Tag Archives: love

Edvard Munch’s Kiss By the Window, Asa Heshel and Hadassah (The Family Moskat)

27 Dec

“I longed for you very much.”
The girl quivered. There was a movement in her throat, as though she were swallowing something.
“I too,” she answered. “From the beginning.”

Edvard Munch, Kiss by the window, 1892

“If only (…) the twilight last forever, and the two of them, he and Hadassah, to stand there at the window, close to each other, for eternity!

And now for the final post of my The Family Moskat triptych; the scene in the novel where Hadassah visits Asa in his room and it is a very special moment in which they both admit their longing for one another, and the snow is falling and the darkness of an early winter night is descending. “The Family Moskat” is a novel written by Isaac Bashevis Singer published in 1950 and it falls the lives of the members of the Warsaw Moskat family starting from just before the First World War up until the horrors of the Second World War. The first post of this little series is about Edward Hopper’s painting “The Evening Wind” and Hadassah’s sleepless night and the second one is about Asa Heshel’s thoughts when he is alone in his room. This third and last post, at least for now, is the crown of the other two posts because it combines both Asa and Hadassah in a single scene. Asa had not visited Hadassah as he had promised and so Hadassah decides to visit him, which was quite a bold move for a girl of her age at the time. The passage from the novel goes:

You’re too pessimistic. I know, because I’m very melancholy too. Everyone is against me-my grandfather, Papa, even mamma.”
“What do they want of you?”
“You know. But I can’t.”
She started to say something else, but suddenly stopped. She walked to the window. Asa Heshel went after her and stood beside her. There was a twilight blueness outside. The snow fell slowly, broodingly. Lights gleamed from the opposite windows. There was a faint rumble of noise, which sounded at one moment like the sighing of the wind and again like the rustling of the forest. Asa Heshel held his breath and let his eyelids close. If only the sun were to stand still in the skies, as it had stood still for Joshua, and the twilight last forever, and the two of them, he and Hadassah, to stand there at the window, close to each other, for eternity!
He glanced toward her and met her own eyes turned toward him. Her features were hidden in the dimness. Her eyes. deep in pools of shadow, were opened wide. It seemed to Asa Heshel that he had experienced all this before. He heard himself say:
“I longed for you very much.”
The girl quivered. There was a movement in her throat, as though she were swallowing something.
“I too,” she answered. “From the beginning.

Edvard Munch, The Lonely Ones (Two People), 1895

The reason that Edvard Munch’s painting “The Kiss by the Window” came to my mind is because of its atmosphere. There is a sense of a foreboding doom, not just for Jews in Warsaw in the novel, but for Hadassah and Asa in the novel because Asa is an essentially heartless nihilist who only cares for his own needs and is ultimately a selfish person uncapable of true love. But he awoke tender feelings in Hadassah, the kind that she had never felt before, and the first step of the path of heartbrokenness is paved.There is always something foreboding about Munch’s art, especially in his paintings of lovers. They never express the pure loveliness that love can bring, but rather tackle the darker sides of love. The painting is painted in nocturnal blue shades which instantly makes it atmospheric. Two lovers are standing by the window and are merged in a kiss, merged indeed because their grimace-like faces are melting one into another, but not in that typical romantic notion of being “as one”, but in a much gloomier way which hints at more disturbing things. Lovers merging and becoming one may carry connotations of loosing oneself, disappearing, loosing one’s identity. In Asa’s case, he is a good representation of this fear and throughout the novel he always kept himself to himself in a way that would prevent him from truly connecting with another, and it is quite sad. From Munch’s painting “The Kiss by the Window” to his painting “The Lonely Ones (Two People)”; this is the love path of Asa and Hadassah and upon reading the novel again I find myself mourning over Hadassah’s choices, her devotion and adoration, all for Asa who was most unworthy of it all.

Marc Chagall: Something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover

18 Dec

“Something in the way she movesAttracts me like no other loverSomething in the way she woos me”

Marc Chagall, Les Amoureux, 1928

These days I am not merely thinking about Marc Chagall’s artworks – I am living in them, and oh my, what a wonderful place to live in. In particular, I am enjoying gazing at his painting “The Lovers” from 1928. The painting, as suggested in the title, shows two lovers lost in an embrace, floating somehere in the sky, somewhere in the world of their own. The motif of lovers is something that pervades Chagall’s canvases. While the woman is gazing in the distance, the man’s head is leaned on her shoulder, as if seeking comfort. She is looking into the future and he is holding onto her. The crimson colour of the woman’s dress is echoed by the fuchsia coloured background and in the colour of the roses on the right side of the painting. A blue sky with a large full moon and a bird flying by is seen emerging from the bottom right side of the canvas.

Chagall’s lovers don’t live in the real, material, tangible world around us, no, they live in the realm of love, in the soft, feathery, fragrant and sweet clouds of love. Dancing in the sky in the rhythm of each other’s hearts, floating through the night sky like shooting stars. Even when the space around the lovers is real, with its little cottages, wooden fences, cows, goats, fiddlers and mud, this ugly banality is transformed and transcended, it is as if the lovers are completely untouched by it all. It’s like threading over the fresh snow and leaving no footprints. In Chagall’s art the “down to earth” and “dreamy” meet and collide in a perfect way. Chagall is the most tender-hearted man in the world of art and his innocent, imaginative and childlike vision of the world is obvious in his canvases. The figure that always haunts his art is the slender figure of a black haired woman; his beloved wife Bella Rosenfeld.

1917-18-marc-chagall-the-promenadeMarc Chagall, The Promenade, 1917-18

Their early days of love are captured in a series of paintings such as “Birthday”, “Promenade” and “Over the Town”. There is a playful innocence and a pure display of affections in these paintings that chimes with me so well. Chagall takes the phrase “floating in the air” quite literally because in these paintings the lovers are flying indeed; the power of their love is so strong that not even gravity can stop it.”The Promenade” shows Chagall and Bella having a picnic on a meadow outside town but then suddenly Bella is flying in the air like a pink ballon. Chagall is holding her hand but he too will quickly rise into the clouds following his darling. Painting “Over the Town” shows an embracing couple flying above the little houses of the little town which is now too small to contain the vastness of the love that they feel. The houses and the landscape under them both seem faded, as if seen in a dream or in a memory, painted in shades of grey. Only that one house is red, like a crimson red heart pulsating in the rhythm of love.

“Over the Town” is a painting which thematically and aesthetically goes hand in hand with Chagall’s painting “Birthday” painted in 1915; both paintings show lovers magically lifted from the ground by the power of love, the power against which all the mundane things in life suddently seem gray and irrelevant. When I gaze at this paintings, these lovers which all have faces like Chagall and Bella, the lyrics of the Beatles’ song “Something” come to mind;

Something in the way she movesAttracts me like no other loverSomething in the way she woos meI don’t want to leave her nowYou know I believe and how

Somewhere in her smile she knowsThat I don’t need no other loverSomething in her style that shows meI don’t want to leave her nowYou know I believe and how

You’re asking me will my love grow
I don’t know, I don’t know
You stick around, now it may show
I don’t know, I don’t know…

Marc Chagall, Birthday, 1915

I can imagine Chagall gazing at Bella and musing to himself “something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover, something in the way she woos me…” In the painting “Birthday” it is Chagall who is flying above Bella though she too is about to join him soon. Again we see the everyday transformed into the wonderful; a simple room, Bella in her everyday clothes, yet there is magic, the magic of love which transforms everything. Bella wrote about this feeling which Chagall so beautifully portrays in his paintings: “I suddenly felt as if we were taking off. You too were poised on one leg, as if the little room could no longer contain you. You soar up to the ceiling. Your head turned down to me, and turned mine up to you… We flew over fields of flowers, shuttered houses, roofs, yards, churches.” In most paintings Bella is portrayed as wearing the same clothes she would have been wearing everyday and on the photos which exists of her, and the town we see is their hometown of Vitebsk in Belorus. Both of these elements bring a domestic kind of familiarity which becomes magical and sweet when Chagall portrays it.

Marc Chagall, Over the Town, 1913

The love at first sight between Bella and Chagall started in 1909 when a beautiful daughter of a rich jeweller met the poor and aspiring painter who worked as an apprentice for Leon Bakst and it lasted for thirty five years until Bella, sadly, passed away three months shy of her forty-nineth birthday in 1944. In his autobiography “My Life”, Chagall writes of Bella: “Her silence is mine, her eyes mine. It is as if she knows everything about my childhood, my present, my future, as if she can see right through me; as if she has always watched over me, somewhere next to me, though I saw her for the very first time. I knew this is she, my wife. Her pale colouring, her eyes. How big and round and black they are! They are my eyes, my soul.”

