Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Guru of Cusswords

I can't believe I haven't posted this...I've intended to since...late 2005!!!!!!!!!
And maybe I did...I don't think so...

my brain these days, these Cupid spring melting into Bacchanalian summer days, is a
Commodore 64 trying to run Office 2007... not to compare the Divine Mother to Bill Gates, mind you...

this comes from Christopher Isherwood's My Guru and His Disciple, an excellent memoir about a doubting Westerner drawn into Eastern spirituality...Isherwood is especially good on why Hinduism appealed to him as an intellectual who was constitutionally averse to religion... I posted on that a little...

but the following was probably my favorite thing in the whole book: an anecdote about Ramakrishna and one of his followers,
Girish Ghosh, an artistic genius and dissipated sensualist that many of Ramakrishna's more "religious" associates strongly disapproved of:

Swami talked about Ramakrishna and Girish Ghosh. They once had a competition to find out which of them knew the bigger number of risqué words. (It was amusing to hear this corny French adjective pop up out of Swami's vocabulary.) After they had both said all the risqué words they knew, Girish bowed down and told Ramakrishna, "You are my guru in this also."

Ramakrishna danced with winos in the street because their staggering reminded him of his own intoxication with God; he (again, to the horror of the "religious") bowed down to prostitutes who, in his sight, were Kali Herself. Though Girish was notorious for his drinkin' and whorin', Ramakrishna never asked him to abstain, never reproved him or quoted scripture at him or warned him of dire reincarnations. It isn't that the saint didn't care for the fate of the sinner's soul, it was just that, for him, the world was so thoroughly permeated with Kali--so thoroughly was Kali--that in his eyes the sinner was a saint his mouth, the foulest words could be a whisper of grace, saying to the sinner: they're not curses, just're not evil, just asleep...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

More Paris Pix

Galerie Vivienne angel
osiris asleep
Me, at the end of my trip.
Nephthys, on a gigantic sarcophagus in the Louvre. Isis is on the other end. I stood in front of Isis for a long time, praying to Her (at least it wasn't out loud) people milled around, I wondered how weird I looked and then it hit me: Isis worshipers probably come here all the time! I mean, Paris being rife with Memphis-Misraim types and all...
Sekhmet (Louvre). She has a powerful pull on people to this day...Robert Masters (of Masters and Johnson fame) seems to be a devotee...
My Beloved
Our Lady of Paris (Notre-Dame). She and I had an intense thing going and I ended up making a sacred vow to dramatic and grail-knightly, I know...
Interesting graffito I saw right after making my sacred vow to Our Lady of Paris.
Virgin of the Pillar
The Virgin of the Pillar in Chartres Cathedral. I should have called my trip "France on Five Virgins a Day," since I prostrated myself before at least that many, it church, I think it was Sainte-Anne in Buttes-aux-Cailles, had seven or eight Mary chapels alone (in addition to chapels devoted to other deities, e.g., Christ, saints, etc.).
Greek angel
another Greek angel
Greek angels in the Louvre.
Roman angels
Roman angels in the Louvre.
La Boutique des Anges
A store I liked, though it tended towards cherubs and not the majestic, scary angels I prefer. This was in Montmartre; there is a store called Maison Thuillier, on Place Saint-Sulpice, that is the best religious store I've ever visited...tons and tons of gorgeous images, icons, postcards, etc., all very well chosen with a minimum of sentimentality and kitsch (though I admit I'm quite partial to those, too). The family in front of me in line spent well over 200 euros and I was sorely tempted to outdo them...but the thought of lugging all the stuff home held me back...for some reason, the Maison's web site only seems to feature medallions, which is too bad.
the view from my hotel room balcony
I would sit on the little balcony of my hotel room every evening with a glass of absinthe (believe it or not, often missing home!)... at night I'd leave the window open so the room wasn't stifling, and the noise of the city was the best lullaby I could imagine.
Sainte-Chapelle. It was under heavy renovation but you could sort of get the effect of all that stained glass.
Chartres labyrinth
Another (internal) pilgrimage symbol: the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral. Apparently one day a week they take the chairs off it, but this was not the day; since I walked around and around that church inside and out, I gave myself an honorary merit badge anyway.
palm pillar
Another view of the palm pillar.
palm pillar and altar
The palm pillar in Saint-Séverin (probably a symbol of pilgrimage to the Holy Land and of the interior pilgrimage everyone should be making in church...if they're paying attention...)
Saint-Séverin, exterior (I like the flame motif in the window).
The mysterious Kalibhakta outside the Cluny Museum.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

