Charo

Charo was born on January 15, 1951 Maria del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza in the Murcia region of Spain.  Her Father was a lawyer who fled to Casablanca during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, while her Mother stayed behind in Murcia, Spain to raise her children.  She went by the stage name of Charo, and she is a Spanish-American actress, comedian, and flamenco guitarist.  Her stage presence was flamboyant, and her trademark phrase was “cuchi-cuchi”.  Many years ago, I had the fortune of watching her in person at the Holiday House in Monroeville, Pennsylvania.  I found her a talented and funny performer when I had also seen her on television.

At age 9, Charo first learned to play the guitar at the Catholic Convent of the sacred Heart.  For seven years, Charo studied classical and flamenco guitar with Andres Segovia, who was a Spanish virtuoso guitarist from Linares, Spain.  On August 7, 1966, when she was 20 years old, she married the bandleader Xavier Cugat, whom she later divorced.  Her first TV appearance was in the mid 1960’s on The Today Show with Johnny Carson.  In 1968, she appeared on Laugh In on TV.  In the 1970’s, she performed on various television shows, such as, Donny and Marie, Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Captain and Tenille, the John Davidson Show, the Mike Douglas Show, and the Brady Bunch.  By 1977, she was headlining shows in Las Vegas with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, or Ray Charles.  Charo remarried Kjell Rasten in 1978.  In the 1980’s and 1990’s, she was raising her son in Hawaii.

Recently, she has appeared on many cruise ships.  In April 2011, she appeared on Dancing with the Stars on television.  On May 23, 2011, she performed parts of her Las Vegas Show on Disney Magic cruise ship Eastbound, and she received many standing ovations.

  • Twice voted “Best Classical Flamenco Guitarist in the World” – Guitar Player Magazine
  • Vice President of Muscular Dystrophy Association
  • Winner of a Billboard International Latin Music Award
  • Winner of Screen Actors Guild Award
  • Winner of the prestigious Golden Eagle Award for Outstanding Entertainment of the Year
  • Received the Key to the City of Las Vegas by Oscar Goodman (03/14/04)
  • Honored with the “Charo Week Proclamation” from the City of San Francisco (08/02/05)Charo at the 2013 Alma Awards

The Artist Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez

Velazquez was born in Seville in 1599 and lived until 1660. In Seville, he studied with a local Mannerist Francisco Pacheco.  In 1623 in Madrid, he was appointed the court painter.  By 1627, Velazquez was established in the royal household.  He eventually attained the rank of court chamberlain, which gave him a residence attached to the palace and a studio inside it.  For more than 30 years, he painted King Philip IV and members of the royal family and court.  From  1623 to 1660, he traveled to Italy.  In 1658, the king rewarded him with the Order of Santiago.  In each place he lived, he was open to a variety of artistic influences, which he then used in the creation of his personal style.  This resulted from reflections on sixteenth-century Venetian painting, the naturalism of Caraveggio, and the work of contemporary painters such as Rubens and the classic artists working in Rome about 1630.  Velazquez’s style is expressed primarily through court portraits, although his works also include genre scenes, religious subjects and various mythological fables.

As a court painter, Velazquez followed the tradition of court portraiture from such artists as Titian, Antonio Moro, Alonso Sanchez Coello, and Juan Pantoja de la Cruz.  His composition follows the traditional model established by Sanchez Coello.  The sitter appears full length, standing, dressed in black, gazing toward the viewer, with his feet placed at right angles to each other.  Much of the effectiveness of the image is in the relationship of the figure to the surrounding space.  Velazquez was masterful in using a range of blacks and grays.  He had already mastered the earth tones earlier in his career in Seville.  The use of black was imposed by the predominance of dark colors in Spanish court dress.  He played with light and luster and a series of “sparkles” over the surface of the canvas to create bright areas that gave the body and volume to the figure, such as the golden chain, with the emblem of the Golden Fleece, the golilla (collar), the cuffs of the sleeves, and the gray braid on the costume in the painting Infante Don Carlos.  This painting inspired poet Manuel Machado to write in the early twentieth century: “And, instead of a royal scepter, he barely holds/ with gallant unconsciousness, a suede glove/ the white hand with bluish veins.”  The influence of this kind of painting can be seen in the portraits of many artists, from Manet to Eduardo Rosales to Sargent and Whistler.

It was Velazquez’s numerous portraits of court jesters, called hombres de placer (entertainers), that most attracted European attention during the nineteenth century.  Characters  such as these were found in many courts of Europe, and no important artist ever depicted them as often as Velazquez.  They were discovered in Madrid, because the most important collection of them was in the Prado.

