Side Canals

Venice is a “city for lovers” but I have no idea why except that historically and physically it’s a perfect metaphor for the complicated and inscrutable labyrinth of love. I have been there three times, two of those times in the midst of a romantic conundrum. Venice was, at least, distracting.

It exerts incredible pressure on the lone female tourist with all the honeymoon couples, posing on the Rialto Bridge over the grand canal, asking me to take their photo while they look into the lens with feigned happiness and real perplexity. Venice is the world’s locus for “Just ask for directions, David!” and “No. I know where we are.”

It’s a good place to visit if you’ve always dreamed of medieval Byzantium because it’s there. Venetians stole it in the 12th century and brought it home as best they could, along with the bones of St. Mark.

I love Venice. Away from the main spots — Piazza San Marco, the Rialto — it’s a secretive, mysterious, living city. I do not know how anyone could see everything without living there a while. I also wish I’d known more history, at least when I was there in 2000. In 2004, I enjoyed the luxury of staying on the train as it discharged passengers and loaded passengers who were, like me, going to Trieste.

There are so many films set in Venice, but my favorite, the one that captures it best, is Bread and Tulips or Pane e Tulipani.


A Story…

I awaken bewildered in this silent compartment. The train has stopped. The calm young lovers speaking in soft tones are gone. I look at the station. Pesceria di Garda. Lago di Garda. It’s not the first time I pass over something without seeing. In the town of Limone, on this same lake, Goethe first saw lemon trees. My sleepy musing comes from the thought of how exotic had been a lemon to Goethe, a symbol of a place so distant and magical, it became the object of all his dreaming. The locomotive shudders to a start. My head against the padded back of the high seat and my face to the window, I quickly return to sleep in this cradle of a train, relentlessly forward, ever side to side.  

Mi scusi, signora, il biglietto per favore.

Who is he talking to? My thoughts are far away and I am with them. Tomorrow is my last day in Italy. I am already in tomorrow or nowhere or in a dream. In regrets? 

Signora?” A gentle tap on my shoulder.

Mi dispiace.”

I hand him my ticket. He validates it with his paper punch and continues moving through the train. There are only two other passengers in my car. Could there be very many more on this whole train? It’s after ten p.m.

He returns, “Are you American?”
“Yes,” I answer, looking up.
“May I sit with you?”
Parla italiano un po, si?”
Si, ma non bene. Solo un po.”
Va bene. Anche io. Parlo un po di Inglesa. Forse possiamo communicare?”
Spero che si!” I laugh. “Ma, per communicare, la lingua non e il unico problema.” I grin at him.

He has sincere blue eyes, pale skin, a receding hairline. He loves to travel; he likes his job because he sometimes meets interesting people, “Like you,” he says, gently flirting. He speaks of Venice, how he likes it better in the winter when the tourists are gone, and the streets are filled with fog.

“Venice like that,” he says, “you can believe you are in the past.”
“All Europe is like that for me,” I tell him, “maybe for all Americans. European streets are stories; they are dreams.” 
“For you?”
“For me, certainly, for me.”
“Do you like Italy?”
“I love Italy.”
“Why? What do you love about Italy?” He settles back, his arms folded across his chest, a warm glint in his eye. “I uomini,” I should say, “The men,” I don’t think to say it. Flirtation is far from my thoughts; he has asked the question I was working out in my sleep. I am leaving Italy and, with all my heart, and longing, I love what I am leaving.
“I have to think.”
“If you have to think, you don’t like anything.”
“No. It’s a language problem. I don’t know how to say it.”
“Say it in English, then.”
“No, just wait. I can do this, I can tell you in Italian.”

