Saturday, November 4, 2017

Pulling an Oneida, Pt. 3

Back in January 2016 I wrote about a town in New York whose seal depicted what appeared to be a frontiersman throttling a Native American fellow.  Critics called it racist and offensive, defenders said it portrayed an actual historical event, a friendly wrasslin' match between one Hugh White and an unnamed Oneida, a test of strength and manliness.

The seal looked pretty darn dubious, but Whitesboro residents were not phased and didn't want to change it.  Well, national media coverage must have had an effect because less than two weeks later it was reported that the town and reps from the Oneida Nation were going to come up with a new seal.

Just a peek at the original:

I don't think one need be a "social justice warrior" to see why this seal is problematic.  If I didn't know the story, I'd probably think it was satire.  I mean, even the name...Whitesboro!? 

Well, I'm a bit late (it was reported back in September) but they've finally come up with something that's basically the same image but a little more even-handed:

I think it's a good compromise.  Sign o' the times.

Although now it's "case closed", you can still enjoy this witty bit The Daily Show did back when the kerfuffle was still causing noise....

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Confederate Monuments: Removal and Resistance

I've written a couple of posts about honoring the Confederacy and the removal of Confederate monuments here on LoS, so I found this Op-Ed interesting.  In the wake of today's violent clashes in Charlottesville, which resulted from a rally to protest such a removal, it seems especially relevant.

The Charlottesville clashes came after the KKK and various white nationalist groups planned a “Unite the Right” rally to protest the slated removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee.  For the time being, the statue is still in Emancipation Park, formerly known as Lee Park.  That alone is the sign of the times -- the change itself, and the resentment it has provoked.  It was the third, and largest, rally held in Charlottesville this year. 

And like the previous two, the rally was met by large number of counter-protesters, and things quickly degenerated:

On Saturday morning, men in combat gear — some wearing bicycle and motorcycle helmets and carrying clubs and sticks and makeshift shields — had fought each other in the downtown streets, with little apparent police interference. Both sides sprayed each other with chemical irritants and plastic bottles were hurled through the air.

After the protesters had begun to disperse, someone taking a cue from terrorists in London and Paris drove their car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing one and injuring 19.  Three cars had already smashed into one another earlier in the day, sending people running.  A State of Emergency is in place.

None of this surprises me.  I've seen too many "The South will Rise Again" bumper stickers on trucks with gun racks.  As I wrote in 2010:

Wild and woolly times ahead.
Be Prepared for the Years of Lead!

I have the feeling this just the beginning. 

Update:  from today's NYT, a little more background.  Art matters.

The Statue at the Center of Charlottesville’s Storm

Update 8/16:  Who'd a thunk it?   

Robert E. Lee opposed Confederate monuments (except grave markers apparently)

Update 8/17:
NYT list of Confederate monuments coming down across the country

Update 8/19:

 .  .  .  .

More on Laws of Silence

The Battle of the Battle of Liberty Place
Ain't just whistlin' Dixie  
The Politics of Removal  
Tea for Two: American Years of Lead

Friday, July 21, 2017

Bourdelle's "La France": Montauban copy

When I first saw Bourdelle's La France in Paris in 2011 (on LoS), it encompassed a lot of what I was writing about at the time, featuring symbols with which I'd become very familiar:  A strong woman as an embodiment of France, a serpent, pillars, and a triangle.

There are four bronze castings of the sculpture made from the original maquette, and the Paris version is the fourth (dedicated June 14, 1948).  Another is in Montauban, the capital of the Tarn-et-Garonne, just a short hop up the road from chez moi.  This second casting was dedicated on November 13, 1932.  The base feautures plaques commemorating every conflict from WWI to 21st-century military actions in places such as Chad and ex-Yugoslavia, a couple of names each on small "ex-voto" compared to the hundreds of names around the base naming the staggering number of victims of the Great War.  If you examine my not-so-great photographs, you'll see that for some reason in version two the spear carried by the Athena-like woman is longer than version four, the spearhead seems slightly different, and it certainly isn't hung with the two wreaths one sees on the Paris casting.

