Statue of Liberty

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)


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:


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.


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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