Detroit, which I'm sure most of you know, is facing bankruptcy, is having the great collection of art housed in the Detroit Institute of Art evaluated by Christies for possible sale to pay off debts. There's an article in the Art and Design section of the New York Times about this.
In the NY Times, Diego Rivera's name falls at the end of a very short list of great painters: Bruegel and Van Gogh and Diego Rivera. There are many more who could be included.
Today in La Jornada, you can find an article by Mexico's David Brooks about the Rivera piece, in fact a large mural painted in1932-1933 before the more-famous Rivera mural (famous because of its destruction) in Rockefeller Center. This PBS piece is a nice summary of that brouhaha.
The mural in Detroit is two stories high and called "Detroit's Industry". Not only does it portray workers and steel and machinery, it has tender side pieces as you can see here. Here is a link to a virtual tour of the mural.
As the mural in Rockefeller Center did a couple of years later, the one in Detroit provoked controversy. In Detroit it was religious as well as social and political. After all, Rivera was an avowed communist. Among other accusations, it was said the piece "fomented ´class warfare', that it made fun of Jesus, that it promoted racial equality and that it was Marxist propaganda." The principle daily newspaper of the time, The Detroit News, wanted it destroyed. Thankfully, that didn't happen.
Things have changed in Detroit. Today the majority of its citizens want the art kept. The state´s attorney general has said that it is a charitable trust and as such can't be sold to pay off the debts of the city. But it's still notclear that it will be preserved for the city. It is possible that the art will be put in opposition to the city workers' pensions: keep the art or pay the retired workers.
Brooks points to the dedication at the entrance of the DIA: Dedicated to the people of Detroit for the knowledge and enjoyment of art." That so many people in Detroit want the art to stay in the face of the obvious suffering of the city is remarkable. This is a debate worth having. Art held in the name of the people, for the people: does it help when people are poor?
The night before last fog slipped in on little cat feet, as Carl Sandburg wrote. And it poured, too, into every crevice and cranny and draped over every branch and shrouded the leaves and the rocks and the river. Whisps and threads reached our windows.
It came in bearing chill and damp. In the morning,we reached for sweaters and more sweaters and jackets, too. This is classic fall and winter weather here, and though temperatures reach into the sixties during the day, it is cold for us, unpleasant without some source of heat or at least lots of warm things to nest in.
We took the dogs for their walk in the early afternoon. Our now-aged Afghan has some kind of cancer in his belly. He has lasted longer than we thought he would with it, but moves slowly, elegantly, and steps with care. So we don't go far, just to the fairly level path along the river that runs past La Providencia about a mile from our house.
Yesterday we felt as if we were slipping into a ghost story, or a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The three healthy dogs ran along the path, turning into shadows. Ahead of us we saw a twisted form, a body? We giggled (nervously). An old mattress, half of it flipped over, some of its stuffing strewn about. In itself, a strange thing to see.
Today the fog has pulled back so that it rests along the top of the hills and hides Acamalín. It's still bleak and cold, though. We will go for our walk and buy vegetables to make a Thanksgiving dish for tomorrow. Our host has requested we look for stringbeans. I said if I could find them, I would cook them with bacon and onions as he and Jim like them. Both are sons of mothers, one black, one white who grew up on farms.
There I was in my yoga class lying with my heels together, yanked as close as I could get them to my groin with a strap which is olive drab and makes me think of military training camp equipment) with my eyes closed, a cloth covering them, trying hard to relax when all of a sudden the room shook (I swear) with the explosion of a bottle rocket, a cohete, which sounded like a bomb exploding right outside the front door. "Holy cow," I gasped (I still say holy cow),"What was that?" I half sat up (I couldn't sit all the way with my feet strapped). The other student and Luana, the instructor lay like corpses. Another explosion. I managed to keep my mouth shut. A long pause, long enough that I actually relaxed and then, just as my back sank onto the floor, the biggest boom of all. "Jesus Christ," the name burst full-force out of my mouth. You don't hear that a lot here, though you hear all kinds of other profanities. Anyway, it was loud enough to rouse my fellow students. Luanna looked at me blankly. "Are you all right?"
"Didn't you hear that?"
"What?" I swear she said "what."
