Art, Life, Beauty, Wonder

Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

At the Tate, I become bigger.

There’s Forward, by Erik Bulatov. It is imposing, and slightly ridiculous; it is made vulnerable by the Ρ lying on its side. In it, there is a group of young women, laughing and photographing each other; a pair of young women, talking and taking photographs, more quietly, and me. The pair were happy to take my photo. This temporary art work outside the gallery relaxes us, makes us open and receptive. In the same way the exhibitions move me and open me up. I see beauty, and a representative sample of an artist’s life’s work, and it changes the way I think. It knocks me out of my groove.

A counselling session. I am proud of my formulation: I am Love, Will, Curiosity, Playfulness, Need and Courage. This may replace my former view, “I am Worthless”- I recognised that former view was wrong twenty years ago, but could not shift it; finding an alternative view to replace it may be the way to break its hold on me.

What do I do? How have I spent these six years of unemployment?

I interact.

I talk to people, including strangers. I write, here and for print. I entertain, challenge and provoke: others see things differently because of me. Some of my NYT comments have hundreds of recommendations, and hundreds more readers.

I heal.

My self-analysis makes me better able to flourish in the world.

I serve.

Over the last six years this has been most clear with Quakers. In Quaker roles I have tried to achieve the good of my Friends, as I best saw it.

And the opportunities for interacting and serving have been so minimal! I remind myself to be positive, to value what is. I have sought opportunities as my self-worth has permitted.

I need to achieve!
I hunger for Action!

I could easily afford to go in to London twice a month to the Tate, then perhaps to see a friend or go 5-rhythms dancing, getting train tickets two or three days earlier and cycling to the station to limit costs. So why don’t I? I find what I want when I see what I do. I love it when I do. Possibly I have some worry about doing something simply for the delight of it, or possibly I don’t like the faff of the travel, four hours or more travelling which is not particularly pleasant. Recently I have not had good train conversations- on Tuesday I asked a woman if she liked to talk on trains, and she said she had only little English, then went to the seat she had pre-booked. Why have I not done it? I don’t know, but those could be reasons.

I have not explored my world, and yet I have- with a bit more thought, I could put that less paradoxically. I still see the world as a threat. Or, I have not learned all the positive lessons from my explorations. I am careful and frightened, and I seek to look after myself. I am generous with a ruthless streak- humans cannot bear very much reality, and we are rarely so confronted with reality that our ruthlessness becomes apparent, but I think I have ruthlessness when in a corner.

That could be Love tempered with Will and Need, she says.

It seems you feed Curiosity, probably Will and Need, but possibly not the others equally, she says. Possibly you could see which of the six you do not look after as much, and make space to serve them too. Have you considered writing for children, for your toddler self?

I am tantalised by art, life, beauty, wonder. I have some experience of them, but not enough for my taste.

Deep in our bones lies an intuition that we arrive here carrying a bundle of gifts to offer to the community. Over time, these gifts are meant to be seen, developed, and called into the village at times of need. To feel valued for the gifts with which we are born affirms our worth and dignity. In a sense, it is a form of spiritual employment – simply being who we are confirms our place in the village. That is one of the fundamental understandings about gifts: we can only offer them by being ourselves fully. Gifts are a consequence of authenticity; when we are being true to our natures, the gift can emerge.

– Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow

Pansy

After the election, where I anticipated an increased Conservative majority, I am overjoyed. At the station, that woman asked how I was.

“I’m delighted,” I said.

“I can see that. It shines out of you. It’s beautiful” she said. I offered a hug, and she accepted.

I was already overjoyed, and my cup ran over. I spasmed with it. Feeling happy, walking along, I have sashayed; sometimes I turn my wrists outwards, as if the Qi in me needs to flow out; now muscles tense and flex expressing it. Joy ripples through me like aftershocks, on the train. I don’t tend to notice other adults doing this sort of thing. I am still doing teenage, but here going right back to being a toddler, a different kind of toddler-hood which teaches me to integrate rather than suppress feeling.

It seems to me that I could call what I am a “Pansy”. The word has little baggage, unlike “Sissy”, co-opted to describe non-penetrative sexual services offered by some discreet older women. I can make of it what I will, add my own baggage to it. I am a pansy. I like viragos.

We went to the Giacometti exhibition. Man and Woman, which he created in his late 20s, fits this idea.

You can’t see it from the photos, but that sharp point is not touching the female. She bends backwards, but does not retreat, and a flower opens to accept the point. It is vulnerable and proud. There is a meeting, and a balance, between the two.

Sexually, I identify with the flower not the point. Yet calling me transwoman, trans woman, woman, whatever, is only an approximation. That vulnerable flowering is overwhelmingly seen as Female, but rather it is feminine, and I am a feminine male. A pansy. I should not need physical adjustment to actualise myself, just to find how my body can work with my spirit.

This is not normal, but “normal” must be resisted. It is a cultural creation of powerful folk who cannot conceive that anyone could be other than they, or that what is best for them might not be best for everyone. I don’t fit the norms, or rules, so have to make my own rules. It might have helped if I had not been so indoctrinated so strongly into the value of normal. Discretion protects the abnormal, it can be good not to be noticed, and one can take that too far.

Yvonne points out that all the active sculptures in the Giacometti exhibition- pointing, walking, even falling- are men. Some of the busts look childish in execution. One of his wife reminds me of a sex doll, or at least the cliché I have seen on TV: wide eyes, mouth like an O, flat caricature face. Before marriage she had worked in an office at the Red Cross. From the 1930s, here is a narrow sculpture (The more I wanted to make them broader, the narrower they got, he said) about four feet tall, her head slightly raised to meet the eye of an adult observer about a yard away. It’s not assurance, exactly, nor apprehension: she does not know what that viewer will do. She will respond appropriately, to whatever requires a response. The mind of that figure contains no story about what thing feared or desired will happen next, or what ought to be happening now, so will see what is happening and respond to it. I see capability in that standing figure.

Across the room is another standing figure on a plinth which would be chest height on her, if she stood beside it. This relatively huge imposing plinth supports her slender figure, which is an inch tall. “She does not know she is tiny,” I exclaimed, and a woman says “I would never have thought of it that way”: here we are open, so that talking to a stranger seems natural. It is one of the most moving works of art I have ever seen, and she has the same naturalness, lack of constraint, and capability.

I do not need to be constrained by Manliness. I can be a Pansy. If I relax and lose my stories of how the world is or should be, I may even be able to be myself.

We ate on the South Bank at an outside table, and I loved the Sun gilding the edges of the clouds. When it was a bit cool to stay there, but still light, we walked across the bridge. “Love the T-shirt,” I said of a passer-by. It was blue with an EU circle of stars and the words “Member of the Liberal Elite, established 2016”. He stopped to enthuse about the election.

National Palace of Mafra

What can we do to entertain our friend, when he can hardly walk half a mile? We drove him about a bit, but sitting in the back I was completely bored. He did not seem much better. We parked by the Atlantic, and he said, “You get out, I will stay in the car”. “We could go to Mafra,” said the other, doubtfully, and I said,

“Why would we go to Mafra? What is there possibly to see in Mafra?”

So we went back to the villa. Such is the problem of not having the proper references to hand. I thought it would be a town with a caff and a few shops, rather than the site of the Baroque palace of João V. We went there on the last day. Unfortunately, our friend could not climb the steps, so had to sit in a caff while we went round the palace. In the ticket office, I met a couple I knew from Nupton Quaker meeting. I don’t like João V. His great palace had a monastery attached, as if that made it alright. We saw a bare cell with a desk, almost a reasonable size of bedroom, which I thought might be bearable for a moderately ascetic academic, but realised that was for the abbot when we saw the dormitory. Monks had a recess, but not a closed cell. How strange, to be immured and institutionalised here while the King enjoyed his hunting! You would be part of the Christian framework which made his every excess acceptable before God, in the convenient fiction everyone went along with.

I don’t like it, still, with this bird tethered. You can have your photo taken with it for a fee. It spreads its wings periodically, either nervously or because it cannot balance.

mafra-1-tethered-falcon

A sign of the great piety is this bizarre sculpture. The bloody neck and fallen head shocked we Quakers.

mafra-2-martyrdom-sculpture

“Soft porn again,” I thought dismissively. Still, it’s all a matter of taste. I like the men grovelling before an enthroned woman, in my featured image, it’s far more my thing.

mafra-3-ceiling-art

mafra-4-ceiling-art

Men on the murals are being tortured.

mafra-5-ceiling-art

-What do you think this is?
-An instrument of torture.

Well, it’s clearly a game. I wonder how it works.

mafra-6-game

It’s a hunting lodge, and you might see this at Atholl Castle. I would hate those chairs. It delights in cruelty.

mafra-7-antler-chandelier

mafra-8-antler-and-hide-table-and-chairs

It delights in cruelty, and the appearance of learning.

mafra-9-library

The attached church has six separate organs, with six separate consoles, around the transept. They have recitals monthly.

mafra-10-three-out-of-six-organs

In the afternoon we went to Cascais, where I tripped off to the Paula Rego exhibition, tempted by “sexually vulnerable women and animals, and men dressed in women’s clothes or with the heads of fish”. I did not read the small print, that it is closed on Monday, so wandered round the park, where I found this folly.

cascais-folly

In the free Town Museum some of the English is translated picturesquely: they had an “Outbreak of tourists”.

Obidos

This Moorish fortress-town, still with Moorish street plan, is stunning. We picked it almost at random returning from Fatima- we had been advised to pop into somewhere as we drove back, but almost did not, lacking enthusiasm.

obidos-1

The defensive structures are impressive. English and Welsh castles are all ruined because they could not cope with Civil War artillery yet were still used as fortresses in that war. I am glad that did not happen here. In 1580 a Spanish coup took over the country, but in 1640 Portugal achieved independence again- as a Scot, I am delighted by that, and their English alliance is a mirror image of our Auld alliance.

obidos-2

These are the remains of the International Chocolate Festival, a delightful idea. The fifteenth is this year, 10 March to 2 April.

obidos-3-the-chocolate-festival

We walked round the walls. I would not have enjoyed it with more tourists about: passing, with one pressed against the wall and the other close to the drop was mildly unpleasant. Would there be safety barriers if this were in England, or would walking be forbidden?

obidos-4

We climbed that high turret. I did it just for the photo, and without a safety barrier felt a bit ill. A small girl blithely ran up the stairs, letting me take the wall-side. Later on I found a woman, clearly overcome by the experience, walking very slowly down two yard wide stairs to ground level. She leaned on the wall for support.

obidos-5

obidos-6

Note how these graves are all lying on the surface. I wonder if they are on the bare stone, and the bodies lie just below those low sepulchre lids.

obidos-7-graveyard

We stopped off for a coffee, and I bought my only piece of tourist tat, of course a pendant.

obidos-8-church

Lisbon Cathedral

I really want you to look at my header photo. I have not seen a beggar like that in Britain. At least the Cathedral chapter allow her to be there, unlike St Paul’s Cathedral.

There are more decorative churches in Lisbon than its cathedral. Its facade is almost bare, its columns unadorned.

lisbon-cathedrallisbon-cathedral-from-the-galleryThe guide book said it was not worth seeing, with just “a couple of tombs”, but it has grandeur. I was glad to be there, after the great difficulty we had getting there. With few tourists it has a more peaceful, even holy, atmosphere than Jheronymus.

Here are the tombs. I love the dogs, and the thought of reading and contemplating while awaiting the Resurrection.

lisbon-cathedral-doglisbon-cathedral-readerThe West window is easily interpreted? Twelve apostles and Christ at the centre, smaller than they, for some reason.

lisbon-cathedral-west-window-1 lisbon-cathedral-west-windowI paid to go into the cloisters, which are being excavated. Some of the buildings uncovered are Roman, some Moorish, and there is a Roman sewer.

lisbon-cathedral-cloister-excavationsOutside, the trams shake and judder up the steep hill. They are a tourist attraction, he went to ride one while I was in Belem. Notice the English. I had not realised how quickly my camera battery would run down, and took the rest of my photographs on the phone.

lisbon-cathedral-tramThat beggar, again. Leaving, I handed her a 20c coin. She kissed it. I did not, as the Pope advises, look her in the eye and touch her hands, wishing her “Bom dia”- I looked away, embarrassed.

lisbon-cathedral-beggar

The hilltop palace at Sintra

The undeserving rich, the moneyed elites of Portugal, looked at Brighton Pavilion with envious eyes, and built it on steroids.

sintra-hilltop-palace

I love this place. I find it fabulously beautiful, and am delighted it exists; and appalled at the thought of living within miles, as it dominates the countryside. The king can get that thing built, even on that hill top, with all the labour involved, and just live there. Viva a revolução!

sintra-hilltop-palace-bastion

sintra-hilltop-palace-1

sintra-hilltop-palace-1a

All the tourists are about, and everyone is taking photographs. In the upper storey of the courtyard, below, I saw three together, all with cameras glued to faces, and they dispersed just before I could photograph them.

sintra-hilltop-palace-2

sintra-hilltop-palace-3

sintra-hilltop-palace-4

The exterior is fabulous, the interior less so. When this was being furnished, sculpture had moved on from this cheap soft porn. The undeserving rich can have execrable taste.

sintra-hilltop-palace-5-a-bit-of-soft-porn

I find the chapel disturbing as well. The luxury-ascetic of it, such a rich depiction of death by torture. Christianity is full of paradox, the church saying the Magnificat- “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones”- while sucking up to the powerful, who pray in places of such adornment- how could anyone of any imagination get this place built then put a chapel in it? Serve God or self-indulgence, man- but you have to choose.

sintra-hilltop-palace-6-chapel

Belem

To the cultural quarter. Tristão e Isolda is next week, alas. We miss it. The overcast sky is not ideal for photos, but the Centro Cultural is beautiful, clad in rose stone. I walk a wide stone passageway up to the Berardo Collection, alone in the off-season, and it feels empowering and liberating, not at all like the stark concrete ravine west of the National Theatre in London.

