Tuesday, 23 November 2021

il bronzino

Passing away on this day in Florence, where he had spent his entire life, in 1572 (*1503), Agnolo di Cosimo, better known by his sobriquet for his dark complexion and red hair, was from his late thirties on engaged as a court painter for the grand ducal family of Tuscany, the Medicis—specifically for Cosimo I and Eleonora, which the Mannerist-trained painter portrayed here as Orpheus, musical virtuoso, around 1538.
The style curried disfavour from the general art world (see previously) from the late-Romantic to early Modern eras, but the disciplined poses and idealised renderings have seen somewhat of a resurgence recently.
Such impressions of poise and unchanging elegance made a lasting influence on aristocratic portraiture though not many others employed heroic nudity for public figures, patrons or otherwise. Many of his commissions were also allegories of classical mythology and biblical passages, including his 1533 depiction of the popular subject of Saint Sebastian—see previously.

Monday, 22 November 2021

mary’s boy child

Originally composed by Jester Hairston (*1901 - 2001) for a roommate's birthday party under the title “He Pone and Chocolate Tea” and the calypso tune later adapted to a holiday song in 1956 after Mahalia Jackson’s 1954 recording “Mary’s Little Boy Child” for Walter Schumann's Hollywood Choir, re-released the following year as a single, the performance by Harry Belafonte (previously) reached and held the top spot on the UK Hit Parade on this day in 1957.  A Christmas standard since, it was the first hit single longer than four minutes and there was also a disco cover-version by Boney M. in 1978 that also topped the charts.


Already holding the distinction since 2014 of being the senior leader of the G7 and longest term in the European Union of any elected head-of-state, Angela Merkel,  holding a doctorate in quantum physics, was appointed to the chancellorship of Germany on this day in 2005, following federal elections and creation of a coalition government as chair of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU-Partei), in partnership with the Bavarian sister-party and the Social Democrats.  Acting as chancellor still under a caretaker administration until a successor is appointed, Merkel has helped the EU and her own country weather the Great Recession, expansion of the supranational bloc, a green power revolutions—Energiewende, ended military conscription, oversaw healthcare reforms, crafted domestic and international responses to migrant and asylum crises, Brexit, Trump and attendant horrors, COVID-19 and the climate emergency.

Sunday, 21 November 2021


turnspit: eccentric, utilitarian canine breeds that have passed out of fashion but could be revived—via Nag on the Lake’s Sunday Links (lots more to see there) 

ball-and-chain: this leashless ankle weight system to control one’s toddler will only make baby invincible—via Super Punch  

miss spirit world 1960: a pageant sourced in spectral photography of the departed  

something—that if true, you couldn’t handle it: a close reading of the recently indicted QANon Shaman’s manifesto  

on รฉcrit aussi ielle: the authoritative French language Petit Robert adds a third, gender-neutral personal pronoun—a concatenation of the masculine and feminine forms (see also)  

the midnight special: eight hours of footage from David Bowie’s television programme the “The 1980 Floor Show,” an episode guest-curated by the artist  

hocus-pocus: the hidden overhauls happening the faรงades of Russian construction sites (see also)  

yes, this is dog: a video phone that allows apartment-bound dogs to call their humans

Saturday, 20 November 2021


Once the weather seemed to stabilise, H and I took a short train journey to the seaside resort city on the Bay of Gdaล„sk to take in the sights and learn about the history of the place, first meeting the home army mascot Wojtek the Bear (more here) memorialised in the churchyard visited by John Paul II in 1999. Among the first spots in the modern era to cultivate thermal cures and health-tourism, Sopot / Zoppot recovered quickly from the war with enduring institutions on balneotherapy and reoccurring music festivals—from Wagner to jazz. The main, pedestrianised thoroughfare is dedicated to the memory of the Battle of Monte Cassino, the costly and destructive stand-off to break the Winter Line with the regrouped Polish II Corps joining Allied forces against Nazi Germany to advance into Rome—the tumult and violence later inspiring American bomber who participated in the razing of the ancient monastery to pen A Canticle for Leibowitz, and whose heroes counted among their ranks our above ursine friend. The main street includes several shopping arcades and Krzywy Domek (the Crooked House), a fairy tale-inspired mall and terminates with the lighthouse and similarly constructed Church of the Holy Saviour and Grand Hotel on the beach, yet extends over half a kilometre further out over the sea with the longest wooden pier in Europe and among the longest in the world.


