11 October 2010
The Dream of Paris/Buddhas du Musée Guimet
11 octobre, 2010
The Dream of Paris
Six weeks in Paris at the Cité Internationale des Arts: a dream that was planted in me 50 years ago like a seed in the fertile womb of my hyperactive imagination. From my first televised French lesson —sitting with my third-grade classmates in the auditorium of Dossin Elementary School, Detroit, 1959—I knew my destiny. It was as clear to me as the bolt of white light that shot down through my body eight years later: that moment I knew I would devote my life to dance. Two conceptions, immaculate, pure, and beautifully, passionately realized in one lifetime. What good fortune! Is this about the momentum from the running start I received in a previous incarnation, landing me feet first on the shores of this planet--in one seamless transition-- from that life as a light dancer surfing the aurora borealis? Or am I just damn lucky? All hell could break loose at any moment, but so far, this life’s brought me to exactly where I want to be: a 4th floor walk -up looking out over the double spires of Notre Dame and to the right, the Tour Eiffel lit up like a Tiffany's window at Christmas, its searchlight cutting through a black sky filled with diamond dust.
Staring ahead at the small TV set that had been rolled out onto the stage, we recited after Madame … as she held up pictures and introduced us to a child’s life in Paris. That fateful fall, I became obsessed with the chateaux de la Loire and everything français. For Christmas, all I wanted was a French songbook and a beret. (It was that September that I had also began playing the violin—My mother had insisted I choose between my dance lessons and participating in the stringed instrument program at school, under the extraordinary guidance of Detroit’s finest teacher, Ara Zerounian. I had been tested for my musical ability and told that I had a "good ear". What a concept. Yes, I could hold a tune and read music...)
A snapshot in a family photo album with warn, crinolated edge, taken on my father’s camera, shows me standing among my three brothers in front of the Christmas tree, songbook rolled up in my hands, my new beret perched on my little head, my lips pressed together, with a studied look on my face. And Bobby, Timmy and Danny are next to me in full character, eyes wide, wearing matching cowboy outfits: fringed vests, hats, chaps, and pistols in both hands aimed at the camera.
Walking along the Seine today, the blazing sun shimmering up off the river, I thought for an instant that this all was illegal, that I was an outlaw, getting away with the biggest hooky scam of my life. Surely there was someone on my tail, just waiting to hand me the summons, the bill on the stolen credit cards, my sentence. Damn. I’m not in third grade anymore, and this isn’t Kansas. But then a big smile crept across my mug, and I wondered if anyone coming towards me on the street noticed my shit-eating grin. How many times this past six weeks I’ve shivered, shook and giggled out loud at the sheer audacity of my joy.
The sense of entitlement that comes with this constant state of intoxication sometimes wears thin, as when the woman at the billeterie of the Pompidou would not accept my Cité museum pass this afternoon. How dare she?! I walked out not the broad cobbled plaza indignant, but determined not to let her spoil my groove. So I wandered instead towards the Église St. Eustache; I’d read of it that morning in my Fodor’s. Once inside, the towering stone arches, scooped out above me like a telescopic view of the inside of my skull, got me so high I had to sit down and ground myself. Prismatic reflections from the stained glass windows grazed along the chalk-white walls of the church, guided gently along by the sun’s path. I thought about man’s first awareness of such altitude, of being sheltered by something yet still so high up: of constellations on the black inner dome of a night sky, shadows from a fire reaching towards the upper reaches of a mammoth cave, a tunnel of high oaks over a country road, a father’s hand on his child’s head, the kid standing there knee high, looking up at everything in his new world: the rough roof of his humble hut, the deep glow in his mother’s eyes. God’s grandeur, indeed: enough to make a believer of any fool.
Sitting here at the desk in my apartment, I peer out through a screen of plane trees still in leaf. Yesterday at Luxembourg Gardens, I marveled at the dappled glittering of yellow leaves blown diagonally in one shimmering sheet by a gust, something a film director would wait on for weeks just to get right. While a video renders itself into digital gigabytes on my laptop, I multitask and write these words to some unknown reader, not knowing to whom I address these thoughts. But then if I were to worry about that, it would no longer be the destiny that drove me towards this; rather, some false hope of fame or fortune. Yes, while here, I make my daily video, uploaded and embedded into a journal on my website --for anyone to access. The question remains: how eagerly do I broadcast myself, make known to the world the digital imprints cast onto YouTube, like the stained glass cartoons cast onto the cathedral walls? Or are they monk’s illuminations, made for an exclusive few, more meditation than product for a museum installation?
I look up at a square postcard I’ve scotch-taped to my wall over my desk: a Mandala du dieu Vajrâmrita , Tibet, XVI century. How many eyes have peered into that circle, a celestial dome within a dome, or a cutaway view downwards into depths unfathomable, or a 3-D movie, gateways in four directions leading us inwards, outwards, or are we ever really free of this wheel of life, its demons, its dreaming, until our last breath?
I walk the streets of Paris as if it is heaven on earth. Loneliness, illness and injury will threaten me like the grimacing Tibetan gods who gnash their teeth and swallow souls whole. But I do not listen to their roars, forever echoing in the voices and traffic, or the babbling homeless men playing out their nightly passions below my window. I invite them in. Like the gargoyles on Notre Dame, scowling down at the police in camouflage holding rifles to their chests while they patrol for terrorists, nothing moves. They are stilled by time, by my wish for this joy never to end, by this dream of Paris that keeps on going, long into a night alone, waiting for my partner to join me in a few week’s time. Nor will they threaten me at pre-dawn, when I awake too excited to sleep and eager to rise, to stretch my aging bones across the floor, to pause in silence, to make my coffee and sit to write these words.
About Buddhas du Musée Guimet:
The video du jour is, like many others in this series, largely an impression of the wealth of imagery found in another fabulous Paris museum. Le Musée Guimet is chock full of Asian art plundered (or preserved, rescued from further ruin?) by French archeologists and rich men in the mid to late 1800s from the temple ruins of Cambodia, India, China. and surrounding countries. My jaw was literally hanging open in awe of the sculptures, temple paintings, wood carvings and most of all, the porcelain glazed with the lovely pearlescent green celadon. Unbelievable. I was reminded of the relative newness of everything American… and of how these civilizations had evolved extraordinary arts, crafts, literature and religion long before the western European cultures. Not that they had figured out democracy or anything other than a cruel class system of the wealthy, peasants and something pretty close to slave labor. I also was emotionally moved by the faces of the buddhas and by the turbulent, often violent imagery of gods, of the agony of bardo, of death and rebirth. The score, from the Funkadelics, was something I’d stored on my iTunes because I loved the wailing electric guitar line. And there is something very 60's about the video. Yes, I know it’s illegal to use such music without permission, but it was perfect for the piece! And if YouTube asks me to remove it, I will be very Buddhist about it and remove it with a smile. Click here.