Thursday, July 30, 2015

Where Nobodies are Somebody: Postman’s Park

Of all the big and wonderful things to see in London, it was this tiny park hidden away between the tall buildings that has captured my attention the most for the last few years. This Summer, I finally had a chance to visit Postman's Park.

Where Nobodies are Somebody: Postman’s Park

A quaint park is hidden on Saint Martin Le-Grand not far from the Museum of London. It is not easy to find. I knew what I was looking for, and still had a difficult time spotting the small gate leading into the park, which is sandwiched between the tall buildings. Because the civil servants ate their lunch at this location over a century ago, it is named for them. Postman’s Park is also home to the Watts Gallery. Fifty-four tiles tell sad but heroic stories of common people who lost their lives in the act of trying to save someone else. Men, women and children who ran into fires, fell victim to drowning, or were hit by trains, while saving or trying to save others are listed on these tiles.
George Frederic Watts was the painter/sculptor/philanthropist who dreamed of this Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice, and after years of lobbying it finally became a reality in 1900, when he was too sick to attend the opening.
120 spaces were laid out against a wall at the park for the placement of memorial tiles commemorating the sacrificial acts of common people attempting to save the lives of others. By 1931, fifty-three of these spaces had been filled. Then the wall stood silent and unchanged for seventy-eight years. The fifty-fourth name was added in 2009. The latest memorial tile reads, “Leigh Pitt, Reprographic Operator, Aged 30, saved a drowning boy from the canal at Thamesmead, but sadly was unable to save himself. June • 7 • 2007.”

In the movie “Closer,” Natalie Portman played a woman who took one of the names on the tiles at Postman’s Park, and created a false identity for herself around the name of Alice Ayres.
The real Alice Ayres was a hard working young housemaid, who lived and worked for the Chandler’s – her older sister’s family. They lived together above the oil and paint store owned by the Chandlers. On the night of April 24, 1885 a fire broke out in the shop, and trapped the family upstairs. Alice appeared at the window while a crowd below formed, and they shouted for her to jump, but instead she disappeared into the flames, and came back with a mattress, which she tossed onto the ground. Then she dropped five-year-old Edith onto the mattress. Twice more the crowd shouted for her to jump, as she disappeared and returned with two other children. After finally saving three of the four children, and being unable to reach the rest of the family, she attempted to jump, but was overcome by smoke and fell, hit the store sign, crashed to the sidewalk, and died two days later. Alice Ayres was twenty-five. Her death would gain national attention in the UK, at a time of growing concern over conditions of the common worker during the Industrial Revolution.
Her story would help create the momentum for George Frederic Watts’ passion to develop the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice. In 1887, Watts wrote about Alice Ayres in a plea to create the memorial space:

“The roll would be a long one, but I would cite as an example the name of Alice Ayres, the maid of all work at an oilmonger's in Gravel-lane, in April, 1885, who lost her life in saving those of her master's children.

The facts, in case your readers have forgotten them, were shortly these:—Roused by the cries of "Fire" and the heat of the fiercely advancing flames the girl is seen at the window of an upper story, and the crowd, holding up some clothes to break her fall, entreat her to jump at once for her life. Instead she goes back, and reappears dragging a feather bed after her, which, with great difficulty, she pushes through the window. The bed caught and stretched, the girl is again at the window, a child of three in her arms, which with great care and skill she throws safely upon the mattress. Twice again with still older children she repeats the heroic feat. When her turn comes to jump, suffocated or too exhausted by her efforts, she cannot save herself. She jumps, but too feebly, falls upon the pavement, and is carried insensibly to St. Thomas's Hospital, where she dies.”[1]

Seventy-six spots remain open on the memorial wall. It is not difficult to find the names to fill those spaces. There are some people who are pretenders, trying to take on the name of a self-sacrificing hero, but others are made of the simple stuff from which real heroes are crafted. Famous people, rich people, unknown people, and poor people from every tribe, religion and non-religion under the sky have self-sacrificing heroes among their numbers, and there are not enough memorials in the world to memorialize these micro-saints around us.

No soldier nor sailor by land or sea
In the bed of honour laid.
Was ever more great of heart than she.
That simple serving maid.[2]

I would be a shame to wait for heaven in order for us to see the canonization of the common man and woman to occur.

[1] George Frederic Watts, Another Jubilee Suggestion, 5 Sep 1887
[2] Alice Ayres, Poem by Emilia Aylmer Blake, 1886

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Glastonbury: following it every year

A few years back, my mid-summer started to be filled with late nights watching YouTube videos. Full sets from what is the grandaddy of great music festivals: Glastonbury filled by late nights. It is still the same, and one of these days I will get there. Who wants to join me when I go?

So each year I watch a number of the sets which have been downloaded onto YouTube, and make my personal evaluations, and critiques of "Best in Show." I am sure the video version is significantly different than the live performances, and I know that I will certainly offend fans of certain bands by posting my favs here, and my critiques of others, but here ya go --> Phil's best of Glastonbury from a great distance, with a deep hope to be there soon.

Here's who does not make it: Arcade Fire, despite some of the best of show in a few songs, they took four songs to even get going, sang out of tune for the first few, and took 12 minutes to find their groove. Coulda been best of show otherwise. Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters could easily be anywhere on the this list of ten best. The musicianship, and the unique instrumentation made it a great rainy day show. Some of the standards from Zeppelin turned into something otherworldly cool. Robert Plant doesn't actually need lyrics to sing, and that's good, because otherwise you'd get tired of hearing "Babe, baby, baby..." over and over. ;-) Foster the People - I kinda wondered where they went for this show. Dolly Parton - Dolly is the consumate pro, but was predictable. Jack White - awesome musicianship, horrible intelligibility. I'm not sure I could understand one word the whole set. James Blake was so close, and having a bit of ambient rambling should probably be here. Kasabian brought the house down, but still didn't make my cut. MGMT was a good psychedelic show and worth watching. London Grammar may have missed a few high notes, but otherwise was a really good show. The sets below are not based on the kind of music I buy, or on the hottest musicians. This is simply my thoughts on good performances at perhaps the biggest music festival in the world.

To get a view of this year's full line up, and clips of many of the artists you can go to Glastonbury's home site on the BBC.

#10 - Ed Sheeran - a solo act with a loop pedal, and a buzzing mini Martin guitar probably shouldn't make the cut, but this guy does what he does ridiculously well. Wow. Opening song might make best in show cut.

#9 - The 1975 - This was a somewhat controversial set, with cigarettes and drinking, and what looked to me like acting drunk without actually being so. And all this with a band with teeny bopper fans. But dang. They were tight, and their rhythm was so bouncy fun. Not my kinda music, but they did what they do exceptionally well.

#8 - Jurassic 5 - That's right. Old Hip-hop artists. They ripp'd it up, and that's all I've got to say about it. The full set seems to have disappeared since I watched but here is a segment of their show and it will make you feel happy.

#7 - HAIM - Girl's Rock! They make funny faces. They captivated the audience. They should have had better slots, even though they played two shows.

#6 - Ellie Goulding - Girl Rocks again! She dances like a clumsy tribal warrior, but she stays in tune hitting crazy high notes - perhaps there is a little autotune help, but I know she is not depending on it. I thought she was going to wear herself out at the 15 minute mark, but she kept it going for the whole set.

#5 - Metallica - definitely not my music. This was a controversial choice for the first heavy metal band to headline the Pyramid Stage Saturday Night slot. Otherwise, they were the headliners for the whole event. I personally thought this was going to be a yawner. Not by any chance. This was a bucket list show for them, which I thought was wonderful for such a huge band. Well, they smashed the Pyramid Stage, and in a wonderful little act of homeliness had a crowd of fans at the back of the stage. Yeah, Metallica still rules the metal stage.

#4 - Sam Smith - if you are looking for great vocals, here they are. Sam and his backup singers were the best thing I've found in these YouTube Glasto uploads. Again, not the music I will have playing while I write, but he almost made me cry. His Bass player gets beard of the festival award too.

#3 - Imagine Dragons - This Las Vegas group of Celtic Warrior wannabees played their instruments like they were going to war. They stepped out on the stage, and had me immediately. They rolled in the Glastonbury mud, and wore the mud through the whole set. These guys must be Burners, they know how to identify and initiate themselves into a festival. They had a hiccup in one song partway through the set, their lyrics are inane, their songwriting fair, but that didn't change my choice for them in the top three. These guys were made for Glastonbury. This is part 1 of 2, and I chose this instead of the Full Set, because it has their muddy entrance.

