Friday, June 29, 2012

The Prince Imperial – Murdered by Zulus

The story behind the photo

 I wrote a post in May about an antique photograph in my collection which I called “The Executioner’s Granddaughter”, a small CDV which led me to the fascinating story of the Royal Executioner of France,  Charles Henri Sanson, who didn’t want to kill people—he wanted to be a doctor—but in the end he introduced the guillotine as a more humane way of execution, decapitated King Louis XVI and nearly 3,000 other victims.

That photo motivated me to hunt for another small CDV (carte de visite)  I remembered in my collection -- a young boy in what appeared to be a uniform.  On the back was the name of the photographer-- H. Tournier,  57 Rue de Seine, Paris. Someone had written in pencil “Prince Imperial.”

I vaguely thought this must be another reference to the French Revolution—maybe some aristocratic child who  had been forced to flee.  But thanks to Google, which didn’t exist when I started collecting and researching photos, I learned that the handsome and resolute little boy was Napoleon IV—or would have been if he had lived long enough.  He died at age 23 and, according to Wikipedia, “His early death in Africa sent shock waves throughout Europe, as he was the last dynastic hope for the restoration of the Bonapartes to the throne of France.”

Born in Paris in March 1856 to Emperor Napoleon III of France and Eugenie de Montijo, the boy eagerly accompanied his father to the front during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 when he was only 14.  Eventually his family had to flee to England where Bonapartists proclaimed him Napoleon IV on his father’s death.  There were rumors he would marry Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter Princess Beatrice

The Prince Imperial attended the Royal Military Academy in England, joined the Royal Artillery and, when the Zulu War broke out in 1879, he insisted on taking part in the conflict.  His mother, Empress Eugenie, and Queen Victoria  arranged for him to go only as an observer and, though he was keen to take part in the action, his superiors were told the Prince must be at all times protected by a strong escort of bodyguards. Special charge went to Lieutenant Jahleel Brenton Carey. 

On the morning of June 1, 1879, his troop set out to scout in a forward party that left earlier than intended and without the full escort, due to the Prince’s impatience. As they rode deep into Zululand, the Prince took over command from Carey, who had seniority. At noon they stopped at a deserted kraal, lit a fire and then about 40 Zulus fired upon them and rushed toward them.  
 painting by Paul Jamin

According to Wikipedia, “The Prince’s horse dashed off before he could mount, the Prince clinging to a holster on the saddle—after about a hundred yards a strap broke and the Prince fell beneath his horse and his right arm was trampled. He leapt up, drawing his revolver with his left hand and started to run – but the Zulus could run faster.  The Prince was speared in the thigh but pulled the assegai [spear] from his wound.  As he turned and fired on his pursuers, another assegai struck his left shoulder.  The Prince tried to fight on, using the spear he had pulled from his leg, but, weakened by his wounds, he sank to the ground and was overwhelmed.  When recovered, his body had eighteen assegai wounds and [he was] stabbed through the right eye which had burst and [it] penetrated his brain.  Two of his escorts had been killed and another was missing.”
 Age 14 (1870)
The body of the prince was ritually disemboweled by his killers, “a common Zulu practice to prevent his spirit seeking revenge.”  The man charged with protecting him, Lt. Carey, survived—he and four other men fled and did not fire a single shot at the Zulus.  After a court martial, Carey lived the rest of his life in disgrace. The Prince’s mother Eugenie made a pilgrimage to the spot where her son died.   His death was an international sensation. And the rule of the Bonapartes was over.
 Age 22, 1878
When I looked on line for images of the Prince Imperial I found several of him later in life, but no image identical to the one I own.  This small photo of a brave little boy may be rare and valuable, or it may not, but it’s still another antique photo that led me to a story out of the past that I would have never discovered otherwise. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

LeRoy Neiman --The Artist Critics Love to Hate

                                                     Bebeto Matthews, Associated Press

The New York Times obituary of artist LeRoy Neiman, who died last week at 91, called him “one of the most popular artists in the United States,” but noted that art critics did not hold him in much esteem. His popularity rivaled American favorites like Norman Rockwell, Grandma Moses and Andrew Wyeth, according to obituary writer William Grimes, but he never managed to win any critical acclaim during his long life.

