Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day or The Man in the High Castle

The Amazon series The Man in the High Castle based on Philip K. Dick’s l962 novel of the same name is becoming prescient. Dick envisioned an alternate universe in which the axis powers won the Second World War dividing the spoils, ie the US amongst them. Philip Roth’s 2004 The Plot Against America painted a similar kind of parallel universe catalyzed by a putative Charles Lindbergh victory in the l940 election against Roosevelt. Today it’s no longer the Axis powers that are a threat but the Russians. Joseph McCarthy is probably peeing in his grave. The paranoiac vision of Dr. Strangelove is now coming true replete with the ultimate mole, in the form of a newly elected president. Actually most publishers wouldn’t even have accepted this novel, as it doesn’t allow for the willing suspension of disbelief. However, here it all is, real estate ventures, branding deals, golden showers all provided under the watchful eye of Russian intelligence, a practice know as Kompromat which is a far cry from the old Samizdat. In this new version of The Man in a High Castle President Trump appoints President Putin as director of the C.I.A in attempt to create a new business model of international relations, in which annexations and even invasions are simply looked through the lens of a business model, as mergers and acquisitions. Thus it doesn’t matter if Russia acquires the United States or the United States acquires Russia. In the net result, the two countries become one big happy family ruled by Putin & Trump LLC.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Portrait of an Odd Couple

For years, they were not a fixture of the Hampton’s social scene or anywhere. You could see them, pretending to study the menus in the window of tony restaurants as they  ogled the crowds. Some people get into trouble when they have too much fun, parenting kids out of wedlock and becoming addicted to the pleasures they once merely enjoyed. Yet this couple found themselves getting into fender benders as their eyes riveted on the luxury cars parked outside of all the social gatherings they were never invited to and from whose windows emanated music and laugher that disemboweled these unwary travelers on the shoals of unfulfilled desire. There had always been a hope that they would one day be rewarded for the profession they’d made out of their very apartness from human society. However, as the years passed and it became apparent they would never receive recognition for their talented anomie, they began to undertake the things that people do who have nowhere else to go such as wait on the 12 items and under line in supermarkets, enroll in discount clubs and seek even greater discounts on bulk merchandise, like toilet paper, than the ones they already enjoyed. Finally one summer’s day when the rest of the community in which the had anonymously been vacationing (if that's the appropriate word for their extended isolation) had proceeded to their cocktail parties after spending the afternoon lying languidly on the beach, the feckless couple simply decided to give up and head back to the Metropolis. All the restaurants would be emptied of the fine people whose happy lives had always been a rebuke to them and they’d get home in record time since they’d be going against the traffic.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Rome Journal: Pluperfect

"Pluperfect" watercolor by Hallie Cohen
Rome is an archeological site. Layers of history co-exist with an urban infrastructure that allows the current iteration of civilization to perpetuate itself. Railway lines run alongside ancient aqueducts. Futuristic structures, remnants of the Mussolini era, are punctuated by arches and monumental sculptures that reflect both a nostalgia and idealization of the classical age. The juxtapositions on almost any street corner of the city can be surreal and the contemporary culture often reflects these contrarieties. A former power station becomes an exhibition space for antiquities. There are tracks everywhere, but the timeline is the subliminal means of transport by which the populace navigates its daily destiny. Nature itself is less predictable. The Tiber runs through the city and the refulgent vegetation and palm trees are reminders that Rome is almost tropical, a rain forest out of which the first stirrings of an empire that bridged the gap between the pagan and Christian worlds, would come to life. Rome is a pageant in which the alliance between the past and the present is dramatic, theatrical and inescapable. In the Eternal City precious collective memories are recaptured by ancient architecture.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Rome Journal: Artimesia Gentileschi et il suo tempo

