Sunday, December 28, 2008

In This Painted Paradise Of Sea, Stone And Sky*

The Sunday Six #6: On Someone Else's Distant Horizon

Fig. 1. Claude Monet - Low Tide at Pourville (near Dieppe), 1882

Fig. 2. Claude Monet - The Cliff Walk (Pourville), 1882

Fig. 3. Claude Monet - The Church at Varengeville, 1882

Fig. 4. Claude Monet - The Cliff at Sunset (Étretat), 1882-83

Fig. 5. Claude Monet - Rock Arch West of Étretat (the Manneport), 1883

Fig. 6. Claude Monet - The Needle Rock and the Porte d'Aval (Étretat), 1885

'To paint the sea really well, you need to look at it every hour of every day in the same place so that you can understand its ways in that particular spot.'

Claude Monet

* 'The sea. The sea enchants, the sea kills, it moves, it frightens, it also makes you laugh sometimes, it disappears every now and then, it disguises itself as a lake, or it constructs tempests, devours ships, gives away riches, it gives no answers, it is wise, it is gentle, it is powerful, it is unpredictable. But, above all, the sea calls. You will discover this, Elisewin. All it does, basically, is this: it calls. It never stops, it gets under your skin, it is upon you, it is you it wants. You can even pretend to ignore it, but it's no use. It will still call you. The sea you are looking at and all the others that you will not see, but will always be there, lying patiently in wait for you, one step beyond your life. You will hear them calling, tirelessly. It happens in this purgatory of sand. It will happen in any paradise, and in any inferno. Without explaining anything, without telling you where, there will always be a sea, which will call you.' Alessandro Baricco (Ocean Sea)

Your Ears Will Orgasm #20: Debussy - La Mer (MixPod Player)

Addendum #1: The Katie And Edna Show

Katie (aka Katiefornia) has again graced us with her virtual presence, her wistful reflections and one of her favourite poems. I'll let her explain the connection between the Monet and Maine in a moment; but first I would like to thank her for being such a consistent and considerate reader, not to mention such a generous and genial contributor. At the risking of sounding like an ebullient "teacher's comment" on her elementary school report card, I think it's true to say that Katie is always cheerful, convivial and courteous: she knows how to give and how to take, how to share and how to thank. Indeed, she is exactly the kind of optimistic, good-humoured, intelligent and polite visitor I have been trying to attract to this blog. In short, she is always a pleasure to have in my class. And now, over to you, Katie:

Oh how I love these Monet paintings. I'm especially captivated by the Étretat ones, as I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon there in 2002. It looked just like these paintings. Amazing to think that Monet could have been sitting exactly where I sat taking in the beautiful views of the rocks.

I'm sure that it will come as no surprise that ESVM [Edna St. Vincent Millay] wrote about the sea, since she grew up on the coast of Maine. Even though I live in California and have the Pacific Ocean not that far away, I still miss the Maine coast, and spending time with my grandparents out rowing or sailing with them. I'll leave it to Edna to elaborate:


Searching my heart for its true sorrow,
This is the thing I find to be:
That I am weary of words and people,
Sick of the city, wanting the sea;

Wanting the sticky, salty sweetness
Of the strong wind and shattered spray;
Wanting the loud sound and the soft sound
Of the big surf that breaks all day.

Always before about my dooryard,
Marking the reach of the winter sea,
Rooted in sand and dragging drift-wood,
Straggled the purple wild sweet-pea;

Always I climbed the wave at morning,
Shook the sand from my shoes at night,
That now am caught beneath great buildings,
Stricken with noise, confused with light.

If I could hear the green piles moaning
Under the windy wooden piers,
See once again the bobbing barrels,
And the black sticks that fence the weirs,

If I could see the weedy mussels
Crusting the wrecked and rotting hulls,
Hear once again the hungry crying
Overhead, of the wheeling gulls,

Feel once again the shanty straining
Under the turning of the tide,
Fear once again the rising freshet,
Dread the bell in the fog outside,

I should be happy! - that was happy
All day long on the coast of Maine;
I have a need to hold and handle
Shells and anchors and ships again!

I should be happy . . . that am happy
Never at all since I came here.
I am too long away from water.
I have a need of water near.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Which proves the point that there are really only three gifts any of us can expect to last a lifetime: a happy childhood, good genes and the right name (one of the Irish meanings of Katie is "pure").

Love and best wishes to you and your loved ones, Katie - now, and always.

Addendum #2: And Then, A Little Later...

Your “teacher’s comments” had a somewhat familiar ring, so I dug out the “School” folder from my archives and found two report cards from when I was eleven.

My first Teacher Evaluation showed I wasn’t quite living up to Mrs. MacLaren’s expectations:

“Katie’s written work is very good when she really tries to think an idea through. Sometimes she stops before she gets really into it. I want her to achieve at a higher level in academic areas because she has more ability than she sometimes demonstrates.”

By the end of the year I had improved a bit:

“Katie’s creativeness is so evident in her written work, as well as the delightful illustrations which accompany it. Katie does all of her work, and more, enthusiastically yet has time to be friendly and happy with others.”

I have to laugh at how little has changed in 33 years. Now that I'm back in class with ISFK, I know that having a dedicated teacher will make me want to work hard so I can achieve at a higher level.

Addendum #3: And, In Between, "Old Dive" (who, via Small Glass Planet, has been to me from Norwich, England what Katie has been to me from San Francisco, California)

If you could take a different road, just for one day, where would you go? What would you explore? Robyn would go to Chicago, for reasons which make it sound as genuinely tempting as the Emerald City in Oz.

This "take a different route just this once" thing; it's a feeling I get really intensely at airports. Just to get on a random plane and see where I end up. There are so many wonderful places to explore, if only I just got on that plane … But as I cannot choose a favourite, I'll choose something simple instead … something I've done once before and, if I could find that fork in the road again, would be off down there like a shot.

In winter, I love walking our desolate local beaches in really huge storms. Like that one in Ryan's Daughter. Any chance I get, if the weather forecast sends us a big one, I'm off to see Mother Nature throw a wobbly. To stand there and let her get all shouty at me. I love it …

One of the best I ever found was at Walberswick, some years back. It was February. There was a thunderstorm … and I mean a fucking huge storm! All howling and swirling black sky and searing lightning. It tore over the marshes and up the valley like the wrath of God.

There's a wrecked concrete breakwater at the harbour mouth (it's the one under Peahen's bottom on that picture I posted of her). I clambered over the barrier and walked right out to the end. It's all twisted, rotting concrete with rusted reinforcing bars sticking out, and this HUGE sea towered over it. Every massive wave pounded and smashed into it with an enormous BOOM. The whole structure shuddered and shook. It was brilliant! (and very, very cold and wet) … It was a totally stupid thing to do but I just clamped my legs round a concrete beam and sat there for ages watching the storm, letting the waves try and knock me off while the sky tore itself to bits all around me. And it was one of the most fantastic feelings I've ever had …

Eventually I came to my senses and struggled, soaked and battered, back up the beach into the dunes, where nestles one of the very best pubs in the universe. Stone flags and high Victorian pews. Big inglenook with a massive log blaze. Wonderful local ale and fresh caught fish. The Bell at Walberswick. It's swamped by tourists in the summer, but go there in winter when there's a big old storm … I keep going back, but there's not been a storm to touch that one …

So, young Robyn. If I could choose, then let me take that road again. The cold, wet and stupid one …

Thanks for all the cynical humanity and curmudgeonly humour, Dive.

Love and best wishes to you and your loved ones - now, and always.