Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?

Questions of Travel, a poem by Elizabeth Bishop, was written in Rio and published in 1956 about five years after she first moved there.

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
–For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren’t waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
–Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
–A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.
–Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr’dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
–Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds’ cages.
–And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians’ speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

“Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one’s room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?”


Inside the Artist’s Studio: Helen Frankenthaler

I love these stunning photographs of Helen Frankenthaler amongst her paintings in her New York City studio. Photographed by Gordon Parks for LIFE magazine ca. 1956:

Helen Frankenthaler sitting amidst her art in her New York City studio. Photographed by Gordon Parks for LIFE magazine ca. 1956 2Helen Frankenthaler sitting amidst her art in her New York City studio. Photographed by Gordon Parks for LIFE magazine ca. 1956for G - 28frankenthaler - UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1956: Painter Helen Frankenthaler sitting amidst her art. (Gordon Parks/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

And here she is at work, photographed by Ernst Haas in her studio in 1969

frankenthaler18

Helen Frankenthaler, New York, 1969 by Ernst Haas4


Instructions on How to Climb a Staircase

By Julio Cortázar

There is no one who hasn’t observed that frequently the floor will fold in such a manner that one part of it rises at a right angle with the plane of the floor, and later the following part is placed in a parallel manner to this plane, giving way to a new perpendicular, and that this conduct repeats as a spiral or broken line up to an extremely variable height. Each one of these footholds, formed along the way by two elements, is situated equally higher and more forward than the former, a principle that gives meaning to the staircase since whatever other combination will produce a form perhaps more beautiful or picturesque, but incapable of translating the lower floor to the upper floor. Stairs are climbed from the front, since climbing them from behind or the side will result particularly uncomfortable. The natural attitude consists in maintaining oneself on one’s feet, the arms loosely hanging at the side, the head erect but not so much so that the eyes stop seeing those elevated footholds immediate to the one that is being tread upon, and breathing slowly and regularly.

In order to climb a staircase one commences by raising that portion of the body situated at the below right, covered almost always in leather or rubber, and almost without exception fits exactly upon the foothold.

Said part being placed upon the first foothold, and in order to abbreviate we will hitherto call it “foot”, the equivalent part on the left is then removed (also called foot, but one must not confuse it with the aforementioned foot.) and raising it to the height of the foot, it is to be made to follow until it is placed upon the second foothold, upon which the foot may now may rest, and upon the first the other foot may rest. (The first footholds are always the most difficult, until acquiring the necessary coordination. The coincidence of the name between foot and foot make the explanation difficult. Be especially careful to not raise the foot and the foot at the same time.) Arriving in this manner to the second foothold, it is enough to alternate the movements until one finds oneself at the end of the stairs. One can easily leave them with a light blow of the heel that fixes it in its place, from which it shall not move until the moment of descent.

House of Stairs. Escher. 1953.

House of Stairs. M. C. Escher. 1951.


Goat Skull and Bottle

Goat Skull and Bottle. Pablo Picasso. 1951

Goat Skull and Bottle. Pablo Picasso. 1951


Some Roses and their Phantoms

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Some Roses and their Phantoms. Dorothea Tanning. 1952.

Here some roses from a very different garden sit?, lie?, stand?, gasp, dream?, die? – on white linen. They may serve you tea or coffee. As I saw them take shape on the canvas I was amazed by their solemn colors and their quiet mystery that called for – seemed to demand – some sort of phantoms. So I tried to give them their phantoms and their still-lifeness. Did I succeed? Clearly they are not going to tell me, but the white linen gave me a good feeling as if I had folded it myself, then opened it on the table.

(Dorothea Tanning: Birthday and Beyond, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art 2000, n.p.)


Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation

In this wonderful series of photographs by Aaron Siskind the artist captures figures suspended in mid air, their bodies contorted into different shapes. Charles Traub, president of the Aaron Siskind Foundation, says about the series:

“I remember quite clearly Aaron’s delight at the Chicago waterfront, where these images were taken. He was particularly enamored of teenagers—their unabashed frolicking and daring, their inherent athleticism. Aaron loved ordinary people—the sights, sounds, and activities that were off the beaten path of the city. In the summer, the Chicago lakefront was a place where everybody gathered. He adored such places that were full of spontaneous and inventive activity.”

Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation # 37. Aaron Siskind. 1953.

Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation # 37. Aaron Siskind. 1953.

Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation. Aaron Siskind. 1953-61

Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation. Aaron Siskind. 1953-61

 


Leon Levinstein

Leon Levinstein

Leon Levinstein