Saturday, 27 August 2011

.......and Rodin

At the Musée Rodin

Rodin makes waves of feeling pulse through bronze. Despair and grief edge out - as these feelings do - in throbs. Love on the other hand, slides like water, fissured with light. There's the unpeeled face of parting, which dissolves both masks and heavier emotions. There is the vulnerability of carrying burdens, the weight, exhaustion, determination – and our understanding of it oh yes, we know this feeling perhaps better than any other for it lingers and sweeps a wide space around it, just as someone's hair can fly out and touch you, evoke memories – love, loss, joy – in that briefest of moments, that spills a bag of memories onto the ground, which you are still gathering long after the head that carries the long hair has disappeared into another room, laughing with her companion.

"from this body and from the object which it touches or seizes something new originates, a new thing that has no name and belongs to no one."

From Rilke's Sur Rodin

(translated by Jessie Lamont and Hans Trausil, 1919).

(You can read the lengthy quote this brief one is taken from, at The Alchemist's Pillow).

There is the movement, not contained within the metal, but given life by it. In Rodin's garden one of the group of the Burghers of Calais has her head in her hands, her face half covered as she is looking down. As I stand a little way back from it, a woman goes up close, almost needing to stand underneath the sculpted figure, to glimpse the expression on the bronze features. To see more clearly she puts her hands up to her head, to keep her hair away from her eyes, so nothing would obscure her view. For a few seconds the two of them – living woman and bronze sculpture – hold almost the same pose – the bronze woman looking down, the living one looking up.

Rilke spent time here early in the last century, when he worked for Rodin, and wrote his book Sur Rodin. I was hoping to find Rilke in the garden but there were far too many people there, for the poet who talks so eloquently of the need for solitude. Possibly he spends the summer months at the castle Duino near Trieste, where he wrote his Duino Elegies, preferring the lonely cliff tops. Maybe in the winter he visits this garden, where he used to spend time, when working for Rodin. Yet I have the feeling that even then, he would rather be taking the solitary paths by the Adriatic, where he would look down on the sea.

Rilke as Pierre Assouline says, was the authentic wanderer, clearly needing that kind of freedom. In our age this can be viewed as slightly perverse, not in the usual mould of life, disquieting to those who flourish on the accumulation of fixity as if it was a virtuous endeavour. Challenged perhaps by a difference in behaviour, feeling its lightness and freedom cast a shadow on them, there's a suggestion that such a way of life however raw, painful or real it is to those that live it, does not face up to things, 'escapes' from things [what things might these be?] and generally wriggles out of the kind of suit they wear, heavy, cumbersome, restricting.

But Rilke had indeed made something of himself – he turned himself into what life is made from and made for – the honey tastes, the experience of beyondness – beyond the daily, the quotidien, beyond even, what we mean by self – glimpses into the ineffable, delirious with what we've tasted – and passed on. We are the bees of the invisible, Rilke said – we gather collect and offer nectar – in words perhaps, in colours, and in bronze.

Rodin created his wandering in a different way. He wrestled his form of vision into a different cast of honey – but it is all honey, one shade or another, one comb, one weave one whisper scent or note of music – or another. Rodin too moved from one love to another. Yet his behaviour as far as I know, was not seen as reprehensible as he had a 'stable family life'. The restless man with no home of his own is seen as much more suspect. And I wonder why.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Rilke and....

Pierre Assouline writing in Rilke à l’écoute de la mélodie des choses describes him as cet authentique SDF dont on a pu dire qu’il fut le poète de l’indomiciabilité. [that authentic wanderer who could well be described as the poet of rootlessness (non domicileability or inability to settle in one place).

J saw one of his books the other day when we were passing the bouquinistes by the Seine and pounced on it. His Lettres à un Jeune Poete. Have you read this she asks me. Well, I say, I've read bits of it, quotations.....But you have to read it all, she says, you must …. I'm going to buy it for you. And so she does, slipping the cellophane wrapped treasure into my bag.

The following day I spend a long time in a bookshop on St. Michel. There are so many tempting books but I'm looking for one in particular. First of all I go to the littérature étranger, because what I'm looking for has been translated from Italian. But it isn't there. There are other sections too, recent translations from various other countries, and one that goes the length of one side of the shop and continues along another, Livres de Poche, also translated from other languages. Livres de poches are smaller more popular editions. I feel its so unlikely that what I'm looking for will have been brought out under a popular imprint that I hesitate. Then decide to look, walking along the shelves until I come to M. It took me a while to realise that what I was looking at was, really was, the book I was searching for. The sole and singular copy, clearly, waiting for me. Melania Mazzucco's Elle, tant aimée. (She was greatly loved). This is a novel based on the life of Annemarie Shwarzenbach, and I'm grateful to J for letting me know of its existence in the first place. And the title - turns out to be a quotation from Rilke.


qui recut tant d'amour que d'une seule lyre

plus de plainte jaillit que de mille pleureuses,

et que naquit pour elle un monde fait de plainte,

où tout fut a nouveau: les forêts et vallées,

villages et chemins, bêtes, fleuves et champs.

