Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Neighbor/Roland Bärwinkel

He rarely takes her
Gripped under her arm
His frail, slow moving Mother
Lady of the World
Hunchbacked over her cane
Balanced, to the Supermarket
Where we greet them in a hurry
Always wishing them a Good Morning
That to me was unimaginable
Her stink grabs me
Every time like a surprising attack
A lizard.
The very old die
The window remains closed
At night he starts to sing
Religious songs
Not meant for my eyes
Empty space, a climbing frame
Many times I bring him delivered packages
Model train sets
Or bake it yourself cakes
First I discover both canes in the garbage
I begin to see
What has happened.

Monday, 30 August 2010


It was Seamus Heaney's only frustration on our weeklong trip to NCTE/Atlanta (1970) that James Dickey refused to see him at the U. of Georgia. It looks like he missed a hollow man.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Everyday Geniuses

The Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, a hop and a railroad jump from Basel Switzerland, is my world favorite, in spite of its poorly designed building by Early Showoff Gehry.

“Hidden Heroes: The Genius of Everyday Things” chronicles “colossal achievements” like the coat hanger. One day back in 1903, Albert J. Parkhouse arrived at his lampshade frame factory in Jackson, Michigan to find that all the coat hooks were taken: He quickly bent a piece of wire into a commodious triangle and closed the off the apex by twisting the ends into a hook. Bingo! He overhung another coat!

And ever wonder who came up with the useful Post It Notes? 3M scientist Art Fry was always losing his place in his Sunday church hymnal. In the late 1970’s he solved his memory problem! Curator Jochen Eisenbrand notes that useful things like a paper clip, clothespin, rubber band, egg carton, shipping container and 30 other such “breakthroughs” in “Hidden Heroes: The Genius of Everyday Things” “are the sort of products every designer dreams of making—very simple, very ingenious items that we use on a daily basis. They’ve continued to exist for decades without changing very much, because they haven’t needed to.”

Indeed some perennially useful things like the baby pacifier began in the 1500s as scraps of cloth filled with sugar. And the rubber condom was prefigured by animal intestines used to prevent conception.

It is interesting to discover what human needs led to innovations like the glass jar, the forerunner of the tin can. In 1809 Napoleon began a competition for ways to improve soldier’s food. A Paris chef, Nicolas Appert won! And take an indispensable tool like the coffee filter. One German housewife named Melitta Benz in 1908 made the breakthrough after experimenting with blotting paper from her son’s school exercise book

A Swiss inventor Marc Chavannes in the 1950’s invented bubble wrap after he observed that clouds seemed to cushion an airplane’s descent! And a German Maximillian Negwer in 1907 came up with the idea of cushioning wax ear plugs with cotton wool while reading Homer’s “The Odyssey”. And the Swiss engineer George de Mestral developed Velcro after untangling burrs from his dog’s fur after an Alpine hunting trip.

Alice Rawsthorn’s crucial hypothesis that 90 percent of our designers work for 10 percent of the Earth’s six billions reminds us that more and more energy must be invested in already designed solutions, such as clean water wells in everyday cultures about to die from thirst—or dirty water.

The multiple catastrophes of 2010, Haiti’s earthquake, Pakistan’s floods, and Russia’s firestorms warn us that too much design talent wrapped up in making expensive watches for the rich few with too much time on their hands instead of solving quotidian problems for the many paralyzed by lack of good designs is a formula for multiple disasters.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Sex, society and gay marriage: A few points Judge Walker overlooked

A letter to the editor of Broad Street Review, regarding a column.

As a math know-nothing, I must give you the benefit of my doubts about a zillion exposures to sexual infection in 20 years. But the rise of “hooking” as one-nighter sex for our most educated young people seems more dangerous.

The only thing more dangerous is Catholic virginism, the sad fate that befell my first wife and me. No experience is as bad as too much uncritical experience. And the U.S. boom in porn suggests that our future is more threatened by too much unloving sex.

I fear surging Christian fundamentalism will prevent our schools from tutoring the next generation into the sane relations your essay powerfully supports.
Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
August 18, 2010

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Matthäuskirche (St.Matthews), Berlin

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Or Is It Just A Case Of Peanuts Envy?

PARIS: “Snoopy: A Fortieth Anniversary Celebration” (at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, until April 15) is not an art exhibition. It’s a goddamn supermarket—of every ragtag Charles Schultz-derived doll or doodad made everywhere in the so-called civilized world—from which, Forbes says, the Santa Rose cartoonist entrepreneur derived $60 million smackeroos in 1988-89, making him the highest-paid entertainer in the world.
Now, Mr. Schultz is no Leonardo. I forced myself in the week after viewing the show to “read” (if that’s what you do when your mind chews gum) his strip in the International Herald Tribune. He’s no Walt Kelly, either. Not even a Garry Trudeau. He’s a Disney dupe who has learned, with a modicum of drawing skill and a fey schlemiel single idea, to cash in on the Western World’s ennui at trying to become really civilized.
I hear you saying, “What’s the big deal, Hazard?” Leave the fucking comic strips to those dunces who need them—and more important, take your high horse off my living room rug, turd-dropper.” And you’d be partly right. Except that Jack Lang, Mitterand’s Malraux, just dropped that hot, smoking horse bun, the Order of Arts and Letters, on the grinning simp of Sonoma County. The France of Montaigne, Voltaire and Sartre.
When Lang isn’t making ludicrously simplistic overgeneralizations about the dangers of American cultural imperialism, he’s dropping ribbons over the necks of our dumbest and dullest.
Besides Schultz this year, he has so honored Jerry Lewis, the world’s greatest fund-raiser for MS (it reminded me of George Gobel’s dyspeptic snarl that they had run out of all the good diseases by the time Lewis became a comedian) and Bob Dylan, that set of adenoids with a social conscience.
When I bitched to a PR person about Lang’s loose canoneering in the awards department, she huffily replied that he used to teach law at a major university. Her second line of defense was that it was better to have a clever than a dull person running the Cultural Ministry. I begin to wonder.
I tell you why I deplore the diminution of standards that Lang encourages. There was another exhibition running at MAD, the first appearance outside his native Brazil of Zanine (the nom de chisel of Jose Zanine Caldos), the 70-year-old maquette maker for Brasilia.
Z has just exiled himself from Brazil, the better to use European leverage to save the woods he uses so brilliantly. It’s a sad part of the story that the Brazilian media completely boycotted the show. His contempt for their social scientists—who wangle humongous grants for “solving” the favella problem while they studiously overlook the prototype houses he has devised out of recyclable waste products—is fierce in its intensity.
So the media fall all over themselves to snoop on Snoopy and don’t do diddly to bring Z’s life or death message to their readers and viewers. That’s why I hate chewing gum culture. It displaces proper intellectual and imaginative nutrition. Jaws chomp while Rome burns.
Zanine is a major force for our times. Schultz is an amiable fellow who likes to ice skate. Well, he’s really not a nice fellow—he’s monomaniacally greedy.
When I was the media freak at Santa Rosa Junior College in 1975. I thought it would motivate the Sonomans in my media course if I staged a Charles Schultz Festival to kick off proceedings. Santa Rosa has a rich library of off-air recordings to give timeliness to its curriculum. In all innocence, I phoned Mr. Snoopy to invite him to the opening. He didn’t even reject the invitation. He snarled, “Where did you get the tapes?” I explained the practice of taping off-air to illustrate points in media courses. For which I got an impromptu lecture on piracy.
Come on, Charlie Brown. You can be a better man than that. Later investigation established that when he was a young free-lancer in St. Paul, a syndicate screwed him badly, leaving him with no residuals. But that was almost 50 years ago, for Patty’s sake. Funny that a man who delivers a message of “Easy does it” is so tight.
Here’s a bit from my own bio. When Beaver College, where I was teaching, staged a Charlie Brown opus in 1973, I fell madly in love with the beguiling gamin playing Patty. When I read in December 1975 that the world premiere of Schultz’s second musical might become the solution to my long-stalled May / December romance.
I got on the phone to Philly, talked Patty onto TWA, met her at SFO after giving my media course at SRJC. She was radiant in the black cashmere sweater and Sonoma patchwork quilt wrap-around skirt I had sent her for Christmas.
We attended the world premiere, after-partied at the Barbary Coast with the actors and Schultz and his family—as I taped him for my KALW-FM radio series, Museroom West. Boy, was I floating in space. I decided it was time for the coup de grace. What woman in her wrong mind could resist Hazard at the Top of the Mark? Patty, that’s who.
With the Golden Gate Bridge flirting with the fog to the West and Berkeley’s lights shimmering off to the East, Patty’s attitude changed with the altitude. The higher we got, the lower she felt. “I want to go home,” she reasoned. “Now,” she added imperiously. United was on strike at the time, and TWA was easier to get on coming to SFO than going. But I sweet-talked her onto the TWA 8 a.m. plane back to Philly.
I had gone to the Unitarian Church the Sunday before to hear John Beecher tell the sad but exhilarating tale of how “some used car dealer from Sacramento” had pushed a loyalty oath through the California legislature in 1950 which John and a few other noble souls told him to stuff. The Supreme Court had just judged the oath unconstitutional and ruled that Beecher and his peers had to be reinstated at San Francisco State.
His wry exordium in a religious “service” that was dominated by a William Blake-based chorale? “Believe in the Constitution, but get another job.”
You can get his Collected Poems (Macmillan, 1982). It may be the best 20 bucks you ever spent on a poet. (See what you missed, Patty? Faint-hearted May fly. You’ll wait a whole life for another such December, eh?)

Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, April 4, 1990

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

April In Paris—Lautrec and Vikings

This April 1st was such a lovely day in Paris that I figured Nature might be fooling with me. (The next day she did turn miserable, making my taxi ride to Orly airport a hard slog.) But Cole Porter was so right: The chestnuts were in blossom. And the young couples were walking on air, nuzzling each other contentedly. Even the old ladies walking their poodles seemed to have a spring in their step.

But I spent the last week in March checking out what visitors to Paris might savor if they flew over on USAir 1789 (the return flight to Philly is 1776!) to take a look at Paris in April.

I’d tell them to start at the Grand Palais (Metro 1 / Champs Elysee / Clemenceau), where there are two knockdown / drag-‘em-out exhibitions. The most notorious is the Toulouse-Lautrec show, where they’ve rigged a humongous white tent for potential patrons to sweat it out waiting for their timed ticket.

There’s nothing too loose about the way this turnstile-clicker is run. You have to keep running to keep from being stomped to death. Which is a pity because all the biggies are there (three from Chicago, one from Philly). My advice to serious Lautrekkers is to skip the show and buy the catalog. That way you won’t be offended by the Lautrec Drek HyperMarche (ties, gloves, mugs, every imaginable whathaveyou) at the end of the forced march.

