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.
Persimmons in a Wedgewood dish, pencil on paper. 9" x 6".
Two persimmons on a bamboo mat. fountain pen on paper. 5" x 5".
Persimmon and Batik Pouch, 9" x 6" (cropped), pencil on paper.
I've never drawn persimmons before, so I'm studying them because I want to put them in a painting. They aren't a fruit either of us especially likes to eat, so we rarely buy them, but I was captivated by the beautiful bins of fresh persimmons at the Arab market the last time we shopped there, and came home with a few.
In Florida, my aunt picked one off a tree and gave it to me, and I did eat (that sounds and feels a little Garden-of-Edenish.) It was better than the ones I've had from stores, though there's a mustiness to the taste that I don't like. But the color! So magnificent! I also find the dried bud-leaves around the stem quite interesting and characteristic: they're papery and dogwood-blossom-shaped, with a flat square center.
Anyway, we'll see what happens. Which of these drawings do you prefer?
Waiting at the bus stop, Masson and Papineau, December 1 2014.
December First. The last month of the year, the first days of Advent, and the countdown to winter solstice and the day that the sun turns around and starts heading back to us.
This is how it looked this morning as we went to our studio. It's not particularly cold -- hovering just above freezing -- but we wake in darkness, and the lights are still on at 8:00 am.
Morning deliveries at the corner gas station.
The beer trucks and produce and supply trucks still have to make their morning rounds to the depanneurs and couche-tard convenience stores, and they're probably very glad we don't have snow on the ground. Nevertheless, it feels awfully dark and dreary on these mornings, and one longs to stay in bed. Right now, at noon, the sun is shining brightly and I'm finally feeling more or less awake.
While waiting for J. to do an errand on the way to our studio this morning, I sat in the car and did a quick sketch of this building, complete with its typically-Montreal wrought iron balconies, on Fabre and Mont-Royal. The Christmas trees have been set out in front of businesses, and the merchants will be decorating them soon if they haven't already. All our snow has evaporated, but that is almost certainly a temporary situation!
Last week was one of the busiest for me in recent memory, ending yesterday afternoon with the annual Advent Lessons& Carols service at the cathedral, which is pretty much a musical marathon. Advent is all about "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme"/ "Sleepers wake, the voice is calling" -- or wake up, stay awake to watch for the coming of the bridegroom, as the parable goes. So we always sing some setting of that text. But the first piece we sang -- to a dark cathedral from the dimness of the high altar -- was this modern setting of the text of the traditional Advent Responsory, "Laetentur coeli/Rejoice, O Heavens". If this doesn't wake you up on a sleepy, dark winter day, nothing will! (Laetentur coeli, by William Mathias [1934-1992], performed by the East Carolina University Chamber Singers.)
Rejoice, O heavens, and be joyful, O earth. Give praise, O hills, for our lord shall come and show mercy to his humble people. There shall rise up in those days justice and abundance of peace. And he will show mercy to his people.
We were in northern Florida for the past few days for a funeral and a time of family gathering; J.'s uncle (the brother of his father) lives there and is very elderly, so we were happy to be able to stay on an extra day and visit with him. There's a lot that I don't like about Florida, but I'm crazy about the plantlife.
There wasn't a lot of time to sketch but I managed to do a few. We were staying on land near a river, with many huge live oak trees festooned with Spanish moss, whose swaying softness was punctuated by the spiky leaves of palm trees. I found it very difficult indeed to capture the essense of the overgrown tropical wildness. It would take a lot of practice and trial and error with different media to find ways that satisfy me, and I thought back to Winslow Homer's and John Singer Sargeant's tropical watercolors with even greater admiration.
During different times of the day, the moss and the leaves were backlit, or in direct sunlight. Along the great old branches of the live oaks were colonies of ferns and other plants, living high in the canopy where they could catch and retain moisture and the additional sunlight they needed to thrive.
Fantastic, brightly-colored flowers bloomed below, and vines scrambled over walls and fences and other plants with a rampant vigor unknown to northern gardens.
Tiny lizards whose feet made a thin clattering sound scuttled ahead of my hand on wooden railings, mosquitoes and ants feasted on my exposed ankles, and feral cats lurked under trees weighted with ripening grapefruit and lemons.
Time-lost decay and feverish growth coexist there, in the moist heat that slows my feet while quickening my pulse. I sat on the glassed-in porch of the old house watching the moss sway in the breeze, while cracking fresh pecans and picking out the nutmeats, wondering how different I would have been if I had grown up in such a place. I'm fascinated by the tropics but it's an attraction tempered by awareness of violent weather, unfamiliar insects and serpents, disease and fungus, the unpredictable sea, and an aversion to heat-induced torpor; I'm so much more comfortable with rocks, snow, mountains and forests, and extreme cold. Still, I'd like to spend more time exploring these places with my camera and my paints, preferably with a guide who knows far more than I do and could keep me out of trouble.
Japanese Anemones, pen on paper, 18" x 6" (left side), 10/22/2014.
Amenone is a Greek word that means "daughter of the wind" -- an apt name for these flowers who do the wind's bidding; their common name is "wind flower." Ovid wrote in his Metamorphoses that they were created when Venus/Aphrodite sprinkled nectar on the blood of her dead lover, Adonis.
The Anemones are a large group of flowering plants within the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae): there are some 120 species. They're related to Hepaticas, my favorite spring woodland flower: something about this particular petal form, with its ring of stamens around a center, simply touches me.
I first discovered the fall-blooming Japanese anemones when a family friend brought a huge bouquet from her garden to my mother, that October when she was first ill. The white flowers were very delicate, moving with the slightest breeze. Sitting in a glass vase on her bedside table, their beauty and fragility seemed to affirm the truths of life itself. Along with lilies-of-the-valley - those spring flowers that bloomed at the time she died - these fall flowers became reminders and personal symbols for me.
Japanese Anemones, pen on paper, 18" x 6" (right side), 10/22/2014.
However, I had never grown them, and I had to search for a source. The more ubiquitous and tougher mauve/pink varieties were easier to find, and I also found out how invasive they can be: I now have a veritable hedge of them in my garden that has to be hacked back every spring. But it was the white ones I really wanted to grow. Finally I found a Japanese cultivar at Jardins Jasmine, a professional nursery here in Montreal. It's taken two years for the plant to become established, but this year it bloomed beautifully. I not only love the fully-open white flowers, but also the plant's form, with its tight round buds, and spherical seedpods that remain on the multi-branched stalks after the petals fall. Yesterday, after putting my garden to bed for the winter, I cut the last branches and brought them home; along with a few dahlias, they were the last plants blooming in my garden and would clearly keep going right up to frost. The flowers won't last long in the warm indoors, though, so I did a drawing, wanting to capture their essence.
A few weeks ago, the husband of that family friend died, in his mid-80s, and I thought again of the bouquet of anemones, and of those two long happy marriages. I hope the wife will find comfort in her garden and be able to make a new life for herself, as my father has: not forgetting, but still living, loving, creating, blooming.
On Thursday we left Montreal rather precipitously, planning to attend a 2:00 pm graveside service for an elderly friend the following day in Washington, D.C. After two hours in solid rush hour traffic, trying to get out of the city, we headed down the Northway, but by the time we reached Albany it was already late and we were exhausted. So we crashed in a motel in Schenectady, and the next morning reassessed our plans; it was clear then (as it had really been the night before) that we just didn't have enough time to make it to Washington by early afternoon.
So we contacted our family and friends, explaining the situation and saying that we'd be with them in spirit (as one of them remarked, Jewish funerals and long-distance travel are a difficult combination), and instead made a right-angle turn onto the New York Thruway to go see my father.
