I was eleven when the Berlin Wall came down. I was fifteen when the demolition was finally complete. I was born in 1978, so my life, up until when I was in high school, was steeped in the stark reality of the Cold War. Since the end of World War II, and the development of the atomic bomb, the world felt itself on the brink of World War III, the next and final holocaust, the end of the world. I remember the evening news on most nights, covering the negotiations between Reagan and Gorbachev, as to whether or not to engage in nuclear war. Luckily, this ended in a peaceful agreement to begin to disarm short-range and mid-range ballistic missiles. But this didn't bring the situation to an end.
The Berlin Wall was built in 1961, by the German Democratic Republic, the East German Regime. The motivation for building the wall was supposedly, like Trump's proposal for a wall between the US and Mexico, for protection. Protection, ironically, from imposing threats of fascism from socialist West Germany, and the NATO countries to the west. But this viewpoint, on behalf of the GDR, was their own form of propaganda.
But Trump isn't the first president to build the wall. Obama also proposed it too, and actually completed a border fence along all 1,900 miles of the US southern border. It was also a hot topic during the Clinton administration.
Like 11.7 million other immigrants in the US, I was also born south of the border. My mother, a US citizen born in Philadelphia, met my dad while on teacher's sabbatical in Baja California. They got married in the US, and my dad, and I, became naturalized citizens. On my mother's side, I am also the descendant of immigrants; my Jewish heritage comes from Bavaria and Russia. My mother was born in 1937, right in the middle of the holocaust (1933–1945). My grandmother forbade my grandfather to join the service, as she was pregnant with my mother. Instead he joined the coast guard, and worked in the naval yard at Marcus Hook building ships.
Growing up in the eighties also meant being surrounded by the post-punk, post-war culture of the eighties. I grew up listening to Bauhaus, The Smiths, Joy Division (whose name makes reference to the Holocaust), and Pink Floyd. It was Pink Floyd in particular, that made a lot of very direct statements about the aftermath of World War II, and the "post-war dream," including The Wall, but also an album that was originally intended as the soundtrack for that film, called The Final Cut. Last year, Roger Waters played a concert at the Zócalo, in Mexico City, taking a critical stand against both the government of Mexico and the United States.
With a new regime in our country, all of these Cold War memories, and post-war culture flooded my mind. Will Mexico become like East Berlin? Could we? The question, in light of America, land of the free, home of the brave, seems preposterous. But maybe such a possibility is not so far off. I think it's important to realize that these divisions, these conflicts, are caused, in comparison to a country's population, by only a handful of people. If we don't participate in their plans, don't head in the same direction, or simply disengage from their leadership, their words are just words. They have no effect. If politicians hold a rally, and nobody shows up, they'll eventually just go home. If they want a war, they can fight it themselves.
On the other hand, if we participate in the midst of these conflicts, to help one another, and as Pope Francis recently said, to welcome refugees from other countries and religions, we can effectively counteract this separation, and this senseless division.
I haven't posted in a while, because I've been painting a lot and writing my dissertation; not to mention taking care of the two little rascals during the day, while my wife is heroically changing catheters and bandaging wounds. So I thought I'd post a little about my dissertation research.
The title of my dissertation is Geometry of the Sun: Guarino Guarini and the Church of San Lorenzo. It's about the baroque architect Guarino Guarini, and how this church he designed in Turin, called San Lorenzo, is connected to three principles in his theory of architecture: the art of building (edifizio), horology and gnomonics (orologia, gnomonica), and mechanics (macchinaria).
The reason that these principles are significant to Guarini in particular, is because he was also a mathematician, an astronomer, a philosopher and a theologian. The first principle, of course, is architectural; the second two principles, pertain to astronomy, and particularly the sun. Horology is the measurement of time according to the movement of the sun, and gnomonics is the study of making sundials. Mechanics is mathematical, in a way that connects the architectural forms of the building to the mechanics, or the physics, of the solar system.
So, my dissertation is built upon these three principles, that Guarini presents in his treatise on architecture, the Architettura Civile, and how these principles connect this church to a cosmology; to the universe around it in terms of its meaning and its design.
The dome of San Lorenzo is a complex interlacing of catenary curves, with large windows, and smaller fenestrations within the spaces between the catenaries. But when you look up at the dome, it also may seem similar to some designs that you've seen in Islamic mosque architecture. The catenaries above the smaller dome above the altar space, is also in the shape of the Star of David. Whether or not Guarini was intending to connect what are considered the "three great religions of the west" is not known for sure. But many of the advancements in early astronomy came about through Arabia as well, because of astronomers such as al-Kindi, al-Haytham, and al-Farabi.
In my research, I am interested in whether or not the connection of Guarini's dome to the celestial sphere is cosmographic (meaning that it literally connects to the orientation of the zenith and the passage of the sun, thus really creating a kind of sundial), or if the meaning of San Lorenzo is more symbolic, theological, and cosmological.
The human desire to orient ourselves within the universe is made manifest in some of the most ancient structures of the world, including the Pyramids of Giza, Stonehenge, the Roman Pantheon, and the Hogan of the Diné. By orienting ourselves, by finding out where we exist in the universe, we find out more about who we are.