Verano Monumental Cemetery

One Sunday morning, Ute and I finally got together for a coffee at Marani’s. We mentioned our need for more physical exercise.  She does yoga and I walk. Ute, unlike a flâneur,  said she didn’t like to walk unless she had a destination. That word “destination” started buzzing around in my head. And I wondered if having a point of arrival would make a difference for me when taking my daily walk.  So I decided to give my walks a direction.

Not far from my studio is the Verano Monumental Cemetery that I’d never explored before and , after my talk with Ute, decided to do so.

Coffee at Mariani's

Roman Emperor Valerian, descendent from a distinguished Etruscan family, had to overthrow an emperor to become one himself. Believing that the Christians were subversive and threatened his power, around 257 AD he declared the Church a criminal enterprise and persecuted all of the Christians he could.  There were so many executions that the widow Ciriaca donated land for a Christian necropolis.  Initially the land was just a field of grass outside of Rome owned by her family and known as Campo Verani because Verani was the family name.

Valerian and Kinng Shapur

The Law of Retribution caught up with Valerian and he was captured and abused by the Persians.   Before executing him (260 AD), King Shapur I used the emperor to mount his horse.

Today the remains of the martyred Ciriaca and St. Lawrence are buried in what is known as the catacombs of St. Ciriaca.   During the Middle Ages, a basilica ( Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls) dedicated to St. Lawrence was built on the spot. Inside there’s an entrance to the catacombs whereas the outside façade is decorated with faded frescoes that includes a scene representing St. Lawrence’s martyrdom.

Valerian Had Lawrence Whipped

Adjacent to the Basilica is the Verano Monumental Cemetery. But first a little bit about the Napoleonic rule of Rome.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Papal States were founded in 754 AD. They monopolized all of central Italy and, in an attempt to ensure their power, prohibited the development of literacy and culture. Furthermore, they claimed that the desire for independent thought was a form of vanity.

Napoleon Liked To Make Changes

In 1793, Marie Antoinette was beheaded.  Napoleon was 24 years old at the time and very ambitious.  Five years later, Napoleon’s troops occupied Rome disrupting the equilibrium of the Papal States.

Marie Antoniette Had Finished Her Cake

The French thus imposed many of their norms on Rome including that of the Edict of St. Cloud, a law stating that all urban cemeteries, for health reasons, were to be placed outside the city walls. And thus the birth of the Verano Monumental Cemetery. However, what we see today is mainly the plans of the architect Virginio Vespigani who completed the cemetery in 1871.

Verano Cemetery

The Verano entrance has three arched doorways flanked by statues representing Meditation, Hope, Charity, and Silence. Because people keep dying, the cemetery has gotten bigger and bigger and now covers more territory than does the nearby Sapienza University.

Walking inside the Verano,  the atmosphere is soft, silent and potentially melancholic.  There is nothing more present than the past.  After walking and looking and sighing for a couple of hours, I realized  every tombstone has a story to tell.

The stories are of an Italy that no longer exists, of people who are remembered and forgotten, and of lives that have changed because of a life that‘s been lost.

So I plan incorporating the Verano into my Photogenic Lifestyle. First of all, it gives me a great place for a walk—it’s quite, full of cypress trees, and has incredible art to look at.  In fact, it has been called a “ museo all’aperto”, an outdoor museum, because of the sculptures and paintings made for the tombs.

Secondly, the Verano Monumental Cemetery  tells the history of Italy from the early 1800s to the present. It’s  intrigued me so much that  I’ve decided to use it as a point of departure for me to rediscover the country I’ve been living in for the past 35 years.

To be continued.



Related: Monumenti al Verano. Un museo all’aperto. (scroll down for brochure in English) + Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls + the catacombs of Rome

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Droit d’image

The French have a not so photogenic privacy law that prohibits you from photographing anyone, even in a public place, without their written permission.  Had the law been activated before 1970, we would not have had the pleasure of seeing many of the poetic works by street photographers such as Eugène Atget, Brassai, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau.

”Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville”

In the 1950s, Doisneau photographed a couple kissing in front of the Hotel de Ville in Paris. The photograph, extremely popular, was transformed into millions of postcards. Jean and Denise Lavergne claimed they were the couple and wanted to be compensated. They filed a suit against Doisneau who,  to avoid legal penalties, had to confess that there was nothing spontaneous about the photo — the couple immortalized was that of Françoise Delbart and  Jacques Carteaud, two unemployed actors.

So aren’t security cameras an invasion of privacy?



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Feeling like part of the wallpaper?

Bebina Bunny Blending In

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born in 1860.  She was so lonely she had only her diary to keep her company. So she started freaking out.  Because loneliness can make us crazy.

If you want to read more about Charlotte and others with stories to tell, why not take a look at Bebina Bunny’s Cabinet of Curiosities?



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Exercises in Style

He had a degree in  philosophy.  However, Raymond Queneau is known as a writer.  For awhile, he hung out with the Surrealists but questioned their fixation with the subconscious since he preferred mathematics and rational reasoning.

Queneau’s best known work is “Exercises in Style” which is simply the same story told in 99 different ways. The story is this: One day in Paris, the narrator gets on a bus and looks on as two men fight over space.  The narrator later encounters one of these men at the train station getting advice as to how to sew a button onto his coat.

Queneau On The Bus

The beauty of Queneau’s Exercises is that he shows us that there are limitless possibilities to affront the same situation.

Style is a means of making something common uncommon. Style is a means of transforming the mundane into something special.   Style is a means of distinguishing ourselves from others.

Life is photogenic if it has style.




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Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel, Dressmaker

Undoubtedly, Coco Chanel is known for her elegance, personal mystique and glamorous lifestyle. But, as with Dorian Gray, just how photogenic is a hedonistic lifestyle?

Gabrielle Chanel’s mother died when she was twelve. Her father abandoned her and her sisters at a Catholic convent in central France.  Here the nuns taught her how to sew.  After leaving the convent, she earned her living as a seamstress but also as a cabaret singer earning the nickname “Coco”.

Coco was not talented enough to sing professionally.  At the age of 23, she became the mistress of Etienne Balsan, a wealthy textile heir who provided her with a life of wealth and leisure.  And much partying.  Coco began an affair with one of Balsan’s friends, Capt. “Boy” Capel.  Capel got Coco an apartment in Paris where Coco began experimenting with hat making.  It was a hobby that turned into a profession when Capel gave her the money to open her own shop (31 rue Cambon).  But Capel gave her something even more important—a sense of style. In fact, it’s said that Chanel’s double C logo represents a ”C” for Chanel and a ”C” for Capel.

At the beginning of the 1900s, fashion for women was not made for movement.  What Chanel did, basically, was transform male clothing into female fashion.  She claimed that “luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it’s not luxury”. So the first thing she did was liberate women from corsets.  Then she introduced jersey fabric, traditionally used for undergarments and sports clothing, to high fashion.

Coco Wore Pants

The idea was to be simple but elegant.  Chanel also introduced the collarless cardigan, black sweater with pearls, female trousers, the little black dress, costume jewelry and the shoulder bag.  And of course, there was her perfume Chanel No. 5.

Coco liberated women from corsets and motion prohibiting garments with her designs initially inspired by male clothing.  Her contribution was that of changing the way women and their bodies were perceived.  Women were no longer still-lives but action movies.

During WWII, despite the difficulties for her fellow Frenchmen, Coco continued to live a life of luxury at the Ritz Hotel surrounded by Nazi officers. Not only did she party with them, she took them on as lovers, too. There is no doubt that Coco was an opportunist and tried to make the best out of a bad situation.  Unfortunately, post-war France did not guaranteed that same privilege to all women.

Jeering and Shearing

Tondeurs and tondues.

At the end of WWII, over 20,000 French women were accused of having had “horizontal collaborations” with the Germans.  Even prostitutes, who sold their bodies to the Germans in the same way bistrot owners had sold their wines, were singled out and publicly humiliated by having their hair shaved off then paraded in public semi-naked often with swastikas painted on their foreheads.  This punishment was obviously misogynistic as it was restricted to women.  Furthermore, because of a war instigated by men, many French mothers of young children had husbands in German prisoner-of-war camps. Without pleasure, they slept with German soldiers simply to feed their children.