As it turned out, we had a beautiful drive, both going and coming, and a wonderful fall weekend in the countryside that I love so much. After all the busyness of preparing for J.'s book launch, it was a restorative few days, with long nights of deep sleep, natural quiet broken only by the calls of geese and the chatter of squirrels and chipmunks, foggy mornings that gave way to bright clear days, the saturated color of hardwoods in autumn, and time for me to wander in the woods and along the lakeshore, and sit quietly looking out on the meadows. I had been wanting to go there very much; this felt like an unexpected gift.
Most importantly, it was a good visit with my father, who's doing very well. We had already shopped for a turkey, and bought a giant stalk of Brussels sprouts, a berry pie, lettuces, cranberries, and new potatoes at the local farmers' market on Saturday morning -- all the ingredients for a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner for my father, his girlfriend, and four guests. The next day Dad and I raked and hauled a lot of leaves, and then he went up on the roof to clean the gutters while I steadied the ladder and fetched whatever was needed. It was such a glorious day - crisp and bright - and I felt so happy and so much in the moment. In spite of his age, Dad was very nimble up there on the roof, and quite glad to be getting this task done. At one point he asked for a rope, and I tossed him a coiled clothesline, which he deftly caught. "Nice toss, eh?" I remarked.
He grinned down at me: "And did you see that catch? Left-handed!" and it seemed like twenty, or thirty, or forty years had just been erased.
He sat back on the roof and surveyed the shingles, and the trees beyond them that so faithfully shed their leaves to clog the gutters and the drainpipes. "You're going to need to put a new roof on here one of these years," he said, turning back toward me after a few minutes with a wry look.
"How old is it?" I asked.
"This one's original, and it's still OK," he said, gesturing toward the addition he and my mother put on in the 1990s. "The other one has been replaced once. I did it with Harold Shaw, long time ago." He shook his head: "I didn't like doing that work very much."
"At least it's not as steep as ours was in Vermont."
"Right. I went up there with Jonathan once - that was really steep. No matter what, houses are so much work, there's always stuff to do..."
"But it was fun; your mother and I had a good time building it, figuring stuff out."
He uncoiled the rope: "OK, Bethie, now go get me a bucket half-full of water, and let's see if we can get any of it to go down through the drain..."
My dear friend V. brought these flowers yesterday: how absolutely gorgeous they are! We're at the height of fall color here, with some leaves starting to come down, but other trees still green. Last week brought a string of the crisp warm days, crowned by blue skies, that all New Englanders and Quebecers anticipate and love. J. and I walked back and forth to the studio on a couple of those days, enjoying the slowness of foot-travel, and the swish of the dry leaves in our path.
Exciting announcement coming on Monday, so stay tuned! Right now I'm heading off to the market, where the fall harvest is in full swing.
Thingvellir, Iceland. In the far distance you can see Skjaldbreiður, ("Broad Shield"), the prototype for all shield volcanos worldwide.
Standing in the main rift, Almannagja, which marks the eastern edge of the North American tectonic plate.
Three years ago, this past weekend, I was at Thingvellir, the great rift valley of Iceland. It was my 59th birthday, so I'll always remember the date. A lot happened that day that changed me. Even though we didn't witness an active volcanic eruption, we were surrounded by raw evidence of the earth being born in the not-too-distant geological past, and by a kind of beauty I had never before seen. Something happened that shook up my sense of time and solidity, and of my own identity within it. It took me a long time to understand why I felt so captivated by the strange forcefield that is Iceland, but one result was the reawakening of my own artistic creativity: not just because of wanting to express what I had seen and felt, but because I had a renewed sense of myself as an intrinsic part of the creation that is always happening, a link in the human chain of becoming, creating, and passing away that mirrors events in nature.
Three years later, I've got an unfinished but fairly extensive book manuscript, a lot of directly-related artwork, and seem to be back on a track of sustained drawing and painting. I'd hoped to go back to Iceland again by now (and we will, eventually, who knew we'd go twice to Mexico instead?) but, more importantly, it has become for me a kind of spiritual island, an Avalon in the middle of the far northern ocean, both real and mythic. I visit it in my thoughts, and feel sustained and encouraged by what I discovered there.
Lake Þingvallavatn. Charcoal on prepared paper, 30" x 22".