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WiseGuy: The Author's Blog

The Painted Caves of France Part II

A Paleolithic portrait approximately 17,000 years old. Benfifal Cave near Les Eyzes.

This portrait is unique. We were not allowed to take pictures. The image, downloaded from the internet, hardly does the portrait justice. What we saw in the flashlight's beam was a distinct, image of a man with a long oval face perfectly outlined in black, prominent eyes and thick eyebrows and black hair worn in a topknot. When lit from the side, he appeared to have a moustache. Was this a self-portrait? Who was he? He looks hauntingly modern. He could be my neighbor.


My immediate question: could it be a later drawing. "No!" the guide explains, the portrait is rendered in Manganese dioxide which cannot be directly dated. The calcite dripping covering the image clearly dates it as prehistoric. The images in the cave are Magdelenian--15,000 years old. Our guide believes the portrait to be of the same age.
The walls at Benifal and Lascaux and other caves are filled with engravings. These are hard to photograph but show a real mastery of line that could only have been obtained though much practice. The lines show a consistent flow and the designs are repetitive in a given cave.  This suggests a training method similar to the teaching of Suma-e painting or Japanese calligraphy.


The student practices making the same brush stroke over and over until its execution becomes ingrained and almost automatic. It is a technique difficult enough to master with a supple brush and harder with a flint burin.
Beautiful, precise, highly stylized engravings of animals are also found on portable art. At the museum at Les Eyzes, there are a number of engraved bones and a particularly famous engraving known as the licking bison rendered on mammoth ivory. https://www.facebook.com/richardwwisebooks


Part III, Stay tuned.

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The Painted Caves of France Part I

By Richard W. Wise
I am finishing up my soon to be published historical novel,The Dawning: 31,000 BC scheduled for publication in October. The action takes place in and near the famous Chauvet Cave of Southwestern France. The cave art figures in the narrative. I decided to go in case there was something I missed and there was. Here are my impressions.


Seven days in Southern France devoted to cave art. From Vallon Pont d'Arc to Les Eyzes de Tayak, we've visited Chauvet, Benifal, Lascaux, Font de Gaume, Cougnac, Rouffignac and Abri du Cap Blanc. We've traveled about five hundred miles.
Most of the works are outlined in black. The artist usually used a crayon of Magnesium dioxide, pine or bone charcoal. Particularly as Lascaux, the animals were outlined using a masking/blowing technique, a form of spray painting. It appears that the artist began with the line of the back. What is amazing is how these elegant lines which beautifully define the animals shape were often drawn with a single uninterrupted stroke. Using these techniques on cave walls it is not possible to erase and start over.
The ubiquitous negative hand prints which are found in many caves, including those in Australia, Indonesia and the American Southwest. The artist either fills his mouth with powdered charcoal or ochre, uses a stencil and blows the powder onto the wall or uses a blowpipe.
The lyrical elegance of line reminds me of Matisse.  How many times must this stroke been practiced? Was it done in sand, with a graver on shale or perhaps on a deerskin stretched across a frame as was done by our own Southwestern native Americans.
There are basically three colors; black, white and red. The white, normally the background rock, the red is red ochre (powdered iron/hematite drawn with crayon or blown). The technique was sophisticated. The ochre heated to various temperatures, turned brownish, orangy, red and even purple.
At Benifal, near the town of Les Eyzes, we got our biggest surprise when our guide trained the beam of her flashlight on a beautifully drawn portrait of a Paleolithic man. Human representations are rare; almost non-existent in French Paleo art. Unlike the animal rendering, when figures do appear, they tend to be vague, partial and not well rendered. These figures are best described as anthropomorphic (man like) rather than as clear images of humans.


Part II, A Big Surprise: CLICK READ PART TWO

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Review: Sapphire by Joanna Hardy READ FREE: Gemmology Today Magazine

Sapphire: A Celebration of Colour
By Joanna Hardy
Edited by Robert Violette
Thames & Hudson, 2021
978-0-500-024775 $125.00
Sapphire is the third volume in a series on precious gemstones written by Joanna Hardy, produced by Thames & Hudson and edited by Robert Violette. The other two are appropriately titled Emerald and Ruby.
What strikes the reviewer immediately is the book's size. At 10.3 x 1.6 x 13.8 inches, it qualifies as an elephant portfolio, weighing in at a whopping 7.4 lbs. (3.36 kilos)
Hardy's depth of scholarship is impressive, though the book would be more appropriately titled "Sapphire Jewellery" as that is the focus of the discussion throughout. Hardy begins with an impressive historical introduction followed by an opening chapter on Early Trade, which contains much of interest. For example, I had assumed that most sapphires, even those in early European jewelry, came from Sri Lanka. I was totally unaware of the existence of a source in the Auvergne region of France. This chapter is followed by Medicine and Magic. READ ON FREE

