Tag Archives: nostalgia

My Father and I

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A little time travel was required. That's me on the right, Dad on the left.

What would he have thought

I wonder.

At my face and his face

And the inevitable passage of time?

Would he warn me

Console me

Or just be happy to see me?

Happy to see that it all worked out

I’m just fine.

It all happens too quickly my father said

Not long after this meal we shared

You take a breath, thirty years have passed

And everything moves full circle

As the child becomes the father to the man

As my Father and I

Have breakfast together again

Black and White World in Color

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Life magazine published quite a few color photos in the thirties. This one brings out the kitsch of Nazi German uniforms in a way black and white cannot.

All of us are used to thinking of the distant past in black and white. So much so that it comes as a shock when we suddenly see the world as it was, in color. This has become a bit of a fetish with me, I especially like recovering the color in washed out color photos from many decades ago. It is also a thrill to come across color video from a time we are accustomed to thinking of as black and white. Not long ago I harvested a batch of old color photos from the thirties. I was especially interested in the color photos from the Third Reich. We all have such an emotional reaction to that horrendous regime, and yet, if you are like me, you are also fascinated by it. The kitsch of the Third Reich, it’s overstated visual element is especially apparent when viewed in color. Black and white photos and movies place a distant between us and that time, whereas color helps to place us in that time. Color helps to bring out the gaudiness and kitsch of the Nazi era in the above photo. In the short film promoting the 1936 Olympics we obtain a glimpse in color of what the Third Reich truly looked like. Of course it is propaganda, and I am not promoting Nazism by posting this material. My point is to show the past in color instead of black and white in order to give the viewer a clearer view of how the past actually looked. Next I will show a less controversial choice, life in the good old USA in the thirties.

A Vermont family at the state fair in the 1930's

Shifting our attention to the United States, I have included a fascinating photo taken a the state fair in Vermont in the thirties. The Depression in particular is thought of in black and white terms and here we can get an idea of how the thirties looked. Take a look at the matching pink dresses, undoubtedly home made.

Here is a farm scene from the Great Depression in the thirties

This serves as a reminder that the past is but a continuation of the present, instead of a strange black and white world of it’s own. The New York World’s Fair in 1939 deserves it’s own post, but here is a short color film which takes you back to that time in a way black and white could never do, and then another video of that fair and other events in the US in the thirties, in color.

I am fairly certain that all of this material is in the public domain, except for the Life magazine photo.

Margaret Cho’s Blog: my addendum to her post ‘Lost’

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I just got through reading the latest post on Margaret Cho’s Blog, It is at margaretcho.com. The post is titled ‘Lost” and it is just her thoughts about people who are missing, lost, and how that makes her feel. She mentions ‘In Search Of..” the old Leonard Nimoy series on creepy things, including people who are lost. I’m not conveying the feeling of that post very well. You really need to read it. Margaret Cho is one of the most honest individuals I have ever encountered. She is beautiful, and powerful. She served as the inspiration for this blog. I wanted to produce a blog as brutally honest and wonderful as hers. She is generally thought of as a comedian who focuses on gay, lesbian, transgender issues. But there is a lot more to Margaret Cho than that. I hope that she realizes that herself, because as I read her blog it seems as though she hasn’t come to terms with herself and her incredible power and ability to influence others. She just wants to be an ordinary person leading an ordinary life. That fact alone sets her apart from a lot of people involved in show business. When I first became aware of her by watching her on youTube back in November I was mesmerized and kind of fell in love with her. That infatuation has since cooled down, although she can still touch my heart and does frequently. I fell in love with her truth telling, her vulnerability, her fearlessness. Yes, she is both, therein lies much of the fascination. So check out her blog! If you like me, you will like her, I guarantee it! I have no idea if she is aware of this blog, but I often leave comments on her blog. Perhaps someday I will meet her. I guess you could say I am a bit starstruck, except she isn’t (according to her) a star. So I guess I am personstruck. Oh! and I almost forgot! She’s funny too!

Now I’d like to add my bit to what she wrote. There are people, a lot of people, actually more people than I care to think about, that are lost. Forget the milk carton kids, that is just the tip of the iceberg. It is shocking how many people are unaccounted for in this vast forsaken world. Where are they? They may be dead, or living a different sort of life under different names. They could be sex slaves, or something even more horrible could have been their fate. Who knows? Although I am quite visible, not at all difficult to find, I nevertheless feel lost. How many people really know that I am here. They get a glimpse, nothing more. I am a ghost. So much of me is lost. My hold upon my nearly empty shell is tenuous at best. A few people know my mind, my emotions, and perhaps a slight hint of my soul. But it is temporary. Seventy years or so is only a moment, one flash of light within an ocean of eternal darkness. That is lost. That is what lost means to me. Margaret Cho was right to feel scared as she contemplates the lost, for it is terrifying true. We are all lost to a degree, separated from each other and our world by something we feel but cannot understand. But it does seem to be of our own making, this lostness. The literally lost serve as a metaphor for our unbearable loneliness. Elvis Presley once said he felt lonely even in the middle of a crowd. It’s that kind of lonely street upon which we all dwell. I can understand why this affected Margaret Cho so much. She wants to love everyone in a direct, physical, overpowering way and is stymied by this loneliness. Now there are those who would describe this lostness as our unbearably painful separation from God, but I don’t feel qualified to offer an opinion about that. I prefer to stick to my own experience, than to philosophize with my keyboard. In my own experience I am plagued by ghosts. I see them in my dreams and sometimes they appear suddenly and shock me into lucidity. The past is lost, and this is where these ghosts dwell. As I grow older an entire world is lost to me, and becomes a poignant memory. Lost? Ask any elderly person about lost. Ask the mentally ill about lost. They know lost. They have lived lost. While I am frightened by lostness, I am also drawn into it. This is the essence of my nostalgia for a time before I was born. I would have loved to have been practicing magick with Aleister Crowley or painting with William Waterhouse. I’d have had a grand old time with Mark Twain. When contemplating the past, the distant past, like that of ancient Greece or Rome, I can be overwhelmed by what has been lost, and filled with a deep sadness. Lost is an inexhaustible subject for it’s depths lie beyond our reach. We can only shine our feeble torch into this abyss and report our meager findings.

In my comments on her post, I told Margaret that I was listening to a very powerful piece of music by Leyland Kirby entitled “Don’t Sleep I Am Not What I Seem, I Am A Quiet Storm” (which I have been listening to while writing this post as well). It captures perfectly the feeling of lostness, that unbearable loneliness. If I succeed in finding it on youTube I will include it here. I haven’t figured out how or if I can post a song from my iTunes library. If you don’t find it here, look for the album “Sadly, the Future Is No Longer What It Was” by Leyland Kirby. This post by Cho came at just the right time for me, for I had been feeling particularly lost today. I still have no job, although I have an interview Monday. I feel adrift on the sea of the unknown. My thoughts are of long ago. I posted about the pre-Raphaelites and Oscar Wilde. I feel at home in their world. They certainly understood what it meant to be lost. I have also passed into and out of an entirely imaginary relationship and am at a loss where to take this story now that the romance is no longer really there. I am haunted by my own creations. Margaret Cho however is very real. I hope she continues to produce thought provoking pieces for her blog for many more years. A part of me is frightened for her. I don’t want anything to ever happen to such a talented woman. Not that I think she is in danger, I’m just feeling unsettled in general and this spills over into how I feel about people I care about. Lost. Unsettled. Plagued by Ghosts. Sadly, the Future Is Not What It Was.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

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Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (taken from Wikipedia)

 The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of painters, poets, and critics formed in 1848. They wished to restore art and literature to a more spiritual form of expression, instead of the rather formal constraints of academic art. Certain simple conventions prevailed in art beginning with Raphael. There was a tendency to avoid ostentation or excessive realism in any form. The Pre-Raphaelite wanted to return to a style that sought to depict nature as accurately as possible with extreme detail, realism, and spectacular color. All of this was in the service of a more spiritual result. They were in the vanguard of the Romantic movement in the arts. The Brotherhood didn’t last that long, by the end of the 1860’s they had more or less gone their separate ways, but their work inspired the later Symbolists and eventually the Decadence movement. The primary artists within the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Daniel Gabriel Rossetti. What I really like about these artists are how they depict the female form. They conveyed the magical quality of a woman’s face. There is a rich sensuality to their works due to the hyperrealism (my term. they were HD before the term existed). and vivid use of beautiful sexy colors. Beauty and sex are so closely related it is hard to separate the two. Sex is the desire to become one with the beautiful beloved, to merge together forming a new, uniquely beautiful and sexy being, and on it goes. From my perspective, art can serve a magical purpose, allowing the viewer to access parts of his or her self in ways not possible in any other way. Besides, it is awkward and rude to stare at a beautiful woman, however a painting of a beautiful woman can be stared at with delight, with no ill consequences. Alas, in some respects, all realistic art is pornographic. This is why realistic art was banned in the middle ages. I used to think they just didn’t have the skills, but no, the simple unrealistic forms are deliberate. Notice Rossetti’s use of the pomegranite (at least, I think that is what she’s holding). An unconscious association is made with the vagina. In the world of the pre-Raphaelite and even more so, the Symbolists and Decadents, objects and settings are symbols of other things or ideas. The paintings are a way of pointing to experiences that cannot be shown or heard, the spiritual realm if you will. It appeals to both my spiritual and perverse imaginations. There are many artists which have been considered Pre-Raphaelite who actually painted much later, such as John William Waterhouse, Gustave Moreau, These painters often used ancient myths and medieval tales as source material. Carl Jung would have said they were giving form to the universal archetypes of the collective unconscious. Freud would have said these paintings were a way of giving expression to their overflowing libido. They could both be right. All I know is that I can stare at these paintings for hours, lost in a reverie. For me, the experience is akin to the transformation of the senses which takes place when you fall in love. Everything becomes transformed, there is a special quality to the light, and the colors are magnificent when you are in love. I think that experience lies at the heart of pre-Raphaelite paintings. Then add a little Lord Byron, Shelley, or Yeats, and it is a veritable orgy of Romanticism. Perfect for young lovers!

