Friday, August 12, 2016


This postcard portrait of a woman who signed only her first name was addressed to one Señora Doña Leonora de Esteban in Castro Urdiales in northern Spain. There's no date or trace of a stamp or postmark; the elegantly-penned inscription reads "To demonstrate once again the love that your friend professes for you, she dedicates to you this little memento." María was clearly not only well educated but possibly (if the desk is any indication) an educator. She wears heavy, dark clothing with an elaborate embroidered motif. I imagine her as unmarried, part of a nascent class of independent female professionals, writing to a former colleague who had married and moved away, but that's basically nothing but speculation. I'm not sure if this portrait was taken in a studio or (more likely) on location, but the use of the window to open up the background is an effective touch.

Rafael A. Idelmón, a native of Madrid, opened a photographic studio in Valladolid in January 1860 and another in Palencia four years later; his descendants were reportedly still in business at least until 1927, and a living descendant named Enrique del Rivero Cuesta is active as a professional photographer, continuing a family association with the camera lasting more than a century and a half. The portrait of María is presumably from the first decades of the twentieth century, and may be the work of one of Rafael's sons or an employee of the firm. I'm not sure what the initials G.I.F.A.G. stand for, though I'm guessing that they indicate membership in a gremio or trade association.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

A Quincunx for Sir Thomas Browne

Kenneth Jackson has directed a brief documentary about Sir Thomas Browne, in conjunction with an upcoming exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians. (The poster of the video has disabled embedding, so you'll have to click through the above screenshot to watch.) The exhibition, which opens in January 2017, is also intended to coincide with a project to issue a scholarly edition of Browne's complete works.

For me, the highlights of the film are the surprising number of words Browne added to the English language (they include "ambidextrous," "electricity," "hallucination," and "coma," among many others), and, of course, his firm debunking of the once widely-held notion that badgers had shorter legs on one side of the body in order to facilitate walking across slopes. Science moves slowly, perhaps, but it marches on all the same — though its legs may be a bit wobbly and uneven.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Maxims (July 2016)

If you're not part of the problem, you're not part of the solution.

Preening one's moral feathers at the expense of others is not a morally defensible position.

There's no net.

Few things are more evident than someone else's illusions.

Those who have the least have the most to lose.

Nothing is more perishable than meaning.

Everything is a prism.

The unavoidable and the unacceptable are like a snake swallowing its own tail.

See it for what it is.

The world's indifference is the precondition of our responsibility.

Beware of neat rhetorical tropes. Beware of maxims. Beware of consistency.

Truth hovers. It does not alight.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


This is not their time, our present world, but who is to say if that time is ages behind them or merely still to come? What may awaken when we, in turn, have had our day?

Friday, July 01, 2016


Scenes from the woods, spring and summer 2016.

Many of these specimens seemed to appear overnight (or maybe I just didn't notice them), and many were gone or wasted away to nothing in a day or two. All are fungi except the second, which is Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora), and the last, which seems to be a slime mold. The brightly-colored insect in the third-to-last shot is one of the aptly-named Pleasing Fungus Beetles.

Update: Further rot below:

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Door

He climbs the wooden stairway, his advancing shadow traced by sparse incandescent bulbs that emit, out of their little prisons of wire mesh, a faint whiff of singed insects. The banister is damp to his touch and he lets go. At each landing a hallway branches off; he pauses for breath but barely raises his eyes. He reaches the top storey. At the end of a long corridor there is a single door with a panel of unlettered frosted glass, diffidently backlit from within. He walks along the worn floorboards until he is within reach of the knob. As he lifts his hand to turn it he feels fingers grasp his shoulder from behind.