Drawn initially to the book through a family connection with Abaco, an out-island in the Bahamas, for my parents married there, and my grandfather, like Evans W Cottman, was a doctor, and practised there for a few years in the mid 1980’s..
`A long-limbed languorous type of showgirl blonde lay at her ease in one of the chairs, with her feet raised on a padded rest and a tall misted glass at her elbow, near a silver ice bucket and a Scotch bottle. She looked at us lazily as we came over the grass. From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away’..
The plot of ‘The High Window‘ maybe doesn’t matter. What matters is the writing and how good it is. Chandler’s characters are corrupt for more than one reason, and Marlowe finds out what some of those reasons are. Chandler provides a tense mystery with a strong element of menace and personal danger, all in the author’s trademark concise and witty style. The dialogue between Marlowe and the somewhat abrasive Mrs Murdock, in particular, makes the pages seem alive with bite and tension and it becomes clear she is the first in a line of characters trying to hide something from Marlowe, even while demanding his assistance. He’s less interested in finding out who stole the rare coin and who committed murder to cover it up, than why Mrs Murdock called him in the first place, and then why she is a widow. ‘The High Window‘ is written by Raymond Chandler, and he was one of the best writers ever to use modern American English. Few authors have written sentences as clear and descriptive as his. If ‘imitation is the best form of flattery’ he has been amply flattered..
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, INDIA – A stream of bare-chested religious devotees step gingerly through metal detectors at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in southern India as armed commandos with AK-47’s guard perhaps one of the world’s greatest treasures to surface in recent times. For months now, following a court order to pry open subterranean vaults sealed for centuries at the heart of sleepy Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of balmy Kerala state, shell-shocked experts have been coming to terms with the vast hidden hoard, estimated at one trillion Indian rupees, or $22 billion. In a nation where 500 million people live in poverty, the find has been a revelation, stoking debate over how to best safeguard and use this newly discovered wealth at a time of financial uncertainty and modernization across India.
Put in a broader context, the wealthy temple in the lush, spice-growing but relatively undeveloped Kerala, where infrastructure is patchy and per capita income lags behind the richer northern Indian states, could salvage the rickety finances of the country, lift millions out of poverty and even help wipe out a quarter of India’s overall fiscal deficit.
The treasure, a long accumulation of religious offerings to the Hindu deity Vishnu, includes a four-foot high gold idol studded with emeralds, gold and silver ornaments and sacks of diamonds.
Local legend has held that vast riches had been interred in the walls and vaults of the temple by the Maharajahs of Travancore and their subjects over many years.
70 year old retired police officer TP Sundara Rajan went to the Supreme Court asking that the state take over control of the temple, saying the current temple trust were incapable of protecting the wealth inside. The court ordered an inspection of the temple vaults..
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”
George Orwell (1903- 1950) was keenly aware of the injustices and poverty in Britain during the 1930’s. He knew that the class system meant many of the upper and middle class viewed the working class in terms not unlike animals. In The Road to Wigan Pier he observed: “The train bore me away, through the monstrous scenery of slag-heaps, chimneys, scrap-iron, foul canals, paths of cindery mud criss-crossed by the prints of clogs. As we moved slowly through the outskirts of the town we passed row after row of little grey slum houses running at right angles to the embankment. At the back of one of the houses a young woman was kneeling on the stones, poking a stick up the leaden waste-pipe which ran from the sink inside, and which I suppose was blocked. I had time to see everything about her- her sacking apron, her clumsy clogs, her arms reddened by the cold. She looked up as the train passed, and I was near enough to catch her eye. She had a round, pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty-five and looks forty, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever seen. It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that ‘it isn’t the same for them as it would be for us’, and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums. For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her- understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum back-yard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe.”
The book ‘Animal Farm’ is subtitled: ‘A fairy story’ and George Orwell uses the fable in extended form to create a world at once unreal yet recognizable as an allegorical warning to contemporaries. Orwell draws a pessimistic picture of a Stalinist dictatorship sustained by an apathetic, ignorant, or a frightened populace with little choice but to support the rebellion. The satirical novel Nineteen Eighty-four, published in 1949, likewise painted a picture of dehumanized society under totalitarian rule..
