Monthly Archives: January 2015

Recycling for Artists, Musicians and Cooks


Recycling is not a new phenomenon. Throughout the ages, artists have borrowed ideas, tunes and pictures and have incorporated them into their own art, building something original in the process. Musicians thought nothing of using a famous melody like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (also known as “Ah vous dirai-je maman”) or hymns like “God Save the King” and creating endless variations on them. There is an aria called “La Folia” which appears to have no known origin but was used in many countries by baroque composers to improvise and embroider upon. In his 1812 Overture, Tchaikovsky used two national anthems and a cannon.

The most beautiful quilts incorporate remnants skillfully stitched together into original patterns and transform the materials beyond recognition.

Cooks cleverly use leftovers and repackage them in novel ways. Think of wontons, blintzes, crepes and various soups and casseroles.

We have all seen “installations” in museums which consist of “objets trouves” (found bits and pieces) rearranged and camouflaged into new structures and sculptures.
In costume making you can use leftover material from older creations and you have a new outfit on your hands. Maybe that is the meaning of the saying: There is nothing new under the sun.

The artist Matisse found himself in a wheelchair after undergoing surgery in 1941. As a result he invented a new art form with his cutouts. He would cut out strips of paper, paint them in various hues and shape them into vast arrangements suggesting swimming figures, birds flying or a spray of flowers. He called it: Painting with scissors. He said, “This work constitutes my real self.”

David Hockney mixed digital photographic collages, film and paintings and created a totally original art form. Some of his works include multiple viewpoints so a figure can be seen from various angles. He also used his iPad to edit and rearrange various shots.

I have seen people sitting on a bench in a museum facing his creations totally transfixed by the constantly evolving images which vanish and come back in a different shape. Hockney does not consider himself avant-garde. He says, “In a world without rules it is impossible to be on the cutting edge. Every picture is an account of me looking at something.”

I like the idea of the fluidity of objects reshaping themselves in a kaleidoscopic dance.

A Woman Ahead of Her Time


(Above, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, seated, with Susan B. Anthony)

The name of Susan B. Anthony is the one most associated with the 19th Amendment which gave Women in the United States the right to vote. She pursued this goal single-mindedly throughout her life. It seems to me, however, that her friend and associate Elizabeth Cady-Stanton is actually the more interesting personality in the fight for women’s equality.

It was Cady-Stanton who initiated the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention which was the first Women’s Rights Convention in the US. Her interests went far beyond women’s voting rights and included a whole range of privileges to which men felt entitled but which were denied to women: employment and property rights, divorce rights and jury service.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton had enjoyed an education usually reserved for boys. She studied Greek, Latin and mathematics and was an excellent speaker and writer.
In “Declaration of Sentiments”, she proclaimed that men and women were created equal and that as an individual a woman must rely on herself. Elizabeth was married with seven children and did not think that her husband should be dictating her actions. She also believed that a woman should have control over her sexual life and childbearing.
In “The Woman’s Bible” she wrote: “The custom of calling women Mrs. John This and Mrs. Tom That is founded on the principle that white men are the lords of all.”

Of the Bible, she said “I know of no other book that so fully teaches the subjugation and degradation of women.
What power is it that makes a Hindu woman burn herself on the funeral pyre of her husband? Her religion. What holds a Turkish woman in the harem? Her religion. By what power do the Mormons perpetuate their system of polygamy? By their religion. Can we ever cultivate any sense of self-respect as long as women take such sentiments from their priesthood?” Yes, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was also an agnostic.

Women in France only got the vote in 1944. In 1971, Switzerland became the last nation in Western Europe to let women vote. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was way ahead of her time.

Meandering Through Town Names


What do the towns of Naples (Italy) and Novgorod (Russia) have in common? Both their names mean “New City.” Starting with that thought, I was led to wonder why so many town names end with town (or ton), ville, city, burg or polis. Did their inhabitants want the world to know that they lived in an important, big metropolis and not in some God-forsaken village?

We have Daly City, Sioux City, Rapid City and many others. The French ending “ville” shows up in Emeryville, Louisville, Fayetteville and others probably because people wanted to honor the city founder or some other important historical figure. The Greek equivalent “polis” appears in Indianapolis and Minneapolis, and town (or ton) in Hampton, Middleton, Charleston and Georgetown. Finally the German “burg” is found in Gettysburg and Pittsburgh among others. Ham which derives from “home “attaches itself to Gotham, Effingham, Birmingham and many more.

The ancient city of Jerusalem (In Hebrew Yerushalaim) is thought to derive from Ir Shalom which means City of Peace. Alas, it has never lived up to that noble name. For most of its existence it has been fought over by too many tribes, nations and religions.

In the Middle East beyt or beit means “house of” in both Hebrew and Arabic, hence Beyt Lehem (House of Bread) which we know as Bethlehem and Beyt Shemesh (House of the Sun).

Israel has quite a few interesting place names: Tel Aviv means “Mound of Spring”, Beer Sheva “Well of Seven”, the oldest town is Rishon Le Zion which means “First to Zion.” Herzliyah honors Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism and Caesaria, known for its Roman ruins, derives from Caesar.

Nowadays I live in the city of Oakland in California. Its older name was Encinal. In 1829 the land surrounding it was given to Luis Peralta by the Spanish governor to form a settlement. Later the land was divided among his four sons. Antonio Peralta received the portion which is now Oakland. It had a big grove of oak trees, hence the name.

As for our neighboring city, Berkeley, it was named for Bishop George Berkeley (pronounced Barklay) the eminent British philosopher who arrived in town in 1866. It was thought to be a fitting name for a University town.
Bishop Berkeley’s portrait hangs in California Hall on campus.

How Civilized Are We?


We sometimes think we are now civilized and no longer prone to cataclysmic upheavals. We no longer subject people to tortures like being drawn and quartered or being burned alive. We don’t bring our children to picnics to watch beheadings; we no longer use crucifixion as a punishment. We vehemently condemn Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. After World War I, World War II and the Holocaust we swore “Never again.” So are we finally progressing?

Progress happens but it is not in a straight line and not continuous. It is more like a spiral, going up and then down. It reverts back. It regresses. Summer Solstice is followed by Winter Solstice. Civilization is fragile and easily shattered.

In Lord of The Flies, young people left to themselves without a moral structure gradually revert to savagery. In the 1930’s, after centuries of civilization, Germany dramatically reached bottom. And now, night is descending rapidly over some parts of Islam. In Somalia, Al Shahab (The Youth Movement) is terrorizing the “enemies of Islam.” It attacks Western aid workers and humanitarian groups. It follows the “right path,” cutting off hands for theft and stoning for apostasy.

Boko Haram (Western education is a Sin) based in Northeastern Nigeria is also a Western hating organism, grounded in ignorance. And finally Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, founder of the Islamic State, is reverting back to the Sharia and its cruel and unusual punishments. He is embracing a great wave of regression. In his belief system, a woman is considered to be half of a man and violence against women is legitimized.

What reduces people to this state of brutality and viciousness and allows them to proudly publicize the beheading of “the other?” Is it fear, loss of power, rejection, alienation, a belief in their own righteousness?
Whatever the cause, this is very frightening to watch.
We have to remember, however, that this virulent rage is by no means new and is not the privilege of the religious only. Extreme ideologies of any kind rationalize their beliefs while resorting to extreme savagery.

During the 1787 French Revolution, the goal of the rebels was the destruction of Catholicism and of religion itself. During the Reign of Terror under Robespierre, priests were imprisoned and deported. And during the French Commune of 1871 all religions were banned. In one of the ugliest episodes of this movement, The Archbishop of Paris was seized and then killed in cold blood.
This is not very different from the killing in cold blood of French cartoonists whose irreverent pens “blaspheme” sacred cows.