Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ch. 3 - Has Anybody Seen My Picasso - "The Twelve Russians"

Aphrodite Mandrake was not her real name it turns out. I did some research at city hall downtown the next day and found out a few things about her. She was born Anastasia Dobrinsky in a small Russian village of Jewish parents, Pavel and Kateskya Dobrinsky, who lived with Pavel's mother, born Chaytsil Andreievskaya. Anastasia's sister Nina would later marry Wassily Kandinsky. I thought I knew that name and I was right. Kandinsky was a Russian artist who lived in Germany for a while and later France. After that I went to visit an art professor friend of mine, Dr. Hans Schreiber, a well known authority. He was an interesting guy. A WWI veteran, he had survived the worst trench warfare the world had ever known. It gave him an appreciation of the civilizing aspects of life: fine art, music, literature, and good liquor. He chose the study of art afterwards at the university. He had helped me on a case a couple of years ago. But that's a tale for another day. He offered me a drink and I took it. All this searching had made me thirsty. After some small talk and a few sips, I asked him about the Nazi theft of art during the 1930's. I also asked him about Russian art and Kandinsky in particular. He confirmed much of what Aphrodite had told me about the Nazis. My conversation with him also revealed that during the Russian Revolution, the abstract artists of the day were idealists for the most part and bought into the revolutionary fervor and vision and were happy to have their art utilized to further the cause. And the communists obliged by ridding the country of the czarist art influences and replacing it with the constructivists, neo-primitivitists, suprematists, and futurists. Among them were the twelve Russians: Brodsky, Alexander Samokhvalov, Boris Ioganson, Aleksandr Laktionov, Yuri Neprintsev and Moscow and Leningrad painters including artist Aleksandr Gerasimov, and suprematists like Malevich and those from other schools such as Aleksandra Ekster, Vladimir Tatlin, Wassily Kandinsky, David Burliuk, Alexander Archipenko found themselves in favor until the mid 1920's when Socialist Realism became the state preference. No longer serving the ends of the revolution, these and other abstract artists fell from state favor. From 1918 to 1921, Kandinsky, for example, navigated the cultural politics of Russia and collaborated in art education and museum reform. He painted little during this period, and devoted his time to teaching with a program based on form and color analysis; he also helped organize the Institute of Artistic Culture in Moscow. In 1916 he met Nina Andreievskaya, whom he married the following year. His spiritual, expressionistic view of art was rejected by the radical dialectical materialist members of the Institute as too individualistic and bourgeois. In 1921, Kandinsky was invited back to Germany to attend the Bauhaus of Weimar by its founder, architect Walter Gropius. He would leave Germany in 1933 to settle in France until he died in 1944. I thanked the professor for his time and the information. * * * * * By now my head was reeling with all this, but Nina's marriage to Kandinsky was a good starting point except that I'd have to go to Paris......I'd always wanted to go to Paris and now I was. I decided to get tickets the next day. * * * * * * It was dark now so I headed home to my apartment which was directly above my office. I had to walk the four flights up because the elevator was still not working. I took a small breather on the third floor, lit a cigarette, and headed up the last flight of stairs. The carpet was worn. It was red wool with green and mauve floral patterns that was threadbare in places where thousands of feet had trod but still plush at the edges. It still had that sense of past elegance -- like many people I know holding on to their dignity like the women clutch their purses on the street below. I looked up and I noticed my apartment door was ajar. I know, I know, that's an old joke.....when is a door not a door? When it is ajar. I always liked that joke. I used to tell that to my kid when he was young. He never got tired of that. I hadn't seen him in a few months, though, and felt bad about that. I put my hand on my roscoe just in case and carefully walked up the stairs. I approached the door quietly, pushed it open, and noted it was dark inside. I opened it and stepped in. I drew my piece and inched my way forward. The place looked like it had been tossed, but it usually did so I couldn't tell by that. I noticed the bedroom door was partially closed. That was different. It was usually open. I slowly opened the door, pointed my roscoe into the room, and saw her asleep on the bed, her bare back and leg barely visible in the dim red light flashing through the window from the bar across the street.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Has Anybody Seen my Picasso - Ch. 2 - The Nazis