Eunice Kathleen Waymon (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003), better known by her stage name Nina Simone, but also known as ‘The High Priestess of Soul’ was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist widely associated with jazz music. She composed over 500 songs and recorded over 40 albums. Simone aspired to become a classical pianist while working in a broad range of styles including classical, jazz, blues, soul, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.
Born the sixth child of a preacher’s family in Tryon, North Carolina, Nina’s prodigious musical talent prompted her ambition to become the first black concert pianist, but the realities of poverty and racial prejudice forced her to redirect her ambitions. Her musical path changed direction after she was turned down for full scholarship at a prestigious music institute, the Curtis Institute of Philadelphia. She then began playing in The Midtown Bar & Grill in Atlantic City to fund her continuing musical education, after realising a pupil was earning more than she was by teaching piano, but the bar required her to sing as well. She was approached for a recording by Bethlehem Records, and her rendition of “I Loves You Porgy” became a smash hit in the United States in 1958. Over the length of her career, Simone recorded more than forty albums, mostly between 1958, when she made her debut with Little Girl Blue, and 1974…
Les Misérables is a novel of towering stature, a dazzling illustration of early nineteenth century France, firmly in the ‘must read before I die’ category of world literature.
It has a depth of vision, underlying truth, moments of moving compassion, almost to the point of melodrama, but with a morality and a social conscience ahead of its time. If there is a problem, it is one of scale. How do you find the time to read, and absorb, over 1200 pages? In addition, Victor Hugo was anxious to put into the novel everything he researched about the entire period, and can digress at will. There is little doubt that it was his intention the book was more than a historical novel, and a knowledge of French history helps the reader follow the motives and intentions of Hugo’s fictional characters…
“You can fool too many of the people too much of the time”…
The most famous of Thurber’s stories, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty first appeared in The New Yorker on March 18, 1939, 72 years ago, and was first anthologized in his book My World and Welcome to it. It has since been reprinted in James Thurber: Writings and Drawings, and is one of the most popular American short stories. It is considered one of Thurber’s “acknowledged masterpieces”. Thurber is known as a cartoonist and ‘humorist’ (‘Is there such a word?I wonder how anyone can apply for the position’?). The best introduction to Thurber is his own work. “James Thurber left his own monument. He created it . . in the pages of the New Yorker.” (The Economist, Feb. 17, 1996.) ‘Walter Mitty Syndrome‘ is a phrase occasionally used by psychiatrists and others in describing a person who prefers a fantasy world to reality, particularly if others consider him a failure, or the potential for real harm results from his behaviour. One example of such a man was Frank Abagnale, immortalised in the 2002 Steven Spielberg film Catch Me If You Can. Another would be Arthur Orton, The Tichborne Claimant. Ironically, Thurber loved to send up the psychiatrists and others of whom he thought, “You can fool too many of the people too much of the time”.. He was born in Columbus, Ohio, to Charles L. Thurber and Mary Agnes (Mame) Fisher Thurber on December 8, 1894. Both of his parents greatly influenced his work. His father, a sporadically employed clerk and minor politician who dreamed of being a lawyer or an actor, is said to have been the inspiration for the small, timid protagonist typical of many of his stories. Thurber described his mother as a “born comedienne” and “one of the finest comic talents I think I have ever known.” She was a practical joker, on one occasion pretending to be crippled and attending a faith healer revival, only to jump up and proclaim herself healed. She sometimes told startled visitors her husband locked her in the attic to prevent her running away with the postman! James Thurber died November 2 1961.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
“We’re going through!” The Commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking. He wore his full-dress uniform, with the heavily braided white cap pulled down rakishly over one cold gray eye. “We can’t make it, sir. It’s spoiling for a hurricane, if you ask me.” “I’m not asking you, Lieutenant Berg,” said the Commander. “Throw on the power lights! Rev her up to 8,500! We’re going through!” The pounding of the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. The Commander stared at the ice forming on the pilot window. He walked over and twisted a row of complicated dials. “Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!” he shouted. “Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!” repeated Lieutenant Berg. “Full strength in No. 3 turret!” shouted the Commander. “Full strength in No. 3 turret!” The crew, bending to their various tasks in the huge, hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane, looked at each other and grinned. “The old man will get us through” they said to one another. “The Old Man ain’t afraid of Hell!” . . .
