Venetian Christmas and the Viscount’s Sketchbook

30 03 2007


Architectural Sketch – Viscount Dumaurier

Castle Harbour

Castle Harbour – Viscount Dumaurier

Masked Ball

Masque Ball – Viscount Dumaurier

Outdoor Entertainment

Performance Artists – Viscount Dumaurier

It was not until we were on the road to Villa Ada in Italy that the Viscount opened his sketchbook and showed me his work. The carriage bumped and swayed over the rutted roads, from recent rain, unseasonal, but welcome. Certainly the Venetians knew how to be festive, and Christmas was a long event, weeks went by with one entertainment after another. We watched the displays of light in the evening sky, the travelling minstrels as they told their tales and enacted their evening performances outdoors.

His leather bound book of parchment paper revealed sketches of architecture, of a castle we passed while approaching the harbour, an image of my fair self at the Venetian Masque Ball, and true to life likenesses of the players, who had amused us in the leafy glade. He was indeed a great artist, and I had much to learn from his eye and pen…

(copyright Imogen Crest 2007.)
(clip art courtesy karenswhimsy online.)


Sloughing~ Day Five

25 03 2007

We are awakened, way too early the morning after Marcel’s welcome party, by loud bangs, scraping noises, and someone repeatedly whispering “shush!” It is Celeste and Alfred, dragging trunks, boxes, stacks of books, rugs into our gorgeous room here at the Ritz…surely this cannot be Marcel’s luggage? “Celeste! Tell me this is not Marcel’s luggage?!” “Non, Madame, it is Marcel’s sloughing.” She is, of course, speaking French and I do not know this word. I tell her so. She replies, “Ah, Madame, he says he must shed these things, like a snake. Only he says sloughing. And that he cannot go on this Tour unless he casts off these things, and that neither can anyone else.” “And what, exactly, am I supposed to do with all this stuff?”, I inquire. “Monsieur says he has heard that there are people who live under bridges who have no homes and one can leave things for them there. Alfred is to do that once you have gone through all your things too, Monsieur says.” “My things!? Just where is Monsieur anyhow, Celeste? And what is this about how none of us can go unless we do this sloughing?”Celeste begins speaking in rapid French, punctuating the tale with hand-wringing, head-shaking and much arm-waving. With Alfred’s help (he speaks a little English, so much for his skills as dragoman), after an hour or so the story emerges. Marcel was too nervous after the party to sleep. He asked Celeste to put on his Magic Lantern and bring him his asthma powders. When she returned, Marcel appeared to be asleep, but when she tried to turn off the Lantern, Marcel sprang up in bed and cried out for her to stop. “Do you not see, Celeste, the Lantern has brought us a message!” Celeste replied that she saw no message, only the usual scenes from Marcel’s glass slides. “Ah, Celeste, we must not go on this journey carrying all our old baggage! We must go as if new born, we must cast off things that we no longer need, so that new ideas, patterns, beliefs, can be born!” Celeste asks Marcel, if we are to cast off old immaterial things like beliefs and habits, why do we also need to throw away our material items as well? Marcel replies that surely she knows, surely she has heard him tell of it, that our past is held captive in inanimate objects, such as a vase, a chair, even a little madeleine? She stops him before he can relate the story of eating the little madeleine again, because yes, she has surely heard it before, many times, in fact. Marcel slumps back in bed, he is exhausted, please give his regard and his excuses to Madame et Monsieur (that’s us) but “Celeste! Be sure they understand they must slough everything that is not absolutely necessary. It is critical to the success of our journey!”

So, that explains the boxes and trunks and etc. But why did they bring them up here to our room? Why didn’t Alfred just take them to the people who live under bridges who have no homes? Celeste says, “Ah, I was nearly forgetting that part, Madame. Monsieur says after you have performed your sloughing, you are to go through his things and yours and choose an item for each person in our group to leave in the mines. The rest will go to the people who live under…” “Stop, Celeste! What mines?? “The old limestone mines under the streets of Paris, where they keep all the old bones, I do not know the word in English…” “Catacombs? We’re to go into the catacombs?” “Non, Madame, not we, only you. With the items you choose. Monsieur says this is the message from the Magic Lantern.”

