Palamedes, el héroe negado

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Hace muchos años los Golpes Bajos cantaban eso de “Malos tiempos para la lírica”. Los tiempos actuales, no es que sean mejores. Seamos sinceros, cada vez me acuerdo más de Oscar Wilde (siempre que la cita sea suya de verdad, pues los apócrifos de Wilde abundan más que las faltas de ortografía) y eso de “cuanto más conozco a los hombres, más amo a mi perro”.  Desde la política internacional, a ejemplos más cercanos, últimamente me encuentro, a veces, mirando a mi alrededor con expresión alelada preguntándome por qué la inteligencia y el uso de la razón, en la época en la que nosotros occidentales tenemos mayor acceso a la información y la educación, en lugar de ser lo habitual ha pasado a ser la excepción.

Sin embargo, de vez en cuando, pasan cosas, o asistes a eventos, que te hacen esperar, o por lo menos, no morir de pura desesperación. Compré los billetes para ir a ver el espectáculo Palamede, la storia, presentado en el Roma-Europa Festival, casi exclusivamente por dónde se celebraba: el estadio de Domiciano dentro del complejo arqueológico del Palatino, en Roma. Me dije que, si no me gustaba, por lo menos pasaría unas horas en un lugar maravilloso, donde, con mi imaginación, había ubicado los personajes de una historia. De todas maneras, las premisas eran buenas: he leído varios libros de Alessandro Baricco, y me han gustado todos. Además, el tema, un héroe griego en la guerra de Troya del que nunca había oído hablar, me parecía muy interesante.

Baricco ofreció al público una lección magistral sobre lo que sabíamos, o creíamos saber, sobre la guerra de Troya y la Ilíada, pero sin usar un tono académico, o aburrido, sino como el profesor (o profesora) guay del instituto o la universidad que era capaz de hacerte entretenidas materias que sobre el papel te parecían lo más aburrido del mundo. Ése que rompía platónicamente corazones mientras se ensuciaba la manga de la chaqueta con la tiza de la pizarra (perdón, se me ha colado una anécdota autobiográfica).

Volviendo al tema, Alessandro Baricco,  ha escrito, entre otras cosas, un libro basado en la Ilíada. Cuando se estaba preparando para ese libro, que adaptó también para el teatro, se encontró, hablando con una profesora que es toda una especialista en los textos de la Grecia clásica, con un héroe de los griegos que fue completamente borrado en la versión “oficial” del mito que escribió Homero. Se trata de Palamedes, amigo fiel de Aquiles, el más bello de los griegos, y el más inteligente. El secreto mejor guardado de los clasicistas.

Palamedes era tan inteligente que él fue quien inventó algo tan básico en la vida militar como el santo y seña para ser reconocidos en los campamentos, también se dice que inventó el ajedrez y gracias a su perspicacia, al darse cuenta de que los lobos bajaban de las montañas para devorar a los animales y hombres más débiles, evitó que una plaga de peste que decimó a la población de Troya tocase a los griegos. Fue a raíz de estas cualidades que entró en conflicto con Ulises. Cuando Baricco explica esta parte de la historia lo hace de una manera muy divertida: “lo siento, pero os voy a desmontar un mito. Os dejo un minuto y medio de música y luces para que os despidáis del Ulises oficial, el que conocéis y admiráis” Y luego, cuando acaba la música lo primero que dice “la verdad es que Ulises era una mala persona. Es más, una malísima persona”. Mientras sonaba la música que dejaba al público el minuto de reflexión para “despedirnos de Ulises”, yo recordaba los muchos defectos del héroe, que haberlos teníalos: la cantidad de cuernos que puso a Penélope por todos los rincones del Mediterráneo, la superficialidad con la que condenó a muerte a sus compañeros de viaje, y el último viaje, abandonando de nuevo y definitivamente su tierra, para desvanecerse en un lugar lejano, allá donde no se supiese para que sirve un remo. En fin, yo ya sabía que Ulises no era perfecto, y que era muchísimo más feo que Bekim Fehmiu. Pero el maestro Baricco me iba a describir un lado aún más oscuro del rey de Itaca, además de recordarnos que escuchar la voz de Ulises era algo único, que era melodiosa y suave “como nieve que cae”.

Bekim Fehmiu durante el rodaje de la Odisea (1968)

Mientras Aquiles está lejos del campo de batalla porque va a la isla de Lesbos a por provisiones (o sea, saquearla), Ulises construye un complot para acusar a Palamedes de traición: lo organiza como se debe, escondiendo en la tienda del joven una cantidad de oro que supuestamente le dio Príamo para facilitar la entrada de los troyanos en el campamento griego y aniquilarlos. Palamedes es apresado, juzgado y condenado a morir lapidado. Todo ello antes de que regrese su fiel amigo Aquiles. Éste, y no otro, es el motivo de la “ira funesta” de Aquiles, no una simple cuestión de botín mal repartido, o un quítame aquí una Briseida.

Baricco ha recogido de varios textos apócrifos (la construcción de la Ilíada es muy parecida a la de la Biblia, a un cierto punto, se descartaron y eliminaron algunas versiones y episodios, como el de Palamedes, para producir una “versión oficial” de los hechos de la Guerra de Troya) el discurso de defensa de Palamedes delante del tribunal de los griegos. Le ha dado una forma asimilable a los gustos actuales y tal discurso lo declama una actriz, muy buena, Valeria Solarino. Actriz que, obviamente, no conocía.

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Alessandro Baricco y Valeria Solarino durante los ensayos.

La defensa de Palamedes es un monólogo de unos veinte minutos; con lógica aplastante el acusado desmonta, uno a uno, todos los cargos contra él. Dejando al descubierto la cruda realidad: él es una víctima… “yo no os he hecho nada, para que me tratéis así”.

Al terminar la representación salí muy despacio del lugar, pues tenía que llevar a cabo mi ritual particular, que hago cada vez que visito restos arqueológicos; algo que quisiera poder hacer con las estatuas en los museos, pero no me dejan porque no soy Mary Beard: acaricio las piedras. Toco los ladrillos, la “pozzolana”, el cemento de los romanos. Cargo las pilas, literalmente. Para no desesperar entre tanta desesperación.

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When in Rome… Early walks

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Castel Sant’Angelo

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L’Altare della Patria

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A surprise on the other side of Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II – A wreck

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The Tiber and Ponte Principe Amedeo Savoia Aosta

When visiting Rome, a friendly advise. Dedicate one morning to an early walk, from 6 to 7 am

When in Rome… Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

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“The boxer” – Museo Nazionale Romano (Palazzo Massimo alle Terme). IV cent B.C. My pic

For a lover of Ancient Rome entering this museum is like opening the gates of paradise. Furthermore, of an uncrowded one. As I wrote in the previous post I’m quite fond of peaceful spots and this is one indeed. Palazzo Massimo alle Terme hosts an extraordinary collection of Roman statues, mosaics and frescoes discovered from the XIXth century during works in the city.

The boxer

My favourite statue is “the boxer”, a greek bronze from the IV century B.C., probably work of Lisipo, and discovered in the Quirinal Hill when excavating the Therms of Constantine.

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In this close-up you can see the details (check out this vid for more close-ups) with which the artist has portrayed the fighter. The wounds (the blood is represented using copper) in his face, the swollen eyes, the broken lip, the mashed ears. The athlete is resting, it is not the usual image of victory; maybe he’s gathering his strength to continue the fight, or has been defeated and turns to an unknown referee, waiting for mercy or the victory veredict. Waiting, as the statue had for hundreds of years. This picture, taken when the statue was discovered in the XIXth century, touches me deeply.

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Livia’s triclinium

In the third floor of the museum you can see the frescoes and mosaics that decorated the rooms in some patrician villas. My favourite place is the reconstruction of the “summer dinner room” in the Villa of Livia Drusilla, wife of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus.

The villa was in the Flaminian road, ad gallinas albas (“where the white chickens”). When Livia married Octavian, a prodigy occurred. An eagle dropped a white chicken in her lap; the bird had a twig of laurel with berries in its beak. Following the soothsayers advice, the chicken and its offspring were raised in the villa, and a forest of laurel oaks was planted around its perimetre. The leaves of these trees were used as crowns in the imperial triumphs, and the withering of the plants was considered an ill omen. It is said that before the death of Nero, the whole forest and all the chickens in the villa died.

It has always fascinated me how superstitious the romans were. The days were divided in favourable and ill-fated ones. No public activity could take place during the second ones and a serious military defeat or a disastrous event turned some days from fasti to nefasti. For instance, July 18th was the day of the Clades Gallica (the Gallian disaster), to commemorate the defeat, near the river Allia, of the Roman army against the gauls in the year 387 BC.

Soldiers are an extraordinary race of men: tough as shield leather, superstitious as egyptians, and as sentimental as Sabine grandmothers.

Robert Graves, “I, Claudius”

To come back to the Museum, what makes this room special (I usually sit for half an hour in the central couch and I like to hear the Ah! and Oh! of people entering) is the illumination.

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Lights increase and decrease in intensity to reproduce the real light during different hours of the day, from dawn to sunset, that Livia’s dinner guests witnessed a couple of thousands years ago. The effect is absolutely marvellous; the paintings in the dining room were ripped off from the original walls, transferred and reconstructed in this area. Although I have seen several times the process of tearing off frescoes it keeps son sounding like magic to me.DSCN1605 DSCN1602DSCN1603There are many other masterpieces in the Museum. The remaining bronzes of Nemi’s ships, reproductions of famous greek sculptures…DSCN1655

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Yes, the Discobolo himself, for instance…

A beautiful Antinous…

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An edition I made a couple of years ago of the above pictures to celebrate the anniversary of Hadrian’s death (July 10th 138 AD)

… and some quite known mosaics, as these one representing the four teams of the chariot races: green, red, white and blue. The charioteers conducted the horses with the reins, not only with the hands, but also with the movement of their body check this relief. They were taller and bulkier than nowadays jockeys, for instance. One of the main dangers during the races was to remain trapped under the horses or the chariot while tied to them, that’s why they had a knife between the leather strips of the bodice. If they were quick enough they could save themselves cutting the reins, but it’s no wonder that charioteers, even if well paid and adored by the masses as modern football players, often died very young.

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All this and many more in my favourite museum in Rome. Another of my favourite pieces is this ivory mask. The pic is not mine (click for source) as it is very delicate is held in very particular light conditions. It was recovered by the Carabinieri group specialized on Art smuggling.

Open letter to a “stultus”

STULTUS (latin): foolish, fatuous, stupid, ill-considered.

This afternoon I was in the subway coming back home. After watching a very beautiful video about a bike trip through the States, I’ve scrolled twitter and I saw a tweet that left me breathless. And pissed me off very, very, very, much. A fellow RA fan posted in her Twitter account a screenshot of season 3 chapter 2 of Hannibal. First I thought that there was something wrong in my glasses when I realised that I was not wearing them. Then, that the beauty of the landscapes that I had just seen in my phone had provoked a weird collateral effect in my mind and I could not focus (literally).

What was what I saw? Botticelli’s Spring censored. The breasts, buttocks and genitals of the female figures, blurred. That image hurts me so much that I will not even post it, enjoy the original:

I will not make an statement about the absurdity to censor the human body in a show dealing with serial killers that eat their victims, my indignation goes beyond that, let’s say, minor incoherence. It’s the gesture that awakens the sans culotte in me.

Dear stultus (I think the latin word is the most appropiate in this case), let me tell you something: your ignorance is so abnormal, huge, gargantuant (go and find a dictionary, you moron), that cannot be summarized in a post, not even in three million. THAT is ART, with capital letters, not porn. I assume that according to your bigotry, documentaries about the Vatican Museums should be broadcasted in the adult channel or at 3 am, or completely blurred from the beginning to the end. You maybe even felt outraged when you saw in tv someone in the East destroying some sculptures. I will tell you something: you are just LIKE THEM.

And now… censor this.

Or this

The Garden of Eden

COL; (c) William Riviere (The Garden of Eden); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Hugh Goldwin Riviere (1869 – 1956) – The Garden of Eden (1901)

This picture is exposed in Guildhall Art Gallery, and has become since I’ve seen it, one of my favourite paintings.

A young couple walks hand in hand, in a rainy winter day in London. We cannot see his face, only his tall athletic figure, his chesnut hair under his hat and his beautiful manly hands. The young woman flushes shyly while she looks with adoration the man beside her. I stood for long minutes in front of this picture; I couldn’t take my eyes out of their hands, while I was invaded by a sensation of melancholy. I cannot help but wondering about their story. Maybe the man has not a face because he lived longer in her memories than on this earth. The year was 1901; maybe fifteen years later he will recall that very afternoon when he walked with his love hand in hand. He will tell her about this memory in a letter written under cover in a trench full of mud, soaked to the bones. He will tell her in that letter that he remembered her bright pale face shining in the colourless afternoon, that day when life seemed something easy, full of promises and hopes. Perhaps he will tell her, in a letter that she will never receive, that the only way not to loose completely his mind in that dirty hole in Belgium is to grasp to her memory as they hold hands in a rainy afternoon.

The Guildhall Art Gallery was destroyed during an air raid on May 10th 1941; most of the paintings were saved, hidden in an underground storage in Whiltshire, but many works of art were lost. In 1988, during the works for the new Art building project, were discovered the foundations of the Roman Amphitheatre. Rebirth from destruction.

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What the English can do with the foundations of their Roman amphitheatre. Our pic.

The Antonio enigma

WP_20150209_001Almost everything is scheduled for my London trip. Theatre tickets purchased, plane and hotel booked (and payed), there is just a single unknown detail left: who will play Antonio in Globe’s Merchant of Venice? A complex character, torn by his love for Bassanio and his hatred for Shylock.

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The unfathomable Jeremy Irons as the one and only Antonio on screen

Antonio may seem weak, the mature man pathetically in love with a younger one who ignores him, but he’s not. In his very first lines he presents himself in a love-driven melancholia, as someone who thinks that his part to play in the world “is a sad one”. But we must not forget that there’s another Antonio, the one that, as Shylock will remind him later, “call(ed) me misbeliever, cut-throat dog and spat upon my Jewish gaberdine”, and also one of the most successful merchants in the city of merchants, a leading man. Who has just one and only weakness, Bassanio.

Daniel Laplaine will play Bassanio. Source: Daily Mail

Jonathan Pryce will be Shylock. Image from Berlinale website

Mr. Turner (2014)

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Turner, J. M. W. – The Fighting Téméraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken” by J. M. W. Turnerhttp://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/joseph-mallord-william-turner-the-fighting-temeraire. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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Turner (film)” di Johnny Freak – fotogramma. Con licenza Copyrighted tramite Wikipedia.

When I want to see a film in the cinema I always have before hand a serious inner debate. I don’t know if the situation I will describe shortly happen also in other countries, but I can assure you that it happens in Italy and in Spain. There’re certain movies that to be watched deserve the big screen but there’s a collateral damage: big screen = cinema = people. If the film you want to see is screened only in five theatres in a city with an official population of three million (more or less), and you can go to the cinema only on the weekend, you will need a big load of patience and endurance, because you can be sure that the audience will be a problem. Last Sunday when I have watched Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” I have suffered what follows:

– people coming fifteen minutes after the screening started

– some of the before mentioned trying to find their exact seat instead of sitting in the nearest place possible, with related shouts “is this the row E?”

– more five minutes other the fifteen to take off coats/hats and so on

– cell phone ringtones (we were very lucky that none of the four people involved followed their conversations)

– sorted snores

– supposedly witty comments (although the diagnose of Mr. Tuner’s housekeeper illness was wrong)

Notwithstanding the above, I have enjoyed the film. You realise from the start that if you want action you’d better dedicate your time and money elsewhere. The films opens with a five minutes long take of Mr. Turner sketching in Holland, surrounded by the yellow light of dawn while two women, one of them carrying two buckets with water, pass by chatting.

Mr. Turner deals with the last twenty-five years of life of the great painter; maybe not the nicest of men and sometimes even despicable. We see sketches of Turner’s life: his trips trying to capture the light and the essence of the sea, his rather chaotic domestic life, from the popular streets of London to the great halls of the Academy of Arts, a parade of humanity in all its variety from his housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson is simply amazing) to Queen Victoria.

I hope the DVD will be released soon, so I can enjoy the original audio. This film is a luxury for the eyes, loved by the critics (first time I’ve ever seen such a consensus in Rotten Tomatoes) although detested by some viewers. For once in my lifetime, I’m with the critics.