She and the other student were now sitting up. I was at a disadvantage, only able to get half-up with my hands supporting me and my heels still practically tickling my crotch.
"That explosion. It sounded like a huge cohete right in front of your door!"
"Aren't you used to them yet?"
I had to assert my longevity in Mexico.Of course I was used to the cohetes. "Well, yeah, but not right outside my front door!"
My front door is behind a wall. Luana's is right on the sidewalk of the main street of Xico. As she said, she hears them all the time. Every church has a patron saint, the calendar is filled with holy days. The class ended and we stepped outside onto the sidewalk to see a procession filling the street, a cohort of masked clowns twirling in their wide-legged costumes, their tall, conical hats swaying, their glittery noisemakers crackling rhythmically. Then came a seated Jesus high above us on a litter borne by eight or ten men and, finally, a large mariachi band.
When we first came to Xico years ago, such processions were a bit more ragged, but with the growth of tourism and the consequent attention, they've gotten much more polished. Maybe it's a good thing.
Which brings me back to Luana's yoga classes. I have to mention again that she is a wonderful teacher of the Iyengar branch of Hatha yoga. If you live in the greater Xico metroplex, you should give her classes a try. She is at Hidalgo 100 in Xico, her cell phone is 228 111 7647. You can find her at facebook at Yogatlán. Classes are on Monday and Thursday from 7:00 to 8:30 pm, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9:00 to 10:30 in the morning.
Yesterday I mentioned that I was taking a course called Lo Monstruoso en el Arte Mexicano. Monstruoso can be used to describe of course the often huge sculptures of the Mesoamericans which appear so puzzling to US eyes.These sculptures and the enormous buildings often adorned with art were made by the the people who built civilizations before the Spanish ever saw the light of day as Spaniards
The earliest known of these are the famous Olmec heads, carved mostly from basalt boulders somehow brought downriver from the mountains of Veracruz, maybe one thousand years before Christ. Wikipedia, from whom I stole this picture, has a good brief article about them.
Even better, for a voyage into Mesoamerican art and craft go to the website of the of the National Museum of Archaeology here.
The cnourse I'm taking is carefully tracing the influences on modern Mexican art. The scholarly professor has given assignments these past two weeks in the aesthetics of classical Greek art, also influential i Mexican art as you can see in my article on Saturnino Herrán, though I didn't particularly address the classical influence You can scroll through it here. Towards the end especially the influence becomes clear.
At the very end is a painting of the monstrous-looking (to us--I'm not sure how she would have appeared to the Aztecs et. al.) Coatlicue in whose embrace rests the crucified Jesus. I imagine this image may show up in our class.
The course has forums for student commentary, student responses to questions the profesora proposes. This week's questions included what we first came to mind when we thought of beauty and of art. I imagine she wants us to look at our own beliefs about these, something I haven't done for a long time.
But now I find myself remembering the past.
Now that I am seventy I think I am officially old. They say that old people start to recall the past with greater vividness than the present.That still is not the case with me, but the question on art led me back to my childhood and adolescence in New York and Woodstock, to scenes of all kinds of painting considered avant garde at the time. I will write more about this. I can't help it.
I don't know if anyone still looks for my blog since I haven't put anything up for so long, but I hope so. I am going to try to reinvigorate it with shortish posts since I won't have time for longer ones. I'm taking an online course called "El Monstruoso en el Arte Mexicano" and it is making my head spin. The first week was on Mexicaneidad, or Mexicanness and being a Mexican which I sought some outside opinion on. The next one which I am struggling with is on the influence of classical Greece on western art and also, therefore, Mexican art after the Conquest. It's not reading the Spanish which is the problem, it's making my way through philosophical stuff. This ain't art history.
So anyway, there was an article in La Jornada today about eating well and how to get people to do it. This iissue is taken seriously here. The federal government has passed a law taxing soda, for instance, although this may turn out to be a double-edged sword, as they say.
Of interest in the article is that the Government of Mexico has invited a US activist named Larry Cohen, the director of the Institute of Prevention of the US (and someone I never heard of and an institute I never heard of) to participate in an international meeting. He is apparently responsible for the campaign which led to the prohibition of smoking on airlines.
