I am not an authority on this history of animation, but the foregoing comes from the children of one of my former students having shared with me the Miyazaki feature-length films of the Ghibli Studios.   I just adored Kiki’s Delivery Service, and I still do.  It seems to me Miyazaki’s own Pinocchio, technically and artistically.  I accepted less articulated body joints, since I wouldn’t have seen them in Japanese scroll illustrations, either.  But Kiki’s head has many angles and aspects, her mouth many positions and expressions, her dress many ways of billowing, according to the action and the weather, etc., and so have the other characters.  Besides, the way that the action moves is unique and appropriate for each, even in the story.  I am certain that Miyazaki himself was responsible for and cared about all such properties.
I have seen a couple of other Miyazaki films but only once apiece.  But I got the dvd of Arrietty, because I had been inspired to buy and to read Mary Norton (1903–1992).  Her stories are set in Bedfordshire, just north of London, where in fact she spent her childhood (you can check Wikipedia for the data).  These books of hers, from the Bed Knob through the six Borrowers, are perfectly delightful; no wonder they have remained in print and repeatedly been made into films both for cinema and for TV, both in the USA and in the UK.  How had I missed them, when, both child and adult, I had read and loved, for example, E. Nesbit’s Railway Children?  I mean, children’s books are NOT wasted on children, but it is a dull adult (IMO) that does not go back to them and relish the writing as well as the characterizations.  The answer is plain: Mary Norton wrote The Magic Bed Knob only during the War and started the Borrowers thereafter, publishing the first in 1952.  By then I was at the university, consuming Greek and Latin, reading Woolf and Joyce and Proust, too, and learning to be, if possible, an adult.  Add that I had no money beyond rent and food (buying fabric remnants to make clothes) and neither I nor anyone I knew had a television—and there was no PBS yet, anyway.  This wasn’t being a hippie.  This was working one’s way through the university.  One was young and healthy, one borrowed nothing, one had too little to owe anything (and there were no credit cards, either).  Yes, of course, by the time when I had passed the exams to proceed to the doctorate, I had an assistantship.  But then I went to Greece, to the American School of Classical Studies, for two years.  Then wrote my dissertation.  Then went to the University of Oregon, my first position.
It seems obvious that Mary Norton was raising her four children before she wrote these books.  That she used not only her childhood in Bedfordshire but her own mother’s (and aunts’ and her grandmother’s) childhood stories and so transmitted all of it to her children and to all of ours.  That is why the House is no later than Edwardian, the country life of Bedfordshire, likewise, still is late Victorian to Edwardian.  That is why stories of Little People can still be commonplace.  I’m afraid that also is why, in the Bed Knob, her Pacific islanders are not only cannibals (I have read Anglican missionary families’ accounts of some real cannibals, but NOT with big stew pots as in old movies), but, since she relates children’s notions of the south seas, her cannibal chieftain is, to be blunt, a Golliwog, and very black: they got Africans and Asians all mixed up.  Disney made a movie of the Bed Knob, and I wonder what was done about the cannibals…  Well, you could get Golliwog dolls even when I was little (I was not allowed to have one, though I found them very appealing).  It is the same world as The Secret Garden, a universe of Empire, in which children are shipped around the world as necessary.
Now, what happens when a modern Japanese studio takes on such stories?  In my opinion, they just don’t make sense.  Arrietty, unlike Kiki, just doesn’t make sense.  I think that anyone who reads the Borrowers first will have the same opinion.
But there’s something more: as one reviewer said, the backgrounds are perfectly lovely.  Yes, but even more than in Snow White, they are jarringly at odds, stylistically, with the figures and the action.  And the Miyazaki protagonists have his brand of faces and anatomy but far less expressive and individualized than in Kiki.  Less so than any of those post-War princesses of Disney studios.  In YouTube I found some pencil-drawn storyboards by Miyazaki himself for Arrietty. These are quite wonderful.  They have all the life and spirit that the figures in the film lack; they are as delightful as Kiki.  Someone says in a Wiki article than Miyazaki has been intending to retire.  Well, he may be tired, though he’s only 70.  But notice the list of dozens who worked on the film!
Notice that I have not talked about Toy Story kind of animation, let alone that used for Peter and the Wolf and for Hansel and Gretel.  I like those very much indeed, but they are something else again, just as Lotte Reiniger, which was conceived as Fine Arts anyway, and is most elegant, is not really comparable, either.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Boy on the Dolphin

Corinth, AE 21 6.24grams.  Marcus Aurelius (161–180 AD).
A coin with Melikertes
Reconstituted as a Roman Colony, Corinth once again administered the very ancient Games at Isthmia. That is why (if for no other reason) it issued coins showing the boy Melikertes, Ino's child by Athamas, rescued and brought to shore by a dolphin.  Trees are hard to specify on coins the size of an American nickel, 5¢, but there is good reason to call it a pine, apart from its being bristly (and pines today do grow along the shore of the Gulf of Corinth).  The CLI preserved on this specimen stands for Colonia Laus Iulia (COR being obliterated on this one).  Other specimens also adequately preserve Marcus Aurelius's name, but his portrait would be recognizable to cognoscenti anyway.
For his wonderful book, Münzen und antike Mythologie: Reise in ein fernes Land (Obernforf am Neckar, 2011.  ISBN 978-3-00-03-4813-6), pp. 47-48, Hans-Joachim Hoeft illustrates a better preserved specimen, and summarizes the myths (for, from different sources, we find perhaps a different tradition calling Melikertes Palaimon and designating Ino as Leucothea, surely implying a cult).  Between the universal attraction of the dolphin-rescue motif and the idea of Leucothea (and the limited sources), the stories have given rise to imaginative interpretations, fiction (Robert Graves's The White Goddess still read, evidently, being in print), and even a movie with the title of this Post: the blue Aegean and its touristic culture being irresistible to film makers (1967, with Sophia Loren).

So this is one of the subjects that persons not deeply committed to numismatics do desire, and, though in several issues it is not inherently rare at Corinth, I did not intend (or hope to find) to get one, not least because I had to be sure that it was not a smuggled coin.  Since they tend to have been "conserved" excessively (one listed in the RPC files at the Ashmolean specified as falsified in the effort to make it salable), I could not obtain even a near-perfect specimen, either conscientiously or financially.  And it had to come from a seller whom I could trust absolutely to sell only what is 'provenanced'.  This one, with its scouring and painting behind the portrait and in front of the dolphin (which may betray bronze disease) and its mangled legends, would not be acceptable to most collectors.  To illustrate the myth, however, it suffices, so I am happy to share it here.  Its best home is with an art historian who loves portraits and knows mythology and couldn't care less for bragging rights or resale value, especially seeing that the Marcus Aurelius with slightly parted lips is very sympathetic, though his laurel wreath is largely destroyed, and his eye must be imagined.

