March 2017

So this showed up in my backyard last Tuesday:

But I had nothing to fear, thanks to my crack team of Security Experts (Taffy and Bibs), who utilized their best Stink Eye maneuver to keep The Dastardly Mr. Fluffy at bay. . .

Mr. Fluffy is actually a very sweet kitty who is obviously a lost house cat. But he’s long overdue for his rendezvous with destiny so I’ve made appointments for him too visit the vet, to make him less likely to roam; unfortunately it’s not until Wednesday. Riding herd on a randy Tom Cat is, honestly, more work than I am in the mood for. We’ve searched for flyers and “Lost” posters in the neighborhood but no one seems to be missing this sweetie and NO, we are NOT looking for ANOTHER cat to add to our posse so if anyone knows of anyone who would like to adopt a smart and gentle Maine Coon, I will personally deliver within a 90-mile radius of Oyster Bay, Long Island.

The news came a few hours after I posted last week’s blog that der Drumpf’s idiotic health care repeal had been effectively defeated by his own party. Oh, lordy, it was just what the doctor ordered: a big fat dose of relief and overjoy! Because of this gift of uplift I am a better, kinder person: I sing to myself, I turn on You Tube and dance, I give people the benefit of the doubt (at least half the time, no matter how un-freaking deserving they are of my patience and I’m talking to you, lady at Costco who held up the checkout line while you searched the boggy depths of your handbag for the elusive credit card that you should have had ready in your hand because, surprise, it’s the CHECK OUT LANE), I foster stray cats when I need another cat in this  house like I need a hole in the head, I am delighted by the small moments of pleasure that have gone unnoticed in these past four months, and I sleep at night like I’m in the middle of a kitty puddle of snooze:

I even got word of a debut novel about another sexually-abused autistic teenager and did not despair for what passes as literature these days. At least there’s not a dog fight in it, or a multi-generational saga from the mean streets of Detroit. See? I’m all about the silver linings!

Last Christmas someone gave Top Cat a gift certificate to Red Robin restaurant. Top Cat and I are not Red Robin kind of people. But last Friday we were in a good mood and decided to not be ourselves and we went for a dine-out at the local Red Robin. I don’t know why these kinds of places are in business when there’s a perfectly authentic Cajun restaurant in a trailer not two miles away, but there you are. Before I received my cold black beans and barely warm “mac’N’cheese” (it was elbow macaroni smothered in a lukewarm cream sauce of some kind) I was served a glass of chardonnay in the filthiest tumbler I have ever seen this side of a Bangalore recycling bin. I handed the foul vessel back to the waiter and yet, I was still in such a good mood that I privately thanked the slovenly bartender for disgusting me — no overindulging on Happy Hour wine for V. Swift, that’s for sure! In fact, I think I might be sober the rest of my life. All I have to do is conjure up the memory of that spittle-encrusted glass and I turn into a tea totaler. At the end of our “meal” at Red Robin we had a largish balance on this gift certificate, which Top Cat gave to the waiter because neither of us has any intention of ever returning to this place ever again.

I should mention that it is cold and rainy today here on the Isle of Long, as I type this on Friday morning. Every cat-body is in the house today, as it is too gloomy and muddy to be prancing around the estate, so that in addition to the regular crew of six who inhabit these rooms, plus the guest in the downstairs powder room, I have the neighbor’s cat, Dennis, in for day care:

Dennis is such a frequent visitor that he has his own spot, on his own pillow atop a cabinet in the basement.

Steve showed up on the front porch as usual for breakfast, but has since then been curled up in his cubby in the garage, that’s how lousy the weather is today:

But it’s still sunshine and flowers in VivianWorld, which I was able to paint this week!

I have to remind you that I am actually not a painter, I am an illustrator, and as such I hack my watercolor to get certain effects. Last week I wanted to paint flowing water, and here’s how I hacked it:

I used masking fluid to map out some “swirls” in the water:

Then I removed the masking fluid, exposing the white, unpainted paper underneath:

Then I painted in a thin, color-matched line inside the empty space:

I turned the picture on its side, just as shown here, because it’s easier to paint these lines smoothly when you use your brush in an up-and-down motion, rather than a side-to-side (if you ask me). Here’s how it looks with painted-in:

I think this is a perfectly fine facsimile of rippling water, and it couldn’t be easier!

