Category Archives: Art & Culture

For Him The Bell Tolls

Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing which may be purchased.
– Ernest Miller Hemingway (21 July 1899 – 2 July 1961), Death In The Afternoon, 1932.

Ernest Hemingway is one of those writers we associate with machismo, cocktails and rum. But he liked a good bottle of wine as well as any wine fan and wrote of it eloquently.

“In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.” – A Moveable Feast, 1964

I like that. It speaks to the fundamental nature of wine and its place alongside any, or every, meal. It is not for nothing that those who consume a glass or two each day live longer than the non-drinker. Of course, quality of life is also important, for living long is no boon if one is not healthy enough to enjoy a life extended. In The Sun Also Rises, published during U.S. Prohibition, Hemingway included wine (along with a variety of other alcohols) almost as if it were a character:

“I drank a bottle of wine for company. It was Chateau Margaux. It was pleasant to be drinking slowly and to be tasting the wine and to be drinking alone. A bottle of wine was good company.”
The Sun Also Rises, 1926.

“This wine is too good for toast-drinking, my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.” – Count Mippipopolous in The Sun Also Rises.

In a scene where the protagonist, Jake Barnes, and his buddy, Bill Gorton, are fishing the Irati River in the Pyrenees (an area locals call Auniak which, I believe, means ‘barrier’) they cool their wine by putting it in the water. I tried this once by jamming my bottle amid ‘stable’ flotsam by the bank and falling asleep for an hour at my campsite. In my homage I lost a 1978 Bordeaux for not tethering the bottle at the neck with a knot.

The conventional wisdom surrounding Hemingway’s self-inflicted death is that it sprang from a major crisis, an inability to write a tribute to President Kennedy just after the 1961 inauguration. He had returned to Idaho from electroconvulsive therapy at the Mayo Clinic and found that the treatment pretty much wiped his memory. Now, medicine has found and implicated a new culprit, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), such as we are seeing in retired pro-footballers where an accumulation of tau protein associated with dementia and degeneration of brain tissue has led, it is alleged, to numerous self-inflicted deaths.

It appears that Hemingway’s self-inflicted death may have been assisted, or even put in motion, by the many concussions he sustained over the years: mortar fire (Italy, 1918); skylight accident (Paris, 1928); auto accident with John Dos Passos (Billings, Montana, 1930); auto accident (London, 1944); thrown from motorcycle while evading Nazis (Normandy, 1944); auto crash (Cuba, 1945); slipping on the deck of his boat, Pilar, (Cuba, 1950); Cessna plane crash (Uganda, 1954, minimal injuries); head-butt to break escape window in the crash of a de Haviland Rapide – the rescue plane sent for him after the Cessna crash! (Uganda, 1954); auto crash (1958) and assorted other physical knocks. Then there was, of course, the major league drinking he courted much of his life.

As if the above litany were not enough we now know he also had, as probably did his father, the blood disorder hemochromatosis, an inability to metabolize iron leading to physical and mental deterioration. This genetic fact might account for three (perhaps four) of his five siblings committing suicide as well as the self-inflicted death of his grandaughter Margaux. He once told Ava Gardner that he spent “a hell of a lot of time killing animals and fish so I won’t kill myself” (Hotchner, 1966.)

Wine was a part of Hemingway’s life to the very end: the day before he shot himself he went on a picnic lunch where he enjoyed wine and, in the evening, even went out to dinner with his wife Mary.

I, like most I believe, prefer to remember him in the early dawn, sitting down to write, freshly sharpened pencils lined up, changing the face of American literature.

“In wine most people at the start prefer sweet vintages, Sauternes, Graves, Barsac, and sparkling wines, such as not too dry champagne and sparkling Burgundy because of their picturesque quality while later they would trade all these for a light but full and fine example of the Grand crus of Medoc though it may be in a plain bottle without label, dust, or cobwebs, with nothing picturesque, but only its honesty and delicacy and the light body of it on your tongue, cool in your mouth and warm when you have drunk it.” – Death In The Afternoon, 1932.

Mockingbird Finally Sings in Zeros & Ones (Digitally)

Today is the 88th birthday of Harper Lee, the author of the July 1960  novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

To coincide with her birthday her publisher, HarperCollins, announced  six hours ago that she has finally agreed to let the book be published as an e-Book, thereby knocking down another in the dwindling list of classics that have been withheld from digital distribution.

“I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries,” said Lee  in a statement released by HarperCollins (whose still sell a million copies of the book each year!) “I am amazed and humbled that Mockingbird has survived this long. This is Mockingbird for a new generation.”

