The Value of Art and Dancing in the Rain

Monday Morning Musings:

“Great art evokes a response. . .emotion.”

Bruce Graham, The Craftsman

“We have a story we want to tell you about a play — a play that changed my life. Every night, we tell this story. But somehow I can never remember the end.”

–Lemml, at the beginning of Indecent by Paula Vogel

“Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin. . .dance me to the end of love.”

–Leonard Cohen, “Dance Me to the End of Love”

 

The day began with a stunning sunrise

a prize or disguise

for what would come later?

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Pitman golf coures, Pitman, NJ

We walk through city streets

listen to the beats

the syncopation of traffic and conversations

the announcements from underground stations,

look at the buildings and public art

take heart that the rain has not yet started.

I notice a clock, a reminder to go inside,

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the theater,

another world unfurls.

 

At the back of stage

projections of artwork by Vermeer

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Johannes Vermeer, “Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

over them we suddenly hear

guns or bombs and the paintings disappear

overlaid with black

then from the back

a man appears to give a speech

he is the head of the provisional government,

the Nazis are gone

the dawn of a new time

but justice must be done.

 

The play is about a forger, a con man

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who longs to be an artist, and when he can—

he also gets revenge upon the man, the critic

the con man’s a cynic

his wife, perhaps anti-Semitic

later she says she should have spoken out

without a doubt

a line that is relevant today

as is much of the play

which explores art, creativity, ability

and should an “expert’s” opinion hold dominion

over art

What is it worth, what is fake and what is real?

what will you pay to seal a deal?

I’m reminded of a man, an emperor with no clothes,

(as everyone knows)

who insists that his paintings (and news) are real

because he could never admit that he was taken

for a fool

(He is mistaken.)

The play is partly a courtroom drama

set in a particular time and place

the space converted

with a clever set and lighting

inviting us to see the different scenes—

office, jail cell, and courtroom.

there are flashbacks to the past,

and an excellent cast.

The setting is important–

the Netherlands had been occupied

those in the Resistance tried to defy

with some success, but also retaliation

leading to the Hunger Winter

and more lives splintered.

What should happen to those collaborate?

The play explores how we express hate

“revenge has become a spectator sport,”

do we resort then to the level of the oppressors?

We walk and talk

See a house with sunflowers

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Walking now a bit in showers

discuss the play over wine, beer, and cheese

then out into the night

see rain reflecting off city lights

prance and dance

tap a beat onto the street.

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Over homemade pizza and wine again

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Cozy inside from wind and rain

we watch a play on TV,

we see

another story based on events that were real,

and we feel,

we definitely feel—

this play within a play

to Klezmer music, the actors dance

and ashes fall from their coats and pants

they dance to the end of love

and perhaps they dance then back again,

there is a scene in the original play,

written in 1907, God of Vengeance

by Sholem Asch

the scene, referred to as “the rain dance”

involves two women, lovers—

the play is about the history of that play

performed successfully in Yiddish in Europe,

then the cast was arrested on obscenity charges

when it was translated into English and performed in the U.S.

(not a success),

the play is performed in the Lodz ghetto, in an attic room,

though all there know, they are probably doomed.

The play is about a culture lost

to time, to the Holocaust,

but it is about past and present

and how art matters

even when people are battered, shattered

their life in tatters,

and though some only value art for its monetary worth

the true value is in what it brings forth

in emotion and feeling

art sends those who value it reeling–

makes us think and want to dance in the rain

again and again

makes us laugh, or cry

makes us sigh and want to defy

Does it change our lives?

Yes, this I know,

art does, and helps us grow.

 

We saw the Lantern Theater Company.’s  production of The Craftsman.

We saw Indecent on PBS’ Great Performances. You may still be able to see in online.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Starry Nights: Musing and Shadorma Challenge

Monday Morning Musings:

“This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big,”

–Vincent van Gogh to Theo, Saint-Rémy, France, 1889

“For myself, I declare I don’t know anything about it. But the sight of the stars always makes me dream.”

–Vincent van Gogh, letter to his broth Theo, July 1888

 

It was midday, but we saw stars,

swirling lines

and colored bars

65,000 hand-painted frames

aiming to depict the art and life

the vision, the strife

artistry in different forms–the imagination

to take his art, recreate, use animation

caught us,

and we flowed with the waves of light

through bright days and starry nights.

 

Vincent loved

his brother, Theo.

Wrote letters,

long missives

every day penning his thoughts

on art, love, and life

 

The movie involved a bit of mystery

born not just from art, but from Vincent’s history

of writing these letters to brother Theo

and so

Postman Joseph Roulin

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Sends his son to deliver one

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found after Vincent’s death

Armand travels, meets the people with whom Vincent interacted

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Vincent van Gogh, “Dr. Paul Gachet,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Learns what they felt, and how they reacted

to his art and eccentricities,

some charged, by his electricity,

others repelled,

the story told almost Rashomen-style

different versions of the artist and the man

and we’re left to understand him, as best we can.

 

An artist for a few years only,

failing at other careers,

art dealer, missionary,

he was a visionary

though his stern parents thought he was a failure,

he painted over 800 paintings in his short career

and it is clear

that he suffered for his art

and gave from his heart

his mother disposed of his work in a crate

finding out–only too late

though she thought he was dim and full of whims

others a genius thought him

 

We walk out into the warm November day

drink coffee

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And look at the colors play

Through city streets and historic sites

And think about Vincent’s short life

 

A few days later

We’re immersed again in art

Using a gift from friends–

sisters of my heart–

we ponder, peruse,

perhaps a snooze,

 

or eat and chat

perhaps a scream

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(imagine that)

I think of light

And creativity

of sun and clouds

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and starry nights

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Ceiling of van Gogh Café

And so, to bed

pillows piled high

from a cat, a gentle sigh

the night here cloudy

perhaps we’ll sleep soundly.

but in our dreams

nothing is as it seems

 

in our dreams

we fly, starry skies

swirl and flow

on light beams

we ride, silver stardust flows

magic of the night

 

Immersed in art

through starry nights and clouded days

seeing magic, creativity,

imagination, a constant, that stays

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We saw the movie Loving Vincent. Trailer here.

We visited Ground for Sculpture. I have many more photos that may appear at some point.

I missed a couple days of Eliot of Along the Interstice’s November Shadorma Challenge,

so I’ve put a couple into this week’s musings.

Something in the Light

Monday Morning Musings:

“I want to move on

I want to explore the light

I want to know how to get through,

Through to something new,

Something of my own—

Move on. . .

Something in the light,

Something in the sky,

In the grass,

Up behind the trees. . .

Things I hadn’t looked at

Till now. . .”

–From Stephen Sondheim, “Move On,” Sunday in the Park with George

 

There’s something in the light of autumn

the way the sunlight streams low between the changing leaves

leaving summer behind, but somehow looking forward, too,

in a last burst of flame-charged energy till they, their quietus make

and something in the light changes again

producing grey and violet skies

till the earth wakens again in the spring,

moving on.

 

***

A vineyard hayride

to a field of pumpkins and apple trees

I listen to snippets of conversation

The mother talking about the Noah’s Ark movie

“It shows you what it was really like back then.”

So much crazy wrong there, but I restrain myself,

move on to explore the light

look up at the trees

and there below

things I hadn’t looked at till now

things I hadn’t seen before–

the way the sun makes the apples glow

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and the shadows dancing in the breeze

and the music of the yellow jackets buzzing around the fallen fruit.

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We drink our wine

darker than the apples

or garnets glowing in the light

tasting of sun and earth and promises,

we listen to a musician play classic rock and blues

watch the children and the dogs enjoying the warmth

on this summer-like day in October

but there’s something in the light,

different now in the fall from our summertime visits

we move on through the seasons

and I make applesauce when we get home.