Alfred the Dragoman~ Day Four

15 03 2007


Paris! We’re in Paris…City of Lights, City of Love, City of…..Marcel Proust. When we arrive at the Ritz, jet-lagged, hungry, and dragging our luggage (which despite our best efforts has ended up being an extravagant amount), we find that Marcel is throwing us a welcome party and has invited all the haute monde of Paris. Merci, Marcel. Fortunately this is the Hotel Ritz, and immediately a cadre of servants rush to take us and our luggage to our room and then scurry around drawing us baths, pouring glasses of champagne and discretely holding out their palms. I’m sure a lot of this forelock-tugging is because of Marcel, who booked us this room (and is paying for it- merci again!) and who is treated here as royalty. He entertains and eats here so much it’s as if he’s in his own dining room. To which we now go, having refreshed ourselves and dressed in our finest, which is not very fine but will have to do.Entering the Ritz dining room is like entering fairy-land: the chandeliers glitter with thousands of little lights, the glasses and silverware twinkle like stars, the white linens on the tables are like fields of snow. Marcel, wearing his lavender gloves, introduces us to the Duc and Duchesse de Guermantes, the Marquis and Marquise de Cambremer, the Baron de Charlus and a whole bevy of other royal personages whose titles and names we promptly forget. Also in attendance are M. and Mme. Swann and their lovely young daughter Gilberte (whom I believe Marcel had a crush on in his youth), Marcel’s military friend, Robert de Saint-Loup (whom I believe he has a crush on now), and the great French actress, Berma. A group of musician’s play a sonata by Vinteuil, who has a flair for little phrases of music that seem to linger in one’s mind. Waiters mingle among the guests bearing flutes of champagne, small glasses of kir and trays of canapés. We try to converse with the guests in our limited French; they speak to us in much better English. The strain of this and trying to juggle glasses and little plates begins to tell on us, and we are relieved when finally we are seated to dinner.

And what a dinner! There are, of course, multiple courses: we begin with hors-d’oeuvres, a delicious pate de foie gras, olives, and canapés. Next is the soup course, which appears to be some type of bouillabaisse, followed by lobster “American style”; in our honor, we are told. After this we are at the halfway point in the meal, and so we take a short break which the French call the trou normand, in which we attempt to digest what we’ve eaten so far and drink a glass of Calvados to help with the digestion. All too soon we are presented with the meat course: Medaillons de veau “Bergerette”, little patties of veal that are served flambéed with potatoes and asparagus. Next a salad composed of Jerusalem artichokes and mussels, called a Japanese salad. And last, the cheese platter: Roquefort, Bleu d’Auvergne, Brie de Meaux…all of which smell like the inside of a tennis shoe and taste like Heaven. Every course comes complete with it’s own chosen wines and liqueurs. And did I say the cheese platter was last? Mais non, now comes the dessert course: fresh fruits, mousse au chocolat, tarte fine aux pommes along with sweet white wine, cognac, brandy and coffee.

Over the brandy, I see a small table in the corner that I hadn’t noticed before. Sitting at it are two people who don’t quite seem to fit in- they’re not dressed as splendidly as everyone else and they look ill-at-ease. They look like us, in other words. I ask Marcel who they are, he blushes and says, “Mon petite cheri, the woman is Celeste Albaret, my housekeeper and companion, surely I’ve mentioned her to you?” Yes, I say, you have. And the man? Marcel’s blush deepens. “Ah, cheri, that is Alfred, my chauffeur. And you will never guess! He has agreed to come along with us as our dragoman!” Ah, indeed. “He has agreed to go? Or you have told him he must come with you?” “Ah, non, he wants to go! He begged me to let him go!” I am skeptical. “And he can speak the languages and knows the customs and can do everything we need a dragoman to do?” “Oui, cheri, he is from Monaco and speaks fluent Italian!” I start to tell Marcel that we are going a lot farther than Italy and will encounter many more different languages, but I can see he’s beginning to pout and so I let it go. We have a dragoman. His name is Alfred. C’est fin.

