Tag Archives: Degas

P- A Different Perspective of Paris…A-Z Challenge.

“But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”

Ernest Hemingway

Welcome back to Places I’ve Been, my theme for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Today, we’re off to Paris, a city with a big name and enormous reputation.  Indeed, if you were ever looking for inspiration, you’d head to Paris if you could.

Paris Rainy Street

Paris also has its rainy days. Gustave Caillebotte: Paris Street;Rainy Day. Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection

However, all that glitters isn’t gold. So, it’s hardly surprising that the realities of Paris could well be very different to the Paris of your dreams, especially if you linger beyond the tourist traps. After spending six weeks in Paris in the Summer of ’92, I felt it was no coincidence that Paris has spawned revolutions, along with philosophical, literary, artistic and fashion movements.Indeed, for me, it was both a city of incredibly dazzling bright lights, but also a city of equally dark shadows and despair. Potentially, it’s this juxtaposition which fuels her creative flow. Creates a gripping tension spawning ideas.

writing in Paris

Writing on the Window Sill at the Hotel Henri IV July, 1992.

Indeed, when I reflect on my time in Paris, I often wonder why so few connect the city of love with the city of heartbreak. After all, isn’t it inevitable? Well, at least, that’s how it seems to me, and I’m sure anyone else who’s ever been dumped in Paris would agree. Indeed, I used to follow a band called Paris Dumper, and if you’re still in any doubt, just watch Casablanca. Things didn’t work out for Humphrey Bogart in Paris either.

Rowena Paris motorbike

My quest for the meaning of life continued

Over the last few years, Paris has also been the scene of horrific and very tragic terrorist attacks, along with mass movements defending the freedom of speech and fighting to overcome such  racism and bigotry.

Meanwhile, the people of Paris live alongside all this storm and drang, and somehow they go about their business like rows of ants carefully circumnavigating all this drama. After all, the people of Paris are just like people anywhere else on the planet. They also need to eat, work, love and sleep.

View of Nore Dame

Johan-Barthold Jongkind (1819-1891). “Notre-Dame vue du quai de la Tournelle”. Huile sur toile, 1852. Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais.

It has taken me quite a few days to get my head around Paris. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll already note that my travel series isn’t just a series of checklists of what to see in each place. After all, such travel information is only a click or two away, and there’s no need to replicate all of that.

Picasso Notre Dame de Paris

Pablo Picasso, Notre Dame de Paris 1954. 

Rather, I wanted to share with you was what it was like for a 22 year old Australian to spend six weeks in Paris, where I had some kind of finger on the pulse. After all, I wasn’t just there for a couple days frenetically speeding through my checklist like a crazed ant. Rather, we lingered over a continental breakfast at our hotel, the Henri IV on the Rue Saint Jacques, just across from Notre Dame.

Rowena Luxembourg Gardens

My Feet Hanging Out at the Luxembourg Gardens, which were absolutely delightful. We spent quite a lot of time there. 

Indeed, we met a couple of Americans over breakfast at the hotel one morning, and one of them had lived in Paris before and became our impromptu tour guide. I particularly remember him taking us to the Musee Rodin where we could not only see, but experience those incredibly sculptures, especially The Thinker and The Kiss. Wow! They truly electrified my soul, and moved me so much more than the famed Mona Lisa at the Louvre. They were absolutely incredible, and also became something of a photographic feast.

However, as a bunch of twenty somethings, we also had our daily pilgrimage over Pont Neuf into the Latin Quarter where we hung out at the Boulangerie St Michel. You could people watch for hours there, if that’s what you were inclined to do. Moreover, like the great French philosophers who exchanged ideas in the cafes in Paris, we also philosophised. After all, we were young travellers wandering through Europe with the wind. There was so much to think about and I’m pretty sure the absence of any kind of anchor or routine, wasn’t entirely good for the psyche either.

Jim Morrison Grave

Jimmy Morrison’s Grave. 

We were the only flotsam and jetsam wandering through Paris either. Aside from the cafes, we also gravitated towards Jimmy Morrison’s grave in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, in a never-ending vigil. “Tumbleweeds”  also hung out at the famous Shakespeare Bookshop where proprietor George Whitman offered somewhere to crash out in exchange for working for a few hours in the shop. I think I also read something about having to read a book a day as well, although I couldn’t be entirely sure, because I didn’t stay there.

