RENAISSANCE

 

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History – yet visible. The last man standing.
Its door’s styles solid and erect,
the lintel’s renaissance in doubt,
all beams, each wall in fateful bending,
time’s heavy weight and man’s neglect.
Confronted with such slack decay I turn a mourner.
Dead-end street is just around the corner.

Sierksma august 2017

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HOLLOW EYES

This curious craving for pigeons that suddenly came over her, even the manner in which she devoured the birds – as an animal. Undoubtedly she was cursed.

Marguerite Duras, Stolen Pigeons [1942]

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On Monuments Day I visited Château de Céré, located near the delightful village of Saint-Hilaire sur Benaize, that day opened to the public – the grounds, that is, not the castle itself.

 

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It was raining. Stuck away in a heavy coat, too warm for an autumn day, I walked the gardens of the place, in the distance suddenly observing a rather primitive type of water reservoir that seemed to serve its surrounding gardens.

The following day an acquaintance told me that I had missed a truly remarkable pigeonnier, a dovecote. It must have been the bad weather and also the fact that it was already rather late, my third visit that day, otherwise my normally inquisitive nature would have made me inspect the grounds more diligently.

Even though not a Monuments Day, the next weekend I decided to make up for my failure. Skittish, because the last time I had heard dogs, I sneaked like a thief through the impressive entry gate onto the grounds.

 

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There I stood, a furtive invader of its walls, now searching for the outline of the reservoir structure. I was scared by sudden sounds behind me – a moustached, rather crumpled, yet sturdy though somewhat thickened and set little man, the kind you only meet in My Sweet France. The gardener and a gentleman, not threatening at all.

“Sir, a question please, though perhaps an impertinent one….” But, of course, I was allowed to come in and have a look, he himself would guide me as, alas, the Master was out. Thus we climbed from the lower terrace gardens up the little knoll. There it was, the reservoir. My eyes were searching for a tenuous cage of steel wire in which the pigeons would be housing. Instead, we walked straight up to the round building which I had taken for what the French call a château d’eau, a watering castle – in this case one pour le château.

Once up there, it turned out to be much higher than I had estimated, at least seven meters into the sky, with a diameter of more or less the same magnitude. Going through a low little gate, we entered the miracle.

 

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Inside we were standing not in what I expected to be a dark dungeon, but in a high, sunlit circle of chamoix coloured brick. A theatre, though smaller than the one I had once visited in Madrid, yet of the same awe inspiring beauty.

In Madrid I had also tiptoed in secretly, passing through the enormous gate which had been left open to let workmen with their tools get go through. That time I had been on my own, standing in the very centre of that empty and utterly desolate Plaza de Torros. The minimal music made by my right shoe, only lightly touching the yellowish gravel, rebounded from the periphery of that perfect theatrical circle, as if I was machine-gunned by bursts of noise.

In the smaller, wholly silent space of this pigeon theatre, from inside their circle of stalls, a few thousand square hollow eyes are looking down on me. They also give the impression of waiting for the mail sorter. It could have been a columbarium in which long ago the functionaries of death had been putting their ashy urns now gone. The size of the holes seems to be right for this.

A stone dovecote with real pigeonholes – that’s what this is! The roof, once covering the circular room, became decrepit over time and then crashed in. How long this little building must have stood here… When did its inhabitants become refugees, leaving for a safer haven and a surer heaven? Would there have been only one pigeon living in each of these holes, or pairs of them? Anyway, thousands and thousands of them. Were castle owners breeding the birds?

“No, tells my stocky Gardner, these were wild pigeons, coming in at their own free will and initiative.” Why had they left? “No idea…” However the lack of roofing may have to do with this, perhaps also the present lack of pigeons today… Did the nobles eat the feathered beasts? “No, or perhaps yes. The pigeons came in for their own pleasure and safety, of course also for the pleasure of the owners of the dovecote.” Master Gardner, I said, what pleasures these aristocrats were able to invent for themselves! “Mais oui, Monsieur – mais oui..”

Later I found out that something far greater was at stake than a mere delight in pigeons and dovecotes. Feudalism allowed only the owners of a château to build such an edifice. Its size, determined by the precise amount of pigeonholes permitted, depended on the sum total of hectares of the land owned by the nobleman. Château de Céré must have been of immense proportions indeed…

 

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Before leaving, I asked the Gardner to pose for me. Not only did I want to get the right impression of the pigeonnier’s proportions, I also fancied an image of the orphaned existence of a single man confronted with the Sublime. Two men in fact, because in front of them both photographer and Gardner were facing their respective half of the same immensity.

As if loosened from mere reality, elevated by these rising walls into higher spheres.

Sierksma October 2010

CEMENTISM

 

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Looks like cement and stands there so forlorn –
a vessel of concrete existence.
Between my distaste and a strong desire torn,
seeing this building, next to this,
together in their awkward dance
two neighbours hidden in the depth of France,
a hamlet of ten buildings and five cows –
A shiver, if not simply a frisson.

Should Modern Architecture not remain alone,
grand as it is sometimes, and even awesome?
However, here –
what might have been a little beauty of its own,
is all at once imperial and staining.

Sierksma august 2017

CALVINIST PENETRATION

After reading the title, my reader having perused one or more pieces of the series Dialectics of the Sexes might expect another naughty little essay on curious, puritan manners of fucking. Not this time, perhaps in the future. I must admit, though, that my knowledge of the Benjamin Franklin type of sad copulating is pretty much zero.

What is at stake is the thesis from the Belgian historian Henri Pirenne. He coined the notion of Calvinist penetration, particularly the incursion of Puritanism into Northern Catholicism. Other sources claim the same influence on the Amsterdam version of the Jewish faith.

Existing in a rather stern and oppressive puritan environment, those two religions adapted to the surrounding mores, slowly incorporating stern puritan elements in their daily lives. Such puritan restraint had been foreign to these originally more loose cultures. In their popular practice both Judaism and Southern Catholicism always had a built-in voluptuousness, a sensuous recognition of the flesh and its possible pleasures. From its start The Roman Church had always battled an inborn resistance in the peoples it conquered, especially in Italy. Only in Spain do we find religious habits that the more puritan minded founding fathers preferred. The priests Ignatius and Calvin, by the way, studied in Paris at the very same time …

Only with the success of The Reformation did the severe mores of the founding fathers of Christianity become an actual political and social force. It really got a stronghold in the Netherlands, the Provinces of Holland and Zeeland actually forbidding the continuation of Catholic practices. The churches of the Catholics were often hidden in backstreets or even in the attics of Amsterdam Canal houses. Yet, such oppressive contacts between religions did indeed influence the Northern followers of Maria. This is what Pirenne considered to be Calvinist penetration. All right, to be a bit naughty, yet: Maria, fully dressed, being fucked by a robed Calvin.

 

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In Haarlem the Reformed church simply confiscated the magnificent cathedral in the centre of the town. Its name is its omen: St. Bavo, which indicates that it is of Catholic heritage. However, many Protestants and most of the non-believers call the building simply The Big Church, thus neutralizing its original denomination. Since King Phillips the Second, our Spanish oppressor, it had been the Bishop’s church; the Haarlem Bishopric was created in 1559.

During that period of Iconoclasm this magnificent church was stolen from its original owners; all over Europe sculptures of saints and non-puritan figures were ruined or simply broken away from such Catholic buildings. Reformists abhorred nakedness in women as much as they detested well-dressed saints… This also happened in Haarlem in the year 1578; the actual theft had already taken place in 1573. Sheer religious spite and rancor it was.

 

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Are those gorgeous vertical tombstones hiding the corpses of Catholics long gone – from the time before the Reformation; or did grave-diggers dug up their skeletons and replaced them by those of the thieves, the Calvinists? Could these stones tablets have been polished out this way in only four centuries, or did this take longer? What a magnificent emblem of time gone by!

In my street lives a school teacher who is also a functionary in the Protestant parish that is using the St Bavo, which they own. Years ago I asked him, if the time had not come for the stolen property to be handed back to its rightful owner. He did not even understand the question, so self-evident was the ownership which he seemed to take very personal. The school teacher simply had lost half of our history.

Though the silly man remains a never-ending source of my merriment, the enormous theft cannot but conjure up the image of Amsterdam fascists having stolen the houses of Jews after these had been transported to their deaths by the Germans. These house-thieves were highly surprised and even indignant when those few who survived the concentration camps had the guts to return and also demand their houses to be given back to them.

Perhaps my neighbour’s loss of memory was helped by the fact that Catholics themselves had long since given up all hope of getting back their cathedral and, at the end of the 19th century, built a new one on the periphery of Haarlem, again of giant proportions, queer and in part ugly.

 

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Inside the Old St. Bavo in the center of town you find one of the most impressive organs to be seen in this world. One can imagine its enormous height, taken the size of the building.

 

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There are voluptuous elements here that may easily be missed because the gaze is dominated by the organ’s size. Bearing the heavy lead pipes are little maidens, fitted out in what might be called a dress, however hardly to be squared with the stern attitude of the Calvinists towards the depiction of female corporal attractions. We observe supporting the immense weight of the led organ pipes a girlie of sorts, one tit deliberately bared like it would be in a whorehouse.

 

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Under the organ there is also a marble relief is to be seen, with ditto women. These are slightly more classical and their bodies are at least minimally covered. Certainly, however, not the preferred type of image which the Reformed Church would like to offer its adherents, and surely a sight to be kept away from the roving, distracted eye of the younger Sunday service visitors.

Before I had done some research, I was quite certain that these images had to be dated from before the famous take-over by the Protestants. Yet, the organ was built by the German master Christian Müller, this between 1735 en 1738, thus long after the cathedral lost its Roman signature.

A religious paradox. Though not averse to some dare devil fornication, with or without offspring, Catholics do fiercely believe piously in Maria’s Immaculate Conception. After all, confession is always at hand. Those Reformed Calvinist Puritans, on the other hand, denounce this faith in the Virgin Mary as foul popery, yet they would almost like their womenfolk to conceive heirs without ever being touched in the flesh. Then again, there is also the double-edged code of the Calvinists, separating their own females from the whores they frequent…

Could these subtle signs of illicit eroticism underneath the organ, so far beyond Calvin’s control, perhaps be interpreted as the Catholic penetration of the Reformed Dutch?

Sierksma, 11 November 2017 – Martinmas

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

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