Umbrellas

The smell of burnt sugar is wafting through the air. Someone is burning leaves in the backyard or maybe old letters or maybe poetry. Probably poetry even though it is probably the best poetry ever written, it gets burnt usually. I will no intervene, hopefully the fire will not get out of hand, how stupid it is to die because of poetry. I am sitting in my backyard indirectly spying at my neighbours, what am I to do these days?  I have no poetry to burn, no old books to burn, no old bridges. Once in a while  I catch a glimpse of my neighbour between the boards of the fence. He is wearing some strange plastic clothes or maybe they are fireproof.

I go back inside, sitting on my coach paging through some old gardening encyclopedias as if I am in the mood for planting anything. My yard is bear, there is grass and I usually like the way all the leaves cover the ground and create a colourful carpet until I get a reproachful look from my neighbours. I usually get it three times a year, in winter to clean the snow, in summer to cut the grass and in autumn to rake the leaves, no one usually cares about me in spring.  The pages of the encyclopedia feel rough  like weeds with their strong stems and massive roots which are hard to pull out. I look at the Latin names and page on.

On the other side of my house the gardener is hair-drying the grass and sweeping the leaves in a fruitless attempt  to hide the evidence of the crimes committed by the wind the previous night. In the streets the bodies of broken umbrellas were lying on the ground,metal bones protruding from red, yellow and black tissue.

“What is that old bag doing in the garden again?”. Do not lecture me that it is not polite to call old ladies old bags, who cares? I am a new bag who will become an old one, I am ready to admit it. I wonder if I will be walking around in the same way pocking at the broken umbrellas in the same way as she is doing now. No! I am sure I will have my own thing, all old people have their thing, they suddenly start liking dogs or cats, hating their neighbours as a hobby and a past time simply not necessarily because they actually hate them, knit or make jams or whatever it is old ladies do or go on a cruise around the wold to die on some island smiling at the Sun. Everyone picks their own way to live eventually, there will be consequences either way, no matter what you choose.

I wave hello to her from my window, I wonder what’s her hobby? Neighbour hating or she will ask me for tea saying  dearie after every sentence. Just like I said either way there will be consequences.

I go back inside, it looks like it is going to rain and we old ladies are supposed to be afraid of the rain, because we are made of sugar and sweets and are going to melt, like witches in the Wizard of Oz. So I go inside or the wind might blow me away. I do not have many neighbours here, people are scattered today all around the place like pieces of a torn letter, they do not come together anymore, not like in the old days, I am supposed to add, to complete the image of an old lady. I do back inside.

 

I bump into people sometimes but usually not the ones I like, I would really prefer to meet them but I do not know. Maybe I do not really want to, so I prefer a bump and a bruise, nurse my injury for a week or two and then move on. Maybe I should meet the old lady, it seems she is the only neighbour, her name is Eleanor and she is my lost grandmother with a fortune and pure luck brought us together or her name is Virginia and she was married 7 times and all her husband died of mysterious diseases unknown to science and they were all doctors themselves or she is a foreigner and speaks with a tick Dutch accent  or she is deaf and half blind a nurse comes to see her twice a day that’s why she was looking at those umbrellas so closely yesterday maybe she can Von in her name. When it comes to neighbours even though you bump into them, you still have to meet them eventually. I should say hello but it looks like she went inside now.

 

I moved here only recently, contrary to popular belief I am not a runaway daughter, or a woman who killed a millionaire and changed her appearance and now resides in a small village, nor am I a single mother with a son in a boarding school. Assumptions are evil, never assume anything, simply by looking at the person even if you can say a lot. The same with that old lady,  I am sure all my scenarios are absolutely wrong, they are too conventional, too predictable and extravagant, something to make your life more interesting.

 

I never dwell on anything for too long, I do not like to look at the old photographs too much, they do not make me sad or nostalgic, past is past and I am happy to keep it between the pages, old books, dried flowers, it is nice to know you have if you want to hold on to something, to clutch the thread while walking through the labyrinth but I am not in hurry to leave the place even with some monstrous creature on the loose, fairy tales tell us that old ladies are bony and indigestible. I am quiet safe.

Milkman, postman, gardener, tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor… I mutter to myself, enough visits for today.

