Monday, April 30, 2007

A Dead Sea Lion, Cavaliers, and Sharks

Back from a lovely weekend.

Saturday... a trip to Julian. Up in mountains. Very nice drive up. Walkies. Nice Italian food at Romano's and nice Apple Boysenberry cider at the Cider Mill.

Sunday... a day trip to Laguna Beach.

Walkies on the beach. Lots o dogs!
I didn't realize that Laguna Beach was such a dog friendly place or I would have taken my schnauzer. Unlike most beaches in California, you can actually take your dog on the beach all day log. At least during the not peak months (June to September are peak, when the place is crowded.)

During the walk, we passed by a dead sea lion that had just washed up on shore. It was a small one. As long as I have lived in San Diego, I have never seen one wash ashore, which when you think of it, they must all the time. Odd seeing it roll back and forth with the tides. It didn't seem as if it had been in any sort of violent trauma. Just died somehow.

But back to the fun side of Laguna Beach. It is a very doable touristy place. Everything is close to the beach and the galleries are very people friendly. Not much parking though. So go early on a Sunday 9-ish and park in the all day lot on Canyon (It's the right turn after the little movie theatre.) It's ten bucks, but you won't need your car all day and is very convenient to go back and forth from the beach. Ate at... Javier's! Get there at around 6 before the big dinner rush or it is too crazy!

So today, I went back to teach at Chula Vista Middle, home of the Cavaliers. The girls were still working very hard and seemed to be enjoying the dances and music. I am about halfway through teaching the steps. Should be done by Wednesday. Then I can start placing them.

Since I was in Laguna, let us take an aquatic trip.

Watson and the Shark by John Singleton Copley

This image made a big impression on me the first time I saw it in a book.

Years later, I went to the National Gallery in Washington DC and came face to face with it. It is a big painting, so it has a big impact. There is a very detailed critique of the painting, painter and subject at the National Gallery's official website.

It IS based on a real life incident. Evidently, the young Watson went for a swim in Boston Harbor and was attacked by a shark. Just to put your mind at ease, he was saved. He DID lose his right foot, as is suggested by the fact that the lower part of his right leg is not visible. The things that always struck me were...

The nudity of Watson. Paintings of this era and school rarely show nude forms. Given his proximity to the boat and the how far away they were from land, it always seemed as if he had fallen from the boat. Which made no sense what so ever.

Watson's gaze. It has been said that he seems as if he is in a state of shock. To me, it seems as if he is clearly viewing his impending doom. Upside down! Helpless! I used to be on the swim team and I HATED the backstroke. Every time the water would splash in my face in that position it was like drowning a little.

The shark. The thing is huge! And rather than detract, the painter's lack of knowledge of real shark anatomy makes for an allegorical beast from the depths.

Watson seems suspended between the real world (the frantic emotional sailors) and a deeper more mysterious horrible truth. He has more of a relationship with the shark than the men. Indeed, the painting makes it seem inevitable that Watson is an instant from crossing over to that other state, but we know that in less than an instant he will be "saved."

There is more to this painting on a metaphysical level than just a snapshot of a moment.

This painting was a huge hit when it was first shown. Partially because of the subject matter and nude male figure. Before the days of television and film, paintings WERE the visual art of the day. When looking at a painting of this (or any time), you have to look... and look... and look.

And some paintings demand that you look at them, like Watson and the Shark.

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