Monday, 28 June 2010

It is all too good.

   I am dreaming in the blackness of this summer night.  I am thinking of the time we went to see the fireflies by the wooded stream on our bicycles one night, some years ago now.  There is not any way to describe a thing like that, it is a thing that would almost make you explode into nothingness, to float away to nowhere for always, a thing like that.  In Japan there are official viewing seasons for every treasured detail of nature, people go on trips across the country to view the leaves change in a city known for nice trees, in spring the 'cherry blossom front' is shown everyday with the weather report on the news, advancing north, up the country.  Fireflies have their season too.  And never have I seen so many as on that night... you could almost read by their light, there were so many, almost all of them pulsing on and off again in time, as one.
    I am thinking of a place I have been without electricity for miles around, where the blackness came and sat pressed right up against my eye, almost, only for the stars that shone like cold bright white lanterns.  So bright the trees were black silhouettes.  All the girls from the orphanage pressed in, afraid there would be men lurking in the dark.  Girls who lived inside a school with high brick walls on every side, safe inside with one cow and her calf.  I said not to worry, we could fight any man, it would be thirty to one.  It would be one to one they said, because they would run run run.
   I am thinking of cool nights of over-hot days in Canada, so hot until just before dawn, and then the dew on the tall grasses and strange noises just outside our little clearing.  That the sky would never lighten and we would freeze, we would be found by some one, and our whispering until the tired lovely morning.
   So many nights running, pushing blindly through forests with what in the branches and what over that hill?  Or a night that threatened rain curling in off the sea, and a silent cold swim as soon as the sky lightened, before the world woke up, a hare passing by on the road.  A night we spent on a ship that sailed in a cloud, taking us from our little home of a year and a day.  I am dreaming of all these nights, and all the nights that linger just outside of clouds like that one.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

At Last, a Castle

   First we walked along sidewalks, then down some steps, lifted the latch to get into the little subway car, then a short ride on a real train, a walk through the woods like Hansel and Gretel eating our sandwiches as we went and the little birds swooped and swirled around us, then a hippodrome and some big moody skies, and finally...

Oh, that's not the castle... it's only the stables!  Through that big arch were dappled horses trotting around a courtyard.  It's said that the Prince Condé, who lived in the castle during the 1700s, believed he would be reincarnated as a horse and so made sure to have very fine stables waiting for him in the next life.

We walked on a little further, and found the castle floating on the water nearby.  A lovely mad mixing of architectural styles.  And waiting inside, a candy-land of paintings hung in rooms lit from lights held by cast bronze arms stretching out from the walls, making me think of Cocteau's La Belle et La Bête.

    So over a little bridge and through a gate with gilding, then to the top of some stairs...

... and over another bridge and into the courtyard.

And it wasn't long before I stood in wonder in a sky lit, octagonal tower.  Our camera was flashing low battery messages to us, so we didn't manage to do anything justice in photos but, the idea of some things remains...

In this room there were some of the loveliest paintings of the museum.
   If you go here and search under 'location' 'Musée Condé, Chantilly' you can see a few of them.  There are thousands of artworks at the museum, so this is a very small sampling, but there are some very nice things there anyway.
   One thing that the Musée Condé is especially known for, is that it houses the gorgeous illuminated manuscript Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.  Unfortunately, only one page of a facsimile of the manuscript sit in a glass case on display.  It's unfortunate that more pages are not on display, since it is, after all, a copy anyway, and these copies are still being made, at a price which a museum should find very reasonable.  But so it goes.

   There was a lovely room full from top to bottom with monkey-themed chinoiserie.

There were monkeys up to all sorts of things.  A monkey dressed as an artiste painted a very serious self-portrait, monkeys served people (who were allegories of Europe, Asia, America, and Africa), and elsewhere in the room, people served monkeys.  The room had recently been restored and it was immaculate.

    In another part of the museum there was a tower room with three wax statues of King Henry IV.  I have no photos of this, but you can see two of them elsewhere, here and here.  Apparently at the time of Henry IV's death, it was the custom in France to make wax figures of kings who were carried through the streets and also given food and wine at feasts.  There was also the death mask of Henry IV on display and a photos of his mummified body.  And then there was the gruesome story of his head.
  Apparently his mummified body was put on display in the Louvre, in the 19th century I think, and a woman walked up to it and slapped him/it in the face, which caused the head to fall off.  Later on a man came and stole the head.  Years later another man claimed to have purchased the king's head for three francs at a flea market.  He wasn't widely believed and spent the rest of his life trying to convince people that the head was indeed that of Henry IV.

    After our trip through the museum we spent the rest of the day strolling through the eerily deserted gardens and forests of the castle.  We came across a small heard of deer, all spotted and ginger-coloured, except for one, which was completely black.  They stood staring at us until we walked out of sight... only a nearby rabbit was really startled by our presence.  Next we wound our way through a labyrinth. And a little ways on we watched a pair of white swans at a circular pool in the forest, they seemed to glow with stark whiteness since the sky had grown so dark.  The evening before we had watched Ouliana Lopatkina dancing the dying swan, among other things, at in Marie Antoinette's tiny theatre  in Versailles, which felt rather like being in a large jewelry box. She danced it again the following night, and someone seems to have filmed it and put it here

   Then it was back through the gardens to the castle, and through the dancing town (they were having La Fête de la Musique one night early) to the train station, and on to home... where I found my own watery castle is up as the cover image for 'The Mermaid Issue' of Enchanted Conversation, an online journal where writers have been busy reworking Hans Christian Anderson's tale.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

We will pass the day waiting

   I am on break from etching.  Too many small lines and letters, too many hours making tiny strokes, and my hand has been killing me for the past two days.
   Even though there are other things I could do there, I can't seem to force myself to go down to the studio until I have this plate ready for the acid.
   For some reason, with drawing or painting, my mind goes away and I don't notice the time passing.  Hours pass in instants, like sleeping.  But with etching there's the drawing to start with, and then each line of it must be copied exactly again and again...  and if the aches start, time stops even stiller.

Once I finish scratching lines into this plate....
It's a thought too lovely to finish.

   Just outside the window, the pigeon has returned to last year's nest.  And if she can sit up there all day, what am I saying? I will think of her up there on her sticks, and not say another word.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

IF: Ripple

   For some time now I've been meaning to submit something to Illustration Friday, since it seems like such a fun idea.  As a response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, IF has teamed up with Ripple, a blog which is trying to raise money for The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, and the International Bird Rescue Research Center.  Last night we felt like having a quiet night in, and these three drawings are what came to mind when I thought of the ripples of oil filled water in the Gulf of Mexico.
   These three drawings are small ACEOs (65mm x 90mm) on 300g watercolour paper.  They will be available on Ripple for the first person to claim them after making a donation of $10 USD to either of the two charities mentioned above.  More details are available over at Ripple.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The Park and the Past on a Sunday Afternoon

   Oh, the past weekend did not go right.  But, still there were a few lovely things...

 ... like the Church of Saint Séverin with its gargoyles in the cloister and it's lovely painting on the walls and ceilings inside.

And meeting with a hedgehog Sunday evening while we ate tarts full of giant raspberries, whipped cream, and custard in the Luxembourg Gardens.  

Also, spying on a policeman who was chatting up the lady who makes crêpes in her little stand in the park.

And, looking at this 15th century Rhinelandian tapestry of wild men and wild women dressed in garments made of foliage in the Hôtel de Cluny (which also houses The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries and the first image used in the post, stained-glass partridges from Normandy around 1500).

(click to enlarge)

 Still, by the end of it all, with all the crowds, which are growing larger by the day at this time of year, I was beginning to feel like this stained glass we also found in the Hôtel de Cluny:

   If you are wondering which character I was identifying with here... it's all of them: the harried animals, the bored and disgusted looking devil, the unhappy man pleading in the background, the devil squished in next to him.  But, my feelings aside, the actual subject matter here is the stealing of Job's livestock.

   Up until Friday there had been a long stretch of lovely things I have not mentioned here, such as the Holy Russia exhibition at the Louvre (there is still a smaller, online aspect of it here).  Another lovely thing was seeing amazing musicians from the Badakhshan region and Chitral, Pakistan (click on the picture on this page and there's an audio file).  One of the musicians made a jerry can ring out like the most skillfully played, beautifully-toned drum you can imagine.  There were also more every-day lovely things: dinners out, a thunderstorm, seeing friends, pigeons and blackbirds nesting outside my window again this year... all kinds of goodness.
   Now with the bells on the church down the street ringing five, I'm going to head off to work on some etchings on this cloudy and breezy day.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The oldest building in the whole subdivision

   One last thing I meant to post from our trip to the sea were the few photos we managed to snap of the Tumulus des Mousseaux.  We weren't looking for it, but there it was sitting directly on the side of the road in the town of Pornic, nestled snugly in a bunch of houses.

   I would absolutely love to visit all the megalithic sites that remain in Brittany, but it seems every time I'm in that part of the world I am either with people who do not enjoy seeing that sort of thing, or I have no car and not enough time to get around by bike.  It's only by pure chance we came across this tumulus and (finally) managed to get everyone in the car to agree to pull over and have a look.  I know it's more often than not the case, but I've never understood how people could be uninterested by megalithic sites -- most of them have not even been entered as world heritage sites by UNESCO, even the biggest and most important ones (and even though many of them are well older than the pyramids in Egypt, etc..).

 A carved stone just inside one of the entrance ways.

   I have a little history with megalithic sites and roads.  A couple years back, I camped out, along with other protesters, for a few weeks on the Hill of Tara in Ireland, as part of my efforts to stop a motorway from being built.  The Hill of Tara is just one part of a huge complex of megalithic sites, the most important sites in Ireland.  If you study any historical writings and records from Ireland, you will find Tara at the centre of everything.  But I guess the road there has just opened today, going right through this complex, (which, it also happens, is for the most part, un-excavated).  There is more information here.
   This is so upsetting to me. 

   So, I'm going to struggle on to the end of this post, and no more talk about Tara.  I'll leave you instead with another photo of that tumulus in Pornic (a town which, apparently, used to have one of the biggest concentrations of neolithic sites in Brittany... many of which are behind the walls of holiday homes now).
   Let's hope it outlasts these houses by another 5 500 years.