Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Murder of Crows

September 29, 2015
   We are approaching the end of the tour. While there are plenty more paintings and locations to discuss, here is where the story of his life ends

"Wheat Fields With Crows," by Vincent van Gogh

   In popular legend this is Vincent's last painting. It speaks of madness with three roads intersecting in the foreground and, at first glance, none of them appears to lead anywhere. As the guide pointed at the middle road in the painting—which more or less matched the roads we were standing on—she noted ominously that the middle road ended abruptly and led nowhere, Dan The Man Harshberger, who was standing to my right, said, "No, the road clearly dips to the right and leads out of the scene." Leave it to a graphic designer from Kingman to add some levity that I have a hunch even Vincent would have appreciated.

Kirk Douglas, as Vincent, paints his supposed last painting, "Wheat Fields With Crows."

   In the movie "Lust For Life," Vincent (Kirk Douglas) is painting this scene when the end comes and a murder of crows (how appropriate in this situation) fly at him from all directions and in desperation he retrieves a pistol from a tree bough and we hear a loud report that signals his suicide. This is the "official" version of Vincent's sad end and has held sway for over 110 years. It also makes good, local business sense because the tour guides (sometimes three groups at once are working the narrow roads of the town up on to the high ground of the wheat fields. As we stood at the intersection of death and murderous crows, another group ahead of us was heading towards the cemetery, not 50 yards to the east, while another group was about to come out the main gates. 

A Viking tour group heads towards the cemetery where Vincent and his brother 
Theo are buried. They have just left the alleged site of "Wheat Fields With Crows."

   Our guide told us the big crowds started showing up in 1995 and that this year they are expecting 500,000 visitors to the gravesite. For comparison, I believe the O.K. Corral gets 200,000 visitors a year and Lincoln, New Mexico, Billy the Kid's hometown, gets 60,000.

   Vincent has become big business, something that would no doubt embarrass him to no end.

   When the tour ended, I asked the tour guide, a local woman, several questions about the new theory of Vincent's murder.

The Expert points to a photograph of van Gogh heirs placing special wreaths on Vincent's and Theo's grave, which are just to the left, along the wall of the cemetery in Auvers Sur Oise (which I have heard pronounced Ah-vers-say-was and Ah-vers-sur-was).

   She was quite forthcoming and flipped her photo chart to a page and said, "Here is a copy of the painting Dr. Cachet did of the actual murder site.

The Expert points to the real murder site of Vincent van Gogh.

   Oh, and, "Wheat Fields With Crows" was not his last painting.

"I do not say that my work is good, but it's the best bad that I can do."
—Vincent van Gogh

The Langlois Bridge vs. The Actual Langlois Bridge

September 29, 2015
   My goal on this trip is to stand where he stood, see what he saw and feel what he felt (short of feeling the syphilitic symptoms).

   One of my favorite van Gogh paintings is of the Langlois Bridge on the outskirts of Arles, France. It portrays a very complicated draw bridge apparatus, stripped down to basics and placed in a beautiful complimentary color-schemed design. For several days, in 1888, Vincent hiked out to the site of the draw bridge, which is about a mile from The Yellow House where he was staying. He did numerous drawings of it and several paintings. This is the classic version and my favorite:

The Langlois Bridge, by Vincent van Gogh

   One of the first things I did when we landed at Arles was to go to the Tourist Office and ask where the site of the Langlois Bridge is. In English, heavily laced with a strong French accent, the woman told me where to go, showing me on the map, but, she added as an aside, the "actual site" is over here. This sounded like, "Le auct-chew-wol mizzen-seen es oh-vehr heer," Whoa! You mean the bridge I'm going to hike out to is not the ACTUAL Langlois Bridge that van Gogh painted? No, apparently it's not. It was either rebuilt on the other site farther south of town, or recreated from scratch at the new spot.

Dan and Darlene Harshberger and a stray dog we named "Vincent" at the "new" site of the Langlois Bridge.

The alleged Langlois Bridge with the draw bridge up 
(it appears rather permanently up).

   The wooden struts seem heavier than the painted version and not quite as delicate, although that could be an artistic license deal. Fred Nolan sent me a photo he took in the 1960s of the Langlois Bridge and it is much closer to the painting.

Fred Nolan snapshot of the Langlois Bridge in 1960s

Either way, the one we saw is not the actual Langlois Bridge and for a Western history nut, it's tantamount to saying, "You can drive to Sierra Vista and see the O.K. Corral."

