Sunday, August 30, 2020

2020 Minnesota State Fair Fine Art Exhibit

The Exhibit that almost wasn’t.

Due to the pandemic crisis most of the activities of the fair have been curtailed. One that was rescued from Covid-limbo was the Fine Arts Exhibit. It was held in the same hall with the same entry requirements but was now a ticketed event with a limited number of admissions per 90 minute block of time. We went on opening Friday night; there was a ton of space available for social distancing. I did manage to recognize a couple of people with their masks on so there were some opportunities to interact (albeit at 6 feet away.) This year there were several works which referenced George Floyd and the riots that ensued from his murder.

The painting was, as usual, the most imposing type of art work. It seemed to come in three broad categories: Paintings done from photos, homages to historical styles, and embarrassing. There were some very fine entries, however, here is a fine example of Trompe-l’œil from Preston Lawing:


A work in a different medium that caught my attention was Tamsin Barlow’s lino print Near Rochester. In this photo-shopped age it was a pleasant surprise to see a clean and elegant black and white image.

In photography it seems that there are about four main types: Cell-phone pictures, dramatic portraits, street photography, plus the usual nature and wildlife clichés. Some people send in the same kid of work year after year—I can even tell who shot it before I read the label (I’m looking at you, Shelly Mosman and Amy Ballinger.)

The sculpture is usually the only group that has a sense of humor. This year was an exception, I wasn’t as “wowed” as I have been in previous years. Textiles and fabrics are always quirky but I was not that impressed. Ceramics and glass left me unmoved as well.

There was, however, something new under the sun. Michelle Mildred had done what she call a “digital painting” on an iPad which was then transferred to canvas. Very strong in its sense of design, it was beautifully executed, although it did remind me of 1970s record album art:


All in all, this year’s exhibit was certainly better than nothing. It’s been 47 years since the first time I had an entry in the Fair, to be in again was a kick. There were a couple of other old-timers from that group in the show this year: Joyce Lyon and Rod Massey!

You can view the entire catalog here.

You can get a trippy virtual tour of the exhibition here.

I’ll post some previous State Fair “greatest hits” photos Wednesday to get back into a State Fair Mindset.

See all of my Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts posts here.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 4 

Friday, August 28, 2020


This is chapter 36 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Monday Morning, August 3, 2020, Seattle

“I dreamed about Jo last night,” said Mareka, “I dreamed that she was in a dark cloud, and I huffed and puffed and the cloud went away. Do you think I cured her? Should we call her?”

Mary smiled as she looked at her daughter over the breakfast table.

“Let’s let Jo sleep in today, she’ll call us if she is feeling better. Speaking of feelings, how are you doing? Let me touch you,” said Mary as she felt her daughter’s forehead, “Feels good. Let me know if you feel hot or achy.”

Sean came in holding a sheaf of printouts.

“I’ve done a voice to text conversion of the conversations we had about Emily’s paintings the other night,” he said, “I’m tempted to just send them en masse to the editor. You were channeling Emily, weren’t you, Kiddo?”

“I guess so! It just comes out,” Mareka said, between bites of cereal, “I dreamed I cured Jo last night.”

“She hasn’t called yet, we won’t know if Mareka is a heal—”

Mary was interrupted by her phone. I was Jo.

“Hey, how are you doing?” asked Mary, “We were just talking about you.”

“The fever broke last night,” said Jo, “I’m feeling 100% better.”

Sean and Mary looked at Mareka, who was still busy with her breakfast.

In the apartment above the Khorosho Tavern, the two Russian agents were wrapping up their analysis of the contents of Barbara Merrit’s computer and hard drive.

“She really is a nut-case, isn’t she?”

“Outside of the images from DuPage, nothing of what she’s got has any basis in fact. She certainly doesn’t know anything about our activities. I’m recommending that we deactivate the investigation.”

“Should I turn off the tracer I installed in her laptop as well?”

”No, let it run, it may prove useful, we can check it from time to time.”

“Will do.”

Barbara Merrit was still confused about her ‘lost night.’ She had gone through her notebooks and daily planner. There was a gap in her memory from the previous Friday until she woke up on Saturday. She was going through her things for the umpteenth time when her land line phone rang. The caller ID read: M.DUPAGE.

