Tag Archives: Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac – Tristessa: Love, Frenzy and Sadness in Mexico City

13 Aug

Even though I always proclaim On the Road as my favourite novel by Jack Kerouac, it is the novella Tristessa that most often comes to mind when thinking about Kerouac because the story of his wild impossible love, decaying souls in seedy streets of Mexico City where “a soul eats another soul in a never ending void”, addiction, prostitution and poverty is so damn haunting, poignant and beautiful, from a literary point of view.

The novel starts in a chic Kerouac way, with him driving in a taxi with Tristessa, drunk, with a bottle of Juarez Bourbon in his hand, in a Mexico City on a rainy Saturday night. “Tristessa” is Kerouac’s name for a young prostitute and a morphine addict whose real name was Esperanza Villanueva.

It always puzzled me why he decided to change her name from Esperanza (“hope” in Spanish) to Tristessa (“tristeza” meaning “sadness” in Spanish), but the change, admittedly, makes the title sound cooler. Beauty of Kerouac’s writings often contrasts with the gritty reality he is describing, but he lived among that low-life and misfits and that gives his book a genuine flair. For example, he describes Tristessa as a beautiful, enchanting girl with high cheekbones and a sad face expression that speaks of resignation. In real life, she looked like a drug addict; ill, frail and weary. Other characters are also morphine addicts, pimps and thieves. In that shabby room where a hen, a dove, a rooster and a cat walk freely, a room with a leaking roof, posters of Mexican pin-ups on the wall, a dirty mattress, and candles on the little altar of virgin Mary, there Kerouac realises that birth and death are the same empty dream. There is too much restlessness in him to fully accept the idea, but Tristessa’s soul is full of beautiful resignation, she has nothing and wants nothing, choosing to walk through life mute on every suffering that comes. There’s something beautiful in that fragility, life stripped to its essence; painful and pointless without any pretending that it’s not true. Reading about Tristessa’s suffering is poignant, it makes you feel you want to reach out and help her, but you can’t. Kerouac’s novels burst with characters of sad, lost, vulnerable souls, fragile as poppy flowers that gently dance in the wind and yet, if you pick them, their petals fall, too fragile to live anywhere apart from the meadow. So, leave them there, on a vibrant green meadow, leave them to dance their short waltz and die in silence, you cannot help them.

In Tristessa, Kerouac describes with his typical vibrant, at parts poignant and sad, at parts fun and wild rock ‘n’ roll writing style a fragile period in time. Even though he returned to Mexico City two years after, nothing was the same. The mystical flair from the first few pages, that of candlelight and statue of Madonna, leaking roof, morphine and a hen, disappear quickly and turn into grey hopelessness and poverty of the slums. Kerouac drunk, Kerouac sober. Glamour stripped away. Sadness lingers. I’ve never been drunk in my life, and yet I feel “drunk” after reading Kerouac.

And now a few quotes:

It starts raining harder, I’ve got a long way to go walking and pushing that sore leg right along in the gathering rain, no chance no intention whatever of hailing a cab, the whiskey and the Morphine have made me unruffled by the sickness of the poison in my heart.

***

I play games with her fabulous eyes and she longs to be in a monastery.

***

She is giving me my life back and not claiming it for herself as so many of the women you love do claim.

***

And a wonderful, inspiring sentence to end the novel:

I’ll go to the south of Sicily in the winter, and paint memories of Arles – I’ll buy a piano and Mozart me that – I’ll write long sad tales about people in the legend of my life – This part is my part of the movie, let’s hear yours

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A Little Bit About Pollock, Kerouac and Beatniks

29 Dec

To whom shall I hire myself out? What beast should I adore? What holy image is attacked? What hearts shall I break? What lies shall I uphold? In what blood tread?‘ (Arthur Rimbaud, A Season in Hell – The Drunken Boat)

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAJackson Pollock in 1949

If you’d take a moment to think about the 1950s culture (in USA), I bet that the first things that would pop up in your mind would be film-stars such as Marylin Monroe and James Dean, drive-in cinemas, television, milkshakes, baby boom, suburban homes… Today, the 1950s seem like an idyllic decade, especially if we observe the cultural products of the time. Well not really. It was quite a restrictive and claustrophobic society to live in. Below the surface, this perfect society was hiding the beginning of the cold war, nuclear threats, McCarthysm, racial segregation etc. American reality of the 1950s was a picture of duality and hypocrisy. Medias portrayed it as they wished it to be, but something deviant and magical lay hidden beneath the surface. Every society has outsiders, the misfits, individuals that don’t belong. As an alternative to the perfect ’50s world, a different reality emerged, mostly related to artists, musicians, writers, actors and bohemians from the East and West coast of the States. This group was later named Beat generation, after a quote by Jack Kerouac.

