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Archive for September, 2009

ladybugThe World Funky Deviled Egg Plate 2010 Competition entry # 08 from Judie Vogus.

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Valerie Martin has her actor/narrator in The Confessions Of Edward Day say, “In general the actor’s memoir is divided into two parts: stirring tales of my youthful artistic suffering followed by charming profiles of all the famous people who admire me.  I’m not sure why this genre is popular, as nothing could be more boring than an actor’s life and actors are such a self-absorbed and narcissistic lot, they’re unlikely to make good narrators.”  I heartily agree.

I was never able to believe the characters in her book were close to being people, nor that Edward Day could be trusted with accounting for life on or off stage.  You may find the book interesting if you have dealt with Chekhov’s Uncle Vanyaas Chekhov is a competitive sport for both professional, university, and amateur theatre people.  They all have secretly channel Chekhov at some point in their life.  Charles Marlin

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We all have fits with our face.  When we notice, which is more often than we acknowledge, we try to alter it, hide it under makeup, neglect it in hope it will sort of go away, push it out in front of everything else, and sometimes try to keep it hidden from sunlight or direct eye contact.  Our face is our own but not disciplined to take commands, and it keeps falling and aging away with no regard to our pride and hurt feelings.  If “Bad Face” was not our very best friend we would have to punish it.  However, if you want to feel sorry for someone, consider the artist who decides he will be his own physician and paints himself.  Do you suppose that an artist can take out malpractice insurance on himself?

In Laura Cumming’s world, that is her book A Face To The World: On Self-Portraits, the successes are immensely intriguing, and the failures are spectacular.  She has created a new art game best played in museums but also at home.  If you collect prints, drawings, and photographs,  you may be surprised at the number of artist’s portraits you had not especially noted as such.  The game is to try to determine what the artist hoped to achieve by using himself, what he wanted to hide, and what he wanted to display; in the duality of aware and unaware, when was the artist artist and when was the artist subject.

The author covers many marquee names associated with self-portraits, but the attention given Americans is a bit light.  The English a bit over exposed.  Illustrations are often smaller than a reader would like, and many pages of text are printed on gray paper.  These are little complaints about a book art lovers will enjoy.  Charles Marlin

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carrot2The World Funky Deviled Egg Plate 2010 Competition entry # 07 from Sue DiFuccia.

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CahokiaBirdman[1]Ruins clutter the landscape.  They disrupt farming, buildings, roads, dams, and taking possession of what you own or plan to own.  The rule is that if you cannot plow over it, then recycle it for building material.  And in the course of time when you’ve made your fortune, you will have time to travel to see the historical ruins in foreign places, those ruins now made profitable by tourists.  Tourism is a cultural blessing, but not in one’s own backyard.

Timothy R. Pauketat, secure in both research and field experience, has written Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi, an empire capital that held power over the middle of our country for 300 years beginning in 1050.  It is a cultural shame that we were late in recognizing the abandoned and forgotten city that degradation took all but a ghost of it away.  The degradation by time and nature combined with what western development did to it are understandable.  In its place we created St Louis MO, no small town accomplishment.  It is the Gateway To The West.

The error of today is that students, parents, political and cultural leaders–actually all of us regardless of where we live in America know so little about the empire that lives on in the culture and character of Native Americans.  We should be so proud of Cahokia that every student in America can tell the story.

Despite the poise with which Pauketat pulls the story together, it is very evident that he is a conductor presenting a symphony from a mangled, incomplete score.  Never mind, the music is wonderful and unique, not easy to hum but easy to appreciate.  Hopefully our government at all levels, our research universities, and our cultural foundations will give financial support to the professionals who can bring additional pieces of the musical score.

This is not Pauketat’s first effort to tell the Cahokia story as the footnotes make clear, and is meant for a general readership, the kind found off a university campus.  It is the latest in The Penguin Library Of American Indian History.  If the earlier titles measure up to this one, you may want to check out the series.  Read a couple of chapters, then try to get a pickup game of chunkey going.  You can email me from your hospital bed.  Charles Marlin

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fruitNot every book offers a chance to change your life in ways so tasty that words are useless.  Out of Adam Leith Gollner’s experiences searching local markets everywhere for the heirloom, the exotic, the forgotten, the experimental, the delicate, the noncommercial fruits to lift body and soul in one bite has come his The Fruit Hunters: A Story Of Nature, Adventure, Commerce And Obsession.  This book will bring smiles and aspirations to those who love fruit when it is the very best and to those who enjoy shopping for the very best to eat.  It will stir plans for the future in all who are so fortunate as to own a bit of soil with direct sunlight.

He traveled everywhere locating these new taste experiences but he also found them close to home in farmer’s markets, roadside stands, and produce markets.  He learned that a friendly chat at the market can result in a contact who will be happy to share the next season’s harvest at just the right moment.  You may not meet fruit producers quite as colorful as he found, but with any luck you might.  So it is obvious, wondrous new fruit is for both eating and talking about.

He gives lots of sources for those who want to plant something special and make the adventure a long term affair.  One tree, one bush, one small garden patch is all it takes.  There is no way anyone will regret becoming a fruit grower.  I recall my childhood with a huge mulberry tree in the side yard and a pawpaw tree in the back yard and a wild blackberry thicket down the road.  I never knew I had it so good.

There is, however, a dark side to the book.  Gollner tells you in detail what urbanization, commercialization, and globalization has done to your food and health and to our environment.  It is not a pretty picture nor does it taste all that good either.  He doesn’t whine about the past or suggest a return to never-never land.  No street demonstration will ever produce fruit, but he suggests that individuals can search out and support the farmers, orchard owners, green grocers, and neighbors who do care about what you put in your mouth.  In this battle for the best, no one need eat alone.  Charles Marlin

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The illustration on the dust jacket of On Kindness by Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor is an open hand reaching through a hole punched in a wall as though receiving a desperately needed random act of kindness.  A better illustration would have been a fist punching out the hole in the wall.  It seems to take force and forethought for kindness to ever occur.  This is what one calls a “little book,” only 7 1/2 x 5″ in size and 114 pages, but packed with a distilled history of the seriously confusing human experience of kindness.  It is not uplifting.  It is not devotional.  It is not a garden walk.  It is introspective.  It is challenging.  It is refreshing.

Early on the authors write, “it is not that real kindness requires people to be selfless, it is rather that real kindness changes people in the doing of it, often in unpredictable ways. . . . Kindness is a way of knowing people beyond our understanding of them. . . . By involving us with strangers . . . as well as with intimates, it is potentially far more promiscuous than sexuality.”  Once the authors bring Rousseau and Freud into the picture, they write that, “in love we are likely to be fighting a losing battle . . . love never seems to deliver exactly what we want it to.  Love never works as magic, but it can work as kindness.”

With Winnicott’s help, the authors conclude that, “if there is a kindness instinct, it is going to have to take onboard ambivalence in human relations.  It is kind to be able to bear conflict, in oneself and others; it is kind, to oneself and others, to forgo magic and sentimentality for reality.  It is kind to see individuals as they are, rather than how we might want them to be; it is kind to care for people just as we find them.”  A life lesson to keep does not get any better than that one.

And finally in the last chapter the authors write, “people think that they envy other people for their success, money, fame, when in fact it is kindness that is most envied, because it is the strongest indicator of people’s well-being, their pleasure in existence.”  Here is finally a false note.  They did not take into account my envy of those who write so well.  Charles Marlin

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