Saturday, 27 April 2013

Postcard fom Sienna. Carravaggio's "St. John the Baptist."

After the relentless repetition
Of Annunciation, Nativity and Crucifixion;
After the sadistic scenes of Last Judgment
With their florid, cruel sensuality,
Their crowded, muscular nakedness;
After the ornate splendour of palaces
Covered from wall to ceiling in  paintings
Abundant in blue, gold and red,
Depictions of battle, death and victory
Or violent, Biblical narrative;
After the Duomos' marbled ostentation,
Their great domes, sculptures and dark themes-
After these things you walk down a darkened crypt,
Past fading depictions of gospel scenes,
Your mind numb from days of surfeit
And there it is, Carravaggio's "St. John the Baptist",
Not the prophet from the Judaean wilderness
With his fiery, uncompromising words
But a slender boy, or perhaps a youth,
Rendered in exquisite truthfulness.
His skin is luminously beautiful.
The light, from the left, touches him
On cheekbone, shoulder, thigh, knee, calf.
The lines, composition and colour are masterful
But its transcending wonder is in its truthfulness.
The youth turns from his simple herder's task
As if you've suddenly surprised him,
Not in anxiety but in a complex mixture
Of amusement, confidence and shyness,
A friendly, joyous gaze
As if the nuance of his mind
In this single, fleeting moment
Has been caught in Carravaggio's brush
And effortlessly placed upon the canvas
So we, who come to it after so many centuries,
Can be transfixed by its beauty and truth,
And feel thankful for the privileged glimpse
Into the momentary mind of that boy
And the transcendent power that captured it.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Postcard from Florence. The Duomo.

You come upon it suddenly,
Meandering through the narrow streets,
Past the beige, time-coated buildings,
Turning down the curve of Via de Martelli,
Casually drawing near to the street's end
And then you gasp.

You come upon it unprepared,
Seeing at first only the soaring facade
And the enormity of its tower,
But turning into Piazzo Duomo
You see its length, the immensity of its domes,
And again you gasp.

You come upon it in amazement,
Seeing it as entirely marble, glistening white
With geometric patterns in pink and green,
Embroidered, scrolled, balanced, harmonious,
Exquisite in scope and detail,
And you must admire.

You come to it in awe.
The front is a composition in threes.
Three great doors rise in elegant curves.
Above them are three circles spoked like sunbeams.
Always the one in the centre is highest or largest
And you think you understand.

You come to its details.
There are complex, embroidered patterns in stone,
Colourful paintings above each door, surely in stone,
Lines of sculptured figures in porticoes of blue
And circular inlays glinting with gold
And you feel overwhelmed.

Perhaps later you will walk through the doors
And again feel its power and artistry,
Or you will climb the narrow stairwell
To the dome's dizzying height and power.
Perhaps you may, at some later date, question
To whose glory this buiding was made,
But now, in this first sudden moment
You are overcome by its beauty
And, dimly realising its complex grandeur,
Praise the vision that conceived it,
The capabilities that built it,
The artistry that embellished it,
The materials that adorn it
And you stop, stand still, and stare.

Front with part of the tower.

Window detail.

Front door detail

Partial view of dome from baptistry.

Detail above side door

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Postcard from Cinque Terre. Riomaggiore.

The bells toll all night on the hour and half hour.
The stream, piped under the main street,
Makes its noisy exit into the sea
But little Riomaggiore sleeps on.
The green shutters are closed. All is quiet
In the multi-coloured, bright buildings
Rising steeply up the V-shaped valley
Through narrow alleys, steps and little squares
To the two churches, their bells and, finally, the fort.

All is quiet too in the sinuous lines
Of ancient, dry-stone walled terraces,
Beautiful in the purest, most simple way,
Stepping the steeply rising terrain
From cliff's edge to high mountain ridge,
The labour of scores of thousands
Of men and women over centuries.
With what effort they were built, filled with vines,
Olives, a scattering of figs and lemons
And left as a legacy to the grateful future.

At 7 A.M. both church bells toll
Over forty times in strange syncopation
And little Riomaggiore arises:
Coffee is served in Bar Centrale;
Workers gather, sit, talk and smoke;
Garbage is collected; produce delivered;
Shopkeepers are arranging boxes of fruit
On either side of their front door.
The Take-Away Pizzerias, the restaurants,
The "Authentic Italian Pasta" shop,
And Gelataria Centrale sleep on,
As do the gift shops, the laundromat,
And "Art in Banchi", with its exquisite pottery and craft.
Soon, they too will open and little groups
Will stand noisily and happily chatting
And flocks of tourists will emerge
From the pink, blue, yellow and ochre buildings
With backpacks, cameras and poles
To walk the beautiful, steep, terraced hills
And medieval villages of the Cinque Terre.



The stream exiting into the sea.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Postcard from Riomaggiore. A Walk to Porto Venere.

From Riomaggiore the almost vertical track
Rises step after step up through the terraces.
At resting points there are superb views
Along the steep and rugged coastline
And glimpses of the brightly coloured
Ancient villages of the Cinque Terre.
Then, at over three hundred metres,
We begin to walk along the terraces,
Still climbing, but less steeply,
Up the west sloping mountain-side.
Suddenly, we are on a narrow ridge.
The lightly wooded land drops quickly away.
To the left, way below in the far distance,
La Spezia clings to a beautiful bay
And beyond that, on the horizon,
Are the marble, snow-covered Alps.
To the right, through the light woodland,
Is the glittering blue of the sea,
At some indistinct point
Merging with the blue of the sky.
The day is mild and still. A single bird sings.
Our footsteps are muted on the pine-needled path.
In dappled shade, we walk in hushed quiet
And silently gaze in awe and wonder.