The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos is worth photographing in any light, even a phone snap which I cannot edit.

All the cloisters are intricately carved.

People are doing selfies, which I find difficult:

The refectory has stories in pictures, which I do not like.

The church from the gallery.

It is a tourist hubbub even now, so I say I want to pray, and go into a quieter side chapel. A woman presses her forehead to an altar below a statue of the Virgin.

There are so many artists in the Berardo overview of the twentieth century! I will not comment as I fear sounding Pooterish. Here is the church from the water garden.

Happy Christmas with the Holy Family

Merry Christmas. Here are the Holy Family, looking happy:

leopoldine-unterberger-the-holy-family

I love the sweetness and unselfconsciousness of Joseph’s love here. He looks at his wife and child in delight. Mary has a small smile as if she has not a care in the world.

jose-de-madrazo-the-holy-family

The contrast here is not just the darkness of the background but the intensity of the look. Here are highly intelligent people, knowing and self-conscious. Initially I thought it a man, on the left, despite the head-covering. It is a strong-looking woman.

edvard-munch-madonna

Munch is always so disturbing. When is the picture, precisely? Mary is in ecstasy, possibly sexual, and the foetal Christ has anger or even resentment.

elizabeth-siddal-the-holy-family

At last, a baby, wrapped as he would be, in a Mediterranean winter. Joseph has a halo, but not the others.

Merry Christmas with the Holy Family

Merry Christmas. May God bless you and keep you;
May God make God’s face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
May God lift up God’s countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Here are some pictures of the Holy Family.

jose-monray-aguilera-the-holy-family

Aguilera makes the baby look more like a baby than most- a happy baby, with a smile like a drunkard’s. This baby knows what babies know. His mother’s happiness is fragile, like a woman who knows everything that can go wrong; but it is alright, just for the moment. Joseph, of whom we know little from the Gospels, is barely visible in the darkness, a look of love at the child.

charles-soubre-the-holy-family

Soubre by contrast has the baby like a miniature adult. The only baby-like thing here is the arms outstretched for a hug. Mary is a saint. She knows God’s Plan is going ahead well. Joseph is a huge, strong protective presence, a contrast before which the mother and child shine more brightly.

joseph-paelinck-the-holy-family

In Luke’s gospel we hear the baby was presented in the Temple in Jerusalem- pretty dangerous, if the Wise Men were right and Herod wanted to kill all babies. There was a prophet, Anna, aged 84, who came praising God. Yet another woman who is the prophet of Christ. And Simeon, a righteous man, could die happy after seeing Jesus, and sang:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation;
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

rafael-flores-the-holy-family

Rafael Flores shows an older Jesus, prefiguring the Cross. Mary may have been scared, but her face is watchful, still loving, not showing fear or resistance to what must be; and no denial, either.

Hope IV

Eliminate false hope- yet hope has value. Here she is.

pierre-cecile-puvis-de-chavannes-hope

Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, who discovered his particule in adult life, painted her the year after the Franco-Prussian War. She sits on the ground- a burial mound, I read- in front of ruins. Yet new growth comes already, in the oak sapling before her sheet. She is calm, open, receptive. The catastrophe has not crushed her. Christophe André, in whose book I found her, calls her visage “triumphant”, though I do not think that is quite it, merely confident. Would that I could enlarge the face, but that is the largest net reproduction I can find.

Most net reproductions are of the alternative.

pierre-cecile-puvis-de-chavannes-hope-ii

I loathe this. The burial mound becomes a wall, the sheet a dress: bowdlerisation is boring, but the nudity was not particularly erotic. Those who would demand she be clothed would not have understood “erotic” in art, only be applying rules. Her bare toes are peeking out- “looked on as something shocking,” but not breaking the rules. I find her face revolting. She is a lady, her face composed to receive visitors, her hair done. She is putting on an act. Her right wrist seems much stronger than the other’s, for she is striking a pose. The other has, in the moment, found the olive branch, peace, and holds it up for us to see. She is present in the moment, unselfconscious, ready.

Though it could be fashion. The ruins are less impressionistic, and I know impressionism is better.

Hope is openness to all that is good, all that is possible. Hope is false if delusion. The first message of Christ that I find in his own words is, face reality. Accept reality. There is so much more, but that is the urgency of it. Even “Love one another” comes from Reality.

Here’s a study for the painting. Of course she was intended to be nude.

pierre-cecile-puvis-de-chavannes-study-for-hope

Gauguin loved the painting.

gauguin-still-life-with-hope

I note she turns away. We see her profile- perhaps if we saw her face, her face would be all his painting. And the plants are emphasised- perhaps his flowers are that hope, full grown.