52 Poems, Week 23: The Prophet (Alexander Pushkin)
52 Poems, Week 24: An Old Man's Winter Night (Robert Frost)

Sunday Night Journal, June 10, 2018

I had a very strange experience last Friday night. Does everyone have the problem I have with "last" and "next" in this context? Today is Sunday. Does "last Friday" mean the day before yesterday, or a week before the day before yesterday? Similarly for "next." Anyway, I mean June 1, a week before the day before yesterday. There are several art galleries and a lot of artists in Fairhope, and on the first Friday evening of every month there's an "Art Walk," which means that a block or two in the middle of town is closed off to traffic, the shops--art galleries and everything else--are open, there are musicians here and there: a sort of fair, in other words, or a street party.

I have to preface this with the acknowledgement that I'm not much of a visual arts person. I'm not much of a visual person in general, as my wife, who is, will confirm: my attempts to describe anything I'm not actually looking at are frequently very inaccurate. Literature and music are my big artistic interests, with the visual arts a distant third. Sure, there are pictures I enjoy looking at, and artists I like, but it's just not something I devote a lot of attention to. And where abstract art is concerned I cross over from lack of interest to skepticism and even philistinism. As a rule the best I can say about abstract art is "Well, that's sort of pretty." (The worst is "Gosh, that's really ugly.")

So: we went to last Friday's Art Walk, the first one for me, though my wife may have been before. And we went into this gallery/shop which was full of what I think of as typical Fairhope art. Since this is a coastal town, there are lots of pelicans and piers and sunsets over the water. Some are better done than others, of course, and most of them are pleasant--I love pelicans and piers and sunsets, and if I could paint, that's the kind of thing I would paint so I don't really mean this as a putdown. I've posted a lot of pictures of sunsets here. And the ones in this gallery seemed well done, but still...just pleasant. I wandered through pretty quickly and found myself in the back of the shop looking at some abstractions.

That's when the strange thing happened: I was moved emotionally. I can't really say exactly what the emotion was. It was very similar to the feelings produced by certain moments in certain pieces of music: not really a specific emotion, but a sort of pleasurably piercing sensation felt definitely in the heart; I mean the physical heart. I was a little shocked. There were several paintings there, and most of them gripped me oddly, but there was one that really produced that sensation:

Christine Linson Gallery: Abstract &emdash; 41 - Red Intersecting

I would not have copied the image and posted it, but the web site provides the HTML for embedding it, so apparently it's okay with the artist. Her name, as you can see, is Christine Linson (the copyright notice you see here is not on the painting itself). This photo of it is just that, and isn't the painting itself anymore than a photo of a person is the person. The textures of the canvas and of the paint are a part of the effect, as is the size--roughly two feet wide, I think. Or maybe more like three?--you see what my visual memory is like.

Anyway...I have no conclusion to draw from this, no larger observation; it was just a new and interesting and very pleasurable experience. As far as I can remember I have never before had an emotional reaction to an abstract painting.

Here's a link to the artist's site.


A postscript to last week's discussion of Pope Francis as seen through Ross Douthat's To Change the Church, regarding the persistence of the "liberal" vs. "conservative" struggle over the meaning of Vatican II:

The bigger picture here is not the half-century-plus since the Council, but the century-plus in which the Church has been dealing with the challenge of theological modernism, by which I mean, very loosely, the skeptical spirit which tends to remove or explain away the supernatural elements of the faith, usually in the name of making it more acceptable to Modern Man. And, widening the view even further, the challenge of modernism in the whole broad sense of the incredulity of all Christian belief in the eyes of that same Modern Man. That struggle is far from over. No one reading this will see the end of it, unless the end of this world intervenes. 

