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            UNknown UN History

By Pat Duffy

Artist Marlene Tremblay with portrait subject Melanie Randisi of UNCA

Has the “New York woman” ever been honoured at UN Headquarters?

      The answer is yes! --  thanks to Canadian pinto-photographer Marlene Tremblay, who in March 2017 honoured  15 New York women in an exhibition at UN Headquarters  for Women’s History Month. 

    Ms Tremblay’s 15 portraits spotlight women who hail from all parts of the globe: from Tunisia, to China, to Colombia, to Iraq and  more.  Their professions are equally diverse and include UN staff, artist, psychotherapist, ecological designer, restauranteur, international student counselor.

    Artist Tremblay sought to answer the question, “What makes the New York City woman so powerful?”

     Back in 2009, Ms Tremblay, who works in the Office of the Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, was herself a newcomer to New York. 

     In New York City for the first time, her friendships with other female newcomers inspired her. Many felt a new freedom to realize and develop their potential and dare to reach for long-hoped-for goals.

     Ms Tremblay’s  ‘portrait project’ itself expanded this sense of mutual support.  As one of the portrait subjects, Melanie Randisi, put it, “All of us bonded through Marlene’s portrait project. We sat together and told our stories.  We empathized with one another’s struggles.  Though they might be different, they are struggles any of us could be facing at any time: struggles in career, creativity, health, relationships.”
Ms Randisi, who works with journalists based at the United Nations, organizes  events at UN Headquarters on issues of the day.

     The women depicted in the portraits  had  inspired the artist with their strength,  talents,  risk-taking, and belief  in life.  

     Ms Tremblay  created the portraits using  “pinto-photography”, which  combines photography and painting, along with an overlay of  natural images, such as  flowers or effervescent bubbles. A process as unique as the artist’s subjects, it aims to bring forth the inner essence of each woman.

    Female friendship and the sharing of aspirations and struggles created a supportive space that propelled all towards realizing their dreams in the “city of dreams”, New York.

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Does the UN have an official song?

     Does the United Nations have its own official “anthem” or song?
  While there is no “mandated anthem”,  a “Hymn to the United Nations” was written by the great cellist and composer, Pablo Casals. The Catalonian maestro wrote the hymn in honour of the Organization’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 1971. It was performed on United Nations Day at UN Headquarters. The words to the hymn were written by poet W.H. Auden of the United Kingdom.
      Pablo Casals and U Thant
            Pablo Casals and U Thant, UN, 1971
       Casals and Auden were brought together in this unusual collaboration by then United Nations Secretary-General U Thant. For centuries, poets and musicians have sung in praise of war and celebrated victories in battles. U Thant was intrigued by the fact that there existed no hymn to peace. Casals was a personal friend of his, and when approached by Thant, he readily agreed to write the music. As the Secretary-General explained, the song was to be based on the preamble to the Charter of the United Nations. Although it would not be formally adopted as the official anthem of the United Nations, U Thant hoped it would be performed on appropriate occasions.

     While Casals greatly liked the ideas contained in the preamble, there was no way he could put music to such a document. The task to write an appropriate poem, based on the theme of peace and ideals enshrined in the preamble, fell on W.H. Auden, then regarded as the greatest living English poet. When a representative of the Secretary-General approached the poet, he immediately agreed to write the poem. In three days’ time, Auden finished writing “A Hymn to the United Nations”, which was then set to music by Casals.

     On 24 October 1971, the Orchestra of the Festival Casals, with Casals as conductor, presented the hymn in a première performance at UN Headquarters.

To listen to “Hymn to the United Nations” and see the words, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GAHggrOCoA

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Do you know the origin of the name, “United Nations”?

United Nations Headquarters, New York
The name comes from a poem, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, written in 1818 by the British Romantic poet, George Gordon, Lord Byron.

Byron’s poem contains the lines:

Millions of tongues record thee, and anew
Their children’s lips shall echo them, and say,
'Here, where the sword united nations drew,
Our countrymen were warring on that day !'

The story goes that Winston Churchill, a great lover of poetry, recited the lines to Franklin Roosevelt and his granddaughter on a visit to Washington, D.C. in 1944.  After, Byron’s more poetic  “United Nations” came to replace the originally proposed name “Associated Nations”

In the poem “Childe Harold”, among other themes, Byron was writing about all the bloodshed in the many wars in Europe.

With this we are reminded that a great many (if not all) human creations start with poetic and artistic vision. And with that thought we will conclude with another of Byron’s poetic lines:

 “a drop of ink may make a million think.”

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