“Tears of the Lord”

Paul Pletka’s Paintings “Tears of the Lord” at the Autry National Center

Paul Pletka’s Paintings “Tears of the Lord” at the Autry National Center

One of the paintings I saw on Saturday’s visit to the Autry National Center is Paul Pletka’s “Tears of the Lord,” which depicts a bloody crucifixion on an Aztec cross, with native Americans in ceremonial garb walking by the foot of the cross.

It reminds me of the strange mix of Christianity with Andean religions that I saw in Peru in 2014. As one who has had a Catholic education through age 17, I was amazed by the beauty and ornateness of the churches in Lima, Arequipa, Puno, and Cusco. The farther I got from the larger cities, however, the more I saw signs of local religious practices alongside the Catholic images.

In the 1980s, when my brother and I visited the State of Chiapas in southern Mexico, we saw something even more extreme—so extreme, in fact, that we were made to sign statements in advance that we would not photograph inside the church or any of the religious ceremonies. The penalty for violation? Tourists had been killed for disrespect of the local customs. In the church of San Juan Chamula, the Christian statuary was decked out with corncobs and flowers. All pews had been removed, and the Mayans prayed by lying on their stomachs with their arms outstretched. The altar was de-emphasized altogether. Instead, there were various worship stations scattered around the nave.

And where was the local priest? The Catholic clergy had been kicked out more than a hundred years previously as part of a revolt. The churches they left behind were adapted to highland Mayan religion.

As I look at Pletka’s painting, I see the native peoples of the Americas incorporating all or part of Christianity, but insisting on their own brand of religious syncretism as well. At the tiny church in Corporaque, Peru, near Colca Canyon, I felt very far indeed from the Cathedral at Cusco. The only modern touch was that I was being filmed. Apparently, a nearby church was ransacked by thieves; and many of the small churches took measures to protect their ecclesiastical treasures.


Bodhisattva and Guardian God

Bodhisattva and Guardian God

It is over a thousand years ago. Caravans with goods from Europe and the Middle East are about to enter China, right near where the Great Wall sputters to an end near Mogao and Dunhuang. There, at an oasis wedged between the sand dunes of the Lop Desert and the Qilian Mountains, is a series of caves which have been hollowed out and converted into Buddhist temples.

Although Buddhism was the predominant religion of the time, works have been found among Dunhuang’s treasures that included scrolls about Christianity and Judaism, not to mention the oldest printed work on the planet, a scroll of the Buddhist Diamond Sutra.

Notice the western edge of the Great Wall in the map below.

Dunhuang Is Located North of Tibet in Chinese Turkestan

Dunhuang Is Located North of Tibet in Chinese Turkestan

The Getty Center in Los Angeles is running a major exhibit of items from Dunhuang and replicas of the most impressive Buddhist temple caves, including 3-D images. Today, when we visited, the Dunhuang exhibit halls were thronged primarily with Chinese tourists. Still, it was the most interesting of the traveling exhibits now at the Getty Center. Fortunately, the caves at Dunhuang have not been vandalized by jihadist thugs such as were the giant Buddhist sculptures at Bamiyan in Afghanistan.

We tend not to think much about the Silk Road, because it was so thoroughly shut down by Western European naval exploration and the new markets that were created by it. But as long ago as the Roman Empire, silk and spices and other goods from the East were being traded to Europe via camels on the Silk Road that extended from China to the Middle East.


Licenced to Die in Droves

Moonraker’s Hugo Drax (Michel Lonsdale) and Minions

Moonraker’s Hugo Drax (Michel Lonsdale) and Minions

I have been slogging through Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels—for the first time since my college years. (Instead of studying for my English Comprehensive Exams at Dartmouth, I was picturing myself as an ultra-suave British spy licensed to kill.)

But what about all those uniformed minions in yellow or orange that were to be found working for such supervillains as Dr. No or Hugo Drax or Auric Goldfinger or Ernst Stavro Blofeld. I wonder how they advertised for them:

“Work for destruction of earth for Bond supervillain. Must be willing to be shot dead or blown up in the last reel. Snazzy yellow (or orange) uniform and sexy short dresses for the babes. Absolute loyalty to lost causes and total lack of moral compass required. GOP registration a plus. Apply Box GX-1234.”

In the end, these minions almost always went down with the ship or secret laboratory or supervillain’s hideout. There wasn’t enough screen time to show how each and every uniformed minion met his or her violent end, but the corridors were sure to be running with blood.



The Sturgeon Moon

Today Marks the Sturgeon Moon

Today—August 18—Marks the Sturgeon Moon

There is a separate name for every full moon of the year. No doubt you’ve heard of the blue moon, when there are two full moons in a single month. That, however, is more a trick of the calendar than of anything else.