Bella, although seemingly a quiet, pale and withdrawn girl, was enthusiastic about Chagall as well, and later wrote about being mesmerised by his ethereal pale blue eyes: “When you did catch a glimpse of his eyes, they were as blue as if they’d fallen straight out of the sky. They were strange eyes … long, almond-shaped … and each seemed to sail along by itself, like a little boat. She also wrote of their first meeting: I was surprised at his eyes, they were so blue as the sky … I’m lowering my eyes. Nobody is saying anything. We both feel our hearts beating.

Marc Chagall and Bella in Paris, 1938

Marc Chagall and Bella, c 1920

Chagall’s paintings reflect his way of thinking, he said; “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.” These are painting created from the heart, indeed. There is no logic, rationality or coldness about his art. Even when he paints in the Cubist manner, his squares and rectangles are not harsh but somehow still coated in the colour of dreams. Chagall had no interest in Cubism and Impressionist and was of an opinion that art is the “state of the soul.”

Marc Chagall, Lovers in Pink, 1916

Marc Chagall, Grey Lovers, 1917

When I am in love I live not in real world but in Chagall’s paintings. I am flying in the night sky and I am bathed in that gorgeous blueness. I am smiling at the stars and they are smiling back at me. Their golden dust is falling all over my white tulle dress. I am floating above the bridges, forests, meadows, flower fields, little houses with red roofs. I hear the violins, and flute, and the guitar, and I am carried away by that sweet music. I smell the violets, the roses, the lily of the valley; what sweet scents fill this warm summer night. Love is a warm summer night. My heart is overflowing with love and bursting into a thousand ruby red rose petals, and the petals fall and fall like a never-ending waterfall. I am melting into shapes, sounds and colours. I am the lilac, I am the crimson, I am the blue. I am the bird and the star. I am a rose petal carried by the wind, travelling far and far beyond. The coldness, dreariness and bleakness of winter Can.Not.Touch.Me. To live always in this way ahh that would be a life well lived. Is it possible? Is it really possible? Gazing at Chagall’s paintings makes me believe that it indeed is.

Belmiro de Almeida: I hate that sadness in your eyes, but Angie, ain’t it time we said goodbye?

16 Dec

I hate that sadness in your eyes
But Angie, Angie
Ain’t it time we said goodbye?

Belmiro de Almeida, Bad News, 1897

Brasilian painter Belmiro de Almeida is an artist that I have recently discovered and a few of his paintings I found particularly interesting these days and they are also thematically connected. Belmiro de Almeida was born in Serra in 1858 and studied in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro, but later travelled to Europe where he studied in the Academie Julian in Paris. He loved Paris so much that for the rest of his life he would live half in Brasil and half in Paris. His perhaps most famous painting is “The Spat” from 1887, which I’ll show bellow, but the one that is the most interesting to me is the one above called “Bad News”, painted in 1897. The painting shows a woman alone in a room. She is leaning over the sofa and hiding her crying face. The space around her is empty save for some furniture in the background. The circle shape of the painting is especially interesting to me, it looks as if we are gazing at her through a keyhole. This is a very intimate scene because we are seeing the delicate, vulnerable side of the woman, the side that she would otherwise hide from everyone. But she is not wearing her mask now. No, her eyes are probably puffy and her cheeks flushed, her hair disarrayed. Oh, if someone walked in on her now, the tragedy would be all hers. This intimate, informal, secretive almost mood is further accentuated by the garments that she is wearing and her long and gorgeous hair flowing freely down her back. She is alone in the room, alone with the letter which is obviously the source of all her anguish. Oh Angie, don’t you weep! How many paintings there are in art history where a single (love) letter can completely set the tone and the mood for the painting? In the paintings of Vermeer and Fragonard for example, a love letter can send one flying or can throw one into the deepest, darkest abyss. The “Bad News” from the painting’s title refers to the letter on the floor. What is in the letter? We can never know for sure, but we can guess… Perhaps the letter says:

Angie, Angie
When will those clouds all disappear?
Angie, Angie
Where will it lead us from here?
With no lovin’ in our souls
And no money in our coats
You can’t say we’re satisfied
Angie, Angie
You can’t say we never tried
Angie, you’re beautiful, yeah
But ain’t it time we said goodbye?
Angie, I still love you
Remember all those nights we cried?
All the dreams were held so close
Seemed to all go up in smoke
Let me whisper in your ear
Angie, Angie
Where will it lead us from here
Oh, Angie, don’t you weep
Oh, your kisses still taste sweet
I hate that sadness in your eyes
But Angie, Angie
Ain’t it time we said goodbye? Yeah

