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Córdoba Capital, Argentina

4 Jul

I took a very much needed weekend off work and travelled to the city of Córdoba, 700 kms from Buenos Aires.

It was a weekend full of wonderful activities and in a city that absolutely surprised me. I had been there 10 years ago and fallen in love with the Jesuit estancias; there has been a lot of work done in the city centre since then and it looks fantastic; not forgetting there are a lot of fun things to do.

Here’s a recap:

First we went to this beautiful Arab-style castle…

Montserrat castle in Unquillo (a few kms from the center); where we did some shooting for an upcoming spot for the next LatinArab Film Festival.

The next day we went to an asado and these were there to accompany the arab coffee… hhmmmm 🙂

Awamat – Crisp doughnut balls (Lebanon); courtesy of our host, Betty.

At night I went for a walk around the town…

Cathedral church of Córboda

Minidada; a bar/fair in the artsy part of town (a must).

This gorgeous barber chair decorates the entrance of a bar.

And finally, this is where I spent a lot of time:

Cineclub Hugo del Carril; a beautiful place for film lovers to find alternatives to mainstream cinema. Go check it out. (that’s me by the way)

We’re so vain: Inside Seventeenth Century’s Vanitases

26 Dec

Vanitas -atis f. (Latin)

  Emptiness, worthlessness, unreality, boasting, ostentation.

 Vain/ [veyn] –adjective, -er, -est.

  1.     Ineffectual or unsuccessful; futile: a vain effort. 

 2.     Without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless: vain pageantry; vain display.

  3.    Archaic. Senseless or foolish.

  Van·i·ty [van-i-tee] noun, plural -ties

  1.Excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc.; character or quality of being vain; conceit.

 2.Lack of real value; hollowness; worthlessness: the vanity of a selfish life.

  3.Something worthless, trivial, or pointless. 

 December has arrived, and with it, many things come to end. It’s funny how every year the same thing happens (I swear! December comes every year) and I still can’t get used to it. Here we are… the candle’s gone out, yet again, reminding us that we are getting older while time flies.

 These past few months have been hectic and I have therefore neglected the blog a little bit; so I thought the finishing of my first year of the Art History course I took was the best excuse to deoxidize my writing. I thought: “Out of all that I’ve studied… What really made an impression or surprised me?” Two things came to mind: The Roman catacombs from the third and fourth centuries and the seventeenth century Vanitas… which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how I recurrently feel captivated by symbolist or allusive content in art.

    Anyway, this is why vanitas (some better known as Still Life) surprised me: apparently, there’s more to them than random stuff scattered around in the shadows.

Vanitases talk about the futility and shortness of earthly life and symbolize how death will eventually come and take every one of us without discriminating. 

QUIS EVADET?  Who avoids it (death)?

I guess I myself had never really thought about vanity as futility…huh…

To depict and symbolize our brief time on earth, several elements were used:

  • Soap bubbles, antique ruins, withering flowers, candles going out, smoke and wind stand for how ephemeral things can be.
  • Skulls and skeletons represent death
  • Mirrors show how the reflected image is always altered from reality
  • Clocks and snakes are time
  • Books, scientific instruments, materials and tools, jewels, crowns, weapons, vases, cards, musical instruments, represent our earthly existence
  • And finally, spikes symbolize the resurrection

 Life was being reevaluated.

‘What does it all mean?’ ‘Why are we here?’ ‘What are we here for if everything eventually goes away?’ Leonardo quotes Ovid when he says: ‘Devouring Time, and you, jealous Age, consume everything, and slowly gnawing at them, with your teeth, little by little, consign all things to eternal death!’(1). This awareness of the passing of time brings both despair and comfort. How come? Comfort was found in the afterlife. Arcadia became the epitome of a perfect and ideal world(2), and that is where the beauty of eternity lied.

There is some vanity in vanitases, too. And that is the artistry itself. In vanitases we read that Art outlives everyone: sculptures, buildings, paintings, vases; even in ruins, beat the longest-lived of us and even death itself. Death now also becomes ephemeral before the grandness of art.

Were vanitases deep, reflexive and melancholic compositions? or a way to bring the faithful closer to the afterlife? a way to make oneself relinquish of possessions and devote to God? Because -let’s not forget- the seveteenth century was the time of the counter reform, the Catholic Revival.