DONE:

Remember, I have a darling Maine Coon kitty that needs a home and forget about the 90-mile limit I posted (above). I once drove a cat to Rhode Island (where he found his perfect forever people) so I’m willing to go as far as one tank of gas in my hybrid car. That’s about 550 miles. OK, two tanks if you have the perfect forever home for this guy.

Have a great weekend, everyone — do a Happy Dance against der Drumpf!

 

 

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One year ago, on March 16 2016, I took a look at my life and decided that Things Had To Change:

This was the day, last March 19, when I did my semi-annual bottle return on my empty Fresca cans. Note: I live in New York state, on the USA, where recycling empty soda cans and bottles is mandatory and for which we consumers pay 5 cents per container upon purchase, which we get back when we drop off the empties to appointed recycling locations. I think I made close to $170 on this haul.

This is when the reality of all those cans of soda, ingested one by one by yours truly, every morning (Ah! Is there is anything better than an ice cold can of Fresca with breakfast?) and once or twice during the day for the past three years, hit me as a regrettable life style choice on my part. All that ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, all those doses of brominated vegetable oil, all that gunky acesulfame potassium, not to mention the aspartame that breaks down into formaldehyde in the body (Wait. Isn’t that a preservative? And shouldn’t that help me look forever 57?) and the citrus acid that made me teeth hurt — that made for quite a swill in my guts. And I pride myself on having swill-free guts.

So I quit, that very day, cold turkey. Since then I have not had so much as a SIP of Fresca, going on for 368 days now. Yay me.

It’s not much, to kick a Fresca habit, but the news has been so very, very bad this week that I needed a win and this is all I got: Fresca.

Well, here’s some good news: Monet’s garden in Giverny opens to the public TODAY!

I know this because I read Ariane, Guide to Giverny, who lives in Giverny and wanders through the Clos Normand and the Water Garden throughout all the months of the year knows the ins and outs of this garden as well as Monet himself — catch up with her latest wanderings in her English language blog here. Or, if you want to really delve into the subject, try her wonderful blog in French, Giverny News. Whenever you feel like you wish you were back in Giverny, Ariane’s blogs will take you there, so what are you waiting for?

Speaking of Monet’s Water Garden, I took a shot at painting a lily pond view of his famous Japanese bridge this past week. The view includes the dreaded Copper Beech, so I did a preliminary test of color blobs before I began to paint:

The famous willow tree, working wet-in-wet:

Remove masking fluid, Phase I:

Paint in bridge:

I made the decision here that I can’t deal with all the vegetation in this view — it gets very repetitive and BORING — so I am going to mess around and use my pencil drawing to “fill in” the rest of the landscape. Also, I think that leaving so much white space makes the view more interesting, and makes me almost not hate that damn Copper Beech.

Now, paint in water. This is the trickiest part, because you have to paint in lots of reflections, and some how blob green paint into rose and blue watercolor, a color combination that will make a nice muddy brown if you don’t do it right. It helps greatly if you’ve done this kind of thing mucho times before, and you know both the saturation point of your paper and the timing of each blob of color so it doesn’t make soup:

Remove masking fluid, Phase II:

Paint water lilies:

And DONE:

Monet water lily pond

Dear Readers, how you doing? It’s been a tough week. Don’t get me started. I knew it was going to be a tough year (or four) when I started a Happiness Jar on New Year’s Day:

Yep. That’s all I got. Two notes, commemorating two moments of joy so far this year. Oh, wait. I forgot to write about those Southern-fried pickles I had on Mardi Gras. So that’s three moments of joy, in 83 days.  Actually, I think that’s pretty damn good going, for a Capricorn, in the time of der Drumpf. We have a habit of thinking the worst of people and things. Because we’re only being realistic.

But this is an amazing world so you never know how much things can get better, all of a sudden. You could be walking in the woods, on some fine Spring day, and you look up, and there’s a red panda:

It could happen.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers.

