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Pieter Bruegel, Flemish, born almost 500 years ago, was a miracle of a painter who gave us images we can still understand and delight in without a thick book or an expert.
Most of his pictures have their origin in the Christian Bible, but if you never saw a Bible in your life you would see and feel the humanity of what is staring you in the eye.
And you would see the children, somewhere in the frame.
You need to look, sometimes, for the children. But they are almost always there, busy, preoccupied, stocky/stubby, lovely.
This is a detail of the Census of Bethlehem
Wherever you find them, these, Bruegel’s children are identifiable as today’s children, even if so much around them is bizarre.
Above, The Hunters in the Snow also known as The Return of the Hunters, is a 1565 oil-on-wood painting.
It is a quiet cold wonder in the palace of great art–thanks in part to those small boys and girls.
Twenty years ago or so, we came across a neat little book that told the story of a graphic icon: the funny little man, as the author (Virginia Smith) called him. On the cover was a truly dapper Parisian gent created by AA Cassandre for Dubonnet, the aperitif made with fortified wine, herbs, and quinine.
As we recall it, the book (check it out here) tells the tale of how companies, mainly companies selling alcoholic beverages, mainly in Europe, mainly in the 1920’s and ’30’s, often gave the job of promoting their product to a little guy.
You can find some lovely drawings by AAC here presenting the little guy doing all kinds of stuff.
It seems that Chaplin’s Little Tramp had pretty much started the whole thing rolling.
The book has disappeared from our local bibliotheque (though still available, it seems, from the warrior woman), so we went looking on our own to find some colourful little guys hard at work
The artist is Leonetto Cappiello, nice site in French here.
Cointreau has favoured Pierrot as their pint-sized sales guy graphically
For now, we’ll say goodbye to the funny little guy by way of a little portrait of Mr Chaplin himself, apparently by himself, sketched on a cocktail napkin. Salute. Santé
Puppets have been with us for a very long time. Amusing us, sometimes scaring us or making us mad–and by “us”, we mean people of just about any age in any country. Small figures made of simple materials become actors in a play. This is theatre the way we all like it. We laugh, we cry. Applause applause.
The above 200-year-old puppet troupe, supporting cast to the beloved character Guignol, is from Lyon, France, found here.
But happily, puppets are as much a part of the present as they are a reminder of the past. Today, right now, puppet making and puppet theatre are as widely appealing and inventive as ever.
This is one (of dozens) of small figures imagined and made by Canadian artist Geoffrey Farmer for a show called The Surgeon and the Photographer. Each is made of cloth and paper cut out of magazines and books. Are they “puppets”? They are to us, and the room full of them was, by a long shot, the best thing we saw in an art gallery in 2015.
Above, Mr Farmer’s puppets on parade at the Barbicon in London in 2013. Happily, all these little people have been gathered in a book.
Whatever their actual age, puppets seem to belong to a time all their own. This lad, who is Italian and just waiting for the show to go on, is about 300 years ago.
This past August, many of the fine performances at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival featured puppets and puppetry of the highest and most hilarious order, the most absurd, unsettling, laugh-in-spite-of- yourself kind of stuff you’ll find in any theatre anywhere…
Like Bruce, a sponge puppet, with quite a story to tell. Created by Australian company The Last Great Hunt
And Foxy, one of the stars of Sing for your Life, a “Hideously hilarious taxidermy puppet cabaret”written by taxidermy performance artist (!) Charlie Tuesday Gates. Don’t look toooo close.
Puppet festivals thrive today in many cities–like Istanbul, below
Montreal Festival Casteliers Afternoon of a Foehn.
So we encourage you to get off your hands and head out to a puppet show near you or way over there in Istanbul. Near or far, the delight remains supreme. We love these little creatures, don’t we?
G. Farmer. Mlle Puppette. Enchantee. Merci.
Gotta thirst at the end of a day? Well, there is no shortage of colourful, solutions to be concocted–by you yourself or by a licensed professional (image from here). Cocktails are back. Lucky us.
The mixed drink for adults that goes beyond the quick and simple rye and ginger, rum and coke, scotch and water, tequila and tequila is very much in favour just now and shows no sign of retreating any time soon.
Funny how things come and go. Not so long ago, the thing to do was to keep everything simple, including your brain buzzing beverage of choice. Open the bottle, pour a healthy slug, add something a child might drink, and repeat as necessary–or just make a giant jugful.
But now, it’s all about multiple ingredients, hard to find, mixed in just the right proportion, requiring some care and skill, served in a special glass, beautiful to look at.
They say the cocktail craze started way back before we let television in the house. Almost a hundred years ago, people of means and money looking to fill the void between the afternoon nap and dinner decided the thing to do was to have friends over for drinks, real drinks, stiff drinks crafted with expertise made from hard-to-get components, just like their hats and furniture.
Great design above by Beverley Nichols found here.
Those who looked into it seriously say the cocktail hour was born sometime between 1917 and 1924, somewhere between London and America, moving inevitably from houses to bars, cafes, nightclubs, fund raisers…
The bunch above are slurping their cocktails during prohibition in America, meaning you needed a password to get in and you had to lie to your mom when you got home. From this article.
This crowd is on the town Berlin at a time when, it seems, nothing was prohibited (and just before just about everything was prohibited).
Wherever you are, the cocktail seems to be best consumed in the presence of someone you think is swell.
Or at least someone you used to think was swell. This is a fine photo by Irving Penn was taken in Lima and found at this eye-opening site.
Then again, some gals just like to put on their best cocktail hat and go it alone.
OK, so back to the here and the now. Below is the bar at the Brasserie NYC in the one and only Seagram’s building where, we can tell you, you will not go wrong in acquiring a satisfying cocktail, New York style: big, quick, yummy, and served by someone who won’t make you feel like you don’t deserve this.
If you find yourself near NYC or just thinking it, it would be a fine occasion to have a Manhattan cocktail.
Wherever you are, spare an hour late in a day to seek out seat at the bar somewhere in your town. Give the bartender a chance to try something new on you–or challenge him/her with something little known.
At the r of l, our official cocktail is the negroni.
Why? it tastes really good in any season and any time of day, it only has 3 ingredients, and it goes very well with any activity, whether you are being quiet and reflective (wondering where you put that note reminding you to do something) or hosting a gathering of 20 friends and neighbours in celebration of the fact that you have 20 friends and neighbours. (Image above, History, and more from Swide)
Find your cocktail, find your reason to sip it.
Clowns tell us a lot about ourselves and our lives. The best of them reveal some sadness or strangeness or both while doing their best to amuse us. The overall message is: you might as well laugh because, well, life isn’t always a piece of cake, sometimes it’s a pie in the face.
Clown figurines of tin or ceramic seem to carry an extra layer of sadness and oddness after a few years. Maybe there is a contradiction between what we see now and the smiles the little joker was meant to induce. Crawling clown toy, 1900, from here
But for all the contradictions, we can’t stop smiling at this little gang of kidders.
According to Tracey’s Toys:
“The Rolly Dollys first appeared in 1902 and were produced through the 1920s in over 70 different styles. Some were based on advertising or cartoon characters like Buster Brown and Foxy Grandpa, while others represented children, clowns, police officers, and more.”
Is this him?
All in all, the clown whether he is a comic actor, a circus performer, a tin toy, or cookie jar (above) has a long history and a continuing important function in human society. Is there sadness underneath it all? Is there misery and madness?
Well…maybe. But we all have a choice to see the soda spray bottle half empty or half full. Is the whoopee cushion a cry for help? Or just a perennial boyish prank. We come down on the side of mirth. Release the clowns!!!
Play on fellas. Do you know “My Funny Valentine?”