Hallowe'en Special

Posted by Kitara Julian On 6:56 PM 0 comments

My paternal grandfather was a master diamond faceter, and, a holistic healer. Besides being a great music lover, he also studied -- on his own -- the ancient Greek classics.
He was a great raconteur. Amongst the many stories he told me in my boyhood were two which pointed to the ‘eerie’ elements, not only for a young boy but even grown-ups.

One story, the Barong, featured the epic battles of Indonesia between good and evil, as portrayed by exotic dancers with fearsome masks.
These stories depicted tales from the Hindu Mahabharata.
One of my grandfather’s five sons was a scribe or senior clerk in the Netherlands Colonial office in Indonesia.
Another uncle was a pioneering photographer and documentary filmmaker. Upon hearing from his brother about those classical Indonesian dances, he travelled in the late 1920’s especially to Bali, to film the spectacular Kecak( or what Westerners call the Monkey Dance).
I had the honour of watching those films, at the ripe young age of 5 years.
The other “scary” myths my grandfather told me was about the Gorgons, to which we devote this special Hallowe’en post, and because I can’t remember all of this Greek classic, we quote here an excerpt here from from the web-based Encyclopedia Mythica at www.pantheon.org.)
In Greek mythology a Gorgon is a monstrous feminine creature whose appearance would turn anyone who laid eyes upon it to stone. Later there were three of them: Euryale ("far-roaming"), Sthenno ("forceful"), and Medusa ("ruler"), the only one of them who was mortal. They are the three daughters of Phorcys and Ceto.

The Gorgons are monstrous creatures covered with impenetrable scales, with hair of living snakes, hands made of brass, sharp fangs and a beard. They live in the ultimate west, near the ocean, and guard the entrance to the underworld.
A stone head or picture of a Gorgon was often placed or drawn on temples and graves to avert the dark forces of evil, but also on the shields of soldiers.
Such a head (called a gorgoneion) could also be found on the older coins of Athens. Artists portrayed a Gorgon head with snake hair, and occasionally with a protruding tongue and wings.”

Returning to the topic of Hallowe’en (or Hallowed Evening),in the Netherlands we do not have the ‘doings’. We have other traditions, more connected to earlier Pagan traditions (or from the Middle Ages).
While writing this post I recalled a curious incident also from my boyhood, connected to a “scandal” around the Walt Disney movie “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs”.

The reader may find this strange, but Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands forbad the showing of this film in Holland because she felt it was too “sinister” for the children:
the witch with her poisoned apple, the trees with those threatening branches which threw shadows which looked like long-armed spikes.
Being inventive, the Netherlanders found a way to get around this censorship, at least those who could afford it: they simply went to Flanders across the border to watch the movie there.
How about that? 'Have a Hair-raising Hallowe'en', Henri


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It's Scary, Charlie Brown!

Posted by Kitara Julian On 5:21 PM 0 comments
Ooooooooooooooooo . . . Ghouls, Spooky-spooks and Zombies are slowly waking up from their one-year slumber. Or, maybe they haven’t been asleep at all?
What I find a lot scarier than these creatures is watching how governments or self-imposed autocratic dictators treat their fellow citizens, the planet and all that lives on this humble spaceship called Earth. That’s scary.
What’s scary is to see 10 years after our last visit to the coral reefs that these ‘nurseries’ of the seas continue to die.
What’s scary is that some one million sharks are slaughtered every year, just for people to indulge in the so-called “delicious” shark-fin soup. Sharks are not fish which lay eggs galore in one go. No, sharks give birth to live offspring, in small numbers.
What’s scary is Rhinos are disappearing because people “believe” their horns ground into powder are used for aphrodisiacs.
What’s scary is across the board, species are becoming endangered or are already extinct; that more and more precious plants are being destroyed or plundered. Plants which may hold medicinal healing properties for us all. Now, that is scary.
What’s scary is the rapid melting of ice in the North and South polar regions, and the Antarctic ice shelves breaking off. Now that’s scary, you better believe it. What’s scary is remembering that prediction of the Mayan’s in their so-far accurate calendar of a cataclysm in 2012. Maybe this prophesy refers to the melting of the polar regions?
What’s scary and in a sense the most puzzling of all is that so people are “paralyzed” despite the canary in the coal mine warnings given to us all. Sure, we hear a lot about “Green this” and “Green that”, but much of this is motivated for the Green Buck.
What’s also scary is to hear every day that “scientists are baffled” about something or other, e.g. miscalculating the side-effects of some pharmaceutical drug. Or how a food, drink or supplement is good for you one week, and bad for you the next. The ‘lame carry the blind’. Now, that’s scary.
What’s scary is every day more than a billion people go hungry while our affluent nations have managed to raise a generation of obese children.

What’s also scary is this:
Ghouls, Zombies and Monsters
are “awake”
While most of the Human species is Asleep.
now that’s scary.

So, come on, all of you Witches, Zombies, Ghouls, Gorgons and Monsters – masked or painted. For the night of October 31st, give us a “wake-up” about the planet. Now that would be a treat’.

Do you know a Ghost’s favourite dessert?
Boooooooooooooberry pie.

Booooo to you, Henri


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"A House, A House, For A Tulip"

Posted by Kitara Julian On 8:09 PM 0 comments
Isaac Newton stated “I can calculate the motions of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people...”

This economic upheaval and mass exposure of greed on the highest level is not the first time of course financial speculation brought ruin. There was the Great Depression following the crash of 1929 (the year yours truly arrived on this spaceship ‘Earth’ for a spell), plus other major financial upheavals in the past.
Economic crisis, people losing their homes, financial security lost overnight like a house of cards, a collapse. 2008? No, I’m talking about the 1634 in the Lowlands, and all because of: a tulip.
Yes, they call it now “Tulip Mania”, when enormous financial speculation and frenzy took place in Holland. Mostly centred in Amsterdam, indeed it all began with an innocent tulip bulb.
Yes, not only had this bulb grown into a beautiful, sturdy, straight tulip, but its colours were outstanding in the backdrop of the drab browns and greys of the Netherlands.
The tulip, now so popular and common worldwide, originates not in Holland but in the mountains of what was Persia and Mesopotamia - - - Iran, Turkey, and Iraq. People are often surprised to discover the tulip didn’t originate in Holland.
Furthermore, it got its name from the word for turban, “Tulband”, because of its resemblance to the headgear worn by the Ottoman Turks. Later the word became “tulip”.
Although Holland was, and is, a small nation, this didn’t stop it from ‘spreading its wings’ worldwide. From early on, the Hollanders were active traders and very successful at business. First they bought Manhattan (which the settlers called “Nieuw Amsterdam) from the native people, and then sold it for “an apple and an egg”. (The ship I sailed on and topic of the previous 5 posts was named after Nieuw Amsterdam, in memory of those days.)
Witness the Netherlands’ sea-faring explorations and colonization on a large scale (of which nowadays, of course, only a few remain such as Netherlands Antilles, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao (the “ABC” islands we call them in Holland); St. Maarten, and of course, Indonesia and the island of Irian Jaya (the other half of which is Papua New Guinea). Now independent. It was all because of the spices and other resources.
Anyways, because Netherlanders were such diligent traders, they found themselves in the Middle East and the western terminus of the Silk Road. They bought and traded all kinds of new goods, and one of these was the tulip which they brought back to Holland.
Upon seeing its beauty, colour and unique long-lasting nature in the stark landscape of rainy Holland, a bidding war soon began back in Amsterdam: “Tulip Mania”. Yes, at one time a tulip bulb was worth more than a house! Now, I’m asking you. And of course it all came crashing down when later, people came to their senses. See what we mean with financial upheaval being nothing new?
The Flemish master Jan Brueghel The Younger immortalized that époque in his famous painting, “Allegory Upon the Tulip Mania”, depicting humans as monkeys, as shown here. “Happy gardening”. Henri


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In a way the discipline, commitment and responsibility of being a crew member aboard an ocean liner isn’t very different from the military. On board ocean liners it is called being “shipshape”. Every day we had to line up for inspection by the Chief Steward, the First Officer, and sometimes the Captain, accompanied by the Boatswain.
They’d be joined by the Chief Housekeeper and his assistant. Together they’d all go around the vessel, wearing white gloves. Woe to those who were responsible for dusting or polishing brass, whether it be in the washrooms, or public areas. Those who had neglected their duties were penalized through a point system, and on the next port of call would have to remain aboard ship, cleaning, polishing, and washing. Also hygiene and fire prevention were, and still are, very high on the list priorities on ocean-going vessels. In terms of activities for the passengers, in those days the program consisted mostly of things such as Clay pigeon shooting (aft), Ping-pong, shuffleboard, horse or turtle races, bridge, poker, chess, checkers, backgammon, engine room and bridge tours, swimming, relaxing on deck, movies in the air-conditioned theatre (a rarity on ships in those days). The daily “bet” to see how far the ship had sailed in the past 24 hours (the daily pool) was a favourite, and of course the classic daily Quiz. Also, entertainment (but not the Las Vegas-style spectacles you find on cruise ships today), passenger and crew talent shows, the ship’s band, a piano player – these were regularly scheduled.
(No art classes or lectures on culture, though. Experience and knowledge of this routine on board ships, which I’d stored away in the little grey cells, helped many years later in the 1970’s when I woke up one morning with a vision of teaching art aboard ships. [And giving talks on art forms of various ports of call]. In the late 1940’s there was nothing like that available. Today’s it is called “Enrichment Program”, which yours truly pioneered.) Those of us who worked as stewards in the dining room were on duty at all times, seven days a week until we reached the next port of call. (With very short breaks in mid-morning and mid-afternoon.)
So we’d be among the first to notice the patterns and behaviour of the passengers. There were the early-risers, those who had breakfast in their stateroom, those who frequented the bars, and those who stayed up long after the sumptuous midnight buffet. Bars only closed when the last guest left. Many romances also blossomed. The ‘shady’ types were usually amongst those where arguments broke out. Fights were quickly put out by officers and security staff.
The ship had two classes: First and Second, completely separate from each other, and each with their own dining room of course. There were always a few movie stars or celebrities on each voyage. Some travelled incognito, some with a spouse or mistress. Older women were sometimes accompanied by a gigolo.
This all took place 60 years ago, so I can’t remember them all, but on one occasion we had Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor in our section of the dining room. They were married and on their way for a holiday in Europe. Always courteous, friendly, and knowledgeable about gourmet cuisine. Both were open to trying new dishes, such as the Indonesian specialties nasi goring, bahmi and Rijsttafel. They never complained or commanded. Ideal passengers for a steward.
On one crossing from NY to Rotterdam, the entire New York Philharmonic was on board with conductor and Maestro par excellence Leopold Stokowski. The weather was very fine and the rehearsed on the open deck. My frequent attending of their rehearsals nearly cost me my job, because sometimes I’d be a bit late for duty. Some passengers also travelled with their valet.
Oh yes! While taking a few moments of fresh air on deck, and looking out for dolphins or whales, a movie star came over to me. She asked if I could bring a telegram up to the Radio Room. I said, “Of course”, and with the telegram she tucked a folded paper into my hand. When I looked at it, on my way to the Bridge Deck, I was astounded to see a $50 bill. There in my hand was 2 ½ months wages. And this for just taking a telegram up one deck.
In 1951 the end of my days of being a steward at sea approached. A neglected cold, which evolved into double pneumonia, pleurisy and then tuberculosis on both lungs, put me into a TB Sanatorium in the Netherlands for a long time. It was there that I discovered I could paint. But as noted earlier, I returned to the Seven Seas.

How did I do it? By combining my experience as a steward on board ships, with my career as an artist, I literally dreamt up the idea of teaching Art on ships. This resulted in three around-the-world voyages and numerous month-long sailings in the capacity as Guest Artist & Lecturer. Proving “if you never have a dream, you’ll never have a dream come true”. Bon voyage! Henri

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These blogposts about my time as a steward with Holland America Line (HAL) have ‘morphed’ or taken on a life of their own. We share these experiences because they’re part of history and of the time when, slowly but surely, Europe began to recover after WWII. Maybe I was just in the right place at the right time, to not only witness this “Phoenix” phenomenon, but be part of it.

