Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Lovely Locks

I was completely taken with these locks from the height of the Republic of Ragusa, of which Dubrovnik was the capital. For many hundreds of years this small and wealthy maritime city-state held its own against the Venetians on the North and the Ottoman Empire on the East and South. Their maritime prowess was surprising, given their size and their small population; they were one of Venice's biggest competitors in sea trade; the Ottomans saw them as an important port, and treated with them accordingly.

And so, of course, they needed good trunks to lock up their valuables.

These are a few of the trunks I saw at the Rector's Palace in Dubrovnik. The lock mechanisms fascinated me, because they seem to use curved levers to shift movement from vertical to horizontal, and vice versa. Enjoy.

This one uses steel arcs to shift movement around the surface of the lid, opening or releasing the bolts into the locks, which are on the walls of the trunk. ( I have a picture of this but haven't been able to find it - I'll keep looking). I spent about half an hour staring at this, following the mechanism. It's superb.

This lock uses a snake motif to distract you from understanding the mechanism. I itched to play around with it to find out how it worked; but alas, there was an attentive docent...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Death and Resurrection of a Cabinet

This is what French Wikipedia says about Joseph Bonnier de la Mosson:

"Joseph Bonnier (1702-1744) was a French aristocrat of the 18th century. Fortune enabled him to make career in the army, becoming a colonel of the Dragons-Dauphin Regiment and Maréchal-des-logis (staff sergeant) of the Royal Household. He left Paris with the death of his father to take on the responsibilities of Treasurer of Languedoc.

Appointed baron of Mosson, he build a famous folly, the Domaine Bonnier de la Mosson, close to Montpellier. A great science and art lover, he became famous for his collection which was housed in his Parisian home. With his death, his fortune was wasted and his house ransacked."

Such a brief description for such a larger-than-life man.

In 1726, Joseph Bonnier's careful and frugal father died, leaving his twenty-four-year-old son with a fortune worth ten billion francs and a governmental position which paid, possibly unofficially, one hundred thousand écu, or five or six hundred thousand livres (an ecu, just before the Revolution, being equivalent to about $25 in 2006). Being young, insanely rich, and a handsome officer, Bonnier had no problems with spending his money. He loved pomp and splendor, and was known to frequent the theatres, both in the audience and backstage, and showed particular interest in beautiful actresses. He was intelligent and talented, and was able to indulge all his desires for beauty and knowledge without being accountable to anyone - at least, for awhile.

When he took the opera singer known as La Petitpas for his mistress, building her a fanciful palace in the garden of the Hotel de Lude (his luxurious house in Paris), he was

In the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. is a painting by Jean-Marc Nattier of Bonnier, showing a man happy in his obsession:

"Bonnier was the perfect eighteenth-century amateur, whose wealth allowed him the leisure to study nature's curiosities. His large collection, open to the public, held cabinets devoted to anatomy, chemistry, pharmacy, and mechanical engineering. Nattier's portrait shows a man of lively intelligence, informally dressed and in a relaxed pose, surrounded by the objects that held his interest: books about natural history (perhaps a publication he sponsored), jars of biological specimens, and mechanical models." (link)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Venice, part 2

Okay, more pictures. Been struggling tooth and nail with Blogger for two days, but finally got the pics to go up (and also fell down some stairs - the paving here is slippery limestone - so my right arm isn't working too well at the moment). But here we go!

This is my favorite picture - for the actual beauty of the photo, but also, look at those locks! I have some other pictures of wonderful locks from Dubrovnik which I will post soon that are beautiful and beat this out in complexity...These prison photos are from the prison that the Bridge of Sighs leads to, from the Doge's Palace. It's part of the admission to the Palace to see the prison.

Strange to me that they would label the cells and then put the capacity on the label. I can't decide if this was for later tourists or not. It looks almost like a street sign.

Prisoner's graffiti

Non-prisoner's graffiti. I always photograph silly graffiti, ever since I lived in London and never got a picture of the best graffiti ever: on Mare Street in Hackney. It said, "Treacle People: sticky like us" and had these little melty marshmallow creatures. Sigh. I'm sure it's gone now, but it really got stuck in my head. ...What do you think this one used to say before someone added onto it?

The best art store display I have ever seen. It made me want to eat it.

Inside the Great Council room of the Doge's Palace. The room is something like 25 meters long, with a fully carved-and-gold-leafed ceiling over the whole thing. Another illegal photograph.

