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Art, energy, and space

I have been rearranging and reorganizing the art in my great room, almost certainly as a precursor to rearranging the room and the furniture. I've taken out a framed photo of old Seattle, circa 1917, that was turning green, and replaced it with a print of a David Delamare mermaid, a gift from friends. I also removed two fantasy prints. I moved my two Don Maitz paintings (color sketches done in preparation for creating the book covers for Magician: Apprentice and Servant of the Empire). I moved my Mardi Gras leather mask and a photograph of a flower that I took, and took down a plaque I got in Kenya, and replaced these three pieces with a large needlepoint that my Aunt Shirley did, an interpretation of Fragonard's A Young Girl Reading. It's a piece I've always been fond of, now a gift from the cousin who was married last week. But when I hung it up, something interesting happened.

The energy of the room changed--primarily with the addition of the needlepoint. The spot that I chose for the piece is exactly the right dimensions; it frames the art perfectly. But instinctively, I feel like it's on the wrong wall. I take it down, and the space feels better. I try it in a different spot, where I've already got art that I'm happy with and where it would make things a little crowded, and the room feels more correct. It's so odd.

Perhaps this is what people mean when they talk about feng shui. My sense of it is that something isn't quite right psychically with the room with the art in that spot. Maybe it's just that it's new and unfamiliar. The piece feels so . . . innocent somehow compared to the rest of the room. It's just really . . . odd. At this writing, it's still hanging in that spot. I think I'm going to go upstairs, take it down, and rethink it a little bit. I want to hang it in the right place and I thought that spot was it, but now I'm wondering. I need to figure this out.

Amsterdam Day 3: The Wonder of Sunflowers

I was, indeed, at the Amsterdam Hermitage when it opened--15 minutes before, in fact, and was the first person in the door. I checked my bag (taking my notebook and my wallet with me), got my audio tour equipment, and made a beeline for my intended goal: the Vincent Van Gogh exhibit. Remember how I mentioned that 2012 seemed to be the year for museums to renovate? Well, this year the Van Gogh Museum is renovating as well, and is closed for the duration of the work. The Amsterdam Hermitage provided several galleries to the Van Gogh to display selected works and artifacts from the collection, and that was my destination.

I've loved Van Gogh's work since I was a kid, and nothing was going to keep me from seeing as much of it as was available. They did some wonderful things with this exhibit, which makes me wonder exactly how awesome the Van Gogh Museum itself is when it's open and complete. There were letters from Vincent to Theo. There were artifacts that Vincent used in his still lifes so you could compare the actual item with its depiction--a green vase, a white sculpture of a horse--and the box of yarn that Vincent used to experiment with color before using it on a canvas.

I took pages and pages of notes about the paintings I saw. I won't bore you with all of them, but I'll talk about three that left me breathless.

The first was the Bedroom. We've all seen this image a hundred times. What you don't get from a reproduction is how Van Gogh almost sculpted the paint on the canvas, so that you can see the wrinkles in the pillows and the texture of the wood from which the night table is made. The yellow of the bed frame was delicious to my eyes, bright and solid and yet somehow clearly painted, textured wood.

The second thing that impressed me was his trio of paintings after Jean-Francois Millet. Millet made a career of doing monochrome drawings of peasant life. Van Gogh did color studies of at least three of these drawings, and while Millet's are beautiful, Van Gogh's are dynamic and alive. I was especially taken with the Woman Binding Sheaves: a woman in blue bending over to bind a sheaf of wheat. I couldn't stop looking at it.

And then, I came to the painting of sunflowers. My breath caught when I saw it. Tears actually ran down my face. I wasn't sobbing or anything; I just couldn't help myself. It's so beautiful, so full of life, so tangible. The paint is applied so that you can sense the fuzzy thickness of the center of a sunflower. That's the thing that most drew me in--the center of those flowers, and then, of course, those delicious, brilliant yellows. These are flowers just past their prime, only one or two still fully in bloom. The rest have petals pulling back, pulling away, creating a slight melancholy. But they are still robust and alive. No reproduction can do this painting justice. In fact, after I went and saw the rest of this exhibit, and visited some Monets and other Impressionists, I went back to the Sunflowers. It was the last painting I saw before I left the museum. All these hours later as I sit on the airplane writing this, I still get choked up when I think about that painting. I'll never see it the same way again.

A last farewell
I got back to the hotel exactly when I promised them I would to clear out my room. My protector wasn't there, but when I checked out, the man behind the desk actually called him so he could say goodbye to me. He said he was sorry to see me go, sorry that he failed to convince me to stay, and hoped that his Beautiful Lady would come back.

Home we go
I got to my flight with a little bit of time to spare. When I boarded, I was seated next to a young Danish woman on her way to Hawaii to visit a friend. We ended up spending a very congenial 10 hours with each other. She spoke English extremely well and we had a fine flight talking about everything from her career hopes to the surprises of aging to men to, well, everything. It was a perfectly lovely trip in her company.

And so ends my trip to Europe. I'll make another post later with general thoughts and impressions. In the meanwhile, I couldn't have asked for a better finale to such a wonderful adventure.
I had mapped out my day's itinerary via tram and bus with the help of the kind gentleman who switched me into a nicer room the night before. He flirted with me while we talked and tried to give me the best advice on how to get to my destinations. As I left the hotel, when I began to think about how I walked the city on Tuesday, it occurred to me that things are a lot closer to each other than I realized, and that if I walked, I'd see more of the city and really be able to absorb it. I headed out after breakfast. My plan was to walk past the place where John Adams lived when he was in Amsterdam, and to check out the comics shop that had been recommended to me, and then to head to the Rijksmuseum.