When we read myths with names like Melikertes (though even M. L. West, in The East Face of Helicon, Oxford, 1997 [pb rpt 2003] agrees that, despite the identical series of consonants, we cannot assert that 'Melikertes' is the same as Phoenician 'Melqart', and with variants, including that name Leucothea, whom the reader is assumed to know of) it is very likely that we are dealing with a very ancient one.  In such a case, the sequence of wives and different children for Athamas has nothing to do with sexual psychology, though it obliges later authors to rationalize it (I think of that classic of my childhood, Helen's Babies, 1876, by John Habberton, in which the little boys adapt and rationalize the Bible stories whose characters and milieu are beyond the ken of three- and six-year-olds—there is a Silent movie with Clara Bow in which the little boys are played by little girls, and the Bible stories in baby talk are omitted).  Like many other pre-Drama elements of the Theban Cycle, this story is, I should think, from the Late Bronze Age, if not even earlier.

In any case, for Corinthians of the Roman Imperial period, Melikertes is the hero in whose honor the Isthmian games were held, and the pine tree alludes to the crowns of feuilles de pin (see the libretto of Offenbach's La Belle Helène, which shows that Halévy remembered the authors he had read in school, probably Plutarch (Symposiacs, Book V, Question III, which is more fun to read than most of Plutarch's Lives), though the sources as a whole are uncertain whether Isthmia had pine crowns first (as Oscar Broneer argued) or celery, which Nemea certainly had later.  To me the coin makes plain that the Corinthians believed that the dolphin delivered Melikertes (dead or alive) at the Isthmus and laid him at the foot of the Pine Tree.

If you can't read any German, I recommend going to H. J. Rose, Handbook of Greek Mythology, 4th ed., 1950, though it is so superior to any of the others that even its PB editions, even its Kindle (!), is expensive after all these years.  You can even safely use Wikipedia; just not what is other than Wikipedia itself.  If, however, you desire to read Robert Graves, I'd recommend reading his fiction as such; he was a wonderful storyteller, but his two-volume Greek Myths (an old Pelican PB) is much worse than useless as a work of reference.  The University of Chicago references that Hoeft supplies, too, are excellent, of course, since Isthmia is their excavation and a good one.  And you can find H. J. Rose in almost any library, also, perhaps, in used-book stores. Or just take what the coin says implicitly: it is ancient, it is Corinth, it shows the dolphin version of the Melikertes story, and it shows the pine tree, too.  Everyone knew about the differing crowns of the Greek games.  St. Paul mentions them in 1 Corinthians 9: 25, but he is not interested in what they were made of or what they looked like; he cites them for their perishability.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The promised Review of "Call the Midwife"

Now I have seen all six episodes of "Call the Midwife".  In fact, I have seen most of them more than once.
I think that what distinguishes it is its fidelity both to the memoir on which it is based and to the manners and mores, in the greatest detail, of the late 1950s in England.  I mean that it is true right down to dye lots to Marks & Spencer; at least, it gives that impression.  It is even true to the cinematography of that period.  Cross cutting is not done for its own sake, for example.  Hair styles are true to family albums rather than to magazine illustrations.  Speech, as in the memoir, is unaffected.  The whole series never descends to being a sort of pseudo-documentary.  We never see, for example (as if by chance), a newspaper headline that dates a scene and thus invites the viewer to bring in all the platitudes taught in school.  And yet, it really is so long ago by now!
I was afraid that, given the affectionate and reminiscent character of Jennifer Worth's memoir itself, and her having died before the series was fully realized, the series might become too sentimental.  In my opinion, somehow it stayed on keel.  It does not sentimentalize or sanitize.  It never mocks or tries to justify anything other than the characters of the nurses and the sisters themselves.  I would add that to the best of my knowledge the resident secular nurses would see just about that much of the life in Religion.
Well, I have no new illustration to post at the head of this, but I wanted to say that whatever others may think of this TV series, I like it very much indeed, and the actors and directors, I think, are really excellent.  Please, don't think that I'm glorifying slums!  Nor does the memoir.  The keynote is acceptance, not of conditions but of life itself.

Friday, November 2, 2012

One ought to vote!

Note from one they call wishy-washy
Sestertius (nice big brass) of Antoninus Pius / Pax Augusti
By this time, who can endure any more political talk?  But I am still possessed by my generation's compunctions.
One ought to vote.  I have usually lived in states too small to matter in the electoral college and with easily guessed results, except when I first voted and learned that the SF Bay Area is usually outnumbered by Greater L.A.  Even so, one ought to vote.  And so I shall go to my polling place on Tuesday.  The mayor, at least, needs voting for.
Readers of my blog have wondered about my beliefs.
In a nutshell: Don't ask your fellow citizens to share your own beliefs, and, above all, don't try to force them legally: to do so is bad for the country.  
In other words, in Stoic and Christian (just to name two) terms: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
So now you know.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Eve of All Souls

I was out taking snapshots as I took a walk this afternoon, and in some blocks the holiday that seems to have become America's favorite, but more a playful Hungry Souls than the Eve of All Souls in the Christian calendar, is very richly represented.  Our 1920s neighborhood is as much young as old in its population, and it is those who came of age since the 1960s that seem to enjoy it most poignantly, as everything happily memorable from childhood.  Childhood is regained.  This lifesize ghost betrays someone trained in the arts, too.
Other blocks are sober, but the one that I enjoyed today was rejoicing in Halloween, so I wish you all a happy one.

