LEGENDS – the mistiness; the hard facts

My grandmother Lenie, born in the 19th-century, told me that we had an ancestor who throttled a young attacking lion with his own hands.  Is there a pinch of Hercules here?  My grandmother Miemie, born in the 19th-century, related how, at Vegkop, where the Trekkers were put to the spear of impis, a black woman servant fled with a white baby.  That baby was our forebear.

Legends are the mist around their heroes who stride over struggling facts of history.  Such a figure is St Honorat.

If we look at the year of his birth, 350 years after Christ, we see the changing Gallic-Roman world of Belgium.  He and his brother converted to the new, strange belief of the Christians.  Twenty years before Constantine had converted and a mere century before that Christians had still been torn apart by lions for the entertainment of spectators.

After adventures and travels over Europe, Honorat and his followers landed on the islands near modern-day Cannes, Iles de Lerins.  Here he established one of the first cloister-monasteries in Europe, which had great influence.  I was privileged to stay at this cloister for three days, a place of rich history and legends.  I came across one of these legends in the Dictionnaire d’Antibes:

 “The devil had gone, but serpents were still there.  Honorat fell down, begging God to destroy them.  Immediately they were dead, to the last.  But they were so numerous that the remains began to stink, but the holy one did not choke.

“He ascended a palm tree and prayed passionately.  Then the sea whelmed, flooding the surface of the island and washing away the repulsive carcasses of the serpents.”

Legends persist.  For us moderns there is something – the throttling of the lion; Vegkop; the serpents.  Do we always take the serpents literally? Were the people of the dark ages, finding the words for the history of a well-loved figure, not attempting to picture an inner struggle that Honorat was having?  Certainly Greek myths are a rich field for psychologists.

And what value there is for all South Africans in our family legend from Vegkop.

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

June, 2017

 

Sources

Dictionnaire D’Antibes Juan-Les-Pins. Pierre Tosan (ed.)  HEPT – Antibes. 1998

Miemie van der Walt (1881 – 1973)

Lenie Rousseau (1883 – 1963)

 

My drawings

 

 

 

 

 

ARCHIVES, FRENCH RESISTANCE 1943 – 1944

Perhaps it is necessary for us to look in the old trunk where we hide history, condemned to do it all again because we forgot.

The German occupation of France from May, 1940, left the south of the country neutral – until September-November of 1942.  Then they descended, with the French milice (police working with the Gestapo), on the French cities, towns and villages. It was then the Resistance broke from hiding.  Perhaps this part of France suffered less.  One thinks of the massacre of Oradour-sur-Glane, near Limoges, where SS troops shot 642 people on the 10th June, 1944, four days after the Allies had landed at Normandie – to mention but one incident.  But, as the poet says, the death of any man diminishes me.

From the Archives of Antibes, where I find myself, we have a few entries

1943

1st February.  “Fascist businesses” receive threatening letters from the Resistance [“Fascist” might well refer to the Italian troops under the command of Mussolini who controlled parts of Provence until 1942.]

27th February.  Attacks against businesses of collaborators (collabos) with the Germans

4th May.  Arrest of Dr Levy by the Germans

29th July.  Torture and murder of Luigi Rosso, a member of the Resistance.

 

1944

30th January.  Execution of collaborator

17th March.  Execution of the German “consul” in Antibes

22nd March.  Arrest of two members of the Resistance, Pierre Appolin and Joseph Groffino.

30th April.  Sabotage of the Antibes railway line by the Resistance

22nd May.  Execution of collaborator

{6th June.  Landing of the Allies at Normandie}

10th June.  Execution of two members of the Resistance

15th August.  Landing of Allies at St Tropez and St Raphael

24th August.  Execution of two members of the Resistance. Germans retreat from the Antibes town hall in the medieval quarter.  The liberation of Antibes.

{26th August.  Paris is liberated}

28th August.  Toulon and Nice are liberated.

23rd September.  Execution of ten collaborators at Fort Carré, Antibes

These fragments help me realise the depth of the French tragedy in the Second World War.  I wonder too, about human beings.  The German philosopher Hegel has it that the only lesson history teaches, is that human beings don’t learn the lesson history teaches.

“The death of any man diminishes me”

© Will van der Walt

http://www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

May, 2017

 

Sources

La Résistance Azuréenne. Jean-Louis Panicacci (ed.) (Nice Editions Serre, 1994)

Grandes dates de l’Histoire de France. Aedis.  1912.

France. People, History and Culture. Cecil Jenkins (Running Press, Philadelphia. 2012)

Occupation The Ordeal of France 1940-1944. Ian Ousby. Pimlico, London. 1997)  

John Donne: “The death of any man diminishes me”

Images

My drawings.

 

  

 

 

 

THREE DAYS AT A TEMPLE – a visit to Yuongpyeongsa

 [The first in a series of three postings]

I have days that I’d put on  a pedestal.  Years on they shine in my head.  Among such days I have the three that I spent at the temple of Yuongpyongsa in South Korea.

The arrangement is called “Temple-Stay” which takes places throughout South Korea.  You don’t have to be Buddhist to do it.  In fact, they are surprised if you are.

                               Far from all things

                                    The temple

Yuongpyeongsa (yes, say it: yoo-ong-pee-ong sah where “sa” indicates temple) is even further from anything than is the Magoksa temple and for the same reason:  the Confucian authorities persecuted Buddhists in the Middle Ages.  The inheritance is the silence in the verdant green hills, so characteristic of Korea.

                            In a post-chant state

On arrival I received a monk’s robe which I wore for three days.  There were six of us, amongst whom a mother and her teenage daughter, Catholic and living in Minnesota, stayed at a temple once a year to honour their ancestors.

                            The cell

The cell where I slept was more of a passage, though the futon I slept on was remarkably comfortable.

At four o’clock in the morning I was called and we made our way through darkness in the warm glow of lamps to the main temple.  Here I experienced two hours of chanting, an unusual experience.  Language-wise, I couldn’t participate and my initial reaction was resistance.  Gradually the resistance eroded until I couldn’t hear the chanting anymore;  I became it.

Glass sphere reflecting the temple

As the sun came over the hills it was time for purifying exercises – stand; down on the knee; forehead on the ground; sit back on knee; stand.  Do this one hundred and eight times.  I cracked at  thirty.

Then I limped to breakfast.

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

May, 2017

 

My photographs  

 

 

 

 

 

THREE DAYS AT A TEMPLE – a visit to Yuongpyeongsa

 [The second in a series of three postings]

To get used to Korean cuisine is to risk addiction.  It is the subtle herbal taste that they achieve with the traditional use of fermentation pots.  This is especially true for ghimchi, cabbage, which may be prepared in literally hundreds of ways.  As cabbage was my least favourite vegetable this was a small revolution in my dietary history.  Pork is popular but in the monastery where I was, the food was vegetarian, and not less tasty.  Years later when I ate Korean food in Cape Town again, I was catapulted into the aromas and the tastes of that remarkable food.

Canteen verandah

Fermentation pots

In the course of the day we met a nun, a sinewy woman with a natural radiance.  She took us for a walk in the forests, pointing out the small wild flowers by the path.  These, she told us, are not indigenous to the Korean peninsula.  They were sown by the hands of American soldiers during the civil war of the early 1950s.  Would that that had been all they left behind.

I took the opportunity to photograph the extensive paintings on the walls of the temple.  I was especially charmed by the series portraying Buddha and the cow.  There was one of a dragon which, I discovered to my surprise, is much loved in the East as a symbol of just kingship.

Temple art

Temple art: the dragon as just king

Buddha and the cow

The Buddhism of South Korea is mainly Zen and this would take much to explain.  The ideal, as I understand it, is to diminish resistance within oneself and to contemplate the Great Nothing.  I can’t expect a non-Buddhist to grasp this.  On the wall was the Zen symbol.

The Great Nothingness

On Sunday morning we were invited to the head monk for tea, far more than a social event.  He spoke to us through a translator about the ritual of tea drinking, which I found fascinating, but, I confess, that for me the green tea they drink is tasteless.  In turn, they hate Western tea.  He also spoke about the lotus flower, also a revelation for me.  The lotus is a symbol throughout Asia, for Hindus, Buddhists and some Muslims.

L O T U S

He himself, a thick-set man, winked at us:  on scattered occasions he takes a slice of pork and even a tot of whisky.  On a shelf in his study there was a figure of the Emaciated Buddha before the revelation he had under the Bo-Tree:  there needs to be balance between flesh and soul; you are not more spiritual if you disregard the body.  Yet, the Emaciated Buddha, he said, has a message for humankind.  Something to ponder.

Emaciated Buddha under the Bo-Tree

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

May, 2017

 

My photographs

 

 

 

 

THREE DAYS AT A TEMPLE – a visit to Yuongpyeongsa

[The third in a series of three postings]

The last morning I photographed the gardens, the temple, the main figure of the Buddha.

Buddha in leaves

The nun came to chat again and pointed out an old monk engrossed in a meditation on the periphery of the temple grounds.  He’s over ninety, she said.  I watched him and felt the centuries of Buddhism in the course of his meditation, a history from 300 a.d. when Buddhism was initially brought from India.

Meditation course for an old monk

Walking centuries

I came upon a Tao rock which belongs to a spiritual belief far older than Buddhism or Confucianism.  This kind of rock is a symbol of Chaos Becoming and is central to Taoism practised in China, probably from prehistoric times.

Chaos Becomes

My visit to Yuongpyeongsa was a kind of farewell to my stay and teaching in South Korea.  This visit was in May when spring is rising and nature is at its most beautiful.  For Buddhists, nature is at the heart of their spirituality, the reconciliation of Earth and Spirit, of soul and body.  They see the world in a grain of sand and the universe in a drop of dew.  For this reason everything is sacred and part of the spirit, of healing and growth.

These days burgeon in me.  Years later.

The universe in a drop of dew

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

May, 2017

 

My photographs

 

 

 

 

 

 

TABLE BAY AND THE BAY OF ANGELS

Table Bay, etching 1683

For me Table Bay is a Cape Malay bredie* of images and thoughts.  Table Bay and, of course, the Table Rock, were what magnetized me from the rural landscape to become a Capetonian.  And this bredie … Table Bay calls up for me the desire for a bigger world, a refusal to settle for suburban answers.  These Westerners … was the bad they brought in equal measure to the good?  In the shimmer on Table Bay history clashes swords with the sun … Wolraad Woltemade and his horse in the curve of a wave; the postal stones; ships sinking, ships arriving; the noon cannon;  bearded sailors staring at the Table Rock; Adamastor that you hear in storms if you listen; the Castle, the Amsterdam battery, the Chavonnes battery; the pain and anger of the Flying Dutchman …

The Flying Dutchman, ghost ship

… the murmur of the beach-combers; gulls; Robben Island, smear on the ocean;  musicians on the deck of a ship full of freed slaves dancing and playing the banjo, bringing the blues back to Africa …

Then the second bay, the Bay of Angels.  This Bay, the Côte d’Azur in France, stretches from Menton, near the Italian border and ends near Cannes.  They tell me there were human beings here four-hundred thousand years ago.  I smile.  Where I come from, South Africa, we start at two million years.  Still, history hums in the Maritime Alps that guard the Bay.  Here the Celt-Ligurians, a civilization of thousands of years, erected their forts and grunted under monoliths.  In Antibes (then Antipolis), where I find myself, their remains from 600 b.c. have been brushed open from under the Cathedral with its proto-Christian history.

