Near Window 17

The body is a cathedral

It is easter week.

For all lapsed catholics its an interesting thing, to remember the traipse to mass, the week long vigil you spend running back and forth to church. The emotional release of maundy thursday, weeping in a pew for all those whove gone before, holding vigil like youre in gethsemene yourself. Good Friday when you try not to put your lips to the feet of jesus because you cant bear the thought of all the lips on jesus’ wooden feet so you make a parody bise. You stoop and you pucker your mouth, and then you get up quick before anyone can stop you. To arriving on Saturday night, to find the tabernacle open and all the lights extinguished. Then, one by one, candles are lit from the bonfire, from the easter candle, spreading throughout the church until youre all bathed in the amber light of the flame, a symbol of the rekindling of faith after all was lost in grief and pain and death the night before.

I feel emotional just thinking about it. I sometimes miss the ritual, i miss the comfort and surety of faith. But i have none, and the doctrine sits wrongly with me these days.

The coming of spring is like the lighting of the candles for me. Illuminating each day more and more as the candles illuminate the faces of the congregation. What a beautiful sight it must be for the priest, to see the faces of your flock flare into becoming from the darkness. What a beautiful thing it is for me to see light restored to mornings and evenings, and watch new leaves and new flowers spring from where there was nothing before.

From my confinement hole, i feel like as the spring becomes, i flare into becoming myself. Awakening from the slow death of winter, like Juliet from her fake death, Except only to find Romeo dead by her side. I awake from mine to find the spring is dead, too. It might as well be, because I can’t access it. The blackbird has stopped singing for some reason, i feel like another little piece of the spring has died with it.

Ive got an ivy plant a friend left in paris for me. He’s survived the whole winter. A couple of days ago he started to look sad so i watered him and popped him out on the windowsill for some sun. Today i saw he’d died. Once green leaves are now shriveled and brown, rustling in the breeze. The amber hush of an unseen sunset blushing a wall in the distance. A square of springtime allowed to me, so brief, so fleeting. Empty and void as the tabernacle after a good friday mass, i hold vigil in the hope that some good may come of it.

I wrote to a friend about Marconi’s notion that sound never dies. I talked about the notion that, if that were true, it would mean that every word you have said or heard is recorded in you, reverberating on your skin or in your blood. She said, then, that triggering things must reverberate on the same frequency as that which they trigger. I said that that was like how in cathedrals, when choristers sing, they have to sing in a certain way to bounce the sound. She said, then, if your body were a cathedral, how would the choristers sing?

On easter sunday, the spring is allowed into the church. Its been becoming on the outside for a long time, but the church in its lenten austerity has barred it from entering at its heavy doors. On easter sunday, though, the church is resplendent in gold and green. Daffodils bob their merry heads, and green gold leaves spill over from the alter. Even the priest dons green and gold on his cassock to welcome it in.

Maybe spring is a sound, as well as sight. Maybe throughout lent, it sings in mass, but not in a way to allow it to reverberate fully within the cathedral. Maybe On easter sunday it opens its lungs and sings fully. Maybe throughout the long winter, the spring sings in the cathedral of our bodies, and with each flare of spring-flame lit, on each candle of a day, the spring sings louder within and without us.

If this is the unsprung spring, one which came into being only to be shut out, then perhaps it awakens in me the singing of all the springs which came before it. It is spring in me as much as it is spring out there.

It is spring in me as much as it is spring out there.

Disclaimer: took this snap a long time before confinement. Don’t start thinking I’d take my lapsed self out to mass during confinement when I haven’t been in about 10 years ✌️

Near Window 9

Caribou, confinement, and the coming of spring

“It is spring, that is to say that it is approaching THE BEGINNING”

Scrolling through Twitter at some god awful hour this morning I saw a green and yellow painting of daffodils. Mottled grey blue of sky and brown thatch of distant trees reminiscent of the arrival of spring in William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All :

Under the surge of the blue

Mottled clouds driven from the

Northeast – a cold wind. Beyond, the

Waste of broad, muddy fields

Brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

David Hockney, confined in Normandy, has painted the archetypal spring view, reminiscent to me of Lent fasting, of school holidays, of spring fairs. Of the becoming and the returning of the spring; new and old at the same time. He’s called the painting Do remember they can’t cancel the spring. The painting is joyful, yet there’s a restraint in Hockney’s iPad stylings that isn’t usually there, a pared back response to the view he’s been presented with. Hockey in confinement paints in starker, more drab colours. There is no true joy in the coming of this uncancelled spring. The joy of yellow cannot combat the sadness of brown.

I went out today, into the quiet of a Parisian morning, cold edged air like the cracking of an eggshell. The streets are deserted as they never have been, everyone inside and fearful, but the morning is as glorious as any one I’ve seen. The sun barely up, the sky itself pale with its own becoming. I had that familiar loosening feeling, of the ending of the long winter, and the upward spiral into spring; and then I remembered I had one hour within which to move around, to buy bread and loo roll and milk and then turn on my heels for home. I was unreeling from my insides, but tethered to the safety of home. Out on furlough for eggs and bread.

A few weeks ago, pre confinement, Matt @xenogothic tweeted something about Caribou’s new album Suddenly, that resonated with how I felt about it: full of spring bops, but tethered to an innate sense of melancholia that seeps through the alum with every subsequent listen.

The album stakes its emotional territory lyrically, and through the clever use of windy samples in “lime”, or Sunday morning soul in “home” to place you in a memory, whilst making the moment of that memory happen in the present. In a google hangout yesterday my friend was talking of the semantics of nostalgia making the memory always already present, so its tatters to the past become meaningless almost in the act of remembering. Another friend with whom I’ve been writing letters has written some questions to me about this to, like :

How do you know what was real? How do you protect memories from new feelings that will ultimately twist it? How do you travel in time throug memory without altering the memory?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I don’t think it’s us who travels in time, but the memory. We’re always on the surface, weathered by the ghostly returning of past/future moments: spectral weathers (if you’ll let me name check my own book?)

Suddenly is suffused with memory, with a retrospective glance inward, and feels, when listening to it, like an album made inside someone who’s been listening in on pop music and has made an album that orbits it: not part of it, but born of it. Apologetic soliloquies to sisters, mothers humming lullabies, the four to the floor of the club still reverberating in your bones as you lie in bed waiting for the room to stop spinning, an elegy to emotion, and rawness. Dan Snaith (the man behind caribou), when he sings, seems to me like he’s whisper singing in the confessional, or right into my ear. The fragility of his voice caught in close miced glory, and more often than not without reverb or delay. Dry, soft, and conversational, like whispering in the night to keep anxiety at bay.

I especially get this feeling in “Sister”, the albums opener, where Snaith whisper sings:

Sister, I promise you, I’m changing

You’ve heard broken promises, I know

Like a conversation had late at night, in response to a sister saying they’re worried about you. The rolling progressional chords and steady heartbeat like rhythm seeming a metaphor for revolution, and not the kind of revolution that overthrows governments or changes the world, but the kind that turns the world again, continues the revolution of a cycle. It feels like a mirror held up to life in confinement; the beating of my heart, the tick of the clock, and the cyclical shift of the sun as it revolves in the room. 

“You & I” has a sense of the opening approach of spring, the synth chords warm and bouncy like the first day you can go out without a coat on. The arpeggiated chimes that punctuate the verses and chorus sounding like sunlight through freshly grown leaves, calm and calming, yet its chorus and outgrown derail this feeling of warmth and comfort by pushing us into a feeling of high tempo anxiety, discordant rush, snatches of voice. The end feels like the upcycling of a Bond climax, all running and car chases and guns and thrill. A final sampled “Hey!” Echoing into the void before opening into the inherent melancholia of the opening of “Sunny’s Time”. The piano warped like an old record rattling on a gramaphone that you’ve left too long in the garage. The speakers are damp, and it sounds as though the sound has to travel through time to reach the present moment; from the becoming of its recording, to the moment of its hearing. 

Spring whilst seeming like the happiest of new awakenings, freshness, beginning again, it also seems to be suggested with the melancholy of endings. There’s an old English folk song I heard sung once in my local pub by a man with no teeth that caught, for me, that sense of euphoric release; albeit one that knows it cannot last. 

The primrose blooms, the cowslips too,

The violets in their sweet retire,

the roses shining through the briar,

And the daffodown-dillies which we admire will die and fade away.

These lines, in acknowledgement of the temporary nature of the coming of spring are reminiscent of the scant lines sung by Snaith in “Sunny’s Time”

It all found me since I’ve been gone.

I’ll be back when this is all done.

“Sunny’s Time” slides itself into “home” with a relative danceability. It feels like coming throug the door with a baguette, and an avocado and a box of eggs, the coffee on to brew, windows flung wide to let in the new spring breezes; but with the bitter sweetness of wishing there were someone there to spend that morning with you, and a particular someone at that. Like the first lonely Sunday morning after a breakup, when you’ve gotten past the getting drunk phase and your friends have deemed that you could do to be left alone a bit, you wake up with not much to do, and a wish to do not much with someone that isn’t satisfied by eggs on toast. It’s the beauty of a good morning undercut with a lonely melancholia; like putting on happy music that only makes you cry. This is further compounded by the sample of Gloria Barnes singing “Baby I’m home, I’m home, I’m home”. The final time you hear this sample, it’s cut short with a gothic cut off, sending an echo like a door slam into the following guitar chords, pitch shifting like a memory. It’s like someone’s last words, like they’re ready to tap out: baby I’m home. 

Perhaps this melancholia is part and parcel of spring, a cruel season, in that it rips us raw: raw winds, on new skin. This is how the wasteland starts, 

Breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain

Like parents whipping us up and pulling back duvets to get ready for school, the world outside the cocoon of duvet is still too brutal, too cold, and too concrete. Winter, though brutal, is the season for dormant dreaming. I spend the three months of hibernation waiting for the spring, though – dreaming of bluebells. Is it as Emily Brontë says: that “there’s a spell in the purple heath” that burrows down inside us, “to wildly; sadly dear” that yearns for its partner found in springtime? Brontë mourns the coming of spring when she is without it. The “cold sun” with its “chill” beams, the “dreary sky” is “frozen”. The long winters make me feel this way, too. Chilled to my bones, warming myself at the first few rays of sun, almost kissing the daffodils and bluebells when they first show their bright faces above the mud. It’s driving me mad to be so separate from it. Yet even Brontë notes the “transient brilliancy” of spring, and of spring sunshine sliding swiftly over the garden wall. Spring is beautiful in its ephemerality. The Hauntology always revenant whose joy in arrival is tempered and haunted by the knowledge of its passing. 

In “Never come back” the lines “and you never come back, and you never come back to” are repeated ad infinitum, it’s the feeling of losing the spring once it’s come, like being at the afters , intertwined on a sofa in someone elses’s house whose name you don’t know. Early morning sunshine beaming behind closed curtains, a sliver of dust filled gold breaking onto a table littered with beer cans and ashtrays.

In Williams’ spring and all, “dazed spring approaches” almost unaware of itself, with “the stark dignity of entrance”, dually reminiscent of Hilary Duff standing at the top of the stairs in A Cinderella Story, and of the procession of the cross at the beginning of mass, leading the priest from sacristy to altar.

“Magpie” from Caribou’s Suddenly is reminiscent of this duality, and of that tethered freewheeling sense I had walking to the boulangerie this morning; a loosening of the self, whilst still being tethered to home. The song wheels in circles, shining aurally like sticking an ear in a kaleidoscope. In a way it reminds me of the beginning of “Entangled”, the second track of Gensis’ A trick of the tail. At about the half way point, though, Snaith opens out the filter on the track, which takes it from 1975 to the present moment, and it releases you from the constraints of its first half. With the shift in tone, you’re released out into the depths of sound like into an ocean, or a huge crowd. The song de-isolates you, by disconnecting you from the self and connecting you with something outside of yourself, something that sleeps back to you, and almost cradles you.

The mood of Suddenly is almost entirely sweet, the chord progressions are so warm that, listening in my bed under a square of sunlight, I slip in between the grooves of the songs and hang there. Strung out on synths. Snaith’s control, and measured pacing, and restraint almost feels like he’s in confinement too. Like there’s something holding him back from unspooling himself into the tracks. That’s the feeling I had with some of the tracks on Our Love and Swim. In reality I feel like he’s in a space as small as mine, with the front door locked and the windows open only a crack.

The final track, “Cloud Song” is the only song that really embodies a release, a slack in snaith’s tight control. It opens with the close miced voice that seems to characterize the album, just him singing in my ears as the synths return to that cyclical pattern as found in “Sister”, the album turning and returning to the beginning as the chord progressions do. “When you’re alone with memories”, he sings, “I’ll give you a place to rest your head.” The place to rest your head is here. Not to be away from memory, but to converge in a collective practice of remembering. Dan Snaith’s personal traumas are writ large upon this album, but sung softly and quietly. His traumas become our traumas, and the act of opening them out allows us to share in them, and share ours within them.

The cyclic return of the chord progression is as smooth and azure as the water on Suddenly’s cover. Kaleidoscopic and rushing into the build of “Cloud Song”, the music slides in between me and the world: trills of synth like birds calling, or radio signals clogging the airwaves. Dissonant in repetition. Sliding.

He sings:

“Nothing’s granted an eternity, nothing lasts it all will fade.

And yet it always ends too early.”

The spring outside the window rises like a Gershwin clarinet solo in response, so clean and clear I feel I almost pour out into it. What of the spring un-sprung, of the world unturned? Rather, what of the world turning without me, and me unable to break the winter chrysalis. Spring playing out there, and orchestra without audience – an unheard soliloquy – a film with the sound turned down.

The first spring of a new decade, unexperienced and lost. A necessary loss, one we must do, but a loss all the same.

In a way Caribou’s Suddenly is 2020s perfect spring/summer album. Seeking an escape, but confined. A spring sounding elegy to lost moments, lost memories, lost things. “I wish that you were here by my side”. “Do you ever miss me like I miss you?” I listen to it and I hear all the moments I won’t have, and I hear all the moments I am having, and all the moments I have had and will have, all existing in the cacophony of now.

In my apartment the spring turns his shoulder and shifts his weight away from the window, sliding himself into another crisp March night. The north wind blows chill through the window, and I close them. I put on “Sister” and begin the cycle again.

And yet, it always ends to early

a few disconnected thoughts on the Notre Dame burning

skynews-notre-dame-paris_4640855

As I write, fire has consumed the Notre Dame in Paris. The spire has fallen, the windows have melted or been blown out, reports say the bell towers will not be long in joining the rest of the structure in a blaze. Sure, it’s just a building; but to many it is so much more than that. When a house burns down, you don’t just mourn the building, you mourn your home. This structure is the heart of Paris, a catholic icon, 

It has stood for 850 years,  built over 100 years, touched by so many hands. Soaring arches, quiet sequestered cloisters, incense winding smoky way to the ceiling arches, a voice raised in song, light seeping in through the rose window; dark, quiet, peaceful. A symbol of sanctuary, of hope. It is not so, now. Now, a raging fire rampages through it. The roof; gone. The Rose window; gone. The pews; gone. No more voices, no more prayer, no more quiet reflection. Just the fire burning into the night.

Media has changed the ways in which we process grief. When a natural disaster happens, or a celebrity dies, or something awful is enacted upon others we’re able to access the moment of its happening over and over again. We relive the moment of impact, the great blow, over and over again through the news, and that great blow ricochets outwards in the structure of society, shifting its surface forever afterwards. The purpose of a monument made in memorial is almost always to bring solace or closure to mass grief, yet what happens when we lose a monument itself, what does that mean?

9/11 shifted the course of events. The whole world turned on its axis after that, ricocheted off course like a stray newton’s Cradle ball.

The fire at the Notre Dame feels similarly resonant; and for it to have happened on Holy Week, right at the beginning of the decline into ashes and dust, before a rebirth feels, to me, oddly prophetic.

On Ash Wednesday, when many Catholics will have arrived at the cathedral to have crosses in ash placed upon their foreheads the line: ‘You are dust and unto dust you shall return’ will have been repeated ad nauseum. Over and over again, the thumb, into the ash, to the forehead, in the sign of the cross. ‘Unto dust you shall return’. It feels, to me, like a cycle. An act of returning, or consumption, or rebirth – it’s a terrible tragedy; but the point of cathedrals is that they’re composite totalities: layered. This is a 12th century monument of religion, begun in 1160, finished in 1260. Then, following the revolution in the 1790s, the church was desecrated with much of its religious iconography destroyed. After that, Victor Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831, and popular interest in the church was revived, and it was restored to its former glory. The church returns to dust, and will be reborn from those ashes.

Easter itself is a great festival of mourning, or at least when I was a practicing Catholic, that is how I approached it. A whole week of the year is dedicated to mourning those you’ve lost , to mourning a lost faith and perhaps finding it again, to mourning the loss of Jesus himself, sitting in a metaphorical garden of Gethsemane every Maundy Thursday repenting of your sins, and keeping a vigil. Good Friday is the ultimate day of mourning, you know what is coming, and it comes. Holy Saturday is mourning again. The tabernacle is empty, and you enter for mass to a dark and empty church, unlit candle in your hand, no music, nothing on the altar.  By the end of the Mass, your candle has been re-lit. Hope flares in the darkness. Then of course comes the Sunday, and the rebirth – but whilst that is the important bit in Catholic Doctrine, I always felt that the motion of repentance, and of mourning before you are eventually forgiven was altogether more important. What does the Notre Dame repent for? What is it to be forgiven?

I feel struck by the fire at the Notre Dame, that it should come at a time that is so important for Catholics feels like it might be indicative of some other great change. ‘Where were you when the Notre Dame burned down?’ will be a question your children might ask you – ‘where were you?’ This Holy Week more people than ever will be thinking of the Notre Dame. The whole world watching as a single building is brought to dust.

How will the cathedral be reborn, though? If it took 100 years to build it, will it take that long to restore? Will it be possible to restore it?

I wonder, though, and this might be a bit of a reach, but I am reminded of watching Grenfell burn on the news in 2017. A pillar of fire stretching into the sunrise, with people throwing their children out of windows, and hammering at them – the level of human casualty at Grenfell was so much higher than I presume is at the Notre Dame (though may live to eat these words). It seems to me to be disingenuous, the level of mourning I am seeing globally for an empty building, compared to how quickly Grenfell has been forgotten by mainstream media. How quickly will the world raise money to restore this national monument to religion, and to imperialism – when there are still people, two years later, who haven’t been rehoused…

I am also put in mind of all of the monuments, and artefacts currently being destroyed across the world that haven’t been given a similar coverage – despite the fact that they were as significant culturally. I am thinking of the Palmyra, destroyed by fire in the Syrian civil war. Or Jonah’s Tomb in Iraq. All lost, all as significant as the Notre Dame. It is possible to mourn the loss of such an incredible symbol of Catholicism, whilst still remaining aware and remaining critical of our mourning when we fail to adequately mourn sites of equal significance elsewhere.

When we are reduced to dust, what have we left to rebuild? Should we rebuild it?


Some other small thoughts on burning and fire

Fire’s symbolic undertones range from a symbol of destruction, of knowledge, of sexuality, and of purification.  It is all of them, enacted on a single building, creating a wound in culture.

What of the Water they’re pouring on it? Water is also such a symbol in the catholic faith. I crossed myself with holy water every Sunday upon entry into the church when I practised , I was baptised into the faith with holy water – symbolising purification, birth and the waters of the womb, spiritual cleansing.

In other words, I can’t shake the feeling that the Notre Dame burning down is meant to be deeply symbolic too. I don’t believe in god any more, or at least I don’t think that I do. I also do not practise as a catholic anymore – but there’s something about this happening on holy week that throws me off kilter, and makes me feel out of joint.