06 September 2020

Italians and Jews in Odessa

 Episode "Traveling to Eat" was on The Splendid Table on NPR as I drove home from Wegmans this morning. One of the stories was a talk with Caroline Eden who has traveled around the Black Sea, investigating places and food. She did a couple road trips but visited Odessa and Istanbul as specific destinations. She considers Istanbul the most grand food place in the world.

Caroline Eden mentioned the significant evidence of Italian and Jewish food in Odessa. Though there were ancient and medieval settlements where Odessa now is, its modern origins date back to 1794 when Catherine the Great established the city and port on the shores of the Black Sea, now in the Ukraine. It was a free port from 1819 to 1858 and the fourth largest city in the Russian Empire, after Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Warsaw. There were Italians among the planners and developers and a large Jewish community developed in the 19th century. The Italians were mostly a legacy of Genoese colonies in the Crimea in late medieval times.

I've never known a great deal about Odessa though we did hear about it when Atticus Aldridge was explaining his origins to Rose and the Jewish refugees in York.

Atticus mentions to one of the refugees that his family came to England from Odessa in 1859 and 1871. The former nobleman says that he's not Russian, he's Jewish. There were several pogroms in the mid-later 19th century, including 1859 and 1871.

I hadn't known much about Genoa beyond art history classes until visiting it twice in 2018. I really enjoyed the city. The landscape is tremendous, the hills rise sharply from the harbor. The food is delicious. The art nouveau villas are stupendous, as they are all across Italy. Italians call art nouveau Liberty, from the store in London.

I probably don't need to mention how disappointing the pandemic-related travel restrictions are. It is soul numbing to not even feel that planning a European trip (or Canadian) is feasible.

30 August 2020

separated at birth: Hoffmann & Ruby

Josef Hoffmann
Musée d'Orsay
(from the Wikipedia page for Hoffmann)

Sterling Ruby
Stove 4, 2013
(in the retrospective exhibition at the
Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston)

Josef Hoffmann did plenty of design objects that have a slender shape and pierced metal. I thought of Hoffmann when I saw the stove by Sterling Ruby last week in an exhibition at the ICA in Boston. Evocative attenuation. Hoffmann is quite widely exhibited but I particularly remember an exhibition that I saw with Christie at the Neue Galerie in New York City. One of the objects was my introduction to shagreen, an untanned rawhide now mostly produced from farmed Asian stingrays.

Sterling Ruby addresses climate change with his stoves which were featured in a 2015 exhibition at the Musée de la chasse et de la nature, held in conjunction with the Paris climate summit.

03 August 2020

Indonesian scarf, caught in the wind

"Last week, she told me to dance like an Indonesian scarf caught in the wind. I don't even know that that looks like."
Stevie Budd, in "The Roast" episode, Season 5
Schitt's Creek (2015-2020)

Yinka Shonibare MBE
"Wind Sculpture (SG) I"
Central Park, New York City

15 July 2020

separated at birth: military monuments

Les Invalides
Paris, France
(photo from Wikipedia)

Main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces
Patriot Park, Odintsovsky District, Russia
(photo from Wikipedia via Architizer)

27 June 2020

separated at birth: baseball players

Jason at the bat, with Whizzer
Falsettos, Live from Lincoln Center, 2017

David, Johnny, and Patrick, before the game
"The M.V.P." episode of Schitt's Creek, 2015-2020
(CBC / Pop TV / Netflix)

It's hard to believe that Dan Levy was unaware of the Falsettos precursor of his ball game in "The M.V.P." but he doesn't mention it in any of the YouTube videos about the episode. Of course he also doesn't footnote every costume. Karen Robinson does mention that, growing up, she was always the last person selected for the team. I'd hang out with her any time when the ball players want to play ball. We could sit in the stands and drink coffee and scoff, and cheer occasionally.

