They say that when General Sherman arrived in the American South he torched all the southern cities to demoralize the citizens, even though each one of them had surrendered to his army. The town fathers of Savannah, Georgia decided to meet him before his arrival to the city and to convince him not to burn Savannah down. The beauty of the city was irresistible and Sherman decided against arson. Instead, he sent Savannah to President Lincoln as a Christmas gift in 1864.
President Lincoln received the following dispatch from General Sherman, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah with 150 heavy guns & plenty of ammunition & also about 25000 bales of cotton.”
Paranormal societies consistently vote Savannah “The most haunted city” in the world. One has to wonder to what extent the “haunting” ghosts are the ghosts of slavery and the civil war — But the gravestones, too, reflect a haunting that one notes in the oddness of the life spans.
Some folks live to be 200 years old. Others die even before they are born. The townsfolk say that the gravestones in the haunted colonial cemetery in the center of Savannah's historic district have each been altered by Sherman's bored troops who changed the times and birth and death, changing with the change in script, their life histories and their relations to the stars.
But if cities and graveyards are haunted, so too are photographs and bodies that carry the burden of our histories.
Sitting in a café waiting for the rain to stop in the old healer's capital of the Appalachians, Asheville, North Carolina, I was paging through Bahman Jalali's Ganj-i Peyda (Visible Treasure) and noticing the ways that the old black and white photographs of Iran in the mid to late 19th Century carry the weight of history. Kids pose in traditional Iranian costumes before the photographer. They sit in ornate French chairs on top of kelims.
Court eunuchs look into the lens while leaning onto tables loaded down with leather bound books. Almost exclusively, the background matte which is a made-for-studio-European-garden landscape with marble pillars and gargoyles, suggests the haunting presence of old Europe in the Persian court of the 19th C.
Other photographs of the servants of the andarun, imply somehow that photography was seen as an opportunity of becoming other– not of capturing the spirit or the ghost as some clerics had thought– but of creating other histories, other lives. The court servants and eunuchs put on costumes, and odd hats, and making themselves look like women, hedgehogs and flowerpots.
Having just walked out of the mystic chiropractor's office in Asheville, one frame in particular grabbed me in this book. The image caption reads “Moshir ol-Hokama (later titled Hakim ol-Molk) examining a patient”. In the photo, the “patient” is down prone on an ornate Persian rug. He is surrounded by nine men, one of whom is blocked by the “assistant's” hat.
Another haunts the frame with a booted presence along the right edge of the image. If this is the site of an examination, I think to myself, it is a strange one. The tubes balancing on the patient's stomach look plastic to my eyes. The helpers casually hold wrenches and screwdrivers in the hands–odd!– and the background, a frame within a frame, is the pillared British garden once again, now mounted on an interior wall in the Persian court. A curious smile and a trickster gesture– one finger of a hand to the edge of the mouth and another open and pointing at the patient– interprets the image for us where the contemporary caption fails.
I wonder if our bodies, projections of a modern life and instilled with its traumas, its flashes, its rhythms and jerks, aren't themselves capable of telling us what's going on from the inside out? From within the frame that is like that trickster's knowing smile. More so, really, than our friends and our therapists who merely caption us, interpreting our histories and our repeated obsessions in ways that only mass productions and mass consumption can overlook– Bipolar, Depression, ADD, obsessive compulsive, manic, passive aggressive, whatnot…We may be simple, but do these labels frame us at all?
Let me stop and touch you on either end of your spine, like my mystic chiropractor, a network spinal analyst, did to me in the small town of Asheville and let's see what your involuntary movements may tell us about the histories that haunt you. A gentle touch of a magical wand and Madame Bayaz steps away. What stories will your body tell you now?
Farvardin: Aries Rolling your head forward you constrict your throat and throwing your head back you release a sigh. You've walked around with a protective wall around all that's you. Finally you're opening up to the world and letting it in. Simple isn't it?
Ordibehesht: Taurus A jerk of the shoulder moves your shoulder bones down your back. Your arms extend up and out like wings and gently lift you up and then down. You've been nesting all your life. Time to fly!
Khordad: Gemini You lay still after I touch you, but only to the untrained eye. As I lift my forefinger and thumb from the back of your neck, the neck muscles move and adjust themselves as if swimming to my touch. An uncontrollable sob and then, release. You don't need to know what happened and never you mind. It all just walked away.
Tir: Cancer Your hip lifts and falls and swings from side to side. — A crack in your sacrum and a sigh. Finally peace and wisdom has entered your life and this time you're the keeper.
Mordad: Leo Turning your head from one side to the other, your feet twitch like the quivering song of the blue birds in the summer night. Three books and a brilliant career, which you've shrouded all along. Something about the quiver tells me, it's your turn now. The searchlight always looks for the slightest movements in the dark!
Shahrivar: Virgo The upper back twists and turns again and again. You've kept it there for years. The anger. The hopelessness. The lack of confidence. The lies. Your father's wrath. Let yourself go. You're finally ridding yourself of a century of anger. And a baby's in the forecast.
Mehr: Libra An aimless kick, kick, kick and your tail finally releases. Did you know you were a donkey in another life? It's time to take on human form, my friend.
Aban: Scorpio Your elbows bend and your body pulls the shoulder blades down and away from your ears as you rise and fall to the rhythm of the waves. Is this a longing for the Caspian or a surrender to the lapping shores of the beloved in Acre?
Azar: Sagittarius You compress the back of your neck as I lift my finger from your lower spine. You lift your head to compress down again between you shoulder bones and stretch as if I was pulling you forward and jerking you long from the back of your neck. Your creative soul is blocked right there. Imagine what the world would be like if you dared to let the muse out once and for all! Life would be color!
Dey: Capricorn You’ve given up all your obsessions: your coffee drinking, your smoking, your long nights out at the club. What's missing is the open heart …. That heavy breathing…. your lungs are stretching your ribs to make room.
Bahman: Aquarius I've never seen you move with such joyful ease. Such calm. Such gentle passion. As if hearing the tune of the beloved, your body curves and turns to one side and then another — you're a content baby aren't you? Just remember that old traumas die last. Watch for that ghost, as you arch and curve your back like a black cat on all fours. But be confident that it too will have to move on.
Esfand: Pisces The sweet wave of your spine, as you rise and fall to my magic stick, tells me that everything is all right. Never has life been more gentle to the Pisces. Keep swimming against the stream you slippery eel. You do it with such grace.