Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Tower, Mr. Okra and Saint Réparate

A new year- looks like we are in for some bumpy times ahead.
On a small cabinet to my right, propped up against a candle, is a card from the Tarot deck that strayed from the pack and now is waiting to rejoin it's prophetic herd. It is The Tower. I know its symbolism speaks of Crisis ----- Revelation ----- Disruption ----- Realizing the truth, but the reversed position means "to be currently in a harsh and chaotic situation but exiting in a good manner. Indeed you are falling but landing with your feet over the soil."
Hope thats the case.
Many people I know and love are being put through real hell during these strange times, what with the economy and all, so I feel very lucky and very thankful for the people my life and the good things that surround me. Even the little things seem to take on more importance during these moments of soul searching.
So, look around at your surroundings. What do you see? Do a mental check of the small things and memento's that mark your personal history.
I have heard it said that It's very important to "be aware of your surroundings as they serve as a backdrop for the stage play that is your life." Who said that? Oh yeah, that guy. I think it was the same person that said "Keep a journal in your youth and when you grow old it will keep you" Hhmmm. Who said "The better you look, the more you'll see"? Oh, wait, that was me. Never mind.
Here is what I see, Let me describe the scene. I am at home, sitting in the front parlor at Chez Moose in New Orleans. The deep green Dupioni drapes are closed casting a cool and subtle light on the room. Boudin the dog is snoring peacefully at my feet, worn out by his busy day at Cabrini park and his daily meet and greet with the tourists visiting the Vieux Carre. His cold wet nose feels like a garden slug on my foot but I don't move it.
Outside I hear "Mr. Okra" a street vendor that sells fruits and vegetables. In a sing-song manner he calls out his long list of goods over home made PA system, "I got Apples, I got pineapple, I got hard potatoes, sweet potatoes... " as his brightly painted old pick up rolls down the street it sounds like an outboard motor on a boat easing its way through the bayou.

Let's see what else, immediately to my left there is a Queen Anne style table that hides an ancient Singer sewing machine that belonged to Moniseur Moose's Nana flanked by two terracotta Corinthian capitals from my Great Grandmother Tick Tock's house upon which a pair of Chinese earthenware neolithic Yangshao Majiayao funerary jars sit stoically, their former occupants evicted long ago. Under the cabinet there is a lidded basket containing a time capsule of my artwork- sketches, xeroxes, vague books on futurism and anatomical studies and the templates for all of my tattoos, on the floor in front of the electrical outlet there is a iron voodoo protection emblem with a slightly patina, about two feet around, of Damballah. Above this grouping, on the table that is decorated with a Versace scarf from the early eighties, (when Gianni was a bit more subdued in his designs) is a small rectangular sandalwood and ivory inlaid box from 1830 that holds tortoise shell and elephant hair rings, a small articulated wooden train and a few pieces of carved jade and netsuke figures as well as thumb tacks, a package of Smint, razor blades and small elephant from India studded with paste and rubies with emerald eyes.
Behind it is a much larger box, an old gilded and mirrored box from India that inside, wrapped with Fortuny fabric, with a 18th century rosary around it's wrappings, holds the skull of a knight that fought and died in the holy land during the Crusades. (the box is interesting in that the lid is topped with a very well done silver skull of a youth) Above is painting of my own creation, relatively small, only 72X48 inches, it's picture light being off at the moment causes the reflective quality of the medium to mirror the room in which it faces. It is a slightly distorted view, not unlike peering into an 18th century mirror, as I am sitting in the light that emanated from a bronze table lamp resting upon a coconut cabinet. The lamp is in the shape of an African elephant- you can tell by it's ears- that is trying to reach up to the top of a date palm with it's trunk. Two monkeys, one on the elephants back and one swinging in the tree, seem less than a slight distraction for the bronze elephant, who is frozen in his quest for dates. Also on the coconut chest there is a 19th century Moravian star that holds a tuberose scented candle alongside a round black box from New Guinea that smells like cloves and peat that holds dragons blood and Frankincense from Qatar. I see myself in the paintings reflection, illuminated by the light of this laptop. I realize I am buck naked. Even this tiny vignette, this one fifth of a room layered with everyday treasures pretty much sums up my somewhat complex nature. I suppose I too have many layers, like an onion. It would certainly account for the smell.
I rifle around the drawers of the coconut cabinet and find an old journal of sorts, There is a post card of painting of Ophelia by John Everett Millais, with a poem from Elizabeth Siddall Rossetti written on the back, marking a page on which there are random scribblings about Nice and French Riviera, some of which sounds like a poorly written travelogue:
....the Septuagenarians peruse antiques in the market at the Cours Soleya, Nice. The furs, diamonds and crocodile- and snake-skin accessories are real, as is the blond hair (although that may not be their own). I followed these ladies and hid behind an arrangement of clothes to catch them with my zoom lens.The image screams luxury and decadence, although what it doesn't convey is the warmth of the day; temperatures on the French Riviera in January can reach the high 60s, which makes it hugely popular destination for the elderly, rich, and rich elderly. So the thick furs are entirely, as they say in those parts, de trop!
They are, I discover later, handling crucifixes. Old vamps, but not vampires, then. One points a taloned finger to a selection shown them by the marketeer. 'Combien?' How much?' This one?' he replies. 'Non, tous'. No, all of them.

