Archive for the ‘art’ Category
8 June, 2010, Paris
Paris. This city grabs you by the collar and shakes you off balance, rattling your brain around in your skull, essentially insisting on the development of new neural pathways; new thoughts. No one is immune. Even the dead are remade in this place. It’s no wonder artists, dancers, musicians, writers and other associated creatives have so long been drawn here. For the poseur or the wanna be there’s the endless opportunity to engage in street theater. To be seen and to see.
But like the solid wooden doors that hide an endless array of wondrous courtyards and interiors, there is a depth beyond the twinkle of the Tour Eiffel, the tourists, and the tarts. Every street is coated and soaked in symbolism, history and meaning, around every corner is an unexpected surprise. And, yet, while landmarks persist, there is always something new…
The Parisian energy is a creative one — whether this is a totally innovative moment or mere tweaking matters little. At least the dynamism is always there, even if in almost invisible, infinitely subtle ways. New uses of colour, shape, concept. A melange of cultural contexts yet unconsidered. The shop window designed to gain the slightest competitive edge. There is a miasmatic desire to be Parisian — a bit different. To “pop” out of the crowd. At times this seems the subtlest of subatomic shifts, but that’s just the point. It demands a little more attention and concentration. It changes the mind, perhaps only at an imperceptible quantum level. A slightly new spin. But it’s there, and it’s the essence of vitality. It’s Paris.
3 June, 2010, Albi
No longer on the Cathar Trail but still on the trail of the Cathars. Arrived this afternoon, in the hot sun, in Albi. Found suitable lodging and went off towards the cathedral, Sainte-Cécile, which is beyond imposing. It screams out in brick and mortar the spiritual anxiety which once existed in the minds of the organized church and French crown in this area. Overcompensation doesn’t begin to describe it. Its functional, almost military exterior is sharply contrasted by a gaudy, even somewhat tacky, interior. It’s dripping with Baroque bluster. A treasure room houses lugubrious holy relics, raunchy a la Rococo. A veritable counter-reformation cabinet of curiosities. The largest brick church in the world, it looks every bit the fortress.
Albi itself is everything one imagines in a medieval farm town, with lovely winding streets and staircases. After a rest, I went out for a before dinner stroll. Sun was just setting, casting beautiful light on the town. Found myself overlooking the river Tarn and the old bridge at the Place du Château, which marks the sight of a long-gone castle once held by the murderous crusader Simon de Montfort. Many were the times Montfort took up the cross and sword against heresy. Cathar history is everywhere here. There was a cat sitting by the square, with devilish and mean-slitted eyes, watching me warily; almost felt the gaze of a dark and daemonic incarnation — the inquisitor’s strongman in feline form.
At dinner, I happened to strike up a conversation about the region with a local theater owner, a true homme de la Midi. He too seemed fascinated with Cathar history, and reminded me of how different the south was from the north, even until quite recently. His parents spoke the langue d’oc (hence Languedoc), and his sense of being southern and different was palpable. Dualism abounds in French history. He told me I must go to Cordes, a classic example of a medieval village nearby that is soaked in Albigensian and Cathar history. Suppose I will hang out a couple of days here and explore. Tired with a week left in France, but tonight feel less so.
Who were the Cathars? This, after all, is the deeper question behind all this wandering and random rambling. Well, for one, they are whatever anybody wants them to be. Especially in the last couple of days, I have encountered a myriad of interpretations regarding their legacy and meaning. Some of it is interesting. Some of it is kitsch. Having lived so long ago, it seems impossible to imagine that their place in history is anything but completely malleable. I still think, however, you gain insight by virtue of space. These rugged hills, where you can just set off and hide. Maybe that’s a key. Perhaps some were disgruntled and disillusioned crusaders, some Templars with money, others just oddballs who saw too much or learned too much in their crusading, and thus came to these mountains and helped lay the foundations for unusual spiritualisms and the so-called heresy. Then there was the fierce notion of the local and the communal that you can still sense in this region. The logistical explanation — that this was one of the last places in Western Europe where the French crown and the Roman church didn’t have a powerful influence, must be considered. The Cathar region was also then a crossroads, a point to cross the Pyrenees from France to Spain, and a place between “Europe” proper and the old influences of the Muslims and Jews in Spain. Some of the symbols employed by the sect and their brethren remind of this conspiratorial — or perhaps more properly interconnected and intertwined — vision of Christianity.
Twelve-pointed “Occitan” or “Cathar” cross (Astronomical/astrological significance?)
The Gnostic cross. A cross…Or a crossroads?
