Tag Archives: Mona Lisa

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.

 

V-Leonardo Da Vinci – Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

‘Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.’

-Leonardo Da Vinci

Welcome back to my series for the 2018 Blogging A-Z April Challenge… Letters to Dead Artists. Today, I’ll be writing to Leonardo Da Vinci and I’ve paired him up with the inimitable David Bowie. Firstly, encapsulating the relationship between the artistic genius and their masterpiece (in Leonardo’s case being the Mona Lisa), I’ve chosen Heroes (I will be King, and you, you will be Queen). To reflect the man of science and the great inventor, I’ve chosen Star Man.

My goodness! Only a masochist or a lunatic would ever attempt to tackle Leonardo da Vinci in one day. Well, it hasn’t exactly been a day, because there’s been something like a lifetime of osmosis, absorbing his genius drop by drop like a glass of rich, red Beaujolais. I’ve also managed to squeeze some preparation while working on the rest.

‘Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.’

Leonardo Da Vinci

Of course,  Leonardo is so much more than the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper, or even his Vitruvian Man. He is a man who deeply embraced painting, anatomy, science, engineering and had an absolute fascination with flight. There was seemingly no end to his vast genius and he certainly wasn’t one of those experts who stuck tenaciously to their specialty but knew nothing about the bigger picture. He even dissected the human smile, to find out how it worked. The only thing I’ve dissected lately, other than the minds of dead artists, has been a leg of lamb.

 

On the 29th July, 1992, the day before my 23rd birthday, I visited the Louvre in Paris for the very first time. I know it was on that very day, because I still have the ticket pasted into my diary some 26 years later. I also recorded my very first impressions of seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time.

By the way, I should probably point out that I stayed in Paris for about six weeks and so my experience was very different to somebody who was in more of a hurry and needing to cross things off their checklist. Hence, there was this remark:

I’m about to be stampeded by tourists here all blindly whizzing past without pausing to take in the other art. It’s” Go Directly to the Mona Lisa. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.”

It looks like I took my time to find the Mona Lisa, and by the time I found her, I wasn’t that impressed:

“What’s the big deal about Mona Lisa? Why is it here? Why is it everywhere? The most reproduced work of art. The crowd watching the Mona Lisa is more interesting. Standing on tippy toes of tippy toes with cameras, video cameras all vying for a shot. …Why doesn’t anybody challenge the supremacy of this boring portrait? Sure, her eyes follow you around and there’s something about her smile, which suggests she knows some unspoken, secret raison d’etre. That she holds the key to unlocking the truth of human existence behind that ever-reproduced smile. It’s quite apt then, that she’s kept sealed behind the glass. We need to protect her secret as though one day she will speak. Share her words of wisdom gained from watching her admirers with those moving eyes and watching us while were watching her and making her own conclusions about humanity. It’s like…if you could cut her smile open with a Swiss Army Knife, the mystery would all gush out from behind the canvas. Of speak, oh Mona. Speak!”

Later on, I added:

“She’s determined to keep her mouth shut to hold onto her precious secret, because it’s the only privacy she has left.”

I wrote a lot more about the Mona Lisa and visiting the Louvre while I was actually there, especially about the Salle de Rubins, which I absolutely loved. It was much more my type of art than the Mona Lisa.

However, my understanding of Leonardo da Vinci went to another level when I attended a touring exhibition in Sydney. This exhibition brought to life a number of his inventions and it was amazing to see them in person and even interact with them. I was so impressed by the exhibition that I saw it once by myself and then went back with the family. Our son was only five at the time and our daughter was three but I just felt it was something they had to experience. Who knows what they retained, but I wanted to plant a seed.

Through this exhibition I gained a much deeper appreciation of Leonardo’s quest for humans to fly as well as how his detailed knowledge of human anatomy gained by dissecting and drawing cadavers himself, must’ve greatly contributed towards his artistic genius. Indeed, I wondered if I embraced my physical body more, whether my creativity would also flourish in some way. Leonardo’s example, at least as far as I’ve been concerned, demonstrates the importance of creative cross-training where you’re not just an Artist, a Poet or Photographer, but you enhance your abilities by delving into other fields the same way for example that a runner will go to the gym, swim and modify diet to improve their overall fitness and performance.

This brings me to perhaps the greatest mystery of all surrounded Leonardo Da Vinci…What was the source of his genius?

