Richibi’s Weblog

Just another weblog

Category: from my correspondence

C*r*s*mas greetings from Dresden, December 24, 2006

Bellotto Bernardo - Dresden Elbufer

    View of Dresden from the Right Bank of the Elbe with  Augustus Bridge


                                                 Bernardo Bellotto

                                                      1720 – 1780


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           these earlier “back tracks“, of which the following is one example, are pieces I consider still to be worth your while

please enjoy


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       December 24, 2006

through the good graces of a dear friend, a lady I met last year, my teacher in German at the Goethe-Institut, I´ve been afforded the wonderful opportunity of spending the next several weeks, while she is away with her family in their hideaway in rural Belgium, here in shimmering Dresden, the jewel, I´m sure, of central Europe, I´d already rendered her the use of my own apartment in Vancouver when in September she came to visit and I could use my mom´s place while she was away touring for most of the month the Iberian peninsula, Spain, Portugal, as well as, across the strait, Morrocco

Dresden celebrated its eight hundredth anniversary this year and, though its buildings don´t date back that far, much of it has worn its architectural robes several centuries, the Zwinger, Dresden´s answer to Versailles, was built from 1609 to 1611, I was yesterday informed as I marvelled at the Bernardo Bellottos, Canaletto the Younger, the Elder´s nephew, who was court painter there, I believe I understood through a charming attendant´s perhaps too rapid German, and whose views of the city then were as detailed and precise as his uncle’s famous masterpieces of Venice, their styles are indeed so similar that until recently I´d believed, to my great embarrassment when I found out they were not, that they were one and the same, that the uncle had spent time in both Dresden and Warsaw, which he had not, the nephew rather had, I inadvertently discovered in a book I read on Dresden that cleared everything up, the one had superseded the other, channelled him there, more darkly perhaps due to those cities’ darker tones, but not at all less brilliantly 

not only the Canalettos of course but many other masters adorn the Zwinger, the city´s most sumptuous art museum, the Madonna of the Sistine Chapel of Raphael (which you’ll find below) with its couple of attendant cherubs for instance holds a place of the highest honour, and during the past couple of days I took in a wonderful exhibition of Cranachs there, both the Elder and the Younger, was mightily impressed by the latter´s “Adam” and “Eve”, which tall, naked, and still innocent beneath their modest leafy branches, graced either side of a doorway that led onward through a row of precisely positioned doors partitioning a long narrow corridor into a series of smaller rooms that seemed infinite, like a mirror reflecting itself in a mirror, in a rich burgundy throughout

but on the opposite side in the next room behind the “Eve”, a demure and elegant St Catherine stood large as life leaning upon her eponymous wheel while before her she held upright a heraldic sword whose blade rested on the pebbled ground, a work of the Elder Cranach

her medieval robes were golden, as was her headdress and hair, a prim plaited bodice attested to both her youth and modesty, her eyes shy and discreet gazed softly on the beholder and upon, as in all timeless art, I´m sure, infinity

I would´ve taken her with me but am caught up in the fleeting here and now

Dresden itself is of course much reconstructed after the scandal of its destruction, quite equal I would think to the ravages of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, its center lies across the Elbe, the river that runs through the town, from the Neustadt, the New City, so called already several centuries ago

in the Altstadt, the Old City, there along the river´s opposite bank beyond the several bridges, are the exquisite Baroque structures, churches and palaces and stately buildings, that make up her glory

in the evening as the city lights are reflected in the meandering river the shimmering city achieves the quality of high art, a tribute through the ages to the very best in culture and civilization

it hasn´t snowed here yet, already on December the 24th, Christmas won´t, it appears, be white, it´ll nevertheless be for me quite special as is evident I´m sure in my attitude of awestruck reverence

may it be as well for you, may it be happy, healthy and thoroughly blessed

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     with all my heart





in defense of an intractable idiom

a friend wrote: 