On Sunday, we travel to my sister’s house,

stopping first to pick up my mom

who was confused about the day

and was not ready for us

her vision nearly gone,

her world is shrinking

the light in her eyes dimmer

as she moves on, five years short of a century

I think of all she’s seen–

the memories of people and places that play in her mind

now a bit confused–

I wonder if how we see the world changes it?

Did the Island of La Grande Jatte change because of Seurat

and how he saw the light?

If we could see more colors, more light

would it change anything?

How does one move on after seeing Monet’s water lilies or Van Gogh’s starry night?

Do we ever see these things the same way again?

Painting by Sylvia Schreiber

Enter a caption

 

We meet my sister and her wife’s new dog

my mom says she’s glad they’re keeping this one

they keep  returning them, she says

not true, of course,

but she sees things differently now sometimes,

and I look up to see something in the trees

something in the sky

the light—

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We eat and then take her shopping

the shoe department, a mix of Kafka and Catch 22,

(something in the department store light?)

somehow, we maneuver and decode

before we explode

purchase two pairs of shoes

black and navy

(slightly different in the light)

and move on to bras.

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Imagine now,

five women in a dressing room,

two manipulating my mother,

making jokes as they handle her breasts

inserting them into cups

all of us finally laughing–

and then a fart,

producing bent-over-as-tears-stream-from-your-eyes-laughter

finally, we stop, breathe–

there’s work to be done,

and a timetable–

we get my mother her bras

then back to the house for dessert,

Mandelbrot and brownies,

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because why bother with anything that’s not chocolate?

We sit outside in my sister’s garden

enjoying the sun, enjoying the light

until it’s time to move on.

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From the stars

and to the dawn

in light that reaches us

from billions of years away

we see something there

and something here,

something in the light

moving on

The Footbridge: Tanka

glimmer-green dancers

flow in Sarabande rhythm

beneath the footbridge

music travels through space, time

captured by the artist’s brush

 

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Claude Monet, The Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pool, Giverny, 1899
The Mr. and Mrs. Carroll S. Tyson, Jr., Collection, 1963
Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

 

Claude Debussy, Sarabande pour le Piano, L95 

This is a tanka for Colleen Chesebro’s Weekly Poetry Challenge.

The prompt words were music and art.

 

The Letter

I open the letter, read the words again and again. But they don’t change. They recount the battle and your acts of bravery. They describe the sudden storm, a tempest that battered your ship against the rocks, as you were journeying home to me. I had warned you not to go. I told you of my dream, where the storm clouds gathered and flew like demons, covering the moon, and you appeared beside me, cold and still, dripping, smelling of the sea, smelling of decay. I felt the pain then, clean and sharp in my breast. You laughed at my fears, called me Cassandra. Perhaps I am, for you did not believe me. I look at the ring on my finger and think of this other love-pledge you have given me, feel him flutter-kick in my womb. A son. He’ll be born in the spring. I will tell him about you.

 

ghosts drift in moonlight

clouds obscure the pale glowing

drops like silver tears

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Johannes Vermeer, “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This haibun is for Colleen Chesebro’s Weekly poetry challenge. The prompt words were clean and sharp. I’ve also used  this week’s Secret Keeper’s  prompt.  The words: | OPEN| ROCK| RING | ACT | LETTER |

Jane Dougherty used the Vermeer image above for a post this week, also using Secret Keeper’s Words.  I like it so much, that I decided to steal use it, too. The painting is carefully constructed and illuminated, of course, but I also like the literacy of the woman that is portrayed as unexceptional. Also, though it is most likely the fashion, the woman in the painting does look pregnant.

 

 

 

 

 

Freed Minds and Imprisoned Bodies

Monday Morning Musings

“And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.”

–William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1

“The system here is rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong. I hold this slow, and daily, tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.”

