I am a recovering Catholic. I cannot recall when I first became aware of God’s gentle side. For me “God the Father” was an unpredictably angry, frightening, vengeful God. He may have given us our daily bread, but the price he exacted in sacrifice even to the point of filiocide was disturbingly high. All in all I heard far more about the snares and temptations devised by Satan than I did of God’s love. I recall learning about the various kinds of sin– original, venial and mortal sin; so, consequently I grew up with an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt. Holy Mass and the sacraments meant nothing to me–except for the sacrament of confession, which I used compulsively as often as I could to relieve my guilt-feelings. By the time I was five, I was forced to attend Mass with my mother every Sunday morning as well as on feast days and on the first Friday of the month. I was so bored at mass especially during the sermons that I often read the funnies or religious comic books, when I was lucky enough to find them at the church entrance. Although mother and I were Catholics; my father was a Wagnerian. He stayed home and listened to the metropolitan opera broadcasts on the radio instead.
When I was seven years old I was packed off to St. John’s Military Academy, where I was indoctrinated with traditional Catholic doctrine and developed guilt feelings particularly regarding my sexuality which manifested itself in compulsive masturbation. The nuns tormented me with their images of Hell and Satan who I feared would punish me if I continued to play with myself and was not a “good boy.” I tried to control myself, but I just couldn’t, and this struggle became the centerpiece of my religious experience. It was almost as if my cock became my cross; it caused me so much guilt and grief.
St. John’s was conveniently located a stone’s throw away from my grandparent’s house in the West Adams district of Los Angeles. I was sent there, I was told, because I was so “impossible.” Didn’t anybody realize that I was so “impossible” because I was angry about not getting enough love and attention? I called my mother “Madole,” because I was not able to pronounce her mother’s nick-name for her, “ma jolie.” She seemed to be more interested in her art than in me. Sometimes she encouraged me to draw pictures myself, but then she would draw or paint over them to improve them and show them off pretending they still were my work. I felt so embarassed and inadequate! Usually, though, she would just dump me in her studio with a lump of clay and tell me to amuse myself with it until she she had finished her own art work. I was so bored and felt so lost and lonely there I didn’t know what to do. I had a hard time finding ways to amuse myself; so my theme song became a plaintive “What can I do now, Madole?”
It seemed as if I was always getting into trouble with my teachers and classmates. I was filled with hostility and had difficulty learning to obey rules. I recall once at St. John’s being ordered to write the pre-meal grace a thousand times because I had whispered to my neighbour during the silence which we were supposed to observe before our mealtime prayers. Having misunderstood the assignment, I wrote the word “Grace,” a thousand times instead of writing out the whole prayer, thereby getting into deeper trouble by the minute. I seemed to attract calamity wherever I went.
I am eight years old, in the third grade at St.John’s. It is the end of a long Parent’s Day, and the whole student body is parading in dress uniforms. We are ordered to present our arms, holding heavy rifles vertically in front of us for what seems like an eternity. My white gloves have gotten dirty. My shoes are dusty. My weapon is too heavy. I can’t hold the rifle up any more. I panic and start to tremble. I’m sure I’m going to drop my gun. Then I’ll get punished with more demerits and more penances.
“Mary, Mother of God, get me out of this horrible place, please!”
A few moments later I am in deep shit again. This time I have turned left instead of right and marched off in the wrong direction, away from my platoon. “Stupid jerk!” someone hollers. They think I’m stupid because I don’t know my left hand from my right, but it’s hard to think when you’re terrified. My mind goes blank and my stomache rolls up into my throat. To punish me the student officers hit me on the head with heavy books or, better yet, jab a rifle butt into my groin. “Jesus, have mercy upon me. Mary, Mother of God, get me out of this hell hole, please!”
Now Sgt. French, a fat student non-commissioned officer, a real pig, orders me to run laps around the football field. My side is aching and I feel as if I’m about to die of exhaustion.
“Are you tired?” French calls out tauntingly
“Yes,” I splutter, naively thinking the ordeal Is about to end. “Then run some more, you little bastard; you’re obviously out of shape.”
I don’t believe this. My God! Doesn’t the fucker realize I’m about to expire?
“Are you tired now?” he taunts, as I come around again.
This is a trap, I know. I am exhausted but I must not admit it so I say. “I’m OK.”
“Then you can run a few more laps. It’s good for you. We’ll get you into shape yet” he said laughing sadistically.
I could have killed him right then, and might have tried given the opportunity, but I was powerless and totally at his mercy. I’ll never forget my experiences of sadism and injustice at that Catholic military school. Like God and the Devil, the sabre and the cowl combined to impress us with the power and capriciousness of their authority.
Years later I saw the film “Sleepers,” which depicts extreme cruelty and sexual abuse in a reform school. Although it was hard to sromach, it reminded me so much of my painful childhood that I returned to see it several times.
As a love child I feel ashamed. The nuns tell me that I was born in sin. I am a little bastard.
“But I was adopted,” I say. “Is it my fault that my mother did not marry my father before I was born? Or after?”
“Silence! Don’t be impertinent,” Sister says to me angrily.
She explains that I’m not unique. We are all stained with original sin. Like a dirty milk bottle. You can see the picture in the Baltimore Catechism. But I find this hard to accept and tell her I think it is simply not true.
“Why must you go on and on about sin, if God is love?” I ask. “If He is a truly loving and just God, why would He be so unloving and unjust to innocent children?”
Sister is shocked, she says. “You’d better repent soon or else God will punish you for your sinful pride, and you will burn in hell, or in purgatory if you don’t change your tune. I promise you that. God is not mocked.”
I recall being particularly terrified by frightening stories of hellfire and damnation told to me by an old nun at the convent near my grandmother’s house where my mother parked me after school. Her name was Mother St. Valerian. She seemed ancient to me. She pierced right through my defences with her penetrating dark little eyes. I had offended her because I was unwilling to take the Bible at face value and insisted that the whole story of the original sin of Adam seemed unbelievable and unjust. It seemed unfair to me that God, who was said to know everything, should tempt Adam, especially if in his omniscience he knew the eventual result already. I found it impossible to accept the injustice of a God who blamed not only Adam but also his children, and most particularly me, for this original sin of disobedience perpetrated by Adam, our distant ancestor.
Finally, warning me that God would certainly punish me for my blasphemy, old Mother Valerian accompanied me home one day in disgrace to confront my family about my insolence. I recall standing in terror before my grandmother and her two sisters, all draped in black, their faces hidden in dark veils. With their noses in the air, they sat on a stone bench glaring at me like stony-faced furies. They judged me, found me wanting, and banished me to the netherworld of the pantry where I was to help the cooks and learn unquestioning obedience. Despite the pressure brought to bear on me by the old women, I got moral support from Annie, our fat Scottish cook, and stood my ground on this metaphysical and ethical issue, refusing to accept my share of the guilt for Adam’s sin.
I soon found that I could also count on my grandfather’s support in this struggle, for he admired my defiant strong spirit and enjoyed watching the old girls squirm. The fine points of theology were of no great concern to him. After all, he had converted to Catholicism to win the hand of my then recently widowed grandmother, a Creole aristocrat who, as a Catholic, would never have spoken to him, much less married him, if she had known he was a Jew.
On his marriage license when he married her he changed his father’s first name from “Daniel” to “Charles” to avoid any association with his Jewish ancestors, and his mother’s name became “de la Haut,” after a famous French general. Actually she was a Jew named Lazard. In fact my grandmother, Marguerite Wogan Brunswig, was married for many years before she discovered that Lucien, her second husband, was a Jew. At that point, she vowed she would never forgive him for his deception. She moved to a separate bedroom and refused to sleep with him ever again. Given her puritanical attitude to sex, I suspect that she was grateful to find an excuse to avoid le devoir, her conjugal duties.
Unrepentant and untroubled, Grandpere, who was a womanizer from the word go, simply carried on a long-term affair with his attractive secretary, as well as openly flirting with other women at the office and elsewhere. He had a lively sexual- fantasy life which he stimulated at home. I recall once wandering into his large dressing room and finding, to my delight and amazement, photographs of nude women on the wall. I was so fascinated that I just stood there stupified, gazing at these forbidden wonders, until nurse Madeline found me and, in disgust, dragged me out of the closet by my ear.
I was told that “curiosity killed the cat.”
“And satisfaction brought it back,” I replied defiantly, too smart for my own good.
It seemed I was always getting into trouble. I was too nosey. My eyes, my nose, and my ears were just too long. I was advised to stop poking into adult affairs that were none of my business.