I remember this like it was yesterday. Well, maybe not yesterday because I can’t say I remember everything from yesterday. How would I know for sure? If I’ve forgotten it, I don’t remember it. Sometimes you remember things you have forgotten, but then you haven’t forgotten them anymore; you’ve remembered them. And maybe it was more like four days ago; or perhaps more like a week and a half ago. Yeah, that’s probably more accurate. I remember it like it was a week and a half ago on a Tuesday morning. Possibly a Wednesday afternoon. Yeah, okay. I remember it like it was either a Tuesday morning or a Wednesday afternoon a week and a half ago, or maybe four days ago. Or something like that……. You know, really, I don’t remember it all that well. Anyway....she said, "I'm going to tell you now that this involves my grandmother's art collection, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, twelve Russians, a strange coincidence, a Ouija board, a trip to Paris, a secret society of Jesuits, a Polish nun by the name of Sister Kazienka, and a secret door behind a bookcase in an English cottage." She sighed, took a deep breath, crossed her legs, and looked me in the eye. "Are you with me so far?" she asked. I was mesmerized by the crossing of her legs and I thought of the Bermuda triangle and all the ships that had disappeared there, all the planes that have gone down there, all the sailors who have perished there, a deep, dark, secret place, dangerous to all who enter, a place where men die lonely deaths, in despair, with no hope of rescue, all mysterious and final. "Are you with me?" she repeated. I didn't register the question for several seconds, and then I realized she had been speaking. "Uh, yeah, I'm ready," I said, reaching for the pack of Lucky Strikes on my desk. "I've always like that word, 'mesmerized'," I thought to myself as I typed this manuscript. Although it has become another word for hypnotism, Mesmer himself was a physician who thought the tidal forces of the moon affected human health, and was appointed by French King Louis XVI in 1794 as a member of the Faculty of Medicine to investigate animal magnetism. Additional commission members included Josef Ignace Guillotin and the American ambassador Benjamin Franklin, whose picture is on the c-note and whose membership in the Hellfire Club and the Illuminati becomes relevant to this tale in a way which is sure to surprise even Aphrodite Mandrake, the beautiful dame sitting across from me at this moment. Well, not actually at this moment because I'm typing this right now. But it's a narrative convention to say at this moment even though it really isn't. Perhaps that's why they call it fiction. Guillotin was the inventor of the apparatus used for the beheading of Marie Antoinette and many others during the French Revolution. "Hello," she suddenly said. "Are you still with me?" "Sure," I said. "I was just thinking. Please continue." "In 1939, Adolph Hitler stole my grandmother's art collection which included works by Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, Chagall, Max Liebermann, Otto Dix, Franz Marc, Emil Nolde, Oskar Kokoschka, Ernst Kirchner, Delacroix, Daumier, and Courbet. There was a Dürer. A Canaletto. It was worth a small fortune. They called them Degenerate Art. That meant any art done by a Jew or was not representational. My grandmother had over 1,000 pieces. Hitler and his stinking Nazis stole them and left her destitute. She lived in Munich and she died shortly thereafter." (Author's note: neither Aphrodite Mandrake or the narrator of this tale would know this, but these works would be found in Feb. 28, 2012 in Rolf Nikolaus Cornelius Gurlitt's Munich apartment. The Nazis in the late 1930's established a program of cleansing Germany of all Bolshevik Jewish art. Joseph Goebbels, the Reich minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, began confiscating "degenerate art" and selling it oversees in order to purchase art of the Old Masters. As wealthy Jews fled Germany and France in desperation, Goebbels' deputies would collect the abandoned art from their homes. According to Alex Shoumatoff's Vanity Fair article, "The Devil and the Art Collector," "From March 1941 to July 1944, 29 large shipments including 137 freight cars filled with 4,174 crates containing 21,903 art objects of all kinds went to Germany. Altogether, about 100,000 works were looted by the Nazis from Jews in France alone. The total number of works plundered has been estimated at around 650,000. It was the greatest art theft in history.") "I want you to find them," she said. "I'll pay you 10% as a finder's fee." "Uh, how much are we talking about here?" I managed to ask. "Well, I don't really know, but it's a lot." I lit another cigarette, took a drink from the dirty glass on my desk, and looked her in the eyes. This cigarette tasted better than the last one. I could see tears forming in the corners of her eyes. I had a soft spot for crying dames and could tell she was sincere. "I usually don't work on a finder's fee," I said, "but I'll tell you what, you give me $20 a day plus expenses and a 5% finders fee and I'll do it. I need $200 in advance." I'd find out later that all this art would be worth a whole lot of $$$. I took out a clean handkerchief from my desk drawer. I'd dealt with a lot of broads whose husbands cheated on them and wanted me to follow them and knew to always have clean handkerchiefs in my desk drawer. They always liked that. It was usually worth another $50. "Okay," she said reaching into her purse, "here's $200." As she took the handkerchief and dabbed at the tears in her eyes careful not to smear her makeup, I took another look at her crossed legs, at her white dress and that button that was ready to fly, noted the mystery of her cleavage again, thought of the Bermuda Triangle, looked into her deep eyes, and then out the window and thought, "Well, at least this is going to be interesting."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Dear World: Dick Cheney - our bad.

In response to a reporter's question a while back, President Obama replied, "When will I extend diplomatic relations to Cuba? When will I extend diplomatic relations to Cuba? I'll tell you when. The day that North Korea tells Hollywood what movies to show in American theaters.....that's the day I'll recognize Cuba! That'll be the day. And not a day before......" IN BREAKING NEWS just TODAY: President Obama has cancelled North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un's NETFLIX and Hulu accounts. * * * * * * There was always something out of balance regarding our policy of only having diplomatic relations with very large communist countries. Raoul Castro is havana good week. As a side note to that, classic car buffs are looking forward to the day when they'll get a chance to purchase some of those 1950's autos the Cubans drive. * * * * * Regarding those who demand religious displays in government buildings, there's a certain Karmic balance that Satan worshipers now have a display in the Michigan State House. * * * * * * Filled my car with gas the other day for $24.00. Thanks, Obama, although I probably should thank the oil companies for fracking the sh** out of the United States, too, and greedy Saudis for continuing to drain world oil reserves even while the price plummets, and gas mileage requirements by the EPA, African warlords spewing gushers of oil onto their lands, and Japan and Europe for their tanking economies, and the development of alternative fuels, but that just complicates the issue........ In the meantime, I can't say I really miss the days of $3.50 a gallon gasoline, so I'll enjoy it while it lasts..... and commute to work on my motorcycle whenever the weather permits.. * * * * * * Dear Taliban: You suck. * * * * * * * Newly confirmed Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, opposed by the NRA, is considering whether to require a Doctor's Prescription to purchase assault weapons at Walmart. Currently, sale of all assault weapons is done "over the counter" similar to a Sudafed purchase. * * * * * * By the way, today marks the 2375th consecutive day the Republicans have failed to deliver their long promised alternative to Obamacare .......... maybe tomorrow. * * * * * Finally, a message to the entire world: Dear World: On behalf of the United States of America, I'd like to apologize for Dick Cheney. Our bad. Sincerely, Bud Cassiday

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Has Anybody Seen My Picasso? Chapter 1 - Aphrodite Mandrake

