Monday, January 28, 2013

Oceanus' Crab Claws

This mosaic is typical of ancient Rome and inhabitants of Ostia Antica used them to decorate floors of bath houses and market places. The man on the left has to be Oceanus, the first of the Titans and son of Gaia and Uranus, because of the clawed hands. Oceanus derived from Greek legends and he was quite a figure. He is the divine representation of the world ocean which encircles the world and is also the God of rivers and streams. In the great Clash of the Titans, Oceanus, like Prometheus, withdrew from the battle and refused to take sides. Could this be what the image is about? Watery Oceanus would naturally be a popular choice for bath house decor, but it's also likely this is in Ostia's market place. In that case, the scene might denote the type of merchandise on sale in that part of the market. I'm speculating, because I took the shot but failed to get the accompanying explanation! I do like both hands and claws and the mosaic detail is quite lovely. But the crab claws are really interesting. Although crabs are lunar symbols, they are Chtonic and of the Underworld. The crab shifts along the bottom of the sea causing the water to move, bringing storms. Maybe it's the sideways movement that gave claws to Oceanus. Generally no slouch, Oceanus certainly shuffled off and out of the way of that Titanic battle - leaving the storm to rage.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Another Brick in the Wall

This is an old market place entrance in the spectacular ruins of Ostia Antica, near Rome. They had some fine buildings in these days and I was reminded of a Geordie friend in England. He was very keen on bricks as a product and he would say "Ye canna find better than a brick, man." He would certainly have liked Ostia because it's almost completely composed of that narrow Roman brick. Symbolically, bricks have their place beside stone. The interesting thing here is that stone is a more powerful symbol where it remains uncut. But bricks are very much constructed - a sign of urbanisation, putting down roots and having a house and land. Not surprising then, that there was a God of Bricks! The Akkadian Empire was located in what we came to know as Babylon, and it reached a peak around 2300 BC. The Akkadian's creator Marduk invented the brick and built a town. The Brick God was called Kula, himself made from the primordial mud of the River Apsu. Kula then supervised the building of temples - made from bricks of course. So bricks are a gift from God. Symbols are ambivalent and often hard to pin down. We call someone a "brick" when that individual is regarded an all-round good person. But recently we might suffer "another brick in the wall" - a metaphor used by band Pink Floyd to refer to the negative  role of education in promoting conformity and compliance.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Boots and the Land

I was reviewing old photos and found this chance shot. I'd still call it an "end of roll" photo, when I'd use the remaining few frames on a 35mm roll, to hasten it to the lab. Often, these shots would be be the best on the roll. Technically this is a boot, but the symbolism of boot is no different from shoe. I don't agree. We use boots very specifically to denote certain things. It's a seven league boot in European fairy tales, not shoes. We boot up a computer - that's more of a kick isn't it? But that derives from getting going under your own steam by "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps." It's Puss in Boots of course and Puss in Shoes doesn't quite fit the bill. Boots are grand compared to shoes. They are for specific activities - walking, working, climbing, motorcycling or even hopping around on the moon. Where heavy duty is concerned, boots are just the job. When we put them on, we transform into the person for the task.Only then do we possess whatever ground is appropriate. I recall all these fierce battles of Kinder Scout in the UK for the rights of ramblers to walk on the land. The mass trespass in 1932 and the disgraceful reaction by authorities made the event indelible for those who feel they have the right to roam their land. If I know my ramblers, they would have been wearing stout footwear that memorable day - and after the fights and arrests, they may have have been pleased to take their boots off.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Manitou and the Universal Spirit

I just love emergency vehicles. I think it's a bit child-like but I refuse to give up! If I see an emergency vehicle, I make for it immediately. This was part of an exhibition of emergency vehicles exhibition in Piedmont and I arrived before everything was properly set up. I was like a child with free reign in a sweet shop. Manitou is not only a brand of very fine work vehicles. It's a spirit of the Algonquian native Americans. Christian missionaries appropriated the name to help them work with Native Americans and used it to mean God. but the difference is that Manitou is a contactable person that inhabits all manner of objects - even machines. Maybe this vehicle has the spirit of Manitou and we could stroll over and engage it in conversation. What's the worse that could happen? The notion of a spirit within all things is not uncommon. Shamanistic culture specifies a common connection between the totality of  things and quantum mechanics may prove that is so. In Christianity, all things are part of the nature of God, but he doesn't seem as accessible as Manitou. That is a more a case of projection of our hopes and fears and wishes, than an acknowledgement of a life force that binds us witin a universe. So if you see me speaking to a vehicle, have no worries. I'm just having a chat.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Acqua City and the Poverty of History

