Today I will observe (“celebrate” is far too cheerful a word for the occasion) my 108th birthday, and though I have made this claim many times, I want to inform everyone that once a person reaches 108 years of age, he or she transcends time and becomes a living fossil.
Below – A brief pictorial autobiography:
“A Birthday Poem”
by Ted Kooser
Just past dawn, the sun stands
with its heavy red head
in a black stanchion of trees,
waiting for someone to come
with his bucket
or the foamy white light,
and then a long day in the pasture.
I too spend my days grazing,
feasting on every green moment
till darkness calls,
and with the others
I walk away into the night,
swinging the little tin bell
of my name.
Happy Cinco de Mayo (Mexico)
In the words of one historian, “May 5th is celebrated as Cinco de Mayo in Mexico and among Mexican-American communities in the United States. The date commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on 5 May 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín.”
Happy Children’s Day (Japan)
In the words of one historian, “May 5th is Children’s Day (or Boys’ Day) in Japan, on which families raise carp-shaped flags on poles above their homes (carp, because of the Chinese legend that a carp swims upstream to become a dragon, and the way the flags blow in the wind makes it seem as if they were swimming). The black carp at the top represents the father, the red carp represents the mother, and the last carp represents the son. Another carp would be attached to the cord for each additional son.”
Birthday Presents for My Readers – Part I of V: Edward Hopper
Below – Nine paintings by one of my favorite artists: “Cape Cod Evening”; “Road in Maine”; “Gas”; “Railroad Sunset”; “Seven A.M.”; “Rooms for Tourists”; “Railroad Crossing”; “Early Sunday Morning”; “Four Lane Road.”
“I am surrounded by priests who repeat incessantly that their kingdom is not of this world, and yet they lay their hands on everything they can get.” – Napoleon Bonaparte, French military and political leader, who died 5 May 1821.
Some quotes from Napoleon Bonaparte:
“Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”
“A man will fight harder for his interests than for his rights.”
“A leader is a dealer in hope.”
“In politics stupidity is not a handicap.”
“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.”
“If I had to choose a religion, the sun as the universal giver of life would be my god.”
“Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”
“I am sometimes a fox and sometimes a lion. The whole secret of government lies in knowing when to be the one or the other.”
“If you wish to be a success in the world, promise everything, deliver nothing.”
“The best way to keep one’s word is not to give it.”
“If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.”
“Men are moved by two levers only: fear and self interest.”
“All religions have been made by men.”
“The best cure for the body is a quiet mind.”
“Among those who dislike oppression are many who like to oppress.”
“A celebrated people lose dignity upon a closer view.”
“History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”
“Music is the voice that tells us that the human race is greater than it knows.”
“The surest way to remain poor is to be an honest man.”
“Men are more easily governed through their vices than through their virtues.”
“He who knows how to flatter also knows how to slander.”
“Riches do not consist in the possession of treasures, but in the use made of them.”
“Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.”
“War is the business of barbarians.”
“The human race is governed by its imagination.”
“We must laugh at man to avoid crying for him.”
“A Constitution should be short and obscure.”
“The great proof of madness is the disproportion of one’s designs to one’s means.”
American Art – Part I of IV: Olga Plam
Here is one writer describing the artistry of Olga Plam: “A Russian-born painter, Olga Plam reflects in her work a deeply rooted realist technique in the tradition of the ‘Old Masters.’ Primarily painting still lifes and florals, she imparts life into her paintings with careful use of color and form. Her works evoke a feeling of quiet emotion, rich color and luminosity.”
Olga Plam lives and works in the United States.
Died 5 May 2011 – Claude Stanley Choules, the last surviving combat veteran of World War I. In the words of one historian, “(He) was the last military witness to the scuttling of the German fleet in Scapa Flow. He was also the last veteran to have served in both world wars, and the last seaman from the First World War.”
Above – Claude Choules as a Royal Navy trainee in 1915.
Below – Claude Choules in 1935; Choules in 2009.
American Art – Part II of IV: Howard Kanovitz
Birthday Presents for My Readers – Part II of V: Yukon Territory
Russian Art – Part I of II: Ivan Aivazovsky
Died 1 May 1900 – Ivan Aivazovsky, a Russian Romantic painter widely regarded as one of the greatest marine artists in history.
Below – “The Ninth Wave” (his most famous work); “View of Constantinople”; “View of the Sea by Moonlight”; “Rainbow”; “Self-Portrait.”
“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” – Soren Kierkegaard, Danish author, theologian, and social critic who is widely regarded as the first existentialist philosopher, who was born 5 May 1813.
Some quotes from the work of Soren Kierkegaard:
“It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.”
“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”
“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”
“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
“What labels me, negates me.”
“The most common form of despair is not being who you are.”
“The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.”
“I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations — one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it — you will regret both.”
“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!”
“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.”
“Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.”
“A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that’s just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it’s a joke.”
Russian Art – Part II of II: Ilia Zaitseff
Painter Ilia Zaitseff (born 1961) studied at the Mukhina Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. He lives and works in Montreal.