 I guess in times of conflict (as were the seventeenth century in Europe, and  now) we tend to reflect on how frail life can be and how we want to treasure every moment of it. I also guess many in pain hold on to the hopes of better luck in the afterlife.

Whichever the answer, vanitas are very much still alive and moving.  

________________________________________________

(1)Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book XV, AD 8

(2)After the collapse of the Roman power in the west, Arcadia became part of the Byzantine Empire. Arcadia remained a rustic, secluded area, and its inhabitants became proverbial as primitive herdsmen leading simple pastoral unsophisticated yet happy lives, to the point that Arcadia may refer to some imaginary idyllic paradise, immortalized by Virgil’s Eclogues, and later by Jacopo Sannazaro in his pastoral masterpiece, Arcadia (1504). From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arkadia

Ta Matete – aka, Walk Like a Tahitian

26 Dec

We're not going to the market today

“Painting is the most beautiful of all arts. n it, all sensations are condensed; contemplating it, everyone can create a story at the will of his imagination and -wih a single glance- have his soul invaded by the most profound recollections; no effort of memory, everything is summed up in one instant”

NOT long ago, a man told me that it is necessary to separate a person from its work. We were talking about Roman Polanski, that director who can’t go to the States due to an open case on child abuse. “The Ghost Writer”, his latest movie -which in the beginning I was rluctant to see due to rejection- is, to say the least: Excellent.

 It seems then that he was right. We need to separate.

 Paul Gauguin was the classic stereotype of a man any woman (ok.. me at least) would lose her mind for: intelligent, educated, adventurous, sensible at times, a bit stubborn some other times, and passionate most times (for which we could say he had a soft spot for women): an overall curious soul.

But he was also an abandonic father and husband, who was no stranger to child abuse himself -well, in Tahiti that wasn’t frowned upon-.

 When Gauguin decides to escape his reality, he leaves for the land of the “primitive” -curiously, where he felt most himself-. This shouldn’t come a surprise, after all, our friend had latin roots; his grandmother was Flora Tristán, whose uncle had been the viceroy of Peru. Not only that, already since Flora’s times, his family had a clear marxist tendency.

Paul is born in 1848, during Paris’ revolt, and in 1849 his family escapes to Peru; where they will spend the following six years. Back in Orleans and after several failed attempts to run away from his home, an adolescent Paul Gauguin enrolls as a junior steerer in a freight boat where he spent another five years. Upon his return he finds himself in a broken home and under the guardianship of Gustavo Arosa, a neighbor and family friend who had great influence on him both artistically and professionally. Mr. Arosa was an enthusiastic art collector: Delacroix, Pisarro, Corot, Courbet…all of them were hanging on his walls. He was also who introduced Gauguin to the banking business where he met Emile Schuffenecker, another art enthusiast who later abandons banking to work as a professor at the Lycée Michelet. Once immersed in the art scene, Gauguin starts to feel more and more stuck -by this time he was married and had a couple of kids, worked in an environment that didn’t suit him-; and decides to leave his rigid job, as well as the rest of the things he felt tied him down, to go and live as the savage that he said he was.

“The savage is decidedly better than us. You were once wrong to say that I was mistaken in calling me a savage. It is true, nevertheless, I am. And the civilixed foresee it, thus there’s nothing surpriding or confusing in my work except this savage-in-spit-of-himself. (…) That is why solitude shouldn’t be advised for everyone, since one has to have the strengh to be able to bear it and act alone”

 And he went to Tahiti.

 As one of the precursors of pictorial symbolism, he saw reality and painting from a different point. He used to say, regarding color -and this is a reflection of his wild nature-:

“What color do you see this tree? is it really green? Use green, then, the most beautiful in your palette. And that shadow, rather blue? Don’t be afraid to paint it as blue as possible.”

“(…) Colors are even more explanatory, though less varied (than lines) because of their power over the eye. there are noble tones, ordinary, tranquil harmonies, consoling ones, other that excite for their vigor.”

Finally, his postulate was that painting had to be a carrier of ideas and for that, subordinate to color; and he even said to his good friend Schuffenecker: “A word of advice: do not paint much from nature. Art is an abstraction; derive this abstraction from nature while dreaming before it and think more about the creation that will result from it.”

 In Ta Matete we can see a group of chromatic stains that subconsiously has an effect on us. Symbolism would somehow derive into abstraction, which takes me back to my first post, in which I wondered why, if I didn’t understand art, I thought Malevich was a genious. Abstraction was always appealing to me.

  When I came back from my last trip, I had an American student who dared me to this sort of psychological test that a friend of his had taught him, and made me draw a pig… I know what you’re thinking… “miss fashion designer drew a fantastic pig!”…mhhh not so much… “I am a symbolist!” I told him.

  I’m all about the history as well, so it’s only natural that I’d be drawn to the work of one of the fathers of abstraction -always referring back to the sources!-. and on that note, it is worth mentioning that after Gauguin’s death, a series of japanese prints, a reproduction of Manet’s Olympia… and a XVIII Theban Dynasty painting reproduction -the original is in the British Museum and clearly served as a model for Ta Matete-, were found in his hut.

 I would like to go back to the quote with which I opened this post:

“Painting is the most beautiful of all arts. n it, all sensations are condensed; contemplating it, everyone can create a story at the will of his imagination and -wih a single glance- have his soul invaded by the most profound recollections; no effort of memory, everything is summed up in one instant”

 Ta Matete, to me, is being six years old “Walking Like An Egyptian” in disneyworld with my mom and grandma; it’s growing up in a family of women, it’s my mom, my grandma, my aunt, Marta and her looking up to Ela -that’s what we call my gradnma- and her tacchini (heels), my cousins, Gilmore Girls, Sex & the City, The Bangles, Veruca Salt, the Spice Girls… and my friends :).

 And now… what do you recall? What do you see? … to women: which one are you of these? and to men… which one do you prefer?

Trajan’s Column

10 Feb

It’s been already 4 hours that I have been fighting with my computer. Ok, so this isn’t funny, ironically, not only I have a Trojan, but a great deal of barbarians charging against my computer. Something like the Dacians threatening the roman frontiers during the first century a.C., this is how our story begins: Trajan and I fighting, displaying all of our infantry and forces against those who threaten us and our peace.

I would like to add that besides my little viral inconvenience, this racconto is especially difficult for me since it would be a real feat to outdo my source, the great Lino Rossi and his excellent translator; his detailed explanation of everything related to the Column in “Trajan’s Colum and the Dacian Wars” has moved me to tears (always so inopportune, Ana, the library is simply NO place for that!). Therefore, this article will humbly try to pay the book homage.

Let’s place ourselves in front of a 100 ft. tall cylinder. It’s colorful, decorated with gold and bronze; 17 marble cylinders superimposed on a square base of 17 ft on each side. In one of them, a door takes us into the chamber in which we find the golden urns of Trajan and his wife, Plotine. Inside the interior conduct, a staircase lit by 43 small windows leads us to the top, where Trajan’s bronze statue is. It is the year 113 a.C. and this marvelous piece was built in memory of and as homage to Rome’s triumph over the Dacians and Rome’s conductor: Trajan.

If we take a closer look, we find that this wants to tell a story. In a spiral way up to the top we see that we are being told about how Trajan led Romans to victory against Dacia during the 101-106 a.C wars. Like a comic or a storyboard, we shall follow this story like a film roll. It isn’t necessary to know how to read or write to follow a story told through images, right? Do you see where I’m getting at? This is accessible to all!

The wars: Towards the end of the first century, Rome’s military power and civil evolution had reached its peak. The story illustrated in the Column is centered in Dacia’s fairly large territory, beyond the Danube’s curse (part of actual Romania), inhabited by diverse ethnic groups like the German, Sarmatian or Tracian; barbarians to Romans’ eyes; but not so much in reality, as their national pride, gallantry, organization and economical activity inferred. Regarding religion, and if I may, this is the most interesting part, they worshipped the god Zamolxis, practiced orgiastic and secret rites (including human sacrifices) and believed in heavenly life as a reward to those warriors who gave their life for their country.  Death was then sometimes voluntarily encountered by those warriors who refused to surrender, recurring to both individual and massive suicides.

This shows us what kind of determined and brave army the Romans were to encounter during their campaigns.

Since the year 85, the Dacians represented a constant threat to the northwest lime of the Roman empire; and successive battles over the course of 15 years left the Roman power very wounded; this is, until Trajan realized that diplomacy was no longer the way and decided to declare war. In doing so (and winning) he put his best qualities as a commander and organizer, political leader and economic planner in display, which made him big.

I would like to focus on the fact that this Column should be observed under the perspective of a great celebration to the army; whose emperor dedicates “to the memory of the bravest of men who died for the Republic”. They are the heroes in this story, and not the drama per se; which is noticeable due to the almost excessive richness in the depiction of the scenes where civil engineering and military works take place, as opposed to those in which battle is actually represented.

The Column has 23 spirals, each containing an average of 7 scenes. I will not deepen in the details, but I would like to share some highlights that caught my attention as I summarize –a lot- the story told.

It is March of 101 and the Romans get ready: they disembark and start their civil engineering labors at the enemy’s frontiers; then they proceed to move forward under the personal commandership of Trajan, without encountering any Dacian opposition yet, who has faked a retreat. Finally the first war prisoner appears, and after further advances and settlements in enemy areas, at the gates of Bistra valley, the roman expeditionary forces reunite and face the enemy in battle, which is won thanks to Thunderer, who creates a storm that forces the Dacians away to a fort surrounded by stick with Romans’ heads at their tips, possible earlier captives –remember these peoples are Vlad III’s forefathers; the great impaler, better known as Dracula-, dragons and other demons. In Rome’s part of the Danube another battle breaks out, where roman soldiers appear to be badly wounded and assisted by Greek doctors; interestingly, this is the only scene where non-Romans are being shown doing technical work. Trajan, with his troops reassembled, moves on to another battle point where he once again defeats his enemy, who retreats to the woods.

Here, the juxtaposition of the following scenes are worthy of mentioning: while after the Dacians’ retreat we see a celebrating and thankful Trajan, with a sort of ‘concentration camp’ on the background, right next to it we find a village where Roman soldiers are being tortured by women, confronting thus the joy and reward depicted in the first one and the pain and humiliation of the second; displayed like this to represent the changing and unpredictable fortunes of men at war.

Spring of 102, the third war campaign begins. The Romans attack and the Dacians back away lead by Decebalus, who agrees to a truce but is planning revenge at the same time, as we can see from the images of his people whispering in a conspirational way through the woods as they leave. Nevertheless, the Romans, oblivious of this situation, celebrate victory once again, the winged victory also being a part of the celebrations.

After two years of peace the last war begins; the Romans are about to be defeated by Decebalus until Trajan pulls out a Schwarzenegger and appears in the scene to save the day; in the summer of 106 the main Dacian city is besieged and its citizens finally surrender. Those who don’t, in a last desperate attempt to save their dignity, set fire to the buildings left and commit suicide, according to Zamolxis’ precepts. Decebalus manages to escape. Following him, the Romans continue to move forward and come across three Dacian detractors who tell them where their leader’s treasure is. In the end, Decebalus charges one last time unsuccessfully in October and ends up killing himself at his enemy’s feet by plunging a dagger into his throat.

The last scene shows the rest of the villagers (men, women, children) leaving their homeland, taking their cattle, proudly looking back for one last time; as homage to the innocents and their fortunes in times of war.

The Column is an actual panegyric to those involved in wars. Whereas Trajan is represented as an omnipotent figure –always leading- this monument is built not only for him, but for all who participated in this gigantic undertaking; to all who were brave and gave their life for pride and others.

Seen from the XXIst century this idea might seem ridiculous –even though we still suffer from this disease-; but it wasn’t. National pride is what brought (these) people together, and what the Romans accomplished, even more under Trajan’s guidence. I know, this is a very romantic view, but, dreamin’ don’t cost a thing. It is about ‘unity’, keeping one’s head high and recognizing those who give life for others and those others’ own fortunes of having been defended.

Smart cookie, this Trajan. He did not invent this type of propaganda, but he did a hell of a job on this one. There’s blood running through the grooves of the column, but its beauty and impressiveness is undeniable.

There is nothing left to do but to join this eulogy and succumb to its transcendental and timeless beauty.