Thursday, November 16, 2017

Jabs, art & politics!

Resultado de imagen de winter flu jab

When you feel smugly self-satisfied that you have started the day well by popping into your local health centre and having a flu jab - then there is possibly something wrong with the way that you are looking at life!

I even told myself that going there on my bike and having a swim afterwards was exactly the way to get all the goodness from the injection coursing around my veins or whatever.  I was in and out of the nurse’s office in a couple of minutes and that included a greeting, an enquiry after my general health and a hearty goodbye.

I have, courtesy of my ever-generous partner, already had one bout of sniffling, coughing and phlegminess.  It was an extended and miserable experience and had the disturbing feature of my getting better, having a sort of day off for good behaviour and then the illness returning with a vicious sneer of misery.  If the jab can keep a repetition of that unpleasant experience away then all well and good.  And, I might add, its efficacy is about to be put to the test because my partner has started sniffling again in what I can only describe as a professional manner.

Still, I have a “school trip” to look forward to!  I expect that you are expecting me to state that this will be the first school trip that I have been on as a student since the dim and distant days of my grammar school.  But wrong!  This will be my third school trip with my Spanish class.  The first trip was a tour of Gothic Barcelona; the second a much more satisfying visit to a Cava producer (with sampling of the produce) and tomorrow’s trip will be a guided tour of the houses of Los Americanos in Sitges.

These houses are the prestigious dwelling built by Catalans who went to the Americas and made their fortunes and then came back home to show off their wealth.  You should bear in mind that one of the famous brands of rum was founded by a Catalan - think of bats and you’ll get the one I mean, and there is even a museum in Sitges devoted to it.

The houses are built in a Catalan version of Art Nouveau and Sitges is particularly rich in these architectural pieces.  I have been on a guided walk around Sitges to look at them before, but this time the commentary will be in Spanish and will therefore not only challenge my knowledge of the language, but will also be a test of my memory of what was said in English the last time to help my translation.  It is so much easier reading Spanish rather than hearing it spoken by a native speaker, but that is the reason for these little trips, to get us to experience something approaching normality in the use of what we have been studying.

I have finished reading through the second volume of the textbooks for the Open University art course that I am not taking.  Buying the book is only (!) a hundred quid, rather than the two and a half grand for the actual course itself.

Resultado de imagen de art and its global histories
I have to admit that the book read itself.  It was an absolute delight.  I was going to stretch my reading by trying to limit the chapters I read at one time, giving myself, I reasoned, a decent period of time to let the new ideas sink in and perhaps do a little light research around the topics introduced.  Fat chance of that!  Once started I found myself allowing myself “just a little more” until it was more of a gorge than a measured read.

The contents of this excellent book taken from the course description on the OU site are:

Block 2: Art, Commerce and Colonialism 1600-1800

You will explore art and visual culture of a period in which the major European powers competed with each other for global dominance. The influx of ‘exotic’ goods, above all from Asia, transformed European taste and artistic production, including seventeenth-century Dutch painting, and gave rise to the vogue for ‘Chinoiserie’ in eighteenth-century Britain. Art and architecture were exported across the Atlantic to Latin America, where some of the most spectacular works of the Baroque era were created, as well as to North America, where Thomas Jefferson built his ideal classical villa, Monticello. Local circumstances and cultural traditions helped to shape the transfer of art works, and artistic models from one context to another. A key theme for this book is the relationship of art and visual culture to slavery and the slave trade.

The one great thing about art books is that they have pictures!  Though there is also the point to be made that ‘reading’ the pictures sometimes takes up more time than a comparable block of text!  On the OU website for the course there is probably opportunity to load up the pictures on line and to search them by expansion so that hard to see details in the illustrations become clearer.  I compensate for my lack of access to that resource by wielding a rather impressive looking magnifying glass and looking, as Toni pointed out this afternoon, like an obsessive Sherlock Holmes - or is that tautology?

Anyway, I have a lot to think about as the book has made me re-evaluate some of my assumptions and has given my a whole series of associations to consider.  In that respect it is something like “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond - a book I whole-heartedly recommend.   

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The volume is subtitled “The Fate of Human Societies” and its descriptive sweep of human history and pointed questions that arise from his observations force recognition of why history is as it is.  I can remember my first reading this book, and the fact that I had to put it down a few times because the import of what I had just understood struck home!

Part of the excitement of reading Art, Commerce and Colonialism 1600-1800 is that it is obviously a base from which you need to expand.  There are suggestions and questions in each of the sections that beg for further study.  There is a “Reader” to go with the course that is rather harder work with smaller print, more pages and fewer illustrations (and only in black and white) and has critical, historical and primary sources to widen the inquiry.  This is where the web site, course guides and tutors, as well as the other students make the study come alive.  Still, I am supposed to be studying Spanish and not Art and its Global Histories.  So there!

The situation in Catalonia continues not to improve, mainly because of the almost criminal intransigence of the national government as represented by members of the right wing, systemically corrupt minority government of PP and its depressing Prime Minister Rajoy.

What did bring a smile to my face was watching the interview by Tim Sebastian of the foreign minister of the minority government, Alfonso Dastis.   

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All credit to Dastis to go on a programme and speak in English, something the prime minister could never do.  His performance, however was execrable and his bluster in response to Tim Sebastian’s well researched, well supported and well put questions was depressingly familiar to those who have heard politicians go out to speak to the media when they are under prepared and have a poor case to put.  The interview can be heard here 

                       and is well worth listening to at length, although when you consider that this is real life for us rather than a politician making a fool of himself, it does get really depressing.  And he is one of the more impressive members of the government!  God help us all.

But tomorrow, school trip.  Take your pleasure where you can!
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