I think I mentioned these ruins on Facebook but I am somehow drawn back. It is extremely difficult to photograph ruins - the result is never what one expects. In this case I used many filters and adjustments but eventually returned to the original colour, complete with orange sodium lights. I used available light, so apologies for any camera shake - it was an eighth of a second. This is La Città dell'Acqua, the City of Water in Rome and it was discovered during the renovation of a cinema. Now the cinema and the ruins co-exist and you can see them at almost any time at very low cost. It's one of the best deals in Rome and most tourists pass it by - so don't miss it! Popular culture and Ancient Rome are sad bedfellows these days. We hear more about bloodthirsty events, rather than civilisation. Great and lasting architecture, mercantile trade, excellent plumbing and indeed, early democracy are savaged in an ahistorical tirade that rubbishes the ancients and (at least on television) privileges more dubious events of recent times. Jungians would describe this as the shadow. We point at others and fail to recognise ourselves. It's poor science to compare the mores of ancient civilisations with ones that developed over a further 2000 years - it's akin to blaming Archimedes for having not the slightest clue about quantum mechanics. My lecture is over! But if you want to see the fascinating Città dell'Acqua, it's at Vicolo del Puttarello 25. From the site of the Trevi Fountain, exit from the east side of the square, turn right, and walk a few meters to the Vicolo dei Modelli. Turn left onto the Vicolo dei Modelli, then turn right at the next corner. La Città dell'Acqua is mid-block.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Columns, Pillars and the origins of the Jesus story

These columns mark a circumference around St Peter's Square and probably many of you are familiar with walking underneath them. I took the picture with this blog in mind - but also because I liked the crushing of perspective. I used the small camera with as low an aperture as I could get - hence a high shutter speed. Columns are a big time symbol. They provide support,  but they are also a bit like trees with roots. So like the trees, they support life. Columns frame gateways and mark boundaries yet mostly they represent a passage from one state to another. Now while Hercules was a great raiser of columns (the Pillars of Hercules), they can be shaken. Samson was one of these shakers and although he died in the process, his temple-demolishing skills defeated his Philistine enemies. Jung tries to make things clear. The column or pillar is about the cross. Jung* quotes Robertson  on "Evangelical Myths," (p 130) observing that he contributes interestingly to the symbol of the carrying of the cross. Samson carries the pillars of the gates from Gaza and dies between the columns of the temple of the Philistines. But in ancient art, he is depicted carrying the pillars in such a way as they resembled the cross. If we accept Jung's proposition, then this is in all likelihood the origin of the story of Jesus, who carries his cross to his execution. No surprise then, that these columns surround St Peter's.

*Jung, CG (1916) Psychology of the Unconscious: A Study of the Transformations  and Symbolisms of the Libido (A Contribution to the History of the Evolution of Thought ) Moffat, Yard and co. New York

Thursday, January 17, 2013

It's all in the bag

This is a window at Brown Thomas, Dublin's prestigious department store. I liked the colours and the solitary bag. I used a fish eye filter on the camera and the result was pleasing. The bag itself is perhaps the current icon of conspicuous consumption and isn't our subject here - it's the symbolism of the bag that is most interesting. The bag is much used in sayings and it's all about containers. The cat is out the bag means something kept under wraps is now revealed - the game is up. The other that I like is about beating the badger out of the bag. The badger is for some reason held to be lazy, suspicious and solitary. In the Welsh story of Mabinogion, Pwyll's rival in love is beaten by his followers with staves in order to extract his bad qualities - they beat the badger out of him. This has something in common with the notion of carrying "baggage" that we have to get rid of. It's quite usually pejorative isn't it? The old bag, bags under the eyes. Only very occasionally is a worthwhile objective "in the bag". I'm not sure we can get rid of baggage entirely. But psychotherapy is a useful way of dumping or even parking whole sets of luggage. It's more important to acknowledge what the bag contains and put things in order. The psyche has many little pockets for tucking things away and sometimes it's a good idea to have a sort-out.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Photography: Memory, Modernity and Change

I was drawn to take the photograph because of the closure of the Jessop photographic retail chain. There was once a Jessop store in Dublin - that one replaced an independent, but it is long closed. Now the whole chain has folded with the loss of three and a half thousand jobs. When I first came to live in Dublin there were many camera shops and it was great fun to search for a second hand lens. Now that is virtually impossible. So I guess I'm talking about loss. A group therapist of mine once said that change means loss and she never said a truer word. The change to digital was a savage blow to diehard photographers. The awful part of the saga is that digital is not as good as the format it replaced. The detail available from a negative beats digital hands down. But the change also makes this kind of publishing accessible and the environmental impact is much reduced. Yet sometimes in my thoughts, I find myself back in the darkroom bathed in an eerie red light - and I can smell the chemicals. In fact, there was something alchemical about watching an image swim into view in the developing tray, a transformation I no longer witness. In psychotherapy, we stress the necessity of adapting to change. But that doesn't mean forgetting old ways, because they have a way of returning and biting us in a painful spot.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Imagining the Theatre of Marcellus

