"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

At the Heart of the Well

THE SACRED WELL AT CHICHEN ITZA
ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
Ancient Mayan Sacrifice
by archaeological painter, Herbert M. Herget (1885 - 1950)
for National Geographic Magazine (1936)
Artist's impression of Cenote [say-NO-tay] Sacrifice
~ not necessarily historically accurate ~

~ At The Mouth of the Well of Magic Water ~

***********************

Picking up where we left off last time with
Margaret Atwood's story "The Resplendent Quetzel":

The story's focal point is an ancient sacrificial well, a pre - Columbian ruin whose imposing presence governs the private thoughts of both Edward and Sarah. Edward, for example, imagines "picking Sarah up and hurling her over the edge, down into the sacrificial well. Anything to shatter that imperturbable expression, bland and pale and plump and smug, like a Flemish Madonna's. . . . But it wouldn't work: as she fell she would glance at him, not with fear but with maternal irritation" (148).

Sitting in the shade near the well, Sarah hears a tour guide explain that "archaeologists have dived down into the well. They have dredged up more than fifty skeletons, and they have found that some of them were not virgins at all but men. Also, most of them were children. So as you can see, that is the end of the popular legend" (156). Before arriving at the village, Sarah had imagined that the well would be "smaller, more like a wishing well" (144), three coins in the fountain and all that. But, no, it is more impressive than she expected, much deeper, historically significant, part swamp yet part sacred orifice, repulsive yet mysterious. The mood of the vacation -- the myth - shattering well, the Mexican village, the shabby restaurant, the motley Nativity display, the misplaced baby doll -- has inspired Sarah to proceed with a purification ritual of her own.

Much to the reader's surprise, she withdraws from her purse the plaster Christ Child that, the narrator now reveals, she had stolen from the creche the night before. Even Sarah is surprised at herself: "It was inconceivable to her that she had done such a thing, but there it was, she really had. She hadn't planned it beforehand. . . . She'd just suddenly reached out her hand, past the Wise Men and through the door of the stable, picked the child up and put it into her purse" (156). Sarah's act of petty theft is motivated by an instinctive urge to categorize the doll as a miniature, inanimate replication of humanity. She lifts the doll from the manger in an impulsive moment of vision, and it becomes a participant in the drama of human existence.

Remembering how enormous the doll had looked in the sacred yet vulgar setting of the Nativity, she now perceives it differently: "Separated from the dwarfish Virgin and Joseph, it didn't look quite so absurd". She "placed the baby on the rock beside her . . . stood up . . . picked up the child and walked slowly towards the well, until she was standing at the very brink." The narrative shifts abruptly to Edward's perspective. He sees Sarah standing "at the well's edge, her arms raised above her head." He fears that she is preparing to jump in, "but she merely drew back her right arm and threw something into the well" (158).

The reader knows, as Edward does not, that the hurtled object is the Baby Jesus, sent to release them all -- father, mother, and stillborn child -- from the limbo in which they hang. As the tour guide explained previously, the early Mayans did not perform this ritual out of cruelty, nor does Sarah. She has sent the inanimate surrogate of her own child as a messenger to the liquid gods who live in the watery paradise at the bottom of the ancient well. Perhaps Edward and Sarah's quest for the Resplendent Quetzal -- the Holy Grail, the jewel, the precious feather -- has not been in vain.

Will all be well for Sarah? Not clear. She has looked into the abyss of abjection, the frighteningly deep sacrificial well, the land of oblivion. The story does not end optimistically, but somehow the unlikely grouping in the Mexican bar -- the headless Wise Man, the St. Nicholas night - light, and the whimsical Fred Flintstone -- have enabled her to confront the haunting memories of disappointment and loss. Mary and Joseph may be well out of their depth with their elephant - sized baby, yet the sight of this disproportionate Holy Family has shifted Sarah's sense of perspective.
***********************
"On the bar beside the television set there was a creche, with three painted plaster Wise Men, one on an elephant, the others on camels. The first Wise Man was missing his head. Inside the stable a stunted Joseph and Mary adored an enormous Christ Child which was more than half as big as the elephant. Sarah wondered how the Mary could possibly have squeezed out this colossus; it made her uncomfortable to think about it. Beside the creche was a Santa Claus haloed with flashing lights, and beside that a radio in the shape of Fred Flintstone, which was paying American popular songs, all of them ancient." (152)
from "The Resplendent Quetzel"
in Dancing Girls and Other Stories
by Margaret Atwood (b 1939)
Canadian activist, novelist, poet

