Monday, April 5, 2010

♀: Matter and Spirit, or Venus' hand mirror....

Lloret de Mar is mostly known as a kind of Cancun of the Costa Brava. A town of 40,000 whose population swells in summer with hordes of drunken 18-to-30 year olds from France, the UK, Germany, etc. Filled with hotels, bars and discothèques, cheap eats and various other diversions.

But in 1966 the town celebrated its millennium, 1000 years of existence. (Estimated, I imagine. At least a little arbitrary). You can thus find some interesting ruins and historical accounts tell of fending off attacks by pirates, the intrigues of petty nobles, the machinations of an all-too-worldly Church. Standard European fare, really.

But the town has always been oriented towards the sea and it is from there that it draws its life, now and as before. Like many of these booming coastal towns, marred by ugly hotels and vomit-stained sidewalks, they were until relatively villages. In a brochure which describes the millennial celebrations, tourism was already mentioned as a new economic sector for the town, but fifty years is a relatively small swath of time out of a thousand, so the history of fishing and sailing is deeply ingrained in its culture, despite the dominance of tourism.

Perhaps that is why the sculpture known as the Dona Marinera (in Catalan) or Mujer Marinera (Castellano) has become a symbol of this city since it was dedicated by notable visitors, including naval officers, in 1966.

The sculpture is ostensibly to honor the wives and women of the men of the sea, hence it is commonly translated as the “Fisherman’s Wife”. This would appear to be an error; if it were accurate the Castellan name would have to be “Mujer de Pescadora” or at the very least “Mujer de Marinera”. Some translators have got it right and call it the “Female Sailor”. Technically accurate but I prefer the “Lady Sailor” going back to the Catalan (Dona) which is both accurate and more evocative of a kind of nobility which I have an inkling she deserves.

The dress of the woman, as you can see, does evoke more of a peasant than a noblewoman, as do her bare feet. Her nobility does not come being a well-heeled woman of the ruling class.

Up to now, I haven’t been able to find why she might be called the Venus of Lloret, except perhaps because of her erotic allure. Something in her kindly smile, her ample and oddly angular breasts, her bare arms and legs. There is a certain appeal in her forms. Then again, you may remember we got the same feelings about Clémence Isaure way back when, so maybe there’s a Pygmalion thing going on with us!

But seriously, the erotic is not the strongest pull. It’s more the smile, the openness, the winsome gaze. She looks out over the sea, waiting for her man to return. Classic sailor’s tale. Sailor comes home to his woman he left on shore and we can imagine that after the tender embrace and the hearty meal, there is an even heartier roll in the hay. Buggery with the cabin boy can only take you so far.

Again, we jest. But this idea of Venus brings me back to famous Botticelli painting of Venus, arriving both demure and brazen, born aloft in a shell by gentle frothy waves. The shell, symbol of St. Jacques, upon whose trail pilgrims followed to expiate their sins, affixing the shell to their staves, is and has always been a symbol of the soul’s journey across time.

It may also mean, riffing along here, that the woman, erotic desire and love, born from the primordial oceans, looks back out over it, into the depths to which we all eventually return. The blood rushes in the ears, pounding like surf, as the couple climax together and foamy sea-froth is jettisoned into the womb, a net releasing the captive swimmers, going, going, gone.

Which reminds us that medieval anatomists held that blood ran through the body, not pumped by the heart, but rising and falling like the tides. As we now know and as these fishermen also knew, the tides are affected by the moon. Which of course, has always been represented by a woman. Not Venus, but then again, maybe it was. The most widespread goddess worship before the gradual incrustation of Christianity were Isis and the Magna Mater, both of whom are generally recognized to have assumed various forms and in whom other goddesses were conflated. Far be it from us to put words in the mouth of the long since dead, but it very well could be that what some may see as “mere” polytheism may in fact be akin to certain strands of Hindu thought which see all the gods and goddesses as manifestation of one godhead. Just a thought.

It is also interesting that there is a legend associated with the statue, which is that if you touch her while gazing out over the sea, your wishes will come true. Wish-fulfillment is a widespread folk belief, and it is often associated with bodies of water. The wishing well is a most obvious example. It might also be useful to remember the Chapel to St. Jean-Baptiste, where the sick went to throw coins into water in order to heal their ailments. The ocean, much vaster, could easily take care of a more diverse array of problems.

It is worth concluding with a brief look at some of the dedicatory remarks made back in 1966, where it would seem this "woman sailor" represented for the male speakers not just a fisherman’s wife, but Woman as a whole, even the Virgin Mary....

An article about the inauguration clearly presents an idealized Woman, an ideal intertwined with Lloret's rich maritime history, the “laurel victorioso conquistado con sus gestas en el mar." The monument is at once homage to the town's history, its famous ships, its Women: a “conversion of reality into symbols”.

The poet Valeriano Simón is quoted: “La mujer como simbolo, se agranda cuando lo es del marinero, es una espera cotidiana del hombre, sea hermano, padre o esposo.” That is to say: “The woman as symbol is enlarged when she is a sailor’s, waiting daily for a man, be it a brother, father or husband.”

As a symbol, it seems that for Simón she gains her meaning in the eyes of these men when waiting for other men! One wonders if they bothered to ask any real women how they felt about this. Photos at the scene show naval officers, local dignitaries, a government minister, a priest. Not a fisherman’s wife among them.

As a symbol Woman is also compared, even equated, with the ocean. Jaun Ramón Jiménez: “El mar ancho y undoso, que está siempre cerca de si mismo y a la vez solo y alejado, abierto en mil heridas, olas qui van y vienen....Así está ella, la Mujer Marinera, mirando al mar como mira una mujer dentro de su propio corazón.”

“The wide and undulant sea, which is always in touch with itself and at once alone and away, a thousand opened wounds, waves that come and go....She is thus, the Lady Sailor, looking at the sea like a woman into her own heart.”

One Señor Clúa evoked the “challenging and fecund” epoch of Lloret’s history, the conquest of the New World, here symbolized by a woman: “proud, hard-working, and always with her family.” She is “body and soul in the home, with the children and the old, to manage the house and be the light for all.” This last phrase is strangely evocative of religious imagery and indeed, he goes on to refer to “Nuestra Mujer Marinera”, or “Our Lady Sailor who will be at once mother, daughter, fiancée, wife of those that were and those we are now....” He goes on to link her again to the town’s prosperity with its link to the colonial Americas and now, tourism.

“Our Lady” cannot but evoke the Virgin, and indeed the minister, Nieto Antúnez, went on to call the statue "Un monumento que vendrá a recordar ese otro espiritual que representa para los marineros españoles la Virgen del Carmen, primera mujer marinera de Lloret de Mar y primera mujer marinera de España."

“A monument that will become a reminder for Spanish sailors of that other spiritual figure--the Virgen del Carmen--first lady sailor of Lloret de Mar and first lady sailor of Spain.”

Here Antúnez is referring to Our Lady of Mount Carmel as Stella Maris, or Star of the Sea:

According to tradition, devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel has its origin in a vision experienced by the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18, 44). From the top of Mount Carmel, Elijah saw a white cloud rise from the sea. This cloud subsequently became a symbol of Mary and is one of the sources of the title “Star of the Sea”. There is a long history of devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel among Spanish seafarers. An 18th century Spanish Admiral observed

Stars guide seafarers at sea and Our Lady guides us in our lives

On 19 April 1901, Maria Cristina, Queen Regent of Spain, officially proclaimed Our Lady of Mount Carmel as patron of Spanish seafarers.

Not only is she evoked due to her role as protectress and guide, but her feast day, the 16th of July, came only two weeks after the dedication of this statue on the 1st.

Mount Carmel was recognized as a holy place since the far reaches of antiquity, perhaps even by the Egyptians, and was the site where Elijah competed with Phoenician priests to see whose god was the baddest of them all, something about calling on god to start a fire on a stone. Phoenician Baal-worshippers: 0 Elijah: 1 .

Yahweh set the stones ablaze, even after Elijah has doused it with water.

In any event, the Virgin comes in due to a vision one Simon Stock had there. Our Lady Carmen is seen by the Carmelites as “a perfect model of the interior life of prayer and contemplation to which Carmelites aspire, a model of virtue, as well as the person who was closest in life to Jesus Christ.” The idealized woman, once again.

This link to Mount Carmel is reinforced by the fact that the sculpture sits on a high promontory overlooking the sea. The elements become one. As Elijah brought fire from water and fire added to water creates steam (remember that white cloud), here the earth and sea become one. Fecund Mother Earth and Mother Ocean.

For LoS purposes, we should also point out that the Stella Maris Monastery is home to a monument to Napoleon’s soldiers. This is a small pyramid, flanked by two trees!

As a Mother Goddess, Stella Maris is also a Christian continuation of the title originally applied to Isis. It also brings us back to Aphrodite, Roman Venus, born from the sea.

The story goes like this. After Cronos castrated Ouranos and tossed his 'nads into the sea, they floated about for a while and from a white foam grew Aphrodite. (You will recall that the Erinyes, or Furies, grew from the blood). This myth of the fully mature Venus Rising from the Sea (Venus Anadyomene) brings to mind the idea of the fully-grown Athena, popping out from the head of Zeus. In the case of Aphrodite, perhaps it removes any lingering ickiness one might have in regarding her as the ultimate desirable woman. As wiki says: “Aphrodite had no childhood: in every image and each reference she is born adult, nubile, and infinitely desirable.”

Depictions of Venus Anadyomene also have her doing things with her arms: wringing her hair, strategically placed for modesty or splayed out in erotic invitation. I have thought long about the Venus of Lloret. Her arms are like the Pisces fish or a yin and yang. One is held up as if shielding the eyes, scanning the horizon, a covering, protective gesture; the other seeming to beckon a distant viewer. They both shield and invite. Modest yet alluring.

Her clothing, if it can be called that, hides nipples and public hair but only serves to accentuate her full-bodied forms: the upturned ample breasts, the thick legs, the generous belly. But this covering is indistinguishable from her body, not even a dim dividing line like that of the horizon where sea and sky meet.

Oddly, Aphrodite was often unfaithful to her husband, which isn’t necessarily out of keeping for the idea of a sailor’s wife. Perhaps not the ideal woman by a phallocentric point of view, but perhaps some of the anxieties of sailors away at sea are thus expressed. Perhaps this is also expressed in both her chastity and sexiness.

Venus--or Aphrodite--was one of those goddesses that had counterparts in several ancient cultures; Venus was essentially Romanized Aphrodite, who in turn seemed to correspond with much earlier goddesses: Inanna, Astarte, Turan. Herodotus ascribes her origins to Phoenicia. The Greeks did not seem to have any qualms about recognizing her Eastern origins and it would seems that the principles she represents belong to the earliest religious practices.

During Greece’s classical period, Aphrodite was seen as having two principal aspects, sometimes even as two separate goddesses: Aphrodite Ourania, born from the sea-foam and Aphrodite Pandemos, of the “common people”. For the Neo-Platonists Aphrodite Ourania figures as a celestial goddess and represents higher forms of love. As Pandemos she represents mere physical love. In any event it would seem that despite needing two differentiate between kinds of love, between physical and spiritual attraction, the force of attraction was more or less embodied in one divine feminine principle.

There are many myths associated with her, but let’s take for example the story of Pygmalion, evoked before, prior to learning of its connection to Aphrodite. Pygmalion was a sculpture who never found a woman to love. Inspired by a dream of Aphrodite, he set out to make a woman in her image. He fell in love with the statue, which Aphrodite brought to life as a rewrd for his falttering endeavours.

In another version of the tale, women in Pyg’s village got angry that he would not marry one of them, so they prayed to Aphrodite and asked her to help; she went to the man and asked him to pick a wife. Not wanting to be married, he begged for time in order to make a statue of Aphrodite before he chose. He dithered about with models, playing for time “to find the right pose” so to speak, but found that when he began the model, he wanted to finish; he was falling in love.

