Almost everybody knows what the American robin looks like. Robins are as familiar as pigeons and far more colorful. People who don’t give a damn about birds can spot a robin in the city park or the suburban front lawn. Robins also have a nice burbling and trilling song, though a lot of people who recognize the bird wouldn’t be able to identify the song. Western robins are pale and drab compared to the richly colored Eastern robins and, in general, robins can be found, sometimes sparingly, throughout the United States all year round.
Children, some children, still listen to the story of how the robin got its red breast. Actually, there are a couple of stories about that. One story says that a robin, seeing Jesus on the cross with a crown of thorns, tried to pull the the thorns away and accidently pierced its own breast; hence the blood red breast. The more familiar story is that the robin, seeing two near-frozen wanderers who slept by a flickering fire, fanned the flames to keep the fire alive and thereby saved their lives — and the robin has had a fire-red breast ever since. OK, the robin’s breast is more orange than red, but these are stories with a nice moral at the end.
Robins aren’t sophisticated about real estate when it comes to building nests. They can build well, but they have no sense of location, location, location. They’ll build a nest just about anywhere, even five feet off the ground in a back yard patrolled by a cat. Or in the crotch of a branch that swings in a breeze and tosses wildly in a gusty rainstorm. Robin’s eggs are a beautiful shade of blue and, in fact, the color is known as robin’s-egg-blue. The photo above shows a clutch of robin’s eggs in a nest built between three outdoor lamps projecting over a backyard patio. As we said, robins are not sophisticated about location.
Pictured above are four Parisians who found a way to escape the sweltering heat of the city. Well, at least two of party have found a way to keep cool. These four are rather like a certain quartet of musicians who had a picnic in 1510; the women were bare naked but the men were smothered in velvet. All that’s further down this page. Now pay attention to the painting above. The woman in the background clearly enjoys wading in the stream and isn’t concerned that her chemise — what exactly is she wearing? — gets soaked. And the bold young woman in the foreground has tossed aside convention and all her clothes. You’re cool or you’re not, right?
But the men! Look at them — suffocating in tight collars, heavy jackets, cravats, hats, shoes and, though you can’t make it out in this small image, the one on the right is even wearing a vest. These guys haven’t got a clue.
It’s hard to say exactly what’s going on here. The scene was painted by Edouard Manet around 1862-1863. He named the painting Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) and, in fact, along side the discarded clothing there’s a basket of fruit and a round loaf of bread. But no one is eating. And whatever the guy on the right is saying it’s clear that he’s lost the attention of his naked lunch date. She’s more interested in us. And, you know, we’re more interested in her.
Manet wasn’t having any luck getting his paintings shown when he captured this interesting picnic. His work was rejected year after year by the gate-keepers of the government-sponsored show at the Palais des Champs-Elysees. That exhibit, or Salon, was visited by thousands of Parisians and it was virtually impossible for a painter to make a living if he didn’t succeed there. The jurors were generally conservatives and Manet was one of several artists whose work was rejected by the Salon. In 1863 so many paintings were turned down that the government, giving in to the artists’ bitter complaints, sponsored an alternative exhibit for the rejected paintings, the famous Salon des Refuses. That’s where Manet exhibited this painting.
Manet’s scene was inspired in part by Giorgione’s painting of a similar quartet 1510. We have an image of that painting further down this page. We’re not suggesting you try this at your local picnic grounds or National Park. We’re not stupid. We know there must be better places. You’re cool or you’re not, right?
Of the many literary gatherings held this summer, our attention was caught by Readercon, a conference focusing on imaginative literature. It was held at the Boston-Burlington Marriott and drew people not only from all over the US but from other countries as well. Readercon has “con” baked into its name, which is unfortunate if it conjures up images of certain other “cons” which are primarily party occasions where participants dress up to resemble their favorite character from science fiction, fantasy, or vampire tales. Readercon has the reputation, deservedly, of being the most serious of the cons. For readers interested in imaginative literature in it’s many different forms, Readercon can be entertaining, sometimes scholarly, mostly engrossing and, in one way and another, simply enjoyable.
Though the program guide describes Readercon as “The Year’s Best Science Fiction Convention” the four-day event fortunately covers considerably more than science fiction. The recent 22nd annual Readercon offered a broad spectrum of discussions, stretching from an academic panel on the “Death of the Author” (a theory of French intellectual Roland Barthes), to the jovial “Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition.” In between these extremes there were panels on such diverse subjects as young adult fiction, on myth, on the Midrash, on a literary agency, on book design and typography, the retelling of Russian folktales, the blurring of genras — plus book signings, readings by authors, and interviews. According to the volunteer organizers, a typical Readercon has about 150 writers, editors, publishers, and critics. But what struck us were the 400 or more people who attended the different events – it would be hard to find a more engaged and lively group of readers.
- If you have a comment to make, we'd like to hear from you, so long as it doesn't reduce us to tears. Or, better yet, if you've written a couple of paragraphs on an engaging topic, send them along. Our email address is on the Contact page, and you can get there by clicking the word Contact just above the calender.
Gene Mirabelli writes most of the posts here, so we're very pleased to announce that his recent novel, Renato, the Painter, has won a first prize for Literary Fiction in the 2013 Independent Publisher (IP or "IPPY") Book awards.
The Awards program was created to highlight the year’s most distinguished books from independent publishers. Award winners are chosen by librarians and booksellers who are on the front lines, working everyday with patrons and customers. Some 125 books competed for the literary fiction Gold Medal. These books are examples of independent publishing at its finest.
Publishers Weekly says "In prose as lusty and vigorous as Renato himself, Mirabelli captures the feeling of coming to terms - ready or not - with old age." For more about the writer and his book, turn to our contact page or to the author's web site.
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