Blog # 12 Rome, Beijing, Cologne, Swindon Wiltshire – England

October 18, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. 

Italy: Rome: Standing in the center of St. Peter’s, I have, perhaps for the first time, an inkling of eternity.

China: Beijing, Tianlun Dynasty Hotel, 50 Wangfujing Ave.: From my room in this luxurious hotel, I look down many floors below to where construction on the street is taking place. Workmen in what appear to be dress black suits, sockless and in tennis shoes, handling jackhammers, shoveling dirt. I am told that every day many thousands come from the provinces to work in the city. Where are the hard hats? The work boots? From the same window, I look down into a nearby hu tong. A different world! Hard to reconcile my hotel room with such squalor and cramped living quarters. I am told that many of these community compounds have been destroyed to make way for new prosperity. A way of life perhaps best gone. But how do they feel?

img_8321Germany: Cologne: During dinner at the Jarczyk’s, Heinz asked me if I liked opera. He was amazed when I told him that I had never been to one. He immediately rose from the table and went to the phone; I understood enough German to know he was asking about what was on and getting tickets for the four of us. That weekend, I saw Carmen at the Köln Opera Haus: a story about a Spanish woman written by a Frenchman with German “sub-titles” moving across the bottom of the stage. (At one point I had to smile at the running translation when, at the point Carmen is ridiculing Don Carlos for attending to duty rather than running into the mountains with her, it incongruously read “Don Carlos, du bist ein Dummkopf!”). At intermission, sharing champagne, I said to Heinz that I was still trying to get it together that here I was, a kid from Brooklyn, attending an opera in such plush surroundings. When we returned to our seats, he handed me the playbill with his finger indicating where I should look. There I read that the actor playing Don Carlos was from Brooklyn, and that the second female role was played by a young woman from Staten Island!

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England: Swindon Wiltshire: Came upon a “round-about” (traffic circle) that was a maze of entries and exits, so many that we circumnavigated it several times before we finally got off — of course, it was the wrong one. Told later that Swinton was the town where the roundabout inventor was born! I wonder if they ran him off!

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Blog 11 Lechlade – England, Basel – Switzerland, Paris – France

October 11, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. 

5106179_1ed4fb43England: Lechlade: Visited “Shelley’s Walk”, a tree-lined path that skirts a weathered church. Story goes that it was on one of Percy Shelley’s perambulations here that he composed one of his poems (the name of which I cannot recall!).

Switzerland: Basel: I visit the town hall to see if I can find out anything about my grandfather whom I’ve never known, Jacob Steiner, who came from this city to New York sometime in the late 1800s. My German is faltering; the bureaucrat impatient. “Steiner?” he says with a snort. He points to several volumes. “Steiners!” he says. Without knowing which canton my grandfather came from, apparently it was like asking for “Smith” in New York City! All I had was my grandfather’s name, so I left knowing as little as I did when I came.

top-floorFrance: Paris: At the second landing of the Eiffel Tower, I cannot find the way to the elevator that takes you to the top. Walking up to two uniformed men, I hesitatingly ask (since I did not know the word for “elevator”), “Ou et le sommet?” Both men look at me for a moment and, with a smile, simultaneously raise their index fingers to indicate “up”. Properly embarrassed, I revert to English and ask how I might get there. Again, in unison, they then point to the elevator. (An odd thing for me was that when I reached the top, I could not bring myself to step over to the rail and look out. It was the first time ((but not the last — the fear reoccurred when I climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Dome with Piero Breccia in Rome a few weeks later)) that I discovered I had somehow acquired vertigo — a new thing for me!) Another time my meager French let me down (I can read the language fairly well, having taken the subject in college) was in St. Germain en Laye, taking a bus from the home of Isabelle and Bertrand to spend the day sightseeing in Paris. When the bus stopped at our corner, I stepped on the first step and firmly said, “Trois.” The driver looked at me and said, “Trois?” “Oui,” I answered confidently. He looked pointedly at Cornelia and me and said again, “Trois?” Annoyed, I again said, “Oui!” Once again: “Trois?” Before I could really make a fool of myself by insisting on “three” a kindly old man in a front seat leaned over, held up two fingers and said, “Deux”, pointing at the two of us. For some reason “trois” and “three” were synonymous to me (or at least sounded so) and who knows for how long the driver and I would have been “trois-ing” each other while the busload waited for me to be enlightened? Interesting that, by and large, my poor language skills were never an issue in any of the other countries we visited. Almost to a person, when people saw us in difficulty — in Spain, in Germany, in Holland, in Italy, in Belgium, in Beijing, Shanghai — wherever — they were quick to step in, help out and lead us onto the correct path.


Raymond J. Steiner owns up

October 7, 2017

ALTHOUGH IN RECENT issues of ART TIMES I’ve not contributed much in the way of profiles, reviews, or critiques on the current art scene, “art” is seldom far from my thoughts and interests in what’s ‘going on’ out there. I see the announcements, daily receive press releases and, though I avoid the telephone, my Publisher and Partner Cornelia Seckel keeps me apprised of the more than many phone calls from galleries and art-reps who advise me “you gotta see this show!” Truth is, I frankly don’t see or hear about many exhibits that I oughtta see. It’s true that my health and stamina are on the decline and I rarely travel other than to present myself to the growing list of MDs that I oughtta see, the market — and I emphasize the work market—rarely entices me to take up my time to travel there to browse their wares. Too many modern ‘isms’, trends, ‘hot’ exhibits, and such on the present art-scene leave me aesthetically, intellectually and spiritually cold and totally uninterested at the core. Don’t get me wrong—I know there are good artists out there (I know many of them and try to keep in touch), but the hyper-bloviating successfully keeps them in the dark and drowning in the deafening noise of ‘what’s new!” Those of you who’ve followed me through our 30+ years of publishing know my feelings about the deluge of political-based, gender-based, race-based, self-expressionist-based—the whole range of “ism”-based—‘art’ that has overwhelmed plain, old art-based art. I have always believed that art ought to be life-enhancing and not a mere political tool. Artwriters no longer dare to even define what ‘art’ is. Pundits such as Danto have already pro-claimed that ‘art’ is dead. So my dear artist-friends who still attempt to put heart, spirit, and meaning into your work, don’t stop fighting the good fight. History moves on…it always does…and genuine appreciation of culture will come back, and maybe I can’t travel much anymore and you’ve been left in the dark, but if not you than your work will see the future.

 

By Raymond J. Steiner


Blog #10 Munich, Rome, Beijing, Deichelweg Germany

September 20, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. 

Germany: Munich: Waiting in the Marienplatz to hear the glockenspiel, we hear loud shouting off to one side. “Raus Auslander! Heil Hitler” resounds off the enclosing walls. This, almost fifty years after the war! Police quickly close in on a man who is obviously drunk. A prank? A deep-seated resentment? Who knows the mystery of the human heart? Where were the police during the 1930’s?

Roman ForumItaly: Rome: Standing in the middle of the Forum early one morning, I see Cornelia looking into her guidebook. Perplexed. Why would someone look into a book when the actual thing is there in front of you? “I want to know what I’m looking at,” she said. Still perplexed.

China: Beijing: Passover Seder at a hotel “party room”: Once inside, we could not believe we were in China. Familiar prayers, complaints, kibitzing, food, kids running around unsupervised. Who taught the Chinese cooks to make gefiltefish?

Germany: Deichelweg: Visiting with Gabi and Norbert Wittmer, sharing supper at their home, we congratulated Gabi on a fine meal. “Thank you,” she said modestly. Norbert then reached out his arm and patted her on the back: “Ja! Our best horse,” he said. Taken a bit back at first, we laughed when we saw the twinkle in his eye. Apparently this was a favorite “joke” of his when guests complimented his wife. It was not Gabi’s! I’ve attempted to use the line a couple of times myself back home at our dinner table, but it usually falls flat. It’s not Cornelia’s favorite, either. Apropos the joys of translating idioms into another language, during the meal Cornelia asked if they wanted us to “knock off” the last of the salad. “Knock off?” they asked, puzzled. When we explained its meaning they laughed and enjoyed learning this new phrase. During breakfast the next morning, Norbert pointed at the platter of wursts and cheeses and proudly announced, “Let’s knock it out!” Our turn to chuckle — and another round of explanations. Oh, the idiocy of idioms in translation!


Glimpses #9: Germany, Italy, Switzerland

September 15, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. The introduction and first two “Glimpses” are in the Blog uploaded on October 2, 2016

Germany: Cologne: While visiting a distinguished photographer at his sumptuous apartment, the walls covered with photographs of famous people and places covering who knows how many decades, we approach the elderly gentleman seated in his wheelchair as our introductory remarks are translated by a serious-faced woman, too young to be his wife, perhaps his attendant. The meeting had been arranged by the director of Amerika Haus, a cultural arm of the U.S. Government at which I had recently lectured on a book I had written about the Cologne-based etcher/painter Heinrich J. Jarczyk. The very formal introductions completed, Cornelia casually asked if we could take a photo. Astonished glances of consternation were quickly and silently exchanged between the famous photographer and his attendant. A photo? Within moments we had quickly realized the misunderstanding. Our request was interpreted as our taking one of his photographs from his walls and the agitation perhaps on deciding which one to give up to these upstart American visitors! When Cornelia held up her camera, however, smiles and sighs of relief suddenly lightened the room and the situation — ah, the joys of bumbling along in a foreign country.

Italy: Siena: Treated to the lauded Italian sense of style in the tiny, front show-window of a shoe store: a single shoe atop a piece of drapery folded just so. (There is a European saying: “The French, with their logic, should think of it; the Italians, with their style, should design it; the Germans, with their sense of order, should build It.”). Siena is a beautiful little city, full of beautiful women (I never saw so many in one place!), many with high heels and all their elegant finery zipping along on tiny Vespas.

Switzerland: Berne: Friday evening and we seek out a synagogue to see if we can attend services. Two exotic/ commonplace surprises: Cornelia had to sit in a separate location high up in a balcony at the rear, and the strange sense of familiarity as the German-speaking rabbi switched to the same ancient Hebrew prayers we hear at home.

Italy: Venice: On the way back to the train station, crossing over the Rialto Bridge with Gabi and Norbert — the setting sun off to our left just as we reached its crest. Lovely! (Note: Gaby and Norbert Witmer, friends who live in Deichelweg outside of Munich and whom we met through the Jarczyks; we took many trips with them through southern Germany and northern Italy).

 


AN OPEN LETTER TO ARTISTS

August 29, 2017

THE PURPOSE OF this letter is to acknowledge and to thank the many, many artists, both deceased and those still ‘fighting the good fight’ who have helped me over the past 40-45 years to understand and appreciate the process as well as the product.

Your influence began early, back in the late‘40s when I used to work as a handy-man in Woodstock, New York, clearing woodlots, mowing lawns, tending gardens for the summer residents, most of them artists who came up from the city to join the ever-growing number of plein-airistes flocking to the burgeoning art colony who wanted to spend their time painting rather than mowing their lawns. Even after the summer ended, teachers and students at the Art Students League of New York’s summer school a little way out of town, would spend week-ends and off-hours in town, most willing, even eager, to ‘talk art’ to interested listeners — even handymen at Deane’s, the popular diner on Mill Hill Road. Although neither a painter nor a student of the craft, I had from a child been able to draw, to replicate in pencil whatever I attempted to copy, and almost always carried a sketchbook with me — so ‘listening in’ to the conversations of ‘real’ artists was always too tempting to pass up.

When I began free-lance writing for local newspapers, I eventually focused on art and artists, profiling many of the “Woodstock artists”, spending hours at their studios or over the counter having coffee at Deane’s, listening to them presenting their views, art, journey, comments and work-habits eventually sharing them with my publishers.

Eventually, I grew more and more dissatisfied with the way my writing was being handled by copy-editors, layout people, and the ever-present errors (including the misspelling of the artists’ names in more than one instance) that were being presented to the public under my name. This led to my wife Cornelia and I co-founding our own arts journal — Art Times — in 1984. Over the years, I have since profiled over 100 artists both here and abroad. Some of my essays grew into introductions of monographs by various publishers and even into my own books on artists. Soon, I was interviewing artists in NYC and even as far as Europe and China. By being commissioned by Rosina Florio, past Director of the Art Students League of New York, to write a history of the League, the undertaking broadened my knowledge even further as many past and present League members added their stories to my growing warehouse of art-knowledge.

Through my experience with the Art Student’s League, I began hearing about other arts groups, some local, some regional, others national — even affiliating with some — for example the National Art Club in NYC after Will Barnet sponsored me, and especially The Salmagundi Club, a club that is nearly 150 years old and devotes its resources to artists and their art instead of sales and celebrity. Never much of a ‘joiner’, I was fortunate to become a member of the Artist’s Fellowship, which exists solely to give aid to artists in distress (probably the only meetings I enjoyed attending since each session ended in a specific and meaningful act — giving a hand up to deserving artists across the country). My associations with such art organizations expanded my knowledge of art well beyond any college courses I’d taken.

In 2005-6, I wrote a novel entitled The Mountain that attempts to trace the development of an artist (in literary terms, a “bildungsroman”). Set in the NYC and Hudson Valley areas it includes some history and background of Woodstock and its environs to ‘flesh out’ the influences on my protagonist, Jacob (Jake) Forscher (‘Jacob’ because he wrestles with the angel as do all serious artists, and ‘Forscher’ because, again like all artists, he is a delver, a seeker). The book came about after a conversation over lunch with the artist Jack Levine in a small restaurant in New York City’s Greenwich Village. As usual, the subject of art came up, and specifically Zola’s book The Masterpiece, ostensibly a book about his childhood friend, Paul Cezanne. I asked Jack if he knew of any books in English that traced the life and development of an artist. He could think of none that specifically did so, but several about artists in general. Thus the genesis of The Mountain. I chose the title to reflect Melville’s Moby Dick — in essence, the “Mountain” (Overlook, in the Catskills and visible from Woodstock) is Jake’s ever-illusive ‘white whale’, which he tries to ‘capture’ on canvas. His story, your story, is a fictional re-telling of what you taught me over the years — in fact, I felt very much like a mid-wife rather than an author in ‘creating’ my novel. The Mountain is available as a book on demand or kindle http://amzn.to/2pGX659

So, my artist readers, if it were not for sharing those early encounters, the prolonged studio chats, the stories, the exhibitions, the struggles, the insights, the life-sharings for my profiles and books — if it were not for you, dear artist (whether we met face-to-face or only through your art), the artwriter Raymond J. Steiner would never have come into being.

Therefore this letter and my deepest thanks for all of your contributions to my education and for helping make ART TIMES such a valuable resource for artists around the world for over 30 years.

Raymond J. Steiner


Glimpses #8: China, Germany, Switzerland

May 8, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. The introduction and first two “Glimpses” are in the Blog uploaded on October 2, 2016

Bird Market, Beijing

China: Beijing: Walking the avenue outside our hotel (Tianlun Dynasty Hotel) I take in street scenes: an old man with a chair, a cloth, and a pair of scissors — haircuts given al fresco! A short distance away, a man selling birds from a birdcage to passersby who promptly release them into the air. As I watch, I see the freed birds return to the seller, to be sold again and again as the day goes on.

Germany: Esslingen/Karlsruhe: Many years ago (around 1955) I was stationed at Gersewski Barracks while in the army, in a small town named Esslingen just outside Karlsruhe. At least once a month or more, I would take a bus into Karlsruhe (a good-sized city) and go to a what became my favorite restaurant for wienerschnitzel (a meal my Mom used to make and one of my favorites). After some time, the waiter got to ‘know’ me and when I walked in, he’d ask, “Der Ushual?” and I’d smile and nod. He’d have the stein of Dinkelacher almost immediately on my table (also ‘ushually’ the same) and go back to the kitchen to order my meal. I was stationed there for a year, and after some months I’d had wienerschnitzel ‘up to here’ and once asked if they served shrimp. The waiter looked at me puzzled and asked, “Vas is das?” I began to describe a shrimp for him and as I did so, his face slowly turned from expectant to disgusted. When I got to the legs and feelers, he blurted, “You eat zis?” I looked up a bit sheepishly and murmured, “Wienerschnitzel, bitte.”

 

Sephardic Synagogue Beth Yaacov, Geneva Switzerland

Sephardic Synagogue Beth Yaacov, Geneva, Switzerland built in the 1700’s

Switzerland: Geneva: While walking around town we noted a synagogue that had intriguing architecture — it almost looked like a mosque. Circular in construction, we walked around the building but could find no access. As we walked, we came upon a couple who seemed to be heading there as well. They told us that it was closed but that it would be open the following day for a funeral for Still intrigued as to what it may look like on the inside, we decided to come back during the funeral. We were in for a complete surprise: the funeral was for the Dr. Alexandre Safran, head rabbi of Geneva and the place was packed with Swiss notables, both religious and political.

Funeral service for Dr. Alexandre Safran at the Sephardic Synagogue Beth Yaacov

Funeral service for Dr. Alexandre Safran at the Sephardic Synagogue Beth Yaacov

We both had to sit up in the balcony, which was fortunate because it gave us the opportunity to take a few unobtrusive photographs of the proceedings. Several speeches were given in tribute to the rabbi and we felt rather privileged to have stumbled in on this special occasion. Cornelia wrote about the event in ART TIMES (http://bit.ly/2qKxCr3when we returned home and, shortly thereafter, she received an email from the rabbi’s son, both thanking her for the article and requesting that she send copies of the photos she had taken. What a strange world in its mysterious interconnections!