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Notes from Córdoba, 2016

On the day we visited the Mezquita de Córdoba, the place was full of people both living and dead.

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In addition to the tourists roaming hither and yon amongst the seemingly endless recursion of pillars and arches, at every turn one finds centuries-old inscriptions that mark the eternal resting place of some duke or bishop or some other wealthy corpse.

The first one I noticed bore this crude image of a skull:

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The second was more stylized, cartoonish even, and included alongside the skull and the scythe a ‘winged hourglass’ motif. Tempus fugit, memento mori, etc., etc. etc.:

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The last of these images I photographed that day was another skull, this time lit up in the rainbow colors streaming down through a stained glass window of the Cátedral–as all the official communication takes special pains to remind you, this is indeed a Cathedral and most definitely no longer a mosque, despite everything you’ve ever read or heard about the place calling it ‘the Mezquita‘. Somewhat difficult to appreciate the colors in this photo, but still an interesting contrast of brightness and gloom:

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The starkest, most surreal contrast I found in that cathedral-cum-mosque, was inside the Capilla de Benditas Almas del Purgatorio(!), next to an ossuary containing the skull, femur, and other remains of some important figure. There, alongside these remains left for centuries on display in this sober iron box, someone had accidentally(?) left a humble coathanger made of clear blue plastic:

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The contrast of old and modern, ceremonial and workaday, unearthly and mundane…something about it spoke to me, and asked me to document and share it.

I knew as soon as I snapped the photo that it would most likely spawn a post on this long-neglected blog of mine. You know, a few photos with a few jokey and affectionate comments about the Mezquita and all its interesting juxtapositions and what not, nothing too transcendent.

What I didn’t know was that the next morning I’d be laying in my hotel room watching news about a terrorist attack of Brussels killing dozens of people and injure dozens more, and thinking: Fuck.

And later, as we visited the ‘Museo Vivo de al-Andalus’ located in the Torre de la Calahorra and sat in the tiny Sala 2 staring at wax figures of brilliant philosophers like Averroes and Ibn Arabi and watching their eyes glisten in the spotlight as readings of their texts played through our audioguides, I couldn’t help thinking how little mankind has advanced in the last thousand years.

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In the face of events like the terrorist attacks in Brussels (and in Paris, and in Lahore and Turkey and all over the Muslim world), and of the often rash and uninformed responses they inspire–the moronic, knee-jerk xenophobia of Trump & co., the wholesale bombardment of thousands of innocent victims, the often shameful handling of the Syrian refugee crisis, etc.–my instinctive response has always been a retreat to the sort of misanthropic atheist position that I’ve always found most comfortable.

Namely, the conviction that mankind is, generally speaking, doomed. That if, in the 21st century, we’re still slaying each other for the same idiotic reasons moros and cristianos were doing so a millenium ago, then as a species there really is no hope for us and we deserve to perish forever from this earth.

But no, I tell myself. That’s an easy out. Because how many of us have that luxury of burying our heads in the sand while the world burns around us, and crossing our fingers and hoping for a quiet death from natural causes before we too are consumed in the flames? And those of us who do have that luxury, for how much longer…?

Tempus fugit. Momento mori. Etc.

On a lighter note, Virgin Mary says Haaaaaaaay

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