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Posts Tagged ‘beauty’

Karnak, Thebes, and the Hedjet

File:Karnakfrieze1.jpg

As May draws to a close, RT offers this photograph of a magnificent frieze at Karnak, the temple district of the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes. Karnak is the largest ancient religious site in the world, and RT is beginning to suspect that Thebes played a primary role in the evolution of ancient Mediterranean religion.

In part, RT’s interest in Thebes is based on its frequent appearance in Greek myth, in part on the fact that the ancient crown of Upper Egypt, the Hedjet, looks remarkably like the crown worn by Baal, the chief god of ancient Phoenicia. Though Thebes was not the capital of pre-dynastic Upper Egypt, it was the administrative center of Upper Egypt under the Pharaohs (and is located not far from Nekhen, which was the capital of p-d Upper Egypt.) How did the epochal unification of Egypt (c. 3000 BC) under Narmer (or Menes), king of UE, affect developing religious beliefs?

Unfortunately, RT can say little at the moment about the significance of the scene recorded in the frieze, other than that it is located in the precinct of Amun-Re. A date and translation of the inscription would help greatly; there’s more research ahead for RT.

Photograph: Panorama of a frieze at Karnak. Author/Source: Bialonde. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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Scala Choir Singing U2–Wow!

I simply have to share this; heartbreaking, beautiful!

enjoy!!  RT

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1927-2014

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It is with sadness that RT notes the death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombian novelist and recipient of the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature.

In his early twenties, RT ordered a Quality Paperback Club set of four Latin American novels, which included One Hundred Years of Solitude. Now, RT won’t claim that reading 100 Years was a breakthrough experience for him, but this epic novel did set certain memories in motion, memories of amazing landscapes spied in Costa Rica and Trinidad. The survival of many native peoples in Latin America, moreover, gives the cultures of Latin nations a richness and beauty that can scarcely go unnoticed. GGM’s novels convey a good deal of the magic and vitality to be found in Central and South America. RT was affected to the point of finishing 100 Years and the other novels in the QPB set and reading several novels by the Brazilian Jorge Amado. Now the memory of reading them reminds him of his unfulfilled desire to return at least briefly to the places of his birth and childhood, a poet in a land of great writers.

Thank you, Gabriel Garcia Marquez!  RT

Photograph: Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1984); author: F3rn4nd0, edited by Mangostar. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported.

The Monarch Butterfly’s Spring Migration

April 9, 2014 6 comments

File:Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus on Echinacea purpurea 2800px.jpg

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The time is approaching for eastern Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) to return to the U.S. east coast from their wintering grounds in Mexico: a more beautiful visitor is hard to imagine. Though the population of the Monarch has declined significantly in recent years, a decline linked to several changes in the butterfly’s environment, the MB is not yet listed as endangered. Fortunately, several organizations are at work trying to protect the butterflies; RT offers links to a couple of them, Monarch Watch and Monarch Butterfly Fund. As is so often the case, the status of the most vulnerable members of a community is a good indicator of the community’s overall health.   RT

Photograph: A Monarch Butterfly on a Purple Coneflower (2007). Author: Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man). WikiCmns; License: GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 only. This image was selected as picture of the day on English Wikipedia, August 27, 2008.

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Moonlight and Vines–A Book Review

 


 


 

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Carl_Gustav_Carus_-_Das_Kolosseum_in_einer_Mondnacht

A local friend turned RT onto Charles De Lint several years ago; he read De Lint’s short story collection Dreams Underfoot, and after finishing that book, bought a second-hand copy of another De Lint collection, Moonlight and Vines. He has been making his way through M&V at a leisurely pace.

RT, on a tight schedule with his domestic and literary obligations, doesn’t keep too many fiction works on his nightstand. Why has he made an exception for the writing of De Lint, whose work falls into the “urban fantasy” genre?

Part of the answer lies in the world that De Lint has created: the imaginary city of Newford, which lies, presumably, in the Great Lakes/southern Canada region. Newford, as far as RT has been able to ascertain, is not a mapped-out region, along the lines of Middle Earth, for instance. It is a modern city that offers layers of mythological history and a rather long list of mythological and fantastical creatures. On its human surface, it sounds rather like any other metropolis of the 199o’s, with businesses, nightlife, newspapers, bookstores, mental institutions, universities, and the like. If the population tend to be on the young side and have a bohemian feel, blame the 90’s. If various fictive creatures show up at least once in a story, well, they at least serve the story’s purposes (and are interesting as characters). After all, what is really important in De Lint’s world is the way that all Newford’s inhabitants help each other. If you want a less-than-50-word description of Newford’s atmosphere, imagine the opposite of an H.P. Lovecraft story, where everything, the people and their surroundings, is not just going to hell, but went there centuries ago without anyone realizing it. (And RT is not saying that HPL is anything less than a great fantasy writer.)

RT could take out his technical toolbox and give a scene-by-scene account of De Lint’s writing chops, which are plain impressive. But he will only note that CDL’s nuts and bolts are solid, thoughtfully crafted, and remain scrupulously behind the scenes, where technical underpinnings belong.

These stories are accessible, comfortable, and, on a regular basis, brilliant. In particular, RT will single out “The Big Sky,” which takes the reader over the great divide and into the land of the dead. The afterlife in this story is as dusty as it is often reputed to be, but there is hope arising from, of all sources, Buddhist teaching. RT will also point out that the story’s setting is an excellent description of the horrors of Major Melancholy, a demon by no means to be dismissed in our own waking world. And if you want sheer talent, in “Passing” CDL takes us into the world of Gracie Street’s girlbars to experience the difficulties and satisfactions of love seen in the Goddess’s mirror (and through the story of Excalibur).

In a literary culture that often focuses on the horrors of history (and the last century’s in particular), CDL gives his readers healing: happy endings, but maybe not of the old-fashioned sort. There are benign spirits at work here, God, gods, mermaids, nameless sweet fates, and the subtler therapies of music and poetry. It’s not that Newford never heard of the Atom Bomb, not that there is no pain or darkness, but rather that the city’s denizens are resolutely and convincingly working to put the Bomb and other, vaguer, terrors back in the Nameless Box they came from. De Lint has sifted the debris of contemporary despair to find a tender, surprising, and romantic world.    RT

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Painting: View of the Colesseum by Night (c. 1830). Carl Gustav Carus. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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Anselm Feuerback–3 AM Madness Post

File:Anselm Feuerbach - Self-Portrait - Google Art Project.jpg

Surely one of the finest portraits painted during the 19th century! Anselm Feuerbach, superb colorist and classically inspired painter, deserves to be remembered among the greats.   RT

Painting: Self-Portrait, Anselm Feuerbach (1873). Alt Nationalgalerie, WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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Reflections from the Martian South Pole

March 13, 2014 2 comments

File:Carbon Dioxide Ice in the Late Summer Mars South Pole.jpg

RT has been busy cleaning up the duplex he shares with his mom, translating a difficult but very beautiful Chinese poem, doing laundry, and listening to the fierce wind outside (temps are dropping precipitously–it’s not quite spring yet).

In the middle of all this, he ran across the above photo, sent back from Martian orbit by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on 29 July 2011.

RT notes with distress the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. The process of global harmonization that has been moving forward by fits and starts (RT also notes the International Criminal Court’s recent conviction of Germain Katanga on five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity) since the creation of the United Nations, is surely filled with moments of dismay.

Why are we still in the game? The universe is only beginning to reveal its wonders (and unexpected happy endings) to us…   RT

PhotographCarbon dioxide ice in the late summer of Mars’s South Pole, part of the permanent polar cap. MRO/HiRISE (7-29-11). NASA/JPL/University of Arizona. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

Mrs. Fiske & Earlier Broadway

February 28, 2014 Leave a comment

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All the research that RT is doing on his acting granddad may have to do with more than family genealogy. Broadway before the Depression was an amazing place. Take, for instance, this picture of Minnie Maddern Fiske, famous actress and wife of one of the more important men on Broadway at the turn of the century, Harrison Grey Fiske. And what about the photographer? He was Fred Holland Day, a significant, if not very well known, photographer on Broadway. The connections go on and on…what a world!   RT