The third version is also quite a bit different, as it (quoting myself): 

had originally been placed at the entrance of the "foire d'Alger." After the foire, it was put on the terrace of the Musée de Beaux-Arts, where she scrutinized the Mediterranean.  This one has the most storied history.
As a symbol of de Gaulle, the statue was blown up on the evening of November 26, 1961 by the OAS (Organisation armée secrète), a far-right group who despised de Gaulle for what they perceived as his treason towards Algeria, then a French Department, after his actions led to Algerian independence in 1962.  The socle was pulverized and the statue damaged. 
After this symbolic attack, the pieces were collected and stored until the statue could be repaired.  The French ambassador obtained permission to recover the statue but the French administration refused to pay for the transport cost, instead foisting the responsibility upon Paris' Bourdelle museum.  It was eventually taken to be repaired but the part of the support which depicted the snakes, as well as that part of the lance which held the olive branches, were too damaged to be repaired.  This lance was later sawed down in order for it to fit inside the museum of the Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan military academy.
So.  Not much new, I just happened to stumble upon La France (#2) in Montauban recently, after having forgotten my idea to try and hunt it down after reading about it while researching the one in Paris.  The different castings each have their own history, and I was surprised to learn they had originally been cast for different kinds of monuments. For example, the original maquette was made to commemorate the US' entry into the First World War.  The project floundered but a half-sized casting was exposed at the Salon in 1923.  In 1925, the full-sized, 9m version was cast for use in an expo, after which it was acquired by Briançon, where it stands alone as the city's war memorial.  The second was made directly for Montauban's monument aux morts.  The commission for the Montauban monument, described as a "temple," was given to Bourdelle in 1921, but the monument was not completed until 1930, a year after Bourdelle's death.  The third sat outside a museum in Algiers, was dynamited by the OAS, and then reassembled for another museum, inside this time, at the École St-Cyr.  Number four honors the Free French and "the call" of June 18 by de Gaulle, and was privately funded.  The OAS must have been thrilled.

In addition to the four 9m casts, there are also some 4.6m casts held by various museums.

Apparently, Bourdelle considered La France to be his greatest work, which is saying something, considering that Bourdelle's body of work is impressive in both quantity and quality.  If you look at his lifespan, 1861-1929, the radical modernity of his work is especially striking.  It's really kind of surprising he's not as well-known as say, Rodin, who was an admirer.  I'm lucky that quite a few of his sculptures dot Montauban.  La France is only one of many Bourdelle's works to be found in and around the historic city center near what is now a museum for another native-son, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

St. Fris: Photos at last!

For a tiny little town (pop. 391) just a few klicks away from the middle of nowhere, I've managed to pass through Bassoues three times in the last 15 or so years.  The first time, I was astonished to come across a statue of what appeared to be a soldier (shield, raised sword, spear) who turned out to be Saint.  This was St. Fris, a supposed nephew of Charles Martel, who led a small band of Franks repulsed a Saracen invasion at this very spot.

St. Fris holds a certain fascination for me because he was my introduction to the world of folk saints.  These are highly localized, their real names often unknown, their very existence quite often doubtful.  Their legends, however, often share mythical elements not only with each other, but with more well-known religious figures.  The hagiography of St. Fris, for example, shares details with St. James, of Compostela fame, in that after his death, his body was somehow miraculously encased in rock.

From within this rock, a spring appeared, with miraculous healing properties.  We see the same story at Rocamadour, with the legends of Saints Quiteria and Liberata; with the majority of what are known as Black Madonnas; with the hermit Dadon, who after his "furtive translation" (i.e. theft) of Saint Foy's remains, struck the ground with his staff and voila!  H²O!  The same story is found at Covadonga, in Asturias, in the story of Pelagius, who in 722 is said to have pretty much kicked off the Reconquista.

So despite being a figure with an extremely limited geographical domain, he is nonetheless endowed with the powers over the forces necessary for the survival of what Julian Barnes calls the Ultimate Peasant: water, health, protection from attackers.  St. Fris is pretty much limited to the Gers:  he saturates Bassoues; there's a small cult at Vic-Fezensac (a town with a strong connection to another local element of folklore: the bull); and a small shrine at the cathedral in Auch.  Fris isn't even his real name; the legend states that when his uncorrupt body emerged from a rock being licked away as if it were salt, no one knew his name, so they called him St. Fris after his familial connection to the Frisian Islands. 

