Tuesday, July 28, 2015

PANAGHIA — MACHINE

On "The Education of Henry Adams", one of the most delightful books ever written


The Panaghia in the principal, large eastern apse of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople; dated in the 9th century, she was uncovered when Justinian's church (532-565) was no longer a mosque, and substantial numbers of the mosaics were again revealed.

Publicly released in 1913 at the behest of Ralph Cram (AIA), and thenceforward a popular triumph, Henry Adams said that Mont St. Michel and Chartres  had been written for the diversion of his nieces "and nieces-in-wish"; at any rate, it was intentionally easy reading.  I managed not to read it throughout my youth, being constantly having it thrust upon me (when anyone could see that it was not what such as I would call history of architecture!), and I still haven't quite capitulated.  When he died in 1918, Henry Cabot Lodge saw to the publication of The Education of Henry Adams, and in 1919 it won the Pulitzer Prize (it had been privately published in 1907, the year also that he suffered a stroke).  He has his volume in the Library of America now, besides the Modern Library edition always in print.  But you can go to Wikipedia for Henry and all the other Adamses.

It is not to show a Virgin much earlier than the ones that Henry Adams (at least, in this book) was invoking as the Force of the high middle ages that I chose to illustrate the Eternal Feminine (and Adams surely knew the final chorus of Goethe's Faust both because he had read the poem and because it was much quoted at the fin de siècle—though the first, Munich, performance of Mahler's 8th symphony, which concludes with it, was a little later).  Adams himself pointed out that it was not voluptuous goddess types that he meant but the female principle as deity, though not unsexed, powerful and demanding worship.  Of course, Aphrodite Ourania is not the same as Aphrodite Pandemos. (The illustrations provided on line are pretty bad).   He specified, in fact, the "Diana of the Ephesisan", the Artemis of Ephesus (his fellow New Englander, Thomas Bulfinch, preferred the Latin names), but unlike Gibbon Henry Adams  by age 60 had become modern enough not to call ancient goddesses 'pagan idols': the great cathedrals were built for, and in a sense by, Our Lady.  Her cult was the Force that was pervasive in medieval Europe.  The Greek church has the useful vocabulary: just as the Christ in the mosaic of the central dome of a church is the Pantokrator (the Lord of All), so his mother, the god-bearer (theotokos), in the mosaic of the main eastern apse of the church, is the Panaghia (which means, all-holy).  These images are icons, not illustrations.  Christ with his disciples, Mary at the foot of the cross, all the  pictures that tell the gospel stories, are different kinds of pictures, illustrations; the Pantokrator and the Panaghia in their appointed positions in churches  are icons that embody deity, just as Pheidias's Zeus at Olympia and Athena Parthenos on the Acropolis of Athens are iconic statues that embody deity.  As Adams points out near the end of Ch. XXV of The Education of Henry Adams, for John Adams's great grandson, born in Calvinist Quincy in 1838, to have realized all this, and a great deal more, by his 'sixties was extraordinary.  Yes, he had lost his wife in 1885, but so many lose their dearest friends and partners with no alteration but bitterness or sanctity.  Yet, his was the generation that saw a world more than stories or morals, let alone the Bible of the Unlettered,  in the great religious art and architecture of the 12th and 13th centuries.  In particular, America's enlightenment did begin with the industrial revolution.  And, though I'm not sure that she wasn't still covered with iconoclastic plaster in Adams's lifetime (though he did visit Hagia Sophia at least once), this truly august Panaghia (at top of this page) does show, I think, what he had realized, lovely as the Amiens Vierge Dorée surely is.

