Friday 29 October 2010

The Grand Tour ...

How many of us would like to emulate the ‘tourists’ of a few centuries ago, by travelling to a variety of destinations dependent on our interests and whims most probably? Certain places would have been essential – Paris, the Mediterranean, Florence, Venice and Rome ... perhaps with a detour into Switzerland for the air and the mountains, or Austria and Vienna for the music and opera.

Could I put my hand up please! – and you?

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884-1886, The Art Institute of Chicago. This picture which took Seurat two years to complete shows members of each of the social classes participating in various park activities.

Recently the New York Times described the Grand Tour in this way: “Three hundred years ago, wealthy young Englishmen began taking a post-Oxbridge trek through France and Italy in search of art, culture and the roots of Western Civilisation. With nearly unlimited funds, aristocratic connections and months (or years) to roam, they commissioned paintings, perfected their language skills and mingled with the upper crust of the Continent.” (Oxbridge = a term for Oxford and Cambridge Universities)

This genre and the ‘invention of the Grand Tour’, by mainly upper-class European young men of means, meant the custom flourished, demanding that other countries be investigated, wondered at and explored – opening up hitherto unknown Europe to its residents.

This tour will gently guide you along the way with some artists in this period whose notecards I bought to reply to letters or birthday cards received from family and friends. The pack contains five cards – and we start at the beginning with Canaletto (1697 – 1768) who painted the “Grand Canal from the Palazzo Balbi” in Venice.

The River Thames from Richmond House: a classic veduta by Canaletto, 1747.

Canaletto came to England in 1746 to be nearer his market ... he had been selling his paintings to Englishmen on their Grand Tour, through an agent,... and apart from painting London scenes, he travelled to see England, as his picture of Alnwick Castle shows in this post.

Canaletto and many artists from this period until the late 1800s practised the art of ‘vedute’ and were mainly known as vedutisti (“landscape or cityscape painters”). Two cards from Austrian artists the first of The Grand Canal Venice by the old master Franz Richard Unterberger (1838 – 1902); the second by Charles Euphraise Kuwasseg (1838 – 1904) of a continental river scene – but here I show a painting of the Battle of Fuzhou; his father had emigrated to Paris from Austria and both father and son specialised in landscapes.

Chinese ships Yangwu and Fuxing being attacked by French torpedo boats No. 46 and No. 45 at the Battle of Fuzhou. Combat Naval De Fou-Tcheou by Charles Kuwasseg, 1885.

The next artist is Paul Madeline (1863 – 1920), who also specialised in landscapes, but who went and settled in an artists’ commune at Crozant, in central France. This particular commune confirms The New York Times’ statement that those early tourists would find here art, culture and the roots of Western Civilisation.

Creuse River in Argenton-sur-Creuse

The River Creuse, on which Crozant sits, rises in the granite foothills of the Massif Central, while the limestone plains to the north form part of the Paris basin. This geographical boundary provides another frontier – a linguistic one.

To the north the languages of Anglo-Norman and Old French (langue d'oïl) influenced the northern tongues of England, Flanders, Germany, Normandy – including the Old French speaking dialects and languages that developed in the States and Canada; while the southern languages of Occitan (langue d’oc) influenced the tongues of southern France, Spain and Italy.

My fifth card is by the Italian painter Angelo Morbelli (1853 – 1919) – and is exactly this picture: A view of the Isola Bella. However Morbelli, along with many others, became influenced by the ‘divisionist’ techniques being promulgated in the latter half of the 1800s.

Divisonism was the characteristic style in Neo-Impressionist painting defined by the separation of colours into individual dots or patches which interacted optically. By requiring the viewer to combine the colours optically instead of physically mixing pigments, divisionists believed they were achieving the maximum luminosity scientifically possible. This was the period where scientific theories of vision encouraged a departure from the tenets of Impressionism: Seurat (1859 - 1891) was a major artist practising this form, which he called Chromoluminarism.

