July 14, 2020

“The Vote” on PBS

As a country, we are marking the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that gave women the right to vote in the 1920 elections.

If you want to learn more about this historic anniversary from the comforts of home, “American Experience” on PBS is featuring a fine documentary, “The Vote,” about the suffragettes and their march toward becoming voting members of our democracy. The show’s tag line provides the theme —“Women were not given the vote. They took it.”

“The Vote” painfully describes the initial coalition and ensuing separation of African-Americans and women to both be awarded the vote after the Civil War. Women were told they had to wait and 43 years elapsed before they were nationally accorded voting rights.

I learned that the Illinois delegation in the Washington, D.C. Women’s March shamefully bowed to racial pressure and denied Ida B. Wells and her group the right to march with white women from “the land of Lincoln.”

Archival photos and film footage are punctuated with short interviews with current-day writers and historians. This is timely information as we examine issues of equality in race, gender and economic status.

The almost four-hour series is separated into Part One and Part Two. Viewing is free now, so catch the programs before they revert to the paid membership catalogue. With that said, a paid Passport membership would not be a waste of money.

Downton Abbey – the Movie

I was sad to see the tv series Downtown Abbey broadcast its last episode of season six in 2015. Small wonder that a movie revisiting these beloved characters was welcomed in the fall of 2019.

The original series was set over several years in the early 20th century, including World War I. The film continues with the characters in 1927 when the King and Queen of England pay a brief visit to the Downton Abbey residence.

Lord Grantham and his wife are much the same. Widower Tom Branson and Lady Mary now jointly manage the Downton Abbey property. Sybil is living life as an aristocratic mother and wife at a nearby estate. Maggie Smith as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham embroils herself in a fight over a relative’s inheritance.

In the servant quarters, romance and marriage continue to be a driving force. Daisy is reviewing her marriage prospects. Mr. Carson, now married to Mrs. Hughes and in retirement, is commandeered to manage the Royal couple’s visit. Butler Thomas Barrow, meets a new friend and possible love interest. Tom Branson, an Irish hybrid of both upper and lower classes, saves the king from an assailant and falls for a maid traveling with the royal retinue.

Although not as engrossing as the original tv series, Downton Abbey (the movie) makes for a charming evening of entertainment. May Julian Fellowes continue to write about these memorable characters as they traverse the ever-changing 20th century.

The 2019 film is now available on Amazon Prime Video.

The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherford

A friend was moving to California and gifted me with three door-stopper sized books before his departure. All three tomes are by historical fiction author Edward Rutherford and depict centuries worth of Irish history. The shelter-at-home time has been the perfect opportunity to tackle the first 800-plus page volume, The Princes of Ireland.

Rutherford has the amazing talent of making history come alive by creating fictional story lines which are woven into mention of real people, places and recorded events.

From the early time of druids and human sacrifice, to the arrival of the Vikings, St. Patrick and the English to the Emerald Isle, we become invested in the personal stories of warriors, farmers, priests, wives and children. Romance runs through the chapters as characters find and then lose love or miss it altogether due to historical fate.

The other two large volumes Rutherford has written about Irish history are Dublin Foundation and The Rebels of Ireland. Even those with no Irish blood might find these historical fiction books edifying as well as entertaining.

I previously wrote a blog post on Edward Rutherford’s excellent book entitled Paris.
Here is the 2015 blog post link:

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/category/books-2/page/14/

Genius & Anxiety by Norman Lebrecht

This has certainly been a time for book-lovers to get immersed in history and large novels. While some book reviewers have suggested picking up War and Peace or One Hundred Years of Solitude, I chose books to learn more about Jewish and Irish history.

Norman Lebrecht has written a jam-packed history book entitled Genius & Anxiety – How Jews Changed the World, 1847 – 1947. Freud influenced how we view sex and psychology. Einstein pioneered concepts of time and physics. Marx mapped out the elements of communism versus capitalism. Kafka and Proust changed how we view literature. Sarah Bernhardt revolutionized acting and celebrity.

Less well-known people also contributed to our modern world. Karl Landsteiner helped make blood transfusions and major surgery a reality. Paul Ehrlich helped formulate chemotherapy. Rosalind Franklin paved the way for genetic science. Siegfried Marcus may have created the first motor car.

Lebrecht frequently writes about music so there is ample mention of seminal composers like Mendelssohn in the 19th century and Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein in the 20th. He highlights Korngold and Eisler on the West coast and Leonard Bernstein in the east. In truth, what would Hollywood or Broadway look and sound like without Jewish creativity? Name three famous American composers and one reels off George Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Bernstein.

The book’s brilliance is particularly in Lebrecht’s description of what was happening in the world as he profiles these creative people. Industrialization, the World Wars, the Russian Revolution, the rise of the Nazis, the McCarthy era, the creation of the state of Israel, all figure into this expansive canvas. Lebrecht does not argue that Jews are genetically smarter and more talented than others but that they have a strong tradition of culture and education. Historically being outsiders may have also caused them to think “out of the box” and push new ideas in everything from science, politics, business and the arts.

Genius & Anxiety is the type of book you could either absorbingly read cover to cover, or skip around in, according to your tastes.

El Greco: Ambition and Defiance exhibit at the AIC – Museum now closed

I was deeply disappointed when it became impossible to catch the exhibit, El Greco: Ambition and Defiance at the Art Institute of Chicago. The show opened on March 7, but the museum closed shortly thereafter due to the corona virus outbreak.

The AIC has listed the exhibit up until June 21, 2020 so let us hope that we may yet get to see several El Greco masterworks at our beloved museum.

El Greco, which means “the Greek,” was born in 1541 on Crete which was part of the Venetian empire. He lived in Venice and Rome, before making his ultimate home in Toledo, Spain.

Here is a two minute overview of the AIC’s show,
El Greco – Ambition and Defiance:

If you are so inclined, you may want to seek out other images of his artistic output on Google Arts & Culture.

El Greco paintings at Google Arts &n Culture

Virtual Tours of Notable Places: The Prado in Madrid

People have been posting ideas on how to use one’s “home time.” As much as I love music, I do, on occasion, need to explore other topics.

I was remembering visits to favorite art museums which led to thinking about famous museums that I have not yet visited. Uppermost on my wish list is the Prado in Madrid, Spain. Here is a five minute clip that highlights some of the Prado’s art treasures, including paintings by El Greco, Velazquez, de Goya and my personal favorite, the triptych work by Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights.

I erroneously assumed that Guernica by Pablo Picasso was also at the Prado. In reality, the famous large canvas is in Madrid, but at the Museo Reina Sofia.

Here’s to seeing Madrid and its art treasures when the world returns to health.