A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

Note: Comments are moderated. If you include a link, your comment will not be published. As you will note, I do not accept ads on my website and that includes in comments.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Down In Monterey...

Image courtesy of Amazon.com.

If you're going to San Francisco,
be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.
If you're going to San Francisco,
You're gonna meet some gentle people there.

If we went back in time forty-four years ago, to 1967, we could be in the middle of the Monterey Pop Festival.  The three-day concert was held from June 16-18, at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in California.  There were 55,000 people there, and at peak attendance 90,000.  It was the first widely promoted rock festival, and featured the first major appearances of rock legends The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, and The Who.  It also started off the "Summer of Love".

Image courtesy of flickr.

The song "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" (which the lyrics above are from) was written to promote the Monterey Pop Festival. Written by John Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas, and sung by Scott McKenzie, it was an instant hit (#4 in the U.S., #1 in the UK).

The Mamas - Michelle Phillips and Cass Elliot.
Image courtesy of flickr.

The festival was planned by Phillips, Lou Adler, and journalist Derek Taylor.  The venue - the Monterey County Fairgrounds - had been the site for the Monterey Jazz and Monterey Folk Festivals, so it already had the music vibes going for it. But this concert presented a mix of genres, among them rock, folk, blues, jazz, and pop.

Country Joe and The Fish, image courtesy of cjfishlegacy.com.

Sadly, Otis Redding, who made his first major performance to a predominantly white audience in the U.S., died just six months after his performance.  He was backed at Monterey by Booker T. & The MG's, and famously said, "So this is the love crowd."

Otis Redding sang "Respect", which had just been made famous by Aretha.
Image courtesy of mondogonzo.org.

The Rolling Stones did not play, but Brian Jones was there and introduced Jimi Hendrix.  Hendrix, who was virtually unknown, ended his performance of "Wild Thing" by kneeling over his guitar, pouring lighter fluid on it, and setting it on fire before he smashed it and threw the pieces into the audience.  Needless to say, he blew away the crowds, not only with his theatrics, but his playing.

Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix at Monterey.
This and above image courtesy of www.jimmarshallphotography.com.

Except for Ravi Shankar, who was paid $3,000 for his afternoon-long performance, all the artists worked for free, and the revenue was donated to charity.  This was not a simple festival, however.  The promoters made sure to have the best sound equipment, a first aid clinic (primarily to treat drug-related problems), a security force that worked with the Monterey police, transportation, and sleeping and eating accommodations.

The Who, image courtesy of www.jimmarshallphotography.com.

Some of the other major musicians who played are Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat, Hugh Masekela, Buffalo Springfield, the Grateful Dead, Eric Burdon and the Animals, The Association, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Lou Rawls, Johnny Rivers, Simon and Garfunkel, The Butterfield Blues Band, The Byrds, and Steve Miller Band.

Janis Joplin, image courtesy of www.jimmarshallphotography.com.

Although several Motown artists had been invited, Berry Gordy refused to let any of them appear.  The Beach Boys, who were supposed to close the show, never showed up.  The Beatles were not touring.  The Rolling Stones had legal problems and had to remain in the U.K.  The Kinks and Donovan were unable to get visas to enter the country.  Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band were invited, but Ry Cooder felt the group was not ready.  The Doors weren't invited.

The Grateful Dead, image courtesy of www.jimarshallphotography.com.

Two years before Woodstock, Monterey provided a working pattern for a successful event.  It was the first big rock festival, and debuted groups that would shape the history of music.  It also introduced audio engineer Abe Jacob's sound system, which became the model for all large-scale PAs that came after.  It was the start of popularity for the Moog synthesizer, new on the music scene, which captured the interest of many groups through a demo booth.

Grace Slick, image courtesy of Getty Images.

D.A. Pennebaker filmed the event, working with documentarians Albert Maysles and Richard Leacock as cameramen.  Ironically, Pennebaker had been hired by ABC to film the festival for a tv special.  However the film footage was for the most part not "family friendly", so the project was dropped, leaving Pennebaker to use the footage for a feature film.  It is still ranked as one of the best concert films. Monterey also inspired an eponymous song, by Eric Burdon and the Animals, which not only mentions the performers, but imitates their music:

The people came and listened
Some of them came and played
Others gave flowers away
Yes they did
Down in Monterey
Down in Monterey

Young gods smiled upon the crowd
Their music being born of love
Children danced night and day
Religion was being born
Down in Monterey....


Here's a link to a review of the Criterion Collection
Complete Monterey Pop Festival film directed by D.A. Pennebaker

Thursday, June 16, 2011

From Mummies to Mums

Photograph of Jane Webb Loudon taken before her
death in 1858.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

"In the year 2126, England enjoyed peace and tranquility
under the absolute dominion of a female sovereign."