The sturgeon moon of August 18 is also called the red moon. the grain moon, the green corn moon, and the blueberry moon.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, here are some other full moon nicknames:

  • January: The Wolf Moon
  • February: The Snow Moon
  • March: The Worm Moon
  • April: The Pink Moon
  • May: The Flower Moon
  • June: The Buck Moon
  • August: The Sturgeon Moon
  • September: The Corn Moon or the Harvest Moon
  • October: The Hunter’s Moon or the Harvest Moon
  • November: The Beaver Moon
  • December: The Cold Moon or the Long Nights Moon

Since the Indians did not use the Gregorian Calendar, they would not be troubled by the Blue Moon. After all, it only happens once in a Blue Moon.




I have seen it coming over the years, the burgeoning diversification of wheeled transport for young people. When I first came to L.A. late in 1966, there was a concert film (which included the Rolling Stones) called The T.A.M.I. Show, which was filmed in 1964. It began with a prologue of a couple of young skateboarders rolling down a steep street in what looked like Pacific Palisades. I have even seen a few motorized skateboards recently that look clearly illegal, but their owners must think they are powerful chick magnets.

Of course, bicycles have been around since the 1800s, but now they are getting ever more popular, with occasional street closures called CicLAvia. (I remember getting stuck on Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista for over half hour during one of those.)

Next were inline skates, which infuriated bikers because skaters wound up taking too much of the lateral space in bicycle lanes as they moved from side to side.

Although scooters have been around since my childhood, the Razor scooter came in around 1999. (BTW, I’ve seen a few motorized versions of this as well.) Around the same time, the first Segways started coming out. And we mustn’t forget the infamous hoverboard, which is under fire for safety reasons.

I hesitate to think of what’s next. Unfortunately, the devotees of all these modes of transportation act as if they were the only game in town. Their devotees like to get into “the zone” as they speed up past all obstacles, such as stop signs, traffic signals, and unwary pedestrians.

Perhaps it’s like the United States as a whole, which is rapidly fragmenting into ever smaller subsets of wheeled transportation. In future, will there be separate lanes for pogo sticks? Will toddlers’ strollers be motorized and driven by their occupants? Will little red wagons ever come back?



Looking Back at Art Deco

Imaginative Reconstruction of an Art Deco Apartment

Imaginative Reconstruction of an Art Deco Apartment

Art Deco was born in France in the period immediately after the First World War and lasted roughly up to the start of the Second World War. According to British art historian Bevis Hiller, it was “an assertively modern style [that] ran to symmetry rather than asymmetry, and to the rectilinear rather than the curvilinear; it responded to the demands of the machine and of new material [and] the requirements of mass production.” Its name comes from the French Arts Décoratifs, from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris.

It was not an art of the people. Rather it was associated with the wealthy, for whom optimism is a kind of religion. According to Wikipedia, it “represented luxury, glamour, exuberance and faith in social and technological progress.”

Our visit to the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard last Saturday set me to thinking: To whom did Art Deco really belong? I am reminded of the strange mansion set of Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934) starring Béla Lugosi and Boris Karloff as Hjalmar Poelzig, the archetypal Art Deco man.

Art Deco Domestic Architecture in The Black Cat (1934)

Art Deco Domestic Architecture in The Black Cat (1934)

There were even Art Deco print fonts, such as the following:

Art Deco Type Font

Art Deco Type Font

Think about the lavish movie sets of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, set in lavish Art Deco hotels in Europe and elsewhere. These were not places where people such as myself would feel highly uncomfortable. It was a world of tuxedos, butlers, fantastic dance floors, and a spic-and-span shine that almost glistened. It was “high tech” for the technology that was then extant, which manifested itself in the luxury French automobiles on display at the Mullin Museum.

Some of it filtered down to the middle class, but for the most part it represented an aspiration to empyrean social realms beyond the reach of most people.

Still, it could be incredibly beautiful, as in the paintings of Tamara de Lempicka, architecture such as the Chrysler Building in New York, industrial design, textiles, jewelry, and—of course—the cinema. I believe that we are just beginning to understand this movement.

Tamara in a Green Bugatti

Self Portrait in a Green Bugatti

Self Portrait of the Artist in a Green Bugatti (1929)

One of the discoveries I made at the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard yesterday was an Art Deco painter by the name of Tamara de Lempicka. There it was, next to all those beautiful Bugatti automobiles of the 1920s and 1930s: A self portrait of the artist in a green Bugatti. (Although Wikipedia states that the painting is in a Swiss private collection, it seems that Peter W. Mullin brought it, or a passable copy of it, for his museum.

There is something about the smug look on the subject’s face behind the wheel of a luxury automobile that struck me as the epitome of Art Deco. According to the Wikipedia article on her:

Lempicka became the leading representative of the Art Deco style across two continents, a favorite artist of many Hollywood stars, referred to as ‘the baroness with a brush’. She was the most fashionable portrait painter of her generation among the haute bourgeoisie and aristocracy, painting duchesses and grand dukes and socialites. Through her network of friends, she was also able to display her paintings in the most elite salons of the era.

Below are two of her other paintings to give you some idea of her work:

Woman in Green

Woman in Green

There is usually a strong facial resemblance in many of her female subjects. All three of these paintings could be described as self-portraits.

Portrait of Mme Allan Bott at Saint-Moritz

Portrait of Mme Allan Bott at Saint-Moritz