Archive for the ‘nostalgia’ Category

The Cathar Trail 12: 8 June 2010

January 11, 2015

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.

The Cathar Trail 6: Who Were the Cathars?

January 8, 2015

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.

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Twelve-pointed “Occitan” or “Cathar” cross (Astronomical/astrological significance?)

Gnosticism-symbol

The Gnostic cross. A cross…Or a crossroads?

The Cathar Trail 5: 1 June 2010

January 8, 2015

1 June, 2010, Montségur

Well, I did it. I went ahead and got rid of a few random items — was junk mostly. Cathartic, you might say. Then I managed to get a boost to Roquefixade (the idea of a major grind up a hill right out of Foix seemed folly) and set off under mixed skies mid-morning. It was the best choice of the trip. Roquefixade was pretty enough, and I left it noting a simple, sombre monument to the French Resistance.

The trail then wound its way past a small farm and through patches of lovely, lush woodland. After a few squishy switchbacks (so much mud!) I came out of the forest to a point where I had my first view of Montségur. It seemed so menacing and far.

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But I persevered, and some wonderful spots were sighted. As I reached the little town of Montferrier I took a wrong turn and ended up hiking about an hour up a random hill. Lost, I asked a few farmers for directions, and they kindly helped to the point of total confusion.

A bit demoralized, I came back down to Montferrier and, luckily, happened upon a fellow traveler who helped me regain the way. I was then faced with a long, grinding climb all the way up to Montségur, which seemed to sit in the clouds as the afternoon started to fade.

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The final stretch was tantalizing torture, fording across little streams and through dense woods. I even startled a fawn. All along the trail today there were so many idyllic natural scenes; farm animals (donkeys, sheep, cows, ducks and ducklings) and some wilder brethren (so many slugs!). Montségur itself was too daunting when I finally arrived, and was enveloped in mist, mystery and the gathering dusk. I think I will perhaps rest a day and explore here tomorrow.

What a day!

The Cathar Trail 4: 31 May 2010

January 7, 2015

31 May 2010, Toulouse to Foix

Seem to have stepped off the map. Train doesn’t go to Foix anymore. It’s a bus. Trying not to let this dissuade me. Skies are grey as I set off — matching an off-colour mood. Still not sure how much I’ll actually hike, although I’m not sure there is much else to do down here. Countryside around Toulouse to the south is fairly tame, but I expect a change getting into the mountains.

Almost missed the connection this morning. Nothing is explained in regards to the whole “autocar” system, it’s assumed if you are traveling here you must know the area. Local knowledge is always a precious commodity. I’m hoping to absorb some as I go…

It took only a few moments in the town of Foix to understand a key characteristic of the Cathars. They were mountain people, uninterested in the larger power struggles of church and state that swept them up. The stunningly gorgeous medieval town of Foix hugs the river Ariége, and is nestled in a valley between two steep hills. The valley itself is a vein into the heart of the Pyrenees, and beautiful beyond description.

Upon arrival, I wander the narrow twisting streets, happening upon one of the town churches, an abbey actually, devoted to St. Volusian. He’s the patron saint of Foix. Volusianus of Tours was the Bishop of Tours in the late 5th century before being forced from his see by the Visigoths. He might also have been martyred. Bummer. The church had a quiet, stoic, peaceful air, quite different from the more lugubrious cathedrals of Paris.

After a light lunch, I march up the hill to the Foix castle. It’s remarkably well-preserved and sits proudly atop a steep promontory. Some of the castle is clearly restored and “like new”. There is a bed in one prominent room that, it is said, was once used by Henri IV. I discover here at the castle’s historical markers that his noble lineage can be traced back to the aristocracy in Foix. I wonder if perhaps this is an insight into what were mercurial religious beliefs.

At the top of the castle taking in the stunning panorama I ran across two couples from Yorkshire, and fell into an impromptu history lesson as I am prone to. They didn’t seem to mind.

Today I also realized, sadly, that I probably won’t be able to do much hiking. My knee is still quite weak, the load is too heavy, and the terrain is a bit more rugged than I imagined. But I think I will nonetheless make the trip to Montségur tomorrow. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity I’d be foolish to pass up.

The realization came as I climbed a nearby hill — St. Sauveur — this afternoon. The terrain around here is very rugged. Phenomenal, even. The view and experience at the top of St. Sauveur, however, was really beyond description. The whole of the Ariége vale lay before me. I was surrounded by a scintillating incarnation of the Pleroma. Shards of spirit seemed to shine through the valley. I thought, for a moment, that nothing could compare.

So many thoughts have come and gone today, but I am also very tired. The way of travel and adventure, I think.

The Cathar Trail 3: Would You Like Pleroma With That? Of Toulouse, the Cathars and “McDo”

January 7, 2015

Would You Like Pleroma With That? Of Toulouse, the Cathars and “McDo”

30 May, 2010, Toulouse

Sitting on a prominent corner of the Capitole in Toulouse is McDonald’s, that universal guilty pleasure of the French. After the US, France is the largest consumer of Big Macs, fries and McNuggets. And let us not forget un coca. In my lengthy travels in Paris, I’ve often wondered why Ray Kroc‘s hellspawn is so popular with the French. Struggling to find an explanation, I’d go through a routinized list — it’s cheap, a “burger” and “frite” is a popular Parisian café option, you can bring the kids, and, in Paris at least, you can access wireless (“wifi”) for free without hassles.

But none of this captures the essence of the love affair between the French and their mistress — McDo. Today, as spitting rain came down on the twisting ancient streets of Toulouse, it came to me. It’s about complexity.

