The Roofless Church (New Harmony III)

Most churches I know make a clear claim about what they stand for. As one might expect, the Roofless Church of New Harmony, designed by architect Philip Johnson, is a bit different:

Trees, a brick wall, and behind all that, a hump. That is what it looks like from the outside.

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The distinction between outside and inside is already misleading. There is a proper wall on one side, a gate on the other, a door hidden by smaller piece of wall behind on the third side,

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and a large balcony on the fourth, with a view onto a lake. This gives the enclosure of the church the semipermeability of a skin, both offering protection and letting breathe.

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The interior is simple: A fountain, a few sculptures, no amenities like benches, chairs, or altar. The ambiguities continue with what I called the hump: It is a second enclosure, a large dome made out of cedar shingles, resembling both a bell and a flower that seems to hover over the earth.

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The appearance and the material are organic, but its function is to enclose sound. Lacking human visitors, birds have taken to it, exploring the echo of their voices. 

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I liked this place a lot. There is no force that locks you in or out. Wall and bell coexist in a paradoxical, perfect balance. It is your choice to feel inside or outside, to speak or to be silent.

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The Other Labyrinth (New Harmony II)

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New Harmony has an interesting history. If was founded by a religious group, the Harmonists, in 1814, and sold in its entirety to Robert Owen and William Maclure in 1825, who created an experimental community, offering a public school and library. While this community project failed, many people stayed on, and new and old traces of the traditions are still visible in this town.

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The Harmonists were fond of labyrinths for spiritual enrichment. The original version is gone, but there is a replica from 1939 that one can walk.

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There also is a marble floor plan of a more complex labyrinth. In its reflection, a third labyrinth becomes visible: The Athenaeum, designed by the architect Richard Meier. It is a labyrinth both in its interior and exterior.

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The term labyrinth is sometimes used specifically for the unicursal mazes used for meditation. The mythical purpose of the labyrinth was, however, to contain the Minotaur, and I don’t think a unicursal labyrinth would have helped.

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In the third volume of Julia Golding’s remarkable Companion Quartet, the author adds a twist to the labyrinth metaphor: Connie, the hero, has special abilities, she can bond with mythical animals. When evil forces (required ingredient in most children’s books) threaten to invade the maze of her mind, she makes a Minotaur to its sentinel. 

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In the fourth book, she faces the ultimate evil against which she cannot win, by definition. Her solution is mind bending: She lets it inside her labyrinth and makes it part of herself, becoming a new person.

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On top of  Richard Meier’s amazing building is a narrow bridge like passage, connecting the stairs that lead to the outside labyrinth with the winding stairs that lead inside.

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The Fence Had a Hole (New Harmony I)

The soul pattern of a bridge is a straightforward one, we use it to cross from one state into another. I have mentioned related patterns before, that of multiple crossings and that of the arch. Today we talk about the pattern of the closed bridge.

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This is the Harmony Way Bridge over the Wabash River in the town New Harmony (about which we’ll learn more next time). The bridge opened in 1930 and was used as a toll bridge, and was designated as structurally deficient, and has been closed since 2012.

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It has been clearly adorned with warnings, as you can see. But somebody cut a hole into the fence, and those who know me can guess what happened.

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Which brings us to the point of this pattern: A closed bridge can be used for crossing, but there is a price to pay. You don’t cross such a bridge casually, you hesitate.

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Angelopoulos’ mindshattering film The Suspended Step of the Stork distills this moment of hesitation. What happens in us when we consider to leave, to cross over? 

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Standing there, looking back, and looking forward can last an eternity. Don’t do this often.

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Revisiting Benton’s House (Utah 2019 V)

I have already written about Benton’s House for special needs cats four years ago. This year, we’ve revisited them.

While the world hasn’t changed for the better since, it was reassuring to see that the people at the Best Friends Animal Society still show the same dedication and compassion as four years ago.

This time they let us help with cleanup, cat walking, and general socializing.

If not for Benton’s house, they’d be euthanized by now.

In other cultures, these would have been goddesses.

Upper Namring 2019

There is a lot to say about a good cup of tea (and a good book). It’s time for my yearly post about the new First Flush Darjeeling teas.

My main source this year is again the Tea Emporium. I like that they are located directly in Darjeeling, use a traditional packaging, and have been consistent in quality over many years.

My favorites this year are the earliest invoices, in particular the invoice 3 from Upper Namring above.

Above are the leaves from 2018 and 2019 in comparison. I can’t see much of a difference, but the taste and smell this year is much more intense-floral.

Just before you steep the tea, rinse the leaves with near boiling water for a few seconds and smell them. There is nothing like this.

The Flow of Time (Utah 2009 IV)

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What if we had the opportunity to thaw, say 100 years after our death, and, for possibly only a limited time, contemplate and re-valuate our life and its historical context? Would we seek revenge or make amends?

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The flow of time is a tricky thing. Can we stop or even reverse it?

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This already is an intriguing topic, but Evgenij Vodolazkin in his novel The Aviator aims deeper: How does life gain meaning? Does it come from isolated actions of singular importance, or from repeating seemingly insignificant chores?

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Sometimes the timelines of several people can fuse in order to tell a story. 

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Warmly recommended.

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The Chapel (Utah 2019 III)

A little way east of Kanab, along Highway 89, is a popular roadside attraction called the Toadstool Hoodoos. The short trail takes you through a somewhat desolate landscape.DSC 2013

You might encounter children running around and screaming sandwar! and the like, which makes you wonder whether they just toppled all the hoodoos over.

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Most peaceful people come to enjoy the landscape above and hoodoos like the ones below. 

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For me, the main attraction however is a little secluded space at the far wall of the plateau that I called the chapel.

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If it was made by humans, I would call it an intriguing piece of architecture. You can see it as a face or a heart, it is both closed and open.

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The interior has some pre-human wall art to contemplate the passing time.

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Nobody ever goes there.

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