Posts Tagged ‘emerveillement’

I’ve seen goldfinches flying through the garden from time to time. They tend to appear in noisy, busy, small flocks, making a lot of noise, bringing a splash of bright colours, and after a few seconds, or maybe a minute, they are gone.

So, I was very surprised to look out the window the other day and notice this one sitting in one of the buddleia bushes. I was even more surprised when he stayed there for a long time – I mean, maybe half an hour or more – just looking around, all by himself.

He came again the following day, and sat in exactly the same place.

I haven’t seen him since.

Apparently, in some traditions, a goldfinch is a good omen, a sign of abundance and prosperity. It symbolises diversity, creativity, joy and simplicity.

Interesting, huh?

Whatever the symbolism (and we meaning-seeking, meaning-creating, humans can’t avoid seeing the symbolic values in everything we perceive), spotting this solitary goldfinch, at peace with the world, just taking his time to look around, was a powerful example of that value which I place so highly in my life – “l’émerveillement du quotidien” – the wonder/marvel/amazement of the every day.

What I find is that my life is enhanced by two things – awareness and curiosity. If I notice something, then give some time and attention to it, it often delights me. It also sparks my curiosity – what is that? what’s it doing there? – and sends me off to explore on the internet which deepens my experience and makes it even more meaningful.

I recommend it…….noticing and enquiring.

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We have a tree paeony in the garden. It’s quite a tall plant now, and it produces a glorious flower once every year. I think in its best year it produced three flowers, but most years, it just produces one. That rarity makes the flower even more special. How amazing is it to wait a whole year, anticipating the swelling of a bud, seeing the curled petals emerge then unfurl in the sun to fully open up to the world for a few days. Look at the abundance of pollen. There’s so much it has spilled out all over the white petals. The flower lasts for only a few days, then the petals fall off and the paeony gets into creating and distributing fertilised seeds again. That transience also enhances the sense of awe I have when I see this beautiful flower.

In Japanese aesthetics transience ranks very highly. They celebrate the cherry blossom every year by reporting it on the nightly TV news and splashing photos across the front pages of the newspapers. I’ve seen cherry blossom maps on TV in Japan which are the equivalent of weather maps but instead of showing the weather track the progress of the cherry blossom across the country from the south to the north.

I remember going to see a “millennium plant” once in the Royal Botanic Gardens….one of those creatures which only produces flowers once every hundred years or so. I can’t remember the proper name of the plant, but I felt so privileged to witness its flowers in full bloom.

We have a similar response to eclipses, and to unusual conjunctions of planets or stars in the night sky, and to the appearance of comets. Their rarity makes them more special, and we then experience these events as more significant.

Awe and wonder. The more I experience awe and wonder, the higher I rank the quality of my life. In France there is this word, émerveillement, which is one of my most favourite French words. It means “wonder”, “amazement”, “awe”, “marvel”, and various other English words, because in English there isn’t a direct equivalent single word. “L’émerveillement du quotidien” is one of my most favourite French phrases. It means to find this wonder and awe in daily life.

Well, I guess it’s pretty easy to find wonder and awe in the face of the unusual, the long anticipated, the rare and the peculiar. But actively seeking amazement, awe and wonder in the everyday takes life to a new level. Will you find some every day if you are looking? My answer would be “probably”. I do. But even if you don’t having the intention, having the goal if you like, every day of seeking out what’s awesome and marvellous, will open your mind and your heart to the exactly those possibilities.

I think the conscious intention to seek “émerveillement” opens us up in the way this tree paeony flower has opened up in this photo I’m sharing with you today. And when we do that life becomes just a bit more special, just a bit more magical.

Try it for yourself.

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I’m reading The Discoverer, by Jan Kjaerstad (ISBN 978-1905147366) just now and a few pages back he mentioned something called a “studiolo”. This was a secret room hidden deep within a palace (usually not even on the architect’s drawings, and often windowless), in which a Prince would keep a private collection. The key to the collection was anything which induced a sense of wonder. Now, there’s a VERY appealing idea. I’ve written before about how wonder, amazement, or, “emerveillement“, can bring a very special quality to everyday life, so the idea of having a collection which would stimulate such an attitude is really very interesting. As The Discoverer is a novel, I wasn’t sure if the author had made the idea up, or if such rooms ever really existed. Well, guess what? They did!

Wikipedia has an entry about such rooms. They were also known by the German word “Wunderkammer”, or from the French “cabinet” as a “cabinet of curiosities”, or “cabinet of miracles”. Some people have misinterpreted the “cabinet” as an item of furniture, but it was actually a room. A particularly spectacular version was the Studiolo of Francesco I de Medici, in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. Sadly, all the objects in that one are long since gone, but the room itself looks stunning. The contents, we are told, would be natural objects, shells, crystals, horns and so on, and art objects such as paintings and sculptures. What held the collection together was the collector. Whatever he, or she, (usually he!) found made him wonder was a worthwhile item for inclusion.

These rooms were probably precursors of museums as well as being laboratories of discovery and sources of inspiration. They were catalysts to the imagination, to creativity and to understanding.

I love this concept, and was therefore intruiged by the description of some contemporary manifestations of “cabinets of curiosity”, or “wonder rooms”.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology in LA, uses this idea.

There’s an Italian cultural organisation dedicated to the concept.

And a quarterly Arts magazine called “Cabinet“.

Interestingly, there’s a mention in the wikipedia article of some bloggers describing their blogs as “wonder rooms”. Well, I haven’t exactly made my blog that way, but it’s not far off it, is it? Quite often, I browse through my old posts at some of the photos, references, or reviews and they stimulate my “emerveillement”. I hope browsing through them might do the same for you. But I’m inspired now. Maybe there’s a photobook project in this? Maybe there’s a website project? Maybe I could start a physical collection somewhere in my home! Does this idea inspire you? If you come across such rooms (physical or virtual) please let me know!

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