Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Kairos in Croatia, aka Carpe Diem, Trogir-Style

Left: Trogir, Croatia, Town Hall. Bas relief of Croatian hero, Petar Berislavić sculpted by  Ivan Meštrović. Right: Full-size bronze statue of Ivan Meštrović sculpted by American Malvina Hoffman.

I spent the week of Labor Day in the extraordinary country of Croatia, where history lives in layers and layers and layers.  And to these ancient layers I experienced current day, living layers of history that felt so dense I found it hard to think about, hard to write about when I got home. The trip was another in the series of "sing Renaissance polyphony and see the world."  I met up with a an international group of singers, brought together by an Englishman who runs Lacock Courses, in Trogir for a week of rehearsals, followed by a free concert in the famous St. Lawrence Cathedral.

When I got back to Gotham I found myself in the Brooklyn Museum, where I had not been in more than a decade, because a niece has moved into Brooklyn, right down the block.

It is a particularly wonderful museum. One exceptional feature is the Visible Storage on the 5th floor, where you can wonder amongst lots of the collection in storage while not on display. The space has a magical feel to it, like you have passed through some secret panel at the back of a closet into a realm of secret treasures.

The treasures are behind glass--that is how they store them. But in the middle of it all was a large-as life piece of sculpture. Because of the hand gesture I first thought it was Shakespearian of some sort. But the tag identified the figure as

Ivan Meštrović.

A month ago that would not have meant anything. But I now know that he is one of the master sculptors of the 20th century. And Croatian. And I have pictures of his work in Trogir. See photo above.


Kairos Among the Winding Streets

Trogir was named a UNESCO Heritage site in 1997:

Because of the continuity of of its settlements since Ancient Greece. It is the best-preserved Romanesque-Gothic complex not only in the Adriatic, but in all of Central Europe. Trogir's medieval core, surrounded by walls, comprises a preserved castle and tower and a series of dwellings and palaces from the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods.

Even a cursory synopsis of its history (courtesy Wiki) is dense:

Trogir was founded by Greeks 3 BC.  In the 9th century there were Croatian rulers, then 1123 it was nearly completely demolished by the Saracens. But the people rebound, and prosper. 1420 they are ruled by Venice, until its fall in 1797, when Trogir becomes part of the Hapsburg Empire, which ruled until 1918 (except for the French Occupation of 1806 to 1814). After WWI Trogir, along with Croatia, gets subsumed into Yugoslavia. During WWII it was occupied by Italy until 1944, when it was subsumed into second Yugoslavia. Croatia declared independence in 1991 and when the fighting stopped in`1995, it was a sovereign nation.

One of the city's treasures is a bas relief of Kairos, from the 3rd century BC.

Kairos is the god "of the moment" of the "fleeting opportunity."

He is an embodiment of the idea of Carpe Diem, from Horace's Odes. And he is almost a symbol of the city, you can find his likeness on every conceivable souvenir.

The poet Posidippos explained the iconography of the figure:

"He walks on tiptoe with wings on his feet because he's always in a hurry; clutches a razor because he is sharper than the tips of a knife; he has a tuft of hair over his forehead but he's bald in the back because people must grab him as they approach. Once he's gone by, it is too late."

And because of the layers of Trogir, this very important Hellenistic treasure is in the Benedictine monastery of St. Nicholas. I loved learning of this impish Greek god, the embodiment of the most human of desires to not miss out, and to see it everywhere in this ancient town.

Trogir is small, with narrow winding streets. I found it a little claustrophobic, and was very glad to be staying across the bridge, where there was more space, more air.

The church of St. Peter, where we had rehearsal each day.
The view of the walled city of Trogir from my B&B in  Ciovo, across the bridge

The Kamerlengo Fortress Castle, at the end of the town
Night in the Trogir town square

The Modern Layers Amidst the Ancient Stones 
As I wandered about this intriguing Eastern European nation, I was conscious of a complex intersection of current and recent tragedies. 

The exodus from Syria, which has been going on for years,  hit a new critical point the end of August/beginning of September. The coverage was wall-to-wall on BBC.  The enormity of the suffering, the impotence of "Europe" to deal with it, were juxtaposed for me with holiday makers of every nationality on the beautiful island that is Trogir.  For the most part, my fellow vacationers looked like the solid middle class trying to enjoy its measured time away from work.  And then the enormous yachts came in. . . . 

Burning Man 2015 paralleled my Croatian sojourn, Aug. 30 to Sept. 7.  70,000 + people choosing to wonder in the desert of Nevada, searching for creativity amidst the harsh conditions of the Playa,  paralleled 100,000 + immigrants in various deserts facing daily, literal,  life and deaths situations.  The two extreme ends of the human condition weighed upon my heart.

Hope in the Turmoil of Tudor England: This was the theme of the week, devised by Patrick Craig, an English countertenor superstar.  He has an extraordinary talent to bring the historical context that music is written in to life and  is the most empathetic person I have ever met.

Patrick described--from his imagination--what it might have been like for Catholics during the English Religious Wars (I'm paraphrasing): 'So you are having your Mass at home, because the government will not allow you to worship how you wish. If there is a knock on the door--because you have been ratted out---everyone in the room would have a job: you scoop the Bible & the chalice into a basket, you help the priest into the "priest hole," you hide any music. And the music itself, from the genius of Byrd, reflected a depth of conviction combined with a frisson of people under constant siege." And most poignant of all to me: Patrick isn't Catholic.

*14 year anniversary of 9/11: This was the first 9/11 I have not be at home, the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It happened that the free concert the group was giving in the town's St. Lawrence Cathedral was on Sept. 11. And it happened that the dress rehearsal was at 3:00pm, which is 9:00am New York time.  And it happened that the first piece we rehearsed was a setting of the Lord's Prayer by John Sheppard.  So it happened that at 9:03 am NY time I was singing, "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them which trespass against us." No one ever said Christianity is easy.  And then I was more than happy to sing "but deliver us from evil . . . "

8:46 first plane hit North Tower; 9:03 second plane hit South Tower; 9:37 Pentagon hit; 9:59 South Tower falls; 10:03 Shanksville; 10:29 North Tower Falls.

The concert on September 11, 2015 in St. Lawrence Cathedral, Trogir.