Monday, 24 November 2014

Epicurian Pleasure

In modern parlance Epicurian pleasure is understood to mean the exaggerated excess in all things.
A contemporary of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson depicts what for many centuries Epicurean pleasure was understood to mean, I'll have all my beds blown up not stuffed, goose down is too hard. Jonson's pleasure seeker is called Sir Epicure Mammon.

However hundreds of scrolls unearthed in the Library for the Villa dei Papyri in Herculaneum which belonged to Lucius Calpurnius Piso gives the true ancient meaning to Epicureanism and it is vastly different than what we thought it actually meant. This is due to the fact that after his death the enemies of Epicurus ridiculed his writings and twisted the meaning of what his philosophy meant. Then after the Fourth Century we lost his writings which were only rediscovered in a Monastery in Fulda in 1407.

School of Athens (Philosophy) (1510) by Raphael in the Stanza della Segnatura, Apostolic Palace, Vatican. Epicurus appears in the left corner dressed in blue and crowned with vines leafs.

Philodemus who lived around (110-60 BC) was a true follower of Epicurus (341-270 BC), wrote ''Men suffer the worst of evils for the sake of the most alien desires.  They neglect the most necessary of appetites as if they were the most alien to Nature''. What are these necessary appetites that lead to pleasure? ''It is impossible to live pleasurably without living prudently and honourably and justly, and also without living courageously and temperately and magnanimously, and without making friends and without being philanthropic''.

This if the true definition of Epicureanism.

The problem comes in the 4th Century when ''Pagan'' philosophies are rejected by the Jews and Christians who now wish to establish firmly their beliefs on good and evil in the Roman World. Pleasure as the highest good? Even if described in restrained terms it was a source of scandal for both Judeo-Christians belief sets. Even 2000 years later the fear that to maximize pleasure and to avoid pain are in fact appealing goals and might serve as the rational organizing principles of human life. If these goals succeeded then a whole set of time honoured principles, like sacrifice, ambition, social status, discipline and piety would be challenged with the institutions attached to them. This is why Epicureanism is presented in a grotesque and extravagant manner to this day.

We will have to wait the Renaissance (1297-1580) to see a rediscovery of Antiquity and its philosophies, in 1430 invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg which will put books at the disposal of far more people and then 1492 when Admiral Christopher Columbus lands in America. Two events which will transform world view.

Thinking of today, reading this definition of true Epicureanism, I wonder how could it apply to our post-modern world and age of technology. Is it even possible in a world like ours where Education is ridiculed and where politicians make constant cuts to the entire educational system. Where Culture is seen as worthless or is constantly assimilated to some multi-million dollar sporting event. Where the masses are easily amused by shopping mall openings as we have seen in Ottawa in the last month, or by news of professional athletes or where a dead Coach is elevated to the rank of demi-god and athletes make ridiculous tributes claiming that their lives would have been worthless otherwise.

However Philosophy was never meant for everyone's study but for those who were interested to follow one school or another. Or the art of discussion on various topics was an exchange of ideas and wit was a quality.

I suppose that if you wish to follow that path today you would have to separate or segregate yourself from the commercial world with its values based on money and power.






Tuesday, 18 November 2014

L'Hiver et la froidure

On this 18 November the weather in Ottawa has taken a decidedly wintery look, the sidewalks are icy  and the snow is a light hard icy cover. Our Nicky is not happy, he hates the cold so does Nora but she is tougher and won't complain as much as him.

The air is crisp and there is a smell of wood burning in someone's fireplace. No wonder I am thinking of Christmas.  My friend Dr. Spo in Arizona says it is around 14C right now and he is thinking of making hot coco, I am also thinking at -7C of hot coco. The winter night sky is dark blue and we have been having strong cold winds or rafale de vent.

All this to say that it feels like the Christmas Season already. Which brings to mind our annual little trip to the Christmas Market in Munich or Bologna, two different countries but each have a fun market with lots of cold weather and good food.
This little video is of the Christmas Market in Munich, we were there at the time when this video was done. Love Munich at this time of year, so beautiful and so much fun.



I also downloaded my Advent Calendar and started to play with the different functions, like making snowflakes, I like this one and they are easy to make.  I can then insert them into the Advent calendar scene and they flutter down.


I also decorated the Xmas tree which goes into the scene of the calendar and it changes everyday as we get closer to Christmas. The Advent Calendar has lots of items to choose from and you can decorate the tree in many various fashions. This is what I did today.


Some music by Emile Waldteufel, Les patineurs Valse. Because soon if this cold weather keeps us we will be skating on the Rideau Canal.





Monday, 17 November 2014

Wintery

Today was the first important snowfall after the dusting we received a few days ago. About 30 cm of heavy wet snow.

I am thinking I should try to by some hot chocolate mix it always comes handy on a cold day.
I also got a nice Xmas Cactus today, I will try to find the correct instructions to take care of it.
It was said on the radio morning news that this weekend people would be able to ski at Mont Cascade in the Gatineau Park. I know they got more snow than we did in the City.

So here in a few pictures today.

 The Canal side, the water is not yet frozen


Christmas Cactus 







Sunday, 16 November 2014

Reading and then more reading

As you probably know by now I have very diverse taste in my reading, currently I finished a short biography on the Painter and father of German realism in painting Otto Dix, entitled Otto Dix, The art of life by Philipp Gutbrod.  A fascinating man who led an incredible life in Germany, acclaimed as a great artist and condemn by others dodged by controversy and terrible dangers for himself and his family during the Nazi dictatorship to received accolades and honours after the War but was generally ignored by the Art scene. I wish I could have met him.

I am also reading Teaching in the Art Museum by Rika Burnham and Elliott Kai-Kee. This to help me in my volunteer work at the National Gallery of Canada. A very good guide to develop techniques  on interpretation of art works and how to entice the public in participating and looking at pictures.

I started on a novel entitled to Wake the dead by Marina Belozerskaya, her book is the history of archeology as she follows a man Cyriacus da Pizzicolli also known as da Ancona,(1391-1455) a merchant who has a keen interest for all things antique especially the monuments of ancient Greece and Rome. He wrote but never published many manuscripts on ancient monuments and was read by many powerful people of this time, friend of Popes and Princes, he was highly respected. The story is around 1421 when the Renaissance in Italy was about 120 years old and the Popes in Rome where returning from  their exile in Avignon and rebuilding Rome. There was no archeology before the Renaissance and little knowledge of what the classic Roman or Greek had been like before the start of the Middle Ages around 500 AD. It's an easy read and it is fun.

I am also reading about Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrona, daughter of Tsar Alexander III and sister to the last Tsar Nicholas II. She fled the Revolution in 1920 with her family to Canada and lived until her death in 1961 in Toronto. The family still lives in Toronto today and are active within Romanov Circles promoting the restoration of the Dynasty in Russia. This book entitled; 25 Chapters of my life: Memoirs of my life,  is a diary of the Grand Duchess and her life in Russia when her father was the Tsar and then under her brother and the violent end of the Monarchy and aftermath. It is an interesting read as it gives you an idea what life was like at the Imperial Court.

I also finished reading the short stories of Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Professor and the Siren. What an incredible writer he was and it is so sad that his greatest literary success came after his death and that he wrote only in the last years of his life. Imagine what a success he could have been during his lifetime. He is the author of one of the most famous modern Italian novel The Leopard. Lampedusa is the archetype of the Sicilian nobleman, stuck in the past and unable to move forward or even wondering why he should move at all. I remember one passage where he explained that all the Nobles in Sicily and there were quite a few, did not see any reason to change after Sicily was annexed by Italy in 1870. They had lost everything but since they were Princes, they did not see why they should change just because now they were part of Italy. Many cloistered themselves in their Palaces in Palermo and continued to live as if nothing had happened, life became more and more financially precarious but it never occurred to them to find a job.  This was his world, educated, erudite, well traveled, it is and was the dilemma of Sicily then and now. Not really belonging to Italy and no longer part of a greater Kingdom with ties to Spain.
I find him a fascinating character and his writing is beautiful.

I have many other titles waiting for me to read and I have to be more disciplined in my reading schedule.



Saturday, 15 November 2014

First dusting of snow 14 November 2014

Well today was one of those days where nothing is quite as it should be. It started with a false Fire Alarm in our building triggered by a workmen who bang into the wall alarm and triggered it. So walked downstairs with 2 puppies in tow who have to be carried because they cannot manage the stairs. The lobby was mayhem with people and firemen milling about, obviously there was no fire but the noise of the sirens had set the dogs off and Nora got into a fight with one other dog. She may be small only 5Kg but she is tough. I was not happy with her behaviour in front of all the old ladies of the building. I also forgot I should have been at the Museum at 10am and was now late, but it did not matter because the activity was cancelled. Then I got an emergency email telling me that the scheduled tour of the Jack Bush retrospective was now today and not on the 20th. So I quickly made my way to the National Gallery to attend it. Luckily coffee and cookies were on offer prior to the tour.
Glass dome of the Great Hall, National Gallery of Canada.

