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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Okay, maybe I’m pulling your leg to get some attention. Don’t worry, the post is totally safe for work and maybe even wholesome for the children. However, Amorphophallus titanum, translated from the latin, does indeed mean giant, misshapen phallus and the Amorphophallus titanum is why all these people were standing around for hours in anticipation.

A crowd of people inside a conservatory.

What these people are looking at is an  example of the world’s largest unbranched inflorescence, the Amorphophallus titanum, which is sometimes called the titan arum. It is a member of the Arum Family, or Araceae, which contains many familiar plants like calla lilies and jack-in-the-pulpit.

Many plants from the Arum family on display outside the conservatory at the botanic garden in Washington, D.C.

The Araceae have a unique flowering structure.

An illustration showing the arrangement of the male and female flowers on the spadix inside the spathe.

The spadix is a large, fleshy protuberance which emits a sent to attract the pollinators. Towards the bottom of the spadix are the actual flowers themselves, which are unisex and without petals. In the Amorphophallus titanum, as in most members of this family, the male flowers are located above the female flowers. The spadix with its flowers are swathed in a colorful modified leaf, shaped like a funnel, called a spathe.

The odor the Amorphophallus titanum emits to attract pollinators smells distinctly like rotting flesh, leading to the name corpse flower, a title is shares with several other foul smelling flowers known as carrion flowers.

Besides being really big and stinky, the flowering is unpredictable. There can be a lapse of anywhere from several years to several decades between blooms. So, when I heard that there was an Amorphophallus titanum at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. about to bloom, I decided to go take a look.

The titan arum looking ready to bloom.

This is how the Amorphophallus titanum looked when we arrived around two in the afternoon.

The Amorphophallus titanum is native to Sumatra and can grow up to twelve feet tall. This particular plant is about seven years old and this is its first bloom. The Botanic Garden originally predicted it would bloom around July 12. They usually close at five o’clock, but last Thursday and Friday the hours were extended until eight, however the flower did not open.

titan_close_up_spathe

We enjoyed the rest of the gardens and got a bite to eat and returned around half past four. The plant had noticeably changed.

spathe_at_430

People in the crowd started saying that they hoped the Garden would stay open late for the event.

the-_crowd

A young man in the crowd told us how he had seen one in Washington State when he was in graduate school. He told us the a police officer also viewing the flower confirmed that it did indeed smell like a corpse.

spathe_at_430

corpse_flower_at_five

Finally, the flower inflamed crowd was informed that if we didn’t leave the staff would call the police.

This is the last shot I was able to get before they kicked us all out.

This is the last shot I was able to get before they kicked us all out.

When we got home we looked at the live stream. It was half past seven and it appeared as if the plant was blooming. We just missed it by a few hours. Monday, the Botanical Garden will be open until eight.

Here’s a BBC video about this flower.

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A vendor at a farmers market and a customer.Well, I’m a little bit late getting a post up. This morning, when I took this photo, it was bright and sunny. Yet, on my way home this evening, I got caught in a thunderstorm. Now, I just want to make myself a cup of tea and go to bed.

For those of you who have seen a few of my Friday posts, the squirrels Smudge and Tripod have been surviving the heat reasonably well. The bird bath has been at least as popular as the bird feeder. Bad Bunny was last seen munching some weeds that I was going to tear up after the heat wave passed. Right now, we have three lobelia plants, two of which have buds but the top of the third has been neatly chopped off. I have pictures of them all, but for today I decided to focus on the bugs. In front of my sister’s house there are several butterfly bushes and a row of some other bushes whose name I don’t know. The flowers on these other bushes are a yellowish-green and not especially pretty, at least to my human eyes. However, they must be especially excellent nectar producers because the bushes, when they are in bloom, are just teaming with bees, wasps, flies and butterflies.

A tiger swallowtail butterfly on a butterfly bush.

It was the sight of this Tiger Swallowtail through the window that drew me outside into the heat.

A fuzzy image of a wasp.

It was so humid, I had to keep wiping off my lens, which kept clouding up.

The head of a baldfaced hornet with its distintive markings which resemble a skull.

After I wiped off the lens, I was able to get some good shots of a baldfaced hornet.

The body of the baldfaced wasp.

Although the common name is “baldfaced hornet,” it is actually a wasp.

A silver spotted skipper butterfly on a butterfly bush.

There were at least a dozen of these silver spotted skippers.

A winged insect with a fuzzy, stout body on a butterfly bush.