“Mr. Neiman’s kinetic, quickly executed paintings and drawings, many of them published in Playboy, offered his fans gaudily colored visual reports on heavyweight boxing matches, Super Bowl games and Olympic contests, as well as social panoramas like the horse races at Deauville, France and the Cannes international Film Festival,” the obituary explained. But although “he generated hundreds of works, including paintings, drawings, watercolors, limited edition serigraph prints and coffee-table books yearly, earning gross annual revenue in the tens of millions of dollars,” the critics were not impressed.

 “Although he exhibited constantly and his work was included in the collections of dozens of museums around the world, critical respect eluded him,” Grimes wrote.  “Mainstream art critics ignored him completely or, if forced to consider his work, dismissed it with contempt as garish and superficial—magazine illustration with pretensions.  Mr. Neiman professed not to care.”

My husband Nick and I knew LeRoy back in the days when we lived in Manhattan.  (We also knew his brother Earl C. Neiman, who was an artist specializing in religious art, which is a long way from Playboy—the magazine that made Leroy famous.)

I always admired Neiman’s skill and his ability to draw the figure in motion—which made him probably the world’s most famous painter of sports figures.  He worked so fast and so effortlessly that he often painted live on television at major sporting events, watched by an audience of millions.

Neiman was drawing all the time.  He kept cards of stiff paper in his pocket and, in a restaurant or at a dinner party or while deep in conversation, he would take out a card and a black felt pen and sketch one or two of the people in front of him, who often didn’t realize what he was doing. Then he would sign the sketch and hand it over to the subject.

You could say that this was a parlor trick that LeRoy did to win people over, but you could also say that, like many artists, he just had to keep making art out of what he saw in front of him.  Wasn’t Picasso known for drawing and painting on tablecloths, napkins, restaurant menus and everything else he could find while enjoying himself at a party or meal?
Anyway, he sketched my husband and signed it with the information “Nick at table, Mahattan Ocean Club, Dec. 2, ’99”.   Not long after, to my delight, in another restaurant he handed me a quick sketch of myself with the inscription “Joan at table, Capsoto Frers, 2, 27, 00, With Love, LeRoy Neiman”
I was thrilled!  I even got “with love”, which Nick didn’t! Naturally I had these little sketches framed and they hang as a pair in Nick’s office. Not until today, looking at them, did I realize that LeRoy misspelled “Manhattan” as “Mahattan” on Nick’s sketch and “Freres as “Frers” on mine.  But everyone knows artists can’t spell.  Good spellers use the left side of their brain for that skill and artists use the right side for their art.

In Saturday’s Times, a couple of days after the obituary, Ken Johnson wrote “An Appraisal:  Fame Without a Legacy-- The Art of LeRoy Neiman Made a Splash But Never Waves”

Johnson wrote that, when he went to art school, a popular criticism was  “It looks like a LeRoy Neiman” …“It referred to the splashy, garish, instantly recognizable style of illustration, a formulaic mix of impressionism, expressionism and realism, that Mr. Neiman used to make himself one of the most famous artists in America.”  Neiman’s art, he said, was “All frosting, no cake.”

The reporter went on to say that serious art critics considered Neiman, “the archetypical hack…With his ever-present cigar and enormous mustache, he was a cliché of the bon vivant and a bad artist in every way.”The analysis goes on in this vein and points out that in the serious art world it was felt that,  “Art should be in some way critical of mainstream culture” rather than celebrating it. 

