Lost and Found

“Last Stop For Lost Property” (below) is a short film by Peruvian filmmaker Vincente Cueto that offers a sentimental look at items that were lost in the New York City subway  and bus system and found at a later time. The film is narrated by Sonny Drayton, who seems to have a unique perspective on the MTA’s lost and found department. While Drayton wants to ensure that the folks visiting the lost and found office have positive results, he’s actually a volunteer of sorts, and not a MTA employee.

 

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The house was quiet and the world was calm.

If you are looking for a holiday gift for the bibliophiles in your life the Everyman’s Library recently published a splendid new volume in its Pocket Poets series, Books and Libraries: Poems. The 272-page anthology, with gorgeous jacket art, includes such poets as Stevens,Horace, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Borges, Angelou, and others, all paying homage to books and libraries. The book’s editor, Andrew Scrimgeour, is the Archivist Emeritus of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Dean of Libraries Emeritus of Drew University.

The poems are sorted into meaningful categories including the love of books, readers, the reading experience, discovering reading as a child, celebrating individual books and authors, libraries, librarians, writing books, and the future of books and reading, and “Marginalia.”

The lead poem in the book is “The House was Quiet and the World Was Calm” by Wallace Stevens. Stevens captures the experience of reading alone at night in a quiet house on a summer evening and becoming sublimely lost in the book.

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night
Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,
Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom
The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.
The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.
And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself
Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.
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Love, Desire, Death

In the fascinating video below, Peter Schade, the Head of the Framing department at Britain’s National Gallery, shows the process of creating six huge matching frames for the Titian: Love Desire Death exhibition. Matthias Wivel, Curator of 16th-century Italian paintings, and curator of the exhibition, discusses how these frames complement the paintings, known as Titian’s ‘poesie’. Watch the process of these frames being created, from workshop to exhibition. This includes sourcing materials, planing, carving, gilding, and toning the frames.

https://youtu.be/yBpqBIMyDSw

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Literary Selfies

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The Driver Is Red

The moving animated documentary below is about how Israeli Mossad agent Zvi Aharoni tracked down and captured Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina 15 years after WWII ended. It is a powerful piece of art and history.

The rare film won  festival prizes as both a documentary and as an animation, Randall Christopher’s The Driver is Red is a stunning showcase for his minimalist pen and ink art and for his grand aim to increase public awareness of WWII history (which he perceives to be rapidly fading from the consciousness of younger generations). Should he succeed in that noble aim however, the reason will be that he has taken a potentially dry historical record and transformed it into an imaginative and unabashedly cracking spy thriller.

Told through the experience of Israeli Mossad agent Zvi Aharoni, the film documents the discovery and capture of Adolf Eichmann, the senior Nazi official largely responsible for organizing and executing the Holocaust. Hidden for 15 years half a world away, and living under an assumed identity, Eichmann is tracked down by Aharoni and the agent, with a small team in tow, must design and execute a strategy for Eichmann’s capture and extradition.

 

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beneath the stains of time

There is often a very real chain linking American literature and music. Sometimes it can be heavyhanded and intrusive, at other times it is truly organic and compelling. I was recently reading Louise Erdrich’s new novel The Sentence which, among other things, eerily captures the spectral mood of the last two years. (More on the book later.) At one point, the protagonist hears Johnny Cash’s heartbreaking version of Trent Reznor’s Hurt playing mysteriously on her own playlist. As often happens, the video of the very same recording showed-up in a blog that I follow. If by some chance you haven’t heard Cash’s version, here it is:

Although I often post about books, I try and avoid book reviews mainly because I hate reviewers spoiling a book for me and don’t want to be that person. But I seem to have backed myself into a corner in the case of Louise Erdrich’s “The Sentence.”  Sufficeit to say, the novel has a literary shape-shifting quality that eludes simplistic descriptions. The novel effortlessly genre switches from what has been described as a “zany crime caper” to a heartening story of redemption, to an exploration of America’s original sins of native genocide and racism, a book about the life-transforming nature of literature, to a ghost story, and a tale of our pandemic, apocalypse, groundhog day as experienced by the staff of a small indie bookstore. So, I hope that I’ve managed a non-review book review, in any case it’s well worth a read.

NB: once again, if you subscribe to TBTP by email, and the video fails to play, just click on the short url link at the bottom.

