Natural History

We did all troop over to the Museum yesterday. Lion and Bear, being virtual and therefore invisible to anybody but each other and to me, got in free. S, my human partner, who is not just virtual but also physical, paid for her & me (well, it was my birthday, after all). The animals wandered off on their own while S & I looked at the Vietnam exhibit. Bear came back depressed -- seeing his stuffed cousins in the display cases had done that to him. Lion was antsy; his stroll through the "African Mammals" gallery had made him hungry. We left them to their own devices, and S & I went out for some very human food at one of my favorite Greenwich Village places: Alfama, featuring Portuguese cuisine (bacalhau to die for), was offering a free meal on my birthday (wine not included, & S had to pay for her own, but still, a really great deal). If you like seafood and fado (performed live on Wednesdays, played on the stereo last night), you must visit Alfama.

New York is Book Country -- but with immigration controls

Last September when I met with students in the HS for Environmental Studies, 444 W. 55, as part of "New York is Book Country," one class had already downloaded and studied my story "Melliflua and the Fauns." When I read it aloud, they had some sharp questions, and then we went on to talk of lots of other things. This morning, my second visit for NYIBC, at the Robert F. Wagner Middle School, MS 167, on E. 76th St., was very different. The assistant principal, forewarned of my intentions, asked me not to read that story -- "Too sexual," she said. So I had to improvise. I asked about what the students were writing and, since they didn't know my work) they asked me some very general questions. The AP's objection surprised me; these were eighth graders, the audience I'd had in mind when I wrote it (I actually had in mind a very particular 7th grade girl, now in 9th grade). What do you think? Check it out: "Melliflua and the Fauns".


Today is my birthday, so no political commentary -- it's just too gloomy. Instead, I'll talk about the party that Bear and Lion are throwing for me. It's lovely -- though, frankly, I don't care much for bloody haunch of impala, and as for that moldy log crawling with grubs, well, thank you Bear, but no more than a taste, really. That's right, you can have the rest all to yourself. Ah, I love to see him smile! This afternoon we're all going to the Museum of Natural History as a treat. For Bear, it's a solemn pilgrimage, but Lion just smirks as he passes stone replicas of his famous relatives. For me and my human companion (yes, I have one of those, too), it will be a chance to see the exhibit on Vietnam.


Tomorrow is Fox's birthday. He won't tell us which one, but probably big. Anyway, Lion & I are organizing a party for him tomorrow. You're invited. Gifts we suggest could be electronic images. Right now he likes anything about the Byzantine empire or the early Ottomans (Lion thinks that's weird, but that's what he likes), OR pictures of anything architectural from the Mayas or the Aztecs or the Incas. We hope you'll join us. (Glib, you can come too.) It's supposed to be a surprise, so send your greetings to me to pass on to him. Send to bear@geoffreyfox.com.


Cultural notes

(1) I do not love Leonardo [da Vinci, that is]. As the show that just closed at the Met demonstrated, he was a superb draughtsman. However, there is nothing in those exquisite drawings to suggest he cared about people. There is no religious feeling in his drawings of saints and virgins, just meticulous studies of skin texture and anatomical proportions of pretty girls and muscular, usually contorted men. Grotesque faces also interested him, but just their external, nothing of their contexts, nothing to suggest what life might feel like for the persons within those faces. And Leonardo lavished equal attention on those war machines he kept inventing, the beauty of a mortiferous shower of missiles into a castle or a town, the striking and gouging power of ingenious bolt-hurlers, and so on. Not so much as a line or a shadow to suggest the effects of such machines on human beings. No, I do not love Leonardo, because he did not love me or thee. He loved only the power of his creations. Sort of like the guys who thought up "shock and awe" for Iraq.

(2) The other super-exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a sharp contrast: Manet/Velázquez, on view until June 8. Velázquez, Murillo, Zurburán did feel for their subjects. They all seemed much more eager to portray the lives of their models than their anatomical peculiarities. We see the subjects' attitudes, moods and expectations. Then, 200 years later, comes Goya. This was another superb draughtsman, expert in portraying contorted bodies, most notably in the series "The Disasters of War" (scenes from the Spanish resistance to French occupation of Spain under Napoleon) and many others, but with a passion utterly different from Leonardo's. Manet, Degas, even Courbet reinterpreted those passions. And the Americans (Sargent, Whistler, et al.) commodified them. (If you can't get to the show, be sure at least to check out the website.)

(3)Midnight's Children: We caught the last performance at the Apollo Theater on Sunday. Terrific play, in the original sense -- that is, terrifying. We spotted Salman Rushdie himself in the audience, only a few seats away, but we didn't fight through the crowds afterwards to greet him. I don't know what I would have said, other than "I've loved your work." Satanic Verses I especially loved. I never got through the book Midnight's Children, I confess; it's long, and requires close attention to follow, and other things came up to take my attention away from it. Now that I know how it comes out, I want to go back to the book. You can perform a lot more magic on the page than on the stage.

(4)The side benefit of going to the play was that it took us to 125th Street, Harlem's main drag, where before the play we visited one of our favorite places, the Studio Museum in Harlem. The main show, open through June 6, is "Challenge of the Modern: African American Artists 1925-1945." Very, very impressive works by artists famous (van der Zee, Jacob Lawrence) and less famous. Oddly, they include the Cuban, Wifredo Lam (whose name they misspell as "Wilfredo"), but I was happy to see more of his exuberant paintings, whatever the pretext.

"Operation Iraqi Freedom"

It looks like it's going to be a long war, but the Iraqis are up to it. To regain their freedom, first they are going to have to expel the US and British invaders. Then they can struggle to overthrow Saddam. They're not going to try to do it the other way around. The invasion has achieved the seemingly impossible: it has turned the Shiites and other opponents of the Baath Party into Saddam supporters -- at least, for the duration of the invasion.

Meanwhile, some American military planners are beginning to realize that US military force is not an overwhelming deterrent to rebellion or resistance. Maybe in Washington they should start trying diplomacy -- but that requires listening to the other guy.


I'm sorry, but the chick was in the way

This must be remembered, long after the smashing of Iraq has ceased.

In yesterday's NYT (Saturday, March 29, 2003), Dexter Filkins reports a conversation with two American Marine sharpshooters, Sgt. Eric Schrumpf, 28, and Cpl. Mikael McIntosh, 20, at their base camp in southern Iraq.

"We had a great day," Sergeant Schrumpf said. "We killed a lot of people."

Both Marines said they were most frustrated by the practice of some Iraqi soldiers to use unarmed women and children as shields against American bullets. They called the tactic cowardly but agreed that it had been effective.
Sgt. Schrumpf tells of seeing an Iraqi soldier standing near some women, and with other men in his unit, opening fire. He saw one of the women "go down."
"I'm sorry," the sergeant said. "But the chick was in the way."
Cowardly soldiers, or heroic women? We have seen them before, shielding their men with their bodies against Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland, against the National Guard in the Colorado mine strikes of the 1920s, against the French in Algiers in the 1950s, against American soldiers in Vietnam, and many other places. We are bound to see them again. The chicks and the mamasans and the kids keep getting in the way.