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Rose Kennedy, successful and tragic. The later years

Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald was born in Boston (1890-1995), oldest child of John Honey Fitz Fitzgerald, as I noted. In their first 18 years of marriage, Rose gave birth to 9 children from Joseph Jr in 1915 to Edward in 1932.

Ambassador Joseph Kennedy and Rose, with 5 of their children
in London, 1938

In the late 1930s, her husband was named US ambass­ador to Britain. During their time in Europe, the arch-isolationist Kennedy made it his mission to prevent America entering the war against Germany. In 1938-9, while Fascist persecutions in Germany intensified, Joe Kennedy was strengthening his faith in Nazism. He had a solution to The Jewish Problem; he said he had worked out with Chamber­lain a plan to ship all German Jews to Africa. In Sept 1940, Kenn­edy again sought a personal meeting with Hitler because he believed he could bring about closeness between the USA and Ger­m­any. Then Kennedy Snr had to take his nasty pro-Nazi beliefs back home.

The losses were relentless. Rose’s eldest son Joseph Jr fought for the Allies in the Navy anyhow and was killed in action in Aug 1944.  Daughter Kath­leen was a Red Cross nurse in London and wanted to marry the Protestant Marquess of Hartington but Cavendish died fighting in WW2. Later Kathleen wanted to marry another English aristocrat  but she died in a plane crash in May 1948.  Finally I discussed how in 1941 her daughter Rosemary was lobotomised at 22 at Joseph Sr’s in­sis­tence, and lived in a care home.

As Rose's younger sons grew older, they began to look toward polit­ics, and she encouraged them. She had learned from her father how to manage public functions and how to con­duct political campaigns on behalf of her sons. When son John stood in 1946 for the Massach­us­etts 11th Cong­ress­ional District seat, previously held by her father Honey Fitzgerald, Rose was excited.

And behind-the-scenes dealing didn’t phase her. After John's vict­ory in 1946, his next big battle was for the US Senate. During his 1952 campaign to unseat Henry Cabot Lodge, Rose was the hostess at many Kennedy Teas sponsored by the Democratic Party.

In her son John's 1960 presidential campaign, Rose again did her utmost, going to meetings every night. Her greatest thrill was in 1961 when John became the 35th American President. Since John's wife Jacqueline had just given birth, Rose and her daughters and daughters-in-law helped host the White House events.

The new President thanking his mother

No mother should ever have to bury her own child.
President John F. Kennedy's burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va
From left: JFK's mother Rose, his brother Attorney General Robert and his widow Jackie.
1963 Chicago Sun Times

Rose’s son John was as­s­assinated in Dallas in Nov 1963, during his first term as President. Her next son Robert, Attorney General and later a Demo­cr­atic senator from New York, was assass­inated in Los Angeles in 1968, while campaigning for Presid­ent. Imagine a moth­er’s everlasting pain in losing her son in war, daughter in a plane crash, virtually losing another daughter in an operating theatre and burying her two more politician sons.

In the aftermath of the terrible Chappaquiddick accident in July 1969, Rose rallied to son Edward's aid and helped to rejuvenate his political career by campaigning for his re-election to the US Senate. He kept his Senate seat for the next three decades.

Much of her later years was devoted to securing public sup­port for the cam­paign to enlighten the public about mental re­tard­at­ion. Her “Joseph Kennedy Foundation” (sic) donated mill­ions to hospitals, ins­tit­utions and day-care centres ac­ross the nation. She was an effective campaigner and a dedicated fund-raiser; she remained a symbol of progressive Democratic politics.

After becoming a widow in 1969, Rose loved to walk alone. She wrote her autobiography in 1974 and spent the rest of her life in relat­ive peace. But a stroke in 1984 left her in a wheelchair. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy died in her Mass. home in 1995, at 104.


Who owns Franz Kafka's manuscripts, diaries and letters? 1924-2016

I didn’t think I would be coming back to my Czech husband's hero, Franz Kafka (1883-1924) so soon.

Note the review of the excellent book called Kafka, The Early Years, written by Rainer Stach (Princeton 2016). I ended that post as follows: If Max Brod (1884-1968), Kafka’s German-speaking Jewish Czech literary execut­or, had complied with Kafka’s directions, we wouldn't know Kafka today. Happily Brod wrote the first biography of his friend and prepar­ed Kafka’s works for publication. Brod act­ual­ly collat­ed, edited and published The Trial (1925) and The Castle (1926), now literary classics.

Journalist Benjamin Balint sought to explain to literature lovers the complex story of Kafka’s manuscripts, after the author’s early death in 1924. In his book Kafka’s Last Trial (WW Norton, 2018), Balint described the legal and literary history that took place in an Israeli court - where three parties were fighting over Kafka manuscripts.

First the backstory. Kafka had told Brod that “everything I leave behind is to be burned unread and to the last page.” But when the Kafka died of TB in 1924, Brod could not bring himself to burn the unpublished works of the man he con­sid­ered a literary genius. Instead Brod became very pro-active literary executor, devoting his life to rescuing Kafka’s legacy. Thus the ownership question had been a problematic one since the 1920s!

Franz Kafka in Prague's Old Town Square, 1922,
two years before he died.

As WW2 started, Brod left Prague on the last train out, escaping to Palestine with a leather suitcase stuff­ed full of Kafka’s original manuscripts. So Brod twice rescued Kafka’s legacy, once from intentional de­struction and once from Nazi oblivion. Later the surviving documents were them­selves caught up in an endless bureaucratic tangle.

Esther Hoffe (1906–2007) worked as Brod’s Czech secretary and close friend in Israel for more than 20 years. When Brod died in 1968, he had already written a will in which he gifted Kafka’s manuscripts and letters to Hoffe as his literary executor. Hoffe sold some of these still unpublished papers and held on to the rest.

When she died in Tel Aviv in 2007, Hoffe willed the manuscripts to her two daughters, Eva and Ruth, who sought to probate her will. Just as the will was about to be approved, the National Library of Israel petitioned the Tel Aviv Family Court to prevent the estate from passing to the daughters. A series of articles in Haaretz argued that the manuscripts were being held in unsuitable conditions, scattered between apartments in Tel Aviv and bank safes abroad, instead of being made available for scholars.

The State of Israel contested the part of her will that concerned the material she inherited from Brod either long before his death, or from his will. The position of the State was that Brod's literary estate was not hers to dispose of as she wanted; Brod's two ambiguous wills (1948 and 1961) both expressed the wish that his literary estate be placed in a suitable library at home or abroad.

Eventually the Israeli court awarded the manuscripts to  the National Library in Jerusalem. The book thus became a fascinating tale of literary friendship, loyalty, political power, law and re-trials.

The issue had already been adjudicated in court in 1968 and 1973, but it had never been the story of two conflicting countries before. Now an international legal battle erupted to determine which country could claim ownership of Kafka’s work: 1] Israel, where Kafka dreamed of living but never entered or 2] Germany, where Kafka’s three sisters were exterminated during the Holocaust. In the book Kafka’s Last Trial, Benjamin Balint described this provocative trial in Israeli courts, packed with legal, ethical and political debates. Of course in this contest I noted Germany’s and Israel’s national obsessions with overcoming the Holocaust traumas of the past.

Esther Hoffe, Max Brod and Otto Hoffe, c1958
photo credit: Haaretz

In the third court case, the legal issue of who the property belonged to became less important than a much larger question Who owns Kafka? Two arguments were made for Germany over Israel. Firstly Esther Hoffe had sold some of her holdings to the German Literat­ure Archive of Marbach am Neck­ar. This archive already had a good col­lection of Kafka material, so that Marbach, one of the world’s most import­ant literary institutions, should have been a more suitable home. And Marbach was clearly much better-equipped to deal with scholars.

The second argument for Germany was based on one of the identity-issues raised by the case i.e for all their embrace of Kafka as Jewish personal­ity in Israel, interest in Kafka's writing there was always a bit limited. Kafka had never become part of any Israeli project of national revival! Nor was there a Kafka cult in Israel, as there had been in Germany and Czechoslovakia. The author had not explicit­ly dealt with Judaism in any of his writing, so was he simply a Czech national who wrote in German?

The Balint book examined Eva Hoffe in court in 2016 running the Last Appeal. In that year it was determined that Esther had only been the caretaker of the Brod estate during her lifetime, but that the Nat­ional Library of Israel was indeed the appropriate repository for the papers.

Benjamin Balint's book

Fortunately Balint did understand the far-reaching implicat­ions of the unusual case, beyond the strictly legal aspects. The story of who owns the manuscripts was a long and fascinating tale of literary friendship, loyalty, political power and trials. Max Brod’s estate, which was locked up for years by their elderly custodians (Brod’s secretary and her daught­ers), was willed to Israel’s National Library. The irony of a Kafka estate being blocked for many decades was not lost on Kafka readers, though the final judgement did order the papers back into the National Library’s hands.

The National Library in Jerusalem has since announced that Kafka's papers will be digitised, with access to researchers wherever they live.


Winnipeg's cultural and historical highlights

Winnipeg is at the geographic heart of Canada, with a population of 730,000. For the city’s most exciting sites, thank you to the Manitoba Historical Society and to my late mother’s large family in Winnipeg.

1. The Forks was made a nation­al historic site to preserve ancient heritage, where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers join. The Forks is a shopping-entertainment district set in historic buildings. It was once a railway repair facility, then the build­ings were restored to new shops. Visit Forks Market, where fruit and vegetable sellers set up in the main hall.

2. In the early C20th Winnipeg experienced an economic boom, and the Manitoba Legisl­ative Building was built as a symbol of that wealth. The mag­nificent neoclassical building, made of local Tyn­dall stone and Italian mar­ble, was comp­leted in 1919. Note the neo­classical design, hid­den hier­oglyphics and Freemason symbols. The Le­g­­islative Chamber is where the members of the Legis­lat­ive Ass­em­bly meet, watched by visitors.

Manitoba Legisl­ative Building

The grounds display statues, monuments and perfect gard­ens. Atop the building, on the 72-meter dome, is The Golden Boy, a heavy four-meter bronze statue plated with 23 carat gold. It symbolises progress and agricultural prosperity.

3. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is the city's new landmark that examines human rights across the world. From the ground floor, ascend over 6 levels and visit 11 gall­er­ies along the way. Many issues have raised controversy (ab­or­t­ion, poll­ut­ion, indigenous issues, the Holocaust etc) so most Canadians believe it is an imp­ortant Canadian cultural institution to visit.

Museum for Human Rights

4. The Manitoba Museum reflects on the province’s human and natur­al history: local history, culture and local geology. There is vir­t­ual time travel at the Urban Gallery, where the visitor walks down a 1920 replica of Winnipeg’s streets, complete with old log cabins. The nine permanent galleries include: Science Gal­l­ery, and Planetarium which displays the night sky. Highlights include ancient fos­sils, the Nor­th­ern Lights, a recr­eated Hud­son Bay Fur Trading Post and Non­such, C17th replica trans-Atlantic ketch.

5. Winnipeg's oldest park, Assiniboine Park covers 445 hect­ar­es of lawns, trees and cultural facilities. The Assiniboine Zoo is home to a wide var­iety of flora and fauna. See Arctic cr­eat­ures eg polar bears, and exotic spec­ies like the Siberian tig­er, red panda and gorilla. There is a steam train, con­serv­at­ory, playground and the historic Assiniboine Park Pavilion.

To the south, a nature reserve adjoins the park. Its Leo Mol Scul­pture Garden combines art and nature in its park, mus­eum and art gallery. See hundreds of garden sculptures, made by the famous sculptor Dr Leo Mol.

6. By 1900, ambitious architectural projects abounded. St Luke's Anglican Church is a fine example of Gothic Revival style. The main building (1904–05) and the attached parish hall (1913–14) were de­signed by local arch­itects, allowing space for great stained glass windows and carved wooden rood-screen. The Toronto studio of Robert MacCausland produced most of the glass in the nave, with one special William Morris and Co window coming from the UK.

St Luke's

7. Built in 1907, Shaarey Shomayim Synagogue was used until the move to a new building on Wellington Crescent in 1949. The first build­ing is now used as the Sudanese Canadian Community Centre. 

Now House of Ashken­azi Syn­ag­ogue is Winnip­eg’s oldest functioning synagogue, built on the old Tabernacle Baptist Church site. Daily services have been held here since 1922. This was a time when there were many shules in Win­nipeg, mainly in the city’s North End where most Jews lived then. The original building was burned in 1945 and was soon replaced by the present brick structure.

House of Ashken­azi Syn­ag­ogue

8. Winnipeg Art Gallery’s modern building is shaped like a ship bow with a rooftop sculp­ture garden that frequently hosts a range of performances. Being Canada’s oldest civic art gallery, it analyses the art and its influence over lo­cal life. It holds c25,000 artworks rang­ing from C15th European pain­t­ings to C21st American multi-media art. The coll­ect­ions include cl­assic & contemporary art by Canad­ian, Amer­ican, European and Inuit artists.

 Art Gallery

9. Victorian and Edwardian commercial archit­ecture typifies the city's Exchange District National Historic Site, the site of the financial institutions that powered Winnipeg until the 1920s. Now the Exchange District is reviving, with old warehouses, banks and business premises redesigned and re-used. The Exchange District is also a focus for the city's cultural life, with venues like the Pantages Play­house Theat­re, Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and Manitoba Cent­en­nial Centre: drama, ballet, concerts and opera.

10. Royal Canadian Mint makes 55 billion coins for Canada (and other countries). Follow the whole minting process in the tour and see interactive displays. The very modern, triangular-shaped building has tropical gardens and fountain.

11. In 1818 Father Joseph-Norbert Provencher went to Man­itoba to help locals, Hudson’s Bay Company and Scottish Lord Sel­kirk found the first Roman Catholic cathedral west in Western Can­ada: St Bon­iface Cathedral. This beautiful piece of French Romanesque archit­ecture has been rebuilt sev­eral times due to fire, though note the modern cathedral still in­corp­or­ates the historic façade. The cemetery has old gravestones from the very first settlers.

The new St Boniface Cathedral
with the original facade in front.

St Boniface Museum was built in 1846 for the Grey Nuns and was the first convent, girls' school, hospital and orphanage in the West. After restor­at­ion in 1967, it became a museum documenting the history of the province's French minority.

12. Visit the Manitoba Centennial Centre in Main St. Its Centennial Concert Hall and the Manitoba Theatre Centre are the home venues for the city's premier arts facilities: Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Winnipeg Sym­phony Orchestra and Manitoba Opera. Around the build­ing, attractive fountains and sculptures fill terraced gardens. 

13. Louis Riel was the leader of the Metis (one of the three recognised Aboriginal peoples) and led two rebellions against the newly Federated Canadian government (1869, 1884). He was executed in 1885! The Louis Riel House Historic Site, in the Red River-frame style, is typical of early settler homes and has been restored to reflect social, economic and cul­t­ural life then.

Louis Riel House

14. The lovely Kildonan Park has splendid gardens, bird watching, a Witch's Hut and swimming pool. The park is spread over 99 acres and has 3 ks of recreation trails along the Red Riv­er. Kildonan Park is also home to Can­ad­a's oldest open-air theatre, Rainbow Stage.


Alexandria, Egypt - handsome old synagogue, now renovated

Eliyahu Hanavi/Elijah the Prophet Synagogue was originally built in Nabi Daniel St in Alexandria in the C14th. But I am surprised that the historians not know where it was, at least until restoration work revealed the remains of an older synagogue beneath the C19th structure?

