The vanishing world of ice


“Vanishing Ice,” the exhibit at the Whatcom History Museum, has been extended until March 16. I saw it on Friday, because I love looking at things that people classify as art and had a mournful feeling that I should learn more about climate change. I was a little sad that many of the paintings are reproductions, but as soon as I got there I was so overwhelmed by the images of the ice that I barely paid attention to anything else. Two of my favorite children’s books are The Golden Compass and East (a novel based on the Norwegian story East of the Sun and West of the Moon), and I loved the evil snow queen in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. All my fantasy landscapes are encrusted with snow, ornamented with fur and reindeer bone, and infested with wolves.

Here is the beautiful ice: I loved Len Jenshel’s Narsaq Sound, Greenland, and Grand Pinnacle Iceberg, East Greenland, by Camille Seaman. I also liked Beechey’s illustration of the HMS Hecla in Baffin Bay, and Paraselene an illustration from Scott’s last 1912 expedition. The illustrator, Dr. Edward Wilson, died on that expedition along with Robert Scott. Ice Lens, by Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey, is also lovely, although I hope they at least send a Christmas card or something to Andy Goldsworthy).

Tiina Itkonen photographed Uummannaq, the village I would like to live in, proving that I am completely mad.

I did, however, find Chris Linder’s photograph of the melting Siberian permafrost at Duvannyi Yar pretty distressing. Frank Hurley’s photograph of Shackleton’s boat trapped in the ice at night is awesome, in the oldest sense of the word – it’s the livid ghost of a tragedy. And Chris Jordan’s Denali Denial is both witty and despairing, the picture that pulled me out of my icy dream.

The icy dream at the top of the post is not from the exhibition; it’s a photograph provided by dmdzine under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license. Thank you.


February 21: Happy birthday, Mr. Auden

"Landscape with The Fall of Icarus", ca. 1590-95, by Pieter Breugel the Elder

“Landscape with The Fall of Icarus”, ca. 1590-95, by Pieter Breugel the Elder

In celebration, here is Wystan Hugh Auden‘s poem about Breugel’s painting (above).

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

“Musée des Beaux Arts” is my favorite of Auden’s poems; I’m suppose it’s almost everybody’s favorite (if they read him), but I love it dearly so I won’t pretend to be original. It has everything I need – poetry, painting, death and survival. That first line has been stuck in my head forever.

Click here for a much larger version of the painting. The Breugel images are from Wikimedia Commons and are in the public domain.

Happy Valentine’s Day: the pretty lady edition

Venus and Cupid

St. Valentine is, among other things, the patron saint of beekeeping and fainting, which I feel are not highlighted enough during this holiday. Sadly, he had a messy death, so I decided to skip the saintly iconography and find something more pagan. I love this one: the mating doves, the exquisite Venus, the wicked little Cupid, and Mars, in the background, stumping home from a hard day at the office. The artist is Lambert Sustris, the image (from Wikipedia Commons), is Venus and Cupid, c. 1560, and the original is at the Louvre. Click on the picture for the larger version; she is lovely, although the decor doesn’t do much for me. Also, the doves are sweet.

Now I have to go make 17 valentines for my daughter’s classmates. I think I’ll watch Despicable Me while cutting and pasting. I have tremendous empathy for Gru.


One of my favorite portrait painters is Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572); his judgmental, half-dressed beauty was featured in an earlier post.

Most of the people who sat for him were aristocrats (we’re talking de’Medici; he was very, very sought after), people who expected to be flattered by their artists, and I love the contrast between the elaborate surfaces, the icy glamor he lends to many of his subjects, and the quirks, the vulnerability or the ferocity he hints at in so many of his portraits.

A caveat – as is clear by now :), I’m not an art historian, and the identification of some of these people is in doubt; if you’re interested and want to do a little more research, I’d be delighted.

Left to right, top to bottom:

Lucrezia de’Medici: she was married off at the age of fourteen to the Duke of Ferrara, and is widely believed to be the subject of Browning’s poem, “My Last Duchess,” in which a jealous nobleman murders his beautiful wife.

Bia (Bianca) de’Medici, Lucrezia’s illegitimate sister: this is a posthumous portrait, because she died at age six. By all reports, she was extremely affectionate and deeply mourned by her family. The short hair with the little braids may be due to her final illness, but I find it so adorable that I prefer to think of her as a tomboy who rebelled against frequent hairbrushing.

Ferdinando de’Medici: He was Lucrezia and Bia’s brother, and this portrait shows him at age ten. It makes me laugh because he looks so much like my daughter’s friend, the one Rebecca wrote about back in November. It’s the same unshakeable self-confidence. Ferdinando seems to have turned out well, bless his heart.

An unidentified young man with a book: I find this a touching portrayal of adolescent insecurity, but he could have been a pirate, for all I know. You be the judge.

The Holy Family, featuring the sexiest Virgin Mary ever. The angelic face contrasted with the gorgeous body in the semi-transparent dress…this is the first time I’ve seen a madonna whose body didn’t look like a pile of unfolded laundry.

Finally, the beautiful portrait of Alessandro de’Medici. The first Duke of Florence, known as Il Moro, he was assassinated at the age of 26. He was the illegitimate son of Lorenzo II de’Medici. His mother was an African or mixed race woman, described as a slave in one source. I find this picture haunting; he looks burdened, and vulnerable. After his death, his distant cousin Cosimo (father of Lucrezia, Bia, and Ferdinando) became the duke.

Christmas: the residue

It looked beautiful until 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

It looked beautiful until 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

I used to go all Norwegian on Christmas Eve – open flames, hard liquor, unwrapping all the presents and midnight church attendance, when available. I could not care less about Christmas Day. In my family, that was recovery time: turkey sandwiches with dill havarti and coffee with whipping cream instead of half and half.

Motherhood has made me cautious, and even lazier – no candles, no vodka, no cooking. I asked my daughter what she wanted for Christmas Eve dinner. She said she wanted bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, which I joyfully provided. Later she said she was being sarcastic, which is very unattractive in someone that young. She ate all her sandwiches, though. She also opened all her presents, most of which were games – Apples to Apples, Balderdash, Clue, Yahtzee, Taboo. I like to find a theme and stick with it. Luckily, Rebecca and her daughters were on hand to provide opponents. After they left, we began to drowse over our backlog of unfinished Christmas presents, until the arrival of guests we had forgotten about inviting. (That is not unusual, and no reflection on their charm and wit.) We had not yet stripped down to t-shirts and underpants, so we were able to welcome them with a certain amount of poise. The gaming continued without me, but I refereed and churned out six pattern repeats of a hand towel for Rebecca’s mother.

We aren’t quite done with Christmas; I worked at the library yesterday and ate almost nothing but chocolate. I’d be sick if I had the energy. There are either fireworks or the beginning of a gun battle on the mainland, further proof that some families should restrict their interaction to Facebook. Our beautiful tree is gone, sent to E’s grandmother for safekeeping. The house is trashed although we only had six people over. Unfinished presents are now designated New Year’s gifts. There are rumblings about skating and a game night in January. My head hurts.

And yet I am so happy. My daughter had a lovely time. Rebecca and I are going to try to see the show, Vanishing Ice, at the museum in town. Thurid gave me one of the books I photographed for her. It’s so beautiful I had tears in my eyes when I opened the package. I did kundalini yoga this morning, which is like doing magic (I imagine). And I’ll confess that I am madly infatuated with someone I don’t know at all. No one will tell him, and that is, with no exaggeration, safer. But I haven’t felt this way for years, so I’m glad I have evidence that the ice in my tiny, black little heart has melted. And I will not do anything stupid.