Monday, April 30, 2007

Butterflies at the Botanical Gardens

On Sunday I took my parents up to the city botanical gardens in the mistaken notion that going to see the exotic butterfly exhibition could hardly be very tiring.
I didn't realize that there was a significant walk uphill from the bus stop to the ticket kiosk and then another significant hike to the greenhouse where the butterflies were. My parents have always liked to walk, but it seems that recently my father has gotten an arthritic hip that requires a very slow pace and, from time to time, stops to sit down. This was not noticeable at Christmas.
Fortunately, the weather was splendid and everything along the way was either bright green or blossoming. We went slowly and enjoyed the view.
The exotic butterflies, which are bought from a breeder in Stratford on Avon (not just the birthplace of Shakespeare, but exotic butterflies?!), gradually hatch out and fly around the greenhouse eating fruit and sitting on various plants. As it was a Sunday and the last day, the place was absolutely packed, but everyone was clearly having a wonderful time locating the various butterflies and photographing them.
While perhaps my parents wouldn't have had to come to Prague to see something like this, they did enjoy it and also got to see lots of different scenery between my apartment in the south and the botanical gardens in the northwest.

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The End of Class

Whatever my complaints about my Czech class, I do think a few more case endings have now stuck in my head. And I never had any complaints about my classmates! They have been a very congenial group. Several of us formed a habit of going out for beer and supper every Tuesday after class, and after our final class session, the whole class except for one rather shy person went.
We and the next class down (who joined us at the pub) were thoroughly international, representing Portugal, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Russia, Belarus, Turkey, and possibly elsewhere. I was the only American.

Clara, Esther, and me.

Ozgur and one of the Spanish students. Notice the food. This restaurant is very popular with students because its portions are gigantic. One entree will generally feed two or three people. They also have a lot of snack-type offerings which are a meal in themselves.

Our Portuguese dentist, Spanish student, and Ozgur.

Irina, Zana, Henrique, and Ozgur.

The whole gang.

Esther, Rita, and Clara. These three, who knew each other from a previous course, brought all the rest of us together.
I find that (in an international situation, at least) the classmates are the most important element of a language class. Some teachers are better than others, or more congenial, but the tone of the class depends most on the group's interpersonal dynamics. A group that enjoys conversing together and practicing outside of class makes all the difference.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, April 28, 2007

In Bloom

By now, everything is either green or in bloom here. It's a very fine sight.
The Parental Units arrived this morning for a two-week visit and we saw our share of dandelions once they felt sufficiently revived to go for a walk.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Paddling the Vltava

This year's Fulbright group has just as much fun as last year's. I've missed most of it due to a combination of Czech class, illness, and going out of town, but every now and then my schedule (which is not exactly heavily booked, unless you count working at the library as a pressing social engagement) permits me to join in. On Wednesday we celebrated Anna's birthday by going paddle-boating, or whatever you call those plastic foot-powered tubs (surely not pedal-boating).
And to the right one can see Sarah and Trever. The Czech Republic, where beer is a breakfast beverage for many, does not seem to have American-style restrictions on what one drinks on the water. I don't think there is a high death toll from people falling out of paddle-boats.

The birthday girl and Shawn...

Your foreign correspondent and Alicia...

The rival boatload...

The Slavia cafe...

The Smetana museum area (museum is the farthest building to the left, before the Charles Bridge)...

The Castle in the distance, with Charles Bridge...

