Sunday, October 25, 2009

Celebrating The P-51 Mustang 65 Years Later

16,766 were built making them the most numerous fighter plane ever built. Perhaps, the most memorable event occurred on October 7, 1944 when US Army Air Force Lieutenant Urban Drew flying his P-51D Mustang named Detroit Miss (pictured above) shot down two ME-262's (Nazi Jet Planes, the first air combat jets produced, nicknamed Der Schwalbe, "The Swallow') as they were taking off from the German base at Achmer in Czechoslovakia.

Why single out this event as being significant? After all the Mustangs, first produced by North American Aviation in 1942, had been engaged in aerial combat and bomber escort duty over Europe and flew tens of thousands combat sorties.

The hard facts of war are this: most Mustang pilots had at most 60 hours of flight time in the plane before heading on their first mission . Drew had about 700 hours in the model because he began his WWII career as a flight instructor--thus he knew the craft. Second, the ME-262 was a superior craft since it was a jet plane capable of flying at over 560 MPH, whereas the Mustang was a propeller- driven air machine with a top speed 438 MPH. ( In fact, while on a mission the same month, Drew first saw a German jet, gave chase, fired his guns, but the jet outran him). Third, the deployment of ME-262's was a failed mission. Though first flown in 1942 and hampered by a lack of suitable engines, they were first introduced into air combat in July, 1944 and then only in small numbers; they failed to help the German offensive because by this time, the allies had virtually demolished the Nazi Air Force and there were little or no resources for further production or for purchase of adequate supplies of fuel.

While we laud the skills of Drew, let's recall some of the Aces that flew her in the Europe Theater in 1944: Colonel Donald Blakeslee (15 victories) and Commanding Officer for the famous 4th Fighter Group (which destroyed over 1000 German aircraft), Captain Dom Gentile (32 victories), Captain John Godfrey (31 victories total, 18 with 4th Fighter Group); On March 8, 1944, the 4th Fighter Group group was back in Berlin relieving P-47's escorting B-17's and were approached by 60 enemy craft. Teaming up together, Gentile and Godfrey knocked down 6 opposing planes as parachutes dotted the sky and several B-17's went down. Winston Churchill called Major Gentile and his wingman, Captain John T. Godfrey, Damon and Pythias, two legendary Greek characters who symbolized trust and loyalty in a solid friendship.

Let's also hail General Chuck Yeager (the first to break the sound barrier). At the October 17. 2009 Air Show at Edwards Air Force Base, Yeager, 86, broke the sound barrier again flying an F-16 at 30,000 feet.

Next, we recall Colonel Glenn T. Eagleston (23 victories) who was commander of the 354th Fighter Group of the Ninth Tactical Air Force and top ace of the 9th. He gets special mention as an ace who mastered aerial combat in two different wars piloting different machines in each--a piston performer, the Mustang in WW II and a high powered Jet, the F-86-Sabre jet in the Korean theater. On January 5, 1944, his 354th Fighter Group was escorting bombers withdrawing from Keil when they encountered a gaggle of Luftwaffe fighters. Flying at 23,000 feet, Eagleston peppered a Focke Wulf 190 with short bursts. The enemy craft dove away steeply as he gave pursuit. Then the FW-190 entered into a violent uncoverable spin and crashed into the ground; this gave him his first victory. In all, the 354th downed 18 enemy aircraft on that January 5th.

Major James Howard was also in the 9th and the only American ace in both theaters of the war (6 victories in China flying P-40's and 6 victories in Europe flying P-51's). The following letter written by Col. Howard B Bowman is recorded in the June, 1944 article for TRUE Magazine by Christian Gilbert, titled "One Man Air Force"; the letter describes the awe Howard was held by other airman who witnessed his sensational exploits in fighting off 20-30 Luftwaffe Messerschmitt 110's attack planes and protecting a group of tight knit B-17 bombers over The Oeschersleben Halberstadt Brunswick area, on January 11, 1944:

"In the full knowledge that words can not be found which will adequately express our feelings, I wish to convey on behalf of our group the heartfelt appreciation which we feel as a result of the unbelievable courage and heroism you displayed on the recent Oeschersleben mission. "Your unprecedented action in flying your P-51B alone and unaided into a swarm of German fighter planes estimated at between thirty and forty in an effort, to protect our Fortresses in the target area is a feat deserving of the highest commendation and praise. The fact that the odds were overwhelmingly against you and that you had no hope of receiving assistance in your unequal struggle did not deter you in your determination to engage the enemy. As one officer put it, 'It was a case of one lone American taking on the entire Luftwaffe.' Members of our group were lavish in their descriptions of the way you shot down enemy planes and, in particular, spoke in glowing terms of the attempts made to protect the combat wing against enemy attacks. I personally feel that your exploits that day evidenced the spirit of team work which is the sina qua non of successful military operations. Let me assure you that should you ever have occasion to visit this station your welcome will be a warm one. There is not a man in our group who hasn't sung your praises . ."