(These are from the images taken 30 Oct 2012 in the album

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Graphic Design gratis

Recycled Garbage
October 17, 2012.  This is a straight photo of something noticed by chance.
If you click on the image to zoom it, its raison d'être will be more apparent.  Though it couldn't have been taken of anything else, anywhere else, or even ten minutes earlier or later, what it was taken of doesn't matter to the image.  It is my humble offering to the Graphics of Phôs, a sort of graphic imagery that only a camera, whether pinhole or film or digital, can make, created by educating the visual capabilities and associative tendencies of the human brain.  The camera doesn't create anything, any more than a lithographic stone or prepared canvas or pigments and oil and varnish do.  As for the hands-on part of visual imagery, that now comes with what one does with post-processing rather than with fingers in the developing pan and so on.
Back to the images that Bill Brandt took with the camera that he found, probably originally designed for espionage or some such hole-in-the-wall purpose: its lens could record, for example, a whole room full of nudes interacting such as to cause a real scandal on YouTube.  Brandt used it for extreme but quite 'innocent' studies of nudes (primarily nudes; not exclusively).  These are the Brandt images that are best represented on the internet, to which I refer you.  When I call his nude studies 'innocent', I don't mean that they aren't appreciative of the female body (far from it) but that they are not meretricious or even pornographic (in the primary meanings of those two words).
On the other hand, Brandt's nudes are richly suggestive: we bring our own minds to that task.  So, to me, my little light study is suggestive.  When you look at it zoomed to full screen, and your monitor isn't TOO bad, its little edges and translucencies and curious patches of red color and texture not unlike that of pre-modern underlinens, might make you think of passages of Bouchers or Fragnonards.  Of course, that depends on your having had the privilege of meditating on some of their best paintings, whether in New York or Paris or London, just to name three.  And those red patches, considering the tendencies of current television drama, may suggest violence or one of the disturbing sides of Nature, just as some of the curves and contrasts of Brandt's nudes can evoke ghosts of sexual anxiety as well as romantic daydreams.
I would emphasize, too, that as the light event caught my eye, sending me for the little camera (always kept handy for this reason), I didn't see what I'd get, only the graphic potential of the light event.  In fact, once I was using the camera I had to walk around to look north, into the room, to get the above, since the contrast was too strong, I realized already, looking west—and I could do without a record of that screen door this time.  I wasn't even trying to conceive of frames for pictures.  I just used the monitor and the zooming function to search and suggest.  I mean, to repeat, it is the image that is (literally) graphic, rather than the record of somewhat bohemian housekeeping.
If you are curious, you can find the four images from two exposures at the head of the current Picasa album: current Picasa album.  They are annotated, and you can get the metadata by clicking at right for full info.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ordinary People

Some TV series and the Photographs of Bill Brandt and Robert Doisneau
Bill Brandt, London, 1939: The Lambeth Walk
Does English television produce series specially with US in mind?  Long ago Coronation Street, though available in parts of the United States, was (we thought) made for themselves and the Commonwealth.  After all, we didn't suppose that our I Remember Mama, set on one of the San Francisco streets that preserve row houses on a steep hill, was of much interest overseas.  Later, however, when I ran into episodes of Dallas all over Europe (and, speaking for Canada, of DeGrassi Junior High in Greek villages, where the local pre-teens were agog over it), I saw that high-end soap operas of our own had supplanted dark movies about Chicago gangsters and sunbathed ones of Roy Rogers in providing exportable Americana.
What is the point of more Upstairs, Downstairs or of Downton Abbey?  Neither one of them has the authenticity of Brideshead Revisited.  Evelyn Waugh could be offensive, of course, and kidded himself awfully.  I didn't say, either,  that Brideshead was inoffensive to everyone or in the whole to anyone, but it did have a consistent point of view, a strong one (Authority: is Julian Fellowes an auctor in the same sense?).  So had South Riding, though its authorial character got a bit muddled.  And, oh, the joy of Mapp and Lucia!
Since Jennifer Worth was just nine months younger than me; since my mother never tired of telling me, whenever I was troublesome, how awful my breech birth had been; since I was just a month younger than the Dionne quintuplets and from the public library had read up on rural multiple births long before my mother gave me the book, Being Born (recommended by Parents magazine), but I have never even been pregnant myself; since riding into Liverpool Street in London from Cambridge repeatedly in 1959 gave me a daily bird's-eye view of the East End just before its tenements were replaced (and I wondered at its resemblance to some of our own, whose replacements often became uninhabitable in their turn), it is quite certain that I shall watch the full six parts of Call the Midwife.  The first episode was really pretty good, but the book affords many booby traps for the BBC today.  It got the nuns right, to my great surprise, but it must be careful not to go over the top.  Anglican religious orders is something I actually know something about, and, like Jennifer Worth, I shall always be discreet: there are things you can talk about and things you just won't, if you really know them.  This is not to say that you idealize or sentimentalize.
I'll write a follow-up when I've seen all six episodes.
I always like to put an image at the top of a post.  The BBC has a nice page of Matthew's 1912 images, but Jennifer Worth spells out what happened in ruins from bombing of the docks, what with squatters in the 1950s' housing shortage and new ethnic groups introducing additional complications, and Matthew's Spitalfields zone was Jewish and, well, not quite so bad as some others.  Fortunately, one of Bill Brandt's images, from just before the Blitz, has been so widely reproduced that I have ventured to use it.  It is remarkable how long it took after the end of the War for children's clothes and games to change very much, and the popular song, "The Lambeth Walk" was a cockney-dialect ditty, besides.  It is a rare photographer who works without some Program (such as the USA's FSA project) that has an axe to grind: it was what they were paid for.  Even Brandt turned to his famously surreal distortions—not surreal in meaning but one of the greatest ventures in liberating photography from documentation.  Of course, all the greatest documentarians (think of Cartier-Bresson) have strong formal virtues, too, which make their images the most memorable, but finding such photography (more than primarily journalistic) of ordinary people in the 1950s is surprisingly difficult, even if questions of copyright were not a problem.
Great photographs of the ordinary life of ordinary people's ordinary settings, taken out of the photographer's personal attrait, before the Age of the Beatles but after the War, are remarkably rare.  Robert Doisneau, who returned repeatedly to the banlieue that he came from is my favorite.  He is one of the names that I discovered in The Family of Man, by the way, and there is a beautiful biographical retrospective volume for him by Peter Hamilton (Abbelville Press, 1995), when he had just died.  Copyright here is a problem, but you can find good images on line, and some of the best are from the 1950s.  Doisneau, like Edward Steichen, worked in every kind of photography.  For England, Bill Brandt, for me, is unsurpassable.  Thames & Hudson published a fine retrospective volume for Brandt in 1999.

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Fog" all my life!