 

I knocked on the door, carefully? I do not know why, afraid to wake her up maybe. I saw her picking up her milk and newspaper, should be a good time to visit.

-Good morning

-Good morning.

She did not say dearie, so all my assumptions down the drain, like I said, never assume.

-I stopped by to say hello since I live next door, actually not exactly next door, more like in the house opposite.

– Do come in, very nice of you to stop by. I am Katherine.

– Jade.

-That’s a lovely name,beautiful green colour.A bit old fashioned in a romantic way. I mean no offence, people seem to take offence when you say old -fashioned, I can say contemporary for me, taking my age into account.

-Funny, no problem. I like my name actually.

-Tea?

-With pleasure.

I look around the kitchen, for this is where we are now, I have not noticed the small corridor but the kitchen was light and spacious. We were quiet while she was making tea. She had cookies in a tin, scones and I did not bring anything so I apologised for that and she said that this is what old ladies should have, cookies in a tin for the visitors.

-And they are not stale, if this is what you expect.

She laughed softly, I smiled.

We had out tea and nothing exceptional happened, no stories about relatives, grandchild photos and stories about their achievements, just a conversation, exchange of stories about the weather and the neighbourhood and more tea. I went home, she stayed at home.

 

I am sure as she closed the door behind me, a thousand nostalgic memories washed over her, she probably cried and took her old photograph album out. I wish  had that, is it so strange for an old person to ask to be young, why does it seem impossible that a young person cannot ask for being old, when everything is past, it does not mean you have no future, why is it so terrible to be old? Why cannot I wish for it and simply want to be old same as old people wish to be young.

 

As I closed the door, I went upstairs to take a nap.

 

I do make it my habit to observe my neighbours, I just see them, I am not snooping around, I am walking around, even though this is exactly what my neighbours do not understand. We do not have many, a family or two, Jade, and a woman in her forties who sometimes comes back from abroad where she lives and stays for a couple of months, fixes up the house and leaves again. So I do not even have much material to snoop over. Contrary to popular belief as they say, as if that’s what old women do. I do spend some time looking what the gardener is doing and then what the dog is undoing and then they growl at each other and the dog runs away and the gardener goes to lunch and then they are back. Without each other they would have nothing to do. I once read a story how a man kept hitting another man with an umbrella, at first it was insulting, then bothering, then he got used to it. The gardener and the dog. I spend some 15 minutes thinking about that, one must plan one’s time carefully. The leaves in my backyard have almost covered everything twice over.

 

 

 

 

 John Everett Millais Autumn Leaves
John Everett Millais
Autumn Leaves

The Art of Taking a Walk.

Art and Anarchy Camille Pissarro.
Art and Anarchy Camille Pissarro.

‘You find infinity in small spaces

And magic in the most unlikely places”

Ben Okri

Living abroad does not only give you an opportunity to reflect about the county you are in but also about the country you are from. It is a manifold experience when you can compare and contrast, observe and explore. One of the experiences a traveller can indulge in is that of flânerie. Indeed, what a pleasure it is “to be away from home and yet feel oneself everywhere at home, to see the world, to be at the centre of the world – and yet to be hidden from the world”. Charles Baudelaire in his work “The Painter of Life and other Essays” not only gives valuable observations about what makes a good traveller but also points out that “few men are gifted with the capacity of seeing”.

The question of course is  “What is truly considered as seeing?”  It is not only looking around but it has to do with experiencing the outside world on many levels. When representatives of different cultures are asked how many senses the human being has, the answer might be surprising as the number of senses increases as we are moving towards the East. In addition to seeing, smelling, touching and hearing those asked add balance and intuition to the list. These aspects sharpen the power of observation, make our senses more acute and help us to experience the world to the fullest. What is important to remember is the fact that our senses should be developed, triggered, nourished in a way so they are active and are ready to accept and digest new information. In this respect travelling not only broadens the mind as it is generally believed  but has a strong impact on our personalities, especially compassion, sympathy and understanding. This is not to say that people who do not travel lack these qualities but from my experience living in your own culture does not challenge these qualities enough and the need for respect, tolerance and power of observation is not as important as when you are abroad.

