Category Archives: Extraordinary People

Visions of Albion

William Blake in Sussex: Visions of Albion

Petworth, 25th March.

Blake Another Sun

‘Visions of Albion’ offered an excellent overview of Blake’s time in the county (when he stayed at a cottage in Felpham on the south coast, 1800-1803), in the handsome surroundings of Petworth, now a National Trust property, and formerly the home of Lord Egremont and his wife, the Countess (who were both patrons of Blake and his widow).

 

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Blake’s Cottage, Felpham, Photo by K. Manwaring, 2017

 

Facing increasingly financial difficulties in London, Blake took the suggestion of the poet William Hayley to move to the pleasant cottage on the coast (‘the sweetest spot on Earth’, as he described it) as a lifeline. Hayley helped secure him the accommodation and provided him with several commissions for engravings and paintings. At first these were a great boon, but Blake started to see them as a bane, draining his creative energies and distracting him from his own visionary work. Yet he was not unproductive on that front. While at Felpham he wrote and illustrated two epic poems, ‘Milton’ and ‘Jerusalem’. In the former he penned the then untitled verse that was set to music by Parry in 1917, going on to become an unofficial national anthem (what Blake would have made of Tories, Last Night Prommers and WI members singing his invocation to the spiritual city of Jerusalem, which he saw as an emanation of the giant Albion, we can only speculate). In the latter epic poem, Blake wrote, ‘In Felpham I saw Visions of Albion’, and clearly it was a stimulating time for him, reflected in the artwork and writing on display at Petworth.

 

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The Last Judgement, William Blake, 1808

Chief among these are the three paintings commissioned by the Egremonts: ‘The Last Judgement’ (painted for the Countess, who was suffering her husband’s many infidelities and was perhaps considering his fate… In the painting the Countess herself is depicted rising to Heaven with her children); Lord Egremont was to request ‘Characters from Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queene’ and paid Catherine Blake (by then Blake’s widow) a princely sum of eighty guineas for the painting on muslin. Also on display are the luminous watercolours Blake undertook for his friend and patron Thomas Butts of Biblical subjects – the graceful lines are clearly those of a trained engraver, and the colours of muted greys perhaps reflective of the Sussex coast (they vary dramatically from the intense, infernal palette of his London engravings). His three years on the coast (the only time Blake lived away from his beloved city) lingered in his artwork – nearly twenty years later his was to limn ‘The Sea of Time and Space’ (1821) which visibly draws upon remembered seascapes. The wild seas are perhaps indicative of the fact that Blake’s time in Felpham was not all idyllic. It was punctuated most violently by an altercation in his garden when he found two soldiers (invited by the gardener) who he forcibly ejected. He frogmarched one (Schofield) to the nearby pub. Hot words were exchanged, which landed Blake in court, charged with sedition (and physical assault). The latter charges were dropped (Blake initially defended himself), but the former could have had him doing the gallows dance if not for the intervention of Hayley’s solicitor. He was acquitted, but the incident left him badly shaken, and soured his time in Sussex. Even in Arcadia the iniquities of life had found him. It was time to return to the land he knew, London.

 

 

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Elizabeth Ilives was a remarkable woman, by all accounts. K. Manwaring, 2018

 

The small but fascinating exhibition displays the legal proceedings of Blake’s trial, plus his handwritten descriptions of his commissioned work, a letter from Catherine thanking Lord Egremont and other archives – rare editions and prints, alongside Blake’s originals, still luminous and arrestingly strange after all these years. Thomas Philips iconic portrait of Blake from 1807 portrays him in a borrowed studio coat and packages him as the romantic poet, eyes fixed on higher things, pen ready to channel the divine downloads from his angelic Muse – his lightning rod to the gods of his very singular pantheon. For a brief while, during his Felpham years, patronised by nobility, Blake tasted their ambrosia.

