Saturday, March 22, 2014

THE SWERVE, The EMPRESS & Nature is a Temple

The Roses of Heliogabalus - Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1888 "suffocation by erotically charged flowers"

First, goddess, the birds of the air, pierced to the heart with your powerful shafts, signal your entry.  Next wild creatures and cattle bound over rich pastures and swim rushing rivers:  so surely are they all captivated by your charm, and eagerly follow your lead.  Then you inject seductive love into the heart of every creature that lives in the seas and mountains and river torrents and bird-haunted thickets, implanting in it the passionate urge to reproduce its kind.   Lucretius' two-thousand-year old poem "On the Nature of Things" (De rerum natura) from The Swerve - How the World Became Modern, Stephen Greenblatt

Jacquie's Jardin - Le Marquisat - Gardes-le-Pontoroux

With the long awaited arrival of the Blessed Vernal Equinox, all that "maussade" is forgotten now, as I am swept up into spring's sweet cherried breath: A cultivated cherry was brought from Rome by Lucius Licinius Lucullus (nickname likely to have been LuLu) from northeastern Anatolia, modern day Turkey, in 72 BC. The English word, cherry; French, cerise; and Spanish cereza, all come from the classical Greek through the Latin cerasum; the ancient Roman place name Cerasus, today a city in northern Turkey, Giresum, from which the cherry was first exported to Europe. 

The French paysage (countryside) is strutting her stuff, painted in brushstrokes of vivid rose & jaune, cherry blossoms, daffodils & forsythia.   Spring's siren song is happening all over the northern hemisphere and her power is irresistible! 

Oh, that girl on the half-shell Joan Baez sang about in "Diamonds & Rust"comes to mind...
A tile from La nascita di Venere, Birth of Venus - Sandro Botticelli
As does the Frankie Avalon hit, "Venus", (written by Francesco Contadini/Christiano Norbedo, Italian songwriters & producers, still producing songs in 2003) to which I used to cha cha endlessly, when 45's were spinning at sock-hops.  "Venus, if you will, please send a little girl for me to thrill. A girl who wants my kisses and my arms. A girl with all the charms of you."

Ahhh, those Italians, they know something about love! 

A Welshman sneaks in too: "Goddess on the mountain top burning like a silver flame.  The summit of beauty and love and Venus was her name. She's got it, yeah baby, she's got it. Well, I'm your Venus, I'm your fire, At your desire.  Her weapons were her crystal eyes.  Black as the dark night she was.  Got what no one else had.  Wa!"* 
More Botticelli Tiles
                                                               Wa, INDEED!
Here is Canadian author Margaret Atwood's darker, poetic twist on the half shell lady. An excerpt from "Siren Song":  

This is the one song everyone 
would like to learn:  the song
that is irresistable:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see beached skulls...

...I will tell the secret to you,
only to you.
Come closer.  This song
is a cry for help:  Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last.  Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time. 

I took a lot of  disappointing photos of the sculptures/statues in the Istanbul Archeological Museum.  Maybe it was the lighting, but the marble was so cold and impenetrable.  I could not find Aphrodite's "secret life."  Botticelli has a vibrant bead on her. 

When Kevin was in architectural school, in part, he put himself through school by apprenticing to a New Orleans architect named Merlin McCullough (not to worry, Merlin, aptly named, has long since departed after burning his candle at both ends!)  Kev copied the great masters for Monsieur Merlin, who turned around and sold them at outrageous prices to his well-heeled, southern, social climbing clients.  Kevin got a pittance, but he loved painting them and entering into the zeitgeist of the artists' brushstrokes.  He told me he was drawn to Rembrandt's lush, dark palette with its golden earthtones - the chiaroscuro style - strong lights and heavy shadows. The density of color built up by small brushstrokes.  It's one of the reasons he likes the look of Kevin Spacey's "House of Cards", the sombre, yet rich interiors.  The entire two seasons take place in a series of shadowed rooms.  With Vermeer, K liked the intimacy, the small details of an ordinary person's life; a pearl earring.

I asked him about Botticelli and he said, "painting in that style was to enter into the world of mythology and universality, regal-religious themes, e.g., 'The Coronation of the Virgin...' And he also said that I have a "Botticelli belly".  Wa!

