Monday, August 24, 2009

Nobility I

A little while ago I promised to take a series of looks at nobility, and was reminded of my promise by an exchange of emails yesterday with a man who had decided not to employ me.

He elected to write a personal email, telling me why he was turning me down for the position. I replied, thanking him for his courtesy, and making the comment that it's nice to find someone who acts in a gentlemanly way these day.

I didn't accuse him of nobility, but it was a close run thing.

Readers of my blog will know that I am vociferous in my disdain for organised religion. Actually, religion of any kind offends my sensibilities, but the organised type I find to be not only foolish, but also offensive. Be that as it may: when it comes to architecture, organised religion has made marvellous, and noble, contributions. While I have not seen the great cathedrals of Europe in the stone (as it were), I have seen a lot of footage on the Discovery, Documentary, and History Channels. I've also seen an enormous acreage of print photographs. The soaring spires and flying buttresses are marvels. In Asia, the various wats, with thier intricate carvings and mind-blowing complexities. The Buddhist temples of Japan, the Hindu concoctions of India. The South American pyramids, the Egyptian temples, the Russian onion-topped confections: I know that they are supposed to inspire one as to the glory of some god or other, but to me they sing of the nobility of the human spirit, and the astonishing thing we have that sets us apart: our imaginations, our sheer inventiveness.

I think it is impossible for any thinking person to look at the beautiful structures set in place for the Beijing Olympics (another series of cathedrals, but this time built to worship the human body and will) without being en-nobled by the magnificence of it all.

Individual, and small, acts of nobility are all too rare. That is why they are so remarkable when they happen. So let's celebrate them when they happen. What happened to me yesterday was not only gentlemanly, but also noble. Thankyou.

LISTENING TO: Bryan Ferry, "As Time Goes By". The most fun that's been put onto a record album since the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. I have to listen to this album at least once every two weeks.

READING: "White Night", by Jim Butcher. If you ever watched "The Dresden Files"on tele, Jim Butcher's books were the inspiration. Great fun.

WORD OF THE DAY: Gentlemanly. As in behaviour. Everyone can do it, man, woman, child.


New York, New York!
Henry doesn’t think of himself as a nervous man, and one would be hard pressed to call him cowardly. But New York terrified Henry, and he couldn’t wait to get away from there. As you’ll know, Henry’s a small town person, one who understands the Wisdom of the Woodpile, who believes implicitly in the goodness of his neighbours. This great city, reaching to the clouds, with man-made canyons deeper than the ravines that his hometown’s river has carved to make a bed in, this city with its honking and shouting and roaring and spitting and cursing and jostling and rush baffled him, made him fearful.
They went to the Guggenhiem Museum - Mary wanted to see the great collection of abstract art there, while Adam wanted to look over Frank Lloyd Wright’s stunning design. Adam was disappointed: the additions made in the 1990s diminished Wright’s soaring vision, while Mary was elated by the glory of the art within.
Henry, however, perplexed by the streets, was white and shaking when they arrived at the museum. The noise of the street hammered at all his senses, blurring his vision, making his mouth coppery with fear. He sat in the lobby of the great museum, insisting the others went their own way, agreeing that if they should separate they‘d leave a message at the Museum‘s reception desk. Sweat stood in great drops on his forehead, his face was ashen.
”I just need a little time to relax.” But he couldn’t. The oppressive fear beat at him, his ears thundered, and his fingers and legs trembled. The walls were crowding at him, closing him in, choking him, and he needed to see the sky so he rushed out, looking up, and the great buildings leaned over him and he fell to his knees while tens of people, hundreds of people walked by him, chattering to each other, squawking into cell-phones, shouting at cabs and street vendors, never quiet, always talking and shouting and he shouted “shut up!” he screamed “Shut up!“ and trembled. He roared “shut up,“ and the grit of the street tore at his knees, and Adam saw him, and helped him up.
“I’m all right,” Henry said. “All right.” But he wasn’t. Adam took him and sat him on the stairway to the museum, and went indoors to leave a message for Mary, then went back out to find his father and take him back to their hotel, where Henry went to bed, shivering.
Fear makes a fool of us all, and it wasn’t something that Henry was accustomed to.
What is there to fear in a comfortable little town in a comfortable little country down at the bottom of the world? War and famine and political or criminal repression had played no part in Henry’s life. His had been an easy life, one of confined valley horizons and a warm home, in an environment where he was supported and strengthened by neighbours, colleagues, family, and friends.
This was Henry’s first brush with an irrational fear, and the first time that he was brought face to face with the possibility that yes, he too was vulnerable to phobias.
Many people would this of Henry: that one of his more admirable traits was his simplicity: what you saw was precisely what you got.
Others might say this: that one of his least admirable traits was his simplicity: what you saw was precisely what you got.
This isn’t to say that he didn’t have his complexities, dear me no. But he wore those badges of maturity on his sleeve for everyone to see. He had few prejudices, and was concerned by the ones he had. He liked to think that he took people at face value, and valued them for what and who they were: but he had no understanding of mental health problems, and thought of them as being easy to control.
“All these people have to do, surely, is apply a little rational thought to their fear. An agorophobic person knows, rationally, that wide open spaces can’t really hurt them. Therefore, the fear should be easily dealt with. Likewise, arachnophobes know spiders, by and large, are harmless. Nothing to it.”
But now he had been plunged into the void that a claustrophobic person fears, and come out of it badly. They left town the very next day, to Go West, young man. And they did: but not before seeing enough of America’s great cities to know that while they were grand and huge and places of marvel, they were also places with their mean and grubby sides, streets of brick tenement blocks which gave shelter to scores of hundreds of people, and allowed them no horizon at all, but that of a construct which was exactly the same as the one they sobbed their life away in. Adam too was appalled, and his camera was still: no picture could contain the trivial and crushing way these people spent their lives.
It’s not death that’s cheap here, he thought. It’s life. And so they moved on, and on New jersey’s grimy streets they found an agent who sent them way out west, to Arizona. And it was while there, in Arizona, that they found the true tyrant of Talbot Terrace.

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