Toward the end of his appraisal, Mr.Johnson writes: “Mr. Neiman is not the only celebrated artist to be marginalized by the cognoscenti.  Walt Disney, Salvador Dali, Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth all incurred suspicion for the taint of kitsch attached to their work.  But it is hard to deny the aesthetic and moral interest of what they did, so they have their high-minded apologists….Is the serious art world wrong to exclude and disdain Mr. Neiman and his art?  I don’t think so.”

Well, I may be volunteering to be a high-minded apologist for LeRoy Neiman.  An artist myself, who has taken a zillion figure-drawing classes, I was always in awe of the skill with which he could capture the figure in motion. 

In the olden days it was fashionable to scorn the art of Norman Rockwell,  because of the sentimentality behind it, but today people are taking another look at Rockwell and saying,  “Damn, could he paint!”
                                         Dan Kitwood/ Getty Images
Meanwhile, The New York Times and other serious art forums review very seriously things like the three piles of dirt that Yoko Ono is currently displaying at the Serpentine Gallery in London in her new exhibit “To The Light”, and the endless series of pranks by famous artist Marina Abramovic who, when she was younger, would have herself videotaped naked, banging her head against a wall or hanging on a cross.  Now that she’s older, she captured the media’s interest during her long stint at MOMA two years ago when she spent hours every day, (clothed in a long dress) sitting at a table staring, immobile, into the eyes of whatever art fan came to stare back at her.  Many of these fans, overcome at being in her presence, burst into tears.  I nearly burst into tears when reading the admiring reviews of her retrospective from all the “serious” art critics.
In the end, I’m not qualified to tell you if LeRoy Neiman was a “serious” artist or not, but I’m glad he managed to enjoy his art for 91 years and that the rest of us were able to enjoy it as well.  Here’s the response that LeRoy would always  make to published criticism: “Maybe the critics are right.  But what am I supposed to do about it – stop painting, change my work completely?  I go back into the studio and there I am at the easel again.  I enjoy what I’m doing and feel good working.  Other thoughts are just crowded out.”

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Photo Tribute to a Dad and two Grandpa’s

(I posted this last year on Father's Day and got such good comments that I thought I'd post it again, with the addition of a brand new father who has proved over the last nine months to be a world-class Daddy.) 

                                                                  Nick & Christos 1972
When our three children were born in the 1970’s, my husband Nick was not the kind of dad who'd change diapers, take a kid to the park or coach them in sports. But as these photos  suggest, he was always an important presence in their lives, ready to offer support, advice and unconditional love when they needed it.
                                                               Nick & Eleni circa 1976
This past week, President Obama launched the “Year of Strong Families” to do something about father absence, which he experienced growing up without a father.  Nick experienced it too, because, as he wrote in “A Place for Us”, he never knew his father, a short-order cook in Worcester, MA, until he and his sisters arrived in the U.S. as refugees in 1949 after their mother was executed during the Greek civil war.  Nick was nine years old.  His father, Christos, was 58.
                                                         Nick & Marina, circa  1979
My father, Robert O. Paulson, was born in 1906 and died in 1986.  Because my parents lived far away, he was not a real presence in our children’s lives, but when we visited California in 1973 I took these photos of him showing our son, Christos, his first view of the ocean, and reading to him at bedtime.

I only met my paternal grandfather, Par Paulson, once.  He was stern and completely deaf and the only way to communicate with him was by writing on a blackboard in chalk. But my step-grandfather, John Erickson, my grandmother’s second husband, had a special relationship with me during the years I lived near their small town of Monticello, Minnesota. 

 I still have a small garnet ring that once belonged to his mother. I remember vividly how he taught me to shoot his rifle across the wide Mississippi river, and in the spring, when it was time to get new baby chicks for the chicken yard, he would take me down to the hatchery, pull open drawers of chirping chicks and let me pick out the ones I liked.
                                                              Ida & John Erickson circa1952
 In the current "People" magazine President Obama wrote, “I grew up without a father around. I have certain memories of him taking me to my first jazz concert and giving me my first basketball as a Christmas present, But he left when I was two years old.”
 As he knows, even a one-time memory—choosing chicks at a hatchery, showing a grandson the ocean, reading a bedtime story or unwrapping a first basketball can be a gift that a child will cherish for a lifetime.
And here's Emilio Baltodano, the Papi of our nine-month-old granddaughter Amalía.  He's a full-time dad. He changes diapers, gets up in the middle of the night, takes her to the park, and can hardly wait to teach her to wind-surf--all the things that fathers did not do back in the olden days when my generation was having babies.  And he e-mails us videos, so we can share in her milestone moments.  We're expecting her first steps any day now, since she cruises everywhere hanging on to things, like her Daddy's pants legs.
Happy Father's Day Emilio!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Russian Grannies Steal the Eurovision Show

 Since this is a blog  written by a crone, often about fellow crones, I’m ashamed to say that until yesterday, when I saw something about it in the NY Times, I wasn’t aware that a team of  Babushka-wearing Russian grannies won second place and everyone’s heart with their singing and dancing version of  “Party for Everybody” during the recent Eurovision Song Contest on May 25.

In the U.S., we are blissfully unaware of the annual Eurovision Song Contest, but, as I learned when I lived in London in 1969, in Europe Eurovision is hugely important, on the level of the Superbowl here, and is viewed by some 125 million people worldwide.  It's now entering its 57th year and the streets of Europe become empty as everybody gathers in front of the TV set to watch the votes coming in,  rating the performances of the 26 finalist nations.

As Peter Leonard of the Associated Press wrote on May 25, “A smorgasbord of revealing outfits and onstage preening is expected at Saturday’s final, but gray-haired acts from the U. K. and Russia are stealing most of the attention.”

The U. K.’s entry was Engelbert Humperdinck who, at 76, was the same age as the oldest Russian grannie.  He performed wearing a lucky necklace given to him by Elvis Presley.

Known as the "Buranovskiye Babushki" --the Grannies from  Buranova-- the six ladies “are almost certainly the first Eurovision contestants to perform part of their song in the obscure Udmurt language, which is distantly related to Finnish,” according to the AP.

According to the Daily Mail, the Buranovo the grannies “dress in traditional Russian garments and have shoes made from lime-tree bark…They hope to win the show so they can raise money to rebuild their village church which was destroyed during the Soviet era."

The contest was held this year in Baku, Azerbaijan, because that country won last year when the  contest was held in Dusseldorf.  This year the grannies performed with great  smiles and enthusiasm and their dance moves even included an imitation of making bread. Although they sang in Udmurt, I was surprised to hear two lines in accented English repeated over and over: “Party for everybody! Come on and dence!”

You can see and hear their performance on Youtube by clicking here: "Party for Everybody".

In the end, the first-place winner was the expected favorite, Sweden’s Loreen, a 28-year-old beauty of Moroccan-Berber descent with her song “Euphoria.” (In the olden days, singers often sang in their native language, but I’ve noticed that now, nearly everyone sings in English, which has become the lingua franca around the world.)

The grannies from Buranovo came in second and undoubtedly will be able to rebuild their village church, because they are planning a world tour, taking their singing and dancing on the road.  They are now officially Rolling Crones.

Engelbert Humperdinck and England came in at number 25—second to the last.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Found Art: Greek Windows

As I’ve mentioned before, when I’m traveling in Greece, I find myself often photographing windows. (In Paris it’s doors and in Nicaragua, it’s chairs!)

Greek windows, with their pristine white lace or cut-work curtains and the inevitable pot of basil in the window, are so carefully composed and so indicative of the creativity of the homemaker within, that I think you can call them found art.

The pot of basil, by the way, is not just for cooking.  It’s considered a holy plant, and brings good luck, so every home must have one.

At the recent Grecian Festival in the Cathedral of Saint Spyridon, our church in Worcester, MA,  I sold out of the packets of note cards of my Greek windows.  Guess I’d better print some more.

