Archive for October, 2012

36 Nice Artistic Views of Cairo

October 24, 2012



October 24, 2012


Man Sleeping

October 24, 2012


In Print: 3 of 3 — “Dinner at The Tuileries”

October 19, 2012

Henri Baron’s “Dinner at The Tuileries” (1867) depicts an extravagant gala thrown by Emperor Napoleon III in honor of the Tsar and King of Prussia. The opulence of Second Empire pageantry made a deep impression on Ismail.

At the 1867 Paris Exposition Internationale, Khedive Ismail became obsessed with Baron Haussmann’s vision for a new Paris. Haussmann sought to clear the labyrinthine streets of medieval Paris to make way for a modernist urban scheme of broad boulevards radiating from roundabouts. Ismail returned home inspired, with plans to transform Old Cairo into a grand modern city to rival the capitals of Europe as part of his larger quest to “turn Egypt away from Africa, and toward Europe”.

Detail of “Dinner at The Tuileries”. Ismail: The lone man in a fez, leering.

Ismail’s infatuation with Europe is captured in a detail of Henri Baron’s 1867 “Dinner At The Tuileries”. The painting shows Ismail leering at the pearl-dappled nape of the aristocratic woman seated next him.* Perhaps unkind, it captures Ismail’s covetous—and ultimately ruinous—fascination with European splendor.

Continue Reading…


October 19, 2012

Wittgenstein’s intellectual asceticism had a great influence on the philosophers of the English-speaking world. It narrowed the scope of philosophy by excluding ethics and aesthetics. At the same time, his personal asceticism enhanced his credibility. During World War II, he wanted to serve his adopted country in a practical way. Being too old for military service, he took a leave of absence from his academic position in Cambridge and served in a menial job, as a hospital orderly taking care of patients. When I arrived at Cambridge University in 1946, Wittgenstein had just returned from his six years of duty at the hospital. I held him in the highest respect and was delighted to find him living in a room above mine on the same staircase. I frequently met him walking up or down the stairs, but I was too shy to start a conversation. Several times I heard him muttering to himself: “I get stupider and stupider every day.”


Finally, toward the end of my time in Cambridge, I ventured to speak to him. I told him I had enjoyed reading the Tractatus, and I asked him whether he still held the same views that he had expressed twenty-eight years earlier. He remained silent for a long time and then said, “Which newspaper do you represent?” I told him I was a student and not a journalist, but he never answered my question.


Wittgenstein’s response to me was humiliating, and his response to female students who tried to attend his lectures was even worse. If a woman appeared in the audience, he would remain standing silent until she left the room. I decided that he was a charlatan using outrageous behavior to attract attention. I hated him for his rudeness. Fifty years later, walking through a churchyard on the outskirts of Cambridge on a sunny morning in winter, I came by chance upon his tombstone, a massive block of stone lightly covered with fresh snow. On the stone was written the single word, “WITTGENSTEIN.”



Human Debacle, contd.

October 18, 2012

Last month, as the world burned in reaction to “The Innocence of Muslims” nonsense, the most interesting response came from activists in Syria. In Kafranbel, where government warplanes had recently reduced to rubble the city’s most revered mosque, residents wondered why there was outsized fury at an asinine youtube video. Oh, such furious displays of piety in the Arab world!—at some internet bullshit!—& yet where among these bold defenders of religion was equal outrage at an Arab tyrant IRL exploding houses of worship?

Keen Kats in Kafranbel highlighting the hypocrisy of anti-youtube protests.

I thought of this protest poster yesterday when I read the devastating news that the 12th century Umayyad Mosque in the Old City of Aleppo had been trashed during skirmishes.

The Grand Umayyad Mosque, October 15. Last week, 500 shops in the adjacent old bazaar—in continual operation since the Middle Ages—were destroyed by fire.

Apparently, government forces had been using the mosque compound as a hideout & military depot for months. In the same article I read the stunning extent to which Syrian cultural heritage has been “collateral damage” of that terrible war.

Five of Syria’s six World Heritage sites have been damaged in the fighting, according to UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural agency. Looters have broken into one of the world’s best-preserved Crusader castles, Crac des Chevaliers, and ruins in the ancient city of Palmyra have been damaged.

So depressing.

Kontinue Reading…

In Print: 2 of 3 — Flaubert’s Business Card

October 15, 2012

Maxime du Camp, companion of Flaubert, was the first to photograph the Sphinx.

I’ve found amusement in the psychedelic business cards of Mohamed Ali Street for several years—it’s always nice to establish credentials as a Libra, Mercenary, Horse Whisperer, etc. But visitors making weird jokes with business cards in Egypt is hardly novel.

When Flaubert travelled to Egypt in 1849 in the guise of an oriental adventurer, the famous novelist accompanied his friend Maxime du Camp to the summit of great pyramid. Precluding any sense of a pioneering accomplishment, Flaubert reached the summit at dawn only to find pinned to the capstone… a business card.

The light increases. There are two things: the dry desert behind us, and before us an immense, delightful expanse of green, furrowed by endless canals, dotted here and there with tufts of palms; then, in the background, a little to the left, the minarets of Cairo and especially the mosque of Mohamed Ali (imitating Santa Sophia), towering above the others. On the side of the Pyramid lit by the raising sun I see a business card: ‘Humbert, Frotteur’ fastened to the stone.

