Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Who will remember the least among us

The man alluded to below once lived and breathed and walked and rollerskated the lengths of Santa Barbara's State Street and along the city's shoreline walkways and bike paths. He smiled his nearly toothless grin at everyone he encountered. There was no missing him or leaving his presence unaffected by the sheer force of his palatable bliss.

He meant it.

I never knew him but for the thousand times I saw him winging his way about town, infecting everyone who encountered him with a momentary lightness. Such people are so necessary. I only knew him by the name in the title. This then for him, and all the others like him who make this world inhabitable.

Jonesy In Red

Who will remember the least among us, not to mention
those of us who each day dressed in red tights and yellow
shoes, crowned ourselves with sprigs of heady laurels wreathed
in careless twists of whatever flowers the day emplaced there?

Who will remember the invisible of us who purposely lost the compass in our souls so that we might happily wander the crowded avenues of a tender madness that beckoned from dim lit thresholds, tethered restless trains that held the rail for our dear departures into trackless territories that asked of us only a broadworn smile as passage enough?

And who will look deeply into our ageless eyes, past the
frost thin hair and the rootless teeth, peer into the places we
surrendered to wonder all we tried in vain to make sense of?

I remember you, Jonesy, you who flitted the sidewalks costumed so, bejeweled and glistened with handfuls of gleam scattered like seedburst to coax smiles from ensuddened grimaces that crossed your fritillary path, the eighty-plus years that arrived you at this selfless avocation with nothing more than a whimsical message of contagious joy.

Who will remember the least among us?

For as long as I’m able, I will.
I will.

Joseph Gallo
December 19, 2004

Monday, February 14, 2005

One chemical crossroad after another

Love is one chemical crossroad after another. ~Aucassin Verdé

How Do I Love Thee?

Let me count the ways.

I love thee in the filigree of angels’ wings, the porcelain cracks
of heaven still visible in their blemished patinas between the roseate figures blushing in the palm prints on your fine derriere.

I love thee on the stairs, naked in half-light, thy delicate panties
pulled to one side for the envelope of penetration to ensconce
its lilied prize, unconcerned with open windows or passing neighbors.

I love thee in the infinite patterns of our relationship, the dropped
stitches of its never-ending handiwork, the needled point after point looping along like a circular zipper closing an open need over and over.

I love thee in the hollows of motel walls, the muffled yowl of faceless pillows at the moment of absolute truth, when Caesar stands firm in the box to raise an imperial thumb, forsaken lions and sated Christians strewn about the dying linen.

I love thee in the sidewise glance of another woman, the subtexture of lips opened just so, the lingered trace of a trailing finger down an unbuttoned blouse, or the slipping sweat of an iced-trickled glass pooling buckets of pure intent across a gleaming table.

How I do love thee.

I love thee in the hours of our absence, the candless bleeding of midnight ink aweep on sheets of coarse paper, the kissless ache of days unheld, unknown in the Leviticus sense of deified love, rapeless in the withheld hand of a common word.

I love thee in the nag of chores yet undone, the misspent efforts of achievement and lassitude, sleep and a siren couch, the happy enticement of afternoons when yards summon labor, errands command obedience, lists lie unchecked on clean countertops.

I love thee in the savor of evening scents, desert sage mixed with the sear of chicken and barbecued beans, the sawing slice of shepherd’s bread and shuck-buttered corn, the fragrance of your hurried skin as you pass from table to stove to nightfall’s dessert.

And I love thee in the quiet eaves of summer storms, the blue flash of simmered eyes as distant fire erupts along the flat black horizon with skydrums and thunderskins, the sound rolling over us in the warm air as we huddle in the cool cleave of our stillness.

Joseph Gallo
January 2002

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Merrily into hencity we go

A comment posted by my friend Joni in the previous entry stirred an ancient memory. It's something I haven't thought about for several several years. It never crossed my mind when I was in Amsterdam in 2002, even while visiting Holland's homage to its native son.

I have a confession to make.

Sometime during the mid-70's, I visited the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. The Norton is home to Auguste Rodin's anguished sculpture, The Burghers Of Calais, which stood in bleak congress outside the entrance back then. (The Norton also houses Rodin's ruminatingly timeless, The Thinker [made famouser as the opening setpiece for the late 50's hit TV show The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis]; the sun-worshipping St. John The Baptist; and the imposing Monument To Balzac).

I lived in Pasadena in those days, smack on the city border with Altadena, which, as the name implies, is above all other Dena's, perched atop the base of the broad alluvial fan of the San Gabriel Mountains. There was a traveling exhibit of Goya's private drawings that drew my interest. The Norton was going to have them for only a limited time, so I drove the three miles down to Colorado Boulevard to see them in the opening week.

I'd read an newspaper article about his controversial drawings of madmen, prostitutes, the politically cartoonish nature of some, and the fully-rendered study of others. The article spurred me to set my guitar down for a few hours to absorb some real Spanish culture. Even though I'd passed it hundreds of times, it was my first actual visit to The Norton. (My good friend, Bill, and me always say the word Norton with a Gleasonesque squonk, imitating the way Jackie yelled his television buddy's name: Nawh-ton!)

After viewing the Goyas, I explored the rest of the museum at a leisurely pace. Lots of art. Degas, Cézanne, Brueghel, the Elder, Bonnard, Daumier, Arbus, Duchamps, and that's just some of the A through D's. I remember feeling the atmosphere of The Norton was somewhat antiseptic, smelling of flourescented floor wax, not at all warm or embracing.

It might have been that the prestigious Norton was unfairly crashing against my decidedly Bohemian 70's-lifestyle of long hippie hair, devastatingly potent foreign-grown pot, and the overall blend of wooden book crates beanbagged within a knotty soundtrack of folk and rock music. In those days, I thrived far more wholesomely in the smoky strata of natural, earthy environments than in the ultra-clean, glossy-polished sterility found in the exhibition rooms of an art museum. Duh.

Meanwhile, back at The Norton, there I was meandering through the museum, most likely settling into the backstretch of a doobie-enhanced viewing experience, when I came across a nice little unassuming painting of sunflowers. Of course, they were anything but sunflowers. They were Vincent's Sunflowers.

Van Gogh painted a total of eleven pictures of sunflowers, so I'm not certain which of them was hanging at The Norton that afternoon. If you click on the sunflowers link, I can tell you it was not any of the four darker, wilted Parisian blossoms. But if I had to guess, with someone holding a loaded sunflower to my head, I would guess it was either the
Vase With Fifteen Sunflowers currently in Tokyo, or the Vase With Twelve Sunflowers currently in Philadelphia. And if I had to flip a coin, heads being Japan, tails being Pennsylvania, I'd say tails. (The Norton could easily answer this question, but if I were to ask them to do so, I may risk arrest).

I stood lost in his Sunflowers. I could smell them. I could hear country life in Arles coming from outside of the window in the light that passed through it to gatherly caress them. I could feel the ambient temperature of his quiet room, the door complain when the banshee Mistral howls. I could feel a yellow hunger in the pit of my stomach. Of course I could. I was still high.

It had not a thing to do with my having read Irving Stone's highly popular
Lust For Life some years before, because I was monolithically transfixed by the thought that here before me was something that Vincent Van Gogh himself touched with his own living hands, labored over, drank bad coffee in front of, and routinely placed upon his very own clackety easel.

Thus, in the spirit of it being good for the soul and all that rot, I hereby tender my confession: As I was completely alone in this section of the gallery, I folded my arms before me and leaned in for a closer examination. I studied the pigmented furrows that gave eternal life to the head-weary stalks, the braided rows of paint that conferred the illusion of arc to the vase, the goldenfired dragon-tongues of glazened ochre that made up the lapping petals, the variances in the distended areolas at the center of each blossom.

I traced his blood-dried signature with my eyes, imagined him carefully forming each letter of his singular name, noticed it was the same color he chose to outline the vase with. The minty green wall in the background offered even more hidden treasures of light and shadow; minute textural changes that presented the flowers boldly to the viewer, but without pushing them crudely into the face. I leaned in even closer to praise the brushwork that gave depth to the table, savored how he applied the subtle lacings of color combined to make it solid and vaseworthy.

And with my arms still folded in front of my chest, I turned to look to both sides of me. No one. Not a patron, not a guard, not a camera, not a soul. Just Vincent and me. I musingly put my right hand up to my mouth and sat my gaze into a tiny area of the table located at the far right bottom corner. I was but an inch or two away. I slowly and deliberately leaned forward, now centimeters from canvas, and gingerly extended my pinky finger toward some honeyed ridges of golden paint that comprised an inconsequential point on that table beneath that vase.