File:Fred Holland Day 1911.jpg

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Photos:

topActress Minnie Maddern Fiske (between 1895 and 1912). LOC. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

bottom: Fred Holland Day (1911).  From the Louise Imogen Guiney Collection (Library of Congress). WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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Rendezvous with Rama–A Book Review

February 25, 2014 1 comment

File:Rama in forest.jpg

RT remembers his first encounter with Rendezvous with Rama; he was 13, living in Costa Rica and attending boarding school in Arizona. He had become a devotee of Arthur C. Clarke, the famous science fiction writer, through reading Clarke’s stories published in Analog (if RT’s memory serves him correctly). But Rama was something else again. RT was swept away by the power of Clarke’s vision of an enormous (50-km-long), cylindrical alien space ship, dubbed Rama by us awe-struck humans, racing through the solar system. An intrepid band of human explorers gains entry to Rama, and the story concerns what happens thereafter.

But RT’s life was racing along, too, and he soon moved on to more adolescent preoccupations.

Recently, however, the book has been haunting RT, and so this week he bit the bullet, checked out a copy at his local library, and reread it in a couple of days.

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Early Sci-Fi takes a lot of flak from literary critics: its authors were scientists first and foremost, and their authorial skills, whether concerned with fiction technique or the realities of social relationships, are therefore supposed to be stunted. In proof, the usual suspects are marched out: elementary plotting and scene construction, limited and repetitive diction, cardboard characters, women who are men with breasts, and the like. RT cannot speak for Sci-Fi in the period from 1930 to say 1960, but by the time he started reading the genre in the early 1970s, things, at least among the most famous Sci-Fi authors, had begun to change; and the encounters he has had with more recent Sci-Fi suggest that the field has reached literary maturity and, indeed, an impressive sophistication.

That isn’t to say that Rendezvous with Rama doesn’t show some signs of the literary neighborhood that produced it: in particular, Clarke’s diction is repetitive at times and the plotting is very straightforward. But none of that affects the novel’s strengths: its sense of wonder and a certain atmosphere that RT will discuss in a moment. More troubling to RT are the Simps (that is, super-chimpanzees) that serve on the Endeavor, the human ship that has gotten the story’s characters to the eponymous rendezvous. The simps provide all domestic services on board. Equipped with an IQ of 60, they are pictured as ideal servants, capable of cleaning things up but not understanding what menial service means or experiencing what it feels like. Well, maybe it would work, but the idea that the ship’s captain will never have to soil his hands with laundry and that the simps will never experience a sense of being at the bottom of the totem-pole, is problematic. Isn’t hierarchy an invention of the higher mammals? Wouldn’t a topsy-turvy day when the captain washes the dishes be good for all concerned?

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But RT’s caveats and quibbles aside, RwR presents a world that is truly alien, in which the ship’s alien inhabitants, or at least some of them, lack mouths, have eyes located in odd places, and appear to be organo-metallic: nope, there’s no common ancestor with terrestrial zoology here.  More tellingly, though it’s evident that the Ramans possess a very high degree of intelligence, the human explorers find no written script. Do the Ramans possess writing? Can they speak? We’ll have to go to the book’s sequel, Rama II, in hopes of finding out.

But that’s what makes RwR so great: the continuous sense of discovery, of entering a genuinely new world. The appeal here is not to our assumptions; in the book they are often shown to be wrong. But that doesn’t mean that Rama is utterly alien: the spaceship possesses an oxygen atmosphere and, at its most hospitable, semi-tropical temperatures. Could all life, produced by whatever combinations of evolution, manufacture, and command, still have some common defining characteristics?

And so we reach the composite image, the total vision, that Clarke presents of Rama. The ship’s interior, while certainly strange and occasionally threatening, tends towards the wonderful, and most of all in the demands for growth that it offers to its human explorers. Do we want to be more like the Ramans, possess their accomplishments? The answer is, yes. We want to grow towards the unknown, at least sometimes. That is the source of book’s optimism, its underlying sweetness.