Back onshore, our celebrant attempts to open a bottle of birthday champagne. She is wearing two (yes, two) T-shirts specially acquired for their peculiar use of the English language. I suppose I really ought to acquire similar souvenirs, but I try to stay out of places that offer such things. Still, this is the sort of thing an art historian needs. I envision Anna wearing one of these when she starts grad school at NYU and gives a talk on Czechoslovak socialist realist depictions of women.
After we finished off the champagne, we went for pizza, then up to the beer garden at Letna. Around midnight, the few remaining among us located a place that was still serving, and when they told us it was time to leave, we proceeded to that cellar-maze place near Lazarska whose name I can never remember. As the evening grew more dissipated, we indulged in such games as the one where a person is presented with three names and has to choose "which one you'd chuck, which you'd fuck, and which you'd marry." I would say the most entertaining responses came from the trios of "Bush, Hitler, Stalin" and "Štyrský, Nezval, Teige." Let's just say that Shawn, Anna, and I all said we would marry Karel Teige. Shawn's descriptions of his plans for Nezval were somewhat unexpected, shall we say. Things escalated from there and we appreciate the night tram service very much.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Towaway Zone

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

New Input at The Student Tablet PC

Continuing briefly in the technological vein, I see that The Student Tablet PC blog has chosen three new contributors to add tips, product reviews, and their general combined wisdom to the site. One of them, Robert, is actually an MA student in medieval history (as opposed to something like engineering, where use of tablets and convertibles seems to be rampant and for good reason). Robert also has a blog of his own where he writes about tablets, ecologically friendly computing, and related topics. My quick look at his Paperless Undergrad taught me that one can actually get a solar battery-charger, which I think is a stunning idea.
I've only had a tablet pc (more specifically, a convertible and not a slate) since last summer, and while I think this technology is really going to become mainstream, I confess I have not taken much advantage of the tablet aspect of my machine yet. (Nathan won me over to the thing by showing me his when my last laptop was in its death throes.)
The true student tablet pc junkie carries almost no books or notebooks to class, but scans or buys electronic copies of textbooks, writes notes and diagrams using digital ink, and does a plethora of other things some of which are possible but less convenient on a regular computer, or which require that the class be set up for everyone to interact via computer (whiteboards, the Blackboard system, etc.). Indeed, I can see how it would have been nice to have written all my class notes on the tablet, where I could either keep them in handwriting or have them convert to typed text, and have my little sketches of the slides augmented by digital images of the art. This would have made studying for those MA exams (where I used to have to learn around 300 works for each class) easier. We could have made digital flashcards for group study rather than sketching the paintings and borrowing loads of very heavy books.
Currently, I mainly use the tablet aspect for reading PDF dissertations in portrait mode, which is a pretty low-level use. I also like to be able to take the tablet into the library stacks showing the list of titles to look for, but as there aren't open stacks here, I don't do that in Prague.
In the future, however, I expect I'll be using more aspects of the tablet, so I want to be well informed.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Vagaries of the Blogger Profile

As a rule I don't exactly spend time contemplating the Profile part of the blog. I filled out the form when I started the blog, added a few things here and there, and pretty much ignored it... other than occasionally looking to see how many people had viewed it.
It soon became obvious that the "viewed" count bore no real relation to whether anyone looked at the profile, because the count would sit at one number for a month or more and then take a jump. It then stayed at about the same number for the better part of a year before jumping two or three hundred. I knew from Sitemeter, however, that a steady trickle of people do come to the blog via the profile; they've read a comment I left somewhere else, or were looking at all the blogs by house rabbit enthusiasts.
So... I wrote off the profile view count as utterly useless.
Then the other day I ran across a potentially interesting art-related blog. It was a bit baffling because while there were only three posts, the blogger gave no explanations as to what she was doing (most bloggers give some sort of introductory statement, or in some other way rapidly make clear what their purpose is in creating a blog). The thing just started as if in the midst of something long-established, and the three posts each had something like 60 comments. Sixty comments?! Only a few blogs I've encountered attract that level of discussion. Susie Bright, Threadbared, and the Sartorialist all get a lot of comments, but 60? Furthermore, the many comments on this mysterious blog (which was kind of interesting but not coherent enough to go back to) suggested that the blogger had a devoted swarm of readers. Well, fine, many of us have a lot of friends, and some peoples' friends actually comment on blogs (clearly some of my friends comment on blogs, but more of them don't read them, and some of them simply announce that blogs are self-indulgent drivel or that they're afraid they'd catch a virus by reading a blog).
Mildly intrigued, I decided to check out the blogger's profile in hopes of learning what the blog was supposed to be about, as in, art or merely descriptions of strange encounters with co-workers. This was where I was thrown for a loop. The profile said nothing particularly informative about the blog or blogger, but claimed that over 6000 people had viewed the profile. This on a blog begun in 2007 that doesn't advertise it will show you the daily life of Czech porn stars?
All right, perhaps a mild level of jealousy began to operate here--but not a whole lot, as my purpose is not really to bring the entire Blogosphere to my door. Most of the heavily trafficked blogs I've seen get traffic for good reason: they provide ongoing interesting material and lots of people link to them.
That's what I didn't get about the 6000-viewer blog. With only three posts, none of which were that intelligible unless you knew the person (which I didn't), where did the 6000 profile views come from? After all, generally a lot more people see a blog than look at the blogger profile. I had been going on the assumption that everyone's profile view counter worked like mine and was way behind on the stats.
Is the whole profile view counter system broken? Does it show completely random numbers?
Inquiring minds want to know.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

