Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Working Class Songs of the US-Mexican Borderlands


Just been listening to some music from famed Chicana idol, Lydia Mendoza (1916-2007).

This twelve-stringed guitarist sang popular and sentimental Mexican songs often of the struggles of working class people who lived in the borderlands of the US and Mexico. Hence 'La Alondra de la Frontera' (The Lark of the Border).






Particularly haunting I think are, first, her early 'Collar De Perlas' ...

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... and then, later in life, 'Tango Negro' ('The Black Tango') ...

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Just keen to share, as usual!

PS - No 'Pearl Necklace' comments please!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Real Cracker of a Story!!!

Prince Felix Yusupov and his wife, Princess Irina Alexandrovna, 1913

It's pretty rare that you have a first hand account of such a momentous (and usually private) event as the murder of Grigori Rasputin in 1916.

Grigori Rasputin

It has always been well-known that Prince Felix Yusupov (married to Princess Irina Alexandrovna, niece of Tsar Nicholas II) and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovitch Romanov (a second cousin of the Tsar) were directly involved in the assassination.

Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovitch Romanov

Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovitch Romanov, his wife, American heiress,
Audrey Emery and their son Paul


What is considerably less well-known is that both the Prince and the Grand Duke were gay ... and there is much speculation about a supposed relationship between them.

Prince Felix made no secret of being gay, speaking quite candidly for example about wearing women's clothing in his autobiography 'Lost Splendor'. But for the usual dynastic reasons of the period, he married and produced heirs.

Grand Duke Dmitri was far more circumspect about his sexuality. He was bisexual and had affairs with many women, including the famed Russian ballerina and early film actress Vera Karalli.

Vera Karalli

Vera Karalli

Following Rasputin's death, Prince Felix was under virtual house arrest on the family estate outside St Petersburg. After WW I, he left Russia, finally settling in Paris in 1920.

To void arrest, Grand Duke Dmitri was sent to the Persian front (didn't know there was one!) and so became one of the few Romanovs survive the Russian Revolution.

The Prince and the Grand Duke met up in London in 1919, but fell out over Felix's open boasting of his part in the killing of the mad monk. And because open association with the Prince might damage the Grand Duke's claim to the throne in any restoration of the monarchy.

After working as a champagne salesman in Paris (no cab driving jobs I guess), the Grand Duke married American heiress Audrey Emery in 1927 and their son, HSH Prince Paul Romanovsky-Ilyinsky, later became Mayor of Palm Beach, Florida.

Hear of any sightings Alan?

But there's more.

In 1967, Prince Felix and his wife gave an interview to French television. It was in the promotion of a new film on the events of 16/17 December 1916 - 'J'ai tué Raspoutine' ('I Killed Rasputin') - a film which the couple say is the first true account of the events which took place.

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A story with everything but the kitchen sink thrown in!

The interview is in French but a version with English subtitles can be seen on You Tube.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Oenpelli Bark Painting - Two Mimi Spirits Hunting with Spears

'Two Mimi spirits hunting with spears' - George Djaymgurrna, Gumadeer River, Oenpelli, Western Arnhem Land (bark painting 52 x 18cm, c.1960-5)

In an auction-going frenzy a few years back, and I do mean frenzy, we bought a number of aboriginal bark paintings.

Including the bark above of two Mimi spirits hunting with spears. The work was painted
between 1960-1965 by George Djaymgurrna from Gumadeer River in the Oenpelli region of Western Arnhem Land.


It is accompanied, on the back, by the following somewhat less than authoritative attached text, reflecting one National Geographic-ish kind of attitude towards aboriginals and aboriginal culture in the 1960s:

Throughout western Arnhem Land great rocky escarpments rise dramatically from the surrounding plains. In the caves of the escarpments and on sheltered rock surfaces can be found the unique rock galleries of paintings which are the most famous and possibly the oldest in the world.

Goannas, fish, birds, spiny anteaters, turtles and other creatures are the main subjects, together with the tiny Mimi spirits which are said to inhabit the escarpments. These Mimis sleep within the rocks by day, only venturing out by night to hunt and fish and hold their ceremonies. They are so shy they do not wish to be seen. Mimis were the first ones to paint on rock.

Oenpelli bark paintings depict the creatures and Mimis seen in the rock galleries ... . Many of the paintings depict the internal structures of the creatures as well as the outside shape, and anthropologists have given the name 'x-ray' art to these paintings. Others have the clan design painted on the animals and these designs are sacred.

The auction catalogue had the perhaps alarming footnote - 'Purchased originally: Church Missionary Society in Oenpelli'.

But what I really love about this essentially functional (rather than art) object is its non-realistic representation. The abstract space. And the flattening out of forms into simple
outlined shapes, filled with a patterning of cross-hatched lines. Particularly beautiful for me is the natural earthy palette.

And another really great thing about aboriginal barks is they don't easily translate into the art gallery / dealer system.

Cos they're very hard to display, curling up all over and often needing to be less than attractively braced!


Which means they're still pretty affordable!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Aisin-Gioro Puyi (1906-1967) - Last Emperor of China

Portrait in Images and Film


I lived in China for a year in the late 80's. And, as foreigners do, developed a more than passing interest in Puyi, the last emperor. Mainly through reading his autobiography, 'From Emperor to Citizen' (ghosted by Li Wenda) which I bought in the bookshop of the Friendship Hotel where I was staying.

Prince Chun Tsai Feng with two sons, Puyi standing



Puyi (1922)

Puyi on the roof of the imperial apartments of the Forbidden City (1920s)

Puyi as Manchukuo Emperor (c1925)


Puyi at the Summer Palace, north-western Beijing



I've long been planning a follow-up to an earlier post on my stay in the PRC ... and, as there's no time like the present, ...

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... a small portrait of the the last emperor in photographs and archival film footage.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Ram Gopal (1912-2003) - 'The Indian Nijinsky'


Most often for me, performances don't reach across cultures and eras. But those of Ram Gopal do - partly, I'll admit, through the fluid sensuality of the dancing.

It may sound patronising to use the Polish critic Tadeus Zelinski's tag 'The Indian Nijinky', but it gives a sense of Gopal's international stature as a dancer.

Ram Gopal meeting Vaslav Nijinsky (c.1950)

The footage I've put together is from 'The Lord Shiva Dance' (1948).







Gopal was more than passingly interested in Western ballet, having for a time a partnership with the great Diaghilev Ballets Russes era star, Dame Alicia Markova.

Ram Gopal with Dame Alicia Markova

I don't want to go on too much - I was just interested to see if any of you guys responded similarly to the performance.

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So is it a thumbs up or down situation?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Up Close and Personal


There's plenty of footage which reveals the social history of the Victorian and Edwardian Eras. Enough in fact to drown in.

This tiny film fragment seems to get up close and personal in a way most do not. As you watch, you have the strongest palpable sense of the personalities of those in the group portrait being taken.


There is to be the genial but nevertheless firm and authoritative family patriarch, 'the general' (suitably in the centre). His appropriately more spontaneous and genial wife (bottom left). The dashing and somewhat rakish son (back right) who seems he'd be up for it at a moment's notice. And his unsuspecting wife (top right). A stolid jovial aunt (second top left) and her more nervous but empathetic sister. And finally the grand daughter who finds it all a bit of a lark - and who tries to communicate this to another patrician figure, perhaps her great uncle (to her left).

A breeze momentarily flutters the women's clothing to life. And we are in the moment.

What I particularly like is that this record sits nicely half way between photograph and film, and between the formal and casual ...

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... and that everyone seems to be having great fun participating in the new medium.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Unexpected Natural Beauty In Your Own Back Garden

Wentworth Falls, Blue Mountains, Sydney

After all the Easter things have been played out, there's usually still plenty of time to account for over the four day break.

And today we soaked up an afternoon with a drive into the The Blue Mountains, a couple of hours west out of Sydney.



Cultural and other kinds of cringes are almost a natural sport here but sometimes it's just not possible to indulge in our favourite past-time - cynicism today was alchemically transmuted to wonder by the extraordinary natural beauty of the Wentworth Falls.

Equally unexpected were the absolute hoards of locals and tourists, marching all about, also looking for something to do at this time of national shut down.

The weather was perfect - warm and sunny, and slightly undercut with a cool breeze. Autumn with a hint of the coming winter.

Even the local fauna were out to please, including a rather deadly brown snake, if my herpetological knowledge is at all working. A reptile which I seriously did not manage to capture on film ...


... unless I've missed something in this image.

Sadly, it was only on the return journey that someone rather belatedly mentioned that there was a walking track down to the misty bottom of the falls ...


Next time!