But Grandpere found me delightfully amusing–in small doses– and welcomed me as a respite from his boring routine. For him I was always le petit bonhomme, and he usually greeted me with a gentle smile and a good word, and sometimes even with a story based on his adventures either in the Old World or in the Wild West. I can still recall his descriptions of the marvels of the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and of how he had been nearly caught as a stowaway when he arrived there from France.
When I enrolled in St.John’s Military Academy he told me how he, too, had gone to a military school in France.
“It was in Evian, on the Lake of Geneva,” he said with pride. I listened, bug-eyed, to his wild tales, and only learned years later that they were mostly based on his lively imagination with the facts embroidered heavily to make them more entertaining. These tall tales were wonderfully entertaining to a young boy. Grandpere was a great storyteller and he delighted in regaling me with various accounts of his travels and adventures. It was he who first introduced me to the art of the improvised short story and set me on the path to becoming a storyteller in my own right.
Grandpere died when I was six, in 1943. His stature commanded two funerals, one in Los Angeles, and a few days later, when the body arrived by train, another service took place in New Orleans, where he was buried in a splendid pyramid like an Egyptian pharaoh.
To me, Grandpere, with his grand white beard and prominent Jewish nose, resembled the image I had of God himself, and it seemed as if he had the power of God in our family. Though he ruled everyone with an iron hand and controlled us with “the golden leash” of money, he was always kind and generous to me. He inspired not only my curiosity and love of cooking but a keen eye for the ladies and a cruel enjoyment of practical jokes at the expense of others. He egged me on, though I didn’t need much encouragement in my penchant for mischief which included the joy buzzer, exploding cigarettes, and collapsing soup spoons.
I had too much youthful exuberance for that sombre house, filled with starchy old ladies who maintained that children should be seen but not heard. Often when the silence enforced on me by Grandmere became unbearable I would burst into a babbling monologue, and my mother would command me to run a few laps around the table, or to “hop around a little bit” to wear off some of my excess energy.
I am ten years old. Fifth grade. I have been transferred from St. John’s to Black Foxe Military Academy. Even though I don’t have to tolerate the nuns any more, I don’t like Black Foxe. We march a lot and I hate marching; so I join the band. I play the clarinet. Beat, beat, beat. Major Lockheart beats my leg with a ruler to teach me to keep time. I read a lot to escape from my feelings. I feel sad most of the time. I don’t like school because the boys pick on me.
One day I was doing a stylized military procedure we called “the monkey manual.” When I kicked my rifle behind me, I hit a student officer on the chin and knocked him out cold. Nobody would believe it was an accident, and it looked as though I might be expelled. I couldn’t believe my good fortune and thought I might be liberated from this house of torture at last. But when the wounded young officer woke up in the hospital, he insisted it was an accident, so I had to stay in that school another two years before I escaped.
I will never forget a scene I witnessed in the gym one day. A white boy, an officer, had a fight with a black boy, a corporal. The white kid took off his shirt so he would not be protected by his rank, and challenged the black private to a fist fight.
“Come on, what’s the matter? Are you Chicken?” he taunted, gesturing towards himself with his open hands. But the black boy didn’t move. He just stood there and let the white boy hit him and hit him until he fell to the ground clutching his belly and crying. I felt so sorry for that boy, and identified with him as the scape-goat. I, too, knw what it meant to be a victim.
I was a little coward, they said, because when they provoked me I was afraid to fight back. I would just lay down and let boys attack me. This infuriated them. But who likes having a bloody nose or a black eye?
“Why don’t you fight? Coward!” they screamed at me. Boys can as cruel as animals, with an instinctive taste for the jugular. They do not stop even when you’re down and bare your neck. That just seems to whet their appetite for blood.
I still feel angry when I think of those boys. I used to wonder how they could they be so cruel. But then I saw how I can be cruel towards people weaker than myself, too, just as the boys were to me. No wonder. My tormentors were frighteningly good role models. Perhaps that is why I became fascinated with Hitler and the Nazi atrocities I later saw in films. I had been persecuted by my own “little Hitlers.” Years later, when I married, my wife called me Hitler when I abused her. “Slaves were freed in 1865,” she would remind me. Perhaps, but I had been a slave to those boys in school; so I later mimicked their cruelty with my wife and children. It’s the old bicycle game. Pass on the pain. Step on the weaker ones under you as you have been trounced upon by those over you who are more powerful.
I am an adult child of an alcoholic. When I was growing up in Hollywood my stepfather, Tony, drank a lot. He often came home from the office with alcohol on his breath, and hit the liquor cabinet as soon as he walked in the door. It was two or three martinis or scotch and sodas before dinner every night. He frightened me when he got drunk, and I used to have to please him, to keep him happy.
One way of obliging him after breakfast each morning was to sit naked on the toilet, which he required me to do while he masturbated. I remember the sense of awe, powerlessness, and fear I felt as he performed his ejaculations and ablutions. He would get all red in the face, breathe faster and harder ‘till his dark eyes glared like fiery coals. Then, all at once, his eyes would roll up into his head and seconds later he would ejaculate triumphantly into the sink. Then with a sheepish grimace of shame he would carefully wipe off his prick with his handkerchief. I felt fascinated, disgusted, terrified. He was sick, I knew, a real monster. At that tender age I decided that if this was what manhood was all about, I never wanted to join those sordid ranks.
Even though I gagged, Tony would force me to put my mouth on his penis and suck him off. I resisted as best I could, but I wanted to be obliging, for I was so afraid of his anger. Sometimes he’d put his penis between my legs sodomizing me from the rear. He’d spit on his dick and then move back and forth slowly at first then moving faster and faster, huffing and puffing like a steam engine ‘till he’d climax. I hated it when he’d ejaculate all over me. It was gooey and sticky, warm and wet. It was so distasteful to me that I decided that I would never loose control and have orgasms as he did. Sex turned one into a beast. The nuns were right after all. No wonder Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden after they tasted the fruits of sexual pleasure outside the bonds of holy matrimony!
My childhood ended at the age of ten when Tony initiated me into manhood. At that time I was in the fifth grade at Black Foxe, boarding there while my mother was away in Europe. I looked forward to coming home on weekends, because the student officers were still tormenting me with their sadistic pranks. The attention Tony lavished on me was a welcome relief. I soon discovered that when he wanted me sexually I had a strange power over him, and that was gratifying and exciting.
While my mother was away I now replaced her in his arms. We took showers together and he’d fondle me and suck on my penis in the shower. In fact, he sucked on my penis whenever he could and would often reward me after our lovemaking with a treat such as ice cream or money.
Tony also taught me how to masturbate and how to extend my pleasure for a long time. It felt good, but I also felt that what we were doing, especially in my mother’s bedroom, was wrong. And when he made me swear on pain of death to keep our lovemaking a secret and never tell anyone about it, I knew it was wrong. It was probably at this time that my compulsivity, guilt and anxiety about sex blossomed into obsession.
I attended a Catholic parochial school for a few months when I entered adolescence in order to prepare for confirmation. I recall that I was fascinated by the emerging beauty of some of the young girls in the class, but I’d been taught that it was sinful to have “lustful” thoughts about women. One should not notice their ripe young bodies, I was told, but rather one should concentrate on their spiritual qualities. With blushing shame I confessed my guilt about masturbating and was told by the priest to hold a rosary in my hand. The pain was meant to prevent me from continuing my apalling habit. It didn’t. of course, and I struggled against my sexual obsessions for many years.
Partly to escape my sordid home and school life in my early teens I became a bookworm and gradually awakened to a sense of the spiritual through poetry and the first stirrings of romantic love. Despite my early sexual orientation, for me God has always been most approachable through the body of a woman. It is She who evoked wonder in me and led me to turn to Him, our creator in gratitude.
In high school I was required to take classes in religion and to read the Bible as literature. The Old Testament bored me, except for some of the more exciting stories and the erotic poetry in the Song of Songs. I could jack off while reading that! My favorite class was comparative religions taught by Mr. Wilson. It was with him that I first developed a real interest in the meaning of myths and symbols. He had painted pictures of figures from Greek mythology on the walls of his classroom. I was fascinated with the stories I read in Bullfinch’s Mythology, particularly the stories of adventurous heroic journeys. I tried to read everything in the school library dealing with philosophy, religion and mythology, and I just about worked my way through their small collection.
After graduating from Webb in 1954. I choose to attend Duke, a Southern university, because I wanted to become a writer, and I was inspired by Southern writers such as Carson McCullers, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Thomas Wolfe. I planned to major in English, but I found my English teacher, George Wicks, too pedantic and pickey. His red pencil marks covered my essays. He did not seem to realize what a great writer I was going to be. At Duke I submitted some poems and stories to the Archive a literary magazine, edited at that time by Reynolds Price, who later became a distinguished Southern writer, but to my chagrin he rejected my work. I soon discovered that I was better at editing and re-working material rather than creating it from scratch; so I wrote copy for the theatre Playbill.
