...we've got the means to make amends. I am lost, I'm no guide, but I'm by your side. (Pearl Jam, Leash)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Exploring a little French bookstore with Amanda

The other day my cell phone rang with an incoming +33 phone number. I knew that meant somewhere in Europe, and also meant a big yay, whoever was calling. It was one of my oldest friends, Amanda (almost 15 years of friendship now), calling for my birthday from France, where she is living and working her own little slice of divine life. She asked if the package she had sent me arrived. Yes -- it did!

Amanda had mailed me packet of dusty art postcards with her spirited hand-written commentary, and they'd arrived all foreign-postaged and thickly wrapped in old-looking paper. It was, hands down, the best thing I have gotten in the mail in a long time. Amazing that someone still takes the time to write letters like that, set the scene, and whisk me off with her to the dusty stacks of some little French bookshop.

She knows my passion for art, which, when I think about it is not too far removed from my passion for music. In the same way that music is a way of not only capturing the musician's inner thoughts but also somewhat reflective of the culture at the time, a piece of art does the same. There is the same beauty and lyricism, lust and loveliness, pain and pleasure in a piece of sculpture or a great painting as you find in your favorite song. Michelangelo's Pieta. Thin Blue Flame. My favorite Bernini sculpture. They're all revealing facets of the human condition, and that will always suck me in. And whether it's a snapshot of a moment with a girl in a song, or the profile of a long-dead woman in the painting, all forms of art are a way of preserving a fleeting, ephemeral piece of ourselves for the future, right? Of saying, "I was here. I felt this. I mattered."

I thought I'd share an excerpt of her letter with you as well as the art she picked, just to brighten your lovely Saturday the way she brightened mine. Let's go:

Dearest Heather, I was walking down Cours Victor Hugo when one of those amazing French book shops just stops you with all the stories in the window. I could have kept walking but I moved not that long ago, and this street (around the corner from chez moi) is my nearest commercial street. So I had been aiming to do a good "get to know the neighborhood" tour. What really got me though were the vats of old postcards marked .10€ apiece. An hour of sorting through, and ten very dirty fingers later, I had about a dozen that pleased me in hand. And I kept coming across Italian images, giving me this idea . . . I'm thinking you have seen some of them in museums or in your studies. I hope they take you back to a special place that no one but you has access to.

The first one is my favorite. I don't have, or rather won't try to find the words to explain why. But I think you'll understand.

I love this version of the annunciation, although the real thing was clearly nothing like it (uh, arched buttresses? Mary is looking pretty white?) the composition is still like holding your breath, yet so rich. I want a yellow halo! And who's that in the background?

Thank god we weren't there for the battle of San Romano because somebody got their asses kicked! It's hard to distinguish exactly what's going on, although there seem to be a lot of jousting sticks. I think this must be just a panel of a larger painting. Go red team!

I need to brush up on my history a bit but I'm pretty sure that the Emperor Justinian is the one that converted the Roman Empire to Christianity, no? But I thought that was the 4th century. (?) Anyway mosaics are cool.

Tough to be St. Stephen, eh? Well, I think this is French from Aragon, but the border reminded me of the pretty, pretty Florentine paper you love. N'est-ce pas?

And really, stoning is so barbaric.

There were a lot more but yeah, those made my day. What a wonderful little island of artistic sanity in the middle of an otherwise mundane afternoon, shuffling through the stack while standing in my kitchen, feeling 5,000 miles away in an instant.

Sometimes knowing that there is such beautiful art in the world makes me feel simultaneously very thankful, and ass-kicked sad that I don't live in Italy anymore. Once you've lived side by side with such amazing art, it's hard to stop.

Ritratto di una giovane signora - Veneziano
L'Annunziazione - Fra Angelico
Battaglia di San Romano - Paolo Uccello
L'Imperatore Giustiniano - Mosaics in San Vitale, Ravenna
Predication et lapidation de Saint Etienne - Breviaire de Martin D'Aragon



At August 26, 2007 3:39 AM, Anonymous matt said...

wow, what an amazing post heather. beautiful words and funny "go red team" lol.

At August 26, 2007 9:30 AM, Anonymous russell said...

Great fun to read.

At August 26, 2007 11:09 AM, Anonymous Quintus Aurelius Symmachus said...


Constantine I made Christianity officially tolerated in 312 (the Edict of Milan). Official attempts to squash paganism really began under Theodosius I (379-395). Justinian made moves to close the last bastions of paganism, like the Lyceum in Athens and the Olympic games. The move to Christianity was back-n-forth for a few centuries. Hope this clears the confusion up.

Oh yeah, and mosaics rock!


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