My Compass and Square

I just now thought of this: miraculously, I only bought two books while in France (if you don't count the pamphlet on the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries)...and it wasn't for lack of visiting bookstores (tho I forced myself to walk past the Brentano's on Avenue de L'Opéra)...

I didn't notice the significance before, but I bought
Le Dictionnaire Erotique and Les Anges: Messagers Divins. That about sums it up--the two sides of the Möbius strip of creation, the lemniscate my Kali has wrapped round me... but they aren't opposite sides, and there's not even two of them, for the strip has only One side...

The Paris Working, Part 3 (more horrific Oprah stuff)

Advice for those going on a pilgrimage:

Stay home.

And if you must go:

at least make a pilgrimage to someplace cushy like France. Paris is pretty plush next to Angkor Wat or even the Camino de Santiago (which I
used to think I wanted to walk)...but if your Higher Power figures out what you're up to, He or She or It or They are still going to start shoveling manure into the fan as fast as their divine Hands or heavenly minions can go...

It wasn't
that bad. It was actually good. patience was tried, and my insecurities confronted, and my limitations pushed, and...let me give you some examples.

Patience: bad weather makes me miss my connection the day I'm supposed to leave. So I have to leave a day late, and I'm scrambling on the phone with the airline and the hotel: "Heyyyy. Ugly American here. Can you, uh, hold my room for me? Greeeeeeaaaat." The day I do leave, I get to DC and find the flight to Europe and get on the plane and the plane just...sits there. Why? Well, for our safety, they have to fix the onboard PA system. Which isn't working. And is going to be working any minute, they keep telling us every 90 seconds...and how do they keep telling us this? Over the PA system.

It was like Kali wasn't even bothering to make up good reasons to try my patience any She said, "To hell with this
Matrix stuff, the play of my maya, we both know the game, you trust Me yet?" So I missed my connection in Munich and did end up trusting Her and even being grateful...for the delay, for the privilege of being a child of God, for a cup of mediocre German coffee...grateful, I guess, for being thrust helpless into Her arms, as weird as that sounds.

Insecurities: I don't like asking for help or, Goddess forbid, being presumptuous, and--I speak French on a sub-Borat level and since I was traveling alone and had to eat and stuff, I had to speak a lot of French. Every time you walk into a store or deal with someone in any capacity, you have to talk to them in a certain pre-set, polite manner or you aren't going to get what you want, and so I had to keep trying to squeeze out all these impossible vowel sounds and...contrary to the French stereotype, everyone I met (with two exceptions) was extremely nice and helpful and kind, sometimes to an extraordinary degree, like the woman in the shop at the Cluny Museum who turned the place upside down to help me find a gift... and who then apologized and offered me a discount when she had to sell me the display item...but she wouldn't have been that way had I not sucked it up, talked français, and acted like (tho not in an arrogant way) someone who deserved the whole Cluny Museum to come to a halt for him...

this lesson of acting like a person who deserves good stuff was impressed upon me mightily when I ate at Taillevent, where I could easily have felt as at home as a Dianic High Priestess at a Promise Keepers rally had I not acted like I belonged there. As I puffed on my after-dinner Cuban cigar, it occurred to me that in my life I had managed to feel ill-at-ease in places far slummier than this one, and that other times I'd felt perfectly at home in some of those same places... and that, in the immortal Twelve-Step slogan, if I was going to make the world my gourmet restaurant I was going to have to "Let it begin with me." (It was tough, dammit, but someone had to do it.) Tantrikas in India go to the cremation grounds and eat human flesh to overcome some of these feelings, and I'm really hoping Kali is going to let me slide with
canard cooked à point.

Limitations: I wore good walking shoes and tried to get enough sleep...but there came a time when my legs and feet hurt so bad, and I was so tired that I didn't know if I was speaking French or English or Spanish or pig Latin. Part of me was back in the USA, painfully, while part of me was in Paris, also painfully, too sore to walk, but standing was worse... a big part of me was loving Kali in Her guises as the Virgin of Paris, the Virgin of the Pillar, Isis and Nepthys in the Louvre, La Madeleine, La Dame and her Unicorn...

OK! I know you're thinking,
the wuss thinks he was weepin' by the rivers of %#@*ing Paris!!!! But no, Dear Reader...despite my angel-mania and Goddess-lunacy and propensity for seein' the future and past in comic books and wine bottles, I have a grip...on some kind of reality. Since I blessedly have not been asked by my Divine Mother to become a wandering mendicant or celibate novice, I have to surrender where I can find it, and you try walking six hours a day in not-yet-broken-in Vasques on cobblestones and up and down stairs and stairs and stairs and it's 80+ degrees in Paris and there's no air-conditioning anywhere and what's up with that &$#@!?!? and...well, I can't really complain. Really. Not at all.

The secret of this pilgrimage, I figured out surprisingly early on (for me) was, wherever you go, there you are. I could have stayed in my hotel room and watched the BBC and CNBC and been bored &$#@less; I could have dawdled in the Galeries Lafayette or the
passages, spending money on crap I didn't need or want; I could have haunted the Hard Rock Café and Harry's Bar and Shakespeare and Co. and felt like I'd never left home...but I was doing what I wanted to do and paying the price for my desires and so...not really hurting...for the diminution of leg pain would have meant one less church that day (and no one has heard of St. Anne's but it was so, so lovely)...or one less trip to Notre-Dame or the Cluny (and they sustained me)...or not walking down to that cheese shop on Boulevard St. Germain (and that would have been tragic)...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

What It Was Like

The Paris Saga, part 1 of 63.

Beautiful...scary...elegant...impersonal yet welcoming...unexpected moments of grace...of Her light, seeping 'round the edges of phone booths and spring flowers...

it was made clear to me some time ago, first by my guru and then by my dear Guardian Angel, that my spiritual path was not to be one of mountaintops, loin cloths, ashrams, cat-o-nine-tails--you know, the whole bed of nails trip. Which I'm not complaining about! But... my guru warned me that while pretty much anyone could feel holy when withdrawn from the world, it was going to be a different matter to try to stay in Kali's lap while working, loving, eating chocolate, etc. ... that I wasn't going to have the reassurance of saffron robes or vespers, that my mind was going to produce demons that told me I was doing it wrong, couldn't ever do it, wasn't ever going to feel at home anywhere ever, wasn't lovable, didn't know how to live in either the realm of heaven or the realm of earth...

and Kali has dealt with me on these neuroses ever since...a lot of this blog has been about that. I knew that my pilgrimage to Europe's Goddess Capital was supposed to be some kind of exam on this whole tantric deal of living the embodied, "mundane" life while loving the Divine Mother in all Her creation...and it was, and I hope you won't be disappointed to hear that there was no Damascene donkey derailment, no Temple of the Golden Pavilion bursting into flames...but... as Laura said before I went, I had to
be there... sometimes, with a glass of absinthe on my hotel balcony, watching the sunset gild Notre-Dame, that was not at all difficult...sometimes, for reasons I may go into later, it was hellishly, itch-you-can't-scratch difficult and I wanted to quit and that is exactly where God likes to get us so She can cook us a little more, like those chickpeas Rumi wrote about.

Sometimes it was difficult when it shouldn't have been...those mornings I was alone with The
Lady and the Unicorn, for an hour or more, and I was washed in that impossible beauty and that impossibly elegant spiritual allegory...that was also exactly the story I was living, of finding Her through the senses as well as the Spirit...and I would get restless, scared the spell would end and someone would enter the room, that kind of thing, but I kept coming back to the tapestries, the story, myself, the moment...until it didn't matter that the room filled up and people were coughing and taking flash pictures...and now that I'm back, Stonewall feels as exotic as Paris, and the fried chicken from the BiLo down the street is better than the delicacies from the épiceries of the Latin Quarter...for this is my Latin Quarter, and my house is my Notre-Dame...and there is even a Chartres nearby...