Et ce monde de plainte eut aussi un soleil

tournant autour de lui comme autour de la terre,

avec un ciel silencieux et remplit d'astres,

un ceil de plainte aux étoiles défigurées -

pour elle, tant aimée.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Orphée, Eurydice, Hermès

.the one

who evoked so much love that from a single lyre

more lamentation poured out than from a thousand weeping mourners,

so much, that a world was born out of this lamentation for her,

and everything was recreated there : forests and valleys,

villages and paths, animals, rivers and fields.

And this lamenting world had its own sun

turning around it as ours does around the earth,

its own silent sky, filled with stars,

a mourning sky, its stars distorted with loss

of her, so beloved

[my unpolished translation]

A Year with Rilke blog gives a daily quotation – as well as superb images from Vincent van Gogh, Marc Chagall and others ….

Sunday, 21 August 2011

La Canicule....and Lomalakane

Last night there was a storm, lots of lightning flashes, a few cracks of thunder and then torrential rain. This morning it was still cloudy when I went out walking, and took a different route to the Seine. It even rained a little but it was still so warm that it was not in the least inconvenient and I could not help thinking about the kind of rain we had in Scotland recently and comparing it to this. On the way back, the sun came out and it got steadily hotter.

Yesterday was cloud free and hot all day but today the temperature ascended into the truly tropical and sticky. I can gauge the temperature roughly by the amount I need to drink and the water levels that course down my face. But even I was surprised to see a flashing sign that announced a temperature of 38 degrees. I think that was perhaps an exaggerating sign but it could not have been too wildly imaginative. This evening reminds me of summers in Albania, when I have to keep wiping the sweat off my face.

It's difficult to portray in images the blistering quality of the heat. The first picture is of trees in the Jardin George Brassens, where I lay down for a while. It was so hot after that that I was not thinking about taking pictures. Except when I saw this street performer, who mimed and did dance steps and acrobatic things with his hat and his cane, with background music. He was particularly popular with children – and me. Or perhaps I should say plage performer as this is only a few steps away from the Paris plage, an area that's been covered in sand so that people can imagine that they're at the beach. There is a vital ingredient missing – for me anyway – in this beach experience and that is water. You may be by the Seine but you can't actually go in.

Mister Slyde, the performer, also known as Lomalakane i.e. l'homme à la canne, the man with the walking stick, is described as a former gymnast and acrobat and for the last ten years has collaborated with various well-known choreographers and dancers and is also the inventor of Lyr'x, a type of dance discipline based on the art of manipulation of a stick, which he also teaches. He's been called the modern day Chaplin. But you don't have to be on Paris plage to see him you can watch videos of him here.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Continuation of a Water Theme

The sun blazes on the city streets, after I've spent hours in the Gibert Joseph bookshop on Saint Michel. I walk up to the garden next to the Musée Cluny, where I find a little water pump next to the public toilets. You have to turn around the knob at the top, making a circular motion, and it then emits a gush of water. I try to catch it [for I forgot today, to bring a bottle of water with me] and though most of it escapes my cupped hands, still, I manage to swallow a couple of mouthfuls.

I walk on along the Boulevard Saint Germain, until I come to the Institut du Monde Arabe which K had recommended. You'll hear plenty of oriental music there he said, but today, there is no-one outside playing music. I want to stay in the sunshine so I don't go in. I walk back a little way along the quai, past the bouquinistes and then go down to the river. I have never walked along here before, and that's the astonishing thing about Paris, I've been here so many times, but there are still so many parts of it I'm placing my feet on for the first time.

Barges are lightly tethered to the river bank. L'Heure Bleue, The Blue Hour, in the photo, is a more unusual one. The wakes of the tourist boats slide away against the walls, leaving the Seine-surface rippling and dancing, greeny grey. This bridge - which I think is the Pont de Sully – is wrapped in a beige covering and parts of it swell and ripple as a breeze passes over it. Other parts seem stretched tight, motionless. Grey tubes emerge from this covering and wrap themselves over the bridge like a hungry life-form, bridge-gnawers, bridge-fondlers.

A bateau mouche, wide and low, an elegant two-tiered cake, with a red and white striped awning over the lower level, slides underneath the bridge. Bateau-mouche? I think about this word, for the first time. A boat-fly? Is it so called because it skims the surface of the water? Or because of its speed? And why are the two lights above the bridge arch always red? Two feux rouges, one below the other, that never change. The traffic on the river continues, does not hesitate when faced with these red lights. The water is olive green, glistening like polished skin.

Further along the quayside, someone sitting on a flight of steps plays a muted melancholy saxophone. I walk up the steps and go through the Jardin des Plantes. Emerging on the other side, on the rue Geoffroy Saint Hilaire, there is another water pump.

Following this street, I come out onto the rue des Gobelins, walk up to Place d'Italie and on to la Butte aux Cailles, where I go into the piscine, to ask about their opening hours. It seems that you can swim anytime between 11 in the morning and 9 in the evening. But I didn't bring my swimsuit with me. You can buy one here I'm told. And a – casquette, I say, guessing the word and gesturing around my head. Bonnet, he smiles. I'm not swimming today, I've walked for hours and I'm heading home. But it's good to know it's possible.

Friday, 12 August 2011

A Water Theme

It was raining so hard yesterday that just getting to St John's Church in Edinburgh was quite an adventure in itself. First of all, going to the road through the woods the small stream had overflowed onto the path, so I had to squelch through it.

At the church, brave wet people came in, shaking umbrellas. JP turned up and taught us all a song. It's a song for a rainy day he said. The tune came to him in a dream he told me later, after he'd been watching an alignment of the planets earlier this year, at Cairnholy.

I read poems about travel and the journey – through various different parts of the world. Sandy Hutchison read his work on places in Italy and Scotland and Lesley Harrison read short poems about birds, and a sequence from travelling in Mongolia, where she used to live.

After the reading J and I go for a walk along a path heading for the botanical gardens. At the end of the path the river, the Water of Leith, has spilled over its banks and the road is completely submerged.

We go round by the wall, where it's only a few inches deep, cross the road beyond the water and I want to go further along the path by the river even though there is a temporary gate blocking off the path and saying it's closed. J pulls the gate back and we slip through. The river is deep and brown, frothing and surging and very close to the top of the wall that separates it from the houses just beyond. Sandbags are piled behind the wall. A sign declares that the flood prevention scheme is in operation. The bottom of the sign is underwater. The path too further on, is underwater.

We climb up the bank which is covered in very wet ivy-like undergrowth. Here and there a soggy branch to clutch, to pull us up, but mostly it's steep and slippy mud. But I do not want to slip, with the surging frothy river waiting to break our fall. But of course we do slip, first J and later I do, and though we help each other up I'm not sure if we're pulling each other up or dragging each other down. Besides it's hard to breathe, we're laughing so much. J's light trousers and my white skirt are caked in mud.

Back onto the path where it re-emerges from the water, we see an interesting sign for the Swim Centre. At the end of the path we walk back by the road. Near the car, a swan emerges from a nearby pond, and walks slowly along the road. A second one follows it. I feel slightly alarmed at the swans walking down the road. At the end is the main street in Stockbridge, full of traffic. But they are clearly determined. Near the end of the road I am very pleased to see that they turn left into the playing fields. Here we are says J, fretting about them and it's probably their daily walk.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Lists, Doodles and Friendly Creatures

It's a time for drawing up lists, in the run up to going away again. So my mind arranges everything in strict list-like formation, with fragments of runaway doodles, images and sketches from the past few days.

Too many to write about but a few come to mind – like the large pinkish coloured bull in the field, ring in his nose, eyes closed as he chews the cud. I am on my bicycle on a minor back road and I've already encountered other cattle, not fenced off but wandering across the roadway. I check out the cattle – most of them are cows but one is a bull so I climb over the fence and walk along in the field, pushing my bike on the road side of the fence until I've passed him. The bull scarcely looks at me, is really not interested in me at all, at least rarely seems to be looking in my direction on the few occasions when I find the courage to look at him. I berate myself for being a coward but that's just how I am. A stubborn coward though, determined not to curtail my bike ride just because there is a bull at the side of the road.

I used not to have any fear of bulls. As a child, holidaying once in a caravan by the sea, with a field full of cows and a bull just next to the site, I wandered over to the Hereford bull which was sitting there peaceably. I stroked his curly white forehead and he seemed to like that. Years later my mother told me that she had seen me from the caravan window and was riveted with horror. I didn't know what to do she said, if I called out to you, I was afraid that might disturb the bull so I just stood there and watched, frozen with fear. But he was a peaceable bull and besides, I knew him, or thought I did, and he had never ever been known to be bad tempered. I think of this of course, as I struggle to push my bike along. It's these unknown bulls I think, the ones I am not acquainted with, that I feel wary of.

The second bull, the one with the ring in his nose, is in a fenced off field, so I have no fear of him. Still, I pedal very quietly past him, because his eyes are closed and I do not want to disturb him, he looks so content.

The other evening, sitting in the living room, with back door and kitchen door open, I hear a slight clicking scuttling sound in the kitchen. I think it must be the neighbour's cat which has wandered in, as he sometimes does. But when I look up, standing in the living room doorway is a young hedgehog, looking amazed, boggle-eyed, disbelieving. When I get up very slowly, not wanting to startle it, it scuttles back into the kitchen and outside again. Hedgehogs can move surprisingly quickly.

Earlier today, I walk along the grassy path to my friend JR's house. It is in a valley with only one other house in view. A narrow path is mown through the tall grasses. Fronds lean over into the cut path, stroking damp fingers over my jeans. The sun shines, though wanly, through misty clouds. And a fine rain is falling. It is a curious mixture, this pale sunshine and fine rain. The small guardian gargoyle grins in front of the door. (In a former life, this building was a church). The atmosphere is soaked with rain and peace.

Very different from the jubilant and busy city, crammed with festival goers, people dressed in colourful costumes, and a piper with unusual feet. I will be back in the city tomorrow, 11th August, reading in St John's church hall. Edinburgh. Then ticking the final things off my list, before getting on a long-distance coach.

I've also put up a post on the new Scottish Pen blog, about Chateau Lavigny, the writers residency in Switzerland.