Thursday, September 25, 2014

CLASSIFIED

 

Another short experiment.  The first in a series of films which will tell the story of Loïck Gallo, aka "The Rooster", a commander of child soldiers who, aside their robot companions, fight to liberate Earth from an alien race which has secretly occupied the governments and corporations of the world. 

Something like They Live, The Wild Boys, The Iron Giant and The Tripods trilogy thrown into a blender now that I think about it!

I found a random video clip in my "Documents" folder, essentially without any artistic value and challenged myself to see if anything interesting could be done with it.  This is the result. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

El Mano de Dios

I've already written directly about Gauchito Gil and San La Muerte, two of the more popular Argentine folk saints.  Both have widespread and fervent cults, with thousands of devotees, roadside shrines ranging in size from small altars to sculpture gardens and even centers of pilgrimage:  holy cities, so to speak; despite all this, despite the many attestations of miracles, the Catholic Church does not recognize these saints.

San La Muerte and Caspar, the dead baby.
This may be understandable, at least in the case of San La Muerte, aka Saint Death or Holy Death.  An imposing figure, a skeleton, often robed and wielding a scythe, sometimes leaning forward in his throne, he is basically a sainted Grim Reaper.  Although some pray to him as one would with any other saint, for matters of love (red), money (gold) or other worldly powers and concerns, he is suspected to be the patron of more sinister worshipers, and nefarious deeds have been discovered and ascribed to his influence.  His cult is strongest in northeast Argentina, especially in Corrientes.  Some speculate the cult is a product of the encounter between Guaraní ancestor worship, which included the veneration of bones, and the influence of Jesuit missionaries in the 1760's; but fact is, nobody know exactly when or how it started.

A similar figure is, unsurprisingly, also worshiped in Mexico.  I say unsurprisingly because death, skulls and skeletons are a common Mexican artistic motif and Todos Santos (All Saint's Day), or the Day of the Dead, is one of Mexico's most rambunctious and widely-celebrated religious traditions.  Death is mourned and celebrated with drink, fireworks and feasting at the local cemetery.   The image of the mother is also an important motif in Mexican culture and the national patroness is La Virgen de Guadalupe, an image ubiquitous in Mexico and wherever Mexicans live.  She is the heart and soul of Catholic Mexico.  Not surprising that death is, unlike in Argentina, a woman:  La Santisima Muerte.  This would be an interesting area of study; the respective gender of "Saint Death" in Mexico and Argentina and why such a similar figure appeared in both countries.  I wonder if it could be something as secular as the fact that both countries are the largest producers of cultural products in Latin America:  music, television, literature and especially cinema.  Not sure why this would be, but for some reason the possibility came to mind.

Anyway, pictured above is my red San La Muerte.  I had actually first purchased a flashier gold statuette, but my mother-in-law knocked it off a table while tidying up, and it broke into pieces.  She's a psychoanalyst and my wife is as well; my wife is always trying to tell me that many of my accidents are not that at all, but unconscious reflections of inner desires or aversions.  So it's ironic that her mother, who disapproves of these things, "accidentally" broke it.  The iconoclastic mother-in-law.

In writing this I learned that Guatemala also has a skeletal death saint, El Rey San Pascual, who seems to be pretty much the same as Argentina's San La Muerte.  The three death saints I've discussed are believed to have their origins in pre-Colombian religion; indeed, the syncretism between non-Christian religious beliefs and Catholicism is a Latin American-wide phenomenon.  African traditions have blended with Christianity to produce Candomblé (Brazil), Voudon (Haiti) and Santería (Cuba) to name but a few.  In countries with a fewer African Americans, such as Guatemala and Mexico, this process took place with Native American beliefs.  The Catholic Church has always been tolerant of the syncretism, up to a point.  Indeed, allowing the use of "pagan" traditions was first applied to European Christianization and even has a name:  Interpretatio Christiana.  This has become a point of contention in countries once dominated by Catholicism but now rife with various Protestant and Evangelical sects, which seek to eliminate pagan traditions from Christian belief and practice.  In Guatemala, this has led to riots on several occasions; one notorious brawl took place of the steps of the cathedral in Chichicastengo.  

"Chichi" has a very strong syncretic religious culture.  I witnessed a ritual in nearby Utatlán, at the end of a long, incense-filled, tunnel-like cave under a Mayan temple complex.  I also saw what was clearly a fertility ritual before a stone idol called Pascual Abaj; this sits atop a hill closer to Chichi than Utatlán.  I photographed this ritual at the friendly urging of the man performing it, and made extensive notes on the precise actions he performed.  One day I'll dig up this notebook and photos to share here on LoS.  I was also personally blessed by a curandero in Nebaj, a bit farther north, at a shrine hidden in a cornfield.  It involved lots of prayers and the burning of various materials we picked up at the local market.  What bound all three of these rituals was the free intermingling of the names of recognizable Catholic saints with Mayan gods.  Syncretism in action.  There was also a Day of the Dead in the Guatemalan town of Todos Santos; this was an emotional experience for me, having not long prior lost my father, and I danced and drank all night with a family who must have sensed my grief, as I was welcomed into the kitchen periodically throughout the night to warm up, rest and drink bowls of a delicious gruel that kept me going and helped absorb the copious amounts of alcohol I imbibed -- which in this town, is a big part of the ritual observance.  I feel privileged to have witnessed and participated in these rituals so I am eager to meet some practitioners of Afro-Catholic religions.  My only concern is to avoid becoming a gawking tourist; I need to participate, but I do not want to contribute to the "touristification" of these rituals.

I used to say that my only further use of psychedelics would be to try ayahuasca with a shaman to guide me, but ritual ingestion of ayahuasca, aka yagé, has unfortunately become a kind of drug tourism, the Quechua and Aymara-speaking regions treated like some kind of New Age Amsterdam, a New World Kathmandu.  William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg wrote an excellent book on their search for the drug, entitled The Yagé Letters.  A detailed and often hilarious account, it doesn't get into folk saints, but it does  describe a serious series of psychic and spiritual investigations.  It has also undoubtedly helped spawn the kind of zonked-out pilgrimage to the hinterlands I used to undertake without understanding the potential deleterious effects this can have on a spiritually rich but financially impoverished people.  Some will end up selling their religion to the highest bidder and others will become hucksters, with either no real knowledge of the shamanic role or just jiving the gullible and saving the real traditions for themselves.  This is, not in the specific context of spiritual tourism but tourism in general, why I turned a bit cold towards traveling in parts of Mexico and Guatemala, not for lack of "authentic" experience, but for contributing to the kind of human interactions that reduces everything to an exchange of goods and services for cash.  I realize tourism can be an important economic boost for a country, and if anyone needs a boost it's Mexico and Guatemala, but I'm kind of leery of the whole "Gringo Trail" these days.  I'd still like to experience the Afro-Latin-American traditions though.


But back to my collection of figurines, next pictured is Gauchito Gil.  I've discussed his story before, but it's worth repeating that before his murder, he'd been forced into banditry in order to survive after refusing to fight in the Argentine Civil War, having already enlisted in the war against Paraguay in order to escape the local police chief, who was jealous of his affair with a wealthy widow.  Gil was eventually captured and killed by the police, but not before he informed the gendarme who was about to cut his throat that his dying son would recover; he did, and the grateful policeman spread Gauchito's cult as thanks and penance.  Gil's roadside shrines are painted red and red banners hang from them or fly overhead.  His cult, like that of San La Muerte, is strongest in the north, in Corrientes, but it has spread throughout Argentina and into neighboring Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile.  He even has a Facebook page.  But who doesn't?  Even San La Muerte is social media savvy.

Before Gil's throat was cut, he was hung upside down on a tree typical of the pampa.  This recollects Old World sources such as the crucifixion of Jesus (not to mention Mithras and Osiris) and also the self-sacrifice of Odin, who hung upside down on the Norse axis mundi named Yggdrasil, an ash tree to Gil's algarrobos.  Argentina has strong connection to Italy, so it's more likely that the upside down Gil was inspired by Italian pitture infamanti, portraits of criminals hung by their heels upon a tree, a way to humiliate condemned men, especially those deemed traitorous.  Mussolini and mistress Clara Petacci were dragged from their home in Rome, hung by their heels by an angry mob and beaten to death.  The hanging by the heels part always intrigued me; perhaps I jump too quickly to conclusions in seeing a connection.  But the practice was almost surely based on the Roman predilection for crucifying the condemned upside down if an extra dose of humiliation was required.  Going in the opposite historical direction, the pitture infimati also became the model for the The Hanged Man, the 12th card of the Tarot's Major Arcana.  In the Tarot, the hanged man is usually hung from either a tree, or a leafy tree-like Tau, the man's body cross-like, his face serene, seemingly out of place in a less than serene predicament.  He also has a nimbus around his head, like a saint or a martyr.  This may be because the crucifixion is a prelude to illumination, as in Odin's case, or resurrection as in the cases of Jesus.  For that matter, in Gil's case as well, for he died on the tree, but his cult was also born; the man became the saint, his power to intercede on behalf of the powerless announced.  Tarot-designer A.E. Waite doesn't see the hanged man as a martyr and it's not generally interpreted in this light, but it could easily have formed the basis of Gil's iconography.  A position usually reserved for reviled criminals but who was, in Gil's case, a saint.

I mention the bit about Gil refusing to fight and the story about being drafted because this element also plays into the story of Difunta Correa.  Legend is that circa 1840 a woman named Correa set off to rejoin her husband, who'd been drafted to fight in the Argentine Civil War.  (Other versions of the tale have her fleeing into the pampa because she had her child out of wedlock, while others yet have her fleeing the sexual advances of corrupt officials -- a common element in the "virgin martyr" category of saint; there are dozens of examples in the "official" canon).  She died of thirst on the way and, when some gauchos came across the body four days later, her baby was still able to suckle at her breast.  The gauchos buried her and saved the baby.  So both tales involve the gaucho, still a powerful symbol of freedom, men who live beyond the confines, and law, of the city, in the wide and wild pampa, with their own code of justice, symbolized by the gaucho's knife.  The tango, another symbol of Argentine society and a powerful erotic dance, is said to have been born in the brothels, evolving from the milongas which were first danced by pairs of men, imitating the movements and gestures of a knife fight.  They also both attest to the heavy weight these Civil Wars put on people's hearts, as brother fought brother and tore the people apart.  So we have two massively popular cults, very death-centered, not to mention the worship of death itself, all three of which seems to have grown most rapidly in the years following the Falklands/Malvinas War.  This war is a big part of contemporary Argentine consciousness, the outline of the islands instantly recognizable on signs in countless cities reading "Las Malvinas son Argentinas!"  The Malvinas are Argentinian!  This war also brought down the dictatorship and the revelations of its reign of terror, the kidnappings, murder, horrifying detention centers, theft of children, the stuff of nightmares.  It's a scar on every family, and my own is no exception.

Below is the latest addition to my collection.  La Difunta Correa's cult is centered in Vallecito and was first spread by cattle drivers -- gauchos -- and now more by truckers.  Roadside shrines are apparent because devotees leave bottles of water to represent her "eternal" thirst.

There is a Catholic antecedent to this story, by the way.  There is a story in Jacobus da Vorigine's Golden Legend about a barren couple, a Roman Governor and his wife, who had their prayer for a child granted to them by Christ, with Mary Magdalene's intercession.  The governor and pregnant wife then set sail for Rome to meet St. Peter, but the wife died en route, during childbirth.  Making land, the governor found he could not bury the body, so he covered it with his cloak and left the doomed baby by her breast.  He returned two years later, shocked to find his child still alive, having suckled at his mother breast the whole time, her body incorrupt.  Mary Magdalene, who'd accompanied him, then resurrected the wife!

La Difunta Correa
I don't have a figurine for this last saint, but my mother-in-law, the iconoclast, told me about him when she gave me La Difunta Correa:  Miguel Ángel Gaitán.  Miguel was a baby who died in 1967.  In 1973 a violent storm unearthed his coffin and his corpse was found to be incorrupt.  This is a pretty common first step towards sainthood.  A saint specific to the Toulouse region, Germaine of Pibrac, is such a saint.  And of course the incorrupt body of the Roman Governor's wife precedes the story of Gaitán and La Difunta Correa. The locals made four attempts to shelter the coffin but each time a tomb was erected, it was later found demolished.  This is actually quite a common motif in legends surrounding miraculous images of the Virgin.  It was then decided simply to place the coffin in a chapel, but even then, the lid was found to have been removed; after this went on for a while the boy's mother decided to put a glass lid on the coffin and today, the little mummy receives thousands of visitors yearly and answers prayers.  This too is not unheard of in "official" Catholic saints.  I've seen plenty of saints in glass coffins; in Cortona, Italy, where I stayed for 3 months back in 1990, the dried cadaver of an obscure local saint, Saint Margaret of Cortona, was placed upon the parish church's altar.

A bit out of place, but it just occurred to me that the story of Correa is also a strong symbol of a mother's love for her son, which recalls what I said about the role of the mother in Mexico, but also the role of the Virgin.  The incorruptibility of the body is an indication of spiritual purity, itself linked to sexual purity.  For the Virgin is free from original sin, the innocent has not become corrupted by the carnal pleasures responsible for the Fall and thus the aging and infirmity-prone corporal bodies from which Adam and Eve were free.  Makes the Christian Science concept of sin as a kind of disease seem a bit less innovative; the incorrupt bodies of the pure are the other side of the doctrine that sin causes corporeal corruption....

So none of these miracles or stories, and even their specific details, are out of place among the enormous roster of Catholic saints, many so local that most people haven't even heard of them, even Catholics from the same country.  St. Fris, anyone?

People are hungry for religion, especially receptive to the idea that prayer and offerings can result in miracles; where poverty is endemic, sickness, education, money and success are concerns with more hopelessness attached to them than in much richer countries.  And in the last few decades, Argentina has slipped deeper and deeper into poverty and all its accompanying woes.  It is a country dominated by a profound sense of insecurity, for the future, for the hope of economic recovery and an end to corruption, the explosive growth of shanty towns and above all, crime.  This in a country already wounded by a recent war and a brutal dictatorship, many of whose criminal perpetrators are still alive.  I would only expect these cults and others like them to grow.  Everybody's looking for a miracle, to be touched by the Hand of God.  Or at least one of his deputies.

With folk saints, all the familiar elements of official Catholic saints are recycled and put into a more contemporary and familiar context -- not, for example, Roman Gaul, but contemporary Argentina.  And this will continue to happen, whether officially recognized or not.  The current most popular saints date largely from the 19th century; long enough ago that the historicity of the accounts is not an issue, but close enough in time and within familiar enough events to reassure the devoted that their saint knows exactly what they might going through.  As the times continue to change, we can expect periodic updates to the legends of existing folk saints, as well as the development of entirely new ones.  The age of miracles isn't over.  Evangelicals will speak in tongues and be slain in the Spirit like the apostles, the logical conclusion of the Protestant devaluation of the role of the priest as an intermediary, the belief that each man and woman can read the Bible for themselves and develop a special relationship with the Christ.  Catholics, still valuing the role of the priest, will continue to look towards even holier intermediaries, and if the old ones are found lacking -- because inevitably, poor people will remain poor, sick people will not recover and the sterile will remain childless -- new ones are just waiting to be found.

Monday, September 8, 2014

There and back again: A week in Italy and Provence

I spent three years in Italy as a child, in the late-Seventies (the "years of lead", so-called because of all the political violence) and had studied there for a Summer back in 1990, so I was excited to be heading back for the first time as a family.  My wife went to Naples and Sicily, where she has roots, two years ago, but the kids and I stayed home for that one and felt jealous.

Our destination was Apricale, named one of Italy's most beautiful villages, which is saying something.  And it was indeed a beautiful old town, perched upon a small mountain, built for defense, a reminder of the time when "Italy" didn't exist, but a collection of small feuding states, some of the just cities.  It's still a hard place to govern, which is partly by design; as a re-constituted republic (1946), the constitution created a weak executive.  Governing requires creating and then leading coalitions.  In a parliament with many small parties, this leads to political instability.  If one small party leaves a coalition, the government can fall and a new one needs to be put together.  Which has happened around 60 times since 1946.  But for the most parts, the country "works".

Italy is an ancient place, rich in traditions which lend a continuity to daily life one might not expect if only the number of governments is considered.  And for all the differences between the north and south, as soon as you cross the border you know you're in Italy.  Nice was until relatively recently part of Italy.  I've never spent time there, but I can imagine that like Toulouse is France's "Spanish city", Nice's is France's "Italian city".  Which is to say that although you can feel the Spanish vibe in Toulouse, it is first and foremost French.  Likewise, I'm sure, with Nice.  Borders may be the result of history's vagaries, maybe somewhat arbitrary, but they do generally conform to natural boundaries more ancient than human:  the Pyrenées in the Southwest and the southernmost peaks of the Alps in the Southeast.  Italy has a strong identity and in Apricale, a few kilometers across the border, you feel its heart beating just as strongly as if you were in Florence, Naples or Rome.

Our route led us due east to Narbonne, then along the coast past Sète, Montpellier, Nîmes, Arles, Marseille, Cannes, Nice, Monaco and then in Italy, Ventimiglia.  A short jog north and you're in the canyon over which Apricale and a handful of other small town are perched.  The older parts of these towns are small warrens of alleys that are not only formed by two buildings, but are often cut right through one of them.  It's as if you are both inside and outside at the same time.  You'd be hard-pressed to get an army far enough into the town to get to the top; possible, of course, but a hard slog.  I'm sure in some of these towns the streets ran with blood on at least one occasion.

It's kind of hard to imagine though, because these towns are very friendly places.  Each of them has a lower part built along the river and if you kept to the main road and didn't stop, park and venture across the necessary bridge, you'd see a town built choc-a-bloc upon the hillside, but unless you already knew the local architecture, you wouldn't expect such a labyrinthine series of alleys, some leading into pitch blackness, other upwards towards the light, others covered by white-washed groin vaults with doors leading into houses, shoppes and bars.  There are fountains and piazze, of course, usually before the church and city hall, which are, as in France, often on the same plaza and more often than not, include a café.  This area was rather touristy, not in a tacky way at all, so maybe that explains why there seem to be far more cafés in an Italian village than in a French village of approximately the same size.  Aucamville has about 1000 residents and there is only one café   Isolabona, where our campground is to be found, has 716 residents and at least two cafés, in addition to a restaurant.  Thee people seemed much more sociable than in our village; on our last night we strolled through town and the cafés were bustling with old men playing cards, teenagers looking on, some small families.  On the stoops and benches sat groups of women, young an old, chatting, peaceful and animated, in the deepening dusk, a fountain echoing softly off the walls, a small electric candle glowing in an iron mesh-covered niche with flowers, ex-votos and a statue of the virgin.  But in these towns, it didn't seem likely that people had yards and who wants to stay inside all the time?

This is an interesting theory, come to think of it; the characteristics of the people, the everyday sociability, the nightly ritual of coming together to gossip and joke, to talk, etc. is in these towns determined by the urban design.  I'd hesitate to use the word planning, the towns feel more organic than planned, but no one's the worse off for it.  In Dolceacqua, a larger village but more or less the same urban pattern, I'd marveled that the buildings and balconies are connected and reinforced (recall that we're on a rather steep small mountain) with numerous small "bridges".  Perhaps they are flying buttresses in this case, I'm not sure if the term here is accurate, but the effect is the same, each building is connected at several point to the one above it, so that what would in a flat city be an alley, open to the sky, is here part alley, part tunnel.  The effect is a kind of perpetual dusk, gloomy but without the negative sense of the word; they're rather lively places, but not prone to echoes and an abrasive hurdy-gurdy of sound.  Thus, pleasant places to chat, where you can raise your voice and not pollute the atmosphere.  The women chatting were grouped around the piazza and the roads/alleys leading up to it, relatively open spaces, where you get out of the gloom and as the sun sets, see some stars.  Farther from the church, the stoops were empty and the only sounds we heard were tin-can sounds of someone's radio playing some kind of mellow soccer game, the sound of cutlery and dishes being shifted, a mewling cat.


In these parts of town, one can often catch a whiff of the old sewers.  Nothing overpowering or rancid, but not exactly pleasant either.  Centuries of humidity and cloaca leave their traces, impregnate the cut stones.  There’s no disguising it.  This is what leads a lot of Americans to call these old towns “dirty” but they’re actually pretty clean.  We’re talking about places whose origins lie in the Bronze Age, if not earlier.  Give Sacramento a few more years, especially after their water is in such short-supply they’ll have to flush it all away with grey water.  Then it’ll really merit the moniker “Excremento”.

I had the opportunity to see an old amphitheater, the top of which must have made for a structure of considerable height.  Not these days, as the top now sits a few meters below street level.  When one digs a new basement or parking garage in a city like Ventimiglia, the shovel isn’t removing gravel, but cut stones and brick.  One doesn’t dig into the earth, but through the stratified remains of millennia.  In Cortona, Tuscany, my last (three-month) home in Italy, the city walls were layered like a cake:  topped by Renaissance construction, built upon medieval brick, in turn Roman and finally, when the earth was low enough to permit it, Etruscan foundations.  I swear, one day I came across a stone so ancient it would destroy a medium’s mind like the Russian villainess in the Crystal Skull film and there, in faded Enochian letters were the words “Adam + Eve 4ever” scratched crudely within a rough-hewn heart.  (Full disclosure:  I’m lying).

I also made an impusive stop in Dolceacqua to visit the municipal cemetery which was much like the French style, with a mix of small above-ground tombs and quite grand mausoleums.  Two or three especially caught my eye because they showed that in this small and rather obscure town the Egyptian revival had made an impact on local funerary architecture.  One had a pyramid, another featured obelisks and a third had ornaments on the corners of the roof inspired by Egyptian models, such as those previously discussed on LoS with regard to Toulouse’s Terre Cabade Cemetery and the parish church at Ondes.  You can see these on the pyramid-roofed mausoleum as well.  I still don't know what this element is called, so if anyone out there has an idea....Also, being a fool, I neglected to note the dates   If we compare to the examples in Ondes, Terre Cabade and Lisbon, I'd wager they date to the first half of the 19th century, probably sometime between 1830 and 1850.  The Egyptian revival was especially strong in Italy, or at least early.  In France it was kicked off in earnest after Napoleon's colonialist adventures in Egypt, whereas the Italians had been erecting obelisks since the days of the Roman Empire.  An obelisk was transferred to Rome by Caligula in 37 CE and placed in its current location in 1586; Bernini later designed St. Peter's Square so that the obelisk stood at it's center.  Bernini also put an obelisk at the center of his design for the Piazza Navona; it sits atop the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (1651).  Both obelisks evoke the axis mundi; Eden was said to lie at the center of four great rivers, at the very center of the world, hence the quattro fiumi, or "four rivers".

I came across another LoSian topic in Isolabona inside a church dedicated to Nostra Signora delle Grazie, in the form of a statue of Santa Lucia, the Sicilian saint whose eyes were plucked out.  She is depicted gore-free with closed eyes, holding the orbs on a plate in front her.  Seeing her there, so serene, made me think of how I grimace and groan at the slightest of aches.  Of course, no one who's had their eyes plucked out could be so calm, but it was rather humbling nonetheless.  The Gid and I discussed Lucia in connection with Saint Agatha, another Sicilian saint, a virgin martyr, who, having dedicated herself to Christ, was brutally murdered for refusing the advances of a pagan suitor.  Agatha, however, had her breasts shorn off.  Gid first started an investigation into the link between the imagery of breasts and eyes in this little post, coming across a section of a book entitled Before the Milk of the Word: Eye Nipples by N. Hilton.  This is a fascinating essay and instead of summarizing it here, I encourage you to read it.  I was also intrigued to see a boat hanging from the ceiling of the nave;  I can only imagine that the name of this sanctuary, "Our Lady of Thanks" refers (in part) to the answered prayers of those who had husbands, sons or fathers set out to sea; Isolabona, is, after all, only minutes from the Mediterranean.  I've seen this in Spain (Tossa del Mar) and in such land-locked places as Rocamadour (with several model boats suspended from the ceiling) and Montaigut, in the form of a votive painting.


Tossa, Rocamadour and Montaigut all have what can be called Black Virgins and I'd hoped to see two more exemplars on our return trip.  I missed the one at St. Paul because I'd been expecting to stay nearby in Tourettes-sur-Loup, making it possible to pop out during our stay and have a look.  but alas!  Our real destinations was Tourettes, an hour away.  We didn't turn back.  Another watches over the cemetery at the town of St. Jean-Cap- Ferrat (I Googled it and it's about four humans tall!) but somehow, concentrating on a map perhaps, we blew right past it.  This town is between Nice and Monaco, you could almost smell the money in the air.  The French Riviera may be fabled and storied but you know, it is damn beautiful.  The town of Menton, between Monaco and the Italian border is, coming at it from the east, particularly impressive.  The Virgin at St. Jean also has an association with Cocteau, who wrote "There is a mysterious youth in the oldest stones of St. Jean."  So, if you're ever out that way....

Dolceacqua also featured a shrine to Mary where she was placed in a grotto.  This may be a reference to Lourdes, or could be a native tradition.  Mary associated with a cave also appears in Spain, at Covadonga (from Cueva Doña, I believe), which is also, like Lourdes noted for its healing waters.

Our two nights in Provence were spent drinking and chatting and really......a lot of drinking.  In the daytime, it was hours by the pool.  No mysteries, history, culture or anything worth reporting from an LoS standpoint.  But have no fear.  I'm off to Morocco in a month and I can already feel something Burroughsian and Gysinian in the wind....

Coming soon:  Photo-essay of my collection of Argentine folks saints (all four of 'em!) and an interview with original Discordian Hope Springs.