Saturday, May 22, 2010

Salvador Dalí and Dr. John Ostrom

(photo credit here)

May 11th was the birthday of Spanish painter Salvador Dalí, born on this day in 1904 in Figueras, Spain.  From the Writers' Almanac, which I receive daily in email form:

Salvador Dalí's ambitions included cultivating a reputation for eccentricity, and he once said, "The one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous." For one thing, he had a perfectly waxed, upturned mustache that's been alternately described as "flamboyant," "bold," "grotesque," and "hilarious." In recent years, it's inspired a line of Dalí mustache necklaces.

He wore long sideburns, sported clothes like Oscar Wilde's, and sometimes walked down the street ringing a bell so that people would look at him. He himself said he had a "love of everything that is gilded and excessive." And he said, "In order to acquire a growing and lasting respect in society, it is a good thing, if you possess great talent, to give, early in your youth, a very hard kick to the right shin of the society that you love. After that, be a snob."
Couple comments:  First off, the snob comment wouldn’t work for me but I sort of admire the thought. Also, I don’t like to call much attention to myself, so the bell ringing thingy or the outrageous mustache wouldn’t fly either.  But again, I grudgingly admire somebody who could pull it off. Must be my passive-aggressive side coming out.
I knew a girl in high school whose brother Mark was an artist. Upon a whim, the artist brother decided to see if he could go to New York City and meet Dali. If I recall correctly, he was able to obtain Dali’s phone number and call him. To Mark’s great surprise, Dali said something like “Sure, how soon can you get here?” So Mark went and spent a life-changing day with Dali.
I once had a similar experience. Our son was a huge fan of dinosaurs when he was in elementary school. Sometime around 1993, shortly after Jurassic Park came out, we saw a PBS special in which Dr. John Ostrom of Yale’s Peabody Museum appeared, showing a behind the scenes tour of the museum. At that time he arguably was the most important paleontologist on the planet. We were planning a trip to New England anyway so I wrote to Dr. Ostrom and basically he said the same thing: “Sure, how soon can you get here?”
Dr. Ostrom was the guy who found the original raptor claw that figured so prominently in the movie. He also first championed the theories that dinosaurs were not sluggish and cold-blooded, but rather were active and agile...and their descendants survive today as birds.  We actually got to hold that very claw specimen from a dinosaur called Deinonychus. That day ranks high on my list of magical, wonderful days.
We have a photo of Dr. Ostrom nearly identical to this one (credit here), excecpt we are also in it.  He was a kindly, sweet man.

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