I recall being happily surprised in Asturias when I came across two hamlets, one dedicated to St. Sernin, and, more surprisingly, the "Saintes Puelles" (here called "Pueyes -- the Argentine "ll" and "y" share the same "zh" pronunciation so the changed spelling is fonetickly the same).  I mention this because I wonder if somewhere along the St James Way we can find either a hamlet named after Fris, or a chapel; would you give me a bust in a basilica maybe?

Anyhow, third time's a charm because as I recounted in a previous post, I never managed to get some photos in my first two visits.

So, without further adieu, I present thee with the photographs:

This first is typical of regional architecture, thick walls of rough-hewn stone; small, round widows; often asymmetric facade; a single tower; spare to zero ornamentation.

St. Fris Basilica

St. Fris shrine at l’Étendard hill
This shrine is located at the site where St. Fris allegedly planted his flagpole/spear in the ground, his line in the sand, and with a rousing "into the breach" pep talk, rallied his troops to defeat a rear-guard of Moors as they fled south after being routed at Poitiers.
There's a cinematic quality to the story of St. Fris; it could make a good film.  St. Fris rallies his men and turns defeats the Moors, but one last arrow, let loose by a young embittered hothead finds its mark and strikes the young champion.

Lakeside chapel dedicated the St. Fris
Fris' horse, suddenly without guidance, bolts, the dying Fris slumped in the saddle, bouncing brutally as the horse flees in terror.  It comes to a spot near a river.  The corpse of the young hero falls to the ground, is encased in rock and lays undisturbed for centuries, until a cow, licking away at the rock, reveals St Fris, apparently still magnificently mustachioed, for all representation of the saint feature long Asterix-like facial-hair.

The chapel itself is unremarkable and also typical of the region. Unfortunately one cannot see inside.  The S.F. monogram under the bell is a nice touch.

Lakeside chapel: facade
Finally, here's a photo of the scared spring with reputed healing powers.

Sacred spring: St. Fris chapel
So basically, since the Middle Ages, pilgrims came specifically to see the relics of St. Fris or visited on their way to Compostela (probably this is what accounts for the legend that Fris' body, like that of St. James, was encased in stone).  Pilgrims would ether drink or bathe in these waters for their reputed healing powers, but it wasn't until 1890 that the village priest, one Abbé Blajan, had the chapel built and (not pictured), a small bathhouse where numerous miracles have been reported.

I can think of half a dozen similar fountains within a short distance from my home.  In my village the fountain was reputedly best for fevers and stomach troubles.  Dedicated to John the Baptist, the current rude structure is only made of mud but has stood since 1713 on the site of a much more ancient chapel.  In at least two neighboring villages there are chapels with healing springs.  All of these are positioned along the local tendrils of the St. James Way that converge upon St. James-Pied-le-Port, both the beginning of the "French Road" to Santiago and the last stop in France before pilgrims cross the Pyrenees to arrive at Roncevalles.

So, finally LoS has some photos from my own telephone to illustrate to places where St. Fris was struck and where his body came to rest.  I made a longish detour on my return journey after three-plus days on the St. James Way, following the same route as millions of pilgrims before me.

St. Fris was the nephew of Charles Martel, who in 732 had defeated the Moors at Poitiers.  As the Moorish army fled, their rear guard encountered a small group of Franks led by Fris; his legend is thus directly tied to the battle which is said to have stopped the until then indefatigable advance of the Moors into Europe.

Ironically, later battles had Charlemagne, Martel's grandson, and thus Fris' cousin, allied with the Moorish Wali of Barcelona and Girona to combat his rivals in the Iberian peninsula.  The Wali received military aid and Charlemagne saw an opportunity to shore up his power and strengthen the Christian position in general.  In 778 Charlemagne was dealt his only military defeat at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass as his rear-guard was ambushed by Basques in revenge for Charlemagne's attack on Pamplona, a Basque capital, during his adventures in the basque Country.  Fris' encounter reverses the roles,some wishful thinking to clean up an otherwise spotless military record.

In 824 a second battle occurred, where a combined Basque and Muslim army defeated a Carolingian expeditionary force.  Lots of shifting alliances, no?  The Carolingians had gone to quash a rebellion in that pesky Pamplona and met no resistance.  However, marching back with plunder, they were ambushed at Roncevaux pass and soundly defeated, much like Charlemagne 46 years prior.  The Basques were the true victors here, for the battle led directly to the establishment of the independent Kingdom of Pamplona.

So, though Fris's tale is probably a fiction, there is a possible historical basis for the story.

For the rest of St. Fris' hagiography, read my original post.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Open Source Band Names List for as yet unnamed or non-existent bands II

List Part I, with introduction, etc.

The Lumps                           
Arnold Schwartz & Eggers                           
Men at Twerk                           
Qatari Teenage Riot                           
The Jock Juice Three                           
Jaundice Factory                           
Jumpin' Jack Rash                           
The Union Jackoffs                           
Yiddish Puns                           
Black is the New Black                           
New Kids on the Black                           
Black Addled                           
Streamlined Streamlined                           
Egg MacGuffin                           
Jorny Jip-Jip                           
M P'TE                           
The Heartwarmers                           
Richard Head and the Nozzlers                           
Dick In Dike                           
Kobold Kim and the Bree-Yarks                           
Muslim Microbus                           
Headscarf Hillary and the Heartworms                           
Camel Otter                           
Knob Gobblers                           
Joseph Gobbles and the Turkey-Trots                           
Hock the Herald                           
Cry For Micah                           
Millions of Dead Millennials                           
The Skamps                           
Shrimp Skampi                           
Ask for Ska                           
Skary Monsters                           
Skar Tissue                           
The Nigerian Skammers                           
Skate Pork                           
Tampa Babies                           
Tina Turner Diaries                           
Miffed Max                           
Perky Peg                           
Bugs Bun E. Carlos                        
Urine Traffic                           
This Disgusting Person                           
Nine-Inch Nose                           
Cruise Effects                           
Sons of Xemu                           
Suns of Distortion                           
The Solar Flairs                           
Donkey King                           
Soul Pumper                           
Rotorious Dud                           
Muslim Banned                           
The Bleeding Faces                           
Bloody Fee Sees!                           
Class Action Zoot Suit                           
Sorry for Killing You                           
K Krispy Kreme                           
Burning Bung                           
The Bronks                           
The Buddy Cistern                           
The Cisterns of Mercy                           
Pulpit Fiction                           
Pulp Friction                           
The Game Was Thrown                           
Fear the Working Dad                           
Twain Peeks                           
Sang Froid and Son                           
Han Oslo                           
Little Lincoln                           
Sonny Hates Beards                           
Orkin Mindy                           
Bacon Porn                           
James Bondage                           
Hieroglyphic Scrabble                           
The Gnolls                           
Heaven's Under Fire
Lyle Love it or Leave It   
Lovin' Eyeful   
Crtical Mash   
Neck Race 2000   
Turd Balloon   
Blood Lite   
Bloodletting for Beginners   
A Cure for Old Age   
Leech or Lech?   
State Prism   

Smog Toy
Snub Nose 6
Rectum Rocket
Grand Theft Otter

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Nazi Rock

If you balk at the idea of Confederate memorials, you'd surely be displeased to learn that for over 20 years a small memorial dedicated to six executed Nazi spies sat on Federal land.  From WaPo:
“In memory of agents of the German Abwehr,” the engraving began, “executed August 8, 1942.”
Below that were six names, and below those was another cryptic line: “Donated by the N.S.W.P.P.”
The  N.S.W.P.P.?  That would be the National Socialist White People’s Party, which until the mid-60's had been known as the American Nazi Party.

The granite slab was illegal, and officials debated how best to deal with it.  Some argued that the memorial be destroyed and the chunks tossed into the river, but conservationists won.  After determining the site wasn't a grave, one day in 2010 a forklift came and, under the supervision of a museum curator, lifted it into a truck and transported it to the storage facility where it still sits as Item OXCO-475, somewhere in a Maryland suburb of D.C.  The Park Service asked the Washington Post to be no more specific than that out of fear the memorial could yet become some kind of shrine.  The same kind of fear that drove the Russians to scatter Hitler's remains, for the CIA to dismember Che Guevara and bury the parts in various locations, or the Americans to dump Osama Bin Laden into the sea.  Rangers had already noticed the slab had been cleaned and at times had found it adorned with candles and deer bones.  And, for all the CIA's efforts, Guevara does have a shrine in Bolivia where he is worshipped like a saint.

I wonder how many other secret shrines dot the American landscape?  Swastika-shaped buildings aside, of course. (here | here).

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Squeezing the Joy out of the Plush Toy of Life

Dear Laws of Silence:

Sure, you may have heard of the soft-spoken and hard-drinking poet & novelist, but did you know of Charles Bukowski's sideline as a designer of "collectable" stuffed toys?

I didn't think so!

Apparently, "they" haven't released these in the US or UK so as not to damage Mr. Bukowski's street cred.  But in France, where the fine art of plush toy design is as revered as Camembert cheese and stripey shirts, they fly off the shelves like, um, wild horses running away over the hill.  Or something like that.  Models include the Impotent Old Drunk, the Scabby Crack Whore, the Unlucky Gambler and the Psychotic Hobo.

Now these are transitional objects to be proud of, to "de-simpify" your kids, who have no doubt been ruined by mawkish cuteness and glorified adverts:  in short, food for cretins.  Grab this bull by the balls and squeeze 'til it yells "Uncle!"

Or, as it would yell in France -- the talking bulls of  Limousin are legend:  "Oncle!"

Kind Regards,
Théophile Prades
Beaupuy, France

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Open Source Band Names List for as yet unnamed or non-existent bands

Crash Crew
Many years ago, 20+ years for sure, a friend and I started compiling a list of fake band names.  Every once in a while I add to my list, which I've collected into an Excel file, with sheets listing the names in the order I came up with them and also rearranged alphabetically.  The following list is ordered by date; you can see how dated it is by references to NYC Mayor George Patacki, George Bush I, Friends, Cuba Gooding Jr....

It's an original idea in as much as we started doing it one night on our very own, but it's certainly not unique.  I'm sure kids have been doing this since the beginning of Rock and Roll.  Years ago I saw a webpage dedicated to the idea and a Google search these days brings up a lot of hits.  And of course there are several Facebook groups dedicated to the concept. (I was motivated to finally put this online by the Fictitious Band Names Repository but there are other groups).

But I'm gonna stay away from groups and keep my list here.  My proposal is this.  Anyone can use a name, but if you don't put on a show or put out an album, the name will remain free for the taking.  If someone uses it for a show or a release, it will be taken off the list and people will have to respect the "first come, first served" rule.

My only condition is that if you use the name for a release, you have to credit me somewhere in the liner notes, i.e. "Thanks to Laws of Silence" and provide a link to this post.  I'd also ask that you send me a copy of your album, LP's preferred!

If by some miracle you do very well, like get super-famous and wealthy, you can cut me a generous but reasonable check to alleviate my chronic near-poverty.  Seriously, I'm sick of scrabbling and any extra spondulics in my account would be more than welcome.  I will update the list irregularly as I add new names.  BTW, the very first band name I came up with was for a comic I made, even before my friend and I started this project.  The name was Crash Crew and, as it turns out, is actually the name of a real band.  A terrible name name actually, like many of the names to follow.  Some of them are pretty good, but mostly, they're just silly, often an excuse to make awful puns, which is another hobby of mine....

So, without further ado, the list.

Open Source Band Name List for Non-Existent or as yet Un-named Bands

Bloody Udders                           
Goon Squad                           
Genie Patacki                           
Electric Liquor Binge                           
The Ace of Dwarf                           
The Ankle-Biters                           
Love Blob                           
Acute Torque Wrench                           
The Wafflers                           
The Thousand Points of Light                           
The Allergies                           
Chicken-Fried Gomez                           
Chicken-Fried Swamp                           
Beer Baby                           
La-La Landrover                           
Clever Dick                           
Chef Boys are Dead                           
Noble Fink                           
Friends Cast Bus Crash                           
Kaiser Mouse                           
Never Say Satan                           
Cuba Freebie                           
Young Goodman Brownie                           
Cheryl Cow                           
The Moops                           
Crack Attack                           
Line-Item Peephole                           
Bubble is Us                           
Rüsty Omën                           
Ace of Pooch                           
Elefunk Sackrace                           
Berkeley Boobwreck                           
Eyeline Elfboat                           
The Carbonators                           
Barley Boy                           
The Right Wingnuts                           
Social Piddle                           
Sonny Distortion                           
Rock Ball                           
Johnny and the T-Cells                           
H.I. Glee Club                           
G. Gordon Pity                           
Apple Dumpling Gang War                           
Sun Hop Station                           
Ken-L-Ration X                           
G.I. Germ                           
9-Mile Leg                           
Radical Sheik                           
Radical Platypus Bark-Bark                           
Sausage Club                           
Tongue Plant                           
Binder Clip                           
Morning Glory Hole                           
Certified Rattle Rocket                            
The Awshucks                           
Spunky Punk                           
The Plumbers                           
G-Bone Jimmy                           
Peter Paul and the Popstones                           
Pork Rind                           
River Dip                           
Roof Mania                           
Rickshaw to Heaven                           
Bunghole & Willie                           
The Raga and Bone Men                           
Minneapolis Headswim                           
Hornet Bag                           
Tribal Noize                           
The Coffeecups                           
Alonius Macaw                           
Felonius Monk                           
Fella Fella                           
Public Enema                           
Enemy Mein Kampf                           
Market Cher                           
Magic Marky                           
Imps of the Perverse                           
Nukey Brown                           
5-Alarm Murphy                           
Kiss n’ Cozen                           
Sin and a Half                           
Q-Bert Humperdink                           
Sonny No Bone                           
Pol Pot Head                           
Ubiquitous Elk Poop                           
Vanilla Cornice                           
Iced P                           
My Mesomorphic Doppelganger                           
Black Dog Imp                           
Rhythmic Coughing                           
Turn Yer Head And                           
Pawn Pusher                           
Hanson Neez                           
Punch the President                           
Czech Mate                           
Visceral Intent                           
Triumph of the Willard                           
Summer Salt                           
Beer Hall Pooch                           
Atomic Ribcage                           
G. Motion                           
Red Nectar                           
PBR Streetgang                           
Capt. Queer and the Butt Pirates                           
Waves of Damon                           
We Like Sawyer                           
Radio Devils                           
John Wesley Hard-on                           
The Whorenets                           
Ectomorph Slim                           
Trump It!                           
Trumpets of Doom                           
Turnip Master                           
Tears for Tots                           
Are You Syria?                           
Shit Creek Paddlers                           
Toothless in Seattle                           
Cigar City Singers                           
Insect Division                           
Mope Street                           
David Buoy                           
The Birthers                           
Ass, Innate Ass                           
Tiny Hands                           
Pee Club                           
Hobo Diddly                           
Hobo Derek Jeter                           
My and Me Vice                           
Herr Owen Harry                           
Bilge-Pump Billy                           
Barrack Alabama                           
3-Alarm Satan                           
Bliss Beams of Cunt                           
Luv It & Leave It                           
Nat King Coal Mine                           
The Boot Liquors                           
Sharon & Karen                           
Justin Thyme and the Close Calls                           
Almost There!                           
Top Ten Hitler                           
X Flies                           
Hate Train                           
Gomer's Piles                           
God is a Woman (with a Big Penis)                           
Lesbian Divorce                           
Needle of Truth                           
Cuckster Bubble                           
Huge Fantastic Flames                           
Snowflake of Denial                           
Sam Sung Songs                           
Soup Wagons

The list continues (Part II)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

...a pointless rock wall as a metaphor for the myopia of the culture-bound...

Israeli West Bank Barrier - Justin McIntosh. CC License.
A wall is defined as "a structure that defines an area, carries a load, or provides shelter or security".  Seems simple enough, but simple definitions are themselves walls that hide complex realities. 

Walls can be made from a large variety of materials and serve a large variety of purposes.  There are many kinds:  Curtain, Mullion, Partition, Party, Infill, Fire, Shear, Knee, Cavity, Pony...and that's just in building lingo.  We won't even go into Facebook walls and firewalls.  They can be works or art or canvases, even the screen for vast and complex animated films.  From Banksy to Blu, the ordinary can be made into something extraordinary, a reclamation of our shared environment.  We don't think about them too much, but we should, for they define us as humans as much as opposable thumbs, binocular vision, and the use of tools.  

"Tear down this wall!" signaled the end of a nearly 100-year geopolitical duopoly whose ramifications are still defining the world in which we live.  The wall in question came crashing down, and the clouds of dust are still settling.  Within this murky atmosphere, the blind and our one-eyed kings are clamoring to put walls back up.  The rich retreat behind them and some western nations are debating them as a way to keep the migrants out.  The collision between globalization and nationalism may well be a story of walls, or a lack thereof.

Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv. Public Domain.
But enough with the stentorian platitudes.  This post came about after seeing a photo of Trump at the Western Wall -- he loves his walls, -- and an EFL class I gave using public art and urbanization as its theme.  We discussed the Vietnam Memorial Wall, and I intended to do a short post about the two walls as places to grieve, where people leave mementos of their grief, whether rolled up pieces of paper with prayers written upon them, or mementos of a war whose combatants are now dying off.  The memories will soon be gone, but the wall will remain.

Some of the most famous walls -- The Great Wall of China, Hadrian's Wall, The Berlin Wall, The West Bank Barrier, Trump's proposed border wall -- were erected to keep people out...or in.  There are score thousands of lesser-known walls all across the world, like their cousins the fence, making manifest the abstract lines on a map that define the boundaries of private and public property, from the homeowner to the state, from anonymous mud-brick dwellings to the only human structure visible from space.  They shelter and protect us from the outside world, from threats real and imagined.  But I wanted to speak of other kinds of walls.

Some of these walls are metaphors, like Pink Floyd's Wall, the emotional barriers to shut out the world, to compartmentalize experience, the kind of walls that allow a preacher to spread the gospel on Sunday and snort methamphetamine with male prostitutes on Saturday.  Or in this case "where traumatic experiences are represented as 'bricks' in the metaphorical wall [the hero] constructs around himself that divides him from society."


The Walls of Jericho were blown down a trumpet....the Walls of Jerusalem and countless other cities the scene of great mayhem and carnage.  Alexander the Great scaled walls like a spider, single-handedly jumping into a walled city to inspire his troops along their unstoppable march to India and back to Macedonia.  And when there were no more walls to breach, he died.

"Shaka, when the walls fell" an episode of Star Trek, this is a phrase uttered by an alien trying, incidentally, to break down the walls between humans and his race.  In that episode, the language barrier is eventually overcome.  The aliens speak in allegory and though Capt. Picard and crew understand the words, the meaning is lost without knowing the ur-tales to which the allegory refers.  When the walls fall, the language barrier drops.  Dialogue is established and when Riker asks Picard if they'd made friend that day, Picard can answer that at the very least, they didn't make an enemy.

Some walls exist only because they are all that's left of an edifice, like The Western Wall, the last remaining remnant of Solomon's temple.  Jews go there to mourn the destruction of the Temple and pray for its reconstruction, leaving prayers on rolled up papers pushed into the crevasses.  It is the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray -- the holiest site is actually behind it.  Some rabbis teach that the Foundation Stone is located near the El-kas fountain, opposite the exposed section of the wall and where the Holy of Holies once stood.  As a practical reality, the wall symbolizes the great obstacle to the restoration of Judaism, for Islam's second-holiest shrine, the Dome of the Rock, sits atop the Temple Mount.  Its destruction would unleash Armageddon.  As long as the Dome of the Rock stands, the Temple cannot be rebuilt.  It is an impassable wall with apocalyptic ramifications.  As the location of the Foundation Stone, it recalls that our earthly creation was in effect the separation of Man from God; it is a great wall separating Heaven from Earth.

In addition to the mosque on the Temple Mount, Muslims revere the wall because it is believed that the Prophet's miraculous steed was tethered to it by Muhammad during his night flight to Jerusalem.

Stoning the Devil in Mina - Al Jazeera English. CC License.
During the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca incumbent upon all able-bodied Muslims with the means to undertake it, Muslims also perform a ritual called the Stoning of the Devil.  Pilgrims throw seven pebbles at three walls (jamarāt), from east to west, in order to reenact a part of Abraham's pilgrimage, where he threw pebbles at three pillars.  For safety reasons, in 2004 these pillars were replaced by walls.  The walls represents God's temptation of Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael to renounce the sacrifice of Ishmael.  They also represent casting away base desires and are a repudiation of the self before God.  This renunciation also serves to bring the pilgrim closer to God; the walls in effect represent not just temptation, but sin itself, and thus represent, much like the Western Wall, the separation of God and Man.

Again, like the Western Wall, walls serve a stand-in for the buildings themselves.  Sacred Walls:  Learning from Temple Symbols, is a book about the symbols found on the walls of a Mormon temple, symbols which communicate to the faithful.
Both books and buildings have voices.... However, even though architectural symbolism existed before the written word, the message of a building is often difficult for most of us to recognize.

For Latter-day Saints, temples are the most important and symbolic buildings in existence. Through temples the unique doctrines of the restored gospel are communicated...

This unique and fascinating book is designed to help you see the House of the Lord with new eyes as you examine the “voices” of temple exteriors along with the “voices” of the Book of Mormon....
Gate of a Hunting Ground - Jean Jacques Lequeu. Public domain.
This is no different from a Catholic cathedral, which is in many ways a Bible in stone, a visual didactic tool for the illiterate.  It is "architecture parlante" -- or speaking architecture.  Architecture parlante may be as simple as an inscription or phrase, a quote perhaps, to instruct and to declare the building's purpose.  Or it may be that building's form reflects its purpose:  the cooper's atelier is shaped like a barrel, the brothel resembles an erect penis (yes, those were real proposals).  The idea of architecture parlante was originally "voiced" at the time of the French Revolution by architects Claude Nicolas Ledoux, Étienne-Louis Boullée, and Jean-Jacques Lequeu"The same concept, in the somewhat more restrained form of allegorical sculpture and inscriptions, became one of the hallmarks of Beaux-Arts structures" and was a recurring feature of American civic architecture.  The severity of Modernist architecture saw a decline in the use of ornament and inscription, but Post-Modernist architects have revived it.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington is composed of three parts: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, the Three Servicemen Memorial, and the Vietnam Women's Memorial.  These latter were erected to appease early critics of the original memorial -- which consisted of the Wall alone -- who deemed it shameful because of its unconventional design, black color and lack of ornament.  Sad to say, architect Maya Lin's gender and ethnicity were a factor in much of the negative reaction (Ross Perot reportedly called her an "egg roll").   It's since become highly regarded, if not revered.  The Memorial Wall is a wall that doesn't enclose or bear anything at all.  Like the Western Wall, people leave articles, not prayers necessarily, but personal mementos.  As one travels along the wall it gets higher and the names of the dead eventually rise over one's head.  It's a mournful black, and a mirror in which one can see oneself reflected.  It is spare, elegant and deeply moving.  It has the atmosphere of a holy place, like an outdoor temple.  Visitors are hushed and while there is no wailing, there are a lot of tears.  It's perhaps one of the most powerful memorials in Washington, and has been described as a "wound that is closed and healing".  In a sense, it is architecture parlante, and it is a dialogue.

The three soldiers appear to be looking at the wall and there is something archetypal about their number: Three Kings, Freemasonry's Three Ruffians, The Trinity.... 
Cliff (cliff1066) -  CC License.
The Women's Memorial also depicts three uniformed women evoking perhaps the Three Mary's, with a wounded soldier.  It is a Pietà in all but name.

The wall has proven so popular that at one point three half-sized portable versions traveled across the country and to date have attracted tens of millions of visitors.  There are four other traveling versions of differing scale, and four fixed replicas.

The idea that architecture can communicate something, a set of ideals or civic virtues, may be a high-falutin' topic to be bandied about by art historians and architects, but something in it resonates in the popular imagination:  "If these walls could talk...." some people say, as if the walls, silent witnesses, retain memories of scenes enacted within them, like video cameras which record but cannot play back.  The artists Blu and Banksy have made them speak, however, often quite eloquently.  The simple wall, however, unadorned, can often speak volumes.  While ostensibly barriers, they can serve to identify where one space meets another and serve as points of communication.  Why have more than one space at all?  Boundary stones, fences, great walls....are these basically human equivalents of pissing on rocks to mark a territory, like most graffiti?  One piss stain upon another?  I dunno, It's too late for more of my grade-school philosophizing.  I just thought it was neat how that photo of Trump at the Western Wall popped into my monitor about the same time I was discussing the Vietnam Memorial Wall, two walls where people feel compelled to leave stuff.  The rest is just riffing.  Breaking on through to the other side.

And with that, I'm Audi 5000.


Looks like I hit "Publish" too soon.  Reading about the Robert Frost poem "Mending Wall" (of "Good fences make good neighbors" fame), I came across the following analysis of the themes, stating more or less what I was trying to say at some point in the post:
The poem explores the contradictions in life and humanity, including the contradictions within each person, as man "makes boundaries and he breaks boundaries".  The poem also explores the role of boundaries in human society as mending the wall serves both to separate and to join the two neighbors, another contradiction....Then, in "Mending Wall", Frost meditates on the role of language as a kind of wall that both joins and separates people.