Lastly, the Tuskegee Airmen deserve recognition for their heroism as Mustang pilots flying in the 99th Fighter Squadron .. On January 27 and 28, 1944, a formation of FW-190 Luftwaffe warplanes raided Anzio, Italy. The 99th was one of eight fighter squadrons involved in the air defense. All together, all squadrons shot down 32 enemy war planes. The 99th alone accounted for 13, the highest score, whereas the second highest score by another squadron was seven. This proved that Black fighter pilots were equal to their white counterparts in shooting down enemy planes.

Nor were their exploits over; on Feb 5th and 7th, 1944, the 99th chalked up four more aerial victory feats. And during July 1944, the Tuskegee airmen claimed 36 enemy aircraft victories, the most ever scored in single month.

Picasso and Kandinsky at the Guggenheim's 50th Anniversary Exhibit

Today is Pablo Picasso's birthday. Along with Braque, he pioneered the way to cubism. His Demoiselles d'Avignon (shown above) portrays 5 prostitutes from Barcelona that could be based on his memory or a representation of actual models he used in his Rue Vignon studio. He did hundreds of sketches and studies in preparing for this seminal work.

Le Moulin de la Galette, 1900
Pablo Picasso
Guggenheim Museum
New York City

I am an admirer of Picasso because his art stands out, head and shoulders, above all other artists currently displayed at the Guggenheim's 50th Anniversary Exhibit. Two Picasso paintings particularly impress me. One is the Le Moulin de La Galette which, amazingly enough, was painted at age 19, when he first frequented Paris night clubs that brought together the bourgeois Parisiennes side by side with numerous streewalkers of Monmartre. There is a vibrant energy that pervades this intriguing evening scene; he cleverly contrasts the lively clad ladies with their top-hatted gentlemen dancing partners

Three flirtatious smiling seated ladies dominate the left front portion of the scene and they are subltly contrasted with three top-hatted single standing gentlemen at the top left. The connection between the two trios (they are seemingly poised to potentially hit on eachother) is strongly suggested and offset by the dancing couples who seem to be moving counter-clockwise in a merry go round motion.

There is a slight suggestion that Picasso may be influenced by the nascent photographic portraiture as some of his 'subjects' appear to be staring at the 'aperture' of the painter's imaginary camera. And off to the front is some kind of dandy with a sharply sculptured chin taking our line of sight off scene to some event that intrigues me. So, Picasso has represented many scenes each of which could be the subject of its own painting. All done in a very representational mode. He is very focussed on the pedestrian life around him with its infinite energies.

Woman with Yellow Hair, 1931
Pablo Picasso
Guggenheim Museum

New York City

Picasso's Woman with Yellow Hair painted 31 years later depicts, in contrast, a more sedate, peaceful less representational scene. The focus is on the flowing, sensuous, upper torso of this sleeping lady. Detail is submerged into the predominant lilac, sweet-scented mood. Her features lack detail and her hair, only partially yellow, suggests a fish tail, repressed energy waiting to swish-swash with vibrant music upon her awaking.

Fast forward now to the featured artist, with nearly 100 paintings, improvisations, compositions, etc. Vasily Kindinsky. His art is at once bewildering, overwhelming, puzzling and full of chaotic energy. It is well known how Hilla von Rebay urged her patron Solomon Guggenheim to buy as many Kandinskys as she could locate and he happily obliged. There are simply too many of them in this exhibit for us to absorb as we walk up the 'swirling' staircase' which was supposedly designed to mimic the artist's own sense of disorientation). Each composition is so full of energy, so replete with clashing and contrasting colors, tones, hues, etc and so many different vignettes (or cels--read on). All of which creates dissonance, strident sounds, atonal disharmony and reflect Wagnerian operatic expressionism (we know that Lohengrin inspired the budding artist).

Composition VII, displayed below is according to the artist the most complex painting he ever did. Unfortunately, it is not a part of the exhibit, though it best serves our purpose in showing the most number of cel-like structures in any one painting. It is the largest of all Kandinsky's paintings and part of 10 compositions painted between 1919-1939. It "reflects Kandinsky's quest to affirm the need for spiritual awakening in art, as in society, and places biblical references at its core. Its apocalyptic themes--the Deluge, Resurrection and Day of Judgment--are not expressed in a narrative but in a rising and plummeting Universe in which identifiable objects are almost totally subsumed by some greater force. (See Art, Over 2500 Works from Cave to Contemporary, DK Publishing, 2008, NYC, pages 436-439. Excellent 'dissection' of the work into discrete cels and enlightening commentary. Totally awesome!)

Composition VII, 1913
Vasily Kandinsky
The Tretyakov Gallery


So, how can we properly assess Kandinsky next to the 'stars' of the calmer cubists, impressionists and expressionists in the museum's Thannheuser Collection?

Perhaps, the best way to start one's appreciation of Kandinsky is to watch Roberta Smiths NYT Slide Show; Kudos to her comments that he was not really interested in creating perfect paintings, he was not interested in establishing resolutions. Indeed, as I see it, his paintings are composed of a collage seemingly infinite and disconnected cels (yes, cels as in the predigital old way of creating animated cartoons ala Disney)--each cel is a work of art unto itself. And so each of his 99 represented works is in a state of transformation and each work has many many cels that are themselves incomplete, in that they are in constant motion and the whole painting is thus incomplete, imperfect-- since composed of so many disconnected cels or foci of activity.

Quantum physics is another avenue of exploring and understanding the genius at work here. The BohrAtom Theory postulated in 1913 the existence of atoms composed of electrons (the source of energy) in orbit circling around a central nucleus. We can visualize the constant motion of atoms that may have intrigued and inspired the youthful artist (who had a known scientific bent) with the incessant restless movement found in all his creations Then about 10 years later The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle challenged the wave theory of energy by saying in simple terms that we cannot predict the location of electrons at any moment in time. This constant flux of energy is, perhaps, the only underlying constant within Kandinsky's works. There is no finality, no perfection, just endless transformation of all kinds of energies: in sound, light, color, movement, etc. Microcosmic universes, depicted here, mimic cosmic universes which are constantly morphing into other shapes, multi-verses, parallel universes, etc. How totally modern!

Enough said! You must experience these polymathic artists...

It's definitely worth a trip to this exhibit which runs through January 13. 2010.

"Art Washes Away From The Soul The Dust of Everyday Life" Picasso

Monday, October 19, 2009

I am lucky to have a job and pray to God every morning

I visited with my teenage nephews in the city this past weekend. They are doing fine and each one is working up to his ability at their private school where they are comfortably shielded from the reality that is our nationwide recession.
I am up early and took a morning walk in the neighborhood and wound up at the local 7-11 Convenience store where Tony and I struck up a conversation over a cup of coffee.
It is 5AM and Tony explains he is just returning from his job as a warehouseman at his company's locale a half hour train ride out on Long Island. He says "I pray to God every morning and thank him that I have a job. I no longer count the hours I work every day. I just show up and work and load water bottles on trucks.." Tony is short, thin and a youthful 35, full of enthusiasm. He wears a clean green jacket with logos touting the various mineral waters his company distributes: Perrier, Evian, Poland Spring etc.
He continues: "In order to sell product during these difficult times, my company cut in half the price they charge the vendors for cases, so they are loading up on product because they can get twice as much water for the same price. My company is not hiring so I wind up loading twice as many cases as usual. It's a lot more work, I don't get paid any more, but, man, I am happy to have a job and pray to God every morning I still have a job tomorrow. I was laid off from another water company in the city..."
I take leave of Tony,smile at him, thank him for sharing his story and, as we leave, he lights up, smiles and urges me to pray to God every day like he does.
Perhaps, we can all help each other a bit more by listening to one another and by showing appreciation for their courage, hope, optimism and enthusiasm during these trying times.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy Columbus Day To All

What a wonderful day for us to pause and give thanks to one of the great explorers of his day, Christopher Columbus. Although, he did not actually land anywhere in our country, we salute him because he directly and indirectly inspired others such as Cartier, Coronado DeSoto, Champlain, Hudson et al. to open up our vast continent for settlement. They were truly European New World Discoverers by default. After all, they were looking for a water passage to the riches of the Far East.

It's a beloved day by all Americans since it is a national holiday . Schoolchildren and their teachers have a day off. The malls are traditionally crowded by people chasing merchandise reduced for Columbus day. The stock markets are open with dollars chasing stocks. It is a great op to take to the highways and byways to catch a glimpse of the fall foliage.

So today, in the spirit of entrepreneurship and discovery, I will commence a blog commenting on hot topics from the twittersphere. This will provide me with the opportunity to grab and use my digital cam to share my interest in photography by posting photos of a topical nature .

I visited New York City yesterday and took some photos and videos in and around Central Park's Sheep Meadow and surrounding area. Here they are.
My favorite is the one featuring NYPD's German Shepherd chasing a 'frisbee.'


Hail to the new 'cloud'