Yepiphany….!

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I know, epiphanies are not supposed to be casually ignored and that you’re supposed to do something with them like transform your life or cash them in, but who has time to wander beyond these sudden intuitive realizations, when you can just as well dismiss them.

For the most part, if I am lucky enough to have one, I tend to forget about them and move on, hoping that they’ll find their rightful place, somewheres in the cerebral layer cake, to seamlessly labor on my behalf and the community of ideas I call “Me”. It is hoped that whatever fabulous idea I might have had managed to snap right in, so that someday, I’ll be able to have the motherload of all divine realization and take up my rightful place in the food chain; move up the water column, so to speak, to feast on sardines, not that krill and algae, I’ve been having.

Anyway, when I was in college, bathed in clouds of Maryjane, cassette tapes, cream of wheat and salami, I had an epiphany about music, which over the years I have dutifully put to the test of time and space.

Here it is, in a nutshell. If it seems mundane or drug induced, please don’t blame be, just the THC. As I was saying it suddenly occurred to me that besides lengthy delays, which must invariably precede any self respecting epiphany, and which I am forced to reproduce here; to do the eye opening process justice, you cannot truly understand music until you have traveled to its country of origin and gazed upon its landscapes and geography.

I cannot recall the number of times I traveled somewhere while listening to the local music when all of a sudden it all made total sense to me by simply opening my eyes wide and eyeballing the topography.

One such example of many a musical epiphany was traditional Chinese music. After traveling to China for the first time in the mid eighties it suddenly became beautiful, melodius and sweet. My brain somehow combined what it was witnessing with the music and suddenly comprehended a music, which had heretofore, been inaccessible to my ears. A picture is worth a thousand notes.

Saturday Night Lite.

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I had forgotten how much fun it is to shoot what’s on broadcast TV. In the seventies and the early eighties, a lot of photographers built their entire careers on taking pictures of what was on the telly. The resulting images are somewhat gimmicky and never that interesting, but undeniably fun and entertaining. At the end of the day, the appropriative ease and speed with which you can take pictures of television screens is just too much of a no brainer; which is not to say that ease and speed are not photographically good things. I make enough sweeping generalizations as it is already. Come to think of it, TV stills are to photography, what comic books were to Pop Art in the sixties, it’s seen better days. Nevertheless, I am sure that somewhere, somehow, a lone genius is reviving the genre, and is being ignored because of flippantly opinionated people like me.

Still, I would not mind seeing a new wave emerge from that Phoenix’ ashes. Problem is, flat screens don’t flicker, which is unfortunate since half the fun is working with and around the cathode’s flickering rays. On top of it all, to add insults to injury, digital cameras are making the process ever cheaper, quicker and easier.

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Case in point, last saturday night, after returning from Slideluck Potshow, which included my work in the mix, I sat in from of my TV, with my girlfriend’s new point and shoot and captured “digitally”, close to six hundred pics while she slept next to me. Out of those six hundreds, I’d venture to say that almost half turned out nicely, even if they are, in my mind, devoid of value. The other three hundreds fell victim to flicker and delay.

So, out of guilt and shame, I further combined some of them into diptychs to feel like I was actually being creative, as opposed to some late nite fingering perv, pleasuring the trigger for leisure. As for screen stills, the ones I like the most are those where the photographer steps back to include the TV dinner, a fork and a spoon. Something I did not do.
In order to make this photographic sub-specie more interesting one would need to create a story board and hunt down images* that best fit the script to create “cathodovelas” using found images available on TV, Youtube or DVDs. If I feel like it some day, I might experiment with it, as for now, I’ll stick with large format. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be a bad way to spend an idle saturday night.

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*which I am sure has already been attempted.

Vendicti piriformis doloris….

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Andreas Gursky and Massimo Vitali (pictured above). Can’t I just say that I like Massimo Vitali but don’t care much about Gursky? Many happy returns to Mr.Gursky, but still, have I suddenly become French, or something? Do I not like him because he comes from a people who rapes our women and drinks our champagne, indulges in blitztkrieg, pre-cooked sausages and dubious sexual practices. Is it possible that deep inside, I equate German successes with grape shot and pillage. Is it possible that despite our common humanity, I still find myself looking east and wondering when Death Heads will violate our borders and grace us with their raves, chainsaws, black socks and speeches?

Do we really need another German theory of everything? Is it absolutely neccessary? Can’t I just jaywalk in Berlin, at four o’clock in the morning, without wondering if the Politzei will come out and slap me like a bitch? Do I really have to endure another lecture on American foreign policy, while his traveling companion reaches round to borrow my money?: “wir möchten etwas Geld borgen. Herr, wir möchte überwachen unser Kamerad sodomise Geschlechtsklaven….! Run it thru Google translate and see what it means…!!!!! Results may vary.

As for Gursky, have you ever walked up to one of his prints*? Don’t get me wrong, I love large prints, I have been dreaming of enlarging ever since my brother got me into photography, back in the mid seventies; but until recently anything larger than a 16by20 was so expensive that you actually needed to be rich to afford one; let alone two or three. It meant that you could afford to show the Jones that their 4by6s didn’t quite cut it.