Previous Fortnightly Post
At the Heart of the Creche


Frosty and Abominable Bring Gifts for Colbert
[Click to see many more funny nativities]

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, January 28th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ All ~Hallowed~ Nativities
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com

Saturday, December 28, 2019

At the Heart of the Creche

MANGER SCENE, ACCUSTOMED . . .
NO WAIT! UNACCUSTOMED . . .
YET ODDLY CEREMONIOUS!

"And Batman said,
'Peace, good will toward all. Except Joker.' "

[Click to see many more funny nativities]
"On the bar beside the television set there was a creche, with three painted plaster Wise Men, one on an elephant, the others on camels. The first Wise Man was missing his head. Inside the stable a stunted Joseph and Mary adored an enormous Christ Child which was more than half as big as the elephant. Sarah wondered how the Mary could possibly have squeezed out this colossus; it made her uncomfortable to think about it. Beside the creche was a Santa Claus haloed with flashing lights, and beside that a radio in the shape of Fred Flintstone, which was paying American popular songs, all of them ancient." (152)
from "The Resplendent Quetzal"
in Dancing Girls and Other Stories
by Margaret Atwood (b 1939)
Canadian activist, novelist, poet

This unlikely Nativity Scene establishes the tone for Atwood's troubling story of Mother and Child. The main character, Sarah, is the pained and haughty Madonna, a figure tortured by birth on the one hand, yet smugly content on the other, and emotionally distant from her husband Edward. The "resplendent quetzal" of the title is a bird found in Mexican cloud forests that Sarah would like to see during the vacation that she and Edward are taking. She has been thumbing through his handbook, The Birds of Mexico: "Quetzal Bird meant Feather Bird . . . A jewel, a precious feather."

Sarah is sadly reminded of her recent pregnancy and stillborn child when she spies the absurdly unlikely Nativity grouping in one of the tasteless restaurants that Edward insists will supply them with a bit of "local colour." Here the confrontation between the sacred and the secular becomes almost shockingly, ludicrously complicated. In this pastiche, the religious landscape is populated by at least as many secular representatives as sacred ones. The boundaries between the two worlds have been all but erased, with abstract mythologized figures and cartoon characters worshipping side by side at the very heart of the creche.

Sarah clearly sees herself as the too - small Mary and finds it uncomfortable just thinking about the enormous baby doll. The way in which she was drained emotionally by her pregnancy and the way in which she felt neglected by Edward are the memories that make eating dinner in the squalid restaurant "even more depressing than it should have been, especially the creche. It was painful . . ." (152).

The Big Boy!

Atwood's juxtaposition of the stunted Mary and the enormous Christ Child is reminiscent of the portrayal in Marilyn French's novel The Women's Room of a tiny Barbie doll acting as mother to a huge baby doll. Much like Sarah, the character Adele struggles with issues of inadequacy and proportion. A tired wife and mother, Adele overhears her daughter Linda playing dolls. The child takes on first the voice of the mother doll, then the voice of the whining baby doll. The scenario Linda creates with her dolls is a parody in miniature of Adele's own life, and of course the dialogue of Linda's drama is drawn from her own conversations with her mother and those she has overheard. The symbolism is obvious -- that the mother feels overwhelmed by the children, whose energy and presence seems to loom so much larger than her own:
"Linda was squatting on the floor, playing with her doll.

'Now you're a bad girl, a bad, bad girl,' she was saying as she slapped the doll on its bottom several times. 'You go straight in your room and don't come out! And don't wake up the baby!' her little voice said angrily. She put the baby doll on its feet and marched it toward the couch.

'Mmmmmm,' she whined, 'I didn't mean it, Mommy,' she said in a tiny high voice.

'You did so and you're bad!' she said in her Mommy voice, and threw the baby doll down on the floor on its face. The baby doll was eighteen inches long; the Mommy doll was small, less than a foot tall. She put an apron on Barbie, and said in a calm, happy voice: 'I wonder what I should make for Daddy's supper tonight. I know, I'll make a chocolate cake with raisins, and bacon.' Then she paraded the Barbie doll around in a circle, humming all the while. 'Hello, dear,' she said in an artificial voice. 'How was your day today? Guess what I've made? Chocolate cake with raisins!' There was a silence, in which presumably the father answered. 'Oh yes, it's been one of those days. After you eat, I want you to go in and spank that baby, she was so bad today! Isn't this chocolate cake delicious?' "
(135)
from The Women's Room
by Marilyn French (1929 - 2009)
American feminist and author

See also: Margaret Atwood & Marilyn French
@ The Quotidian Kit

~ CONTINUED NEXT TIME ~

Batman makes another appearance ~ this time as Joseph!

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, January 14th ~ At the Heart of the Well

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ All ~Hallowed~ Nativities
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Celine & Florine

THE STETTIES, ACCUSTOMED CEREMONIOUS
The Amazing Stettheimer Sisters ~ 2017 Exhibition
Portrait of Myself
Portrait of My Sister, Ettie Stettheimer
Portrait of My Sister Carrie W. Stettheimer
All three paintings by Florine Stettheimer ~ 1923

Florine, 1871–1944
Caroline (Carrie) 1869 – 1944
Henrietta (Ettie / aka Henri Waste) 1875 – 1955
Victoria Reis: "Stettheimer’s portrait of her younger sister Ettie places her in a dark, starlit setting in front of a combination burning bush-Christmas tree, perhaps to signify the family’s cultural assimilation as Jews who celebrated Christmas. Like Florine, the subject also appears to be floating in space, lounging on a red fainting couch. An ornament on the tree, a red book inscribed with the name “Ettie,” represents Ettie’s role as the author and intellectual of the family."


Stettheimer's Christmas painting is the perfect accompaniment to this poem -- by my friend ~ Celine -- that I came across when looking through an old Christmas scrapbook from grad school days:
Presents

Presents wrapped in paper --
presents tied with bows!
Outward signs can help us
signal deeper things we know.

Can any gift be greater
than the persons in this place,
each given to the others
for beauty, joy, and grace?
But
will we stop today to stare
at each and every face?
Will we take the time to care,
or just hurry on and race
to open
presents wrapped in paper --
presents tied with bows?

Outward signs can help us
signal gifts we could forget
we know.

Merry Christmas and Blessings
Always ~ Sister Celine Carrigan
December 13, 1983

**************

Thanks also to my friend Katie,
who recently sent me a passage from Rilke’s
Book of Hours that echoes the message of Celine's poem
that a true present cannot be contained within a gift box:

"I don’t want to think a place for you.
Speak to me from everywhere.
Your gospel can be comprehended
without looking for its source.
When I go toward you it is with my whole life."


**************

And this from Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening:
How I Learned the Unexpected Joy
of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart

by Carol Wall (1951 - 2014)

“It occurred to me that friendship itself could be a kind of church.”

**************

And, finally, this blessing from G. K. Chesterton, which
captures the creative and varied life of "The Stetties":

“You say grace before meals. All right.
But I say grace before the concert and the opera,
and grace before the play and pantomime,
and grace before I open a book,
and grace before sketching, painting, swimming,
fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing
and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

[See also Michaelmas & Martinmas]

**************

The Stettheimer sisters ~ "The Stetties" ~ with their mother
by Florine Stettheimer

Family Portrait I, 1915

Family Portrait II, 1933

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, December 28th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Where's Kafka?

WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
THE KAFKA MUSEUM ~ WITH CROW & GINGERBREAD

I am certainly not the first American tourist to wander around Prague searching for signs of Kafka, and many have done a much better job of it than I. Some manifestations of the great "K" were not so hard to find:

Mirrored Head of Franz Kafka

Kafka Riding an Empty Suit

Reader in an Armchair

Others were more elusive. Despite the omnipresence of Kafka in Prague, a couple of times I felt like K., standing before the closed door of the law. Like the Man Before the Law, I was right in front of my goal, yet unable to pass through the barrier -- in this case, the barrier of my own tourist - blindness. As K. can attest, the object of your quest might be right before your eyes yet still impossible to perceive.

For example, in search of Kafka's birthplace,
I carefully photographed this corner . . .

. . . before successfully locating, merely
one block away, this wall - mounted plaque,
that marks the location of Kafka's birth.
I had been standing directly beneath it,
but had neglected to look up!

Similarly, after tracing Kafka's route to school
across the Old Town Square, from the ornately decorated
House at the Minute ~ Dům U Minuty

. . . to the Masna Street Elementary School,
I stood right in front of the green front door,
looking across to the other side of the street.
But the aspect did not seem right, not as I had expected. . . .
Oh! because the school building was directly behind me!

Then there was that moment, wandering around the Municipal House (Obecní Dům), past the American Bar and the concert hall, when I peered into some kind of staging area filled with flat tables and standing metal bars. "Interesting art installation," I said to Gerry, thinking "how avant - garde," until he offered a moment of clarification: "That's the coat check!"

The right perception of any matter
and a misunderstanding of the same matter
do not wholly exclude each other
.”
Franz Kafka ~ The Trial

(271, Muir / Butler translation; 258 online edition)


Previous Fortnightly Post
Finding Kafka In Prague

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, December 14th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ Visions of Kafka
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com


Kafka Museum &
Pernikovy Panacek Gingerbread Shop

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Finding Kafka in Prague

KAFKA'S PRAGUE
WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
"Kafka has become the ubiquitous icon [of Prague]. His melancholy portrait is inescapable, adorning T-shirts, coffee mugs, posters, shopping bags, puppets and above all, graffiti. . . .

"Franz Kafka’s world was the world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, long before the horrors his writing seemed to anticipate had occurred. But in his personal habits, he would have fitted well into the style of the next turn of the century and the modern-day Prague that holds him in iconic esteem."
Marilyn Bender


Kafka Museum

******************

The setting of Kafka's novel, The Castle, could be a symbolic labyrinth of the mind; some remote haunted fortification known to Kafka or imagined; the actual and omnipresent Prague Castle (Pražský hrad); or, less precisely but more accurately, it could be the entire Castle District (Hradčany), which -- if you make your way up the hill -- you will find to be remarkably similar to the "village" described by Kafka in the early pages of the novel:

" . . . up on the hill everything soared light and free into the air, or at least so it appeared from below.

"On the whole this distant prospect of the Castle satisfied K.'s expectations. It was neither an old stronghold nor a new mansion but a rambling pile consisting of innumerable small buildings closely packed together and of one or two stories; if K. had not known that it was a castle he might have taken it for a little town. There was only one tower as far as he could see . . . Swarms of crows were circling round it. . . .

"With his eyes fixed on the Castle, K. went on farther, thinking of nothing else at all. But on approaching it, he was disappointed in the Castle; it was after all only a wretched - looking town, a huddle of village houses, whose sole merit, if any, lay in being built of stone; but the plaster had long since flaked off and the stone seemed to be crumbling away. K. had a fleeting recollection of his native town. It was hardly inferior to this so-called Castle, and if it was merely a question of enjoying the view, it was a pity to have come so far; K. would have done better to revisit his native town, which he had not seen for such a long time."
(pp 11 - 12)
from The Castle
by Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924)
[previous posts on this blog]

**************


In the Old Town (Staré Město) as well as the Castle District, I was lost so often it was ludicrous! Admittedly, I am not the most spatially oriented person, but even with the best sense of direction in the world, wandering around Prague is truly like being inside the pages of The Castle, searching for the elusive Klamm, back and forth, around and through endless mysterious passageways. Yet, one way or another, we always arrived at our desired, designated destination. One foot in front of the other. As Kafka writes in the Eight / Blue Octavo Notebooks, "The history of mankind is the instant between two strides taken by a traveler."