I have not yet identified this bee-like creature.

A portion of the hindwings of a spicebush butterfly.

I had the wrong lens on my camera to capture the large Spicebush butterfly.

A spicebush butterfly

As a result, I wound up with some interesting, although accidental, images.

The underside of a spicebush butterfly.

I love how you can see what appears to be pollen clinging to the underside of the butterfly.

A honeybee

I’ve seen few honeybees than in years past. Sadly, we lost a hive over the winter.

A small brown butterfly which I have tentatively identified as a Dun Skipper. If anyone is more certain, please let me know.

A small brown butterfly which I have tentatively identified as a Dun Skipper. If anyone is more certain, please let me know.

Bubmble bee on milkweed.

If the European honeybees seem to be struggling, our native bumbles were out in full force.

Some sort of skipper butterfly on a leaf.

Another difficult to identify skipper.

After several dislocations during the previous decade, I was finally back in New York City. When I left New York, I had been living in Chelsea, a few doors down from a neighborhood bar called Peter McManus. Not being much of a barfly, I’d only gone there on occasion, but I passed it every day and recalled it as a comfortable enough place.

New York had changed dramatically in the intervening years. A friend of a friend of a friend was playing in a band at Arlene’s Grocery. It was a weird experience walking into the place and suddenly seeing a group of people I’d known when I was still in my late teens and hadn’t seen for twenty years. I sat down at the bar and ordered a beer. A man I thought was cute twenty years earlier sat down next to me and said, “Long time, no see.”

“I hear you’re married and living in the East Village,” I said.

“Divorced and living in Alphabet City,” he responded without much cheer. He held his hands up and mimed hanging of the edge of a cliff. “But I’m still on the island.”

“I’m less than a block away from being off the island myself.”

“Still on the island” summed up a lot about how New York had changed in the intervening years. New York had become colder, harsher, meaner, more of a Hobbesian nightmare than it had ever been during the eighties. If that’s not the image people have, it’s because it’s not only history that’s written by the winners. Journalism is too. Those people who make the t.v. shows and the movies, winners all. The two of us sitting at the bar that night weren’t slated to be winners. We probably knew it in our hearts even then, but we were still clinging to the life raft, to the past, to Manhattan.

Shortly after moving back to New York, a friend came to visit. He looked out my window. “One more block and you’d be in the East River.”

“Fuck, man, you’re in Brooklyn.”

It wasn’t only New York that had changed. A couple of years earlier, when I’d first returned to the U.S. I felt that I came back to a different country than the one I’d left. I’d been homesick and wanted nothing more than to go home and I’d been greeted with a culture shock I didn’t expect.

The radical politics of my youth, which I had come to question long before I left New York, seemed completely, utterly futile in the face of the growing conservatism of the country, a country that had grown more conservative even as Bill Clinton was president. Friends and acquaintances who disdained mainstream politics suddenly struck me as cutting off their noses to spite their faces. If I felt alienated from politics, the answer I felt was to get more involved, at the local level, the party level. I went down to city hall and changed my voter registration from independent to Democrat.

Although the 2004 elections were over a year away, candidates for the democratic nomination were beginning to declare themselves. I went online and researched each of them. I saw that Howard Dean was scheduled to speak at a venue on the Lower East Side. A day or two later, I signed up to volunteer.

In order to get on the ballot for the democratic nomination in New York State a candidate needs to get thousands of signatures. I was with a group of other Dean volunteers when they were talking about mounting a big petitioning effort.

“Where are we meeting,” I asked.

“At McManus.” Someone responded.

“The bar?”

Everyone groaned and rolled their eyes. “You’re new to politics, huh?” McManus, I would soon find out, was the largest, oldest and most storied Democratic club in New York City, a leftover from when the corrupt Tammany Hall Democratic machine ruled New York in the nineteenth century.

A day or two later, I went down to the Hell’s Kitchen club on the west side near the theater district. There was a good turnout with a lot of people I hadn’t yet met. We teamed up in pairs, grabbed clipboards holding official green forms and fanned out across Midtown. I’d already done this with another woman during the day a week earlier out in Brooklyn. Now it was evening. A light freezing drizzle did not look encouraging for standing out on a street corner trying to get passersby in Manhattan to sign a petition. My partner was a petite, dark woman, about ten years my junior, whose name I no longer recall. We placed ourselves on a corner near Manhattan Plaza, a housing project for performing artists. It was dark and cold, and, as the night wore on, boring. As people passed by we called out, “Are you a registered Democrat?”

