Get the Most Not the Lesser

“So generation after generation of men in love with pain and passivity serve out their time in the Zone, silent, redolent of faded sperm, terrified of dying, desperately addicted to the comforts others sell them, however useless, ugly or shallow, willing to have life defined for them by men whose only talent is for death.”
Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Fabrication Yard, Dallas, Texas

Sunday Snippet (Flash Fiction), Wallpaper by Bill Chance

The paper was a thick opaque cloth and came off easily in almost entire sheets. Sam was surprised, shocked, and amazed at what he found underneath.

—- Bill Chance, Wallpaper

Ganesha,
Dallas Museum of Art
Dallas, Texas

Sam tore the wallpaper off the walls in the spare bedroom – the one at the end of the hall. Nobody wanted to sleep in that room – the old house was a firetrap – especially on the second floor and that isolated windowless room would be impossible to escape from in a house filling with smoke. It was handy for drunken visitors to crash in, but not much else.

It was stale and airless and the condensation was making the paper peel. That upset Sam’s sense of order and the he thought about gluing it back – but once he inspected how loose it was, how spotted with mold, he decided it had to go. He’d tear it off, see what was underneath, and then deal with it.

The paper was a thick opaque cloth and came off easily in almost entire sheets. Sam was surprised, shocked, and amazed at what he found underneath.

The plaster that had been hidden by the wall coverings was painted with fantastical figures – one figure, or group of figures, on each wall. They seemed to be a gallery of deities – some shaped like animals – others voluptuous and human in form.

There was a large elephant improbably balanced on one leg and wearing a crown of skulls – holding a massive spear. Across the room a curvaceous woman stood in the same pose with a multitude of arms sprouting from behind her – each clasping a different mysterious object.

To the side, a couple sat – he in the Lotus position – she on lap with her legs wrapped behind his back. They each had three faces – one set looking at each other – the other two off to the side. Their bodies were covered in jewelry – colorful and detailed – with the same shapes as the object held by the many-armed woman.

The final wall was divided into many rectangles and each one contained a small drawing – crude compared to the detailed murals on the other walls – but still clear and strong. Around the characters in the small frames were curved lines of mysterious writing – filling every square inch of the surface.

Sam was stunned and obsessed. The small room had no electrical outlets so he stretched an extension cord down the hall and scrounged up four lamps – replacing the bulbs with a higher wattage in order to study the drawings better. He removed the few items of furniture but brought in a thin mattress. He began to sleep in the room, feeling somehow that the deities on the wall would protect him from the possibilities of fire.

At first, the others were curious and climbed the stairs, braved the hall, to come down and look at the walls – but Sam became surly and began to discourage casual visitors. After a week he repaired the hinges on the door, cut a passage for the extension cord, and installed a strong new lock. He felt and acted like the room was his and the deities were looking over him alone.

He did decide to pay a visit to a professor at the university – an elderly woman from the Asian Studies Department. With frayed nerves and strong second thoughts he led her down the hall and into his room, turning on the lamps.

She showed no emotion, but walked around the room giving the characters names – Shiva, Kali, Ganesha, Rama. Sam politely took a few notes, knowing he’d never need to look at them – the names and stories were instantly burned into his brain.

“This is a strange mixture,” she said. “The deities are mostly Hindu – an unusual melange of times, regions, and sects. It’s as if the person that drew these borrowed freely from whatever tradition seemed to mean the most to him and made up some additional myths to suit his purposes.”

“Purposes? What would those be?”

“I have no idea. And this,” she said, gesturing at the complex wall of panels, “is a complete legend, a story.”

“What is it about?” asked Sam, trying to conceal the eagerness in his voice.

“Well, again, it’s a mixture. The characters seem to be mostly familiar minor Hindu Demi-Gods, but the story looks like the Chinese Buddhist legend of the Monkey King. It’s a famous legend – one of the classic myths of the world.”

“What Language is it?”

“That’s what is especially odd – I don’t really know. I’ve never seen it before. It looks like a dialect of Tibet – one I’m not familiar with. That might make sense – Tibet is at the juncture of India and China – the border of Buddhist and Hindu traditions – which would help explain the mixture.”

The woman wanted to photograph the walls of the room and said she would make arrangements to return with a photographer and proper lighting. But Sam never returned her calls – although she tried many times to reach him. After a few weeks she gave up. By then Sam had become even more obsessed with the drawings, spending more and more time in the room, neglecting everything else.

At first Sam thought that he was losing his mind, but after a month it began happening so often he came to realize it was real. With a great expenditure of willpower he stayed out of the room for a day and a half, sleeping fitfully on the couch downstairs. With a desperate relief he gave in and threw the door open.

There was no doubt now. The drawings were different. They were changing. They were moving.

Shiva Nataraja, South India, Tamil Nadu, Chola dynasty, 11th century, bronze, Dallas Museum of Art

Shiva and Parvati
Stele of Uma-Maheshvara… 12th Century… Buff Sandstone
Dallas Museum of Art

 

Reborn

“We die a little every day and by degrees we’re reborn into different men, older men in the same clothes, with the same scars.”
Mark Lawrence, King of Thorns

Birth II, by Arthur Williams, Dallas, Texas

Over the years, I’ve written about the sculpture that used to sit near the Lover’s Lane DART station – 2013, Egg – then 2019, A First Crack Reaching , and finally 2019, Birth II,

I found the sculpture referenced in a book I have on Texas sculpture and discovered it was called Birth II and was by a man named Arthur Williams.

The area is being extensively redone, and the sculpture disappeared – I wrote about that too Earthly and Mechanical Paraphernalia

I figured that was it – all she wrote.