1950. Lavender Mist Number 1 - Jackson PollockLavender Mist Number 1 – Jackson Pollock, 1950

World of Beat generation was a forerunner of the hippie counterculture that characterised the 1960s. World of Beatniks is a world of real characters immersed in Jazz, Be-Bop, marijuana, opium, amphetamine, Native American tradition of enjoying hallucinogenic substances, Mexico, prostitution, race mixing, reveries about Europe; it’s a world whose members have a strong desire to live, and are thus in conflict with the Western world which is striving for possession of material goods. Besides the well known beat generation authors such as Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, there were other artists unrelated to Beat generation who lived and created in the same spirit and embraced same ideas.

1948. Jackson Pollock, No. 6, 1948 - Jackson PollockJackson Pollock, No. 6, Jackson Pollock, 1948

One of those young people was Jackson Pollock, an important figure in abstract expressionism or ‘action painting’. He believed in the necessity of spontaneous impulse.The way Pollock painted is specific; he would put large canvases on the floor, meditate over them, and finally he would drip fluid paint on the canvas. As the canvases were large, he would walk right into them, becoming a part of the painting, rather than the creator of it. He said himself: Every good painter paints what he is.

Just like Chinese calligraphy, these paintings needed to be painted fast. They mustn’t be pre-devised, on the contrary, they must resemble a spontaneous outburst. Behind this requirement of artists and critics lies the influence not only of Chinese art, but the influence of all Far East mysticism, especially of Zen Buddhism. Part of the doctrine of Zen Buddhism is that one can’t be enlightened unless one is radically kicked out of routine of rational way of thinking. Opening quote by Arthur Rimbaud was written on the wall of studio of Lee Krasner, Pollock’s wife and a fellow painter. Poets like Rimbaud never go out of fashion because what they wrote can be translated in any era. Unfortunately, Lee neglected her career in order to help Pollock in his.

Whilst writing this post, Kerouac’s long poem ‘Mexico City Blues’ lingers in my mind. I am about to read it, and I thought it would be interesting to get in the mood of Beatniks for the occasion. Here are some pictures that remind me of beatniks and Kerouac’s novels:

1946. Café Scene - Raphael Soyer Café Scene, by Raphael Soyer, 1946

1940s Beatnik style ladyBeatnik style lady, 1940s

1953. Joyce Holden 'Girls in the Night', Universal, beatnikJoyce Holden ‘Girls in the Night’, Universal, 1953

1958. London Beat girl~ baggy jumper and pencil skirt to the knee. Late 50s-early 60s style, beatnikLondon Beat girl, 1958

1946. Too much liquor in Kansas, beatnikToo much liquor in Kansas, 1946

1950s Parisian Beatniks Hanging Out on Bank of the SeineParisian Beatniks Hanging Out on Bank of the Seine, 1950s

1950s Jackson Pollock and Lee KrasnerJackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, 1950s

1950s Helen Frankenthaler and her paintingsPainter Helen Frankenthaler sitting amidst her art in her studio. Location New York, 1956

For the end I’d like to share a quote by Helen Frankenthaler, a fellow abstract-expressionism painter who died a few years ago: There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about.

Claude Monet – Poppies

12 Jun

They now came upon more and more of the big scarlet poppies, and fewer and fewer of the other flowers; and soon they found themselves in the midst of a great meadow of poppies. Now it is well known that when there are many of these flowers together their odour is so powerful that anyone who breathes it falls asleep, and if the sleeper is not carried away from the scent of the flowers, he sleeps on and on forever.‘ (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L.F. Baum)

1873. Claude Monet - Poppies 21873. Claude Monet – Poppies

Claude Monet, a painter whose name is inseparable from Impressionism, painted landscapes, water lilies, poplars, ladies in garden, women with parasols, Rouen Cathedral, London Parliament, boats, leisure activities, coast of Normandy, and – poppies. He captured these exciting red meadow treasures in single brush strokes of magnificent red colour, so rich and decadent against the endless greenness of the field.

Nature and its changeability was something that really fascinated the Impressionists; their aim was to capture the change of light, the rain, the sunset, the wind and the dew – capture the moment in all its beauty and splendor. Although born in Paris, Claude Monet, like many other Impressionists, made frequent trips to French countryside, in search for inspiration. Such trips brought him, among other places, to Argenteuil which was, back then, a rural escape for many Parisians. There he painted the gleaming surface of the river Seine and those famous fields dotted with exuberant poppies and other wildflowers.

1875. Claude Monet - Poppy Field, Argenteuil1875. Claude Monet – Poppy Field, Argenteuil

Claude even lived in Argenteuil for some time in the 1870s, and that’s when he painted the interesting painting you can see all the way up, titled simply ‘Poppies’. It is a very simple scene, a beautiful sunny moment captures on canvas. A scene of poppies is framed by a dash of trees and a few peaceful clouds on a bright blue sky. The painting is somewhat symmetrical; motif of a woman and a child is repeated, one time in the background, one time in the foreground, and we can see a diagonal line which separates two colour zones – a vivid red one and a more gentle one, mottled with blue-lilac flowers. As is typical for Impressionism, colours and lines are blurred, and the woman’s dress in the foreground almost seems to be blended in with the poppies and the grass. The figures are painted dimly, and the overall simplicity rules the scene, but the universal feeling that it projects is what attracts viewers the most; a vivid atmosphere of a summer’s day, a stroll in the meadow, sun shining bright, buzz in the air, the intoxicating redness of the poppies, no worries, no fears when one is surrounded by such beauties.