Millais "Autumn Leaves" 1856

 Check out Proserpine by Rossetti above, do you see the hair? Rossetti could depict such rich, lush, hair better than anyone! You feel as though you could reach out and stroke her thick lovely hair. And the look within those dark eyes cannot be fully expressed. It depicts someone in deep thought, tinged with melancholy, and yet it is relatively subtle compared to the melodramatic style of the Symbolists. That is a useful distinction between the pre-Raphaelite and Symbolist. The Symbolist creates pure icons, divorced from that super realistic style of the pre-Raphaelite. The pre-Raphaelite uses nature itself to create that spiritual tipping point into blissful or perhaps mournful reverie. We have all had those pre-Raphaelite moments if you will, within our daily lives. Moments which are indelibly pressed into our consciousness. John Everett Millais, on the left, depicts what is for me an incredibly poignant scene, but not maudlin such as you might find in a Norman Rockwell print of the same kind of scene. Once again the effect is subtle but powerful. The light in this painting evokes autumn perfectly, and the expressions on the girl’s faces evoke a slight melancholy, but also pleasure. There is a hint of sadness even in the landscape. This is how autumn feels. Millais is a bit more conventional, not resorting to the hyper realism of Rossetti. You might say Millais preferred using more of a soft focus in his work. But I still can’t get over the exquisite use of color! One good thing about the internet age is the fact that you have entire art galleries at your fingertips. Of course it isn’t the same as having the paintings right in front of you, but at least you can access vast archives of paintings. I would encourage you to google these artists and see what you can find. Your computer monitor can serve as an imaginary light table bringing those paintings to life!

William Holman Hunt: Isabella and the pot of basil 1868

 Finally, for this post, I include one of the many wonderful paintings by William Holman Hunt. Look at the richness of detail and the sensual colors. It convinces me that ancient light was filled with delight. The face is a real face. This could easily be a HD digital photograph, the attention to strict realism is that good. Hunt’s women are voluptuous and invite lust as well as intellectual appreciation, Pre-Raphaelites delighted in the senses. They wanted us to see what they saw, touch what they touched, and feel what they felt. You feel as though you could reach out and hold that tablecloth in your hands! The pre-Raphaelites were not appreciated in their own time. They became very popular in the nineteen sixties drug culture because this kind of vivid realism and rich sensuality matches well the kind of languid eroticism produced by the ingestion of the best cannabis. I think the hippie subculture could also relate to the spirituality of these paintings. Spiritual eroticism! I suppose that could describe many of the pre-Raphaelite paintings. I will try to post more about the later Symbolist and Decadent schools of painting that owe a substantial debt to the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The Golden Gate Bridge (Addendum)

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The SF Chronicle had a nice article this week about all of the sketches that were made of how the entryway to the Golden Gate Bridge should be designed. This provides a kind of Addendum to the previous post on the Bridge. The tendency at that time, the early thirties, was toward glorious flights of imagination. Architects would dream of enormous monumental architecture, and these plans reflect this tendency. When I looked at the illustration at the right, I not only thought of the overwrought architecture of the Romans, which was designed to overwhelm the viewer, and remind them of the might of the Empire, but also the architecture of Albert Speer, who was designing buildings for the Third Reich in this same period. He also had grandiose plans for Berlin, but that is for another post. It was an eye-opener for me however, to discover that Speer was not as unique in his ideas as some would have you believe. In America as well, as shown here, architects sought to overwhelm the viewer with massive structures. John King wrote the piece for the Chronicle, and I was struck by one sentence, “the images are fun cultural artifacts that in real life would have been deadly”. Until now, I had been unaware that architecture could kill. I suppose he is speaking metaphorically, such as I was when I said I was struck by a sentence. I wasn’t actually assaulted by a sentence. I still thought that was a wee bit dramatic, although I like it. Warning! Deadly Architecture Ahead. I will have to create yet another post with that title, and find examples other than just this article and Speer’s famous examples of deadly architecture.