And I had a nice walk. The weather was good, the city was beautiful, I took a lot of pictures. I ambled. I found the site of Adams' home and, consequently, America's first embassy in Holland marked with a plaque placed there by the John Adams Foundation. I found the comics shop, though it wasn't open yet. And I found an amazing antiques shop that had an entire window crammed full to the ceiling of beautiful Delftware, a piece of which I'd hoped to take home. (All of their windows were extraordinary displays. It was like looking at a treasure warehouse: a whole theme window full of pipes and pipe paraphernalia; a whole window of glass vessels--vases, glasses, pitchers, filled about halfway with blue liquid to make each individual item stand out; and the Delftware presented and displayed one next to the other on shelf after shelf and hung on the walls. Their merchandising was genius.) It wasn't open yet either, so I proceeded to the museum . . . where I discovered, to my dismay, that I'd left my wallet in the room.

I hoofed it back to the hotel, got my wallet--and this time, I took the tram back to the museum.

The Rijksmuseum
2012 is apparently the year that many of the museums in Amsterdam are renovating, because a large portion of the Rijksmuseum wasn't open. I knew this would be the case; I'd done my homework. But the museum had set itself up such that you could still see highlights on an abbreviated tour. I got the museum map with the tour laid out, and the audio guide for the exhibits as they were available. I was given a choice of two: the art tour or the history tour. I took the art tour, which emphasized the artists in their times, their techniques, and their subjects. It was an excellent choice.

Due to the tightness of security in the museum, I ended up having to check my bag and forgot to take my notebook with me. What this means is that I'm left with mostly impressions. I rarely take photographs in museums; no picture I might take will be any more accurate to the experience of a piece of art than any professional reproduction and, as I learned more authentically than ever before on this trip, no reproduction will ever match the experience of seeing an original. But here are the impressions I was left with:

The Rembrandts blew me away. I remember learning about his work in junior high school in the advanced art classes I took, all of which included some pretty detailed art history study. As I listened to the audio tour and looked at these paintings, I remembered those lectures and found myself looking at the paintings in more detail, stepping closer, stepping away. It's a wonder what he did with his portraits and images, how he used light, where he got into the fine detail of a face and where he went soft with details to bring out what was most and least important in a picture.

I saw The Night Watch with its many different faces and its inherent action and movement. It's much lighter than I expected, the result of cleaning and care. The darkness of the painting was purely the result of the accumulation of dirt and soot on the surface. I saw The Jewish Bride with its beautiful gestures and the softest suggestions of affection and intimacy. I saw The Syndics, and the look of interrupted work about each man's face and gesture, their surprise, and their focus. I got to examine the techniques Rembrandt used in the smaller paintings on display, how he layered his paints and would use the other end of his brush to scratch away applied paint to create detail. It was astonishing stuff.

The Vermeers were beautiful, too, an entirely different experience and, somehow, not quite as personal for me. That's not to suggest they weren't astonishing--just different. The Kitchen Maid is beautiful and intimate. The bread in the basket on the table looks like you could reach into the painting and tear off a hunk. The light on her skin gives it a luminous quality, and just looking you know that she's got a gorgeous complexion, fair but almost ruddy in the sunlight. The Love Letter is almost like a panel out of a comic book in its immediacy and familiarity of action: the look on each woman's face is so expressive--you can tell exactly what each one is thinking.

There was also a whole room of blue-and-white Delftware explaining its origins and history: dishes and tiered vases and spice jars, amazing sets of tiles that created intricate tableaus of flowers and birds and cherubs--just lovely things.

Other stops covered Holland's golden age, displaying paintings of key figures and explaining how people lived. There was an exhibit of magnificent doll houses--not toys, but the pet projects of rich women who would spend a fortune outfitting a doll house in exact scale to her own home using the finest materials available and, consequently, costing a fortune to create. And there was so much more.

It was an amazing morning seeing these works that I thought I knew from reproductions but that I knew not at all.

An afternoon's perambulation
After a stop for lunch, I strolled back to the antiques store with the Delftware, and what I discovered was that even the most modest pieces, things smaller than a candy dish or simple tiles hand painted with a single figure, cost nearly 100 Euros. I couldn't justify the cost no matter how much I liked a piece and so, after much perusal and consideration, I walked away. I regret it only a little bit. The last thing I need in my house is yet another thing to dust, no matter how rare or beautiful. Still, I'll think of that place until I can get back there again somehow. If it had been earlier in the trip or if I'd been less tired my experience and willingness to shop might have been very different.

My plan at this point was to spend the later part of the day making my way to the Amsterdam Hermitage. My information said that it was open until 8 PM on Wednesdays, so I slow-poked it, strolling through the Flower Market--which didn't really impress me; it reminded me of Pike Place Market in all the worst ways. Yes, you could buy tulip bulbs there, but the place was clearly a tourist trap--crappy souvenirs at every turn. I made a couple of other stops, and walked through Rembrandtplain and saw the great man's statue there. I finally got to the Hermitage around 4:45 only to discover that, despite my best research, the museum didn't, in fact, stay open late on Wednesday evenings. I was disappointed and slightly frustrated given the way the day began. I immediately asked what time the museum opened on Thursday--9 AM--and made a plan to be back when the doors opened.

At this point, I was exhausted. Because I was tired, I didn't really think through my situation. The smart thing would have been to ask where the nearest tram station was and to figure out how to get back to the hotel. But I was hypoglycemic, on autopilot, and started walking, got lost, walked too far in the wrong direction, and then finally prevailed on a local to look at a map with me and help reorient me. She was kind and helpful, and I did finally make it back to the hotel.

