Saturday, July 22, 2017

At the Farmer's Market


A pleasant bike ride this morning led me to the farmer's market -- always a cheerful place.


Next to my bike rack was parked a Smart Car impersonating a Mercedes.  The owner was wearing the uniform of the old geezer who wants to be considered quite a character: a short-brimmed straw hat, a plaid shirt, suspenders, and high-water pants.  He apparently claims to be a tango dancer.  I have my doubts that he has successfully danced a tango this century.


 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Iowa in July


I drove to Iowa to visit my Dad and other family members.  In addition to paying a call on relatives, I found a few idle hours one afternoon to see exhibits at the Figge Art Museum.

My favorite artwork was a back-lit stained glass scene by Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the founder of the famous company (as in Breakfast at Tiffany's).  The plaque read:

Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933)
River of Life Window, circa 1905.
Favrile [i.e., handmade] glass, copper foil, lead



I liked this painting of the Grand Canyon by William Robinson Leigh (1866 - 1955).  The painting is oil on canvas mounted on panel, but looks rather like a pastel effect.



What Iowa art museum could be without a Grant Wood painting?

The plaque read:

Grant Wood (1891 - 1942)
Iowa Cornfield, 1941
Oil on Masonite



The Figge Art Museum also has the iconic Persephone brooch worn by the daughter in Grant Woods's American Gothic picture.  Hot stuff!




Saturday, July 1, 2017

Nature, Art, and Chicken Salad


Today was full of my favorite things: nature, art, and food.  Mundane things, I admit, but pleasurable.

I bicycled to the farmers' market to buy lettuce and a cucumber.  The morning breeze was cool and refreshing on the trail.  Birds were singing in the trees.

I arrived at the farmers' market, locked my trusty Lemond, and sauntered down the row of booths to my usual produce seller.  The red lettuce was especially beautiful today.



I biked back home and immediately jumped in the car, drove to the nearby light rail station, and took the light rail downtown.  Objective: the free Denver Art Museum (DAM) exhibits.  Today the DAM was partnering with the adjacent Clifford Still Museum.  After a quick stroll past the DAM exhibits, I betook myself next door to see the Clifford Still (1904-1980) paintings.

While I confess that I am mostly blind to the merits of Mr. Still's abstract expressionism -- I favor art that retains some tie to nature -- some of the paintings were striking in their contrasts of color and composition.  His later paintings were behemoths taking up an entire wall.  Here are the two that I found most interesting (or perhaps I should say least deranged and bewildering).



This second painting was involved in a notorious 2012 arrest.  From the Denver Post article:

A 36-year-old Denver woman, apparently drunk, leaned against an iconic Clyfford Still painting worth more than $30 million last week, punched it, slid down it and urinated on herself, according to a criminal case against Carmen Lucette Tisch.
“It doesn’t appear she urinated on the painting or that the urine damaged it, so she’s not being charged with that,” said Lynn Kimbrough, a spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney’s Office, said Wednesday.
“You have to wonder where her friends were.”
Tisch is being charged with criminal mischief in the incident that happened at the Clyfford Still Museum at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 29.
Damage to the painting — “1957-J-No. 2.” — is estimated at $10,000.
The painting, which is nearly 9 1/2 feet tall and 13 feet wide, is estimated between $30 million and $40 million by the museum.
I can sympathize with the unfortunate Ms. Tisch.  My own emotion reaction to the painting was roughly similar, but I restrained myself from resorting to either violence or urine.

I walked to the light rail station, my mind still agitated by the angry splashes of color on the Clifford Still paintings.  I boarded the light rail and settled into my seat in hopes of a relaxing ride.

The light rail rolled past the Denver ComicCon crowds.  Their costumes ranged from charming to wacky to disturbing.  On the charming side: I saw a fetching middle-aged Princess Leia, complete with white gown and macaroon hairstyle.  On the wacky side: I leaned toward the light rail window and snapped a shot of two ladies with colorful hair.  On the disturbing side: there were several young people riding the light rail who were disfigured with large and garish tattoos.  However, these pitiable people may not have had anything to do with ComicCon.

Here are the wacky girls:


I reached my destination station, detrained, walked to my car, and drove to The Bagel Deli for an excellent chicken salad sandwich.



All in all, what kind of day could be more satisfying to an Iowa boy in the big city?


Sunday, June 25, 2017

In the Enchanted Forest


I took a short hike this morning on the Enchanted Forest trail.  The wildflowers were in bloom.  My favorites were the wild rose and the cactus flower.




On the avian side, I saw an American Goldfinch but was only able to take its photograph from a great distance.


A better picture, stolen from the Internet:


The most enjoyable part of the hike was sitting on a log in the Enchanted Forest itself.  A photograph is insufficient to capture the ambiance: the sound of bird songs near and far, the cozy sense of being surrounded by trees, and the soft light filtering down from the tree canopy overhead.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Consolations of Young Goethe


I have been reading the Miscellaneous Travels of J. W. Goethe.  In these travel accounts Goethe (1749 - 1832), the giant of German literature, portrayed himself as a singularly self-possessed individual.  In place of a strong religious sense, he found his fullest consolation in art and Nature.  Here are relevant excerpts.

