Berlin on Russian 19th Century Thinkers and More

From “The Sense of Reality”

More than one Russian critic in the nineteenth century observed that every idea of any consequence in Russian thought outside the natural sciences and other specialised disciplines – every general idea – came from abroad, that not a single philosophical or historical or social or artistic doctrine or outlook that had any life in it was born on Russian soil.  This, I think, is broadly true: but what is more interesting, it seems to me, is that all these ideas, whatever their origin, fell in Russia upon a spiritual soil so welcoming, so fertile, that upon it they swiftly grew to vast, luxuriant shapes; and were thereby transformed.

How ideas take on different meanings fascinated Berlin. Borges as well.

It got me thinking just now about artistic depictions of transformations. In literature, for example, The Metamorphosis by Kafka. Rather terrifying. Then there is Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne – that you can find at the Galleria Borghese in Rome. It looks like this, in part

I will post more on Bernini in the days ahead! Stay tuned!


Digital Life: Virtual Art and Real People

From the New Yorker, a reflection by Alexandra Schwartz on the effects of digital representations of art on museums. There are ways to do this!

Some of what the Cultural Institute is putting up, like a frenetically edited video of a French artist painting a mural and spouting banalities about creativity while wearing Google Glass, has the slick hipness of a commercial. I prefer the weird jaunts that seem to follow the same laws of motion that govern dreams.

It is a fun read!

Amazing Women: Lee Miller, part 3

In fact, being a successful model for Vogue in New York during the roaring twenties was just “biding time” for young Lee Miller. She longed to return to Paris where she had spent some wild times as a student. After a modelling scandal, she got her chance in 1929.

Here is a description of her departure. She had been stringing along two lovers, Alfred de Liagre and a Canadian flyer called Argylle (the two were great friends and knew all)

… (the two lovers) tossed a coin to decide which of them should see her off at the pier. De Liagre won, but Argylle consoled himself by swooping his Jenny biplane low over the liner as it headed down the Hudson River and showering red roses on the sundeck.

Lee had an introduction to meet a person in Paris who would become very important to her, the photographer Man Ray. This guy

What happened in Paris? That is next! Stay tuned!

Travel: We’ll Always Have Cairo?

A few pictures and interesting comments from The Arabist.  I enjoyed this comment on what will be missed.

Driving home on the Kasr El Nil Bridge with a good song playing on a crackling taxi stereo, wishing a silent goodnight to the bronze lions who guard the bridge. Windows rolled down, watching the newlyweds taking their pictures, the young couples in intense negotiations, the teenage boys sitting on the railing laughing, the families out for a midnight stroll. The great black river carrying a rare breeze and full of reflected light, small open motor boats skimming its surface like electric water bugs, draped in colored lights and pulsing with pop music. As you think: There’s no city quite like this.

I will be posting more about reflections of life in these turbulent times in the Middle East. Stay tuned!


Tartu: A Mystery, Part 2

As I wrote yesterday,  I don’t usually look for mystery, yet there I was laboriously scrambling up a steep hill here in Tartu to uncover what was at the top. Something had changed in me. What?

Perhaps it was Fellini’s fault. I have been thinking about what he said in an interview

The … American (film industry) keeps something in mind that we (Italians), in our conceit as spoiled children, look at almost with distaste. They keep in mind a Master of Ceremonies’ fundamental fact. He knows that to tell something to someone he has to seduce his audience with entertainment.

The key word is “seduction”. It is a delicate word. On the one hand, we love its power to open our hearts. So we smile at the dubious adventures of Casanova, Gianni Agnelli and Cary Grant (Grant failed to seduce the already married Sophia Loren). But there is also an implicit vulnerability in  seduction.  So it does not happen without some danger.  This is a story about seduction, especially the risky part. It is seduction that leads to mystery.

Where do we find this so called seduction?`We started our story on Vallikraavi Street, the moat street. At a certain point, it changes its name to “Karl Ernst von Baeri” street. Von Baer was the famous Baltic German natural scientist who discovered the mammalian ovum and later insisted that Darwin was wrong about evolution.  Oops! If you continue on Baeri street, you pass some nice tennis courts on the right. They sit just below the ruined cathedral. It is where, in 1869, over 12,000 Estonians gathered for the opening of the  first song festival.  Yes, the tennis courts were installed later. Turn left onto Oru Street. Oddly, an “oru” is a valley, yet this cobble stoned street climbs a hill. And near the top, off to the right among the trees, you find this sculpture


It is called “Vjatshko and Meelis protecting Tartu in 1224” and it is by the Estonian sculptor Olav Männi.  It was installed in this location in 1980.

And it is an attempted seduction. To see that, we need to go back in time to the terrible year, 1224. That is next! Stay tuned!