Shakespeare Bookshop

The Shakespeare Bookshop

However, you won’t be surprised that I found my way into the Shakespeare Bookshop. By this stage, I’d spent three months on the continent and the Shakespeare was the only English-speaking bookshop in Paris. I was craving for the written word in my own tongue. Indeed, I clearly remember reading those words in my guidebook. However, what I suspect was missing from the guidebook, was the possibility of doing poetry readings at the Shakespeare and I might have heard about that from my American friend, Chris, who, as I said, had lived in Paris. Either way, a rather naive, young Australia who had self-published her anthology of poetry: Locked Inside An Inner Labyrinth fronted up to George Whitman and asked to do a reading.

Poetry Reading

Me & My Notebook…taken during my solo reading upstairs at the Shakespeare Bookshop

To put you in the picture, from what I’ve subsequently researched, having an unknown, young poet from distant Sydney, Australia approach the great George Whitman about reading her own poetry at THE Shakespeare, was very much along the same vein as young Oliver Twist holding out his bowl and asking: “Please sir, can I have some more!”

Obviously, I was a complete and utter upstart. However, ignorance is bliss and I knew none of that at the time. Indeed, I’m pretty sure I didn’t know terribly much about the Shakespeare’s incredible history and how it was a haven for literary giants like Ernest Hemingway, Anais Nin and Henry while they were in Paris. Somehow, Rowena Curtin of Sydney who’d performed at Sydney University’s International Women’s Day Festival, the Reasonably Good Cafe in Chippendale, Gleebooks and the Newtown Street Festival didn’t quite have the same ring to it.

Degas Ballet at the paris opera

Degas: Ballet At the Paris Opera. The Art Institute of Chicago.  

However, for some reason, he gave me a go. Not only that, he gave me a solo reading, which also meant having to draw up my own advertising poster to go in the shop window. Talk about cringe-worthy. In hindsight, I’m telling my 22 year old self to put that notebook back in your backpack and drink some more coffee…you little upstart!!!

However, if I’d done that and stuck to the tried and tested, I wouldn’t have this incredible and very unique feather in my cap. Despite everything I’ve been through since, nothing and nobody can take this away from me.

From what I now understand, my experience was truly remarkable. Apparently, young poets didn’t get a look in at the Shakespeare, and were strictly audience only. George Whitman wasn’t a soft touch either. I still remember meeting him and he was quite gruff, which is quite understandable now I know just whose footsteps I was treading on and what an extraordinary opportunity I had. Indeed, it’s an experience well beyond the scope of this post, as I’ll need to dig up those travel diaries once again. However, I’ll have to write about it soon. Indeed, I can’t believe I’ve left it so long.

paris_pont_neuf_001

The City of Lights By Night. The light dancing across the inky waters was rather alluring in those early hours of the morn. 

However, Paris had quite a heaviness for me, and I clearly remember writing poetry at two o’clock in the morning beside the River Seine just near Pont Neuf . Clear as day, I remember looking across the river and there was a group of young men with their ghetto blaster and while I should have been afraid, I was locked inside something like a bubble of grief where either I didn’t care anymore. Or, believed I couldn’t be hurt anymore. Just let me say, there’s a reason why there are so many bridges in Paris and it isn’t just to get to the other side.

Arc de Triomphe by Night

Robert Ricart, Arc de Triomphe by Night.

“Paris is Paris, there is but one Paris and however hard living may be

here…the French air clears up the brain and does one good.”

-Vincent van Gogh letter to Horace Mann Livens from Paris September

or October, 1886.

So, you can probably understand why it’s taken me quite some time to write about Paris, and why I couldn’t simply write some stereotypical tribute to all it’s sights and wonders. I have crossed known its dark side, wallowed in it and thanks to my very best friends and the grace of God, survived. Indeed, they got me on a train back to Heidelberg where my friends there picked up this crumpled bird and very slowly helped me regain my strength. The spirit of Paris ran me over and almost destroyed me completely. Indeed, for me, it is a city to be approached with a great deal of caution, particularly once you start carving a path beyond the roads most travelled.

Patisserie Paris

Paris could also be exquisite and incredibly delicious. 

I wonder if anyone else has had similar experiences in Paris? Or, perhaps in another time and place? I’ve also experienced a similar vibe in Byron Bay, which also attracts travellers, seekers and along with it’s incredibly natural beauty also has its darkness.