–Charles Dickens, 1842

A prison taint was on everything there. The imprisoned air, the imprisoned light, the imprisoned damps, the imprisoned men, were all deteriorated by confinement. As the captive men were faded and haggard, so the iron was rusty, the stone was slimy, the wood was rotten, the air was faint, the light was dim. Like a well, like a vault, like a tomb, the prison had no knowledge of the brightness outside, and would have kept its polluted atmosphere intact in one of the spice islands of the Indian ocean.

–Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit

 

In the deep soft blue of night,

a full bright moon murmurs

which path would you stroll

always night

or beautiful dawn?

Would you breath the sweet air of ancient breezes?

 

I ponder mysteries of life and time,

the paths we choose, the where and when

the roads that make us who we are

the journeys that lead to discoveries,

do the words I write,

the forms of things unknown,

take flight across the world,

in a poetry chaos theory

to effect change?

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One of my writer workout shirts.

 

I’m at a book fair,

I don’t sell many books,

my profits come from knowledge gained

or reaffirmed,

books have power,

the reason why slaves are not taught to read,

they release the minds of those bound by ignorance

they free those imprisoned by walls of stone

or by barricades of bigotry,

they build bridges of enlightenment,

people are drawn to them

in excitement, wonder, and surprise

I watch the boy’s eyes

open wide at the thought of reading magical adventures

then disappointment,

“My mom doesn’t have any money.”

“Today is your lucky day, says the author,

“I have something special,

a free book for you–

see, the cover is slightly damaged.”

 

He signs the book for the boy

who takes it,

holds it reverently,

a treasure.

I hope he remembers this moment.

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West Deptford Township Book Festival. Yes, I did bake cookies, too.

 

My husband and I visit the art museum

not for any particular exhibition,

“Sunday at the museum,” someone says,

people there from all over the world

(even though the “Rocky Steps”  are closed)

I hear many languages: French, Chinese, Russian.

We walk through the Impressionists,

see the real and surreal,

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View from the Duchamp Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

look at art and people,

adults and children,

viewed and viewers.

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Reading at the Museum—Mary Cassatt, Family Group Reading (c. 1901) Philadelphia Museum of Art

We walk from the museum

 

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across the Parkway to Fairmount

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and on to Eastern State Penitentiary,

 

 

the world’s first penitentiary,

conceived with a purpose–

to induce penitence in its prisoners,

the original building completed in 1836,

though the process began earlier

with efforts to relieve the conditions of the Walnut Street Jail,

in 1787, Dr. Benjamin Rush founded a group to reform prisons,

The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons,

an organization that still exists,

the new penitentiary is thought to be humane,

a wonder of technology and innovation,

a central hub with spokes,

cells with plumbing and heat

designed by architect John Haviland,

but prisoners were cut off from human contact

and sometimes went insane.

Charles Dickens wrote of the torture of solitary confinement

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and later the prison became too crowded for the concept to continue,

a second tier of cells was built

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and prisoners shared cells.

We listen to actor Steve Buscemi

tell us about it in the audio tour,

we’ve been here before,

but it is good to be reminded,

and there are new exhibits we haven’t seen

there are other visitors and tour groups,

but when it is quiet, without other visitors around,

I feel the ghosts around me

there amidst the rubble

 

Prisoners

in dark fevered air

decayed concrete and old secrets,

a dirt home

listen to who was

they live not

but almost open,

in time

 

It is a reminder

of good intentions gone wrong,

yet there are traces of beauty and goodness,

even here,

the tales of good and humane guards

the art created by inmates,

the synagogue

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The original synagogue door. (For my blogger friend, Robin.)

 

but still there are ghosts,

the imprisoned,

some died here,

and I have no answers for those who are imprisoned still

but I hope they have books and art

and that their minds can roam, even if their bodies cannot

do they wonder about the paths of their lives?

Which path would you stroll

always night

or beautiful dawn?

Would you breath the sweet air of ancient breezes?

 

Tonight I dream of wide-eyed boys

of beauty and art

amidst decayed walls

a cat purrs softly in my ear,

I am home, but my mind roams free.