This ties in with a link provided by Delia Lloyd, who is an American writer/journalist based in London – where she blogs about adulthood (when do we get there?), fun intellectual items, and has links to her political and social inputs on Daily Shows, political shows et al ... worth a check out.

Delia highlighted this website – the Modern Art Time Line .. and what an interesting site it is .. if you want technicolour – go here!! Also if you want to know a little more about Modern Art .. then here’s the place to get a colourful overview.

Our Grand Tour is finished for this letter .. but I have a feeling we will be back, especially as I have just paid a visit to the Gauguin Exhibiton at the Tate Modern on the South Bank of the Thames.

So the notecards reached across the genre of ‘verdute’ originating in Flanders in the 16th century, which became more and more popular each century appealing to the local pride of the wealthy, until in the 18th century the locations were included in the itinerary of the Grand Tours undertaken from about 1660 to the advent of the railways in the mid 1800s.

These five artists also as, I uncovered their (to me) unknown qualities, confirmed the travelling intellectuals’ search for art – ‘verdutisti’, culture of each country and then the early linguistic divide between the north of Europe and the southern parts, before today’s languages evolved.

This set of ‘Waterscapes: Beautiful Notecards for all Occasions’ have provided another occasion – a Positive Letter post, where we have discovered that the movement of art and artists opened up Europe to its citizens in way that had previously been unheard of.

Giacomo Quarenghi. View of Terem Palace in Moscow (1797).

The peoples of all Europe, as these travels reached Russia in its days of empire, could see places they were unlikely to visit, could learn more of the cultural and historical contexts from the ‘veduti’ paintings ... leading to new travels, new learning, a new desire to know and understand other lands.

We are extremely lucky to have access to these works of art, which in reverse can teach us of times gone by. The Grand Tour loop, as I call it, goes on ... peoples now travel to see Old Masters' exhibitions and explore some of that city and country ... modern artists interpret our world of today for future generations to wonder at ... also no doubt in card format to, I hope, write letters to friends and family – or perhaps post about .. an open letter.

Jannie .. has given us a link to the photo recreation of Seurat's La Grande Jatte .. please go here for it.

Dear Mr Postman – my mother expressed her thanks to everyone who sent her birthday wishes, and she is amazed that so many care .. – so thank you very much. Amy from Soul Dipper replied to a comment I made re my mother .. which brought home to me something “I’d forgotten” ..

"Thanks, Hilary. My oldest brother emailed me after reading this post, commenting how our mother taught us lots. He shares memories of good parenting. He was the brother who helped immensely after our mother had her stroke. I purposely did not say “suffered” a stroke because I’m not sure she did suffer. I suspect she lived in her right hemisphere in a state of bliss – as per Jill Bolte Taylor on"

As I mention in my reply – I’m not sure my mother is completely at this point – as her left-side brain kicks in quite often! She is aware .. but emotion is not an option (left-side part not working properly – but there). Amy makes a good point and I was grateful for her reminder... it provides a 'sense of relief' ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday 22 October 2010

Where is the land of eventoed ungulates? Where is the driest place on earth?

The Atacama Desert is that place – and I am sure by now you will have a concept of its whereabouts following the incredible escape of the Chilean miners... but what else? The long, long land – the strip of a country on the Pacific side of South America .. vast panoramic distances and mining ... anything else?

The Atacama is probably the driest place on Earth, and is virtually sterile because it is blocked from moisture by the eastern longitudinal Andes, and the western Chilean Coastal Range. Because of its high altitude, near non-existent cloud cover, dry air, lack of light pollution and radio interference from the very widely spaced cities, this Desert is one of the best places in the world to conduct astronomical observations – to see the skies in all their glory.

A desert is a place that will not support human habitation, though most deserts usually have oases, and the Atacama is no different; a river rising in wetter regions may traverse a desert, as the Nile does through Egypt, but the fundamental physical condition of an arid area is that it contributes nothing directly to the oceanic waters.

