Saturday, July 10, 2010
The scent of jasmine reminds me of what summertime is in London, when I walk down Gilstpur St, in the middle of the city, on Friday at 5 pm.
The scent of jasmine grows stronger in the hottest hours of the day, when at the other end of Gilstspur St the butchers of Smithfield Market close their stinky trade. It is a covered market built in the second half of the 19 century in the space (a smooth field) where the livestock used to roam, just outside the London wall.
The jasmine grows on the walls of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, the parish church which used to toll its bells for the death sentenced staying at the Old Bailey across the road.
"When will you pay me?" say the Bells of Bailey
"When I grow rich" say the Bells of Shoreditch
Here comes a Candle to light you to Bed
Here comes a Chopper to Chop off your Head
What is a body without head? It is a body without identity. But it is not a body that rests in peace. Many are the tales of beheaded knights who return to this world to claim their head back. Even more are the tales of modern men in integralist countries who lost their eyes to see beauty, lost their mouth to speak the truth and even lost their nose to smell a rose.
To which lengths would you go to smell a rose?
Dead flesh and the scent of flowers in the golden afternoon near the London Wall.
In Giltspur St, where the jasmine tries to cover the stanch of dead animals. It is not like in a cemetery, where we lay the flowers to remember our beloved.
It is dead bodies that return to us beheaded and dismembered, and it is bleeding flowers who look at us as giant mouths from the canvas of London-based Iranian painter Kiky.
Friday, April 23, 2010
On Sundays I often go to the Nunhead cemetery, which is 10 minutes walk from where I live and where a chapel survives along the trees. They have grown so thick that the sun can barely penetrate trough the leaves. Heavy rains have cancelled the inscriptions on the gravestones and they seem to sink in the moist soil.
Baudelaire sings: “ La Nature est un temple... L'homme y pass à travers des forêts de symboles”. Nature, i.e. ourselves, our innermost truth, is a temple, a portion of land or sky that has been cut off from us. It is a place where we can not go in.
There was a time when gods were living amongst men and could be easily seen by a river or in a wood.
Later the nudity of gods started to be a scandal and they were pushed inside the corners of the temples. Nature withdrew with them in those shallow recesses.
In the modern times it is not the case of nature being inside the temple.
The modern man hears a call from there and has to cross forests to get a partial vision of the nudity of nature, i.e. of his own nature.
Forest might seem an inappropriate word for such a small amount of trees and bushes we can possibly find in a park. But it is actually the most appropriate word. The words wood or bois have their origins from the material trees are made of. Forest comes from the same origin of foreign, from Latin FORAS, outside.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
We say that in Greek the word xenos has 2 meanings, foreigner and guest. Wrong. It was one word with one meaning. Our modern languages are broken: the words multiply but their meanings shrink. Xenos was someone who comes from outside and needs to be washed, fed, and showered with gifts, because he could be a messanger of good news or even a god.
Nowadays we don't mind a guest for dinner (guest after all comes from sanskrit ghas-i, meal), but he/she is normally a friend, not a stranger, who could be rather a fiend.
Ancient Greece was not a political entity and its centre constantly shifted over the sea. Small communities were scattered between the islands of the Aegean, the costs of Greece and Asia Minor. His supreme God was Zeus, the god of metamorphosis and protector of the xenoi. A foreigner is in fact someone who might need to change his apperance in order to travel safely. In Homer, Odysseus is the xenos, often in disguise. When he lands on unknown shores, he wonders whether it will be a civilised place, where people know the customs of xenia and do not make difference between a foreigner and a guest, or he will meet barbarians, who will treat him with hostility.
The time of change and metamorphosis has gone. Rigid boundaries have been erected between countries, meanings, identies. The more the country is civilized (which means only technologically advanced) the more his officer at the borders will look at us with suspicion. We can have the impression that we are freer to travel, but we lost our right to be xenos.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
A city in the south east of a land is often far off from the main routes, maybe on the SEA. There is a centre somewhere, and there is a rugged town on the shore. There might be a sense of marginality at the beginning, a desire of being somewhere else. Men turn into sailors, pirates or merchants, sometimes the 3 things together. On the way up north, up on the ventura.
It was only when London ceased being an encampment on the north west borders of the Roman Empire and started seeing itself as a south east city of Britain that its luck began.
My address is SE14, London, Borough of Lewisham. Not far from me there are Greenwich and Deptford, with their memories of maritime matters and SEABORne trades. If there is only a big steel anchor on the beginning of Deptford High street to recall its Dockyard history, the Royal Naval College in Greenwich is an unmissable memento.
I live on Telegraph Hill, once known as Plowed Garlic Hill, when there were no houses, but only fields and gardens. In the 18 century a semaphore telegraph station was build on top of the hill to warn the ships in wartime. In the 19 century lofty Victorian houses were also erected and I now live in one of those. My flat is on the top floor and my bedroom is a converted attic overlooking the city. The London Eye seems very far.
I moved here 2 years ago and it is the start point for my adventures.