The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Jan 16, 2011


It’s the tenth anniversary of Wikipedia (all hail) and the net is filled with celebratory topics and adulatory commentary. I’m somewhat inspired by a recent piece I saw on the BBC News website reporting on (pseudo)random browsing through the Wikipedia site, the writer starting with Aristotle, following links for an hour, and somehow finding his way back to Aristotle. Reminds me of James Burke’s Connections, which you will be pleased to know has a Wikipedia page all to itself as well.
I’ll try to achieve a circular tour, but via the Russian Wikipedia, and see where that will get me. At the very top level, under the section ‘Did you know?’ appears the statement: A hundred years ago, it was a rare Berlin household that didn’t own a print of the ‘Islands of the Dead. This was a series of paintings by the Swiss symbolist artist Arnold Böcklin, who created five variations on the theme between 1880 to 1886. In all of them, a boat approaches a small island that is riven with sharp cliffs; the boat is often assumed to be that of Charon, and the waters either of the Styx or the Acheron.

Now I can either head towards ‘Symbolism’, or ‘Charon’, or even ‘Acheron’, but instead I’ll look into the Styx – and I’ll find that it disambiguates to the legendary Greek river, a small river in Perm, a communication protocol implemented in the Inferno operating system, and also a rock band of the 1970-80s.

The rockers of the first incarnation of the Styx had four successive multiplatinum albums; I only recall with affection with one song ‘Mr Roboto’, from which – nearly 20 years ago - I learned that ‘Domo Arigato’ was Japanese for ‘Thank you’. Their song Krakatoa (1974) had a spread tone – a single note that attenuates and amplifies in loudness - that is supposed to have inspired George Lucas to create the audio logo (Deep Note) for his hi-fi cinema audio standard THX.
Krakatoa, of course, is the Indonesian supervolcano that erupted in 1883, but there’s no link to it from the Styx’s page, so I’ll go instead to George Lucas (1944- ), a famous film director who equally famously gave up any artistic integrity when he created the dismal prequels to his Star Wars trilogy. As a film technologist, however, he is incomparable: besides the audiovisual standards of the THX that I mentioned above, he is also responsible for Industrial Light and Magic, a preeminent special effects house, and Pixar, an animations studio. An interesting aside available on the Russian wiki (but not on the English version) is of Lucas’s visit to Moscow in the 1990s. He asked Russian officials to introduce him to Pavel Klushantsev, a film director. The officials, of course, had no idea who Klushantsev was. Lucas replied, ‘Klushantsev is the spiritual father of Star Wars.’ The two directors never did meet.
Pavel Vladimirovich Klushantsev (1910 – 1999) was a self-taught special effects engineer who created many techniques of special effects that proved influential in cinematography worldwide, and developed an oeuvre of documentaries that blended hard science with science fiction. For example, in 1934, his film Road to the Stars had cutting-edge special effects that accurately depicted weightlessness in space, a rotating space station, and even rocket travel to the moon.
Klushantsev also wrote books popularising science, and top Soviet illustrators did the drawings for them. One among them was E. V. Voishvillo who was a fairly well-known painter of marine scenes, many of which find pride of place in St Petersburg’s Museum of the World Ocean.
Here is Voishvillo’s depiction of St Nicholas, one of Peter the Great’s boats, considered the grandfather of the Russian navy; I learn that Voishvillo collaborated with A. L. Larionov in reconstructing a copy of Peter’s boat.
St Nicholas, it is often said, is also Santa Claus, but there’s no link out of Voishvillo to the bearded bearer of gifts, so all I can do is use Peter the Great as a conduit to further exploration. I find that he was a prodigious drunk, a lover of all things German, and his first official mistress, Anna Mons, was either Dutch or German herself. Sadly, there don’t appear to be any extant paintings of this famous beauty, so I’ll just put up one of Mary Hamilton, another of Peter’s lovers, whom he executed on the charge of infanticide, treason, and sundry other manifestations of his jealousy.

But back to our Anna-Margrethe von Monson! From her, we can head to things Germanic either filmographically to the German actress Ulrike Kunze (who played Anna’s role in “The Youth of Peter the Great”) or musically to Johann Sebastian Bach (who is said to have written the Brandenburg Concertos for Count Keyserling, who married Anna Mons late in his life).
As I hadn’t heard of the lovely Ulrike Kunze before, I might as well head her way. Born in Dresden in 1960, she trained in the dramatic arts, worked in Berlin and Magdeburg in various dramatic roles, and ended up in television, most recently, the series Love in Berlin.
Ulrike Kunze
This telenovella is based on the Colombian hit series “Yo soy Betty, la fea”, which inspired, among other things, the US television series Ugly Betty. And just when you think that I’ve managed to telescope from the 18th century to the modern world (all that history was beginning to pall a bit), what do I find? The tacky ‘B’ necklace that Betty wears in the series is an exact replica of a necklace worn by Anne Boleyn.
(No post is complete without a picture of the lovely Natalie Portman: fortunately she has her own connection to Anne Boleyn, so this isn’t entirely gratuitous.)
Anyway, as someone said, you either have that bauble around the neck of a Queen, or of a girl from Queens.

Also from Queens is Steinway and Sons, makers of fortepianos and things since 1853. They were famous innovators in advertising and promotions, recruiting, for example, the great Russian pianist Anton Rubinstein (1829 – 1894), to play 215 concerts with their piano in 239 days in 1872. Thus began the Steinway Artists programme.

Anton Rubinstein was a friend of Alexander Glazunov (1865 – 1936), a composer in the Russian Romantic tradition, who composed the Symphony No. 4 and dedicated it to him.

I learn that the second movement of that symphony, the Scherzo, was inspired by Diana’s Chase, a painting, would you believe it, by Arnold Böcklin, with whom we started this Wikiramble.

Full circle, y’all!


Anonymous said...

I have spent many a lost hour doing the wikicycle. If only I could burn calories at the same time.

Fëanor said...

I think that the rapid eye movement while flitting from link to link burns a calorie or two.

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