Even as a freshman I was impressed with the poetry of the English romantic poets, particularly Wordsworth and Shelly. I think this set the tone for my religious ideas and feelings. There is a strong continuity between my early romanticism and my later idealism. I have never felt willing to accept mundane “reality” as it is, as the only world we can know and experience. Long ago I accepted the idea that we live in multiple realities and embraced the Buddhist view of the world as an illusion, though I often get caught up in identifying with my own personal suffering and am unable to practice this view consistently in my daily life.
When I was 18 I discovered that I had a calling to undertake a personal spiritual quest and to develop a personal relationship with God. During my second year at Duke I met Sali Wali an Egyptian mystical thinker who worked on ESP at the parapsychology lab with Dr. Rhine. Through guided reading and Socratic conversations conducted over many months Sali instructed me in the rudiments of Vedanta, Buddhism, and the perennial philosophy. To my surprise I found myself becoming seriously interested in mysticism and began devouring books on the subject. I decided I wanted to become a saint.
There was one English professor I liked very much, Russell Fraser, a distinguished Shakespeare scholar. He organized a literary discussion group for his students which met at his home once a month. It was called Areopagus, after the original Supreme Court of the Athenians, as described in the Oresteia. I was thrilled to be invited to participate. I had never been chosen to be a member of any group before. I was disappointed when he moved to Princeton the next year.
Professor Harold Parker, a brilliant military historian who specialized in Napoleonic battles, influenced me greatly. From him I first discovered that history was not so much a collection of facts or chronologies but the interpretation of the relationships among these facts. Another important mentor at this time was Prof. Ernest Nelson, a Renaissance man, who taught me to appreciate the Greek and Latin classics in translation. Partly as a result of the influence of these fine teachers, I later became a professional historian myself.
The summer between Duke and Georgetown I drove a traveling bookshop around Cape Cod. While on the Cape I met the literary critic Edmund Wilson, and a Russian emigré writer Paul Chavchavadze, who encouraged me as an aspiring young writer. I’ve always had a fascination with Russians, Poles and Eastern Europeans and later in my life I lived in Prague.
In the fall of 1956 I transferred to Georgetown University in Washington D.C. where I majored in politics and international relations. I found the scholastic philosophy and theology taught at Georgetown dry and boring. Instead I turned to the French Existentialists and began exploring philosophy through literature. I found great inspiration in a literature class taught by Fr. William Lynch, who had recently come from several years of editing, Thought, a lively Jesuit journal.
To this day literature is my favorite way to access philosophical and religious or spiritual ideas. I enjoy encountering ideas in the context of personal drama. The evocative images speak to my heart. On the other hand, to evoke my own spiritual feelings I prefer sacred music and art. I was fortunate to study philosophy of religion with the brilliant urbane English Jesuit and Father Martin D’Arcy, the former Master of Campion Hall at Oxford, but unfortunately much of the time I found his discourse to be over my head.
The one philosophical work I remember reading with great interest while in college, a book that really opened up new religious vistas for me, was William James’ Varieties of Religions Experience. Even today I can hardly recall a work of greater personal significance, for James introduced me to both the phenomenology of consciousness and the psychology of religious experience. At this time I also became interested in the psychology of Freud and Jung, as I was looking for a therapeutic alternative to Thomistic psychology.
Despite all my courses in philosophy and theology, I was still troubled by intense sexual guilt, and it took years of psychotherapy to enable me to move beyond that quagmire of sexual and religious abuse. I also lost my first fiancé, Joanie Knowles, during my senior year because of my obsessive guilt about sex. We had been sleeping together regularly at my apartment but I felt so guilty that I usually rushed out to confession the next morning. Before long a less scrupulous guy replaced me in her arms. It took me years to discover that I was a sex-addict as a result of my childhood sexual abuse and still more years to overcome it.
One person and place that had a profound influence on my spiritual development was Father Damasus Winzen, at Mt. Saviour, a Benedictine community in Elmira, New York. I made several retreats there during my senior year before going to Europe. “Incline the inner ear of the heart and listen to the world of God” Benedict said in the prologue to his rule. Through Father Damasus, Brother Gregory and Brother David Steindl-Rast, I discovered the Fathers of the Church, such as St. Augustine, St. Jerome and Origin, and came to appreciate the beauty of the Bible and the Liturgy. At Mt. Savior I had the sense of being in the presence of God, of experiencing wonder and gratitude at his majesty and glory. With the Jesuits this had been only an intellectual concept. Among the Benedictines I experienced it in my heart.
In my senior year I also became interested in modern French Catholic literature and philosophy, particularly after reading Wallace Fowlie’s book, A Guide to Contemporary French Literature. Before I graduated I had read some Sartre, Camus, and Claudel in French, and had even written a one-act play based on one of Claudel’s plays. This led me to Paris to embark for a year of study of French literature at the Institut Catholique and the Sorbonne. Even though I had spoken French at home, I was not proficient enough to read everything I wanted to in the original, so I made this my goal.
When I graduated from Georgetown I went off to Europe intending to learn French and, of course, to write the great American novel. I was delighted to be in Paris and was determined to learn French properly. I began by attending a summer course at the Sorbonne, but found it was too difficult for me, so I took the train South to Grenoble to enroll in the summer program there. However, I did not have the self-discipline to study as intensely as the program required so on hearing about a pilgrimage in Brittany I decided to join up. It was run by Pax Christi, a group that sprang up after World War Two to help young persons heal their wounds and overcome the stereotypescreated by both war propaganda and harsh experience.
I visited Germany for the first time later that summer. While I was studying French in Grenoble, my parents were traveling through Europe. They had invited me join them in Düsseldorf, after the Pax Christi pilgrimage. We traveled down the Rhine by train and got off in Stuttgart, where my father picked up a Mercedes he had ordered in America. It was quite a ritual picking up the grand car. I resolved that someday I would purchase a Mercedes of my own, which I did, years later. We drove to Munich where we visited my “brother,” Pierre. Then we moved on to Salzburg and Vienna, where my mother underwent a dietary cure in a local hospital. She and her doctor decided that it would be good for me too, so I followed suit.
I returned to Paris in the fall, determined to study hard this time. But there were just too many distractions! Inspired by memories of Mt. Saviour, I tried to stay in a Benedictine monastery in the outskirts of Paris, but the monks soon threw me out when I was caught climbing the wall after curfew.
I then stayed in a Catholic boys college on the Rue de Vaugerard. Again, after a short time, I was given the heave-ho, because I refused to adhere to the early curfew and I did not mix well with the other boys. That college reminded me too much of the restrictions on my personal life which had oppressed me at Georgetown, until my mother agreed to set up an apartment for me in Washington so I could escape dormitory life.
At the left-bank parish of St. Severin I encountered my first “worker priests.” Pere Villart, one of the priests there, demonstrated that it was possible to take the fruits of the mystery of the mass out into the world of everyday life. Through him I learned to think of my writing desk as my altar.
When I was not attending lectures or seminars, I spent most of my time reading in my room or walking the streets of Paris, exploring the different Quartier. Eventually, I met an attractive young French girl, Denise, and tried to develop an intimate relationship with her. We never got beyond holding hands, however. As a good Catholic boy I felt ambivalence about sex, and she had similar hang-ups..
I was lonely in Paris and felt forlorn as winter set in. It was really then that I first began to suffer the loneliness and anxiety that has plagued me most of my life. One time an old friend of my mother’s, Mildred Brock, invited me to visit her in her room at the Crillion Hotel. She greeted me in a diaphanous negligee and draped herself seductively before me on a chaise longe. I felt confused and uncomfortable, rather like Dustin Hofman in “the Graduate” confronted by the lusty Mrs. Robinson. I couldn’t respond to Mildred at all. Though she was very beautiful, she turned me off, particularly because she was old enough to be my mother and had a son older than me. Pierre (my “brother” ) later told me he’d had a glorious affair with her, and that she “had taught him a lot.” When I told my mother this, she remarked calmly, “I’m not surprised. She’s a nymphomaniac, you know. Like a spider, she pins men to the wall so they can’t escape her lust.”
In time, I got to know a group of German students in Paris, outsiders like me. On the whole, I found them much more open and friendly than Parisians. One of them, named Hanni, invited me to spend Christmas with her in Heidleberg. Another German girl, Maria, whom I had met during the Pax Christi pilgrimage invited me to visit her in Westphalia. So I decided to spend my Christmas holidays in Germany. This was to be a white Christmas and the beginning of my love affair with that awesome country..
While I was there, another German girl moved into my hotel and took a room on the same floor. We soon became friends and developed a Platonic relationship, which was all I felt capable of in my guilt-wallowing state. However, when I learned that she was doing “it” with other guys, I decided to try my luck as well. I wanted to prove my manhood and my hormones conspired by ignoring my conscience. She was agreeable to doing “it” after I got her turned on in a long petting session, but when it came to the vital moment, I was not able to enter her because I ejaculated before I could even get my penis out of my pants. I felt so guilty about the whole thing that I rushed to confession the next morning. Being Jewish, Pierre had a more casual and sanguine attitude. “Wash it and its as good as new,” he would say. But, like Lady Macbeth, though I washed and scrubbed, I could not wash away the stain of sin from my guilt-ridden brain. For this it took the magic of priestly absolution.
One time when I was making love with my next-door neighbor I felt so guilty that I actually told the girl while I was still inside her that what we were doing was sinful and that we had to stop. As I recall, the conversation went something like this:
“Yes, yes!” she cried excitedly, moving in towards me.
“Yes. That’s it. You’ve found my spot. Yes Yes. Oh! Yes.”
Her face contorted with passion, and she began to run her tongue around her lips as if she were licking off the remains of a delicious meal. I became alarmed when I saw this and began to withdraw.
“No. No,” she cried. “Don’t stop now. Fuck me.”
“I can’t” I said, sheepishly, beginning to withdraw my wilting member.
She stuck her tongue deep into my mouth reigniting my desire. I plunged back into her, and felt the pleasure flow like blood between my legs.
“Yes, yes, yes!” she moaned. “You’re so good. Do it again.”
I looked at her. She was sweating like a pig and her moist hair had become entangled across her face. Suddenly I felt revolted. Feelings mingled with anxiety were engorging my brain robbing the blood from my erection and it began to wilt again.
“What’s happening, Sweetheart?” she asked pulling me back towards her and embracing me tenderly.
“I can’t go on with this.” I blurted out, feeling ashamed for letting her down. “I feel too guilty.”
“Yeah, right.” she said playfully. “And your grandfather was Abraham Lincoln, right? Come on. That’s not funny. Are you crazy or what?”
“No, really. We have to stop this. Don’t you realize we would go to hell if we died now? What we’re doin is wrong. Fornication is a sin”
“Says who?” she asked, wondering if perhaps I really meant what I said after all.
“God, the Bible, the Church. You know.”
“Uh Huh. Funny you never thought of that before. What’s the deal now. You got another woman? Huh?”
Up to now she thought I might be joking. Now she realized I was dead serious. She responded by lockinging her sphincter muscles around my member then pushed me out in a fit of rage.
“What’d you push me out for?” I asked, puzzled and perplexed. “I haven’t come yet.”
At this piont she must have gone crazy because she started screaming and scratching my chest as she ejected the rest of me from her apartment.
Breathlessly I pulled on my pants and ran to the church rectory to get an emergency absolution. The priest, who recognized me, was kind hearted and gave me a short penenace consisting of only ten our fathers and ten Hail Marys.
On the way home I bought some flowers. I’d already finished saying my penance by the time I got home. Seeing my neighbor’s door I couldn’t resist knocking and offering my apologies.
“Who is it?”
“What do you want?” she asked, opening the door. “Did you forget something?”
“No, sweetheart. I wanted to tell yuou I’m sorry,” I said handing her the bunch of flowers.
“Forget it,” she said.”You’re just wacko that’s all. I don’t think we should continue dating. I don’t want to see you any more. You’re too freeky.”
“Aw come on, Honey, let me in. I want to make love with you just one more time. Please?”
“You turn me on, Sweetie.”
“You’ re crazy! Get out of my face” she screamed, slamming the door at me.
“What’s the matter with her?” I thought to myself. “Doesn’t she understand that I can’t help it. I am caught in a real moral dilemma. I have to have sex as often as I can, but then I have to get absolution afterwards to ease my conscience. That done, I can do it again. In fact I can’t stop myself. I have to.”
I returned to California in the spring after my winter in Paris. I did one term at Stanford University studying drama and playwriting and then transferred to Claremont Graduate School in Southern Calif where I studied ancient and modern history. I got on the defensive about my religion and wrote papers for my grad seminar in Renaissance Studies in which I tried to show the truth of the Catholic faith as embodied in Dante’s Divine Comedy. This was not well received by my professors at CGS who demanded more scholarly objectivity from me. For my master’s degree in history I wrote a thesis on Jacob Burckhardt’s Philosophy of History.
The next year I enrolled in a history Ph.D. program at UC Berkeley where I tried to confront modern relativism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis head on. I had a hard time maintaining my faith in Catholic moral absolutism in the process. I was fascinated with Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity and by the Marxist sociology of knowledge. Their debunking of idealism appealed to my suppressed rage and my overt iconoclasm.
As I was also interested in philosophical anthropology I finally decided to write a dissertation on Max Scheler, a German Catholic philosopher and sociologist. He was a Catholic philosopher who had lost his job twice for having sexual relations with his students. When called to account by the Archbishop of Cologne, Scheler replied: “I am only a signpost. A sign does not have to go where it points.” His widow told me that he seduced boys as well as girls and that he had his teeth sharpened so he could bite better when making love. It seemed that along with my interest in the phenomenology of religious experience, I could not avoid dealing with startling aspects of sexual experience even in the subject of my dissertation.
However, work on Scheler, particularly his philosophy of religion helped me find a better intellectual foundation for my faith. Gradually, however, my commitment to Christianity got lost in other concerns. Formally, I remained a Catholic, but Buddhism and Jungian and transpersonal psychology gradually replaced Christianity as my principal frame of reference, and I began to define myself as a “recovering Catholic.”
Alfredo Ramos Martinez (November 12, 1871 – November 8, 1946) was a painter, muralist, and educator, who lived and worked in Mexico, Paris, and Los Angeles. Considered by many to be the ‘Father of Mexican Modernism‘, Ramos Martínez is best known for his serene and empathetic paintings of traditional Mexican people and scenes. As the renowned Nicaraguanpoet Rubén Daríowrote, “Ramos Martínez is one of those who paints poems; he does not copy, he interprets; he understands how to express the sorrow of the fisherman and the melancholy of the village.”
Autoretrato (Self Portrait), ca. 1938
Through countless golden afternoons and well into silvery moonlit evenings, Alfredo Ramos Martinez would wander through Coyoacan, gazing up at its bell towers, strolling through its plazas and narrow streets, all the while taking in the geometry of the huge stones of the walls, the adobe walls, and the rounded cobblestones. After making numerous quick sketches, he would return home to transform his studies into watercolor compositions. This sixteenth century Coyoacan, with its churches and open markets of fruit and flower stalls can be seen in Ramos Martinez’s early works.
Ramos’ friend, the Mexican poet, painter and translator, José Juan Tablada contended years later in his memoir, La Feria de la Vida(“The Festival of Life,” 1937) that these watercolors were among the first artistic manifestations of a revolutionary art, originating as they did, in the observations of “things,” the phenomena of everyday life. Tablada states that it was American tourists who first recognized the beauty and value of Ramos’ surprisingly extraordinary depictions of seemingly ordinary things. These “things” would re-appear decades later as the background of his California paintings and, again, would be admired and collected by Americans.
Born in Monterrey (Nuevo León, Mexico) in 1871, Alfredo Ramos Martinez arrived to Mexico City at the age of fourteen after his portrait of the governor of the state of Nuevo León was awarded 1st prize at an art exhibition in San Antonio, Texas. The prize included a scholarship to study at the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and therefore, the large Ramos Martinez family established their home in Coyoacan, a town on the outskirts of Mexico City. Coyoacan had the look and feel of a small village but with a stimulating aesthetic environment for budding artists like Ramos and Tablada.
The Academy in which Ramos spent eight years was undergoing innovations that had originated in the mid-century, including a program of exhibitions by students and faculty that encouraged audiences and emerging art critics alike. An art gallery, dedicated to Mexican art, was established and students were offered fellowships for study in Mexico and abroad.
From the beginning, Ramos disliked the rigid academic program with its institutional bureaucracy and tireless imitation of prevailing European aesthetics. His delight in straightforward observation and the subsequent representation of daily things, along with the open spaces of the emerging urban landscape, conflicted with the stifling atmosphere within the Academy. He resented having to take the tram all the way downtown, only to spend endless hours indoors, drawing and studying poor plaster copies of classical works. He often skipped his classes to return to his outdoor sketching excursions. His rebellion drove the Director to write a letter voicing his displeasure to Ramos’ father. Ramos defended himself on this occasion, standing up for his artistic freedom, and surprisingly there was no further disciplinary action. In view of his future activities, Ramos’ early insistence on an “Open Air” (Al Aire Libre) approach to creating art can be seen as something much more important than an attitude of adolescent rebellion.
He was undoubtedly aware of the Impressionist movement in France through the journals of the time as well as from students at the Academy returning from study in Europe. The Academy encouraged and supported its most talented students to travel abroad and Ramos longed to go to Europe. While Rome, with its ancient classical and Renaissance masters, had once been the most likely choice, the professors in the Academy were now beginning to focus on Paris.
In 1899, during an official visit by Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the American newspaper mogul’s mother, Ramos Martinez’s future was changed significantly. Mrs. Hearst attended a formal dinner hosted by the Mexican President, Porfirio Díaz. Ramos had been asked to create hand painted menus for the occasion. Mrs. Hearst was so impressed with these decorations that she asked to meet the artist. Upon meeting him, she offered to pay him a monthly stipend to study in Paris. The door to Alfredo Ramos Martinez’s European adventure had opened.
PARIS, BRITANNY, THE BALEARIC ISLANDS, THE LOW COUNTRIES
In going to France, Ramos was engaging in a cultural rite of passage familiar to many Latin American intellectuals. Nineteenth century Paris, the Bohemian center and point of reference for all the arts, attracted painters, poets, writers and intellectuals. Experimentation in the arts was the rule of the time and that led to new genres and forms.
Ramos spoke French fluently, which greatly eased his way in French society. The five hundred franc allowance from Mrs. Hearst allowed him a decent existence and while there is no record of formal studies at the art academies, he took full advantage of all the city had to offer.
Shortly after his arrival, he met the Nicaraguan poet, Rubén Darío (1867-1916). The meeting led to a friendship of immeasurable importance to both men. Darío was already a literary giant and the leading figure of Modernismo, a literary movement that his poetry had generated. He was in Paris to publish his second book of verse, Prosas Profanas(Profane Prose). This work, along with those that followed it, influenced Ramos’ work and intellect for the rest of his life.
Darío reveled in the Parisian bohemian life, often inviting Ramos to join him and his friends in their forays into intellectual salons and bohemian nightlife as well as excursions into the countryside. Through Darío, Ramos had the opportunity to interact with the Symbolist and Parnassian poets, notably Paul Verlaine, Rémy de Gourmont, and with artists such as Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, August Rodin and Joaquín Sorolla as well as the dancers, Anna Pavlova, Isadora Duncan and the actress, Eleanor Duse. Darío’s circle of accomplished, productive bon vivants drew Ramos into a sophisticated environment unlike anything he had known in Mexico. Such experiences led to a maturity and worldliness that would serve him well in later years.
The long, fraternal friendship between Ramos and Darío is documented in essays and two poems dedicated to Ramos. Darío offers us a glimpse into the painterly and literary influences that informed the production of both painter and poet during these four years. For a brief time, Darío even shared rooms with Ramos and his close friend, the Mexican poet-diplomat, Amado Nervo.
Painter and poet traveled together to Belgium and Holland where Ramos immersed himself in the works of Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh. In the Low Countries, his careful study of works from the northern Baroque period subtly influenced his own portraits. Visits to Spain and Palma de Mallorca extended into months and at one point, a period of solitary meditation in a Carthusian monastery. In the course of these travels, Darío’s spontaneity, enthusiasm and knowledge about art, philosophy, music and literature were undoubtedly not only an influence, but also a model for Ramos.
By 1904, Ramos had created a large body of work based on painting trips to Brittany. The palette, dominated by umbers and sepias, underscores the artist’s sensitivity not only to the environment, but also to the harsh poverty endured by a people who live off the land and the sea. Darío commented, “Ramos Martinez does not copy, he interprets; he understands how to express the sorrow of the fisherman and the melancholy of the village.”
The paintings by Millet and Monet led Ramos toward landscapes of windmills and seascapes cast in golden light infused with oranges and blues. These paintings often featured farmers and day laborers at work in the fields. In addition to these studies of everyday workers in their element, an important theme begins to develop here; portraits of women holding children, a variation on the Madonna and Child. Similar images and compositions appear years later in the artist’s California work.
It was also here that Ramos discovered a new medium. During one of his painting trips, his supply of drawing paper ran out. He returned to the inn and asked the concierge for paper. The concierge responded by giving him newsprint. This innovative surface became a favorite medium for Ramos.
In 1905, Ramos began participating in the yearly Salon d’Automne. His work also began exploring different spaces, landscape compositions peopled by women and tinged with eroticism. Reminiscent of Watteau and Fragonard, these paintings depicted mythologies of an eighteenth century kind of Fête galante, with allusions to cyclical rituals in nature. In addition, dark sensual women evoking the decadence of fin de siècle sensitivity began to inhabit Ramos’ canvases. With their dark eyes, luminous skin, half veiled faces and lustrous hair, they embodied a dangerous sexuality that seemed to balance or, in some cases, defy the dancing sprites of his mythological landscapes. There is a masterly interplay between light and shadow, between the strong reds and blacks and the luminosity that pervades the canvases. The landscapes, on the other hand, offer delicate blends of a softer palette that seems to bring light from the ground.
In 1906, Ramos was awarded a gold medal at the Salon d’Automne for Le Printemps, a landscape painting of women, participating in a Rite of Spring. That same year, apparently satisfied with the success of her protégé, Phoebe Hearst withdrew her monthly stipend. In her letter, she informed Ramos that he was now capable of living off his works and encouraged him to do just that.
Without Mrs. Hearst’s support, new hardships confronted him. Earning a living from his art became a huge challenge. Darío tells us that he was reduced to working for a factory making artistic trinkets and illustrating publications for a few cents. In despair, he went off to London carrying a portfolio of watercolors, which were exhibited at the Circle of Watercolorists. Within a few days, the Duke of Devonshire bought one. A solo exhibition was set up at the Carlton.
By 1909, the political and social upheavals in Mexico prompted his return. Unlike his compatriot Diego Rivera, who returned from Paris at the end of the revolution, Ramos came back to Mexico on the eve of the revolution. Hailed as an innovator by the students of the Academy, Ramos would soon become the Assistant Director of the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (ENBA), the former Academy. Shortly after, he assumed directorship of the School and, in 1913, fulfilled his dream of founding the Open Air School of Painting.
MEXICO: ART AND REVOLUTION
Alfredo Ramos Martinez returned to a Mexico on the edge of a revolution that would change its political, social, economic and cultural structures. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 unleashed a decade of instability, violence and civil war. It also initiated a new enthusiasm and recognition for national forms in literature, music and the visual arts. Moreover, the socio-political changes that took place during the second decade of the twentieth century created new ideologies in Europe that would have effects in Mexico. As a result, the visual arts would commit themselves to asocial and public art. A fresh awareness of Mexico’s pre-Columbian history and culture, as well as its popular and populist art forms, led back to fresco painting and to an emphasis on graphic art.
Between his initial arrival and his appointment as director of the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1913, Ramos returned to Europe only once, to accompany his old friend Rubén Darío back to Mallorca after the latter’s brief return to America. This would be the last time they would see each other. Despite his loyalty to Darío, Ramos wanted to return home quickly, intent on participating in the creation of a new Mexican consciousness.
Hailed for his successes in Europe, Ramos was greeted as a distinguished alumnus of the ENBA and was immediately invited to hold a solo show at the School. The exhibition consisted of 41 oils, 29 pastels, 23 watercolors, and 17 drawings, 110 works in all, with Ramos’ painting, La Primavera, attracting special acclaim by the critics. Eleven days later, Ramos took part in an exhibition at the Academy, as part of the official celebration of the Independence Centenary (1810-1910).
This latter exhibition precipitated a strike by artists and art students that reflected the turbulent political atmosphere. This division between architectural students, painters and sculptors was further complicated by the delineation between part time and full time students. It was this economic division that convinced Ramos to support the striking students. In his view, theirs was a stand against the Old Order and, thus, he stood with them.
Consequently, on August 30, 1911, the striking students called for the establishment of a new “Free Academy” and proposed Ramos Martinez as director of the school. It was under these auspices that Ramos Martinez became first the assistant director and then director of the National School. He later founded the Open Air Schools project, creating the first school with ten boys at Santa Anita Ixtapalapa. The Open Air Schools project was a crucial step in Ramos’ plan to change the curriculum at National School. As director, he was finally in a position to redefine academic understanding of how to train artists. Ramos Martinez’s philosophy was rooted in his instinctual belief in the sureness of an artist’s vision and confirmed by his experiences in Europe with the Impressionists and Post Impressionists. As Ramos Martinez explained, “In this school we are trying to mold a school of action, permitting the students to pursue their own tendencies… the students’ own efforts and inspirations are appealed to as the center of all activities, respecting in the pupil his personal manner of seeing, thinking and interpreting his visions.” Though he did paint during this time period, Ramos largely surrendered his painter’s persona and devoted himself to teaching.
