Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Winter Kept Us Warm

With this Winters 70+  temperatures, 

T. S. Eliot's line from The Waste Land is literally true.

Five years ago I wrote the following:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Solstice Approaches

Another winter solstice arrives in ten days, this time with a total lunar eclipse. Outside, beyond the screen porch, the skeletons of oaks reach up to a sky pale as death. It is impossible not to think of mortality on such a day. 

It is noon, Darryl is still asleep upstairs, and I have watched a Swedish film about the troubled life a a woman photographer from World War 1 through the Twenties. Art arises out of  hard life experiences. No doubt, as I look around rooms of art, the huge Larry Connatser painting in front of me that hung on my mother's wall for decades, two people conversing in a cubist world of turbulence; The Picasso lithograph of two figures confronting one another with masks; the Huichol jaguar with a peyote button on its forehead; even the sculpted Buddha protected by a cobra. Art penetrates into the heart of life.

What better time to make merry, to decorate evergreen trees, to drink eggnog, and believe in sweet baby gods. The moon will turn blood red this Solstice as the dark winter caresses the Northern Hemisphere. Thus goes the cycle of death and rebirth. The New Year follows with dancing and champagne.
May your holidays be sacred, may they give birth to the angels of your highest selves. 



Thursday, December 10, 2015

94 -- But Not Counting

"To sleep, perchance to dream"

end of summer smile
shades made for the afterlife
fists pep pop tabletop

--Haiku Cola

Today is my father's 94th Birthday.

To celebrate in Savannah my brother is taking Dad for ice cream and a look at the nearby lake. Dad has no idea it is his birthday. My brother goes over each Saturday to persuade him to leave the bed and go for an afternoon outing that usually involves fast food ice cream.

It would be nice to say his life is comfortable. It would be nice to say he is well cared for. After all, has he not lived to the very ripe age of 94? Without home care. Without a bath or shower. Without food except for nutritious "shakes." Or, as my brother reports, gobbling up everything on his plate for Thanksgiving when there was real food to eat. Like Rip Van Winkle, he spends long hours in slumber; only he will not awake to a wondrous future.

Not that I have room to complain about his being ignored and left uncared for.  He and I have no relationship any longer to speak of. I see him on Saturdays on my I-Pad and he tells me to shave. Today, he was rather lively, saying he had peach ice cream and repeatedly surprised to hear it's his birthday.

Dad's quips include still the desire to chase after girls. Sometimes he sings for the I-pad.
The military man, the retired colonel is gone. So too the Savannah lawyer. He still mentions Kathy's name with love and devotion. But much as we might think, or wish, he does not see the world through rose colored glasses. He is a shade wearing shades. He has become the archetype of countless aged souls who are left to fade away, those around him daily expecting him to die, leaving him seldom washed (unless he can manage to shower himself), without medicine of any kind to help him, or anyone to encourage some minutes of exercise.

Yes, I feel sad for the old man I long, long ago played chess with. He is gone. And yet, he lives. How I love the irony of the photo of him and his umbrella with Munch's Scream

Dad has been most often the stoic, screaming only in irrational anger, never-- that I recall-- in pain or anguish. His smile has always included his defiance.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Death and Eroticism

We learn about guns early on.
Some learn about hate at the same time.
Shall I name those in my life who have died by guns
or by violence?
"Those not busy being born are busy dying."

Thanatos and Eros dominate our lives. Take TV. Sunday, I watched The Affair, Homeland, and The Leftovers. All three plunge into death, sex, and their inextricable connection.Smashing walls in desperation or despair over sex and/or death is found often, as in The Leftovers or in the season finale of Doctor Who, consumed with death-- both pictured here.
Oh, it goes beyond mere TV shows. What Shakespeare play or sonnet has not dwelled substantially on death and sex? What explains the mass killings of terrorists more than their obsession with unconventional or non-conformist sex, the freedom of women, and death to infidels? Could it be that Freud was correct in his assessment of our impotence before these urges? Wasn't Marx correct in his decrying the danger of religion, it's fervor, its obsession with death, its life-denying dictates upon sexuality, its violence ? Its use by those in power to stay there ? We cannot, it appears, wall out our wayward urges or keep away the head-hunting, murderous hordes of lost souls.

And I haven't even mentioned American Horror Story.

You've Got to be Taught How to Hate

With Love,


Thursday, December 03, 2015

Ancient Rome, Mary Beard...

