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Original Essays | August 18, 2014

Ian Leslie: IMG Empathic Curiosity

Today, we wonder anxiously if digital media is changing our brains. But if there's any time in history when our mental operations changed... Continue »
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Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King
Leonardo and the Last Supper

sinsalcbg, February 24, 2014

King, Ross. “Leonardo and the Last Supper” (New York: Bloomsbury, 2012).

If you like historical detail and the way that history is built up from note books, paper scraps and letters, and such, you’ll enjoy “Leonardo.” I did. King is a historian who apparently skipped university teaching and devoted himself, luckily, I think, to writing about the things that really teased his mind. So far, he’s cut a fine path. I’d like to read more from his pen because he lets you know where his historical details are coming from.

“Leonardo” is about Leonardo da Vinci, of course, and thanks to King’s curiosity about him I learned a lot about Leonardo and probably would have liked him a lot had I known him. He was a gifted man, clearly, and he knew it and was able to persuade men of power to sponsor his creativity which, by the way, was not entirely given to works of art like The Last Supper. He preferred constructing war machines and applying mathematics to edifices and conducting experiments, and so on. Leonardo painted The Last Supper because the Duke of Milan offered him a deal he couldn’t refuse,"apparently a very good deal. The artist dallied in completing it in part because he was often attracted to other projects much to the Duke’s chagrin like finding new techniques for bronze sculpturing, conducting ethnographic observations in the edges of town in search of new faces and hands to sketch for his voluminous note books including dissecting corpses to discover how muscles and tendons worked on bone.

I also learned a lot about Italy in the 1500s. This includes the antics of bellicose kings, popes, rival dukes, and so on,"the webs of pre-national politics and the cultural maze surrounding ordinary Italians and artists like Leonardo as well. On a smaller scale, I also learned of the composition of oils for Leonardo’s canvasses, the use of models for the apostles sitting around the Last Supper including the model for Jesus’s face, together with the pederastic practices of many men in Milan and other cultural centers, not excluding Leonardo himself.
King’s work is a marvelous and fascinating 16th century compendium of Italian culture, indeed.
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Two Old Women by Velma Wallis

sinsalcbg, February 24, 2014

Wallace, Velma. “Two Old Women” (New York: Harper Perennial, 2013).
The two old women in this story belong to the Gwich’In people of Alaska. Wallace’s story, first published in 1993, is the written version of a folk tale she learned from her own ancestors.

The tale of “betrayal, courage, and survival” is written in a lovely and simple narrative that can be read quickly as it adds up to only a small volume. The author does not identify the time period in which the legend is supposed to have taken place but she goes so far as to state that it took place before Western cultures arrived.

In this pre-contact era, the Gwich’In natives depended for their livelihood solely on what they could catch or gather, including food. There were good years and bad ones and so this natural cycle constitutes the setting for a chronicle of desperate survival in a frozen white world.

Left behind in a food emergency by their people, due to their advanced age, not having expected it, the two old women are shocked at first. Soon enough they will themselves to survive but not without pained sacrifice. It is a fine story and like most legends it rings like a morality tale aimed at emphasizing the best in human endeavor. A nice “read.”
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Midnight in Mexico Signed 1st Edition by Alfredo Corchado
Midnight in Mexico Signed 1st Edition

sinsalcbg, February 24, 2014

Corchado, Alfredo. "Midnight in Mexico" (New York: Penguin Books, 2013).
Waiting to catch a plane in Mazatlán recently I spied this book for sale as "Medianoche en México" (Mexico City: Debate 2013) and purchased it without knowing it was a translation. After reading it I found it to be a good quality conversion into Spanish by Juan Elias Tovar Cross.

Corchado’s memoir as a reporter assigned by the Dallas Morning News to report on contemporary Mexico covers, roughly, the years in which drug trafficking became a truly notorious development in Mexico, from 1994 to 2012, when he returned to the U.S.

I happened to write this review just a few hours after Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, the world’s most wanted criminal and alleged capo of the Sinaloa Cartel, was locked behind bars in what is supposed to be Mexico’s maximum security prison known as “Almoloya de Juarez” located outside of Mexico City. His detention made worldwide news today, proof that people around the globe became aware of the hideousness of drug trafficking south of our border. Some serious repercussions are predicted by many as a result of El Chapo’s imprisonment who, of course, is discussed in "Midnight." There’s no doubt that there is tough work ahead in making this dreaded affliction disappear from Mexican society.

Happily, the interested reader can access more than a handful of what look like good book reviews of Corchado’s "Midnight in Mexico" online and so I’ll limit my own "reseña" to include a couple of abiding impressions I gained.

First, I recommend "Midnight" because the author guides the reader to appreciate the verve & drive of a young professional committed to showing the world that he can do the job and rise to the top. And, obviously, Corchado, once a migrant worker in California, was quite successful. This note touched me in a special way because the author is a Mexican American, born in Mexico, whose parents encouraged him to cross the border so that he could thrive. He’s a Chicano frayed between his loyalty to the United States and his wanting to see his parent’s home country, once his own, rise with dignity as a progressive nation. Most Anglo Americans have absolutely no sense of what these conflicting feelings might be and so reading this book might help appreciate this.

Perhaps the biggest thought I drew from this book is that Corchado cautiously lets the reader learn of the complex and convoluted relationships that arise between the drug capos and the politicians who run the country. Long ago, I had concluded a relationship of sorts existed but "Midnight" allowed me to appreciate and understand it a bit more. There is a political delicateness involved not only on the part of Mexican authorities but American ones too. Corchado’s most important informant, an “American investigator,” admits to these unnerving and dicey double-binding situations in the last chapters. In other words, to condemn Mexican officials as merely corrupt and inept and dismiss the whole Mexican drug schmear as a symptom of underdevelopment, or something akin to that, may satisfy many pedestrian observers but not others who know of the cultural and social intricacies involved.

"Midnight" is helpful because it is a personalized angle that lets us know how subtle and dangerous these intricacies can be in a society torn by poverty, bone-deep traditional ways, and the growing pressures for transparency and good government. Few Americans can appreciate these dilemmas.
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