Thursday, 2 September 2010

Lausanne and Edward Hopper

The train slows down on the approach to Lausanne. One block of buildings is dark brown, a kind of roasted mustard colour. From every window, an awning is pulled down from the top, reaching the balcony. These awnings drawn against bright sunlight, reflecting from the mountains and the lake, and the whole sky turned into a vast blue mirror, have a place in some deep past, some half-remembered and familiar world.

ochre buildings, each window shaded
with a slanting awning -
repose in sunlight -
turn this new city into a place I recognize
I step off the train, into a memory

Lausanne is a bright city, an alert place, with purposeful busyness. In the underground passage from the platform to the station exit, a busker plays a harp. Outside the train station, we wait for the green signal before crossing the road. In Morges, a small town, drivers pull up for you, wave you across the pedestrian crossing. This is very gratifying and makes one warm to the Swiss immediately. Lausanne, like any other large town, has its own business to think of and get on with and this is does briskly, the inhabitants walking with confidence, half-smiles playing on their lips, in this glorious sunshine. The cobbled rue du petit-chene sparkles in the bright light, and I catch a whiff of that unmistakeable scent of roasting meat that immediately brings the East here, and a nostalgia carried on the morning light so that times and places flick open like a fan and so it seems, our memories lie hidden, folded one behind the other, until the sun flashes on them and the petals spread out like a flower, drinking in the warmth, revealing who they really are. Dazzled with this morning, I watch people striding up the cobbled slope, going into shops or looking in the windows, drinking coffee at the outside tables, reading newspapers, talking, people walking downhill, sun in their faces, knees slightly bent, to accommodate the slope. For Lausanne is a city of many hills, and the city dwellers must be stout of limb and spirit to negotiate these waves of streets.

From each new slope another vista of roofs, lake and mountains opens up. The huge building of the musee des beaux-arts overlooks the place de la ripponne, and a pair of shoes, possibly ceramic though it's hard to tell, swing from an overhead cable. I cross the square, continue up to the castle, into la cite, then wander through a wooded area and come out at la Fondation de l'Hermitage, where there is an Edward Hopper exhibition. To get inside you first have to put your bag in a locker, place one franc in a slot, which means you can then lock it, and then pocket the key.

It turns out that Hopper spent some time in Paris and there are several of his paintings of that time, scenes of the Seine and its bridges, looking for all the world like impressionist paintings. They sparkle with light and colour. Only later, when he returns to New York, does he begin the drawings and paintings we are more familiar with, a lone walker underneath a street lamp, seen from above [Night Shadows], people in an evening café, together but solitary. I particularly like South Carolina Morning, not one I'd seen before, depicting a black woman in a red dress, a wide-brimmed red hat shading part of her face, and she is standing at the doorway of her house, looking fierce and challenging as if defying you to come any closer. Like many of Hopper's paintings of houses, hers seems to be planted in a field with no visible roads in or out – it is a dwelling juxtaposed with cultivated nature, and the two are adjacent but, in the same way as many of his characters, they adjoin but do not speak to each other. They inhabit separate worlds which have not yet found a way of connecting or not yet found any desire to surrender their solitudes for the unknown gain of sharing something of themselves. For, who knows, it could mean a loss rather than a gain. Poised on the edge of this uncertainty, fields and houses turn their backs on each other, café patrons sit side by side or opposite each other, and turn their faces away. Or perhaps they do not yet know how to desire to converse and like the characters in Waiting for Godot, they wonder in their individual ways, about the possibility of someone who might awaken this desire in them.

And two more tankas from my not-tanka journal

In early evening sunlight -
half a rainbow, arching over trees
birds call and swarm like bees across the sky -
I take the track between the vineyards -
heading home.


Sometimes the track follows the railway line,
then it twists into a wood, crosses a river
comes out in a clearing -
elegant bee-homes are painted blue and sea-green.
The bee-keeper raises a slow hand in greeting
as I hurtle past.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Morrelle, did I ever tell you that I lived in Lausanne for a time?