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Cat's Cradle Blog

Archive for May, 2012

Gardens for the Soul

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012
Latymer, The Mediterranean Gardener

"The Mediterranean Gardener" by Hugo Latymer (1990, 1st edition) offers ideas for bringing a southern European feel to your garden or terrace.

I confess.  I’m a bookseller whose hands are often dirty.  Yes, I’m a gardener.  Therefore, my bookstore has an abundance of books and periodicals related to gardens, plants, and nature.

To me, gardening is a creative act that connects us with the rhythms of the seasons and the natural world. It reminds us that we are creators as well as created.

There is little to compare with a freshly picked tomato warm from the sun.  Unless perhaps an old-fashioned rose, heavy with fragrance.  Or herbs to heal and to season our food.  Or a well established water garden where koi swim dreamily among the plants.

Vegetables, flowers, herbs, water gardens – it matters not. The act of making things grow and tending them is what counts.

Come and search Cat’s Cradle Books to cultivate your own soul garden.

Water and Rock: Ancient Words on Strength

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012
water and rock

Garden Creek, North Carolina. Copyright 2012, K. S. Carter, all rights reserved.

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.

–  Lao-Tzu (600 B.C.)
Visit Cat’s Cradle Books for more words of wisdom from Asia.

Re-reading the Living Book of Nature

Sunday, May 6th, 2012
Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron, North Carolina, May 2012. Copyright, Kathy Carter, all rights reserved.

The book of living nature
is unlike other books in this respect:
One can read it over and over,
and always find new meanings.
It is a book that goes to press every night,
and comes forth fresh every morning.

– John Burroughs (1837-1921)

Power and Art: Machiavelli and the Italian Renaissance

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Il Principe (The Prince) by Niccolò Machiavelli. "La Nuova Italia" Editrice, 1941.

Born on May 3, 1469, Machiavelli remains, if not a household word, then one of the most recognizable names of the Italian Renaissance.  “Machiavellian” has earned a permanent place in the English language.  The Prince, one of his most important treatises, continues to be standard reading in university classrooms and a roadmap for political behavior in our time.  Whether he meant The Prince as satire or as a serious tribute to the Medici and other power brokers of the 15th and 16th centuries, his work has left a mark on our culture that continues to this, the 543rd anniversary of his birth in Florence, Italy.

The Florentine Renaissance, within which Machiavelli lived (1469-1527), was a study in paradox and contrast.  Florence rose from the bleak ashes of the Black Death (as depicted in Boccaccio’s Decameron), during which 70% of the city’s population either died or went elsewhere, to become a booming center of textiles (first wool, then silk) and finance (the banking enterprises of families like the Medici).  It was a city where money talked and power rested in the hands of the Medici family during most of the period.

The money that ruled Florence, rather than addressing the needs of the impoverished, went to displays of status.  The Medici, the Pitti, and the other wealthy and powerful families outdid one another with investment in private and public artworks.   Michelangelo’s “David,” now housed in the Accademia, was once a sculpture on public view in the Piazza della Signoria; a replica stands there now. Architects such as Brunelleschi thrived, and thus resulted a city of extraordinary beauty.  Botticelli, Da Vinci, Donatello, Fra Angelico, and many others found patrons in wealthy families, in the Florentine government, and in the Church itself.   Without the rise of families like the Medici, it’s doubtful whether Florentine art would have thrived as it did.

The art of the Renaissance, on the surface, provides a striking contrast to Machiavelli’s emphasis on “doing what is necessary” to build and keep power.  Nevertheless, his writing and the great art of the period shared many things.  They rested on a foundation of rational humanism.  They evoked the past, especially the past of classical Greece and Rome.  They also had a deep interest in contemporary subjects:  Machiavelli’s analysis of politics, Da Vinci’s portraiture, the Brancacci chapel’s frescoes with the faces of Florentines who lived during the time artist was working.

The Italian Renaissance was a time of contrast and conflict.  Bloody political upheaval marked the period.  Popes sired illegitimate children and kept mistresses in the Vatican.  Families warred with each other over who controlled cities.  Yet the Renaissance in Florence and other Italian cities was also a time of immeasurable beauty, of artistic innovation, and of enormous creativity.

Machiavelli’s work must certainly be counted among some of the most significant of this fascinating time.

Ci vediamo, mei amici!

Kathy Carter
Cat’s Cradle Books