Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lost and Found 'Treasures'

Did you ever rummage through junk shops in the hope of finding a lost 'treasure'? I think it's a deep-seated thing in human nature.

The only such discovery I've ever made was in a second-hand store - a Galle art glass vase, supported on a gilt bronze organic form. Not unlike the Degue example below, but with the bowl 'organic' in the same mode of the stand.

Art Glass by Degue

Being a student at the time and financially challenged, I sold the vase the very same day to an antique dealer friend for forty times what I'd paid for it. And it appeared the following day in his smart shop window - centre-stage and spot lit - with a three-fold marked up price tag.

Now this discovery rush can be experienced second-hand.

Like when I read about the finding by Bedouins of the roughly 1000 Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran in 1947 and 1979. Hidden in jars in remote caves in mountains, they were copies of religious and other documents from before 100 AD.

Caves at Qumran

Dead Sea Scroll

Qumran Scroll Jar

The latest of these rushes I've had was when I heard about the discovery four years ago of the masterpiece 'Tres Personajes' (1970) by legendary Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo - in trash in a New York street.

'Tres Personajes' (1970) - Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991)

Doing unrelated research on the 'Antiques Roadshow FYI' website in the 'Missing Masterpieces' segment, the finder saw her oil painting and contacted its earlier owner - it had been purchased at auction in 1977 and stolen in 1987.

In November 2007, the real owner achieved $1,049,000 at Sotheby's auction sale, with the finder (Elizabeth Gibson) happily getting a substantial reward - $15,0000 plus a percentage of the action sale!

Emily Genauer, art historian and author of the most important work on the artist in English, has said of the artist:

'Tamayo’s lasting legacy to art history is the re-examination of Cubism and the explication of Mexico’s pre-Columbian history while incorporating elements of the mainstream movements of 20th century art. Tamayo is known for his vivid coloring and innovative use of texture, often incorporating sand and raw pigment into his works.'

Of course, stories like these are the genesis of untold numbers of 'great urban myths' and are a great boost to the faking industry.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

And Continuing the 'Space' Theme ...

A friend of a friend's granddaughter works for NASA and sent me these rather spectacular photographs taken during an Endeavour mission.

Click on each one and you get really great enlargement!

This last pic is of Hurricane Dean.

Well, my socks are blown off!

Though looks rather more like something produced on a Hollywood movie set.

And reminds me of the conspiracy theory of the early 1970's that man-men never actually went to the moon - it was all manufactured by NASA on a back lot somewhere or other. All in the service of winning the space race.

Did everyone hear this great urban myth?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Some Interesting Stuff about the Moon

A Moon Candy Box

I was reading a piece about the creation and destiny of the moon, and became aware of two interesting things I hadn't previously known. No, not it's exact diameter or the distance from the earth down to the last centimetre! Aren't there so many facts out there that you don't wanna or need to know! Like just so much National Geographic wallpaper.

Interesting Fact Number One. The origin of the moon was from the accretion of the material thrown into space when Thea, one of the larger numbers of planets that circled our sun four billion years ago, collided with the earth.

Still from the early French film 'Le Voyage dans la lune' (Georges Melies, 1902)

Interesting Fact Number Two. Some of the craters on the moon were formed when debris from this collision was finally drawn to the moon by it's gravitational field. So the early geological history of the earth has been preserved there in a pristine undegraded state.

Features of the Moon Giving Rise to the 'Man in the Moon' Stuff: Eyes (Lava Flows of Mare Imbrium and Mare Serenitatis), Nose (Flow of Sinus Aestuum) and Mouth (Flows of Mare Nubium and Mare Cognitum)

Interesting Fact Number Thrre. The moon is increasingly moving away from the earth - at the rate of half an inch a year, a fact determined by scientists from beaming radio waves off a panel left on its surface during one of the moon landings.

So the moon's POQ-ing! And going to leave us in a romantic vacuum!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Gelato Non-Trivia - The Real Best Gelateria in Rome

Piazza della Rotonda, Rome

The big domed building here is the Pantheon, which forms the southern side the Piazza della Rotonda in Rome.

It was constructed on the site by the emperor Hadrian in 118 AD, and was so named as it was dedicated to all the gods. Its dome was the largest in the world (with a diametre of 142 feet) ...

... till 1436, with the completion of the one crowning the Dumo in Florence.

Marcus Agrippa, the emperor Augustus's son-in-law, had founded the first Roman temple on the site in 27 BC - one dedicated to Venus and Mars. This building had subsequently been raised by fire.

But cutting to the chase, guys ... the arrow on the opening google-eyed view of the piazza locates the cafe with absolutely the very best gelato on the entire planet. There is a vicious rumour that is the best gelateria in the city is the Giolitti, founded in 1800 - propaganda no doubt put out by the current owners or their co-conspirators. But here is a photo of the real best gelateria - arrowed.

