How Picasso Became Picasso


Pablo Picasso in 1946. Credit ~ George Konig/Keystone Features, via Getty Images

By Miles J. Unger
Illustrated. 470 pp. Simon & Schuster. $32.50

In biography, struggle is invariably more interesting than success. The most irresistible memoirs prefigure celebrity entirely, from Moss Hart’s “Act One” and Emlyn Williams’s “George” to David Niven’s “The Moon’s a Balloon” and Dirk Bogarde’s “A Postillion Struck by Lightning.” These are tales of lightness, possibility and wonder. It was in this spirit that I welcomed Miles J. Unger’s “Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World,” which traces the artist’s childhood in Spain through the creation of “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” in 1907, to the otherwise heaving shelves of Picasso literature.

“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”Credit2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Picasso’s pre-1900 work is marked by his father’s art-school conservatism, as seen in the dark, unpainterly “First Communion” of 1896 and “Science and Charity” from the following year. Picasso was liberated from the 19th century’s heavy-handed conventions in Paris, which he first visited with his friend and fellow aesthete Carles Casagemas in October 1900. There he found inspiration in the Louvre, in the retrospectives of the flickering Impressionist generation, in his acquaintance with would-be painters and poets and, it appears, in the invigorating camaraderie of la Vie Bohème.

On the way to the hothouse, proto-Cubist summer of the “Demoiselles,” the shocker of his book’s title, Unger ably covers the El Greco-influenced “Blue”and “Rose” periods; the patronage of the Steins; and Picasso’s path-altering discovery of African art in the collection of the Trocadéro museum, the precise dating of which has divided scholars.

Unfortunately, insistent platitudes and pigeonholing tend to mar Unger’s efforts. Picasso is “bathed in the dazzling aura that surrounds all famous men”; Montmartre is the “ground zero of the worldwide avant-garde”; Picasso is compared to “an athlete before the big game,” an actor on “the stage of history” and “an ingénue making her way to Hollywood.” In one passage, Picasso’s rivalry with Matisse is described as an aesthetic “game of thrones.” Elsewhere, Picasso and Braque are said to knock Matisse “from his perch atop the leadership of the avant-garde,” imbuing painting with all the nuance of Flywheel. Unger plays up the “tortoise-and-hare” caricature of the contest of Matisse and Picasso, “the plodding striver against the facile genius, the introvert against the extroverted gadfly.” In his view, “Picasso was a born rebel, Matisse a rebel through circumstance, and a reluctant one at that.”

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The messy, brilliant life of Pablo Neruda ~ The Washington Post

April 18, 2018

Few poets offer their biographers as rich a vein of material as the Chilean Nobel Prize-winner Pablo Neruda . Born in Parral, Chile, in 1904, Neruda transcended his modest origins and provincial upbringing to achieve success and significance far beyond the dreams of most writers . Books like “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair,” “Residence on Earth ” and “Elemental Odes” have sold tens of millions of copies . Nearly 45 years after his death, Neruda continues to be regarded as one of the most significant poets of the 20 th century. In his home country, he remains a beloved and potent national symbol.



Mark Eisner’s new biography, “Neruda: The Poet’s Calling,” explores the complex confluence of factors that accounts for Neruda’s extraordinary fame and success. Far more than most modern poetry, Neruda’s body of work is quite accessible — a fact that reflects not only his personal preferences but also his political views. Moved at an early age by the exploitation of the disadvantaged, he viewed poetry as existing for the benefit of the common people. “Poetry is like bread,” he famously wrote. “It should be shared by all, by scholars and by peasants, by all our vast, incredible, extraordinary family of humanity.” When it was not overtly political, his poetry tended to concern itself with matters of quotidian existence, finding love and beauty in the commonplace, ordinary objects of daily human life.

Politics was never far from Neruda’s mind, and the story of his life is largely concomitant with the political history of the 20th century. The Chilean capital of Santiago, when he arrived there in 1921, was the center of an active student movement that hungered for progressive poetry. In the 1930s, he watched Spain fall into civil war from his post as a diplomat in Barcelona. Neruda already leaned toward socialism as a result of his Chilean experiences; now, watching as the Soviet Union stepped in to support the Spanish Republicans against Franco’s fascists while the rest of the world remained largely indifferent, he became a loyal communist and supporter of Stalin.

The origins of Neruda’s esteem for Stalin, then, are largely understandable. But his loyalty would persist for decades, long after reports of the brutal reality of Stalin’s dictatorial regime began to emerge, and though he did eventually repudiate that loyalty, it is not entirely clear why it took him so long. (Of course, Neruda was far from the only leftist intellectual of whom this could be said.)

Closer to home, his political activities were easier to admire. In Chile, he always managed to be on the side that opposed the dictators. When, in the late 1940s, the country’s Communist Party was outlawed and protests by coal miners were brutally suppressed, Neruda criticized the government in the international press and on the floor of the Chilean Senate. When the government tried to arrest him, he made a dramatic escape on horseback across the border into Argentina.

He returned to Chile in the mid-1950s and would spend most of the rest of his life there. His death from cancer , on Sept. 23, 1973 , occurred a mere 12 days after the U.S.-backed coup in which Augusto Pinochet ’s forces seized control from the democratically elected president Salvador Allende. Neruda’s funeral be came a spontaneous public demonstration of defiance against the new regime. While soldiers looked on, armed with machine guns but holding their fire, the crowd chanted, “He isn’t dead, he isn’t dead! He has only fallen asleep!”

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A Slightly Embarrassing Love for Jack Kerouac ~ The New Yorker



Every year on or around March 12th, acolytes of the Beat writer Jack Kerouac cluster at the Flamingo Sports Bar in St. Petersburg, Florida, to celebrate his birthday. Kerouac would have turned ninety-six this week had he not died just three blocks south, at St. Anthony’s Hospital, on October 21, 1969. The official cause was an abdominal hemorrhage, made fatal by several decades of ferocious drinking. He was forty-seven.

Two local acolytes, Pat Barmore and Pete Gallagher, have been organizing Jack Kerouac Night at the Flamingo for five years. Folk and jazz musicians play short sets, while poets read from battered notebooks. (Sometimes, in true Beat style, both things happen at once.) Patrons are encouraged to toss back “a shot and a wash,” Kerouac’s preferred tipple. (When I texted a friend in New York a picture of a menu board displaying the price of the Kerouac Special—two dollars and fifty cents for a whiskey and a plastic cup of beer—he texted back, “That should be illegal!”) The Flamingo, which opened in 1924, is more of a pool hall than a literary salon. A sign warns against gambling, profanity, lifting tables, throwing pool balls, and snapping sticks. Regulars, who tend to be over forty, gather at the bar to light each other’s cigarettes and discuss the weather. Kerouac’s novels are displayed on a rail in a side room. A mural, of him wearing a red plaid shirt and poking a cue ball, has been painted on the south side of the building. I liked the place immediately.

“The ghost of Jack Kerouac is definitely here,” Barmore announced at the start of the evening. The previous Sunday, he added, all of Kerouac’s novels “leapt off the shelf and fell on the ground,” apropos of no apparent stimuli. A similar event had recently occurred at Haslam’s Bookstore, a few miles away on Central Avenue. Per local lore, Kerouac used to wander into Haslam’s and rearrange his own books, jockeying for better and more prominent shelf placement; supposedly, this still goes on. A couple dozen people crowded the room. The guitarist Big Jim Mason opened the show with a handful of original folk songs. He was wearing a black T-shirt that promised, “It’s not a wrong note, it’s jazz.”

At a certain point in a person’s life, liking Kerouac—and liking “On the Road,” especially—becomes embarrassing. It’s not a particularly enlightened book. While there are a handful of female characters in it, these women are largely unrecognizable as human, and to say that Kerouac was inelegant about matters of race is generous. The plot isn’t particularly riveting. A disenchanted and heartbroken dude named Sal Paradise meets Dean Moriarty, a charismatic raconteur (he was inspired by Kerouac’s real-life friend, the poet-madman Neal Cassady) who strives for absolute liberation, no matter the emotional cost. Paradise buys it: “Somewhere along the line I knew there would be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.” Together they crisscross North America, hot for adventures.

I love “On the Road,” despite knowing very well that it’s a fantastical and likely toxic account, blind to both engines of privilege and the sacrifices inherent to endless meandering. Any ongoing affinity for the book is a way of signalling to the world that you are still enthralled by juvenile and illusory notions of freedom. Yet I’m nonetheless cowed by the rhythm and the elegance of Kerouac’s prose, how he taps into the wild energy of adolescent wanting. I was a brooding and sullen high-school freshman when I first read “On the Road,” still doing the hard and complicated work of figuring out how I fit into the world. It seems apt that the most quoted line from “On the Road” suggests we simply give in to our longings. To do otherwise is cowardly (or, worse, boring): “ . . . the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ”

The book was (supposedly) written on one continuous, hundred-and-twenty-foot scroll of typing paper—a savage and unmediated burst. In 1959, Kerouac told the talk-show host Steve Allen that it took him three weeks, although this, too, was later revealed to be an ingenious bit of self-mythologizing. (It turns out nothing shatters the glamour of genius more quickly than admitting that you spend hours every day moving commas around, or swapping out adverbs for different adverbs.)