As you can see in the examples below, motif of poppies and meadows never failed to capture Claude Monet’s attention and he seemed to be enjoying his stays at the countryside. After spending time in Argenteuil, Monet moved to Vétheuil, a commune in the northwestern suburbs of Paris. In Vétheuil, Monet found peace of mind after the death of his first wife Camille by painting his garden and the nearby meadows.

1879. Poppy Field near Vétheuil - Claude Monet1879. Poppy Field near Vétheuil – Claude Monet

1880. Claude Monet - View of Vétheuil1880. Claude Monet – View of Vétheuil

Poppy is a beautiful flower just for itself, but its symbolic meaning is something that’s fascinating to me even more. Poppies are often seen as symbol of sleep, peace, and death, and poppies on tombstones symbolise eternal sleep, how very romantic! Vision of death as an eternal sleep was typical for Romanticists, especially Percy Bysshe Shelley who became more and more obsessed with death as the years went on. Romanticists considered death to be a state in which all desires of a soul are fulfilled at last. Shelley’s verses from ‘Mont Blanc’:

'Some say that gleams of a remoter world
Visit the soul in sleep, that death is slumber,
And that its shapes the busy thoughts outnumber
Of those who wake and live.'

Vision of poppy as a symbol of sleep was further emphasised in the novel Wonderful Wizard of Oz in which a magical poppy can make you sleep forever if you smell its odour for too long. Poppy is also used for the production of opium, and morphine and heroin. Opium was a well known wellspring of inspiration for the Romanticists such as Coleridge who wrote his ‘Kubla Khan’ one night after he experienced an opium-influenced dream. Shelley also used opium to free his mind, so did Edgar Allan Poe and Baudelaire. It’s not a coincidence that ‘morphine’ borrowed its name from the Greek god of sleep Morpheus who slept in a cave full of poppy seeds. Pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse seemed to have had similar ideas in mind when he painted one of his early works Sleep and his Half-Brother Death in 1874, in which he portrayed the mysterious connection between sleep, dreams and death.

Sleep, those little slices of death — how I loathe them.‘ (Edgar Allan Poe)

1874. Sleep and his Half-brother Death - John William Waterhouse1874. Sleep and his Half-brother Death – J.W.Waterhouse

Poppies are also seen as symbol of beauty, magic, consolation, and fertility. In China, they represent the loyalty and faith between lovers. According to the Chinese legend, a beautiful and courageous woman named Lady Yee was married to a warrior Hsiang Yu and she followed him on many battles. During one long war when the defeat seemed imminent, Lady Yee tried to cheer him up and boost his spirits by dancing with his sword. She failed in her mission, and committed suicide. Beautiful red poppies grew on her grave in abundance. Petals of the poppy flower reflect her spirit as she danced in the wind.

Poppies in Sussex, photo found here.

poppy 2Photo found here.

1967. Scene from Far from the Maddening Crowd1967. Scene from Far from the Maddening Crowd

poppy 1Photo found here.

Poppy is one of my favourite flowers out of many reasons. Firstly, their vivid red colour makes them stand out amidst all the greenery. Secondly, dreams, opium and Morpheus are some things that fascinate me, especially their connection with Romanticism. Poppies always seem to remind me of solitude since they often grow on isolated place. My memory places them by the railway, lost and forgotten, beautiful and fragile, gently dancing on the wind, in an eternal state of waiting, full of secrets, whispers and mystery, like some sad and lost souls that came out of Kerouac’s novel.

My Inspirations for March

5 Apr

In March my focus was still on music, but a very well known artist caught my attention – Van Gogh. (He was born on 30. March 1853., so his birthday was a few days ago.) His life seems so sad and his paintings mirrored the pain he lived with. I love the song La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a sigh) by Manic Street Preachers and I’m mentioning this song because these words, loosely translated as ‘The sadness persists’, are Vincent Van Gogh’s last words. Imagine what kind of sadness he was struggling with that even his last words were about sadness. I’ve also been reading Rimbaud and Verlaine this month and I’ve read Kerouac’s On the Road – a book I’ve been fascinated with. Beat generation inspired me to live now; at the moment.

1889. The Starry Night - van gogh

1888.  Vase with 12 sunflowers by van Gogh

1888. Bedroom in Arles by Van Gogh

1888. Self-Portrait with Straw Hat - Van Gogh

1871. Arthur Rimbaud

1896. The Garden of Death - Hugo Simberg (Finnish) a

1940s actresses

1940s Saddle Shoes and wool skirts

1940s black velvet cocktail length dress hat shoes full skirt square neckline

on the road