Thursday, February 25

An everyday eternity without the boasting ...

In today's post I take warm note of two anniversaries. The first is the birthday of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, born in Limoges, France, in 1841 (pictured here in the portrait done in 1867 by his friend and fellow Impressionist pioneer Frederic Bazille).

I just recently finished reading Renoir, My Father, a wonderful recollection and re-creation of the painter by his son, the filmmaker and playwright Jean Renoir (originally published by Little, Brown in 1962; current edition by the New York Review of Books, 2001). The very first line of the book reads: "In April 1915 a Bavarian sharpshooter did me the favor of putting a bullet through my leg". The wound sent him home from combat in World War I and allowed him to spend time while convalescing with his aged and ailing father, at that time emotionally crushed by the death of his wife and severely hobbled by the rheumatoid arthritis that tortured him in his later years (the description of Renoir bobbing back and forth from his wheelchair before the canvas, working with paintbrushes strapped to the wrists below his terribly deformed hands, is wincingly and wondrously wrought).

The book is largely based on the long conversations that ensued between the two house and wheelchair-bound men. Jean was 21 at the time, Auguste was 74 and would die four years later. The son took no notes and made no written record of those talks and did not even begin writing the recollection until the 1950s, nearly 40 years later, when he was getting on in years himself.

So Renoir, My Father is at the same time much less and much more than a biography: less because it is admittedly non-rigorous, incomplete and unreliable in its treatment of the facts, but much more because Jean Renoir has filled that factual void with a very moving nostalgic reminiscence of his father, an impressionistic evocation of the man. Eventually the two personalities seem to merge in what Robert L. Herbert's introduction calls "an effervescent blend of nostalgia for an earlier era".

Renoir: Monet painting in his garden at Argenteuil, 1873

One of the main characteristics of Renoir that comes through in the book is the rejection and utter scorn he felt for any and all notion of epic storytelling, preaching, teaching, exemplifying, moralizing and dramatizing in his art. His lone mission was to practice the "cult of nature", to "ensnare the light, and throw it directly onto the canvas" (in Monet's phrase), "to plunge enthusiastically into this pool of impressions of nature, which constitute the 'credo' of the new painting". The then dominant Romantic School
"still felt the need of a nature that was dramatic. Renoir and his friends were in the process of realizing that the world, even in its most banal aspects, is a thing of wonder and delight. 'Give me an apple tree in a suburban garden. I haven't the slightest need of Niagara Falls'."
A trip to Italy, especially southern Italy, played a pivotal role in the development of Auguste's artistic philosophy:
"I was tired of the skill of the Michelangelos and the Berninis: too many draped figures, too many folds, too many muscles! I like painting best when it looks eternal without boasting about it: an everyday eternity, revealed on the street corner; a servant-girl pausing a moment as she scours a saucepan, and becoming a Juno on Olympus ...
... The Italians don't deserve any credit for great painting. They just have to look around them. Italian streets are crowded with pagan Gods and Biblical characters. Every woman nursing a child is a Raphael Madonna."
He talked again about this last impression, dwelling on the curve of a brown breast and the chubby hand that clutched it. The Pompeian frescoes struck him for many other reasons: "They didn't bother about theories. There was no searching for volumes, and yet the volumes are there. And they could get such rich effects with so little!" He never ceased to marvel at the color range of those ancient artists: earth colors, vegetable dyes, seeming rather dull when used by themselves, but brilliant by contrast. "And you feel they were not striving to bring forth a masterpiece. A tradesman or a courtesan wanted a house decorated. The painter honestly tied to put a little gaiety on the wall—and that was all. No genius; no soul-searching".
Other quotes:

— "But the ideal of simplicity is almost impossible to achieve."

— "The reason for this decadence is that the eye has lost the habit of seeing."

According to Jean Renoir, "the idea that the intellect was superior to the senses was not an article of faith" with his father. "It is the eye of the sensualist that I wish to open" is how the painter stated his mission. He was deeply distrustful of imagination: "We have to have a devilish amount of vanity to believe that what comes out of our brain is more valuable than what we see around us. Imagination doesn't take us very far, whereas the world is so immense".

Like Bazille's portrait of Renoir above, Renoir's The Swing (La Balançoire), 1876, shown here, is from the Musée d'Orsay and currently part of the Impressionist exhibition at the Fundación Mapfre in Madrid).