In Part 2, I spoke of being a waiter in Amsterdam at the 5-star Hotel Pays Bas and wrote of Han van Meegeren, the notorious art forger. His forgeries were discovered through X-rays. Once it was confirmed the “Vermeer” and other “masterpieces” were in fact fakes, it wasn’t long before the finger was pointed at Han van Meegeren. He was charged, arrested and put on trial.

van Meegeren was given a 1-year sentence in prison, but in the process of appealing this decision he died of a heart attack, age 58, the same year I met him 1947.

Going back to the late 1940’s and Holland America Line’s “Nieuw Amsterdam”, in that era the passengers were an eclectic mix: ‘old money’, ‘new money’ (often profiteers from WWII); plus card sharks who fleeced the unaware passengers; underworld figures, bankers, US army officers either going home or returning to base in Europe. Some passengers travelled with their valets, and of course, movie stars.

Far below the passenger decks in crew quarters, four of us shared a small cabin, two bunk-beds. Wake up call was 04h30, and at port, even earlier, since all hands were needed for the luggage. I mention this to give you a picture of that era, especially the way it was in the First-Class dining room, where I worked as waiter or what we call on board ship a “dining room steward”.

The sign of a good waiter (or steward as they’re called, at sea) is someone who “is there but not there”. Standing discreetly back from the table, yet aware of any needs and acting swiftly accordingly, being pre-informed about the day’s menu - - these are all characteristics of a good waiter.

Our First-Class dining room featured French service. This means everything that possibly could be done is done at the table by the steward, such as making Caesar Salad, filleting fish (Sole Meuniere), carving the meat (Chateaubriand), preparing Steak Tartar, etc.

For fruit salads, we peeled the grapes with a tiny knife and ‘oyster’ fork before placing these in the salad. And, we always wore white gloves. Some of the other dishes we’d prepare included Peche Flambee, served in a small copper pot, and Crepes Suzette. At each table there`d be a “rechauffe” or re-warmer set, to keep any portions left over warm.

All the beer, wine, liqueurs and cognacs were supervised and handled by the Sommelier, who was easily recognizable with his burgundy jacket and a silver taste cup hanging on a chain around his neck. All the glasses were fine crystal. Everything served hot was always covered with a lid; vegetables and potatoes were served in silver bowls, sauces in silver sauce bowls. Mustard and ketchup (for the Americans!) were kept in small glass jars in a silver container with a lid. The choices available on any menu, whether breakfast, luncheon or supper were plentiful, as expected. Pampering is not sufficient a word to use here! There were no windows or portholes in the dining room. The ship was designed for Transatlantic crossings, which can be spooky at times.

To make up for the lack of daylight, the interior design had a light, airy and colourful Art Deco style. We’d have special Captain or Farewell nights, where the ladies, mostly aristocrats or movie stars, wore their diadems laden with precious gems. (Nowadays passengers are given paper hats.)

We could quickly spot the shady passengers, or the ‘boors’ who’d extinguish their cigars into a cognac glass. And trying to ‘educate’ those passengers was a waste of time and effort.

Often the Americans would push all the cutlery aside and eat everything with a fork (except soup). It was also the Americans who insisted on their morning orange juice, plus a big glass of cold water with every meal. Such a contrast from my only-too-recent experiences in the Lowlands during the War is almost unthinkable. I didn’t see an orange or any exotic fruit for 5 years. Coming up next: my encounters with movie stars. Signing off, Henri


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We continue on from Part One where I described the ‘transformation’ from working on dry land as a waiter in 5-star restaurants in Amsterdam, to becoming a dining-room steward in the first-class restaurant o/b “Nieuw Amsterdam”.
Attending to the needs of a patron whether on land or at sea are similar yet very different. Being on solid ground is one thing, working on a “moving platform” is another. It takes awhile to get your ‘sea legs’. Some new crew members never did and went back home, only too glad to be back on solid ground.
In those days (1948, soon after WWII), most of our passengers either U.S. Army officers on leave, some with families; or “old-money”; bankers, etc (like the head of the Scottish family of eleven that I mentioned earlier who left us with such a meagre gratuity. Also some “dubious”characters, unmannered boors who extinguished their cigars into a cognac glass, as just one example of the “no-no’s” they practised.

Then, there were the Hollywood stars. Some were accompanied by their agents, others as couples, and some - - incognito. On my very first return Transatlantic crossing from New York back to Holland, yours truly had the honour and privilege of attending Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor for the full 11-day crossing. They were en route to a holiday in Europe.

Not to get too far ahead of myself, though, let us go back to New York and what it was like in 1948. We’d dock for two days and crew would get time off to go ashore (not like the brief, 5-hour turnarounds of today), before the next round of passengers embarked.
If we had previously collected “minus-points” (Holland America was very disciplined with crew and closely monitored our performance), you’d not be allowed to go ashore.
Punishment was to polish the silver. Everything, from rechauds to small mustard containers, spoons, forks, tea and coffee pots . .. you get the idea. Luckily such a ‘sentence’ never befell yours truly.
My salary was $20 US per month. Half of this was sent to my parents in the Netherlands, so I managed on $10/month, plus gratuities.
On my shore leave in NY, I’d visit Coney Island (the greatest amusement park of its kind), while Radio City Music Hall was a ‘must’ -- where the famous Rockettes performed. There I heard “live” the great soloists and the big bands of that era. All for 25 cents. Movies were also shown before the shows.
Over the three years I sailed with Holland America, I heard live Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, the Andrew Sisters, the Ink Spots, Louis Armstrong, and Glenn Miller’s band conducted by Tex Beneke. The big band era was coming to a close, nevertheless they were amazing and I was enthralled with it all.
Harlem: I also ventured into Harlem, and went to the Cotton Club where Cab Calloway was king; plus “the Duke” was there too, and Ella Fitzgerald. Now those were performers. Jazz and blues lovers, would you not agree? And all there, live and in person, the real thing.
There were hot dog stands, cafe’s with “nickelodeon” machines, drugstores serving banana splits, etc.

