Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Holocaust Memorial that Pulls You Into the Story

Last month in Miami Beach I was riding in a taxi when I saw out of the window a remarkable sight—a forty-two-foot-tall sculpture of a hand reaching skyward out of a reflecting pond.  And scrambling up the wrist were what seemed to be life-sized human figures.

One of the things I collect is images of hands—everything from a door knocker to anti-evil eye talismans to a wooden “Hand of God” with a saint perched atop each finger and a gash in the palm.  I have patterns for the henna designs painted on the hands of an Indian bride, for example, before her wedding, in the mehndi ritual.  So I knew I had to learn more about the gigantic hand I had come across while riding on Meridian Avenue near Dade Boulevard in South Beach.

I learned that it is a memorial, dedicated to the six million Jewish victims of the holocaust. After four years of construction, it was dedicated by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel on February 4, 1990.
 Entrance is free. As I walked through the sculpture garden, like everyone else who has seen it, I was deeply moved by a history that I had heard many times before, but never in such a personal way.  As I followed the trail through the sunlit sculpture park, I was walking from the beginning to the end of the  holocaust years and retracing the journey of so many victims—beginning with  fear and foreboding and ending in despair and death. 

Because I found myself walking through a tunnel that becomes narrower, and then emerging into a scene of desperate agony, surrounded by life-sized naked figures in bronze, the experience seemed terrifyingly real, despite the towering  palm trees and the water lilies in the serene reflecting pool-- an ironic contrast to the hysterical grief and fear portrayed within.
The huge bronze hand (which has an Auschwitz camp number carved on the wrist) and the one hundred figures were designed by Kenneth Treister and cast in Mexico City by Fundicion Artistica. 

While walking through the exhibition, I felt as though I was interacting with the statues—sharing their fear and agony.  And after the visit, I felt changed, certainly in my understanding of the holocaust.  I think  that is the definition of successful art—you interact with it and it leaves you changed.
At the beginning of the journey is this statue of a mother and two children beneath a quotation from Ann Frank: “…that in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Then you walk along a black granite wall that summarizes in words and photographs the history of the holocaust from 1939 to 1945.  At the end of the wall is engraved a poem and a hymn from the ghetto. 

Next you enter a tunnel, starting with a dome that has a stained glass Star of David overhead with the word “Jude”.  As the memorial’s historian Helen Feigen writes, it’s “the patch of ignominy”.


You’re now in the square tunnel, carved with names of the death camps, that becomes smaller as you continue.  You hear the sound of children’s voices singing songs from the concentration camps.  All you can see at the end of the tunnel is a small, seated child, wailing and reaching out for help.  As you walk toward the light, the voices of the children get louder and louder.  Then you emerge from the tunnel to find yourself staring up at the immense hand, crawling with people in agony.  You walk among free-standing figures who are all reaching for help.
According to Helen Feigen, the historian, “A giant outstretched arm, tattooed with a number from Auschwitz, rises from the earth, the last reach of a dying person. Each visitor has his own interpretation ... some see despair ... some hope ... some the last grasp for life . . . and for some it asks a question to God... ‘Why?’”
At this point, you walk around the giant hand, examining the family groups, young people trying to comfort their elders, children trying to soothe their younger siblings, mothers trying to hand their babies to safety.  But no one is safe and there is no way out.  And the visitor is a part of the scene.


Then you notice the black granite walls engraved with names of the victims.
Finally, when you’ve had enough of this scene of despair, you continue on to the final piece of sculpture, which is the same mother and two children seen at the beginning, but now they’re lying dead underneath another quotation from Ann Frank: "ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us only to meet the horrible truths and be shattered:"
Then you are free to contemplate the peace and beauty of the reflecting pool and the sunny sky, and eventually to return to the tropical scenery of Miami Beach. But you can’t shake the feelings that you had standing below that giant hand, imagining the stories of all those victims who were still trying to help each other in the hour of their death.

