domingo, 30 de março de 2008

The art of having a baby

One spring morning a few years ago - well five, in fact: one never forgets such things - a postcard dropped through my door. It showed the Madonna del Parto by Piero della Francesca, a painting I thought I knew well. You probably know it too, at least from reproductions, the original being on display in a former village school in Tuscany. It shows two angels drawing back the curtains of a tent-like pavilion to reveal a Madonna with her eyes gently lowered: a column of calmness, beautiful in blue, one of Piero's magnificently still, silent figures.

I did a double-take. I had always thought the Madonna was supposed to be pregnant - she has one hand to her waist as if easing the weight, and the other just below her breast where a seam in her overdress has been unstitched, as if her clothes were growing too tight. But I wondered, suddenly, whether she was not pregnant at all, just gesturing at a potential pregnancy, representing a mystical future she could only imagine. Like so much Christian art, perhaps the Madonna was only a symbol; or worse, centuries of people looking at the picture had mistaken the bulk of her robes for a gently swelling belly. After all, anyone who thought that Arnolfini's wife was pregnant in Jan Van Eyck's famous painting had only fairly recently been told to think again. Costume historians had established, once and for all, that the yards of green cloth she holds swagged up to her waist are not a sign of fertility, just Flemish high fashion of the 15th century.

I know exactly why I had this brief crisis of faith in Piero's mysterious painting. I had just believed - hoped - that I was pregnant: pregnant again after the loss of a baby. It was inconceivable to me (and inconceivable is, alas, the vicious word that always springs to mind in these circumstances) that I was not, after all, pregnant; or at least not very pregnant. They call it a chemical pregnancy, as if it existed only in a science laboratory and not in the hearts of the parents, and it is generally over within weeks. I found I could not look at paintings or sculptures of pregnant women at all at that time without wondering whether they were really, conclusively pregnant.

We need images, quite apart from anything else, where we have no words. The postcard was an encouragement from a friend who couldn't possibly have guessed how bad the timing would be. Grateful as I am, it's not actually the painting I would choose in any case. I don't know that pregnancy per se is what one wants to see when struggling through the sunless corridor of infertility, any more than photographs of other people's longed-for babies on the walls of IVF clinics.

But how is an artist to represent fertility when it is an unknown quantity - an entirely invisible state? Nobody knows who has it and who doesn't, at least from the outside. In Piero's day, the only manifestation of fertility would have been pregnancy itself; the only proof for the purposes of art the growing belly or - to use an atrocious but common fertility clinic phrase - a 'take-home baby'. The first proof of it nowadays, oddly enough, is still graphic: that notorious double blue line on the test, although even this is not quite a proof. I have seen lines so faint you could barely make them out by the light of 100 suns, gone ahead and celebrated, and then seen them vanish in the very next test.

Fertility in art is generalised, if I may so generalise. It is an attribute in search of a body. It is a ripe bosom and child-bearing hips, or a healthy young nude with an inviting smile, or a woman in some frieze bearing a basket of apples or corn. It is plentiful Ceres, Roman goddess of harvest and motherly love (a concept, you notice, not a human being) or her Greek counterpart Demeter, scattering seeds, her name apparently meaning distribution-mother. It is, I am sorry to say, the figure made 25,000 years age by an anonymous man in Austria, who picked up a piece of limestone and carved it into a nude woman with outsize breasts and Zeppelin thighs (but no face of course), that posterity has laughably dubbed the Venus of Willendorf.

Fertility in art is availability plus abundance, with an optional lusty wink. It is, in short, total embarrassment. And an embarrassment not even restricted to the depiction of women, let it be freely said. Who, coming across it in the National Gallery, hasn't squirmed in front of David Tenier's rude personification of Spring as a gardener carrying an upright young tree in a pot before him: fertility as a huge comedy phallus.

And its opposite: infertility? No sight gags there; no sights at all. I can hardly summon even one image to mind. Barren land, seeds cast on stony ground, the empty vessel, the drought - Biblical metaphors, all, that speak irrefutably for themselves without need of further illustration.

Perhaps one should not be surprised that art has trouble representing fertility except as animal, vegetable or allegory. For fertility is a curious, secret thing, something unknown, invisible, unmeasurable until, like so many of us, you end up in a clinic being told that you do not have very much of it.