These oases have been populated since pre-Columbian times by the Native American nomadic hunters, who followed herds of wild camelids, for thousands of years, before settling into a sedentary culture around three – four thousand years ago; these “Atacamenos” then developed an economy based mainly on llama breeding and maize agriculture, but who were also noted for the construction of fortified towns called ‘pucaras’.

The camelids, eventoed ungulates, include both types of camel (Dromedaries and Bactrian), llamas, alpacas, vicunas etc, and fall into the same classification as pigs, peccaries, hippos, cattle, goats, antelope and others.

Camelid feet lack functional hooves, the toe bones being embedded in a broad cutaneous pad

This sparsely populated land, whose coastal cities originated from the 16th centuries – the time of the Spanish Empire, of navigation and exploration, the time of ocean sailing ships, the demand for deposits of silver, gold, copper and other minerals before the discovery of huge fertilizer deposits of sodium nitrates in the late 1700s - so valuable to agricultural growth in Europe.

In one of these oases, in the middle of the desert, at a height of about 2,000 metres (7,000 feet), lies the village of San Pedro de Atacama - pictured above, whose church was built by the Spanish in 1577.

The Atacama Desert again became a great source of wealth from the 1950s with the global demand for copper. This is the terrain and landscape that the rescued Chilean miners inhabit. Their mine was a deep copper and gold mine – which ‘weeped’ a lot – the miners’ expression for falling rocks and the sounds of creaking, that they knew warned of trouble.

That mine was a century-old one, located off a dirt track in the bare hills in northern Chile, which was worked the old-fashioned way. Miners explosively blasting chunks of gold-laden rock, the fractured rock rubble collected into trucks, transported back to the surface via the long mining tunnels, before being processed at a plant in nearby Copiapo.

The northern part of Chile in yellow, showing the Atacama Desert in red

However as we know the earth’s crust provides other riches, which over time have been mined to benefit man and his gods. The skies open our eyes to the heavens above, to the galaxies beyond ours, we have advanced mining plants, observatories with the latest telescopes ...

... but these lands of the eventoed ungulates offer something to the desperate, a place to garner a living, in terrible circumstances ... where they do not have a choice, they need to earn .. those miners will probably be alright – let us hope somehow their fellow Chilean (at least) miners have better opportunites.

... and where on the periphery old habits die hard and desperate people will do anything for a small wage – perhaps not even a living one. A harsh place with harsh consequences – but where, for those 33 miners, lady luck was with them; where further north, sadly in similar conditions, 4 Ecuadorian miners lost their lives. Let us hope the world becomes fairer ... humanity does not need this type of poverty.

Dear Mr Postman ... my mother has been partly awake this week, but enjoying knowing that she has had many cards and love from friends and relatives and from all of you around the world .. thank you for commenting, your birthday wishes and hugs – she does so appreciate your thoughts.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday 18 October 2010

Will we watch 101 Dalmatians when we’re 90 or when we’re 84 ... ?

This past week a milestone or two have been reached – my mother turned 90 and Pooh Bear turned 84, my god-daughter became 18 and passed her driving test this morning .. congratulations all round!

Pooh Corner, Hartfield, East Sussex

My mother’s emanuensis daughter did her stuff and wrote her positive letters and received back.. still counting 30+ cards and letters .. we take it slowly. It’s also been an interesting time .. as we’ve been taking part in Simon Hay’s Distant Healing – every day our time at 11.00am for an hour.

My mother and I are open to try things and having Janice as our therapist for three years now has also allowed me to explore and talk through aspects that are becoming more main-stream.

Theatrical release poster: 101 Dalmatians 1996 film

On Pooh’s 84th birthday .. Thursday 14th ... Mum and I shared a happy hour talking quietly, opening cards – it seemed a good time to do this and I felt sure Simon and his guides would understand. At the end .. my mother asked if we were going to do the healing and whether Simon would be around .. amazing that she remembers – isn’t it?!