And der Trumpf is still an oozing stinking pustule of scum.

 

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The big news this past week was the very very late Winter blizzard that threatened to ravage America, burying us east coast liberal snots in a thousand feet of snow. On the eve on the Great Snow Day of 2017, I set out my Champagne-O-Meter in the backyard:

Taffy prepped in his own way:

We heard the storm blow in around midnight, rattling all the windows with dire gusts of wind and sleet, and then dawn of the Great Snow Day of 2017 broke:

Top Cat lit a fire in the living room, all the kitties gathered ’round, we made pots of tea and loaves of toast and read our books and napped (I had a dream that I taught sign language to a cartoon octopus) and made more toast and tea. The snow kept falling, but it was mixed with icy rain, which was very heavy and compressed the previous layers of fluffy stuff so that the total accumulation was much less than anticipated, but had the density of concrete. At 3PM I fetched the Champagne-O-Meter from the backyard and lo, the bubbles were good and icy:

We went through 12 pounds of bird seed during this storm, trying to keep all our feathered friends well fueled to ride out this cold snap:

I also bought new straw to put in some additional layers of insulation in Steve’s cubby in the garage and he’s been curled up in it for the past three days:

But I’m not here just to bring you a weather report. I have a story to tell you, a story that is 33 years in the making, if my math is right. It starts in yon olden days of 1984.

When my sister Buffy went to see Monet’s garden in Giverny in May of 1984 she brought back the official souvenir book of the Foundation Claude Monet, which shows the gardens to be in a very skimpy state of restoration. Evidence this photo of the apple tree espaliers:

Her own photos of the garden include this great shot (below) of the apple trees in approx. their 4th year of growth:

I love these photos of the espaliers laid bare — by the time I got to see Monet’s garden for the first time in September of 1990 they had filled in quite a bit. I thought it was an OK garden back then because to me it was mostly a tourist attraction, not a garden experience.

In the book that I called Le Road Trip  (2012), I did not spend much literary or face time in the garden because, well, you can read about it on page 55.

And then came time (2012 – 2015) for me to do the book I called Gardens of Awe and Folly. I considered including Monet’s garden in the book because I really like those nifty apple tree espaliers that make a cute fence around a small lawn in the part of the garden called The Clos Normand (my favorite part of the garden). The question was, could I paint them?

This is my very first attempt at painting Monet’s apple tree fence, some time in the dark ages of 2012:

As anyone can see here, this pic stinks. But I give myself credit for seeing the painting of it all the way through to the end, the better to judge the craptitude of my talents, such as they were, at the time.

Being the Capricorn that I am, I am determined to get the hang of this bit of garden. My first idea to improve the chances of my painting a decent pic was to pull back my point of view, to back up from my close up of the espaliers:

Nope.

BTW, This apple tree fence is the first thing you encounter in Monet’s garden after you buy your ticket and walk through his former painting studio — now gift shop — and through the door that leads you onto a short, narrow path into the garden. P.S.: There is only one Poplar tree in the background of this view in real life. Don’t ask my why I painted in 12 extra poplars, except that they are a whole lot of fun to paint and they are the trees that best communicate “FRANCE”.

Well. It was clear to me that I was getting no where, painting from my old tourist photos of Monet’s garden. There was nothing to do but for me to go back to Giverny and take another really good look at the place and think about it and photograph it specifically for painting references. So in May of 2013 that’s what I did.

And WOW. If you ever have the chance to see Monet’s garden in cherry blossom time, GO. In my experience, July and August are prime for the water garden and September is prime for the allee, but May is a whole other category of awesome in the whole rest of the garden. I got more out of that visit to Giverny than any of my several previous visits.

Back home, I took a look at my new reference photos  . . .

. . . and tried out my renewed painting prowess, starting with a quick “sketch”to see if I could paint the foliage of those apple trees:

Any way, in the end I did not include Monet’s garden in my garden book for several reasons: it was too big a subject for the scope of my book; I don’t really have a “take” on the place; and I couldn’t paint the damn apple trees, which are the things that I am most fond of in this garden.