This shift would not come without a price. Political strife and intrigue within the National School worsened. By 1914, Ramos was relieved of his post and his name mysteriously disappeared from the school’s roster. However, throughout the upheavals, Ramos’ Open Air Schools Project prevailed. He managed to open a second Open Air School in Coyoacan. When his students were featured in Exposición de Labores Escolares y Bellas Artes(Exhibition of Works from Public and Art Schools) at the Spanish Pavilion, still later in that same year, their work met with extremely favorable responses.
During this period (1910-1920), a decade dominated by two genres, landscapes and portraits, Ramos’ work reflected his mastery of pastels, yet another innovation he brought to the Mexican art scene of the times. Using the techniques he had so faithfully studied and practiced during his European years, Ramos created works of remarkable size and fluidity. In works such as Flower Vendorand Volcán, subject material that would re-occur after he re-located to California, Ramos demonstrated a masterful understanding of composition and a palette bursting with new and dazzling color. His subsequent utilization of oil and watercolor with the pastels added new dimensions to the medium.
Abrupt political changes continued to affect post revolutionary national life. In 1920, Ramos was re-appointed as Director of the ENBA. He would dedicate the next eight years to teaching and expanding his Open Air School project which by 1924, included volunteer instructors Rufino Tamayo, Jean Charlot (who introduced wood-block printing to Mexican art), Francisco Díaz de León, and Fernando Leal among others. In 1926, Mexico’s President Calles (1877-1945) sponsored an exhibition of works by Ramos’ young artists from the Open Air School. The show traveled through Europe and to Los Angeles and, again, met with great acclaim.
However, by 1928, the development of the nationalist movement in the arts had significantly affected internal politics at the ENBA. Ramos’ life was changing as well.
That year, he married María Sodi Romero and a year later, their daughter Maria was born with a congenital bone disease. She became Ramos’ chief preoccupation. He resigned as Director of the ENBA and Diego Rivera assumed the directorship. The family left Mexico and went to Rochester, Minnesota, for consultations at the Mayo Clinic. The attending physicians advised Ramos that his daughter needed to be in a warm dry climate and would require significant medical attention throughout her childhood. Ramos concluded that for the sake of Maria’s health, the family needed to relocate.
Upon his return to Mexico, he completed Las Flores Mexicanas, a painting commissioned by the Mexican President Emilio Portes-Gil (1890-1978) as a wedding gift for Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. On October 17, 1929, Alfredo Ramos Martinez and his family left Mexico for Los Angeles, California.
At the time of Ramos’ arrival, Los Angeles was experiencing an artistic renaissance. Art clubs, galleries and city-sponsored arts festivals flourished. As early as 1931, Ramos had a show during the Artist’s Fiesta, which included a mile-long walk through the downtown area with department stores functioning as showcases for art. Olvera Street, Los Angeles’ official first street, was home to numerous artist studios as well as the Plaza Art Center.
The burgeoning movie business drew a more internationally savvy and art conscious population to Los Angeles. In the movie theatre, Latin-themed stories, featuring the likes of Ramon Novarro and Dolores Del Río, were increasingly popular. The California Artists Club held meetings in the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Barnsdall Park with lectures by international figures, including the French historian Élie Faure. Ramos’ former student, David Alfaro Siquieros, had been brought to the Chouinard Art Institute to teach mural painting. It would seem to be a propitious time for Ramos’ arrival.
However, in leaving Mexico, Ramos had walked away from almost all of his fiscal and professional support systems. His administrative positions had provided financial support and also helped solidify his reputation in the art world. He was painfully aware that the family’s economic situation depended entirely upon him. Though Ramos had no plans to remain in California long term, he knew he needed to create a new set of relationships there in order to survive.
Ramos’ reputation had preceded him and, shortly after his departure from Mexico in 1929, the boxer Jack Dempsey commissioned him to paint murals, create a series of paintings and decorate a chapel at the Hotel-Casino Playa Ensenada (Ensenada, Baja California). The hotel was in the midst of construction and had been conceived as a playground for the Hollywood crowd. Ramos created a mural filled with the sensual erotica of his earlier work along with several pieces suggesting the changes his work would undergo during his years in California.The remains of these works can still be seen today in the renovated, and re-named, Centro Cultural Riviera Pacifico.
Then in early 1930, William Alanson Bryan, Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art paid Ramos a visit. Bryan knew and had been tremendously impressed with the artist’s work from the 1925 Pan American Exposition. He was also familiar, due to the traveling exhibition in 1926, with the exemplary student work produced in Ramos’ Open Air Schools. He immediately set about arranging a showing of Ramos’ recent works. This led to an exhibition at the Assistance League Art Gallery and favorable press.
However, the canvases exhibited in Los Angeles were markedly different in character from his previous work. The suffering of his infant daughter and his wife had provoked a passionate exploration of religious imagery featuring Madonna and child as well as the virgin Guadalupe. During a particularly arduous period in his daughter’s recovery, Ramos stayed at the Yucca Loma Ranch in Apple Valley painting frescos in every cabin; all a variation of the Madonna and child, each a kind of painted prayer for his daughter. Also, perhaps fueled by his absence from his homeland, he began to paint highly stylized scenes taken from Mexican life. Nostalgic but in no way sentimental, the compositions captured his recollections of daily life with palettes dominated by umbers, ochres and deep greens and punctuated by touches of red or orange or yellow. This vocabulary struck a chord with Southern California collectors.
The following year, 1932, Ramos exhibited at the Fine Arts Gallery of Balboa Park in San Diego and, again, met with great success. Another exhibition, featuring drawings, temperas, oils and murals, followed at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco in 1933. It was there that the artist was first introduced to the noted Bay Area art patron Albert Bender. Bender, whose contributions helped establish the Legion of Honor and the San Francisco Museum of Art, became one of Ramos’ most important admirers. Bender purchased El Indio Solitariofor the Legion of Honor, El Prisionerofor the San Francisco Museum of Art, The Three Sistersfor the Gallery of Mills College and Padre Junipero Serrafor the California Historical Society. Additionally, he acquired numerous works, including the artist’s seminal Adán y Eva Mexicanos, for his personal collection.
As a result of these successes, Ramos was invited to exhibit at the Faulkner Memorial Art Gallery in Santa Barbara. His arrival in Santa Barbara opened the door for his commission to create the majestic murals at the Chapel of the Cemetery of Santa Barbara. Mrs. George Washington Smith, widow of the influential architect and designer of the Chapel, along with violinist and composer Henry Eichheim, initiated the commission and became his life-long friends and patrons.
Ramos’ work was beginning to attract a significant Hollywood following. The interior designer and former art director for Warner Brothers, Harold Grieve, purchased a number of Ramos’ paintings in 1936. As an authentic Hollywood insider and decorator to the stars, Grieve’s championing of Ramos’ work had a tremendous impact on the artist’s finances. His work was placed in the Bel Air dining room of film director Ernst Lubitsch. Hollywood courturier Edith Head collected him, as did actors Charles Laughton and Beulah Bondi. The writer Jo Swerling was so taken with the artist’s work that he commissioned a mural for his Beverly Hills home. The mural still exists though the house was destroyed. Likewise, the Chapman Park Hotel and bungalow complex, adjacent to the famous Brown Derby Restaurant, commissioned a large Ramos Martinez fresco. Unfortunately, the building was bulldozed in 1967 and, in this case, the artwork was not saved.
Given the strong graphics, provocative implied narrative and deep emotion of Ramos’ depiction of his remembered Mexico, it is easy to understand Hollywood’s embrace of this late work. Ramos was an outsider with a great story whose extraordinary technical ability and passion for his work made him, as all artists are, the ultimate insider. Ramos’ simplified forms bathed in resplendent color rivaled Gauguin in their luscious representation of the feeling of life itself. Yet each composition adhered to a rigorous unity of form. The work has a strong decorative quality, but with no wasted space and every line rich with meaning. In essence, Ramos had taken the Mexico of his youth, informed by his vision of its indigenous heritage, and filtered it through his response to the here and now. In Los Angeles, a blossoming urban metropolis – “a city without a past” – Ramos mined his rich history to create canvases of striking modernity.
Additionally, the artist’s maturity and sophistication, forged by his years in Europe and friendships with noted artists and intellectuals, prepared him for the evolving sensibilities of California and Hollywood. With the petty political rivalries of Mexico behind him, Los Angeles became a fresh creative space.
