61 posts categorized "Where is he gay today?"

Photo Friday: Eat!

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 This week's Photo Friday theme is Eat!, and it forms a disturbing irony that these photos come from a country often known, in our folklore, as a place of poverty and  hunger.  I took them at the market in Johpur, in the relatively prosperous northwest Indian region of Rajastan—and it seemed a place of abundance and contentment.  As well as deliciousness.

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 Ironic, too, that we end with a photo fo these two shoppers, strolling through the town square.  They don't fit this week's theme at all.  They're definitely Don't Eat!

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Bloom and Grow, Bloom and Grow

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We left Germany last month, to go to the supermarket.

It was a public holiday, you see; the twenty-first Tag der Deutschen Einheit, or Unification Day.  Stores closed in Bavaria, but across the border in Austria, businesses opened as usual.  We share most holidays with our Austrian cousins—especially the religious feasts—but Unification Day remains a strictly German affair.  The last time Austrians celebrated German unity, it didn't work out so well.

Thus, we found ourselves in Salzburg watching the Austrians go about business-as-usual, and a lot of that business involves music.  Two particular composers have enriched the city, both culturally and financially; the famous Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and a certain Richard Charles Rodgers.   Mozart changed the face of baroque music with a prolific output of incomparable masterpieces.  Rodgers composed The Sound of Music.

Let's be fair. Rodgers was a genius in his own field, and a prolific one. Like many geniuses, he loathed those who tampered with his vision.  Rosemary Clooney earned scorn for a swing-style Falling in Love with Love, and Rodgers wanted to sue the Marcels over their doo-wop version of  Blue Moon until Oscar Hammerstein reminded him of the royalties.  Of Peggy Lee's Lover, he moaned "I don't know why [she] picked on me. She could have fucked up Silent Night."

What would Rodgers think if he visited Salzburg today?  Specifically, if he sat in the Mirabell Gardens for a spell, listening to this tour guide sing. 

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The first word which might spring to his mind is royalty, and not because he's beside a palace.  He was leading one of the many Sound of Music tour groups which cross the city.  If you visit Salzburg, you can't miss them.

Many demand that a guide serenade his group, lending an air of authenticity to each movie location. 

And this guy wasn't bad, either.  A baritone, he put some real oomph into Edelweiss.  And he sang it with an accent.  Master Right identified this group as Korean.

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As he hit the first chorus, the group began, gently, to sway in time to the melody.  Bloom and grow, bloom and grow...and as they reached the word forever, swayed in half time for a couple of beats.

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I asked an Austrian colleague if felt uncomfortable that the Sound of Music so dominated the image of Austria in the eyes of the world.  "No, Austrians love The Sound of Music," he replied.  "When you think about it, we come off rather well, considering."

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Comrades in Kitsch

Where is he gay today? Inner-city Sofia, Bulgaria Soviet Army Memorial Sofia 836
Never trust art you can understand.  At least, not art you can understand too fast. 

If you understand art instantly, without strain, the artist is trying to sell you something.  (You can trust me.  That's been my trade for a long time.)

Particularly important when you have an ideology to sell.  Look at the art of National Socialism, the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelicalism, Neoliberalism, or Communism.  There's no doubt what they're selling.

Communism even has its own art movement, and all.  Some call it Socialist Realism.  Others call this school girl meets tractor. 

Officially, the party line states that painting and sculpture should depict the world with utter fidelity, and in so doing, glorify the commonplace.    The flip side: anything a citizen finds in official, state-sanctioned art is the truth.  Not some destructive, unrealistic fantasy that diverts you from the path to progress. Not, in Marx's words, an opiate.

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Keepin' it Real. 

The Soviet Army Memorial in Sofia toes the party line.  At first glance, the main statue seems standard-issue heroic.  The pose of a victorious soldier, holding his weapon high, set atop an enormous pedestal, shouts strength and nobility.  It commemorates the liberation of Bulgaria from the Nazis by the Soviet Army at the end of World War II.

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The builders designed the grand plaza, one assumes, for military parades. Nowadays, it hosts events like the finals of the World Strongman's Champions League in June 2010, won handily by Serbian favourite Ervin Katona.   You can see the Memorial in the background here and here.  

(We were actually in Sofia that June to see yet another contest of strength.  Bulgarians may eat goat, but they watch beef.)

When not hosting marches or meat sports, defecating dogs and skateboarders move in.

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Sad, because the sculpture is extraordinary.  The sculptor (whose name even the fiercest googling does not reveal) created several tableaux of soldiers being welcomed into a small village, both in high-relief and full 3D.  Cast in 1954, it resists the modernism of later Soviet-era monuments, and captures the emotions of a relieved populace in metal. 