All this, while back home in Holland, food was still rationed.

I also went to The Bowery, took the NY subway, Central Park, visited Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, rode an elevator to the top of the Empire State building, and walked the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and of course, Times Square and 42nd Street. (“Swing and Sweet, Forty-Second Street”.) It was “the land of plenty”. The “biggest and the best”.
Just imagine: there I was, 18 years old, wandering around NY in immaculate shipboard attire, white in summer, navy blue in winter. In summer, I looked like a plantation owner. All this, on $10 a month (plus tips)! Stay tuned, Henri


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With all the recent goings-on, election, economy, environment and personal activities, some still find time not only to read these posts, but also to email questions. This latest one stirred up another grey cell or two in the hinterland of my memory chamber:

Is it possible for you to paint us a picture in words about how after WWII you became a dining-room steward on board ships?” Yes, it all began when Europe had to be rebuilt. “Benelux” was born, NATO came into existence, and then there was the Marshall Plan.

We had a choice (as young men): either join the military for a couple of years, or do something like enlist with the merchant marine. The last thing I wanted to do was join the military. But the merchant marine? Now that was music to my adventurous ears. This would be a splendid way to see the world and visit far-away places.

In 1946 the venerable Holland America Line had resumed its Transatlantic crossings from Rotterdam to New York (Hoboken, New Jersey, to be exact), plus cruises to Bermuda and the Caribbean.

WWII had broken out when I was just 10 years old, so I had no formal school education. Thus, officer training was out. Another option would be a deckhand, but lots of cleaning and scrubbing didn’t interest me. Then, how about a dining-room steward?

However, I had no experience and knew Holland America Line was very selective in hiring crew. So, I had to obtain experience as a waiter in one of the five-star hotels in Amsterdam which had re-surfaced after the War. My first job in this new environment was at luxurious “Hotel Pays Bas”.

We had to sign a contract agreeing to a minimum of one year. This hotel was so “posh”, just to give you an example, the Maitre d’ and all the waiters had custom-made outfits. Even though this was my very first job as a server (and didn’t know anything about it), I too got decked out in “black-tie” outfit, formal swallow-tail jacket included. The staff all looked as if we were at a permanent New Year’s Eve gala, the only item missing – a top hat.

It was at the Hotel Pays Bas that I met the infamous art forger, Han van Meegeren. (It was van Meegeren who fooled Goering into buying a “Vermeer”.) van Meegeren was fun, and often insisted that I serve him. He more or less lived in the Hotel and was always surrounded by ‘belles of the ball”. His favourite dish: caviar washed down with champagne. You can imagine the impression all this made on me, a young man who had just come out of five years of deprivation and hardship during the War. It seemed like a dream, except my feet told me otherwise!

Art of the Great Masters from the Lowlands, Spanish and Italian schools were always nearby, be it in Amsterdam or Antwerpen. However, meeting van Meegeren was my first encounter with a living artist.

Later, van Meegeren was sentenced to jail for 1 year by the Netherlands justice system. Sadly, he died of a heart attack while awaiting an appeal, age 58. Sadly because sure, he was a forger (and a very good one, who specialized in the Old Masters), but it came about because no one was interested in his own paintings. This set him on the path of forgery, where he wanted to fool the experts. And to fool the experts with a “Vermeer”, you really need to be skillful, and know something about the art of painting! Here is a link from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_van_Meegeren

After a year at Hotel Pays-Bas, I looked for other restaurant positions. Over the next 1 ½ years, worked at three different 5-star restaurants in Amsterdam, a few of which, after 60 years, are still there.

Finally, with these experiences, I was ready to approach Holland America Line. HAL’s “Nieuw Amsterdam” was the only ship in the fleet with air conditioning in the first-class dining room. My goal was to sail with this ship. And so another chapter in my life began. After a rigorous selection and interview process, in May 1948 I set sail from Rotterdam to Hoboken, New Jersey, aboard the “Nieuw Amsterdam” as first-class dining room steward. Next installment, coming up soon! Signing off, Henri


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Ahoy! It's a small world

Posted by Kitara Julian On 11:14 AM 0 comments

Question: “Where were you in the Solar System a month ago?”

Answer: “80 million kilometres, or 49 million miles from where you are right now.”

The elections here in Canada are history. Not all eligible citizens voted. Multitudes stayed away, not exercising their democratic rights. Maybe they had reasons for doing so?
All I can say is, as an artist, the results don’t bode well, considering what our government ‘thinks’ about the Arts. Already we’re placed into a begging status; funding has been cut and cut over the past few decades. (And even before the cuts, it wasn’t in good shape before the surgery). Enough said about this.

Recently the very last cruise ship of the Alaska season came and went. Many passengers take pre-packaged ‘shore excursions’, while others end up strolling around our neighbourhood of James Bay.
On my daily excursions, shopping for fresh groceries, I often meet a few passengers. That’s no surprise since the ships dock nearby at Ogden Point, 500 metres from where we live. What made a recent encounter very different was the fact that a woman came up to me while I was pushing the grocery cart along in the supermarket. She was with her husband.
“Mr. van Bentum, what a surprise! How good to see you. Remember us? My name’s Jennifer Trenholme and this is my husband, Paul. I was a student in your Small is Beautiful art class aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 a few years’ ago, on the Xmas/New Year’s sailing.”
I didn’t recognized them since they were decked out in anoraks, quite different from attire aboard QE2. “Hello. Good to see you again. Natasha and I live here in James Bay”, I replied.
Jennifer went on, “Ah yes, now I recall your speaking in art class about Victoria. Well, what a small world. We’re sailing with the Celebrity ship which docked this morning. We’ve just come from Alaska and soon head back to England.

