Bruges Makes Me Sad

[Mariam and her husband after dinner at the Market Square.]

Occasionally, during your life you arrive at a destination that forces you to hold your breath, for too long, and then exhale with an audible gasp. Your heart can hold off on a beat and then give you an extra pump. And a part of your thoughts fade…you lose a sense of time. The view before your eyes alters your senses in more than a few ways.

This happened to me the first time I visited Bruges (Brugge, if you wish) in the mid 1980’s. I walked beside the canals, then lined with lace and chocolate shops. I paused with my friend who was traveling with me. I had to lean against a tree. I was overcome by a deep and very intense sense of melancholy. I began to cry.

I was in Bruges and I was sad.

In my heart, I knew why this was happening, but I was reluctant to put it into words. How could anyone really understand my inner thoughts?

I never forgot my visit from that year. We were given a choice, after studying posters, of a free Mozart concert in the City Hall or a one-ring European circus just outside of the old city.

We chose the circus. I don’t need to tell you how I fell in love with the trapeze star. She was beautiful and she soared back and forth like an undecided angel. If you ever see the film Wings of Desire you will get an idea of how I felt. (Spoiler!) In the film, the main character is an angel who falls in love with a trapeze artist. Of course angels can’t do that…so he pays the price…by losing his wings.

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet,

I see her walking now away from me,

So hurriedly. My reason must allow,

For I have wooed, not as I should

A creature made of clay.

When the angel woos the clay, he’ll lose

His wings at the dawn of the day.

–Raglan Road by Patrick Kavanagh

I cannot separate this poem (later a song by Van Morrison), from my experience in the 1980’s. You feel special and celestial, one moment and then you feel human the next. But love, beauty, art, youth and history were in the mix of tea leaves I drank the following morning.

So, now I’m back in Bruges with my wife, Mariam, thirty-three years later, and I’m feeling the same melancholy thoughts that made me lean against a tree so many years ago and begin to cry.

My thoughts now are the same as they were then. As our train came to a stop at the rail station, the very same emotions overcame me.

But is all this simply about the love of beauty and the beauty of love?

Why did I lean against that sycamore tree? It was because of a question that became evident the moment I walked into the Market Square so many years ago:

Why can’t the world have more places as beautiful as Bruges?  Why is art defined by the amount of steel and glass?  There are beautiful buildings in New York City, but not that many.  The Woolworth Building. The Chrysler Building. The Empire State Building.

But, this isn’t a post about Manhattan. It’s about how one young man found beauty in an old Belgian town…and, not knowing how age changes perspectives, found the same feeling decades later. Laying expectations on someone, like your wife, is blatantly unfair. Even so, I needed Mariam to see the beauty of this town, as I did.

When we visited the Louvre, Mariam and I had a conversation about beauty and art and the feelings of the soul. I told her that many of the great paintings (please don’t ask for examples) made me sad. She replied that great art should elevate the soul and evoke happiness. I said that really profound art, like Venus de Milo, did the opposite for me. She is most beautiful in her sadness.

Beautiful art, beautiful men and women, ancient Roman and Greek female nudes and beautiful cities make me yearn for a better world…one without hatred and violence. The destruction of art in the name of any god, is a godless act.

I suppose this post is about love and beauty.

 

[All photos are mine]

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A Night At The Opera

AmargosaOperaHouse

I sat in the Amargosa Opera House.  Half the seats were filled with ticket holders.  I looked around at the fantastic murals, I moved one seat away from the heat of the pot-belly stove and I watched the red curtain.  It was 7:05 pm on Saturday night.  There would not be an opera here tonight, no arias and no recitatives.  It would be an evening of ballet, with one ballerina, only one.  I didn’t care if the dancer was a few minutes late.  The ambience was enough for me.  We had parked the r-pod and had a room in the Amargosa Hotel for the night, the last room that was available.  It would be a three minute walk to our room…and a real bed.

OperaStage

Did I mention that the Hotel is in the middle of the Amargosa Desert?  Did I mention that the Opera House is a relic, a treasure, a fading memory and a rising star?  Did I mention that it is located in a crossroads called Death Valley Junction?

I should mention that the ‘town’ has a population of five humans, a very present cat…and I’m certain, more than a few ghosts.

The Opera House was built in the 1920’s when the Junction served as a focus of railroads that served several mines in the mountains that stand silently so close and so far.

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[A door next to the Opera House]

The story goes: One day, in 1972, a New York City ballerina, Marta Becket was on tour.  She and her husband had a flat tire near the Junction.  She poked through the ruins of the old theater.  She had a vision.  She stayed on and repaired the old building…that had no roof.  She looked at the whitewashed walls and had a another vision.  She was an artist as well as a dancer.  She leased the structure, that was slowly falling apart, mud-filled and the victim of years of sand and scorpions…and began painting unbelievable murals on the walls.  And she danced there.  If no real person was in the audience, she danced to the audience that was painted on the walls.