Among the points he made (and which most people here are aware of) is that you have to go beyond simply distributing publicity and you have to take measures "which have an impact on the environment," including providing places for kids to play. Now this is not so much a problem here. Kids play in parks and playgrounds and in streets with no problem. (The problems arise when more and more older ones hang around street corners because they can't get jobs). But USAers should pay attention to the idea of getting kids outside their houses.
Cohen also talked about somehow limiting the availability of junk food and filling stores and shelves with fruits and vegetables. Now this is obvious, and again if you mention junk food to my neighbors, they are fully aware of its problems. And the thousands of small tiendas that people shop in do often stock some fruits and vegetables and indeed there are fruit and vegetable stores. And at least in my colonia people do buy and eat them, often making aguas out of the fruits. But it is hard for a tienda to make money on the fruits and vegetables alone, and it is hard to buy just enough so you don't have to pitch the leftovers. Venders buy their produce from middlemen who drive from little store to little store in usually battered trucks. They don't make much either and they sure don't take returns. And of course there is the horrible problem of the cost of junk food, comida de chatarra, which is often lower than the good for you stuff and it is often easier--much easier as it is in the US for a harried family to go for the chatarra.
The fruits and vegetables come from large wholesalers who sell the same stuff to everyone in an area and from some local farmers whose produce is generally more expensive since it veers towards or is organic.
In our area, we are surrounded by good land which is now planted in coffee. I think a solution here might be to develop some kind of farming economy as exists in the northeastern US where people farm on small farms and sell VERY locally. And where very local markets are becoming available in poor neighborhoods. But such an idea is not instantaneously doable.
Meanwhile, the government should be working to provide potable water to all the schools in Mexico! And guess what! A federal law has just been passed to do just that in schools from preschool level through bachillerato, or high school. It will be implemented first in schools with more than 100 students, and all schools should have potable water in three years. And of course (or maybe not of course)the water will be free. The article noted the common problem that a bottle of potable water here is often more expensive than a bottle of soda.
The bill also addresses the manner in which renewable energy can be used to provide potable water including the use of rainwater, solar energy and water storage facilities, (both natural and manmade I imagine).
So any questions or comments would be welcome, either here or via email at buddenbooks(at)gmail.com.
An AP photo, it appeared on the front page of today's online edition of La Jornada.It shows a demonstration in the Spanish Parliament put on by "an internacional feminist movement" called Femen. The women have written "Aborto es sagrado" on their torsos. Security removed them.
Our reading/writing group meets more or less every fourth Wednesday of the month. The next one is coming up on the 16th of October. We are a growing bunch of yes-we-are, would-be, have been and would-have-been writers of various ages and "ethnic backgrounds". We call it a readers' group because some (many) of us shy away from criticism and just want to enjoy each others' tales and because some of us haven't necessarily written anything new in a long time and don't feel like having the old stuff rehashed yet again. For some reason I am reminded of children's hour at the library where kids sit in a circle on little chairs around the friendly adult who reads a page and then holds the book up and shows the pictures. We each get a turn to be librarian, clearing our throats, looking around the circle of faces before we begin. We read bits of our memories, stories, poems, even a letter. We know each other outside of our little reading group. We can puzzle or say aha about the sides of each other we didn't know, the feelings revealed, the delicacy hidden behind a gruff voice.
We meet at Caftan Rojo which has within its walls and its courtyard an art school and various changing art exhibits as well as an English language book exchange and a Spanish book collection which you can borrow from. On the Jewish holidays, it has celebrations which the small Jewish community of Xalapa and Coatepec attends. We attended the memorial of a friend there a year or so ago. Sometimes someone from the area gives a presentation as was the case when a former professor from the US gave a talk on peak oil which he hoped would alarm us more than it did.
If you are in Coatepec, wander in, have a seat if you want to rest your feet. Look around. You can find current information at www.caftanrojo.org. Here are the phone number, address, etc:
Para más información puedes llamar al teléfono 01 o 52 (228) 816-3151 de lunes a sábado, de 9 de la mañana a 3 de la tarde, o visítarnos en la 3ª calle de Xicoténcatl nº 44, en Coatepec, Veracruz, México.
David Town frequently emails his friends about his life in Coatepec. A bachelor, he lives with a Mexican family and spends time with another which he has become close to. He has a good life with them. I have been meaning to post some of his descriptions for some time. Here is something he wrote today.
