Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In which the fish goes to see Veronese in Paris: or, How to Live in a Delusional Universe.


I am in Paris.

Long, long ago on the Passerelle des Arts.

Yes, Paris.

What's that you say? That the last time you saw the Seine it was not rearing up in plumes? That  the water outside my window looks suspiciously like the Pacific?
Ah, yes. Fair enough observation.
My physical surroundings might say otherwise, but really, truly, today I am in Paris, and not in Sydney at all.
I am in the Louvre, looking at paintings.

No, no, that noise you can hear, the squabbling, no, that's nothing. I can't hear that here in Paris.  Nor the moan of the stormy wind, nor the accusations that I have not done the grocery shopping correctly. I can only hear the murmur of the folks around me, and the delightful clack of my own heels on the floor as I tappity tap my way along the grand halls of the Musee du Louvre, pausing, almost in slow motion, to watch the trees along the Seine appear and disappear as I pass windows.

I'm not entirely sure what I will look at first, because there is an exhibition on which I am really wanting to see. Perhaps it might be nice to call by Ingres Odalisque, and then have a short black in the cafe before visiting  Veronese, Titian and Tintoretto. Yes, the Venetians are in town, in Paris, and I am of course wanting to see the Venetians, naturellement.

It is a marvellous light which falls in the new section of the Louvre, just like in the British Museum, a seamless fusion of old and new. How I love it here. I begin to think about the way I inhabit cities almost entirely by their museums. How little I seem to see of other things in European cities. Ok, I have been up the Eiffel Tower twice, but I have never been in the Tower of London. Again and again I have navigated my way between the art galleries of major cities, familiar with the track between them, often oblivious to other features I may be passing.

You may, at first glance, think that I am in a beachside suburb of Sydney, curled up sheltering from the storm outside, the storm inside. But I am dreaming, so vividly that I feel as if I should say
laissez-moi tranquille, je suis en train de regarde les peintures 
but instead, I merely half close my eyes, and continue walking through the Louvre until I get to the exhibition, holding my sketchbook and my little tin of London pencils how I love them so, you were with me when I bought them Gina, do you remember?
Holding my sketchbook clack clack clack say my heels: I must be wearing my boots. I look down, yes , yes, I am.  

Once I went to the Clignancourt markets and bought a pair of charcoal grey trousers to wear here, with the black polo neck I always wore, and a new ribbon, which I tied in a bow on my ponytail, just so I would feel Very Dressed Up. Ribbons can do the trick quite nicely.

But no, Indigo dress and boots it is, when I visit Paris this time, to look at Veronese and Titian and Tintoretto.
Years ago I used to hand-paint miniatures in tiny little frames and sell them as brooches. in fact I was known as the Brooch-lady, I sold so many. I spent every Friday night and many others besides making and painting these brooches. It was endless, but I loved it.
I derived the faces from Titian and Veronese, tiny little faces I painted with a small brush, learning all about the shadows and shades, the skintones and the plaited tresses of these painters as I copied them with my brush. I surrounded my creations with fake pearls, and gold leaf, so beautiful. When I see the beautiful faces of Titian's women, I can recall the smell of paint, of being bent over my board, listening to the late night movie which ended at half past two in the morning.

But this time I am reminded of my beloved Venice, the faces in these paintings reminding me of drifting through the Accademia, or standing in the chapel looking at Peter Greenway's homage to the Wedding at Cana,   or being surprised in the hot air of Scuola dei Frari  by the whole universe of Tintorettos.

today I am in Paris.

I am neither looking out at a storm swept sea, nor negotiating the various domestic minefields that weekends bring,
I am looking at Veronese in the Louvre, holding my red and white sketchbook and my pencils, sketching faces and beautiful sumptuous bodies, the details of braids entwined with pearls.
Let nobody tell you otherwise.


Porte de Saint-Cloud

(this is a rather depressing post)

It was my wish to be just like Caroline, I was in awe of her from the minute I heard about her.
 I had been to Paris before, but this time my friend and I were going to spend time with her cousin Caroline, an Australian married to a Frenchman, Pierre.
Somewhere on my agenda I thought that I too might meet a nice frenchman, and be like Caroline, teaching at the language school. 

Caroline was tall and fair, a little taller than Pierre, with large kind blue eyes and a gentle manner. She spoke beautiful French, and despite all the years I had studied French, including two at Alliance, I could not quite keep up. From the age of 12 I had decided that one day I should like to speak French and live a while in France. It is hard to keep up practice in Australia though,  but the school excursion to Noumea was fun, even if it wasn't like going to France itself. I satisfied myself with Kieslowski films, and pretending I was Juliette Binoche, despite the fact that I am not shaped remotely like a French woman.

I loved their apartment, and I loved the address: Pierre and Caroline lived in Porte de Sainte-Cloud. Gate of Clouds, I often thought. An entry to dreamland. I can still picture the large gate, hear caroline saying that name, Porte de Saint-Cloud,  the walk to the apartement. They had little notices in the kitchen, one featured a figure with a tricolore-croissant for a head. Pierre would say ello, breakfast-ead! as he passed it.

