by Angeliska on June 13, 2014
I was raised to adore roses. My mother loved them passionately, and watching her nurture them, prize them, photograph and paint them, I always knew that they were sacred to her. From early on, I came to associate her name, Margaret, with a certain kind of rose. Now I know that Margaret means “pearl”, and though my mother did very much appreciate baroque pearls, her name does not evoke the moony whiteness of an oyster’s gift, or the simple daisies called marguerites, but something far redder, wilder, thornier. If my mother were a rose, she would be a very particular one indeed. I know what it looks like, because when I see one twining over a neighbor’s fence, I am struck with a deep and visceral longing – like what I feel for my long gone mother. My mother’s rose is deep magenta, the color of the lipstick she used to wear (that I so fiercely coveted) – a ripe fuchsia with a blue sheeny undertone, so dark that it looks purply-black in dim light. This is a wild rose, some cabbage-y pillowy tea rose bred with a cherokee outlaw bloom, cultivated in rare gardens, tricksy and uncommon. This is no tame garden variety long stem, no – this rose, were you to attempt to pluck one, would prick your fingers cruelly, and then drop all her petals out of spite. Not that’s she’s an evil flower by any means – just one that won’t be contained, curtailed, or bartered for a kiss. This feral rose climbs rampant over stone walls, her spiky canes heavy with dusky nodding heads. These are the fairytale briar roses that enveloped Sleeping Beauty’s castle, and tore her suitors to pieces – enchanted by dark magic and ancient witchery. My Margaret rose only grows way out in the country, on the edge of the woods, and if she could sing a song it would be a strange old one, played on a crackling fiddle with words sung in a low aching voice about lost love. A wild Irish rose, singing gypsy lullabies.
I’ve never found one for sale in a nursery, though they do sell a few that come quite close online. Short of ordering one of these bare-root babies, I think the only way to have my own is to work up the courage to knock on the door of one of the granny-ladies in my neighborhood who’ve been growing them for decades and beg for a cutting. One day I’ll figure out the spell to get them to root, and my garden will be tangled with heady blossoms. I do have a beautiful Basye’s Purple in a pot, a birthday gift that came from the Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, Texas. If it were combined with a Night Owl and perhaps a Midnight Blue, I think it would be the rose I see in my dreams, my mother’s rose.
And what would such a rose smell like? Well, certainly not like your grandma’s tea rose sachets, oh no – this is a far more exotic and intoxicating aroma. Imagine smelling a color, breathing it in deep and holding all that richness in your lungs. A spicy earthiness that threatens to cause swooning. A dangerous rose. For years, I imagined what I thought a rose perfume ought to smell like, and was continuously dismayed to find only prim and proper pink roses, powdery and cloying. I wanted to smell crimson red, burgundy, mulberry scarlet – I wanted to smell tempestuous, dark and somewhat peculiar. I think I’ve finally found what I was looking for in L’Artisan’s Voleur de Roses, described as “The brutal yet tender collision of rose and patchouli. It captures the chaos of a rose garden shattered by a thunderstorm.”
“Michel Almairac created Voleur de Roses (French for “rose thief”) in 1993. The L’Artisan Parfumeur website lists its notes simply as patchouli, rose, and plum. That sounds right to me. Voleur de Roses smells like a Syrah-soaked rose washed over with wet patchouli, moldering wood, and cold plum. The wet has an almost metallic edge, like the ocean. The fragrance’s patchouli is one of its main features, so if you don’t like patchouli, steer clear. Rose-phobes who do all right with patchouli might like Voleur de Roses. Its rose would be more at home at a dive bar than a garden party.
More than any other perfume I know, Voleur de Roses seems to elicit gothic descriptions. I’ve heard it compared to graveyards, dirty roots, and haunted basements. There is definitely something moody about the fragrance. Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff might have worn it. Or, for a less lofty comparison, remember the turret organ room in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken? (Even Bon Ami couldn’t get rid of the blood stains on the organ’s keys, the ladies’ psychic society said.) It had to smell of Voleur de Roses.”
– L’Artisan Parfumeur Voleur de Roses – a fragrance review from NST
In my mind, Voleur de Roses evokes a bandit with flashing eyes, who kidnaps (consensually, natch) his rose, a lady fair clothed in red silk. She faints beneath his road-dusty cloak, dank with earthy patchouli and sweat, coming to in his arms, nestled a thorny grotto made from rose boughs. A wet garden dripping after the storm, strewn with fallen fruit and scattered petals ground into the damp dirt. Imagine kissing your dashing lover underneath the brambles, and pausing only to feed each other over-ripe jammy plums. Sticky fingers with dirt beneath the nails winding through dark locks, grazing flushed skin striped bloody from rosy kisses. Perhaps that’s a bit extravagant, but Voleur de Roses is that kind of perfume: seriously seducing, yet playfully – slightly nasty in a faun-like way. This is what a very refined satyr might smell like, were his goat’s horns draped with a garland of stolen roses. Not your grandmother’s kind of rose at all. Or my mother’s, really – but it’s a perfect scent for me, a gothic romantic to the core.
I haven’t yet smelled it, but another perfume that might tango well with my dark dream of a perfect rose is L’Arte di Gucci . My friend Barbara Herman, (writer of a brilliant book about vintage perfume, Scent and Subversion) describes it tantalizingly:
“A dark, leather-patchouli rose, L’Arte di Gucci has a cult following among certain perfume lovers, and after hearing them sing its praises, I had to see what was up.
Black, inky and goth, L’Arte di Gucci is an Edward Gorey-esque animalic-rose chypre. In my fevered imagination, its rose comes from the rose bushes surrounding the dilapidated and haunted Victorian home of Merricat, the witchy protagonist from Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. (On a less literary romantic note, it first brought to mind Calvin Klein’s 2005 perfume Euphoria, a spicy, woody floral that also has “exotic” flowers and notes: rose hips, Japanese apple, green leaves, Lotus, black orchid, red woods, black violet and amber.) L’Arte is definitely the darker — and more beautiful — of the two.
