Thursday, December 17, 2015

On Polish Christmas in the Notre Dame Cathedral,and Ladies, and Cherries, and Music Boxes

The Cathedral floats up 
above  my leopard prints and faux fur
its stones polished by time 

There was a surprise waiting for me at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris this November. After I waited in a long line in the rain, with colorful umbrellas and a watchful eye of fatigue-clad soldiers with machine guns, the clock struck one: (read about it in the previous post, Thanksgiving in Paris).

Then, inside the stone monument defying the passage of time, I saw the stained glass windows, the breathtaking heights of the main nave.  I walked around and listened to the music, swirling beneath blues and reds of the stained-glass windows: I heard the Kyrie Eleison, Christ Have Mercy, Lord Have Mercy:

Finally, a  medieval Alleluia filled the air.... I walked around the back of the main nave, from one stained-glass window chapel to the next.

Why "stained"-glass?
There are no stains on the rubies and cobalts
of Notre Dame air

Is the twirling ribbon
of stone embroidered with more finesse
than the lead-framed glass?

See more pictures on the Picasa Web Album:

And here it was, my delightful surprise. A tinfoil and paper monument of massive proportions: Szopka Krakowska, the Nativity Scene in a fantastic scenery of multi-towered Castle or Gothic Cathedral as envisioned by folk artists from Krakow, Poland.  The minuscule Nativity scene in the heart of the building, surrounded by Polish folk dancers, and characters from folk tales. Pan Twardowski on his rooster, flying to the moon... Angels, three Kings, everyone...

I find Poland in Paris
bright tinfoil towers of a Nativity Scene 
among the grey stones of Notre Dame

I was in Paris for a reason: to read a paper, research, talk... (my Szymanowska Conference Report is on the Chopin with Cherries Blog). At end of the 3rd International Symposium "Maria Szymanowska and Her TIes" was the closing salon, "An Invitation to the Dance," I read poetry by 19th century Polish poets, and verse of my own. I loved being accompanied by improvisations of extraordinary pianist, Edoardo Torbianelli, who has music spilling from under his fingers. I was going to say: from his sleeves, but he rolls them up tightly, so that nothing can spill.... Reading at the Salon "Invitation to the Dance" at the close of the Maria Szymanowska Conference in Paris, November 27, 2015. Edoardo Torbianelli improvises on Johann Alois Graff pianoforte from 1825 and I read my poem "A Study with Cherries" in Polish, from the Chopin with Cherries Anthology (2010).  Recorded by Alicja Bialek-Guillemette.

Here are the words, in English and Polish:

"A Study with Cherries"

          After Etude in C Major, Op. 10, No. 1 and the cherry orchard
                of my grandparents, Stanisław and Marianna Wajszczuk

I want a cherry,
a rich, sweet cherry
to sprinkle its dark notes
on my skin, like rainy preludes
drizzling through the air.

Followed by the echoes
of the piano, I climb
a cherry tree to find rest
between fragile branches
and relish the red perfection –
morning cherry music.

Satiated, sleepy,
I hide in the dusty attic.
I crack open the shell
of a walnut to peel
the bitter skin off,
revealing white flesh –
a study in C Major.

Tasted in reverie,
the harmonies seep
through light-filled cracks
between weathered beams
in Grandma’s daily ritual
of Chopin at noon.

in Polish translation by Maja Trochimczyk

"Etiuda z Czereśniami"

 Inspiracja Etiuda C-Dur, Op. 10, No. 1 i wisniowym sadem mojego dziadka i babci, Stanisława i Marianny Wajszczuk

A ja chcę czereśnie
Słodziutkie czereśnie
Chce poczuć ciemne nuty soku
Na mojej skórze
Jak krople deszczowego preludium
W mżawce poranka

W obłoku fortepianu
Wspinam się na czereśnię
Szukam ukojenia wśród kruchych gałęzi
Cieszę się doskonałością czerwieni
Czereśniową muzyką od samego rana

Nasycona, śpiąca
Chowam się w ciemnościach strychu
By łupać orzechy, obierać gorzką skórkę
Odsłaniać biały miąższ
Studium w tonacji C-dur