Fertility is a potential, pure and simple, abstract. But art has always had to invent images for states of being that can't be discerned in the visible world. Depression, for instance: think of Dürer's Melancolia, that large woman sitting heavily on her stool, head in hand, face like thunder, surrounded by a sizeable junk yard of allegorical bric-a-brac from which she can't escape and in which nothing is clear, uplifting, bright or ever likely to improve. Or Munch's Scream - that peculiar worm-like figure clapping its hands to its face while the air around him reverberates with a long howl of psychic pain. Not for nothing is it the most instantly recognisable image, I'd say, in modern art. If you want something to give you courage, look at Delacroix's deathless Liberty at the Barricades, best foot forward and that brave high arm leading the citizens onwards. If you want to stop arguing about who's turn it is to do something dull but needful about the house, look at Rembrandt's Jewish Bride, the tenderest image of harmonious love and the pleasures of marital peace imaginable.

We should use art. It's a necessity, not a luxury for connoisseurs and collectors. And what painter ever made a picture just to be seen by one or two viewers? Our great public collections are for our great mutual benefit: to be plundered for comfort, new ideas, moral lessons, tales of the lives of others and, like music, for inspiration and encouragement.

During the years I have longed, beyond words, for a child, I have often gone to the National Gallery for inspiration. But there are only one or two paintings of women with child (none of them, incidentally, the Virgin Mary: Piero's Madonna was always uncommon). Naturally, there are cornucopias of fruitful nudes.

In my work as an art critic I came across Anish Kapoor's quasi-mystical sculptures, rounded womb-like cavities that seemed to glow by cunning optical effect. I saw Peter Randall-Page's fertile stone forms, rounded again, sometimes gathering soft moss outdoors in the landscape. I looked at Helen Chadwick's ethereally beautiful necklaces made of images of rejected embryos - five cells interlinked like Olympic rings, silver-blue, just as they are beneath the microscope in reality. I looked and felt as sorrowful as Chadwick must have hoped.

I remember that Ron Mueck, the Australian super-real sculptor my fellow critics like to despise, but I don't, made a sculpture during a residency at the National Gallery clearly with the Virgin Birth in mind. Half life-sized, and astoundingly real right down to the last follicle and flush of the cheek, it's a mother seeing her baby for the first time only seconds after birth, both of them utterly dazed.

Labour is so recent the mother's hands are still clenched, her toes flexed as she struggles to raise her head high enough to see the baby on her stomach. What she feels is not yet obvious either to herself or the viewer - how can she know who this person is; we call them little strangers, don't we? - a being only just made visible. It is the precise moment before amazement gives way to emotion. Who is this child and where did it come from? It's a question the sculpture itself raises since there seems to be no explanation for the baby's position so high upon the mother's stomach, the chord still uncut. How did this miracle get here?

Science still doesn't have many useful answers. You can know every single fact of reproduction and yet not understand why it isn't happening. You can be as expert, very nearly, as the experts themselves. But unexplained infertility remains the commonest kind, and almost as inexplicable is the way it may suddenly come to an end.

Fertility clinics have no idea what to put on their walls. Something pink, something soothing, something vague and inoffensive as the ambient, computer-generated waterfalls and glades displayed under the comically literal banner 'Pictures' at Ikea.

I suppose they don't want to raise your hopes to a pitch. But it is in these clinics that some of us may be blessed enough to see the first, best, most astonishing image of fertility finally coming to life - in my case the little dark universe on the scanner twinkling with two sequins of light: my twin daughters' tiny beating hearts.

And how does that feel? I don't have words. Let me give you an image instead. It is a painting made a very long time ago by a monk working alone in a cell, a man whose imagination enters more deeply than one can believe, almost, into this timeless, ever-recurring moment. A woman is receiving the news that she has conceived - not from a doctor, as you guessed, but an angel. In fact the split-second of the telling is in itself the conception. Mary leans forward, her hands crossed over her body as if receiving a blessing, but also as if protecting the new life there. Her face is a graceful portrait of that singular moment between universal awe and the dawning of more bewildering emotion. It is Fra Angelico's Annunciation - sudden revelation made visible.

segunda-feira, 24 de março de 2008

domingo, 16 de março de 2008

Ora que bela ideia!