 

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Illustration for ‘Northern Lights’, by Philip Pullman

 

Alongside the Blake exhibition is a small display of Philip Pullman ‘lantern slides’, the illustrations the author provided for ‘His Dark Materials’. Pullman, a dedicated Blakean, is the president of the Blake Society. As a writer-artist he qualifies himself to join a rarefied fellowship that included Blake, Rossetti, Peake and few others who achieved excellence in both. Pullman makes no bold claims about his own artistic ability, but the metonymic motifs are strong designs that adorn the text handsomely. They are perhaps closest too Blake’s wood-cuts, a series of which are displayed at Petworth (a commission by Dr Robert John Thornton of ‘Pastorals of Virgil’). As a carpenter, Pullman no doubt found an affinity in this exquisite working of his dryad material. Elsewhere in the North Gallery of the main house – a sizeable hall filled with statuary and paintings there are works by Turner and Fuseli (a kindred spirit in his use of symbolism). The house itself is packed with social history, both upstairs and down; the Capability Brown gardens extended as far as the eye could see but farther than legs wanted to carry; the daffodils and follies made us linger awhile but eventually we departed, knowing other treasures await for future visits.

 

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Ionic Rotunda, 1766, Petworth, in the Capability Brown gardens, K. Manwaring 2018

 

 

 

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Uncanny America: Day 7

 

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Winchester House, San José.

 

Guest Blog from Eliza Thomas, the Folk Whisperer.

ELIZA THOMAS

This blog is intended to be a true(ish) account of a road-trip taken from Asheville to San Francisco, early November, 2017. It’s a long journey – all 2594 miles of it – and so I’ve just focused on the highlights here, filtered by my own academic penchant. It was done in a 2001 Dodge Dakota Pickup 4WD, pulling a silver trailer, with London our mahmout bodyguard. Enjoy the ride!

Day 7 – California

And with a whoop we crossed the state border into California! We knew how the Settlers must have felt – yet the Great Plains had not finished yet. We still had Death Valley to traverse. Here we marvelled at the petroforms – lines formed in the volcanic debris, stretching for miles snaking across the eerie emptiness. No one quite knows what they are for – although there are plenty of theories. They seem akin to the Nazca lines of Peru. ‘Landing strips for UFOs, clearly,’ was J’s unhelpful suggestion.  The Sequoia national park offered natural wonders – some of the oldest living things on the planet. The trees here were just on a different scale entirely to what I’ve been used to and I walked among them truly dwarfed. Our road-trip had begun with tacky artificial ‘World’s Largest’ attractions and ended with the real thing.  We both spent some time communing with these silent giants.  We lunched at the park, then carried on. After a week on the road we were keen to reach our destination but we had one essential detour to make – to the Winchester Mystery House! It took us quite a while to get to San José – we didn’t have to stop and ask for directions though, although we couldn’t help singing the corny song, our spirits lifting as we neared our destination.  We’d made it to the West Coast – yippee! And so – like Scooby Doo and his gang (my Thelma to J’s Daphne) we took our mystery mobile to the Winchester Mystery House. Sprawling over six acres, this seven storey structure contains an incredible 160 rooms (apparently the owner never slept in the same bedroom twice to confuse the spirits of the slain which haunted her conscience), 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 stairways, 47 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, and 6 kitchens. It belonged to the widow of  William Wirt Winchester, son of Oliver Fisher Winchester, Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut and manufacturer of the famous Winchester repeating rifle. Sarah Winchester, nee Lockwood Pardee, was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1840. Known as the ‘Belle of New Haven’ Sarah received all the privileges her parent’s wealthy lifestyle could afford. She spoke four languages and played the piano well. She married William in 1862 and they became the toast of New England society. But then in 1866 tragedy struck when their beloved daughter, Annie, died tragically of the mysterious illness known as Marasmus. Sarah was grief-stricken and inconsolable, falling into a deep depression from which she never fully recovered. Fifteen years later this was compounded by the death of her husband by tuberculosis. This seemed to have been the last straw. After, the widow Winchester sought the advice of a medium – the Boston Medium – who told her the deaths of her loved ones were the result of the blood staining the Winchester family, from all the victims of the repeat-action rifle which had made their fortune – Native Americans, Civil War soldiers, et cetera, et cetera. Legions of the dead. The only way to appease these spirits was to move west and build a house – and ensure that the building work never stopped. The perpetual banging would mirror the sound of the rifle, and the confusing labyrinth that would result would ‘baffle’ the angry ghosts. Such a house would ensure a place for her in eternity. And so Sarah followed the advice of the Boston Medium and headed west, secured some land near San Jose – an unfinished farm house – and ordered for the work to begin. This continued to her death (heart failure in the middle of the night) on 5th September 1922. Then the workmen downed tools – leaving nails half-hammered into the walls. Mrs Winchester, the heiress of the Winchester fortune, had been a philanthropic recluse – using her vast wealth to not only fund the perpetual building work but also the founding of a medical center (sic) for the treatment of TB. Although children from the neigbourhood were welcome – treated to ice-cream and allowed to play on her piano – Mrs Winchester was fastidious in her privacy, apparently wearing a veil and sacking any workman who saw her face (though she paid her workers twice the going rate). She was said to have retired to the Blue Room every night, wearing one of thirteen coloured robes, and there with the use of a planchette board, consult the spirits for construction advice – in this case, the term ‘cowboy builders’ seems to have been apt. The house still stands as a creepy testimony to a life cursed with tragedy – and to the fact that having great wealth is not a guarantee of happiness.  It was with some relief we left this chilly place, back out into the glorious Californian sun – and made our way north to San Francisco. We whooped at the sign that announced we had arrived at our destination city. I was looking forward to exploring all the landmarks – Union Square, Chinatown, the City Lights bookshop – but for now, we ran the gauntlet of the freeways to the bay and pulled up in a layby to enjoy the view … of the Golden Gate bridge. We popped open a bottle of chilled white Californian wine to celebrate.  We’d made it!

Eliza Thomas is a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests are the connections between folklore and folk music in Lowland Scotland. She is the co-convenor of the now annual SIDHE (Scottish International Dialogues in Hermeneutic Ethnomusicology) Conference, and a contributor to The Cone and The Bottle Imp. She blogs and tweets as the Folk Whisperer.

 

Uncanny America: Day 5

 

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Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico

 

Guest Blog from Eliza Thomas, the Folk Whisperer.

ELIZA THOMAS

This blog is intended to be a true(ish) account of a road-trip taken from Asheville to San Francisco, early November, 2017. It’s a long journey – all 2594 miles of it – and so I’ve just focused on the highlights here, filtered by my own academic penchant. It was done in a 2001 Dodge Dakota Pickup 4WD, pulling a silver trailer, with London our mahmout bodyguard. Enjoy the ride!

Day 5: New Mexico

As we entered New Mexico the waves of heat rippled like mirages on the long road stretching to vanishing point ahead. We’d been on the road for nearly a week and were starting to flag a little. Perhaps the prospect of what waited for J made her increasingly apprehensive. We’d been driving hard and were in need of some serious R&R – and so I insisted we stopped at the Blue Hole. It’s an 81 feet deep natural artesian spring of crystal clear water – an oasis in the desert, and oh boy, what welcome relief! We splashed around in it – having got there early enough for it to be reasonably quiet – and lolled about on sun-loungers in our sunnies and skimpies, flipping through magazines (or reading Devereux’s book on Mysterious Ancient America in my case), sipping ice-cold drinks. We had left London with the trailer, plenty of water, a full bowl, and the air-con on full and he was wagging furiously by the time we got back – giving us a bark, as if to say, ‘Hell, why do you get to have all the fun?’ Somehow, I don’t think they’d let a mahmout in the Blue Hole. Feeling refreshed we went on our way.  We gladly sailed by the turn-off for Las Vegas (where everything bad about America is conveniently in one place) and decided not to take the big detour south – for the ‘obligatory’ pilgrimage Roswell and Area 51. We knew it was going to be cheesy and full of alien tat, (J had been there). Yes, it holds an iconic (an overused word) place in American popular culture and I used to love The X Files, but J said I’d find it disappointing (’just a few old hangars and lots of tacky alien truck-stops’). However, what we decided to go and see instead were the Very Large Array dishes – another cinematic landmark (as featured in Contact, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, etc). Truly awe-inspiring and enough to make anyone wonder if the truth was ‘out there’. We stopped here for an explore – the visitor ‘center’, was informative, and they served excellent coffee, where I made notes. That night I suggested we pitched up in the desert to do some star-gazing – because I’d been bitten by the bug. There was something about these wide skies that made you just want to look up. It is no wonder then that the earliest (Paleo-Indian) cultures seemed particularly obsessed with the movements of the stars and the sun. There is evidence of their presence here from 14,000 years ago. We spent the afternoon visiting the Petroglyph National Monument near Albuquerque, marvelling at the  estimated 24,000 pieces of rock art left by the previous inhabitants of this land. London was taken on a very long walkies as we trekked around the Western Trail. It was hot work, but worth it. These wonders had been here a long-time, preserved by the extra-ordinary climate and isolation. The petroglyphs often depict animal and human forms in geometric shapes swirling with patterns, thought to be a depiction of the entoptics resulting from trance-states – Peyote art. It is easy to imagine having a vision out here in this hallucinatory place.

