Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Had an insight about ambivalence, genre and dreamscape vs. landscape and was able to relate these to ambivalence about Islam (Crusade in 1517; Alliance in 1525). Not too bad for a Wednesday with the kids - tomorrow, back to all-Triumphe all the time!
I don't know why it's such a pleasure to see a little girl open her first pistachio, but it is. She ate it with great delectation and pride - never mind the smears of "soupe orange" ("potiron" (pumpkin), carrots, orange, and a touch of curry - thank you, Knorr!). There are signs of spring all around (oh how I love her still-dimpled elbows!) and that's really what today is about. We've known and loved Josselin only in the winter, loving the resoluteness of the stones, the spectacle of the sky, and lush contrast of the ever-varied moss. But now we realize that Brittany is about to soften: that the castle's silhouettes will not be so rigid, framed as they'll be by weeping willows in bloom and greenery all around; that the river's flow will now reflect the colors of flowers along its banks; that the tree's dramatic outlines will be muffled by green leaves everywhere. I wonder how our dear megaliths will change, too. So - signs of spring:
Picking dandelions and "Marguerites" (daisies) at the Promenade (Louise's daughter was named Marguerite and Thenaud refers to her allegorically through daisies, dubbing them "des preciuses et orientales perles la marguarite" (precious and oriental pearls)...
Sniffing one's bouquet of said dandelions and daisies near what has become our favorite bench at the promenade (you can see those incredible super-modern windmills from there, and the church steeple)...
Daydreaming behind a bunch of daffodils at the Bois d'Amour...
Marveling at whatever this tree is outside the caste gate (and knowing that the castle opens this week-end for an Easter Egg Hunt!
I end with this absurdly heroic picture of Iris and Eleanor holding their flowers forth. Iris looks like an exemplary Soviet child in a Socialist Realism painting. Eleanor just looks like she wants you to sniff her dandelions already. We've had to explain the culture of gardens and flowers here (absolutely no picking of flowers bigger than your thumb ever anywhere ever!), so the girls are mainly focusing on "found flowers," dandelions and daisies. They might well make a dent in the city's dandelion population. Spring always makes me think that the human race was right to come up with rituals and celebrations to mark its arrival. The air smells sweet, the breezes are filled with possibilities, and all things seem possible.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Welcome to what might be an annoying new feature in the blog: a word-count meter for my Leeds paper. I've seen these on many an academic blog and while it seems a little quantitative, it greatly appeals to the Virgo in me, so I'm going to give it a try. As soon as I've figured out how to put it off to the side, I'll do so. For now, it might grace the top of these posts for a while. I also, in a more traditional (i.e. 19th century) way want to be accountable to you, dear reader. Knowing you are out there (out here) makes me want to keep going - as I know you all are in your daily endeavors. Would that I could promise steady progress - instead, you'll see the numbers fluctuate as I write and rewrite and unwrite each day. But I will be writing each day! Or, as the marvelously encouraging Barbara Steinson once shared...
The cartoon is available at the (incredibly distracting and wonderful) New Yorker cartoon bank. I love that little girl - a true hero! an inspiration! I've often said I'll write a little every day, but there are so many other things that can come first when I'm on campus. Not here! This can come first for several hours a day. Well, not tomorrow, although I may try to snag the morning - because things have started off pretty well. I'm caught between tow modes: the book and the conference talk. They are about as far apart on the writing spectrum as I can imagine, so I'm starting with the conference talk - 20 minutes, 3000 words. I have a decent introduction and a first point worked out about how Jean Thenaud's trip to the Holy Land in 1511-1513 framed his treatise on the four cardinal virtues that he started writing immediately upon his return. It's fascinating: he calls himself Louise's "slave, serf, and pilgrim" (oh, it was good to be the almost-queen in the 16th century!) in the dedicatory letter, but throughout the Triumphe des Vertuz he dubs himself "l'Explorateur" (the Explorer) - which creates an interesting ambivalence between the piety of pilgrimage and the practicalities of exploration (navigation, etc.). That ambivalence is pursued in the illumination which shows a variety of times and places all crammed into a perspectival space (so, combining traditional (medieval) modes of representation with contemporary (what we now call Renaissance) ones). There will be more tomorrow on the relationship between Jean Thenaud and Louise as pilgrim-by-proxy and patron (for the trip to the Holy Land) and as writer-patron (from the Triumphe). The images are weird and hard to work with (neither medieval nor Renaissance, a kind of wonderful, difficult in-between) and as soon as I get a decent reproduction, i will post it here. The manuscript in questions is at the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg, but they seem comfortable with digital images (yea!).