In these late “California” works, Ramos’ highly textured backgrounds are recapitulations of his early fascination with the phenomena of the world around him. The Breton mother and child reappear, the indigenous mother encircling her child, and he returns to creating tempera on newsprint, the medium he had discovered in Brittany. Ramos further returns to woman as subject. But now his large-scale representational portraits of women, La Malincheand La India de Tehuantepec, acquire a mythological significance. These seeming goddesses, along with flower vendors carrying enormous baskets of flowers on their backs, are positioned in the center of the canvas, facing front, giving them the status of divine subjects. Only the divine or the artist could be so portrayed.
This subject material was expressed to great effect in Ramos’ late mural work. Of the five mural commissions Ramos received, three are still on public view: the previously mentioned Chapel of the Santa Barbara Cemetery (1934), the La Avenida Café (Coronado, now the Coronado Public Library, 1937) and the Margaret Fowler Frescoes, Scripps College, Claremont (1945). The latter was commissioned at the behest of Millard Sheets, one of California’s most famous and revered artists and a long-time admirer of Ramos.
From 1942 to 1945, Ramos returned to Mexico City with his family where he painted a series of frescos commissioned by the Ministry of Education for the Escuela Normal (the Normal School for Teachers, now destroyed).
Upon his return, Ramos began the Scripps College fresco project along with designs for stained glass windows for St. John’s Church in Los Angeles. Both projects were left unfinished. On November 8, 1946, he arrived home feeling exhausted. He sought medical aid, and returned home where he suffered a fatal heart attack. Alfredo Ramos Martinez was 73 years old, just four days shy of his 74th birthday.
ARM: MODERNISMO & MODERNITY
For Alfredo Ramos Martinez, modernity and Modernismo are the parameters of his personal state of being. His early years in Mexico, his youthful criticism of the Academy, his interest in natural light, his fascination with everyday things, all lead him toward a modern vision encouraged by his European years.
In Europe, Ramos finds himself in a city that looks toward the modern with its galeries, its broad boulevards created by Baron Haussman. There he also experiences the revolution that is sweeping through the arts. And of course, it is there that he meets Rubén Darío.
Darío opened the doors to the other face of modernity: modernismo. A term embodying a freedom of imagination, a recapitulation of mythological worlds of sprites, shepherdesses, and cyclical and magical rituals that lead to a world of female power, the world of the goddess and the siren.
The interaction between painter and poet, a quasi-symbiotic relationship of writing and painting, enrich and support the young painter. His modernista paintings of nymphs dancing through fields of flowers, of processions of sprites making flower offerings and of sensual, mysterious women leap from the real to the fantastic, from the philosophical to the erotic. Ramos, like Darío and the Latin American poets of that time and space, continues to explore the infinite horizons of the imagination.California is, of course, the turning point, the point of reference.By distancing himself from Mexico at the end of the twenties and from an environment that is slowly becoming more narrow under the weight of self-interests,Alfredo Ramos Martinez creates a new Mexican art drawn from the Mexico of memory but enriched by his understanding of a cultural past (Europe) and a new cultural space (Los Angeles). That understanding of a past within a present that looks forward is what Ramos’ work reveals. Modern and modernista, the world we find in Ramos Martinez’s work takes Mexican art past its borders and toward a new universal space.
Having relocated to Los Angeles in 1929, Ramos Martínez was offered an exhibition by William Alanson Bryan, Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)at Exposition Park. A number of subsequent exhibitions followed, with Martínez developing a strong following in the Hollywoodcommunity.Warner Brothersart director and interior decorator to the stars Harold Grieveacquired a number of works by the artist and championed the artist’s work to his clients. Noted film directors Ernst Lubitschand Alfred Hitchcock, costume designer Edith Head, screenwriter Jo Swerling, and actors Charles Laughton, Gary Cooper, James Stewart, and Beulah Bondi, among others, were collectors.Ramos Martínez was also exhibited with great success in San Diegoat the Fine Arts Galleryof Balboa Parkand in San Franciscoat the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. It was there that celebrated Bay Areaart patron Albert M. Benderfirst saw Ramos Martínez’s work. Bender became a lifelong friend of the artist and acquired numerous works for his personal collection. Furthermore, he purchased and donated Ramos Martínez works to several San Francisco institutions, including the Legion of Honor, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the California Historical Society, and Mills College.In addition to his mastery of all conventional media including drawing, printmaking, watercolor, and easel painting, Ramos Martínez was an extremely skilled muralistwho excelled in the technically challenging art of traditional fresco painting. Though a number of his murals were destroyed, including those at the Chapman Park Hotel in Los Angeles (adjacent to the famous Brown Derby Restaurant) and the Normal School for Teachers (Escuela Normal) in Mexico City, several important examples have survived. These include the Chapel of the Santa Barbara Cemetery (1934); the La Avenida Café, Coronado, California(1938) (later restored and moved to the Coronado Public Library); and the unfinished fresco project, The Flower Vendorsin the Margaret Fowler Gardenat Scripps College, Claremont, California(1945). The Scripps muralwas commissioned by the College at the urging of Millard Sheets, the much loved California artist and long-time admirer of Ramos Martínez. Another fresco, one of Ramos Martínez’ most significant works, the La Guelaguetza, which was named after the ancient Oaxacancelebration of the Earth’s abundance, was commissioned in 1933 by screenwriter Jo Swerlingfor his Beverly Hillshome. Having fallen into obscurity for many years it was rescued before demolition of the residence in 1990.Alfredo Ramos Martínez died unexpectedly at the age of 73 on November 8, 1946, in Los Angeles. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemeteryin Culver City, California. At the time of his death, Ramos Martínez was working on a series of muralsentitled “The Flower Vendors” at Scripps College.The unfinished murals have been preserved as a tribute to the artist.
After the artist’s death, the Dalzell Hatfield Gallery in Los Angeles continued to showcase his paintings and drawings. Maria Sodi de Ramos Martínez, the artist’s widow, saw to it that Ramos Martínez was included in numerous gallery exhibitions. Until her death in 1985, she was the primary champion of her late husband’s work.In 1991, Louis Sternpresented the first major retrospective of the artist’s work since his death. The exhibition, “Alfredo Ramos Martínez (1872–1946),” was on view at Louis Stern Galleries in Beverly Hillsfrom October 1, 1991, through January 6, 1992. This exhibition was the foundation of the monumental Ramos Martínez exhibition, “Alfredo Ramos Martínez (1871–1946), Une Visión Retrospectiva,” at Mexico City’s renowned Museo Nacional de Arte(MUNAL) in April 1992.These two exhibitions became the cornerstones of a re-examination of Ramos Martínez’s work and subsequent development of a secondary market for these works. As with the other major Mexican modernists, indigenous peoples were the principal subjects in the mature works of Ramos Martínez. In recent years, several of these paintings have realized high prices on the international art market. His 1938 painting Flowers of Mexicobrought over $4 million at Christie’s, New York in May 2007.
Louis Stern Fine Artsbegan a public association with Mexican modernist Alfredo Ramos Martinezin 1991 with a retrospective exhibition of works by the artist, who lived in Los Angeles from 1929 until his death, in 1946. In collaboration with his daughter, Maria Martinez Bolster, and art historian Margarita Nieto, the gallery subsequently established the Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project to “protect the artist’s legacy and to advance the understanding and appreciation of the artist whom many have deemed the father of Mexican Modern Art.” The Research Project published a monograph, Alfredo Ramos Martinez & Modernismo, by Margarita Nieto and Louis Stern in 2009, and is currently compiling a catalogue raisonné of the artist’s paintings and frescos.
The Jews are a scapegoat of great antiquity and only by taking a long historical view, aided by psychological insights, can we hope to understand the nature and causes of the perennial phenomenon of antisemitism.
Who/What is a Jew?
Originally the term “Jew” was applied only to a decedent from Judah. Later in Bible history it came to signify a member of the tribe of Judah, and still later following the division of the kingdom of Israel, when Judah and Benjamin were the only two tribes of Israel which remained faithful to God, it designated one from either of these tribes. Originally the group was a religious sect, but since it was also a firmly knit pastoral people it had simultaneously a cultural (ethnic) homogeneity. It is wrong to think of the Jews as a race. Such physical identifiability as they have is due to the fact that in the region of the world where Judaism began an Armenoid type was common.
Characteristics of Jews as Perceived by Antisemites
40% of all the Jews in the US live in New York City and most of the remainder live in large cities. Many factors contribute to this urban trend. Most immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe came to work in factories and still live in cities. Jews seem to show this urban centering more than other groups. Rarely, in the countries where Jews came from were they allowed to own land, and their traditions and skills were therefore not often agricultural. Orthodox Jews were not allowed to travelog the Sabbath and therefore ended to live near synagogues.
