Sublime Refuse, Toxic Splendor

March 26, 2013 § 2 Comments

Thrown out in the garbage and never to be seen again! Dumped outside and down the drain!

I love the feeling of getting rid of unwanted refuse. Even if with a little nagging guilt, I feel free and clean with the illusion of its disappearance . . . .

But even though I can’t say that — I love the term — the Waste Hierarchy’s precept, “Reduce Reuse Recycle,” has been my mantra, I still try to do my best in this regard.

The thing is that this fleeting feeling of “good riddance” alleviates my anxiety about the perhaps irreversible human destruction of the world because, for a brief moment, I allow myself to forget about it.

My escapism not being sufficient, I have been trying to find other “feel good” ways of dealing with the burden of helplessness and to preserve my optimism.

In terms of instant gratification, scientific research and predictions have not helped much so far, but art on the other hand has been a good source of comfort.

So here are three pieces that not only do the job but are also wonderful examples of human ingenuity and artistic ability to see beauty in our trash:

(Click on images to find out more about the artists)

Gowanus canal. Photograph by William Miller

Gowanus canal. Photograph by William Miller

By El Anatsui. Brooklyn Museum of Art

By El Anatsui. Brooklyn Museum of Art

Orchestra of Recycled Instruments. Paraguay

Orchestra of Recycled Instruments. Paraguay

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A Picture and A Haïku

March 20, 2013 § 1 Comment

Here is a Haïku for today March 20th:

Pink and quiet clouds

Announce the first day of Spring

With new snow  at dawn

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This Morning’s Snow

February 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

The snow fell overnight making this sunday morning even quieter.

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The world looked like it had lost its color. On the paper white sky the trees were drawn in ink. The daylight seemed to be radiating from the ground, neon white and dimming the flat sky. Everywhere was north.

Nature was mute. The frozen image of my world had opened on a silver screen.

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All of a sudden I was looking at the snow of the past, as on an old black and white postcard, and I realized that the snow of the future would become rarer and rarer in the warming winters to come.

So that this morning’s snow was to be an archive in my heart’s museum.

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I Remember The Costume

February 16, 2013 § 1 Comment

La Commedia dell'Arte

It was, in retrospect, a magnificent costume.

I wore it only once. And yet I remember it vividly, not at all because of its unique quality –  an acquaintance of my mother’s from the Paris Opera costume department had agreed to loan it for a day – but rather because I was truly embarrassed to wear it.

I was about seven years old and it was Mi-Carême in Paris. My mother had received an invitation for me to attend a child’s costume party  from our upstairs neighbors in the building where we lived. I did not know them but I remember that I was fascinated by the mother’s extreme elegance when I would get a glimpse of her in the elevator. (I found out much later that she had been the publisher of the Number One fashion magazine in France.)

I realize now that  my mother must have given much thought to finding an appropriate costume for such an occasion! However, she certainly did not bother to consult me on the matter . . .

I went dressed . . . as a ZOUAVE!!!!

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Yes! A perfect replica of the 19th century soldier’s uniform, in my size, made of velvet, with gold trim and tassels, complete with white silk gaiters and shiny black slippers! Plus a red Fez that I had to keep on my head the whole darn embarrassing time.

I was mortified! I remember my almost paralyzing embarrassment while walking along the street in my neighborhood that afternoon. With my mother holding my hand and dragging me to the tea salon where the party was taking place, I desperately hoped none of my schoolmates would pass by and recognize me.
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It felt like a nightmare, with strangers looking at me, smiling and turning around to watch where we were going. I did not know what a Zouave was, and even less that I was wearing a boy’s costume (though I could pass for one as I was a skinny, lanky child with a bob haircut).

The gender confusion would have become a forgotten detail except that it was what brought on my first “romantic fiasco.” I have no recollection of the party.  Merriment, dazzling costumes, fancy petits fours, nothing comes back to mind except this: there was this dashing boy in a Robin Hood costume and I badly wanted him to notice me. But he was looking at girls only . . .

Pierrot by Jean-Antoine Watteau

Cold Window

January 24, 2013 § 1 Comment

“Seventeen below zero outside, on the thermometer”. Said my husband when I got up this morning at 6:40.

A few minutes earlier as I was laying in bed, deep under the covers, I had sensed  it was going to be a frigid day because my nose felt cold.

There is a sharp draft from our bedroom window that blows right over my pillow. I love feeling its whiff of fresh clean air greeting me every morning as I take my first deep breath, awakening slowly. It invariably invites me to get up.

Except today.

It was much too cold.

So I had no choice but to resort rapidly to some kind of Plan B before this affirmation could become a lame excuse for going back to sleep.

I decided to concentrate and focus on thoughts of a hot shower and a steaming cup of tea, while at the same time calculate how quickly I could find my sweater and slippers.

It worked.

I managed to totter to the window led by the curiosity to see outside, as if the view could confirm how cold it really was, and here is what I saw:

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A most inviting and beautiful winter morning greeting!

Then I remembered that my daughter was twenty years old today.

Time To Go For My Walk

January 20, 2013 § 1 Comment

About two and a half years ago I decided to go for a walk. On a beautiful late-summer morning I walked for about three miles, a loop that went from my house through various neighborhoods in my town and along a golf course and playing fields. I was alone and it was early morning, so peaceful and quiet. I loved it so much that I decided to do the same walk the next day, again two days later and eventually up to 6 days a week, rain, shine or freezing cold. Always the same loop, rarely the same hour of the day but most often alone.

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It has not been boring even once. I think, look, hear, breathe. I give myself  time to do these basic activities, which I would forget to do when caught up in the fast flow of a normal busy life.

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Along that same path, I have noticed the change of season, not with my calendar or the school schedule, but with the birds’ and insects’ behavior, the plants and wildlife of the pond by the road, and of course the same flowers, bushes and trees I see day after day.

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I have often lost sense of time, deep in my thoughts, either surprised to be back at my house so soon or to have felt out of touch for so long.

I have processed major events and minor annoyances. I have cried without control about my father dying, I have subdued my worries, detangled or loosened complicated knots in the fabric of my family’s dynamics, and breathed through impatience and frustration.

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I have paused and smiled at a beautiful sky, shivered with joy under a brief dowpour in July, wondered about a bird’s call, felt drunk with deep breaths of crystalline arctic air and marveled over the beauty of an old elm, leafless against a white sky.IMG_1040

I have dreamed about traveling, starting a new life after my youngest child leaves the house, or what it will be like to be a grandmother one day. I have fantasized about my kids’ exploits, future successes, amazing feats, even my daughters’ wedding dresses — because I could do so in private with boundless imagination and unlimited possibilities.

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I have daydreamed.

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I have discovered that, for a moment, I can step out of a life where my senses get so overstimulated they become numb, where  my soul is fed only by shallow sensations, into one that fulfills my needs for meaning, wonder, truth, creativity and grace.

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At first I thought it was a luxury to have time for a walk. Then I discovered it’s a necessity to make time for this walk.

A Cake For The Kings

January 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

In case you had missed my post  published last year on January 6th about the “Galette des Rois”  I am re-posting it today in relation to my brother in law Ralph Gardner Jr ‘s wonderful  article for his column in The Wall Street Journal which was published this morning under the title: ‘A Treat Fit for a King’

Growing up in France, one of my favorite celebrations was on or around January 6th. “Tirer les Rois” or “drawing the kings” is a festival when families, friends, colleagues and anybody who wants to put a paper crown on their king or queen’s head share a cake called Galette Des Rois.

The Drawing of the Kings game goes back to a tradition observed during the Roman Saturnalia celebration symbolizing the return of increasing daylight and of the sun itself. A drawing of either a black or white bean from a special cake would mean one would be King for the Day. The cake itself  is a symbol of the sun.

