I briefly considered typing up this blog post which I wrote by hand yesterday, but A.) I was too lazy to do so, and B.) I was hating all things electronic/time-related. So I’ve scanned the notebook pages– they’re legible enough, I think, even with the scribble marks. Please click photos below to enlarge. And with that, I bid you a fond farewell– off to a food and wine festival for a couple of days for some greatly needed R&R.
No. 6, the Pastoral Symphony, is my favorite of Beethoven’s symphonies. This often-tear-inducing musical ode to country life and nature brings daydream smiles that stay plastered on my face for hours. I could wax poetic about #6 for a long, uninterrupted time, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll post these wonderful sequences from Disney’s 1940 animated masterpiece Fantasia– sceneswhich brilliantly make use of Beethoven’s evocative music. At risk of sounding like a valley girl, it’s quite possibly the cutest thing ever…
1st movement: Awakening of Cheerful Feelings on Arriving in the Country
2nd movement: Scene by the Brook
3rd and 4th movements: Merry Gathering of Country Folk; Thunderstorm
5th movement: Happy and Thankful Feelings After the Storm
The pleasure of criticizing robs us of the pleasure of being moved by some very fine things.” – Jean de la Bruyère
I haven’t watched a movie at a theater in months, and last week, I felt the urge for escapism. I opened a movie listings website to check movie times at my local theater and saw something that surprised me–just under each film title was one of three phrases: “skip it,” “see it,” and “maybe.” Perhaps ‘surprised’ is too nice a word– it actually disturbed me a little bit. As long as man has had action, man has had the critique; I get that. What I don’t get is this undeniable momentum that critique and criticism amass these days. Is it the internet that has turned many a man and woman into cynical sourpuss parrots lately, mimics who re-spew whatever vitriol some people unleash? Ahh, the sad, sad day that the people became sheeple…
I think of numerous conversations I’ve had with acquaintances during the last couple of years about movies, restaurants, books, or places. Me: “Have you seen this-and-such movie?” Acquaintance: “Nah, I heard it sucks.” Me: “Have you ever been to this-and-such place?” Acquaintance: “Nah, I heard it sucks.” Now really, is there a more pathetic response? Awaken the little gray cells and go find out for yourself whether or not it sucks. I don’t think I’m being nostalgic or revisionist when I say that I can think of a time when people tried to discover these things for themselves. People watched something or read something, and then discussed it; they didn’t “skip it” because some critic told them to and then spend their time discussing the critics’ opinions rather than their own. Today, the internet rips something apart before it’s hit the shelves. Today, when something is disliked by a popular critic or two, it’s disliked by all other critics, and then it’s disliked by everyone on Twitter, and then it’s disliked on messageboards and fora (okay, forums!), and then you can’t find one person willing to say one nice thing about it. The ‘something’ could be an unassuming mindless little pleasure, or it could be a masterpiece–should a critic so decide, the ‘something’ will be bullied and pulverized to shreds, the mob watching and waiting for a turn to do some pummeling of its own. (The madness is usually a mean, nasty, sharp snowball of negativity, but the pendulum does occasionally swing in the other direction in which case the critics, Twitter, messageboards and forums [ahem, fora] tell you that you’re supposed to love something.)
Think of your closest friend. He or she may have the same moral and ethical standards that you do, may enjoy the same wines that you do, may come from the same background. And yet the two of you may feel completely differently about one singular thing–an outfit, a song, or a TV program, for instance. And that’s the friend you’ve known, loved, and trusted for years. Now you’re going to read the opinion of some random faceless person you’ve never met, and you’re going to make that opinion your own without even experiencing what it is you’re talking about? How ludicrous!
In the end, I didn’t go to the movies that Sunday afternoon–I looked up synopses of the films that were playing and nothing interested me, but I based my decision on plot (or lack thereof), not on whether a critic enjoyed it. God knows I have found great enjoyment in things that many others disliked. I’m more choosy about certain experiences today–for example, I love films, but tickets are simply too expensive for me to go as often as I did ten or fifteen years ago when prices were such that I had the luxury of re-watching the ones that moved me. The same goes for books, restaurants, trips, wines, etc. My point is that I will decide for myself what I like and buy, and I’ll make that decision based on my own thoughts, my own desires, my own interests and dislikes, my own well rounded research–not media madness. If you have zero interest in something because you have a hunch that it holds little value, or because it’s unappealing, by all means leave it alone. But don’t shut the valves off, and allow someone else to do the thinking, loving, and hating for you. That’s a pointless, comatose form of vicarious living.