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Graybeard: Monster Wave Stalks The North Atlantic (short story)

December, 1965: the ship had pulled a Bravo over the Christmas holidays. Thirty days steaming in a giant square of ocean off of Argentia, Newfoundland, charting icebergs. They had ridden through two official hurricanes. Winds up to force nine.  Seas running twenty to thirty feet for the first fifteen days of the patrol. Two weeks with the hatches battened down—without a breath of fresh air—the crew was getting squirrely.  It was a Thursday night just past 2100 hours (9:00 PM).  The watch had changed an hour before. 
Clark was reading a novel in his cabin when the monster wave hit. It was a rogue, a graybeard, eighty feet tall—some later claimed it was over a hundred. Clark had heard of them, but like most sea stories—he figured—they were more hyperbole than fact. The Yakutat was steaming upwind, plowing into the oncoming swells. Nobody knew where the huge wave came from or why. It hit the ship dead astern. READ CHAPTER ONE FREE ON KINDLE VELLA:   Graybeard

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Youngkin: The Republican Cult Strikes Back.

Last Friday, the Republican party censured two of its members, Representatives: Adam Kinzinger and Liz Chaney. It also denounced the congressional committee investigating the January 6th attempted insurrection and labeled its work as the "persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse."
While a majority of Republican office holders remain in thrall to the cult of the former president, others are touting the successful campaign of Virginia Republican governor Glenn Youngkin as a new, softer, model in Republican electoral strategy.
Youngkin, a soft-spoken multi-millionaire with a full head of hair, won a close election (50.6-48.6%) against a popular former Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe in the state's most expensive governor's race to date. Several reasons have been given for the Democratic loss, but the primary reason may be McAuliffe's gaff in a debate over the issue of Critical Race Theory (CRT) when he said: "parents should not be telling schools what they should teach."
The attack on CRT--a term that has come to mean teaching any of the truths about American history that discomforts conservatives-- came seemingly out of nowhere, appears to be the brainchild of one Christopher Rufo, a west coast conservative activist. Rufo, raised the issue in a September 2nd 2020 appearance on the Tucker Carlson Show. CRT had infested the federal bureaucracy. Rufo stated that the president could ban it by executive order. The next morning, Rufo received a call from Trump chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Trump was ready to act.
Youngkin, a kinder, gentler acolyte, avoided Trumpian braying and stuck to bread and butter issues during the course of the campaign. While Republican activists whipped up the base and newly formed parent's groups began to Mau-Mau local school board meetings, Youngkin embraced the anti-CRT movement and the idea that parents should be active in their children's education including having a right to have a say in school curricula.
Once elected, Youngkin's people introduced bills in the state legislature that would ban "divisive concepts" (see previous blog post) and set up a state system of charter schools. This new system of education which would have paralled the exiting public system and bypassed local school boards, would include state per capita funding being withdrawn from local school districts and transferred to schools set up by for profit companies.


Aside from using state funds to off set the cost of sending his friends kids to private schools, according to Youngkin's strategy, fix failing schools by simply choking off their funding.

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Governor Youngkin's Virginia RAT-LINE:


Virginia's newly inaugurated Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin is off to a great start. After issuing an executive order banning Critical Race Theory along with other "inherently divisive concepts", Youngkin has set up an email "tip-line" so local students/parents can rat out their teachers.
"We have set up a particular email address called helpeducation@governor.virginia.gov for parents to send us any instances where they feel their fundamental rights are being violated, where their children are not being respected, where there are inherently divisive practices in their schools," Youngkin said.
As if polarization was not bad enough, Virginia's Republican governor is dedicated to making it worse. What an opportunity. So, for those (not you and me, of course) who may have a secret grudge against Miss Riley, your old 8th grade history teacher? Now's your chance: RAT HER OUT!
Unhappy with your grade from Mr. Rock n' Roll's in 10th grade Civics? RAT HIM OUT! Let's make a mockery of school discipline.
Let's remember that this is the Old Dominion. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, Virginia's government responded with Massive Resistance against integration. When my wife, Rebekah, and I first moved to Virginia four years ago, we thought all this had changed.  We were moving to the New Virginia. The state had a Democratic governor and both houses of the state legislature were controlled by Democrats. That has now flipped with Republican's in control of the administration and the state senate and the proponents of Massive Resistance may have been in stasis for a while, but they were still out there, lying in the muck, waiting.  And, institutional racism has since slouched into Richmond and been reborn.
"Ridicule is man's most potent weapon."
                                               Saul Alinsky
Generation Z to the Rescue: Spam The Rat-line.
Recognizing Youngkin's latest for what it is, a transparent attempt to suppress free speech and intimidate educators, several Tik Tok activists immediately responded with a campaign to spam the rat line: Sofia Ongele, a 21-year-old from Santa Clarita, California, is one of those who has responded by establishing a website: https://crtmail.netlify.app The website includes a button which will generate an email direct to the Virginia Rat-line. You may customize it or replace text with your own. Another Instagram account includes a number of GenZ groups: https://www.instagram.com/p/CZSX8s3lald/
Speaking from the perspective of an old-time Alinsky-style community organizer, let me say I'm impressed by the GenZ response. It demonstrates a speed, technical savvy and tactical flexibility that is frankly lacking in much of the stodgy tactics I hear about from the old progressives with their emphasis on purity and political correctness. Let's get out there and SPAM.