But my lack of ability to paint the apple tree espaliers in Monet’s garden has not stopped me from try, try, trying again and again. It’s my genius, you can say, that I don’t give up when I have a goal in mind. My goal was to paint those damn apple tree espaliers in Monet’s garden no matter how many ugly paintings it took.

So, last year, after my garden book was out and making its way in the world, I faced my nemesis once again. Here’s my first re-try:

Nope.

There are three problems with this scene, two of which are evident in the ref photo. One is that the view takes in a part of the garden that is called “The Paintbox” [to the right], which has seven tall, H-shaped trellises over head: they must be dealt with, somehow, in the background.

Two: There’s a Copper Beech (in French: hetre pourpre] in the way-back, a tree that was planted by Monet himself and as such, is something that must be acknowledged, even though I personally dislike purple-leafed trees and think Monet’s Copper Beech is a very dissonant note when you’re trying to paint the harmony of this view.

Lastly, the property itself is on a slant — you’re actually looking slightly downhill when you are looking at the garden from this direction. Here’s another photo from the apple tree lawn to give you an idea of that:

I’m just noting that the perspective makes this little lawn a little tricky to paint.

On my second attempt at a full-page painting of this scene, here is how I tried to deal with the H-shaped trellises in The Paintbox:

Nope.

Next, I tried to go all Impressionistic re: those trellises and I pretended that that annoying red Copper Beech in the background wasn’t there:

Nope.

One last try:

I almost thought I had it here, but . . . Nope.

So I put it away and Spring became Summer, and then Fall, and then Winter, and etc.

Last month I took another stab at painting this corner of Monet’s garden, starting with a whole new point of view. I am painting the same corner of the apple tree lawn, but I’m putting myself further back, that is, standing right at the entrance to the garden. I started with a little watercolor “sketch” of my new parameters:

I elaborated it:

Nope.

I know I am reeeeeeeeeeal close to getting it right, I can feel it. I can also see, now that I’ve done the entire scene, that I’ve chosen a very visually crowded POV so editing out details is going to be crucial. I’m going to have to try a new way of keeping in detail without overloading the color scheme.

So, I head back to the drawing board with my brilliant, new scheme. I’m going to add a new element into this scene that I hope will clarify the view: very bold pencil lines. Here’s my first try:

Nope.

I made the mistake of drawing the foreground first, before doing the background wash. Then I did the background wash and it was bad bad bad from the get-go. So I start over:

Nope.

This (above) is me trying to convince myself that a bad background wash will work out if I keep painting. I wasted too much time before I ditched this. Let that be a lesson.

So I start over:

Nope.

I knew that background wash was a failure, but I took the opportunity of this failure to test some ideas I have about where the darks and lights in this pic should go and how to incorporate my pencil drawing into the watercolor, so I kept painting — not to rescue a bad pic, but to act out on some hunches. This was not a waste of time, even though it did not result in a good pic.

On the next start-over, I thought I’d do the wash first and then, if it worked, I’d do the drawing on top of it:

Nope.

But I’m getting there.

And on my next attempt, I got it !

And here’s the finished pic, DONE:

I am in love with that background wash. It still needs a few tweaks, and I might  take another look at this in a month or so and hate it, but for now, I am happy with the story that this pic tells about walking into Monet’s garden in Giverny on a sunny Spring day.

In fact, I was so hopped up about “solving” this vexing problem of Monet’s garden that on the same sunny day I entered this pic, turned right when I got to the fork in the path, walked to the other side of the lawn, turned around, and painted this:

OK, I had to paint this twice (in one week) to get it right, but twice (in one week) is a lot better than 13 times over four years.

For me, painting is a lot like writing. The first draft always stinks, always always always. But you stick with it. The next draft might still stink, but at least you know how it stinks and you have some ideas on what needs to be changed to to make it work. The next re-write gets a tiny bit better, but it stinks in its own, new, way; then the next re-write gives you hints that you’re on the right path. So you keep re-writing, re-vising, sharpening your pencils, trying new tricks, honing in on what works and what doesn’t. Finally, you have something that isn’t perfect, mind you, but comes as close as possible to the vision that you have in your head. So you back off and move on to the next, bigger, harder thing that you have to write. And, yes, when it comes to my books, it usually takes at least 13 drafts over four years to get it close to what I want the damn thing to be.

