Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Untroubled Paradise


My mother's favorite painter was Paul Gauguin and those moody, strange tropical paradises hung in her bedroom, two framed posters that I bought for her birthday when I was a teenager, until she died. I didn't know anything about Paul Gaugin except that he was a genius and could paint one hell of a mango. When I got older, I learned his story, that he had left his wife, four children, and job as a banker for the South Pacific to live where he could "eat only fruit and fish for free." (The free part is how you know he was an artist even before he became successful.) He'd been a weekend painter before the move, his weekend painter friends being Van Gogh and Cezanne. In Tahiti, he took many girls to be his mistress and the most famous one that he painted over and over had a name that meant "untroubled paradise."

One cannot live in paradise, which I suppose is the point of it. His young mistress suffered night terrors and miscarriages and being infected with venereal disease by the great painter. The island was far away from everything he knew and so it became the thing he knew. My mother's bedroom became her sick room, became softer and softer to cushion the increasing difficulty of her life. There were tiny stuffed animals surrounding her television, prayer cards on the dresser, sweatshirts in the closet. It wasn't at all like her near the end, the her she had been. The most violent transformations can take place anywhere. But the Gauguin reproductions remained, a remnant of the old life, a paradise framed with bamboo. It wasn't untroubled, but something of it had lasted.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"I shut my eyes in order to see. " Paul Gauguin

Untroubled Paradise

1 shot of mango vodka
1 shot of raspberry vodka
1 splash of raspberry liqueuer

Serve chilled in a martini glass.

Benedictions and Maledictions

The Heat Outside

At the baths in Hot Springs, a skinny woman
in a sheet tells me she passed out her mother’s face
on flyers, begging people to pray that she would live.
I made a thousand copies and stood on the corner
until they were gone.
We lay in on top of tables like corpses,
waiting for the hot towels, placed wherever we hurt.
The attendant gives us hot water to drink, and we
stomach what we can, hoping to make our insides match
the heat outside. Before long, we gather our things. The woman
asks me to hand her a huge black purse. I was tired
of not having enough room for all my garbage
, she says
with the saddest smile. It’s lighter than I would have
imagined, a deflated thing she slings over her shoulder
out of habit before she starts off for whatever might be next.

12 comments:

paul said...

O Mighty Isis Im awake, all ready to look at the mirrir mirror. Rock on Pretty Lady R2 C2!

Troy said...

I like the look of this shot. Great reflection.

John Ricci said...

Dear Michelle,
Tahiti, you say? Now there is a dreamy escape for two. And I updated my passport already.
How about you? Another toast is in order. To you, the lovely one, bravo!

Hopeless in Bloomfield Hills said...

Dear Michelle's Spells,

I haven't checked in for a long time because I am ashamed. I went back to the married guy and things aren't good. I saw Matchpoint, though, and realized some stuff. Please don't hate me. I need your help! Hopeless in Bloomfield Hills

Anonymous said...

I like the whole Impressionist movement, including Gaugin. They were all transformers, from the peaceful dedication of Monet to the often violent vision of Van Gogh.

Anonymous said...

"The Heat Outside" is, of course, the heat inside. We all travel with death, but try to make it sleep as quietly as possible in the back seat.

R's Musings said...

Speaking of death, didn't Gaugin commit suicide? Why does that happen so often with very talented artists?

Anonymous said...

I'll make you forget you ever had stripes, Michelle.

Anonymous said...

Stay away from mirrors, Michelle! Switch to lamps.(See Meyer H. Abrams' "The Mirror and the Lamp.")

Anonymous said...

In answer to Robin's question, they become too big for their britches and can't find the right size pants, which drives them up the wall and into the oven, like what's her name.

Sheila said...

all the talented ones die before their time... why is that?

R's Musings said...

P.S. Very cool photo!

Hopeless in Bloomfield Hills,
Shame is a powerful feeling, isn't it? Don't let it keep you stuck where you are. Nobody hates you...except you. You unknowingly got yourself into this tough situation, but you can, and will, work your way out of it. It's not going to be easy, but the realizations you got from the movie are your first step. Just keep going!