Madonna, Madonna, Madonna

December 22nd, 2010

I love the statues of Madonna and Child and I have a great collection of pictures from the Catalan National Art Museum (MNAC):

They range from around 1250 through 1600 AD and are made of polychrome wood.

This one is by Jeronimo Hernandez de Estrada from 1600:

Even non-Christians can’t pass these beautiful Madonnas without feeling the warmth of a mother’s tender embrace…

Merry Christmas Everybody!

I just got back from Marbella, Spain, where the weather is hot, the sun’s always shining and the colors are intense (at least in July).

For me, the South of Spain—Andalusia—conjures up my beloved Velasquez, García Lorca and of course the native son of Malaga, Picasso. It was my first time in this part of the country so I did the usual tourist things. The great hotels of Marbella looked empty under the sizzling sun; I loved all the local decors like Plaza Romano in Hotel Puente Romao:

Andalusia is the land of Flamenco (not to be confused with the pink bird flamingo) and these paintings by Fabian Perez, translate the passion of this dance into beautiful images:

But the real ladies of Spain were painted by my beloved Velasquez: the Infantas (daughters of a king of Spain, in this case Philip IV)— infanta Margarita who stared at me for years from a poster in my kitchen and infanta Maria Theresa who became the wife of Louis XIV and lived way longer than her poor sister, Margarita.

I will make a post about Velasquez and one about Goya, once I visit the Prado in Madrid, but for now this post should do. These ladies with these extremely wide panniers inspired me to do a little Velasquez of my own:

I even drew one on the walls of the majestic Villa Padierna…

Las Meninas are everywhere in Spain even on a couple of Spanish fans I bought!

I wrote this post listening for the nth time to the superb Miles Davies’ Sketches of Spain, one of his best works.

Now let me take you to old town Marbella. It is a maze of narrow streets with white houses, restaurants and Bougainvillea galore! For good food check out Da Bruno.

Lots of small shops offering completely unnecessary but fun stuff:

The blue hour (the sun sets at 10 pm in summer) is accompanied by a dizzying fragrance of flowers.

I especially liked the  300-year-old statue of the Virgin—Virgen de los dolores— surrounded by dazzling plants:

A fun thing to do was to go to the open air market, bustling with life and colors; my mother (below in the middle) and my cousins were busy making good deals:

Southern Spain is a polka dotted country and they start dancing flamenco early:

Seeing all the beautiful vegetables, the Southern Californian (read Mexican) in me couldn’t resist treating everybody to a homemade quesadilla:

I went south of the border in every detail even the beer:

The trick is lots of green onions!

A good meal with family and friends is one of the blessings we usually take for granted.

Now back in Spain again, I shouldn’t be impressed with flowers but these hibiscuses were a red that only Goya would have understood…

The Villa had a swimming pool, a shallow spanish tile pool, a lion head fountain and Sepideh, my cousin, did her best to model for me by all three!

She looks so authentically Spanish that she’s had gotten into fights with some people in Malaga who accused her of lying when she claims to be Persian; the fact that she speaks Spanish well has not helped!

Can’t resist a poem of Garcia Lorca (english first and then spanish):

Green, how I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The ship out on the sea
and the horse on the mountain.
With the shade around her waist
she dreams on her balcony,
green flesh, her hair green,
with eyes of cold silver.
Green, how I want you green.
Under the gypsy moon,
all things are watching her
and she cannot see them.

Verde que te quiero verde.
Verde viento. Verdes ramas.
El barco sobre la mar
y el caballo en la montaña.
Con la sombra en la cintura
ella sueña en su baranda,
verde carne, pelo verde,
con ojos de fría plata.
Verde que te quiero verde.
Bajo la luna gitana,
las cosas la están mirando
y ella no puede mirarlas.

Spain is a beautiful woman…

Check out this clip for a passionate and seductive flamenco dance by Belen Maya and its vocal version, Cante Jondo or deep song.

Watch the legendary Antonio Gades dancing it to perfection here.

Listen to Miles’ Sketches of Spain here.

Watch Carlos Saura’s Iberia trailer here.

