Random Beauties

One of the great things about being a polymath is that I may be searching for something, and along the way find something else of equal or even greater interest in the search. Before this Intarwebz thing came along, such delightful discoveries usually came at the library, where I’d be looking for a particular book, and then, while walking down the aisle looking for it, I’d suddenly find another book on the same topic which looked more interesting than the original object of my search. A twofer! And, of course, checking out two books instead of one was a bonus.

Even as a callow yoof, I did the same thing at home. I’d be looking up something in the Encyclopedia Britannica (of course we had a set of encyclopediae — didn’t everyone?) and be flipping through the pages when suddenly — what? What was that? And off I’d go along a tributary of discovery, finding out something of equal or even greater interest than my original quest. (My younger Readers may not know what the hell I’m talking about, at this point: “Library? Encyclopedia? What the hell is the old fart talking about?” to which I can only suggest that they ask their parents to explain.)

Nowadays, of course, we have the Internet; and while there’s this cornucopia of information out there, there’s also a lot of crap which sadly, neither informs or educates, but simply obfuscates or misleads. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

The other day I was looking for some biographical details on someone (forgotten whom), when I came across this little vision of loveliness:

Her name is Roxy Shahidi, she’s half-Iranian, and apparently she is in the cast of some forgettable British TV show (aren’t they all?). Whatever. Of course, I had to find some other examples of her pulchritude, just to make sure that wasn’t a lucky pic. Oh, good grief.

Sadly, of course, this is where a little too much information can spoil things: apparently young Roxy is a committed vegan, ergo as crazy as a sackful of cats. (I know, I know, she’s a British actress; can lunacy be far behind?)

But you have to admit: for a random discovery, she’s quite lovely.


Afterthought: I just remembered how I stumbled on Miss Roxy. I was searching for some information about American actress Sarah Shahi:

Coincidentally, Miss Shahi is also half-Iranian, so maybe that’s how the link came about. I don’t know if she is a vegan.

Road Music

As a general rule, I don’t listen to music in the car, other than perhaps Dallas-Fort Worth’s classical music station WRR (101.1 FM) if I’m caught in a traffic jam.

On long trips, however, and especially driving through the bleak nothingness  that is northwest Texas, some sterner stuff is needed. Here’s what I brought along for this particular trip:

  • Steely Dan: Citizen Steely Dan
  • Procol Harum: Prodigal Stranger, Shine On Brightly
  • Lindisfarne: Magic In The Air
  • Kate Bush: The Kick Inside
  • Chicago: Greatest Hits Vol I and II
  • Genesis: Duke, …And Then There Were Three
  • Level 42: Running In The Family, World Machine
  • Joe Walsh: Look What I Did (greatest hits)
  • Wishbone Ash: Time Was (greatest hits)
  • Earl Klugh: Heartstring, Living Inside Your Love
  • Strawbs: Bursting At The Seams
  • Peter Skellern: Sentimentally Yours, Cheek To Cheek

…and some classical stuff that nobody’s interested in: Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saëns, Chopin, the usual stuff.

Yeah, it’s a strange assortment. I like variety in my music. And yes, they’re all CDs. I see no reason to buy online music when I already have most of what I like to listen to.

 

Bucket List Entry #5: Cricket At Lord’s

To most Americans, “Cricket” is a darts game, or else a stupefyingly-boring sport played by Brits, or something.

To me, and to millions of people around the world, cricket is the ultimate gentleman’s sport: leisurely, subtle, with occasional moments of great excitement and still-more periods of escalating, gut-wrenching tension made all the more so by the quiet  hours that led up to them.

I’m not going to bother to explain the mechanics of the game: either you know how cricket is played or you don’t, and that’s it. Suffice it to say that there are essentially two kinds of cricket: first, there’s a quick slogfest that takes just a little longer than the average baseball game, but wherein over three hundred runs can be scored by each batting side (as opposed to the average winning baseball score of only four or five runs… talk about boring). It’s called “limited overs” cricket, and as the name suggests, each side gets a set number of “balls” (pitches) to get the highest possible score, the winner getting the higher score. I don’t much care for limited-overs cricket, because it’s just a slogfest (and therefore more popular with hoi polloi, go figure).

