“Late in her life, when we fell in love
I’d take her out from the nursing home
for a chaser and two bourbons. She’d crack
a joke sharp as a tin lid
hot from the teeth of the can-opener,
and cackle her crack-corn laugh…”
Poem by Sharon Olds, Grandmother Love Poem
I prefer prose to poetry, but Sharon Olds puts words into my mouth like foreign foods. I don’t know if it is animal or plant, but I know it is good, it is so perfectly right. Reading her poems is like recognizing the half of me that only I know about. That inner self held tight, held down, held hidden from the surface of proper behavior.
After the Rape in Our Building
“The day after we heard about it,
We made love, in the morning, he entered me
And I thought, It’s not so bad, I could hardly feel anything,
Just something hard going in and out of me
Somewhere far away down my body
Like something seen from a distance, an ocean liner
Going down twenty miles away…”
Olds is strong, she is direct, she “carries the reader through rooms of passion and loss”. A lot has been written about Sharon Olds, that she has a raw language, that she transmits truths about violence, and sexuality, and relationships in families. For me she illuminates places most of us keep comfortably dim or covered, so they seem not to exist.
Sharon Olds’s jolting images heighten my creativity. There is an emotional beauty in her chilling tragedies. She infuses evil and cruelty in the secret corners of her poems. We understand that her childhood was very painful, but what an invincible spirit!
“My bad grandfather wouldn’t feed us.
He turned the lights out when we tried to read.
He sat alone in the invisible room
in front of the hearth, and drank. He died
when I was seven, and Grandma had never once
taken anyone’s side against him,
the firelight on his red cold face
reflecting extra on his glass eye.
Today I thought about that glass eye,
and how at night in the big double bed
he slept facing his wife, and how the limp
hole, where his eye had been, was open
towards her on the pillow, and how I am
one-fourth him, a brutal man with a
hole for an eye, and one-fourth her,
a woman who protected no one. I am their
sex, too, their son, their bed, and
under their bed the trap-door to the
cellar, with its barrels of fresh apples, and
somewhere in me too is the path
down to the creek gleaming in the dark, a
way out of there.”
Sharon Olds is a stunning poet who speaks to me. I have all of her books which I read often. And each time her words, coming from a place that is real, and opaque, and dark, give me clarity. She makes me want to paint, because my brushes are what I have. Her words are my colors, her images are my dreams.
“As we made love for the third day,
cloudy and dark, as we did not stop
but went into it and into it and
did not hesitate and did not hold back we
rose through the air, until we were up above…
…on the crest of the mountains, one huge
cloud with scalloped edges of blazing
evening light, we did not turn back,
we stayed with it, even though we were
far beyond what we knew, we rose
into the grain of the cloud, even though we were
frightened, the air hollow, even though
nothing grew there, even though it is a
place from which no one has ever come back.”
She takes me to that place, then she releases me.
A doorway in Rome, Italy
Painting has always been my own particular potential. For 30 years, I lived for painting, obsessed with it. When I was not painting I was daydreaming about images, composing them in my head. I painted all the time, alongside cooking the meals, helping the kids with their homework and during our constant moves from one country to another. To sleep among my paintings was beautiful, so I could see them first thing as I woke up.
The porch at my old house in Washington, D.C.
Everything about painting excited me: The smell of turpentine. Forming the shapes on the canvas bit by bit. The triumph of finishing a painting, and hanging it on a wall. Seeing it becoming infused with the life I gave it and then giving it a name.
"Private Pleasures", at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.
I am a realist painter. I paint what interests me. Everyday objects. People. Interiors. Landscapes. Fruits and vegetables. Beautiful things and scary thoughts. Every painting is my composition of photo images from many different places and times, and persistent thoughts that result in a different story for each viewer. I love letting people tell stories to themselves.
Mint tea on a Portuguese verandah.
In the 80’s and 90’s realist painting was unfashionable. If you painted beautiful objects, you were labeled square, conventional and traditional by critics who wanted to see the abstract or the outrageous. The public was told to believe that “art” was only far out and extreme forms – and done by artists that the critics approved. Yes, art, like all culture, is also political. But not everyone follows what critics recommend. Nearly every painting I did was bought almost before it was finished.
Several reflections of my daughter.