The big surprise came from finishing a preliminary table of contents for a book project yesterday. I've thought and thought about how to tie together all of the disparate endeavors that I see at play in Louise's manuscript collection, and I think that I may have found a structure within which to discuss them all (at last!). The book (and you need know I feel sheepish even writing that, but at some point I must forge ahead and believe that I can do this) would be entitled The Four Virtues of Louise de Savoie (it might have a subtitle like :how a royal mother and regent queen negotiated the French Renaissance) and would be structured along the four cardinal virtues, in homage to Thenaud's great work but also because, as I thought about all that I've read, I realized that there are four great topics within Louise's career to be covered:
- Prudence - Louise's self-fashioning in the French courts
- Force - Orientalism and François Ier's Moral Education
- Justice - Louise's two rules as regent queen
- Temperance - Humanism and Marguerite de Navarre's Religious Education
But enough! Today was out day to meet with Oliver's very wonderful teacher. She's his third teacher thus far this year (there were a bunch of maternity leaves that we couldn't keep up with) and with her we are in a good groove. I should have taken more pictures of all his notebooks, but that would have been a little odd. We were so impressed by all the stuff that he's doing: conjugating, writing, the math (fun addition, but they do multiplication before subtraction, go figure), music, culture (kids get a "permis de piétons" here - gotta be street savvy in France!). The section that Oliver does not participate in are reading (just too difficult) - it's at that time that he reads his books in English. He's currently almost finished with Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (which is also a swell movie that has (heart skips a beat) Paul Bettany in it) and on his way to the other two books in the series. His teacher thinks this is just great that he reads a bit in English in each day - and so does Oliver. I've commented several times that he seems more relaxed at the end of the school day (we his parents probably are, too, which may contribute to his happy-go-lucky stance) so I asked him why do you think that is? "Because here, there's a pause between worksheets and we get to glue them in our big notebooks and see what we've done. And because I have time to read." So there you have it: time, pace - and a chance to read. I can't preserve this for him back in the States (where reading for pleasure is not allowed during the school day) (am I right about that? maybe not!), but we can certainly glue things in a big notebook! I do love this about the French school: every worksheet is completely covered with lots of activities and once a student has filled in all of them, he or she gets to glue the entire worksheet into a giant notebook. I love this! The kids have these enormous tomes of filled activity sheets and I can see why Oliver would feel a sense of accomplishments. The French have made paper supplies into an art form (as any fan of the Clairefontaine-Rhodia notebooks can attest), and it's good to see it start so early.
The other big news is that, indeed, last night (late, late after our wonderful evening), Baby Pink Dragon and Her Friend The Little Girl and their 21 friends did indeed catch up with Krrrrrichelieu, and he did indeed drink of the golden cup and give up his evil ways and, as Iris liked to say afterwards "joined the rich tapestry of life." It was pretty cathartic after three months of relentless pursuit and we were somewhat at a loss tonight, so we just talked about last night some more and about our days. Tomorrow night, though, we must enter into a new adventure. I'm pulling for the Adventures of Belzig, the plucky Breton boy, but we shall see what the kids have in mind. The Breton Fairy Tales of the day are all from Broceliande forest now (I had to get a new book!) which means Merlin territory and thus connections to King Arthur. With the (absolutely awesome looking) Centre de l'Imaginaire Arthurien in in Comper-en-Broceliande opening up soon, we may need to join the fun at the Round Table!
Monday, March 29, 2010
Even walking to the house on the island is a treat. Iris collected flowers on the way and was greatly relieved to see the river was still "in its bed" (we are having high tides again, and strong winds - but no great rain). It's just so lush and green - and filled with possibility. A walk to a friend's house is the most delicious feeling: the expectation and that feeling of homecoming all wrapped into one. This moment of the walk is probably my favorite, with the bend in the river and the church steeple; Josselin receding and this wonderful island coming up.
There was a spring in everyone's step as Mac came home early!!! He said that he woke up in Paris and just saw no reason to not come home right away. So imagine my surprise as I answered the door on my way out to get the kids and there he was! The kids were besides the themselves and told him absolutely every single event of the past 15 days. Here he is in the one pause in the conversation I was able to score. Reunions are great - with family, with friends, through rituals and circumstance. This was a special night.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
If you know me as a mom, you know that I fret a great deal about how/if I'm doing right by the kids. I worry about not having enough control (no, they don't always do what I say - ha!); I worry about preparing them for the public eye (where I still feel uncomfortable myself); I worry about the fine line between guiding and nagging (sometimes I think I'm guiding, but I'm really just nagging); and I worry about the gulf between letting them find their own way and make mistakes and wanting to protect them from ever making mistakes (ok, at least with that one I know which one I should do - uh, the first). It's been a very interesting mini-social experiment to be a parent here, for two reasons: First, I always associate France with research and not just independence but the pinnacle of intellectual freedom - i.e. when I've been here before I've been accountable only to my grant-givers and to some men and women from the 13th-15th centuries (a pretty quiet lot). This time around, of course, I'm much more involved in seeing France through the children's eyes than my own - and consequently I'm seeing an entirely new France (much more modern, although if you ask the kids, we're still seeing plenty of old stones!). Secondly, back in the States, we're always talking with colleagues who are also parents and comparing notes on the balancing act between work and home (sometimes between work and work and home, but there you have it), and here we are raising the kids in a total vacuum. I have no comparative conversations within which to frame the kids' behaviors or desires or expectations of life - let alone my own. All of this leaves me feeling pretty up in the air at times: should I be pushing studying harder with Oliver? should I be making more efforts to get the girls playdates? etc. Is having control over your kids over-rated? Is unleashing their creativity the whole point?
I watch a lot of French moms (especially in these two weeks when I was alone for child pick-up and not talking Mac's ear off), both at school and just out in the world, and I always marvel at how incredibly quiet and well-behaved French kids are. They truly are amazing. They're clearly fun-loving and boisterous at school in the play-yard (we can hear them even right before they get out of school), but they do the little two-cheek kiss with their parents, and take their hand and walk quietly away. Restaurants? They're seated and quiet and eat very well indeed. Now, I have to give my kids credit for going out to restaurants (all those meals in my parents' retirement community taught them well!), but when we reunite at the end of the day, or when we're out and about on walks, we are the biggest bunch of goofballs you've ever seen: hugging, talking loudly, running around, not putting our coats on. I don't walk down the street with my kids in a calm and orderly manner - it's more trying to get them to be quiet enough so that I can hear their stories/requests/what-have-yous. Sigh - I just have to embrace my own goofiness. For that is the one thing I don't have that French moms do: dignity. I am just not dignified and stately, and my poor kids aren't either. But they are really cool. And if a moment like this morning can happen, and they can be happy (even if half naked) and adventurous (even if absurd), things are all right, aren't they? In my heart of hearts, I say a resounding YES. But I'm simultaneously sensitive to those expectations of A Mom who At Least Looks Like She Knows What She's Doing.
Meanwhile, in the land of the not-so-neurotic... Sarkozy is in the States! Woo-hoo, everybody! The big talk around here is that the Sarkozys are going to have an intimate dinner with the Obamas. I'm fairly certain that this image is from a previous visit, and not even in America (we don't usually have truck with metal helmets, do we?), but it pops up about 80 times when you Google "Sarkozy Obama" - I think because poor Sarkozy is raising himself up on his toes (lots of Napoleon jokes, etc.). Well, we'll see what those guys talk about!
And then: I have a guilty confession to make. There were enough quiet moments today (hoorah for coloring books, plastic knights, and elaborate plans to make paper TVs (again: ???)) that I was able to press ahead with another great novel I found in our wonderful house: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Reading a novel in the daytime usually means that I'm hooked and I'll need to read gobs of it to finish it soon. The poor Three Musketeers will have to wait for a few evenings until I'm done with this tale of academic intrigue (count Drakula and various locales in Eastern Europe) - at least there's mention of medieval Turks, so I could stay connected to work thoughts today (ha ha!). Tomorrow, a full report on how the first day of writing goes (of course, if I didn't build it up that way, it would go better!).
I had several other random thoughts I wanted to note (like why my mom's curriculum even included that speech by Camille from Corneill's Horace? Was it to promote this conflict of the self vs. the State? Was it really just the aesthetics of the language? Was it the perpetual embrace of the beauty of female martyrdom? a problematic legacy...) but I'll save those for another night!
Saturday, March 27, 2010
The thrill was immediate as the very first enclosure we saw contained wallabies, with baby wallabies still in their mums' pouches! You have to look closely, but there's the little one just peeking out - some of them were "walking" along on their front legs, barely keeping up with hopping mom. They all came right up to the fence - the dad, too, who was noticeably bigger and on guard (some grunting). The kids were duly impressed!
Most of the shots that I took are of dark blue, light blue and purple parkas and wonderful animals. Here, in front of the ring-tailed lemurs, I actually got the kids to turn around for a second. But it was just to do their King Julien interpretation (Madagascar fans unite!). Lemurs really are funny, though, and they will hop up and down and look fussy and weird. One was on his back taking a sunbath in all his glory, and all of a sudden leaped up into a tree. Am I right that lemurs are indigenous to Madagascar only? And they're not Darwin's discovery are they? (I always have him on the Galapagos Islands). Ooo, their Wikipedia article states that the word is "endemic" (i.e. yes, they are unique to Madagascar), but doesn't say when they were discovered - perhaps very early on by the first people to settle there? And who knows when that was? (c. 500 A.D.) In any case, Madagascar being a French colony, it's important to know these things. All right, if I Wikipedia every image, we'll be here for days. So, here come some highlights and random/pithy comments.
Perhaps it's the proximity to Lorient, or perhaps it's that this zoo was built in 1973, but there's a great deal of the Colonial Imaginary at play here. The crocodiles and snake house is guarded by these Egyptian figures reminiscent of the grandeur of the Nile. Part of me checks this off as a colonial fantasy, the other part of me is gladdened to see the kids recognize Egyptian figures and, well, recognize Egypt as a grand place. Here they are hamming it up - Eleanor, especially, playing up the fear factor of a house full of impressive crocodiles and snakes.
Not sure why the giraffes are licking the walls of their Moroccan palace house - Eleanor ascribed it to how neurotic Melman is in Madagascar. Hmmm.
Lunch was an absolutely amazing experience, with a peacock deciding to put on a show for the kids. We ate in the gazebo behind where they're sitting and it walked about and made its (really loud) call and shook its feathers out. It didn't seem particularly aggressive, so maybe it was feeling amorous. As soon as they were done eating, the kids pulled up their front row bench and just watched Monsieur le Peon strut his stuff. Mesmerizing.
There was a playground nearby (yea!) so the kids played for a good while, and I checked out the multiple breeds of owls, and herons and egrets all around. Oliver is seen here asking Eleanor if she's ready for a "great ride" - she acquiesced, of course, and they had a blast. I loved this little consultation before the romp. It was after this playtime, that the ice cream stand appeared - yea, ice cream on a sunny day. And then, I saw it.
