Monday, February 28, 2011

Beauty in White

(Meditation, Adolphe William Bouguereau, 1901, Cincinnati Museum of Art)

We lock eyes - she and I.

Well, almost.

In truth, this dark haired beauty is glancing just over my left shoulder.

I quickly decide that's a good thing.

She won't be paying attention to me as I stare at her in wonder.

Wispy tendrils spring in wild abandon from those long brunette locks.

A tumble of hair travels across her left shoulder and ends in the middle of her modest chest.

My eyes fall on the fingers of her left hand - entwined as they are in those delicate curls.

Then I glance at her right hand and I am hopelessly entranced.

The life-looking modeling of her flesh is exquisite.

Her pink tinged fingers seem to be kissed with just the perfect drop of coral.

I study the barely there blues of her veins.

A mix of ivory hues on the backs of her hands makes those fingers and veins appear transparent.

Surely, this beauty has been brought to life by the hands of a master.

There can be no other explanation.

I love light.


I crave light.

And I come alive whenever I see soft blues and glistening whites parading into that light.

She wears a gauzy white gown.

It shimmers softly in the mountain breeze.

Our beauty has rosebud lips.

A heart shaped face.

And a Grecian nose - classic to the core.

But it is those deep brown eyes that melt us.

She stands in the midst of divine nature.

A goddess of ethereal delights - come to visit us from afar.

There was a time - not long ago - when Beauty's loveliness would have been hidden from our view.

She might have been relegated to the back room of an art museum.

Or perhaps a long forgotten closet in a patron's home.

Her creator, William Adolphe Bouguereau, eventually fell out of artistic favor.

With his peers.

And then with the masses.

"Too sentimental," they said.

Too old school.

It was time for something new.

And so the French Impressionists made their debut.

Beauty took her bow and left the stage.

Hard to believe, isn't it?

But like any good, garden-variety goddess, Beauty would not be ignored.

Years later, after the Impressionists had had their due, she and her master were rediscovered.

And for all of the reasons she had been created in the first place.

Human beings can be fickle to the bone.

Worse yet.......

there are times when we simply refuse to see the light.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Riding the Rails: Part Six

(Pont Neuf, Paris:  Afternoon Sunshine; Camille Pissarro; 1901; Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Finally, the warden makes a personal appearance at our cell.

He steps in and says, "We will be in Paris in five minutes. Please prepare for departure."

I thank God for letting me live long enough to savor this moment.

I want to jump up and smear sloppy, wet kisses over every inch of the warden's skinny little head.

But I restrain myself because I don't feel like finishing up this day in a French jail cell.

The warden turns on his heels, exits and hastily echoes the news up and down the corridor.

Matt looks at us and says, "The United States government has finally decided to spring us. The Secretary of State has just finished her negotiations with the French powers that be. We are free, people, we are free!"

We are free and we are filthy.

All I want in this whole world is a a nice warm shower.

"In due time," I tell myself, " all in due time."

(It's not nice to brag but I gotta say that I'm totally impressing myself here with this incredible practice of patience!)

We gather our coats, books, and personal items quickly and throw them into our bags.

When I use the word "throw," I mean that literally.

This is no time to concern ourselves with the fine art of packing.

As we exit the cell, I gaze fondly at the gigantic pile of trash spilling out of the tiny metal waste bin.

I glance into our lavatory as we line up with our fellow trainmates in the corridor.

Massive piles of wet paper towels are everywhere - on the sink, on the floor, on the open commode.

Two are stuck to the mirror.

Who knows what forms of nastiness are lurking on, under and around those towels?

I quickly channel Scarlett O'Hara and decide to think about that tomorrow.

There - I feel better already.

I glance at my watch.

The time is 5:40 p.m.

We have been cooped up on this train for nearly 24 mind numbing hours.

Slowly, we shuffle up the corridor and then arrive at the open exit door of our car.

Greedily, I suck in all the air my lungs will take.

Fresh air surrounds me as I step down and lower myself onto the platform of the train station.

Fresh air?

In a train station?


In a train station.

The air quality and quantity out here beats anything we've inhaled in the last day.

The crowds thin out as we walk up the lengthy platform.

I can actually stretch my legs and I can actually move them!

And I am immediately grateful.

Courtesy stewards in bright blue uniforms greet us with cold bottles of water and hot-out-of-the oven pastries.

For some mysterious reason, only the passengers from our train are invited to indulge in these treats.

Matt grabs a butter/raisin pastry from the cart as we fly by.

He says to me, "This is really good! You should get one."

My eagle eye is busy sizing up a chocolate croissant.

(Some things never change.)

But Matt convinces me to make a last second switch-a-roo.

I cram the raisin pastry into my mouth.

Oh, my stars!

It's like eating a warm cloud of sweet, buttery silkiness.

"You are so right!" I shout to Matt.

Minutes later, we jump in the first available taxi and enjoy our early evening ride through the streets of Paris.

Matt and Tara are seeing everything for the first time.

We drive parallel to the Seine and pass Notre Dame which is especially beautiful at night.

Powerful spotlights illuminate the cream-colored stone of the cathedral in the deep blue shadow of nightfall.

Seconds later, we pass the beloved bridge, Pont Neuf, immortalized by literary and artistic figures since it was first begun in 1578.

We see the Eiffel Tower in the distance - thousands of twinkling white lights cover the iron masterpiece.

Our hotel is just two blocks away from this French icon and I can't wait to see it up close and personal again.

We speed past the lavish Alexander III bridge - given to the city of Paris by the Russian people.

Tara turns to me and says, "This place is just beautiful!"

I reply, "Always! Paris is the most gorgeous city in the world. Now you see why they call it the 'City of Lights.'"

Our rooms at the hotel are tiny.

For a split second, we wonder whether we will be able to stash our bags anywhere inside them.

The shower is old and the space is tight, to put it politely.

The carpet has definitely seen its better day.

But as far as I'm concerned, this place rivals any room in Buckingham Palace.

Need I mention that I'm a fresh escapee from the train hotel?

That'll put things into perspective for ya!

The four of us walk to a small neighborhood Italian restaurant.

The lights are bright, the decor is contemporary and the people are lively.

We dine on grilled veggies, tomato-laced spaghetti, baguette slices drenched in olive oil, parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar.

We top off the meal with chocolate mousse.

I enjoy every delicious bite.

And I am thankful.

We talk and we laugh.

Leaving the restaurant, we stroll a short distance.

Rounding the corner at the end of the block, we turn and stare up at the majestic Eiffel Tower.

Its nearness is overpowering.

The lights of this bejeweled edifice shimmer in the evening moonlight.

Soon we stand beneath the tower and gaze up into its brightly lit belly.

Matt says, "This thing is huge!"

I say, "It's a lot bigger than I thought it would be!"

Bob and I take pictures of Matt and Tara in the freezing night air beside the glowing tower.

As they return the favor and snap pictures of us, I think to myself, " I wonder who will be taking the train hotel back to Madrid tonight? One thing I know for sure - it won't be us!"

Sometimes life just gets super spectacular, doesn't it?

And I am grateful.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Riding the Rails: Part Five

(Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil; Claude Monet; 1874; Philadelphia Museum of Art)

I bask in my neurotic fantasies for quite some time. 

Eventually, I realize that facts must be faced.

Bob gently opens the door to our cell.

We see that Matt and Tara are reading on their trays.

Bob and I return to our perches and grab our books.

An abrupt knock on the door soon interrupts our reading marathon.

Matt swings the door open and stares at the warden who quickly enters the room.

The warden and Matt begin talking in Spanish.

Matt translates for us as they converse.

Mysteries unfold as Matt explains that an electric cable on top of the train snapped last night.

Train personnel attempted to repair it but they did not have the proper parts.

The current holdup is this: We are waiting for new parts to arrive from Paris.

The warden adds that the parts are due to arrive at any time.

He says that it will take minutes to install the parts and then we will be moving again.

The warden saves the best news for last:

The train company will reimburse each passenger 100% of their ticket fee due to this delay disaster.

That information spares the warden's life.

We smile weakly and thank him for his kindness.

We have now been stuck on the tracks for eight blissful hours.

I dig into my truffles to appease myself.

Gallantly, I share the very last chocolates with my companions.

Suddenly, the train jerks to life.

I am grateful for every forward spin those pretty little wheels make!

I promise myself that I will not whine about this train or anything related to it ever again.

We roll through the countryside for over an hour.

Then the unthinkable happens.

The train comes to a dead stop at 2:30 p.m.

We sit still on the tracks (inside the train, of course) wondering, worrying and waiting.

The warden is wisely making himself scarce.

Very scarce.

Just like the rest of us, he wants to live to see Paris.

That promise I made to myself about not whining?

Out the window faster than the fastest Formula One race car at the Indy 500.

We hear rumors that the train is picking up supplies at Bordeaux where we are stopped.

As if by magic, box lunches are delivered to our cell thirty minutes later.

The meals are nearly inedible.

The curried chicken and rice looks like it was cooked 30 years ago.

Cautiously, I place a fork full in my mouth.


They must have put this stuff together when the pharaohs were ruling Egypt.

With quiet resignation, my cellmates and I accept this latest turn of events.

Have I finally accepted the fact that no amount of whining, complaining or use of sarcasm will change a thing about this rail ride to Paris?

I would not bet my last dime on it.

But as long as there is life there is hope.

So we busy ourselves as best we can.

Matt plays games on his iphone.

Tara and I watch old sit-coms on her ipod.

Bob reads and takes a snooze.

I take out my French language guide and brush up on some basics.

I teach everyone how to say: "je voudrais" ( zhuh voo-dray) which means "I would like."

I personally feel that this is the most important phrase in any language.

Example: Je voudrais A CHOCOLATE CROISSANT.

Or perhaps: Je voudrais A CHOCOLATE CREPE.

Possibly: Je voudrais THAT DIAMOND BRACELET.

Well, you get my drift.

An hour passes and mercifully we are moving again.

We are still three and a half hours away from Paris.

But who's counting?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Riding the Rails: Part Four

(Snowscape with Cows, Montfoucault;  Camille Pissarro; 1874, High Museum of Art, Atlanta)

I hear people talking out in the corridor.

It seems to be a mixture of Spanish and French.

With just enough English thrown in to make things comprehensible.

The voices are not happy.

The warden is fielding questions and doing his best to keep the troops from revolting.

Sun is pouring into our cell from the tiny window over the sink.

My watch says 12:30.

Hallelujah, I have actually been sleeping!

For probably a good six hours - maybe more.

The fog begins to clear from my brain.

I realize that the train is not moving.

One glance out the window tells me that we are not in Paris.

I gaze over at Tara who is reading.

Matt is not in our cell.

Neither is Bob.

I ask Tara, "What is going on?"

She answers, "Something happened to the train last night. That's why we're stopped on the tracks."

I waste no time giving her a detailed rundown of my harrowing night.

Tara replies, "That must have been scary. I didn't hear a thing."

"I know - all three of you were sleeping like possums in a hollar."

Our cell door opens.

Bob and Matt are back with the latest news from the front lines.

Matt says, "They've locked everybody in on the train."

I stare at him incredulously.

"WHAT did you say?" I ask.

"They've locked us all in. Nobody is allowed to get off the train. The warden says it's for passenger safety."

"Is that right? How very thoughtful of them!" I say sarcastically.

My patience is growing thin.

In fact, it's downright threadbare.

I realize that I've got to get out of this cell right now.

I open the door and push myself into the corridor.

People are wandering through the car sharing bits of gossip.

Then I spy the warden.

Someone stops him and says, "I just heard that the dining car has run out of food. Is that true?"

"Yes, sir, it is true. But we are doing all we can to solve the problem. We will let you know when we have further information."

No food?


Let's see now........

I learned a few minutes ago that I am a prisoner on this train.

Now I discover that I've been upgraded to starving prisoner status.

Instantly, my mind goes to work: "You've still got the chocolate truffles in your carry-on."

I snicker to myself, "This is exactly why I never go anywhere without my stash of chocolate. Maybe I'm going to die on this train. The odds are mounting in that direction. If that happens, may my last breath on earth reek of chocolate!!!"

I turn and stare out the window of the corridor.

I'm looking at a snow covered farm bathed in French sunlight.

It is a picture perfect scene.

There's just one little problem.


I should be in Paris eating chocolate croissants under the Eiffel Tower.


I should be in the Louvre staring at Guido Reni's rapturous painting: "Christ Giving the Keys to Peter."


I should be eating a to-die-for veggie pizza at my favorite neighborhood restaurant in Paris - Pizza Pino - complete with a maitre d' dressed to the nines in a tux and black tie.

Later, I should be walking along the sunny Seine River, gazing at the noble Notre Dame in the far distance.

But I am not doing any of those things.

Reality sets in as Bob joins me at the window.

"It's a beautiful morning, isn't it?," he asks.

"I guess so," I answer grumpily.

He adds, "There's not much we can do to fix this situation so we might as well enjoy what we can of it."

"Oh, give me a bloomin' break!" I think to myself.

I hate people who are always looking for the silver lining in the middle of a tornado-type cloud.

I'm not a positive person and I'm proud of it!

I love to dwell in negativity.

I always prepare for the worst.

Then when the worst happens, it's never as bad as I thought it would be.

That's what I call positive thinking!

I look at Bob and whine, "The only thing I want to enjoy is the beautiful city of Paris!"

He smiles at me and says, "And you will. It's just a matter of time."

My mouth falls open in disgust, "Time??? Hey, we're burnin' daylight here! And I'm old. I don't have that much daylight left to burn!"

I decide to continue bathing myself in a boatload of self-pity for several minutes.

There's one thing I'll say about the Bobster.

He knows when to back off.

EXACTLY when to back off.

And why shouldn't he?

He's had plenty of practice.

In fact, he's made a science out of the art of backing off.

Living with me will do that to you.

Besides, he happens to enjoy living.

Which is more than I can say for myself at this particular moment.

I stare out the window and think to myself, "As soon as we get home, I'm going to start a new organization called 'POSITIVELY NEGATIVE THINKERS.'

And guess who will be in charge?

That's right!

Little ole me.

There will be a new world order.

Only negativity will be allowed to exist and flourish.

Oh, and all of you unwashed masses?

You will please refer to me as your QUEEN.

Let the nightmares begin!