Symbology in Tarot – part I

During their long hours of boredom between their skirmishes with many foes , the Christian Knights of the Crusades—spared by their high social standing from the menial tasks for survival—liked to play cards with each other and with guests from different nationalities in their fortified redoubts, including the Mamluk Egyptians. The Mamluk Sultanate, based in Cairo, was a Sultanate with strong trading ties to their neighboring nations, including the contested Palestine of the Middle Ages. They inherited many cultural assets form Antiquity, including the Tarot card game.

Surreptitiously introduced in their baggage on their way back home—the European Continent was in the grip of the ultra-reactionary Inquisition that frowned upon almost any vehicle for having “a little fun”—the illustrated cards made their way to the polite nobility gatherings in Bologna, Vicenza, Milano, etc. Eventually some ingenious operators assigned values to some symbols—the divinatory Tarot cards. The earliest patterns of the cards represented Batons, Coins, Swords and Cups; the first documented set of cards appeared between 1440 and 1450 in Milano, Ferrara, Firenze, and Bologna; the Italian Wars disseminated the game all over the continent.

The Visconti-Sforza nobles of Milano—the very same ones that barbarically ate with their hands, which prodded a shocked Leonardo to invent the fork—commissioned the design of a tarot-like 60-card pack with 16 card sporting images of the Roman gods and suits depicting four kinds of birds. The 16 cards were labelled as “trumps” in allusion to the “triumphs” of the generous duke—a little deference for his gesture. Soon there were several Italian regional variants—like the Piemontese, Bolognese or Sicilian Tarocco—the French Tarot of Marseilles, the Swiss 1JJTarot, etc.

The 78-card Tarot deck used by experts has two separate line-ups:

  1. The Major Arcana: seat of the big secrets or trump cards. It consist of 22 cards without suits that represent The Magician, The High priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Lovers, The Chariot, The wheel of Fortune, The devil, the Hanged Man, The Tower, the Sun, the Fool, etc. There are 21 numbered cards using Roman numerals; the Fool is the only one without one.
  2. The Minor Arcana: seat of the lesser secrets. It consists of 56 cards, divided into four suits of 14 cards each.

The Major Arcana cards represent the major stations of human life as we go on living; they represent all the archetypical situations encountered by The Fool (our proxy traveler) along the Roads of Life, starting at number 0 (himself) up to number 21. When one of these cards appear, something is afoot and we must pay extreme attention to it.

The Minor Arcana is divided into four suits: wands, pentacles, swords, and cups. They are supposed to complement the information provided by the trump cards and focus our attention into possible opportunities and/or avoiding harmful situations.

Aleister Crowley—inventor of the Troth deck—said: “The origin of the pack is very obscure…The only theory of ultimate interest about the Tarot is that it is an admirable symbolic picture of the Universe, based on the data of the Holy Qabalah.”

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

 

 

The Mystic Wanderer – Part II

One afternoon many years ago we were feeling bored in our Paris hotel room and, on the spur of the moment, decided to hit the street to visit the Montmartre quarter. After getting out of a taxi at its base, we walked up the hill where our favorite Parisian church lies: the Sacré Coeur. The beautiful Romano-Byzantine style church can be seen miles away at the top of what Parisians tenderly refer as “la Butte”; that hill was the scene of a firing squad liquidation of several priests during the popular uprising known as La Commune de Paris in 1871. After the revolt was tragically put down, the city and religious authorities built it to “expunge that memory” and atone for the Communards‘ sins.

After leisurely watching passers-by and tourists swarming the beautiful Place du Tertre (where there are many amateur artists that prepare great portraits) and savoring two crêpes from a famous “little hole in the wall”, we  slowly walked downhill until we reached the Place Blanche where the Moulin Rouge stands. We bought an ice cream and nonchalantly walked around peeking at the shop windows and the marquees of mini-theaters where “oversized bi-gender anatomies” are displayed. As it was getting cold, we decided to go to the nearest taxi stand to patiently queue up with other tourists.

While standing at the queue, we noticed that in a dark corner across the street a group of young men were harassing an old hag; she tripped with a bag and fell, lying defenseless at their feet. She looked like one of the old gypsies squatting in street corners to read tourists’ palms. Incredibly, not a single policeman was beating the street at that time.We immediately crossed the street and firmly confronted them in French for their abject behavior; even though we were out-numbered, the cowards quickly  took off in a jiffy. We helped the destitute woman with haggard looks and a run-down flowing skirt to stand up and collect her belongings; her smell of untidiness almost knocked us down.

