Tag Archives: gothic

Traveling in Europe: Bruges

Europe 2011: Bruges

Clicking on the above picture will take you to the web album.

Bruges (Brugge) was by far my favorite of the three places, including Antwerp and Ghent, which I visited in Belgium. I actually took the tram or bus from Ghent to Bruges, a fairly short trip. The weather was perfect and quite warm and while I found the many brick buildings of Bruges and the canals to be particularly picturesque the smell wafting out of the sewers was fetid. Luckily, within a few feet the stink would dissipate.

I think I counted at least a dozen chocolate shops in the town center, but of course by the end of the day when I wanted to buy some I couldn’t find my way back or find any. I’m notoriously directionally challenged and old medieval lanes and streets tend to wend their way here and there and around buildings and canals. Given that, the area wasn’t large and I could always find my way back with a bit of exploration.

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Brugge canals have building buttressing the water and red trim to compliment the blue of the sky.

Belgium doesn’t have a museum/gallery pass like Holland does. However there was a day pass for several museums and galleries and even for a day trip it saved me money. It’s always good to ask at the train stations, tourist centers or the first gallery you go to (as I did in Brugge) if such a thing exists. My pass was for three days but at 15 Euros even for one day, I saved money.  Arenthuis is an 18th century mansion that housed contemporary art and works but the Bruges artist Frank Brangwyn. His paintings were bold and colorful and I quite enjoyed the style. He had also designed furniture and other items.

Bruggemuseum is actually a collection of historic buildings. I wandered into some of them and missed others. It was only one day after all and many things close at 5 pm including shops.  One of my favorites was the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a small chapel up on the second floor of a gothic building. It was beautiful both in simplicity and elaborateness. A gothic cathedral, it was small, with vaulted wood ceilings and every inch of wall and ceiling painted in patterns and colors. I loved it. It had such a great sense of peace as well. Somewhere, tucked away is a reliquary with an old rag supposedly covered in the blood of Christ.

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Details of the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Every inch of the interior was painted.

Because I will still battling travel ills and a cold I got started later in the day and wandered the streets, missing some of the historical buildings. In a way, after seeing so many churches over two weeks it was fine to miss a few. However, if I hadn’t needed to get to Brighton for the British Fantasy convention I would have stayed an extra day to explore Brugge longer.

By dusk I was trying to find a restaurant to eat at but they were tucked away on different streets so it took me a bit to find one. The place I entered was packed, with warm brick walls and a sweating owner trying to keep everyone seated. I don’t remember its name but I had begun to learn that the portions were quite large in Belgium so I ordered an appetizer and dessert, with a couple of glasses of wine. Beside me this couple had ordered mussels and the very large metal mixing bowl they threw their shells into was at least 16-20 inches across. My meal filled me nicely.

Brugges, Bruge, Belgium, history, travel, Flanders, medievalI was in Brugge at the end of September, as evidenced by the turning leaves with the weather at about 25-27 degrees, unusually warm for that time of year. The night came on early and I headed back to Ghent where I would leave for Calais the next day.

 

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Writing Update

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It’s time to do another update on the writing front. Right now everything is happening quickly and I’m very busy so I can’t even keep up with myself. A new poem, “Sundance,” is up at Chizine, actually it went up last week, as part of the mega-issue, which is being done to raise donations to keep the magazine free. Chizine, as a magazine, has been going for ten years and had a sponsor who left the magazine high and dry last year when they didn’t pay promised fees. This has meant many of us have continued to work for free or nearly nothing so that the writers could get paid. If you want to read some stellar fiction and poetry there are thirteen weeks’ worth with over a dozen pieces in each week. “Darkside” was published about a month ago on  Chizine as well.

Besides Sundance, my poem “Shadow Realms” is coming out soon in Witches & Pagans #23. The poem “Of the Corn: Kore’s Innocence” was published last year and is nominated for an Aurora Award. A third poem, “Visitation: Leda’s Lament” will be coming out in Bull Spec but I don’t know what issue yet. These last two magazines are print only. As well, the reprint of the poem “Obsessions” should be coming out soon in gothic anthology Candle in the Attic Window from Innsmouth Press. While these poems could all be considered speculative, “Kore’s Innocence” and “Leda’s Lament” are part of a Greek revisioning series.

On the fiction front, my story “It’s Only Words” specifically written for The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies, will be the opening story in the anthology. It’s going to print as we speak and is edited Des Lewis. “Tasty Morsels” should be out sometime this summer in Polluto #8. They call themselves a magazine of anti-pop culture. These two publications are out of England. “A Book By Its Cover” was also bought for the Mirror Shards anthology, which is a collection of horror stories about augmented reality.