My caretaker
I should note, at this point, that I seemed to have made a conquest without realizing it. The older man who worked at the hotel and who had so kindly given me a nicer room the night before and directions in the morning was at the desk when I returned. He greeted me when I came up, calling me Beautiful Lady (which is what he called me the rest of the time I was there) and asked me how my day was, and then tried very sweetly to suggest that he could send my baggage back to Seattle and would happily keep me in Amsterdam. He was so charming I couldn't help but smile. After resting up a bit, I went out for a little dinner, came back and read until bed time.

Lithuania Day 5: Stalin World

Another day, another roadtrip. skidspoppe and I were up and out of the house by 8 AM, heading south toward a resort town called Druskininkai (say "drush-kin-in-kay") where, on the outskirts, lies a park that I had just had to see.

The drive took about 90 minutes and took us to the far southern border of the country. (I continued to be impressed by how small Lithuania really is. You can drive across the country in about four hours east to west, maybe five if the weather is bad. North to south, the drive time is probably about the same.) The road reminded me of the road from I-5 to the Oregon coast: forests broken up by farmland. The only things missing were the signs pointing tourists to wineries and wine-tasting rooms. Most of the signs with arrows were pointing toward small towns. Otherwise, it was more green, rolling farmland and stands of tall, thin trees.

Druskininkai is known in the Baltics and Russia as a major resort town because of its mineral springs. Its main attractions are its spas . . . and the peculiar sculpture park to the east: Gruto Parkas, which some people have dubbed "Stalin World."

Grutas, the place which this park calls home, is a small town with tiny houses, ramshackle places, many of which need paint, with correspondingly small barns. Some of these homes are within mere feet of each other; some are a little more spaced out, but they appear to be haphazardly placed. Grutas is clearly mainly a residential area and doesn't, somehow, seem to have profited from its neighboring, bizarre theme park.

Stalin World
Gruto Parkas is a sort of three-in-one amusement park: part zoo, part kiddy park, and part home for displaced Soviet statues, sculpture, and other Soviet memorabilia. The idea behind the place is to create a living record of the atrocities perpetrated on Lithuania under Soviet governance. Somehow, with the zoo animals lowing mournfully and the kiddy rides all unused so late in the season, each segregated into its own area, it can't project any kind of memorial sensation. The two trails that feature the sculptures are more like an art park, a tribute to the blocky, soulless style of Soviet art and portraiture. Every now and then as you stroll the trail, you can hear the strains of some tinkly Soviet anthem, and the contrast between its happy, martial sound and the descriptions of Soviet enforcement is stark and disconcerting. A canal runs along one side of the park, with reproductions of Soviet watchtowers guarding the park perimeter. Statue after bust after statue features some Soviet hero. Lenin features prominently in these portrayals, shown as, alternately, an intellectual giant with a scroll or book in hand, a visionary with his overcoat wafting out behind him like a superhero's cape, or man of the people with a worker's cap in his hand. Stalin is shown as a stalwart military figure. Other lesser known heroes of the revolution also have places on the trails, men and women with square jaws, marching with determination into a Soviet future.

Here and there along the trail are small indoor museums. One was devoted to detailing the history of Soviet occupation of Lithuania. More than fifty captions tell the story in Lithuanian and in English, so I was able to read some of it. The wall was papered with reproductions of newspapers from the era. Photographs told the story as well. I was struck by how close history is in this place; liberation took place only 20 years ago and, again, I was put in mind of the story of Lina's family and their stay in Siberia. One wall featured relief portrait after relief portrait of Lenin, basically the same profile over and over again. It's the Great Lie in sculpture, a fascist deification of the great leader, squinting toward a grim future. Unnerving.

We navigated the trails in about 90 minutes or so and then, ironically, stopped into one of the several gift shops in the park. I picked up a pin for my bag, but saw shot glasses, flasks, magnets, and key chains all emblazoned with the name and logo of the place, or with portraits of Stalin and Lenin on them. These men would be rolling in their graves at the consumerist culture that now encompasses their legacy here. It's kind of remarkable.

We spent the balance of the day in Druskininkai, roaming its pedestrian thoroughfare. It's mainly a sort of promenade with not much to show except strange little sculptures (a gila lizard, a cartoony eagle, and so on) and well-tended greenery. Skids says that in summer it's lined with artists and craftspeople selling their wares. I'm sure it's more lively than in the dark, damp autumn. The souvenir shops are nothing to write home about. Many of the buildings struck me with their disrepair, places that clearly seemed built to attract the tourist trade, which struck me as just odd. We did see a small, beautiful, blue-and-white Russian Orthodox Church featuring several onion-shaped domes, but were shooed out by a woman who had just mopped the floors. Its exterior was in the midst of renovation, getting a fresh coat of paint and new landscaping.

Back to Kaunas
We headed back to Kaunas after our stroll to meet friends of Skids' for dinner. There was pizza and wine and much pleasant company and conversation. I found myself wishing for more time with these folks, but they had other plans. We had drinks with the previously-mentioned Monika, and then, again, it was time to hit the sack, where I was probably asleep before my head hit the pillow.
After yesterday's grand disappointments and frustrations, we decided to take it easy today. We woke a little later, ate a nice egg and cheese breakfast, and followed a Rick Steves walking tour from the Place de la Bastille through the Marais to the Pompidou Center. We had perfect, clear weather (which we've had since Friday morning--Wednesday and Thursday it rained hard at one point or another) and felt refreshed and ready for the day.

