The Statue

This post is not about anything that happened on our most recent trip.  This goes back to a time, over a year ago when we were having dinner at an outdoor restaurant In Brussels.  At the end of the final course, I excused myself to go to the loo.  On the way to the back of the building I discovered another dining area, a garden and a fountain.  And a few statues.  One of them caught my eye.  I took several photos of her from various angles.

I was seduced by one in particular.  It’s the one shown above.  There was something about her smile, the placement of her arm and her figure.  But it was the gaze on her face and her obvious grace that captured me.  She was looking to her right.  I’ve seen that smile before.  She’s a bit coquettish and sexy and seductive, but that wasn’t the focus of my attention.

I’ve seen that look before.  I saw it in my wife’s face shortly after we met.  I’ve seen it in my past, from the delicate faces of the girls and women I thought I loved…and perhaps I did at the time.  But it’s a universal profile.  A glance that says “Maybe it’s you I love” or “Come up and see me sometime”.

My self-image leaves much to be desired.  I wish others could perceive me as I wish, not as I am.  I also know that this is a symptom of one who feels the loss of youth and is facing old age.  It’s odd, but change occurs slowly…every day and you don’t notice it until you see an old photo of yourself.  I knew when I lost my youth…it wasn’t that many years ago.  It took a clean mirror. A mirror that was honest with me.  Coming to grips with that has been hard for me.  What happened to the last thirty years?  I’ve no idea.

I gaze into the mirror and see white hair and bags under my eyes.  It seems like every joint in my body from my waist down could use a shot of Valium.

However, I feel in my heart, that at a distant time in the past, the young woman above would have gone for a walk with me.  But I have to live with the fact that she will never age, unlike me, save for weathering and lichen and moss that will someday grow on her ankles, shoulders and all that hair.

[The photo is mine]

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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

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Shaded walkway among the crypts

SideStreetPereLaChaise

It’s easy to get lost here.

Grief

Grief…plain and simple

Look Now, Beauty Can Die in a Moment

And this same flower that smiles today,

To-morrow will be dying.

–Robert Herrick

The end of beauty is strange.  The time elapsed can take decades.  You look at your wife…you don’t see a sudden change when she turns around to look at you…you don’t even notice the change because it’s slow…too slow for the human eye to perceive.  Only after the years pass, you look at her and something is different.  She’s still beautiful, but not in same way that she was when she was 22 years old.  It’s nature and it’s expected.

The beauty of a mountain landscape usually takes more than one lifetime to notice.  Barring a landslide, earthquake or Apocalyptic Chaos, the mountain is immutable.

The surreal beauty of clouds can last a moment or two.  Now, it’s a castle or dragon in the sky.  Now, it’s the shape of Idaho.

The beauty of the written word can and hopefully will last forever, in some form.

The beauty of a sunset or sunrise changes by the second…slowly giving way to darkness or to light.  The spectacular night sky is slowly changing as the stars and galaxies expand outward and away from us.  But we will never live a thousand lifetimes to began to see the shift of Polaris or the subtle change of Alpha Centauri.  For us it’s permanent.

It was 22 degrees this morning when I got into my car to make a quick run to the Post Office.  I started the car and looked up to adjust the mirrors.  There on the windshield was an array of stunning ice crystals that would rival the awesome nature of a thunderstorm.  And, that was the problem.  It was nature.  I’ve come to learn a few things in life; one is to look closely at the natural world and take a moment to stare.  Take a moment, for it will not last.  I turned off the car and went to get my camera.

I backed out onto the empty road and aligned the car so I could get some contrast with the crystals and the background.  I’m just learning the close-up function of my camera so it took a few tries to get what I wanted.

Did I capture it?  Not really.  I had turned the defroster on so I could see the road more clearly.  As the warm air blew against the glass, the crystals began to disappear.

I sat there until the last of the filaments of ice had gone…leaving small drops of water which were swept away by the wipers.  I didn’t destroy anything, the water is still there, as vapor…waiting to reform as a crystal or snowflake or raindrop.

But, a dry windshield is, to me, not that beautiful.  No, I saw beauty for about a minute before I killed it.

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Travels 13: Always on the Edge of Beauty–A tale of women, beauty, a city and a marred landscape

Once I found myself wandering through the streets of Bruges, a small lace making city in Belgium.  I walked along canals and old buildings.  I began to cry.

“Why can’t all cities be this beautiful?”, I kept asking myself.  “Why can’t every city be a Bruges, or a Paris or a London?”

I’ve always been attracted to beauty…but not the runway, highly stylized and magazine-perfect beauty of Barbie Dolls and Supermodels.  No, what attracted me were the little quirks and gestures of my teenage girl friends and later, the women I dated.

I was sitting at the faculty lunch table of the school where I last taught.  The talk was about the senior girls.

A female science teacher mentioned a student of hers named Karyn.

“Everyone teases her,” she said.  “And to be honest, if I were her age again, I would be among those teasing her.”

I was startled.

“She drives me crazy with her blinking.” the teacher said.

I had taught Karyn two years earlier, in the 6th Grade.

I expressed shock that a teacher would find a mannerism like blinking so off-putting.

“Well, if I were her age, I would probably have a crush on her,” I said to the table of silent teachers.

“But the blinking?”

“Yeah, but I would find that endearing about her,” I said.

The teachers kept silent…hopefully thinking about what they had said about the blinking Karyn.

My girlfriends always had something different about them.  Some little indescribable tick or something that made them less than “perfect”, less of a Prom Queen, but more of a girl-next-door.

I am going to make a major conceptual leap in this post.

I’ve driven over 4200 miles on my journey to Orting.  Now I’m on my way back home.  At this moment, 6:34 Pacific Daylight Time (PM) I am at an RV camp that appeared in the middle of the mountains leading to Crater Lake.  Yes, it appeared.  It wasn’t on the map or my guide to RV campgrounds.  Just when I was growing very tired of the car, there was the sign for the Last Chance RV park.  We’re somewhere in the Rogue-Umpqua National Forest.  There are mountains with slopes as steep as building facades all around us.  The evergreen trees bring the twilight into this little valley quite early.  I’m going to wait up for the rising of the Full Moon…it’ll be awhile because the horizon I saw on the Plains is not here.  Only the dark steep slopes of these beautiful mountains.  This is Bigfoot land.  And, I can almost understand why such a beast (I’m not necessarily a believer) would choose to lose itself in these heavy forests like these.

Which brings me back to thinking about what I’ve seen and learned about this country (the whole country as seen from my selected route)…and to beauty.

I expected some rough edges along the trip.  That’s the way of nature.  But the way of humans is something that is troubling to me.  In an unclothed situation, a woman…a real woman…will have blemishes.  Those little quirks that attract me.  The imperfections that shouldn’t be airbrushed away.  But the landscape I’ve seen is unclothed as well and the blemishes are glaring.  This land, once home to the First People, passed on to the developers and it never left their hands.  Entire mountain tops are scraped away for coal.  I expected much of this, but the pure expanse of raped earth left me shaken.

Then I got to the Pacific Northwest, another haven for Bigfoot and another place where the unspoiled skylines of foothills show the scars of clear-cutting.  Trees unimaginably ancient have been cut away leaving patches of bare earth, like a drunken barber might attack a three-year old beard.

Again, I found myself near tears.  But now my question was why can’t things be left alone?  All cities can’t be Bruges but do we really NEED to cut, split, saw and stack this precious old wood on the shelves of every Home Depot in the country?

A naked surface can be a wonder to gaze on.  But a forest without trees is problematic.

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The Oregon Coast.

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Clear-cutting on the Olympic Peninsula.

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A tree covered mountain with something missing on the left.