What a week!

MARRYING MARI was released in paperback, which is pretty exciting (e-version still available!).

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Going to the recognition ceremony to receive the mentoring award from my school (including check). Giving a small speech (very small).

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Going on a three-day weekend retreat with colleagues/friends where I hope to hammer out a new idea for a writing project… as well as enjoy some good girl-talk, some grilling, and a view of a lake…

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Meeting a new colleague to discuss a shared project for our creative writing students.

Im-listening

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“Dancers in Pink” by Edgar Degas (1880-85)

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This Impressionist painting is one of the many studies Degas made of ballet dancers in Paris, usually in backstage or rehearsal moments, rather than in performance. Here a group of four dancers in pink tutus waits in the wings for a signal.

Degas focused on ballet dancers, women bathing, horses at the track (again, prior to or after the race, not during), and middle-class gentlemen at work or play. The latter is not nearly as famous or popular — or important — as the three initial categories.

But, frankly, it is simply beautiful, given Degas’ use of shape, color, light and ratio.

La Belle Iseult by William Morris (1858)

William Morris’s only painting is a portraint of his beloved wife Jane as Iseult, the tragic princess and beloved of Tristan. This is Jane in real life, 1858.

The bed looks like the one Morris built and dressed for his country house, Kelmscott Manor, one of my favorite places on earth, where MOrris lived with Jane and his two daughters… and his BFF Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Rossetti was a poet and painter, too, and Jane’s lover.

Oh, yes. Morris knew Rossetti was Jane’s lover.

This is the only painting known to have been completed by Morris, who is better known as a poet, essayist, Socialist, designer, embroiderer, carpenter, weaver, printer, engraver and general arts-and-crafts genius. On the back of the small painting, Morris wrote, “I love you but I cannot paint you,” a confession from a man who could, in fact, paint quite well.

A love story untold.

Ellen Terry by John Singer Sargent (1889)

This fabulous portrait of the acting queen Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth is a stunner.

This is Terry at her peak, at age 42. This production featured the actress as a star in Sir Henry Irving’s company at the Lyceum Theatre in London. Irving directed but also played the role of the Scottish king.

The dress was woven out of iridescent green and blue tinsel yarn, and decorated with… beetle wings. It was apparently meant to look like both chain mail and snake scales. Wicked. Or wickedly sexy.

She holds Duncan’s crown above her head, and the rapt expression in her eyes says it all. This is the traditional Lady Macbeth whose ambition exceeds that of her husband… but Terry’s interpretation was unconventional in that she presented the Lady as young, fertile, sexual and sensuous. It has hung in the Tate Gallery in London since 1906.

This photograph is of Terry in her costume.

The Slaying of Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi (1612-13)

This painting by Italian artist Gentileschi is the signature image for the exhibition in Paris of her works that I’ll see this week.

Gentileschi was a fierce painter working between about 1610 and 1647. She started training with her father, then with his friend Agostino Tassi. When she was about 19 Tassi raped her, and Artemisia and her father brought him to trial. The 1998 film Artemisia focuses on this event and its toll on her.

Despite the attack, she continued to paint, including this picture, in which she paints herself as the Biblical Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes, a portrait of Tassi. Notice the sawing violence of the beheading, as well as the way Judith and her maid hold the Assyrian general down.

You go, girl.

After the Bath, Woman Drying Her Neck by Edgar Degas (1895-96)

This is the image on the poster of the exhibit I am seeing today, on Degas and the nude (Degas et le nu) at the Musee D’Orsay. It closes next month.

Degas is a major player among the Impressionists, but he has been a figure relatively unexplored until recently. Mostly known for his pretty little ballerinas and long-legged racehorses. I have always loved Degas’s pastels and paintings of the ballet, but his portraits of women at work and in relaxation are marvelous.

Like Lautrec, his closest companion in this area, Degas demonstrates his fascination with the mysterious and simple world of women. As a man, he is always an outsider, living in a male-dominant and male-oriented world, but he aware of the secret power and separateness of women. Even in this simple pastel, Degas demonstrates the mystery of the woman: while she is naked, she is not vulnerable. While the man looking at her notes and admires her sensuality and sexuality, she is only interested in drying her hair. She is not his object, she is her own individual person. Unlike Manet’s Olympia, she is not on display, not looking for admiration or validation, not concerned with his desires or interest.