This is why I love France. Even in a zoo, which is ostensibly for kids; even in a zoo in late-March, which is still considered the low season as the bigger restaurant and gift shops were closed; even on a day when the zoo has just us and five or six other families in it, there is a gorgeous, fully functional espresso machine ready to go. That "petit café" made a huge difference in my afternoon. Thank you, France!
And then, the awesome bird show. This shot was pure luck, as those birds swooped in and around us with flair, speed, and agility. They're been trained to thrill, let me tell you. Oliver yelping "Oh my!" cracked me up. This is the "émotion" part of Pont-Scorff: they have a series of shows that they put on (in the high season, there are something like seven of them) - we saw three today, the first being the parrots and their like. It was just fantastic - first some smaller birds flew back and forth and back and forth between two trainers on either end of us spectators; then three enormous bright blue and red macaws swooped in front of us in huge arcs - the backdrop being the lush green Breton forest, of course. And then...
... the trainer asked for a volunteer and guess who jumped up?
Yea, Oliver! The bird jumped back and forth between he and another little girl's arm, and then between their heads. Oliver became turtle-boy at that point - all good!
I couldn't really resist this Breton farmhouse presided over by a sheep. This was in the not-so-exotic farmyard animal section, but I always love a good, colorful rooster (having been well-educated by the Putnam County Fair!).
After that, it was the "Oiseaux Marines" (sea-faring birds?) display - it included birds of prey (falcons!) as well, but the kids went nuts for the pelican.
I think that you can see why!!!
And last, but oh no, not least - the seal show. Here they are kissing! Smooch! It was raining pretty heavily by this point, and the zoo was closing, so we headed on home - I think that all three kids were asleep in the car before I got out of the parking lot. I, of course, was feeling peppy thanks to that much-welcomed espresso! Omelettes for dinner, a Baby Pink Dragon (complete with lemurs and pelican) for bedtime, and thus endeth another beautiful day in Brittany!
For you sweet dreams, here is the sound of one of those enormous macaws imitating a human laugh (it can also whistle suggestively and say "Bonjour" - vive la France!).
Friday, March 26, 2010
We speak this strange English-with-a-sprinkle-of-French at home now. Basically nouns and main verbs, all the necessary linking verbs and words still being in English. "Can you find your chaussettes?" (socks) "Mommy, after this can I have pain et beurre?" (that's bread and butter, not pain and butter!) "Where is my canard?" (duck). I'm aware that we're coming up on three months of our being here, and not just because it's the halfway point of our time here (gasp!), but also because Iris had made me promise the first night we were here that Baby Pink Dragon and Her Friend the Little Girl (and their now 21 other friends) would catch Krrrrichelieu after three months. So I have to come up with something really good by Monday night - can we really say goodbye to the search for Krrrrichelieu? Can we really end his Reign of Sadness, which, repeatedly (ok, nightly), BPD and HFTLG and all their friends overturn? There's a plucky little fellow from the Breton Fairy Tale of the Day series named Belzig who is a contender for the next three months, but I'd better leave the possibility of a sequel open - you never know.
So, no photograph (but boy do I wish I had one!) - just a quick notice of what the children had for lunch today: calamari napolitaine. That's right - squid! in a garlic tomato sauce served over rice. Delectable. I asked Oliver if any kids refused the squid (squid!) and he looked at me like I was crazy and said "No way!" - wow oh wow. Calamari at the cantine. Oh to be young again!
So we had a nice, cozy evening at home, the kids and I. It was our last after-school night sans Mac - he comes home on Monday in the early evening and will meet up with us at the seder (that should make things festive!). We had crêpes and soup (an odd combination, but Eleanor loves soup and it has been pouring rain - seemed like the right thing to do). Then, Madagascar in French - you can tell it's in French because of their little faces being so intent in concentration. Here is further evidence of Eleanor's need for contact with human flesh at all times: even (especially?) during a movie, she must twiddle an ear. All of us can pretty much carry on even with Eleanor radio-dialing our ear-lobes.
I spent the day reading a book on French Renaissance art and abundance and excess (this is the one by Rebecca Zorach, with whom I went to graduate school and who wound up teaching at University of Chicago where we both were). The book is bold and original and wonderful to read. It's a bit outside the parameter of what I'm doing, but I've wanted to read it for a long time, and it's good to know what happens "next" after one's period. Monday I start writing because for all intents and purposes, I have two weeks of uninterrupted work time left - after that, it's the kids' two week vacation, overlapping with my Mom coming for two weeks, then back to work. Before that, a terrific student from my "Love and War in Medieval Art and Literature" (and other) class is coming to visit - one with whom we're going to explore the Arthurian Center when it opens! Those two weeks will be filled with writing, and going back over original sources. I could keep reading secondary sources forever (I love to see ideas and ideologies change over time), but at some point, you have to put them away and get to your own thoughts. I always do an elaborate and probably unnecessary girding of the loins before writing - but writing is truth, you know? Writing down your ideas lets you know if they're any good or not. It's been helpful to "whisper in the reeds" out here in this blog. I was encouraged yesterday when I found myself writing an abstract for a 16th century conference (Montreal, October) - there was something to say, and my thoughts were organized enough to be pithy about it. I'm always tremulous before writing (ack! if only I didn't make it such a big deal!), but the end result is so, so sweet. So I'm building up a chapter, writing one from scratch (but whose core will be the Leeds talk), and then putting together a table of contents for a book proposal. After my mom's visit, I'll polish the Leeds talk, and finalize my Women's Studies course. Those ought to be some fun posts! :-)
For now, The Three Musketeers await me (ooh-la-la!) and I must rest, for tomorrow, we have plans to go to a zoo!
