STONEHENGE, EASTER ISLAND and LISA GERRARD

Out of the mists …

This is an inward journey.  It is about two places and a voice.  I spent 20 minutes at Stonehenge and then fled from the sub-zero temperature to the car.  I have not been to Easter Island and I have spent many hours listening to the voice of Lisa Gerrard.

They hunch over me …

I could speak about the speculations concerning Stonehenge, that it was a burial place, probably an observatory and is the biggest of the Neolithic monuments, at least 5000 years old.  But it is what the place does to me.  I stand in an archway, these gargantuan blocks made by bloodied hands, hauled and pushed with raw shoulders.  I feel the tonnage, the weight of millennia.  They hunch over me, these monoliths, faceless and impenetrable.  The Henge is a broken circle, but somehow still calls into the unfathomable night.

They stare beyond galaxies …

The Statues of Easter Island have riveted me since my childhood.  There too, theories proliferate.   Those giant visages of granite with their long ears, solemn, taciturn … the eyes are nights without stars.  Some have fallen under the weight of who they are.  Others lie back and stare into eternity. Do they carry some terrifying knowledge?

Some listen. Some have fallen.

I found a voice that sings these places.  It is the voice of Lisa Gerrard, born in Melbourne of Irish parents, in 1961.

“The earth is a mirror    pool”

Her vocal range and ability are beyond belief.  She can tower over Asian plains; she whispers a prayer.  She sings in idioglossia, a language she made up as a child, she says, to speak to God.  The sources of her other-worldly melodies are researched with passion.  Each track has a nature of its own, wrought with depth of feeling and creative musicality.  In that music the ancient Celts breathe.  There is Turkey and India.  It can be dark-clad chanting from dank crypts and paths in night forests.  It moves across a prehistoric landscape, monumental as monoliths.

“A sliver of sun; a leaden sky”

The confluence of these three things, for me, is something that strains beyond the curve of the earth.

 

©  Will van der Walt, 2017

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

March, 2017

 

Sources

“What was the purpose of Stonehenge?” – gotQuestions.org

“Why was Stonehenge built?” – Ask History (internet)

Lisa Gerrard:  Mirror Pool; Duality and early Dead Can Dance collaborations.

Images

Easter Island – stuff.co.nz;  globaltreks.com

Stonehenge –  marruz.at;  bistrobarblog.blogspot.com

Lisa Gerrard:  lisagerrard.com;  2016 festival Melbourne

 

 

 

 

M I S T R A L

Walloped awake by a window bursting open and the shutter flaying in a to-and-fro struggle, I am shocked from late-night sleep and battling with clenched teeth, blinding wind, to hook my fingertips around the edge of the shutter, to pull … to pull it back so that … so that I can control what wrenches from my grip.  The catch isn’t working.  I have a piece of twine to tie … to tie onto the flapping shutter.  And I manage, while the Enemy of the Night, the Mistral, lashes this shutter, my face, this apartment block, this town, region, the west Mediterranean, wreaking an old vengeful violence.

depositphotos_26624453-stock-video-coastal-trees-blowing-under-strong

The Mistral as a wild night cannon

The shutter keeps.  I lie back on the pillow, wide-eyed, and listen to the wind, as I have never heard it. I know wind.  I come from the Cape.  But this … Is it Ligeti voices trying, like demons, to haunt their way through everything?  The high-intensity screaming like a bandsaw at my cheek … I’m scared.  Are these hexed angels?  Will the bashing shutter shower cold glass shards onto my face?  I think of flood waters.  I think of earthquakes.  I hear through the choir of lost souls in the lifeless thrashing of shutters outside against the walls of the apartment block.

Then, silence.

It’s an uncanny silence, this.  It feels as if it’s rising past my ears and slowly filling the room, like light.  The sky turns blue.  It’s day.

The day like silence comes

The day like silence comes

I’ve had this experience a number of times and throw in a thunderstorm that scared me witless.  And I know about the Mistral.  My first youthful contact was the description in Roy Campbell’s Horses on the Camargue.  He compares the wild horses of these deserted plains as wind over the sea. For me this is the most passionate poem in the language.

The spirit of the Mistral

The spirit of the Mistral

Then, there is André Brink’s Midi where he offers the mythology of the wind which bears a name in each of the southern patois.  This wind was formerly revered as a god, much as people have thought volcanoes to be gods.  And I’ve wondered how Frederic Mistral came to his surname, the Provencal poet who received the Nobel prize in 1905.

"He blows me here, he blows me there, he messes up my hair..."

“He blows me here, he blows me there, he messes up my hair…”

I think of the South-Easter – Sedoos in the patois – which tumbles Table Mountain’s tablecloth over the crags and which, as “The Cape Doctor”, blows away the germs.  It’s all so cosy until you wander around the Diaz monument on the Foreshore and experience the channeled force of the South-Easter, just as the Mistral channels its force through the Rhône valley at 100 kms/h.  Then you hold on, body and soul.

I, Mistral, am not the heavenly child"

“I, Mistral, am not the heavenly child”

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2017

 Sources

André P. Brink :  Midi. Op reis deur Suid-Frankryk. Human & Rousseau, Cape Town.  1969.

Roy Campbell: Horses on the Camargue

Wikipedia

 Refer for interest:  György Ligeti (1923-2006), the Hungarian composer’s work “Atmospheres” (1961), amongst others.  

 Images

Night tree branches – depositphotos.com

Trees in the wind – mitsiemckellick.wordpress.com

Cape Town Wind  –  source lost

Trees in the wind – source lost

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NAPOLEON IN ANTIBES

It always does things to me to walk where they walked, the ones who changed history.  To see what they saw, perhaps with similar feelings.  The Trocadéro in Paris, overwhelmed by the Eiffel Tower, the specific place where Hitler and his colleagues had the well-known (or infamous) photographs taken, to stand in Picasso’s studio where in the Provencal summer he painted barechested.  Then too, there is a legend that St Paul himself walked these streets, something not unlikely at all.  Somewhere in the back of my head is the possibility that in this region, in a caved-in grotto, yet to be discovered, is the Letter to the People of Antipolis (later Antibes), written by St Paul.   What a shake-up that find would be.

"Le Maitre de l'Europe"

                   “Le Maitre de l’Europe”

Now it’s Napoleon Bonaparte, barely 223 years ago, that strolled these street as I do, saw what I see, but without doubt not with the same thoughts and feelings.

He came from an aristocratic family in Corsica and was trained in the military before the Revolution of 1789.  But he picked up serious problems with a political leader in Corsica and fled with his mother, brothers and sisters.  In Corsica there is a tradition of solving problems in a non-verbal way.  In Nissa (later Nice) he impressed Massena who led the army.  In the meantime his mother and the small tribe of siblings arrived at the Château Salé and this ushers in a time of joy for Napoleon, especially in the meeting of Pauline, the Borghese princess.

Chateau Salé, Antibes, today

                Château Salé, Antibes, today

The young captain was imposing with his Corsican accent, slim, almost thin, stiffly attired in the dark blue uniform of the artillery regiment.  The sharp intensity was channeled into energy.  He was briefed to reinforce the coastline from Nice to Marseilles against attacks.  On the Île de Lerins in the bay of Cannes I came upon Napoleon’s cannon supports in the forest, steps against royalist or other enemies, especially the English.

Cannon support, Ile de Lerins

                  Cannon support, Ile de Lerins

In Antibes itself he had the battery Graillon on the cap d’Antibes and considered it as a solid defence point.

Batterie du Graillon, Cap d'Antibes

                 Batterie du Graillon, Cap d’Antibes

But the Revolution in Paris had begun to devour its own and Robespierre was guillotined.  Since Napoleon had had considerable contact with Robespierre and his brother, he was suspected of conspiracy and arrested.

Steel engraving (1879) of Napoleon in Nice prison,

Steel engraving (1879) of Napoleon in Nice prison,

Wikipedia has it that he was detained in Nice.  The historian De la Souchére says it was in Fort Carée in Antibes, a moment in history that the Antibois are rather proud of.  The tour guide at the Fort smiled wryly at me when I asked him.  To tell you the truth, he said, we don’t really know.  The incarceration lasted all of two weeks.

Fort Carée, above Port Vauban, built 1580

        Fort Carée, above Port Vauban, built 1580

His life, one historian has said, was “stuff of legend”.  His legacy is, according to the same historian, the attempt to reconcile right and left with a Bonapartist thread that runs through the politics of the 19th-century to the leaders of 21st-century France.   Even if he met his Waterloo after astounding military success in Europe, he had established the secular state, amongst other things – the list is long – not only in France, but it took root elsewhere as well.  The impact was immense.

The Exile, by J.M.W. Turner

                   The Exile, by J.M.W. Turner

He died in 1821 on St Helena, where he had been incarcerated for almost six years.  After his death the legend, some say apotheosis, about him began to escalate and his tomb at Les Invalides in Paris is one of the biggest in the world.  It’s interesting for me to think that he and I had something in common, well, while he was on St Helena – Constantia wine from the Cape.  And fascinating for me is that Napoleon had a sort of court jester on the Island amongst his entourage.  After Napoleon had died, this man went to the Cape and settled there.  His descendant was my neighbour when I lived in Stellenbosch.

bonaparte

 

 © Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2017

 

Sources

Elena Dor de la Souchère :  Antibes 2500 ans d’histoire.  Maisonneuve & Larose, Ville d’Antibes. 2006.

Cecil Jenkins :  A Brief History of France.  Running Press, Philadelphia. 2011.

Wikipedia.

Images

“Le maitre de l’Europe”  –  napoleonbonaparte.pagespersa – orange.fr

Chateau Salé  –  plus;google.com

Cannon support – my photo

Batterie du Graillon  –  plus.google.com

Napoleon in prison  –  etsy.com

Fort Carée  –  my photo

“The Exile”  by Turner  –  parisblogged.fr

Bonaparte  –  axl.cefan.ulaval.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BROKEN TEMPLE, Bellville

Even before 1994, Anton Marais had designed the Broken Temple.  Like the architect Jan van Wijk [Afrikaans Language Monument, Paarl; The University Area Church, Pretoria], there are prophetic elements in the work.  I don’t speak as an architect, nor as anyone knowledgeable.  I speak about this because I must.

The Broken Temple, Edward St, Durbanville blvd, Bellville

The Broken Temple, Edward St, Durbanville blvd, Bellville

It has been years of driving past the Temple on Durbanville  Boulevard, Bellville.  Sometimes, I interpret the building;  sometimes, it’s just poetry.  If the columns are not Doric, Ionic or Corinthian, probably pressure from the builders, it is the pediment that seizes my attention.

Rotonda by Palladio

                         Rotonda by Palladio

The Greek pediment is probably the best-known motif in Western architecture.  From Palladio (1508 – 1580), considered  by some as the most influencial architect, the pediment became standard.  Globally, it remains the icon of the West.  I was surprised when, neighbouring curled-roof edifices in the middle of Seoul, I saw a massive building with pediment-and-pillars.

East meets West in Seoul, South Korea

          East meets West in Seoul, South Korea

Marais’s Temple has a broken pediment.  In itself this is not unusual in the evolution of the motif.  Baroque architects broke the pediment with regularity.  But the difference is – the most striking aspect of Anton Marais’s work –  that the architects of the past “broke” the pediment symmetrically.  He does not.

Architect as prophet

                               Architect as prophet

One can see the asymmetrical breaking of the pediment as playful, typically post-modern.  Would that have been Anton Marais’s motivation?  Only that?  Or is there more?   This building makes me think of a great poem or a painting:  interpretations keep descending.

Does this design suggest a break with Western culture?  In this, there are positive and negative implications.  Will Southern Africa expand creatively into something new and surprising?  “Always something new out of Africa,” says Pliny, the Roman historian.  Or will South Africa lose Western traditions and, for the foreseeable future, become facelessly international?

Architecture as paradox

                   Architecture as paradox

I think it’s the paradox of the Broken Temple that makes it an important statement.  That it is asymmetrical, a planned off-balance, takes me to the concept of perpetual motion:  is this Temple being built or is the start of ruination?  Is the mathematical perfection of the pediment in question?  This design is and remains a question.  It is faithful to the Restless Greek that, for the past two and half millennia, has haunted our thought processes, pushing for rebirth again and again, a long tradition in Western culture.

 

 © Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Somerset-West  /  Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2017

 

Images

Villa Rotonda  – Wikipedia

 Seoul image, two photographs of Broken Temple, drawing – Will

 

 Dedicated to Mike Oberholzer

 

CYCLADIC ART – marble mysteries

"The ecstasy of unheard melodies"

“The ecstasy of unheard melodies”

He plays the lyre.  He has been doing that for almost five thousand years.  He played so well then that he inspired someone to hew marble from stone and make a figure of him.  I saw pictures of him before I walked up to the glass case in the Archaeology Museum in Athens where he was. But he was not the only one from that time and that place.   I soon discovered that the lyre-player himself was atypical, but his head, ecstatically back as he plays, was what impressed me.  Other figurines gazed at me across the millennia.

The silent gaze

The silent gaze

The Cycladic Islands are east of the Mycenean peninsula in Greece.  This Aegean culture is said to have flourished from 3,300 to 1,100 years B.C. and art-wise, they stand entirely apart from Crete, Egypt, the Middle East and Greece.  For this reason they have wielded fascination since archaeologists began finding them.  Made from marble, the figurines range in size from 10 cms in length to almost human size.  In style, they are always distinctively Cycladian.

Faceless mystery

Faceless mystery

The speculations around what role they played in the culture are many.  Some maintain that the figurines were images of goddesses and were used in rituals.  Some believe they were toys.  Others think that, as votive figurines, they had fertility or funerary functions.

What strikes me about them is how contemporary they feel.  The stark simplicity and geometric formality could very well have been done by modernist artists early in the 20th-century.  In fact, Constantin Brancusi, considered as the father of modern sculpture by some, produced work akin to the Cycladic spirit.  An aspect of modernism (roughly 1890 – 1930) was to abandon traditional form and seek out the primitive.

Two thousand years B.C.

Two thousand years B.C.

Brancusi, 1920

Brancusi, 1920

Another thought is the total contrast between the feminine figures of the Cycladics to the prehistoric feminine figures who are broad, heavy and thundering.  The Venus of Willendorf is one example.  It is almost as if the Cycladics were heralding a changing world.

"Earth-bound goddess", 28,000 years ago

“Earth-bound goddess”,                     28,000 years ago

They haunt me, these figurines.  They are enigmatic in their facelessness.  The majority are feminine, elegant and pure in form.  It is hard to think that they came from gross stone.  The speculations about them heighten the mystery.  They are poised, indifferent to our attempts to understand them; their power is ethereal.  If they had to be represented by music it would be with a single, soft, unbroken note.  They are other-worldly.

From another world

From another world

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2016

 

Source

Wikipedia

Images

Ecstatic player of lyre – sasgreekart.pbworks.com

Cycladic collection – source lost

Cycladic figurine – source lost

Head of Idol – Modigliani-drawings.com

Brancusi form – getty images

Venus of Willendorf – commons.wikipedia.org

Cycladic woman – source lost

 

 

 

   

 

 

ANTHEMS and the burning in the nose

The new dispensation in South Africa in 1994 made for a combo-national anthem, an unusual and thoughtful arrangement.  It has been satisfactory, as far as I know, for most people.

C. J. Langenhoven

           C. J. Langenhoven

“Die Stem van Suid-Afrika”/ “The Voice” was written by C.J. Langenhoven (lyric) and M. de Villiers (music) between 1919 and 1921.  The lyric is a poetic description of the vast beauty of the country, becoming, in a subsequent stanza a hymn of dedication.  The pain of the Anglo-Boer war, less than 20 years before, was fresh in their minds.

Enoch Sontonga

               Enoch Sontonga

“Nkosi Sikelel’ Afrika” was written by Enoch Sontonga in 1897 and is a hymnal prayer embracing the entire continent, asking for blessing and for the “war and suffering” of African people to cease.  It came after a bloody 19th-century and 500 years of slavery.

Rouget de Lisle

                        Rouget de Lisle

“La Marseillaise” was written by Rouget de Lisle during the time of the French Revolution in 1792.  It is a marching song for soldiers.   The lyric is bracing  ̶   “The bloody flag is hoisted”.  Then it goes darker.  “They (the enemy) … cut the throats of our sons and comrades … May their impure blood irrigate our fields.”  And this is against a nameless “tyranny”.

South African flag

                                 South African flag

If the lyrical tones of these three anthems diverge, the music stirs me, yes, burns in my nose.  I heard and sang “The Voice” once a week for many years in the school where I taught and it is part of the seams in my brain.  “Nkosi” I first heard as a schoolboy when the principal bid the working staff to sing it for the school, an experience that I have never forgotten.  The three-to-four-part harmony remains with me.

Impression of the French flag

                      Impression of the French flag

These days the “Marseillaise” is sung more frequently, spontaneously, in public.  It was moving to see the entire French parliament rising to their feet to sing it, something which had not, I believe, happened since World War 1.  It was January, 2015, after the terror attacks in Paris.

A peculiar fate it is to be touched by three national anthems.  Perhaps I should get done and sing “La Internationale”, except that the melody was pilfered in the 1920s in South Africa and the lyrics, in Afrikaans, praise, in a heart-felt way a place of birth, a beautiful farm  ̶  rather different from the original lyrics.  (See “O Boereplaas”)

 

© Will van der Walt

http://www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2016

 

Source

Wikipedia

 

Images

Enoch Sontongo – timeslive.co.za

C.J. Langenhoven – azquotes.com

Rouget de Lisle – fr.wikipedia.org

South African flag  –  getty images.co.uk

French flag – windows10free.org

 

Nicolas de Staël

 Through a half-open door I see a painting on the wall of a consulting room  ̶  a close-to-abstract nude with long black hair.  It’s a work by Nicolas de Staël and inspection shows it’s the original, which says something about the income of this eye specialist.

Nu couché bleu, Antibes, 1955

Nu couché bleu, Antibes, 1955

It is this image which was used as a poster for a retrospective on the artist’s work.  And that in House Grimaldi, a 15th-century building constructed on Greek and Roman foundations, and it’s fitting:  the studio of the artist in his final years was literally around the corner from this museum, “seventy paces,” in his own words.

Seagulls, Antibes, 1955

Seagulls, Antibes, 1955

I saw the exhibition.  He was known for abstract work, the form characteristic of modernism.  One critic says that De Staël tightropes between abstraction and figurative painting.  Another says his painting works like “superb iceberg, with the beauty of frozen crystalline forms …”  I saw falling, rising blocks of autumn colours, grey against black … I confess that it moved me not.  Abstract painters that speak more to me are Delaunay, Mondriaan and Kandinsky.  Perhaps if I lived with a De Staël, viewed it each morning with my coffee, I’d see the inner logic.

His life story touches me.  He was unusually tall and Time magazine describes him as “husky” at the time of his exhibitions in America in the early-1950s.  He was born in Russia, his parents fleeing the Russian revolution in 1917.  Both of them died in Danzig and the boy was adopted by a Belgian family; hence, the Flemish surname.  They soon saw the talent and sent him to Paris.  For the next twenty years he took abstract painting to another level.  His untimely death, by his own hand, was a great loss for art.  He was 41 years old.

de-stael-face

Two of his paintings haunt me.  The one is the nude in repose.  She is overwhelmed by a plane of unbroken red over her and it would seem if she (probably the artist’s wife) is tiring of this posing business and is about to turn over to sleep, if you look at the rising leg.  It was her spirit, her feeling, he painted, not her appearance.

The second is the image of Fort Carrée which he could see from his studio window over the harbour.  It’s almost abstract.  The little white blocks are probably yachts and the fort itself, brave and luminous on the promontory, stands against a deepening black and leaden grey which also darken the foreground.   These two works early in 1955 were amongst his last.

Fort Carrée, Antibes, 1955

Fort Carrée, Antibes, 1955

 

© Will van der Walt

http://www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2016

 

Source and images

Bruno Racine (ed.) –  Nicolas de Staël.  (Centre Pompidou, Paris.  2003)

Nicolas de Stael, un automne, un hiver – Musée Picasso, Antibes.  2003.  The quotation has been freely translated from: ” La peinture … enchante, à la maniere d’un superb iceberg, par la beauté des ses formes figées en cristaux …” (p. 33)  – Valentine Marcadé.

 

 

 

 

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