In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.
Pietro Perugino, Moses Leaving for Egypt, fresco from the Sistine Chapel
My poetic Lent began in the dentist's chair. The drill whirred and struck an un-numbed crevasse of bone: sublime sharp sliver of pain.
I thought of Mozart, so young, the Sistine -- Allegri's lament piercing his soul: a dagger he transformed into a pen.
Allegri's Miserere mei was first heard by Pope Urban IV in 1630. He was so struck by its beauty that he declared it could only be sung in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel. The music alternates plainchant with verses for two choirs, one choir singing a simpler version and the other, a quartet, "commenting" on each verse with an ornamented variation which includes an ethereal, extremely high ornamentation sung by a boy soprano. In addition to allowing the music to be sung only at certain services, it also became forbidden -- on pain of excommunication -- for the music to be written down or transcribed. According to tradition, which is corroborated by letters, the young Mozart, at age 14, visited the Sistine Chapel in 1770, heard the music, and was deeply affected by its mystery and beauty. That evening, he wrote it down from memory, making a few corrections after a second visit to the chapel. In 1771 he gave a copy to a British historian, who had it published in London. The Pope summoned Mozart to Rome and praised his genius, and the ban was lifted.
Our choir sings the Miserere mei twice during Lent: once on Ash Wednesday evening, and once on Good Friday afternoon. So we sang it last night, along with a beautiful mass setting by Herbert Howells and William Walton's Drop Drop Slow Tears: the novocaine was worn off by then!
I move the orchid, window to table and back, needing its pink face -- freckled, blushing -- its gold heart nearby, beating the grey days.
Day's strange beginning: hot water immersion, steam, sunrise on hard ice.
The hallway's a beach-- squares of afternoon sun like towels on the floor. Snow-glare burns my closed eyelids: red iris-image, then blue.
(I generally write these on Twitter, where a number of people explore the 140-character limit by writing micropoetry, haikus, tanka and free verse. If you're interested in that, you can follow me here and find others through my list.)
Last night I came back from downtown on the bus and walked home through the park. There were very few people on the paths; I was alone with the snow and the dark trees. On the white lakes below me, skaters moved silently; small notes on a large page of music, while under the lights of the rinks, sticks and blades thwacked and sliced: wooden sticks and steel brushes beating rhythms on the city's stretched, white, oval skin.
This drawing has the liveliness I try for but don't always manage. That's what I liked about the dog and his master in the previous drawing, too, though that one was -- as my friend David remarked -- even less "studied."
I'll be away for a few days and will probably post some photos from there. Stay tuned!
While looking through a little Moleskin notebook in my purse, I found this sketch, from earlier in the winter, done in a waiting room. I like the way it captures something about winter life here in Montreal. The Burmese mountain dog was a guide-dog-in-training, and the young woman seated beyond him was his trainer. He's get up, look around, and then calmly lie down agian, settling his head onto the floor with a resigned sign. I like her layers of wooly sweaters, her oversized satchel, and her fur-lined Sorels. All pretty true to life.
While we're on the subject of things wooly and warm, this hat was my knitting project during the Olympics; I finished it last night. It's a super-easy pattern from The Purl Bee, adapted by me for knitting with two unequal weight yarns - a lightweight brown alpaca and a midnight blue lace-weight merino, both odds and ends from my knitting basket. The resulting hat, knit in a K1 P1 rib, is very stretchy and I think it will even fit underneath my bike helmet for early spring biking, if the snow ever departs!
Speaking of which, the basil is up, and already thinned to one plant per pot!
But by and large I haven't been very productive lately, for a variety of reasons. I'm hoping to get back into the swing of it soon.
When I cross on the Rosemont/Van Horne overpass to Outremont, I always feel like I'm entering a different world. Down below, on one's bike during better weather, the change is less dramatic but still significant. The Mile End, with its boutiques and restos and young energy, is in the midst of gentrification. But this part of Outremont, close to the more industrial end of Van Horne, which then becomes a shopping street, is an enclave of Hasidic Jews. When I drive or bike on these streets I feel like time has gone backward, and that behind the hurried steps of the black-clad men and the women in black skirts and wigs with headbands or hats, often pushing old-fashioned baby carriages, lies a life about which I know almost nothing. I stop at Cheskies and buy a loaf of challah or some rugelach, but it is a commercial exchange, nothing more: ours are separate solitudes and will remain that way.
-12 C. When I open the blinds: sunrise through a fine veil of snow. A neighbor, waiting for her dog, sees me standing at the open window, but she is never friendly and only scowls, turning back to pull the poor animal along the sidewalk. They disappear and I remain, unperturbed, enchanted by the whiteness and the soft filter of snowy air above the more brilliant ground and shiny, packed paths, the straight black trunks and complicated curving branches written across the white page like Persian script, and beyond it all, the golden disk of the sun rising over the river.
We're more than halfway through the Canadian winter. The days are longer now, and yesterday, outside the metro, the maple sugar kiosk had already been set up, even though there's hardly been a day above freezing and no sap could possibly be rising in the trees -- they must be selling last year's candy maple leaves and boiling last year's syrup to make tire d'érable, sugar-on-snow: a romantic treat in time for Valentine's Day. I know better than to get too optimistic. March is inevitably stormy, April tends to be a cold month here, and May is unpredictable. Still, I'll be back on my bike in April, and the city will begin to open up again. Between now and then, it's better to find ways to love it.
In the meditation sessions I lead twice a month, I've been talking about developing a non-dualistic mindset, and opposites are perhaps more on my mind than usual. Cold/warm; winter/summer; light/darkness: I notice the freight carried by each word in the pair, how the scales tip, and also how other pairs, like spring/fall, shift the balance less. Always it's the judgement that's extra, that pushes us into positive or negative territory and emotion: I hate winter, I can't wait for this to end. And yes, the season comes with its difficulties, but I rarely feel more alive than I do during these months, or more entranced by the stark beauty of nature asleep. I stand at the window and merge with the figure walking along the fence in the distance, bent forward against a bitter arctic wind; I watch the Olympians and remember being on skiis on the tops of mountains -- that high-elevation world of krummholtz and rime ice and absolute silence -- and then pushing off: the rush of adrenaline mixing with gravity; edges biting into the snow, now velvety soft, now crunchy with ice; knees and arms somehow knowing what to do.
The days lengthen; the downward slope. I slit open a small package and plant tiny black Greek basil seeds in pots of dry earth that swell when watered, and set them under a plastic cover to grow warm in the sunlight. At the bus-stop I scoop snow into my palms, fashion a ball, and throw it across the street. As it shatters I remember a boy who had a crush on me, and shot his frozen arrows accurately all one winter, right between my shoulder blades.