Best wishes,

Rowena

P.S> I would like to add that I didn’t experience all darkness and gloom in Paris, and that experiencing the heaviness of life isn’t all bad. That it’s often during times of struggle that we actually grow the most. Have our eyes opened to the enormous realms of possibilities which are always just out there waiting for us to stick our necks out, take a risk and have a go.

 

Flying with the Green Fairy…Friday Fictioneers.

We call her “Le Petite Danseuse“, after that sculpture by Degas. The story goes that she wears a long white tutu, and pirouettes round and round like a music box dancer. As yet, I’ve never seen her. Not that I haven’t looked. Waited. Even played my violin hoping she’d come. Nothing.

Pierre from accounts captured a blurry, white image on his phone. Reckons this was a dance studio, and a young ballerina died when the Brits bombed Paris.

Bet it’s only steam from the kettle. Or, that he’s drunk too much Absinthe, and gone flying with the “green fairy”.

99 Words

……..

This has been another contribution for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. This week’s photo image was provided by Yarnspinner.

I also wanted to let you know that I’ve been participating in the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. My theme this year is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Here’s a link to my  Weekly Round up

If you are participating in the challenge, please leave a link to your blog and a brief intro in the comments below.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

D- Edgar Degas…A-Z Challenge.

“And even this heart of mine has something artificial. The dancers have sewn it into a bag of pink satin, pink satin slightly faded, like their dancing shoes.”
― Edgar Degas

Welcome to Day Four of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. As you may recall, my theme this year is “Letters to Dead Artists”. Today, I’ll be writing to so-called French impressionist, Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and we will be focusing on his sculpture: the Little Dancer and to a lesser extent, his paintings of dancers.

“A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people.”

-Edgar Degas.

Edgar Degas is one of those rare individuals who remain an enigma, no matter how far you delve inside their head, or process all the detritus they’ve left behind. While I was initially attracted to his dance works because they reminded me of my young daughter, as I came to learn more about the darker, seedy undertones and implicit prostitution, that all changed. Naturally, I also wanted to extricate my daughter from those associations immediately. That’s clearly not the life I want for her. Yet, that doesn’t change the beauty Degas has captured in these dancers. Moreover, it didn’t change the sense of awe I felt when my daughter performed her first ballet solo on stage recently either. How I saw her moving within that great tradition of ballet, ballerinas, tutus and dreams.

As far as choosing a piece of music for Degas, I couldn’t help referring to Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Little Swans. After all, I have a little swan all of my own…

Amelia YIPA Photo

Our Little Dancer

Yet, there were other ways I came to relate to Degas, which were totally unexpected. You see, by 1870 at age of 36 Degas was going blind, which caused him a great deal of anguish. Moreover, he didn’t suffer in silence and his anguish was conveyed in numerous letters:

To Rouart (September 11): “I have In 1888 he wrote to Evariste De Valernes (October 26): “I was or I seemed to be hard with everyone through a sort of passion for brutality, which came from my uncertainty and my bad humour. I felt myself so badly made, so badly equipped, so weak, whereas it seemed to me, that my calculations on art were so right. I brooded against the whole world and against myself… I found in you again the same vigorous mind, the same vigorous and steady hand, and I envy you your eyes which will enable you to see everything until the last day. Mine will not give me this joy; I can scarcely read the papers a little and in the morning, when I reach my studio, if I have been stupid enough to linger somewhat over the deciphering, I can no longer get down to work.”

1891: Degas can no longer see well enough to read. He begins treatment under the famous Swiss ophthalmologist, Edmund Landolt.

1893, to Valernes (undated): “…I am dreading a stay in my room, without work, without being able to read, staring into space. My sight too is changing, for the worse. I am pitying myself, so that you may know that you are not the only unhappy person… With regard to writing, ah! my friends can scarcely count on me. Just imagine that to re-read, re-read what I write to you, would present such difficulty, even with the magnifying glass, that I should give it up after the first lines.”

Degas The Ballet Class Musee d'Orsay

Edgar Degas, The Ballet Class, Musee D’Orsay.