Ritchie Caldor author of Leonardo & The Age of the Eye writes: “There was nothing in Leonardo’s origins to account for his attributes. For generations on his father’s side, they had been notories, registrars, farmers and winegrowers. His mother, Caterina, who was “of humble station”.”Certainly he was an interesting concatenation of genes, from the unlikely stock-pot of rural Tuscany, from the lusty notary and the peasant wench.”

He goes on to say:

“The shuffled genes of heredity talents can be compared to the deck of cards in the game of poker. In the deal, one would recognize as a genius anything from a Full House to a royal flush. Leonardo held the ace, the king, the queen, the knave and the ten – supreme in the talents of many fields- but in our awe we tend to throw in the joker as well and regard him as unique for all time- The Universal Genius. Rather we should regard him as the Universal Man who added to his innate talents an avid awareness of what was going on around him, and could exercise his skill in expressing and amplifying his own interests.”

This brings me to a very interesting point. What would you do if you had a genius like Leonardo Da Vinci in your family? Would you simply stop at the one you had, or would you try to create some more? Clearly, this type of thinking was taken to an extreme by the Nazi’s with their horrific crimes against humanity. However, we’re not talking about something on such a grand scale. Just perhaps being a little selective in your choice of marriage partner, for example.

Well, Leonardo had a half-brother by his father’s third wife, Bartolommeo who examined every detail of his father’s association with Caterina  and sought out  another peasant woman who corresponded to what he knew about Caterina and married her. He called the child Piero. The boy looked like Leonardo and was brought up with all the encouragement to follow in his footsteps. He became an artist and a sculptor of some talent but unfortunately died young. After that, “the Da Vinci genes reverted to the commonplace”.

Portrait circa 1510

My Letter To Leonardo Da Vinci

Dear Leonardo,

There was only one way I could post my letter to you, Leonardo…as a paper plane. How I wish that I could take you up in a jumbo jet and soar above the clouds. Or, perhaps you’d prefer hang gliding?

Personally, I’d rather stick to the relative safety of a plane, but you strike me as more of a risk taker. A man of action. Indeed, perhaps you’re the embodiment of Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker. Although he might be called “The Thinker”, you just need to look at his muscular legs to see he’s not a desk jockey. That his thoughts translate into action.

This brings me to my question:

What does it take to create a genius? What are the essential ingredients?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Why did you put “Describe the tongue of the woodpecker” on your to do list? Why did it matter?

Vitruvian man

A Letter From Leonardo Da Vinci

Dear Rowena,

You sure know how to throw a dead artist in at the deep end. How to create a genius? You could’ve given me something easy to warm up on. Indeed, I could’ve described the tongue of a woodpecker without any trouble at all! Creating a genius? That’s going to take a bit of thought and I might have to consult a few of these fellow dead artists.

Not that I’ve been idle around here. I brought my insatiable curiosity with me, and have been driving everyone mad asking: “Why is it so?” They told me in no uncertain terms to join the choir!

Anyway, I flicked through some of my notebooks I’ve written up here and have jotted down a few ideas:

Firstly, curiosity is very important. It’s more important to ask questions, than it is to have all the answers. “I roamed the countryside searching for the answers to things I did not understand. Why shells existed on the tops of mountains along with the imprints of coral and plant and seaweed usually found in the sea. Why the thunder lasts a longer time than that which causes it and why immediately on its creation the lightening becomes visible to the eye while thunder requires time to travel. How the various circles of water form around the spot which has been struck by a stone and why a bird sustains itself in the air. These questions and other strange phenomena engaged my thought throughout my life.”

Leonardo eye drawing

Secondly, you need to keep your eyes open. The sense of sight is three times greater than any of the other senses: “The eye whereby the beauty of the world is reflected by beholders is of such excellence that whoso consents to its loss deprives himself of the representation of all the works of nature. Because we can see these things owing to our eyes the soul is content to stay imprisoned in the human body; for through the eyes all the various things of nature are represented to the soul. Who loses his eyes leaves his soul a dark prison without hope of ever again seeing the sun, light of all the world….”

Lastly, you need to get out there and make things happen. Stop sticking your manuscripts in your bottom drawer and filing your paintings at the back of your cupboard.  “People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

I hope that helps. I’ll put my thinking cap on and try to think of some more.
Best wishes,

Leonardo.

Further Reading & References