One of the paintings by Velazquez that was esteemed and praised by artists during the second half of the nineteenth century was The Jester Pablo de Valladolid.  It inspired many other painters, and it caused Valezquez to be called the “painter of truth”.  It is free of rigid classical and academic restraints.  The subject shows his comic and theatrical ability and is painted in a declamatory pose.  His legs are extended, and he gestures with his hand at some verbal allusion in his speech.  The man in the painting has a lively gaze, and there are earth tones with grays and blacks in the background.  He adds highlights of light and color in the human body that are most expressive in the head and in the hands.  It is said that this painting inspired Goya, Whistler and Manet.  Manet praised this painting as “possibly the most extraordinary piece of painting that has ever been done”.

Aesop painted by Velazquez also has influenced many other artists.  Aesop appears to be holding a book (probably his fables), and he is surrounded by objects alluding to the circumstances of his life.  His poor clothing refers to his origins as a slave and to his humble existence.  The bucket of water in the painting symbolizes the ingenious answer he have to a riddle posed by his master, who consequently rewarded Aesop his freedom.  The baggage by his feet could refer to the circumstances of his violent death after he criticized the inflated reputation of Delphos.  The inhabitants of Delphos hid a cup in his baggage, and then, after accusing him of robbery, they hurled him off a cliff.  The Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson was drawn to this painting and remarked that “one cannot imagine the fabler with any other face”.  Other artists who were inspired by the painting of Aesop were Mariano Fortuny, Joaquin Sorolla, William Merritt Chase, Manet, and Sargent, all of whom were interested in the expression of his face.

Another painting of Velazquez titled Menippus was influential to others.  Menippus was a simple philosopher born into slavery.  His image in the painting shows him dressed in poor clothing, which alludes to his humble origins and lack of interest in worldly goods.  He has a distanced smile and a pitcher on a board barely held up by two round stones.  The brush stokes create a truthful image of a philosopher.  Details of the Menippus’ painting showing his shoes, pants, and the hem of his cape have influenced  other painters, such as, Manet, Mariano Fortuny, Degas, and Sargent.

His painting Infanta Margarita in 1653 shows a childlike grace, with a unique mix of color.  Many references testify to the popularity of this painting in France among historians, critics, novelists, and artists of the nineteenth century.  Renoir referred to the infanta’s pink sash when he said, “All of the painting is in it.”  In 1870, Victor Hugo recreates the canvas in each of its details in literature in La Rose de L’infante.

Velazquez had a talent for rendering nature so freely, and has been called a second Caravaggio.  He has the energy of the Greeks, the Romans’ propriety, and the pleasing manner of the Venetians.  He transformed himself in so many ways, and he was able to “capture the particular spirit and movements of the person he was painting”, according to Papillon de la Ferte.  Collector Pierre-Jean Mariette commented that Velazquez’s paintings were “executed with inconceivable bold brushstrokes and, at the proper distance, created a surprising effect, even producing a perfect illusion.”

REFERENCES

Art, A History of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Frederick Hart, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1986

The Great Masters, Quantum Publishing, London, 2003

Manet/Velazquez:The French Taste for Spanish Painting, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, 2003

Velazquez, The Technique of Genius by Jonathan Brown and Carmen Garrido, Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, 1998

aesop

Goya and A Miracle of St. Anthony (there is a sketch on display in Pittsburgh, PA at the Carnegie Museum of Art)

CollectionImage

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes  lived from March 30, 1746 to 1828.  Goya was born in humble circumstances in Fuendetodos, Spain.  His Father was a Master Gilder (worked with gold leaf) and farmer in Saragossa, Spain.  Goya was apprenticed at age 14.  He studied with Jose Luzan (an Italian trained painter) in Saragossa.  At the age of 17, he went to Madrid in 1766 to study with Bayeu. He settled in Madrid, where he made a living designing cartoons for royal tapestries and began working as a portraitist.  Later, he became a painter to the court in 1789.  Goya was inspired by paintings of Velazquez, and he brought out the character of his royal and aristocratic sitters with an honesty that was not always flattering.   In 1792, Goya suffered a severe illness that left him permanently deaf.  He created satirical etchings and “The Disasters of War” which depicted atrocities on both sides of the French occupation.  His work became introspective and satiric in bitter reaction to corruption in Spanish society, abuses of the Church, and Spain’s participation in the Napoleonic Wars.  At the end of 1774, he returned to Madrid to paint cartoons on canvas for the Royal Tapestry Factory.  Toward the end of his life, Goya painted his famous murals, the “Black Paintings”. Goya produced paintings for churches in his early career.  He painted “The Family of Charles IV” in 1800 and “The Third of May,1808” , a bitter masterpiece, in 1815.  The famous portrait of the Duchess of Alba was painted in 1795, three years before the St. Anthony fresco.  In 1824, Goya voluntarily exiled himself to France.  He died in Bordeaux, France.