I think this is a much deeper and more mysterious phenomenon than we think. We tend to look at specific ideas and specific people who push those ideas, whether world-view-definers like Darwin whose names everyone knows, or theologians and philosophers like Rudolf Bultmann whose names are familiar only to those interested in the subject. But the really significant thing is that millions and millions of ordinary people who never give much conscious attention to ideas think like them. Maybe that's entirely explainable as the effect of culture and education dominated by skeptical assumptions. But I tend to think there is something more powerful at work here. I don't mean to suggest that I think it's the work of the devil, any more than false ideas always are. It just seems to me sometimes that ideas really do have a life of their own--not a conscious will, but an ability to spread and thrive under favorable conditions.

At any rate I often think of something I quoted several years ago from a comment on Rod Dreher's blog: "No matter what the Church did, [modern man] was done with it." Here's the post where I discussed it.


If you were interested in Douthat's book, but not interested enough to read it, you can get a good idea of its gist from this interview with him. This paragraph is pretty much my own view of Pope Francis:

My provisional view is that the real Francis is what he appears to be — a devout, prayerful, pastoral Catholic who has a certain impatience with doctrinal niceties and who has come around to the fairly common Jesuit view that the Church’s teachings on sexual morality are a great impediment to evangelization and need to be tacitly relaxed. This is not the same thing as having a deliberate grand strategy for transforming Catholicism into Episcopalianism, and there are all kinds of ways in which Francis is not a theological liberal as the term is usually understood.

I keep remembering something I said to my wife within, if I remember correctly, a few weeks of Francis's election: "He seems like someone who would be a great parish priest, but I'm not so sure he'll be a good pope."


A few weeks ago in the comments on that post about Nordic mythology we were discussing the disparity between the hard and violent world of medieval Scandinavia and the seeming mild blandness of contemporary Scandinavia. Marianne suggested a connection between that old spirit and the gruesomeness of Nordic noir. Well. Over the past week or so my wife and I watched the first series of The Bridge, the Swedish-Danish crime drama, and I think Marianne has a point. It wasn't the gruesomeness as such, though that was there, but the hardness. After three or four episodes my impression was something like a cold place full of cold people. There was more to it than that, of course, and the impression changed somewhat. Still, it wasn't altogether off the mark. It was reinforced by the cinematography, which is relentlessly washed out, gray and white, almost monochrome. 

But the cinematography is beautiful, especially in HD. I guess I probably discussed here the British-French knockoff (remake, imitation--whatever it should be called) of The Bridge. The bridge of the original is the Øresund Bridge, which connects Copenhagen (Denmark) and Malmö (Sweden), and the story involves a crime that occurs on the bridge and is investigated by two police-persons, a Danish man and a Swedish woman who apparently has Asperger's Syndrome. The British-French version is called The Tunnel, with the English Channel tunnel serving a narrative function similar to that of the bridge. 

I liked The Tunnel, but I liked The Bridge better. The plots are pretty similar, but I thought The Bridge did a better job of integrating plot and character, especially that of the shall-we-say-eccentric policewoman. It does have some very gruesome moments, and one or two fairly explicit and unnecessary sex scenes. I've noticed before that some of these shows "front-load" their most sensational moments, as if they need to draw viewers in with sex-'n'-violence (or in this case violence-'n'-sex) before trusting the work to engage them. In this case it could backfire, as the gruesome scene in the first episode could certainly put people off the whole thing.

I discovered recently in the course of an initially very confusing conversation that there is a third variant on this plot, this one American-made and also called The Bridge, this bridge being one between El Paso and Juarez. I didn't know about it and the person I was talking to didn't know about the original. 


There are several magnolia trees in the woods around my house, but they don't bloom much, which is always a little disappointing to me because I really like these huge sweet-smelling flowers. Besides being delightful themselves, they're a pleasant childhood memory, because we had two large and vigorously blooming magnolia trees. When they were blooming there were often some of the flowers in the house. Apparently they need a lot of sun to thrive. I finally noticed this year that one of the ones near us does bloom at the top, where it gets the sun, forty feet or so up in the air. Yesterday at someone else's house I noticed their magnolia, which stands mostly away from other trees, had a lot of flowers, many within reach from the ground. I was able to experience their scent for the first time in a long time. My wife was laughing at the way I stuck my nose into this one. 



