by Angeliska on May 1, 2012
I am alas, not out a’Maying, drinking rose cordials in meadows or naked night-swimming under the moon. I am not laughing and dancing around a Maypole, or jumping over bonfires, like a fleet-footed fairy over the flames. Instead I am indoors, rusty and grizzled with deadlines and to-dos, which I am at the moment ignoring. Instead I have candles lit, looking at paintings of flower-strewn maidens and dreaming of lusty lads. Slit-eyed satyrs and fauns frolic in rosy clouds around my head. All day, I’ve had my nose in a book instead of pointed toward stars. But what can you do? I’ll tell you what. I’m in the process of rearranging my life to better accommodate the old ways, the holy days that used to matter. It’s a slow start, and writing long letters to my far-flung sisters and to all who read this here is a far cry from celebrating Beltane proper, with mead and deep kisses. I’ll tell you, I’d rather the latter. But no. Instead I salved my appalling mood with writing. I planted seeds: cup and saucer vines, and zinnias. I repotted my night-blooming cereus. I picked these bouquets for my Beltane altars:
I’ve been thinking of a painting that made a huge impression on me as a child: Spring, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. I suppose for a long time I didn’t even think of it as a painting necessarily. I had a postcard of little girls bearing flowers in a
procession. It had been my mother’s – sent to her by her dear friend Lenore, years before cancer made off with them both. I had only ever seen about this much of it, though cut lengthwise. I never knew there was any more than that.
That little window into the parade was all I needed:
The little blonde urchin leading the procession gazes directly at you as she lets drop a handful of lavender. Her friend with the basket of anemones is more coy, looking sidelong at someone unseen. The older maidens are resplendent, lush, bearing blooming boughs and branches.
Years ago, I went with my grandparents to the new Getty museum. They had always taken us to the old one, the lovely villa that I adored. The new one had just opened, and the lines were miles long. In the end we only had about an hour to dash through and try and see things. The only things I can remember are Edgar Allen Poe’s writing desk, his daguerrotype portrait, and Spring:
I had no idea that all those years, I had only been looking at a tiny detail of this marvelous painting:
I rounded a corner, and there she was – decked in a gilded frame, the entire procession. It brought tears to my eyes, the shock was so sudden. It was like seeing the girl you had a crush on in nursery school, grown into the most beautiful woman in the world. There was so much more to see! I had never imagined the rest of it – there was so much more depth, a worldliness, a wonder. I could’ve spent all day there, and in fact, I stayed rooted to the spot until they rounded everyone up and out.
Have you ever had an experience like that? I have a possessiveness with paintings I grew up with – I think that they belong to me somehow, are related to me in some oblique way. The little infanta in Las Meninas, by Velázquez: I thought she was me. My mother was Botticelli’s Venus. But then, I also thought Garrison Keillor was my uncle. Or at least a family friend.
For years, I thought that. My parents created an insular world for me in a way, where I pored over big art books and Little Nemo and Hop and Pop and made no distinction between all the fantastic images I was drinking in.
They were all there for me, and they all shaped me, enormously.
I’ve always adored this illustration from Gurney’s wonderful children’s book Dinotopia. It features scenes of a beautiful dinosaur parade, that I always thought I’d dreamed when I was a child. I have these very vivid memories of being in the little library in the tiny town where I grew up. I remember the dim green light in there. It always felt cool, underwatery. There was a book there that I loved, about a dinosaur parade. It also might have involved giant popcorn falling from the sky. Maybe I did dream it. Can anyone remember a book like that? I’d love to find it again. I thought it was Dinotopia, but that one wasn’t published until 1991, and I’m sure this must have been 1985 or so. Also, I’d just like to mention that people born in 1991 are now 21 years old. Isn’t that bizarre? You’re welcome. Cometh the Spring! Dance while ye may! Gather ye rosebuds, and all that. Did you celebrate Beltane, Floralia, Walpurgisnacht or any o’ that? If yes, I’d love to know how! Do tell.
“In a land of clear colours and stories,
In a region of shadowless hours,
Where earth has a garment of glories
And a murmur of musical flowers.”
– Algernon Swinburne, Dedication
Lusty Month of May – from Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot.