Tag Archive: articles


Dia de los Muertos

dia_de_los_muertos_MG_8186

picture by Tom Robinson

I’ll admit, when I first found out about this holiday, I found it a little odd. It was so different than anything I’d experienced. I really didn’t understand it until I started looking at picture books by Mexican author/illustrator Yuyi Morales. They featured a character called Senor Calavera, and eventually I found his website. There was a sizeable Hispanic population in South Carolina, where I used to live and went to graduate school, but nothing like it is here in Phoenix. The 2-day holiday is a huge deal here in Arizona (due to our proximity to the Mexican-American border), and there are at least twelve different events going on this weekend with food, music, educational/art exhibits, parties, processions, children’s activities, and dancing.

I began to know a little bit more about the holiday (at least the part concerning the food)  by going to Ranch Market, a local Hispanic grocery store in town. They have a bakery that makes Pan de Muertos for the celebration. At Talk Time (an English conversation program I volunteer with at the library) this week, we  talked about Dia de Los Muertos and how it is celebrated, as well as other ancestor veneration festivals in other countries (like Japan). I liked this article I found that explains more about the holiday, including common misconceptions. I like the idea of decorating sugar skulls for the occasion, to place on the graves along with the other foodstuffs. Here’s a list of some other crafts you could do to celebrate the holiday in the classroom or in your own home. I, in particular, liked the sugar skull traveling mug craft from that article. They have an exhibit at the library every year where people submit altars to remember a lost loved one or friends and decorate them, just like they would be at a graveyard. This year the theme was music. I also like the idea of using a skull mask as part of a costume for Halloween, so here is a Pinterest page dedicated to that. So maybe I might try that next year. I love the performer’s makeup below, though I would probably do something a bit less complicated.

Dias de los Muertos performer

As Dia de Los Muertos celebrates the life of family and friends that have passed away, I thought I would celebrate it by writing a poem about my maternal grandmother. This will not cover everything I think and feel about her, but I think it will help me. I haven’t written any poetry since my son was born. I started in earnest doing it in college, but have unfortunately lost most of it due to crashed hard-drives. Anyways, here’s the poem.

Grahms

She died nearly two years ago,

though she is never very far from my thoughts.

The one thing I regret

is that she never got to meet her great-grandson,

as I know she would’ve loved him.

I couldn’t properly grief for her at the time,

but I have since then.

It still makes me sad to think about her

even though I know she is in a better place

and no longer suffering.

It is hard for me sometimes

to look at senior women who love interacting with children,

as they remind me of her.

 

I’ll admit,

when I was growing up,

I didn’t appreciate her like I should.

It wasn’t until I went to university

that I recognized that her kind heart

and salt of the earth personality was exactly

what a growing girl needed as a role model.

I have learned,

over time,

that I received  more from her

than just her wavy hair.

My love of baking came from her.

I remember summer days when we’d

go out and pick blueberries from the bushes

and come inside to make a blueberry pie.

Whenever I think of caramel cake,

I always think of the ones she used to make.

My fascination with antique shopping and craft fairs

came from her,

after going to so many over the years.

Important parts of my personality,

such as being a good listener

and loving people with a whole and open heart,

I learned from her.

I’m trying,

unsuccessfully,

not to cry while writing this.

I miss you Grahms,

And I love you.

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I  did not remember how much of an influence the painter Manet had on the Impressionists, most of whom he knew. I was reminded of this fact after listening to Christopher Moore’s excellent new book Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Art. The  author discussed these two paintings, Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia.  My favorite Manet painting is the The Bar at the Folies-Bergere, which I described in this post from last summer. In order to better explain Manet, I will give some background information on how paintings were exhibited in France in the nineteenth century.

The Academie des Beaux-Arts, or the School of Fine Arts, was the official school of French painting. It was established in 1671, and later merged with the Royal Schools of Painting and Sculpture, Music and Architecture in 1816. According to this website:

“The French Academy (as it is known in art history circles) decided on the ‘official’ art for France. It set the standards under the supervision of a select group of member artists, who were deemed worthy by their peers and the State. The Academy determined what was good art, bad art and even dangerous art! The French Academy protected French culture from ‘corruption’ by rejecting avant-garde tendencies among their students and those who submitted to the annual Salon.”