Any day now I will be starting in on my first crappy draft of the next book I want to write and NO, I will NOT be flaunting the variously crappy incarnations of the text. You’re welcome.

Stay warm wherever you are, and if wherever you are is in those delightful climes of the antipodal Summer, then stay cool and put out a water bowl for thirsty koala bears.

And oh, yeah: der Drumpf is still a horseshitting pile of pus.

 

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Hi Dear Readers.

Go see this movie:

If you can leave the theater without wiping tears of wonder and awe from your eyes, well, then, you’re not me.

And so, speaking of awe, I am dedicating this post to Dear Reader Maryanne, who went to Iceland last November and, from there, sent me something to mark 2016 as a year that didn’t totally end on a bad note:

Still in Mint Condition.

I love this object. Today, I want to mosey from my personal infatuation with this runic talisman, called the Aegishjalmur, the Helm of Awe, to London, where I was this past August (and on which I ruminated at length in this very blog for most of September of last year). Because as long as we’re talking about helms, here’s a story that I haven’t told you about a London helm that thrills me to pieces:

The only thing that I wanted to look at in the British Museum was a collection of very ancient relics dug up in the 1930s in Edith’s Pretty’s garden in a place in eastern England called Sutton Hoo. This happens a lot in Britain: start digging up any old back yard and you can come up with shovels full of Roman coins, Viking jewelry, Celtic weapons, etc. The stuff of this Sutton Hoo hoard dates from a half-mythical Anglo-Saxon kingdom from the early 7th c. (So little is known about 7th-c. England that most of what has been passed down feels more like myth than history.) This helmet was an extraordinarily rare find — only four such helmets are known from this period. It was also found in more than 500 pieces, which accounted for less than half of the original surface area.

The first assemblage of the 500 helmet pieces was completed by 1947, but continuing research showed it to be inaccurate and it was dismantled in 1968. The new restoration relied entirely on the evidence of the fragments themselves and not on preconceived ideas — that’s called intellectual honesty, Dear Readers. It took the conservator 18 months of painstaking study and experimentation to re-configure it to its current iteration, which has held steady since 1977.

Of particular interest to me, because I like winged things, is the almost entirely preserved Dragon that forms the face covering of this helmet:

The conservators now theorize that the complete helmet would have looked like this:

OMG, the power of this thing rattles my marrow.

It also happens that there are other hoards, in addition to the Sutton Hoo  hoard, on display at the British Museum. The one called the Cuerdale Hoard is the one that I thought was hilarious:

It’s the “interpretation” of this hoard that I find so awfully funny. To quote: Like many Viking silver hoards, the Cuerdale Hoard housed . . . blah blah blah.

Wait. Like many Viking silver hoards? There’s that “many” Viking silver hoards??? Like, so many that this one is just your average, every day Viking silver hoard? Like, the kind of Viking silver hoard that shows up on the Saturday when you start digging out the foundation for that patio you’ve always wanted off the kitchen, the one that you think is going to take you a day, maybe a weekend at most to do, only this damn Viking silver hoard shows up and you have to stop everything and call in the National Trust to come catalog and haul away yet another load of ingots, bracelets, brooches, rings, and other ornaments? That usual, predictable, ordinary Viking silver hoard?

Only when you live in a place with so much real history as Ye Olde England, and I mean long-ago/far-away deep, real, authentic history, can you even think of writing such a thing as “Like many Viking silver hoards“.

I, reading this as a person who comes from a land where people get all excited if they find a 50-year old penny slotted in the baseboard during a kitchen floor reno, found this bit of text to be hilariously casual about, well, Vikings. And their silver hoards. I, again as a person who comes from a land with a mere skin-deep sense of history, am in awe of the cultural authenticity of a people who have Viking silver hoards strewn about them like so many, well, Viking silver hoards. [Or like runes in Iceland. See? There was a reason I started with the Aegishjalmur.]

