He sits in a creased maroon leather recliner with his feet flat on the rug. The book is slender, nearly weightless in his hands. The door of his tiny study is closed. He reads by the light of a lamp which sits on a dark oak desk now cluttered with a few opened books, face down.
I’ve never seen the author of Tender Buttons and Three Lives look as she looks in this painting by Picabia from 1937. Her head is small, perched on wide and rounded shoulders draped in brown. Beneath the cloak, a soft blue blouse with a large brooch peeks through. On her face, a sort of “oh well” smirk on thin, taut lips.
I couldn’t find a photograph of a Faustina Junior coin with exactly the same reverse image, but I discovered a very similar graceful figure, the details of its draperies intact—Diana, beautiful goddess of the hunt, with her bow in one hand and her arrow in the other. The outline of the gown was the same, anyway, and above all the ineffably sweet gesture of her arm. Faustina Junior had been brave and adventurous, too, and sweet, judging from her profile, and perhaps Marcus Aurelius had chosen this image especially for her. Turning over the other coins, I realized that each must have a story as rich as this one.
I first caught wind of Fort Wayne, Indiana’s almost-obliteration after reading Michael Martone’s essay/story, “Fort Wayne Is Seventh On Hitler’s List.” As a Fort Wayne native, I was shocked by the title’s claim. Impressed, too—at least a little—that our city was once important enough to warrant Hitler’s wrath. Admittedly, being seventh on a bombing list is a bit of a dubious honor, and, as the Fort Wayne Visitors Bureau knows all too well, one that hardly translates to tourist dollars. Yet what we lack in tourism we make up for with hometown pride; the old timers are still known to puff out their chests and recount stories about the time we were nearly in Hitler’s crosshairs. So why did Hitler allegedly take an interest in our city?
Traveling around Europe in the midst of all this, conducting dissertation research on the Czech interwar avant-garde and its relationship to other major artistic centers of that period, I could not but think about renewed border controls in the EU territory within the context of, and in comparison to, travel in the period between the two World Wars. At that time, Europeans (as well as travelers from further afield) enjoyed a newly open, post-war terrain. The physical movement of bodies, facilitated also by new and faster modes of travel, helped to open up an unprecedented level of exchange between artists and intellectuals of diverse backgrounds and languages. In that brief window of freedom of movement between the two World Wars, Paris was a hub of such traffic, and many visitors came from Prague.