I’m also on a steampunk kick and sent one story, about blimps, off into the submission world. I’ve just finished a second, which I wrote specifically for an anthology but no idea if it will be accepted. It would be considered horror or at least dark. The third, “Nightingale,” is still in the works as I have to figure out how my protagonist breaks out of the antagonist’s trap. It is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of “The Emperor and the Nightingale” but very different. I still keep meaning to get back to my novel and really need to do so soon. I just have to get the brain to stop churning out other ideas. I think I’ll get this last story out of the way and backburner the rest so that I can get back to the novel in July. My goal is to have the novel completed by next year so I do have to get going.

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Cthulhu Who?

Last Friday I went to Cthulhupalooza, thinking, why not? Let’s try something new. Although I know of Cthulhu I can’t say I’m on intimate terms with it…him. But what, you’re asking, what the heck is a Cthulhu? Pronunciations differ but “kathooloo” is the most common. “He” is an Elder God or perhaps a Great Old One and is the creation of H.P. Lovecraft who was writing at the advent of the fantasy/horror genres.

Lovecraft doesn’t seem to have been a particularly healthy person and his parents were both committed for different forms of madness, brought on by a syphilitic disease in at least his father. Lovecraft wrote in the same style as his predecessors of the gothic age, Mary Shelley, and especially Edgar Allan Poe who was a strong influence on his writing. Cthulhu was created in the 1920s and though one of many “unspeakable horrors” has gained much fame and cult following after the fact. Cthulhu is often portrayed as greenish, with tentacles dangling from its mouth, great batlike wings at its back and talons gracing its hands. He is a god so alien that humans barely matter and Lovecraft’s writing is rife with the insignificance of the mere human mortal in the great scheme of things.

I don’t know if I’ve ever managed to read a complete Lovecraft story. Even for his time he wrote in an archaic style and I’ve found it very hard to drag myself through the prose. But…being a writer of science fiction and fantasy I know of the mythos and I know of the beast. Many of the stories describe the indescribable horrors in long melodramatic, as only gothic can be, prose. Often the writer has read an ancient book, maybe in Sumerian and the horrid tales work an insidious change and captivation on the mind.

So, when I was invited to Cthulhupalooza II on Facebook I decided what the heck. There were to be short films, a couple of bands, a few tables of geek paraphernalia and a burlesque act, Little Miss Risk being sacrificed to Cthulhu. I went with two friends and we dressed up in semi Victorian clothing. Only a few people were dressed likewise with the majority in jeans and heavy metal hoodies. The venue was the Rickshaw, an old theater in Vancouver’s E. Hastings St. Not the best area of town and I had a vague recollection that the Rickshaw hosts heavy metal bands. It was the scariest part for me because I’m not a heavy metal person.

The venue had a stage and theater seats. We missed the short films so I don’t know if they were snippets of Lovecraft inspired stories or not. Scythia, the self-titled folk metal band was funny, at least with the head banging, hair tossing antics and the lead singer changing his accent from German to English between songs. If there were discernible words I couldn’t tell but that might have been issues with the acoustics or the way of heavy metal bands because when Darkest of the Hillside Thickets came on stage they were just as incomprehensible. In between these two bands they showed films of…bands including Hillside Thickets. So we saw them in film and live and probably could have avoided both. I never thought I’d see head banging, heavy metal fans just sitting in seats, or doing that thing that I call the zombie adoration of standing  on the dance floor (not dancing or head banging) in front of the band. I also never thought that heavy metal would be…well, boring. But it was. I’m no connoisseur but I didn’t find the tunes that catching. Not like Cthulhu would be. Who knew that Lovecraft attracted heavy metal? Maybe it’s all that doom.

An example of the kitschy cult of Cthulhu

The “bar” consisted of a motley mix of canned beers, rum, vodka, Jack Daniels and one or two other elixirs. They only had white wine to which I said, “Cthulhu wouldn’t drink white wine! No red?” When I asked if the rum was dark I was told it was white, to which I replied, “Cthulhu wouldn’t drink white rum!” Oh well. We did see the burlesque act and I regret that we missed the first dance. Little Miss Risk came out dressed in 1930s style reading a great tome, the ones that lure the reader into a Stygian nightmare they cannot escape. She did something so one eye looked closed and one was open but nearly white. Creeeepy. As she crawled onto the Cthulhu altar, wearing the ubiquitous pasties, furry tentacles appeared and writhed; then she stood and spit green blood.

The burlesque was well done and the best part and I’m sorry I missed the earlier one which might have made the $15 price almost worthwhile. Still, we did have fun and found it an amusing, if limited in events, mini-con. As it was, we escaped the creeping horror…or boredom… and went back to my place to drink wine as Cthulhu would.

