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.

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.

Read & consume: A list.

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Lusting after this WWII-era lingerie set that men stationed overseas would send to their sweethearts.

Reading The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt and falling in love with his descriptions of Rome and Florence in the 14th century. If you’re interested in humanism, how The Renaissance may have happened, or are a book lover, the main protagonist, Poggio Bracciolini is compelling as a great angle to dissect this amazing wave of art, creativity, and flourishing discovery that emerged from Florence at some point in the late 14th/early 15th century.

Quietly pining for the funds to have a house covered in this Cardiac wallpaper from the Morbid Anatomy Museum. I’ve slowly accepted that if there is a point where funds are available, I will make any abode I have into an ode to all things Gothic and mildly creepy.

Waiting to be home so Logan and I can attempt to make this Nutella and mascarpone torte. (The recipe is in Italian but Google Translate is very handy!)

Loving these flirtatious and forward acquaintance cards from the 1870’s and 1880’s. Young men and women could hand out these business card like pieces of paper which offer to walk women home, introduce men as “kissing rogues”, and serve as ways to circumvent some of the formalities of Victorian norms.

Been wanting to watch this wonderful film, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, for some time! Hopefully I’ll find time in a few weeks.

I may or may not have splurged and gotten myself this incredible Opening Ceremony x Kodak hat because everything else in the collection was way too pricey. My love for Kodak and film will never, ever die.

Laughing out loud at the marvelous James Kerr (aka Scorpion Dagger) and his German Renaissance-based short videos, .gifs, and other creations which he cleverly pairs with 1960’s and 70’s rock/punk/garage band tunes (and from whom I have now widely expanded my musical repetoire). This clever dude also got to do some of the animation for the new The Stooges film Gimme Danger (which I very much want to see).

Mario Badescu’s glycolic foaming cleanser has been helping me keep my skin happy with the transition to colder, dryer winter.

Also finished The Medici Conspiracy, a fantastic book about the complex world of stealing, buying, and selling ancient Roman and Greek antiquities. The authors weave a “whodunit” web of tombaroli (local men who “excavate” tombs) to secretive buyers with Swiss lockers full of stolen goods to curators at some of the world’s most renowned museums, who all work quietly together to make it so that much of the world’s ancient antiquities are gotten by ill, destructive, and horrible means.

Day off

 Today was my day off.

I woke up early and played with my dog, drank mint tea and ate muffins. Then I headed downtown to read on a sunny bench. I’m currently reading about 3 or 4 different books, all with very different ideas. One is Margarted Atwood’s The Robber Wife, which thus far is very much from the early 1990’s and different, if not still good. A biography of FDR has revealed that he was a ridiculous momma’s boy, but still incredibly good as a man and president (we can’t all be perfect!).  I shared my books with a spider that literally blew in on the wind, but didn’t want to hang around for whatever reason.

I wound up at the Montana Museum, where I saw Charles M. Russell’s depictions of cowboys, Native Americans, and life in Montana 120 years ago. I feel very grateful for modern furnaces and adequate clothing, as well as bug spray!

Among many of the treasures there, however, a beautiful red dress adorned with elk teeth always catches my eye. It’s such a beatiful color and elk’s teeth are smooth and symmetrical, and on the dress they are beautiful. I am not sure if they were elk ivory (elk have two ivory teeth in their mouths, per elk. They are beautiful!). I also visited the eerie creamy white bison that inhabits the second floor the Historical Society. Blue glass eyes add to the effect, making me never want to spend much time in front of the creature.

I came home and promptly fell asleep for 3 hours of odd afternoon dreams, and woke up in time to help make dinner and wish I’d done more with my day. I was going to drive to the Deerlodge Car Museum but decided that I couldn’t afford the gas (GAH) and so stayed within the town limits for the day, but nonetheless still had a lovely time!