“The End of the World” — G.K. Chesterton

“The End of the World” by G.K. Chesterton

For some time I had been wandering in quiet streets in the curious town of Besançon, which stands like a sort of peninsula in a horse-shoe of river. You may learn from the guide books that it was the birthplace of Victor Hugo, and that it is a military station with many forts, near the French frontier. But you will not learn from guide books that the very tiles on the roofs seem to be of some quainter and more delicate colour than the tiles of all the other towns of the world; that the tiles look like the little clouds of some strange sunset, or like the lustrous scales of some strange fish. They will not tell you that in this town the eye cannot rest on anything without finding it in some way attractive and even elvish, a carved face at a street corner, a gleam of green fields through a stunted arch, or some unexpected colour for the enamel of a spire or dome.

…..Evening was coming on and in the light of it all these colours so simple and yet so subtle seemed more and more to fit together and make a fairy tale. I sat down for a little outside a café with a row of little toy trees in front of it, and presently the driver of a fly (as we should call it) came to the same place. He was one of those very large and dark Frenchmen, a type not common but yet typical of France; the Rabelaisian Frenchman, huge, swarthy, purple-faced, a walking wine-barrel; he was a sort of Southern Falstaff, if one can imagine Falstaff anything but English. And, indeed, there was a vital difference, typical of two nations. For while Falstaff would have been shaking with hilarity like a huge jelly, full of the broad farce of the London streets, this Frenchman was rather solemn and dignified than otherwise—as if pleasure were a kind of pagan religion. After some talk which was full of the admirable civility and equality of French civilisation, he suggested without either eagerness or embarrassment that he should take me in his fly for an hour’s ride in the hills beyond the town. And though it was growing late I consented; for there was one long white road under an archway and round a hill that dragged me like a long white cord. We drove through the strong, squat gateway that was made by Romans, and I remember the coincidence like a sort of omen that as we passed out of the city I heard simultaneously the three sounds which are the trinity of France. They make what some poet calls “a tangled trinity,” and I am not going to disentangle it. Whatever those three things mean, how or why they co-exist; whether they can be reconciled or perhaps are reconciled already; the three sounds I heard then by an accident all at once make up the French mystery. For the brass band in the Casino gardens behind me was playing with a sort of passionate levity some ramping tune from a Parisian comic opera, and while this was going on I heard also the bugles on the hills above, that told of terrible loyalties and men always arming in the gate of France; and I heard also, fainter than these sounds and through them all, the Angelus. Continue reading

“Grace” — James Joyce

“Grace” by James Joyce

TWO GENTLEMEN who were in the lavatory at the time tried to lift him up: but he was quite helpless. He lay curled up at the foot of the stairs down which he had fallen. They succeeded in turning him over. His hat had rolled a few yards away and his clothes were smeared with the filth and ooze of the floor on which he had lain, face downwards. His eyes were closed and he breathed with a grunting noise. A thin stream of blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.

These two gentlemen and one of the curates carried him up the stairs and laid him down again on the floor of the bar. In two minutes he was surrounded by a ring of men. The manager of the bar asked everyone who he was and who was with him. No one knew who he was but one of the curates said he had served the gentleman with a small rum.

“Was he by himself?” asked the manager.

“No, sir. There was two gentlemen with him.”

“And where are they?”

No one knew; a voice said:

“Give him air. He’s fainted.”

The ring of onlookers distended and closed again elastically. A dark medal of blood had formed itself near the man’s head on the tessellated floor. The manager, alarmed by the grey pallor of the man’s face, sent for a policeman.

His collar was unfastened and his necktie undone. He opened eyes for an instant, sighed and closed them again. One of gentlemen who had carried him upstairs held a dinged silk hat in his hand. The manager asked repeatedly did no one know who the injured man was or where had his friends gone. The door of the bar opened and an immense constable entered. A crowd which had followed him down the laneway collected outside the door, struggling to look in through the glass panels.

The manager at once began to narrate what he knew. The constable, a young man with thick immobile features, listened. He moved his head slowly to right and left and from the manager to the person on the floor, as if he feared to be the victim of some delusion. Then he drew off his glove, produced a small book from his waist, licked the lead of his pencil and made ready to indite. He asked in a suspicious provincial accent:

“Who is the man? What’s his name and address?”

A young man in a cycling-suit cleared his way through the ring of bystanders. He knelt down promptly beside the injured man and called for water. The constable knelt down also to help. The young man washed the blood from the injured man’s mouth and then called for some brandy. The constable repeated the order in an authoritative voice until a curate came running with the glass. The brandy was forced down the man’s throat. In a few seconds he opened his eyes and looked about him. He looked at the circle of faces and then, understanding, strove to rise to his feet. Continue reading

Plagiarism

The largest art theft in world history occurred in Boston on March 18, 1990 when thieves stole 13 pieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Collectively worth $300 million.

