Saturday, July 26, 2008

Two Summer Days And Nights In Paris

Photo - Alden Smith 2006 - One foot of the Eiffel Tower, Paris

This is one of the feet of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The Eiffel Tower is an iconic 'must see' - (or rather - must go to the top of - it would be hard NOT to see the Eiffel Tower when in Paris) - if you go to Paris as we did in the summer of 2006. It looks somewhat like a tower made out of giant Meccano Set parts.
The Eiffel Tower is named after its designer the engineer Gustave Eiffel. It is one of the most recognised structures in the world with more than 200,000,000 people having visited it since it was built in 1889. According to Wikipedia there were 6,719,200 visitors in 2006 and in that year Christine and I were two of those that visited.

When the tower was built it came in for a great deal of public criticism and many vitriolic letters were sent to French newspapers signed by famous French citizens calling for it to be pulled down. - The French Novelist Guy de Maupassant - who claimed to hate the tower — supposedly ate lunch in the Tower's restaurant every day. When asked why, he answered that it was the one place in Paris where you couldn't see the Tower. Today, it is widely considered to be a striking piece of structural art – I wonder what the reception would be today if someone called for its removal?

I thought the tower was magnificent. The views of the Seine River and Paris from the viewing platforms were spectacular and the feeling is different from most other towers and buildings in that it is not enclosed in any way.

At night the Tower is beautifully lit and on the hour (one of the hours between 10 and 12pm) the lights shimmer in a beautiful display which makes the tower sparkle not unlike the well known fireworks sparklers.

In Paris we celebrated our wedding anniversary at the Moulin Rouge and the next day we went to the Louvre and saw among other things the famous painting of the Mona Lisa. I had heard that where ever you are in relation to the Mona Lisa, her eyes are always looking at you. I tested this claim out and found that indeed whatever angle I was to the picture her eyes were always looking at me! Uncanny really. If you go there and test it for yourself and it doesn’t work it may be that she only does it for certain very handsome and worthy males like me. :-)

One of the sad things about our visit was that it was far too short – a two day stopover on a whistle stop bus tour of Europe. I have been to the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Moulin Rouge, eaten frogs legs and snails, drank French wine while being serenaded by a French musician in a beret with an accordion and walked part of the Champs- Élysées, BUT ! I really don’t know Paris or France at all. It takes TIME to get this place and any other on this globe into your bones. Paris just got under my skin – but under enough that I want to go back – yep, I’m going back – deep in the heart of Paris there is a baguette and a bottle of wine with my name written on it and a lady in the Louvre who wants to take another look at me. :-)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I received this by email today. Sometimes these little dittys pour trite homilies on a complex world but sometimes I wonder??

London Times Obituary of the late Mr. Common Sense. Interesting and sadly rather true.

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.

He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:

Knowing when to come in out of the rain; why the early bird gets the worm; Life isn't always fair; and maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but over bearing regulations were set in place.

Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children. It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an Aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement..

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason.

He is survived by his 4 step brothers; I Know My Rights, I Want It Now, Someone Else Is To Blame, and I'm A Victim. Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.

If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Film Mamma Mia, Abba and a Paleolithic Hootenanny

Last night I went and saw the film 'Mama Mia'. Some of the acting was wooden, the plot was linear, (no highways and byways of complex subplots here). The characters were one dimensional cardboard cutouts in a one dimensional movie, ( no intellectual demands at all ) - and I loved every minute of it and I want to see it again.

I drove home with a huge smile on my face. The smile is still with me today and if I try and make it go away it springs back like a jack in the box. Why? because for all its faults the movie evokes smiling and joy - and smiling and joy are good for you.

Of course the asp like tongues of critics are out already with their typical modern day half and half reviews - the first half talks about the movie, the second half says - look at me, look at me, look at me, I am so witty and clever.

What drives this movie? some fantastic dancing and Abba's music of course - and what makes the music so compelling.? Well I found this explanation which is very interesting:

"The multi tracked harmonies of singers Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad awaken the part of our brains in which our inner caveman is still enjoying a Paleolithic hootenanny with the rest of his clan.
If you look at the evolutionary biology of the species and the chemical reactions we have to events in the world, for tens of thousands of years when we as a species heard music we heard groups singing it, not an individual and not an individual standing on a stage. So the ABBA model of the multiple voices or the Edwin Hawkins Singers singing 'Oh Happy Day' is much closer to stimulating these evolutionary echoes of what music really is, fundamentally."

I say amen to all that and give me a Paleolithic hootenanny anytime - its really good for the facial muscles.

Oh, I almost forgot - the reason why I initially went to see the film was to see the famous historic yacht called the Tai - Mo - Shan which plays a role in the film. You can read about this ketch soon on my sailing Blog (Find the link on the right hand side of this page - SimplySailing).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn

London Eye 2006 - Photo Alden Smith

Sometimes we just have to go and do it. Why? because its the right time, the right season and a warm wind is calling our name. If you hear your name, go, don't let anything stop you. Go and may God bless you.
I have read through the whole bible several times and there are many passages that I love. The words for this old song are an adaptation of the words from the book of Ecclesiastes Chapter Three, Verses 1 - 8.
Words Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 Music-pete seeger
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven
A time to build up,a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time for peace, I swear its not too late

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mine's Bigger Than Yours - Create Your Own Fantasy

Within the walls of the Tower of London - Photo Alden Smith

There is a wonderful classic, iconic and very funny scene in the Crocodile Dundee movie where he is threatened by a young guy with a switch blade. Crocodile Dundee laughs and says something along the lines of "That's not a knife; THIS! is a knife! " and produces a Bowie knife the size of his forearm. Although the film is a comedy I feel this scene is 'up there' with the - "Feeling lucky punk?" - "Make my day" - dialogue of Clint Eastward.
I wonder what scenario and dialogue a film scrip writer would write using this majestic cannon in the above photograph on one the hand and say a small Derringer pistol on the other? How would it be played within say the Monty Python or Fawlty Towers genre? or a more serious genre?
Here is the history of the gun:
" This gun, which weighs 5 ¼ tons, was probably made in the Low Countries in 1607, commissioned by the Knights of Malta. It is richly decorated with a variety of images representing the Order's religious and humanitarian role. It was brought to England around 1800 and lay at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich until 1962, when it was transferred to the Tower.
John Hall of Dartford, Kent, made the carriage for the gun in 1827 on the orders of the Duke of Wellington, Master General of the Ordnance. It shows the Arms of Malta and scenes from the history of the island. The breech of the gun rests on an iron quoin in the shape of a Maltese dog.
A programme of conservation of both gun and carriage was undertaken in 2003 – 04 at the Royal Armouries, Fort Nelson."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Such Poise and Such Grace!

Photograph by someone who needs a good clip over the ear

The only way to really salvage anything of my reputation is to come clean, confess and publish this photograph myself. Yes I know I have threatened to pray or cast a spell to make the underwear of anyone referring to this photo (let alone publish it) bunch up for all eternity but that's a dam stupid thing to do (my spells and prayers usually work) and the punishment would be out of all proportion to the crime - I mean, yes, bunch up for a zillion years, but eternity? nah even God wouldn't do that.

This photo was taken at our schools book character parade a couple of years ago. The office lady sent this photo to the 'Dob In' page of the local paper and it was published the next day. On the day it was published I was wondering what all the noise was. I went outside to find people rolling in the streets with laughter. I have to say I laughed for about 5 minutes myself until I looked a little closer ( 5 minutes is actually pret - ty good reaction time when you are in your 50's).

Yes, its hard to imagine that under this hoola hoop enhanced hippo suit there is a coiled spring of a man, a trim human dynamo complete with 6 packs, taut muscles and a huge imagination.
I feel a poem coming on:


Behold the hippopotamus!
We laugh at how he looks to us,
And yet in moments dank and grim
I wonder how we look to him.
Peace, peace, thou hippopotamus!
We really look all right to us,
As you no doubt delight the eye
Of other hippopotami

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Itchy Feet and The Bucket List

Small Village South of Paris - Photo - Alden Smith

I woke this morning with a serious case of itchy feet. I have been looking through some old photos from a 2006 trip to Europe. I have had the time to do this because I have been at home sick for the last week or so with a really bad case of the flu. Also it has been very cold and raining constantly, so reading, reflecting and looking at photographs has been a nice pastime.

I bet most people who went and saw the movie 'The Bucket List' were like me. I have had my own 'Bucket List' for years and have been steadily working through it. One of the problems with a 'Bucket List' is that the more experiences you have the more items you tend to add to the list. Reincarnation is one aspect of spiritual reality which I hope is true as it may give me time enough to tick everything on the list. One of the items I ticked off in 2006 was a much anticipated tour of Europe. Of course the whole affair was within the context of leave without pay and a tight budget, but with a lot of planning we were able to complete a tour which gave us the biggest bang for the buck. It was a sort of grand tour, wide ranging but in many ways superficial. So the inevitable happens. We came home and added 'In Depth Tour' to the bucket list.