As the evening progressed, the number of people on the street increased with what appeared to be an after dinner crowed. Despite the heavy foot traffic, we got fewer and fewer signatures. The darkness and the weather seemed to make everyone walk more and more quickly. My partner told me that I was doing a bad job, approaching people who were obviously not Democrats.

“How can you tell?” I asked.

At that moment, a middle-aged couple who looked like the very image of well-fed Wasp prosperity were walking down the avenue in our direction. The man wore a camel colored coat that looked expensive even a block away. The woman wore fur. “Well,” my partner said, “I would bet anything that those two are Republicans!”

I stood at attention waiting for them to come within earshot.

“You’re wasting your time.”

“Are you a Democrat?” I called out.

The man came to a sudden halt and a broad smile covered his face, “Why, yes I am!”

“Would you like to sign a petition to get Howard Dean on the ballot.”

He smiled even more broadly, “Yes, I would!”

He took the clip board, lifted the pen, wrote his name and hesitated before the space for his address. “Honey,” he said, turning to his wife, “where are we registered to vote? The Hamptons or the East Side.”

“The East Side, darling.”

He finished writing his name and handed the petition to his wife. As his wife signed, the man in the camel colored coat shook our hands enthusiastically saying how it was so nice to meet us.

“It’s lonely being a Democrat.”

We tried not to laugh until they were out of earshot. Then we counted the number of signatures we’d gotten. As the drizzle turned to freezing rain, we decided it was time to get out of the cold.

We pick our fights. Presumably, we pick them according to our priorities. Politics matters more to me than atheism, feminism matters more to me than other political issues, and sexuality matters more to me than all of the above. A dear friend of mine used to sport a button that bore a quote attributed to Emma Goldman, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” In my case, the quote could be, “If I can’t fuck, I won’t join your revolution, your religion, your social movement….”

Why sex and not something else? It’s hard to say why it’s so important to me, but I speak up about it because I’m always hearing people make broad pronouncements about sex and sexuality that don’t jive with my personal experience.

About a month or so ago, I put up a post that contained a quote from Holly of Love and Heretics.

I think the distinction was made that waiting for sex until you are older and more mature, and the realization that having sex does indeed do things like give an emotional bond between people, and is more than just “causally having a cup of coffee” as sometimes it is tried to be made out to be is an important observation.

There’s at least three incorrect statements in this one sentence. I feel a little bit like I’m picking on Holly and I don’t really mean to. If these weren’t commonplaces, I wouldn’t be addressing them. Holly has just happened to put them in a sentence that’s easy to quote. For now, I’m going to limit myself to the notion that there is something positive about waiting for sex until “you are older and more mature.”

The first problem with this idea is that I’ve never heard anyone give an approximate age that would be a good time to start having sex. In English grammar, “older” is a comparative but Holly uses it without a comparison, which is possible if the comparison is implied. It begs the question, “Older than what?” Should an individual wait for sex until he or she is eighteen, twenty-one, thirty, fifty?

Conveniently for this post, I lost my virginity at fourteen which I am quite sure is younger than most of the people who make statements like that would recommend. We’ll fast forward past the first three or four boys I fucked and move forward a year when I found myself in history class sitting next to an adorable boy. Better yet, he was one of those shy, sensitive types that hadn’t a clue about exactly how adorable he was.

After futile attempts to engage him in conversation, I shoved a piece a paper at him. “What’s this?”

“My phone number, and you had better use it.”

Quite a charmer, wasn’t I? Thus began the relationship with the boy that I believe I can legitimately call “my high school sweetheart.”

Considering his shyness and upbringing in a religion that frowned on extramarital sex, it was clear to me that I was going to have to take the lead, which I did. It wasn’t long, perhaps a month at most, before I led him through the various stages of sexual contact. We were not permitted to be alone in the bedroom he shared with his brother on the third floor of their father’s house. His bed was under the window which faced the street and it wasn’t long before we figured out that in the time it took his father to navigate his bright red car up the street, into the driveway, park, get out and walk to the door, we could go from naked on his bed to fully clothed, sitting on the sofa looking like the two most innocent things in the world. In the hour or two that would remain between walking to his place from school and the moment we sighted that little red car, boy, did we have fun.