Words fail a full mood
Mournful horn beyond the rocks
Low sea, fog, and you
Birds. They embody the un-embodied. They are as the very wind, a zephyr. Almost pure spirit — if not for the feathers. My attraction to them is echoed in all my worldly attachments, most of which aren’t that worldly. As you may have gathered by my photography and writing, I am drawn to the sky and stars.
I am also drawn to birds for this same — in alchemical terms — overabundance of spirit. I have been in turmoil, mind and body in a tortured battle for supremacy. This blind dualism has been further reinforced by a tumultuous and destabilizing romantic relationship. No doubt my Achilles heel, and as a Freudian analyst would say, yet another reason I like “birds”. The Id is a real pun-y guy.
Yesterday mind and body just collided…Bits came apart and things curled off in wild orbits, lacking any cohesiveness. The body was damaged — scarred but still fully functional — and the mind shifted uncomfortably.
And where was spirit? Somehow in the midst of all that spirit appeared. And it brought calm to what could have been an even worse situation.
This morning, after it was all over, I went outside. And there were the birds. There was a wet, foggy, quiet over everything, what one might call the ideal bird environment. It’s in those times when I think birds remember their deepest Jurassic roots. One might even say life remembers. Dinosaurs with feathers has always seemed like an apt phrase.
The birds were everywhere. Little songbirds — sparrows, finches, juncos — fluttered in and out among the leafless branches in the garden. The air was alight with “bird-ness”. A Stellar’s Jay, boisterous and bold, chased the smaller birds away from the neighbor’s feeder.
I decided to do more than step outside briefly and actually immersed myself in the space. I grounded myself, took a few breaths and found Malkuth very deeply…
And just as I opened my eyes an eagle soared across my field of vision and perched on one of the highest nearby trees. He displaced a companion, who settled on the top of another tree beside him.
As I just watched (I often ask now…When do we “just watch”?) these two regal incarnations of spirit I thought of a quote from a book I am currently reading — Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth — that reminded me of why I — and in some way we all — like birds:
“Since time immemorial, flowers, crystal, precious stones, and birds have special significance for the human spirit. Like all life-forms, they are, of course, temporary manifestations of the underlying one Life, one Consciousness. Their special significance and the reason why humans feel such fascination for and affinity with them can be attributed to their ethereal quality.
Once there is certain degree of Presence, of still and alert attention in human beings’ perceptions, they can sense the divine life essence, the one indwelling consciousness or spirit in every creature, every life-form, recognize it as one with their own essence and so love it for themselves. Until this happens, however, most humans see only the outer forms, unaware of the inner essence, just as they are unaware of their own essence and identify only with their own physical and psychological forms.
In the case of a flower, a crystal, precious stone, or bird, however, even someone with little or no Presence can occasionally sense that there is more there than the mere physical existence of form, without knowing that this is the reason why he or she is drawn towards it, feels an affinity with it. Because of its ethereal nature, its form obscures the indwelling spirit to a lesser degree than is the case with other life-forms. The exception to this are all newborn life-forms — babies, puppies, kittens, lambs, and so on. They are fragile, delicate, not yet firmly established in materiality. An innocence, a sweetness and beauty that are not of this world still shine through them. They delight even relatively insensitive humans.
So when you are alert and contemplate a flower, crystal, or bird without naming it mentally, it becomes a window for you into the formless. There is an inner opening, however slight, into the realm of spirit. This is why these three “en-lightened” life-forms have played such an important part in the evolution of human consciousness since ancient times; why, for example, the jewel in the lotus flower is a central symbol of Buddhism and a white bird, the dove, signifies the Holy Spirit in Christianity. They have been preparing the ground for a more profound shift in planetary consciousness that is destined to take place in the human species. This is the spiritual awakening that we are beginning to witness now.”*
As I continued to turn this idea — the symbolic bird — around in my mind I also tried to get beyond the “I” of it. Of what it means to me. Today, because of the “news” of the world, I thought of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, a book largely devoted to her experiences of racism growing up in the southern US. I reflected on the powerful sway of ego in the world we live in, and of the way it generates notions of race and of identity — both as it is lived and as it is projected onto the living. I think the final stanza of the poem that the book’s title centres around is a universal (that isn’t universal):
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
For much of the last few months I have bemoaned what I perceived as my own loss of freedom, something that has been difficult for me to understand and accept. In truth I have access to a kind of freedom, a kind of privilege, if you will, that many do not have. And yet, in a way as the above quote suggests, we can all have access to that privilege — that freedom. And this is true even when we aren’t free.
I don’t know what that means. It doesn’t mean much.
But it does leave me with a question:
When did we start caging birds at all? And why?
*Quote From Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (New York: Plume [Penguin], 2006), 3-5.