Famous French painters such as David and Ingres were both members of the Academy. The traditional artwork of the Academy took a  classical approach to paintings, especially in regard to subject matter and technique. The Realists, and later the Impressionists, did not want to be part of the official Salon. In fact, this was one of the reasons why the  Impressionists were such a crazy departure from the norm of French art. The French Realism movement (1840 – 1870s), “was based on direct observation of the modern world. Realists recorded in often gritty detail the present-day existence of humble people, paralleling related trends in the naturalist literature of Émile Zola, Honoré de Balzac, and Gustave Flaubert.” Famous painters from this movement included Gustave Courbet and Jean-Francois Millet.

Edouard Manet was the bridge between the Realist painters and the Impressionists. Though during his lifetime, he considered himself to be a Realist painter, he has been called the father of Impressionism (though he never joined the movement). Manet did not coin the term “Impressionism“; that was taken from a 1872 Monet painting where he used “quick, visible brushstrokes of unblended color, which was adopted as a stylistic hallmark of the movement.” But let’s back up a few years to talk about the Salon des Refuses. In 1863, the French Academy rejected  over half of the 2,000+ painting submissions it received for the Salon (the annual exhibition given by the Academy) which ended up in a separate exhibit called “The Salon des Refuses,” or the Salon of the Refused, being created to display all the work that the Academy deemed unfit. Manet submitted Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) to the Academy that year and it was rejected, but made it into the Salon des Refuses, where it caused a humongous scandal.

The Luncheon on the Grass by Edouard Manet,  1863

Luncheon-on-the-grass-by-Edouard-Manet

The painting was supposedly denied to the original Salon of 1863 due to it being too immoral, the then-emperor Napolean III saying “It offends against modesty.” It is interesting to note that the artist considered the nude to be worthy of painting because it was the way to gain fame within the Salon. He originally titled the painting The Bath. Manet wanted to do the nude a different way and, according to this article,

“was clear that he meant to include the people who bathed in the Seine.  These would have been the urban poor who had no other recourse for cleanliness or recreation than the city’s river. Manet was also familiar with Giorgione’s Fête champêtre  (1508), a country or rustic scene with a theme of humans living in harmony with nature.  Apparently, Manet combined the ideal rustic scene with the actual and current way in which ordinary people used nature.”

He was also influenced by Raphael’s drawing The Judgment of Paris, which he most likely had seen from the engraving done by Marcantonio Raimondi. The right bottom grouping of people are the ones he modeled his figures after. In his painting, Manet showed two fully clothed men, most likely students or artists, and one completely nude woman in front with another female bathing in her undergarments in the background. He used Victorine Meurent as the model for both this painting and Olympia, however, as it is explained in this article, “it is clear that it is her head in the painting but it is definitely not her lithe body; it is more likely that the [nude] body belongs to the more curvaceous and ‘love-handled’ Suzanne Leenhof, his wife.”

Not only was it taboo for the woman to be naked with two clothed men, she’s also staring straight out at the viewer. It’s also interesting that the two men seem to be paying no attention to her whatsoever and are in the middle of a vigorous discussion. According to the Musee D’Orsay (where the painting now resides),

“The presence of a nude woman among clothed men is justified neither by mythological nor allegorical precedents. This, and the contemporary dress, rendered the strange and almost unreal scene obscene in the eyes of the public of the day. The painting became the principal attraction [of the Salon des Refuses], generating both laughter and scandal.”

I’m never quite sure if the nude woman is a prostitute or just very confident. Scholars disagree on this point as well. I think, as others have suggested that the women are instead highlighting the prostitution problem in Paris’s parks, a topic that was not discussed in public. If you go off of Christopher Moore’s interpretation, the nude woman just had her way with the two men who are now just going about their day.

manet_olympia

Olympia, which was shown two years later in the actual Salon, caused even more scandal. According to PBS, which produced a documentary on the painting, “Many scholars believe that Olympia was admitted to the Salon because jurors didn’t want to be accused of censorship following the strong negative reaction to Déjeuner. Instead, they decided to expose the artist and his work to the wrath of the real critics — the public. As expected, Manet was vilified by Salon-goers. Guards have to be stationed next to it to protect it, until it is moved to a spot high above a doorway, out of reach.”

