LOST, REGAINED, LOST AGAIN

 

 

Having returned the friend to the speedy TGV-train that had first brought him to La Roche, to play chess and to enjoy ma douce France, now to bring him back to Amsterdam, I immediately fled the architectural horror of postmodern urbanism surrounding the railway station of Poitiers.

 

 

 

As I had been very tired already, the idea was to return straight to my little hamlet, some ninety kilometers into the interior. But again travelling the first thirty kilometers of that straight ugly road, passing through flat territory and endless suburbs with ‘sleeping policemen’ galore and 30 km/h signs all over the place, was frightening me. So I took a sharp turn to the right, to let my car idle through autumn delights.

 

Suddenly, I knew where to go.

 

On my way there, I found some solace in this fine Modern building, as it were a go-between, a stepping stone from ugly Postmodernity into the cherished Middle Ages, a factory built in about 1930, however now defunct:

 

 

 

Then, half an hour later, up there on the little mountain of Morthemer stands the Chapelle, in a hamlet of three houses and one dog – and of course that little church itself. It hides the one and only true hortus conclusus that during this life I have been in. Walking towards it, I heard cork-dry leaves lisping over the graveled place and chestnuts burst open on receptive stones.

 

 

 

Perchance, at their ending, believers may find heaven awaiting, that may be a secluded garden as well. For the infidel, however, this must be it: Heaven perhaps, but certainly Paradise on earth. One enters it on the chapel’s right side. Then this is what you then see:

 

 

 

Wholly walled in is this Garden of Eden, at most 10×20 square meters large. You walk towards this stony wall, sit down on a little chair that you have taken with you, and then turn around:

 

 

 

Unexpectedly, the little edifice rises sky-high – an effect of being in this confined space with no way of taking distance.

 

 

 

Spread out like a Persian carpet, which always represents a watered garden in the middle of the dry barrenness of a desert, there it is – my little plot.

 

The body being sequestered inside such small confinement, one’s mind, perhaps even one’s spirit is closing in upon itself, thus mirroring the little hortus which, as a micro-cosmos, is emulating the greater cosmos out there. Or so they say.

 

Is this then religion? Perhaps ‘religious’ is the better word, meaning ‘binding anew’ or a ‘rereading attentively’. Revisiting one’s life. Inside the hortus conclusus one ponders existence, that being out of oneself, now turning in upon itself.

 

No – religion is the denial of life, thus the denial of death. Religion is opium for those who cannot cope with the idea that all is never-ending, while one’s life does indeed terminate. Calvinism is religion’s extreme, that godless theology in which from the very start God is a Devil who, ‘in the beginning’, predestines for all beings, before they are even born, whether they will be saved or condemned.

 

The hortus conclusus is more catholic, thus more humane, linked through its beliefs to all that came before, like the desert, the gardens and its life-giving water. There is that feeling of continuity with life surrounding us, with other people, also with birds and with deer and with flowers – a bond. The hortus conclusus is a symbol of the Source of Life, the womb. Re-entering it may be infantile, but certainly wise as well.

 

Here, in this confined garden, an infidel like me ponders the tomato in his lunch box, celebrating what is probably and sadly the last fruit he will eat coming the garden of his French friend Roland. Three days ago, that man has been diagnosed with leukemia. His three weeks stay in hospital resulted in a barren desert of its own – his former vegetable garden, the alpha and omega of his life after his wife died some years ago.

 

 

 

Time to leave. I cannot wait for the key-stone to drop out of the little garden-cosmos. Though fall it will, one of these days.

 

 

 

Out there, it is already happening. Just a few minutes after descending Morthemer’s mountain, I enter the latter-day desert of France, its once gorgeous countryside ruined by remembrement, the efficient re-allocation of farmer’s territory which resulted in the destruction of a feudal tapestry of little plots by ripping out thousands of hedges and lined-up oaks.

 

Left are these vast and miserable prairies. No escaping this, in front of me as well as from behind the desert is chasing me.

