A STRANGE EVENT

The four of us woke in the campsite of Toledo in Spain.  The previous evening we had enjoyed a tasty paella on a terrace overlooking the dramatically floodlit Toledo, one of the most architecturally-unified places I have seen.

Toledo

At breakfast I had an inexplicable urge to tell a story that I had heard as a child.  The others listened.

  Once a young woman had the promise of marriage from a young man who was a soldier.  The promise took place in the church below the crucifix.  The young man went off to the wars and returned some years later.  She reminded him of his promise, but he denied having made it.  She dragged him into the church and at the crucifix she appealed to the Christ-figure.  At that moment the right arm of the figure broke from the horizontal beam, forming a diagonal.  The young man married the young woman.

Oh, my fellow-travellers said, and we went off to see Toledo.  It is a city of doors, august portals of carved wood.  We visited El Greco’s house, he who said “Art is everywhere.  Just look for it.”  We ended up with the Cathedral, magnificent as these places are.  At the foyer there were supplies of pamphlets encouraging tourists in different languages to visit other sites.  One of the pamphlets caught my eye because of its photograph – a crucifix with one arm at a diagonal.  The church was Christ de la Vega.  “There is an interesting legend attached to this church,” the pamphlet said and told the story. “Once a young woman had the promise of marriage from a young man who was a soldier.  The promise took place in the church below the crucifix …”

On the way out of Toledo, we stopped there, bidding the custodian of the church, an ample peasant lady, to open for us.  She produced a key a little shorter than her forearm and with a twist, she unbarred the doors.

Christ de la Vega

There it was – the crucifix who had witnessed the young man’s promise and bore witness to it again years later.

It is, of course, a deposition scene, with the figure supporting the right arm having disappeared over centuries.

                    Deposition Scene

Yes, I have searched every possibility as to why that particular story came to me at that moment in that place.  I cannot explain away the “coincidence”.  The mathematical odds are simply overwhelming.  And the meaning of this strange event?  I don’t know.

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017

 

Source

A leak from another dimension?

 

Images

Toledo – www.alarmy.com

Christ de la Vega – postcard

Deposition scene – Yoonik images

See too, Die Marmer Arm on http://www.loertoer.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

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SARACENS IN PROVENCE

What did they leave behind?  They were in Provence for at least two centuries.  Some say not much.  Perhaps the name Maures Mountains, 80 kms west of Antibes.  But there is much more.

                        Maures Mountains

From the seven hundreds to the nine hundreds they were a formidable force along the coastline of Provence.  To the north there were epic battles with Frankish forces.  It is said by some that, if Martel’s battle with the Saracens at Poitiers in 732 had not been successful for him, Europe would have become Muslim.  Other historians question this.  That a large part of Spain was under the control of Saracens until 1492 did not make things easier for the populations of France.

                            Bay of St Tropez

The Andalusi Saracens from southern Spain invaded what is today the Bay of St Tropez.  The year was 889.  1,155 years later the Allied Forces would also invade Provence through the same Bay.  The Andalusis established Fraxinet (near today’s La Garde-Freinet) and this would serve as headquarters for various activities, one of them, the piracy in the mountain passes of the Alps.

We think these days of great national units and find it hard to grasp the political splintering of that time.  Halfway through the brief history of the region in his book “Midi”,  André Brink writes, “Wait, it only gets worse.”

                 Medieval portrayal of Saracens

To cut a long, convoluted story short,  the Saracens of Fraxinet were defeated in the Battle of Tourtour in the year 973 by William, Liberator of Provence, as he is known.  The Muslim dream of establishing colonies in the south of France was dashed.

Did the Saracens leave anything behind?  Europeans called them moors and today French surnames like Mouret, Maurin and Mauron bear witness to that.  The Andalusis of Fraxinet were not only warriors:  they brought, amongst other things, buckwheat to the shores of France.  The rounded towers characteristic of the buildings of that time in Provence are architecture from north Africa.

     Vestiges of architecture from north Africa

In Mougins, 20 kms north west from Antibes, there is still the Saracen Gate from which Christians kept a watch on Saracens in the area of modern-day Cannes where, for 80 years, they had a foothold.

The Saracen Gate, medieval quarter of Mougins

In Antibes there are street names that speak of Arabic presence across the centuries – Chemin de Maures, Avenue de la Sarrazine.  The iconic tower at Les Remparts was called Le Tour Sarrazines, also serving as a look-out.

                   Avenue de la Sarrazine

Le Tour, also called The Saracen Tower

In the Rabiac cemetery in Antibes there are Muslim graves, those who died alongside the French in World War One.  In this cemetery there is a monument to the Hakis, those who aligned themselves with the French in the Algerian war in the late-1950s and, with the outcome of the struggle, fled to France.

               Muslim graves, Rabiac cemetery

     Monument for the Hakis,                 Rabiac cemetery

The complexity of the situation reaches its highpoint in the terrorist attack on Bastille Day in Nice, 2016.  The very first of over 85 victims was a fifty-five–year-old woman with the name Fatima Charriki, a dedicated Muslim and lifelong a French citizen.  It is estimated that nearly a third of the victims had Arabic ancestry.  From this there has appeared the book “Ma mère Patrie” (My Motherland)  by Hanane Charriki, the daughter of Fatima.

 

                            Hanane Charriki

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules,  Antibes

July, 2017

 

Sources

Wikipedia:  History of Provence

Article:  Robert W. Lebling: “The Saracens of St Tropez” (Aramco World,  2011)

Dictionnaire de la Provence et la Côte d’Azur (Larousse, Paris 2002)

Blanchet, J-M. Turc, R. Venture : La Provence pour les Nuls (First Editions 2012)

Images

Maures Mountains – visitvar.fr

Bay of St Tropez  –  golfe-saint-tropez-information.com

Saracen soldiers  –  artsymbol.wordpress.com

Round tower   –  terreetpasse.blogspot.com

Saracen Gate, Mougins – my photo

Le Tour – my photo

Avenue de la Sarrazine  –  my photo

Rabiac Muslim graves  –  my photo 

Hands Monument  –  my photo

Attack in Nice  –  leplus.nouleloms.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marble Arm – Pieta Bandini, Florence

Is this arm the greatest sculpture that I have seen?  I’m not even sure what the question means.  I speak of the arm of the depositioned Christ-figure in the Bandini Pieta by Michelangelo.  It was an early dusk when I wandered into the Duomo, the main cathedral in Florence.  I found myself amongst a tourist group, with their guide holding forth on Michelangelo’s Pieta.  Uninvited, I listened.

Bandini Pieta., Florence (1550)

He spoke of the dramatics concerning this group of figures in the last years of Michelangelo’s life.  Perhaps, for reasons of his own, Michelangelo had taken the group to pieces.  He was long past seventy at this stage.  It is reported that, despite his dissatisfaction with his benefactor, that he loved what he had done and sensing that he was not far from death, said, Why must I die now, when I have learnt to use the chisel? At a later stage, perhaps after his death, the group was brought together again, using metal links.

This group, one sees, is an irregular collection:  the figure supporting Christ on the right is out of proportion, clearly not Michelangelo’s work.  The remaining figures do not have the touch of the master.

But it is the arm of the deceased Christ that moves me, that arm dangling in death, in contrast with the flowing lines of the body.

       The marble arm

The arm hangs a little skew.  Each anatomical detail is there, lovingly brought from the marble.  For me, this figure portrays death more vividly than the famed Pieta in the Basilica at Rome.  The Pieta in St Peters is an image of sadness and peacefulness.  Both figures are attractive, almost untouched by suffering.  But the arm of the Florence Pieta is drained of life, broken by pain, tragically defeated.

Including himself in the Deposition scene

What strikes me too, is that the figure above Christ.  It is generally considered to be a self-portrait of Michelangelo.  To include himself in this deposition scene, probably because, originally, this group had been intended for his own grave, is a statement of intimacy that is beyond words.

            Da Volterra portrait of Michelangelo

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017

 

Source

Wikipedia Bandini Piëta

 

Images

Marble group –  pinterest

The arm –  employees.oneonta.edu

Self-portrait –  florencewebguide.com

Da Volterra portrait of Michelangelo – travelsacrossitaly.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIONYSUS

 

       Bronze mask of Dionysus

Here he is – dramatic, arresting, with his beard like spokes radiating to the world … a bronze mask of Dionysus, also known as Bacchus, his hair alive with bunches of grapes.  The eyes still have the gravity of the ancient cult, a seriousness that has been lost in our popular culture.