A funny thing will happen to you as you read through the catalog. You’ll experience the epiphany I had. The moiling crowds haven’t a clue as to what TL was driving at. To them, it’s like a night bus tour of Montmartre—without the potential street dangers.

But TL made it perfectly clear how he felt about the frenetic music halls and the exploitative whorehouses. He made an interesting contrast between the Paris whores and their putatively more elegant co-workers, the models. He said the prostitutes were full of life. (“Elles vivent, vivent”) whereas the models were like dead rag dolls (“Toujours empailles”—literally, “stuffed with straw”).

There’s apparently a certain irreducible authenticity to fucking—even a stranger—with your clothes off, and a deracinating regimen in posing in clothes that the haute bourgeoisie was being teased into purchasing.

Those famous music hall tableaux are full of solos—individuals without any communal attachments. “Pure” pleasure, apparently, is a pretty poor motive for relating significantly to others. Anomie thrives in this kind of isolation.

Incidentally, scuttlebutt has it that tiny Toulouse was what the French call a little pitcher with a big beak, which is to say a smallish man with a big schlong. The tarts dug it, bless them.

The most touching single piece for me was “Seule,” a peculiar perspective (perhaps at TL’s midgety eye level) of an exhausted woman half-undressed, sprawling across her bed. No fun and games in that whorehouse.

As I left the Grand Palais I couldn’t help noticing that the prissy-looking old ladies (and men) patiently waiting for their timed reservations to become valid were precisely the kind for whom TL felt a deep scorn. In his prostitute / model paradigm, the Lautrekkers were stuffed to their teeth with straw.

By the way, the restaurant at the GP is a great buy—excellent food, good cheap wine, excellent desserts and coffee—at about two-thirds of what you’d pay on the outside.

There’s also a splendid exhibition on “The Vikings” next to the Lautrec. Unlike last season’s “I Celti” at Venice’s Palazzo Grassi, where 2,000-plus items were desperately in search of adequate explication, here only 400 or so run the gamut from architectural parts to transcendently beautiful Romanesque religious carvings in wood and stone.

I had no idea that those barbarous marauders had such a rich and fascinating cultural life. I so loved its groovy shippy logo that I bought a black T-shirt bearing it. Spend a whole day at the GP, but start with the Vikings.

“Toulouse” and “The Vikings” are the shows with the most tout. But the single most satisfying exhibition was at the Museum of Natural History (Metro 5 / Austerlitz). “Fruits and Vegetables” is the typical French miracle of what they call “vulgarization”—we would say popularizing.

But the difference lies between our generally becoming too stupid in our attempts to conquer audiences (“Snoopy” megashows) and the French tradition of assuming that every human being can think if the material is presented clearly and with panache.

It opens with a funky diorama of Adam and Eve in a Garden of Eden, the floor of which is covered chock-a-block with apples. Next to this witty intro are vitrines displaying the infinite variety of pommes—I counted 33. Not far away, we get a crash lesson in the tremendous boon which pommes de terre (apples of the earth, or potatoes) have been to mankind.

This anthropological approach to fruits and veggies takes a crucial issue in natural history—the evolution of alimentation (in English, we say nourishment or nutrition) over the course of mankind’s eating—and shows what a complex and vulnerable matter growing and distributing food is.

But what I really cherish about the Museum of Natural History is the wittiness (and sheer cultural savvy) of its curators. There are classics photos of veggies by the likes of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, and—yes, ACT UP—Robert Mapplethorpe. The show ends with 1927 photos of Josephine Baker shimmying in her banana skirt, giving you with a cocky eye her best East St. Louis Toodleloo. No wonder all Paris loved her (her funeral was as big as Charles De Gaulle’s!); no wonder she loved Paris.

If you get to the Jardin des Plantes in the spring, you’re in for an extra treat. Them-there Frenchies shore do know how to grow green things. And the garden that surrounds the Museum of Natural History is one of the world’s grandest “teaching / research” gardens.

At Orly, when you arrive, buy a bottle of wine and the fixings for some homemade sandwiches and eat in their garden. It beats the high cost of Gay Paree, and is glorious plein air.
Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, April 22, 1992

Monday, 23 August 2010

A Who’s Whose of World Architecture

As a certified architectizer (I chase buildings the way womanizers follow females), I’ve grown puzzled by the increasing disparity between what “the critics” regard as great contemporary architecture and what pleases me.
The Pritzker Prize roster gives me many a pause. Take Richard Meier. Last spring in Frankfurt, I asked those running the fine little Folk Art Museum when they were going to have to put up with their new Meier. (The city fathers had been so snowed by the Signature architect that they wanted to follow up his first “success” as the Applied Art Museum next door.)

They were in a near-terminal funk over the dreary prospects. Meier had said that the new museum was an act of architectural piety to the stately riverside manor that first housed the applied arts collection. Actually, anyone who’d visited Meier’s Atlanta High Museum could see it was a re-run, right down to the “sculptural” ramps that ensure gridlock.

Alas—but lucky for the Frankfurters—the Reunification Recession had forced them to cancel the second Meier. Joy in Folk City. Now why, I ask you, should the freak of an economic turndown be the only protection professionals had to guard themselves, their collections and their publics from the aberrant arrogance of a signature architect?

A few months before, in Tempe, friends at Arizona State urged me to catch their “world class” new Arts Center, by Antoine Predock. The curator complained that, against their agonized cries, Predock had broken up the space to accommodate his “vision,” not their needs for consecutive exhibition space.

These grumbles erupted as I perused a handsome new 100 Contemporary Architects: Drawings & Sketches, edited by Bill Lacy (Harry N. Abrams, $49.50). Meier and Predock both make the magic cut, but you’d never guess, from the glowing testimonials, that their clients were pissed. (I’m frustrated to note that I know the work of only about two-thirds of the honorees—a feeling somewhat assuaged by the datum that I actively dislike the “achievements” of perhaps half of those.)

I still haven’t forgotten that zany day in 1972 when Time-Life Films told me to shoot Robert Venturi’s Guild House on Spring Garden Street in Philly for an updated filmstrip of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation. I literally drove by the “masterpiece” several times because I didn’t believe any editor in her right mind could take such kitsch seriously.

I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a Robert A.M Stern building I truly liked—though I surprised myself by not despising his hotels at EuroDisney in France. And if I were ever asked to nominate an Anti-Pritzker Prize, it would go down to Charles Moore’s Piazza d’Italia in New Orleans, the sleaziest bit of two-bit scenography in American architecture. Yet is has pride of place in Moore’s two-page spread in 100 Contemporary Architects.

These guys talk a good game. In fact I’m beginning to believe that the whole PoMo farce is a hothouse ivy-tower product of academics who had to lecture for a living before they could get anyone to spring for their footings.

Don’t get me wrong. Leavening their lumpishness are glories like Ambasz, Botta, Chermayeff, Isozaki, E. Fay Jones, Moneo, Nouvel, Pei, Piano, the Pietilas, Safdie, Siza and Tange. Kenzo Tange’s Yoyogi Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, I love to remember, is as close to heaven as this sinner expects to get.

Have you ever made a list of your own Architectural Hit Parade? On mine, besides Tange’s Yoyogi, would be Fallingwater (that remains my touchstone—if it makes me feel that good, it’s great), Ambasz’s Botanical Center in San Antonio, Moneo’s Seville Airport, Siza’s new Architectural Faculty in Porto, Spain, the Pietilas’ Tempere Public Library, Thompson’s Ordway Theatre in St. Paul, Chermayeff’s Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Piano’s Old Port in Genoa.

The neatest parts of 100 are the architects’ drawings. Now, that’s Signature Architecture I really dig.

To give your mind sufficient girth to winnow out the wimps in 100, try The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Architects and Architecture, edited by Dennis Sharp (Whitney Library of Design, $39.95). It gives you the gist of the careers of more than 350 architects throughout world history, mainly EuroAmerican (but with the odd not to the likes of Sinan of the Blue Mosque) and mostly 19th- and 20th-Century.

But it’s catholic enough to include the Eiffels, Maillarts and Paxtons of adjacent engineering, so you get a richer context for wandering and wondering. 100 generally limits its architectural citations one to a customer. Illustrated gives you a handful to get your looking started. Then it divides the history of architectural ideas into eight successive eras and gives you good illustrations (and choices) to help you cure the PoMo flu historically.

Americans are such suckers for fads because of their blissful historical ignorance—the Euros generally lemming on for fear of not appearing hip enough. O tempora, O morasses. Make that more asses. Who’s whose in world architecture depends, I’m afraid, less on what you know and more on how hard you blow.

Check out the low- and high-pressure areas, and you can begin to understand which ways the winds of doctrinaire isms flow. Me, I take hints from whomever—like the head of marketing at the Halifax railroad hotel, who said I just had to go to Red Deer, Alberta, if I was serious about architecture. In the dead of winter, he said it.

Well, I went, and that’s how I saw St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Douglas Cardinal’s first master work. That led me to his Canadian Museum of Civilisation in Hull, Quebec—as moving as Chartres Cathedral. A computer-designed metaphor for the weathering and glaciation of the Canadian land mass on the outside, and a journey through its mind and heart on the inside. Zowie. It’s in Illustrated, but not in 100. Shame on you, Lacy.
Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark, December 9, 1992

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Between The Rock And A Sunny Place

(This is the second installment of a two-part article on Spain’s Costa del Sol.)

MARBELLA: One of the most interesting day trips I’ve ever taken in Europe was the one that began in Marbella and ended in Gibraltar. There are two Marbellas, really. One is the old town center, which is a glory of traditional architecture and gardens. The other centers on the docks, where nouveau zillionaires dock their megayachts.

My advice is to concentrate on the former and hoot at the other as your tour bus drives by. Our tour guide was a veritable almanac of interesting data, historical and economic, until he hit the outskirts of Marbella, at which point he turned into a Robin Leach clone, laying on us relentlessly about which rock star bedded at this hostelry and which royalty infested that private estate.

His Leaching reached a depressing apogee when he began to recount the saga of a sheik who had just flaunted his unlimited wealth to the locals by building a grotesque mosque (if you can imagine Disneyland Moored, you’re close enough) and a house whose principal architectural feature was the mound of dirt trucked in to lend it height if not distinction.

The bad taste of our tour guide was purged by a delicious lunch at a restaurant with a smashing view of the Sunny Coast on the left hand and the impending Rock on the right. We did the usual crawl around Gibraltar, up its sides to feed the Barbary Apes (they really are cuddlies), and down into the town center to shop and graze.

