I take the number 25 bus from Piazza San Marco north into the hills and get off at La Pietra—a stone marking one Roman mile from Florence. Behind the imposing gate, Villa La Pietra waits at the top of the long drive lined with Tuscan cypress trees.This fifteenth-century villa is the centerpiece of a fifty-seven-acre estate of Renaissance-revival gardens,a vast art collection, a library of over twelve thousand volumes, and olive groves with views of the Duomo.
Mazen Kerbaj is a Lebanese comics artist, visual artist, and musician born in Beirut in 1975. Kerbaj has authored more than fifteen books. His work has been published in anthologies, newspapers, and magazines, and translated into more than ten languages. His paintings, drawings, videos, performances, and installations have been shown around the globe.
“The bunker was the reality of totalitarianism, its hideous remnant and reminder. The beheaded, violated, mutilated ghosts of Nicaragua bore witness, every day, to what used to happen here, and must never happen again.”
—Salman Rushdie, The Jaguar Smile
In the early hours of July 17, 1979, Anastasio Somoza snapped shut the last of his suitcases, preparing to leave. He took one last look at his newspaper; little things like pens, paper clips, and dust lay scattered around the desk, his daily mess. He’d expected this departure for days, yet he was still rushed; he was irritated and scared. In the bunker office, the stiff leather furniture and the leather-covered walls gleamed as the dim ceiling light flickered. Behind him, caught in the somber solitude of that late night of surrender, hung a large relief map of Nicaragua, the country he had “inherited” and ruled, and was now abandoning. The country whose people he had abused, tortured, waged war against. The country that was now aflame at his doorstep.
In a photograph Robert Adams took northeast of Riverside, California, in 1982, serpentine paths lead toward the horizon line; it’s not easy to discern whether these are creeks, dirt trails, or roads. Human presence takes the form of wooden poles carrying electric wires, which stride diagonally from the bottom left of the composition toward the distance at right.
In a photograph Robert Adams took northeast of Riverside, California, in 1982, serpentine paths lead toward the horizon line; it’s not easy to discern whether these are creeks, dirt trails, or roads. Human presence takes the form of wooden poles carrying electric wires, which stride diagonally from the bottom left of the composition toward the distance at right. Scrubby brush covers the low hill that spreads out beneath Adams’s camera, a few trees poke up disconsolately here and there, and a larger hill dominates the right-hand edge of the picture. In the distance is the radiance of an invisible sun, an onrushing whiteness that presses toward the camera and blots out the landscape’s details.
“Hell, there are no rules here—we’re trying to accomplish something.”
there were seventeen witnesses for the first execution of a human being by electrocution. William Kemmler, a sometime peddler of produce and a heavy drinker, was sentenced to death on March 29, 1889, for killing his common-law wife, Matilda Ziegler, with a hatchet. There are few details about Kemmler or his life. Born in Philadelphia but raised in Buffalo, he was said to be slender, with brown hair tending toward black. We know his parents were alcoholic immigrants from Germany. He could speak both German and English but couldn’t read a word. We also know that his father was a butcher who died after a cut he received in a drunken brawl became infected. His mother died less accidentally from alcoholism.
Our relationship with maps has changed drastically in the last ten years, from the pinpoint ease of Google Maps to global positioning systems rendering us a blinking blue beacon on a grid of streets. Rarely are we explorers in the completed cartography of our planet. Visual artist Martha Willette Lewis has given us new, unreal spaces to explore by combining diagrammatic drawings, biological systems, and topographical forms. These spaces manifest as works on paper that are often folded, crumpled, or bisected. Lewis takes visual cues from systems that are usually not in contact and, in doing so, creates a skewed sense of reality. Hers is a hybridized vision shared by artists and technological innovators. The paper and drawing are real, but the vision is of an impossible place.
I am a sixth-generation Texan who married a fiercely native New Yorker, which means I have a keen appreciation for the ways in which places shape lives. When I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in the dead of winter last year, it was an odyssey that once again challenged my sense of identity. Cincinnati is worlds apart from both Texas and New York, and unlike those proudly parochial states, this city can lay a strong claim as the heart of America. It was settled in 1788 on the banks of the Ohio River, and at the turn of the century, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow named it “the Queen of the West”: