Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving in Paris with Leonardo, Swans, Music, and Rain

Self-portrait with Leonardo at the Louvre, November 23, 2015.

And they said, aren't you afraid to go? To Paris? Now? After the explosions? Bloodied bodies in the streets? For Thanksgiving? This is how we show we are not afraid, we will not let them win, whoever they are, these men with guns, tall, strong-muscled men without love, with guns, always more guns. But I sought something else, something to be thankful for. The Louvre was there, waiting.

Oh, how we long 
for the tender arms of mother -
safe touch of azure

And there is more, that other half smile of John the Baptist.  Leonardo's mysterious twin.

look at the clouds 
don't get distracted by things below 
he says, pointing at the sky

Today, I'm thankful for paintings. Leonardo in black and blue made my day.  And so did that flustered angel, excitedly bomb-diving the Blessed Virgin with the good news, hers and ours, the real Good News: Peace be with you. God lives in your heart.  Look how surprised she is, how unprepared. Aren't we all? To know that there is only love, only One Love that links us, sentient beings, from the bee to the bison, from dolphin to the duck, with the cruel, violent humans hiding somewhere in-between?  When will we feel that all human beings are part of us; that all trees grow our roots, all skylarks sing our songs? 

Yes, I did see long guns in Paris. Groups of four or five soldiers in camouflage fatigues, walking along the umbrella lines waiting to get inside the Notre Dame Cathedral.  Why did we stand for over an hour in the cold?

umbrellas blossom
on the cathedral square 
without gunshots

Maybe to hear the bells ringing at noon, and, again at one o'clock.

 a new hour -
cathedral bells are ringing
under clouded skies

The Cathedral

waves of song
bounce off the cobblestones
spill on the rooftops

stay still, watch
shadows fle the bronze
majesty of bells

morning brightness
rises in the rhythm 
of the ocean, caressing

ancient mounds 
of cooled off lava 
at the edge of the dying world

inside the rib-cage 
of a cathedral
we learn to breathe

in the beached whale 
of a building
the city’s beating heart

(C) Maja Trochimczyk, October 19, 2013

Yes, I'm thankful for the cathedral. For the artisans who made its rosettes and stained glass windows,

I also thank the carpenters who built the walls of the Auberge des Deux Ponts near the Bibliotheque Polonaise on Ille de France, just around the corner from the Notre Dame. What a perfect, simple, elegant,  place. With ten tables for two, and a harmony of sights and tastes.

I count my blessings when I walk around in the rain. It is such a pleasure to take in the sights, the sounds. The wind and the wings of seagulls gathering above an old lady who came to feed the swans on the shore of the Seine. The whole aviary showed up, uninvited, and started their pithy battles for the crumbs.  I'm touched by the sight of the swans, and the one, oversized ugly duckling swimming nearby.

Yes, I'm grateful for the bread, the lady, and the swans. The violinist and artist Wanda Sobieska made hand-drawn illustrations for a new version of the Ugly Duckling, composed by Ken Woods and recorded by his ensemble. It took them two years to write a ten-minute tale. Was this time well spent?  Of course.
grey feathers fly
the gang pecks and screeches
poor ugly duckling 

But that turmoil was before the swan was aware who he really was: the majestic, glorious bird, of grace and beauty. A case of mistaken identity. Don't we all suffer from it sometimes? At all times? Do we know what are we here for? The contours of our lives outlined by heartbeats? The invisible links of affection? Shortcuts through time into the ever present, ever brilliant now? Are we thankful?

What are we thankful for?

Today, I'm grateful for music.  My travel to Paris is for a reunion of scholars, connected by an unlikely subject of a pianist-composer long gone, Maria Szymanowska died in 1831, why are we still talking about her? What is there in the life, in the music of this lovely, elegant lady, the Court Pianist to the Tsarina, that could possibly matter to us today?  Aren't we thankful for when we listen to Szymanowska's Romances sung by Elisabeth Zapolska and played by Bart van Oort on an antique Aloysius Graff fortepiano from 1820s? One of seven such instruments in the world... It has five pedals, can sound muted, distant, or jangling, percussive, or resonant and boisterous. Who knew so many colors could hide in a box of precious wood and metal? Hats off to those who made and restored this ancient beauty... Hats off to Elisabeth whose enthusiasm and warmth inspired so many...

Bart van Oort and Elizabeth Zapolska perform Maria Szymanowska. November 24, 2015.
Photo thanks to

Today, I'm grateful for libraries.  We would not know who we are, where we came from, who was here before us, what they thought, what they did, what they left for us to find, if not for the nameless armies of librarians, archivists, custodians of our past, and ushers of the future.  The Czartoryski family of aristocrats in Poland, and their Home Library of letters and notes that helps us understand the emotions felt by lonely mothers two hundred years ago.  The countless, nameless servants of truth, who made sure that these paper gifts survived until today (and are now in Krakow). The Great Emigration exiles in Paris that started the Bibliotheque Polonaise in 1830s, among them the son of Adam Mickiewicz, grandson of Maria Szymanowska, who kept Grandma's papers, jewels and even her satin slippers....

Maja Trochimczyk with Eva Davos-Talma and Prof. Irena Poniatowska,

And let me thank the librarians: Ewa Rutkowska who guards the Mickiewicz manuscripts and Magdalena Glodek who oversees the rare prints and books. Thanks to them I could make my small discoveries, making order out of chaos. I identified a romance by a forgotten woman, Franciszka Kochanowska, found her death date and her family, and doubled the size of her known oeuvre, from one to two songs!!! Hurray!!! The first notice of this rare find was given at the 3e Maria Szymanowska Colloque held at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Paris, with Prof. Irena Poniatowska, my mentor, in attendance.

A page from Maria Szymanowska's Album, Manuscript No. 970, 
Bibliotheque Polonaise, Paris.

Soo, I'm grateful for books. The ones written and lovingly preserved, and the ones I'm going to write and publish.  One of my favorite books of all times is a set of illuminations of Dante's Divine Commedy by Giovanni di Paolo, way better than the 19th century dark imagery of weird angels and demons.  Giovanni paints huge golden suns, the dazzling brilliance of Primum Mobile with real gold.
A revelation and a delight.  Coupled with my favorite pomegranates from my tree: a treat for this Thanksgiving!

A Revelation After Il Paradiso

We live in the third sphere
of lovers, in the Earth’s long shadow
Our love waxes and wanes
like the Moon, or Venus rising up
before dawn, the star of the morning
We oscillate from darkness to brilliance,
float from fear into sunlight
to rest on a golden afternoon
in the innocent warmth of affection
among newly planted roses
Imperial, Electric, Compassion
Double Delight and Simplicity roses
in our garden where we trim dried, twisted
branches of old oleanders to make room
for orange blossoms and more pomegranate
always more pomegranate
never enough pomegranate

Dark red translucent juice stains our fingers
Tart juice bursts with flavor
in our mouths, ready for kisses
always ready for more kisses
softest, childlike, strongest, tasting
like the wine we never tasted, the dream
we never even hoped to dream about
escaping the long shadow
of the Earth on a golden afternoon
lovers in the Garden of Love
afternoon in the Third Sphere of Venus
golden, golden, sparkling golden
afternoon on another planet

(c) Maja Trochimczyk, October 2015

Finally,  and always, I'm thankful for those who love me, my children, my family, my friends.

Maja, Marcin, Agnieszka, Ian, Anna, May 3, 2015

Among them, there is the talented poet and visionary mystic of deep insights, Ambika Talwar who posted a beautiful note on Facebook... Yes, this is what FB is good for:

Thanksgiving Post from Ambika Talwar

Hello Everyone ~ I am here in ND remembering and counting my blessings, my lessons, the gifts from many of you through rough and gentle times. For this I am most grateful.

I am remembering my ability to serve and those willing to receive. For this I am most grateful.

I am remembering the diverse possibilities arising for our futures that so many of you have shared and I long to learn more ways by which our potential may be realised. For this I am most grateful.

I am remembering how utterly alone one can be in this vast world and how someone remembers or shows up to remind you we are not. For this I am grateful.

I am remembering my many homes while I sit here in my parents' living room making sense of all our ways and vagrancies, whose lessons are not always easy. For this I must be grateful for those above and those actions unmentioned. 

And mostly, I am remembering the life of my beloved father and his many sensitivities, sensibilities, and wisdoms - his delighting ways, his challenging ways, his capacities to know and to understand and to love despite our profound differences. To remember and to cherish all this is my deepest privilege now, knowing that this is what will carry me forth wherever I am to now step and claim as mine.

I am grateful for my kith and kin, my friends, my most delightful nieces and nephews, the birds and bees, horses.. all sentient beings, all life. I pray I find my new way and am fulfilled in ways not imagined before. And I wish this for each of you, for all of you.

With all my love ~ Ambika Talwar

Lois P. Jones, Maja Trochimczyk and Ambika Talwar, Photo by Susan Rogers.
Santa Monica's Rapp Saloon, October 2015

Isn't it a beautiful greeting? From the mind and the heart?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Today and always.