What do I love in Paris? So much, it is hard to make a list... I started from Musee de l'Orangerie and a visit to my favorite Water Lilies, Monet's gift to the French nation and to the world. Eight monumental multi-panel paintings, two rooms, Dusk and Dawn, or Dawn and Dusk... You can sit there for ever. Last time, in 2011, I wrote a set of poems inspired by the paintings, and took home pictures. This year, cameras were strictly forbidden, and the guards chased after the tourists who pretend they were not holding their smartphones up at all...
What piece of music should we listen to while admiring the lilies? Maybe a String Quartet by Gabriel Faure? Maybe the Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp by Claude Debussy? or maybe the Nocturne op. 27 No. 2 by Fryderyk Chopin?
Among the Lilies
~ Inspired by Claude Monet’s Water Lilies at L’Orangerie, October 2011, Paris
PART I. DAWN
Etched under my eyelids
The water lilies rest on the surface
Of Monet’s pond at Giverny
Intense blues and greens of his palette
Fill me with color he invented
This, I want to see – his nenufary
This I want to be – a lily among his blossoms
With my golden hair
In a halo of sunrays, above aquamarine
My crystal necklace
Sparkles like the pond he made
Mirrors of stained-glass windows
Lined with birdsong
Clouds measure the stillness of water
Cerulean breeze dances in the grass
He starts a new canvas
Turquoise into aqua into mauve
The secret of water lilies
Born in iridescence
His garden drinks in
The dark vertigo of the sky, swirling
With opaque strands of mist
Dawn air chills his fingers
He keeps the colors royal
Vermilion and scarlet
The breeze shifts, scattering the patterns
Cleansing the air
Distant traces of mustard gas
The breath and the brushstroke are one
He is the wind, moving through the garden
Made to be painted
Lily pads float up into indigo
Gathering like birds before winter
Pulled by the gravity of belonging
They fall into the night
Blossoms and cicadas
Nightingale’s song swirls above their sleep
A cricket counts the brushstrokes
Stiff fingers ache
It is good he had the ponds dug out
Life is good
PART II - DUSK
The dusk is falling
Brush drops from his fingers
In a stretch of darkness
Contours barely felt, imagined
The water – unfathomable
The end of the beginning
Crimson lily brightens
The moon is too close
Grow on the other shore
His brush sings of solitude
The willows weep and weep
Drop leaves into the pond
Remember the fallen
He strains to see
The dream of a blue horizon
White shape-shifting clouds
Shimmy across the water
A day transposed
Above the deterioration
Of time stretched by blindness
He paints a latch to escape
Light becomes heavy
Settles into the sunset
Brightness of yellow hearts
Erased in the still, stilling world
Silence tastes of Beaujolais
White blossoms open and close
From dusk to dawn
From dawn to dusk
Only the water the lilies and the sky
I got one ticket at Musee d'Orsay - to tour its abundant collections and to see my beloved Monet lilies. Each time you visit the same museum, filled with masterpieces, you find something different to fall in love with. This time, I discovered Vincent Van Gogh's La Méridienne oú La sieste, d'apres Millet, a large azzure and gold painting of a couple resting at noon from the hard work of harvesting grain. It is quite large, for a Van Gogh, and is set in an enormous, ornate gold frame. The colors are intense, vivid, like only Van Gogh would be: you feel the sunlight burning at noon; prickling straw, the allure of a cool shade... I have yet to see a reproduction that gives justice to the perfect balance of the artist's colors. Pure genius. The blue is rich, intense, the gold of the straw vivid, but neither orangey nor lemony, as on some copies. Of course, none of the posters could have the richly textured surface of the painting, covered with fervid strokes, touchingly unfinished in corners. (I love those unfinished corners and borders the most, in all Van Gogh! They reveal the intensity of his passion...)
Vincent Van Gogh, La Méridienne oú La sieste, d'apres Millet (1890)
And of course, there is the love story right there, in the golden noon. Resting in trust. In comfort.
~ after Noon by Van Gogh and Millet
Half of the day's work is done.
She curls into a ball by his side
He stretches up, proudly thinking
of the bread they will bake,
the children they will feed.
Noon rays dance on the straw
they cut with their sickles
to finish the harvest when the sky
is still the bluest of summer azure.
She took the first fistful of stems
solemnly, among the rolling waves
of wheat ocean. She made a figurine,
placed it high up on the wooden fence
overlooking their fields. She learned
it from her mother, her mother before her,
generations reaching back to that first
handful of grain, droplets of wine
and water spilled at its feet.
The offering for the goddess of harvest.
They move together in consort
in the white gold of silence.
They rest together, two pieces
in a puzzle of bread to come.
The painting reminded me of my childhood memories, thirst for cool water on a hot burning day, holding a small child's rake in sweaty hands, trying to avoid getting scratched by the thick, sharp ends of straw... I captured some of the wonder of harvest in one of my Chopin poems, "Harvesting Chopin..." - dedicated to my father Aleksy, uncle Galakcyon, and grandmother Nina Trochimczyk. Here a Mazurka will not be out of place.. .Mazurkain F-sharp Minor, Op. 59, No. 3 . Like all Chopin's mazurkas it is there and yet it is not, nostalgia takes you from here to the golden past, the joy of dancing in circles, round and round...
The straw was too prickly,
the sunlight too bright,
my small hands too sweaty
to hold the wooden rake
my uncle carved for me.
I cried on the field of stubble;
stems fell under his scythe.
I was four and had to work -
Grandma said - no work no food.
How cruel! I longed for
the noon’s short shadows
when I'd quench my thirst
with cold water, taste
the freshly-baked rye bread
sweetened by the strands
of music wafting from
the kitchen window.
Distant scent of mazurkas
floated above the harvesters
dressed in white, long-sleeved shirts
to honor the bread in the making.
The dance of homecoming
and sorrow – that is what
Chopin was in the golden air
above the fields of Bielewicze
where children had to earn their right
to rest in the daily dose of the piano –
too pretty, too prickly, too bright.
It was raining outside, when I left the museum with my butterfly umbrella and walked through the drizzle in my ballerina flats. Acacia and horse chesnut were in bloom. White daisies dotted the grass. Flower stands were filled with bouquets of lilies of the valley, the scent of konwalie filled the air. No wonder people sing: "I love Paris in the spring time, I love Paris in the fall..." and fall in love in Paris, with Paris. On my first evening there, I saw a marriage proposal under the Eiffel Tower: in front of hundreds of tourists, the man knelt down and asked his one question, the woman started to cry. He stood up to put the ring on her finger and the onlookers sang and cheered.
Only in Paris...
A heart of a sycamore tree,
bells of konwalie on the stone bridge
not far from the steel branches of the Eiffel Tower
reflected in wet cobblestone streets.
Delighted with the sweet scent
from my childhood garden
I wander through the drizzle
with my butterfly umbrella
until the sun comes out
shining on the fallen blossom of a chesnut,
and the star-white secrets of kalina and jasmin.
hidden in a garden made for nobody, but me.
Shadows stretch beyond leaf-painted park vistas...
Night dazzles the still rainy city.
The sky - a Van Gogh painting - its magic spills over
beyond the moment, breathing
like only Paris in the spring rain can breathe...
All pictures (C) 2014 by Maja Trochimczyk
Selected poems from "Among the Lilies" were published in The Lummox Journal in 2013.
"Harvesting Chopin" was published in Chopin with Cherries (Moonrise Press, 2010).