While living in a different culture there are certain temptations, or to be more precisely hacks such as jumping to conclusions. That’s right! Jumping to conclusions about the culture you are in, in order to make your life more comfortable. Behaving as if you know exactly what’s going on and measuring everything with your own ruler.

The title of this essay is the name of the book by Anke Gleber who argues that Flaneur as portrayed by Walter Benjamin and Charles Baudelaire is a person who can understand deeper cultural context through observation in the age of modernity.  An ability to have a unique view of the world. I think there is a difference between world-view and view of the world when it comes flânerie . It sounds as if world-view is something rigid, something that has been formed and presented to you without your consent or participation while the view of the world is yet to be formed, it is just there in front of you and you have to make what you can or want out of it.

It is not easy to master this balance of being part of the crowd while being remote from, being connected but at the same time having your own path and ideas, having room for these ideas and experiences. But never ask a tightrope walker how he keeps his balance. As it always seems to be the case in the most of unexpected and surprising of situations you learn the most about yourself.

Lost and Found

Bouquet, Jan Brueghel the Elder
Bouquet, Jan Brueghel the Elder

I want to start July with a new notepad and a pen, with a fresh smell of coffee wafting through the air, with a curtain ironed by the sun light, with a fresh breeze playing with papers on my table, with the piercing cries of sea gulls above my house which is so close to the sky.

I am not sure how stories appear, they might be bookmarked somewhere a while ago and all we have to do it find the right page. Stories are like dream catchers. The are bright with feathers and threads and ribbons woven into them, different textures, lengths, colours. The wind is gently lulling them unwinding  the story or stripping them of feathers and ribbons leaving the story ragged missing some bits and leaving some characters in disarray.

At the door I always linger. I have been thinking of walking in for a while now but time, courage, motivation and money are the regular obstacles every person is aware of even if not all of those apply to the situation. Sometimes, even none of those but we still list them just to have reasons.

I dress up. Yes! It should be an important occasion since I have finally smoothed my  way to success. I smile and hold my head high. I even do not wobble on my heels and have a perfect air of “I know what I am doing” about me.

I come to the door and ring the bell. The smell of geraniums is strong already even if I see them high up on the balcony. I quickly go through a list of names I normally use on such occasions – Cheryl, Candice, Brielle, Jennifer, Daisy and Rose. I am rehearsing in my head how I am going to say my name, how I am going to pronounce it, whether I am going to fake an accent ( something I am not good at and it helps), how I am going to shake hands or look in a weird way at the outstretched hand as if I do not know what to do. To my disappointment no one answers. I ring again, I did not come all this way for nothing and by all this way I do not mean a couple of blocks I walked, I mean all this time it took me to get here, to collect myself, to finally be prepared. I am not even ready to be disappointed. I ring twice and then once more.

I look up at the house.  A stone balcony gives the building an air of elegance, flowers like colourful wigs of clowns are hanging from the balconies. I hear the click of the lock and then the sound of footsteps on the stairs. All right, I am not going to be surprised. I am just going to say…

– Hi, I am Brielle.

The lady looks at me through the thick glasses but does not say anything.

– I am Brielle, from the lost and found office, – ( or lost property office, if you wish. For me lost and found sounds much more positive because we find, lost properly sounds irrevocably sad).

The lady makes some room for me to enter. She looks as if I lost something, not her and I feel a bit the same. I should be more confident, there is something I have found not lost.

I look at her and at the long corridor ahead of me and how much I still have to come up with while walking through the corridor to make my story plausible. It feels as if all the objects inside the house are staring intently at me, right into my brain, into what am I going to say now and I hear myself thinking and then only thing I am thinking is ” I am thinking”. She does not indicate that I should come in.

– We did lose some things but I am not sure we need them anymore, – she finally announces.

I can see that she is not sure. If only we could get rid of what we do not need but we are too scared someone might pick it up.

– Could you please sign here that you do not need our services anymore, – I give her the list.

– Should I sign or also tick off what you should not bring if you find it.

– Please tick off as well, – I say,  -it will make our services more in line with the clients needs.

I look at the list before I give it to her. It is a regular form.

It takes her about a second to deal with the procedure. I take the form and put my signature as well.

I walk back thinking that it was almost too easy. Summer air is scented with verbena, rosemary and mint but somehow I have last days of summer camp feeling. Normally, I wait till I come home to look at the list. This time I scan through as I am too curious and  continue reading  it as I walk.  I have been working in lost and found since 1805 and still I am curious. Nothing new is being lost, however, and nothing new is being found. Why am I still curious then?!

The regular items on the  lost list are sleep, faith, hope, weight, something you never had, in poker, a friend, a dog, a job,  track of time… I turn the page over. We are lost and found after all, I look at the comments box about our service, it says, – ” I lost my way to your office once and I was wondering who can help me in that case”. I smile to myself. Valid point, who is going to shave the barber. I walk on.  I look at To find list  and the page is blank. All right, we lost a lot of things in that house maybe we will find something in the next one.

Observations.

William Merritt Chase  A Sunny Day at Shinnecock Bay
William Merritt Chase
A Sunny Day at Shinnecock Bay


They were unable to retrieve their steps because their footprints had been washed away by the sea. In vain they were trying to look for some marks on the sand among the pebbles polished by the tireless waves as if by a skilled jeweller.

I wanted to help them as I could see what they were looking for but I did not. I kept observing as I was gliding through the sky above the waves. Sliding through the clouds, playing with the fragile hot air balloons hanging almost motionlessly in the sky. They seemed to be so sure about their destination, so ignorant of what to come. The were happily unaware how gentle and cruel, merciful and merciless, pleasant and violent the sea and the wind could be. They had no idea about what they did not know.

I was looking at the blurry sand dunes on the horizon as the wind was playing with  the sand, changing the line of the horizon as if tired of the same scenery like a musician scribbling the notes while composing a new piece or a writer scratching out the lines and starting anew.

A little girl’s hat went flying in the air, I know in about a minute her cry carried by the wind would be heard by everyone. She did not cry, she looked up as the hat was flying higher and higher, white, light hat with a red flower and a red ribbon. She stood there looking into the sky, the expected look of regret was substituted by a look of wonder and amazement and I looked at the small dot in the sky with her.

– Look, Mommy, the wind likes my hat, it is trying it on. Silly wind, it does not know how to wear it. Let me show, – she yelled trying to show how to put an invisible hat on.  – Like this and the flower should be on the side not in the front. Her Mum laughs, the girl laughs, I laugh.

A couple was walking hand in hand along the beach, she had a light scarf in her hand and the wind was tugging at it trying to snatch this light, sweet moment away but they held the scarf together in their locked hands, holding on to the moment of happiness. The were turning into small dots on the horizon like grains of sand with a crimson tail following them, melding with the sunset.

The pages of an old newspaper were rustling in the wind,  hoping that someone would read them. Only the rain will finally pin them down and read what had happened while it was gone, to catch up, to wash away the ink  and make the news soggy and blurred.

There was no one else to observe, the wind got a bit tired too. Sometimes we are the best of friends but sometimes we are at odds with each other as he can forceful and moody and I am usually compliant and observant. Overall, we still prefer to stick together even when we disagree as we both realise that we are much lonelier than an average being, much older and lonelier and we have to stick together.

On Wondering and Wandering.

Marc Chagall Paris Though The Window
Marc Chagall
Paris Though The Window

 Paging through the pictures  and sepia postcards  is a pleasant activity once you are back from yet another trip. In all honesty, I do not travel as much in reality as I do in my imagination. Visiting tiny book stores where books are warm from the Sun as if they are just out of print, marvelling at colours which could be names of desserts: vermilion, titian, bisque, puce, smalt. You add associations to the chemical composition of the photographic developer and memories help to make your latent image visible, memories and a bit of light. It cannot happen without light!  Who would have thought bittersweet is a colour.  Flânerie is in full swing, you stroll up and down every street,  walk around every park,  from bench to bench, from page to page. Spring is uncontrollable, like unruly curls which are always in your eyes.  You are experiencing the city in a million different ways, sometimes  being unaware of it. Yes, it is idling but it is also the time when your mind absorbs, digests, organizes the changes brought by spring. Even if it happens every year, it seems we tend to forget how green, green can be, how deep navy-blue sky is, how warm the sun feels, how fresh the wind smells. We need time to observe and be reminded of these changes.  As the spring is taking its toll, flânerie flourishes and winter is somewhat reluctantly  setting the  birds free from its icy cages, the soft catkins curl up on the branches of trees and we walk, walk and walk on.

Autumn Sketches.

Small House at River in Chartres   Henri le Sidaner
Small House at River in Chartres
Henri le Sidaner

 It is a season which tastes like honey and coffee with soupçon of cognac. It is a season of yellow cats and burning leaves.

Lighthouses always  remind me of  some distant dreams. The light gives hope and creates an illusion of closeness. It makes you believe the worst storm can be weathered.

 No tricks just treats. It is warm and sunny, the air feels like velvet, the rain is preparing for the night, the sun is setting cautiously and the lighthouse is blinking standing guard as it always does no matter what the weather is. 

The rain falling on the asphalt and you can almost feel its bittersweet taste. The sound of falling drops is as if a piece of dry wood is being rubbed with a piece of sandpaper. Cotton candy clouds will soon melt away.

Burgundy, Crimson, Nutmeg.

The watercolour landscape seems a bit washed out by the rain and the picture of some dark foggy city is in sepia tints.

The apples are particularly poignant and the wind rustles my hair as if we have been friends for a long time. It is time to get ready to fly, to move, to leave, not to be afraid to look  through then last window at the back of the train.

Autumn is making everything look vintage, summer is getting old in front of our eyes. I can see million of dust ashes flying in the decaying rays of sun, they are moving upwards and going nowhere.

I put on my French looking jumper with buttons at one side of the neck.

I jump into autumn  headlong, hoping that the heap of leaves is soft and crusty. It is never easy to really part with summer, it is nostalgic, it is like leaving home, it is like opening a letter and not writing back for a long time.  It is rebellious, inappropriately colourful and frivolous.

Cleaning autumn leaves is like cleaning after the party – summer garden party;  colourful straws, popped balloons, plastic packaging, cups, knives, glitters from summer dresses, a bow tie from someone’s fancy party costume. 

The trees continue shedding their leaves, they have been doing it for years,  after a party a la Great Gatsby  all summer long, they are now taking off their clothes, throwing them carelessly on the ground. It looks like the party goes on, a burlesque of a sort where actors  have  5 minutes to change between the shows.

Meet Summer.

Kees van Dongen Corn Poppy
Kees van Dongen
Corn Poppy

My bag is begging me to travel.  It is somehow always in my way, getting under me feet, demanding attention.  Resistance is futile. I pack some objects at random maybe clothes or notebooks or cup. Not sure. It is more important that they are  indigo,cyan, fuchsia and magenta colours.

Summer could have at least sent a message that she was on her way. We have been friends with Summer for as long as I can remember. I am not sure how it started either because we liked the same books or not. 

She has arrived when almost all the petals from the tea rose were on the ground. She had a potted plant with her and one suitcase. I was very happy to see her, just as she was walking towards me, I thought how simple happiness could be and that during the moments like this we think it is simple.  Summer was going to stay for a while, I knew it, I could see it in the way she walked and smiled and the potted plant gave her away as well. Summer was going to stay.

There was so much to talk about that nothing was said. I made tea and focused on forever. This is how it is going to be now. The whole eternity of warm soft breezes, flowers, ice creams. Foam on the sea made it look like a cup of  cappuccino and we took a stroll along the beach. I felt like I wanted to breath in all the air there was and talk for ages. Happiness for no reason, just keep on walking, never ask a tightrope walker how he keeps his balance, never wake up a sleepwalker.  It seemed like Summer was watching it all from the safe distance.

The apricot coloured sun was about to set and we were still walking along the beach, the foam looked like lace on the sea and the air was slowly cooling down. How long can I actually spend here? One month?  A week? My whole life?  I think I will start with one day.

Back in the house, Summer unpacks and we drink tea. She talks little, I do all the tea talking and she seems to be fine with that. I am thinking if it is ok to ask her why she has come in the first place or why she has arrived later than usually and why her attitude is so cold but instead I am talking about long winter and new movies. I am afraid that all these pent up emotions will end up in the rain of tears during the night but it will be fresh in the morning.

Despite her outward display of friendliness, I sense, she was concealing something. “I am leaving soon, you know that, right?- she told me in the morning. I knew that all along, so my faked surprise did not fool her. “I know that”.