But in the last few days I have been getting comments on my Birth II blog post. The sculptor’s son messaged me to say his father was retired from sculpting and teaching after losing his studio and work in hurricane Katrina, but was still alive and doing well. That was cool

And then I received a message from a representative from the University Crossing Public Improvement District. The sculpture had been donated to the district, and is being restored. “It’s planned to be placed behind The Highland Hotel at the base of the Mockingbird bridge here in Dallas.”

There is a little piece of green space along the bike trail – I hope that is where it is placed.

That is so cool. I hope to be able to go down the the ribbon cutting.

Mockingbird Pedestrian Bridge

Gervaise

“With almost superhuman strength she seized Virginie by the waist, bent her forward with her face to the brick floor and, notwithstanding her struggles, lifted her skirts and showed the white and naked skin. Then she brought her beater down as she had formerly done at Plassans under the trees on the riverside, where her employer had washed the linen of the garrison.

Each blow of the beater fell on the soft flesh with a dull thud, leaving a scarlet mark.”

Emile Zola, L’Assommoir

 

Yesterday I finished Zola’s L’Assommoir and enjoyed it a lot. In doing some online research about the book I discovered it had been made into a 1956 French film called Gervaise that wasn’t supposed to be too bad. It was directed by René Clément and starred Maria Schell (sister of Maximilian). I was able to find a copy of the film and waited until I finished the book – then sat down to watch it.

L’Assommoir is a big, complicated, 500 page book and I knew they would have to slim it down to get the story into a movie. They did, but remained faithful to the spirit of the Zola novel. The movie concentrates on Gervaise – not surprisingly – and leaves out a lot of the tumult around her. I really liked the film – despite being over sixty years old (a year older than me) it holds up well. Gervaise’s decent into abject poverty, despair, and destruction is rushed as compared to the book – she is still alive at the end of the film and the book conveys the horrors of her descent better. There is a political subplot added to the movie that wasn’t in the book – and I didn’t think it added much. But otherwise, I thought the movie did a good job and illustrated the look of a lot of the story that I had trouble imagining (having never been to Paris of the Second Empire myself).

Like the book, the movie suffered from prudish editing – luckily the version I found seems mostly uncut (it was 116 minutes long). The biggest difference seems to be in the fight in the wash house between Gervaise and her arch-rival Virginie at the beginning of the story – the version I saw had a bloody scene of Gervaise tearing off Virginie’s earring and then beating her bare bottom with a wooden paddle. Tame by modern standards – those scenes were too much for the 1950’s.

The movie is one of the most expensive (in modern currency) foreign films ever made. The sets are extensive, detailed, and realistic.

And the best thing is that many of the memorable set pieces of the book are preserved. The wedding party and its visit to the Louvre, the horrifying fall her husband takes off a roof on the day she is to buy her shop, Gervaise’s Name-Day feast, Coupou’s alcoholic madness (though transferred from an asylum to Gervaise’s shop – probably more dramatic that way), and most of all the famous fight between Gervaise and Virginie in the wash house – all were giving loving care and exciting treatment.

Gervaise and Virginie going at it in the wash house. Gervaise’s man, Lantier, has just run off with Virginie’s prostitute sister, Adèle.

Virginie about to hit Gervaise with the wooden paddle.

Gervaise has reversed the fight and is about to give Virginie a vicious paddling.

This scene was apparently too much for the censors. Virginie is about to get hers.

The wedding party goes to the Louvre, here Gervaise and Goujet are standing in front of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.

Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People

Gervaise singing at her Name Day party – the high point of her life.

A ruined and despairing Gervaise at the end of the film.

Compare this scene to:

L’Absinthe (detail) by Edgar Degas

At least Degas’ woman still has her hat (Gervaise has pawned hers).

 

Reviews of Gervaise:

Adapting Emile Zola’s L’Assommoir, René Clément’s Gervaise (1956)

Gervaise: True Grit

GERVAISE – ESSENTIAL ART HOUSE

 

Our Past Is Real

“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.”
Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

Repaired cracked mural, Denton, Texas

Even artworks… no, especially works of art… develop cracks and hopefully will be repaired. Is the art lessened by this? Or does it add a greater dimension, one of time, pain, and disaster – if not avoided, refurbished.

The Small Things You, Yourself Have

“What’s really important here,” I whispered loudly to myself,”is not the big things other people have thought up, but the small things you, yourself have”
Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart

Mural, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

 

Nor Does Lightning Travel In A Straight Line

“Why is geometry often described as “”cold” and “”dry?” One reason lies in its inability to describe the shape of a cloud, a mountain, a coastline, or a tree. Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.”

― Benoît B. Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature

Union Station, Dallas, Texas

Get Your Shit Together

Morty [to Summer]: Well then get your shit together, get it all together, and put it in a backpack, all your shit, so it’s together.

[pause]

And if you gotta take it somewhere, take it somewhere, you know. Take it to the shit store and sell it, or put it in the shit museum. I don’t care what you do, you just gotta get it together.

[pause]

Get your shit together.

—–Rick and Morty, Big Trouble in Little Sanchez

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Fruta Bomba

“Then there is the tamarind. I thought tamarinds were made to eat, but that was probably not the idea. I ate several, and it seemed to me that they were rather sour that year. They pursed up my lips, till they resembled the stem-end of a tomato, and I had to take my sustenance through a quill for twenty-four hours. They sharpened my teeth till I could have shaved with them, and gave them a “wire edge” that I was afraid would stay; but a citizen said no, it will come off when the enamel does” – which was comforting, at any rate. I found, afterward, that only strangers eat tamarinds – but they only eat them once.”
Mark Twain, Mark Twain in Hawaii: Roughing It in the Sandwich Islands: Hawaii in the 1860s

Mural, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

There Isn’t A Train I Wouldn’t Take

“My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing,
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Selected Poetry

 

Mural, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas