Tag Archives: History

At Last Monet

🇫🇷 The Great France Art Tour of 2017

Musée Marmotan Monet, 2, Rue Louis Boilly, Paris

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I was there, at last. Standing in front of Monet’s finished “Impression Sunrise”.  This was after all, the painting that started it. The seminal work of Impressionism and much of what followed.

I had after all, painted it. I was, after so many years, pleased with the manageable size of the canvas I had chosen. If I had attempted it on anything much larger—say a canvas as big as “The Houses of Parliament”, or any of the later “Water Lillies”, it would never have happened. I never would have completed it. It was large enough to capture that foggy ephemeral sea moment, that passed quickly, more quickly than brush and oils would have done for anything even a bit larger or a touch more detailed.  No, it was the perfect moment, right down to the smudge of pinkish white on the edge of the sun and the clearly silhouetted figure of the boatman and rowboat in the foreground created with a casual but somehow precise flick of two brushstrokes.

It was simple. If you got the colors right, then the light would be correct, and all the emerging details would follow. It was simple. But not easy.

The painting was treated harshly by the critics. “Impression Sunrise” was supposed to be an insult, but it became an anthem. The banner work and namesake of the whole movement. No one remembers the name of the critic, except in telling this story, but the artist? The whole world knows his name as well as the names of his friends, colleagues, contemporaries–Renoir Pissarro, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse, Cezanne, later Picasso, Chagall.

Critics. Bah!

I was 14 when I painted it.

With some minimal awareness of Art History thanks to my hobby of philately, and a year or two of Horizon magazine lying around the house, exposure to art as part of Western Civilizations opened a new world for me. In our very special ninth grade class, the brightest of us were assigned together in a room where the teacher told us to “brownbag” our lunches (meaning, to bring a lunch with us), so instead of dispersing to the cafeteria when the bell rang, we would stay, and he could expand his lectures through our lunch period. We grumbled at first, but delighted in the extra attention to historical and cultural details we would have missed otherwise.

Mike Van Wert, extroverted, sometimes loud, provocative, frequently passionate and nearly always entertaining, was in his mid 30’s with slight temporal baldness, brown curly hair and pork chop sideburns appropriate for the times—the early 1970s. He dressed as a college professor—although this was in junior high school—black or brown wingtip shoes, wool pants, a button-down shirt with a tie, a sweater vest, and a tweed sport coat. That was his uniform. I can hardly remember seeing him in anything else–blue jeans if I caught him by chance at the 7-Eleven on the weekend. But otherwise, no, it was that uniform. He was the teacher, our teacher, and a damn good one, and there was no diverging from that image, from that standard.

He had high expectations of himself and he applied those same expectations to his students, not just to our “Special” class but to the other four classes he taught as well. It didn’t matter who you were, he believed you were capable of learning important, wonderful things; he had fascinating remarkable stories about America, and other nations and cultures throughout history, and he would share this treasure with you, trusting you to pay attention, and listen, and ask questions, and even occasionally challenge him, but above all to participate.

For these classes he purchased or made his own slides of art and architecture. Hundreds, probably a thousand slides from Sumatran mounds of earth, to Duchamp’s “Nude Descending A Staircase” and the constructions of I.M.Pei.

We learned them. Learned the style, artist, title.

And for our “special class”, he imported the local art teacher to instruct us in the basics of drawing, sketching, and painting. We were invited to purchase required art supplies because each student in our class was expected to choose a work of art and create a reproduction of it.

I chose Monet’s “Impression Sunrise” because it was simple. It was beautiful and simple.

“Are you sure, Plummer?” He asked, with that  gravelly voice, and a wink to the rest of the class as if he were amused that I would choose such a daunting task.

But I was confident. “There’s not that much variation in the colors. If I can get that… and it is simple. Look at that boat in the foreground. It’s just two brushstrokes.”

“Okay…” He said with a smirk, making a note in his grade book and mumbling, “Impression Sunrise for Plummer”.

I worked on it after school for days. And it went well. At least I thought it went well. When I got stuck, the art teacher suggested I borrow the slide and project it on the canvas. “Isn’t that cheating?” I asked.

“You’re doing art. Artists use tools. It’s just a tool.” He told me.

The projector helped get the proportions right, and it seemed like it helped with the color, but after a week I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t tell if it was good or not, or how good. My eyes were blurry from turning the projector on and off, seeing the complete image on my canvas disappear, and then my own unfinished one. Matching paints to colors that turned to white when the lights came on. My friends from class would stop by and check it out. They were mostly quiet. Were they quiet because it was a good reproduction? Or because they didn’t want to tell me it was not so good? As anyone who has worked on something with great intensity and at great length can tell you, after a while, you just don’t know.

We brought our work in to share with each other, and I could see there were a couple of other works that were “good” —meaning that they looked much like the originals that we copied. Maybe that was part of why I wasn’t sure. It was a copy; it wasn’t like I had done anything original. And Van Wert didn’t lavish any great praise, I think he was being moderate with everyone, because some were bad, some were just awful, with bad proportions or whacky color. And we had compassion for each other, we knew we were just a bunch of kids trying to copy great art. But eventually I believed some of my classmates when they told me they thought mine was really “good”. And I was pretty sure then, when we displayed all our art at a PTA meeting and one of the adults asked if he could buy it. Buy it? A copy? When I told my Mom, she was appalled. I told her, maybe for fifty bucks? I considered that. But no way was some other parent going to have Plummer’s “Impression Sunrise”! She made that clear. And when I brought it home, she promptly framed it in a thick, classy, wooden art frame and hung it in our hallway, outside my bedroom where it remained for many years.

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I lost track of it eventually. That’s what happens with art sometimes. It travels; it gets away. But I was very happy to find it again. There on the wall of the Musée Marmottan Monet. Just as I remembered. Just as I had painted it.

—Christo

Three Days in Paris (Troisième partie)

🇫🇷 The Great France Art Tour of 2017

 Wednesday Day 2 in Paris

Pont Neuf - Paris by August RenoirWe started with strong coffee and excellent croissants all after a good night’s sleep. We wanted now to move past the delays of the previous day. Deb and I were aching to break free and indulge ourselves in the touristic joys of Paris, much as the author aches to break free from the tedious prose of travel details, and speak truly of adventure. Where after all, is all the “Art” in this “Great Art Tour?” But first we had a morning to spend with the ArrowHead tour group.

Christine kept us and our coach driver moving quickly. She provided an informative narrative of the sites we passed, and sometimes the coach stopped and we walked, to view the sites in greater detail. This was essentially an “Overview” of Paris, which was perfect. First stop, Notre Dame. We arrived early enough to avoid the lines, passing inside the enormous dark church and hearing tales of its construction, the preservation and rescue of the stained glass during World War II, the coronation of Napoleon, Michelangelo’s Pieta, gargoyles, flying buttresses, the fictional Hunchback, and so on. I kept a sharp eye out for pickpockets, a notorious nuisance at Notre Dame, but we didn’t have any trouble with them.

The inevitable excitement came as a British guide, with a small microphone boom attached to her head, the little black foam ball seemingly floating in the air next to her mouth, using short range radio headsets for her charges, interrupted Christine, complaining in the nasal, British accent that is so easily equated with snotty arrogance, that Christine was “speaking out loud”, and should also be using transmitters and headsets because it was “impossible” for the two groups to be standing in front of the Pieta and hearing different stories about Michelangelo at the same time. Christine ignored this woman at first, hoping that, like a bothersome fly, she might go elsewhere. But the British radio guide was persistent and insistent, till Christine lashed into her in French, assuming rightly, that when she was done, the annoying woman must have been totally crushed. Without a glance at the other guide, and never skipping a beat, Christine resumed her explanation for us at full volume, while the British radio guide and her British radio tourists stumbled and staggered away in several different directions.

We buzzed around Paris in our coach, past the Louvre and the Tuileries Garden, north to the Paris Opera House, hearing tales of some famous architect or other, about a minor Napoleon’s private entrance at the back of the building, and about all the famous designers and models who had been seen at the opera. Christine was very fond of designers and models, and this was not the last we were to hear about them. We saw the Invalides in the distance, the palatial golden “resting place” of Napoleon, quite large for such a little man, and we finally stopped again at the Place du Trocadero for a spectacular view of the Eiffel tower directly across the Seine. From there? A quick buzz along Boulevard St.-Germain, whipping past a few famous cafes as we headed back to the hotel.

Ah! But what a struggle it is to write about Paris! It becomes a list of monuments and museums, a description of parks and buildings. They’re beautiful, they’re magnificent, but who cares? The power, the attraction of these places for me is not what they are, maybe in some cases what they contain, but especially what happened there. The interior of Notre Dame is a dead place until you realize that you’re standing where Napoleon stood. Where Jacques Louis David, the great Neo-Classical painter, observed and sketched the Coronation. And who else? Who else stood there?