When he finished, Aphrodite appeared and said, ok, pick a bride. He chose the statue and asked to become one. Instead, Aphrodite brought the statue to life so that his wish could be fulfilled.

The statue is an object upon which men can throw idealized version of what a woman should be. This woman, his creation, is ultimately controlled by him and is literally born from him, like Eve from Adam’s rib, or Aphrodite herself from Ouranos’ floating nuts.

“The image of Venus Anadyomene is one of the very few images that survived in Western Europe in its classical appearance, from Antiquity into the High Middle Ages...."This extraordinary conservatism may perhaps be explained by the fact that the culture of the last pagan centuries remained alive longer in Provence than elsewhere."”

This conservatism may be due to the Troubadours’ pursuit of the idealized woman, like Clémence Isaure born from images of the Virgin Mary. An ideal unobtainable woman, here secularized in order to eroticize her without complex.

Here in this simple statue, a minor work from a minor sculptor, Ernest Maragall i Noble, we propose that all these strains of thought are present: Isis and the Virgin as Stella Maris, Aphrodite, the Ideal Woman of the Troubadours, such as Clémence Isaure and Belle Paule....and again, point out that this as all these other versions are creations of and projections of male ideals and fantasies, both spiritual and erotic.

Like Aphrodite, born from a man fully grown, without the aid of a woman.


  1. Why does this post continue to get so many hits after so much time? And why hasn't a single person made a comment to let me know why they came here?

    Well, apparently drunken (mostly French) tourists rioted in Lloret last month, kicking in windows and torching a cop car (very French thing to do actually). It got so bad the cops fired rubber bullets into the crowd.

    Now that's a holiday!


  2. Has a picture of Pam Anderson from her Baywatch years in this post. That's why, I assume.

    1. You are very wise :-) I honestly thought it was something to do with the article having fans among neo-pagans or people from Lloret. I'm a goofball. Thanks for clearing that up, even though I must admit that upon realizing you are correct, I'm disappointed.

      I just read your (first?) post (I share your sentiments). Odd thing is, for some reason I dreamt last night about having a car that could run on water, like it was the most natural thing, but I somehow didn't know it was possible. Then here you comment and I see your article. I suppose Loren would call that a dash of the synchromystic!

    2. Now that I've peeped my stats a few times, I don't think this is the reason. "Pamela Anderson" is never listed as a search query that brings people here, whereas "Stella Maris" is....

  3. Three years on, still one of my most-visited posts. Pam Anderson is not named in the post or the pic, which is named "swimsuit". This phrase doesn't appear as a search query though. Still find that odd.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. very intersting. Mother Goddess, Stella Maris and Aphrodite, Roman Venus, born from the sea.

  6. I read all the way through the (rather verbose, I must say) article to see if you would give the artist credit. You see both my parently were sculptors and were regularly frustrated by how rarely the creator is given recognition. My persistence was rewarded by the mention of Marigall i Noblen toward the very end. But then you had to call him a "minor" artist! Technically correct perhaps, but dismissive of the natural fact that you don't have to be a "major" artist to create something wonderful.
    What got me looking at this page in the first place was the upraised arm. At first I though this was a picture of my mother's piece in "Protensious" that stand (sits actually) in Radcliffe Yard (around the corner from Harvard Yard, Cambridge, MA). It is the largest of a series of pieces she did called "Aspects of the Oracle."
    How about a riff on woman as oracle!

    1. I cannot believe I scrambled the title of my mother's peice so badly! It's "Portentous" Other minor goofs: parently=parents; stand=stands.

    2. Hey thanks for the link and your message. I agree it's verbose, but at the time I tried to stuff as much as possible into the post, as with so many others. I'd like to riff on woman as oracle and do more about arm gestures. In retrospect, I should not have been so dismissive and used the word "minor". I'm a "minor" writer myself! ;) Do you have a link where I can see more of your parents work? Thanks again for your comment.


Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Need to add an image? Use this code: [ximg]IMAGE-URL-HERE[x/img]. You will need to remove the the boldface x's from the code to make it work.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.