“Hello Marcel. What do you have for me?” Barbara found that when dealing with Marcel it was better to cut to the chase to avoid his flowery chit-chat.

“I've found them.”

“Found who?”

“Sean and Mary, and their daughter.”

“Well they have to have been somewhere,” said Barbara, “Why is that important?”

“The so-called nanny, Jo Sanford, is living with them in North Seattle.”

“So their old ménage à trois is still intact?” said Barbara, “What about the mystery woman, AKA Emily Carroll?”

“I spoke with Jo last week, she was evidently hiding something.”

“What? What was she hiding?” Barbara’s patience with Marcel was beginning to show, she waited for a reply then said, “What do you have for me that I can use?”

“There’s no need to get mad at me, I’m only trying to help.”

“I’m sorry, Marcel, I’ve had a tough week-end. I think I may have been drugged.”

“Like the dude in The Big Lebowski? Maybe you should go to classier parties; I can discreetly fulfill your most demanding desires.”

“Good-bye Marcel,” Barbara said as she hung the phone up with a resolute slam in its cradle.

The Big Lebowski, hmpf,” she snorted, “And who does he think he is, he’s almost old enough to be my father, my grandfather, for chrissakes.”

Looking down at her phone and the notepad lying next to it, Barbara Merrit had a strange feeling. She got a pencil from the drawer and began to carefully shade the notebook’s top sheet. “Just like The Dude and Jackie Treehorn,” she thought. The graphite revealed a place name and an address: Khorosho Tavern 12548 Lake City Way NE.

Now, finally, she had a clue that she could use to begin to solve the mystery of her lost week-end.

Next Chapter: School Days

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, August 26, 2020


Via Safety Sign Generator

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, August 24, 2020

Marlene Mania

The Blue Angel
Shanghai Express
Blonde Venus
The Scarlett Empress
The Devil is a Woman

Films directed by Josef Von Sternberg
Starring Marlene Dietrich

Destry Rides Again

Directed by George Marshall
Starring Marlene Dietrich

Whew! My summer binge-watch this year included 8 films from the 1930s starring Marlene Dietrich. Most of them were directed by Josef Von Sternberg, who came from Germany with Marlene after directing The Blue Angel, a tragedy centered on Immanuel Rath (played by Emil Jannings) who is a professor who becomes infatuated with Lola Lola, a showgirl. Dietrich’s portrayal of the heartless performer was the start of a series of roles where her character is outside of the societal norms for her gender. Her classic “look” had not quite been defined yet, her appearance is softer and the penciled eyebrows have yet to appear. there is nothing soft about Lola’s humiliation of Immanuel, however.

In her first Hollywood release, Morocco, Marlene is once again a nightclub entertainer, Amy Jolly, sporting a full tux and tails in a provocative revue that catches the eye of Gary Cooper who is a wayward French Foreign Legionnaire. Although there is little chemistry between the leads, the impressionist directing style offers a lot of set-pieces that are more like tableaux than proper movie scenes. Von Sternberg is a master of lighting and his treatment of Dietrich borders on obsession. The ending of the film, where independent Amy leaves her freedom behind to follow Cooper is somewhat jarring although adapted from a true story.

Dishonored is an completely different type of movie. Marlene plays a WWI prostitute who is coerced into becoming a spy. Loosely based on Mata Hari, her character has no sentimentality whatsoever, but does fall for a Russian spy who recognizes the amorality of both of their lives. Marlene goes undercover as a maid, the transformation is so convincing it took me a while to realize it was the same actress!
Marlene’s spy is eventually caught aiding her lover’s escape. Threatened with execution, her only regret is that she liked “serving her countrymen” more than “serving her country”. A harrowing finale ends with her maintaining her defiance.

Shanghai Express is set in China in the 30s, Marlene is “Shanghai Lily” a high class courtesan who is stuck on a train that is hijacked by revolutionaries. She befriends Hui Fei (Anna May Wong) who is another woman of ill repute. The intrigue is thick and several westerners are involved in various sub-plots. Critics called it:  “… a riotous exercise in excess in every area; the visuals are overpowering and sumptuous; the costumes ornate and extravagant; the sets a riot of fabrics, light and space; and all of it captured in the most delectable black-and-white cinematography that one can find anywhere.” It is one of the more watchable Sternberg films.