Of course, the Bastille is no more. In its place is a tall column with golden, winged Mercury at the top, heralding freedom for the French people. It stands in the center of an enormous traffic circle and near the rounded glass facade of an opera house, shining in the morning sun, a nice marker for the start of our walk. And this walk was full of small pleasures, like the tiny gas station we passed--simply a pump at the curb near a parking garage--a random merry-go-round filled not with animals but rocket ships, flying saucers, airplanes and helicopters, and architectural details on buildings ranging from cherubs straining under the weight of columns to griffins fiercely protecting doorways.

We strolled down Rue d'Antoine and followed the guidebook toward the Place des Vosges. On our way, we stopped into a jewelry shop filled with beautiful stuff where I purchased a pendant with a tiny lion's head that, oddly, sported a lightning bolt across its face a la David Bowie's Alladin Sane; I couldn't resist it. It was wee and fierce, like me. :-)

The Place des Vosges is a lovely square, partly for its surrounding architecture and partly for its well-manicured lawns. The gallery shopping around it is quite nice with shops and artists showing their wares. Elizabeth found a great handbag/overnight bag: a sort of dark gray and green with black straps that's just sharp as hell. We engaged in a chat with an artist named Didier Lespagnol who was selling lovely watercolors of Place Des Vosges and the Pont Neuf, which we've already crossed a number of times. He showed us the magazine in which he'd been featured. We each purchased a print from him, discussed American politics a bit, and were completely charmed.

We left the square and continued to stroll down Rue des Francs Bourgeois, poking in and out of shops and past the Carnavalet museum. We considered going in, but were enjoying the walking so much that we decided to continue, and had lunch at a place called Camille. Our waitress was a young blond girl who wanted to practice her English and who was polite and accommodating. At the table next to us, a senior woman sat by herself impeccably dressed in a yellow cardigan and yellow slacks daintily eating a creme brulee. We watched her surreptitiously as she finished her dessert and ordered a glass of champagne, quietly watching the crowd as she sipped. I had a moment of wanting to engage her, but she clearly didn't wish to be engaged, so we kept to ourselves and enjoyed our lunch.

One of the things no one tells you about Paris, not friends, not guidebooks, is that every meal in France is at least a two-hour affair. In the states we seem to spend about an hour at lunch and maybe 90 minutes at dinner when we go out. In France, every meal out is an extended engagement, aided and abetted by wait staff very politely leaving you in peace. It's not neglect; it seems to be a respect for the patrons' leisurely repast. On the one hand it's a rather lovely thing. On the other hand, there are times when one just wants to eat and be done. I've felt impatient to move on only once or twice this trip when it's felt a little like an inconvenience--but not often.

After lunch we continued our stroll through the Marais. I found a great pair of earrings at a remarkably reasonable price (oval hoops that stand out well from my hair). We passed a Camp shoe store, where Elizabeth found a pair of adorable flats. I saw a pair of shoes I fell in love with, but which they didn't have in my size. Just as well.

And then we were in the heart of the Jewish quarter, where men and boys wearing kippot stood behind long tables selling etrogs and lulavs in preparation for Sukkot. The crowd picked its way around these tables, where people haggled for the prettiest fruit. We poked into a couple of great Judaica shops. I was interested in finding myself a chai, but though we saw a couple of great chais in the windows, we couldn't actually find them in stock, which was a disappointment. We also saw a beautiful synagogue whose Art Nouveau facade desperately needed power-washing.

We made a last stop in a shop selling beautiful ethnic scarves and each bought one. Mine is black, white, and gray with shirred effects and swaths of paisley patterns, made of 100% wool. It's warm and pretty.

The closer we got to the Pompidou Center, the more the crowd intensified. Soon enough we were practically cheek-by-jowl, jostling our way toward Notre Dame. It seemed to be a parade, a march, a party; we weren't sure, but the atmosphere was convivial, almost celebratory. The crowd was mostly young people, many sharing bottles of wine or smoking, some with painted faces. It was an incredible scene. It turned out to be a protest against the austerity measures that President Francois Hollande wants to institute in response to the financial crisis. It was a peaceful march, and we survived chagrinned and entertained.

We came back to the apartment, dropped off our things, had a little wine and chocolate (one must enjoy bonbons regularly in Paris!), and then grabbed a quick dinner at what amounts to a local dinner just down the street--nothing to write home about.

A couple of other quick notes:
--There's a movie theater on our street that, among other things, shows Rocky Horror regularly. I was tickled to see the posters for the showings upon our arrival here.
--I took a little time yesterday to plan our trip back to the airport, only to discover that the cab company billed me three times for the service; I must call them today to straighten it out. ::grumble::

Chocolates: chocolate-covered almonds and a dark-chocolate covered creme with Madagascar vanilla
Steps for the day: 12,746

Paris, Day 5: Food! Art!

Morning business
The original plan for yesterday (Friday) was to go to the Musee D'Orsay in the morning and then spend the afternoon at the Catacombs. What we realized when we rose was that we were pretty much out of groceries (we've been eating breakfast in the apartment each day to save a little cash), and had to do something about that. We also decided that we really wanted to attend a concert at Notre Dame the night before we depart Paris. All that being the case, we reorganized our plans a little bit, and I headed out early to Notre Dame to beat the crowds and take care of our business.

In the early hours, Notre Dame is quiet and feels more like a church than a tourist destination, which pleased me. I arrived at about 8:30, purchased a couple of tokens from machines in the chapel, and then settled down in a pew in the back to journal while I waited for the gift shop to open so I could buy the concert tickets. Sitting there in the twilight of the church, I got to watch as the place slowly came to life, with early mass and the rising tide of tourists who began to first trickle and then stream in. Elizabeth arrived shortly before 10 AM, and then at 10, when the gift shop opened, I purchased tickets for the concert. We then headed out for the day.