 "You must set it down all down at once. Paint in one rush, as much as possible in one rush."
—Vincent van Gogh

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Unique and Odd Choices by Vincent van Gogh

September 29, 2015
   One of the profound realizations I have had on the van Gogh tour is seeing the scenes he painted in person. When you are standing on the site you can see all the things he DIDN'T choose to paint. Here is a good example in Arles, in the south of France. Vincent painted several scenes along the Rhone River as it passes through Arles, including "Starry Night On The Rhone," his first pass at one of his most famous paintings (he painted four versions, the last being "Starry Night" which he painted while in the asylum in San Remy).

   As a fellow artist I am always on the lookout for scenes that could make compelling paintings and in Arles, where the Romans built a coliseum and various structures and walls, it all seems so suited to the artist temperament, and although he did a couple paintings that flirted with the edges of that world, he chose some pretty ordinary things, like this bridge access not far from our apartment.

Van Gogh's Bridge In Arles

   This is a very strong painting with a wonderful design and strong values. Here's how the site looks today:

At each site, the town has put up a plaque on the spot that Vincent saw when he did the painting. The guy, at left, is looking at the plaque.

   Yes, it appears the bridge is caged in the 1888 view and is much sexier than the steel, plain car bridge it is today. Here's another view with a closer look at the plaque:

The actual scene of the Arles Bridge today. Note the small tree in the painting
has taken over the entire scene.

      Not far to the right is this scene, which Vincent chose NOT to paint:

Ancient walls in Arles van Gogh chose to ignore

   Today there are genre painters who paint nothing but these quaint, but dynamic scenes of these old facades and walls, but for the most part Vincent gave these scenes a wide berth. He definitely had a unique eye and perhaps some of it is rooted in his Dutch upbringing. Something else I learned is that van Gogh did not think much of "Yankees." There was a painter from the U.S. who was painting nearby and Vincent noted of him that, "He is a Yankee and probably paints much better than most Yankees do, but a Yankee all the same." Van Gogh thought Dodge McKnight was "a boor" and "a slacker" (his word). Funny, huh?

"There is an art of the future and it is going to be so lovely and so young. . .I feel it so strongly."
—Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo


Pedal Pushers For Men, Part Deux

September 29, 2015
   I have already reported on the new trend in Europe towards the skinny-skinny-squared jeans for men with the high-water-cuffs that are dangerously close to being, what we used to call, Pedal Pushers or Capri Pants. I didn't have the nerve to ask the tattooed dude in the Brasseria Quasimodos near the Notre Dame to turn around and pose for me, because, well, asking a guy to turn around and let me take a photo of his pants because I like them, is not something a Kingman guy like me is brave enough to do.

   The Kingman guy's wife, however, has no fear. On Sunday we went to the Musee D'Orsay Museum to see the van Goghs and while we were standing in line I spotted several pairs of Pedal Pushers on guys and my wife—Kathy Radina—said, "Give me your iPhone and step aside." Kathy proceeded to say something I could never say, "Excuse me, but I love your outfit. Can I take a photo of you to send to my son?" All the guys were flattered and complied with pleasure. Here are the results for your viewing pleasure:

Imagine showing up for the sock hop in this get up. Meri Bocu Bozina!

These two are French Canadian and spoke perfect English. 
I do spot a bit of Li'L Abdner going on here.

High Water Peggers and one incredulous Kid from Kingman behind him.

Oh Capri Me Baby!

"Never fear, these guys put their pants on one leg at a time, just like your mama."
—Old Harry Nipple Saying

Monday, September 28, 2015

Lust For Life, Anyone?

September 28, 2015
   We took a commuter train from Paris to Auvers Sur Oise this morning and went out to the death site, in the wheat fields where Vincent, according to legend, took his own life by shooting himself in the upper abdomen. There are several problems with this scenario: eye witnesses put him west of town, in the opposite directions from the so-called wheat fields, which are right next to the cemetery where he is buried (how convenient for tour guides!) and the traditional death site is northeast of town, or more accurately, north of the train station on the east end of town. The biggest problem with the suicide theory is that the police investigation concluded the gun was fired some distance from the body, or "too far out" for Vincent to have pulled the trigger himself.

   The likely murder suspect in this mystery is one Rene Secretan, who loved to dress up as Buffalo Bill ever since he saw the Wild West showman in Paris the year before (1889) at the international exposition where the Eiffel Tower premiered. When the movie, "Lust For Life" came out in 1956,

Kirk Douglas made a very convincing Vincent in "Lust For Life."

Mr. Secretan, who was by that time 82-years-old was quite upset. The Academy Award winning movie, starring Kirk Douglas as Vincent, really ticked off the old Frenchman. He gave several interviews on what a fruitcake van Gogh was and how he liked to abuse the mad Dutchman.

   I went to both murder sites, saw a photograph of the weapon, which has now been "found." And interviewed a local expert on the case and I have a good idea of what really happened.

   Afterwards, me an my posse went into the only restaurant open on a Monday in the small suburb of Paris and found a big wall mural at the end of the bar. It made me smile.

Lust For Life, Anyone? A mural showing three scenes
from the 1956 movie starring Kirk Douglas.

"Advise persons never to engage in killing the legend."
—Billy the Kid meets John Ford quote

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Plot Thickens

September 28, 2015
   I've traveled from Amsterdam to Brussels, and from Paris to Arles in the south of France, looking for clues in the mysterious death of Vincent van Gogh. Today I travel by train to the scene of the crime, Auvers Sur Oise. There are intriguing aspects of the case which I will spell out in great detail so you can make your own decision.

BBB at San Remy in the south of France.

"As regards making oneself scarce or disappearing—now or ever—neither you nor I should ever do that, no more than commit suicide."
—Vincent in a letter to his brother Theo

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Mad Redhead In The Yellow House

September 25, 2015
   Vincent got off the train at Arles in February of 1888. He had left Paris, where he was living with his brother Theo in Montmartre and was seeking a new place to paint. Van Gogh, like so many artists of that era was in love with Japanese prints and he wanted to find a landscape that matched the snow-capped scenes in the oriental woodcuts that were all the go in Paris. A freak snowstorm blanketed the area when he arrived and he impulsively decided this was going to be his Japan. After a stay in the Hotel Carrel he found a dilapidated house just south of the train station and set about refurbishing it. He had the outside repainted yellow.

Vincent van Gogh's painting of his beloved "Yellow House" in Arles.

   Vincent envisioned Arles as an art mecca for the Impressionists and tried to talk several artists into joining him. Guaguin was not his first choice, but he was the only one who came. Before Guaguin arrived, Vincent began to paint with a newfound intensity and in the next several months would produce many of the iconic paintings he is famous for, including "Sunflowers," "Starry Night Over The Rhone," "The Bedroom," "Langlois Bridge," "The Night Cafe" and ""The Cafe Terrace On The Place Du Forum."

   Of course, Gauguin came, they fought over everything, Gauguin left and Vincent had a meltdown (and cut off his ear), ending up in the local hospital. After a time, he got out, but had a relapse and 30 neighbors signed a petition to have him arrested for groping the local women and following people into their houses. The locals called him "flou roux"—The Mad Redhead. Kids threw rocks at him. The house was closed and all his stuff impounded. Van Gogh was moved to an insane asylum in nearby Saint Remy. It's amazing that any of his paintings survived, considering the animosity towards the Mad Redhead, but Theo had everything shipped to Paris and he saved it all.

The Yellow House in the early 1900s.

   Vincent never came back to Arles and in a year he was dead, perhaps shot down by a Buffalo Bill wannabe. The Yellow House continued to deteriorate until World War II when. . .

The Yellow House after being hit by Allied bombing in 1944.

   A bombing raid demolished the Yellow House. Today the site is a mecca for painters and fans of The Mad Redhead, Vincent van Gogh.

The site of the Yellow House today. Note elevated train trestle at right.

   We had lunch in the brasserie of the building that stood behind the Yellow House. It was eerie to look out on scenes he would paint many times. We had traveled a long ways, but it was a thrill to be on the spot of van Gogh's beloved Yellow House.

"There are three types of people who major in art: those so full of passion they find inspiration in a falling leaf; those who yearn to feel anything at the sight of a falling leaf; and those who cannot do math."

—Jessica C. Bakule

Thursday, September 24, 2015

My Inky Heroes

September 24, 2015
   Some connections span the globe and defy language and culture. If you try and represent life through pen work there is a bond that connects a whole bunch of us. And if you believe nothing is sacred when it comes to humor, then we are connected by an even stronger bond.

My heroes on the wall at the visitor's center at Arles, France

These are the cartoonists from Charlie Hebdo who were assassinated for their cartoons. These guys are from my tribe and I grieve their loss. Hard to believe someone would kill them for that, but this is the world we live in. I still think no one has improved on Robert Crumb's line:

"It's just lines on paper folks."
—R. Crumb

Headphones in the 1840s

September 24, 2015
   Here's an example of early day headphones. Looks like the late 1780s. Saw this excellent painting in Le Musee Reattu in Arles, France. 

Early day head phones, or spit curls and draw strings?

   Actually not headphones, but I did do a double take, how 'bout you?

