Leonardo Da Vinci’s Horse

The husband was wearing a red t-shirt that had Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawing on it, that said, Simplicity is the ultimate Sophistication.

He was particularly fond of the t-shirt, especially as he was reading the biography of the great man.

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“Be like Leonardo Da Vinci guys. Be simple and eh… persistent.”, I said.

“Oh! I don’t know about that! Did you know about Leonardo Da Vinci’s horse? “, said the husband. He was reading the biography of Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson, which is to say we almost read it. The book is a lengthy one, and as he made his way through it, he shared tidbits of things that fascinated him.

Time has probably been kind to the memory of Leonardo Da Vinci. Most of us only seem to be remember his genius in art, his legendary stature as a polymath, he said. The husband chuckled as he read and told us about Walter Isaacson’s portrayal of him – a tempestuous man who often did not complete the commissions given to him. Leonardo Da Vinci’s horse is an excellent example.

He then went on to relate the tale to much mirth and chuckling from the children. Apparently, what was commissioned to him was to build an epic statue of the Duke’s son riding a horse. He then went off to live on a farm, to study horses. The farm life yielded a treatise – an unpublished book, on different kinds of horses, equine surgeries to understand horse anatomy etc. He had originally planned to create a statue of a rearing horse.

This is an image that is much popular in the art forms at Italy, I remembered. The raw power of a horse rearing up on its hind legs is both attractive and magnetic. I am not sure how riders feel when they are about to be bucked off, but it makes for good Art. The prince would have to look brave while clinging onto dear life.

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Abandoned Design. Image Courtesy: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59580

Anyway, after a few years studying horses, their physiology, their movements etc, he started developing models for his statue. Clay, lead and bronze made its way from the armies to Da Vinci for his great statue. Then, he figured that the greatest statue of the magnitude he had in mind would not be supported by the hind legs structurally, and he went on to make it a standing horse. The prince riding the horse resplendently was forgotten!

These things took time, but it did not seem to perturb him. His sponsors may have been antsy, the bronze supplies may have been running low, the armies getting fidgety with not having enough new armor, but that was their problem, seemed to be his opinion.

In time, a large clay model of a beautiful horse may its way for the Duke’s inspection. The model won Da Vinci much critical acclaim. It truly was beautiful. If the Duke was slightly upset about not seeing his son on the horse, he did not show it. The royalty raise their children well.

Soon, war broke out, and no longer could his rich patron commission bronze and lead to be diverted to the most magnificent horse statue of all time. The clay model was put up in Milan, and was used as target practice by the young lads joining the army.

“But isn’t there a big horse in Milan or Florence? Da Vinci’s horse? I remember seeing a picture somewhere.” said I.

“Yes, but that was not done by him. Years later, somebody else finished it. “, said the husband.

By now, we were all laughing.

“What is remarkable is his insatiable curiosity and creativity however, and though he went off down rabbit holes, it was from a deep motivation to understand the world around him “, said the husband.

Read also : Gates Notes on Leonardo Da Vinci

“These days it is so easy to take a picture of a horse, model it, and run a simulation for structural evaluations. We sometimes forget how hard studying movement must have been!” I said, remembering the essay by Oliver Sacks on the Elephant’s Gait, in the book, Everything in its Place.

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He writes about how more than a century ago, Etienne-Jules Marey & Eadward Muybridge pioneered the study of animals running using 24 cameras along a track where the shutter would be tripped by the horses themselves as they galloped past to capture the movements of the horse as they raced.

Persistence comes in various forms, we all agreed. Muybridge and Marey were examples in a long list of people for whom a problem was intriguing enough to delve deeper and deeper into things that may or may not yield results.

But we never know the breakthroughs possible, and how things will change. That is why I am vary of futurists. A few centuries ago, to study the muscles straining for a horse running, one had to have an almost eidetic memory, along with a decent understanding of anatomy.

Today, photography has come so far as to allow us to snap a thousand pictures, take slow motion videos, and analyze everything from a butterfly flutter to the swift flying of hummingbirds. People are still extraordinarily creative with photography, and as long as we retain curiosity and creativity, I suppose we shall thrive.

 

The Art of Breathing

A colleague caught me mid breath one day. It was one of those days that butterflies would have looked on me with mixed emotions.

On the one hand with pride: When did this caterpillar learn to flit like this?

On the other hand with amused tolerance: The half-wit seems to be forgetting the sweet joy of collecting nectar amidst pretty bright flowers, with all the fast paced flitting. Forfeiting the sweet thing about flitting – tut tut!  Flutter tutter utter nutter! (I am not high up on the poems caterpillars learn to sing about when still creepy crawlies; and the butterfly metaphor only goes so far!)

