Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Happy International Dance Day

Three things to remember

 As long as you're dancing, you can
   break the rules.
Sometimes breaking the rules is just
extending the rules.

  Sometimes there are no rules.

 Mary Oliver ( A poem from her collection "A Thousand Mornings")

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Age of Innocence

"It was the old New York way, of taking life ´without effusion of blood´; the way of people who dreaded scandal more than disease, who placed decency above courage, and who considered that nothing was more ill-bred than ´scenes´, except the behavior of those who gave rise to them."

  Edith Wharton was  awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 for "The Age of Innocence". It does not surprise me. Wharton was a skillful artist and a clever storyteller. Each and every sentence she crafted is charged with meaning. "The Age of Innocence" carries us away to the 1870s, to the lives of the elite in New York.
 While I read this novel, I came to the conclusion that Wharton had been a talented poet; we can't ignore the richness of her metaphors and the boundless imagination with which she composed her sentences. She was also a kind of theater director, for she displayed with clear precision the body language of her characters and their interactions. As a good novelist she knew how to keep the reader's attention till the last line, and her touch of humor is thrilling. Her sagacious insights have a comical effect.
 Like a passionate artist, she painted vivid scenes that leave an indelible imprint in our memory. Last but not least, she was a visionary.
  " The Age of Innocence" is the intimate story of Newland Archer, a man who became trapped between the love of two women: May Welland and Ellen Olenska.
  May Welland was the embodiment of old traditions and prejudices. She did everything  "a good wife" was expected to do. She followed the patterns that society had molded to make her fit in, and she would never dare to do anything different. She was faithful and loyal to her husband, but she lacked imagination. She was boring and predictable, but was considered the epitome of dignity and respectability.
 Ellen Olenska was an expat who had left her husband. She was not keen on the rules imposed by society, even though she seemed to be willing to acquiesce to them initially.
 Ellen befriended artists and writers. Through her actions, she scoffed the conventions that she was expected to follow. When Madame Beaufort was shunned by society due to her social and financial situation, Ellen was the one who dared to support her.
  Wharton's approach to their reality, however, is not a black-and-white one. She brings to light the characters' ambiguities by threading into them undertones and contradictions. At the beginning Newland Archer was in a hurry to marry May Welland, and he felt a sort of dreadful emotion toward Ellen, but then he was compelled to protect her, to show her "the right path". He was eager to explain to her what the ways of New York society were like after Ellen's separation from her husband:
 'The individual, in such cases, is nearly always sacrificed to what is supposed to be the collective interest: people cling to any convention that keeps the family together--protects the children, if there are any."
 Yet he fell in love with her because she was "different". He acknowledged his feelings toward her before marrying May. But Ellen declined to change the course of their fate.
 She did not want to hurt her cousin, May.
 The love between Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska was a force that was left unsaid. Yet it was perceived.
  Ellen Olenska was a free spirit, but her actions were down-to-earth. She stopped herself from doing something that would hurt others. She was sensitive to other peoples' needs. Her free spirit did not override her compassion for others.
 Newland's love for Ellen Olenska illuminated his life and repelled the dullness of his own existence.
"Since then there had been no further communication between them, and he had built up within himself a kind of sanctuary in which she throned among his secret thoughts and longings. Little by little it became the scene of his real life, of his only rational activities; thither he brought the books he read, the ideas and feelings which nourished him, his judgments and visions. Outside it, in the scene of his actual life, he moved with a growing sense of unreality and insufficiency, blundering against familiar prejudices and traditional points of view as an absent-minded man goes on bumping into furniture of his own room. Absent-- that was what he was: so absent from everything most densely real and near to those about him that it sometimes startled him to find they still imagined he was there."

 Two years after Archer's wedding to May Welland, thoughts about Ellen lingered in his mind.

