April 20th, 2007

monkey pirate

Up to the Goddess; Down to the Shore

I rode my bike to work yesterday. From Venice to Santa Monica is basically uphill all the way - mostly gentle, but a few steep spots. I met a castmember from Pimpernel at UCLA for a lecture series at UCLA, and that, however - was incredibly uphill, fairly steep all the way. I arrived pretty tired - only to have to walk up another mile-long hill with Gabe to where the lecture was...... And then up several flights of stairs. Looking out a window, I was clearly at the highest point of elevation West of the Getty. It had been a long journey up the mountain to finally sit down at the lectures.

The lecture was in two parts; "Shadows of the Great Goddess: Power and the Female in Myths of Demeter" by Prof. Kathryn Morgan, and "Cleopatra and HBO Rome: an Egyptian Queen for the 21st Century" by Prof Robert Gurval. Both speakers were world-wide experts on their topics, and both speeches were both funny and informative. It turns out that, the desires of modern women aside, Greek Goddesses did not stand for female empowerment at all. Rather, they reflected the mores and standards of their time - in which the sexuality of women was a carefully controlled resource, and not by the women. The goddesses that represented them, therefore - reinforced those mores, they didn't contradict them. To couple with a goddess like Aphrodite was disastrous for he with whom she canoodled; similarly goddesses (like Demeter) who defied the ordained order of things tended to fare badly, and mortals even worse. Dan Brown's "sacred feminine" is, in her opinion, pure folderol.

Prof. Gurval's take on HBO's Cleopatra was that she wasnt far off the mark of what recorded history says she must have been like. Clearly some liberties were taken - like her opium addiction, which would have been impossible for the time. But the actress chosen, her demeanor, and her strangeness were more like what Cleopatra was, as understood by Roman historians, anyway - than many Hollywood adaptations before.

Both lecturers had a clever and wry sense of humor, and both lecturers gave interesting, engaging talks. We even had drinks on an impressive portico at the top of the building after the lectures, and I schmoozed as if I belonged there. Which I didn't, since I'm neither a student of the classics or an UCLA alum.

As much as mounting the mighty slopes to visit the Goddesses had been a wearying journey, going home was a delight. It was almost entirely downhill, and I felt like I had wings. There was very little traffic on the roads - it was quite late - and the streets were still, slightly damp, and dark. The cool wind on my face was exhilirating - and I covered half the city like an eagle on the wing. On the particularly long and steep downhill that takes Pico all the way to the ocean, I actually whooped. Riding through LA at night was amazing. Ride through Philly at night, and you'd dodge piles of trash, steam vents, taxis But LA is quiet - and the various lifeforms that I passed were all interesting in theiir own way; hipsters smoking in front of a trendy bar, old jazz-men in front of a night club, a gaggle of college kids in front of SMC, a handfull of discarded men huddled up behind a traffic fence under a bridge. There were flowers everywhere, and the scent of ripening citrus. Two city blocks of a solid hedgerow of blooming honeysuckle. The growing ocean air as I got closer to home - skaters practicing tricks down in the public beach parking lot, a woman pushing an glowering amputee in a shopping cart, a trio of men on bikes, all three bedecked in so many LED spot lights that they looked like UFO's patrolling the boardwalk.

Home, and I exhausted, covered and sweat. But happy.
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