For the beautiful poem (in Spanish and English) I used in my infanta image, read Dave Bonta’s post here.

I knew Hopper before I met him again in Lausanne a couple of weeks ago and I was delighted to say hello to him again. He had some new things to show me.

I’ve known his beautiful but quiet women:

Silence is ubiquitous in his paintings even when there are many people present—it’s almost as if you have surprised these two ladies having dinner at “Chop Suey” restaurant (1927).  You always feel that Hopper is on the verge of saying something, but he hardly does.

As John Updike observes, “we are always eavesdropping on that wonderful Hopper silence.”

Just twenty years before the above paintings, Hopper painted his women like this (I had fun playing with these little water paintings):

After visiting Paris in 1906, “protected from the slow ravages of compromise—either with public taste or with his own immaturity—he developed his style invisibly along with his character”. Look at his men—I love the look of the dandy:

People at the theater, listening intently:

Hopper was fascinated by the city at night, solitude, and silence; this is where he shines the most: a scene of a roman noir of the 1930′s…

I loved the studies for his most famous painting, the Nighthawks; you are almost waiting for Humphrey Bogart to turn around and say something to you:

Voilà! The quintessential Hopper: “he stares with sober passion at the most ordinary things about the U.S.”

I have great memories of  New York diners of the 1980′s (when I used to take English classes in Manhattan); they conjure up my first impressions of United States. The NY Times article Ajay is pointing to in his comment is an amusing end to the puzzle of Hopper’s DINER. Hopper, famous for his reticence (“If you could say it in words,” he says, “there’d be no reason to paint”) created the Diner in his imagination!

Let’s just go back to his women again. They bathe in liquid light: this movie usher below (1939), waits in her own little world, oblivious to the sound of the film being played next door in the theater.

He painted nudes too—he always used his wife, Josephine as the model;  I like this one best where you can’t see her face:

His paintings are not overloaded with details and information but the essential message is well expressed. The painting below is one of my favorites; Mitra and I stopped in front of it for a few minutes wondering about the simple elegance of this image:

Say hello to Edward Hopper, a silent witness to an American century—he painted during 60 years of his 84 years on earth!

To me, Hopper excels when depicting women—look at this beautiful woman in south Carolina. You can almost hear Duke Ellington’s Chloé…

I waited that morning for Hopper in Lausanne’s Hotel Beau Rivage where you can only afford to have a coffee.

I went to Fondation de l’Hermitage to see Monsieur Hopper and the rest is History…

After the exhibition a stop at l’Esquisse, the little café of the museum, rich with climbing roses.

Hopper’s quiet canvases are well appreciated in these times of constant chatter and chaos; I wonder how he would have painted a rose…

I may see Mister Hopper again in Paris in the near future in Grand Palais from June 10th 2012 through January 28th 2013.

Adieu Jean Ferrat

March 14th, 2010

I am utterly saddened by Jean Ferrat’s death; I’ve been wanting to write to him, find him, thank him for years of happiness he’s brought to my life and now it’s just too late…Après toi, qui chantera Aragon?

jean ferrat michele roohani

Ferrat immortalized Aragon’s love poems:

“Que serais-je sans toi qui vins à ma rencontre
Que serais-je sans toi qu’un coeur au bois dormant
Que cette heure arrêtée au cadran de la montre
Que serais-je sans toi que ce balbutiement…”

jean ferrat michele roohani louis aragon

“Que ce soit dimanche ou lundi
Soir ou matin, minuit, midi
Dans l’enfer ou le paradis
Les amours aux amours ressemblent
C’était hier que je t’ai dit
Nous dormirons ensemble”

jean ferrat michele roohani nous dormirons ensemble

Even before he died, I would well up every time I was watching the young Ferrat sing “Ma môme”, in Godard’s film: My life to live. It’s Ferrat himself at the jukebox in this marvelous scene.

jean ferrat michele roohani ma mome vivre sa vie anna karina

“Ma môme, ell’ joue pas les starlettes
Ell’ met pas des lunettes
De soleil
Ell’ pos’ pas pour les magazines
Ell’ travaille en usine
A Créteil

Dans une banlieue surpeuplée
On habite un meublé
Elle et moi
La fenêtre n’a qu’un carreau
Qui donne sur l’entrepôt
Et les toits

On va pas à Saint-Paul-de-Vence
On pass’ tout’s nos vacances
A Saint-Ouen
Comme famille on n’a qu’une marraine
Quelque part en Lorraine
Et c’est loin

Mais ma môme elle a vingt-cinq berges
Et j’crois bien qu’la Saint’Vierge
Des églises
N’a pas plus d’amour dans les yeux
Et ne sourit pas mieux
Quoi qu’on dise

L’été quand la vill’ s’ensommeille
Chez nous y a du soleil
Qui s’attarde
Je pose ma tête sur ses reins
Je prends douc’ment sa main
Et j’la garde

On s’dit toutes les choses qui nous viennent
C’est beau comm’ du Verlaine
On dirait
On regarde tomber le jour
Et puis on fait l’amour
En secret”

anna karina michele roohani my life to live

Anna Karina is exquisite in Godard’s film; that one scene with the beautiful “chanson” redeems this mediocre movie.

jean ferrat michele roohani la montagne disque

Jean Ferrat stayed true to his principles—close to the communist party, he never became a member and condemned the atrocities of Stalinism.  Listen to his Bilan here. 

“Ah ils nous en ont fait avaler des couleuvres
De Prague à Budapest de Sofia à Moscou
Les staliniens zélés qui mettaient tout en oeuvre
Pour vous faire signer les aveux les plus fous
Vous aviez combattu partout la bête immonde
Des brigades d’Espagne à celles des maquis
Votre jeunesse était l’histoire de ce monde
Vous aviez nom Kostov ou London ou Slansky

Au nom de l’idéal qui nous faisait combattre
Et qui nous pousse encore à nous battre aujourd’hui

Ce socialisme était une caricature
Si les temps on changé des ombres sont restées
J’en garde au fond du coeur la sombre meurtrissure
Dans ma bouche à jamais le soif de vérité”

le bilan jean ferrat michele roohani

These are some of his disc covers throughout years of offering us the most unforgettable songs:

lp disc covers jean ferrat michele roohani

Last but not least, my favorite song of Ferrat singing Aragon, Dans le silence de la ville:

“Derrière les murs dans la rue
Que se passe-t-il quel vacarme
Quels travaux quels cris quelles larmes
Ou rien la vie un linge écru

Sèche au jardin sur une corde
C’est le soir cela sent le thym
Un bruit de charrette s’éteint
Une guitare au loin s’accorde

La la la…

Il fait jour longtemps dans la nuit
Un zeste de lune un nuage
Que l’arbre salue au passage
Et le coeur n’entend plus que lui

Ne bouge pas c’est si fragile
Si précaire si hasardeux
Cet instant d’ombre pour nous deux
Dans le silence de la ville”

silence de la ville ferrat michele roohani

Heureux celui qui meurt d’aimer…

I made this video clip as an homage to this  great  friend, humaniste, poet, musician:

watch my clip on youtube here Ma môme here

Being Iranian, I am fascinated by Persian rugs and the exquisite uniqueness that defines them. The art of carpet weaving in Iran is deeply connected with the culture and the customs of the country.

persian rug michele roohani

Being away from California,  surrounded by snow in Switzerland and far from my natural  “soft fascinations” (read flowers, sunshine, rustling trees) I am experiencing a funny sense of “ecoanxiety” that may be cured by writing about my favorite permanent garden: the Persian Rug…

cartoon drawing naghsheh persian rug michele roohani

The designs (naghsheh or cartoon—a grid on paper with spaces colored to guide rug weavers in selecting pile yarns) are still mostly drawn by hand even though computers are doing wonders in this field.

Iranians are literally conceived, born and brought up on Persian rugs! Warmed by their soft and comfortable texture,  touching, caressing,  lying down and relaxing on them, comes naturally to Persians. The rugs add warmth underfoot like my favorite red carpet with these gorgeous Shah Abbasi patterns (with floral and leaf motifs mainly in the form of lotus blossoms):

shah abbasi motif esphahan persian rug red michele roohani

The density of tightly woven Persian knots (or guereh) are the calibrating tool for the quality of the rug,

knot count on nain rug michele roohani

a good Nain rug may have 500 kpsi or 500 knots per square inch (farsibaaf,  asymmetric or Persian pile knot.)

persian knot ardabil carpet michele roohani

This is how a flower looks on the back of this Nain (Na’in):

persian knots rug nain michele roohani

and the same carpet from the front:

michele roohani naiin persian rug shah abbasi

Like most textiles, carpets consist of warps  (tar) and wefts (pud). The warps are the threads running the length of the carpet. The wefts are the threads that run across its breadth. This is the same carpet spread out:

glenroy sunset nain rug michele roohani

Persian rugs go by region (cities mostly— like Tabriz, Esfahan, Nain, Kashan, Kerman, etc…) and each region has its MasterWeaver brand. A small encased signature can usually be found in the minor border like Habibian in Nain, Pirouzian in Tabriz and Taghavi in Bijar.

ardabil carpet cartouche hafez maqsud kashani micheleroohani

The most important signature must be Maqsud Kashani’s (from 1540) on the famous pair of Ardabil Carpets. A poem of Hafez is woven into the cartouche:

“Except for thy threshold, there is no refuge for me in all the world.
Except for this door there is no resting place for my head.”

جز آستان تو‌ام در جهان پناهی نیست

سر مرا بجز این در حواله گاهی‌ نیست

ardabil carpet central medallion micheleroohani

The Ardabil Carpets  have an interesting story:  the lower field and border of one of them has been used to restore the other (now in Victoria and Albert Museum in London). The used and abused twin sister was kept in the dark (not to outshine the V&A version) until 1931 and finally found her way to Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1965.

ardebil ardabil carpet lacma micheleroohani

After exhaustive restoration done to the dazzling beauty, the LACMA sister was finally shown last year (look at how they had to wash it!)

washing of ardabil carpet lacma

The Ardabil carpets are the world’s oldest dated and historically important carpets in the world. This is the twin sister in Victoria and Albert museum in London:

ardabil carpet V&A museum Richard Wait micheleroohani
It all comes down to this fundamental design that I just finished reproducing for the blog:

michele roohani persian rug layout glossary toranj

A love for fine Farsh (rug in persian) may be one of the few things that Shahs and Mullahs have always agreed upon!

cheese and wine in the garden michele roohani

Even though I have visited the great Manufacture des Gobelins some years ago,

manufacture des gobelins paris michele roohani women tapestry

I am dying to see the real thing in Iran,

chris lisle carpet weaving iran michele roohani

and take some great pictures.

loom metier a tisser michele roohani natural dyes

I will leave you with this superb painting of my favorite Orientalist painter, Gerôme, called The Carpet Merchant (ca 1887):

jean leon gerome carpet merchant marché du tapis michele roohani

A great site to get acquainted with Persian rugs: Farsh Mashad

Weaving Art Museum here

About different motifs and style here

Port-au-Prince: Capital of Pain

January 19th, 2010

ca·lam·i·tiy:

1 : a state of deep distress or misery caused by major misfortune or loss
2 : a disastrous event marked by great loss and lasting distress and suffering

This “bar-coded” child is the symbol of the total helplessness of people in Port-au-Prince.

ruth fremson nytimes haiti earthquake

I am heartbroken by the utter distress/despair of Haiti. So much misery and suffering caused by a few seconds of random natural violence…

damon winter haiti earthquake

“Tout est enfin divisé
Tout se deforme et se perd
Tout se brise et disparait
La mort sans conséquences”

jean michel basquiat haiti michele roohani

“Everything is finally divided
Everything is deformed and lost
All breaks and disappears
Death without consequences” Eluard

jean michel basquiat haiti michele roohani radiant child

I wonder how Basquiat would have seen all this suffering in his fatherland; he painted some prescient images in 1980′s…

jean michel basquiat haiti michele roohani untitled

Damon Winter has taken striking pictures of the inconsolable Haiti.

damon winters haiti ny times michele roohani

Irving Penn, a master of American portraiture and fashion photography has always intrigued me by using the same sober backgrounds to photograph most of his subjects—beautiful Vogue models (like his wife of 42 years, Lisa Fonssagrives, below) or these seriously covered Moroccan women.