-“Are you hurt?” we asked her. “Do you want to go to a hospital?”

-“No, thanks, I’m fine, “ she replied with a crackling accent that smacked of a Slavic origin. “I just want to go home. My bus stops over there,” she said, pointing at a darkened corner down Boulevard de Clichy where more trouble might have been surely lurking .

Without hesitation, we told her that it could be dangerous and that we would offer her a taxi ride at our expense; the fact that she lived in the distant suburb of Saint Dennis made us briefly hesitate. But watching her calamitous state, we carried on. We approached the taxi stand’s attendant (it was a touristy site with lots of clients) and made arrangements to pay in advance for her ride home; we gave the driver and the attendant a good tip apiece so they would take proper care of that poor woman.

We escorted her to the back seat of the spacious car, and we put her stuff in the trunk. Before the taxi took off, we leaned over the open window to say good-bye to her. She suddenly grabbed our right hand; we felt a jolt of electricity like we never did.

-“Thank you for your generosity, Mystic Wanderer…You do a lot of good to many people, even those you do not know. Like me…You’ve earned the protection of good spirits.”

-“Er…”, we mumbled. “Have we met before?”

-“I know who you are…You have a special halo that gives you immediately away.”

-“Mmm…Someone said the same thing to me in New York some years ago—”

-“Let me give a little present to treasure…You were committed twice but they were not the love of your life…A beautiful sorceress will steal your heart and seduce you.”

-“Really?” we shot back with a touch of derisive sarcasm. “Where is she, eh?”

-“She hasn’t been born yet…And she will be coming from the East…Beware.”

With a final caress, she departed in the speeding taxi, leaving us dumbfounded.

That incident occurred more than twenty years ago but it still troubles us deeply. Just in case, we always peek at the distant horizon in an Easterly direction.

En tout cas

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

 

 

Are we becoming indifferent to Death?

-“Doctor…my mother got infected in her New Jersey nursing home— she died alone.”

The patient (whom we will not identify even with a fantasy name) mentioned this terrible piece of news “a la pasada” [i], without even a hint of emotional angst. We do not doubt that, whatever the circumstances of their bonding, she might have been saddened by the loss, compounded by the cruel isolation of the pandemic. However, her tone of voice clearly expressed the exhaustion we suffer with the interminable list of new infections and deaths in the USA, the hardest hit country due to Public Health mistakes.

We must confess that we personally do not watch or read the about the latest developments all day long, every day. In the morning we dutifully peruse the online editions of The Washington Post and The New York Times while we are having some breakfast. When we are working in our office we might alternatively tune in to radio programs from France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, and Uruguay. Finally in the evening we watch the news in CNN, RAI, France 2 and Telefe for two hours. Really? That much?However, in the late evenings we prefer to enjoy a Netflix series or a movie. On Sundays we read the papers in the morning and then binge-watch all kind of sports.

Even tough we are well informed about the daily tally of victims in many parts of the planet, we noticed that we are becoming a little bit more numbed every day to the sheer magnitude of the terrible sanitary and economic tragedy we are bearing. Recently we were shocked when we learned that a parking attendant in the Miami facility (where we do consulting work) had contracted the disease and passed away a few days later. However, we are trying hard not to be overwhelmed by the daily stories of suffering. Sadly, it might be the only way to control our anxiety and remain operational for the daily tasks we are supposed to carry on with integrity, endurance, and expertise. Given that this pandemic will last many more months, how will we end up emotionally?

There are a few critically important books that you read early on and then for some catastrophic circumstances like this pandemic, you feel obligated to go back to. The short novel L’étranger [ii]created by Albert Camus early on his career is one of them. We first read it in one of our clandestine raids of our dear father Mario’s library and we absolutely did not like it due to its unabashed nihilism throughout its pages. We  forgot about it until two years ago our son Giani gave us another copy as a gift. We looked at it with curiosity but put it in a bookshelf without much afterthought.

During the forced Social Isolation we have endured, we snooped at many books we have largely ignored, for various reasons; it did not take long to catch our attention. There was and still is a good reason: its brutal nihilism is in sync with our mood. The central character, succinctly named as Meursault, is a lower level functionary in the French bureaucracy of colonized Algeria that commits an irrational crime in an ordinary day and is tried for it. The narration is anchored by three major instances of indifference:

  1. Indifference No.1: the death of his mother. The book start with this line: “Today, mother died. Or yesterday, I can’t remember.” [iii] The initial 30 pages are filled with he mechanically detached account of his “participation” in his mother’s funeral, without ever expressing a hint of sadness or desperation.
  2. Indifference No.2: the killing of the Arab. During a Sunday outing to the beach with friends, Meursault provokes a fight with an innocent and murders him. The exact moment of the crime is described as: “all my being tightened up and I wrapped my hand around the revolver. The trigger ceded…” [iv]
  3. Indifference No.3: the end of his life. After the initial deception of being condemned to death, instead of being acquitted with a short prison sentence, Meursault accepts his end with resignation. The book ends like this: “In order for everything to be consumed, in order for me to feel less lonely, the only thing I had left was to hope that there would be a lot of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet with shouts of hate.” [v]

Meursault is marked by a triple indifference that conveys the idea that there is no sense in human existence and that we should not waste any time trying to find it. He incarnates the philosophical movement of Existentialism that was totally seducing  the European intelligentsia when the book was first published in 1942. Dismissing the great humanistic heritage of the Old Continent and the religious experiences of many faiths, that intellectual mode infected and paralyzed many learned spirits. Why bother to study, work, make families, etc.,  if everything is finally senseless? Better do nothing and rest.

There are two major ways in which the same Albert Camus renege from that failing philosophical stand. First of all, his prose—initially considered too simple and worthy of a simpleton by the French intellectual mandarins of that time—shows a richness of details that turn it into a truly sensorial tour de force. In the program L’heure Bleu [vi] of Radio France Inter for four consecutive days they presented a recording of the very same Camus reading chapters of this book. His clear voice, his rhythmic progression of the story and his unrelenting enthusiasm showed that he was satisfied with his writings, for which he had certainly invested a lot of time and efforts. Nothing is casual there.

Camus died prematurely after a fatal car accident that fortunately spared his kids. He showed until the very end of his life an uncompromising intellectual stand and participated in progressive causes, surely minding the future of his children. He nonetheless believed that Algeria, his country of birth, could remain as a French colony, albeit with many civic and economic improvements for natives. Until today. Algerians have a difficult, ambivalent attitude towards his figure and influence in their society.

After reading several books that he wrote later, we believe that Camus outgrew that initial phase of Existentialism and he came to appreciate Life’s value. Similarly we must understand that one day this horrible pandemic will cease, and we will be able to resume our lives, albeit in a rather modified and weird way. The fact that Death is so omnipresent in our daily lives does not mean that we have to give up living and working towards the future of our children; on the contrary we must strive more forcefully to create a much better society for them. Thank you Giani for giving us this opportunity.

Featured image is a famous scene form Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Death and Antonius Block chose sides for a game of chess.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23256490

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

 

References

[i] Expression in the Castilian language that would mean: “something done as if you were passing by it and peeking from the side of your eye.” It gives an idea of emotional detachment, of hurriedness, of not really caring about it.

[ii] Albert Camus, L’étranger, Editions Gallimard, Paris, 1942.

[iii] Ibidem as above. Page 9. Our translation.

[iv] Ibidem as above. Page 93. Our translation.

[v] Ibidem as above. Page 93. Our translation.

[vi] https://www.franceinter.fr/emissions/l-heure-bleue

Does a Parallel Universe really exist?

We must thank Gian Luca, our son, for bringing this material to our attention.

There are various intriguing phenomena that we may now consider as being part of the practical dustbin of “the supernatural”. which go against the accepted scientific evidence, and thus are summarily dismissed as “not serious” by the public media.  However, we must remember that humans first observed some “weird” physical events before finding the proper scientific explanation, i.e. Newton’s falling apple. There might be others waiting for the right kind of proofs to confirm or refute them. The existence of one—or several—parallel universe(s) is precisely a case in point.