In re: "American Experience"
Edward Steichen:  Photo montage of Carl Sandburg.  1936
It is quite clear that the cultural powers that be intend to bully and bludgeon me, once again, to make being "American" something that I am not.  In the persons of schoolteachers, above all, they kept me from reading Hamlin Garland and made me come late to Pete Seeger and Studs Terkel.  When last night I approached the end of Part I of Edwin Abbot's Flatland, and he used Fog as a device to assist flatlanders' perception; when I taught History of Photography and had to defend Edward Steichen from the goop in The Family of Man (though one would have thought that in the history of photography we were focusing on the art of the photographer—but that was partly Susan Sontag's fault, since she, too, thought a photograph is what it is of); and had to defend myself from presumptions of elitism, simply because fourth-generation Californians don't speak mid-western, it was all because of the cult of Carl Sandburg.
"Style is the Man Himself".  I may enjoy reading and listening to persons ever so far to the right or to the left, and actually enjoy a variety of dialects, including the yets of New Orleans, but when a man gets a microphone and enunciates "" and "blo...oo..d" (two of his favorite words) and in the same sentence deplores the "cerebral" poets (as if they were something new), his being about 80 years old is no excuse.  His brother in law Edward Steichen would never talk that way.  Neither would Studs Terkel.  Have I already overemphasized that it is not Sandburg's socialism that annoys me?  Anyone my age has coped already with -isms, I hope.
What is it, then, that makes me detest Sandburg so much?  It must be more than having been compelled to stand up and recite "Fog" so many times.  One can get over that.
Is it that he seems never to have seen himself as others, assorted others, saw him?  He seems never to have exhibited real humor.  He seems never to have understood that Floridians and Californians and Hawaiians and Louisianans (unless of course they were jazz musicians or folk singers) were just as American as he was, that lots of other lands of origin were just as good as Sweden?  Oh, well, I like Denmark best, anyhow.
And, helped along by looking more like the famous Bog Man the older he got, and by Steichen's loving to photograph him, I don't think we ever had a public figure so in love with his own image as Carl Sandburg.
I do admit liking all mixed up social and political opinions better than systematic ones.  Just today I was relishing thinking of politicians as flatlanders, just as Edwin Abbot Abbot intended (and, by the way, the EB 11th edition of 1910, s.v., Abbot, Edwin, reports that his article on The Gospels in the 9th edition of 1985 caused quite a stir, and, when I checked I found that he contributed nothing to the 11th!  Just because writing was discrete a century ago doesn't mean that you can't tell what they thought).  I was not surprised to learn that no one in his lifetime thought him to be a very perfect Circle or Sphere!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Father's Youth, and some Reflections

This Post is for my cousin, Mark


"Burt Fay & Sid  Elmonte"  It's certainly my father, Sid, in the center, and I'm pretty sure, from adult pictures, that it's Burt at left and Fay at right.  My 1991 Road Atlas shows El Monte on the San Bernardino Fwy. (I-10) about halfway between downtown LA and Pomona.  If my father was about six here, the picture was taken in 1915.
For El Monte today, see this article and others that a Search yields.  The demographic stats show that the place had only about 1,000 population, then, but over 100,000 now.

A couple of years later (I have not been able to learn exactly why) the family was in Winslow, AZ:
"Sid  Winslow Ariz"  If he was about age 8 here, the date is 1917.  My 1991 Road Atlas shows Winslow, AZ, on I-40 some 50+ miles east of Flagstaff and in smaller typeface than Kingman (about 200 mi. west of it).  I don't know what they were doing there; by train it was a long journey and one that I doubt folks took six children on with a car of that date.  Did they have one?

Again, a Search for the page on Winslow suggests radical change.  Its population growth is only a tenth that of El Monte, but it has been made to prosper, and its ethnic profile is very different.  I am very fond of this Kodak snapshot, which shows that pair of houses evidently new and unmodified; their pre-cut appearance, even the uniform picket fences, suggest an early subdivison.  But Winslow, still just under 10,000 population, is still an important stop in the middle of nowhere; that is why it looks so "American".  With its Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe and Harvey Girls and Rte 66 associations, it is pretty well explained.  El Monte's existence today is not at all self-evident.

My father having been next to youngest in a large family, and that family not well to do (though in the next generation at least half of us earned university degrees), I have few records, and the future amateur photographer seems not to have had a camera of his own, but in due course he graduated from Van Nuys High School.  I think I once saw his High School year book, but that would have been in his boxes in his darkroom (a tiny upstairs room in our Alameda house that may once have been for storage, though its having running water also suggests that it may have been meant to become a bathroom), and in the course of other moves and his eventual death in 1950 all such mementos of his were lost.  He looks as if he enjoyed high school:

What did survive were a few of his phonograph records, intermixed with my mother's 78rpm favorites but which I knew were his because she didn't like them.  A few, basically to dance to, may have belonged to either one of them, but his were just a bit earlier (she graduated from high school only in 1933 and was five years his junior) and she preferred Russ Columbo and Alan Jones, and he probably had chosen the early Gene Austins and anything like jazz, so that besides the famous "Am I Blue" from Victor's house band, Nat Shilkret's, I think that the Brunswick-label "Betty" and "Valencia", for example, had been his.  They go with his ukelele playing of favorites such as "Show Me the Way to Go Home" for us children, in the darkroom.

What Paul McCartney's new album made me do
First, let me say, it didn't take much urging.  I already had collected a fair number of used 78rpm over the years.  With one thing and another, I have a strong liking for pre-Swing pops.  Also, all the actual disks from my parents were lost in a fire in my mother's assisted-living room.  But McCartney's interpretations are profoundly true to the period.  Anyone who reads younger persons' remarks in YouTube will have realized what a mystery (not least when they love it) the musical idioms of the mid 1920s are to them, not least jazz violin and piano (they just think of revivals of Jelly Roll Morton, and they may have heard of Stéphane Grappeli—but only a couple of his latest things).  But Sir Paul and the wonderful musicians working with him, without being imitative in the pedantic American Songbook sort of way (which is like early attempts to do authentic Early Baroque), effortlessly and blissfully blend elements that are identifiable as blues and jazz of assorted kinds and pop of both Tin Pan Alley and early Jerome Kern (Princess Theater kinds) and anything else that their own musicianship prompts.  I said 'blend', but it's more seamless than that, and it's early blues and early (not evolved "Dixieland") jazz and great pop that needn't apologize for its simplicity, like Irving Berlin's "Always".  Yes, of course, at 70 Paul McCartney can barely support his singing voice, even using falsetto.  But Richard Tauber at the end of his singing career pulled it off, too; one might even remember Karl Erb.  Both of them, of course, had real, trained tenor voices to begin with.  As for interpretation, the first necessity is to sing straight but not mechanically.  You ruin early jazz if you try to jazz it up; you take the grief out of delicate blues if you ham it up.  In short, if you can, sing the songs as if they were 19th-century Lieder (do the same, for best results, with Stephen Foster: do not turn him into Scout campfire sing-alongs!).  I must learn more about Diana Krall, who is great.
So, what he made me do, what that wonderful film at the Capitol studios did, was to take my favorite song, "Bye Bye Blackbird" (which, 1925, may also be the oldest) and find its earliest recording, since Sir Paul obviously was more familiar with such as Ella Fitzgerald's.  And behold, some noble collector has provided Gene Austin's, the first commercial recording of the song, and Austin has simple piano and violin accompaniment, and he sings all of both verses (BTW, if the Wiki article is correct, 1925 may be too early even for Joe Venuti on the violin).  I proceeded to play Gene Austin all night, album after album.  I don't know how well known he has become, but he was a Louisiana-Texan, who had some time in New Orleans after serving in WW I; Fats Waller recorded a couple of times with him; I only had known the two records my father had had.  Now I can report that his "St. Louis Blues" is definitely to be listened to.
And I'd been thinking of the generation directly preceding my own in other connections, too.

What else I'd been thinking of
Don't suppose that my father was very poor in those first pictures I found; in California my birth cohort also went barefoot all summer long.  No, it was that the wonderful books of photography that I have are all of the iconic FSA, TVA, NRA period, after 1930 or WWII (but may I recommend the less well known Library of Congress volume, Bound for Glory, which is all first-generation Kodachrome, showing the famous FSA photographers in a whole new light).  As for the critical period for most of the songs in "Kisses on the Bottom", the post-WWI and pre-Great Depression of the 1920s, it's all Flappers and John Held, Jr., and Prohibition.  I'm interested in the period when working-class adolescents and young couples bought the records, who, if they learned the basic steps of the Charleston and got shingle-cut bobs, did so on the level following Vogue but shopping at Walmart today.  Repeatedly, I had heard and read that the Beatles came out of this stratum, and I knew it was my parents'; the social patterns of going out of an evening were the same, though my parents certainly lacked the stimuli of Liverpool.  And I thought, though Paul is younger than me, his parents and mine were of just the same cohort.  Also, in popular culture, both in popular film and illustration drawings and comic strips and in music, those who are younger than Paul McCartney have no firsthand memory of their parents' 78rpm records, and it is quite evident from his voice that he has done this album just in time.  My own younger siblings did not listen to the parental records as I did, even.  My mother's favorites verged on 1930s pop.  There is a great culmination of early popular music, early modern pop music, ca. 1927. A second peak, perhaps ca. 1933-4, is different.
And then, there is my other current addiction, reading about economics.  What has seemed to me apparent is beginning to be emphasized also by the likes of Joseph Stiglitz or Jeff Faux: the recovery from the present crisis cannot take as a model the World of the 1930s.  We cannot reinstate our industries, for example.  We cannot, probably, hope to employ so large a majority of our population.  The whole economic system needs to be re-based.  Population is part of the picture, but immigration is not the main thing.  And much, much more.  And the professed talking points of the present election about too much or too little government are generations out of date.  Regulation, of course, is necessary.  But I remember being taught in Social Studies that by the time we grew up productivity would have made it necessary for us to know how to make good use of a four-day week...  I remember thinking, as printing in first the Netherlands, then Taiwan, then ... (I forget what order it was in) kept the price of large, beautiful textbooks as low as ever, that print-setters in the USA would have to learn a new trade, if we couldn't afford the books they produced here.  I've been worrying over such questions almost all of my life.  By a couple of decades ago, I saw that no one would be setting type anywhere except for arts and crafts books, that the price of postage was irrelevant when we all used e-mail, and the reason why my old steam iron will never be replaced is not the cost of steel but the fact I haven't ironed anything for years.  And so on.  I feel an odd sense of obligation to understand what has happened to the whole world in the course of my life, now that Beatles (to name only one group) are seen in a perspective not unlike that in which I regarded my parents' popular culture.  That is what it means, I suppose, to be an art historian, one for whom every package design is part of its own Zeitgeist.
Oh, by the way, I love the set of the Metropolitan Opera's new Ring of the Nibelungen.  I bought my first color TV, new, my own, and then ordered a Cable service expressly for the last wholly new Met broadcast of the Ring and I had bought my first CD player in order to hear the Solti Ring properly, though I already had it on LPs.
While the World is still singing the Merry Minuet, I am in love every minute of it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

My brief envoi to Olympics

The blue and white flag over the blue and white land
I hope I live long enough to see more, at least as broadcast.  Watching the modern ones helps me to wonder about everything that we do not know about ancient ones.  And I may never again be able to tramp all over Athens, so you will pardon my posting a couple of images from a decade ago.
2002.  From a very non-touristic position to the SE corner of the Acropolis
where (I noticed on TV) the flag still flies.  And that isn't a pile of rocks but
the Acropolis rock itself, with the Wall (of every pre-modern era) built on it.
I was thinking Sunday evening as I watched thousands of young athletes, as well as Prince Harry and his friends, singing almost all the words to songs I hadn't even heard before, that finally, six years after I retired from teaching, I was watching them with an almost anthropological interest.  No wonder that most of them know so little of what I know, when I know still less of their childhood.  My Afghanistan was where Sir Aurel Stein had traveled and Sir Mortimer Wheeler had excavated, whence I found to my relief the painting of Tocharian 'knights' in Berlin, endless delights of mixed cultures in the Musée Guimet, and big Buddhas that I might dream of visiting at Bamiyan.  Their Earth has hardly any mysterious places anymore.  And so on.
But Greece is still Greece.  I read several papers on line.  But when the flag is run up for Olympic Games, it is the one on the Acropolis, in the white of Clean Monday houses and the blue of the sea as dark as wine that you can see on any clear day near Delos, say, or Samos.  And the LSO played the Greek national anthem just right, just as they did our borrowed melody, To Anacreon in Heaven, better than our own Marine band plays it.  It wasn't a good year for Greece to be training and sending athletes, of course.
I shall never get used to light shows with music.  Not that I object.  You might say, if you know classical music pretty well, that the tunes and their limited harmonies (for the most part) need all the help they can get and haven't gotten since we lost John Lennon and Cole Porter (to name two).  But a huge light show with more going on than anyone (of my age, anyhow) can take in seems to be done for its own sake and to have nearly nothing to do with the songs and performers.  This already happened with some of the 'psychedelic' shows of the late 1960s, but they were very simple, like the little computers that went to Jupiter and, for that matter, in 1969 on the moon.  I'm not complaining; I'm not even objecting to the too-serious (?) standards that my favorite newspaper, besides the Guardian, the San Francisco Chronicle, applied.
This show wasn't put on for me.  It was put on for all those kids holding up medals for their friends to see and photographing each other, doubtless posted within minutes of taking.  
Coming back to my point.  These athletic games, both the original ones that I think of as Pindaric, and the retrospective ones of the Imperial Roman centuries, are for the age group who, for the most part, competed in them.  Perhaps originally they were aristoi and hippeis (Latin equites), educated and trained at their families' expense; perhaps by the Hellenistic age sponsorship was in place.  In any case, the Games were an aspect of a gymnasion education, which is why the pentathlon was central.  Training the military elite was like a military academy followed by West Point.  I was thinking as I watched the light show that ancient Youth cannot have been utterly different, even without any internet.  Yet it can be important in ways that an old lady might not quite understand to take these things seriously.  Of course, the S F Chronicle was right about the entertainer named Jessie J. (the Guardian agreed), but what do they expect from Rio next time?  All round, there was too much boasting openly about medals; perhaps certificates sent later (if the post offices last that long) would be better.  But why?  I don't think West Point's closing ceremonies are all that decorous.  No, let it be.  It isn't for retired professors of ancient art that it is done.  For us it is educational and a subject for meditation.
As for the athletics, the best were breathtaking and utterly wonderful.  The horsemanship (already part of the ancient Games) also was wonderful.  The Marathon through the streets of London was a treat.  I do wish that the broadcasters had the courtesy to realize that persons who like athletics would like to see a more balanced treatment.  It isn't only a question of fairness!  One wants to compare.
I close with the nearest I could come to a picture of my own of the 1896 Panathenaic Stadium.  Somewhere I do have a picture of Olympia's, but I couldn't find the image.  Similarly for Delphi and Isthmia.  In courses on Greek Art as taught in an Art Department, I didn't use them, I'm afraid.
But from the top of the Acropolis, leaning over the Wall, here is the context of the Panathenaic Stadium where they did end the Marathon race in the 2004 Games.
2002.  I carefully checked the Google air view map.  You are looking down at the Choregic Monument of Lysikrates (334 BCE) which, commemorating a victory in the dramatic festival, has tripods on it; the Street of the Tripods runs straight to the Arch of Hadrian (partly encased in green mesh for cleaning) and, in its temenos, to the Olympieion, begun in the sixth century BCE but Hellenistic in the standing Corinthian columns.  At the top left and center of this photo, in its hollow and much hidden by trees, is the Panathenaic stadium of 1896.  Above the Choregic Munument, on the steep slope at the bottom of the image, is the Plaka.