 

 

 

The Claws of Capital, stretching out into the vaster landscape, yet also piercing the finer texture of our consciousness. Everything Mondrian-straight, all Corbusier-flat.

 

 

 

Out there, in the far distance, the threatening towers of our modern castles loom high, chimneys of an atomic plant dominating the horizon.

 

Perhaps, that capstone has already fallen from its setting…

 

Sierksma La Roche 26.9/2017

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MAN THE MEASURE

The butt of that fine woman, the Ile de Ré, one of the larger islands on the Atlantic coastline of France, has its counterpoint in a giant prick, a lighthouse: the Phare des Baleines – in use from 1854 on, and with its height of 57 meters an edifice of some proportions.

 

 

Compared with Vauban’s predecessor, his design dating from 1682, perhaps one may call the big phare sublime, certainly not beautiful. Obviously then, for the more intense ship traffic of the 19th century the mere 29 meters high tower of that grand architect of French defense systems had not been shining its beams far enough.

 

 

 

Vauban’s little device can be seen behind the great tower, situated a little further towards Land’s End and thus closer to the Atlantic. It is rather delicate and is called the ‘old lighthouse’. Out there in the sea, far away on a rocky base, is a third, much smaller tower called le Phare des Baleineaux. The name ‘Baleines’ refers to the many whales that stranded on the island’s coast.

 

The new tower was suited to both the comfort and the aesthetic pleasure of the lighthouse-keeper. Observe the alcove in the man’s circular bedroom, where he slept right under the actual light-machinery.

 

 

 

From here he could climb straight up, he was never too late for work.

 

 

 

Climbing the stairs towards the top of his tower he did now and again, but we may hope not each day. At least he stayed for a shift, to be relieved by the next man. After the climb, the first thing he must have been thinking about is to lie down and have a rest. At least, it is what I did.

 

 

Fine materials were used, marble and messing rails and knobs.

 

 

 

However the burden of the lighthouse-keeper’s job has become visible at the precise conjunction of aesthetics and functionalism, in this case the point were both collapse into one another.

 

 

 

Not only must that lighthouse-keeper have been a heavy man, not only was he often tired and in need of support, he also used the golden globe decorating the staircase’s rail and leading up into his lightning heaven, in rather a rude manner. Each time he went up, the hand placed his full weight upon it.

 

Had it but been made of solid messing… Now, however, it slowly wore down, a globe diminished, a little cosmos ready to collapse – to be turned and stand on it’s head, like an Egg of Columbus.

 

Man, as always, the measure.

 

Sierksma La Roche 16.9/2017

SHIT ALLEY

France, known for its architecture produced by a Swiss immigrant, is also known for its architectural schools pouring out landscapists and urbanists galore, who really should get a Nobel Prize for their brilliant destruction of its small towns, lovely little squares and venerable streets – if such a prize were existent.

 

I have seen sweet little villages sublimely fucked up by way of rond-points and sleeping policemen, bordered by ghastly coloured pavements, everything completely out of place and out of sorts. Must have been, each time again, a stroke of urbanism’s genius of the man or woman commissioned by some fool of a mayor or his grandiose adjoint to modernize the hamlet and make it ripe for future tourism.

 

To make this magnificent mess of things, one surely needs an education at the highest level. Of course the landscapist and urbanist must also be liberally equipped with spikes on their elbows, to be able to compete with the many colleagues in order to get the job and get the job done in this manner. An aggressive breed it is…

 

Especially for the tourist season they have now invented a whole new field of architecture, called roadscaping. The main object of this science is to allow for the creation of shit alleys all over Ma douce France. Observet the great results of the relief provided for their many customers:

 

 

 

To get the shit precisely where it is intended by your roadscapist, he has made a study of what in architecture schools is known as ‘routing’, the placing of shields and captions in such a manner that all and everything arrives at its proper place in the right time.

 

 

 

Now, of course, my reader knows from experience that this is indeed quite an endeavour, needing lots of special intelligence. Who has not lost his way inside a hospital, or for that matter driving in foreign territory, simply because of ill-placed signs and signals!

 

All the greater should be our admiration for the splendid job these roadscapists are doing in inner France, directing masses of shit precisely where it is meant to be expulsed:

 

Reserved for road-travellers

 

You can actually observe papers and turds precisely placed behind this sign. Even here the genius of French intellectualism so well fits in with the chef complex residing in the mind of the general public.

 

A worthy symbiosis it is.

 

Sierksma 4.9.2017

STRANGLED BY QUATRE MAINS

Yesterday evening, quite suddenly and also quite late in life, having lived in this country now for eighteen years, I discovered the true, the profound meaning of what it means, what it is to be in La France Profonde. Till now I had been wise enough not to go to any summer concerts.

 

My friend pointed out the announcement of a piano recital, quatre mains, to be performed in the Abbey of St. Savin in the Vienne. Schubert and Brahms, as well as an unknown quantity which I would take into the bargain.

 

That was all the announcement told you. Someone a little ‘in the know’ expects a few great pieces from these two composers – for quatre mains obviously. However, only after having paid the tarif plein, I had my first opportunity to dig deeper into what was in store for us. Had I but known before paying that tarif!

 

This evening of the Festival de Piano & master classes we would listen to a concert by “Carles&Sofia”. Only their Christian names, as if they were my friends from around the corner. At least the words master class still had a promising ring. Two microphones in the instrument, though, were a bit disconcerting.

 

 

 

Then I read the program: Schubert, Brahms – “songs transcribed for quatre mains” plus lots of blah blah, explaining how fashionable such transcriptions had been in that far away 19th century.

 

Alas, the leaflet did not explain that this was done, not for musical reasons, but for the money. All those happy couples, owning but one piano, could buy sheet-music with the ‘songs’ and be even more happy playing these, together sitting at their instrument. Without a voice, that is, the bourgeois ideal avant à lettre.

 

But just imagine: A composer writing piano music to accompany a singer of a song especially selected by him – now executed without voice, thus without the text, yet with four hands on still one piano. And do not forget that sentimental German shit poetry, which both Brahms and Schubert chose for their compositions! This was reflected in the sentimentality of their tunes… I hate Lieder, and even more so when executed without voice.

 

Of course, there were also some original quatre mains pieces included. But let me be gentle and say that “Carles&Sofia” would not stand a chance winning the Elisabeth Concours in Brussels. Besides, what was played here was more like an ill-proportioned potpourri of music for the millions. The three great pieces they chose to play were slaughtered – period.

 

 

 

In the program sheet: No text of the songs; no opus numbers of the pieces played; yet a laudatio for “Carles&Sofia” as “models of artistic talent in the world of classical music.” Perhaps, this wafer-thin concert could beguile those coming from the interior of La France Profonde. I left during the intermission.

 

Allow me a summa of my experience. Brahms and Schubert became macaroni. These two pianists turned the already schmaltzy songs into a quadratura of Romanticist kitsch.

 

 

 

In the concert hall I always listen to the music with eyes closed. Now, this was also necessary as to miss the ghastly coloured lighting of the podium. Of course, living in Postmodernity, even a concert should be ‘interactive’. If you were enough of a musical hero to take the full abonnement for the series, after the last concert you could vote for ‘the best performance…’

 

However, worst of all was the early Gothic hall’s acoustics. Helped by the booming echoes of the sound, my mind’s eye was able to draw – blindfolded so to say – the precise outline of every single vault in the ceiling of the edifice. To add to the inner draughtsman’s challenge, the musicians did miss a note now and then. So it was perhaps an architectural experience that the recital by “Carles&Sofia” was aiming at, after all.

 

 

 

Before leaving I made this picture, possibly a symbol for the evening: a support column mangled by time, partly replaced by a pedestal of rounded concrete. These two pianists were sourly in need of crutches.

 

Midsummer, all over France the chilly snow of silly concerts falling.

 

Sierksma 23.8/2017

ON EKPHRASIS

 

The little cycle of poems published in the last three blogs, perhaps to be called STONE SPEAKING, consists of The Hard Way, Winged and Pestilence, all of them ‘ekphrastic’ poems.

 

Allow me to introduce a biological metaphor into literary criticism: Ekphrasis is the symbiosis of picture and poem, the mutualism of image and text.

 

In an ekphrastic poem the text becomes an extension of the image, the poem does not exist outside its picture’s orbit. In its turn, the text infuses the image with its own special meaning. Once read, the reader will never look at that image again as he may have done before the reading.

 

In the tradition of poetry, this genre is well-known. Think of Keats’ Urn and of Browning’s poor Ferrarian Duchess. In their own days these poets must have presumed that the image involved in their ekphrastic verse would be summoned up in the readers’ imagination.

 

In the case of Keats’ Urn, this surely was an apt assumption, as his readers most probably were grammar school graduates and had seen an urn like his already before; in the case of Browning’s Duchess less so, as acquaintance with the history of Ferrara’s Dukedom could not have been all that widespread; certainly not so a familiarity with the painting involved in his poem, an image of the Duke’s very young ‘last Duchess’. My reader is referred to a previous blog discussing this very picture, called P[imp] of the Perverse, one of the texts that make up the series ‘Dialectics of the Sexes’.

 

In our days, various modes of publication allow for high quality illustrations; the addition of an image involved in such an ekphrastic poem has become simple. This, in fact, makes of ekphrasis a more fluent genre of poetry, involving a far greater possible audience than in the old days.

 

It also allows images of more mysterious things, what I like to call ‘orphan objects’, to be implied in the poet’s ekphrastic play. A pillar of a monastic building somewhere in la France Profonde; an unknown Renaissance porta; the detail of a Grünewald painting; certainly not images one may  expect one’s reader to be acquainted with.

 

Thus, prior to perusing the poem’s text and this immediately so, a reader sees the picture involved in the verse, an image which he has probably never seen before.

 

Ekphrasis: symbiosis of poem and picture. The Hard Way, by the way, involves looping the ekphrasis. Here, the poem not only implies the image and then fuses with it; this time it is itself the one and only child of the picture’s content, offspring of that chilly coupling of stones.

 

Sierksma, La Roche 20.8/2017

PESTILENCE

Time is.
Life putrefying, stone decaying,
like snow, sun’s everlasting victim.
A pillar, seemingly the sculptor’s art –
in fact pocks-pitted.
Perhaps Plague’s prey,
Great Reaper of a hundred million,
all sent without delay – straight on.

Christ Romanesque was maimed indeed.
That is: if Grünewald can be believed.
The German’s Isenheimer Altar painting true to life:
That mortal man’s so lonesome Crucifixion,
his body covered with the sores of pestilence.

All matter: dust to dust and no exception.

 

Sierksma, Monastery at Cadouin 16.8/2017

WINGED

 

The heart’s sculptress, giving wings to stone,
making light of weight and sorrow,
converting banal truth into celestial lie.
Innocent eye of this beholder,
chiselling faith from rock-hard disbelief –
if only for one lonely instant.
Wings of the dove,
a spirit homing for the heavens –
as the crow flies, so they say.
The pigeon’s silly flight, so volatile.

Astarte, all my own,
Queen of the tongue divine,
evangelist, delightful love:
Announce the fruits of this, my quill,
be soul as well as substance of these verse.
On thine fair wings I then shall flutter,
to flirt with everlasting gravity.

Were I the Wife of Lot, as well as wicked,
salt of the earth is what I’d like to be.
I’d pray to be a pillar, shapely like this porch,
then flee the tangled thicket of a foolish world,
swift as a dove.

Sierksma Monastery at Cadouin 17.8/2017