There are these little walkways that go all around the upper levels of San Marco, less than a meter wide, with stone balustrades on both sides. It's a common Gothic thing, little high-up walkways (see the Hunchback of Notre Dame), but I was struck by these particular ones for being so intensely circuitous and narrow (and because it's rare to be allowed above them, so I really saw them from a new angle). I wish I could have gone walking on them; they went all the way around the inside of the place. They remind me of dreams I have had, of tall and tottering walkways...

The floors of San Marco are a dazzling display of pure Byzantine geometry. Such an amazing place.

As far as I can tell, this actually says "Beware of Falling Stuff."

Soon: more - on the Leonardo Da Vinci mechanism show - plus locks and other oddities.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tarnish and Style: Why I Like Venice, part 1

I just came back from a short trip to Venice, which isn't far from Split (but not easy to get to, for some reason). So, below are some pictures of things n' stuff that I found while I was there. My apologies for the quality of some of these, as they were often taken through shop windows or without flash in places where photography was not allowed. Lots of pics, but not too much writing, so I hope you enjoy the (somewhat blurry) eye-candy (Blogger is not accepting any more pictures, so this will be part 1).

Venetian Crypts, artlessly defunct

The inside of a store where one gets one's pictures framed. The variety and wonderfulness of these bits is perhaps a perfectly conscious thing, but the workmanlike atmosphere of the shop was real.

My daughter and I walked past this man probably a dozen times and were never able to get a good picture of him. We couldn't believe how like a waxwork he looked: thin and weirdly out of date with his white coat on, talking on an old-fashioned telephone, with a corpselike pallor. We speculated that he was actually an automata who was put there for atmosphere, and then decided he was too creepy to be art.

These were on a bunch of the trash cans. I could never figure out if it was for a particular show or what. It seemed to be for a place that called itself "O" but the words below were so impenetrable that it was impossible to tell. I found the image captivating, though. What is happening in this picture? Why is the baby all wrapped up? Is it dead, and in a shroud? Then why does it look so alert? And who is the man who is handing the baby to its mother? Or is she handing it to him, reluctantly??

This is a Bocca di Leone, a Lion's Mouth, where people used to be able to put messages denouncing someone for treason. A very Venetian idea, somehow. They are everywhere at the Doge's Palace, as if they expected denunciations at any moment; or perhaps there were different ones for different kinds of denunciations. However, this was the only one we found that wasn't completely defaced - erased, even (see the ones on either side). Why this is so, I don't know. I speculate that either Napoleon had them removed, or the message below was embarrassing at some point and so was removed (for example, if it said, "Denounce witches here," or something). Either way, it's an unfortunate loss. You can read more about them here (great blog about Venice).

Here is the back of the Bocca, taken, of course, when I wasn't supposed to use a camera. Thus the odd angle and blurriness. But please note the double door and the serious lock. They took these things seriously, and had a complex way of dealing with complaints, either about other people or about the government.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose... Treasures are indeed alive and well in Venice.

This is a little, old-fashioned doctor's cupboard - a miniature, about 16 inches high - with all the chemistry bits and the cool jars full of weird stuff. Total Cabinet of Wonders. I took about 6 pictures and this was the best one.

Bonus link:

- More on the The Most Serene Republic of Venice, who ran our part of Croatia for hundreds of years. Interesting reading...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Line Drawn in the Sand

Snapshot: a poor-student January weekend trip with a boyfriend to the Wine Country in Napa and Sonoma Valleys, to do some wine-tasting and try a hot spring (maybe) and just explore. Unfortunately, the wineries were largely closed and the spas were too expensive, and it rained and rained, for three days. There were flood warnings. We fell back on driving, following the Russian River out to the coast and then, eventually, on up to Mendocino. We were aimless, something I miss nowadays.

I was feeling unadventurous with the rain, so when we pulled off the road at the place where the Russian River came out to join the sea, looking out the car window at the grey day and the beach far below, I was uninclined to be friendly towards my partner when he went off down a cliff-trail to the beach below. I stood, fuming, for a little while, and then followed him down with ill-grace.

