Seeing or Being Seen?

Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas 1656

We are looking at a picture in which the painter is in turn looking at us. A mere confrontation, eyes catching one another’s glance, direct looks superimposing themselves upon one another as they cross. And yet, this slender line of reciprocal visibility embraces a whole complex network of uncertainties, exchanges, and feints. The painter is turning his eyes towards us only in so far as we happen to occupy the same position as his subject.

No gaze is stable, or rather, in the neutral furrow of the gaze piercing at right angle through the canvas, subject and object, the spectator and the model, reverse their role to infinity. And the great canvas with its back to us on the extreme left of the picture exercises its second function: stubbornly invisible, it prevents the relation of these gazes from ever being discoverable or definitely established. The opaque fixity that it establishes on one side renders forever unstable the play of metamorphoses established in the center between spectator and model.

As soon as they place the spectator in the field of their gaze, the painter’s eyes seize hold of him, force him to enter the picture, assign him a place at once privileged and inescapable, levy their luminous and visible tribute from him, and project it upon the inaccessible surface of the canvas within the picture.  He sees his invisibility made visible to the painter and transposed into an image forever invisible to himself.

Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (1966).

A River Runs Through It

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and it’s not the same man. Heraclitus.

John Frederick Kensett, View on the Upper Mississippi 1855
I was born upon thy bank, river
My blood flows in thy stream,
And thou meanderest forever
At the bottom of my dream.'

Henry David Thoreau
Georges Seurat, View of the Seine 1882-83

Life is like a river, sometimes it sweeps you gently along and sometimes the rapids come out of nowhere. Emma Smith.

Philip James de Loutherberg, The Great Fire of London 1797

The River in front of her was black, She thought it contained many things.

Gisele Prassinos
Ilya Repin, Barge Haulers on the Volga 1872-73

Glassy rustle which was the East River somewhere close by. Ayn Rand.

George Bellows, A Morning Snow – Hudson River 1910

We steer the boat, we don’t alter the river.

J. Earp
Claude Monet, Boating on the River Epte, 1890

Clare de Lune

Your soul is a select landscape
Where charming masqueraders and 
bergamaskers go
Playing the lute and dancing and almost
Sad beneath their fantastic disguises.

All sing in a minor key
Of victorious love and the opportune life,
They do not seem to believe in their happiness
And their song mingles with the moonlight,

With the still moonlight, sad and beautiful,
That sets the birds dreaming in the trees
And the fountains sobbing in ecstasy,
The tall slender fountains among marble statues.

Paul Verlaine, 1869
Joseph Wright of Derby, Dovedale by Moonlight, 1788
Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky, Moonlight on the Bosphorus 1865

(Top image: Arkhip Kuindzhi Ivanovich, Moonlit Night on the Dneiper, 1882)(Images Courtesy: The State Tretyakov Gallery, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Ohio)

Oranges and Lemons

Oranges and lemons,” say the bells of St. Clement’s,

“You owe me five farthings,” say the bells of St. Martin

“When will you pay me?” say the bells of Old Bailey,

“When I grow rich,” say the bells of Shoreditch.

“When will that be? say the bells of Stephney,

“I do not know,” say the great bells of Bow,

“Here comes a candle to light you to bed,

Here comes a chopper to chop off you head.

Chip chop chip chop- the last man’s dead.”

Hmmm..that didn’t end too well !!

(Images Courtesy: Google Arts and Culture, National Gallery of Art (UK), NGA DC Met Museum, Museo Prado)


The other day this occurred to me – why is the world’s tallest mountain, part of the South Asian Himalayan mountain range, bordered by Nepal and Tibet – called Everest?

It all started with British India and a survey by the British in the 1800s of the entire land mass of the subcontinent. At that time, the recorded highest mountain in the world was Kangchenjunga. The survey revealed a “stupendous snowy mass” about 140 miles from the Indian town of Darjeeling, which the surveyors called “Gamma.”  This was later renamed “Peak b” when it was discovered that the mountain was higher than Kangchenjunga, and then again renamed “Peak XV” when its height became known. A few more years passed while the British surveyors confirmed their math, and then finally in 1856 its height was disclosed to be 29,0002 feet. At the same time, it was given the name Mount Everest. The name was recommended by Andrew Waugh the Surveyor general of India – who succeeded Sir George Everest in this post. I suppose he could have proposed his own name and then we would have had Mount Waugh!!

In his defense, Sir Everest did not want his name to be used, he preferred that local names be used, but the explanation for sticking with Everest is that Tibet and Nepal were “closed” and local names were therefore unknown to the British. I’m hung up on the fact that something was “closed” to the British – wasn’t technically India closed too before they started the survey?

As it turns out, the mountain was included in the first known accurate European map of China made in 1734 by French geographer and cartographer Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville (1697 – 1782). The map, “Description Geographique de la Chine,” was compiled from information gathered by French Jesuits in China. And in this map, Mount Everest was marked “Chomolungma.”

The Tibetans call it “Goddess Mother of Mountains,” or Chomolungma. The Nepalese call the mountain Sagarmatha – which roughly translates to someone whose head touches the sky. In Sanskrit the mountain is called Devgiri – of abode of the Gods. All names show reverence for the mountain and aspire to something far higher than a British surveyor of the land.

The highest peak in the US is Denali. The mountain was renamed Mt. McKinley after a gold prospector scaled the mountain in 1896 and called it that in honor of presidential candidate William McKinley.  It was officially called Mt. McKinley from 1919 to 2015, when the Obama Administration restored the name to Denali.