Breakfast was at a local cafe; acceptable food, nothing special. And then we went shopping. We acquired some of our needs at the local Carrefour, a small chain grocery for basics. We then went back to that series of shops I patronized a couple of days back for bread, meat, wine, and cheese. It was E's first visit to these places, and I could see she got a kick out of the experience. It makes us both feel pretty competent, completing transactions like this mostly in French and coming away with delicious things to eat. We acquired a loaf of rustic bread filled with hazelnuts, some ham that E particularly wanted to try, some chevre with basil, and a bottle of wine. We took everything back to the house and then got a start on the day,

Musee D'Orsay
By the time we finally headed toward the Musee D'Orsay, it was around 11 AM, a slower start than we originally planned, but it was very much needed. We're within walking distance of D'Orsay, as we are to the Cluny, so we marched over, taking in the city as we did so. The weather was lovely, a vast improvement over the rains we had the previous two days, so the walking was a pleasure even with our travel-sore feet.

Once inside, we took a moment to orient ourselves with a map and to prioritize what we wanted to see. The building is beautiful, a renovated train station, with all the lovely architectural features preserved in amongst the museum's more recent renovation for modernization. An enormous, elaborately decorated clock presides over the central alley of the museum from above the front door. The arched ceiling is checkerboarded with floral rosettes, and the arching lines are echoed across the whole building. The floor plan is really smart, offering galleries that are of limited size, with ample seating outside of each for patrons to rest their feet before moving on to other exhibits.

We chose to visit the Impressionists first. The introductory description to the hall where the history of Impressionism is presented in its glory quotes Gaugin as talking about "the right to dare to do anything." It's such a powerful idea--the right to do anything, especially from a man in an era in which such an idea was revolutionary, an era when each person had his role and was expected never to veer from it. And it was with that idea, the idea of breaking free, that the visitor is sent in to trace the origins of Impressionism, its full flowering, and its evolution into post-Impressionism and beyond.

Of course, I was nearly inarticulate with excitement at the prospect of being in the same room with the works of Vincent Van Gogh. I've loved his work since I was young, and so getting to see "La Meridienne," "La Nuit etoile" (not the Starry Night that appears on mugs and calendars the world over), and his self portraits among other works was just magical. What I wasn't prepared for was how the light just shines out of these works. Also--the thing you can't get from photographs--is how Van Gogh used texture not just to express the texture of what he was illustrating but as a way to capture the light in a room to augment the light and color in the work itself. These works are a little like shallow sculptures, like reliefs, using the ambient light to augment the illustrated light. It was also striking to see the difference between the two self portraits: one from 1887 and one from 1889. The earlier one shows him more robust, but with dark circles under his eyes; the latter one, a better-known work and more familiar to me, shows him older, thinner, with harder lines in his face, washed out from the more vivid portrait when he was younger.

I was taken with George Seurat's piece, "Cirque." It portrays a circus scene: a woman in a yellow dress standing on the back of a white horse in the ring, with a man in a brown suit looking on, a clown with fiery red hair in the foreground, and an acrobat flinging himself into the air in the background. Ever since I discovered my family's connection to the circus I've been fascinated with portrayals of same, and this was no exception. I was put in mind of some of ladyjestocost's portrayals of jesters. The motion here, the elongation of the figures, the stylized portrayal of the audience was all so striking.

The many Renoirs I saw were beautiful, but I was struck as I never have been before by the deadness of the eyes of the people in his art. The Manets and Monets were uniformly lovely. And every time I see something by Camille Pissarro, I'm drawn into the work. He's one of my quiet favorites. I've seen enough Gaugin, pretty much for a lifetime.

I discovered the works of an artist called Maximillien Luce about whom I want to learn more, as well as someone named Pierre Bonnard, whose portrait "Le Chat blanc" pleased me with its portrayal of a white cat with tabby markings rubbing up against a tree. Its elongated legs and sly glance toward the viewer made me smile. I was also fond of a picture called "Degas et son modele," a portrait of the artist working with a veiled young woman.

From the Impressionists, we went on to view some Symbolist and Orientalist work, about all of which I want to learn more. I was particularly taken with "Elephants of Africa" by Charles Emile de Tournemine. I was delighted by one painting that included a portrait of a woman who looked like one of my officemates.

Other works of note for me included Manet's "Olympia," the painting of a nude woman reclining and looking directly at the viewer that caused riots in Paris when it was first shown; Whistler's "Study in Gray and White" (known more widely as "Whistler's Mother"), a painting much, much larger than I expected it to be, and far more dynamic visually as well; and "Repasseuses" by Degas, two women at work, one of whom holds a bottle while yawning extravagantly, unaware of her viewers.

Of all the places we've been so far, marvelous as they have been, I've loved the D'Orsay best of all. It includes work from a period of time (1848 - 1915) that I find endlessly compelling. (It also made me want to visit the Frye Museum in Seattle again, full of works from a similar period of time.) If there's any opportunity to spend more time there, I hope I can. It's an amazing place.

A country-style dinner
We met mistymarshall at the museum. As stated earlier, our original plan had been to hit the catacombs in the afternoon, but our whole schedule got shifted. We stayed at the museum until it closed, completely entranced by the exhibits, by which time we were all hungry and ready to sit. Misty recommended a restaurant called Au Vieux Paris d'Arcole, a place that specialized in French country cuisine that she's been to many times. Over on Ile de la Cite just around the corner from Notre Dame, it's a small place with rich decor--and every single thing we ordered was delicious. We shared a dish called Odette's terrine with pate as an appetizer. Dinner for me was a steak with mushroom sauce with "many vegetables" (two broccoli florets, two kinds of potatoes, and a tablespoon of sauteed peppers--oh well. I continue to live in hope). I decided to forego dessert, but my tea came with a square of chocolate that was enough for me.

