Friday, January 13, 2012

"Practice Makes Permanent"

You've heard the saying "practice makes perfect." But, is it true?

Alex took 1.5 years of piano several years ago. Every once in a while, she will sit down and play her favorite piece. She has played it perhaps a hundred times. But, there is one place where she tends to hit a wrong note. And, she practices this wrong note over and over. She corrects herself after playing the note, but usually misses the note while playing the piece. In her case, the practice of the wrong note has become semi-permanent.

I started swimming last year to participate in a triathlon. I didn't have a coach and just did the best I could with learning freestyle. Now, I'm in a Masters Swim class and the coach is trying to teach me the correct way to swim. I have learned so many parts of my stroke incorrectly that it is frustrating to try and correct my form. My body is 'used to' the wrong ways I've been swimming. I am trying to undo what I've learned, through practice. But, I feel it..."practice makes permanent."

Of course, in both cases we can undo the harm of practicing our skills incorrectly. But, it won't be easy! It's best to practice things correctly...because what we practice becomes permanent!
(This is insight I gained while listening to Andrew Pudewa's lecture, Reflections on Redeeming Repitition: Rut, Routine and Ritual.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Napoleon Bonaparte & His First Painter

I posted a few days ago about Jacques-Louis David, the French Revolution Artist. As the French Revolution ended, Napoleon Bonaparte stepped up to become the leader of France - first as First Consul in 1799 and then as Emperor in 1804. David, who had been so supportive of the Revolution, now supported Napoleon and became his "First Painter."

This painting, Napoleon Crossin the Saint Bernard Pass, shows the heroic Napoleon mounted on a spirited horse. Napoleon seems calm as soldiers in the background push a gun carriage up a steep slope. His horse, however, looks terrified. I read that Napoleon had actually crossed the Alps on a donkey, but he thought this made him look more "brave and daring"! (from Lives of the Great Artists by Charlie Ayres)

This portrait by David shows Napoleon in his classic stance with his right arm inside of his coat. I listened to a wonderful podcast on Napoleon by J David Markham. The podcast, An Introduction to The Napoleon 101 Podcast, was over an hour long and it is only #1 of 58 podcasts! It did provide a good overview, and I intend on listening to more of these. Anyway, it said that this stance was actually common in portraits at the time. I read more about it here.

I also watched an hour-long movie about Napoleon at the PBS site. What an amazing life! I can't believe I grew up thinking history was 'boring!'

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Arlington Cemetery

I'm trying to catch up on my travel posts. This is from DC in October 2010.

We were on a tight schedule this day and our biggest mistake was not eating before we went to the cemetery! It was a long ride and we thought we'd get something at the cemetery. Well, food is not allowed at the cemetery. And, we were there for hours even though we 'hurried.' One of the girls in our group had her blood sugar crashing and her mom talked one of the employees into getting some food (from his own stash). But, the rest of us went HUNGRY.

I loved that we visited DC in fall. It was beautiful!

The Kennedy's.

We got to the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers fairly early and sat and waited for quite awhile. But, it was a beautiful day and we had nice seats on the stairs. We didn't realize this was a day they would change the flowers so we got up and left our seats. It was disappointing that we didn't see it, but we were tired and still had a long walk ahead of us. And, one of the moms had a grave she wanted to find. We ended up going on without them. Everyone was tired & hungry.
My favorite photo of the day.

I read that the rocks on the tombstones are a Jewish way of paying respect. And, when I looked at the stones I'd taken photos of, they do have the Star of David on them, though I also saw one with a cross.

Dickens on the Strand

In December, Alex & I attended "Dickens on the Strand" for the third year in a row. This holiday festival in Galveston celebrates the Victorian London of Charles Dickens. There is a parade, food, entertainment, and a visit by the "Queen" and her Beefeaters. Also, many of the spectators dress up in period costumes.

We once again stayed at the Hilton Galveston Island Resort. We really enjoyed the hotel last year. And, this year, we got a great deal on a room with a full gulf view! On Friday night, we drove up after school and then went to dinner, also like last year, at Rainforest Cafe. Then, we went to a movie, Arthur Christmas.

The next morning, we spent some time on the beach. We took a lot of photos, and Alex found this Monarch butterfly in the water. It was still alive and we ended up putting it on some foliage.

It was a nice day and we watched some people surfing. We saw several of them actually surf!

Then, we headed to The Strand, the historic part of Galveston where the festival is held. We parked about a half a mile away and we were thrilled that there were some bicycle taxis available this year. Ours was very friendly and we were happy for the ride. He took this photo for us.

We watched quite a few street acts, including this man who juggled fire...
and hammered a nail into his nose! Gross! And, ouch!

Some Victorian beggars. The crowd was actually throwing coins for them to gather.

We love chalk art! There were only a few of these, but they are always fun to look at.

Jacob Marley from The Christmas Carol?

One of the streets act was a bird show! I love birds!

The start of the parade!

And, Queen Victorian in the parade.

Lastly, our favorite act for the third year in a row...Merrie Mary. She's a juggler and we love her!

Friday, January 06, 2012

The Guillotine

As I read To the Scaffold: The Life of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson, I learned more about the guillotine which was used extensively during the French Revolution. Dr Joseph Ignance Guillotin suggested the use of a beheading device with the intent of creating a socially equal form of capital punishment. In the past, noblemen had been beheaded which was quick and honorable. On the other hand, lesser men were tortured to death or hanged. With the guillotine, however, death would be equal and swift for all men.
The Execution of Robespierre from Wikipedia
A gruesome part of the French society was the watching of executions. I read somewhere (in the book?) that families would come to watch and bring their children. But, after years with thousands of public executions, less people were present as they'd grown bored with the events. By 1799, the guillotine had been used to execute about 15,000 people.

Here's a paragraph from Erickson's book:
The first human trial of the guillotine in April of 1792 was something of an experiment, which gave the many spectators an added frisson. The machine had been used on sheep and calves, and tested on human corpses brought from the charity hospitals. But no one could be certain that it would work as efficiently on a live criminal, and the wretched forger scheduled to be executed that day must have suffered the added torment of doubting the efficiency of the savage blade. Scientists speculated about whether the head might live on after it was separated from the trunk, whether the mind might go on thinking, the eyes seeing, the tounge wagging. But the forger's execution proved to be effortless and swift, and made a very good show, and the observers went off afterwards satisfied that they had witnessed a new and entirely satisfactory form of public vengence.
The guillotine has continued to be used, even in my lifetime! I found a date (at the site mentioned later in this paragraph) that shows the guillotine used in 1987 in East Germany. And, it was last used in France in 1977 when the murderer Hamida Djandoubi was beheaded. (information from The debate as to whether or not the person continues to be alive for seconds after the beheading has continued to be debated. For more information on that, you can read this article at The Guillotine site.
Of course, Marie Antoinette faced the end of her mortal life lying on a guillotine platform. Her husband, King Louis XVI, had also been executed in this manner nine months earlier.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The French Revolution Artist

Today I watched lecture 15 of World's Greatest Paintings, a Great Courses lecture by William Kloss. I am LOVING this series! Each lecture covers 3 paintings and discusses the artists that made those works. One of today's artists was Jacques-Louis David, an artist I was not familiar with. His painting, Death of Marat, was one I'd seen before but not understood. I was excited to find out that this painting was a part of the French Revolution, a topic I'm now studying and reading about!

David was an active supporter of the French Revolution and used his paintings to stir up the passions of the French people. In this painting, David shows the death of his friend and publisher, Jean Marat. Marat had a skin condition and soaked in a tub for several hours a day. Since his weapon in the Revolution was his 'pen', he had a table set up over the tub. He also had a crate nearby for a desk. And, as he soaked, he would receive visitors.

On this fateful day, Charlotte Corday arrived with a letter of introduction and was admitted to see Marat. But, she was actually there to murder him. She was captured and executed later that month.

In the painting, there is a little blood on the note in Marat's hand, the letter of introduction. Also, on the floor is the knife that Corday used to stab Marat.

Smart History has a wonderful post about this masterpiece. And, he has more on some of David's other paintings.

Kimbell Art Museum

Yesterday, we went with my mom to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. We were specifically there to see a special exhibit, but we also looked through the permanent exhibits.

(All photos are from the Kimbell site)
Alex's favorite piece of art was of Ganesh, an Indian god. Alex has a new friend and I spent some time with her mom a few weeks ago. She was in India during a festival for Ganesh, a festival that Alex & her friend also learned about in school this year. This Hindu festival takes place around August or September and lasts for 10 days. Statues of the god are made, sold, decorated & worshipped. Then, the statues are led in a procession through the streets and "immersed in a river or the sea symbolizing a ritual see-off." (from Wikipedia)

Cherubs vs Putti
In the Great Course lectures I've been watching, the lecture (Kloss) refers to putti. I wasn't sure what the difference between cherub & putti were and we came across both terms at the Kimbell. The image above (a close up of putti from Poussin's Venus & Adonis) called the cute winged babies 'putti'. Well, after doing research at home I came across this terrific blog post at Many Shades of Shabby. Basically, if the painting is religious & the babies are 'innocent', they are cherubs (like the cherubim angels of the Bible). If the painting is secular, usually mythological, and the babies are not innocent looking, they are putti.

The Sacrament of Ordination by Poussin
This painting is one of a series of 7 paintings by Poussin in the mid to late 1630's covering the 7 sacrements. Since I am not Catholic, I had to do a little reading to find out about the 7 sacraments. The Kimbell site actually gives a pretty good explanation:
1. Ordination - the taking of holy orders to become a priest, deacon or bishop - shown here as Christ giving the keys of heaven & earth to Peter.
2. Confirmation
3. The Eucharist (communion)
4. Extreme Unction (the last rites)
5. Marriage
6. Penance (confession) - this painting was destroyed in a fire
7. Baptism - which is in the National Gallery of Art in DC & we hope to see it in March.

The Torment of St Anthony by Michelangelo
This amazing painting was done by Michelangelo and is believed to be his earliest the age of only 12 or 13!!! This is the first Michelangelo to be in an American collection. And, St Anthony is one of the saints I've been reading about lately as I learn about art history. Basically, Saint Anthony became a religious hermit and was said to have been tormented by Satan. Artists have portrayed these temptations and torments with all kinds of scary, make-believe beasts.

Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene attributed to Georges de La Tour
I loved this painting of Irene tending to Saint Sebastian, another saint I've been reading about lately. Saint Sebastian was a Roman soldier under Diocletian. Diocletian ordered him executed by a firing squad of archers after Sebastian had been converting soldiers to Christianity. Irene took care of him and he miraculously lived. Though, after his recovery, he confronted Diocletian who ordered him executed...again. This time, Sebastian died. I love the gentleness of Irene in this painting.

P.S. I loved this post over at Family Ramblings that tells about a lot of the other fun things to do in Fort Worth. I'm going to have to try more of them!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Looking back at 2011 trips....and ahead to 2012!

I still have a lot of travel posts to catch up on for 2011. Our "big" trips were as follows...

1. JAPAN!!! What an amazing adventure! And, we got home just 2 days before the tsunami.

2. FLORIDA - We spent several days at the beach and visited Disney for the first time.
3. MONTANA/WYOMING - Where we visited the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and more! Our "Wild West" vacation.

What are our plans for 2012???

1. WASHINGTON DC - Alex & I are headed there for Spring Break. We were there about a year and a half ago, but there is a lot more we want to see!

2. TWO WEEKS IN EUROPE! We will probably spend a couple of days in London, at least a week in France, and several days in The Netherlands. All of these are 'firsts'.

3. FLORIDA & SAVANNAH, GA - We will be visiting Amelia Island in Florida and spending some time in Savanah - our first time to Georgia!
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