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Feb 162015
 

I just got to thinking, “How are the folks in the capital city of Ufa doing today, and…” How’s that? You mean you don’t know where in the world Ufa is? Either did I, until a few minutes ago while I was reading an article about China’s increasing economic and diplomatic forays westward from its borders into Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Those countries along with China form the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or SCO. Their next scheduled meeting is in June 2015 in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan. No little thing. This is a meeting that includes the heavy hitters Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and the heads of the other member countries

But first let’s quickly orient ourselves as to where Ufa, the region of Bashkortostan, and where on the planet this all is.

Ufa map1  Ufa is a city of just over 1 million with a link to the Tran Siberian Railroad. Note that the railroad terminus is Vladivostok, located on this map just above the letter “J” in the word “Japan”. During WWII, Stalin moved much of Russia’s industries eastward to Ufa to keep it out of reach of the invading Germans. Now there is a new invasion.

June 2015 is the next meeting of SCO (see above). With the Russian currency falling, the former Soviet central Asian countries are being hit hard. Meanwhile, China is flexing its economic muscles. China’s aim is to access the mineral and gas resources of the region and also gain a land bridge to the Russian and European markets.

This is all in keeping with Xi Jinping’s “New Silk Road” policy, backed up by a $40 billion commitment. Thus China is encouraging the Asian nations to cooperate in developing road and particularly rail. And there’s more. China is very much concerned with the rising Islamic terrorist threat. China is strengthening its ties to central Asian governments and expanding contacts with Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially as it sees a vacuum being created by American military draw down. Keep in mind also that China has fourteen bordering countries plus not all together happy neighbors in the South China Sea.

Here is a map of the member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, shown in green, and observer countries in blue and purple. It is a lot of land mass, a lot of resources, and a lot of people.

Ufa map 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ufa may be a little dot on a big world map, but the consequences of the agreements to be made there may affect us all.

Charles Dusenbury

Below is a very interesting link to an article on the subject from a Kazakhstan website:

http://www.silkroadreporters.com/2015/02/16/sino-russian-division-labor-keeping-central-asia-stable/

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Oct 262014
 

WP_20141026_13_04_07_Pro

An Autumn Sunday morning in Florence. Sleepily, I pad into our crowded little kitchen for a cup of espresso. The air has the vaguely musty smell of wash left on the drying rack mixed with the lingering scent of garlic infused with last night’s Parmesan cheese. I wedge myself between the drying rack, the washing machine and the sink to get to our little vertical slit of a kitchen window. Reaching over the bottles of olive oil and partially consumed table wines, I open the little portal of our own lives, and in floods a whole panorama of Florentine roof tops, historical sites and Italian sounds.

It happens to be the day the clocks are set back an hour, this in a city where the experience of time can be set back centuries. A few blocks over, Giotto’s Campanile and Brunelleschi’s Duomo hold center stage in this piccolo panoramico, yet this Sunday morning it is the even closer bell tower of the Church of San Gaetano that captures attention. Throughout most of the week, the bell sounds emanating from this often under-appreciated baroque edifice reminds one of pots and pans slowly sliding off a shelf. This day however, large bells are being hand-rung by energetic clergy in the tower, their sonorous harmony resonating with those longings for peace and harmony held deep within my heart.

It is silent now. The full cup of espresso remains untouched. My heart is touched to over-flowing.

 

 

 

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Sep 052014
 

Ponte vecchio bomb4

 

The man was Gerhard Wolf, a career diplomat who was posted to Florence in 1940, soon after the heady days of Mussolini’s triumphal visit to Florence with his staunch admirer, Adolf Hitler. Consul Wolf was later to become declared an honorary citizen of Florence.

Life had continued along in Florence reasonably well until 1943, when the exasperated German high command occupied Italy. Consul Wolf then became instrumental in preventing the Nazi’s from removing art treasures from the city, while working to save many Jews from deportation, including the famous art historian, Bernard Berenson. Herr Wolf was aided in his efforts by Rudolf Rahn, the deputy ambassador to Rome, and Ludwig Heydenreich, director of the Florentine Kunsthistorisches Institut.

On the Ponte Vecchio, at mid-span, is a plaque commemorating his achievements, particularly the preservation of this historical bridge.

Wolf 2

By the summer of 1944, the allies were advancing on the outskirts of Florence. The German military commander ordered all the bridges over the Arno to be blown up. Gerhard Wolf succeeded in negotiating for the preservation of the Ponte Vecchio by having the army blow up a stretch of buildings adjacent the bridge along the south bank of the Arno river, thus rendering the bridge itself inaccessible.