Anyway, it was one of the many days in which I flitted about the old work spot tasking, multi-tasking, sub-tasking, reminding others about their tasking, setting reminders for my own tasks and so on. Thoroughly immersed in my second self that Mary Oliver so succinctly calls the Social Self…yes, it was one of those days.

Mary Oliver’s, Upstream, is a book of many marvelous essays.  The essay, Of Power and Time, talks about the three selves in many of us:

•The Child Self

•The Social Self &

•The Eternal Self.

 

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Though in the essay, Mary Oliver, refers to the Eternal Self as the artistic self, I like to interpret it as the Creative self.

• The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us.

• The second self is the social self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executer.

• Then, there is the third self: the creative self, the dreamer, the wanderer.

T’was during one of these trying days that I remembered the deep breath technique my Yoga teachers had tried to teach me about. Take deep breaths, and concentrate on it filling your stomach, feel it coming in and out of your nostrils and so on. So, I started my deep breaths as I was walking from one meeting to another. Deep breath, exhale, deep breath, exhale and so on. I had thought no one watched, but one colleague caught me, and grinned. “That should be your GIF you know?” he said.

I nodded sheepishly, and went back to my brand of breath-less flitting within minutes.

Later that week-end I ran into this beautiful children’s book in the library. A book that was just waiting to be written. A beautiful capture of all the different types of breath, Alphabreaths 

Written by : Christopher Willard (a clinical psychologist) & Rechtschaffen MA, Daniel (a counselor)

Illustrated by:  Clifton-Brown

 

 

The book is a lovely read urging us to Breathe like a Dolphin taking a dive, or our favorite one, The Ninja Breath – silently and slowly. The illustrations too make for a marvelously relaxing read. Please check out their Youtube clip : here

 

 

Mindful breathing and Yoga are excellent concepts to teach the children, and I am always in awe of those who can take complex concepts and make them palatable for the consumption of young and old alike.

If you happen to come home and find the son and I swimming like dolphins or getting ready for a Star Trek mission on the floor while Yoga-ing along with the Cosmic Kids Yoga series by Jaime Amor , do not be alarmed. Her yoga videos are appealing and fun. If, along the way, we do something to calm ourselves down – then great, else, we have had a great time.

There are so many aspects to the Philosophy of Being (I am amused it has such a strictly medical sounding name: Ontology)

Ontology is the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being, and reading the Wikipedia page itself boggles my simple mind (A post on the Study of Philosophy is sitting up on its hind legs and begging to be written). Maybe, what is required is a Ninja Training on Ontology. Excerpt from the wiki page:

Such an understanding of ontological categories, however, is merely taxonomic, classificatory. Aristotle’s categories are the ways in which a being may be addressed simply as a being, such as:[9]

  • what it is (its ‘whatness’, quiddity, haecceity or essence)
  • how it is (its ‘howness’ or qualitativeness)
  • how much it is (quantitativeness)
  • where it is (its relatedness to other beings)

*** Taking a Y for Yawning Breath before a Z for zzzz breath about now ****

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Keeping ontological explanations aside, if The Nature of Being comes down to simple techniques of breath, fluidity and movement, it makes the simplicity behind it all brilliant.

It was one of those ‘Simple is brilliant’ types of  quotes that I went looking for. I know many brilliant blokes and blokees have said marvelous things about simplicity -I know old Leonardo Da Vinci said something about it, so did old man, Einstein. In any case, looking for one of those made me fumble on this one by Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl

From Wikipedia: Thor Heyerdahl became notable for his Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, in which he sailed 8,000 km (5,000 mi) across the Pacific Ocean in a hand-built raft from South America to the Tuamotu Islands. The expedition was designed to demonstrate that ancient people could have made long sea voyages, creating contacts between separate cultures.

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Continue reading “The Art of Breathing”

Music & Gardens

It is always a delight to pick up a set of essays written by prolific writers  who are also curious intellectuals. These authors make me feel like I am reading the perspective of polymaths, and that in itself makes for a wondrous experience. The latest book that had me thinking and reading about things I had not thought about for a long time was the book, Everything In Its Place by Oliver Sacks.

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Excerpt from Wikipedia:

Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE FRCP (9 July 1933 – 30 August 2015) was a British neurologist, naturalist, historian of science, and author. He believed that the brain is the “most incredible thing in the universe.”[1] 

He reminds us in broad strokes of his pen, the number of areas in which we can be curious. He reminds us about the vast capabilities of the human brain, even while reflecting on this particular author’s exceptional one. Reading about the brains many failings and flaws is both fascinating and eye-opening. (Oliver Sacks was a Neurologist who specialized in many neurological disorders, and writes from a place of curiosity and compassion for his patients).

His description of Tourette’s syndrome, for instance, certainly makes me think less critically of people I encounter on the public transit who have the need to shock the whole compartment with their absurd, rude and obnoxious statements, every few minutes. Sufferers of Tourette’s syndrome often find themselves cursing and shouting loudly, without being to help themselves. The shocked attention they gather seems to be the reward for their impulses.

He writes about a certain individual who exhibited severe symptoms in Vietnam and would make shocking exclamations in Vietnamese every now and then. But when he moved to the United States, his Tourette’s calmed down because people did not react as much as he thought they would in a country where his language was not understood.

I can now learn to see the person different from their symptoms, and for that I am grateful.

How can I not be fascinated as I read his sure voice confess that as a neurologist the only therapies he knows to work surely are Music & Gardens? I read his meditations on Why We Need Gardens and the words Biophilia and Hortophilia leap out and grab my attention. Nature is my soother, has always been my favorite soother, and it is refreshing to hear his perspective on the effect of nature.

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Clearly, nature calls to something very deep in us. Biophilia, the love of nature and living things, is an essential part of the human condition. Hortophilia, the desire to interact with, manage, and tend nature is also deeply instilled in us. The role that nature plays in health and healing becomes even more critical for people working long days in windowless offices, for those living in city neighborhoods without access to green spaces, for children in city schools…..

The effects if nature’s qualities on health are only spiritual and emotional but physical and neurological, I have no doubt that they reflect deep changes in the brains physiology, and perhaps even its structure.

As he says in one essay, his patients even in advanced states of dementia always look forward to an hour outside amidst nature, and not one of them has ever planted a sapling upside down when given a sapling. It is almost as if we intuitively know what to do and our learnings from time may fall away from us, but our affinity to nature will not. 

In fact, he writes of one of his close friends, Lowell, who suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, that while hiking in the deserts of Arizona, his ticks and urges almost completely disappeared.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2019/05/27/oliver-sacks-gardens/ : Oliver Sacks

In forty years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical “therapy” to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens

Children of Stories

Fresh smells of laundry detergent wafted up from the warm pile surrounding me on the bed. Despite the many piles that needed folding, I felt a strange sense of gratitude for a chore that allowed me to sit on the bed for a few minutes while folding them. (My commute doesn’t always accord me the ability to sit, my days are hectic, and my meals erratic –  Yes! I was feeling benign and contented with this.) 

Every time I sit with the laundry, my mind climbs the Faraway Tree. How often I think of Dame Wash-a-lot of the Magic Faraway Tree? I don’t have the satisfaction of pouring bucketfuls of water from my perch high above in the trees on certain heads, of course, but one cannot ask for everything in this world. 

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Attribute author: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3693995

The son frisked onto the bed smelling like the fragrant soap in the bathroom after his long shower in which a number of valiant battles were fought.

Today’s battle was a long and strenuous one, but Iron Man had emerged victorious after throwing Thanos into the Deep Trench of Despair (I shudder to think of where I will actually find the action figure).

 

My own little Iron Man was full of the milk of human kindness that Tony Stark said was required in this world, and said “Shall I help?”

I thought for a moment, smiled at him, and  said, “Sure, but I wish I could read with you though!” 

“Okay, I’ll read to you,” said he and bounded out. He came back with a few picture books clutched in his hands. 

His choice of books for the day were just what was required for a spot of laundry folding.

Pen – By Christopher Myer

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My Pen, brings out what we wish we could do with our own imaginations. His pen fights battles, tucks elephants in tea cups, sails over imaginary oceans, captures gory wars while appealing to our humanity. The book is beautifully illustrated in black & white, and every now and then, the son stopped to show me a particularly appealing one, and we both admired the pictures. 

His second book, A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers, was an equally worthy choice. A child goes to to say how she likes to think of herself in terms of the books she has read. 

This book reminded me of a book, B-O-O-K by David Miles and Illustrated by Natalie Hoops,  that we look at every now and then. A beautiful meditation on the word, B-O-O-K. Every illustration takes us deeper and deeper into the different worlds books open up for us. The worlds that never really leave us, worlds that teach us something every time we enter it, worlds that refresh us just with the memory of it, worlds where we wish we can live in.

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Dame Wash-a-lot smiled down at me from her treetop, and I giggled. The son looked quizzical and I told him about her character and how certain characters stay with you long after you stopped reading books about them. Dame Wash-a-lot who lives in the Magic Faraway Tree in the Enchanted Wood is there when I take care of the laundry; the silly Saucepan Man with his Pots and Pans  is there when I am tumbling around with my own set of pots and pans in the kitchen; Moon Face is there when I see the benign face of the moon on the evenings I do myself the favor of raising my eyes heavenwards and admiring the moon muttering to myself about Ceraunophilia (love of the moon).

“Like my Avengers and super-heroes are there with me!” said the son. 

