December 2009

Posted by Ellen

Skiing in the dark in Japan.

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Russian painting, #2

30 Dec 2009
Posted by Ellen

They Didn't Expect Him, by Ilya Serin, 1883. A revolutionary returns home unexpectedly from political exile, setting up a cinematic sort of family scene.

The man's mother rises to greet him. The little girl, his younger child, seems a little frightened; perhaps he has been gone so long that she doesn't recognize him. The boy, a little older, looks thrilled. The man's wife, sitting at the piano near the door, is startled and confused; perhaps she had given him up for lost. Perhaps too, she has been angry about his political obsessions that left the family abandoned for so long. The servants are watchful, eager to see what happens next.

The man himself looks haggard and unsure of himself. His return is not triumphant; perhaps it's not anything at all like what he might have imagined while he was away. Can he pick up the pieces of his old life? Will his wife welcome him back? What about his political and intellectual life, which had led to his exile? What does he do now?

Russian painting, #1

29 Dec 2009
Posted by Ellen

Girl with Peaches, by Valentin Serov, 1887.

Posted by Ellen

In this recent snapshot of the two of us, Norman still looks like Norman but I seem to be looking more and more like a Puerto Rican Supreme Court justice. The years do what they do.

May next year, our thirty-fifth year together, bring peace and health and warm cheer to all of y'all. I'll raise my glass tonight to hope against hope.

Posted by Ellen

In 1543, the artist Titian painted this picture of the male members of the Vendramin family of Venice, who are shown venerating what is said to be a relic of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The relic actually belonged to a different Venetian family, but some years earlier it had been accidentally knocked into a canal during a procession, and Andrea Vendramin, the grandfather of the doge in the center of this portrait, had dived in after it and retrieved it, thus sealing a special relationship between it and the family.

It is believed that Titian had help in completing this portrait; specifically, it is said that his apprentices painted some of the children. Titian himself did the boy with the red stockings and the dog, but the three boys at the left, and perhaps also the two other boys at the right, represent the work of his assistants.

The gloves came off

26 Dec 2009
Posted by Ellen

To be more precise: at least one mitten came off late in the afternoon of Christmas day when Hank and Al had at it on the bluff above Kettle Cove, on the nearly snowless southern coast of Maine. It wasn't a real fight, just a little sibling rasslery.

Digging for dollars

25 Dec 2009
Posted by Ellen

It may be Christmas, but the Silver Baron and all the dozens of other casinos in Reno, Nevada, are wide open for business. Nevada wouldn't be Nevada if people fretted over the propriety of parting fools from their money on Christmas or any other day.

But last weekend, with Christmas travel already in full swing, Reno looked almost lifeless by day and barely half-alive at night. As industries go, gambling must be somewhat recession-proof, but it takes money to get to Reno and to stay in the hotels there, so these days gamblers may be doing more of their gambling closer to home. I don't know if that's the explanation; maybe it's a trendiness thing, with Reno seriously losing out to Vegas. Whatever, the town is not flourishing.

Many of the casinos in Reno, including the Silver Baron, are partly or entirely underground, occupying land excavated more than a hundred years ago, back when Nevadans sought their silver deep in the ground rather than in the pockets of tourists. Silver-mining is the architectural motif of the town. Above the Silver Baron is a dome filled with fake mining machinery. Near the dome is a concert hall, where the Doobie Brothers will be playing for New Year's Eve.

Allen and his teammates from the Naval Academy wrestled in a tournament in Reno last Sunday. Their performance overall was disappointing, and the coaches got so annoyed they were yelling even when the Midshipmen won their matches. Afterwards, Allen treated me to a little blackjack in one of the casinos, and my performance would have been extremely disappointing were it not so completely predictable.

Mr. Speaker

23 Dec 2009
Posted by Ellen

That would be Joseph "Uncle Joe" Cannon, a.k.a. "Foul-mouth Joe," the gentleman from Illinois with the really big cigar. Here he poses in 1922 with Rep. Vincent Brennan of Michigan.  Speaker Cannon retired  the next year, after representing Illinois in the House, with a couple of interruptions, since 1872, and serving as Speaker of the House from 1903 to 1911. Brennan also retired in 1923, after representing Michigan without distinction for two years.

Foul-mouth Joe's personal history in politics went back all the way to supporting Abraham Lincoln for president. As the cigar suggests, his political style was that of the smoke-filled room and his ideological beliefs were old-school through and through. Twentieth-century populism was nonsensical in his eyes; "I am goddamned tired of listening to all this babble for reform," he once said. "America is a hell of a success."

And turn-of-the-century reformers, notably Theodore Roosevelt, had gone way too far, according to Cannon: "Roosevelt has no more use for the Constitution than a tomcat has for a marriage license."

His political skills and rhetorical flourishes are memorialized on Capitol Hill to this day; the Cannon House Office Building is named after him. And Time magazine put him on the cover of its very first issue in 1923.

But nobody in Congress dresses with such distinction any more.

East Africa

21 Dec 2009
Posted by Ellen

Our friend Carol Stack has just returned from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She took this picture on the road leading down into town, and very soon, we hope, she'll leave her jet lag behind and find time to prepare a few notes to share with us about the image and her experiences.

Also, because several Good Morning folks are known to have spent time in Ethiopia, I'm putting out a call for pictures and stories. Thanks in advance.

Posted by Ellen

The poor bicycle, chained to a pole, had no chance to escape. But at least nobody was riding it at the time.

Photo by Sam Javanrouh in Toronto.