Monday, April 23, 2007

The Trusty Fly Swat

As the poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1888) said, Americanists will hear a fly buzz when they die.

Well, I heard one but determined to reverse the situation. When I heard that fatal sound late last night!

The question was how to achieve this? When suddenly I remembered an almost forgotten technology - the fly swat! So without any possible hope of success, I was off to my local after hours convenience store. And there it was! In the laundry section. Aerodynamically perfect and in a fab green washable plastic. This is a photo of the actual swat!

Now, this ingenious invention has many unspoken qualities.

It's real eco friendly - no more nasty ozone-depleting fluorocarbons.

And a great exercise substitute. Something to vary your upper-body regimen of bench presses, bar raises, and so on. But remember, you need to swap hands half way through your repetitions for balanced development. And there's the added advantage of getting an aerobic work-out. Rep's can be recorded alongside insect fatalities as notches on the handle.

Regular and vigorous swatting has two not-immediately-obvious side-benefits. The improvement of your tennis service. And your spank-the-monkey technique. With both, you'll impress by your new-found ambidextrousness!


I heard a fly buzz when I died;
The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
Between the heaves of storm.

The eyes beside had wrung them dry,
And breaths were gathering sure
For that last onset, when the king
Be witnessed in his power.

I willed my keepsakes, signed away
What portion of me I
Could make assignable, —and then
There interposed a fly,

With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,
Between the light and me;
And then the windows failed, and then
could not see to see.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Needle and Thread Cartooning - The Bayeux Tapestry

Cartooning has an ancient etiology. It allows for pictorial transmission of the religious, political, social and other messages of a culture particularly to those not literate. And over the ages has involved various forms from ancient Egyptian temple base reliefs, through Medieval stained glass windows and wall tapestries, to Renaissance frescos and beyond to 'The Far Side' of Gary Larsen.

Now, I wanted to play round for a bit with the justly world famous Bayeux Tapestry, which in fact is not a tapestry at all, but an embroidery of stitched woollen yarns on linen.

Its origins are uncertain - some suggest it was crafted in Kent in England. Now in Bayeux in north west France, it first appears in written records in 1476 as an entry in an inventory of this city's cathedral treasury as 'a very long and narrow hanging on which are embroidered figures and inscriptions comprising a representation of the conquest of England'.

It was probably commissioned by between 1070 and 1080 by Bishop Odo for his new cathedral at Bayeux, the church being completed in 1077. The tapestry was to commemorate the victory in 1066 of William the Conqueror (Ode's half brother) over King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. And to legitimize William of Normandy (in France) as the new ruler of England. The bishop subsequently also became Earl of Kent, hence the proposed origin of the tapestry.

The panorama of scenes of the work (including 11 Hastings battles) is accompanied by a Latin text, and bordered above and below with a band of often symbolic imagery, all of which has helped the rise of an impressive scholarship around the 70 metre embroidery. Each scene can now be identified, along with its actual participants (from the border heraldic emblems). And other iconography can be decoded.

Two of the most famous protagonists are of course King Harold Godwinson and King William the Conquerer, both shown in kingly mode:

With the transferring of kinghood being achieved by the Harold coping one in the eye with an arrow, as in the renowned scene below. Well, famous at least for school persons reading books designed to give the Norman (as opposed to Anglo-Saxon or other) view of history.

This scene is followed by the lesser-known but moving pre-burial scene of Harold:

There are lots of nice juicy battle scenes, which give a clear picture of how such conflicts unfolded, what weaponry was used and what protective armour and other clothing worn and so on - so great for social history:

And heaps of other stuff.

But the one thing I find most fascinating is the recording of the 1066 appearance of Halley's Comet. I particularly love the sense of wonder on the observers' faces (all those down-turned mouths!), as they point towards the heavens in the second image:

So as well as all else, this astonishing object documents the state of scientific knowledge at the time.

This is not to say that the tapestry is necessarily to be taken as an accurate record of all things it portrays. It is primarily a bit of propaganda to write (and re-write) a new Norman history for the island. But with this in mind, it has lots to say about the Romanesque world on the C11.
Formalism in Black and White Photography

With respect to color photography, black and white images seem at times to engage in a kind of formalism that is seen by some as natural to the mode itself - an inherent 'art' expression. And, if not intended by the photographer as the subject of the photographic discourse, such formalism can lead to work that is a bit mechanical and self-consciousness:

Though these next two photographs almost get away with it!

Though can't say I've sat on a stool or laid myself out on a bed quite like this. Well, not in life ... but maybe in my imagined world of myself.

This phenomenon seems particularly the case with the close-up, and the closer-up:

These images are successful I hear you say, yep you bet, but no so much as art, but as triggers for sensuality. And thanks be for that!

Much the same kinds of arguments can be drawn for lighting as for formalism in terms of the arrangement of shapes. With examples of dramatic chiaroscuro being:

No absolutes here, just playing the odds with coloreds. And of course there are innumerable counter examples.

Having said all this, I must confess to a real love of the sorting out formal values, be it in a drawing, photograph, painting, whatever. So organizing a hot bod to bring out it's full erotic possibilities seems a pretty worthy pursuit. Not to say a damn good idea!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Assaults on the Senses in Seville

As well Paris, we spent some months in Spain in 2003: Madrid mostly but also Granada, Seville, and Cordoba. This journey as much as anything seemed an attack on all the senses: visual, olfactory, auditory, taste and tactile. Let me explain.

Seville was for Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter Sunday in which religious icons are solemnly and ominously processed about the streets of the barrios (suburbs) where they usually live. Before they journey to and squeeze into the La Giralda Cathedral. This main church of Seville stands on the site of the Grand Almohad Mosque, with Moorish influences being strong- past and present - all across the southern part of the country.

Much of Semana Santa we experienced from the balcony off our hotel room:

But we were inexorably lead into the streets to better be part of the spectacle:

During these processions, the olfactory and auditory senses are assaulted. The scent of burning candles and incense, The sound of solemn march music. And the roar of clapping and cheering, when the heavy icon floats, cunningly secreted with big strong men, were perilously and tembulously (new word) lifted to shoulder height, accompanied by dramatic drum-rolls. It now occurs to me that this exemplifies the Catholic notion of reaching spiritual experience through exciting the physical senses rather than by conscious introspection.

The Spooks or nazarenos with each icon wear pointed or cone shaped hoods, symbolizing repentance and grief. The color (black, purple, and so on) indicates the Order of Spook.

And this is all on into the night:

All over the city, there are monasteries of the various religious orders, which again assault the senses - visual, auditory and olfactory. This time through highly ordered, manicured and fountained pleasure gardens:

Food of course is the ultimate sensory experience, at least for me. And for the Spanish, as window displays only hint at ...

... with the major Iberian obsession being cured ham, sold tellingly in 'ham museums' or 'museo del jamon':

One visceral experience I was not so sure about was bull-fighting:

But perhaps our most profound sensory experience was on the bus back to Madrid. This super cutie sat beside us, pleasantly and disconcertingly distracting us from the passing countryside.

I only realized recently that he was giving himself a tactile experience in the second photo! Which now gives me a very nice visual experience. Or is it a hot sensual experience? Whatever!