Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Toys for Totenkopf

Cute Lil' Fascist
On my 2010 vacation to Asturias, Spain, I stayed a week in a fishing village called Llastres.  There just next to the port is an antiques dealer specializing for the most part in WW2 and Spanish Civil War-era militaria.  The collection of wares for sale is largely Nazi and Spanish fascist articles:  banners, uniforms, medals, knives, signs, even an enormous metal bust of General Franco.  The owner is a tall, blond German guy, which makes it all much creepier. (Apparently the owner also plans to create a museum).

When I saw the little fellow above I had to know what it was.  The owner told me it depicted a fascist volunteer who fought with the Nazis on the Russian front. I hesitated, but figured what the hell, I might as well ask how much it cost.  10 euros.  I hmmm'd a bit.  "Oh, It's a good gift for the boy....I will sell it for 5 euros.  It's cute."

Cute?  A 50% discount on a fascist figurine because I was with my son?

Mouth like a blow-up sex doll, jughead ears, shirt open almost to the navel, giving the Nazi salute....call me a freak, but I bought it.

Later I tried to find some more about this figurine and came across an article about the División Azul, or the División Española de Voluntarios....250. Infanterie-Division to the German Army.  According to Wikipedia,

Because the soldiers could not use official Spanish army uniforms, they adopted a symbolic uniform comprising the red berets of the Carlists, khaki trousers used in the Spanish Legion, and the blue shirts of the Falangists – hence the nickname "Blue Division."

A popular name.  A brigade of Irish fascists in who fought for the Falangists in the Spanish Civil War had the same nickname.  Likewise Croatian volunteers in the Wehrmacht during WW2.

Come to think of it, shirts in general seem to have impressed the fascists.  Everyone knows the brown shirts, or SA.  Mussolini had his blackshirts.  America had the Silver Legion of America, better known as the Silver Shirts.  The Green Shirt Movement for Social Credit weren't strictly fascists although some supporters of Social Credit, such as Oswald Mosley, later became prominent in the British Union of  Fascists.  This group grew out of an alternate Scouting group called the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift....or KKK (no relation to our hooded pals).

All these groups pretty much began in the 30's and it's not unlikely this shirt thing is indicative of a kind of fascist fashion statement (fascionistas?), a result of contacts between various national groups.

But that's not really my point here.  My little figurine doesn't match the description given by online sources.  Perhaps the División Azul uniform had variants?  Maybe the figurine is simply inaccurate.  Perhaps it's another thing altogether.

Any info would be appreciated.  I know it's in bad taste this little fellow, but it's a historical curiosity I just couldn't pass over.  And I didn't give it to my son.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The resistance lives on

September 4, 1944.  Toulouse had been liberated by the Resistance two weeks earlier.  One Madame Ramon, farmer, was walking in a place where German trucks had been seen going to and fro during the occupation.  Following a trail of bloodstains on the ground, she discovered a mass grave where the Germans had dumped the bodies of prisoners, résistants they'd shot dead.  27 bodies were eventually identified:  students, farmers, an accountant, an "employee", a train station manager.... (Details from a poorly-written French Wikipedia article can be found here)  A 28th body was never definitely identified.

Every year on May 8, V-E Day,  a ceremony is held to honor these young men in front of a stele bearing their names.  Such stelae, usually marked with the Cross of Lorraine, dot the landscape around these parts of France and presumably elsewhere as well--by some estimates 20,000 members of the Resistance were killed.

In a kind of sad irony, on this day in 1945 a celebratory parade for the Allied victory in Sétif, Algeria ended in violence between anti-colonialists and French gendarmes.  Following this clash, Algerian militants killed 103 French civilians.  Some victims were raped; other were mutilated.  After five days of anarchy, order was restored, but then came the severe French reprisals.  Villages were bombed by aircraft and one town shelled from offshore.  Summary executions were carried out by the army and posses of citizens lynched others.  Nobody knows exactly how many Algerian civilians were indiscriminately killed, although historians estimate the number to be around 6000, perhaps much, much more. Unlike the victims buried in Bordelongue, there were not even summary trials and most of the dead probably had no involvement in the killing of French pieds-noirs

Coincidentally, I just acquired a copy of the 2010 film Hors la Loi which scandalized the French (at least the right) as it compared the Algerian anti-colonialists to....the Resistance.  By implication that would have made the French the equivalent of the Germans.  Provocative to be sure; thousands protested the film when it debuted in Cannes.  But Algeria, though part of France, was indeed a product of colonization, or occupation; whatever you want to call it depends on your agenda.

In any event, unlike the innumerable memorials to the French Resistance I previously mentioned, the Sétif massacre, at least until recently, hasn't even been mentioned in French schools.

But this monument is an interesting affair.  A stele dedicated to the martyrs sits upon a small mound and can be approached by twelve steps.  Five flagpoles fly the tricolor on ceremonial occasions.  When I visited it, only one flag was raised.

As far as I can make out, (a resonant) 13 lines formed by trees radiate out from the center of this off-kilter circumpunct.  Most of these correspond to a series of massive buttresses which are within a grassy berm surrounding the monument like a reverse question mark:  ؟​   The whole thing also brings to mind a stylized teardrop.

The berm seems to have the purpose of shielding the monument from the junction of various highways at the location.  As you can see from the satellite images, this is far from the farmland it was 60 or even 30 years ago.  I'm not sure if the buttresses serve a structural purpose; in all likelihood they do, for they are widespread and none are visible from the monument itself, nor can they be taken in all at once from any perspective save from above.

I was struck by the fact that the shape also implies a spiral.  I think that this is less by some grand vision of what the shape should be as it is a sort of convenience.....the form of the memorial basically follows the constraints of the surrounding highways.  As important as it is to honor these dead, the city wasn't going to re-route the highways in order to accommodate a park in the form of a Lorraine Cross, for example.

I think this is interesting in the context of imposing regular geometric forms upon a landscape, what I've referred to as tessellation of the plane, as opposed to following the natural boundaries of the existing landscape, even if that landscape is an artificial one as it is here.  We've talked a bit about how in 19th century Toulouse under the guidance of Urbain Vitry, great swaths of the old medieval quarters were razed to impose a more rational and neatly geometrical order upon the cityscape.  Vitry's rather severe measures lead the Count of Montalambert to call Toulouse the "home of vandalism" after a visit in 1832.

The Bordelongue monument, however, both in it's spiral form and by following the constraints of its environment rather than imposing regularity, signifies in part that the importance of such a memorial was not equal to the importance of the highways.  It also stands in contrast--at least in part--to the idea of creating ceremonial axes at whatever cost, such as the previously discussed "axe historique" in Paris and Lisbon's "Pombaline axis" (my name for it anyway), not to mention to the great cross Vitry "bulldozed" onto downtown Toulouse with the Rue de Metz and Rue d'Alsace-Lorraine--two appellations which seem to be a nationalistic thumbing of the nose at the Germans.

Which leads us back to the monument at Bordelongue.  France's fractious history with its German neighbors is memorialized not just here but in its stelae to the "martyrs" of the Resistance, its monuments to the Great War and somehow, in the Airbus A380--the fruit of both Franco-German cooperation and competition.  Thousands of Germans live in Toulouse these days; there are numerous German bars and a private German school.  The nearest Leclerc supermarket has an island featuring German products.

Which is (a little) ironic....le maréchal Leclerc is a French hero of the Resistance who participated in the Normandy landing and led an armored division to Paris during the Liberation.  He is memorialized with an obelisk (photo) in Strasbourg....capital of Alsace (and home of Kronenbourg beer).

Alsace and Lorraine are the most "German" regions of France, sitting on the border like geopolitical footballs, possession going back and forth for centuries....and a major prize for Hitler during the Second World War.  By naming a major pair of axes in the dead center of town after them, Toulouse was making a major statement about their Frenchness.  But if all property is theft and possession 9/10ths of the law, one might logically consider it all to be bullshit.  Occupation of territory and control thereof, ahh there's the rub indeed.  Gaza, Aztlan, Alsace-Lorraine, Kashmir.  Who becomes a martyr depends on who's currently controlling the territory.  One man's martyr is another man's terrorist.

The more I learn about the French in the Second World War, the more I realize to what extent they have gotten a bad rap about it.  That said, the ironies of this monument and the date upon which it becomes a ceremonial locus, May 8, open wider questions about who and what the French honor and who....and what, according to the unwritten laws of silence, they don't.

Monday, August 22, 2011


On a visit today to the Church of the Assumption in nearby Savenès, I once again grokked a curious Saint and, having failed in times past to discover who it was, decided today was the day.  It wasn't so hard, actually.  I can only assume that before, I was an idiot who couldn't use the Internet, or that there was less info available the first time I had a look.  Or maybe I was simply lazy.

Entering the nave, the first chapel on the left offers sculptures of Jeanne d'Arc and Thérèse de Lisieux, as well as a statue of another saint, obviously a bishop due to his crosier, miter and gesture of benediction.  What struck me, though, was the little tub at his feet, with three cloyingly adorable, pudgy children gazing upwards with a look of gratitude:

Now, to my mind, this is both comical and weird.  I think a thought-bubble with "WTF?" appeared over my head, but no one actually saw it.  So, how to begin?  I Googled a few things and finally discovered this was Saint Nicholas.

Now, these pudgy kidlets refer to a legend wherein three children, traveling in famine-struck Myra, stopped to ask a butcher for lodging.  He let them in only to chop them into pieces, placing their remains into a barrel of brine to cure them.  His idea was that given the famine, he could pass them off as ham.  St. Nick, later visiting the region to care for the hungry, stopped at the butcher's.  The latter offered him something to eat, cured kid, but St. Nick saw through it.  Now, some versions of the tale have the butcher fleeing, or being stoned to death, or even being transformed into a kind of slave to St. Nick.  Some versions favor the three travelers to be clerks or scholars.  Whatever the case, St. Nick raises his hand in benediction like his gesture above, makes the sign of the cross and resurrects the children.

According to the St. Nicholas Center,  a song about this legend dating back to 17th-century Champagne (the region which gives bubbly its name) ends in one version with the kids saying:

Le premier dit, "J'ai bien dormi!" 
Le second dit, "Et moi aussi!"
A ajouté le plus petit,
"Je croyais être en paradis!"

The first said:  "I slept well!'
The second said  "Me too!"
The littlest added,
"I thought I was in Paradise!"

Another version can be found here.

Now, searching for more info, I came across a website which states baldly that this legend is thought to be the origin of the nursery rhyme that begins "Rub-a-dub-dub three men in a tub...."  And that may be so, I just haven't come across anything which corroborates the claim.

It may be, however that this tub tale is was at some point conflated with another St. Nick legend.  In this second tale, a poor man had three daughters he couldn't marry off for a lack of a dowry.  This meant spinsterhood or the likelihood they would end up as prostitutes.  Nicholas heard of this and decided to help out by secretly taking the family three purses of gold and tossing them through an open window into the house.  Of course, variations and details abound:  not three purses at once but one a night for three nights, or even one a year for three years on the night before each daughter came of the age to marry, etc.  Sometimes Nicholas is confronted by the poor man, at others he avoids the man and drops the gold down the chimney.  One version of this chimney tale is that a daughter had hung her stockings to dry by the chimney and the gold landed in them.  Which should sound familiar.

Now, the tub tale and the three daughters tale could in fact be conflated in the Rub-a-Dub rhyme.  Wikipedia provides some history.

The most well-known version goes like this:

Three men in a tub,
And how do you think they got there?

The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick-maker,
They all jumped out of a rotten potato,

'Twas enough to make a man stare.

OK, haha, modern commentators can't help but see a homosexual connotation in this.  But apparently, the earliest recorded (i.e. published) versions have a very important difference.  Mother Goose's Quarto or Melodies Complete, published in Boston circa 1825, had the following version, apparently consistent with another from 1798:

Hey! rub-a-dub, ho! rub-a-dub, three maids in a tub,
And who do you think were there?
The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker,
And all of them gone to the fair.

Again, according to Wikipedia "This led [folklorists] Iona and Peter Opie to conclude that they were three respectable townsfolk "watching a dubious sideshow at a local fair".

This version seems to have been edited to the version we know today.  I don't know in fact if the Opies' interpretation is correct, but several sources seem to think that the spectacle of three maidens (presumably naked) in a tub was a popular sideshow entertainment, like a hoochie coochie girl.  This is certainly the view being peddled by English author and librarian Chris Roberts (Heavy Words Lightly Thrown).  Yet in the NPR interview he is unaware of a common American version of the rhyme:

Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub.
And who do you think they be?
The butcher, the baker the candlestick maker.
Turn them out, knaves all three.

Which makes me wonder if his research is all that complete and if he's merely parroting the Opies' interpretation.  Not to fling mud at Mr. Roberts.  I think it's interesting that the earliest recorded versions do in fact have maids in a tub, not three men.  Maybe the idea of women was too offensive to the progressively prudish standards of the 19th century and the reference dropped; the earlier version might be indicative of some kind of  "sex show".

The parallels with the "pickled children" in theSt. Nicholas legend aren't so great.  Three people in a tub.  A butcher.  That's it, really.  But it may be that at some these elements were recycled into the more salacious (or not) rhyme we have today.  I think the other St. Nick Legend could come into play here.  Remember the three poor daughters, whose lack of dowry might have led them into a life of prostitution?  If there were women involved in naked tub shows, they were probably prostitutes as well, no?

This page also brings up stories of St. Nicholas saving three condemned men (depicted pretty damn smashingly by Russian artist Ilya Repin in 1888) and saving at least one sailor (whose rescue led to Nicholas' ordination as a bishop), wondering if the latter may somehow be related to resurrecting kids from a tub of brine.  "Brine", bear in mind, is a word not uncommonly used to mean the sea and "tub" being another word for a leaky ship....let alone the obvious repetition of three:  three condemned men, three maidens, three children....

My proposal is not a thesis insomuch as simply throwing an idea out there.  Not having all the facts, it would be silly to insist on anything one way or the other, but it's a tantalizing possibility to think the rhyme has some connection to the various Nicholas legends.  Still, there are many other possibilities.

This person writes: 

The “Rub-a-dub-dub” rhyme was referring to laundering money. The upper floors of candle stick shops were often used as poor tenant housing and “houses of ill repute” (prostitution), because the process of rendering tallow to make candles smelled so terribly that no one that had money / social standing would live in the space. Prostitution was looked on as poorly as it is today, so spending money gained from arranging such encounters was also looked down upon. As I always heard it, the butcher & baker were in with the candle stick maker, sending him clients for his tenants and laundering their share of the profits through their successful, legitimate businesses. When they were caught “cleaning” the dirty money, all three became public embarrassments! 

I wish I knew the origin of this theory.  I have only seen it listed in one place, whereas the peepshow version is widely circulated.  While adhering to no specific interpretation, it seems clear that there is some intimation of shenanigans going on behind a facade of the crafts-men's respectability.  They come from within a "rotten potato", they are "knaves," they're at the fair ogling maids in a tub.  Maids who might not have been there had their father had enough for a dowry.

Is there in these rhymes a critique of a system where wealth as opposed to a moral character ensures respectability?  I don't know, it would seem to be implied by the spectacle of "good" citizens, tradesmen, shamelessly ogling women who are there solely due to a lack of other opportunities.  The repetition of elements in the St. Nicholas legends suggest a conflation of detail to suit whatever specific rhetorical purposes bards required.

Anyway, that sculpture still has me giggling.  Those three little salted kids seem so pleased to be awake....

Friday, August 19, 2011


Google Earth view of the "Pombal Axis"
On a recent trip to Lisbon I had the opportunity to stroll along the Avenida de Liberdad, from the Praça dos Restauradores at its Southeast extremity to the Parque Eduardo VII at the Northwest.  This creates a monumental axis which made me think of the East-West "axe historique" of Paris.  As you may recall, in a recent post LoS touched briefly on this "historical axis" between the Arche de la Défense and the Louvre.

It's not surprising that I was primed to think of this axis while strolling the Avenida:  "After much discussion and polemics, the avenue was built between 1879 and 1886, modeled after the boulevards of Paris."

As with the Paris axis, it is lined with monuments, including an obelisk at the Southeast end.  The Luxor Obelisk in the Place de la Concorde sits directly in the line of the axe historique.  So too the National Mall in Washington DC (also oriented East-West).  Pierre l'Enfant's original plan called for a tree-lined "grand avenue" which would have been anchored at one end by the US Capitol Building and of course, the Washington Monument--an enormous obelisk--at the other.

So, Googling about I came across some good articles.  In "The Axis in Urban Design" Gary Gaston writes (emphasis added): 

As a tool of city building, the axis is a primary element in the European Baroque tradition, a tradition which urban historian Spiro Kostof describes in The City Shaped as the “Grand Manner.”  The most enduring themes of this tradition were first articulated in the master plan of Pope Sixtus V for 16th century Rome: the notion of the vista, the use of the obelisk as a striking spatial marker, and the overarching principle of geometric order for its own sake. France appropriated the Baroque aesthetic, most notably in the replanning of Paris by Baron Eugene Georges Haussmann between 1853 and 1868.

The axe historique, National Mall and Avenida de Liberdad fit this tradition to a "T".  They are furthermore, quite clearly what Kostof calls "constellations of monumentality": 

The street is no longer thought of merely as “the space left over between buildings, but as a spatial element with its own integrity.” The buildings defining the street channel are viewed as continuous planes rather than independent entities. And straight streets are used to connect churches and other public buildings--creating “constellations of monumentality.”

He continues:

“The European Baroque,” Kostof says, “is a phenomenon of capital cities.”  As such the city not only houses the mechanisms of government but itself became a kind of living monument and includes "The siting of monuments on major axes to memorialize leaders and events that helped to form the nation."  In City of Light I referred to Washington as a hieratic city.   I owe a debt here to Camille Paglia, who I'd already quoted as saying: 

"Our cold white Federal architecture is Roman. Banks and government buildings are vast temples of state, tombs and fortresses....Rome rediscovered the hieratic Egyptian funeralism latent in Greek Apollonian style...."

In Washington, the entire city serves only one purpose, to house and glorify the state and its organisms.  Gaston goes as far to say that the "The evolution of [the L'Enfant] plan, extending its strongly formalistic nature, reaffirms the capital as the physical manifestation of the nation."

In Building a Sense of a Nation, Tomaz Pipan writes: 

We can not say that architecture and urbanism on themselves contribute to the constitution of national identity but rather that they can be utilized by ruling regime to graft the notions of nation. They became symbolic carriers of national ideas. Through constant upholding and renewal, these symbols get written into collective sub-consciousness, becoming collective memory thus enabling cultural and historical continuity of a nation.

I've said as much in at least two posts (1, 2) quite explicitly; where not explicit in others, it is certainly implied.

But for all the ceremonial or monumental functions of a capital city axis, there are certainly practical concerns; take the Haussmann plan: 

The project encompassed all aspects of urban planning, both in the centre of Paris and in the surrounding districts: streets and boulevards, regulations imposed on facades of buildings, public parks, sewers and water works, city facilities, and public monuments. Beyond aesthetic and sanitary considerations, the wide thoroughfares were constructed to facilitate troop movement and prevent easy blocking of streets with barricades, and their straightness allowed artillery to fire on rioting crowds and their barricades.

Clever, innit?  If yer gonna design a city, why not make it easy to lob bombs on its residents?

Gaston cites Pope Sixtus V as the inspiration behind the tradition which led to such monumental axis-oriented urban design, but I would suggest the seeds of this were planted by the ancient Romans during their period of expansion and city-founding....which gave them plenty of opportunity to create planned cities which anticipate Haussmann's practical concerns: 

The ancient Romans used a consolidated scheme for city planning, developed for military defense and civil convenience. The basic plan consisted of a central forum with city services, surrounded by a compact, rectilinear grid of streets, and wrapped in a wall for defense. To reduce travel times, two diagonal streets crossed the square grid, passing through the central square. A river usually flowed through the city, providing water, transport, and sewage disposal....They would lay out the streets at right angles, in the form of a square grid. All roads were equal in width and length, except for two, which were slightly wider than the others. One of these ran east–west, the other, north–south, and intersected in the middle to form the center of the grid. All roads were made of carefully fitted flag stones and filled in with smaller, hard-packed rocks and pebbles. Bridges were constructed where needed. Each square marked by four roads was called an insula, the Roman equivalent of a modern city block.

Rome is famously said to have been built on (a symbol-heavy) seven hills.  Wikipedia lists 51 other cities which also make this claim.  Lisbon is one of these.  Skipping centuries of history, let's cut to 1755 when Lisbon was devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami.  As much as 25% of the population may have been killed and 85% percent of its buildings destroyed.  But the people reacted admirably and were fortunate to have the good leadership of  Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, 1st Count of Oeiras, 1st Marquess of Pomba.  There were no epidemics and within a year the city was being rebuilt.  New buildings were designed and tested to withstand earthquakes and the Marquess had the wits to send out a survey to the affected areas with intelligent questions which contributed to the science of seismology.

The Marquess has been described as Portugal's quintessential Enlightenment figure.  Part of his rebuilding plan included the hard hit Baixa Pombalina: "The Marquis of Pombal imposed strict conditions on rebuilding the city, and the current grid pattern strongly differs from the organic streetplan that characterised the district before the Earthquake."  The Pombalina district encompasses, incidentally, the axis formed by the Avenida Libertad.

Let me again quote Pipan: 

We can not say that architecture and urbanism on themselves contribute to the constitution of national identity but rather that they can be utilized by ruling regime to graft the notions of nation. They became symbolic carriers of national ideas.

What ideas, then, does the "Pombaline Axis" represent?

The beginning of the axis is the Parque Eduardo VII, 26 hectares honoring Edwards VII's state visit to Portugal in 1902.  The park framed with two pairs of columns surmounted by circular forms:

Bacon and Joaz
These circular forms, upon closer inspection, are like victory wreaths, reposing on three isosceles triangles:

Tri Delta
Now, these triangles and pairs of pillars geek me out on Freemasonic imagery, but it's still a bit of a stretch to claim that they represent Jachin and Boaz in a stylized form; there are after all, four pillars all told.  That said, there's nothing to prevent us from hypothesizing that the architect, aware of the use of monumental columns in Mediterranean (Egyptian and Phoenician, specifically) architecture to emphasize the entrance to a sacred space, was referencing this tradition.  That the Temple of Solomon and Masonic Lodges also used/use this design element is probably a coincidence.

The motif of two pillars is reinforced by a curious sculpture fountain which (in yet another example) brings together stones and water.   The two pillars appear broken, and the rocks in the pool at the base of the fountain suggest rubble, perhaps evoking the same theme we shall see again in relation to the Pombal monument.

Got milk?
The central column is clearly a phallus, ejaculating.  The shaft is slightly curved and clearly has a glans.  It has been suggested that the obelisk is a stylized holdover from phallus worship; here the connection is made explicit as the fountain has the somewhat naturalistic form of a penis and at the same time evokes an obelisk.  Thus, with the obelisk at the opposite end of the axis, we find symmetry.  I would also suggest that in addition to an obelisk and free-standing pillars, a pyramid is suggested by the buttress-like support structure  In some ways I'm reminded of an infamous masonic monument erected by Solomon's Pillars Lodge No. 59 in Izmargard, Israel (photos here), placed in a roundabout, incidentally, on the road to Egypt.  A gateway, wot?

(BTW, this guy reports that one Jerry Golden claims that the monument "makes a clear statement to anyone crossing the border into Israel that the Illuminati (or Freemasons) are in control here."  (The Illuminati (Freemasons) are in control of Israel)  This is the kind of shit that makes my job difficult!  Izmargad is a suburb of Eilat, itself with a rough population of 47,000.  Israel has a population of nearly 8 million.  Hard to see how a small monument in a traffic circle in an obscure suburb indicates that the Freemasons or Illuminati control the country!.  But there you have it.  No wonder people roll their eyes when I wonder aloud if other public architecture bears a Masonic stamp.)

More interesting is the possibility that this phallic fountain is a sly nod to the obelisk at the opposite end of the axis and an intimation of the theme of regeneration.  This other obelisk sits in the Praça dos Restauradores, and is dedicated to the restoration of the Portuguese monarchy, a new beginning.  Likewise the monument to Pombal, which honors the man behind Lisbon's renewal after the 1755 earthquake.

In I ♥ Phoenicia I wrote about the Pillars of Hercules, two pillars symbolizing the rocky outcrops on the Straits of Gibraltar.  These pillars figure on the Spanish flag and in a sense (explained in the Phoenicia post) represent Spanish naval power.  In the post I also mention that a representation of the Pillars of Hercules appears on the title page of Sir Francis Bacon's Instauratio Magna or "Great Renewal", framing a ship sailing on a vast sea.  Bacon's works demonstrate his belief that the New World would regenerate the old; remember then, that Portugal was once a mighty naval power itself and its language, flung around the globe, is the last remnant of its vast colonial holdings:  Macau, Goa, Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique, Brazil....

That the pillars represent the Pillars of Hercules is supported by the fact that when viewed from the Northwest, the pillars frame the Atlantic Ocean, exactly like the cover engraving of Bacon's Great Renewal.  It may be worth mentioning that in front of Lisbon's City Hall there is a pillar with an astrolabe, the essential tool for maritime navigation and a device which figures on Portugal's national flag.

Tessellation of the plane
These hedges in the Parque Eduardo VII represent the basic principle of order underlying the Marquess' reconstruction plan.  Three layers of symmetry bringing to mind a Greek frieze.  As we've seen, the park honors the visit of England's Kind Edward VII (7 again, hrmph), thus honoring the historical links between England and Portugal.

Incidentally, Edward was: 

An active Freemason throughout his life when Edward VII was installed as Grand Master in 1874 he gave great impetus to the fraternity. The Prince was a great supporter of and publicist for Freemasonry. He regularly appeared in public, both at home and on his tours abroad, as Grand Master laying the foundation stones of public buildings, bridges, dockyards and churches with Masonic ceremonial....From 637 in 1814 the Grand Lodge had grown to 2,850 lodges when the Prince resigned the Grand Mastership on becoming King in 1901. Edward VII was one of the biggest contributors to the world's largest fraternity.

I encourage you to take a look at this page, detailing Pombal's extensive involvement in and protection of Freemasonry at a time when the Inquisition and the Jesuits had long harassed the Fraternity. 

Athena on the Pombal Monument
At the end of this geometrical vista one finds the Praça do Marquês de Pombal, usually translated as the Marquess of Pombal Square, which is odd, given that it's a traffic circle.  But no matter, squaring the circle is an old game, no?  The Marquess de Pombal is honored here, with a monumental column (1917-1934), upon which a bronze version of the man gazes towards his orderly neighborhood....and the sea.

At his feet are several allegorical figures and broken stones representing the ruins of Lisbon, like so many rough ashlars inviting improvement.  Facing in the opposite direction is a bronze sculpture of Athena, symbol of wisdom, which bears a passing resemblance to Bourdelle's La France, discussed here.  Like La France, Athena/Minerva holds her spear in her right hand.  The snake Erichthonius is wrapped around it's shaft and her owl sits at its base.

Athena/Minverva's owl, incidentally, also figures on the medallion of Portugal's Ordem dos Advogados and its website features another representation of the goddess which presumably, graces their HQ somewhere:

Athena and owl
From the Praça do Marquês de Pombal one proceeds down the tree-lined Avenida de Liberdad, a tony boulevard housing many of Portugal's high-end shops and which will eventually become famous for the time I ran from my comrade's car spewing vomit into the bushes as a police cruiser rolled by, after a night of too much too many as it were.  Other monuments, including a memorial to Portugal's WWI dead, are sheltered under the trees.

The axis terminates in the Praça dos Restauradores, an oval-shaped plaza "dedicated to the restoration of the independence of Portugal in 1640, after 60 years of Spanish domination. The obelisk in the middle of the square, inaugurated in 1886, carries the names and dates of the battles fought during the Portuguese Restoration War, in 1640."

So, I think a lot more well-informed and cleverer things than I'm capable of could be said to wrap all this up with something resembling a point, but it ain't me babe.  No answers here, just associations....