Paul and I also wanted to see for ourselves the impact global warming is having on the glaciers. By chance we came across this store, we’d like to get some genuine Canadian maple syrup. It’s a real treat in England to put on “pancakes”, as you call them.
This is a beautiful region; we’re going on a tour after lunch to visit the “Centre of the Universe” at the Observatory.
"Mr. van Bentum, I wanted to let you know how much I learned from you in the art classes; am still using those professional quality Watercolour Pencils you introduced in your ‘art afloat’ workshops.
Are you going to continue teaching o/b other ships now the venerable QE2 will soon be out of service?” I replied. “Yes, the new “Queen Victoria” is on our horizon.” “Oh good!”, she exclaimed. We’ll have to book whichever voyage you’re taking, that would be great.”
I told them Natasha and I don’t have a car, otherwise “we’d take you on a tour ourselves. But in the meantime, since your ship is docked close to our apartment, when you depart later this afternoon, look out for us. We’ll be waving a bright golden-yellow towel (“Deep Cadmium”!) from our balcony. You should be able to spot us from aft or port side of your ship. In the meantime, enjoy beautiful Victoria, and we may see you aboard “Queen Victoria”. Bon voyage! And safe journey home.”

Yes, it’s a small world after all. Our planet is getting smaller by the day, it seems, while we’re orbiting around the Sun at 29.85 kilometres per second (that’s 18.55 miles per second), zoooooooooming through space. Signing off, Henri


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Light! Give us Light!

Posted by Kitara Julian On 10:23 AM 0 comments

We had a blackout last night, a massive power failure over all of southern Vancouver Island."It was mayhem," said Victoria firefighter Patricia Core. "Every line was lit up and it was impossible to keep up. It was craziness. I've never seen it like that in here."

I say, “Be prepared for outside influences, then it won’t be a surprise”. Authorities still don’t know what caused it (not a squirrel this time); there were no serious injuries, but lots of people stuck in elevators.

And turkeys stuck in ovens; it happened exactly at dinner time, when most homes were cooking “Thanksgiving” dinners. Power was back on our neighbourhood after an hour, so we give Thanks to B.C. Hydro (ho-ho!) for fixing it so swiftly.

Within seconds, we were ready with flashlights, matches and emergency candles. Goes to show you how we can switch from Space Age to the Middle Ages.All this reminded me of ancient wisdom from India:

By what light do we see after the Sun has set?

By what light do we see when the Moon wanes?

By what light do we see when Stars are covered by clouds?

By what light do we see when the Fire is out?

By what light can we still do our work, function and live?

By our Inner Light.”

How fragile we are when fully dependent on progress and technical gadgets. Only when a sudden blackout occurs, does it ‘come home’.“Intelligent electricity” continues, only most of us are unaware of this.

A while back I talked about our dependency on electric power, at the kinetic art show in Paris, where I brought the exhibition to a standstill by simply pulling the plug.
You can only wonder how long it would take before we revert to pre-Industrial Revolution times, should a power outage be ‘permanent’. But of course - - - solar and wind energy, amongst other things, are the way to go.
***
Tomorrow is election day here in Canada. Our southern neighbours in the States will also have one soon, and see the ‘end of an error’, oops, I meant “era”. Speaking of which, Will Rogers, the ‘Roping Jester” said: "With Congress, every time they make a joke it's a law, and every time they make a law it's a joke". Happy Thanksgiving! Henri


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What a Creative Person is Like

Posted by Kitara Julian On 2:51 PM 0 comments

“What would you say a creative person is like?”“Is the cultivation of creativity lacking in our education system?” These are some of the questions that come my way. In answer to the first question about what a creative person is like, see my version below.

Education should give students an opportunity to make their own discoveries, and form their own expression. Art has the means to cultivate uniqueness in the child. The way has to be left open within the curriculum, to require knowledge beyond “Reading, Writing and Arithmetic”, with other means of expression, such as tackling one of the “Nine Muses”. Art = Serious Play & Playful Seriousness.

What is a Creative Person Like?

THEY ARE EXTREMELY ALERT PERCEPTUALLY

Are observant of the world about them

Are aware of the feel and touch of things

Listen to the sound of life around them

Are sensitive to smell

Are aware of the taste of things

THEY LIKE TO ‘BUILD’ THEIR IDEAS

Like to construct things in material

Prefer to rearrange old ideas into new relationships

Like to experiment with various approaches and media

Like to try out new methods and techniques

Prefer to manipulate their ideas in various ways

Have to solve problems set by themselves

Seek to push beyond the boundaries of their thinking

THEY LIKE TO EXPLORE NEW IDEAS

Are original in their thoughts about things

Like to invent new ways of saying and telling

Like to dream up new possibilities

Like to imagine and pretend

THEY ARE CONFIDENT IN THEMSELVES

Flexible in approaches to situations

Like to be independent and on their own

Are outwardly expressive of what they have to say

Are not afraid of emotional feelings and show them

THEY LIKE TO INVESTIGATE THE NATURE OF THINGS

Like to search for the meaning of things

Question available data and information

Like to inquire into unknown quantities

Discover new relationships

Desire to uncover new meanings

THEY RESPOND TO AESTHETIC STIMULI

Are sensitive to the beauty of nature

Appreciate beauty man has made and

Which nature abundantly provides

Have feeling for harmony and rhythm

Love to sing, write, explore, cook,

act, sculpt, draw, paint or dance.


Henri van Bentum


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From Rough to Brilliant

Posted by Kitara Julian On 5:51 PM 0 comments

On more than one occasion I’ve met with situations where the value of a commodity is known but the beauty it contains is not.

Over the years I’ve travelled aboard ships as Artist-in- Residence. My classes always begin with the foundation of colour studies. One of the passengers came to art class wearing a stunning diamond ring. The jewel must have been at least 2.5 karats. Upon mentioning the dazzling spectrum colours this gemstone reflected, she was absolutely flabbergasted: she had never before seen them! However, she certainly knew its value in the marketplace.