 "You gave me my first glimpse of real life, and at the same moment you asked me to go on with a sham one," he said to Ellen.
 After a period of musings and confusion, Newland decided to embark on the road less travelled, but the circumstances of his life-- May's unexpected pregnancy-- pulled him away from his desired path, and he succumbed to his fate.
 "There they were, close together and safe and shut in; yet so chained to their separate destinies that they might as well have been half the world apart."
 Ellen Olenska went back to Europe and did not return to her husband, even though most relatives had tried to persuade her to do so.
"Everybody knew that the Countess Olenska was no longer in the good grace of her family. Even her devoted champion, old Mrs. Manson Mingott, had been unable to defend her refusal to return to her husband."
  Madame Olenska did not seem to mind hurting her own reputation.
"It was incredible, but it was a fact, that Ellen, in spite of all her opportunities and her privileges, had become simply a 'Bohemian.' The fact reinforced the contention that she had made a fatal mistake in not returning to Count Olenski. After all, a young woman's place was under her husband's roof, especially when she had left in circumstances that... well... if one had cared to look into them..."

  Twenty-six years later, Newland Archer mused over his life. His wife had died; his kids had grown. He had always been considered a respectable citizen. He had fulfilled all his duties. He had stayed with his wife and  had grieved the loss of his lifelong partner.
 Due to unexpected circumstances his son invited him to get together with Ellen Olenska. The forces that had been left unsaid resurfaced, and his son seemed to understand his father from the perspective of a new generation. However, Newland did not have the courage to meet Ellen again. Perhaps he longed to preserve his love for her intact and sublime, like a dream that never fades away.

 What about you? Would you have done anything differently if you had been in Newland's shoes?

 If you like any of these literary classics, feel free to check my essays/reviews:

Leo Tolstoy's novellas
"My Antonia" by Willa Cather
Kate Chopin's "The Awakening"
The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
George Orwell's "1984" and "Animal Farm"
George Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London"
Of Human Bondage

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


"You can spend the money on new housing for poor people and the homeless or you can spend it on a football stadium or a golf course."
Jello Biafra
 Today I met a homeless man who had his toes recently amputated due to frostbite. We don't believe these things can happen until we witness them in our communities.
 I can't get over my shock.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Uncommon Folk

"I have had a joy from which no one can rob me - I have been able to touch some people with my art."
Mary Cassatt

Who could have predicted the destiny of these artworks? 
 This question came to me over a month ago, when I visited the Milwaukee Art Museum to enjoy the exhibition that is currently on display until May 4.
  The Uncommon Folk Exhibition includes an interesting variety of paintings, sculptures, toys, quilts and a few photographs.
 All artists were self-taught. Some of the works are anonymous: they had been abandoned or left behind on farms or on the streets, but they were rescued by people. Now they are preserved because of their beauty, artistic value and historical meaning.
  Let’s take a look at some of the captivating masterpieces.
Calvin Black (1903-1972) created a theatrical environment in the California desert. He delighted tourists with   wooden dolls, wind-driven and mechanical.

Ted Gordon, an artist from Kentucky, drew hundreds of portraits with simple curved lines. Through these lines he created these complex portraits.

I found the story of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910-1983) fascinating. He was a simple man who  worked  at a bakery during the day. In his spare time, however, he was a passionate artist. During his lifetime he created thousands of works: paintings, sculptures and photographs.
 He also wrote poetry and recorded his thoughts on a variety of subjects.  What I find very inspiring about this artist’s devotion to art is that he was not attached to the outcome of his creative endeavors.  He just worked on them with fervor.
His ardent spirit vibrates in his masterpieces.
This photograph I took includes some of his sculptures and paintings. There is a whole section dedicated to Eugene Von Bruenchenhein at this exhibition.

 His work has been showcased in different museums in Chicago, New York city,  London and Venice. 
He noted that he believed his art was “ the result of unknown forces at work…forces that have gone on since the beginning.”
 If you want to learn more about this exhibition you can read this article or check the official website.
Have you been to any interesting exhibition lately?
 Talking about creative endeavors, I will take a break from blogging to finish writing a story.
 Enjoy the spring air - or the autumn air, depending on the hemisphere you live on...