Ponte Vecchio bomb

 

Wolf 1

There is a touching side note to these events.

Gerhard Wolf was born in Dresden.

 

The plaque in Italian reads: “Gerhard Wolf (1886–1962). German consul, born at Dresden—subsequently twinned with the city of Florence—in played a decisive role in the salvation of the Ponte Vecchio (1944) from the barbarism of the Second World War and was instrumental in rescuing political prisoners and Jews from persecution at the height of the Nazi occupation. The comune places this plaque on 11 April 2007 in memory of the granting of honorary citizenship.”

 

 

 

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Jul 302014
 

Living here in Florence, immersed in the veritable epicenter of great artistic works, one might be forgiven for generally visualizing the artists as wizened old men with stringy beards.

Loggia Rucellai

Loggia Rucellai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It may bring to mind images of an aging Leonardo’s self-portrait…

Leonardo

 

 

 

 

 

…or even the grimacing actor Charlton Heston portraying the tormented genius, Michalangelo.

Charlton

 

 

 

 

As it turns out, many of the famous artists of the Renaissance, the “Rebirth”, did not live so very long beyond their own day of birth. Two young artists stand somewhat as bookends to that flourishing period of art.

Raphael Raphael is often referred to the greatest painter of the High Renaissance. By the age of 24, he was already creating masterpieces in Florence such as the Madonna, La Belle Jardiniere (1507).Raphael2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In what was then the Vatican library, Raphael completed his greatest masterpiece, The School of Athens (1511).

Raphael5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pope Leo X commissioned the artist to do his portrait. The expressions on the three men in this painting are a bit pensive, (the man on the left, Giulio de’ Medici, also became pope). Perhaps coincidental, but that same year, 1517, Luther posted his Ninety-five Thesis, sparking the reformation

Raphael4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By 1520, wealthy patrons were clamoring for more and more works by Raphael, but that same year, after a brief illness, he died in Rome at the age of 33.

 

Mosaccio’s paintings are considered seminal works and helped usher in the Renaissance period. In 1425, the 24 year old Mosaccio took over from the older Masolino da Panicale the painting of the Brancacci chapel in Florence’s Santa Maria del Carmine.

The Tribute Money

The Tribute Money


massacio3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By 1428 he had completed several large pieces that became the talk of the town and influenced the works of succeeding artists of the age. What other influential works he might have done, we will never know; Mosaccio died that same year, not quite 27. Below is a self-portrait that he, like many artists of the day, snuck into much larger paintings. Beside him is the famed architect, Alberti. Alberti is much appreciated in our household, as he designed the very building in which we reside, the Palazzo Rucellai. The man on the right is Brunelleschi, whose crowning achievement is also Florence’s most prominent landmark, the Duomo.

Massacio; Self Portrait

Massacio; Self Portrait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raphael and Mosaccio, two young artists…both who helped define their times…both dying before their time…both (not so) Old Masters.

 

Charles Dusenbury, Florence, Italy

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Jul 252014
 

Skimming through today’s Wall Street Journal, the word “theremin” caught the eye and stumped the brain. It elicited a letter to the WSJ. Posted below is that letter and some explanatory links.

Dear WSJ Editor:

“Theremin”. Now there’s a word to stop a skim-reader in his tracks (“Our Lady in the Middle East”, Television, WSJ 25-Jul-14). For those of us with a 1950’s childhood, the theremin was an integral part of our growing up. Oh, we didn’t know its name but we knew that all authentic spacecraft and trundling robots from outer space made the same eerie, warbling electronic sound. “The Thing; It came from Outer Space” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” are classics of this early 50’s genre.

I still remember two eerie sounds from that 1951 classic movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. The first of course was the “authentic” otherworldly sound out of the studio’s theremin; the other from the horror-constricted throat of Patricia Neal starring up at the looming earth-destroying robot as we all in our theater seats helped by mouthing those immortal, world-saving words, “Klaatu barada nikto!”

Well, we all had a hand in saving the world during that early 1950’s Saturday matinee. Then, spacecraft only came from outer space. But by 1957, the launch of Sputnik changed all that. Now early spacecraft and early examples of the electronic theremin reside in museums.

For those of us of a certain age, that still feels rather eerie.

And here is the promised link, illustrating and explaining the theremin. One sits in the “Sparks Museum of Electrical Invention” in Bellingham, WA

http://www.sparkmuseum.org/collections/the-golden-age-of-radio-(1928-1950)/rca-theremin-1929/

Bellingham, WA itself deserves, may even require some explanation. Inserted below is an article by this author published in Highways Magazine.