Belmiro de Almeida, The Spat, 1887

Painting “The Spat” shows an argument between a bourgeous couple. While the woman is shown leaning over the sofa and weeping, the man is smoking a pipe and has the most disinterested look on his face. You can almost hear the woman asking the man “Do my tears mean nothing to you, do they not pull at your heart’s strings?”, and I can imagine the man saying, “No, my darling, they do not.” He just seems so disinterested and lacking any emotion. He probably finds her crying more tedious than touching. There is an emotional distance between them and the woman pose, her turning her back on him, is not only a way of hiding her face but also perhaps a body language. There is a pink rose on the carpet on the floor, some of its petals scattered about, and the rose here, just like the letter in the previous painting, brings a sad touch to it.

Tennessee Williams: We have not long to love, A night. A day….

19 Nov

A poem that’s been on my mind these days…

Lovers, c 1850

We Have Not Long To Love

We have not long to love.
Light does not stay.
The tender things are those
we fold away.
Coarse fabrics are the ones
for common wear.
In silence I have watched you
comb your hair.
Intimate the silence,
dim and warm.
I could but did not, reach
to touch your arm.
I could, but do not, break
that which is still.
(Almost the faintest whisper
would be shrill.)
So moments pass as though
they wished to stay.
We have not long to love.
A night. A day….

Illustration for Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin by Lidia Timoshenko, 1878

Thus Perish the Memory of Our Love – John George Brown, Fragonard, Winslow Homer, Marcus Stone

17 Oct

Heart, we will forget him!

You and I, tonight!

You may forget the warmth he gave,

I will forget the light.

When you have done, pray tell me

That I my thoughts may dim;

Haste! lest while you’re lagging.

I may remember him!

(Emily Dickinson)

John George Brown, Thus Perish the Memory of Our Love, 1865

Carving names, initials or symbols into barks of the trees is a thousands of years old practice that is popular among lovers. The mention of the practice dates back to the writings of Callimachus who was a librarian in the famous library in Alexandria, the writings of Virgil and is even mentioned later in works of Shakespeare. The indiginous Moriori people of New Zealand also practiced the carving of the tree bark. But in this post we will take a look at some examples of love-related tree carving in the art of four artists; John George  Brown; Jean-Honore Fragonard, the Rococo master of frivolity and carefreeness; Winslow Homer and Marcus Stone.

The first painting in this post is a visually beautiful and striking one, but its title alone is alluring; “Thus Perish the Memory of Our Love”, painted in 1865 by the American painter John George Brown. The painting shows a young girl in the lush, vibrant yellow forest. She is turned towards us, but her downward gaze is hiding her eyes, probably glistening with tears. With her left hand she is holding onto the soft tree trunk whilst her right hand is carefully tearing away the love carving which says “W&Mary”. The light falling on her snow white skin and bare shoulders makes her seem almost angelic and pure, all alone in that soft, dreamy birch forest. The detailing on that birch bark is wonderful and birches are one of my favourite forest beauties. Their whiteness, gentleness and delicacy are in accord with those same qualities that the young lady seems to be exuding. But perished have the memories of her love. It’s over between she – Mary – and the mysterious Mr W. (perhaps William?) Oh, William, he must be thinking that it was really nothing! Nothing for him and everything for her. Now this tree is the last memory of the transient ardour shared by those two souls. From sweet hopes to bitter disillusionment, such is the trecherous, thorny path of love.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Souvenir, 1775

Fragonard’s painting “The Souvenir” is a sweet little Rococo reverie with touches of the upcoming Romanticism in the flutter of the leaves and delicacy of the trees. A young girl in a salmon pink gown with a matching pink ribbon in her hair is seen carving something into the tree. Her faithful companion, a cute little dog, is observing her all the while. The opened letter is lying on the ground; presumably from her beloved. And the words he wrote must be bursting with unbearable honey-and-ripe-fig sweetness and juicy with promises because she is enthusiastically carving her and her lover’s initials into the tree, to symbolically represent their love. The 1792 catalogue from the exhibition says that the girl in the painting is the lead character of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s novel “Julie or the New Heloise” (titled at the time as: “Letters from two lovers living in a small town at the foot of the Alps”) The background is painted in a very delicate and gentle manner with detailing of the tree branches typical for Fragonard. The way he paints trees makes them seem otherworldy, the only other example for this comes to mind in some artworks of Camille Corot. Anyhow, Fragonard’s painting is sweet and slightly sentimental, but definitely shows the merry side of love and so does our next rendition of the motif by the American painter Winslow Homer.

Winslow Homer, The Initials, 1864

Winslow Homer’s painting “The Initials” is an interesting romantic digression in his otherwise nature oriented oeuvre. The painting shows an elegant Victorian lady dressed in her beautiful blue walking attire. She is standing very near the tree and carving something into it, judging by the title, she is carving the initials of herself and her beloved. The blueness of her dress is in contrast with the almost garish orange-brownness of the woods. Visually the painting is similar John George Brown’s painting “Thus Perish the Memory of Our Love” because it shows a girl and a tree upon which something is being carved or taken down and the scenery of the backdrop is a lush forest, but Homer’s painting shares its mood of hope and romance with Fragonard’s “Souvenir”. Homer and John George Brown’s paintings are both painted around the same time, in the mid 1860s, but their ladies are dressed very diffently in these paintings. Homer’s lady seems to be dressed more appropriately for a walk in the woods, but Brown’s is more visually striking for the centre of the painting.

Marcus Stone, Love’s Daydream End, 1880

Marcus Stone’s painting strikes me as fascinating by the title alone; “Love Daydream’s End” because it implies that there is a (day)dreamy aspect to love that will inevitable fade away; wither like a flower, turn to dust like a dry moth… The girl in the painting, dressed in an elegant, white dress which brings to mind the Regency dresses from the first quarter of the century, is experiencing the same sadness and disappointment as the girl in the first painting by John George Brown. And how sombre her furrowed brow appears, how unconsolable and broken. Two hearts are seen intertwined together, carved in the tree against which the lady is leaning her sad little head, silent like a Greek muse. She experienced the very thing that The Shirelles famously sang about. One day you are carving initials or hearts in the tree and exchanging lovelorn glances, and the other you are weeping over the loss of something which but yesterday was the source of all your delights… Ah, love, what a fickle thing!

“Tonight you’re mine, completely
You give your love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
But will you love me tomorrow
Is this a lasting treasure
Or just a moment’s pleasure
Can I believe the magic in your sighs
Will you still love me tomorrow?”

(The Shirelles, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow)

Serafino Macchiati – The Break-Up

26 Sep

“But I panicked as she turned to walk awayAs she went out the door I heard her sayYes I’m in need of somethingBut it’s something you ain’t gotBut I used to love you a lot

I thought she loved me with a love that wouldn’t dieLooking at her now I can’t believe she said good-byeShe just left me standing there, I never been so shockedShe used to love me a lotShe used to love me a lot….”
(Johnny Cash, She Used to Love Me a Lot)

Serafino Macchiati, The Break-Up, 1900-05

I recently discovered this painting by the Italian painter Serafino Macchiati and I was insantly struck by its dark, murky colours and the equally dark and sad mood that they help convey. The painting is titled simply “The Break-Up” and it was painted just after Macchiati had moved to Paris. The painting shows a man and a woman in a luxurious interior. The woman is standing by the fireplace with her back turned against the man who is looking at her with a slight yearning or disbelief… The tension in the room is palpable. The space and the figures are painted in a way that makes it seem like this is a night scene and the woman’s white dress is bathed in the moonlight. The scene of this love drama, the act of breaking up, may as well have been happening at night, but perhaps the colour scheme of this painting, with its dark blues, grey and black, is more reflective of the mood in the room than than it is reflective of the actual space. It is as if the dark cloud is hanging above the room; their dark grey room is a canvas that shows their distance and tensions, and, after the lightning and thunders of the couple’s shouting and arguing, the dark cloud is now ripe and ready to release the pouring rain. What I am trying to say is that the space is more symbolic than real, and this gives it not only an aesthetical feast for the eyes, but also a variety of interpretations. Is this a real scene, or is it a distant memory? Is the woman, dressed in that gorgeous white gown, merely a ghost of a past lover, a memory of the past that is coming back to haunt the solitary man on this dreary evening. Perhaps he heard a faint ghostly rustle of a dress and all the memories suddenly came back to haunt him. There is also a curiosity as to who is breaking up with whom? I think it is the woman, for her back is turned against the man, symbolically representing her Macchiati also painted some equally dark and mystical paintings whilst in Paris titled “The Vision” and “Spiritism” and both portray the Spiritualist experiences. All in all, this painting is a visually beautiful one, and its beauty is of the poetic, lyrical kind which makes my thoughts go towards music and poetry…

Edna St. Vincent Millay: Summer Sang In Me a Little While, That In Me Sings No More

9 Sep

One of my favourite poems these days is “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why” by the American poetess Edna St. Vincent Millay, originally published in November 1920. In this poem Millay looks back at all the “lips her lips have kissed” and she tries to remember where and why those kisses have occured. She compares the beating of the rain against the window to the ghosts of her memories, or ghosts of her dead (failed) love relationships, haunting her. In her heart “there stirs a quiet pain” when she realises that she cannot remember the names or the faces of the “lads” who will not shout out for her at night. The loves, just like summer, were vibrant but transitory and fragile, and unlike summer will not return next year. I feel like this is a moment of sobering up. After being drunk on life and drunk on love, she is alone and in a wistful, reflective mood, the rain outside her only companion. Now, summer has passed, love has passed, and she compares herself to a lonely tree in winter which used to be full of birds chirping and is now solitary, with no leaves or birdnests, utterly forgotten… Where does love go when it goes away? Were the kisses, now nought but pale memories, worth it in the end?

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal, 1854, watercolour

What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.

Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

Give Me The First Six Months of Love (Michelle Gurevich)

5 Aug

I recently discovered the music of the contemporary Cannadian singer-songwriter Michelle Gurevich. As you may see from her surname, she is of Russian origin and interestingly her fan base is mostly in the Eastern Europe and Berlin. She lives in Denmark at the moment. I discovered her two songs “Lovers are Strangers” and “The First Six Months of Love” one cloudy and rainy afternoon a week ago by serendipity but the lyrics instantly chimed with me and I found the music hypnotic. Needless to say, these two songs became the soundtrack for my gloomy summer afternoon and I still can’t get them out of my head. The foreboding lead-grey sky went so well with the music that I almost felt I was transported to another world. It was definitely one of my little ecstatic moments and so I wanted to share the song lyrics in this post and I hope you check out her music if you don’t know it already.

Lovers, shot by Paolo Roversi for Vogue Italia February 2000

You must know that moment
When the miserable world cracks open
You finally meet someone
Suddenly the chapter’s written
Six months with nothing other
Than a duvet and a jug of water
It’s a chemical jackpot babe
And we’ve got the winning number
Give me the first six months of love
Give me the first six months of love
Before the truth comes spilling out
Before you open your big mouth
One of the finest things in life
Gone on a serotonin ride
God knows I’ve waited long enough
Give me the first six months
First six months of love
Before begin the dissections
Before the therapy sessions
We danced the night we met
Now we need dancing lessons
Remember how it all began
We must not let habit set in
Come up the stairs, let’s recommence
The first six months over again
Give me the first six months of love
Give me the first six months of love
Before the truth comes spilling out
Before you open your big mouth
One of the finest things in life
Gone on a serotonin ride
Babe if we gonna stick it out

Give me the first six months
First six months of love
Give me the first six months of love
Give me the first six months of love
Before the truth comes spilling out
Before you open your big mouth
One of the finest things in life
Gone on a serotonin ride
Babe if we gonna stick it out
Give me the first six months
First six months of love

Lovers are Strangers: John Atkinson Grimshaw – Lovers on a Moonlit Lane

2 Aug
“Expressing your uncertainties
Through years of anniversaries
Then five years down the line
You’ll say: she was never my type
Lovers are strangers
There’s nothing to discuss
Hearts will be faithful
While the truth is told to someone else”

(Michelle Gurevich, Lovers Are Strangers)

John Atkinson Grimshaw, Lovers on a Moonlit Lane, 1873

John Atkinson Grimshaw was a Victorian era artist who is mostly remembered for his captivating and atmospheric paintings of nocturnal urban scenes. The pompous American expatriate Whistler said: “I considered myself the inventor of nocturnes until I saw Grimmy’s moonlit pictures”, and this is a true testament which reveals just how captivating Grimshaw’s nocturnal paintings were back in his day. Whistler wasn’t the type of person who would give praise or credit lightly. A few years ago I wrote a post about Grimshaw’s Dreary Victorian Streets where I connected the desolate, urban mood of his paintings with the music of Joy Division, but today I want to tackle a painting which is nocturnal but less urban and more romantic than his other ones.

Painting “Lovers on a Moonlit Lane” was painted in 1873, which is a decade earlier then his more famous masterpieces, though he was already thirty-seven at the time. The painting shows two lovers meeting in the moonlit lane near a forest. The tree branches point the way and the glowing full moon casts light on the face of two beloveds. The vertical canvas suits the nocturnal foresty scene because it gives space for the trees to stretch their branches into the night sky. The night scene with the hauntingly dark and tall trees brings to mind the setting of a poem or a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, but also the motif of nature in moonlight and the figures of lovers irresistibly reminds one of the painting by Caspar David Friedrich. The muted colours, blues and greys, are helpful in conveying the mood. Romanticism, like the ghost of the past, haunts this painting and gives it beauty. Distant fog and unknown paths, uncertainty of love, like frost, bites the hands and cheeks… The motif of the trees which are mostly bare, the leaves that have fallen on the frozen muddy ground and the path leading nowhere all indicate a sense of ending. Autumn is giving way to winter, the vibrant leaves of autumn have rotten and fallen on the ground, a question lingers in the air: will the flame of their love survive the winter frost, or will it perish and be forever lost?

The painting has the Tim Burtonesque “Corpse Bride” aesthetic and that is why it came to my mind when I was listening to Michelle Gurovich’s song “Lovers are Strangers” which I recently discovered. I love the lyrics of the song, but also, the music sounds like something that belong to a macabre carnival, the film “Coraline” or that fits the imagination of Tim Burton. In my mind, all of these are connected together.

Book Review: Summer of Strangers (and Other Stories) by Masao Yamakawa

4 Jul

“The woman sees herself in the sea. She calls out to that other self.
The sea took you from us, Hiroshi. Then you became one with it…I wonder, if I throw myself into the sea, will I become one with you?”

(Masao Yamakawa, The Gift of Loneliness)

Georges Lacombe, Blue Seascape, Wave Effect, 1893

We are starting this July on the blog with my little review of the short story collection called “Summer of Strangers (And Other Stories)” by the Japanese writer Masao Yamakawa which was recently translated by J.D.Wisgo. I have already written a few book reviews for short stories “The Days and Nights” and “Downfall and Other Stories” by Fumiko Hayashi, both translated by the same translator.

The author of these short stories is the Japanese writer Masao Yamakawa who was born in 1930 in Tokyo. He wrote his university thesis on Jean-Paul Sartre and worked as the editor of the literary magazine “Mita Bungaku” which is interesting because that magazine published famous Japanese authors such as Tanizaki Junichiro and Akutagawa Ryunosuke; I enjoyed the works of both of these writers immensely. Yamakawa’s short story “The Summer Procession” is one of his most well-known. Sadly, Yamakawa died at the age of thirty-four as a result of a traffic accident, but his work is popular in Japan even today. The book contrains seven stories; “The Gift of Loneliness”, “You in a Box”, “Summer of Strangers”, “The Distorted Window”, “The Summer Procession”, “No More Summers”, and “Fireworks of the Day”. Each story is presented both in the English translation and in the original form, that is, in Japanese. I think this would be very fun and useful for someone who was studying Japanese language. It was interesting for me too, I will admit it.

Photo by Mervyn O’Gorman, 1913

As you can see, each story has a title that is delicious and alluring and I found it hard to chose which one to read first! What struck me with these stories is how different they are to each other, how uniquely crafted and individualistic, not following a certain plot-formula or having repetitive, recurring motives. And also, how the stories often take a surprising turn. When I would start reading each story, I always finished reading it and feeling surprised: “whoa, I did not expect that!” That was literally my reaction and that made reading all the more fun. The first story I read was “Summer of Strangers” because the title was very inviting and I love how it contained a story within a story: the main character who lives in a coastal, touristy town is swimming one night and meets a mysterious woman and, fearing that she might intend to commit suicide by drowning, he tells her a tale that his father would tell him. This tale, although affirming the individual’s right to decide whether to live or die, ends up saving the woman’s life and changing her perspective on things.