It takes close attention to understand everything Henry Adams is revealing to the reader (for he never conceals how astonished he is, for example by radium, and both he and Langley are aware that much that they do not understand may be frightening).  For one thing, he uses Greek and Latin terms, as 19th-century science often did, in their ancient senses, so that 'economy', for instance, is not about finances nor even its original Greek, which means roughly 'housekeeping'.  He often uses terms just as Francis Bacon had done.  Even physicists in the 1890s are still struggling with vocabulary—and Adams confesses to knowing almost no mathematics.  I find that close reading is the key to both enjoying and understanding him; he is no mystic, though a covert poet in Walt Whitman's terms, and we suddenly realize that no one understood radium at the time of its discovery.
But don't let me spoil it for you.
*****
Not yet concealed by all those machines, turbines and the rest,  here is the famous photograph (anonymous, I think, but surely Archives Photographiques) showing the completed Galerie des Machines opposite the Tour Eiffel, also nearing completion.  It is made of units of pre-cast steel, not iron like St. Pancras Station a generation older.  The pages of Images on line include many period photographs of the Galerie while the Exposition was open, during which you could barely make out the building's bold beauty, and this was when Adams, on at least one occasion accompanied by Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906), his personal friend, to explain the dynamos to him, but we have no record of his being impressed by the building itself, which was dressed up nearly as much as the London Crystal Palace had been.
1889, before the Exposition Universelle opened, this drawing shows what regularly was omitted from courses on the History of Architecture, how the spanning units were "pinned" together at the top, as well as the scale of the triangular "pylons" that, for my generation, had become like heroic icons of cast steel construction.  This is Mainstone's illustration, chosen to show how the very broad span was achieved, and on a tight schedule.  Rowland J. Mainstone, Developments in Structural Form, MIT press, Cambridge, MA, 1983, fig. 13.2.  This book is old now, but I know of nothing that replaces it.

The great dynamos (generators), forty feet in diameter, that Samuel Pierpont Langley shortly before the Paris Exposition (of 1889) closed in 1900, explained exhaustively to his friend Henry Adams, are not what today are hardly illustrated or discussed (see the Images pages).  For my generation,  the Hoover Dam (for example) made the massive generation of electricity intelligible.  What Adams does is to make us understand his own feelings in that Galerie des Machines.  By 1900 electric trains and trolleys were routine, too.  But from the train window (usually, of course, drawn by a steam engine) he noticed the huge mounds of mined coal everywhere.  He does not yet object to its ugliness, but does observe that the whole world's appearance has been altered.  In the later 20th century, it was the building itself that in the famous photographs had become iconic.
At a time of crisis, of meditation (one might say), he says that he finds himself praying, in effect, to the almost incomprehensible machines.  He also makes clear that, as with the cathedrals and the Virgin, it is not a case of religious conversion.  One of his most remarkable, one may say heroic, traits is refusal to swallow easy answers—to anything.  He has been reasoning relentlessly over the industrial revolution (as we have decided to call it), as well as new physics, ever since the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1892.  Both he and Langley agree that it is radium that is fearsome, and that because it does not obey their laws of physics.
(The Chicago Fair, of course, opened on the heels of the Depression; though persons whose home was in the LaFayette Square house, next to John Hay's (now replaced by the hotel named for them on its site), were not exactly ruined by it, still were shocked when they could not withdraw more than $50. —"of my own money"—from the bank).
Personally, studying all the photos of it available on line, I find the Chicago Fair (except for a few buildings) hideous; it had billboards sufficient to deface an entire Interstate Freeway system, with lettering fit for Coney Island.  And Adams, later, when he went to visit the St. Louis Fair, found the excessive use of white electric lights unpleasant, especially since (if we may trust his assessment—and we usually can, because otherwise he is not so explicit) it had practically nothing to show but itself, all white and uninteresting.  Paris, on the contrary, was packed with instructional exhibits.

If you just will read his book, you will see why I can't summarize.  Just take my word for it!  The old distinction between Personal and Private is perfectly exemplified.

*****
Of course, it was the Vierge Dorée on the trumeau of the south portal of Amiens Cathedral that was best loved by Henry Adams's generation (he relates the experience of standing before it with his great friend Augustus St. Gaudens, but Proust also loved it).  This  exquisite ivory in Utrecht, only 26 cm high, is itself some two centuries later than the great Virgin at Hagia Sophia but also (Middle Byzantine, like the Harbaville Triptych) about two centuries earlier  than Amiens.  But you can find pages of photos good and bad of the Amiens Virgin in Google Images.

