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The recent post about Orvieto’s gorgeous Gothic cathedral gave plenty of attention to the outside of the building, but I failed to illustrate the wonders which are housed within.  Today therefore, we venture into the splendid Christian church in order to look at a magnificent fresco of…the Antichrist?

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Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist (Luca Signorelli, 100-1503) Ffresco

Here is Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist, a large fresco by Luca Signorelli, the fifteenth-century Tuscan master of foreshortening.  In fact Signorelli (and his school of apprentices, assistants, and students) painted a whole series of large frescoes about the apocalypse and the end of earthly existence within the Chapel of the Madonna di San Brizio (a fifteenth century addition to Orvieto Cathedral).  The disquieting series of eschatological paintings is considered to be Signorelli’s greatest achievement–his magnum opus.  For today, let’s just look at The Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist, which was the first work in the series (and which pleased the Cathedral board so well that they commissioned the rest).

 

Signorelli began the work in 1499, a mere year after the execution of Giralamo Savonarola in Florence in 1498 (Savonarola was burned at the stake for the heresy of denouncing church corruption corruption, despotic cruelty, and the exploitation of the poor: he was a sort of ur-Luther).  Death, political tumult, and questions of true righteousness were much upon people’s minds.

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In the work, the Antichrist (center bottom) preaches to a great crowd.  Although he has the features of Jesus, we recognize that the Antichrist is not the savior thanks to the pile of gold and treasure heaped at his feet by deluded followers. These so-called Christians are stupidly unable to discern the teachings of Jesus from the self-serving slander, calumny, and lies of the vile (yet sumptuously attired) puppet on the pedestal.  We art lovers however can clearly see that the Antichrist’s true lord is right there behind him, whispering the words of the sermon into his ear.

In the background, the Antichrist’s vile shocktroops (dressed in tactical black like ninjas) seize control of the church and the state.  In the foreground his coistrels and operatives slit the throats of the righteous.  Various scenes of depravity show a woman selling herself to a stupendously rich merchant as the Antichrist performs false miracles of healing and resurrection.

However the center left shows the Antichrist’s fall (figurative and literal).  The archangel Michael smites the foul false messiah with the sword of divine Justice.  Golden fire spills from heaven, laying low the Antichrist’s evil and benighted followers who die writhing in anguish.

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It is a stunning work. Signorelli knew it was his masterpiece and painted himself in black in the left corner watching events transpire (indeed, also mixed into the crowd are young Raphael, Dante, Columbus (maybe), Boccaccio, Petrarch, Cesare Borgia, and Fra Angelico in his Dominican garb), and yet it is a deeply strange and confusing painting.  The righteous and unrighteous are all jumbled together in weird intersecting groups which are hard to distinguish.  There is a great empty hole in the center of the composition and the final victory of the angel is in the mid-distance on the left (which is not where it should be in terms of classical composition).  The gentle Signorelli was perhaps troubled by the Orvieto of 1500 (which was filled with squabbling mercenaries fighting between two factions of wealthy nobles).  Also, as he was painting the work, the plague was in the 8000 person city and two or three people died every day!

It is almost as though the pious Signorelli is warning the viewer about brutal leaders who crush the peasantry for personal gain and sanctimonious “Christians” who pretend to believe in Jesus while truly serving the Devil.  The work is ostensibly about end-times but it shows Signorelli’s contemporary society coming apart from fighting, misinformation, plague, and greed.  It is wonderful to look at art, but thank goodness this is a work about the distant past. It would be truly disturbing if it offered timeless lessons about the never-ending strife, greed, and fear in the human heart or how susceptible we all are to impostors who are the exact opposite of everything Christ stood for.

 

 

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The arid scrubland of north and central Australia is an uncompromising environment of rocky hills, dry creekbeds, arid plateaus, desert mountains, scree, and a landscape which Australians call “gibber plains” (which, as far as I can tell, seems to be a desert of cobblestones or small sharp boulders).  Plants need to be tough to survive in this harsh country and the spinifex grasses fit the bill.  These course sharp grasses form stout tussocks which can survive with minimal water in a land where droughts can last for years.

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But this is not a post about desert grass or dry cobblestones; it is about an amazing bird which is capable of living a gregarious sedentary lifestyle in this vast dry landscape.  Spinifex pigeons (Geophaps plumifera) are a species of bronzewing pigeon which live in the baking grasslands of the island continent.  They are handsome and endearing pigeons with yellowish barred feathers, a white belly, and red cateye glasses.  Perhaps their most pronounced feature is a a magnificent elongated crest which looks not unlike the bleached khaki grasses which provide their home and sustenance.

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The spinifex pigeon lives throughout most of northern and central Australia where it survives by foraging for seeds of drought-resistant grasses and suchlike scrub and by eating any tiny invertebrates it is lucky enough to find.  The birds are social, and live in flocks from four to a couple of dozen (although much larger flocks have occasionally been spotted).

I don’t really have a lot of further information about the spinifex pigeon, but it is a worthwhile addition to my pigeon gallery, because of its handsome appearance, and because it is so thoroughly a resident of the scrubland.  Just comparing the spinifex pigeon with the Nicobar pigeon of tropical islands of the Andaman Sea, or the bleeding heart pigeon of the Philippine rainforest is to instantly see how climate and habitat sculpt creatures into appropriate shapes and colors.

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Quarantine Flounder (Wayne Ferrebee, 2020) Wood, Polymer, Mixed Media

America is still floundering quite a lot…and so am I! To prove it, here is a quarantine flatfish bas relief which I made on commission during the pandemic.  The Gothic-style sculpture is carved of wood and the little inhabitants (who are sheltering in place in their elegant town houses and cottages) are crafted of polymer.  I also carved the spires with a lathe, however goldsmithing is beyond me, so I ordered the base-metal crown online from a discount crown-dealer (who even knew there were such things?).  My favorite part of the work is the poor fish’s anxious expression and worried eyes.  In the upper right golden arch a fatuous king stares blearily at his malady-filled kingdom.  His vacuous first lady queen is his bookend and stares at him malevolently from the opposite side of the continent fish.  Between them is a crypt filled with sad little figures in shrouds, burial wrappings, and body bags.  A plague doctor winds his way through the virus-shrouded landscape as a gormless (and mask-less) yokel breaks quarantine near the flounder’s tail.

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Above them all, a dark spirit of pestilence wearing costly robes orchestrates events from the sunset heavens.  This is the realm of coronavirus now.   Let’s get our act together so I can build a beautiful new flounder of radiant health and justice! (Also let’s quickly go back to being a democratic republic: we may be experiencing a medieval type event, but there is no reason to go back to the venereal-disease-ridden mad king model of government).

Oh! Also…if you like my flounder art, go to Instagram and check out an endless ocean of flounder.  Now is definitely the time!

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This summer I have spent a great deal of time in the garden which has been my refuge from the plague, turmoil, and strife.  I keep hoping that the carpenter bees will return, but I have barely seen any hymenopterans at all thus far (aside from little black and brown ants which seem to be as numerous as ever).  That all changed the other day, though, when a magnificent visitor swept into the garden!  A lot of hymenoptera are strikingly colored (as the velvet ants will testify) , however this dapper character looked like a refugee from a 1980s musical video or a disturbing anime.  Not only was this wasp’s jet fighter body the deepest brown (which was so dark it might have been black), but all four of its wings were the same color too! Not only was the whole creature sable, but its dark brown coloring was also iridescent blue/purple–so it gleamed like a blue revolver.  There was one noteworthy contrasting color on the wasp’s face– its huge antennae were fluorescent orange!

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Although the wasp seemed like it was preening on my hostas, as soon as I moved to get my camera it was gone.  So, alas, I have no photos of the strange visitor.  Fortunately though, this wasp was more visually unique than a Dick Tracy villain so I quickly found a match in the rogue’s gallery of wasps online: Gnamptopelta obsidianator, the “bent-shield beseiger wasp”

Now you would think that if crazy creatures like this were flying all over New York City, there would be plenty of information about them online, but you would be wrong.  It speaks of our human myopia that, although I easily found pictures of it, I could barely find out anything about the lifestyle of the beseiger (although one website opined that I had actually seen the lookalike wasp Thyreodon atricolor–so keep that in mind, for what it is worth). According to the internet, these wasps are both ichneumonids– parasitoid predators which lays eggs inside living hosts.  Paralyzed, the hosts still-living flesh provides a decay-resistant larger for the wasp larvae [shudders].

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Whatever you might think about the terrible things this wasp does to make ends meet, there is no denying that it belongs here just for its sheer fashion sensibility alone.  I will keep my eyes peeled for more of these magnificent yet troubling wasps–both in the garden and online.  I still can’t believe we know so little about creatures which literally live right next to us!

Imagine a flood of pure inky darkness spreading inexorably across the land and destroying all living things in Stygian gloom.  Well…actually you don’t have to imagine it.  Such a phenomena exists! When rain falls immediately after forest fires, the baked earth can not absorb any water and all of the ash, char, and soot become a gelatinous flash flood.  I have never mastered the WordPress tool for videos, but you can see such a flood by following this link.  I was fascinated by the horrible, otherworldly sight and I watched the clip again and again, but, be warned, it is as troubling and awful as it sounds (perhaps more so, since such events spell toxic doom for any aquatic or amphibious animals living in arroyos, riverbeds, and floodways so afflicted).

So why am I posting this unwholesome sight during this already dark plague year?  It is a warning, obviously.  After one thing goes horribly awry, it is all too easy to start a chain reaction of bad things which ruin the land itself.  Lately (since 2016) things have been going wrong in all sorts of directions.  We need to prepare for attendant woes and gird ourselves against them.  We also need to guard our forests against fire (and axes, invasive pests, and industrial mayhem).

 

 

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Orvieto

In the center of Italy is Umbria, a green land of deep forests and medieval hill towns. One of the most dramatic of these hill towns is the small city of Orvieto which is located atop a volcanic plug of tuff.  Atop the taupe butte, the ancient towers and campaniles of Orvietto rise above the dark green hills.  One building stands out beyond the others, the Duomo di Orvieto which is universally acclaimed for having the consummate masterpiece of Italian Gothic cathedral facades.

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Dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin, the Cathedral of Orvieto was commissioned by Pope Urban IV sometime around 1263 as a suitable place to keep the Corporal of Bolsena, a miraculous uhhh cloth which soaked up the miraculous blood of Jesus which spouted out of a miraculous host (the sacred bread) in the nearby town of Bolsena.  The Cathedral was begun in earnest in 1290 as a classic Romanesque basilica, however progress was fitful.  When Giovanni di Uguccione succeeded Fra Bevignate as principal architect (project manager?) of the cathedral, the design morphed from Romanesqe to Italian Gothic.  It was an inspired upgrade which incorporated the best of both styles in the breathtaking facade (which is said to have been the creation of the Sienese sculptor and architect Lorenzo Maitani).

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Creation of Eve (probably by Maitani)

The Facade is such a masterpiece, with so many things going on, that it is nearly impossible to describe properly.  Wikipedia resolutely approaches the task by breaking down the individual elements as follows:

The most exciting and eye-catching part is its golden frontage, which is decorated by large bas-reliefs and statues with the symbols (Angel, Ox, Lion, Eagle) of the Evangelists created by Maitani and collaborators (between 1325 and 1330) standing on the cornice above the sculptured panels on the piers. In 1352 Matteo di Ugolino da Bologna added the bronze Lamb of God above the central gable and the bronze statue of Saint Michael on top of the gable of the left entrance.

The bas-reliefs on the piers depict biblical stories from the Old and New Testament. They are considered among the most famous of all 14th-century sculpture. These marbles from the fourteenth and fifteenth century are the collective and anonymous work of at least three or four masters with assistance of their workshops, It is assumed that Maitani must have worked on the reliefs on the first pier from the left, as work on the reliefs began before 1310.

The glittering mosaics of Mary’s life which make up such an impressive part of the facade have been redesigned and replaced since the originals were installed in 1390. However the great central rose window is an original by Orcagna.  The widow is surrounded by statues of Apostles within niches in the manner of French Gothic style.

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Naturally I was unable to find any high-resolution photos that really do justice to this supremely complicated book of a building, but here is a link to a clickable high resolution image if you want to examine particular individual elements.

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Actually the interior of the church might really be the feature of greatest interest to artists, featuring exquisite murals by Fra Angelico and crazy violent “Antichrist” mural by Luca Signorelli, but we will address those another day. How much apocalyptic stuff can we handle right now?  Let’s just enjoy the exquisite outside of this Italian Gothic wonder.

Orvieto medieval town, Umbria, Italy, Europe.

Orvieto medieval town, Umbria, Italy, Europe.

 

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We have written about all sorts of jeweled crowns here at ferrebeekeeper (I particularly like spinels and aquamarines), but we have avoided taking about the gemstone which is most often reputed to be accursed–the chaotic & iridescent opal!  Can you imagine a cursed opal tiara? That sounds like it could be the McGuffin at the center of a sprawling fantasy epic…or at least a prop in a cozy mystery set in a sprawling manor somewhere.  Yet sadly, when I went online and started poking around, opal crowns (and crown-adjacent aristocratic headdresses) seemed a great deal less accursed than folklore would make them sound.

Whatever your thoughts about this superstition, opal headdresses are certainly beautiful.  Here is a little gallery of opal tiaras, diadems, coronets, and crowns.  Look at the beguiling rainbow of mysterious supernatural stones…

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Perhaps opal tiaras are just rare.  It has been speculated that the reason opals are reputed to be cursed is because they are fragile.  Trapped water inside of amorphous silica is what gives opals their “fire” but it also makes them prone to unexpectedly breaking.  Semi-precious jade has a similar problem, but jade sellers solved the problem by creating their own myth–that if your jade talisman or jewelry cracks, it has absorbed a dreadful misfortune aimed at the wearer.  Now that is how you do marketing.

Alas, the finest opals are more expensive than jade, and if you spend a king’s ransom on a glittering stone that unexpectedly blows apart into sand and jagged glassy pebbles, it is probably hard to see it as anything other than a curse.

These worries however are for the jewel buying class. We can simply enjoy these opal pieces without worrying about them breaking. Ahhhh, isn’t it delightful not to be overly burdened with fragile costly gemstones?

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Happy Fourth of July!  Our nation is going through a terrible patch (thanks to a combination of deeper structural problems, a criminal idiot for a president, and the novel coronavirus), however, in the past we have been able to bounce back from these sorts of disasters, reform the constitution, and get back on track.  It is the most meaningful election I can remember this year and Ferrebeekeeper will have lots to say about that as we get closer to Fall!

For today though, let’s celebrate the finer aspects of America rather than the current (Republican-caused) governmental dysfunction.  Independence Day in America is traditionally marked with ornamental novelty explosions AKA fireworks.  I love fireworks, but I have already said all that I can think of to say about them in past blog posts.  Fireworks are one of those things which are more fun in the real world than online or in pictures. They always look like sublime sea anemones made of radiant fire to me.  That is as awesome as it sounds..in the vast July nighttime sky, however pictures of such a thing would look like little black and white cnidarians. Therefore, to celebrate this rough Fourth of July, let’s look at some actual cnidarians in patriotic shades of red, white, and blue.  It is true that these pictures won’t set your topiary on fire or cause your house pet to cower under the bed, yet I think if you take a moment to really look at the sea anemones, you will be struck anew with their expressive otherworldly beauty.  Then you can hold this undersea pulchritude in your heart and remember it this evening as you watch rockets detonate above you.

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Wow! Those are some good-looking and patriotic invertebrates. I can barely tell whether I am on the national coral reef (?) or on the national mall in Washington. I hope you are having a lovely day relaxing with your friends and family.  Get some well-deserved R&R because when we get back from summer holiday we are going to have to roll up our sleeves and clean up this ghastly mess.

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It’s no good hiding.  Everyone is going to have to pitch in…

Welcome back! Ferrebeekeeper’s jubilee celebrating our 2000th post is ongoing until Fourth of July fireworks close out the celebration.  Reaching this milestone has made me look back at our first posts from 10 years ago and, boy, things were a lot different back then! For example, back at the beginning of Ferrebeekeeper, one of our main subjects was gardening.  In those innocent days, I had an exquisite picture in my head of a magical cloistered garden of beauty and symbolic delight which would be an oasis from the madness and stress of New York City.  As any of you with gardening experience will recognize, my attempts to create that garden in the real world have never resulted in anything like the glistening platonic image in my head (an ideal picture which has actually changed quite a bit over the years).  However it turns out that the years of  careful & patient gardening were actually the true source of happiness and peace (even if the &$%# plants cost a bunch of money and died even when I screamed and cried for them to live).

Anyway…the crown jewel of my ideal garden are roses, (which are called “the queen of the garden for a reason).  To match this vision in the real world  I have planted so many hybrid tea roses, floribundas, grandifloras, and miniature roses.  I carefully put these cherished beauties in the sunniest spot of my garden…yet even that was too shady (when I first moved in, there was a single tree of heaven in the neighbor’s yard…but soon another appeared, then another and another and another and now my poor garden is surrounded on all sides by these giant invasive monsters).

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Only one rose remains in what is now definitely a shade garden.  This last survivor is a complete unknown which was obtained in the following circumstances.  A few years ago I was looking around a nursery in Brooklyn during August and I noticed a bunch of pots filled with shriveled brown leaves and needle-sharp thorns.  The shop keeper had optimistically placed a sign which said “half off!” over these decidedly dead looking plants which I though might have once been fancy roses. I went over to examine them to see what NOT to plant in my garden when the nurseryman spotted me looking at the only one with a single green shoot and he said, “I’ll let you have it for two dollars!”

Now this was clearly another one of New York’s infamous scams, but I had been wandering around in the nursery for a while without finding a plant, and I felt guilty scoffing at this ridiculous lowball offer for a rose (no matter how dead).  I bought the rose and planted it in the last patch of sun, and now it is the last of the roses planted in the garden.  The $2 rose is a sprawling ground rose and it is really lovely! Its blossoms are as to the fancy hybrid tea roses what hobbits are to Aragorn,  They do not have the same aquiline lines of pure beauty…and yet they are clearly of the same stuff.  During June, the $2 rose has little pink double blossoms with slightly rounded petals. They really do look like cute little hobbit children.

