Tag Archives: Paris

Ghosts on the Run…Friday Fictioneers 7th June, 2019.

When the Ledoux Family rented out their home in Antibes, they had no idea a couple of famous ghosts would move in along with their heads.

Louis and Marie-Antoinette had evacuated Notre Dame toute de Suite after accidentally sparking the fire which almost turned their beloved Lady into a pile of ash.

Of course, it wasn’t Versailles. However, they loved the beach and their new found freedom. Louis could barely keep his hands off his beloved Queen in her alluring bikini, although didn’t like wearing budgie smugglers* at all!

“Mon Cherie, nobody would ever think to look for us here.”

…..

Don’t ask me where the inspiration for my take on today’s prompt came from, except to say that I was quite taken by the stairs at the front and floating to the top. Stairs like that are not kind to me. By the way, Budgie smugglers is an Australian slang term for men’s tight-fitting Speedo-style swimwear and the term received a lot of press thanks to our former Prime Minister Tony Abbott who was often photographed wearing them. He is a volunteer lifesaver.

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. This week’s prompt was provided by C.E. Ayr. Thanks, C.E.

We’d love you to join us. Every week, Rochelle posts a photo prompt and we respond in 100 words or less and I’ve been quite amazed at what we’ve been able to accomplish in so few words. Makes me ponder the need for the novel.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Je suis Notre Dame…

“To know her, is to love her!”

The Beatles

Thank goodness, this isn’t a eulogy and has become more of an appreciation of our beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral. Indeed, these words are the outpourings of a heart which almost broke yesterday, as the blazing orange flames all but consumed her like a savage beast.  Yet, we’re not grieving her death, but are now grateful that she miraculously survived.

Like so many of us who have survived horrendous infernos of this magnitude, Notre Dame is still standing, yet all but destroyed.  I am a survivor myself and know that seemingly bottomless grief. Indeed, I have asked these very same questions myself…How did this happen? What has been lost? What is left? What can be done? I have also known that very same, fierce determination to get back on my feet and overcome like so many survivors. We will rebuild. Yet, it still hurts and the pain feels like it has no end. However, somehow you suddenly reach the other end of the rainbow and your ordeal seems like a bad dream, although the scars remain.

Personally, Notre Dame has never just been somewhere I went in Paris. Indeed, our connection has always been personal and it wasn’t just about the building either. No doubt, it’s the same for millions around the world and throughout history and we each have our own story to tell. Indeed, in a strange way and no doubt encouraged by Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, she’s almost come to life.  We can almost feel her pulse, her heartbeat and believe she knows and understands us in ways beyond human understanding. Indeed, as I watched those infernal flames blaze with such fury, I could hear her gasping for breath unable to discern whether she wanted to live or to die.

Of course, by now I was also walking through the streets of Paris crying and singing the words of the Hail Mary in solidarity with the people, although I didn’t know the words in French or in English. I didn’t need to. Notre Dame was in my heart. As Notre Dame burned, Paris might have been one of the largest cities in the world, but she was a village once again.

However, who was I kidding? I wasn’t out on the streets with the people of Paris. Rather, I was still stuck here on the other side of the world and couldn’t be there. Of course, it wasn’t quite the same sense of anguish you feel when a loved one is dying and you can’t get back. When you desperately want to hold their hand and say your “I love yous” and goodbyes and miss out. Yet, I still felt the need to vent. Respond. Do something.

So, I did what I could.

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Yesterday, on the way to the Art Gallery of NSW with my daughter, we detoured via Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral to pay our respects to the smouldering remains of Notre Dame and her extended global community. Indeed, I needed to pray and being there was the closest I could get to being near Notre Dame.

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Our daughter sitting on the steps of St Mary’s Cathedral on Tuesday. Not quite the same effect as Princess Diana at the Taj Mahal but there’s promise. 

 

Back when my husband first told me the news, I jumped straight out of bed and switched on the TV expecting some kind of mistake. Yet, there she was right before my very eyes…a blazing, orange inferno. Brutal, cruel and almost evil, she was trapped in the flames with no way out. Yet, the valiant fire fighters of Paris, just like those of New York on 9/11, were there fighting to put out the flames and save her from eternal destruction.