acta dasii

Fรชted on this day on the occasion of his martyrdom by beheading by fellow soldiers in 303 after Diocletian’s Edicts, Dasius of Durostorum (in the Roman province of Moesia Inferior, near the modern day city of Silistra in Bulgaria) was reportedly put to death for refusing to take part in the next month’s celebrations of Saturnalia, nominated to be the festival’s “king.” Though one of the better attested ancient traditions, most of what is known about the holiday is drawn from the above hagiography—which is suspect as pious propaganda—and suggests after a month of revelry and debauchery and satisfying every carnal pleasure, the chosen one, lord of misrule (rex sacorum) dressed as the personification of the pagan god would slit his throat and sacrifice himself to Saturn. Dasius was having none of this and would rather face capital punishment than end his days in debauchery.

Friday, 19 November 2021


Arriving in the historic city late at night, we took in a quick view of the iconic row of Hanseatic buildings lit up over the Motล‚awa where the Vistula empties into the Baltic before getting an early start the next morning to take in the sites and learn as much as we complex and storied trade and ship-building port, principal entry point of commerce for Pomerania and greater Poland.

Walking the length and breadth of the main city and old town behind the riverfront promenade of granaries, ancient cranes and accounting bureaus and toured among other places the fifteenth century Saint Mary’s Basilica, the one of the largest brick churches in the world and containing priceless works of art (The Last Judgment by Hans Memling) as well as an astrological clock from the early fourteen hundreds by Hans Dรผringer along the Royal Route (Ulica Dล‚uga) between the Golden and Green Gates—the latter originally housing the Gdaล„sk residence of the kings, then presidential office suite of Poland outside the capital.

With mazes of canals and waterways criss-crossing the port and a preponderance of warehouses and retrofitted store fronts, the place reminded us to an extent a combination of Hamburg and Amsterdam. The mannerist Green Gate was designed in the style of Antwerp City Hall.  The chief meeting house for the merchants of the Hanseatic League was in Arthur’s Court (Dwรณr Artusa)  positioned directly behind Neptune’s Fountain, a mastepiece by sculptor Abraham van den Blocke. 

The final image speaks again to the city’s complex history, strategically located on the Polish Baltic Corridor, it was controlled over the centuries by Polish, Prussian and German powers, lately mandated under the League of Nations as the autonomous Free City of Danzig (incorporating Gdynia and Sopot) according to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Poland was to retain access to the sea but as ethnic Germans comprised the majority of the populace at the time, they were able to lobby for this state of quasi-neutrality though largely aligned to Poland for trade and external affairs, reserving the right to maintain a garrison in Westerplattle, use of the seaport and establishing a postal union, the Polish Post Office in the background with the monument to its defenders in front. Through the 1920s and 1930s, efforts were made to keep the city as German as possible, with refusing to teach Polish language in schools and making employment by Poles difficult and by late summer 1939 (see above) had finalised a false-flag operation to legitimise invasion and annexation. The outnumbered garrison holding out against a battleship entering the harbour, the post office (considered extraterritorial and sovereign under Poland) staff resisted for fifteen hours and refused to surrender.

  In August of 1980, the Gdaล„sk shipyard became the birthplace of the Solidarity trade union movement, whose opposition to the Communist regime under leader (and future president) Lech Waล‚ศฉsa sparked and sustained a series of protest movements that eventually destablised the Warsaw Bloc.

Thursday, 18 November 2021

the rainbow taboo

Being disabused of believing that one’s own superstitious inheritance is not universal—like the particularly narrow-held thought that opening up an umbrella indoors causes bad luck, is a rare privilege and can prove particularly exciting if it causes one to completely shift one’s perspective and so especially  liked learning of one Westerner’s singular, impressing experience that turned into a project to document the over one hundred cultural traditions that have a proscription of some sort against rainbows—particularly pointing at them. I think we’re well over the idea it symbolises God’s covenant not to destroy the Earth with a flood ever again but the meteorological phenomenon is strangely ellusive and liminal, present and bold in the sky but something that one cannot reach or get closer to, and is regarded with awe and respect and pointing would be a bit rude or familiar. Some dread malady who be visited on the offending finger, though that curse could be placated by sticking one’s finger in one’s navel. We wonder how with its adoption as a symbol of hope during periods of lockdown, rainbows in windows were received by communities who were raised with these prohibitions.