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Banbury Cross

a pillow for lost thoughts...

Post details: Little Colorado

Little Colorado

Ruhevoll, the slow movement of Gustav Mahler's 4th symphony, is one of the most tranquil, serene and profound musical pieces. Like a patch of river grass, its vast slowly undulating fields of strings filter some of the purest spiritual streams sprung into motion by man. Yet into the middle of this highly reflective contemplation Mahler planted a short, and almost unbelievably trite theme whose gaudy inanity seems to be completely out of place. It feels like overhearing a cheap carnival music from a merry-go-round on your walk through a Country Fair. But it gives the whole symphony a very human touch, its Ferris Wheel of perspective. As if you practiced yoga on a train and looked out of the window for a moment after your exercise and saw a bunch of drunks staggering back from their inn and some important aspect of life just glimpsed in front of your eyes, but before you could distill it into a thought, it was gone from your memory. And the train was indifferently speeding on, already miles away.

I like things that do not belong. They are the loose bricks in the wall of our perception, purveying a view into a different spiritual garden. They let us know that there is more that our point of view and provide sometimes sobering and sometimes intoxicating vistas into other contexts. Like chords from a different scale that give a jazz piece its tension, but won't destroy its intrinsic harmony, like diamond rings on a finger of a harlot that provide a subtle link to her furious past, they hint, but do not override.

That is why I admire the kind of surrealistic paintings that are perfectly ordinary except for one odd not belonging element. A case in point: the locomotive engine steaming out of a fireplace in Rene Magritte's Time Transfixed. If I was a filmmaker, I would shoot a completely realistic spy thriller, which would feel like your regular James Bond flick, except for one short moonlit scene in which a troupe of zippy chipmunks wearing purple grass skirts would dance across an ancient stone bridge. It would be but a fleeting image and the movie would afterward resume its regularly scheduled plot as if nothing had happened - the bridge itself being blown up to pieces by evil terrorists a few car chases later.

Cities have their magical places that do not belong, too. In the Washington, DC metropolitan area one such place is undoubtedly the Great Falls Park. A short rugged stretch of the Potomac River, where the impatient waterway cascades down in a series of frothy chutes and waterfalls, hurling packets of liquid vertigo off their cliffs. All you have to do to witness this spectacle is take the Georgetown Pike away from the Beltway and in less than 15 minutes you'll find your senses gorging on what appears to be a miniature copy of Colorado. It is a sight I would never expect within the limits of a major world city. A place perfectly out of place.

In the moral desert of the Beltway politics filled with dunes of dry lobbyists and politicians drifting on top of oily deposits of think tanks and slick lawyers, the Park provides an Oasis of lush and green life, a refreshing panorama of unspoiled wilderness. Stern gray rocks stand still and unwavering like immutable pillars of the Gothic Cathedral of Turbulence, while the playful river releases all of its wild dogs to chase the rabbits of gravity down its meandering path. If you look into the churning waters, you can see the droplets of their saliva swarming rapaciously in the air. Compared to the ephemeral trade of spin doctors, they give off a sense of transcendence and selfless eternity. Like grains of sand falling through an infinite hourglass.

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