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The Dashing Life and Exuberant Times of Brian Harrison....And Other Rare Anecdotes

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Stealing Into Beauty

I have this curious, often unnoticed gift of mine. This gift being curious, in that it departs from the veneration of the mature. And unnoticed mainly because it is in this ability of mine which constitutes just that description.
My gift ---sneaking into places.

The truth is that I never really cared for this ability. I mean as a child. It’s the ability to blend into walls, bookshelves, crowds (usually anything bleached white because of my fair, ghostly features.) In short, to go unnoticed. I was sadly the middle child. And it's not so much that I did anything gilt-paged legendary. Not yet at least. I didn’t converse with dragons nor infiltrate an entire squadron of Soviet spies. But I have managed to slip by some pretty hairy places, and tended to outfox some very clever hounds. But connected to this gift, as are most gifts are graciously given, is linked a direct obsession. In so much, am I talented at not being noticed, I have an insatiable thirst to go precisely where I’m not supposed to be.

Trespassing, sneaking in, sneaking out, crossing forbidden barriers undetected and unbound all for the sake of crossing over the barriers themselves. Well, at least in most cases. There is something wholly consuming about cracking that impenetrable code, of getting into a place that is trying to keep you out. Fortunately, in my lifetime I’ve rarely experienced the inverse of this. That is, those places that are intent on keeping you in. Though with the former behavior I may one day be placed in such a situation.

But in both these cases, the idea is the same, crossing over limitations through stealth, acumen, physical agility, judicious timing, and unsinkable daring. That is why some of my favorite movies are all movies that involve jailbreaks. That is why I revere Steve McQueen. Many people think freedom is being on the outside of any particular wall. I may think it to be on the inside as well. For who knows how in our thinking there is that idea that something wonderful, unfathomable, and delightful is contained and barricaded by walls and fences. That there are certain spots more exciting than the very spot you occupy and all that is needed is a certain chink in the wall for you to enter. Perhaps, the biggest barrier that humanity faces is not anything keeping us from going outside, but keeping us from going inside. (Allow me even more poetic justice here)The largest barrier we face in our day to day business is a wall that is guarded by an angel with a flaming sword. Never living shall we pass by those gates and into that far off, faint garden again. Though we occasionally try to sneak back in. All art is in some regards an attempt at this. Whether painting, literature, music, the point is to knock a chink at the wall that separates us from that paradise and peer in, here and there stealing scenes, catching scents, breathing the air again. If art's purpose is not this than it is certainly the opposite to focus on how far we have fallen from these gates...though deep down know that we are meant for them. I bring this up, mainly because it was art that I went to see that day. It was a world-renown art museum that I ended up sneaking into.

I didn’t really set out to do the deed. I was just wanting to see some art. The Uffizi is this large, multi-roomed ancient building in Florence where many of the Renaissance's finest masterpieces are held and displayed. I walked into one room more than content to pay the fee for the entrance when I was told that because I didn't have a registration, I would need to go to the next room. I did so and was immediately hit by the fact that there was a whole lot going on inside, and that I could walk right by the ticket booth and get into the bookstore. Consumerism has it that blocking people off from the possibility of spending more money is a big no no. You never want to scare people off from purchasing anything. So this part of the museum was, believe it or not, very low security. Then entirely instinctual, without little meditation or thought process involved, I noticed that I was indeed devising a way to sneak in this well-reputed museum of high art and brilliant history. It was though something in my nature is always waiting for an opportunity such as this. And all of a sudden a certain whiff in the air, or a certain indescribable aura is caught, and I react. Yes, I walked briskly up to one of the desks of the bookshop. The clerk was immersed in some entirely entertaining conversation with another worker. Both were oblivious to the 3rd person present...me. I looked to my right, feeling, sensing, intuiting, that I was very near where most of the people came out of the museum. I could enter through the exit and see some of the world's most gorgeous masterpieces. It had hardly a thing to do with the money. The entrance fee was not that bad. It was just the fact of getting in. Of crossing a boundary, infiltrating a system, dodging the institution, vanishing from the world of money, and reappearing into a world of inspiration and beauty. -That was what it was all about.
Besides, like as mentioned before there was little thought about it. Before I could even reflect on any of this, I had moved the little barrier rope in a vacant unnoticed archway, and crossed over into the actual museum, and moved the rope marker back, silently, stealthily, like a cat entering a fish factory. Ah, but I was a human soul entering an art museum, all the more lovely.

Then I proceeded to walk up the museum, seeing all the exhibits backwards. Which is probably very refreshing because after one sees all the exhibits in the proper order, one is dog-tired, eye and foot weary of all the exhibits that have the misfortune of being placed in the back of the museum. I was just giving these unfortunate pieces and their artists a little bit of fairness. I saw Giotto, that regal artistry from the middle ages. And later Carravagio one of my favorites who seems to lock time itself into place with his many paintings, seeming to draw a scene to its climatic pitch.
But at once climbing the 3rd floor, and after noticing how the Uffizi overlooked quite gracefully the Arno river, I made it to the room where 2 main features were at and which made the whole visit worthwhile. The first was Fra Filippi Lippi, a monk turned artist from Prato, the same town that I was staying at near Florence. Rare events from his life are worth sharing. This fellow had fallen in love with his own model. A model of his St. Mary of all people who happened to be a nun. He eloped with her and some say kidnapped her and held her cloistered up in his room for 3 days. While monk and nun...artist and model...enjoyed the society of one another quite nicely. I'm not inferring anything, just putting it out there for our own society to judge. He was a nice, colorful little artist. I dare say, there's a definite softness to his painter's brush.

Then there was Botticelli. Oh, to think that I had stealed away inside some chink in security only to catch my eyes upon the Birth of Venus. How poetic and how adequate. Many of you would notice this piece. It is that painting where a naked blonde woman is standing on a clam seeming to ride it as a raft on an ocean. A little reminder perhaps is needed here about Venus, the classical goddess of beauty and love being born out of the ocean and onto land. Here, maybe, she represents something forthcoming about the age in which she is painted. An age when grace and raw beauty were more celebrated and esteemed...than the commercialism of today.
Spring is another one of Botticelli's major works. Here stand these major classic figures come waltzing in a forest all together. A true glimpse at that lost garden again.
One of my favorite paintings though was neither a notable Renaissance piece nor even by an Italian. It was a Degas. Just simply a woman wearing a large blue dress on a horse that was galloping its way across the mountains. It's a Romanticism piece and I've always like such works in all the fields of the arts from this period.

I also saw a good many of Raphael's works. Though very few of Michelangelo and Da Vinci, but also didn't venture into every single room. I'm probably right in thinking that I missed an entire floor. But this was okay. I figured with my knowledge of how to get in for absolutely free I would return time and time again. But I never did. Still, whenever in this lifetime that I may wind up in Florence again, years from now, maybe decades. Maybe I'll be some old codger. But I'll still retain the secret of how to steal into the galleries and displays of this hall of masterpieces, and will slip through, peak at some fine dandies of inspiration, and slip out once again into the mundane, broken world.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Dancing From a Voodoo Festival to a Vampire Ball

My plans were very simple. Stay in New Orleans for at least Halloween night.
There could be no perfect, no better place to spend that masked holiday than in this multicultured city on the bayou. No city in America is reported as more haunted. And the festive spirits of the people go far beyond any conjuring on Halloween's creepy and creative possession of the crowd.

And what a crowd that was pouring all down the streets of the French Quarter. Every and any conceivable notion for a costume was dreamed up, put on, and participated in the good time frolick which hovered and lurked on the old French and Spanish avenues like some trickster ghost of the night. Sometimes drowning the crowd in drunkeness, sometimes stimulating them in lasciviousness, sometimes soaking them in extreme creepiness...but always something surreal, and typically very, very bawdy. But imaginative and festive nonetheless. And perhaps this is why I sacrificed the former for the latter...thinking it all worth while. Donning myself a disguise, rightfully so...of all the things prowling on the streets that night, I chose an angel of light to be my identity. I thought that the theme of darkness probably gets too much play time, so time to try on something truly dazzling and swoop down upon the mob in a stylish fashion. A light blue ruffled shirt...(a natural adornment for myself)..a white vest and a white pair of pants, a pair of feathery wings, and flowing blonde hair that comes all to natural to me as well. In short, a thoughtful, strolling figure who seemed to shine very radiantly under the old lamp posts of the city. Or at least that was the effect I was going for.

What were my plans? What was I going to do? I can't say that i really knew. Russell had already left the city and i was left to brave or enjoy the festivities all to myself. What a strange thing is solitude in the midst of raucous crowds. When your costume is that much amplified by the sense that it walks alone and comes and goes where it likes. As though it is floating apart from the pressures of one's peers. A lone angel strolling the streets of New Orleans...could there be anything more befitting for someone who likes to be on the outside of whatever side there is?

I ended up attending this Voodoo Festival where a large group of Voodoo attendees and practitioners were present listening to music inspired by Voodoo and also lectures about the strange religion. One djembe drum player detailed how he wrote this song about the city of flooding only 4 days before Katrina hit. As though he was divinely inspired into some sort of prophetic utterance. I only attended one function of this festival for the day, but ended up returning to it later that night when the tempo of the lectures had picked up into full festivities. This time a group of drummers banging out their songs all down Dumaine Street. The complacent crowd was now picked up and thrown into dancing. Many of these in various costumes. It wasn't long standing there until I was invited to join in the congo line that they had going. So I couldn't resist joining in dressed as an angel and all. And danced to the throbbing cadences of West Africa and New Orleans.
There was this one lady there that was said to be very powerful. She was a Voodoo Queen that flew all the way from West Africa. I was a little worried that they could read my thoughts and know that I had was not into Voodoo. I mean...the dark side of Voodoo is a hex at the drop of a hat. But these were not dark practitioners at least from what I could tell. An acquaintance of New Orleans is this Voodoo Priest and he told me about this festival and all. I dare say that I think that I impressed them...an entirely white boy moving to their drumbeats. Maybe they really thought I was some sort of visiting angel.

After the congo beats, I wandered on down the rest of the French Quarter witnessing the most amount of costumes than ever before. You name a costume and I bet that I saw it that night. I don't know how long I roamed floating about the place like a lone messenger when my feet ached and I got tired of the large crowds and raucous hubbub. So I headed in my car across town far away from the French Quarter where there were rumors about this lavish vampire ball that was being thrown in an old house. Reservations were expected to be made before any creatures of the night made their appearance. It must of been about half past midnight when I finally found this place. I parked my car not too far and slipping on my angel wings around my shoulders and did a quick stake out. I saw several of the figures all decked out in black. Coming and going. Since I didn't have a reservation and merely paying for the entrance fee at the door was too much, I had the thought to sneak into this vampire ball. So I found the back door fence where from within you could hear many guests suavely talking to one another inside the patio. Glimpsing through the chains I could catch snippets of folks in 18th Century garb. So I climbed the fence and peering from above into the patio saw lots of wigs and long hair. Lavish lace and canes and huge, bombastic dresses that had a radius' almost as big as dining tables. Wine glasses with red liquid in them. Pale, beautiful faces gleaming about in smooth merriment. Mind you, I was still dressed as an angel and sat as some sort of spy over the ivy clinging fences and over the fanged crowd. I must have been about 15 feet in the hair wondering if anyone had seen me and just what they would think. With so many people out on the patio, an seraphim or cherubim dropping down from the fence would definitely be noticed. So I opted on the normal route of getting. That is...negotiating with the door man. I got in for a 3rd of the price of the original ticket seeing how the night was already pretty late. So I entered the vampire ball.

The entire ball was more of a get together for serious Anne Rice fans. In fact, years ago when the author Anne Rice used to live in New Orleans she would personally attend. So the costumes were all an attempt at being a character from those books. You know "Interview with a Vampire" type looks. It was a fanfare club. Lots of people who are just into Anne Rice literature and yes, probably a few who actually believe that they are vampires.

I received all kinds of stares. I mean I did stand out. Most of the dress color was an undisputed black. And walk in all in white with a ruffled baby blue shirt on.
Most of the crowd's eyes were narrowed with these vampire contact lens that or they're eyes were naturally like that. And many of these eyes darted towards me. When I entered the patio, 2 older ladies were sitting in a corner and motioned over to me to join them. Apparently of these guests travel from all over to attend this. There were two other girls that I met from Wales who come all the way over to New Orleans for this. These two ladies and I had a nice conversation and they also commended me for my originality at dressing up as something different. These goth types sometimes you wonder why they wear the same thing for Halloween that they do the other 364 days of the year.

I wandered into the main room were music was going on. 2 girls approached me who were decked out as Egyptian vampiresses. Two twins that are characters in one of the books. They ask me if I am supposed to be anybody. And that I would make a striking resemblance to Lestat de Lioncourt who is one of the main characters of the night. Many of the young men present wore long blonde wigs in an attempt to pass for Lestat. In fact, the entire club that was throwing this ball was called the Lestat Fanclub. I responded back that maybe I was this tall, young, blonde-haired, blue-eyed vampire but decided to go as something else. I mean how many real vampires would go as themselves. How boring is that? Why not be something one is not...I was an angel. Plus I like to stand out. I trait that is all to prevalent with this Lestat character...as I've read him.

Then the music kicked up and I just had to, I couldn't resist. I had to break out on that dance floor. So I began to dancing with one of the Egyptian vampires. But I could not stop dancing. I noticed this vampiress all dress in 18th century black who was moving so well. And the two of us began to swirl each other around the dancefloor. On certain situations with one's dance partner you can feel this kinetic energy almost chemistry and you can move so freely and completely own the dancefloor with that person. This was the case with this vampiress. Not many other people danced. There was this Oriental women with a huge 18th Century Pompadour wing and a huge dress that almost made her unaccessible to me. And powder all over her. i danced with this vampiress a little but quickly returned to the vampiress all in black because dancing with a good dancer is a highlight anywhere.
Suffice it to say that after the ball had ended, somehow I ended up being dragged out of that ball not as a lone angel but escorting two vampiresses in black to the French Quarter to this other vampire bar, one on each arm. -An angel of light being guided by two ladies of the dark night.