“Campaign in France,” Tréves, 25th October
A young schoolmaster who visited me, and brought me some of the latest numbers of the newspapers, gave me an opportunity for some pleasant conversation.  He was astonished, like many others, that I had no wish to converse about poetry, but rather seemed to throw myself with all my energy into the study of Nature.  He knew the philosophy of Kant, and I could therefore point out to him the path I had entered.  When Kant, in his ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ places teleologic judgment side by side with the aesthetic, it is evident that he wishes to show that a work of art should be treated in the same way as a work of Nature, and a work of Nature in the same way as a work of art; and that the worth of each should be developed out of itself, and considered by itself.  About such things I could be very eloquent; and I believe I was of some use to the worthy young man.  It is wonderful what a mixture of truth and error every period carries and drags about with it, inherited from days but recently passed, or even from days long gone by; whilst enterprising spirits cut out a new path for themselves, where, for the most part, they have to go alone, or find a companion only for some short distance of the way.
=====
“Campaign in France,” DIGRESSION
I had got into the habit of being engrossed by the business and occurrences of the moment, and had of late years, in particular, reason to be satisfied with this kind of life; this led to a peculiarity in me of never forming any conception before-hand of persons whom I expected to meet, or of places I intended to visit, but allowed them to produce their effect upon me without being previously prepared for them.
The advantage that arises from this is great; one does not require to come back from a previously-conceived idea, or to blot out a picture arbitrarily painted by ourselves, and painfully to accept the reality in its place.  The disadvantage, on the other hand, that may arise, is, that we are unprepared in moments of importance, and are at a loss how to act in unforeseen emergencies.
For the same reason, too, I never paid any attention to the effect which my presence or the temper of my mind produced upon others; for I often found, quite unexpectedly, that I had inspired affection or repugnance, and frequently even both at the same time.
Whatever may be said respecting this manner of behaviour, whether, as an individual peculiarity, it can neither be praised nor censured, it must be added, that in the present case it produced some very curious phenomena, and these not always of the most agreeable description.
I had not met the friends whom I was about to visit for many years; they had kept steadily to their old course of life; whereas it had been my strange lot to undergo many trials, and to pass through various kinds of occupations and endurances.  Hence, although the same person, I had become quite a different being, and almost unrecognisable to my old friends.
It is difficult, even in maturer years when we have a freer survey of life, to give an accurate account of those transitions in it, which sometimes appear as an advance, sometimes as a retrogression, but all of which, nevertheless, prove of use and advantage to a God-fearing man.  Notwithstanding these difficulties, I will endeavour to oblige my friends, and to note down a few points.
A virtuous man inspires affection and love only in so far as we discover longing in him; this expresses both possession and desire — the possession of a tender heart, and the desire of finding the same in others; with the former we attract others to us, with the latter we give up ourselves to them.
Whatever of this quality lay in me, which in earlier years I had encouraged, perhaps too much, but which as I grew older, I energetically sought to overcome, was no longer in keeping with the man, no longer satisfied him, and he sought, therefore, for full and final contentment.
The object of my most ardent longing, a pain which filled my very soul, was Italy, the image of which had floated before my mind for many years in vain, till at length I formed the bold determination of beholding the reality face to face.  To that glorious land my friends gladly followed me in thought, they accompanied me on my way thither, and on my return.  Would that they may affectionately share a longer residence there with me, and accompany me back again, for many a problem will be more intelligibly solved!
In Italy I felt myself gradually freed from petty conception, and from false wishes; in place of the longing for the land of fine art, there arose in me a longing for art itself; I had beheld it, and now wished to penetrate into, and comprehend, it.
The study of art, like that of the ancient authors, gives us a certain stability, as sort of satisfaction in ourselves; it fills our souls with great objects and ideas, it takes possession of every wish that struggles outwardly, but nourishes every worthy aspiration in the tranquil breast; the need of communicating our thoughts to others becomes less and less; and the amateur becomes like painter, sculptor, and architect — he works in solitude for enjoyments which he seldom is called upon to share with others.
But I was, at the same time, destined to be estranged from the world by another cause, and thrown in the most emphatic way upon Nature, to which instinctively I had a great leaning.  Here I found neither masters nor companions, and was obliged everywhere to trust to myself.  In the solitude of the woods and gardens, in the obscurity of the dark apartments, I should have remained quite alone, had not a happy domestic connection at this strange period of my existence come to rescue and cheer my heart.  The “Roman Elegies,” the “Venetian Epigrams,” date from this period.
But I was also to have a taste of warlike events; for I was ordered to be present during the campaign in Silesia, which came to an end with the Congress of Reichenbach, and obtained, in this new and important part of the world, additional experience and information, and some good diversion as well.  The horrors of the French Revolution, which meanwhile spread farther and farther, drew the attention of every one, whatever might be his thoughts or studies, to the surface of the European world, and forced the most terrible realities upon his mind.
Then duty called me to accompany my Prince and master, to face with him the dangers and disasters of the day, and manfully to endure the sufferings of which I have ventured to give the reader but a faint picture; it can easily be conceived, that then whatever of tenderness and warmth lurked still in my inward being vanished altogether.
=====
“Campaign in France”, Duisburg, End of November 1792
Among a host of importunities addressed to me, both by letter and in person, I received, in the middle of the year 1777, a paper, or rather a pamphlet, dated Wernigerode, and subscribed Plessing, the most wonderful production of the self-torturing kind that I ever beheld.  It was plainly from a young man filled with all knowledge of school and University; but whose learning, nevertheless, did not contribute in the least to his own inward moral tranquility.  His handwriting was good, and pleasant to read; his style clever and flowing; and, although a tendency to pulpit oratory could at once be perceived, still everything seemed so fresh, and written so from the heart, that one could not help sympathising with him  But when one’s sympathy was allowed to become active, and an endeavour was made to get a clearer understanding of the condition of the sufferer, it seemed as if there was in him more of wilfulness than of patience, more of obstinacy than submission, and more of pure selfishness than of ardent longing.  In accordance with the propensity of the time, which I have described above, I felt a great desire to see the young man face to face; but considered it inadvisable to ask him to come to me.  I had already, under circumstances which are known, burdened myself with a number of young men, who, instead of accompanying me on my road towards a purer and higher culture, had lingered on their own path, deriving no benefit themselves, and obstructing me in my progress.  Hence I allowed the matter to rest, till some opportunity should occur for effecting my object.  Whereupon I received a second letter, short, but more passionate than the first, in which the writer pressed for an answer and explanation, and implore me most earnestly not to refuse them to him.
But even this renewal of the storm did not trouble me; the second paper affected me just as little as the first; but the habit I had acquired of assisting young men of my own age in affairs of mind or heart, did not allow me to forget him altogether.
On arriving at the inn in Wernigerode, I entered into conversation with the waiter, and found him a sensible person, who seemed to be pretty well acquainted with his fellow-townsmen.  I then told him that it was custom, on arriving at a place where I had no particular introductions, to seek out such young persons as might in any way be distinguished for learning and science; and thereupon asked him to do me the favour to name somebody of this description, with whom I might hope to pass the evening pleasantly.  Without hesitation the waiter replied, that no doubt I should find what I desired in Herr Plessing, the son of the Superintendent; that as a boy even he had been distinguished at school, and still maintained his reputation for diligence and ability; that people now found fault with his gloomy disposition, and did not like him on account of unsociable behaviour which led him to shut himself out from society.  But that towards strangers he was always polite, as examples could prove, and if I wished an introduction, it could be got immediately.