There.  Next time I'll write about something else.  London and Athens have such historical depth and complexity, they are a real joy.  I had no TV for Rome, alas.  Beijing has the depth but not the same feeling for the West (not that it can be put down on that account).  I am very eager to see what Brazil will do.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

1984 Just Yesterday

Last week's traces of iced tea in Big M trophy of 1984 Olympic Games
Why I watch ceremonies and Games on television 
I just watched the complete opening ceremonies from London.  I also cannot bypass watching rites of passage, of all kinds, that are telecast.  It certainly isn't that I like the music, barring a Zadok the Priest or an exceptional rendering of John Philip Sousa.  I like parades and inaugurations, usually.  But modern Olympics are an odd taste, perhaps, until I tell you that I know something of the Games of the Roman Empire period and am familiar with the way they were commemorated on coins from all over the Empire, especially in the 3rd century CE.  I'd love to see and hear the commentaries on the spot of games celebrated at Philippopolis (modern Plovdiv) or Bizye in Thrace for Caracalla or for Philip "the Arab", for example,  and in cities all over Asia Minor.  We know about them, and we know their names, from the coins that survive, showing the prize table and the athletic events or the youths holding palms of victory.  In high school I used to wonder why there was a football tune called "Palms of Victory".  It shows that a century ago a modicum of classical learning was universal among those who got a secondary or university education, since, even in California, where there are plenty of palms, they weren't carried around except on Palm Sunday.
I loved the Athens games of 2004 especially for the purpose-grown plantings of young olives and the weaving of the olive (real laurel being less available) into crowns for every winner in every event as well as for all the dancing schoolchildren.  I loved the drafting of practically every school in the nation to teach the dances and other choreography and the thousands of mothers to sew their costumes (and do it beautifully).  I mean, finally getting the Games cost them dearly (the infrastructure!), and I cannot admire Greece enough for spending its ingenuity and huge efforts for everything possible.  I mean, they could do the Marathon from Marathon and use the modern (1896) stadium for whatever it wasn't too short for (or had too little seating space), and they had the real Pindaric sites (Lerna and Isthmia besides Olympia and Delphi being excavated) besides, but they had to improve the road to Marathon and build an adequate airport.  One thing that has been very important was their taking the opportunity to build the Metro.  It hired many, many workers, since it was practically dug by hand, having to be an archaeological project, too.  I thought of those years of digging as I watched the Stratford City Londoners celebrated for rebuilding their own district.  When smart commentators talk of excessive government employment in Greece, I hope they aren't so stupid as to include the Metro.  That wasn't the same as too much bureaucracy!  Greece is a much greater asset to the whole of Europe for the infrastructure required by the 2004 Olympics.  And there was nothing "slick" about it.  As for why Greece should have had  the Games in 2004 (if not in 1996 or 2000), we ought not even to ask.  It is for the Olympic idea that so great a man as Daniel Barenboim helped to carry in the Olympic flag.
The cities of the Roman Empire certainly profited, or at least hoped to profit, from putting on games, for which they competed.  It was the fame of the Pindaric games (I have in mind Greek games before Alexander the Great) and the glory in which they were wrapped that they wanted to identify with and, of course, to bring honor to themselves for honoring an emperor like Caracalla, who seems to have been thought to respond to that honor, as Nero had done.
It seems very likely that the cities that put on the games labeled Pythia, Serdica, Alexandreia and the like spent a lot to make the occasions as splendid, worth coming to compete in, worth staying and eating and sleeping in, as they could.  The expense of being impressive is not a new development, although London has perhaps outdone herself in the matter of light show and fireworks, not to mention delivering the queen by air mail (well, if G. H. W. Bush can, ...).
I was thinking as I dutifully registered all the costumes of the smaller national contingents that there is less difference between the ancient and the modern Olympics than the TV commentators seem to realize.  When I saw Daniel Barenboim participating, I no longer felt even slightly silly for watching so closely: he must understand.
As for my keeping my glass cup from MacDonald's (can it really be 28 years ago?), well, I like Things, and the cup is well designed and just right for cold drinks; I wouldn't have taken it when offered if I hadn't liked it.
And then, at the end, as "Hey Jude" was being sung, it occurred to me (for folks who write blogs are expected to have opinions) that Mitt Romney's problem is that he is unimaginative.  It took one of those sharp English wisecracks to make me see it (that he had run an Olympics Games in the middle of nowhere!), and it isn't even impolite but utterly undiplomatic, utterly insensitive to tell one's hosts what they have already confessed to, publicly, that the security plans may have been inadequate!  For I know from Mr. Romney's father that our current candidate is from a perfectly decent family.  I don't mean to blame him, of course.
Here's for Caracalla at Philippopolis.
28 02 03 AE 30  Philippopolis.  14,56g.  Caracalla, laureate, head to r. AVT K M AVR SEV   |    ANTONEINOS.  Rev., Zeus enthroned to l., patera rather than Nike (Varbanov 1301) in his extended r. hand, leaning on his scepter in his l.  KOINON ThRAKON ALEXANDRIA EN and in exergue in 2 lines PhILIPPO / POLI and across field PY   |   ThIA.  Vile example of a bombastic issue, but with the full length maximum legend.
P. S. I didn't mention the first thing that delighted me in the opening spectacle, the dray horses, the great hairy-fetlocked horses, in the pre-industrial sequence; I love such horses (not to disparage thoroughbreds or ponies).  And the second and most remarkable thing, the scene celebrating the Great Ormond Street Hospital,  the Children's Hospital (and, of course, the NHS: I have never forgotten the excellent, regular well-baby clinics that served resident U.S. servicemen's infants as well as English ones in the village, all the young wives who didn't have cars to drive into Newmarket or Cambridge to see a doctor, when my sister's family was stationed in England).  I didn't want to seem "political" in my admiration of the NHS (I don't say it's perfect), but there it is.  The hospital scene was most beautifully conceived and filmed, and I just learned, on line, that actual patients had participated.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