See what we mean? Speaking of colour, people often think right away of flowers. But, there’s also the rainbow - - -that mysterious phenomenon which displays how the mixing of primary and secondary colours creates a spectrum. When the ship cuts through the waves on a sunny day, at the crest you can see myriads of spectrum sparkles. Even closer, just squint and look through your eyelashes. Voila! more rainbows.This spectrum of course is also present in prisms and crystals.

Diamonds have a particular meaning for me, being the son of a diamond-faceter and grandson of a diamond-faceter and cleaver. The craftsmen who create such brilliance from a raw gemstone are not “diamond cutters”. That’s a misnomer. It should be diamond faceters”. The original “diamond cutters” were the cleavers.

Both my grandfathers, and my father (see photo) were diamond-faceters. However my maternal grandfather also practised the now-rare skill of diamond cleaving. How do you cleave a diamond? With steely nerves.

A rough diamond is enclosed in a piece of sealing wax, layered with shellac. Then it’s stuck on a “dob” (a wooden stick), which is fastened onto a clamp. Depending on the size of the rough diamond, and how many stones have to be cut from it, the cleaver marks the ‘veins’ (each diamond has a unique growth pattern) with pen and Chinese ink. This is followed by carving a small cut or ‘guide groove’ into the marked lines. To accomplish this, another diamond must be used (diamonds are the hardest gemstones).

Very carefully, and after sometimes weeks of contemplation, the master cleaver hits the wedge with a mallet. One mistake and the rough diamond splinters into a multitude of fragments – a disaster for all concerned!

So you can see why we say that diamond cleaving is a “rarely practised profession”. It demands a steady hand, patience, good eyesight and steely nerves - - besides of course skill and know-how. (And today, computers guide the sawing of the diamond.)

Next, comes the faceting. And there are numerous types of diamond shapes, the most popular being a “Brilliant” cut (shown here). If faceted correctly and of good quality, the gem will have the same dazzling effect as the diamond of my student aboard ship. In my boyhood, I often watched my grandfather at work. I would stand on a chair looking through a small window in the door (the little window was ostensibly for visitors, but really for the boss to keep an eye on things).

Under no circumstances was a diamond-cleaver to be disturbed. He would need all his privacy and solitude to contemplate his task. Patience, skill and a calm mind was required, in what was to me, a‘magical domain’. Few know the long voyage a diamond takes from ‘rough’ to ‘brilliant’, from discovery in the bowels of the Earth or riverbed, to final destination on finger, neck, ear or nowadays, a nose. Signing off, Henri


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We're all Astronauts

Posted by Kitara Julian On 4:39 PM 0 comments

We "speed and spin" so fast through Space, that all 'stays put', or so it seems.

Are we still finding time to look at these blog posts, what with the economy, and those elections on the horizon, not to speak of day-to-day Life . . .

We looked up the Mayan Calendar prediction our Mexican Troubadour was talking about on October 7. It’s all there on the Internet (where else?), showing the ancient Mayans predicted a catastrophic disaster will take place on our planet, December 21, 2012.

May we just point to the North and South Poles in the Arctic and Antarctica and how rapidly glaciers are melting. Interestingly, the word Arctic comes from Greek arktikos, meaning arktos bear’, Ursa Major, North Star.’ And the word Antarctic comes also from the Greek, ανταρκτικός antarktikos meaning opposite of north. The prefix 'ante' means opposite. And, there are no polar bears in Ant-arctica!

You could say these two icy realms keep the planet “in balance” on its axis, so to speak, allowing us to enjoy our ride in space. Yes, and quite a ride it is. It’s hard to believe we’re travelling around the Sun at a mere 67,000 miles per hour (108,000 kph). And we’re whirling, spinning around our axis (at the Equator) at 1,040 mph/1,674 kph. And, in case you forgot, our “mean orbital velocity” is 29.78 kilometres per second.

So, going back to the Mayan Calendar predication, all it needs is a shift in any of these velocity phenomena, and Voila!, “There goes the neighbourhood”.

Has it happened before? They say it has, but I don’t know, I wasn’t there. Except perhaps as a mitochondrion, or diatom (sounds close to “van Bentum”), or one of those ancient deep-sea sponges.

So we should be thankful our planet Ocean/Earth planet permits us to come along for the ride. Have a memorable Thanksgiving, although I can hear the turkeys gobbling, “All we are saying, gobble-gobble, is give Life a chance!” Henri


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Roses DO have Thorns

Posted by Kitara Julian On 9:34 PM 0 comments

The longest time I lived in one place during the ‘60s was 579 Jarvis Street, Toronto, 1965-67, the old ‘Massey’ family mansion which had been converted into apartments; I was assistant manager. Furniture was sparse but solid. The canvas “Living Tapestry’ (see post of October 4) was painted there, along with many other works, all painted in the kitchen which had a square table (and of course the essential tap water on hand).

My first solo exhibition at Roberts Gallery in 1965 was a success:“sold out”. Then in 1966 I received First Prize at the OSA show. On top of all that, there was the solo exhibition in Paris, May 1966 (more on this in a later post).

Meanwhile my thinking, inspiration and intuition were spiralling upwards, and changes in my work were noticeable since that 1965 exhibition at Roberts Gallery. Abstract or non-objective art (and Surrealism) allows you to give imagination free reign, within the discipline required from skill, in turn learned from experience.

Roberts Gallery was conservative with mostly “Group of Seven” or post-Group of Seven artists. There I was, an abstract artist. The dealer was so pleased with the success of the ’65 show, he offered me another solo exhibition to take place in February 1967. (For a novice, this was quite a coup.)

In preparation, I worked from first daylight to dusk, for nearly two years. (I always work in daylight, which allows you to judge and see colour at its best.) My paintings were becoming simpler, almost minimalist, but required complete awareness in order to prevent the ‘blank’ areas of the canvas from being splattered. Freedom and awareness was required in unison. It was vital for these blank or ‘void’ areas to remain pristine for my composition and imagery to maintain its strength.

For me, it was exciting and uplifting - - - through the joy of free creative exploration - - - to realize you can travel to far-away galaxies, enter microscopic realms, coral reefs, or go to Antarctica --- without actually having to ‘be there’. Virtual reality, forty years ahead of its time! Not only “the sky is the limit”, but the whole universe.

