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Archive for the ‘from the viewing room’ Category

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I recently came across Rebecca Solnit’s contemplation of the colour blue through the Brainpickings site.

The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue. For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.

and

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If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints the next beyond. Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs and stories. Something is always far away.

I got to thinking about a couple of photos I took recently in Spain, one in Grenada and one in Segovia.

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She talks about how artists used the colour blue, and cites the following classical paintings amongst her examples –

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Isn’t the blue of distance in these paintings really beautiful?

Here are another few examples from an old French book which we have at home –

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fields of gold

Fields of gold….this is what they look like where I live. Aren’t they spectacular? And don’t they go so well with a wide blue sky?

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The first year I came to live here I kept driving past them thinking, must stop and take a photo sometime, but, somehow, I always had something more important to do. “I’ll catch them next time I pass by” I thought. But I didn’t. And when finally I decided to make a special trip out to photograph them, they were gone. Or almost. Heads down and turning brown. Just didn’t have the same appeal. So I missed them. Didn’t take long to miss them. It turns out they don’t look like this for very long.

I learned that lesson.

So when this caught my eye recently……

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….I pulled over and took a few photos.

As I stood looking out across the field up to the top of the hill I recalled the scene on the beach at dawn in the movie, “City of Angels”, and I thought, “How amazing that this field of little seeds transforms into a carpet of tall green stalks and leaves, which, one day (or at least it seems to happen in one day), the sun comes up and these glorious golden flowers unfold to greet it, bathing their petals in its rays which warm their rich, abundant crops of seeds.”

Flourishing.

How flower like.

I believe we are here to live like that. To flourish. To reach up, unfold, respond to the sun, the rain, and the wind. To emerge and to engage with a full becoming….becoming the unique and singular creatures which we are, and to express our uniqueness in full awareness of our communion with the rest of nature.

There are terrible stories around just now. Stories of acts of cowardice and killing. How are we to respond to them?

With fear? Closing down? Making our lives smaller?

Or with LIFE? Opening up, living our lives to the full?

Maybe I can learn from the sunflowers. Maybe I can stand up, radiate with the beauty of the life force which surges through me. And flourish.

Let me use that astonishing capacity which I share with all human beings – the ability to make conscious choices.

I choose to relish this moment, this day, this present, because if I put it off, I might miss living altogether.

I choose love instead of hate.

I choose to create instead of destroying.

I choose to be grateful for this “one wild and precious life“.

I choose to share my delight.

 

 

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sundial

A number of things struck me as I looked at this sundial.

The first thing I did was look at my phone to see “what time it is” and my phone said midday. Yet, the sundial said ten o’clock. How come? Is the sun slow today? Or did someone make a mistake when they carved out this sundial? Or has time changed since this sundial was created?

The next thing I noticed was that the sundial starts at 4 am. That’s quite early for France. I know up in Scotland in the summer time it will be light by then but in Paris? Maybe….I don’t know. Perhaps more strangely though, it seems to finish about 3 pm. Surely that wasn’t anywhere near sunset, even centuries ago! So there must be a reason they didn’t think it useful to measure time after three in the afternoon. Or was it just that the sun didn’t cast any shadows on this particular sundial after that time in the afternoon..?

Henri Bergson, the philosopher, wrote a lot about time and he mentions two kinds of time – measured and experienced. I hadn’t thought about time that way until I read him. But it’s true, we humans haven’t always measured time. With our sundials, our clocks and watches, we divide everyday life into pieces, naming the pieces as hours, minutes or seconds, and counting them. But this is completely man-made. It’s totally artificial.

In reality time passes, not in discrete pieces, but as a continuous flow. This chopping it up into bits is a human invention. I’m not saying it hasn’t been useful to do that, but it’s just a bit of a surprise when you suddenly realise that. We could have agreed to chop it up differently. Couldn’t we? Have you ever thought about that?

I saw a watch for sale the other day. It was called a “slow watch”, not because it ran slowly but because the face had 24 hours on it and it only had one hand which moved slowly from hour to hour. Maybe that’s not so different from this medieval sundial!

Bergson talked about experienced time as “duration” – we experience time passing, but we don’t experience it passing in a steady, consistent of constant way do we? Sometimes “time flies past” and sometimes “it drags”.

Csikszentmihalyi, describes “flow” as being a particular experience of time. I love his description of that. Here’s his TED talk about it –

 

So how do you experience time?