  1. Jody Foster is my Number One Heroine!

We concluded our day’s exploring with a real highlight of the trip – the World Heritage Site of Chaco Canyon, the ‘center of an ancient world’, as the official website boasts. This was the hub between 850 and 1250 AD of an intense level of monument building and ritual activity by the Chacoan people. There is too much here to go into – worthy of another blog by itself – but suffice to say, it was awesome. Go and check it out! We found a spot by the Three Rivers petroglyphs – strange carvings high on the rocks, truly in the middle of nowhere. Pulling up in the trailer amid a dusty canyon made me have a Breaking Bad moment. I felt tempted to say ‘Let’s cook!’ I would make a good Jesse Pinkman to J’s Walter White I reckon! After we fixed up some food, we settled in for the night. The stars came out in all their glory – as though they had been newly born, and not fading recordings of long-dead stars. A piece of rock art in Chaco Canyon depicting a many-rayed star, a crescent and a handprint apparently records the time when the Crab Nebula was born (or became first visible), back in 4 July, 1054. The Anasazi were active at that time in Chaco Canyon – and it would seem the petroglyph records this event.  The desert is the place where things are made or unmade. Religions were forged in the fires of such places. The prophets let themselves be purified by its harshness, tested, tempted and transformed. We huddled around a small brush fire – feeling the vastness of the wild, untamed night-desert around us filled with inchoate dangers. It was thrilling to think we were in Apache Country and the state boasted some of the most famous outlaws in the history of the Wild West – the Apache Kid, Geronimo, Cochise, Victorio, Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch…! The stuff of legend. And here I was. I was glad of the presence of J and her trusty hound. J got out her guitar (I was hoping she would) and began to strum away – guitars always sound good by campfires, but J can actually play hers well, and, boy, what a voice! It summed up the immensity and the intimacy of the moment. She dedicated to song (’Those Who Have Gone’) to the ancient peoples of this place, the Anasazi, the Hohokam, the Apache, the Navajo. It sent a tingle up my spine. The fire spat as the resin oozing out of the brushwood dripped onto the flames, sending swirls of sparks up into the night.

For the record, here’s J’s song:

Those Who Have Gone

Can you hear them in the sage brush?

hear them in the rain?

Whispers in the canyon,

thunder on the plain.

Footprints on the desert floor

red hand in cave shadow,

Beasts seen from high above,

lines too long to follow.

They linger in the place names,

in old customs, in a word.

They speak to us in dreams,

in songs that cannot be heard.

They are the first people,

those who have gone,

they are the wise children,

those who have gone,

they are the silent stewards,

those who have gone,

they live on in us,

those who have gone.

 

The journey continues tomorrow…

Eliza Thomas is a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests are the connections between folklore and folk music in Lowland Scotland. She is the co-convenor of the now annual SIDHE (Scottish International Dialogues in Hermeneutic Ethnomusicology) Conference, and a contributor to The Cone and The Bottle Imp. She blogs and tweets as the Folk Whisperer.

 

Uncanny America: Day 4

 

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U-Drop Inn, Shamrock, Texas

 

Guest Blog from Eliza Thomas, the Folk Whisperer.

ELIZA THOMAS

Day 4: Texas

Four days into our trip and we’ve been cruising across the surreal vastness of Texas – past Amarillo out into the great empty spaces. Now and then the crushing emptiness is interrupted by a giant cowboy, eyeball, or other piece of kitsch Americana. The whole place has a Dali-esque quality to it.  Our first pit-stop, for breakfast of coffee and waffles was the Tower Station and U-Drop Inn  – an iconic Art Deco-style landmark on Route 66 (I can’t believe we’re travelling it!).  We make a slight detour for Boot Hill, the ‘Cowboy Capital of the Plains’, with its famous cemetery – and it’s like walking into a filmset. Such places are virtually ‘sacred’ landmarks in the mythologized Wild West. This is a Cowboy Dreamtime we’re entering, and I can’t but help feel a little out of place – I’m the anachronism here, the little English girl on the wrong side of the ocean. But J is a lovely travelling companion and makes me feel safe and welcome – she provides my ‘passport’. Doors just open for us, having her around – quite literally. Gentlemen know how to treat a lady round here – tipping their 10-gallon-hats to us, with a ‘Howdy, Ma’am’ and all that. J is being treated like the music star she plainly is destined to become. Texas is the place to ‘walk tall’ – to live up to your own legend. Its roots might be mired in blood and oil, but it reaches for the stars.

The journey continues tomorrow…

Eliza Thomas is a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests are the connections between folklore and folk music in Lowland Scotland. She is the co-convenor of the now annual SIDHE (Scottish International Dialogues in Hermeneutic Ethnomusicology) Conference, and a contributor to The Cone and The Bottle Imp. She blogs and tweets as the Folk Whisperer.

Uncanny America: Day 3

Uncanny America: folklore, fakelore and the bazaar of the bizarre

 

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Golden Driller, Tulsa

 

Guest Blog from Eliza Thomas, the Folk Whisperer.

ELIZA THOMAS

This blog is intended to be a true(ish) account of a road-trip taken from Asheville to San Francisco, early November, 2017. It’s a long journey – all 2594 miles of it – and so I’ve just focused on the highlights here, filtered by my own academic penchant. It was done in a 2001 Dodge Dakota Pickup 4WD, pulling a silver trailer, with London our mahmout bodyguard. Enjoy the ride!

Day 3: Oklahoma

In the morning we crossed state lines close to the now-closed Fort Chaffee – the site where Elvis Presley had his famous buzz-cut when he joined the Army in March 1958. This ‘Elvis haircut site’ (Building #803 on the base) is currently being restored. It’s destruction, a close shave, it would appear – thanks to the success of a 50th Anniversary ‘GI Haircut Day’ when hundreds flocked to the once doomed Fort Chaffee Barbershop Museum where Jimmy Don Peterson, son of the barber who cut Presley’s hair, gave free G.I. buzz cuts to visitors.  A rag, a bone, a hank of hair resurrects these 20th Century saints. Curiouser and curiouser.

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It was hard to imagine it getting hicker, but Oklahoma managed to pull it off. Up in Beaver they have the ‘cow chip throwing capital of the world’ – what a USP! We detoured to Tulsa to see the ‘Golden Driller’ a gi-normous oil man, one of the largest statues in the States apparently. For some reason he was crotchless, and so looked more like an oil woman to my eyes. Nearby was the not to be missed Blue Whale of Catoosa – one of many ‘Route 66 attractions’, for here the iconic road converged with other interstates. What stood out for me in this county was the Woody Guthrie statue in Okemah – their famous ‘Commie’ son was not honoured until those who vehemently disliked him at passed on. J sang an impromptu version of ‘This Land is Your Land’ by the side of it, and even got some dollars thrown into her case, thinking she was busking.  What haunted me more than anything were the First Nation place names – Choctee, Shawnee, Tecumseh, Lake Thunderbird – poignant reminders of the original residents of this land. Their ghosts are everywhere – and the kitsch attractions, like the ‘World’s Largest Totem Pole’ in Durant serve to only rub salt in the wound.  Near the OK/TX border we pass through a ghost town called Texola – literally, it’s advertised as such. Run down, abandoned properties. Beat up old store fronts. A bar with a sign: ‘There’s no other place like this place anywhere near this place so this must be the place.’

The journey continues tomorrow…

Eliza Thomas is a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests are the connections between folklore and folk music in Lowland Scotland. She is the co-convenor of the now annual SIDHE (Scottish International Dialogues in Hermeneutic Ethnomusicology) Conference, and a contributor to The Cone and The Bottle Imp. She blogs and tweets as the Folk Whisperer.

Uncanny America: Day 2

Uncanny America: folklore, fakelore and the bazaar of the bizarre

 

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Elvis Week, Memphis

 

Guest Blog from Eliza Thomas, the Folk Whisperer.

ELIZA THOMAS

This blog is intended to be a true(ish) account of a road-trip taken from Asheville to San Francisco, early November, 2017. It’s a long journey – all 2594 miles of it – and so I’ve just focused on the highlights here, filtered by my own academic penchant. It was done in a 2001 Dodge Dakota Pickup 4WD, pulling a silver trailer, with London our mahmout bodyguard. Enjoy the ride!

Day 2: Tennessee to Arkansas

The next day we made pilgrimage to Graceland – more for my culture-vulture benefit, than J’s whose been there before. She stayed in the trailer with London while I did the ‘stations of the cross’. It’s incredible to see what an icon the ‘King’ has become, and how the minutiae of his lifestyle have become the relics for modern day pilgrims to idolise, perhaps feeling they will imbibe some of his shamanic aura. He had such powerful charisma, whatever you think of his music. I’ve never been a massive fan, I must admit – my Dad liked him, so I associate him with that generation. He seems to appeal to over-the-hill menopausal males with their beer bellies and dyed quiffs. It brings out the pub-singer in all of us. Fortunately, we hit Memphis during ‘Elvis Week’ and so the streets were swarming with lookalikes – a wonderfully surreal experience.  Less joyous was the KKK ‘Great Wizard’ memorial – an unsavoury monument to an unpleasant chapter in America’s past, reminding me I’m deep behind ‘enemy lines’, here in the Bible Belt. Racism, jingoism, small-town xenophobia. These are some of the negative values that linger here like a bad smell. And yet the majority of folk we meet seem pleasant and easy going – but don’t talk to them about liberal politics or religious tolerance! As we crossed the border into Arkansas I breathed with relief – whether this was misplaced, who knows, but I must admit it was a relief to escape the kitsch for a while and head to the Hot Springs national park. To be surrounded by real natural beauty again was balm to the soul. We pulled up outside the tourist ‘mecca’ of Little Rock, the state capital, in a leafy picnic area that London was delighted with. We went for a dip and dried off in the sun. It felt a million miles from anywhere. It turns out this neck of the woods is ‘Clinton Country’ as the tourist signs proudly state – the childhood home of the former Chief Executive. Presidents are the equivalent of Kings and Queens over here (maybe one day they’ll have a female in the White House? Please!). You can visit where they studied (Bill Clinton’s High School is just up the road), ate, slept, danced, drank, dumped… America seems to like it’s heroes to have feet of clay. Perhaps it makes them closer to the common man – and thus feeds into the American Dream, that everyone has a shot at the top, everyone can make it, and even a son of Arkansas can become President of the USA. Arkansas is a peculiar place – alongside the Clinton arcana, Hot Springs boasts as its other attractions Mermen (well, a dodgy stitched-together freak show exhibit at the Alligator Farm), telepathic racoons (in the ‘Zoo with IQ’), and a tiny town.  We were not tempted by these delights, but wended our way to ‘authentic’ attractions like the Boggy Creek Monster (a local Bigfoot-type, now with his own Monster Mall and photo-opportunity: I gurned for the camera from inside it); and the supposedly runic stone of Paris, Arkansas.

Aza – the Gaudy Goddess of Feminine Cosmic EnergyYet the highlight of this Hick-chic state was unquestionably Aza – the Gaudy Goddess of Feminine Cosmic Energy. Adora Zerlina Astra (“Beloved One Created of the Stars”) manifested in her corporeal form at Turpentine Creek. Created in late 2012 by sculptor Bruce Anderson, She is ‘a non-denominational goddess’, a composite of various deities that Anderson says ‘celebrates the feminine energy of the cosmos’. Despite her cosmic pedigree, Aza was built for the owners of Eureka Springs’ chilli restaurant on their lawn, which overlooks a downtown park. From it, Aza looks down upon us Earthlings with an inscrutable gaze. J and I took a stroll up to pay our respects. Our Lady was made of turquoise stained cement. She holds an orb in one hand and a heart-shaped sceptre in the other. Up close we notice the hand-cut tiles which cover her, inspired apparently by the Hubble Telescope. Astronomer bling. Aza has a Mona Lisa-esque smile – perhaps inevitably when you know the punchline of the Cosmic Joke. She’s been variously interpreted as Roman Catholic, Hindi, Egyptian, even Atlantean, yet she’s hardly mermaid material. Here J and I reflected on our day, enjoying a cosmic ice-cream. Tomorrow we head onto to Oklahoma. But that’s enough cultural edification for one day.

The journey continues tomorrow…

Eliza Thomas is a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests are the connections between folklore and folk music in Lowland Scotland. She is the co-convenor of the now annual SIDHE (Scottish International Dialogues in Hermeneutic Ethnomusicology) Conference, and a contributor to The Cone and The Bottle Imp. She blogs and tweets as the Folk Whisperer.