Christians have made it a holiday to celebrate Epiphany and The Adoration of the Magi since around the tenth century.

The cake tradition has remained throughout these times, surviving banishments as pagan rituals, until today, where in France, it is very much alive.

If you happen to be in Paris around January the 6th you might have to go through much trouble if you do not want to appear in public with a paper crown on your head.

Often it can be an awkward and comical situation, in which you are expected to choose your king or queen among the revelers sharing the delicious galette with you. That is IF you are lucky enough to draw the slice of cake in which a “fève” or bean has been inserted by the baker, and find that fève at the risk of breaking your teeth (I am not aware of anyone suing bakers for this yet). I wonder if someone has ever willingly swallowed it and thus saved face at the price of anonymously causing quite a commotion among the befuddled, angry guests deprived of a fève in their galette.

The odds in successfully skipping this regal affair  would definitely be against you given that such events take place all around France, on average five times a day and for 8 days at least.

Believe me, it can get old after a while. Just think for a minute of doing this among colleagues at the office or with the co-tenants in your building…

I’ve heard that the only sure way to avoid such a “silly chore” is to be invited to stay for the entire time at the Elysée Palace, where the crowning of the galette king is banned, as it is considered anathema to the Republic.

As a child I loved everything about it. The shining crown. The sweet warm cake.  And the “Fève” of course, a talisman of childhood.

I so vividly remember the beautiful tiny painted porcelain figurines: a swaddled baby, an adoring king, a toy or a Fleur de Lys.

Now they are also made of plastic, representing movie stars, cartoon characters, company logos or even, I bet, all kinds of jokes, bawdy allusions or political satires.

I have been keeping the Drawing Of The King tradition alive here at home ever since my children were born.

I make the galette from a traditional northern France recipe and, over the years, have collected paper crowns and Fèves looted during my winter trips to Paris.

My children are now adults or over 16, but the feast has not yet become old or lame. My kids still like the galette. And so does my husband.

I suspect however that for my kids, choosing a queen or a king has become a tad corny. Until, as parents themselves, they remember their childhood…

Autumn of Another Color

October 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Fall colors in New England.

These words instantly evoke images of flaming reds, fiery oranges and golden yellows setting ablaze trees and forest for a last flash before winter.

Even after living in the rural Northeast for many years I never tire of this spectacular display. I literally can stop in my tracks in wonder and awe when walking or driving on a day of crisp autumn sunlight and royal blue sky.

But this year I seem to be less inclined to mind this seasonal show.

Often taking walks in drizzly grey weather, under leaden skies, on dim and overcast days or early mornings when the river fog is slow to clear away, I gradually noticed a different kind of palette:

Subtle hues and pale shades, patinaed coppers and silvers, flaxen shimmers, cool white glows and faded tawny tints.

One Quiet Moment

September 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

The winds have brought an autumn chill in the air tonight. The smells of wet decaying leaves and fermenting apples are slowly taking over the scents of dry grass and the sweet heady whiffs of a late blooming rose. Frogs and crickets have paused in their songs.

Summer 2012 is over. Some day, not now, I will write about it.

So tonight and with all of you my readers who are going through the rush of back to school, back to work, back home or back from a time of slow, stretched and balmy days, a time of soft early dawn light and golden lazy evenings, a season when our lives can seem just a few paces slower, I want to share this one perfect moment of quiet I had, back in August, on a very early morning by the Adriatic Sea:

San Francisco: a slanted view

July 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

I was in San Francisco for the first time earlier this month. What a beautiful city! And a feast for my eyes.

Indeed what affected me visually the most were the unlikely angles, the slanted perspectives and other optical illusions those fantastical and ubiquitous hills gave me via my iphone camera.

 from Alta Plaza Park, Pacific Heights.

Pacific Avenue, view from our hotel room.

And into the twilight…