Might be fun to stop and think about that a few times over the next few days and see just how differently we experience, or make, time in our own lives.

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FRANCE CAVE DRAWINGS

Part of Lascaux famed cave drawings are photographed in southwest France, during a rare visit, Friday, July 25, 2008. Clusters of black fungus have been spreading over the drawings said scientists in 2007. The stains were the latest biological threat to the Lascaux cave drawings, which were discovered in 1940 and are considered one of the finest examples of prehistoric art. Carbon-dating suggests the murals of bulls, felines and other images were created between 15,000 and 17,500 years ago in the caves near Montignac, in the Dordogne region. In 1963, after green algae and other damage appeared, the caves were closed to the public. Only scientists and a few others are allowed to enter at certain times. (AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, Pool)

I recently visited the Lascaux caves which are about a three hour drive from where I’m living now. I’d heard of them but I hadn’t realised they were as close as this.

You’ll see from that photo above, which isn’t mine, that the incredible wall art in the caves was deteriorating quickly due to the effects of fungi and carbon dioxide brought in by visiting tourists, so the government closed the caves to preserve them and did something astonishing.

They built an exact replica of part of the cave network, faithful down to 5mm, using teams of artists to recreate the artwork using the same kinds of pigments used by the original artists on artificial cave walls.

The caves were discovered in 1940 when a group of boys were exploring a forest. A storm had blown down some trees and one of the fallen trees had opened up a hole in the ground under its roots. Their dog disappeared down the hole so they went after it, quickly realising it was a tunnel into caves. After retrieving their dog, they went back home and got lamps, returning to squeeze along the dark tunnel until it opened up into a cave. Can you imagine how astonished they were when the light from their flames lit up the huge paintings of bulls, bison, cows, horses and deer which covered the walls and ceiling of the cave?

There was a lot more down there than what the boys found in the first cave. The paintings are thought to have been created up to 18,000 years ago and had remained, perfectly preserved, once the cave network was sealed off by the forest.

Lots of questions immediately spring to mind – how did they manage to paint such life-like depictions of animals under the ground in the darkness using just small lamps for light? They covered not only the walls but the ceilings. How did they get up there? They used the contours of the cave walls to make their paintings seem three dimensional. How did they have the imagination and the skill to do that? And WHY? Why did they put so much time and effort into the creation of this fabulous art?

It didn’t take long before the effects of thousands of visitors started to degrade the art work so the government sealed it off and created Lascaux 2, a replica. If you click through on that link you’ll go to an interactive tour of the re-creation.

So, I went down the stone steps with a couple of dozen other visitors and a guide. In the ante-room after the great doors were pulled closed, our eyes adjusted to the low level of light and the guide talked us through the story of the discovery of the Lascaux caves and the creation of Lascaux 2. Then he opened the far doors and we all squeezed down a narrow passageway between rough walls of rock. The passageway opened up into the Hall of the Bulls, so called because of the four, almost life size paintings of bulls which completely cover the ceiling of the cave.

He switched off the lights and lit a cigarette lighter. As the small, single flame cast its faint light up onto the walls and ceiling you could swear the animals were moving. It was quite cold down there and without artificial light it would be pitch dark.

We spend the best part of an hour exploring the cave and hearing about the different paintings.

So, you’re thinking. You just visited a replica? How did that feel?

You know what? It was magical. I thought it might be a bit Disney-like, but it wasn’t. You know what it was like? It was like standing in the middle of an art installation. That’s exactly what the replica is. It’s a work of art designed to communicate to you something of the experience of the artists. And that’s what this replica represents, isn’t it? A work of art. Created by unknown artists almost 18,000 years ago….

So there it is…one work of art, touching the viewer, stirring some kind of feelings which the artists had after they’d been inspired in a similar way by other artists, long gone, who left these astonishing creations.

Here’s my final thought. Isn’t it just wonderful that we humans create art? Not for a sum of money, fame, or some utility, but to…..what? Interpret our world? Interact with our world? Make sense of our world? Express ourselves, just because we can?

 

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mulberry

The other day I was sitting outside enjoying some Spring sunshine when I noticed the strong shadows of the mulberry tree.

It struck me that the pattern of the branches was probably very similar to that of the root system under the soil. “As above, so below”, as the old saying goes….

I also enjoyed just looking at the patterns. There is something very beautiful about this branching pattern we see everywhere in Nature, isn’t there?