#2 - St. Vincent - okay, Girl rocks again! She can play the guitar. She can sing. She is a drama queen crawling around the stage like she's dying. She was really entertaining. Not sure where the Full Set went, since I saw it, so here's "Your Lips are Red" at Glastonbury.

#1 - Kaiser Chiefs - They played the crowd. They played the camera. They had more energy than a Chernobyl. It took the first song to get Ricky Wilson's mic set, but it was all out for an hour.

That's my list. If you watch these like I do, you can tell me I'm off my rocker. ;-)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Last year's Burning Man project was my second art installation. The picture to the right is a view of the inside of the yurt at night.

The project was called Theophony, and was a 32' diameter yurt with an open roof, art canvasses for walls, a beautiful rope weaving in the ceiling, and an interactive theremin (an instrument which is activated by proximity - you don't have to touch it to play it). We called it Theophony because it was our way of expressing God through sound.

2011 we built the Pillars of the Saints, and now we are planning build project #3.

Burning Man 2012, was the revisiting of one of my 1,000 things to do before I die (build an art installation at Burning Man). I am headed back again this year, with a third art installation in as many years. Further details on our "Crating You Self Image" will be on the way soon. So, watch for 1,000 things to do before I die to include the third installment of a dream come true.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mayan Temples: Palenque, Mexico and the End of the World

Before the world ends on December 21, 2012, I thought it might be a good idea to get a last few of the "1,000 things to do before I die" out of the way.

Looks like I will be headed to the Mayan temples in Palenque, Mexico for an End of the World Rainbow Gathering. Jinkies! That nails four in one fell swoop. Maybe five, because I will have to fly into Cancun (although I am less sure Cancun makes my list), and it will definitely cover six if I get to ride on a bus with chickens!

So here are the four "1,000 things to do before I die" that will be covered in the trip to Palenque:

1. Visit the Mayan Temples
2. Go to a Rainbow Gathering
3. Go Jungle Camping
4. Visit an apocalyptic hot-site on the anticipation moment with a bunch of believers in the event

Now, as in all things I do like this, it is not just fun and games. In fact, I always work my little-bit-larger-than-it-used-to-be pastor's bottom off during these events. I and my Burning Man buddy Jeff will be joining Cate Moon, Shlomy Goldman and a team from around the US to create God encounters at the Rainbow Gathering near Palenque.

100,000 people are expected to converge on the Mayan Temple site during the days of the end of the Mayan Calendar, and it is our goal to be a transformative grace during these days. I am sure there are few people who will wonder if the world might really end, but far greater numbers will be expecting some kind of new age transformation to occur on this Winter Solstice and the End of the Mayan calendrical cycle. It is for those people who anticipate something great to occur on a calender date that I want to be there. Most anticipated moments of global transformation turn out to be a bust, and at the end of the day people go home to find that their cat is mad that they left for so long, their spouse is still arguing with them, the kids are still unruly, the bills are still unpaid, and it is as difficult to find a job as it was before the day of great change occurred. Transformation can be a miraculous event, but it is God driven, and not calendar driven. It is sometimes a slow work of grace, and walking with God daily, and not the moment of standing in front of an ancient temple.

Is this to say we don't believe in miracles? No. It is to say that miracles are often more illusive than the one time events on our calendar. They surprise us in the night, and sometimes attach themselves to spiritual disciplines in our daily planner.

So, in honor of helping people discover these simple truths, I am going missional adventuring once again. If you would like to help support this mission in some small way you can visit The Gathering website and donate to the Palenque, End of the World Encounter. The people of our world are running to places of excitement, and looking for guidance in events and moments such as this. Through these festival gatherings we are hoping to help the world one thought, one loving interaction, one encounter with Christ, and one crazy carnival at a time.

More posts on each of the four to six "1,000 things to do before I die" to come. Perhaps you would like to join a team of missional adventurers. If so, let me know.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Guest Blogging at We Travel 2 this month

Ben Francis at We Travel 2 has graciously allowed me to be the guest blogger at We Travel 2. You can find my post about Aquitaine, French Beaches, and Bordeaux wine on the cheap on their site.

Thanks Ben! You rock?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Adventure Hoteling at The Hotel Chelsea - guest blogging

I am guest blogging at All About Travel this month and my post can be found at Ashwani Kaushik's site All About Travel. If you are a writer, or musician you definitely want to add this experience to your visits to New York City. It adds inspiration, or so it did for me.

Adventure Hoteling at The Hotel Chelsea at All About Travel

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

6 Nations Experience in Cardiff, Wales

The shopping experience at Saint David's Mall, browsing the world's oldest record store, visiting Cardiff Castle, going to the Cardiff Bay Opera House, finding a Welsh speaking pub and hanging out for good cask conditioned brew: these are few of the many things I've done in Cardiff, and I will return - hopefully many times.

Cardiff is a world class city in every way, and this is remarkable for it's size: 324,000 in the city, and 1.1 million in the surrounding area. Visiting from Ireland, England, or Scotland makes for significantly fun and cheap holidays. Last year I had the special benefit of being taken on a personal tour of the city by the recently retired city manager Byron Davies, who showed me the ins and outs of 20 years of renewal, and I am thoroughly impressed by this city of beauty, class, and absolutely no pretension.

For all the wonderful things Cardiff has to offer, there is no comparison to visiting during the pinnacle of Rugby season. During the 6 nations tournament downtown comes to life like no other time. The Welsh like their Rugby - sorry for the gross understatement - they love their "Rygbi."

On one of my trips to Cardiff I attended a 6 Nations tournament game between Italy and Wales. For those of you who know Rugby, the outcome was anticipated, with a significant thumping accomplished by the Welsh. The city was busy, vibrant, fun, and the Millennium Stadium is a place the Welsh are quite proud of. (I've been asked more than once, "Have you been to the Millennium Stadium?") It is massive, beautiful, and I don't think there is a bad seat in the house.

If you like Rugby, you have to go to Cardiff in February or March for a 6 Nations Tournament event.  If you do not, but have a close someone who does, Cardiff is a great city to be left on your own for a bit of sightseeing, culture, and yes - even shopping.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pillars of the Saints: Burning Man Re-up, a plan for art installation

After completing #7 on my list of 1,000 things to do before I die by attending Burning Man last year as part of the Spirit Dream Interpretation Cafe, I simply have to add another item to my 1,000 things to do before I die. Return to Burning Man, and build an art project on the Playa.

So below are some plans for an art project to fit with this year's theme: Rites of Passage. The title of the project is Pillars of the Saints: Passage to the Voice of the Spirit.

At this point there are 5 team members interested in joining me to help make this project a reality, and here is a design of the project below.

The first shot shows the view of the project as it would be seen from Black Rock City as it might be viewed by someone coming across the playa toward the Pillars of the Saints.  The pillars and arches represent the passage from this visible existence into a spiritual realm, and so the design incorporates a full arch in the front slowly decaying to almost nothing as someone draws close to the altar of sacrifice.

At the altar of sacrifice a person will be directed to leave behind attitudes, struggles, or anything which they consider to stand in the way of hearing the Voice of Spirit.

At the altar of sacrifice these hindrances will be written down in such a manner as they will quickly disappear. Two ideas which are being considered are: 1) having the participant write the hindrance down on flash paper which will be thrown in the fire, or 2) having them paint the hindrance in water upon a blackboard which will evaporate and disappear in the desert heat.

The wall will be filled throughout the week with writings which are statements from those who have heard the Voice of the Spirit, and shared in writing upon the wall. After the sacrificing the one's hindrance the participant will be directed to pass through the doorway to the opposite side of the wall.

On the opposite side of the wall is a set of three pillars, which will each have their own ladder. Here the participant climbs the pillar, and like the famous St. Simeon Stylites from the 6th century who sat upon a pillar to get away from the crowds who thronged him, and sought the Voice of God, the participant will face the barren desert and wait for Voice of the Spirit to speak to them.
The basic idea of this project is to wait until the Spirit speaks, and like St Simeon and many of the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers of the 3rd through 6th century not come down until they have heard the voice, which then will be written with the growing number of words upon the walls.

The art installation will be designed with enough information and directions to be self service, and at times our team will be present dressed as monks in brown robes.

This is an unmediated, self directed meditation on the Voice of Spirit art project, and a dream for Burning Man 2011: Rites of Passage. 

Whadayathink? We like it.  Thanks to our gang and all the helpful voices surrounding us: Horizon, Rocket, Mary the Goth Theologian, Matt the Pirate, Hope, Dennis, and of course the thoughtful artist behind the scenes - Jeff Menasco who added some great artful thought to this design - which of course is still in the stages of being perfected.

Below are two different variations of the pillars which will be used for sitting on.  One is a steel design, and the other is all wood.  The wood design is modeled after the square altar of sacrifice, and if used (which is the preference at this point) will be burnt with the rest of the project at the end of the event.

Below is the location for the propane tank in the altar. Others will be se tin a similar manner inside the walls of beneath the flame bowls.  The walls are 4 feet thick at the bottom, and will fit a compartment with a 100# propane tank with a fire safe compartment. These will be doorless open compartments in the walls.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

#39 - Gargoyles and Street Performers in Paris

I love Gargoyles.  The real ones.  On cathedrals.  So there are really only three words needed for this.

Paris.  Notre Dame.

I like gargoyles so much I wrote a gargoyle song.

A true gargoyle (which name comes from the French word for gurgling) is a strange creature carved of stone and used as a water spout for rain to run off on a building.  This is why they were called "gargoyles."  Today we generically use the term to refer to other carved monsters, called "grotesques" found on cathedrals and other Gothic public buildings.

Of course, there are other locations than the cathedral at Notre Dame in Paris for viewing gargoyles, but Notre Dame is a magnificently fun place.  A grand wonder of architecture with a courtyard filled with street performers, and good places to eat within viewing distance.  There are also budget hotels in Paris city centre to be found.

So, when you are in planning a trip to Paris, don't forget to make Notre Dame a good long stop, because there is a lot to see.  My trip to Notre Dame was a clear, warm summer day with a cool breeze blowing through the trees.  A flamenco guitarist was playing in the square in front of the cathedral.  There were circus performers juggling and balancing in the square, and art was openly exhibited.  There was a skateboarding exhibition happening on the wide walkway coming up to the Cathedral.

Between the fun on the way up to the cathedral, and the awesome wonder of the cathedral it should be on your bucket list.  It made my list.  I have been there done that, and can check it off my list of 1,000 things to do before I die.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Burning Man update - #7 completed!

Yes, Burning Man is a crazy experiment in radical self-reliance, and radical self-expression - sometimes too much so, but an absolute blast to be sure.  I joined a theme camp, and because we were setting up to serve expresso, and do dream interpretation during the days, we arrived a day before the opening of the gates to set up our "Spirit Dream Interpretation Camp."

I helped pull a 12 foot tall shopping cart mutant vehicle (built by Scott Veatch) from Ohio to Nevada, and back again.  Consequently my adventure was extended to two full weeks.

If you have always been wanting to go to Burning Man, all I can say is - oh yeah, do it if you can.  Yes, it is true that newbies to the event (called "virgins") are asked to roll in the fine playa dust at entrance to the gate, and (unlike some of my friends) I did not shirk my dust eating duty and initiation into the Burner world.  Hopefully I will be able to link to the video of the initiation soon. :-)

Here are a few highlights for me:  The temple and all the emotion being poured out as people wrote their dreams, fears, sorrows, and joys on the temple walls.  The Burning of the Man on Saturday night - even though there was a dust storm hindering the full experience of the burn, it was a great show of fireworks, fire spinners, and the biggest bonfire you've ever seen.  Reciting limericks in a pub which gave a free pint of Guinness to everyone who recited a limerick (our team came with 14 of them, and we turned the place upside down - as chief limerick writer I had my hand on most of those limericks actually).  Interpreting dreams and encouraging people with words of wisdom, and watching them fall apart (in a good way) in openness to the working of the Spirit.  Traveling around in the shopping cart by night, and meeting the same people we served in the Dream Camp.

Burning Man may be miles away from nowhere near Gerlach, NV in the Black Rock desert, but it seems right in the heart of our culture, and it is no wonder that has become a type of church for the 50,000 people who attend each year.

2011?  Return to Burning Man?  Maybe, I would certainly love to, but as for now I can scratch it off my list of things to do.