Tondeurs and Tondues

Coco was not subjected to this shame.  Instead, she went off to Switzerland with her German boyfriend.  Here they lived in style for many years until Coco decided to return to Paris to save the fashion industry as, in her opinion, it had become too male dominated.  Upon her return, she was asked about her Nazi boyfriends to which she replied “I don’t ask my lovers for their passports”.

Nazi documents confiscated by the Soviets indicate that Coco had been a German spy with the code name “Westminster”.  Maybe it’s this that caused Coco to be a morphine addict for the rest of her life. Survival is not always easy.





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Truffles and Toulouse-Lautrec

A truly beautiful person is one who is good at discovering beauty. Daisaku Ikeda

For my birthday, on my FB timeline Franca posted a Daisaku Ikeda essay entitled “The Flowering of Creative Life Force”.  One phrase in particular really struck me:  “Never for an instant forget the effort to renew your life, to build yourself anew.”

And what is a birthday if not the celebration of one’s own renewal?

The joy of creating one’s life is often neglected because, for one reason or another, we abandon ourselves to the current.  But why abdicate our right to be the protagonist in our own life’s story?

she lived like a leaf floating in a stream

Every day we can re-create our life by the choices we make.

For my birthday, a lunch with truffles and a visit to the Toulous Lautrec exhibit at Ara Pacis—c. 170 lithographs (dating 1891-1900) from Budapest’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec , born in 1864, came from an aristocratic family.  His parents, busy bickering with one another, continually left Lautrec in the care of a nanny. Lautrec was also traumatized by congenital health problems which prohibited proper healing when he broke the femur bones of both legs. Thus Lautrec developed an adult-sized torso whereas his legs remained like those of a child.  Unable to dedicate himself to physical activities, he turned to drawing and painting.

For awhile he signed his paintings “Lost” because “Toulouse” sounds like “to lose”. But, anxious to find his way, subsidized by his mother, he moved to Paris and set up studio in Montmartre. And it was here that his career as an artist took form.

Moulin Rouge

The Pigalle/Montmartre area was populated by anarchists, petty thieves, starving artists, socially wounded women, and, in general,  people who were defeated, lost, and emotionally scattered. And for those who feel they have nothing to lose, transgression becomes a part of life.

The bored rich, hoping to wake themselves up, were intrigued by transgression and thus  Pigalle became the mecca of their pleasure & diversion.

Maybe being surrounded by the marginalized distracted Lautrec from his own handicap. He was particularly drawn to the  Moulin Rouge.  Much of his inspiration came from the women who worked there.

Jane Avril

can-can or st. vitus dance?

When the Moulin Rouge hired Lautrec to do a poster for their club, the dancer featured was Jane Avril. Jane was a bit strange.  Her abused childhood led to a nervous disorder that caused Jane to move in a jerky and contorted way This disorder, commonly known as St. Vitus Dance, forced her to check into a hospital for the mentally ill. But this disorder was the basis of her wild and wonderful  ecstatic dancing that helped her get a job at the Moulin Rouge.

Jane was radically thin, fond of fashion, determined to become a star, intelligent and aloof and extravagant in her ways. Lautrec liked her a lot and the two spent much time together.

Eventually age nerved her out so, at the age of 42, she decided to marry the German artist, Maurice Biais and the two moved to the outskirts of Paris. Unfortunately, her husband had an ambiguous sexuality and spent much time roaming around in search of himself. When he died in 1926, he left Jane penniless and she struggled to survive until her death in 1943 at the age of 75.

La Goulue

La Goulue

Her real name was Louise Weber but she was known as La Goulue, The Glutton, because of her habit of consuming customers’ drinks while dancing around their tables.  At an early age, she mastered the quadrille but her real talent was the can-can, a dance involving high kicks and the lifting of skirts. The name “can-can” means, more or less, “tittle-tattle” and initially created quite a scandal. But in some ways it was an manifestation of the need for social change because it questioned the concept of respectability. Lautrec adored the dance and said  La vie est belle, voila le quadrille!  (Life is beautiful, here comes the can-can!)

Her audacious behavior was captivating and La Goulue lost no time in becoming the Queen of Montmartre. She enjoyed kicking her legs up high enough to knock off men’s hats  thus  exposing the heart embroidered on her panties.  The audiences adored her but it went to her head as she decided to leave the Moulin Rouge and start her own dance company. It was a mistake that left her bankrupt and depressed.  So she began drinking and soon was too fat to kick up her legs.  La Goulue spent the last years of her life toothless, homeless, standing on a street corner near the Moulin Rouge selling matches and peanuts.  Wouldn’t she be happy to know that Brian Ferry sings about her in “Do The Strand”.

Yvette Guilbert

Yvette Guilbert

Yvette Guilbert was a singer, actress and song writer. Her slightly sleazy songs were half sung, half spoken earning her the title of the “diseuse fin de siècle” (end of the century storyteller). She was lanky and easily recognized by the long black gloves she wore.

Yvette was friends with Sigmund Freud.  They met after Freud, in Paris for a convention, heard her sing.  The two enjoyed corresponding for a number of years until Freud wrote that her talent as an interpreter came from “repressed desires and traits that haven’t had a chance to develop.”  Yvette was not pleased and their relationship chilled for several years.

Le passager dans la cabine 54

Most all of the women Lautrec portrayed were Montmartre style. However, in  August 1895 while on a cruise from Le Havre to Bordeaux, Lautrec became infatuated with a young woman from cabin 54 and secretly photographed  her as she sat languidly and read.

 The artist is often a voyeur.

Because of his handicap, Lautrec was active with his eyes and not with his body.  While others participated, he sat back as spectator. Thus he became an expert in observation noting details yet capable of distinguishing the superfluous from the essential.

While most of Lautrec’s fellow artists were involved in Impressionism thus plein air painting, his handicap kept him indoors. Instead of landscapes, Lautrec focused on people drawing them continuously.  And, as he once wrote his mother, he considered going to the caffès every evening as work because it was there that he diligently sketched the people who populated his paintings.

The posters Lautrec began making for the Moulin Rouge and other clubs and theaters gave a definite direction to his artistic style and the graphic needs of a publicity poster were integrated into his art. An affiche must go straight to the point thus– incisive, bold colors, large surfaces, and big enough to be seen from afar.

In the late 1890s when Lautrec was making these posters, there was no digital printing. Lithography was used to make multiples.  So Lautrec became an expert lithographer.  The technical demands of lithography led Lautrec to become an expert in simplification and immediacy.


For example, the lithograph “L’Argent, Programme de Theatre”  shows how, with the minimum of gesture, Lautrec gave the maximum of information. Look how he used a few short lines to transform a blotch of color into a coat. Genius!

Towards A Photogenic Lifestyle Observation: I can renew my life every day and it can be relatively easy if I can learn how to get the maximum from the minimum. But learning how may take time.

As a result of his absinthe and brandy cocktails, Toulouse-Lautrec died in 1901 at the age of 36.


Related links:  The Flowering of Creative Life Force + Toulouse-Lautrec at Museo dell’Ara Pacis + La Goulue, brief video + Yvette Guilbert, Quand on vous aime comme ça + Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril at the Moulin Rouge + Pitié-Salpêtrière was the dumping grounds for women who received the dreaded diagnosis of “hysterical”



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Inspiration or Appropriation?

Paris Day 4

In the past few months I’ve come across various articles where known fashion designers have been accused of “cultural appropriation”.  Below are a few examples:

His Sweater Looked Like Her Sweater

Shetland Islanders, known for their Nordic style fishermen’s sweaters,  claim that Chanel stole their knitting patterns.  After representatives of Chanel appeared on the island and bought some of her sweaters,  Mati Ventrillon noticed that black and white designs she created  for the Queen’s Jubilee 2012 appeared on the catwalk of Chanel’s Metiers d’Art a few months ago.

His Culture Had Been Appropriated

The Nunavut family has a similar complaint. Qingailisag, an Inuit shaman, in the 1920s designed a caribou skin parka covered with sacred designs meant to offer spiritual protection to the wearer (Franz Boas even wrote about them). Qingailisag’s descendents are quite upset that these designs have been copied by designer Kokon To Zai for a sweater selling for $840.

Designs of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec Are Everywhere

French Designer Isabel Marant has recently been criticized for having copied the designs of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec’s traditional costume that’s been around for over 600 years. What’s even more bizarre is that another designer, Antik Batik, is using the same designs thus claiming that Marant has “copied” her. And even more surrealistic is a recent press release from a Mexican news agency saying that Marant was issued a patent from the French government for these designs.  Thus if the indigenous people of Oaxaca want to use their own designs, they must pay copyright fees to the French designer. Marant, however, denies the existence of this patent.

So what does all of this have to do with Paris? Because today I went to the Musée Quai Branly, the anthropological museum featuring the indigenous art of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.

French presidents have the tradition of sponsoring some museum or monument while in office and this was the project of Jacques Chirac. The museum, which faces the Seine and is next to the Eiffel Tower, was actualized using collections of previous museums (including the Trocadéro Ethnographic Museum).

Many of these objects were accumulated during French colonization (including that of North America).

The museum is beautiful and sometimes overwhelming.  It took me a couple of hours to slide through it all making an effort not to be a victim of a Syndrome of Stendhal attack. And when I left the museum, I said to myself: Cubism exists thanks to African art.

They Both Liked The Same Statue

One day in 1906 while on his way to visit Gertrude Stein, Matisse stopped in a little curio shop and bought a small Vili figure from Congo.  He showed the figure to Gertrude as well as to Picasso who was also there.  Picasso pretended not to be interested but later made frequent visits to the Trocadéro. And, not long afterwards, painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) which many historians believe  gave birth to Cubism. “Avignone” does not refer to the French town but to the name of a street in Barcelona famous for its prostitutes.

They Lived On Avignone Street

Picasso said “good artists copy, great artists steal” which is exactly what he did.

Kiki With African Mask

Man Ray was another artist who fell in love with African art.  One of his most famous photos, Noire et Blanche, shows Kiki of Montparnasse holding a small African mask.

Andre Breton's Apartment

André Breton, known as the father of Surrealism, began living in an apartment on rue Fontaine 42 (Pigalle district) in 1921.  His whole house was a Cabinet of Curiosities—more than 5,300 objects of interest. Breton died in 1966 but his wife continued to live there until her death.  Rue Fontaine contained the largest known collection of the Surrealist movement but the government was unwilling to buy it.  So Breton’s daughter, Aube, was forced to break up the collection and sale it piece by piece.  All that’s left is a “look alike” wall at Centre Pompidou, “Le Mur de l’Atelier”,  which includes a number of African masks.

Her Face Was Like A Mask

Modigliani, like Picasso, often visited the Trocadéro finding much inspiration from the Ivory Coast’s  Baule masks with their elongated faces, arched eyebrows and lazily opened eyes.

With the aid of a wheelbarrow, Modigliani scavenged stones from Parisian construction sites then sculpted heads resembling those of African goddesses.

Why Not Make Some Art?

In 1984, the art world went into a spin because of three carved heads found in a canal in Livorno, Modigliani’s hometown. Many experts claimed that they were works by Modigliani who, in 1909 after receiving negative reviews, dumped them in the Fosso Reale. Instead, with the help of a Black & Decker drill, they were made by three pranksters and local artist and activist, Angelo Froglia.

An appropriation is an appropriation is an appropriation.

vertical garden

Next door to Musée Quai Branly is a Vertical Garden by Patrick Blanc.

Related link: Native Appropriations is a forum for discussing representations of Native peoples, including stereotypes, cultural appropriation, news, activism, and more.



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