And that is why I reject the Statue of Liberty. Because I won’t settle for fake history! I  won’t be roped in by phony symbolism! And neither should you! Don’t mistake sentimentalism for altruism, side-show hucksterism for heritage. I know that we Americans are anxious for a home-grown culture, and that we wish we had tons of Viking silver hoards laying around, but we don’t, and history takes a lot of time and generations — and short-cutting it by buying into pre-fabbed patriotism only makes us corny, shallow, and incapable of telling the difference between the truth of what is real, and really “us”, and the intellectual dishonesty of a flattering myth. And as for the idea that the millions of people who have projected values of righteousness onto the Statue of Liberty have redeemed it from its ignoble origins, I say NO it doesn’t! Because America is not a cargo cult! (I hope not.)

I doubt that I have changed anyone’s mind, because we all know what happens to people who change their minds about opinions they hold dear: They die.  But I had to give it a shot.

So let’s do some painting.

I took this picture on a cloudy day in 2013, in Monet’s garden in Giverny (that’s Giverny in France, not a Viking nation but still pretty historical) . I love the color scheme of this flower bed, which I hope to do right by, in my own little non-Viking way.

I had a few false starts with the background, but on my third try I got this far and remembered to get out the camera. Notice how I have left the back half of this flower bed as just blobs of paint color. That’s because I have figured out that stuff in the distance is blurry (to the eye, not the camera — and I don’t want to re-paint what the camera has already documented). You can see here the I have already applied little dabs of masking fluid for reasons that I well reveal later in the painting of this scene:

I realize that I will have to show you, in another post, how I make those woozy swirls of color to stand for flowers and greenery. I just love taking advantage of the watery aspects of watercolor to do the work of “painting”. But I make these little pools one by one, letting them dry thoroughly before I make the next one, so they don’t run together and make sludge.

Here’s how I make the little flower stems, by whisking a paint brush through small puddles of paint that are at the right stage of half-dry:

Don’t over-do the wet-in-wet stem work, tho.

Time to go bold with the blobs of darker color, to give some oomph to this pic. I do it little by little, same as I did with the blue and purple bits

Dabbing some dark blue paint into the wet green paint makes a very nice effect: (next to the bits that are already dry)

See?

Remove the masking fluid:

OK, let’s paint in some tulips:

I think I used about 4 or 5 different shades of purple and red to do these tulips:

And now let’s dab in some Forget-Me-Nots:

DONE:

I think this pic captures the way the garden feels when you are there, the way the flowers wash over your senses like pools of color.

I have learned a lot by painting this scene: how much detail to leave out, which aspects of color and garden design to emphasize, how to avoid my usual mistakes of composition, and how to paint around my limitations. And, for me, this painting is BIG — about the size of 12 Triscuits. I think I have a lot more confidence now to look at other views that I have considered too difficult to paint and have a go at them. I’m talking 24-Triscuit scenes. HUGE, for me.

Why? Why bother? That’s a good question that I ask myself about every five minutes.

My best answer is: Because if I don’t try to become the best I can be at this, I’ll have to go vacuum the living room and I really hate housework.

Which I think is a good enough answer.

So next week we’re painting the most difficult thing I’ve ever painted, which I have already made seven or eight really ugly attempts at. And of course you’ll see those too.

Taffy and the crocuses.

Although it is sunny and mild as I type this on Thursday afternoon, by the time you read this, my Wonder Ones, the Isle of Long might be under 5 inches of snow — 12 hours of bitter Winter weather are in the forecast.

I hope you all, even in Summery Australia, have a nice half-frozen bottle of champagne handy and have a great weekend!

And, oh yeah, der Drumpf is still an ass hole.

 

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For our Mardi Gras Night Out (this past Tuesday, the last day of February), Top Cat and I made our way to Biscuits & Barbecue, a classic diner here on the Isle of Long, situated on a back street in an industrial neighborhood that gave us hope that this could be our new favorite dive eatery. As a matter of fact, the 40-seater is a superb source for authentic Louisiana cuisine, which included an appetizer that I would not have dared to try if it had not been Mardi Gras and we had indeed BYOB’ed our bottles of Abita Bourbon Street Imperial Stout.

And that’s how we made the acquaintance of the appetizer known as Delta Fried Pickles (with chipotle mayo dipping sauce):

In normal times, the idea of warm pickles would make me queasy, but these are not normal times. And did I mention it was Mardi Gras? OMG, these were the best things I’ve tasted since Top Cat’s Thanksgiving turkey, and the best new thing I’ve come across since I had  stroopwafle on a KLM flight from Paris in 2003:

The Dutch national cookie. Unbelievably good. Suddenly I want to go to Amsterdam in the worst way.

And I am sure that the low-landers would let me into their lovely country as I am certifiably free of rabies, which I never actually had in the first place, as determined by follow up tests. BTW, it’s not the rabies shots (what the Brits call “jabs”) that hurt — it’s the immunoglobulin that precedes the rabies shots that kills you: it’s a syringe loads with four vials of stuff that the nurse called “very viscous”, which means it was like glue to push through the needle that was stuck in my arm so that the nurse had to call over a burly ER doc to help her depress the plunger, all the while telling me to RELAX and keep my arm from tensing up. It didn’t help that I have an upper arm that the medical professionals called “teeny tiny”. This is one instance when it would have helped if I’d had a few extra pounds on my frame. My whole arm ached for several days afterwards.

But I do not in any way blame the raccoon who bit me for biting me. Raccoons, and any other animal and insect that I can think of, are not “pests” and are fully entitled to bite any human they like. They aren’t the ones that are killing this planet. [Insert a deeply felt, but thoroughly depressing anti-people polemic, which I will spare you from reading.]

Back to current events, it’s been Spring-like all these past two weeks here on the Isle of Long, and I’ve had flower gardens on my mind . . .

. . . but I won’t be painting today. Instead, as a public service, I want to spend the next 10 – 12 minutes of your life presenting you with a history lesson because while my internet was flaking out last week I had time to catch up on my reading:

I, like every other person working with a full set of marbles, am fed up with der Drumpf’s executive order ass-hattery, but I am even more fed up with these kind of intellectually lazy cliches (see above). This cover illustration is called Liberty’s Flameout and it’s by John Tomac, who explains it this way:  “It used to be that the Statue of Liberty, and her shining torch, was the vision that welcomed new immigrants. And, at the same time, it was the symbol of American values. Now it seems that we are turning off the light.”

Those italics are mine, and are what I want to discuss today.

The New Yorker should know better than to put this on its cover! It’s OK to protest  der Drumpf’s immigration dragnet BUT NOT IN THESE TERMS! It’s the same as when I heard a host of an NPR talk show (that’s National Public Radio, for my Dear Non-U.S. Readers; a non-biased and usually hi-brow source of news for those listeners who are not your typical American ass hats) ask his audience, Don’t those words on the Statue of Liberty about “Give me the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free” mean anything??

That was me, yelling at the radio, NO, NO! Those words don’t mean ANYTHING!!!

Those words, of course, are part of a poem that is mounted onto the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, that famously ends with the lines:

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

People who should know better quote those words often, usually in rebuke to Republicans, as if they represent some sort of official American immigration policy.

To kinda quote Inigo Montoya: You keep using those words. I do not think they means what you think they means.

I am Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die. THAT Inigo Montoya.

I will explain how I, one of der Drumpf’s biggest haters, would also be happy if the Statue of Liberty rusted itself to oblivion. Happy reading. I’ll meet you at the end with a new painting project for next week.

“The Americans believe that it is Liberty that illumines the world, but, in reality, it is my genius.”

Those are the words of the designer of the Statue of Liberty, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, an Alsatian sculptor who yearned for wealth and world renown. His big chance, as he saw it, for the fame that he richly deserved, was for the building of a celebrated colossus that he set out to shop around. At this time (1869), Bartholdi was not a fan of the American people and wasn’t even particularly devoted to the idea of liberty: his first pitch for his giant, torch-bearing statue was to the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, which was, at the time, the single greatest commercial conduit for the international slave trade.

The statue was to be installed at the opening of the Suez Canal in Egypt and was to be called “Egypt Enlightening the World” or “Progress Enlightening the World” or, most awkwardly, “Egypt (or Progress) Carrying the Light to Asia.”