Lisa Fonssagrives irving penn michele roohani long roses

This 1971 image of these three Rissani women buried in their hejab (body bag) is haunting; just looking at them oppresses me…

1971 irving penn rissani women micheleroohani oppression body bag

But it seems that Penn had an affinity for all sorts of veiled women like the spellbinding Jean Patchett in this picture from 1949:

jean pachett irving penn 1949 michele roohani blue veil

He’s been able to capture the absurdity of covering women from head to toe,

irving penn two guedras women get weary michele roohani

even though he’s known for photographing the most fashionable women in the world :

irving penn checkered dress michele roohani Lisa Fonssagrives black hat

His fashion images are iconic in their elegant simplicity:

Lisa Fonssagrives irving penn michele roohani black hat

and so are these other pictures of his:

cretan women 1964 irving penn michele roohani

He remains a keen observer of his subject, a quiet painter of his model, an attentive chronicler of his time—this is probably the most accurate picture of Colette at that age:

irving penn colette sido michele roohani

and the most natural portrait that I know of Simone de Beauvoir:

irving penn simone de beauvoir michele roohani

Sometimes they chose to cover their hair like Georgia O’Keeffe:

georgia o’keeffe poppies irving penn micheleroohani

Penn kept taking less serious pictures of yet other covered woman:

irving penn veiled women michleroohani ruffled hat

Throughout centuries, women have survived  ridiculous hats and oppressive veils and Irving Penn has been present to capture them all.

pink wine irving penn michele roohani

I finish with a quote from my favorite aesthete, Oscar Wilde : “I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china”.

In Los Angeles, there is an exhibition of Irving Penn’s photographs at the Getty Museum.

A great article about Penn here.

A very scary Veiling dictionary (including Abaya—the one that looks like Belphégor) here.


It’s one of those great (and gray) September mornings in Paris and I take my poor jet lagged body out to take pictures of a city that looks more majestic without its occupants or tourists like me!

I would like to take you with me; first we take the bus:

bus line 67 paris michele roohani

the streets are all empty—one of the oldest surviving buildings in Paris from the 16th century:

francois miron street paris michele roohani

even the marché is not open yet,

morning marché produce market rue glaciere michele roohani

Saint Michel is unrecognizable at 7 am:

saint michel deserted street michele roohani

the cafés are just opening,

chez julien paris michele roohani

walking along the river bank in Isle Saint Louis,

isle saint louis quai michele roohani

Notre Dame is majestically melancholic,

morning notre dame paris michele roohani

but pretty soon, life starts in the city:

notre dame paris michele roohani morning

I decide to go towards the Marais; I am surprised to see a Pain Quotidien on my way—so far from Brentwood and Westwood but exactly the same menu:

pain quotidien paris michele roohani rue des archives

rushing towards Place des Vosges, the street signs stop me:

francs bourgeois rue vieille du temple paris marais michele roohani

its’ too early in the morning for gooseberries,

fruit stand groseilles gooseberry marais michele roohani fruits rouges

I really need a strong coffee,

empty coffee cups marias cafe michele roohani

but of course the waitress cleans up the street and not the table left from the previous clients,

place des vosges sweeper michele roohani paris

the galleries around the square are too commercial but I am glad to discover a painter from Rafsandjan, Reza Sarrafi, in one of the windows:

reza sarrafi still life pear place des vosges michele roohani

the wine paintings are from another painter, Annekov:

dmitri annekov archange paris wine painting michele roohani place des vosges

Voilà! Now you know.

self portrait michele roohani notre dame reflection in camera lens paris

I am not kidding when I say I love this city—here are my other posts about Paris:

Alone in Paris

Paris and Paul Newman

Pretty girl in Paris

Giacometti, a post from Montparnasse

I met Arcimboldo and some Germans in Paris

Opera Garnier in Paris

Paris was a woman

Paris at 6 am

Bread and Music

Every summer, we somehow expect to see Red looking out our windows in Southern California…Only Dante can describe this Inferno…

painting by gronk la tormenta michele roohani

The world witnesses Angelinos running away from wildfires one more time with the very similar images being (again) broadcast all over the world; my friends call me from everywhere to make sure that I am not one of the “evacuees”.

