Violence All Around

I was ten years old when September 11 happened. I was at home and my parents wouldn’t let me into the living room, but stood in front of the television, not able to take us to school or peel themselves away from the terrible scene in front of them. My parents both grew up on the East Coast, going in and out of New York for fun as teens, and my sister and I had been in the city days before the attack.

John Sifton, a Human Rights Watch director, discusses 9/11, the world long before, right before, and after this incident. He discusses the blundering, the linguistic inventions of new terms for failure by the Bush administration, the use of terrible intelligence, and the way the US took an attack and fucked up our response royally (in one memorable scene, his colleague on the ground in Baghdad calls and reports that the US has “no plan” after invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein. As a cynical historian, this was not surprising.) He also muses on the nature of violence, from the Christian crusades to the misinterpretation of Gandhi’s use of non-violence, to the inherent reality of violence present in our lives, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. As somebody who was actually present in Afghanistan, Iraq, Poland, Thailand, and other places of human rights atrocities and fuck-ups before and after 9/11, his point of view is not jaded, nor arrogant, but tempered, pragmatic, and beautifully written. As an American who grew up while the news blared updates of our involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East, the billions of dollars wasted, the innocent lives killed by soldiers, drones, and other weapons, I fell into this compact but exquisite book and loved it.

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Bibliophile moments

I finally got my library card (YES!) and since have been checking out books just about every week.

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Recently, I’ve been loving Dan Flores’ Visions of the Big Sky: Painting and Photographing the Northern Rocky Mountain West. It’s a big, fat book full of illustrations and paintings, and even if you don’t read the text, the art he showcases within the pages is worth looking at.

What Flores does that drew me to this book, though, is re-examine so many stale, old stereotypes and tropes within Western American art that drove me away from it. I hate, for example, the same cowboys being painted again and again. I loathe the “noble savage” paintings done by white dudes that hang in galleries in Bozeman, Whitefish, and Jackson Hole. Flores looks at this art and calls it out for what it is- false narratives of hyper-masculinity that continue to be created to feed myths for the types of men who purchase the art. He also brings forth new perspectives on beautiful art that shrinks white men to ants, that works to show us something new, and something beautiful.

Hector Feliciano’s The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World’s Greatest Works of Art also caught my eye. My first degree is in Art History and after having lived in Europe and traveled extensively, there is still evidence of World War II everywhere. Feliciano traces how Germany systematically confiscated thousands of paintings by some of the most remarkable painters of the last five hundred years, including Vermeer, Matisse, Manet, Cranach, Bruegel, Tiepolo, and others. To this day, thousands of paintings, enamels, medals, coins, and other works of art are gone, likely squirreled away in vaults, museum archives, or in private family holdings. The sleuth-like narrative he uses intrigued me immediately and his knowledge of art, his access to declassified files, and other sources make the book thorough but also devastatingly sad.

I recently picked up Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, which I am so excited to read! I’ve heard amazing things, and ever since I took an art history course about Roman wall paintings and another about ancient Rome, my love for all things Roman has grown. A quiet dream of mine is to live in Rome for a whole autumn or spring at some point, and wander around the streets, have an espresso in a crowded cafe, and soak in the millenia of history.

Books, mornings, and priorities.

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The other night, as my film scanner hummed, showing me what the chemical baths had done while they danced with my film, a good friend was over and we were chatting about what mattered. Books, travel, good friends, good wine, being kind, and loving, loving, loving. She left here with two books to borrow, and I will borrow a few from her. I’ve been loaning books out more, because they do no good just sitting on our shelves.

I loaned her The City of Fallen Angels, a book by John Berendt, about a mysterious fire in a famous opera house in Venice. In one or more ways, there are characters who are connected, be they corrupt Italian businessmen, old Venetian glass-making families, writers who had boxes there, etc. and he weaves together a tale of an old, eccentric, rapidly-changing but still very traditional city. It was one book that I bought this year and have re-read twice.

I loaned my mother the new book The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. Kate, who is not a historian, nonetheless went headfirst into doing amazing research to reveal the true stories of the thousands of women who were employed in radium dial painting factories in the first half of the 20th century, and who often got sick and/or died due to ingesting and working with the radioactive substance. Government ignorance, corporate greed, a poorly-working legal system, and the fact that these women were often working class meant that many died before their stories could be properly heard, and many didn’t even know what was causing them to have brittle, broken bones or cancers that suddenly appeared on their youthful bodies. It made me send out many thankful, grateful thoughts to those brave women, and our worker safety systems and legal system are now much more comprehensive because of what these women did. It was one of the books i devoured in Hawai’i, as pictured above.