Blonde Venus was taken from a story by Dietrich herself. It is a melodrama, Helen Faraday becomes a courtesan to raise money for a medical treatment for her ailing husband. He recovers and rejects her, Helen hits the road with her son until her husband manages to find them. She returns to show business and becomes a success, finally reconciling with her husband. This is a much more realistic film than the others (with the exception of the outlandish nightclub scenes), the U.S. depression’s effects on people is handled with sensitivity. Cary Grant is in it as her sugar daddy, but he hadn’t yet perfected his debonair screen persona.

The Scarlet Empress is completely insane: in its direction, its set and costume design, and overall visual excess. It is the story of how Catherine the Great rose to power in Russia. It starts with the 33-year old Dietrich portraying a teenager with perfect mannerisms and appearance. She travels to Russia to wed the imbecilic Grand Duke Peter III who later becomes emperor. Von Sternberg goes all out with his expressionistic design and lighting, each costume change for Dietrich is more and more outlandish. Her eyebrows become skinnier and her demeanor more haughty until the finale when she leads a charge of dozens of horses up the grand staircase of the palace.

The Devil is a Woman is set in Seville at Carnival time in 1900.

Reportedly Dietrich’s favorite Von Sternberg collaboration, Dietrich becomes almost a mannequin in her heavy make-up and extravagant costumes. A very young Caesar Romero becomes infatuated with Choncha at the carnival only to be warned by one of former lovers (in a series of flashbacks) of her unfaithfulness. Susan Sontag thought that the film was the epitome of camp. It is a little hard to watch because of that fact, it gave me the feeling of much ado about nothing.

The final film, Destry Rides Again, is by the American director George Marshall. It is a comic western and was the template for Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. Jimmy Stewart is Destry, a pacifistic lawman hire to help the sheriff of Bottleneck bring order to the frontier community. Dietrich is Frenchy, a saloon singer and accessory to Kent, the saloon owner, and his crimes.Dietrich sings and has a knock-down fight with the wife of one of Kent’s victims. Lots of shooting and action, with Jimmy Stewart slowly winning over a skeptical Frenchy. It is hokey but a lot of fun. The more mature Dietrich appears here, still stunning, and makes a good foil for Jimmy Stewart’s aw-schucks demeanor.

So which one(s) would I recommend? If I were still a user of psychoactive substances, I might pick Scarlet. For sheer entertainment, Destry. For her best acting, I would pick Blonde. Dishonored has some of the pithiest dialog.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Morning After

This is chapter 35 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Saturday Morning, August 1st, 2020, Seattle

Barbara Merrit woke with a start.

The sunlight was streaming through her bedroom window. She was lying on her bed, fully clothed, with the blanket from her couch draped over her. She tried to remember what had happened the night before and how she got home. She got up and looked around her apartment. After a cursory examination everything seemed normal, so she went into her office. Her laptop and iPad were plugged in as usual and the papers she had on her desk were undisturbed. She went into the bathroom and took off her clothes to take a shower. Everything was as it should be. She stepped into the shower and began to wash herself. She noticed a tiny red mark on the inside of her left forearm. “A mosquito bite?” she thought.

After she was done in the bathroom, she went to the kitchen and started making coffee. Next to the coffee pot was her landline phone. She had a momentary feeling that the phone had some relation to her mysterious state. She checked the messaging and the C.I.D. history but both were blank. “That isn’t right,” she thought. The notepad that sat next to the phone was empty as well. Again she got the feeling that the key to the mystery was right in front of her. After she drank some coffee, Barbara went to the living room and got her jacket and purse from the couch. She would sometimes leave it there, but would usually put it away on a hangar in the closet next to the entry. She went through the jacket pockets and found her iPhone and car keys in their regular spots. “Normal,” she thought, “And now for the purse.”

She opened it and began to check its contents.

“This is wrong.” she said out loud.

Mary walked into the kitchen. Sean was drinking coffee and scrolling through his iPad.

“Hi, sleepyhead,“ said Sean, “I didn’t want to wake you. Pleasant dreams, I hope?”