Thus begins the novel The Mummy!:  Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century written in 1827 by Jane Webb.  One of the earliest works of science fiction it was published anonymously.  She was a teenager at the time.  She shifted her attention to gardening as an adult, becoming a successful horticultural writer, which may be science fiction's loss.

Although she was born to a wealthy family and raised in the lap of luxury, her father died penniless when she was 17.  To support herself she turned to writing. The Mummy! was most likely inspired by the French frenzy for anything Egyptian during Napoleon's invasion of Egypt.  No doubt it was also influenced by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and scholars are still trying to find links between the two women.

Kitwell House where Jane lived with her father.  Image courtesy of www.birmingham.gov.uk.

Unlike Frankenstein however, Webb's protagonist, the pharaoh Cheops, isn't running around horrifying people, but offering sage advice to those who choose to listen.  Her future Britain was not similar to her contemporary Britain with a few political changes.  She portrayed changes in society, technology, and even fashion (her ladies of the court wore pants and head bands of controlled flames).

The Ladies Companion to the Flower Garden.

Illustration from The Ladies'Flower-Garden of Ornamental Greenhouse Plants.

One of her innovations in the book was a steam plough.  Her work intrigued John Claudius Loudon, a horticultural publisher and writer.  Because of the subject matter and the fact it was published anonymously, he thought she was male.  He arranged an introduction, they met, and within seven months they married.

Illustration from British Wildflowers.
Illustration from The Ladies Flower-Garden of Ornamental Greehouse Plants.

Although she claimed to know little about gardening, she was eager and after working with her husband she became knowledgeable enough to help him with her books.  His greatest work was an epic Encyclopaedia of Gardening, and Jane assisted him with research and note-taking.  She thought that the terms were a bit confusing and not geared toward beginners.  In fact, until recent times gardening was not thought suitable for a lady.  But with the advent of trains, people were able to move away from the city but still easily access it, and now had more room to spread out their houses.  Lawns and gardens were now possible, and she helped make gardening an acceptable activity, no longer limited to servants or the poor.

Illustration from British Wildflowers.

Jane wrote books encouraging women to take up gardening as a hobby.  Her books became the standard references for the hobby gardeners. She and John became the leading horticulturists of the era, and their social circle included Charles Dickens, and William Makepeace Thackery, among others.

A page from Plain Instructions in Gardening.

She was a self-taught artist and began to illustrate her own books.  Her illustrations became very popular to copy, and to use for decoupage on tables, trays, and lampshades.  To increase her output and make print production faster, she used chromolithography.

Both images above are pages from Botany For Ladies.

In 1843, John Loudon died.  He had always been in poor health, and in his declining years earned little money.  Jane worked as editor of The Ladies Home Companion at Home and Abroad, but wrote no more books.  According to their daughter, Agnes, she burned all her papers, so little is known about her. But assuming she never lost the feminist leanings exhibited in The Mummy, and with her promotion of the new lady-like hobby of gardening and her flower illustration, she is the feminine feminist.  Or perhaps one of the first earth mothers.

Unless otherwise stated, images courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Blame It on the Bossa Nova

Image courtesy of Putumayo.com

The bossa nova, samba, lambada, these are just a few of the styles of music that came from Brazil.  Influenced by European, African, and Amerindian music, Brazil has been a great cooking pot creating a wide variety of music.

Image courtesy freealbumart.com

Bossa nova literally means a "new trend".  It became very popular in the 1960s, and has contributed a number of songs to the standard jazz repertoire.  Rising out of the Rio de Janeiro beach culture, it is a fusion of samba and jazz, with a splash of the blues.  Today it is commonly referred to as simply "bossa".

Everyone gets in on the act.  Image courtesy of israbox.com

While it evolved from samba, it is more harmonically complex with less percussion.  It was developed in the 1950s, the credit for its development going to Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, and Johnny Alf.  The most famous song, perhaps, to U.S. ears is Jobim's "The Girl From Ipanema".  I, personally, grew up listening to Jobim and others as my father was a huge fan, and "Girl" was one of his favorites.  (My favorite Jobim is "Like a Lover".)  The film Black Orpheus, released in 1959, did a lot to popularize the music.  Dusty Springfield's "The Look of Love" is a good example of a pop standard interpretation of the bossa nova.

Astrid Gilberto, vocalist on "The Girl From Ipanema".  Image courtesy www.lastfm.fr.