What Calls is Vocation

13 July 2012  If Vocation is doing what calls you...  I didn't think the summer sun would ever reach this far into the room, or that I'd happen to see it.  Luckily, the paper-naptkin holder was empty.  This is what I saw first; the others followed.
Like all the other visual media, photography offers innumerable choices and products, both Absolute and Illustrative, based on personal vision and the use of selected tools (which may be imposed by availability).  One can no more take casual photos with most specialized cameras and their specific lenses than definitive scientific photos with miniature point-and-shoot or the newest cell phone.  Within one's budget and physical limitations (say, to climb or to carry heavy equipment) one decides what seems possible.  The still life here was taken with a Nikon S9100, one of a handful of quite remarkable tiny cameras currently available.
After a year I have become very comfortable with it.  Yesterday afternoon I was working with minimum available light, so I used some zoom to avoid wide-angle distortion (since I needed the wide angle to maximize aperture) while retaining as much depth of field as reasonably possible.
I keep a couple of cameras with charged batteries close at hand, just as someone documenting growing children might do.  Afternoon sunlight changes very quickly, and in this particular 'calling' of mine the feeling that light is both the object and the means of photography and its Absolute subject is the Game.  In my form of it (not mine alone, of course), neither the things involved nor their illumination should be altered, but used as seen.  That rule is inherent.  Irving Penn's great photographs of still-life subjects (tulips, playing cards, dead cigarettes, and all the rest) are a different Game with different inherent rules, though both, in my opinion, are Absolute rather than Illustrative (recognizability of the things involved being irrelevant to the distinction).
As I moved around the stuff on the end of the tabletop, the composition of vertical lines and diagonally dispersed almost melodic curved dark and light shapes became defined.  The image might not have enough light to be tolerably sharp, but it had to be taken, just as it presented itself.  So it heads this post.

Standing on a stool to look down, and zooming a bit more, an entirely different image, with all the shadows changing their shapes. 

This one had to be cropped a little at right, because the beam of sunlight hit the lucite too directly.  I liked adding the black dots provided by the old dime-store salt shaker.

For the record, to avoid distracting anyone by the question, the faux-moiré pattern is a box of Kleenex-brand tissues.
One of the most important things about this kind of photography is realizing that seeing color depends on light.  Our wonderful eyes and brain adjust to help us see the colors we expect or (in the wild) need to see, but the camera relies on supplementary light, floods or flash, for which fact I am very grateful,  because I have only to defeat the auto flash (and this camera, for which I am even more grateful, makes no flash the default) to obtain images as the camera chip (or formerly the film emulsion) registers them and which, to my eyes, have many of the virtues of both grayscale and color.  The chip does this better than any film ever did.  None of the special effects offered by post-processing programs give such subtlety as the camera itself, in response to nature, provides.
I leave to you to decide whether these images are interesting as such: Absolute.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Just a Postcard

Lentoid disk of crystal, Early Neolithic
Just to share something wonderful, a postcard that I received in 2006.  All I know is that it came from Çatal Hüyük in southern Anatolia, modern Turkey, where the most productive strata (now in all the basic art history textbooks) dated to about 6,000 BCE.  The rest we can see.  It has to be a remarkable piece of natural crystal (the region is volcanic), because if far outdates the invention of glass.  It has to have been carefully and knowingly polished to a regularly rounded surface to produce the image we see (I presume that the back side is encrusted or coated) patiently using emery (again, volcanic).  This site even produced a picture that can hardly be anything but a representation of an erupting volcano.  I am from California and sentimentally attached to Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta as well as to the story of Ishi, the last survivor of his tribe in the foothills of Lassen.  These town dwellers of Anatolia, though, are both similar to our native Americans and different, being far older and making some use of copper and representing the human figure in both active (hunting) and cultic depictions, but even for Çatal Hüyük this crystal mirror (photographed over the shoulder, apparently, of a modern girl) is astonishing.  To me, Asia Minor is the most wondrous part of the ancient world.  I wish I could live long enough to understand better how technical and linguistic and social and religious ideas spread from Asia Minor—not to compare Mesopotamia and the other great river valleys in any invidious or belittling way, but we knew about them much earlier owing to Judaeo-Christian interest in Egypt and Mesopotamia, especially.  At the same time, the Book that we have also skewed our point of view.
I want to take time right now to write a Post for Opera Nobilia, but this postcard must be shared.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The enchantment of nebulae