In an eerie coincidence, when I was also 36, my muscles started wasting away. However, it wasn’t until my diagnosis in August 2007 18 grueling months later, that I found out what was going on. By this point, I couldn’t dress myself, roll over in bed or even pull the doona over myself. Indeed, six weeks before my diagnosis, I fell at home and much to my horror, couldn’t get up again. I was lying face down on the floor alone with the kids and in so much pain. It was very tempting to give up, especially as I’d tripped over the broom my son had left on the floor and I was so angry. Hurt. Indeed, if ever there was a time I felt defeated, this was it. However, I guess the incredibility of the situation must have hit me. Why couldn’t I get myself up? Had I been snaffled up into a bad dream? Clearly not, so I’d just had to grab myself by the boot straps and get going. I managed to shuffle into the kitchen on my backside and much to my amazement, the cordless phone was in reach. I rang my husband at work, and he recommended I lever myself up with a chair. It worked and my day continued as usual. I didn’t even call the doctor. However, I did give a friend a key to my front door!

Having a condition which fluctuates, or gradually deteriorates, is very different to having a situation like an accident, for example, where you might have a clear cut change. It makes it very difficult to reach an ongoing point of acceptance, because the status quo is always changing.

So, I know that sense of fear. I know his desperation to find anything which might stop the inevitable. Yet, like Degas, I’ve also tried to make the most of what I’ve got and carpe diem seize the day. Indeed, living with something precious which is slipping away, really helps you savour every second. Degas kept painting and sculpting as long as he could, and once that was impossible he went on long walks around Paris, as if releasing that energy through his feet.

Indeed, not long before his death, he was filmed walking through Paris: Degas Walking Through Paris 1915

Now, before I actually write to Edgar Degas, I thought I’d better share a few details about The Little Dancer.

The Little Dancer

“The dancer’s body is simply the luminous manifestation of the soul.”

Isadora Duncan

Perhaps, you have seen the statue of the Little Dancer in your travels. However, I would like to make it clear that the bronze statue that we see today, isn’t the same Little Dancer which Degas displayed at the 1881 Impressionist Exhibition in Paris. Rather, it is a bronze which was cast in 1920 after Degas’s death. In recent years, a controversial plaster cast of the Little Dancer has come to light, which according to Dr Gregory Hedberg, could be closer to the original sculpture.  I highly recommend you watch this lecture, which is very much like a forensic report. It blew me away.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pr3OYfY0zc&feature=youtu.be

So, without any further ado, here’s my letter to Edgar Degas:

My Letter to Degas

Dear Degas,

There’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you’ve back from the dead for the day so you can read this letter and give me some sort of reply. The bad news is that we have no money and so we’ll be “tumbleweeds” sleeping on the floor at the Shakespeare Bookshop. I don’t know if the requirements have changed since I gave a reading here, but I think we’ll have to help out in the bookshop and read a book while we’re here. You might even like to read Dr Gregory Hedberg’s book: Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen: The Earlier Version That Helped Spark the Birth of Modern Art. As for myself, I’m going to re-read Anais’s Nin’s Henry and June. I read it when I was last in Paris and let’s just say I wasn’t in a good way.

While we could talk at length about our respective medical struggles, I would much rather take you to the Musee D’orsay and ask you what you think of the Litter Dancer as she appears today? Is she your Little Dancer and does she bare any resemblance to the statute which appeared at the Impressionist Exhibition in 1881? I have my doubts. Also, as much as I’m pleased we can still enjoy a Little Dancer, I’m not sure about the ethics of putting her on public display without your consent. You are clearly a meticulous and precise man and from what I can gather, you weren’t happy with how she ended up. I don’t know if you kept trying to change her and touch her up and something went wrong, like someone who has had too much plastic surgery. The other concern I have is that was seemingly altered after you’d turned blind and weren’t working much at all. Perhaps, I’ve got that wrong. I’m trying to get my head around some pretty complex details on the fly, and I’d really appreciate it if you could help me out.

Anyway, could you please let me know what you think of the Little Dancer.

Meanwhile, I’m off for a walk. You’re not the only one who loves to walk the streets of Paris.

Warm regards,

Rowena

A Reply From Degas

Dear Rowena,

My time on earth was brief, but that wretched dancer is eternal. I’d locked her up. She was never meant to see the light of day. Now, all my mistakes are being portrayed as my greatest work. My inner world has been turned inside out, and is out on public display. There’s nothing left to call my own. Rowena, my only advice to upcoming artists, is to save yourself from the vultures. Light a match before you die.

Meet me Musee d’Orsay at midnight. I’ve found a van.

Yours,

Degas