Friday, December 30, 2016

Mist and Ice for the End of the Year...

Mist and icy, powdery dust have descended, leaving everything blurred and yet strangely crisp. Winter has started to set in, with its cloaks of frost and ice that transform everything. Just as the freezing temperatures catch our breath and slow down our pace, the beauty of the frozen landscapes forcibly draws our eyes to take in and reconsider our surroundings. Familar, chartered territory suddenly acquires a slightly different form, an additional layer of reality that emerges independent of us.This reminds me of the thought processes and reflection that accompany this period, as we take stock of the year coming to an end before stepping out into the new. Like pristine, winter snow, we welcome the New year with excitement yet a certain amount of trepidation. We marvel at the beauty of the possibilites in front of us, but are wary of the risk of black ice lurking beneath the bright, untainted surfaces and we fear the reappearance of the dark shadows from the past that may shroud the future.

There are a number things I would like to change in my life, or Life in general, but obviously there is a limit to what I can actually achieve to make any kind of difference. I suppose what is required is a certain wisdom to understand the force of the 'butterfly effect' so as not use perceived or real powerlessness as an excuse to do nothing whatsoever. There is usually something that can be done, through the accumulation of small acts, either performed by one sole individual, or many. That may call for a great deal of steely determination, plain doggedness or simply 'stick-to-itiveness' (yes, that word actually exists!). Then after that, a certain clarity of mind to admit that if these plans for change continually come unstuck, you may need to turn in yet another direction.

I think I have reached that crossroad. I cannot change things going on around me and I do not want to live with these so I need to change myself, one way or another.... Although trekking off into the horizon sometimes seems pretty tempting, it isn't really an option, so I'll just have to work on myself. Mind you, I have resumed my driving lessons, so you never know!

           However, here's Joni Mitchell with Urge for Going.

                                 I awoke today and found
                                 the frost perched on the town
                                 It hovered in a frozen sky
                                 then it gobbled summer down
                                 When the sun turns traitor cold
                                 and all the trees are shivering in a naked row
                                 I get the urge for going
                                 But I never seem to go
                                 I get the urge for going
                                 When the meadow grass is turning brown
                                 Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in

                                  I had me a man in summertime
                                  He had summer-colored skin
                                  And not another girl in town
                                  My darling's heart could win
                                  But when the leaves fell on the ground
                                  Bully winds came around
                                  Pushed them face down in the snow
                                  He got the urge for going
                                  And I had to let him go
                                  He got the urge for going
                                  When the meadow grass was turning brown
                                  Summertime was falling down and winter was closing in

                                  Now the warriors of winter
                                  They gave a cold triumphant shout
                                  And all that stays is dying
                                  And all that lives is gettin' out
                                  See the geese in chevron flight
                                  Flapping and racing on before the snow
                                  They got the urge for going
                                  And they got the wings so they can go
                                  They get the urge for going
                                  When the meadow grass is turning brown
                                  Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in

                                  I'll ply the fire with kindling now
                                  I'll pull the blankets up to my chin
                                  I'll lock the vagrant winter out and
                                  I'll bolt my wanderings in
                                  I'd like to call back summertime
                                  Have her stay for just another month or so
                                  But she's got the urge for going
                                  So I guess she'll have to go
                                  She gets the urge for going
                                  When the meadow grass is turning brown
                                  All her empire's falling down
                                  And winter's closing in.
                                  And I get the urge for going
                                  When the meadow grass is turning brown
                                  And summertime is falling down.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Vessels of Mind and Matter...

Towers of Canterbury cathedral
When the opportunity came up to return to Canterbury earlier this week, I knew where I would be heading... There is only so much shopping I can do before reaching the point of thinking there must be more than this and realising that I have crossed the commercial saturation threshold.
I have never had the slightest religious beliefs or leanings of any sort whatsoever, but the need to gather thoughts and recover the basic senses seems to be growing on me. This is even more apparent at Christmas when this frenzy of buying and accumulation leaves me wondering if that's all there is. Not, of course, that I consider myself somehow 'above' all of this, as I do relish a good old shop but commercial binging is like gorging on junk food on a long-term basis. Just like our cupboards, our minds are being clogged up by this drive to purchase ever more clutter. Given our burning desire to spend, spend, spend, Plutarch's remark that "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled." starts to take on an ironic tone.

To counter this desire to acquire stuff, the French notion of recueillement seems increasingly appropriate. Whilst the verb recueillir means to collect and gather, the reflexive form se recueillir refers to acts of simply drawing together one's thoughts or gathering in actual spiritual contemplation. For many, the obvious setting for any form of recueillement would perhaps be a religious edifice, but nature offers the same opportunity. In such a place or space, we are contained in something bigger and far more enduring than ourselves and our greedy mortality.

Mural plaque from the gardens in the cathedral grounds.
Even without the religious dimension that derives from the belief in a faith, old edifices play a vital role on so many levels. Through their sheer age alone, they have a force and size, spanning the centuries, vessels of the past to the present day, showing the aspirations of us mere humans, tripping along the streets of time, in weakness and strength. We are constantly reminded of our unique, all-too-human condition; reaching upwards, but still rooted in the profane.