Notorious RBG – Sunday Seven

Ruth Bader Ginsberg (March 15, 1933 – September 18, 2020). The world lost a trailblazer and a true champion this week.

  • I pray that I may be all that (my mother) would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve, and daughters are cherished as much as sons.
  • Fight for the things you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.
  • I would advise more listening, less talking.
  • I am optimistic in the long run. A great man once said the true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle, it’s the pendulum, and when the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it will go back.
  • It helps sometimes to be a little deaf. When a thoughtless and unkind word is spoken best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.
  • You should speak in your own voice.
  • Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.

16 September 1620

16 September 1620: Weighed anchor. Wind E.N.E., a fine gale. Laid course W.S.W. for northern coasts of Virginia.

400 years ago, on this day, after seeing multiple delays and making unplanned stops at various ports to repair Speedwell, the Mayflower sailed out of Plymouth alone into the Atlantic, and into the pages of history books.

She carried 102 people – a motley group Separatists and Strangers – people seeking opportunity in the New World, 74 men and 28 women, and 31 children.

Bernard Finnegan Gribble (1872-1962), Loading Up the Mayflower
The Mayflower carried with the following food supply - 
Breadstuff's, including,--
     Biscuits or ship-bread (in barrels).
     Oatmeal (in barrels or hogsheads).
     Rye meal (in hogsheads).
Butter (in firkins).
Cheese, "Hollands" and English (in boxes).
Eggs, pickled (in tubs).
Fish, "haberdyne" [or salt dried cod] (in boxes)
Smoked herring (in boxes).
Meats, including,--
     Beef, salt, or "corned" (in barrels).
           Dry-salted (in barrels).
           Smoked (in sacks).
           Dried neats'-tongues (inboxes).
     Pork, bacon, smoked (in sacks or boxes).
           Salt [" corned "] (in barrels).
           Hams and shoulders, smoked (in canvas sacks or hogsheads).
Salt (in bags and barrels).
Vegetables, including,--
     Beans (in bags and barrels).
     Cabbages (in sacks and barrels).
     Onions (in sacks).
     Turnips (in sacks).
     Parsnips (in sacks).
     Pease (in barrels), and
Vinegar (in hogsheads), while,--
Beer (in casks), brandy, "aqua vitae" (in pipes), and gin ["Hollands
"strong waters," or "schnapps"] (in pipes) were no small
 or unimportant part, from any point of view, of the provision supply.

(Source: Azel Ames, The May-Flower and Her Log).

The Fauvist and the Fish

Fauvist paintings were first exhibited in 1905 in the Salon D’Automne, in direct response to the official Salon that took place in Paris every spring. The major Fauve artists were Matisse, Vlaminck, Derain, and Rouault. The name Fauve – wild beast – was first used for their work by art critic Louis Vauxcelles, who said of a Roman sculpture in the Salon D’Automne, “Donatello among the wild beast.”

Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954) started his art career by painting in the traditional school, but by the early 1900s he had transitioned to near abstract painting style, loose brush strokes, and bold and intense colors that came to characterize Fauvism. The Fauves used vibrant bold colors to react against photography which was the new art form. Fauvists used colors and shapes to express emotion: achieving harmony by focusing on composition and colors that came together. Fauvism lasted as a unified art movement for a mere five years.

The Goldfish is a series of still-life paintings that Matisse painted of goldfish in a bowl. On a trip to Morocco, he had seen people staring at goldfish, and found the whole idea very relaxing. The function of the Goldfish painting was to evoke an emotional response, as well as to paint something that would provide contemplative relaxation to the viewer.

Matisse did not try to recreate reality, rather this is his pictorial reality – his version of a tranquil paradise with bright, bold colors, tilted tabletops, and multiple viewpoints.

6 September 1620

The Mayflower was destined to make the voyage across the Atlantic alone. After repairing Speedwell in Dartmouth, both ships had set sail on 2 September 1620. However, within a day of sailing Speedwell developed leaks again and both ships turned around and returned to England – this time to Plymouth Harbor where they anchored on 6 September 1620.

Plymouth Harbor where both Speedwell and Mayflower sailed to on 6 Sept 1620

Speedwell’s logs would have read as follows:

2 September      Weighed anchor, ‘as did also MAY-FLOWER, and set sail. Laid general course W. S. W. Wind fair.

3 September      Fair wind, but ship leaking.

4 September      Wind fair. Ship leaking dangerously. MAY-FLOWER in company.

5 September      About 100 leagues from land’s end. Ship leaking badly. Hove to. Signalled MAY-FLOWER, in company. Consultation between masters, carpenters, and principal passengers. Decided to put back into Plymouth and determine whether pinnace is seaworthy. Put about and laid course for Plymouth.

6 September      Wind on starboard quarter. Made Plymouth harbor and came to anchor. MAY-FLOWER in company.

It was in Plymouth that the ship which had caused so many delays was finally deemed finally to not be seaworthy. It was decided that the Mayflower would sail alone. Some of the passengers who had sailed from Leiden, Netherlands abandoned their plans of going to the New World, while other crammed into the Mayflower to continue their journey.

On 14 September 1620 after transferring its cargo to Mayflower, Speedwell “Weighed anchor and took departure for London, leaving Mayflower at anchor in roadstead.”

On 16 Septeber 1620 Mayflower continued on this journey alone and sailed into history books.