2008/08/30

Evolution or Illusion?

My post of yesterday made me realize once again all objects made by humans came first from ideas. Eureka! So what, you say, such a simple and self-evident thing. But one we often overlook. Neither easy to grasp, nor “live up to”. A fact nevertheless. Let us look a bit more closely.
While sitting in this room, writing these posts, everything around was born from ideas. The building, our seventh-floor apartment in which I’m sitting, would not exist if someone hadn’t designed it. The bamboo table and chairs at which we eat our meals: someone planted, then harvested the bamboo, another had the idea to make a table.
The lamps, the many masks on the wall, two sculptures carved by Inuit, numerous woodcarvings from faraway places like Bali, Easter island, the Solomons, etc which adorn the window sills – all were once ideas in the creators’ minds. Same with the artwork on the walls (mine and other cultures).
Someone in Peru dyed and wove the textile that covers the couch. On the balcony we’d have no plants without the pots some potter made. Kitchen utencils, books, pens, brushes, pencils, the paper I write this on, all were once ideas.
Everything made by humans was born from ideas. In a sense, I could be sitting in my “birthday suit” or with a leaf cover on the grass here at the seashore, with the skies our roof.
No furniture, no pots and pans, no cutlery, no building, no seventh floor apartment, no bed, no clothes, no plants.
In such a reality, I can only write or paint in the air, on sand, in snow, or rocks and cave walls. No blog either, only smoke signals and Tam-tam drum messages!
All this material. What is all the fuss about?
But did the so-called ‘primitive’ cultures or first-peoples not already do this? Maybe we should try to become civilized primitives? But where to start? We’re in it too deep to return.
But then again, almost all the first-peoples are now extinct or hanging on for dear life, or have been ‘integrated’ into our fast-forward culture. Now for me comes the biggest question of all: Who, What, Where did all that SPACE come from? That which gave birth to Galaxies, Universes, Planets, Stars and Life.Rumour has it, everything came from the Big Bang. But the Big Bang had to come from Somewhere, and what is that somewhere, i.e. Where did all that Space come from?

2008/08/29

Journey Into a Lesser Known World

Some years ago, when I travelled through Italy with the motivation of viewing the historic sites and art treasures, I spent a week in Florence. During my short stay I discovered a lesser-known museum. The Museum of Natural History and Zoology, on the Arno River, is a duplex of old houses. 

One, Museo Scientifico, houses the astronomical instruments of Galileo, including a large globe made from leather. The other is “La Specola”, which is particularly proud of its collection of anatomic waxes, an art introduced in Florence by Ludovico Cigoli (1559-1613).
The wax collection, unique in the quantity and beauty of its pieces, was created in order to teach anatomy without having to directly observe a cadaver. All the body parts were on view, including embryos, etc. While chatting with the Curator, I asked him, “And where are the psychological parts?” (Ho-ho) He didn’t know what to say, and thought me to be some kind of weirdo.
Anyway, recently a small news item caught my attention that prompted me to recall “La Specola”. Here is something to ponder: The average human body contains enough sulphur to kill all the fleas on an average-sized dog, enough carbon to make 900 pencils, enough potassium to fire a toy cannon, enough phosphorous to make 2,200 match heads, enough water to fill a 38 litre (10 gallon) container, and enough iron to make a 8 cm. (3 inch) nail.”
All this also made me think about a poem that I wrote in 1974 to accompany a 35mm colour & sound film made on my 100 mandala“Organiverse” series I painted in 1972 in Morocco and Madeira. The film was commissioned by the Ontario Arts Council and made by art-filmmaker, Julius Kohanyi, who amongst others, has also made a film on Rodin.
Here is the poem, accompanied by two mandalas from “Organiverse”, one in the original format, the other in “bioluminescence” imagery. (To view the "Organiverse" rotation set, go to vanBentum.org and click on "Organiverse Handset".)
While we work
The buds are born
While we walk
The fish swim
While we rush
The flowers unfold
While we laugh
The wounded cry
While we love
The elders die
While we sleep
The Earth spins,
And all this
Comes out of darkness
Henri van Bentum, 1974

2008/08/27

Part Three - Shipwreck, and a "Lucky Strike"


At the bow more dolphins displayed acrobatic skills and frolicked. The seas changed from cobalt to ultramarine. At night we were treated to phosphorescent displays, like underwater fireflies. One morning after a particularly difficult watch (a 4 hour battle against strong currents), I went below for a rest, something I rarely do.
Suddenly, hours later, a loud voice woke me. “Henri! Get up! We’re in deep trouble!” I opened my eyes to see a mate in dripping bright yellow Sou’wester.
I went above deck and was hit by a strong, hot wind. Skies were dark and a boiling, foaming sea was in view. The Sloop pitched and rolled. “Sirocco!” screamed the first mate.
All hands on deck were dumping pails of seawater which came splashing over the deck. Fore rig was gone, the mainsail torn. We could just barely make out the jagged and rocky coast of what must be Sicily.
This happened to be a Sunday. Sicilian fishermen do not go out to fish on Sundays. Our Captain somehow managed to spot a village, and the villagers had spotted us. We hoped and prayed they’d break the tradition of “Never on Sunday” and come out to rescue us.
Soon a fishing boat did appear and approached our sloop. They shouted to us, “Stupido! Ollandas! Sirocco!” (They’d seen our Netherlands flag which somehow remained intact.)
The skies by now had turned azure again, wind and seas calmed down. Then they shouted out, “Americano cigarettes? Scottish Whiskey?”
Si, si”, hollered back our Captain. In fact we had cartons of Camel, Pall Mall, and Lucky Strike. Also six bottles of good old Scotch. That did it! Their fiery dark eyes lit up. Those were the magic words that led to an immediate and swift rescue.
We were towed to the breakwater. Mass was over, bells tolled, and everyone from the village came out to stare. I remember seeing masses of geraniums. But women all in black; men in dark suits, white shirts and black ties. Only the children had some colour in their attire. Our saviours carried their trophies (American cigarettes, and Scotch) home.
Later that same day, we were guests at an outdoor dinner. There must have been 40 people seated around a huge table, including our crew and our rescuers. A memorable dinner it was, under the starry Sicilian sky.
Was it a premonition that had made me roll up my canvasses in a thick plastic sheet? Whatever, but no seawater got through.
Bueno Esperanza” (Good Hope) would take some time to be repaired, so I opted to move on and make my way to Rome, then back to Canada via Amsterdam, Rotterdam and New York.
Along the way, I had time to digest our adventure at sea . And our rescue? Now that was a “Lucky Strike”.

Part Two - from Mallorca to Greece

Our first port of call: Las Palmas, Mallorca, another of the Islas Baleares where we took on fresh water, fruit and other necessities. In Las Palmas I experienced my first (and only) bull fight.
Because I’m an early riser, the Captain gave me the early watch at the helm, 04h00 – 08h00. 
Henri van Bentum at helm of Buena Esperanza

The currents between the Balearic, Tyrrenean and Mediterranean Seas are strong, and required muscle to handle the rudder. For direction I navigated by the stars, and towards the light of the rising Sun, due East on the horizon.
We enjoyed beautiful clear night skies, while the days were sunny but always with enough breeze to fill our sails.
Next port of call: Cagliari in Sardinia. (Now famous for its Costa Esmeralda, or Emerald Coast.) Local fishermen at the dock were curious about us and when they realized the crew was of many different nationalities, one said “Ah! United Nations!”
In Cagliari I ate my best pizza ever. After a few days in which the Captain attended to some red tape and our ‘stores’, we set our compass in the direction of the Corinth Canal via Sicily, then on to our destination port of Pireaus, Greece.
Aboard “Buena Esperanza” our food was diverse and caringly presented. (A bit different from the meals I’d enjoyed at a harbour restaurant in Ibiza: 4 courses with wine for less than dollar! But . . . you can’t have everything.)
Atmosphere aboard was amicable while we were lucky with spring/summer-like weather.
One morning, a Swallow sought refuge on our deck, utterly exhausted. Tried to revive the bird, but it went “over the horizon” later that day. We gave the bird a dignified burial at sea.
The currents were much stronger now. We now had the company of dolphins, chasing Tuna and cavorting at our bow. Life aboard “Buena Esperanza”) seemed idyllic at that moment. Little did we know . .

2008/08/26

Shipwreck with a "Lucky Strike", Part One


With all your ocean-going travels, have you ever had a personal mishap at sea?”, someone from California has asked. Well, as a matter of fact, I’ve experienced two dramatic shipwrecks.The first took place in 1962 after I quit my job as a proof reader and layout person at Rous and Mann Creative Printers in Toronto. I decided to devote as much of my life as possible to painting. It was November 1961, winter on its way.
I took the last cargo ship (Norwegian freighter) of the season from Montreal to Rotterdam. (On our Atlantic crossing, Force 9 storm.) Made a short visit to family in Holland, then by train to Paris, on to Barcelona. I’d planned on touring Spain for the winter to paint. After journeying around the country, I arrived back in Barcelona.
There at a small waterfront hotel someone mentioned the island of Ibiza. Paradise. Always sunshine. Very reasonable to live. That’s all I wanted to hear!

In no time I was on the ferry taking me to this “Isla Blanca”. Remember this was 1961, long before Ibiza became the trendy destination it is now, with international airport. I rented a villa in the hills which overlooked the sea; eight rooms, all by myself, very inexpensive, about a 45-minute walk from town. It came with a “Burro” (donkey), which I had to look after. Back then, there were only three other houses on that hill. It truly was paradise.
Months passed, my work went well. I fitted in well with the people, the culture, the atmosphere. Then one morning, I noticed in the local bar an advertisement looking for crew to sail a 20m (60 ft.) Sloop to Greece. Wow! What an opportunity.
I applied to be a crew member and was hired. The one-mast Sloop, “Buena Esperanza”, with fore and aft rig, had previously been a fishing boat. A Spanish name, but built and registered in Holland. She was freshly-painted and readied for the journey to Greece to be converted to a race yacht.
We were an international crew: Captain = Argentina. First Mate = Denmark. Cook = Indonesia (the only woman). The hired deckhands, all based in Toronto were: Canadian, Japanese-Canadian, and Netherlander (yours truly).
Early one April dawn, I rolled up my canvasses in a thick sheet of plastic, tossed my bag into my bunk, and said ‘Adios” to Ibiza. 

Leaving my Burro, new friends, and blossoming lemon, orange and almond trees behind, we sailed off into a new adventure. Little did we know. . .

2008/08/24

travel-inspired Aphorisms

A friend asked if it would be possible to put some of my Aphorisms on the blog. Here are a few, inspired by my travels. You can find more Aphs on our website.

African skies changed into hot pinks
When I clapped my hands
at Nakuru Lake

When the Leopard seal was spotted
The Emperors panicked.

I heard a future shriek of gazelle and zebra
While looking at the Leopard cub

Man stops me at the border
Asking for papers
Fish in the seas
Let me go through

Wise creatures
A shy bongo
Came out of the woods
To kill its rival

The Thorn-Tree’s thorns
Hurt the lion’s paw
But feed the giraffe

When we drink the brown liquid
Remember the green
Of unplucked leaves.
You have not seen green
Until you see the tea plantations
Of Darjeeling and Sri Lanka

Flying fish went East and West
While we sailed South

The ship proudly cut through the sea
Creating fluid marble in its wake

The Wildebeest was killed
Only to use its tail
For a flyswapper

While ancient dances transported us
to “Dreamland”
Boomerangs did their ‘fly about’.