Saturday, November 23, 2013

NOVEMBER'S CROC' of Gold - Substance & Shadow

Zimbabwe Artist Susan Lishman -

I love this particular November.  Somber charcoal sketch of a month with tinted trees, musty smells and forests full of fungi just waking up while everything else is starting to slumber. The torrential rains & the bravado of  the late flowers and leaves has me playing cello music...endlessly.  It is an autumnal tonic.  The poet, John O' Donohue spoke of how music is sometimes the only thing that can help us when "the dumbness of sorrow lands upon us."  I discovered Andrea Bauer, a cellist & German composer whose "Song for Eli" from an Iranian film of the same name brings me to a new threshold each time I hear it. You can find it on Youtube.

Forest - Charras
One morning I woke up from a dream about a friend who has trouble in her life.  The sky at sunrise was purple and black like a bruised plum.

Plum sky over balustrades
Early morning in the fields

It stopped raining for a few beats so I went out to feed some apples to the little Arabian up the road.  He reminds me of the feisty Arab named Phoenix we had when we lived out in Pt. Reyes, CA.  He was nicknamed the dumpster by all those he unseated. 

Listening for Apples
While hanging over the fence I remembered a shred more of my dream.  I was at a university studying the alphabet, but it was more than an alphabet because it was set to music, and I felt I could hear the tunes rising from the letters as they floated past me -- a divine music.  My friend's husband was in the dream too; he was working on a computer program that could synthesize letters with sounds that in turn became a healing sort of music.  I've looked at my friend's cards, and I believe she will be alright, but still I worry & want to send her "an apple a day to keep the doctor away."  Instead this guy is getting them all.  But my greedy lad is not getting any saffron.

"I'm just mad about Saffron - 
she's just mad about me."
         Donovan - Mellow Yellow

Crocus sativus Linnaeus
The Saffron Gatherers

I recently found out it is the humble crocus, close relative of the iris family, whose stamens add the fiery stab of gold to the heart of the flowers used to make saffron.  And I always thought it came from a saffron plant!  It comes, not from the common Autumn crocus, but one particular variety:  Crocus sativus Linnaeus. Forget caviar and even truffles - the world's most precious food item is saffron and much of it is produced in our region, the Poitou-Charentes, by a growing number of independent saffron producers.  One of the first historic references to the use of saffron comes from Ancient Egypt where it was used by Cleopatra & other Pharaohs as an aromatic and seductive essence & to make ablutions in temples and sacred places. Is that what the 1960's troubadour Donovan was singing about?

After conquering Gaul the Romans made themselves at home here, planting not only vineyards, but also fields of crocuses which yielded saffron for dyes, and for cleansing the waters of thermal baths.  In the 13th c., thanks to Dominican monks it appeared in Italy. Tuscany, Florence and Siena cultivated the most intense, aromatic saffron. The Poitou Charentes in France became a major producer with the coming of the Black Death in the mid-14th c. Large quantities of saffron were used to disinfect homes of families stricken with the disease.  The Arabs used it in anesthetics as well.

K&I became a bit obsessed with the Sativus Linneaus and set about hunting down some of the "crocs of gold".  We had a flight of fancy about planting them in special secret spots around the chateau grounds and then harvesting them next fall.  During Edward the III's reign in the Middle Ages, there's a legend that says a pilgrim brought a bulb of saffron hidden in a hole in his stick from the Middle East to the town of Walden, where it was grown and reproduced, bringing prosperity to the town.  We figured in the coming hard times this could be both a hedge against poverty AND the Black Death.  Even if we all succumbed to the Plague, the added aphrodisiac element would allow us to slip away with smiles on our faces.  A study of 47 college aged women at the Nara University of Education in Japan who sniffed vaporized saffron revealed significantly lowered anxiety levels.  The trouble is it takes about 85,000 handpicked stamens to produce one kilo of saffron.  I don't think there is a threat to Pfizer yet.

First we went to the Marché du Goût in La Rochefoucauld because we heard one of the major saffron producteurs would be there.  Alas, a no show!  But the chateau there was a consolation prize. 

La Rochefoucauld

Next we tried La Foire aux Dindons (Turkey Festival) at Varaignes.  It's said to date from the 16th c., the time of Henry IV and his right hand man the Duke of Sully; the only fair to be maintained over centuries.  Held every year on the 11th of November, Armistice Day, this little village of the Perigord is the Capital of Cocks.  The French were festooned with red poppies and memories of the war, hundreds in the streets, turkeys gobbling throughout the tiny village. The French never forget the fallen, their losses; history lines their faces. 

Varaignes autrefois
Every farmer brings his most beautiful animals which are led through the village by guards in traditional garb.  Members of the "confrerie du dindon," these guards will meet up with the "confrerie de volailles" (poultry guards).  They go through the market like stars, a little festival of Cannes, and then there is a gigantic banquet for around 700 people.  

Festival of Stars

Maybe there were crocuses and saffron to be found somewhere down the crowded lanes, but we left without them--instead, under our arms were loaves of pain du four, miel de forêt, bottle of Pinaud & a special confiture made from the fruit of the Medlar happy memories.

Later we talked to our resident Medicine Woman, Jacquie, who had planted some crocus bulbs a few years ago, but with little success. She said they were difficult to cultivate and demanded quite specific soil conditions. Plus we'd need a mule because the bulbs are sown by hand & one is forced to walk in a bent position for hundreds of yards while a mule follows with a Roman plough to cover the ridges.  I know where I can find a donkey, but he's really lazy!  Well, we haven't given up.  We'll find some bulbs, plant them in June & by next November we'll have, if not a Croc, a thimble of Gold. 

There's been a cartload of challenges for many this Autumn.  When Mercury goes retrograde as it did from October 21 to November 11th, the prevailing wisdom is to not sign contracts, travel, or marry or touch anything electric.  But then you also have the shadow period, the degrees when Mercury will hit three times.  Oh HERMES, give us a break!  I don't know how the astrologers work this stuff out, bless their hearts, esp. when Mercury is retrograde and you're supposed to stay away from computers, avoiding those mis-steps in communication.   Mars opposition to Neptune connects the fated past with the future.  We might be tempted to get out of our heads thru drugs or some other addiction.  It's a good time to stick to the middle ground, seek balance and maybe put down the I-Phone, the things the old fashioned way, like face to face or a handwritten letter.  Stretch, sing, breathe. Don't get entangled.

The gate to our garden
The enormous full moon in Taurus on the 17th was legendary, like something from Sleepy Hollow. The Native Americans called it "The Beaver Moon, the Frosty Moon and the Geese Going Moon." Neptune poking us with his trident, reminding us to prepare for winter-- make sure your pipes don't freeze so your own dam doesn't burst. 

Heroic Beavers Save Salt Lake City -
Beaver (Castor) moon over La Tour

As an adjunct to some of my readings lately I've been using Ellen Lorenzi-Prince's Dark Goddess Tarot Deck* two card Substance & Shadow spread. As described in her booklet, it gives a quick and incisive look into everyday challenges. I'm falling under its spell. And I keep getting the water suits, perfect for this rainy November.  I like the way she has framed the questions. I find it moodily layered, yet joyously direct...ZING

Like the two cards I pulled after this query:  "How can we forgive the unforgivable?"

Substance & Shadow
1. The Substance: What is the necessity, the reality, the nitty-gritty of the situation? What action is required? =  XX Liberation - Persephone - Greek Goddess of Resurrection.  "The Past is not forgotten, yet life begins anew."

2.  The Shadow:  What is not concrete, yet affects the situation?  What is the hidden influence at work? = Four of Water - Lethe - Greek Goddess of Forgetfulness.  "Let the memory of evil be washed away."      

Life Begins Anew - Sunrise over La Tour

Evil be washed away - Pembrokeshire Wales, Win & Helen

"We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust."  Rumi

I will be reading Tarot at the Marche Zen in Brossac on Sunday, November 24th, same venue that I read for at the Fête des Lumières two years ago.  It's a beautiful setting overlooking the lake with delightful mixture of French and ex-pat participants.  There will be practitioners of all the soothing arts.

 * and maintained by Arnell's Art. 
Yellow Rose of November

No comments:

Post a Comment