The world had such a vivid imagination at the onset of the nineteen thirties. If you check out the sci-fi magazines of the time, you see all manner of elevated roadways, skies full of all sorts of dirigibles, and robots. Lots of robots! People of course filled the skies with their nifty jetpacks. I can recall immersing myself in that Buck Rogers world as a child, and how thrilling it was to my imagination. We could use more imagination in architecture. I don’t mean the abstract monstrosities of steel and glass which don’t resonate with our inner archetypes. That is what works about the Golden Gate Bridge. It resonates with our unconscious in it’s boldness, it’s audacity. But I would agree with King that this has it’s limits. I agree that huge concrete structures at the entrance to the bridge would have distracted from the already awe-inspiring natural setting. There was an architectural school at the time known as ‘City Beautiful’. I want to learn more about that school. I suspect it is filled with all sorts of dangerous architecture. You really should check out the exhibition of these Golden Gate bridge drawings at the California Historical Society, 678 Mission St on view until Oct. 14.

You should also check Sf Gate to see if they also have an online version of this fun article. As indicated in the article, many of the ideas involved what can only be called monumental architecture. Subtlety was not the idea. This was forbidding architecture, brooding upon the landscape, filling the viewer with a somber sense of his puny role in the grand scope of history. Of course, as King mentions, such monstrous creations are often mistaken for mausoleums. The message is clear when you gaze at a massive chuck of concrete. I am here to stay, I am permanent, and I am incredibly important, before my massiveness you must kneel. Fascist architecture, basically. The German pavilion at a Parisian fair in the mid-thirties, which stood on one side of the Seine, next to the Eiffel tower, with the Soviet pavilion on the other side, was also compared to a mausoleum by writer’s at the time. I’ll have to dig out a picture of that brickbat of a building. Take that, Paris, with your puny effete architecture. So it looks like I have plenty to write about in the future. Remember to shield your eyes from dangerous architecture. Art can Kill!

Palace of Fine Arts

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A little piece of heaven

I got such a nice response to my post about the Golden Gate Bridge, I thought I would post something about another of my favorite places in San Francisco. The Palace of Fine Arts was part of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, and is the only part of that exposition standing in it’s original location. The Palace was rebuilt in 1965, and generally spruced up and retrofitted in 2009. It is a little piece of heaven in the middle of a busy urban environment. I used to love to sit on the bench in front of the lagoon, after a long walk down Embarcadero, checking out the piers, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Fort Mason. I’d watch the ducks dive for fish, their little rumps comically sticking out of the water. The Palace of Fine Arts gives a visitor a sense of what it may have been like on a beautiful summer day in Greece or Sicily in 500 bc. It is an archetypal place brought to life! I notice how people tend to lower their voices or remain silent when they are walking about the grounds, careful not to disturb the serenity.

It is refreshing to discover a place whose only function is to bring pleasure to the senses. It was designed by Bernard Maybeck as a fictional ancient milieu. There were originally ten palaces, representing various human endeavors, education, agriculture, manufacturing. They were designed to be temporary, and the Palace of Fine Arts had to be made into a more durable structure. Originally wood, plaster, and burlap, it was completely redone in light weight concrete. The Exhibition Hall has been used for various purposes over the years. During the Depression it exhibited WPA artists’s works, during WW II it housed trucks and jeeps. It has held telephone books, limos for statesmen, and been the headquarters of the fire dept. I love the sculptures which depict Contemplation, Wonderment, and Meditation. They are typical of the neo-Classical style current in the early twentieth century. They fulfill their function admirably. When you visit this place you are left in wonderment, meditate upon it’s meaning, and sit in silent contemplation of it’s beauty.

  One of the things I love most about San Francisco is it’s love of unique beauty. It preserved the lovely Victorian homes and ornate buildings of yesterday, because it saw it’s value. It is one of the special thrills of San Francisco to walk it’s streets and take in the endless variety of architectural treasures which fill this city. I could post many more stories and photos to document this fact, and I plan to. I love the fabulous statues and gargoyles which grace many of the buildings downtown. I love the intricate art deco designs of many of the older skyscrapers. Much of modern architecture leaves me cold, and San Francisco has it’s share of that. Fortunately, this city is primarily a living museum. I live in a studio apartment which was built in 1907 following the earthquake, to house the Chinese workers who did so much to rebuild this city. I found the date embossed into the iron frame of my murphy bed, 1907. It was a thrill to be living in the midst of history. This is a special city. If my efforts threaten to overtake this blog, I will create a new blog devoted to San Francisco. Think of russell5087 as a nursery, where ideas take shape and find there own home in other blogs I create. Thanks for the great response to The Golden Gate, hope you like this post just as much!