Large prints can compete with paintings, if it’s big it’s easier to call it painterly, and that’s what they call it, besides monumental and panoramic. Afterall, color photography did not become respectable until the nineteen seventies, and black and white before that, was not considered an art until the 40s or 50s. In a perfect world, who gives a shit: “Who cares if its black and white, as long as it catches light”**.

I keep being told that Gursky is important in the grand scheme of things but I just don’t get it. For my money, I’ll take Massimo any day. His work is so much more interesting, cohesive and pleasing, it doesn’t feel contrived or labored. Unlike Gursky, Vitali’s images manage to make you feel that maybe, just may be, humanity has some redeeming qualities. Am I partial to Vitali because he’s more stilettoed than jackbooted? Who knows; I’m so over big ideas anyway!

I know fine art, isn’t supposed to be funny but does Gursky really need to remind me. Call me Ishtar but it seems to me that contemporary German art’s schickt is to exploit our need to believe that, if it’s disciplined, dark, tortured and haunted(!), it has to be deep, important and arrestingly ravishing(!), well worth paying with those chocolate coated Prozacs you’ ve been hearing so much about these days. Kinda like Mao and contemporary Chinese art. Without the Great Helmsman***, how the fuck are you supposed to know where it’s made! Afterall, you’re never too happy, as when the passion of your Christ happens to be a canvas, techno, straw and bee’s wax.

Fame is frightening isn’t it, doubly so because it has become so neccesary to achieve, especially when a simple “I love you” from your girlfriend or your kids is all you need to keep you happy. Unfortunately, I would like nothing more than to have enough cash to do as I artfully(!) please; without having to think about market forces, audiences, or the foods and staples that graced the tables where I ate. I’d rather not have to perform financial miracles and multiply the fishes, but just the same, fame too often means that to get what you want often involves bringing attention to yourself, and doing so over and over again. May be someday, after years of repeated efforts, I’ll manage to squirrel enough cash to pay the ransom I’ve put on my head. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining …… it’s just that my piriformis hurts like shit. I hear that at this age, it’s perfectly normal to feel pain in my ass when it pisses down my leg and tells me it’s raining.

* They look like shit.
** Personally adapted from the words of the powerfully diminutive Deng Xiaoping.: “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice”.
*** Or the “Mao Lisa”, as I like to call it.

Ex Libris.

Here are some of the books I have read or re-read in the past year and would highly recommend. Since I have reviewed some of them as of late, I figured I’d throw in a few more. All these books are great but I’ll add a star next to those which I felt were better than good, two stars to those I considered excellent and three stars to those few tomes I think are simply exceptional. I am afraid that my reading list does not include fiction. At some point I’ll go through my bookshelves and the basement to put together a list of the past five years(may be). I also tend to give away books to friends and acquaintances when I am done with them, less clutter and it saves trees even if I am never quite sure if anyone reads them or just simply humors me.

In no particular order:

How the Scots invented the modern world, Arthur Herman ..+.. The Gate, Francois Bizot ** ..+.. The Battle for Spain, Anthony Beevor ..+.. Churchill, a biography, Roy Jenkins ..+.. Imperial life in the Emerald city, Inside Iraq’s Green zone, Rajiv Chandrasekaran** ..+.. Samurai William, Giles Milton* ..+.. Collapse, Jared Diamond ..+.. Mao, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday** ..+.. Chinese Lessons, John Pomfret* ..+.. Civilizations, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto ..+.. Under the loving care of the fatherly leader, North Korea and the Kim Dynasty, Bradley K.Martin ..+.. Ivan’s War, Catherine Merridale*..+.. Sex with Kings, Eleanor Herman ..+.. Mapping mars, Olivier Morton* ..+.. The Places in Between, Rory Stewart* ..+.. Stumbling on Happiness, daniel Gilbert ..+.. Red China Blues, Jan Wong ..+.. The Bounty; The true story of the mutiny on the Bounty, Caroline Alexander*re-read ..+.. Blue Latitudes, Tony Horwitz re-read ..+.. Ghengis Khan and the making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford ***re-read ..+.. The History of Money, Jack Weatherford*..+.. Paris 1919: Six months that changed the World, Margaret MacMillan ..+.. The Best American Science and Nature writing 2005, Jonathan Weiner(editor)..+.. Krakatoa; The day the World exploded, Simon Winchester..+.. To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, Arthur Herman ..+.. King Leopold’s Ghosts: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa*re-read ..+.. Diamond: The History of a Cold-Blooded Love Affair, Matthew Hart. All these books taste great.

” The Blond Giovanni “…..

