Sunday, August 10, 2014

COLLABORATING WITH THE UNKNOWN - A Field of Bunnies dancing on the head of a pin.

Derek Kinzett - Chicken Wire Sculpture - Inner Spirit Collection

We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.  Marcel Proust

I'd been watching the corn grow and the sunflowers do their thing while the summer got stranger and stranger.  I felt like Alice wandering in circles inside a box. I made the mistake of looking too often at a computer monitor instead of thru a Looking Glass.  And found myself staring at wildfires and planes falling from the sky; listening to the interminable Obama bashing; Wall Street's Bulls/Bears charging & growling, and a plethora of kidnappings followed by more Drone attacks.

In France the little sweet that comes along with an espresso disappeared overnight, as if every bistro and cafe had suddenly called for a cookie embargo.

Three tarot events in a row were cancelled due to rain, rain, rain...

Pluie Pluie Pluie - Chateau de Charras

Then I found a lump on my neck: OOPS &?!^+ @#$%^!&*. I began shrinking rapidly until my shoulders were nowhere to be found. I felt suspended between Yesterday and Tomorrow, while Today ceased to exist. All my consternation about the world...all my big talk about "living in the present".  I just wanted to go back in time: pre-lump, when I was complaining about the lack of cookies and the crap weather.

It finally stopped raining for a nano-second, so I jumped on Antennae II, my trusty bike, and took off on the path between confusion and conviction -  the road less traveled -  which is so easy to find in rural France. 

On the way to Les Graulges
I spun-pedaled past hectares of cornfields, sunflowers & chickens studiously pecking away behind chicken wire enclosures, Jacquie's photogenic duck in his cozy hand-hewn kingdom

Jacquie's Duck

All the chicken wire reminded me of these photos I came across of Parisian artist Benedetto Bufalino's repurposed 1970's police car, turned into a fully functioning chicken coop (La Voiture de Police Poulailler). The only difference between cops & coops is one little "o".

Benedetto Bufalino

The joke here is that the French call cops "les poules" (chickens). A little less derogatory than our American "pigs", but still...

Luxury digs for Les Poules

A queue of curious cows reminded me of another piece from Stephanie Marlis's "Fine":

Country Cows

Queue - a line of waiting people or vehicles, from the Old French cue, tail - and what about polymory? You have your string of hearts albeit stretched out over time.  And hasn't each preceding love, bright or faint, enriched the next? Is Pluto any less dear now that we know it's not a single planet but simply the largest of sixty-odd ice and rock cometlike objects?  - Stephanie Marlis

Derek Kinzett - Chicken Wire Sculpture

I kept pedaling deeper into the paysage, across les champs, down overgrown forestry roads, the ones that are posted:  Chasse Gardée - private hunting ground.  But I'm not hunting for mushrooms or sanglier; I'm hunting for the world beyond human control, the invisible world. I thought maybe if I kept shrinking like Alice or became transparent like these ghostly Kinzett sculptures I could slip thru the veil...
I'm searching for answers to questions raised by Thomas Aquinas's riff in "Summa Theologica" like "how many angels are dancing on the heads of pins?"  Perhaps there are simply no answers to settle those kinds of thorny "double theory" debates, the ones that masticate and circle endlessly around faith & reason. And what kind of dance? Hip hop, ballet, tango, polka, waltz? And what size are the angels? Are they ethnically diverse?
My faith
is a great weight
hung on a small wire,
as doth the spider
hang her baby on a thin web,
as doth the vine,
twiggy and wooden,
hold up grapes
like eyeballs,
as many angels
dance on the head of a pin.
Anne Sexton

The thing I like about the angel/head/pin debate is that Aquinas wasn't questioning the existence of angels.  Delving a little deeper into dusty archives, I found out it wasn't even a pin they were dancing on.  It was a "needle."  In 1648 William Chillingworth wrote of clergymen disputing, "Whether a million of angels may not sit upon a needle's point,” which in turn may refer to Swester Katrei's, fourteenth century German mystical work, in which a character observes, "doctors declare that in heaven a thousand angels can stand on the point of a needle." Dance, sit, stand, needle, pin?  Tell that to the poets - Ouch!

Count the Angels

A Birmingham man, Graham Short, carved the Lord's Prayer onto the head of a pin.  If a human being can do that, imagine what an angel could do if she (or he) put some toe shoes on?

Graham Short's Lord's Prayer Engraving - MailOnline

We'll get to the bottom of this later. 

After approximately 12 kilometres, I wound my way into Les Graulges, a commune (population 80), with a Romanesque church (of course), a Maire, and a telephone booth.

Working Phone Booth - Les Graulges

I couldn't imagine it worked, although it was a mere 6 or 7 years ago when Kev & I immigrated to France, and we were still using phone cards in these booths, now an anachronism.  I gingerly picked up the receiver & found mold growing under it, but then I dialed les "poules" and huppé! it worked.  Of course it does, because most of the older French who populate these communes and villages do not have cell phones.  

Les Graulgians best be en garde - Since  2007 Buffalino and lighting designer Benoit Deseille have been turning these booths into Aquariums in places like Biarritz, France and Gent, Belgium.

Evasion Urbaine - Bufalino, Deseille

Aquarium Booth
What if you wanted to call Jacques Cousteau?  I guess he's not under water anymore, perhaps in the clouds dancing on the head of a pin?

But there's more to Les Graulges then first meets the eye.  A narrow road flanked with poplar trees and high stone walls beckons. 

Antennae II chills while I investigate
The road leads to the river Lizonne, bordering the southern end of Les Graulges & a community garden, a chair to sit in. There are caves and campgrounds.

Les Graulges - Cave

It's not easy to get to the river, but I find a way to slip thru a fence and crawl down to the bank.

