How to get rid of a post-op winter depression

A gentle billowing of the yellow curtains .... soft street murmurs floating in ... Yes, they must have opened the windows to catch some of the pre-spring breeze. Such a luminous day too! And how sweet everyone was! One of the nurses had brought freshly baked cookies for her colleagues. But not for me, since I had to remain sober for the small operative intervention I had to undergo. I had already had a little red pill, “ just to make you feel more relaxed”, and more was to flow intra-venously  soon, the anaesthetist had assured me.

So I sighed blissfully, loving life, the world, and this hospital in particular. Like that cute gown they had make me put on, with little green flowers!
Oh, and there was that nice surgeon again! Who benevolently was going to give me the smallest of cuts in my leg, to kindly remove one of the bolts from the iron bar that kept my leg together. Oh yes, what a perfect day! It was Friday, I had the day off thanks to this operation and I was to return home still today.

The next day, I woke exhausted after a night plagued by nightmares (starring a giant spider with a swollen larva-like body and 8 spidery legs, flying through the air, dodging the knives I was throwing at it to eventually land elegantly on the kitchen sink).
The daily health walk was a flop – after 500 meters I miserably hobbled home again. The world was a crummy place. My entire life was a fiasco. I was a pathetic dud. Dear C was soon to leave for Spain, for an indeterminate period. Things sucked, the walls were closing in on me . I had to get out. Something had to be done! Such as going out and lighting a candle in a church? Well no, not really, but speaking of churches .... checking out the Walloon heritage pages on the web..... what was this: the Collegiate Church of Saint Gertrude - I hadn’t ever visited that supposedly marvellous Roman church in Nivelles.
Only 30 kilometres away ... and C was easily persuaded for a little outing by car.

Yes, my heart leapt, seeing the stern, pure lines of a sturdy roman church from afar. Those solid towers, those robust round arches ... But coming nearer, the aesthetic delight slowly subsided and suspicion rose. This was all too regular and too smooth ... this was not a venerable ancient building bearing witness of militant Christianity in dark ages ... Entering the building, one could not fail to spot that many of the heavy pillars were cast in concrete. Aha, a leaflet to enlighten the ignorant church-visitor: consecrated in the 11th century, duly bombed out in 1940, reconstruction finished in 1984...
When we left the building, we were greeted by pelting rain. And where was everybody? The city centre looked neat enough, but the shopping streets were near empty.

One shop drew our attention, second-hand stuff - peering in we saw an anarchistic disorder of piles of books, paintings, DVD’s... A handwritten notice on the door informed us that if the shop was closed, this meant that the owner was working on his Network. But the shop was not closed. While I was gingerly picking my way amongst the heaps of merchandise – putting a crutch here, a foot there – the owner (a young man, still in his twenties I’d say) was eager to explain:
- that the disorder was only temporary (he had just unloaded his truck),
- that he was in fact a “collector & connoisseur” ,
- that he was developing a Network of likeminded collectors,
- that he was building a Database,
- that he had a Business plan and was going to make enough money out of this to fund his leisure activities,
-  that we had to watch out for “caravan collectors” coming on the Web soon (but he may have been bluffing there, he definitely looked hesitating) and.....
-  that next week a load of superb art catalogues from Christies’ (or Sotheby’s – I don’t remember) was to be delivered! (as I write this, it is ‘next week’, and I’m sitting here car-less, unable alas to reach those loads of art books arriving in Nivelles) .

We left the shop with a dozen DVD’s and next proceeded to elucidate the mystery of the missing locals in the city-centre: they had all congregated in the various taverns on the main city square. We followed suit and entered a grand café, oozing the comfortable bourgeois fifties with its mirrors and copper and wood .... A good place to settle with books & papers & a glass of rosé , waiting for the rain to subside.

When the sun finally did peak through, I insisted on a final limping walk to the local park before going home. I was rewarded with an infinitely sombre, wintry park, pathetically dull with its empty benches, its vacuous allegorical statues, its pompous gates . Immensely endearing, really. So much so I could leave all my gloom & doom right there and then.

classical longings, again (see note 5)

While of course the mind can always go after what the feet can’t reach, I do value my feet bringing me again to what I set my mind on (1).
The current 1.5 km (hobbling) roaming range already opens up vast horizons since I have, when venturing out on foot (heading respectively North, North West and South East), three second hand bookshops (2) within reach .

Selective use of the city’s public transports had already been mastered early on after my accident (brandishing a crutch to secure a seat) in order to reach my place of daily diligence. But now also intercity train travel has been added to my expanding mobility range. Which allowed a visit to an exhibition of illuminated manuscripts in the Plantin Moretus museum in Antwerp, one of the world’s oldest printing shops.

The printed book ... now there’s an example of a new medium which quickly caught on, spread everywhere, evolved and kept up with the changing times to remain nearly unchallenged for hundreds of years.
Well, there was the advent of TV, grabbing a lot of people’s attention, but it never proved quite fatal for books.
Books remained in a category of their own, either as beautiful & venerable carriers of wisdom or else as easily transportable & user- friendly stores of knowledge & entertainment. Yes, books continued nearly unchallenged, until today’s handheld devices... Would they herald the end of the printed book?

