Inside Gaudi’s Dream: The Excursionist VIII

 

You find yourself in sunny Barcelona…on the south coast of Spain.

You have massive amounts of wax so you do what you’re expected to do with massive amounts of wax.  You sculpt the facade of a cathedral.  You include all the alcoves for the saints and the angels and the biblical scenes of the Old Testament.  You include images of the New Testament because you are a God-loving person and a visionary mystic.

Then you stand and view your waxen model of the cathedral.  Standing back, you turn a hot hair dryer on the wax.  It begins to drip.  When the drops solidify you’re happy.

I agree, it’s a bit of a long lead-in to the impression I had when I stood outside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  But it’s hard to find words to describe the architectural style that made Antoni Gaudi such a visionary…breaking the rules of traditional church architectural style.  Things seemed to drip, and drip into the right place.

When I entered the Basilica, the interior was something I may have dreamt about in another lifetime.  I’ve been in dozens of English Cathedrals and Anglican churches.  I’ve been in Russian Orthodox churches and the great mosques of Istanbul.  Many hours have been spent in Notre Dame in Paris.  I don’t mention these things to boast–only to put things into some kind of perspective.  Nothing prepared me for the sights inside the Sagrada Familia.  My eye had too many places to look.  The neck had too many angles to cover.  The colors, the fluid shapes…the uneven nave, the Christ, hanging above the Altar.

I had to sit down.  I had to try to take this in— a tiny bit at a time.

It was not going to work.  I needed more than a few hours.  I needed days, weeks, months…maybe longer…to fully grasp even a bit of what Gaudi was striving for.

I left.  I looked back and imagined the melting wax.  I was deeply moved, not so much by the religious aspects, but by the mind that had such a vision…such a vision that I failed to grasp its true meaning.

Maybe only Gaudi knew.  Legend has it that he was walking backward, looking at the early stages of his creation, the Basilica , when he was hit by a tram and died in a nearby hospital…at the age of seventy-four.

Perhaps he had a new thought about how to solve a problem in the construction.  Perhaps he was lost in a vision.

Perhaps he wanted to talk to his God and get some final instructions.

[All photos are mine}

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The Enigma of Knowlton Church: The Excursionist VII

[Knowlton Church…front facade]

In the middle of Cranborne Chase, a hilly and breezy open region in north Dorset,  is the shell of a Norman church.  Nothing special really.  These churches are found in many villages and hamlets of Dorset.  What is unusual is that it is built-in the middle of a Neolithic ritual henge (a ring of ridges dating from ancient days).

The church sits alone…surrounded by earthen works built by Pagans.  The building is a shell, built with stone and flint.  It looks lonely.  There is an aura of melancholy that pervades the site.  If one sat on the henge, took the time to contemplate the view…I believe a sadness would fall upon you.

According to my google search, the Knowlton Church is one of the ten most haunted places in Dorset.  The visions that have been reported include a rider on a horse that charges through the grounds and vanishes as it enters the church.  A weeping woman, sometimes described as a nun, has been seen.  A face has been observed looking out of the upper window of the tower.  A hooded man, tall and quiet has crossed the path of a visitor in recent years.

The enigma?  Why is there a Christian church built within the walls of a pagan ritual henge?  Why is the church only an empty shell now?  And, most interesting, is why is the village of Knowlton no longer in existence?  History tells us that the town was hit hard by the Black Death…those who survived drifted to other regions.  Remains of the homes are visible on the grounds to the west of the ruins.

When Mariam and I stood on the ring earthen works, the wind blew with a force that nearly blew her glasses off.  I was wearing my L.L.Bean coat and a chill cut through me like a razor.  I wanted to stay and absorb the atmosphere , the solitude, the isolation and the loneliness, but Mariam and I could hardly stand upright in the wind.

Was the wind telling us something?

Were we on sacred ground?  Haunted ground?  Unforgiving ground?  The melancholy began to take hold of me.

But, as we drove away, I sensed something.  I need to return to this place, this lonely place and spend some time…thinking, dreaming and imagining.

[Another view of the church]

[Photos are mine]

[Historical information: Google search]

The Holiday Card

[What follows is pure fiction. It is a short story that I hope you will enjoy. It’s not funny, but it’s what I wanted to write. Please don’t read anything into this post.]

It was during a brief April thaw, when a chance breeze blew the snow and a few minutes of sunlight melted the white crystals.  That was the moment I saw it.  I picked it up and slapped it against my thigh.  I could read my name on the envelope. I could read the return address in the upper left corner.

It was too late.  Things would never be the same now…never.

It’s a fairly well-known fact that men do not bond easily with each other.  We have trouble sharing.  True friends are hard to find and keep when you pass your fifties.  Friendships that last into ones seventies are indeed rare.  The thread that holds these long relationships are usually rooted in childhood.  If you’re lucky, one or two childhood buddies will grow old with you.  Such was the case of the one-time friend whose holiday card I held in my right hand.

We met in elementary school.  Played in each others back yards.  Entered into adolescence together.  In high school we traded secrets about girls…those mysterious beings that we thought constantly about.  We talked about first kisses and puzzled over the best way to find and unlock those strange bra hooks.

We had our first legal beers together.  We played high school sports together.  We went on camping trips together.

We were the best of friends.  As the years passed, other playmates drifted into different social circles.  But we stayed close.  We celebrated our jobs, listened to the same music and showered affection on each others children.

My friend and I went through divorces, sat in empty bars, looked at younger women and talked to each other and into our pints of beer.

When our retirements approached, things began to change.  He called less.  I emailed less.  Our visits to each others homes became more and more infrequent.

We were growing apart, something that seemed to me to be the opposite of what life would be like after retirement.  The phone calls went unanswered and the postcards stopped arriving.

In the late fall, I became quite annoyed by being ignored.  I unfriended him on Facebook.  I deleted his email address.  I stopped making meaningless phone calls.

I decided to put the issue to a test.  I sent him a holiday card.  If he sent one back, then I knew something of our friendship would survive.  If I got nothing, I knew that for some reason, he did not want to be a part of my life.

So, I waited.

A few holiday cards arrived but never did much to fill our mailbox.  Facebook and email greetings were slowly out pacing the USPS.

On Christmas Eve, I picked up the mail.  I placed the few cards on our bed.  There was nothing from him.  I knew then that our life-long friendship had come to a slow and sad end.  It would be a lie to say that I did not weep a little over a friendship that had lasted for over sixty years.  Men do have emotions.

* * *

It was in early March that I found myself browsing the internet.  I came to a Facebook page devoted to people in our class who had passed away.

I felt the blood drain from my face and I went numb when I read that my friend had died of a massive coronary a week earlier.

Then came the April thaw.  I had pulled the envelope from the snow and placed it on the top of our mica lamp to dry out.  When I felt it time, I sliced it open.  It was a holiday card from my friend…apologizing for not returning my calls.  I knew then that the card arrived before Christmas, but as I struggled to get out of my car, trying to avoid the unplowed snow, the card had slipped from the rest of the mail.  That afternoon, the snow-covered card was concealed…until April.

“Let’s meet up in the summer and take a hike,” he had written.

So, now I feel I know the real essence of loneliness.  I have no true male friends up here in the North Country.  My wife has always been and still is my best friend…but I don’t have a buddy.  A guy to shoot a game of pool with at the local Irish Pub, a friend to bounce writing ideas off,  a pal to sit on our deck (or his) and sip a cold beer.  We wouldn’t even have to say anything.  After all, its common knowledge that men don’t bond easily.  We have trouble sharing our personal thoughts orally, but we know each other’s minds.  Or so I thought.

But what men can do is sit, side by side, just sharing a beer and assuming we know what the other is thinking.

There is a large blank space in my life now.  My wife has to be two people.  The woman I married over twenty-five years ago and a mate that I have been close to for six decades.  It’s going to be a big job for her, but she’s more than up to the task.  The presence of my wife makes these things more tolerable but not less painful.

Me?  I can stare at our campfire and remember details of the adventures with my friend.  I can watch the ripples on the lake and remember my friend.  I can look to the far range of the High Peaks and remember the trails, snow-covered, rain-soaked and sweltering in the August heat…that I hiked with my friend.

Or, on a cold night like this, when the temperature outside is in single digits, our fire-place is crackling and warming our house and my wife is reading quietly beside me on her Kindle, I can sit mutely staring at the flames, throw on another log, watch the flames leap even higher.  I am thinking of the holiday card.  As the flames rise to the top of the wood stove, the loneliness for this old guy gets deeper.

[Photo is mine]

Bob Takes A Bow

[Source: Google search.]

“I’ve got nothing more to live up to.”

–Dylan

This is not going to be the usual Bob Dylan fan blog. I’ve something special to relate. More on that later.

I’m sitting in what is usually the warmest room in our home, the dining room. It must be the two sets of floorboard heaters if I were asked why I’m not wearing a fleece vest while I try to put together this post. The fact that my hands are as dry as the sands of the Kalahari doesn’t make typing very easy, but if I load up on hand lotion, the keyboard can get pretty gummy, if you get my drift.

When I finish this, I’m heading downstairs to the ‘family room’ where the wood stove is located. No TV tonight. Just a time of quiet (well, maybe I’ll take Alexa with me) reading and flame watching. It’s expected to fall to 8 F later but I’ll be prepared. Unlike six nights ago when I sat in Loge 4, Row D, Seat 34 of the Beacon Theater in New York City.

I was there for what is likely my twentieth Bob Dylan concert. Most of my readers already know that I am a consummate Dylan fan. I don’t follow him around like a few friends did with the Grateful Dead…traveling from city to city. No. I catch him when he performs at a location near me.

The very best concert of his that I have ever seen was back in the day (1973 or 1974) when he was touring with The Band. They played Nassau Coliseum. It was my first big-time rock concert. He commanded the stage.

Now a days, however, he can’t fill arenas so he plays smaller venues. The Beacon Theater is a beautiful space and with a little help with a pair of opera glasses, you can see his expressions…which are few.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Bob has been criticised for his ‘lack of attention to his audience’. It’s all true. He says nothing to the crowd, only a few words to his band and then leaves to roaring applause. Some fans are annoyed by this and feel slighted. I don’t. I feel that Dylan has more than given of himself. I mean, how much energy does it take to sing “Blowin’ in the Wind” for 9,700 times? I couldn’t do it.

But at the end of the show on November 29, six nights ago, he did something I had not witnessed in decades. After his last encore, before leaving the stage…Dylan stood before his band and bowed to the audience.

He’s no Mick Jagger or Tony Bennett, but considering my love for his poetry, music and his constant presence on the road (The Never Ending Tour), I’m pleased with small gestures.

Dylan doesn’t need the spotlight.

Now I have to go and start a fire.

[Photo is mine.]

 

My Halloween Guest Blogger

[Source: Google search.]

Pleased to meet you, I’m a man of wealth and taste.

–Mick Jagger, Sympathy for the Devil.

It’s my favorite time of year. It’s Halloween. And to help me celebrate, I have invited a “guest blogger” to take this space and make it her own.

Erin Egan lives with her husband, son, and cat in Washington State, in a small town with an awesome view of Mt. Rainier (that is when the sun is out). She cooks, reads and tries to get the cat to pay attention to her.

So as to not make her father sound old, she will only say she’s in her mid-40’s.

The graphic above was added by me. All else, below, is from the creative mind of Erin.

Enjoy!

SEEKING

An Original Ghost Story

By Erin Egan

TO:           Zoe Crosby

FROM:   Dennis Winchester, HR Director, Beyond the Summit Technology

CC:           Internship Dept., Amherst College

RE:           2018 Fall Marketing Interns

DATE:     May 25, 2018

Dear Zoe,

I am excited to announce your selection as one of three students selected to be an intern in our rapidly growing marketing department. As you know, Beyond the Summit Technology has been named one of the “Top 5 Companies to Work For” in Seattle Magazine, and we look forward to you–with your ideas and energy– joining our team.

As discussed, we will be providing a modest stipend to help cover living expenses. Our office will contact you shortly regarding relocation assistance.

I look forward to greeting you in person.

Sincerely,

S: //Dennis Winchester

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           I’M IN!!

DATE:     5/25/18

I GOT THE INTERNSHIP!! Can you believe it? After three years of living in the shadow of Emily Dickinson, I can finally show the rest of the world that we New England chicks aren’t just uptight spinsters who walk around talking to ducks.

Now that I’ve told you, I’ll email Aunt Clara with the news. I didn’t want to tell anyone else in case this fell through and I ended up working at Starbucks this summer (Note to me: Ahh! Do not disparage the patron saint of your new adopted home city. Bad karma.) She mentioned driving out West with me if this job came through. She said something about wanting to go to the annual “Dames of the Dunes” gathering near Reno…she is looking for an excuse to take a road trip and hit some of the “retail shops” out here before going to Utah.

Could be fun!

Love you and thank you!

Zoe

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Checking in from the road

DATE:     8/17/18

Wow. We are in Iowa and my mind is reeling with questions. Who lives by choice in a town of 524 people? How do people sleep during tornado season? Where is the water? Why, in a land of acres/miles/counties, of nothing but corn, do people look at Aunt Clara and squint their eyes and chuckle when she asks for a vegetarian menu? I mean, we are surrounded by grains.

And why didn’t you ever tell me about Aunt Clara and the man from Minneapolis?

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Arrived!

DATE:     8/26/18

I’m settled into a temporary apartment. I’m not sure if I want to stay here. I’ll tell you right now, even with the cost of living allowance I get from BTS, I can’t afford much (read: anything unsubsidized) in Seattle. If I do well in this internship and could get an interview to start permanently I would be thrilled, but I plan to seriously look into opportunities in less spendy locations.

The apartment is in a cool old building in the International District. It’s kind of like Chinatown, but broader geographically. Like I said, it’s an old area. It’s a little shabby, in a good way

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Lonely

DATE:     9/18/18

I know I haven’t written in a while but everything is fine. Just busy, and…you know. Busy.

A strange thing happened yesterday. I was buying wine at Trader Joe’s, and when I gave the guy at the checkout my ID, he stared at it for about five minutes. I was just about to say, “Dude, it isn’t fake” when he started talking about prospectors. (Yes, this is a topic of conversation in Seattle.) Apparently, I have the same last name as a guy who came here in the 1890’s from Minnesota, loaded up on supplies, took off for Skagway and was never seen again. Not uncommon, except he haunts the old boarding house he lived in while he was here getting ready. The guy then said that the rooming house is still around, one of the places along Denny Avenue that was turned into apartments after the Depression. It’s probably my building. It does have that 19thcentury YMCA-type vibe.

Speaking of prospectors, I might get to take a business trip to Alaska in a few weeks!

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Itinerary

DATE:     10/21/18

Here you go–As you can see, I’ll be gone for twelve days, starting and ending the trip in Anchorage. I’m excited, and it’s a great opportunity to show off my design for the BTS booth at this year’s Sourdough Days.

Since I’ll be in Skagway for three nights, I asked my friend at Trader Joe’s more about the ghost. The prospector’s name is Karl, he said, and people who have seen him say he’s a thin, blond man dressed in dark green flannel and dungarees, and he opens drawers and cupboards and whispering “Tomas…help me, Tomas! Where is it?” When he heard I was on my way to Alaska, including the Skagway area, he told me to ask someone named Reid at the post office in Tagish to tell me the story about Tomas’s ghost.

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Northern Lights!

DATE:     11/4/18

I just can’t do this place justice in words, so your postcard is on its way. When I stopped in the post office to buy stamps, Reid was at the counter, and when I asked him about the ghost of Tomas he just said, “Ah, Karl’s friend.”  I asked what was so unusual about two prospectors who froze to death, and he shook his head and sighed. “Not everyone who didn’t make it froze. Or starved. Or fell. Or died of infections. Some had the nerve to be murdered.”

I asked who murdered whom and he shrugged, then went back to tearing rows of stamps.

“Karl and Tomas were two Swedes who knew each other back in Minneapolis. Their fathers were business rivals. Karl and Tomas both claimed to have had the idea to scout locations for mines, and I think the fathers both encouraged their sons to do whatever it took to beat the other one to mining rights.”  According to supply receipts and banking records, they both hit the Chilkoot the same week, but there is no official record of Tomas crossing into Canada. Other men said Tomas was on the Canadian side but he was alone.

I asked Reid how people know someone was murdered if they both just disappeared. I don’t think he gets to talk about this with a lot of people. “Because each one haunts the other. Both of them thought the other one was cheating. The legends that made their way to the cities in the following years suggest that they were both betrayed by the same person.”

So, that was my visit to the post office. Lots to ponder. It’s my last night in Skagway.

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Aunt Clara

DATE:     11/6/18

I woke up last night and heard her voice whispering “No. No. No.”

Seriously, I heard someone hissing. I thought it was the heater but I heard words. “Clara…did you tell him? You told him. You ruined us Clara.”

It gets dark here so early, and the light comes so late, so I don’t know what time it was. I couldn’t sleep after that so I sat up and watched TV until my meeting. I am eager to get back to Seattle, where I can sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Night Lauren Bacall Heard Me Cough

[Photo source: IMDb]

I lived for almost thirty years on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It’s an artsy neighborhood. And it’s not uncommon to cross paths with famous people, most often actors. My wife was in the Blockbuster Video store, in line behind Michael J. Fox.

“I think your next,” he said to Mariam.

“And I think you’re great,” she said to him.

She stood in line at Fairway on Broadway behind Francis McDormond.

“I love your work,” Mariam said.

“Thank you,” replied the Oscar-winning actor.

I had a moment of greatness too. I went into our neighborhood Mexican restaurant…Gabriella’s. I calmly walked passed a chubby guy sitting at one of our favorite outside tables…with his family. He had cut off denim shorts, a thin wife and a hefty kid or two.

It was James Gandolfini. Tony Soprano was sitting at my table. I didn’t raise a fuss. I’ve been to Jersey City. I knew the deal. First come, first serve.

That was life in New York City!

Let’s go back in time. It’s 1984. I’m an exchange teacher in Dorset, England. I befriended a young woman when I signed up for a screen-printing and etching course at the Poole Arts Center. I made sure I sat near her. She was pretty and a very good artist…and a gourmet cook.  I still have one of her etchings on my wall. She was a mid-wife, a surf-boarder and a sweet attractive woman. We became friends. We went out for eats and a pint or two after class. She promised me she’d teach me how to wind-surf in Poole harbor. We never got to do it.

But one thing we did get to do was see a play.

I had tickets to the Salisbury Playhouse production of Sweet Bird of Youth.  I asked her if she would like to go. Yes, she said.

[This is the movie with Paul Newman and Geraldine Page. Photo is mine.]

“How about dinner?”, I asked.

“I’m a good cook what do you think you would like?”, she said. I made a joke. “Oh. Shrimp Scampi and some caviar.”

She picked me up in her MG (mounted with a wind-surfer board rack). She had a picnic basket. I peaked inside. There was shrimp scampi, caviar and a bottle of white wine. We spread a blanket on the lawn in front of the main entrance of Salisbury Cathedral. The air was crisp. The food was awesome. The view was breathtaking.

We finished and made our way to our seats at the Playhouse. The lights went down. Sweet Bird of Youth began. Lauren Bacall was playing aging actress. I don’t recall the leading man.

That’s when Lauren and I connected.

There was a scene where she was lounging on a bed, waiting for her lover. The theater was stone quiet. The silence was intense. But the need in my throat couldn’t linger. I needed to cough.

I coughed.

She didn’t look into the audience like they do now days when a cell phone goes off. But, I knew she HAD to have heard me cough. There was no other sound. Only me.

Years later, I flipped through her autobiography in a narrow aisle at a Barnes & Noble. I found no reference to me, the cough, the disruption, or the shrimp scampi. I wonder how long my cough stayed with her.

I have a feeling that I was no match for Bogie.

“You know how to cough, don’t you? You just lower your head and make a gasping sound.”

An August Omen

Omen n. Something believed to be a sign of good or evil.

–The American Heritage Dictionary

Can you see it? Between the two large trees…behind the birch. I can see it. I first noticed it a few days ago but held-off saying anything about it.

It’s not a cardinal or an oriole.  It’s a leaf. And it’s turning red. So are the few other leaves on the same branch.

I know about omens. For example, I don’t need a crystal ball or magic stick to know that my next flight on American Airlines is going to be painful. Painful because I have two legs and American must assume you won’t need them during your flight. Other than that, I’m Irish and the Irish know omens.

But the leaf omen is telling me something special. It’s a warning from the Weather Gods of the North Country. Leaves, you see, are not supposed to turn color until it’s autumn. That’s the rule I grew up observing when I lived downstate New York.

But its August. August 22 to be exact. Legally, its still Summer. Fall colors are not to be a part of ones life until late September or October. Trick or Treat time, when you walk down the street and kick leaves dressed as a vampire.

So, what does all this mean? It means that WINTER is around the proverbial corner. I mowed the lawn once this summer. I haven’t blown the leaves and pine needles off the roof yet. And, yet, these leaves are telling me something:

“Winter is on the way. Get your snow shovel out and keep it handy.”

(Yes, I listen to the leaves. Is there a problem with that?)

I just put the shovel away in the garage. What am I supposed to do? Things are happening too fast for me. I’m retired. I should be slowing down.

But no. Winter in the North Country is just weeks away. It’s almost September. I predict that before the end of October, I’ll need to bring out the shovel again.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fall colors…all eleven days of them.