“How the hell do we get out of here?” That dilemma evoked our plea to a kind guide at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence – “Where’s the door?”
Her answer: check above.
There are two major parts of the David experience here in Florence: Seeing the amazing creation that emerged from Michelangelo’s imagination when he was just 25 years old, and watching the incredible responses of each individual in the overwhelming sea of visitors who had joined us there.
NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ve reposted a milestone post each day. But since tomorrow is The Day I went back and grabbed a bunch of photos – watching years fly by. Here they are – in no particular order.
NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from September 17, 2007.
Not to be too obscure here but think about this: Marcel Proust’s REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PASTwas inspired by the scent of one cookie (a fancy one called a Madeline.) Sense memory is a powerful thing.
I saw Tom Jones 44 years ago, with my high school “film club.” The club was just 6 seniors and our creative writing teacher. Our mill town high school wasn’t a culture haven but this young teacher was. He handwrote Irwin Shaw short stories onto “ditto sheets” because there was no budget for the books, started a literary magazine (I was the editor, naturally) took us to Shakespeare performances and — started the film club. At first we rented films (screened on a projector in his classroom) and then moved on to evening journeys “downtown” to local art houses. We saw LA STRADA and THE SEVENTH SEAL, SUNDAYS AND CYBELE and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER — and TOM JONES. The films were so intelligent, so clearly different from the “movies” we saw on our own; the theaters served espresso andeveryone was smoking. How sophisticated we felt!
This morning as I watched this nearly half-century old film – still funny and charming even though the playful sexual innuendo recalls a more tender time, that 18-year-old girl I’d been came back – all of her. I didn’t know whether to be sad — miss all that I was then – all that’s changed — lost — or just plain passed – or to be grateful for the remarkable kaleidoscope of experiences that my life has been. From the adventure of a 36 year old marriage to the joy of raising two of the most spectacular young men on the planet to presences at royal weddings and presidential inaugurations, travel all over the world and great music experiences to a gentle childhood with talents acknowledged and appreciated to memorable private moments at weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduations and other celebrations with family and friends, a lot has contributed to the wiser woman I am today. I know there’s no way to live the life I’ve lived – or any other – without losing some of the shiny stuff of youth but even so it’s a shock when awareness of those losses lands on you in the middle of an unambiguously optimistic movie 44 years old.
Here’s what I think: there isn’t a person on the planet (despite Edith Piaf) who has no regrets. Recalling days that seem idyllic is a privilege – many haven’t got many to recall. Sadness about the joys of the past emerges only from an accumulated reservoir of happiness that is a blessing in itself. As Auntie Mame used to say“Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.” My sisters and I swore we would live by that.
I’ve tried – and I’m still trying. That’s why this blog is called Don’t Gel Too Soon. Wherever that 18 year old film fiend has gone, parts of her are still part of me – informing and enlivening the person I’ve become. The real challenge in this portion of my life is to hang onto the enthusiasm and curiosity of those years – never freezing in place. The last line in Tom Jones, one of my favorite anywhere, was written by John Dryden – way before movies or even radio. It still works though, and I offer its wisdom for us all. “Happy the man, and happy he alone, he who can call today his own; he who, secure within, can say, tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.”
The sun has set upon Shabbat; now we need a Saturday post. Today is the 28th; Monday is the last day of November and also of NABLPOMO. I’ve managed every day except one Shabbat that I forgot to set up in advance, and have been glad, each day, of the commitment.
It’s so easy to let things go; just look at my very embarrassing WordPress chart: gaping holes all over the place. June is a little better than the rest because we were traveling and my blog is always lively when we’re on the road, but basically it’s a portrait of an undisciplined writer.
Then November rolled around, and with it the opportunity to accept an external structure. I made a promise; it wasn’t a case of writing when I felt like it. I would write every single day.
I love the process, once the idea comes. Of course with most posts I am certain what I’m posting sucks, no matter how often I edit it. Usually, when I read it later, it’s better than I’d thought. Always there’s room to improve, sometimes there’s also real potential. My favorite posts for the month:
Author Ta-Nahesi Coates, whose amazing Between the World and Me has informed (and transformed) much of my perspective on our country today, described his own labors toward writing, and writing “breakthroughs,” here. It has been very helpful to me this month and, I suspect, will continue to be.
The only way to write something is to face down that blank page. Whatever comes out can be altered and edited and re-thought or even rejected. But if it isn’t there, it isn’t there. Every day there’s a decision: shall I make myself sit down here or not? It’s awesome and scary and frustrating which is why the opportunity to pledge a steady month of writing is so valuable. Now I have to figure out how to keep going.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an enormously compelling figure. How do I know this? Authors Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik have given us the gift of this book, that’s how. Described by the New York Times as “a cheery curio, as if a scrapbook and the Talmud decided to have a baby,” it is a lively, engrossing, humanizing introduction to a revered figure.
Born in 1933, six years before World War II, she remains, at 82, very much a part of our present, and our future. Hers are the shoulders so many of us stand upon, proud of what we’ve fought for for today’s young women and men, parents and professionals, teachers, truckers and temps — all of it so much less than she faced down and conquered. For all of us.
Beyond the exploration of her remarkable intellect and judicial virtuosity, Carmon reveals the warmth, spirit and personal moments that transform an icon into a person. Her unlikely close friendship not only with Justice Scalia but also with his family, is intriguing, of course. The genuine partnership she shared with her husband Mary for 56 years is a unifying thread through much of the book; the story of his last days one of the most moving.
Of course, threaded through the narrative are the legal and policy changes she championed and often brought from idea to reality — and, in recent years, fought, not always successfully, against the reversal of some of them. From her days at Harvard Law School to those on the O’Connor Court, the impact of her passion and intellect is clear.
So. If you want to have fun and be inspired at the same time, or need a gift for anyone who cares about women, or law and policy, or just loves a great story, this is it. (Full disclosure: I DO know Irin but I never expected to write about the book until I read it. Couldn’t help myself….)
The bravest women of their (and just about any other) time, they left their protective parents and a world of white gloves and chaperoned afternoon teas, where they were barely permitted to touch the hand of a male companion, for the French battlefields of World War One and the hellish field hospitals there, washing naked, wounded men, treating their wounds, the stumps of their amputated limbs, their lost sight, their mustard gas-poisoned lungs and their shell shock. Mocked as privileged snobs out for a thrill, they struggled to prove their strength and capacity over and over again, and they did.
Among them was Vera Brittain, who’d fought to be one of the earliest women at Oxford, her father permitting her to enroll and risk “becoming a blue stocking” only because her beloved younger brother Edward refused to go if she could not. Testament of Youth , the story of her struggles to attend Oxford, her brief presence there and her life-shattering experiences as a wartime nurse, is a classic, still in print and still beloved.
Now it’s a film, and the stature of the cast, including our own Jon Snow, Kit Harington, as her fiancé Roland Leighton, The Wire‘s Dominic West as her father, Emily Lloyd as her mother and Miranda Richardson as her mentor suggest that British headliners wanted to be part of her remarkable, very British story, even in a small, if gorgeous, art film like this one.
I first met Vera in the 1979 PBS Testament of Youth series, moved from there to her trilogy: Testament of Youth, Testament of Friendship and Testament of Experience and found a sister. A young activist in the 60’s, I understood her need to contribute, to be part of the crisis alongside those she loved, and as a woman fighting to function in a mostly-male profession, her battles as a woman were mine too.
So, if you share the political memories, ideal and goals of so many of us, Testament of Youth needs to be part of you, too. Go see it.
He’s been part of my life for more than fifty years – dashing, smart, generous and always on the side of the angels. With him I wandered through most of the 20th Century in the company of critical figures including playwright George Bernard Shaw, powerful arms dealer Basil Zaharoff, Adolph Hitler and his brilliant propaganda director Joseph Goebbels,Leon Blum, the first Socialist (and Jewish) Prime Minister of France and of course Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin, as well as the infamous “modern dance” pioneer Isadora Duncan, Chinese rebel leader Mao Tse Tung, and, among so many others, Albert Einstein and of course, FDR, whom he served as a Secret Agent from before WWII to well after the war.
When we met, he was 13 and I a couple of years older and, much like the NYT’s Julie Salamon, my mom introduced us and from our first meeting I knew that I would love him forever. His remarkable life revolved around his home base of Juan-les-Pins, where he grew up, and to which he always returned.
The house was built on the top of a rise, some way back, from the sea. It was of pink stucco with pale blue shutters and a low roof of red tiles. It was in the Spanish style, built around a lovely court with a fountain and flowers; there Lanny played when the mistral was blowing, as it sometimes did for a week on end.
Last week we went there, where Lanny lived, with Beauty Budd, his artist model mother. Though she and his father Robbie Budd, a New England arms dealer, never married, Robbie visited often, struggling to transmit his conservative capitalism to a young man living in dire danger of corruption among artists, journalists, socialists, communists and wealthy ladies, many of them an earlier version of trophy wives. Their fierce conversations were a wonderful window on the conflicts of those times.
Lanny is, of course, not real – at least not to everyone; he’s the hero of eleven novels written by the prolific Upton Sinclair (yes, he’s the one who wrote The Jungle) tracing world history between 1913 and 1949. Best-sellers all when they appeared in the 40’s and early 50’s and translated into 16 languages in 20 countries, the books formed much of my political and historic perspective and I was hardly alone.
When people ask me what has happened in my long lifetime, I do not refer them to the newspaper files and to the authorities, but to Upton Sinclair’s novels. — George Bernard Shaw
As we walked through the village I turned to my ever-tolerant husband with a catch in my voice, said – surprising myself with the depth of my emotion “I’ve known him almost longer than I’ve known anyone except my family.” He and the saga that surrounded him felt, in so many ways, just that real.
One of Lanny’s childhood friends, Silesian, and bitter about the deprivation caused by enormous war reparations after WWI, became a Nazi; another, British and liberal, a fighter pilot and socialist.
His first wife ended up hanging around with with the Nancy Astor and the pro-German “Cliveden Set.” My world view was formed through their eyes and conversations and the events they faced as allies and sometime adversaries.
The books, Lanny, and the characters who moved in and out of his life were, for me – a very personal window on the horror and violence, courage and evil, glamour and idealism that was the first half of the 20th Century.
Oh, and of course, it being the South of France, the literary folks hung around there too. We had lunch at Scott Fitzgerald’s “Villa Saint-Louis”, just down the hill from Lanny’s neighborhood and now the Hotel Belle Rives.
Clinton confidante Lanny Davis was named for Lanny Budd. The late NBC News anchor John Chancellor once told me he wanted to be Lanny Budd. At 15, I wanted to marry him.
Now, I wish I could have gone up the hill to the pink villa, rung the bell and just thanked him for all I learned from him, how much more available I am to travel and political thought and my own role in the world because I’ve known him. He may not be “real” but his impact on me, and so very many others, was profound.
Indeed, thanks Lanny, and Upton Sinclair, and my long-suffering husband who tolerated a pilgrimage to a place where not so much happened in the “real world” but plenty happened to me.
Billionaire art collector Steve Cohen, one of the most successful hedge fund managers ever, has become the unwitting catalyst in an alleged international art fraud stretching from New York to Monaco and Singapore.
The alleged fraud was uncovered during a New Year’s Eve dinner between Cohen’s New York art consultant, Sandy Heller, and Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev — when Heller told his pal that Cohen had just sold a Modigliani painting, “Nude on a Blue Cushion,” for $93.5 million. NYPOST.COM
How do the artists we admire find their way? What do they sacrifice to share their vision with the rest of us? How does it feel? Were they ever satisfied with what they made?
The great Patti Smith answered many of these questions, and more, in her 2010 memoir Just Kids. It was, to me a real gift – a peek behind the curtain that stands between the journey and the outcome. It was a long time before another such revelation turned up. But first, consider this:
“Of course women aren’t as creative as men,” he said. “After all, they create children. They don’t have the same drive to do anything else. How many female composers do you know of?”
That wasn’t some 21st century sexist. That was a professor at Smith, the excellent, committed, women’s college where I spent four years in the late 60s. He was sitting in the “housemother’s parlor” after dinner, speaking with whomever of us had turned up for coffee. I remember thinking “Huh. That’s interesting.” and feeling, at his declaration, not outrage but sadness — and humiliation.
I remembered this moment for the first time in decades as a rash of holiday films raised questions about creativity and art, agency and power, commitment and sacrifice. Into the Woods offered a grim view of women’s lives, where mothers imprison their daughters, daughters abuse their sisters, bakers long to become mothers and deliver their most important lessons after they’re dead, and it’s all the witch’s fault. Steven Sondheim’s beloved musical includes some lovely songs and I went mostly to see Anna Kendrick but still…
No witches but a desperate mother who sells her soul for her art (and, kind of, for love) emerges in Tim Burton’s Big Eyes. It’s the story of American painter Margaret Keane, whose husband Walter stole her art, her talent and her reputation and took them for his own. The cost of continuing to paint and still support herself and her daughter was to surrender the right to take credit for her own work. A woman in the 50’s making art for a living was unthinkable, or so he told her. Her story is a bridge – she owned her creativity but not the product.
Then came Mr. Turner, an exquisite profile of the brilliant JMW Turner, a maker of art, no matter what the cost. The film is a journey through his life as a painter of sea and landscapes and the invincible drive to create images of the beauty he saw. His singular vision, the decisions he made to preserve that vision, his almost Asberger’s detachment from most people and his startling depth of commitment to the two people he truly loved combined in a thrilling consideration of art and love and living with both: a portrait of what is required of any artist, woman or man, to share what they see and feel and understand.
And so we return to Patti. She and Turner are bookends on this shelf. As with Mr. Turner, we learn what she lived and learned and made and what she left behind to do it — a woman slamming through barriers with commitment and with love. An woman’s tale of what must be done – and of a woman expecting, demanding and embracing — as did Turner — all it took to share what she sees with the rest of us.
The people behind these developments, and the process that carried them, provide a rich narrative and a couple of surprising through-lines. First, about patents and Nobel prizes: the men (and women) who brought us from The Difference Engine to the microchip to the Internet of Everything were not hoarders. Although many of them received patents and made money from their work, rather than withholding developments, most shared them, even precise details. They collaborated to build upon the genius of the ones before. Secondly, much of their work, basic development and science as well as more sophisticated details, was funded by governments; a lot of the American work was funded under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He saw American science leadership as a national security issue, and, as we consider what emerged from that federal funding, it’s hard to argue.
There are dozens of anecdotes as well as illuminating biographical profiles in The Innovators, including Alan Turing, currently played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the highly anticipated film The Imitation Game (Isaacson interviews the cast below). Each story is a worthy candidate for inclusion here. Better though, that like these heroic creators of what became our present and future, you read the book and discover them for yourself.