The waiter soon brought me word that I might pay Plessing a visit, and conducted me to his residence.  The evening had already set in, when I entered a large room on the ground-floor, the usual style in ecclesiastical houses, and although it was twilight I could distinguish the young man tolerably well.  I observed some signs of the parents having hastily left the room, to make place for the unexpected visitor.
When the lights were brought in, I had a distinct view of the young man, and he was exactly what his letter had led me to expect; and, like it, he excited one’s interest without being exactly attractive.
In order to lead to a more intimate conversation, I described myself as an artist from Gotha, and said that, on account of some family matters, I was about to visit a sister and brother-in-law in Brunswick at this unfavourable season.
With great animation he thereupon exclaimed, scarcely allowing me to finish my sentence.  “As you live so near Weimar, you have no doubt frequently visited that place, which has become so celebrated?”  I answered, with perfect simplicity, in the affirmative, and began to speak of Counsellor Kraus, and the Drawing Academy; of Bertuch, Counsellor of Legation, and his unwearying assiduity; I did not omit either Masäus or Jagemann; spoke of Wolf, the band-Master; and some ladies; described the circle in which these worthy people moved, and said they were always glad to see strangers amongst them, who were sure to be well received.
At last he exclaimed, somewhat impatiently: “But why do not you mention Goethe”  I replied, that I had seen him in the aforesaid circle as a welcome guest, and had even been myself personally well received and kindly treated by him as an artist, but that I could not say much further about him, partly because he lived alone, and partly because he belonged to other circles.
The young man, who had listened with restless attention, now demanded me, with some impetuosity, to describe this strange individual, who had created such a sensation in the world.  Whereupon, with great ingenuity, I gave him a description, which it was not difficult to do, as the strange person happened to be before me in the strangest of situations; and if Nature had only favoured him with a little more sagacity of heart, he could hardly have failed to perceive that his visitor was describing himself.
He had walked up and down the room two or three times, when the maid-servant entered, and placed a bottle of wine and some cold supper on the table; he filled both our glasses, touched my glass with is, and drank it off excitedly.  Scarcely had I, with somewhat less eagerness, emptied mine, when he seized me by the arm with great vehemence, and exclaimed: “Oh, excuse my singular behaviour!  But you have inspired me with such confidence, that I cannot help telling you all.  This man, from your description of him, ought certainly to have answered me; I sent him a detailed, affectionate letter, describing my condition, my sufferings, and begged him to interest himself in me, to advise me, to help me; and now months have passed, and I have no reply.  The very least he could do, was to have sent me a refusal, in return for such unbounded confidence.”
In reply to this, I said that such conduct I could neither explain nor excuse; but this much I knew from my own experience, that owing to a heavy pressure of things both ideal and real, this, otherwise well-meaning, good-natured, and helpful young man, was often unable to do as he pleased, much less to act for others.
“As we have accidentally got so far,” he now added, with somewhat more composure, “I must read the letter to you; and you can then judge whether it did not deserve some answer, some reply.”
I walked up and down the room waiting for him to read it, knowing, of course, what effect it would produce, and therefore had to fear of making a false step in so delicate an affair.  He sat down opposite to me, and began to read the papers, which I knew as well as himself; and nothing, perhaps, ever convinced me more of the truth of the assertion made by physiognomists: that a living being, in all its actions and conduct, is in complete accordance with itself, and that every monad, when once it has entered the world of reality, manifests itself in complete unity with its characteristics.  The reader was an exact counterpart of what he read; and as the letter had not attracted me at first, it did not attract me now in his presence.  One could not, indeed, deny the young man one’s respect, one’s sympathy; in fact, it was this which had induced me to make this curious journey; for an earnest will was visible in him, a noble tendency and aim; but although the tenderest feelings were in question, his manner of reading was without grace, and a peculiar, narrow kind of selfishness was strongly apparent throughout.  When he had finished, he asked hastily what I now thought, and whether such a paper did not deserve, nay, demand, an answer?
Meanwhile I had obtained a clearer insight into the young man’s deplorable state of mind; he had never taken cognisance of the outward world, but had, on the contrary, cultivated his mind by multifarious reading, and directed all his powers and interests inwards; and, not finding any productive talent in the depths of his being, he had gone far to ruin himself altogether.  And even the occupation and consolation so gloriously offered us by a study of the ancient languages, seemed to be completely wanting to him.
As I had already proved, both in myself and others, that the best remedy in such cases is to throw ourselves with energy and faith upon Nature and her infinite variety, I made an attempt to apply it in this case also.  After a little reflection I answered him in the following way:—
“I think I can understand why the young man, in whom you have placed so much confidence, has remained silent towards you.  His present way of thinking is doubtless too different from yours to allow of any hope that you could come to any agreement with each other.  I have been present during some conversations in the circle spoken of, and have heard it maintained, that the only way in which a person can escape and save himself for a painful, self-torturing, gloomy state of mind, is by a contemplation of Nature, and a heartfelt sympathy with the outward world.  Even a most general acquaintance with Nature, no matter in what way, in fact any active communication with it, either in gardening or farming, hunting or mining, draws us out of ourselves; the employment of our mental energies upon real, actual phenomena, affords, by degrees, the greatest satisfaction, clearness of mind, and instruction; in the same way as the artist who keeps true to Nature, while cultivating his mind, is certain to succeed the best.”
My young friend appeared to get very restless and impatient at this, just as one does when listening to some foreign or confused language, the meaning of which one cannot understand.  However, although there seemed but little hope of a successful result, I proceeded more for the sake of saying something, and added that: “To me, as a landscape painter, this appeared very evident, as my particular department of art was in direct communication with Nature.  But since that time, I have observed things with more assiduity and eagerness than I had previously done, and not merely noted uncommon and remarkable natural objects and phenomena, but felt myself more full of love for all things and all men.”  In order not to lose myself in the abstract, I thereupon told him that even this necessary winter excursion, instead of being irksome, had furnished me with lasting enjoyment.  I described to him the course of my journey artistically and poetically, and yet as truly and naturally as I could; I spoke of the snow-clouds which I had that morning seen rolling over the mountains, and the various other appearances that had struck me during the day; I then revealed to his imagination the curious turreted and walled fortifications of Nordhausen, as seen in the twilight; and further, at night, the torrents rushing down the mountain ravines, their waters lighted up now and then, and glistening in the flickering light of the guide’s lantern; and, last of all, the miners’ caverns.
Here he interrupted me with warmth, and assured me that he heartily regretted the trouble he had taken in going to see the latter, short as the distance was; it had not at all come up to the picture he had formed of it in his imagination.  After what had passed between us, such morbid symptoms did not annoy me; often had I seen how men throw away the valuable possession of a clear reality for a dismal phantom of their gloomy imaginations!  Just as little did it astonish me, when, in answer to my question,”How he had pictured the caverns to himself?” he described them in such a way as the boldest scene-painter would scarcely have ventured to do in depicting the fore-courts of Pluto’s kingdom.

