Friday, October 4, 2013

ADVICE FROM A CATERPILLAR: Be a Bride of Amazement!

September 2013 - Paris wedding
Salvador Dali's Advice from a Caterpillar, 1969

"...When it's over, I want to say:  All my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world..."

   - from Mary Oliver's "When Death Comes"

I'm back from Paris, a city which some say is filled with "optimism", while others deem it to be in love with its own myths. Charles Beaudelaire (Les Fleurs du Mal, "The Swan", 1857) bemoaned the loss of "Old Paris" in his "Tableau Parisiens" section.  A city he felt changed faster than the heart of a mortal.   A college semester's worth of study on this one book remained richly abstract until I pounded the cobblestones myself.  At the time he wrote those famous 18 poems, the Hausmann renovation of Paris was in full swing, and he felt the blind, the beggars, gamblers, prostitutes, and unsung anti-heroes who served as the poet's inspiration, were being buried beneath the new, clean geometric lines of Paris.  Oh, if he could see her now!  

It is true, Paris IS "luxe" = luxurious, elegant & sumptuous, but you can still find the beggars, gamblers, prostitutes, the blind and the poets along with the artists, the lovers, the students and the omnipresent tourists, not to mention McDonalds and Starbucks.  Paris never forgets her history or its dispossessed.  And she's not afraid to show her undergarments.  

I trotted over to the Musée Des Arts Décoratifs, next to the Louvre (expecting to find an exposition on trompe l'oeil), but instead found La Mecanique des Dessous, une histoire indiscrète de la silhouette.  At first I was disappointed until I realized that both exhibits were involved in the business of creating an optical illusion. And where else could you see female and male undergarments such as the codpiece, the pannier, the corset, the crinoline, the bustle, the pouf, the stomach belt (centure), the forerunners of the pushup bra, all designed to create the ideal form from the 14th c. to present day?

Musee des Arts Decoratifs

The lighting in the gallery was kept low to protect the undergarments (as if they haven't been kept in the dark long enough!) & you weren't allowed to take photos, which was heartbreaking when I got to the codpieces.  Michel de Montagne called the codpiece "a laughter-moving and maids looke-drawing peece."  For the men it was all about virility, but for the women it was constraint; and the children, well, they needed to have straight backs & were fastened into little torture contraptions by the tender age of 12 months.  We've come a long way baby!  We've still got the push-up bras and Captain Kirk of Startrek continues to wear one of those "centures", but the whalebone stays are gone along with the pouf and the bustle (unless you count every production of Masterpiece Theatre).

After wandering around the exhibit rather aimlessly for awhile, I overheard a chic high register voice attached to a pack of stylish fashionistas dishing out some Project Runway type critiques re the underwear.  I found out the group was from the Marc Jacobs fashion house, so I shadowed them undercover at a discrete distance (now happy for the low light hiding my rubber shoes).

Bustling About
Marc Jacobs new cosmetic line
A hair bobbed Cleopatra look-alike in the group mentioned Marc's new cosmetic line which they launched this fall at Sephora, a chain of cosmetic, skin care, perfume stores in France, where even humble "I", buy my eyeliner.  The line is going to be full of bright poppy blush and lip colors. 

"I see makeup, fragrance — everything, really — as an opportunity,” he told WWD last year. “The idea of choosing a color for your lip, or an eyeliner — it’s just such a delight. The ritual of waking up and making those choices is something people really enjoy.” – Marc Jacobs.

I also remember reading something recently about the faux fur that Jacobs uses in his garments being obtained from "Raccoon" dogs from China. It's called "murmansky" fur and obviously it's not really faux. Lots of controversy over this, tsk tsk Marc, this little guy could use some of that poppy blush. 

Captive Raccoon Dog at a Fur Farm
 "We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals."    Immanuel Kant

I don't know why exactly, but this show and the cello eyes of the Raccoon pooch remind me of Elliot Erwitt's 1972 short documentary, "Beauty Knows No Pain", about a group of Texas cheerleaders, the Kilgore Rangerettes. Erwitt wittily showed how they suffer for what they think of as Beauty, and the payoffs of being a cheerleader in the 1970's.  Not that things have changed much since then. 

Still, I was amazed by the show & also charmed by the room where we were allowed to try on some of the undergarment facsimiles, encouraged to snap photos for FB & tweet away.  The pre-teens loved this room, along with their mothers & a few men who seemed to linger a bit longer than...

With a smile for an umbrella, I left the museum and  skittered onto the gloomy rain-slicked Rue Rigolo in search of true beauty as opposed to glamour.  "Il fait temps de chien" (it was making weather like a dog).  Thank Zeus for the shiny Paris buses. Soon I slipped into the tiny Galerie Francois Mansart down the street from where I was staying in the Marais.  Featured was an exhibit of photographs by Patrick Alphonse, heliogravures reminiscent of Edward Steichen and Edward Curtis.  I was transported into the 1800's faster than a speeding bullet.

Patrick Alphonse
I made up a story in my head about Patrick, toiling away in the mid-1800's, a brilliant, but obscure photographer working in a technique no longer employed in the era of digital cameras and low tolerance for tedious methods. 

Patrick Alphonse

Later I discovered that Monsieur Alphonse is a vagabond, a traveler, a backpacker and an artist who is very much ensconced in the 21st century, somewhere in the neighborhood.  He is a bit reclusive and the gallery owner said it took him many months to convince Alphonse to show his photos.  I also learned that photogravures and their intricate subsidiary processes, though rare, are still practiced in Paris.

Le chant de la mélancolie.

Photo taken against backdrop of gallery windows

"Beauty is the true priestess of individuation. But our times are dominated by anxiety and by what is vulgar, coarse, and artificial.  Were Beauty to awaken in the fields of politics, religion, planning, discourse, and seeing, our world would heal, and fresh wells of hope would refresh us.  Kathleen Raine, the English poet says:  'Strangest of all is the ease with which the vision is lost, consciousness contracts, we forget over and over and over again, until recollection is stirred by some icon of that beauty.  Then we remember and wonder why we ever forgot.'"  From "On Beauty, the Invisible Embrace" - John O'Donohue

Merci Patrick Alphonse, for your very "visible embrace" and these lovers at the Louvre for theirs.

Lovers, The Tuilleries



OCTOBER 6th 10.00 a.m. – 4 p.m.
When you go into a garden you cross from an ordinary world into an extraordinary landscape.
The word “pardise comes from the Persian “pardasa”, which means enclosed garden

No comments:

Post a Comment