It is to be noted that this leaves the seminal novel of another reclusive author still out in the digital cold: J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In the Rye.

Scout and Atticus enter the realm of the digital on July 8.

 

27 April 2014: World Pinhole Photography Day

“Mauerblicke looking West” - image made with pinhole camera through a hole in the Berlin Wall, Germany
“Mauerblicke looking West” – image made with pinhole camera through a hole in the Berlin Wall, Germany

Sunday, April 27 is World Pinhole Photography Day. And, here in northern New Mexico, we are fortunate to have the world’s largest collection of pinhole photography and its associated paraphernalia.

In honor of the annual event the New Mexico History Museum is hosting Poetics of Light, an exhibition of the collection’s images from pinhole enthusiasts around the world.  Poetics of Light will open on the celebratory Day itself and run for about eleven months. (http://www.nmhistorymuseum.org/pinhole/)

The collection of 6000 photographs, 200 cameras and 200 books is the result of the generosity of Eric Renner and Nancy Spencer, Co-Directors of Pinhole Resource.  Both artists’ pinhole and zone plate photographs can be viewed on their sites at:

http://nancyspencerphoto.com/home.html
http://ericrennerphoto.com/home.html

There are many web sites providing directions for making your own pinhole camera.  Or, you can buy a camera for as little as $10 or as much as several hundred.  Check out both directions and ready-mades on the internet.

Herewith, a couple of samples (courtesy of the New Mexico History Museum) to whet your appetite for pinhole photography – and remember to get out there and create your own images this Sunday!

 

Starfish in Tidal Pool
Starfish in Tidal Pool

econtent.unm.edu

 

Storage Yore

Vivian Maier self-portrait, 1955 (Catalog VM1955W03420-05-MC)

Vivian Maier self-portrait, 1955 (Catalog VM1955W03420-05-MC)

Often, when we read ‘hyperbole’ about a person, place or thing, we turn to it only to find that the hype is just that: hype. There are those few times, however, when all the fuss turns out to be revelatory and transformational. Such is the case with the 2007 discovery, in a storage contents sale, of the photography of American-born Vivian Maier (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009).

Discovery is not too strong a word as her work was unknown to even the families for whom she worked as a nanny.  She never displayed, much less exhibited, the “collection of 100,000 to 150,000 negatives, more than 3,000 prints, hundreds of rolls of film, home movies, audio tape interviews…” that have come to light. (See http://www.vivianmaier.com and the 2013 film, Finding Vivian Maier.) The bulk of the photos seem to be riveting street images and they are hard to  pass by. Viewing them is a lot like eating ice cream: a spoonful makes you crave more… lots more.

According to the children she cared for she  carried her camera wherever she went. This is easy to believe from the many great images of the world around her. (She must have been very good at what we now label “multi-tasking”; watching the children in her care and snapping fleeting moments is quite a skill.) Fortunately for the world of art we are seeing her work at last. Its clarity, honesty and personal vision has caught the imagination of those in a position to let the rest of us see more. In the few short years since the discovery of her black & white negatives there have been numerous exhibitions at galleries and museums around the world.

Vivian Maier’s hidden obsession with making pictures ought not be confused with that of the normal hobbyist. She was exacting in her idea of what her finished products should look like, much as any artist. She would often send her negatives out to a developer, even though she had set up a dark room in her bathroom, and would ask for an image to be reprinted if it did not meet the critical demands of her eye.  Also, as the photos below make clear, she, like the best street shooters, traveled to neighborhoods many Americans of the 1950s and 1960s would never have visited except during their sit-down breakfast or dinner with the daily paper.

Maxwell Street, Chicago 1962 (Catalog VM1962W01099-06-MC)
Maxwell Street, Chicago 1962 (Catalog VM1962W01099-06-MC)

An undated photo (Catalog VM19XXW00573-08-MC)

An undated photo (Catalog VM19XXW00573-08-MC)

But, she clearly planned her exposure possibilities, too. The web site has a couple of her ‘sidewalk’ photos of celebrities: Kirk Douglas at the premiere of the movie Spartacus, Chicago, 13 October 1960 (Catalog VM1960W02526-07-MC), Frank Sinatra, Emmet Kelly, etc.

Born in New York, Maier was raised in France before returning to the United States (and then going back to France and, finally, returning to the U.S. in 1949 to live for the rest of her life.) Altho she is described as super secretive and closeted, she managed to take many vacations around the world. There are stirring images from India, Egypt, France, Yemen, Thailand and other locations. The photo below, from Saigon, is somewhat uncharacteristic in that her subject is smiling.

