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2020 will go into history as the corona year. Or perhaps as the first corona year if we are going to get more of these pandemics. In an earlier post I wrote about pre-coronial times and just before the outbreak we visited the biggest ever Van Eyck exhibition in Ghent. In the interbellum between the first and second onslaught of the virus we managed to go back to Ghent to see the fully restored Lamb and to the Eifel region of Germany. In this post I’m showing some images from the Eifel, a hilly (they call it Mittelgebirge 😕), formerly volcanic, area roughly between Aachen, Bonn, Koblenz and Trier. Some of its rivers, like the Rur, are affluents of the Meuse, others, like the Ahr and the Erft feed the Rhine. Our base was Mayschoß on the Ahr, a rather bland village compared to Altenahr or Ahrweiler, but the terraces of the Winzergenossenschaft (wine makers co-op) are very pleasant and there are many great walks. Highlight of the region is the Toggenburger Churfirstin cheese shop in Ahrweiler. They sell superb Swiss cheeses. Holland has a great and wholly unjustified reputation for cheese. We did have really tasty cheese in the past, but modern methods have managed to eliminate every last molecule of smell and taste. France and Italy have an enormous diversity of cheese, but for hard cheese you have to be in Switzerland. Or the Toggenburger Churfirstin of course. Really good Swiss cheese is difficult to get in other countries, because they are made in too small quantity for exportation and moreover quite expensive.
The Eifel region is the Mesopotamia of Northern Europe, lying between the magnificent rivers Meuse and Rhine. The southern delineation of the Eifel is the Mosel— Moselle in France. We could expect it to be an affluent of the Meuse (Mosa) but in reality it joins the Rhine. The Mosel and its valley are of extraordinary beauty, especially its meandering trajectory from Trier to Cochem. Only the Semois between Bouillon and Monthermé and onward the Meuse up to Namur can come near this spectacle. The Mosel valley is of great importance as a wine growing region, in particular white wines that are comparable to some of the finest Elzas (Alsace) wines. The Ahr valley has its own charm with some wild rock formations but the river itself is not very impressive. In the slideshow I have shown the vineyards and grapes. They are the Pinot Noir (Blauburgunder) variety that results in lovely red wines similar to the famous wines from Bourgogne. Don’t expect a Romanée-Conti, but then, to spend thousands of euros on a single bottle is sheer madness and perversion. As an admirer of Rousseau for this disorder I propose guillotine therapy. In September there were hordes of tourists in the Ahr valley. It seems this is common as it is the time of picking grapes and producing wine. There were measures against corona, like face masks in supermarkets, but otherwise the atmosphere was very relaxed.
Another subject in the slideshow is the pietà, the representation of Jesus after he has been taken down from the cross and lies on the lap of his mother Mary. In my last post I was fulminating against the current obsession with stories, but here surely you have a story. The life and death of Jesus are among the most read and represented stories ever. Whether you are religious or not, whether you are christian or heathen 🤣, it is some story! And this particular moment of the mother mourning her dead son has a universal significance, a mother losing her son. There are certain regions in Europe where the pietà became one of the predominant issues in sculpture and painting and found in every other church. The Eifel is one of them, but in the bordering areas of the Netherlands and Belgium there are many as well. If you look up pietà-images on the internet nine out of ten will show the one by Michelangelo Buonarotti in the Vatican. It is a show of sculptural prowess of the young artist, done with such ease and perfection that it almost seems unreal. Very different and much more moving is his Rondanini pietà in Milano.
Some think it is unfinished, I guess we’ll never know. The origin of the pietà representation goes back to the 13th century, probably in southern Germany. Many pietàs, and most certainly the medieval ones, have a relatively small Jesus compared to Mary. Mary’s face doesn’t show sorrow, but rather resignation or perhaps confusion. Later pietàs, of which the Vatican version is an examples, turn the scene into a magnificent and glorious spectacle. Still later the face of Maria will be very sorrowful. Often, Maria looks younger than Jesus, which may bewilder the spectator who doesn’t know that the virgin Mary was supposedly bestowed with eternal youth. Caravaggio disagreed, in his heart-rending entombment Mary is an elderly woman. In my previous post I spoke about Shanta rasa as the ultimate aspiration of art. But not everyone agreed with that proposition, Bhavabhuti for instance suggests that the epitome of art is Karuna rasa: pathos, sorrow, grief, compassion. The pietà could well be seen in this light. Greek tragedy does so much more than comedy. Powerfully moving music is sad music. Jolly music is great fun, but shallow.
While we were in Germany corona started on it’s second campaign in the Netherlands. Germany responded on the day we left: travellers from the Netherlands had to go in quarantine. That was a narrow escape, if you have to spend ten days in quarantine from a one week holiday you are in big trouble. Back in the Netherlands people were still wondering if there was going to be a second wave, while in reality we were already in the middle. It is curious that with everything that is happening there are still people who deny the very existence or relevance of the virus. This is part of what I called anti-modernism in my previous post. Another expression is ‘alternative facts’, invented by Trump’s counsellor Kellyanne Conway in 2017. Trump is the emblem of a development in which facts are called fake and lies are called truth. Conspiracy theory, a branch of Morosophy, is a framework in which fake facts and true lies are assembled. As I mentioned in my previous post, this mode of thinking has become particularly dangerous with the corona crisis. In 2001 dutch Matthijs van Boxsel wrote a wonderfully amusing book called Morosofie (there are translation of this and follow-up works by the author in many languages). Erasmus’ Praise of Folly (1511), La Morosophie by Guillaume de la Perriere Tolosain (1553) are early examples of satire on superstitions and untenable beliefs. In the 19th century André Blavier wrote Les Fous Littéraires, a mad theories encyclopaedia of more than a thousand pages. The fight between advocates of flat earth versus the sphere is illustrative (and very old, it existed in ancient Greece, India and China). Now that there is overwhelming evidence for the spherical view, the flat earth view has become a source of hilarity. The challenge of scientific and journalistic truth-finding by conspiracy theorists never was so lively as with the corona crisis. High quality journalism is called the enemy of the people, science is discarded as totally irrelevant. The postmodern challenge is a very important addition to infinitely many issues that elude scientific enquiry. In that light it should be stressed that neither scientific nor journalistic research are static. Theories are debunked, refined and replaced by new insights and evidence. Some morosophical beliefs are just funny, some are gratuitous, others are dangerous. Many ideas and beliefs are not the product of scientific enquiry are learnt in tradition and generations of experience. Drinking too much alcohol is not good for health. We know that and it has even been codified in certain religions. But exactly how much alcohol is bad? Medical science for long held that one or two glasses of wine per day is good for you, but the latest insights say zero is best. The grey zone between the known and the uncertain (not to speak of the unknown) is huge.
We hope the counteroffensive of humans agains viruses will soon be successful. The current situation of lockdowns is no just an entrenchment. Only the vaccine can get us out of those trenches so that we may go a roving deep into the night, when the moon will still be bright (Byron, pray forgive me). And we do not take the jab only for our own fun, we take it to protect others, it is only our social duty.