Daffodils - Marthon

Back in northern California, early spring, my poet friend Kathy & I would head out to our secret daffodil emporium to gather armloads of wild daffys. They weren't a "gimme," footing was treacherous, clambering on steep ridges, rope swing over water hazard; a cinch for Kathy, who parachuted out of planes and did some bungie jumping, but I would be quaking & quacking like Daffy Duck.  In the blazing yellow fields Kathy would recite Wordsworth's Daffodils poem:

"I wandered lonely as a cloud
that floats on high o'er vales and hills
when all at once I saw a crowd,
a host of golden daffodils;
beside the lake, beneath the trees,
fluttering and dancing in the breeze...

For oft, when on my couch I lie
in vacant or in pensive mood, 
they flash upon that inward eye,
which is the bliss of solitude; 
and then my heart with pleasure fills, 
and dances with the daffodils."

This is sort of how it looked, but you can't see the obstacle course we conquered to get there:

Daffodil Meadow - Valley of the Moon - Ann Horn

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes."            -  Marcel Proust

Being with Kathy helps me to see things with fresh eyes. With innocence and wisdom she lets herself be found by the world. She pays attention - an alive state that readies one for revelation.  We  reveled in "Hanami," the Japanese traditional custom of "flower viewing" coupled with the appreciation of the transience of flowers...and all things.  And when you are with people like Kathy, you forget yourself; there is a timeless quality to all that you share.  Very "Zen", as the French say.

Venus - Istanbul Archeological Museum

Cat delights in Hanami of "Sakura"(Cherry Blossom) - Ellen Kaufman

Sakura "Graffiti" - Hanami

A bare tree painted on a wall at the Arahama public beach in Japan's Ogatsu district that suddenly "sprouted" cherry blossoms as people started leaving their pink and red painted palm prints as a message of hope for the people in the area ravaged by the 2011 Tsunami.  The wall was built by a 50 year old plasterer from Gifu Prefecture along with other local volunteers.  The wall was named "Ogatsu kibo no campus" or Ogatsu wish campus.  The residents and visitors started leaving pictures and messages and their thoughts on the wall becoming one collective expression of sadness and hope amidst the disaster that befell them. Many of the residents moved away after the disaster, but one who stayed, 78 year old local Ikuyo Takahashi, wants to sit beneath the cherry tree and "wait for everyone who left to come back."

I think The Empress is in "the house," generating new life. She's the symbol of hope and new beginnings. The thought of one, the fertility of two, results in the creativity of the three.  The Empress's sign is VENUS. 

A bridge to somewhere - maybe Spring?

Kathy is the embodiment of "The Empress".  And I think of The Empress as the embodiment of Spring; Demeter, the Earth Mother.  Mythically, Venus and Demeter are seen as the same archetype -  the symbol of humankind's ability to extend love and receive love.  I am blessed to have many Empresses in my life, Dawn, Ruffles, Kim, Liisa, Dale, Jacquie, Jodie, Christine, to name just a few. 

Tarot card from the Visconti-Sforza 15th c. deck, the oldest known in existence. I am holding the Empress card in my hand from the I Tarocchi del Visconti deck No. 516, faithfully reproduced by Osvaldo Meneghello in his shop in Milan, Italy.  Thanks to another Empress who also knows all about Hanami and Sakura, Arnell Ando, our Italy Tarot tour leader (, I was able to obtain this gorgeous deck in its handmade box when we visited Osvaldo's shop.


Arnell also gifted me with the most wonderful book by Stewart S. Warren, "Pointing to my Heart"** - poetry journey through the Visconti-Sforza Tarot - a collection of 22 poems provided side by side with corresponding color images of the Triumphs from the historic deck.  I love the first line of Arnell's introduction:  "It is a special breed of creative individuals that are drawn to the mystical realms of the Tarot."  Or maybe we are just out of our minds, but what a splendid madness!

One of my favorite poems from Warren's book is The Empress:


Here's the woman you've been 
looking for, her fruitful breath 
forming the gown of the world.

Both suffering and peace
bloom from her crown,
the evening and morning star.

                                    You can deny the babies,
                                     break their feet, but love moves
                                     from planet to planet, star to star,
                                                                       heart to heart to heart. 

In this ravishing spring cycle, trust your instinct to leave some space for the unexpected. 

Nature is a temple in which
columns sometimes emit
confused words.
Man approaches it through
forests of symbols,
which observe him with 
familiar glances.

Charles Baudelaire

*Tom Jones "Venus"
    -lyrics by Robert van Leeuwen

**You can find this book on

Reminder:  I will be at the Marche Zen in Brossac on 23rd, using both Carrie Paris's Lenormand Revolution deck and my Thoth deck. Maybe I'll be reading the cherry blossoms as well! 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

MAUSSADE & The Joy of Delusion

 "You know how it is. Sometimes we plan a trip to one place, but something takes us to another.   -  Rumi     

ça ne va pas du tout  - things are not going well at all!

Sarah Moon
Medusa Head - Basilica Cistern - Istanbul, December 2013

So dear "bloggites," (a catchy handle for those brave souls out there who read the late night ramblings of bloggers), please indulge me while I take a short detour from the coffee grounds, the Sufis, and the Tarot.  Maybe it's the unrelenting rain...every day since November.  The French have a word that covers all the bases of sky, weather, people:  maussadegloomy, sullen, glum, bleak, morose, sluggish.  How many cups of coffee can you drink while rain streams down the window pane?  And when the sun's caress deserts you for months, how do you escape your own maussade prison of self-obsession?

Another time, another place, I wrote the poem below.  The feelings I had then are the feelings I have now, only it is February & the lion is already roaring, the blackbirds brewing.
Sarah Moon - Blackbirds
              In December, a false spring &
                                               thinking of Paul Celan*
The storms have been raging.
Blackouts here -
Drinking the "black milk".
I have read the Paul Celan poem
several times
and reread it
to reach deeper levels.
A window - perfect
for this tortured time of the year.
The voice is fallow right now.
 Paying attention
to the inner workings -

drawing on the breath
to move me past
some of the crooked angles
There is great beauty
in the emerald emergence
from the rounded hills.
The grass comes back,
as though it thinks spring is here,
to be followed 
by the foolish crocuses. 

Blackbirds Singing up the Night - Linda Browning,

The poet Seamus Heaney said "to change you need something moving on into the dark - crossing over, the great mythical stories of the afterworld, to ease you to your destination and through the transitions."  How about Medusa?  She'll do.  Medusa, the only mortal of the three Gorgon sisters; courted by Poseidon, she made love to him in the Temple of Athena (bad move!). Pegasus sprang from Medusa's blood when Perseus beheaded her.  The winged, divine stallion carried lightning bolts for Zeus on Mt. Olympus.  Symbol of poetry and personification of the water, solar myth, his name comes from pege "spring, well", the pegei of Okeanos where he was born. Myths, like dreams, express wishes, wishes to do away with limitations.  

The upside down & sideways Medusa heads are from the sunken palace, underground Cathedral of the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, built by Justinian in 532.  The waters from Belgrade Wood fed the Palace of Constantinople.  It's eerily beautiful down there with ghostly catfish swimming around.  No one knows why Medusa is upside down or sideways.  I love a good mystery!

Basilica Cistern - Istanbul, December 2013

The day I went to the Basilica, a blizzard was raging on the Istanbul avenues. The chill winds and ice turned me into a snow cone.  Inside, the Cistern was as warm & steamy as the Cimberlitas Hammam that Rosita and I can't get enough of.  In earlier times the water reached the ceiling.  I would have been under four meters of water taking this photo.  There are 336 columns arranged in 12 rows. It once held 80,000 cubic metres of water, pumped and delivered through nearly 20 km of aqueducts. A Turkish tinker who sold me a sahlep (hot creamy drink), told me there are hundreds of ancient cisterns hidden beneath the streets. 

Thomas Allom engraving of Basilica from "Constantinople" 1839

The water drips down on your head from the vaulted ceiling & big honkin' carps patrol the waterways.

Ghost Fish

The Cistern was used as a location for the 1963 James Bond film, "From Russia With Love".  The flooded chamber takes Bond and Bey under the 'Russian Consulate' (where those cagey Russkies fail to notice there's a periscope poking up through the floor). 

There's also a spot where you can dress up in Byzantine costumes and be photographed. I wanted to do that more than anything in the world with Rosita (what an aventure loufoque: madcap adventure), but in the dead of winter the photographer had taken the day off.  Luckily I chanced upon this photo of a group of Turks negotiating their "Olde Timey" moment, taken by Sarah Clarke. If I ever get back to that Cistern...

Photo by Sarah Clarke
After my 5th cup of Turkish coffee for the day & a white, fluffy, light as air Gullac, it's translucent layers soaked in milk and flavored with rose water, I headed back into the streets with my wandering uterus, feeling a bit hysterical.  The ancient Greeks believed hysteria sprang from a wandering uterus.

Medusa by Arnold Bocklin, circa 1878

But where should I, like Yeats' Wandering Aengus, wander now? There's a fire in my head, but no hazel wood.  I could have dropped a berry into the cistern and caught a big silver carp. But I'd rather have "the silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun."  Apples are tokens of love and promises of eternity. 

The Hesperides Nymphs in the Garden - The Daughters of Evening

You crafty gardeners probably already know this, but I did not - apples are related to roses, according to a lovely book called:  "Apples, the Story of the Fruit of Temptation," by Frank Browning (Penguin, 1998):  "The apple (paleobotanists believe)...was the unlikely child of an extra-conjugal affair between a primitive plum from the rose family and a wayward flower with white and yellow blossoms of the Spirea family, called Meadowsweet."

And here is a poem by John Drinkwater (how's that for a poetic nom de plume?!), which captures some of those mystical coincidences of apples & moonlight...sleep, eternity, magic and death.


At the top of the house the apples are laid in rows,
and the skylight lets the moonlight in, and those
apples are deep-sea apples of green.  There goes
a cloud on the moon in the autumn night.

A mouse in the wainscot scratches, and scratches, and then
there is no sound at the top of the house of men
or mice; and the cloud is blown, and the moon again
dapples the apples with deep-sea light.

They are lying in rows there, under the gloomy beams
on the sagging floor, they gather the silver streams
out of the moon, those moonlit apples of dreams
and quiet is the steep stair under.

In the corridors under there is nothing but sleep.
and stiller than ever on orchard boughs they keep
tryst with the moon, and deep is the silence, deep
on moon washed-apples of wonder. 

Bruce Pollock Photography
 "...And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun."  W.B. Yeats

Yeats believed that the silver and golden apples were the female/male "energies" of the moon and the sun & when combined they give birth to the legends, the myths and poetry of the world.   W.B. said of the ancient Irish story tellers, "they have no asceticism, but they are more visionary than any ascetic, and their invisible life is but the life about them made more perfect and more lasting and the invisible people are their own images in the water..."

Aengus the Wanderer, the Celtic God of Love - his spiritual home in Ireland is a great stone cairn that pre-dates the Pyramids and is situated on the banks of the sacred River Boyne.  No one knows how the huge stones of New Grange, the name of the cairn, were gathered; they are not native to the place.  And no one knows how it was calculated that at the Winter Solstice - the darkest time of the year and precisely at dawn when the sun first appears over the horizon - a shaft of light penetrates an aperture over the doorway through which one enters the passageway leading to the central chamber.

New Grange

We cannot reduce the world to the literal!

Golden Apple Pedestal from "Dark Parables" - The Exiled Prince Walkthrough

I swear I can see a gold and silver apple on the floor of the Cistern - can you see them?

Basilica Cistern- Istanbul, December 2013

For what it is worth, one can invent a personal myth.  One can try and convince oneself that life is worth efforts of affection and loving observation, that vicarious pleasures are real, that loss and desecration are only temporary setbacks in a vision that is essentially whole and infrangible.  Myths like dreams, express wishes, wishes to do away with limitations.  Pamela White Hadas from Marianne Moore:  Poet of Affection. 

Richard Avedon:  "All photos are accurate.  None of them are the truth." 

Richard Avedon - Paris

In his 1983 novel, Mr. Palomar, from the chapter, "Learning to be Dead", Italo Calvino explored the idea of non-linguistic phenomena...that is how can one read something that is not written.  From the novel:  "Mr. Palomar decides that from now on he will act as if he were dead, to see how the world gets along without him.  For some while he has realized that things between him and the world are no longer proceeding as they used to; before, they seemed to expect something of each other, he and the world; now he no longer recalls what there was to expect, good or bad, or why this expectation kept him in a perpetually agitated, anxious state...

...Mr. Palomar does not underestimate the advantages that the condition of being alive can have over that of being dead:  not as regards the future, where risks are always very great and benefits can be of short duration, but in the sense of the possibility of improving the form of one's own past.  (Unless one is already fully satisfied with one's own past, a situation too uninteresting to make it worth investigating.)  A person's life consists of a collection of events, the last of which could also change the meaning of the whole, not because it counts more than the previous ones but because once they are included in a life, events are arranged in an order that is not chronological but rather, corresponds to an inner architecture."

Whewww, that's a mouthful!

I think we need to break this up with an image -

Hercules and the Golden Apples of Immortality - Geraldine Arat

"...If time has to end, it can be described, instant by instant," Mr. Palomar thinks, "and each instant, when described, expands so that its end can no longer be seen."  He decides that he will set himself to describing every instant of his life, and until he has described them all he will no longer think of being dead.  At that moment he dies."

On a lighter note I've been re-reading parts of Harvard psychology professor Dan Gilbert's book "Stumbling on Happiness." Gilbert shows through a series of logic games and diagrams how we misperceive reality - as philosophers since Kant have recognized - and then use those misperceptions to build a mistaken view of the future.  He gives examples of events that we think will bring us joy actually turn out to make us less happy than we think; and other things that fill us with dread end up making us less unhappy for less long than we would have imagined.

Gilbert has convincing studies showing that a large majority of people who endure major traumas (such as rapes, car accidents, war) in their lives will return successfully to their pre-trauma emotional state.  AND this is the kicker: many will end up happier than they were before the traumatic event.  It appears as though we may all be born with a built-in happiness quotient, a hedonic thermostat set to an emotional baseline. 

He also claims we have a "psychological immune system" which kicks into gear in response to big negative events like a job loss or the death of a loved one, but not in response to small negative events like a chipped tooth or dishwasher breakdown.  Gilbert believes that our happiness may be predicated more strongly on little events than on big ones.  Hey, don't sweat the small stuff!

"In an important sense, "Stumbling on Happiness" is a paean to delusion.  How do we manage to think of ourselves as great drivers, talented lovers and brilliant chefs when the facts of our lives include a pathetic parade of dented cars, disappointed partners and deflated souffles?" Gilbert asks.  "The answer is simple:  We cook the facts." As in Lake Wobegon, we all believe ourselves to be above average.  "If we were to experience the world exactly as it is, we'd be too depressed to get out of bed in the morning, Gilbert writes.  "But if we were to experience the world exactly as we want it to be, we'd be too deluded to find our slippers."

Like Seamus Heaney says in "Out of the Marvelous," we have to live in the in-between world, sandwiched between the mythic and the mundane.  "Bright puddle where the soul-free cloud-life roams" -  from Lightenings

Jumping Fox Terrier - Martin Munkaci, 1930

Wallace Stevens once wrote this, in a poem:
"Poetry is the supreme Fiction, madame."
                                                                        He also wrote this:

                                                                        They said, "You have a blue guitar,
                                                                        You do not play things as they are."

       (I) replied, "Things as they are
       Are changed upon the blue guitar."                                        

It's like Rumi said in the beginning: "Sometimes we plan a trip to one place and something takes us to another."

Birds Falling from the Sky - Haarp

"I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of the Imagination"
         - John Keats

I read Rilke's words above many times, thinking them to be a fine anthem, great backup singers for life. I suddenly realized I'd been substituting the word "fatal" for "final" in the second line each time I looked at it.  But I think it is just as true, "No (genuine) feeling is fatal" -- no matter how much we think it might be while standing on the precipice. 

Les Grues (Whooping Cranes) have been flashing their migratory wings in Southwestern France. I love their sound, more soprano than the honking geese, but hearing them always reminds me of the oft repeated Mary Oliver poem, "Wild Geese".  I'll let Madame Oliver have the last twilight words.

 Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things. 

Mary Oliver

*Paul Celan - Fugue of Death

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
we drink it and drink it
we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there...

If you are in the area come to the Le Marquis Club Open Doors Day March 15th at Chateau Saint Catherine in Marthon.  Bermudian artist & friend, Jodie Tucker, is now Artist in Residence there.
I may be reading the Lenormand Revolution cards at CSC in May if I am not in California. TBA

March 23rd I will be in Brossac reading tarot for the 4th annual Marche Zen, Health and Well Being Market again this year.  Clubhouse Cafe & Spa, Etang Vallier Resort. For more info.

And last, but not least! If you are in Gulfport, Florida please join these dear friends and fabulous artists for their Spring Weekend Workshop, March 21, 22, 23.   Susan Andrews & Carolyn Fellman -
they are alchemists and magicians with mixed media.   

                                                         MAKING GOOD
                                   Prompts, Promises and the Power of Intention

Foxglove Story - Susan dollmaker Andrews
I got there early as the stage hands were preparing for the main event. I had a really good seat. Midway between the rows of garlic and the compost bin. I’d remembered my bug repellant, and was wearing my garden clogs, as the grass was long and wet, in need of mowing. Yes, the foxglove were ahead, looking good, really good. That is to say, regal, stately, too tall to be true. So other. Now I’ll just wait here and watch, I thought. Wait and watch for the long awaited entry from stage right or stage left. I was awaiting the pollinators.
Foxglove Story, Acrylic on Board, 8″ X 7.5″

Tout à l'heure!
Blackbirds Tattoo by Oiseauii