Walking with a Friend

Anthony on Mynydd Du by KM.jpg

Anthony on Mynydd Du by K. Manwaring 2018

 

Going for a stroll with a friend – an amicable amble, as it were – is one of life’s great pleasures. With a good friend the logistics of the day (if it is a long hike) do not become an effort: there is an organic, spontaneous feel to things. Even if a general itinerary has been agreed upon (a rough loop around a valley, a hope to reach a certain interesting landmark) in-the-moment diversions may be taken, arborescent pathways, roads-less-taken, echoing the digressional quality of the conversation, which has a free-ranging spirit. Anything may be discussed –the profane to the profound, the intimate to the trivial, heretical thoughts and transgressive reflections. Nothing is beyond the pale of conversation’s wilderness garden. Nothing is judged weedish and inappropriate. There is no harsh judgement, cultural approbation, twitter-storm, or trigger-happy ‘outraged’ waiting to descend upon you if you say something that is not in line with the popularity morality (or perceived performance thereof).  You can enjoy a hashtag free dialogue for once, nuanced by non-verbal communication – embodied and ensouled in the actuality of the moment, not in some virtual sphere of imagined connection. Beyond the reductive dualism of the binary there is a prismatic spectrum. Bumbling along in our ‘meat-suits’ (as those who spend too long on line call them), at home in our bodies in the true eco-system of things, we ‘arrive in time’ (as Laurie Lee put it). Immersed in the world of the  senses, colours, shapes, textures, smells, sounds explode around you. You struggle up a slippery, muddy path – little more than stream bed – to emerge breathless above the tree-line, onto hoar-frosted heathland, blinding in its brilliance beneath the sharp winter sun in the naked sky. Talking clouds in the frozen air, you pause for a cuppa at a stile. Enjoy the Ice Age view and the burn in the limbs. Share tunnocks and jelly-beans. Ideas and feelings. Stand and stare in an animal state of beingness, like a wild horse on a hillside. And this is enough. With a good friend there are comfortable lacuna in the colloquy, companionable silences. These interstices, when you may walk ‘apart together’ are just as important as the moments of intersection. Critically, they allow us to expand our awareness beyond the anthropocentric, the human bubble, to our surroundings. In silent communion with a landscape, in time, we experience ‘heath-mind’ or ‘wood-mind’, ‘stream-mind’ or ‘rock-mind’. In an encounter with another form of life – a bird on a gate-post, a cow in a field, a butterfly on the breeze, a seal in the surf – our consciousness may flip for a moment. In a flash of fith-fath we may find ourselves experiencing the world from a non-human paradigm. As we walk along, alone, by ourselves, together, we may feel something start to stir, the presentiment of an idea, preparing to be born, given sufficient time and space. We may not be able to articulate it yet, but we know it is there. We incubate it deep inside, beneath layers of woolly hats, waterproofs, thermals, thick socks. Our winter plumage. The Spring in us, waiting in the wings. Too much talk, too much company, can cast these fledgling thoughts out of the nest too soon.  Inspiration needs space to grow. A good friend knows this, notices when you need a moment by yourself. In the same way that they don’t just talk about them self but allow you to respond, and show genuine curiousity and emotional engagement about your own life, so they know when you don’t wish to respond, when you would prefer to be peaceful for a while. Walking with a friend there is a leaning-out as well as a leaning-in. This mutuality, and ease of decision that goes with it, are the destressors of the day alongside the physical and mental health benefits of being outdoors, having a bit of exercise and getting away from it all. The Japanese notion of ‘forest therapy’ (“shinrin yoku,” literally “forest bathing”) walks hand-in-hand with ‘friend therapy’. A friend allows you to be yourself. With a good friend you can drop down into the deep well of your own being – without trying to be anything or prove anything, you are more fully yourself. They invite us to shake hands with our soul. We are reminded of who we truly are, of slumbering potentials and forgotten promises to ourselves. The voices and wishes we thought we’d honour – which once rang out but have been drowned by the clamour of the world, until, in a forest clearing, or by a glittering brook, we hear them again. And they were always there, patiently waiting for us.

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2018

With many thanks to Anthony Nanson (& to Kirsty Hartsiotis, for the lovely meal upon our return and further scintillating conversation).