HIGHWAYS

 WASHINGTON’S EXIT LESS TRAVELED

Take a detour off the interstate to explore an unspoiled corner of the Pacific Northwest 

Bellingham

Charles P. Dusenbury

GSC Highways

Tuesday January 1, 2008

Bellingham, Washington, a waterfront community of 180,000 just south of the Canadian border on Interstate 5, is more than just an off-ramp on your journey north or south. Beautiful vistas of the fabled San Juan Islands and towering snowcapped peaks, fascinating shops featuring Northwest artisans and a culture of warmth and welcoming combine to make this a pleasurable respite from the rigors of travel.

Whether you plan to spend a few hours or hunker down for a few days in Bellingham, a good place to start is right where people board the Alaska Ferry at the South Bellingham Alaska Ferry Building.

The best way to get there, either by RV or car, is the southernmost of the seven Bellingham exits off I-5. It’s exit 250: Chuckanut, Old Fairhaven Parkway. Follow the signs west to the Alaska Ferry in the south Bellingham community of Fairhaven. Seattle is 75 miles farther south on I-5. Vancouver, British Columbia, is 45 miles to the north. Long-term parking for recreational vehicles is excellent, and there’s plenty of room for maneuvering your rig.

The Alaska Ferry Terminal isn’t just a roll-on/roll-off spot near I-5, so park that rig and, like Captain Vancouver before you, do some exploring. The terminal’s vaulted steel, brick and glass lobby gives the sense that you’ve just stepped off the Orient Express from Istanbul. If the weather’s good, you’ll have sweeping views of Bellingham Bay, downtown Bellingham and the North Cascades’ peak of Mount Baker. Catch it on the right day, and you’ll get a glimpse of the Alaska Ferry with its Jonah-like appetite for boarding vehicles.

Stroll around the interior to find a series of educational displays and informational brochures that’ll help you plan your activities. At the ticket windows near the entrance, you can arrange for excursions such as whale watching, bay tours, evening dinner cruises and passenger ferries to Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands and Victoria on Vancouver Island. Oh yes, and there’s a double-masted wooden sailboat charter for those wishing to relive Washington’s maritime history.

It’s worth repeating that this is a ferry building for vehicles with passage to Alaska. The other vessels here are strictly for passengers. But that’s the whole point: you can take in all that the neighboring islands have to offer without the hassle of transporting your RV there.

The ferry terminal’s Old World ambience extends up several cobblestone-and-brick blocks into the artsy enclave of Fairhaven, brimming with Victorian charm and Northwestern friendliness. Browse the shops and galleries that line the streets for the best from regional artisans. Grab a bite at the converted double-decker bus, smell the roses at the little garden shop across the way or have a quiche and a local Chardonnay. Wine? In Washington? You bet. The state is second only to California in wine production.

Stay out on a summer evening to witness the emergence of a local nocturnal species shepherding their young. They’re easily identified by their fleece blankets, seat cushions, picnic baskets and happy chattering. Follow them as they flock to the central Fairhaven Village Green where the evening’s movie feature projects on a wall. The kid hanging out the window next to the movie is a very realistic painting. That man and woman toasting you from the alfresco restaurant upstairs are happily very alive and all part of the congenial nature of this waterfront village.

On the Waterfront

Fairhaven’s plainer older sister, downtown Bellingham, resides a few miles north around the bay. She’s not a heartthrob at first glance, but dance with her a few blocks and her charms are revealed.

Bellingham’s waterfront has developed into a first-class destination with curving paths among the 1,400 pleasure boats and fishing vessels at the Squallicum Harbor Marina. The Hotel Bellwether, with its distinctive bridal-suite lighthouse tower, serves up fine dining along with two other bay-view restaurants.

A Saturday must-do is the farmers market around Bellingham’s new indoor/outdoor marketplace. Some of the garden-fresh produce and local wines on sale here come from the San Juan Islands. Savor a full-meal crepe as you stroll past local handicrafts while listening to a fine string quartet or a surprisingly mellow bagpipe.

A real find—though it’s seldom found—is the American Museum of Radio and Electricity on Bay Street. On the outside it resembles an old-fashioned radio- and TV-repair shop.

The inside tells a different story. This museum features a detailed recreation of Titanic’s radio room, complete with authentic period communication equipment. Be sure to see the near-priceless original Edison light bulb. Confederate General George E. Pickett’s 1857 wood-framed house still stands just a few blocks away.

Dazzling views are found on Chuckanut Drive, a coastal road heading south out of Fairhaven. A cathedral of overarching trees opens into vistas of the islands. Several turnouts with stunning panoramas lure you to stop and take off your lens cap.

Since the 1920s, a favorite stop on Chuckanut Drive has been the Oyster Bar restaurant. You can’t get shellfish any fresher than this; the oyster farm is just down the lane. The road itself is a bit twisty, but it makes for a charming return to the high-speed straightaways of Interstate 5.

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Jul 212014
 

To view Florence from a distant hill is to round the corner within a grand museum and be transfixed by a magnificent tapestry. The eye dances to and fro as it takes in the full grand sweep of beauty; the mind boggles as it searches for the familiar landmarks of the Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, the gentle s-shape the Arno river under the Ponte Vecchio.

As with any great work of art, one is drawn to inspect up close; to examine the individual colors and threads and knots. It is only by going down into the city of Florence and wandering within the maze of ancient buildings on narrow curving streets that one gets the impression that Florence is more like a three dimensional, semi transparent, overlapping patchwork quilt.

FlorencePatchwork3_JPG The changing esthetics of ages past are loosely knit together by cobbled stone lanes and flaking mortar. The colors and designs of generations of artists and architects are sometimes preserved in their full original glory; sometimes they are totally obscured by succeeding works; often they partially reemerge through those later overwrites.

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Jan 072014
 

Adam and Eve

Dante Alighieri, Niccolo’ Machiavelli, even some of the Medicis, have suffered expulsion from the gates of Florence. And now must the Dusenburys, for our sins of not having a long-term visas, suffer that most grievous of punishments.

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Dec 202013
 

 

Uffizi on the Arno River

Uffizi on the Arno River

No visit to Florence would be complete without taking time to pause for reflection at the Uffizi Art Gallery.

The early arrival of evening in Florence brings with it the opportunity to take a stroll before dinner. This view is from the Oltrano, the “other side” of the Arno River. Just downstream to the left out of sight is the Ponte Vecchio. That is the Uffizi directly across the river. One of course usually sees this museum from the other end where it touches onto the piazza with the Palazzo Vecchio. That is the tower from the palazzo lit up in the top middle of this view. You are looking all the way through the Uffizi courtyard to the piazza at the far end where that little patch of reflected blue light is.

Seen from any angle at any time of the day or night, one feels blessed to experience that unique blend of art, and architecture, and nature that is Florence.

 

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Dec 192013
 

 

Arno River, Florence

Arno River, Florence

 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

 

 

 

 

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Dec 142013
 

The great immortal masters left us incredible works of art and architecture; they left us something else equally as precious, a depiction of the daily lives of the mortals in their midst.

This at the base of a large sculpture by Nanni di Banco, “Four Crowned Martyrs”, ca 1410-15, commissioned by the stone masons and wood carvers guild. A modern woodworker would feel right at home in the shop on the left. Note the one fellow with a wood plane, the other with a bow and string powered hand drill. There is a level on the wall between them and also calipers. Saw horses haven’t changed much over the years either.
The stone workers are chiseling away, apparently creating a cupid. One miss hit and…oops. Oh well, perhaps most angels are girls.
Around 1335, Andrea Pisano did a series of bas relief plates that appeared on the Giotto’s Campanile, the Duomo’s bell tower. The foot pedals and the shuttlecock in the weavers hand would be familiar to today’s craft weavers.
Those two oxen are working hard to pull that plow. Forty years ago, I came across a live scene such as this. Having never seen such large white beasts of burden, I inquired as to what he called. them. The farmer looked at me with a rather blank look. Then, with one of those anybody-knows looks, gave a cryptic answer: “Vaca”. Now believe me, for a boy raised on Borden’s milk, these beasts were a whole lot bigger and more muscular than any Daisy-the-cow I ever saw.
Well perhaps had you lived in Florence in the 1300’s, you would have preferred to an artist…
Or a sculptor…
Or to do your best to chart the stars in their courses, the Music of the Spheres, a century before Galileo developed the telescope and his heretical notions about man’s place in the universe.
After all that work, you deserve a chance to kick back and have a drink.
Besides, it’s 1335. You have been working hard to clean up and rebuild Florence after the flood of ’33. So get plenty of rest. You are going to need it. There is a whole lot of work ahead of you to build all those foundations of art and architecture upon which future generations will stand and be acclaimed as the Masters of the Renaissance.
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