In a New Scientist interview of Dr. Peter Gorham, working in the NASA’s Antarctic Impulsive Antenna (ANITA), the expert said that they had found evidence that some neutrinos—high-energy particles—were coming up—and not down—from the Earth’s surface, as the laws of gravity would indicate; it happened in 2016 and 2018. Together with his colleagues of the IceCube project, they watched a giant balloon full of antennas hover above the frozen landscape to measure any landing particles. A subsequent press release said: “ When the ANITA events were detected, the main hypotheses were an astrophysical explanation (like an intense neutrino source), a systematics error (like not accounting for something in the detector), or physics beyond the Standard Model.” They said that it could a case of “exotic physics” (sic)

In their peer-reviewed paper on this issue, the IceCube group of scientists said: “we test the hypothesis that these events are astrophysical in origin, possibly caused by a point source in the reconstructed direction. Given that any ultra-high-energy tau neutrino flux traversing the Earth should be accompanied by a secondary flux in the TeV-PeV range, we search for these secondary counterparts in seven years of IceCube data using three complementary approaches. In the absence of any significant detection, we set upper limits on the neutrino flux from potential point sources. We compare these limits to ANITA’s sensitivity in the same direction and show that an astrophysical explanation of these anomalous events under standard model assumptions is severely constrained regardless of source spectrum.”

The mendacious use of a euphemism like “severely constrained” is a lame attempt to hide what is starkly obvious: with the present tools, scientist cannot understand it.

At the time of the Bing Bang—which created our universe—did another universe appear that is the mirror image of ours? A space where positive is negative, left is right, and time is running backwards? Can we hop into it to go back in our History?

Do you remember the clock going backwards in the opening scene of The Twilight Zone?

Note. The featured image depicts the great actor Lee Marvin in the 7th episode of the Third Season of one of the most memorables series of American TV, The Twilight Zone. Our family anxiously awaited for each new episode to air in Canal 4 of Montevideo. In those quaint times, families clustered around a single TV set to share the communal experience. We gawked, we laughed, we cried, we screamed together. All together.

And we were so much happier.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

 

The symbology of Silence

“Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.”

Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

One of the most anguishing and troubling plays in modern theatre centers around two “losers” called Vladimir and Estragon waiting for the arrival of a mysterious Godot who keeps sending messages that he will show up but never actually does. They represent two human beings that do not know why they are living in first place; this is a resiliently disturbing question that keeps popping up during the pandemic.

Waiting for Godot [i] was initially published in French by Samuel Beckett in 1952 and became the first success of the Theatre of the Absurd; some critics have interpreted it as a product of Existentialism that proclaimed that life had no rational meaning and that we should not waste time trying to find any, even with religions. For all their miserable existence, the two central characters—usually represented as tramps—cling to the assumption that Godot—the representation of God or other altruistic meaning of life—will eventually appear and give answers. At the end of the play, dismissing the despairing nihilistic message that Beckett had intended to convey, many of us have emotionally identified with the two tramps who finally rose above their banality. Seeking answers for our existence, we are all as destitute as them.

In these times of enforced Social Isolation, the hitherto boisterous venues of Life—the quarterly streets, the public transportation, the work offices—have been deserted of all the varied sounds from the human presence —their conversations, their laughs, their exclamations. Seizing the opportunity, Silence has tyrannically filled all those spaces.

However, there are interlopers from our past that dare to show up uninvited. Even though we might be busy during the “staying at home” mandate working at a distance, doing homely duties, parenting tasks, neglected tasks/repairs, etc., there is always a critical moment when the abetting “nothingness” invites memories that for some clear or intriguing reasons, we usually store in the back of our minds.

A few days ago, I suddenly stopped typing on this laptop because one of the memories from the most painful day of my life—when my mother Gladys had passed away and we were in her wake—brutally came crashing down on me. Right before the time to close her casket came, we were asked to leave the room. Being the last one to exit, I had a change of heart halfway down the hallway. I turned around and returned with decisive strides. Once back in the room, I gently leaned over my dear Mommy to caress her beautiful hair and slowly kiss her saintly forehead.

“Hasta luego, Mamá ”, I whispered to her.

I knew then that I was not saying goodbye to her at all . Only “see you later.” I had the feeling that Gladys was rightfully, peacefully entering into another world, after working and , being such a uniquely empathic person, suffering for all her family members.

We must push back against the paralyzing inertia that may be poisoning our spirits with the renewed expressions of humanly endeavor filled with affection and hope.

Women have always been of paramount importance to carry out this task.

Let us give them the much-needed respect and consideration they deserve.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

(This article is based on our upcoming new book “Emotional Frustration – the hushed plague”)

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

[i] Samuel Beckett, En Attendant Godot, Les Editions de Minuit, Paris, 2002.

Have you lost faith in Mankind?

“Il y a plus dans les hommes des choses à admirer que des choses à mépriser »[i]

La Peste, Albert Camus [ii]

There are books that seem to be ageing in a dishonorable way—once deemed as essential reading, they nonetheless begin to show their little decadent details like a former belle that is cruelly being assaulted by the passing of time—and we nervously store them in the attic of our Subconscious mind, dismissing their tough messages. We know that they deal with resiliently pertinent issues, but we rather ignore them. La Peste, penned by the 1954 Nobel Laureate Albert Camus, is indeed one of them.

Written in 1947, right after the end of World War II, it was supposedly a tale of how a seemingly supernatural phenomenon out of the Dark Times can ravage the human communities and in its aftermath provoke little redeeming changes in Humankind; however, it had a much more profound and relevant message for the contemporaries of Camus. In a January 11, 1954 letter to Roland Barthès , the writer acknowledged the allegorical reference to the sudden Rise and Fall of Nazism, which had destroyed and traumatized the European communities. We must remember that intellectuals of the 20th century were flabbergasted that such a ghastly machine of mass extermination could have been spawned by Germany, one of the finest cultures of the Continent.

In Oran—then the second largest city of French Algeria—a physician called Rieux blew the whistle when he discovered many sick individuals in his ward consultations. The epidemic seemingly came out of nowhere and rapidly destroyed the social, economic and administrative fabric of the prosperous city port in just a few weeks. In the beginning the city inhabitants were reluctant to accept the Public Health threat as they could not face their own mortality and preferred to cling to their “normality.” Slowly but steadily all the warts of human nature begun to surface for all to see.

One sick patient paradoxically rejoiced in the sickness of others as a way to mitigate his own miserly solitude with a perverse schadenfreude [iii] that undervalued Life. A priest said in a sermon that the scourge was God’s penance for the parishioners’ sins. Many civil administration’s cadres abandoned their posts for the safety of isolation. Other individuals preferred to party before the inevitable demise would befall them. Dr. Rieux viewed the pest as “une interminable défaite” [iv] and was ready to give up.

Then there is the redeeming character of Rambert, who after trying to escape from the city in the beginning, decided to stay on to help the suffering. He reminded us of Katow, one of the central characters of La Condition Humaine [v] , who sacrificed his life for the sake of his companions. Ever since we read Malraux’s book in the Alliance Française, the train whistle—marking his cruel immolation in a cauldron by the Chinese Nationalists forces that had captured the political activist—has provoked an uncontrolled shiver from head to toe in our physique. But it also epitomized the great capacity of many people to surmount selfishness to help others.

One of the most terrifying constants in this book is the gradual yet unrelenting encroachment of the silence in places hitherto fully occupied by human activities. All the physicians still practicing in these terrible times are overcome with a sickening feeling in our stomachs when we traverse sections of hospitals that used to be bustling with patients and personnel—like children’s wards—and we only hear our steps’ echo. Moreover, when we learn that one of our colleagues has fallen due to the disease, we have mixed feelings of sadness for the loss but also pride for their sacrifices. Only in Italy, more than 100 physicians and 30 nurses have passed away recently.

Most of us have a relative, friend or neighbor that was infected while they were on duty as first responders in the police, fire stations, pharmacies, supermarkets, etc. Thanks to them, we are duly supplied with services and goods in our social isolation. Without the continued support of county, state and federal authorities, our country cannot weather this terrible calamity and recover a semblance of “normalcy” after.

In this so, so sad Easter, Pope Francis gave a mass, seated on an illuminated podium in the middle of a totally deserted Saint Peter’s square, to a TV audience on Friday. Instead of the elaborate Via Crucis [vi]—traditionally held in the Colosseum[vii] with the thirteen stations of the Cross—there was only a small procession of caregivers and jail personnel that offered a simple wooden cross to the Pope at the very end. The Pope, after all just another human being with all his frailties, stood up and accepted it with a resigned look but also a fierce resolve to keep on fighting. In his most sad homily, Pope Francis urged us not to keep wallowing in dark thoughts and dream about a better future for mankind. Will we be able to heed his recommendation? Coraggio.[viii]

The heroic example of thousands of humans should make us reconsider our lives.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

(This article is based on our upcoming new book Emotional Frustration – the hushed plague)

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

References

[i] Can be translated as : “there are more things to be admired than disdained in men.”

[ii] Alber Camus, La Peste, Paris, 1947, Editions Gallimard.