Manet used one of Titian’s most famous pieces, Venus of Urbino, as well as Goya’s Maja Desnuda as his guide in creating Olympia. The woman in Manet’s painting is a courtesan, and she is portrayed as a real woman of the time period and not as an idealized female, as women were usually portrayed in French Academic art. To better understand the difference between a common prostitute and a courtesan, check this link. In both The Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia, the nude woman stares directly at the viewer. However, in this  painting, it is in a faintly disinterested way as if to say “This is what I am, what of it?” Her black servant has brought her a bouquet of flowers from a client but she isn’t even paying attention to it. She lies on top of a embroidered Oriental shawl and a little black cat at the end of the bed. It wasn’t only the subject matter that disturbed the public and art critics, but also the way Manet handled the paint. “Rejecting his traditional art training, Manet chose instead to paint with bold brush strokes, implied shapes, and vigorous, simplified forms.” He contrasts the bright body of the nude courtesan and the white sheets of her bed, with the complete darkness of the rest of the room. All in all both paintings were ones that challenged the Academy and the way the French people looked at art, and paved the way for the Impressionists.

The Rite of Spring

Today is the 100th anniversary of the world premier of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring score and ballet, which was originally done  in Paris in 1913 . For a cool visual interpretation of the music, check out this link. It featured Sergey Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky.  The piece forever changed classical music and ballet, in the way that it introduced a new kind of modern music, dance and story.  According to this NPR article:

“In addition to the outrageous costumes, unusual choreography and bizarre story of pagan sacrifice, Stravinsky’s musical innovations tested the patience of the audience to the fullest. When the curtain rose and the dancing began, there appeared a musical theme without a melody, only a loud, pulsating, dissonant chord with jarring, irregular accents. In the introduction, Stravinksy called for a bassoon to play higher in its range than anyone else had ever done. In fact, the instrument was virtually unrecognizable as a bassoon. One of the dancers recalled that Vaslav Nijinsky’s shocking choreography was physically unnatural to perform. ‘With every leap we landed heavily enough to jar every organ in us.’ The music itself was angular, dissonant and totally unpredictable.  The audience responded to the ballet with such a din of hisses and catcalls that the performers could barely hear each other.”

Ballet Russe Dances from The Rite of Spring 

The  ballet and score was seen as scandalous and required the police to come and stop the riot caused by the audience’s reaction. People reacted in the voilent way they did because the ballet and music went totally against other traditional ballet and orchestra pieces of the day. According to this webpage about the riot, “As the ballet progressed, so did the audience’s discomfort. Those in favor of Stravinksy’s work argued with those in opposition.” The composer himself was said to be incredibly angry at the crowd’s response to his music.

I first heard The Rite of Spring score as a kid, though I didn’t know it. It was one of the pieces of music selected for the Disney movie Fantasia. It is shortened by ten minutes instead of having the full 35 minute piece, and is the fourth and longest segment in the film. To be honest, it wasn’t one of my favorites, probably because it is so dark and discordant sounding (although I loved Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by JS Bach, which was also dark). I much preferred the happier sounding Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky, The Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven, or Ponchielli’s La Giaconda: Dance of the Hours. I know the movie gets a lot of complaints about scaring children with The Night on Bald Mountain sequence and all the topless female centaurs in the Pastoral Symphonys section of the film, it has always been one of my favorites and probably at least part of the reason why I still really enjoy listening to classical music today. I’ve never seen the piece live and it is probably one of the few ballets that I would actually love to go see, just to hear the music.