With the inevitable destruction that came with the passage of time, war damage from Napoleonic arm­ies and local riots, the building had to be re-built in 1850. This C19th version of the syn­agogue was monumental, exactly as we would expect from an 1850s It­al­ian architect working for Baron Yacoub Levi de Men­ashe and with contrib­utions from the Muh­ammad Ali Dynasty. Origin­al­ly located in what were the outskirts of the city, the synagogue now stands in the heart of beau­tiful Alexandria, in el-Mansheya Square.

Under British influence (1882-1922-1956), and under King Fuad I (reigned 1922-36), Egypt was friendly towards its Jewish populat­ion. Jews played important roles in the mercantile economy, and their populat­ion climbed to c90,000, in respon­se to increasing persecution in Europe. Half of the 90,000 Jews lived in Alexandria.

Pass through fancy wrought iron gates, walk through the formal garden 
and approach the front entrance to the synagoguge.

In Oct 1956, after the conflict with Britain, France and Israel in the Suez Crisis, President Gamal Abdel Nasser expressed a surge of nationalism. He introduced sweeping regulations, abolishing civil liberties and all­owing the state to strip away Egyptian citizenship from any group. When the Jews were forced to leave Egypt in 1956-7, they moved to Israel and other countries, leaving behind heaps of synagogues and hist­or­ical artefacts. The expelled citizens were all­owed to take only one suit­case and a small sum of cash, and were forced to don­at­e their property before emigrating.

My daughter-in-law’s entire family had lived a cosmopolitan life in Alex­andria, with nice houses, plenty of synagogues and successful trad­ing between Egypt, Greece and Italy. They would never have left Alexandria volunt­arily, but they were nonetheless grateful to Aus­tralia for giving them a safe home in 1957.

Eliyahu Hanavi was one of two extant syn­agogues in Alex­andria, where there had once been 12 thriving communities. This building could seat 700 worshipers and was the last functioning synagogue in Egypt, until it had to be closed on sec­ur­ity grounds in 2012. It might have been one of the largest Jewish buildings in the Middle East, but after some of its roof collapsed, the synagogue remained exposed to the elements; rainwater seeped into the walls and floors. Only immed­iate repairs prevented it from becoming a danger, particularly for the women who sat upstairs.

Peaceful relations between Egypt and Israel have occurred since 1977, when President Anwar Sadat visited Israel. But Egypt’s Antiquities Min­ister Khaled al-Anani didn’t get to tour a number of arch­aeol­og­ical sites in Alex­and­ria until 2017. In a press release, the Minister noted that the Egyptian government was interested in pres­er­v­ing all of the country's monuments and heritage, be they Islamic, Phar­aonic, Jewish or Coptic. He ordered structural and architectural rein­force­ment to the synagogue, res­toration of the main façades, ornate walls, wood and copper elements, and light­ing. The marble columns, which are still beautiful, marked out the seating space and the brass name plates are still affixed to the pews of the regular male worshippers.

The restoration of Eliyahu Hanavi was a clear sign of the local aut­h­or­ities’ growing interest in the preservation of minority groups’ heritage, a symbol of Egypt’s historical pluralism. It reflected a time when div­erse communities lived together in a spirit of relig­ious freedom.

The central aisle is defined by marble pillars on both sides.

The ark, holding all the holy scrolls, 
is surrounded by menorah lamps

Men's pews, still with the brass name plates 

 Under the supervision of the Antiquities Ministry, the Egyptians paid for emergency repairs and then for the complete restoration of Eliyahu Han­avi. The government’s renovat­ion initiative brought attention to the import­ance of the synagogue to the World Monuments Fund, a New York-based non-profit organis­at­ion dedicated to the preservation of historic architecture and cul­tural heritage sites, which allocated millions of dol­lars to rest­ore eight Jewish sites in Egypt. Appropriately this syn­agogue went straight onto the World Monuments Fund's 2018 list of monuments-at-risk.

Because the entire Jewish population of Egypt in 2017 could sit together in a small Fiat 500 car, it is unclear how much pressure the local Jewish comm­un­ity provided on the Egyptian government. But there certainly were requ­ests from organisations of Jews who had emigrated from Egypt in 1956-7, and their children. Generations of Jews had loved Egypt, spoke French at home and Arabic at work, and were integral parts of the merchant econ­omy. Those communities absolutely had to be commemorated, and their property and synagogues respected.

This entire process was a great sign of growing interest by the Egyptian authorities in the preservation of minority groups’ herit­age, a symbol of Egypt’s historical plural­ity and religious freedom. But who will pray, marry or be bar mitzva’d in the now beautiful Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue – just overseas tourists and consular staff? The organisations of ex-pat Egyptians have proposed to the Egyptian gov­ernment a new Museum, to protect and display the comm­un­ity’s legacy in Egypt. Perhaps Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue will also become the home of the Jewish Museum.

This weekend marked the largest Jewish prayer gathering in Egypt for decades. 180 Jews of Egyptian origin flew to the land of their fathers for a Sabbath dedicated to the newly restored synagogue. The highlight of the day was when 12 of the synagogue’s original Torah scrolls were taken out and emotionally paraded throughout the hall. The 12 Torah scrolls were in honour of the 12 tribes of Israel.


2020 Best Countries Report - well done Switzerland and Canada!

I have examined the World's Most Liveable Cities before, in 2016 and 2018, but now January Magazine published the results of The Best Countries analysis. The Best Countries project was part of US News’ Government Rankings initiative, measuring government performance at the state and international levels. Kim Castro, editor of US News explained that  “by collab­or­ating with leaders in data and academia, we were able to help thought leaders, business decision makers, policy makers and citizens understand how perceptions impact their country’s standing in the world."