Not far from Notre Dame, Pont Neuf straddles the river, about as famous a bridge as one finds, a bridge painted by Renoir, and referred to frequently by Hemingway. And Hemingway? Across the river also is the Latin Quarter. Is “Shakespeare & Co.”, the bookstore of ex-patriot era lending librarian Silvia Beech, who first published “Ulysses” for James Joyce. The apartment of Ernest and Hadley. The “lions” of that era, the painters, the Gertrude Stein crowd, this is where they were, this is where they hung out and worked and wrote and socialized and promoted themselves.

Shakespeare and Co.And that’s what I wanted to see, that’s where I wanted to go, that’s what I wanted to write about.

And I shall. Soon.

—Christo

 

Now there are THREE!! All William J. Plummer books now available as ebooks.

Friends, students, and colleagues who have known me for many years might know I grew up in Las Vegas, they might know I raced dirt bikes, hitchhiked up and down the West Coast, and teach T’ai Chi. But very few are aware of my upbringing with a pet Gambel’s quail and “an unusual household of pets”, described in some detail in books that my father wrote and that were published with moderate success and fame, in the early 1970’s. Curious? Well, here’s your chance!

ALL THREE of my dad’s books, previously published by Henry Regnery Company, and out of print for about thirty years, are available in ebook editions from Crossroad Press at all the major online publishing locations (see links below) for a very reasonable $3.99 each. IMAGINE owning all three of the complete and enhanced electronic editions for less than $15.00!

Enlivened with newly updated photographs — In addition to all the functionality of ebooks (searching, syncing bookmarks across devices, touch access to definitions, and so on), all three books have been updated with a new “Meet the Author” biography, a preface to the ebook edition, and improved photographs (in some cases never before seen.)

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In A Quail in the Family, the pen illustrations of the Regnery paper edition have been replaced with beautifully scanned and cleaned versions of the original photographs from which they were derived.

Friends_of_the_Family_thumbFriends of the Family features similarly replaced photographs. And because the quality of some of the photographs was so bad—I mean the ones I took with my Kodak Instamatic when I was…twelve—I have added public domain photos of several of the animals from the stories. (Thank you Wikipedia and all contributors of public domain photos!)

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Five of a Kind in the book edition contained ample photographs of the “Five Ladies”, but some were grainy, and all in black and white. Now, all have been replaced with improved scanned versions, many in color!!

 

Here’s my promotional blurb for “Friends”, which should give you a pretty good idea of what all three books are about…

Friends of the Family by William J. Plummer—Re-join the Plummers, who adopted and raised “Peep-sight” the Gambel’s quail rooster of A Quail in the Family. In this second book, William Plummer describes the family’s adventures with birds, rodents, snakes, lizards, and other animals–the visiting and resident members of the Plummer menagerie in Las Vegas. We learn of the rescue of “Beverly” the Desert Tortoise from the Nevada Nuclear Test Site; playing “dogfish” with “Georgia” the beagle; “Squeaky”, a kangaroo rat who occasionally left his open cage to make nocturnal household explorations, and “Ellery” the caiman–who resided for a time in his own backyard pool. And we first meet “Carrie”, “Rose”, “Red-Leg”, “Pearl”, and “Brownie”, the five charming female quail whose complete tale is told in the book Five of a Kind.

Links to the ebooks:

Amazon Link to Kindle Books by William J. Plummer

Apple link to iBooks by William J. Plummer

Barnes & Noble Link to Nook Books by William J. Plummer

Google link to Google Play books by William J. Plummer

Would you like to review one or more of these books?
Please contact me: cplummer[AT]crusoe.net.

But Really…Isn’t the Truth Good Enough?

Isn’t the truth good enough?

For some people, maybe not. I knew a young man once who worked in a French bakery. He, Italian girlfriend one-point-oh, and I, hung out some. And he told us how he played guitar in a band on “the Vineyard”—where he came from—but he didn’t have his guitar anymore. He also mentioned one time that he studied Kung Fu. I didn’t think anything of either of these declarations, because they seemed perfectly normal.