Urbanism as a way of life is enormously important for understanding antisemitism. History shows that individuals cannot help but unconsciously adopt the values and judgments of their ancestors. viewing each outgroup through the screen of tradition.
Although in principle people desire to have peaceful relations with their neighbors, this desire has been badly blocked by the urban, mechanical and technological culture of our day—especially by the culture of our cities, that arouses so much insecurity and uncertainty in people’s minds, as was already noted by the turn of the century German sociologist Georg Simmel in his now famous essay, “The Metropolis and Urban Life.” (1900)
No longer do personal thrift, private effort, or face-to- face negotiations amount to much. Big city life expresses to us what is dangerous, inhuman, impersonal, and alienating us from our remembered (or imagined) pre-urban roots. In the city disturbing inexplicable relentless forces like the assembly line and national advertising campaigns seem to determine our lives. We both fear and hate our subservience to the inexorable rhythms of urban life.
What does this irrational fear and hate have to do with prejudice and antisemitism, you may ask? For one thing, as mass-men Antisemites follow the conventions of the times. The snob appeals of advertising effect them deeply. They want more luxury goods and more status. The standards imposed upon them by advertising incline them to feel contempt for people who can’t afford to maintain the lifestyle they can. Impressed with the luxuries cars and other material things TV constantly trusts before their irrepressibly hungry eyeballs, they tend to look down upon people economically and socially below them, such as immigrants, rustics, and people of color.
But while they yield to the materialistic urban values that surround them, they also hate the city that engenders them. They hate the dominance of financial markets and corrupt politics. They particularly despise their own unwanted shadowy personality traits that are exacerbated by urban pressures, such as impatience, jealousy, aggressiveness, greediness and rudeness. People tend to dislike those who are too clever, too ambitious, sneaky, dishonest, greedy, vulgar, noisy, different, and on the fringe of WASP values. For Antisemitics these urban traits are personified in the Jew. “The Jews are hated today,” writes social psychologist Erich Fromm, primarily because they serve as a symbol of city life.” Especially New York, which many antisemites feel has ruined, destroyed, or emasculated them. Therefore, they hate the symbol of the city, the Jew.
(2) Jews tend to concentrate in certain occupations
In 1900 60% of the Jews in cities were engaged in manufacturing, chiefly in the garment trades, but in 1934 only 12% were so employed. Meanwhile the percent engaged in trade jumped from 20 to about 43%. Many families that had originally engaged as factory workers later opened their own businesses (often tailoring or retail clothing).
In the professions one finds about 14% of the Jewish population, but only about % of the general population. In New York City, whose population is about 28 % Jewish, about 56% of physicians are Jewish, likewise 64% of dentists, and 66% of lawyers. Contrary to popular opinion, Jews seem be under-represented in finance. Only a small percent are bankers. As international bankers they are virtually non-existent. On the other hand, there has been a rise in the number of Jews engaged in government service and in service industries.
One theory of anti-Semitism, the “fringe of conservative values” theory, is that Jews tend to collect in upwardly-mobile and conspicuous or risky occupations. Cautious people do not approve of so much risk-taking. They are conspicuous deviants from sound Christian conservative values and accordingly distrusted. But not only from religion, likewise from mediocrity: conscience pricking , intellectual aspiration and spiritual ferment. The Jews are regarded as being just enough off center (slightly above, slightly below, slightly outside) to disturb non-Jews in many different ways. The “fringe” is perceived by conservative people to constitute a threat. This might be called “the narcissism of slight differences.”
(3) Jews are ambitious and work hard.
(4) Jews have high intelligence Fairly often the IQ scores of Jewish children are higher than those for Gentile children, but is this due to genes? We don’t know for sure yet. Such slight differences can be explained by incentives and socialization and the value placed on learning and good performance within the Jewish cultural tradition. Many more Jews attend colleges and universities than ever before now that most restrictions against Jewish students have been dropped.
(5) Jews have great love of and respect for learning.It’s not difficult to point to an army of Jewish geniuses represented by the example of Einstein.
(6) Jews have marked family devotion. There is some evidence that like Italians, Jewish families possess more solidarity than other families, although the weakening of family ties today is felt among both Jews and gentiles.
(7) Jews have concerns for social justice and sympathy with the oppressed
(8) Jews are more impulsive and emotionally expressive than gentiles
(9) Jews are money-minded they engage in sharp business practices and are dishonest.
(10) Jews are ostentatious and conspicuous in their consumption of luxuries and of expensive foreign traveling.
Summary of Jean–Paul Sartre‘s Anti-Semite and Jew
Anti-Semite and Jew (French: Réflexions sur la question juive, “Reflections on the Jewish Question“) is an essay about antisemitism in France during World War Two, written by Jean-Paul Sartre shortly after the liberation of Paris from German occupation in 1944.
The first part of the essay, “The Portrait of the Antisemite”, was published in December 1945 in Les Temps modernes. The whole text was then published in 1946. This essay deals with antisemitism and how Jews react to it. More broadly, the book tries to explain the etiologyof hate by analyzing antisemitic hate.
According to Sartre, Antisemitism (and hate more broadly) is, among other things, a way by which the French middle class lay claim to the nation in which they reside, and an oversimplified conception of the world in which the Antisemite sees “not a conflict of interests but the damage an evil power causes society.”
Sartre begins by defining antisemitism as characterized by certain opinions: attributing “all or part of his own misfortunes and those of his country to the presence of Jewish elements in the community, … The Antisemite proposes to remedy this state of affairs by depriving the Jews of certain of their rights, by keeping them out of certain economic and social activities, by expelling them from the country, by exterminating all of them ….”
Sartre then explains the idea that these antisemitic opinions are produced by external causes, such as the experience of objective situations involving Jews. Sartre argues that antisemitism is not an “idea” in the commonly understood sense of the word: nor is it a point of view based rationally upon empirical information, calmly collected and calibrated in as objective a manner as is possible. Sartre states that “It is first of all a passion.”
It is often a deep passion, “Some men are suddenly struck with impotence if they learn from the woman with whom they are making love that she is a Jewess. It is an involvement of the mind, but one so deep-seated and complex that it extends to the physiological realm, as happens in cases of hysteria.” ”
Far from experience producing the anti-Semite’s idea of the Jew, it was this idea of the Jew that explained his experience. If the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him.” Anti-Semitism is a view that arises not from experience or historical fact, but from itself. It lends new perspective to experience and historical fact. The anti-Semite convinces himself of beliefs that he knows to be spurious at best.
Sartre deploys his concept of bad faith as he develops his argument. For Sartre, the anti-Semite has escaped the insecurity of good faith, the impossibility of sincerity. He has abandoned reason and embraced passion. Sartre comments that, “It is not unusual for people to elect to live a life of passion rather than of reason. But ordinarily they love the objects of passion: women, glory, power, money. Since the anti-Semite has chosen hate, we are forced to conclude that it is the state of passion that he loves.” He chooses to reason from passion, to reason falsely “because of the longing for impenetrability. The rational man groans as he gropes for the truth; he knows that reasoning is no more than tentative, that other considerations may intervene to cast doubt on it.” Anti-Semites are attracted by “the durability of a stone.” What frightens them is the uncertainty of truth.
“The anti-Semite has chosen hate because hate is a faith.” He has escaped responsibility and doubt. He can blame anything on the Jew; he does not need to engage reason, for he has his faith. The anti-Semite is a prime example of a person who has entered into bad faith to avoid responsibility. He attempts to relinquish his responsibility to anti-Semitism and a community of anti-Semites. He “fears every kind of solitariness… however small his stature, he takes every precaution to make it smaller, lest he stand out from the herd and find himself face to face with himself. He has made himself an anti-Semite because that is something one cannot be alone.”
Anti-Semitism is a way of feeling good, proud even, rather than guilty at the abandonment of responsibility and the flight before the impossibility of true sincerity. The anti-Semite abandons himself to the crowd and his bad faith, he “flees responsibility as he flees his own consciousness, and choosing for his personality the permanence of the rock, he chooses for his morality the scale of petrified values.” He pulls down shutters, blinds, mirrors and mirages over his consciousness to keep himself in his bad faith away from his responsibilities and his liberty. The anti-Semite is afraid “of himself, of his own consciousness, of his own liberty, of his instincts, of his responsibilities, of solitariness, of change, of society, and the world – of everything except the Jews.” He is “a coward who does not want to admit his cowardice to himself.” The anti-Semite wallows in the depths of an extreme bad faith. “Anti-Semitism, in short, is fear of the human condition. The anti-Semite is a man who wishes to be pitiless stone, a furious torrent, a devastating thunderbolt – anything except a man.” This is his bad faith.
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Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton