L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Saturday, June 15, 2013

With a Song in My Heart - alternate casting

When I was a kid, there were quite a few films that I saw multiple times on television.  Those were the days, in the 60s and 70s, when they played old movies in the afternoon and late at night, times when I was very likely to be watching.  There were certain of them that influenced me greatly, that helped shape - or warp - my young, impressionable mind.  The King and I, Wuthering Heights, Astaire and Rogers' films, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy films were some of them.  Later, films like The Leopard and The Go-Between.  One of the big ones for me was With a Song in My Heart, starring Susan Hayward, the "biopic" of singer Jane Froman, filled with glamorous musical numbers and a whole lot of suffering:  the struggles she endured after being severely injured in a plane crash during WWII, the worry over whether they'd be able to save her crushed leg, and whether she'd ever walk again.  Great stuff.  The always wonderful Thelma Ritter is in much of the film, too, playing Froman's fictional nurse and confidant, Clancy.

During the recovery from my recent - not really severe, at all - injuries, mostly to my knee, my dear G has been a sort of real-life Clancy, doing everything for me, keeping us going.  As hard-working and good-tempered as she's been, through all of this, I couldn't help but think of that other plucky nurse.  Also, when the situation really started getting me down, and I felt like abandoning myself to full-throttle whining, I would think about the real suffering of Froman and compare it with my own situation, then compare both with the beautiful Hollywood suffering of the film version, and it'd be enough to tamp down some of my drama queen tendencies and make me laugh at myself.  Yes, all my pain will be redeemed and - some day - my leg brace will come off and... I'll walk!

Not surprisingly, for G's birthday, yesterday, I'd planned on a nurse theme for her card.  Something pretty simple.  But then I imagined a Photoshop sequence based on one of my favorite scenes from the movie.  Then I realized that I didn't have enough time to finish and still be able to give it to her on her birthday morning, so I reverted to the original plan.  Luckily, I then had enough time during the day to finish this second one, as well.  I gave it to her last night at dinner.

If you've never seen the movie... well, hmm... maybe what follows will make no sense at all.  Sorry if that's the case.  You should rent it; highly recommended.


(This scene comes when Jane is in the hospital again, at her lowest ebb, when it looks like they might have to amputate.  I've used some of the actual dialogue from the scene.)

And then this is my little craft project for putting the images together into some sort of a card-like format.  All very last minute - and totally unplanned - but it came out OK in the end, I think; kinda cute!

Nurse G has a birthday

It was G's birthday yesterday.  Her birthday is one of several days in the year that brings about frenzied Photoshopping.  We both indulge in this activity.  (As I've often shared here.)  The yearly events thus honored are her birthday, my birthday, our anniversary, Christmas, and Valentine's Day.  We both have such fun trying to impress the other with our quite fantastic cleverness.  And, frankly, it's a lot easier and a lot less stressful than trying to come up with the perfect present or presents for each other.  (That's really hard; I don't know how people do that successfully.)  Need I add that it's also quite economical?

Because of G's great good care of me during the last month and a half of my recovery from my fall, it seemed only logical that this year's card should have a nursing theme.  This one is pretty simple, really.  I just Photoshopped G's face onto an old picture postcard of a WWII era Red Cross nurse.  The text was based on the sort of things you'd find on many postcards of that time, celebrating famous figures and/or exemplary wartime service.  I thought that since she needed a decoration, I'd use the Order of St. Nicholas, a fictitious award - named after our dear little dog, Nicholas - whose medal I designed for a recent painting.  (Because, in the painting, the medal and its ribbon are partly obscured, I needed to switch out the ribbon and Photoshop in the rest of the medal.)

Le Monocle - acrylic on panel - 16x12 - 2012

The "Order of St. Nicholas", inscribed with the faux Latin "Nicola Canis", is on the far right.

Oh, how G earned this medal!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A gray day in the north of France

I haven't blogged in a very long time.  The delay was made even longer as, on the last day of April, I fell while out walking.  The various, though still relatively minor, injuries I sustained made it impossible to do much of anything for the entirety of May; no going to work and no painting, much less writing blog posts.  Only two days ago was I able to sit down and begin to paint again.

This is a post I began more than a year ago.  I don't know why I never finished it.  I really shouldn't be posting it today, on this lovely early summer day; it best belongs to a dark and wet autumn afternoon.  But I wanted to put something out, today, to get started things again.  And here I am.


On a rainy, blustery, dark gray day in November of 1994, I took the train north from Paris to Compiègne. On arrival, and without any further study of my map, I found my way through the wet streets and quite directly to the chateau, the wind knocking me this way and that and blowing out my umbrella.

I had come mainly to see the Musée du Second Empire. The chateau has several different museums allotted to its immense expanse, and is probably best known for a few elegant rooms designed and decorated for Marie Antoinette and for the rich and beautifully preserved décor installed by Napoléon I. But I most wanted to see the large collection of memorabilia from the reign of his nephew, the Emperor Napoléon III. Of particular interest were all things relating to my childhood idol, his wife, the Empress Eugénie. Especially, the famous Winterhalter group portrait of 1855: l'Impératrice Eugénie entourée de ses dames d'honneur.

The small and rather dingy ticket office was dark and almost empty of visitors. Even the few palace employees stood about, looking like they were waiting for something to happen. My French was non-existent at the time and, unexpectedly for such a large, important museum, no one spoke English. Too far from Paris and foreign tourists, I expect. Eventually I was made to understand that the guide would do only one tour, and we - the small group of visitors - had to vote which part of the huge building we would see. The vote went for the Grands Appartements. I was very disappointed, of course, but tagged along with the group, peering at all the vast, beautiful rooms, the gray autumn light dulling more than a little of their glamour. It didn't matter to me that the tour was all narrated in French - I knew most of what I saw, having seen it all in books - but the tour guide kept looking over at me. She seemed to be disconcerted, somehow, that I was there, thinking I didn't know what it was that I was seeing.  Perhaps she felt sorry for me or maybe I just made her nervous.

After we wound our way back to the starting point, the few other visitors quickly dispersed.  Not knowing what to do, stubborn in my desire to see what I'd come all that way to see, I just stood there, waiting.  I can't recall how it came about but, somehow - maybe they thought there was no other way to get rid of me - a good-looking, middle-aged woman appeared and, a little grudgingly, made me to understand that she'd show me what I'd come for.  It appeared she spoke little or no English.

She was the perfect example of the well-off Frenchwoman of a certain age:  trim, perfectly fitting dark shoes and slacks; pastel twin set; a patterned silk scarf artfully arranged about her shoulders and held by a simple gold brooch; discrete pearl earrings.  She had a petite, well-proportioned figure and ash-blond hair, simply but flawlessly arranged.  She was perhaps fifty.

As we made our way to the other side of the chateau, we were at first accompanied by a guard but, soon enough, it was just the two of us walking through a long string of rooms. This part of the palace appears to be much refurbished now, colorful and well-arranged.  But at that time, almost twenty years ago, the aspect of those rooms was that of something carefully preserved but abandoned.  One wondered if, even in the tourist-y summer, these rooms were much visited.  Many if not most of the high, paneled walls were painted the infamous gris Trianon - the misnamed "Trianon gray" that one used to see in so many unrestored palace rooms - and made all the more austere by the cold November light coming in through the tall windows. 

All the doors were locked, and my guide held a large ring heavy with old keys, long and attenuated.  At each set of gray-painted, immensely tall (perhaps fifteen feet?) paired doors, we'd pause while she searched for the right key.  Eventually the correct key would turn narrowly in the old lock and she would let us through into the next room, before leaving which, the doors would be locked behind us.

At each new room, she would begin - in French - to give a vague overview of the objects before us.  And I would smile and continue her descriptions - in English - because I knew exactly what I was seeing.  We continued this fragmentary shared monologue as we passed from room to room, pausing before paintings and display cases, locking and unlocking those great, tall pairs of doors.  And she seemed less and less annoyed to be leading a silly hulk of an American through this still, forgotten pool of French history.  And she really looked at me now, and something warmed and softened in her eyes as she realized how much I knew, and how precious it all was to me.  How I honored it all.

Truthfully, in most of the rooms the displays were not terribly impressive.  The expected rather vulgar Second Empire furniture, dull paintings and drily academic sculpture.  And then, in smaller rooms, large and tall glass cases full of heaped arrangements of books and bits of lace, tinted lithographs and desk ornaments, baby shoes and green silk parasols.  All together, it had about it a feeling very like an old arrangement of dried and faded flowers.

It wasn't until we arrived at the last few rooms that I saw the Winterhalter portraits that had most drawn me to the place.  They have several more in the collection now, but at that time, I believe they only had four, perhaps five.  I recall the wonderfully backlit oval portrait of the comtesse de Morny, née Princess Trubetskaya, wife of the emperor's illegitimate half-brother; the small, rather wooden portrait of the Empress Eugénie that was apparently done for her son, the Prince Imperial; an oval portrait of the ringletted marquise de las Marismas, dame du palais to the empress, that I'd never seen reproduced before; the oval portrait of the emperor that is a pendant to the famous chapeau de paille portrait of his wife (this unsigned painting has been attributed to Winterhalter, but I will never believe it was by his hand); and finally, of course, the vast, leafy painting of the empress with her ladies.  This last work, in its grand frame, took the space of a whole wall to hang, and the paint looked as bright and fresh as if it had just been finished.  I'd dreamed about this painting since my childhood, and it was thrilling to see it.


When we'd finished, she did me the courtesy of walking me outside, and we stood under the colonnade that forms a screen between the two projecting wings at the front of the chateau.  With limited shared language we said our thank yous and goodbyes.  It was all very sweet until I made the extremely gauche gesture of trying to tip her; I really thought I was supposed to.  She looked offended and we ended our meeting on that awkward note.

But in remembering that day, I don't dwell on that embarrassing moment.  And I don't think very much about the poor, mummified remains of the everyday life of an idolized empress.  I honestly don't even linger long over those gorgeous paintings I loved, and still love, so much.  When I think of that cold, rainy day spent in a palace in the north of France, I think about a long, thin key tuning in an old lock, and my eyes scanning up and up to the top edge of a tall gray-painted door as it gently opens from its frame.  And I think about the warming look there in the eyes of a proper Frenchwoman - a total stranger - who, more than anyone in the world, right at that moment, comprehends who I am.