 

The kind author was Ben Anderson, who shared a table with me at the West Deptford Township Book Festival at Riverwinds Community Center. His books are chronicles of Irish fantasy, targeted for middle grade readers, but suitable for “eight to eighty-eight” he says. You can read about them here .

We joke about the Magnetic Poetry Oracle, but she gave me this poem (incorporated above) the morning of the day we went to visit Eastern State Penitentiary. She also came me part of the opening.

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You can find out more about Eastern State Penitentiary here.   Here is an article on programs for prison literacy.   And a list of additional resources here.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is always worth visiting, even with construction going on.

 

 

 

Painting and Poetry Folded in Time

Monday Morning Musings:

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

–Leonardo da Vinci
 

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

–Vincent Van Gogh

 

My sisters and I call each other

“No one’s dead,” we quickly chirp,

a macabre affirmation of life,

a precaution for my perpetually panicked sister-niece,

(she answers the phone expecting disaster)

we laugh—because what can you do?

but then comes news of two deaths over the weekend,

my husband’s former colleague and a college friend,

we’re of a certain age now,

most of our friends have lost at least one parent,

some both,

middle-aged orphans,

I think about links to the past,

disappearing the way beads slide off string one by one

 

and I watch a miniseries about the Gay Rights Movement

see again the AIDS quilt,

memories squared and love-knotted,

blanketing the National Mall,

a memorial, a declaration

we protest with poetry and art,

against wars, against injustice,

fighting for the right to live

and to die in dignity,

(love is love is love is love)

in the epic story of our lives,

we are the heroes,

and its tragic victims

 

We dream and we create,

our lives, like intricately folded origami

unfolded in a split second,

a discovery that the crane

is now simply a wrinkled bit of paper

 

We take my mother to our daughter’s house for brunch,

my mother, once a child, now the matriarch,

a ninety-four-year-old orphan

her parents, her brother, and many of her friends are gone,

she can barely see, but still she paints

the vision must be in her mind and hands

felt, rather than seen,

poetry in paint,

tactile sensibility,

she has her first mimosa

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and we talk of this and that

old hairstyles, Dallas nightclubs,

stories my daughter has never heard before

of a world and people that no longer exist,

I imagine a mirror with endless reflections

and the world through the looking glass

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We’re through the looking glass in a mirrored room, transported to an 18th century French palace. Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

we laugh over misunderstood words

the kind of laughter that brings tears,

and we are entertained by pets,

sitting in the kitchen,

a domestic scene,

that could come from the past,

generations sitting around a table

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My husband and I go to an exhibition of watercolors

an amazing show, 175 paintings on display,

the show traces the history–

how watercolor became an American medium

from what was essentially work done in the home,

by women, decorative artists, as well as illustrators

becomes much more after the Civil War

and Philadelphia,

with publications and art schools

becomes a center

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The exhibition describes the painters’ techniques

the importance of the paper in the watercolors,

various textures and colors

watercolors are luminous, but fragile

reflecting light,

but also, fading in light,

the picture dies

the image no longer exists,

and I think of the building, landscapes, and people in the paintings

that no longer exist

except in these depictions

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where the sun still shines and wind still blows

and alligators huddle together in the mud,

lethargic beasts with deadly grins

 

at night, I dream of light and art,

I paint my dream into a poem,

a dream of misty luminosity with opaque spots

brushed by the artist

(look there closely at the strokes)

on an unusual type of paper, with texture both rough and smooth

folded over and over,

to form different creases,

like wrinkles on faces in time

endless, like reflections in a mirror

 

Information:

We watched the miniseries, When We Rise

We saw the exhibition, “American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent”

You can see a trailer on the Philadelphia Museum of Art Website.

It is a stunning exhibition, but because watercolors are fragile, it will only be seen in Philadelphia. No photography is permitted.

 

 

Together and Alone: The Essentials

Monday Morning Musings:

“Writing is a job, a talent, but it’s also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.”