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All That Vampire Stuff

It’s that time of year again. Actually it’s that year. Well really it’s that decade. Okay, okay it’s that century. Bram Stoker published Dracula a little over a century ago and it changed the face of fantasy and horror for all time to come (so far). Now Stoker didn’t really create vampires per se. Blood sucking, soul stealing creatures have existed in various cultures for many centuries. Rusalkas (Russian), lamias (Greek), succubi and incubi, dhampirs (Balkan) and sirens are just an example of creatures that take something permanent from you, often through seduction. They might devour the person or parts of them. Even the Rom (Gypsies) had vampiric beliefs, which also could include inanimate objects.

So vampires are not new. Using blood to rejuvenate in some way also has been around for a long time, whether it was drinking it or bathing in it. The notorious serial killer Countess Elizabeth of Bathory killed so many young women that, like Vlad the Impaler, a myth began that she bathed in the blood of virgins to retain her youth. She was pretty much placed under house arrest for the rest of her days (nobility did have some privileges).

In the world of writing there have been many many vampire novels, and even more numerous short stories. Goethe and Lord Byron were just a few to tell tales and poems about vampiric lovers returning from the grave. The  19th century saw quite a fascination with vampire tales and Stoker’s book was just one of many.

Books of note in this century include John Matheson’s I Am Legend and John Shirley’s Dracula in Love. A man discovers he is Dracula’s son and it is a somewhat trippy, hallucinogenic tale that is at times extremely gruesome and not really romantic, given the title. I’ve read some vampire books, but not all and one included a nearly annihilistic version of vampire hunters. There are too many tales to list but the Barnabas Collins TV series was of early note in vampire fiction, as well as the movie The Hunger.  Anne Rice probably began the more modern trend of eroticizing vampire fiction with strong gothic undertones in Interview With a Vampire, The Vampire Lestat and subsequent novels.

There have been many spinoffs and tales, which have included a subgenre of occult detective books, where a vampire is the detective. The Dresden Files, by Harry Butcher, the Anita Blake series by Laurel K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris’s books, and the Angel TV series are just a few in that aspect where often the vampire tries to retain his/her humanity, or the detective’s partner or lover is a vampire.

So when Twilight came along it was just another vampire movie and book. I haven’t read the book so I cant judge on the treatment of the vampire in that tale before Hollywood got hold of it. But from the movie these vampires have no problem with walking around in daylight though they avoid direct sun, because it seems that they sparkle. Perhaps for this young adult novel it is a metaphor for being an angel or a higher power and I wasn’t quite clear if all vampires sparkle or just the good ones who eschew drinking of humans. But the tale, a human falls in love with the noble vampire who won’t make her/him immortal, is nothing new. It’s just got the dreamy guys and a new batch of people to feed it to.

Everyone who writes a vampire tale may throw a twist into it. Some vampires are affected by crosses, or any religious icon that has true belief behind it, by garlic, by sunlight, by none of these. Their powers may only be longevity, or fast healing, speed, strength, flying, shapechanging. Vampires vary, yet overall the seductive aspect that lures humans is that the vampire is immortal but you must take a life or drink blood to attain this aspect.

The media, like the tweenies that Twilight is aimed at, is all over Twilight like Dracula on Mina. As if it hasn’t happened before, they say, what is with all this hype, or “we see a trend in Twilight and movies like it.” The vampire tale is a subgenre of horror or fantasy or speculative fiction, depending on how you want to categorize it.  The trend is not new, but like many fads, it fluctuates. A fad runs about a two-year lifespan so this too will die down, yet like a vampire, the tales of such immortals do seem to endure the test of time.

Notice the fangy V.

Notice the fangy V.

As a writer, I too have not been immune from writing a few vampire tales. “Hold Back the Night” was about a servant of Kali whose human lover is burned by a possessive husband. “Lover’s Triangle” is a tale about a Gypsy woman in a slightly different future who is lured by her vampire lover’s touch. And “An Ember Amongst the Fallen” is about a vampire’s fall into deparavity or discovering something about his own humanity. The latter is due out in Evolve in March 2010, through Hades Publications and the anthology looks at worlds where vampires are known of by humans.

Will I write more vampire fiction? Possibly. I have a couple of other unpublished stories. I didn’t set out to write any but it just happens and the juxtaposition of immortality at a terrible price is always an interesting premise for tales. I haven’t yet written a werewolf tale but have written a mermaid story, “The Fishwife.” Maybe at some point I’ll work my way through many mythic creatures.

http://www.edgewebsite.com/future.php

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