Monday, September 24, 2007

Trastevere and the Colosseum

The Colosseum
Erica Alini
Trastevere, the 'heart of Roma'

Chris McClure

Saturday, September 15, 2007

DC Anti-War Protest, September 15, 2007

These are some pictures from the anti-war protest (and counter protest) in Washington DC on September 15, 2007. As usual, all sorts came out of the word-work for this one.

Many of the counter-protesters were veterans. Despite heated arguments, the two groups never came to blows (not that I saw, anyways).

The most popular chant was, "This is what democracy looks like!" Did that include all those protesters wearing masks? Some of those wearing masks were chanting 'jihad, jihad' at one point (see below, 16 seconds remaining). I'm not sure why they were chanting this - maybe it's some sort of new 'Hamas-chic?' What is clear is that even though many of the protesters might have had something valid to say and were serious about it, they were somewhat discredited by the large number of oddballs promoting all sorts of fringe issues - everything from veganism to the notion that Hillary Clinton and Obama are trying to outdo each other in a race to invade Iran (there was an effigy of Hillary with 'blood on her hands').

Chris McClure

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Middle East Radio

Perhaps the most common thing one hears on the radio in Egpytian taxis, buses and internet cafes is Quran Radio - recitations from the Quran and other religious programming.

In Israel, the most popular radio station is Galgalatz - Israeli Army Radio. It's run by soldiers and is meant in part to alleviate the tedium of long bus rides. It's also quite fun. The word 'Galgalatz' is derived from the Hebrew acronym for IDF (Israeli Defense Forces).

Quran Radio Cairo


The picture above is of a speaker at a friend's place in Jerusalem. Wrapped around the speaker is a headband taken from a Hamas member by my friend's roommate (a paratrooper in the IDF).

Chris McClure

Sunday, September 2, 2007


In my last post, I wondered what it means to appreciate a work of art and whether this can be done when the work is surrounded by noisy tourists. One of my favorite experiences in Italy was visiting Paestum, the site of an ancient Greek colony south of Naples where several well-preserved temples still stand. Somewhat off the beaten track, there were few visitors and it was a beautiful day - dark storm clouds were gathering but the temples were still in full late-afternoon sunlight, as were the wild flowers that surrounded them. I left Paestum without any of the sense of guilt I felt at the Trevi Fountain. I was surprised then, to read the following in Heidegger's "Origin of the Work of Art":

The Aegina sculptures in the Munich collection, Sophocles' Antigone in the best critical edition, are, as the works they are, torn out of their own native sphere. However high their quality and power of impression, however good their state of preservation, however certain their interpretation, placing them in a collection has withdrawn them from their own world. But even when we make an effort to cancel or avoid such displacement of the works - when, for instance, we visit the temple in Paestum at its own site or the Bamberg cathedral on its own square - the work that stands there has perished.
For Heidegger, Anitgone could only be appreciated properly by ancient Athenians and the temples of Paestum were only living works of art when they were filled with worshipers. Whether or nor this is entirely correct needs more thought. I was truly moved by Bernini's sculpture's in the Villa Borghese - but these have always been housed in the same building. What I do know is that I enjoyed being at Paestum. I also know that I enjoyed being at the Colosseum with Erica. Even in its dilapidated state the building is still impressive and it was somewhat possible to imagine what it must have been like there (despite overhearing the worn-out exaggerations of a nearby tour leader - 'as the gladiators tried to climb up the walls, the soldiers would slice off their fingers...'). Both the Colosseum and the even more ruined Baths of Caracalla had some sort of elevated air about them that was conducive to very good conversation (as was the Villa Borghese). Maybe just enjoying our time at these places is enough. As Plato observed (in a comment on my last post), enjoying a slushy with his girlfriend turned out to be more important than being locked out of the Acropolis.

Perhaps, even if we can't appreciate these works the way they were supposed to be appreciated (in Heidegger's sense), it is enough that we can experience them as they are now and think the thoughts they evoke even in their 'perished' state.

The engravings in this post depict one of the temples at Paestum and were made by Piranesi, a cicerone who made these as souvenirs for tourists in Rome in the mid-eighteenth century. He made engravings both of fantastic ideas for buildings and interiors as well as images such as those posted here. If Heidegger is right, Piranesi is making living art in these images of 'perished' art.

Chris McClure

Did You See the Trevi Fountain?

As I turned the corner I could see it - there was the Trevi fountain; well, behind that giant mass of other tourists. I had read about it in the guide book and knew a few facts about it. I waded closer to get a better look, but I was hungry, hot, tired of the paparazzi and in any case, on my way to meet someone. I left after a couple minutes with a nagging sense of guilt - both for thinking myself insensitive and for somehow offending the work of art. Did I really see the Trevi fountain? How long do you have to look at such a thing before you can claim to have really 'seen it?' Do you have to feel something and understand the significance of every detail? Whatever it means to have seen and appreciated a work of art, I was sure that I hadn't done it.

Later, as I was waiting to see the Sistine Chapel in a line that I'm certain could be seen from outer space, I began to wonder if I wasn't alone in this. Perhaps I'm being too cynical, but it seems to me that a large number of tourists are are on a frantic crusade to check of as many boxes as possible on some sort of checklist. This is, I suppose, good for conversation when one returns - no one would want to admit to having been in Italy for two or three weeks and not having seen the Sistine Chapel! But this isn't the only reason people make the effort to see these things. One also learns a great many astonishing facts about these sorts of works from tour guides and the Lonely Planet - not to mention the disembodied voice that comes from those strange audio guide devices. These bits of information really are useful, and often deserve the gasps of astonishment they receive, but the fact that Michelangelo had a hard time painting on a ceiling can't be the most important thing about the Sistine Chapel. But I'm left wondering - is it still possible to appreciate something like the Trevi fountain in these circumstances?

Chris McClure