Three new books on Ancient Rome--

From the NYRB:

Inside the Emperors’ Clothes

Néron en Occident: Une figure de l’histoire

by Donatien Grau
Paris: Gallimard, 407 pp., €32.00
Emperor Nero; painting by Abraham Janssens, 1618
Jagdschloss Grunewald, Berlin/bpk/Art Resource
Emperor Nero; painting by Abraham Janssens, 1618
The empire of ancient Rome spanned the entire Mediterranean world. It included two of the world’s great monotheist religions, Judaism and Christianity, and it provided the environment for the creation of a third, Islam. Historians from antiquity to the present have struggled to comprehend how a small Italian town grew from modest beginnings into a republic and then, after a succession of civil wars, into a great empire. Edward Gibbon was not the only one to recognize that the market for Roman history was huge. It still is, not least because of its colorful and larger-than-life rulers but above all because it embraced so many different and yet interconnected peoples. From the Atlantic to the Euphrates, from the Rhine and the Danube to the edge of the Sahara, Rome transformed and refashioned the cultures it absorbed, and we live today with the aftermath of its conquests.
‘Study for the Head of Julius Caesar’; drawing by Andrea del Sarto, circa 1520. It is on view in the exhibition at the Frick Collection reviewed by Ingrid Rowland on page 22 of this issue.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
‘Study for the Head of Julius Caesar’; drawing by Andrea del Sarto, circa 1520. It is on view in the exhibition at the Frick Collection reviewed by Ingrid Rowland on page 22 of this issue.
Rome’s achievement was as paradoxical as it was immense. It seems to have happened without any design or master plan. Gibbon was the first to see that this global transformation could be explained neither by listing dates and sources nor by appealing to divine intervention. The antiquarians who preceded Gibbon not only failed to explain Rome’s rise but failed to perceive, as he conspicuously did, that Roman history had all the ingredients for a great work of literature. Gibbon set the gold standard for literary history, which not even Johann Gustav Droysen on Alexander the Great or Francis Parkman on France and England in America could match. His success was arguably due as much to his great theme as to his tireless industry in composing his work. The three books under review prove that the appetite for Roman history continues unabated to this day.
Anglophone readers have every reason to rejoice that Gibbon, the first and greatest of modern Roman historians, wrote in their language. Theodor Mommsen, who won the Nobel Prize for writing about ancient Rome in German, knew perfectly well that he was no Gibbon. He steadfastly refused to bring his Roman history into the imperial period, where he would have had to compete with his admired eighteenth-century English predecessor. Apart from Ronald Syme’s The Roman Revolution of 1939, which distilled the irony and insight of Tacitus’s Latin into lapidary English prose, no histories of Rome in English have achieved Gibbon’s unique combination of deep scholarship and literary style.
Yet by an astonishing coincidence two contemporary English authors who write often and well about ancient Rome, Mary Beard and Tom Holland, have simultaneously produced readable histories of Rome. It would be patronizing and wrong to speak of their work as popularization, but there can be little doubt that both writers are deservedly popular. Between them they have done more to promote classical studies than all the professors who try to reach thousands through the electronic programs currently known as massive open online courses (MOOCs).
The new books by Beard and Holland overlap most closely in their treatment of the end of the Roman Republic and the first century of the empire, but they also look backward as far as Romulus and Remus. Both show the experience of the two writers in communicating with a general audience by beginning in the middle of the narrative, to engage the reader’s attention, and then circling back to fill in what came before. Beard starts with Cicero’s exposure in 63 BC of the conspiracy of Catiline, and Holland starts in 40 AD with Caligula sitting on a beach on the coast of France looking out toward Britain. These opening pages draw the reader inexorably into the complex web that the authors are spinning.
But the books could not be more different. Beard expressly calls SPQR “a history of ancient Rome,” and her opening sentence bluntly asserts, “Ancient Rome is important.” Her title is the standard ancient abbreviation for Senatus Populusque Romanus, “the Senate and People of Rome,” and as she points out, it still adorns manhole covers and rubbish bins in Rome today. No one could doubt that what she has written has contemporary relevance. Her history evokes a past that visibly impinges upon the present, as modern travelers in Europe, the Balkans, Anatolia, North Africa, and the Near East are constantly made aware.
By the time Beard has finished, she has explored not only archaic, republican, and imperial Rome, but the eastern and western provinces over which it eventually won control. She deploys an immense range of ancient sources, in both Greek and Latin, and an equally wide range of material objects, from pots and coins to inscriptions, sculptures, reliefs, and temples. She moves with ease and mastery through archaeology, numismatics, and philology, as well as a mass of written documents on stone and papyrus.
