Death By Inconsolable Shame


The spiral or circular ramp. These have fascinated architects and their clients through centuries.

Rundetaarn (The Round Tower) 1642 of Copenhagen, Denmark has a ramp some 685 feet long spiraling around a hollow core. King Christian IV rode up and down this ramp with a horse and carriage. Home to Europe’s oldest functioning observatory, which sets a top with the viewing platform. A haven for scientists, intellectuals and teachers.

An inscription on the side is a rebus or code. “Lead, God, into the heart of King Christian IV The Right Teaching and Justice, 1642.” The tower is over 114 feet tall with a view of old Copenhagen that is a pleasure to behold.


The spires of old town Copenhagen stand like sentinels. They seem to call and speak to one another.

 

The spires of old town Copenhagen stand like sentinels. They seem to call and speak to one another.

The spires of old town Copenhagen stand like sentinels. They seem to call and speak to one another.

In view from Rundetaarn is another spiral design, The Church Of Our Savior, 1752.

There is a tragic legend of this tower’s architect, Laurids de Thurah. Spirals found in fortress towers turn to the left giving guards a free hand and extended reach advantage for defending right handed swordsmen. Conversely spiral stairs found in churches have a right turn helix.

The legend say when Laurids inspected his completed work a realization fell upon him like a mortifying pall. His spiral sprung the wrong way. His design was flawed.


His shame was so inconsolable he threw himself from the top of what was supposed to be his masterpiece.

The story must of stuck in my mind. Everywhere I turned in Copenhagen that church spire seemed to always catch some part of my peripheral site. The lurking ghost of Laurids. I was compelled time and time again to photograph this tower. Lovely site, sad legend.
But alas, if one happens to come across a book of history’s greatest urban legends, this story is surely amongst them. Architect Laurids de Thurah, in fact, enjoyed opening day as a moment of great pomp and circumstance. King Frederik V walked all the way up this grand spire as 27 canons saluted in the church square.


All the pomp and circumstance was repeated in 1996 upon the church’s restoration. Prince Joachim made the same walk as Frederik. No one then, or before, dove from the tower.

What is true, however, Laurids de Thurah died only seven years after completion of his spire. Reportedly Poor and forgotten. Maybe the legend was created to remember him in a more dramatic and enduring way. Not just to say he died in bed one day.


Thanks to Tom. His rendering of the church tower story to me and his metaphorical descriptions of Copenhagen and its features were of sublime inspiration. Also to Heather for research on the design theory of spiral towers (Right hand vs left helix).

More views from a top Rundetaarn).

 

More “Dead”

Mexico’s Day of The Dead is all about gentile and happy spirits of the after life. But there’s also more Halloween-like legends of darker angels. The malcontents and evil doers on the other side.
One of Mexico’s most legendary locations for this phenomena is Guadalajara’s downtown cemetery–their “Haunted” cemetery–Panteon de Belen. Many dates on the tombs and gravestones are from the mid 1800’s. These were well-to-do and important citizens of Guadalajara. But the graveyard came into existence during some of Mexico’s hardest times. Dark years seem to produce dark legends of after life.


The atmosphere within the walls of Belan is tranquil and beautiful. Pleasing landscaping–an array of interesting trees. There’s one tree in particular. Thick, sinuous roots form a massive trunk and vast canopy. This is Guadalajara’s most guarded tree. If it is allowed to die, a rapacious vampire will be unleashed upon a defenseless city population.
He’s terrorized the region before. Evidence was dead animals all around. Not only dead but sucked dry and bloodless. Then children died this way. A vampire was on the loose. People dared not venture out at night for fear of Lestat. A vigilante group was formed to track down the evil creature. Find him, they did; Captured by net. A lethal wooden stake was driven through his heart. And to take no chances his body was entombed in a concrete sarcophicus and buried deeply at Belan. Happiness reclaimed the homeland. Until….