Maybe this is why I’ve always been fascinated by representations of hands—because they can be so indicative of the creativity and strength  of the human being, and yet so vulnerable—think of the hands of a baby.  And in almost every culture, the image of the human hand seems to be a symbol, an invocation, a magical talisman, or the seal on a pledge.  Or a cry for help.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

My Hunt for Emily Dickinson





 I keep reading about the new Emily Dickinson show at the Morgan Library& Museum in Manhattan and I can't wait to see it.  It's called  "I'm Nobody!  Who are you? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson". (It's there until May 21.)  It has all sorts of news and gossip about the mysterious and reclusive poet.  As the NY Post commented "This is shaping up as a good year for the "Belle of Amherst" who never married and died, aged 55...In April we'll see Cynthia Nixon play her in the film 'A Quiet Passion.'"  Reading this inspired me to re-post a photo essay I published seven years ago about my near miss at acquiring a photographic image of Emily--which, to antique photo collectors like myself, would be the equivalent of finding the Holy Grail.
 



(Please click on the photos to enlarge them.)



There are a few photographs of long-dead celebrities that are so rare, people will pay close to a million dollars for them. If you come across a previously unknown image of, say, Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allan Poe, John Brown, John Wilkes Booth, Jesse James, to name a few, you have discovered a real treasure.

One of these iconic images would be a new portrait of Emily Dickinson. That’s what a professor at the University of North Carolina, Philip F. Gura, thought he had found on an E-Bay auction that he won on April 12, 2000. It was an albumen photograph (the bottom row above).

Later Gura wrote a delightful description of his torturous six-month search to validate the image. It’s called “How I Met and Dated Miss Emily Dickinson: An Adventure on eBay.”

Read it on http://www.common-place.org/vol-04/no-02/gura/

Gura wrote about Emily Dickinson: “Even though she lived when the new invention of photography was changing the ways people thought about themselves, there is only one known photographic likeness of her, taken by William C. North. It was made between December 1846 and March 1847, and shows a thin teenager suffering from what her family took as the first symptoms of tuberculosis.

“A second photograph of Dickinson has long been the Holy Grail of artifacts for scholars in my field…”

Gura paid $481 to win the albumen photograph with “Emily Dickinson” written on the back. As soon as it arrived from the eBay seller, the professor set about trying to validate it. He soon had calls from The New York Times and the New Yorker, who were vying to be the first with the news of his discovery.

Then NPR and many papers around the world were knocking at his door. After much trouble, Gura finally found a forensic anthropologist who was able to measure and compare various anatomical landmarks on the two faces (the original verified dag above left and the new-found albumen photo in the third row). This seems so much quicker and easier on TV shows like CSI and Bones!

Meanwhile two historians of costume analyzed the sitter’s clothing and determined that the albumen photo was a copy of an original daguerreotype taken sometime between 1848 and 1853.

In the one verified image of Emily — the daguerreotype at the upper left-- she is either sixteen or 17 years old. It was taken at Mt. Holyoke and is in the possession of Amherst College.

After all his research, Prof. Gura still doesn’t have a positive "yes" answer. But he believes that it is indeed Emily and quotes one reporter: “Although the forensic analysis of Gura’s photo strongly suggests the woman is ED, no one can say for sure. By the same token, no one apparently can say that the woman is NOT Dickinson.”

Something that was not reported by international media, (but is reported here exclusively on A Rolling Crone), is that I had a very similar experience to Philip Gura’s. But it happened exactly four months earlier. On Jan. 13, 2000, I purchased on eBay a 1/6 plate daguerreotype of a young woman who looked strikingly like Emily Dickinson. The famous verified Emily image is on the left above, on the right is my dag, which I purchased for $127.50 from a seller in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

The eBay auction had the title “Fine Dag – Lovely Woman – Emily Dickinson???”

But the seller was not making any claims that he couldn’t prove: “Purchased some time ago from an estate auctioned [sic] near Amherst, Mass. A fine daguerreotype…an intriguing and attractive young woman. …Some say she is, some say she looks like, Emily Dickinson. And some say not. Draw your own conclusion (there is one surviving dag of this noted Amherst author.) A fine daguerreotype either way.”

I studied the small photo on eBay and tried to compare it to the one verified dag. Like Philip Gura some months later, I waited in suspense for it to arrive. I imagined the excitement, the glory, the press attention if it proved to be an actual second image of the Belle of Amherst.

You must admit, looking at the two dags side by side, that the resemblance is striking. Even the style of dress and hair and the pose itself. (Emily is near a book and holding what I think is a flower in the official dag. In my image the woman has an adorable beaded bag hanging from her arm. They even seem to be wearing the same kind of dark bracelet, which may or may not be a mourning bracelet made of human hair.)