“Don’t ask,” Mary replied, “I love your grandmother, but she can really mess with my mind, even if she’s gone. It’s a good thing that one of us is an early riser… how was Mareka?”

“She seemed chipper,” said Sean, “I think she’s glad that she can contribute. There is a lot of Emily in her.”

“Where is she?”

“She went out to the back yard with a handful of peanuts. She said something about talking to the crows.”

“Any news?” said Mary.

“Still trouble with protestors downtown,” said Sean, “I know it’s shallow of me, but I am glad we aren’t living there anymore.”

“Have you seen Jo yet?”

“Haven’t heard a peep,“ said Sean as he looked out the kitchen window, “Her shades are still drawn.”

Mary’s phone rang, seeing it was Jo, she answered.

“Hi Jo, what’s up?”

“Oh Mary, I’m sick as a dog,” said Jo, “It’s Covid. I can’t smell or taste anything. I’m sorry, I must have picked it up in Spokane. I’m afraid you’ll have to be quarantined again.”

“It’s OK, I’ll tell Mareka to leave you alone,“ said Mary, “Is there anything we can do for you?”

“I’m set for a few days, but I’ll start a shopping list.”

“Take care of yourself, we’ll be here for you.”

Mary hung up and told Sean the news.

“Well, I’ve been expecting that to happen to at least one of us, ever since we were in Iowa,” said Sean, “Do you want to tell Mareka or shall I?”

“I’ll do it,” said Mary, “I’ll sneak out there, I want to eavesdrop on her corvid conversations.”

Mary went out the side garage door and then walked quietly around to the back yard. Mareka was sitting in one of the patio chairs while a large black crow was perched in another. There were peanuts on the patio table between them. Mary stepped forward and “joined in” on their non-verbal communication:
food is life/life is good/help yourself/protect us from eagles/long may you live/there is someone else here/i am the mother of this fledgling/oh mother/you are blood/welcome to our roost/beware there are bad humans all around you/we won't forget your warning/peace be with you/i must fly

The crow then filled his beak with peanuts, gave a quick nod to Mareka, and flew off.

“You can talk crow as well,” said the girl, “So you know it is real.”

“Yes, I know, it’s another family secret. It is good to be friends with the crows for although they can be loud and mean and scary at times, they will always remember kindness,” said Mary. After a pause she said: “Mareka, I have some bad news to tell you.”

“About the crows?”

“No, this is about Jo,” said Mary, “She just called and told me that she is sick from the Covid virus. She will have to be quarantined in her house until she recovers.”

“She isn’t going to the hospital?”

“No, not yet. Hopefully she will recover on her own. You know that this means that we’ll have to quarantine for two weeks as well.”

“Is Jo going to die?”

“I don’t think so, but the virus is unpredictable.”

“What can we do to help her?”

Mary touched Mareka’s cheek.

“Dream. Dream sweet dreams for her, my child.”

In the grimy apartment above the Khorosho Tavern, two Russian agents were busy at a computer workstation.

“This is all that was on Merrit’s computer?“ said the larger of the two men. He was pointing to the jump drive that the other had used to transfer all of Barbara Merrit’s files from her laptop computer.

“Da. The key worked perfectly. She’ll never know that they have been copied,” said the smaller man, “The decrypting should be done in a couple of minutes.”

"You put her to bed, with no funny business?”

“The sedative worked perfectly. She should be awake about now, wondering why she went to bed with her clothes on.”

“And she won’t remember last night?”

“Not a thing.”

Next chapter: Feelings

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Abandonded Dinner Party

Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit I was in the habit of meeting with some of my old high school buddies (every other month) over a meal at a 50s-style grill. Now that that is out of the question, I thought it might be a fun thing to meet outdoors where we could converse with proper social distancing. The pavilion pictured above is in the Anoka Nature Preserve, a pleasant area removed from the hustle and bustle of more congested parks. I sent a feeler out to the organizer of the regular meetings, he couldn’t find enough people interested, my plan came to naught.

Looking at it again, I realized that the thing that probably killed the deal was that the pavilion was 400 yards away from the parking lot. There are too many replaced knees and hips, too many worn out feet from a lifetime of standing, and too much inactivity in general for the guys in the group. It made me realize how fortunate I have been with my health—a 400 yard walk is only a blip compared to my usual perambulations. 