“Kerouac cultivated this myth that he was this spontaneous prose man, and that everything that he ever put down was never changed, and that’s not true,” the Kerouac scholar Paul Marion told NPR, in 2007. “He was really a supreme craftsman, and devoted to writing and the writing process.” The book went through several drafts between 1951 and 1957, when Viking Press finally published it.




Visions of Latin America
By Mario Vargas Llosa
Translated by Anna Kushner
260 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $28.

By Mario Vargas Llosa
Translated by Edith Grossman
244 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $26.

What to make of the tireless Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, candidate for president of his country in 1990, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010 and, at age 81, still a vivid presence on the world stage? He is the only surviving member of the so-called “Boom” generation of Latin American novelists of the 1960s — an extraordinary group that included Gabriel García Márquez of Colombia, Julio Cortázar of Argentina, José Donoso of Chile and Carlos Fuentes of Mexico. Through some rare alchemy of the moment, they managed, as writers, to conjure the Bolivarian ideal of a unified Latin America that the fractious reality of politics could never achieve. Their popularity in Europe and the United States gave millions of Latin Americans the sense that they were part of a borderless, highly original culture that produced more than just caudillos, guerrilleros and boleros. It also paved the way for older writers, like Jorge Luis Borges, and younger ones, like Roberto Bolaño, to gain recognition abroad.

Vargas Llosa is the most overtly political of the Boom writers. His most admired novel, “The War of the End of the World” (1981), is about a provincial uprising in Brazil in the late 19th century that resulted in the slaughter of more than 15,000 peasants. The novel examines the dangers of utopian fanaticism, as well as the destructiveness of an out-of-touch government that imagines a threat to its existence where there isn’t one — a deadly misunderstanding between rulers and the ruled. His other major political novel, “Feast of the Goat” (2000), is a terrifying study of how a dictator with absolute power (Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, in this case) can colonize even the intimate lives of his countrymen, stifling the private freedom to enjoy, to appreciate, to reason and, finally, to love.

Vargas Llosa has also had a prolific career as a journalist and public intellectual; “Sabers and Utopias” is his 25th volume of nonfiction. An absorbing collection of essays and newspaper columns about Latin American politics and culture, it has the feel of a definitive position paper. Written over a period of 35 years, these pieces express, above all, his wish that Latin Americans would finally come to their senses and embrace that most unfairly (in his view) maligned of political doctrines: liberalism.

The rudimentary nature of his economic argument has not served him well. He acknowledges the danger “of powerful multinational companies operating, unrestrained, in all corners of the earth.” But his antidote is nothing more than a vague endorsement of “fair laws and strong governments.” In his previous book of essays, “Notes on the Death of Culture,” he bemoaned rampant consumerism as the death of serious art and thought, yet in “Sabers and Utopias” he ignores the fact that the lifeblood of giant manufacturers is not the creation of wealth for people who most need it, but cheap labor and ever-expanding markets. His attachment to a pure 18th-century European liberalism sometimes blinds him to present-day realities that must be reckoned with for liberalism to survive.


Is Leonard Cohen the New Secular Saint of Montreal?


A mural of Leonard Cohen on a Montreal building. Credit François Ollivier for The New York Times

MONTREAL — In an octagonal chamber at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, a spectator in a trance-like state hums Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as numbers on a digital display leap up to 631. That’s how many people on Earth are streaming Cohen’s version of the secular anthem right now, each represented by a recorded voice humming the song.

In a nearby neighborhood is Bar Suzanne, a new speakeasy named after one of Cohen’s most celebrated muses and songs. The lyrics “takes you down”are written in bold black letters on the stairs — a playful allusion to the song. Olivier Farley, the owner, said he chose the name because “Everyone in Montreal is proud of Leonard Cohen — the French, the English; he is sacred here.”

Then there is the imposing, luridly colorful mural that stretches nine full stories down the side of a building in the Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood. Pilgrims come daily to pay homage to the painted portrait of Cohen, staring plaintively from under his signature fedora. A second, even more towering Cohen-inspired mural, can be found in the heart of downtown.

Montreal has a real case of Leonard Cohen mania. More than a year after this poet, novelist and singer-songwriter died at the age of 82, he has become something of an urban prophet here. A new generation is memorizing his lyrics. There is the museum exhibition, “Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything,” inspired by his life and work. And Cohen-obsessed residents are making trips to Moishes, a storied steakhouse, to sample his favorite lamb chops.

In the pantheon of Montreal cultural figures, the soulful, self-effacing singer occupies exalted space. But befitting a deeply spiritual man whose art was nourished by Judaism, Catholicism and Buddhism, Cohen attracts a form of devotion here that can border on the messianic.

Gideon Zelermyer, the cantor of Shaar Hashomayim synagogue here, where Cohen once celebrated his bar mitzvah, said the liturgical melodies of his upbringing had brought Cohen solace as he was suffering from cancer. He was buried in the synagogue’s cemetery next to three generations of his family. “Cohen’s grave always has footsteps leading to it, no matter how high the snow,” Mr. Zelermyer said.

Cohen, he added, embodied his native city, its multiple cultural identities, the poetry of its potholes and imperfections. “What Bruce Springsteen is to New Jersey as a prophetic voice, Cohen is to Montreal,” he said. “His lyrics are not ‘Baby, baby.’ They are deeply profound.”

“The reverence for Cohen has become a fully fledged civic mania,” said Andrew McClelland, a.k.a. Li’l Andy, a 35-year-old, 6-foot-4 country singer who on a recent Thursday night led a group of singers through all the tracks of “The Future” (1992), one of Cohen’s most poignant and cerebral albums. The audience of aging hippies and twentysomething hipsters in the sold-out Gesù concert hall, listened rapturously to the performance, including a Motown-infused version of “Closing Time.”


Why we write … Ed Abbey


In his introduction Abbey talks about many things, mostly humorous, but in the next to last paragraph he states several reasons why one writes.


We write as well in order to record the truth, to unfold the folded lie, to bear witness to the future of what we have known in the present, to keep the record straight.

We write, most importantly, to defend the diversity and freedom of humankind from those forces in our modern techno-industrial culture that would reduce us all, if we let them, to the status of things, objects, raw material, personnel: to the rank of subjects.

Mario Vargas Llosa – Elder Statesman of Latin American Literature

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Shall we sit outside?” Mario Vargas Llosa asked me, gesturing through the library’s floor-to-ceiling windows at the brilliant September afternoon. The only Peruvian ever to have won a Nobel Prize, Vargas Llosa now lives in an eight-bedroom mansion on the fringes of Madrid, in the neighborhood known as Puerta de Hierro. When I arrived, a butler in a white jacket led me through the enormous two-story foyer, across gleaming black and white tiles, into a library lined with dark wood bookcases. A crystal ashtray sat next to silver dishes of chocolate and cigarettes. This imposing casona seemed like a fitting residence for the last living giant of a golden age of Latin American literature, a man who may well be the most politically important novelist of our time, but the house does not belong to Vargas Llosa. Over the library’s fireplace hung a portrait of its owner, Isabel Preysler, in a red dress.

Preysler, who was born in the Philippines but has lived in Spain since she was 16, built the home with her third husband, Spain’s former Minister of Economy and Finance Miguel Boyer, who died in 2014. Paparazzi often loiter around its gates; Preysler, 67, has been an object of fascination for Spanish-language tabloids ever since she married her first husband, the pop star Julio Iglesias, in 1971. (Her second husband was a Spanish marquis.) And it was something of a scandal that Vargas Llosa now had a desk with tidy piles of books and a bust of Honoré de Balzac in a little corner of her library amid Boyer’s old science and math books. He used to live in a floor-through apartment in the heart of historic Madrid, steps away from the Royal Theater, where the streets are as narrow as trenches. But in 2015, he left his wife of 50 years for Preysler. As I followed him out onto the terrace, I wondered briefly if part of Preysler’s appeal had been her ability to wrap him in such luxury.

We took seats under a white awning on a pair of white couches facing an aquamarine pool. My coffee arrived in a delicate pink china cup. As we talked, the sun slid behind a narrow forest of closely planted trees, which hid the street, the high stone walls and the long gravel driveway, giving the garden the illusion of a park. We talked for more than two hours in Spanish, about the Mississippi modernist William Faulkner and ___


Aloha Journey ~ 増補版



Taiji Matsuda is a painter and a poet. Born in Nara, a town that has a long traditional history, he discovers Haiku at the age of 30 and that is when his creative career begins. Since 1991, he has lived and worked in Tanegashima, a surf island, south of Kyushu, Japan. His naïve and relaxed painting touch and simple style poetry have mostly been cultivated and established on the island. His creation has been used by Patagonia worldwide.

If you like primitivo style oil painting of ocean/surf scenes with haiku, this is a nice collection.  A beauty.  rōbert









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