Itinerary- Day Three

12 03 2007


There are very few things, if you ask me, that are as exciting as planning a trip. Well, maybe going on the trip is as exciting, but…I love to peruse maps, read books, make notes, research on my computer- so many possibilities to explore, so many adventures to anticipate. At the same time, we don’t like to over-plan; in other words, to attempt to micro-manage every last detail like booking our hotels in advance and reducing the trip to a grocery list of places to go and things to see that one can check off like, well, like a grocery list. We like to leave room for the pleasant surprise, the serendipitous, the unexpected. So, with these thoughts in mind, here then is our itinerary:

First stop: Paris, to meet Marcel and arrange for our transportation on the first leg of the Grand Tour. We will, bien sur, meet him at the Ritz (GPS coordinates:N48.52.0625 E002.19.7538). Next, we’ll take the old Roman road to Arles, France, to check up on Vincent and bring him some much needed painting supplies from Pere Tanguey in Paris. We’ll stay with him in the yellow house for a few days, depending on what kind of mood he’s in. Then we’ll proceed to Siena, Italy (GPS coordinates N38.01.37 E12.43.05), a town that’s said to remain closest to it’s Medieval origins and is therefore of interest to Marcel for it’s architecture and to me for it’s pottery and ceramics. Next stop will be Delphi, Greece, for reasons which will become clear later. Onward through Konya, Turkey, home of the Sufi mystic and poet Jalal al Din Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes, and Catal Hoyuk, to participate in the dig there. In Syria, we’ll visit the ancient city of Mari on the banks of the Euphrates and Aram, the oldest inhabited city in the world. Down through the Levant to the Alexandrian Mouseion in Egypt (GPS coordinates N29.97.7712 E31.13.2604) to learn what we can from the scholars. From Alexandria we’ll take a newly established train line all the way across the top of the African continent to Morocco. In Morocco I hope to learn the art of making tangines and the foods one can make inside them. On to Spain, to visit the Alhambra and take the St. James of Campostela pilgrimage in reverse, then back to Paris. We plan to follow the dictates of previous Grand Tourists, who would “…return with crates of art books, pictures, sculptures, etc..” and the dictates of our hearts, meaning we plan to buy things that will have an essence of the place in them that speaks to us. Some items will be for inclusion in the Riversleigh Mouseion, some will be for gifts, some Marcel will keep, and some will reside with us.

The day for departure nears, the pile of luggage grows, the goodbyes are being said. Be with us on our journey, and we’ll share as much as is possible of what we learn and experience. Bon voyage!

Bamberg Bavaria

10 03 2007

Winding lanes, narrow alleyways, baroque and romantic façades and a medieval atmosphere make up the Old Town of Bamberg. Darryl and I were convinced that we had entered a fairy world when we arrived in Bamberg. Bamberg offers Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, and some of Germany’s finest art. Bamberg’s architecture greatly influenced northern Germany and Hungary from the 12th century onward, and is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Every corner provided a photo opportunity and we soaked in the Venice like quality of this old town.

What neither of us fully appreciated at the time was that Bamberg’s has a dark secret.(as do most places)

During the 16th and 17th centuries more than 100,000 people in Germany were tortured and murdered as a result of being accused of being witches. The witch hunts were led by fanatical rulers, spurred on behind the scenes by the Catholic Church. Using torture and inflicting horrible deaths on men, women and children over 100,000 people died.

Some of the worst persecutions took place in Bamberg, a small state ruled by Gottfried Johann Georg 11 Fuchs von Dornheim. Dornheim established an operation of full time torturers and executioners. A witch prison was built in Bamberg and a network of informers was established. Accusations were not made public and the accused were denied legal rights.

Torture was the rule and was applied to all those accused. Victims were put in thumbscrews and vises, dumped in cold baths and in scalding lime baths, whipped, burned with sulphure, put in iron spiked stocks and subjected to other forms torture. Thr torture did not stop even after condemnation. As they were led to the stake prisoners had their hands cut off.

Many rich and powerful people fell victim and had their property and assets confiscated in Bamberg. Anyone who questioned what was happening was also tortured and killed.

Photographs by Darryl Blakey 2001

Wartburg Castle – Saint Elisabeth

10 03 2007

The Wartburg Castle is located on a 1230-foot cliff overlooking Eisenach, a city formerly behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany. It was founded by Duke Ludwig of Thuringia in 1067 AD and is one of the best preserved castles in Germany. In its great hall, the minstrels of the High Middle Ages held their competition. Wartburg Castle is more closely associated with German history than any other castle in Germany.


Saint Elisabeth lived and worked within its walls, and Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German here. The castle is also linked to the Battle of the Bards and the gathering of the student fraternities in 1817.

Wartburg Castle blends superbly into its forest surroundings and is in many ways ‘the ideal castle’. Although it has retained some original sections from the feudal period, the form it acquired during the 19th-century reconstitution gives a good idea of what this fortress might have been at the height of its military and seigneurial power. Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German during his exile at the Castle from May 1521 until March 1522. As Martin Luther’s hiding-place, the castle is a symbol of the Reformation.


Saint Elizabeth was a princess and born in Sarospatak, Hungary, in 1207 as the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary and his wife Gertrude Countess of Andechs. At the age of four she was sent for education to the court of the Landgrave of Thuringia, to whose infant son she was betrothed. As she grew in age, her piety also increased by leaps and bounds. In 1221, only 14 years old, she married Ludwig IV; they had three children. The court of Thuringia was at this period famous for its magnificence. Its centre was the stately castle of the Wartburg, splendidly placed on a hill in the Thuringian Forest near Eisenach, where the Landgrave Hermann lived surrounded by poets and minnesingers, to whom he was a generous patron. Notwithstanding the turbulence and purely secular life of the court and the pomp of her surroundings, the little girl grew up a very religious child with an evident inclination to prayer and pious observances and small acts of self-mortification. These religious impulses were undoubtedly strengthened by the sorrowful experiences of her life.

Shortly after their marriage, Elizabeth and Ludwig made a journey to Hungary; Ludwig was often after this employed by the Emperor Frederick II, to whom he was much attached, in the affairs of the empire. In the spring of 1226, when floods, famine, and the pest wrought havoc in Thuringia, Ludwig was in Italy attending the Diet at Cremona on behalf of the emperor and the empire. Under these circumstances Elizabeth assumed control of affairs, distributed alms in all parts of the territory of her husband, giving even state robes and ornaments to the poor. In order to care personally for the unfortunate she built below the Wartburg a hospital with twenty-eight beds and visited the inmates daily to attend to their wants; at the same time she aided nine hundred poor daily. It is this period of her life that has preserved Elizabeth’s fame to posterity as the gentle and charitable chételaine of the Wartburg. Ludwig on his return confirmed all she had done.

So great was her diligence for the poor, that the hour for meat had drawn near before she remembered the need of her presence at the castle. Then, lest she put shame upon Ludwig by keeping his guests waiting, she entered the hall as she was, clothed in her grey gown of service. But as she crossed the threshold angels descended from heaven bearing fitting raiment for her; one, a coronet for her head, one a dress of golden tissue, and one a mantle. So that when Elizabeth took her seat beside her consort she appeared in the sight of all who beheld her as fair as the lady of Heaven herself.
And greater than these is that tale of the leper that came, crawling to the castle, seeking help from Elizabeth. Ludwig was far distant; and the leper being far gone in his foul disease and all other places filled, Elizabeth carried him in her arms and laid him in Ludwig’s own bed. When Sophie discovered this she was greatly enraged and dispatched a messenger for Ludwig; and upon his arrival at the castle at midnight, she conveyed him to his bed room, saying as they went: “A pretty wife thou hast. So little cloth she care for thee or thy love that she has placed in thy very bed a dying leper. This, that thou mayest take the scourge thyself.”

When her pious young husband died in Sicily on his way to a Crusade with the Emperor Frederick, she was cruelly driven from her palace by her brother-in-law. Those whom she had aided showed nothing but coldness for her; God was to purify His Saint by harsh tribulations. She was forced to wander through the streets with her little children, a prey to hunger and cold. The bishop of Bamberg, her maternal uncle, finally forced the cruel prince to ask pardon for his ill treatment of her, but she voluntarily renounced the grandeurs of the world, and went to live in a small house she had prepared in the city of Marburgh. There she practiced the greatest austerities. She welcomed all her sufferings, and continued to be the mother of the poor, distributing all of the heritage eventually conceded to her, and converting many by her holy life. She had few more years of life to run, but she spent them in constant prayer and practical charity, and became universally loved and revered.  

