“I don’t know if I ever told you,” my therapist said. “But I’m a birder. I love birds. And when they hit a window like that, or get hurt in any significant way, they have this ritual. They shake off the pain. They shake off the trauma. And they walk in circles to reconnect their brain and body and soul. When your bird was walking and shaking, it was remembering and relearning how to be a bird.” Oh, wow. I couldn’t say much after that intense revelation, but my therapist continued. “We humans often lose touch with our bodies,” she said. “We forget that we can also shake away our pain and trauma.”
Earlier this week, we spoke of the tumultuous history of the Italian city of Ninfa. You can read that post here. She began as an agricultural community crowned by a temple dedicated to water nymphs and grew into an influential city on an important trade route near Rome. Becoming rich off of tolls and trade, she found herself embroiled in Papal politics, was sacked and burned, strangled by war, then at last fell victim to the power of the very water that made her rise possible. Flooding and malaria had the final word, or so it seemed.
The Caetani family, stewards and power brokers of Ninfa since 1298, held onto the property, but disease and violence had left a stain that had ruined the town’s reputation. It was not until 1921 that Gelasio Caetani began to realize his ancestor’s dream of making a garden here. He restored some of the old buildings, creating a summer residence. His mother, Lady Constance Adela Bootle-Wilbraham, or Ada for short, was the daughter of the Fourth Earl of Clarendon, having married Onorato Caetani, the Duke of Sermoneta, one of the (comparatively) new towns that had sprung up near the ruins of Ninfa. She had already created an English style garden at nearby Lake Fogliani. Ada helped her son plan a new garden at Ninfa, which he filled with water loving plants from his travels abroad.
The extreme humidity of the region, where it rains almost every afternoon, supports a surprising number of foreign species, including American Walnuts, yuccas, cedars, cherry trees, Himalayan and Mexican Pines, magnolia, tulip trees and bamboo. There are a huge variety of roses, both climbing and bush varieties, as well as wisteria, hydrangea, clematis and many other flowering plants and trees.
The park and gardens provide a sharp and welcome contrast to the industrialized areas near Rome. The World Wildlife Fund has set aside a few acres of the garden as a wildlife sanctuary, since the river Ninfa and its many springs lie along a busy migration route for birds between Europe and Africa. Teals, mallards, herons and raptors add to the romance of the place. The river and lake also support a large number of trout.
Painter Lelia Caetani and her husband, Hubert Howard, were the last owners here. They created the Roffredo Caetani Foundation , dedicated to the memory of her father, a noted composer, to manage Il Giardino de Ninfa and other Caetani family sites in the area. Under the guidance of the Foundation, the garden is open for guided tours on a set schedule. Wandering without a guide is prohibited.
We wouldn’t want to offend the water nymphs, would we?
Carl sat musing until the sun leaped above the prairie, and in the grass about him all the small creatures of day began to tune their tiny instruments. Birds and insects without number began to chirp, to twitter, to snap and whistle, to make all manner of fresh shrill noises. The pasture was flooded with light; every clump of ironweed and snow-on-the-mountain threw a long shadow, and the golden light seemed to be rippling through the curly grass like the tide racing in.
Over the plains of Ethiopia the sun rose as I had not seen it in seven years. A big, cool, empty sky flushed a little above a rim of dark mountains. The landscape 20,000 feet below gathered itself from the dark and showed a pale gleam of grass, a sheen of water. The red deepened and pulsed, radiating streaks of fire. There hung the sun, like a luminous spider’s egg, or a white pearl, just below the rim of the mountains. Suddenly it swelled, turned red, roared over the horizon and drove up the sky like a train engine. I knew how far below in the swelling heat the birds were an orchestra in the trees about the villages of mud huts; how the long grass was straightening while dangling locks of dewdrops dwindled and dried; how the people were moving out into the fields about the business of herding and hoeing.
Birds with Skymirrors is a provocative and beautiful dance work choreographed by Lemi Ponifasio, one of New Zealand’s most famous artists. It was inspired by a walk on the beach on the Pacific island of Tarawa, during which Ponifasio observed seabirds flying with pieces of plastic hanging from their beaks. The dancers embody the movements of birds, sometimes soaring and inspiring, sometimes tense and mechanical. This video gives a glimpse of how mesmerizing this work is as it celebrates the complex fragility of birds and humans with stark eloquence. Birds with Skymirrors does include reverent nudity, which is handled very tastefully in the video.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Evolutionary biologist Ed Scholes and wildlife photographer Tim Laman have spent a great deal of the past ten years in the untamed wilderness of New Guinea studying the family of birds known as Birds of Paradise. The 39 species which are native to this range of forested islands are anomalous. Nowhere else on earth have birds evolved to possess the astounding variety of colors and behaviors which the male Birds of Paradise employ in their courtship displays. Brilliant plumage and skin colors, voices that sound like aliens from outer space, shape-shifting abilities, specially designed feathers and bodies, and elaborate choreography can be found among these extraordinary birds.
The Cornell Ornithology Lab continues to sponsor the ongoing work of Scholes and Laman and has put together an amazing website containing many videos of their work. I could spend a week there and not grow tired of the beauty and uniqueness they have captured on video. Here is an introductory video for the project, sure to peak your interest, followed by three videos that focus on a specific type of bird. There are plenty more on the website!
Next, the amazing dance of the Carola’s Parotia. Check it out, this guy has the moves!
Do you remember a strange bird from the introductory video that looks rather like a psychedelic smiley face, hopping around on a branch in front of a female? Known as the Superb Bird of Paradise, he is a fantastic shape-shifter with a built in ability for optical illusion. Weird and stunning.
Finally, the King of Saxony is notable for his gorgeous “wire” plume feathers and his voice, which sounds like it is from another planet. Watch what happens when coordinates his voice and his feathers. These birds are showmen.
We ate the birds. We ate them. We wanted their songs to flow up through our throats and burst out of our mouths, and so we ate them. We wanted their feathers to bud from our flesh. We wanted their wings, we wanted to fly as they did, soar freely among the treetops and the clouds, and so we ate them. We speared them, we clubbed them, we tangled their feet in glue, we netted them, we spitted them, we threw them onto hot coals, and all for love, because we loved them. We wanted to be one with them. We wanted to hatch out of clean, smooth, beautiful eggs, as they did, back when we were young and agile and innocent of cause and effect, we did not want the mess of being born, and so we crammed the birds into our gullets, feathers and all, but it was no use, we couldn’t sing, not effortlessly as they do, we can’t fly, not without smoke and metal, and as for the eggs we don’t stand a chance. We’re mired in gravity, we’re earthbound. We’re ankle-deep in blood, and all because we ate the birds, we ate them a long time ago, when we still had the power to say no.
― Margaret Atwood, The Tent
La Mano Ajena, Alien Hand, is a Chilean band comprised of Rodrigo Latorre, saxophone, guitar, flute, keyboard and theremin; María Fernanda Carrasco, vocals, keyboard, melodica and percussion; Danka Villanueva, violin and marimba; Gabriel Moyla, accordion and saxophone; Jair Moreno, clarinet; Álvaro Sáez, drums, darbuka and djembe; and Cristian Aqueveque, bass, all of whom began their careers in Chilean theatre. Their music is an eclectic mix of styles from Europe and Latin America, including folk dances, klezmer, and jazz, among others. A mix of the comic and the serious that owes something to Brecht as well as to the dance halls of Europe in the 1940s and 50s, this video features a quirky tune called Aves Errantes, Wandering Birds, sung in French and Spanish.