Monthly Archives: June 2010

Mahalia Jackson/ Didn’t It Rain At Newport

From the film, Jazz On A Summer’s Day. I was there. I was a young teenager, and my quite hip and sophisticated mother and I drove down from Massachusetts for two days of the Festival. That day started out bright and lovely, but as is well known, by the time Mahalia took the stage the rain had started. After deciding to continue despite the weather – – the crowd urged her on – – – she cut loose with that fabulous version of “Didn’t It Rain.”

Sistine Brain. Do You Buy It?

In Vatican Fresco, Visions of the Brain


The New York Times

Published: June 21, 2010

It has been hiding in plain sight for the past 500 years, and now two Johns Hopkins professors believe they have found it: one of Michelangelo’s rare anatomical drawings in a panel high on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.


IN PLAIN SIGHT? Two professors believe that Michelangelo hid a drawing of the underside of the brain and the brain stem on the neck and beard of God.

Michelangelo was a conscientious student of human anatomy and enthusiastically dissected corpses throughout his life, but few of his anatomical drawings survive. This one, a depiction of the human brain and brain stem, appears to be drawn on the neck of God, but not all art historians can see it there.

This is not the first picture of a human organ someone has found, or at least imagined, in Michelangelo’s Sistine frescoes. In 1990, in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a physician described what he saw as a rendering of the human brain in the Creation of Adam, the panel showing God touching Adam’s finger. And one physician, a professor of medicine at Baylor University, published an article in a medical journal in 2000 suggesting that Michelangelo had included a drawing of a kidney in another ceiling panel. The author was, perhaps not coincidentally, a kidney specialist.

The latest find, described in a study in the May issue of the journal Neurosurgery, appears directly above the altar in “The Separation of Light From Darkness,” another panel from the series of nine depicting scenes from the Book of Genesis.

God, clothed in flowing red robes, is viewed from below and foreshortened, and seems to be rising into the sky. His arms are raised above his head, and he faces up and to his right, exposing his neck and the underside of a short beard. It is here that the study’s authors, the medical illustrator Ian Suk and Dr. Rafael J. Tamargo, a neurosurgeon, believe that Michelangelo concealed a drawing of the underside of the brain and the brain stem, with parts of the temporal lobe, the medulla, the pons and other structures clearly drawn.

To Dr. Tamargo’s eye, God’s neck in the fresco is distinctly different from those of other figures depicted in more or less the same posture. Usually, the neck looks smooth, but in “The Separation of Light From Darkness” there are lines and shapes quite different from the normal external anatomy of the neck, irregularities that he believes cannot be accidental. “The anatomy of the neck is very, very unusual,” he said, and if it were not intentionally drawn that way, “you would have to postulate that Michelangelo had a very bad day, which is very unlikely because he was very meticulous.”

Is it really there, or are the authors seeing patterns where there are none? The interpretation, Dr. Tamargo said, “is certainly subjective — artists don’t accompany their work with a description of what they’re putting in there. But I think that as with any finding, it’s either validated or rejected by what others think.”

What others think varies considerably. “Suk and Tamargo appear to have done their homework well,” said Gail L. Geiger, a professor of art history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “I find the core of their piece quite convincing.”

But Joanna Woods-Marsden, a professor of art history at the University of California, Los Angeles, was outraged as much by the authors’ hypothesis as by their audacity in presenting it. “My initial reaction on looking at the illustrations is that this is complete nonsense, to put it politely,” she wrote in an e-mail message. “To draw arbitrary lines all over Renaissance paintings and expect to be taken seriously by the scholarly community!”

Some details seem to support the authors’ position. God’s beard, usually depicted as long and flowing, appears here short or rolled up to expose the neck. Light provides another hint. The fresco is illuminated from the lower left, but on God’s neck light shines head-on and slightly from the right. The authors insist that Michelangelo, a master of the depiction of light, could only have done this to draw attention to that part of the painting.

Still, some scholars remain dubious. “I think this may be another case of the authors looking too hard for something they want to find,” said Brian A. Curran, an associate professor of art history at Pennsylvania State University. “I don’t want to discourage people from looking. But sometimes a neck is just a neck.”

John and Yoko Riff on Hurston (w/out knowing it)


Win or lose, all the soccer teams playing in the World Cup will hear the call of the South African horn called the vuvuzela. The steady background drone at the games reminds some people of the sound of swarms of bees; others say it’s more like mosquitoes.

Cleopatra Papyrus

What an exciting, evocative, intriguing find. Her added order at the end gives one chills.

This papyrus document, signed by Cleopatra, grants tax exemption from sales of imported wine to the Roman businessman Publius Canidius, a friend of Mark Antony. The manuscript, intended for an official in the Egyptian bureaucracy, was prepared by a court scribe. At the bottom of the document, in a rare example of her handwriting, Cleopatra herself added the Greek word “ginesthoi,” “make it happen.” (Credit: Agyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung)

Nevill Coghill and the Inklings

An article about “Dick and Liz” in Vanity Fair got me thinking about Nevill Coghill my older son’s “honorary grandfather.” He, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and others made up the Oxford group, the Inklings, who gathered at the Eagle and Child pub. Once we were having dinner in Williamstown, MA, where Nevill was to speak at Williams College when a waitress came to the table to tell him he had a phone call. (Long before the advent of cell phones.) He asked if the person could leave a name and number since he, Grandmother Helen, Clifford and I (were there others?) were in the middle of dinner. The waitress grew uneasy and said that it was an international call, and then, perhaps because she did not want to alarm a distinguished elderly gent, or perhaps she just could not contain herself, she announced that it was Richard Burton. Nevill rose, shaggy, tweedy and a bit lumbering, and was ushered to the phone.

Tables around us fell silent as people stared, then went back to their conversations. When he came back, though, the local hush descended again as some diners eavesdropped on his explanation that Burton wanted to confer with him on some of the fine points of his performance of Dr. Faustus which they had been working on together. For years I had remembered it as when they were doing Antony and Cleopatra, the VF article gave me an aha! moment; A & C was a couple of  years earlier.

The “Rachel Corrie” Heads for Gaza

“. . . Hamas is not just a terrorist organization. Hamas is an idea, a desperate and fanatical idea that grew out of the desolation and frustration of many Palestinians. No idea has ever been defeated by force — not by siege, not by bombardment, not by being flattened with tank treads and not by marine commandos. To defeat an idea, you have to offer a better idea, a more attractive and acceptable one.”

-From a June 1, 2010 article by Amos Oz in response to the attack on the Turkish ship MARMARA (below).

Parents of Rachel Corrie pay tribute to ‘courageous’ activists


Mon, Jun 07, 2010

FAMILY REACTION: THE PARENTS of Rachel Corrie, the US activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003, have paid tribute to those who attempted to break Israel’s naval blockade on a ship named after their daughter.

Activists, including several from Ireland, who last month set sail for Gaza onboard the aid-laden MV Rachel Corrie , were today returning to their home countries after Israeli forces intercepted the vessel on Saturday and towed it to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

Those onboard the Irish-owned ship had earlier rejected a proposal to discharge the cargo at Ashdod, and insisted they would continue on to Gaza. Days before, an Israeli commando raid on an aid flotilla sailing ahead of the vessel had resulted in the deaths of nine activists.

Cindy Corrie said those on board the MV Rachel Corrie were “courageous” in their determination to continue their journey. “They hold such a warm place in my heart because I have seen the work that they do, I know how important it is, and what amazing individuals they are. I feel so connected to their efforts,” she told The Irish Times .

“I applaud them for not agreeing to turn the boat into Ashdod port, because clearly the intention of their efforts is not just to bring humanitarian aid – while that aid is tremendously important – but also to challenge this ongoing, illegal siege of Gaza.”

It was “humbling” that the vessel bore her daughter’s name, Mrs Corrie said. “I know it would be humbling for Rachel too. She wanted more than anything to bring attention to what she was seeing. She went to Gaza to be a witness.”

Ms Corrie was 23 when she was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer as she and other protesters were trying to stop the demolition of Palestinian homes. Her writings – published posthumously – and a play about her life have made her a rallying figure for pro-Palestinian activists.

“I think Rachel would feel that if her name helps, if her story helps to continue to bring attention to what is happening, to continue to encourage people to take action right now to improve things for people in Gaza, she would be supportive of that,” added Mrs Corrie.

The Corrie family now run the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice in their hometown of Olympia, Washington.

Mr Corrie said their thoughts were with the families of those killed during the attack on the flotilla last Monday. “Our hearts go out to them. We have some understanding of what they are going through in these days and the days that will follow.” The couple, who visited Gaza twice last year, said they hoped the renewed international focus as a result of the events of the past week would bring further pressure on Israel to lift its blockade. “I feel very strongly that this is a watershed,” said Mrs Corrie.

“I think the world has awakened this week in a way that is different to before. I think now it is up to all of us to ensure that there is a very determined and continuing effort to keep attention on what is happening, and to end this terrible siege of Gaza.”

© 2010 The Irish Times


New Inquiry Into Corrie’s Death