The second type of cricket is called “Test” cricket and is played between different nations — mostly, it should be said, by England and the former British colonies: Australia, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Bangladesh and the West Indies. (Other nations also play cricket, e.g. Scotland, Holland, Zimbabwe, Kenya and even the United States, but those are considered lower-class competitions, not Test matches per se.)

Test cricket is played over a much longer period of five days, and each side gets two innings to bat and field. (Unlike baseball, in which only three batters play per innings, cricket has all eleven players bat consecutively in a single innings.) If you think that a game which takes five days is going to be unbearably dull, well, it sometimes is. But that very dullness is not dull for the players, as each side attempts to penetrate the defenses of its opponent whether by bat or by ball, and dullness can be turned into heart-pounding excitement in a matter of seconds, let alone minutes. Over those five days, well over a thousand runs will likely be scored by the two sides — unless of course it rains (something which happens from time to time in England) and the match becomes shortened. It is also possible that five days will yield a draw rather than victory for one side.

Anyway, having not explained cricket to people who aren’t familiar with it, allow me, then, to introduce you all to #5 on Ye Olde Buckette Lyste.

5. I want to watch a cricket match, and preferably a Test match at the Lord’s ground in St. John’s Wood, London.

Lord’s is rightly called the “home of cricket”, and cricket has been played there since 1787 (admittedly, in three different locations, but the current ground had its 200th anniversary in 2014).

Currently, South Africa is touring England, and the first Test will be played at Lord’s on July 6-10 — and Mr. Free Market has informed me that he’s trying to get tickets for at least one of the days. (It’s a difficult task because both England and South Africa have very powerful teams at the moment, the rivalry goes back well over a century, and interest is therefore keen among the sport’s many followers.)

I’m holding thumbs on this one, but I have to say that if he’s unsuccessful, I’ll settle for watching a county match (between the home team and any other county side). It’s Lord’s, FFS, and it’s my personal haj (if you’ll excuse the cultural appropriation).

(Some people may comment on the unsightly colored advertising splodges on the otherwise-emerald-green turf. Don’t get me started.)

And about that rain business:

Colloquially, that’s known as Pub Time. And yes, I’ll be taking my brolly and wellies, just in case.


Incidentally, the darts game known as “Cricket” in the U.S. is called “Killer” everywhere else in the world. Just thought I’d clear that up.

Reality

Allow me to quote an email exchange I had with my Brit friends earlier this week. While everyone in Britain was oohing and aahing over the nuptials of skinnymalink Pippa Middleton to some chinless Brit dude, I was taken by something else: the car which brought the not-so-blushing bride to the church, and I commented as such to Mr. Free Market and The Englishman in an email which basically said “Never mind the bint, it’s the car I love”. And you have to admit, the Jaguar Mk.V is quite a looker:

I was rudely brought back to Earth, firstly by Mr. Free Market:

“All very well on a bright summer’s day — all 3 of those that we get each year — but the first sign of drama & it won’t start.”

…and yet more by The Englishman:

“Agreed — the idea of a ride in one of those is lovely, but actually they are bone rattlers, noisy, expensive to run and at the slightest excuse refuse to start. Demanding attention all the time with mysterious dramas. Of course with the top off they look fantastic, though often they smell a bit of damp leather and dogs. And in the end something a bit more modern with something up top and a decent level of comfort is a better ride.
And the same goes for the car.”

Such cynicism is appalling.