The report and subsequent rankings were based on how people’s perceptions define countries in terms of qualitative characteristics, but which did they include? And why did the 2020 report focus on perceptions of only 73 nations? See the Best Countries full ranking here.

Overall results
1. Switzerland
 2. Canada
 3. Japan
 4. Germany
 5. Australia
 6. United Kingdom
 7. United States
 8. Sweden
 9. Netherlands
10. Norway
11. New Zealand
12. France
13. Denmark
14. Finland

Regarding Switzerland, the report emphasised that “Switzerland has low unemployment, a skilled labour force and one of the highest gross domestic products per capita in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook. The country’s strong economy was powered by low corporate tax rates, a highly-developed service sector led by financial services and a high-tech manufacturing industry.”

Lake Lucerne, Switzerland
Travel Triangle

Key themes from the 2020 Best Countries report include:
Switzerland stayed on top overall. Canada moved up to #2 and Japan was #3. Rounding out the top 5 were Germany and Australia. The UK came in at #6, and the US rose to #7.

Respondents painted a bleak picture when asked about nations’ trust­worthiness. While the US was perceived as the most powerful country in the world, data showed it was not perceived as trustworthy. Can­ada was seen as the most trustworthy country, and has been since the first Best Countries report in 2016. During that same time, perceptions of the US as being trustworthy steadily drop­­ped to a record low of 16.3 on a 100-point scale. The UK also fell in this attribute, while Greece, South Korea and Spain improved.

There was a global consensus about the effect of climate change. 87% agreed that climate change was serious. Of the 36 countries surveyed, people in Russia agreed about climate change the least (71%), and Indonesia agreed the most (97%) along with African nat­ions like Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. But only 60% of re­spondents agreed their country was effectively addressing its effects.

Global anxiety about technology persisted. 74% of people thought large technology companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon should be limited, and about the same number agreed that technology was disp­lacing jobs. The UK, Canada and Australia agreed most with limiting large technology corporations. In Japan, which was perceived as a technology powerhouse, 31.5% agreed that technol­ogy was displacing jobs; 55% agreed that big tech should be limited.

Gender equality was viewed favourably, but there was a gap between perception and reality. 90% of respondents agreed that women should be entitled to the same rights as men. However when asked whether women actually did have the same economic opportun­ities as men in their countries, only 64%  agreed. 69% of people said they view traditional gender roles as important to a functioning society, a perception similar between men (73%) and women (66%).

“This year’s Best Countries rankings continued to show us human rights, diversity, sustainability and free trade were all top of mind for many worldwide, connecting us together. These fundamental topics were vital to a nation’s brand strength and reflected how the quality of life can have a dramatic influence on global perception,” said Michael Sussman, CEO, BAV Group. [I might disagree with these measures being the most important].

Canada's Rideau Canal, C19th,
made up of a chain of lakes, rivers and canals stretching 202 ks from Kingston to Ottawa.
Canadian Tourism Commissio

The 2020 Best Countries methodology used data gathered from a proprietary survey of 20,000+ business leaders; college educated individuals that were at least middle class; and general citizens who were representative of their count­ry. The goal of the Best Countries report was to understand how global perceptions are related to investment, foreign trade and tourism of a nation, David Reibstein, professor of marketing at Wharton, correctly noted. But in my opinion,  Best Countries should also measure peace for the residents, democracy,  universal health care, adequate social housing, unemployment rates, free schooling for all children etc

So I checked Quality of Life. Beyond the essential ideas of broad access to food and housing, to quality education and health care and employment, this measure may also include intangibles such as job security, political stability, individual freedom and environmental quality.

 For Quality of Life
1. Canada
2. Denmark
3. Sweden
4. Norway
5. Australia
6. Netherlands
7. Switzerland
8. New Zealand
9. Finland
10. Germany


John Brack's art, ballroom dancing and market success

John Brack (1920-99) was born in Melbourne. Embracing art at 17, Brack had something special that made him an aspir­ing creat­or - a great mind. Brack was very in­terested in poetry then, reading widely to become a poet himself.

Brack attended evening classes at the National Gallery School from 1938-40. He enlisted in the army in 1940 and was assigned to the Artillery Corps in Western Australia. He was commissioned in 1943 and appointed to heavy artillery, later assigned to a field artillery unit bound for Papua New Guinea. Discharged from the army in 1946, Brack returned to the National Gallery School as a full-time stud­ent under the Commonwealth Retraining Scheme.

From 1947-48 he shared a Melbour­ne studio with Fred Williams, a fel­low Gallery School student. In 1948 he mar­ried fellow student and in 1949, he started dep­ic­ting the life he saw. In a stark setting portrayed in ordinary colours, the artist doc­umented the widely-known scenes of life in Australia, paint­ing with a sense of humour and a distinct personal comment on the matter. The paintings from this era were visual, satirical comments on the post-war years, striving towards the Australian Dream.

I wrote that Brack had a style that evolved into simple paintings filled with plain areas of ord­inary colours. After WW2 we Austral­ians were not a flashy people, so his style was appropriate to con­temporary Australian culture. Brack’s priority was to paint the human cond­ition i.e the effect on appearance of environment and behaviour. Note the chiselled planes on their faces and bodies.