The 27 day European Tour we went on was great but as our Tour Director Lorenzo Borelli said on the first day, "This is not a holiday it is a Tour! If you want a holiday go to the Bahamas and lie on the beach for a week, tonight we stay here in Paris, tomorrow your morning call will be at 7a.m. ! " He wasn't kidding, but the long days were the only way to pack in just about every iconic sight from the Eiffel Tower to the Leaning Tower of Pisa to Venice.......

The next trip is not going to be like that. It is going to be more in depth, a lot slower and as far away from hotel rooms as we can get. We want to sail on the Norfolk Broads, cycle the Brittany coast in France, visit the Jersey Islands and the Lake District, hire a car in Scotland, Ireland, Italy........ Its quite a long list and the itineray is a muddle at the moment but the seed of an idea has a tendency to start growing especially if you water it with the imagination.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Pilgrimage To Oxford

Photograph - Taken by the barman of the pub "Eagle and Child" Oxford England

Pilgrimages are journeys that we all undertake in some form or another. Often pilgrimages are a religious journey but the word pilgrimage also best describes that which are secular undertakings.

Whether our pilgrimage is to a country, a town, a graveside or in my case to a pub in Oxford the significance is a personal one – whether we visit the grave of Johnny Rotten from the band the ‘Sex Pistols’ or the grave of Saint Francis of Assisi, the reasons and the homage we pay are personal and subjective.

C. S. Lewis who is best known for his seven books collectively known as ‘The Narnia Chronicles,’ many books of ‘Popular’ Christian Theology and some important academic works has always been a favourite author of mine. I read reasonably widely and it would be Lewis that I can say with confidence I have read most of and about. His writings spoke to me at an important era in my life and still does in many ways. To know so much about another person who lived a life almost in another time and half a world away is an interesting and very valuable experience but difficult really to fully put into words. I think in the early days of reading his work there is the naïve admiration of the ‘groupie’ type. Later there is the appreciation of having a connection with the details of another life which is overwhelmingly human just like ones own. After many years of reflection there is a much more critical and appreciative assessment of his work and its meaning. This assessment sees him as human, flawed as we all are, but appreciative of the fact that he shared so much of his human, religious and intellectual insights.

In 2006 as part of a tour of Europe and a shorter tour of England I went specifically to Oxford to visit the place where Lewis lived and worked for the greater part of his life. I looked around Magdalen College where Lewis was a Don of Medieval and Renaissance Literature and strolled around “Addison’s Walk” a lovely leafy walk around a deer farm next to the college. It was here in 1931 that Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson had an important walk together where they had a conversation about myth and metaphor which, “helped Lewis to come to understand that mythology has an important position in the history of thinking. It was this realization that helped him across his last philosophical hurdle”, in his acceptance of Christianity.

Lewis and his friends also met regularly in a local pub in central Oxford called “The Eagle and Child” which they referred to affectionately as “The Bird and Baby”. It was to this pub that I also made a pilgrimage. The beer and the meal was very good.

In the corner of the pub where Lewis and his friends (aka the “Inklings”) met are photographs, plaques and a framed note signed by all the Inklings congratulating the proprietor for the quality of the beer. A copper plaque on the wall reads:

"C. S. Lewis, his brother W. H. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien. Charles Williams and other friends met every Tuesday morning, between the years 1939 – 1962 in the back room of this their favourite pub. These men, popularly known as the “Inklings” met here to drink Beer and to discuss, among other things, the books they were writing."

Are pilgrimages worth the time and effort? Yes definitely, and I will be making many more.

To honour, to appreciate, to doff ones cap, to remember, to give thanks, to bend ones knee, to make a personal pilgrimage are all things we can do in celebration of the important influences on our lives. It's a sentimental thing to do, but totally harmless.

And to raise a glass of good Oxford beer to the memory of C. S. Lewis is no bad thing at all.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Profound Horror of 'isms'

Photo of a Book Cover - Consider it Free Advertising

I have been thinking about what Jung and Maslow have said about the sanctity of the individual and the importance for each of us to find our own way and become all that we can. We can use others as mentors and guides but we cannot become these people, we must become our own individuated selves.

The reason we so often want to become like someone else, to emulate them is I think an avoidance of the task of self realisation. Why? because self realisation is hard work, we have to take risks, we have to learn and often the greatest learning takes place when we make mistakes. Sometimes the bigger the mistake the greater the learning. No one likes making mistakes or failing. It is easier to be like someone else especially if that person has already gone before you and found the answers and completed the work. Alas it doesn't work like that, the universe seems to crave originality.