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Currently watching The Tunnel, season 3. As you say, The Tunnel is very good, but The Bridge is better. Nice thing is, in each series only the first seasons coincide, so you can watch the remaining episodes of both without fear of spoilers.

I watched a couple episodes of the American/Mexican Bridge -- it was well-done but I didn't like the way that the actress portrayed the detective: her take on the Aspergers thing was too over-the-top and annoying, imo.

Finished Fargo season 3 a couple weeks ago. In some ways I think it's the best so far -- I think that overall it's the most humane and least cynical of the three.

I haven't seen any of the Fargo series, though I've had it recommended. It was on my Netflix watch list for a long time but then disappeared, as stuff is always doing, and I forgot about it. Probably on Amazon but at $15-20 per season.

I can loan you seasons 1 and 2 of Fargo, Mac. Although I think the first is on BluRay so you have to have something that plays those. 2nd season is DVDs.

I got all three Fargo's from the library.

I thought the cultural stereotyping of by-the-book Swedes and happy-go-lucky Danes was hilarious. Proximity really does accentuate difference.

Were all the paintings you liked from the same artist. I like her work.

When I was reading the part about abstract paintings, I was thinking yes,but sometimes I see an abstract that I really like for no discernible reason, so there must be something there. And then I saw the picture and thought, "Oh, he liked that one." Well, it moved you, and that is more than liking. I can almost see it. It would make a tremendous difference to see it in person.


Now I know why my magnolia doesn't have many blooms. We cut down a huge pecan tree this year that was blocking the sun, so maybe that will help, but it still has a lot of other trees around it. At the moment it has one blossom that is about to give up the ghost.

Ghosts and magnolia go together, don't they.


They do!

Part of their coolness is that the flowers are so huge. I really like the scientific name: Magnolia grandiflora.

Yes, all the paintings I liked were by the same artist. Some of the others were sort of semi-abstract landscapes that I liked a lot.

That never crossed my mind, Paul. Not surprisingly. One thing that puzzled me a little was the extent of the language difference. Sometimes it seemed to be treated as at least a partial barrier, sometimes not at all.

Thanks, Stu, but I don't have Blu-Ray player. It usually doesn't occur to me to try the library for things like this but I will. I thought Netflix might have the dvds (as opposed to streaming, but they don't).

I like the landscapes a lot.


I've had the same kind of emotional experience a few times in recent years when looking at piece of abstract art. Also surprised me because I'd always before pretty much dismissed such work.

Good to hear that you don't think I'm totally bananas about Nordic noir. A bit worrying, though, that it held such a fascination for me for quite a while.

Maybe the art thing has something to do with age? I don't see why it would, but it's odd that it's happened to both of us fairly late in life.

No, I don't think you're bananas. That kind of stuff is fascinating. Were you thinking of tv and movie stuff like this, or the books, of which I haven't read any?

I was thinking of both books and some TV series. I think maybe the books are much worse; the killings are usually very gory and there's often sadism involved. I stopped after maybe two or three of them, but I shouldn't have even finished the first one. Maybe the etymology of "fascinate" applies -- Webster's says it comes from the Latin fascinum "evil spell". :)

I can take gore but not torture. Is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo one of these? I saw the movie of it and it was pretty rough.

No, I didn't dare even look at that Dragon Tattoo book. The two I remember are The Snowman by the Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo and one of Henning Mankell's Wallander books, but can't remember the title right now.

I read The Snowman, and I agree -- both the sex and the violence were O.T.T. and I probably won't read any more of him. I read a couple of the Wallander books but wasn't overly thrilled. Maybe I've been spoiled by P.D. James and Ian Rankin.

I do like the Nordic Noir TV shows though.

I started to read the Dragon Tatoo book a couple of times and then thought better of it.

We have been taking a break from crime dramas and watching comedies. Well, except for Death in Paradise, which isn't very good, but I like the characters and sometimes it's funny and never gruesome.