Then I realised I’d focused on the shadows rather than on the branches of the tree itself, and that brought back to mind Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Do you know it? Here’s a link for you to explore it further. Or watch this video from the fabulous “School of Life” –

 

The prisoner who is dragged out into the light comes to know the shadows are re-presentations of reality, but I’ve often thought it’s a shame that when he returned to the cave, he couldn’t see the shadows any more. Shadows, after all, can be both beautiful and quite enlightening!

 

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Look at this tree. Those aren’t leaves, they’re birds! Hundreds of them, thousands maybe.

I’ve never seen such a large flock of birds near me before. Maybe you haven’t either. What do you think your response would be? Would you think of Alfred Hitchcock?

Not me!

I didn’t think of that for a moment.

I was fascinated, entranced, drawn outside with phone and camera to do my best to record something of this phenomenon.

Here’s what I put together from my short video clips and some photos.

Later, while reading Montaigne, I read

He who fears he will suffer, already suffers from his fear.

It got me thinking about the stance we take towards the world, about our default attitude. Because isn’t there so much fear around? In fact, it seems to me that fear is often used deliberately as a weapon of control.

What’s the greatest fear?

Some say it’s the fear of death. That this “existential fear” is the foundation of all other fears. For example, as a comedian I heard once said “I don’t have a fear of flying. I have a fear of crashing!” People who fear the dark, fear what dangers might be hidden in the darkness. People who fear dogs, fear that the dogs will attack them. People who fear illnesses, fear suffering and death.

Montaigne says if you spend your life fearing suffering, you’ll be suffering throughout your life. Yet so much of the health advice offered to people is based on trying to avoid death (the greatest fear).

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If fear is our default, we don’t just suffer, we live in a shrinking world, fearing difference, the “other” and change.

What’s the alternative?

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Dread one day at a time??!!

Nope.

The great thing about alternatives to fear is that there are so many of them.

There’s courage. Courage is the determination to go ahead even when you are feeling fear. That’s something I’ve been practising since coming to live in France. When you start to live in another country with a different language, not only are customs and habits different but at first you’ve no idea how to ask the simplest things. So a trip to a post office, or the local Mairie, or the garage can be quite intimidating. Until you summon up your courage, and just go. And, in my experience here, each and every time I discover there has been absolutely nothing to be afraid of. People are friendly and they want to help. (Then next time you go the fear has diminished, or even gone away entirely)

There’s wonder. Wonder and curiosity. That’s the response I had when I saw all the birds. That’s the attitude I hope to take into every day – l’émerveillement du quotidien.

There’s love. Love comes with a desire to make connections and with an intention to care, or at very least, not to harm – and that applies in relation to plants and animals as much as to other human beings. How often does it seem to be that when your intention is a loving one, that you meet the same response? When I was a GP, my partners and I built a new clinic and the reception was an open one – no glass or metal barriers between the patients and the staff. We were warned that we’d be vulnerable to being attacked. It never happened. Not even remotely.

Fear closes.

It closes us off from the world and from life.

The opposite is whatever opens – courage, wonder, curiosity, love…..add your own favourites at the end of this sentence!

I prefer the opposites for what they bring in themselves, but I resist fear for another reason. I don’t want to be controlled. Heroes not zombies anyone?

 

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moon sky

The Guardian has published 15 quotes from Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince (one of those books which has so many quotable sentences in it) and it seemed appropriate to me to post this in this week when the world’s thoughts are turned to Paris.

One of my own personal favourites is this –

It is only with the heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.

We can all quite easily take a moment to reflect on something – anything – it can be a choice which has presented itself to us, a decision to be made, a person, a relationship or an event. The way I like to do this is to sit somewhere quietly, take three slow, deep and even breaths, call whatever it is I want to reflect on to my mind, place my hand over the area of my heart, and ask myself the question “What does my heart say about this?”

Give it a few moments and see what, if anything, emerges. It won’t always, but sometimes, suddenly, something seems crystal clear.

I like the second sentence in that quote too – “what is essential is invisible to the eye”. I’m a big fan of that one.

As I looked down through the list of quotes I was remembered this one –

Grown-ups love figures… When you tell them you’ve made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies? “ Instead they demand ‘How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?’ Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.

….which is some ways is a continuation of the “what is essential is invisible to the eye”.

Why do we put such emphasis on numbers, when what is most important to each of us is the personal, the subjective, the invisible?

This little scene from “Gregory’s Girl” (from a LONG time ago!) popped into my head –

In particular the line which Claire Grogan says about a minute into the scene.

 

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