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Common folk glorifying their military heroes is a theme in socialist art of the mid-20th century.  In the interaction of civilians and men in uniform, we often see socialist naturalism at its most endearing.

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Of course, it's equally endearing in the art of the west.  As I stood that summer's morning in the middle of Bulgaria, what sprang to mind was none other than Norman Rockwell.  Others have noticed the similarity, too.

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I probably don't need to explain Rockwell to American readers.  And even those abroad will recognise him as the high priest of Americana.  His covers for The Saturday Evening Post and the scouting magazine Boy's Life are the stuff of legend.  His art celebrated American life as one of community and abundance.  Of course, in a time of depression and wartime sacrifice, this was a bald-faced lie for many.

Most think of Rockwell as the epitome of wholesomeness.  But a queer eye can spot a trend.   

WNorman_rockwell-marriage-counselor2omen, if present at all, are self-sacrificing pillars of virtue, or coquettes who claim men as smitten victims. (It's shouldn't surprise us that Rockwell's relationships with women were troubled.)   

His most affectionate portraits of women showed girls as tomboys; Rockwell was credited with the first public appearance of the iconic character "Rosie the Riveter".  His Rosie seems an awful lot more butch than her later incarnations.

Rockwell seems at home showing men in the fellowship of other men, especially when men in uniform assert quiet but friendly authority over their civilian counterparts.  Men are desirable and sexy in his art—they show an unselfconscious masculinity and relaxed sense of humour; his women are highly stylised, and frankly, a bit uptight.

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None of this gets too homoerotic, but it's definitely homoaffectionate.

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We can't say the same of the Eastern Bloc.  It takes a truly prim, sex-blind culture to miss the blatant gay cues some of the statues.

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Kiss me, you fool!

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Flowers?  You shouldn't have!

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Adopt the inflatable sex-doll position!

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Daddy!

Do you detect just a little too much admiration for the male frame on both sides of the old Iron Curtain?  The Superhero physique seems at home in Rockwell, as well as in socialist art.

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So it shouldn't surprise us that the Soviet Army Memorial earned a simple (but no doubt time consuming) make-over earlier this year.  The local English-language media reported on it, along with the graffiti-hounds at Bomb-It.   Bomb-It lifted photos from the best available source.  Ironically, that was the Voice of Russia.  I followed suit, and that's where the photos below come from.

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A Sofia blogger describes some of the background: Not surprisingly, many Bulgarians think that the Russians driving out the Nazis was rather a good move, and they still remember the event with gratitude.  Many in the community saw this as simple vandalism, rather than noble self-expression.

Bulgarian culture minister Vedhzi Rashidov put it this way.  "Never mind whether we like it or not, Bulgaria lived 50 years under the rule of Socialism and this is a part of our history. If any generation thinks this can be simply erased, it would be unnecessary.  Germany did not remove the Russian tank from Berlin, Austria did not remove [its memorial]"   In fact, the City of Berlin went so far as to restore its monument in 2004.

The Russians, in particular, were outraged.   The nerve of these people!  If any broad-chested socialist hero should turn into Superman, make it Vladimir Putin. 

At the same time, crowds were delighted.  This 360 degree view shows not only the painting in its full glory, but an enthusiastic audience lapping it up.  Alas, they couldn't enjoy it for long, since the Memorial was cleaned as stealthily as it was painted

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It didn't take long for the artist (or group of artists, for surely this work took more than one set of hands) to be dubbed the Banksy of Bulgaria, especially by the British tabloids.  Not sure about that one.  Banksy, I think, is much more subtle.  The Sophia artists left no room for ambiguity: below their work, they wrote the title Moving Forward with the Times.

If only the Bulgarian Banksies knew how traditional—even old fashioned—their work actually is. 

In many ways, the commercial activity which surrounds the Memorial is a far greater insult to the principles for which so many Soviet soldiers died, is it not?

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Frankly, even without its makeover, the memorial wouldn't seem out of place in a town square in the middle of America. OK, nowadays all those guns might be a problem.  But what could be more American than kissing babies?  True?

Copyright notice: Where not an original photo taken by the author, all photos link to source.  I believe that the use of all images conforms with US and EU rules on fair use in quotation and criticism.


My Favourite Blasphemy

Where is he gay today? Rila Mountains, BulgariaRila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 051

It reads: I'm a Virgin, But This is an Old Fresco.