  • Parents listed as “Producers”
  • Variety of “Critic’s Quotes” about your baby
  • Title of “movie” (can be anything you'd like)
  • Date, time, weight and height of baby
  • Doctor listed as “Director”
  • Filmed in” the Hospital the baby was delivered
  • Siblings, Grandparents, Godparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins
    and ANY other special people who you want included
  • Made Possible with a grant by God
  • “Catering” by the mother
  • “Stories” by Mother Goose
  • “Subtitles in ...” any additional language
  • “Soundtrack” on Waaaahhhh!!! records
  • Rated B for Boy, Rated G for Girl, or Rated T for Twins
  • “Costumes” and “Props” listed
  • “Now Showing” in your city of residence
    (Choose whatever details are appropriate for you)

sábado, 15 de março de 2008

quinta-feira, 13 de março de 2008

Fears / Medos

Fears: Ranked from childhood through parenthood

(with thanks to Ray Federman)

1. Fear of the dark

Under the bed.
Inside the closet.
Between leap and landing (floor to bed).
(Related) Long arm reaching out from under bed.

2. Fear of separation

Lost in a crowd (accidental).
Lost in a crowd (on purpose).
Lost in the woods (either).

3. Fear of abandonment

Parents dying.
Parents divorcing.
One parent moving.
Parents remarrying.

4. Fear of wicked stepparent
5. Fear of pee accidents

In school.
In bed.
In friend’s bed.

6. Fear of bras

Needing one.
Not needing one.
Anyone looking closely enough to know.

7. Fear of menstrual period

Getting it.
Not getting it.
Surprise attack.

8. Fear of embarassment

Wrong clothes.
Wrong hair.
Wrong glasses.
Wrong body.
Wrong mother.

9. Fear of Getting Pregnant
10. Fear of rejection

By friends.
By boyfriend.
By colleges.

11. Fear of being found out
12. Fear of not getting work

Not paying student loans.
Not paying bills.

13. Fear of selling out

Deserting dreams.
Embracing capitalism.

14. Fear of the dark (continued)

Parking lots at night.
Deserted streets at night.
Apartments at night.
Houses at night.
Bedrooms at night.

15. Fear of rejection (continued)

By lovers.
By bosses.
By friends.

16. Fear of being unloved
17. Fear of being unlovable
18. Fear of having married the wrong person
19. Fear of not getting pregnant
20. Fear of mortality

Parents’ mortality.
Spouse’s mortality.
Signs of mortality.

21. Fear of childbirth
22. Fear of losing a child

To crib death.
To falling down stairs.
To a head injury.
To bathtub.
To a bicycle accident.
To a car accident.
To a playground accident.
To a freak accident.
To pneumonia.
To cancer.
To a thousand kinds of cancer.
To a pedophile.
To a kidnapper.
To a babysitter.
To a stranger.
To a tick bite.
To a bad heart.
To thin ice.
To a swimming pool.
To falling rocks.
To drugs.
To gun violence.
To poor judgment.
To sport.
To a dare.
To driving.
To driving drunk.
To heartbreak.
To childbirth.

—Jan Pettit

Spineless Books

terça-feira, 11 de março de 2008

How To Cook Everything

And anything ;)

"Recipes that taste this good aren't supposed to be so healthy.
Mark Bittman makes being a vegetarian fun."
—Dr. Mehmet Oz

segunda-feira, 10 de março de 2008

O teu primeiro álbum de Poesia

O Meu Primeiro Álbum de Poesia tem a capacidade rara de tornar acessíveis, a leitores de todas as idades, poemas de grandes autores portugueses do séc. XVI aos nossos dias, conseguindo proporcionar-lhes um prazer genuíno e duradouro.

Nesta antologia encontra-se poesia criteriosamente seleccionada por Alice Vieira de autores como Luís Vaz de Camões, Fernando Pessoa, Miguel Torga, António Gedeão, Eugénio de Andrade, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, Mário-Henrique Leiria, Ruy Belo, Luísa Ducla Soares, Matilde Rosa Araújo, Vasco Graça Moura, entre outros.

Cada leitor será livre de decidir aquele que prefere, aquele de que menos gosta, aquele que mais o encantou (mesmo que não tenha percebido as palavras todas), aquele que lhe pareceu mais estranho, aquele que aprendeu logo de cor.

As autoras Alice Vieira e Danuta Wojciechowska coleccionaram os poemas e conceberam as imagens deste álbum, que somos convidados a apreciar página a página e, no fi nal, a completar.