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A few angles more

In a past post (Try this angle) I explored the use of the triangle or delta in the logos of real estate/construction companies).  Over time I began to realize these logos were used in a wider variety of contexts and for different kinds of companies.  I've thus created a new album to hold them; I will update this as and when I snap new photos.

I should also note that this is more of  a collection for collecting's sake; that is to say I don't ascribe any conspiratorial of mystical meaning to these, while nonetheless not entirely dismissing the possibility that the use of the Delta or Triangle in a compnay logo could, in some cases, indicate that the business is owned or was started by a Freemason. 

How's that for saying everything and nothing all at once?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lisbon Story #1: Dr. Martins' got soul

Monument to Dr. Sousa Martins
Folk saints are a long-standing interest of LoS.  This type of saint includes those who have never been canonized, but are venerated just the same, often with a fervency unparalleld by the "official" saints.  Some of them may or may not have been canonized -- the origin of their sainthood is obscure; in some cases the church has de-canonized them or felt compelled to issue a statement clarifying that they have never been, in fact, official saints.  In some cases their very existence as historical personages is dubious and in more than one case the Church strongly disapproves of their cults, as in the case of Santa Héléna of Toulouse.

In Lisbon, there is a rather elaborate monument to one of these saints:  Dr. José Tomás de Sousa Martins.  Although not canonized, his cult is certainly not one which antagonizes the religious and civil authorities, as in the case of Héléna or that of Jesus Malverde in Mexico.  These humble cults don't have elaborate shrines or monuments.  Doc Martins, on the contrary, is honored with a bit more traditional lavishness.

Detail of monument with healing serpent (previously on LoS)
In the Campo dos Mártires da Pátria, outside the medical school of the New University of Lisbon, one finds a pillar atop which stands a bronze statue of Martins.  At the base a seated female gazes upwards.  Inside the low circular barrier surrounding the pillar, votive plaques in marble are piled haphazardly but knee-deep.  Many of these ex-votos refer to Martins as "Brother" -- apparently because he was a Freemason.  The familiarity with which Martins is addressed is consistent with the cults of other folk saints and indicates that the ongoing creation of saints is a response to the needs of worshipers for a more intimate ear.  We have seen how Santa Héléna serves as a go-between for the faithful and the Virgin Mary.  It's always useful, in the hereafter as in the here and now, to have a friend or family member in high places.

As with all popular saints, the monument cum shrine is adorned with flowers and to one side a large metal cabinet provides a place for the faithful to place votive candles.

Ex-votos piled knee-high

So who was he?

Martins was born in Alhandra in 1843, moving to Lisbon where he studied pharmacy and medicine, qualifying for the former in 1864 and the latter in 1866.  He practiced in Lisbon, specializing in tuberculosis.  His practice was in no way affiliated with church-related philanthropy, but he worked tirelessly for the poor.

According to Wikipedia, Martins was poisoned by an unknown person jealous of his popularity among the medical community.  This is a good example of why one needs to take care with Wikipedia (although I freely admit to using it frequently).  First of all, if the murderer is unknown, why is the motive stated as a fact, without a caveat such as "Many speculate that...." or some such?  More importantly, all the other sources I've consulted, including Portuguese Wikipedia, state that he committed suicide after contracting TB, knowing a protracted and painful death was inevitable.  Which -- along with his Freemasonry -- would preclude him from "official" canonization.

He was the author of numerous works and there are many resources out there on the internets, but my Portuguese is too limited to make out the details.  I did glean, however, that he was an adherent of spiritualism and after his death other spiritualists began to attribute "miraculous" cures to him via the intercession of mediums.  On March 7 (birth) and August 8 (death) thousands flock to this monument to pray.  Along with his suicide, these spiritualist associations probably also preclude canonization.

The monument itself was erected 1904; I can only imagine that no one would have guessed it would become the focal point of a new cult for an unlikely saint.

More photos here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

As the flames rose to her Roman nose

Apropos of the last post, after being burned at the stake, Joan of Arc's ashes were thrown into the Seine.

Huh.  The same fate befell Jacques DeMolay and the Templars burned with him:   "Their ashes were then ground up and dumped into the Seine, so as to leave no relics behind."

And as Gid recently reminded us, relics and miracles are still a hot commodity....