I don’t like to cross over into the confusing twilight of English that doesn’t belong here. I love my language, sure, but Italian streets–and certainly this day — do not reflect the crushed, rebuilt, borrowed sounds of English, the sliding of syllables into silence. Even constrained by my limited vocabulary and primitive grammar, I have been more in Italy by speaking Italian. Of this day in particular I want every small moment that remains of Venice, my nostalgic espresso in honor of a beloved, now dead, friend, Pietro, beneath the Lion at Piazza San Marco, the changing evocative light above canals, the tourists like strings of bright Venetian beads dragged by destinations across the Rialto Bridge. The only English I’ve heard or spoken all day was but an echo of Goethe; “Please, can you take our photo?” “With pleasure,” I answered, and photographed a honeymooning German couple. Still, I don’t know how I will be able to answer this man’s question or frame my rather complex notion in my Italian baby talk. 

He waits, nervous.

“Ah,” I say, “Posso. Mi piace che in italia la vita classica vive insieme della energia moderna.”
He stares, surprised, then, “Bello. Profondo.
“What do you do? You are not an ordinary person.”
“Sure. I’m ordinary.”
“No. Ordinary people do not say things like ‘The classical life lives together with the modern energy’. That is extraordinary. What do you do?”
I think, only a moment, “I am a writer.”
“What do you write? Romances, stories about love?”
“No, no, that doesn’t interest me.”
“Oh, no. Historical fiction.”
“Ah, that’s why you would be aware of that, the classical life, you would look for it here.”
“I guess so.”
“Are you stopping in Milano?”
“Yes. I’m staying with some friends.”
“How long will you be in Milano?”
“Only one day more. I go back day after tomorrow.”
He looks at me intently. “A pity.”
“I think so, too.”

We look away from each other. He looks out the window across the aisle, I through the window next to me. The train keeps its steady movement. I feel his eyes, and see them reflected in the dark window. I turn.

“You can write about this. You can write about this train ride.”

I look at him for a moment. I see my whole story in this compartment on this train. Though I am going home, I should not go home; I realize in the next moment that I never really will.

“I will. I will write this story.”

The featured photo is one I took in 2000 as I wandered the backstreets of Venice, looking for a real story, distancing myself from my bewildered heart. 

“Tell Us a Film, Teacher.”

In Guangzhou, on those long, dreary, cold, rainy evenings in the apartment I shared with my ex and Tex the indomitable cockroach, it was not unusual for a group of students to stop by for “coaching.”

I don’t think it was about “coaching.” I think it was about long, dreary, cold, rainy evenings in the dormitory (or as they said with their British accents, “dormitree”.) Our apartment had a couple of advantages, mostly space. But we had a television and it was amazing how stressed students could become about their studies when there was a soccer game televised or a Shao Lin movie. TVs were somewhat rare throughout China at the time and so were films, especially foreign films.

So, when the night was extremely long, dark, rainy and cold, my students would sometimes say, “Tell us a film, teacher.” I “told” them as many films as I could remember. They learned a lot about Monty Python. By the end of winter, my students could act out this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (and they knew why it was funny 🙂 )

Every time I “told” a film I remembered the Foreign Service Test (that I failed) where the first question was, “What film would you show in the People’s Republic of China?”

I actually learned that answer to that question IN the People’s Republic of China. One night we were invited to the American Consulate to watch an American movie. It was Heaven Can Wait starring Warren Beatty. We went. It was a stupid movie and, I thought, a stupid choice because Heaven, as it’s depicted in that film, is pretty alien to China, as is American football, never mind the LA Rams but OH WELL.

But…we never knew when a movie was going to pop up. One evening we were riding our bicycles home from Guangzhou. We had various routes, and one we liked was through a relatively unpopulated, tree filled agricultural area near what is now the Inner Ring Road. That evening we saw, in a clearing, dozens of People’s Liberation Army soldiers placing benches in rows. A couple of others were hanging a giant canvas on a rope between two trees. Afraid we’d strayed into another forbidden area, we stopped.

“Ni hao!!” said one of the soldiers coming to where we stood with our bikes. “We have Engrish movie! You join us?”

That NEVER happened. We leaned our bikes against a tree and sat down on the bench we were told to sit on. The projector was turned on and the film rolled on both sides of the hanging canvas. The music came up.

It was Roman Polanski’s 1979 film, Tess. A far better choice for China than Heaven Can Wait. The problem (for us) was that it had been dubbed into Guangzhouhua (Cantonese) A beautiful young female voice in Guangzhou is NOT the same as a beautiful young female voice in the English speaking world by a long shot. Tess spoke to us in a Guangzhou opera voice, shrill, high-pitched, and nasal, with exaggerated (even for Cantonese) inflection. We wanted to — but didn’t — laugh.

We sat through the whole film. Afterward there was much “Thank you for sharing our film,” and hand-shaking. As we turned our bikes toward home in the moonlight, China seemed to me a beautiful place filled with sweet and incomprehensible surprises.

Souvenir of China

We’re doing our normal evening things which is very close to nothing. Suddenly, Bear really wants out. I know she doesn’t need out, but she WANTS out.

“What is it, Bear?”


“OK.” I open the back door for her and find the ground is now covered in white. Bear has smelled it, or heard the change that snow makes.

NOTHING makes us happier. Other things make each of us happy, but nothing else makes us ebullient.

It took living in California to teach me that while skiing is GREAT the best part for me is winter itself, snow. I like the cold. I love snow. In the recent “I can’t afford skis” break down, I remembered, again, that running through drifts with your dog is as good as it gets.

In other news (not that any other news matters around here) one of the writers of a blog I follow,  has been staying for a while in my Chinese “home town” of Guangzhou. In one of his posts, he said he wondered how it there was 30 or 40 years ago. As I was there 37 years ago, I shared a description of the place he was writing about. His pictures, commentary and our conversation inspired me to finally spent $70 on a slide digitizer.

I have many, many slides of my year in China and I made a film. The machine will help me digitize all of it. My blogging friend also said, “Maybe a book.” I’ve been thinking about that in the back of my mind, too, and listening to an album that came out the year before I went to China, Jean Michel Jarre’s Concerts in China. I bought this music on a trip to Hong Kong in 1982.

China was a different world in so many ways in the early 80s, but it had also been warped by Maoism into abandoning some of the things which had made China China for thousands of years. It seems that China had lain in wait, a sleeping dragon, beneath all of the Maoist strangeness (strangeness like killing all the sparrows, making steel in the backyard, destroying iconographic images, etc. We won’t talk about killing people right now. Oops. Blew that.)

I’m excited to start the project. I remember only a few of the images. There are a few I separated from the ‘mother ship’ (we’re talking about a Vogon Cargo Vessel of slides) and they became my slide show (who wants to sit through hours of that shit, right?) I have two MacBooks and I’m thinking of dedicated one to the slides. They will need a lot of memory.

If I were to write about it, there would be a few things that would only enchant a person who’d lived through the Cold War, such as flying on Aeroflots, but if I’m any kind of writer, perhaps I can share the enchantment of flying in a plane that does not just go forward, but shakes from side-to-side in flight. Scary, but meanwhile, I remember thinking, “I’m on an Aeroflot! An Aeroflot! Wow!”

In the last few years of teaching, I taught many Chinese students at San Diego State and came very close to running a program for them. The program never took off (unlike the Aeroflots) but it would have been amazing because it would have involved trips to China. The students? Well… Often it was great because I let them know about my own background and they felt more comfortable knowing they were with a professor who had lived in their culture. A couple of times students attempted to use the “Guang Xi” method of earning grades (bribery) but it couldn’t work with me. I had one student from my Chinese Home Town and our interaction was one of the best parts of my last years teaching.

I loved China more than I’ve ever loved anything except maybe the San Luis Valley. It took five years — or more — after I returned to heal that broken heart. I wish I’d stayed, but I had the idea that my marriage mattered (it didn’t) and my ex had hepatitis and couldn’t recover in China, so, at the end of our contract, we came “home.”