Notre Dame! The name says it all, even for me as an Australian.

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My backpack and I just before I left. 

On the 13th July, 1992 I arrived at Paris’s Gare du Nord with my backpack and I found my way to the Hotel Henri IV in Rue Saint Jacques only five minutes’ walk from Notre Dame. I stayed there with friends for a few weeks, exploring the city of light and romantic turmoil, while Notre Dame stood seemingly unmoved and her bells chimed.

Being immersed in all that history and architectural grandeur, was an incredible experience for a young Australian experiencing Europe for the first time. We had nothing like it. Unfortunately, the City of Love also turned out to be the City of Heartbreak and despair. Indeed, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that so many philosophers, writers and artists have gathered there. I definitely sensed a dark undercurrent to Paris, and perhaps in this context, Notre Dame needed to be the light.

Rowena Notre Dame

My parents met up with me in Paris and we not only went to Notre Dame, my father and I also had our portraits sketched out the front. While I don’t particularly remember the interior, I still remember going inside and experiencing the most incredible sense of peace…the peace which surpasses human understanding. I also remember feeling it was much cooler inside with a distinct temperature drop. Being July, it was boiling hot outside and perhaps it was a few degrees cooler inside the cathedral. I don’t know. However, this combined with the stained glass windows and subdued lighting did create an ambiance.

Yet, quite aside from that, I could really sense the comforting presence of God. Only a few weeks’ beforehand, my mother’s aunt had passed away. She and Mum were particularly close and brought closer still by Mum’s strict upbringing. So, although we’re not Catholic, we lit a candle for her. Lighting that wick, has always been special. However, it’s felt even sacred since the fire. It was such an incredibly poignant moment. I think we also lit a candle for Mum’s younger sister, Lyn, who’d suddenly been ripped away from us at 36 with double pneumonia. Lyn’s death was one of those wounds which never seemed to heal. Lyn was beautiful, vivacious and so young. Naturally, her death rocked everyone who knew her. It didn’t make sense and we just had to get used to living with our grief.

No doubt, over the last 856 years, millions have also had such moments where they’ve been  touched by God’s love and this indescribable peace at Notre Dame. Of course, I know this experience isn’t unique to us, although it certainly felt that way. People have prayed for the living, cried for the dead and wrestled with everything in between and Notre Dame has stood as solid as a rock through the French Revolution, two world wars, and hoards of visitors. Indeed, even that blazing infernal couldn’t destroy her completely, but it’s been too close a call.

Yet, she has also suffered terrible neglect, which has taken its toll. As Victor Hugo wrote in The Hunchback of Notre Dame:

 “(I)t is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer.”

So why was it so difficult to raise the money to restore and maintain this stunning, historic and sacred cathedral, which has always been at the very heart of Paris? It is hard to understand.

However, as we move forward as a global community, we now have the chance to show her the love we’ve always felt, but haven’t sufficiently expressed. She has given us so much, and now it’s our turn to give back in whatever way we can. For some of us, that will be in words or paint while others have been financially blessed.

Notre Dame needs to be that phoenix rising out of the ashes. We need to see that you can rise up from near total destruction, and start over not only as a building but also as individuals and communities. We can get better. Moreover, we also need to restore Notre Dame for future generations who will also be reaching out for God’s love and the peace which surpasses human understanding in an imperfect and often turbulent world.

Have you been to Notre Dame and would like to share your thoughts? Please leave them in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Me – A New Book and A Work in Progress…

Last weekend, I mentioned that I was reading Raphaelle Giordano’s: Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One. I’d first spotted it at Gleebooks while on holidays at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains West of Sydney.  I don’t know why I bought this book. It was positioned in a huge stack right next to the register in prime real estate “look at me!!!” territory. It was also set in Paris. Then, the cover boasted that over 2 million French readers had loved it.Clearly, this book was going to be the next big thing, even if I hadn’t heard of it yet. For once, I was going to be ahead of the pack.

Book

However, being somewhat restrained, I waited til I arrived home and headed to our local bookshop, Book Bazaar. Of course, I couldn’t remember anything about it other than the colour…a delicious shade of musk pink. Well, at least that was the colour of the title. Oh yes…it was a French novel. Thank goodness Mandy is good at cryptic puzzles. Clutching my book in my fingertips, I was off on a virtual trip to Paris.

