Only two weeks ago, we devoted a full column to ''Winks,'' announcing events and opportunities in the arts within a reasonable drive from Chautauqua County.
Again today, we have a huge number of those announcements - nearly enough to fill half of the present column.
As a result, let's look at some of the many books I've been reading, and save half the column for places you can go and things you can do - of an artistic nature, of course. Few things, in art, can equal the artistic experience which the observer actually experiences.
Nothing is more interesting than women. Who could argue with that?
Because I have always had a deep interest in history, I have always been fascinated by the fact that women have sometimes held substantial power - sometimes even absolute power - even in periods during which the members of the fair sex have been barred from having any participation in politics or economics, whatsoever.
In past columns, I have written about the biography ''Athenais,'' by Lisa Hilton, which deals with a similar situation in the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, when the king's mistress had more power than his generals.
Ms. Hilton has once more published a large volume in which she examines the lives of women who were forbidden to exercise power, but who very much did so. The new biography is titled ''Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens.''
Our wonderful language, being a mixture of a number of earlier languages, throws us a curve in this area. Many of the cultures who dabbled in the business of royalty have different terms for women who inherit the throne themselves, and women who are the wives of kings. In English, we call members of both groups ''queens.'' When the word ''Consort'' is appended, the term is clarified, to mean only the wives.
Between the conquest of England by William the Conqueror, in 1066, and 1485, when Henry Tudor wrenched his country by force, out of the Middle Ages, and into the Renaissance, no fewer than 20 women wore a crown in England. In all those years, only one woman attempted to be the ruler herself, and she failed, yet all of these women managed to stamp some part of their personalities onto the ages in which they lived.
Ms. Hilton is not my favorite historian, by a long shot, but she assaults fascinating subjects and teaches her readers a great deal of history.
My problem with her writing is that she often doesn't objectively examine her subjects. Clearly, she likes some of these women, and if she does, she can evaluate the facts about them in a way which is unfairly favorable.
Likewise, she clearly doesn't like some of her subjects, and when she doesn't, she can overlook some very reasonable explanations for their actions and choices. She seems especially eager to deflate the reputations of those who have earned strong positive views from history in general.
The role of women in the Middle Ages was difficult, indeed. In most of their cases, they married men they had never seen before the wedding, or at best, whom they knew only slightly. Some were forced to marry men who had murdered their father or their brother. The Church, in those days, forbade a husband from consummating his marriage before the bride reached the age of 12, yet not all of them got to wait that long.
If their husbands were weak, like the sickly Henry VI, or absent, like the crusading Richard I, they might well have achieved nearly complete power, at least for a while, though it never lasted, and many of them ended up in prison. Two came very close to being burned at the stake, as witches.
All of these diverse women had one official role in their government. When the king wanted to be merciful or diplomatic, the queen was expected to beg him to resist his instincts to overpower and to slay. In full view of the public, she got down on her knees and pleaded with him. Somehow, if he yielded as a favor to his wife, the public didn't view his action as a sign of weakness.
If the public got the idea - right or wrong - that the king was weak, he probably didn't live long.
Something which Ms. Hilton points out, which I had never really grasped, was that each of these women, to some degree, needed to contend, not only with her husband and his friends and enemies, they needed to contend with one another.
When women married, in that period, there was typically a contract between her new husband and her father, which provided her with both a dowry and a dower. Her family provided a dowry, which might be a sum of money, or more likely, a number of farms, possibly seaports, sawmills, and other profit-bringing properties. Her husband did not expect to buy her clothes, pay for her food, etc., once they were married. She was expected to pay her own way, by using her dowry.
Her new husband provided her dower. That was money and/or land which was supposed to maintain her, should she be widowed. The trouble with that system was that people often died young in those days. A king who died while his mother was still alive, typically left a widow who was supposed to live on properties which were already supporting his mother, if not his older brother's widow, and possibly more.
Some of these women shared more willingly than others. Some of them wrung taxes out of the peasants on their lands so savagely that appeals were sent to the Church or to their husbands' replacements.
Some of them nagged and badgered their husbands. Some of them succeeded in dominating the king, although most of them didn't. One of them may well have murdered her husband. Some of them donned armor and fought like soldiers. Some took lovers. Two of them sat on the thrones of both England and France.
The mildest of them was hardy enough to survive, at least for a while, in what may be the most dangerous period of history. Eleanor of Aquitaine bore 11 surviving children in a period in which one out of every three births resulted in the death of the mother, the child, or both.
Author Hilton may be too free with her opinion, but her subject matter is so very interesting, it makes her book irresistible.
''Queens Consort'' has 426 pages in paper bound edition. It is intended to be sold for $18.95. It was printed by Pegasus Books.
Find it with ISBN number 978-1-60598-105-5. The online catalog shows one copy available from the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System, located in Jamestown, at Prendergast Library.
THE JUDGMENT OF PARIS
Lovers of the visual arts may well find ''The Judgment of Paris'' by Ross King, to be irresistible.
One of the greatest weaknesses of our society, is the frequency with which we encourage the foolish notion that culture and education are luxuries, possibly even fripperies. We love to boast about who does ''REAL'' work.
