Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Mysteries

No, this isn't a post about theological quandries (although I thought that you might enjoy at least one medieval Resurrection, in which the feet disappearing up into the clouds do some pretty heavy theological work to explain said Resurrection). No, this post will be a continuation of what we saw and did on Easter - the strange and the bizarre part of it. Today was an odd half-work day: the kids were home but I just have to work since my conference paper needs to be pretty much written by this Friday morning and I somehow have to miraculously prepare things so that I can work in short bursts between now and when two chapters and a report for my fellowship are due in a month. One chapter's pretty much done, and the other one will probably take shape through my writing the equivalent of a series of blog posts (another reason this blog has been so wonderful - I do write a little bit every day!). I think I can, I think I can. Once that's done, I then have the month of May and June to work on a the new Women's Studies course and see what I want to do with Love and War in Medieval Art and Liteterature. And fret over the Leeds conference paper (giving that in mid-July). And visit with dear friends (hoorah!), No progress on the conference paper (I promise lots tomorrow), but I did find another terrific image, which I may end with today.

Actually, before we get to "News of the Easter Weird" I want to show you just one more Ascension image - this one is so wonderful, so unusual. It's from the 16th century, and compresses the Great Big Moments of Christ's life into its vertical axis: so, Nativity at the bottom, Crucifixion in the big middle, and Ascension at the very top. It's that Ascension that shows Christ walking ever upwards and opening the door of the heavens that is so terrific. The four bodies of the evangelists, one in each corner, bent over their work gives the whole thing this kind of intensity - as though we, too, should be crouching over our holy texts (this is an ivory book cover, by the way). Ivory is such an incredible medium: soft and warm to the touch (it needs the oil of human touch to keep from cracking, actually), luxurious inviting, and incredibly demanding as a medium (one false move and "Crack!"). I always love the roundness of the figures, knowing they seem especially that way because of how often they've been touched. The incredible Donna Sadler once told me that it's in ivories that you'll find some iconographic departures, so personal were these objects, that patrons could ask for twists on the usual stories. This one is certainly the case - no tiny feet disappearing into heaven here; Christ just walks up and opens the door!

Gee, now I kind of wish that this was about theological quandries. Ah - another time. Ok, so maybe this is a French tradition that I don't know about, or maybe a Breton tradition (somehow I really don't think so)? But we're approaching the line to get in to the castle yesterday and this lively group of people start calling out to us to stop and say hello. We are then approached by one of the two people dressed as chicks hatching out of an egg, and the person in question asks if we'd like to buy a condom. I have to stop and stare and laugh at that one (ok, three kids is three kids, but gee whiz!). Is this for a charitable organization? I ask, thinking of an AIDS fundraiser or some such, but no, "c'est pour notre mariage!" I am told. To pay for your wedding I ask? No, no, just a symbolic amount of money will do. Does this then mean that the other person in the other chick suit is the lucky bride to be? Yep. I handed them a coin and we were handed our condom which had a picture of the couple in question and their upcoming wedding date (May something). OK, Francophones and Francophiles, tell me what you know! Is this a completely isolated incident of a group of friends triple dog daring their soon-to-be-wedded friends to do this? Or is this a completely traditional pre-wedding prank? (They stopped every single car coming up the main street, and everyone seems to have responded with good cheer and much happy honking). Is the idea, if you can prank together, you can make a life together? There are stranger traditions (well, maybe not stranger), but I think, for instance, of Russian newlyweds getting their pictures taken by famous Soviet monuments (one of the first things we saw when we landed in Moscow those many years ago). Any light to be shed on this instance of weird will be welcome. The kids were utterly oblivious to our puzzlement, only Iris muttering "You shouldn't take candy from strangers, Mom." Yea, let alone strangers in chick outfit!

This next moment wasn't so much strange, as it was so delightfully unexpected. After our egg hunt/fact-finding mission, we walked to what is called the Chapel of the Congregation which is adjoined to the castle wall, though the entrance is on the outside. (I'll have to read the little sign more carefully when we go by again). Now, we'd just spent all this time in a castle (secular space) doing things related to Easter (religious holiday). But when we entered the Chapel of the Congregation (holy space), there was an entire exhibit about the life of the Brest-Nantes canal (decidedly secular). There were crêpes and cider and Breton tarts, and bales of hay, and 19th century photographs, and chocolate eggs hidden in tiny burlap sacks hidden beneath scythes (!), and this beautiful, lovely harpist, who immediately made us think of the exquisite Mallory Guinee who is herself an accomplished harpist. We weren't sure what to think of the medieval costume and headgear, but it was lovely. She was soon joined by a storyteller and the kids settled right down on some bales of hay and snuggled up to hear a story of the grand days of the canal. Instead, it was a story about a little piece of cardboard that had gotten lost under a dusty bed and thought that no one wanted or cared about it until it was found by a tin soldier. At that point, we discover that the little piece of cardboard was actually a much-sought after puzzle piece, and when it was found, the puzzle was made whole again. Here, you can listen to the dramatic conclusion for yourself. (Yes, that is Oliver's hand coming up to say hello halfway through).

Isn't that delightful? I just love being here for moments like these. Being out of almost every loop here (because we live in our own happy little loop, or in the truly loopy world of art history), we never know what's going to emerge - and so we wander into entire worlds that people have conjured up, completely unawares. I imagine that it's a little bit how kids experience the world, don't you think?

Speaking of kids, I can't resist including this little snippet of Iris when we first got there - you see her processing that the Easter Egg Hunt is in fact a fact-finding mission based on finding egg-shaped boards and reading their directions. We have a phrase that we use a lot: "Go with the flow" (also, "Let go, let Mom") - she decided to apply it!


  1. Okay, I have just been sitting here playing and replaying that video of your darling Iris over and over again. Could the girl be any cuter or more expressive? The mumbling and the "I have a problem on it" bit...I love it!...clearly a little put off with those cardboard eggs, but still completely embracing the moment. What a kid...<3 her!
    Oh, and thanks for the sweet thoughts of Mals. She is counting the days, as am I.

  2. hi dear one,
    You know what? us, too! I think I've seen that video a dozen times by now. Some coping skills, eh? :-) The kids were totally excited when they saw the harpist - it really is a marvelous instrument to behold live.

    The other thing we've looked at repeatedly is the Peeps post (including the link to the competition!) - Peeps as Art makes more sense than Peeps as food.

    hee hee - counting the days here, too!