She hasn’t been as awake since .. to talk and interact and enjoy the repartee of mother-daughter, while catching up on news from family and friends. If you’re like me .. Emanuensis rang no bells? .. and in fact, three years ago, I had to get my mother to spell it for me .. and then look it up! It means ‘a scribe’ .. Mum’s description .. “Hilary is my Emanuensis .. i.e. her Secretary, her dogsbody .. = the person who will do anything necessary!”. How true ...

Original Winnie the Pooh stuffed toys. Clockwise from bottom left: Tigger, Kanga, Edward Bear ("Winnie the Pooh"), Eeyore, and Piglet. Roo was lost long ago; the other characters were made up for the stories.

On Saturday afternoon when I went up .. she was not terribly awake – but I asked if she’d like to watch the 1996 Glenn Close version of 101 Dalamatians .. “Yes” ... so we did & what a success it was.

She was laughing before the ‘disaster’ took place, we had hoots of laughter and lots of smiles, staff beaming in happily .. all the way through the very visual film. She doesn’t listen to the words – but it was an excellent film .. so full of life, vibrancy of colour and with a happy ending – the baddies got their come uppance in so many ways and the couples their respective spouses .. with puppies by the score, and a baby or two.

Dalmatian noted for its white coat with either black or liver spots

Who couldn’t laugh at the black, white and red villainously dressed Cruella de Vil, the fashion maven with a long red cigarette holder permanently ensconced in her blood-red crimson lips clothed in ‘living’ fur; who ended up in an upturned haystack with a flatulating pig on top, then fell into a vat of molasses, only to be kicked into a pig pen by a horse. While the mischievous racoons caused other chaotic mayhems .. including pinching Cruella’s red hat and smirking with it before dashing off into the nether regions of the farm yard.

It’s a magical film .. that I watched with different eyes .. does blogging cause this – the creative spirit rising up ... the pups hiding under the herded sheep, the cows mooing echoingly through the night, the crow carrying messages across the dizzying distances, the woodpecker making sure the door gets opened ... knock, knock, knock ....

The frozen fields, snow covered England, paw marks in all directions, wonderful views of London as the pups get stolen .. the cries and barks of talking animals – keeping one step ahead of the maniacal Cruella as her car careers through the countryside to trace the puppies – for her next fur cape.

In Disney's 1996 live-action remake of the animated film, 101 Dalmatians, and its 2000 sequel, 102 Dalmatians, Cruella was played by Glenn Close.

It was wonderful sharing the film with my mother .. she did love it so – and it totally engaged her .. please don’t think we have racoons and skunks in this little island of ours .. there was a scripting error! But the coup d’etat was the skunk spraying heartily into Cruella’s muck strewn face in the police van ... stinky poo.

The box office success ($320 million) was given a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 40% ... perhaps they should blog and see things in a different light?!

So as we cannot celebrate with cake and champagne, nor any form of drink or food – we need to rely on ingenuity .. and letters .. 90 is a good age .. while a few changes have occurred in the intervening years ...

In 1920 Petrol cost 4.5p per litre; (4 shillings and half an old penny for a gallon) in the UK
In 2010 Petrol (unleaded) in the States costs $0.50 per litre; or $2.50 per Gallon; Here in the UK it is 81p = $1.54 per litre; £3.66 = $6.99 per gallon (count yourselves lucky, Statesiders?!)

In 1920 Digestive Biscuits per pack = 10 p (two shillings for a pound weight = 550gm)
In 2010 Digestive Biscuits per 500gm pack = 83p (just over $1.50)

One English (£) pound in 1920 .. would, in terms of purchasing power, be approximately £30 ($48) in today’s money!

London police started replacing horses with cars, and formed their first “Flying Squad”. Prohibition was introduced in the USA, but rejected in Scotland by pro-whisky supporters!

Pollyanna, starring Mary Pickford (right) and produced by her, was a top film in 1920, while Hercule Poirot made his debut in Agatha Christie’s “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”. Regular public radio broadcasts began in the UK and in the USA.

So all in all a busy time .. scented cyclamen purchased .. sitting in a galvanised rose ‘papered’ container, and an orange solanum full of tiny autumn coloured golden orbs .. lots more letter reading to do .. and to be re-read – providing many talking points in the future weeks.

Dear Mr Postman – another year .. a pretty good life .. still wishing to explore and see the world . which we do in the mind ... and have happy talks about .. (so she can still hear – thank goodness)

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Sunday 10 October 2010

Spaghetti anyone? Made in China .. or does it grow on trees?

Just one brief comment in The Earth’s Crust post by Jannie about the Chinese – “they invented spaghetti, I think”. well ... off I went and yes, to a point they did .. most of us I expect would have said ‘well - Italy’. But come on ... it grows on trees – as we all know ... doesn’t it?!

To add veracity to this statement the BBC in 1957 reported on its current affairs programme, Panorama, a tale of a family in Switzerland harvesting spaghetti from their trees. Well the BBC is renowned for its investigative journalism and it just simply had to be true. A picture appeared on the programme of a woman harvesting the sprouting spaghetti.

Spaghetti Harvest in Switzerland 1957 (above)

A Panorama cameraman had dreamt up the story after remembering how teachers at his school in Austria teased the class for being so stupid, telling them ... if they were told it ... they’d believe spaghetti grew on trees!

The BBC team agreed the spoof and a whole report was dreamt up around the bumper spaghetti harvest, the eradication of the spaghetti weevil, and an erudite discussion on the trees’ breeding programme to achieve spaghetti of perfect length!

Different types of pasta on display in a shop window

Hundreds of people contacted the switchboard and it completely dumbfounded the British public .. and many others .. as like a few of us .. we know it’s April Fool’s Day – but then we forget!

The Director-General of the BBC at the time is quoted as having said “When I saw that item, I said to my wife, ‘I don’t think spaghetti grows on trees’, so we’d looked it up in Encyclopaedia Britannica. Do you know – the Encyclopaedia didn’t even mention spaghetti!”

An amazing story .. but which well and truly hoaxed the world .. the CNN later calling it ‘the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment had ever pulled’. I can’t believe I took cognisance of it in 1957 .. but I do remember later on seeing the picture and thinking that can’t be true ....

So now was Spaghetti invented in China? Well not quite ... but as humans started exploring the huge continent of Asia from their Greek, Roman, Persian, Indian and European bases .. the explorers collected knowledge with which to enrich their masters back home.

It looks like Jannie, and no doubt many other North Americans, were taken in by the Macaroni Journal reprint of 1986, publishing an account of Marco Polo(1254 – 1324) importing pasta from China, with the goal of promoting pasta in the United Sates. Well it seems to have succeeded!

Marco Polo describes a food similar to the Latin word Laganum, which refers to a thin sheet of dough .. possibly heralding the use of the word lasagne, which we know so well today. While spaghetti is the plural form of the Italian word spaghetto, which is a diminutive of spago, meaning "thin string" or "twine".

Spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce

The truth .. as best it can be ascertained .. seems to be that many different cultures ate some sort of noodle-like food, composed mostly of grain, from as long ago as 4,000 years BC .. while today the cultures continue to adapt and adopt different ingredients to their spaghetti-noodle dishes.

When I found the Macaroni Journal and the Marco Polo legend, it referenced back to a wonderful article about pasta ...which is well worth a read for its evocativeness ... so I quote one passage – as I had no idea the Normans conquered as far south as Sicily – and this passage relays the fact that sightseeing and tourists were a part of life even then, with history being recorded in journals at the same time ...

Sicily at the toe of Italy ..

“In the twelfth century an Arab geographer, commissioned by the Norman king of Sicily to write a sort of travel book about the island, reported seeing pasta being made.

The geographer called it itriyah, from which seems to have come trii, which is still the word for spaghetti in some parts of Sicily and is also current in the name for a dish made all over Italy—ciceri e trii, pasta and chick-pea soup.

Making pasta; illustration from the 15th century edition of Tacuinum Sanitatis, a Latin translation of the Arabic work Taqwīm al-sihha by Ibn Butlan (the Tacuinum Sanitatis is a medieval handbook on wellness,("Maintenance of Health"), an eleventh-century Arab medical treatise.)

