[ by Charles Cameron -- Gezi Park and Westgate Mall through the lens of the Garden of Good and Evil ]
Sheer madness, I know — but there’s a method to it.
I was watching Clint Eastwood‘s brilliantly funny film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil last night, and noted with delight the symmtery between two of his Savannah characters — one a gentleman who walks an invisible dog through a park on a leash [upper panel, above], and the other a fellow who attaches house-flies on threads to his lapels, so that he can walk his pets to the nearby diner for breakfast [lower panel]…
Here’s where the sheer madness comes in, and the method it encourages.
on May 27th, a handful of environmental activists blocked bulldozers sent by the government to level Gezi Park, a tiny oasis of greenery in the heart of Istanbul, and prepare the way for the construction of an upscale mall.
An upscale mall.
Beth Gill‘s essay, Temples of Consumption: Shopping Malls as Secular Cathedrals details a central analogy of our time, and it’s only fitting that the desire to replace an “oasis of greenery” by building an “upscale mall” was what triggered the Gezi Park uprising, just as the destruction of an “upscale mall” in Nairobi, Kenya, was the recent target and mise-en-scene of al-Shabaab’s recent “martyrdom brigade” and their murderous rampage.
The symmetries and ratios of garden and mall, cathedral and mall, construction and destruction, paradise and consumption are thrown up for our consideration by this juxtaposition of Gezi and Westgate.
[ by Charles Cameron -- on two viral videos of children ]
Malala Yousafzai has been in many hearts and minds recently, and deservedly so. Her speech before the United Nations Youth Assembly, like her John Stewart interview, went viral on YouTube– here’s a version that has the grace to include her opening invocation of the Name of God:
Thinking idly about her the other day I was reminded of anither video of a schoolchild that went viral just a few months ago — this one the more off-the-cuff speech of a boy, Ali Ahmed, interviewed on the street. He’s twelve, Malala spoke at the UN on her sixteenth birthday, but he testifies eloquently to Malala’s point by his own obvious clarity and intelligence:
I think it’s worth holding these two video clips in mind together, the young woman and the young man, she almost fatally wounded and now recovered, he happening to be at the right spot on the right moment to be interviewed, her words reaching us directly in her fluent English, his coming to us only via sub-titles, as in an art-house “foreign” movie… If she has eclipsed him, let us remember him again.
The intelligence, the clarity. the education. And how many thousands more must there be, unviral and unsung, but no less intelligent?
Unless ye become as little children, saith the Gospel, and a little child shall lead them, saith the Prophet.
Pope Francis decided at the last minute not to attend a Beethoven concert last evening, Fox News and others reported. Fox News comments, “Unlike his predecessor Benedict, who was well-known as a music lover, Francis has shown scant interest in music, liturgical or otherwise.” The concert, an event long planned for the Year of Faith, included Beethoven’s 9th symphony with choir and orchestra.
Pope Francis supposedly said “I am not a Renaissance prince who listens to music instead of working,” Vatican Insider first reported, later softening its report to preserve the general sense without quoting the pope directly.
— then this, from the first extended interview of Pope Francis, which has just been released.
While I’m sure plenty of others will mull over other aspects of what he has to say for himself, I’m taking my own insights into his character from the artists in whose work he finds inspiration:
I have really loved a diverse array of authors. I love very much Dostoevsky and Hölderlin. I remember Hölderlin for that poem written for the birthday of his grandmother that is very beautiful and was spiritually very enriching for me. The poem ends with the verse, ‘May the man hold fast to what the child has promised.’ I was also impressed because I loved my grandmother Rosa, and in that poem Hölderlin compares his grandmother to the Virgin Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, the friend of the earth who did not consider anybody a foreigner.
I have read The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni, three times, and I have it now on my table because I want to read it again. Manzoni gave me so much. When I was a child, my grandmother taught me by heart the beginning of The Betrothed: ‘That branch of Lake Como that turns off to the south between two unbroken chains of mountains….’ I also liked Gerard Manley Hopkins very much.
Among the great painters, I admire Caravaggio; his paintings speak to me. But also Chagall, with his ‘White Crucifixion.’ Among musicians I love Mozart, of course. The ‘Et incarnatus est’ from his Mass in C minor is matchless; it lifts you to God! I love Mozart performed by Clara Haskil. Mozart fulfils me. But I cannot think about his music; I have to listen to it. I like listening to Beethoven, but in a Promethean way, and the most Promethean interpreter for me is Furtwängler. And then Bach’s Passions. The piece by Bach that I love so much is the ‘Erbarme Dich,’ the tears of Peter in the ‘St. Matthew Passion.’ Sublime. Then, at a different level, not intimate in the same way, I love Wagner. I like to listen to him, but not all the time. The performance of Wagner’s ‘Ring’ by Furtwängler at La Scala in Milan in 1950 is for me the best. But also the ‘Parsifal’ by Knappertsbusch in 1962.
We should also talk about the cinema. ‘La Strada,’ by Fellini, is the movie that perhaps I loved the most. I identify with this movie, in which there is an implicit reference to St. Francis. I also believe that I watched all of the Italian movies with Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi when I was between 10 and 12 years old. Another film that I loved is ‘Rome, Open City.’ I owe my film culture especially to my parents who used to take us to the movies quite often.
Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones. There is a nice definition that Cervantes puts on the lips of the bachelor Carrasco to praise the story of Don Quixote: ‘Children have it in their hands, young people read it, adults understand it, the elderly praise it.’ For me this can be a good definition of the classics.
Mozart, Et incarnatus est:
Mozart, played by Clara Haskil:
Bach, Erbarme dich, from the Matthew Passion:
Fellini, La Strada, innocence:
Fellini, La Strada, despair:
No wonder, then, that he loves the poetry of his fellow Jesuit, the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins:
No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old anvil wince and sing —
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.”‘
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.
— nor the works of Caravaggio, whose rap sheet was impressive to say the least:
Arriving in Rome in 1595 at the age of 25, the hot-headed painter’s police dossier — hand-written in Latin and vernacular Italian and bound in great volumes that were stored in the archives until now — makes Caravaggio come across as almost compulsive in his lawlessness. For instance, the man was weapon-obsessed, sporting a sword, dagger, and pistol at various times. He was twice thrown in the clink for carrying arms without a permit, and known for beating strangers in late-night fights and pelting police with rocks.
The documents add fresh color to well-known parts of the Caravaggio legend. Regarding the 1606 brawl during which the artist killed one Ranuccio Tommassoni, leading the artist to flee Rome and causing Pope Paul V to issue a death warrant, the documents reveal that the fight was over a gambling debt, and not a woman, as some accounts have suggested.
It is all the more appropriate, then, to close this post with Caravaggio’s own meditation on the martyrdom by crucifixion of the first Pope, St Peter, whose chair Francis now holds:
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