Not unreasonably Beard brings her history to a close with the conferral of Roman citizenship by the emperor Caracalla in 212 AD upon virtually everyone who lived within the confines of the Roman Empire. What historians have traditionally called the Crisis of the Third Century was just about to begin. This brought the devastating replacement of the Parthians—an Iranian empire that had, since the first century BC, fought occasionally with the Romans—by the Sassanian Persians, who would soon invade Syria. The crisis also included barbarian invasions from the north and a great plague. The conversion of Constantine to Christianity was still a century away. Beard could not have covered those tumultuous times without writing another large volume, but she rightly looks ahead to Constantine just as she looks back to Romulus.
Holland’s book is not like this. His title, Dynasty, tells us at once, with the aid of a subtitle, The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar, that this is a story rather than a work of history. It is a novel about historical events and personalities that will be familiar to most readers from Robert Graves, but it is not fiction. It reproduces, with marmoreal grandeur, what Holland has learned directly from ancient sources, above all Tacitus and Suetonius, about the court intrigues, sexual scandals, and monstrous personalities that dominated the Julio-Claudian age—the period of the first five Roman emperors—Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. The frightful eccentricities of the last of the Julio-Claudians included murdering his mother and presiding over a vast conflagration at Rome that has been thought to have wiped out many of the Christians in the city.
Holland’s novelistic approach enhances a story that he has not invented. This means that his account is gripping and occasionally eloquent, but sometimes the larger historical setting vanishes as he concentrates on vivid personalities at the expense of the vast empire within which all the domestic horrors were taking place. The Gibbonian miracle had been the felicitous union, in a single writer, of a thoughtful historian and a memorable narrator, but this was possible because Gibbon brought an uncommonly large vision to his scholarly and literary gifts. He famously called his work The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, whereas Holland seems to like single-word titles—Dynasty for the new one on the Julio-Claudians and Rubicon for an earlier one on Julius Caesar. This seems to be part of a current fashion, to judge from the work of another expert writer on Rome in a novelistic style, Robert Harris, who shows a similar predilection for single-word titles: ImperiumConspirata, and now his forthcomingDictator.1
By contrast, in SPQR—not a single word, of course, though admirably concise—Beard spreads out the uncertainties and inconsistencies that every historian must face in sorting out what really happened in the past. She has no hesitation in breaking the continuity of her account by jumping backward and forward to illuminate her argument and by wandering freely across the entire Mediterranean world to provide glimpses of provincial life. She is not telling a story.
Near the end of her book, in a close-up for which she draws on personal knowledge of the site, she suddenly transports her reader to the monuments and history of the city of Aphrodisias in modern Turkey—a city named for the goddess of love that, in the Christian empire, would become Stauropolis, “the city of the cross.” Splicing of this kind is indispensable in writing good history, and Beard gives her readers a master class in historical analysis, with due attention to the reliability of sources, the corruption of traditions, politically motivated myth-making, and the mysterious process by which perceptions of the past determine the course of subsequent events.
Beard begins simply enough by declaring that her account of the Senate and people of Rome will begin in the year 63 BC, the year of Catiline’s great conspiracy to overthrow the Roman Republic dominated by Julius Caesar, a plot that Cicero prided himself on exposing. She even asserts, “Roman history, as we know it, started here.” Why this should be is not at all obvious to me. Although 63 is not a bad place to start an account of the collapse of the Roman Republic, it must be said that a thoughtful eyewitness, Asinius Pollio, who wrote an influential, though now lost, account of the end of the republic, opted to begin in 60, when Pompey and Caesar became allies. This was famously the year with which the great modern historian of Rome, Ronald Syme, began his classic history, The Roman Revolution, and it was Pollio’s example that inspired him to do so.
By starting with 63, instead of 60, Beard must have known that she was repudiating the date that Syme and Pollio had adopted. She does not address this issue, but unexpectedly in the middle of her book she gives a reference to the first poem in Book Two of Horace’s Odes, where the year 60 is named as the launchpad of civil war. It was precisely in this poem that Horace celebrated the audacity of Asinius Pollio in writing a history about inflammatory events that were so recent the embers were still glowing.
To my eyes Pollio rightly marked the beginning of the civil war that brought down the Roman Republic, and it would have made more sense to start here. But even had Beard begun with this date, she would still have had to provide background from centuries before in order to give her readers the necessary perspective to understand what was going on. Beard is an experienced scholar, teacher, and communicator, and she enriches her history by preventing it from becoming a more or less chronological register of events. Her many years in front of students, colleagues, and television cameras have accustomed her to convey a wealth of information and ideas in a chatty style that no one should mistake for a lack of substance, erudition, or insight.
Beard’s relatively brief account of the Julio-Claudians is more than supplemented by the detailed narrative that Holland has provided in Dynasty. His story, though essentially centered upon Rome and its court, provides many lubricious details for which Beard has no space. Apart from the outrageous conduct of Caligula, whom professional historians scrupulously call Gaius, it is Nero who dominates the final years of the Julio-Claudian dynasty that descended from Augustus. This paranoid emperor, who loved to act and sing on stage, felt himself at heart more a Greek than a Roman, and he proceeded relentlessly, after a few tranquil years at the start, to commit crime and engage in depraved acts until his suicide in 68. Yet his reign left its mark through the magnificent Latin literature of his own time and subsequently in the retrospective literature of Western Europe down to the present.
In a wide-ranging book that is more about the perception of Nero after his death than the character of the man in his lifetime, a talented French writer, Donatien Grau, interrogates the sources for the emperor’s reign not only from Nero’s own time but from many centuries after. His book begins, as it should, with a review of the Latin masterpieces that Neronian writers, such as Seneca the philosopher, Petronius the novelist (author of the Satyricon), and Lucan the epic poet (author of the Pharsalia), have left behind. They were writing in the very years when Nero presented himself with increasing flamboyance as a Hellene, performing on stage and competing in the Olympic games.
Grau subtly creates an illuminating counterpoint between the undoubted achievements of Neronian culture and the delusions of the emperor himself. In this respect he can offer interpretations that neither Beard nor Holland attempts to provide, and he does so with an engagingly Gallic rhetoric that serves to highlight the differences between the ways Roman history is practiced on the two sides of the Channel. Grau, for example, questions Syme’s total confidence in the veracity of Tacitus by observing that in Roman studies reactions to ancient claims of accuracy and good faith have been “absolutely contradictory.”
What emerges above all from a comparison of the Nero of Beard, Holland, and Grau is that none of them really tries to get at Nero himself, beyond the caricature and criminality that appear so often in the ancient sources. Since we actually possess several letters from Nero and one long speech, it might have been useful to consider what the man reveals in lines that he may have composed himself.
We know from Tacitus that Seneca sometimes served as a ghostwriter for Nero’s speeches, and he may also have served in that capacity for letters and administrative communications. But a major speech at Corinth, coming after Seneca’s suicide, which was demanded by Nero, and composed in pretentiously florid Greek, seems obviously to transmit the emperor’s authentic voice across two millennia. Its discovery in modern times on an inscription from Akraiphia in Boeotia, north of Athens, was first made known in 1888, as Grau is aware, by the great French epigraphist Maurice Holleaux, who immediately recognized the highly personal tone of the emperor’s Greek: “le style précieux et sentimental à faux, l’emphase egoïste [the precious and falsely sentimental style, the emphatic egotism].”
Eighteen lines of text present Nero in 67 AD at Corinth, at the time of the Olympic competition nearby, when the emperor granted freedom to Greece, or rather, as it was then known, the province of Achaea. Nero was obviously very pleased with what he was doing, and his training in a style of Greek that was often described as Asian served him well. Nero’s generosity had no future, because only a few years later the emperor Vespasian revoked Nero’s gift and restored the Greeks to their prior provincial status. But the speech itself furnishes a unique glimpse into a brief moment of triumph and self-satisfaction near the pathetic end of a monarch who reportedly declared as he was dying, “What an artist dies in me!” Here is Nero to his beloved Hellenes:
For you, men of Greece, it is an unexpected gift which, even though nothing from my generous nature is unhoped-for, I grant to you—such a great gift that you would have been incapable of requesting it. All Greeks inhabiting Achaea and what is now known as the Peloponnesus, receive freedom with no taxation—something which none of you ever possessed in your most fortunate of times, for you were subject to others or to yourselves. Would that Greece were still at its peak as I grant you this gift, in order that more people might enjoy this favor of mine. For this reason I blame Time for exhausting prematurely the size of my favor. But even now it is not out of pity for you but out of goodwill that I bestow this benefaction, and I give it in exchange to your gods whose forethought for me on land and sea I have always experienced, because they granted me the opportunity of conferring such benefits. Other leaders have liberated cities, only Nero a province.