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Art in the Time of Covid

The last time I mentioned the Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Exhibit it was to bemoan its apparent cancellation.

That was then, this is now. The inscrutable powers that be who run the exhibition have come up with a plan: ticket-restricted access, social distancing, a 90 minute maximum and mandatory masks, of course.

So, in light of all these developments, Saturday found me at the Fine Arts Building on the Fairgrounds, delivering my magnum opus, Bubble World:

Full report on the exhibit August 31.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Judgement Day

This is chapter 34 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Thursday Evening, July 31, 2020, Seattle

With dinner completed, Sean, Mary, Mareka and Jo resumed their evaluations of Sean’s grandmother Emily’s art. Having already gone through the sketchbooks and drawings, the group turned its attention to the ‘spirit paintings’. Sean had set up an easel with soft light shining upon it to bring out the detail.

“Emily told me that she used the making of these paintings as a way to deal with the inner worlds that she she would visit,” said Sean, “She also said that they would be different each time, that there was no theme to them. In light of that, it seems to me that the best way to judge them would be on our first impressions. I’ll record what we say, if that’s OK with everyone?” With nods of affirmation all around, Sean unwrapped the pile.

“This is like a dream,” said Mareka after Sean had put up the first one, “I’m liking it.”

“I can’t compare it to anything I’ve ever seen before,” said Jo, “How are we going to be able to choose?”

“Put that one in the ‘look at again’ pile,” said Mary, “Let’s see some more.”

Sean proceeded to go through the paintings: some were chosen to go in the ‘best’ pile, an equal number made the ‘look at again’ stack, but most were put aside. When he came to a painting that featured a stylized deer skull with antlers Mareka said: “Stop!”

The adults turned to look at the child. Mareka sat very still with her mouth and eyes wide open. She shuddered and then began to speak in a monotone voice:

“I have been with you since the dawn of time in the misty birth of life on earth, the rise and fall of the oceans and continents, of creatures great and small, through eons of swamps and centuries of ice. You seek me out now, now that the world is in turmoil and the horsemen of the apocalypse ride again. I will show you many signs and wonders, the creatures of the seas, earth and sky will join the enlightened in response to the injustices of the oppressors.”

It was now the time for the adults to open their eyes and mouth wide. Mareka shuddered once more before transforming back into the child they knew.

“I’ll take that as a vote to save,” said Mary, “Are you all right, dear?”

“Something happened, didn’t it?” said the child, smiling, “I feel good.”

Barbara Merrit re-checked the address of the restaurant that the anonymous caller had given her. It was north of downtown, out on Lake City Way, in a part of Seattle that she was unfamiliar with. The caller had told her that he had some ‘interesting’ information on Sean Carroll, some information that she would find very useful for her book.

“It can’t be any worst than dealing with that DuPage lunatic,” she thought as she drove up to the designated rendezvous point, “And that worked out.”

The Khorosho Tavern had widely-spaced sidewalk tables under a canopy that flanked its doorway. Barbara donned her mask, left her car and walked up to the ‘Wait Here For Service’ sign. A masked woman came out of the restaurant and asked if she had a reservation.

“I'm Barbara Merrit,” she said, “I’m here to meet someone.”

The woman nodded as said; “Follow Me.”

Barbara wished that she could sit outdoors. Her level of apprehension began to climb as she followed the host through the dark restaurant. While the bar stools had been removed and there were plexiglass shields in place on the bar, the restaurant itself seemed normal enough except for the ropes that blocked access to every other booth. Her level of alarm ratcheted higher when the woman indicated that she was to go through a doorway at the end of a dark hallway in the rear of the establishment.

“Your party is waiting inside.”

If the restaurant was dark, this room was almost pitch-black with a cheesy LED tealight as the only illumination. Her would-be dinner partner was wearing a black mask and sat on the far side of the table.  A drink menu on a stand further diminished the feeble lamp’s output in the man’s direction.

“Please, sit down,” said the shadowy figure. His speech was precise, as if he were overcompensating his enunciation in an attempt to hide his accent, “May I get you a drink?”