[iii] Term in the German language that means “find joy in the disgrace of others.”

[iv] Term in the French language that means “the never-ending defeat.”

[v] André Malraux, La Condition Humaine, Paris, 1933, Editions Gallimard.

[vi] The Via Crucis or the Via Dolorosa is the path taken by Jesus Christ and his tormentors through the streets of Jerusalem to reach the Golgota, the infamous hill where he was crucified by the Romans.

[vii] The name of the massive arena where the Romans had their games, ceremonies and gladiators’ encounters, located in the center of Rome.

[viii] Term in the Italian language that means “courage.”

After the pandemic, how will our world look like?

“Bocca baciata non perde ventura, anzi rinnova come fa la luna.” [1]

Decamerone u il Principe Galeotto, Giovanni Boccaccio [2]

In 1348, at the peak of the worst pandemic the world has ever known (the Black Plague or Bubonic Plague that decimated the population of the planet with approximately 200 million victims) a group of young women and men escaped from the ravaged city of Florence and took refuge in a countryside villa. In order to bear their forced social isolation, they each narrated a different tale every night for two weeks—except one day of housekeeping and the religious holidays—which eventually resulted in a hundred tales ranging from the comic to the tragic. Thus goes the script of The Decameron, a seminal book of Italian Literature, which heralded the coming of the Renaissance in a world that had been dominated by Feudalism before the pandemic.

Heavily influenced by Numerology and Mysticism, Boccaccio expressly chose seven (7) young women who represent the following:

  1. Four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Virtue, Temperance and Fortitude.
  2. Three theological virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity.

The three (3) young men represent theological virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity. [3]

Using the allegorical writing method of Dante Alighieri, this author engaged in a satirical critique of the then prevailing socio-economic-political parameters, heavily influenced by the rancid patriarchal institutions from feudal forms of administration and the Catholic Church. The exaltation of the necessary commercial values—like intelligence, astuteness and sophisticated values—is a common thread in these tales; up to that moment the European societies were dominated by only piety and loyalty.

The name Decameron is a composite of two classical Greek terms: deka (ten) and hemera (day) The subtitle of this work is a solid reference to Gallehault, a fictional king of the tale of Lancelot; he arranged the first clandestine meeting of Guinevere, King’s Arthur wife, with his friend and bodyguard, thus abetting their tragic affair. In a provocatively subversive way, Bocaccio elevated the figure of this prince to underline the hard indenture of women to the wishes of all their paternal figures. The escape of Guinevere represented the possibility of movement, of love, of freedom.

After their forced isolation from the plague ended, the European citizens came out determined to build a better society with more liberal values and tolerance for diversity, including the participation of women in some community affairs. The Dark Night of feudality was rapidly wiped off by the coming of the Renaissance.

What kind of world will emerge after the passing of the COVID-19 pandemic?

We are now living both a humongous sanitary and economic crisis at the same time. Whomever thinks that we can go back to what we had hitherto considered as “the normal” is engaging in a most dangerous delusion. For example, the evident lack of proper preparedness regarding the needed stocking of emergency supplies of protective gear and ventilators exposed the disastrously short-sighted budgets cuts of governments. Who will publicly defend the skimping on the critical social investments in order to have a dangerously low “supply on demand” policy for “just on time delivery”? That has condemned thousands of patients to a lack of efficient respiratory therapy and medical providers and care personnel to a deficient protection by disposable gear. The civic organizations and political institutions must pressure the foolish “bean counters.”

Most epidemiologists believe that the initial host of this  dangerous virus was a bat, as had been the case with the Ebola, SARS and MERS infections; the bats are known carriers of many of these organisms, which do not sicken them, but reproduce inside them. Then one day the virus found the opportunity to jump into another animal, and then into another one, and so on, until it finally arrived in a human being in that infamous Wuhan “wet market.”  Unfortunately the Chinese authorities cleaned and disinfected that place without the chance for scientists to study it appropriately to find out how it begun. This zoonotic disease, which passed between animals and humans, was propitiated by a global trade of wildlife, agricultural intensification, deforestation and urbanization that are bringing human communities in a much closer contact with wild animals’ habitats. We must aside our petty differences and engage in more holistic terms with each other; these critical issues must be urgently addressed by all the national governments.

Another major upheaval is the change of the socio-economic parameters of most societies regarding the labor opportunities that will be offered by employers. The purely physical labor will continue to be displaced by the Information Age positions, all those that can be staffed by individuals working from their own homes. Knowledge is power. The remuneration of the heroes that are now buttressing communities—physicians, nurses, nurse assistants, laboratory assistants, fire and police forces, operators of basic services, truck and delivery drivers, re-stockers of warehouse supplies, etc.—must necessarily increase to reflect their real value for the well-being of our societies.

As we are writing these lines, we are hearing the generalized hand clapping of the Parisians, exactly at their 8 PM time through the transmission of Radio France Inter, in honor of the medical and nursing personnel that are serving in their hospitals. Later on we will listen to a similar gesture occurring in Buenos Aires at their 9 PM. Now the citizens of “modern” nations are not daydreaming about the “celebrities” of entertainment and sports that have polluted almost all the spaces of public media. But… who are they dreaming about? The scientists and researchers that are actively working to bring a safe and effective vaccine against the Coronavirus to the market. Hopefully we will re-assess our way of assigning respect and admiration to the public figures.

As the saviors of Mankind, the scientists that discover and develop the lifesaving vaccine(s) will be duly respected and remembered for many generations to come.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

(This article is based on our upcoming new book Emotional Frustration – the hushed plague)

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Note. The featured image in this article is a reproduction of Bocca Baciata, an 1859 painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which alludes to Boccacio’s anecdote of Alatiel.

References

[1] “A kissed mouth does not lose its fortune, on the contrary it renews itself just as the moon does.” This is the ending of the tale of Alatiel, a Sarracen princess who, in spite of having thousands of sexual encounters with at least eight different men, managed to marry, as a virgin bride, the King of the Algarve.

[2] Giovanni Boccaccio, Decamerone Di Messer Giovanni Boccaccio Cittadino Florentino, GALE, Eighteenth Century Collection Online, April 2018.

[3] Introduction by Wayne A. Rebhorn, Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron, Norton Books.

What is the significance of Number 17?

When we first arrived in the USA, we were surprised by the importance many people gave to the number 13 (thirteen) as a harbinger of bad luck—to be totally avoided. Only later did we learn its origins in the tragic demise of the Knights Templars in the Middle Ages, which we described in a previous article of this novel series. One of the reasons why it did not ring any bells in our conscience is that we did not have that family or cultural imprint in our memory, except for a vague recollection from the printed media.

For the Italians—and henceforth their descendants, us, the Italian Americans—the real dangerous number is 17 (seventeen) for reasons that were initially rather cryptic. We always took it as a given, accepting it as part of our cultural heritage. As a result, we never had any calms in using seat 13, or having an office in an address with 13. For all those that were watching our cavalier attitude towards that number, the certitude that we were not “superstitious” was applauded as a most rational attitude. That was a most specious assessment of our true state of mind as they had been hoodwinked by our camouflaged allegiance to a much, much more ancient belief from our ancestors.

The Romans were firm believers in multiple ceremonies presided by socially-sanctioned augurs that studied the flight of birds and the droppings of chickens to discern events still to come. They also studied the denomination of numbers to find hidden signs to exploit. The Roman denomination of Number 17 is XVII. Priests re-arranged those letters in various combinations, finally finding a similarity with the word VIXIT ( I existed) If we use the Past Tense to identify a status, it implies that the person is already dead. As a result that number was firmly associated with impending harm and even death.

For all its professed Cartesian rationality, our modern society still harbors fears and misgivings that hark back to the Dark Ages and were surreptitiously smuggled into our daily placid routines. Haven’t you noticed that many buildings lack a floor 13? Or that many hotels do not have a floor of suites starting with that fateful number? In a different scale but most noticeably there are countless villages in the Italian peninsula—especially those quaint settlements perched atop the mountains—where you cannot find the number 17 in any of the visible signs of the rustic communities.

Some numerologists claim that Life is all about numbers, good or bad. If we scratch the surface of our sanitized experiences, we might be able to find a significant one. The question is whether we can isolate them with a calm attitude and an open mind.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Why do we need amulets?

When we decided to nail down our butt to our desk chair to write our second book Emotional Frustration – the hushed plaguein a six months-period (we had blogged extensively about those issues for three years and we had a lot of material) we made the firm pledge that we would wear—except for a few circumstances where other kind of garments were needed—the same comfortable grey jersey that we loved. For Hispanics that odd behavior is popularly labelled as “hacer una promesa” (make a promise) and is ingrained in the long Roman Catholic tradition of Latin America.

The use of amulets or talismans has been a millenary tradition of Humankind, almost since the times we dwelt in caves and we saved a saber tooth for happy hunting. The natural amulets are made of many materials like precious stones, metals, teeth and claws of wild animals; the man-made amulets are made of wood, iron, copper, ivory, clay or stone. People that carry amulets believe that they confer special powers due to their connections to natural phenomena, religious identifications or mere luck.

In their lugubrious caves, illuminated only by the flickering light from the burning tip of animal grease of a rustic torch, the Neanderthals used the natural amulets to invoke the auspices of the gods before they went hunting for big mammals and also after they returned with a fatally injured victim of their joint ambush of a mammoth. In Ancient Egypt the scarab beetle was worn by the living and the dead alike as it symbolized life—its hieroglyph was the same as “to become”, enabling resurrection of the mummies. In Middle Ages countless objects that belonged to saintly figures eventually became amulets; their body parts were not spared, as attested by Saint Anthony’s tongue.

Why would supposedly rational individuals believe in these extraordinary powers? We must remember that all our Cerebral Cortex, whose large mass differentiates us from animals that might be able think and imagine at a lower level, is inextricably linked with the Limbic System, seat of the emotional trove that inevitably taints our thoughts. All the sensory and motor stimuli that travel from the periphery to the Central Nervous System must pass through the Thalamus—the sensory waystation of our brains. Just below it, lies the Hypothalamus that regulates mood, sexuality and desires; it responds to external stimuli by sending signals to other limbic structures to elicit responses.

Any rational thought is always “contaminated” by our impressions triggered by various stimuli that we have received in our personal lives or form part of our shared cultures. Most objects will have a rational significance that is thinly coated with such a veneer. When a certain object elicits positive attitudes in our minds, we treasure the stimuli.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

What is the significance of number 13?

For most of the citizens that live in the Western world, the number 13 has been a portender of bad luck that should be studiously avoided. Haven’t you noticed that in many hotels of supposedly sophisticated cities, there is never a floor No. 13? Or a seat No.13 in a bus or train? Or a cafeteria bill that ends with it? It never happens.

Across many cultures the number 13 has been a sign of pending or actual bad luck. The striking similarity of the assignment of blame for bad deeds in so many cultures might be related to the fact that they used the solar-lunar calendar to mark the time. There are approximately 12.41 lunations per solar year, which results in 12 true months and a smaller 13th month—its odd, out-of-sync image marked it as “weird.”

A major social event of the Middle ages seared the memory of Friday the 13th in the collective memory of all the European civilizations we inherited in the Americas. Philip IV, king of France, was extremely envious of the generalized prestige and vast wealth of the Templar Order that had fought in the Crusades to liberate Jerusalem. Its Grand Master, Jacques de Morlay, had joined the ranks of the warrior priesthood in 1265 and had fought valiantly in the Syrian campaign. When Saladin retook the Holy City from the Christian armies in 1291, he moved with all his staff to Cyprus.

The King of France was desperate to secure fresh funding for his treasury, for which he engaged the help of the Pope Clement V to rob the Templars of their wealth. Jacques de Morlay was summoned to the Vatican to supposedly discuss a crusade with the Roman Curia, but it was a vile set-up to round up all the Templar top brass. On October 13, 1307 they were all arrested under the orders of the king and brutally tortured to extract a confession of fabricated debauchery and theft in their ranks. Based on a partial confession by the victimized Morlay, the Pope demanded that all Templar members should make a similar confession; they initially did to protect their leader, but they recanted it when the Pope emissary came to investigate personally.

The machinery to crush the order and steal their wealth was already unstoppable. In 1309 and 1310, Morlay appealed directly to the pope who blatantly ignored him. In March 1312, the church deconsecrated the Templar Order and two years later a papal commission of three cardinals “corroborated” the criminal charges against Morlay and his superior staff; that same day they were all burned at a stake in public. Some onlookers later said that before dying Morlay cursed the treacherous king and foretold that he would die without a male heir. That prediction did come true.

These series of events provoked great commotion in the continent, searing a date in their collective memories. The Templars were arrested on Friday the 13th, 1307. That date corresponded to the old Julian calendar that was widely used at the time. It had been proposed by the administration of Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. after extensive consultation with the Greek mathematicians and astrologers; it was progressively replaced by the Gregorian calendar, promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.