Sunday, December 30, 2007

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) - Diarist

Pepys Sir Godfrey Kneller 1689 National Maritime Museum London

I've periodically kept diaries - at turbulent periods of my life, often when I'm traveling, if I'm bored and need a regular daily fill-in activity, ... . The great thing about them is you can chose to have no censorship at all on what you put down. Or a bit. Or a lot. And I guess the choice depends on whether you imagine someone else will ever read it or not.

Re-reading my earlier diaries, I find I sometimes 'say it how it is'. And then at other times I construct myself and what I've done in ways acceptable/attractive to others. Or, alternatively, construct my ideal of myself and my doings. Later in life, Christopher Isherwood got a lot of literary mileage out of unraveling the fictional transformations of himself and his history in his earlier novels. In 'Christopher and his Kind', the transformations in 'I Am A Camera', which later became the film 'Cabaret'.

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under James II. But his fame rests of the diary he kept between 1660 and 1669. He had a clear eye on himself and wanted to be quite frank about what he saw and did. And circumnavigated any problems that might arise out of 'dangerous' bits being read by using a code, or by writing in a variety of foreign languages.

He wrote about momentous events such as the Great Fire of London and the Plague of 1665.

But also about the day-to-day personal stuff of living in the C17: new activities (tea drinking), the gifting second-hand shoes, solutions to marital fighting, the relative efficacy of wax as opposed to tallow candles.

To the office, where Sir W Batten, Collonel Slingsby, and I sat a while; ... And afterwards did send for a Cupp of Tee (a China drink) of which I never had drank before) and went away. [1660, September 25]

This day, not for want but for good husbandry, I sent my father by his desire, six pair of my old shoes, which fit him and are good; yet methought it was a thing against my mind to have him wear my old things. [1667, December 5]

... and then home to dinner, where my wife and I had a small squabble; but I first this day tried the effect of my silence and not provoking her when she is an ill humour, and do find it very good, for it prevents its coming to that height on both sides, which used to exceed what was fit between us. So she became calm by and by .... [1668, March 27]

This night I begun to burn wax candles in my closet at the office, to try the charge and to see whether the smoke offends like that of tallow candles. [1664, December 15]

And recorded much more personal things: his infidelities, dog shit surprises, farting, his son's propensity for stealing ...

Thence after dinner I to White-hall with Sir W Berkely in his coach. And so I walked to Herberts and there spent a little time avec la mosa, sin hazer algo con ella que kiss and tocar ses mamelles, hazer la que me hazacosa a mi mismo con gran plaisir. (spent a little time with the beautiful one, making love with her to kiss and touch her breasts which made me do the thing [orgasm] with great pleasure) [1665, 20 June]

I went [to accompany the King to the shore] ... with a dog that the King loved (which shit in the boat, which made us laugh and me think that a King and all that belong to him are but just as others are) ... [1660, May 25]

And finding myself beginning to be troubled with wind, as I used to be, and with pain in making water, I took a couple of pills that I had by me of MrHollyards. [1663, October 6]

Before I went to the office my wife and I examined my boy Will about his stealing of things, as we doubted yesterday; but he denied all with the greatest subtlety and confidence in the world.... [1660, August 29]

I particularly like the next extract - it contains the collected round-the-dinner-party-table advice for ensuring pregnancy.

At noon to Anth. Joyces to our gossips dinner; I had sent a dozen and a half of bottles of wine thither and paid my double share besides, which is 18s. Very merry we were, and when the women were merry and ris from the table, I above with them, ne'er a man but I; I begin discourse of my not getting of children and prayed them to give me their opinions and advice; and they freely and merrily did give me these ten among them.

1. Do not hug my wife too hard nor too much
2. Eat no late suppers
3. Drink juyce of sage.
4. Tent and toast
5. Wear cool Holland-drawers
6. Keep stomach warm and back cool
7. Upon my query whether it was best to do at night or morn, they answered me
neither one nor other, but when we have most mind to it
8. Wife not to go too straight-laced
9. Myself to drink Mum and sugar
10. Mrs Ward did give me to change my plat

The 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 10th they all did seriously declare and lay much stress upon them, as rules fit to be observed indeed, and especially the last: to lie with our heads where our heels do, or at least to make the bed high at feet and low at head. [1664, July 16]

A fun read, even today!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hadrosaur or Duck-Billed Dinosaur SKIN

Hadrosaur, or Duck-Billed Dinosaur

As a little little kid I was crazed about dinosaurs ... almost as much as I am today about cute hairy muscular blond guys. Is this any sort of progress? Mmm ... .

Anyway, I had my vast herds of plastic models ... dinos of many species. Which used to fight ferociously and to the death on my bedroom floor. Against nature, herbivores joined in the fray, even my favorite, the huge long-necked tiny-brained brontosaurus.


I remembered all this recently, watching a doco on the discovery of the fossil of a 67 million year old hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur. It was found in 1999 by teenage paleontologist Tyler Lyson on his parents' property in North Dakota.

Dino Discoverer Tyler Lyson with his Find on his Parents North Dakota Property

Now what was so exciting about this discovery was that the dinosaur's reptilian skin had been recorded in the stone, which is incredibly incredibly rare. And preserved in a three dimensional way which suggested the underlying musculature. As a consequence, the hydrosaur is now seen as a much heftier animal. There were also indications the skin was striped, as shown in the first image.

The Hadrosaur's Skin

The fossil of the entire creature was extracted from the site and taken to a local university for deep scanning to determine if tendons and other soft tissues may have been recorded as had been the skin. The stone was too massive and dense for successful penetration. New technology is now awaited.

My plastic friends found their way into a gigantic old toy box in our garage and from there mysteriously vanished - no doubt another act of subterfuge by the Matriarch, fondly known as 'Empress Wu'.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Rose Seidler House (1948-50), Sydney

In the next few days, I want to go and see the Rose Seidler House (1948-50). Designed by well-known Sydney architect Harry Seidler for his mother. It is a later expression of the Bauhaus and the International Style of the 1920's, whose antecedents were in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright in the very earliest years of the twentieth century.

This movement was characterized by opening up of the interior, so space flowed through the house and its living areas. Rather than closing it off as rooms, leaving space static. Open plan living. The exterior was constructed of undecorated planes - the whole often box-like and raised on piloti or slim steel columns. And floor to ceiling glass wall windows. The two most famous examples are Le Corbusier's Ville Savoye (1928-31), Poissy, France and, more extremely, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion (1928-29), Barcelona, Spain.

Le Corbusier - Ville Savoye (1928-31), Poissy, France

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - Barcelona Pavilion (1928-29), Barcelona, Spain

The Seidler House in Sydney looks forward from these styles to integrate 1950's architectural elements, such as the feature wall in the second photograph. And back to Frank Lloyd Wright in the monolithic masonry fireplace.

The House is located at 71 Clissold Road, Wahooonga, Sydney. It is open to the public 11am-3pm Wednesday to Sunday.

I'll take some photographs there and post anything that seems worth adding.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Who Am I?

Do you have a photographic memory for detail?

If you do, you'll be able to recognize this famous person from his equally famous snail trail. And, more esoterically, from the arm and chest tats.

So who do you reckon is it guys?

I'll post the answer tomorrow. But I'm sure anyone who inhabits the gay sector of he blogosphere will be able to guess long before that!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Colorized Old Photographs

Moorish cafe, Tunis, Tunisia - Late C19

I'm particularly fond of old travel photos that have been colorized. On one level, color gives the sense of immediacy - of realness - of modern photography. In contract with that sometime remoteness in old black and white images. But on the other hand, the harmonized sepia palette has an other worldliness. The result is a curious tension. Though maybe this is only to modern eyes.

Arabs Before a Cafe, Algiers, Algeria - Late C19

In fact, there is something else I really like about these works. It's the self-consciously managed composition. As opposed to something more candid and spontaneous. This undisguised organization seems a throw-back to early photography's attempts to be taken as a serious art form. By following the tenets of some current painting. The following early photograph is composed like a C17 Dutch Still Life painting.

Calvert Richard Jones 'Garden Implements', 1847

The point should be made that there is a palpable difference between setting up the people and the props of a scene to obtain the perfect composition, and looking for that 'right' balanced (often momentary) composition.

Fishermans' Boat on the Lake, Tiberias, Israel - Late C19

Luce Ben Aben, Moorish women preparing couscous, Algiers, Algeria

Distinguished Moorish women, Algiers, Algeria

Arabs playing chess, Algiers, Algeria

As well as travel images, I've recently come across a number of old colorized portraits.

Bedouin Shepherds - Late C19

Hammersdorf, Hermmanstadt i.e., Hermannstadt, Hungary, Austro-Hungary

Girl of Sarajevo, Bosnia, Austro-Hungary

This is one photographic genre that today can still legitimately deploy a certain formalism.
Prison Break

A man escapes from prison where he has been for 15 years. He breaks into a house to find money and guns and finds a young couple in their bedroom in twin beds. He ties them each to a bed. He gets on top of the girl, kisses her neck, then gets up and goes to the bathroom. While he's in there, the husband tells his wife: "Listen, this guy is an escaped convict, look at his clothes!!! He probably spent lots of time in jail and hasn't seen a woman in years!! I saw how he kissed your neck! If he wants sex don't resist, don't complain, do whatever he tells you! Satisfy him no matter how much he nauseates you! This guy is probably very dangerous! If he gets angry he'll kill us!! Be Strong honey, I Love You!!" To which his wife responds: "He wasn't kissing my neck! He was whispering in my ear!! He told me he was gay, thought you were cute, and asked me if we have any vaseline. I told him it was in the bathroom. Be Strong Honey, I Love You Too!!!!!!!"
Diane Arbus (1923-1971) - Demeaning Voyeur or Empathetic Observer?

I remember first coming across photographer Diane Arbus' work in Liberty's Bookshop in Adelaide, South Australia. I was quite uncomfortable looking at many of her images. Which were at times criticized for what was perceived as 'demeaning voyeurism'. I think I agreed with this view at the time but I'm not so sure today.

There are those photographs of ordinary people who seem transfigured into some kind of often temporary strangeness. Probably in part by the society in which they inhabit. They have received a certain ideology which is simply being expressed. Though they may well have brought something odd to bear to the particular context themselves.

The point should be made that the first image - 'Boy with Grenade' - was somewhat contrived. What has alway interpreted as a war-mad gesture seemed to have been achieved by Arbus endlessly moving the lad around, claiming to be looking for the right angle. Finally impatient, he yelled "Take the picture already!" and gestured. Which she snapped. I guess Arbus was content enough for the picture to be viewed as anti-war propaganda.

Then there are photographs of the economically and/or educationally disadvantaged who, it might be argued, had not the 'capacity' (in whatever terms) to construct themselves otherwise than they appear here.

And those who might be considered perhaps intrinsically unusual in some way - BUT this from the white middle-class American (WASP) perspective of the time.

Finally, there those images of the mentally challenged ...

... who, to me at least, seem empathetically presented. They seem happy in terms of being emotionally content, engaged and purposeful.

This positive interpretation seems borne out by Arbus' own words.

"Most people go through life dreading they'll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born
with their trauma. They've already passed their test in life. They're aristocrats."

And reinforced in the further quotation.

"What I'm trying to describe is that it's impossible to get out of your skin into
somebody else's... That somebody else's tragedy is not the same as your own."

While these groups of subjects have 'issues', we do ourselves, just others.

I wonder whether it was Arbus' own 'tragedy' lead to suicide in 1971.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Moment of Levity

No need for any comments!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Princess Der Ling 德龄 (1885-1948) - The Qing Court and Beyond

Empress Dowager of China Cixi, Princess Der Ling (immediate left in photo) and the Eunuch Tsui Yu-Kuei (partially obscured by an umbrella) - 1903

For some reason, I find fascinating characters who are near an epicenter of power but just out of the direct glare of attention. Princess Der Ling is one such person. These people can observe momentous events in the safety of the shadows.

For two years in the earliest years of the C20, the princess was a favorite lady-in-waiting to the Empress Dowager Cixi in the late Qing Court.

She was western-educated, having studied dance in Paris with Isadora Duncan. And multilingual. A diarist. And a story-teller, publishing 'Memories of a Chinese Princess - Two Years in the Forbidden City' (1911), which can be read online at:

Like the Last Emperor Puyi's 'From Emperor to Citizen', her book gives a first-hand insight into late C19 court life in the Forbidden City. As such, it is a valuable social-domestic history of a time and place.

The Last Emperor of China, Puyi 溥儀 (1906-1967)

Later titling herself as 'Princess' created on-going controversy:

The Der Ling married American Thaddeus C White and migrated to the United States in the late 1920's. And, while a rabid apologist for Cixi, she wrote a number of books and articles and lectured in the service of promoting a real understanding of Chinese history and culture. She died in 1948.

Princess Der Ling in Western Attire

Princess Der Ling - 1939

What appears to be the definitive biography will appear in 2008 - 'Imperial Masquerade: The Legend of Princess Der Ling', Grant Hayter-Menzies, Hong Kong University Press.

So we'll have a more objective and scholarly account of Der Ling's time at court, as well as her life in Republican China, and then later in the United States. Her early memoir suggests an intriguing character and it will be interesting to see how this is borne out in the new book.

Friday, December 14, 2007

My John and Betty Reader

The first book I ever owned, as opposed to the first read to me (by my grandmother - 'Bib and Bud - Their Adventures') was 'John and Betty'. Primary school, maybe Grade 1. It was a slim volume and had a soft cover. And finished up on the top of the wardrobe in my bedroom - it was still there when I was a teenager.

I recall the process of reading was a real mystery to me. The teacher expected her pupils to know how to do it and was scathing if you couldn't. Old school teaching!

But there is a real pleasure just remembering sensory things about the book. Such as the distinctive smell of the pages. And their glossy feel to the touch. The way the book flopped when you picked it up, as a hardback do not.

But when I goggled-imaged it, I was strangely disappointed. Some things about it were not as I remembered. And I had wanted to have an easy nostalgic romp seeing it again.

The illustrations seemed different, though I had only the vaguest idea of what the originals had been like. And the story seemed nothing like what I could not even remember!

So I began to think about the potentially tricky relationship between memory and fact or actuality. Particularly when you have a sense the two are seriously not matching up.

I have the actuality now - the book itself, or JPEG's of it - but I reject this reality as it's not convincing for me. I can't imagine adjusting my memory in some way to align it with these files. It's not just the 'wrong' images and text. What in fact seems more important to me are all the feelings and the general atmosphere generated by my version of the primer. I think the challenge is to create my own real reader. And sleep soundly at night again.