"Judith Slaying Holofernes" by Artemisia Gentileschi
The bloody show is part of the birthing process and it might be a good subtitle for "Artemisia Gentileschi et il suo tempo" at the Museo di Roma which deals with the career one of the great woman artists of all time. Artemisia might not have been " "untimely ripped" from her "mother’s womb" but there are heads everywhere in the iconography of the world in which she would eventually make her mark. Her father Orazio was a noted painter in his own right who did “David Contemplating the Head of Goliath” (1610-12). Nicholas Regnier would take on the same subject (1625-6). Artemesia painted  “Judith Slaying Holofernes” (1614-20) as did Cristophano Allori (1620) and Bartolomeo Manfredi (1618-20). Giovanni Baglione did “Herod, Herodias and Salome With the Head of John the Baptist” (1615-20). It was a heady time, filled with both violence (Artemisia had been raped by the painter Agostina Tassi) and beauty. The influence of Caravaggio is unmistakeable; in fact Artemisia painted her Judith the year of his death. But heads were not all that was cut. The exhibition includes Simon Vouet’s “The Circumcision” (1620) and Mario Balassi’s “Ghismonda Receiving Guiscardo’s Heart" (1635). However, it’s important to remember that that this was also a period in which the humanistic spirit soared to great new heights. Cosimo II di Medici was one of Artemesia’s patrons and it was at his court that Artemisia met Galileo. Paintings with titles like “Time Reveals Truth and Unmasks Deception" and “Intelligence, Memory and Will” (1624) are noteworthy. The painter Crisofano Allori was also the author of “The Poetics of Affection.” Roland Barthes is quoted thusly by the curators, “The strength of Artemisia Gentileschi’s paintings lies in the brusque reversal of roles. It is informed by a new ideology, which we moderns received already: the vindication of women.” 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Rome Journal: Pigneto, The Writing on the Wall

        photograph of Maupal mural by Hallie Cohen
The Via Fanfulla da Lodi lies in Pigneto, a once impoverished neighborhood on the Southeast outskirts of Rome which has now become gentrified. Street art and graffiti don’t just adorn the walls. They cry out, representing less a form of desecration than a need to speak. There's an urgency to these inscriptions which can include the face of a transvestite or that of the famed Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini whose portrait with it’s “mo sto bene” tee shirt adorns the terrace of the Café Necci, an institution in the neighborhood. Pasolini himself was attracted to the underlife of Rome and it was here that he both caroused and gave birth to his classic Accattone (1961) whose milieu is the world of petty criminals and thieves (there’s a wall of photos of Pasolini shooting Accattone on the Café Necci’s walls). If you walk down to number 43 you will come to a modest B&B. When you gaze up at the side of the building, you are caught up short by a portrait of Pasolini’s right eye replete with crow’s feet. In Wanted in Rome, 2/3/16Martin Bennett quotes the director thusly, “The eye alone is aware of beauty.” The streets of the neighborhood are narrow and not conducive to looking up  say the way you would at a billboard in Times Square.  And what's distinctive about the mural, by the artist Maupal, is that it gives the impression of having captured you before you see it. Pasolini’s eye is that of the voyeur looking at his subjects before they’ve even had a chance to react. Here is a Pasolini quote found on a wall on the Via del Pigneto accompanying yet another mural: “non illuderti; la passion non ottiene mai perdono Non ti perdano neanch’io, che vivo di passion,” “Don’t fool yourself the passion never gets lost for those who live the passion.”

Friday, January 13, 2017

Rome Journal: Arrivederci, Roma!

If you read the lyrics to “Arrivederci, Roma” the hit Mario Lanza song that became the sound track for The Seven Hills of Rome (l957), you find it contains a scam. The crux is that if you throw a penny in the Trevi fountain you are going to “bind fate” so you will come back. But in the next stanza we learn that the minute the English girl throws her penny in the fountain a kid comes along and grabs it. Popular films were so lighthearted about the kind of poverty and despair more graphically portrayed say in a movie like Bicycle Thieves (1948). There a father Antonio (Laberto Maggiorani) and his son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) journey throughout the city in an exhaustive search to find a stolen item. De Sica’s masterpiece recalls Gogol’s famous short story The Overcoat where the poor civil servant Akaky Akakievitch is similarly deprived of something that symbolizes his dispossession. Here in a popular song, the notion of the turn around of fortune has far less gravitas but, is in some senses, equally invidious since the magic and enchantment of Rome and of believing that wishes will come true are removed all in one fell swoop—by a street urchin, of the kind that young Bruno threatens to become in the Bicycle Thieves' culminating scene where the father’s loss becomes compounded by a desperate crime. “While the English girl departs/a little kid comes by/goes into the fountain, picks a/penny, goes away!/Goodbye Rome!”  The words are actually quite sad when you think about it since the meaning relates the fact that the enraptured tourist may never be able to recapture the promise of an immortal beauty, symbolized by Rome.