And the second anniversary is much closer to home,  as close to home as one can ever get. Fifty-four years ago today, February 25, 1956, the creators and loving caretakers of my everyday eternity were married, my parents, Isabel and Albert, shown in this 1955 photo in Venezuela. Happy anniversary, mom and dad.

In the bottle ...

The writing prompt for this week's Theme Thursday is "Bottle".

Photo from Onexposure (Fisherman’s Bottle — Leon).
Through a glass lightly

I put a bottle in a message
and listened for their rhyme.
I drained the mirror of quicksilver,
nightfall vapors forgive me this crime.

The gaping yawn there beyond
sprays salt mist on my closed eyes.
The surf goes in and now comes out
giggling foam at my heart halved lies.

I laugh at my vast echo and
trawl the depths of her silent reply,
while the wind whisks away colors
from loams of plants that in still nights still sigh.

Above the hic-cusp of a wave I search the sparkler night,
peering empty and free through a coddled telescope.
Cassiopeia twirls her hair and ponders me,
turning and dissolving in my bottle kaleidoscope.

The swaying sea beckons sorrow
on waves swinging low and long.
I hold a trembling conch to her starry ear
so she hears my throbbing song.

But for all my madness the sea
she refuses to stop loving me.
I lay down in the weeds of her cool sand
tracing a fevered tree grown ever free.

Leafless driftwood stretches twigging roots
down into shingled ripples of frothed brine.
I put a bottle in a message and
then I made her this rhyme.

Photo: Alone, by Fatemah Choopani from Onexposure 

To see what other bloggers participating in Theme Thursday have uncorked this week click here.

Wednesday, February 24

Art Flash — A "new" Van Gogh

Just today, the painting "Le Blute-Fin Mill" (shown to the left) has gone on public display for the first time after being attributed to Vincent van Gogh. It is being shown at the Museum de Fundatie in the Zwolle, Netherlands. According to an Associated Press article, this is "the first Van Gogh to be authenticated since 1995 and the sixth to be added to the confirmed list of the artist's paintings since the latest edition of the standard catalog was published in 1970". (AP Photo/Museum de Fundatie, Zwolle)

Art curator Dirk Hannema bought the unknown painting in 1975 for a relatively minor sum from an art and antiques collector who did not believe it of much value. Hannema, however, was convinced that it was a Van Gogh and so told the art world, who did not place much stock in his claims, recalling how an earlier painting he touted as a Vermeer had been shown to be a forgery.

Now, more than 25 years after Dirk Hannema's death, the work has been authenticated by experts at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam as having been painted by the Dutch impressionist master in 1886.

Monday, February 22

We will break in the sun till the sun breaks down ...

Today I was going to post an entry for willow's second Magpie Tales visual prompt, this box of matches to the left, to share with you an eerie tale of an old flame set off by that match long ago ...

... but for now it has been preempted by the news we received earlier today that Barry Fraser's mother passed away last night, less than one week shy of her 91st birthday, mercifully, while in the sweet rest of sleep.

Just a few days ago, many of us were clanging bells to chime out our best wishes for Barry as he celebrated the end of his chemotherapy sessions. So for now I'll help myself to one of willow's matches to light a candle in Rosanna's memory ...

Photo by Umberto Verdoliva from Onexposure

And as is so often the case, when words fail me, I turn to Dylan Thomas. Again and again, I return to Dylan Thomas.

Click on play to hear the poet himself recite And Death Shall Have No Dominion ...

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

Rest in peace, Rosanna, and be well Barry. See Barry's blog for his loving and lovely tribute.

And by all means, click here to see what other magpie scavengers have ignited with that lone spent match ...

Saturday, February 20

Magical union with beauty

Today, February 20th, is the birthday of the master American landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, born in 1902 in San Francisco. He is shown here in silhouette in this self-portrait.

Adams often likened the negative to a composer's score and the print to the conductor's performance, and was known to spend as much as a full day on a single print. The musical metaphor seems quite apropos from an artist who gave up a career as a concert pianist to seek out his “translucent unity with the world and sky” and give us the "austere and blazing poetry of the real".

A sampling of quotes:
— "Some photographers take reality... and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation."

— "The only things in my life that compatibly exists with this grand universe are the creative works of the human spirit."