The lethal wooden stake grew longer and wider from the vampire’s heart. It punched through the concrete sarcophicus lid and out of the grave. The stake became this tree. Not a sap producing tree but one of blood from all the creatures the vampire killed. Any little nick or damage, the tree dripped blood. And if the tree is allowed to die, the vampire WILL RETURN!


This story was being told to a group of very  young school children on a Day of The Dead field trip to Belan.


A heightened spookiness is possible by taking a night time tour. The chance of witnessing some of the phenomena is rumored to be quite great! For instance, one story says someone committed suicide–by neck, hanging from a tree. A night time shadow of this tree sometimes appears even though it was cut down long ago.
A cemetery guard has been seen. But there is no guard. Those who saw this guard’s face say it matched a portrait attached to one of the graves.
There’s an approaching clip clop and rattle of an 1800’s horse drawn coffin wagon. It stops at the cemetery gate. Nothing is ever there except hints of moving shadows.
Perhaps this was just too much after life activity to suit “Los Hombres Ilustres,” prominent Jalisco State and Guadalajara dignitaries buried here. They were excavated in 1947 and moved to a new Memorial “La Rotonda de Los Hombres Illustres” next to Guadalajara Cathedral.


The architecture next to them may seem familiar to those big shots. The Cathedral towers and the Belan Cemetery Pavilion under which the illustrious were buried had the same architect.

Dias de los Muertos

.
While we in the U.S. go all out for festive, imaginative–if not outrageous–costuming, parties and trick or treating at Halloween time, in Mexico they begin celebrating Dias de los Muertos, Days of the Dead.
On Halloween Day, 2004. I was in the heart of Old Mexico, Michoacan. They don’t celebrate Halloween as we know it. October 31st, Hollows Eve, marks the beginning of a three day celebration which also encompasses All Saints Day and All Souls Day. These are Dias de Los Muertos. The focus is not so much on costumes and trick or treating, but on remembrance of dead loved ones and connecting with their spirits.
.
.
Don’t mistake this as grim and serious. These are days of parties, feasts and family reunions from both sides of the grave and mortal plane. The departed are not sadly viewed as having vanished from daily life. But they’re happy, active participants. Their spirits are guardians of the living.
.
.
Each region of Mexico offers a slight variation of these customs. But generally this is a holiday with marigold adorned altars in the home, favorite foods of the loved ones prepared and lavishly displayed, favorite drinks even booze or cigarettes if those were enjoyed. There are ceremonial skulls and skeletons. Paper decorations in bright colors. Harvested crops. Tall continually lit candle sticks.
.
.
Every object placed at the home altar has meaning. Four symbols of nature are always present. Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire.
Earth is represented by flowers and crops. Souls are enticed to the altar and fed by aroma; the mouth watering smell of their favorite foods.
Wind is symbolized by a moving object. Colorful tissue paper and hanging cut out decorations are commonly used to to sway or toss about in a breeze or draft.
Water in a decorative bowl. Quenching a soul’s thirst after a long journey home. Even a hand towel is provided.
Fire glows with candles.
.
.
Some regions of Mexico are more known for one particular aspect of the holiday than others. For instance, La Calaca “the skeleton” is famous in the Mexico City region. Bakeries have skeleton and skull decorations displayed. Attached are verses dedicated to the dead. Special breads are shaped and baked to be sold specifically for altar offerings.
In something like trick or treating, children collect candies on this holiday. But often these are muertos, little candy skulls.
La Calaca is not meant to be scary, but fun. The typical female ceremonial skeleton is lavishly dressed, adorned with jewelery, and a floppy wide brim hat. The man often has a bottle of booze in hand. In short, they’re ready to party.
The altar tradition is deeply rooted in Michoacan. I visited the small village of Santa Fe De La Laguna on the road from Morelia to Uruapan. The residents are an indigenous people, The Purepecha Indians. They mainly speak Purepechan rather than Spanish. Many still wear traditional garments. When the Spanish arrived in the 1500’s they found this group battling the Aztecs. Needless to say neither group was any match for the Conquistadors.
.
.
The Spanish called these Indians The Tarascan. After slaughtering thousands of them in conquest, Spain sought to be a kinder, gentler ruler. One gesture was to not to completely strip away their spiritual beliefs. Instead many rituals, including Dias de Los Muertos, were allowed to remain. And these were folded into Christian customs. Thus you have this blending of pre-Hispanic rituals with the All Saints and All Souls tradition.
People of this village retain old values of openness and hospitality. I walked by an open door. I saw inside just a bit. There I noticed a beautifully flowered altar. A seated group of Tarascan ladies warmly extended an invitation to enter. Their simple yet welcoming home had three main rooms. The largest was devoted to the altar. Men sat in a smaller room. The other was occupied by the women. This village has a unique variation of Dias de Los Muertos. The women attend exclusively to the all the aspects of planning and setting up for the holiday. The altar, the food, the cleaning and decorating of the grave site, etc. The men are involved only with harvest rituals.
.
.
I studied the array of yellow, orange and red altar flowers, the tall candles, the uniquely shaped bread offerings, the prepared food, and the apparent keepsakes of a child. This was All Saints Day dedicated to the spirits of children.
I was invited to a delicious bowl of red tomato fish soup and a tamale wrapped in banana leaves. The women were very pleased I accepted their offering. They smiled at my obvious enjoyment of the meal. I was offered another serving.
Other regions celebrate this day with parades. A Lidless coffin lifted up to catch flowers, fruits and candles. A crackle of firecrackers. At night the tall altar candles burn continuously in remembrance.
.
.
November 2nd, All Souls Day, is the day of spiritual reunion with adult loved ones. Activities shift to the graveyard. Flower strewn paths to family plots.  Sites are cleaned, groomed and lavishly decorated with marigolds and other flowers. A picnic is enjoyed a savory array of the departed one’s favorite foods. Some share tequila. Others set off fireworks. A Mariachi Band is often present. Festivities for this “Night of The Dead” are an all night affair. The night glows from a myriad of burning candles.
A lot of Americans who visit Mexico this time of year may well leave impressed with the color, beauty and charm of this occasion. These are intriguing customs that have spiritual value. Not just a party excuse or candy grab. It is to honor and remember deceased loved ones as well as to eat, drink and be merry.
.
.
But there is some danger of all this falling by the way side. The U.S. manner of celebrating Halloween is expanding and becoming ever more popular in the urban and border areas of Mexico. Wall Mart and others well supply Mexico with all the mass produced witch’s hats, Spider Man costumes, and other Halloween paraphernalia available in the U.S.. This influence seems enough for government and private institutions to now educate about and promote the old traditions.
Santa Fe de La Laguna, has resisted change for centuries. Hopefully they will continue to hang on to what is uniquely theirs. Even in the midst of N.A.F.T.A., globalization and the new world order.

Connecting The Dots

Stockholm, Sweden, is composed of fourteen Islands and an archipelago fanning out into The Baltic. Traveling the city whether by foot, bicycle, car, bus or subway means taking bridges tunnels or ferries. Not ravaged or spoiled by war, architectural elements of the city are old but not run down. A pristine quality. Buildings of bright color, copper clad roofs and soaring spires often reflect in waterways. Modern structures blend well. Visits to such sights as the Vasa Museum and The Royal Palace show glimpses of Medieval Stockholm.
The residents are a gentile people. Reserved but without attitude. English is freely spoken with Americans.
Traffic moves orderly and at a moderate pace. Rarely have I witnessed a speeding vehicle or heard a horn blaring. Cars are driven slower during rain with a space reserved between vehicles. Pedestrians enjoy having cars stop for them.
Children are taught to use “indoor voices.” Not once have I had the urge to call out for “Super Nanny” to come deal with badly behaved children. Dogs can be seen in public places. Have yet to encounter a street turd!
A down side can reported in one word. “Expensive.” There’s a hefty sin tax on alcohol. Haven’t found even a medium glass of beer for less than eight U.S. dollars. Lots of great cafes and eateries, but not much on the cheaps.

Stockholm Sunset

Stockholm0016

Water, water everywhere. Stockholm often referred to as Venice of the north.

Stockholm0012

Trees and copper spires.

Svea Viking Sightseeing Boat0050

Stern of the Svea Viking – a sightseeing boat. Below image showing the wide view.

Svea Viking0010_11

The Lonely Planet provides this blurb: “This corny but fun Viking longship – complete with burly Viking warriors – runs 1 3/4 hour trips around the inner archipeligo islands. Viking food and drinks included.” I didn’t partake. But got several shots of the harbor with this boat help framing the image.

Svea Viking0038

Svea Viking bow

Stockholm Boats 0004_1 .2

Harbor boats, Stockholm.

IL Duomo

Milan’s High Gothic Cathedral “Il Duomo,” from 1386 is having a face lift. A long needed cleaning to turn dark gray into white with hints of pink. So for now views are obscured by scaffolding. Several of the statue topped spires are complete. And looking nice. Ceremonies and services continue inside.

Bull’s Balls Worn Off

The Galleria, Milan, has Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Sherman Oaks Galleria) beat by a hundred years. The mall entrance is at 45 degrees from the Milan Duomo (Cathedral), facing the piazza. Exit The Duomo after completing spiritual obligations. Make a right hand turn and indulge in materialistic quests at The Galleria, Vittorio Emanuele II.
An array of Italian Designers retail here. But moreover, a place to see and be seen. Here you’ll see Milan is no different than many popular destinations when it comes to the ritual of tourists adopting some beloved object or icon to rub on. Here the genitals of a bull are offered. And it works like this. You find the bull’s mosaic on the mall’s terrazza. Step on the bull’s doo-hickies with one foot and perform a pirouette. Its a real crowd pleaser. All ages and genders join in. But so much fun has worn off the bull’s balls. There’s a hole, a perfect circle, marking the spot for everyone to take their turn, their spin, on his goodies for good fortune.

Milan Central & The Original “Dukestir”

The Milan Central Train Station is undergoing restoration. There’s not too much mention of this being an architecture of political statement. A looming Fascist monument. Designed in scale beyond anything human. It took more than 7 years to complete. A cavernous mountain of concrete and marble adorned with power icons. Ferocious beasts, Muscular men, angry gargoyles.
I was approached by an Italian gentleman while shooting pictures. He asked me if my interest was in the distinctive advertising displayed.
I replied it was the architecture.
He said this was a pet project of Benito “Duce” (“Duke”) Mussolini. A statement to the world about Milan’s importance as the railway hub for all of Europe. A show of Italian power.
The marble interior and barrel vault ceilings are impossibly high. A hall that breathes power. Loudspeaker announcements are like a frightening voice of God.
Yet amidst the hustle and bustle (train travel seems no less busy now than ever) there is a quiet. Sound radiates through the vast space and vanishes. The filtered sky lighting eases your senses.
Overall, an approach to architecture that occurs when a head of state is in love with the pomp and circumstance surrounding his bloated ego.

Click Clack Trolley Track

While the trolley street cars of San Diego and Los Angeles are only a memory, Milan, Italy, kept theirs from that same era in service. These vintage cars creak and clatter. They smell of fuzzy dusty machine grease oozing from joints and rivets. Doors, benches and interior siding all of varnished wood grain. A trolley driver works a worn shiny brass crank. A sign “don’t bother or harass the driver while the car is in motion.” And “trolley dodgers” are chased from tracks by a clanging bell. For three Euros ride all day–go on and off as you please. It’s a decidedly slower trip than the Underground. But the street car/trolley is a good and fun way for a tourist to enjoy a city’s scenery and street life. And the locals utilize it as well.

Trolley Servicing Milan, 1920’s. Milan Central Train Station