I did want to provide, since the pages of Images do not provide just what I want, though I have no idea whether Henry Adams ever saw the Utrecht ivory (or any of the several such Middle Byzantine BVM that survived post-iconoclasm) a worthy image of the Virgin.  The Virgin in the large apse of Hagia Sophia is, after all, colossal.  This one, though not miniature, is less than a foot tall.  The date must be close to that of the Harbaville Triptych in the Louvre.  In the center of the middle panel of the triptych is the Greek Orthodox subject called the Deësis.  The word means 'the beseeching', or 'entreaty' or simply 'prayer' (it is unrelated to the words for divinity), the verb being deomai.  Deësis is the prayer of the whole church, to begin with, ekklesia meaning congregation, but this image shows Mary and John on either side of Christ and in a gesture of entreaty, of intercession.  Christ is one in the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; with her Assumption Mary stands in a special relationship to her Son, being (Assumption or not) theotokos, the god-bearer.  To say, therefore, with Adams (and I think with Goethe, too) that all those Notre Dame cathedrals are dedicated to the female expression of God, seems to me obvious.  And, no, I didn't look it up in any catechism, and neither did they.  But Regina Coeli is very much Aphrodite Ourania, isn't it?  Anyway, if we are going to perceive divinity in new Forces, we are only joining the ranks of the contemplatives, aren't we?  In any case, the theology of Deësis does help to bridge what Henry Adams perceived as a gap between the Cross and the Cathedral.

How leaden my own sentences are compared with those of Henry Adams!


*******





Saturday, June 27, 2015

In a very black thunder storm

Taking pictures in stormy weather
On Thursday, June 25, in the early afternoon, the sky became so dark (and noisy) that it could have been dusk or some fearsome dust storm; there was barely enough light for the little Nikon 1 V2.  But by now carefree (an SD card is cheap, and the battery recharges very well) and remembering what Robert Doisneau said about the attractions of wet Paris streets, I thought it would be more fun than washing dishes, for example.  So here are some in order taken.  The +Google album in which I'll store them all is called EndJune2015 (but I found them at the end of "June 2015" in Picasa, and have not discovered how to do as I intended).  I provided them all with Info right in Photoshop.
  

25 June 2015 Outdoor to left, corner of shower to right.  Cat food that can be shared with outdoor creatures, mostly crows and bluejays right now.

From back door through laundry room, kitchen, and all the way to the front wall, though four rooms, the back porch being closed (evidently in the 1950s) to provide kitchen WC and shower and hot water heater (at left)

25Jun2015  What cat does not like to stop  in the doorway?

25Jun2015 The exterior SW corner; the only exterior tap; its wall enclosing WC; with wild fern gone wilder on the chainlink fence (there was once a dog back here); Taken in rain during thunder storm.
25Jun2015 Back to the utilities alley: the rain brings overnight tangle of elder vine, air potato, confederate jasmine, all hanging on fig tree (the figs will begin to turn pale purple next week).
25Jun2015 Back from back stoop and the decaying deck, across concrete pad with an inch of sudden puddling, the thunderstorm allows photographs impossible ordinarily. 
25Jun2015 Back from back stoop an oak twig from a couple of days ago fallen on the steps of the back stoop, showing water that will drain away in ten minutes but for the moment needs rubber clogs.

25Jun2015 Back from back stoop an oak twig from a couple of days ago fallen on the steps of the back stoop, showing water that will drain away in ten minutes but for the moment needs rubber clogs.  I like this zoomed detail best of all.  Luckily, the yard man had not yet come to clean things up.

I really have nothing to say that the images don't say better.
Zooming, I took them all without getting wet myself.
They were cropped in the taking.








Saturday, June 13, 2015

Bluebirds, etc.(even Twitter?)

My neighbor's late and well loved cat, one blue eye

For many years I was puzzled by the musical, Carrousel.  It seemed out of place in Maine, especially in its spirituality, neither acadien nor Protestant.  Not that the music wasn't wonderful.  Eventually Louisiana's Public Radio station, in service to the French part of our heritage, broadcast the 1934 film, Liliom, starring the young Charles Boyer, and there it was: an unforgettable mixture of French and Hungarian symbolism, involving very striking primitive special effects, too.  Also, I had seen schoolchildren performing a version of the Maeterlinck play and later the very awkward Shirley Temple film (she was too large and too old, in 1940, to do it credibly).  The Maeterlinck, though, is a Bluebird of Happiness, just not the Hungarian-American one that Jan Peerce made famous.  The symbol of a blue bird for happiness is evidently as old and as universal as the black bird of doom.  It is, however, the popular symbolism and cultural mood of Frederic Molnar's play, faithfully rendered in Liliom in 1934, so Franco-Hungarian, that Oscar Hammerstein (more than a decade later), transposed for Carrousel, but not quite.  Oklahoma is not puzzling in the same way; its original play was itself of the midwest; its score is as middle American as Aaron Copeland's Rodeo.  It is not simply that Hammerstein was New York and Jewish that Carrousel embodies so much of the central European sentiment.  I wonder whether it wasn't that Hammerstein had a deep personal feeling for Molnar, and Jan Peerce, too.  After all, neither the poem (least of all its spoken soliloquy) nor the music by Sandor Harmati, composed explicitly for Peerce's song, was up to the standards that both his popular and his operatic repertory represented.  We do find, I think, something of the same feeling in early Kertesz photographs, both the country and the traveling circus  subjects.  It has made me wonder just how "French" his bistro pictures are.  These are rather subtle and subjective questions, of course.  Sometimes, though, not in the figures but in the compositions, especially in Pinocchio, I think that I see things that the immigrant artists brought from Europe to Hollywood.  No matter, of course, except that it may help us to understand the complexity and wealth of the fabric of New World culture.  Of course, I am of a generation that is wary of the notion of purity.  I am sorry that immigrants to Hollywood felt that they had to change their names or baptize their children (not that they were the first or the only ones to feel that they needed to do so, and, of course, persons who actually embrace Christianity—or ethical humanism, for that matter—are quite right to choose).
The most striking fact, I think, is one I found in Wikipedia: the only recording to outsell Jan Peerce's Bluebird of Happiness of 1945 (and my own well worn copy is here, in the next room, my own choice to purchase in my early 'teens) was Enrico Caruso's Over There.  Nothing, perhaps, is exotic or alien in America.
That is why, I think, I was so comfortable with Susana Clarke's writing of pre-modern thought and feeling in terms of witches and fairies.  No, I won't venture an analysis!
But what about the choice of a blue bird for Twitter?


Thursday, June 4, 2015

The heart of a Dutch amaryllis

The Skeletons of Dutch Amaryllis Blossoms


June 4, 2015.  Reduced photos of two stems of amaryllis blossoms.  See other photos in my  new +Google album for June 2015.  This repeatedly dividing bulb, now (like my cat, Buster) 15 years old, this year actually bloomed twice, then endured two weeks of nearly incessant rain followed by hot, true summer.  So I made haste to record the structure which I'd never seen before.

This is what, inside. every glorious hippeastrum (Dutch amaryllis) contains to produce and to support the blossoms more than four inches across for more than a week (barring serious storms).  In Louisiana we don't even take up the bulbs for the winter, and we plant the new bulbs directly in our soil a few months ahead.  The pretty curly tendril belongs to the wild climbing fern on a nearby crepe myrtle.  The sturdy tan husk cradles the black seeds (?).
I happen to be very fond of the inner, supporting parts of flowering plants, and I know where I got it. I first saw the photography of Karl Blossfeldt nearly a half century ago (see also the excellent pages in his Google Images) and responded to them even without thinking of why.  Blossfeldt in fact saw the fundamentals of beauty in the arts in the forms of plants, a generation earlier than German modernism as such.  Every aspect of his work and his teaching was original in his case.  I cannot see something like these hippeastrum pods without seeing them in his terms.
Of course, handheld, in color, notwithstanding the brilliant intricacies of the Nikon 1 v.2 that I have only half mastered (though here I did use the close-up lens), especially with regard to metering, I cannot do anything like Blossfeldt's work. but I had to do what I could as soon as the sun was high enough. 
Someone may see this Post and the June 15 album and go to the Blossfeldt article (from the Museum of Modern Art) and the excellent Google Images site for him.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Fairies, Hooligans, and Thugs

From p. 4 of the 1928 reprint of Silver Pennies (Macmillan, 1925) for Rose Fyleman's "The fairies have never a penny to spend...but theirs is the earth and the sky" (illus. by Winifred Brumhall).  The illustrators of Andrew Lang's Red, Yellow, etc., Fairy Books, a generation earlier, have fairies with better wings (more like dragonflies'), but I don't have those at hand.
Now, is it only the opera and ballet for "A Midsummer Night's Dream"?
For the little moth-like wings attached to the waists of dancers in the 20th-century ballet "Les Sylphides" are not to be taken too literally.  Indeed, in childhood, long before I'd read any Shakespeare, I had formed the notion that winged creatures in art are to be understood as asomatoi, as supernatural, when monstrous in the literal sense, with oddly assembled parts: pegasoi, griffins, sphinxes, chimaeras, and the rest.  Probably originally Celtic, often scary or tempting, they do not belong to Mediterranean or Near Eastern folklore, though wingedness, as such, is pervasive.

But the fairies of idealized childhood (and, having been children, we all knew better than that) reigned in the cultures of European languages exactly from the generation of Mendelssohn through the first third of the 20th century.  Of course we knew that the Tooth Fairy who left a coin for a tooth under one's pillow, and used the current coinage of our own nation, had to be parental, just as the "secret" of Santa Claus coming down the chimney was realized as something we kept, in league with our parents, from the younger children.  Still, we accepted and loved the fairies in our story books (especially those inherited from the preceding generation).  The fairy folk of the 1960s were of a different kind; they had different agenda.

So I only knew the poems of Rose Fyleman from Silver Pennies, published a decade before I was born.  And when Larry Johnson, sharing a radio program of art songs about flower gardens, first played John McCormack singing Balfe's version of "Come into the garden, Maud" and betrayed having no idea of what sort of poem it was excerpted from (and was surprised it was Tennyson—he might have been more surprised by the Laureate's having written "Sweet and Low"), and then found slightly naughty-seeming hilarity in "There are fairies at the bottom of our garden", I was convinced that he must be at most half my age and that (like my last students) he found it too much trouble to go to Wikipedia: apparently the ease of getting material has become inimical to its actual use.

I'll start with fairies, since I put some as a headpiece here: the fairies called "Victorian", which seem to abound most in Late Victorian and Edwardian contexts.  Shakespeare's Oberon and Titania, in fact, seem different from those intended for children.  Rose Fyleman wrote mostly (and abundantly) for children, but much of the verse and song-settings were as often by males.  Still, when we see that Liza Lehmann retired from the operatic stage precisely because she married, and so turned to composition and musical essays and, as a married woman, Rose Fyleman was not the only one to write for children, I was nonetheless surprised that "There are fairies at the bottom of our garden" was Fyleman's first published verse, and Liza Lehmann must have gotten it directly from Fyleman's work.

When I chose my illustration it was just because I had known it for three quarters of a century and could not locate my copies of the Andrew Lang Fairy Book collections.  Mr. Johnson may have got the notion that the "bottom of the garden" locus for fairies was naughty from Beatrice Lillie (hers is the best comedic version on YouTube) or from the earlier "bushes at the bottom of the garden" ditty that, I think, was from the music hall and certainly was naughty.  What he did NOT know is that the use of "fairy" for a catamite (OED) was only c. 1924 when it was imported from America—not that English hadn't already (see Eric Partridge) plenty of epithets for effeminate manners. Therefore, the Fyleman-Lehmann song referred only to the overgrown weedy, potentially secretive character of the parts of the garden behind or at the back of the potting sheds.  Neither did most of the other songs about fairies that I found.  We must be grateful to Hyperion Records, and to Graham Johnson in particular, for giving us wonderful performances of hundreds of English songs.  In this case, it gave me many evenings of listening to those I had acquired, just because they were Hyperion and had singers like Anthony Rolfe Johnson (of course, all these Johnsons are not related) and Benjamin Luxon, just to name two.  Even so, I missed getting the Somervell songs.  But the CD of songs by woman composers has more of Liza Lehmann than anyone else, and deservedly so.  Generally she chose good poets, too, starting with the Rubbayat of Oman Khayyan.  The famous translation by Edward FitzGerald (1809–1883) had been published in 1859, the same year as Darwin's Origin of Species, as Dick Sullivan points out in The Victorian Web). The label on a red-seal record of the tenor aria, "Oh Moon of my Delight" was where I first knew of Liza Lehmann (it is good to be an inveterate label-reader).  Liza Lehmann's first major work was this, In a Persian Garden (1896).  As always, my grandparents' record collection, most of which has come down to me.  Lehmann's early work shows the facts both of her talent and her training: many woman composers were not so professionally trained.  Another composer that Crooks made memorable, Stephen Foster, was indeed a mere songwriter for want of education.  
In the era of shellac 78rpm 12" red seals costing several dollars apiece, persons merely of innate taste had the most extraordinary breadth of repertory in their collections.  Sometimes I wonder what Foster might have become with a richer environment; many women musicians, not only Americans, in the 19th century wrote pretty drivel simply because they could not avail themselves of more, I think.  It is no crime to write for children, of course; Debussy certainly did, for example.  J. S. Bach, for instance, wrote for his own children—the whole family did so.
Before I turn to Alfred Lord Tennyson, the favorite Fairy record of my childhood, a 10" Brunswick of "The Fairy Pipers" sung by Sigrid Onegin (Clara Butt's version, utterly different but wonderful, too, is likewise on YouTube).  This is neither great poetry nor great music, but, with good reason, it made it onto Nimbus Prima Voce Party, a party record, with its booklet, that I dearly love.  The words are by Weatherly, who churned out lyrics much as Gus Kahn did, but not so cleverly.  It was he who harnessed the Londonderry Air with "Danny Boy".  The music for "The Fairy Pipers" must be by Sir Alfred Brewer of Gloucester (1865–1928) of whom Stanley Sadie says that his works range from cantatas to popular songs.  No one will claim that a good education sufficed for Brewer...  But the song must be heard, and both versions are memorable.  Sigrid Onegin had a wonderful voice and great technique, as she will show you (but the technique rather of an ice skater than of a ballerina).  I think she also was the soprano in Trovatore, with Mario Chamlee, for the opening of the San Francisco Opera.  But just go to YouTube for her.