Attract more flies with honey than vinegar,” thought Barbara, “Of course. A dirty martini. Made with vodka, of course.”

“Of course. Excellent choice, Nadia will get that for Ms Merrit, and a vodka for me—neat—if you would be so kind.”

Barbara hadn’t noticed that a server had come in behind her. Barbara made an attempt to speak, but was hushed. “We drink first, then talk,” said the man. As Barbara’s eyes adjusted to the gloom, she could see that the man had an impressive physique, she thought he might be a weightlifter. His hair was black and wavy and his eyes revealed nothing. They sat in silence until the drinks came.

“Будем здоровы!” said the man as he raised his glass.

“Cheers!” Barbara replied as she held her glass aloft.

They drank, the man downed his in a gulp while Barbara sipped hers at first and then, finding it delicious, quickly drank the rest down.

“Now we talk,” said the man, “We share an interest in Mr. Carroll, is it not so?”

“Indeed. He and his wife have been getting away with murder, to put it bluntly.”

“We have been watching Mr. Carroll for many years,” replied the man, “Perhaps murder is not the right word, but it does seem as if death follows him.”

Barbara began to feel drowsy. She tried to form a question but the words wouldn’t come.

“‘Scuse me, m workn sos mah lately, I… ” said Barbara, collapsing onto the table.

The man got up, picked up Barbara’s purse and went to the door.

“Sergey,” he said and was immediately joined by a large man dressed in black, “Here are her keys, her car is in front, find it with the fob. Drive it around to the back door and then come in and help me put her in.”


A few minutes later the back door opened and Sergey came in. They carried the unconscious Barbara to the vehicle.

“Put her down in the back,” said the man, “Ms Merrit is going for a little ride.”

Next chapter: The Morning After

By Professor Batty

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

She Made a Difference

Sometimes it seems as if I'm always saying goodbye.

This is truly a sad day.

Yesterday Auður Ösp, creator and proprietor of I ♥ Reykjavík, announced the closure of her popular Icelandic tourism web site. Another casualty of Covid-19, her business vanished in a single day when restrictions went into effect in March. She had been soldiering on and when the restrictions were partially lifted last month some work began trickling in again. Now that they have been re-tightened she has decided to finally throw in the towel. She is still young enough to pursue a different career with advantage of having run a successful business for many years.

It is also another final chapter of an era in my life. In the sixteen years since I began following her (and other Icelandic bloggers) in 2004 there have been several “revolutions” in the internet. Blogs, once trendy, now seem to be an anachronism from a bygone age (which is also a good description of me)—quaint and naive—replaced by Facebook, Twitter, ruthless commercial web sites and depressing news feeds. One constant throughout these often bewildering changes has been, for me at least, Auður’s openness and integrity in promoting Iceland in both nature and culture. The seeds she has planted with her various on-line and personal efforts have grown into beautiful flowers appreciated by thousands around the world. The discovery of Icelandic culture has been one of the best things to happen to me in my life; many of those discoveries  were triggered by her writing.

I still have a gift card for I ♥ Reykjavík that I won’t be able to use. I told her to donate the money to a worthwhile Icelandic cause; Iceland has given me so much that I can never repay the debt. Given the current realities, it seems that I won’t be returning to Iceland anytime soon and I’m getting to an age where foreign travel is becoming more intimidating.

Good luck Auður, in all you do, you have made my world a better place.

Image: I ♥ Reykjavík

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Waiting at the Station - 1973

London, 1973

After being initiated in the druidic mysteries during a visit to Stonehenge, I took the tour bus back to Salisbury and then caught the train back to London. Earlier my traveling companion, who disdained such new-age foolishness, had abandoned me at the Cathedral in Salisbury and had returned to London and was sitting on a bench in the Waterloo station. She was evidently learning a bit about modern British culture from a solicitous middle-aged ponce eager to help her experience another kind of initiation. She was flattered by his attention and seemed pleased that I had arrived in time to witness it.

Our relationship on the rest of the trip could be described as cool and damp, a perfect match for the dismal English weather. After we returned to the states we managed to patch things up a bit and stayed together for another two years when the charade mercifully ended. Looking back on it now (nearly half a century of hindsight!) it would have been better to break it off then, for both of us. She went on to law school (Harvard) wheras I went on to the school of hard knocks, majoring in music, minoring in marijuana.