–Ann Patchett, Truth & Beauty: A Friendship
 

“Those dripping crumpets, I can see them now. Tiny crisp wedges of toast, and piping-hot, flaky scones. Sandwiches of unknown nature, mysteriously flavoured and quite delectable, and that very special gingerbread. Angel cake, that melted in the mouth, and his rather stodgier companion, bursting with peel and raisins. There was enough food there to keep a starving family for a week.”

–Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

 

“Art bears witness to human existence through the prism of beauty.”

– – Wajdi Mouawad

 

Art, the creative impulse,

my husband and I

witnessed it in many ways over the past few days

We see the movie Manchester By the Se,a

the acting is exceptional

making us feel like we know these people.

We’ve met people like them,

ordinary and unique,

as we all are,

the New England backdrop reflecting the characters,

gritty, hard, seemingly unyielding, but fluid,

and grief comes in waves like the sea.

Later, after our dinner at a Thai restaurant,

I say to my husband,

We didn’t discuss the sound track.*

It was beautiful, but I was so aware of it—perhaps it was even a bit intrusive?

What was in the soundtrack? I didn’t notice it.

He tends to listen to music when he is working.

I do not. It’s already in my head.

We carry the essentials with us.

 

The next day we go to tea.

More accurately, we go to lunch

in a tea room.

He gave me the gift card almost a year ago,

we finally use it.

The room is quaintly Victorian,

or perhaps Edwardian.

We chose our teas and have a full spread.

(More than the essentials.)

We talk of this and that,

cozy in dining room

with Christmas music playing in the background

a break from work,

a small retreat,

and I understand how this became a ritual,

it is difficult to discuss weighty issues over small, crustless sandwiches

and dainty iced cakes.

I think of tea parties and Tea Party,

attempts to return to a time that never was,

like this tea room,

an escape from reality.

He eats some of my sandwiches,

I take home some of my sweets.

 

Afterward, we go for wine,

we have a shipment to pick up at a local winery

We sit, sipping wine

discussing this and that again

timeless moments

watching the sky,

warmed by space heaters,

music comes from a frog speaker nearby

and I wonder if there’s a metaphor there

but I can’t find it,

it slips away,

unessential

and there is already too much that I carry

in my heart and mind.

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Heritage Vineyards

The day after,

(Sunday by now)

we visit the museum

we get there just after opening,

Again, we go through the exhibition on Mexican artists

who painted the revolution,

who were revolutionary,

(And perhaps all artists are)

overturning the flotsam and jetsam in their brains,

discarding the unnecessary

salvaging the essentials from the debris.

We see Diana surrounded by Christmas lights

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I share a moment with Renoir’s “Washerwoman,”

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So many forms of art

created and collected.

We stop for free coffee (also essential)

It is members’ day. Yay!

 

Next we go to a play

I must say I’ve never seen anything like it

Seuls—alone

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The artist asks:

Qui sommes-nous? Qui croyons-nous êtres? (Who are we? Who do we think we are?)

I should mention that the play is in French—a bit of Arabic—with the English translation projected on a screen.

It is a one-man show,

not autobiographical exactly

but based somewhat on Wajdi Mouawad’s life

As a child, forced by war in Lebanon,

his family left for Canada,

his and his character’s,

As a child, Harwan, the character,

counted the stars in the night sky,

he tried to paint them

he wanted to be a shooting star.

When they left Beirut, they brought only the essentials.

What happened to his paintings, he wonders?

and what if they had never left?

Harwan is struggling to finish his doctoral dissertation,

to find a conclusion.

His relationship with his father is fraught with words unsaid

in French or Arabic,

and broken memories–

it is the story of immigrants

and artists

Harwan, goes to St. Petersburg,

he has mistakenly packed paint instead of clothing.

Only the essentials?

His father is in a coma from an accident.

Or is he?

We travel with the character, with the artist

to a place inside his mind,

perhaps.

The story of the prodigal son is told,

a son’s journey

a father’s forgiving heart,

a story told and retold

we paint the story of our lives,

we bring the essentials,

bearing witness

we paint over truth and lies,

we create new truths

we are alone—together–

and on a stage, the artist is alone

but we are there with him.

 

After the play, I say

We will have much to talk about.

I need to think about what I’ve just seen,

My husband says.

 

We walk through City Hall to the courtyard.

Once the world’s tallest building,

completed in 1901.

Now there are taller buildings

but this one is unique,

beloved cultural icon topped by the statue of William Penn

we walk through the Christmas village,

we drink hot, mulled wine

I watch my husband watch the children posing for photos

with a man dressed as The Grinch

they shriek and laugh as he changes his pose

my husband laughs, too.

We stroll some more,

I wonder what creatures from other worlds would make of

our need for light

to brighten the darkness,

our joy in tea and wine,

and Christmas baubles,

We carry joy and sadness

in our souls,

we create and recreate light in the darkness,

we generate new worlds within our minds

construct, paint, and

imagine the impossible

to discover the essential

bearing witness to our existence.

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*Lesley Barber, “Manchester By the Sea Chorale”

We went to Amelia’s Teas & Holly

Heritage Vineyards

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Seuls, Written, Directed, and Performed by Wajdi Mouawad

At the Wilma Theater

Christmas Village in Philadelphia  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Past, the Future, Ghosts, and Drag in the City of Brotherly Love

Monday Morning Musings:

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

–L.P. Hartley

“This play is so American. . .[it] shows us that transformation can only happen when we break apart our fears, our suspicions and our judgments. Because the America I know is not the one that is portrayed by only a few, isn’t the one that discriminates against its citizens for their differences. NO. The America I know and cherish and honor is one that all these characters are creating.”

— Emmanuelle Delpech, From her Director’s Notes, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Arden Theatre, Philadelphia

 

When was the last time the four of us had spent a day together at a museum?

We all wondered, but couldn’t remember,

somewhere amidst childhood’s ghosts

left behind with dolls and story books,

ghosts of Halloweens past

when little girls dressed in costumes

that they slept in,

a princess and a clown

(not a creepy one at all).

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And so we went,

a family outing,

our girls married women now,

but still crazy sisters, having fun,

interpreting the works of art

 

 

And since the big new exhibit is on Mexican revolutionary art

and it’s close to Halloween

there are Day of the Dead displays

 

We eat Wawa hoagies*

(My daughter misses them in Boston.)

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I score Super Momma points

by making hot fudge sauce,

totally spur of the moment

(in record time)

so we can have it with our coffee ice cream

as we watch Grey’s Anatomy

It’s another ghost from the past.

 

It is Halloween weekend,

my husband and I go to the theater

(which, I guess fits, when you think about it)

In the play,

a man discovers his inner femininity—

becoming a drag queen,

with the help of a real drag queen.

After a slow start,

the play picks up

struts its stuff,

so to speak,

along with the actors,

a feel good show

about finding your passion

and not giving up,

accepting those who are different from you.

A good lesson, don’t you think?

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After the show, we drink coffee

sitting on a bench outside of Christ Church in Philadelphia.

 

a beautiful October day,

we watch the people in the present

learning about the people of the past,

as they walk in and about the beautiful eighteenth-century church

where George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and others attended services.

We walk the streets, some still cobbled,

where founding fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers

once walked,

where free and bound lived and worked.

 

None of them was perfect,

neither are we.

But the past is a foreign country.

people then did not know all we know now

(perhaps we have lost some of their knowledge, too)

Progress and human rights come slowly

as babies crawl tentatively before they walk and then run eagerly

to explore the world.

So are there stages

of nations

that rise and fall.

And of discoveries that humans uncover and embrace with hesitation

or delight.

Thirteen colonies came together,

representatives walked the streets we now walk,

worked together to fight for independence,

and later, to form a more perfect union,

evolving over centuries

with greatness from the start,

along with evils,

slavery, racism, sexism, xenophobia.

We should not move backwards

to the foreign country of the past,

not regress, but rather progress,

build upon the great to make greater.

