October 11, 2014

Wiki Friday: Carmen / Apples / Synesthesia

Today’s themes are interconnectedness and the unimagined later lives of experiences and ideas.


I saw my first opera last Saturday. It was four acts and set in Seville around 1820. The French composer Bizet had never visited Spain.

The character Carmen, perhaps “a realization of the composer’s own unconscious longing for a freedom denied to him by his stifling marriage,” has reappeared in cultural productions ever since her birth on stage in 1875.

I suspect the reincarnation you will appreciate most is this one featuring Beyoncé–

I know.

Bizet never saw great success in his lifetime. I doubt he envisioned his work being brought to life in 2001 by Wyclef Jean. If you haven’t read Cloud Atlas yet, by the way, go do so now.


Sustain me with flagons, refresh me with apples: for I am sick with love.

“Feed me apples, for I am sick with love,” is what I thought the line was. I thought it had been written by Walt Whitman or Robert Frost. Swing and a miss.

The line is from the Song of Solomon. Who knows how I heard it first.

The Song of Solomon, also known as The Song of Songs (swoon), is a section of the Bible with no mention of law, covenant, Yahweh, or wisdom. Instead, “it celebrates sexual love.” 

Some translations of the Bible, including one for young adults, talk of raisins or raisin cakes, but I prefer “flagons.” Weak with love? Open the wine. Biblical translation is suddenly very engaging.

Anyway, there is a poem about apples by Robert Frost, specifically about picking them. It is a fitting poem for the season. My housemate Delayne collected the last of our apple’s trees this week.

I gave five to Leah yesterday, at the same meeting in which she told me about visiting a First Nations community in Nimmo Bay and hearing that a traditional way of understanding wealth is not to tabulate the amount amassed but rather the amount given away.

Oh, it’s good.


This is when one sensory experience cues a different sensory experience.

The condition is not in the DSM, be cause psychological conditions in the DSM have to interfere with life, and this is more like a bonus pleasure on top of life.

The most studied example seems to be people thinking of letters and numbers as associated with certain colours. As usual, academic researchers have found one minuscule thing to obsess about.

My own primary experience of synesthesia, in which touch cues visions, was not even mentioned. 

The coloured numbers and letters example may actually be understood better as ideasthesia–a cognitive input cueing a sensory experience. After all, letters and numbers are concepts more than experiences. Which leads us to something fun:

Researchers suggest that synesthesia/ideasthesia can be a cognitive tool or a coping mechanism for dealing with abstract concepts, including time. In Morocco, Alaina and I “mapped time” on hand-drawn calendars; certain weeks or months demanded to be yellow or green.

In the spring I lost my job, time was a white sheet gathered in folds to my chin, spread smooth toward the horizon.

That is from my friend Jordan’s newly published book, in an essay titled “The Ballad of John and Jon”. Later in the essay Jordan describes John Lennon’s “honeymoon Bed-Ins”,

when he and Yoko stayed in bed in various cities across Europe and even Canada. Sitting upright in long pyjamas, white sheets to their waists, they called press conferences and talked very calmly about their love and everything, eventually recording “Give Peace a Chance” on a four-track in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.

It was the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver where I saw Carmen on Saturday. I wonder if Jordan’s idea of time as a white sheet came from seeing John and Yoko in bed years earlier.

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