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The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents

English author  and naturalist Edward Topsell (1572-1625) first published his book The History of Four-footed Beasts in 1607, followed by The History of Serpents in 1608. Topsell borrowed extensively from Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner’s Historia animalium (“History of Animals”), a five-volume set of books published in 1551-1557. Topsell’s books included many of the same illustrations as Gessner’s Historia animalium. These illustrations include actual animals as well as fantastical beasts such as a unicorn, hydra, and sea monk.

In 1658, Topsell’s books were reprinted together as the massive 1,100 page tome The History of Four-Footed Beasts and SerpentsThis 1658 edition, published by Ellen Cotes for George Sawbridge.  The full title is:

“The history of four-footed beasts and serpents: describing at large their true and lively figure, their several names, conditions, kinds, virtues (both natural and medicinal) countries of their breed, their love and hatred to mankind, and the wonderful work of God in their creation, preservation, and destruction: interwoven with curious variety of historical narrations out of Scriptures, fathers, philosophers, physicians, and poets: illustrated with divers hieroglyphicks and emblems, &c. both pleasant and profitable for students in all faculties and professions.”

These days, Topsell might be labeled a curator since he did not add a lot of new information to his books, but he can be appreciated as a popularizer of natural history because translating Gessner’s work into English opened it up to new audiences. The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents is considered one of the first major zoological works printed in English.

 

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But, Where Are You Really From

Most folks go through life without ever being asked “where are you really from”, but people from a minority ethnic background or mixed racial heritage are frequently subjected to the intrusive question. Here in North America this is an all to common problem, especially for people from Asian backgrounds.

Following the steep rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, particularly after the Covid-19 pandemic, the Asian American Federation partnered with ten Asian and Asian-American artists and storytellers to spotlight hopeful stories surrounding ideas of “belonging” through the experiences of the selected Asian-American creatives.

For its Hope Against Hate initiative, the AAF wanted to raise money in support of its community programs – which includes safety and training programs in New York City – by addressing that annoying question. Using the format of travel posters, the AAF shows where Asian Americans are actually from. On first view, they appear to be vinatge posters for vacation destinations. But at a closer look, they show themselves as posters for New York City, Houston, Seattle, St. Louis, and San Diego.

The campaign’s goal is to celebrate the relationships each storyteller has with the place they call home. These stories then acted as the inspiration for ten well-known Asian and Asian-American artists to create a collection of travel posters that feature the cities and neighbourhoods the storytellers hail from. The illustrators are Bianca Austria, Jun Cen, Dani Choi, Sophie Diao, Lisk Feng, Kezia Gabriella, Debroah Lee, Lydia Ortiz, Gica Tam, and Jiaqi Wang.

The posters are exclusively available through a donation to Hope Against Hate, and the stories will run throughout social media, digital asset creations, and virtual and live events where the AAF hopes to inspire the community and its allies with stories of belonging. The AAF is encouraging people to learn more about the current anti-Asian crisis, how to fight back, and to share their own stories on the I’m Really From page here.

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Questions of Travel

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
– For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren’t waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
– Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
– A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.

– Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr’dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages
– Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds’ cages.
– And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians’ speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

‘Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one’s room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there… No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be? ‘

Questions of Travel

Elizabeth Bishop

 

 

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Just One More Thing

The photo above perfectly captured MRW I saw an image on a blog of a Peter Falk statue in Budapest, Hungary. Now, I’ve only been to Budapest one time, and only spent five days in the Hungarian capital, but somehow I missed the fact that there was a prominent statue of America’s most beloved TV detective character on a center city street.

The statue is located on Falk Miksa utca and was installed in 2014 as part of a neighborhood renewal project in the area, although exactly why the figure was chosen is a bit of a mystery. According to organizers, actor Peter Falk may have been related to the 19th-century Hungarian political figure, Miksa Falk, after whom the street is named, although they also admit that this connection has yet to be proven. Falk is known to have had Hungarian roots on his mother’s side of his family, but there’s no recorded linked to Miksa Falk’s family.

At Falk’s feet, there’s also is a bronze basset hound modeled after a local dog named Franzi, who even showed up for the unveiling. This is of course supposed to represent Columbo’s droopy-faced pet, “Dog.”

Just one more thing: There is also a little bronze squirrel with a gun right behind Colombo. Why is it there and what it means is a bit of a mystery.

 

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