You’ve got to hand it to those Brits: They really made a complex and growing thing out of this barren rock, the full complexity of which I never understood until I visited the splendid museum at the far end of the main street. It’s not only terrific on the history, natural and political, of the Gib, but it even has some interesting local artists to brag about.

I love the etymology of the place—a corruption of Gibel (mountain) of Tarik, the Moor who took it in 711. there are untold tasty trivia you can stoke up on at the museum, such as Lord Nelson’s cadaver being preserved in a keg of rum after Trafalgar on its way to the Rock. Or the besieged soldiers who were reduced to eating their leather clothes and equipment when the tactic of catapulting sacks of food to them failed.

Fuengirola: The last Sunday of my visit I was poking around for something special to do. “Why don’t you take in a bull fight?” suggested the personable young man at the Costa Lago front desk.

In all my visits to Spain and Mexico, I had never once succumbed to the curiosity to see the bloody spectacle. A pacifist at heart, I looked upon the whole tradition as a kind of macho mess. Still, how could I teach American literature for 30 years and not test Hemingway’s judgments about the sport against my own?

“It’s easy to get to Fuengirola,” the desk clerk teased. “It’s at the terminus of the Malaga/Costa del Sol railroad.”

I succumbed. On the train, I lucked out by sitting next to a woman who taught business education in the local college and whose English was perfect. Little by little, she filled in the details. This was the bush leagues of bullfighting. The three toreadors on the bill today were unknown, inexperienced teenagers. And the bulls were two-year-olds—fierce enough, but no the full-blown behemoths you got to tackle when you graduated to Madrid.

Well, it was exciting. For a start, the first bull jumped the barrier and started chasing a couple of picadors right around the chute that surrounds the killing ground. Yikes. At the start the bulls are full of fire and really noble beasts. Gradually, the ritual (and the pics) sap them of their strength and reaction time.

Not completely, of course. The unluckiest of the fledgling trio got a haunch full of horn and had to be carted off the field. And even though their lack of skill made the “Olé!s” infrequent and lacking in conviction, I got the picture. But I hate the indignity of their dragging off the carcasses like so much meat. I left early.

I got off of this bullish low by visiting the fine zoo the city runs back-to-back with the bullfighting arena. Their tropical bird collection is especially distinguished. I had a great talk with a local high school teacher on the state of Spain as his wife and kids fed the animals. And I have to admit there was something weird about having our conversation punctuated by cries from the arena crowd on the other side of the wall.

Incidentally, there’s a fine bullfighting museum high in the mountains above the city in the picture-postcard-perfect village of Mijas, and I enjoyed visiting it bloodlessly almost as much as I thrilled to the mayhem on the sand.

I learned a great deal of fascinating lore there: that the ritual was done on horseback until the 18th Century, that when a matador fails to kill his bull within 15 minutes, it is carted off to be dispatched behind the stands—an official observes this killing to prevent chintzy promoters from using the bull again (once a bull has seen a red cape, he’s lethally unconnable).

So here’s my conclusion on the Sunny Coast. The sand on their beaches sucks, but you can always use your hotel pool. But most of all, the Costa is a pivot place for sorties all over Andalusia.

And don’t overlook the possibility of visiting Expo 92 in Seville from there. The train takes three hours, the plane an hour, not counting time to and from airport. And Grand Circle lays on good and inexpensive side tours to other must-visits like Granada, and an especially popular one that takes you from Algeciras to Ceuta and then to the high flesh pots of Morocco—Fez, Marrakesh, Casablanca, Rabat.

The Costa del Sol has been mocked as lotsa costa and not too much sol—Miami Beach East. It seemed to me that the local politicos were really serious about putting a cap on growth, trying to shift from a mass to a class market, though the worldwide recession will slow it down.

But if you like seafood and sea breezes and shooting the breeze with a United Nations of temporary visitors, this Costa is well worth one exploratory visit—especially if you lay on the side trips like Gibraltar and Malaga. Just be careful on the streets of the bigger cities. I was showing some just-arrived Manchester secretaries how to beat the high cost of Malaga hotels by staying at a youth hostel, when a motorscooting duo deftly lifted her shoulder bag and disappeared into the night—with passport, return tickets and cash.

Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, October 28, 1992

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Sun Shines Bright On Spain’s Old Costa Home

(This is the first installment of a two-part article.)
Spain’s Costa del Sol has taken a lot of bad-mouthing recently. My first visits there—early March and late April last year—made it easy to see what all the grumbling was about. Nonetheless, that Sunny Coast still provides a cheap and interesting alternative for U.S. visitors eager to flee our snow and sleet.
I went under the auspices of Boston’s Grand Circle Travel (800-221-2610), the tour organizing group that began as the travel arm of the AARP. So the costs were astonishingly low. But from what I observed, I think individuals or couples could easily wing it as cheaply on their own, if they’re good at haggling.
First, the bad news—and there’s enough of that to justify some of the grousing. The Costa was such a convenient blessing for Brits condemned for life to miserable winters that once the happy word got out, overbuilding was almost a foregone conclusion.
Too many people in Eden leads to pollution of diverse and discouraging kinds: hooliganism and crime around night spots, long lines, dirty beaches and a certain nastiness of temper among both local help and transient visitors stemming from the foregoing.
And a grim recession prevails in the condo and time-share sectors of the Costa. Tens of thousands of expats—caught between lowered income and suddenly higher interest rates on their second mortgages back home—dumped their places in the sun onto a glutted market, with predictable consequences.
Articles in Lookout: Spain’s Magazine in English make me believe that the real estate troubles on the Costa won’t soon be resolved. (That monthly magazine, by the way, is a sprightly read for orienting yourself quickly to both discouraging conditions and evident opportunities.) Still, even such fiscal squeezes can work to the advantage of the bargain-seeker looking for good hotel and shopping buys.
Our group put up at the Costa Lago, a relatively new complex a block back from the beach. (But because it was new, it was also a brisk 15-minute walk from Torremolinos City Center, and a ten-minute muddy slog from the closest train between Malaga and Fuengirola—a discouraging experience on the few rainy days we encountered.)
Buses to Malaga stop in front of the hotel, but infrequently and only during the working day. Taxis are easy to book but relatively expensive—$15 to the nearby Malaga Airport (the terminals are also accessible by the rail line, if you have light luggage), and $25 to the RENFE train station in Malaga. Side trips to places of interest are easy to book at the hotel. Some of the most interesting sorties I just devised on my own.
Malaga is a marvel. In the city hall, I found a funky exhibition on consumer education for which the students of the region’s elementary schools had competed in creating comic books, posters and other peer-educating materials to teach each other their new rights as consumers.
That’s an exhilarating aspect of Iberia today for travelers curious enough to go beyond the traditional tourist stops to see how Spaniards live in the post-Franco era. A few weeks earlier, in Lisbon, I’d noticed the same phenomenon of a people lifting themselves up with a newfound sense of freedom.
A new tabloid newspaper, Publico, had just announced its first anniversary signal achievement. From scratch, it had become the largest-selling daily in Portugal. On the train into Lisbon from Cascais, I asked a handful of people who seemed enthralled with the tab why they preferred it. “It tells the truth,” was the invariable reply.
Since I’m a media maven, I decided to go out and schmooze with the editors. Before you could say “Vasco da Gama,” the editor in chief had tabbed a philosophy major who was fluent in English to take me from one editorial department to another. High-tech equipment was one answer to their success, but the most important one was that Publico was the first newspaper in the country’s history to put truth in reporting before partisanship.
For English-speaking visitors, the Malaga daily El Sur (“The South”) puts out a free weekly tabloid in English that’s indispensable for getting quick fixes on leisure activities (films, trips, lectures, concerts, art exhibitions) in the vicinity. It’s also illuminating on the problems confronting Spain’s tourist industry—such as the ex-pat crunch over unsold condos and the pollution crisis.
In fact, it was so well-edited that I decided to hop a bus and go out and talk with the staff. “Staff” is two thirtysomething Romance language majors from Merrie But Oh So Cold Olde England (Birmingham and Glasgow Universities) who drifted south to teach Spaniards English and ended up falling in love with Spaniards. Talk about romance languages.
On a Eurail rush through Malaga a few years back, I checked out the Moorish gardens stunningly garnishing the heights just off the downtown and places like the Picasso Museum just a short square away. (Picasso was born here, and the tourist industry being what it is, it was inevitable that the locals would capitalize on his pre-artistic childhood before his family moved to Barcelona.)
These places are not to be missed. I defy you not to be levitated by a calamari dinner in the open, one eye swiveling between the bustling seaport and the ancient fortifications.
On this visit, with more time to spare, I decided to check out the two major museums, just a short walk from the cathedral. The Fine Arts Museum is no Louvre, but it’s a sweetly recycled convent. And the Spanish holdings are respectable and solid—a Goya, a Murillo or two, a Zurbaran and some El Grecos. But more interesting to me was the temporary exhibition of local art students’ work. No masterpieces, but exciting activity showing how the muse was leavening the newest Malagueñas.
The Sacred Art Musuem is a more esoteric taste, but if you realize that it amounts to a sort of attic for the outcast furniture of the Bishop’s Palace over several centuries, it has an intellectual fascination of its own. Oddly, the final room contains homages to local hero Picasso, a few of which are actually aesthetically worthy of the object of their affections.
I had an interesting encounter at the front foyer of this museum while I was waiting for a phalanx of local students to get into gear. As an ex-seminarian, I get off on teasing priests. So when one youngish looking cleric approached me, I jibed: “Are you a Jesuit, Father, or a hard-working member of the clergy?”
He paused for a moment at this false dysjunction and replied suavely, “Neither, I’m the Bishop of Malaga.” Gulp. “Well, Your Grace, do you know where I can get a guide to your collections? I’m writing a travel story on Malaga.”
“Please wait here just a minute,” he advised.
I covered my blushes by asking the guard the bishop’s name, hoping to be less gauche on his return. “Father Ramon,” was his reply.
“Yes. The bishop is from Barcelona, and you know that Catalans are very down-to-earth people.”
Well, I guess.
(Look for the conclusion of Patrick’s Costa del Sol trip in the next Hazard-at-Large.)
Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, October 28, 1992

Friday, 20 August 2010

Louie Kahn: Estonian Esthetic Icon

A funny thing happened on my recent week in Tallinn: When I visited their Architecture Museum (marvelously contrived from an abandoned salt factory!) the well-informed young librarian couldn’t wait to show me the proceedings of a Celebration on the centennial of Louis Kahn! And that was before I told him I was from Philadelphia or that I had lived in a Kahn house for that last 50 years.