Sex was fun, playful and affectionate. We got along well outside of bed. We shared an interest in art. My friends took a strong liking to him, although his friends, who never got girlfriends, seemed to resent me a little bit. In the end, those boys were polite enough and it never erupted into a real problem.

Frankly, we had a ton of sex. We went from buying those little three packs of condoms to getting those big boxes. We took turns buying them.

There was a really good side to starting young that I think few people ever acknowledge, we had few expectations about what sex was supposed to be like. Sure, we each had seen a bit of raunchy material, but at fifteen you just haven’t racked up a whole lot of hours looking at porn, or romance novels and r-rated movies for that matter. We explored one another’s bodies with an openness I don’t think would have been possible at a much later age. Finding out what we liked and didn’t like was a matter of trial and error, and we tried a lot of things.

We did things that, years later, I would find out were supposed to feel degrading to me, but neither of us knew because no one told us. To this day, I don’t feel that there’s anything degrading about them and it blows my mind when men think it is. At some point or another, it seems to me that we tried almost every kink imaginable without even knowing what we were doing was supposed to be kinky. It was fun, joyous, sometimes romantic, sometimes silly, affectionate, tender, wild and even occasionally clumsy. It was different things at different times.

Furthermore, I hadn’t yet entirely internalized being ashamed of my body. I thought nothing of stripping off my clothes and lying in broad daylight fully exposed on his bed. Eventually, men would tell me that my thighs were too full, by ass was too round, my tits too small, my skin to pale, my calves too muscular, my pubic hair too bushy, my body hair too dark… have I missed any body parts… my feet too flat. Although my high school sweetheart had certainly seen softcore porn like Playboy, he hadn’t yet become comfortable critiquing women’s bodies in the manner that makes me want to hide under the covers with the lights off.

Most importantly, I learned, and I believed he learned as well, what I liked and what I didn’t like, where my boundaries were, how to be giving and how to take, how to please and how to make sure I was pleased in turn. Somehow, all that playing and exploring left me feeling confident about communicating what I wanted as well as how to listen to what my partner wanted. Most of all, I developed a notion that sex is meant for mutual pleasure.

I’ve retained the postive attitude I developed about sex at that time. I wish I could be as confident and self-assured about my body as I was then. In any case, I know my life would have been much poorer without the sexual exploration my high school sweetheart and I had done. It’s enough of a shame that some people are simply not fortunate enough to meet the right person at that age. It’s even more of a shame that other people do meet the right person but don’t feel comfortable exploring one another’s bodies because they’ve been told it would be bad for them.

For about the third or fourth time recently, I have come across a place where someone has stated that I, and people like me, are living in a bubble. Amanda Marcotte wrote an article recently entitled 6 Kinds of Atheists. I guess it might be useful those people who have never met an atheist and think that we are all elderly, argumentative, British biologists, but who also happen to read Amanda Marcotte. Personally, I think Marcotte should have put the article in quiz form so it could have been published in Cosmo, or perhaps as a quiz on OK Cupid. Still, even without a, b, c and d choices, I read it eagerly to find out what kind of atheist I was. Yes, I know, I’m a little self-involved. Perhaps I should have been wondering what other types of atheists are out there, but I didn’t. I was thinking of moi, moi, moi.

The first category was the “Intellectual Atheist/Agnostic.” Surely, I thought, that is I. At 38 percent, Marcotte tells us, these are the most common type of non-believer. Of course, sensible people all, I imagine. “These types often get mistaken for dogmatic atheists, however, because they have a tendency to join skeptic’s groups or otherwise find avenues to discuss non-belief with others.” Well, I went to go hear a lecture sponsored by American Atheists once and another sponsored by the Freedom From Religion foundation, I guess that counts. “They like debating religion….” Oh, well, maybe not. I like to flatter myself that I’m an intellectual and I am most certainly an atheist, however, perhaps I am not an “Intellectual Atheist.”

Behind door number two we have “Activist Atheists.” “This group also gets commonly accused of being dogmatic, but like the intellectual atheist, while they’re firm in their beliefs, they’re intellectually flexible and don’t prioritize attacking believers.” Aha! There we go. I’m an “Activist Atheist.” Let’s read more about yours truly. “Instead, they are motivated by a strong sense of humanist values to make change in the world, often making related issues—such as feminism, gay rights, or the environment—a priority over simply advocating atheism.” Hmm… maybe. “This group also advocates for a better, more egalitarian atheist community….” What community? I kind of hate that whole “atheist community” thing. We have nothing in common, quite literally. They are, I should point out, 23 percent of the nons.