A belated Happy Blasphemy Day, everyone.  Hope you all managed to score a zinger on September 30th.   Alas, you couldn't have burned me at the stake this year.  No chance to flip the bird at God.  Unless my ongoing contentment as an apostate Catholic homosexual affronts the Almighty in principle.  Surely that counts.

Note that being an atheist does not automatically make me a hereticHeresy is defined as telling untruths about God.  I merely point out the fact that religions contradict each other, and with very few exceptions, demand belief to the exclusion of all others.  Therefore, not believing in any one or more of them is the functional equivalent of not believing in any of them.  Absolutely true, Ninth-Commandment-wise.  But hardly a rousing hurrah for the Lord above.  

I didn't directly insult God—which, by the way, is the defínition of blasphemy—so I'll need to tell you about another time I landed a pie in His face. 

Opportunities to insult God ain't a dime a dozen, let me tell you.  The last time I sneered at the Almighty—in public earshot, so it makes a difference—was over a year ago, in early summer 2010, on a visit to Bulgaria. 

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We climbed into the mountains south of Sofia, to the Rila Monastery.  St. Ivan of Rila (876-946 AD) lived in a cavern, and his followers built the complex.  They wanted to bask in his holiness, and perhaps pick up the odd miracle or two, but found the caveman thing a bit too hard-core. 

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The Dupnitsa Eparchic Hilton.

You can stay in the monastery, and for many, it makes the perfect spiritual retreat.   The building contrasts monastic simplicity with rich ornament; everywhere one turns, one sees a detail which provokes a moment of contemplative pleasure.

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Nice and peaceful, until you enter the chapel, or catholicon.

The door bitch, an angry brown-robed Rassaphore with a Rasputin beard, hassles you on the dress-code.  Uncovered heads, uncovered shoulders, or short pants earn you a puke-green hospital gown, which you must use to cover your immodest flesh.  They forced a burqua-style robe on the woman in the picture below, since God had never seen female legs before, it seems.  The Almighty thinks you're just overgrown ribs, ladies.

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Master Right and I marvelled at the lush ornament inside the church, and approached the altar.  Thinking that we might contribute to the maintenance of this UNESCO World Heritage site, we lit a votive candle, and made a donation far in excess of that recommended.  And in Euro, too, which at the time still seemed like a jolly nice currency. 

As we turned to leave, the mad monk tried to pull a swifty.  He took our candle from the candelabra, blew it out, and pocketed it.

Now, he may have had a reason.  Perhaps he wanted to make room for other worshippers to sacrifice—except, there was plenty of room left.  Maybe church authorities wanted to keep soot off the murals behind the altar—but then, they might easily move the candelabra to another position.  Perhaps he noticed that Master Right looked Asian, and doubted that someone of another faith could offer a sincere votive prayer.

Or, he was just an asshole.

I favour the asshole theory.  Every member of the uniformed clergy in this joint was scowling.  My childhood church in Pittsburgh, which followed the Roman canon in Carpatho-Rusyn, hailed from this part of the world.  They were grouches, too; our monsignor was a turd of the highest order.  Bile and resentment—or at the very least, grumpiness—oozed from ever pore.

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A friendly CSR asking "How may I help you today, pilgrims?"

Whassup with that?  Hadn't the Holy Spirit filled them with the milk of human kindness?

Of course, there's a good reason for being a grumpy cleric.  Sexual frustration. 

Celibacy must wear them down.  People get grumpy as hell without sex.  If I adopted a contemplative life like these guys, I can tell you what I'd be contemplating before long.

Now the way I see it, forcing healthy human beings to eschew their biology insults His creation.  It disrespects God's grand design.  Surely as much an affront to the Creator as any of the other inventive sexual uses to which God's creatures put their bodies. 

So I blasphemed.  I took a photo.

"No photo inside!" scowled the monk, followed by some other complaint in Bulgarian.

"How does it feel to be a virgin?" I asked.  "It must be awfully miserable."

"No photo inside!"

"I've had a lot of sex, and it's fantastic.  Would you like me to tell you what sex is like?"

He looked at me, fuming, as I added, "...sex with an adult, that is."

"No photo inside!"

So I took another photo, and we left.  Here it is.  Taking and sharing this photo, so that it may help you wonder at the glory of your God and the miracle that is mankind, may be a blasphemy. If so, may we always blaspheme so beautifully.

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On the way back to Sofia, we stopped for lunch.  We dined on a terrace, under a tree, next to a mountain stream.  Trout, caught that morning in the very same stream.  Another moment that caused us to marvel at what believers call Creation, and to enjoy it, gratefully.