But even then, a new carrier- technology need not also mean the end of a particular civilisation’s founding texts. Have not all ‘great human documents’ been digitalised by now? So is not in any case the “content” saved for many future generations to come?
Hmm, the “content”, perhaps, but what about the appreciation of these texts, what about their understanding by the general public? Who, outside university experts, is still reading these texts with care and respect? The past 50 years of advances in positive science and technology may have compromised the very notion of ancient texts bringing wisdom. And at the same time our ability and willingness to concentrate and spend time with a complex non-utilitarian text have declined. It’s of course not just because of smartphones and i-pads which invite to surfing & tweeting rather than to deep analysis . Perhaps it’s the sheer complexity of today’s world, with its high demands on our limited brainpower, which has simply used up our spare capacity for disinterested contemplation and thinking?

But back to the early printing days ... The printed book itself was of course a major technological innovation , which crowded out the illuminated manuscript and killed the delicate delightful art of miniatures (3).
Yet what this Plantin-Moretus exhibition endearingly shows, is how much the traditional authors and texts continued to be revered in those early printed book days, how meticulously printers would strive to faithfully reproduce ancient texts. Neither were the old illuminated manuscripts discarded, on the contrary : they were avidly collected as “things of beauty” to be carefully preserved.

The early age of the printed book was a time of bold explorations and discoveries in all domains – geography, anatomy, ....
A time too of religious unrest and ferocious reformations and counter-reformations. And yet in those complex and troubled times a fine humanist culture blossomed (in the wealthy Antwerp classes at least), lavishing loving attention on the authors and the arts of antiquity.

Going back home by tram, train and tram again, I obviously cannot fail to notice how many of my fellow passengers are distractedly caressing the touch-screens of their smart-phones . Conspicuous smart-phone-holders seem to outnumber discreet book-readers by 15 to 1 (hmm, book readers may of course very well be smart phone holders too). There’s no denying the fun those smartphone-holders have with their device, but I still find that, aesthetically speaking, their eye-finger movements, however agile, are no match for the flipping of rustling pages by a traditional reader.
Not to mention the supremely attractive look of concentration of a reader absorbed in a book-passage of particular beauty.

Such a passage perhaps as this one, in defence of classicism:

“[...] The joy to understand, bringing some support to the art of living. All that classicism leading to [mere]intellectual satisfaction? Certainly, but an intelligence then which is much broader than abstract reasoning, one that is capable of clarifying and purifying the life that goes by, capable of giving more courage to the heart. That harmony between formal appeal, human spiritual faculties and the experience of life , furnishes the secret of the aptly called ‘ interior classicism’, which has nothing to do with the formal academism with which it is all too often confounded. “ (4)

Notes & a little booklist
(1) Paraphrasing Walt Whitman “My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach”
(2) These hobbling health walks to the bookshop resulted in:
* 3 out-of-print André Chastel volumes, for a ffflâneur irresistibly titled: ‘Fables, Forms, Figures’ 2 volumes Henri Focillon on the Middle Ages,
* a small introduction to the Baroque by Victor-L. Tapié,
* a bundle of essays on the Jew as pariah by Hannah Arendt and the latter’s correspondence with Heinrich Blücher (I long hesitated to acquire that book of personal letters, since Arendt wrote so often about the difference between public and private persona and how the private should remain private),
* a little studious leaflet about ‘Joachim Le Patinier et Henri Blès – Leurs vrais visages’ (published by “ le Centre d’action culturelle de la Communauté d’expression française ayant pour objet d’assurer, dans le respect de la personne humaine, la promotion et le rayonnement culturels de la Communauté d’expression française en Belgique – “ ah, how a sentence can smell of the 70s )
(3) Though Panofsky in fact speculated that the traditional craft of illumination may rather have committed suicide by an overdose of painterly perspective – whose realistic illusionary depth was ill fitted for two dimensional book decorations . “On a dit que la miniature avait été tuée par l’invention de l’imprimerie ; en réalité, elle avait déjà commencé à se suicider en se transformant en peinture. Même sans Gutenberg, elle serait morte d’une “overdose” de perspective. “
(4) Victor L. Tapié, Baroque et Classicisme : ““[...]Le plaisir de comprendre apportant un secours à l’art de vivre. Tout ce classicisme conduisant à une satisfaction de l’intelligence? Assurément, mais il s’agit d‘une intelligence plus vaste que celle que du raisonnement abstrait, capable d’éclairer et de purifier la vie qui passe, de donner au coeur plus de courage. Cette harmonie entre les faculties spirituelles de l’homme, l’expérience de la vie et l’attrait de la forme fournit le secret de ce ‘classicisme intérieur’ [...] qui n’a rien à faire avec l’académisme formel [...] avec [lequel] on le confond trop souvent.”
(5)  again ..... smuggling in an autobiographic note:  an apology for classical longings