From the cathedral gardens...
On display in the crypt of the cathedral is a piece of artwork by the modern-day sculptor, Antony Gormley. All cameras were banned, so no photos here, unfortunately. 'Transport' is suspended from the vaulted ceiling above the site of the first tomb of Thomas Becket, martyred archbishop and "troublesome priest" under Henry II's reign. Murdered at the altar of the cathedral in December 1170, Thomas Becket was slain for his faith and the old iron nails of Gormley's work indeed recall the nails of crucifixion. These were actually taken from the lead roof of the transept following restoration work and quite literally give body to an artistic venture that seeks to convey the evocative. The 2-metre-long work hangs from a single support and the modernity of the stark, yet ephemeral floatiing form creates a strange impressive in a site that is over 800 years old. These ancient nails form the body of this human effigy so that it resembles a voodoo doll, solely composed of the pins that have pierced the body. This bodily 'container' is less, yet more than a body in 3-dimensional volume. The artist wrote that "The body is less a thing than a place." and I liked this harmony of body and building - as vessels intertwined and interchangeable. "Through it (the body) come all the impressions of the wider world and all other bodies in space; palpable, perceivable and imaginable."  The title of the piece, 'Transport', transmits the sense of constant movement through this place of "prayer and creativity" the passage of time in space, what is infinite and finite.

All in all, I couldn't have had a better day...

Holly in the grounds.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

No Clouds Ahead...

Reims Cathedral (minus the main entrance/Christmas market....)
Well, if I'd known what this past week would hold in store for me... Anyway, of the assorted mix of issues that lay ahead, unbeknownst to me, the worst did not happen so I just feel relieved and grateful for all that I've got! A few near-misses certainly put things into perspective in an effective, albeit brusque manner. Any residual black clouds were blasted away, and since then it really feels as if it's just blue skies ahead.

The recently restored facade of teh cathedral
Not only do difficult moments oblige you to take stock of things, they also make you wonder over others...The first part of the week was very testing, but then when we were very nearly burgled towards the end of the week that helped throw another light on the situation and above all enabled me to 'count my blessings'. The break-in wasn't successful as the burglars were frightened off while they were tampering with the locks; the outcome wasn't the same for other neighbours here. I will have a very hefty bill from the locksmith to replace locks and reinforce the door, but apart from that I have been very lucky.

Passion Flower still out on the balcony in December...
After my non-event, someone made the remark that I didn't really have anything of value to be truly worth stealing. That set me sizing up my possessions, but for me the most precious was already weighed up; the cats. They probably would have run off, out of the flat or maybe even been hurt by these chancers. Of the rest of my 'stuff', what does have any market value isn't particurly special to me and my 'treasures' would sell for nothing. What I would have lost is the feeling of sanctuary. The value of Home is not calculated solely in the monetary terms of material possessions, but what it keeps at bay beyond that closed door, and the atmosphere it possesses and shapes within its private space. That for me is priceless.

So I suppose I am indeed guilty of that 'lust for comfort' that Kahlil Gibran refers to, but it is more the comfort of a safe haven, rather than that of 'magnificence and splendour'.

On Houses - Kahlil Gibran
Build of your imaginings a bower in the wilderness ere you build a house within the city walls.
For even as you have home-comings in your twilight, 
So has the wanderer in you, the ever distant and alone.
Your house is your larger body.
It grows in the sun and sleeps in the stillness of the night; and it is not dreamless. 
Does not your house dream? 
And dreaming, leave the city for grove or hill-top? 

Would that I could gather your houses into my hand, 
And like a sower scatter them in forest and meadow.
Would the valleys were your streets, and the green paths your alleys,
That you might seek one another through vineyards, 
And come with the fragrance of the earth in your garments.
But these things are not yet to be.

In their fear your forefathers gathered you too near together. 
And that fear shall endure a little longer.
A little longer shall your city walls separate your hearths from your fields.

And tell me, people of OrphaIese, what have you in these houses?
And what is it you guard with fastened doors?
Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power?
Have you remembrances, the glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind?
Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain?
Tell me, have you these in your houses? 
Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, 
That stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host and then a master?

Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires.
Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron.
It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh.
It makes mock of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels.
Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, 
And then walks grinning in the funeral.
But you, children of space, you restless in rest, 
You shall not be trapped nor tamed.

Your house shall be not an anchor but a mast.
It shall not be a glistening film that covers a wound, but an eyelid that guards the eye.
You shall not fold your wings that you may pass through doors, 
Nor bend your heads that they strike not against a ceiling, 
Nor fear to breathe lest walls should crack and fall down.
You shall not dwell in tombs made by the dead for the living.
And though of magnificence and splendour, 
Your house shall not hold your secret nor shelter your longing.
For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, 
Whose door is the morning mist, 
And whose windows are the songs and the silences of night.

 And when it's pitch black outside, there is still a bright light ahead - even if it is rather blurred on the photo...

Reims Cathedral  (with the Christmas market)....