And then one night he was supposed to come join us for dinner at our apartment, and he was very late. Eventually he showed up, and said he had a problem with some driver who tried to run him (a pedestrian) off the road. He said he jumped on the hood of the guy’s car, and kicked in his windshield. Wow. I was impressed. It was Boston after all, and I had my own run-ins with the idiot drivers, so it really didn’t seem over-the-top. Not quite. Almost. The part about kicking in the windshield…he was wearing sneakers, and they didn’t seem the worse for the wear. Just how could a soft foot in a sneaker break a windshield? But I didn’t think too much about it at the time.

I had my guitar out, and I offered it to him. He hesitated and then picked it up carefully, and spent ten or 15 minutes touching it delicately, carefully, as if it were made of fine glass, without ever fingering a chord. How weird. “Just play it if you want.” I suggested.

“No, no, I have respect for an instrument. I just want to examine it.”

Okay, so he went on like that, it was painful to watch, and we eventually broke off and had dinner. He left, and I mentioned to Pal, my girlfriend, how odd he had seemed that night.

She looked at me matter-of-factly, and with a resigned sigh said, “He can’t play guitar.”

“What?” I asked.

“He can’t play guitar, and he doesn’t know Kung Fu.”

“What? Why would he tell us all that?”

“He’s chronically late. He made an excuse about kicking the guy’s windshield. It’s all bullshit, to distract us from the fact that he was over an hour late.”

“Really?” I couldn’t believe it! I just couldn’t understand why anyone needed to create such an elaborate story around something so minor as being late.

“Yea,” She continued, “He dug himself into a hole when he told you about ‘his band’, and when you handed him your guitar he had to improvise, but not on the guitar, because he can’t play.” She finished with a smile, revealing her slightly crooked front tooth. Adorable.

Jeez. Anyway, I was skeptical about everything the guy said from then on. I lost track of the guy, but he was the first of several “pathological liars” I have known. It always surprises me how gullible I feel when I realize afterwards how obvious it is that they are lying. How easy it is to believe them, and how bizarre it seems that they create this stuff, inevitably, to enhance their own image, or escape their own human frailties.

I was working retail, selling computers. There was a guy in the service department, and I used to hang out there and chat, waiting for things to get assembled, installed, or fixed. (In those days, a personal computer had to be “built” with certain options – type of video card, amount of RAM, type of drive – were all optional. I know kids, it’s hard for you to even imagine what I’m talking about – we’ll discuss that in some future post.)

This guy, I’ll call him “Bob”, was a little older than me, but not much older, a big guy, maybe six-four, over 225 pounds. No matter what shirt he wore, his belly always bulged over this pant waist. He was generally very friendly and upbeat. And out of the blue one day he started telling me about his time as an Army Ranger. I didn’t even know he had been in the Army.

“Yea, it was pretty good. I know how to use a knife, and I was a sniper.”

“Really?” I asked, in awe, “That must have been quite an adventure!”

“Yea,” He said, “The worst thing was when I got this infection.”

“Really?”

“Yep, snipers can’t move for days. I was camouflaged, on my belly; I had to pee in my pants. For days. My dick got all infected. When I finally got back to the base, the doctor had to slice me open to let out all the puss.” He was very matter-of-fact about this.

“You mean?”

“Right,” He said with a sniff, “From the base almost to the tip! Like a hot dog. That’s why I can’t have kids.” His words were even more descriptive than this, but I will spare you.

“Shit!” I said.

“I was serving America. Shit happens. I have a scar to prove it.”

I didn’t ask to see the scar. Six or eight months went by. Bob married his girlfriend. She got pregnant. I wondered how that happened. I mentioned it to Bob’s boss, who I also hung out with. “How did Carol get pregnant?”

“The usual way I would think,” Roger replied.

“I mean, with Bob’s injury and everything. Did they have a sperm donor?”

“What injury? What are you talking about?” Roger asked.

“From the Rangers, when he was a sniper. Don’t you know about that?” I figured he must, they worked pretty closely there in the service department.

“He told you that story too? It’s bogus, I called him on it. He was never in the Army, and certainly not the Rangers! He was having some fun with you.”

Yea, ‘having some fun’. A gross story with pretty elaborate detail in the effort too. And never cleared up the mess. I’m glad I didn’t ask his wife about it! And from that day forward, I didn’t trust anything that Bob said.

Maybe I’m just gullible. Or trusting. Or Carraway-esque? There were a few more big liars in my life, and I’ll tell you about them when I get a minute.

—Christo