The weather has been progressively getting colder but still some days are warmish. However today with a mix of bright Sun and grey snow clouds swirling above the City, you knew snow was on the way. The clouds just have that colour, not rain obviously because they are taking on a blue grey hue. Then suddenly light snow flakes fall, the wind is wiping them around like white sugar falling on a pound cake, just a dusting, just to make things look wintery as in the Flemish paintings by Pieter Brueghel the Elder.

This week has been quite interesting artistically. We went to a concert with the Cantata Singer of Ottawa, they are considering a new maestro and Christopher Hossfeld is one of the candidates. Hossfeld has a Master in Choral Conducting from the Yale Music School and a Bachelor from Harvard in Music Composition, he is the recipient of many Academic awards and he is an accomplished composer.

Christopher Hossfeld

I had met him this past Summer at the Canadian War Museum when he came to see the Exhibit of Canadian War Paintings, Transformations AY Jackson & Otto Dix. He was at the time composing his new piece In Pace and I gave him the tour of the exhibit, he's a charming fellow. He later told me that seeing this exhibit with me giving the background context had helped him along.

We went to hear the Cantata Singers of Ottawa and Hossfeld was directing In Pace.
I was very impress with his composition, the beauty of the music and words, a moving and thoughtful piece.

Then we went to the National Arts Centre of Canada, as it is now called, the hear the NAC Orchestra and their new Conductor Maestro Alexander Shelley. He is a very urbane and elegant young man, he has that European Conductor look, think Pappano or Muti. He currently works with the Orchestra of Nuremberg, Liepzig and DSO Berlin among others and he has also worked with many other orchestras.

Maestro Alexander Shelley


Shelley surprised the audience when at the beginning he made a short introduction to the pieces in French and then in English. It was flawless and very well done. He is a much anticipated and welcome change to Pinchas Zuckerman who frankly had discouraged me from going to the concerts. The black Kmer Rouge pyjama shuffling along look was not inspiring and the program was usually what you can hear any day on the radio, in other words lots of easy listening music, you can hum along.

The program started with a piece of music by Otto Nicolai, Ouverture to the Merry Wives of Windsor, then Korngold Suite from Much ado About Nothing. The main piece was Mendelssohn
Incidental Music for A midsummer Night Dream with actor Colm Feore providing the narration of the text from the play using both French and English as he went along.

It was a delightful evening and I simply loved Shelley's elegant and fluid conducting style.

Then the next day I went to the Vernissage of the Jack Bush retrospective at the National Gallery of Canada. It is a very well put together exhibition and it was not an easy one to mount, Bush died in 1977 in Toronto of heart failure and his paintings are in a large part in private collection, like the one of David Mirvish.  What I like about this exhibit is that it speaks of all the aspects of his life, we have his diaries which he kept for 30 years of this life (1930-1977), they are not open to the public and are with the E.P.Taylor Library at the Art Gallery of Ontario. In this exhibit the Curator Marc Mayer and his collaborators brought together the diaries and the paintings. It was Bush's psychiatrist Dr. Allan Walters who suggested he keep a diary and paint in the abstract style to relieve his chronic anxiety.
Bush would then read out loud to his doctor his diary entry and discuss his paintings as a way to reduce or get rid up his anxiety. Bush was also for 40 years a very successful commercial draftsmen and artist. He was part of the Group of 11 for some years and was involved with many other arts groups, an over achiever in other words. He is known today as one of the best Canadian Artist of the 20th Century.
Chopsticks 1977, his last canvas.

Tall Spread 1966

Bush exhibited in New-York and elsewhere and his agent was Clement Greenberg one of the great art critic of his time and a close friend of Bush. I was also privilege the next day, to get as a Volunteer of the NGC, a tour open only to employees and volunteer of the Exhibit and given by the Gallery director Marc Mayer who is not only knowledgeable but also loves the subject.

Jack Bush 1909-1977





Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Le Jour du Souvenir

Today 11 November is Remembrance Day in Canada.

Here are some photos of the day in Ottawa. This year the Princess Royal, H.H. Princess Anne and her husband Admiral Tim Laurence were presiding the ceremony at the National War Memorial with
H.E. the Right Honourable the Governor General David Johnstone, Commander in Chief. The crowds are said to have been the largest in living memory for an 11 November, no doubt a response to the events of 22 October in Ottawa and 21 October in Quebec.

May 21, 1939 The National War Memorial is inaugurated by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

November 11, 2014 very large crowds at the Remembrance Day Ceremonies at the National War Memorial in Ottawa

The Governor General as Commander in Chief shaking hands with Veterans at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

Soldiers of the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry Regiment, wearing their Afghanistan Campaign Medal.

The Princess Royal, H.H. Princess Anne with the Governor General at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. She is examining a military medal she has just received.

This evening the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial covered with poppies and flowers from Canadians as is the tradition each year. 



Monday, 10 November 2014

Museum volunteer work

I finished by assignment at the Canadian War Museum and have now returned to the National Gallery of Canada to start a new Season of Lectures and school work with visiting schools and introducing children to art, age group 6 to 12 years old. I am also a docent-guide and give small lectures 10 minutes or more on a specific works of art in the Gallery. All this is volunteer work and requires a lot of preparation and reading, you simply cannot do it cold turkey, not possible and very dangerous since there is always someone lurking about with that clever question or observation.



So preparation is everything and it also has to be entertaining. The Mercredis Culturels lectures is a 54 year old program and I have been the convenor for the last 2 years organizing lectures with various experts on an Art Topic of their choice. I had prepared a lecture just in case of an emergency if a lecturer cancelled and this did happen last week. I re-wrote the lecture in 48 hours and re-arranged my slides. My topic was the Hermitage Museum it's history from 1764 to 1936. This year is the 250th Anniversary of its foundation by Catherine II of Russia. It went very well and got a standing ovation and many compliments from the audience which surprised me no end.

The School program is just as complicated they may be in the 6 to 12 year old range they know what is of interest to them. Usually abstract, modern, contemporary art is a hit, kids understand that easily, it appeals to them. Classical, Academic, old Masters, Renaissance gets a big yawn, unless there are children or animals in the painting.

Maman by Louise Bourgeois at the NGC


So this year I will do tours inside the Museum and at local schools in the region of the National Capital. At the museum the tours are 50 minutes total and you take the kids around the galleries and present chosen selected paintings, at least you get a break after your tour is done and can have a coffee. Not so in local schools, this is a free program and since the Provincial Government cut all Art programs in schools some years ago, we are the only free outlet for them and you spend all day in school without as much as a pee break. This year again I am presenting a program on the Renaissance because one school asked for it. As for the other schools it will be about Abstract and Surrealism, Kandinsky and Magritte. The goal is to give the kids a first appreciation for Art, they often have no exposure what so ever in their lives unless a relative is an artist. I engage them by asking what they see in a painting or what attracts their attention, getting them to talk about a painting and playing a game of discovery works well. I also try to challenge what they may have been told about art or how to interpret it. I talk about the painter, the history behind the making of the painting, the people in it, who they are, etc.

It can be very challenging because they do not know why they should even be interested. It is also important to get the teachers into the act, many have never set foot in a Museum. My goal is to reach the kids if one person is happy and engaged then it is all worthwhile.

As for the public at the Museum who come for the talks and presentations, the goal is to make their visit worthwhile and hope that they will come back regularly. Unfortunately in Ottawa going to a museum is not an activity anyone considers. Many people I have spoken to have been in a museum once in 30 years, usually for an hour. It is a challenge to get them to come and stop to look. This is all part of the job and I take it to heart. Again I find that if you give visitors background on a painting and the artist, a bit of history and compare one artist to another to highlight differences or similarities people respond well to that, they can connect and it is no longer just a painting on the wall. We even get into conversations about framing, often people will ask how we got that frame or why this type of frame, they may not like it and think it is ugly. The whole idea is to make Art approachable and easy to assimilate.

It did work fairly well this summer when comparing the painters Otto Dix and AY Jackson. In the end despite the fact that Jackson is well known to Canadians many preferred Dix. The reason was that they had discovered a painter who was complex and controversial and was not afraid to explore difficult themes. He was a puzzle for viewers whereas Jackson was just plain.

All this to say that I do enjoy what I am doing as a Volunteer.