It’s been snowing relentlessly here, and I’ve been in a more combative mood being inside and working as much as I have been, with little to no sunlight for me to enjoy. However, one of the best parts of my days have been waking up early, getting dressed, packing a book (right now I’m reading Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll by Peter Bebergal) and walking in the snow, which camouflages my footsteps, and making my way in the quiet morning before most people are up, and walking the mile or so to a coffee house to read and hold a hot cup of caffeine in my hands for a few minutes before going to work. Mornings are sacred to me, in that they are quiet, private, and much more likely to be not interrupted by the same going-ons that happen at night. Drunken men unaware of personal space, loud trucks zooming about, groups of people huddled like penguins slowly making their way to a bar or a restaurant. None of that is there in the mornings, and I love the purposefulness of them. Nobody tries to make the world too aware of themselves before the sun is up, and I dearly love it.

Something else I love and miss is traveling. The friend that stayed with us talked about going to France with her fiance this summer, because they both have kept their heads down and have been working so hard for so long, they feel they need to look up, look around, and go do something. I told her she needs to not question it, find a flight, and book it before she can say no to herself. Americans love to suffer, to struggle, and to glorify the two. We take pride being the last sucker at work or the first one in the office. She knows this, and both of us feel shame at wanting to go and spend money on trips and on good food, but I feel that my quality of life is so much better when there is something planned, something to look forward to. Keeping ones head down and just working with your eyes forward means you never get to see as much, and I think that even though we have horrible wage stagnation, most of us have lots of student debt, and most of us will never dream of owning real estate or new cars, that we can still do and live and breathe and thrive. We can thriftily plan a trip across the sea so we can give hugs to loved ones not seen in ages, or buy a nice block of expensive cheese here are there. Denying oneself constantly is foolish, and while last year was a huge exercise in no to such Epicurean joys due to my unemployment, now that I am gainfully employed I feel so much better about going to a nice dinner with my boyfriend, about dressing up or spending a little money on something that matters to me, like saving for my trip to Brazil to see Logan at the end of the year or booking a cabin somewhere quiet.

This post has been longer than I planned, but once I am inside my mind darts back and forth like an excited bird in a cage. I have written about how one has much time to think during the long, dark winters here in Montana, and mine is not immune to that. I’ve been quietly trying to write more and be more generous with my writing, especially here.

All the gilded things

 

I’m not religious, but there is something about the various jeweled illuminated manuscripts that, although they are not secular, are simply gorgeous. The craftsmanship to create one of these is staggering, and the beauty that they exude cannot be matched.

Oh yeah, and they’re gaudy. They’re very gaudy.

I just got done completing my GRE- oh, what a joy it was! I am being sarcastic to the extreme, but it does feel satisfying to see the light at the end of the undergraduate tunnel at last. It’s still far away but closer than it has ever been.

Books as follows:

1. Lindau Gospels, c. 860 CE

2. Codex Aureus of St. Emmarum, c. 870 CE, possibly from same workshop as Lindau Gospel

3. Book of Gospels, Northern France, c. 860 CE

Books, Libros, Libri.

Normally I devour books ceaselessly, with an enthusiasm I can only compare to when I am in a museum I love, but this last year I’ve taken to re-reading old favorites and lazily reading un-challenging historical biographies (One exception: I was enthralled by a biography of Ernest Shackleton, who is now my Favorite Historical Badass- formerly Piet Mondrian occupied that title.) Feeling like a literate failure, it is time to start actually reading, dammit!  Thusly, I have begun a list of books that I need to somehow get my hands on and read! Or, I want to read more by selected authors, such as Jules Verne, the original sci-fi master.

Here goes.

Berlin Poplars – Anne B. Ragde

Siddharta – Herman Hesse ( I mean, hell, I lived only a short ways away from his house in Montagnola!)

The Extraordinary Voyages – Jules Verne

Moby Dick – Herman Melville (read it once when I was far too young to comphrehend anything other than how awesome it would be to see a white whale)

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men – David Foster Wallace

Lipstick Traces- Greil Marcus

A recent book by Slavoj Žižek (I can’t remember the title!) a Slovenian author that I find intruguing- his book had an exceptional review by The New Yorker this summer.

Dracula – Bram Stoker

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

Right now I’m reading Harpo Speaks by Harpo Marx, and Chuck Klosterman’s Downtown Owl- one for a History class and another for pleasure. I’ve also been making my way through Hemingway’s short stories, which have been captivating and timeless. Klosterman has been making small town life seem wonderful- all the simmering, waiting, and watching, while Harpo is all doing, living, breathing.

So many books! So little time! This list is paltry, but I hope it grows. (If you have any literary suggestions, I would more than appreciate it!)