Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Just poppies, Veronica Lake & too many Cuckoos

It's a sultry day, a melancholy day, a peek-a-boo Veronica Lake day.  I'm supposed to be at a "vernissage" (french for varnishing), which is a preview of an art exhibit before the formal opening.  They'll serve wine and canapes & we'll all glide around the paintings schmoozing and cooing.

But instead,  I'm cycling to Doumerac to see the fields of  scarlet poppies that have made their debut after 22 days of rain.  I love their tenacity and fragility.  They are a lot like beautiful, schizophrenic Constance Frances Marie Ockelman, who's name was changed to Veronica Lake by a producer who wanted to swim in her blue blue eyes.  We remember her more for her hair than her films...she said of herself:  "I never did cheesecake I just used my hair" & "I wasn't a sex symbol I was a sex zombie." She lampooned her own hair style in a song in the movie, "A Sweater, A Sarong, and A Peekaboo Bang".  In junior high, I was a skinny Minnie Twiggy of a girl, but my best friend, Marla, a blonde bombshell, taught me how to roll up my hair into a pageboy with Tropicana juice cans at night, & the two of us louched around the halls with our left eye covered just like Veronica, or maybe it was the right eye, n'importe. 

Her most memorable film was "Blue Dahlia": "Tamed by a Brunette--framed by a blonde--blamed by the cops!", the original noir Dahlia, written by Raymond Chandler, (not to be confused with De Palma's Black Dahlia).  Some shoot em from the hip lines, like Alan Ladd's, "You got the wrong lipstick on Mister" and Veronica's zinger, "well you could get wetter if you laid down in the gutter".  In the end things didn't go well for Veronica Lake and she kind of ended up in the gutter after many bad films, bad husbands, mental institutions and bar maid jobs along the way. Still, her smoky, seductive, peek-a-boo bang must have slipped under the covers of the collective unconscious because she hasn't been forgotten.  Pure homage to her, Kim Bassinger's role in L.A. Confidential.

In the photo above there is a whiff of the sex zombie, but I am also reminded of a doll I had as a child called "Tiny Tears".  TT had beautiful blinking blue eyes, & you had to squeeze her to make her cry (which I confess I did to a fare thee well).  Constance/Veronica looks like she has fallen into an opiate driven eternal sleep--almost as though she wandered into the magical poppy field in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", where people fall asleep forever.  In Greek and Roman myths the poppies were used as offerings to the dead, symbols of peace, sleep and death. Poppies used on tombstones  symbolize eternal sleep. 

Backpedaling to Doumerac, there is a wafting of cotton candy, carmel apple aroma in the air.  I'm smelling a carnival around the bend. Guess my age, guess my weight, try the Ring Toss! Win a big stuffed panda or pink panther.  They still have "backyard" carnivals in France - no freaks - sanitized, it's true, but sleazier than the "vernissage". But guess what?  There's no carnival around the bend, just a Russian Orthodox Church and Monastery, Our Lady of Korssun, they call her--see the silver dome, a Byzantine surprise in this tiny hamlet. Inside the church there are painted icons, jams and honey instead of canapes.  People get confused and call it a mosque.  There is an apocryphal story about naughty Russian Orthodox nuns from Paris who were banished & as punishment spend each summer doing their penance in Doumerac.  I guess that means varnishing the icons and making the jams.  I peek into the window of the monastery to see one of the rooms, which reminds me of the rooms we had at camp-- four square corners, a flashlight and the redolent odor of pine-sol. 
Our Lady of Korssun

Back on my bike, down the yellow brick road, past the new lambs, beyond the two milky-eyed border collies, who KNOW I have tasty scraps in my pocket, there are yet more fields of scarlet poppies interlaced with Queen Anne's lace--a decadent virtuous marriage.  Oh, I forgot to mention the CUCKOOS are driving me cuckoo this spring.  They are on courting overdrive, and the novelty of hearing their calls in the forest has long faded.  I remember when I heard my first live cuckoo on the Aran Islands & thought it was a clock that was malfunctioning.  The English word "cuckoo" comes from the Old French "cucu" appearing about 1240 in the poem "Sumer is icumen in" - Summer has come in/Loudly sing, Cuckoo!  -- they have taken this role/song too seriously.  I wish I could send them to a speed dating site, but they prefer to do things the old fashioned way.  Cuckoo, cou cou and cucu still mean mad or nuts in any language.  