Trata-se de uma obra para leitura individual ou em grupo. Com ela se pode começar a amar a língua, a literatura e os livros numa aventura através da linguagem poética que envolve compreensão, imaginação e coração.

A vida emocional dos Bebés

Interessante... e leu-se na sala de espera da Pediatra!
(sou muuuuuito rápida, não esperámos assim tanto tempo :)

Agora resta ouvir o CD... Ainda andamos a ouvir Raimond Lap.

E temos que lhe dar com muito Mozart, sei lá ;)

O Teu Pequeno Nome aborda questões do desenvolvimento afectivo dos bebés durante o tempo de gestação e no primeiro ano de vida, destacando a importância das boas experiências emocionais precoces para um adequado desenvolvimento individual e social futuro.
Pensado para pais que aguardam a chegada do seu filho ou que lidam diariamente com as necessidades globais de um bebé, este é um livro que se destina a todos quantos se interessam pela promoção da saúde mental infantil desde os primeiros tempos de vida.

O Teu Pequeno Nome inclui ainda um CD com a interpretação da obra de Robert Schumann Cenas Infantis op. 15, pelo pianista Jorge Moyano.

sábado, 8 de março de 2008

Estou passada

ou, título alternativo, esta gente deve saber o que é um Bidé ;)

How often to bathe kids?

há que ler tudo, especialmente os comentários.

Não obstante, não vou chamar nomes a esta gente, eu que sou do tempo do banho semanal e da lavagem diária possivel, e não chamo também porque as crianças, seja em que idade for, devem ter dias impossíveis de encaixar, de aturar, de banhar :)
Lá chegaremos...

A Torre de Belém em Lego

Todas as imagens aqui.

Muitas maravilhas da arquitectura... Lego ;) aqui.

Master torgugick for Brickshelf, thanx!

sexta-feira, 7 de março de 2008

Why Do They Put Lead Paint in Toys?

Toy manufacturer Mattel recalled nearly 19 million Chinese-made toys Tuesday, including 436,000 toy cars containing lead paint. That was only two weeks after yanking nearly a million of its Fisher-Price toys for preschoolers because of lead content. Why would a toymaker ever use lead paint?

Because it's bright, durable, flexible, fast-drying, and cheap. Paint manufacturers mix in different lead compounds depending on the color of the paint. Lead chromates, for example, can enhance a yellow or orange hue. Municipal workers often use lead paint because it resists the color-dimming effects of ultraviolet light: The double yellow line in the middle of the road? That's loaded with lead. Paint manufacturers also add lead and other heavy metals to make paint stick better instead of flaking off. Price is also a factor: China mass-produces the stuff, and coloring agents like lead chromate are generally cheaper than organic pigments. (That said, added lead used to be a luxury. A house painter in the early 20th century would show up to a job with two buckets—one for the paint substrate, one for the lead powder. The more lead he added, the better the paint, the higher the price.)

Lead paint has other qualities that make it attractive to manufacturers. For one thing, it resists mildew, making it perfect for wood furniture and other surfaces likely to get wet. It's also anti-corrosive: Ship makers have historically applied a coating of lead paint, often containing the red mineral litharge, to the bottom of metal ships' hulls. (The Romans used lead paint, too—that's why the paint on some of their ruins is so well-preserved.)

But for all its utility, lead is dangerous even in small quantities. In 1978, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission made it illegal to use any paint containing more than 0.06 percent lead for residential structures, hospitals, and children's products. But it's still widely used on bridges, tanks, towers, heavy equipment, parking lots, road signs, and other large-scale projects. There's still lead in most consumer paints, too—just much, much less. Many paint manufacturers now use safer alternatives like zinc, although it doesn't quite match lead's luster or strength.*

People have known about lead's harmful effects for centuries. Benjamin Franklin once wrote a letter about the "bad Effects of Lead taken inwardly," and some 19th-century paint companies ran newspaper ads bragging about their lead-free paint. President George H.W. Bush's dog, Millie, attracted national attention to the dangers of lead poisoning in 1992, when she got sick from breathing lead dust during White House renovations. In 2006, the state of Rhode Island won a lawsuit against three major paint companies, which were ordered to clean up 300,000 contaminated homes.