I wonder if she ever did get back to London and if she ever found her British admirer again. I did get back 22 years later with a family in tow. We had a much better time.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Friday, August 07, 2020

Khorosho Horror Show

This is chapter 33 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Thursday Afternoon, July 31, 2020, Seattle

Agent Marchal took his usual seat in the empty Khorosho Tavern.

Nadia, his server and confidant, came over and lowered her mask for a moment to flash him a smile.

“What brings you here on an afternoon?” she said, “The borscht isn’t ready yet.”

“Coffee would be fine,” said Marchal, “And, perhaps, an update on what’s been going around on the Russian grapevine lately.”

“Coffee I can do,” said Nadia, “Gossip, nyet. But stay, have a pirozho with your coffee, and your questions just might be answered.”

“Fair enough, I’ve got all afternoon.”

Nadia left and returned a few minutes later with Marchal’s order. As he began to eat, he heard a man’s voice, metallic and grating, coming from behind him.

“Don’t turn around,” said the man, “And I may answer some of your questions.”

“Agreed,” said Marchal, “I’m not here officially, but there are just a few things that don’t add up. You help me, I may be able to help you sometime further down the road.”

“Of course,” said the voice, “How may I be of service?”

“I’m wondering if you've heard of some action going on in Phoenix, a special car, leased from a Russian dealer, a car that a preacher was found dead in? Perhaps something to do with the Witch Riot of a few weeks ago?”

“Ah, a most unfortunate stroke of bad health for the Reverend. Heart attack, wasn’t it?”

“It appears that it was gas.”

“Ah, indigestion is sometimes a sign of a heart attack, yes?”

“O.K,” Marchal thought he try another approach, “So the so-called witch that the riot was aimed at, perhaps she is of interest?”

“Baba Yaga? Only children believe such nonsense.”

“There was more than one bratvá member at that riot,” said the agent, “Some of Putin’s children, perhaps?”

“Hah. A good joke, yes.”

“Let’s not concern ourselves with specific individuals,“ continued Marchal, “Is there any reason that Russian operatives should be in Seattle at all?”

There was a long pause.

“Let me tell you this, my friend,” said the voice, “There are, as you put it, ‘Russian operatives’ in Seattle. As there are in most of the other major U.S. cities. But you must understand this, they are not in charge of anything. They watch and wait. If a situation develops that could be used to their advantage they become catalysts. A spark here, a well-placed Molotov cocktail there, even a man with an umbrella and a hammer can do a lot of damage. That’s all it takes. It’s all in the game. The U.S. plays it, or used to play it, until Putin got his man into the White House. There is nothing like having an imbecile in charge to bring about the collapse of a program that had been behind one hundred years of anti-Russian activities, to say nothing of the rest of the world.”

“So… there’s nothing personal in these attacks?”

“Who knows? You and me, we just do as we are told, yes?” said the voice, “And the world keeps turning. Now that I’ve told you what I know, what can do for me?”

“I’ll lay off you and your minions if you leave the witch, her husband and their child alone.”

“The eye of Sauron looks elsewhere? That seems like a reasonable exchange. Good bye, my friend.”

Agent Marchal finished eating and went up to the bar to settle his bill.

“No charge today,” said Nadia, “Your friend picked up the tab.”

Sean, Mary, Mareka and Jo were looking at Emily’s artwork. Sean had set up a large makeshift table in the garage. On it there were numerous sketchbooks, drawings and a stack of what Emily called her ‘spirit paintings’. Sean had been asked by his agent to create a book of Emily’s non-canvas art.

“How shall we do this?” said Sean, “How does one even begin to sort through all this stuff?”

“I think that any piece of artwork that strongly appeals to any of us should be set aside, that should hopefully bring it down a little,” said Mary, “Don’t overthink it, whatever catches your attention. We can whittle it down later.”

“How many pieces do you need?” asked Jo.

The agent thought that one hundred would be a good number to shoot for, there are at least three times that many here,” said Sean, “I was thinking of about twenty from the sketchbooks, twenty of the full drawings and the rest would be the ‘spirit paintings’. That should give a good overview of her career.”

