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Monday, 11 June 2007

7 June 2007 22:01

Today, I awoke and then went right back to sleep. A bed! a mattress! Pillows! The hotel guy had been a bit disparaging about the room. "It's very small." But you can walk upright in it! And I don't need to sleep on the floor! Amazing! But alas it was just for one night.

I tried in vain to find maps. I bought a book about Belgium. The Routard was the best one. French travel books are better than English ones. Everyone should learn to speak French just so they can read the poetry of the Routard. I bought chocolate. I searched for a new hotel room. I found one. I ate some food. I ate some more food. I walked around a bit. I ate some more food. And then the whole day had evaporated. Nice!

There are statues of the Virgin Mary everywhere in Belgium. Roadside shrines abound. But there are especially a lot in the city of Antwerp. She is the patron mother goddess saint of the city. Anybody who put a statue of her on the side of a building got a tax break. (Protestants were not so welcome in town for a long while.) The statues here often involve her holding a baby Jesus. The city hall has one such statue. It's hundreds of years old, but I'm curious about whether or not there's separation of church and state. I saw a little brick house holding an electrical transformer, which had a tiny chapel dedicated to Mary sticking out of it. I don't know if the electric company was angling for a tax break (or if said break sill exists in modern times), but this was clearly semi-official at least and also clearly relatively recent.

In the roadside chapels, it seems that Mary is much less likely to be holding Jesus. There's often a smaller statue of him to Mary's right. Another saint might be at her left. (Her left, not the prayer's left.) Often these chapels have candles and little notes addressed to Maria. Interestingly, the smaller side placement of Jesus suggests that he's in second place. Which is sort of logical given that he's the kid and all. But, looking at all these chapels dedicated to her, I think there's some truth to protestants' charge that Catholics worship Mary. And that she's a goddess figure.

She's an interesting Goddess figure in that she's usually not at all feminist. Her presence is often reactionary. She was obedient, submissive, etc and her high status makes women feel more represented. Places with a high level of devotion to Mary tend to have a lower level of feminism.

Also interesting about Mary is that she's both Maiden and Mother. She's rarely depicted as a crone, even at Jesus' death or afterwards. In the Middle Ages, before the Assumption of Mary was invented (in the current dogma she had her own, personal rapture), the dormition of Mary was a popular devotional image. Dormition meaning death - the final sleep. But now, she is forever young - depicted as the same age whether she's holding Jesus as a baby, weeping at the foot of the cross, or ascending into heaven. I know of one sculptor who is making images of her as a crone.

Finally, what's interesting about Mary is her relationship with Jesus. Mary is the queen of heaven. So what does that make Jesus? He's not the prince of heaven. There is the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. God is three persons, but also one person. St Patrick explained this with the shamrock: three leaves but one plant. But the reason it's a capital-M Mystery is because it's unexplainable. If Jesus and God the Father (and the oft-forgotten Holy Spirit) are all equal and there's only one god, then they must all be that one god. So Jesus is his own dad. Jesus and God the father and the holy spirit are all king of heaven. Which means that when the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, that was the same god who is the Father who is Jesus who is the Holy Spirit. Which is to say that there's a lot of precedent in the west for deities getting a free pass on the incest taboo and I think Christianity is not an exception to this.

Anyway, Belgians seem to agree that there's something about Mary and so the stick her every where. But there's an important difference between countryside shrines and city statues. The city statues are for Our Lady of tax evasion. As mentioned above, having one on your street exempted you from certain taxes. Therefore, all the city ones are officially sanctioned. Also as mentioned above, the almost universally have a crowned Mary holding a crowned baby and the country side ones often do not, but rather have a giant Mary standing over a small earth and a snake.

The urban, official Mary is Mary the mother. The rural Mary is Mary the independent power. If Mary is popular among the people, it's natural that she would be the subject of the town's cathedral and the patron of the city. But the subtle differences in her presentation reflect differing heirarchies. The Mother Mary is the submissive servant of God, although a queenly one. The rural Mary is much less reactionary in her iconography. One could believe that her image would inspire devout women to excel instead of submit. By putting an official image of MAry around the city, civic and religious leaders were able to take a popular movement and channel it into submission.

In other news, my landlord left a comment on my blog before I called him. In it, he was threatening to call interpol on me. I've never been an international fugitive before. I know what you're thinking, "what could possibly be so illegal in the Netherlands?" Fear not, I was not abducting and murdering cute toddlers. No, my rental contract had expired and so he was contacting all sorts of people telling them to cancel their contracts on me. Like my insurance company, which I guess is not going to reimburse me for my stitches (at 17€ each).

In most states in the US, when your rental contract expires, your tenancy shifts to something called month-to-month. This means you have to give 30 days notice before you leave and you just keep paying rent to the landlord. Is this not the case in the Netherlands? I was paying my rent every month. Except this month, apparently I'm paying an extra supplement in the form of out of pocket expenses incurred by having my insurance suddenly cancelled. I suppose I should have verified that he received the email that I sent him with my new phone number when I first got the phone.

Um, other news. Xena is acting weirdly freaked and I don't know why, but it might have something to do with being in a loud, strange city. Children stare at the bandage on my chin. My mouth is all swollen and apparently I'm even less intelligible than usual. I really want a chiropractor to fix my neck. I can almost eat. My ear hurts from my jaw smacking the ground. I recommend avoiding smashing your chin into the pavement. Also, Nicole looks horrified whenever she sees my gash.

Tomorrow, I'm going to go look inside the giant, lovely cathedral and I will find a map of the route to Brussels, damn it!

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