        ” ‘…in unforgettable spades’? “, about my “April Showers” text, which you can find below

         ‘ Words chosen in innocence or humour? ‘, he asks


I reply:

neither innocent, dear Ted, nor humourous, just inadvertent, I let myself be ruled by my enthusiasm for the punchy and precise idiom   
even as I watched the movie I felt shame for a place, a country, that could’ve inspired such a situation
transformed by Al Jolson however into a glorious tribute no less to still so beleaguered a people, imitation being of course the surest and sincerest form of flattery

I think Al Jolson helped put their art on the map, up from the cotton fields and speakeasies to which it’d been relegated, if not other countries, other even continents
he was great back then, this movie inspired even a sequel, nominated also for Oscars, winning a couple even for the first, one for of course its irresistible, unforgettable music

thanks to Black America

                                                                                                                                                                         thank you Black America





1564, April 23



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      a friend wrote:

       “1564, April 23, Happy Birthday Shakespeare.

         Have a great day”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      have a wonderful day


psst: thanks, Wendy



to Greg – October 21, 2004

these earlier “back tracks”, of which the following is one example, are pieces I consider still to be worth your while

please enjoy                   


October 21, 2004                                                                                                                                                           Vancouver, B.C.   

                                                                                                                                                                  gold and russet leaves, dear Greg, rustling in the wake of a serendipitous wisp of wind, glittering and glistening in the crisp, clear autumn light, skateboarders’ silhouettes skimming along the edge of a ruffled ocean, sleak as the flight of the birds above, inspired an otherwise gray day, the sun has been out only in patches
                                                                                                                                                                 after a truly therapeutic massage yesterday and a promise to my physiotherapist then to resume my too long interrupted exercises I started the day after some Proust of course and, I confess, also some irresistible Shakespeare – where a piteous Arthur, a boy who should be king, pleads of his executioner not to have his eyes pierced by hot irons, “cut out my tongue”, he says, “So I may keep mine eyes: O, spare mine eyes.” – I started the day at the gym doing a good run of vigorous exercises, a sure sign of a reinvigorated spirit, I’m returning to health and life

and to continue the day as though it were my last I lunched luxuriously afterwards instead of eating at home, on eggs and wine, a newspaper and a coffee, at my usual beachfront restaurant before heading out to Wendy’s where we were to read any old Shakespeare this time, I’d given her the choice, which turned out to be “The Merchant of Venice”, she thought, she said, she’d like that, imagining especially Venice, and also, I think, cause I’d mentioned that the movie, well reviewed, should be coming out next month

I smoked a joint along the way to her place along the water, where the “gold and russet leaves”, the “skateboarders’ silhouettes”, the “flight of the birds above”, left their wistful impression

then after a passionate discourse at her place on art, inspired I’m sure by the puff, and some references admittedly to my wounded heart, which she took in with great concern and compassion, I read

at first of course the language was rough and unfamiliar – a thicket of words, a bramble of indecipherable locutions – but as together we sorted out the subjects from the verbs, the art within the convolutions, we discovered poetry and enchantment, I’d told her to tell me if she got bored, uninterested – it should be fun, exhilarating, art, inspirational – but we made it to the end, Act 1, scene 1, it took two hours, Antonio’s ships were out, his friend Bassanio needed money to woo the lovely but expensive Portia and so was steered toward the city’s moneylenders to borrow on his friend Antonio’s assurance

Shylock, the famous Jew, nor for that matter Portia, have appeared yet

later at home after some television I determined to answer your letter, another sign of returning health

I hope you will enjoy my composition

I imagine you adrift in London, impressed and agog at so much of the history and the institutions, thick as traffic everywhere, even the city’s air and colours seem suffused with the stains and strains of a crotchety but golden nevertheless antiquity, a walk along the Thames suggests a time too long ago before it even all began, before there even was a London, and any street will conjure Dickens, Conan Doyle, and if you’re lucky and literate, even himself the Elizabethan Shakespeare, while Big Ben dependably tolls out in a deep reverberant voice not only the hours but the very centuries