Saigon 1959 (Catalog VM1959W02685-12-MC)
Saigon 1959 (Catalog VM1959W02685-12-MC)

Let’s all shout out a grand Thank You to John Maloof in Chicago for buying that $380 carton of negatives in 2007 — and then spending about $70,000 to track down and buy cartons from others who had purchased her work at that original sale!

R.I.P. Peter Matthiessen

The First Issue of The Paris Review, Spring 1953.

The first issue of the Paris Review, Spring 1953, published a couple months after I was born.

The only writer to win the U.S. National Book Award in the fiction AND nonfiction categories, Peter Matthiessen, has died of leukemia at his home on Long Island.

Among the acts in his storied life was co-founding the Paris Review, a literary magazine that, along with tons of publishing firsts has maintained a series of interviews “Writers at Work,” which Joe David Bellamy, in his book, Literary Luxuries has called, “one of the single most persistent acts of cultural conservation in the history of the world.”

Peter Matthiessen was, in many ways, the most normal of ‘famous’ men. As I write this I can look at two full shelves of books authored by Mr. Matthiessen, many of them signed when I met him for the first time at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences in 1983. When one of my colleagues, who did not bring his books along, asked if he might send them to Long Island to be signed, Matthiessen said “sure” and wrote out his home address on a slip of paper. After the books were sent and signed they were mailed back to Philadelphia. Accompanying them was a note saying the wife was a bit unhappy that their home address had been given out to a stranger and could that original “slip of paper please be torn up and thrown away?” How many famous names can you think of who would kindly write out their home address for you? (The handwritten piece of paper was duly tossed but, today, would be a nice memento stapled to that returned note!)

Peter Matthiessen was, also, the most observant, clear-sighted and questioning of men; traits enhanced, no doubt, by his Zen practice. He always thought of himself as a fiction writer first and foremost, continually grappling with many of the central concerns of our existence. Additionally, he brought this focus to his great non-fiction, the works  I treasure most.  He seemed to think of these books, however, as his trade-craft, workman-like, earth-bound output with fiction being his artisanal craft on a higher plane that might, in fact, break free of the plain and soar.

And, now, today, he has joined that body of marvelous work.

R.I.P. Peter Mathiessen (22 May 1927 – 5 April 2014).

R.I.P. Simon Hoggart

We  lost one of the planets most entertaining writers yesterday. Simon Hoggart (26 May 1946 − 5 January 2014), Parliamentary sketch writer for The Guardian Newspaper and wine columnist for The Spectator. He might well have become a tennis star but for serious injuries that led him to consider journalism. Tennis’ loss was the written word’s gain (and broadcasting’s, on both sides of the Pond, as well.) Always writing, he published about twenty books, the last two after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2010.
Hoggart’s insights and witticisms are legion. Herewith, a few:

Watching John Major run the country is like watching Edward Scissorhands make balloon animals.

I’m just back from a week in France. Naturally I took a case of non-French wine over on the ferry so as to have something decent to drink. The French are terrifically complacent about their wine, believing that the worst they produce is better than the best from anywhere else. They are wrong, and there are few sights more depressing than the parade of tired, ill-kept, dreary bottles on the shelves of French supermarkets. The humblest British high street off- licence has wines from a dozen countries, and frequently twice that; in France it is hard to find wine from outside the region, never mind abroad. It may cost i1 or so per bottle less, but that is no compensation for Chablis like acidulated chalk dust, or clarets which have finesse and backbone but no discernible taste. I know many older drinkers like only French wines, but this is force of habit; just as men over 50 tend to prefer stockings to tights, it’s a matter of how you started. — 19 April 1996, Diary.

I loved his testimony (before Parliament’s Public Administration Select Committee) in 2009 about the bleaching effects of politicians’ jargon when they seek to white-wash political acts. He began the hearings by re-stating one of Churchill’s war-time phrases as if it were re-written by a modern government wonk, turning “We will fight on the beaches” into “an ongoing programme of hostile engagement in littoral sectors.”

Gotta love it! He and his writing will be much missed.

Simon Hoggart  photograph courtesy © BBC 

This Year’s Holiday Card

This is the image for our 2013 Holiday Card. The text reads:

Darn!  Where’s that fat guy in the funny red suit when you need to make a getaway?

I think he’s behind us…    What’s that over there?    UH-oh, I did something in my pants….    God, I never get in the pictures…..
Yeh, if I squint I can see it too.  I’m going back – why did I agree to carry this baby?  I know he’s coming & I’m glad I brought my brother!
Man, you guys are crazy – what a waste of time.   I’m hiding my face in case they catch us.