A Weekend in Palm Desert

No, I Do Not Plan to Visit Any Golf Courses

It looks kind of idyllic, doesn’t it? The damned thing is it can be idyllic, or it can be hellacious. Fortunately, the weather in the desert is cooling somewhat, and I don’t have to worry about losing any skin if I touch any of the metal surfaces on my car.

On Saturday, I will drive to Palm Springs for a mini-family-reunion, staying in a cheap motel in the area. I am primarily interested in spending time with my brother and sister-in-law, and I hope to take some pictures of the weekend. Martine will stay behind in L.A., as she is not feeling well.

Monday is Columbus Day. Although it has become something of a bogus holiday, it is still observed by governments, banks, and some school districts; so I will stay on until Tuesday morning, when I drive back to Los Angeles.

I may or may not post on Friday of this week.

Where Did Noir Come From?

Scene from Joseph H. Lewis’s The Big Combo (1955)

Over the last couple of years, I have watched dozens of film noir productions. The genre predominated in the 1940s and 1950s, but never really went away. Why was it such a big thing? Following is one interesting answer from Ryan Reft writing for LA television station KCET’s website:

Yet to live in the 1940s, to watch Europe fall to fascism, realize the depth and horror of the Holocaust, witness the birth of the atomic age, and fear the outbreak of nuclear war and global destruction invoked no small amount of anxiety. Domestically, rapid urbanization, social dislocation, protests for civil rights by African Americans and others that challenged the status quo, and changing gender roles, added, perhaps even superseded, worries about the international situation.

Perhaps the sense of dissociation created by the Depression, World War Two, and the uneasiness of the Atomic Age was the beginning of the major divisions that haunt the United States in the 21st Century.

Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart in Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950)

Noir signaled numerous changes in American society. Reft continues:

Unsurprisingly, popular culture reflected these anxieties. Beginning arguably with the “Maltese Falcon” in 1941 and extending into the late 1950s, film noir depicted a nation in which the American dream was treated as a “bitter irony”, marriage as “absolutely horrific”, the police and politicians were “bleak, amoral and ugly”, and morality little more than situational; “anyone in the right or wrong circumstances, was capable of almost anything” ….

I know I am deeply affected by the edginess of these films, and I feel they explain in some large sense how we got where we are today, which is a darker, more urban world bereft of the old rural sunshine. Compare the Will Rogers films from the 1930s with the noir films of ten years later. It seems as if the fabric of society has been torn.

Pre-Raphaelite Fetishism

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Model Elizabeth “Lizzie” Siddal

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood consisted of a number of painters, most notably Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt and others. During the five years of its existence, it created a number of unforgettable images featuring a number of stunning models.

In his extensive history, The Victorians, A N Wilson writes:

The word ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ in popular modern parlance does not refer to particular painting techniques or attitudes to the Middle Ages. It means young women with pale faces, pouting lips and abundant hair. The hair was important; so important that hairdressing, for the first time in English history, came out of the private domain of the home.

Elizabeth Siddal as Ophelia in a Painting by Millais

Pre-eminent of the abundant red-haired models of the Pre-Raphaelites was Elizabeth Siddal, who had a relationship of sorts with Rossetti. When she died in 1862 after years of drug abuse with laudanum (opium), she was buried with the only copy of a manuscript of poems by Rossetti, who later regretted his impulsive act. In fact, by 1870 he regretted his impulsive act of burying the manuscript with Siddal. He had the body exhumed and retrieved his manuscript.

Other equally beautiful Pre-Raphaelite models were Fanny Cornforth and Annie Miller.

Fanny Cornforth in “The Kissed Mouth” by D G Rossetti

Annie Miller in D G Rossetti’s “The Woman in Yellow”

Serendipity: Cholera vs Coronavirus

Lambeth Cholera Outbreak 1848-49

The more things change, the more they remain the same. The following is from A N Wilson’s The Victorians describing the outbreak of cholera in London in the late 1840s.

It was not until the cholera microbe was isolated and identified by Koch in 1883 that [Dr John] Snow’s brilliant hunch—turning to circumstantial deduction—was proved. Snow tried—and [Edwin] Chadwick too—to spread the gospel of cleanliness as a guard against water-borne disease: the creation of good drains; lodging houses for vagrants; public washhouses; quarantine for local visitors. The coal-miners were the group that suffered more from cholera than any other—Snow urged that their work conditions be divided into four-hour shifts so that they did not need to use the coal pits as privies. In parts of London where the classes washed their hands—Belgravia—the rate of death by cholera was 28 in 10,000, compared with 186 per 10,000 in poorer districts. But, of course, such measures could not be introduced without control, and—as in the case with the Irish [potato] famine—the true laissez-faire liberal would, quite literally, prefer death to state interference. [Italics mine]

The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St. Praxed’s Church

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

This is one of my favorite poems by Robert Browning. It tells the tale of a dying ecclesiastic who, before he dies, learns that he is not highly regarded.

The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St. Praxed’s Church
Rome, 15—

VANITY, saith the preacher, vanity!	
Draw round my bed: is Anselm keeping back?	
Nephews—sons mine … ah God, I know not! Well—	
She, men would have to be your mother once,	
Old Gandolf envied me, so fair she was!	        
What ’s done is done, and she is dead beside,	
Dead long ago, and I am Bishop since,	
And as she died so must we die ourselves,	
And thence ye may perceive the world ’s a dream.	
Life, how and what is it? As here I lie	
In this state-chamber, dying by degrees,	
Hours and long hours in the dead night, I ask	
“Do I live, am I dead?” Peace, peace seems all.	
Saint Praxed’s ever was the church for peace;	
And so, about this tomb of mine. I fought	      
With tooth and nail to save my niche, ye know:	
—Old Gandolf cozened me, despite my care;	
Shrewd was that snatch from out the corner South	
He graced his carrion with, God curse the same!	
Yet still my niche is not so cramped but thence	       
One sees the pulpit on the epistle-side,	
And somewhat of the choir, those silent seats,	
And up into the aery dome where live	
The angels, and a sunbeam ’s sure to lurk:	
And I shall fill my slab of basalt there,	      
And ’neath my tabernacle take my rest,	
With those nine columns round me, two and two,	
The odd one at my feet where Anselm stands:	
Peach-blossom marble all, the rare, the ripe	
As fresh-poured red wine of a mighty pulse.	      
—Old Gandolf with his paltry onion-stone,	
Put me where I may look at him! True peach,	
Rosy and flawless: how I earned the prize!	
Draw close: that conflagration of my church	
—What then? So much was saved if aught were missed!	        
My sons, ye would not be my death! Go dig	
The white-grape vineyard where the oil-press stood,	
Drop water gently till the surface sink,	
And if ye find … Ah God, I know not, I!…	
Bedded in store of rotten figleaves soft,	       
And corded up in a tight olive-frail,	
Some lump, ah God, of lapis lazuli.	
Big as a Jew’s head cut off at the nape,	
Blue as a vein o’er the Madonna’s breast …	
Sons, all have I bequeathed you, villas, all,	        
That brave Frascati villa with its bath,	
So, let the blue lump poise between my knees,	
Like God the Father’s globe on both his hands	
Ye worship in the Jesu Church so gay,	
For Gandolf shall not choose but see and burst!	        
Swift as a weaver’s shuttle fleet our years:	
Man goeth to the grave, and where is he?	
Did I say basalt for my slab, sons? Black—	
’Twas ever antique-black I meant! How else	
Shall ye contrast my frieze to come beneath?	      
The bas-relief in bronze ye promised me,	
Those Pans and Nymphs ye wot of, and perchance	
Some tripod, thyrsus, with a vase or so,	
The Saviour at his sermon on the mount,	
Saint Praxed in a glory, and one Pan	       
Ready to twitch the Nymph’s last garment off,	
And Moses with the tables … but I know	
Ye mark me not! What do they whisper thee,	
Child of my bowels, Anselm? Ah, ye hope	
To revel down my villas while I gasp	      
Bricked o’er with beggar’s mouldy travertine	
Which Gandolf from his tomb-top chuckles at!	
Nay, boys, ye love me—all of jasper, then!	
’Tis jasper ye stand pledged to, lest I grieve	
My bath must needs be left behind, alas!	        
One block, pure green as a pistachio-nut,	
There ’s plenty jasper somewhere in the world—	
And have I not Saint Praxed’s ear to pray	
Horses for ye, and brown Greek manuscripts,	
And mistresses with great smooth marbly limbs?	        
—That ’s if ye carve my epitaph aright,	
Choice Latin, picked phrase, Tully’s every word,	
No gaudy ware like Gandolf’s second line—	
Tully, my masters? Ulpian serves his need!	
And then how I shall lie through centuries,	        
And hear the blessed mutter of the mass,	
And see God made and eaten all day long,	
And feel the steady candle-flame, and taste	
Good strong thick stupefying incense-smoke!	
For as I lie here, hours of the dead night,	       
Dying in state and by such slow degrees,	
I fold my arms as if they clasped a crook,	
And stretch my feet forth straight as stone can point,	
And let the bedclothes, for a mortcloth, drop	
Into great laps and folds of sculptor’s work:	       
And as yon tapers dwindle, and strange thoughts	
Grow, with a certain humming in my ears,	
About the life before I lived this life,	
And this life too, popes, cardinals, and priests,	
Saint Praxed at his sermon on the mount,	       
Your tall pale mother with her talking eyes,	
And new-found agate urns as fresh as day,	
And marble’s language, Latin pure, discreet,	
—Aha, ELUCESCEBAT quoth our friend?	
No Tully, said I, Ulpian at the best!	       
Evil and brief hath been my pilgrimage.	
All lapis, all, sons! Else I give the Pope	
My villas! Will ye ever eat my heart?	
Ever your eyes were as a lizard’s quick,	
They glitter like your mother’s for my soul,	        
Or ye would heighten my impoverished frieze,	
Piece out its starved design, and fill my vase	
With grapes, and add a vizor and a Term,	
And to the tripod ye would tie a lynx	
That in his struggle throws the thyrsus down,	        
To comfort me on my entablature	
Whereon I am to lie till I must ask	
“Do I live, am I dead?” There, leave me, there!	
For ye have stabbed me with ingratitude	
To death: ye wish it—God, ye wish it! Stone—	       
Gritstone, a-crumble! Clammy squares which sweat	
As if the corpse they keep were oozing through—	
And no more lapis to delight the world!	
Well go! I bless ye. Fewer tapers there,	
But in a row: and, going, turn your backs	        
—Ay, like departing altar-ministrants,	
And leave me in my church, the church for peace,	
That I may watch at leisure if he leers—	
Old Gandolf, at me, from his onion-stone,	
As still he envied me, so fair she was!

A History of Epidemics

The Covid-19 Epidemic Was Just One of Many Outbreaks

We’ve all heard about the Bubonic Plague in Medieval Europe, and even more recently in Daniel Defoe’s London (see A Journal of the Plague Year). Probably the worst were the combined plagues brought to the New World by the Spanish and the Portuguese. The native Meso-American population was to drop by more than 80% due to the combined ravages of smallpox, measles, and malaria (the latter was brought in with black slaves from Africa).

In more recent times, the British Isles have been ravaged by cholera. In his The Victorians, historian A. N. Wilson writes: “After 1832, there were to be three major cholera epidemics in Britain: 1848-9, 1853-4 and 1866. The first of these killed 53,000 in England and Wales, 8,000 in Scotland; the next killed 26,000—but 10,000 in London.”

More recently, the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 infected approximately one-third of the world’s population and killed 50 million worldwide.

It is fortunate that vaccinations to fight Covid-19 have been developed. The pity of it is that many of the poorer nations do not have the vaccine, and many of the richer nations are populated by ignorant doofuses who refuse to be vaccinated.

Uh! I’ve Been Shot!

Two Vaccinations in Two Days!

Yesterday, I got the Fluzone High-Dose Seasonal Influenza Vaccine at my local Walgreen’s. I would also have gotten the Covid-19 booster shot the same day, but I had to make an appointment on the Internet because their system was down. So today I returned and got a jab in my other arm.

I have a difficult time understanding anti-vaxxers with their silly reasons for not getting their shots. It is a strange time in history when people would rather be dead or kill their friends, neighbors, and acquaintances rather than submit to a simple shot. Perhaps, at bottom they’re cowards about a little pain. And in both cases for me, there was very little pain, and it was short-lived.

Artemisia

Artemisia Gentileschi’s Maria Magdalen in Ecstasy

One of the great Italian Baroque painters just happened to be a woman: Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656). The daughter of another painter, her father Orazio, Artemisia concentrated on painting women subjects, frequently using herself as the model. She was raped by another painter of her father’s generation and was hurriedly married off to protect her.

Her paintings have frequently compared to Caravaggio in their sense of immediacy and their lushness. Julian Bell describes her painting Lucretia in The New York Review of Books:

Lucrezia (1621)

The half-stripped woman picked out against the dark in Artemisia Gentileschi’s Lucretia is viewed from above, yet as I stand before this yard-high canvas, she seems to bear down on me. Light, here, is weight: the gleam on shoulder, knee, breasts, arm, and neck presses on my eye and there is no distance from the presented flesh. I have to do with this stout woman as if I were wrestling or embracing her. For whether you interlock with someone in anger or desire, that person will always possess a separate life, will, mind, and narrative, and so it is here. Lucretia tugs not at me but at the dark above, at God. Her prayer, stab-sharp, convulses not only her temples and the hand that clutches a dagger, but the whole rough thrash of limbs, gown, and sheets that fills this single-minded canvas.

Interestingly, the ancient Roman subject of the painting, Lucretia, was—according to Livy—raped by one of her husband’s kin and committed suicide to assuage her violated honor.

Small wonder that Artemisia is regarded as some kind of proto-feminist! But if you disregard for a moment her subject matter, she is also a great painter. She is more than a feminist: she is a profoundly great artist.

Booster

I’ll Be Getting the Covid-19 Booster Shot Soon

Speaking as a Libtard Sheeple (and proud of it!), I’ll be getting the Pfizer booster shot as soon as I can. It was March 15 when I got my second shot, so it has been six months plus a week or two. I figured it was best to move quickly before the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson boosters get approved and before all the school kids start lining up.

I’ll just call around to see who has the booster and make an appointment.

The Man of 1,000 Faces

Lon Chaney Sr. with Make-Up Kit

He is known as the man of a thousand faces, but that’s not what I remember Lon Chaney Sr. for. He made himself up to look different in every film, from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) to The Phantom of the Opera (1925) to The Unholy Three (1930 Sound Version). However much he changed his looks, the one thing that did not change was the intensity of his feeling, of his ardor.

I just finished viewing Tod Browning’s Where East Is East (1929) in which once again it is his performance that makes the picture. His love for his daughter (played by Lupe Velez) and his hatred of the sluttish mother who deserted them both (played by Estelle Taylor) is always convincing and heartfelt. Chaney was in scores of feature films from 1915 to his last film (and only sound film) in 1930.

Perhaps Lon Chaney Jr. is more familiar to younger film goers for his role as The Wolf Man (1941) and his other horror pics for Universal and 20th Century Fox. The son didn’t begin acting until he father had died, and although he was occasionally good, he could not hold a candle to his old man.