Saturday, 28 January 2017

Dreams, Birds & Flight

Heron on Kennett & Avon canal

 Some dreams reveal their meaning immediately,  like a story that's invited you in to a whole other world. Others remain stubbornly alien, a story that doesn't seem to have much to do with you, or that speaks a language you can't unravel.

I've been writing my dreams down for a long time. And sometimes I find, when I go back in my journals and read past dream accounts, the images unfurl and make sense, they speak to me now, where they didn't before. Perhaps it is because I'm too close to present dreams, I don't know. Perhaps I'm just more aware sometimes, more perceptive.

Painting at Saint Ronan's Well, Scotland

 For me, birds in dreams, have always been clear. They are the light-winged self, the self that can fly, free from the gravity of space and of time too, for time can have its own gravity, and limitations. So I've had dreams of a tethered bird, and of an entangled bird, and they were quite clear, needed no interpretation.

Black swans in Regent's Park, London

Then there was birdsong I once woke to. But in the passage between dream and wakefulness, the sound is located within me, the birdsong and I are one, all that lift and lyric joy is who I am....and only when I'm completely awake I realise it is outside me, but – I don't forget that when I was in a different state of consciousness, it was not external to me, we were not apart.

In one dream beginning in an attic of discarded and covered objects, I think I see some movement and in response to my interest, a white bird gradually emerges, sheds its drab cover, grows enormous, with coloured patterns on its front, and huge wings that enfold me, with the kind of love that answers all our longing. This must be how it is when an angel wraps its wings around you. 

Birds cluster round angel statue in Rhodos, Greece

And then there was the bird that I was. I have flown in dreams before, but had always, as far as I knew, been myself, enjoying this new ability, the experience of flight. But in this one, as I became aware or lucid in the dream, I realised that I was this night bird, that was my being.  I was flying over moonlit pine trees and hills, feeling the wind shivering in my wing-tip feathers.

Eagle sculpture in Poznan, Poland

And in the waking world or perception, there are the dawn birds, the morning birds you watch just outside the window, feeding on grains and seeds, fat-balls and breadcrumbs, the daylight birds, sometimes in flight and sometimes sentinel-still on fence-posts, and the birds that catch the twilight in a net and draw it in, circling above treetops in conversation, or perched solitary on a topmost branch, singing their lighthouse keeper signal, not so much singing to you but singing you, as you know from the response their singing makes in you.

Heron takes off on the Kennett & Avon canal

And you know this because you once felt their song inside you, were once held by a bird as white as an albatross, and you were once a bird yourself, flying over moonlit pine trees and you haven't forgotten the feeling of flight, of freedom, the exhilaration of knowing that this bird is who you are. 

Seagull over La Manche

Friday, 13 January 2017

Images of Italy - Galleria Borghese

From the archives: Journal excerpts from 2003 in Italy, between my first and second visit to Albania.

Tobiolo and Cherubs at the Galleria Borghese, Rome

There was a storm in the night and the thunder was so loud it startled me from sleep and I cried out. The rain heaved itself against the windows and the balcony and lashed the rooftops and the trees outside. But by the morning, it was fair. There was a sneaky blue strip in the sky. It won't rain again I say, as if I knew what I was talking about. P makes us two small cups of strong coffee and says nothing.

We go to the Galleria Borghese. There is one Tobiolo e l'angelo (I forget the artist's name) where the angelo is wearing a bright red robe that looks as if it’s made of shiny plastic material, like rainwear with reflective qualities. Tobiolo has a spiky hairdo, filtered with wires of light, like a nascent halo. His hand is in the angel's and he looks up at him, trustingly. The angel is much taller than him. Tobiolo holds a large fish and his dog scampers on the path.

In The Two Faces of Love, by Titian, there is amor sacro and amor profano. I feel it’s a shame to divide them like that. Amor sacro is fully clad and has her head turned away. She does not look like someone who would be easy to get to know. She looks a little aloof. Amor profano on the other hand, is wearing almost nothing, just a drape over her hips – she looks towards, she looks more inviting, she looks – ready for encounter and there is only one way you feel, you could encounter her. One time of night, or evening, one mood, and one response. Can you meet that beauty, can you look her in the eyes?  She is not so much a suppliant, as a sign. Unmistakeable as a blue sky. Or a rising tide.

Titian's Sacred and Profane Love: from Wikimedia commons

Between them, in a kind of earth-filled container, a small, winged figure is examining what’s inside it. It could be earth, it could be a pile of dark leaves, it's really not possible to say what he's looking around in. I don't know if it’s Eros, looking for some sign or clue or uninterested in either of the two women and intent on uncovering his own buried treasures. Or maybe he's a flustered minor cherub, given a directive by Eros, which he let fall and is looking for – or one that is simply following some desirable trail, or drawn into the presence of the women, as onlooker or guardian.  

You see them in many of the paintings. Seeming-detached, with no clear role.  Yet drawn too, like understudies learning by watching and listening, content simply to be there.

In another, where Venere ties a scarf round the eyes of Eros, she looks almost dreamily, in another direction. Another winged cherub is at her back, chin resting on her shoulder, like a child content to be around adults, but without understanding of what is going on. Drawn in by the energy. Two other women come towards Venere, from the right of the picture – one holds a bow, the other, the quiver full of arrows. They are involved, they have their parts to play. Yet it’s the blindfolded one, who has his back to us, who will make the action that will result in consequences. Up to that point, everything is well-prepared, appointed. The roles are scripted and the words are worn as carefully as clothes. But once the arrow has been loosed, nothing can be certain, or foretold.

Titian's Venus Blindfolding Cupid: from wikimedia commons

Well, that’s always how it is, isn't it? Once love and desire come in, we are no longer in control. Which is just as well, for that's where life comes in.  Possibilities, consequences and unravelling. Breaches in the wall. Rips in the fabric and gaps in the heart.

Walking through train stations and airports yesterday, I thought how much of life has to do with parting – with meeting and with parting. When there is movement, there is meeting and parting and meeting again. There are endless scenes of separation. Movement involves this, it is inevitable. But the wonder of it is that it makes meetings possible and it makes moments possible – whether they last for seconds of time, or days or weeks, moments of linking with the connectedness of things, they are made possible through movement.

Now, of course, will also become memory, even while, in this moment, it is background. The chirping of a caged bird, on a nearby balcony. The swaying of the plastic strips separating the living room from the balcony. The movement of fresh, damp air from outside, brushing past my skin.

I think of other balconies, on almost the same latitude as here, but not much, only a little, for I do not want to focus on a sense of loss. I am after all working on a landfill operation, shoring up the crater in my heart.

It began to rain, when we came out of the Galleria Borghese. First of all the thunder was distant, then it came closer, carrying torrents of rain in its wake. We sheltered in a narrow doorway. In some streets, the water was several inches deep and reached half way up the wheels of parked cars. 
I thought you said it wasn't going to rain today, said P.