The card gave a Rouen address, Flaubert’s hometown. It had been placed there as a gag by Maxime.

And lest you ever accuse Egyptians of being odd—as Flaubert often did—consider this extra detail. Recounting the Humbert episode in a letter to his mother, Flaubert admitted that the uncanny card was actually his—he had brought the card from France for the purpose of the gag. Double weird?: The morning of his ascent, Flaubert had misplaced the gag prop. But the card was discovered by Maxime, who, surmising Flaubert’s prank, scurried ahead to the top of the pyramid and positioned the card. Thus when Flaubert arrived at the summit, he was surprised to find the business card that he was supposed to be “surprised to find”.


In Print: 1 of 3

October 15, 2012

In keeping with doomspirals’ recent foray into self-promotion, I thought to mention that I have an article in the current issue of Print Magazine­. The article isn’t available online, but the magazine is well worth a tiptoe to the bookstore or your local internet.

The article describes the hectic printing district in Cairo—along Mohamed Ali Street—where for years I’ve gone with friends to order bonkers-looking business cards. If you have to hand out business cards, it’s best to give yourself a worthy title: Helicopter Pilot, Jazz Expert, Shaman, etc.

The editor at Print, Mr. M. Silverberg—whom an overwhelming majority of women polled recently in Toronto found to be “dashing”—had come across some of these psychedelic business cards and asked if I’d write an article explaining their background. Twas very grateful for the happy opportunity.

The article describes the mash-up aesthetics of the cards, but also the fascinating neighborhood where the printing district is situated. Mohamed Ali Street was once a fabulous boulevard, part of Pasha Ismail’s 19th century designs to make Cairo into a grandiose modern city to rival the capitals of Europe. Ismail’s vision for the city has long faded, built over by succeeding generations. The remnants of Ismail’s city are layered against remnants of other Cairos; a wild combination of Fatimid tombs, Mameluke minarets, Nasser’s elevated highways, Mubarak-era improvised housing. Like the business cards, the city today is incongruent, loud, crowded, charming.

But the stamp of Ismail’s modernist scheme is still evident. Indeed, Tahrir Square was created as the anchor of Ismail’s city. (It was originally named Ismail Square, until Nasser changed it in his effort to remake the city.) Thus, Cairo’s downtown is explicitly Modern—it has a symbolic & functional center, from which the major arteries radiate. This is what lent such weight to the January 25 revolutionaries’ original gesture—they had taken the center of the country. (And why the revolution had an emphasis that was spatial as well as ideological.) (One wonders what a revolution would look like in a scattered, un-centered city like, say, L.A.) (And one wonders if the Occupy Movement, modeled after Tahrir, is a bad copy/translation—for what is the significance of Zuccotti Park?)

Anyway! Some choice bits & extraneous details didn’t make it into the final cut, so I thought to share them here in the brogosphere. Forthcoming: (1) Flaubert’s Egyptian business card. (2) Henri Baron’s telling painting of Ismail, “Dinner at The Tuileries” (1867).

Nine Tease

October 11, 2012

Last month Matchbox 20 and Dave Matthews Band had albums that debuted at #1. And Cat Power and Dinosaur Jr released critically lauded albums. And Bill Clinton was a crowd favorite at the Democratic National Convention. But Rolling Stone took 90s Retro to the pinnacle:

Don’t Fake it Baby, Lay the Real Thing On Me

October 11, 2012

Bowie has said that “Moonage Daydream” was his attempt to write T. Rex’s “Telegram Sam”—a huge radio hit in the UK during the gestation of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars. But there’s another interesting music reference in “Moonage Daydream”. That skronking riff that comes in at 1:50 (produced by the wacky pairing of baritone sax + pennywhistle) is Bowie seeking to crib the sound of an older doo-wop song, “Sho’ Know A Lot About Love” by The Hollywood Argyles. Huh. OK!

“Moonage Daydream” is colored-out with great lines, but there’s a lovely ambiguous one that depends on where you place the comma. Ziggy, the androgynous alien descending from space to save mankind, sings:

The church of man, love

Is such a holy place to be

But, of course, it’s also

The church of man-love

Is such a holy place to be

Girlfriend in a Coma / Boyfriend in a Comma

Continue Reading

Black Angel Lead and Zinc Mine

October 1, 2012

“For me, I wouldn’t mind if the whole ice cap disappears,” said Ole Christiansen, the chief executive of NunamMinerals, Greenland’s largest homegrown mining company, as he picked his way along a proposed gold mining site up the fjord from Nuuk, Greenland’s capital. “As it melts, we’re seeing new places with very attractive geology.”

The Black Angel lead and zinc mine, which closed in 1990, is applying to reopen this year, said Jorgen T. Hammeken-Holm, who oversees licensing at the country’s mining bureau, “because the ice is in retreat and you’re getting much more to explore.”

“This is huge; we could be mining this for the next 100 years,” said Eric Sondergaard, a geologist with the Australian-owned company Greenland Minerals and Energy, who was on the outskirts of Narsaq one day recently, picking at rocks on a moon-like plateau rich with an estimated 10.5 million tons of rare earth ore.

“If we don’t get this mine,” he said, “Narsaq will just get smaller and smaller.”