Concrete and Barbed Wire

Stone walls do not a prison make

Nor iron bars a cage;

Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage.[1]

                                Richard Lovelace

It’s very easy to take our freedoms for granted, especially given the irrationality of a substantial number of our citizenry who see freedom as merely a license to do whatever they damn well please, as if American soldiers sacrificed their lives so these vulgarians can rev their unmuffled engines outside your condo at 2 AM, amass an arsenal’s worth of munitions in their basements, keep Bengal tigers as pets, burn barnfuls of autumn leaves during the windiest day of a four-month drought.  However, try stepping across the street from these freedom lovers’ houses and burning a Walmart-purchased-with-your-own-hard-earned-money-made-in-China American flag, and even though well within your rights as a US citizen, you’re likely to find yourself, run over, shot, devoured by an exotic pet, and/or torched because, if there’s anything that lovers of freedom detest, it’s “blame-America-first liberals like I-and–I.”

Nevertheless, even though, as Dr. Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” we should not take our freedoms for granted – as anyone who has spent a night in jail can attest.  Imagine being arrested for expressing an unsanctioned opinion, or worse, being imprisoned 6 years for making a fictional motion picture about your country’s controversial election and then being barred from making another film for 20 years.  Well, meet Iranian director Jafar Panahi who ended up doing a year plus and then a lifetime of house arrest, banned from leaving the country except for medical treatment or visiting Mecca for the Hadj.

One year, a mere instant in the life of the free, an eternity for someone sitting in a cell, the epic equivalent of that insufferable class or professional development seminar where you glance up at the clock every hour to discover to your horror only five minutes have elapsed.

In Panache’s case six years! Then being barred from doing what you love to do – that you feel compelled to do – for twenty years! – because your homeland has been confiscated by a bevy of Medieval paranoids who see the human body as somehow evil, who see women as temptresses, who respect not one iota the concept of individual freedom.

I find the jingoistic poster below offensive. “Taking America back” suggests taking America back from some usurper – minorities, immigrants, college professors, etc. However, it’s the right of whoever concocted the poster to create and publish menacing jingoistic images, and we wouldn’t have it any other way, so on this Memorial Day weekend, we should take time from boating, barbecuing, golfing, or vegetating to honor the men and women who sacrificed their lives – whether in vain or not – so we can be ourselves, say what we please, and create what we will.

[1] Unless, of course, you’re being sodomized by a fellow inmate

The Old Masters

Frequent visitors to this blog (all three of you) have no doubt noted a predilection to illustrate my rants with paintings of Bosch and Brueghel, Juvenalian satirists of the highest order; however, when it comes to unflattering depictions of the human race, those two Old Masters share many a Flemish cousin who can also render grotesqueries and human folly with Chaucerian panache.

The Ugly Duchess

Take the above masterpiece, Quentin Massy’s (1466-1530) portrait of Margaret, Duchess of Carinthia, also known as Margaret Maultasch (“Satchel-mouth”), though best known as The Ugly Duchess.  

An exquisite warning to in-breeders everywhere, she, of course, is the great-great-great grandmother of the Duchess Alice encounters in Wonderland.

The Ugly Duchess’s famous issue also include the Cowardly Lion:

AKA Bert Lahr (pictured below in drag)

In Auden’s frequently anthologized poem “Musée des Beaux Arts,” he notes that 

About suffering they were never wrong,

The Old Masters; how well, they understood

Its human position; how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along [. . .]

He goes on to describe the suffering’s occurring “anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot” and cites Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus as an example.


In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

But it’s not only suffering that goes on in the untidy corners of the paintings of Flemish masters; plenty of hankypanky takes place there as well.

Take this example from the above-mentioned Massys, The Ill-Matched Lovers.


Note while the lecher’s hand is copping a not-so-surreptitious feel,


the young woman’s transferring his purse to her companion,


a literal Fool.


Anyway, it’s not all tongue-clucking burlesque; these masters certainly could capture beauty when in the mood [not to mention pre-photographic perfection (check out the instruments at the bottom)].  


Caesar van Everdingen, Pegasus and the Four Muses

Nevertheless, for whatever reason (an overabundance choleric humors, perhaps), I prefer the Old Masters’ satire to their high mindedness. 


I leave you with these details from Bosch’s The Wayfarer.


Oink, oink, say the piggies. Splash, splash goes the urine.