National Moscato Day

Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante

It turns out that today is National Moscato Day, which was created last year by American wine makers the Gallo Family Vineyards, according to the blog The Daily Grid ” to encourage people to taste the fruity wine and open the conversation about Moscato.” According to this article from About.com, the wine itself is made from the Moscato grape, the Muscat Blanc, which is native to the Piedmont area in the Northwest of Italy. It’s full title is Moscato D’Asti. It is primarily considered a dessert wine, though it is also served with hard cheese or antipasti courses as well.

“Moscato is known for its surprising perfume-like fragrance, light-body, semi-sparkling, spritzy character (frizzante), lower alcohol content (typically to the tune of the around 5-8% abv) and its dazzling fruit-forward palate profile with a welcoming sweet factor. The wine’s color steers towards straw yellow with occasional tinges of gold. While the Moscato sold at the lower price points typically exhibit a fruity focus with a decent dose of sweet in the mix, the higher quality Moscato steers quite clear of sugar-soaked fruit and brings a vivid spotlight to ripe stonefruit, with apricots, peaches and an intoxicating florality eager to steal the show.”

The above kind (Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante) just happens to be my favorite, and I started drinking it before it got all fashionable over here in the States. Apparently it has replaced Cristal as the drink of choice for rappers. My parents would pop a bottle every New Year’s Eve, as a much tastier (in my opinion) and cheaper alternative to champagne, and I got my first official taste of it when I was 12. I really fell in love with it while doing my study aboard to Italy, as it was right before they switched to the Euro, so things were still really cheap. You could get a bottle of it for about $5 so needless to say, it was my drink of choice. It normally runs about $15-20 here, so my hubby and I tend to save it for special occasions. However, you can find a decent bottle of Moscato in the States for about $5-10, so on the rare occasion that we drink wine, we tend to go for the American versions of it.

Tammuz, the Green Man

Tammuz the Green Man

I’ve been listening to the Children/YA book series Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott, and in the last book I finished (Book 4), one of the characters was Tammuz, the Mesopotamian god also known as the Green Man. I took a class on Ancient Near Eastern History during my undergraduate years, so I was interested in finding out more about him based off his description in the book.  Now I knew a bit about the Green Man from Celtic/British mythology, but apparently his origins begin as Dumazi in Sumeria as a shepherd god of food and vegetation, but also of fertility and the symbol of death and rebirth in nature. According to Encyclopedia Mythica, “Each year he dies in the hot summer (in the month Tammus, June/July) and his soul is taken by the Akkadian demons to the underworld. Woe and desolation fall upon the earth, and Ishtar leads the world in lamentation. She then descends to the nether world, ruled by Ereshkigal [her sister], however she was not able to bring him back.” This reminds me a lot of the Persephone abducted by Hades myth, so the Greeks probably borrowed some story elements from the Sumerian/Akkadians. Tammuz has also been known by the names Adonis, Dionysus, Bacchus, and Jack in/on the Green. It is possible that he also influenced the mythical characters John Barleycorn, the Celtic dieties Holly/Oak King and Cernunnos, the Greek god Pan, the Pre-Columbian god Tlaloc, the Egyptian god Osiris, Puck (Robin Goodfellow) from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Nights Dream, Ents from J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, and Humbaba and Enkidu from the epic poem Gilgamesh.

One of the most interesting fact I found out about the Mesopotamian god was this story from Wikipedia (note: I do not usually use Wikipedia as a source unless it is a generalized fact as the information cannot always be verified – My reference professor would be proud that her lessons were drilled into me).  “According to some scholars, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is built over a cave that was originally a shrine to Adonis-Tammuz.” For examples of Green man music and poetry, check out this website. I also found this really cool modern interpretational (and rather Ent-ish) sculpture of the Green Man created by sculptor Tawny Gray (Toin Adams), pictured below.

The Green Man by Tawny Gray

Tammuz/Dumazi was the greatest love of the goddess Inanna, also known as Ishtar. She was the goddess of the love, fertility and war. They were married, but had a complicated relationship. I managed to find an Akkadian version of one of the many poems written about her descent into the underworld, but like a lot of poetry from this era, it is somewhat incomplete due to missing tablets which make translation/versions difficult. According to this website, this version “is first attested in Late Bronze Age texts, in both Babylonia and Assyria, and later from the palace library at Nineveh. It is a short composition of some 140 lines, and seems to end with ritual instructions for the taklimtu, an annual ritual known from Assyrian texts, which featured the bathing, anointing, and lying-in-state in Nineveh of a statue of Dumazi.”

Here are some terms or names that you will encounter in the poem that might be unfamiliar to you: Sin = father of Ishtar, Erkalla =another name for Ereshkigal, goddess of the underworld (also called Mistress of Earth), Kurnugi = another name for the underworld, Abzu/Ea = primeval Sumero/Akkadian gods, keppu-toy = a whipping top, tamarisk = a large shrub, Anunnaki = a group of gods in the underworld, Kutha = city in Sumeria, Namtar = a minor god in the underworld, “…no donkey impregnated a jenny…” = basically fertility suffers while Ishtar is in the underworld, and Belili = Mesopotamian goddess living in the underworld, sister of Dumuzi/Tammuz.

THE DESCENT OF ISHTAR TO THE UNDERWORLD

This version of the myth is taken directly from the book, Myths From Mesopotamia, by Stephanie J. Dalley.

To Kurnugi, land of [no return],
Ishtar daughter of Sin was [determined] to go;
The daughter of Sin was determined to go
To the dark house, dwelling of Erkalla’s god,
To the house which those who enter cannot leave,
On the road where travelling is one-way only,
To the house where those who enter are deprived of light,
Where dust is their food, clay their bread.
They see no light, they dwell in darkness,
They are clothed like birds, with feathers.
Over the door and the bolt, dust has settled.
Ishtar, when she arrived at the gate of Kurnugi,
Addressed her words to the keeper of the gate,
“Here gatekeeper, open your gate for me,
Open your gate for me to come in!
If you do not open the gate for me to come in!
If you do not open the gate for me to come in,
I shall smash the door and shatter the bolt,
I shall smash the doorpost and overturn the doors,
I shall raise up the dead and they shall eat the living:
The dead shall outnumber the living!”
The gatekeeper made his voice heard and spoke,
He said to great Inanna,
“Stop, lady, do not break it down!
Let me go and report your words to queen Ereshkigal.”
The gatekeeper went in and spoke to [Ereshkigal],
“Here she is, your sister Inanna [. . .]
Who holds the great keppu’toy,
Stirs up the Abzu in Ea’s presence [. . .]?”

When Ereshkigal heard this,
Her face grew livid as cut tamarisk,
Her lips grew dark as the rim of a kuninu-vessel.
“What brings her to me? What has incited her against me?
Surely not because I drink water with the Anunnaki,
I eat clay for bread, I drink muddy water for beer?
I have to weep for young men forced to abandon their sweethearts.
I have to weep for girls wrenched from their lover’s laps.
For the infant child I have to weep, expelled before its time.
Go, gatekeeper, open your gate to her.
Treat her asccording to the ancient rites.”
The gatekeeper went.
He opened the gate to her.
“Enter, my lady: may Kutha give you joy,
May the palace of Kurnugi be glad to see you”

He let her in through the first door, but stripped off (and) took away the great crown on her head,
“Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the great crown on my head?”
“Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.”
He let her in through the second door, but stripped off (and) took away the rings in her ears.
“Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the rings in my ears?”
“Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.”
He let her in through the third door, but stripped off (and) away the beads around her neck.
“Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the beads around my neck?”
“Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.”
He let her in through the fourth door, but stripped off (and) took away the toggle pins at her breast.
“Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the toggle pins at my breast?”
“Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.”
He let her in through the fifth door, but stripped off (and) took away the girdle of birth-stones around her waist.
“Gatekeeper, why have you taken the girdle of birth stones around my waist?”
“Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.”
He let her in through the sixth door, but stripped off (and) took away the bangles on her wrists and ankles.
“Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the bangles from my wrists and ankles?”
“Go in my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.”
He let her in through the seventh door, but stripped off (and) took away the proud garment of her body.
“Gatekeeper, why have you taken away the proud garment of my body?”
“Go in, my lady. Such are the rites of the Mistress of Earth.”
As soon as Inanna went down to Kurnugi,
Ereshkigal looked at her and trembled before her.
Inanna did not deliberate (?), but leant over her.
Ereshkigal made her voice heard and spoke,
Addressed her words to Namtar her vizier,
“Go Namtar [ ] of my [ ]
Send out against her sixty diseases
[ ] Inanna:
Disease of the eyes to her [eyes]
Disease of the arms to her [arms]
Disease of the feet to her [feet]
Disease of the heart to her [heart]
Disease of the head [to her head]
To every part of her and to [ ].”
After Inanna the Mistress of (?) [had gone to Kernugi]
No bull mounted a cow, [no donkey impregnated a jenny]
No young man impregnated a girl [in the street(?)]
The young man slept in his private room,
The girl slept in the company of her friends.
Then Papsukkal, vizier of the great gods, hung his head, his face [became gloomy];
He wore mourning clothes, his hair unkempt.
Dejected(?), he went and wept before Sin his father,
His tears flowed freely before king Ea.
“Inanna has gone down to The Earth and has not come up again.
As soon as Inanna went down to Kurnugi
No bull mounted a cow, no donkey impregnated a jenny,
No young man impregnated a girl on the street
The young man slept in his private room,
The girl slept in the company of her friends.”
Ea, in the wisdom of his heart, created a person.
He created Good-looks the playboy.
“Come, Good-looks, set your face towards the gate of Kurnugi.
The seven gates of Kurnugi shall be opened before you.
Ereshkigal shall look at you and be glad to see you.
When she is relaxed, her mood will lighten.
Get her to swear the oath by the great gods.
Raise your head, pay attention to the waterskin,
Saying, ‘Hey my lady, let them give me the waterskin, that I may drink water from it.'”

(and so it happened. But)
When Ereshkigal heard this,
She struck her thigh and bit her finger.
“You have made a request of me that should not have been made!
Come, Good-looks, I shall curse you with a great curse.
I shall decree for you a fate that shall never be forgotten.
Bread (gleaned(?)) from the city’s ploughs shall be your food,
The city drains shall be your only drinking place,
Threshold steps your only sitting place,
The drunkard and the thirsty shall slap your cheek.”
Ereshkigal made her voice heard and spoke:
She adressd her words to Namtar her vizier,
“Go Namtar, knock (?) at Egalina,
Decorate the threshold steps with coral,
Bring the Annunaki out and seat (them) on golden thrones,
Sprinkle Inanna with the waters of life and conduct her into my presence.”
Namtar went, knocked at Egalina,
Decorated the threshold steps with coral,
Brought out the Annunaki, seated them on golden thrones,
Sprinkled Inanna with the waters of life and brought her out to her (sister).
He let her out through the the first door, and gave her back to her the proud garment of her body.
He let her out through the second door, and gave back to her the bangles of her wrists and ankles.
He let her out through the third door, and gave back to her the girdle of birthstones around her waist.
He let her out through the fourth door, and gave back to her the toggle-pins at her breast.
He let her out through the fifth door, and gave back to her the beads around her neck.
He let her out through the sixth door, and gave back to her the rings for her ears.
He let her out through the seventh door, and gave back the great crown for her head.
“Swear that (?) she has paid you for her ransom,and give her back (in exchange) for him,
For Dmuzi,the lover of her youth,
Wash (him) with pure water, anoint him with sweet oil,
Clothe him in a red robe, let the lapis lazuli pipe play(?)
Let party-girls raise a loud lament(?)”
Then Belili tore off (?) her jewellery,
Her lap was filled with eyestones.
Belili heard the lament for her brother, she struck the jewellery [from her body],
The eyestones with which the front of the wild cow was filled.
“You shall not rob me (forever) of my only brother!
On the day when Dmuzi comes back up, (and) the lapis pipe and the carnelian ring come up with him,
(When) male and female mourners come up with him,
The dead shall come up and smell the smoke offering”

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