Thursday, March 25, 2010
... is what was inside the white chocolate egg shell. Two little candy eggs, a white chocolate cow, and two adorable little kids (what is the little boy doing?). What a lovely surprise! Rebirth, renewal all the way!
And here is what was inside the chocolate frog. The kids could hardly get over it - bonus chocolates! Yes, bonus chocolates for your France life.
So here are a few random images from my France life. Before I launch in, I'd like to say thank you for all of the comforting, wise, and loving comments I received on e-mail after last night's post. I have so enjoyed thinking of the friends and family members who might be reading these posts - to have your presence and your beautiful thoughts on my dad's birthday meant the world to me.
Let us, then, begin. This wonderful arrangement of zebras currently hangs in Eleanor's classroom. This is still part of the Africa unit and the striking graphic quality of the zebra parade is just terrific. Eleanor is very proud of her zebra - hers is in the second row from the bottom, the second one from the right. It's the one whose stripes have been painted with great (and thick) gusto.
Her teacher said "It's a zebra at night." Ha ha!
Here is a package of Raclette cheese (when I said random, I meant random!). But there are several things to love here. The packaging for instance - nothing fancy (in fact, it's the store brand and I feel my poor Swiss relatives groaning at the very idea of buying store brand Raclette - sorry, Mom!), but I've consistently loved how Carrefour adds these little descriptive vignettes of the food they package. Here, the cheese is described as "fondante et généreuse" (melting and generous) - just what you want in a cheese. The other thing to love, of course, is just how delicious this tastes melted over froment bread. I absolutely did not prepare it the way you're supposed to (with a special machine, and with boiled potatoes and smoked meats) - but the kids loved their "grilled cheese sandwiches." The grilled cheese sandwiches of my France life.
This is just a joyful image of Oliver and Iris running yesterday at the Lists. You can see that the weather is truly warming up. Colder today, and with this crazy rain-hail shower that hit right as I was leaving to get the kids from school. When I got there (not 5 minutes later), it was gorgeous sun and puffy clouds. Amazing. Iris was worried, though, about our friends on the island. Every time it rains, now, she worries. Sweetheart. Well, at least this picture demonstrates that no matter the danger, she could at the very least run from it in style - look at that form! They were playing "Pollen!" which is tag except that you're bees.
This really rather excellent princess by Iris brings up a random thought about Henry IV and la Reine Margot - and here I'm referring to the movie versions of both of their lives. Both historical figures are made sympathetic through their sufferings in love. It is not Henry's moral struggle with the tensions between Protestantism and Catholicism that make him sympathetic (and tragic when he's assassinated) - it's his love for Gabrielle d'Estrée and her death and his wrenching grief that make him sympathetic. It is not Marguerite de France's agonizing life in the midst of a French court gone arguably quite mad that makes her sympathetic - it's her love for de la Môle that makes her sympathetic. So what are we looking at here? Modern cinematic conventions (calling Laura Mulvey) for protagonists that require a personal struggle (usually in the arena of love) for viewer identification? Or were these emotions really the driving and formative factors of these fascinating people's characters? Never mind, "really" - were these emotions, these tensions between the private and the public personas, the tensions within which these people lived?
Here is where Corneille's Horace (first performed in 1640, so about 75 years before our events) really comes in handy. Camille (whom I've always taken to the be the figure in white to the right of David's Oath of the Horatii 1784 painting) is engaged to one of the three Curatii which her three Horatii brothers must fight (think, Combat of the Three instead of Combat of the Thirty). She, like her Curati sister-in-law, can't win: she will either lose a brother, or her lover. Well, the Horati win, the Curati lose (die), and Camille, instead of cheering on Rome and her brother and expressing her filial duties of pride in her family as representatives of the State of Rome, launches into one of the most memorable tirades against public obligations to the State ever (ever) spoken.
Rome, l'unique objet de mon ressentiment !
Rome, à qui vient ton bras d'immoler mon amant !
Rome qui t'a vu naître et que ton cœur adore !
Rome enfin que je hais, parce qu'elle t'honore !
Puissent tous ses voisins, ensemble conjurés,
Saper ses fondements encor mal assurés !
Et si ce n'est assez de toute l'Italie,
Que l'Orient, contre elle, à l'Occident s'allie !
Que cent peuples unis des bouts de l'univers
Passent pour la détruire et les monts et les mers !
Qu'elle-même sur soi renverse ses murailles,
Et de ses propres mains déchire ses entrailles !
Que le courroux du ciel allumé par mes vœux,
Fasse tomber sur elle un déluge de feux !
Puissé-je de mes yeux y voir tomber ce foudre,
Voir ses maisons en cendres, et tes lauriers en poudre !
Voir le dernier Romain à son dernier soupir,
Moi seule en être cause, et mourir de plaisir.