“Can I choose, too?” asked Mareka.

“Yes, please do,” said Sean, “It will help us to have some young eyes looking at these, you will see things in them that we wouldn’t otherwise see.”

They spent about an hour looking through the sketchbooks and placing dozens of post-its on numerous pages. The completed sketches took less time to look through—there were far fewer—but they still ended up tagging a couple of dozen.

“Now for the toughies… ” said Sean, “… the spirit paintings.”

It was immediately apparent to Sean that this group would present much more of a challenge. Nightmarish scenes of inky clouds punctured with flashes of iridescent colors were a far cry from Emily’s jazzy line drawings of New York City in the 1920s. These were snapshots of Emily’s personal terra incognita taken on her journeys into the darkest part of her soul.

“Let’s just go through them once—slowly—without saying anything or picking any,” said Sean, “We can take all the time we need with these, no explanations needed.”

“I’m hungry,” said Mary, “Let’s go through them after supper.”

Next chapter: Judgement Day

By Professor Batty

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Whip It!

Lash LaRue, publicity shot, c.1950

It is hard now to imagine how pervasive ‘Westerns’ were in the 20th century.

The books, films, music and television shows set in the American West of the 1800s captured the imagination of generations. What began as escapist literature in the 1880s remained popular, even with major authors such as Charles Portis, Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy contributing to the genre. The idealized American West was always a bit of a con; performers like Buffalo Bill Cody and his traveling troupe brought it to the masses, both in the U.S. and overseas. When movies arrived Westerns became even bigger. Beginning with the first silents and throughout the sound era there were critically acclaimed western dramas as well as hundreds of cheaply made ‘oaters’. When television became big in the fifties Westerns were its staple fare. They reached a peak in the early-to-mid 1960s but, by the end of that decade, they had fizzled out. Only Gunsmoke soldiered on—still popular with the older viewers—until 1975. It had outlasted 30 other TV western series. The Beatles replaced cowboys as cultural heroes for the younger generation, and outer space became the new frontier.

One of the lesser lights of the cowboy cultural constellation was Alfred Larue, a bull-whip wielding hombre who got his start in ‘horse operas’ of the 1930s and, by the late 1940s, was the lead in numerous b-movies. First as Cheyenne Davis and then, simply, as Lash Larue. He was even the ‘star’ of a very successful comic book line that sold millions of copies between 1949 and 1961.

By the late 1950s Lash’s star had dimmed somewhat. He still got supporting roles in television shows but had to supplement his income working fairs and rodeos. I saw him at the Minnesota State Fair sometime around 1960. He didn’t perform on a big stage—he did his act on the bare ground in a fenced-off area of the Midway. Although that might seem a big come-down, his performance still triggered a childlike sense of awe in me. Lash had some hard times later in life but he did manage to straighten himself out.

He was the real deal as were his whip tricks. A major inspiration for the Indiana Jones character,  he tutored Harrison Ford in whip-handling for that role.

He remained respected by his peers until his death in 1996.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, August 03, 2020

Poppy Askham

Art Bicnick, Reykjavík Grapevine

It is becoming increasingly apparent that any visits I may make to Iceland in the foreseeable future will be virtual.

With the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic severely impacting Icelandic tourism there has been a dearth of new cultural content coming from the country compared to years previous. A most notable exception to this dismal trend are the videos from The Reykjavík Grapevine, a local tabloid/website aimed at the tourist trade. Since the crisis began editor-in-chief Valur Grettisson has upped his game with the dozens of videos produced with his staff at various locations in the city and countryside. Special mention must also be made for cameraman Art Bicnick, whose work approaches fine art at times.

Out of all of this activity the presenter who made the strongest impression on me is Poppy Askham, an expat journalist from Bath, England. Her innate charm and pleasant, unhurried delivery in these reports makes for a very naturalistic and engrossing experience. No slouch as a reporter, her video presence has been getting better with each new installment and she has even featured on BBC. Most of Poppy’s video work is on YouTube, where you can follow her development as she morphs from a shy intern into a legitimate media presence. You can also read her news reports on the Grapevine’s home page or at Muck Rack.

UPDATE: Alas, Poppy’s internship is over, but not without a final farewell and a post of  “one in the can.”

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

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