On the beach, the sounds of the sea calmed me a bit. The air was cold and fresh, and there were small birds running about. The river had formed a blind estuary:

"... “pocket” lagoons... frequently occur at the seaward end of a stream, which has a small drainage basin and thus limited amount of runoff. Where the rainfall is seasonal, the inlet of such a lagoon is open during the rainy season and is closed by wave action and long-shore drift during the dry season. Under natural conditions these lagoons have significant water exchange with the open ocean by seepage through the porous sandy barrier" [link]

The water stood, a great lake of it, bulging beyond a high sand-dune. Odd little heads peeped themselves over the edge of the dune, curious and shy, looking longingly at the sea, where another head poked out of the water: seals, trying to decide whether to make the trek over the dune to the safety of the sea.

I did what I often do at the beach, idly drawing in the sand with my heel. My friend had gone off to see if there was enough driftwood to build a little house, and looked as if he were having little success. I looked at the sand where I was scratching, and noticed something: a slow trickling of water, continuous and steady, coming out of the sand. The river, higher than the beach, was seeping through the immense sand-bank into the sea.

I walked to the top of the dune, eyeing it critically. It seemed to me that the water in the estuary was not far below the top of the dune. I decided to play around and let some trickle of the water out so that my friend and I could make dams and channels, which he was very fond of. So I dragged my heel from the water's edge over the sand-bar to the beach, making a thin scritch of a line. No way was this going to get any water. It was too far, too deep. Still, it was something to do, and sometimes I get funny about things like this. I wanted to try, anyway.

I went back and drew my heel over the line again, and again, and after four times the water's edge seemed to follow my foot a little. One last drag, and the trickle began. I had broken through!

My partner, interested in what I was doing, came over and began to help me form and shape the channel. We drew bits off to the side, made dams, played pooh sticks. Unlike most beach waterworks, the water didn't sink into the sand, but went where we bade it, forming rivulets and pools and filling dams in a most satisfactory way.

By this time the little stream had spread to be about a meter across, and a number of other people out on the beach had come over to help, digging things deeper and making better channels and dams. We had a great string of little ponds which the water leapt and bustled willingly through. Children sailed sticks down it; adult men dug furiously with sticks and hands. Everyone was sandy and wet; people shouted to one another to accomplish tasks; we all worked together to make it bigger, better, more amazing.

There came a moment when we all looked up and realized, however, that the water was now five or six meters across, and almost a meter deep in some places - and we realized that if we were to be where our cars were we would have to cross now or walk several miles back to the closest bridge. Fathers picked their kids up and hurried across the thick currents; women picked up bags and shoes and ran, splashing. We stood on opposite banks and waved at each other or stared upstream, awed.

Somehow, we were unable to leave: it was as if there was something that had not happened yet. The water grew deeper and more swift, and it became gradually clear that there was a fallen tree trunk straining above us at the sand-bank; it stirred and pushed, the water rilling around it, and we stood back, silent now, waiting, while the water pushed above and ate away below. It seemed impossible, looking at the raging torrent, deeper than a man's height now, that it had been caused by me dragging my heel across the sand.

The people on the far bank were smaller now, a good eight or ten meters away: a long "ahh" went up above the roar of the water, and the tree, moving slowly at first, began to slide along toward the sea. First it snagged, turning and rolling, and then something let go - and the tree began a stately course downstream, the brown water leaping and tugging at it. By the middle of the beach it was moving like a freight train, unstoppable, and leapt when it hit the salt water in a great arc: then, bobbing and whirling it went on, past the breaking waves and into the vast grey-blueness of the sea.

We all smiled at one another and shook our heads, trailing slowly off to our cars, turning to wave at our distant brethren. There was nothing left to stay for.

"The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown
The traveler hastens toward the town,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.
Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white hands
Efface the footprints in the sands,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.
The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls
Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;
The day returns, but nevermore
Returns the traveler to the shore.
And the tide rises, the tide falls."

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A year after this story, the Sonoma County Water Agency began breaching the Russian River estuary whenever it looks as if it might be causing problems upstream. However, they seem to take much more drastic measures:

"The size of the pilot channel varies depending on the height of the sandbar to be breached, the tide level, and the water surface level in the Estuary. A typical channel would be approximately 30 m long, 8 m wide, and 2 m deep (100 feet long, 25 feet wide, and 6 feet deep). The amount of sand moved can range from less than 100 cubic yards to approximately 1,000 cubic yards. The Agency contacts State Parks lifeguards within 24 hours prior to breaching activities to minimize potential hazards to beach visitors. Signs and barriers are also posted for 24 hours prior to and after breaching events to warn beach visitors of the hazards of the breaching area."

I'm sure it all starts, though, with a line drawn in the sand.