Now, what led me to Maud?  It wasn't YouTube, though it's there.  It was The Silver Masked Tenor, and I have the very record that, in perfect condition, is on YouTube.  It was an inexpensive (out of a bin of cheapies) mono LP honoring John McCormack, because, as Robert White  explains on the jacket, his father Joseph White, known as The Silver Masked Tenor (and he doesn't explain why), admired and emulated McCormack.  A slew of John McCormack repertory (non-operatic) is on this record, headed, on side two, by "Come into the garden Maud, for the black bat, night, has flown" (music by Balfe, yes of "The Bohemian Girl" from which Sutherland and Horne love encores like "I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls" and "Then you'll remember me"; it was from a book of simple piano selections that I'd met Balfe's name, rather than from record labels—and words by Tennyson).  Now, Robert White was not quite his father, just as his father was not quite McCormack, but I have always enjoyed this record.  It has things that if you hear them at all are spoiled by what I think of as Lawrence Welk treatment, though its own arrangements are not such as I like best.  When one has got one's fill of Weatherly, "black bat night" is wonderfully striking.  But then, having in hand the Norton Tennyson, I had to find it: it is the last poem, XXII, in Part I of Maud.   So, just as the Fairies questions had led to lots of reading, so Maud led me, finally, having bought at a bargain (dog-eared) the Norton Tennyson, fully intending to finally read him.  But the Hyperion English Songs led me to Somervell (now I need to get that CD, having only the Hyperion sampler that includes his Maud setting, and it is not only their recommendation that convinces me that it is more substantial than Balfe's).  I really am ashamed that it took this to get me to Tennyson.  And to Somervell.  May I say that buying books that you may not read for years also is not a bad idea.

Finally, though I still have unused notes and notions, I'll stop here.  I knew this would be difficult to make into a good blog post.  It is always hard to teach or to write essays on material one hasn't mulled over and worked over for years and years.  But I have done my best, and I hope it will inspire you too to learn by free association and checking up on things you'd neglected before.

And about the title that I gave this post.  I'll leave to your imagination the questions of worsened words and of in-group self depredation in the histories of spoken language.



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Tall Pin Oaks' Last Spring

Life's Sudden Changes
In March of 1986 I moved into my present house, since when I have enjoyed these houses (and their successive owners) that are opposite mine.

Just before sunset on March 14, 2015, having the telephoto lens on the camera (and having photographed this house repeatedly), this was taken to record the incipient budding of the righthand pin oak in the parkway in front of the pale green house.  I like this kind of even, dim light.  These paired pin oaks (there are others just like them on other streets) may be about the same age (1920s) as the houses.  The trees behind the houses are much shorter.

On the morning of March 23, I was awakened by the most dreadful din: not merely like a wretched leaf-blower.  The orange machine is the grinder that most efficiently makes flakes of wood out of branches and trunks of hard wood.  No, it wasn't the tallow tree, though it sounded just as close to my house.  It already had filled the truck once to take away (compare above) all the upper parts of the righthand tree and the lower branches of the one to the left.  The azaleas had burst into full bloom overnight.  The pale sky was not that of dusk but white fog.  I was astonished.  Two major hurricanes that came right through Baton Rouge, Andrew and Gustave, which took down so many pecans and red oaks, had not touched these straight-trunked giants, three times the height of the houses.

In another hour or two. the orange machine was being fed the trunks, which it speedily consumed. The five men worked with efficient skill.  None of them were speaking English, but whether Spanish or Cajun I was unsure.  Now I could see the section of the trunks, and could conclude, I think, that these were the same pin oaks, or swamp oaks, or (simply) red oaks, the species that Hurricane Gustave had decimated, though without taking so much as branches off these, the largest ones, which, if I guess rightly, were as much as ninety years old, though even as saplings they don't appear in the c. 1912 photos of Roseland Terrace (here some of the earliest-built bungalows, before c. 1925, only one block off Government Street).

Not that I'm certain of the species of the trees; their bark seems thin for oaks of any kind.  And, by the way, I don't know who ordered them taken down.  Possibly it was found, during the works under way now on Government Street, that their roots interfered with gas or water pipes.  Perhaps one of the present-day inhabitants is allergic to that yellow pollen in which in the Spring, before the new leaves come out (deciduous, yes, never naked but in the Spring shedding old leaves and blooming abundant yellow) it abounds.    Mercifully, I am not allergic to all this blooming (the tallow tree does its own, too), but many people suffer acutely for a couple of weeks.


Even today, two days later, the base of the stump of the righthand tree remains.  In January of 1912 I had noticed that after rain the knob of a root that persisted in growing right over the curb and into the gutter, which had been trimmed back repeatedly, had somehow the aspect of a gnome with a gnarled, snarling face.  It took my fancy, and I used it as the headpiece of a blot post.  It also is in the Picasa album (now also in +Google, slokind), with references to other photographs taken at the base of the tree.
I wish I were a better botanist!


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Finally had to learn about tarot cards

Starting with early Dover books…
I found this on Wikipedia.  It is astonishing what stuff people will post with limited usage just because , I guess, reading tarot cards is a business?  Anyhow, all the early ones are for games.

Back when I was a student, the Economy miracle was the catalogue of Dover books.  I mean, you could get things like a great (but O.P.) edition of Dürer's woodblock prints, reduced but still beautiful and large on good paper very reasonably.  But now all sorts of grubby stuff is jealously protected from free use just because it's for fortunetelling.  It was from Dover reprints, though, that I saw how many people were avid to pseudopsychologize from the Tarot; the books flew off the shelves to students.  I thought they were corny, in a class with ouija boards and crystal balls.  The happy cardplayers in the photo I found (above) make their game look better than Old Maid but similar in principle–much easier than learning to play Bridge.  Cribbage, too, is easy fun.
But yesterday, seeing the delightful artwork of a friend who uses the Tarot repertories as a point of departure, I had to wonder what could be meant by a Seven of Cups in designs that also use animals.  The Wikipedia provided all I needed.   I did know, of course, that quantities of pre-scholarly Egyptian stuff and Late Greco-Roman personifications and astrology and numerology bestrew Tarot decks, and, beyond that, followers of Jung found more than fun in them. But I am allergic to Jung, so I hadn't got any closer to Tarot cards than my exposure to my friend's delightful use of them.
Actually, I am very happy to know that the Joker really is the same as the everyday deck's Joker, that the Cups equate to Hearts, that Trumps are Trionfi, and so on.  But the Survival of the Pagan Gods, which I knew from Seznec but also from Panofsky are, like the survivals from Ovid, for instance, and the gradual development of modern languages from Late Latin (and every aspect of the Dark Ages– Dark because for a couple of hundred years they really were obscure) are so profoundly interesting as such that taking them as intellectual playthings bothers me.  I don't want, in any case, to titillate myself with "secrets" of the future or of the past; I am more than content to live each day as if it is my last.  
The great fact is that the Tarot for fortune-telling is actually a phenomenon of the late 19th and 20th century.  The Tarot decks themselves developed only in the Early Renaissance.  The Occult, while always appealing to the Curiosity, the venal sin of idle and lazy minds (not to be confused with scientific curiosity), is as Early Modern as Sherlock Holmes' use of cocaine.
I do find myself interested in putting together all the bits of partial learning and partial understanding that I may have collected in my eight decades.  Surely that is what memory is for?
I need to think more about these questions.