how did I get here?

Verbatim Google searches that have led people to this blog:
what is olfactory
what is tyranny
london's national treasures a red pillow box
ancient rome street scenes
morgue slab
what did Karl Blossfeldt do as a child
onion skin paper
Love's Baby soft
wow man far out
greetings from anywhere
crystal palace favorite dessert poo recipe

• • • •

On the subject of lists, a beguiling selection of card games:
whist, piquette, cribbage, euchre, pinochle, bezique, canasta, fantan, mah-jongg

and, real-life business names:
Operative Cake Corp., Scientific Foods, Boring Business Systems, Aggressive Glass and Mirror, Dent Hardware, MS Carriers (think on that one a bit, the tagline: "delivering your future")

and also, bird names:
little grebe, cormorant, coot, curlew, whimbrel, magpie, jackdaw, rook, crow, bittern, lapwing, nightjar, thrush, bunting potoo, limpkin, petrel, snipe, shrike, crake, grackle,loon, dotterel, ouzel

Kangaroo, Brooklyn, 2005


'vibrant', yes, 'artful' too

In a comment on a previous post of mine ("the vibrant line") regarding fashion illustration (appreciation; death of) "Robin" mentions an illustrator I hadn't heard of and so I did a little googling. Sorry to say I didn't come up with all that much of substance for Kenneth Paul Block but I did retrieve something unexpected: display pages for an intriguing exhibit held at FIT in 2004 called, The Artful Line. While the site is nothing to look at it does feature a few choice things from the special collections in FIT's Gladys Marcus Library. At top, George Barbier's frontispiece for the magnificently titled Falbalas et fanfreluches, 1924. With its very contemporary-seeming winding tendrils and graphic silhouette it's difficult to believe the drawing is 83 years old. Directly above is an amazing cover for the Surrealist magazine, Minotaure, 1936, by Matisse. Below, what Carl Erickson was doing for Vogue the year before (from a good visual selection at something called the American Art Archives). It was in the air I suppose.


"on vacation"

My mother has been going through old slides. "What do we do with all of these," she said, meaning the 20 or more antique-looking metal boxes stored at the top of the closet in my old room at home. Most of these had been fixtures in the closet for as long as I can remember. Each box, a paper label fixed tenuously with yellowed tape, had a cursory jotting of a place-name or two and dates. There was no logic behind either cataloging or labeling and one box might read, "Rome 1962" and "Jerusalem 1966" and "England '75." Once, perhaps, years ago, we'd taken out a tank of an old slide projector and looked at some scenes, overexposed, familiar faces squinting and smiling against a backdrop of notable classical antiquities, but most have never left their boxes.

The other day, my mother handed me about 12 slides and asked if I could "make pictures out of them." They were of, I suppose, an important occasion, at least to my parents: my baptism, and attending scenes, in Jerusalem. The fact of this event was often mentioned to me over the years, as though it was supposed to be momentous for me, give me some defining insight. But no particular details stuck in my mind from the repeated tellings (and I'd never seen anything of the actual trip) except the bare cast of characters: me, my parents, "the Archbishop," and a kindly nun who took a liking to me. That and the fact that a bus load of German tourists evidently filmed the proceedings (which took place in a row boat in the Jordan River) from the shore. No documentation of that mind-boggling scene exists in our collection unfortunately, most likely because my father, who does not swim, was afraid of dropping the camera. Of the slides we do have of that expedition, this one, above, struck me immediately. Its far more spontaneous and ... exhilarating than any of the others. There I am, a comically oversized infant, surely larger by half than any local child-- unwitting emissary of the American Good Life; a triumph of vitamin-enriched formula and fluoridated water. But its the kindly nun— that kindly nun—looking ancient and very foreign and captivating in her black garb, that is the center point of that image.

Many years after that photo was taken my aunt, on a tour of the Holy Land, stopped in at this convent. She told my mother that she'd inquired after the kindly nun but was told she was "on vacation." It was only later we realized, in the amazing and somehow beautiful elision of that reply, that the nun had died.



Gladiator was on cable last week and I'd forgotten that Derek Jacobi featured so prominently in the movie. Jacobi is cemented in my mind with I, Claudius, the risqué and influential BBC drama (it played here as a Masterpiece Theater) that was an illicit thrill to a certain 7th grader at the time. Gladiator prompted me on to do some 'Claudian' research, and, yesterday, a browsing expedition to the library, which yielded the awkwardly-titled "Mammoth Book of Eyewitness Ancient Rome."** All that was then joined by my weekly Rome viewing. I've been on a veritable Roman Holiday.

Periodically I go crazy over some tv show or other— watch religiously, pore over details obsessively, proselytize— and right now
I love HBO's Rome. (above, images of the Rome set at Cinecitta, Rome's --the city-- famed studio, and apparently the world's largest standing set). The series has a rankness, a gutter naturalism, that's a vibrant contrast to the white marble pomp one is used to seeing. There are several scenes in fetid graffiti-marked alleys and two and three story wooden tenement houses. From the finer points of animal sacrifice to the murky dimness of life by oil lamp to the blotting powder spread on a freshly written document, the small passing details of the lives of the working populace are the most fascinating aspect of the series for me.
There is a good deal of blood, both human and animal, and just about every other body fluid
as well being flung around by the bucketful. BBC News reported on the show's more lurid charms, with a comical mix of prurience and formality, in an early review:
"Rome drama generates shockwaves"..."Those who do not switch off in disgust will be treated to a flogging, a crucifixion, numerous deaths and an impalement."
I stand by my obsession and am crushed that the series isn't returning for a third season. It appears that the scope of the production just got out of hand. An astonishing tidbit I just picked up from the bbc site:
The Roman coins were all made at the Vatican mint, and have the likeness of the series' Caesar, Ciarán Hinds, stamped on them.
How perfect that Rome was brought down by excess.

Addendum: Somehow I neglected to mention the excellent "historian's blog" on the HBO/Rome site. Jonathan Stamp, an Oxford-educated BBC historian,
was the historical consultant for the series. Here he's explaining the significance of "ambition."

images from the sets of Rome, from top: side street (wikipedia); "the spice market" and "view of the Basilica Giulia and the Temple of Jupiter"
*SPQR-- Senatus Populusque Romanus "The Senate and the people of Rome" Used as an official signature of the government
** The book is a series of excerpts from various sources of the time. Here Suetonius, the Dominick Dunne of ancient Rome, gives some background material on Julius Caesar: "And that no man might have any doubt how infamous he was for sodomy and adulteries, Curio calls him, in one of his orations, 'Every woman's husband and every man's wife.'"


typeHigh, Hello (again)

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Tasteful designs of the highest order now available for purchase on Etsy

Letterpress cards by typeHigh, hand printed on 19th-century platen presses.


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