John of Patmos is sleeping before he writes his Revelation:
Who’s that writin’? John the Revelator
Who’s that writin’? John the Revelator
Who’s that writin’? John the Revelator
Wrote the book of the seven seals…
…as Son House would sing. An angel tells him to write what he sees in his dream in a book. An early use of speech bubbles. The illustrations of his book, at least in the edition that is preserved in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum at the Cloisters, and known as The Cloisters Apocalypse, begin with events before the crucifixion of Jesus. In the image below, the top panel shows the Massacre of the Innocents, and the bottom shows The Flight into Egypt.
A few feet to the left of the case displaying this manuscript was another with the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, opened to show, how thoughtful!, The Flight into Egypt. No leading angel in the older one, but the newer, about 100 years after the Apocalypse manuscript, keeps the figure of Joseph in his pose of looking back to see that everything is okay.
I collect illustrated editions of two books: Candide and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and I have a particular thing for Pym. I came across this etching from a children’s, or perhaps young adult, edition of the grisly Poe novel. I imagine they edited out the “good parts.” I couldn’t quite recall whether the drawing of lots to determine who would be sacrificed to feed the other surviving crew members was followed by an actual meal, and if the hero partook, so I checked the text.
I recovered from my swoon in time to behold the consummation of the tragedy in the death of him who had been chiefly instrumental in bringing it about. He made no resistance whatever, and was stabbed in the back by Peters, when he fell instantly dead. I must not dwell upon the fearful repast which immediately ensued. Such things may be imagined, but words have no power to impress the mind with the exquisite horror of their reality. Let it suffice to say that, having in some measure appeased the raging thirst which consumed us by the blood of the victim, and having by common consent taken off the hands, feet, and head, throwing them together with the entrails, into the sea, we devoured the rest of the body, piecemeal, during the four ever memorable days of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth of the month.
In searching for the text, and yet again for illustrated editions of the book, I came upon several webpages dedicated to the “strange” pre-cognizance of Poe’s tale: it seems that forty or fifty years hence, there was a famous shipwreck that led to some castaways in a lifeboat drawing lots and eating the loser. The name of the victim was, as in Poe’s story, Richard Parker. He was a mere cabin boy, and probably didn’t know about Poe’s book, or he would probably have shipped under a different name, just in case, that is. And, of course, Richard Parker was also the name of the tiger (real or imagined) in Yan Martel’s The Life of Pi.
Life goes on, right here in Teaneck. In an area that used to be a soggy wetland, then became a debris repository for concrete fragments (from what, I don’t know) associated with the construction of the NJ Turnpike, there is now the Teaneck Creek Conservancy. I have highlighted the path of the creek.
This time of year, the White Suckers make their way upstream to spawn. We spy on them and snap pictures.
When I was a boy, late one night I watched the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana. I was keen on iguanas then too, but of course, that’s not what the story is about. Watching it again a year ago, I couldn’t stay with it, but this scene is still a hoot.
Tail end of my trip to the Delta was a short visit to Memphis, and the first stop was the National Civil Rights Museum, which incorporates the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered while he was there on a visit to support a strike by the Memphis sanitation workers. I was very pleasantly surprised by the exceptionally high quality of the place: I had expected a more standard, triumphalist, and celebratory exhibition that focused heavily on MLK, but instead I found a rich, creatively arranged multi-media exhibit that described the huge effort by many actors that made the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. The museum did not shy from presenting information on the divisions that existed in the movement, and MLK, although clearly the great leader the movement needed, was not alone in his work.
Of course, since MLK stayed there, that area of South Memphis was the black side of town in those days. Subsequently, it seems to have declined quite a bit, and today, in the numbing and depressing development cycle we call gentrification, it is being given new life. The old buildings have coffee bars, galleries, and not-too-cheap condos, and some new building are plopped into spaces where old ones have been demolished. The developers, having ignored the area for generations, are swooping in to make their kill as the grand march of capital moves into another “virgin” territory. But as with the Spanish conquistadors, there were people there already, but now they are being squeezed out. As it happens, on the drive up to Memphis, we heard this fantastic, but very depressing report on part of how this all happens today.
The pictures below were all taken in South Memphis, along the river, or Main Street.
Since I love The Blues, and have always wanted to make a visit to the American South, and since I also find rivers and floods fascinating, it was time to finally make a trip to The Delta of Mississippi. That’s not the Mississippi River delta, which is south of New Orleans, where the mighty river debouches into the Gulf of Mexico, but the oval-shaped region just south of Memphis, TN, alongside of Arkansas, with the Mississippi River separating them.
The region is pancake-flat, and is bordered on the east by hills, on the west by the river. The Mississippi has changed course over and inundated the region for millennia, and it is intensely fertile. After the American Revolution, it became the site of some scandalous criminal land speculations, e.g. the Yazoo Strip Affair, and after the Civil War, clearing the hardwood forests and converting it to cotton farming proceeded at a rapid clip, with the support of Uncle Sam in the form of massive flood control works to protect the farming operations. So much for Southern states’ resentment of federal intervention: as long as the pork rolled in and nobody interfered with their “peculiar” institutions, e.g. slavery, and then Jim Crow, Washington D.C. was fine in their books. You can read more about the how the river and the people interacted with the land in this interesting treatment.
Furthermore, I don’t just love The Blues: I am very partial to the old fashioned, traditional, Delta Blues, the acoustic music that travelled north in the Great Migration, with people such as Muddy Waters, where it landed in Chicago and got electrified, eventually winning a huge audience in the UK, whose rock and roll invaders brought it back to us making it wildly popular among white audiences here too, at least for a while. When The Beatles were interviewed at an airport upon their first arrival in the USA, a reporter asked who were their favorite American musicians, and among those volunteered by Lennon was Muddy Waters, unknown to the reporters. “You don’t know who your famous people are,” quipped Lennon.
The two pictures below are from Stovall’s Farm, a plantation where McKinley Morganfield lived, worked, and played, before he got the confidence to up and leave for the North, as so many other black people had done. His cabin stood on this site, but has been moved to a local museum: ZZ Top (I don’t know their music, but they know their Blues!) made an electric guitar out of one of its planks, and used it to raise funds for the restoration of the cabin. The state of Mississippi eventually got on board the Blues Train, and set up a Blues Trail, with historical markers up and down the region, especially along Highway 61, which Dylan “revisited” in his smash hit record. (Highway 61 figures in quite a number of Blues songs, as it runs the length of the Delta, and beyond.)
This cabin below is just next to the Muddy Waters site: it wasn’t his cabin, but it looks as if it could have been! As my wife remarked, it looks like “it’s right out of central casting!”
We based our visit to the Delta in Clarksdale, where there are lots of places to eat and hear music, great music, and in a relaxed, laid back environment that is wonderful. We stayed in the very nice Delta Bohemian Guest House, where our comfortable room had a tub, plumbing fixtures, and tiled floor, that thrilled me. (I understand that not everyone shares my enthusiasms.)
Needless to say, it is Mississippi after all, the area is rather economically depressed. These shots in Shaw, MS, where I stumbled on the Blues Trail marker for Honeyboy Edwards, a favorite of mine, capture the atmosphere nicely.
Further south is the not particularly interesting town of Greenville, MS, which was the center of a lot of literary activity as well as a devastated area during the momentous flood of 1927, the relief effort for which, incidentally, catapulted Herbert Hoover to the presidency. The museum about the flood, the greatest natural disaster in US history, I believe, was closed, but I did manage a brief rain soaked stroll along the top of the levee.