This mask, displayed with pride in the archaeological museum, was found in 1980 in the remains of a shipwreck in waters around Antibes.  It is estimated that this ship, heavily laden with amphora of wine, came to grief between 80 and 60 B.C.  The mask was saved from the plunderers.

                                      Amphora

Homer names him a lesser god, but Dionysus, even though his mother was a mortal, was part and parcel of the Greek pantheon, the greatest soap opera in the world.  And before too many centuries had passed the cult was bursting at the seams.  By 300 b.C. the cult was widespread and had a vast following.

Dionysus in British Museum. Note the people.

Dionysus is linked to fertility, agricultural and human.  He is the patron of theatre and the creative arts.  He embodies ecstatic religion, strongly promoted by his status as the god of vineyards, wine-making and, probably, the intake of wine.  Under him there is a hierarchy of personages, some of them beautiful and sensual, not wearing too much, others sporting horns from their foreheads and who play the flute to gazelle.  Still others are half human, half horse.  Interesting company.

                                      Bacchus

With the rise of the Romans, Dionysus not only gets a new name, but a smaller hat.  Another few centuries and dour Christians would put a stop to all this jollity.  Two millennia later his bronze mask would be lifted from the seabed around Antibes.

Here he is and I don’t know why I think of it now, but a long time ago, before I was a teen, and long before I knew about Nietszche’s thoughts on Dionysus, I wondered how it would be if they pushed the pews aside in the church.  And danced.

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017

 

Sources

Delaval, R. Thernot : Objets d’Antipolis. (Mémoire Millénaire, Antibes. 2011

Delaval, R. Thernot (ed.): Aux Origines d’Antibes (Musée d’Archeologie, Antibes.

M. Cazenave (ed.) : Encyclopédie des Symboles (La Pochothéque, Műnchen, 1996.)

Wikipedia  

Images

Dionysus photo of poster – Will  

Dionysus head  –  Wikipedia

Bacchus image –  crystalinks.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portrait of a kiss as a windscreen wiper

From my puppyhood I learnt you kiss Daddy.  In that second decade, the use remained and yet not.  I began to see that there were different practices in different families and then different regions, cultures, other countries.  I think about this here in France where people kiss one another like windscreen wipers, and yet not everyone.  The social codes seem to dart around – understand me if you can!   I notice that the President of America (Obama) applied this windscreen wiper to diplomats and politicians in the Middle East.  I wonder if it is catching.

                  Windscreen Wiper Left

                  Windscreen Wiper Right

I’m adapting.  (That’s me with the white hair.  The man is Stéph, Claudie’s son.)  After some years, I wonder how long it takes.  These customs have been scrutinized in academic circles for quite some time.  The Anglo-Saxon cultures find the Latin encroachment on their proxemic space difficult to accept.  In my years teaching township children I was force fed.  There, the concept of “space between people” is entirely different.

The windscreen wiper in France between men will probably be judged as taboo in South Africa.  When my friend fetches me at Cape Town airport, he can relax after the barrier of a handshake has been set up!  Interesting how cultures can diverge on such basic things.  For the Frenchman and the Spaniard (to a lesser extent) the windscreen wiper greeting is part of the day, part of the centuries.  The Anglo-Saxon has dark associations with it  −  it is simply not a manly thing to do.  It will be interesting for me if Norwegians, Swedes or Danes could prove me wrong.

The world is a big place.

 

©  Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017

 

Source

My curiosity.

 

Images 

Photographs taken by Claudie Mader  and used with her permission.

 

 

 

TWO STREET NAMES – the curious and the more curious

In the centre of Cape Town, off Barrack St, there is a small alley with a curious name.  This alleyway was probably named early in the 19th-century and it is difficult to know if the widow after whom it was named was English-speaking or Afrikaans or something else.  The name is Kromelbow lane.  I wonder:  is a skew elbow being suggested or is the name Kromel with the English word bow attached?  Well, if we find Katzenellenbogen for one of the wings of the Castle, not far away, then this would be possible.

                             More curious

In Antibes, within walking distance from where I stay, is another curious street name – Chemin des Âmes du Purgatoire, the Way of Souls in Purgatory.  Probably not that strange for someone who has been reared in a Catholic country, but for me distinctly curious.  What would be reasoning, the history, for naming a street in this way?

             A modest monument

The answer comes in the history of the early-16th-century battle between Francois I and Charles Quint, against the backdrop of the political chaos of rivalry in the south of France which lasted a few centuries.  The loss of life in this battle was greater than the liberation of the Côte d’Azur in August, 1944.  The outcome of the battle was as outcomes of battles usually are – celebrating leaders and weeping mothers.   The count of Nice wanted to compensate for the losses of the tragedy and to name a chemin, a way, for the dead.  This way leads off the Rue de Grasse, the main route from Antibes to Grasse.  Where the two streets meet, on the corner, we can see the small, even inconspicuous, monument with a prayer engraved:

                                                                       Pray to God for the souls in purgatory

                                                                                  and  they will pray for you

                                 The prayer

Soldiers who died in the battle were probably bound for heaven, according to Catholic theology, but had to be purified in the intermediate stage.

The Protestants in Antibes (Hugenots), probably not a large number of people, found the little monument blasphemous and in the year 1560 they damaged it, breaking down the cross.  But this part of the community gradually shrank and the monument was restored in a later generation.

When I went there, investigating, I found that the cross, not strongly visible, is now made of steel. Behind thick glass there is a painting of Mary in a nun’s habit with the fallen Christ on her lap, a pieta.

                       The Pieta

The date 1702 appears and there is uncertainty if this is the date of reconstruction.  Who was Nicolas?

                    The restoration date?

The modest monument is on the corner of the busy Rue and I wonder how many of the commuters are aware of this piece of their history.  Human suffering, the poet says, always happens in an unnoticed corner.

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017

 

Sources

Dictionnaire D’Antibes Juan-Les-Pins.  Pierre Tosan. HEPT, 1998

Wikipedia :  Purgatory

Cecil Jenkins :  France. Running Press, Philadelphia. 2011.

Refer W.H. Auden’s poem “Musée des Beaux Arts”

 

Images

My photographs.

 

 

 

 

 

Coventry Cathedral – contemporary sacred art

Coventry Cathedral, a 14th-century gothic church, was bombed during the Blitz in the Second World War.  For me, it was an unusual experience to stand in those ruins which they have preserved.  I can’t express the many emotions I experienced, from anger to sadness, from wonder to inspiration.  The modern cathedral abuts these ruins, almost as if the new has grown out of the old and the building began from 1950.  Amongst the engineers was a team of young Germans.  

                          Cathedral ruins

 

      Cathedral ruins with reconstructed cross

The modern cathedral, remarkable architecture, is a treasury of contemporary sacred art.  Everything has been carefully considered.  The baptism font is a hollow rock from the hills near Bethlehem.  One chapel is approached through a crown of thorns.  A moving likeness of Christ was made from the torn metal of a car accident.

                               Baptism font

                                      Chapel

Above the nave is the tapestry Christ in Majesty by Graham Sutherland, one of the largest of its kind in the world.  In every aspect there is majesty, except, for me, in one, which has left me uneasy over the years.  It is the expression on the face of the Christ visage.  Perhaps it is my Rorschach, but for me there is a creeping cynicism in the faint smile.

               The Cathedral nave with tapestry

                              Detail of tapestry

Amongst these art works in the cathedral there is a figure of Christ by Jacob Epstein in the ruins of the old cathedral, sculpture of the 1950s. (Observe to the far right against the wall in the photograph of the ruins.)  This work is a radical departure from the usual portrayal of Christ as a wrung out, vulnerable figure on the cross.

    The Epstein Christ figure

What came up for me was the word primitive, with exclusively positive connotations.  This mode, it seemed to me, takes its cue from the jungle cultures – the Congo, the Amazon, Indonesia and even Easter Island.  I grapple for words to contain this – winter clouds over night mountain ranges; the deep voice of a coming volcano … This prehistoric figure, I feel, will burst through his bonds and stride the curve of the earth in thunder.  It is sacred art that stirs much in me.

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

July , 2016

 

Source

Wikipedia

 

Images

Cathedral ruins – mapio.net

Altar with nail cross – cathedrallicking.wordpress.com

Baptism font – tripadvisor.co.uk

Chapel with crown of thorns  –  stopprocrastinatingandjustdoit.blogspot.com

Cathedral nave – lovelyoldtree.wordpress.com

Detail of tapestry  –  blog.arthistoryabroad.com

Epstein Christ figure  –  source lost

 

Dedicated to my niece Dawn Denton for the support she has given me. 

 

  

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