Smakuję marzenia
Akordy płyną przez szpary
Starych belek wypełnione światłem

To codzienny rytuał mojej Babuni
Popołudnie z Chopinem

(c) 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk

English version published in Chopin with Cherries: A Tribute in Verse (Moonrise Press, 2010)

Photo by Alicia Bialek-Guillemette

I also read 19th century poems  written to Maria Szymanowska by Count Henryk Rzewuski (A Menu of her Dinner) and Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz (Praise of Szymanowska's Talent).  I read them in Polish with a summary in English. The first one was quite funny, a full humorous menu, the second properly laudatory.  Here they are:

And, of course, at the end, I read my poem inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's "The Lady with an Ermine" and the theme poem for the salon, "An Invitation to the Dance" -  a lovely trifle, written in the form of a dialogue, on the  intertwined themes of love and dancing...

Below are the texts of the two poems recited at the Salon, the closing event of the 3e Maria Szymanowska Colloque, in Paris at the Academie Polonaise de Sciences, on November 27, 2015. I am accompanied on Johann Alois Graff pianoforte by Edoardo Torbianelli,who improvised renaissance style music for the Leonardo poem, and some sweet arpeggios for the Dance poem. Recorded by Alicja Bialek-Guillemette on November 27, 2015.

The Lady With An Ermine

~ after Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, in the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow

Her eyes follow me around the room
with that secretive smile she shares
with her famous cousin.

Filled with the knowledge of what was, what will be
she slowly caresses the smooth warm ermine fur.

"Tesoro, amore mio, sii tranquillo, ti amo"

Leonardo’s brush made a space for her to inhabit,
a grey-blue sky painted black much later –
she was pregnant, her son – a Sforza bastard,
the white ermine - the emblem of her Duke.

Sheltered by Polish royalty, she revealed
her charms only to their closest confidantes.
In 1830, exiled in a precious wood box, to Paris,
In 1919, returned to taste the Polish freedom.

"Amore mio, sii tranquillo, ti amo"

In 1939, hidden again, found by the Nazis
for Hitler’s last dream, the Linz Führermuseum,
Art among red flags and swastikas, flourishing
in the dark cavern of his mind. Never built.

Berlin, occupied Krakow, Governor Frank's
hunting lodge, Bavaria. The Red Army's closing in.
Train tracks. Crisp winter air. American soldiers,
The cameras of Monument Men.

"Sii tranquillo, ti amo"

Back home in Krakow, she is safe
in the recess of a museum wall. Under a muted spotlight,
Children play a game:Walk briskly from right to left,
don’t let your eyes leave her eyes, see how she is watching you.

Her eyes follow me around the room
Filled with the knowledge of what was, what will be
she slowly caresses the smooth warm ermine fur.
She knows that I know that she knows.

"Amore mio, ti amo"


* Tesoro, amore mio, sii tranquillo, ti amo" - fragment of a love letter in Italian, "Sweetheart, my love, be  quiet, I love you"

(c) 2015 by Maja Trochimczyk

Leonardo da Vinci, The Lady with an Ermine

An Invitation To The Dance

And the angels are dancing.

Did you say dancing? Yes, dancing. Making somersaults
and jumping two hundred yards in the air.

Air? Are they here? I thought they lived in infinity,
Or eternity, or the great beyond, or whatchamacalit.
No. Here. They are laughing their heads off.  Giggling,
smiling, smirking, guffawing. Laughing.

What’s so funny? Nic. Nada. Naught.
It is just that they are so happy.
So incredibly,  exorbitantly, blissfully happy.

Why?  Oh, because of that quirky thing
from the country song.

What thing? Don’t you know? Have you not heard
that love conquers all?  That love triumphs
over lies, fear, anger, shame and despair?
That it is? Love is. True love. Our love…

It blossoms in us, through us.
It opens its petals.  The world is more tranquil,
serene in the luminescence of our love.