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I am sorry these photos don’t do it justice–it looks  much more beautiful in person,,,but maybe only if you know its story.  I was going to see if there were some newly opened buds to photograph today, but a terrifying gully washer tore all of the petals off of every opened flower (the storm was so intense that it left the neighbor’s garden underwater…so I guess I can’t really complain).

The little rose makes me think of happiness, both because it makes me happy (and seems to embody that emotion in color and form) and because of its provenance.  None of the fancy expensive roses which I coveted could survive in our physical world of blackspot, bugs, and darkness. The tiny pink $2 rose has ended up as the accidental queen of my garden of shadows  (when the cherry tree isn’t blooming anyway). Yet if the Goddess Flora appeared in my door and offered the reddest and most perfect rose from the garden of paradise for my $2 tiny ground rose, I am not sure anymore that I would trade (although I might ask her for some tips).

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Ok! We (finally) had our 2000th post yesterday, and the great Ferrebeekeeper jubilee continues apace. I promised give-aways, special posts, contests, and…pageantry.  Now I have plenty of weird art and cool toys to give away (provided I can think up a contest), but what do we do for Gothic pageantry (it’s Gothic because, well, what other sort would we feature?)?

Alas, my plans to hire great troops of pipers, marchers, ornate festival birds, and dancers have come undone because of coronavirus concerns (although hopefully you are all enjoying the very special fireworks displays which I orchestrated throughout the nation).  Thus, due to, uh, the constraints of this era, our pageant will have to come together in our imagination rather than in the real world.  We can list out the elements here though and fantasize them coming together as a sort of parade!

When I thought about what sort of Gothic pageant we would want, my first question was whether those splendid glistening white peacocks are available in Gothic black.  It turns out that they very much are (although such peafowl are quite rare)

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Next I wanted pipers, and when I looked up “gothic pipers” I was taken straight to Ferrebeekeeper’s own long forgotten post concerning pig bagpipers (which were a popular medieval ornament for reasons which are now subject to debate).  Obviously these musical pigs are perfect, so after the sable peacocks lets have some of them.

Following the peacocks, pigs, and pipers, it would be good to have some soldiers (who esteem pageantry on a supreme level that only the most flamboyant showfolks can ever hope to match).  I have taken a page from the pope’s book here: my favorite soldiers (for decorative novelty use only, of course) are late medieval/early Renaissance billmen with ridiculous heraldic garb.  The pope’s own Swiss Guard are instructive here, although of course pipers in our procession would be wearing magenta, vermilion, and  icterine.

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I think a legion of such characters would be extremely impressive (especially coming immediately after the black peacocks and the musical pigs).

Next we would need fashion mavens dressed in resplendent gowns covered with lace appliques and dark ribbons.  I couldn’t find the right picture on line (and I started to get scared/alarmed by how many dress pictures there are), but this sort of thing should do.

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Finally, we would need a parade float to serve as centerpiece.  My favorite underrated artist, the matchless Piero di Cosimo, was famous in his time for designing parade spectacles and, although the actual originals are, of course, long gone,  I imagine that his floats would be much like the monster in his masterpiece, Perseus Rescuing Andromeda.  I would have a similar float to Perseus and the monster, except it would be Cronus mounted upon an enormous flounder.

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Sadly, this is how my brain works and I could go on and on like this forever…creating ridiculous fantastical processions which the world will never see, but I think we had better wrap up by putting the entire extravaganza in a great pleasure garden with a Gothic folly tower in the middle.

st-_annes_church_exterior_3_vilnius_lithuania_-_diliffThe The real world example which best suits my taste is St. Anne’s Church in Vilnius, Lithuania (pictured above) which I think is the prettiest building ever, however the master illuminators of Belgium also loved such structures and they drew them without any real world constraints which bedevil architects.

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Imagine all of those strange magical animals and people and frogfish passing in front of this, and I think you have imagined the Ferrebeekeeper parade we would have staged…if only we could fully assemble outside right now (and if I were an impossibly rich archduke of fairyland).

The fun of this exercise is really imagining what sort of procession you would craft if you were a grand parade master and could do anything.  Tell me your ideas below! Maybe we can incorporate some of your plans into my next parade…as soon as I finish teaching these pigs to play the pipes and sewing all of these orange and purple striped tights for mercenaries.

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