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Book Review: Emerald: Modern Gemmology by Swartz and Curti

I do regular book reviews for Gemmolgy Today and occasionally for other publications as well. For those interested in emeralds, Click the image to go to the Fall/Winter issue of Incolor Magazine and read my review of Emerald: Modern Gemmology, a study of world sources of gem emerald.

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Book Review: Isle Of The Blest by Eugene Christy

With the August publication of The Isle of the Blest, Eugene Christy has completed the final volume of his American Quintet. The series traces the story of Christy's immigrant family. The Isle of The Blest also completes Christy's coming of age as an important American writer. The 600-page final novel, a fictionalized memoir, traces Christy's yearlong sojourn in Ireland (1971-72) in the midst of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland known as "The Troubles". This book is quite simply a masterpiece. 
After a visit by the FBI, Petrovich has been fired by a Massachusetts anti-poverty program for organizing anti-war protests. Disillusioned with his country, he is on his way to the emerald isle to reunite with his native-born wife and daughter. The book begins with a view out the window of his aircraft and continues in a small village in County Mayo. Christy's portraits of the countryside, his in-laws and life in a rural Irish village are beautifully nuanced, his command of language and his memory for detail, stunning.
It is with Nick's move to Dublin in search of a job, to support his wife and daughter Aisling, that the novel really hits its stride. The gritty details—his colorful characterizations—set the reader down amidst the quotidian reality of working-class Dublin. Soon enough Nick encounters and joins Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Provisional IRA. We meet Mick, the budding revolutionary, the sultry radical Bernadette and Comrade Krishna, the Indian expatriate, all young people dedicated to the Republican cause.
 We are on the ground with the protestors during Dublin's Mountjoy Prison Riot. We see much of it from the perspective of the men wielding the petrol bombs. We experience the short-lived Northern Island "Truce" and get down and dirty with the residents of Belfast's infamous Bogside ghetto. And through it all, Christy, using masterly language, literally rubs our faces in the smells, the sights, the sounds and the desires and disappointments of the people of The Blessed Isle.
The Isle of The Blest is the story of an alienated young man—like so many— who came of age amidst the turmoil of the 1960s. It is also the story of young love and a political statement. The writing will shock, entertain and enchant you.  The story will keep you turning pages. Get it!  Read it! Don't worry if you haven't read the earlier books; The Isle Of The Bleststands on its own. It is a unique and compeling narrative. it won't disappoint you.

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IGI Reviews The French Blue

Just imagine:


A humble mapmaker's son travels the ancient world, discovers fantastic treasures, rescues a damsel and rises to the highest levels of French aristocracy.


It's a true story

If you don't know it, "The French Blue" is a terrific read for true-lovers of diamonds, gemstones, travel, excitement and romance.  Based on true events, the book recounts the remarkable voyages of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a 17th Century trader of precious gems best known for discovering the phenomenal 115 carat blue diamond which later became the French Blue and, ultimately, the


Hope Diamond.


Author Richard W. Wise, takes factual events and blends them with plausible speculation to create a long and delightful tale; rich in history, action and romance. It could have been a far longer saga, in fact. The author states that before editing to 584 pages his book was over 1300 pages long. I find his editing prowess sustained richness and kept the pages turning. (click image for more)

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Lecture: Secrets Of The Gem Trade at the Gemological Institute of America Washington DC Chapter

For those of you who missed or may be interested in a recent lecture i gave at the Washington DC, chapter of the GIA Alumni Association, here is a free link to the You Tube lecture: 

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