Not Your Normal Portraits

If you’ve ever wandered through the Louvre in Paris or through any of the great houses in Britain, you’d have come across portraits of royalty and the nobility and good grief, how boring they are. Most, of course, were painted in times when there were no photography, and to preserve any memory at all of King Louis the Umpteenth or His Grace The Duke of  Marmalade-Hyphen-Dogsbottom, a portrait artist was summoned and told, “Paint me.” Needless to say, of course, the painter would take great pains to hide His Majesty’s facial pox marks or the Earl’s syphilis sores, and the result was one of uniform blandness, generations and generations upon generations thereof. If the painter was really good, and not just some fashionable hack that all the Society Knobs were using at the time (yes, that happened then just as it does today), he’d maybe capture a spark of spirit in the eyes, or a dimple in a smile, but mostly they all looked like waxwork figures, with about as much life.

Then came Boldini.

Giovanni Boldini is definitely my favorite portraitist of all time, and indeed he’s in my top ten list of all artists, period. I’m not going to write a potted biography of the man (here’s a decent one on the website bearing his name); rather, I want to highlight just a few of my favorites of his works.

When heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt married the 9th Duke of Marlborough in 1895, one of the things she brought to the marriage, other than a gazillion of her father’s dollars, was a very American attitude towards one’s own children. In contrast to the other noble families of the time, who looked on their male children as “heirs and spares” and wasted no time in shipping them off to boarding school, thence to the Army/Navy or public service, Consuelo adored both her sons, and especially the younger, Ivor Spencer-Churchill.

Enter Boldini. By this time, he was one of the most sought-after portraitists in Europe — indeed, he made so much money through his portraits that in his later years he’d quit painting them and only painted what he wanted to paint (which we’ll look at down the page). Boldini spent some time with Lady Marlborough, and discovered the close relationship between her and her younger son. Then he painted this portrait of the two of them:

The portrait actually scandalized what was known then as “polite” society (even though it was anything but), because instead of having young Ivor standing stiffly at her side in the prevailing fashion, he had the boy lounging against his mother in a pose which, to the swells, looked more like that of a lover than a child, nestled up to her bosom and his hand possessively on her leg. Of course, Consuelo cared not a fig for the whispers — as one of the wealthiest women in the world, and married into one of the oldest and most storied noble families in Britain (or anywhere else) withal, she could tell them all to take a hike, and she did. So the portrait survives to this day at Blenheim Palace, and you can see it for yourself if you do one of the tours (unless the painting is being exhibited elsewhere). I think it’s absolutely incredible: Boldini captured the relationship between mother and son as well as Consuelo’s considerable beauty and elegance, and it remains one of the great family portraits of all time.

Even Boldini’s “ordinary” portraits are anything but. Here’s one of Lady Colin Campbell, a society beauty of the late nineteenth century:

…and I don’t know if there’s a sultrier, sexier portrait of its kind anywhere.

As I said, Boldini gave up portrait painting after a while and started to do works that interested him. Mostly, as his biography notes, they were of women — but instead of the realistic style of the portraits, they began to lean towards late Impressionism. (Whether that’s because of his failing eyesight or just because he liked the style is probably a moot issue. Myself, I love almost every one of his later works.) Here’s a sample. First, the “Spanish Dancer At The Moulin Rouge”:

Now let’s look at something a little (okay, a lot) racier, his “Reclining Nude III”:

Hmmm… maybe I should have put up the usual NSFW warning, but hey, it’s Saturday and you shouldn’t be at work anyway. Finally, here’s my favorite of all Boldini’s paintings, an earlier one entitled “The Hammock”:

In a word, it’s exquisite: the soft springtime lighting and the dense background of bushes, trees and flowers which surround the slight form of the girl sleeping in the hammock. It’s a view which is chaste (the long soft material conceals almost everything except her face) and yet intimate (the stockinged leg falling carelessly off the hammock and out from under the dress). It’s voyeuristic, but innocently so — and I think if Boldini had only ever painted this single work, it would still be considered a masterpiece.

Now you can go and look at his other works, here. No doubt you’ll find one or two that you prefer over my choices, and you won’t hear a word of disagreement from me, ever. That’s how highly I regard this artist.

Enjoy, and if you want to buy a print of one of Boldini’s works (on canvas or paper, in varying sizes), you can do so at the Art Renewal Museum.