Saturday, May 1, 2021

Mata Hari as Seen by Jason Porath: A Rejected Princess


Jason Porath has been doing a fantastic work with his "Rejected Princesses." In his Web page, you can found tens of wonderful images of heroines who fought for (sometimes) good causes and (sometimes) won their battles. 

This image of Mata Hari is not realistic -- it is not meant to be. But it is a masterful interpretation of who she was and how she danced. Much better than other attempts to portray her as a character in a comic book. Available only in Porath's printed book



Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Lost World: When Children Walked to School Alone


You recognize a work of art when you see one. And this cover of the "Evening Post" by Amos Sewell is a work of art. Absolutely great! Amos Sewell (1901 -1983) is not known as a great artist, but if the purpose of a work of art is to carry a message, and to carry a message that resonates with the viewers, this image is on a par with the great masterpieces of the past.

Think about the challenge: one page -- one image. No text whatsoever. And, yet, Sewell tells us a whole story in a single image, a story that resonates with us, some 60 years later. It is a feat that many Renaissance artists managed in their paintings, and I think Sewell did just as well. 

So, we see a housewife relaxing on her sofa. The furniture is stunningly 1950s! In the background, a group of children walking toward the school bus. The housewife is completely sure that they are safe: no need to watch that they do board the bus. We can imagine her having prepared breakfast for them and, earlier on, for her husband. And now, she can enjoy a moment of peace for herself, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. Her expression alone is a masterpiece. 

For us, it is a world so distant and so different that we might think we are seeing the cover of one of the science fiction magazines of the time, with their bug-eyed monsters and their intrepid astronauts armed with ray guns. 

Can you believe that there was an age when most children would walk to school alone in the US? People walking around without being scared of other people, crime, guns, viruses, everything? And no one was fat! On the covers of the Evening Post, everyone is lean and fit. And that was not a distortion of reality, the photos of the time show that people were lean and fit at that time.

Not that the world of the 1950s was perfect. On the Post covers, there were only white people. The poor did not exist. Yet, it was still a nice dream of a peaceful world where everyone had a reasonably prosperous life. It was a period when the inequality in the US was at a historical low. 

Unfortunately, at some point, we had to wake up, and it was a big hangover. Now, it has become even worse.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Silence: Florence as a Ghost City


What I find most impressive in Florence, nowadays, is the silence. Maybe it was too noisy before. Maybe there were too many tourists, too many pizza restaurants, too many buses, too many cars, too many things. 

But now it is spectral. Two lone tourists in the large Pitti square. A playground without children. The only sign of life in a back road is the laundry at one of the windows. There are people inside the buildings, but nearly no one in the streets.

It is a ghostly feeling. It is not so much that people have disappeared. You can still see Florentines walking around. Some are terrified and walk close to the walls of the buildings, afraid even to look at other people's eyes. Others seem to be more carefree, with the summer, many seem to have had enough of their face masks. But the town is frozen in the expectation that everything will return as before, that the restaurants will reopen, that the tourists will come again, that the museums and the shops will be full again. 

It won't happen. Florence will have to find another way to exist, to survive, perhaps even to prosper. But, for now, it remains stuck in the memory of a time that will not come back. Like a ghost hovering around.

It brought back to my mind a poem by Giovanni Pascoli, an eerie story based on an old Tuscan legend. It is said that if you forget to take off the tablecloth after dinner, the dead will come during the night and sit at the table, trying to remember the old times, when they were alive. 


The Tablecloth -- Giovanni Pascoli (1907)
(translated by Ugo Bardi)
They told her: - Child!
that you never leave on the table,
from evening to morning,
but take it where you got it,
the white tablecloth, just 
after that dinner is over!
Watch out, the dead are coming!
the sad, pale dead!
They come in, panting silently.
Everyone is ever so tired! 
And they stop to sit
the whole night around that white cloth.
They stay there until the morrow,
with their head between their hands,
without making any noise, 
under the extinguished lamp.
The child is already grown up;
she keeps the house, and works:
does the laundry and the kitchen,
does everything the way it was then. 
She takes care of everything, but forgets
to clear the table.
Let the dead come,
the good, the poor dead.

Oh! the black, black night, 
of wind, water, snow,
let them enter in the evening,
with their feeble longing;
that they could go around the table
and rest until day comes, 
looking for distant facts
with their heads between their hands.