This glimpse into the emperor’s unbridled megalomania is far more precious than any attempt to deduce his character from the ancient authors who wrote about him. It is not part of later reportage or a novelistic invention, as Holland clearly recognized when he chose to cite a brief excerpt from it in his account of Nero’s Greek tour. It is a raw historical document, almost without parallel. Only the surviving text of a rambling speech by the emperor Claudius to the Senate is comparable in its immediacy, but not in its extravagant language. What Gibbon would have done with Nero’s speech if it had been known to him is hard to imagine, because in this case reality itself goes far beyond any irony.
It is of course natural to wonder what the Greeks themselves might have made of this imperial flattery of their gods and their culture through the medium of their own language at its most artificial. But the sober Plutarch, writing a decade or two after Nero’s great gesture, leaves us in no doubt that, however ridiculous Nero may have appeared at Corinth, the Greeks genuinely appreciated him as an emperor who admired their ancient traditions. Plutarch declared that for all Nero’s crimes the Hellenic peoples owed him some measure of gratitude for his goodwill toward them, and a century later Philostratus, the biographer of the legendary miracle-worker Apollonius of Tyana, said that Nero showed unusual wisdom in freeing the Greeks.
Mary Beard observes that after Nero’s death several pretenders to the imperial throne arose in the eastern Mediterranean world by claiming to be the still-living Nero. Beard astutely remarks of these so-called “false Neros” that their deception “suggests that in some areas of the Roman world Nero was fondly remembered: no one seeks power by pretending to be an emperor universally hated.” This was a strange fate for the last of the Julio-Claudians, whose memory was so detested generally that his name was systematically gouged out in most of the inscriptions in which it appeared.
Over the centuries after Nero’s death the greatest example of his megalomania undoubtedly remained the fire at Rome in 64, in which, according to Tacitus, Christians were crucified and burned alive. The authority of Tacitus has conferred upon this horror a degree of credibility that has even led historians to assume that the fiery deaths of Christians at Rome were but part of a more general policy of persecution launched by Nero. Although few now believe that the emperor promulgated some kind of institutumagainst the Christians, most historians, including Beard, Holland, Grau, and myself, still believe that Christians died, as Tacitus says they did, in the fire of 64.
But even this apparently solid testimony for early Christian persecution has now been forcefully challenged. Our view of Neronian Rome and early Christianity would be dramatically altered if the crucified and flaming Christians in 64 turned out to be mythical, as the Princeton historian Brent Shaw now claims they are. His recent and carefully reasoned article in support of this view rests essentially upon a conviction that it would be anachronistic to refer to Christians in 64, since he questions whether they were then identified as such. Therefore he believes that Tacitus’s version of the fire derives from a fiction, Christian or otherwise, that was devised and disseminated at some point between 64 and the time when he was writing, more than five decades later.2
Shaw’s argument is well made and persuasive at many points, but I still find it hard to believe that there were no Christians in Neronian Rome, when, at least according to the Acts of the Apostles, they were already known under that name at Antioch in the 60s. Suetonius, who was a contemporary of Tacitus and, like him, more than half a century removed from the events he was writing about, even believed that the name of Christ, whom he calls Chrestus, was known at Rome in the 40s when Claudius expelled the Jews from the city. But this may be no more than a vestige of reports that Jesus’s first followers were Jews. Nevertheless it is both important and humbling to recognize that the history with which we have all grown up can change in the twinkling of an eye when a scholar as acute and deeply read as Shaw detects cracks in an edifice we thought we knew well.
Beard is absolutely correct in her opening manifesto that Roman history is important. The world she evokes, through its material culture as much as its textual sources, is a world in which we are, as Grau insists, deeply rooted. Holland conveys its excitement and its fascination in a way that no scholarly tinkering with details can possibly diminish. All three books testify to the enduring appeal of Roman history, but in different ways. Gibbon’s theme for his great work remains as indestructible, varied, instructive, and relevant as it was in the eighteenth century. Yet when it is addressed anew, in the light of discoveries that constantly emerge from every corner of Rome’s ancient empire, Roman history itself subtly changes. That in turn means that all of us who read it and write it change too.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Paris Revisited

