Apr. 15, 2008


by Robert Phillips

War Dims Hope for Peace.
Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told.
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead.

Miners Refuse to Work after Death.
Include Your Children When Baking Cookies.
War Dims Hope for Peace.

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Experts Say
Prostitutes Appeal to Pope.
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead.

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half.
Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide.
War Dims Hope for Peace.

Stolen Painting Found by Tree.
Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over.
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead.

Iraqi Head Seeks Arms.
Police Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers.
War Dims Hope for Peace.
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead

"Headlines" by Robert Phillips, from Circumstances Beyond Our Control: Poems. © The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


It's the birthday of a brilliant man who had a hard time finishing things, Leonardo da Vinci, born in the Republic of Florence (1452). Though he lived for 67 years, only 17 of his paintings are known to exist, and only a few of those were finished to his satisfaction, including The Last Supper and Mona Lisa.

He kept notebooks full of ideas about architecture and technology of all kinds. Even the doodle pictures of parachutes he drew in the margin of his notes turned out to be technically perfect designs. He drew up plans for an assault battleship, a construction crane, a trench-digging machine, a revolving bridge, and a deep-sea diving suit. He made architectural sketches of churches that looked like seashells or blossoming flowers, none of which got built because they were too impractical. Most of his ideas were too ambitious for the tools that existed at the time.

In 1482, Leonardo began a sculpture of a horse. It was extremely difficult to design because the final product would weigh many tons when cast in bronze, and Leonardo wanted the horse to be rearing back on its hind legs. He spent 11 years sketching out the solution to the problem of the horse's balance, but when he tried to cast the horse in bronze, he found that all the bronze in the city had been used to build cannons for an impending war. So the sculpture went unfinished until 1999, when a Japanese-American sculptor used Leonardo's drawings and plans to build the horse. The finished product was 23 feet high, weighed 15 tons, and was perfectly balanced.

In 2001, builders completed a Leonardo da Vinci bridge supported by huge rings outside of Oslo, Norway.

Leonardo is best known for his painting the Mona Lisa, which is generally considered the most recognizable work of art in the world. He kept it with him for most of his life, working on it now and again. Today, it is probably the most analyzed work of art in history. For centuries, scholars have tried to determine the identity of the woman in the painting. A computer graphics consultant analyzed the painting and found that the nose, mouth, forehead, cheekbones, and eyebrows all lined up with a portrait Leonardo painted of himself. So he may have used himself as the model.

The most extensive works that Leonardo left behind were his notebooks, more than 3,500 pages of sketches and writings. Scholars aren't sure why, but most of what Leonardo wrote in his notebooks was written backward, so that it could only be legible when held up to a mirror.

It's the birthday of the novelist Henry James, (books by this author) born in New York City (1843). His first memory was an image of a monument to Napoleon as his family traveled by carriage through Paris, and though he was an American, he always loved Europe and spent most of his life living there.

At some point in his childhood, he was injured, possibly in a fire. He never said much about it to his friends, except that the injury was "horrid," but some scholars have suggested that perhaps he was scarred in some way that would explain why he never had a single love affair with anyone. As far as we know, he died without ever having even received a romantic kiss.

But he wrote almost 10 million words of fiction and nonfiction, including Daisy Miller (1878), Washington Square (1880), and The Portrait of a Lady (1881).

He became a British citizen near the end of his life as a show of support for Great Britain in World War I. One time, he said to a group of his English friends, "However British you may be, I am more British still."

For a long time, he wasn't very widely read in America, mostly because he seemed so European and old-fashioned. But his popularity has gone up recently, thanks in large part to all of the movies based on his novels that have come out. The Portrait of a Lady, Washington Square, and The Wings of the Dove were all made into Hollywood movies in the late '90s.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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