Next up for consideration, the “Seeker-Agnostic.” “They prioritize not-knowingness.” I spent nearly a decade in this category. Marcotte describes them as being “uncomfortable committing to non-belief completely,” which I think is a judgemental way of putting it. It doesn’t have anything to do with “comfort.” I started out calling myself an atheist around the age of eight or nine, then starting around seventeen or eighteen I began to use the word agnostic. Sometime in my late twenties I realized that calling oneself “agnostic” is like walking around with a note that says, “Please convert me,” taped on your back. Frankly, calling myself an atheist is far easier. If nothing else, it does shut people up.

Online, I’ve met a few Anti-Theists, and I know I’m not that. “This group tends to get conflated with all atheists by believers, but they only constitute 15 percent of non-believers. Like the Intellectual Atheists, they like to argue about religion, but they are much more aggressive about it and actively seek out religious people in an effort to disabuse them of their beliefs. While most atheists limit themselves to supporting a more secular society, anti-theists tend to view ending religion as the real goal.”

With four out of six down, I seem to be running out of choices. Now here we have a category that she describes as not believing “in any gods, but don’t think about those who do very often.” Yeah, that would be about right. “In such a religious society, simply opting out of caring much about religion one way or another is nearly impossible….” Well, she does have a point there. I wind up thinking about it much more than I’d like on account of the news and other people who thrust religion on me. Officially, we are called “Non-Theists” and are “only 4.4 percent of non-believers,” although personally I suspect most of us simply didn’t bother to fill out the questionnaire. Huh… what’s this here? “In some skeptical/atheist circles, this group is disparagingly referred to as ‘shruggies.’ ” So you’re all talking about be behind my back! Shruggie? Well I never! Speculating wildly, Marcotte opines, “However, some quite likely are indifferent because they’re fortunate enough to live in a bubble where belief doesn’t matter one way or another.”

It is not a fucking “bubble.” It is a carefully constructed submarine so I don’t drown.

I’m calling this a recommendation rather than a review, because that’s exactly what it is. Not being a film buff, I was unaware of the existence of this film until I saw it mentioned on someone’s blog on Thursday. I’d give a hat tip, but I can’t find where I saw it.

The film is called Twenty Feet from Stardom, and it’s a documentary about unsung singers. The women in this movie are among the best in the business. You may not know their names, but you probably know their voices. This movie is a fabulous corrective to a history which has often overlooked these talented musicians.

When I saw the film mentioned in the blog post and I looked at the date and realized that the post was already a month old, I hurried out to see it. Luckily, it was playing at my neighborhood theater. There’s not much else to say. Watch the trailer. If you like the trailer, you’ll probably like the movie. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

I found this odd plant growing beneath a beech tree in the backyard. I didn't know what it was, so I left it. A week or so ago, it bloomed. I have tentatively identified it as Epipactis helleborine (Broad-leaved Helleborine).

I found this odd plant growing beneath a beech tree in the backyard. I didn’t know what it was, so I left it. A week or so ago, it bloomed. I have tentatively identified it as Epipactis helleborine (Broad-leaved Helleborine).

From the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (Why, yes, I do have funny reading habits.): Some artwork by an Israeli comic artist, Rutu Modan, was defaced in an exhibition at a German university. Students also objected to some sexual scenes from Craig Thompson’s comic Habibi. Disappointingly, the university decided to respond by closing the exhibit.

Good Reads has an article on why people stop reading a book and a fun graphic on which books are most frequently abandoned. The fact that Fifty Shades of Gray and Eat, PrayLove are on the list has restored my faith in women.

Over at the Daily Banter, I found an article on the relationship between Libertarianism and racism. It’s interesting. It is, I should add, very much about the history of the United States. I’d have to do more reading to know whether or not I agree with it, but it’s definitely filed in the back of my mind as “something to think about.” Like a lot of people, I’ve struggled with exactly how to regard Thomas Jefferson. Anyone else who has pondered that might want to take a look at that article.

Here’s a nice little article on orchids in New Jersey.

When I was in elementary school, we used to have the little box of cards that would have prompts for creative writing assignments. Somehow, I feel like if I had picked a card saying, “Write something with the title, ‘Comics, Porn, Libertarianism and Orchids,’ ” I should have come up with something more interesting than this.