Back to Jarvis Street, one painting after another was born on that kitchen table (or depending on the size, on the floor). Since they were all done with acrylic, and mixed with water, I had to keep my canvas perfectly flat. Otherwise, the paint would drip and run downwards.

And then came the exhibition: here you can see some paintings at Roberts Gallery, done forty-two years ago. Notice their space-like quality, or what I call “micro-macro” nature. Keep in mind these were created long before NASA images of space we’re so familiar with today. (We were still two years from landing on the moon.) But - - - this major exhibition of ‘67, with forty-two works, was not the success of the 1965 show.

Understandably, clients came back expecting to see more of the same kind of paintings from two years earlier. Instead, they were faced with an evolutionary change. Of the 42 paintings, three were sold. Robert Gallery kept another three. This was Toronto in February, cold and snow. The landlord was not amused that his ‘manager’ was the creator of all those ‘strange and weird looking things’.

The ‘blow’ at the end of the show, of having to take all those paintings back from the Gallery, was intense. Plus, the landlord gave me notice. I am sad to say, that reluctantly, I took 32 of these paintings, and burned them in the fireplace.

Not because they didn’t sell, but because I absolutely did not know what to do with them. Also, because of the blank areas of the canvas which could easily be damaged. So I took it into my own hands to determine their destiny.

After this trauma, the shock of burning my own work, awoke me to the need of preventing suffering like this from ever happening again. I removed myself from the art scene and it would be another 5 years before a return to painting. Five years of introspection, worldwide travel, exploration and healing which in turn, set the stage for further evolution in my work. Signing off, Henri


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The Mexican Troubadour

Posted by Kitara Julian On 10:07 AM 0 comments

One of the last ships of the Alaska season was here the other day. Soon all will be quiet, at least until April when it starts all over again. While sitting on a bench at the sea walk watching the world go by on a grey Autumn day, I heard someone singing. There was a fellow seated at the next bench over. Some passengers from the ship, along with some curious locals and dog-walkers, gathered around him.

I walked over. He was greying at the temples, playing a guitar and singing Mexican songs. All alone, no ‘hat’ to collect coins. When one of the onlookers tossed him a coin, he suddenly stopped, put down the guitar, as if his dignity was offended, and quietly lit up a cigarette.

Slowly the curious crowd dispersed, leaving just the two of us. Usted de Mexico?” I asked. Si, amigo”, he replied, pleased to speak his language. I work in the galley”, pointing to the docked cruise ship. I told him I’d been on lots of sea voyages and also lived in Mexico. When he told me he was born in the Yucatan (Merida), I mentioned I’d been to Chichen Itza & Uxmal, back in 1969, to visit and study the great Mayan temples.

He put the guitar on his lap to make room for me to join him on the bench. “I am half-Mayan”, he said. “Have you heard of the Mayan Calendar?” was his unexpected question. “Yes, I have”. He then asked, “Did you know my wise ancestors predicted in their calendar that, at the end of the year 2012, a catastrophic disaster will take place to our planet?”

I replied, “I hope not, but the way we’re treating our Earth and our biosphere, we’re certainly heading in that direction”. The fellow added, “That’s why I work on ships, to see the world while it’s still possible. I sing and play guitar (‘mucho problemas’ with security and the guitar), not for the public, but for me. It makes me ‘feliz’, happy”.

“How accurate has the Mayan calendar proven to be?”, I asked. “Muy, muy accurate, amigo. Better than yours!’”. I invited him over for a coffee at our place located just across the road. ‘Muchas gracias, amigo, but I must get back to the ship. I only have a short time for my break, and need to go back, for more problems with my guitar and securidad. Adios!”, he smiled. In turn I wished him “Adios”.

He then slung the guitar over his shoulder. Although there was a lead-grey sky, I could hear him whistling the jaunty tune, “Cielito Lindo”. No sooner had he gone out of sight when I remembered a question I’d meant to ask about the venerable Mayan ‘liquer’ which bears our name: Bentum. Ah, well, maybe next time?

Two autumns, one for he who departs, one for me who stays.

Now, what can we all do to ensure there is a ‘flaw’ in that Prophecy from the great Calendar of the wise Mayans? Adios, Henri


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Birth of a Painting & Death of a Mentor

Posted by Kitara Julian On 3:55 PM 0 comments

“When you play the cello, I want to hear rainbows!”

Quote from Pablo Cassals to his cello students, when he was in his ‘80s

There are several works on the website http://www.vanBentum.org which show the evolution that took place in my painting from 1954 onwards. One work has been commented upon more than once: Midsummer Night’s Dream”, 1960, an oil painting done at 150 Walmer Road, Toronto in my room at a boarding house owned by the family Kandelsdorfer from Vienna. The following is the story of how it was born.

During my brief time at the Ontario College of Art, one of my teachers (and for me, the best), was J.W.G. Jock Macdonald. Artist and teacher, Jock was a member of the 1950’s group “Painters Eleven”, contemporary Toronto artists.

He became my mentor and it was Jock who suggested I leave the OCA, because I’d already done so much work on my own; he must have felt it would be better for my development as a painter not to be constrained by the-then academic (and conservative) atmosphere at OCA.

Very fortunately, after I left the School, he visited once in awhile on Saturdays. He gave precious pointers and positive criticism on works in progress. Jock was a remarkable teacher; you felt as if he carried a small ‘flacon of oil’ and dripped a bit onto the flame of inspiration that burned within you.

It was Jock Macdonald who suggested I paint while listening to music. I’d always had ‘friendly relations’ with music, and have what’s called a musical ear. Jock told me “To listen with ‘eyes closed’, and when the music touches the strings of imagination and inspiration”, then start the recording again, and paint. He said, ‘Only when music and imagination blend into one will you be able to transform it visually.

My collection of records was limited, all classical 78’s. (I also had a small radio, but recordings were better for this purpose.) Besides Chopin (Dino Lipatti), there was Debussy, Mussorgsky, Ludwig van Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart and Rachmaninoff. Also, I had one 78 album of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

It was a warm July day. Despite chewing through a pending divorce, I felt happy listening to his music. (Music is a calming and soothing antidote to “stress”).