To my surprise, home wasn’t home. In China I’d missed the Rocky mountains, but as soon as I saw them, and saw they hadn’t changed while I was in China yearning for them, I regretted my return. It would never matter to the mountains how long I was away. Whenever I came back they would be here.

One of the things I brought back with me was a carpet, 2 m x 3 m. I bought it at the one export store in Guangzhou, a store next to the Bai Yun Hotel, one of three foreigner’s hotels in Guangzhou when I left. I spent my first night in China in this hotel, my first meal was there (joak, a kind of rice gruel), my first night’s sleep. The rug was wrapped and delivered to our apartment where it stayed wrapped for months, until it was time for us to return to America. I carried it on my shoulder through the airports in Guangzhou and Shanghai. It was nearly left on top of a baggage cart at the Las Vegas Airport when we changed planes from San Francisco to Billing, MT where my mom lived. I saw the car begin to pull away from the plane and I went apeshit.

It was like a movie. The stewardess came running to appease the crazy lady.

“It’s all right. We’ll send it on the next plane.”

“No you won’t,” I said. “Either it goes with me or I get off.”

My getting off would be a worse hassle for them than getting my carpet. They called the baggage guy and he came back the 15 or so feet and loaded the carpet.

Now that I think of it, the first night I spent in my Chinese apartment, looking out over the fields of the agricultural college that was behind my college, at the water buffalo in his shelter, at the mountain beyond, in the soft light of the tropical sunset, knowing I was finally there, on the brink of a great adventure — that was every bit as good as snow.

The Season

Frost per se is pretty rare here unless we get fog and that will coat every small branch, every wire on a fence, every stuck tumbleweed in crystalline magic. This is a high desert and usually there’s not enough humidity for frost to get a decent chance. When it does, it’s most beautiful on top of snow, making sharp small prisms. If we have a few very cold days in a row, the prisms grow, and it seems they will last forever.

It’s a cloudy morning here in the back of beyond, and I have company coming. Snow is in the forecast (from 4 pm to 5 pm) but it’s snowing in the San Juan Mountains so Wolf Creek Ski Area is getting a fresh dusting. That seems to be winter in the real west. Nothing happens, no one I care about is driving, until someone needs to go to the hospital or I have guests, then it snows. 

I knew that when I moved here. 

Yesterday we had a little tea party. One of my friends is facing some tough stuff and the tea party was a way — our way, I guess — of letting her know that we’re here and care very much. I think she probably felt that. I hope so. Messages like that are conveyed in offers of help and willingness to drive. It’s an oblique language that tries to say, “I’m really sorry you have to go through all this. I hope it’s over soon and that everything turns out well, but now it’s hard and we’ll do whatever we can to make it easier.”

The thing is, no one can really DO anything except be willing to do whatever we can when the moment arises. 

Meanwhile life everywhere goes on. Life this weekend in my town means Christmas. Tomorrow we have a pancake breakfast, visits with Santa, a craft fair, caroling, a parade and fireworks. My guests will be coming down to partake in the wonder of it all and I will be very happy to see them. Bailey — my short-term golden retriever — will be coming with them for a visit as will Reina, a brilliant Australian shepherd who used to be my dog. 

As they drive west over the pass, my neighbors will be driving east toward some of the difficulties they are now facing. I wish them all — and everyone else — safe travels. 

Life in Colorado. My friends will be crossing La Veta Pass which is a few miles east of the + sign.

Caran d’Ache

When I moved here four years ago I followed the instructions of every moving company and put my treasures in the car I drove myself. My treasures were Lily, Dusty, and Mindy (dogs), and my art supplies. I especially treasure two sets of Caran d’Ache materials — watercolor pencils and Conte crayons. I know that never in my life would I be able to replace the sets. I don’t use them. I work with a smaller set (40) and I replace each pencil as it wears down. These colors are made in Switzerland.