"The future ain't what it used to be."
—The Late Great Yogi Berra


September 24, 2015
   I've had at least 50 shoutouts from the Dutch, Belgians and now the French and every single one of them says, "TEXAS!" or "HEY TEXAS!" or "TEXAS?" Talk about owning a brand. When I tell them no, I am from Arizona they seem so disappointed (mainly that they guessed wrong). Funny how Texas owns the cowboy hat in the view of the world. Makes sense, but still kind of weird to a Westerner.

BBB in front of the Cafe Nuit (The Night Cafe), scene of a famous van Gogh Painting.

   We took off from Paris yesterday morning at Gard de Lyon (Lyon Station) on a bullet train heading south down the center of France. It is the same route Vincent van Gogh took in February of 1888 as he made his way from Paris to Arles in the south of France. It took Vincent a day-and-a-half by train, and it took us three hours to cover the same distance. The high-speed train is electric, very smooth and silent. The only interruption is when we met other trains, also going between 150 and 200 mph and then there is a swoosh and a vortex interruption-like vibration, like an incoming rocket going by your ear, Startling the first time you experience it, but by the third hour, it's kind of soothing in a we're-going-awful-damn-fast way.

   We're spending three full days here and we've rented a little house with three floors and a very narrow, steep staircase leading to the top "penthouse" which is actually a miniature crow's nest with a low ceiling where the Ds have parked themselves. My big goal for today is to see the actual Langlois Bridge, which is about a half-mile walk from here. Pics to follow.

"When,  for instance, you are painting a landscape, don't leave out the rain just because you've started with the
—Henri Matisse

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hey, Buffalo Grill, what did you grill, Buffalo Grill?

September 23 2015
   My research here in France is revealing tantalizing clues regarding the murder of Vincent van Gogh. Buffalo Bill created a huge cultural impact in the City of Lights when he landed here with his show in 1889. Kids started wearing fringe jackets and big hats. His influence can still be seen in Paris.

The Buffalo Grill, across the street from the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre.

"Hey, Bungalo Bill, what did you kill Bungalo Bill?"
—John Lennon's reaction to seeing a gun show in the U.S.

Pedal Pusher Pants for Men!?

September 22, 2015
   My son asked me about the new fashions in Paris. Well, the latest in fashion that I've noticed, now that I've been on the continent for the past week, is men wearing pedal pusher pants! 

Men's pants-legs getting skinnier and skinnier on the Champs Elysees in Paris, France.

We used to call them Capri pants, which were exclusively the domain of females. Saw my first pair in the Cartoon Museum in Brussels. An Asian dude with really tight pants, about two inches above the ankle, very feminine looking (to me). Now that I'm aware of the trend, it appears gay men are inclined to do it the most. Tried to get a photo of a hetero guy wearing ripped jeans with rolled up cuffs, at least four inches above the ankle, but he got away from me and I just got him from the back.

Capri pants on a male dude at Quasimodo's near the Notre Dame in Paris.

"Clothes make the man, but sometimes the clothes make the man unmanly."
—Old Homophobe Saying

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Paris Girls Gone Wild!

September 19, 2015
   When the clouds cooperate you need to take a photo.


   This is a statue in Brussels to the patriots who defended the city. Notice the swooning women at the base. When the statue honoring Harry Nipple is built in Kingman I am going to propose that these women be incorporated into the design, only with big, beehive hairdos.

   Kathy and I were given a tour inside the historic L' Hotel De Ville in Paris this morning. Fantastic paintings inside. From the top floor I could look out the window and see our apartment across the Seine. It's to the right of the statue. The tower looming over the back is the Notre Dame.

"The Seine, the Seine, when will I again, meet her there, greet her there on the banks of the Seine."

   The steeple and towers in the back are the Notre Dame. Inside the Hotel De Ville (it's actually city hall) they had some pretty amazing paintings.

Paris Girls Gone Wild in the Hotel De Ville #1

Paris Girls Gone Wild in the Hotel De Ville #2

Paris Girls Gone Wild in the Hotel De Ville #3

   These well-painted ladies are just three examples of about 15 nudes in one room. And, did I mention this is the Paris city hall? Can you imagine an American city with these paintings in their city hall? Perhaps Duluth, I don't know (never been there).

"Virtue is the lack of adequate temptation."
—Old French Saying

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Pronouncing van gogh

September 19, 2015
   Well, the Brits say van Goff and the Dutch say, something like van Ghk-ough-chk. Has three syllables with a gutter stick at the beginning and end. Don't think I'll live long enough to pronounce it the way they do. And by the way, they pronounce it different in the south of Holland, wouldn't you know?

   Here we are living it up on Gay Street in Brussells:

Gay Sreet with a giant gay cartoon on the wall of a building in Brussells.