It was 10 am and I’d just gotten to my office. I was on the third floor of a five story. I walked up the stairs because the elevator still didn’t work even though the super had promised me he’d have it fixed by now. He’d promised me he’d have the cracked window pane in my office window fixed by now as well, but that was still cracked. The crack meandered across the lower left corner of the window like the drunk on the sidewalk below outside the bar with the red neon sign in the window that said “bar.” The crack had no real destination like many of those people I could see on the street below. I hadn’t really laid into the super because he rented me this dump cheap and I had been doing some private dick work for him in exchange for the last several months’ rent. * * * * * It was a Tuesday, I think, but it could have been a Wednesday. And it really doesn’t matter what day it was. That’s irrelevant. And I don’t even know why I mentioned it. I had a hangover. Too much cheap booze the day before. My head hurt, my eyes hurt. I lit a cigarette and poured myself a drink and looked out the window. Both tasted bad. I could see people walking on the sidewalks and cars parked in front of shops. It wasn’t much different than any other day. Or so I thought. People going about their business, trying to get by just like all of us. Maybe some of them weren’t as honest as the rest, but mostly people were jake. Just then, the door to my office opened a crack and then some more. There was a knock. Then the door opened and in walked a dame I’d never seen before. * * * * * She was about 5’5”, blond, and curvaceous. She wore a dress so tight I could hardly breathe. It was a white dress with buttons in the front. I could see both the tops of her knee caps and the tops of her breasts. Everything else in between was just white. Every curve of her was a highway on a road map making its way through the mountains and valleys of her topography. I’d like to travel those roads sometime, I thought to myself. Just enough cleavage was visible above the top button of her blouse which could launch itself at any moment. There was a lot of pressure on that button. It was a miracle that button hadn't launched itself already. I’ve always liked cleavage. There’s a mystery to it especially when it’s not an invitation. * * * * * * Every move she made was a small earthquake which caused ripples on her visible and ample bosom. Every step she took was a tsunami of scent coming my way. Not overwhelming like a real tsunami but noticeable and pleasing. Her eyes were green; not emerald green like the rock she wore on her finger, nor green like the suburban lawns only suckers mow every week thinking they were happy, nor green like you see on a stop light after you wait at the red for too long on those early mornings when nobody else is on the street and you are in a hurry to get nowhere in particular, but green like an old dollar bill that had passed through a thousand hands, one by one caressing it. They were green like folding money you leave on the dresser at night, like money that had circulated a bit too much. Yeah, green eyes alright. Like money.....maybe even a ten or a twenty... and I liked that, too. * * * * * * She wore lipstick like a Ritz cracker wears Cheez Whiz – thick and glossy, but not that pale yellow orange color like actual Cheez Whiz, but red, a bright deep red color, a red so red that even red isn't red enough.....the red of a deep red rose that when you pick it, you prick your finger on a thorn and it bleeds red blood, a red just like her lips, blood red...and I liked that, too. Her voice was gritty like old bath water that you forgot to drain and it sat in the tub for three hot nights and days, days so hot that the asphalt in the streets bubbled, nights so hot that even the moon sweated and the trees wilted. That's how gritty her voice was. And her eyes were deep green pools of mystery. So deep that no one ever found how deep they really were. Sure, a few lucky blokes were allowed in the shallow end of those deep pools, but none of them could swim. You could dive in from a high board and never touch the bottom. That’s how deep they were. Her eyebrows were like narrow strips of tar on a city sidewalk, which quite frankly, was a little weird. Her mascara hung like Spanish moss on a bald cypress tree, otherwise known as Taxodium distichum which grows in the southeastern United States from Texas and Florida north to Southern Arkansas and Virginia. It is also native to much of Mexico, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Central America, South America and the West Indies as well as being naturalized in Queensland (Australia) and in French Polynesia. But none of that is important. I liked her eyes. “Hi, my name's Mrs. Aphrodite Mandrake. Are you Detective Allbright? Detective Dick Allbright?” she inquired. I could tell she had class. * * * * * * * “Yeah, that’s me. What can I do for you?” I asked as I stood up, put out the cigarette, and offered her a seat.