Here are eleven of the designs and a little about where I found them.
The window on the left, on the green island of Skopelos in the northeast, demonstrates the beautiful cutwork of the handmade curtains. The reflection shows the arched window of a church (?) next door. 

The window on the right, of a shop in the mountains of Crete, displays the colorful local embroidery and the classic caned Greek chair found everywhere throughout the country.

Both these windows are in the charming Hotel Kastro, in the walled city in Yannina, Greece, which looks exactly as it did when the Turks ruled the country.  Now the mosques have been turned into museums, but the city still has the exotic beauty that seduced Lord Byron when he came to visit Ali Pasha and marvel at his riches.  The window on the left shows the Greek tendency to train climbing vines everywhere.  In the photo on the right, I was remembering something my friend, award-winning photographer Mari Seder, once told me--sometimes the shadows are the most important part of the photograph.
On the left, a window in a popular taverna on the island of Hydra, echoes the blue and white of the Greek flag.  The miniature sailing boat in the window speaks of the seafaring history of the island.  The  window on the right belongs to a humble restaurant on Mykonos, tucked far, far away from the areas thronged with tourists.  The food is magnificent and so is the view.  If I could remember the name of the restaurant I wouldn't tell.  Its patrons want to keep it unspoiled.  (Here's a hint. The beach far below is called Agios Sostis.)

The window on the left is in a very rustic eco-resort--Milia-- high in the mountains of Crete.  The views far down the mountain are to die for.  On the right, in the unique town of Pirgi, on the island of Chios, the curtain in the window echoes the geometric designs scratched into the plaster of the exterior walls on all the buildings.
On the left, outside a taverna on Crete, is what I call the mermaid window, although it may have started life as a door before it was boarded up and turned into illustrations for the story of the Gorgona--the giant mermaid who was the sister of Alexander the Great before he cursed her.  (If you want to know the whole story of the mermaid, read it in my book "The Secret Life of Greek Cats.")

The window on the right is in an ancient church in the beautiful town of Pirgi on the island of Chios.  Originally I posted this photo in a blog post called "The Scraped Walls of Pirgi, Chios".  I said the angel-like figure over the window was a representation of the Holy Spirit, but I was wrong.  A sharp-eyed and much better-informed reader named Matthew Kalamidas wrote: "Lastly, the angel in the wall painting is actually a six-winged seraphim. In Greek, an exapterygo. Besides the six wings, the words beside it are 'Holy, Holy, Holy Lord', which is an abbreviated form of the never-ending prayer."

That's one of the great things about writing blog posts -- you learn so much.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Free Father's Day Cards

Favorite Photos Friday

Some time ago I designed a few Father's Day cards using antique photos from my collection.

Here are three of them.

Just in case you haven't gotten around to buying Dad a card yet -- Father's Day is June 17 this year--feel free to assemble your own card by printing one of these, pasting it on a blank piece of folded paper, and writing a sentiment and your name inside, with lots of "X"s and "O"'s.

Free Father's Day Card.

Take that Hallmark!

 (Inside: "You rock!  Happy Father's Day!")

(Inside:  "That's my excuse.  What's yours?  Happy Father's Day.)

(Inside: "Happy Father's Day from your dog.")

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Where Does the Joy Go?

It’s been a privilege and an inspiration to spend time with granddaughter  Amalía during her first nine months of life, as she discovers her body (first hands, then feet) and the world around her.

Nearly forty years ago, when my own three children were born, I watched our firstborn’s first year—even took some notes that ended up in a child development text book—but by the second, there was no time for taking notes and by the third, not even a baby book stuffed in a closet in a bag filled with souvenirs.

I had forgotten until now the overwhelming joy with which a baby meets the world (as long as she’s not ill or in pain.)  To see Amalía light up and squeal with joy when she wakes up from a nap and sees your face is enough to make any day wonderful. 