The radiant expression on Imelda's face is enchanting and moving when she is preparing and fixing food, modest or otherwise, mixing her decorative cement in accord wioth her own formula, taking Oscar dos [Oscar jr] and Jordi to and from school, greeting and bidding her husband, Oscar, farewell, when he goes off to work or returns froim work, and even though I am at her house, almost every day, it always intrigues me how she seems so genuinely pleased when I enter the house. If Oscar walks in while I am there, he always pats me on the shoulder, stares into my eyes, smiles, and says "Hola" as he used to do with Charlie and Dorotrhy Sedgwick [David's late friends. He lived for many years with Dorothy], while extending his hand to be shaken. There is a newcomer in Oscar and Imelda's family, an eight week old puppy, named "Escrapi" or Scrappy in English that we love, play with, and are close to. He is barely ten inches long but is strong. His little house in the living room was invaded by a mouse the other day. That mouse is history. Scrappy can be a good scrapper. Imelda came home from getting the boys and found the mouse, put it, or its corpse, more precisely, in a plastic bag, and disposed of it.
Oscar and Imelda are not very happy about not knowing from day-to-day whether Oscar, in junior high, and Jordi, in primary school, will have school or not. Very irregular [due to the ongoing teachers' strike]. Jordi has to have school seven or eight straight Saturdays to make up for teachers still not always showing during the sporadic work stoppage. Beautiful here, most of the day. Night rain feasible. Humid now. About seventy degrees fahrenheit, I suspect. Jose Rey Salazar Piedra [whose room David rents] had a busy morning in his barber shop. Best wishes and warm regards.
After several days in Boston, I am once again home in rainy Ursulo Galván. My kids and grandkids live in Boston and its environs as do some very good friends. Every time I go, I wish I could find some way to get beamed to Boston and back here, a la Star Trek, because the trip is not short, especially coming home. Unless you want to risk missing the only flight to Veracruz until the next night you have to wait over four hours in Houston. In spite of the title of this post, it is not really going to be about contrasts between Boston and The Greater Xico Metropolitan Area (thanks again, DT), although there are many, but between Italy and Mexico. And only briefly, at that.
In Sunday's New York Times, there is already online an article with the enticing title
beautifully written, captivating, and melancholy by Marco de Martino describing Rosario Crocetta, current president of Sicily's governing body, and also life in Sicily, or rather political life in Sicily and Crocetta's perhaps doomed efforts to change it. Sicily appears like an evil caricature of Mexico, with corruption
Crocetta, center, with two bodyguards, Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum for The New York Times
and extortion and threats of murder, often carried out, shadowing every move a politician or a businessman makes.
"Everyone" (whoever everyone is) knows that corruption and so on are also rampant in Mexico. But it seems to me, it is not on anything near the scale it is in Sicily (or possibly in the US, or at least the Highway Department of the State of Texas [just kidding]). It has been charged, for instance, that corruption played a role in the apparently shoddy highway construction on the Autopista del Sol between Mexico City and Acapulco where landslides during the continuing torrential rains caused considerable damage.
In Insight Crime, Patrick Corcoran reports that the giant corporations of Mexico have written a letter to Peña Nieto complaining of frequent extortion threats in public works projects, especially in northern Mexico. The leaders of these companies are the richest men in Mexico (and some, in the world). This of course leads me to one of my favorite tangents: aren't these business leaders also guilty of some crime against the ordinary citizenry of Mexico and the world?) . Insight Crime concludes that corruption of this sort increased dramatically under Calderón My point with all of this is that in Mexico, people can COMPLAIN about it, can put possible perpetrators on the defensive, etc. etc. Mexico does not feel like Sicily.
And, of course, Boston is not squeaky clean, either.
Everyday Literacies This blog makes me feel like a stranger in a strange land...the writers are completely comfortable moving across the seas of cyberspace as if they were (and, actually, they are) just ordinary parts of our reality. And they move in the world more comfortable to me as well.
Rita's Dog Blog our dog Rita hopes to include not just stories of her life but also pictures of dogs in art, dog art, etc. She loves it when people look at it. This blog is a special privilege for her as she has been so good at accepting the onslaught of three more dogs after a long, calm life as the only dog in the family.