Instead, the spectator-artist is made vulnerable because she is so closed to him.

But the colors, the patterns, the contrasts and shapes are modern and timeless. The pastels slay me, really. Delightful. I love the sturdy, voluptuous, red-headed woman of Degas’s art. They are often not graceful, fragile swans but real, flesh-and-blood women. Much more interesting.

Carlotta of Mexico, portraits photographic and painted

These are portraits of the tragic Empress of Mexico, Carlotta (or Charlotte of Belgium), married to Maximillian. The first is in 1857, prior to her marriage to Max. The second, in the 1860s as Empress. Third, in a photograph in full crinoline.

Her life was to be a fairy tale, but ended with sixty years confined in a mental hospital after her beloved husband was abandoned by his peers and executed by the Mexican revolutionaries.

Dorothea Lange photos

The top photo is a 32 year-old mother with seven children (two seen here) in a tent camp in California. An “Okie” as the Californians called them, nastily. Lange took photos in the Dust Bowl of the Midwest as well as throughout the tent camps, food lines and migrant camps of California. Compelling, moving, terrifically sad photos of people without hope of any kind.

The bottom family is a Japanese-American family packed and tagged for an internment camp during WWII. US authorities rounded up and imprisoned Japanese-heritage citizens to “protect” America. Not our finest hour.

Lange was a photographer with more than a camera and an eye: she had a heart, a conscience and a passion for showing the truth.

Most romantic film #38: The Piano (1993)

This film by screenwriter/director Jane Campion is both terrifying and beautiful.

I remember vividly the first time I saw it, while visiting friends in Chicago. I was overwhelmed, stunned, seduced and shocked. It still haunts me.

THE PIANO turns on the story of Ada McGrath, a Scottish widow, whose minister father marries her by proxy to a man in New Zealand. Ada and her daughter Flora (played by Anna Paquin of TRUE BLOOD fame) travel across the globe to meet and live with her new husband, Alistair Stewart (played by Sam Neill).

Ada is mute by choice. Instead, she speaks with and through her piano, which she brings with her on the journey.

New Zealand is savage and unsettled. It is completely different from Scotland, but it speaks to Ada as her new husband does not. Their neighbor, however, a man named Baines (played by Harvey Keitel) is simultaneously brutish and erotic; he convinces Ada to give him piano lessons–when Stewart refuses to take in the piano–and the two become lovers.

Ada is a strong-willed woman who doesn’t fit into the mold of a modest and well-behaved 19th-century wife. She refuses to speak. She won’t mix in the European company of the tiny settlement in New Zealand. She won’t consummate her marriage with her husband.  Ada is played by Holly Hunter.

The story erupts into the passion between Ada and Baines, and then violence between Ada and Stewart.

Campion made a beautiful film: costumes, sets, and the wild, wild New Zealand coast and landscape. The film won the Palm d’Or at Cannes, while Hunter won the Best Performance Prize. Hunter and Paquin won Oscars, as did the script.

Edward Steichen

Photographer. An eye into the early 20th century. Fashion, personalities, architecture, urban living, bodies, light, shadows.

This is an absolutely phenomenal portrait of Gloria Swanson in 1924. In 1924, Swanson was one of the highest paid, popular silent stars. She had gone from being barely a girl without experience to the queen of the studios. She is absolutely brilliant in Sunset Boulevard.

This is a very young Gary Cooper–1930. This is the year he made The Virginian, The Spoilers, and Morocco… if he wasn’t a star before these three films, he certainly was after they came out. And he was one sexy actor.

This I’ve never seen before, but it is a perfectly portrait of Lillian Gish in 1934, years after her silent stardom had waned. Gish is a hero of mine. The eyes, the mouth, the hands–this is a woman without vanity and one ton of character. Damn, she’s beautiful.