Actually this Kahnolatry repeated itself the next day when we went to their Outdoor Museum (a collection of farmhouses from several centuries that brilliantly reveals how the “enslaved” Estonians mastered their art of thriving in a not too munificent land.) We were watching a University of Tallinn art class interpret the glorious windmill that is the prime object on display there.

I saw an older woman I guessed was their prof! I asked her how the cultural community in Tallinn was measuring up to the challenge of being the Cultural Capital of Europe next year. (They will also start to use the Euro as their currency, the first of the so-called Baltic Republics to do so!) Before I could say Louie she too wanted to exude praise of “our” Philly icon! “Informers” wanted to know if I knew he was born in Estonia.

At which point I repeated my rote bio of the tyke that left his Baltic island at age four and proceeded to unreel my potted vita, not excluding my TV program on him over WFIL-TV’s University of the Air in 1959 when he got so carried away by his design of the library for the then forthcoming Salk Center for Biological Sciences that forced humanist and scientist to meet and share ideas (for a change, it was the C.P. Snow era!) that he disappeared off camera! (It’s the only time I ever ordered a genius to sit down)! Both Estonians were beguiled by the anecdote! But their mania made speculate about the reasons for their adoration.

Gradually I got it. Estonia has been so downtrodden (seriatim) that they have devised a style of self enhancement that was unique in my historical experience. Consider that the Pope gave a German order of Crusading Knights the “right” to settle down as overlords to the then illiterate local serfs—when there were no more Muslims to harass. Swedes, Danes, “Baltic Germans”, Peter the Great Russians, Nazis, Communists—till they finally took over their own governance belatedly in the last decade!

Take their doubledecker Off/On Tallinn bus tours to get the elementary facts (Red, Green, and Blue lines tell you in eight different languages how they got that way. Here is their National Library with more books per capita than any other such facility. And there’s the old Communist Party HQ on Lenin Square that’s now their foreign affairs department. And no more Vladimir! It’s Iceland Square now–for the first country to accept their independence.

And along the waterfront we were told that the handsomely abstract aluminum memorial was created to honor the Estonian who died there experimenting with parachutes, both for his bravery and “exertion”, both very Estonian traits! And I’ve never seen so many museums—over thirty in their urban handbook. You could spend the whole CultCapYear assimilating their treasures.

But I say “Don’t miss!” for two, the Architecture Museum and the Kumu! The what, I responded skeptically to a guide. It’s short (and cute) for Kunst Museum. And it’s the proudest addition to their skyline. It proved to me once again that our parochial concentration on a Paris/London/Berlin/New York art axis is stuntingly parochial. An exhibition on “Soviet Women” for example revealed tension between the Official Line and the fact that Estonian eggheads (and their followers) knew better. And all the modern Isms are there but seen from new angles.

But the best of all is the Architecture Museum, due I’m sure to the brilliance of its director,Karin Halles-Murula. (She was on holiday, but I read enough of her criticism to feel her strength.) You can’t do better than to buy at the Kumu her new “Tallinn Architecture:1900-2010”.It’s the most intelligent popular guide to a city’s architecture I’ve yet savoured. And especially don’t miss her analyses of Jacques Rosenbaum’s Art Nouveau apartments.

She has written a splendid book on him, including an English language gloss which gets into a subject I had entirely missed in my enthusiasm over Jugendstil—the anti-Semitism of some resisters to the new movement. The instigator of the movement, the Parisian gallery owner Siegfried Bing was Jewish, as were many of its strongest figures, and they were met with underground growling.

The Internet works swell in the city. And “The Weekly Baltic Times” free both in hotels and on the net is a good place to orient yourself to Old Town hotels and restaurants. Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn, the Baltic Trinity. Cross that space off my global map. And go in the summer. The outdoor restaurants are a gas!

This article is also published in the Broad Street Review.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Touring German Art

I have just received a crash course in twentieth-century German art. I went to Berlin in October to see the astonishingly instructive “Landmarks of Modernism” exhibition at the Martin Gropius Bau. The forty-eight Deutschmarks they nicked me for the catalog is one of the best investments I’ve made in a long time.

(It will soon be shareable in the art library of the University of Pennsylvania, to which I am donating my international art catalogs.)

This show recapitualtes the history of German modernism by giving the gist of the major exhibitions from Die Brucke and Die Blaue Reiter down through Documenta at Kassel and Fluxus wherever. Especially interesting were the shows of Nazi art and Degenerate Art (the latter attracted 2 million visitors—the largest audience for any art show in German history—showing you what clods the Nazis were when they were putting down their “degenerate” betters!).

And there were the usual imbalances—Robert getting much more space than Sonia Delaunay, and Gabriele Muenter was eclipsed by her lessor lover Kandinsky. But that’s no the Germans’ fault—that was the systemic blindness of patriarchal Europe.

In Bern, just after Berlin, I saw a show of the couple Hans Arp and Sophie Taueber, in which the logo photo for the catalog shows Sophie hiding her own head behind the Dada kopf she had just made for her lover Hans. Boy, those women sure knew how to debase themselves.

Shortly after that, in Ascona, I went to see “Marianne Werefkind i amici”—Klee, Muenter, Kandinsky, the Bauhaus gang who summered there in Italian Switzerland.

I came upon the sad story of her horrible abuse by Alexei Jawlensky. The show was memorializing the 50th anniversary of her death. She might have been as good as Muenter, had she not immolated herself in the perfidious bed of Jawlensky.

Well, between Berlin, Bern, and Ascona, I was getting a vivid picture of the German art scene—until I arrived at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art a month later to see “German Expressionism: The Second Generation.” These peers of Otto Dix and George Grosz had somehow been blipped completely from the Berlin survey. Hmmm.

Then I got a theory. They were described as Spartacists, “involved in Rosa Luxembourg’s and Karl Liebknecht’s failing Communist uprising of 1919. I get it. A kind of German McCarthyism. (If you want to check it out, that show is now at the Fort Worth Museum of Art.)

So when I went to the opening of the Guggenheim’s major survey of recent German painting, “Refigured Painting: The German Image 1960–1988,” I was eager to test my Spartacist theory on the German curators.

My best informant turned out to be Heinrich Klotz, director of the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt. First he surprised me by asserting that the Germans were as surprised as we Americans had been by “German Expressionism: The Second Generation.”

His explanation for the amnesia is less political than mine. He argued that the second generation had barely gotten going when the Nazis stamped all of them as degenerate. And after the war, the art community had so many new fish to fry that they didn’t get around to filling out their view art before Nazism.

It’s a plausible hypothesis, given how American art expunged its consciousness of the figurative traditions of American regionalism when the tsunami of Abstract Expressionism broke over the gallery/seminar/museum complex. But there’s a “Spartacist” side to that American amnesia as well.

Most of the ideologues and practitioners of abstract art had been Communists or fellow travelers, and under the heat of McCarthyism they not too gracefully dove under the bed of “apolitical” abstractionisms of one kind of another. Thank God we’re finally getting a fuller view of what went before.

The artists in “Refigured Painting” could have used a little more history of their own national traditions in art. With the notable exceptions of heavyweights like Kiefer, Polke, and Baselitz, I found the Guggenheim gathering pretty thin stuff. Set beside the “landmarks of Modernism” as precis-ed in Berlin, they strike me as fingerpainting poseurs.

They quote a lot—Friedmann Hahn’s “Head After Van Gogh” and Thomas Hartmann’s “The Potato Harvest” would never carry their own weight, minus the art history allusion. And Rainer Fetting’s “Winter—Tompkins Square Park” and “New York Streetworker” are so obviously journalistic grandstanding to the American engaged viewer that one wishes he’d leave our problems to our painters.

There is an aura of prefabricated catastrophe in these “refigured” images: Auto accidents, natural disasters, a pervasive chaos that strikes me as laid-on. It surely doesn’t look like the Germany I’ve been visiting the past few years.

I can hear them saying, “Yes, but beneath the surface ours is the real Germany.” I don’t believe it. This is the Germany of a small cadre of professional whiners. Their anxiety-ridden images sell for humongous prices to the new BMW elite. Sound familiar?

Actually, if you want to see the real Germany—and I’m not kidding—you’d be better off listening to Harmut Esslinger, the head of FROG (for Federal Republic of Germany) Design, the industrial designers who have shaped the forms of over 1,000 mass-produced objects throughout the world in their twenty years of existence.

When Esslinger gave the keynote address in Philadelphia at the University of the Arts’ symposium on international industrial design, he expressed the kind of humanism that these dime-store Diogenes’ Teutonic forebears first formulated. These bargain-basement calamity howlers are pissing into the wind. The time has come to ask whether painting and sculpture are really the matrix of humanism in our time.

They once were. The Berlin “Landmarks of Modernism” makes that abundantly clear. But my guess is that the subsidized upper-middlebrow culture of the advanced democracies encourages poses rather than authentic postures.

At least they don’t touch the heart the way their predecessors did—and still do. And at its cheapest, and hippest—as in Martin Kippenberg’s “In case the bitch gets mouthy, break glass”—I say, rid us of such rubbish. Better a handful of well-made industrial objects than a Guggenheim full of second-raters.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Literary Frankfurters

Frankfurt: Three hundred thousand books are some bonanza for the book lover, especially when 40,000 of them are new titles. So it was no surprise, making my first visit to the biennial Frankfurt Book Fair in October of 1985, to find wall-to-wall readers in halls large enough to park several Graf zeppelins.

Frankfurt itself is a most beguiling city, a sort of Indianapolis of West Germany, rather surprised at its own cultural explosion—there are seven museums on the Schaumainkai (roughly translated as the Main River Prospect), a glorious site for any musuem, but veritably epiphanous when you descry seven in a row—for handicrafts, folk art, film, architecture, postal, the city art museum, and sculpture, in that order, as you walk from the youth hostel to the main train station.

But the wheelers and dealers at the Buch Messe have little time for museums, concentrating as they are on buying and selling rights internationally.

The fair itself is more exhaustingly exhaustive than the Louvre. I came to make a perfunctory pitstop and couldn’t tear myself away for another full day, only departing Frankfurt with rue because I had a long-planned rendevous in Geneva with the jazz pianist, Achille Scotti, of Radio Suisse Romande.

The fair is also a marvel of Teutonic organization. The fat bible that was its indispensable guide through the multinational, multilingual maze had the over 1,000 vendors clearly sited by hall, floor, letter, and number. Press formalities took exactly five minutes (compared with seventy minutes getting through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin the week before!). Press releases were neatly stacked in five languages in adjacent bins.

And while the superpublishers dominated the affair, the access of mini-firms was impressive indeed. For example, because I attended the first World Negro Arts Festival in Dakar in 1966, I stopped to chat with a Senegalese publisher. A former professor of linguistics at the University of Dakar, he quit the faculty several years ago over the issue of French versus the vernacular language.

One of his best-selling items (ironically mostly in France!) is a Wolof/French dictionary. His country’s economic crisis has depressed his business as well as everyone else’s. But things were on the upswing again, and he was ebullient over his prospects. Most of the twenty publishers in Senegal are connected either with the Catholic church or the state. He was one of three private publishers, one of whom was beholden to a political party.

Similarly, since I then lived in San Francisco (there were almost a dozen firms there, include the local giants—Chronicle Books and Sierra Books)—I stopped by the booth of Synthesis Books to see what they were up to. The forty-year-old woman (French major, U. of Wisconsin, 1967) and thirty-four-year-old man (criminology major, U.C.-Berkeley, 1974) stood out from the grey-flanneled pack in any case, dressed yuppishly in a leather collage dress and a tweed jacket.

They got into publishing because the man’s self-published book on criminology was getting nowhere. So he learned the business. How were they doing—at their second visit? Just fine, thank you very much.

Twenty years before, they gambled $2,000 on airfare and food and stayed at a friend’s home making just enough by selling foreign rights to two firms (one in Canada and one in England) to cover their costs. Unlike then, this time they no longer had to scrounge for appointments; people come to them in satisfying numbers, impressed that an American firm is publishing books and magazines critical of American foreign policy.

Small businesses thrive on the perimeters of the fair as well. I’ve never attended a mass gathering where it was so easy to get food, ice cream, souvenirs, newspapers. Outside the main halls, alternative factions—from integrationist feminists from Munich to Trotskyites from Frankfurt—hawked their wares to attentive buyers.

Sidebar features included exhibitions on the Art of the Book and the Craft of Bookbinding. Barnum and Bailey would feel right at home in this three-ring circus of the Higher Literacy. All the national and local upscale newspapers fattened their editions with literary supplements that would make the editors of the New York Review of Books mouths water.

No longer intimidated by their century-old sense of inferiority as a city of hustling businessmen, the good burghers of Frankfurt-am-Main have gotten up to speed with panache and energy. Those culture seekers who now tarry in Munich and Vienna must learn to reckon with the bounty of a city better known heretofore as the home town of Daimler.

The German economic miracle is clearly being consolidated with a cultural one of world-class stature. Frankfurt, in short, is beginning to hotdog it in the arts; and it has every right to feel smug about how far it as come so fast.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

1992: A Year of Bitter Memories

Berlin: For European Jewry, 1492 wasn’t the year of Columbus’s fluke discovery of America, under the aegis of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. For them, rather, it was the year those same monarchs decreed that the Jews of Spain must either convert to Catholicism or leave.

It was the beginning of the European Diaspora, which would culminate in the horror of the Holocaust 450 years later. For 1942 is also a year of bitter memories. That was the time of the odious Wannsee Konferenz, during which Hitler’s henchmen, in a lovely lakeside villa, plotted the final solution to the “Jewish problem.”

For the French Jews, it was the year of the first trains from France to Auschwitz—an event that Parisian lawyer Serge Klarsfeld remembered this year by organizing a train full of concentration camp survivors and their descendants from Paris to the Polish camp.

He also organized an exhibition, “The Year of the Roundup,” drawing solemn files of rememberers to the reception area of Paris City Hall. It’s moving one subway stop up the Metro line, to the Tomb of the Unknown Jewish Martyr, to better accommodate the crowds anticipated in the tourist season.

The Berlin commemorative exhibition at the Martin Gropius Bauhaus, “Patterns of Jewish Life,” completely fulfills its difficult agenda of revealing how Jews have taken their spiritual heritage all over the world for going on 4,000 years: 200,000 visitors thronged the show in its first two months.

The Berlin city government and the Federal Republic put up a whopping 10 million marks ($6.25 million) to field this exhibition. Even with such a generous subvention, a few dreams of the show’s designers came a-cropper.

Architect Christian Axt, who designed the show, told me they wanted to bring over Philadelphia’s huge Monument to Six Million Jews, but that would have cost them almost two-thirds of their total budget, an obvious impossibility. Still, Philly is well represented by Rodin’s bust of Joseph Pulitzer, one of numerous examples of how detailed and comprehensive the American section of the exhibition is.

* * *

For example, there’s Ben Shahn’s “The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti” (1932), a lovely 1899 high-angle photograph of Hester Street, the astonishingly rococo Torah Ark (1899) from Adas Yeshurun Synagogue (Sioux City, Iowa), and perhaps even a little too much of Boris Aronson’s theater designs.

There’s a time line from 1654, when twenty-three Portuguese Jews arrived in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, to the unprecedented Broadway success of Fiddler on the Roof in 1964. I suspect many American Jews were learning new things about their distinguished predecessors, even to the D. in Louis D. Brandeis’s name (it stands for Dembitz).

And the America section is but one of twenty-eight visual essays dealing with everything from the history of the Jewish people in antiquity, to the religious foundations of Judaism (especially illuminating to a non-Jew like me), the Sephardim (on the Middle Ages in Spain), Moses Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment, as well as a great commissioned painting by Larry Rivers on the history of the matzah.

The section on temple architecture was particularly fascinating. It began with the assertion that the Jewish religion centers on the book and, strictly speaking, doesn’t need a temple at all—only ten men to legitimize a religious service. Yet the protean ways that synagogues (from the Greek word for “gathering together”) picked up the accents of the local community in places as diverse as Prague, Ernakulam (India) and Kaifeng (China) is truly remarkable.

For English speakers who can’t make it to the exhibition, there is a well-printed guide, “Patterns of Jewish Life,” available permanently at the Martin, or from the publisher, Argon Books, Potsdamer Strasse 77-87, 1000 Berlin 30.

If you can read German, there are two great books of essays by specialists on the topics of the exhibition. It’s a great pity the show was too expensive and too complexly assembled to travel, for it’s the kind of manifestation on a substantial subject that you encounter perhaps two or three times in a lifetime.

It’s popular without being insultingly condescending. And it’s but a small part of a city-wide arts/science festival approaching the issue of world Jewish culture from every imaginable angle. If intellectual seriousness is the ultimate compliment to pay those lost in the Holocaust, then “Patterns of Jewish Life” is worthy of its high assignment.

Monday, 16 August 2010

The Time of the Roundup

“The Time of the Roundup,” in Paris City Hall, is another matter entirely, with its subtitle, “The Exodus of Jews in France during the War,” and its logo poster, an innocent-looking, vulnerable child wearing the despised yellow star. The exhibition itself is harrowing.

It’s not just the half-used canister of Zyklon B, nor the limp Auschwitz prisoner’s uniform hanging forlornly from the wall, nor even the “usual” photographs of emaciated near-cadavers after the Liberation.

No, the terrifying, immensely disgusting part is what Hannah Arendt termed the banality of evil in her analysis of Adolf Eichmann. Like the letter from the Poitiers police chief explaining to a Jew, probably cowering for dear life in the Bristol Hotel in Paris, that he is not Jewish enough to worry about his fate. He’s told he’s clean—so to speak, Aryan—in a pallid, bureaucratic prose that truly disgusts the reader.

Next to this letter of exculpation is a cluster of demented sociograms in which an Aryan “blood policeman” is showing, with the coldest logic, which family trees are tainted and which not. And there’s the odious telex of Klaus Barbie consigning forty-four children of Izieu to death.

Fifty years. Five hundred years. Anniversaries of bitter memories. And artful museology adequate to the challenge of communicating complex messages on subjects of the utmost seriousness. If the meaning weren’t so crucial as we witness a recrudescence of Nazism across Europe—heat lightning pre-figuring damaging storms—one could be distracted by the sheer panache of the presentations.

Meanwhile, down in Marseilles, where the proximity to North Africa has given the National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen its greatest victories, the city fathers have just opened a new museum of African, Oceanic, and Amerindian Arts in La Vielle Charite, founded as a refuge for “fallen women” in the eighteenth century.

Now it has become a therapeutic haven for reeducating fallible humans on the cusp of the twenty-first century. Europe is fighting back at its worst interior enemies—perhaps the only true way to honor those fallen in the Holocaust.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Duodecimally, Thinking

is a good number
think of the apostles
before Jesus
brought them bad luck
(thirteen adds up)
and the Romans
divided up the year
into twelve months
was it the moon?
minding their menses?
The only bad thing
this year
are 12,000 kilometres
from me
in Pari, Finland
Better luck
next year
when you're thirteen
(geepaha loves you.)