What an artist creates and how he goes about it , in what choice of subject or medium, is not only his own business but his alone to judge.
Max Beckmann (1884- 1950) rejected abstract or non-representational painting, unlike so many of his contemporaries, and instead, he took up and advanced the tradition of figurative painting. ‘I hardly need to abstract things, for each object is unreal enough already, so unreal that I can only make it real by means of painting.’
Max Beckmann greatly admired Cézanne, but also Van Gogh, Blake, Rembrandt, Rubens and the Northern European artists of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance such as Bosch, or Bruegel. His style and method of composition are also rooted in the imagery of medieval stained glass.
Encompassing portraiture, landscape, still life, mythology and the fantastic, his work created a very personal, authentic version of modernism. Beckmann re-invented the triptych, and utilized this compositional form of medieval painting as a looking glass of contemporary humanity.
From his beginnings as an artist until after World War II, Beckmann’s work reflects an era of radical change in both art and history. Many of Max Beckmann‘s paintings express the agonies of Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Some of his imagery refers to the decadent glamour of the Weimar Republic’s cabaret culture, but from the 1930s on, his works often contain mythologized references to the brutalities of the Nazis. Persecuted by the Nazis, he was forced to flee his homeland and work in relative isolation while the war turned Europe upside down. Beyond these immediate concerns, his subjects and symbols assume a larger meaning, voicing universal themes of terror, redemption, and the mysteries of eternity and fate.
Beckmann said “Height, width and depth are the three phenomena which I must transfer into one plane to form the abstract surface of the picture, and thus to protect myself from the infinity of space.. If the canvas is filled only with a two-dimensional conception of space we shall have applied art, or ornament. Certainly this may give us pleasure, though I myself find it boring as it does not give me enough visual sensation. To transform three into two dimensions is for me an experience full of magic, in which I glimpse for a moment that fourth dimension which my whole being is seeking.”
In AD 410, Rome suffered a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions when a foreign army led by the Visigoth king Alaric sacked the city and carried off its most valuable treasures.
This was the first time in 800 years, during which time Rome itself had accumulated the wealth of Empire. Alaric played a significant role in the dismemberment of the Roman Empire in the west, but he died before he could leave the Italian peninsula. His followers buried him in a secret tomb allegedly laden with the plunder of Rome that may have included the Jerusalem Temple treasures of the Jews, deposited in the so-called ‘Temple of Peace’. Daniel Costa’s account traces the life and death of Alaric and explores the modern quests to discover his grave, including the efforts of the Nazi Heinrich Himmler. Despite the likelihood that the grave has now finally been found, no definitive excavation has taken place..
Eight-petaled rosettes similar to those on the Phaistos Disk and on various ancient game-boards, such as discovered at Ur in Mesopotamia, and the example shown here from Knossos, Crete, appeared also on many other objects, over a wide geographical area and span of time. They appear to be solar symbols, or more precisely represent the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, and so indicated the passages from one state of existence into another.
In Mesopotamia, the eight-leaf rosette was also the emblem of the fertility goddess Ishtar and her associated planet Venus. However, this apparent broadening of the symbol only confirms the basic meaning of birth, death and rebirth.
In a well-known myth, Ishtar descended into the underworld and was held there as if dead, before she returned to life, just as Venus the evening star disappears from the sky for some time and then heralds as the morning star the return of the life-giving light. The symbolism is the same as that derived from the cycles of the sun.