CORNEILLE, Horace, Acte IV, scène 5I wouldn't even know how to begin translating that without butchering it. Funny - I've looked on-line for translations and there aren't any (that just can't be!). "Rome enfin que je hais parce qu'elle t'honore" might be the crux of the matter, though: "Rome, which I loathe because she honors you" (her brother, Horace). Camilla is filled with fury at Rome, at the State, at its obligations, its sacrifices. All she wants is her lover back and she wishes to see the entire State crumble into ash and powder for his death in fiery and final ways. "Voir le dernier Roman à son dernier soupir" (to see the last Roman exhaling his last sigh) "Moi seule en être la cause, et mourir de plaisir" (For me alone to be the cause [of his demise], and to die of pleasure." Chilling, isn't it? A "vrai cri de coeur" (cry from the heart) - my first experience of a grieving individual self calling for the complete destruction of the State that had required the sacrifice of individual happiness and love. (The starkest contrast would be the way that, in Virgil's Aeneid (29-19 B.C.E.), Aeneas does not protest his having to leave Dido to fulfill his destiny - Dido does not protest the obligations of Fate for the creation of the State of Rome - she just kills herself). (Or, how Lancelot and Guinevere accept that their love has brought about the downfall of Camelot, not by staying together and claiming their happiness, but by each going to a nunnery and monastery to die).
In case you're wondering, things don't go so well for Camilla: her brother kills her and (and this always totally gets my students) is acquitted of the murder by the king. State: 1; Individual: 0. There is much, much more to say here (about the beauty of the French language for one thing; about the lasting resonance of this speech - if I'm remembering correctly, my mom had to memorize this speech in her literature class as a school girl; about how much my students in "Art and Revolution" debate whether Corneille was himself leveling a critique at the sacrifices called for by the State, or whether he "really" believed that Camilla deserved to die; and actually, there's something to say about that line in which Camilla wishes for the Orient to join with the Occident in crushing Rome). But what I walk away with is the lasting power of the expression of that tension between private desires and public obligations. I don't know if Henry IV and la Reine Margot felt as Camilla did, but for some reason, we need to think they did.
Well, here is Eleanor whose sense of private vs. public isn't very developed (believe me, I could cite evidence) enjoying a Barbapapa adventure - Barbotine has lost her tire-lire (piggy bank) by getting it confused with an actual pig. Ah, the cartoons of my France life.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
It's pretty stunning having a 90 year old father. I think that it's some kind of record for his family. If there's one thing my father has, it's a strong will, and (but what do I know?) it seems to me that at a certain point, will has as much to do with it as health. We had a soon-to-be-neurologist friend back in Chicago who loved old brains - said they thought differently and that there was wonder in that. We co-authored a teeny tiny short article on the phenomenon of spätstiel (the late style of artists). Rembrandt, for example, painted very differently at the end of his life than at any other time: the humor was more biting, the emotional thrust of the paintings trickier to pin down. Our friend found the older brain in its different operations as fascinating as most people find the infant or toddler brain. I've tried to keep that in mind, to go with the flow of my father's thinking, to be fascinated (à la Oliver Sacks) with the twists and turns of his mind. But very often, emotions overtake fascination.
What I hope is that I don't remember my father as a brain-injured person. That sounds weird, I know - why not accept what's happened and go with it? love him just the way he is now. I do, but there are many things that make that difficult: the cruelty of his personality changes, the unfathomable emotional distance, the tragedy of his changed state. So while I love him now, I hope that over the years, the memory of him before the brain injury comes back and wins my memory of him. These past seven years have taken a toll not just on memory, but on identity itself. In those bleak six weeks when he didn't know his own name, I used to ask Mac "But where is my dad?" I still ask it today. He comes in flashes, and then fades away again. Sometimes it's the strength in his voice, other times a certain gesture. It's like getting reception through static - every once in a while the picture is clear, and you just wish so much it could stay that way.
OK - now I hope that you don't find me morbid, but I've been following the blog that the family of Dr. Joseph Leahy is writing as they track his recovery from the brain injury (and more) he suffered when a fellow professor shot he and five other colleagues during a faculty meeting five weeks ago. They are an eloquent and inspirational family and I'm grateful that they're chronicling the long, long journey that is recovery from brain injury. I read many books at the beginning, like Where's the Mango Princess? by Cathie Crimmins and they help. You don't feel so wacko for wanting such strange things, for hoping for such impossibilities. What's comforting and strange at the same time is how absolutely familiar everything is: the kinds of talks the doctors give, the moments of lucidity that we all want to ride for a long time, but which are quickly eclipsed by returning confusion; the need to think progress is, well, progressive, but in fact it happens in fits and starts and you don't know which way you're headed anymore; the tremendous love and hope that you feel because you just want everything to be all right; and above all, the fervent push for metaphors that somehow make what's happening make sense: your dad has all his marbles (this was said to us), but they're scattered everywhere and he's working to get them organized; you have to think of his mind like a deck of cards (this on the blog) and the cards are everywhere and he's got to get the back into a deck; it's like a television whose reception is bad; it's like a dance, two steps forward one step back; it's like your dad is in a foreign country, having to learn all of the rules of everything from language to society all over again.
I think that what I'm trying to say tonight is that while I know how to write about my dad and his incredible, rich, wonderful life, and while I know how to write about traumatic brain injury and its powerful hold on life, I really don't know how to write about my dad and his brain injury. I still (after all this time) resist it defining him, even though it is now who he is. I still (after all this time) can't embrace the "new" dad, because I miss the old one so much. And (the sad truth) there's been a lot of ugliness in my dad and his brain injury. The kindest man ever, the "prince of a guy" as my brother described him, turned on all of us at one time or another. My mom got the absolute worst of it, as so often happens to the closest loved one. Watching her rebuild her life now that dad is in a nursing home is cause for hope, even confirmation that life can go on after brain injury. It's not easy, though. It was and remains inconceivable, the things he said - they were just things said, but they were emotionally real. Forgiveness is automatic since we know that he doesn't mean what he says (how many times has he denied ever saying those things) - it's more about letting go of it, forgetting you ever heard it, not allowing yourself to compare the two people who (somehow, inexplicably, and yet verily) occupy the same body and use the same gestures and have the same voice.
Part of the reason that I can't embrace, let alone celebrate, the reality of my brain-injured dad is that it haunts me to think of what he thinks about now. He whose mind ranged so freely, whose curiosity took him literally all over the world, whose incredible courage and will pushed him to take incredible chances. I know that he thinks of North Carolina (brain-injured people tend to want to go home again, to where it's safe and life is predictable), and there have been times when I've shown him some of his pictures which I now have at the office, that he's remembered Cuba and Hong Kong and Sri Lanka. I have so many things that I could show you, that we could talk about from his life. I think that's what gets me, the incredible, unbelievable richness of his life. And the numbing silence (emotional, intellectual, physical) there is now.
So why can't I just let my dad be silent? He's 90 years old! He's tired! Why can't I just let it go? It's because I want to hear him tell a long, loopy southern story one more time. It's because I want to hear him talk about Paris in 1948 one more time. It's because I want him to tell me about why he carried a copy of Shakespeare around with him throughout WWII. It's because I want him to tell me about Bombay (as it was called when he was there) in the wet season. It's because I want him to tell me about meeting my mom for the first time. It's because I want him to marvel at the world the way he used to, instilling curiosity in me. It's because I want him to tell me what it was like to live in new York in the 1960s. It's because I want him to tell me about visiting the sites where his brother fought in Belgium. It's because I want him to tell me about the first painting that he bought. It's because I want him to tell me about what it was like to have children at the age of 49 and 52. It's because I want him to tell me about reading Ben Hur when he was a kid. It's because I still have so many things I want to ask him and talk to him about. It's because I miss him.
If I stopped and listened, I bet that I would be amazed how many times a day my dad comes up in conversation with the kids. They, no surprise, are where I should look more often. They've always known him as brain-injured and they completely accept him for who he is. They don't ask anything from him emotionally, and yet they do indeed love him. They were completely excited to call him this afternoon. They spent time and debated amongst themselves what birthday card to get him (a red velvet frog won out, "so he'll notice it" said Iris). They go with me to eat dinner with him at least once a week and tell him stories and exploits. They ask about him. And they'll keep asking about him because his life touched on so many things they have yet to discover. It's incredible that my dad is 90 years old. It's incredible that Oliver, Iris and I think even Eleanor will remember him - his room, the pictures we've put up on the walls. And the stories above all. 90 years worth of stories, including a messy, tangled chapter at the end. But only including, not determining. Happy Birthday, Dad, I love you and I miss you.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
All this to say that I found myself strangely determined and surprisingly able to get some work done today. There was an hour and a half this morning while the girls watched a movie, and then another hour and a half this evening while all three watched a movie. Thus, Charles IX (1550 - reigned 1560-1574) died to the tunes of the Barbapapas, and Henri III (1551 - reigned 1574-1589) was murdered during Dumbo (there was an odd disconnect on that one!). To your right is François Ier himself (the famous portrait by Clouet), grandfather to Charles and Henri, who were the protagonists of the final chapters of my Big Book on the French Court (by J.R. Knecht). Next, I'm going to read a book by a woman I went to graduate school with (Rebecca Zorach) entitled Blood, Milk, Ink, Gold; abundance and excess in the French Renaissance (Chicago, 2005) - I'm really looking forward to it, since it will finally combine visual culture with in-depth history (thus far, the traditional art history's been pretty dry, and the history has some blind spots - nary a word about the presence of Turkish ambassadors, for example, in the French court in the book I just read).
So what's all this adding up to, you may ask? (I certainly am!). I want to tell a small story about Louise and François for the Leeds conference talk in tracking what I might call the "Orientalist Imaginary" in the education of François Ier from his explorations within Louise's manuscripts to the Franco-Ottoman alliance. From theory to practice. I want to be very careful to not make anything too causal or over-determined, of course. It's not because François Ier read Jean Thenaud's account of his travels to Jerusalem and Egypt that he created this alliance with a Muslim ruler (would that the world of inspiration were that tidy); rather, this research becomes an opportunity to examine the several different, in fact at times very disjointed ways, that Islam and the Middle East were presented and understood in late medieval court culture. It's in the double-speak (the alliance but then condemning them as tyrants) that I'll find help from post-colonial theory and its own exploration of ambiguities. All of this reading will also help me understand wonderfully preposterous images like the one here, which depicts an unbelievable four-tiered tiara (one more tier than the pope's!) that François Ier had made for Suleiman the Magnificent in Venice. Apparently, Suleiman never wore it, but always had it by his side when receiving guests. So now that I've read a good deal about François's early days, about Louise's manuscript collection, now about François's court, I'm ready to focus on this Franco-Ottoman chapter - and happily, a book was written just in 2008 about it all: more on this topic when I've read that (will there be enough time? panic panic - no, but I am making bibliographies and am in this for the long haul and will thus just keep on going).