The purest form of bossa nova would be an acoustic guitar (played with the fingers) accompanied by vocals.  Played in 2/4 time, like a samba but slower, the beat is from the guitar.  Even in a large group of instruments, the acoustic guitar carries the underlying rhythm.  The piano is also a prominent feature, as is the electronic organ.  Although drums and other percussion instruments are not considered essential there is a bossa nova drumming style.  Strings are sometimes included but bossa nova is really a simple genre.

Image courtesy of freealbumart.com

The rhythm is based on a samba, which has patterns that came from African slave music.  But unlike the samba, bossa nova doesn't have dance steps.  Harmonically, bossa nova shares the use of seventh and extended chords with jazz.  Vocals tend to be subdued, modest, and sort of breathy, a change from the operatic singing style that preceded it.  The wording of the songs tend to reflect love and longing. They usually have two verses; some have a lyrical verse that is just repeated.  One of bossa nova's most famous songs is "Desafinado", by Tom Jobim and Newton Mendonça.  It means "off key", and melodies in a minor key are an important element.

Image courtesy of Putumayo.com

Bossa nova was born at a time when Brazil began to experience some economic prosperity and a sense of national pride.  Then came rock and roll.  Bossa nova faded into the background and has often been considered lounge music. Curiously, it spurred on the formation of a new bossa nova, one that didn't address the daydreams of the upper classes, but became more political, depicting the plight of the working class and of having a military government.

This new bossa nova made use of traditional Brazilian instruments and borrowed from other genres of Brazilian music.  Thus the music born of an optimistic time of growth and prosperity was revised to fit a time of addressing inequality and strife, updating the genre and reinvigorating it.

Bossa Nova by artist David Roberts, 2007.

Perhaps it is this fact that makes the bossa nova truly Brazilian music of the people: that it can change like the nation has.  While I embrace the bossa nova's past, I look forward to its future.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Longest Banned Book?

Publius Ovidius Naso, known as Ovid.  Image courtesy of www.thefamouspeople.com.

The Roman poet Ovid not only had his book, Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love) banned, but he himself was banished from Rome for writing it in the year 8 CE. All of his works were burned by Savonarola in his infamous bonfire of the vanities in 1497.  Christopher Marlowe translated it in 1599, and his translation was banned.  U.S. Customs banned it in 1930 - nearly two thousand years later. This makes it a candidate, if not the winner, of the dubious distinction of being the longest (in time) banned book.

"Study for Ovid's 'Ars Amatoria'" by Federico Righi, circa 20th century.
Image courtesy Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

Publius Ovidius Naso (43-17 BCE) was a poet who is considered a master of the elegiac couplet, a poetic form first used by Greek lyric poets with alternating lines of dactylic hexameter and pentameter.  This form is considered the oldest Greek form of epodic poetry (think "call and response") first used for funeral songs, then adapted to erotic poetry.  The Romans took it to its zenith in the time of Augustus. Ovid is traditionally ranked with Virgil and Horace as the triumvirate of canonical Latin love elegists.  His poetry was much imitated in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and greatly influenced European art and literature.

Image courtesy of this site.

Ovid was born to an important equestrian family in Sulmona and educated in Rome,  His father wanted him to study rhetoric with an eye to practicing law, but Ovid was drawn to poetry.  He was very popular when he wrote his early works. His Ars Amatoria was published in 2 CE.  But his most famous work was the Metamorphoses, an epic poem of 15 books in hexameter, published in 8 CE.  This opus covers the history of the world (through mythology) up to the deification of Julius Caesar, and it is considered a masterpiece of Latin literature from its Golden Age.

Statue of Ovid in Sulmona, town of his birthplace,
southeast of Rome.  Image courtesy of Idéfix/Wikipedia.

In 8 CE, Ovid was banished to Tomis, now in Romania, on the Black Sea. Augustus banished him alone, without the Senate or a Roman judge.  There are no definitive writings on why, but Ovid himself wrote it was by reason of carmen et error - a song and a mistake.  He claimed his actions were worse than murder. The Julian Marriage Laws of 18 BCE were enacted to promote monogamy in the interest of increasing the birth rate and strengthening families.  Since Ovid's Ars Amatoria included adultery, it may have seemed in opposition to Augustus' legislation.

Ovid Banished from Rome by J. M. W. Turner, 1838.
Image courtesy of The Athenaeum.

But since there were six years between the publication and the banishment, Augustus may have used the poem as justification for something else, some sort of political secret.  What that would be is anyone's guess, but Augustus had also banished his grandchildren, Agrippa Postumus and Julia the Younger, about the same time, and Julia's husband, Lucius Aemilius Paullus, was put to death for a conspiracy against Augustus.  Ovid may have known about this conspiracy. Unless some new documents come to light, we may never know.