How Did They Know???

You're Watership Down!

by Richard Adams

Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you're actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You'd be recognized as such if you weren't always talking about talking rabbits.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Labels: ,

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Calling All Techies

The Národní knihovna v Praze kindly offers wifi access in several reading rooms, which is very popular with the increasing numbers of laptop-toting students and others who use the library.
The Národní knihovna has also begun to digitize some of its periodicals and puts them on its Kramerius system. As the welcome screen (in English!) notes, due to copyright restrictions most of the digitized periodicals can only be accessed at the library. I don't know Czech copyright law, but evidently it's more inclusive than American, which is more than inclusive enough these days. Practically nothing on the site can be viewed outside the library. I think I may have been able to pull up something from around 1850, not a time period I really need at the moment.
I then tried accessing Kramerius using my laptop at the library, figuring I was on their wifi so it ought to work. No luck, no images. (I did download the required LizardTech DjVu plugin.) I can access the digitized images using the library's computers, but the screen resolution is such and the browser window is configured so that there is no comfortable way to get a good view of the page, let alone rapidly go through an issue. What's more, while in theory I could copy a page, the machines I've tried only have floppy drives, not USB, so I guess I'd have to buy floppies.
With all that, and since the periodicals I actually want are mostly not on Kramerius, I kind of gave up.
This morning, however, I happened to read a Dick Eastman article about the new wifi access at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Not only was I glad to learn that next time I'm in Salt Lake I'll have wifi at the FHL (a very fine place to work, though not on my dissertation), but the more technical part of the article explained that researchers at the FHL have access to the database via the library's subscription rather than via their own. This is because everyone is connected via the same IP address, the library's.
THAT'S WHAT I THOUGHT! After all, if I visit my blog from the library here, Sitemeter tells me that someone from the Národní knihovna visited the blog.
Why, then, can't I use my laptop to access the Kramerius images from within the library? Anyone have any bright ideas? Does the system not like the main reading room's wifi? would it help if I used a different room, such as the Reference Center?
Suggestions are much desired, as I don't have much more time to get any use out of Kramerius before leaving Prague.

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 20, 2007

That Militarist, Baden-Powell

In going through 1934's Rudé právo, my eye fastened upon the intriguing headline "Militarista Baden-Powell umírá."
The only Baden-Powell I had ever heard of was the founder of the Boy Scouts; obviously this required further investigation.
Why yes! The dead militarist Baden-Powell was indeed (in the body of the obituary) identified as the scouting Baden-Powell.
Without looking into the matter more fully, I couldn't really say whether Baden-Powell was in fact a militarist (a quick look online indicates that historians seem to disagree about this). On the other hand, surely his historical importance lies more in having founded the Boy Scouts, so one would think that Rudé právo could have at least added the scouting connection to the headline. The obit itself focused on the purpose of scouting being to prepare youth for imperialist war in the interests of capitalism. Never mind that the Communists adopted quite a bit from scouting for their own youth organizations...
While most of the Rudé právo headlines of this period seem no more peculiar than those of any other politically oriented newspaper, this really foreshadows the later idiocies of Czechoslovak Communist journalism. (Or am I just naive about Boy Scouts and their founder?)


Thursday, April 19, 2007

We Aren't Seeing as Many of These...

The dreaded British stag parties of yore seem to have moved east and are no longer afflicting Prague to their former degree. There are still enough of them roaming the city that I expect certain restaurants still post "No Stag Party" signs. Alicia (one of this year's Fulbrighters) has encountered those who imagine people really want to see the kilts lifted in the middle of the dance floor.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Curiouser and Curiouser

Fellow devotees of BibliOdyssey will recognize this strange-looking image as a depiction of Karl Heinrich Klingert's 1797 diving suit. (You didn't know there were diving suits back in 1797? Neither did I.)
My own immediate reaction upon seeing the diving suit, however, was to say "Hey, that's what Toyen used on Spojité nádoby!" In other words, on the cover of the Czech translation of André Breton's Communicating Vessels. This was pretty exciting, although I can't say I have any immediate use for this information as there is no reason for me to discuss the cover of Spojité nádoby in my dissertation (or anywhere else but right here).
But look a little closer at the two. Toyen didn't use precisely the same print of Klingert's suit. It's almost the same, but there are discrepancies. Somebody did a new engraving of the suit, making our diver a little more svelte, making his axe-head a little more ceremonial-looking, and so forth. So... we know what the picture is of, but not which book Toyen found it in.
Art historians tend to go into mild frenzies over this sort of thing, and I confess I am no exception. While I had never consciously articulated any desire to locate the sources of the images used in the Spojité nádoby collage, now that one of them has practically fallen into my lap, I'll be keeping an eye out for the bird and the guy in the sarcophageal bed.
I guess that will keep me amused in betweenst writing conference paper proposals (three to take care of in the next week or so) and hunting through the pages of Rudé právo, La Revue française de Prague, and fin-de-siècle fashion journals.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Life in the Classroom

Czech class continues in its accustomed fashion. The locative plural has been our most recent endeavor, which some of us have done before and which is entirely new to others. I'm never sure what to think of this sort of thing since it is very familiar, the review does cause more bits to stick in my mind, and all that. This evening, however, we suddenly had a bit of review of the accusative and genitive, since along with the locative, they can all be used to deal with going places. (Which is why our class has been talking about travel a lot and I have learned all sorts of terms relating to tours arranged via travel agents, something I am unlikely to need to know unless I book a trip to China from Prague.)
The horrors of the combined accusative, genitive, and locative cases make clear to me why my active knowledge of certain things is so weak. Not only does one have to remember whether a particular noun or situation requires v, do, or na (that's not getting into the use of u, k, or od and z), but na treacherously takes different cases to provide different meanings. The case used with na tells you (if you are alert, which I am not particularly) whether you are at the post office, going to the post office, or are on top of the post office. Therefore, it's no use that "na poštu" sounds correct, because perhaps what you really mean is "na poště." (I hope I'm recalling all this correctly, because I don't feel like looking it up. I avoid talking about the post office because the thing that sticks in my mind is that it's troublesome.) And let's not forget that certain words have more than one correct ending in a given case. It's not enough to keep track of whether the thing is masculine animate, masculine inanimate, neuter, or feminine, and whether it ends in a hard or soft consonant or some other thing, there might be a choice of endings. This gives me a strong preference for saying something like I'm going to grandma's, because while babička turns into babičce in the dative and that seems kind of bizarre, once you get "jdu k babičce" into your head, there is not much it can be confused with. Regrettably, my grandmothers are both long dead and I have no reason to discuss going to grandma's.
On the bright side, however, our Czech teacher got the idea of having us do little presentations. I'm not sure what prompted this, as the first one planned (which has yet to be delivered) is Žana's talk on a historical topic. Everyone except the two of us seems destined to do a presentation about travel; while I like to travel, the idea of a presentation on it did not interest me much, so I indicated I could do an art-related presentation.
I considered actually writing something out, but while this might result in marginally more correct grammar, it would not do much for my ability to talk. Instead, I threw together some PowerPoint slides from a previous talk on Toyen, added a few quotations, and there it was. At the end of class, when I was worn out with all these cases and realized that I had gone brain-dead from lack of sufficient nourishment, I got to give my talk.
Other than that the laptop screen was probably almost as hard for the others to see as for me, it went pretty smoothly. I got to introduce my classmates to Toyen and a selection of other Czech avant-gardists, and we had a longish detour onto the Romantic poet Mácha, who according to Irina died of dysentery rather than from helping the people of Litoměřice put out a fire. (Learn something new every day.) Our teacher pointed out that Nezval was a Communist, which I had failed to mention in my abbreviated remarks on his output. I could have said a lot more about Comrade Nezval than that he wrote poetry, novels, plays, and other things, but one has to stick to the basics in this sort of talk. After all, I also left out the fact that he developed a spherical physique and is buried at Vyšehrad (as is Mácha, who was reburied there).
My classmates appeared rapt and seemed to find it interesting, so I believe I succeeded in sparing them another ten minutes on the niceties of location-related noun endings.

Labels: ,

Monday, April 16, 2007

Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden

I decided to take a further look at the world outside of Prague and took the train up to Dresden yesterday. On my previous visit there, it was a little hard to figure out where to go because so many things were closed from flood damage. This time the problem was that everything in Germany closes on Sunday, so once I got there I didn't end up finding an English-language booklet until too late in the day to bother.
Around mid-afternoon I located the main museum area, which I hadn't even gotten to last time. In addition to seeing a very small Otto Dix exhibition and a relatively large Cranach show, I was reminded that I did consider writing my dissertation on Jan Brueghel. I think my reasons for not doing so involved such considerations as 1) other than having written a paper on his father's seasonal paintings, I had no particular background in Flemish painting; and 2) improving my Czech seemed like a much more practical idea than taking up Dutch.

These pictures, which are from the museum's website, look too small on my screen to get much of the benefit of all Brueghel's amazing detail and color. The works are not large to begin with, but in general a person has to spend quite awhile examining them, which is always hard to do in a museum setting since very small paintings are not always hung at a convenient height and guards are opposed to visitors getting too close to the works.

Roelandt Savery is also generally good for interesting landscapes. In this case, I think the ruined tower in the background, although very nice in its way, is something of a distraction from the birds and foliage in the foreground.

There were also some excellent still lifes, such as this one by Balthasar van der Ast. Back when I used to take art classes, I detested the obligatory still lifes with the eternal cliché bottle surrounded by fruit (the irritating legacy of Cézanne, it seems), but while I had to learn to appreciate all those Cézanne still lifes (which are so much better than most of their progeny), this sort of still life has always greatly appealed to me.
The museum has some fine flower pieces, including a haunting item wherein a dead bird lies beside a despoiled nest. Another bird, presumably its mate (although this seemed dubious since they had the same plumage, so perhaps they were a same-sex pair and had adopted the eggs) looked rather depressed at the top of the picture. Since most of the picture is taken up with flowers, fruit, snails, and insects, one might miss the sad narrative. And, since I failed to note the artist, I didn't find the painting on the Web.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Coffee Quiz

You're a Classic Cup 'O' Joe.
It claims I'm "a Classic Cup 'O' Joe!"

What Kind of Coffee are You?
brought to you by Quizilla


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Indoor and Out

To get the last bit of Britain in, anyone going to London ought to take in the British Museum's "A New World" show, which shows a great many pages of ethnographic and zoological illustration by the Elizabethan artist John White. White was one of the earlier British visitors to North America and his drawings of Native Americans were some of the first images I ever saw of them apart from cartoons on TV. (I was about five. Needless to say, I was surprised.)
I tried to find some full examples of White's work on the British Museum website, but it seems they are being coy, although most of the planet can't get to London.
In other news, the weather has suddenly gotten very springlike in Prague (as opposed to being spring without being especially appealing about it), so this morning I put on the rollerblades and went down the trail to Modřany and back. I'm not sure how many miles total that is, but I should think at least six. We will hope that my having spent most of the winter sitting down will not result in too much of an adjustment period.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Signage in Brno

Now that it's getting green out there again, it seems like time to post these photos, which I took quite some time ago.

I was not certain why British second-hand clothing is considered especially desirable, but this is not the only shop to advertise it. I've since been told that any non-Czech (or, in Hungary, non-Hungarian) clothing is considered superior but that wherever it's from, it usually gets labeled as British. This strikes me as bizarre. I don't have a high opinion of the Czech fashion industry either, but apart from things like tweeds or 1960s Mary Quant, I wouldn't say British clothing was exactly anything to get excited about. Perhaps it's merely more durable than the Czech variety?

The photo doesn't show it very well (I wanted to get the full setting), but the German quality at the kitchen studio appears to have driven the young woman on the sign insane. Maybe there's a subtle anti-German message here?

Ad for a horror film? No, just looks like one. Believe me, I am staying far away from anyone with big oozy lips of bubble-gum pink.

And you thought that the Bauhaus was an early twentieth-century design school? Well, these days it's a chain of home-and-garden stores.

These signs are not particularly unique to Brno, but were merely photographed there.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

More Adventures in iPod Shuffle

As if we might not have had enough of the iPod's shuffle function, further startling combinations can be found:

Buffy Sainte-Marie (two songs in a row, most shocking)
Glenn Miller doing "In the Mood"
...and then a Czech medley...
Vlasta Grycova
Iva Bittova
Karel Plihal
the absurdly lighthearted "Kapitan SNB," which appears to be an ode to a traffic cop
Voskovec + Werich
...interrupted by...
John Lennon
more Breszny and World Entertainment War
Iberian medieval song performed by Ensemble Alcatraz
some Breton folk-rock
James Taylor
Martin Carthy on the subject of the harper and the "wanton brown"


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers

Not to be missed by anyone on their way to the British Museum is the Jarndyce bookstore. It specializes, I would say, in books of the nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries, and these are very fine, but during my visit it was adorned by a most remarkable window display.
It may be difficult to make out all of the titles in the photos, but just so no one misses out, right there in the window were such wonders as Living With the Dead, Indiscretions of a Magistrate, Shag the Pony, Invisible Dick, The Big Problem of Small Organs, Christ with the C.I.D., Christie's Old Organ, Roger the Scout, Scouts in Bondage, Correctly English in Hundred Days, and The Art of Faking Exhibition Poultry!
Some of the cover designs were especially fine, among them that of Invisible Dick (I did not get a satisfactory photo).
I would really like to know what's inside some of these books. In most cases I am not entirely sure, but I can report that Correctly English in Hundred Days claims to be "full of ordinary speak and write language." A related volume, The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and English in Two Parts, is "clean of gallicisms, and despoiled phrases" and "may be worth the acceptation of the studious persons, and especialy of the Youth, at which we dedicate him particularly." I gather that its familiar phrases include "This room is filled of bugs," "He caresses all women," "Dress my horse," and "I have mind to vomit." Those are certainly phrases I hear on a daily basis and would not want to live without...
Not in the window were the likes of Lesbia's Little Blunder, Mated from the Morgue, and Kinky Finds the Clue. Ahem, and Newly Discovered French Letters, Old Dykes I Have Known, and Some Account of my Intercourse with Madame Blavatsky from 1872 to 1884.
To know more about these and other curious titles, you will have to investigate this section of the Jarndyce web site.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Elgin Marbles

Since Kristen and Dr. Zaius have both expressed their shock at the irresistable cuddliness of the Egyptian statuary at the British Museum, this is clearly the time to bring on the Elgin Marbles.
As many of my readers doubtless know, the Elgin Marbles were originally part of the Parthenon, but were removed between 1801 and 1805 by Lord Elgin, British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire (which ruled Greece at the time). Controversy about the whole thing continues unto this day.
The British Museum takes the view that the Parthenon was already ruinous by 1800, that Lord Elgin obtained permission to removed the statuary, that the world benefits from their having been on public display in London since 1816, and that they would have deteriorated vastly had they been left in place. The Greek government takes the view that its cultural heritage should be returned.
Until I visited the British Museum (a place I feel very fond of), my general sentiment was that both the British Museum and the Greek government had merit to their arguments. I didn't think it had been such a bright idea for Lord Elgin to remove the works in the first place, given that they weren't treated very carefully and some got broken in the process, but I supposed that at least they had been spared the infamous Athens air pollution.
Having now seen the bits and pieces on display in London, my attitude is considerably changed.

While I suppose the sculptures are spared the air pollution, and it is hardly the British Museum's fault that Lord Elgin removed them in the first place, I found myself getting very upset. All of this statuary was designed as part of a temple (one considered to be one of the most perfectly designed structures in the world, let's recall). The sculptural program was not merely decorative but also narrative.

What we have now is a collection of broken free-standing statues (no longer in much relationship to one another except when directly attached) and a large number of sawed-up squares of bas-relief. These are not mounted in a manner that in any way suggests the nature of the original structure. Everything seems utterly devoid of context. It's highly depressing.

I grant that the British Museum does, in a separate area, show plaster casts that were done before quite so much damage had occurred, and presents a computer simulation of aspects of the building. This did not, however, change my feelings about the removal.
I am not saying that the time would not have come to remove the statuary for its own protection, but I really object to the way everything was just sawed up. One would like to think that removal in 1900 or 1950 would have been somewhat more skillful than the 1801-1805 effort. Then again, who knows. During the 1930s the British Museum, led by I know not what strange impulse, went at the statues with wire brushes, which caused further damage. One would think that this would not have seemed a viable option by that time.
I was surprised, however, to see how much paint still remains on some areas of the statues, despite efforts by now-deceased British enthusiasts to render them pure white. Greek statuary was generally polychrome, not white, but time and devotees of the all-white look have had their way with most of it.
Whether the statuary is better off in London or Greece at this point is hard to say, but it has definitely had a hard life over the past 200 years.


Monday, April 09, 2007

The Irresistable Arm

While roaming the British Museum last weekend, I noticed that a good deal of the ancient sculpture is out where people can touch it, and that although there is signage here and there telling one that touching the statues causes the stone to deteriorate, certain works seem to invite a lot of handling.
I first noticed this with the monumental Assyrian statues of the five-legged demigods or whatever they might be. People were inclined to reach out and touch their flanks.
Other works, mainly Egyptian, seemed to prompt people to lean against them for photos, as if hugging a lifesized statue of a pharaoh or one of his courtiers made it one of the family. Museum guards made some attempts to deter people from this sort of familiarity.
On the other hand, it appeared that the guards had utterly given up trying to keep people from touching certain other items, like this monumental Egyptian arm. The number of people fondling this arm was so striking, and the flow of new families coming up to pet it so continual, that I decided that (photography being very much permitted) this phenomenon had to be documented. (Note guard minding his own business on the other side of the arm, not long after rescuing pharoah from the embrace of commoners.)

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Make Mine Chocolate

It's Easter. Orion, as a House Rabbit Society adoptee, reminds everyone not to buy baby rabbits as Easter surprises. Adopt a needy rabbit, or "make mine chocolate" as the campaign says. I didn't buy any chocolate rabbits this year, but we do have Orion chocolates in Prague!

And when I was in London, I saw this rabbit book in a publisher's window. It looked useful and I recommend it to UK readers.

(I considered getting a copy but decided I had too many other books in the backpack already. Wise move. They almost didn't let me on the plane back to Prague because now you can't carry anything in addition to your one piece of hand baggage. I mean, come on, the main reason I took a little overnight bag as well as the backpack was that I supposed I might buy a few books. But that was already full and checked when they told me I had to stuff my wallet into the backpack, which took about 15 minutes of repacking and donning of additional clothing. This must be how I lost my Prague transit pass.)
I suppose I should also have taken a look at how to teach dogs to read, but that seemed less practical than seeing whether the rabbit book offered good advice. Teaching dogs to read paled in comparison to another bookstore window in the neighborhood, which will shortly be featured...
Meanwhile, John suggests that perhaps I was a rabbit in a previous life. This could be true. Be as it may, I know that burying my face in Ms. Spots' fur always makes everything better... unless I'm experiencing one of those rare moments of fur sensitivity. Very rare. Even then, the unpleasant physical reaction is nothing compared to the good feeling of being close to a companionable rabbit.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, April 06, 2007

Surrealists at the V & A

Kristen has inquired whether I saw the Surreal Things show at the V&A.
Well, as a matter of fact, I did! I might have missed it had it not been for one or two posters in the Tube, since (as I went to the V&A in September) I hadn't planned on visiting the V&A on this trip.
The show focused, allegedly, on surrealist objects, but it had quite a few paintings as well; these were all supposed to tie in with the object theme in one way or another. Rather than get involved in a critique of the exhibition, which would involve more thought than I am prepared to give tonight, I think it is probably enough to say that the show was fairly large and had lots of interesting stuff to look at. I definitely enjoyed having the chance to see things like ballet costumes designed by surrealists (I was surprised to discover that leotards were once woollen; they must have been extremely hot to wear under stage lights). Objects from specific surrealist exhibitions were on display, so that included a couple of illustrated wardrobes made by Leonor Fini. There was also a considerable amount of surrealist-inspired fashion design, mostly by Schiaparelli. In fact, a 1945 Schiaparelli dress evidently inspired one of Toyen's paintings (unfortunately, the dress isn't in the catalog and I can't find it online).
The Schiaparelli-inspired painting (right) wasn't in the show, nor mentioned in any way, but a more interesting Toyen work was. Well... I don't mean to suggest I don't like the Schiaparelli-esque painting, because it's quite agreeably spooky unto itself, but I've always been intrigued by the painting Loi naturelle, which is never satisfactorily reproduced. It always ends up too small to really see the details.
Loi naturelle proves to be about five or six feet tall. It's a combination of painting and collage, and is fascinating to look at in real life, although I would have preferred the V&A to have hung it a little lower on the wall so that less of it was way above my head. Now that I've seen it for myself, I can say that the bottom floor is home to a red inner tube (from which issues a mysterious substance), the next floor has a table with an oil lamp that attracts moths, the following floor offers a doorway to an ornately furnished room, above that we have a bat and a garment in a room with file cabinets, next a room with some umbrellas huddled on the floor (warding off light or mist), then there's a seated woman, after which is a woman climbing the stairs, and then a room with hanging clothes and a set of file cabinets from which issue smoke or vapor. On the top there are two crawling men, but they're discernable even in quite small reproductions.
This is a work I would really like to to have at home, but of course it belongs to someone else. It simply can't be fully appreciated in a book-sized reproduction, or even fully seen. Consequently, I spent quite awhile looking at it.
There were also paintings by Dorothea Tanning and Leonora Carrington that I quite enjoyed seeing in real life, but they are not so hard to appreciate in reproduction.