As L’Arte di Gucci dries down, the rose just radiates from its dark lair lined with leather, vetiver, musk and oakmoss, the patchouli prominent throughout.”
“Ombre Rose can be translated literally as “pink shadow” or figuratively as a rose’s shadow. Both readings suggest that the rose scent in this Françoise Caron-composed perfume will be softened, and we will smell its shadow rather than rose straight on. Shadows cast darkness over things, shrouding them and making them mysterious and maybe even sinister. But pink shadows? Not exactly intimidating!”
Barbara just passed through Austin on a mini-book tour, and did a reading from Scent and Subversion at Coco Coquette, where a roomful of perfume enthusiasts were kept rapt by her tales of scents from days of yore. Read more about her work here:
Along the way in my search for the perfect rose perfume, I found this helpful list: 25 Rose Fragrances Every Perfumista Should Try. The only one I’ve tried on it is Jo Malone’s Red Roses, which caught my attention when I smelled it on a chic lady shopping for antiques. It does smell red to me, a little – just not quite red enough.
Rose de Nuit:
“It repeats the rose theme in the base, suggesting its smooth, satiny touch, but never offering the full view. Like glimpsing into the dark room through the carved screens, one is left to imagine the rose that is hiding under the layers of woods and amber. Yet, whether those veils conceal a lover or a flower is a mystery that Rose de Nuit never answers with certainty.”
– from Bois de Jasmin
La fille de Berlin:
“It’s a deep red rose that dries down to a lusty animalic drydown and takes you on a whirlwind journey along the way. I love its explosion of crimson rose petals, which smell almost sinfully rich with their hint of overripe blackberries. (In the less poetic industry parlance, it’s called smelling money–a rose like that requires a generous budget.) Just like some roses can smell of violet, La Fille de Berlin takes a turn towards dark, jammy violets, making a small nod towards Bois de Violette.
…the scent was about finding beauty in the darkness and persevering through adversity with strength and humor, as women in postwar Germany had to do, when they were as plundered as their cities by occupying forces meant to restore order. This story is movingly told in the anonymous best-selling autobiographical book titled “A Woman in Berlin,” clearly an influence.
“Beauty is the moment when you rise up. It is the moment when you pick up your head, stride through your own ruins, and climb up the mountain,” explained Lutens. “That’s La Fille de Berlin. We all have our own ruins.”
– from Bois de Jasmin
“I wanted to capture in perfume the experience of walking around my garden and smelling each rose, as their perfumes blended in my nose. Wild Roses perfume evokes the garden in our imagination and memory — the book of a hundred petals unfolding: balsamic, spicy, apricot, and honeyed roses, mixed with the smell of warm earth and herbs.
The apricot-rose heart is perfectly rooted in a base of tarragon absolute — its herbal round anise aroma giving a nuance of both earth and leaves. The balsamic vanilla absolute and the whiskey-ness of aged patchouli support tarragon’s warm, powdery aspect. Indole contributes the almost animal aspect of ripeness in a rose. The heart is punctuated by pimento berry, lending its nuances of clove, ginger, and cinnamon. The candied-orange flower aroma of methyl methyl anthranilate, the soft powdery floral of heliotropin, and the slightly floral citrus of bergamot contribute a modern freshness to the opening.”
I made a music mix in honor of my rose obsession: Ashes of Roses – Music for burning rose petals on gray days. A soundtrack for burying your nose in a rose.
IN YOU THE EARTH
tiny and naked,
as though you would fit
in one of my hands,
as though I’ll clasp you like this
and carry you to my mouth,
my feet touch your feet and my mouth your lips:
you have grown,
your shoulders rise like two hills,
your breasts wander over my breast,
my arm scarcely manages to encircle the thin
new-moon line of your waist:
in love you have loosened yourself like sea water:
I can scarcely measure the sky’s most spacious eyes
and I lean down to your mouth to kiss the earth.
― Pablo Neruda
This was written in honor of tonight’s Full Rose Moon. To read last year’s moon honoring, please follow:
SUMMER SOLSTICE – STRAWBERRY ROSE MOON
More writing about perfume:
L’AUTRE – Exotic Autumn Perfumes
ENDLESS SUMMER – Summer Perfumes
SUPRISES + SUCHLIKE – Coeur de Vétiver Sacré
MAGIC WINDOWS #12 – Iris Perfumes
COLD WINTER MOON, SOLSTICE BLUE – Winter Solstice Perfumes
by Angeliska on May 1, 2014
Today is Beltane, the first day of May, and the world is bright and beautiful – at least, it is from where I’m sitting. Out my window, climbing roses twine over the gate, and my garden is coming along nicely with vegetables, flowers and herbs. My fruit trees were heavy with blossom, now heavy with ripening fruit. I took today to come back into my body – something I’ve been neglecting for far too long. Sometimes it feels like a lifelong habit, an ingrained way of being: my consciousness relegated to a balloon or bubble that floats above my corporeal form on an invisible tether. I learned how to disassociate early, as a young child, as a coping mechanism. To just go away from the intolerable here and now becomes so easy… How much better, just to drift… But, now, I want to come back, come back to earth, to my body, my pulse, my breath. The joy of movement, and the affirmation of what it is to be alive, to be truly human. I want to stay in my body, and to utilize it for all the wondrous purposes it was made for. Not just the basic tasks of getting from here to there, eating and digestion, sleeping and rising, propping one’s self up and simple ambulation – but to dance, to leap, to push further and harder and more joyously! I was raised to be sedentary, to be still – always reading and writing, but rarely moving around unless forced to. I woke up one night with a worrying thought about how much longer I might have on this planet, in this body. I intend to live long enough to be a very, very old woman – but you never do know, and anyway: if I do live that long, I’d like to be relatively fit, and have joints and muscles and things that actually function properly. So I’ve been trying. Back to walking around the lake, to yoga and dance classes, to remembering to breathe. I get furious sometimes when I hear people complain of being bored. It makes me want to slap them! How dare you get bored with this incredible life? My mother always told me that only boring people get bored, when I used to complain to her of ennui. I took her words to heart, and learned to live by them. My mother died of cancer long before her time, and I know for certain that she never got to do all the things she wanted to in this life. When I think of all the places I want to go and see, the books I want to read, the songs and instruments and languages and skills I want to learn, the people I want to meet, the foods I want to eat – well, it makes me want to live forever and never sleep. Never waste a day, a drop of life on being bored, on whining, on endless scrolling through the annals of the internet, on laziness. These words are an exhortation, an invocation, a vivification – to myself as much as to anyone reading this. When you are done here, with this little corner of life, these words and songs and pictures, promise me that you’ll go away from your computer, even just for a minute. I promise to do the same, to do all of this. Go outside. Stretch your arms up towards the heavens. Kick your shoes off and dig your toes into the dirt. Do a little dance. No one is watching. Or even if they are, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to take long, or, you can take as long as you like. But go outside and look around. Breathe deep, and welcome the fire back into your body. Come back to life, to your life. There is only this one time to experience it in just this way – so, dance while ye may!
“When everything seems like it is over, one must only try a wee bit harder to find the beauty. We are very lucky to just be alive.” This little film is a very good reminder.
“Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”
― Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky
“Someone said that thirty was a significant birthday, and everyone around the table agreed. Someone else said it was the first time you heard the bell.
What bell? someone asked.
But they all knew what bell. It was like you’d already completed a few laps, observed another, but this was the first time you’d properly heard the bell. There had been one at seven, but you hadn’t heard it because you were so young; and then one at fourteen but you hadn’t heard it because you were too busy looking over your shoulder; then another at twenty-one but you hadn’t heard it because you were too busy talking; and then one at twenty-eight which for some reason took two years before you heard it. But they all agreed you did hear that one, eventually.
Your lousy career, said one guest. Babies, said one of the women. Lovers, friends, travel, said another. Parents aging. Bong. All the things you hadn’t done. Might not do. Bong.”
― Graham Joyce, The Silent Land
“To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” is a poem written by Robert Herrick in the 17th century. The poem is in the genre of carpe diem, Latin for seize the day. It goes as follows:
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And, while ye may, go marry;
For, having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.
In a little bit, I will go make ready for a small ceremony welcoming in the May, with a bel-fire, flower garlands, and traditional songs and ritual. No maypole yet this year, but one day I shall have one – and we shall sing the Summerisle song and Hal-an-tow and weave the sacred phallus tree all with ribbons and crown it with the Queen of May’s flower garland!
If you’ve never seen the original Wicker Man (hush, we shall never speak of the remake…) I suggest you hie yourself to a video store and remedy that! It is a folk-horror classic! I love this exchange between the square copper and the suave Lord Summerisle, (played by Christopher Lee!)
Sergeant Howie: Your lordship seems strangely… unconcerned.
Lord Summerisle: Well I’m confident your suspicions are wrong, Sergeant. We don’t commit murder here. We’re a deeply religious people.
Sergeant Howie: Religious? With ruined churches, no ministers, no priests… and children dancing naked!
Lord Summerisle: They do love their divinity lessons.
Sergeant Howie: [outraged] But they are… are *naked*!
Lord Summerisle: Naturally! It’s much too dangerous to jump through the fire with your clothes on!
Sergeant Howie: What religion can they possibly be learning jumping over bonfires?
Lord Summerisle: Parthenogenesis.
Sergeant Howie: What?
Lord Summerisle: Literally, as Miss Rose would doubtless say in her assiduous way, reproduction without sexual union.
Sergeant Howie: Oh, what is all this? I mean, you’ve got fake biology, fake religion… Sir, have these children never heard of Jesus?
Lord Summerisle: Himself the son of a virgin, impregnated, I believe, by a ghost…
Lord Summerisle: [singing] Summer is icumen in, loudly sing cuckoo. Grows the seed and blows the mead, and springs the wood anew. Sing, cuckoo! Ewe bleats harshly after lamb, cows after calves make moo.
Mediaeval Baebes – Summerisle (The Maypole Song)
A springtime wedding procession of the sistren bridesmaids – from Dana Sherwood and Mark Dion‘s wedding in a beautiful New Orleans cemetery, which I had the honor of officiating.
Wedding at Lafayette Cemetery, 2008, NOLA – photograph by Dawn Martin McFall
I loved this piece on honoring the sacred holiday by Byron Ballard:
“I love Beltane. I often say that it is always Beltane in my heart. Which is not quite true because it is also often Samhain in my heart these days, as we lurch through this Grand Cross thingy and this Tower Time.
But I relish the history of Beltane and the trappings and the way it was so stealthy going from a lusty Pagan rite to the perfectly lovely May Day of the Victorians. All pretty dresses and flower crowns. And now we try to manage a bit of both, as we can.
When my daughter was in elementary school, many of the teachers would put up a maypole in the school yard and celebrate the May. I came into several classes each year and taught them about the transition from Beltane to May Day. We’d have little cakes and sing songs. We’d go outside and wash our faces in the morning dew and then dance the circle round. It was always a bit of a challenge to get us going in the right direction but we got pretty good at it after all those years.
Beltane is almost here and it is time to think of maying, going a-maying. The apple trees on our land are in full blossom right now and that puts me in mind of hawthorn blossom.
If you have littles, you can teach them the bright activity of making May baskets out of cornets of paper with a pretty ribbon handles. Fill them with flowers from the yard and take them to your good neighbors or to your Gran. Come home to wash your face in that fresh dew to guarantee your perpetual good looks. Eat fruits for breakfast–strawberries and razzleberries and blueberries with cream.
Dress for the day in something light and summery.
Wear a flower crown, even if you are going to work.
Wear glitter, and ditto.
Give flowers to people you don’t know.
Find time to dance the Great Ring with a few or with many. With or without a maypole.
Whistle a tune.
Remember Thomas Morton and the utopia of Merrymount.
In the evening, if you are old enough, have a cold glass of Maywine and toast the new life of the season and the old life you are living.
Sleep near a faery mound that night.
Give yourself over to the greening of the year and the brightening of the light. For the holy day after Beltane is Midsummer and after that…the Long Dying of the Year commences. Again. And we begin to wind down the path that leads inevitably to Samhain.
So soon it comes. And Spring is tardy in making Her appearance this year.
We fight against the destruction and dishonesty by embracing the living Earth that we’ve been given. Let Beltane this year bring you home to the comfort and joy of that.
And, as always, fear not. Fear not.”
Hello, apricot tree! I totally thought you were dead – but no! One of my favorite things about spring is walking around making discoveries in my garden – seeing what survived the brutal summer and long winter freezes… To survive in my garden, you gotta be tough and hardy – the survivors stick it out and inspire me endlessly…
Beltanes and moons of yore:
by Angeliska on April 29, 2014
I’ve been saying it over and over for the past few weeks now: I feel like I’ve woken up from a strange dream. Or more, it’s like waking up from a dream within a dream within a dream – never feeling quite sure if you’re really awake this time for certain. Coming back to myself has required a slow journey inward, a reeling in of all my webs, my loose threads, tying knots in some, severing others. Cycles of neglect spawn forgotten rooms, like those ones I still dream about sometimes: a dim place long unvisited, coated with thick swags of velvety dust. In order to nurture these corners long forgotten, others fall by the wayside: including and especially this one. So I brush it off, attempt to sidle my way back in and put things back in order. This is where I’m at. Simultaneously, there’s been a spring: a glorious, long chilly spring unlike anything we’ve seen down in these parts for quite awhile. Ever since gaining a garden, this has become my favorite season – spurning autumn’s fires for pale shoots and tender budding. Though for at least the third year in a row, I’ve found myself gripped by a strange malaise, an ennui of sorts that makes it difficult to want to do anything much at all. I’m slow to wake up, in the mornings – slow to rise out of my cave from a long hibernation. I guess that’s it. I am trying, though – forcing the chrysalis, squeezing the bud in efforts to get the green sap to rise and get flowing again. Uncharacteristically, I’ve not been much in a reading mood of late, which feels very strange indeed – though I did finally read Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and loved it very much. In lieu of explaining anything more, I’ve chosen passages (in italics) from her marvelous novella, which seem to to a far better job of illustrating my current state. A strange brooding amidst a riot of lavender blossoms, a heart by turns hopeful and heavy, a turning, a lovely limen.
“She went and stood at an open window and looked out upon the deep tangle of the garden below. All the mystery and witchery of the night seemed to have gathered there amid the perfumes and the dusky and torturous outlines of flowers and foliage. She was seeking herself and finding herself in just such sweet, half-darkness which met her moods.”
Wisteria makes me very giddy! Also, I’ve decided that since I’m such a grown up person now, that I ought really wear more things made of silk. And so, this vintage Chinese butterfly dress, which also makes me a little giddy…
“There were days when she was very happy without knowing why. She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole being seemed to be one with the sunlight, the color, the odors, the luxuriant warmth of some perfect Southern day. She liked then to wander alone into strange and unfamiliar places. She discovered many a sunny, sleepy corner, fashioned to dream in. And she found it good to dream and to be alone and unmolested.
There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know why — when it did not seem worthwhile to be glad or sorry, to be alive or dead; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation.”
“She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.”
“But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult! The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation.
The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.”
So many miracles great & small are occurring lately… Today I found the first ring I ever made, lost years ago! Chrysoprase with silver kitty heads. It was laying in the dirt, perhaps formerly obscured by a rain barrel. I had just assumed it was lost forever.
“Some people are born with a vital and responsive energy. It not only enables them to keep abreast of the times; it qualifies them to furnish in their own personality a good bit of the motive power to the mad pace. They are fortunate beings. They do not need to apprehend the significance of things. They do not grow weary nor miss step, nor do they fall out of rank and sink by the wayside to be left contemplating the moving procession.
Ah! that moving procession that has left me by the road-side! Its fantastic colors are more brilliant and beautiful than the sun on the undulating waters. What matter if souls and bodies are failing beneath the feet of the ever-pressing multitude! It moves with the majestic rhythm of the spheres. Its discordant clashes sweep upward in one harmonious tone that blends with the music of other worlds — to complete God’s orchestra.
It is greater than the stars — that moving procession of human energy; greater than the palpitating earth and the things growing thereon. Oh! I could weep at being left by the wayside; left with the grass and the clouds and a few dumb animals. True, I feel at home in the society of these symbols of life’s immutability. In the procession I should feel the crushing feet, the clashing discords, the ruthless hands and stifling breath. I could not hear the rhythm of the march.
Salve! ye dumb hearts. Let us be still and wait by the roadside.”
“Even as a child she had lived her own small life within herself. At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life – that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.”
“She had tried to forget him, realizing the inutility of remembering. But the thought of him was like an obsession, ever pressing itself upon her. It was not that she dwelt upon details of their acquaintance, or recalled in any special or peculiar way his personality; it was his being, his existence, which dominated her thought, fading sometimes as if it would melt into the mist of the forgotten, reviving again with an intensity which filled her with an incomprehensible longing.”
“Who can tell what metals the gods use in forging the subtle bond which we call sympathy, which we might as well call love.”
“…a tangle of sea smell and of weeds and damp, new-plowed earth, mingled with the heavy perfumes of white blossoms somewhere near, but the night sat lightly upon the sea and the land. There was no weight of darkness, there were no shadows. The white light of the moon had fallen upon the world like the mystery and the softness of sleep.”
by Angeliska on January 19, 2014
Today, my beloved grandfather would have been 100 years old, were he still alive today. I had hoped that he would make it there in life – he was so close! Only two years to go! But he was ready, I think, to not be here in his body anymore. Still though – the glory of making it to centenarian status seems so impossible and marvelous. I stand stupid and humbled in front of a big number like one hundred. A century, the triple digits – what a marvel that humans do live now, regularly to be so ancient, and longer. For me, selfishly, it’s more about longing to have had him present over the course of these past two years, when really, I’ve needed him and his sage wisdom more than ever. His sister Dena died in November (I’ll be sharing what I’ve written about her amazing life soon!), and now all four of the Polacheck siblings from that generation are gone.
Charlie was child born in the year of the Great War, into a century of bloodshed and bombings hopelessly intertwined with relentless progress. Journalists and historians are currently struggling to draw parallels between 1914 and 2014 – predicting more dire change and global war, disaster. It’s hard to refute it, or to imagine that we could go on as relatively blithely (at least in this country) as we do. I feel like this day deserves some grander gesture than I am capable of: fanfare and fireworks and a parade in his honor. I feel like I have nothing. My hands are full of dust. His body is burnt up, and everything he ever owned is either in boxes in my parent’s garage or dispersed here and there. Elsewhere. Where is the hat I gave him? It was a good tan leather fisherman’s cap, with a slate blue brim ribbon, brocaded with acorns and oak leaves. I am his acorn, he was my tree. It doesn’t fit me, but I’d love to have it now – smelling of lime leaves, his gone-white hair, dusted with dear dandruff. He used to wear it all the time. It kills me that he’s gone, and that all the pieces of his life are scattered. Where are his ashes? Where are my grandmother’s ashes? We had talked about going out to the Pacific Ocean, and scattering them together. But, everyone has schedules, work, kids, stuff, so it hasn’t happened yet, as far as I know. We don’t bury our dead anymore, and I think for the most part, that this is a good thing – considering the vagaries of the funeral industry and the poison and waste that embalming and lead coffins create. But our cemeteries are standing forlorn, as we dump the dirt of our loved ones onto some pretty place they might once have walked near. We have no monuments to them to sit and reflect by. No dates engraved, no family names. Dust to dust. We are forgetting, collectively, where and who we came from. Names are not passed down from generation to generation as they once were. Hell, we don’t even use cameras anymore, really – much less print photos or have formal portraits taken, unless someone’s getting married. That’s what has changed in one hundred years: how we mourn, how we remember, how we perceive ourselves in relation to our past. So much of it is just sloughed off to languish in moldy storage units or attics, or be pawed through at estate sales. I should know, being a professional picker (antique dealer). I was in a woman’s house this morning, low ceilinged, small, but labyrinthine. As I fingered the silk blouses in her closet, her spirit clung around me like a miasma: mama, grandma, wife – I was all of these, and now I’m nothing. You don’t even know my name. At these sales, invariably, in the front yard there are always one or several adult potty chairs. Dragged out into the open, as if someone would actually want to buy an old person’s used potty chair. Who knows, maybe people do buy them – but it just seems so wrong and undignified to not only open their home to strangers, but also to put the personal secrets of their infirmity right there on the lawn. I bought her church lady hats, her cocktail glasses with gold horses prancing on them, a patriotic costume, a stunning gold lace dress from the 20′s and a photo of the woman who might have worn it. I left still feeling her long fingers clutching at my hair, calling: come back, come back and see me…
“We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” – Martin Luther King
So much has changed since 1914, it’s bizarre to think about being alive to see it all. I’d grill Grampa from time to time – try and ask him what it was like to witness so much change, growth, development. Of course it’s somewhat egotistical to think so, but it really feels like EVERYTHING happened to us this century – and to watch it all occur first hand just seems an utter wonder to me. From horsecarts and button up boots, to space travel and iPhones. Grampa was oddly blasé about it. He said he didn’t think about it, much. I think he liked all the progress, all the ease that was afforded with new inventions that made life run faster, smoother. He was delighted to watch a tiny video of a friend of mine dancing the Charleston in 1920′s gladrags on youtube, as I held my phone up so he could watch it in bed. He found nothing strange or ironic about that, but I did. I guess him being a television pioneer had a lot to do with it – going from radio to live television, black and white to color, analogue to digital. Always new, always better. My grandfather seemed only to really get nostalgic about times much more shrouded in the past – gazing at the cold light in the Flemish master’s painting in an museum in Bruges, or walking the boards in the King of Denmark’s own private theatre.
This is all the stuff I’ve been thinking about, lately. It’s not pretty, or happy, and I wish I had better. Today, everything seemed to go wrong. Crossed wires, lines of communication failing spectacularly every which way. Everything slightly askew, the picture gone crooked in the frame, the flavors of everything I tasted strangely off. I feel like I said all of the wrong things and none of the right things – even though I know it’s not true. I tried my best, and it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I felt myself losing my footing, sinking into the muck of swampy quicksand, the alligator’s jaws visible out of the corner of my eye – and yet, I couldn’t stop the slow slide down into the thick of it. My grandfather’s birthday dim sum is the only traditional celebration my family has – the only day where all of us are together. Usually, it’s a somewhat chaotic, but amusing affair, and most of the peccadilloes of our meshuggeneh mishpoche are taken in stride along with slugs of jasmine tea from tiny cups and copious turnip cakes and dumplings. But today, it went awry – and it was my fault. I got into the muck when I ought to have nodded and smiled, and as I was doing it, I could hear Grampa’s gruff voice telling me, “Leave it alone! It’s not worth it!” Getting into an argument right in front of his shrine, on his special day felt so wrong. Underneath all anger is sadness, and often it’s easier to get upset about the little things, rather than let ourselves feel the big hurts. I have been so torn up about missing him lately, crying a lot and just feeling his absence so intensely. It’s weird how all that emotion can get channelled into being upset about something else entirely. In some ways, it’s related – just in thinking about how he was the glue, the cornerstone of our family. The one who brought us all into being and kept us together. Without our patriarch present, it feels like there’s nothing to bind the unruly mess of us. Old family hurts, old woes. These things can have big echoes. The family member I got into it with broke the spell of our contretemps by grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me while almost shouting, “Families are dysfunctional! Our family is dysfunctional! Get over it!” And she’s right. Something that comes with age, at least in my Grampa’s case, is the wisdom that all families are imperfect. I hope I can start accepting that, because it hurts my heart so much. I am someone who always just wants everyone to get along, to be a big, happy, loving family. In these moments, I strain to hear his voice – to discern from the ether what exactly he would tell me, if he were here today… Maybe “easy does it”, which is an AA phrase I always mocked and scorned as hopelessly trite as a cynical teen, but only recently have heard in a new light. Maybe it was the way it was said, or the timing – but I think I finally got it. Go easy on yourself, be gentle, take it slow. You don’t have to get it right all the time. You are perfectly imperfect, and that is enough.
A friend of Grampa’s recently posted a comment on his obituary page that made me so happy. Hearing from his friends from all over is such a sweet gift, especially when they over little bits of his words and wisdom for me to hold close. These are some good ones:
“I did not know Charlie well in L.A. in the 1980s, but my beloved friend, Debra, and I still repeat some of his sage lines with laughter such as “MYOB” or “mind your own business” and “If your spouse says the moon is made of bleu cheese simply say, ‘It very well may be.’” When I asked how he had remained married for so many decades, was there a secret to be garnered, how did he do it? He said, “I let my spouse do whatever she wants and she the same for me.”
Here’s to you, Charlie! Wherever you are I know it’s good.”
I used to be afraid of old people when I was little. Not my own grandparents: all four of them I knew and loved, even if I was childishly fascinated at times by Gramma’s crepe papery forearm skin, or Grampy’s leathery face with it’s startlingly deep creases and wrinkles on top of wrinkles. Nonnie would always draw me close for a kiss, and when her whiskers brushed my cheek and I’d screech and giggle. I was so lucky to have them all – to be so cherished and accepted by my four elders. I only wish I’d had more time with them – that I had been older and they younger, so we could have had more conversations. But the old people in the nursing homes my elementary school would visit around Christmas were full of a different kind. These old folks were cast off, forgotten in corners by their families, the staff, themselves. None of them seemed lucid, though most were docile and still, save the old woman with applesauce down her chin who gaped at us and started shrieking when we attempted to sing her carols. I dropped my cowbell in the kerfuffle and was traumatized for weeks. Maybe longer. There was something shocking to me about the idea that people would just ditch their parents and relatives in these places. It felt like coming across someone’s old toys tossed in a ravine. Why would anyone throw these good things away? You never picked them up to take home, though – because whoever did it surely had some kind of good reason. Maybe the toys were diseased, or cursed, or full of bugs or had touched poop. And I hate to say it, but there was that same sense of apprehensiveness about the nursing home residents: no one would have abandoned perfectly good old people if there wasn’t something horribly wrong with them. They were defective, insane, or maybe even criminals, considering the prison-like atmosphere of the rest-home. Kid logic, I guess. I think about the elderly a lot these days – how screwed we are as a society where we don’t value these people more. When I started traveling with my grandfather, it was interesting to observe how people in difference countries and cultures reacted to us tootling around with a portable wheelchair. In some places, people seemed shocked, in others – indifferent. At times, we were treated with special deference – and in most Japanese restaurants, invariably, were shown a deep appreciation. The gift of my grandfather’s company throughout my life is a treasure that has changed me forever. Being able to know him, talk with him, travel with him, and to be his friend until the end of his life was so precious. I know all people are different, and that Charlie was certainly a rara avid and a true gem – but all the same, I can’t help of think that there are some ancient gems moldering away in rest-homes, ignored by their families. And that just kills me. I think about going there sometimes, and trying to seek out some wonderful old lonely person, who needs a grandkid as much as I crave a grandparent. I think I’m still a little scared.
I have such a hard time not adopting elderly dogs from the animal rescue – wishing I could just give them a home where they could be loved and petted and sleep all day. I have had the honor of seeing two noble creatures through to advanced old age: my beloved feline companion Junior, who I had with me from age five until I was 26. He was 21 years old when he died. It was one of the hardest deaths I’ve ever mourned, and I still dream about him all the time. He was my familiar. Thelonious is my old man prince, whose company I have had the pleasure of keeping for the last 8 years. He’s 15 now, and totally blind. His retinas detached in 2009, but as border collies are one of the most intelligent breeds of dog, he has managed to get by surprisingly well by relying on his other senses. A few weeks ago, I thought he was having a stroke because he was acting really strangely. In that moment, it hit me that at any time, his health could fail, and he could leave us. I lost it – totally freaked out. But on the way to the emergency vet, he perked up, feeling the wind riffle his ears and chuffing happily at the breeze through the open window. It ended up being, thankfully, just idiopathic vestibular disease – which basically means old dog vertigo. For a couple weeks, he was seriously out of sorts, and I would carry him up and down the steps to go to the bathroom every day. This dog has survived eating rat poison and nearly dying from internally bleeding to death, being blind and lost in cactus and coyote infested country after getting spooked by fireworks, having his immune system attack itself and cause blindness and other issues as a result of Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada Syndrome, and just being alive on this earth for an unusually long time. I’ve heard of border collies living well into their twenties, and I wonder how long he’ll be able to stick around. I want it to be forever. I want him to live to be one hundred, too. Being with Thelonious every day, I am constantly reminded of my Grampa. His old man’s stiff gait, his snoring had sneezes, how I have to lead him through the house so he doesn’t get stuck or bump into things. I love his sweetness and little bursts of joy over the pets and massages I give him. I am here to help him, to be his nurse and his companion, for as long as he remains here. My stepmom told me this recently, And I know i’s true: “These animal companions and friends are old souls and have been given to us to bring comfort, solace and unconditional love. They are our teachers. We are never alone when they are near us.”
There’s something about the experience of loving someone, be it person or animal, up into their last days. They slow down, sleep a lot, react differently to stimuli – but the essence of their nature gets distilled down into this raw, undiluted, shining thing. I’ve seen it happen with the evolved people and creatures I’ve loved at the end of their time here: they become pure light, letting the physical fall aside, the ego dispersing into the greater consciousness. Becoming one with the world, with everything else. Becoming part of the sum total of all the energy in the universe. This is where the journey of the Fool in the tarot takes us, to the World – the final card. This is the ouroboros, the old one becoming a child again, the wise baby forgetting everything they once knew. A century of learning what it is to be alive, to be human. A completed circle, even if the ends of the rope are frayed, constantly unraveling – falling apart, and coming back together, all the time, forever.
These articles were helpful to me in writing this:
More about my Grampa:
by Angeliska on December 31, 2013
The tail end of the year is about to brush past us, this imagined point between now and then that keeps me feeling like I’m dancing on the head of a pin – trying to keep up, to push forward, stay with the beat of the heart of the world. Stay on my path. I feel like the snake’s egg broke this year, and all the most strange and unexpected things kept emerging, slithering through my fingers, too quickly. I remember at the beginning of last year feeling so wobbly and new, sticky winged and winded by the mystery of it all. So many aspects to my life at this point that I never could have predicted or imagined – and I think that if anyone had been able to tell me about them all, I doubt I would have believed them. It’s a funny thing, being involved in the work of fortune-telling – as so many people to me hoping I will tell them their futures, and all the things written in the book of fate. But that book hasn’t been written yet. We write it every day, with every action, every word, every thought. We create our own futures, moment by moment. Nothing is carved in stone about your fate, except that one day, you will die, and everyone you love on this earth will die. Nothing else is predestined about life. Knowing anything about our deaths, the whens and wheres of them – well, that’s useless too. In both cases, I believe that those kinds of knowing do more harm than good. To have your life foretold robs you of your free will, your ability to manifest and create the life you want for yourself. We are the creators of our own realities. But manifestation rarely goes as simply or as quickly as planned: oh no, because then we would lose the surprise of it all! That is one of the biggest and most valuable things I’ve learned this year – that I can still be surprised. Some good ones, some bad – but all things I never would’ve believed if they’d been predicted. I can appreciate surprises so much more now, than when I was a little child. Too much was unknown then, terrifyingly mysterious about the world around me. I wanted to know exactly what Santa was bringing me weeks ahead. Now, I wish deeply to have that sense of wonder and possibility in my life at all times. I want to believe in Santa, still – and the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, fairies, elves, little green men, and all manner of invisible magics at work in the world. I believed fervently in unicorns, largely due to this book: De Historia Et Veritate Unicornis/on the History and Truth of the Unicorn.
I was a horse girl – only, one with no horses. No live ones anyway, although I begged my parents for one constantly (It can live in the yard! I’ll feed it apples! Pleeeeeeeaaase can I have a horse?) We were far too poor for anything like that, or even lessons, but I wasn’t aware of that at the time. I made do with drawing them obsessively, collecting Breyer figurines, and lurking around the stables in my neighborhood (I even stole the faded ribbons off the stalls and hung them on my wall, pretending I’d earned them.) By the time I actually got to ride on anything more proper than some old exhausted carnival pony being led around the ring, I was nearly twenty, and sitting nervously astride a big dappled mare named H.B. (which stood, appropriately, for Hell-Bitch.) We were atop a mountainside in Colorado, and the scent of a bear or puma nearby, combined with being taken out prior to feeding time after a long day on the trail meant that the horses were skittish and pissed. Which is a truly terrible combination of horse moods for an inexperienced rider. I had no clue how one might operate this flesh and blood vehicle, other than coercion with sugarcubees. I suppose that all those years of reading Black Beauty and Serendipity books lured me into the fantasy that the first horse I rode would swiftly become my best friend, and that we would immediately develop a powerful psychic mind-meld, and certainly would both want to go frolic in fields of clover and waterfalls together all day. Imagine my horror when it was suggested to me that I needed to kick my horse harder. We were warned that the horses might try to rub up against a tree trunk in an attempt to break your knee-cap, or find a low-hanging branch to knock you the hell off with. I don’t know why it was so hard to conceive of up until that point that these majestic beasts might have a will of their own – and might not really want to cart you around on their backs. After many misadventures that day, I had to concede humbly that horses were something I had loved and studied from afar for nearly my entire life, but that I truly didn’t understand at all. I respect them now, immensely, in a way that my childish adoration could never fully encompass. They are mighty, and standing next to one always makes me feel puny, curious and shy. I didn’t realize until fairly recently that I am year of the Horse, in the Chinese Zodiac (January birthdays revert to the previous year, so I thought I was a Sheep for a long time!) I felt a thrill when I realized that this is year of the Wood Horse – because I have a hopeful sense that this year will be a game-changer, even more so than the last one. This year is going to be full of surprises, and as much as possible, I want to be completely present with them. My main wish for 2014 is to be more in my body, more in the moment, and more consciously present in every way. I think about dancing a lot more than I actually do it, and I want to change that this year. I want to be more immediate, responding to messages as they come up instead of letting them get buried. I am the most impatient procrastinator, who is learning how to be a very patient do-er.
Horses have no patience for procrastination. This moment is all we have. Expand into it. Breathe deep. Toss your mane and kick the stormclouds open! My mama said she felt a strong kick right before her water broke – I was ready to be born! But when I got here, it took me years to feel like I belonged in my body. As a child, my consciousness always floated outside me, above me – I would narrate my actions and thoughts in the third person instead of just doing and thinking. And I was aware that that was odd. It bothered me, because I was pretty sure that most people didn’t have these kinds of conversations with themselves. Sometimes my awareness would slam back into my body with a shock, knowing: “This is me. I am nine. This is my name. I live in Texas. This is my life, and it is real, and not a dress-rehearsal for some play, or a game. It is real. This is real. I am real. I am this person now.” It’s a really hard thing to explain, but it makes a lot of sense for me now. I don’t have too many memories of my mother, but one of my very favorites is the lullaby she used to sing to me:
Hush-a-by, Don’t you cry
Go to sleepy little baby
When you wake you shall have
All the pretty little horses
Blacks and bays, dapples and grays
A coach and six little horses
When you wake you shall have
All the pretty little horses
Hush-a-by, Don’t you cry
Go to sleepy little baby
When you wake you shall have
All the pretty little horses
I want to be kind and wild and strong and free this year. I want to rest deeply when I sleep, and dream. I want to love my body, and treat it with love. I’m digging in, and unfurling wide. This is just the beginning. In a year, we will stand baffled at how far we’ve come. I’m extending these wishes to you, that you may be kind and wild and strong and free, and that your dreams be sweet. I’m going out to the country to stamp my hooves in the soft old dust and whinny songs to the stars. I leave you with some horse art and music to inspire and delight you. Some star things and word things. Leaden hollows and glancing lights. Fireworks and thick clay. A new day.
Giant ‘Kelpies’ Horse Head Sculptures Tower Over the Forth & Clyde Canal in Scotland
“Currently in the last stages of construction after nearly 7 years of development, the Kelpies are a pair of gargantuan horse heads by public artist Andy Scott that now tower over the Forth & Clyde canal in Falkirk, Scotland. The sculptures measure some 30 meters tall (99 ft.) and are meant as a monument to the horse-powered heritage of Scotland.”
I’ve been marveling at the captured images from Google Street View curated by 9-Eyes (aka. Jon Rafman) ever since he was covered in Coilhouse awhile back (Old 9-Eyes Is Back In Town…) I especially love the pictures of horses.
“My work is not so overtly about movement. My horses’ gestures are really quite quiet, because real horses move so much better than I could pretend to make things move. For the pieces I make, the gesture is really more within the body, it’s like an internalized gesture, which is more about the content, the state of mind or of being at a given instant. And so it’s more like a painting…the gesture and the movement is all pretty much contained within the body.” – Deborah Butterfield
Ulrika Kestere — “The Girl with Seven Horses”
“Once upon a time there was a girl who had 7 invisible horses. People thought she was crazy and that she in fact had 7 imaginary horses, but this was not the case. When autumn came the girl spent a whole day washing all her clothes. She hung them on a string in her garden to let the gentle autumn sun dry them. Out of nowhere, a terrible storm came and its fiercefull winds grabbed a hold of all her clothes and all seven horses. The girl was devastated and spent all autumn looking for each horse spread around the country, wrapped in her clothes.”
Let us build an expendable day
without winding the hours, counting
only the salient clarity – that day
of all days that came bearing oranges.
The columns close on the niggling particulars,
leaving their chewed scrap of paper
spinning off in the sand,
devoured by winters.
Not a leaf in the forest
survives our recall, though its scent and vibration
stay in the memory: in that forest
I put forth my foliage
and carry its sighs in my veins
with no thought for the hour or the day.
The years and the months betray us
month follows month in the vast of the tunnel
October and April clash like two lunatic stones,
the apples rain into one basket,
the silvery catch into one net,
while night with rapiers precision
cuts through the days splendor – the day
that is ours if we are there to retrieve it tomorrow.
— Pablo Neruda
Photo by Terry Hancock
“Part of the Orion Molecular Cloud, an immense star forming region very close to earth, The Flame and Horsehead Nebulas offer a glimpse into the process from which stars and their planets are created. The colorfully lit areas are being irradiated by the young stars which have formed in the recent past and as a result, the ionized hydrogen in the clouds glows. The dark regions, on the other hand, are areas of dusty material in the interstellar medium dense enough to obscure the glow from behind. The Horsehead is such an object and from our vantage point on Earth, it bears a striking resemblance to the head of a horse.”
“Rigel, Betelgeuse, and Orion. There was no finer church, no finer choir, than the stars speaking in silence to the many consumptives silently condemned, a legion upon the dark rooftops. The wind came down from the north like a runner in lacrosse, violent and hard, to batter every living thing. They were there, each one alone in conversation with the stars, mining ephemeral love from cold and distant light.”
― Mark Helprin, Winter’s Tale
Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale is one of my favorite books, ever. It is so, so gorgeous. I am so grateful to all the people in my life who, at one time or another, insisted that I read it. It is being made into film that will come out on Valentine’s Day. Even watching the trailer made me sob, so I’m hoping that the film similarly slaughters and elates me half as much as the book did.
Here are three quotes from the novel about the horse:
“He moved like a dancer, which is not surprising; a horse is a beautiful animal, but it is perhaps most remarkable because it moves as if it always hears music.”
“Truth is no rounder than a horse’s eye.”
“The horse could not do without Manhattan. It drew him like a magnet, like a vacuum, like oats, or a mare, or an open, never-ending, tree-lined road.”
From the film-maker:
“‘The Wild Horses of Newbury’ was shot by me, Mark Carroll, very early on a single morning in February 1996 at the building site of the Newbury Bypass. (UK) This controversial road was to cut through some beautiful, ancient English countryside and had met with massive and radical direct action protests, hence the number of security guards. The whole episode only lasted a few minutes.. nothing was staged. The security guards and police had circled two very old Oak trees and were preparing to chop them down , when two scruffy, seemingly wild horses appeared and began to interfere with the felling. One of the horses even confronted one of the police horses…..
It was a very magical moment.”
Oh and – for the first time ever, I’ve not been plucking or dyeing my here and there grey hairs. My friend Abe Louise Young is on the same page, and just posted this sentiment, which I share whole-heartedly:
“In preparation for 2014 I am becoming a silver fox. Embracing mortality and the time-limited nature of all of us. Letting my hair grow wild, eau naturale and starlight–full moon-colored. Ask no permissions, hide no facets, grab aging and kiss it.”
Croning on up.
Learning to Measure Time in Love and Loss
By CHRIS HUNTINGTON
“and for all our believing, bastards in church alone dry heaving, searching for truce to feed the fear, near the beginning of the year”
Hello Lovers has a new album out, and it is brilliant: Glorified
And here’s a mix I made for your prancing pony disco and dreamytimes. Happy New Year!
More to read from New Year’s Eves of yore:
✶ NEW YEAR’S EVE FOXFIRES AT THE CHANGING TREE
✶ FUCK THE PLAN 2012
✶ AN EPICALLY EPIC AND FAIRLY TARDY YEAR IN REVIEW – OR, HOLY SHIT: 2011!
✶ A Bright Blue Wish
✶ New Year’s Redux
✶ Stargazer Honey
✶ Blue Moon
✶ Lone Grove New Year
✶ Pink Moons
✶ The New Year
✶ Lucky Stars and Garters
✶ La Nouvelle Année