Saturday, August 9, 2008

Heart to heart and heavy artillery

Don’t you love it? Don’t you love the supreme irony of it all? Just as the Olympic Games are opening in Beijing, the pro-western, US backed government of Georgia decides to launch an offensive against its in-everything-but-name independent “province” of South Ossetia. Claiming that its troops were shelling the Ossetian capital city to “restore constitutional order” the Georgian Army killed over 1,500 people and essentially leveled Tskhinvali. Among those who died as the world watched a British soprano in Beijing sing “you and me, from one world, heart to heart, we are one family” were ten Russian soldiers manning a “peace observation” post in the breakaway province.

Opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics

Moscow was not amused and columns of tanks and heavy artillery were soon rolling across the border in defense of the largely Russian population. Georgia has now declared war against Russia and is begging the USA and the European Union to intervene in some way. The Georgian president declared that his country was “looking with hope” to the US. The armed confrontation with Russia, he claimed, “is not about Georgia anymore. It’s about America, its values... America stands up for those freedom-loving nations and supports them. That’s what America is all about.” But it’s unlikely that anyone will come to their aid. Apart from the usual calls for a cease-fire, the Georgians can expect little else from their NATO friends.

Opening salvos of the Russian-Georgian war

In America’s new cold war against Russia, Georgia and its army are but pawns in the Great Game. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s, US administrations have fostered regional tensions in the Caucasus and beyond in an effort to gain control of the area’s strategic petroleum resources. Promoting Georgia’s admission as a full member of the NATO alliance was a part of this plan. Just as encouraging and then recognizing the unilateral declaration of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia sent a very clear message to the world and especially to Russia. “We’re still the rulers of the world”, the Neocons seem to be saying to Putin, “and we can surround you with client states like Georgia or create ‘independent protectorates’ in Kosovo and Afghanistan and there isn’t a damn thing that you can do about it.”

The risk, of course, is that the Russians would eventually strike back. Everyone has their limits and while it’s easy to start a war, once the killing begins, you never know where it will end.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Yoshi Nagasaka is a talented artist and a good friend of mine, and I thought that today, as a way of introducing him, I’d reprint the piece that I wrote in 2005 for the catalog of one of his exhibitions.

Nagasaka and Hemingway

I met Yoshi in the summer of 2001. He was living in the center of Milan not too far from the Duomo in a two-bedroom apartment that was literally packed with his paintings.
An uncle of mine had 'discovered' him while vacationing on Lago Maggiore. He was so impressed with the work of this Japanese expatriate that he gave me his number and said that I should scout him out in Milan and find out if he would be interested in doing the poster for the Ernest Hemingway Society's bi-annual meeting in Stresa. He was convinced that Yoshi's minimalist portrayals of the landscape surrounding the lake and the own of Stresa would be perfect.

Lago Maggiore Isola Bella nel blu, Yoshi Nagasaka

And indeed they were. They captured perfectly the romanticism and essential beauty of an area that my grandfather had once defined as one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
In one painting you could almost imagine Frederick Henry rowing silently across the waters towards Switzerland. In the twilight of a summer evening the mist was obscuring the mountain range in the distance beyond Isola Bella.

Tarda Primavera al Parco Sempione Milano, Yoshi Nagasaka

Many other paintings were of Milan. People sitting on the steps of the Duomo or passing through the Galleria not far from the hospital where shrapnel was removed from my grandfather's legs. Intimate views of a city that Yoshi knew well and that had been fundamental in Ernest's life.

After leaving his house I kept thinking how amazing it was to find this kind of talent hidden so carefully in a run-down building in the center of postindustrial Milan. The Milanese, it's true, have a habit of thinking of their city as the cultural capital of the country and yet here was a jewel in the midst that they'd virtually ignored. An ignorance, I was sure, that wouldn't last forever.