The soup reflects the original use for pasta, which was as an extender in soups and sometimes desserts. Serving pasta as a dish in itself with a bit of sauce does seem to be an Italian rather than a Greek, Persian, or Arab invention. (Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews, a wonderful book by Edda Servi Machlin, has delicious pasta recipes that show some of the many influences that the Arab world had on Italian food.)”

The article appears in the 1986 version of The Atlantic magazine (see below) (ex Macaroni Journal) .. and I’ve checked the book is still available – it looked so interesting.

So does spaghetti grow on trees? – no ... but it does provide a good story 50+ years on .... and was spaghetti made in China ... probably not ... but the peoples of this world seem to end up utilising their resources in much the same way ..

Boy with Spaghetti by Julius Moser, c. 1808

The ingredients vary .. but that wonderful mix of slurping spaghetti – be it with a fresh tomato olive oil rich sauce, a Genovese pine nut, basil and parmesan pesto, a Mediterranean herby based sauce, or the Bolognese loved by so many .. makes for a delicious meal at any time of the year.

Marinara sauce is an American-Italian term for a simple tomato sauce with herbs—mostly parsley and basil—but, contrary to its name (which is Italian for coastal, seafaring) without anchovies, fish or seafood. In other countries, marinara refers to a seafood and tomato sauce.

There’s sweet spaghetti too .. as evidenced in Mrs Beeton using a sweet custard, or the Arabic mixes of spices and fruits, SuZen of ErasingtheBored blog mentions serving Spaghetti squash to her kids, which I’ve only ever eaten as a vegetable, which as she describes it: They actually LIKED spaghetti squash once I added butter, raisins and a bit of cinnamon.

Liu Xiaobo - the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner

And one last small reference out of the Saturday Times yesterday – the journalist Jane Macartney in Beijing advises that she met Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident, just awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, back in 1987 when he dined at her house.

She says he sat at the head of the table, battling with his stammer and a dish of Spaghetti Bolognese to ensure that every guest could hear his views on contemporary Chinese writing and the Cultural Revolution.

The piece in the Saturday Times 9 October 2010 is titled “China bloggers beat news ban as jailed dissident wins the Nobel Peace Prize” – unfortunately not free to read .. but here’s some more information on an interesting journalist, Jane Macartney.

Spaghetti Bolognese

So bloggers, people wishing to spread the word, and China’s youngest professor .. all of us eat spaghetti in some form or other .. with or without meatballs, with or without custard ... but we do like to get our stories, views and opinions over ...

Long may spaghetti grow on trees to amuse the future generations .. and long may food travel and evolve as much as it has ... as is evidenced from the original Macaroni Journal article in 1929.

Dear Mr Postman .. my mother has been enjoying the Commonwealth Games so we’ve been spending quite a bit of time together, which is good. We’re having incredibly balmy weather at the moment .. it is really lovely being outside ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Guest Posting today over at Marketing Tips for Authors

Hi Everyone - I hope you'll join me over at Tony's site :

Marketing Tips for Authors

Tony Eldridge author of the action/adventure book, The Samson Effect, that Clive Cussler calls a "first rate thriller brimming with intrigue and adventure." He also shares his book marketing tips with fellow authors through his blog and through his free weekly video marketing tips for authors.

Over there I tell my story of how and why I got started and how the blog has developed.

Come on over and meet Tony and join in the fun of sharing with us your starting experiences ..

Thanks in advance for your support – in my role as a Guest at Marketing Tips ..

The Palm House at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, an area in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames in South West London. The institution has the world's largest collection of living plants (over 30,000) as well as the world's largest herbarium (over7 million specimens). Wikipedia picture of today.

Dear Mr Postman - my mother's hearing remains and all seems well - we've been watching a little of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India and watched one of the World Championship Cycling Races in Melbourne, Australia - she loved the views of the waterfront and the city!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories