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Art has a few more uses than filling up the blank spot on the wall behind the couch you know.  It can be used to promote propaganda, incite a revolution, convey a philosophical/spiritual message, sew discord or dissonance or more prosaically just inhabit the bottom of the cat box in the case of Julian whatsisname who is much given to pickling sheep in vats [dead ones I very much hope].  Although how you get a dead sheep in a cat box is another matter entirely and is possibly something to do with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and/or quantum mechanics.  But I digress.  What I really wanted to discuss was alchemy which of course was clear from the start.  And what exactly does alchemy have to do with art you ask?  Well the answer is much because artists have always had an interest in the occult.  Artists of the Italian Renaissance period in fact took great delight in embedding strange symbols and hieroglyphics into their art works only decipherable by dusty professors with magnifying glasses, the editors of Halls Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art and Dan Brown.  And Dan Brown has made a zillion dollars for himself much to the dismay of the authors of the ‘Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’ who objected to him – allegedly ahem – pinching all their good bits and making it into a worldwide bestseller which also happily is destined to keep Tom Hanks in work possibly forever.

There is no doubt that Leonardo’s  ‘Vitruvian Man’,  which was heavily featured by Dan,  does contain arcane symbolism that was quite intentionally put there.  The man in the middle demonstrates not only the golden mean of perfect proportion that so interested the ancient Greeks but is placed within a circle which in turn is placed within a square.  This mathematical impossibility was one of three problems that occupied a lot of ancient Greek time i.e. squaring the circle, doubling the cube and trisecting an angle.  Oh and getting drunk and naked in the bushes at the Bacchanalia but that is a topic for another blog.  One of the first mathematicians to tackle the problem of squaring the circle was another ancient Greek, Anaxagoras, who was also a philosopher and [ drum roll ] an alchemist…  Now quite how all this points us towards mad monks and the riddle of the Holy Grail is not quite so clear.  Dan Brown – and the authors of the ‘Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’,  make the case that Jesus [the Vitruvian Man?] was not crucified after all but was spirited away in some devious plot perpetrated by a mysterious order – maybe the Knights Templar who were akin in them days to the SAS but with niftier uniforms and more religion.  And what is more, he [Jesus] was then free to marry Mary Magdalene [the actual Holy Grail of legend] so that they could perpetuate the bloodline and pass it down via the Merovingian Kings, the Templars, the Illuminati and probably the Masons who no doubt were in there somewhere.

Another example of alchemical symbolism appearing in art is in the ‘Adam and Eve’ by Albrecht Durer [1504] which clearly demonstrates an interest in the four humours i.e. black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood [yuk] – fire, water, earth and air – which in turn correspond to the four temperaments, melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic  and choleric – and the four elements, fire, earth, air and water; A veritable stew, so to speak, of alchemical delights.  And alchemists were very much interested not only in all of the above but in transmutation, or in simple terms the process of turning base metals into gold.  This deeply involved the search for the Philosopher’s Stone, a sort of one stop shopping catalyst that turned anything into everything at the touch of a button – or in those days a stir of the old crucible.  On one level this was an entirely practical pursuit involving jars and stills and oddly shaped bottles not to mention furnaces, mercury poisoning and third degree burns.  But on the other, and some would argue more importantly, it was a philosophical and even spiritual pursuit.  In the case of Jesus and Mary Magdalene for example the vessel was Mary herself and the transmutation was achieved through the comingling of the male and female essences in the presence of a catalyst [the ‘water of life’ – the aqua vitae – or the sperm?] to produce the final product – the gold of the bloodline.  An interesting thesis indeed.  Other fascinating art examples to study next time you’re at the museum or digging through the art books [less travelling involved] search out ‘The Garden of Earth Delights’  by Hieronymus Bosch, or even Leonardo’s  ‘The Last Supper’  – in fact just about any of the Italian Renaissance works.  Gold star for anyone who finds the hidden alchemical Waldo – replies on a post-card please.

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Just finished a course in Parasychology – and no that doesn’t mean that I’m a spaced-out saddo it means that I am interested in the ‘other side’ of life – and particularly so if there *is* one. You see it doesn’t make much sense to me that we live, we die and then we become compost for no particular reason at all. What are we doing here in the first place? If you look up at the night sky – or the morning sky or whatever – it’s hard not to imagine that something wondrous has been taking place this past several billion years or so. We hear that there are worlds and galaxies without number out there. In fact, there are so many that some scientists have voiced the opinion that the universe is infinite and therefore there *is* no end. Now that has to make you think. Doesn’t that mean that if the universe is endless and time is endless then all possibilities exist and everything is endless – including you and me? Flawed thinking perhaps but I like to think it’s true. When I snuff it here I want to know that I will at least come back as a Nerubian Slime Monster or at the very least a creature from the black lagoon. I’m not as keen on coming back as a ghost who spends forever floating up and down staircases or appearing out of the fireplace to scare the dog. That would be an awfully dull existence don’t you think? Surely ghosts have something better to do? Just think – if you didn’t have to go to the grocery store all the time or buy clothes or watch telly or haunt [pun intended] the new car showrooms or worry about where the money was coming from to stave off the electric company just what *would* you do? Personally I think that once you reach that great library in the sky you can do whatever you want and conjure up anything you want – which is rather like being Paris Hilton for all eternity.
But what about all the good things in life that we would surely miss – not the electric bill and those annoying neighbors obviously – but that holiday in the Caribbean or a great meal or a marvelous concert or the view from the summit of Everest? I suppose as ghosts we could just wish ourselves up to the top of K2 or down into the depths of the Marianas Trench but there wouldn’t be much sense of achievement in that. We could conjure up Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay and Marco to prepare brekkie, lunch and dinner at a whim, we could even have Martha over to do some decorating, but again, what’s the sense in that if whatever we wish for just appears at a click? We are brought up to believe that everything of real value is only gained by effort. So if there is something after this life then I think we are duty bound to make something worthwhile out of it. Remember this when you’re a ghost yourself – no banging on walls or rattling the teacups or moaning down in the cellar for five hundred years. Get yourself out amongst the stars, travel where no ghosts have travelled before, write celestial music, create great art and paint it across the sky. Whistle on the wind, go sighing through the trees, and spread a little love around. And obviously write lyrics. Cya in the Great Beyond – unless you’re in that other place of course….