More than any other Austral­ian art­ist of his generation, Brack was a painter of modern life - its realism, self-reflection and a strong sense of alienation, marked by typically Australian dry humour.

John Brack, Yellow Legs, 1969, 
74 x 99 cm, 
sold for $1.2 million.

John Brack, Back and Fronts, 1969, 
116 x 164 cm
sold for $1.8 million in 2014

Brack arose during the 1950s in Melbourne as an original artist. His clever, hard-edged painting style could be seen in a famous image, Collins St at 5PM 1955, a view of rush hour. Set in a dull pal­ette of browns and greys, and sim­ilar faces, it was a comment on the conformity of everyday life. No rural landscapes for him; he either exam­ined Australia’s newly expanding post-war suburbia or he looked at citizens going about their daily responsibilities.

In 1959 the Antipodeans Group consisted of 7 artists and art hist­or­ian Bernard Smith, who compiled The Antipodean Manifesto, a decl­aration fash­ioned from the artists' commitment to modern, fig­ur­at­ive art. The artists were John Brack, Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd, David Boyd, John Perceval and Clifton Pugh (all from Melbourne) and Robert Dickerson from Sydney. It may not have had an enormous impact at home, but works by group members were included in a 1961 exhibition in the Whitechapel Gallery in London. Called Recent Aus­t­ralian Painting, the Antipodeans felt justified by this show which established a national identity for contemporary Aust­ralian art. 

Giving an insight to the modern life in Australia, Brack’s 1950s and 60s paintings were personal, humorously and Australian. Some of his works demon­strated his special qual­it­ies as a draughtsman and some showed his fasc­in­ation with the human body. But the generalised nat­ure of Brack’s nudes was heightened by stylisation of the figure, reducing ind­iv­idual features.

 John Brack, The Old Time, 1969, 
163 x 129 cm 
Tarra Warra Museum of Art collection. 
Sold in 2007 for $3.4 million, the highest price ever paid for a Brack painting.

John Brack, Latin American Grand Final, 
168 x 205cm, 1969 
National Gallery of Australia

Although the ballroom theme had long sparked Brack’s attention, it was not until late 1967 that he began to seriously gather material for the celebrated series, subscribing to The Aus­t­ralasian Dancing Times and going to World Ballroom Dancing Com­pet­itions held in Melbourne. He was attracted to the subject for its sheer absurd­ity; he was fascinated by the idea of people who turned pleasure into the hard labour seen in professional ballroom dancing.

In 1962 Brack became Head of the National Gallery Art School, a position he held until 1968. When he resigned from that job, he supp­orted his family solely by working a professional art­ist.

Note the works in the Ballroom Dancing series, namely Yellow Legs, The Old Time, Backs and Fronts and Latin Amer­ic­an Grand Final, all painted in 1969. While Brack drew upon wide ranging photographic mat­erial for most of his Ballroom Dancing series, it was only in these key works that he employ­ed two photographs spliced together. Backs and Fronts presented two couples whirling through space on the dance floor, with a judgmental crowd of onlookers waiting behind. It could well have been the same man or the same woman being presented from the back and front, thus possibly highlighting the faceless dancing ritual.

Beyond a purely literal analysis of Brack’s design existed an arg­uably more compelling commentary upon the dance as a visual metaph­or for life itself an allegory of the human condition in the vein of great European masters such as Goya and Munch. Depicting his dan­cers poised in difficult and exacting poses, balanced over high­ly polished floorboards with their reflections inviting imminent collapse, thus Brack exposes the extreme vulnerability and precar­iousness of the participants. Moreover, that they were tightly bond­ed together in relationships that were merely a well-rehearsed ritual, full of superficial glitter but no deeper meaning. Note Brack’s obsessions about people being alternately attracted and repelled, together intimately but separated in intention. About the rituals of art and life, in contesting circumstances.

Brack didn’t do ballroom dancing himself. But he watched and painted ballroom dancing because it enabled him to satirise a very insular and self-important art scene. Perfect!

Thank you to  Deutscher and Hackett and Menzies for their invaluable material on Brack's ballroom dancing paintings.


The Brothers Grimm - German scholars

Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm (1786–1859) Grimm were born in Hanau, near Frankfurt. They were bright German teenage stud­ents at the University of Marburg in 1802-6, following their lawyer father. But they were faced with financial issues and caring for their four younger siblings, for years after their par­ents died.

Their situation was aggravated by the Napoleonic Wars (1803–15). Wilhelm passed his law exams and found work as a librarian in the royal library, but Jacob interrupted his studies to serve the Hes­sian War Com­m­ission. And when the French occupied Kassel in 1807, Jacob lost his War Commission posit­ion and was hired as a librarian for Napoleon’s brother Jerome, Westph­alia’s new ruler.

 Jacob (standing) and Wilhelm Grimm, c1850.

Ironically the brothers were inspired by the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). Amid the political and social turbulence, as France conquered Germanic lands, German speakers had to now live under French control. Only then were the Grimms driven to pursue their own national heritage.

The brothers were also inspired by German Romantic authors and philosophers who believed that the purest forms of culture could be found in stories shared between parents and children. Since story­telling expressed the authentic essence of Ger­man cul­t­ure, they had to reach as far back as possible to discover its true origins.

University of Marburg Prof Friedrich Karl von Savigny sparked the Grimms’ interest in German hist­ory, lit­erature and phil­ology i.e study of historical language. Savigny introduced the brothers to his scholarly circle of Clemens Brentano and Ach­im von Arnim who also wanted to redis­cov­er and preserve Volks poetry.