Of the many maps we tried, this was my favorite.
Kafka Square is at the intersection of Kaprova & Maiselova
(at back of of the "Astronomical Clock" arrow):

Next Fortnightly Post ~ More Searching For Kafka!
Thursday, November 28th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT
my shorter, almost daily blog posts ~ Still Small Snow
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading ~ Books That Affect Us Like a Disaster
www.kittislist.blogspot.com

Monday, October 28, 2019

All - American Souls

OUIJA BOARD ~ ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
AND JUST A LITTLE EERIE!

The Ouija Board was never a big thing with me and my friends, though we were all mystified by it and surely pulled one out every now and then at a slumber party or on a Halloween night. With the Samhain Triumvirate upon us -- Halloween, All Saints & All Souls -- what better time to contemplate a message from Beyond. What will it bring? Healing? Threat? Warning? That's what songwriter Andrew Robert Palmer deliberates in the following lyrics, bringing to mind an entire cycle of high holy days and patriotic holidays:

American Souls

Well, I'm waiting for the light to come on
and I'm praying it ain't really there
Oh, I'm closing my eyes and hoping the monsters are gone
I'm running up the basement stairs

We were playing with the ouija board
it was late, a voice said, "hey, can I play?"
When we asked the evil spirits who they were coming for,
it just spelled out "U...S...A."

Well, sweet baby Jesus, when are you coming home?
When will this world be saved?
Will there be room in heaven for our American Souls
When flowers grow on our graves?


Hush now child don't you worry no more
even evil demons have their end
I can't say it ain't really there, so I won't anymore
but It's safe to say the sun will come out again

Have faith and pray the sun will come out again
Have faith and pray for a brand new day
the sun will come out again

Music & lyrics by Andrew Robert Palmer
released May 1, 2019
posted with author's permission
all rights reserved
Note from Andrew: "Wanted to end this whole thing off on a hopeful note, even though life can seem as spooky-scary as being in your basement in the dark when no one's home. I don't mean to sound trite or glib, but I reckon sometimes, the best you can do is keep going and hope it all gets better. But you know ...also do stuff to help it get better...don't just hang around and do nothing. cool? cool."
To The Lake!
Little House
Rockford Rock
Northside Blues Confusion
American Souls

Speaking of "trite or glib" -- but not really -- I somehow went from humming Andrew Palmer's "American Souls" to recalling another all - American tribute from the classic musical Stop the World -- I Want to Get Off, written in 1961 by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. The lyrics vary occasionally from production to production and from songbook to songbook, so if I have not chosen your favorites, please feel free to amend!

What remains constant in each rendition is the spectacle of a citizen shallowly embracing the more ridiculous elements of patriotism and popular culture without bothering to remember the current President or understand the Constitution -- how timely! Thus even the cutesy comic relief of a show tune harbors the same sinister concern lurking in Palmer's "American Souls." Entertaining yet worrisome:

All - American

I'm an all - American sweetheart
From an all - American town
I'm from all - American Main Street USA
I eat all - American popcorn
I chew all - American gum
Which is why I talk this all - American way

I watch all - American movies
half the all - American night
On my all - American television screen
And like all American females
I've an all - American dream
To become an all - American movie queen


I get all - American goosebumps
When hear the Stars & Stripes
I'm an an all American niece of Uncle Sam
And I think that Mr. Eisenhower is altogether swell
-- Oh really? When? Oops --
I think Mr. Kennedy is absolutely swell
What a lucky all - American girl I am!

I consider myself very fortunate to be a citizen
of the United States of America
and furthermore, I support the Fifth Amendment,
whatever it is . . .


All - American Tevas!
What a lucky all - American girl I am!
SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS ON MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, November 14th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com