Guernica

Guernica by Pablo Picasso
Guernica by Pablo Picasso (1937) Oil on canvas, 349 cm x 776 cm 
Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.
In the form of its execution and the scale of the destruction it wrought, no less than in the selection of its objective, the raid on Guernica is unparalleled in military history. Guernica was not a military objective [...] The object of the bombardment was seemingly the demoralization of the civil population. George Steer, The Times (27th April, 1937)

Seventy-two years ago, on April 26, 1937, a little Basque town called Guernica was bombed by planes from the Condor Legion, a unit composed of soldiers from the German air force (Luftwaffe), which was allied to the Nationalists headed by Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. It was the first time in modern history — but not the last one — that an urban population was slaughtered on purpose by the means of a military attack.

Picasso paints Guernica by Dora Maar
Picasso paints Guernica
by Dora Maar (Paris, 1937)
Pablo Picasso had lived in Paris for several decades when Guernica was bombed, yet he began painting sketches for the canvas four days later only, as soon as he heard of it in the newspapers. The painting was finished in a few weeks, to be exhibited in June, 1937 in the Spanish pavilion at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. According to the tale, a German general then asked Picasso: "So, you are the one who made 'this'?" and Picasso answered: "No, you are".

Picasso put Guernica at the disposal of the struggle for the Spanish Republic. After it was defeated and Franco established his fascist power on the country, he insisted that it should return in Spain as soon as its government was restored (which happened in 1981 only). There is no allusion in the painting to a precise war action though. Picasso himself always insisted on the generality of Guernica's meaning, and described it as "the picture of all bombed cities".

Indeed, Guernica represents much more than an illustration of the destruction of the Basque town. It has become a symbol of the suffering of helpless civilians, in any war terror inflicted by a powerful army. As such, the painting could be called Coventry, Dresden or Hiroshima as well.

Memory Lapse

René Magritte — La Mémoire
La mémoire (Memory)
René Magritte, 1948
Oil on canvas, 59 x 49 cm

As I was taking an old lady to the exit door, the next patient in the waiting room rose from his chair and sneaked behind my back into the consultation room. No secretary in sight. I went back in, closed the door, and started wondering... I know I have seen this man before, but when? why? and what is his name?
'Please have a seat. How can I help you?' He put his coat on a chair, sat down on the other one, folded his arms, and said with determined voice:
'Doc, we have a problem: I am not doing better at all!'

I have a problem indeed, I thought: I don't have a clue about what on earth is his problem. I can't even put a name on his face!

'Oh, really?' I said, hopeful he would give some piece of information.
'Yes, Doc. I took the drug as you prescribed, yet it's still about the same!'
'Don't you feel any better?'
'No, not at all! It goes on just the same! I have waited for a couple of weeks as you told me, but it didn't stop. Then, here I am again!'

He was talking with such an assured tone that I could not tell him I didn't remember a thing of his story. If only I could remember his name, I'd have a quick look at his record...
'Did you bring your previous prescription?'
— (Rummaging through his pockets) 'Aw, I forgot it at home I am afraid. It's easy though: these are white pills, in a blue box. Well, it doesn't mind anyway, you wrote it down in my record'.
(This guy is going to kill me) 'Of course, you're right. Tell me, when did you come and see me the last time?'
'Hmm, wait, well, it was a Friday, or maybe a Tuesday. Or was it a Wednesday? Well, in any case, it was four weeks ago! Five perhaps. Well, not more than six weeks ago, definitely".

As he was thinking about it, I tried to find his name in my agenda. Fortunately, I have only one consultation a week in this hospital, on Mondays. Not that week... Not that week either...YAY! Here it is, lost among more familiar names. He came three months ago, the day I had such a dreadful headache! Phew. Relieved at last, I took out his record and read it quickly. With a smile of contentment on my lips (that surprised him obviously), I said:
'So, you are not doing better? Well I never!'

Mindless Eating

[The discussion born from the comments about the recent blog 'Eating together' made me think of several old blogs of mine about food, that disappeared when I deleted my other blog on Yahoo! 360. This post was published in May 2007]
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Pop-Corn
I was in a bookstore in Chicago several months ago, looking for medical books, when I happened to glance through a little book called Mindless Eating, by Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University, NY. The experiments depicted in the book were clever, and often funny.


I remembered of it yesterday when I came upon an article by David Leonhardt in the International Herald Tribune (The Herald is an international newspaper in English, based in Paris, that combines the resources of its own correspondents throughout the world with those of The New York Times). Leonhardt began his article by telling about an experiment I especially remembered because the idea of eating lots of stale popcorn almost made me sick when I was in this bookstore in Chicago.

Image Mr. Wansink gave away five-day-old popcorn — “stale enough to squeak when it was eaten,” he wrote — to moviegoers one day at a theatre in the Chicago suburbs. The crux of the experiment lay in the size of the buckets that held the popcorn. Some people got merely big buckets, while others received truly enormous ones. Both sizes held more popcorn than a typical person could finish.
 
Yet when the Wansink research team weighed the buckets after the movie, there was a huge difference in the amounts the two groups ate. Those with the bigger buckets inhaled 53 percent more on average, suggesting that a lot of stale popcorn is somehow more appealing than a little stale popcorn.
 
Over the years, Mr. Wansink has done similar experiments with everything from different-size dinner plates to bottomless bowls of tomato soup that are secretly connected to a tube underneath a restaurant table. His overarching conclusion is that our decisions about eating often have little to do with how hungry we are. Instead, we rely on cues like the size of a popcorn bucket — or the way we organize our refrigerator — to tell us how much to eat. These cues can add 200 calories a day to our diet, but the only way we’ll notice we are overeating is that our pants will eventually get too tight.
 
The scariest part is that most of us think we are immune to these hidden persuaders. When the moviegoers were told about the popcorn experiment afterward, most of them scoffed at the idea that their bucket size had any effect on them.

Eating Together

Eating together
The starter I've prepared for dinner: a few cherry tomatoes and a big sliced one, feta cheese, some lettuce, a bit of chicken cut in dices, olive oil, vinegar, pepper, salt, that's it. Bon appétit!

'French women don't get fat', a US best-seller book stated. It's almost true: despite their food is usually considered rich, the French have the average lowest corpulence in Europe, relatively low rates of diabetes and coronary diseases, and are among the people with the longest longevity. Many reasons have been given as an explanation for this French paradox, that include habits of eating small portions of several foods rather than one huge portion, using olive oil, eating a lot of dairy produce and vegetables, drinking red wine, and walking rather than driving for short distances.

According to a recent study by the INSEE, the French Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, there may be also another cultural reason: the ritualization of meals, a distinctive features of French people, most of whom still take their meals together at a given time. Such a synchronisation of meals, at around 13h for lunch and 20h for dinner, 'distinguishes France from most other countries in Europe and the United States, where traditional meal — conceived like a moment shared by all members of a family gathering together on this occasion — almost disappeared at the end of the 1970's', the study says.

Dinner, especially,'is still a mandatory stage in daily timetable of the French, one of last refuges of family socialization'. Indeed, it is often the only common activity for married people who go their separate professional life in the daytime, and the moment when parents and children have a time to talk together. Meals are not only considered a moment when you fill up your stomach as fast as possible, but a dedicated period of the day when you talk and share with your family.

I love the idea that gathering together and sharing meals is beneficial to relations between members of a family, and to health as well.

Oops, by the way... I got to go: it's 8:00 pm now, dinner time here!
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Les Essais
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