07 June 2020

separated at birth: the illusion of space

David North
Doorway to Imagination (2020)
built by David North in his backyard (photo by David North)

Robert Gober
site-specific installation (1992)
Dia Chelsea, New York City
(photo by Bill Jacobson Studio, New York)

The title of the Gober piece reminds me of a subject cataloging conundrum from some years ago. LCSH had long had the term "Installations (Art)" for installation works, with the scope note:
  • Here are entered works on a type of art form in which an entire exhibition space is transformed into a three-dimensional work of art by the arrangement of objects and materials within the space.
They added "Site-specific installations (Art)" in 2001 with the scope note:
  • Here are entered works on art installations created for a specific site that use elements of the site as an integral part of the work of art and are intended to be displayed and viewed only at that site.
I tried to convince the subject specialists at LC that the new heading was not valuable. It might have literary warrant and one might take issue with either scope note. More important, trying to split "Site-specific installations" from plain old "Installations" seemed likely to lead a cataloger to use the words in the resource being cataloged rather than being able to make an objective determination concerning site specificity.

I looked at the LC record for the 1992 Dia exhibition at which the site-specific installation was shown. The record has "Installations (Art) -- United States -- Exhibitions" because it predates the establishment of "Site-specific installations (Art)." I am quite sure that I've seen the Gober work included in other exhibitions. There are internet pictures of the work at Glenstone.

Even though I didn't want the new subject heading, I was delighted to get a t-shirt that said "site-specific installation" at the Whitney.

21 May 2020

Italian post offices

One thing I have really enjoyed in Italian cities are the post office buildings. Good public architecture. Today's Docomomo Italia feed on Facebook included this wonderful Palazzo delle Poste in Ostia Lido.
Palazzo delle Poste, Ostia Lido, 1933-1934
Designer: Angiolo Mazzoni del Grande (1894-1979)
(collezioni Casa dell'Architettura di Latina)

Our hotel in Ragusa was around the corner from the Poste and I have just discovered that it was also designed by Angiolo Mazzoni:
Palazzo delle Poste, Ragusa, Sicily
(photo from ragusaturismo.it website)

Our first B&B in Palermo was across the street from the Palazzo delle Poste. We had a small balcony in our room and could look up and down the Via Roma with the Poste as the centerpiece. I guess Angiolo Mazzoni was the post office architect as he is credited with Palermo too.

When Trump first started talking about infrastructure programs, I was glad to think of public money going to public works. It hasn't much happened and certainly not on post offices.

10 May 2020

separated at birth: Apple Park & Solo House

Cupertino, California, 2018
Foster + Partners

Matarraña, Spain, 2017
Office KGDVS (Kersten Geers David Van Severen)

For more on the Solo House, Caroline Quentin and Piers Taylor visit it in the Spain episode of The World's Most Extraordinary Homes (available on Netflix). Although the buildings share the basic shape of their plans, the Apple headquarters is huge, almost 3 million square feet and costing almost $5 billion dollars to build. The Solo House is mostly open but has three crescent shaped closed spaces for bedrooms, bathrooms, and whatnot. Quentin and Taylor decided the central space of the Solo House was "sacred." Circles and squares have always been rather ideal shapes. Think Palladio.

here and there

Here and there are concepts (words) that especially resonate during a pandemic with social distancing. You spend a lot of time here but wish you could be there. The headline of the lead article in today's Sunday Styles section of the New York Times is "It's hard when you can't go anywhere." It's a story about six people in an assisted living facility in Colorado who received cameras to document life during the coronavirus crisis. It's hard to see pictures of places that you've visited, imagine how empty they may be now, and how much you wish you could go there again.
Vittoria, Sicily, Italy: Piazza del Popolo

Lily had sent me a message about a virtual toast via Zoom for Milan who received this year's ARLIS/NA Distinguished Service Award. In my response to Lily, I said I intended to be there for the virtual toast but, in reality, I'll be here for the toast, seeing Milan and the others on a screen.

I was listening to Weekend Edition as I drove to Wegmans in Hornell to get my Sunday Times and some groceries. One of the stories was "Author Elizabeth Acevedo on her new novel 'Clap when you land'" (published by HarperCollins). The novel-in-verse revolves around two girls whose father dies in a plane crash. He had maintained two families, one in New York City and one in the Dominican Republic, and neither knew about the other. The girls deal with "the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives" (from publisher's description) as they try to balance the particular here and there of their newly shared reality.

In a short sequence in the "Carl's Funeral" episode of Schitt's Creek, Bob is talking to Twyla at the Café Tropical. Carl was his brother and Twyla asks Bob how he's doing and says "Death is just life except you're not here. You're somewhere else. You know, but that's ok because at least you're somewhere. You know, when does somewhere become there, and when does there become here. And I ..." Bob cuts in to say "Just a coffee, please." Twyla asks "For here?"