Nomade sculpture ponders the Bay of Angels

Then came colonial masters, the Phonecians.  For them, the Bay of Angels was a lesser part of the larger establishment of Massala (today Marseille).  The Greeks arrive with an It’s our turn.  Monaco, Nice and Antibes all had Greek names originally.  Whether there were epic battles after some hundreds of years when the Romans marched in is uncertain.  Another handful of centuries.

In this time Roman soldiers regarded the mists of Scottish mountains and the rivers of Northern Europe.  After the assassination of Julius Caesar the coastal town along the Bay, Fréjus (the Forum of Julius), was honoured with his name.  His descendant Augustus had La Trophée built, today a sad, proud ruin, above Monaco. He instituted a census in the Empire, even to the far-flung town of Bethlehem in the Middle East.

Trophée of Augustus at La Turbie

Antibes has a legend that Paul came to the city.  Not unlikely when one thinks that Rome is but two or three days by boat.  Somewhere in the hills here there is a cave, its entrance collapsed and hidden.  In that cave is the Letter to the People of Antipolis written by Paul.  How would that be, if it were true?

At Juan-Les-Pins, the coastal town adjoining Antibes, there are few waves.  Here the Bay of Angels, or the Mediterranean Sea, often feels like a lake.  Over the shimmer on the water you see two islands, Ste Marguerite and St Honoré.  These islands, closer to Cannes, were occupied by the Romans and four hundred years after Christ, St Honoré and his following landed here, to establish one of Europe’s first Christian cloisters.

The islands of St Honoré and Ste Marguerite

These whispers across the water, music from distant times; strange instruments, lyrics unknown … they move over the creased sea … Table Bay and the Bay of Angels, two worlds, people who went before me, some of whose genes I carry … they saw what I now see and, perhaps, felt what I now feel.

 

© Will van der Walt

http://www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

April, 2017

 *bredie – A Cape Malay dish of spiced curry, dangerously addictive

 

 Sources

Pierre Tosan (ed.) : Dictionnaire D’Antibes Juan-Les-Pins (Hepta, Antibes. 1998)

 Images

Flying Dutchman – paulthomasonwriter.com

Table Bay – etching by Allain Mallet in 1683, from “Hoerikwaggo”

Nomade, sculpture on the ramparts of St Jaumes, Antibes –  my photo

Trophée d’August – Côte d’Azur Tourism 

View of islands – my photo

 

 

 

 

 

LA VIE EN ROSE – the vulnerable romantic

This song was composed by Edith Piaf in the final years of World War 2 and is far more than a hit.  It is honoured by some as the unofficial national anthem of the French.  And it is a single line in this love chanson that sets the tone in the lyric –the beloved is compared with an unretouched portrait, an affectionate ambiguity.

                     “the smile lost on his lips”

The title in relation to the lyric suggests a vulnerable romanticism – life in a rosy hue, or even, life in pink.  “Moonlight and roses” comes to mind as well as the ease with which life fractures it.

                            The orphan sparrow

La Vie en Rose cannot of course be seen apart from Edith Piaf.  As a child she was called la môme, the orphan sparrow, probably as a result of crippling poverty and the unpredictability of bohemian life once her talent had been discovered.  It is this pathos that we hear in Piaf’s voice, something which still touches people.  And she had endeared herself to the French public when accusations of collaboration with the German occupiers, calling her a collabo, were launched against her.  A close friend in the French Resistance set things straight.

After an internationally successful life, the life style and encroaching health problems took their toll and she died at an early age in Grasse, in the south of France, in 1963.  She had still recorded her hit Non, je ne regrette rien in 1960, another chanson that recalls her vulnerable romanticism.  She was laid to rest in Paris.  There were 100,000 people at her funeral.  And, if you listen, you’ll hear her voice in every piano accordion on the Champs Elysées.

                        “… the beat of my heart …”

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

April, 2017

 

Sources

Wikipedia: biography and “La Vie en Rose »

You Tube, for the song

 

Images

Roses on music sheet – lavieenrose.over-blog.com

La môme  –  francisdonne.qc.ca

Edith Piaf  –  lefigaro.fr

 

 

  

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