A long time ago I had a Swiss family. It’s a long story — pretty interesting one — but I’m not telling it here. For a few years, I spent most Christmases in Zürich with them. Often, I was given cash as a present, and one year I went to the Glatt (big shopping center in Wallisellen) and bought a giant sent of watercolor pencils. One year I wasn’t able to go to Zürich, and when my friend returned to California from time with his parents, he gave me my Christmas presents. One was the set of Conte crayons.

I have a set of Caran d’Ache gouache that I used once in a while and a set of oil pastels I’ve never used. So far they haven’t fit my technique.

For me these colors are wonderful in themselves and in the way they connect me to a time in my life that was these colors.

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I like Italy, but I’ve had so many Italian experiences I don’t know where to start or what to write. I don’t know how it happened that Italy and Italians took such a large role in my life, but that’s how it happened.

I’ve been in Italy several times — I haven’t traveled around much as I tend to be more an “intensive” than “extensive” traveler. I like to BE somewhere for a while and get to know it and experience some of daily life. In 2004 I decided to follow Goethe to Verona — the first place on his Italian Journey where he saw an actual Roman ruin. Now that I’ve been around a bit, that seems kind of odd since the Romans were everywhere, but that’s his story and if he likes it, that’s fine.

In Verona is an amphitheater where all the usual bread and circus stuff took place some millennia back, but more recently, at the end of the 19th century, Giuseppe Verdi thought it might be cool to stage his new opera — Aida — in the Arena.

In 2004 I got to hear it and it was really wonderful to be in that place as the sun set and the music came up — the spectacle directed by Franco Zefferelli. I was in Verona for a month, studying Italian and wandering around so I went to see Madame Butterfly, too. For Aida I bought expensive seats. For Madame Butterfly I sat on the sun-warmed marble seats carved carefully for the comfort of ancient Romans. A lot more comfortable and way more fun!


Me Madame Butterfly

Madame Butterfly, Verona Arena, 2004


A storm came up in the last act and they cleared the Arena. As I walked down the steps leading outside, I could really imagine hundreds of ancient Romans leaving some gladitorial rout. Outside, the rain fell gently and I walked back to my apartment, under the fragrant Linden blossoms across the Adige. Thinking of it now, I cannot choose what of all of that was most lovely.

Ghost Ranch

Back in the late 70s I discovered Georgia O’Keefe, learned about her life, sought her paintings and admired her very much. I am no longer that young woman, but I think of Georgia O’Keefe as kind of a hero. She found her place and did her thing. Right now, at 66, I think that’s heroic.

So, when my friend came down with the Airdyne, my new exercise bike from the 1970s in nearly pristine condition WITH racing stripes, we decided to go to Georgia O’Keefe land which is 2 hours and 20 minutes away more or less.



We stopped first in Abiquiu where O’Keefe lived — but her house and the painting exhibit that goes with it wasn’t open. We had a nice lunch and then headed further along to the Ghost Ranch, the setting of many of O’Keefe’s landscapes.



O’Keefe’s Painting and Correlative Landscape




Dormant Cholla Cactus


Honestly, I found it a little odd. Ghost Ranch was originally a dude ranch and now it’s kind of a religious retreat marries tourist attraction, but it was beautiful with many well preserved adobe buildings from the turn of the 19th century.

We drove back to Monte Vista over Cumbres Pass — through some of the Southern San Juan Mountains. There was quite a bit of snow — not for this time of year (it should be much deeper) but it was lovely to drive on a clear and plowed mountain pass with no traffic and snow on the ground. The scenery was amazing. I don’t have photos because I was driving.

I might go back.

And…thanks to the cortisone shot, I walked 1.3 miles without a cane. I went up and down stairs. I kind of ran. I’m beginning to understand on a non-intellectual and more visceral level how repairing this thing is going to be great for me. 🙂 ❤


I’ve Been to Hellnar and Back

A year ago I was in Iceland with a torn-but-healing (but still painful) Achilles tendon, the side-effect of taking the sinister and evil antibiotic, Cipro. The house where my friend and I were staying was nice, but, for me, problematic. It was in the town of Hellnar on the Snæfellsnes peninsula at the foot of the Snæfellsnesjokul, or Snæfellsnes glacier.

