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Vegetable venders near the Ponte dei Pugni

Greengrocer near the Ponte dei Pugni, Venice

Greengrocer near the Ponte dei Pugni, Venice

So convenient to pop down to the canal and pick up a few fresh fruits and vegetables.

The nearby bridge is called the Ponte dei Pugni (Bridge of Fists) because until the early eighteenth century the rival Castelloni and Nicolotti clans would meet in the middle of the bridge for fisticuffs. The losers would be tossed over the side of the bridge into the canal.

The bridge spans the Rio di S. Barnaba in the sestiero of Dorsoduro. The Church of San Barnaba, which gives the canal its name, appeared in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where its Paladian facade was supposed to be that of a library where Jones’s father disappeared. The church was rebuilt several times. The present version, from the mid to late eighteenth century, is by Lorenzo Boschetti. Its campanile, however, is one of the oldest in Venice, probably dating from the twelfth century.

Maria Félix Google doodle

María Félix, 1914-2002

Maria Flix as Catalina de Erauso

María Félix as Catalina de Erauso

Nice to see the great María Félix as a Google Doodle today (April 8, her 103rd birthday). Here she is as Catalina de Erauso in The Lieutenant Nun (from my book 1616: The World in Motion). In this cunning disguise nobody was able to identify her as a woman.

Links:

Grand Canal, Venice, looking south.

Ca’ Farsetti, Venice

East bank of the Grand Canal, looking south from the Rialto Bridge. The two buildings to the right of the yellow facade are the Ca' Corner Loredan and the Ca' Farsetti, both built in the the early 13th century (and later modified). These are the earliest major palazzi facing the Grand Canal.

East bank of the Grand Canal, looking south from the Rialto Bridge. The two buildings to the right of the yellow facade are the Ca’ Corner Loredan and the Ca’ Farsetti, both built in the the early 13th century (and later modified). These are the earliest major surviving palazzi facing the Grand Canal.

I have been researching the interesting history of Venice and the Veneto, and will be posting a few entries, mainly incorporating photos I’ve taken during visits there. (This one was taken 30 Oct. 2010.) The second building to the right of the yellow facade is the Ca’ Farsetti, a palazzo of historic importance.

Before 1200 the focus of life for most Venetians was the open campo outside each island compound’s church. However, as the city filled up, becoming one rather than many, the divisions between those compounds were blurred. The great open space of the Piazza San Marco became the city’s campo—a place for the citizens of a unified state to gather. In the same way, the Grand Canal became its central boulevard, filled with traffic of all kinds. Where the palaces of rich Venetians had previously faced their local campi, they now turned toward the Grand Canal. The wealthiest Venetians jostled for position along the waterway, each attempting to outdo the other in grandeur. The oldest surviving such palazzo is the Ca’ Farsetti, built by Ranieri Dandolo, the son of Doge Enrico Dandolo. This impressive Gothic structure near the Rialto Bridge is today used as Venice’s city hall…. Unlike family palaces in other Italian cities, the Venetian structures remained unfortified—a feature that speaks volumes about the lack of factionalism and lawlessness in the Republic of Venice.
—Thomas F. Madden, Venice: A New History

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Catchlight photo detail.

Catchlight

Carol in Ghent, showing catchlight.

Carol in Ghent, showing catchlights (see below for detail). This photo was taken on a boat bar in the university district, where animation was provided not only by catchlights but also by Duvels.

I don’t do much portrait photography. Most of my people shots are casual and unposed. The majority are of family, and it seems we are often wearing sunglasses.

But if you want to photograph faces the best way, catchlight is an important element to be aware of. A catchlight is a highlight caused by reflected light on the surface of the eye (as opposed to red eye, which is light reflected from the retina). Eyes without catchlights can look flat and dull, while catchlights add sparks that can seem to animate faces.

Catchlight.

Catchlight.

They come in all sizes and shapes, and it’s possible to have more than one. Studio photographers often use light reflectors to make sure they get catchlights in their portraits. If they get more than one they are likely to edit one out in post processing.  Traditionally, the best positions were thought to be ten or eleven and one or two o’clock. Some photographers will even add these highlights in post if they failed to capture them in making the photo.

In outdoor settings the best way to get catchlights is to focus on a subject who is in the shade facing toward the sun. (Some photographers carry pocket reflectors, which they usually position below the subject’s chin—these would be most useful in posed situations, and I’ve never tried them.) If the subject is looking at you as you take the photo, try to have the sun at your back. Just be aware that you might end up with your own reflection in the subject’s eyes.

Left: Capuchin. Right: Cappuccino. The drink takes its name from the color of the monks' robes.

Left: Capuchin. Right: Cappuccino.

The drink takes its name from the color of the monks’ robes.

Detail of image

Removing Color Cast from Images

The original image has a strong green cast.

The original image has a strong green cast.

You’re looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Or maybe they’re some other color. Whatever the color, it’s casting its hue over your entire image. Here I will tell you a quick, nifty trick for getting rid of it.

Take the photo above, taken with a film camera in ancient times in Mixco, Guatemala. The little boy is Felipe, the gardener’s son, and behind him is the  duplex casita that we shared with his family. As you can see, the photo has a strong green cast.

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Claude Lévi-­Strauss quotation

Camel plaque, Palazzo Mastelli, Venice

The House of the Camel, Venice

Camel plaque, Palazzo Mastelli, Venice

Camel plaque, Palazzo Mastelli, Venice.

In the Canareggio sestiere of Venice, between the Jewish Ghetto and the Madonna dell’ Orto church, on the Calle dei Mori (the Street of the Moors), resides the Palazzo Mastelli. It is an venerable edifice, marked with a plaque depicting a camel laden with burdens. (Consequently, the palazzo is familiarly known as the House of the Camel.) The camel is an enduring symbol of the position of Venice as an entrepôt for trade between East and West.

The original meaning of the camel plaque seems to have been lost to legend, most of it xenophobic. According to legend, three brothers came to Venice from “Morea” (the Peloponnesian peninsula of Greece) in 1112. Or maybe, according to other accounts, they were from the Levant. Maybe they were Arabs. In any case, their names are always given as Rioba, Sandi, and Afani, and they were traders, wicked men who, one story has it, sought to sell cheap fabric to a Venetian lady at an exorbitant price. But the victim of the scam cursed the money, and the three men were turned into turbaned stone statues that stand near the palace in the Campo dei Mori.

Another variant of the story says that the unscrupulous merchant used his favorite phrase while peddling his cloth, “May my hand turn to stone if what I am saying is not true.” Unfortunately for him, his intended victim was an avatar of St. Mary Magdalene (or maybe she simply answered the woman’s prayer) and once again the brothers end up as stone figures.

Turbaned figure in exterior wall niche,Campo dei Mori, Venice.

Turbaned figure in exterior wall niche,Campo dei Mori, Venice.

On one of the statues, known as “Sior Rioba,” satirical poems and protests politicians and other powerful people were traditionally hung. In the nineteenth century Sior Rioba lost his nose, and in 2010 his head, although it was later found in the Calle della Racchetta and restored.

Legends endure, and Venetians and travel guides have enjoyed relating the story for centuries. (One version appears in Giuseppe Tassini’s Curiosità Veneziane, 1872.) But the bases of the statues are in fact parts from a Roman altar, and the statues were not constructed as a group but are a composite from various sources, put together in the fourteenth century.

The Palazzo Mastelli is a similar mélange, combining thirteenth-century Byzantine fragments with sixteenth-century construction, Roman fragments set in a column, and all of that topped with a Gothic balcony. All quite Venetian and, if you ask me, charming.

Palazzo Mastelli, the Fondamenta Madonna dell'Orto facade.

Palazzo Mastelli, the Fondamenta Madonna dell’Orto facade.

 

Roman fountain.

Temple of Dendur, Metropolitan Museum, New York City.

Astronomicum Caesarium, 1540

Astronomicum Caesarium

Astronomicum Caesarium.

The Astronomicum Caesarium (“The Emperor’s Astronomy,” 1540) by Petrus Apianus is a monumental example of European book arts of the sixteenth century, and one of the most beautiful books ever produced.

The author and producer, Peter Bienewitz (1495–1552), was the son of a shoemaker. He took the name Apianus (Latin for “bee man,” more or less a translation of his German surname), while a student at the University of Leipzig. Apianus worked as a mathematician and cosmographer (and astrologer) in the employ of emperor Charles V (1500–1558), whom he may have tutored. The Astronomicum Caesarium was produced for the emperor in folio format (about 18 x 13 in.) in a limited edition (about forty copies survive but the original run might not have been much larger).