It’s simple. Or rather the formule at McDonald’s is simple. No matter if you are in the Marais or the Midi, you always know what you’re going to get. This in contrast to all the local knowledge required to navigate a meal at a café or bistro. Meals in France are a complex process — an arcane ritual. McDonald’s reduces all this to a few simple motions. Dinner becomes a dégustation devoid of deep doctrine. A to-go theology.

It’s this universal nature, this crispy, deep-fried Catholicity, that parallels the actual fact of the country’s religious history. Thus Toulouse, as a centralizing, crusading, inquisitional force, adopts McDonald’s into its very heart. C’est comme il faut.

I suspect there will be few signs of McDo in the wilds of Cathar country. The bizarre and obscure heretical traditions of the Cathars would seem immune to universalizing charms. Besides, the towns and hamlets are tiny — there’s no market for it. I wonder what the Perfect would have thought of McDonald’s. Not much. For one, many of them were vegetarians. And the fries at “rotten ronnies” were never that good.

McDonald’s, in its deep corrupting influence on the physical world (nutritionally and naturally) seems an ideal confirmation of a dodgy Demiurge. And like the Inquisitioners of old, seeks to eliminate or destroy all competitors. There can be only one.

Espousing a dualism that doesn’t go beyond diet or regular, McDonald’s is a gnostic nightmare. The basest of existence and pleasure wrapped in ready-made garbage. But until they start serving McNuggets at the top of Montségur, it’s safe to say that pockets of resistance, sparks of the One — the Pleroma, still inspire this country so passionate about its pour emporter.

And for this we can thank not only the flawed French, but God himself.

Whatever that means…

The Cathar Trail 2: 29 May 2010

January 7, 2015

29 May, 2010, Toulouse

Quel surprise! Not knowing what to expect is perhaps best, even better when expectations you don’t have are far surpassed. The countryside flattens out after one reaches the outskirts of Toulouse, and some of the surroundings, including the gare, are quite functional. But the city! What a lovely place. Marked by the influence of the south, the city seems an ideal synthesis of French and Spanish influences (even street names are marked bilingually). Classic Spanish and southern European elements mark the Pallazo of the Capitole, while winding little streets seem untainted by the Haussmanization that so changed Paris. Charming doesn’t even begin to describe it.

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Another divide is the old and new; lovely early modern architecture and traditional French space sits discontinuously with the taint of globalization; chain stores, mass culture and its associated charms. But overall it just seems to work. There is a stronger schism of class than in the center of Paris as well — street people mingle civilly with eurotrash in a Toulousian truce within all its lovely and plentiful public squares.

Religion too is obviously a formative and foundational element of the city. Cathedrals abound. But here, at least so far as I can see, the trail of the Cathars has gone cold. For now…

I will explore the city further in the coming day or so, but could imagine spending even more time around here. Judging from tonight’s lovely dinner in an alleyway resto spot only conceivable in Europe, the food alone could sustain even a conflicted dualist like me. There was more Pleroma than Demiurge in my honey soaked salad de chèvre, the goat’s cheese lovingly wrapped in delicate bits of crepe. Yum!

Preface to the German Edition of 1883

January 1, 2015

“The preface to the present edition I must, alas, sign alone. Marx — the man to whom the whole working class of Europe and America owes more than to anyone else — rests at Highgate Cemetery and over his grave the first grass is already growing. Since his death, there can be even less thought of revising or supplementing the Manifesto. All the more do I consider it necessary again to state here the following expressly:

The basic thought running through the Manifesto — that economic production and the structure of society of every historical epoch necessarily arising therefrom constitute the foundation for the political and intellectual history of that epoch; that consequently (ever since the dissolution of the primeval communal ownership of land) all history has been the history of class struggles, of struggles between exploited and exploiting, between dominated and dominating classes at various stages of development; that this struggle, however, has now reached a stage where the exploited and oppressed class (the proletariat) can no longer emancipate itself from the class which exploits and oppresses it (the bourgeoisie), without at the same time for ever freeing the whole of society from exploitation, oppression and class struggles — this basic thought belongs solely and exclusively to Marx.

I have already stated this many times; but precisely now it is necessary that it also stand in front of the Manifesto itself.

London, 28 June, 1883

F. Engels”

From Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, ed. David McLellan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 44.

Cascading Thoughts

October 6, 2014

Someone mentioned synesthesia to me the other day and defined it as the opposite of amnesia. Although that’s not at all what it is, the latter notion stuck with me. The opposite of amnesia; A swirling vortex of thoughts and memories, cascading all at once. This overwhelming mental state I understand, since I’ve lived it time and time again. Some marvel at my recall or the quick and lateral associations I sometimes make, but often it is more curse than blessing. Ideas, concepts, memories, feelings, vague intuitions followed over-enthusiastically — all this blends in an uncomfortable palette of being. Deleuze’s multiplicities. Or nothing to do with post-modern French philosophy at all. Just an assault.

This then is the quest — to tame the brain and find flow, rather than get caught in eddies and backwaters.

Yet as I sit and write this, sitting on a rock overlooking a quiet backwater in the river, autumn sun dipping below the treeline across the shore, the bubbling flow of a gentle waterfall just upriver, I think there is virtue in how I think (imagine the convoluted nature of that). That my ruminations and absurdities amount to meaning. Or at least coherence.

Wasn’t it the “weeping philosopher”, Heraclitus, who said that “No man ever steps in the same river twice“?

Eddies, backwaters or thundering waterfalls…

It’s all flow.


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