We've seen a couple of episodes of Death In Paradise and I agree with your opinion. I should keep it in mind for occasions when we want to watch something not very long and not very heavy.

Have any of you read any of James Ellroy's books? What I read about them sounded like something I would like, but I tried one, and within the first few pages encountered something so sickeningly perverted and gruesome that I immediately stopped reading and got rid of the book. Took me a couple of days to get over it.

I have never even heard his name, although I recognize the name of the books. I'm glad you warned us.


I've not read any Ellroy but had a similar experience several years ago with a Lee Child book. My tolerance for such things is much lower than it used to be. The way I look at it now is, when there's so much stuff out there to read, why read (or watch) things that seriously offend your sensibilities?

I'm pretty much of the same mind. Looking at descriptions of Ellroy's books, I think the one I picked up was probably The Big Nowhere, which is said to be about "a brutal sex murderer." That's a deceptively mild description. Others may not be that grisly. I assume the movie L.A. Confidential is based on his novel of the same name, and it's pretty good. I don't remember it being terribly disturbing though it's been a while.

That I have lived to see the day that "brutal sex murderer" is deceptively mild.


That entire genre of books is hard for me to deal with. I read one a while back on my Nook, cannot remember the author, Boston-based Clint Eastwood made a movie with Tim Robbins and Sean Penn. Anyway, that movie and book I liked a lot, so I picked another one. There was a scene involving a child that was so awful that years later I still remember it.

All of that said, I have read one James Ellroy book, American Tabloid. It was very good and didn't have that sort of stuff. More about the Kennedy assassination and people involved in all of that. His writing style is very different.

Dennis Lehane is the author I was trying to think of in the first paragraph.

Mystic River!

Don’t get me started on Mystic River. The abduction/sexual abuse scenes in the movie were what stayed with me and maybe most viewers, mainly because it gave the impression that it was Catholic priests doing the foul deeds. But it’s not priests doing them in the book -- from “Eastwood adds twist to 'Mystic River' :

The molestation crisis in the Catholic Church led director Clint Eastwood to make a minor, but eyebrow-raising plot change in the film adaptation of "Mystic River," which opens the New York Film Festival on Friday before a wider opening next week.

In Dennis Lehane's book about the stifling of childhood innocence in a fictional Boston-area community, two pedophiles posing as police officers kidnap a young boy.

But in Eastwood's moody adaptation, one of those molesters poses as a priest--a point driven home when the criminal reaches over the back of a car seat and displays a gold ring emblazoned with a cross.

"What's been happening all over the country, but in Boston in particular, influenced me to use [the crisis] as a red herring," Eastwood said.

"You try to lead people into anticipating what is coming next, so right away they go `Maybe this is going to be about that whole deal with Cardinal Law,' but then it isn't. You lead them into little red herrings before they finally find out where it ends up."

I think I'll let Mystic River slide.

'That I have lived to see the day that "brutal sex murderer" is deceptively mild.'

I know, I thought that as I was typing it. Don't ask me to explain why it's accurate.

Wasn't planning on it.


I remember admiring 'Mystic River' more than liking it. It was definitely a downer of a film, but it had some really good performances, especially Sean Penn's -- one of his best, I'd say. Didn't know Eastwood had made that plot change; I see his point about the red herring, but it's more than a little cynical.

Mac, the Danish "Killing" trilogy is pretty expensive on DVD. You'd probably be better off buying a multi-region player, which would be a lot less money, then I could lend you my UK copy of the trilogy, among other things.

Hollywood is disproportionately interested in Catholic priests, for good or for bad, but I suppose mostly for bad.

Yes, mostly for bad.

Thanks, Rob, but I'm not eager enough to see it to go to that much trouble. Surely it will eventually show up for rental or streaming.

Did not know this (or maybe forgot it) but the DVD players built into some laptops are multi-region.

Hmm, wonder if mine is. I'll have to check that out.

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