In light of the ghastly recent rulings by the Supreme Court that toss the nation into a future of restricted lives and poorer health for women, more guns, and an accelerating race to utter climate disaster, it's hard to feel much but disgust and sorrow on the Fourth of July. A copy of this poster from Bill Clinton's first inauguration, signed by artist Carroll Cloar, hangs in my living-room. It fits because my husband and I live in a converted one-room schoolhouse (and voted for Clinton), yet I've always thought it was a bit ambiguous. Yes, to schools. Unease at a Southern legacy of white male supremacy. Yes, to subversive white dress to honor the suffragists. Cloar once said that he was influenced by Southern writers like Eudora Welty. We're all going to need wry perspectives in days to come. May a younger generation of activists show us the way forward to make things better!
Picturing a World
I am reading a poem a day in The Heeding, a collection by naturalist and poet, Rob Cowen, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The book is vividly illustrated by Nick Hayes (an evocation of place is on the dust jacket). Unlike many other disasters with global impact (including the war in Ukraine), COVID-19 has had immediate, individual effects on each and every one of us, which means that artists can grapple with it in very personal, concrete ways. I haven't really collected Pandemic Art, but I became aware when I bought The Heeding that a cluster of books is forming on my bookshelf. Nicholas Borden's Lockdown Paintings is a virtual contribution, a reminder of how important place can be.
Blog post alert: Friends, Romans, historical fiction writers, and history buffs, lend me your ears—and eyes and noses! VR bus drives back in time through ancient Rome gives you a taste of technology put to the task of immersing tourists in a real bus ride that takes passengers through an opt-in virtual reality that includes narrative, GPS-guided imagery, and wafts of smell. Screenshot via YouTube.
"In bringing out his Molossi and whaffling Whelps, and crying, Stoo Dogs, stoo."
Pure Hunting of the Snark! Well, actually, a line from a polemic of 1698 called Christ Exalted and Dr. Crisp Vindicated. I ran across it in the OED and chortled with delight without the slightest idea what it meant.
I've just watched the trailer for a film I'd love to see: Eric Ravilious: Drawn to War. It will be released in the U.K. in July. Maybe it will come to the U.S. or be streamed someday. Meanwhile, just the trailer is a treat!
When I wonder about an afterlife for my character Amy Richardson, I usually place her in the Glasgow Girls scene among fellow women artists. The most famous were Margaret Macdonald, who married Charles Rennie Macintosh, and her sister, Frances. I was reminded of one angle of Margaret's life in a recent review article about overlooked artistic wives. Charles Rennie Macintosh was and is certainly better known than Margaret, but he's the one who said "I have talent; she has genius."
Gobsmacked—that's my reaction. You could work out the iconography of Lady Fortuna. The moon is cyclical and fickle. Right, right, right. All the same…?!? The page comes in a treatise devoted to astronomy and astrology toward the end of a 15th C Netherlandish manuscript on natural history. (For the page, see image 00249). The treatise is bound with a description of a journey to the Holy Land. That's all I know, and I can't even come up with a writing exercise to go with it. Over to you.
Studying background landscapes and glimpses out windows is one of my favorite ways of immersing myself in ideas for fictional locations. This hillside town is a tiny background detail in Carpaccio's newly restored painting. There are scads of others clearly visible in the very hi-rez image mounted by the Thyssesn-Bornemisza Museo Nacional in Madrid as part of an exhibition, Carpaccio's Knight: Restoration and technical study. Leaving aside the art history angle, I'm trying to imagine a town where only lithe inhabitants and perhaps small, agile donkeys could conceivably go up and down regularly. Would it fit into a story as the perfect place for a fugitive to escape pursuers, or would its treeless heat and difficulty drive a character into venturing forth to seek a better life?
I'm reading The Universal History of Numbers by Georges Ifrah a few pages at a time. If you were like me, you had an elementary school teacher who reprimanded students who used fingers to count; but really it's a good way to reinforce understanding. Moreover, finger-counting has been used in remarkably complicated systems for calculations by many cultures over millennia. Ifrah illustrates one discussion with an image based on this early Renaissance painting of the 6th C philosopher and mathematician, Boethius, which is part of a fresco on the north wall of the Ducal Palace in Urbino. The portrait set me thinking that it would be worthwhile to pay attention to Finger Counting and Hand Diagrams in medieval illuminations in order to read them correctly.
Thanks to Keith Gessen's review in The New Yorker, I bought a copy of Andrey Kurkov's Grey Bees because I wanted to know more about life in Ukraine. The novel is set in the Donbas after Russian separatists have turned the region into a war zone. It makes for illuminating topical reading now that Putin has assaulted the whole country; but far more important to me, it goes on my shelf of deeply humane books to treasure and reread. My husband loved it, too, incidentally. It should appeal to many audiences—and kudos to Boris Dralyuk, who translates smoothly it into lovely English.