The other day, I started reading Aisthesis: Scenes from the aesthetic regime of art by Jacques Rancière while eating dinner at the local coffee shop. While walking home, my sister drove by, not as odd a coincidence as it sounds since I live between where she lives and where she works. She asked if I wanted to come back to her place for a bit, so I got in the car. She glanced at the cover of my book, a deep black rectangle with the title placed soberly near the top and, at the bottom, as if placed inside a shadow box, and a woman in white billowing garments emerging from the darkness. With no more than a momentary glance she said, “Loïe Fuller.”

This utterance brought me back to a party in Paris about ten years ago. It would wrong to say that the subject of the conversation turned to art, because, as the hostess was an artist, the principal subject of the conversation all evening had been art. The subject, however, turned to dance. One of the Parisians was trying to recollect the name of a particular dancer. She moved her arms in an undulating manner, imitating a woman with billowing drapery. My sister, who had been a dancer when she was young, guessed Loïe Fuller. In this instance, her guess was wide of the mark. There was a beat, then a disdainful glance. After quick, terse no, the conversation resumed. Over the years, that disdainful glance has taught me far more about what is regarded as good art and what is dismissed than all the lectures I have ever heard. However, my sister is not ignorant of dance and its history and that moment reveals a divergent evaluation of Loïe Fuller and her legacy, between the speaker, who was French and my sister, who is American. (Note to self: Do not mention Loïe Fuller in a conversation with Parisians unless you have ready arguments at hand and have already established oneself as a knowledgeable person in the given social situation.)

Over dinner, I only read the prelude and part of the first chapter. The flap of the book promises, “a history of artistic modernity far removed from the conventional understandings of modernism.” Happily, the book is not nearly as boring as that description sounds. The arrangement of the book is that each chapter details an episode that shows the development of modernism.

Their selection might give rise to some surprise; the reader will seek in vain for landmarks that have become unavoidable in the history of artistic modernity: no Olympia, no Suprematist Composition: White on White, no Fountain, or Igitur or The Painter of Modern Life.

I confess, despite having taken few art history classes, posessing a degree in literature and once having been enrolled in an MFA program at an Ivy League school, I had to do a search on the internet for “igitur.” Now, I hesitate to hold myself up as some sort of paragon of sophistication, but I would suggest that Igitur, which if Wikipedia can be trusted is an unfinished story by Mallarmé, is not a touchstone in the American telling of art history. On Wikipedia, it is mentioned more prominently in the French article on Mallarmé than in the English. If “Le peintre de la vie moderne” was something I could place, it has to do with some quirks of my own particular interests, not because it was presented to me as a landmark. In fact, I didn’t know it was one. The fact that a search for “igitur” on google.com and google.fr, yields very different results, leads me to believe that my lack of familiarity is not some unique gap in my own education. However, the French story and the American one, do have a large degree of overlap, as the mention of Olympia, Suprematist Composition: White on White and the Fountain attests.

Rancière has chosen a less well-trod set of episodes for his discussion.

The scenographic revolutions of the twentieth century are difficult to understand without mentioning the evenings spent at the Funambules or the Folies Bergère by poets that no one reads any more: Théophile Gautier and Théodore de Banville. One would be hard pressed to perceive the paradoxical ‘spirituality’ of functionalist architecture without referring to Ruskin’s ‘gothic’ reveries – or even write a somewhat precise history of the modernist paradigm while forgetting that Loïe Fuller and Charlie Chalplin contributed to it far more than Mondrian or Kandinsky, or that the legacy of Whitman is as influential as that of Mallarmé.

However, we most certainly covered Ruskin at length in one of the architecture history classes I took in school and read his work. How much did the fact that Ruskin wrote in English influence that choice? If Loïe Fuller is less well-known, it may be because dance is not as well covered as painting. She was most certainly mentioned in the dance history class I had in high school, but the fact that I took a high school class in dance history is highly unusual. Do the French teach, as we do here in the United States, that modern dance is an “American art form?” Probably not. Finally, ask an American who is more influential, Whitman or Mallarmé.

I am not castigating anyone, neither the French nor the Americans, for nationalistic bias. For example, I’ve noticed the French hold Edgar Allen Poe in far higher esteem than do Americans. I’m sure, if I were only more familiar with the received wisdom of the French, I could find a Frenchman or French woman held in higher esteem here. Ruskin, after all, was English, and if he is more widely studied here I am inclined to attribute that to the coincidence of a shared language rather than to cultural chest thumping. I am simply amused by differing perspectives.