I don’t know whether you’ve ever considered this, but buying a book is always a bit of a mystery.  A leap of faith. A stab in the dark. Even when you’ve heard raving reviews and its been loved and adored by the masses and has even been elevated to the best seller lists, that’s still no guarantee it’s going to touch, inspire or even prod you.

So, I shouldn’t be surprised that with a title like: Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One, that I might be set for some kind of transformation. Moreover, now that Winter’s evolving into Spring, that I might even be set for a metamorphosis. Indeed, I’m no longer reading the book as a novel. Rather, it’s turned into a challenge. As the main character documents her visits to Claude a routinologist (whatever that is…), he provides her with a series of accumulating steps towards finding fulfillment. Described as a “third world problem”, her life is the epitomy of happiness and success on the outside, yet feels hollow and empty inside. She isn’t satisfied.

I didn’t buy this book because I’m not satisfied. Rather, I bought it because it was a French novel set in Paris. I spent six weeks in Paris in 1992 after finishing university and I like reflecting back on my time there, despite going through an existential crisis and the horrors of the “Paris dumper” (named after a Sydney band and I believe it was their lead singer who had a similar experience. As I’ve said before no one ever tells you that the city of love, is also the epicentre of heartbreak and despair. Indeed, in hindsight, I no longer wonder why there are so many bridges in Paris…

Anyway, I decided to follow the steps outlined in the book and see where they lead me. I had no great expectations. Indeed, I had none at all. After all, as I said, I wasn’t dissatisfied with my life. However, I had the feeling that I should be. That I should be bothered that I haven’t been in paid employment since I had chemo five years ago. That I should feel panic stricken that I haven’t edited my book “manuscripts” and got something out there. That pouring my heart and soul into so much research was an utter waste of time and a symptom of some kind of deep seated mental health issue which should be drawn out from the depths and slayed like the proverbial dragon. How could I be content when my life was up shit creek without a paddle, especially when I’ve always been a very driven person? Perhaps, that was just as worthy of exploration and change. Surely, I couldn’t possibly be happy when my life didn’t tick most of the boxes. Indeed, I’d ticked a few of those boxes you are supposed to avoid at all costs such as living with a severe life threatening illness. Actually, make that two.

Perhaps, I just didn’t realize I wasn’t happy with the status quo. That somehow I found enjoyment selling sausages at the scout fundraising BBQ at our local Bunnings hardware store. That I found pleasure in spotting a red rose just leaning into view through the window behind my desk. The window itself had an enormous cobweb so I wasn’t even looking at a perfect rose. It was rose through the cobwebs and in my deluded state, I found that even more alluring. I loved that juxtaposition of opposites…the comedy. I had made peace with my imperfect life and didn’t feel compelled to fetch the broom. Perhaps, I’d given up.

So, I stated writing the points out from the book on post it notes. Two post it notes:

You are responsible for your own happiness.

Throw out 10 useless objects.

If you looked around me, you’d say that I’d have no trouble throwing out 10 useless objects. Indeed, I could throw out, or re-home thousands of objects and never hit the sides. However, it’s not the last step that’s the most difficult. It’s the first. Of course, I could throw away 10 useless bobby pins which weren’t taking up any space whatsoever. However, wouldn’t that be cheating? Shouldn’t I be thinking about the spirit of the challenge and actually making a noticeable change to my external environment? Personally, I didn’t view this as over-thinking, but a case of being more conscious about my actions. I gather ten things into a crate and they hit the bin. I crossed the task off my list. And yet…

Somehow this desire for more space was addictive. I needed more real estate.

However, to create more space, you need to have somewhere to put things.

You also need to have discipline in addition to those create flights of fancy which have created the teetering stacks of books, paperwork and miscellaneous detritus which have fluttered onto my desk and built a nest.

