April 18, 2014

This morning two mockingbirds were doing a dance in the yard. I had never witnessed such a thing and surmised the dance had to do with sex or territory - or both. There are several entries on Google about this, so this was not a rare event.

One goes right, the other left, then they reverse the pattern.


Spring 1948

There was a goldfish pond in the side yard were I grew up. My father had filled the pond with dirt, but my playmates and I removed the dirt, filled it with water, then devised a plan to fill it with tadpoles. We gathered buckets and headed down the rail road track to a creek that ran under the railroad trestle just north of town. We were too early for tadpoles but the water was thick with frog eggs. We returned with four buckets of eggs and dumped them in the fish pond. Every afternoon after school we would check on our project.  The eggs soon hatched and the pond became black with tadpoles. But before the metamorphosis school was out and my parents took me off to Mississippi to visit relatives. When we returned, a neighbor came by with our newspapers he had dutifully gathered during our absence. When he handed the papers to my father one paper was open and he pointed to a story in the Hope Star, "Plague of Frogs on North Elm".  As the neighbor gave his version of the event to my father I kept mum for fear of being implicated, but I knew I had missed my only event of Biblical proportion to every occur on our street.  Everything since has been anticlimactical.

This painting caught my eye. Pannini was one of the first painters to use the ruins of Rome for fanciful themes, called in painting, capriccio.  Capriccio, means an architectural fantasy, placing together buildings, archaeological remains and other architectural elements in fictional and often fantastical combinations.  Even though a fantasy, by placing Belisarius at the gate of Constantinople, several questions come to mind.
bel at const
 Belisarius at the Gates of Constantinople
PANNINI, Giovanni Paolo Italian painter, Roman school (b.1691, Piacenza, d.1765, Roma)

1. The architectural setting for the painting is labeled Constantinople, but it looks more like a composite of several Roman ruins, including the Baths of Caracalla. Below is an image of the Chalke Gate of Constantinople, which looks nothing like Pannini's painting. I doubt that Pannini had even seen a drawing of the gate.

chalke gate

2. Although the architectural setting is a fantasy, the artist must have had some historical event involving Belisarius in mind. After searching John Julius Norwich's Byzantium, The Early Years I came across one story that seems to fit.

The Empress Theodora suspected the very successful general Belisarius of plotting against the throne and while the emperor Justinian was  incapacitated, she confiscated his home, servants, and money (his spearmen and bodyguards were distributed among the palace eunuchs). In 543 Justinian recovered and partially restored Belisarius' wealth.  Theodora said she forgave Belisarius because of her friendship with his wife, Antoniana, but the real reason was probably the deteriorating military situation at edges of the empire; this was not the time to keep the Empire's best general dishonored, disarmed and humiliated in Constantinople. So, a fair guess is the scene in the painting represents the agents of the Emperor inviting (entreating?) Belisarius to return to the service of the Empire. One figure is gesturing towards a shield and sword at Belisarius feet, as if asking him to "take up arms."


 Belisarius would soon be back in Italy fighting the Goths. But as Justinian did not entirely trust Belisarius the command in Italy was shared with four other generals, with no single general having authority over the others. So the four figures before Belisarius could represent the other generals, but that might be a stretch.  I might add, a command arrangement that doomed the campaign to failure.

April 20, 2014

Today is Easter.  As Victoria and I drove down the driveway on our way to church, I looked at the iris planted at the end of the driveway hoping at least one had bloomed, but it had not happened.  A small crowd gathered in the country church for the service and the Methodist minister gave it his all. Protestants depend almost entirely on words woven into a dense theology to convey their message and after the minister repeated the importance of believing in an actual resurrection of the body of Jesus several times, I began to wonder who he was trying to convince, us or himself. After the service we spread hollow plastic eggs containing candy around the church grounds. There were only four children in attendance and we must have put down a hundred plastic eggs, containing enough candy to give them all a sugar buzz. On the way home I expressed my feeling that the Catholic reliance on sumptuous icons and elaborate rituals better conveys the mystery of Easter.  As we turned in the driveway I stopped the car. While we were gone a single purple iris had bloomed.  We admired the flower and without saying a word agreed a blooming iris reveals the miracle better than either Protestant or Catholic ritual.