Utopias are odd. (And whatever else Rama is, it is a completely planned world.) They are meant no so much to be perfect as to be challenging. We would not wish our planet to become Rama, but if it could help us work towards a happier existence, we can only humbly thank its creators.

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Image: Rama in Forest (date: 1920s; author: Raja Ravi Press). WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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The Cradle of European Poetry, Part 1

February 19, 2014 3 comments

File:Spanish - Chess Piece of a Queen - Walters 71145 - Three Quarter.jpg

Manners: 3 a. The socially correct way of acting; etiquette. b. The prevailing customs, social conduct, and norms of a specific society…

Moral: 1. Of or concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character: 2. Teaching or exhibiting goodness or correctness of character and behavior…

(TheFreeDictionary.com)

So, this post is going to be a little complicated: RT is warning folks that there’s a lot of territory to cover. On the plus side, we’re going to be looking at how poetry arrived in western Europe and how poetry is connected to other, important aspects of behavior, such as 1) deciding on the right course of action and 2) minding our manners.

A. Europe in its Cradle

Dark ages are never fun. One civilization collapses and over a period of centuries another rises up from the ruins. Along with the usual payback, rapine, and despair, the conquerors mimic or forget the finer accomplishments of the former time. Something new is struggling to be born, and like any act of creation, it is attended by the most basic considerations: survival and the preservation of what has already been achieved. Nobody has time for poetry.

In the case of Europe, after the final collapse of the Roman Empire in 476, the single most important change was the incorporation of northern Europe into the cultural world established by Rome; the center of Europe was no longer Rome, but the Rhine River. But northern Europe immediately began exerting its cultural differences from the south, perhaps most importantly, in the struggle between the Arian aristocracy of the new Germanic kingdoms and the Catholic Church centered in Rome. By the 8th century, this conflict had been resolved in favor of Rome. And with the defeat of Muslim armies at the Battle of Tours in 732, Europe as a cultural entity was confirmed. Still, on the northern frontier, the Vikings began their long series of raids and invasions, engaging part of the new culture’s military strength until the 12th century.

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Great poetry, RT notes, did in fact continue to be written in vernacular languages: Beowulf, the Ulster Cycle and the Mabinogion, and the mythology of the Vikings. But these works were all the product of the dying pagan societies of pre-Christian Europe. So far, no great works written in Latin or its descendant languages had yet been created. No one had found a voice for Europe’s new feudal society, which began to emerge in the 9th century. In fact, the modern languages of Europe were still evolving out of Latin.

B. Reversal of Fortunes

Until the 11th century, Europe was tightly constrained by its powerful neighbors: the Vikings in the north, the Abbasid Caliphate in the south, and the Byzantine Empire in the east; indeed, few would argue that Constantinople and its magnificent cathedral, Hagia Sophia, constituted the center of Christian culture in those years.

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But power rarely lingers in one place for long: the conversion of the Sweden to Christianity by the 12th century, the collapse of the unified Caliphate of Cordoba in 1031, and the destruction of the Byzantine army by the Seljuk Turks at Manzikert (1071), started a process of cultural migration and absorption that prepared the ground in Europe for the Renaissance. And perhaps no clearer sign of the quickening of Europe could have been given than the Crusades.

C. The Crusades 

Persecution strengthens community. As long as a clear threat exists, any community will huddle together and work to make the danger pass. When the problem goes away, people start to argue with each other. Then they need diplomatic skills to heal the wounds.

But the clock is ticking away, and RT has a busy day tomorrow. The story of how Europe fell into disunion even as it acquired its poetic sensibilities will have to wait till later…

Photo, top: Queen, Spanish Chess Piece; 12th century, Walter Art Museum. WikiCmns; Public Domain. BroochAnglo-Saxon openwork silver disk brooch, from the Pentney Hoard. Author: Johnbod. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported. Illustration: The Seljuk Turk Alp Arslan Humbling Romanus IV. 2nd quarter of the 15th century; Bibliothèque nationale de France, manuscrit Français 232, folio 323. Author: Boccace, De Casibus. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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