“Armageddon is not around the corner. This is only what the people of violence want us to believe. The complexity and diversity of the world is the hope for the future.” – Michael Palin, English comedian, actor, and travel writer and documentarian best known for being a member of Monty Python, who was born 5 May 1943.
The American Old West: Sitting Bull
5 May 1877 – Sitting Bull leads his band of Lakota Sioux into Canada to avoid harassment by troops of the United States Army under the command of Colonel Nelson Miles.
Birthday Presents for My Readers – Part III of V: Horses
The Pulitzer Prize – Part I of V: Sinclair Lewis
5 May 1926 – Sinclair Lewis refuses the Pulitzer Prize for his novel “Arrowsmith.”
Here is the note Lewis wrote to the Pulitzer committee:
“I wish to acknowledge your choice of my novel ‘Arrowsmith’ for the Pulitzer Prize. That prize I must refuse, and my refusal would be meaningless unless I explained the reasons.
All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous. The seekers for prizes tend to labor not for inherent excellence but for alien rewards; they tend to write this, or timorously to avoid writing that, in order to tickle the prejudices of a haphazard committee. And the Pulitzer Prize for Novels is peculiarly objectionable because the terms of it have been constantly and grievously misrepresented.
Those terms are that the prize shall be given ‘for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood.’ This phrase, if it means anything whatsoever, would appear to mean that the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment.”
Here is the Artist Statement of Indian painter Pradip Sengupta:
“I am a visual artist. My paintings are the images of the world – as seen by my eyes. My experiences as the man of this society compel me to develop a visual language which talks about my reactions to various situations. My experiences, sometimes as a passive onlooker and sometimes as an active participant, constitute the subject of my paintings. The images of this life as shown by me are at times very symbolic. It may appear imaginative or random fantasy, but they have their roots in the real world.”
The Pulitzer Prize – Part II of V: Herman Wouk
5 May 1952 – The Pulitzer Prize is awarded to Herman Wouk for “The Caine Mutiny.”
“The Navy is a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots. If you’re not an idiot, but find yourself in the Navy, you can only operate well by pretending to be one.” – From “The Caine Mutiny”
Here is what one critic has written about Spanish painter Carmen MSelma (born 1980): “The author of these lines is usually quite at ease when writing an introductory text for a new painter in the gallery, but this time he is overwhelmed. Such a concentration of talent, imagination, depth, knowledge of colours and of composition, ability to project on canvas the whole spirit of a great pictorial nation, justness in the rendering of the ironic look that the artist throws on certain controversial aspects of Spanish life, all this distilled in a few dozens works, with a seldom seen virtuosity, by a young artist (but more mature than many older painters in any country), forces our total respect and admiration. A successor to the great Spanish painters of the past has been found.”
The Pulitzer Prize – Part III of V: James Agee
5 May 1958 – The Pulitzer Prize is awarded to James Agee for “A Death in the Family.”
“He died last night while I was asleep and now it was already morning. He has already been dead since way last night and I didn’t even know until I woke up. He has been dead all night while I was asleep and now it is morning and I am awake but he is still dead and he will stay right on being dead all afternoon and all night and all tomorrow while I am asleep again and wake up again and go to sleep again and he can’t come back home again ever any more but I will see him once more before he is taken away.” – From “A Death in the Family”
Here is one critic describing the artistry of Latvian painter Edite Grinberga (born 1965): “Light and shadow in their ever-changing dialectic are the main protagonists in Edite Grinberga’s painting; her core theme, the fluid space between light and dark. Still life and interiors are her genre; her style combines figurative hyperrealism with minimalistic reductionism. Technical virtuosity grounded in the academic tradition distinguishes her work, but this capability never becomes an aim in itself.”
The Pulitzer Prize – Part IV of V: Norman Mailer
5 May 1969 – The Pulitzer Prize is awarded to Norman Mailer for “The Armies of the Night.”
The Pulitzer Prize – Part V of V: Michael Shaara
5 May 1975 – The Pulitzer Prize is awarded to Michael Shaara for “The Killer Angels.”
Australian painter Chris Bennett graduated with first class honors from the Queensland College of Art in Brisbane. According to one writer, “Chris has been developing his current series over the last five years, focusing on themes of urban alienation, entropy and social decay, and the slow death of personal aspiration.”
Birthday Presents for My Readers – Part IV of V: Loren Eiseley
Below – Some quotes from the work of Loren Eiseley, who is one of my favorite authors.
“It is a commonplace of all religious thought, even the most primitive, that the man seeking visions and insight must go apart from his fellows and love for a time in the wilderness.”
“Perhaps a creature of so much ingenuity and deep memory is almost bound to grow alienated from his world, his fellows, and the objects around him. He suffers from a nostalgia for which there is no remedy upon earth except as it is to be found in the enlightenment of the spirit–some ability to have a perceptive rather than an exploitive relationship with his fellow creatures.”
“Every time we walk along a beach some ancient urge disturbs us so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers like the homesick refugees of a long war.”
“One does not meet oneself until one catches the reflection from an eye other than human.”