She loves to eat (anything including vitamins and paper towels) and when she’s fed something she really likes, she will croon and sing and even clap her hand in appreciation.  Once she liked her food so much she stood up in her high chair and did a little dance of joy before plopping down and opening her mouth for more like a baby bird.  She’ll “read” her picture books by herself, pointing and squealing at the baby animals.

The things that make a toddler ecstatic are so simple: blowing soap bubbles, stomping in a puddle, playing peek-a-boo, feeding pigeons.  The things that elicit that throaty little giggle the ones that are at first surprising and perhaps a little scary but then turn out to be funny instead.

Until she was about eight months old, Amalía loved everyone, and when I pushed her stroller down the street she’d babble and wave to passers-by, even homeless people in doorways and construction workers on a cigarette break. Everyone responded to her as we passed: “Hey! That baby’s talking to me!”

Now, at nine months, the slightest tinge of stranger anxiety has crept in.  She won’t go into the arms of a newcomer until she’s had about ten minutes to get to know them. But if she’s sitting next to you in an airplane or restaurant or on the playground, she’ll soon pat you on the arm to say hello.

And although no bad thing has ever happened to her, Amalía’s starting to fear things that she never noticed before—like a large stuffed lion in a toy store, or the guttural voice that comes out of one of her counting toys.  A lot of her “job” these days is figuring out what is real and what isn’t.  And I know the stranger anxiety is a necessary skill—undoubtedly an instinct useful for survival.

All babies and children are filled with joy—just in being alive.  Look at puppies or colts in a field.  What a child needs to be perfectly happy is so simple: warmth, food and the feeling of security—knowing they are protected by someone more powerful than they are.  It’s such a shame that every child can’t be guaranteed those basic things during the critical first years of life.

And they need a person to interact with them—to echo their feelings and show them the world around them.   While pushing a stroller every day to Central Park, I kept seeing moms and nannies perpetually talking on their cell phones while the child in the stroller is staring straight ahead with vacant eyes.

Outside the apartment where she lives, Amalía hears someone vacuuming the carpet every afternoon, and the roar of the vacuum cleaner has started to worry her.  When she frets, I take her into my arms and reassure her that there’s nothing out there to be afraid of. 

How terrible it must be for parents who can’t tell their babies that with conviction—because the child is ill or there’s no money for food, or because the living situation is dangerous, as it is for those children who were executed in Syria recently.

But no matter how protected and cared for Amalía is, I know the bubbling joy she shares every day with eventually fade.  We’re all familiar with temper tantrums and the terrible twos.  Does anybody know a pre-teen so thrilled by dinner that they’d jump up and dance with joy?  Or laugh in ecstatic surprise at soap bubbles floating around them?

I think of people my own age who reply to  “How are you?” with a litany of aches and pains, and seem to walk around with a cloud of gloom hanging over their head.

No wonder friends have been telling me for years that grandchildren completely change your life. Just the sight of Amalía’s delight in her new world is all the motivation I need to try to take are of myself and stay alive longer than my parents did, so I can watch her grow and learn. I hope she can hold on to the joy. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Found Art-- César Chavez Elementary School San Francisco

I’ve written before about the murals that fill nearly every wall in the Mission District of San Francisco—locally  designed art that expresses the hopes and aspirations, traditions and goals, heroes and saints of the many ethnic groups that make up the area.
 Most impressive to me were the painted walls of the César Chavez Elementary School on Shotwell Street in the Mission district.
 I was told that the murals were the work of two local women—I don’t know their names.  I was also told that the elementary school teaches four languages: English, Spanish, (80 per cent of the students are from Spanish-speaking families) Mandarin Chinese and American Sign Language (ASL.)  All across the front of the school is the alphabet illustrated in all of these languages.

All of the paintings are inspirational.
 Here is the back of the school, with illustrations of César Chavez, grape pickers and children learning and achieving.
 The slogan of the school is “Si, Se Puede!”—“Yes, it can be done.”

I think the murals on the walls of this school are an excellent illustration of how art, including folk art, can inspire and teach, even in the poorest and least advantaged neighborhoods.