He was a Spanish painter and printmaker, and Goya was part of the Romantic movement.  He created portraits of the aristocracy, etchings, and frescoes. A fresco is a technique where paint is applied to plaster that is still damp (fresco in Italian means fresh).  Pigments are dissolved in lime water and painted directly on the prepared wet plaster.  As it dries, it becomes part of the wall.  The dramatic rhythms of his staccato brushstrokes have the vigor and force of a modern expressionistic painter.  Goya and his assistant Asensi Julia painted the cupola and supporting decorations of the hermitage of San Antonio de la Florida in 1798.  This is a small church in Madrid, Spain, and it was made a national monument in 1928.  Goya is buried here.

Goya worked from his canvas as a model for the fresco, after being commissioned by the king.  He used four sections of canvas, sewn together.  Tack holes are visible along the top and bottom of the canvas.  The fresco was done from scaffolds 40 to 50 feet above the floor.  According to Enrique Lafuente Ferrari, “the artist faithfully followed not only the composition and the figures, but also the brush strokes and the effects of color and light already resolved by Goya in this definitive sketch”.

The story of St. Anthony off Padua from about 1220 says that his Father had been falsely accused of murder.   In order to prove his innocence, the saint was prevailed upon to resuscitate the corpse of the murdered man, in order to save the life of his father.  The fresco shows the very moment of the miracle, with St. Anthony surrounded by about 50 figures of men and women of various ages and social positions.  Each shows a different degree of interest in the event.  Some raise their hands and faces in ecstasy, while others who are less impressed or unaware or indulged in other activities.  To the left of the saint, an old man in a yellow jerkin and slouch hat turns to push his way through the crowd.

The first impression upon entering the chapel of San Antonio is one of clarity and light.  At the center of the dome is a lantern which illuminates the ceiling where the fresco of St. Anthony was created.  In the upper section (the sky), there are various values of gray, with shades of black and white.  There is a balustrade in the architecture of the dome, that creates a sense of space.  The crowd in the fresco leans, climbs or falls away from this railing.   There are falling folds of fabric on the figures that break up its stark geometry.  The overwhelming sensation while looking up is one of movement and human drama.  Goya’s training in the Baroque tradition, and his experience as a tapestry designer, has allowed him to work with an astonishing technique that places him in the company of the 17th century painters, such as, Luca Giordiano and Tiepolo.  The great decorative painters were among many who had found employment in Spain and made grand fresco designs for the royal palaces.

Goya’s technique was that of “buon fresco”, which is painting directly on the still wet plaster in a free and spontaneous way, forming figures with a few expressive slashes of his brush.  His figures in the space of the dome use the minimal amount of detail, making the work, when seen from below, seem to throb with pulse of real life.  The cupola is small, and although the figures are over life size, the effect is one of intimacy.  This fresco took him less than three months to complete.

In the Baroque tradition, the painting aims at creating a clear and powerful effect.  Such works were seen as being dramatic narratives.  This style was not unique to Goya, as is shown by an essay on Spanish painting by Palomino written in the early 18th century.

At the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, there is an oil sketch for the famous fresco, “The Miracle of St. Anthony”.  Mrs. Alan M. Scaife and family purchased this sketch for the Carnegie.  According to the Carnegie Magazine of April 1965,  the accused man is the saint’s father, the blind man with the staff.  The staff is a symbol of old age, and the woman in between St. Anthony and the blind man is the saint’s Mother.  Behind the blind man is a monumental gray-bearded figure who is called the Old Testament prophet.  In front of him are three young women chatting away without any interest in the miracle being performed.  Further to the left is a snaggle-toothed beggar, personifying envy and malice.  He has a beggar’s staff in his right hand.  To the extreme right, there is an ecstatic man, stretching out his hands and gazing upward in an attitude of prayer or thanksgiving.  At the left end of sheet draped on the railing is “La Celestina”, the procuress type from a fifteenth century Spanish novel.  Comparison made between the oil sketch and the fresco confirms the authenticity of the artist to plan for the composition worked out in oil.

