Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Strange Dawn

A Strange Dawn

It is impossible to pinpoint the moment of dawn.  Like the opening of a lily,  its presence is suddenly realized, its nascence indistinct.  Its colourful tapestry is woven with a thread so fine the first stitch is invisible, forgotten.  One can only appreciate the whole.

For someone like myself, more familiar with the setting of the sun than its rising, I sit before my window in the black ink of the disappearing night, waiting for the coming of the dawn.  The artists have told me what to expect.  Friedrich shows me the colour of mangos, Grimshaw’s green marries sea and sky.  Turner paints the pinks and blues of a nursery.  But this dawn, when it finally comes, is strange; it has little in common with those of the masters.  

Like an newly born print in a darkroom, images appear slowly, traced in silver.  Off in the distance, heat lightning, silent and horizontal, flashes a warning of what the day might bring.  A warning, not a certainty.  Infinitesimally the colours of the day emerge, their vibrancy erased to monochrome by the unusual torridity of this month of July.  Like the healing words of truth and love, I long for the fresh, crisp air of Autumn to blow away the noxious haze that hangs like wet netting over the landscape.  

Then I’m nudged by a cold wet nose and look down to see a large furry dog glowing white in the pewter light, his eyes questioning, unblinking.  I glance back at the rising dawn, knowing it hasn’t told me everything that's to come. But I ruffle the big dog’s fur and let him lead me back to bed, still hoping for a better day, one more salubrious and sane than those of the previous week.

“When someone shows you who they are, 
believe them the first time.”
Maya Angelou

Photo by Annie Leibovitz, 2006 Vogue Magazine

“Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.' We now practically read it, 'all men are created equal, except negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, 'all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.' When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”
Abraham Lincoln
Speeches and Writings, 1832-1858 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Hula Hoops

Hula Hoops and Pokemon

After being in the air-conditioned gym for over an hour I’d conveniently forgotten how hot it was outside but when I opened the door to my little Fiat it felt like nothing less than climbing inside a pre-heated oven.  The air hung heavy as maple syrup.  It was a chore to breathe.  I was thinking of nothing but a cool bath and an iced drink as I turned into the roundabout that encircles the fountain in front of the library, and that was when I saw them.  A cluster of people standing in the blazing sun, looking down.  My eyes scanned the scene, expecting to find someone who’d fainted in the heat, but nothing was there.  Then it dawned on me.  Oh.  This is the Pokemon thing.  Sure enough, these people were all looking down at their phones, absolutely captivated.  Further on, in front of city hall, there were more.  Groups of adults, here and there, all totally engrossed in the business of finding little cartoon monsters on their phones.  

There’s nothing quite like personally witnessing the current zeitgeist on the hottest day in July to make one think and I am sorry to admit that my first reaction was incredulity.  Really?  On a day like this?  Could there not be a more enjoyable activity to engage these folks?  But like I said, I started to think and was once again reminded that there is nothing new under the sun.  Literally.  No, all through modern history, when times are particularly difficult, we humans seem to find a collective diversion to afford ourselves occasional escape.  This is not, I suppose, a bad thing.  In fact, it is probably quite healthy.  And Lord knows, this summer has seen some of the most difficult times in recent memory.  Bad news seems as unstoppable as a polluted river.  Is it any wonder that we dive into an activity with the power to make us forget, just a little. 

In 1958, the Arkansas legislature voted 94 to 1 to close their schools if forced to integrate.  In Texas, a desegregated school was bombed in the early morning, leveling it to the ground.  The country was roiling with the holy change being wrought by civil rights.  Into this turbulent atmosphere came the Hula Hoop.  Millions of people threw these plastic rings round their waists and wiggled, wiggled, wiggled.  

There was a laughable epidemic of streaking the year President Nixon resigned.  People lost their trust in government that year as, day after day, in the hearings broadcast on television, they listened to the crimes committed.  So all over the country, young people responded by taking off their clothes and running across campuses, through baseball games, and even across the stage of the Academy Awards. That last one prompted one of the wittiest comebacks in that show’s history courtesy of David Niven.

We threw Frisbees during the Vietnam War and focused our gaze on the Rubik’s Cube the year Thatcher’s Britain was torn apart by the miner’s strikes, the year John Lennon was murdered on a street in New York.   Distractions?  Diversions?  Yes.  Totally silly wastes of time?  I’m not so sure.

When the news is quite simply too bleak for a compassionate, reasonable mind to bear, it can only be healthy to take a break, and while I don’t think I’ll be looking for Pokemon monsters in the near future, I do have my own ways of unplugging as I’m sure you have yours.  I buy new lipsticks.  (Charlotte Tilbury, anyone?)  I read British Country Life and ponder buying pet pigs.  Unashamedly, I get a thrill of excitement every time new photos of Prince George are released.  (Is there a cuter kid anywhere?)  I watch old movies.  (Again, I Know Where I’m Going is always pulled out in tough times.)  I reread favorite books.  I redecorate.  (As I write, the colour going up on the walls of the snug is a completely delicious Sussex Green.)  I go for long drives with the windows down and the music up.  Or, perhaps best of all, I sit on the floor between a dozing Edward and Apple, my arms around both, and just close my eyes.  
And come to think of it… I do know a store that still sells Hula Hoops. 
Is it just me? 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Think of It ...... Always

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it -- always." 
Mahatma Gandhi.

Painting:  1953 Window at Nice 
by Raoul Dufy 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

In a Small World

In a Small World

Atop a windy cliffside in Shetland, a camera hides.  So unobtrusive as to be unnoticed by passersby, it constantly records the scenery in real time, affording views that are  sometimes sunny, sometimes stormy, always wild and windy.  For someone like myself, who has climbed the hills of Shetland, this is a grand gift and one that I open every single day just by switching on my laptop.  This webcam affords me entry into my memory, complete with light and sound.  I close my eyes and listen to the seabirds, hear the waves crashing below, and I am instantly transported back to this wonderful island.  

As I gazed at this view yesterday - listening to the roar of the sea, watching the wind push white clouds across a summer blue sky - I heard voices.  Heavy footfalls of climbers, getting louder as they approached the hidden camera. A couple of masculine exasperated sighs and indistinct muttering, and then, quite clearly, a woman’s voice…. “Ach man, quit yer complainin’!”. 

The sounds of these two dwindled as they walked on away from the site, leaving me amused and amazed.  Just think, from my spot in my sitting room in the Southern US, I was listening to two climbers make their way up a sunny hillside in the Shetland Isles, in the middle of the North Sea, closer to Norway than to Scotland.   What an astonishing time in which to live.

When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, the word went out across the world via steamships and mail.  The process took weeks and months.  Our world is smaller now.  These days we are instantaneously connected.  If a flower is dropped from a window in Rome, it could be caught in London before it ever hits the ground.  Or so it seems.  Perhaps this is one reason last week’s vote in the United Kingdom hit me so hard.  I sat up late as the results came in, increasingly saddened and stunned at the apparent ending of a half century union created at the close of one devastating war as insurance against another.  As a young friend in London put it, “In my lifetime I have watched as walls came down.  Who would have thought I would have to watch them go back up again?”

Fear is a cancerous thing.  It rears its horned head in troubled times and is always seized by those willing to exploit it for ugly reasons.  There are those on the national stages at present who shout their desire to make our countries “great again", the implication being that we used to be great but are, sadly, great no longer.   I seriously doubt these pronouncements have anything to do with nostalgia for vinyl records and milk at the door.  No, follow this thought process and one cannot help but wonder at what time in history did these people consider us “great”?    Before women could vote?  Before our black brothers and sisters could drink from the same water fountains as whites?  Perhaps when gay men were imprisoned or people were persecuted because of their religion?  Or maybe when books were banned and the press was censored?

These are complicated times in which we live.  There are real problems that need to be solved, one cannot deny.  But to retreat behind our borders in suspicion and fear will only make us smaller, not greater.  Change has happened, is happening, will happen.  To fear change, whether in one’s personal life or as a country, is detrimental to the healthy future of both.  In the eight years I have written this blog I have come into contact with people from all over the world.  This has only enhanced my belief that we are all essentially the same.  We share the same capacity for love and wonder, the same hopes and dreams, the same curiosity of each other and our world, even as we all love our home countries with dedication and pride.   

On the forefront of politics at the moment there are loud voices carrying the echoes of evil times, times we thought were forever buried by the unassailable lessons of history.   Now more than ever, we need intelligent voices of empathy and reason.  We need people willing to work together, not hide behind walls with fists clenched and eyes closed, proud of their ignorance of others.   Though often tempted to shut my doors and retreat into the peace of my own home, ignoring the cacophony and chaos, I know that I cannot.  My sphere of influence may be small, but I will continue to spread as much love and light as I can, even as the world gets darker.

In a delightful example of the friendships than can be created in this small world, last week Edward and I were tickled to meet Sharon Santoni, of the widely read and much loved blog, My French Country Home.  Sharon was in town to sign copies of her new book, My Stylish French Girlfriends, a lovely collection of French women - women with real lives, real faces, women of widely varied careers and interests.  It’s a marvelous, beautiful book and perfect for a summer’s day.

Find it HERE.

And visit the Shetland webcam for yourself, HERE