I create beautiful music for people in distress”, said Ludwig van Beethoven.

I had a large bay window which opened up to allow fresh air, permitting me to paint in oils and use linseed oil & turpentine; otherwise I would have been given notice by the landlady, for sure!

After playing the recording over a few times, I set to work and finished the painting in one go. Thus “Midsummer Night’s Dream” was born on a beautiful July day, 1960, in Toronto. Thanks to the Bard, William Shakespeare, and to Mendelssohn who transformed the play into music, allowing me to give my version in another art form, painting. Jock Macdonald’s valuable suggestion about painting while listening to music fell on ‘willing ears’.

Later I did several other works inspired by compositions such as ‘Reflets dans l’eau’ by Debussy (see “Inner Reflections”, shown here); Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony; Ninth Symphony, “Ode to Joy” and Musssorgksy’s “Night on Bald Mountain”, to name a few.

These precious visits from my mentor Jock Macdonald didn’t last long, for in early December of that year, he died prematurely at the age of 63 of a sudden heart attack. This was a great loss to the art world in Canada, and to young students. He was a great teacher. Signing off for now, Henri (p.s. reproduction photos of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” are available on eBay at http://organiverse.org.


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Post-Banff: wandering studios

Posted by Kitara Julian On 11:46 AM 0 comments

We received some questions after the Banff posts, like “What happened to all those landscape paintings you did then? Your website only shows a few”. Another, “When was your first exhibition, and where?”, Did the doctor continue to back you after you returned to Toronto?” and “Did you have a studio?” That’s what I mean when we say these blogposts create themselves.

To answer the first question, I gave all my paintings to Dr. Wilfred S. Goodman, who had made the Banff 1959 experience possible in the first place. These paintings are now spread out amongst his extended family including five adult children and grandchildren. We are in the process of receiving digital images of these paintings and will post them onto my website once they've all arrived.

My first exhibition auspiciously took place at Galeria Alberto Misrachi Mexico City's oldest and finest galleries, in 1963. All works were large watercolours done in San Miguel de Allende. This was followed by my initial solo show of watercolours, at the First Unitarian Church in Toronto.

Before that, in 1958 and 1959, I’d participated in annual group shows each spring at Hart House with the Colour & Form Society (of which I was President for a year). The Colour & Form Society was an innovative group formed by emigrant artists.

In 1965 my first major exhibition took place at Roberts Gallery in Toronto, featuring watercolours, and acrylics on paper and canvas.

Then in 1966, Living Tapestry”, an acrylic on canvas (see photo) won First Prize at the major OSA (Ontario Society of Artists) exhibition held at the Toronto Art Gallery, now the AGO. One of the three jury members for this major OSA exhibition was none other than A.J. Casson, the last-surviving “Group of Seven” member. Since Casson was a renowned landscape and figurative artist, I felt all the more honoured to receive this Prize, and took pride in such recognition by him, for an abstract painting. (Keep in mind, this was just seven years after Banff 1959 and those changes in my style).

Speaking of 1959, to answer the question whether Dr. Goodman continued to sponsor me when I got back to Toronto, he paid for my tuition for the first semester at Ontario College of Art. But once the styles of my work changed in rapid succession (you could say ‘spiralling upward’ ), it was harder for him “to follow” me. And by now, understandably, his growing family (five children), and recently-acquired farm north of Toronto, needed his full attention.

The other question was, ‘Did I have a studio?’ No, I had to improvise. This was because of my nomadic way of living and shoestring budget. I moved from one place to another, renting rooms in boarding houses.

Also, in those days there were decrepit houses declared “unfit to live in”, but if the water source was still connected, I’d squat, and do my watercolours and acrylics (which also need that precious commodity: water). I lived in at least a dozen different dwellings within a few years - - - like a gypsy, without a permanent studio.

Hope this answers some of the questions which have come in from cyberspace. Signing off for now, Henri


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A question from Ireland

Posted by Kitara Julian On 8:54 AM 0 comments

Someone wrote from Ireland to ask “where do you think Art is going, and is it still relevant today?” They also asked if I’d post a few more Aphorisms (see below).

Well, in terms where Art is going or if it’s still relevant today, true Art that is visionary, or which embodies the “Zeitgeist”, always points the way. Yet its message comes from the here and now.

Statesmen and pundits who keep a close eye on the ‘barometer’ or pulse of their citizenry would do well to observe today’s art forms --- whether it be plays, poems, paintings or contemporary performances.

Politicians like to keep the public at bay (“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”), while artists throughout time have always signalled there is still much work to be done, they warn us – if we can read and understand their messages - that “The Roses Have Thorns.”

Throughout the years, I’ve written several essays on Art. They’ve never been published on paper because we have never sent them to a publisher. The Aphorisms were submitted to a few publishers, but were returned by the ‘Thank you, but no thank you’ method - - -despite the fact the late, renowned poet Irving Layton gave them a ‘Bravo!’, which we enclosed with the submissions to the publishers, but this fell on deaf ears and blind eyes.

To conclude this topic re: my “writing harvest”, I also write Apologues: Stories for the Young and Young at Heart” (otherwise known as children’s stories.) These, along with the Aphs, can be found at http://www.vanBentum.org.

Meanwhile, to oblige our friendly person in Ireland and for you, here are a few more of my Aphorisms. Signing off for now, Henri


The deeper the whale

dives

The more visible

its ‘tail’.


When the children

are full of awe and wonder,

we send them to school.

Ater graduation

they are dull and empty.


We see many ads

What to do or take

When we have a headache,

but never how to prevent one

I wonder why.


When we look at lakes and forests,

waterfalls or snow-capped mountains - -

With financial gain in mind,

We have seen nothing at all.


We can be so Holy,

we can be so Passive,

We will go out and kill

to prove our ideals.


Waves were aflame

with foam in glowing colour

just before the Sun departed.


Enjoy! Henri






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