Monday, September 29, 2008

Happy Monday

A little treat in honor of the news today.

This scene always reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons in which they parody, well, this scene:
Bank accountant: I don't have your money here, it's in Bill's house and Fred's house.
Moe: What the hell you doing with my money in your house, Fred?

And everyone starts punching each other.
In other news, The Bowery Boys have what I consider to be one of their best podcasts ever, in which they discuss the history of the New York Stock Exchange. Apparently stockbrokers used to work out of bars, and a place called the Tontine Coffeehouse, which actually worked on the premise of a tontine. Which of course makes me think of yet another Simpsons episode, the Flying Hellfish:

Mr. Burns: Does anyone know what a "tontine" is?
Ox: Duh, it's a written agreement we all enter into in which the surviving member becomes the sole possessor of all them purty pictures.
Mr. Burns: Well put, Oxford.

You can't buy writing like that!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Frederic Mares and his Cabinet of Curiosities

As, promised, a much-delayed but heartfelt tribute to the best museum in Barcelona.

Frederic Marès (1893-1991) was a wealthy Catalan sculptor, well read and well traveled, who spent most of his fortune gathering all kinds of objects, from medieval art works to 19th and 20th centuries items. He is quoted as saying, "I create sculpture in order to be able to collect sculpture."

At the turn of the century, Spain (and Italy, Greece, etc.) were being quietly plundered by art traffickers who visited churches in remote rural or mountain villages to carry away all the art works they could lay their hands on, including mural paintings.

Alarmed by this fact and by the general decay of these small remote churches, Frederic Marès did his best to preserve this legacy searching and obtaining a wide collection of medieval art works (sculptures, altar-pieces, accessories, etc.), which are now displayed in the Middle Ages section of the Museum.

Marès also realized how so many daily life objects would actually disappear, erased by progress, and he extended his passion for collecting and preserving to all kinds of daily life items and things, also displayed at the Museum.*

And this is where it gets really interesting.

The second floor houses the "Colleciò Sentimental", a comprehensive collection of small
Baroque works of art, tinware, hand-tools and various kinds of scales, playing cards, advertisements, dried
flowers under glass, scrap-books, ashtrays, antique cameras, tobacco jars, binoculars, watches, old seals, table silver, porcelain and much more.

The cumulative effect of the sheer number of collectibles is dizzying, as you go through room after room in a warrenlike house, each room crammed with human detritus. I felt like Alice going down the rabbit hole, when she passes by all those random, floating objects. For any obsessive collector this place is pure heaven.

Wooden Medival Sculpture

Whimsical Carvings

Tools, Keys, Coins, Etc.

Lace handkerchiefs, in the "Ladies Room"

* From "Barcelona Tour Guide." There aren't many books on Mares, and none of the links work on the museum website, so tour-guides will have to suffice as reference works, for now. Also, I had to crib some photos from Flickr since we didn't take enough. I wish I had some photos of the diorama room!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Monkey News

This just in: langurs are adorable.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

It's not often I read a book in a weekend, but it does happen from time to time that something catches me and won't let go until it's done.

This weekend, vast chunks of time were devoted to The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, a book that started off crammed with dull, extraneous details and overlong descriptions, then swiftly turned into the gripping story of the murder of three-year-old Saville Kent and Mr. Whicher's ill-fated attempts to unravel the family's dark secrets . Summerscale's book is marvelous not only as historical biography but as a history of the genre, revealing interesting little tidbits about the detective story in popular culture (such as the origin of the word "clue" and the first appearance of the term "sleuth" in common usage). The only downside to melding literary and social history is that there are some major spoilers if you haven't read The Moonstone yet. (Alternatively, if you happen to lean toward the baser of the literary arts, the isolated brother/sister pair will remind you less of The Turn of the Screw or the Mystery of Edwin Drood or even Les Enfants Terribles, and more of Flowers in the Attic. Not me, of course, but you know, someone very lowbrow who is not me.)

Aside from that, it's hard not to find yourself compelled to learn more about the strange Constance Kent and her family -- it's even hard to not like her, the girl who'd once donned boy's clothes, shorn her hair, and ran away to sea with her brother to become a sailor. I admire Summerscale's ability to weave the various threads together, somehow making it seem as if the whole world was caught up in the affair, from the press and novelists, to the government and police, to the individual Englishman of every class -- even the very weather, stormy and freakish in 1860, seemed implicated in it somehow. And even, possibly, tiny microbes (trust me).

It's hard to be sure exactly what happened on June 29, 1860, the year Saville Kent was murdered, because even the final conclusion leaves room to surmise and wonder. The final chapter, which contains something rather beautiful and poignant, will remind you that, after all the thrill and sensation of (possibly) solving a murder, after everything, there were some very sad little children playing this game, and an utterly innocent victim.

Update: Silly me, I was so excited that I totally forgot to mention something. There is a wonderful set of minor characters in this book, the older sisters Elizabeth and Mary Ann, who are two eerily circumspect spinsters who keep to their own quarters and to themselves. So this book gets double extra spinster points! It has everything!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Belle Epoque

There's something about this transitional season that leaves one a bit confused when it comes to getting dressed in the morning. Invariably, some layers will be stripped off by late afternoon, then reapplied when the cool of evening falls. Today I wore black stocking under a summer dress, and was reminded of a Sassy magazine fashion spread of my youth titled "Belle Epoque" in which girls did just that: paired floaty white summery dresses with thick black tights and heavy boots. Clearly Lautrec-inspired.

So I've decided to give all my bright summer dresses one last whirl with cardigans and a pair of tights before I put them away for the season. But I'll be careful to check for fabric compatibility first: certain stockings with some fabrics create the unsightly phenom known as static cling. And one doesn't want to be bare legged in September.

Other clothing news: Goths are, as always, in style. I wonder if this has a little to do with the current economy (the author notes that an all-black wardrobe is convenient for poor people). I also note that the Belle Epoque coincided with the Progressive Era in the U.S., which ocurred right after the Gilded Age. The Gilded Age, of course, ended with a spectacular economic panic. Am I reaching here, or is this all connected, cosmically, somehow?

This Black Frill Check Coat makes me wish I lived in the UK.

Other people also like to dress Belle Epoque, sometimes:

(From Kingdom of Style)

Finally, Tom Tierny might have to be my hero. The man makes historical-costume paper dolls, for goodness' sake.

Stay tuned for more stylish updates, including pictures of Art Nouveau houses by Gaudi and a tribute to Frederic Mares, the ultimate collector.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Our honeymoon will be nothing like this movie ...

But I will probably end up disheveled, leaning up against a graffiti-covered wall with my hair out of place and smoking too many cigarettes, at some point in the next ten days.