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Good typography in five minutes

A delightful guide from Pierrick Calvez. Click the screenshot (from a section representing “contrast”) for the five-minute guide.

Screen shot from Pierrick Calvez's Five-minute Guide to Better Typography

Screen shot from Pierrick Calvez’s Five-minute Guide to Better Typography.

Orbis sensualium pictus, 1659

<em>Orbis sensualium pictus</em>, 1659, by Comenius (Czech, 1592-1670), sheet from printed book.

Orbis sensualium pictus, 1659, by Comenius (Czech, 1592-1670). English translation by Charles Hoole (English, 1610-1667). Sheet from printed book.

The Orbis sensualium pictus, often described as the first children’s picture-book, sought to use animal sounds to teach children the alphabet.  The author, Jan Amos Komenský, who took the Latin name Comenius, was an early champion of universal education. The book was originally published in German and Latin, and translated into English the following year by Charles Hoole, an English cleric and educational writer. A sheet from that translation is displayed above.

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rose

Left: Vatican City, 3 Oct. 2009. Right: Antigua, Guatemala, 4 Jan., 2002.

Left: Vatican City, 3 Oct. 2009. Right: Antigua, Guatemala, 4 Jan., 2002.

Living Wall with Calder, SFMOMA

Living wall at SFMOMA, with detail of <em>Maquette for Trois disques</em>, 1967, by Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976), metal and paint, The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection.

Living wall at SFMOMA, with detail of Maquette for Trois disques, 1967, by Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976), metal and paint, The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection.

Penobscot stones

detail of Venice scene

Scena di Venezia

Venice scene

Another image using the photo-to-line art technique I described in a previous post.

Six Memos for the Next Millennium

Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the New Millennium

Cover of SF Chronicle Boos Review

A friend and I were talking.

One of my favorites is Italo Calvino, she said.
Oh, yes!… I used to review some of his books for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Which ones?
My favorite was Six Memos for the New Millennium.
I love that one! Can you send it to me?… The review, I mean.
Maybe? That must have been around thirty years ago. But I think I do still have some old reviews in a box. I’ll see if I can dig it out for you.

And I did. And here it is.


Writing as a Perfect Crystal

Six Memos for the Next Millennium

The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 1985–1986
By Italo Calvino; translated by Patrick Creagh
Harvard University Press; 136 pages; $12.95

In Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Italo Calvino, master of startling literary transformations in such works as Invisible Cities, Cosmicomics, and If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, shares his personal alchemical formula for literary Gold.

These lectures, intended for presentation at Harvard University in 1985, are precisely worded, carefully crafted, beautifully illustrated examples of the literary essay and inspiring demonstrations of Calvino’s argument that writing should have the definition, luminescence, and perfection of structure of a crystal. (The book is marred only by the failure of Harvard University Press to credit Patrick Creagh’s excellent translation.)

Calvino’s formula is idiomatic and personal. It will be difficult for literary critics to apply it as a test of value or for aspiring writers to use it as a recipe for their own magical creations. But it provides a brilliant, original approach to literature, a key to Calvino’s own work, and a thoroughly delightful and illuminating commentary on some of the world’s greatest writing.

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La persistencia de la memoria, 1931, by Salvador Dali. Oil on canvas. Museum of Modern Art, NY, given anonymously, 162.1934.

La persistencia de la memoria, 1931, by Salvador Dali. Oil on canvas. Museum of Modern Art, NY, given anonymously, 162.1934.

 

The predominant focus in the neurobiological study of memory has been on remembering (persistence). However, recent studies have considered the neurobiology of forgetting (transience). Here we draw parallels between neurobiological and computational mechanisms underlying transience. We propose that it is the interaction between persistence and transience that allows for intelligent decision-making in dynamic, noisy environments. Specifically, we argue that transience (1) enhances flexibility, by reducing the influence of outdated information on memory-guided decision-making, and (2) prevents overfitting to specific past events, thereby promoting generalization. According to this view, the goal of memory is not the transmission of information through time, per se. Rather, the goal of memory is to optimize decision-making. As such, transience is as important as persistence in mnemonic systems.

Neuron Magazine

This is a fancy way of saying, just think how hellish it would be if you were unable to forget any face you had ever seen on BART.

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