On the Yellow Brick Road

But let us not dwell on dead actresses, noise or "eternal sleep",--the Cuckoo is giving us a wake up call!  It's spring, and we are ALIVE;  plans hatching like new born chicks.  We have done our planting of seeds, bulbs, dreams.  The wildflowers-- poppies--are nature's simplest, most gracious gift and in classical mythology the bright scarlet color signifies a promise of resurrection.

                         The silver rain, the golden sun
                       The fields where scarlet poppies run
                        And all the ripples of the wheat
                         are in the food that we do eat.

                        So when we sit for every meal
                         we say grace we always feel
                       that we are eating rain and sun
                     and fields where scarlet poppies run.

                             Traditional Meal Blessing

Monday, May 7, 2012


Le Voyage dans la Lune
Last night was the "waning gibbous moon" which comes between the full moon and the last quarter moon. Something about the "wane" of that moon caused me to pull out a "moonstone" ring an old beau gave me a few lifetimes ago.  The Romans had a thing for moonstones--thought they were born from solidified moon rays.  The ring I have is from the Art Nouveau period and made by the french goldsmith Rene Lalique.  The stone is colorless, with a blue cast that shimmies and shimmers when you move it,--incident light rays refracted and scattered in the stone--an effect known as "adularescence".  In earlier times people believed they could see the crescent and waning phases of the moon in the stone. I squinted real hard, but the only thing I could see was the end of a relationship winking back at me.

But not a bad memento, the "lovers' stone", since Moonstone is reputed to protect true love, as well as soothe and balance emotions= the yin and yang of it all. It's also been called a "visionary stone", said to strengthen intuition, enhance creativity and sensitivity. It amplifies the unconscious and helps the wearer to see situations and people from different angles with more clarity. A stone of protection for travel at sea, pregnancy and childbirth. Also helps in romantic matters and attracting friendship!  The perfect stone to be worn for the Fete de la Lumiere to be held in Brossac this weekend, where I will be reading the cards of  love seekers, souls out of balance, or even ones desiring to make a baby while taking a long sea voyage on Carnival Cruise lines --  I'll be blowing smoke up those mirrors or out of my ass as the case may be (just kidding).  In India, moonstones are holy gems, called 'dream stones' which can bring beautiful visions at night. In Arab countries, women sew the stones into their garments--a hidden symbol of fertility. Physically, moonstones reduce swelling caused by excess fluid in the body, align vertebrae & help with hormonal issues, digestive and pituitary gland ailments. No end to the uses of this stone!
Selene - Moon Goddess

Tiers of Goddesses associated with the Moon, but only Selene, the daughter of Titan, who fell madly in love with a mortal: the shepherd, Endymion, was represented by the old Greek poets as the moon incarnate. The Romans called her "Luna". Although Selene was the earlier moon goddess, seems as though Artemis has muscled in on her territory. Artemis was the "Mistress of Animals", what more does she need?? Synonym for moonstone is selenite from the Greek "selene" (moon)--case closed. 

Selene's got a few basic strengths like the power of giving sleep, lighting the night and control over time plus a few weaknesses like being changeable--just like the moon--at the same time as hating change. The basic myth is that after uniting with Endymion and bearing him 50 daughters, she loves him so much she cannot bear the thought of his eventual death so uses her night magic to put him into a deep sleep forever so he will remain unchanging for all eternity.  She kept herself busy later on as there was also a brief tryst with Pan, then bearing a daughter with Zeus: "Pandia" (all bright) Goddess of the full Moon.  I'm wondering though if the rumor mill got it wrong and Pandia actually emerged from the liaison with Pan? Coincidence?  Moonstones have a weakness too:  a low hardness, sensitive & easily cracked, they  need to be handled with care.

