Monday, October 28, 2013

Magic and Loss

Lou Reed's music, both as a singer/songwriter for the Velvet Underground and as a solo artist, changed my life and perception of what music was, is and can be.  Maybe Reed the person could be a little off-putting at times, but I think it's because he didn't suffer fools gladly and that for him, rock n' roll music, at least his version of it, should be taken as serious art.  There's a quote where he says something like one chord is fine but by three chords you're starting to make jazz.  Tongue in cheek, obviously, but indicating that being serious about art didn't necessarily mean being overly complex.  He was making full-on rock and roll music.  It may be stretching things a bit, but I think there's something of Lou Reed's aesthetic here on LoS.  Mix "high" and "low" vernacular, don't be afraid to be serious, don't be afraid to look goofy.  Present it correctly and people will in fact appreciate poetry.... 

That's already more than I wanted to say; Reed's music soundtrack to my life.  Dip into his oeuvre at any point and you'll discover songs that are angry, funny, wistful, caustic, tender....and very good.

To me the man was an artist and a poet in the guise of a rock and roll front man.  Or rather, he made it possible for the rock and roll front man to be taken seriously as an artist.  There were missteps and pretentiousness in his career, but hell, that always happens when you're learning in public and you put your balls to the wall for the world to see.

I was hoping for a new album, but alas, that is not to be, though there could always be some posthumous stuff he'd been working on since his last album in 2009.  According to his doctor, Reed was doing t'ai chi an hour before his death, trying to stay strong, trying to fight.  To me this is an appropriate image of the man as an artist as well.  He never rested on his laurels, never exploited his one true "hit" song.  He kept on changing until the end and his last albums are, with exception of Metal Machine Music, the most experimental of his career.  For me, that's a good thing.  I'll even give Lulu another chance.  Remember those missteps I spoke about?  But, to mangle something he once said, "bad" Lou Reed is infinitely better than most of what you'll hear on the radio, hands down.  Plus, Sister Ray makes up for everything!

For a proper obituary, check out the New York Times.  It seems appropriate....

Update.  Those two quotes, to be more precise:
  •  "One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz."
  •  “My bullshit is worth more than other people’s diamonds.”

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Magique, Mystère, de la bière. Beaucoup et beaucoup de bière....

Notre Dame de la Daurade

From Saturday until today The Gid and his brother Steven were in town to visit.  It was jam-packed with sightseeing and beer drinking and though tired, it's left me with a sense of contentment I haven't felt in a while.

One of the highlights of our trip was a modified version of the "Magical Mystery Tour" I took last year with my kids into Aude, Corbières, Languedoc-Rousillon, etc.

Steve has been writing about his visit and has some great photos.  I really enjoyed reading about places I've seen previously from the perspective of someone who's never been to France. It also gives you an idea of just how much there is to see in southwest France.

We touched a sliver of a fragment and even then didn't even begin to cover all the worth-a-visit sites the area has to offer, natural, historical and cultural.  We didn't do too bad though.

Please take a look a Steve's post.  It'll spark some great ideas if you ever consider coming to Toulouse and environs.

Europe Week One: Southern France and Northern Spain by S.J. Payne

Added 12/04.
And there was a black virgin, “Mare de Deu de Monserrat.” 
(For you, Steve Adkins.)   Europe Week Two:  Barcelona and Paris

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

America's Half-Blood Prince of Darkness

It doesn't take a particularly astute media observer to point out that Barack Obama has generated some extreme responses from the American public.  It's tempting to say Americans either love him or hate him, but the former option seems to be'd be hard-pressed these days to find people who still say they "love" him.  On the contrary, there's no shortage of hatred out there.

The kind of rhetoric in which we've been most interested here on LoS uses the language of religion.  In the giddy days following his election we began to hear of supporters speaking as if Obama were the Savior.  The Messiah in the form of a skinny lawyer from Chicago.  While this was partly conservative satire of liberal response to his election, there were grounds for the criticism.  For example, a 2008 cover story about Obama's popularity in the German magazine Der Spiegel was entitled Der Messias Faktor (The Messiah Factor).  Newsweek's January, 2013 cover on Obama's reelection was entitled The Second Coming

Perhaps even more widespread, however, has been the notion that Obama is a false Messiah, the Beast, the Antichrist.  Searching for "Obama is the Messiah" or "Obama is the Antichrist" in Google images will confirm that I'm not simply making this up.

It occurs to me that both identifications serve to arouse the ire of religious conservatives; on the one had there are the people who genuinely believe that Obama is the harbinger of the End Times.  On the other hand there are those who are offended that the media would make a comparison between Jesus and any secular figure, let alone one with whom they disagree politically.  And then there are those who doubt his nationality and religious allegiances or feel a vague if not explicit uneasiness about what a mixed race President means for the future of the country; it becomes easier to understand why intimations of saintliness provoke--at a minimum--a hostile response.  In an atmosphere as polarized as America today, where concession becomes a kind of treason, the rhetoric will become even more uncompromising; Obama not only isn't saintly, he's downright demonic.  This is also why people will overlook their doubts about a baffling health care plan full of flaws and unanswered questions and proclaim their unreserved support for something so obviously "good" and why others would prefer to shut the government down than accept something which is so obviously "evil".

In this context, which is not a historical abstraction but a reality of the here and now, the image above will generate a certain Internet buzz or at the very least a ripple of murmurs.

Drudge asks:  are those a devil's horns or the wings of an angel?  Are we are seeing Obama portrayed as a modern-day Hermes?  For some a welcome messenger and guide, for others a presumptuous conductor of souls trying to assume the role reserved for He of whom Obama is but a pale pretender?

Should we take note of the olive branch of peace or the sheaf of arrows?  13 leaves or 13 arrowheads.  Forget the symbolism of of the original 13 colonies, we all know what the number really means, right?  War and peace, black and white, give and take.  Not much of this last dynamic happening on the tiled floors of Congress.

This photo was shot by AFP photographer Saul Loeb as Obama spoke about hurricane preparedness in the context of the budget debate and, as the captions says, on the 7th day of the government shutdown.  Not so effective as an "Obama as God" portrait; to be accurate Obama would have to be resting....

But the wings or horns? photo gets at the heart of the social polarity in America today, which is not only being played out physically in Washington D.C., but in the mind of the country, where the war is being fought with symbols.  And if this is happening in the halls of Congress and in the American Mind, it would, at least for millions of Americans, indicate a spiritual war as well.  We can see the shadows on the wall engaged in furious struggle; it stands to reason there's something important going on outside the cave.

Somewhere out there, Jesus and Satan are locked hand in hand over the chessboard, tiled black and white, no give, no take.

 Angel or Demon?  Antichrist or Messiah?  Choose your own adventure!


For further reading, here's a list of some other posts where we looked at odd photos of Obama, along with a few additional remarks in light of what I've mulled over today.  In some cases, I linked to online reactions to them and in others I've only now sought it out.  For the rest I don't know how people reacted....

Barack Obama: Hogwart's Alumnus 08/15/12

In this odd picture, an academically-robed Obama is shot in such a way that he appears to be holding a glowing ball of light while giving a speech about health care.  I think the photo was intentionally imitating a crystal ball, symbolizing that nobody knows exactly what the future would bring with regards to Obamacare.  At the time, the photo elicited mostly bemused reactions, but there were some half-serious comments out there to the effect that the liberal media were suggesting that Obama is some kind of magician.  Which of course has the additional capacity to offend as a celebration of the occult.

"Barack Obama is the Antichrist!" 03/23/12

In another health care-related image, the Huffington Post placed a photo of Obama holding his hands in the air, hand in hand with his colleagues, next to one of a Byzantine mosaic of Jesus in a similar pose.  The image was used to illustrate an article about Notre Dame (the university) suing the Obama administration because his plan mandated that birth control be covered.  Is HuffPo taking a swipe at Notre Dame, comparing Obama and Jesus as two men who would advocate taking care of the poor?  Or does is symbolize a face-off between secular and religious belief?  I didn't read any comments on this photo, but I can only imagine that for many people there would be nothing innocuous about its rhetorical or symbolic intentions.

The Royal Obamas: personally blessed by Christ the Redeemer 03/21/11

In this shot the Obama family is seen from below, Rio's Christ the Redeemer glowing in the background.  This photo generated significant online commentary by many who saw it as crude propaganda that associates the Obama family with holiness;  the nimbus of white light, the protecting arms of Christ looming in the background, the angle of the shot which is as if the viewer gazes up at the family....

An intellectual regarded disparagingly, as being impractical, officious, pedantic, etc. 08/04/10

In this shot Obama has a weird haughty look to him, his up-tilted head framed in such a way at to form a kind of circle within a black triangle  I didn't see any comments about this one, but I wondered then if Drudge used it to a) suggest the Eye of Providence to recall the Illuminati, a kind of guilt-by-association tactic or b) suggest a black KKK hood, evoking the reverse racism the man is accused of harboring not so deeply within.  (A quick search of the image does reveal that in a few instances people associated with the NWO, the Eye in the Pyramid or a pyramid with detached capstone.)

Political Saviors 03/18/10

This is a series of shots where both Democrats and Republicans are framed so that they appear to have halos or appear at the center of the cross.  I think these are certainly intentional and probably satirical comments on how politicians frame their political discourse in moral terms.  This set does not include Obama.

Obama as Jesus, or Hippocrates? 03/17/10

This was also a controversial shot, which generated a firestorm, or a least a fire-shower, of online comments.  Obama appears to have both halo and nimbus and a white cross hovers in the background.  Like the Rio pic, it is shot from below so we are looking up at him on high.  In this case, the cross was not part of the shot but was photoshopped into the image.  Conservative commentators saw an example of liberal bias, the deification of Obama.  This shot was used to illustrate an article about health care, which is why, according to some, a cross was an appropriate backdrop.


I first saw this current AFP photo with the question about "wings or horns" on Drudge at about 12 PM in France on 8 October but by 3 PM it was no longer there.  Fortunate The Blaze includes a brief quip about Drudge's editorial choice, including a screen shot.  Quick work!  The Blaze wrote about it yesterday, so the image was apparently online for a while.  Odd is that Drudge called it a "shock" image, and asked the "horns or wings?" question, but he wasn't linking to an article; he linked to Yahoo news which merely carried the photo and named the photographer, date and event.  Apparently, Drudge is unaware of the long history of religiously-charged photos of Obama, or merely looking for another small way, like I think he did with the "eye in the triangle" photo, to feed anti-Obama resentment.  Which is his right, of course.  He's hardly secretive about his political orientation nor subtle with the articles he chooses and the titles he gives his links.

Makes me think of another photo someone sent me and which I put onto my website long ago, not too long after 9-11.  I don't recall where it came from, and I've never seen it elsewhere, except where someone has either hotlinked it or downloaded it and uploaded to their own site.  I guess we can add the horned President genre to world leaders giving dubious "Masonic" handshakes or flashing the famous "sign of the horns" collections so plentiful on the Web.  Just for kicks I did a Google images search on the following image it has been reproduced by quite a few sites around the world.  You can see that all its current online uses ultimately derive from that single source, because they all have the telltale signs of having been scanned from newsprint.  That means a proper digital original hasn't been made public.  So it's kind of cool that I let this thing out into the world years ago and it's still alive.  It'd be interesting to know who took it first and how it spread after that.  But viral standards these days, it's still pretty limited, but I still have that tattered bit of newsprint somewhere.

So, here it is, SHOCK photo of George W. Bush.  Definitely horns.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Cemetery of Pleasures

Photo courtesy of Luis Morgado.  Please visit the link to see his other pictures of Lisbon's wonderful architecture.
Cemetery of Pleasures:  that's got to be the most evocative name for a cemetery I've ever heard. But really, it's named after the Lisbon neighborhood where it can be found -- Prazeres -- "Pleasures" in English.

It's also right around the corner from a street where one can buy just about any drug one could desire, from branca to cavalo, or so I'm told. Cemetery of Pleasures indeed.

The cemetery is filled with the kind of memento mori that would make a goth kid spontaneously, to paraphrase The Lonely Island, jizz in their pants.

What caught my eye was a large tomb, pictured above. There was no indication as to what it was or who it contained. I'd meant to write about it at the time I wrote a few other posts about Lisbon (Dr. Martins' got soul and Axis-sixA) but didn't get around to it until my last post jogged my memory.

This pyramid is the Jazigo dos Duques de Palmela or Tomb of the Dukes of Palmela. According to Mort Safe, it was designed by Giuseppe Cinatti, a Freemason, under the direction of Pedro de Sousa Holstein (1781-1850). Pedro was one of the leading diplomats of his time and was named 1st Duke of Palmela for his services. Early versions of the Wikipedia entry on Sousa Holstein say he was a Freemason, but the current version has been changed.

The tomb was built near the end of its patron's life, between 1846-1849. Mort Safe makes some interesting observations about apparent Masonic symbolism I didn't get to see, as it was not open to visits when I was there.

First of all is the massive pyramid....which is unfinished.

Remember that one of masonic legends says that the Master Hiram Abiff, responsible for building the Temple of Solomon, was assassinated before completing the work, leaving the unfinished temple. This face, where it is usual to put up a stone Benben to complete the pyramid (or obelisk), is a statue, which some authors attribute to Calmels. This statue is a female figure, often identified as the Angel of Death....and is probably one of the Seven Virtues....

As Mort Safe points out, there are other Masonic symbols. There are seven steps leading to the gate. These could represent the seven virtues, seven liberal arts, seven ages of man. Between the gate and the tomb itself the ground is paved with black and white stones forming 12 lozenges. The Temple of Solomon allegedly had decorative motifs on the floor in contrasting black and white geometrical shapes. A grid of black and white tiling is still a common feature of Masonic Lodges in some jurisdictions.

Mort Safe also mentions that the statue on the unfinished top is holding a cross and thus conforms to the practice of "Christianizing" the pagan monument, something I mentioned in my last post about the obelisks fronting the cemetery of Levignac. The most famous precedent for this practice would have to be the obelisk in St. Peter's Square. The bronze cross at the top of this obelisk contains a fragment of the True Cross and has exorcising formulas inscribed on two sides of the base.

Other sources indicate the mausoleum contains over 200 bodies, all from the same family with the exception of two priests. That it reproduces the symbolism of a Masonic Temple is also confirmed.

Cinatti (1808-1879) was born in Siena and settled in Lisbon in 1836. He was most famous as a set designer and interior decorator, although he did do considerable work in painting and architecture.

The Prazeres Cemetery was built after a cholera outbreak in 1833. It is the biggest cemetery in Lisbon and is known for being the final resting place of many of its notable citizens, especially those involved in the arts.