REFERENCES

Carnegie Magazine, April 1965

Great Paintings, The World’s Masterpieces Ezxplored and Explained, Dorling Kindersley, Great Britain, 2011

How to Talk to Children About Art, Francoise Barbe-Gall, Chicago Review Press, 2005

Pittsburgh Post Gazette, April 2, 1965

Pittsburgh Press, April 2, 1965

Brazil

Although located in South America, Brazil is predominantly a country with a Portuguese speaking population.  Brazilians are a mixture of many languages and races.They have the extrovertedness and love of rhythm from their African ancestors.  There are also traces mysticism from their Indian forefathers and a Portuguese melancholy that originated in a deep longing for their mother country across the ocean.

The word “Saudade” expresses the Brazilian soul, a combination of longing and desire, mixed with nostalgia and melancholy.  Saudade is the desire for someone or something who is far away or unattainable.  It is a state of mind that Brazilians thrive on.  This state of mind has inspired poets and musicians for centuries.

A traditional folk song, “Luar de Sertao” expresses “saudade” this way:

‘Oh, what saudade for the moonlight

in my homeland there in the mountains,

brightening the dry leaves on the ground.

The dark moonlight here in the city

does not give me that same saudad

as the moonlight back there in sertao.’

This song is as much about the longing of the distant home, as it is about the sentiment of saudade, which moonlight

seen in the city does not inspire.

Music is an art form that best expresses the complexities of the Brazilian soul.  Brazilian music expresses the emotions of joy, happiness, sadness, and hope.  For Brazilians, music accompanies everything they do in their lives. The Brazilian culture is brought together through singing, dancing, socializing, and listening to music. African drums and folk music traditions are a part of Brazilian music.

The Sertanejos are the inhabitants  of Brazil’s impoverished drought-stricken backlands.  They are of mixed European and African descent.  In the literary works of Gracililano Ramos and Joao Guimaraes Rosa, the Sertanejos emerge as an exploited people who are still able to maintain hope in their struggle for a better life.

When I was growing up, I remember a song The Girl from Ipanema. This song is a Brazilian bossa nova song, with a distinctive rhythm.

Rio de Janeiro has the national library, and it is called Biblioteca Nacional. Curitiba has the nation’s most advanced public library system, and it is known locally as “farois do saber” or lighthouses of knowledge.

Portuguese has Latin roots and shares its vocabulary with many of the other Romance languages, including, the Spanish language. Some words are: hora (hour), capital, exercicio (exercise), historia (history), casa (house), lugar (place), azul (blue), and montanha (mountain). Some words similar to Spanish are: onze, tres, cinco, and a tarde (afternoon). Portuguese pronunciation has many nasal sounds.

A well known modern Brazilian author is Paulo Coellho.  He wrote The Alchemist.  It is about a young shepherd boy from the Andalusia region of Spain.  He yearns to travel the world.

The capital of Brazil is Brasillia.  It replaced Rio de Janeiro in 1960.  It was built from scratch and designed by the architects Oscar Neimeyer and Lucio Costa.

Carnival takes place in many Brazilian cities each year, 40 days before Easter.  The parade in Rio de Janeiro has religious origins, but today it is a competition between samba schools.  Each school has a theme, composes music, and designs costumes and floats.

References:

Countries Around the World: Brazil, Heinemann Library, Chicago, Illinois, 2012

CultureShock: A survival guide to customs and etiquette, Marshall Cavendish, Tarrytown, NY, 2006

Cultures of the World: Brazil, Marashall Cavendish Benchmark, New York, 2012

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is an island in the Caribbean sea. Puerto Rico is Spanish for “rich port”.  Spanish explorers arrived her in the late 1400’s.  They called the island La Isla del Encanto or “the Island of Enchantment”.  Coqui frogs are a symbol of Puerto Rico and are named for their distinctive call “ko-KWEE”.  When I visited Puerto Rico, I could not get over their sound, while I was eating in an outside restaurant with a group of people.  They are impossible to find, as they are so small, but they sure do make a “big sound” while conversing with friends on a summer night.

Puerto Rico was created by a volcano millions of years ago.  Inland, there are steep, tall mountains and thick, green rain forests.  One of the is called El Yunque (el YOON-kay).  And yes, it really does rain there, as I unexpectedly found while walking on one of its many paths!

Puerto Rico is part of the Antilles archipelago or chain of islands between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.  Other islands in this chain include Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamas.  El Morro is the largest fort in the Caribbean and is found in old San Juan.  I walked around in it. The Spanish began constructing it in 1539.  The finished fort has tunnels, dungeons, and round sentry boxes called garitas.

In the early 1900’s, the economy of Puerto Rico was based on farming. The coffee plants were first brought there by the Spanish. Today, manufacturing and tourism are greater sources of income.

On November 19, 1493, Christopher Columbus landed in Puerto Rico from Spain.  At first, the Taino and other native groups lived peacefully with the Spanish.  Juan Ponce de Leon established the first Spanish settlement on Puerto Rico.  Beginning in 1815, King Ferdinand VII of Spain encouraged his people to move there to establish large plantations that raised sugarcane, coffee, and tobacco.

In 1898, Spain fought against the United States inthe Spanish-American War and lost  Puerto Rico and other Spanish colonies were given to the United States.  In 1948, Puerto Rico elected its first governor, Luis Munoz Marin who helped write their first constitution. In 1952,Puerto Rico became a commonwealth of the United States. This gave Puerto Rico self-rule. Puerto Ricans follow U.S. federal laws and are U.S. citizens, but they don’t pay federal taxes or vote in national elections.  They have their own flag and national anthem. They use the U.S. dollar and postage stamps.  Their flag is based onthe Cuban flag, except it has red stripes instead of blue.

San Juan is the oldest city in a U.S. territory.  Many colonial buildings in Old San Juan are painted in bright colors  Shutters on the windows help keep out the heat and wind.

Music is part of the culture of Puerto Rico.  It is influenced by the Spanish, African, and Taino cultures.  One Taino rhythm instrurment is the Guiros which is played by scraping notches on it with a stick.  The most popular dance is the salsa.  Marc Anthony is a popular salsa singer there.  On Sunday afternoons, the people like to gather and have a picnic and listen and dance to the salsa.  I got to experience that on my visit there.

Baseball is a very important sport there.  Also soccer is gaining popularity.  Carlos Delgado is a famous baseball player from Puerto Rico.  Roberto Clemente is another famous baseball player from Puerto Rico. He was born in Carolina there in 1934.  He played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and first signed up with them in 1955.  He was devoted to Puerto Rican children  Tragically, he died in 1972, while flying to Nicaragua to provide suppllies and help those in need there, following an earthquake.  Clemente was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in1973 and remains one of the few players ever to hit 3,000 base hits.

References:

Cultures of the World: Puerto Rico, Marshall Cavendish, Tarrytown, New York, 2005

Puerto Rico,Childrens Press, Gutner, Howard, New York, 2009

Linda Ronstadt’s story

When I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, Linda Ronstadt was one of my favorite singer/songwriters.  She was born on July 15, 1946 in Tucson, Arizona.  In her memoir, Simple Dreams, I read that her Mother was of German heritage and her Father was of Mexican heritage.  She had 11 Grammy Awards.  I loved listening to her voice on the radio and watching her on television.

One of the songs that I used to listen her sing was “Blue Bayou”.  Her voice had beautiful timbre, and she sounded so special to me as she would sing. In her memoir, I learned about her CD, “Canciones de me Padre”, which are songs that her Father taught her.  I was able to find this video on the internet, and after listening to her sing in Spanish, I was inspired to go and find her CD of these songs at a used record store.  The video showed her in Mexican costumes. Even though the words are in Spanish and I cannot understand them, her voice is so soothing to my soul, that I could listen to them over and over.  I listened to her on a road trip to Mississippi to go to my cousin’s funeral (once removed). In fact, since I know that she sings from her heart and even though I do not understand the words, I can say that this is one of my most favorite CD’s.  It makes me very sad that she has given up her professional career due to multiple sclerosis, as it affects her voice.

Her memoir details how she grew up.  It tells how her Father bought her a painted pony, as she loved horses.  She loved horses, and so do I, although I never had one.  It told how family freely crossed the U.S. border to visit her relatives in Mexico and how she learned songs from her Father and his family.

She relates in her story where she travelled and all the places that she performed. Her first band was called The Stone Poneys.  One of her early back-up bands went on to become the Eagles, and Linda became one of the most successful artists of the 1970’s.  Furthermore, she mentions the stories behind all of her records and CD’s and how she collaborated with other artists, such as, Emilylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Aaron Neville, and Frank Sinatra.

She was greatly admired by Governor Jerry Brown, but their relationship never led to marriage. In later years, her book tells how she adopted two children. At 67 years of age, Linda now lives with her children in Tucson and visits regularly with family.

Lists of all the songs she recorded at the end of her memoir.