St Elizabeth is traditionally represented as dressed in rich clothes, bearing in her top skirt-which is gathered up at the front to form an apron-a profusion of red roses, while behind her back she holds a loaf of bread; these are the symbols of her life, her inherited position as Queen of Hungary, and the life she elected for herself of penance and asceticism. She died on November 19th, 1231. Shortly before her death at the age of 24, her son regained control of the government of Thuringia and summoned her back to court. Elizabeth was canonized in 1235 by Pope Gregory IX. The shrine of her remains in Marburg was a popular pilgrimage in the middle ages.
Very soon after the death of Elizabeth miracles began to be worked at her grave in the church of the hospital, especially miracles of healing. Master Conrad showed great zeal in advancing the process of canonization.

Temple of Athena – Delphi

10 03 2007


Pilgrimage is one of the oldest endeavors of humankind. It may very well be triggered by a mysterious urge deep within our souls to follow in the footsteps of the ancestors. This inexplicable urge is felt by only a few of us. And of those, still fewer follow this heart-felt need to adventure into the unknown, not for riches and external power, but for purity of heart and soul and to answer the ageless questions of the meaning of our existence on earth.

Since the dawn of time, seekers of these questions have made pilgrimages to sacred sites pursuing true knowledge, wisdom and power. They always brought an openness of spirit to the potentiality of being in touch with the elements and becoming one with nature and the mysteries of life. To these spiritual adventurers, the mountains, jungles and the valleys facilitated a relationship with the Otherworld. Here they discovered inspiration, transformation and healing.

Pilgrimage is one of the corner-stones of ‘awakening’ the divine spark within. Entering into the mountains, jungles and valleys, we become detached from the limitations of mundane time and space and the attachment to ordinary life. We step into the extraordinary and it is in this space that we develop and grow our ideal self.

The way to true knowledge, power and wisdom is through direct and personal experience. The more that we can separate ourselves from the mundane world, the closer that we may then come to the realm of the divine. The magical mist that surrounds this sacred world stays hidden from the human ego, but will evaporate for the pilgrim who sincerely searches for the truth. It is possible to experience this sacred environment as an immortal human being, dwelling in the divine presence of the heaven and the earth.

Our journey in 2001 can only be described as a pilgrimage and when I reached Delphi, the famed Castalian Waters and the Temple of Athena, I knew that my pilgrimage was complete. It was a sacred, transformational journey. Once I walked the Sacred Way, all but swam in the waters of Castalia, stood in the Temple of Athena, I knew that one day my children would bring my ashes, mixed with some of Darryl’s, to be spread in this exquisite mountain retreat, a place where I could join my beloved muses. I had reached centre.


Photographs by Darryl Blakey 2001


After the heartbreak of Corfu, a tourist wasteland filled with cheap trinkets, I was nervous about being crushed when we finally reached Delphi. But my romantic perceptions were all affirmed and my faith is stronger than ever.

It was a glorious, windless, 30c day in Delphi. The town itself is prettier, far more affluent than I had anticipated. They do not seem to need to have temporary stalls, cluttered with cheap plastic Taiwanese wares, although there are plenty of postcards and cheap copies of museum pieces to be found.

We sat, under two vast, old, plane trees, where pilgrims would have regularly sat, eating lunch and returned to the adjacent, quiet cafe for our dinner that evening. This eating house stood apart, away from the crowded eateries catering for the busloads of one nighters that fill Delphi’s Hotels. Our hotel room, which afforded magnificent views of the sea and coastline was away from the main drag, relatively secluded and very comfortable. Indeed, it was one of the best rooms we have had in Greece.

As for the slopes of Parnassus and the sites themselves all I can say is that they stopped my breath and I felt a quickening not unlike that when Helen and Greg first stirred in my womb. Tears welled as I climbed the Sacred Way and I stopped many times to absorb my surroundings. I drank copious amounts from the legendary waters of Castalia and splashed my arms and face, purifying myself, injesting the creativity properties of this cool water.

As we drove out of Delphi towards Athens, past the Castalian waters we stopped, on Darryl’s suggestion, to fill water bottles with this holiest of waters and I prayed for a safe return. I promised to return – when I am turned to ash so that my soul can sing along with the choir of voices that echo through these pristine mountains.