In a strange turn, at the end of dinner, after I put sugar into my tea and tasted it--simple Earl Grey--it tasted salty. Naturally, I returned it to the the waiter. Turns out that the restaurant cubes its own sugar, and had just cleaned the cubing machine with salt. They provided a fresh cup and fresh sugar cubes. We all had a moment: they cube their own sugar! Where in the US do they do that? It was a strange, entertaining moment.

We ended the day with another trip to Shakespeare & Company, where Misty and I got into a . . . passionate discussion about when Paranormal Romance became a marketing category in the US with one of the booksellers, and where Elizabeth picked up a number of books. The trick, or perhaps I should say the treat, with Shakespeare & Co--a tightly-packed warren of books on a huge variety of subjects--is finding books that you can't find in the US. For me, this wasn't a huge attraction, because I'm not looking for anything in particular. I feel a little disappointed in myself that this place isn't more of a thrill for me somehow, but its closeness and constant crowding make it a little too much for me. And while there is a certain treasure-hunt attraction in poking through the shelves, for some reason it just feels exhausting to me right now. I left without purchasing anything. We parted company from Misty and headed back to the apartment.

General notes and observations:
--The front door of our building is very heavy and scrapes the floor as we open and close it. It makes sounds like you'd expect to hear from the heavy, ancient door on a crypt in an old movie: scraping, clanking, and crunching when it shuts, with a crash and clasp when the lock engages.
--The steps in the building stairwell are wooden and narrow. Each time they turn, they are shaped like segments of a fan, even smaller than the usual steps. Their depth is also kind of uneven. All of this combines to make the trip up and down an exercise in balance, vertigo, and coordination.
--Turns out that we're within walking distance of the Monnaie de Paris--the French national mint--but its museum is closed for renovation through 2013. It does have a shop, but--and this may come as a surprise, it being me--visiting the shop isn't a huge priority. I'd like to go, but we have other things to do and see here that are more important. If there's time, I may still try to go, but I'm prepared for not being able to do everything I want to do; our time is limited. Still, we'll see.
The day started early. We got up at 6ish with the sun still set, washed up, had a light breakfast, and headed over to Notre Dame to finally see the interior. Folks, this is the way to site-see: Get up early and beat the crowds. I got to experience what this church is like when it's populated mainly by the clergy and the sparse and scattered faithful. So as Elizabeth and I quietly wandered the edges of the sanctuary, we listened to mass in French, a lovely accompaniment to viewing the paintings, sculpture, and stained glass.

Notre Dame
The Notre Dame main sanctuary is ten stories tall inside, with its Gothic vaults arching overhead. It is carefully lit, not overly so, presumably to show off the stained glass to its best effect when the sun comes out. Because we entered when it was dark, we got to watch the light slowly rise in those windows and they were absolutely stunning: mainly rich reds, blues, whites, greens, and yellows in fantastic patterns that are different in every pane. It occurred to me as I beheld slightly-larger-than-life sculptures of past bishops and portrayals of Bible stories that this art would have come to eerie, awe-inspiring life in candlelight. Even with the spare artificial light in the sanctuary and the occasional, strategically-aimed spotlight, it's still beautiful and impressive. The patterns that border every fresco are varied, some geometrical, some floral. The plethora of pagan imagery throughout the church--including one window patterned with the multi-colored faces of green men--delighted me. And as we walked, I asked Elizabeth questions about things I saw that I didn't understand; as she put it, she "knows the fables of [her] people" and shared them. I was glad that I have enough of an ecumenical background to not have to ask about everything; being both a religion and history geek, I had some grounding, but it was nice to be able to ask and to learn.

I had my Rick Steves Paris book with me for a little more background, which was both helpful and frustrating. Steves' narratives are funny, sometimes insightful, but invariably far shallower than I would prefer. For practical travel information, his books are top-notch, providing tips and tricks from which we have benefits over and over again so far. (Each time we needed to do practical planning today, we referred to -- activate Peter Lorre voice -- "Misseur Reeek" for guidance.) But for depth of coverage and history, I have learned to prefer Lonely Planet. With regard to Notre Dame, he provided just enough background for me to get frustrated at the lack of depth, but having some background is better than having none at all. (I shall probably download a Lonely Planet guide to Paris before the day is over.)

Strolling to the Louvre: Serendipity
The Louvre is located on the Rive Droit, across the Seine from where we're staying, but only about a mile or so away, so we decided to walk, under overcast skies, to the museum.As we strolled, we passed an elaborately filligreed double door in beautifully painted in Kool-Aid colors, of which we both took pictures. We also passed--and stopped at--a clothing store for women in larger sizes. The clothes in the window were interestingly funky so we decided to poke in. Some Euros later, I popped out with a gorgeous crop leather jacket in a deep rust red. It's beautifully tailored and looks just fabulous. The last thing I expected to do here was buy clothes, but I am thoroughly pleased with this purchase and am looking forward to wearing this jacket for a long time to come.

The Louvre
It's the theme of the trip: you have no idea how freaking huge the Louvre is until you get there. It's massive, sprawling, a palace that outsizes its description by several magnitudes. It's so large that as you look at it, it fills your field of vision, leaving no other building visible: rows of columns and arches and facades, and everywhere you look you see something you didn't notice earlier. Upon entering, we were quite literally overwhelmed by the power of the place, and so we grabbed a museum map and went to the museum cafe (disappointingly similar to American museum cafes, which is to say sterile, characterless, and with acceptable but pretty mediocre food) for lunch. Once properly nourished, we strategized our attack and dove into the warren that is the Louvre.

We spent time in the following exhibits: the Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities, Paintings, and then French Paintings, and then the German, Finnish, Dutch, Belgian, Russian, and Scandinavian Paintings. We ran into setsyoustraight and her husband while we were there later in the day, and she put it well: it's one beautiful thing after another. It takes your breath away. Here are the particular things I made jotted down in my notebook to mention here:

The Temple of Zeus frieze: Many of the figures included in the Parthenon frieze weren't whole. The ghosts of their missing torsos, hands, heads, all seemed almost visible. Haunting is the only word I can use for it.

The Venus de Milo is striking, with a face so alive you expect it to burst into movement at any moment. The multitude of beautiful things about her that is not apparent in photographs can't be summarized adequately: the way her torso curves, the delicacy of her mouth, the mystery of what her arms may have been doing.

The sculptures of Praxitiles: I learned about Praxitiles in a junior high school class on art history. Mentioned in classical writing of his era, he was a master sculptor, and you can see it in every one of his works that we have. Figures in motion, subtlety of gesture: it was remarkable to see. And I had one of those moments. The thing that brings me together with this artist is his art. This is why we do art: so that years later, others can share the thoughts we've recorded in whatever medium we choose.

The Pallas de Velletri is a larger-than-life, complete sculpture of Athena, helmet pushed up onto her forehead, dress elaborately draped about her with thousands of folds. The areas around her eyes and mouth are darker than the rest of her, remnants of paint long since worn away. Elizabeth said to me, "Now imagine her highlighted in gold..." and --already magnificent -- she was truly a goddess.

We saw many a bust of Alexander the Great with his ubiquitous forehead curl. I was, I admit, put in mind of Captain James T. Kirk with that forehead lock. One could not help but smile.

We also saw, scattered in amongst other works, a wide variety of ancient coins. I was impressed not only by how beautifully conserved they were (which I expected) but in their stellar condition. I expect nothing less in a museum like the Louvre, but you often see some rubbing, some fading. With rare exception, all the specimens we saw were in near-mint condition, every detail in the rendering crisp and clear, every groove deep and sharp. What a treat it was to see Alexander in his horned helmet, ranks of elephants marching to battle, a lulav-and-etrog portrayed on a coin from ancient Judea, Cleopatra, Arsinoe, the Ptolemies. I was in numismatic heaven.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace was a surprise for me. You see pictures and you think, OK, winged chick. But to see her in person is to see a body in forward motion, her dress whipped by the wind, her wings outstretched behind her as she stands in the prow of a ship (present in the museum, but never shown in photographs). She is situated in the center of a large room at the top of a flight of stairs, which emphasizes the effect of her striking presence. In person you can do what you can't in a picture: circumnavigate her, to look at her from every angle. We could see parts of her dress fluttering back, an armature attached to the back side of one wing to stabilize it, and the fact that, whether broken or covered by her dress, she has no feet which, somehow, touched a nerve in me. I was moved. There may be a poem in this.

We proceeded to look at paintings, heading first for the Mona Lisa. Predictably, the room in which she resides contained a milling crowd. She is accompanied in this room by a number of other remarkable works though she herself is at the center of one wall, framed behind a panel of bullet-proof glass. She does not make the impression one would expect based on her reputation. I would say that she's been overhyped, but that could be interpreted to mean she's overrated, which is not the case. Mainly, the everything about the painting is so subtle that its effect creeps up on you, a hard thing to experience in the center of a jostling, camera-welding crowd. I admit that I wasn't as impressed as I feel like I was primed to be. But I can say that I've seen her, and I'm glad to have done so.

Other paintings that impressed me included "Portrait of a Veronese," a portrait of a young woman with big dark eyes, her left hand protectively settled on the shoulder of a squirmy young boy beside her, his dog's face poking into the picture. She is striking, formidable-looking with her direct gaze and the firm press of her lips. I was filled with admiration. The two-sided "David and Goliath"--a back-to-back pair of paintings showing their struggle first from David's perspective and then Goliath's--struck me not only with its inventiveness but with the dynamism of its figures. I've developed a new appreciation for the works of David. And I was impressed and delighted by the two Vermeers we made a point to visit: "The Astronomer" (reportedly a self portrait, which makes the artist look young, intellectual, but somehow tough and virile even draped in all that clothing), and "The Lacemaker." Both of them were smaller than I expected, not even as big as a typical sheet of printer paper. They each brought their own pleasures.

We saw too many other things to mention, honestly. I remarked to Elizabeth that one of the great pleasures of a museum like the Louvre is discovering works you have never seen or heard of. It's like making new friends. For me, that was "Portrait of a Veronese," a lady I would like to have met. But there were so many others I haven't mentioned here that left marks. Simply too much to detail. But such a remarkable day!

Our day concluded at a restaurant called La Cooperative Rivoli, where I had breast of duck with honey and blueberry sauce and potato medallions. The potato was nothing special but the duck in sauce was very good, very unusual: the combination of sweet and meaty was a nice culinary experience. My meal came with a tiny side salad, as did Elizabeth's. I scarfed it down, and she allowed me to have hers as well. I never thought I'd say that having salad was comforting, but there it is!

Steps for the day: 14,917
Theater: Last Thursday, I spent the day with e_bourne, who invited me to go to see the play "Red" with her at Seattle Repertory Theater that evening. I'm so glad that a) she wanted to go out and b) that she shared this evening of theater with me. The play is an extended dialog about the nature of art, as discussed in a fictionalized scenario featuring abstract expressionist Mark Rothko (Denis Arndt) and his assistant Ken (Connor Toms). Rothko's just accepted a landmark commission, but Ken sees it as a sell-out. Over the course of two years they argue art and its media, its messages, and its meanings in each of their lives as they create works for the commission. The play's a tour de force, with speeches any smart actor would kill to play, played by two of Seattle's best actors in top form. Both Arndt and Toms give terrific performances--really, it's a remarkable show and I'm delighted to have seen it.

