inspiration

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Westerlund 2, Southern constellation Carina

 

 

They, all alike, many though they be and other star in other path, are drawn across the heavens always through all time continually.  But the Axis shifts not a whit, but unchanging is for ever fixed, and in the midsts it holds the earth in equipoise, and wheels the heaven itself around.

The Phaenomena, Aratus of Soli, 270BC

 

 

Callimachus, Hymns and Epigrams. Lycophron. Aratus. Translated by Mair, A. W. & G. R. Loeb Classical Library Volume 129. London: William Heinemann, 1921. http://www.theoi.com/Text/AratusPhaenomena.html#A

Image source: https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/iotd.html?id=355775

In Search of Lost Time – Review

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Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1: The Way by Swann’s is a densely descriptive, prose-heavy analysis of social mores, veiled human frailty, familial and romantic love, anxiety, jealousy and the relationship between memory, place and time. It is told through the eyes of a tortuously sensitive boy and, later, through the amorous encounters of a socially mobile man within the fickle, pretentious and stifling world of the Parisian bourgeoisie during La Belle Epoque, a period in French society that lasted from 1871 to 1914.

I must be honest and reveal myself a heathen. It took me two months to plough through this novel with pen poised in hand and an intense furrowing of the brow. After the first fifty pages, I shelved Proust for a month, in favour of Hilary Mantel. À la recherche du temps perdu was not a natural pleasure for me by any stretch. I have little interest in the tribulations of well-to-do people deeply aware of and concerned with social class. The turgidity of Proust’s lengthy descriptions of the idiosyncrasies of characters at a dinner party, are somewhat exhausting after ten pages of facial tics and acted laughter, the hidden meanings of which, in the end, do not seem of any particular consequence.

Yet, I persisted. The exquisite, descriptive vocabulary retains a nowness; a timeless quality.  And Proust’s meticulous, academic social observations reveal profound insights into the relationship between outward human behaviour and inner thought.  He reveals a tender cynicism about the contrivances of his characters and a witty self-awareness about the inherent sense of superiority and associated cruelties that are a by-product of his social standing.

The central theme of lost time encapsulated in the spongy joys of a tea-soaked madeleine is touched so lightly that it lingers delicately in the back of the mind soothing numerous angst-ridden tussles between social constraint and individual complexity. And Proust maintains a deeply personal and confiding tone that leaves you feeling you know a part of him, you have seen a glimmer of his inner world and most intimate worries. It is odd but true that I even think the author’s vulnerability triggered my well-buried maternal instincts.

Within the novel, Proust considers his relationship to the inner sanctum of books and exterior reality that presents a concreteness which ‘dissipates’ when he tries to make contact with it. He writes: ‘…as an incandescent body brought near a damp object never touches its wetness because it is always preceded by a zone of evaporation.’ The pages are bubbling over with this type of sumptuously visceral analogy that enables you to see and feel the intended sentiment.

Proust describes an assimilation of a book into a reader’s consciousness as he or she constructs characters from pieces of the writer’s creation; a meeting of minds, an exchange across time and space. His rigorous examination of the nature of literature reminds me that the written word is a living thing to be altered and interpreted differently by each and every reader within their own location and from their own construction of reality so that you might see through thine eyes what I have seen through mine.

I read In Search of Lost Time, despite my initial hurdles with the density of the text and disinterest in the staging of the novel, because I thought I could learn something from one of the most revered authors of the 20th century and I hoped it might make me a better writer. I leave the book on the shelf in the study/laundry/guest room, feeling enlightened, inspired and grateful that I didn’t give in.

So after all, as you read Proust and absorb a character, such as Swann’s lover, Odette de Crecy, and your mind shifts between the nuances of her elusive personality, remember you are sitting beneath a virtual blossoming chestnut tree with a French novelist, one of the greatest literary figures of our time, creating lives and building worlds.

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Avenue with Flowering Chestnut Trees at Arles, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Image 1 source – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/9713855/All-of-Proust-on-audiobook-Time-to-go-to-bed-early.html

Image 2 source – http://www.wikiart.org/en/vincent-van-gogh/avenue-with-flowering-chestnut-trees-at-arles-1889

The Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba

Claude Lorrain, The Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, 1648

 

A distant sea bird calls in the gallery.  Yet, I cannot see one.  The visitors mull around in corduroy, folded-arm consternation, with audio guides and little plaques to lead them through a maze of Turner and the Masters.

Something shifts in the corner of my eye.  I turn back to the painting.  The men carrying the trunk are wobbling and sweating feverishly as they lower precious cargo onto the boat.

The idle bystanders are laughing.  The rowers are rowing.  The Queen’s blue cloak ripples in a Red Sea breeze.

I step into the painting.  I swallow hard and blink and stamp my feet in the dirt.  Nobody sees.

I do not believe I was in the painting.  I have an unsettling imagination that leaves me thirsting for reality.  Yet I can taste Arabian salt on my lips.

I go home.  I kick off my shoes.  I roll damp socks into a ball and throw them down the hall.  I watch the cat flick the sock toy in the air and pounce.  Liberated feet breathe in airy relief and siliceous grains glisten between my toes.

 

 

Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Embarkation_of_the_Queen_of_Sheba

Homeless elation

synapse

 

A muffled voice over a low wave. A violin whispers in the ear. Synapses spark and flash till spinal chills overwhelm. A great organ horripilates. A cello’s bass reverberates through connective tissues that feel. An oboe soars in the lungs till emotions dizzily follow a physiological repertoire and retort with florid eyes. A piano’s cyclical melody soothes a throat-aching yearn, a chest-tightening pine, a homeless elation.

 

Image source: http://teleautomaton.com/post/1179230296/technology-review-turning-thoughts-into-words

Storytelling

Once upon a time (English)

A long, long time ago it was – Fadó, fadó, fadó a bhí ann (Irish)

It’s an old story – बहुत पुरानी बात है – Bahuta purānī bāta hai (Hindi)

There was once – Der var engang (Danish)

My mother would read fairy tales from a large, grey book.

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The Storyteller, Franz von Defregger, 1871

I was fond of Tommalise by Hans Christian Andersen

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Tommalise by Vilhelm Pedersen

There was once a woman who wished very much to have a little child, but she could not obtain her wish. At last she went to a fairy, and said, “I should so very much like to have a little child; can you tell me where I can find one?”  “Oh, that can be easily managed,” said the fairy. “Here is a barleycorn of a different kind to those which grow in the farmer’s fields…”

And I sank into wonderment.

Image 1 source: http://robvanderwildttellerstalespictured.wordpress.com/

Image 2 source: https://topillustrations.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/vilhelm-pedersen/thumbelina-3/

Mount Etna erupts during fish head stew

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In a bit of a stew

 

It was summer 1999.  I ventured out from the grotty pensione for my first evening ‘solo‘.  A surly, paunchy waiter with impressive sweat patches under his arms slammed a clay pot down on the wobbly table and barked ‘caldo’ at me with paternal gruffness.  The fish looked aghast at their predicament.  I stirred my spoon through abundant heads that bobbed around helplessly in sea-laced pomodoro.  I took another generous sip of red wine while summoning the courage to swallow something that would ordinarily beat me in a staring competition, when poised with glassy-eyed head on fork, I noticed a faint glow in the night sky.  On this hot Sicilian September night Mount Etna erupted and emblazoned on my memory its magnificent, molten sight.