A 1644 edition from Kempffer in Frankfurt.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Then there's another theory that has bounced around scholars for the last century or so:  Ovid never was exiled.  The main reason for this theory is that the only record of it is Ovid's, except for "dubious" mentions by Pliny the Elder and Statius, but no one else until the 4th century CE.  He did apparently die in Tomis in 17 CE, however, and has been adopted by Romanian nationalists as "The First Romanian Poet".

A page from the book, 1484 edition, with footnotes in German.
Image courtesy University of Texas.

Ars Amatoria is a didactic poem in three books that teaches the arts of seduction and love.  It serves in part as a satire on didactic poetry.  The first book is for men and covers the seduction of women.  Ovid establishes himself as a teacher of love, and tells of the places one can scout for lovers, such as a theater, a triumph, or an arena.  He then goes into ways of seducing a woman at a banquet, the right time to seduce her, and care of the body.

Another page akin to the top image.

The second book is also for men, and tells them how to keep a lover.  He advises men to keep up their appearance, hide affairs, don't give too many gifts, don't forget her birthday, and don't ask her age.  The end of this book promotes the joy of simultaneous orgasms.

Bacchus Returns From India, mosaic from Tunisia said to be inspired by
the poem which states that tigers drew Bacchus' chariot.  Image courtesy this site.

The third is addressed to women and teaches seduction techniques.  He is resolved to arm women against the measures the first two books advise.  He tells women not to wear too many adornments, to read elegiac poetry, learn to play games, flirt, and take on lovers of different ages.  He also advises that women should make their lovers jealous so they don't become complacent.  He also discusses sexual positions, with advice on choosing an appropriate one for their own bodies.

Papyrus scroll courtesy of above scroll site.

Despite the real or imagined banishment and the subsequent bannings through the centuries, Ars Amatoria is still part of the curriculum of both high schools and colleges, as it was in medieval times.  If all this fuss was created by Ovid, then kudos to him for his marketing genius.


Monday, June 13, 2011

The Unsung Artisans of the Ancient World

A coin from ancient Sicily circa 400 BCE.  This decadrachm features the
signature of Euainetos on the reverse.  The woman is Arethusa, a nymph
and a Nereid (daughter of Nereus).  To protect her from unwanted attention,
Artemis transformed her into a spring, and she became a fountain on the island
of Ortygia in Syracuse.  Her image is a common one on ancient Sicilian coins.

Kimon, Euainetos, Eumenos, Euthymos.  Famous artists whose work command exorbitant prices.  Most people have never heard of them nor are aware of their work.  They lived and worked over 2,000 years ago.  They were celators, master engravers who did the engraving on the dies used to make coins.

Silver decadrachm signed by Kimon, circa 404-400 BCE.  Obverse shows a
quadriga with Nike flying to crown the charioteer.  Under line below in minute
letter is "KIMWN".  Reverse is head of Arethusa with hair bound in front with
the letter "K", and bottom dolphin with "KIMWN" on body.  Syracuse, Sicily.
Image courtesy www.kimoncoins.com.

If you look at a group of the same type of ancient coins you will notice that each is unique.  Because they were struck by hand, uniformity was not possible.  Two coins struck at the same time, at the same mint, by the same person, will vary.

Silver tetradrachm with bust of Arethusa bearing "KIMON" on band above
headband.  Reverse shows Arethusa driving quadriga about to be
crowned by Nike. Syracuse, Sicily, circa 405 BCE.  Image courtesy kimoncoins.com.

No ancient mints have been found, and extant dies are extremely rare.  But scholars and numismatists have come to some conclusions about how the coins were made.  Depending on the mint, the metal for coins would have been pounded or rolled into sheets, then stamped into disks.  Some coins were made from molds.

Silver tetradrachm of Syracuse circa 415 BCE signed by Eumenos and Ekleidas.
The obverse says EV between horses' legs, reverse says EV beneath neck.

The interesting part are the dies.  Scholars believe that the dies came from rough designs engraved into iron.  The iron was annealed, cooled, then stamped onto a die.  Here's where the celators came in.  These master engravers would detail the design with the use of fine tools.  Each coin had a pair of dies made - one for the obverse and one for the reverse.

Silver tetradrachm of Athens circa 454-404 BCE.  Head of Athena wearing
crested Attic helmet; reverse owl with olive twig over shoulder.

One of the dies would be set into an anvil.  The other would be set into a punch.  A heated metal blank would be placed over the die in the anvil with tongs.  The punch would be placed on top and struck with a mallet, perhaps several times. Once the coin cooled it would be put into the treasury for circulation.