Les Graulges - Lizonne River
Derek Kinzett - Faerie

A sense of reverence slips in here with the riffling river music and the soft breeze nuzzling the willows and the leaves.  Recently, I was listening to some passages from priest/poet John O'Donohue's Celtic Wisdom collection, and I'm happy to report that he believed in angels, especially the guardian kind - said we've all been assigned our very own.  He also said that instead of seeking out the supernatural or flapping about in search of the ecstatic/exotic, we'd be better off looking for the divine in the ordinary.

It's not as though magic doesn't exist- we tarot practitioners are big on magic - but maybe sometimes what we think of as magic is simply awareness and attention.  It's funny how important these distinctions have become since the "lump" showed up.  Turning from the desire to escape or get "high", now seeing what is in front of me creates an expansive & holy space. My heart is not exiled. I feel a sense of belonging within this cathedral of nature.  Annie Dillard says it so well in her poem based on Vincent Van Gogh's letters:      "I Am Trying to Get at Something Utterly Heart-Broken" - A few passages below:

At the end of the road is a small cottage,
and over it all the blue sky.
I am trying to get at something utterly heart-broken.

The flying birds, the smoking chimneys,
and that figure loitering below in the yard--
If we do not learn from this, then from what shall we learn?

A patch of brown heath through which a white
Path leads, and sky just delicately tinged,
Yet somewhat passionately brushed.
We who try our best to live, why do we not live more?

The branches of poplars and willows rigid like wire.
It may be true that there is no God here,
But there must be one not far off...

...What I want is more beautiful huts far away on the heath.
If we are tired, isn't it because
We have already walked a long way? ...

A ploughed field with clods of violet earth;
Over all a yellow sky with a yellow sun.
So there is every moment something that moves one intensely...

I love so much, so very much, the effect
Of yellow leaves against green trunks.
This is not a thing that I have sought,
But it has come across my path and I have seized it.

                                                                       - Annie Dillard

And so I too have seized this moment to look around me.  Into the marvelous I've ridden and discovered cultural treasures in a quiet little commune.  Paul Woodruff says in his book, "Renewing a Forgotten Virtue": 

"You need not believe in God to be reverent, but to develop an occasion for reverence you must share a culture with others, and this must support a degree of ceremony."  Reverence in classical Greek society then motivated the populous to act rightly and be humble to improve society. "We feel awe for what we believe is above us all as human beings, and this feeling helps us to avoid treating other human beings with contempt."

Ed Ruscha Rabbit - 1986

But what about those "bunnies" I promised you??  When I first pedaled down the narrow road with the stone walls I saw a rabbit dashing into a large hole right in front of my eyes. Off to my left, in a large field, several pairs of ears flashed by.  But at twilight as I headed home I looked again and the same field was chock full of bunnies.  At first I thought maybe they were domesticated (you know like the lapins they sell in the markets).  But I could see they were wild and there were no fences.  I jammed to get my camera going & set up a shot, but as soon as I zeroed in they leaped & scattered into the undergrowth as rabbits will do, so I only captured a few stragglers,...I swear there were dozens, though I know it sounds like a fish tale. 

Les Graulges field - Three Slow Bunnies
Temptation of Eve - Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, England

This is how it really looked

Mary Baxter - Wire Rabbit Sculpture

But then it was time to leave the river, the caves, the bunnies, the gardens, the church & the community of Les Graulges. Next week in the Open Pavilion where they have held Foires for almost a hundred years, there will be an Indonesian night - Ikan balls, Gado Gado, and fried bananas.  I'll come back for that & bring some friends to share a meal and watch the angels dancing with the bunnies in the lush green fields. 

End of Day, Leaving Les Graulges

Les Graulges Cimetière


When I was a child
I lived in a chicken coop
in a cornfield in Illinois
with my mother, father,
two brothers and "dog".

I hated the smells and how
the feathers floated up my nose,
and the way the ceiling
hit my Dad's head
whenever he stood up straight.

And if anyone was looking for me
I hid in the slaughter room
behind the chickens
and read and read and read.

And here I am now
living among old stones
in rural France
eating roasted chickens from the market
and reading and reading and reading

Heart+Child+Sun - Lenormand Revolution- Carrie Paris & Roz Foster

 Don't forget the SuperMoon tonight.  It should be a doozy!

Bonus Section for those who want to conduct a scientific experiment to see how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  This experiment comes courtesy of Orange Julius at

What was once just a rhetorical illustration to demonstrate the futility of out of the touch theological debates is now an exciting scientific experiment you can conduct in your very own home.

What you will need: 

Pencil & paper
One Pin
A large number of Angels
Note:  Seraphim and Cherubim 
most desirable, but almost any angels
will do.  The garden Anaheim variety of
angel should be avoided. 
One copy of "The Song that Doesn't End"
(Extended Version.)

Instructions:  Insert the pin upright into a sturdy surface such as a pin cushion or a Styrofoam block.  Begin playing the song that doesn't end and instruct the angels to step onto the pin and begin dancing. Count each angel, stopping only when no more angels can dance on the pin, and remembering to make sure that all the angels are dancing on the pin and not just hovering above it, so as to avoid a potential source of error.  Repeat several times, removing all angels from the pin after each trial. From these trials determine the average number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

Additional Exercises:

Procure a copy of  Maurice Duruflé's, "Ubi Cantas et Amor" and repeat the experiment.  Discuss the effect that music religious in nature has on your results. 

Does the type of dancing affect the number of angels who can dance? Experiment with such dancing styles as the Foxtrot, the Electric Slide and the Clueless Male Arm Flail.

Discuss possible sources of error, such as pin imbalance, drunken angels who keep falling off the pin's head, or angels who won't dance if they don't know the song. 


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