This is a view from the Portico d'Ottavia and on the right is the Theatre of Marcellus, just opposite the Temple of Apollo.  It's one of the places in Rome I like to hang out. Not so many tourists walk through here and if they do I can feel vaguely irritated. I think it's because I sense they're not really looking. They appear to be ticking boxes of places they've been. This spot is always in transition and so the barriers have to be suffered. I like to stroll up and down imagining people streaming into the old theatre, which originally had three tiers. It was finished in 13 BC and could hold up to 20,000 spectators, although estimates vary. Things are always changing in the city. It continued to be used as a theatre until about 1000 AD after which it became a fortress, then a residence. There are apartments in the upper portion, and so it continues to be a living building. There lots to see here, if you're prepared to really look and more importantly, imagine an ancient society in which theatre had such central importance. There is such squabbling over arts funding in current times, but the Romans knew that music and drama was crucial to political popularity and maintaining the status quo. If you're in Rome, you might just catch me here. I'm the one covertly poking behind the barrier to get a better shot!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Castle, the Unconscious & The Self

Many castles are often stately homes built by rich aristocrats to show off their wealth. This one in Ostia is far from that. Begun in 1483, by the future Pope Julius II, it was the seat of the Papal Custom Houses and regulated excise payments on goods entering the Roman Port of Ostia. It was besieged by the Spanish at the end of the Franco-Spanish War and substantially damaged. A flood ended its prominence in 1557, after which it was used variously for agricultural storage and then a prison. Convicts were conscripted to assist in archaeological excavations in the ancient port and the castle became their prison. In symbolic terms the castle is usually defensive. It’s a fortress and attack is not part of its business. If you dream that you are in castle, it’s just possible you are being defensive about something in your life or feel imprisoned. But there is another interpretation. It might be something about yourself that you are unable to access. This castle is very traditional – it has quite a deep moat. It was difficult to get out, but also extremely difficult to get in. In Kafka’s novel, the Castle, the hero “K” tries to obtain access to authorities in a castle. He is completely unaware of why he has been invited there and the more he tries to reach the castle, the further away the castle appears. K is doomed to wander aimlessly outside rather than inside the castle. It’s all about the seeking after Self, the darkness of the unconscious and our continuing attempts to become aware. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Walk like an Egyptian

There's not a lot of pyramids around these parts, so where there is one a viewing is demanded. It's actually quite old (18BC) and not that pretty, but it makes quite an impact in what is now a very urban environment. Cestius was a prominent magistrate and this is his burial tomb. It was originally sealed but now, with special permission, it's possible for scholars to go inside. Built in the countryside it gradually became surrounded and for a while it was overgrown with vegetation. Even now, tourists miss out on something of a curiosity. Following Rome's incursions into Egypt, things Egyptian were rather popular and so it was fashionable for the wealthy to use Egyptian designs to make an impression. Probably Cestius' contemporaries thought the whole thing quite vulgar. Nowadays, pyramids are felt by some to have healing powers, but I doubt if there's much healing to be had from this one. Rather the opposite if you stand around in the rush hour! City pollution has made the marble tiles used to cover the brick-faced concrete of the pyramid quite dirty, but refurbishments are underway to restore it to the original - it would have been nearly white. It's well worth a visit and there's a nice, friendly and free museum next door. The Museo della Via Ostiense di Porta San Paolo offers the best view of the structure.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

All about Balance

The roundabout or carousel is usually the province of fairgrounds but this one seemed to have escaped!  It was on the banks of the Tiber, near the Palace of Justice. It's rather a nice example, so I paused to take a wide angle photo on the basis it would look a bit wild against the architecture of the buildings. It reminded me of childhood and the atmosphere of fairgrounds, which should be exciting and dangerous and other-worldly. Fairgrounds are usually temporary. They come and go - and that transitory state is exciting for the young. Children can find impermanence threatening, but the fairground provides a relatively safe container for these feelings. Children like the dizzying motion of rides  especially when they stagger off-balance afterwards. "Swings and roundabouts" is a relatively recent expression describing the futility of winning and losing. It's always about balance. The up and down of the swings is somehow balanced by the circular movement of the roundabout. I don't think about that one too much, because it makes my head spin! Yet the Buddhist notion of continuity, of birth and rebirth, springs to mind. I avoid the more aggressive fairground rides these days but this one looks gentle. Dreaming of fairground rides is another matter and depends on how you felt in the dream. Was it fun? Were you dizzy? Were you losing your grip? A vast territory for the dream analyst!