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In the early spring of 1938, my grandfather was approached by a representative of Chang Kai-shek’s government and was invited to lecture at Chongqing’s Polytechnical Teachers’ Institute. Chinese forces had recently moved their capital from Nanjing to Chongqing to continue fighting Imperial Japan’s brutal occupation of China’s coast and cities.
China’s strong man had been impressed by my grandfather’s easy wit and strong command of the Chinese language and following a chance encounter, while attending a conference on Sichuan’s largest city, the two men had struck up a friendship which was to last for forty years and enrich both their lives and families.

It had been during an extended trip to China’s western provinces, where my grandfather had hoped to further refine his already prodigious knowledge of Chinese dialects and languages, that he had unwittingly walked into a temple in the hopes of visiting with the local abbot, but had instead stumbled, quite innocently, into Chiang and members of his extended family. The two men had exchanged pleasantries but had soon been engrossed in conversation the likes of which his aide de camp had never seen him indulge in. At the time, the great man was secretly planning on leading a million nationalist conscripts in a bloody campaign to flush out Mao’s red bandits from Gansu and Shaanxi; instead of fighting the Japanese with the help of the communists, to which he had earlier agreed.

In 1934, Mao’s troops had managed to regroup and lick their wounds after enduring a forced march and a fighting retreat to escape Chiang’s military advances into their original soviet base in Jiangxi province. His army, thinned by hunger, disease and fiercely contested military clashes had seen it ranks severely diminished, as well as those of the first Chinese Soviet Republic. Only a few thousand bloodied and exhausted veterans remained.
Strategic plans to finish them off had been drawn in 1936 but Chiang had been kidnapped by Chang Hsueh-liang and forced to agree to a truce and a much hated treaty between him and Mao’s communist party to fight the Japanese menace together in the East.

A few weeks earlier, after a long and treacherous sea voyage on the HMS Bering Straits and a fourteen day trip up the Yangzte, my grandfather had found himself gazing upon a great alluvial plain, absentmindedly marveling at the expertly planted rice paddies over which so many tanned and bare chested natives toiled night and day. To get this far into China’s countryside, he had managed to hitch a ride in Chiang’s private car which had now just stopped to let its half dozen military officers and their mistresses stretch their legs and smoke the french cigarettes, he had bought in Hong Kong upon disembarking in Tsim Cha Sui; knowing that someday he might call upon this camaraderie to achieve his many aims, dreams and wishes.
Making life long friends out of casual acquaintances had always been a gift he by now, almost took for granted; but this time, it was to forever change his life in ways he could never have anticipated. While China tried to march onward and away from its troubled and tortured past, my grandfather found himself swept up and transformed by events far beyond his grasp, and which were to irrevocably change his life; in ways his children and grandchildren would to this day marvel at. China was about to be further put to the sword and the torch but his fate was about to become more unexpected than his already storied escape from the impoverished and vengeful hills of his Corsican birthplace.

My grandfather started life as the youngest son of a family of merchants whose fortunes were being rapidly diminished by an influx of cheap imported salt and a new road recently built and completed by German prisoners of war; as part of reparations designed to punish, but also to compensate French economic losses suffered during the first World war. The road brought my ambitious grandfather new found opportunities to escape the family’s trade but along with the outside world in came the Spanish flu, and the cheap salt which had previously brought them the great wealth and prestige this family of Corsican aristocrats had grown accustomed to, in their distant and storied past. The back of the family’s mules and it’s fortune, were soon broken by this newfound commercial route and the dreaded flu sent most of his siblings and relatives, to early and unexpectedly rocky graves.

Shortly after burying a sister and an older brother, in November 1920, he rode the last mule train to the sea and boarded the rusted hulk of an Italian ship ferrying a load of wine and tangerines to Sorrento, on Italy’s Amalfi coast. From Sorrento, he made his way to Padua and called on a family friend his father had befriended in World War I. Over a glass of wine, tomato slices and Bruccio cheese he recounted the family’s fall from grace and called on him to make good on the promises he had made while battling the guns the Kaiser and his Huns had so fiendishly and abundantly mass produced in the Ruhr valley.

Luciano Battesti had met my grandfather’s father in the trenches and had been billeted in small rain beaten, beet farming villages, between Lille and Cambrai. Even-though my great grandfather was Corsican, and Luciano Italian, they had managed to disregard the ancestral enmities between the two countries, and in and amongst the muddied guts and rotting corpses of their compatriots, the two young men had become friends in Pozières and Bazentin.

Four years had past since that summer and Luciano could do nothing but mourn the death of his old friend and offer my grandfather a job as a clerical Orientalist in Padua University’s Institute of Far Eastern languages; where he remained until 1922, when he was releaved of his duties after refusing to help Padua’s militias torch old books and anarchist manuscripts, deemed unpatriotic by Benito Mussolini and his fascist brutes…..

To be continued……

In other news:

A man walks in his house with a duck tucked under his arm.
Upon seeing his wife he pronounces out loud:
“This is the pig I’ve been fucking all this time….!”
Upon hearing this, his wife, perplexed and amused, responded in surprise:
” Honey, that’s not a pig, that’s a duck under your arm…!
” I wasn’t talking to you….” the man quacked back to his wife.