Romulus Doe

"So perish whoever
shall leap over
my battlements."
- Romulus


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Since March 2004
Jos A Bank


Tuesday, July 13, 2004


Only I and other select members of the human population would title their last entry "Goofballs!".

But it quite well embodies what the way this blog has been sliding. That's right. I'm copping out and shutting it down. Technically it's an "indefinite hiatus", but we all know what that means; it acts mostly as a sloppy backdoor in case I ever post one or two words within the next fifteen years. 

Theoretically I could have just let the entire thing die very slowly and have people come up, prod it with a stick, look morose, and slouch away. Not only would that be difficult for me, but it would probably waste seconds of people's lives that could really be put to better use, fixing dryers or shaving your neighbour's dog or what have you.

I'm not listing individual thank yous, because then I would have to live with the additional guilt of singling out people for special treatment and omitting others for whatever reasons, and nobody reads thank yous anyway. Suffice it to say that I'm grateful for and surprised by all the comments and support I've gotten. It's been a decent run; I'm glad people enjoyed reading what I wrote. I even like a few things I've written here myself.

I'll be sticking around to read, but I doubt I'll write any longer. The blog itself will stay up to remain a nuisance to Blogdrive, to preserve what work I've put into the layout and content, and to be a testament to my former virility. Literary Viagra ... now there's a thought ...  

So thanks for coming out, everyone, and good night.

Posted at 13:37


Monday, July 12, 2004

Art of the Day XXVIV

Johannes Vermeer's "The Art of Painting"

The tranquil, peaceful atmosphere of "The Art of Painting" is steeped in intimacy. Its participants are so skilled in losing themselves in their professional tasks -- model and artist -- that they seemed to have become unaware of the rest of the world. The viewer is torn, simultaneously feeling guilt -- for intruding on such a private scene -- and yet also pleasure, for having been able to witness simple, masterful beauty. The perspective chosen only adds to this voyeuristic effect -- a drawn curtain, so close that it ends out of frame, as if it were your hand that pulled the cloth back, in your enchantment by the girl's serene expression and graceful stance.

She is bathed in the brightest light; your eye cannot help but jump to her immediately. The artist is a contrast; he is smartly dressed but larger and stouter, his seat planted matter-of-factly on a stool, and lets his legs splay for comfort, too deeply concentrated to sacrifice function for form.

He is absorbed by his model, but not because of who she is, but what she is. Even though his face cannot be seen, it's easily told that it must be a mask of concentration -- not on her, per se, but the interplay of light in her hair and garland, the crisp folds of her dress, and the glint of her earring, shadowed by the turn of her cheek.

Gentle, golden light permeates the room -- an element for which Vermeer is particularly famous. The arrangement of a model before a window is often used by him, to great effect (two other of his windows are shown here and here, painted with jewel-like colours). His scenes are simple; what drama is in his paintings lies not with the subject matter, but in the way he executes their illustration. Even though this room is actually quite cluttered with things and patterns, the picture is pulled together by a muted but somehow still brilliant palette, and an amazingly clean brushstroke.

Except for perhaps the model's too-round face, Vermeer has made it so that if I reached out, I really do believe that I could lay my fingers on anything in the room and feel its actual texture. The map on the back wall, for instance, has been so realistically rendered that it's almost photographic; if I put my hand on it, the visual illusion makes me believe that I am touching parchment, heavy and soft, cracked by age.

I admit, I never had much of an interest in Dutch (or Flemish) art; I'm a bit ashamed to say it took a Hollywood movie, Girl with a Pearl Earring -- undoubtably Vermeer's most famous painting now -- to get me to take a closer look at his work. The flick's prettily shot, but in the end dull. Pick up the novel if you can; it's a much richer, subtler story between pages.  

Posted at 23:48
Comments (3) |


Thursday, July 08, 2004

Art of the Day XXVIII

Jules Bastien-Lepage's "Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt"

Painted in 1879, "Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt" won its artist, Jules Bastien-Lepage, the Legion of Honour, an order of merit bestowed by the French government, and the country's highest civilian honour.

At first glance, your eyes immediately leap to Bernhardt's head, the clearest, most crisp portion of the painting, singled out also for the shock of frizzly auburn hair.

