Saturday, August 29, 2009

An Approximate Sense of Self

I am who you think I am, I am who I think I am, I am who I am.

I was browsing the other evening through the profiles of some of the various people who have shared interests with those quoted on my own BlogSpot – I am still waiting for someone else to share ‘a stolen smile’ with! It is an interesting exercise exploring the nuances of what people choose to reveal about themselves. You make judgements, second-guess them and sometimes feel compelled to reach out, to make contact, to be certain that your perceptions were accurate.

The objective and subjective perceptions of self rarely in ordinary life coalesce to give an accurate portrayal unless, I sometimes think, it is in a man saying ‘no’ or a woman saying ‘yes’ to those eternal questions, Do you believe, do you love me, are you happy, do you forgive? The reverse gender responses do not generally hold true.

And in writers it is never true!

Bernard-Henri Lévy, the Algerian born millionaire ‘media-darling’ philosopher of the French left – I have to state here that my perception of modern Socialist/Leftist French politics, and indeed also that of the current Iranian ‘theocracy’, is akin to that of a recent amputee, who inwardly, at a cerebral cortex level at least, has a sensation of something ‘out there’ where the limb once was, moving, touching, sensing, reacting yet in reality there is nothing there, nothing of substance at least, just a memory, a memory of a once viable purpose – said in an interview with the Sunday Times Magazine some years ago that ‘writers are not as interesting as the books they write.

Is this the key?

The great books, the greatest poetry, the most beautiful music and art are all exploratory journeys of self, yet in their greatness reach or almost reach non-self, the approximate likeness of being.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rihla (Journey 7): West Cork – Hercules and the Pipistrelle

Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.

This one is about West Cork, Ireland.

What wonderful worlds words can transport you to! By their very nature they are of the moment, the present, yet each in their own way are a timeless lexicon of magic, of mystery, of descriptive pre-history when heroes and gods battled for our consciousness.

I was walking last week on Bere Island off the south west coast of Ireland. It was one of those panoramic days when the sky, land and sea were in symphony and each footpath taken became a journey into the language of the landscape. The island has an interesting pedigree in that it is the site of a Viking ‘naust’ or boathouse in Lonehort Bay but also has extensive English military fortifications and gun emplacements designed to protect the First World War Atlantic Fleet of Royal and US naval vessels that were anchored in its lee. I stopped at one point at the southern edge of the Derrycreeveen battery to read a blue metal plaque erected by the tourism authorities.

Like Ali Baba’s ‘Open Simsin’ or ‘Sesame’ the plaque was a doorway to a treasury unknown to me. It described the deserted fort as being the location of one of Ireland’s biggest colonies of Soprano Pipistrelle, the smallest Irish bat. It is called a Soprano Pipistrelle because it echolocates at 55 kHz whereas its’ Common Pipistrelle cousin (which it was confused with until 1999 when the echolocation frequency distinctions were made) echolocates at 45 kHz.

As I walked on the word 'pipistrelle' continued to evoke an enormous sense of wonderment as I had managed to get this far in my life without ever hearing it used. What was its origin?

Pipistrello is the Italian for bat. It derives from the Latin for bat, vespertilio, a creature of the evening dusk, vesper. Further exploration shows that vesper is the Latin derivative of hesperos, the Greek for the evening star Venus.

And this is where Hercules comes in.

A Statue of Hercules overlooking the Bisotun Mountain
Kermanshah, Iran

The Hesperides were the Nymphs of the Evening who inhabited a paradisiacal garden – personified by the clouds – at the western end of the world. Here were kept the golden apples from the tree of immortality that Hercules was ordered to retrieve as one of his extra two labours (a.k.a. anger management course) by Eurystheus.

The Hesperides
Hare Island Sound, West Cork, Ireland.

The following evening after discovering the pipistrelle on Bere Island I travelled a short distance by ferry to dine on Hare Island at the Cottage Inn. It was evening time and the sun was setting on another wonderful day. Venus was rising and somewhere in the shadows of the twilight I knew that the Soprano Pipistrelle was emerging to chase insects across the waters. Magic, mystery, ancient lore fuelled my imagination.

And to the west the golden clouds of the Hesperides drifted by.