Friday, November 3, 2017

putting up Stalin statues in Russia; from Agony & Ecstasy by I. Stone

     Many here apparently don't know that on July 30, 1937, Stalin’s secret police launched a campaign that would see more than 1.5 million "anti-Soviet elements" arrested and nearly 700,000 of them killed, according to Soviet archives.  Historians say that during Stalin’s three decades of rule, which ended with his death in 1953, an estimated 15 million to 30 million people were executed or died in labor camps or starved to death....
  About 10 statues of Stalin have gone up around the country since 2012, said Pavel Gnilorybov, a historian who works with a group that tracks human rights abuses.  Some of the renewed admiration comes from President Vladimir Putin, who often laments the breakup of what had been the world's only other superpower besides the United States.  Putin condemned the “excessive demonization” of Stalin during an interview that aired this summer with Oscar-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone.  Putin said attacks on Stalin amounted to "attacking the Soviet Union and Russia."
  Now Michelangelo (aged 13, in 1488, on foot from Firenze to Settignano, overlooking the Arno valley) scampered down the hill between wheat and ripening grapes and climbed the opposite ridge to the Topolino stoneyard.  He paused when he came in sight of it.  This was the picture which meant home and security for him:  the father working with iron chisels to round a fluted column, the youngest son beveling a set of steps, one of the older two carving a window frame, the other graining a door panel; the grandfather polishing a column on a pumice wheel-stone.  Behind them were three arches, and under the arches scurrying chickens, ducks, pigs.
  In the boy's mind there was no difference between a scalpellino and a scultore, a stonecutter and a sculptor, for the scalpellini were fine craftsmen.  Every stone of the Florentine palaces was cut, beveled, given a textured surface as if it were a piece of sculpture.  So proud were all Florentines of their simplest paving blocks that they bragged of the wretch who, being jostled in the cart that was taking him to the Palazzo della Signora for hanging, cried out:  "What idiots were these who cut such clumsy blocks?"
  The father heard Michelangelo's footsteps.  "Buon dia, Michelangelo, come va?  How goes it?"
  "Non c'e male.  Not bad.  And you?"
   "Non c'e male."...
  The sons were given hammers and chisels at the age of six, and by ten were working full time.  There was no marriage outside the stone ring, and no outsider could find work at the quarry.  Between the arches hung an oblong piece of pietra serena with examples of the classic treatments of the stone: herringbone, punchhole, rustic, crosshatch, linear, bevel, centered right angle, receding step--the first alphabet Michelangelo had studied.
  Topolino spoke.  "You're apprenticed to Ghirlandaio?"
  "You do not like it?"
   "Not greatly."
  "Who does somebody else's trade makes soup in a basket," said the old grandfather.
  "We could use a cutter," this from Bruno.
  Michelangelo looked to the father.  "Davero?  It is true?  You will take me as apprentice?"
  "With stone you're no apprentice.  You earn a share."
  His heart leaped.  Everyone chipped in silence.  The father had just offered him a portion of the food that went into the family belly.  "My father wold not permit me....But can I cut now?"
  The grandfather replied:  "Every little bit helps."
  Michelangelo sat before a roughed-out column, a hammer in one hand, a chisel in the other.  He had a natural skill, under his blows the pietra serena cut like cake.  Contact with the stone made him feel that the world was right again.
  The pietra serena they were working was an alive blue-gray.  It was durable yet manageable.  The Topolinos had taught him to seek the natural form of the stone, never to grow angry or unsympathetic toward the material:  "Stone works with you.  It reveals itself.  But you must strike it right.  Each stone has its own character.  It must be understood.  Remember, stone gives itself to skill and to love."
  The stone was master, not the mason.  If a mason beat his stone as an ignorant farmer might beat his beasts, the warm breathing material became dull, died under his hand.  To sympathy it yielded, it grew luminous and sparkling.  Stone was mystic:  it had to be covered at night because it would crack if the full moon got on it.  Stone was called by the stonecutters after the most precious of foods:  carne, meat.
  Monna Margherita, a formless woman who worked the animals and fields as well as the stove and tub, came out of the house and stood listening.  Of her Lodovico (Michelangelo's father) had said bitterly, when Michelangelo wished to work with his hands:  "A child sent out to nurse will take on the condition of the woman who feeds him."  She had suckled him with her own son for two years, and the day her breast ran dry she put both boys on wine.  Water was for bathing before Mass.
  Michelangelo kissed her on both cheeks.
  "Pazienza, figlio mio," she counseled.  "Ghirlandaio is a good master.  Who has an art has always a part."
  The father rose.  "I must go to the quarry.   Come help load."
  They rode on the high seat behind two beautiful white oxen.  In the fields the olive pickers worked on ladders made of slender tree stalks.  Baskets were tied around their waists with rope.  As they rounded a bend Michelangelo saw the quarry with its blue and gray serena and iron-stained streaks.  High on the cliff several men were using a scribbus--a point--to mark out a block to be quarried.  He could see the point marks outlining blocks throughout the formation.
  The work area where the blocks fell after they were loosed were shimmering with dust.  Topolino
inspected the newly quartered stone:  "That one has knots.  Too much iron in this.  This one will be hollow."  Until finally:  "Ah!  Here is a beautiful piece of meat."
  Michelangelo planted his legs wide before the block and swung his weight from the hips; Topolino tipped it up with an iron bar.  Between them they moved it over the boulders to open ground, then with the help of the quarrymen the block was fulcrumed up into the cart.
  Michelangelo wiped the sweat from his face and bade Topolino goodbye. "A domani," replied Topolino, flicking the lines for the oxen to move off.                 -Irving Stone:  The Agony and the Ecstasy, 1961        
-Settignano, Italy

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