National Geographic – The Search for Cleopatra
New York Review – Manet: ‘Sensuous Dazzle”
This, for me, is right where I am: in Orosi, Costa Rica. I have a fast Internet connect right into my living room, and every week I take the bus to the nearest large town, about an hours ride, and get my mail, which has been flown in from Miami. I have the advantages of both worlds: must importantly, moderate living costs – I can live on my Social Security income without too much trouble.
However, I must say my situation is unique, because I am unique – or, as most would say: I am strange. I love learning – in stark contrast to most gringos, who are not interested in learning anything – and indeed, are not interested in much of anything – but being exactly like everyone else. I can relate to the song “I got to be me!”
Let me share with you this morning’s learning.
First, the Cleopatra article. “She captivated people with her intelligence, wit, and charisma”. The Greek historian Plutarch said:
Her beauty was not “the sort that would astound those who saw her; interaction with her was captivating, and her appearance, along with her persuasiveness in discussion and her character that accompanied every interchange, was stimulating. Pleasure also came with the tone of her voice, and her tongue was like a many-stringed instrument.”
Egyptian mythology was not for the faint-hearted:
One of the foundational myths of Egyptian religion, the legend tells how Osiris, murdered by his brother Seth, was chopped into pieces and scattered all over Egypt. With power gained by tricking the sun god, Re, into revealing his secret name, Isis, wife and sister of Osiris, was able to resurrect her brother-husband long enough to conceive a son, Horus, who eventually avenged his father’s death by slaughtering uncle Seth.
All in all, an interesting and educational article – with excellent photos, of course.
Now for the article about Manet (not to be confused with Monet). This is art criticism, something entirely missing in my Mid-Western upbringing – and also entirely missing in Costa Rica. But who can resist the paintings? With some excellent local coffee, I settled down to learn about them.
Manet eventually died of syphilis, as did his father before him. This was not uncommon – Churchill’s father, much later, died of this also. But this, as far as art criticism is concerned, is not important. What he did when he was living was important.
Again and again this exhibition returns you to a simple but hard-to-answer question: When does the act of “painting” become “a painting”? You render something, you put some paint down in response to some object. But your act may not be coextensive with the canvas—which was, quite literally, the chief object of the exercise in nineteenth-century art. The act of painting is good and vital, and so, you feel, are the things you depict. You want to paint many things—everything in the world that interests you in fact—provided that each of these acts of painting can be equally vital. But how far can you extend your attention, and when does this work result in a picture?
The following applies to me, for sure:
“A lack of any very definite conviction:…an execution that seeks for distinction in a kind of non-committal négligé, and, to that extent, achieves it.”
Flip over that barbed equivocal phrasing, and you arrive at Bob Dylan singing “There’s no success like failure, and…failure’s no success at all”
Now what am I going to do for the rest of the day? The question is rhetorical, really. I will go for a short bicycle ride (I went for a long one yesterday, and my legs are still tired). I will take my dried laundry down off the line. I will make a fruit shake with some exotic tropical fruit. I will listen to my course on Existentialism, and a book about Americans in Paris in the Nineteenth Century (The Greater Journey), and take a nap.
If I feel ambitious I will buy my a pressure cooker to cook beans in. I have developed my own recipe for rice and beans. One thing Costa Rica does not have is fancy food – you have to make do with what is available.