Yosemite Valley, 1942
Another perhaps lesser known facet of Adams is his wonderful prose. In February 1932, he wrote this on the spirit of the mountains in the Sierra Club Bulletin:
Mid-afternoon... a brisk wind breathed silver on the willows bordering the Tuolumne and hustled some scattered clouds beyond Kuna Crest. It was the first day of the outing -- you were a little tired and dusty, but quite excited in spite of yourself. You were already aware that contact with fundamental earthy things gave a startling perspective on the high-spun unrealities of modern life. No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied -- it speaks in silence to the very core of your being. There are some that care not to listen but the disciples are drawn to the high altars with magnetic certainty, knowing that a great Presence hovers over the ranges. You felt all this the very first day, for you were within the portals of the temple. You were conscious of the jubilant lift of the Cathedral range, of the great choral curves of ruddy Dana, of the processional summits of Kuna Crest. You were aware of Sierra sky and stone, and of the emerald splendor of Sierra forests. Yet, at the beginning of your mountain experience, you were not impatient, for the spirit was gently all about you as some rare incense in a Gothic void. Furthermore, you were mindful of the urge of two hundred people toward fulfillment of identical experience -- to enter the wilderness and seek, in the primal patterns of nature, a magical union with beauty.
— "There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs."

—"There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer."

Rose on Driftwood

The PBS video embedded below gives us Ansel Adams' philosophy of photography in his own words and those of people closest to him and his work:

Photos, top to bottom: Self portrait / Yosemite Valley 1942 / Rose on Driftwood

Thursday, February 18

Chime the bells

Today's post is dedicated to a simple and heartfelt ceremony to celebrate Barry Fraser's last chemotherapy session.

A few days ago, through willow's Life at Willow Manor, I found out about Barry and learned of a ritual followed by cancer patients at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Canada. Apparently, there is a bell at the end of the hall above the exit to the chemo unit, and, as Barry explains on his blog, "patients completing their last treatment of chemotherapy, ring the bell as they leave. And whenever it rings the nurses and volunteers and other chemo patients pause for a moment and applaud. When I finish my last injection of chemo, on Thursday February 18th at about 2pm Eastern Standard Time, I'm also ringing that damn bell! As loud and as long as I can!"

A great many people from all over the world have decided to join in the clanging and ringing, the chiming and dinging and donging at that time (8:00 pm for me here in Spain) to celebrate this milestone in Barry's battle against cancer. My bell offering is this lovely image of bluebells:

Photo: Morning Bells — © Thomas Ljungberg, from Onexposure. Click to enlarge.

Barry, you have said you are overwhelmed by the show of support. I am sure you are wondering how to give voice to your appreciation, but I want to ask you, at least for one instant, not to give or feel the need to give thanks for anything, but to allow me and many others to express our gratitude for what you have done and are doing.

So thank you for your courage and example. Thank you for sharing your fears and your determination with us, thank you for knowing who your friends are, even the so many of us who have not met you. Thank you for knowing to call out for a helping hand when needed, thank you for knowing how to summon up a friendly choir of belled voices and accept a gentle arm around the shoulder. Thank you for choosing not to walk down that corridor and out that door today alone, but allowing all of us in this blogging community to walk that walk with you and ring that bell by your side.

In short, thank you for reminding and showing us all just how meaningful, purposeful and powerful blogging can be. There is nothing virtual or cyber about these sentiments and wishes. Our gratitude and solidarity are very real. We ring our bells for you and for all of us — cancer and the fight to stave off its ravages are something present in the lives of everyone. No one is untouched.

I urge everyone to visit Barry at An Explorer's View of Life and see the bells that other Theme Thursday participants are striking today.

And to actually join Barry in the ringing, and help him lay some righteous joyous doo-wop on that bell, I leave you with the R&B group the Willows singing Church Bells May Ring ...

Tuesday, February 16

Magpie tales

Today marks the debut of willow's Magpie Tales blog, "dedicated to the enjoyment of writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well".

Her first prompt was the pewter creamer shown in this photo with the simple instruction "write a short fictional account or poem using the picture as your inspiration".

So, willow, here goes ...

In memory loving
between sleep and waking
when dreams alloy
with sun scented curtains
from the leaden shadow
she comes akimbo
hand on hip
a smile
a curl
a lip
the pewtersmith
lays a wreath
upon her breast

Good luck with Magpie Tales, willow! To see what other bloggers have found in the pewter prompt click here.

Friday, February 12

Escher, drawing hands, drew hands drawing Escher

MC Escher — Drawing Hands
This is this week's Theme Thursday post on 'Mirror'. For more reflections on the theme click here.

Blessed are they that believe that they are blessed
Don't nod
Dogma, I am God
Never odd or even
Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas!

Madam, in Eden I'm Adam
Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?
Draw no evil deed, live onward
Revenge beg never
Do go to God.

No, this is not a collection of Palin drones, but it's close. (caricature by Kerry Waghorn)

Tuesday, February 9

Singing in our chains

A poem I cherish is "Fern Hill', Dylan Thomas' mesmerizing recollection of his childhood in Wales. I first read it many years ago and was instantly sent flying back on the magic carpets of memory to several summers I spent as a boy at my grandmother's farm in the lush green countryside on the coast of Asturias in northern Spain.

There are many lines and images in Fern Hill that have exerted immense staying power in my mind over the years. The sabbath ringing out slowly in the pebbles of holy streams, the rivers of windfall light, time holding him —and me and all of us, all children— golden in the mercy of his means. He beautifully recounts his days in that Edenic paradise of Adam and maiden, under the sun that is young once only.

Often we hear our tender years referred to as "carefree", and even employ that adjective ourselves, though we surely know the cloying disservice it does to truth. Children are full of cares and concerns, worries and fears. As adults we shed most of them and make room for the great care that children do not have, one that becomes a constant ticking companion as we age — the gathering alarm over the passing of time. In the poem Dylan Thomas projects this awareness back into this memoryscape of his youth, remembering now that he did not then care that time in his tuneful turning allows us just so many morning songs before we follow him out of grace.

It all leads up to the scintillating last stanza, in which time takes him by the shadow of his hand up to the swallow thronged loft, in the moon that is always rising, before he wakes some melancholy morning to the farm forever fled from the childless land.

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

But certainly don't take it from me. Read and listen for yourselves as the incomparable actor Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins (born in Margam — Port Talbot, Wales) recites Dylan Thomas' 'Fern Hill'. Click on the play symbol for the audio...

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Dylan Thomas, “Fern Hill” from The Poems of Dylan Thomas. Copyright 1939, 1946 by New Directions Publishing Corporation.

The photo of Dylan Thomas at the top of the post was taken in 1952 by Rollie McKenna.
The audio is available at the Poetry Out Loud website, a joint project of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.

You might also like these related posts:
       Odyssey of the Great Dream
       Of unstilted youth and gracious age
       Living stilts

Thursday, February 4

Sailing the red breeze

Sailing the red breeze
night sails on red breeze
in our dance of tidal glee
skipping hearts flap free

To travel to red contributions by other Theme Thursday bloggers click on this red balloon (this one, not the one below, I still haven't figured out how to attach links to images).

Photos: Sundance by Ivo Sisevic-Sisko and Red in October by Matjaz Cater
(click on images to enlarge)

Roman Pantheon chuckles at Grecian temples

And now for something completely different —on this blog at least— a poem you can actually chuckle to. At least I found myself laughing out loud at 'Grecian Temples' by George Bilgere. But be warned, as is so often the case, as the lilting cadence of Garrison Keillor's recital slows, the mirth molts to melancholy.

Click on the play icon below and listen to Mr. Keillor reading the poem (from his The Writer's Almanac).

Grecian Temples
by George Bilgere

Because I'm getting pretty gray at the temples,
which negatively impacts my earning potential
and does not necessarily attract vibrant young women
with their perfumed bosoms to dally with me
on the green hillside,
I go out and buy some Grecian Hair Formula.

And after the whole process, which involves
rubber gloves, a tiny chemistry set,
and perfect timing, I look great.
I look very fresh and virile, full of earning potential.
But when I take my fifteen-year-old beagle
out for his evening walk, the contrast is unfortunate.
Next to me he doesn't look all that great,
with his graying snout, his sort of faded,
worn-out-dog look. It makes me feel old,
walking around with a dog like that.

It's not something a potential employer,
much less a vibrant young woman with a perfumed bosom
would necessarily go for. So I go out
and get some more Grecian Hair Formula—
Light Brown, my beagle's original color.
And after all the rigmarole he looks terrific.
I mean, he's not going to win any friskiness contests,
not at fifteen. But there's a definite visual improvement.
The two of us walk virilely around the block.