The only beds were up these sadistic and space-saving “Norwegian” stairs. Because of my tendon, I could not climb them.


Stairs from Hell

I slept on a makeshift bed I assembled from the lounge end of a sectional sofa and an easy chair.






The plan had been to stay in a comfy house in this national park and ride Icelandic horses and hike.

I pause for a moment of grim laughter.

I discovered I could not mount and dismount the horses and this was required if I were to ride them. I thought I’d just get on in the stable or paddock, ride around and get off when we returned. No. There was a moment when I was in the barn, standing more or less against the back wall, supposedly finding a helmet that fit, when the guide said, “We will be getting on and off the horses several times.” I looked across the crowd of Icelandic horses between me and the exit, wondering if they were as indifferent to the random movements of human beings as I had read. They were.

My friend had a nice ride. I think it was the high point of her journey.

Meanwhile, back at the house, I sat at the kitchen table, watched the sea birds and the wind, and worked on my novel.

My upbringing stood me in good stead in Hellnar. When I was a kid, if I complained, my mom usually answered me with, “You’re going to like it whether you like it or not.” 

All the while we were there, the weather was abysmal — four? Five? days of rain and sleet. The wind blew so hard that the rain “fell” at a 90 degree angle. In this midst of the gray and bleak — which I kind of liked, seeing it as an “authentic Icelandic experience,” I was inspired in a most Herzogian way and decided to make a documentary film. It’s only a minute and a half, but believe me, it seems a LOT longer…


I never saw this volcano or the glacier that covers it except from the airport in Rekjavik as we were leaving. Far, far away, glowing gold and white in the reflected sunlight, the glacier and its mountain laughed at us as we got on the plane to go home.

Orange Juice

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a young woman (me) who was so filled with wanderlust that she (I) got giddy just looking at a map. I had dreams of striding across the world in a pair of Seven League Boots, no, not like the kitty cat, but like Richard Halliburton

My boyfriend at the time had traveled — a lot for a guy his age — and on his own. He was also, as a person, nearly as exotic as anyone could be without being another species altogether. Peter had gone to school in France, had traveled in Italy, Morocco and Tunisia. He spoke French and Italian fluently, graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard, and dreamed of being a writer.

One evening, before we went out, he introduced me to Campari Soda, with a twist. “Not a squeeze, a twist.” He was emphatic.

The drink was beautiful, bubbly, a perfect shade of alizarin crimson. The afternoon light shone through the glass.

“Try it. Lots of Americans don’t like it.”

I tried it. I loved it.

“Do you find it bitter?”

I did, but that was good. I was a fan of Vernors Bitter Lemon, for godssakes. I thought of Stephen Crane (it was grad school, I was studying literature). “Makes me think of Stephen Crane,” I said.


“Never mind.”

“No, what?”

“A poem.”

“Are you sure,” he said, “that American literature IS literature? How can you know that you’re thinking of an actual poem?” He grinned. We were steeped in academia and both of us knew it was bogus. Whether America HAD a real literature was still disputed by some (non-American) scholars who argued America hadn’t been around long enough to develop a real culture and, therefore, had no real literature. It was all derivative.

“There’s another drink that’s good. Mix Campari with orange juice. In Italy they call that an Americano because of the obsession Americans have with drinking orange juice every morning.”

Fast forward nearly twenty years. I’m walking up a street in Wallisellen, a small town near Zürich, with a friend. We’ve just been to Co-op, a grocery store. I’m carrying a six pack of liter bottles of orange juice. As we pass windows, store windows, office windows, people wave and nod. In at least one, someone mouths, “American.”



