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I was lying on the couch reading on my tablet on All Saints’ Day earlier this month and I read an almanac post saying that it was the day chosen by Pope Julius II back in 1512 to display Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time. I thought “That’s a good topic for a post on Weekends in Paradelle.
I did a bit of checking on defining All Saints’ Day (AKA also known as All Hallows, Feast of All Saints, Hallowmas) which is celebrated on November first by the Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations in honor of all the saints, known and unknown.
I looked up Michelangelo Buonarroti because I recall hearing or reading somewhere that the story of him lying on his back to paint is largely a fictional creation. In this case, from the Hollywood version of history in the The Agony and the Ecstasy. I never read the the best-selling biographical novel of Michelangelo by Irving Stone and it may have come from there before the film. I watched the film as a kid and was very impressed by the story of those four years he spent completing the paintings that decorate the ceiling of the chapel.
But the other part of this post is that in starting to write this, WordPress reminded me when I created a link that I had already written about this last year! That’s disturbing to me.
These gaps in my memory are increasing lately. I wrote a poem on my daily poem site this past week and realized later that I had used the same title and a very similar experience for an earlier poem this year. Later, I discovered an even earlier version of the idea in a notebook from 6 years ago.
I did do some more research this time around on Michelangelo, and the memory of the film is new, so I can craft this post as being something different.
Michelangelo was 33 years old when he tried to point out to the pope that he was a sculptor, and not really a painter. Two of his best-known works, the Pietà and David, were sculpted before he turned thirty. The pope paid no attention and in the end art historians say that you can see his skills as a sculptor used to make the two-dimensional ceiling look like more a series of three-dimensional scenes. It was a technique that was relatively new at the time.
He worked on it from 1508 to 1512. He did work from a scaffold 60 feet above the floor, but spent much of that time standing. He covered about 10,000 square feet of surface. Every day, fresh plaster was laid over a part of the ceiling and Michelangelo had to finish painting before the plaster dried.
The German writer Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “We cannot know what a human being can achieve until we have seen [the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel].”
The paintings are of scenes from the Old Testament, but many people only know the famous center section, “The Creation of Adam.” The chapel itself was built about 25 years earlier, and various Renaissance painters were commissioned to paint frescoes on the walls.
My aging memory and its lapses made me read more about the later years of Michelangelo’s life. It was news to me that he turned to writing poetry.
His sexuality is somewhat in question but it seems that he would be described today as bi-sexual. His sexuality is apparent in his poetry. He wrote over three hundred sonnets and madrigals. The longest sequence were written to Tommaso dei Cavalieri. He met Tommasso when he was 57 and Tommasso was 23 years old. Historians also point to his last sculptures as evidence of a focus during these later years on both the male figure and on the contrast of old age and youth.
The Tommasso sequence is the first large sequence of poems in any modern tongue addressed by one man to another. It’s a bit surprising to me to realize that Shakespeare’s sonnets to the “fair youth” were written only 50 years after Michelangelo’s sonnets.
This led me to find a copy of The Complete Poems of Michelangelo at the library.
In a poem to Cavalieri, he writes:
Nay, things that suffer death, quench not the fire
Of deathless spirits; nor eternity
Serves sordid Time, that withers all things rare.
And Cavalieri replied in a letter: “I swear to return your love. Never have I loved a man more than I love you, never have I wished for a friendship more than I wish for yours.”
Cavalieri remained devoted to Michelangelo until his death.
His homoerotic poetry was something that later generations were uncomfortable with and it never really came into popular books and films about his life. Michelangelo’s grandnephew, Michelangelo the Younger, published the poems in 1623 with the gender of pronouns changed to be feminine. The gender was restored to male in John Addington Symonds’ translation into English in 1893. in 1547. Scholars still dispute whether this was a homosexual or paternal relationship with Tommasso.
Late in life, Michelangelo nurtured a great love for the poet and noble widow Vittoria Colonna, whom he met in Rome in 1536 or 1538 and who was in her late forties at the time. They wrote sonnets for each other and their friendship remained important to Michelangelo until her death.
Following a brief illness, Michelangelo died on February 18, 1564—just weeks before his 89th birthday—at his home in Rome. A nephew bore his body back to Florence, where he was revered by the public as the “father and master of all the arts,” and was laid to rest at the Basilica di Santa Croce—his chosen place of burial.
ON THE BRINK OF DEATH
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
Now hath my life across a stormy sea
Like a frail bark reached that wide port where all
Are bidden, ere the final reckoning fall
Of good and evil for eternity.
Now know I well how that fond phantasy
Which made my soul the worshiper and thrall
Of earthly art, is vain; how criminal
Is that which all men seek unwillingly.
Those amorous thoughts which were so lightly dressed,
What are they when the double death is nigh?
The one I know for sure, the other dread.
Painting nor sculpture now can lull to rest
My soul that turns to His great love on high,
Whose arms to clasp us on the cross were spread.
