pleasure and paradox in paris

At the Musée d’Orsay, pressing my face close to a Monet painting, practically inhaling the brushstrokes, I felt a mixture of profound gratitude and nostalgia. The pale pinks, lavenders, and yellows were indescribably soothing. I wanted to merge with the work. Escape into it.

I was mesmerized by the art of Paris to a degree that surprised even me. I’d studied Art History many moons ago at university, but standing in front of certain works – I could easily touch them, were it not for the ever-present security – left me deeply affected.

Until that point, I’d felt somewhat ambivalent about my impromptu trip to Paris. Though I had the time off work, cash saved in the bank, and a great deal from Air France, I questioned my decision to travel to the City of Lights. Surely there were more responsible things to do with my money.

In my hotel room that first night, I tossed and turned as the jet lag (and in-flight wine, no doubt) sank in. Habitual thoughts about work, relationships, and family pounded in my head. Paris, I thought. Why am I here? What can I learn from you?

Pleasure. Presence. Enjoy life, she answered. Be in your body, not your head. You already know this…but I can help you. In fact, you need me to. That’s why you’re here.

You think you’ve lost your intuition, she continued, but you haven’t. Don’t focus on my image or the tourists or the incessant honking and police sirens, or the camouflaged men with machine guns standing on the corner. There is an essence of me that is much deeper than all these things. Be with it.

I didn't make it to the top, but I had to get the Eiffel shot!

I didn’t make it to the top, but I had to get the Eiffel shot!

I spent a week exploring various neighbourhoods in the city. I walked along the Champs-Élysées and the Seine. Apart from food (and chocolate presents!), my only purchase was a 4-day Museum Pass, which I’d picked up at Charles de Gaulle airport upon my arrival.

Viewing the paintings of Monet, Degas, Manet, Cassatt, Morisot, Seurat, and Renoir (and so many more), I felt deep nostalgia. Nostalgia for the time in my life when I initially studied these works. Nostalgia for historical periods of great art, music, and beauty. Most of all, nostalgia for an era where artists truly sat with their inspirations. Focused and present, devoting hours, days, even years to the execution of their visions.

What must it be like to have that kind of patience? It is hard to imagine. My attention span is much shorter than it used to be, a deterioration I blame on technology. All around me, people flitted about with iPhones, snapping photos and selfies. I tried to take some pics, but they never did the moment justice. And trying to capture that moment would just take me out of it.

Jardin des Tuileries - I couldn't resist including this

Jardin des Tuileries – I couldn’t resist

I wondered what these artists would think of this modern world. Would they be disturbed, fascinated, inspired? Life cannot be as it was in nineteenth-century Paris, of course. And even then, things probably weren’t as idyllic as the dreamy vistas suggest. Still, I long to sit in front of a landscape or sunset, or at a cafe, for hours, just absorbing my surroundings. Not thinking about work or emails or how I should be doing something.

Paris reminded me of India, in that it’s a paradox. The Divine Feminine presence, which surely exists and spoke to me that first night, was accompanied by a rough, almost aggressive energy throughout the city. It was an interesting, and often unsettling, experience.

But visiting Paris was very, very good for my soul. In recent months I’d been feeling some grief for so many lost years where I didn’t trust myself as my own authority, where I sold myself short. This last decade in particular – I don’t know where it went. Paris reminded me to be gentle with myself and look ahead. Not everything in life has to happen at once, and my process won’t look like anyone else’s. Nothing is lost. There is still time.

The art, the red wine, the Autumn sunshine, the walks along the Seine…that’s who I am. Sitting in front of a canvas and feeling where the colours take me…that’s who I am. Doing my best to heal resentments, forgive, and live in divine love…that’s who I am. Willing to learn, be humbled over and over again, and create grand adventures for myself…that’s who I am.

Thank you, Paris, for reminding me who I am.

 

the lady in the painting

In honour of Mercury Retrograde, I’m re-blogging a post from my early WordPress days. An extra fun twist is that I now work at the university I mention in the post. I’m loving this trip back in time.

Happy equinox-full moon-lunar eclipse!

alohaleya

Years ago I bought an art print from a poster fair that would visit my university a couple of times a year.  I was so drawn to this painting, which featured a woman sitting at what looked to be a Parisian cafe, a pensive expression on her face, quill and half-glass of wine on her table.  I loved everything about this piece: the setting, the colours, the subject matter, the painter’s technique.  I didn’t even look up the artist for some time, or explore the historical context of the work (which is strange, considering I was an Art History major).  It spoke to me, and that was enough.

The Cafe, Tsuguharu Foujita (1949) The Cafe, Tsuguharu Foujita (1949)

I felt an affinity with this woman, and I wanted to be her, but her world and life were so far away from mine.  This painting created a tension within me.  Of admiring, of relating…but also feeling…

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aloha per l’italia!