Karen Fratkin los angeles wild fire century city mcihele roohani

Every year’s fire seems more dangerous and more capricious; the picture above is taken from west Los Angeles with the fire mushrooming in the background (the red building on the right is the Die Hard building).

L.A. fire downtown latimes

Just look at the downtown above…

wayne smith ny times los angeles fires 2009

You somehow never get used to the fire’s anger and unpredictability; after 30 summers in california, they still scare the hell out of me!

L.A. fire  latimes

My eyes have been burning from the ashes and smoke all day and I am not even near the fires but my green mood is turning into red because of the wild fires.

Are we ever going to learn how to prepare for inevitable disasters and calamities?…

edouard manet berthe morisot a l’eventail michele roohani

And of course we blissfully close our eyes to the fire dangers for another year and act surprised the following summer when it comes back; if you don’t believe me, read my posts on the subject for the last two years:

This is my post from two years ago.

This one is from last year. I still believe on what I wrote then: Southern California fires are pretty democratic, they hit the mansions and trailer parks and everything in between with the same cruelty… The current definition of a Californian is still “did or did not escape the fires?”

I still remember the outrage in the voice of my friend, Lino Bottaro, trying to defend his native city, Venice, against the Las Vegas Venetian hotel: “how dare you suggest that they did an ok job in Vegas? Haven’t you heard of great architects like Palladio or Brunelleschi?”

mies van der rohe cigar barcelona chair seagram building michele roohani

Of course I have heard of those two great Italians but I have a weakness for the 20th century STARchitects like the great Mies van der Rohe above, who’s more known for his Barcelona chair than his great buildings! Mies’ visionary architecture has ushered in the glass-and-steel skyscraper era.

I fell in love with Louis Kahn’s work after watching the movie, My Architect.

louis kahn bangladesh Margaret Esherick House michele roohani

A density of purpose, a phenomenal sense of place and an intense spirituality define his works. There is a silence about his buildings, they have a sense of quiet…

Knowing Oscar Niemeyer was a beautiful surprise from an article in NY Times; he’s 101 years old and still working!

oscar niemeyer Museum of Contemporary Art rio staircase michele roohani

Just look at this enchanting blue staircase in Brasilia…

Cutting-edge buildings designed by globe-trotting architects have changed the face of today’s cities and there is no monopoly of architecture, a sensuous and intellectual art, like in the time of Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies:

frank lloyd wright falling water guggenheim michele roohani design

Of all of today’s self-indulgent “star architects”, I still have a soft spot for Frank Gehry’s curves; you have to be in one of his buildings to see the frozen poetry in Bilbao, Prague, Los Angeles, etc…

frank gehry michele roohani bilbao spain prague tiffany

His Bilbao museum is the 20th century’s iconic architecture according to the architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable.

Last but not least, Rem Koolhaas’ unconventional designs are a force to reckon with:

rem koolhaas michele roohani seattle public library

I shouldn’t even get into the Diva, Zaha Hadid or Jean Nouvel, Herzog and de Meuron or Tadao Ando (the great light and water architect)…Those will be for another post, another day. Richard Meier, Taniguchi and the phenomenal Charles Gwathmey have to wait their turn too.  As you can see I am passionate about architecture…

Saint Mark’s Basilica venice michele roohani

“Less is more.” Mies van der Rohe

“The mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own we have no soul of our own civilization.” Frank Lloyd Wright

p.s. Renzo Piano is missing from my list because I have not forgiven him for his wild Pompidou Center design and his Broad Contemporary Art Museum in Los Angeles has not helped his case!

the photos of Prague, Bilbao, Venice and Seattle are from my own archives.