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Hope Springs Eternal: The Mary Wheeler Interview

Mary and Tim Wheeler, with son Christopher.  Courtesy Mary Wheeler. Prepare yourself(s) for an amazing interview with a largely u...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pillars and Power



Came across this photo of the Pennsylvania State Capitol the other day and was struck by the freestanding pillars which appear from this angle to mark the entrance to the space occupied by the building.  Like any capitol building, this rather handsome structure is not only functional architecture, but ceremonial as well.  It both houses the government and symbolizes it.  The state incarnate.....the capitol is both a city and a building.  Indeed, the street we see here is State Street.

The two pillars actually sit at one end of the State Street Bridge, also known as the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Bridge.  The two pillars, adorned with eagles, represent the Army (and the army Air Force) and the navy (including the Marines).  It was opened in 1930.  As both bridge and memorial, it too, like the capitol building, have both a ceremonial and functional raison d'être.

The freestanding pillars are a long-running interest of  LoS (see the tag pillars).  As a religious element, they've been used since the Egyptians; we've also discussed their meaning at length in a political contect.  See Pillars of the Community for more background; their use for the capitol building of the Haute-Garonne department serves as a starting point for a discussion of their various uses, including their Masonic symbolism.  See The Two Pillars, for one Mason's opinion of their meaning.

This idea of Soldiers and Sailors  brought to mind another monument with a similar name I mentioned back in 2009:

Another war monument by Schmitz, by the way, the Indiana Soldier and Sailor's Monument, does feature 32 flights of stairs with 330 numbered steps (and one unnumbered). This may or may not be a coincidence; or you can take it as evidence he imbued his designs with Masonic symbolism. (Incidentally, the Soldier and Sailor's Monument in Syracuse, NY is found in Clinton Square--formerly known as Masonic Park!)

Interesting that two monuments with such similar names bothe have Masonic connections.  Unlike the Indiana memorial, I don't see any symbolism in the proportions, described here:

The western approach is marked by two 143'-0" pylons topped with carved war eagles representing the army and the navy. Each pylon measures 25'-0" by 16'-0" at its base and 13'-6" by 22'-6" at its top. The eagles each weigh approximately 300 tons and rise 21'-0" high, and required thirty-six stones each.

The bridge and memorial were initially designed in 1919 and was erected between 1926 and 1930.  Neither the original architect Arnold Brunner nor the architects who completed it, William Gehron and Sidney Ross, appear to have been Freemasons.  The Schmitz monument dates from 1901 and, as we have seen has some numbers which could be construed as Masonic.  I'm not sure if schmitz was a Mason, but another of his works, the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, harbors a Masonic Lodge and was given critical financial support by German Freemasons:

Interested in resuming the project, [Clemens ]Thieme, who was also a member of the Apollo masonic lodge, proposed the project during a meeting and gained the support of his fellow masons.

The South African Voortrekker Monument, inspired by the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, also contains Masonic number symbolism.  Nifty too is that all four of these monuments serve as war memorials, the German and South Africam iterations with heavy nationalist overtones.

OK, that's already more than I intended to write, but I'm off to ponder a bit about the continuing influence exercised by Egyptian prototypes, however indirect, on 20th century architecure with memorial, or "funerary" functions.  That and Mao's maxim that political power grows from the barrel of a gun.  For if these represent in some way the state or ideas of what makes a nation, they also celebrate the military power and those who died defending that definition.  

Incidentally, the dome of the Pennsylvania State Capitol was inspired by that of St. Peter's Basilica, in front of which stands, an Egyptian obelisk....

Gives me something to think about as I wash the dishes...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Every point on the surface is not the same distance from the center.

Bicameral Loserism, 2011.  from Cosmonautical Autoportraiture.
Definition of personal sphere:

It’s a restless place, uncommitted to any particular medium and defined by a broad set of ideas that winnow, mugging and petting, jostling about, until one generative nub remains as a fulcrum upon which I teeter like a goon.

LoS comrade and graphics wizard .sWineDriveR. is a guest artist in the November issue of N-SPHERE, an art magazine. Great work by sWD, mysterious palimpsests of the sort you might find in an old red suitcase or plastic tub in the basement of a house turned to cinders by a neutron bomb dropped in 2027 A.D.

Check it out and leave some comments or encouraging words....

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Build it and they will come

Proposed Lincoln Memorial by John Russell Pope, 1912.
Interesting review of  the National Building Museum's "Unbuilt Washington" show in today's Washington Post.  I'd love to see this show!  A great collection of proposed streetplans, monuments and buildings that were, as you can imagine, never built....and too bad, in my humble "o".  Who wouldn't want a fuck-off enormous ziggurat at the end of the National Mall?

....The pyramid has architectural pedigree even more ancient than the Greek temple, yet no major pyramid has been built in Washington. Why? Not because it’s never been proposed. Benjamin Latrobe designed a monument with a pyramid-shaped top and simple columns as a mausoleum for George Washington in 1799-1800, but it was never built. Nor was the 1837 colossal pyramid-shaped Washington monument proposed by Peter Force, who seemed to be channeling the terrifying utopian grandeur of the visionary French architect Etienne-Louis Boullee.

Nor were any of the various pyramid schemes, or the round ziggurat, proposed by John Russell Pope (architect of the Jefferson Memorial) as a monument to Lincoln in 1911-12. In each case, the form seems desperately, even comically out of place, and yet as curator Martin Moeller argues, a pyramid is no more or less arbitrary as a Lincoln memorial than the rectangular classical temple (designed by Henry Bacon) that was ultimately finished in 1922.

BTW, Wikipedia lists some American ziggurats for your benefit:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Black is Beautiful

The phenomenon of the Black Virgin, (aka Black Madonna or Vierge Noire) has elicited a lot of speculation over the years.  I was obsessed with them at one point, and, like many obsessed people, was prone to entertaining (but not necessarily promoting) the wildest of theories, if only to keep things lively.  I now find myself wondering if perhaps the most stolid of theories are not correct.

It may be that there is no intentionality to the blackness of the Black Virgins.  It may be, in some cases, that they're not even black....

Without recapitulating my own writings on the subject, let me summarize the most common theories about the origin of Black Virgins.

For those who see intentionality, the Black Virgins may have a mystical significance, related to:
  • the nigredo phase of alchemy.  In the search for the philosopher's stone, which signified (among other things) perfection and and immortality, alchemists believed all their ingredients first had to be cleansed by rendering them into a uniform black matter....nigredo.
  • fertile earth and vicariously a powerful feminine life-force.  
  • the sin-eating function of cult objects, such as al-Aswad, the black stone found in the Kaaba in the middle of Mecca, focal point of the Muslim Hajj.  It is said to have turned black after absorbing all the sins of those who have kissed it (that's a lot of smooches!)
  • St. Bernard, a crucial figure in the development of the cult of Mary in the 12th century who promoted the virgin as a "natural" presence, not a virgin so much as a mother.  It was Bernard who first postulated that the verse in the Song of Solomon (1:5) prophesized Mary. "I am black And Beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem...." (Nigra Sum Sed Formosa).  This theory was one of my favorites.
Another theory is not so much one of intention but of pagan survival.  It is well known that many pagan shrines were transformed into Christian churches.  These theories propose that as sanctuaries to Isis or the Magna Mater were converted into churches, they retained the iconography of the previous divinity.  Thus the current Black Virgins are based on darker pagan ancestors.  Maybe an antique Isis and Horus were found in the church and mistaken for Mary and Jesus.  When this sculpture deteriorated, it was replaced by what are now considered Black Virgins.  This could easily have happened.  If I'm not mistaken, a statue of Aphrodite was found in the Daurade church following a partial collapse as late as the 17th century, long after the church had ceased to serve a pagan function.

Then there are those who propose that there is no intentionality whatsoever.  They claim that the images are dark due to the accumulation of soot from votive candles over the centuries.  Or perhaps the paint or material used for these virgins darkened with age.  The face and hands used a different paint, turned black with age, leaving the rest polychrome.  A sculpture with hands and face of pewter, for example, could easily turn black like this, selectively, if the clothing were made of other materials.  I think this is the case with a small votive bust I photographed a few years ago.

Aucamville cemetery
What is certain is that the blackness of the Virgins over time became important, even if in early documents a dark hue isn't even mentioned.  For example, I have seen Notre Dame de Sabart, which I've written about, referred to as a Black Virgin in online articles as well by authors Ean Begg and Saillens.  She is in fact darker than other Virgins in the chapel, but these other virgins are especially pale.  A coronation hymn from about 1954 refers to her as "White and pure under her veils."  Blackness doesn't seem to be important.  In another case, I recently saw a photo the so-called Black Virgin at Oust, Notre Dame du Pouech.  I don't find her to be significantly dark, even though she is referred to as a Vierge Noire by some contemporaries, as well as by Begg and Saillens.  Indeed, a sign at the chapel (below) refers to her as polychrome wood.

Notre dame de Sabart

"It shelters three polycrome wood statues from the 13th century...." including the Virgin and Child referred to as Notre Dame de Pouech

I would posit that the perception and designation of blackness of the Virgins is in many cases relatively recent.  We can find a lot of books on the topic these days, as they've become a kind of New Age/Feminist icon.  I think people latch on to shared characteristics and see a hint of brown as being significant.  A Black Virgin is a kind of bragging point, bestowing a kind af prestige.

Cases of Black Virgins being restored have caused great distresss among the faithful, who grew accustomed to and attached significance to the blackness.  There are well-documented cases where a so-called Black Virgin was in fact revealed to be polychrome after cleaning, but that didn't phase her devotees. "We want her back to black" they cried, "She's not our Virgin anymore."  See (Scheer).

To me this is yet another example of a theme explored in Elisabeth Blanc's article (my translation) on Santa Héléna.  People want something different, unique, a more personalized intermediary.  They are ready to accept something on the margins, because there is some comfort there.  This may have to do with the paradox of Christianity, an outsider religion of reformists which became the status quo and enforcer of normalcy for over a millenia.  Maybe being in the margins is somehow more Christian than being in the mainstream.

Just a few more random thoughts on the topic kicked off by coming across this old photo I found in my images.  In a fortuitous coincidence, it was in preparing this post I had sad revelation that my old website, alive for over a decade, has disappeared in a migration SNAFU.  I'll try to get those essays posted on LoS as soon as it's feasible.  Endless formatting headaches, here we come!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Once more into the breeches....

Trois Cocus War Memorial

Back when I was going pyramid crazy I ran across the monument pictured above but never posted about it----so little time, so many pyramids.  Now that I'm sluggish with fresh ideas, I'm going back to some older stuff I've been meaning to get around to.  One of these is the black pyramid in front of the neighborhood mairie in the Toulouse quarter of Trois Cocus. 

Trois Cocus means "Three Cuckolds," but the name derives from a misunderstanding.  Legend has it that some Napoleonic soldiers asked residents the name of their quarter and the people responded, "trois cocuts," meaning “three cuckoos” in Moundi, the Occitan dialect of Toulouse.  Lost in translation, the soldiers put "cocus" on their maps and the name stuck.  Funny name for a place to live, but the misunderstanding really isn't too far off.  The word cuckold has been around since the 13th century and is thought in fact to come from the word cuckoo, the female of which, in some cases, lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, thus freeing herself from having to sit on them all day.  The English words "cuckold" and "cuckoo" derive from the French "cocus" and "coucou," respectively.

Notice that the granite base, predominantly black metal body and bronze capstone give this monument a significant three layers.  Notice also (follow that "pyramid crazy" link above) that, like many pyramids in the Toulouse area, the capstone is accentuated (this is true of the so-called Temple de la Sagesse Suprême and the little fellow once found in Blagnac's principal shopping mall and the other little fellow in front of the ex-Storagetek building).  Like the Temple de la Sagesse Surprême, lighting effects are incorporated into the design; this one here is illuminated from within.  It is striking in its darkness, despite the small illuminated letters, drawing the viewer's attention not so much with its form as with the sense of absence it creates, as if a pyramid-shaped volume of air had disappeared, leaving only a void.

I also can't help but reflect upon the two flagpoles...the concept of the two freestanding pillars to demarcate sacred space, as we've flogged to death in past posts, goes back to ancient Egypt, which, given the pyramid, is not such a far stretch to imagine.  Like all war memorials in France, this is in fact a ceremonial space.  On days such as November 11th, Armistice Day, veterans, families and onlookers gather at these places to lay wreaths, give speeches and honor the dead.

I think this makes 7 pyramids I have counted so far in the Toulouse area....but only two serve as war memorials.  The other pyramid war memorial in Toulouse is in the Place de l'Europe.  I don't know the date for this one, but it's relatively modern, indicating that using the Egyptian style for funerary monuments was not abandoned after the First World War.  France and Toulouse have a long tradition of using Egyptian architectural devices on funerary monuments and structures.  One monumental obelsik is erected near the Terre Cabade cemetery, made of brick from the same "red earth" that gives the cemetery its name.  The entrance of this cemetery is flanked by two obelisks.  The obelisk appears with an almost uncountable ubiquity in monuments to the First World War.  And the obelisk is but a tapered square shaft with a pyramidion, or small pyramid, on top.

Monument aux Morts - Place de l'Europe - Toulouse

Monuments aux Morts - Stella Maris Monastery - Haifa. From Wicked Poodia, by Shmuliko
The Stella Maris Monastery in Haifa also uses a pyramid to remember French troops slaughtered there by the Turks after Napoleon's withdrawal in 1799.  Again, I'm not sure of the date, but here I find the Christian context interesting, as well as the framing of the photo, giving the impression that there are two pillars.  The Napoleonic context meshes nicely with the story of Trois Cocus.

I've written a lot on this stuff in the past, so here I've nothing to add. I've translated an article, however, that talks about the origin and controversy around the Trois Cocus memorial.

Enjoy!


Trois-Cocus. The monument of discord.

Published on 18/08/2008. By Christophe Cazal

Public Works.  The war memorial divides opinion and frustrates veterans groups.

The history of the new war memorial on the site of the Trois Cocus began in 2005. Two associations—Anciens Combattants toutes générations (War Veterans of all generations) and Victimes de Guerre des Trois Cocus (War Victims of the Trois Cocus)—requested a new war memorial. The association first wanted a traditional monument, such as the one found in the nearby neighborhood of Lalande.  Their request was refused on the grounds that such style of work "is no longer made these days."

When the project began, three designs were proposed. Bernard Chevallier, the president of the War Veterans of Trois Cocus, would have preferred a traditional monument, but accepted another: a metal pyramid with a base of granite. But the association was not satisfied with the work it considers "disappointing in the current situation." According to the association, the original project they accepted is not the same as the one completed in 2008.

A number of meetings followed with local officials and various department heads from the office of the Architect of Toulouse.  During these meetings the president of the association expressed his concerns and made requests for changes. Bernard Chevallier was gradually satisfied as the desired changes were made, but still, he said "the rust problem soils the beautiful bas-relief granite."  He added, "The locals call this monument a caganou" he says [ referring to a pyramid-shaped pastry made of caramel and crème fraîche ganache on a nougatine or chocolate base].  The association does not want this monument as it stands.

Jean-Jacques Mirassou, the city councilman responsible for war memorials, inherited the case after the municipal elections.  "This problem is the result of a lack of consultation between my predecessor and the neighborhood associations of Trois Cocus.  I have involved technical services to satisfy the demands of the associations and I will do everything possible to solve this problem," he said firmly. "I will meet Bernard Chevallier shortly after August 19," he said. Hopefully the aesthetic problem will be resolved soon.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Me. It's what's for dinner.

Menu from a local Vietnamese takeout.  Dieupentale.  Note that I am on it.

So, it's no slur.  They actually do eat dog in Vietnam:

The Associated Press reported in October 2009 that a soaring economy has led to the booming of dog restaurants in Hanoi, and that this has led to a proliferation of dognappers.

I certainly didn't know they'd be coming after me, Daurade, next!  First they came for the dogs, but I didn't speak out because I wasn't a dog.... 

Bon appetit!

11 + 11 + 11....

from Wikipedia
....Equals 33!  Everything is suddenly all so clear....

Could the two-headed eagle (uniting two as one) be the key to understanding why marriages skyrocketed on November 11th?

In China, it may be, as The WSJ reports, due to the fact that: 

The pronunciation of the numbers “11/11/11” is similar to the Chinese idiomatic expression “one life, one lifetime” ( 一生一世, yi sheng yi shi in Mandarin), which means “forever.”

Australians are "going wild" for the day as a day to tie the knotAs are Indians.

And what would a conspiracy theory be without pyramids?

To whit:

....Egypt will close the Great Pyramid of Giza to avoid any rituals by a group rumoured to have plans to mark 11/11/11.

The decision came "after much pressure" from Egyptian Internet users saying strange rituals were going to be held "within the walls of the pyramid on November 11, 2011," said Atef Abu Zahab, head of the Department of Pharaonic Archaeology.

You may recall we lambasted one Pierre Dortiguier back in May for misreading the significance of the missing panel of the Temple de la Sagesse Supreme in Blagnac.  There were 12 of these panels before one went missing, but Dortiguier didn't know that and was off to the races, claiming the 11 was in fact a Masonic mockery of the 10 Commandments.  Hmmm.  The Blagnac Temple is a pyramid.  The number 11 is involved.  And now, on 11.11.11, the Pyramids were shut down to prevent strange rites from being performed there, you know, as if in....a temple.

Which brings us back to those marriagesWhat are they but strange rites performed in a temple?

I wink, then squint, and see the universe winking back.  I open my eyes wide and....it's the 12th of November all over again.  Next year on this day I suppose the apostles will crash my house for supper....

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Kick off your Sunday shoes....

Another human foot has been found floating in British Columbia!  The first article I read says it's the 9th but others claim the 12th.  I think by our count this would be 12....

The difference here is that a) it's the first freshwater find (Sasamat Lake) and b) it's the first one not found in a running shoe but in a hiking boot.

As with the others, authorities are perplexed but not considering it foul play.

Anyway, the article with which I discovered the story is here, but a much better one can be found in the Daily Mail (UK):

But still, authorities say the foot was separated from the rest of its body by natural causes and not a violent means.

Stephen Fonseca of the BC Coroners Service said: 'It would be very difficult for anybody to separate a body without leaving small impressions, little nicks on the bones.'

Mr Fonseca said that the previous cases have suggested that they are not dealing with a ruthless serial killer or another nefarious possibility.

He added: 'The information we’ve got from that would suggest we’re not dealing with anything suspicious.'

But, as we've asked before, why are there so many here, and why now?