Of course, when we want a cure for a disease or a new technology, to compete with other cultures, we expect those miracles to grow up out of the pavement, because we need them.
One of the reasons we tend to clash so often with France is because one of its greatest weaknesses is to go to the opposite extreme. They richly fund and emotionally support culture and education, so they continue to try and fit those fragile concepts into inflexible hierarchies. If a painter, for example, has been awarded the Legion d'Honneur, he is - by definition - a better painter than one who has not won that great honor, so nobody but he should be allowed to decorate City Hall.
There are a number of books with this same title. The one I'm writing about is a history of French painters and sculptors between 1863 and 1874. In that time, most French art changed vastly in style, from paintings which were so realistic they were virtually photographs, to paintings which capture the quality of light in a certain situation, perhaps, but don't trouble much with specific detail. In other words, it is about the emergence of Impressionism.
King is a good writer, who uses excellent vocabulary and who explains jargon when it is necessary for the reader to understand.
The trouble with his book is that he tries to use the contrasting lives and styles of two painters to illustrate the entire change which art underwent in that period of just more than a decade.
Although famous names swim through these pages, including Delacroix, Monet, Hugo, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, and many more, the author focuses on Ernest Meissonier and Edouard Manet. The former was the darling of the government and the media of that day, but his name is known today, mostly by art historians, and serious art lovers who enjoy his particular style, while most people know something about Manet, whose work was frequently derided and insulted, during his lifetime.
Many will confuse him with Monet, whose paintings of water lilies have become so popular, but at the very least, we recognize the name.
If nothing else, it's fascinating to see the opinions of expert critics, and to compare them with the commonly-held views of those works of art, today.
The book has some excellent color illustrations, but since the whole book is about paintings, there are a great many for which we cannot consult a visual example. As a result, I cannot recommend it to just an inquisitive reader, unless that reader is prepared to read in near proximity to a shelf full of art books or a computer, where the reader knows how to quickly find high definition reproductions of the works being discussed.
To a reader who already knows most of the important art works of mid-19th Century French Art, the book is likely to be a delight.
It would probably be worth consulting at least an encyclopedia entry about France in those 11 years, so that names such as Napoleon III don't leave you puzzled. Historians often assume their readers already know much more history than they actually do.
''The Judgment of Paris'' has 374 pages in hard cover edition. Its recommended selling price is $28.
It was published by Walker and Company, of New York City, and it can be found with ISBN number 0-8027-1466-8?
There are copies which can be borrowed at the public libraries of Jamestown, Chautauqua, and Westfield.
Lovers of dance will be happy to learn that the world-famed Mariinsky Ballet - better known by its former name: the Kirov Ballet - will soon be performing in Toronto.
Performances will take place at the SONY Centre for the Performing Arts, which was formerly called the Hummingbird Centre, at the intersection of Front and Yonge Streets, in downtown Toronto. The company will offer seven performances, between March 1 and March 6, including two matinees.
Tickets begin at $60, Canadian, and go up, from there. To purchase them, phone (416) 872-2262m or go to www.sonycentre.ca.
The Buffalo Philharmonic will conduct auditions for male and female cast positions in a production of the musical show ''Funny Girl,'' which they will present April 9.
Auditions will be heard Feb. 22 and 23. Those who audition should prepare a short classical work and a short pop work, which are contrasting in style. They should bring their own accompanist, or have their accompaniment on CD.
To obtain an appointment for an audition, mail a resume and a headshot to Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Funny Girl Auditions, 499 Franklin St., Buffalo, NY 14202. You may also e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include full contact information, so they may contact you.
Friday, the famed improv comedy troupe ''The Second City'' will perform at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, at 7:30 p.m.
Their show is titled ''Fair and Unbalanced.'' The performance will be in the Bromeley Family Theatre. Tickets are $20 and $24 for the public, and $8 and $10 for students.
To purchase tickets, phone (814) 362-5113.
Feb. 25-27, members of Bradford Little Theatre will perform the interactive mystery and dinner theater performance, ''I'm Getting Murdered in the Morning.'' Performances will take place in the St. Bernard Educational and Social Hall, in downtown Bradford. A full meal, complete with wedding cake, is included with admission.
Tickets are $15 in advance and must be purchased at Tina's Hallmark, Graham Florist, Orr & McHenry Pharmacy or Smith's. Tickets not sold in advance will be sold at the door for $20.
A number of exhibits are now available to be seen at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, in Buffalo.
Through April 17, enjoy ''Telling Tales,'' an exhibit of small sculptures, each of which tells a story. Sculptors include Daumier, Barlach, Antoni, and Rosso.
Through June 5, see ''Artists in Depth: Picasso, Braque, Leger, and Delaunay.'' On display will be works from the gallery's permanent collection, by artists whose works have been acquired in depth by the gallery. Works are grouped to demonstrate the development and unfolding of the artists' careers.
Opening Friday, and running through June 5, see ''Surveyor,'' an exhibition of modern and contemporary work rooted in the exploration, observation, and construction of the landscape.
Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays. The first Friday of each month, extended closing time is 10 p.m. Admission charges are $12 for the general public, and $8 for senior citizens and students. Children younger than age 5 are admitted without charge.
For additional information, visit www.albrightknox.org.