Jane Austen’s Bath

CLICK HERE to read my newest post on Bath:  Bath’s Persuasion

In early December, my travels took me to another World Heritage Site: Bath, England.  Jane Austen lived there from 1801 – 1806 after her family moved from her birthplace Steventon when she was 26.  The City of Bath at that time was a meeting place of high society, the centre of fashion and the hub of stylish urban development, with elegant and spectacular Georgian buildings and Palladian architecture.  What’s interesting is, today’s Bath remains more or less the same as it was in Jane’s time.  The buildings have been maintained in such immaculate condition that a visitor to Bath today can actually walk the paths of Jane’s and behold the city and landscape she had seen, and eat at a place that she could have frequented, the Sally Lunn’s.  This little bakery and eatery is located in the oldest house in Bath, dating back to the 1400’s, a historical site even for Jane.

Jane Austen chose Bath as the setting for Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both novels published posthumously.  According to sources, in particular Claire Tomalin’s biography Jane Austen: A Life, Jane did not like the City of Bath.  The superficiality and frivolity of high society were met with her satirical critiques.  Further, her disdain could well be caused by the very purpose she suspected of her parents’ decision to move there:  opportunities to meet favourable suitors for their daughters.

Nevertheless, for me as a modern day visitor to Bath, and a Janeite at that, I’m impressed to learn that most of what I see have lasted through hundreds of years.  The Roman Baths, the Bath Abbey where the first king of England Edgar was crowned in 973 A.D., the Pump Room, the Gardens, The Royal Crescent, Queen’s Square, The Pulteney Bridge, the same streets and architecture are situated just as they were in Jane’s time.

Here are some of the famous places in Jane Austen’s Bath.

Jane Austen’s first residence in Bath 1801 – 1805, No. 4 Sydney Place:

Jane Austen’s Residence 4 Sydney Place

Jane Austen’s Residence No. 4 Sydney Place

Jane Austen’s second residence in Bath, No. 25 Gay Street, now a dentist’s office:

JA’s second residence No. 25 Gay Street

Gay Street:

The Street Where Jane Lived

Queen’s Square across from Gay Street: Good spot for people-watching for Jane and Cassandra:

Queen’s Square across from Gay Street

The Pump Room: The meeting place of the Who’s Who in Jane Austen’s Bath:

“In the Pump-room, one so newly arrived in Bath must be met with…”  –Chapter 9,  Northanger Abbey

The Pump Room

The Pump Room Exterior

The Royal Crescent:  Georgian buildings spectacularly arranged in a crescent form, where the rich and fashionable took their Sunday afternoon stroll in Jane’s time.  Jane’s view is satirically clear:

“…they hastened away to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company.” –Chapter 5,  Northanger Abbey

The Crescent

Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon:

Pultney Bridge Over the River Avon

Sally Lunn’s:  Famous buns since the 1680’s:

Sally Lunn’s

All photos originally taken by Arti of www.rippleeffects.wordpress.com

Text and photos All Rights Reserved, December, 2007.

More interesting posts coming up…and for Janeites, look for Lacock Village in my next post.

Update:  Due to the keen interest from readers of “Jane Austen’s Bath”, I’ve published another post, “Bath in December“, with more photos of my recent visit to that beautiful City.  After you’ve finished reading this post, you’re welcome to visit “Bath in December” and… enjoy!

Petra: Indiana Jones On Location

I’m still travelling in far off places, but just a few pictures to whet the appetite of those who have been so eagerly waiting.  Thanks for your patience.  I’ve been longing to share with you all my experience, the sights and sounds of distant lands, obscure to North Americans but definitely very popular places to explore for those in other parts of the world.  I feel like a wanderer in the Tower of Babel, hearing a myriad of unknown languages, not only from the natives of those lands, but from the crowds of visitors around me.

 The most amazing sight so far I must say is Petra, the city carved out of rocks, right in the red mountains of southern Jordan, about 3 hour’s drive southwest of the capital city Amman.  Petra was the land of the Edomites, descendants of Esau, twin brother of Jacob in the Old Testament of the Bible.  The ancient city was first constructed by the Nabataeans, and later came under Roman rule.  Earthquake and flooding had destroyed much of the city and it remained obscure for centuries until rediscovered by a Swiss explorer in 1812.

The ancient ruins of Petra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.  Excavation has been an international effort towards which Brown University’s archaelogy and anthropology departments have contributed substantially.  Follow this link to their fabulous website  http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Anthropology/Petra/

Petra was the location for parts of the film Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989).  You might recognize the famous facade of the ancient temple (The Treasury) which is the entrance to this amazing city in the rocks.

(First a word about COPYRIGHT:  I’ve travelled far, walked great distances and ridden on a donkey to take the following pictures, PLEASE DO NOT COPY.) 

Entering the red mountain region:

Entering the Mtn Region

A glimpse through the crack:

beginning-glimpse-through-a-crack.jpg

Beholding the real wonder:

the-temple-facade-at-the-entrance-of-the-city.jpg

The City carved out of rocks:

 the-city-carved-out-of-rocks.jpg

out-of-the-red-rock.jpg

Again, photos taken by Arti of www.rippleeffects.wordpress.com 

November, 2007.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. 