As I wrote in the entry after this one, the attack on Paris by the Islamic State was an attack on Thinking itself. Paris is a city of philosophy and humanism. Since my first stay there in 1970 I have been in love with this city and its cafes. Here is what I wrote 5 years ago about Paris...


Notre Dame
Photo by Jack

We love Paris in the Springtime, having enjoyed two merry months of May here in 1993 and 1995. We also spent a hot August, 1998 visiting Amy between stays in Amsterdam and Belgium. We visited Paris again with Mom for Thanksgiving, 1999, having dinner with Amy at Les Bookinistes; and visiting the Louvre. On our first visit we stayed on the Right Bank with the Killian brothers, took in the haunts of cemeteries where Chopin, Balzac, Oscar Wilde, and Jim Morrison are buried, and experienced the leisure of afternoon and evening cafe life. We also attended the French Open at Roland Garros once as guests of Lindsay Lee, who played three rounds of tennis qualifiers before losing to rising sensation Amelie Mauresmo. In 1995 we stayed first at the Boileau near the Bois de B. When Darryl returned to the U.S., Jack moved to the Hotel Unic on Rue du Montparnasse to enjoy all the pleasures of the Left Bank, including strolls through the Luxembourg Gardens, followed by a trip to Annecy and the French Alps.

Some of our favorite places:

Les Deux Magots

Where: 170 blvd, St Germain, 6th

Métro stop: St-Germain-des-Prés.

Open: 8h - 02h Daily; closed second week of January. Named after the two wooden statues (the two magots) which still dominate the room, Les Deux Magots is one the most famous cafés in Paris. Jean-Paul Sartre, and Hemingway were both patrons in an earlier era. Its rival - Café de Flore - is just next door.

Musée d'Orsay

Place Des Vosges
Panorama of the square (collage). A large version of the panorama is also available.

Le Marais

Les Archives Nationales
A typical street of the Marais district

Get a good start with morning croissants from the local bakery
In just a few words :
The Marais is one of the most ancient and picturesque parts of Paris, characterized by its unique 17th century buildings and elegant stores and restaurants. For visitors who wish to explore Paris on foot, this is an excellent point from which to do so, for the marvellous Marais district includes the Place des Vosges, Picasso Museum, Carnavalet Museum, Hotel de Ville and of course the Louvre.

Neighborhood description:
The Marais, situated on the Right Bank in roughly the 3rd and 4th Arrondissements, was once a marshland and is a quartier which has retained many of its tiny streets and hints at how old Paris looked. This area was once a centre of high culture.
The center of the Marais, this is a lively neighborhood with a strong alternative lifestyle scene as well as lots of trendy bars, shops, and restaurants. The rue des Rosiers is a centerpiece of Jewish lifestyle in Paris and the Ile St. Louis and the Ile de la Cité are the oldest parts of Paris.
Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque districts, the Marais a wonderful place to stroll. Fashionable bars, shops and restaurants line the streets.
Here you will find the lovely Square Place des Voges, built by Henry IV. From 1832-48 Victor Hugo lived at a house at No 6, which has now been turned into a municipal museum. Today, the arcades around the place are occupied by expensive galleries and shops, and cafés filled with people drinking little cups of coffee and air-kissing immaculate passersby.
A sweeter, quieter extension of the ancient Marais neighborhood which is centered in the 4th, the 3rd is possibly one of the best places to live in Paris.
There are several good open air markets, a gigantic covered flea market, and lots of great speciality food stores, especially along rue de Bretagne.
The main focus for contemporary art in France is also in this part of town, at the Pompidou Centre. The Pompidou Centre, also known simply as Beaubourg, is all about modern and contemporary 20th-century art. Thanks in part to its vigorous schedule of temporary exhibitions, it has become the most visited cultural site in Paris.The design of the Pompidou has drawn critical comment since construction began in 1972. To keep the exhibition halls uncluttered, the architects put the building's 'insides' on the outside, with each duct, pipe and vent painted its own telltale colour: elevators and escalators are red, electrical circuitry yellow, plumbing green and air-conditioning blue.
The museums of the 3rd are among the best anywhere, including the Musée Picasso which contains both the master's works and his collections, and the almost undefinable Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers which has on display the first prototypes of almost every important invention, including the first monoplane, numerous artifacts from the creation of the Statue of Liberty, and of course, Foucault's Pendulum. 
The Musée Carnavalet offers the visitor a large collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, prints and decorative arts on the history of Paris since its origins to the present time. Since 1989, the Musée Carnavalet has been considerably enlarged by the addition of the Hôtel Le Pelletier de Saint-Fargeau, the vast 17th century residence situated at 29 rue de Sévigné presenting the major collections devoted to the revolutionary period as well as works from the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Within walking distance:
- Place des Vosges
- Picasso Museum
- Carnavallet Museum
- Hotel de Ville
- Louvre Museum
- Beaubourg Center
Under the archs of the Places des Vosges
Open air Markets :
Marché Enfants rouges 
39 rue de Bretagne.
From Tuesday to Saturday form 8.00 am to 1.00 pm and from 4.00 pm to 7.30 pm (up to 8.00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays)
Sunday from 8.00 am to 2.00 pm
Metro : Filles-du-Calvaire
Marché Baudoyer
Place Baudoyer
Wednesday from 3.00 pm to 8.00 pm,

Saturday from 7.00 am to 3.00 pm
Metro : Hôtel-de-Ville

- Clothes market 
Carreau du Temple - Rue Perrée
Tuesday to Saturday from 9 am to 7 pm
Sunday from 9 am to 12 am
Metro : Temple or Arts et Metiers 

The Marché des Enfants Rouges

The Pompidou Center / Beaubourg

The Picasso Museum
Good to know before you go
Shops everywhere take all the major credit cards: Visa, EuroCard, MasterCard, American Express. At each transaction, the sales person must give you a receipt which you should keep safely. Only cheques drawn on French banks will be accepted and generally proof of identity is requested. You can also pay in euros of course, although it is best to avoid the larger denomination banknotes.
Museum opening times:
As a rule, museums are open from 9 or 10am until 5 or 6pm. Others open later and close at 8 or 9pm. Closing day is most usually Monday or Tuesday, with a few exceptions. Some are even open 7 days a week, such as some of the major monuments which can even be visited as late as 11pm or midnight.
Don't forget too that on public holidays many museums and monuments are closed. It's a good idea to check beforehand.
In France all prices include service and taxes, with approximately 15% of the price corresponding to the service. However, if the waiter or waitress has been especially attentive, you can leave him or her a tip to show your appreciation. Around 5 to 10% of the bill is usual.
Events in Paris: There are 3 specialist magazines that relay the full list of what's on in Paris in French. They are on sale every Wednesday in all newspaper kiosks and newsagents': Pariscope ,L'Officiel des spectacles and Zurban . For English-speakers, tryTime Out .

The Carnavalet Museum

One of the numerous art galleries of the Marais district

Some of our photos from stays in Paris:

See also:

Paris.Org and



Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Attack on Thinking

Yesterday's attack on Paris was an attack on thinking and reason. It was an attack on the ideas of the Enlightenment; an attack on Voltaire, on Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir; an attack on philosophy.

Religious fanaticism has always despised reason and the intellect. What religion demands is unquestioning faith. Whenever one examines the details of laws and tenets of religions, often established centuries ago, the result is awareness of absurdity, or at least that such laws that are no longer meaningful or reasonable. The laws of most religions are a product of their times, of the prejudices  or the hardships of the culture in which they were written. 

Of course, Marx was correct in his assessment of how religion came to be the tool of people in power to consolidate their authority. Promise people a happy afterlife and they will suffer gladly to increase the power of your state. Rulers luxuriate in the devoted work of their citizens who believe the state religion. Illusion is a persuasive elixir.  

As many religions now ignore the unreasonable and absurd laws of their sacred texts, religious fanaticism with its insistence on the letter of religious law appears mad. We think those who practice such fundamentalism are out of touch with reality, psychopaths, fools. Yet, especially in the case of fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity, both of which seek to control those outside of the religion, extremism is becoming more pronounced and widespread. In the U.S. presidential candidates like Marco Rubio attack philosophy, telling people to weld rather than think for themselves. Rubio recommends building a huge army to confront Islamist fundamentalism much the same way that the Islamic State seeks to build a powerful caliphate. 

Is it possible, as Eleanor Roosevelt and other great liberals and philosophers thought, to elevate human rights above the oppressive tenets of many world religions? Did world leaders make a mistake in establishing a Jewish state in the very heart of the Islamic Middle-East? Is it possible to have most of the world's countries teach human rights and respect for others over the narrow-minded views of specific religions? Are we able to praise what is good, creative, and loving in religions, while ruling out those laws and restrictions of religion that contradict our human rights? Can we convince those brought up in this or that religion that thinking for ourselves is essential to becoming fully realized persons? Is it even possible to have religious leaders around the world give up the paternalism and male-oriented prejudices ingrained in so many scriptures? 

Philosophy is not the enemy. The enemy is the rut of out-dated dogma. The enemy is the idea that war ever makes things better, that might makes right.  The enemy is intolerance and the failure to recognize and respect the human rights of others. The enemy is materialism that requires the suffering of many to succeed. Compassion for our fellow humans is the most essential need these days-- compassion for others, compassion for all living beings, compassion for the planet itself. 


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot, Paris. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Declaration_of_Human_Rights (click)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Meaning of Life

What, people ask me, is the meaning of life? You are a philosopher, they say, if anyone knows, it must be you.
Well, yes, I do know. It isn't a puzzle at all. The answer is right before our eyes and all our other senses.
Still we have to get rid of the obstacles to seeing what is in front of our noses. We have to admit, finally, that a dogmatic god, invisible and unimaginable is a logical as well as an existential impossibility. At best, god is an idea created by those in power to stay in power. Descartes was incorrect when he surmised that a finite being could not, by imaginative extension, come up with the idea of an infinite, all powerful, omniscient being. And Freud was correct in seeing the idea as a glorified Daddy beyond reproach, a fantasy and a wish unfulfilled.
Without a god, without illusions, without invisible spirits guiding our every move, what is left for us? Why, pleasure is what is left. The meaning of life resides in the pleasures we experience-- and what a banquet of pleasures they are. There are pleasures aplenty for everyone, if only the greed, the dogma, the lust for power, and all the hindrances to a life of pleasure are removed.
If you require a well written or well conceived philosophy of pleasure, I suggest Epicurus as your guide, though there are several other brilliant versions
For myself, I have only to think of music, of the free availability of excellent performances of Beethoven, Bach, or Mozart; of art and literature; of walks in nature; Of the changing of the seasons; of the thousands of orgasms I've enjoyed, and the passions of sex with a host of others; of cheese, chocolate, and wine; of swimming in the stream of life, or rowing merrily upon it. Make your own list, please.
Life is meaningless only to those who fail to experience its joys. Eliminate greed, and religious dogma, eliminate fighting over material possessions or seeking power over others, and there is ample delight in life for all living beings on the planet. Don't be too fruitful- forget about multiplying hungry beings in a limited world of goods- and there you have it.
Happiness, logically impossible to pursue in itself, follows like the night the day if we find our meaning in our pleasures.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Marriage of Margaret Churchill and Jocelin Hackathorn

The Wedding of Maggie and Joce was a cause for great celebration. Starr Tays performed the moving marriage ceremony. We all celebrated at Tapa Tapa after brunch at Apres Diem. 

Starr pronounces the happy couple married.

The Wedding Party
Photo by
Darryl Gossett

Sunday, October 04, 2015

American Sniper

Last night's film was "American Sniper." All credit to Bradley Cooper who gave an Oscar level performance. I want to write about the film and NOT the story it is based upon. The film is flawed in the worldview it presents. Perhaps it is not the responsibility of the film to ask whether going to war in Iraq made any sense at all after 9/11, which we now know had nothing to do with Iraq. The film often plays with the idea of good v. evil. There is enough ambiguity to allow one to conclude that war itself is evil. But the thrust of the film in its portrayal of people, Iraqis and American soldiers, is that Americans are good and Iraqis are evil. Never mind that the Iraqis were defending their country from foreign invaders. A hint of something vaguely sympathetic to Iraqis comes in a shot of a photo of one of the Iraqi fighters as an Olympic medal winner. But that's about it. And one Iraqi who helps the Americans (but wants $100k for doing so) is shot mercilessly by other Iraqis. Not a single American is ever portrayed as doing anything wrong-- they are all heroes. So the film turns from art to propaganda no matter how powerfully and tragically the Bradley Cooper character is portrayed. An opportunity to be honest and make a more meaningful film about the war and this soldier was thereby lost. 
Nonetheless, despite itself, the film shows in gruesome detail the horror of the war itself. We are not left thinking a hero died for a good cause. His death is as senseless as that of all the soldiers lost in the war, Iraqi or American and the thousands upon thousands of civilians who got in the way of our aggressive force. The Iraq invasion is never justified in any way, and the "savages" were not the enemy; they were us.

I've taken the time now to read some of the reviews. Again, I find Cooper's performance incredible and Clint E's direction lacking. This review gets much of what else I thought: