Beauty is not truth

And whoever said otherwise, if that’s all he knows on earth or thinks he needs to know, then he needs to take a refresher course in something. I don’t know what.

The continual lesson I take from all the museum and cathedral hopping, is that the most elegant structures in the world are produced by persons laboring under false impressions.

Don’t take my word for it, I’m just a liberal atheist without nearly the conviction in the nonexistence of Your God to scratch out the eyes of an icon, let alone kill millions of children. Ask the beauty-makers about each other. The builders of the splendid mosques destroyed the splendid monasteries of the Orthodox and the favor was returned and furthermore they are still doing it.

It simply cannot be true that both the world model which produced the Taoist ornamentation north of Xining and the world model which produced the flying-running-kneeling angels who surround the frescoes in Ohrid are valid. One at least has to be false, or both of them if the Buddhist model is true. (There is a lay belief in America from the 1960’s that Buddhism is all mellow and accepting and everything, well that’s just because they aren’t in power, like pre-1948 Jews. Buddhists aren’t cosmic at all. If you lived in a Buddhist theocracy and your unattachment was 2 jiggers different from the prescribed unattachment of Bodhisattva Uno, they would cut off your feet.)

But what do realists produce, spreadsheets?

When you are alone and don’t speak the language, you have a lot of time for open loop thinking.

Ohrid is easy for an English speaker, though. All the signs are in English. Good English. Better English than you speak, as I will describe. Not because many English speaking tourists go there: mostly it’s folks from the Balkan countries who drive their cars. A fair number of Germans. But in the Balkans, as in India, English is a relatively non-sectarian language, and if you write in English, people won’t ask why you have Albanian but not Serbian, or Greek but not Croatian on your menu, and some of those people have guns.

In two days in Ohrid I made a fair dent in the UNESCO-listed churches and other ones I happened by. I bought a guidebook. There are handouts in many of the churches, telling you what you ought to be seeing when you stow your camera and walk inside.

First of all it’s dark in there, you have to wait quite a while before the murals show up, and when your eyes are adapted enough to tell St. Clement from St. Naum, you squint at the handout, or the guidebook, and read:

“The 10th century basilica had difoil toves and a perverse napster with inscriptions in Old Hemolytic. It was reconstructed by Glandelinian in 14c and assumed its current form after being leveled 8 times. Behind the iconosepsis are fine frescoes of Christ Vasodilator and the Reminding of John Penstemon. The coppice is transceived by St. Mordant’s Cross, and three hypospadiades intimidate the forex, upon which traces of paint may still be seen. No evidence of an ossuary remains upon the grounds, but we like using the word ‘ossuary’.”

You don’t speak English.

The Turks defaced a lot of the murals, to varying degrees. I got into an argument with a German lady in Turpan. I won’t say argument; we just lobbed a few unsupported assertions at each other. Anyway, she was convinced that Islam only forbids drinking during the day time. I don’t have that impression, and since neither one of us is an Islamic scholar I can only assume that her Muslim friends drink in the evening, and my Muslim friends don’t drink. And from that we extrapolate to a billion and a half people: this is the prerogative of inductive logic.

I think of the moment that some individual person was charged with bringing a Buddha Cave or a repurposed Orthodox church into line with the proscription against worshipping graven images. What did that person decide to do, and why did he decide to do it? In Afghanistan, he used artillery. In Dunhuang, he obliterated faces. In Ohrid, he scratched out the eyes of some saints. Perhaps he was impressed by the beauty of the fresco. Or he thought his boss might be. Or he was lazy. Or he had Christian friends who worshipped there.

That anything should survive is a miracle, which is being addressed.

The food in Ohrid was good overall, even at the hotel on the first night. Especially there. Trout soup. Then I read that the Lake Ohrid trout was endangered and you shouldn’t eat it, just like you shouldn’t eat shark’s fin. It’s a lot easier to not eat something that costs $200 a bowl than something that costs $1.

I was a little disappointed by Antica, which got good reviews but seemed a little S. E. Rykoff now.

Best was Momir, right on the lake front: Macedonian Salad (tomatoes primarily; grilled peppers, garlic); 100 g of ham on a plate; squid stuffed with ham and cheese, potatoes carrots and shredded lettuce on the side. I never had room for dessert. It’s not much fun without Dave.

Hotel Lebed is a good place. You should stay there. My 40 Euro room was big and had a balcony and looked directly out onto the lake. There is a boardwalk along the lake and people promenade all day and night and especially in the evening, which since I was thinking about iconoclasm caused this other spasm of self-referent rumination:

Walking along the shore at sunset. Everyone all orange and fabulous, the kids fishing and the old women in their scarves and the old men playing cards and chess every wrinkle redolent of a lifetime of sun, tobacco, and Slavic fractiousness; but although half the population of the town in August is tourists and they all have cameras, nobody was taking pictures. I felt really conspicuous and a bit uncomfortable using mine.

I surmise that this is because cameras in the modern construct are not for making pictures, they are for performing certain rituals at bars and in front of the Eiffel Tower; just as computers, or what are now called computers, are not at all optimized for computation, their original function, but instead are used for various ritual trivial subsets of their capability, i.e. games and email and blogs.

The number of people using computers for computation has not increased so much since the 1960’s, and the number of people using cameras to make pictures has not increased so much since the 1860’s.

That’s not really true, but it’s a talking point with myself. If touring doesn’t make you think there’s really no reason to go.