Monday, January 30, 2012

The Man who (nearly) fell to Earth

I spotted his near Dublin's National Concert Hall, although I nearly missed it by not looking up! I have no idea why it's there and I will be pleased if someone lets me know. It's quite realistic. This is at the far end of a telephoto lens, so from a distance it's kind of convincing. I speculated about what it might mean - apart from "a night on the tiles". "He got drunk and didn't make it home," perhaps. That suits me, because drunkenness is indeed a symbol. It would have to be be, since inebriation is all about an altered state and hence mystical and other-worldly. Compulsory drinking bouts were common amongst Chinese societies and naturally Celtic ones too. Even the Aztecs have their 400 rabbit gods who are drunk at all times after imbibing the sacred pulque. The drinking rituals are about reawakening the life force, often in midwinter, although it sometimes seems like the opposite! Samain (November) would be the major Celtic celebration and mead the chosen drink in earlier times. The Ancients called wine that was high in alcohol, pure wine, and in Gaul as well as Ireland there was usually a bit of fisticuffs after imbibing large quantities. Participants would be deprived of their weapons beforehand, for obvious reasons. The rituals were compulsory so there was no getting out of it. And if you were Welsh and a deposed king, drowning in a vat of beer might be your fate. But I am no closer to the reason for the street art - or maybe it's really a person after all!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Skeleton Time

This fascinating gravestone was on the wall in a church in Rome. I couldn't remember where I took the photo - the perils of not taking an establishing shot!  But I have tracked it down. It is the San Lorenzo in Damaso Church in the Piazza della Cancelleria. I know because it's just after the shots I took in the Leonardo Exhibition in a palace that surrounds the church. Then a bit of detective work revealed that it is a work by none other than Gian Lorenzo Bernini. This is not so much a representation of of death, but the skeleton of a dead person. It is perhaps the representation of the state of being dead. Memento mori, remember that you will die, is something we should all bear in mind. Our time is limited and we should use it well. The Scots have a saying, "we're a long time dead." Our time alive is short, in comparison to the other state. This type of funerary monument was for the rich, who could afford a sculptor and a grave within the church itself. Richer folks commissioned a whole chapel! But it did provide work for sculptors who were otherwise unemployed. The skeleton is not very scary is it? And it's certainly not the devil. In Petronius' Satyricon, a silver skeleton moves around a banquet, serving to remind us of the brevity of life. Its message appears to be "enjoy life while you can." So we should appreciate the fleeting moment and try to live in the "now".

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

All the Gods need a Blue Sky

This is the Pantheon dome in Rome.  "He does like his domes," readers might observe, and that would be true. With this one I didn't like the white sky at the centre. I wanted to see the heavens and I guess that for me the heavens are blue. But I have a collection of skies that I shot in Herbert Park in Dublin and I replaced the white with a sky I liked. The blue colour spill on the dome is original though - and it could just be "noise". The camera couldn't cope with the speed I asked for and produced some interference. So I played with the image a bit and I did get rid of it, but I put it back because the picture looked better. The Pantheon is one of these places that you really have to see. Yet it's hardly original in its present form, having been modified and built upon since Agrippa dedicated it to all the Gods. That was some time before Hadrian rebuilt it in AD126. The dome is the same since then and it is speculated that the dome is the reason for the name "Pantheon",  since it resembles the heavens and as such, "All the Gods". Such a dome requires a blue sky. It would be disrespectful to have anything different. And that does remind me of a cliché that for a while replaced "brain storming". "Lets blue sky it," management people said for a while. It meant "thinking without preconceptions" and admitted no pessimism. But in real life, just as in my original Pantheon photograph, we don't always have the luxury of a blue sky. Not even in Herbert Park.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Ambivalance of the Aquatic Arthropod

As the blog progressed I began to find that you could run out of symbols. True symbols are ineffable, incapable of being described. What could be more ineffable that a crab? Indeed we have not spoken of the humble crustacean before. It's the zodiac sign of Cancer and so I'm surprised that the aquatic arthropod has not made an appearance! In some cultures they are regarded as crafty because of the sideways scuttle. But I particularly like a myth from the Andaman islands. The first man who ever drowned, capsized the boat in which his mate had set out to look for him. She joined him and they both changed into a crab. It's kind of creation myth that adequately explains the jointed limbs and segmented body of this strange sea creature. More often than not the crab is a symbol of incarnation, an avatar of transcendental forces. And although they usually originate in the underworld, crabs often come from the sky. Yet despite the coincidence of the Zodiac sign with the summer solstice, crabs are lunar symbols and are usually depicted on the Moon Tarot card. They move backwards and forwards and so like the best of symbols, are ambivalent and can be either good or evil. I saw this fellow, sadly demised, on the beach at Fregene near Rome - and couldn't resist taking a photograph. The beach too is ineffable with its many shifting grains of sand and the crab has found its last resting place there.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Portrait of man looking at a Portrait

