We had a few little flurries of snow yesterday. Nothing that made any difference, other than to make a point of how cold it was, but those few little flakes dancing about on the wind reminded me of all the photographs I took when I went to Paris last month. Then the snow was so thick on the ground it changed the look of the city. It’s place I’ve visited many times and have taken scores of photos, but the whiteness of the ground and sky there everything into relief, compelling me to take even more.
It’s been something I’ve been thinking about in my writing recently too; taking something familiar, maybe overly familiar, and adding something new to make the perspective change, not something necessarily shocking or outrageous, but instead a salient detail which highlights the point of the narrative.
I like this photo of the gardens at the Palais Royal, because, although it’s possible to see how straight the avenues of trees are whatever the time of year, in the summer the leaves and branches create a shady walk, and on a ‘normal’ winter’s day everything blends together in a palette of greys, but on this snowy day, the eye is drawn inexorably towards the vanishing point ahead because of the dramatic contrast between dark and light colours of the elements in the view, and the geometric straightness of the line of trunks as well as the symmetry of the pruned branches.
What awaits the lone figure at the end of her walk? An unhappy encounter with a faithless lover, or a warming cup of hot chocolate laced with cognac in a convivial café with her adult son? Or something else?
Posted by rowena on February 24, 2013
I’ve spent the last couple of days going through all the scenes I have written for my new writing project. I’ve characters and, forgive me for the cliché, the concept of the piece, but I’ve yet to find the over arching narrative. It’s all just bits and pieces, some are possibly chapter length, but many are short sketches.
For a while I’d been thinking of it as the beginning of a patchwork quilt, an off-cut here, a few stitches there, cutting up a couple of old garments that have worn through and saving the usable bits, and matching them up with other little scraps from the back of the cupboard.
It’s all displacement activity, but my motivating metaphor for today is that of the mosaic, tiny bits of coloured stone all arranged meticulously to create complex patterns; in the days when this floor was being made, there would have been piles of tesserae, some wet concrete and people on their hands and knees, slowly, inch by inch creating an orderly pattern out of the mess. That. That’s the stage I’m at, I just don’t quite have the diagrammatic map yet.
Posted by rowena on February 9, 2013
I love it when a random photograph taken simply because the camera was at hand, and a pattern or a shape has caught my eye, gets an outing. I would never have taken a shot like this before the age of digital photography; or I might have done, but it would have been a mistake when I was replacing the film, or accidentally pressed the shutter button storing it away. But these days I take all sorts of insignificant things, if the light intrigues me, or I want to remember the colour of something, or, just because.
In my drawing classes I have discovered that not everyone is drawn to pattern in the same way as I am; and in my writing I know that the telling detail is what can define a character or a situation. Some day soon, knowing the colour of freshly fallen snow on a Parisian balcony under the street lamps, and remarking how the flakes can collect in the curves and corners of the balustrade, are going to be important, I’m certain of it. It always a good thing to be a noticing sort of person……
And thanks to Ailsa for giving me just another excuse.
Posted by rowena on February 3, 2013
It’s surprising the things that you remember, things that stick in your mind despite yourself, passing experiences which would be better forgotten, but which linger.
When I was in Paris a couple of weeks ago I went to see an incomprehensible film, but I keep thinking about it, largely wondering how the director managed to get anyone to give him money to make such a dog’s breakfast of a film, and then persuade a cinema to show it. Or how no-one told him along the way that the rigmarole wasn’t going to communicate anything to anyone who didn’t know about the subject already; and given that the whole thing was meant to be a tribute to his father, why he made such a mess of it.
Lullaby to My Father is a French, Swiss Israeli co-produced film by Amos Gitai. Since seeing the film, my research on the internet has revealed that his father, Munio Gitai Weinraub, was a Bauhaus trained architect who emigrated from Germany to escape the Nazis settling in Israel where he built lots of houses. It’s a shame that none of this information could be deduced from the film.
Variety didn’t care much for the film either remarking that it disdains the delivery of facts in any comprehensible manner, making it a boring film about someone with a fascinating history. That pretty much covers it.
Instead, we sat through lots and lots continuous shots of waves, train tracks and a journey around a building, inducing in this viewer a queasy motion sickness especially when I needed to read the subtitles when the voice-overs were in German and Hebrew. And when I wasn’t feeling seasick, there were rather pedestrian staged readings of real historic documents to endure, and a mysterious woman in Warsaw.
It was such a wasted opportunity, and that’s why I think it keeps bugging me.
But after we left the cinema we went for oysters, so at least the evening ended well.
Posted by rowena on February 1, 2013
La Palude, on the left
There are lots of small commercial galleries in the Marais district of Paris, but it just so happened that last weekend many of them had rented themselves out for pop up clothes shops for the city’s fashion week. Of course, it wasn’t immediately apparent. What after all is the essential difference between the sort of shop which displays four single shoes suspended from the ceiling on fishing wire, and a gallery selling sculpture made from found objects? so yes, we did have that conversation, ‘Is it art, or is it actually a shoe shop?’
We did find artwork in the Bendana Pinel gallery, by Luca Cutrufelli. We were drawn in through the door by the stark monochrome of the interior. Deep black, nearly matt charcoal on paper works with hints of white, suggesting the trace of something passing leaving a light trail behind it. From my own inexpert attempts to use charcoal in drawing class, I know how difficult it must be to achieve the intensity and smoothness of the black surface, a sort of absolute darkness, leavened by the small areas of absence. The name ‘La Palude’ meaning marsh in Italian, echoes Le Marais, the equivalent in French, and also the name of the area suggesting that the work might have been inspired by the location of the exhibition.
I liked the contrasts both explicit and implicit in the installation of black obsidian, a solid block at the bottom of a glass tank topped with a floating layer of off white pumice; the two rock types, the opposite of each other in both colour and density. It was hard to resist the temptation to shake the tank to see if it was filled with water or some kind of solid gel, but the description did say water….. The juxtaposition was a clever way to make you think about the different textures and nature of the materials used, and to subvert the assumption that every rock will sink like a stone.
Posted by rowena on January 27, 2013
The queue we didn’t have to join
It’s almost like a dance, a silent ballet of people first waiting in line and then promenading around the exhibition, and in truth, sometimes, in exhibitions, I find the people watching as fascinating as the art itself.
This was definitely true of my visit to the ‘blockbuster’ Edward Hopper exhibition currently on at Le Grand Palais in Paris. The space is huge, so that even though there are many hundreds of people passing through the rooms, there is still space to stand to one side and watch. It’s like one of those experiments where coloured balls have to circulate in a box without touching each other. People walk without looking where they’re going, their eyes on the paintings on the walls, or half closed listening to the soundtrack playing through their audio guide clamped to their ears with one hand, and they still manage to skirt around each other.
It was a surprise that the Hopper exhibition would be so popular in Paris It can’t be solely tourists who have bought up all the tickets; it seems that in February or March they may open the show 24 hours a day to accommodate all the visitors who want to come. The accompanying texts may account for some of the popularity; there is heavy emphasis on the influence of French artists on Hopper, (when I told my friend G that I’d not heard of one of them, she pointed at one particularly uninspiring example and said she wasn’t at all surprised) as well as the significance of a brief sojourn by the artist in Paris around the turn of the 20th century.
Before we arrived at the well known images of The Nighthawks, and The Hotel Lobby we were waltzed through early Hopper etchings and then to the watercolours which made his early reputation. Once again I found myself in a major exhibition of a well regarded artists wondering what was so special about certain of the works; asking, if I saw one of the watercolours of a seaside clap-board house how I would be able to tell it apart from that produced by any Sunday painter. But I take it on trust, that if I carry on through the chronology of the show the genius will burst through and I will understand.
So many of Hopper’s paintings are images engrained in popular culture, we’ve all seen postcards and reproductions in books and magazines. They’ve been widely copied and parodied and inspired graphic representations, so what more is there to learn by seeing the originals? It was a bit disappointing to feel that there wasn’t anything extra to see on the surface of the canvas. They have a strongly illustrative quality, something about the pictures in the old Ladybird Books from my childhood about them; a bit Norman Rockwell, a little bit Jack Vettriano. Having said that, Hopper’s faces, and the way he paints women’s footwear are particularly disappointing – both the women in The Hotel Lobby have awkward looking shoes and feet, something you’d never find in Vettriano with his shoe fetish.
It’s the Hopper compositions which stick in the mind, those enigmatic people in nearly familiar but cold looking places; but don’t worry if you’ve only ever seen the postcards.
Posted by rowena on January 26, 2013
We were walking up Rue de Rivoli heading towards the idea of a cafe in the Marais, and the perfect pain aux raisins I had promised myself as my perfect taste of the city , when we realised we were walking past Angelina’s. We nearly went straight by, as without the habitual long queue outside, this Pairs institution was unrecognisable.
Delightful as this place is, I’m generally allergic to waiting in line; but it was an easy choice when we could walk straight in. The tables have marble tops, the chairs brown leather padded arms, and the decoration is something from the turn of the 20th century. So popular with tourists, they offer set breakfast and lunch menus: the breakfasts generally involving a selection of mini viennoiserie of pain au chocolat, croissant and pain aux raisin. But I didn’t want that. I wanted a single, proper sized pastry, so I turned to the small print at the back of the menu and took my chances.
When this monster arrived, I realised that my bluff had been well and truly called.
Posted by rowena on January 25, 2013
If I use the word ‘snow’, what image does it conjure in your mind’s eye?
Is it a Christmas scene of rosy faced children playing in a glowing white landscape, or perhaps a high altitude mountain trek requiring the expert use of ice axe and crampons, or sitting inside beside a roaring fire while great fat flakes settle in cushioned mounds outside, or skiing and sledding, or a bit of city traffic chaos and closed airports, or maybe an igloo?
They say that in some languages of peoples who live in cold countries there is a multiplicity of words for snow, and mountaineers say they can identify different types, which, they say, helps them determine the level of risk in each step. Even a city dweller unused to severe cold can distinguish the crunchy stuff that will afford some traction, from the compressed slippy- slidy stuff that’s going to rob you of your dignity and send you flying.
But back to the original question, if all I do is write ‘snow’ what do you imagine I mean?
Whatever has come into your head, it’s white, isn’t it?
Maybe it was wearing my Moscow hat for the first time in 10 years (it has to be properly cold otherwise my head near explodes with the heat of it; it is like walking around with a cat on my head after all), or maybe it was the icy air and the slipperiness of the pavements, but being in Paris reminded me of the time I had forgotten that snow was white.
I forgot about the whiteness because, in the depths of winter, snow in the centre of Moscow always seemed to look like this: a grey black mush mounded in piles at the side of the pavement and lurking in the gutters and the curb’s edge. Sometimes it was solid and you could risk stepping onto it to start the walk across the road, but, most frequently, it was but a crushed ice topping to a deep puddle underneath, ready to wash over the top of your boot if you made the mistake of stepping in it; and sometimes there was no avoiding it. It was taking that one huge stride to get over it at the pedestrian crossing at the bottom of the Champs Elysees on Saturday that reminded me where I had learned the skill of distinguishing one type of grey slush from another.
So next time you use the word ‘snow’ remember, it’s not always white.
Posted by rowena on January 24, 2013
Look beyond the snow and the grey road and sky and that’s the Eiffel Tower in the distance nearly hidden by the low cloud, looking like a strange shadow twin of the Egyptian obelisk.
Were it not for the gold atop the needle, I could believe this was a black and white photo; but the day was indeed monochrome, and even the vehicles passing by, and the pedestrians’ coats were darker than usual.
Posted by rowena on January 23, 2013
What’s wring with red wine in the afternoon?
A Parisian café table, it’s just the place for debate and contemplation isn’t it? You can sit with a friend and pretend to be Sartre and de Beauvoir, or Gertrude Stein and her coterie, whenever you are minded, you can set the world to rights or reminisce or tell tall tales; it’s also a place where it’s possible to sit in company and do entirely your own thing, reading, writing, drawing or simply watching the world go by.
Even travelling with a friend, and nowhere near the Left Bank, we were able to pile our books on the table and read, chat and do whatever we fancied. At one café, on Saturday afternoon, G spent time sketching while I sat on the opposite side of the table writing. Hark at us and our boundless creativity.
Getting lots of things done……
I so enjoyed my weekend that I think I have now regained my ability to enjoy the city. I used to travel there regularly and frequently for work. They were not always happy sojourns, so that I developed a near physical aversion to Gare du Nord; the bap bap bada chimes which precede the public announcements in the station could induce a feeling of anxious nausea. It’s such a relief to have new, good memories to overlay thepoor ones, and to remember and rediscover the fun of the place.
Do pop over to her blog and see the results of Gillian’s sketching.
Posted by rowena on January 22, 2013