Art: On Friday, I went to see "Gaugin in Tahiti," an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum, with SA WINOLJ. I've never really been a fan of Gaugin--the "primitive" thing doesn't do much for me--and I can't say that this exhibit changed my mind. It did, however, give me a better understanding of who he was and what he was trying to do with his work. The exhibit did a fine job of setting this body of work into a geographic, cultural, and ethnographic context. The Tahitian and Polynesian sculptures and artifacts included in the exhibit provided great perspective and were fascinating in their own right. Many of Gaugin's paintings in this exhibit reminded me of paintings in National Geographic, seeing as how, in the beginning, they were created to catalog Tahitian culture and life, and that gave me an unexpected kick. I especially appreciated the self portraits; they seemed remarkably contemporary and vividly human. I admit that my tastes are more classicist than the artist might have preferred, but I could appreciate what Gaugin was doing, and I recognized things in the art that helped me understand why his works are still appreciated to this day. Certainly worth seeing.

Movies: Friday night, overratedomac came over with his daughter, we had dinner, and we watched "My Neighbor Totoro," which I've seen before. When I first saw the film, I was a little sleepy and didn't quite get every bit of the film in the way I should have. This viewing, however, illuminated a lot of what I missed the first time, and I have a whole new appreciation for it overall.

Rushing About: Saturday was defined by a lot of rushing about. I was out the door at 8 AM for a cut-and-color at the salon. Then I was off to Capitol Hill for the Time Traveler's Rummage Sale, where I acquired a beautiful berry-red blouse, a fabulous pair of earrings, and some gears for jewelry making. I had lunch with varina8, and then a visit and dinner with davidlevine and kateyule who were in town for a square dance event. We had a terrific meal at the Kingfish Cafe (which, hello, if you haven't eaten at, you should go, like, tonight). They were staying with EG and JB, whom I rarely get to spend time with, so when David and Kate left for evening dancing, I hung around for a glass of wine and delightful conversation. Busy, busy day, but very pleasant.

Exhaustion: Today I'll be heading to West Seattle for a writing session, and then to help plan markbourne's life celebration. I've set a hard stop for all my activities at 2 PM, at which point I'm going to come home, turn off the phone and, possibly, my internet connection, and just stop everything so I can relax and prepare for the week ahead. It's been a difficult, stressful two weeks combined with some wonderful time as well, and I feel like I've had no time to digest much of what's happened, between Mark's death, funeral, and the planned life celebration; my attendance at the Rainforest Writer's Retreat (which was really good and, while it hasn't gone unremarked here, deserved far more coverage than it got); and my sudden employment. varina8 observed that she and I, both having experienced early loss, may deal with it by compartmentalizing emotion and activity: by doing things that make me feel competent and in control, by helping someone else, I can put aside some of the hardest stuff to deal with until there's space and time. That pretty much defines a lot of the last two weeks for me. I've certainly dealt with some of it, but it's going to be a long process, and there's much more work to be done.

Imaginary WFC 2009 Sketchbook

As some of you may be aware, I brought a sketchbook with me to IWFC'09. On Sunday afternoon, Captain Nemo graciously offered me a tour of his submersible, Nautilus, which I accepted, containing my excitement as best I could. Though the captain insisted there be no photography, he was quite amenable--enthusiastic, I dare say--to the idea of my sketching a likeness of the vessel. Along on the tour with me were Messrs. Tesla, Bradbury, Lake, and Mieville, and Mmes. Curie and Wollstonecraft Shelley. I was surprised that the captain would welcome such a crowd, but he managed us well given the limited space.

We were all agog.

More beneath the cut...Collapse )

It's really a remarkable vessel, far larger than I expected it to be based on descriptions. Madame Curie couldn't stop asking questions about power sources. Mr. Tesla listened with quiet interest. Mr. Lake, frustrated but resigned about the photography ban, asked a lot of questions. A lot of questions. The captain was (mercifully) indulgent. Mr. Bradbury took notes. Mrs. Shelley, Mr. Mieville, and I merely absorbed the environment. I could smell pipe smoke in the upholstery. Sandalwood.

When plans go awry, good may yet come

Last night shellyinseattle and I had hoped to go to a card-making workshop together. Events (darkness, rain, bad traffic, uncertain and elusive destination) conspired against us, and we ended up back at her place for consolatory pumpkin pie, tea, and art projects of our own. She spent her time working on calligraphy. I spent mine working on a sketch. See, people have mentioned it would be fun to have a zine transcript of Imaginary WFC 2009 and, being me (i.e., crazy, obsessive, etc.), it occurred to me that no zine is complete without at least a few illustrations. So I designed my own "Nautilus," since Captain Nemo was at IWFC09, after all. It may bear some resemblance to the Disney ship, but let us say it has a little more bite.

Unfortunately, I've spent part of this morning trying to scan the illo and I've discovered that I may need to reinstall my scanner software (thank you, Snow Leopard--the computer recognizes the scanner, but the scanner software can't find it). (I may also have to reinstall Photoshop Elements for the same reason.) Anyway, my hope had been to scan and upload the image to share. I'll deal with the software issues and share the drawing later.

I may also work on portraits of some of the guests. We did, after all, have some pretty distinguished folks in attendance.


Good girls go to heaven.
Bad girls go everywhere.
--Mae West



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