Saturday 29 March 2014


Tonight someone told me about a case of the widespread pain and misery it can cause when a person who is gay feels like they have to pretend to themselves that they are not. It had never occurred to me as a possible explanation of the behaviour I had heard about. I felt some sympathy and understanding I had not felt before.

I am so glad people can marry who they want now (as from two hours ago). Marriage is not for everyone, but the public endorsement is not a small thing. I hope it will give others the confidence to be themselves.

Friday 14 March 2014

Art, Politics, Time, Space, Hair

This is a plan of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the museum of fine art in Buenos Aires. I went in while I was there; it was about thirty minutes' walk from where I was staying, and I was interested to see what would be inside. As you can see, it's quite small, (it looks bigger on the website), but it has some unique and interesting things. They include some compelling and very informative journalistic war paintings in Room 23, which I've never seen anything else quite like, and some horrifying drawings by Goya in room 8. It's also good for Rodin, but for a visitor the rooms of Argentinian painting are obviously of greater interest.

The impression I went away with was of very striking and beautifully executed, large 19th-Century paintings with plain political messages either nationalist or socialist. And lots of portraits of rich people and nude women, occasionally rich nude women, one looking very likely, if not very well painted, in a bath. And the detailed, panoramic, horrifying battlefields. All of those I really enjoyed looking at, and they made me think.

However, if you go there at any time, I would draw your attention to the large glass case at the street end of Room 17 (at the end, top right), in red. There's virtually no labelling to give you any information at all about what's going on, but it contains one or two dozen elaborately carved tortoiseshell mantilla combs, the widest a curved semicircle over a metre wide. That one has a pattern of foliage surrounding a male portrait. A smaller one, not on the website, had an elaborate hunting scene. Some of them obviously made social or political statements, but the labels gave a foreigner no clue. Who was Juan Manuel de Rosas and why did this lady want to display his portrait in her hair? How exactly would she have worn this comb, on what sort of occasion? What did it signify to her and those around her? How customary or widespread was this practice? How were they made, what did they cost, and what sort of people designed and made them? Was there some sort of my-comb-is-bigger-than-yours thing going on? Was it talked of in society? Did cartoonists mock it?

I have no idea, and they weren't telling. Charles Darwin, on his visit to Buenos Aires, had this to say:
Otherwise, I remain ignorant. However, on International Women's Day, just last week, I saw this:

These four Spanish women (you can only see three and an elbow) had made mantilla combs out of paper and card, written their messages on them in English, and worn them with fringed shawls to announce "I am Spanish and I demand abortion rights". At least, that is what it announced to me. The signs they carried were in Spanish, but the combs in English, this being London.