The next day a striking young woman at the bookstore
happens to ask me about my parents,
who are, in fact, long dead, due to the effects of age.
They were very old, which causes death.
But having dead old parents does not go
with my virile, intensely fresh new look.

So I say to the woman, my parents are fine.
They love their active lifestyle in San Diego.
You know, windsurfing, jai alai, a still-vibrant sex life.
And while this does not necessarily cause her
to come dally with me on the green hillside, I can tell
it doesn't hurt my chances.

I can see her imagining dinner
with my sparkly, young-seeming mom and dad
at some beachside restaurant
where we would announce our engagement.

Your son has great earning potential,
she'd say to dad, who would take
a gander at her perfumed bosom
and give me a wink, like he used to do
back when he was alive, and vibrant.
"Grecian Temples" by George Bilgere, from The White Museum. © Autumn House Press, 2010.

Now, my own head is not adorned by Grecian temples; instead I sport the Roman Pantheon (without the crater).

How this might impact my earning potential or chances of perfumed bosomy dalliance on the green hillside, I have not a vibrant clue, but it is the bald-faced truth, if you get my drift ...

You will click on the hillside and dally awhile, won't you?

Tuesday, February 2

Magpie sighting — the Impressionists are here ...

Ever since our good friend willow of Life at Willow Manner formally declared herself a magpie and a practitioner of magpiety, I have been on the lookout for that preeminent scavenger of the avian world. Happily enough, I soon spotted my very first one, perched atop a rickety wooden fence gate, contemplating the sunny snow-blanketed countryside on the coast of Normandy in Etretat  …

Well, I wasn't actually there, but did make the sighting through this 1869 painting by Claude Monet, The Magpie, currently on view at the Fundación Mapfre in Madrid.

The snowy scene is part of the wonderful “From Manet to Impressionism: A Modern Renaissance” show which opened in mid-January and will be gracing Madrid’s magnificent "museum mile" until April 22nd. Apparently, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, home to the world’s greatest Impressionism collection, is partly closed to undergo major works before it reopens to celebrate its 25th anniversary in March 2011. So the museum has now arranged for many of its essential works to leave Paris, some for the first time. A good 90 or more are on view in the Madrid show (fresh in from Australia before moving on to San Francisco). This unique and perhaps never to be repeated opportunity includes works by Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Bazille, Millet, Renoir, Rousseau, Sisley, Toulouse-Lautrec, and others.

Obviously, the show is a joy and deserves a book. I am sure I will post more on a few of the masterpieces that I found especially striking. But today and in future posts (because this has become rather too long) I wanted to discuss this lonely magpie. The painting caught my eye immediately, although I have to confess that when I first glimpsed it from a distance, I thought I was seeing a Sisley (who is also well represented in the show with his own snowscape).

Claude Monet (shown to the right in a portrait by Renoir which is also part of the Madrid exhibit) painted The Magpie between 1868 and 1869, and it is widely considered one of the first Impressionist paintings, although it predates the first Impressionist show and the very name by five years (one of the names these painters were using amongst themselves was 'the Intransigents'). He submitted the work to the Académie des Beaux-Arts to be exhibited at the 1869 Paris Salon, but it was rejected. The Paris Salon was the all-powerful arbiter of official taste and had by that time begun making a routine of rejecting the daring new works by a group of artists that had not yet been dubbed Impressionists – Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Bazille, Pissarro.

Indeed it was the Salon's 1863 rejection of Edouard Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass — shown below), along with works by many other artists, and the ensuing controversy, that would come to mark a turning point of sorts. The Salon expressed its refusal to accept Luncheon on the Grass in rather abrasive terms, in large part focused on the impropriety of depicting a nude woman in other than a historical or mythological context and, even more vexingly, in the casual company of two clothed men. Manet began to explore other opportunities and became a rallying point and inspiration for the small but committed group of artists who would give the world the Impressionist movement in the years that followed. The Madrid exhibit begins and ends with Manet, highlighting his role as the first and prime mover for the group and an important early source of leadership, encouragement and even economic support.

Something was already astir in the Parisian art world, as evidenced by the fact that the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Refused or Rejects), which Emperor Napoleon III decreed be held in 1863 as a show for the unusually large number of paintings rejected by the Académie that year, actually drew more visitors than the regular Salon.

Since this is becoming a rather long post, I will break here and return to our magpie in part 2 in the days to come. I will close by embedding below a brief video (in English) on the exhibit. Enjoy ...