December 30, 2014

Art Appreciation 101: The English Patient

Released in 1996 and directed by the late Anthony Minghella who also wrote the screenplay
and based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje. Den Stylist Extraordinaire Trudye  and I have
resolved to finally read the novel to our favorite movie this winter.

Some of you may be aware that The English Patient, along with Doctor Zhivago and Casablanca, is my favorite movie. I also know there are many people whose opinions I value that thought it plodding and too long; I get that and know it's a movie you must be in the right mood for.  In reflecting back, I now realize that a perfect set of circumstances was necessary for that first viewing to be far and away the best movie experience of my life. More often than not, I attend movies and cultural events alone as I hate being distracted when trying to focus on something I have planned a day or week around.

While in Iraq during 2007-2008, every paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division knew
 that Juliette Binoche was GSL's  aka 'Pappy' great love

During a performance or movie, my senses are on high alert so muffled yawns, excessive fidgeting, and persistent watch checks can ruin the experience making GSL quite cranky and has on occasion exposed my rougher edges.   I also recognize that attending a movie or performance with agreeable company can greatly enhance the experience.

The night I saw the just released English Patient was with that most agreeable company...two young ladies (actually 3-4 years my senior) I  met under amusing circumstances just a couple months prior. Adding a little frisson to the evening was that I found both ladies quite attractive, charming, interesting, and wasn't at all averse to the possibility something of a romantic nature could develop with one of them...only I wasn't sure which one and later found out that similar possibilities were being entertained by them regarding me and one of my friends.  Even better was that all parties were quite comfortable with those potentialities sorting themselves out in due course.

'Pappy' was more discreet regarding his KST crush...
all pics from Pinterest

My friends knew of my big crush on Juliette Binoche going into the movie and they had a very favorable impression of Ralph Fiennes and 162 minutes later they were madly in love with Count Almasy (RF) and I was only beginning to recover from Hana's (JB) betrayal of me looking at frescoes with Kip but also had a new crush in Katharine Clifton (KST) who I'd love to be marooned in a sandstorm with.

My friends and I still stay in touch (they each now happily married with kids living far away) and we see each other once a year or so and when we do get together we always talk about that night we saw The English Patient.

Which movie experience has been most special to you?

December 17, 2014

The Wright Stuff

December 17, 1903: Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
First human powered heavier than air sustained flight in what is now referred to as the first airplane.

On this day in 1903 at Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, two bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio with no college education became the first to achieve human-powered, heavier than  air sustained flight in what we now call the airplane.  Orville and Wilbur Wright's quest wasn't an Icarus Agenda with necessity as mother. Their motives were rooted in ambition and doing something that had never been done. Orville later had a near fatal fall when flying quite high but it wasn't from hubris....they both knew that to achieve great heights you can't be afraid of falling.  The Wright Brothers were just two men of humble origin with keen intellect, fierce tenacity, and undaunted courage who dared to be great.

Orville Wright 1905
Wilbur Wright (1905)
All pics from Wikipedia

December 12, 2014

Roses in December

Hat Tip to Darling Trudye aka Den Stylist Extraordinaire

Grandmother 'Dodie' and GSL Christmas Day 1964 
God gave us memory so that we may have roses in December. ~J. M. Barrie

When I moved to Chicago back in 1988, my favorite day of the year was when I got to collect my dear Grandmother, 'Dodie', at O'Hare Airport for her annual Christmas visit with Auntie J. Dodie came up from Naples, Florida twice a year to stay with Auntie J for a couple of weeks and  I always pulled rank on my younger cousins so that I would be the first to bask in her delightful company all by myself...just the two of us.  If Dodie was still alive, that special day would have been today... two Fridays before Christmas.

Dodie with her only daughter, my Auntie J circa 1944
Back before 9/11 anybody could walk up and watch planes taxi to the gate. Even though I was in my 20s and 30s, I'd have the same Christmas excitement as when I was a little boy about to tell the jolly old man in red suit and white beard my Christmas gift wishes only a Santa's "Ho Ho Ho..." was now no match for the most delightful sound I've ever heard: Dodie's laugh.  I come from a family of great laughers. My mum has the loveliest laugh to ever grace the earth but is more of a visual spectacle with sound cascading down into a seizure of mirth. Dodie's laugh was also lovely but more delicious, bellowing, and could make buildings shake. As Dodie would deplane, I could always hear a rumble and then her distinctive peal above a chorus of giggles.  As she came up the ramp, she would be flanked by an entourage of well wishers with beaming smiles as Dodie screeched: "there's my darling grandson..." and then insisted we kiss on the lips as her new fan club practically broke into applause. I always thanked the throng who had adopted my Dodie to see that her connection in Atlanta went smoothly and that she arrived safe and sound.
Dodie, DRL, and GSL (front) at my grandparents 'Pete & Dodie' house in Westport, CT circa 1972
During my early childhood, we lived only 2 doors away and I was there every day

The next best day of the Christmas season was always my dear Auntie J's famous Christmas Brunch, usually the Sunday before Christmas which she's been hosting for nearly 40 years.  She lives in the beautiful village of Barrington and I love taking the train out and feeling as though I'm being transported into a Norman Rockwell painting with the train station and town square all decked out in Yuletide Splendor. For years, Dodie was the star attraction at Auntie J's brunch with the whole town turning out to feel the warm embrace of her cackle and purr with delight at the sound of her two favorite words: 'adorable' and 'darling' that with a Dodie utterance reached their apotheosis.