Many years ago I built a thirty foot yacht. Building a yacht by yourself can be a bit like building a life. I have a law I made up about it. Lets call it Alden's law of thirds. The time it took to build any part of the boat always seemed to be divided into thirds. One third of the time was taken figuring out how to do the job, consulting the plans, talking to other people. Another third was used running around finding the resources to do the job and the last third was spent in doing the actual construction itself. At the end of all this, sometimes the whole shooting box had to be ripped out and done again because the dunderhead (me) didn't do it correctly. I find a large amount of what I do in life often conforms to my law of thirds.

What is your point ? I hear you ask. Well my little law, my little metaphor for life is one that is unique to me, I forged it within the complexities, paradoxes, ironies, "slings and arrows", "outrageous fortune", "sea of troubles", serendipity and grace that we all have to contend with. - Now you might think my little story is a bit gauche and pathetic or inspiring and laudable, but that would be missing the point. The main point is that it is my truth whatever its quality: mine and most importantly something that I have lived.

C. G. Jung wanted people especially his patients who came to him for help to live their own truth.
"I do not want anybody to be a Jungian, he told me. "I want people above all to be themselves, as for 'isms', they are the viruses of our day, and responsible for greater disasters than any medieval plague or pest has ever been. Should I be found one day only to have created another 'ism' then I will have failed in all I tried to do"

- This quote, above is taken from the book ' Jung And The Story Of Our Time' by Laurens Van Der Post who was a personal friend of C. G. Jung.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Living Authentically and Self Actualisation

Copy of cartoon by Alden Smith

Today I am at home suffering from the worst flu I've had in years. I don't like having the flu except that I have been able to sit by the fire and read.

I have been reading about the American, humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow. It is to Maslow that the term 'Peak Experience' is associated. What I find interesting about Maslow and other psychologists of the pioneering era of the early to middle 20th century is that although there were often fundamentals that they disagreed on there was much that they held in common. They agreed on the concept of authenticity, of living ones own life, not the life that is an expectation of ones parents or of societies. Furthermore, when taking on the persona of some role within society they agreed that it is important to make that role your own in your own unique and creative way.

Finding your own 'centre' and 'truth' and living outwards from this centre is far more healthy and life enhancing for the individual than being on the periphery of someone else's centre and trying to emulate or live someone else's truth. Of course making the distinction between the worth of 'role models', modeling our truth on others and developing our own truth within our own life story is a delicate balance and one we all find a slippery log to walk on at times, but attitude and intention and knowledge helps us along the way.

C. G. Jung the great psychoanalyst would fly into great rages if he ever witnessed other people emulating him in speech, mannerisms or in any way whatsoever. He believed that the process of individuation was a process where we all grow into our own truth and potential, to be all that we can be and that that wholeness is absolutely unique.

Maslow like Jung and others saw the sacredness of the individual and the need for individual growth, but he advanced his theory from a different perspective. In 1954 he published a book called "Motivation and Personality" which is seen as one of the major psychological achievements of the 1950s. In contrast to the approaches of Jung and Freud who studied human weakness and neurosis he focused on healthy, exceptional, high achieving individuals.

Maslow's theory of needs has self - actualization as the highest level of human experience, the highest level of spiritual intelligence.

Maslow discovered that self actualised people have a more efficient perception of reality, have better hunches and intuitive powers, more mystic experience, more peak experience, better awareness of connections and relationships, higher values and ethics based on principles rather than conventions, greater knowledge and wisdom and inclusive views on philosophy and religion.

"They see themselves as human beings who transcend the values of their culture and become world citizens"

The way to achieve this self actualisation is the road that many spiritual, psychological writers and advisers point to:

"Your inner voices, Maslow believed, are extremely weak, extremely subtle and delicate, where you have to dig to find them... One of the necessary methods in the search for identity, the search for self, the search for spontaneity and for naturalness is a matter of closing your eyes, cutting down the noise, turning off the thoughts, putting away all busyness, just relaxing in a kind of Taoistic and receptive fashion... The technique here is to just wait to see what happens, what comes to mind...... forget about the outside world and its noises and begin to hear these small delicate impulse voices from within."

So in relation to the photo in this post the point is that if you want to be a pirate, don't be a pale imitation of Blackbeard or some other grizzled swash buckler on the Spanish main -- choose your own colours, design your own flag, build your own galleon, and teach your own parrot your own particular words of piratical slang and cussing.