Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Just poppies, Veronica Lake & too many Cuckoos

It's a sultry day, a melancholy day, a peek-a-boo Veronica Lake day.  I'm supposed to be at a "vernissage" (french for varnishing), which is a preview of an art exhibit before the formal opening.  They'll serve wine and canapes & we'll all glide around the paintings schmoozing and cooing.

But instead,  I'm cycling to Doumerac to see the fields of  scarlet poppies that have made their debut after 22 days of rain.  I love their tenacity and fragility.  They are a lot like beautiful, schizophrenic Constance Frances Marie Ockelman, who's name was changed to Veronica Lake by a producer who wanted to swim in her blue blue eyes.  We remember her more for her hair than her films...she said of herself:  "I never did cheesecake I just used my hair" & "I wasn't a sex symbol I was a sex zombie." She lampooned her own hair style in a song in the movie, "A Sweater, A Sarong, and A Peekaboo Bang".  In junior high, I was a skinny Minnie Twiggy of a girl, but my best friend, Marla, a blonde bombshell, taught me how to roll up my hair into a pageboy with Tropicana juice cans at night, & the two of us louched around the halls with our left eye covered just like Veronica, or maybe it was the right eye, n'importe. 

Her most memorable film was "Blue Dahlia": "Tamed by a Brunette--framed by a blonde--blamed by the cops!", the original noir Dahlia, written by Raymond Chandler, (not to be confused with De Palma's Black Dahlia).  Some shoot em from the hip lines, like Alan Ladd's, "You got the wrong lipstick on Mister" and Veronica's zinger, "well you could get wetter if you laid down in the gutter".  In the end things didn't go well for Veronica Lake and she kind of ended up in the gutter after many bad films, bad husbands, mental institutions and bar maid jobs along the way. Still, her smoky, seductive, peek-a-boo bang must have slipped under the covers of the collective unconscious because she hasn't been forgotten.  Pure homage to her, Kim Bassinger's role in L.A. Confidential.

In the photo above there is a whiff of the sex zombie, but I am also reminded of a doll I had as a child called "Tiny Tears".  TT had beautiful blinking blue eyes, & you had to squeeze her to make her cry (which I confess I did to a fare thee well).  Constance/Veronica looks like she has fallen into an opiate driven eternal sleep--almost as though she wandered into the magical poppy field in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", where people fall asleep forever.  In Greek and Roman myths the poppies were used as offerings to the dead, symbols of peace, sleep and death. Poppies used on tombstones  symbolize eternal sleep. 

Backpedaling to Doumerac, there is a wafting of cotton candy, carmel apple aroma in the air.  I'm smelling a carnival around the bend. Guess my age, guess my weight, try the Ring Toss! Win a big stuffed panda or pink panther.  They still have "backyard" carnivals in France - no freaks - sanitized, it's true, but sleazier than the "vernissage". But guess what?  There's no carnival around the bend, just a Russian Orthodox Church and Monastery, Our Lady of Korssun, they call her--see the silver dome, a Byzantine surprise in this tiny hamlet. Inside the church there are painted icons, jams and honey instead of canapes.  People get confused and call it a mosque.  There is an apocryphal story about naughty Russian Orthodox nuns from Paris who were banished & as punishment spend each summer doing their penance in Doumerac.  I guess that means varnishing the icons and making the jams.  I peek into the window of the monastery to see one of the rooms, which reminds me of the rooms we had at camp-- four square corners, a flashlight and the redolent odor of pine-sol. 
Our Lady of Korssun

Back on my bike, down the yellow brick road, past the new lambs, beyond the two milky-eyed border collies, who KNOW I have tasty scraps in my pocket, there are yet more fields of scarlet poppies interlaced with Queen Anne's lace--a decadent virtuous marriage.  Oh, I forgot to mention the CUCKOOS are driving me cuckoo this spring.  They are on courting overdrive, and the novelty of hearing their calls in the forest has long faded.  I remember when I heard my first live cuckoo on the Aran Islands & thought it was a clock that was malfunctioning.  The English word "cuckoo" comes from the Old French "cucu" appearing about 1240 in the poem "Sumer is icumen in" - Summer has come in/Loudly sing, Cuckoo!  -- they have taken this role/song too seriously.  I wish I could send them to a speed dating site, but they prefer to do things the old fashioned way.  Cuckoo, cou cou and cucu still mean mad or nuts in any language.  

On the Yellow Brick Road

But let us not dwell on dead actresses, noise or "eternal sleep",--the Cuckoo is giving us a wake up call!  It's spring, and we are ALIVE;  plans hatching like new born chicks.  We have done our planting of seeds, bulbs, dreams.  The wildflowers-- poppies--are nature's simplest, most gracious gift and in classical mythology the bright scarlet color signifies a promise of resurrection.

                         The silver rain, the golden sun
                       The fields where scarlet poppies run
                        And all the ripples of the wheat
                         are in the food that we do eat.

                        So when we sit for every meal
                         we say grace we always feel
                       that we are eating rain and sun
                     and fields where scarlet poppies run.

                             Traditional Meal Blessing

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