But I didn’t have to consult forensic anthropologists and costume historians to validate my image when it came. I took one look at the actual dag that lay in my hand and I realized she couldn’t be the real Emily, because, judging from the one true photograph, Emily had dark brown eyes and the woman in MY image had pale blue eyes.

I should have known this, because Emily once wrote to an admirer (who asked for a portrait) this description of herself: “I…am small, like the Wren, and my Hair is bold, like the Chestnut Bur-and my Eyes, like the Sherry in the Glass, that the guest leaves – would this do just as well?”

So mine is not a priceless iconic image, and the world’s press is not about to come calling — as it did four months later when Professor Gura discovered his image of ED on eBay. But I like ”my” Emily anyway and would never part with her, because this woman was a contemporary, perhaps a neighbor — perhaps even a relative -- of the real Emily. She certainly has a remarkable resemblance to the mysterious and secretive Belle of Amherst, who wore white and refused to come out of her room in the last years of her life, talking to visitors through a closed door.

And then after her death, her sister Lavina discovered the 1800 poems hidden away in her drawer. The first volume was published four years after Emily died in 1886 at the age of 55.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Donald Trump & Diane Sawyer--Post Election Fun and Games on Nov. 7, 2012

As a respite from today's ceremonies, let's take a look at something I posted on Nov. 7, 2012, in the good old days when Trump was so angry about Obama's victory that he got first and second place on Salon's "Sore Losers" list for his angry tweets.  Now he's a lot less funny as an exultant winner (but not winner of the popular vote) than he was as a sore loser.

Much more fun than following the pre-election debates (yawn!) and the election night results is reading today's after- election commentary and Monday-morning quarterbacking on the internet.

Trending now as number one topic on Yahoo is not a search for the breakdown of electoral votes, but the burning question: Was Diane Sawyer drunk?  Evidently ABC and her colleagues are saying she was merely exhausted from staying up night after night memorizing election facts and figures. I say, never mind if she was celebrating Obama's win off camera; she still did a great job.  I think Diane Sawyer's wicked smart and gorgeous to boot.

Salon has listed the 20 top sore losers after the election results came in and Donald Trump has won first and second place in this race for two tweets , one of which he has deleted after cooling down a little.  This is what Salon said about Trump:

The 20 biggest sore losers of election night(Credit: Salon/Benjamin Wheelock)
As election night wore on and an Obama victory became more and more likely, conservatives began explaining away the loss for Mitt Romney and other Republicans. On Fox, Bill O’Reilly kicked it off on a sour note, predicting on Fox News: “Obama wins because it’s not a traditional America anymore. The white establishment is the minority. People want things.” Then it deteriorated.
The sorest losers, ranked in order:
1). Donald J. Trump, for his tweet:
He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!
Trump has since deleted this tweet, maybe after he learned Obama would not lose the popular vote.
2).
I think the painting of Trump on Salon (above, by Benjamin Wheelock)  is probably adding to the mogul's anger and disappointment over Romney's loss, so I thought I'd repost a portrait of Trump which hangs in his estate Mar-a-Lago,  which is now a private club.  This is the way Trump prefers to see himself portrayed:


I first posted my photograph of this painting after a lunch at Mar-a-Lago in April 2011 when the Donald and his family passed through and greeted us visitors.  This is what I posted about it:

Lunch at Mar-a-Lago with the Donald

Someone passed this self-aggrandizing photo on to political blogger Andrew Sullivan, whose blog is Goliath to "A Rolling Crone's" David.  When Sullivan posted it, hilarity ensued, but no one knew where the photo came from in the first place until another political blogger, Michael Shaw, traced it back to my humble blog and my pocket digital camera.    Suddenly I was getting 3,000 hits an hour--a heady experience for  a novice blogger.  If you want to read more about the brouhaha, click on

"Somebody's Playing my Trump Card"

Meanwhile I'm going back to search the internet for more sour-grapes tweets from Trump and explanations of Diane Sawyer's slurring.  It takes my mind off the rain, sleet and snow in the nor'easter which is fast heading our way.  (Now where did I store that snow shovel?)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Let St. Anthony Find Your True Love (A Valentine's Day Ritual from Mexico)

In honor of St. Anthony's day, which was yesterday, I'm re-posting this photo-essay which was first published on Feb. 10, 2011. 

On Tuesday, arriving in Morelia, Mexico on Day One of the Monarch Butterflies and Michoacån Cuisine tour, I didn’t see a single butterfly but did learn about a place that may be more efficient than E-Harmony and Match.com in helping single ladies find the man of their dreams.

It was San Miguelito, the restaurant in Morelia where we ate the first night.  It calls itself a “Restaurante, Bazar, Galeria, & Museo” and they’re not kidding. 

 In addition to scrumptious Mexican food, they sell Day of the Dead figures, Botero-like fat little angels, a wooden chair that is also a skeleton, and aprons imprinted with Guadalupe.

 But the main draw is the back room, which, in addition to dining tables and chairs, holds more than 700 images of St. Anthony of Padua all UPSIDE DOWN.

For over twenty years, according to proprietor Cynthia Martinez, single women have been thronging to this room to beg St. Anthony to intercede for them and send their destined mate to their side.



 There are bulletin boards filled with photos and thanks from satisfied customers who have finally met their soul mate.

Here is what you have to do:  take 13 coins of the same  denomination from two bags hanging nearby.  Line up 13  coins on the base of the main St Anthony statue.  Walk around the statue 13 times.  Pray to St. Anthony.  (Suggested prayer below.  The restaurant also provides a Spanish-language version.)

There is a three-hole notebook below the statue on which you can write your specific request.  One woman covered 21 pages detailing her requirements in a mate.

Nearby is a shelf holding some of the dozens of notebooks  which have been filled in the past two decades with single women’s requests.

Back in the U.S. I had heard that people wanting to sell their homes would bury a statue of St Anthony in the front year, upside down of course, to speed up the sale. (A new friend, Christina, tells me that that’s actually St. Joseph.)

I think the point of the St. Anthony ritual is that, when your wish is fulfilled, you will release the saint and turn him back over.  But the St. Anthonys at San  Miguelito restaurant in Morelia have been standing upside-down for so long, while bringing couples together, that I  don’t think they have any hope of landing on their feet again.

Here is a poster on the restaurant’s wall advertising the Saint’s miraculous powers to lead you to love.
If you want to try this ritual at home:  get your own statue of St. Anthony and 13 identical coins and give it a try.  Here is a suggested prayer I found on the internet.  If you would like to have the Spanish-language prayer given out by San Miguelito Restaurant, write me at JoanPGage@yahoo.com.

Oh Wonderful St.Anthony, glorious on account of the fame of thy miracles, and through the condescension of Jesus in coming in the form of a little child to rest in thy arms, obtain for me of his bounty the grace which I ardently desire from the depths of my heart. Thou who was so loving towards miserable sinners, regard not the unworthiness of those who pray to thee, but the glory of God that it may be once again magnified by this request which I now make to you. Amen

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Dreaming of Mykonos During a Blizzard

 As the snow piles up outside, I'm taking a trip to sunny Mykonos in my mind and re-posting a photo essay first published six years ago.  These photos are going to have to last me through the current blizzard and into next July.

My friend Helen has a son living in a New York apartment with bare walls, and she promised him some "art" for those walls for Christmas.  He loves the Greek islands of Mykonos and Santorini --especially the beaches and the waves, she said, asking me to come up with some photos of those two islands so she could choose several that I would have printed in a large size and matted and framed for his Christmas gift.

This gave me a delightful chance to go back through photos taken four or five years ago on those islands to give her a selection to choose from.  The photo above shows a Greek woman meeting Petros, the famous pelican who is the mascot of Mykonos.  It seems that there has been a pelican named Petros wandering the harbor around the fish market since forever.  The original Petros died in 1986, it is said, and the whole island went into mourning.  Then Jackie Kennedy Onassis obtained a new pelican, named Irene, to take its place.   I think there are actually several tame pelicans lurking around the harbor, but the natives will always tell you that the pelican you are pointing at is Petros.
Here is another shot of Petros--or is it Irene?  It's a rather pink pelican, so maybe it's a female.  Helen chose three other photos for her son's Christmas gift, but said she might eventually get this one for herself, as she really loves the pelican.
This church--right on Mykonos' harbor near the fish market, is said to be one of the most photographed churches in Greece.  It's very tiny.  It shows in the background of a painting I did of two men in the vegetable market.  I use that painting on my business card.  And I went back to Mykonos and  showed it to the vegetable seller last year.  He loved it.  He said the old gentleman who was his customer in my painting has now passed away.  Here's the painting.

Here's another photo of Mykonos taken from the second-story veranda of a bar where we always go to watch the sun set.  The row of  windmills at the end of the harbor are the symbol of Mykonos--so this scene is easily recognizable to anyone who has been there.  The  stretch of picturesque buildings on the left is called "Little Venice"
This photo was taken during the "golden hour" as photographers call it--the hour before the sun goes down, when  everything turns a beautiful color, including the white-washed stucco houses of Little Venice.  Fashion photographers often take advantage of the golden hour which makes everything, including their models and their fashions look better.

Here is a view of Little Venice looking in the other direction, when I was standing below the windmills.


While sitting in our favorite Mykonos bar, waiting for the sun to go down, I took this photo of my glass of wine with the windmills in the background.  It was at this same place that my daughter Eleni took the photo of me that I use for my profile photo.

As the sun set, we saw this wonderful view of an anchored sailing ship silhouetted against the sky.

Here's one last photo of Mykonos taken from the beach of Aghios Sostis--Eleni's favorite place in the world.  The beach is fabulous and up the hill there's a small taverna with heavenly food cooked in the simplest way on a grill.


Mykonos is a very sophisticated island filled with international visitors and very expensive stores.  It's all white stucco buildings and shocking pink bougainvillea and narrow, winding streets meant to confuse raiding pirates  The island is known for its hard-partying ways and the significant gay culture there.  There are many nudist beaches and loud nightclubs, but there are also wonderful  isolated spots like this one.

In my previous blog post I showed you the photos of Santorini and told you which ones Helen chose for her gifts to her son.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Santorini -- The Ultimate Greek Island

(Because we all could use a little Greek sunshine right now, I'm re-posting  this photo essay from six years ago.  Soon I'll re-post the photo essay I did on Mykonos, Greece's other most popular Greek island with tourists.  Santorini is a favorite of newlyweds and Mykonos is for party animals.) 

When people say “Greek islands” they are usually thinking of  Mykonos and Santorini, the two most popular (and most expensive)  of the countless islands of Greece.  Both are in the Cyclades chain (which includes about 220 islands, some uninhabited.).  They are  characterized by white stucco buildings that look like melting sugar cubes, winding roads that are often blocked by donkeys and stunning views of the sea.

                                                  Santorini 1
A large majority of the travel photos you see of Greece are taken on Santorini, because  it’s impossible to take a bad photo here.  A tip: If you see a photo with an alligator-shaped rock lurking out in the sea, then it was taken on Santorini.
Santorini 2

If Mykonos is the island known for international jetsetters, divine decadence, nude beaches and hard-partying nights, Santorini is the island known for the honeymooners who flock there, and is often called the most romantic island in Greece. 

If coming by boat, you sail into Santorini’s central lagoon, land on the black sand beach and immediately take either the téléferique--a cable car in a tunnel --or a donkey to get all the way to the top, where the two towns of Thera and Oia perch.  (You can also try to walk it if you are in really, really good shape.)
Santorini 3
About 3,600 years ago Santorini was the site of the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history-- the Minoan eruption, when much of the island sank into the sea, giving rise to the legend of the lost continent of Atlantis. 
Santorini 4

On Santorini there has been excavated a complete prehistoric town,  called the Akrotiri, but unlike Pompeii, no dead bodies were found there.  Evidently everyone had time and warning enough to leave (although they probably were drowned in the tsunami that followed the  eruption).  Today (if the excavation is open to the public—sometimes it’s closed) you can walk the streets of Akrotiri and look in the houses and see the pots and furniture and wall paintings they left behind.
Santorini 5
As I mentioned in an earlier post, my friend Helen asked me to select some photos that I’d taken of Mykonos and Santorini so that she could select three to have blown up, matted and framed as a Christmas gift for her son Nicholas.  I posted the photos of Mykonos on Dec. 19. 
Santorini 6
All these photos show  Santorini, where the views are to die for because everything is terraced down the side of the volcano.  Every night, everyone  on the island gathers outside, on roofs and balconies and in tavernas and especially in a chic bar named Franco’s, where you can reserve a lounge chair, to watch the sun go down with great drama and music and applause, when it finally sinks below the  horizon.
Santorini 7
As for which photos Helen chose—she picked  numbers 2 and 5 above and from the Mykonos group, the photo of the golden hour gilding the houses of Little Venice.
Santorini 8