 

We travel to another part of Philadelphia,

Fairmount Park,

one of the largest urban parks in the world.

We are there for a Lupus Run/Walk

my younger daughter and her husband run,

my husband and I walk,

some people drag their heels,

some are in drag,

well, costumes.

There is a team of Star Wars characters,

others in purple tutus,

a sea of purple t-shirts.

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We begin at Memorial Hall

(now the Please Touch Children’s Museum)

with its figure of Columbia at the top,

it was an art museum,

constructed for the Centennial Exhibition in 1876,

a huge exhibition with many buildings

and many visitors.

A Women’s Pavilion gave women a chance to display and demonstrate

the new opportunities available to them in professions and business

there were displays of dress reforms, too.

But women were segregated in their own pavilion,

and still denied the vote.

And so we run/walk through

beautiful Fairmount Park

passing statues of Civil War generals

and the Japanese Tea house

I imagine women in suffragist white,

ghosts flitting among the statues

I think they would echo

“When they go low, we go high,”

standing calm amidst storms of hate.

Women have always had to fend off and fight

the gropers and grabbers,

and some of them loved other women

though not out in the open.

I amuse myself by imaging Susan B. Anthony

reading grievances while drag queens in the audience cheer.

(This did not happen.)

 

But the past is a foreign country

we can’t impose our views on it.

Our own pasts, well, perhaps they change

with, in, our memories

which are imperfect.

merging and shifting,

taking on new tones and meanings.

On this Halloween

my memories of Halloween past

merge with the present.

I think about the future,

We are at the crossroads,

there are ghosts all around.

We must push back the hate and fear.

We dream.

A wise man once had a dream

of freedom for all

freedom for those of every color, of any religion.

He was killed by hate.

But still we dream.

I think about the future

with dread

with longing

with hope

with dreams.

 

*Hoagie is the Philadelphia name for a sandwich served on a long, tapered roll. Wawa is a convenience store chain that is much beloved in parts of Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

We saw The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez at the Arden Theatre.

Christ Church, Philadelphia

The Please Touch Museum/Memorial Hall

On suffragists on Independence Day 1876, see this.

Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream speech.

 

A Wish: Microfiction

 

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By Felix Nussbaum, “Lovers,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 “Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin

Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in

Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove

Dance me to the end of love.”

–Leonard Cohen, “Dance Me to the End of Love”

 

Felix and Miriam hurried to reach the new hiding place along the coast. Felix had lost count of the number of places in which they’d hidden. Was it four? Five? In each, he had painted or sketched with whatever materials he could find. The urge to create was powerful.

Although most waterways were heavily fortified, Felix had been told the patrols in this rocky area were infrequent. Still, he wished the night was not so clear.

“I could swim to freedom from here, even with the rocks and waves,” said Miriam. She was a champion swimmer before war and restrictions intervened.

“You could, my little fish,” he replied, as he looked around. Something about the deserted quay did not feel right to Felix. He had always trusted his instincts.

“You hide here,” he told her. “I have a bad feeling about this place.  If it’s OK. I’ll let you know. If it’s a trap, you must run for freedom.”

“But I can’t leave you,” Miriam replied.

“You must. For the sake of our child.” He put his hand on her belly.

She nodded. “First though, we must make a wish on that bright star.”

They held hands and closed their eyes. Then Felix clutched her, kissed her, and left.

He entered the deserted building. In the seconds before the Germans kicked in the door, he heard a faint splash in the distance. He had a good feeling that his wish had come true, and Miriam had escaped. He smiled as they beat him, knowing in his soul, that at least one of his creations would survive.

 

This is in response to Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge.

The prompt was the painting above by Felix Nussbaum. His family were German Jews who had been proud Germans. His father was a WWI veteran. Felix and his wife, Felka, also an artist, hid in several locations before they were discovered and sent to concentration camps. Felix Nussbaum’s entire family was murdered at Auschwitz. The Leonard Cohen song played in my mind with this painting.