Rowena Desk

It’s going to take a lot more than a line from a book to reform my desk but I am serious about it. Somehow I’m going to conquer.

xx Rowena

Books

PS When they said to throw ten things out, they didn’t mention anything about not bringing new stuff into the house. I don’t know how this happened, but we were driving back from the Scout camp yesterday and we spotted a sign outside a farm which said FREE. We had no idea what it was and thought it was most likely oranges or manure. However, there were bags and bags of books. We started going through them and it was a bonanza…an entire collection of Sci Fi, which my husband snapped up. Have no idea where all these books are going to live but they’ve certainly dumbfounded my quest for more space!

 

 

 

Monet’s Greatest Work.

There’s a fine line between madness and genius. Indeed, I’m currently feeling like the madness side of the equation has taken hold of my brain, but sadly I’m missing the genius component. I know what I’m wanting to say, and yet my brain’s stuttering and I can’t quite get the story out. Meanwhile, Monet, the man who is rattling my brain, was a mixture of the two. Moving into his twilight years, Monet was a man not only possessed by his water lilies, but was also trying to create what could well have been his greatest gift to humanity.Yet, afflicted by failing eyesight and chronic self-doubt, he was floundering. Indeed, he wrote to a friend that “Age and chagrin have worn me out. My life has been nothing but a failure, and all that’s left for me to do is to destroy my paintings before I disappear.” So, I’m hoping that you’ll join me on another detour. One which could well be life-changing.
After visiting Monet’s stunning garden at Giverny, now we’re catching the train to Paris, where we’ll be meeting up at the Jardin de Tuilleries, not far from the Louvre. From there, we’ll be heading into the Gallerie de L’Orangerie to experience Monet’s incredible gift to the French nation and humanity…a spectacular series of water lily paintings. Monet gifted the paintings to the French nation on November 12, 1918, the day after Armistice and two days before his 78th birthday. Monet wasn’t only wanting to commemorate peace. He also wanted to create a peaceful place, where those shaken up by the war could rest their weary souls:
“You see, while shrapnel from mortars, grenades and, above all, artillery projectile bombs, or shells, accounted for an estimated 60 percent of the 9.7 million military fatalities of World War I, it was soon observed that many soldiers arriving at the casualty clearing stations who had been exposed to exploding shells, although clearly damaged, bore no visible wounds. Rather, they appeared to be suffering from a remarkable state of shock caused by blast force. This new type of injury, a British medical report concluded, appeared to be “the result of the actual explosion itself, and not merely of the missiles set in motion by it.” In other words, it appeared that some dark, invisible force had in fact passed through the air and was inflicting novel and peculiar damage to men’s brains.

“Shell shock,” the term that would come to define the phenomenon, first appeared in the British medical journal The Lancet in February 1915, only six months after the commencement of the war- https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-shock-of-war-55376701/

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The Gallerie de L’Orangerie explains his achievement:
“This unique set, a true “Sixtine of Impressionism”, in the words of André Masson in 1952, testifies to Monet’s later work. It was designed as a real environment and crowns the Water Lilies cycle begun nearly thirty years before. The set is one of the largest monumental achievements of early twentieth century painting. The dimensions and the area covered by the paint surrounds and encompasses the viewer on nearly one hundred linear meters which unfold a landscape dotted with water lilies water, willow branches, tree and cloud reflections, giving the “illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore” in the words of Monet. This unique masterpiece has no equivalent worldwide.”
The Gallerie also did a far better job than I, on explaining Monet’s difficulties in completing the series:

It was in 1914, at the age of 74, when he had just lost his son and could see no hope for the future, that Monet felt a renewed desire to “undertake something on a grand scale” based on “old attempts”. In 1909, he had already told Gustave Geffroy that he wanted to see the theme of the water lilies “carried along the walls”. In June 1914, he wrote that he was “embarking on a great project”. This undertaking absorbed him for several years during which he was beset by obstacles and doubts, and when the friendship and support of one man proved decisive. This was the politician Georges Clemenceau. They met in 1860, lost touch, and met up again after 1908 when Clemenceau bought a property in Bernouville near Giverny. Monet shared Clemenceau Republican’s ideas, and we also know of Clemenceau’s keen interest in the arts. During the war, Monet continued his work alternately in the open air, when the weather was suitable, and in the huge studio that he had had built in 1916 with roof windows for natural light. On 12 November 1918, the day after the Armistice, Monet wrote to Georges Clemenceau: “I am on the verge of finishing two decorative panels which I want to sign on Victory day, and am writing to ask you if they could be offered to the State with you acting as intermediary.” The painter, therefore, intended to give the nation a real monument to peace. At this time, when it was still not certain where the decorative series was destined, it seems that Clemenceau managed to persuade Monet to increase this gift from just two panels to the whole decorative series. In 1920, the gift became official and resulted, in September, in an agreement between Monet and Paul Léon, director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, for the gift to the State of twelve decorative panels that Léon would undertake to install according to the painter’s instructions in a specific building. However, Monet, prey to doubt, continually reworked his panels and even destroyed some. The contract was signed on 12 April 1922 for the gift of 19 panels, but Monet, still dissatisfied, wanted more time to perfect his work. Clemenceau wrote to him in vain that year “you are well aware that you have reached the limit of what can be achieved with power of the brush and of the mind.” But, in the end, Monet would keep the paintings until his death in 1926. His friend Clemenceau then put everything into action to inaugurate the rooms for the Water Lilies in strict accordance with Monet’s wishes.http://www.musee-orangerie.fr/en/article/history-water-lilies-cycle

Unfortunately, I didn’t know about this exhibition when I was in Paris, and as I’ve mentioned before, with my love of expressionist art, I wasn’t as keen on Monet at the time. However, now I can just imagine what it would be like to stand in the middle of that room surrounded by Monet’s lilies and the deep sense of peace and serenity which must fill the room, as though Picasso’s dove of peace had built its nest in there. It feels like a miracle.
Have you ever been to the Gallerie de l’Orangerie? What was it like? How did it feel? I’d love to hear from people who’ve experienced the collection first hand!
Best wishes,
Rowena

R- Auguste Rodin- Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Didn’t need to think twice about choosing today’s artist, French Sculptor, August Rodin (1840-1917). Well, I did consider Peter Paul Rubens rather seriously, because I was totally spellbound by his Marie de’ Medici Cycle when I visited the Louvre. The collection has its own room and I remember just sitting in there soaking it all up, suddenly understanding why Australian artists like Norman and Lionel Lindsay opposed the coming of Modernist art to Australia. These paintings had such a serene beauty.
However, during my time in Paris I must’ve been immersed in so much art, although I was oblivious at the time…the Louvre, Musee d”Orsay and the Musee Rodin. I experienced an incomprehensible art explosion right inside my head.  However, this was just what it meant to be in Paris, and I was there for six weeks in 1992. Rather than the “City of Lights”, they could well rebadge Paris as “the City of Art Galleries”.
It was during this time, that I visited the Musee Rodin. We were staying at the Hotel Henri IV on the Isle de Paris which used to house Henri IV’s printing presses. The tarif included a continental breakfast, which was served in a breakfast room downstairs. This is where we met a couple of Americans. One of them had lived in Paris and became our tour guide, taking us to the Musee Rodin, which knocked my socks off.
It was there that I met The Thinker, whose previous title had actually been: The Poet. In case I haven’t mentioned this before, I was very much a poet back in my university days and that was even my way of communicating with my family and friends…”I’ve got a poem,” my Dad announced in his speech at my 21st birthday. Indeed, while I was in Paris I did a solo reading at the famous Shakespeare Bookshop from my self-published anthology: Locked Inside an Inner Labyrinth.
The Kiss Musee Rodin

Auguste Rodin: The Kiss, Musee Rodin, Paris.

 Being 22 years old and in the throws of romantic angst, seeing The Kiss was equally electric and it was like a lightening bolt had struck me on the head switching all my neurones on at once…BANG. Fireworks! Being a passionate Keats’ fan, his Ode to A Grecian Urn came to mind, although Rodin’s lovers were froze in an eternal embrace, rather than the frustration of the eternal chase.
Reflecting on The Thinker, I thought John Farnham’s The Voice was a suitable musical choice. That The Thinker indeed has a voice, which I guess is a rather quirky idea for a statue. However, after being stuck inside my own body both through disability or sheer nerves, I understand that just because you can’t move and might be trapped inside your body, that you still have a voice and you need to use it…speak up and speak out.
Rodin The Walking Man (1877-78)
Before moving on to the inspiration behind these works, I’d also like to touch on The Walking Man…an incomplete state with its head missing. For some strange reason, I find myself mysteriously drawn towards it. There’s also The Cathedral where two right hands of separate people come together. Yet, there is a space between them, which Rodin describes. Parallels may be drawn between the mysterious inner space that seems to emanate from the composition and Gothic architecture. Emptiness was a factor that Rodin used to allow for, and, as Rilke pointed out, “the role of air had always been extremely important” for him (Rilke, 1928). 1.
The Cathedral

Auguste Rodin, The Cathedral, Musee Rodin.