Upon this I tried other propaedeutic suggestions as expedients for effecting a cure.  But these were rejected so emphatically with the assurance that nothing in this world ever could or should content him, that my heart closed itself against him; and I felt my conscience completely freed from the necessity of taking any further trouble about him considering the fatiguing journey I had undertaken on his account, and the best intentions I had had towards him.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Return to the Denver Art Museum


I rode my bicycle downtown, locked the bicycle at my favorite deli, and took the bus to the Denver Art Museum.  The first Saturday of the month is a free admission day.

It was a good day for paintings.  I liked this Madonna and Child with Saints (1511) by Bernardo Zenale.  From the placard:  "Leonardo da Vinci spent many years in Milan, and his art had a profound impact on local artists.  Here, the Virgin's features and the grotto setting recall The Virgin of the Rocks, a painting Leonardo made for the same church."

St. Jerome, in the red garments of a cardinal, holds a pen and paper. A crucifix and a skull are hung on the stone wall behind him, and his attribute, a lion, is at his feet. St. Ambrose wears a bishop's miter and robe; he holds a staff, and treads upon a soldier [rather unsaintly of him to use a soldier as a foot stool, it might seem]. Joseph stands in the shadows behind Jerome.



I shifted over to the French Impressionists and admired two pictures by Claude Monet, The Coastguard's Cabin and Fishing Boats.



The most delightful art I saw today was this earthenware figurine of a dancing girl (Veracruz, Mexico 600-900 A.D.).  One seldom sees such a joyful expression portrayed in pre-Columbian art.



Dance, young lady, dance!


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ashley Sterne I Hear You Calling Me


This humorous sketch was transcribed from a blurry eBay advertisement for The Passing Show Christmas Number 1925.  I could decipher about 85% of the text and made educated guesses at the rest.  Any oddness or flat spots in the text are undoubtedly errors that I have inadvertently introduced.


“Eureka!”

The eureker was one Beasley Tosher, a somewhat morbid-looking individual with a complexion like bread sauce, eyes like bottled gooseberries, and a receding chin which ran straight into his Adam’s apple without breaking the journey anywhere.  The eureker’s a Poet.