Caroline and Pierre introduced us to a heap of friends, one of whom I stayed with numerous times when I visited, he lived near the Sacre Coeur.  They seemed to have friends in Paris from all corners of the earth. We often ate together, or strolled in the gardens, went to the Bois de Boulogne. I wished I could be Caroline, work in the language school, but I was not clever enough to get a visa, and frankly, my french was not that good.

But it seems Caroline pined for the blue skies and light of Sydney, as expats often do. The grey seeped into her soul. She had two children, and pined even more. She wanted to come home, she wanted to leave Porte de Sainte Cloude.

She rang her family in tears, and was told by her mother she had to stick by her family: she had chosen to live in Paris, and to stop complaining. Pull herself together.
The grey seeped ever further  into her soul.

She stood in the sitting room one day, after many tearful years, and asked Pierre:

Do you love me? 

To which Pierre replied

For gods sake, we are not teenagers! 

At this, Caroline ran across the room, plunged through the beautiful, tall, open window, and down down down to land in a crumpled pile on the cobbled street below.

The children, recently in Australia finally visiting the cousins, asked about their mother. Wanted to hear everything about her, wanted to see this magical place where their mother was from, which they were now seeing without her.

Tell us about Maman, they asked
Noone ever speaks of her, not Dad, not anyone.

I am thinking of Caroline now,  because I have only just recently heard about what happened. It breaks my heart, I was so shocked I was incapable of speech. 
And it teaches me a lesson not to envy the lives of others, that you can never tell what goes on beneath the surface. Had my mythical frenchman materialized, I may well have ended my days wishing and yearning for the bright skies of home. Or I may not have, I will never know. But it is not a good thing to envy the lives of others, no matter how golden those lives may seem, how hidden those shadows may be.


Molly said...

I love it when you let us wander around in your head Fifi. Pauvre Caroline! What a sad tale....It is true that you always have a special place in your heart for the place you came from, especially if you live far away from that place. Loved the sound of your boots, clack, clacking on the floors of the Louvre!

meli said...

oh, poor caroline!

Reluctant Blogger said...

Oh gosh, that is a sad story, more so because I think that could be me. I find the greyness hard enough to cope with and I know i would not if I ever allowed myself to become accustomed to sunshine and light and came back to greyness.

And yes, of course I remember the tin. I have the journal you sent me open on the desk today - it goes everywhere with me and people often ask about it.

I always longed to speak French properly too. It is such a beautiful language and I think I thought maybe I would become beautiful if I could speak it!!

Oh dear - i can't even speak English today - "I think I thought" oh dear!!!

the paris apartment said...

So true. Our own life is so precious. Why waste a minute longing for someone else's?

Jellyhead said...

What a shocking story fifi. And how sad it is when love turns to disregard.

No harm in longing for Paris now & then (you had me wanting to come with you there!) - as long as you adore the beachy paradise you inhabit as well - which I know you do.

XO Jelly

Meggie said...

So sad, but beautifully told. I know a Caroline, but she followed her urge to return to her home, so a different ending. Quite as sad though.

Anonymous said...

Such a sad tale, for all concerned. Forgive me for intruding on your artist’s mind/vision – have you thought of painting this scene on canvas? It’s such a heart-wrenching story of remembering things past (that phrase slipped out before I saw the obvious link) and living through the turmoil of everyday life, yet both inform the other – the mundane and the sacred. I lived for too long away from the Pacific and my first trip home after 8 years was a sign – I sensed the Pacific beneath me (it was pitch black outside) and sobbed uncontrollably as the plane took off from LA. Our ocean may seem raw around the edges yet it is who we are. Whenever I’m unsure about this place, I watch the Warumpi Band’s My Island Home on YouTube – a song of longing, nothing nostalgic about it at all. Things will settle, all tides do. Meanwhile, the paint I hope is calling you.

fifi said...

i was having such a lovely imaginary wander through the Louvre, so palpale was the experience that i was led to thinking of Caroline.
I was so horrified to learn what had happened. And eing in paris, obviously, brought it to mind. It was so unexpected.

Anyone wishing to join me on a french adventure, feel free.
lmrb, you have, as usual, left such a lovely comment, and yes, I do listen to that very song for that reason. unfortunately, my own version of My Island Home is not especially pleasant. ( but I persist)

Anonymous said...

oh, now the comment you left on my blog makes much sense. Poor Caroline, oh my. :(

little red hen said...

Beautifully written Fifi- as I read I was jealous of your life and your talent for words and art, I am lost for words- I am still a little jealous of your ability to express yourself so well. How terrible for that poor girl she must have been in such a low space.

Half-heard in the Stillness said...

Hello, I just found my way here from 'the sight of the morning'.
Your writing is lovely.

How tragic and shocking is the story of the home-sick lady. Sad, sad that no-one realised how badly she needed to see 'home'! Her life was ebbing away and no-one reached out to her.

Leenie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.