OperaMurals

The show went on…

The show is still going on.  Marta is now 91 years old.  But the sound of toe-shoes once again can be heard on the wooden stage.  The stage that is still lit by lights that are fashioned from coffee cans.  Jenna McClintock has taken on the mantle from the frail Marta Becket.

BalletJennaMcClintock

[Jenna McClintock]

For an hour and a half, I sat transfixed by this tiny essence of pure art in the middle of an unforgiving desert.  Places like this are hard to find in the world today.  A place where the pretty ballerina will smile out to the darkness that may have a hundred people…or just three.  Pure art is like that.  It exists on its own.  If you are in the right place at the right time, you can watch it unfold…but it will unfold with you or without you…like the sunrise I would watch the next morning.

MartaSign

I was up before dawn on Sunday.  I walked a short distance from the little cluster of buildings that made up the Junction to watch the sun lift up and over the mountains of the desert.

I sat on an old telephone pole and took a picture of the sun as it crept over the distant ridge.  I looked back at the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House.  Mariam was still asleep.

Marta and the other four permanent residents were over there somewhere.

Somewhere, two ballerinas sleep.  One was nearing her final dance in life…and one was just getting warmed up.

SunriseAmargosa

[Sunrise over the Amargosa Desert]

 

 

Passports 7: Last Thoughts on Listening to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Pere La Chaise Cemetery

I find Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody to be a sad song of life, mistakes, loss and death.  Freddie Mercury was a beautiful man who died too young.  His vocals are pure and haunting:

Is this the real life?

Is this just fantasy?

When you wander Paris and take time to look, really look around, you find yourself caught in a blizzard of classical art.  Every street, every side street and plaza is architecturally unique.  The statuary on countless buildings depict beauty in all forms.  I found myself feeling melancholy as I stared into the marble eyes of a statue of a woman who was so beautiful it hurt my eyes…like looking into the face of the sun.  You want to look away, but you can’t.

Beauty.  It touches your very soul.  Your arms ache to embrace the woman of stone.  You want her to come alive and walk with you through the gardens or along the Seine. You want to tell her what you are feeling…and hear her story that has been held in her crystal brain for 700 years.

Too late, my time has come,

Sent shivers down my spine,

Body’s aching all the time.

Why am I so restless?  I don’t feel like I belong in this skin that has been mine for 67 years.  I yearn for other times and far off places.  I am an actor on one stage of one theater in a continent of tragedies.  I always want another part to play.

What am I waiting for?

The answer appeared before me when I passed under a stone arch and climbed stone steps…to stand at the edge of a stone city of the dead.  This was Pere La Chaise Cemetery.  It is the resting place for thousands of French, notable and unknown.  But the visitors come here to gaze upon the stone and marble slabs of the famous.  Here lies the mortal remains of Chopin, Collette, Jim Morrison, Piaf, Poulenc, Moliere, Victor Noir, Marcel Marceau, Abelard and Heloise, Proust, Oscar Wilde, Yves Montand, Bizet, Dore, Trujillo, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, Delacroix and Rossini.  This is just a partial list.  You won’t find many Captains of Industry or the Super Rich who have left no legacy.  No, this cemetery has more than it’s fair share of the artistic souls.

I stood by Piaf’s marble stone and, in my head, sang “Non je ne regrette rein.”

I placed a tiny yellow flower on Proust’s grave.

I read Francois Villon to my wife while looking at the two effigies of Abelard and Heloise.

I stood by Jim Morrison’s grave and felt the waste of a life.

None of these beautiful and artistic people really wanted to die.  I hope they didn’t.  Because as tortured as life is, it’s only a waiting game.

I don’t wanna die

I sometimes wish I was never born at all

Nothing really matters,

Anyone can see,

Nothing really matters,

Nothing really matters, to me.

I walked the avenues of this necropolis and I began to fear death less.  These sensitive souls wait in peace.  If Proust can lay there, if Piaf can rest here…then there’s hope for the likes of me.

Nothing matters…everything matters…to me.

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Tomb of Abelard and Heloise

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Monument for Jim Morrison

Piaf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edith Piaf

TreeAvePereLaCh

Shaded walkway among the crypts

SideStreetPereLaChaise

It’s easy to get lost here.

Grief

Grief…plain and simple

A Jigsaw Puzzle

Hey, I took an art course once so I should know a thing or two about the visual and temporal renderings of the Great Masters as well as the Nouveau, Op Art or the trendy new Steampunk.  So, to probe your right hemisphere (or is it the left?), here is a Multiple Choice Quiz.  Please take a breath and center yourself before you attempt answering!Image

This photo is:

  • A Negative Space Study of a canoe paddle.
  • A Stress Test of a saw blade.
  • A Way to eliminate part of the plank so I can use the rest of the wood for something really interesting.
  • A way to spy on my neighbors through something they would never suspect. 
  • The beginnings of my wife’s birthday present.