"New Style" silver tetradrachm circa 133/2 BCE.  Helmeted head of Athena on
obverse; reverse has owl standing on amphora with winged caduceus at left.

These coins were made quickly.  At first it is estimated that 1/2 million were made in a month, graduating to 2.5 million a month once they got into the swing of things.  This fast pace contributed to the lack of uniformity in the coins.

Silver tetradrachm of Aetolian League, circa 239 BCE.  Obverse has Herakles
wearing a lion's skin; reverse shows Zeus with eagle in right hand and a scepter
in his left hand.  Below his right hand is a boar's jawbone.

The actual making of the coins most probably was done by slaves.  But the celators most likely came from engravers - artisans who once made seals and intaglio gemstones, which were popular before coins became so stylized.  Some of the early celators, particularly the Greeks, achieved such a fine degree of excellence in their work that many collectors think of these coins as the consummate art.  The detail, perspective, anatomical correctness, musculature (human or animal) is impeccable.  The art reached its height during the classical period, the late 5th to late 4th century BCE.  Then, for the most part, there was a decline in quality.

A silver stater from Pamphylia, (now in Turkey) circa 420-370 BCE, shows two
wrestlers grappling on obverse.  Reverse shows a man with slingshot, the forepart
of a horse to his right over a spear.  Check out the six-pack on the wrestler to the left!

Who were these celators?  The artists began at an early date to sign their works. Quite a number of celators subtly incorporated their names or initials, and these coins are highly valued.  Scholars are discovering that the practice was more widespread than previously thought.

Silver stater from Euboian League circa 375-357 BCE.  The cow was the badge
of Euboia; reverse shows head of eponymous nymph.  This is a very rare coin.

How they did such tiny, detailed work with primitive tools and without magnification is a mystery.  The first written mention of magnification was by Seneca, the Roman politician and philosopher, who died in 65 CE.  He wrote, "Letters, however small and dim, are comparatively large and distinct when seen through a glass globe filled with water."  But would this have worked with metal?

Silver stater from Aegina circa 455-431 BCE.  A land tortoise with segmented
shell on obverse.  Reverse has incuse square with skewed pattern.

A plano-convex magnifying lens with a corroded, now opaque surface was discovered, aptly enough, at the House of the Engraver in Pompeii.  In fact, there were many discoveries by archaeologists working at ancient sites of pieces of glass.  Glass lens-shaped crystals were discovered by Schliemann at Troy. Because of the crude nature of ancient glass (Corning came along much later!) the glass made then would be cloudy and crusted today.  Which means any type of magnifying device would not be recognizable, if any remain unbroken.

The Nimrod Lens, a 3,000 year old rock crystal piece found at the Assyrian palace
of Nimrod.  It may have been used as a magnifying glass.  The discoverer of the
lens also found minute inscriptions on other artifacts that he suspected were
made with an optical aid.  Image courtesy of the British Museum.

Since celators were so skilled and it is generally assumed that they were already engravers we can take a clue from the engravers of cylinder seals of Mesopotamia. Since these were important marks of property identification, it was germane that they be unique.  To authenticate a stamp, one would have to look for the fine identification marks on them.  To do this, they would need some magnification device.  Because of the secretive nature of these, and the secrecy practiced by trade artisans, the knowledge of magnification would be limited to a small circle of trusted individuals.

Silver stater circa 369-358 BCE of Alexander of Pherai, Thessaly.  Head of Ennodia,
an ancient Greek goddess associated with Artemis, Hecate, or Persephone on obverse.
Reverse shows Alexander of Pherai riding.  A very rare coin, this sold for $661,421 last month.

Also, in 1918 the British numismatist Munroe Endicott noticed tiny letters in the locks of a lion's mane on a Cypriot coin of Alexander the Great (336-323 BCE), who is most often depicted as wearing a lion-skin headdress like Heracles.  The letters spelled the name Nikokles, the local king of Paphos in Cyprus at the time. The name was not meant to be easily visible.  (A proclamation of independence from Macedonia?  An attempt to function like a watermark against fakes?) Another numismatist later confirmed the name on other coins.  Since it took a powerful magnifying glass to read these tiny letters, it follows that it took some kind of optical aid to engrave them.

Silver tetradrachm of Alexander the Great under King Nikokles, circa 325-317 BCE.
This one has no mention of his name on the coin.

However they did it, it is sad that so few people are aware of these small, exquisite works of art.  Most dictionaries don't even have an entry for the word "celator", nor do art encyclopedias.  A lost art, making many ancient coins worth much, much more than their weight in gold.

Unless otherwise stated, images courtesy of www.coinarchives.com.