For Sonia Hazard, the Birthday Girl/Woman
7.18.98 10:17
Pari Jazz Festival

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Friday, 13 August 2010

Mike Doogan, Anchorage’s Dexter

(A curmudgeonly voice keeps the establishment in line.)
The first thing that gave me a media charge in Alaska was Mike Doogan’s thrice-weekly Metro column in the Anchorage Daily News. Doogan’s style crackles with wit and passion. The second thing I noticed was that he was a dead ringer for Pete Dexter.
So I teased him over the phone with that ice-breaker, only to find out the next day, schmoozing with his editor Howard Weaver, that the first thing Mike did when he got the assignment was to ring up Pete at the Sacramento Bee for some free advice. (The Anchorage paper and the Sacramento daily are McClatchy siblings.) Pete’s counsel was recognizably Dexterian: Be yourself (and don’t take any shit, the suppressed premise).
My first palaver with Mike was short because he was flying up to Fairbanks to help celebrate the golden anniversary of his parents’ wedding. Mike, 42, is one of six kids of a teamster father now retired. He spent six years at the other Anchorage daily, the Times. In May 1985 he moved over to the Daily News—where, in due course, he became city editor for a paper that Howard Weaver as turning into a powerhouse.
It started as an anti-statehood paper in 1948 and garnered national attention in the 1960s with Pulitzers for nailing hanky-panky in the Prudhoe Bay pipeline construction. In 1979, after signing up with McClatchy, it began as a slow second with 12,000 daily circulation and no Sunday edition. Now, Weaver beamed, it’s 60,000 to the Times’ 35,000 daily, and ahead by 77,000 to 45,000 on Sundays. It’s by giving bright writers like Doogan their heads that Weaver’s tenure has bloomed.
Anchorage was deep in doodoo over arts issues when I arrived, and I falsely inferred from Mike’s first three pieces that the arts were his beat. He is, rather, a Steve Lopez, with a basilisk eye cocked for political outrage yet eager to find hopeful signs, however infrequently they might appear.
It happened that the public TV station in Anchorage was premiering an hour-long docudrama on Alaska’s first professional artist, one Sydney Laurence, the week I showed up. At the gala champagne reception preview at the new $72 million Performing Arts Center, the head of the TV station prefaced the screening by saying how much sweat equity from how many people had gone into creating “Laurence of Alaska.” But the painful fact was that Laurence is a very minor painter. He reminded me of Teddy Roosevelt’s lament about the Spanish-American War: “It wasn’t much of a war, but it was the only war we had.”
In a city of only 250,000, one might expect that even an official curmudgeon might pull his punches. Not Mike Doogan. “Sydney Laurence,” he began, “covered acres of canvas with paint, turning the fresh subjects of Alaska’s landscape almost instantly into clichés.”
He’s not through. “The painter’s early work is more interesting than the later, hotel-motel art he produced, a dismal procession of cozy cabins, caches, a zillion or so McKinleys, and even—I kid you not—a sunset-behind-moose. There is an occasional interesting painting—even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while—but overall it’s clear Laurence had skill, but no genius.” (You should see the letters to the editor!)
A week later, Doogan was at it again. In celebration of the town’s 75th anniversary, the city fathers of Anchorage had commissioned some public art. And one of the lucky grantees was Gary Gantz, “a burly guy with a graying beard and a courtroom voice.”
“The creation,” Doogan observed, “is four 14-foot-long by five-foot-high panels of enamel-covered aluminum, painted to resemble railroad car windows. The background is a diorama of the natural features of the Anchorage area, from Portage Glacier to McKinley, with the boring parts chopped out. In the foreground are silhouettes of people doing various things…Imagine a really big gold pan with a bunch of ‘Pedestrian Xing’ crossing people capering around on it, and you’re close.”
Actually, I rather like the Hitchcockian touch of Gantz painting himself in—with moose ears.
Take his animadversions of the $1 million plus-a-year subsidy the Performing Arts Center is taking to balance its budget. “The arts types and big-money culture vultures who were able to muscle the PAC onto the city’s agenda are likely to keep it there…It would cost $600,000 to $700,000 just to mothball the place…Even as we put more children in classrooms and fewer firefighters downtown, leave our sidewalks unplowed and our streets unrepaired, we pay a wealthy subsidy so our wealthiest citizens can enjoy art in lavish surroundings. This tail is going to wag this dog for a long time.”
I wish I could say that the HyperNeoDeco edifice by Hardy, Holzman, Pfeiffer was at least a major contribution to American architecture. It ain’t. It’s got more dead spaces than a junkyard.
Reprinted from Welcomat, Hazard-at-Large

Thursday, 12 August 2010


Dear Karen Heller: That's a worthy account of a tortured architectural odyssey! Do you remember where Walt made his cryptic nighttime description. As a certfied Whitman nut, I can't recall any other architectural opinions of his.

I'm the guy who in driving his girlfriend Alice back from her birthday party in Cape May, 30 May 1973 shamefully conceded to this sociology major that I the English professor had never yet visited his 1891 mausoleum even though I moved to Philly in 1957 to take a Carnegie postdoctoral fellowship at Penn.

I made a U turn that morning on the Walt Whitman Bridge ramp to visit Harleigh Cemetery! (May 31 is his birthday!) And it was the centenary of the stroke he suffered in 1873 in D.C. that brought him to Camden where his Mother and brother George Washington Whitman lived.It was a messoleum, falling down.

Cynics remember that he used to distract the masons' concrete with the fuzzy abstractions of his late verse. By a remarkable American Providence, the English teachers were holding their annual convention in Philly over Thanksgiving. (Only time they could get enough hotels!) I asked the NCTE executive committee if I could parade with sandwich boards proclaiming A BUCK FOR THE BARD'S BONES one side SAVE WALT'S VAULT verso! Executive Committee huffed I could if I dropped the meretricious rhetoric!

Tightfisted English teachers put $834 in my pot, and Buckminster Fuller dropped $100 in the mail after asking why I was writing Emily Dickinson postcards on the dais at Beaver's commencement: to invite local poets to our 1974 Graveyard Party, nine (for the muses)bottles of Great Western champagne to make our "All Things Considered" live NPR broadcast hip enough.

Bill Frabizio, Sinatra's favorite Atlantic flugelhorn (and chairman of Beaver's music department) composed a Suite "Perhaps Luckier" (Whitman's take on Death). It was great fun while we were wasted. Forgive this out of control Nosestalgia--I'm writing my autobio in Weimar, "Dumb Irish Luck: A Memoir of Serendipities". Patrick D. Hazard

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Risking Disappointment at L’Isle-Adam/part 2

Throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, there are many "dead dioceses, places that ecclesiastic history has passed by. There are two uses for those titles in limbo--one is to reward Vatican officials who don't have a working diocese. The other is to punish bishops who misbehave--e.g., Pope John Paul II recently kicked out the bishop of Evreux for his excessively modernists views by taking away his seat and assigning him to a dead one in Africa. The Vatican's sense of humor is often bizarre."

Later, as I was taking a closer look at the church's appointments, now that there was no Mass being performed to slow down this curious tourist, he came by to present me with a complementary copy of the life of Martin of Tours by his protege Sulpice Severe. I had remembered my fourth grade teacher, Sister Marie Bernadette, telling us the story of how St. Martin slit his winter cloak in half to cover a shivering homeless man on the outskirts of Tours, where he was bishop.

The story imprinted compassion on my youthful conscience so I might be said to be an unwitting Martin man from age ten! What I didn't know was that he came from Hungary and became the Apostle to all the Gauls. How all? Here are some St. Martin trivia for your next Jeopardy visit: there are 3674 other churches in France named after the patron saint of the Gauls, and 425 cities. France is veritably Martinized.

Next I popped in City Hall across the street looking for an Office de Tourisme. I learned that it was down Main Street next to the museum of local history. A tall stunning woman came waltzing in, whistling. I asked her what the French word for whistling was. "Siffler, monsieur," she replied, winking. "Pourquoi vous demandez?" Because, I replied, we wouldn't allow City Hall officials to whistle while they worked in America.

She laughed deliciously at my lame joke, and began to shower me with guides, reports, bulletins, etc. This townlet of 16,000 has as its mayor the former information minister in Valery d'Estang's administration and he was putting his awesome energies into making L'Isle-Adam into a world class tourist destination. She was his aide, Madame Villaiard.

At the Tourist Office I learned that I had just missed a major exhibition on the past two centuries of L'Isle-Adam. "Don't worry," the attendant consoled me. "At the Maison de la Presse you'll find the catalogs and other memorabilia." She wasn't kidding. No fewer than four photo books. Art historians are just beginning to sort out the connections between impressionism, the rise of the railroad and democratized leisure. And the great city planner Baron Hausmann, who blessed Paris with its grand boulevards, also less famously created its modern sewer system--emptying inevitably into the lower Seine.

The more sewage poured in, the farther toward the mouth of the Seine the railroad daytrippers went. There are gorgeous Art Deco posters touting Isle's beach in the 1930's. Daubigny created the first floating atelier on the Oise, and Monet cribbed the idea and floated his on the Seine in Argenteuil. Later he moved still further out to Giverny--to escape the weekend crowds.

Which brings me to y second Philly surprise on my second visit. I stopped a sixtyish Colette-looking lady in the street for a free French lesson. She was in no great hurry on her way to market and babbled on and on marvelously about nothing and everything in Isle. I asked her to recommend the best restaurant in town. She said if it were open for lunch it would be the Hotel Cabouillet. But otherwise I should try "Le Gai Rivage," the happy riverbank! It's kitty korner from the Cabouillet, across the Oise. I popped in out of the cold to find a young man with a Georgetown sweatshirt sweeping the floor.

I asked him if it was too early to have a Calvados to kill the chill. He sought out the wife of the patron who kindly let me in out of the cold to quaff. When I told her I was from Philadelphia, she perked up immediately. "My husband used to work there," she said happily. And before you could say "Haute cuisine," there was the chef waving a yellowed old Bulletin story (October 29, 1978, p. D 10) on his training episode as chef at the Hotel Barclay. 43 year old Pierre Menier had been tapped by Ester Press to display his talents as pastry maker "Pastry chef has genius in fingertips," Photo by Jon Falk.

Let's just say he hasn't lost any of his skill. Partridge was specialty of the day, and after he insisted I visit his kitchen (where he showed me the bird with its head feathers still on) I nearly did a Bambi-lover by choosing something else. Luckily my gross appetite prevailed over such sentimentality (it's chubbier and chunkier than a Cornish hen, but the sauce, Pierre's secret formula, ah those French sauces always make the difference.)

And half a bottle of Cotes-de-Bourge added to my pleasure. Madame Menier explained how edgy those Michelin inspections can be and proudly claimed they had already been rated three forks, which is the honor which precedes Michelin stars. Definitely save a meal for Le Gai Rivge but avoid Sunday nights and all day Monday when they're closed. (Tel 01-34-69-01-09.) A great experience for 293 francs. With the franc going for over 6 to the $, that's value.

Alas, the Black Banana is no more. Sold. But the new owner has a place in his heart for jazz lovers--Saturday nights, and piano jazz Sunday brunch. (Be warned: Friday nights are for Karioke!) it's now name Aris Club after the new owner's father. Bernard Maury inaugurated his tenure withe Dee Dee Bridgwater, so the man knows how to book. To see what they're up to when you visit, call Tel 01-34-69-56-15. 3-5 Rue du Patis 95290 L'Isle-Adam.

This year the town held its eighth annual Week of Taste, and now there's a free pamphlet of 21 tasty recipes proposed by the restaurants of the Val d'Oise, for those handy with the skillet. And for 10 francs for a handy guide to hikes around town, Promenades Adamoises. There are other art places on the same Gare St.-Lazare train line. Furthest is Vernon, a short bus ride from Monet's Giverny.

All I ever encountered in Giverny were the crowds Money vainly sought to avoid. And Monet for Money souvenirs. Daniel Terra's new museum nearby actually has art exhibitions. The best idea the Monet complex has come up with is residencies for American artists paid for from the Lila Dewitt Wallace Foundation.

I've had some great chats with some of them at the Monet restaurant. But the dirty little secret of this tourist trap is that the artists in residence leave homages to Monet at the Vernon Musee des Beaux Arts, so sparsely attended I wanted to cry at the absurdity of it. Giverny overcrowded with no art, Vernon empty with plenty of it.

Using the marvelous French tradition of emptying the Louvre attics into regional and local museums, Vernon has the best collection of 19th century animal sculpture I've ever seen outside of the Musee D'Orsay. Hotels are easy to come by in Vernon. So start out there, pause on your way back to Paris at Isle and Auvers sur Oise (for the Maison de Van Gogh) and end up one or several days later exhausted but happy at the Gare St. Lazaire where there are plenty of hotels in every price range.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Risking Disappointment at L’Isle-Adam/part 1

L’Isle d’Adam. Val d’Oise. Unexpected pleasures are what most satisfy the well-traveled tourist, and the risk of a return visit becoming a big letdown is the dark side of such serendipities. One of my most memorable lucky breaks happened three years ago when I was checking out the newest Van Gogh attraction, the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers sur Oise, where the Dutch painter had spent his last few tortured, but gloriously productive, months in 1890.

Later I will replay the marvels of that visit, but first the unanticipated joys. As my friend and I got out of her car in front of the Auberge, we noticed colorful banners flapping in the fresh breeze: JAZZ FESTIVAL aboard the Dauphine. “Heh,” my mind clicked, “that’s tonight!” Inside, smacking our lips over an exquisite, if pricey, lunch, we learned from the chef two things; hotel rooms were very scarce thereabouts and that the jazz concert was indeed aboard a vessel docked on the river Oise, half way between Auvers and L’Isle-Adam, a small village started over a millennium ago on a bend in the river.

He started all these forthcoming astonishments by booking me into its only hotel, the Cabouillet (the name of a crawfish long since disappeared). My oh my! My room opened right onto the Oise, a heavenly view heightened by the not very ordinary red wine I had downed a little too much of at lunch. I succumbed to a nap while my friend drove back to Paris with her moppet daughter, the hours of the jazz festival not being compatible to her napping schedule.

I awoke eager for festivities. I had the front desk book me a cab to the Dauphine, and the only fly in this lovely ointment appeared in the form of the taxi driver who nicked me 200 francs ($40) for a $10 trip. Me, who never fails to warn new travelers to get the price before they set foot in the cab. Such are the discombobulations of anticipating a jazz feast.

My miff soon lifted like a mist on the Oise as I settled in on the Bateau Dauphine. Local businessmen and jazz buffs had created a regular jazz tradition on the boat to satisfy their hunger for that music without having to drive 20 miles into Paris and scrabble around for a parking space in the night club districts. It was glorious—their professional amateurism was almost as satisfying as the performances themselves. Two hours of The Christian Darre Quartet, Chris on piano, Jean-Louis Alba on bass, Ramon Lopez on drums, and Francois Continaud sax.

Francois got the evening’s spirit perfectly when he signed my souvenir poster: “By Hasard / a neat pun, pointing out our accidental meeting, courtesy of Van Gogh / For music of Universe and for human being.” All for 60 francs and a cash bar. Their jazz was a mite cerebral, too much conservatory, too little night club. But, as they say, it was a lovely way to spend an evening—on the gently rocking Oise.

Professional cheap skate that I am, I refused to be victimized twice by the Terrible Taximan of the Oise. So I cadged a ride back to my hotel with an insurance agent and his family, including their twelve year-old daughter who had already plugged into her fantasy of becoming a jazz pianist. I yawned a happy “Merci!” as I climbed out of the back of their Peugeot and began to traipse over to the hotel entrance.

But as their engine noise began to disappear on the late evening air, my ear picked up another frequency, namely, Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five!,” emanating cross the street from what looked like a run of the mill restaurant with the engaging name of ‘Black Banana.” Holey Moley, not more jazz. I followed my ears and before you could say “Encore” I was plopped down in the table of honor next to the Saturday night trio, which made up in grittiness what the Bateau Dauphine gang lacked. I hadn’t had such an excess of access since my interviewing Dizzy Gillespie at his table at the Great American Music Hall for KALW / San Francisco.

Alas, I had imbibed just enough red aboard the boat to have the wit to record the names of these performers whose anonymous gig ran to three o’clock in the morning. (Local law says shut down at midnight, but the proprietor, a successful importer bored with his day job, ordered the curtains pulled for a late late night soiree.) The tenor player was especially good, not to be distracted by his Lester Young pork pie hat, and the Prez would surely have admired his admirer.

So how does a perfectly memorable day end? Zzzzzzing in my Oise-overlooking chamber, eh? So I sauntered across the street, ambled up to the entrance—and found the hotel locked tighter than a snare drum, with nary a light in sight! Gulp. I scampered back across the street to the Black Banana just as the sleepy patron was locking up his place. Yow. What to do? The boss yawned sweetly, and started flicking the lights back on. He telephoned the hotel, and the phone rang and rang and rang. I was about to ask my benefactor if he had a room to rent, or would he let me sleep it off in his linen closet.

Just then, a groggy and none too happy concierge answered the hotel phone. Le patron tried to mollify the rudely awakened keeper of the keys. Finally, he hung up with a smirk. “I calmed him down. Dormez bien.” And did I ever sleep well. To awaken about ten, hanging out my magical window watching the ethereal December mist grace the Oise. They even served me a late (and my favorite French) breakfast—petit pain au beurre, and raspberry jam to kill for.

I spent two hours ambling around the mainly shuttered town: the “Roman Catholic” French may not all go to Sunday Mass these days, but don’t try to interrupt their day off. It’s a very sacred secular ritual. Everything closed. I vowed to come back as soon as circumstances allowed, when everything would be open. So I sought out the train station, one it shares with Parmain literally on the other side of the tracks and Oise—which by the way has the finest Art Deco post office I’ve yet seen in France. It also has a twelfth century church.

Being a certified roamer after Romanesque, I set out to follow the signs for a mile or so. Lovely. Trying my still kindergarten French out on the locals. It’s plumb easy to ask directions. The trick is in understanding their answers! Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it did get me a lot of friendly French smiles at my Philly French accent. By the way, the Hotel de Gare is an easy 100 franc answer to the area’s lack of hotels. The Isle-Adamers are too snooty to think of Parmain as a place to stay.

And while I waited for a train to Gare St. Lazare, I subscribed to the so-called Passe Vermeil (Say, ver-MAY-yuh). For 295 francs, travelers over 62 can ride 50% off during “blue periods” (basically, everything but Friday afternoons, Sunday evenings, Monday mornings). 30% off during those “white periods” and 25% off on international rail routes in the Eurail system. On my last two week trip to France last month, I more than made back that cost, and I’ve still got eleven more months to go.

Another surprise: when a TGV is an hour late, you get a 25% rebate! (Heh, AMTRAK, note.) Over an hour, and you get a 50% rebate. Our high speed train to Avignon was stopped when another TGV engine caught on fire. A rare event, the stationmaster at Avignon insisted, handing me a franked envelope for his train’s tardiness. Incidentally, I had read on the train the feature story on the French railroad’s financial crisis in that week’s issue of “The European.” They have put all their money on the TGV system, and the local trains have gone to pot.

They weren’t kidding. To get from Toulouse Lautrec’s Albi to Limoges, I had to make two loose transfers on milk trains. Even that has possibilities. If I had not been forced to find a place to eat in Freijac, one of the connections, I never would have stumbled open the Café des Voyageurs, where the patron / chef schmoozed non-stop while he whipped me up a tasty ham omelette. You not only see a lot of unique scenery on the milk trains, you also get an unparalleled opportunity to interact with locals—students on their way to school (more and more of them are articulate in English), workers off to their jobs, elderlies goofing off like me.

So back in Paris, checking into the Hotel Normandie right across the Gare St. Lazare, I noodled about risking disappointment by going to L’Isle-Adam once again. I went into the station to buy the daily Herald Trib (that’s one thing the small train stations don’t stock), and to check out the train schedules. There was one to Pontoise at 5:45 and another at 6:15 a.m. I left a wake up call for 5:30, and watched French TV for kicques.

I was already dressed when the front desk called so I took the 5:45. Maybe I’m thick, but as I was having a croissant and café noir at the station in Pontoise, the origin of the town’s name came like a flash—bridge over the Oise! Heh, etymology is geriatric sex. (You’ll see, someday.) So I was in L’Isle by seven a.m. noting on my way to the Hotel Cabouillet a statue which honored the memory of a local count who had held off the Germans here on the islet during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870.

Alas, there was no overnight room for me at Le Cabouillet this time. I reminded Mme Guillerm of my last visit. (She seemed to flinch at the recollection.) I asked her what was the number (5) and cost of my magical chamber (320 francs, breakfast 40 more) I noted on their card that while the hotel was a two star, their restaurant was four star. I confirm that.

No room this trip, but I had a tastier, longer second breakfast reading LeFigaro and palavering with the businessman who I heard speaking English. It turned out one was Italian, one French, so our English was, so to speak, their lingua franca.

About the only thing really open at that hour was the church, St. Martin’s. So I snuck in with the guiltiness of the lapsed Catholic. No matter, it was a High Mass—and in Latin. And the priest could really do his Gregorian chant. The old altar boy in me bloomed, and I hummed those old familiar tunes (quietly, so as not to scandalize, as I hoovered the plaques and other historical mementos).

The Adam alluded to in the town’s name was not Eve’s buddy, but a nobleman who gifted a monastery nearby in the eleventh century. But the current structure dated only from 1567. And there was a problem for this Philadelphian: it said that the archbishop of Philadelphia joined the Cardinal from Paris in the dedication ceremonies of the current St. Martin’s.

Huh? Willy Penn didn’t get his Quaker thing going until 1682. And those Irish and German Catholics didn’t show up before the nineteenth century in sufficient numbers for the Vatican to cardinalize them. What gives? I decided to brave the covey of middle aged French ladies buzzing about the priest. “Parlez-vous anglais, pere?” I intoned over the bobbling heads of the sacristans. “Sure do,” Father Roland Pascal replied a trice too jauntily, explaining that he had spent several years in London while a seminarian. I explained my puzzle at their Philadelphia story. “Oh, that’s easy."

To be continued.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Woodcuts Found At The Edge Of The World

On my first visit to Alaska, residents were about to pick up their annual Oil Check, on outright grant ($800-$1,000, depending on how much oil has been pumped out of the Prudhoe Bay fields the preceding year). So I started playing an opening gambit conversation with these Alaskan dreamers: What are you planning to do with your next stash? And what did you do with your other stashes?

One of the most interesting dreamers was the septuagenarian Juneau wood block artist, Dale DeArmond. I was so beguiled by her latest, The First Man—a feminist creation myth based on an Eskimo legend—that I sought her out in her barn-red clapboard house high on a hill overlooking both the harbor and he Juneau-Douglas Museum (which used to be the public library she headed for many years).

She was eager to show me where her first grant went—a hand press in her basement where she was at work pulling woodcuts to illustrate a bit of humorous local doggerel for her and her husband’s 1989 Christmas card. The First Man is the 12th title she’s cranked out of their computer bibliography. One of them reveals her puckish spirit: “Dedicated to my husband, whose brains and published work I picked for facts in this little book. The errors and woodcuts are my own.

First Man recounts a tale she found in Dr. John Driggs’ Some Sketches from Northernmost America (1902), in which an Arctic Eve bemoans her isolated fate as she envies the goose which had its gander, the fox its vixen, and so on down a bestiary of pairs.

Whenever she asks a pair how they did it, they reply that she doesn’t know how good she’s got it, free from the family hassles that afflict their pairedness. But Eve wasn’t to be talked out of a mate. One night she idly started molding a wad of spruce gum into a fantasy figure mate. She slept for the last time the sleep of the innocent.

“When she woke in the morning, there, in place of the spruce gum figure, was First Man. Young Woman cried out in joy and First Man looked at her and said, ‘I’m hungry. Pick me some berries.’ Just then Raven came along, and seeing what had happened, said to Young Woman, ‘Ah, I see you got what you wanted. Now get to work!’ And she did. And sometimes she was glad and sometimes she was sorry.”

DeArmond’s edition of 800 copies was produced in Sitka at Old Harbor Press (P.O. Box 97, Sitka 99835, $39) by her old friend and printer Margaret Calvin. In the colophon we learn that the 14 illustrations “were printed directly from the original end grain maple blocks…The hand-made cover paper is Ingres Antique. The books are hand-sewn in the Japanese style and all materials used in the book are of archival quality and guaranteed to last 200 years.”

The Eskimo tales have lasted much longer than that, but for a disposal society, that ain’t bad. (I was also amused that this refined, genteel librarian had the goodish gall to translate back into plain English passages that the good doctor Driggs had seen fit to haze into Latin, back in Smithsonian Institution 1902. My kind of librarian.)

Incidentally, her current project is to illustrate what octogenarian Bryn Mawr College emerita professor of archaeology Fredericka de Laguna dug up over a half century ago in Yukon River Athabascan Stories. Imminent from Sierra Club / Little Brown are her illustrations for The Boy Who Found the Light.

And the Barbarian Press in Mission, British Columbia, has asked her to be included in their survey of the best end-grain wood-cut carvers in the 20th Century. (Crispin and Jan Elsted thought their sweep would only garner 40 worthy of immortalizing: they found 141, so that meritocratic anthology won’t appear until 1992.)

Reprinted from Welcomat, Hazard-at-Large, December 26, 1990

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Rap Rapped

Hmmm. A New Republic cover story, "The Real Face of Rap" (Nov. 11), makes the plausible case that rap is not a ghetto phenomenon at all, but the well-engineered product of middle-class blacks and their equally non-underclass intrepid white collaborateurs. Long Island and Cambridge, Mass., are more the provenance of this palpating din than Harlem and Bed/Sty.

David Samuels, a Mellon Fellow at Princeton, further explains that "the ways in which rap has been consumed and popularized speak not of cross-cultural understanding, musical or otherwise, but of a voyeurism and tolerance of racism in which black and white are both complicit." No less a witness than Harvard's W.E.B. DuBois Professor of African-American Studies, Henry Louis Gates Jr., argues that both the rappers and their white fans "affect and commodify their own visions of street culture."

"It's like buying Navajo blankets at a reservation roadstop. A lot of what you see in rap is the guilt of the black middle class about its economic success, its inability to put forth a culture of its own. Instead they do the worst possible thing, falling back on fantasies of street life. In turn, white college students with impeccable gender credentials buy nasty sex lyrics under the cover of getting at some kinds of authentic black experience."

Wheeee. Does that mean it's P.C. to despise the shit now?

Reprinted from Welcomat-After Dark, Hazard at Large, November 13, 1991

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Friday, 6 August 2010

1492: Year of Reconciliation and Reparation

Jim Northrup harvests weegwas/birchbark for a winnowing basket.

Granada: Two remarkable things happened in Spain last week. First, a stunningly beautiful art exhibition “Islamic Treasures” opened at the Alhambra, an astonishing ingathering from all over the world of the greatest works of art Islam produced in Spain during their seven centuries of occupation. The captions indicating current holdings are a global litany: Cleveland, London, Marrakesh, Moscow, the Vatican, and so on and on. The ecumenical nature of the medieval interactions between Christian, Moor and Jew was in itself a revelation to me.

Did you know, for example, that the legendary stepped arch of the Cordoba synagogue was picked up from the invading Visigoth Roderick the Great? In those less ideologized times, the diverse religious communions actually learned from each other and were, aesthetically, unabashedly eclectic. When “Islamic Treasures” opens at New York’s Metropolitan in June you’ll be denying yourself a transcendent experience if you don’t go. Of course, the Met is not in the same league as the Alhambra as a venue for this act of cultural reparation and reconciliation. But then not everybody uses Eurail passes as obsessively as I do.

The second truly remarkable thing that happened in Spain last week was King Juan Carlos donning a yarmulke and entering Madrid’s chief synagogue and apologizing to Spain’s leading rabbi for the transgression of 1492 when Ferdinand and Isabella, motivated by the implacable religious bigotry of Tomas Torquemada expelled all the Jews who would not convert to Christianity.

The generosity of this symbolic action by the King shows you just how far Spain has come since Franco died in 1975. For it is an illuminating experience for the visiting American for whom 1492 means Columbus sailing the ocean blue to discover that for Spaniards that year began with the defeat of the Moors at Granada and ended with the expulsion of the Sephardic Jews in the biggest single diaspora before the forced migrations (too often into eternity rather than merely another country) of our disastrous twentieth century.

How exemplary are the actions of Spain for those in the United States embroiled in trivial issues like the renaming of the Washington Redskins or the banning of the Atlanta Braves chop chop. As October 12th approaches, will George Bush have it in his “vision thing” to act as nobly as Juan Carlos has to expiate the errors and injustices of the past? I just received a mailing for the newly established United American Indian College Fund—ironically the same day I got the annual mailing for the United Negro College Fund. AICF’s theme is it took 500 years to come up with this good idea.

I sent them a check, prepared to be generous in way by my son Michael’s (Central High 1968) fourth film for Minnesota public television—on the Lake Superior Chippewa poet, story teller, and birch bark basket maker Jim Northrup. The forty-four-year old Vietnam vet and autodidact is just the kind of reconciling voice our QuinCentenn needs: he doesn’t programmatically hate the white man, though God knows he and his ancestors have had plenty of cause to do so; he actually feels sorry for them, trapped as they seem to be in an unsustainable ideology of unbridled consumption. But listen to him sing. (“Weegwas” is Chippewa for birch bark.)

Time to gather bark
another gift from the Creator
just doing what grandpa did
like his grandpa before him
went with a cousin I’ve known
since we ate oatmeal
from the same bowl
mosquitoes and deer flies
welcomed us to their feast
a sparrow hawk flew by
supper in his feet
watched a deer feeding
in the lake shallows
each tree leads to others
farther from the road
found one that’s been
waiting sixty years
to become a basket
a cut allows the bark
to crack crack open
hands slipped inside
feel the smooth wet
the bark jumps from the tree
eager to help us
make a basket or two
finally we have enough bark
it was time to go home
we were getting hungry

That’s the perennial life style of the Chippewa. Here’s its disruption:


She’s 50 alone and drunk
She has pride in her language
but no one to talk to
Some don’t understand
some can’t some won’t
She’s buried two husbands
warriors in the white man’s wars
Her children are raised and gone
a five year battle with cancer
a longer battle with the bottle
she’s broke and 50 miles from her empty bed
Alcohol failed her, she’s too
drunk to talk, but not drunk
enough to pass out
Her eyes show a lifetime of sad
She cried out for beer, smokes
attention or affection
She only got the attention
When she was caught stealing
food from the house she was visiting
she was asked to leave
she left, 50 alone and drunk

When Michael’s documentary airs in Minneapolis on October 12, 1992, a few people in the Twin Cities will be better able to empathize with the tragic side of our national history and be in a fuller, more generous Juan Carlos manner.

But it’s surely perilous to become too Pollyanna about the future. For example, died in the wool American Litter that I am, I just had to go into the Washington Irving hotel across from the Alhambra to look around. I got more than brochures. Checking into the hotel that very moment was a journalist lawyer from Casablanca. When I told him how elated I had been to celebrate my 50th birthday on baked dove and a local red wine in a small restaurant in Casablanca, he shifted happily into his schmooze mode.

When I told him about my greatest Moroccan adventure—an overnight bus ride across the High Atlas Mountains to Tafroute for their almond festival, his happy face clouded over. It seems that the 60 year old lawyer had just gotten out of jail in Tafroute where he had been incarcerated for a year for writing something in “L’Opinion” (the Welcomat of Casablanca) that offended King Hussein II. He and his wife were having a second honeymoon at the Washington Irving to start their lives over.

I also had a serendipitous encounter the next day on the overnight Madrid/Paris express. In the next sleeping compartment was sixty-five-year-old Dr. Otto Hettinger, for thirty years the Middle East correspondent for Neue Zuricher Zeitung, Switzerland’s leading liberal daily. He was on his way to Zurich to file his review of the “Islamic Treasures” exhibition. His curriculum vitae was germane to the acts of reparation and reconciliation we had both just witnessed.

He had taken a Ph.D. in Spanish philology at Basel, with a dissertation on the medieval translation boom of the Arabic classics—like the Arabic Aristotelian Avicenna. He was as euphoric as I at both the intrinsic glory of the objects in the art exhibition we had just seen as well as the cultural implications of the temporary ingathering of these art works that had suffered for centuries their own little diaspora. He had been based in Cyprus for three decades for the Swiss paper.

But now semi-retired, he had acceded to the wishes of his American wife (they met in Chicago when he was on a fellowship at the University) to settle down in their waning years in Madrid, removed from the constant tension in Nicosia. Here was the future of Europe in a nutshell: Mohammed jailed for his opinions, or Otto turning to the New Spain after an exemplary life as a war correspondent in an era that finds peace so hard to find.

Will Europe, and the world (because I believe the emerging EEC is the last best hope of mankind for a future global culture of enriching differences), go Otto’s way or Mohammed’s? Cynics will say Hussein’s narrowness will prevail. I believe, on the contrary, the future belongs to the Juan Carlos’s of this world. If Franco’s Spain can become in seventeen short years the triple play of Madrid the Cultural Capitol of Europe for 1992, Barcelona of the Summer Olympics, and Seville of Expo 92, then the whole world is, at least in theory, redeemable.