“Dame Wash-a-lot would have socked Thanos with her soapy water with half the noise you made in there!” I said, and we dissolved into a fresh set of giggles again discussing the strange noises during the heat of the shower battles.

Maybe we are Children of Stories.

The laundry took double the time it usually takes, but how enjoyable the whole task became?!

The Animals Within

 

The evening was a beautiful one. The children played looking like little angels in the glowing sun, and I threw affectionate glances at the noise in the playground.

I was mooning about the streets admiring the shabby looks of late summer. The same hills that looked brown and uninviting in the distance during the day, now looked ravishing bathed in sunset’s golden glow. Little specks of clouds in the sky were blushing to different degrees. The purple, red, orange and pinks poufs flicked about looking snippy and sharp. The oleander trees and the crepe hyacinths lining the streets looked prettier than ever before.

The approaching week-end seemed inviting, promising in its possibilities: my outlook was cheerful; my spirits soaring with the multi-colored clouds up there; and no must-dos competed for attention in the old brain.

T’was after a little growl came from within that I stopped to wonder what was amiss. I had completely missed the making-dinner task at hand, and the growl was reminding me, that I had not just 1 growl from my stomach to contend with, but the whole family’s as well. The husband trundled in, the children trooped in to say hi, and I whisked them all off for a dinner outside.

‘Forgot to cook?!’ cackled the teenaged daughter, looking indulgent and proud that I was not being the conscientious cook, and filling her plate with healthy muck. “Didn’t the sunset fill you up?”

“It filled me spiritually my dear. I could not be fuller!”, said I patting my heart, “but the stomach still asks for its due, Alas! “ I said remembering a poem my mother-in-law often references about what an irascible taskmaster the stomach is. I always smile at the wisdom of the poem. Loosely translated, it means
“Oh stomach!
What an irascible creature you are!
I ask you to eat a lot at one meal, and you rebel, and push back saying you are full.
So, then I ask you to skip a meal, but that too wouldn’t do for you.
What a slave to your demands have I become?
It is very difficult to live with you!”

So, off we went to a Chinese restaurant in various states of hunger.

This is one of those places that believes in keeping you engaged while they prepare the food for you. In front of each was a sheet of paper containing the Chinese Zodiac Animals and their characteristics. We started off in typical fashion:
You are a monkey!
Really? A snake – ha!
How could you be a tiger?
I don’t want to be a pig!

For those who moon about on Friday evenings without considering the demands of the stomach, here is a tip: Don’t! Friday evenings beckon all mooners-about, and restaurants find themselves busier than usual that day. As we sat around with hunger gnawing at the insides, the sheet of paper telling us about our characters based on the year we were born in looked inviting. Soon, we started tabulating and cross-referencing the listed characteristics against the personalities in the family.

It is an interesting exercise, and really makes everyone stop and pause and think about oneself. There are characteristics that the whole family gave a miss to. There were some that we hoped we did not have, but found we did. There were others we hoped to have in a higher degree. The tabulations were derailed every now and then with questions such as “Why are hippos not there in the Chinese calendar?”, After going into habitats and biomes with glaring holes of knowledge, seeing as none of us had ever to China, we got the animals back on track.

The resulting diagnoses has us giggling uncontrollably:
“You are most like a rabbit, but also have the tongue of a dragon, and the heart of a pig!”
“Snake hissing and pouting maybe, while galloping like a horse, and snoring like an ox.”

It turned out that we churned out more fantastical creatures in that half hour than a whole mythological genre could in a book. “Imagine if these creatures were sitting in us, wouldn’t that be something?” I said.

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Humanity’s capacity to imagine strange and wonderful creatures has always been remarkable, though there are precious few creatures left for us to imagine. No one is bringing another Clara to our midst any time soon.

Clara the rhinoceros, was brought to Europe on a tour in the 18th century. No one had yet seen any of the creatures of the East, and had not even heard of such an animal. Clara became an instant darling of the masses – her gentle demeanor, her love of oranges and her sheer size endeared her to all those who had the privilege of seeing her. I can well imagine the wonder and curiosity such a creature brought to human society, and the number of children in whom the wonders of the natural world was rekindled. How many Gerald Durrells, who imagined the beautiful world of their family and other animals?

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Image title
Rhinoceros Clara
Author
Jean-Baptiste Oudry
Copyright holder
PD

Today, we silently add more and more creatures to the endangered species list, watch in alarm as forest cover disappears and wait for magic to happen in our lives. Anthropologically, will we hear the news of a Middle Earth tucked away somewhere with hundreds of majestic creatures again?

Maybe one day, our space explorations will yield something. Till that day, we shall have to content ourselves with imagining the various creatures and creature traits within us.

Books:

Clara the Hippopotamus – By Emily Arnold McCully

My Family & Other Animals – By Gerald Durrell

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