Dinner time. We are eating together, in the kitchen of our apartment. My mother, father, brother, and me.

We never watch TV while eating. 'It's unfriendly, and unhealthy', Mummy will say. Everyone instead tells the family how their day went.

Dad now talks about his job. Mum listens. I squabble with my bro. The radio plays softly in the background. Music usually, but news now. I like the music, but I don't listen to the news. Little boys are not interested in the news.

All of a sudden, my parents stop chatting. My father says 'Oh', stands up and turns up the sound of the radio. I look up from my plate of spaghetti. Daddy's face is as white as a sheet. Mum's eyes are full of tears. My little brother has not noticed, he is quite busy playing with his food.

November 22, 1963. I just learned there is a city named Dallas in the United States.

Noir Désir

Gagnants/Perdants by <em><u>Noir Désir</em>
Gagnants/Perdants by Noir Désir

Noir Désir became famous in 2001 with their song 'Le vent nous portera'. Yet the band was disrupted after singer Bertrand Cantat was jailed for the manslaughter of his girlfriend, actress Marie Trintignant after a violent row in a Lithuanian hotel in July 2003. He was sentenced to eight years imprisonment, but left jail last year after he had served half the sentence.

"Noir Désir died the same day as Marie", Cantat once said. Yet the band does not appear to be that dead, since they released on the Internet last Thursday, that everyone can download for free.

Le vent nous portera (Noir Désir)

For several months, I did not listen to 'Le vent nous portera' because I could not help thinking this voice belonged to a man who once beat his wife to death. I still have mixed feelings about it: the song exists anyway, and it is a great song.

Giorgio de Chirico — The Red Tower
Giorgio de Chirico
The Red Tower (1913)
The Barnes Foundation

When I was in Philadelphia lately, I visited , a fascinating place where hundreds (!) of chef-d'oeuvres are displayed. It owns a lot of Impressionist paintings especially. Also, many canvases by various painters who were not impressionists are exhibited, among which several pieces by .

I like many paintings by Chirico, in particular those he painted during his 'metaphysical' period. Yet the artist later joined the futurist movement 'Valori Plastici', then its 'Novecento' following, who both supported Mussolini's fascism. I sure dislike what were the ideas and behaviour of the individual. I still love many of his paintings anyway.

Another example: French writer , also a doctor in medicine. His first novel, 'Journey to the End of the Night' (Voyage au bout de la nuit) is among my favourite books ever. 'Death on the Instalment Plan' (Mort à crédit) is another great novel by him. His medical thesis about , who discovered the cause of puerperal fever and introduced hand washing in medicine, is at the same time a marvel of smartness and independence of mind, and splendid literature.

Yet Céline was a racist and anti-Semite, who shared many opinions with the Nazis. He wrote shameful pamphlets about the Jews before and during WWII. After the war, he was convicted a collaborator and imprisoned. I despise the man, I deeply admire several novels he wrote.

So... I still look at paintings by Chirico. I still read Céline. I still listen to music by Wagner. I may still listen to the songs by Bertrand Cantat also then. It does not mean I would shake the hand of the man, if it ever happened that I met him.

Ben Franklin Superstar!

Benjamin Franklin Parkway — Philadelphia, November 2008
Benjamin Franklin Parkway — Philadelphia, Nov. 2008

Wherever you go in Philadelphia, you meet Benjamin Franklin.

One day, you visit the on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, then gaze at the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial in the rotunda of the .

Another day, in the , you walk through Franklin Square, close to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge over the Delaware River, then in front of Franklin's Grave, on your way to where the founding fathers of the U.S.A. — including Benjamin Franklin — signed and ratified the U.S. Constitution on July 4, 1776.  Two blocks from there, you reach Franklin Court, where once stood Franklin's house. Below the court is the Franklin Museum, that is filled with paintings, objects, and inventions associated with Benjamin Franklin...

Okay, let's stop making fun of the way Philadelphians worship 'Ben', because he actually was one of the most historically fascinating personalities in the Image18th century. Although he was given little education as a child, he became famous for being a printer, an inventor, a scientist, a musician, a champion swimmer, an economist, a writer, a philosopher, and a statesman.

Especially, Benjamin Franklin personifies the 18th century approach to science. When a subject interested him, he gathered information, experimented, and then developed a practical application.

Electricity, symbolized by the lightning rod, was the source of his worldwide renown as an inventor, but the list of his other contributions includes improved streetlights, more efficient heating, bifocal, and even a musical instrument, the armonica, of which a reproduction is displayed in his underground Museum below Franklin Court.

ImageFranklin was in England in 1761, when he heard a performer playing musical glasses. He wrote then: "He collected a number of glasses of different sizes, fixed them near each other on a table, and tuned them by putting into them water, more or less as each note required. The tones were brought out by passing his fingers round their brims."

Franklin loved the music, and because it is very difficult to set up about fifty glasses on a table, he decided to find a more practical method of creating music from glass.  He had a glass maker create 37 glass bowls tuned to specific tones, according to their different size and thickness, then ran an iron rod through a hole in the top of each hemisphere so that they could nest together, from largest to smallest. Under the row of bowls, he put a water reservoir to moisten the rims of the bowls, and linked all of this to an apparatus like a spinning wheel, with a foot treadle that turned the rod, making the bowls rotate. This removed the need to rotate one's own hands, and allowed quick access to every note successively, like on a piano or harpsichord.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

The instrument has a full compliment of 48 notes, two octaves above and below middle C. Franklin named it 'The Armonica', after the Italian word armonica which means 'harmony'. It is also called a Glass Harmonica sometimes. The Armonica never needs to be tuned, since glass bowls don't have the same intonation troubles as wood and metal instruments. Yet there are fragile... nothing's perfect.

Franklin's invention took Europe by storm. Some said it was more popular than the violin at the end of the eighteenth century in Europe. At least 300 pieces were written for it, including works by Mozart and Beethoven. Thousands armonicas were sold; one factory employed over a hundred people for this purpose only. Many of the performers were women, and even the French Queen Marie-Antoinette took lessons.

The popularity of the instrument faded quickly afterwards, Several decades later though, Tchaikovsky used it in his famous Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, part of The Nutcracker ballet.

Welcome back, America!

Joy in Philadelphia — Barack Obama has just been elected the 44th President of the United States
Philadelphia, Wednesday 5 November 2008, 2 am.
Barack Obama has just been elected the 44th President of the United States.

I arrived at Philadelphia yesterday evening, and went to bed early. At 1 am, I was awoken by car horns and hundreds of people crying out in joy in the streets. You cannot stay in your bed in such a historic day... I put my clothes back on, and went outside again with my camera.

People in the streets now are excited and happy. They congratulate each other, they laugh, they shout and dance. Whites and blacks, a lot of black people. You can feel joy and hope in the air.

People will have to come back down to earth, their problems will not disappear in the twinkling of an eye, but this night is their night. Enjoy, folks. We're glad too. You've made the choice of courage and hope. Welcome back, America!

Stendhal Syndrome

Tomb of Galileo Galilei — Basilica Santa Croce, Florence
The tomb of Galileo Galilei
by Giovanni Battista Foggini
Basilica Santa Croce, Florence.
Henri-Marie Beyle, better known by his pen name, Stendhal, is the author of several famous novels, among which Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black) and La Chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma). He was also a lover of arts. In 1817,  aged 33, he had a long trip in Italy. He related afterwards, in his book "Rome, Naples et Florence", that he was quickly overwhelmed by the rich legacy of art and history of the country.

The day he visited the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, a monument that houses the tombs of Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo, and with famous frescoes by Giotto on the ceilings, he was overcome with emotion:

I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty, [...] I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations. [...] I had palpitations of the heart [...] Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.

Stendhal wrote then the first description of what is now called Stendhal Syndrome, a psychosomatic phenomenon that may include dizziness, increased heart rate and palpitations, chest pain, sometimes loss of self-conscience, confusion or even hallucinations. Some people will get depressed, others will go from exaltation and feeling of omnipotence to panic attacks and fear of death.

About ten cases of the Stendhal syndrome are reported every year in Italy, among people who have gazed at works such as the David by Michelangelo or The Birth of Venus by Botticelli. It is not a specific 'Italian art disease' though: it can occur whenever people who have been eagerly expecting an emotion for a long time finally feel it, in the deepest way. It can happen in front of a special place, when you gaze at a painting or a landscape, or even when you look at the face of the beloved one, the day you have succeeded at last to have a date with her/him...  Look out then!

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