Monday, January 10, 2011

My dearests, sitting at my desk as night falls outside, lamps on inside, rosé poured in an ice-filled glass, musing, thinking of you, wondering what to write, needing to find just the right moment to set the needle on the phonograph record, to start playing something, a line that flows, makes sense. I've been reading here and there, sporadically, I used to be a voracious reader, now it's more happenstance. I've started a new biography of George Washington, by Ron Chernow, not that I have any particular fascination with that eminent historical figure, but I was amazed at how much I loved the HBO series John Adams, so when I read several extremely glowing reviews of Chernow's book, and saw it on the new non-fiction shelf at the little town library the other day - I checked it out. Along with (a couple of days later) a returned copy of The Master and His Emissary, not that I plan on rereading it, but now that volume feels like a cherished object to me - I like having it around. I do wish I had the money to actually purchase works of writers and other artists that I enjoy so much. I would, I absolutely would, if I were able to. Certain books are fine to get from the library - but others, one really wishes to own. Plus I would like to be in a position to in the tiniest consumerist way, to support writers and artists - of whom I've been in some way considering myself one.

I carefully download my favorite Stella the Artist, 40 Dogs: Romeo and Juliet, and Moment Changes Everything - and everything goes smoothly on my computer for a couple of days and then it all crashes and the songs disappear. I do wish to purchase those artists' albums - but mostly because I would like to support their work. Because if I did own the CD's, I'd probably burn out on them fast, they'd join the untidy mess of CD's, haphazardly piled or lined in wicker baskets that I rarely listen to anymore. There is something about the work I have to go through to manage a voluntary listen to David Gray or Bob Schneider that makes them so special. I'm going to try not to download them for a few days - I have been overlistening to them, and I don't wish to use them up. Proust had a collection of photographs of people and personages he cherished - and he took care not to view the images too often, lest they lose their psychic power.

That said, I'm glad I have a few images of you, that I glance at now and then and cherish. I think we've both lost weight since that summer afternoon you came over. Isn't it a nice thing to lose weight? I think you and I both look younger now - and why not? I'm glad.

I wish I could remember what you look like better, though, voluntarily. But I do remember what it was like to step into your warm, enfolding arms, that welcoming, restful sensation. I hugged you (and everyone else) a few more times than was strictly necessary - the train was several minutes late. We stood outside on the station platform in the darkness, snow falling all around, you all breaking into some crazy ancient Polish rap-like chant that I didn't know, but I loved being included in the huddle, and then the brilliant torchlight of the enormous locomotive approaching through the swirling snow, an apparition lighting all of us in the darkness, we were in its looming, approaching, Industrial Age magisterial headlamp. It was like the Flying Dutchman ghost ship, this huge apparition bearing down on us, seemingly, but then absolutely safely lighting to a halt.

Yesterday at the library, too, I scored a couple of old New Yorker magazines, for a dime each. (Again - I'd wish to subscribe...). And read a wonderful piece - about a work of art - the Ghent Altarpiece - that if I'd ever heard of it (which I can't say I have) I had long since forgotten about, but turns out to be regarded as one of the most amazing, cornerstone pieces of Western art ever, an enormous double-decker (like that train) stacked altarpiece of painted panels.

I wasn't aware of that work of art, and now I am, and I'm glad.

I started out this evening wishing very much to write you the most beautiful, beautiful thing I could possibly think of to write to you, that's how it feels.

Perhaps several of us are leading double-decker lives, like that stacked altarpiece, each panel of which tells a wondrous story or shows a beautifully rendered amazing image. Perhaps - no not perhaps - except for the multitudes, that's how it feels. Kisses my very dearest, cherished Dmitris.


This World is not Conclusion
A Species stands beyond -
Invisible, as Music -
But positive, as Sound -
It beckons, and it baffles -
Philosophy - don't know -
And through a Riddle, at the last -
Sagacity, must go -
To guess it, puzzles scholars -
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown -
Faith slips - and laughs, and rallies -
Blushes, if any see -
Plucks at a twig of Evidence -
And asks a Vane, the way -
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit -
Strong Hallelujahs, roll -
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul -

Emily Dickinson, c. 1862
The seven pictures on top are surely all Jan van Eyck's work, except for later retouchings. The central painting is a mystery: Is the youngish, enthroned and bejewelled male figure, holding a crystal sceptre and raising two fingers in blessing, Christ the King or God the Father? Might he somehow be both? The third member of the Trinity appears as a tiny dove in a sunburst over the Lamb. (And isn't the lamb a symbol of Jesus? The altarpiece still defies thorough interpretation.) The figure is flanked by panels of John the Baptist, who points to him, and the Virgin Mary, who reads a book. (She is beautiful and heart-tuggingly personable: somebody's daughter, somebody's sister.) On either side of them are the musical angels. At the far left and right stand Adam and Eve, naked and melancholy, presented like statues in narrow niches but naturalistically vibrant with carnal candor. One of Adam's feet protrudes, appearing to rest on the frame. When the wings are closed, the Adam and Eve can be swung back open on either side of the central male figure - returned to grace.

-- Peter Schjeldahl, "The Flip Side: The secrets of conserving the wood behind an early masterpiece," The New Yorker, Nov. 29, 2010, p. 42-47.

image: Hubert Van Eyck and Jan Van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece (or, The Adoration of the Lamb), completed 1432

Also today: a vigorous walk at the river's edge along powdery snow-covered fields and woods -

Love, and very many kisses -

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