I started a beginner’s Italian language class this week, and I am completely enamored.

Back in my university days, I studied a fair bit of Italian art, memorizing key painters, places, dates, techniques, and contexts.  But though I loved the subject matter, my appreciation was somewhat detached and analytical.  I was concerned more with possible slide exam questions than getting emotionally involved in the art.  I didn’t get swept away in Italy, as others did. The relationship was strictly professional.

Since I didn’t want to work in a museum or teach (because hey, what else can art history majors do?), after graduating I eventually chose a career in administration.  Years later, I find myself doing work that doesn’t resonate with my spirit, or remotely reflect all those beautiful things I once studied.

Image courtesy of http://flic.kr/p/8NA5cS

Image courtesy of http://flic.kr/p/8NA5cS

Underneath my 9-5 facade, my spirit has longed for creativity, art, and joy.  But I have been suppressing this part of myself.  Perhaps not intentionally, and not always consciously…but suppressing nonetheless.  And until recently, things reached a point where I felt I had become, as I often put it, ‘a ticking time bomb’.

Sometime last fall I began to feel a pronounced sense of urgency to change certain aspects my life, intuiting that the consequences of not doing so would be far more serious than the general boredom and lack of vitality I had become so accustomed to.   Having made the recent decision to leave my ‘secure’ job, the past few months have been marked by a growing awareness of my need to dream, imagine, and visualize what I actually want in this life.

And through this process, Italy has resurfaced.  A little whisper inside has grown progressively louder.  What if…what if I just go?  How would it feel to soak up the art, the history, the food, the wine?  How would it sound to be immersed in Italy’s music of passion and joie de vivre (ok, I know that’s French) and sing-songy accents and life?

Though my mind would really love to convince me that this is not practical or possible or feasible, I’m finding it hard to listen.  The language has arrested me.  I’m completely smitten, and there is no logic in this state.

***

I think about my art history days.  Perhaps I never allowed myself to fall in love with the essence of Italy, because I could not access it within myself.

Italy represents what I have been deeply missing in my life, and what I’m ready to experience now…culture, art, beauty, history, pleasure, romance, vibrancy, abandon, amore, and passion.

My Italian class isn’t just about learning a new language.  It is so much more.  It is me saying yes to new possibilities, to doing something for the sheer fun and joy of it.  It is the act of consciously allowing a dream to filter into my ‘real’ life in some (seemingly) small way.  It is testing the dreaming waters, wondering…what might this open up for me?

I hear my own voice differently when I speak Italian. It’s full of laughter and joy.  I smile the entire time.  And this makes me perceive myself in a new light.   In rediscovering Italy, in speaking her tongue, in engaging with her and taking delight in her, I am recovering the hidden gems within myself.  And it is a true treasure trove indeed.

the lady in the painting

Years ago I bought an art print from a poster fair that would visit my university a couple of times a year.  I was so drawn to this painting, which featured a woman sitting at what looked to be a Parisian cafe, a pensive expression on her face, quill and half-glass of wine on her table.  I loved everything about this piece: the setting, the colours, the subject matter, the painter’s technique.  I didn’t even look up the artist for some time, or explore the historical context of the work (which is strange, considering I was an Art History major).  It spoke to me, and that was enough.

The Cafe, Tsuguharu Foujita (1949)

The Cafe, Tsuguharu Foujita (1949)

I felt an affinity with this woman, and I wanted to be her, but her world and life were so far away from mine.  This painting created a tension within me.  Of admiring, of relating…but also feeling disconnected.  Not having her life.  Not being able to do what she was doing.

That painting remained on my bedroom wall for one or two years, but then I rolled it up and stashed it away somewhere.  I eventually left university life and moved back to my hometown, and I suppose I had other posters to mount.

The thing is, I could never get rid of that print.  Not only that, I made sure it stayed in as pristine condition as possible.  In my many bouts of clearing out clutter over the years, whenever I would come upon that poster, I would feel happy to have re-discovered it, and made sure it did not get thrown out with the rest.  And I would think….I need to mount that someday.  But there it went, back with the other items not currently in use, tucked away safely in storage.

I moved a couple weeks ago, subletting my friend’s place while she is travelling for the next few months.  This space is teeny tiny, so I have brought minimal possessions with me.  But for some reason, I had to bring the print.

Why now?  What shifted so that I knew, without hesitation, that she was coming with me this time?  And where was this impulse before?

It’s more than just arbitrary.  I look at that painting now, and the tension is gone.  I look at her now, and I relate with understanding.  She is in a different time, in a different place.  She doesn’t have a coffee by her side, nor a laptop in front of her.  But I can relate to her process.  I can relate to her expression.  I know what’s going on in her head.

The lady in the painting is me.