The poem:

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”
Stephen Crane

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

Last evening, looking for distraction from the election, I found myself watching a British art history documentary about Hans Holbein. The “guide” was Waldemar Januszczak, not my favorite art historian (he’s ugly, I’m superficial) and I ended up having one of those strange experiences of seeing a painting on television that I saw in real life in a city I visited but barely remember. The show is “Holbein; the Eye of the Tudors” and this is the painting:


Christ in the Tomb, Hans Holbein, Basel Art Museum

I was on a search that day for anything medieval and related to St. Gall. One of the doorways of the Basel cathedral is called the “Gallus Portal” because it is medieval and the carvings all around it tell the life of St. Gall, Switzerland’s patron saint who also happens to have been an Irishman.


Gallus Portal, Basel Cathedral

I was barely tuned into the fact that Nietzsche had lived in that city for quite a while and a person I had studied at some point in my education, Erasmus of Rotterdam, had also lived there. I didn’t know then that I would come to admire Erasmus very much; I didn’t know then his connection to Thomas More who is, allegedly, someone in the dim recesses of my family tree.

So there I was last night watching this strange chubby loud Waldemar Januszczak make (to me) gratuitous pop culture allusions to tie his viewers to the not-so-arcane history of the Reformation. As the show unfolded, I discovered that Waldemar Januszczak and I had some biases in common. Waldemar hated the Reformers for one of the same reasons I do; they sacked the churches, destroyed the art, and left them barren. What Waldemar had failed to research is that it was not Luther who reformed Basel; it became part of the Swiss Reformed Church — a reform movement begun in Zürich by Huldrych Zwingli and instituted in Basel by Zwingli’s friend, Johannes Oecolampadius These guys were not sympathetic with Martin Luther at all… They were distinct reformations with distinct doctrinal differences. Luther and Zwingli passionately disliked each other.

I wondered if it were so hard to do that research and get that right? The most common reader review of The Brothers Path is that the readers know nothing about this part of the Reformation. Some are interested by it; most are bORed. Many reviewers admit to skipping over the “God” bits. This would be most of the book since it’s about a religious revolution and one of the main characters is a priest turned reformed pastor, another is a religious fanatic and another a simple man of faith. For that matter, we have the Zürich reformation to thank for John Calvin, from whose religious philosophy many of the Protestant religions were born — Presbyterians, for one. I pretty much hate that stuff, but I’ve written about it, sympathetically, I hope. It seemed — seems — important to know where it came from, what world and why. ANY-hoo…

Waldemar made some important points, such as for a guy like Hans Holbein whose bread-and-butter was religious art, the Reformation wasn’t the best historical moment.

And swirling all around the beginning of “Hans Holbein; the Eye of the Tudors” was Basel. The cathedral. The day I visited it in 1997 it was January, a snowy day, and we entered the front doors and a silent man with sparkly eyes swept the snow from our clothing and handed us felt slippers to put over our shoes. We walked around the dim, red stone church. I felt its ancient solemnity; I did not notice (and wish I had) the defaced sculptures on the walls. Thanks to Waldemar Januszczak, I saw them last night. That wintry day I also noticed the tomb of Erasmus. A tiny bell far in the distance of my mind rang softly and when I got home, I checked out In Praise of Folly and read it, this time really, not just for a test in some obscure class. The book was in Latin and English.

Hans Holbein loved In Praise of Folly and drew whimsical illustrations in the margin. I got a bit annoyed with Waldemar  when he didn’t seem to realize that was pretty conventional behavior; perhaps Waldemar had never seen a medieval illustrated manuscript? That was — to my eyes — what Holbein had done, simply finished the book. After all, printing was new in the early 16th century.

So what’s the point?

At the end of the show, Waldemar spent time on one important and amazing painting, The Ambassadors.


Holbein died of the plague when he was in his mid-forties bringing home, again, the point that “art is long, life is fleeting.” The things which concern us today, frighten us today, will soon be forgotten completely and someday, a few hundred years from now, someone will comment on the events that have concerned Americans so much this past year. It will be a passing footnote in a longer story.

And he will get the facts wrong and most people will not even notice.