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That’s a Moray

I was sitting here thinking about sunshine – well who wouldn’t if you looked out my window at thirty feet of snow and a few wilted petunias – frozen in situ as it were.  Canada is nothing but bloody cold and I am so fed up with snow that I could scream.  If anyone wants some just send me a self-addressed envelope and I’ll send you the stuff that’s piled in my driveway – if I can get out the door that is. To make things worse I keep finding these seductive emails from Cunard Cruises in my inbox – complete with pictures of tanned and lovely people sunbathing on the poop deck craftily designed to lure me out of my poor cold chair before the small fire [visualize Bob Cratchet on a bad Scrooge day] and into the wide blue yonder with ports of call in Hawaii, Fiji, Bora Bora and Tahiti with strains of South Pacific echoing softly in the air.  Hrrumph!  This is a cruel and evil marketing plan to make me feel like the heroine in some opera by Puccini and if I had two cents to rub together – not to mention my tiny cold hands – I would sue them for emotional distress with a bit of pain and suffering thrown in.   Now I know what all those rent boys felt like in that attic in Paris – the lights of the city displayed before them and nary a flying French franc for a tart [or Euro I should say but it doesn’t scan].
So let’s consider this.  There are the Haves and then there are the Have-Nots – there are those who can well afford cruises to the sun and those who most definitely cannot.  Unfortunately I find myself belonging to the latter camp don’t know about you.  But there has always been a large division between the wealthy and the poor, the cruisers and the cruise-less, mostly because the wealthy have got more money to start with and therefore can buy up all the land that the poor sit on and charge them rent.  This is known in some quarters as ‘disaster economics’ – or ‘put up and shut up’.  It’s a simple concept.  The rich wait for some disaster to strike the poor i.e. floods and mayhem in New Orleans for example, and then they swoop in on their black chargers – or Lincolns as the case may be – and scoop up all the property from the bargain bin.  They then wait around for the market, and the people, to return, and sell everything back for a tidy little extortionate sum.   Result!   The rich get rich and the poor get poorer.  Nothing personal – just good business baby – and too bad if you lost your home and now have to live in a cardboard box.  Good thing it’s warm down there.
Seems to me the recent collapse in the World economy will undoubtedly profit the few and exclude the rest.  God knows what happened – was it the oil grab – ahem – War on Terrorism?  Balloon mortgages? Interest deferred until suddenly your payments triple and you find yourself sitting on your suitcase in the road?  Too much spending – too little spending – too many people – not enough jobs – too many big cars – not enough gas?  Who knows?  All I know is that many people have been out of work for a year with no end in sight while ‘some’ of us profit from huge government bailouts aimed at – you guessed it – saving the rich and excluding the poor.  Because, if big business gets bailed out then many other failing enterprises and overdrawn loans can latch on for the ride and the Trumps of the world can write off just that little bit more.  And if that fails then there’s always money to be made in war.  But nobody is ever going to send me money – no-one is ever going to bail me out – unless it’s that wife of the assassinated dictator in Africa who died in the plane crash that is..  She really wants to give me some money because she can just tell I’m honest from my email address.   But while I’m waiting for it I have to work two jobs, defer my retirement until I’m 90 and hope like hell that the electric company is feeling benevolent this month – or at least until the deep freeze is done.  But perhaps there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – maybe Cunard would agree to transport me around the world if I in turn agree to swab the decks, fluff the pillows and pour the rum.  Tahiti, Tonga and all points south –  here we come!

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Celebrity moans

I was standing in Chapters riffling through the bodice rippers – you know the ones –  the hero always has fine chiseled features and a thrusting jaw and very tight pants [which is maybe why he has a thrusting jaw]and the heroine has a pentient for standing in the rain in transparent nighties or posing in front of fans with  hair flying and  wet t-shirt glued to her perky breasts – those ones – and wondering who reads them – well me obviously,  well not me actually.  I was really looking for cook books but was tractor-beamed over by an arresting cover displaying some big bloke who looked like Fabio.  Remember him?  He was smacked in the face by a seagull riding on a rollercoaster a few years ago – well not the seagull, Fabio.  It was a case of man meets bird’s bum at 90 miles an hour – not a pretty sight, and somewhat of an embarrassing moment I would think?  There you are, looking like a Norse God, flaunting your tall tanned muscular body under an open to the waist frilly shirt while young girls – and a few guys – swoon for miles around when WHUMP!  Bird brains and feathers up your nose and poop all over your Manolos.  To my knowledge he hasn’t been seen since – not the seagull, Fabio – well, the seagull too.

The problem with being a celebrity of course is that you are always on display.  You can never ever have an unguarded moment for fear that some twonk with a candid camera is lurking in the bushes or under your car or has attached himself to your bedroom window by suction cups just to get that picture of you throwing cell phones at the nanny or lying drunk in a pool of vomit on the bathroom floor.  It really is too much to bear don’t you think – and all for a few billion for doing nothing very much but repeating a few lines into a camera or kicking a football about.  Of course the other problem is that you not only have to put up with the paps but you have to starve yourself to death too – how else are you going to get into your size zero zero Christian LaCroix in time for the latest awards show, photo opportunity, Hollywood Walk of Fame moment, Kids birthday party or visit to Disney?  Don’t forget that you must never, never be seen wearing trakkies and trainers and no lip gloss not even if it’s for ten minutes in the sandbox with the latest celebrity accessory the adopted orphan from nabutostan.  And of course said orphan must also be dressed to the nines.  No sloppy jeans and ice-cream stained t-shirt for Celebrity Baby – he/she must attend ‘play-dates’ dressed by Gucci, carry a miniature handbag from Hermes and kick nanny in the shins with hand-made sandals from some Italian artisan called Gianni who turns out one pair a year from his exclusive ‘atelier’ in Rome.

Heaven forbid that you let your guard down for one minute and are seen leaving the club with white powdery substances clinging to your nose or suffering the effects of one too many or gripping the bum of someone else husband because you’re likely to find yourself on the front page of the News of the World within seconds and News at 10  – you can’t even Go Commando or have a wardrobe malfunction without sixty-five cameras recording the event for the archives forever.  I wonder what paparazi did a hundred years ago before instant digital images were available?  Did they have to get the latter-day Britney Spears sans undies to hold that pose with the wind blowing up her willikers while they lit the candles?  And an earlier version of Keano Reeves would have had to back up and run down a few more photogs a few more times in order to get a mention on e-Online.  Although it would have been e-Offline and a hand-drawn sketch then wouldn’t it.

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I haven’t done much blogging lately, not because I don’t have anything to say but mostly because life intrudes. Christmas mostly. You know the sort of stuff – tramping round the stores spending way too much money on people you never see or driving yourself nuts trying to find that perfect gift for the ungrateful good for nothing little bastard of a grandson who dropped out of school barely out of grade six and now thinks the height of ambition is lying on the couch watching wrestling and drinking beer but you have to get him something because if you don’t your daughter, the single parent, will be hurt and an entire family feud will ensue – phew. After all that who has the strength for blogging? It’s taken me most of January to get over it. I don’t know about you but Christmas occupies about a third of my year and the rest is taken up with birthdays, anniversaries, family reunions, graduations, and various assorted public holidays – like Easter and Thanksgiving – when I am obligated to cook AND be nice for an entire day. Hrrrumph.This being Canada it’s snowing for a change and it’s bloody cold; so cold that you have to watch out for falling birds whizzing past your nose and plummeting to earth, frozen in mid-flight. Every year at this time I ask myself what I’m doing here but I can’t leave even though I would like to especially since I’m self-employed and only need a laptop and an Internet connection to work anywhere in the world except the UK where I was born and spent 21 years of my life. It’s not because I’m an international criminal or a drug dealer or even a minor rock star that I can’t go back but because UK currency is worth twice as much as mine which means in simple math that the minute I step off the boat I lose half my income just like that – thump. Or put another way, everything would double immediately. Even a take-out curry with some chips would assume a cost approaching that of fine dining – well without the wine obviously. About the only place I can move to on the planet with a currency worth less than Canada’s and still be relatively warm is New Zealand and they have earthquakes – sigh. The South of France I hear is relatively affordable – but French. Spain – bull fights. Italy – crazy drivers and volcanoes. Japan – crazy drivers and volcanoes AND earthquakes [and they all speak Japanese]. Thailand – snakes as long as a football field and typhoons. Hawaii – volcanoes and Americans. China – coal fires and lung disease. Australia – snakes and crocs and great white sharks and jellyfish bigger than a boat and venomous spiders the size of soup plates that live in the toilet bowl and blokes that call you ‘Sheila’.  Hmm – maybe it’s not *all* that cold and who needs to go outside anyway. If I stay in all winter and most of the Spring by the fire I can put some money aside for Christmas.

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I haven’t written anything much this past couple of weeks because life intrudes and there are always a zillion things [I’ve told you a million times not to exaggerate] to look after – figure out – pay for – sort out – not least of which is getting up at the crack of dawn and doing my job.  Fortunately for me I work at home and can come and go as I please although that means mostly ‘going’ as I deliver kids to school, run the endless errands, take the dogs for walkies, feed the birds, feed the fish, feed the turtle and the gerbils and the guinea pigs, take a few courses at the university, sit on a few committees and generally run around all day like a chicken on crack.  Figure into that runs to the doctor and the pharmacy to pick up another few dozen bottles of all these heavy duty pills I’m on for all my various ailments – and how the HELL did I get so old!  When I look in the mirror there’s this old hag staring back at me.  What happened to that trendy bright eyed, blue-eyed girl from the 60’s with the frizzy blond mop [courtesy of Revlon], the high-heeled winkle-picker shoes  and the skirts so short that she had to become adept at the bunny dip to pick up pencils off the floor?  Life is cruel chaps – but perhaps I don’t have to tell you that?

 

Anyway all this is leading up to a major life-decision that I’m on the brink of making – or at least I’m on my tippy-toes at the end of the diving board peering at the water.  For a few years now books and articles have popped up under my nose on a frequent basis, causing me to shore up some of my sagging beliefs – one or two of which have to do with fate.  It started a few years back when Shirley MacLean started churning out her books on spiritualism, the cosmic consciousness, Karma [I’ll get you Dorothy and your little dog too..], and something called the chakra centers which I assumed were Indian social clubs of the time.  She’s quite the gal is Shirley – she travels all over the globe solo and can be occasionally spotted hiking up some mountain pass in the Himalayas or wreathed in fog at Machu Pichu.  Not your average self-absorbed celebrity at all.  She sometimes even neglects to visit her hairdresser and her manicurist for weeks at a time – gasp.  However, one book in particular caught my eye.  She had just come back from Spain [Shirley not the manicurist] where she had spent a month walking the Camino.  Now vat is zis Camino I thought to myself [..with a fake German accent.  I often do this don’t you?  It makes mundane thoughts so much more interesting] as I scanned the back cover for the – hopefully discounted – price.

 

Well what it is apparently is a very long walk through the northern half of Spain.  And I mean a *very* long walk.  So long in fact that you have to have special hiking boots, special hiking shirts, belts, socks and undies and a very trendy back-pack and possibly some Lycra skintight something or other holding in your tum.  No not really – in fact this goes completely against the spirit of the Camino which was – and is – a pilgrimage route running from the border of France at one end to the border of Spain and the sea at the other.  Chaucer himself walked – or rather rode – the Camino, which is possibly where he got the idea of writing about that other famous pilgrimage to see Becket at Canterbury.  Not the play – the saint– or rather his rather moldy bones by now I would think.  Although if you’ve seen Becket the movie with Peter O’Toole and – erm – another actor – the Archbishop was a rather naughty boy and a decided pain in the bum who practically forced poor King Henry to have him offed in the vestry by several overly enthusiastic hangers on who were more than happy to oblige.  But I digress – as usual.  The Camino has been traversed for thousands of years – long before the Church got the decidedly modern capitalist idea that relics wuz BIG business  – Oley!  No sooner had some monk in a cell with nothing to do but play with his abacus all day worked out the details of such a vastly untapped market than the Holy Roman Church practically fell over itself to encourage poor pilgrims to make the trek from far and wide as often as possible and to part with a few groats  – or preferably more – along the way.    I mean – all those crusades were becoming bloody expensive and they were probably running out of heathens to convert or slaughter even though the local Swords r Us was making a mint.  And all the church had to do in return was offer time off from purgatory.  The longer you walked the more time you got off – and of course the more money you spent – Voila!  Business school grads take careful note.

 

The modern Camino is almost as popular now as it once was and you don’t even have to be a religious nutbar to do it.  This is the bit that intrigues me.  I’m an agnostic you might say – or you might say that I prefer to hedge my bets and not commit myself totally to either side just on the off-chance that they’re both wrong.  However I do think – along with Einstein – that there is some intelligence to the universe [not here obviously but out there somewhere beyond the stars].  The trek to visit the church of Santiago de Compostella in fact means ‘St. James in the field of stars’ – wonderful.  Therefore I’m going to undertake the Camino as a spiritual exercise – both literally and figuratively.  Since I can’t get off the planet – although I’d certainly like to – next year in May  I’m going to opt out al la Shirley for a month’s walking.  500 miles from France to Finisterre [end of the world – and I’m sure it will feel like it].  Perhaps the solitude and the connection to nature – or the dust, the rain and the heat – will [un]focus my mind away from this rat-race I live in – just for a little while.  Thoreau did it in the woods – I’m going to do it in Spain.

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I’m a researcher – or perhaps I should say I’m an information broker – someone who finds and sells information to clients around the world [insert shameless plug here]. It also means that I spend much of my day surfing the Net and trolling through databases of various kinds, together with other online and offline sources and newspapers. The rest of the time I play Warcraft, read blogs and buy things off eBay, but that’s beside the point. What I wanted to talk about was some of the very surprising things I find while surfing around cyberspace, a great deal of it pornographic. The other day, for example, I was searching for something innocuous, like the standard medical treatment for some disgusting disease or other, and although I usually use some highbrow source like the National Library of Medicine for such a search I often drive off the info highway down a side-road and Google it as well – just to be thorough and have a little fun looking at all the wacky advice and info out there – such as can be found on Wikipedia for instance [Oh sit down you at the back – yes I know you love Wikipedia – but did you know the last entry was probably inserted by your addled old granny and has as much authority as my six year old grand-daughter reading the back of her crisps packet hrrrumph]. Anyway, as I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself for a bit of a rant – yes – I was looking for something to do with the treatment of scurvy or some such [don’t ask – but sailors have info needs too you know, and not all of them to do with dalliances with ladies they met in Thailand].
I clicked some innocuous sounding link and before I knew it – rather like rubbing Aladdin’s Lamp – oops wrong metaphor – up popped [stop it] the most improbable [and possibly impossible] images I have ever seen. Come on guys out there – tell me how it is possible for one man – black of course because racial stereotyping is alive and well in the porn industry – to have an – ahem – member [nudge nudge wink wink] thicker than a tree-trunk and twice as long as his leg? I did pity his unfortunate girl-friend – or six actually, all of whom were wearing bright red lipstick, red shoes and nothing else and doing a lot of pouting and mouthing and licking of lips with what I take was meant to simulate orgasmic expressions on their Barbie-Doll faces. The last time I saw a male member [and I’m not talking about the Masons] that size it adorned a Greek pot in art class and belonged to a Satyr who would obviously have had some difficulty running to the Bacchanalia had he jumped down off his rock in a hurry.

The Internet porn industry aside we have always liked to adorn our houses and gardens, not to mention our offices and our cars and just about everything else with phallic symbols – that and the apotropeic eye to ward off evil but now of course we just have CCTV cameras. The Romans used to place bloody great stone replicas of penises around their arenas and outside the door – just in case someone came along and accused them of being weeky weedy wimpies or something. They just couldn’t resist a bit of male posturing in some sort of sublimated territorial display that said – keep off – this is *my* patch –grrr [cut to shot of caveman beating his chest while wifey – clad in fur bikini of course – looks on admiringly]. Today they would just be driving around in Corvettes or some other enormous great expensive car shaped like a torpedo to demonstrate just how big *theirs* is. It doesn’t take much to see what I mean – look around you at that tube of toothpaste, that car, that missile, that jet-fighter, the CN Tower, the Post-office Tower, Cleopatra’s Needle, all those ancient Greek columns, that microphone clutched in the hands of some blond bimbo singer with her red lips so close … need I say more? You don’t have to be an iconographer – let alone a pornographer – to get the symbolism there now do you? Anyway – now I’ve got you thinking I’m going off to go get some lunch – hot dog anyone?

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