“Eureka!”

It was the only Greek word he knew by heart; so, like Mr. Browning’s wise thrush, he sang it twice over.  And the reason for his eureking was the letter he held in his hand — a dainty missive redolent of beer, garlic, Hamburg cigars, and other odours of Eden — which ran as follows —

Baconpool Repertory Theatre
1st April, 19—

“My Dear Mr. Beasley Tosher,

I hasten to inform you that on receiving your Poetical Drama, ‘From Pigsty to Palace,’ I was remarkably struck with it.  My secretary has a poor aim, and it struck me just where the whale got Jonah.

The subsequent reading of your play confirmed my first impression.  It is all that a Poetic Drama should be.  It seems to combine the mysticism of Sir Rabindranath Tagore with the craftsmanship of Noel Coward, while in certain passages — notably the great love potion scene for the Pump Room of the Epsom Salts refinery in Act II — the exquisite cadence of your verse is reminiscent of Martin Topper at his best.

I did not delay in reading the play to my permanent Company and the effect produced on one and all was nothing short of electrical.  Miss Flora Flatfoot, my leading lady, was so affected that she threw two fits and an inkpot before regaining her usual composure.

Mr. Raveling Ranter, the juvenile lead, came out in goose pimples all over, and had to be restored my vibro-massage.  Indeed, everyone was agreed that for perfection, poetry, plot, passion, pathos, pregnancy, punch and pep, your play should be as impossible to beat as a hard-boiled egg.

I have already put it in rehearsal and as our preparation for its production are so well advanced, I propose to withdraw Mr. Shaughnard Burne’s screaming bedroom farce, ‘The Sewing Up of Pasno’s Blanket,’ after next Saturday night’s performance and to present ‘From Pigsty to Palace’ on the following Monday evening.

It will afford me great pleasure if you can be present on that occasion and take the author’s call.  I know the psychology of our audiences pretty well, and I can confidently predict that, if you are a vegetarian and/or a collector of defunct felines, you will experience a very profitable evening,

Yours most sincerely,
Barnham Stormont”



Yes, in direct defiance of his doctor’s orders and the earnest entreaties of his comrades, cronies and creditors, Beasley Tosher had deliberately written a play.  Not, mark you, an ordinary commonplace in which bathrooms, underwear, and French maids figure so prominently; but a blank-verse tragedy of the most highbrow type, whose characters bore each lovely, lingering, luscious names as Derwoerdre, Phthygawain, and Fleowulf the Fowler.

The writing of the play had taken six months, six cases of Scotch, and six boxes of J nibs.  Beasley Tosher had put into it all he knew (besides a lot he didn’t know), and while he pursued his work and punished the whisky he cut himself aloof from everybody; and his friends waxed wroth.

To have their prayers and wishes ignored like a collecting box at the hospital was bad enough. To have him shut up alone with all that whisky was unendurable, and they sent a deputation round to protest.

But Beasley Tosher simply wiped the floor with the deputation.  Had he dallied, he would have probably wiped his entire premises with them.  So he turned on them a deaf ear and a large dog and the deputation withdrew hurriedly and thirsty.



Today, however, Beasley Tosher had vindicated his attitude.  After six months of toil and six cases of whisky, the play had been accepted, and within a week it would be loosed off at a benign and unsuspecting British audience.

Little wonder that his word “Eureka!” which he continued to utter at frequent intervals during the eventful morning monopolized the vast echoing facilities of the R— welkin, greatly to the annoyance of a number of skylarks which were up there practising their scales.

At noon, however, he had at last regained his wonted composure to sally forth with the intention of making his acceptance of Barnham Stormont’s invitation.  On the way to the post-office he encountered several members of the recent deputation.

To each and all he announced the forthcoming production of his play and each and all, mad with jealousy, promptly made for the nearest tavern.

On reaching the post-office, Beasley Tosher at once wired to Barnham Stormont —

“Shall arrive Monday in time for performance.  Am prepared to make speech before curtain with anecdotes of Beerbohm Tree, the Six Brothers Lusk, and Lockhart’s Elephants.  Please lubricate Press liberally at my expense — Tosher.”

Then he went home — to count the hours that must elapse ere the great moment of his life should arrive.  Upon investigation he found there were just 127 of them.

The following Monday afternoon found Beasley Tosher on the 3 p.m. express for Baconpool.  But the hour struck and the train did not budge an inch.  He wondered if the railway had struck too, for the famous “Flying Tortoise” was noted for its punctuality.

He enquired the reason for the delay of a porter doing milk can drill, to learn that the engine had been mislaid, and that a boy had been sent to the works to fetch the other one.  But nearly an hour passed before the train started and our hero’s impatience subsided.

But he was not fated to be left unharassed for long.  Barely had the journey begun before the train pulled up with a violent jerk which threw it up on its hind wheels.  Another tedious wait ensued, and meanwhile disturbing rumours filtered down the corridors.

Some said the engine had run into a lamp-post; some that a stray goat had charged it and got mixed up with the steering gear; others, again, whispered that a lightning strike had been declared.

Then came the report that the rear guard had suddenly gone mad, eaten his flag, swallowed his whistle, and under the delusion that he was an organ-grinder had attempted to play “Eat More Fruit” on his hand-brake.  Hence the stoppage.

Bealey Tosher was not unnaturally in a state of uncontrollable agitation at the delay.  Unless Baconpool had moved south overnight, it was not impossible for him to arrive in time for the rise of the curtain.

In impotent rage he gnashed his crown and bridge work and bit off all his nails.  Yet another hour expired ere the true cause of the breakdown was discovered — a nest of mice in the safety-valve — and the journey resumed.

But it never rains cats but it pours dogs.  Twice the engine-driver, who was deeply engrossed reading the Passing Show instead of watching the sign posts, took the wrong turning, and had to turn around and retrace his rails.

More than once they were held up at level crossings by the policeman on point duty in order to let an oldest inhabitant or a broody cow go by.  And then, when within a few miles of their destination, they ran short of coal, and were forced to  crawl the rest of the way on improvised oil fuel extracted from the cruets in the restaurant car.  It was half-past ten when the train limped painfully into Baconpool.

Anger, disappointment, perspiration, grime, grease and grief were all registered on Beasley Tosher’s face as he sprang from the carriage and leapt for one of the waiting taxis.  There might yet be time for him to witness the final scene of his play — his greatest scene, where Derwoerdre poisons the dastardly Machiavellian schemer, Fleowulf the Fowler, by putting a powdered flowerpot in his potato pie, and Phthygawain, fooled and trapped, cuts off her big toe in the bath and bleeds to death.  At all events he would surely reach the theatre in time to appear before the curtain.

“The Repertory Theatre!” he cried as he jumped in.  “A pound if you make it in ten minutes.”

The driver whirled out of the station and drew up next door.  “Time: ten seconds.”  A resplendent official — a composite between a full-dress field marshal and a Cook’s interpreter — assisted him to alight, and Beasley Tosher, giving the driver a one-pound note and a look of intense hatred turned to enter the theatre.

But he was too late.

The audience was beginning to pour out; yet not with the expression upon their faces that he had so confidently expected to find there.  There features were contorted with laughter.  Some were doubled up with hilarity.  A few were even folded in four.

“Funniest play I’ve ever seen!”

“Haven’t laughed so much since the wife had mumps!”

“Do you think the author really meant it to be so ludicrous?”

Such were the first remarks he heard.  But the unhappy and disillusioned poet did not wait to hear more. 

He hurriedly turned away and ran back to the railway station.

“Got a train going anywhere soon?” he demanded, breathlessly.

“One past 11 p.m.to start for Newington.”

“Sacks, Detta, or Caseway?”

“Newington flat — no surname.  Next station down the line.”

“Have you nothing further away?”

“About how far away did you want?”

“About eight thousand miles.”

“There’s a boat leaving the docks at midnight for Honolulu.  How would that suit you?”

“Honolulu’ll do!” cried Beasley Tosher.

“You needn’t crow about it,” remarked the booking-clerk.  “You’ve just got time to secure your passage if you hurry.”

      *     *     *

Twenty-four hours later the wireless of the good steamship Deparameria was tuned in to Baconpool.  Beasley Tosher and a few other the musick-proof passengers were listening in, when suddenly came the announcement —

“We are now switching over to the Repertory Theatre” — followed by a murmur of innumerable bees punctuated with rifle practice.  Then the stratospherics cleared and some stentorian shouts were heard.

“Author!  author!” came over the cry, followed by surging cheers and a confused hum which might have been anything from a dog-fight to a Handel Festival.  Then the hubbub died down and a voice was heard saying —

“…from the bottom of my heart.  As you have doubtless learnt from the papers, Miss Flora Flatfoot developed painter’s colic at the first rehearsal Wednesday afternoon, and as her understudy was not then perfect in the exhausting part of Derwoerdre I was forced at the last moment to substitute an extra performance of Mr. Shaughnard Burne’s scintillating farce in place of the masterly poetic drama, ‘From Pigsty to Palace,’ which I have been privileged to present to you tonight.  The talented young author, Mr. Beasley Tosher, is not, I regret to say, here tonight to receive your applause in person, but I…”


Nevertheless, Beasley Tosher rose from his chair in the salon of the Deparameria and with an easy grace, suggesting long practice in private before his vestibule mirror, bowed to the loudspeaker.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Innocents Abroad


I just finished reading Mark Twain's famous travel book, Innocents Abroad, or the New Pilgrims' Progress (1869), a lively and descriptive account of an 1867 pleasure cruise from France to the Holy Land.  William Dean Howells bestowed a favorable review on the book in the Atlantic Monthly (although he botched Samuel L. Clemons's name):

"Under his nom de plume of Mark Twain, Mr. Clements is well known to the very large world of newspaper-readers; and this book ought to secure him something better than the uncertain standing of a popular favorite  It is no business of ours to fix his rank among the humorists California has given us, but we think he is, in an entirely different way from all the others, quite worthy of the company of the best."

The book's final chapter had some words that spoke directly to my situation:  "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

I should get out and travel more in the coming years.

I read a short biography of Mark Twain and learned that he received very little formal schooling.  He educated himself by serious and persistent reading in public libraries, which must have been furnished with heartier literature than can be found in today's suburban libraries.  A modern-day Mark Twain would find little more than trashy detective books and dreary feminist novels on the shelves.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Warning from the Past


I recently read a cautionary alternate history novel by Saki (Hector Hugh Munro) called When William Came, published in 1913.  The William of the title is Kaiser Wilhelm.  The premise is that the Germans have launched a sudden attack and conquered the British Isles.

In the passage below, the novel's main character, an Englishman named Yeovil, is returning from a long business trip in Russia to find his country overrun with German soldiers and sausage-eating German bureaucrats.  Traveling by train to his home in the country, Yeovil strikes up a conversation with a fellow-traveler.

---

Yeovil watched the passing landscape with the intent hungry eyes of a man who revisits a scene that holds high place in his affections.  His imagination raced even quicker than the train, following winding roads and twisting valleys into unseen distances, picturing farms and hamlets, hills and hollows, clattering inn yards and sleepy woodlands.

"A beautiful country," said his only fellow-traveller, who was also gazing at the fleeting landscape; "surely a country worth fighting for."

He spoke in fairly correct English, but he was unmistakably a foreigner; one could have allotted him with some certainty to the Eastern half of Europe.

"A beautiful country, as you say," replied Yeovil; then he added the question, "Are you German?"

"No, Hungarian," said the other, "and you, you are English?" he asked.

"I have been much in England, but I am from Russia," said Yeovil, purposely misleading his companion on the subject of his nationality in order to induce him to talk with greater freedom on a delicate topic.  While living among foreigners in a foreign land he had shrunk from hearing his country's disaster discussed, or even alluded to; now he was anxious to learn what unprejudiced foreigners thought of the catastrophe and the causes which had led up to it.

"It is a strange spectacle, a wonder, is it not so?" resumed the other, "a great nation such as this was, one of the greatest nations in modern times, or of any time, carrying its flag and its language into all parts of the world, and now, after one short campaign, it is --"

And he shrugged his shoulders many times and made clucking noises at the roof of his voice, like a hen calling to a brood of roving chickens.

"They grew soft," he resumed; "great world-commerce brings great luxury, and luxury brings softness.  They had everything to warn them, things happening in their own time and before their eyes, and they would not be warned.  They had seen, in one generation, the rise of the military and naval power of the Japanese, a brown-skinned race living in some island rice-fields in a tropical sea, a people one thought of in connexion with paper fans and flowers and pretty tea-gardens, who suddenly marched and sailed into the world's gaze as a Great Power; they had seen, too, the rise of the Bulgars, a poor herd of zaptieh-ridden peasants, with a few students scattered in exile in Bucharest and Odessa, who shot up in one generation to be an armed and aggressive nation with history in its hands.  The English saw these things happening around them, and with a war-cloud growing blacker and bigger and always more threatening on their own threshold they sat down to grow soft and peaceful.  They grew soft and accommodating in all things; in religion --"

"In religion?" said Yeovil.

"In religion, yes," said his companion emphatically; "they had come to look on the Christ as a sort of amiable elder Brother, whose letters from abroad were worth reading.  Then, when they had emptied all the divine mystery and wonder out of their faith naturally they grew tired of it, oh, but dreadfully tired of it.  I know many English of the country parts, and always they tell me they go to church once in each week to set the good example to the servants.  They were tired of their faith, but they were not virile enough to become real Pagans; their dancing fauns were good young men who tripped Morris dances and ate health foods and believed in a soft of Socialism which made for the greatest dulness of the greatest number.  You will find plenty of them still if you go into what remains of social London."

Yeovil gave a grunt of acquiescence.

"They grew soft in their political ideas," continued the unsparing critic; "for the old insular belief that all foreigners were devils and rogues they substituted another belief, equally grounded on insular lack of knowledge, that most foreigners were amiable, food fellows, who only needed to be talked to and patted on the back to become your friends and benefactors.  They began to believe that a foreign Minister would relinquish long-cherished schemes of national policy and hostile expansion if he came over on a holiday and was asked down to country-houses and shown the tennis court and the rock-garden and the younger children.  Listen.  I once heard it solemnly stated at an after-dinner debate in some literary club that a certain very prominent German statesman had a daughter at school in England, and that future friendly relations between the two countries were improved in prospect, if not assured, by that circumstance.  You think I am laughing; I am recording a fact, and the men present were politicians and statesmen as well as literary dilettanti.  It was insular lack of insight that worked the mischief.  We, in Hungary, we live too much cheek by jowl with our racial neighbours to have many illusions about them.  Austrians, Roumanians, Serbs, Italians, Czechs, we know what to think of them, we know what we want in the world, and we know what they want; that knowledge does not send us flying at each other's throats, but it does keep us from growing soft.  Ah, the British lion was in a hurry to inaugurate the Millennium and to lie down gracefully with the lamb.  He made two mistakes, only two, but they were very bad ones; the Millennium hadn't arrived, and it was not a lamb that he was lying down with."


Sunday, April 9, 2017

On Mt. Falcon


Yesterday I hiked up Mt. Falcon.  Hikes during early April are always a bit chancy because of snow remaining on the trails.  Here are two photos from the top of the mountain.



I like the following photo, taken on my return down the mountain.  The foreground shows a crisp, realistic view of the trees on the opposing hill.  The background looks like a water-color print of the distant hog-back ridges.




Saturday, April 1, 2017

At the Denver Art Museum


I took the light rail to the Denver Art Museum to see the exhibit of portraits from the Spanish colonial period in Latin America.  My favorite was this surreal portrait of Don Francisco de Orense y Moctezuma, Conde de Villalobos (1761).


There seems something terribly wrong with the position of the dog's head.


I wandered back to the pre-Columbian artifacts area and found this charming alligator god with a decapitated head in his hand.


Some of the early artists were a bit more subtle.  Here is a realistic ceramic (Moche civilization, north coast of Peru), circa 400 - 600 A.D.  This guy, evidently a chieftain of some standing, must have warned his artist not to make him look like an alligator.





Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Western Meadowlark

I took a walk by the nearby reservoir.  The walk was pleasant until a cold rain fell on me.  Before the rain began, I spotted a yellow-breasted bird perched on some rabbit grass and singing at the top of its lungs.  Though my hands were unsteady on the camera and the lens was zoomed out to the maximum 12x magnification, the bird can still be identified as a Western Meadowlark.


Here is a glamour shot from the internet.


Here is a more characteristic pose -- shoulders back and beak open wide in song.


I don't know why the Western Meadowlark is so decorative.  That is a question best left to the philosophers.  I am just glad that God's creation has such delights.

Note: the Western Meadowlark should not be confused with the late Harlem Globetrotters star, Meadowlark Lemon.


 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Peaceful Saturday


I took advantage of mild weather this afternoon to take a bike ride.  I brought my camera with me, just in case something photogenic popped up.  Unfortunately, the scenery along the bike trail -- the usual assortment of bicyclists, golfers, and prairie dogs -- struck me as trite and weak.  Unwilling to admit defeat, when I returned home, I took a picture of this flowering tree outside my apartment building.


The "darling buds of May" are about two months early this year.

I missed my chance for a snappy photograph early this morning.  As I was driving to the Trompeau French bakery to buy a loaf of rosemary garlic bread and a blueberry croissant, I saw the following couplet from Samuel Taylor Coleridge on the display sign of an army surplus store:

Winter slumbering in the open air;
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!

The army surplus boys are a classy bunch.

Here is the entire poem.  It's a lament rather than an ode to Spring.


Work without Hope  (composed February, 21, 1825)

All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Hanging Bird Nests


Yogi Berra said, You can observe a lot by just watching.  This is particularly true when taking a nature walk.

This morning, while walking through trees in the nearby reservoir area, I noticed a hanging bird nest.  I then began watching the trees carefully and observed hanging nests all over the forest.  Here are two examples.



Based on a quick Google search, I am guessing that these hanging nests are made by bushtits.



Sunday, February 26, 2017

Journey to Boulder


I went up to Boulder for the Ars Nova group's evening concert of English Renaissance choir music with viola da gamba accompaniment.  I arrived early and had an afternoon to while away.

My first step was to visit the Whole Foods Market, which had just announced its closure.



I had been a great fan of its long-ago predecessor, called Wild Oats.  I went inside and saw no vestige of the casual hippy charm of Wild Oats.  What I saw was the typical Whole Foods soulless glitz.

A 50% off sale was in full swing, and gleaners had stripped most of the shelves bare.  A matron in front of me swung her arm and swept an entire shelf of corn chips into her cart.  Bargain mania is a terrible thing.

I fled Whole Foods and drove north to find St. John's Episcopal Church, the venue for the evening's concert.




The town of Boulder, nowadays a pocket of smug decadence, is blessed with a splendid assortment of historic church buildings.  Great has been its fall!

(A minor aside:  I find it puzzling that conservative voters place such hope in the nomination of Neil Gorsuch.  He attends this church, one of the most liberal churches in the most left-wing town in Colorado.)

I had planned to take a long walk in the Boulder foothills, but a nasty west wind soon chased me to the warm sanctuary of the Boulder Public Library.  I checked out their stacks and perused their art exhibit.  This fish, entitled Koi XI, by Buffy Andrews was the most cheerful thing in the exhibit.


I discovered a new novella by Peter S. Beagle, famous for his 1968 book The Last Unicorn.  The novella, In Calabria, also features a unicorn.  I just finished the novella when the library closed at 6:00 p.m., ejecting me and a great number of homeless into the twilight chill.

I started my walk back toward St. John's and saw a man thronged by a huge flock of ducks.  I instantly feared for his life.  But all was well.  He was flinging bread crumbs out of a great bag.  The Duckman of Boulder!


After a brief stop at a deli for a sandwich, I arrived at St. John's to enjoy the concert.

English renaissance music, much more earnest and direct than Italian renaissance music, perks me right up.  The choir was in excellent voice and the supporting viol players were marvelous.

Here is a photo I took during intermission.  Evidently, I was bumped as I took the shot.  The cantilevered organ pipes seem surreal.



  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

First Hike of 2017


The weather has been unseasonably warm of late, so yesterday I chanced a February hike on the Apex trails near Golden.

The day was mild and the trails were mostly dry.  However, in one shady valley there was one stretch of rocks covered with black ice.  I baby-stepped my way through this treacherous stretch.

The woods were a haven of peace.


Three new bridges were added last year, after heavy rains washed out portions of the trail.  The bridges were built to last.  They can easily support the weight of a truck or two dozen portly hikers.




Saturday, February 4, 2017

Return to the Denver Art Museum


I journeyed downtown for another free day at the Denver Arts Museum.  The "Glory of Venice" exhibit was still there.

I enjoyed this immense painting (about 6 feet by 10 feet) by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (1708 – 1787), called "The Triumph of Venice."  Befitting the heroic theme, the men are all sturdy weightlifters.

The women are all hefty beauties.  (I may not know art, but I know what I like.)


I wandered off into an exhibit of 20th-century painters and saw this moody watercolor by Charles Burchfield (1893 – 1967) , called "Enchanted Star."  (Please forgive the lousy photograph.  I was unable to locate a better photograph on Google.)


Burchfield's paintings often take commonplace scenes and embue them with a sense of foreboding.  Here is his "In a Deserted House."


Even his happier scenes can be unsettling.  Here is his hallucinatory "Dawn in Early Spring."