“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”
“The need is not really for more brains, the need is now for a gentler, a more tolerant people than those who won for us against the ice, the tiger and the bear. The hand that hefted the ax, out of some old blind allegiance to the past fondles the machine gun as lovingly. It is a habit man will have to break to survive, but the roots go very deep.”
“The journey is difficult, immense. We will travel as far as we can, but we cannot in one lifetime see all that we would like to see or to learn all that we hunger to know.”
“While wandering a deserted beach at dawn, stagnant in my work, I saw a man in the distance bending and throwing as he walked the endless stretch toward me. As he came near, I could see that he was throwing starfish, abandoned on the sand by the tide, back into the sea. When he was close enough I asked him why he was working so hard at this strange task. He said that the sun would dry the starfish and they would die. I said to him that I thought he was foolish. there were thousands of starfish on miles and miles of beach. One man alone could never make a difference. He smiled as he picked up the next starfish. Hurling it far into the sea he said, ‘It makes a difference for this one.’ I abandoned my writing and spent the morning throwing starfish.”
“Since the first human eye saw a leaf in Devonian sandstone and a puzzled finger reached to touch it, sadness has lain over the heart of man. By this tenuous thread of living protoplasm, stretching backward into time, we are linked forever to lost beaches whose sands have long since hardened into stone. The stars that caught our blind
amphibian stare have shifted far or vanished in their courses, but still that naked, glistening thread winds onward. No one knows the secret of its beginning or its end. Its forms are phantoms. The thread alone is real; the thread is life.”
“This is the most enormous extension of vision of which life is capable: the projection of itself into other lives. This is the lonely, magnificent power of humanity. It is . . . the supreme epitome of the reaching out.”
“Though men in the mass forget the origins of their need, they still bring wolfhounds into city apartments, where dog and man both sit brooding in wistful discomfort.
The magic that gleams an instant between Argos and Odysseus is both the recognition of diversity and the need for affection across the illusions of form. It is nature’s cry to homeless, far-wandering, insatiable man: ‘Do not forget your brethren, nor the green wood from which you sprang. To do so is to invite disaster.’”
American Art – Part III of IV: Chris Campbell
Here is one writer describing the background of painter Chris Campbell: “After studying painting at the Art Students League in New York City, she had several successful shows. However, it was the move to Honolulu that caused an inspiring change and blossoming of her painting. Her medium is oils, and her love of the Islands is vividly captured in her works.”
Birthday Presents for My Readers – Part V of V: Robinson Jeffers
Below – Three poems by Robinson Jeffers, who is one of my favorite poets.
The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days: cat nor coyote
Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.
He stands under the oak-bush and waits
The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom
And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it.
He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.
The curs of the day come and torment him
At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head,
The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.
The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.
You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him.
I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk; but the great redtail
Had nothing left but unable misery
From the bones too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.
We had fed him for six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance. I gave him the lead gift in the twilight. What fell was relaxed,
Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising
Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.
“Boats in a Fog”
Sports and gallantries, the stage, the arts, the antics of dancers,
The exuberant voices of music,
Have charm for children but lack nobility; it is bitter earnestness
That makes beauty; the mind
Knows, grown adult.
A sudden fog-drift muffled the ocean,
A throbbing of engines moved in it,
At length, a stone’s throw out, between the rocks and the vapor,
One by one moved shadows
Out of the mystery, shadows, fishing-boats, trailing each other
Following the cliff for guidance,
Holding a difficult path between the peril of the sea-fog
And the foam on the shore granite.
One by one, trailing their leader, six crept by me,
Out of the vapor and into it,
The throb of their engines subdued by the fog, patient and cautious,
Coasting all round the peninsula
Back to the buoys in Monterey harbor. A flight of pelicans
Is nothing lovelier to look at;
The flight of the planets is nothing nobler; all the arts lose virtue
Against the essential reality
Of creatures going about their business among the equally
Earnest elements of nature.
“To the Stone-Cutters”
Stone-cutters fighting time with marble, you foredefeated
Challengers of oblivion
Eat cynical earnings, knowing rock splits, records fall down,
The square-limbed Roman letters
Scale in the thaws, wear in the rain. The poet as well
Builds his monument mockingly;
For man will be blotted out, the blithe earth die, the brave sun
Die blind and blacken to the heart:
Yet stones have stood for a thousand years, and pained thoughts found
The honey of peace in old poems.
American Art – Part IV of IV: Michael Mao
Chinese-American artist Michael Mao grew up in Shanghai, where he began teaching himself drawing and painting at the age of seven. After moving to the United States in order to obtain a Master of Architecture degree in 1972, Mao became interested in computer graphics and animations. He was hired to be the Matte Painting Technical Director for the award-winning film “Shrek,” and he now works as a digital artist at PDI/DreamWorks. According to one critic, “Michael’s paintings display an artistic mastery of color, lighting, perspective, technique and vision.”
Below – “Morning Reading”; “The Sonata of Snow”; “Sun Bath”; “Beyond the Shore”; “Harmonic Arrangement”; “Boat”; “French Cottage”; “Inside Out.”