Monday, December 31, 2012

Syrinx by Debussy - Pan's Pipes... Le Flûte de Pan....

Syrinx - Arthur Hacker - 1892
A haunting piece of music was used in a 70's television dramatisation and from the minute I heard it all those years ago it absolutely captivated me. Shortly after that I came across a version of it performed by the flutist James Last, but with time I lost the cassette, and worse still could not even remember the title of the piece in question, despite all my attempts to follow its elusive trail ever since. I did get sidetracked by the fact that the television drama had been set in India, so I thought there was some vital Asian link.
In fact, Syrinx, written by Claude Debussy in 1913, elaborates the ancient Greek myth of Syrinx and Pan and the musicality born from their unfortunate encounter...

Debussy's ethereal music creates a plaintive, soulful sound that is literally enchanting and joyful too in all its magical beauty. It still makes my skin prickle just as it did when I was a child! It is a relatively short piece, of around three minutes in length, which seems to make it all the more haunting because it does not get diluted in any way. Syrinx was unusual for its time (just before the First World War) since it was an avant-garde solo flute performance. Originally called Flûte de Pan, it was intended to provide atmospheric background music to the uncompleted play, Psyche, by Gabriel Mourey.
Faeries -Brian Froud and Alan Lee 1978 Pan Editions
Syrinx relates the tragic end of Pan's pursuit of the nymph Syrinx and the melodious creation that results from this. Son of Hermes and a wood nymph, the bearded, horned Pan was a deity of woods and mountains, symbolizing shepherds, pastures, spring and fertility. Half-man, half-goat, Pan was one of the companions of Dionysus, the god of wine, and wished to pursue his love/lust interests. Despite being a well-endowed satyr, Pan's physique did not meet with much success and he was frequently ridiculed and his amourous advances spurned. He left Mount Olympus in order to try his luck in the rustic beauty of Arcadia, free to roam the woods with his unbridled sexuality. Still repeatedly rejected, the over-sexed goat was prone to fits of frustrated anger which would inspire panic (panikon deima) all around him. Stamping his cloven feet, he would stomp off, ready to vent his frustration in yet another amourous mission only to find his bestial love unrequited and his love interests literally slip between his fingers. Although Pan did manage to seduce the moon goddess, Selene, by concealing his hairy back, this was a solitary conquest. Spurned by the nymph Echo, who scorned the love of any male, Pan had her torn to pieces and scattered all over the world, forever repeating the words of others. As for Pitys, she was turned into a sacred mountain fir tree by the piqued Pan. Turning his attentions to Syrinx, the lecherous goat was to witness another metamorphosis when yet another potential lover fled his carnal advances. As Syrinx was a follower of Artemis, the goddess of chastity, she was little drawn to Pan the phallic god!
Not Pan, but a Scottish Urisk (Faeries - Brian Froud and Alan Lee 1978 Pan Editions)

There are variations to the sequence of events, but Pan chased the fleeing nymph who successfully escaped him until she reached the river Ladon. Finding herself in front of an unsurmountable obstacle, she begged the water nymphs to turn her into water reeds so that she could hide in the marshes.

Unable to locate his prey, Pan was only able to lay his greedy hands on the reeds. Noticing the plaintive notes produced by these through his sighs of desperation Pan cut the reeds down, using nine pieces to fashion himself a pipe to play, only then realizing that he had just killed Syrinx.

From Faeries - Brian Froud and Alan Lee 1978 Pan Editions

Although it was Ovid who first wrote about Syrinx and Pan in his Metamorphoses, but the English poet John Keats (1795-1825) also gave an account.. 
... fair trembling Syrinx fled  Arcadian Pan, with such a fearful dread. 
Poor nymph- poor Pan - how he did weep to find 
Nought but a lovely sighing of the wind
Along the reedy stream; a half-heard strain, 
Full of sweet desolation, balmy pain.

So with a haunting melody I'll say goodbye to 2012 - not a great year - and will look forward to 2013!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Dusty, unworn yet treasured... My kinky boots!

My kinky boots and dress!
I dedicate this post to my beautiful kinky boots that I bought late this summer, with great delight and without any hesistation whatsoever except over the choice of colour (teal blue or ruby red...Hmm!), despite the cost and any other practical consideration, for that matter. In fact, they were the perfect match for the dress that I bought from the same shop almost a year before, with the same impulsivity and no misgivings except one - that now concerns both dress and boots... I can't wear them!

The one and only time that I wore the dress early this summer, it (well, me wearing it, to be more precise) met with such a resounding wall of silence that I felt quite shocked! I don't wear clothes, jewellery or accessories 'for' anyone in particular except myself, but to have such a bright dress tactfully ignored was weirdly unnerving! I didn't want to let that deter me from wearing the whole ensemble - dress and boots - but it did and has still and so now my boots have become an alternative form of interior decoration. They have pride of place where they can be seen and admired by myself every day, whilst the dress is draped over a piece of furniture with the same aim!

At least they are also a great excuse to listen to the cult song - Kinky Boots - starring Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman from The Avengers. This was released in 1964, the year that I was born - maybe that provides an explanation for the deafening silence inspired by my dress and I... Mutton glaringly dressed as lamb! Well, that won't stop me liking the dress or the boots, my lovely kinky boots!

 And I'm going to listen to the song again and again...

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Les Grands Boulevards of Paris... and Animal Magic!

Au Printemps - Haussmann - Paris
This year saw us spending the dusky part of Christmas Eve visiting the Grands Boulevards of Paris to look at the prestigious window displays of the famous grands magasins. These displays were all elaborated to highlight the magnificence of these shops and the world-famous French luxury brands they sell...

Well, I'm not really a fan of big names, labels and their corresponding price tags, but in magpie style my beady, greedy eyes are drawn to anything shiny and sparkly... and if it should feature animals, all the better!

So this really was the Noël du Siècle, as the adverting slogan for Galeries Lafayette stated.

While the Bal du siècle was being played out by a menagerie in the windows overlooking Boulevard Haussmann,  the Au Printemps department store next door saw mannequins, sashaying and strutting around in sequined attire.

It should have come as no great surprise to find that the window displays, pavements and streets surrounding these grands magasins had drawn in huge crowds, despite my theory that everyone else would be preoccupied preparing themselves and the Réveillon meal.

 This just proved that the grandes vitrines perform their duty just as efficently as their creators had intended in the 19th century; to make dreams accessible to the general public and to give them inspiration... to buy.

 With the names of Dior, Chanel and Louis Vuitton emblazoned on the window displays, the inspiration of le luxe français is certainly operating its magic on a global scale, with the greatest sales coming from the Asian clientèle.

Despite their great renown, Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps were not the first grands magasins in Paris, nor were they the first to inaugurate the institution of the grandes vitrines.

Deyrolle - Rue du Bac - My FAVOURITE 'cabinet de curiosités'!
Some forty years before their arrival, there was Au Bon Marché, near Rue du Bac. This department store had a radical effect on the concept of shopping, fashion and flâneries, and consequently on the consumer habits and material aspirations of Parisian middle-class society.
Christmas bear chez Deyrolle in all his natural festive finery...
 Such was the social impact of Au Bon Marché as the "Cathedral of modern commerce" that Emile Zola used it as the basis of his novel Au Bonheur des Dames. To accommodate the large visiting clientèle during their shopping sprees, the Hôtel Lutetia was built nearby...
 Christmas polar bear at Galeries Lafayette, complete with Louis Vuitton accessories...

Although Au Bon Marché introduced an innovative form of commerce, not least with the structure of the building itself, with architectural contributions from Gustave Eiffel, it was with the later grands magasins that shopping took on a whole new meaning and opened out to an even larger public.
Louis Vuitton luggage-bearing frogs (well, what else!)
 In the 19th century, just as hoards of provincials flooded into the capital to arrive at Gare Saint-Lazare, near the grands magasins, others went much further afield...

 The company Louis Vuitton, founded in 1854, was to build its name on the need for solid, stylish luggage to withstand such travel requirements.

This year's window display at Galeries Lafayette is devoted to LV, which in turn pays hommage to the grand magasin itself through its aesthetic references to the store.

Snooty LV Afghan hound with pompom girls...
 The displays all present vintage and modern LV luggage and accessories, featuring the respective animal stars from the four corners of the world, yet all are set against a backdrop mirroring the luminous facets of Galeries Lafayette's famous glass dome, which celebrates its centenary this year.

Of Byzantine style, this magnificent stained-glass coupole dominates the store inside and out. At 33 metres in height, the structure is breath-taking today, but must have been even more so when first constructed at the beginning of the last century.

The Coupole - Galeries Lafayette - 100 years old.
For the centenary the coloured geometric forms of the Art Nouveau design were shown in all their glory by the changing lights that transform the colour schemes in a magical show. This was further enhanced by an enormous Swarovski Christmas tree of 22 metres!

 Unfortunately, from ground level in the store, the conditions were more like those on a rugby pitch - everyone was elbowing their way forward to take photos...

 Wow! A Croydon facelift à la française...
It was even worse outside - a veritable scrum - though you'd never imagine it from the photos... All the animals looked cool and collected! Not a ruffled feather in sight!

As much as she likes glitter and dazzle my daughter was not impressed by the experience at all! I assured her that she'd regret if she did not 'do' the Parisian windows!

The search for calm and a certain sophisticated order were what drove the grand urban planner of 19th century Paris, Baron Haussmann, whose name was given to the grand boulevard that houses Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps near the Opéra Garnier.

Haussmann was responsible for the huge transformation of the capital, largely obliterating 60% of the narrow, sprawling streets and alleys dating from Medieval times in order to create a city centred around a series of great axis. The most famous of these arteries must be the Champs-Elysées which radiates from the Place de l'Etoile.

  While today certain aspects of Paris may appear to be the height of luxury and chic, this wasn't always the case... Inspired by the urbanism and hygiene of London, Haussmann wished to surpass this in his native Paris under Napoleon III, during the Second Empire.

His objective was to create a Paris that would be "beautified, sanitized and greatly increased in size" and he was most determined (ruthless even) in his will to accomplish this. Whilst many people praised his endeavours, others condemned his 'Haussmannization' as the destruction of the social heart of Paris.

Criticized for his obsession with straight lines and a strict application of norms for height and style of the typical Haussmannian architecture, he nevertheless created the Paris of vast tree-lined avenues and grands hôtels particuliers that we know today.

Haussmann sought to encourage ever-greater economic growth for the capital. He did so by rendering the circulation of traffic and pedestrians more fluid through a network of clear-cut routes - be that actual roads or pavements that facilitated the bourgeois flâneries.

Always a magpie lurking somewhere amongst the jewels...
 In so doing, he also hoped to crush any possible manifestation of political uprising in the civilians as large avenues would allow access to cavalry and direct canon fire.
Two pickpockets who 'cleared me out' over Christmas!
Well, I thought the grands boulevards were an absolute riot on Christmas Eve! Mind you, this was just preparation for the following day with the Main Street at Disney!

 Here's another grand marque - again more sparkle and animal magic...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Purrfect Christmas...

Contemplative calm before the storm...

Here's Christmas again, and it has to be said that Oggie has become more sensible with all things Christmassy - well, maybe just the Christmas tree. He did manage to start digging in the bowl of icing sugar yesterday, but kindly did refrain from sneezing in it this time...

The tree itself has not yet been plundered for 'interesting' decorations (from a cat's point of view) so that apart from one white dove that had its head elegantly nimbled off, and a few baubles that were used to play festive feline football, everything is intact! This is quite an exploit and was not always the case... Perhaps he lost a little of his Russian spirit of adventure when we changed his name from Krasnogorsk (Noggin) to Oggie...

The previous two years the tree spent much of the time twitching, trembling and tumbling as Oggie went climbing through and up the very artificial branches in search of goodies. Anything and everything deemed vaguely appealing to a cat was placed higher and higher up the tree until the whole structure became so top-heavy that the slightest feline marauding would have the same result...Timber! The fairy with her glittery feathered wings was obliged to take leave since the very beginning of this failed co-habitation, but that didn't deter Oggie from intrepidly climbing up the tree, King Kong style, in search of the absent fairy Fay Wray.

 Little does Oggie know it, but for part of Christmas Day this year the cat (him) is staying and the mice (us) might be going off to play with an even bigger mouse - at Disney! While our backs are turned Oggie may get up to his own adventures or maybe dream his own stories and fairy tales...He might even be thinking up a plan of action right now...

Maybe he's going to come up with a new swash-buckling mission, Puss-in-Boots style, or maybe he'll just take inspiration from the paper cats and just sit around, decoratively, or maybe not...

Hmm... I wonder what Oggie has in mind...