The Miller’s Tale

In Brueghel’s Procession to Calvary, the Mill perches on an implausibly high and incongruous rock in the flemish countryside. Or perhaps it’s not flemish, but the middle east, imagined by a man who could only conceive of that land as the only land he knew, Flanders.

What is the Mill and who is the Miller? The mill takes the grain, the life essence and grinds it into matter that will be transformed into bread, the holy host, the body of Christ. It takes the essence of god and renders it into the material world so that the ineffable can be partaken of by men. In the consuming of the Host, the ineffable, the Christ, becomes carnate within us.

And between the Mill (the agent of his conception) and the Cross (the instrument of his demise) dances the entire pageant of the human experience, all our sins, all our folly both venal and mortal, inattentive to the turning blades and the waiting pine.

Which of course, inevitably brings us to Townes Van Zandt.

His suffering was more than any men, let alone single man should live to bear. And either because of his suffering, or because of the breadth of genius that preceded it, what remained in the end burned white hot.

Today I’ve been listening to recordings he did in his last European tour, when he was near at the end. Some of the words are so searing, they brought me to a standstill. I stood on the corner in the Mission and could do nothing but listen.

And I can’t help but think. The fruit be damned. You. The Miller. The one who would ever bestow this upon a man:

You ain’t no friend of mine.

Roadtrip to Cavalry

Yesterday morning.

I race for two hours through the desert at 80-95 mph to make a flight in Flagstaff, only to learn it was cancelled due to maintenance; and then to learn that the connecting flight was leaving from Phoenix, (140 miles away) in three hours so I race at 90-100 mph to southern Arizona, throw my car in long term parking, hoof through TSA and to the gate to board with ten minutes to spare; land in San Francisco several hours later, make my way into town on BART, walk up California Street because no street cars or buses are in sight, attempted to check into my hotel only to learn my reservation had not gone through and they were fully booked; rebook another hotel across town, travelled there by bus, dropped off my bags, racd to the San Francisco International Film Festival offices 10 minutes before closing to grab my badge; eat a bowl of soba noodles; walk 100 feet to the Kabuki theatre to learn that the film they were showing was sold out and I had to wait in rush; but so many people showed they couldn’t let anyone in from the rush line; a fellow approaches and sells a spare ticket to the guy in front of me, but his friend fails to show, so two minutes before the curtain goes up, he turns and hands me his ticket to

The Mill and the Cross.

Some ponderings:

I may like the painting better than the movie.  But I like the movie because it gives us cause to consider the painting.

Which makes me consider that procession and mesh of life and intervening forces in which we’re embedded as we fulfill that life into which we’ve been born, or trace that road which we’ve chosen.

I wonder with whom of all those 500 characters in the procession we each choose to align.  Are we the miller, the horseman, the weeping mother, the man shouldering the fallen tree?

And I found it pleasant to be thrust into the stillness of Brueghel time.  Especially after a harrowing day of travel to arrive in this harrowing city.  I want that stillness, that repose from which to witness that tragedy we call being human.

This morning I feel disconnected in this most connected city.  I wonder a little about what the hell I’m doing here.  

I eat more soba.

I decide that I will just move through the day and try to be kind.  That’s all I will do today.  Just be kind.  

I’ve kind of failed at it.  But I’m still trying.  I have eight more hours to go.  And again tomorrow. Perhaps I will try.