More to come in future posts.  Thanks for waiting.

But is this Art?…But is this Prodigy?

The comments in my last post have spurred some insightful ideas on the whole notion of what Art is, and whether a child’s production can include such inherent elements as soulful expression, and purposeful creation driven by theoretical stance.

I think a more appropriate question is, “But is this Prodigy?”

In his review of the documentary My Kid Could Paint That, New York Times film critic A. O. Scott acknowledges that it is natural for parents to cherish their children’s work. Those doodlings and finger paintings posted on the fridge door are priceless. He goes on to say:

The untaught sense of color and composition that children seem naturally to possess sometimes yields extraordinary results, and the combination of instinct and accident that governs their creative activity can produce astonishing works of art.

Except that these magical finger-paint daubings and crayon scribblings aren’t really works of art in any coherent sense of the term, but rather the vital byproducts of play, part of the cognitive and sensory awakening that is the grand, universal vocation of childhood.

The influential abstract art critic Clement Greenberg had made the following controversial remark: 

In visual arts, prodigies don’t count. In music and literature, yes, but not in art.”

The statement reiterates his view that:

The making of superior art is arduous.”

I tend to agree with him. 

I have seen music prodigies, not having reached the ripe old age of 10 or 12, performing complex pieces of classical compositions.  In contrast to a child pouring paint and spreading it out intuitively with her fingers, I saw behind those performances the countless hours of excruciating practice, the intricate and sometimes impossible eye-hand coordination, the mastery of the theory and the appreciation of the structure of the work, to ultimately evoking the very spirit intended by the composer as they perform. 

Not only that, the best of them make it deceptively simple.  They make the audience feel that they are watching a natural, born with such ability and talent, rendering hard work an oxymoron.  I’m not doubting there’s intuition and instinct involved.  But in every superb playing I see intuitive musicality alchemized with extraordinary mastery of skills and discipline. 

As for literary prodigies?  Maybe because of my limited exposure, I have yet to read one.

My Kid Could Paint That

If you type in “Marla Olmstead” in your Google search, 37 pages of information will come up. From these pages, you’ll know that she is a painter, born in Binghamton, New York. Her paintings have been compared to Wassily Kandinsky (the pioneer of modern art) and Jackson Pollock (the legendary drip artist). You’ll also learn that her works have been sold for tens of thousands of dollars. And soon enough, you’ll learn that Marla Olmstead is 7 years-old.

Nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year, My Kid Could Paint That is director Amir Bar-Lev’s quest to find out the true story behind this little girl who has been hailed as a “pint-size Picasso”. In the film, we see her using professional paintbrushes and other art accessories to work on canvases over 5 feet tall.

The first half of the documentary we see Marla Olmstead having her first showing in a NY Gallery, she was only 4 then. Her paintings sold like hot cakes, with a waiting list of more than 200 buyers, ready to snatch up anything she would produce. No need to worry about getting work for the next few years. As a 4 year-old, Marla had already earned more than $300,000, which her parents said had been put aside in a college fund. (Would she be going to college?)

Marla Olmstead Marla’s Burning Blue Ball

Then came the bombshell half way into the film. In a February, 2005, CBS’s 60 Minutes reporting, Marla and her parents were painted in a very different light. In the program, Charlie Rose interviewed Ellen Winner, a psychologist who has studied gifted children and specializes in visual arts. She saw a video tape taken by a hidden camera in the home of the Olmstead’s, unobtrusively recording Marla at work. What she suspected was a coach behind the child, someone prodding her on, even directing her moves. After the airing of the CBS program, a once beautiful art prodigy was overnight turned into an ordinary child with manipulative parents in the background steering her purposefully towards financial gain.

Sales began to drop, and warm praises turned into damning accusations. Loving parents are now seen as manipulative frauds. The Olmsteads have since made their own DVD to disprove the detrimental claims. You can see some of the clips showing Marla painting at home in the website http://www.marlaolmstead.com/

Director Amir Bar-Lev has successfully captured the emotional reactions Marla’s parents had in response to the 60 Minutes interview, and their attempt to defend their name in denying their invovlement in Marla’s artistic productions. Interestingly, the film does not take a stand. Rather, it has raised more questions than provided answers:

For those of us who are parents, what are our motives in raising our children? How can we decide what’s ‘best’ for them? How much influence should we or do we have over our children’s development? Where is the line between nature and nurture, pleasure and porfit? What’s more, what is art anyway? And the definition of modern art? Or, talent, for that matter? Does talent has to be associated with a monetary value or fame before it can be recognized?

Every one would have very different view of this story, and his/her own personal set of queries. I went to see this movie with a painter friend of mine. Not surprisingly, as we came out of the theatre, we had very different reactions to the film. Well one question I know I have, and it’s for my mom. Mom, if you’re reading…why wasn’t I given the big canvases and professional paintbrushes and those huge tubes of paints when I was a kid? How come I only got pencil crayons?

~~~3 Ripples