I touched it.

I noticed my breathing had ceased and quickly leaned back, imagining that if anyone had seen me surely they would think I had satisfied some deep scholarly curiosity and, finding everything in order, simply withdrawn. But I had just engaged in a criminal act. I touched something that Vincent himself had touched. My heart raced. I was an instant art thief.

Except for when I visited the Van Gogh Museum, whenever I see a picture of Vincent's flowers, which, until Joni jarred loose the recollection, hadn't been for quite some time, I think of that afternoon at The Norton. I think about the fact that my own DNA is permanently lodged on the surface of some unremarkable yellow pigment in the form of skin oil that oozes with biological regularity from my fingertips.

My DNA on a Van Gogh.
Together into hencity we merrily go .

When the aliens come to salvage whatever is left after we obliterate ourselves with the horrendously realized machinations of our far-too-clever-for-our-own-good brains, they may possess the means by which to genetically reconstitute all the great painters, composers, artists, pyramidicists, and common laborers from what ever scraps of their handiwork might survive.

And when they dip a common little painting of sunflowers into their prime resurrection solution and both Vincent and Joseph pop out onto the luminous petrie dais, they may well scratch their oblong cranial braincases with one or more of their tendrilous suction-cupped appendages and raise whatever passes for an eyebrow in some far-futured eon to come.

So I touched a Van Gogh.

This confession does not make me feel better.
It makes me feel wonderful.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

As we blaze steadily into oblivion

I can hardly think of it now without being overrun by them. They swirl about me in a black vortex of wingwaves, tearing the fabric of an inner sky. They burst forth from out of the middle of my chest to give the void of twilight its place and texture. Here is the beauty of loneliness set to color and canvas, the blissful tragedy of being human rendered in the overbearing need to express it.

In September of 2002, I left the Rijksmuseum passing beneath the domed arches of its red-bricked underbelly where pedestrians, cyclists, motorscooters, and small service vehicles pass through from one side to the other in a constant flux of human tideswell. One has to be mindful of walking across these various designated lanes and divisions or accidental collisions are unavoidable. Hence, the air is filled with the perpetual ringing of bicycle bells as tourists lose themselves in the grandeur of old Amsterdam, mindlessly backing up directly into lanes while trying to frame yet another uninspired, badly-framed photograph.

Emerging from the west side before a large reflecting pool, I crossed the seated path of a group of Mongolian throat singers colorfully attired in their cultural traditional garb. This was an odd sight. Mongolians in Holland. I reminded myself that I was in Europe. There was immediate relief in this reminder. It's why I love Europe so.

I listened to them a short while, the mysterious sounds of their uvular language, tried to imagine what it might mean, allowing the strange music to tell me enchanted stories of desolate love in a desolate terrain. I moved past them a short distance, turning around to see them set against the background of the Rijksmuseum, their bows slowly pistoning across the strings of their instruments, imprinting an indelible image in my memory. As I approached the far end of the reflecting pool, I could see the famous golden lyre-crowned Concertgebouw across the green buffer of communal parkland. Here the world's great musicians have performed in every style from classical to jazz to rock.

As I continued, the building I was seeking came into view. Gray, blue, there. I had one hour to spend with Vincent before I had to meet people for lunch. The Van Gogh Museum is the prime feather in the cap of Holland. That a poor, rough-hewn, grit-ruddied Dutch painter who made all of his paintings during a 10-year mania of compulsive purpose should be the reason for its existence is beyond imagination. But once inside, there is no doubt.

I stood briefly in line to obtain the necessary entrance tickets knowing that what lie just beyond the doors would stun me. Here the best Van Gogh collection in the world rightly resides. Once inside, I knew I would have to hurry to see it all, to climb the stairs and pass down the many hallways into the labyrinth of the scattered collection.

When I visited in 2002, the museum was already promoting and preparing for the following year's sesquicentennial of the birth of Van Gogh. There was an extensive exhibit of his many personal letters to his brother, Theo, without whom Vincent would never have had the financial wherewithal to continue his painting.

The art lovers of the world owe Theo's wife, Johanna, a great debt of gratitude. For it was she who ensured that Vincent's legacy would be enjoyed after both he and his brother died within six months of each other, Vincent from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Theo, supposedly from a broken heart. It was Johanna who gathered as many of Vincent's paintings as she could and saw to it that they were kept safe. Somehow, she must have known their true artistic value and had the foresight and vision to see that the world would one day agree with her.

Through the labyrinth I moved, down into the subsections of the museum to see his letters. I wanted to save the paintings for last. I could see them upstairs as I passed through the main floor, hanging in frames just beyond the backs of the many tourists who shuffled before them. I wanted the people to all to disappear. I wanted Vincent alone. I was supremely selfish after my private audience with Vermeer's Milkmaid. I was unrepentant in this attitude.

The hour seemed to race by as if time's steady governors were removed from the clock. Upstairs now, I moved behind and among the throng of gallery visitors, pausing before his many portraits, his sunflowers, his trees and landscapes, tender scenes of Dutch life, French life, Belgian life, fields adorned in the tapestries of farming crops and harvest furrows, bridges arcing gracefully over streams and rivers, recognizable images, and many I'd never before seen.

Then, with about ten minutes left before I had to regretfully leave, I strolled over toward a northerly wall corner. Something there attracted a tight gaggle of lookers. I caught a glint of color. I knew what it was. I walked slowly, with unhurried purpose, the same way I'd walked toward the rim of the Grand Canyon the first time I visited there, so that the panorama would unfold gradually before me. I know the intrinsic power of such things. And I revere them with awe and a sacredness that delves into the stuff that makes me who I am.

I made it to the middle of the room and heard myself gasp. I tried to stifle it. I couldn't. I didn't care. I was overcome. I might never again stand here and I didn't care if people saw me openly weep. Without breaking my slow, unensuddened stride, the burning blue sky opened before me as the lookers, as if on cue, moved off to the right to produce an unobstructed view of Wheatfield With Crows.

There was something about seeing the real thing that broke my heart right there on the museum floor, flooding uncontrollably from my eyes. People turned to look at me. I was aware of them, but didn't care. For several moments it was mine alone.

They were the crows of his approaching madness. They were the serrated dreams for something that summons from beyond the unfathomable beauty of this world lifting themselves into the deep twilight. It was black hope emanating from golden promise. There was serenity in the angled spikes of screamless wheat. In the heart of the canvas, amid the blood-rust foreground, arise the green ruts of a well-traveled belief that something outside of us endures to matter in the textured silence of wind through field and feather.

I understood everything. I understood nothing. I stood. I wept. The light at the faraway edge of that sullen field, delicate and decidedly dusklorn, whispers tomorrow in spite of all the tragedy to come.
It was time to leave. I backed away just as slowly and turned for the stairs that led down to the exit. I had several blocks to compose myself before meeting my companions for lunch. The last thing I wanted to do was to have to share this, explain anything to anyone who most likely would not get it. Besides, one cannot share such sacred things with just anybody.

Too many of us lack any true sense of the brevity with which we move upon this blue globe. We wander without meaning, lacking the unquenchable yearning that makes it all so perfect as we wheel chaotically beneath the dizzy business of living under the endless, tragic stars. But for those of us who believe we are but creatures of a dimming solar wind, that our light will one day be extinguished, who know and honor that we share this kindred fate of our luminous star brothers and sisters who blaze themselves steadily into oblivion, it could not be any other way.

Nor would we want it to be.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Communion in common things

Tonight I watched several scenes from the film, Girl With A Pearl Earring. I wept. Natural Netherland light; the sound of objects moved with purpose in a quiet room; the harsh simplicity of living four hundred years ago. Yes, I wept. I wept in the recollection of my visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. They have a Vermeer there. A famous one.

Girl With A Pearl Earring is kept and displayed at Mauritshuis, in Den Haag, the Netherlands. It was painted by Johannes Vermeer between 1660 and 1665 and is but 19" x 16" in size. It is rather small for such a revered and now re-popularized painting. Such large emotions pour out of such small sources. In my readings about the history of the work, I came across a website that contained the following exact words: This painting doesn't have a deeper meaning, as far as we know.

No deeper meaning.

A stream that runs alone in some undiscovered wood has no deeper meaning either, unless you consider its source and its ultimate destination. That a man, a painter, spent some hours of his brief life procuring a young model's, and his own, place in history is deeper enough. The model is believed by some to be Vermeer's daughter, Maria. Others dispute this, citing a discrepency between the girl's age and the probable date the painting was rendered.

This painting is also believed by some to have been facilitated by the aided use of a camera obscura. There are several technical reasons for this theory, which I will not go into here, suffice it to say that it does not lessen the impact of the work in any manner and, therefore, but for some scholarly historical point of interest, matters not.

I think instead of the sacrifice an artist makes when he opts for the rich and expensive ultramarine pigment made from crushed lapis lazuli so that the blue blesses the beholding in a divine caress. Her eyes are moonly orbs bursting with luminescence that would peer into the very soul of the world. Her mouth, parted by the cherried season of her blossomed youth, the pink glisten in the left corner reflecting a wet spill of pale windowlight, remains undefiled by promises made four centuries ago. She knows everything about us. And we know nothing of her.

As I mentioned before, I visited the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 2002. It was my first trip to Europe. I was 49. It is a daunting place. Bigger than I imagined, packed with floors and rooms and stairs and the opulent loot of the centuries that more than adequately fill them. I had but a scant hour, or so, to gather whatever might stick to my bumbled graspers in a hapless pollen to be archived in braincells of honeyed memory.

So I gawked at Rembrandt's colossal, The Night Watch, like everyone does, listening to the docent's patented spiel, overwhelmed by the sheer size of the dark thing. It is remarkable, to be sure, with its blazingly lit figures afire in the foreground, every head nearly the same size as every other regardless of their perspective position in the scene. It was an affectation of the times that each person in a painting be made equally visible and recognizable, what with the advent of the camera and European Idol still a long, long way off.

Quickly ambling and meandering my way past gaudy furniture pieces, oddly shaped urns and vases, ornate lamps and tapestries, silverware and table settings, I somehow found my way into a small, rectangular room. At the far end, on a wall on the left side near the door, which led somehow back out into the grand room that contained the flagship Rembrandt, hung a quite small, but instantly recognizable piece.

It was Vermeer's, The Milkmaid. I approached transfixed. It's something in the light that immobilizes. It has valence and scent. Andrew Wyeth does the same thing to me. I am neutralized as if by some photon neurotoxin of envenomated beauty. I drew an audible breath. Thankfully, the morning room suddenly emptied and I was alone. I stood before her, an arrested complication of emotions straining to pour out of a simple pitcher in a milky undercurrent of awe and overwhelming. She was beautiful. Crossing my arms, I put my hand to my mouth. I whispered hello to her. I cherished her.

She was small, just 17 7/8" x 16", but her delicate grace was immeasurable. Simple upon simple. Nothing more important than pouring milk as if it were the very essence of her universe. It is. And for those few moments, it was mine, too. In angel ochre, terra cotta, rich lactate pearl and resurrection blue, I was crucified by her contentment.

As I have done many times with his painting The Lacemaker, of which I own a print, I listened to her. For several moments I tried to drink in all she might divulge in the few minutes I had left for our visit. She didn't disappoint. The fragile plurp of trickling liquid being revesseled in a still room told me that such thirsts thrived then as they do now. There were baskets to bread, bowls to refruit, windows to let birdsong drift through, floors from which to sweep the quiet measures of her chores. There was more than I had ears for.

There was sensual continuity between us. We were bound to one another across the gulf of our stilled senses as we communed in the common things that make life rich in the gathering of such moments. Her flesh incandesced from within. I wanted to kiss the backs of her hands, smooth her limbs with a cousinly caress, hum a fabric of loving psalm that I might slip it onto the empty nail above her saintly tilted head.

In this manner we held each other in a slow dance of light and quiet and unhurried embrace until a group of tourists clamored into the room. I turned from her as if in prayer, smiled one last time, stepped slowly out into the grand room past the cluttered and crowd-choked Nightwatch, spilled down some stairs and out into the busy, gray Amsterdam morning. I was as happy as milk.

And I was well cupped for what was to come as I headed for the Van Gogh Museum, which is located just down the straat from the Rijksmuseum. I had no real idea what lay ahead. There are crows in a wheat field that would scatter to emotionally exsanguinate me. But more on that tomorrow.

What no one knows better than we

Today is my dear friend Joni's birthday. She's 40. Family and friends surprised her yesterday with an impromptu party at her work with all the fixins, including her two darling children. The scene, as I imagine it, makes me smile beyond the fleshy frames of my unshaven cheeks.

For some reason, I have not had many birthday parties in my life, per se. As a matter of fact, I remember the last one was when I, too, turned 40. My dear friend Abigail painstakingly arranged to have several friends celebrate the occasion at her then home in Carpinteria, California. It was a joyful evening. I felt not too uncomfortable that everyone in attendance was there to honor me, to offer birthday wishes, and to spend a few hours of their lifetime making me matter.

If I recall correctly, and I may not be, Abby had made my grandmother's recipe chicken molé from scratch. Abby is Jewish and the only woman who can make molé exactly the way my grandmother did. Not even my own mother can approximate it as perfectly. And I remember I was bandaged in a sling with a shattered left scapula and three broken ribs that had happened a week before while playing second base in a softball game where a lunkheaded teammate collided into me from behind as I called and caught a fly ball with my arm outstretched into the blue sky.

Thus, there at my birthday party among my many friends, I felt as if I'd been hit not only by a hack of athletic incompetency, but also by the speeding Mack of middle age. As in truck. How naive it seems to me today. I would not know the true measure of a metaphorical truck bearing mercilessly down on me until one actually hit me the day I turned 50. That was two years ago. And 40 was twelve years ago. I guess the trucks continue to get bigger as you go along. Good information.

So, Happy Birthday, Joni! Don't be afraid to play on that highway. At your age, the trucks bounce harmlessly off. Hold your place and steer wildly across the lanes. You've got at least another ten years before you have to start thinking about writing down license plate numbers. And by then it won't matter. They move so fast you won't even get a partial. Don't worry about it. Dance in the fast lane and all that.

I don't know what any of this has to do with what follows below, but it's the first poem I wrote here in Oregon after moving from Santa Barbara. Whatever echoes wash sympathetically back from these ricochets of memory, let them resound as they will. Every day is a birth day. No one knows that better than we do.

How Empires Are Born

Already the sugarwasps are building a paper petal home between the windshield and the wiper. This is how empires are born. No matter the brevity of overnight parking, that the vehicle will be moved by morning. Promise always looks plausible in late summer sun.

I suppose this is an omen of good luck. That they would entrust the nurture of their young to an implied stability, a sense of domestic grace conferred by such settling, is quite touching. But all of this comes to me too late as I think only of saving them time by turning on the wiper and destroying half a morning’s work. I’ve had it done to me.

Experience is an unfavoring taskmaster. Had my poet’s eye seen the tiny beauty of this empiring, I would have given them the rest of the morning to labor in hope. Then, when the time came, driven off into the errands of my ways and let the wind take them home as it always does. But this wind is foreign to me.

My heart is yet in its unseeness, somewhere between there and here. Perhaps it was those sugarwasp’s very business to set about building a loving paper home for it, a place it might write itself into the tiny history of its windthrown empire.

Joseph Gallo
September 3, 2004

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A lamentable broth of damnable kettlings

Today is Aschermittwoch (Ash Wednesday) in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. Those with the proper affiliation credentials have their foreheads smudged with the ashen splotch that signifies they've complied with the religious tenets of their beliefs.

Using the kept ash of palm fronds burned on the previous year's Palmsonntig (Palm Sunday), the believer kneels before the priest as he makes the sign of the cross, dabs palm ash upon their forehead and says, From the dust you came forth, and to dust shall you return. Lent officially begins today with all the previous week's indulgences foresworn as the time of fasting and cleansing commences.

Last night was the infamous Monztercorso wherein all the KUF groups, Güggenmusig bands, civic clubs, the rogue independents, the zany fringe characters parade down the Luzern Bahnhofstrasse, across the Seebrücke to Schwanenplatz, along the Schweizerhofquai to Töpferstrasse, back down Hertensteinstrasse through Falkenplatz, surging down the final stretch on Löwengraben toward the endpoint in the crowd-choked Mühlenplatz where everyone just goes bonkers.

The music is one big monzterous voice emanating from the maw of the raucous finale as every Güggenmusig band that will fit joins forces to shatter the very stars with the proclamation that Fasnacht has drawn to a close. The air is charged with the scent of the many traditional foods, beery cheers, smoky fireworks, incense, tobacco, revelry, romance, and the happy wickedness of every sated being in attendance. In this manner is the Devil thusly driven out for another year, although his cloven hoofs can't be heard clopping away down the darkened cobblestones for all the riotous clamoring.

Karneval is over. Interestingly, the word carne + vale translates into meat, probably lives. Indeed. Meat probably lives. Another literal definition in the Latin vein is carne = meat + levare = to remove or raise. Hence, we have the meat removal contingent, or the meat raisers alliance. I prefer the latter in that it infers the meat raising of resurrection. Go figure.

Of course, carnevale found its origins in the roots of such historically proud ventures as the Roman Bacchanalia, Saturnalia, and the Lupercalia, all richly steeped in the frightfully colorful traditions of pagan superstition and European folklore. As the Roman Catholic Church was unable to stamp out these most nigglesome rituals, they were finally forced to accept many of these crude pantheistic galabrations by morphing them into the present day church rexicon.

Thus, from out of this quaint plethora of parades, pageants, and masquerades, emerged the medieval church-influenced, Feast of Fools, which included a mock Mass and a raucously blasphemous impersonation of the divinely incorruptible church officials. Not willing to have itself made fun of for too long, the will and power of the Church eventually manifested itself and carnevale was gingerly relieved of its most offending elements.

The Church continued to quash and relieve by such clever marketing strategies as the acclaimed Crusades, the held-over-by-popular-demand Inquisition, and the highly illuminating, well-attended witch burnings. By dominating, domineering, and domino-ing the traditional structures of the various carnivals, each became directly related to the coming of Lent. A rather nice trick, all in all. Well done!

But, alas, I progress. I had no idea this was going to turn into a history lesson marinaded in the bitter herbs of seasonings past mixed with my own lamentable broth of damnable kettlings. If thine blog offend thee, click it out! one might say.

So happy Aschermittwoch to all my friends and family in Switzerland, and know I am there in cyberspirit with you, side by side, in need of a damp terricloth towel to remove the stain on my forehead so I won't ruin my freshly laundered pillowcases. They don't have such luxuries as comfy pillows in Hell, I know, but I hear they keep the rooms nice and warm. Surely the buffet, one can safely surmise, is top notch with its ever-revolving, slow-roasting spits perennially loaded with freshly skewered meat, probably living.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Every corruptible being, every contaminated soul

Today is Güdiszischtig (Good Tuesday). Known here as Mardis Gras, or Fat Tuesday, it is the final day of indulging in every vice and sin known to every corruptible being that carries the unnecessary worry of whether or not it's going to Heaven or Hell. I don't worry about such things. I worry more if my right knee will allow me to play tennis tomorrow night and what time should I go to the gym today. Oh, and what I'm going to make myself for dinner.

Fasnacht 2005 officially ends at dawn tomorrow morning, when the daylong-plus recovery begins for every contaminated soul who has been partying since dawn last Thursday. Godspeed to you. Two years ago I called it quits in time to catch the last shuttle back up to Nicole's apartment in Kriens, while she stayed on to make her final farewells to her then Fasnacht group, Rätsch-Häxe (Prattling Witches). I was simply tired (jet-lag still had its North American grip on me), bone cold, and unable to continue 'til sunrise. And I don't even drink alcohol. What a wimp.

We had sung and swayed, over and over, to a song by German music star, Udo Jürgens, called Griechischer Wein: a bittersweet, up-tempo song with moody regret-tinged lyrics about Greek wine and memories of love and days long past. It was a huge hit in Europe and remains a kitschy schläger classic even to this day.

Rätsch-Häxe had adopted the song as their Weinmarkt theme song and, I swear, everyone who wandered into its spell was immediately overcome with the need to join the dance line and sing along. It was terribly cathartic. I intuited what the words meant as they were already imprinting themselves into me the knowledge that I, too, would one day miss the woman I love and have only these memories by which to summon her into my heart.

Anyway, after being a member of Rätsch-Häxe for six years, Nicole had decided it was time to move on and create something new for Fasnacht. She and two other women members, Petra and Evelyn, formed Amphoria, which then merged with an already existing KUF group called Fangoria. They became Amphoria-Fangoria.

So it was at dawn she returned, tired and cold, looking beautiful in spite of her weary eyes and her drained akkus (batteries). She showered and slipped into our drachenbet and snuggled sweetly into sleep. We spent the day resting until mid-afternoon when we went to feed and ride her horse, Laurie. We would leave for her uncle's chalet in Ulrichen, up among the pristine Swiss Alps, the following afternoon for two utterly romantic days. Sigh.

Tonight, Güdiszischtig, revelers everywhere in the city are making their last stabs at karneval, but nowhere more earnestly than in the Old Town section. In Weinmarkt, the KUF groups are making their final stands, toasting the slow passing of another successful Fasnacht, while the Güggenmusig bands are nearly breaking windows with their brassy sonic hornblasts.

It has been fun watching from half a world away, from the comfort of my room, all the fond memories flooding back in images that will remain with me dearly for the rest of my life.

I hope to be there next year, to don my Drachenwächter costume once again and experience the rich tradition of what I believe is the best carnival on the planet. Nowhere else are the costumes and floats more creatively varied, more perfectly crafted and executed, more infused with the ancient blood of their honored Celtic ancestors than in Fasnacht Luzern.

Thanks for taking the time to take a peek via the FasnachtsPower webcams, when they were working properly, and for allowing me to prop open a small window to this excellent festival. And thank you Luzern, for another fabulous foray into your rich and beautiful culture. Sali & Adieu, Fasnacht. See you all again next year!

And to Nicole:
I hope your week was exceptionally wonderful.

Rüüdige Schöni Fasnacht!!!

Monday, February 07, 2005

Cussing badly in swiss

Webkam Kaput ! ! !

Well, there I was, happily sitting up all night in front of my computer screen waiting for the grand Güdismantig parade for Fasnacht 2005 to begin after cleaning the residual mess in my kitchen from all the food I'd made for our Super Bowl tacobar extravaganza party thingy.

Merrily scanning the streetscene excitement visible in the gathering crowd in the form of fireworks and smokebombs, kids running around as if standing still would cause them to implode in place, vans with bullhorns attached to their roofs slowly creating the boundary of the route where they wanted spectators to hold fast to so that the floats and bands could safely pass through, I settled in with a deep breath for a long multi-tasking sit.

It finally commenced around 3pm Luzern time with the first horse-drawn floats being met with hardy waving and rousing applause. Then the big guns started coming into view, looming larger as they appeared from the east end of Schweizerhofquai. The webcam had been artfully repositioned and the whole parade was going to pass perfectly in view, face front and exquisitely detailed with help from the clear contrast provided by the plentiful sunshine.

I laughed and shook my head at the throngs of Fötzeligwändli, folk dressed in what amounts to gaudy, clown-ruffled body-bags that are worn over street clothes with a zipper on the back. You simply step into it and voila!: instant refried Fasnacht costume. One sees these unimaginative, generic, hideous monstrosities everywhere. They are regarded by those who painstakingly hand-craft their own costumes anew each year, according to the theme they've decided on, as lazy Fasnacht hicks. I can see why.

So, there I was gleefully taking screen shots from the Schwanenplatz webcam, anticipating the time when Nicole's group, Amphoria-Fangoria, would appear within range wearing the ornate hippo grende as she descibed to me, when the camera . . . stopped . . . responding . . . 404 internal error blahblahblah; Forbidden access to server blahblahblah . . . scheisse!!!

Once again, here's what's posted on the site this morning, in the gacky-tacky English translation, of course:

Report: Our Webcam at the swan place ran to around 14:38 on one of the fastest servers in Switzerland with a GB glass fiber binding. Unfortunately this server could not indicate also sufficient chamfering at night power around the pictures. We had 100 MT data traffic per second and over 10,000 requests von Besuchern. We were to be switched off again forced by the Webcam. The Webcam at Schwanenplatz remains now to end of chamfering night, off-line. On the chamfering night 2006 we will find a solution, which sufficient range capacity will exhibit. Please select in place of our Webcam at the swan place the live-stream left from the SF DRS.

Qua? What that means is that the best camera they have is down for the rest of Fasnacht 2005. Now, only the small, poor resolution Weinmarkt, the finicky-now-unstreaming Kapellplatz, and the static Rathaustreppe cams are left. Bummer. And I didn't get to see Amphoria-Fangoria, didn't get a chance to try and ferret out which masked figure was Nicole and get a webshot and and and Goptverdammte huere shissdräck verpiss di kamera Arschloch Hueresohn Kopfschmertzen Schlampae arschfiecher wichser fleischpeitsche mutterfügger mit em brombeeri am uspuff !

There. I feel better now. Cussing badly in Swiss always seems to effectively remove the bad juju from my brittle constitution. So here are a few more webshots I grabbed before Swissipus gouged his eyes out with inadequate technology. I apologize for the generally poor quality of the images, but it's directly from the camera located atop the roof of Hotel Schweizerhof. And it's better than nuthin'. Enjoy. I'm gonna go sulk for awhile.