In a recent Post I mentioned a childhood friend whose father worked for Bell.
Jean Ellen (for that was her name) was my own age and went to school with me.  Her mother, who may have been mentally unsound (well, my father thought so) talked with my mother on the phone, sometimes for more than an hour at a time, but whether her talk was beyond my mother's comprehension or incomprehensible per se, I do not know.  I never met her father, but Jean Ellen said that he worked "for Bell".  I had the impression that her access to a telescope, her maps of the heavens, her vocabulary were from her father.
Other little girls might hide under the covers with flashlights to conceal their discussion of what they surmised about boys, but when I was invited to overnight at her house it was astronomy, such as was known in 1944, that we talked about.  Remember that the Mt. Wilson telescope was still new, was in My Weekly Reader, was in Life magazine (though the 200" Hale telescope at Palomar was delayed until 1949), but Jean Ellen was far more interested and well informed than I was.
The thing that I came to wonder most about was the nature of nebulae.  We knew, of course, from the dictionary that the word meant just "cloud", but by 1944 it was known that they were spiral (we did not know that they were not uniformly so), and I remember Jean Ellen's telling me that they might be whole galaxies like our Milky Way.  I also remember (and there was little science fiction worthy of the name at that time) that there might be other stars with planets, but, owing to their being so distant, probably unknowable.
So, whether her father worked for Bell Labs or just for the Telephone Company, through him and his very bright daughter, a goodly part of my mental curiosity was established for life.  It was not as if there were anything beyond a National Geographic sky map then to learn from.  I mean, one was prepared to mock Buck Rogers, for sure!  There was no television, no serious documentaries and no dream, even, of IT permitting me to communicate my childhood's initiations to persons on several continents almost in real time.  Once, in Berkeley, Jean Ellen who was then in Hawaii, came by for a brief visit, but we never again became closely acquainted, no longer children.
I remember the 1944 thoughts about nebulae whenever NOVA, for example, has programs about telescopes and "the edges of the universe".  For, naturally, I could never imagine a simply finite universe, once the reality of galactic nebulae had been grasped.  And whenever a new telescope is announced and then put to work, you can find me at the NASA site.  One knows that the color is digitally induced though it expresses, so to speak, real differentions.  More annoying is the very predictable one-point perspective and telescopic (in the non-scientific sense) action and, worst of all, the awfully uniform speed of these animated reconstructions, very obviously revealing the speed of the digital processors and network servers that were employed.  Also, there is the dreadful background "music" or echoic soundtrack.  Ickypoo!  These things, like the 'period' costumes and 'period' mimicry of light are very serious distractions from science.
I may be too old to tire my eyes and find time enough to learn the subject properly, but I doubt whether I am the only person to be annoyed by the extraneous stuff, and the young woman scientist who obviously has been repeatedly photographed and recorded making a statement off a teleprompter--and other such debasements of the material.
Not that I ought to gripe about NOVA.  I am indeed grateful, but...
And no youngster now has much excuse for not knowing at least what I do.  I, too, had to fight to listen to the NBC Symphony or the Metropolitan Opera when there was a major sports event at the same hour; I wasn't the one who bought the radio or paid the electricity.  I am sure that in many, many families, just as the parents work themselves weary for their children, the sacrifice may not extend to the things most important to their young.  It is understandable, just one of the facts of life that are mastered during the early adolescent years.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

All I want is dignity

Kavala.  1960.
For Greece
As I write, about 8 hours later in Greece, the people I love best besides a few of my own are voting.  I have known Greece since 1959, and I speak the language well enough that after about 48 hours through Customs I think in Greek, except when I am among other English speakers.
I have no specific political allegiance in Greece, except that I didn't like the Colonels and I would not have liked it if after WW II the country had become permanently Communist, like Albania.
For most of my life, whenever I traveled in Greece, I conversed with all sorts of Greeks.  I heard the stories of women who had to give up a baby for adoption, knowing only that it was in, e.g., Texas; I heard, as still vivid personal memories, stories of people discarding out of the KTEL bus windows fistfuls of paper money with lots of zeroes but no value, though by the late 1950s the Bretton Woods plans had fixed the drachma at just about 30 to the dollar.  It was fistfuls of aluminum lepta that one left on the taverna table for the paidi who cleared the tables and was otherwise unsalaried (with 100 lepta to the drachma and 30 dr to the dollar...).  In the country some of the children were obviously very, very poor, but every time I went to other Mediterranean countries I noticed how clean and self-respecting Greeks were compared with anyone else with equally little money.  And so forth; I could tell you detail after detail to the same effect.
I do not want to suggest that I ever thought Greeks perfect.  But the way people have been talking in the media and generally north of the Alps is very grievous to me, though I am not myself Greek.  I know they are tax-averse, but as an American what have I to say about that?
Only yesterday, from John Psaropoulos on NPR (I also read his blog), I finally heard him talk plainly about the psychological effect on all the older half of the population of the post WW II trouble and poverty.  Just as I can, barely, remember the 1930s recession (my father earned $12 / week in a grocery when I was born), so Greeks who grew up pre-Euro and, especially, pre-Bretton Woods and Marshall Plan (not that that was perfect, but it did make a difference) have a pride in being Greek (because of their whole history, not just antiquity) that is grounded in self-respect based on what one truly is.  The last years have been horribly, cruelly painful for them, but we can trust Greece to keep its children in school and keep them close to the family.
Yes, of course, I know that there were professional beggars and that they used their children, but there were many, many more who sold combs and Chiclets from trays at the bus stations and who polished shoes (luckily, shoes were still made of leather) at almost every street corner, and trays of koulouria (rings of bread with sesame), for example.  Again, images keep coming to mind, of all the little goods and services that eked out a living.
Yes, I did notice that with the preparation for the Olympics, which Greece wanted so much, with the year when Athens was the Cultrual Capital of Eurose, with the importance of Greek fruits and vegetables as a cash crop, with the cultivation of viniculture for very good wines and the oenology to maintain their excellence, with the disappearance of the donkey for the most part, with the replacement of the buses sold to Greece when nearly worn out by other countries with Mercedes-Benz ones, most even with AC, and the beautifully banked and faced highways (not autobahn or freeway, but...), such as that which made the trip along the kaki skala en route to Corinth so much less hair-raising, that joining the European community did fairly rapidly bring the standard of living to the lower margin of "respectability" in transalpine Europe.
And it is true that Greeks (barring shipping barons and such, who are few) do work harder than most other workers, and certainly not less.
And it is true that Greeks are profoundly democratic, it being, for example, normal to see the best dressed persons on a bus or train or ship talking politics or philosophies or almost anything fit for discussion with the shabbiest of their fellow passengers or, of course, with everyone else in a kapheneion or a koureion.
So I hope the outcome of the election will be beneficial for Greece, because I also firmly believe that a Europe that abandoned Greece would somehow have lost its soul.
I don't know enough about international banking to have an opinion of my own about its responsibility (though I shall never forget how Enron tried to deprive California of sufficient electricity).
I guess that in about eight hours from this posting we shall begin to hear at least speculation about polling.