The Grimms published art­ic­les and books on med­iev­al liter­ature, linguistics and librarian­ship. Trained in historical texts, they also wrote books about mythology. In 1808, Clemens Brentano asked them to collect all types of folk tales, to use them in a book of liter­ary fairy tales. In 1810 they sent him 54 texts which they copied; alas Brentano then lost the manus­cr­ipt in Alsace’s Ölenberg Monastery.

As indus­t­rialisation emerged in Central Europe, local trad­itions changed. So the brothers decided to publish their own coll­ect­ion, recording whatever tales they could, some­times embell­ish­ing them, but NOT writing them de novo. In 1812 they published the 86 stories in a collection tit­l­ed Nursery and Household Tales, now Grimm’s Fairy Tales (1812).

The most famous collection of children's stories actually be­gan as an academic study for adults, NOT meant for chil­dren. The stories often included sex, incest, violence and oth­er dark elem­ents. And they did not have any illust­rat­ions. The early editions, for example, contained a Rapunzel who be­came preg­nant by a prince after a casual fling. In fact the first stor­ies such as The Child­ren of Famine, had noth­ing to do with hap­py endings. Rather they were stark narratives about brutal living conditions in the early C19th!

Brentano again asked the Grimms for their help in combing library shelves for folk­­ tales. The brothers found some texts in books, but they also focused on oral traditions, seeking storytellers from their frien­ds. Most of them were women, in­c­luding Dorot­hea Wild who later married Wil­helm and had four children.

The Grimm brothers didn’t actually create their own famous stor­ies. There were many different accounts of the same story. Cind­er­ella, for example, appeared in ancient China, ancient Egypt and modern West Indies, although the details changed accord­ing to cultural origins. In the Grimm ver­s­ion, the step-sisters reacted very brutally when the prince came to find the dainty foot to fit his slipper.

Modern literature could not express the gen­uine essence of Volk culture that emanated naturally from German history. So the Grimms intended to trace cultural evolution and to demonstrate how natural language, stem­m­ing from the needs, customs and rituals of the common people, helped forge civilised communities. Their resulting Educat­ion­al Manual recalled the basic val­ues of the Germanic people and bequeathed their oral tales, creating German nationalism.

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm

The 2nd volume foll­owed in 1815 with famous stories that repeated Snow White, Hansel & Gretel, The Golden Goose, Little Red Rid­ing Hood and Cinderella. But now the brothers had made the coll­ection more suitable to ch­ild­ren by alt­er­ing the language of the stories. Wil­helm took over as editor on all fut­ure editions of Tales.

Certain tales were deleted or downgraded. Death and the Goose Boy was omitted because of its baroque literary quality; The Step­mother, because of its cruelty; Puss in Boots because the story was con­sid­ered too French to be included in a German collect­ion and Faith­ful Animals, because it came from a collection of Mongolian tales. The stories in the first edition were therefore closer to Germany’s oral tradition than the later editions.

By 1830 the brothers worked at Gött­ingen Uni, teach­ing Germanic Studies. Sadly King Ernest Augustus of Hanover demanded oaths of alleg­iance from all  Gottingen professors. The brot­hers refused to pledge to the king and, together with five other professors, the Gottingen Seven were made to leave the city, facing dep­ortat­ion and bankruptcy.

In 1840, the brothers decided to settle in Berlin where they became members of the Royal Academy of Science. They soon accepted an ambitious project, a compre­h­ensive dictionary of the German language.

Their collection was reaching its 7th edition in 1859 when Wilhelm died. By that point, the collection had grown to 211 stories and in­t­ric­ate ill­ustrations were now added to the books. Jacob, who had lived with Wilhelm and his wife, was heart­broken after the death of his beloved brother. Jacob died in 1863 and the brothers were bur­ied next to each other in St Matthäus Kirchhof Cemet­ery in Berlin-Schöneberg. As were two of Wilhem's sons.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm lived from 1791-8 in Steinau. 
Their former home is now a museum that presents their life and work. 

Over 40-years, 7 editions of the folktales were pub­lished, the final 1857 edition being the best known. By then they’d expanded the prose and mod­if­ied the plots to make parts of the tragic stories more acc­essible to children. Marking the bicentenary in 2012, the special events included the release of The Annotated Brothers Grimm (Maria Tatar ed).

Thanks to National Endowment for the Humanities, 2015 


The Czech city of Zlin, Bata shoes and Tom Stoppard's literature

Zlin was a small town in the Moravia region of Czech­oslov­akia with a population of only 3,000 at the end of the C19th. Bata Shoes’ first factory was opened in Zlin in 1894 by Tomas Bata, (1876–1932) a Czech foot­wear empire that eventually generated id­entical company towns all ov­er the globe. Once Bata's shoe business bl­os­­somed, the com­pany sp­on­sored impressive arch­it­ect­ure and modern town planning. Tomás drew on emerg­ing ideas of the Garden City from the UK and on the work of Swiss arch­itect Le Corbusier to create model housing areas in Zlín for his workers. The town planning was actually done by Frantisek Gahura a student from Le Corbusier's atelier in Paris, and profoundly effected by Russian Constructivism.  Gahura worked for the Bata Shoes organisation in the 1920s and 1930s, designing simple, boxy red brick houses that were laid out, surrounded by greenery in this garden town.

Bata workers' houses in Zlin
designed and laid out by Gahura by the early 1930s

Bata skyscraper, designed by Vladimír Karfík. 
It was built between 1936-38 at the instruction of Jan Baťa.

Eventually the Bata Company employed 16,560 work­ers, ran 1,645 shops and 25 factories in 39 countries around the world. Broth­er Jan Baťa (1898–1965), following the plans laid down by Tomáš before his death, expanded the company more than six times its or­iginal size across Czechoslovakia and beyond. Jan Bata comm­is­s­ioned a noted piece of Constructivist de­sign for the company head­quarters and the highest building in Czech­oslovakia at the time. Jan had his own of­f­ice const­ructed in a lift which moved outside the building!

Zlin produced some great stars. Students at the Bata School for Young Men included, for example, 1948-52 Olympic ath­lete Emil Zát­opek. His incredible talents was recently named by Runner’s World as the Great­est Runner of All Time. And someone else. Were it not for the heroic nature of the Bata business, we might never have en­joyed Tom Stoppard's important literary legacy. Whose legacy??

Map of Czech Republic
surrounded by Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Austria.
Note the location of Prague, Brno, Zlin and my husband's home town next to Liberec

Tomas Straus­sler (1937-) was born in Zlín, dom­inated by the shoe manufacturing industry. His parents were Martha Becková and Eugen Strauss­ler, educated members of Zlin’s long-established Jewish community.

Tomas' father Dr Eugen Straus­sler was a company doctor working with Bata, paid by the boss because moral employers always looked after the health of all their employees. Just before the German occup­at­ion of Czechos­lov­akia, Jan Baťa helped his Jewish emp­l­oyees (mostly doctors) to branches of his firm outside Eur­ope.

In Mar 1939, when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, the Straus­slers fled to safety in Singapore where Bata had a factory. They spent 3 years in Singapore, before the Japanese occup­at­ion of Singapore in Feb 1942, for­cing Martha to flee with the two boys to Brit­ish Ind­ia. Dr Eugen Straussler remained in Singapore as a British army vol­­un­t­eer, knowing that doctors would be needed in its defence. Eugen was to follow, but his ship was app­arently sunk by Japanese bombers. Alternatively he may have died in cap­tiv­ity as a Japanese prisoner of war.

The family moved around India then settled in Darjeel­ing so that Martha could be the manager in the local Bata shoe shop. They were­n't Raj bec­ause they were Czech refuge­es, but Tomas loved every as­p­ect of their life there. The boys attended the Ch­ristian boarding-school Mount Hermon School, the place where Tomáš became Tom and his brother Petr became Peter.

After the war ended, Tom’s mother Martha married the British army major Kenneth Stop­pard, who gave the boys his English surname. And in 1946, he shipped the family to the UK. They drove up to Notting­ham and were warmly welcomed by the step­father's family. Tom was 8 and sudd­enly an English schoolboy.. who didn’t speak Czech any long­er. After being educated at schools in Notting­ham and York­shire, Tom Stoppard became an English journalist, drama critic and later a playwright.

Visiting Czechoslovakia in 1977, Tom Stoppard became friends with play­wright and future president Václav Havel and other dissident writers. And visited Soviet dissidents including the Sak­har­ovs in Moscow. He said he had taken every possible side in political deb­ates. But in eastern Europe in the 70s and 80s, he started taking sides. Look­ing back, he understood that his foc­us had been very narrow. From then on, he became interested in the shadow thrown by Soviet communism.

His tv play, Professional Foul (1977), combined moral philosophy and football in communist Prague. Dogg's Hamlet and Cahoot's Macbeth (1979) were inspired by the banned Czech playwright Pavel Kohout, while the TV play Squaring the Circle (1984) poked fun at General Jaruzelski's martial law in Poland.

He has written often and well for TV, radio, film and stage, find­ing prominence with plays such as Arcadia, Coast of Utopia, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, The Real Thing, Trav­esties, The Invention of Love, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. He co-wrote the screenplays for Brazil, The Russia House and Shake­speare in Love. His work cov­ers the themes of human rights, cen­sorship and politic­al freedom.

Tom Stoppard

Much later in life, Stoppard recorded assessments of his own life and works which were then published in the book Tom Stoppard in Con­versation (1994). These conversations work shed light on both his intent and his creative process. And it revealed that all four of his grandparents had died Auschwitz in WW2, along with three of his mother's sisters.

After his parents' deaths, Tom returned with his elder brother to Zlin in 1998, for the first time in almost 60 years. The Czech premiere of his 2006 play Rock 'N' Roll was one of the big literary and social events of the year, attended by Stoppard, and also by many prominent former Czech dissidents. The level of interest was high because of the very Czech subject matter of the play.

In 2008, Tom Stoppard placed #11 in The Daily Telegraph's "100 Most Powerful People in British Culture".

Book for Stoppard's new play Leopoldstadt, Wyndham's Theatre London. In the early C20th, Leopoldstadt was the old, crowded Jewish quarter of Vienna. But Hermann Merz, a manufacturer and baptised Jew married to Catholic Gretl, has moved up in the world. Gathered in the Merz apartment in a fashionable part of the city, Hermann’s extended family are at the heart of Tom Stoppard’s epic yet intimate and heart-breaking drama.



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