Sunday, December 30, 2012

Clothes pegs, flotsam and the soul

I admit to having been a little hazy about the difference between flotsam and jetsam. So after I took this picture of a clothes peg, washed ashore on the beach, I looked it up. Flotsam comprises items that have been lost overboard from a vessel, but jetsam is debris deliberately cast over the side. Was the peg lost or rejected? It looks serviceable enough. Clothes pegs, in my opinion, are never thrown away until they break. But like socks, they do tend to get lost. So this is just a lost peg that spent some time in the sea. That admirable institution, the beachcomber is required to recycle this lost object. The beachcomber and the peg are both symbols of a sort although the beachcomber is an archetypal figure, the hermit of the shore. Regarded as eccentric, the hermit is sometimes wise and always withdrawn. He fashions the abandoned objects of the world into a lifestyle whilst rejecting a material world that fetishises objects, because his quest is the soul. For him, a clothes peg is most useful object, far more useful than a gold bracelet. The bracelet is a sign of opulence, wealth and status, but of little practical value other than the exchange value of the metal of which it’s composed.  It’s of as much use to a hermit as an iPad. But the humble clothes peg? It will always hang around!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Spooky Silhouettes, Jokes & the Shadow

Sometimes shadows seize the imagination and then we want to play. The raised hand is kind of spooky and of course, we were well aware of the effect. I was using the small camera and so there was no camera bag to spoil the silhouette. Is this in the realm of the shadow? In Jungian terms the shadow represents aspects of the self that are unrecognised and unintegrated. I think these aspects are recognised. Spooky sense of humour! Freud has the inside line on jokes. He felt the joke was mobilised by the ego to reassure the superego. We're trying to confront parental morality and tell our internal parents we're OK. There's always a hysterical edge about the joke, but for the most part, hysteria is a lovable trait we see in others. As long as we share the joke and recognise its meaning we can confront all manner of bizarre and unpleasant aspects of collective and individual behaviour. Here we're saying, don't we look funny! Maybe we do. Robert Burns said, "O, wad some Power the giftie gie us, To see oursels as others see us. It wad frae monie a blunder free us, An' foolish notion." (If only we could see ourselves as others see us, it would free us from foolish actions.) We wondered for an instant if this was the way others saw us on a quiet night in Rome close to Christmas. Then we smiled and continued on our way.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Shopping and dropping.

This photograph was grabbed from a cafe in a Rome shopping centre and it's so chaotic that I couldn't resist using it. I think it looks like Hell, but there was one good reason for being there. It's air conditioned and a good place to flee from the August heat. All the orange in the picture makes it look hot inside too. Shopping has become the pastime of choice for many people. It's what people do and the whole family has to be there, come what may. I don't think shops and shopping can be considered symbolic - although shopping can be classed as an addiction. So perhaps it belongs to Narcissus.and his reflection. There are plenty of reflections in this image, just look.  Acquisition is a reflection of ourselves and can make us feel special. When it becomes an addiction, it helps the shopper feel less lonely, more fulfilled. And some are at risk of becoming an object, surrounded by lifeless objects in an object world. The familiarity of objects can make us feel safe, because no matter where we are, we can go into shops and see pretty much the same things. It's reassuring. It holds nothing dangerous or challenging and we are held securely in the embrace of this world. But our relationship with all the objects in the shopping centre is determined by money. It stands between our desire and the object - and that's a subject for another blog.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Unut, Rabbit Goddess

Unut, the Egyptian Rabbit Goddess is presented here as a work under construction - a bit like the real Unut of ancient times.  The Wabbit adventures often feature Unut and the project demanded a character that could be moved. This represents a transitional stage in design. A photograph was taken using a camera phone and by accident a striking image emerged that was a long way from the finished article, but quite beautiful. Unut was originally in the form of a snake and was often pictured with Thoth who took on the shape of a baboon. Unut was worshipped in Hermopolis, named for Hermes, the Greek God - and Thoth is the Hermes equivalent. Only one archaeological representation of Unut was located. That was in 1909 and nothing of Unut has been discovered since. So this is our contribution to Unut folklore. Rabbits of course are symbols of fecundity and fertility but also have a reputation as tricksters and shape shifters. We give you Unut the Swift One!
[photo and artwork: Camilla Galli da Bino]

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Tale of the Spider

This spider has been living with us for several months and it's an extraordinary creature. It can spin the most intricate webs, move with astonishing speed and devour quarry many times its size. The spider is very big in symbolism and of course there's is a Greek myth associated with spiders. Arachne was a mortal Lydian girl who, due to her spinning prowess, ran foul of Goddess Athene by impressing the Gods. Annoyed by the Gods' love for mortal women, Athene struck Lydia with her shuttle and the poor girl tried to hang herself. But Athene saved her by turning her into a spider. In consequence she was condemned to dangle forever at the end of a thread. It demonstrates that you shouldn't challenge the Gods. To do so is to reverse the order of things and the punishment is the endless creation of a facsimile of the Heavens. While I was researching spiders, I came across an odd fact. I had wondered whether spiders' webs were made of fractal patterns and found that they were not. However, I discovered that upon the administration of minute doses of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), spiders can spin a web that includes the repeated detail of fractals! But spiders are often seen negatively, In film noir, the female protagonist is often a spider woman., She portrays a predatory (and duplicitous) image of the female, continually trying to ensnare and devour male prey. And it's something of a pity that come Hallowe'en, spiders will be represented as horrifying. I'll speak up for my spider - she's been performing excellent duties with insects and wasps. She's much admired and in turn shows no fear of me. I guess we agree to co-exist!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

(Bridge over) untroubled water

I decided to remain with water but also look at the structures that accompany it. Here we have piped water and a road going over canal water - and whilst it's not an aqueduct proper, its nonetheless a crossing. Leeson Street also passes over this most symbolic of artifacts. I do like the story of the Devil's Bridges which are most popular in folk tales, especially those of eastern Europe. The Devil builds the bridge as a lure for God and the price he asks is the soul of the first person to cross it. He built it after all, so he is owed something. But he is often tricked himself and seldom gets his due. The passage over the bridge represents a change between two states of being and its narrow passageway  forces a choice between salvation and damnation. I'm not suggesting that Leeson Street's many nightclubs are typical choices, nor that they represent damnation, but some folks may disagree! I do recall a dream of being on a railway bridge in India. Hundreds of people had disembarked from a stalled train and the bridge was in danger of giving way. I searched in vain for a person of authority and found one, resplendent in a smart guard's uniform. So clearly my psyche pointed to my need to find an authority - something outside of myself -  to resolve a difficult choice. In psychotherapy we often find clients looking for someone else to make a choice for them. But you have to cross the bridge on your own, you have to take yourself with you and and you can't keep returning to make another attempt!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Artificial Falls

I seem to have a thing about water at present. Perhaps I am drawn to artificial urban water. This is about the nicest waterfall you can encounter within and around Dublin, but it's totally constructed and "unnatural". Yet the roar of the water as it drops is satisfying and we can all relax in the knowledge that it's the same water being pumped around and around. It has energy nonetheless and in the onset of winter we could all use some of that automatic repetitive force. In a natural environment, a waterfall would gradually wear away the surrounding rocks and in the prescientific mind this amounted to dissolving of matter. Of course, the continual pounding of dropping water doesn't "dissolve" rock - but there is inevitably a kind of union between water and earth. The waterfall is composed of a steady, never-ending flow. If we visit these falls and then return some time later, the water will continue to look pretty much the same and so will the rocks. Yet in the interim the water does, without interruption, force its will on the rocks below. The traditional explanation for waterfalls in dreams is one of purification, but I feel it is more about duration and the inexorable passage of life. Perhaps the dreamer feels worn out by time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Closely Observed Duck

We’ve talked of ducks before, but there are always ducks to photograph. I came upon this one having a quiet nap beside the canal. It was so asleep that I was able to creep up on it and get very close with the small camera. I never realised how nice duck markings were. What a wonderful design it is and probably rather good camouflage. Now ducks, as we have already seen, are not quoted in Celtic folklore but are very important to American Plains Indians as symbolic guides. They fall into the same category as swans, cranes, herons and geese and for the Celtic world, amphibious birds are like messengers who bridge this world and the Otherworld. If you dream of a bird, then probably it’s saying something about your personality and what that contributes to your current situation. If you dream of a duck, then consider what it might be like to be one.  What parts of you are similar to a duck?  Ducks are seen mainly on the water, but groups of ducks do fly in formation as geese do, changing direction rapidly and seemingly without need for communication.  So if you dream of flying with ducks, perhaps you feel you need to change direction. You may be wondering how to communicate your message to others effortlessly and without disruption.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Water Perspectives

I always return to the canals and to this spot in particular because there's something different all the time. So on my approach i looked for that different thing and held the camera out, pointed it down and used a fill flash to freeze the water a little. In film studies there's a theory that people want the same kind of cinema product - but different. I might want a different kind of Western, but I want a Western all the same. So perhaps I’m no different from the rest of the movie going audiences. If it's familiar, I recognise it and then it becomes reassuring and less threatening. The turbulent water in the picture and the downwards perspective of the photo might be threatening for some. A person falling into this churning would have to struggle against the violence of natural forces and that is something like being in psychotherapy. A person faces a problem and swims against the stream or faces head down into the wind. Struggling against the water is like acknowledging and overcoming a psychological complex.  And it’s always ambivalent because there is both joy and sorrow - there is joy in the personal triumph over adversity and inevitably sorrow  for something familiar that is lost. So the dynamism of fighting against violent water and undertaking psychotherapy is fundamentally about courage. As Victor Hugo rightly says, the water is full of claws and in the same way, so is psychotherapy and the struggle for individuation. Yet we cannot conquer turbulent water by throwing a stone at it!


Monday, July 30, 2012

Palace Pool

This is a scene I was drawn to, but the photograph was difficult. It already looked impressionist and getting something suitable proved hard work, but it was well worthwhile. This is in the Palazzo Madama is in the heart of Turin, a favourite city of mine - and the palace itself is well worthy of a visit. You could certainly devote most of a day to exploring the galleries and towers.  But the best part is the garden and most visitors seem to miss that or give it a miss. Which was good news for me, because I had the place to myself. I stayed a long time in the gardens, a little oasis of tranquility. The pool has many symbolic connotations, but in this case pot and water are associated with the womb. This is a very active manifestation of water though, all about cleansing, procreation and ultimately life. There is something of the sun here too. It was a hot, cloudless day and the sun was merciless. Yet here it is beautifully dispersed, bringing a freshness to the lovely garden. Light does something with water that is friendly and that's how the picture makes me feel.

Monday, July 16, 2012


The death of a parent is never easy to accept, no matter the circumstances. Even if we consider ourselves "well prepared", it always comes as surprise. Perhaps it's because we are always the child in relation to our parents. When we are older, the gap caused by the loss of a parent is hard to fill - if that can ever be achieved. Parents are the lynch pins of a network of social relations, customs and rituals with which we are familiar and that we love. We lose a voice that has spoken to us for so many years, that we continue to speak back. How many of us have reached for the telephone to call a mother who has long departed? We long continue to enact fragments of that relationship although the other has gone. When my wife's mother Eleonora died recently at 86 years, it was after an illness, but her death shook the foundations of the rest of the family. She had been the focus of care for some time and of course we were all anxious about her. She spent her last years in the comforting surroundings of her home in Rome where she lived for many years, cared for by her daughters whom she loved dearly and who loved her. Her daughters' sorrow is deep. But Eleonora will continue to be remembered fondly by those she left behind and in their memories her life continues. Because our parents live on as part of ourselves.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dreaming On Track

Shopping Centres are often interesting for vantage points and if there's a special exhibition, I find that shoppers do arrange themselves in particular ways that are worth a second look. The Scalextric racing circuit was very popular on a dull, showery Saturday - although it seems that exhibitors have as much success at keeping model cars on track as I did in my youth. There is no particular symbolism that relates directly to a racetrack although perhaps there should be more recognition of such an enduring structure. It is of course a container which creates boundaries to a race. The race is a kind of game in which rivalries are channeled into an activity that offers civic involvement and diverts otherwise unproductive conflict. This we've dealt with in earlier blogs, but there is certainty to a racetrack, because there isn't much doubt about where we finish. The return to the start means the completion of a circuit - a complete voyage of setting out, adventure and endurance then return. Who comes first is another matter and depends on both the vehicle and the driver. If you dream about race cars consider whether you're in control of your vehicle. It's a single purpose vehicle built for speed and manouvreability and so the meaning will be quite different compared to driving a saloon car along the public highway. Are you in control or do you crash into anything? In the latter case something may be inhibiting your personal development. But winning a race might indicate some transformative development in your psychological life. Now I quite feel like buying a Scalextric kit again!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Transformation Beer

This is a chance shot, that in different times would have been an "end of the roll" shot - to use up the remainder of the roll and get it off to the processor. Very often, this resulted in the best shot of the roll, and so it was in this case. I merely put the small camera at the top of the glass and let it do whatever it wanted. It was pleasing, yet the colour wasn't right. The fabulous Virtual Photographer programme which is one of the best free things on the Web, took care of the rest. The photo filter is called Velvita, no doubt named after that fine oldFuji transparency film, Velvia. But what of beer as a symbol? I think this is ground I covered before, but it's worth a second look. Beer is ancient and dates from neolithic times. But the ancient Egyptians were awfully keen on this kind of fermented drink. It's supposed that German and Celtic tribes spread it through Europe. Although the Romans disapproved of the beer swilling antics of these particular tribes, they brewed their own beer in northern outposts, where wine was difficult to obtain. But whatever the origins, drinking beer was always a rite of passage. From banana beer in Rwanda to chica beer in the Amazon and even heather beer in Scotland, fermentation involves the transformation of substances. And the effervescence of knowledge enables the spirit to surmount limitations. Much beer will be consumed during European football this month so perhaps it's a substitute for supporters to surmount the limitations of their particular team!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sign of Four on the Beach

This is one from the archives and was a quick scan of a print. But somehow it always hangs around and peeps out to haunt me. These were the actual colours and this was a colour print, although it looks sepia. It reminds me of difficult photography in a lovely windswept place, where even a tripod was unstable. Norfolk is one of my favourite English counties. Peter Greenaway uses it frequently for film locations and I can see why. The landscape and the sea lend the place a sense of otherness that is haunting. The people have assembled into what might be called an echo in photography. The two people in the foreground make the echo further out on the beach. But together they make four and that is symbolically interesting. Four has been around as a symbol since prehistory as something particularly solid. Later it was associated with the square and of course, the cross. The list of fours is long, corners of the earth, four winds, four seasons and so on. If you're a Star Trek fan , you may recall the division of the known galaxies into quadrants. Four is universal and may also refer to completion. Jung believed the archetypal basis of the human psyche was a quaternity composed of thought, feeling, intuition and sensation. Now that is a matter for a whole series of blogs

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

At the Lights

I was headed to see my own psychotherapist, when I passed the traffic lights and saw this man at work. In a past life I used to have small specialism in such pictures of people at work. In general we just expect things to work normally as normal - and we seldom notice the people who perform maintenance. We do notice when the lights don't work though! Then we complain bitterly, especially of there's a policeman temporarily directing the traffic. That single officer can't possibly imitate the sequence of computerised systems and jams often occur! What about the light though? Without the light there would be darkness. Earth appoints the darkness and heaven the light, states Master Eckhart. Light is associated with ascension and euphoria whereas darkness is all about depression and anxiety. Without traffic lights thought, there could be chaos and that is a state of existence that we don't like to acknowledge. Chaos precedes creation and in psychoanalysis it precedes even the unconscious. Shapeless and ultimately passive, it could be also be said of that old traffic gridlock.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Foot on the Ground

This is something of a departure for the blog. It's the first published shot, made with my new emergency camera. I say emergency because I have a horror of my SLR not working, so I took the plunge and bought a compact camera. I must say, compacts have improved because this is shot entirely in automatic mode since I'm testing the features. I found myself literally "going over old ground" so this is a Raglan Road find to add to the many over the years. Who abandoned a single shoe on a Saturday night? Where's the other shoe?  I have touched on symbolism and shoes before, but I feel that since shoes are the contact between ourselves and the ground, they are one of the most important and enduring symbols I know. How often in psychotherapy do we talk of being "grounded"? Do we have our feet on the ground is a question we ask ourselves when we worry about being in touch with reality. In this case, only one foot was on the ground and by the same token, one Saturday night foot was removed from reality. That's how you lose your shoe! I am fond of saying that in order to take good photographs of any area you must first walk the ground. Travel by car, bike, boat or any other from of transport just won't do. You need your feet on the ground. Both of them.

Monday, March 12, 2012

God of Weather and Powerscourt

I confess that my original photo featured such a dull grey sky I had to pull in something with colour. A grey statue on grey sky just didn't work. My partner complained that her photographs were all "flat", but I looked around and saw that the whole scene was, in reality, woefully flat. Without shadow, there is minimal relief and things start to look two-dimensional. We photographers scuttled underneath that uniform, leaden sky like disordered vampires. Then, having completed the shot I thought nothing more of the weather until I came to give the image some work. So who is the figure in the statue? The leaflets and web site of Powerscourt Gardens are of little help so I speculate that this might be the winged Nike or even Apollo - given the laurel wreath. Perhaps this is the way of Gods, to look similar and fool us all. Gods constitute a symbol, so lets consider the matter! Gods are manifestations of the Absolute even if polytheistic societies gave individuality to each one. Gods are supernatural beings conceived as omnipotent. They are somehow perfect, even if they misbehave as much as the Greek ones. It is people who create Gods and subsequently endow them with a knowledge of their own making. I do like the Greek Gods though, because they have the whims and faults of ordinary people. And of course, they interfere outrageously with human beings. Perhaps this God could interfere with the weather on my behalf, the next time I visit Powerscourt Gardens. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Under the Killiney Rainbow

I find it quite difficult to capture rainbows well. This one presented itself quickly and I had a long lens - so this was the result. They never say stay where you want them, because rainbows are a matter of optics and standpoint. It depends where you are and I was happy enough with where I was. It was one of these days when you could see the rain falling on other parts of the coast and the light was quite delicious. Of course, the rainbow is a symbol of some stature. The leprechaun's crock of gold is quite elusive because the rainbow's end is never available to the onlooker. But the "end of the rainbow" myth is not that old and seems to have originated in medieval times. It's is a jolly myth though, and good fun because rainbows are ambivalent symbols in many cultures and can as much a portent of doom as good fortune. For many, they are a disturbance in the harmony of nature and signify the approach of some dire happening. Death, disease and all manner of sickness and pestilence can follow the advent of a rainbow. The Sandaman Negrito hold that a when a python serpent bathes, it tips perilous water from the bath, poisoning humans below. The Inca thought that rainbows were death worms that demanded  human hearts to eat. So they should be hunted and killed. In the process of the rainbow's killing, birds would bathe their feathers in the blood and so acquired their colourful plumage. And in some parts of Asia, rainbows were thought to drink the waters of lakes and could carry people into the clouds as they drank. Me? I think I'll stick with the leprechauns.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Not Charon's Barge

This small vessel plies regularly up and down the Grand Canal from the Mespil Hotel to the Barge Pub or thereabouts. I think there should be more of these vessels. They would provide a resource for what could be a more of a scenic asset for this part of Dublin. Maybe the reticence reflects an ambivalence about water, since Irish epic literature is a little short on boats and ships except for getting us to the mythological Otherworld. That said, nearly all civilisations have a boat of the dead. However I do note the presence of the barge in many mythologies. Certainly, Egyptian art and literature with its Underworld of haunted Canals and towpaths is alive with barges. So too Greek legends. But this is not Charon's barge, steering pilotlessly towards Hell. It's a cradle for the relaxation of the passengers - and hence it is a womb. Here, the ferryman is compassionate. He aims to carry passengers safely away from their earthly misery and bring them temporary joy. They can also feel cosy in the knowledge that the boat is very unlikely to suddenly sink. Yet ships, boats and barges share one thing for certain. Like individuals, they have a goal and steer towards it. Maybe psychotherapy is like a ship. It carries its passengers on a path of discovery in a safe container. There's a voyage out and a voyage back and change will doubtlessly occur on the way.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Echo's Haunting Reflections

My route home took me through Herbert Park and to my surprise, the pond was half drained. What an opportunity for a photograph I couldn't normally take! A woman throwing food brought the birds and they took up their place in the image. The remaining pools in the pond reflected the blue sky and the gulls picked up the colour from the water. The reflected world is the conquest of calm, says Gaston Bachelard in his seminal "Water and Dreams". Narcissus stares at his reflection in the water but to be fair, he sees more than himself. His reflection is surrounded by a forest that stands in for the whole world. so Bachelard ascribes to Narcissus a creative imagination in which his reflection engages with the cosmos. Narcissism also brings beauty, concludes Bachelard. Yet it does depend on the season. In spring and summer, reflections are crystal clear compared with those of winter. Objects just can't get sufficient purchase on the pool for a decent reflection. But are objects responsible for their own reflection?  In mythology, Echo was punished by losing her voice. She could only repeat the other's words.  But she falls in love with the beautiful self-admiring Narcissus. Hearing Echo in the forest, Narcissus calls "Who's there?" But Echo can only respond likewise and when she reveals herself, Narcissus recoils, wanting to be left alone with the reflection of his beauty. Rejected, Echo pines away in the forest until nothing is left of her voice except crying. Maybe Echo is here, haunting the reflections in the Herbert Park pond.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Killiney Relief

The plaque on the obelisk at the top of Killiney Hill tells much of the story. "Last year being hard with the poor, walks about these hills and this were erected by John Mapas, June 1742."  The park was always intended for the people and so it remains. It was purchased and made public by Prince Albert to commemorate Queen Victoria's Jubilee, having been private property for a while. So much land is in private hands and it is a shame that people cannot always tread the soil of their country or access the sea. But in this case we can all enjoy magnificent views of Dublin's coastline. I was lucky with this shot because the previous one has no people in it. But suddenly father and daughter walked into my shot, bringing a lovely splash of red. And a dog appeared in full flight (on the far left)  -  again I was lucky because I had no idea they were there! An obelisk is a kind of tower so in this case it would symbolise watchfulness. Killiney  Hill was used to communicate news of invading forces and the obelisk with its small room and windows does remind me a little of a lighthouse. It's interesting that the buildings and walls in the park were originally intended as relief work for the poor following the Famine and it's also interesting that such public works continue. But these days it's usually roadworks!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Saintly Truth On the Ceiling

This is a decorated ceiling in Castel d'Angelo in Rome and I did like the centrepiece. But again, I couldn't track it down. There was a similar image on the Internet but no further information. This was was the apartment of Pope Paul III but who was the figure in the painting? Again I had to search by describing the image and this has to be the Archangel St Michael. Only he has the boots, wings and unsheathed sword and interestingly he is one of the few saints common to Christians, Jews and Muslims. According to my source, the Lucky Mojo Curio Company, he is the Patron Saint of Policeman and if you boil up some bay leaves and write a careful prayer to St Michael, you will be successful in sports competitions. In one old painting St Michael is depicted with his foot on the throat of a wrongdoer, poised to eliminate him with his sword. Importantly for psychoanalysts the sword often denotes the Word and in Christian philosophy, the sword can mean speech and eloquence, possibly due to the double edge of both sword and tongue. Psychoanalyst Lacan said the only desire of the psychoanalyst may be that the client communicates with him in words. Freud talks of the "sword of speech" and following him, Lacan speaks that "Truth hollows its way into the real, thanks to the dimension of speech." So what is St Michael saying I wonder, up there on the ceiling?

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Man who (nearly) fell to Earth

I spotted his near Dublin's National Concert Hall, although I nearly missed it by not looking up! I have no idea why it's there and I will be pleased if someone lets me know. It's quite realistic. This is at the far end of a telephoto lens, so from a distance it's kind of convincing. I speculated about what it might mean - apart from "a night on the tiles". "He got drunk and didn't make it home," perhaps. That suits me, because drunkenness is indeed a symbol. It would have to be be, since inebriation is all about an altered state and hence mystical and other-worldly. Compulsory drinking bouts were common amongst Chinese societies and naturally Celtic ones too. Even the Aztecs have their 400 rabbit gods who are drunk at all times after imbibing the sacred pulque. The drinking rituals are about reawakening the life force, often in midwinter, although it sometimes seems like the opposite! Samain (November) would be the major Celtic celebration and mead the chosen drink in earlier times. The Ancients called wine that was high in alcohol, pure wine, and in Gaul as well as Ireland there was usually a bit of fisticuffs after imbibing large quantities. Participants would be deprived of their weapons beforehand, for obvious reasons. The rituals were compulsory so there was no getting out of it. And if you were Welsh and a deposed king, drowning in a vat of beer might be your fate. But I am no closer to the reason for the street art - or maybe it's really a person after all!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Skeleton Time

This fascinating gravestone was on the wall in a church in Rome. I couldn't remember where I took the photo - the perils of not taking an establishing shot!  But I have tracked it down. It is the San Lorenzo in Damaso Church in the Piazza della Cancelleria. I know because it's just after the shots I took in the Leonardo Exhibition in a palace that surrounds the church. Then a bit of detective work revealed that it is a work by none other than Gian Lorenzo Bernini. This is not so much a representation of of death, but the skeleton of a dead person. It is perhaps the representation of the state of being dead. Memento mori, remember that you will die, is something we should all bear in mind. Our time is limited and we should use it well. The Scots have a saying, "we're a long time dead." Our time alive is short, in comparison to the other state. This type of funerary monument was for the rich, who could afford a sculptor and a grave within the church itself. Richer folks commissioned a whole chapel! But it did provide work for sculptors who were otherwise unemployed. The skeleton is not very scary is it? And it's certainly not the devil. In Petronius' Satyricon, a silver skeleton moves around a banquet, serving to remind us of the brevity of life. Its message appears to be "enjoy life while you can." So we should appreciate the fleeting moment and try to live in the "now".

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

All the Gods need a Blue Sky

This is the Pantheon dome in Rome.  "He does like his domes," readers might observe, and that would be true. With this one I didn't like the white sky at the centre. I wanted to see the heavens and I guess that for me the heavens are blue. But I have a collection of skies that I shot in Herbert Park in Dublin and I replaced the white with a sky I liked. The blue colour spill on the dome is original though - and it could just be "noise". The camera couldn't cope with the speed I asked for and produced some interference. So I played with the image a bit and I did get rid of it, but I put it back because the picture looked better. The Pantheon is one of these places that you really have to see. Yet it's hardly original in its present form, having been modified and built upon since Agrippa dedicated it to all the Gods. That was some time before Hadrian rebuilt it in AD126. The dome is the same since then and it is speculated that the dome is the reason for the name "Pantheon",  since it resembles the heavens and as such, "All the Gods". Such a dome requires a blue sky. It would be disrespectful to have anything different. And that does remind me of a cliché that for a while replaced "brain storming". "Lets blue sky it," management people said for a while. It meant "thinking without preconceptions" and admitted no pessimism. But in real life, just as in my original Pantheon photograph, we don't always have the luxury of a blue sky. Not even in Herbert Park.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Ambivalance of the Aquatic Arthropod

As the blog progressed I began to find that you could run out of symbols. True symbols are ineffable, incapable of being described. What could be more ineffable that a crab? Indeed we have not spoken of the humble crustacean before. It's the zodiac sign of Cancer and so I'm surprised that the aquatic arthropod has not made an appearance! In some cultures they are regarded as crafty because of the sideways scuttle. But I particularly like a myth from the Andaman islands. The first man who ever drowned, capsized the boat in which his mate had set out to look for him. She joined him and they both changed into a crab. It's kind of creation myth that adequately explains the jointed limbs and segmented body of this strange sea creature. More often than not the crab is a symbol of incarnation, an avatar of transcendental forces. And although they usually originate in the underworld, crabs often come from the sky. Yet despite the coincidence of the Zodiac sign with the summer solstice, crabs are lunar symbols and are usually depicted on the Moon Tarot card. They move backwards and forwards and so like the best of symbols, are ambivalent and can be either good or evil. I saw this fellow, sadly demised, on the beach at Fregene near Rome - and couldn't resist taking a photograph. The beach too is ineffable with its many shifting grains of sand and the crab has found its last resting place there.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Portrait of man looking at a Portrait

This happens to me every year. My partner will spot a photo opportunity and I moan and groan about the light. But I then I go for it and it turns out well. It's shot in the ancient Jewish Ghetto of Rome in one of these narrow streets with artisan shops - and the only light is from the window. With this kind of picture I always wonder about the subject. He was much too absorbed in his search to notice me or my camera. How nice that is. The search for the object is at least as important as its acquisition. And the joy of finding something one was looking for after a long search is exquisite. It really is beyond price and even value. Any collector will be pleased tell you of the journey to find that elusive book, album or print - often at length. It's part of the object's provenance. I like to find a book that has some kind of history inscribed on the inside pages. Perhaps it was a gift and the giver pondered for a long time over how delighted the recipient would be to receive it. That relationship sabotages a gift relationship that demands we give a like object in return. Yet I like to think this man has found something he was looking for - for himself. Perhaps it meant something very special to him. I hope it did - and that he purchased it and took it home joyfully.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Another string to the crossbow

I think this is a symbol we haven't yet tackled on the blog. The bow, no matter what it's form, is all about tension and in all cultures it's an important symbol. It has enormous sexual symbolism since it takes a precise, ordered structure of tension, relaxation and release. Wilhelm Reich, had he taken more interest in the symbolic application of his work on sex and anxiety, would have found much of interest in the bow. It is the weapon of kings and royalty but also of the warrior and hunter. But whereas the arrow is penetrative and clearly male, the string is female. And although we could almost miss the string (as in this photograph) it provides the thrust without which the whole thing is ineffective. The bow derives its whole power from the tension in the string. Anubis, Apollo and Shiva are all depicted with bows as are some figures in Christian art. Archers are masters of our fate and whoever is their target is doomed. But the archer is at the other end of the bow, away from the sharp end. We often talk about having another string to our bow, so the archer also needs back-up support! This crossbow is in a courtyard in the Castel Sant'Angelo in the centre of Rome. You could miss it because it is in a courtyard leading off the main visitor route, so if you do pay the castle a visit, go early and explore everything.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Rome on a Clear Day

It's not so often you have such a clear day in Rome, with no pollution obscuring the mountains. It's a fabulous sight. This photograph is taken from the Gianicolo Hill which can be reached easily from the Vatican. You can walk up there if you have the energy. But it's a steep enough climb, so luckily there are plenty of buses. I was looking down at all the places and wondering how long it would take to explore everything in the Eternal City. A lifetime maybe? I also thought that it would be difficult to take a poor photograph from this location! Most tourists explore the famous sites that you can see here, but if you track back through the extensive parkland (much of which used to belong to the Vatican) that extends for many square kilometres, there's interesting places a visitor might miss. Rome is built on hills so there are even tiny farms very close to the centre. I found one as little as a kilometer from the busy roads around the Vatican. There's been human habitation here for around 14,000 years and its worthwhile speculating what it looked like then. I'm sure it looked well.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ambivalent Orange

Let's start the New Year afresh with this striking plant and the fruit it bears. It's a Queen Palm tree and the fruit starts out green and ends up orange. I was wondering if that's the way we all start out - a bit green. One of Shakespeare's characters, Cleopatra in this case, refers to her salad days, "when I was green in judgement, cold in blood. "That generally denotes youthfulness and inexperience and an inclination to rush into things without thinking. Of course green is much used in sayings. We are green with envy for example. But we are never orange with anything! Orange is such a nice colour and beloved of artists like Kandisky. "Orange is red brought closer to humanity by yellow." It is indeed a happy looking and it's often associated with vivid autumn shades and the Thanksgiving festival. Looking at the picture cheers me up but orange also has negative connections. Agent Orange was much used in the Vietnam War, destroying crops to terrible effect as well as harming soldiers who sprayed the substance. But the herbicide derived its name not from its own colour but from the striped drums used to transport it. It was a case of a dreadful substance shipped in a happy container.