Much of the picture looks very soft, its brushstrokes almost impressionistic. But in fact, Bastien-Lepage has imbued his painting with incredibly fine and intricate details; you only need to look at her clothing ... the skirt of her dress patterned with velvet, flower-like leaves; sleeves like swan's feathers; soft ivory-white fur; and the large puff of bluish tulle at her throat. Everywhere are multiple nuances of elegant colour; the background is a mishmash of muted pastels and neutrals, and the whites are never quite whites, but mixes of blue, yellow, grey, and pink.

I knew little of Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) when I first viewed this painting. Even then, she looked to me, though decked out in delicate feminine finery, like a woman who had her own way, who was bold, slightly eccentric and unwieldy when confronted by society. She seems entranced by the statue she holds -- something that seems she only just picked up on a whim, needing distraction -- admiring it with a strange peace, a contradiction of her sprightly, upright posture.

Said to be the greatest actress of her day, Bernhardt was also a painter, a sculptor, the founder of her own theatre in Paris, and a cocaine addict. Occupied by thoughts of death, she sometimes slept in a coffin purchased when she was fifteen, lost her right leg in an amputation, and once asked Oscar Wilde to write a play for her (that being Salome). A personality, for certain.

Posted at 01:20
Comments (2) |


Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Art of the Day XXVII

What can I say? Ang is an influential woman. And Dave's a pestering puer.

Today's piece relates to AotD XXII (a mere five entries ago stretching back to March 22), when Virgil-fanboy Dante teamed up with his idol to take a jaunt through the circles of Hell (much like today's youth trashing a hotel room with, say, God, uh, the White, uh, Stripes, yeah -- woo, I'm so hip and with it!). This evening I present:
William Bourguereau's Dante and Virgil in Hell

If I had to pick one word to differ Bourguereau's illustration from Art Scheffer's: kinkier.

First, that's quite some manflesh going on there -- all nekkid, taut, and toned.

Second -- especially when compared to Francesa de Rimini and her Paolo's demure and romantic embrace -- Bourguereau's pair is locked in a much more dynamic and aggressive grip. Red Hair is driving his knee the small of Swarthy's back (ouch!), wrenching Swarthy's arm from its socket, sucking Swarthy's blood, while finally trying to carve Swarthy a new tattoo. Swarthy fights back by pulling on Red Hair's ear and screaming. It's a dynamic tableau.

'Course, initially I thought maybe this was a loving gay couple engaged in a little bout of S&M gone slightly awry when one partner became just a trifle overenthusiastic. But they are in fact just a few more of Hell's kooky inhabitants that Virgil and Dante encounter during their journey. Note just off the top centre of the scene, a freaky winged man-thing swoops down to leer.

Red Hair, if you look closely, is in fact a demon. Let's face it, goat ears are never indicative of a Heaven-approved genetic profile. Swarthy just looks like a poor soul, but then again, if he's in Hell, he's done something to deserve it. Then again, he may have died in a time when eating pork on Monday earned you a one-way ticket to Lucifer's bower.

In near-complete shadow are Virgil and Dante, and though turned away, keep their eyes on the scene. There's just something too irresistible about two nude men engaged in a violent wrestling match, am I right? No, don't agree.

Posted at 00:13
Comments (1) |


Sunday, July 04, 2004

Education at Edo

My titles just keep getting worse and worse. How do newspaper editors do it?

The clever ones among you would snicker and say, "Just like other people, I'm guessing..." But getting on with it ...

Everyone knows that movies have the ability to bring a lump to one's throat and spring warm tears to one's eyes, toying with the heart and soul. They don't register much, however, when it comes to exciting the brain.

Teacher today is The Last Samurai.

I learned from The Last Samurai that:
  • You can easily learn every complexity of an incredibly foreign language (in that English is much more different from Japanese than it is from French) just by living with natives for a short period and without being taught in your own native language.

  • Scruffy facial hair indicates you're drunk and disgruntled with the world.

  • The man you slaughtered in battle will invariably be your size, so his armour will fit you perfectly.

  • 'Course, you're pretty short, so ...

  • Despite the fact you killed the aforementioned man, his beautiful, delicate Japanese wife will fall in love with you. This is also despite that you are a member of the loathed foreigners who have invaded her homeland and threaten her people's very way of life.  

  • Foreign societies have very high regard for the English language and will always make special efforts to learn it. Those of White Western society (henceforth WWS), on the other hand, have no appreciation for their own culture, much less others, and are perpetually ignorant.

  • There will always be one free WWS thinker despite the rest of WWS.

  • This said free thinker has an innate understanding and sensitivity to foreign cultures, but only to the aspects that are acceptable to Western society. E.g. If he becomes adopted by an Asian family, he will very likely not condone eating dog. But he will approve every other aspect of their culture that in one or two skewed ways shows up Western deficiencies. These aspects usually demonstrate how they are still in tune with nature and how most of WWS are capitalist pigs for enjoying modern luxuries. Ironically, audiences leave this movie feeling no guilt, but actual self-satisfaction, as though they themselves were not guilty of such indulgences. As they exit the theatre, they stuff their empty popcorn bags and soda cups into an already overflowing trash bin, and dig in their pockets for the keys to their gas-guzzling SUV. Somewhere, a kitten is crying.

  • All foreign cultures have something to teach WWS, but we have nothing to bestow, despite our own lengthy history, stretching back thousands of years, of art, literature, and philosophy.

  • Modern technology is bad. Submission to it breeds an instant desire to destroy small, quaint villages populated by farmers and laughing children.

  • Technology is also an invention of WWS, and we are constantly trying to force it upon those we regard as lacking it. Forget that for a very long time, it was WWS that was the barbaric backwater and that the Middle East and Asia led the forefront in creation and invention.

  • There is always exactly one Non-White Bad Guy, as a flimsy way to cover the filimmakers' asses from accusations of oversimplification.

  • Inevitably, NWBG's sidekick will see the error of his superior's ways and he and the rest of the troops will redeem themselves through some heart-rending but ultimately useless gesture. Somehow I doubt kowtowing will bring back all those dead samurai.

  • The supposedly aloof ruler of the people being taken advantaged of by WSS will also always redeem himself by the end. This comes around through an informal or respectful gesture that is never exercised by a person of such dignity (i.e. here, kneeling in front of Tom Cruise, though in a strictly chaste way). Therefore, it is a Very Meaningful Big Sacrifice on the part of the ruler and and makes up for all past transgressions.

  • The Main Good Guy never dies. Ever. Whatever the impossible circumstances. Not even with machine guns blasting countless rounds of ammo at what should be a huge, easy target, being a man in red armour on a horse on a green field.  He will suffer some meaningless wounds, and also, just to show how dangerous this has been for him, minor cuts and scratches to his valuable face. 

  • Tom Cruise needs to be put down before he makes another movie, and if not then, then definitely before he gets really old and too nasty to contemplate as having been a sex symbol.
The fact I always find amusing is that I missed the first 45 minutes of this movie or so and I still managed to keep up with the story -- not a good sign. Another sad thing is that this would've been a much better movie if it only stayed with the Japanese side of the story, where a nation is torn apart by a need for either balance, or a choice -- to keep pace with the rapidly advancing West and move into the modern world, and/or to maintain its traditions.

Naturally, it would've been simply too boring to focus on just the actual people who are faced by the double threat and blessing of a widespread move towards industrialization, and who have shared the same land and heritage for thousands of years. While yes, WSS is undoubtedly a big player, the story is ultimately about the Japanese people and a momentous but turbulent time in their history. Throwing in Cruise's flashy grin is a terrible insult to what could have been a perfectly poignant and thrilling story without it. 

Spiderman 2 was not bad though (probably due to its blissful freedom from Cruise-ness).

Posted at 00:31
Comments (2) |


Wednesday, June 30, 2004

BMV Update #6.5

I'm seriously weirding myself out by how much space I dedicate to this little store. Someone tell me I'm very creepy and need to let go, so I don't have to do it myself.

Anyway, actually, this isn't really about BMV per se, but it relates vaguely back to it, because whenever I walk inside, I'm always reminded of my lifelong professional dream of running a bookstore of my own.

Ever since I was, oh, alive, I've wanted to be an illustrator. This was back when I read more picture books, and when I thought I had commerically viable artistic talent. After I realized I had maybe a passing knack for drawing at best, I naively switched to author, thinking I could do better at it, that it was easier.

I haven't written anything in a year. And more. Being awarded English Laureate seems so far away.

But I still want to do something with writing, with books. I persist. Critic, editor, seller. For a while, I even toyed with the idea of being an English teacher, but decided I couldn't deal with that kind of social responsibility, not to mention hordes of snotty kids -- ones like me who secretly believed they knew everything but pretended outwardly that they were modest, and possibly worse, ones who openly believed they knew everything but in fact were even stupider.

If you've seen or read Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, that's the kind of quirky, sadsack, geeky, elitist, patchwork establishment I want to run one day. I want to be surly. I want to be scary and emanate the false illusion that I am literate, and by stepping into my store, you are conceding that you are not, at which time I temporarily own your ass. I have been an introvert my whole life, and I need a little piece of the world, a personal realm, that I can rule and control.

The day before I started my first day at my new job, I was ranting at my mother -- nicely -- about this ideal job, preferably with lots of underlings I can demean. I told her about how great it feels to be able to intimidate total strangers with a literary knowledge merited only by the fact you work in a bookstore.

I told her about the floor-to-ceiling worn dark wood shelving, and the rolling ladder. I told her about the tarnished brass -- or iron or pewter -- accents, and the metal spiral staircase that goes tap-tap-tap like a typewriter when you walk down it -- antique typewriters being another thing I'm crazy about, just like rotary phones.

I told her about the restored Victrola I would keep brightly polished and subtly lit in the corner, and how I would play old blues records, Beatles, disco, and so-bad-it's-good 80s numbers on it all day, and bark at my minions when they try to play something less unhip. 

She said maybe I could be a librarian.

I paused.

A library isn't the same, I should've said. A bookstore is more social, more diverse, more contemporary. It's by far more elitist, in a secondhand bookstore, especially. I want to be pretentious and exclusionary -- a library by its very nature is communal and all-embracing.

I shelf a book and never have to worry about it again, whether or not someone leaves with it tucked under their arm; a library is repetitive, the same titles, the same people, cycle perpetually. The constant shelving and reshelving of the same materials over and over ... it would kill me with its dreary repetition. I can endure, say, seven weeks of a temporary job dusting and filing tens of thousands of papers, but as an occupation, I could not. (Moreover, U of T would hardly be impressed by me trying to use a below-minimum salary to slowly ... very slowly ... line their pockets.)

Instead of explaining all of it -- which I would have had to have done in English in order to achieve the level of eloquence I would insist upon and she wouldn't understand it well at all then -- I sighed, and said yeah, you know, maybe.

Posted at 23:09
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Read in 2004:
Lost World
Jurassic Park
A Wrinkle in Time
A Streetcar Named Desire
Adolf: Days of Infamy
Alice in Wonderland
Ex Libris
Artemis Fowl: The Seventh Dwarf
The Kitchen Boy
The Godfather
Promethea: Book One
About a Boy
The Iron Man
Batman: The Dark
Knight Returns

V for Vendetta
Adolf: An Exile in Japan
The Golden Ass
Girl with a Pearl Earring
Batman: Year One
Adolf: A Tale of
the Twentieth Century

It's a Good Life,
if You Don't Weaken

Father of Frankenstein
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 2
Speaking with the Angel
High Fidelity
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1
Qudditch Through the Ages
The Reptile Room
The Wide Window
How the Camel Got His Hump
The Accusers
Artemis Fowl:
The Eternity Code

The Safety of Objects
The English Patient
The Pianist
The Miserable Mill
The Austere Academy
The Melancholy Death
of Oyster Boy

Still About to Read:
The Aeneid
The Art of Love
Animal Farm
Anna Karenina
The Book of Courtesans
Brief Interviews
with Hideous Men

Franny & Zooey
Generation X
The History of the World
in 10 1/2 Chapters
How to Win Friends
and Influence People
The Iliad
Lady Chatterley's Lover
The Metamorphosis
and Other Stories

Mrs. Million
The Odyssey
Seven Pillars of Wisdom
The Twelve Caesars
Vertigo Park

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