Before I leave the compelling realm of the moon, it is worth mentioning that the first ever Sci Fi film, Le Voyage de la Lune was made in France in 1902 by George Melies and his brother Gaston.  It was based on Jules Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon" and H.G. Wells' First Men in the Moon.
There's a Moon Goddess in this film too.  This one's called "Phoebe".  Turns out Phoebe was a Titan & also the grandmother of Artemis.  Getting more and more complicated. Some say this film was one of the earliest examples of pataphysical film, stating the film aims to "show the illogicality of logical thinking".  Others say Melies wanted to "invert the hierarchical values of modern french society and hold them up to ridicule in a riot of the carnivalesque."  I think I'm going with the second idea since the plot pokes fun at the scientists and at science in general, when upon
reaching the moon, the astronomers find that the face of the Moon is, in fact, the face of a man, and that it is populated by little green men. 

I had to look up Pataphysics:  a philosophy or pseudo philosophy dedicated to studying what lies beyond  the realm of metaphysics. Term coined and concept created by French writer Alfred Jarry who defined pataphysics as "the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments." Resting on the truth of contradictions and exceptions.
Jarry in Alfortville

You can watch around 11 minutes of the film on You Tube. It is quite delightful-- the opening shots are kind of a cross between a Guignol Wizard of Oz meets Flash Gordon & the Klu Klux Klan.  The film was hugely successful, and Melies intended to release the film in US, but Thomas Edison's film technicians secretly made copies & distributed them throughout the country.  Melies went bankrupt. Martin Scorsese talked with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show about the copyright laws at the time the film was made and how Edison and his associates made dupes out of Melies, taking the film and deciding not to pay royalties. 

I'll leave this moon now, A Moon for the Misbegotten, with O'Neil's words spoken through Larry Slade:  "The lie of the pipe dream is what gives life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us, drunk or sober."  The moonlight in the scene casts a flattering spell over lovers who have the illusion of a tomorrow, but beyond the night, nothing more exists for them.

As Robert A. Heinlein wrote in his 1966 sci-fi novel about a lunar colony's revolt against the rule of earth:  The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

When all living things I contemplate,
your sun and stars, your galaxies,
like a flickering candle flame
my soul is overcome,
and just as the moon can only shine
by reflection of its sun, so is my being
only to wane into the unseen,
until it stands
before + thee


Sunday, May 6, 2012

LA LUNE - The Moon

Last night I was "gazing" at the super duper, low-hanging moon, the "perigee" moon, the moon we've all been waiting for (especially the Armageddon hopefuls) in a field near Souffrignac--a small French village with no particular histoire aside from being beautiful.  I wonder if the name comes from "souffrir" which means "to suffer":  Il faut souffrir pour etre belle - you have to suffer to be beautiful, no pain no gain! The moon did look unnaturally large.  I could have touched it if it hadn't moved behind the inky clouds. Despite what NASA predicted, the dogs didn't bark long and the seas didn't rise up. At least not in beautiful suffering Souffrignac.

And why is it always "gazing" at the moon, into the stars or someone's eyes?  We don't just look or stare or gape or gawk or peer or glare...we look long and intently, which is a sure indication of our fascination, awe, wonder and admiration.  Something is much bigger than we are.  An awe tied up with love and possibly mental illness.  The idea that the full moon causes mental disorders goes back to the Middle Ages.  And recently a friend who left a marriage of 40 years--falling in love with a rapscallion--told me her shrink said that falling in love is a form of mental illness...yes, truly, madly, deeply.

I was a horror film junkie when I was a kid (along with professional teehee wrestling)--growing up in a converted chicken coop (not as squawky as it sounds) incites the imagination. The ceiling was a couple of feet lower at the back of the house which meant that anyone, i.e my father, over 5'8" would hit their noggin if they walked to the back of the house/coop.  I wrote a poem about growing up there, but can only remember one line about feathers floating up my nose.  Luckily we had a front window, glass instead of wire.  Somebody must have read Dr. Prince T. Woods's 1924 "Fresh Air Poultry Houses:
the classic guide to open-front chicken coops for healthier poultry.  He shows you how to keep your flock healthier and happier.  He also describes how you can retrofit existing houses to fresh-air principles, by creating larger openings or even by knocking out a whole wall and replacing it with chicken wire!

"Darkness forces chickens, like parrots, to be artificially inactive.  They won't eat or drink properly if they can't see.  Fresh-air houses solve this problem with a large screened window area that brightens the whole coop, even on winter days.  A large window makes the coop cheerful."
And it was true:  part of the house/coop was cheerful with that large window that gazed out onto the crab grass and Maple tree in the front yard.  But most of my time was spent either reading under the tree or in the dark utility room in the back of the coop where the RCA 12" B&W TV lived. We didn't get a television till I was 9 or 10 & before that, my brother and I would watch The Ed Sullivan Show through the closest neighbor's picture window, about a mile away (too bad they didn't have wire, it  would have been more fun with the sound).  I did most of the cooking for our family so no one complained or even suspected when I fried up greasy cheeseburgers to gorge on at midnight, which is when "Shock Theater" came on, & I could embrace the genre that had me swooning:  Dracula, Bride of Frankenstein, all the Hammer films.  But none of them pumped my heart like the werewolves and Lon Chaney, Jr.

Lon is superb as Larry Talbot in "The Wolf Man", a practical man who returns to his ancestral home in Llwenny Wales to reconcile with his estranged father, is attacked by a creature of folklore and infected with a horrific disease his disciplined mind tells him cannot possibly exist.  I especially liked the 1941 version (well, the only version at that time) with Claude Rains as Sir John Talbot. Larry becomes romantically interested in a local gal named Gwen who runs an antique shop where he purchases a silver-headed walking stick decorated with a wolf.  Gwen tells him that it represents a werewolf (which she defines as a man who changes into a wolf "at certain times of the year.")  That sentence alone is ripe for discussion, but I won't even attempt an analysis.

At the tender age of 9, I didn't care that much about the romantic subplot or Gwen, though I did feel deeply connected and compassionate toward Larry.  All the good stuff happens when the moon comes out and Larry turns into the proverbial Werewolf. I read in a horror magazine that I subscribed to at the time, that the process for Lon Chaney, Jr. to be made up as a wolf was excruciating.  He claimed he was forced to sit motionless for hours as the scenes were shot frame by frame and was not even allowed to use the bathroom.  And that the special effects men drove tiny finishing nails into the skin on the sides of his hands so they would remain motionless during close-ups.  Talk about "suffering" for Art. 

Throughout the film, various villagers recite a poem, whenever the subject of werewolves comes up:

Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.
Later films change the last line of the poem to "And the moon is full and bright". Sometimes I would fall asleep after the film ended, waking up to the test pattern.  I'd leave the dark utility room, slinking out into the fields behind the house/coop where there was a fast moving creek that ran between stands of shadowy trees, home to owls, bats & other night creatures.  I'd look for wolfbane, listen for howling, but really I was waiting for some kind of transformation, a sign.  I was moonstruck.

The Moon -XVIII in the Major Arcana symbolizes the unconscious aspect of the feminine. In "The Mirror of the Soul" it is described as "shadowy, moist, changeable, seductive, possessing an eerie attraction. Everything appears mysterious, doubtful and bewitching."
There are cyclic patterns of lunacy, split personality of light and shadow, associated with fits of passion and paganish behavior.  All light is reflected and the mood is wild and intoxicating.  Imagination intensifies & we are swimming alone in the dark, along the straits of our subconscious.  Fear of the unknown has a magnetic pull, an attraction, like the howling we hear in desolate places, repelled and frightened we still want to find the source.  The lessons of this card are mystical and deeply personal.  We need to confront our fears, whatever form they may take. The trick is to stay awake even when dreaming. 

Le Loup et La Femme