02 May 2020

showcase or sanctuary, probably both and neither

A simple sentence can resonate now in the time of coronavirus in ways that it would not have a year ago. This morning's indexing included a book review by Emily Guthrie of Get out of my room!: a history of teen bedrooms in America by Jason Reid (University of Chicago Press, 2017). The review is published in Winterthur portfolio, summer/autumn 2019. The sentence that especially grabbed me was "Others might describe the feeling that the room instilled, from the pride of a carefully curated showcase to the solace of a private sanctuary."

There is also a bit about the Princess telephone designed by Henry Dreyfuss in 1959. The phone was an icon of being with it, marketed to women and girls. I remember that Bill Murphy had one in Scotia, Nebraska. Imagine how different my life might have been if I had come to terms with my nascent homosexuality then, rather than sitting there near his Princess phone with a gaggle of giggling girlfriends. Sadly, I've never been able to learn out how Bill's life turned out but he was a careful curator before his time.

Coronavirus isolation also brings bingeing and, for me, that has mostly meant Schitt's Creek. The whole idea of children sharing a bedroom is fundamental to the series, not that the Rose kids are teenagers but being together in their motel room brings on teenage behavior. "Ew, burn, David!" The actor who plays the role of Patrick is Noah Reid which brings us around to the book whose author is Jason Reid.

24 April 2020

general special

If you are new to applying LCC Class N, the Library of Congress classification schedule for fine arts, you may trip over a number that is captioned as "General special." For example, NA2540 is captioned "General special. Including hints for architects, orientation, etc." and appears under "General works" on "Architecture." Books in this class number in the LC catalog have titles such as
  • 5 codes: architecture, paranoia and risk in times of terror
  • Iconografie van de honingbij in de Lage Landen
  • Architecture, culture, and spirituality
  • Corporate architecture: building a brand

Or NA7125 which is captioned "General special" under "Domestic architecture. Houses. Dwellings"
  • 36 propositions for a home
  • House and home: cultural contexts, ontological roles
  • House rules: an architect's guide to modern life
  • Abitazione ed i maestri dell'architettura contemporanea

These are general because they don't deal with a topical, geographic, chronological, or other area that is enumerated in the classification schedule. At the same time, they are not general in that they only deal with one or more aspects of the more general topic. That is, they're special. A library patron probably would not want only one of these books if they wanted a general book on architecture or houses respectively. Also they probably would not want only these if they were looking broadly for building security, art nouveau ornament in Belgium, church architecture, corporate office buildings, etc.

When David Rose goes to file papers for his new store in the "General Store" episode of Season 3 of Schitt's Creek, he starts the overall description of his new business with "It's a general store, but it's also a very specific store." I don't know if David Rose or Dan Levy would ever want to work as a cataloger in a library but the script sure has the general special concept down. 

22 April 2020

separated at birth: Sebastien Borgia

Cesare Borgia
The Borgias (SHOWTIME, 2011-2013)

Sebastien Raine
Schitt's Creek (Pop TV, 2015-2020)

16 April 2020

Jasper Johns in the snow

It's not like I was hoping for another round of snow in the middle of April but that's what we got overnight. It was glorious in the early morning sun under a nearly cloudless sky. The sun was beginning to melt the snow on utility wires and the snow was falling to the ground in random patterns of stripes a few inches long. I was reminded of works by Jasper Johns from the 1970s and 1980s.
Jasper Johns: Usuyuki (1981)
(screenprint, Simca Print Artists)
Metropolitan Museum of Art

As it happens, "usuyuki" means "light snow" in Japanese.

"Random patterns" may be an oxymoron. Lest you think that yesterday's obsession with Schitt's Creek has past, "random" is a favorite adjective of Alexis Rose. She uses it to describe just about anything. The Met's page on this print uses "cross-hatching motif" in describing the work.

15 April 2020

merrily we roll along

This time of in-person social isolation takes us down some quirky paths. I had heard of the television show Schitt's Creek but hadn't watched any of it until Mark posted the clip of "I'm Jake. Oh, of course you are" on his Facebook page. That caught my fancy and now, just a few weeks later, I've been around the first five seasons three times. That's all that is currently on Netflix and I don't have cable so no Pop TV for Season 6. The characters are deep in my thoughts and being with them is considerable distraction and solace in my alone time. Who knows (or cares) if it's a healthy diversion?

One manifestation of the S.C. penetration into my quotidian life (that use of a $10 word is for Moira and Roland) is its resonance as I'm reading about something else entirely. I was reading The New York Times Book Review for last Sunday (12 April 2020) as I ate lunch. In the review of Lady in Waiting: my extraordinary life in the shadow of the Crown, a memoir by Anne Glenconner, the reviewer Alida Becker quotes the first post-coma words of Glenconner's son who had been in a motorcycle accident: Lamborghini. The reviewer then says "Truly, the rich are different." Lamborghini also plays out in Schitt's Creek: in the words of "A little bit Alexis" and in the Christmas medley that Moira and David sing.

Another review in the same issue of NYTBR is on a book entitled The undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. The author relates a story about a trip through a wealthy Miami subdivision on the way to a club. One of her friends says the big houses stress her "because it makes her think about having to clean them." The opening moment of episode 1 of Schitt's Creek is of a Latina in servant uniform answering the doorbell. It's not immigration but revenue agents to dispossess the family of most of their possessions. "Mrs. Rose, there are people here from the government."

But the most amusing resonance (sometimes, at least) is imagining the chapters of my dissertation in comparative literature "Downton Abbey and Schitt's Creek: a comparative study of the daily life of the rich in late Victorian and Edwardian England and in contemporary America." There will be chapters on raising children (spending an hour or two with the children when it's possible), Christmas specials, inter-class commingling, the power of language, and of course the predictable stuff like fashion. Some folks have said that Schitt's Creek works because its stereotypes aren't mean and I think that may be part of why Downton Abbey also worked in that even the villains like Thomas and O'Brien were sympathetic. Or maybe it's the script, in both cases.

There will also be a chapter on place. Though Downton Abbey was mostly shot on location in southern England, the fictional setting is Yorkshire and local information comes up pretty regularly. Also, some outside scenes are actually shot in York, like when the Dowager goes to visit Kuragin. Or maybe it's CGI. According to the creators of Schitt's Creek in various interviews on YouTube, the location of Schitt's Creek is intentionally ambiguous, not specifically U.S. or Canada. The Roses did apparently live before in downstate New York or Long Island. The bicycles were discarded in the Hamptons. David asks if it looks like he shops on Canal Street. The aerial view of the house is not Manhattan but could be outer Queens. The only time that there is anything remotely specific about the location of Schitt's Creek is when Mutt and Tennessee are going on a trip "up the coast" to look for pine cones.

That said, it's probably more likely that I'll go around Schitt's Creek again unless I break down and somehow get access to Season 6 so I can have the resolution of all the situations and close the book.

03 April 2020

Piazza Cordusio, then and now

There's a wonderful photostream on Flickr with historic photos of Milan: Milàn l'era inscì Urbanfile  I'm not sure exactly what the name means and am guessing that it may be a regional dialect rather than mainstream Italian.

This photo has the caption "Via e Piazza Cordusio 1915-20" on Flickr. Piazza Cordusio is normally a busy space near the Castello Sforzesco and the Cadorna train station which provides a nice alternative to the central station when you're coming in from Malpensa airport, home to all kinds of shopping adventures and good restaurants. Very busy. It must be strange to be in Cordusio (as the neighborhood is called) at the moment of the coronavirus lockdown.

When I was in Milan in September 2018, a commercial "palazzo" around the plaza (formerly a post office) had just opened as the first Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Italy.
Six or seven streets come into the square, trolleys pass through, people wait for buses, tourists snap photos ... in normal times. Good memories.

22 March 2020

hunker down? go on a cruise? tell stories in an Italian country villa?

At the end of my morning walk, Drew and Mary were walking down the other side of the street. Drew asked if I was hunkering down or on a cruise. He explained the latter by describing the student houses around town that seem to have taken on new life, at least on a warm day. Folks on the porch, laughing, carrying on. I'd noticed the increased activity around the houses too. There were nine cars parked at the house and a half just before the AU campus. The university is closing the dorms today so residents have been here to clear out their stuff, after spring break. I feel especially bad, in this regard, for the students that come from busy urban areas and live in perhaps small family apartments. I wish the university could have figured out a way to provide for social-distant housing for the rest of the term for students if they wanted to hunker down here in the country. Yes, I realize that dorms involve more than providing a bed, e.g., supervision, food, potential medical care and deeper isolation.

Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio
MS. Holkham misc. 49, fol. 5r
Miniature by Taddeo Crivelli, circa 1467
Bodleian Library, Oxford

Now, if an Italian villa seems a bit difficult at the moment, you might consider a visit to Holkham Hall, perhaps my favorite Palladian house in England. Better make that a virtual visit for the foreseeable future.

16 March 2020

boundaries in a time of coronavirus

This month's Tentative List of LC Subject Heading proposals includes a proposal for:
Boundaries (Psychology)

The author of the proposal (an LC cataloger) found six occurrences of the use of Boundaries--Psychological aspects in the LC catalog. Since the scope note makes it clear that Boundaries in LCSH is used for borders between countries, states, etc., those six occurrences would be more relevant for books about being distraught about immigration or border wall issues. The work in question for which the new subject heading is being proposed is entitled Setting boundaries will set you free. These days, setting boundaries might also keep you for catching COVID-19.

Be well, all.

12 March 2020

separated at birth: anagrammatic dates

Homage to Miro by Gordon Bunshaft, 1939
in a private collection
discussed by Nicholas Adams in Architectural Record, February 2020
Miró, Joan, 1893-1983
Bunshaft, Gordon, 1909-1990

Gordon Bunshaft was born in Buffalo and grew up there. He designed a new wing for the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in the early 1960s. For a while, it looked like that wing would be shafted by the present project to build a new wing by Shohei Shigematsu of OMA North America but it's become a new pavilion on the other side of the original building. Thank heavens.

06 March 2020

art and nature

Today I'm wearing the Tom Thomson t-shirt that I bought at the Art Gallery of Ontario many years ago. The text reads "Was his work more influenced by art movements or the movements of the wind and water?"

Today I'm reading about the Pritzker Architecture Prize 2020 being awarded to Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects. The article in the N.Y. Times about the prize includes this quotation from Farrell in response to a question about fame, recognition, and starchitects: "There are people whose work should be more recognized sometimes. The media goes for the easy thing -- eye candy. Architecture is much more. It infiltrates our lives in a much deeper way. It's important to remember that the earth is beautiful and sunlight is liquid gold. A lot of architecture excludes natural phenomena -- the rising and setting sun, the power of springtime moving up through the soul."

Daniel and I were talking about the glory of the winter sun as you go about looking at buildings.

04 March 2020

separated at birth: eastern and western beasties

Fragment of a balustrade
Late 13th/early 14th century
Limestone with carved decoration
Art Institute of Chicago. The Orientals, 1947.521

capital, late 10th/early 11th century
Museo di Sant'Agostino, Genoa

Apple store grows in Central Park

It looks like the Apple store is in Central Park. This photo is by Peter Aaron from the Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (architects) webpage. The store is actually across Fifth Avenue from the Plaza Hotel, at the southeastern corner of Central Park.

01 March 2020

typewriter love

Working on some name authority records and came across this book cover:

October memories

24 February 2020

the beginning and the end

In the greater middle portion of your life, you like to feel like you're in at least partial control. You may make mistakes but you may have some influence over the next thing to happen or tomorrow. You sometimes seem to have only yourself to blame when things don't go right, whatever that is seen to be. And then there's when you are really young or dead. It all just is. You can holler or struggle or just be still.

I'm reading The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. There are plenty of good sentences but this one on page 16 stood out: "Being on an airplane, even in coach, was the closest an adult could come to the splendid helplessness of infancy." You're just there, for the duration of the flight you cannot move a whole lot, you can't pick from a variety of food and drink and activity. You can prepare but you're mostly helpless beyond a certain point. It's only good if you let the helplessness be splendid. My mom said I'd just happily sit in my playpen when I was an infant, probably running a little car back and forth. Her friends wondered if something was wrong with me, if I were perhaps a little "slow."

On the other end of life, we are often equally as helpless though maybe have too much awareness of our helplessness. There was an article in the New York Times on Thursday (February 20, 2020) entitled "Final moments for all to see" about taking pictures of people who had recently died. The online version of the story is called "The iPhone at the deathbed." The article also talks about the preparation of the body for the picture. There are various terms for the folks who will help you but I think I like "death doula" best. Amy Cunningham, a funeral director in Brooklyn, describes how she was talking to a group of Unitarians in Albany and said that she thought the dead person would want to look their best. A nonagenarian in the back of the room yelled out "You'll get over that!" Her reflection on that experience was that it "got [her] thinking. Wouldn't it be wonderful to die unfettered and free from worrying about how [you] look?" More splendid helplessness, even if you don't know about it.

You do know about how worried you have been all your life about how you looked. Another article in Thursday's paper, entitled "Paramedical tattooos: when ink is the Rx," was about tattoo artists who do healing tattoos like fingernail images on the tips of fingers which have been cut off in an accident. They also might do scar or blemish covering, the point being a subtle blending in with the rest of the person's skin. My nose reconstructions have left me not wishing to have my photograph taken and worried about the misshapen nose. Still I don't feel helpless (most of the time) and I'd rather tell the story about the scars than go through a bunch of operations to smooth it all out, especially since they'd probably not succeed. So the lesson is to do the best you can with what you've got and be patient if you're riding in coach. It will soon be over ... or not.

20 February 2020

what did we use to say?

I was looking at the January 2020 issue of Art in America which is a theme issue on "Generative art: the history and future of creative machines." I wasn't familiar with the term in art and started investigating. The "Generative art" article in Wikipedia is quite mature and traces the history of the term in the arts back to the 1960s. A keyword search in the Library of Congress catalog yielded about 100 hits and about a dozen of them seemed to be relevant, that is, the phrase "generative art" appeared in the title/subtitle. I looked at some of the records and several had the subject heading "Computer art" along with other headings.

The Wikipedia article starts "Generative art refers to art that in whole or in part has been created with the use of an autonomous system. An autonomous system in this context is generally one that is non-human and can independently determine features of an artwork that would otherwise require decisions made directly by the artist." It's a little like social practice with a machine. You give it a situation and it proceeds as it can. Wikipedia also compared it with algorithmic art ("algorithmically determined computer generated work") but generative art doesn't need to be based in an algorithm, I guess.

It definitely seemed like it was time to work on a subject proposal for LCSH. I checked the Art & Architecture Thesaurus and they have a record for generative art. The scope note defines it as "electronic art that incorporates process in the creation of the work. The work itself is usually experienced through time and space, and may include sound, motion, animated graphics, sculptural elements, or any combination of these. Generative art has a performative aspect. For visual art that incorporates algorithms to produce static visual works, use 'algorithmic art.'"

And then the word "generative" started leaping into my life: right, left, and center. Not as part of "generative art" but, for example, to describe the origin of an idea. Sam and I talked around it after an artist talk a couple weeks ago. I was at the College Art conference last week and heard at least a half dozen speakers include the word generative in their paper. I was reading the January 24th New York Times after I got home and this sentence appeared in a review of a book entitled The longing for less by Kyle Chayka: "More generative for him are the examples of artists who became known as Minimalists even as they disavowed the term." What word would have been used a while ago? Not generative, I don't think. Maybe I'm just noticing a word that's been out there all along. Whatever, it's good to have an expanding vocabulary.

09 February 2020

separated at birth: Abidjan and London pyramids

La Pyramide (1973)
Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
Rinaldo Olivieri, architect
photo by Iwan Baan, from Architect magazine website,

Tate Modern extension (2016)
London, England
Herzog & de Meuron, architects
photo by Mara Brandl / Imagebroker / Shutterstock

01 February 2020

Houdon Paul-Louis

I've enjoyed playing here with name mashing, e.g., Olafur di Paolo, Albrecht Gonzalez-Torres, Palermo Springs. Kehinde Wiley likes to do it too. This bronze portrait bust by Wiley is in the recently-opened "Jacques-Louis David meets Kehinde Wiley" exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition is focused on "Bonaparte crossing the Alps" by David and the Wiley painting "Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps" that it inspired. Also on display is this bronze portrait bust by Wiley entitled "Houdon Paul-Louis" after the sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, a contemporary of David. The bust is in the Brooklyn Museum collection.

09 January 2020

Palermo Springs

Palermo viewed from Monreale
(my picture, spring 2013)

Palm Springs, California
(Daniel's picture, January 2020)

We both studied at the Claude Lorrain School of Landscape.

01 January 2020

the books I read in 2019

Roberto Ferrari posted his best books of 2019 list as well as a complete listing of the 30 books he read last year, in chronological order, with ranking stars from 3 to 5. I wonder if he just quit reading the 1- and 2-star books or whether he's luckier than I am. I have a lot of trouble rating so I've made some observations down below the list. We've had trouble with grade inflation since the 1970s and it's probably worse on social media. You might as well flunk something if you only give it 2 or 3 stars and we know that reading enjoyment is often quite personal.

Here are the books I read this year, in chronological order of reading. The date of publication in parenthesis is usually the first edition with a second date if it is notable.

  • Codex, by Lev Grossman (2004)
  • A people's history of the United States, by Howard Zinn (1980, 2005 edition)
  • Boy erased: a memoir of identity, faith, and family, by Garrard Conley (2016)
  • Finding Fontainebleau: an American boy in France, by Thad Carhart (2017)
  • Mabel Dodge Luhan: new woman, new worlds, by Lois Palken Rudnick (1987)
  • The house on the strand, by Daphne du Maurier (1969)
  • Christ stopped at Eboli: the story of a year, by Carlo Levi (1945)
  • The years, by Annie Ernaux (2017)
  • Christodora, by Tim Murphy (2016)
  • La bella figura: a field guide to the Italian mind, by Beppe Servignini (2005)
  • It can't happen here, by Sinclair Lewis (1935, 2014 edition)
  • Kitchen confidential: adventures in the culinary underbelly, by Anthony Bourdain (2000, 2007 update)
  • Havana: a subtropical delirium, by Mark Kurlansky (2017)
  • The delight of being ordinary: a road trip with the Pope and the Dalai Lama, by Roland Merullo (2017)
  • Shortest way home: one mayor's challenge and a model for America's future, by Pete Buttigieg (2019)
  • Notes on a foreign country: an American abroad in a post-American world, by Suzy Hansen (2017)
  • The Sparsholt affair, by Alan Hollinghurst (2017)
  • On earth we're briefly gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong (2019)
  • Italy: modern architectures in history, by Diane Yvonne Ghirardo (2011)
  • Giovanni's room, by James Baldwin (1956)
  • The big roads: the untold story of the engineers, visionaries, and trailblazers who created the American superhighways, by Earl Swift (2011)
  • No other world, by Rahul Mehta (2017)

Some observations. The book I perhaps most enjoyed reading was The delight of being ordinary, a fantasy road trip with Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama. Just the good tonic I needed. Rather more escape than the believable dysfunction of It can't happen here. Suzy Hansen of Notes on a foreign country came to Alfred. Her book on the perception of the U.S. in other countries and our effect on them was incredibly informative. She mentioned James Baldwin's time in Turkey and his writings about it but also said that Giovanni's room was her favorite Baldwin book. I decided I wanted to read more Baldwin and the Library of America had a special price on the three Baldwin volumes they've published.

A lot of my reading in 2019 was about somewhere other than the United States, either by authorship, setting, or topic. Quite a few of the books were first published in 2017 and several of those came out in paperback in 2018 and were therefore ripe for the reading in 2019. At the same time, I read several older titles: Ghirardo's Italy because I've long been intrigued by Italian modern architecture, but especially since being in Italy in 2018; Christ stopped at Eboli because it is set in Fascist Italy contemporary with the modern architecture; Daphne du Maurier because a bunch of her books were in the stuff at Matt Mueller's house when Hope and Elizabeth were cleaning it out (from her overstuffed house to mine); Giovanni's room as mentioned above.

I really enjoyed the first Alan Hollinghurst novel I read: The swimming-pool library (1989). Several friends, including Roberto, had mentioned The Sparsholt affair. I liked it well enough but not as well as others of his. It is set in England so it joins the foreign settings of much of my reading.

Though I sometimes consciously pick a fiction title after having read a nonfiction title, that is not always the case or it's unconscious. I am amused that the split (11 fiction, 11 nonfiction) is 50-50 this past year. Perhaps a good omen for 2020. Maybe I'll try to read twenty of each. I haven't started reading it yet but the book I put in my backpack, having finished No other world earlier today, is Europe without Baedeker by Edmund Wilson (1947, 1966 edition). Not U.S., check; older book, check; nonfiction, check. Off to a good start.