A week from Sunday, I'll be back at Auntie J's Christmas Brunch and at some point one of her longtime friends will ask  me to regale them one more time about a Dodie/O'Hare collection from long ago...the time I forgot where my car was in the 8 story outdoor O'Hare carpark as I pushed a luggage dolly with Dodie in tow who began her day in 82 degrees and sunny and a few hours later was in minus 10 windchill in twinset and kitten heels. The anecdote is only slightly amusing until they remember when Dodie told it nearly 20 years ago...the house shook.

***Many thanks to Jill from the charming blog Everything Just So whose post today sent me on this joyful trip down memory lane.

December 08, 2014

Paris Street, Rainy Day...The 'Intransigents' Bequest...and a Luncheon....

Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877) by Gustave Caillebotte
Art Institute of Chicago

The above painting by Gustave Caillebotte is the 2nd most famous artwork in the Art Institute of Chicago (the first being the subject of my previous post). It's huge. Rather than give dimensions, below is a pic that better demonstrates it's scale.

Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection, 1964.336

Cailleboite is one of my favorite people in history and not for being almost in the very top rank of great painters but rather for how he treated his fellow artists. He was the youngest in the group that came to be known as 'The Impressionists' to also include Renoir, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gaugain, Manet, Sisley and Pissarro.  While Caillebotte correctly thought himself not on the same level  as Monet and Renoir and others he did manage to create a few masterpieces that only their very best work exceeds and we are reminded that 'schadenfreude' is German not French which Caillebotte didn't practice in any language. He was a great friend and benefactor to his fellow artists using the considerable wealth he inherited to enrich all humanity. Caillebotte purchased numerous paintings from these fellow Impressionists thereby giving them much needed money to live on and creating a market. Many of his fellow 'Intransigents' as they were once referred, or Impressionists were rejected by the Salon so Caillebotte organized, financed, and promoted exhibitions bringing these future acknowledged masterpieces to public attention.

In his will, Caillebotte bequeathed to France his vast collection of now priceless paintings which the State accepted...reluctantly.

Gustave Caillebotte Self  Portrait
Musee d'Orsay
I can't help but think that a then unknown and struggling Monet, fresh off a sudden windfall from selling a few paintings to Caillebotte, took one of his afternoon journeys to the bakery that served those pastries he so loved. I imagine in those quiet and delicious moments of triumph he felt affirmation of his revolutionary style from a keen eye he respected and now had enough money to ease everyday burdens. It is often these timely, helpful gestures that invigorate an artist's soul into realizing a creative vision which for Monet was painting the beautiful pictures many tens of millions still stare at in awe and wonder over a century later.

We at The Den love the fine example Gustave Caillebotte set and will be looking for opportunities to honor him. We also know that in so many ways he was responsible for the most beautiful luncheon ever held.

Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881) by Renoir
The Phillips Collection Washington DC
Front right in white shirt and straw boater is Caillebotte
Please look in over at American Alconleigh as our dear co-conspirator is fresh back from walking the Paris Streets on a Rainy Day.

December 03, 2014

Two Sisters

Two Sisters (On The Terrace) 1881 by Renoir..... Art Institute of Chicago
Pierre-Auguste Renoir died on this day in 1919. I have often told people the most beautiful place in Chicago is standing 12 feet away in the 5 o'clock position in front of Two Sisters (On The Terrace) in our wonderful Art Institute  It's easily my most favorite artwork in the museum but probably half the 2 million annual visitors would say the same thing.  Just like saying Beethoven's 9th Symphony is my favorite piece of classical music (actually consider it the greatest work of Art) doesn't set me apart anymore than loving Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare, or Tolstoy.  I have no desire to define or set myself apart from others when citing my preferences. It's only about the beauty and excellence on display.

What's your favorite painting or artwork?

You've likely seen me citing Johnny Mathis' Christmas Waltz as my favorite Christmas song and I discovered another wonderful song last year that I urge you to give a listen. It's called Winter Dreams by that American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson and I just love it!

Now what's your favorite Christmas song and please include whose version.


These two superb selections are from Chronica Domus   Loreena McKennitt  'A Midwinter's Night's Dream'  Blackmore's Night 'I Saw Three Ships'

Suggested by Marie: the wonderful Tracey Thorn  Tracey Thorn 'Like A Snowman'

December 01, 2014

Doctor Zhivago

Julie Christie as 'Lara' in Doctor Zhivago
The Beacons of Budapest have on occasion referred to themselves as The Last of the Great Romantics. Issue must be taken with part of that assertion as GSL currently has a resting pulse of 62bpm so they are not alone. There are times when I find myself in the company of a young couple who are quite obviously truly, madly, deeply in love which gladdens my heart to no end and often share my impression with the couple who blushingly confess that my keen instincts are once again right on the money. To young Romantics, GSL's decrees include: listen to Sinatra only at night, read Tolstoy only in Winter, and set aside a snowy day of leisure with the love of your life and watch Doctor Zhivago together without distraction. It's the most Romantic movie ever made.

Omar Sharif as Doctor Zhivago

Geraldine Chaplin: daughter of Charlie Chaplin and Oona O'Neill and granddaughter of Eugene O'Neill 

Love this scene when she gets off train in this gorgeous outfit!!!

setting of another unforgettable scene

Rod Steiger was the only American in the cast

Haven't seen this version but love Keira Knighly's hat.
All Pics from Pinterest
Greyfriars Bobby senses Bebe's return is imminent
and she has promised treats!