Mirror mirror on the wall…

Everybody turns at the sound of breaking glass. There’s something dramatic about it, irreparable, frightening even. Broken glass is a symbol for the point of no return, a change so drastic it’s impossible to fix; that was why everybody turned at the sound of the fallen picture frame.

“Thank God it’s not a mirror,” somebody exclaimed trying to see the up side, because what’s worse than broken glass? Broken glass with a silver backing…

Superstition is a funny thing. It’s the sum of a random act with negative societal associations multiplied by the person’s fears and added to a number thought to have mystical properties. Superstition is so powerful it would make the person responsible for the break watch their every step and attribute all negative experiences between now and the next seven years to the broken glass, the one with the silver sprayed on the back of it.

People are born not knowing what they look like, which I find extremely poetic. You can form an impression from people’s descriptions, but getting to look into our own eyes is impossible without the help of a reflecting device. When I was four I used to love looking at the little girl inside my closet door so much my parents actually thought I had a narcissistic disorder. No one ever thought to ask if I understood it wasn’t somebody else.

Beyond children, to the unknowing people of the past it is understandable how an object that reflected a person’s image could be captivating. Without knowledge of light waves it’s not difficult to attach magical properties to such a thing. It’s easy for us to forget how the manufacture of plate glass was a relatively late discovery and that in order to turn that glass into a perfect reflecting surface, a currently simple, yet formerly complex chemical process is required. Imagine the excitement and the novelty of seeing your image in a plate of silvered glass as well as the terror experienced when the “magic” that held your face within it shattered to a million pieces.

Mirrors have held mystical attributes ever since antiquity and in fact, the ancient Romans believed that the mirror reflected a part of your soul. A broken mirror, presumably obsidian, signified a break in the person’s wellbeing. Some say seven years was the time it took for the soul to renew itself after the break. To some even now, a mirror’s fall from the wall means a death is imminent and in fairytales they know true beauty. In Jewish tradition mirrors are covered when someone dies in order to avoid their soul getting trapped in them or so that demons are not attracted through them by the void left by the death. And not forgetting my personal favourite of course: Vampires cannot be reflected in mirrors for they have no soul.

In 15th-16th century Venice where the science of mirror making was the most advanced in Europe at the time, mirrors were astronomically expensive. Any servants discovered to have broken a mirror were forced into indentured servitude for seven years in order to pay back the cost of the object. Add that to the centuries of awe caused by the mystical qualities of the reflected image and a powerful superstition takes shape.

What’s the most enduring fact of all? Fear of ill luck can race through the generations, fuelled only by the power of the spoken word, without a shred of proof other than what we interpret as misfortune. We can find bad luck in anything if we search hard enough or if we are looking to confirm what we think we know. As it turns out, the impact of words is more powerful than a thousand broken mirrors…

Mozart is delicious!

A couple of posts ago I got to talking about Jake Gyllenhaal and relatabilty in a fictional character, which then led me to thinking about heroes and inspirational personalities. Ok, it was both that and the bottle of Mozart liqueur I found in my fridge today from visiting Vienna a couple of years ago. That train of thought led me to realizing how important Mozart was and still is to Vienna, besides  the financial benefits he brings.

I then ruminated on other important personalities and their adopted or native towns. For example Florence has the Medici and a host of renaissance artists, Lisbon has Pessoa, London has Shakespeare, Dickens and multiple monarchs, Rome has the Romans, Da Vinci and the Pope (whatevs, not casting any aspersions this time, each to their own.) My point is that we all like having someone to aspire to. One glimpse at a comic con and it is made obvious how people’s ultimate aspirations and fantasies are literally worn on the sleeves of the different guises they choose to adopt, except in the case of Vampirella of course, who has no sleeves.

Vampirella

For many, the ultimate ideals come in the form of historical figures, for others it’s fictional figures-heck I bet even Hitler had a hero, and by his strategic boo-boos something tells me Napoleon was a poor choice. For the unimaginative or emotional amongst us it’s our parents but whatever the case, the fact remains that we all aim towards something greater, something bigger than us, an archetype that gives us a greater purpose, a nobility, a worth.

I don’t know to what extent the touristy propaganda works on residents of the towns of the greats but I imagine there is some awe inspired in the Viennese by the fact that Mozart lived and worked in their city, in the same way that the scores of tourists get when they visit the sanitized remains of the house he once occupied. As if walking the halls will make you absorb the lingering molecules of his genius that are suspended in the ether (hoping that the guy in front of you didn’t get the last one) or that looking at copies of the scores he wrote will somehow make you understand what made the man great.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this, it feels as if I’m flogging a moot horse. We know what heroes are all about, it’s an old trope: Homer, Virgil, Dante (definitely do not go to see his house in Florence incidentally), Shakespeare and a few others besides have made us ponder the issue of what makes a hero and from old poet to new a few gold standards remain: bravery, integrity, intelligence, sacrifice, love, fearlessness etc; what interests me however is the motive behind all that. Not the motive behind the writer or the hero, but the motive behind the reader, the thoughts that the hero invokes in them, the memories it triggers, the emotions it sparks.

Even if the thoughts are not conscious, the desire is still there. For someone it might be H.G Wells for the politics or D.H. Lawrence for his grit, it might be Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, the inventor of the locomotive or the dude who sang Gangnam style. Whatever it might be, we all appreciate people who are good at something, who are better than us, who have something to teach us whether they intended it or not. People who might reach into us and compel us to do something new and brave or something we might never have done in different circumstances like take up arms and fight in a war just because our ideals have been galvanized…

What does that say about the human condition? What does it teach us about greatness and aspiration, inspiration and respect and what does it say about divinity? If we all aspire to some form of greatness, what is the bigger message other than the fact that I need to clean my fridge out of old liqueurs more often?

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