From evening to morning,
looking for distant things,
they eyes fixed, facing downwards, 
on some crumbs of bread,
and trying to remember,
they drink bitter tears.
Oh! the dead can't remember,
the dear ones, the dear dead ones!
From evening to morning,
looking for remote things,
they stay there, with bowed foreheads,
on some crumbs of bread,
and wanting to remember,
they drink bitter tears.
Oh! the dead don't remember,
the dear ones, the dear dead!

- Bread, yes ... it is called bread,
that we broke together:
remember? ... It is cloth, checkered:
there were so many things: do you remember? ...
These? ... These are two,
like yours and yours,
two of our bitter tears
fallen in remembering!  


La Tovaglia -- di Giovanni Pascoli (1907)

Le dicevano: ― Bambina!
che tu non lasci mai stesa,
dalla sera alla mattina,
ma porta dove l’hai presa,
la tovaglia bianca, appena
ch’è terminata la cena!
Bada, che vengono i morti!
i tristi, i pallidi morti!

Entrano, ansimano muti.
Ognuno è tanto mai stanco!
E si fermano seduti
la notte attorno a quel bianco.
Stanno lì sino al domani,
col capo tra le due mani,
senza che nulla si senta,
sotto la lampada spenta.

È già grande la bambina;
la casa regge, e lavora:
fa il bucato e la cucina,
fa tutto al modo d’allora.
Pensa a tutto, ma non pensa
a sparecchiare la mensa.
Lascia che vengano i morti,
i buoni, i poveri morti.

Oh! la notte nera nera,
di vento, d’acqua, di neve,
lascia ch’entrino da sera,
col loro anelito lieve;
che alla mensa torno torno
riposino fino a giorno,
cercando fatti lontani
col capo tra le due mani.

Dalla sera alla mattina,
cercando cose lontane,
stanno fissi, a fronte china,
su qualche bricia di pane,
e volendo ricordare,
bevono lagrime amare.
Oh! non ricordano i morti,
i cari, i cari suoi morti!

― Pane, sì... pane si chiama,
che noi spezzammo concordi:
ricordate?... È tela, a dama:
ce n’era tanta: ricordi?...
Queste?... Queste sono due,
come le vostre e le tue,
due nostre lagrime amare
cadute nel ricordare! ―

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Emma Ardinghi as a Chimera


I must confess that, sometimes, technology takes you by surprise. I was, by this animation of Emma Ardinghi, my great-grandmother, made using the deepfake technology provided on this site

I have the portrait of Emma made by her husband, Antonio that I use as a background for my cell phone. I didn't expect it to become alive in this way. Illusion, sure, but the world is all an illusion. This animation is truly eerie as it gives life to a person who was born more than a century and a half ago. I wonder what Emma would have thought if she had known what could be done with her portrait and about her great-grand son.

I don't know the birthdate of Emma, but she may have been born in the 1860s. She died in the 1930s. You can read something about her story here

And here is the original portrait from which the animation was made. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Painter and the Devils


The story of a mysterious palace near Florence. Who built it and why? Why is it called the "Palace of the Devils?" And what does it have to do with the Florentine painter Agnolo di Cosimo, known as "Bronzino"?

Thursday, February 18, 2021

An encounter across the ages


How many of us can say to have met one of their great-grand parents? Here is one such case: a very rare moment: the encounter of two lives separated by 99 years. Liliana, nearing 101, and Aurora, one and a half. So young the latter, and yet so evidently conscious of helping her great-grand mother. So old, the former, and yet clearly pleased at being helped by this descendant of hers. A fleeting moment by necessity. And yet, the meeting of these two daughters of Gaia gives you an impression of the great movement of life: coming and going, always flowing, always renewed, never ending.

For me, the best I can do is to show this image of myself with an ancestress of mine. My great-grandmother Emma in a painting made by her husband, Antonio Bardi





Sunday, January 17, 2021

Animula Vagula Blandula: In Memory of the Lost People



Ishi (c. 1861-1916), the last of the people of the Yahi, as he appeared when he emerged out of his ancestral woods in 1911. It is said that his last words were, "you stay, I go."


Animula vagula blandula
Hospes comesque corporis,
Quae nunc abibis in loca
Pallidula, rigida, nudula,
Nec, ut soles, dabis iocos.

P. Aelius Hadrianus, Imp.


Little Soul, soft and incorporeal
Host and companion of the body
Now you are going to places
Pale, hard, and nude
Where you won't have the joys of once

 P. Aelius Hadrianus Imperator

Piccola anima smarrita e soave,
compagna e ospite del corpo,
ora t’appresti a scendere in luoghi
incolori, ardui e spogli,
ove non avrai più gli svaghi consueti… 

 P. Aelius Hadrianus Imperatore