In the meantime, I invite you to savor this image of Suleiman which is in the (are you ready for this?) U.S. House of Representatives - he's one of 23 famous lawmakers in the history and the world that adorn said House. Kind of incredible, eh? Suleiman is in fact known as the Lawmaker in Turkish tradition - it's the West that calls him the Magnificent. I find the presence of Suleiman's image in the U.S. House of Representatives moving, to be honest. Here is a truly unusual (unique?) depiction of a Muslim ruler - not as a tyrant or autocract, but as a fellow democratic law-maker. And in the U.S. House of Representatives at that - i just don't think of it as a place that is anything but 150% American - so this homage to a Muslims law-maker in that space is all the more, well, Magnificent.
If you're still with me here it's because you want to know about the kids. :-) The girls and I spent a day at home: strike day. I should have had them watch the 1 p.m. news with me to see the footage: the paper reports 500,000 people in the streets all over France (15,000 in Nantes, for instance). Even daycare center workers were on strike today - so there is really a call to the government to come out and support education at all levels. They missed school, though, and worried about Oliver being "on his own." Oliver, meanwhile, had an absolute blast at school, starting the day off with another 3 hours of "Atelier Cirque" - today it was tumbling in addition to reviewing the juggling of yesterday. Thursday (he said, shaking with excitement), they get to learn how to be clowns. Truly - ecstasy here. So I asked Oliver at dinner why he thought that here in France there was a huge Circus unit taking up the entire half of a week of school. He answered that he thought it had to do with France being more in the olden times, and America being more modern. Isn't that interesting? I'm not entirely sure what it means, though. :-) He did go on to talk about how getting to know the Circus over a whole week was more French because in America you only go to the circus for a couple of hours. Is he talking about efficiency? I had some ideas about joie de vivre - but I like Oliver's explanation better. Tomorrow, we have no great aspirations: finish up some books, fun lunch, go to the library in the afternoon. Fingers crossed for good weather so's we can get out and romp about a bit!
Monday, March 22, 2010
One's heart soars and sinks at such an Easter display, eh? The colors, the glitter, the glow - the choooooocolate. My poor kids, now that I see the photograph, I have no idea how we all got out of there without 8 kilos of chocolate each to our name. Well, I didn't fare so well today and each kid got a little treat (chocolate hens for Iris, chocolate eggs for Oliver and Eleanor). As Oliver reasoned with me this morning when I told him we should wait until Easter morning, "Well, we eat Christmas chocolates before Christmas Day." Touché. This display may look like any in the States, and yet there are key differences.
Enormous chocolate bell anyone?
Or how about some birdhouses with chocolate eggs in them? Or (my favorite) a chocolate egg in a keepsake Hello Kitty egg cup? (Sorely tempted to get those, as the soft-boiled egg is a hallowed thing in our home...)
But let's be honest about who owns Easter: it's the Kinder people (ooo, nice demo of the toys inside at the Wikipedia page - truly, there is a Wikipedia page for everything under the sun). This is what caused Oliver to stop in his tracks - those chocolate bunnies are calling his name. Yep, renewal, spring, desires for pleasure and heavenly sweetness - let Easter come!
And then, as if the Circus and the promise of Easter wasn't enough, Mademoiselle Iris had a surprise for us all..
Ta-daaa! The Tooth Souris strikes again! (That's three teeth lost (all at school) since we got here!). Tooth souris!
Eleanor was leading the charge home - you can see Iris getting used to her new mouth. I put this picture in here because I actually love the outfit that Eleanor chose for herself today - very hip and understated for a 3 year old, don't you think? Of course, her teacher is super hip (wears all black and knee-high boots - no heels, though) and maybe that's rubbing off on her. Go, Eleanor!
So now I have two out of three toothless kids - Iris is so proud of her gap-toothed grin she looks like she's going to eat the camera; Oliver is in the process of giving his up (front tooth number two is making an appearance); and Eleanor, well, gee, I just love those little tic-tac teeth.
There's lots more to muse over today, isn't there? WOW! The Health Bill passed! They've been playing Nancy Pelosi banging the gavel in confirmation of its passing all day here (and yes, the French news gently let is be known that America, "richest country in the world," is finally going to spend some of that money to give people healthcare, something that all European nations (and yes, I'll say it, France in the forefront) have been doing for generations). And the Socialist Party here in France absolutely cleaned up in the regional elections (21 out of 22 regions went Socialist) - to the point where Sarkozy's government has undergone a "mini-remaniement" (a mini-rearrangement: the Education Minister had to go for some reason). And tomorrow is a nation-wide strike: 126 demonstrations forecast all over the country - Iris and Eleanor's teachers will be in Vannes - let's hope voices are heard: clearly, the French people have spoken! For now, though, having read yet more of the history after François Ier that takes me all the way to Henry IV, I'm going to finally watch La Reine Margot, loaned to me by our friend on the island - oo! with whom we are spending Passover - truly, a wonderful spring!