I hope you won’t miss a thing

you are in my thoughts of course, and prayers






the 50 greatest books in English

should you have been following the contest in the Globe and Mail, here’s the latest:
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past
Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species
Dante Alighieri, Commedia (The Divine Comedy)
Plato, The Republic
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
James Joyce, Ulysses
Karl Marx, Das Kapital
St. Augustine, Confessions
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
my recent response :
first of all of the first ten choices of the 50 greatest books in English only three strictly fit the bill, the others are culled from everything already from French and German to verily Ancient Greek and Latin, by way of medieval Spanish no less, and Italian
with this I have no cavil but for not paying proper heed to translations, translators, and their varied abilities for delivering accurate goods, both in substance and in spirit, some references should be made to preferred renditions, I would suspect Dante for instance in even competent prose would be no match at all for nearly any in thoughtful verse, and these superior options should be duly credited and recommended, otherwise where is the “English” in these “50 greatest books”
“Remembrance of Things Past” got me off, it is my supreme masterpiece along with “The Iliad”, it got me interested in this contest, further choices did not disinterest, and I held back scepticism
however having just read Plato on essentially your instigation, and found him outrageous, indeed offensive, not least of all because he actually proposes to castrate Homer, censor parts of him, to fit a cockeyed political agenda, a tyranny in fact – for where is the line between tyranny and even enlightened kingship – a tyranny he would of course administer himself
Plato throughout merrily essentially rambles, nearly incoherently, certainly without any real relevance to ourselves, unless you want to start a tyranny, while his audience, Thrasymachus, Glaucon and the rest, let him ramble, tyrannically, for over four hundred nearly interminable pages
could they be thinking, could we
and where is Homer for that matter on your list
to propose a list of the 50 greatest books one would have to have read a good part of the canon, or have a pool of such people, for where otherwise is the validity of the contest, you can’t even begin to make those choices without having read too many of the masters that haven’t made the list yet
where is of course Shakespeare in all this, where is this pinnacle of English literature, where is Dickens, where is Henry Fielding and the boisterous “Tom Jones”, the gothic Emily Brontë of “Wuthering Heights, the ethereal and unforgettable Virginia Woolf, where, closer to home, are Truman Capote, Vladimir Nabokov, with each their masterful groundbreakers, “In Cold Blood”, “Lolita”
I won’t even start on literary titans in other languages
the choices in English to date have been quaint, “Ulysses” belongs there, “Tom Sawyer” instead of “Huckkleberry Finn”, but with next week F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” the choices of your panel become questionable
where is Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge” then, “Of Human Bondage”, or any of his perfect short stories if you’ll first give precedence to the entertaining but not nearly as prolific, nor able, Fitzgerald
I suspect not read  

or closer to home where is “The Grapes of Wrath”, one of, just one of, John Steinbeck’s towering achievements
James Agee’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” with Walker Evans, or his sublime “A Death in the Family”, right up there with “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Harper Lee’s triumph, where are these, could they have been read but still not trump next week’s trifle
where is “Gone With the Wind”, Margaret Mitchell’s magnum opus, in every sense of that first word, magnum great, magnum wonderful
where is the sensuous and searing “Alexandria Quartet” of Lawrence Durrell
more esoterically perhaps but no less deservedly where are the sublime “Diaries of Anaïs Nin”, an unparalleled account of a life lived at the very centre of cultural exchange in New York and Paris starting at the Jazz Age, moment by telling moment,  and ending in the psychedelia of the Sixties and Seventies, written with stark and consummate ablility, artistry, and frankness
where for that matter is Anne Frank’s diary, about which a moment of silence would rather do than my mere words to sing its highest praises
there are only 40 places left, please fill them thoughtfully

                                                                                                                                                                    thank you