Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Historic Inauguration

Obama,Michelle Obama,Jill Biden
This was a special day for me as an American, but perhaps even more so as an American living abroad. American ex-pats are often rather shy about confessing their nationality. My husband and I went to a party two years ago, and when one of the couples at our table found out I was an American, they excused themselves(they didn't care what my politics were--they did not want to sit next to an American). Of course, I was a little offended, but I wasn't that surprised. Like it or not, the last 8 years have been pretty tough on America's image, and noone feels this more keenly than those of us who live abroad. A lot of people just don't like us, and many of them have their reasons.

The funny thing is, as soon as Obama declared his intention to run for president, world opinion started to shift. And by the time I went to France this summer, the whole world was talking about the possibility that Americans might elect the first president in the western world that was a member of a visible minority. There was also a tacit understanding that electing the first black president of the United States was a vital step in healing our country's image and removing the stain of inequality that had marred our reputation around the world.

Actions speak louder than words, and President Obama will be faced with tremendous challenges. But as he often reminds us, Obama's mere presence in this office demonstrates that the Americans are truly committed to the belief that all men are created equal. And although I live in Canada, this ex-pat is feeling quite patriotic today.

Image courtesy CNN

Monday, January 19, 2009

Belmont Lodge, an historic building with ties to the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, is threatened with demolition

Belmont Lodge, an historic building in Bognor Regis with ties to the Pre-Raphaelite movement, has been threatened with demolition.

The lodge, which dates back to the Regency period, was the home of William Shakespeare Burton. Burton's best-known Pre-Raphaelite-inspired work is The Wounded Cavalier."

Dante Gabriel Rossetti stayed in the Lodge's former coach house for a year, during which he produced as many as ten paintings, including the famous Astarte Syriaca.

It is currently being proposed that the lodge be torn down and an apartment complex erected in its place. What a shame. Let's hope that people in the area make a fuss about the plans, though I'm not sure how likely that is, since the building is neither well-known, nor listed as an historic building.

You can read more about the proposal in the Bognor Regis Observer.

Image: "The Wounded Cavalier," by William Shakespeare Burton, 1855.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Desperate Romantics by Franny Moyle

Dante Gabriel Rossetti,Lizzie Siddal,pre-raphaelite

Franny Moyle's new book, Desperate Romantics, catalogues the lives and loves of the Pre-Raphaelites, while occasionally touching on their art. The book, which serves as the inspiration for the upcoming BBC miniseries of the same name, sounds like it will be a delight for those looking to dwell on the shallower aspects of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

First, I will confess that the bohemian lifestyle of the Pre-Raphaelites has held a certain fascination for me ever since I first picked up Beth Russell's Traditional Needlepointand suddenly found myself entranced by the beauty of Morris and Rossetti's art and the sordid details of their personal lives. Whether for good or ill, the countless affairs, intrigues, love triangles and suicides that pepper the Pre-Raphaelite movement have undeniably added to their allure.

It still seems a shame that the book ignores the Pre-Raphaelites' art almost entirely, in favour of tabloid coverage of their exploits. There is so much more to the Pre-Raphaelite vision than sultry models and randy artists. William Morris himself was a fascinating man with beautiful ideas that are still pertinent today. The same is also true for the inspiring John Ruskin, who is sidelined as a mere deviant in Moyle's work. In her defence, however, I notice that Moyle is a television producer, which probably explains her conviction that sex is the best way to sell art. And perhaps she's right. It certainly worked for me. Today my interest in the Pre-Raphaelites goes far beyond their sordid personal lives, but in the beginning, their fascinating lives were instrumental in drawing me into their world.

For more information, read the Times review of Desperate Romantics

Friday, January 9, 2009

Waterford and Wedgwood in Receivership

Most of you have probably heard by know that Waterford Wedgwood PLC is now in receivership. In November I wrote about Spode's financial troubles and it now appears that Waterford/Wedgwood are going through similar difficulties.

There are a number of potential buyers in the works for Waterford Wedgwood, but this still doesn't really answer the question of what will happen to this historic company once it has been split into pieces and sold to the highest bidder.

It's a real shame that so many historic businesses have been hard hit by the financial crisis. Of course, part of the problem is that many of them have sacrificed the quality of their products and left their customers feeling betrayed. While this may save on costs in the short-term, luxury brands simply cannot afford to sully their reputations by cutting corners with their products. I don't think this has necessarily been the problem with Waterford, which has apparently refused to outsource their production to Indonesia (could this perhaps be a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario).

While both Waterford and Wedgwood have existed since the 17th century, the marriage of the two occurred in 1986, when Waterford purchased Wedgwood.

In spite of all this doom, there is a bit of cheery news. According to the New York Times this is not the first time that Waterford has been in....well...hot water. Apparently Waterford was forced to close its doors for more than 100 years in 1851 when rising taxes made the business unprofitable. Perhaps these companies will emerge, stronger than ever, once the economy turns around. Let's hope so.