The Taurids are an annual meteor shower associated with the comet Encke. They are named after their radiant point in the constellation Taurus, where they are seen to come from in the sky. Encke and the Taurids are believed to be remnants of a much larger comet, which has disintegrated over the past 20,000 to 30,000 years, breaking into several pieces.
Because of their occurrence in late October and early November, they are also called “Halloween fireballs.”
They are rather slow-moving (from our perspective) and so often make a good show. They usually peak from November 5-12. This year our Full Moon (on the 6th) coincides and will wash out the sky with light.
You might spot a few of the brightest meteors tonight but, as the moon sets later in the evening after the Full Moon, visibility will gradually improve. Moonrise on the 6th was around 5 p.m. ET and each night after the moon will rise about 50 minutes later. That means the dark-sky hours before moonrise increases.
It looks like if you check the sky on the 12th (Wednesday) when the Moon will be close to its last-quarter phase, it will rise at around 10 p.m. giving you about four hours of dark, moonless skies.
If you want to check what to look for tonight (or any night), check out earthsky.org/tonight/
Just a lazy autumn Sunday afternoon. I slept late. Woke up to the smell of the cinnamon scones my wife was baking (better than any alarm clock). Drank three cups of coffee. Read the news for a bit until it started depressing me.
It was chilly – still under 60 degrees – but good sweater weather. I went out to check on the tomato plants that I covered with plastic to eke out a few last cherry tomatoes. They were puffing in the wind like ghosts.
There were some interesting patterns of fallen leaves in different colors. and acorns arranged by serendipity, squirrels and chipmunks on the deck. Some sticks fell with the wind last night and they almost formed a wreath.
Then I went inside for some lunch and scrolling through my tumblr feed a post about “land art.” I wrote a bit about this in the past – art made from the natural materials nature offers and made in nature and allowed to dissolve, decompose or disintegrate naturally.
It makes me feel like there is a very large circle of Sunday afternoon people looking at autumn all over this top half of our world.
I am listening and watching an animated version of Billy Collins’ poem, “Forgetfulness,” as I write an essay to post here tomorrow.
And I’m thinking about how I do often rise in the middle of the day or night to look up some lost piece of information.
And how late at night
“…the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.”
“People make mistakes in life through believing too much, but they have a damned dull time if they believe too little.” – James Hilton
Getting Lost has continued to be a popular post on this site for a few years. That tells me that I am not alone in my interest in the idea that getting lost is sometimes the path to getting found.
I have posted a field guide to getting lost. I surprised myself when I noted in the site statistics how many times “lost” has turned up in my posts. My interest in getting lost has always been balanced with a desire to be found or finding myself. I have played with that idea both literally getting found in the woods and more figuratively in those times when I feel lost in the psychological lost days sense.
This past week I came upon some old hardcover copies I had of two James Hilton novels. One was Goodbye, Mr. Chips. That nostalgic book that became several films was one I read the summer before I became a teacher. It was a good injection of hope with a touch of sadness for the profession that I have been doing for 40 years. Hilton based it his father, who worked as a school headmaster. Now that I am at least semi-retired from teaching and only doing it part-time, I can identify more with the “goodbye” part of the Mr. Chips’ story.
The other book is Hilton’s Lost Horizon. It was published is a 1933 and my copy is one that was on my parents’ bookshelf that they bought after seeing the 1937 film adaptation by one of my favorite directors, Frank Capra. His films are sometimes labeled “Capracorn” because they often slide into sentimentality. I never agreed with that completely. I actually think his holiday class, It’s A Wonderful Life, is quite dark. I would teach in a film noir class without hesitation.
Lost Horizon brought us the term Shangri-La. It is Hilton’s fictional utopian place (like Paradelle) that he located high in the mountains of Tibet. The protagonist, Hugh Conway, escapes his life in the British diplomatic service and finds inner peace, love, and a sense of purpose in that mountain place. It seems sadly always-timely that Conway fears that another cataclysmic world war is imminent. Hilton turned out to be correct. I wonder if the book came to mind for my father a few years later when he went off to WWII as a sailor.
Hugh Conway had to be lost before he found himself, and that idea came up again this week when I read an interview with Reese Witherspoon about her latest film, Wild, which comes out in early December.
Now, I have had a sitting-in-the-audience crush on Reese since I spotted her on the TV film Return to Lonesome Dove (1993). She was great in Election and Pleasantville and lovable, popular and smart in the Legally Blonde films. She probably still has to deal with an image of being a romantic comedy actress. But she got serious praise for Walk the Line. And I really enjoyed her work in Water for Elephants and Mud, although those two probably didn’t get as much praise or box office – not that those things should mean anything to viewers.
In that interview, she says “Honestly, I’ve done some movies that were really challenging, and I’ve done some movies that aren’t challenging at all.” I found another article that talked about a Reese “renaissance” – a term that would piss me off if I was her as much as the term comeback – but she has been following some new paths recently.
She had a starring role in the drama The Good Lie (about in the Lost Boys of Sudan). She produced David Fincher’s Gone Girl that comes out in October. She has a smaller role (like in Mud) in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice. and I like it when “stars” do small parts too. But the film that most interests me is Wild .
The film is based on the memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. A friend gave the book to me the year after my mother died, but I wasn’t ready then to read it.
Cheryl Strayed’s memoir is about her solo hike on the PCT after her mother’s death and the dissolution of her marriage. It was a best-seller and an Oprah’s Book Club selection, but a tale of grief wasn’t what I wanted then.
Still, I did page through it because a solo hike of the Appalachian Trail has been on my bucket list since I graduated college. I did the prep, read the books, got the maps, joined a hiking club, did some sections of the AT. But then we had kids. And my knees started to give out on me, so I stopped hiking and started walking.
The book should have grabbed me. It could sit comfortably on a shelf with the story of Chris McCandless, Into the Wild and my well-worn copies of Walden and A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and everything I’ve read that touched on wilderness salvation.
I think what held me away from the book was that I didn’t have the kind of crisis that Strayed had. I didn’t have spontaneous sexual encounters outside my marriage. I didn’t fall into shooting up heroin.
When I considered my long hike I was prepared. Strayed, like McCandless, was unprepared for the journey. If you are an experienced hiker, you will cringe at their lack of preparation. A friend who sails felt the same way about the Robert Redford character in All Is Lost. He told me, “He did everything wrong!” She takes along books (again like McCandless, overly inspired by literature) – Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Adrienne Rich poetry, but not the right hiking boots.
But the upcoming film will motivate me to read the book. The film seems very promising. Reese looks scrubbed and natural. It was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club). It was adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity). Laura Dern plays Strayed’s mother.
I suggested just last week to my friend Scott (who is newly retired and moving to Virginia) that we do a Shenandoah hike and get a little lost. Scott and I can talk for hours and solve all the world’s problems. He works as a substance abuse counselor and knows all about finding yourself. I don’t know if the soul-searching I am feeling as autumn arrives this month requires a thousand-mile hike in order to center myself, but you have to be open to getting lost if you want to be found.
“Welcome to the Integratron” is a piece written by Jody Rosen on a location that is seen as a place of spiritual healing and musical sound baths in the Mojave desert in California. It was designed by an alien. Maybe.
Thousands of people visit the Integratron because of how the place sounds. Some consider it to be “an acoustically perfect” space, a “resonant tabernacle.”
This curvilinear dome is built from woods that act as natural amplifiers.
The “sound baths” occur while visitors lie on mats while and let the tones from striking quartz-crystal singing bowls wash over them in what is claimed is a kind of “sonic healing.”
It sounds new age – but aliens?
Back in 1953, George Van Tassel, a former aviation engineer, claimed he was awakened by an alien. George was a good new age candidate. He moved to the desert to be near Giant Rock.
Giant Rock is a large freestanding boulder that covers 5,800 square feet of ground and is seven stories high. Giant Rock is purported to be the largest free-standing boulder in the world. Native Americans of the Joshua Tree, California, area consider it to be sacred. In the 1950s it was a gathering point for UFO believers.
George would sit in the shadow of the rock for hours to commune with the spirits of American Indians. But the visitor he had on that August 1953 night was a Venusian, according to Van Tassel. He was captain of a Venusian scout ship. He looked, dressed and spoke English like anyone else. George said his name was Solganda and he was 700 years old. He took George to his spacecraft. He told him that Earthlings were building too many buildings using steel and other metals and they were disrupting interplanetary “thought transfers.”
George built Intrgratron according to Solganda’s instructions. He held annual Spacecraft Conventions there that attracted UFO contactees and explorers in the fields of anti-gravity and primary energy research and weekly meditations in the rooms under the rock.
Although Van Tassel said Solganda also gave him the secret could help us build a device that would generate electrostatic energy to suspend the laws of gravity, extend human life and facilitate high-speed time travel, we have no evidence anything was done with the secret. That seems odd. Van Tassel died in 1978.
Last night’s full moon is one dubbed “supermoon” which is fun but unfortunately it coincides with the annual Perseid meteor shower. They peak around August 11-13 and that just-past-full supermoon’s light will overwhelm the shooting stars.
I’ll still look up tonight and the next few nights for the Perseids. They occur every August when Earth passes through the stream of cosmic dust and bits left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle.
If viewing conditions are optimal, you can see lots of meteors in the course of an hour. This year, maybe just a few of the brightest fireballs.
My best view was in the woods of Maine years ago with my very young sons. That experience as a kid makes “wonderful” really something that is full of wonder. Still works on me after a lot of years.
I start looking after sunset, when the moon is still low, or just before sunrise, when the moon has shifted over to the west.
Some people recommend that you stand in a “moonshadow” – a place where the moon is hidden from your sight. (Not required, but feel free to hum the Cat Stevens song while you watch.)
I’ll be too close to city lights for optimal viewing.
If you want to add some technology, you can check this year’s Perseid forecast from NASA or go online and watch the meteors online (at Slooh) starting at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday. They have a nice view from the Institute of Astrophysics in the Canary Islands. That sounds like a nice place to lie back on the beach and watch.