From Slate's Explainer

Isto sou eu agora

Babies can cause 'momnesia'
Holly Massingill noticed the little slip-ups first.

The Austin mother, who once had an "almost photographic" memory, began to stumble over friends' names when introducing them. She would hop in her car and forget where she wanted to go.

Massingill began to wonder about her brain, though, after she asked her friend if she was looking forward to her upcoming wedding. The friend reminded her the wedding had taken place a month ago — and Massingill was there.

Momnesia — the mental fuzziness and memory lapses that set in shortly after childbirth — had struck again.

"At first I thought it was about being really tired," says Massingill, 36, whose son, Mace, is now 7 months old. "I can't even remember the things I've forgotten. I really think motherhood does something to your brain."

Scientists agree. While researchers say they can't explain all the ways motherhood affects a woman's memory, they agree there's a pattern.

Like Massingill, many moms feel mentally foggy in the days after delivery. And they notice that the details of labor and delivery, which are scenes one might expect to be seared into a woman's consciousness, began to slowly slip away.

Sadly, Massingill says, her son's first few weeks of life have become a blur.

Few parents enjoy feeling so scatterbrained, says neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain. And momnesia can be dangerous, such as when moms forget to fasten the straps in an infant's car seat. Yet momnesia may give modern mothers an evolutionary advantage, Brizendine says.

"It turns you into someone who serves that little infant, to keep it alive no matter what," says Brizendine, founder of the Women's and Teen Girls' Mood and Hormone Clinic at the University of California in San Francisco. "Other parts of your brain that are usually on high alert are sort of taken offline."

Women may be reluctant to talk about their memory problems for fear of being judged poorly at work, especially because returning to a demanding job puts even more stress on the brain, Brizendine says.

But women don't get dumber after childbirth. Instead, like sleep-deprived medical residents who learn on the job, their brains are getting a workout. "You are learning a lot," she says. "Once your mommy brain gets readjusted, you get more efficient, and you become smarter and learn things faster, but it won't happen all at once."

Mothers' priorities often change dramatically while caring for a baby. They need to be "hyper vigilant" about their infants, who may develop symptoms of illness that are apparent only to those who have scrutinized their every coo and cry, Brizendine says. "You're on the mother beat all the time. It requires certain parts of your brain to work hyper, hyper, hyper well. But it requires other parts of your brain to play second fiddle."

Hypervigilance in other areas

The cost of that vigilance can be a little ditziness, and that is a price many moms are willing to pay.

Amy Prather of Nampa, Idaho, for example, occasionally leaves wet laundry in the washing machine or forgets to return phone calls. But she also has learned to spot subtle signs of trouble in her 2½-year-old daughter, Faith, including a dangerous bowel obstruction that doctors initially dismissed as colic.

Elizabeth Singleton of Gig Harbor, Wash., has learned to react quickly when her 17-month-old daughter, Kiersten, is choking, partly because she has had so much practice. She estimates she has fished objects out of her baby's throat at least 20 times.

Yet she burned her favorite teapot by leaving it on the stove, and she still occasionally stores milk in the cupboard rather than the fridge, a mistake she typically discovers after the milk has spoiled.

When it comes to the pain of childbirth, a little amnesia is a good thing. The brain typically softens or erases memories of traumatic events to permit people to continue functioning.

Women whose memories of childbirth remain too vivid may suffer post-traumatic flashbacks, Brizendine says. "You remember the pain was really bad, but you can't get into that space," she says.

If women's memories of labor and delivery didn't fade, "we'd never have sex again," says Sharon Phelan, an obstetrician and gynecologist with the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.

Women's plummeting estrogen levels, which lurch from "incredibly high" in late pregnancy to "virtually non-existent" after delivery, can make it hard to focus. While estrogen plays a key role in fertility, it also acts as a neurotransmitter, sending signals in the brain.

Breast-feeding can prolong the mental haze, Brizendine says, by circulating hormones that help mothers relax and promote a "mellow, mildly unfocused" feeling. Massingill says she has been feeling slightly sharper since she stopped nursing her son a few weeks ago.

USA Today

quinta-feira, 6 de março de 2008

Um mês Um / One month old

Never give in, never, never, never

Every day you may make progress.
Every step may be fruitful.
Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path.
You know you will never get to the end of the journey.
But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.

--Sir Winston Churchill