The Cinque Terre coastline with Monterossa in the far distance

On the lightly wooded ridge line

The view to the left.

On the right...

Porto Venere, journey's end, 14 kms and a lot of climbing.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Postcard from Geneva. The old and new city.

1. The Old Town.

The facade of these buildings reflect the past.
Plain, functional and unadorned,
They seemingly proclaim a contempt for finery
And in this plainness the voice of Calvin
Still speaks his narrow asceticism.
But this plainness is in facade only.
Past the buildings where once reformers
In solemn black engaged in earnest discussion
About principles for which much blood was shed
Camera-clad tourists now happily stroll
And in the plate-glass of "Agent Provocateur"
Mannequins in sheer lingerie mutely attest
To the relentless inevitability of change.

Old town, Geneva
Old town.

2. The New Town.

Plainness appears to spill from the old town
Down the steep walls and into the new,
But by lake and river the city changes,
As if the sturdy burghers of Geneva,
Seeing the lyrical lake and surging Rhone
Were washed clean of the old aesthetic
And on the city-side of the lake
Constructed buildings handsome and elegant
And by the lakeshore across the surging Rhone
Ones sumptuous, grand and beautiful.

Add caption

3 buildings by the lake on the other side of the Rhone.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Postcard from Venice. The Bridge of Sighs.

A few short steps, perhaps a dozen or so,
A few short steps across the Bridge of Sighs,
A few short steps to dungeons of woe,
A few short steps to fear and despise.

A few short steps to the cold and dark,
A few short steps to sorrow and pain,
Short steps to a world bleak and stark,
Short steps to degradation and shame.

Short steps from the Doge's ornate splendour,
Short steps from the extravagance wealth imparts,
Short steps from power, prestige and honour,
Short steps from the palace of gold and art.

The Bridge of Sighs is for heavy tread,
The Bridge of Sighs makes the heavy heart stop,
Just a few short steps but with boots of lead,
A few short steps to a precipitous drop.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Postcard from Venice. The Early Morning.

The first bell tolls. It is 7 A.M.
Dawn has arrived but Venice is quiet.
Boats laden with produce chug under bridges.
Fruit vendors set up their street stalls.
Workers trickle in by train or vaporetta
And sleepily walk, hands in pockets,
Eyes downcast. A street sweeper
Whisks away the myriad cigarette butts.
Rubbish lies in the streets in neat little piles.
The  Rialto Bridge is empty and still.
No gondolas move serenely along
The green canals or under the pontes.
A lone photographer is in St. Mark's square
Looking for morning's soft glow of light.
The marbled splendour of palaces,
Museums, galleries and churches
Stand quietly as if in waiting.
The footsteps of locals walking their dogs echo,
For the great, heaving mass of people
That choke the lanes, bridges and squares
And line in great, serpentine queues
Outside St. Mark's Basillica or Doge's palace
Have not yet emerged from their slumber.
The glittering shops beneath the crumbling buildings
Are sleeping too, as if gathering strength
For the shoulder to shoulder crush of the coming day.

Three photos from about 6.15 A.M.

Looking out from St. Mark's Square

An empty Grand Canal.

Working boats near an empty Rialto Bridge.

Diana on her own in the courtyard of the Doge's Palace.

A few people, mostly workers, in St. Mark's Square.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Postcard from Geneva- St Peter's.

Up a short, cobbled path, past steep walls,
In Old Geneva, stands St. Peter's,
A grand vision of the medieval mind.
The soaring, stained- glass windowed vault rises
On buttressed walls, huge stone blocks, giant columns,
Six pink granite pillars and corkscrew stairwells
To its heaven-reaching towers and spires.
Eighty years in construction,
It has a rich and diverse history.
Catholic cardinals and Huguenot dukes 
Lie under its great stone slabs.
John Calvin and his reformers worshipped here.
In their plain spirit and reforming zeal
They stripped it of its iconography
But not its power or grandeur.
The Protestant Church of Geneva
Has for centuries worshipped here.
It is partly theirs, Calvin's and Rome's,
But most especially it belongs
To those simple folk, stonemasons and peasants
Who, one thousand years ago, laboured and built,
Amidst poverty and the violence of their age
And dreamed of a building soaring high above
Their present strife, almost to heaven itself.

St. Peter's, Geneva.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Postcard from Menthon St. Bernard, Lac d'Annecy.

Lake, shore, mountain and sky seem to merge.
Light on the water gently ripples and plays.
The far mountain is held in dim silhouette.
The sky is soft, a hazy light blue.
A few yachts lie quietly on their moorings.
People stroll unhurriedly with their dogs,
Or sit looking out over the still water.
On the little jetties young boys play,
Peer into the clear water and call "Regarde!"
As the water birds perform spring's eternal rituals.

Behind the lake is a story-book scene.
There is a grand hotel, a row of neat little houses
And in the distance a turreted castle sits,
Imposing and nested on its ancient site.
Behind them the mountains, La Tournette,
Rise steeply in immense craggy bluffs
To their snow clad and cloudy jagged ridges.

This is no idyll, no romanticised water colour.
It is the reality of this day on this lakeshore,
This place of extraordinary beauty and quietness,
Where the world of struggle, lust and power,
Of injustice, envy and strife,
Of hatred, inequality and greed
Seem far, far away, lost
In some incomprehensible alternative universe
And for this moment it is enough to walk in beauty,
To see and know the wonder of the world,
To be part of its immense and complex miracle,
To see, feel, wonder, praise and be at peace.
Yes, it seems to be enough.
It is enough.
It must be enough.
For this moment it is enough.