Failing to close the deal in Egypt, Bartholdi repackaged it for America.

One little catch: before Bartholdi could talk “the American people” into receiving his monumental gift, he had to persuade “the people of France” to pay for it. However, to the French people of the day, the project was Bartholdi’s, not theirs. At every stage of the fundraising, Bartholdi was insulted by the lack of public enthusiasm and the absence of “official” assistance, starting with the Third Republic of France which nixed the proposition of France’s national government donating money for the statue.

So Bartholdi and his confederate, the French politician Édouard René de Laboulaye, formed an organization called the French-American Union in 1875 and called for donations in both countries – a call which did not exactly flood the coffers. Actually, Bartholdi and Laboulaye failed to get anyone in America especially excited about the project until the American publisher and yellow journalist Joseph Pulitzer started a drive, in his daily newspaper The World, that attracted more than 120,000 (American) contributors, most of whom gave less than a dollar.

Most historians blame the Spanish American War on Pulitzer and his gullible readers.

But these donations were not enough. Ultimately, Bartholdi filled the gap by going showbiz: he charged admission to people who were less than eager to donate money but were happy to pay to see the inside of the incomplete statue’s head or climb to the top of the torch in the not-yet-attached arm.

To add to Bartholdi’s chagrin, it happened that when the statue was completed and shipped to American soil, New York Governor Grover Cleveland vetoed an allocation of funds for its installation (also, the statue needed an expensive pedestal for it to stand upright, which the state didn’t want to pay for either), and the U. S. House of Representatives declined to allocate funds to support the unveiling ceremony.

Long seen as simply a New York attraction, the statue was designated a national monument in 1924 by Calvin Coolidge and in 1933 the National Park Service assumed its administration.  And that is how the American government ended up “owning” the so-called Statue of Liberty, and therefore “the American people” own it in that euphemistic, grammar-school-civics-class sense. (Props to B K Marcus from The Libertarian Standard for the snarkier tidbits in this essay.)

As for that stupid poem:

The sonnet, called The New Colossus, was written in 1883 by a wealthy and self-published “poetess” Emma Lazarus as a donation to an auction conducted by the Art Loan Fund Exhibition in Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty, in order to raise the money to build the expensive pedestal that no government, French or American, wanted to pay for. The poem went into a souvenir booklet and was promptly forgotten. It was only in 1901 that a society matron named Georgina Schuyler – one of Lazarus’s closest friends – started lobbying to have “The New Colossus” engraved onto a bronze plaque and affixed to Lady Liberty’s base as a tribute to her friend, who was already dead for 14 years and faded into well-earned literary obscurity. The plaque was bolted onto the pedestal in 1903, with very, very, very little fanfare and absolutely no referendum.

So: The Statue of Liberty is the brainchild of an egomaniac with the self-marketing instincts of der Drumpf and could just as well have been lighting the Suez Canal for the Ottoman slave trade; it was a “gift” that the recipients paid for after it was disowned by the local, state, or national governments in France and America at every phase of its construction and installation; and its famous motto is little more than graffiti that expresses the sappy sentiments of a rich lady who wrote poems for magazines.

Now do you want to use this ton of kitsch as a symbol of all that is right and good about America?

I didn’t think so.

So let’s get back to this crazy Spring weather, shall we? I know a lot of you, my Dear Readers, are thinking about doing some gardening in this fine season. And the rest of us are happy to settle into our Adirondack chairs with an icy G&T in hand and let you hoe to your heart’s content.

I’m not saying that those of us who sit and watch and do our gardening with our paintbrushes aren’t perfectly capable of doing some high-class gardening, nest-ce pas? We might even do a little “gardening” in a masterpiece garden such as Claude Monet’s little flower patch in Giverny:

 

If you are interested, I would be happy to show you how to paint pansies, tulips, forget-me-nots, and cherry blossoms such as these. OK, maybe not the pansies. But definitely all the rest. Which might be useful in your upcoming projects.

OK?

Have a great weekend, my Wonder Ones. And if this whole Statue of Liberty thing has upset your mental map of the world, here’s a picture of that will make everything right again:

Candy, acting like a normal cat.

 

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