What will we learn from this Pandemic?

“There is a face of Sadness for those that do not have Sadness” Antonio Machado

Awaiting the blissful third shot of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, we took the time off our busy schedule to watch people from the simple vantage point of our seat. There were a few people waiting for the shot and others filling their drug prescriptions. They were of very different ages, socio-economic backgrounds, and health care needs. But they shared one trait: Profound. Unfathomable. Sadness.

Not a single one of them was chatting about inconsequential themes or laughing off. They all seemed too preoccupied with the daily up and downs of survival in these times where we have all lost our Sense of Future, our trust in a Better Tomorrow. This one and a half years of Social Isolation and Distancing have consistently gnawed at our human capacity to empathize and our commitment to live together. We have burrowed ourselves so deep in our bespoke cocoons that we can hardly notice who is standing next to us, and worse of all, who is trying to connect with us.

In a September 26. 2021 Washington Post article, Karla Adam said: “The United Kingdom, hoping to ease a supply-chain crisis and a Christmas logjam, will grant temporary visas to more than 10,000 foreigners to work as truck drivers and in the food industry…Britain is grappling with a string of shortages: Supermarkets are running out of goods, and restaurants chains like McDonald’s and KFC are cutting items form their menus. The truck driver shortage is particularly acute. Britain’s Road Haulage Association estimates the country needs about 100.000 drivers. The crisis spread over the weekend to gas stations, resulting  in long lines at the pump.”

We are witnessing an Implosion of almost all the known social parameters of yore. Before the Pandemic, there was no shortage of British and European Union drivers willing to risk their lives transporting those huge tankers full of flammable liquids; the salaries were very good, which paved their way for access to a better lifestyle. However, after many of them were stranded in their homes without working at all, something strange started to seep in their tough blue-collar spirits: risk aversion. They appreciated the time off with their families and sharing the great little moments of life: their sons and daughters’ birthdays, their sports and music events, cooking a Sunday dinner with the whole family helping out, watching their favorite team, etc. When they were summoned, a majority had retired or were working elsewhere; it did not matter that most of them had to take a significant pay and benefits cut.

Paradoxically one of the few painters that could grasp the essential grip of Divinity in our lives and has been able to transmit it to humans through generations was a born rebel that drank too much, adored la bonne chaire des femmes and was often fighting with the Catholic Church to the point of almost being excommunicated. But he never was because they were in awe of his unique mastery of the chiaroscuro techniques. His visceral, bloody strokes accentuated the poverty of Jesus and his followers. Intoxicated with the lead from his paintings, he died too young, after a fight in Naples. His name? Michalangelo Merisi. Caravaggio. Master of the Raw Realism that still deeply disturbs us.

Note. This image of Caravaggio’s Saint Jerome writing was taken from Wikimedia Commons.

By Caravaggio – Self-scanned, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15219558

In this painting of Saint Jerome, a masterpiece now at the Borghese Gallery, Caravaggio captured the Doctor of the Church in a moment of pause of meditation in his travails of translating the Holy Bible into Latin in the Fourth Century. He is not depicted as a penitent but as a scholar whose resting right hand is casually pointing at the inkwell at the other side of the table and at the same time at the skull, a reminder of the inevitability of death and the futility of the vainly pursuit of material goods. The red cloak enveloping the ageing saint takes a physicality of supernatural protection from above.

What if the terrible suffering we have almost all of us suffered during the past few months of Pandemic finally has a sobering effect in our endeavors and attitudes?

What if, instead of foolishly pursuing just material comfort, we take a look at others?

What if we stop plundering the Earth’s Natural Resources and find the alternatives?

What if we stop minding our little miseries and start admiring our many blessings?

What if we tell our loved ones how much we love them again, and again, and again?

What if we open our hearts to spiritual values and bestow that gift to our children?

Therein lies the greatest antidote to the modern spiritual angst and the Triumph of Happiness.

As we will all finally undertake the very same journey, we might imitate the poet’s panache:

“And when the day arrives for the final voyage

And the ship of no return is set to sail,

You’ll find me aboard, traveling light,

almost naked, like the children of the sea.”

Antonio Machado – Campos de Castilla

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Alchemists’ legacy: European Porcelain technology

Goldmachertinktur. This German term means “tincture that makes gold”, which is the emblematic mission of the European Alchemists during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; these entrepreneurial chemists, botanists and ,yes, physicians too, were eagerly trying to convert some basic metals like copper into the much sought-after gold. Contrary to the widely held belief now that they were societal outcasts hiding in dark cellars to ply their shameful trade away from prying eyes, they were the protégés of the nobility and clergy, united in their so sickening coveting of riches.

Note. This image was taken from Wikimedia Commons. It shows two of the oldest allegorical  symbols used by the Alchemists:

a) Raven or Black Crow: symbol of the departure from our physical world and our arrival, with an intermediary stage in Darkness, into our own world of Self-Enlightenment.

b) Ouroboros, the serpent that is eating its tail, is a symbol of the concept of Eternity and the Endless Return.

From Aurora Consurgens manuscript, Zurich exemplar – DOI=10.5076/e-codices-zbz-Ms-Rh-0172 – URL=http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/fr/list/one/zbz/Ms-Rh-0172

The most important legacy of the Alchemists to our modern age has been the design of various experimental methods that could be reproduced by other parties, even if they turned out to be resoundingly failed attempts for the most part. They took distance from the citizenry’s magical thinking and the superstitious framework, prodded by the states’ authority and theological dogma, in order to plow the scientific pathways. In a series of articles, we will recount what we believe are the major contributions of Alchemists to our modern society; we invite our readers to suggest themes.

Porcelain is a ceramic that is made by heating special materials, including kaolin, at extremely high temperatures—1,200-1400 degrees Celsius’ invented by the Chinese approx. 2,000 years ago, it slowly evolved in Asia until reaching perfection. It became the chosen ornament for the European nobles’ tableware, eager to show off; many factories in the Old Continent tried to replicate the process but they failed.

Note. This image was taken form Wikimedia Commons.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saxonia_Museum_f%C3%BCr_saechsische_Vaterlandskunde_I_33.jpg

Johann Friedrich Bottger was born on February 4th , 1682 in Schleiz, Germany, and passed away in Dresden on March 13th , 1719 in the same country; he was the son of the town’s mint master (a very powerful public servant) and the daughter of a Magdeburg counsellor. When she became a widow, she re-married with the town’s major engineer, which explains his sophisticated education, a rarity in those times. When he was only 18 years old, he became an apprentice of Herr Zorn, a famous alchemist in Berlin, and he locked himself in a cave to experiment his many recipes.

A spy for King Frederick I of Prussia—a voracious hoarder of precious metals to fund the mercenary armies he used in his campaigns of annexation—whispered in his ear that there was “a young lad claiming that he had the philosopher’s stone”, he quickly ordered his detention; they did grab him, but Bottger managed to escape. However, they did not return him to Frederick I, but transferred to Dresden where he was imprisoned by the equally ruthless Augustus II, King of Saxony and Poland. Kept in “protective custody” in a dark dungeon, Bottger toiled tirelessly for years. After many failures, King Augustus II ordered him to join forces with a colleague.

Note. This image was taken from Wikimedia Commons.

By Martin Bernigeroth – Stich von M. Bernigeroth, Kupferstichkabinett Dresden, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=958111

Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus was born on April 10th, 1651, in Kieslingswalde, Germany and passed away on October 11th , 1708; he was a prolific mathematician, physicist, physician and philosopher. He is credited with inventing the Tschirnhaus transformation, a key mathematical equation still in use today. During his formation years, he travelled extensively in all of Europe, meeting John Collins, Espinoza, and Colbert amongst many others; he visited the Saint-Cloud soft paste porcelain factory in 1701, becoming a member of the Académie Royale des Sciences. In his 1678 philosophical treatise Medicina Mentis, he actively promoted the potentiating match of mathematics and physics.

In their paper, Queiroz and Agathopoulos wrote: “By 1682, he studied theoretically the envelope of light beams emitted from a point source after reflection on a parabolic surface…as a preliminary step towards the development of large burning lens and mirrors…The use of such equipment allowed him to reach temperatures within 1,500-2,000 degrees Celsius, higher than he could achieve in contemporary combustion furnaces…The method was welcome in laboratory research because the sample could be easily observed and many trials could run in a short time.” Believing that porcelain was in fact “a glass” he mixed clay and fusible materials (flux) Finally he could create “some kind of porcelain”, which he presented to Augustus II. The King decided to build a factory in Meissen and ordered Bottger to join the team. Afraid that he would end up dead like many other adventurous entrepreneurs like him, Bottger finally relented to the King’s wish and teamed up with Tschirnhaus.

The big breakthrough in the production of porcelain came in 1708 when two critical shipments of minerals arrived at the factory:

  1. Kaolin—a fine, pure white clay that had been discovered earlier by Ohain and Bartholomai, a physician that liked to dabble in Botanics.
  2. White Alabaster—mixed with two clays and silica, it was particularly useful.

After more experimentation, two more components were assigned to the mixture:

  1. China Stone—a volcanic residue.
  2. Quartz—at 20% concentration.

When the four ingredients were mixed together at high temperature, porcelain arose.

Tschirnhaus passed away 1708 and his disciple Bottger took over the operations, until he could present a “piece of porcelain” to Augustus II in 1709. Even though, Bottger was suspiciously credited with its  discovery, the same Bottger found a piece of perfect porcelain in Tschirnhaus’ house, after it had been vandalized. Fearing for the safety of the team that invented porcelain, the King decided to build a factory in Meissen with security measures. But eventually someone stole the recipe and fled.

A mathematician/philosopher and a wunderkind/alchemist discovered the porcelain.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.