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I asked the waitress if she had any spare fish to slap on the back of Christian cars, since they like that sort of thing.  She said no.  What?  According to the New Testament, you can't run out of fish!

See?  A joke at God's expense.  Rather a nice blasphemy, to round off a (mostly) pleasant day.  Click on the quote from Salman Rushdie below, to join next year's Blasphemy Day on facebook.

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This little tale reminds me of many half-written posts in my outbox about last year's fascinating trip to Bulgaria.  Stay tuned for more of them.


Trippy

Where is he gay today?  National Car Parks Brewer Street Garage, WC1

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Master Right and I did a stupid thing.  We actually drove into the center of London, which, for verisimillitude, we shall refer to as the centre of London. 

Stupid for many reasons, but mostly because you need to park the car when you get there.  A berth in one of the capital's classier garages reflects the price of the real estate on which it sits.  Guards change as regularly as at Buck House down the road, and with almost as much ceremony.  Bespoke services cater to a gentleman's every motoring need.  The lodgings ain't cheap, but that keeps out the riff-raff, dunnit? 

Thus we found ourselves rubbing elbows with the aristocracy, or at least, denting their doors. 

Since Munich is no stranger to classy sheet metal, we could overlook the Maserati Quattroporte and row of Aston Martins.  What first caught my eye was a rare Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe; the cryptic message on the number plate suggests a chap named Ken wants to sell it for a mere 25 pence. 

But glance to the left, and we see another Phantom. A vastly more expensive one, it seems.

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No matter how well-heeled the neighbourhood, I didn't expect to see a car which, when last sold, fetched almost two point three million dollars.

I was blown away.  Could it be the famous "Psychedelic Rolls", once owned by John Lennon?  If you've read previous posts, you'll know that I've written about this car already, along with the other limousines the legally-blind Lennon used while his Beatle pals drove sports cars.

Psychedelic, of course, is a misonomer.  A gypsy wagon, which Lennon had comissioned for his son Julian's 4th birthday, inspired the design on the coachwork. 

Lennon took delivery on June 3, 1965.  It came finished in matte black, including rims and chrome, anticipating the current fad for matte paint on cars by at least half a century.  Thus kitted out, the car made its most famous public appearance: taking the Fab Four to see the Queen to collect their MBEs, the first honour on the road to their eventual  Knighthoods.  Well, for three of them, anyway.

Lennon soon grew bored with the Evil Empire look, and in 1967 ordered new livery.  It shocked many.  Little old ladies would attack it with their umbrellas in the street, cursing it as blasphemy against all that Britain held dear.

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JOHN LENNON'S ROLLS ROYCE

Lorne Hammond's official history of the car tells its subsequent story:

In 1977 John and Yoko needed a tax break and donated the car to a branch of the Smithsonian , plucking a hefty $225,000 off their taxable income.  The Smithsonian seldom showed it—they couldn't afford the insurance—and put it up for auction in 1985.  Christies expected to fetch little more than the original sum for which the Lennons wrote it off.   The car surprised everyone by pulling in a hefty $2,299,000, a world record at the time.

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The purchaser was a museum sort, too.  He was Canadian businessman Jim Pattison, whose conglomerate had just acquired Ripley's Entertainment, proprietiors of the famous Believe It Or Not museums.

We noticed a discreet sign touting the Ripley's branch in nearby Piccadilly.  So this incredibly valuable car was sitting in a public car park?  Believe it...or not!

Not!  I put it to you, your Honour, that this car is a forgery!

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An excellent forgery, but a forgery nonetheless.  Like all counterfeiters, they forgot a single detail.  The number plate. 

If you grew up a Lesney kid, you'll know that British numberplates started out in a simple alphanumeric sequence: ABC 123.  When those ran out, they reversed the order: 123 ABC.  With both of those options exhausted, the Ministry of Transport had no choice but to add an extra digit.  For the year 1963, all cars registered wore an "A" in the final column.  1964 cars sported a "B", and so on.

The plate on this car clearly reads DVB 341B, which marks it as a 1964 model.  According to Dr. Hammond, Lennon's 1965 Phantom sported the chronologically correct numberplate FJB 111C.  Mr. Pattison gave the real thing to the Royal British Columbia Museum, where it can be seen until the end of this month.  This car, clearly, is a cheap publicity trick!   Bravo.  I work in advertising, so I am in favour of that sort of thing.

The car seems to be following us.  At the Mensing Gallery in the Altstadt we sawthis work painted by (if memory serves) German artist Paul Thierry.   Funny, I always thought Brian Epstein was the fifth Beatle.

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