“For it is dangerous to attach one’s self to the crowd in front, and so long as each one of us is more willing to trust another than to judge for himself, we never show any judgement in the matter of living, but always a blind trust, and a mistake that has been passed on from hand to hand finally involves us and works our destruction.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
I remember coming home, walking through the front door one day, and being faced with the sight of my mother in our living room conversing animatedly with a very handsome man. I kissed my mother, then shook the gentleman’s hand, a polite smile and blush on my face, teenage girl that I was at the time. “Lise, il achète Volupté,” my mother explained (“Lise, he’s buying Volupté.”). I was thinking up different ways to admire the guest without him noticing, so I didn’t hear her. I gave her my full attention a moment later and she repeated herself with a smile: “Lise, il achète Volupté!” I must have shaken my head in confusion, because she gestured towards the wall, saying “Volupté. Volupté!” My gaze followed her hand and rested on the wall. I stopped smiling and snapped out of my daze. This man was here to buy Volupté–my favorite painting.
My mind was reeling; I distinctly remember feeling an uncomfortable warmth and a slight panic. Unfair though it may seem, the gentleman now seemed slick rather than handsome. A large beautiful painting by Haitian artist Jean Claude Legagneur, Volupté had hung in the living room for several years. My mother–a dealer of Haitian art– has been in the business of selling, lending, teaching about, presenting, and acquiring pieces such as these for a very long time. Volupté–which translates roughly as ‘exquisite pleasure’–was a part of my home. I hadn’t even known her by name; she was simply letableau (‘thepainting’). A beautiful portrait of a partially nude Haitian woman half-draped in rich shades of blue, dark bronze shoulders and breasts exposed, carrying calla lilies on her head, one of her hands at her sternum holding a little red flower– it was a canvas that I looked at for a few minutes most days. I was so young, but I appreciated and adored her all the years that she graced our wall. I was crushed that my mother was selling her, and–fiery Leo that I am–melodramatically saddened that I wasn’t consulted. As if it would have been my decision anyway…
I’ve thought about that painting many times, through the rest of my teenage years, during my adult years, entertaining slightly irrational/unfair thoughts every now and then, like “What if I save up enough money to offer ‘that man’ two or three times what he paid for it?” and “Why did ‘that man’ settle on that one painting?” To this day, when I still sometimes chide my mother for selling my beloved painting all those years ago, I still refer to him as ‘that man.’ I’ve worked alongside my mother for years, and know well the names and purchases of so many clients, but this guy? He’s still ‘that man.’
I felt a slight echo of that feeling recently. Last week, my mother told me, “J’ai vendu le André Pierre.” (I sold the André Pierre) I stopped breathing. I asked her who bought it; she smiled and replied, “Gail.” Then I smiled, instantly satisfied. The late André Pierre, farmer turned self-taught Vodou artist, was one of the most important primitive art painters in the realm of Haitian art. The lively painting, Voyage des esprits Guinin pour l’Afrique, was commissioned by my mother. She and my father told me the story: “We went to his house in Haiti. He has that bottle of clairin (Haiti’s moonshine). He’s had that same bottle for years, you know– he just keeps refilling it. When he likes a guest, he insists that they drink from it. We told him we’d like something having to do with the spirits traveling to Africa, we thought it was a meaningful idea and knew that that sort of image was his specialty.”
Voyage des esprits Guinin pour l’Afrique translates into “voyage of the Ginen spirits to Africa.” The word Ginen is a Vodou word derived from the Gulf of Guinea, the body of water near Benin; Ginen (also Gine, Guinen, Guinin) represents a mythical, idealized version of Dahomey (present-day Benin), the birthplace of a large number of Haitian slaves. In the painting, we see Haiti in its colonial days. The spirits have overseen and aided the freedom fight. Haiti now liberated, task completed, they leave the bodies of Haitian soldiers and make their way back to Ginen, walking along mythical waters to get there. A devoted practitioner of Vodou, Pierre’s painting is full of imagery and symbolism of that syncretic religion.
I got in touch with Gail to ask her what she liked about the painting and she replied that she thought it “a brilliant example of Andre Pierre’s work, the colors, the fine details, the movement of the piece, plus the subject matter..the spirits walking in [and] on the water…all very moving and lovely…” But first, she apologized for “depriving me of such a lovely and meaningful work!” Most thoughtfully, she assured me of its placement in a good home after admiring it for over five years. Gail being an avid fan of Haitian art who has bought many pieces over the years, the painting couldn’t be going to a better keeper.
Volupté was gone from my home from one day to the next; that hurt. Voyage des Esprits Guinin had hung in the shop; I loved it, but I expected to see it go at some point. For me, this is a happy parting.
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I was at Total Wine recently, and after paying for some bottles I stopped by the exit door to check out a display–a shopping cart full of empty cigar boxes, all for sale at $1.49 each. I bought some wood ones. They’re nicely decorated and still have their wonderful strong wood scent. I’ll use one or two to store stationery, postcards and pens (yes, I still do–and enjoy–handwritten correspondence with certain people). And I’ll put one of them on a coffee table and put something else inside–recipes, random notes, whatever. If your local wine shop sells cigars, they might sell the boxes once a particular set sells out. Lovely wood cigar boxes recycled into dollar-forty-nine decorative storage items? A happy bargain find for me.