It took me many years to appreciate that space could well be equally important as content. Indeed, I had that epiphany when I was in my son’s classroom when I was helping the littlies learn how to write. Most wanted to run all their words together and there was that constant reminder to “leave a finger pace”, which for those young beginners, actually meant putting their index finger down on the page in between the words. It was also a very visual representation of the space, the rest, we need in our daily lives to stay healthy and sane. That even the most active thinkers, need to let the cogs rest and nod off. Sleep isn’t a waste of time.
Both The Thinker and The Kiss were part of a larger work The Gates of Hell, which Rodin was commissioned to create a portal for Paris’ planned Museum of Decorative Arts in 1880. The museum was never built. However, Rodin worked throughout his life on a monumental sculptural group depicting scenes from Dante’s Inferno in high relief. Often lacking a clear conception of his major works, Rodin compensated with hard work and a striving for perfection. 1.
Edvard Munch Le Penseur de Rodin

Edvard Munch, Le Penseur de Rodin dans le parc du Docteur Linde à Lübeck, 1907, [P.7612]

Revisiting The Thinker now, I’m struck by his physical fitness. The veins are literally popping out of his calves and he is buff. He’s quite literally a muscular man of action, a verb, not some weedy nerd too weak to grip hold of his pen. He wasn’t a procrastinator either. Rather, his thoughts were a precursor to action…a combination of the intellect and the physical, which can so often be mutually exclusive. He was the full package.

Meanwhile, in 1887, Rodin produced The Kiss, a marble sculpture

originally representing Paolo and Francesca, two characters borrowed from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Slain by Francesca’s husband who surprised them while exchanging their first kiss, the two lovers were condemned to wander eternally through Hell. This group, designed in the early stages of the elaboration of The Gates, was given a prominent position on the lower left door, opposite Ugolino, until 1886, when Rodin decided that this depiction of happiness and sensuality was incongruous with the theme of his vast project. He therefore transformed the group into an independent work and exhibited it in 1887, when the public called it The Kiss. The French state commissioned an enlarged version in marble, which Rodin took nearly ten years to deliver. Not until 1898 did he agree to exhibit what he called his “huge knick-knack” as a companion piece to his audacious Balzac , as if The Kiss would make it easier for the public to accept his portrait of the writer 3.

Before I launch into my letter to Rodin, I wanted to touch on his friendship with the German poet Maria Rilke. Indeed, I wrote to Rilke two years ago in my first series: Writing Letters to Dead Poets. I was stoked to stumble across his Letters to A Young Poet. Indeed, I feel rather ripped off that I didn’t hear about it til I was a middle-aged poet in my 40s. Why didn’t I hear about it at school, or even university? They were too busy teaching the likes of algebra, which are of no use to a poet.
Here’s a poem Rilke wrote about Rodin’s Archaic Torso of Apollo:

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could 
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 18751926

After covering so much ground, midnight will soon be upon me and another day and another artist will be dawning, before my letter to Rodin is even done.

A Letter to Auguste Rodin

 Dear Rodin,

How I wish I could spend even just one day in Paris with you. That said, I don’t even know where I’d start but a cafe au lait and a croissant at Les Deux Maggots would be a great start. There’s something about having a coffee in Paris which truly stimulates and captivates the brain cells.I would love to photograph your hands holding a simple, everyday coffee cup like any other ordinary man. Yes, these very same hands which miraculously created, or is that captured, the very essence of what it means to be human. You have understood us to the marrow. How did you do it? Most of humanity even struggles to make a paper plane that can fly.
How can you stare into a person’s soul and not burn up like a moth into the proverbial candle flame? Too many creatives, see and feel too much and combust, just like Picasso’s dear friend.
I also thought we might go for a walk through Père Lachaise Cemetery. No doubt many of your friends are buried there and we could go and visit Jimmy Morrison’s grave like nearly everybody else who goes to Paris these days of a certain age. I’d also like to go back to the Shakespeare Bookshop, although I’m far from prepared for a reading. However, I would like to tell them abut when I was there last and even give them the photos. I am quite proud to be a part of their history, even if I didn’t even rate a footnote in the book. Then, perhaps we could eat baguette and fromage beside the River Seine. I really have simple tastes but if you’d rather swing from the chandelier and live the high life, I’m more than happy to join you. That said, you’re paying.
Best wishes,
Rowena
PS I thought you might like this portrait of me when I was about 6 months old. I also call it: “The Thinker”
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Rowena’s: The Thinker…Clearly a very clever baby and a real philosopher.

A Letter From Rodin

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter and inspirational photo, which I would turn into a sculpture myself if I was still around. The Baby Thinker has a ring to it.
There was much discussion around the cafe table here about who was going to be next, and I was most surprised and delighted that it was me.  Of course, Renoir thought he was a sure thing. After all, his Bal du moulin de la Galette is hanging on your parents’ wall and much to Nolan’s disgust, could well have displaced his Ned Kelly. With all Renoir’s bravado, Rubens stormed out. He saw you photographing his Self-Portrait at the Museum of NSW only yesterday and was convinced he was the one. So, thank you very much for choosing me. It’s enough to even make The Thinker jump off off his pedestal with an almighty: “Eureka!” You see, although he’s been sitting there brooding on his thoughts all these years, he never was the silent type.
I asked The Thinker what he wanted to say to you, and although I found it rather cryptic, perhaps it will make more sense to you:

“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about. He’s not interested in how things look different in moonlight.”

Make of that what you will.

Anyway, knowing how much you loved Rilke’s Letters to Young Poets, I thought I’d share my theories with you on what it means to be an artist…

What It Means To Be An Artist – By Me

  • “The artist is the confidant of nature, flowers carry on dialogues with him through the graceful bending of their stems and the harmoniously tinted nuances of their blossoms. Every flower has a cordial word which nature directs towards him.”
  • To any artist, worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth.
  • To the artist there is never anything ugly in nature.
  • In short, Beauty is everywhere. It is not that she is lacking to our eye, but our eyes which fail to perceive her. Beauty is character and expression. Well, there is nothing in nature which has more character than the human body. In its strength and its grace it evokes the most varied images. One moment it resembles a flower: the bending torso is the stalk; the breasts, the head, and the splendor of the hair answer to the blossoming of the corolla. The next moment it recalls the pliant creeper, or the proud and upright sapling.
  • Art is contemplation. It is the pleasure of the mind which searches into nature and which there divines the spirit of which nature herself is animated.
  • The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live. Be a man before being an artist!
  • The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation.
  • There are unknown forces in nature; when we give ourselves wholly to her, without reserve, she lends them to us; she shows us these forms, which our watching eyes do not see, which our intelligence does not understand or suspect.
  • The human body is first and foremost a mirror to the soul and its greatest beauty comes from that.
  • The work of art is already within the block of marble. I just chop off whatever isn’t needed.
  • The artist enriches the soul of humanity. The artist delights people with a thousand different shades of feeling.
  • Love your calling with passion, it is the meaning of your life.

Well, Rowena. That was some coffee. My thinking cap’s almost blown a gasket coming up with all of those gems. I hope you like them. They’re my personal gift to you.

 

Yours in friendship,

Rodin.

PS Did you know that the first version of The Thinker is actually in Australia? Sorry, it’s not in your Art Gallery of NSW, but it is in Art Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. I know you’ve spent more time in Paris, than in Melbourne, but it’s worth the trip and you should also keep your eyes open for all the other genius works of art that are in Australia. You often just need to look under your nose and don’t need to wait until you can afford the big trip.

References & Further Reading

1)Rodin- The Cathedral

2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auguste_Rodin

3) http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/collections/sculptures/kiss

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