$400 million.

At least $500 million.

Among the pieces stolen was Vermeer’s The Concert, which is considered to be the most valuable stolen painting in the world.

Also among the pieces stolen: Landscape with an Obelisk, which previously was attributed to Rembrandt.

Having achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, Rembrandt’s later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardships.

He died within a year of his son, on October 4, 1669 in Amsterdam, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Westerkerk. 

More than half the subjects of Rembrandt’s etchings are portraits and studies of the human figure; about one-quarter are scriptural or religious. There are two dozen landscapes, and the remainder are allegorical and fancy compositions.

Rembrandt was his own most frequent model.

At least 40 paintings and 31 etchings. Maybe 60. Maybe 70.

Frida Kahlo produced 143 paintings, 55 of which are self-portraits.

Because I am so often alone.

Because I am the subject I know best.

The most acclaimed self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci is critically, irreparably damaged.

The portrait has got blotches, stains and spots, a condition called foxing.

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Leonardo’s self-portrait measures 33.5 by 21.6 centimetres (13.2 by 8.5 inches).

Any list of most famous paintings  would be incomplete without the mention of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.

This infamous portrait of Lisa del Giocondo was completed some time between 1503-1519 and currently on display at the Musee du Louvre in Paris.

Leonardo used a pyramid design to place the woman simply and calmly in the space of the painting.

Between 1851 and 1880, artists who visited the Louvre copied Mona Lisa roughly half as many times as certain works by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Antonio da Correggio, Paolo Veronese, Titian, Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Pierre-Paul Prud’hon.

And in 1911, Louis Béroud.

The Mona Lisa’s fame was emphasized when it was stolen on 21 August 1911.

On 22 August 1911, Louis Béroud walked into the Louvre and went to the Salon Carré where the Mona Lisa had been on display for five years. However, where the Mona Lisa should have stood, he found four iron pegs.

French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had once called for the Louvre to be “burnt down,” came under suspicion; he was arrested and put in jail. Apollinaire tried to implicate his friend Pablo Picasso, who was also brought in for questioning, but both were later exonerated.

(In 1900 Apollinaire would write his first pornographic novel, Mirely, ou le petit trou pas cher, which was eventually lost).

The 1991 film Hudson Hawk (1991) centers on a cat burglar who is forced to steal Da Vinci works of art for a world domination plot.

A colossally sour and ill-conceived misfire.

In 1812 France was devastated when its invasion of Russia turned out to be a colossal failure in which scores of soldiers in Napoleon’s Grand Army were killed or badly wounded.

Napoleon’s conquests in Europe were followed by a systematic attempt, later more tentatively echoed by Hitler, to take the finest works of art of conquered nations back to the Louvre in Paris for a grand central museum of all Europe.

Napoleon boasted:

We will now have all that is beautiful in Italy except for a few objects in Turin and Naples.

The contents of nearly all the tombs of the Pharaohs were already completely looted by grave robbers before the invasion of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE.

Rome was sacked seven times.

King Shishak of Egypt attacked Jerusalem and took away the treasures of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace. He took everything, including the gold shields that Solomon had made.

In the Book of Jeremiah 15:11 the Lord says:

Jerusalem, I will surely send you away for your own good. I will surely bring the enemy upon you in a time of trouble and distress. I will give away your wealth and your treasures as plunder. I will give it away free of charge for the sins you have committed throughout your land.

Sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade, 1204.

The Sack of Baghdad, 1258.

Hernán Cortés and the looting of the Aztec gold.

Adolf Hitler was an unsuccessful artist who was denied admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.

The Third Reich amassed hundreds of thousands of objects from occupied nations and stored them in several key locations, such as Musée Jeu de Paume in Paris and the Nazi headquarters in Munich.

Later, storing the artworks in salt mines and caves for protection from Allied bombing raids.

These mines and caves offered the appropriate humidity and temperature conditions for artworks.

Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man was confiscated from a Polish family by the Nazis in 1939 for Hitler’s Führermuseum in Linz.

It disappeared in 1945 shortly before the end of the Second World War.

On 1 August 2012, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the painting had been found in a bank vault in an undisclosed location.

Thirty years after it was stolen, Camille Pissarro’s Le Marche aux Poissons was returned to the French.

Authorities believe they know who stole art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the largest art heist in U.S. history.

Eventually they will resurface. Somebody will rat somebody else out. It’s really only a matter of time.

A drawing stolen from an ice cream shop is now back in the hands of its creator.

Jorge Luis Borges Uses Zeno’s Paradox to Describe Kafka’s Literature

I once premeditated making a study of Kafka’s precursors. At first I had considered him to be as singular as the phoenix of rhetorical praise; after frequenting his pages a bit, I came to think I could recognize his voice, or his practices, in texts from diverse literatures and periods. I shall record a few of these here, in chronological order.

The first is Zeno’s paradox against movement. A moving object at A (declares Aristotle) cannot reach point B, because it must first cover half the distance between two points, and before that, half of the half, and before that, half of the half of the half, and so on to infinity; the form of this illustrious problem is, exactly, that of “The Castle”, and the moving object and the arrow and Achilles are the first Kafkian characters in literature.

Read the rest of “Kafka and His Precursors” by Jorge Luis Borges here.

Peanuts/Borges/mbv (Books and an LP Acquired, 3.19.2013)

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Found this hardback first edition of Charles M. Schulz’s Happiness Is a Warm Puppy, a kids book printed on heavy stock colored paper with bold litho images and letters. The cover is a bit rough but the book itself seems untouched. It’s a first edition from 1962.

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Also picked up this collection of short essays by Jorge Luis Borges:

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And came home to find the new My Bloody Valentine Record I bought six weeks ago (and likely paid too much for, including overseas shipping, but hey, I’ll shop smarter next time they put out an LP):

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“On Being Idle” — Jerome K. Jerome

“On Being Idle” by Jerome K. Jerome

Now, this is a subject on which I flatter myself I really am au fait. The gentleman who, when I was young, bathed me at wisdom’s font for nine guineas a term—no extras—used to say he never knew a boy who could do less work in more time; and I remember my poor grandmother once incidentally observing, in the course of an instruction upon the use of the Prayer-book, that it was highly improbable that I should ever do much that I ought not to do, but that she felt convinced beyond a doubt that I should leave undone pretty well everything that I ought to do.

I am afraid I have somewhat belied half the dear old lady’s prophecy. Heaven help me! I have done a good many things that I ought not to have done, in spite of my laziness. But I have fully confirmed the accuracy of her judgment so far as neglecting much that I ought not to have neglected is concerned. Idling always has been my strong point. I take no credit to myself in the matter—it is a gift. Few possess it. There are plenty of lazy people and plenty of slow-coaches, but a genuine idler is a rarity. He is not a man who slouches about with his hands in his pockets. On the contrary, his most startling characteristic is that he is always intensely busy.

It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen. Continue reading

“Chippings with a Chisel” — Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Chippings with a Chisel” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Passing a summer several years since at Edgartown, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, I became acquainted with a certain carver of tombstones who had travelled and voyaged thither from the interior of Massachusetts in search of professional employment. The speculation had turned out so successful that my friend expected to transmute slate and marble into silver and gold to the amount of at least a thousand dollars during the few months of his sojourn at Nantucket and the Vineyard. The secluded life and the simple and primitive spirit which still characterizes the inhabitants of those islands, especially of Martha’s Vineyard, insure their dead friends a longer and dearer remembrance than the daily novelty and revolving bustle of the world can elsewhere afford to beings of the past. Yet, while every family is anxious to erect a memorial to its departed members, the untainted breath of Ocean bestows such health and length of days upon the people of the isles as would cause a melancholy dearth of business to a resident artist in that line. His own monument, recording his decease by starvation, would probably be an early specimen of his skill. Gravestones, therefore, have generally been an article of imported merchandise.

In my walks through the burial-ground of Edgartown—where the dead have lain so long that the soil, once enriched by their decay, has returned to its original barrenness—in that ancient burial-ground I noticed much variety of monumental sculpture. The elder stones, dated a century back or more, have borders elaborately carved with flowers and are adorned with a multiplicity of death’s-heads, crossbones, scythes, hour-glasses, and other lugubrious emblems of mortality, with here and there a winged cherub to direct the mourner’s spirit upward. These productions of Gothic taste must have been quite beyond the colonial skill of the day, and were probably carved in London and brought across the ocean to commemorate the defunct worthies of this lonely isle. The more recent monuments are mere slabs of slate in the ordinary style, without any superfluous flourishes to set off the bald inscriptions. But others—and those far the most impressive both to my taste and feelings—were roughly hewn from the gray rocks of the island, evidently by the unskilled hands of surviving friends and relatives. On some there were merely the initials of a name; some were inscribed with misspelt prose or rhyme, in deep letters which the moss and wintry rain of many years had not been able to obliterate. These, these were graves where loved ones slept. It is an old theme of satire, the falsehood and vanity of monumental eulogies; but when affection and sorrow grave the letters with their own painful labor, then we may be sure that they copy from the record on their hearts. Continue reading