Monday, August 30, 2010

The Gulf disaster

"I hit a cloud so concentrated that 20 hours later my mouth and tongue still feel they've been burned by a hot liquid." - Drew Wheelan
The cloud is the toxic residue of the Macondo blowout. In her riveting report in the London Review of Books (5 August 2010, pages 28-31), Rebecca Solnit clarifies why we should be horrified not only by what happened, but also by the extent to which the oil industry has masked the damage and kept scientists and the press at bay, using the Coast Guard as its instrument. Even the cleanup is being done by prison labor, despite the ravages the blowout has had on a local economy. In 2008, we thought we voted the oil industry out of office. This report will make you wonder.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Trading places

"Sixteenth-century English traders in the Levant realized that there was a high degree of tolerance of religious and cultural difference." - Lawrence Rosen
The donkey pictured here is actually from Alpujarra, south of Granada, another part of the Islamic world that was tolerant of differences at its cultural zenith in the 12th century, during the Hispanic proto-Renaissance that brought classical learning back into Europe. The quote is from a review ("Trouble with a Dead Mule," London Review of Books, page 22-23) by Lawrence Rosen of James Mather's Pasha: Traders and Travelers in the Islamic World (Yale 2009) Mather's thesis is that the loosely organized partners of the Levant Company, focused on trade rather than the furthering of English interests, were adept at fitting in to the Islamic cultures of cities like Istanbul, Aleppo, and Alexandria. What they found there was more open and sophisticated than what they left behind. A few stayed on, although most returned to the England they remembered.

The Boit's vases

"Their rims damaged from their travels, the vases are the only objects to have survived and now flank their painted doubles in Boston." - Ruth Bernard Yeazell
When the Boit family's vases, depicted in John Singer Sargent's painting of the Boit daughters, arrived at the Museum of Fine Arts in 1986, "they contained a cigar stub,a paper airplane, a pink ribbon, a tennis ball, sheets of geography lessons, a letter about the repeal of Prohibition, an Arrow shirt collar, an old doughnut, an admission card to a dance at the Eastern Yacht Club in Marblehead, Massachusetts, three badminton shuttlecocks, many coins and a feather." The painting appears to reflect Sargent's encounter with Velazquez's "Las Meninas," which he copied while visiting Madrid in 1879. (The painting dates from 1882.) The quotes are from Ruth Bernard Yeazell's review of Sargent's Daughters (MFA 2009) in the London Review of Books, 5 August 2010, pages 20-21.