Edvard Munch, The Lonely Ones (Two People), 1895

The second story I read was “The Gift of Loneliness” because, again, the title made me curious. The story starts with a man and a woman sitting on the beach. We find out they are a husband and a wife, but they are emotionally distant from each other… Winter time is approaching in the story and the cold, raging sea seems to mirror the coldness and turmoils that the couple is experiencing. This image of two people, joint together by love and/or marriage, but feeling distanced from one another instantly brought to mind the famous painting by Edvard Munch called “The Lonely Ones” from 1895. In the painting the man and a woman are standing on the beach, gazing at the sea. The waves crush on to the shore as the two of them stand there in silence, just one step away from each other, and yet emotionally distant. The murmur of the sea, louder than their loneliness, matches the turmoil that rises in their soul. Are they a couple who just had an argument, or two lovers who have, after being drunken with love, now sobered and realised that nothing, not even their love, will spare them the loneliness and feeling of isolation that they experience as individuals…? The mood of the story, at least in the beginning, feels similar and quickly we find out the reason behind the mood: a month ago their four-year old son Hiroshi had died, drowned in that very same sea. Here is a passage from the beginning:

It seems like Hiroshi was everything to you,” the man says, forcing a smile. “But Ryoko, you were my wife to begin with…even before you became Hiroshi’s mother.”

The man seems to be calling out to her, but the wind makes his voice difficult to hear.

The woman does not turn around. Far out in the indigo sea, a faint mist hangs in the air.

The sea churns. Surely Hiroshi has already dissolved into the ocean. A month has already passed since the waves carried off his tiny, four-year-old body. Why did we ever go to the beach in September in the first place…
(…)
The man is calling me again. My husband must be worried.

Husband? Is that really my husband? He’s like a stranger to me, a man I’ve never seen before.

Suddenly the sea screams. A powerful roar. It engulfs her.

The woman sees herself in the sea. She calls out to that other self.

The sea took you from us, Hiroshi. Then you became one with it…I wonder, if I throw myself into the sea, will I become one with you?

“Let’s head back to the hotel soon.”

The man’s hand holds her shoulder tightly. Gazing at her from the side with a cautious look in his eyes, the man’s stiff cheeks force a smile. Silly man. You actually think I would jump from here.

“I’m ok. Let go of me,” the woman says. “If I wanted to die, I would have been dead long ago.”

Through the characters’ conversations and visual imagery, the story beautifully captures the sadness of loosing a child, and, as the title suggests, it brings a thought-pondering idea about loneliness being a gift, giving someone some time and space out of love as a gift.

Tanigami Konan (1879-1928), Dahlia, 1917

First and last pictures here by Magdalena Lutek (Nishe)

“I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they’re real
I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you
That I almost believe that the pictures are all I can feel”

(The Cure, Pictures of You)

The story that especially surprised me the way it turned out to be is “You in a Box” because at first we are presented with a shy, withdrawn, slightly socially awkward woman whose coyness reaches such levels that she cannot even look a man in the eye, but as the story unfolds we discover that her shy, frightened demeanour hides an entirely different nature; twisted passions and a distrust, a fear of any relationship with people, with men in particular. The story begins with her strolling around park, meeting a stranger – a tourist and taking his picture, but this innocent start mustn’t fool you because things turn deadly very quickly…

I especially found this inner monologue of hers chilling: “Darling, I’m really sorry about killing you…but just deal with it, ok? You see, I’m scared of the living. I can’t predict what they’ll do, and people who are alive will never truly become mine. In this form, you’re very obedient and will never betray me. Now there’s no reason for us to hide things from each other. I’m sure that you aren’t lonely either. Let’s live together like this forever, happily ever after…” While I was reading the story my perception of who is the predator and who I should hate and fear changed almost instantly as the events in the story unfolded.

Even though the story is very short, the character of the woman in it is very psychologically complex and the story left me feeling haunted for days. At first she struck me as a creepy horror film character, but as this sensation subsided, I came to see the woman as a deeply lonely individual and the story shows how intense loneliness, isolation, and distrust of people can lead to harrowing acts of aggresion. In a way, the woman in the story reminded me of the character Etsuko from Yukio Mishima’s novel “Thirst for Love”; she is also a shy, private person but her calm exterior hides rage and an obsessive love which turns deadly.

I enjoyed all the stories in the book, but this post would be too long to mention them all so I just mentioned the ones that struck me the most. All in all, if you love short stories and Japanese literature, I am sure you will enjoy these shorts stories. You can check out the translator’s word on his blog: Self Taught Japanese and Goodreads page.

This book is available here on Amazon.