Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"Paying the Price for Peace"

I want to encourage you to attend a tribute to Brian Willson in the new feature-length documentary being presented this Sunday at the Cape Ann Cinema. The showing will begin at 6:30 after a musical opening by Chick Marston at 6:00.

Brian Willson came here five years ago on a speaking tour for Blood on the Tracks, his autobiographical account of conversion to peace activism that he sub-titled A Psychohistorical Memoir. In the first chapter "All American" he relates his rural apple-pie upbringing and his blossoming as a scholar-athlete. The book follows his enlistment and assignment to on-the-ground intelligence assessments for the Air Force in Vietnam. His revulsion at the wanton and sometimes deliberate destruction of non-combatants in the war led to his being transferred out-of-country with an "attitude problem."
Brian Willson on the tracks, 1987
In 1987, while vigiling against the clandestine shipment of arms to the Contras in Nicaragua, Brian was run over by a munitions train outside the Concord Naval Weapons Station in  California. The train severed both his legs.
He referred to learning from his experiences with the Sandinista peasants in the Nicaraguan revolution that "dignity trumps longevity."

* * *
I come from a family of career military officers who could have applied these words to their own world.  My father and two of his brothers received the Purple Heart for battlefield wounds during World War II.

Cadet Roger Ray and LT John Ray, December 1941
Six months after this photograph was taken they lost their older brother Martin in the Pacific. The citation on his award of the Navy Cross for gallantry commended his "extraordinary heroism and extreme disregard of personal safety  as Engineer Officer of the U. S. S. Hammann during action against Japanese forces...." Roger was badly wounded in the invasion of Normandy and John in the Battle of the Bulge. Along with their Naval brother Alan they maintained a lifelong perspective of paying the price for peace.
I will have all these decent courageous men in mind when I watch the film this Sunday at the Cape Ann Cinema. Besides his sacrifice, I will be appreciating Brian's call to nonviolence and the tireless transformations to which he has devoted himself.

The producers of the film have engaged testaments of solidarity from many of the most noted peacemakers of our generation.

Chick Marston on left, 1967
Prior to the showing of the film Gloucester musician Chick Marston will provide entertainment with his compatriots in Down Home Swing, from 6:00 to 6:30. Chick paid a steep price of his own after refusing induction to the military during the Vietnam War.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Garden Dreams

Is it climate, craftsmanship, or perseverance that makes gardens so robust in northern France? At our first regional stopover Kay and I encountered this horticultural panache in Chartres.

Public planters, Chartres
Then we boarded the train to fulfill her lifetime longing to visit Claude Monet's garden at Giverny. We stayed overnight in Vernon, the nearest town served by rail.

Sidewalk café, Vernon
Vernon epitomizes the small-town charm of France. In August outdoor living comes into full bloom.

A planter on the bridge over the Seine, en route to Giverny
Rather than wait for the mid-morning bus we walked the four miles to Giverny. We crossed the Seine and hiked along the Normandy farms.

When we arrived crowds were already lining up to see the house and studio where Monet centered his painterly vision on impressions of his own gardens.

Monet's house
Mass plantings of geraniums by the door proved that vivid combinations of everyday plants can scintillate  appealingly.

At the door
Kay smiled through tears at the realization of a fifty-five year dream that began on a fifth grade art class field trip to New York's Museum of Modern Art with her first glimpse of Monet's water lily murals.

Solanum, dahlias, gladiolus
The Giverny garden today sparkles with floral coordinations and contrasts. The colors tease each other like an Impressionist canvas revitalized in specific flowers.

Sunflowers and morning glories
Portrait of Monet the garden director
The joys and aspirations that the painter sought on canvas became an experimental craft in the garden, to compose flowers and atmospheric light into modulations of sensual wonder. 

Mexican sunflower and cleome
Dahlia and solanum


A tableau in the studio today

Monet dammed a stream to endow a lily pond. It became the culminating subject of his painterly life. His attention seemed to shift from celebration to contemplation.

Water lily
Pond reflections
The pond became a reciprocation of his creative spirit, simultaneously a source of study and a painting in itself where he administered Nature as carefully as a canvas.

The Japanese bridge
The water garden reverberated to Monet's collection of Oriental prints that had expanded his artistic vision beyond European horizons.

Returning to Paris
We left timeless Shangri-la in the timely precision of French trains. We arrived in Paris at the tumult of Gare St. Lazare, the station whose facade Monet had idealized in a series of moody paintings.

The Luxembourg Gardens
Within the stimulation of Paris lies an isle of repose with space for inner city recreation as provided by all livable urban communities. The Jardin du Luxembourg receives and offers the best of French horticulture like an interplay with its painterly heritage.

Claude Monet's legacy remains accessible to his fellow citizens in several distinguished museums. Toward the end of his career he wanted to make a monumental gift to the nation.

In conjunction with former Premier George Clemenceau, Monet conceived of a series of eight water lily panels, Les Nymphéas, each up to forty feet long, to be displayed in the building that had once given winter shelter to the orange trees of the garden of the Tuileries. The French government reconfigured L'Orangerie into a large oval room illuminated diffusely with sunlight.

A small portion of Les Nymphéas at Musée de l'Orangerie
The paintings curve with the walls, enveloping the audience.
The young lady first entranced by these scenes so many years ago, came into the room as a fulfilled pilgrim. Lilies floated over the canvases like whispers over unknowable depths of water. Opalescent reflections from the pond conveyed the painter's reverie to her own.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Vision of the Four Elements, Part 4 - Water

Water is life. It supports life generously in the part of Kenya that we visited.

Bamboo along river bank, Kakamega
Waterside chores, Lake Victoria
Fishermen approaching shore
A Yellow-billed stork and a Sacred ibis
Istanbul derives commercial and strategic power from its position on the narrow waterway between the Black Sea (Russia) and the Mediterranean Sea. It bridges Europe and Asia.

Istanbul shoreline
Imperial caiques preserved in the Naval Museum
Sultans of the Ottoman Empire made royal appearances in these nineteenth-century boats.

The garden of the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul
Precious water had a sacred place in paradise gardens of the arid Middle East.

Sultan Ahmet Square fountain
In modern Istanbul water is available more luxuriously.

 Coastal walk Le Sentier Littoral, Antibes
Natural splendor along the Mediterranean, French Riviera.

The Riviera, Nice
Recreational splendor.

Fountain, Nice
Playful splendor.

Holy water, Chartres
Sacred splendor.

Cathedral of Notre Dame, Chartres

Water lilies, Giverny
The water garden of Claude Monet.

The center of monarchy, Île de la Cité, Paris
The Seine River, lifeline of the French capital.

Fontaine des Mers, Place de la Concorde
Tribute to the Oceans, Paris.

Luxembourg Gardens
The rise, fall, and reservoir of water as enjoyed by light.

The Fountain of Saint-Sulpice
Icons of Church and State, Nature and Man, harmonized with water.

Water garden of The Rodin Museum
The present imbibing the past in a Parisian pool

Water defines life on Earth, and any other place we can imagine. When we speculate about the possibility of life on other planets we look for water.

Water is the essence of organisms and the physic of health. It may variously be an agent of creation and destruction, giving birth, dissolving, fracturing, eroding, transporting. 

Water absorbs and releases energy. Its changes of state from solid to liquid to gas condition our relationship to the physical world. It anchors our scientific standards of measurement and behavior.

Water flows through and around us as drink, as irrigation, as conveyor, as perspiration, as tears, as anointment. It underlies photosynthesis, metabolism, and respiration. It means existence.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Vision of the Four Elements, Part 3 - Fire

Since the flight from Nairobi to Nice made a connecting flight in Istanbul, we stopped for a couple of days in this juncture of Europe and Asia, where the human history of creation and devastation is as richly woven as anywhere on the globe.
The Romantic Hotel, Istanbul
Istanbul, I am happy to report, currently offers old world charm and hospitality in a progressive modern city. From the dining terrace of our hotel we could look across the Bosporus Straits toward the Orient or across tiled roofs to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, opened four hundred years ago in the nascent vigor of the Ottoman Empire.
Looking across the Bosporus Straits toward Asiatic Turkey

The Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque
With freshman experience in Kenyan souvenir bargaining I came to the Turkish bazaar as a seasoned sophomore (Greek, sophos wise + moros foolish). 

A pleasant man named Cemil befriended us drifting around a public square. He offered apple tea and the finest hand-woven rugs. His parents had come from Greece and Bulgaria in the waning days of the sultan. We disappointed him only a little by buying a turquoise runner for the back of our sofa. A pillow sweetened the negotiation, with cash payment in US dollars.
Our silk souvenirs
At a compatriot's lamp store we offered little resistance to the shopkeeper, just drank more tea and brought home a beautiful chandelier at a favorable price.

Our chandelier
The lamps evoke Turkish motifs in the fiery arts, where flaming crucibles convert drab minerals into colorful glass and tiles.

Stained glass windows in the Blue Mosque
Ottoman architects reveled in decorative elements from their craftsmen's kilns. They achieved breathtaking designs in glass, ceramics, and metallurgy.

The dome of the Blue Mosque

Tiles in the Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia, once the world's largest church, begun by Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Emperor Justinian in the Sixth Century, received its present ornamentation during Ottoman times. Chemistry and artistry in fiery furnaces produced the brilliant glazes.

Mosaic dome, Hagia Sophia
Kay and I flew to the French Riviera, the Azure Coast, in part to see stained glass windows by Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall. We had admired their artistry in the Rockefeller church of Pocantico Hills, New York.

Window, Musée Chagall, Nice
 "For me a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world." ...Marc Chagall

Mosaic of Elijah ascending to Heaven amidst occult symbols of the Zodiac, Musée Chagall.
"Chagall reads the Bible and suddenly the passages become light."...Gaston Bachelard
Gilded iron gate, Musée Massena, Nice
In Nice we also appreciated wrought iron forged in the hearths of its blacksmiths.
Cathedral of Notre Dame, Chartres
Artistry in medieval Europe reached its apex under Church sponsorship. The fire of Christian theology,  cosmology, and empire coaxed wondrous windows from its guilds.
The north transept rose of Chartres Cathedral

Medieval glass kiln, Chartres
Innovative traditions live on today at the Centre International du Vitrail in Chartres adjacent to Our Lady's Cathedral.
Modern artists, International Stained Glass Center, Chartres
To roam the streets of Paris is to revel in the mythic legacy of Prometheus, who first stole fire from the gods. The public art and decorative balconies catalog a full celebration of man's appetites and achievements.

The Woman in the Hat, by Lapis Andras,
outside the Hungarian Institute, Paris

The Thinker, garden of the Musée Rodin
Napoleon's Tomb in background
The French capital displays monuments to its prominent citizens and collective glories. They often exalt their creators as much as their subjects.

The Thinker, original conception
Sculptor Rodin initially depicted The Thinker brooding over human suffering in The Gates of Hell, the fateful fires of Dante's Inferno in The Divine Comedy.
The Eiffel Tower, twilight
 Inducted fires of electricity crown the skyline of the City of Light. 

Patriotic fervor
Sacraments of empire are as manifest in public sculpture as in the fiery words of the French national anthem, La Marseilles: "Arise, children of the fatherland, the day of glory has arrived..." The whole effect seems iconographic, calculated to sweep its citizens to unity and achievement. 

The Cathedral of Notre Dame, Our Lady alongside the Seine
 The fires of history have spawned monarchs and popes, revolutionaries and invaders, saints and despots on the heart of Paris, the Île de la Cité. Its noblest building is dedicated to The Virgin Mother. 

Interior dome of Sainte-Chapelle
Its loveliest place of worship, Sainte-Chapelle, arose within the palace of King Louis IX during the Thirteenth Century. He was subsequently canonized Saint Louis. 
Rose window, Sainte-Chapelle
Solar light fills stained glass windows with an interior glow. The motifs present an innate rather than a reflected beauty.

The sun fuels the processes of civilization on Earth. It renders the invisible visible. 

In gratitude the artisans of mankind aspire to respond, transforming dreams, experiences, and earthly elements in flaming crucibles of "I am." They ignite the works of their hands and minds with the combustion of Creation. They answer an invitation as irresistible as breath, to die into the newness of what might be.