 I always try to be alert to how Americans are perceived in the old world. Here is an example of a huge, multinational American corporation buying a giant sign and squatting it on top of an old classic style building in Brussells. It you look up ugly American I think you will find this image there to illustrate it.

The Coke Building in Brussells

   There was a terrorist incident on the trains yesterday. We were en-route from Einhoven to Brussells. A SWAT team took down a kid in a bathroom on the train in Rotterdam, which delayed all the trains in the area. We were affected.

We have been somewhat nervous about riding the trains from Einhoven to Brussells on Friday and on to Paris today. We did encounter delays and a few anxious moments when everyone around us on the train looked suspicious but after a bomb scare in Antwerp, we arrived safely in Paris today. Everyone could not have been nicer, especially this sweetie from Dordrecht:

A Dordrecht Commuter Who Made Us Laugh And Calmed Us Down.

Antwerp After The Incident

Our tour guide in Brussells said there were 100,000 refugees in Belgium alone. However many there are, they are in the northern part of the city. We decided not to go gawk, so no, we haven't seen any walking the streets. They are in tents. They can sleep in a big building at night, but must leave at 8 a.m., so it's easier to just stay in the tents, moving all the children and such. She said she wants the U.S. to help more. An American traveling with us said he was sorry, but "we need to kill them over here, so they don't come to our soil." And then we split a beer. 

"I am quite sure I have no race prejudices, and I think I
have no color prejudices, nor caste prejudices, nor creed
prejudices. Indeed, I know it. I can stand any society.
All I care to know is that a man is a human being -- that
is enough for me; he can't be any worse."
—Samuel Langhorne Clemens

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Small Town Boy Makes Good

September 17, 2015
   Imagine, if you can, a small town kid from Kingman, Arizona who overcomes the stigma of being an outsider from a hick town, who overcomes the prejudice of being perceived as a clown and a joke, and through several flukes of major proportions, is able to travel to Nuenen, in the deep south of the Netherlands, to the hometown of another small town boy who he greatly admires. Part of the quest is to see how one small town boy is perceived by his hometown.

Small Town Boy Billboard #1

Small Town Billboard #2

Small Town Boy Billboard #3

   Imagine this small town boy, disliked by so many, returning home 130 years later to see what the locals have made of him.

Small Town Boy Cafeteria

   He failed at almost everything he tried. He was ridiculed for starting painting too late in the game and  he sold only one painting for 400 francs during his brief lifetime. Today his visage is on every conceivable surface in his hometown.

Small Town Boy Outside A Restaurant in the square at Nuenan.

Even the local real estate signs utilize the home town favorite

Hometown Boy Can Sell Anything

   One of the houses he lived in has a plaque beside the front door.

Even the local museum uses a pun based on his name (Vincent Center, Vincent-er—Get it?).

Small Town Boy in the park. How many statues are there in the U.S.
 of a guy walking along with a drawing pad in his hand?

   All of this is extra ironic, since he felt like a stranger in his own hometown. "I do not like to be in company," is how he put it.

"Of one thing I am sure, you are no artist."
—H.G. Tersteeg (an art expert), to Vincent van Gogh in what turned out to be one of the dumbest statements in the history of the world

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Laugher, the Canals And The Girl With the Hashtag Tattoo

September 14, 2015
   Looking for the girl with the Hashtag tattoo, who has the answers to all my questions about the man with only one ear. She appeared to me in a dream.

The Map Savvy bartender at De Saloon in Amersterdam

I despise locals who don't know where they are on a map, or even know the streets or roads about them. Not so with this savvy lassy in Amsterdam. Not only did she pinpoint where we were in the very complicated canal infested girded environs of Amsterdam but she also pointed me in the direction of Ann Frank's house.

   Portraying someone laughing, or even smiling, is very rare in early paintings. Here is a noteworthy exception, painted by Hendrick Ter Bragghen in 1628. Part of a dyptic, "Demacritus And Heraclitus", this laugher seems to be saying, "whether you laugh or cry, the world remains incurably foolish." Or, so says, the Rijksmuseum caption next to the painting. A modern interpretation might be, "He who smelt it, dealt it."

The Laugher

The canals go on forever in Amsterdam.

The Land of Many Canals

"She had made a promise to herself that she intended on keeping. She was never going to go out with another writer: no matter how charming, sensitive, inventive, or fun theycould be. They weren't worth it in the long run. They wereemotionally too expensive, and the upkeep was complicated.They were like having a vacuum cleaner around the house thatbroke all the time and only Einstein could fix it. She wanted her next lover to be a broom."
—Richard Brautigan