Gelato Heaven, Piazza della Rotunda

Given this vital bit of gelato-straightening-out tourist-ese, you'd need to live in the Piazza della Rotonda for easy access. The absolutely charming old-style hotel below is only 50 metres away - I'm hunting down its name ... next post! Always wanted to stay there.

BTW, the best flavour on offer at the gelateria (only in my opinion, of course) is nocciola or hazelnut. And you gotta have the 20 Euro big big serve - you'll hate yourself if you go cheap and have anything less.

So armed with all this vital info, your next visit to the eternal city can be the perfect well-rounded experience you've constantly dreamt of!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Mark Twain / Samuel Clemens (1835-1910) and Knowing My Grandfather

Mark Twain (1835-1910) - Humourist, Lecturer, Satirist and Writer

My mother used to tell me that her father never went to the theatre - this was her usual set up for the story we all knew was inevitably coming!

My grandfather was a Rhodes scholar who became physician and lecturer in medicine, leaving the house at 6am and returning after midnight - for his four hours of sleep. So for his grandchildren he was totally remote. He used to visit us perhaps once every few years - in his big big glamorous American limo (the child's perspective), which he changed over each year and was his only concession to worldliness. Though he also allowed himself a month's fishing a year - with his wife ...

... his children being parked with the cook in an old guest house he'd bought in the country ...

I have often wondered over the years about this famous and mysterious person. But I could never manage to bring anything specific about him to mind to work up his personality or his outlook on life. So I suppose I profiled him according to profession and socio-economic class.

Then my mother died a few years back and I was given a series of photographs her father had taken of aboriginals on the way to one of his fishing trips ...

... which seemed out of type - my curiosity was again piqued.

And today I got another an unexpected insight.

I was watching a doco on Mark Twain, author of 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' and 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'. And realized what an incredibly quirky irreverent self-deprecating iconoclastic funny guy this writer was.

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

I have never taken and exercise except sleeping and resting.

I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hands and lead him to a quiet place and kill him.

I have been through some of some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.

I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.

And then I remembered the point of my mother's story - that her father had only ever ventured out once to the theatre - to hear Mark Twain on a tour of Australia in 1896.

And I suddenly understood something of my grandfather's character. To venture out, he must have had a strong empathy with the writer. And been in some ways like-minded. So different from the conventional elite guy I'd profiled up - great to have this new and much more exciting construction!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Rolando Sarabia - the Cuban Nijinski

In 2005, Rolando Sarabia 'defected' to the US from Cuba and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. To become a Principal dancer with Miami City Ballet.

Amazing technique. Love the triple 'tour en l'aire' from a stationary fifth position at the beginning of the second clip!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Giving Good Greek Head

Head of Greek Wrestler, British Museum

I've had this incredibly beautiful antique Greek bronze head as my desktop image for a while. And stare in awe at it every time boot up. So I thought why not post it!

But I know nothing about it - and I've unsuccessfully surfed the net for ... it seems, ever. Particularly the British Museum's homepage.

So if anyone has any knowledge ... I'd love to hear.
Playing Cards over Time and Place

I began looking at images of old playing cards and realized it's a mania as powerful as stamp collecting.

Playing cards probably developed in China, along with the invention of paper and with other ‘suit’ games like Mah Jong and dominoes. One of the earliest references to cards in China was in the Tsin dynasty when T'ao K'an (259-334 AD) was reported by a local chronicler to have "flung into the river the wine cups and yü-p'u [Chinese cards] of his subordinates, remarking, 'Yü-p'u is a game for drovers, and swineherds' ".

Early Chinese Playing Cards

But the first reference in Europe was in 1377 – where the suits of cups and swords were added to those of coins and strings of coins adapted, in Chinese cards, from the circles and bamboos taken from Mah Jong. Non-figurative court cards were added on the journey to the west through the Islamic Empire. To be replaced by figurative cards of kings and their attendants of knights on horseback and foot-servants. Queens still do not appear in the card sets of many European countries, such as Spain. And Switzerland retains, from early German cards, the banner for the tens.

As well as the traditional designs ...

Traditional Designs - James Hardy, London (1827)

... there are lots of interesting variations, according to time and place, for example ...

Islamic (C15) - King of Coins and 5 of Sticks or Bamboos

French Court Cards - Kings (c1500)

Revolution Playing Cards (c.1689)

Morden's Playing Cards (1676)

Astronomisches Kartenspiel - German Astronomical Cards (1719)

King, England (1805)

Hall & Son playing cards, England (1806-10)

J.G. Cotta (1805)

German publisher J.G. Cotta, active in Tübingen (early 1800's)

Various German Cards (from 1825 to 1868)

G.Payer (c.1850)

Shakespeare' Goodall and Son London (1893)

F. Piatnik & Söhne, Wien 1895

Netherlands (1920)

'Vanity Fare' Set (1920's)

Sumio Kawakami's woodblock prints, by Okuno Karuta, Japan (1939)

Concentration Camp Deck, Dachau (1945)

And what post would be complete without some examples of those fag nude cards of the 1960's and 1970's ...

... which I reckon are great for the guys' hair as much as anything else!