I find tucked in the pages of the journal a brochure about Place Rosetti, one of old Nice's many charming squares, that is home to the baroque cathedral Saint Réparate, built in honour of an early martyr who was made the patron saint of Nice. In 250 AD Saint Réparate, at the age of only 15, was martyred by Roman Emperor Gaius Decius, whose specialty was persecuting Christians. This helped fill in otherwise tedious afternoons when there was not much on at the Colosseum. Decius promulgated a decree requiring sacrifices be made to the Gods - note the plural. Christians who refused - "Sorry Decius, I'm into this new one-God thing", were promptly given the chop. According to Catholic legend, they first tried to burn Reparate alive, but fortuitously he was saved by torrential rain which put out the flames. They then made him drink scalding pitch. Once again, miraculously, he survived, though no doubt with heartburn. In desperation, Decius ordered him decapitated. ("Ha! Get out of this one Christian!" Chop) His headless torso was put in a small boat and set to drift in the Mediterranean currents, in the manner of fellow martyr Torpes, who ended up in what became called after him Saint-Tropez.
Reparate's boat drifted to the niçois coast, was brought to the shore by angels, and his remains buried in a chapel of the old town. Centuries later these were moved into the new cathedral Sainte-Réparate in 1690.
In summer the square is filled with happy visitors on the alfresco tables of La Claire Fontaine, and the very wonderful Fennochio, maker of hundreds of flavors of ice cream. Few if any know of the dark deeds of Emperor Gaius Decius and the story of Sainte-Reparate, the patron saint of Nice. But now you do.
Cheers!
The Martyred Saint
1 oz vodka
1/2 oz Southern Comfort peach liqueur
1/2 oz amaretto almond liqueur
1/2 oz triple sec
1/2 oz sloe gin
1/2 oz lime juice orange juice
Pour all ingredients (except orange juice) into an ice-filled Collin's glass. Fill with orange juice, and serve.

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zeitgeist, particular friend, perky libertine, animated trickster, iconoclast, rabble-rouser, object of worship, provocateur, capricious damp enchantress, idiosyncratic beloved reptile, whimsical saucy booze hound, bellwether, luminary, stoic, pensive illicit paramour, aloof, engaged, intuitive, curious, perplexing deranged mastermind, passionate, lasciviously adored offspring, amorous, sultry flamboyant charioteer, scholar, scribe, exalted thespian, voracious, considerable chieftain, impaired, cynical colleague, dreamer, procrastinator, loathsome glutton, artist, oppressed peasant, dainty heathen, narcissist, self-loathing...renaissance man