Tag Archives: ritual

Roque-Gageac, Beynac, Rouffignac

I woke up this morning to a brave calling of swallows echoing across the cliff face, greeting the dawn. It is the same cliff that forms one wall of my room, the other wall of pine sloping sharply up to meet it with a cross bracing of huge and ancient beams cut square. It is very cold. The swallows move in and out of crescendo and light comes in through the two small triangular windows.

Last night I was kept awake by the irony of a rock-pop festival in this tiny medieval village, and then I was kept awake by the cold. I wore my down vest under the covers for a while, then wrapped it around my feet. In between wakings I dreamed of James Crumley, big and shaggy and alcohol soaked, I dreamed he had hired my dad to rebuild and redecorate his record and auto-part store. I dreamed we walked in the desert and I tried to explain just how beautiful it was, just how much I loved it. But I almost never write about the desert, I don’t understand. But I suppose dreams aren’t for understanding.

Maybe it is just that I have found no inspiration beyond photos, I don’t find words hidden seamed up in time’s folds the way I do in London. So I shall work on my dissertation. It is ridiculously beautiful here of course, ancient villages of mellowed golden limestone and narrow winding roads. They are all fortified, on hilltops, castles crowning outcrops and defensible walls blocking cavern faces high up in the cliffs. It was on the edges of the hundred-years war with England, the castle of Beynac-et-cezenac in French hands, that of Castelnaud in English.

We went to see the grotte de Rouffignac yesterday as well. It is a huge cavern, huge. And regular the way most caves are not, carved out by an underground river through stone that must have been very regular. There are no stalactites and stalagmites, though my french did not quite reach to understanding why. The walls are mostly smooth, with a layer of what looks like a conglomerate just above the level of my head, strange rounded multi-armed shapes embedded whole into the walls, grey near the opening, stained a deep orange-red with iron ore deeper inside. You ride a small electric train very deep inside, following where ancient people walked with only torches. Large openings branch to either side, you wonder how they found their way. Past the hollows where ancient cave bears dug their holes to hibernate for the winter, into a rounded cavern where beautiful mammoths and bison were drawn across the roof, only a few feet from the floor, emerging from the deep hole of a cavern to the left that goes far beyond seeing…

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Highgate Cemetery by Night…

Well…not quite the adventure it sounds, as we didn’t precisely go for a wander. We actually sat comfortably, if not entirely warmly, in  chapel  of Highgate Cemetery (which was completely full) to listen to Dr. Brent Elliot discuss the History of Cemetery Memorials. I suppose I have a significant  photographic interest in the subject, but perhaps more so in those who make graveyards their life profession or obsession. I had only been to one cemetery briefly mentioned (que viva Glasgow!), but it exemplified many of the subjects discussed:

Close your eyes and take a moment to imagine the expert on cemetery memorials, and, there before you, you have Dr. Eliot. Tall, precise, pale, bearded, dry. Owner of a broad forehead and wide set eyes. Soberly suited. He opened by emphasizing that this talk would cover cemeteries, not graveyards, crematoria, and etc…Happily, I am now cool enough to know the important differences.

I also now know that East Anglia was notorious in its conservatism in retaining the use of body stones. The stylistic existence of muscular gothic. The fact that many of those creepily black head stones are in fact white marble, simple victims of a staggering air pollution. And I now know just how many sculptures have been stolen from cemeteries (now that would take a level of superstition-free courage I do not see within myself…)

And of course the minor scandal of Italy exporting grave sculpture wholesale, and English masons taking the credit. The angels with their come hither expressions and decolletage. The brilliance of Anselm Oddlings of Hull. The gravestone in the form of a baby grand piano. Next month is on The English Way of Death, which could be even more interesting. And of course, I now have a list of London cemeteries to visit during the daylight hours…

Seeking balance in life (and er, death), yesterday I read Gramsci all morning and then took a friend’s place in the season-ticket holder section of Arsenal v Sunderland. Fucking hell but I love football, even more than eccentrically morbid talks in burial chapels. The game was, however, much much colder. I came home, made tea, and got under the covers immediately, finding it impossible to emerge.

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