New stars are born and cherries are sweeter when we
are together, immersed in this love. When we
find it. Return to it. Share it. Cherish it. When we
are not giving up. No matter what. No matter how hard.
No matter how late.  It is soo simple, very simple.

Impossible? Yet, it is here to stay.

So what about these angels, then…
Oh, yes. Would you like to go dancing with the angels?
 Boogie-woogie, waltz, tango or salsa?

(c) 2015 by Maja Trochimczyk

With Szopka krakowska in the Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

After coming back home, it was time for Christmas and New Year Wishes. I picked a rose, beautiful striped antique one, Rosa Mundi, the Rose of the World that grows in my beloved Descanso Gardens in La Canada. With a green background it was exactly what I needed. Forget medieval cathedrals... here's something real, something that grows:

With the snow and all white
Without the snow and all green
With lights and garlands and spice
May your holidays shine from within!

Happy New Year 2016!

But the stanza I wrote sounded trite and tired to my ears, so unaccustomed to rhyming. Where did this silly rhyme come from?

On a sunny afternoon, I went shopping to my favorite thrift store and found a bunch of music boxes, playing English carols, more or less out of tune. I picked the best ones to add to my ever - growing collection.  Silent night, A little drummer boy, Saint Nick... I thought of the previous owners, who died and left their treasures unattended, waiting to be rescued from the pile of old teddy bears, and damaged Santas. Was it a warm-hearted, cookie-baking Grandma? Was it a lonely, sentimental spinster? Are there still spinsters (what an ugly word!) in 2015?

Time for another Christmas poem, then, this one with music boxes and memories of happy childhood, from one generation to the next...

A Santa music box - snow globe  with toy bird whistles from Poland.

A Music Box Christmas

I wind the spring on the music box
Silvery specks swirl in the snow globe

The twinkling of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”
Fills the air. Santa on the rooftop falls into the chimney.
Are you ready for the holidays?  With Scottish whisky cake
Polish makowiec, or American apple pie? Will you cook
Tamales on Christmas Eve, your family gathered
Around steaming pots, laughter mixed with hearty flavors?
Will you roast turkey with fixings on Christmas? Will you
Nibble slices of chocolate oranges, after unwrapping gifts?
Taste walnuts and sesame snaps from your stockings?

I wind the spring on the music box
Silvery specks swirl in the snow globe
Memories of home swirl before me

Sparkling lights shine in the colored tinfoil of Szopka Krakowska,
Its fantastic church towers rise in their Gothic splendor
Above a Nativity Scene and figurines from Polish folk tales.
I make cranberry sauce with diced pears and apples
The way my Mom taught me. Do I still know how
To chop figs and dates into finely-ground poppy seeds
Boiled in milk, re-fried with honey? The favorite flavors
Float away with Ogiński’s polonaise, Farewell to the Homeland.
Under the blazing California Sun, I taste the exotic desserts
Of Poland’s eastern borderlands, where cultures mixed
And worlds mingled – Poles, Lithuanians, Tartars, Jews –
Cornflower blue skies and shimmering gold of rye fields.

I wind the spring on the music box
Silvery specks swirl in the snow globe
I make a promise to myself

This Christmas, I’ll read a novel, wrapped in a plush blanket
And a Santa hat. I will walk alone in the park, come back
To the empty house and watch The Lord of the Rings,
The epic battles of the elements, good versus evil,
Good versus evil  - twirling and waltzing like the silvery
specks in my Santa snow globe. I will sing along “We Wish
You a Merry Christmas” and remember a Nativity Play
With my daughter - an angel waving a green pine bough
Singing in a sweet chorus of children’s voices:
“We swish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”

© 2015 by Maja Trochimczyk

Szopka Krakowska with toy bird-whistles from Krakow, Poland, 
on my mantelpiece in California.

1 comment:

  1. COMMENT BY KATHABELA WILSON, December 18, 2015, 7:22 am:

    So thoroughly and richly written lyrical from beginning to end. A symphony of words composed to transmit the coincidences, joy, deeply felt metaphors, and expression of a passionate musically experienced life. Human life with all its poetic personal possibilities. Thank you for using your heart and mind and energy to speak it...