It takes me a long time to complete a painting. I have never been able to do more than about 12 large paintings a year. The image of what I want to do usually forms slowly in my mind – often over months or years. But sometimes it bursts out fully developed like Zeus from the head of Athena. When the images are clear, I sketch the thinnest of lines on the canvas, notations only. Color is my guide. The images take shape with paint and color. If there is a central figure, I paint that face first. If I get it right, I know the rest of the painting will fall into place. Weeks later, when I am finishing the last details of the painting and cannot bear to be in front of it any longer, the release of completing it is total. I have been called an aesthete. So be it. I always thought that if I could add a touch of beauty to the world – and still touch on every story -- what was wrong with hat?
A chapel window in Sintra, Portugal.
The above is a reflection on my very first entry when I started blogging in June. Now I’m back in the studio, sorting out my next painting, so I wanted to show you some earlier ones.
An old coach entrance to a building in Madrid.
But the other reason for bringing up painting is that I decided to recognize some of the very talented people I have come across in the three months I have been blogging. I call this recognition “Moonlight”. I have been puzzling about the image and here is the final result of a number of sketches.
Moonlight in this case represents the glorious brain-sharpening, mood-enhancing experience one feels when reading or seeing something inspirational in other blogs. Something that sets the tone for the rest of your day, puts a smile on your face, stimulates your work, or makes you feels awesome about life. It is not often one feels wonderful. But some days, some blogs do just that.
I want to give “moonlights” to all the special blogs I encounter.
There are no obligations attached to the recognition. But if you feel like it, you can pass it on to whoever has also given you that something special, what in Spanish they call “eso”, or “it”. Whatever “it” is that lifts your spirits and helps you to up your mental game.
”Moonlights” go to three talented artists I very much admire.
These “moonlights” go to wonderful photographers:
“Moonlights” for wonderful people with a lot of pluck:
“Moonlights” for blogs that delight me:
In the future I will be handing out more “moonlights” to other bloggers who inspire me.
It took us 4 days to reluctantly depart from Nuno’s place in northern Alentejo. For privacy reasons, I did not photograph any of the people invited – except for a fleeting image of Jeanne – or his house. But I had free reign to photograph any detail.
The days were a constant swirl of activity. Nuno pulled out all the stops. The food was earthy, country elegant and wonderful. September is vindima time in the northern Alentejo, and the grapes were being harvested for Nuno’s limited production organic wine. We rode in calèches and took long walks in the country side. There was horseback riding for the aficionados, exciting conversations, music, and last but not the least, all eyes were on Jeanne and Nuno.
Luisa, the pretty maid, seeing us go on another outing.
Our dog Maxi loved the freedom.
The vindima workers.
Forget about cars. Caleches are the way to move around.
The children from Nuno's school watching a puppet show.
Meals were always in different settings. Breakfasts on the terrace, lunches on elegantly set tables among the trees, dinners in the main dining room or on the porch, picnics under the cork oaks, elevenses. We did not stop eating. Guida prepared fantastic meals with vegetables and herbs from the house garden and meat from the farm’s chickens and sheep. We ate Sável from the nearby river. Sinful and divine desserts. The food was typically Portuguese country and finger licking delicious.
Breakfast on the terrace.
A hearty vegetable soup.
Guida's pasteis de nata, the typical Portuguese cream confection.
Freshly baked chicken empadas.
Fresh Alentejo tomato soup, made with requeijao, a rich cottage cheese.
Chicken in a red wine sauce.
An orange flan
Nuno’s passion, the Lusitanian horses, are magnificent, regal, symbols of the eternal. They are beautifully proportioned, holding their heads high as if to be crowned. I just stared from a distance. I know nothing about horses, but anyone can see that these are superior animals, made to be ridden by the greater gods of Ancient Greece.
Jeanne and Nuno, what can I say? Nuno is completely smitten by her, and I think Jeanne is equally over the moon. In fact she stayed on in the Alentejo, and Nuno will be driving her to the airport when she returns to Paris. Are they going to get together and live happily ever after? I doubt it. Nuno loves his place and is not a moveable beast. Jeanne loves her life and I doubt she is about to give up her profession and freedom. But I think their romance will continue, in the Alentejo, in Paris, or anywhere they arrange to meet.