Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The changing of seasons in Georgia ... and Christmas

The red flowering plant in my picture above is commonly called a Christmas cactus but mine flowered around Thanksgiving.  Its Latin name is Schlumbergera truncate.  It is a small plant originating from the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil.  I wish it would have bloomed closer to Christmas because, in the fall, there was much color around us already.  I played with the apps on my cell phone to get different textures of the photo.  (I think my cat Mitsouko, a Korat from Thailand, looks good in watercolor, don't you?)

The leaves this autumn stayed on trees longer than usual.  We usually go on a trip to view the fall foliage.  This year we drove closer to home, about 14 miles away, to Red Top Mountain State Park.  It was in mid November, a sunny day and very dry.  First we drove across Allatoona Lake and stopped by its shore for a short time.

Then drove away from the lake and entered Red Top Mountain State Park.

Even though we live near Red Top Mountain State Park we rarely visit it.  It is a very popular park close to the 12,000-acre lake where visitors can bring their boats or rent them from the marina.  There is water skiing and fishing.  A sand swimming beach nestled in a cove surrounded by trees is a great place to cool off in summer.  The park offers picnic and group shelters as well as rental cottages and a lakeside yurt.  Hikers can walk more than 15 miles of trails or bike on a 3.9 mile mountain biking trail.  Every time we go to the park we wonder why we don't come there more often ... We stopped by one of the roads to take pictures of the golden leaves and I took a photo of my husband.  There was no one around but within minutes a park ranger had stopped by to inquire as to what we where doing.  They keep a good watch there as there have been so many fires in North Georgia.  Luckily, even though very dry, Red Top Mountain has been spared.

Before leaving the park we stopped by the Visitors Center and Trading Post.  Some trails start from the parking lot.

By the middle of November the trees in our back yard had turned various shades of gold and rust.

Our backyard is like a mini rain forest.  The various trees and shrubs offer a good spectrum of fall colors.

Our brown barn brings a picturesque contrast to the fall foliage.  I took 25 pictures of it!

The lake in the back of our yard is another background that highlights the trees and gives a soft glow to the landscape.

The photos above were taken towards the end of November.  Even last week, some trees still had great fall foliage as you can see by the brilliant red tree below that I noticed while shopping last week in Kennesaw, GA (mid-December.)  I snapped it from the car window with my cell phone camera.

But the season is changing now and we are almost in winter - starting tomorrow, December 21st.  We had a couple of cold days but we won't have a white Christmas.  Around Christmas time I like to read about the history of this holiday.  Many years ago I bought an excellent book, written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Stephen Nissenbaum entitled "The Battle for Christmas."  It is a cultural history of the holiday where you can learn everything you will ever want to know about Christmas.  (You may find it in your library or in a second-hand book site like ABE Books or Alibris.)  It is a worthwhile read.  Mark Czerniec from Wisconsin gave a review of the book here.

I was startled to find out in Nissenbaum's heavily researched book that the Puritans, in early America, had banned the celebration and imposed fines on people who celebrated Christmas.  I had heard before that the 4th century Church had officially taken over the date of December 25th to observe Christmas and to absorb and Christianize the Yule celebration and Saturnalia, a pagan feast dedicated to the birth of the Sun - both of these were celebrated on December 25.  Pope Julius I and his bishops established December 25th for the birth of Jesus.  For thousand of years the pagan world celebrated the birth of their Sun Gods - Egyptian Osiris, Greek Apollo and Chaldean Adonis on the 25th of December.  The Greco-Roman God of wine Dionysus, also known as Bacchus, was born of a virgin mother on 25th December, was killed and resurrected after 3 days, rose from the dead on March 25 and ascended to heaven - was worshiped between 1500-1100 BC (before Christ.)  The Persian god Mithra was born in a cave on December 25, but 600 years before Christ.  To facilitate the conversion of heathens to Christianity the Church also took over the Teutonic people's 12-day Yule celebration, which had been celebrated for thousands of years during the Winter Solstice, and reformulated it into Christmastide.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

December 25th was the celebration of the rebirth of Sol Invictus, the invincible sun, celebrated centuries before Christianity.  It was the "nouveau soleil" (new sun) used in the expression "Noel" in French, or new and happy birth in "Buon Natale" in Italian and "Feliz Navidad" in Spanish.  These words are not Christian in origin, they predate it but the church has never made mention of their true origin and 99.9% of people don't know.  Of course, I don't think it matters.

A few years ago I researched the background of Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, and wrote a post about it.  The jolly Santa in the red suit we now know was really invented by Coca-Cola locally - I mean here in Georgia since Coca-Cola originated in Atlanta.  If you have not seen this post, I wrote it in 2013, click on "Santa Exhibit at Oglethorpe University ... and more."

Santa is such a magical figure for children.  Development psychologists say that it is good for children to believe in Santa, the tooth fairy, etc.  It uses their imagination just like playing cop and robbers and allows them to dream.  It teaches them the culture of giving and sharing.  They will remember Christmas with joy.  I remember fondly my awe and wonder when my mother would take me to see Papa Noel (Father Christmas) in the Galeries Lafayette, a large department store in Paris.  Then we would walk slowly and admire the stunning window displays showing enchanting animated toys.  I am happy that my grandchildren from Tennessee saw them last year while in Paris.  Below are the 2016 Christmas displays of the Galeries Lafayette, Boulevard Haussmann, Paris.

I also like to read  comments on Christmas online.  In a US site I read someone saying "Christmas is an inherently Christian festival ... non-Christians should steer clear of it..."  and someone answered "It was not of Christian origin, and Christians don't own it."  On a French site I read in French and I translate, from a Muslim woman "I am a practicing Muslim, I eat halal, I do Ramadan, Eid as well as my five prayers a day and this December 24 in the evening I will celebrate Christmas ... I am not the only one, we are even rather numerous in France, Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, everybody has the right to enjoy this holiday to get together as a family ... There is no reason to deprive yourself, it is not as if the religious aspect of this feast was dominant.  The fir tree is a pagan tradition, it goes back to the Celts and it is directly related to the festivals of the winter solstice - In short, nothing to see at first with the Christian religion ... Just because Christians hijacked the solstice celebration doesn't mean I have to go without ..."  So I chuckle ... why not celebrate, indeed?  Maybe Santa will meditate on this and approve.

Santa is make-believe anyway.  In 1969 Pope Paul VI decreed that there was doubt that St. Nicholas ever existed and he was dropped from the Catholic calendar together with 39 other saints (including St. Christopher.)  He is just Father Christmas or Santa Claus now.  Then in December 2014 evangelical scholar Rev Paul, a theologian and former Dean of Studies at St. John's theological college, Nottingham, wrote that Jesus wasn't born in a stable.  Rev Paul says the misconception comes from poor translation of the original Greek text which made it sound as if the birth took place amid farm animals in a barn or stable.  The Greek word "kataluma," he says, was wrongly translated as "inn."  In fact, he claims the word means "private room" or "lodging" and he guessed it was a cave.  Of course that was already mentioned in 1584 by scholar Spaniard Francisco Sanchez de las Brozas.  Nobody paid attention then though and kept their nativity scene.  In December 2007, Dr. Rowan Williams, Baron Williams of Oystermouth, former Archbishop of Canterbury, Anglican Primate of all England, claimed that the three magi was a legend, as well as the "star" in Bethlehem.  He said the Christmas cards that show the Virgin Mary cradling baby Jesus, with the shepherds on one side and the Three Wise Men on the other were misleading.  He also concluded that Jesus was probably not born in December at all.  He said: "Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival."  See article in the Telegraph, UK, here.  However, the Christmas pageants in churches have actors representing the magi to this day!

But there is something even more astonishing.  I read it first in older Italian newspapers online.  Pope Benedict XVI (emeritus now) wrote three books on the history of Jesus.  In his last volume, published in November 2012, he dismisses many recollections of Jesus' birth as well.  Pope Benedict, formerly Joseph Ratzinger, has written in his book, "Jesus of Nazareth - The Infancy Narratives" "The Christian calendar is actually based on a blunder by a sixth century monk (Dionysus Exiguus)..."  who the Pope says "was several years off in his calculation of Jesus' birth date."  The Pope thinks Jesus was born about 6 or 7 B.C., in the spring, not in a stable, but a cave.  Also the angels never even sang to the shepherds - from this falsehood the tradition of singing carols was born, the Pope says.  He does more historical revisionism as he says that the idea of Christ surrounded by donkeys, oxen and sheep is a seventh century invention and he adds that their presence in the cave is abusive, historically unfounded.  I was dumbfounded, mostly to hear the Pope would admit a flaw in something so fundamental to the Catholic faith.  No creche in the nativity scene surrounded by friendly animals?

No angels singing carols?

I had not read this stunning news back in 2012.  I don't think it was much publicized in the USA.  The media might have been scared to anger the US public and hurt the sale of Christmas decorations.  How many churches have nativity scenes in the world?  Some are quite antique.  There are about 2.2 billion adherents to various Christian churches and I would think most of their churches may have a nativity scene with animals at Christmas time, and that is not counting all the nativity scenes in the faithful's homes.  That's a lot of nativity scenes, y'all!  Pope Benedict XVI's book was translated into 20 languages and published in 72 countries.  However, in 2016, I still see many nativity scenes around.  In 2012, the Italians, who I guess read about the Pope more than they do here, were shocked and shattered to have to relinquish their nativity scenes with all their animals.  Not to worry though, the Pope reassured his readers and faithful that "no one will give up the oxen and the donkey in their Nativity scenes" because it was "tradition and not religion" [non è la religione è tradizione.].  We all have decorations of the mythical Santa and pagan Christmas tree, why not keep mythical nativity scenes as well?  It does not negate the religious aspect of the holiday in any way for those who celebrate it with faith.

 If as high an authority as the Pope (who is the head of the Catholic Church, with its 1.2 billion Roman Catholics) and the Vatican are willing to OK little white lies about the day, year, place and witnesses of the birth of Jesus, who are we to dispute it?  What it shows is that Christmas is a multicultural festival with a long pagan history and can be celebrated by anyone, anywhere.  Anything that promotes happiness and brings people together is good.  It is the season to be happy, the season of sharing with family and friends, and gift giving to all, to the needy and to charities.  So, whatever your beliefs or how you celebrate it - Have a merry religious or secular Christmas!

Peace, love and joy to all!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Marietta Chalktoberfest 2016 - part two, and more ...

The Thanksgiving holidays delayed my writing the second part of this post.  We spent over a week in Tennessee with our daughter's family and the grand-children.  The weather was mild and sunny as we drove to and back from Brentwood, Tennessee.  I was surprised at the amount of color still left on the foliage.  I drove through the Chattahoochee National Forest, away from the main freeways.  As we drove past Cloudland Canyon State Park, in the upper elevation, it seemed that the red, yellow and gold colors were still prominent.  The bronze of the oak and beech trees and the red of the sourwood and sumac trees provided a magic canopy of warm hues to the highway.  The highway is GA 136 in northwest Georgia, going from Resada through Villanow and LaFayette, to Trenton and then into Tennessee.

The bad drought kept the colors on hold I think.  It was not easy taking photos though because the highway is narrow, very curvy with thousand-foot deep canyons, and the dense woodland by the roadside hide the view.  As we drove up high in the hills we could see smoke in the distance.  It has kept so dry around the South that there have been numerous wild fires.  Another reason is that parts of the forests are dying from absorbing pollution.  When we left Greater Atlanta we could smell the smoke in the air - and see a smoky haze, too.

When we returned home, a couple of days ago, I went in the front and back yards to take pictures (tree foliage shown in heading collage.)  It had not been cold and some of our annual planters were still looking good.  Some black walnuts were lying among the dead leaves and in just a minute or two I gathered a basket full of them.  Usually the squirrels eat them, but if they did they still left many nuts.  I am not sure what to do with them, as I know it is quite difficult to remove their outer shell.  The leaves are not falling from the trees very much and the whole yard has a golden glow.  Our cat Cody is happy napping though and does not look outside.  On Wednesday (Nov. 29) if finally rained; the first day in many weeks.  I hope it gave some relief and stopped some of the raging fires in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg in Tennessee.  It is such a tragedy.

Now I need to finish my post on the chalk festival in Marietta that took place on October 8 and 9, 2016.  You can see part one of my post here.  The theme this year was "Old Masters."  The chalk drawing in the heading collage was done by Craig Thomas from Cape Girardeau, MO; below is a close up.  Naomi Haverland of Denver, Colorado, drew the Jan Van Heck painting.  Naomi has won 5 awards at the Denver chalk festivals.

There was so much talent there.  It must be quite tiring to draw like this, working mostly on your hands and knees.  Please click on collages twice to enlarge.

Sean McCann from Minnesota made his drawing on a large standing board.

Graham Curtis of Petersburg, Pennsylvania, drew "The Deity enthroned."  He began painting 16 years ago on a whim.  He says "The nature of this art form is delightful... The temporary nature of the art, the comradery of the artists at street painting events is unique and a very rewarding experience."

There was a large crowd around the drawings.  It was fun to people watch, too.  Most spectators were taking pictures with their cell phones rather than with cameras.  Many were drinking and eating in outside cafes around the square, or near Zion Baptist Church (founded in 1866 by former slaves) or on top of the Strand Theatre - "Have a Brew with a View" ... looking at all the drawings from above.  By looking at the drawings from below, on the ground, the rest of the view was mostly of people's feet ...

The name of each artist was on the pavement, next to the chalk drawing and the artist's sponsor.  Most often there was also a picture of the original artwork.  There was a little metal pot where people could place their ticket to show their vote for the drawing of the "People's Choice Award."  Below, in center of collage is The Bitter Draught of Adriaen Brouwer, Flemish 1640, drawn by Kevin Powell of Marietta. In the bottom of the collage is the tag showing that the artist is from Mexico - Margarita Botella Morales from Nuevo Leon, Mexico.

Being up, away from the chalk drawings is a better view point to take pictures, but since I was close to the ground I usually took several pictures - from the left, the right, and in the center to decide which was the best camera angle.  Here is an example below.  This is the drawing of Willie Zen, of Long Beach, California, titled Boys Eating Grapes and Melon, 1645 from Bartolome Esteban Murillo, a Spanish Baroque painter, 1617-1682.  (Do not forget to click twice on the collage.)

I would also place my camera above my head, to provide some added height, and aim at the drawing.  But then, it is a half hazard way and it is easy to cut some of the drawing off as shown below in the bottom two photos, or to show my shadow, as seen in Zuleika Hodges' drawing of The Girl with a Pearl Earring from Johanness Vermeer, Dutch 1632-1675.

To avoid the drawing to look distorted and a bit weird in a photo is to take the photo from a ladder.  Fortunately, this year again, I found myself next to the professional photographer who takes pictures on his ladder.  He graciously agreed to use my camera for a couple of pictures and took them on top of his ladder.  Below is the chalk art drawing by artist Chris Carlston of Denver, Colorado, who was sponsored by the Mazloom Law Firm.  You can easily tell the difference between the photos taken from the ladder and mine which are the two photos at the bottom of the collage.

The photographer is Craig C. Houdeshell.  His biography says that "He was born in Ohio and his education was in engineering, but he also has formal education in music and art.  Building on these disparate educations, Craig approaches photography with the practiced detail you would expect from an engineer and with the heart of an artist."  He has attended many chalk festivals including the one in Venice, Florida, another one in Sarasota (see Jay Schwartz' Skeleton Mona Lisa below) and Clearwater Beach (see Matt McAllister green masked man.)  He has also received several prizes for his photography (see his beautiful pre-dawn sky photo below.)  You can see more on his web site here.  (Photos courtesy Craig C. Houdeshell.)

While looking down at the drawings and seeing many sets of feet I photographed about 28 dogs among all the sneakers, boots, flip-flops, sandals, etc.  Having two cats at home and no dog, I was pleased to catch so many dogs, at least with my camera.

As we ended our circle promenade around the Marietta square we walked by the public chalk competition.  This non-professional chalk competition had been divided into Youth, Teen, School and Adult groups.

 We had enjoyed our afternoon enormously.  What a treat to look at such superb artwork.  All these fabulous artists spent many hours crouched on their chalk drawings and it would all fade away - ephemeral splendor.  It did not rain for weeks after the festival so vehicles drove over colorful roads around the Marietta square for a while.  What a wonderful giant canvas this had been.  I found out that Cuong Nguyen's Pavonia won the People's Choice Award.

Cuong Nguyen, originally from Vietnam, is a passionate and gifted artist.  His rendition of Lord Frederick Leighton's Pavonia is outstanding and sensitive.  The colors in his drawings are quite smooth and soft - the face looks lifelike and exquisite.  The award was well deserved.

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