This happens to me every year. My partner will spot a photo opportunity and I moan and groan about the light. But I then I go for it and it turns out well. It's shot in the ancient Jewish Ghetto of Rome in one of these narrow streets with artisan shops - and the only light is from the window. With this kind of picture I always wonder about the subject. He was much too absorbed in his search to notice me or my camera. How nice that is. The search for the object is at least as important as its acquisition. And the joy of finding something one was looking for after a long search is exquisite. It really is beyond price and even value. Any collector will be pleased tell you of the journey to find that elusive book, album or print - often at length. It's part of the object's provenance. I like to find a book that has some kind of history inscribed on the inside pages. Perhaps it was a gift and the giver pondered for a long time over how delighted the recipient would be to receive it. That relationship sabotages a gift relationship that demands we give a like object in return. Yet I like to think this man has found something he was looking for - for himself. Perhaps it meant something very special to him. I hope it did - and that he purchased it and took it home joyfully.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Another string to the crossbow

I think this is a symbol we haven't yet tackled on the blog. The bow, no matter what it's form, is all about tension and in all cultures it's an important symbol. It has enormous sexual symbolism since it takes a precise, ordered structure of tension, relaxation and release. Wilhelm Reich, had he taken more interest in the symbolic application of his work on sex and anxiety, would have found much of interest in the bow. It is the weapon of kings and royalty but also of the warrior and hunter. But whereas the arrow is penetrative and clearly male, the string is female. And although we could almost miss the string (as in this photograph) it provides the thrust without which the whole thing is ineffective. The bow derives its whole power from the tension in the string. Anubis, Apollo and Shiva are all depicted with bows as are some figures in Christian art. Archers are masters of our fate and whoever is their target is doomed. But the archer is at the other end of the bow, away from the sharp end. We often talk about having another string to our bow, so the archer also needs back-up support! This crossbow is in a courtyard in the Castel Sant'Angelo in the centre of Rome. You could miss it because it is in a courtyard leading off the main visitor route, so if you do pay the castle a visit, go early and explore everything.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Rome on a Clear Day

It's not so often you have such a clear day in Rome, with no pollution obscuring the mountains. It's a fabulous sight. This photograph is taken from the Gianicolo Hill which can be reached easily from the Vatican. You can walk up there if you have the energy. But it's a steep enough climb, so luckily there are plenty of buses. I was looking down at all the places and wondering how long it would take to explore everything in the Eternal City. A lifetime maybe? I also thought that it would be difficult to take a poor photograph from this location! Most tourists explore the famous sites that you can see here, but if you track back through the extensive parkland (much of which used to belong to the Vatican) that extends for many square kilometres, there's interesting places a visitor might miss. Rome is built on hills so there are even tiny farms very close to the centre. I found one as little as a kilometer from the busy roads around the Vatican. There's been human habitation here for around 14,000 years and its worthwhile speculating what it looked like then. I'm sure it looked well.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ambivalent Orange

Let's start the New Year afresh with this striking plant and the fruit it bears. It's a Queen Palm tree and the fruit starts out green and ends up orange. I was wondering if that's the way we all start out - a bit green. One of Shakespeare's characters, Cleopatra in this case, refers to her salad days, "when I was green in judgement, cold in blood. "That generally denotes youthfulness and inexperience and an inclination to rush into things without thinking. Of course green is much used in sayings. We are green with envy for example. But we are never orange with anything! Orange is such a nice colour and beloved of artists like Kandisky. "Orange is red brought closer to humanity by yellow." It is indeed a happy looking and it's often associated with vivid autumn shades and the Thanksgiving festival. Looking at the picture cheers me up but orange also has negative connections. Agent Orange was much used in the Vietnam War, destroying crops to terrible effect as well as harming soldiers who sprayed the substance. But the herbicide derived its name not from its own colour but from the striped drums used to transport it. It was a case of a dreadful substance shipped in a happy container.