“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Day 36: Still Life, with Dog

When the phone rings we are just leaving the surrealism wall.  We've been in the twentieth century all morning and are about to time-leap back to the eighth century to see Indian sandstone Buddhas and goddesses, although we don't know this yet.

"Dr. Bravo wants to know if you can meet with her at 1:45."

It's 12:19.  We are at the National Gallery in Ottawa, killing time.  This winter with Zoe I have wanted each day to feel like three.  But not chemo days.

"We can be there," I say.  "You don't have any specific information, do you?"

But I should know better than to ask this question.

Last time Dr. Bravo wanted to meet face to face about Zoe's lung x-rays and blood work, we expected the worst.  But instead, the news was fantastic.  (See Day 15: (Minor) Miracle on Bank Street for the story.)

We have another half hour until we need to leave, find the parking garage, and drive back to the animal hospital which is out near the airport.  A half hour to make the most of being in this wonderful art gallery.

When news you fear but need is imminent, how "present" can you be in the interim? Especially in a museum, which lends itself too well to time-travel and reflection?  All I can think of is my dog on a perfect summer day in the South of France, lounging on a terrace in the sun.

Today, after the call, everything we see is laden with way too much meaning.  After the Indian sacred art, which fits uncannily into an essay I'm writing this week, we are transported back again to France.  Here is one of Pissarro's famous paintings of Rouen, which I copied for my students to see in Rouen these past two winters. And there's a Monet of the sublime, hole-in-the-wall Norman seascape of Étretat.  When Zoe lived in Rouen with us we saw views on our walks of the Seine like the one Pissarro captured of the port.  And we took her up to Étretat, twice.

Then we see a Fauve painting from 1905.  The place Fauvism was born, Collioure, is one of our favorite villages in France.  It's south, on the Mediterranean, where Catalan flavors abound.  When we took Zoe there she sat under the table hoping scraps of lunch would fall into her mouth.

Catalan food is typical Mediterranean with olive oil, garlic, tomato

 Then come all the still-lifes.  Courbet painted bowls of peaches and apples as his only source of joy and inspiration whfen he served time in prison.  He was locked up for his participation in the 1871 Commune uprising and his sister brought him some fruit to turn into art.  Her name was Zoe.

Still-life, in French, is nature-morte.  As a reflexive Francophile, I often like the French version of a word better than its Anglo-Saxon counterpart, but not in this case.  Nature-morte, dead nature, makes me think of vivisection.  I picture dead and bloody pheasants on a string, the fruits of someone's hunting expedition.  A pinned butterfly.

Still life is life, beating still.  It's when the fruit is ripe.  Grapes. Apples.  Oranges.  A vase of tulips and daffodils.  It's the photo of you on that picnic, impossibly young and happy.  A moment becomes a monument and lives forever and ever.

"It's still good news, mostly," Dr. Bravo says when we find her in the consult room.  "Zoe's condition is stable."  She shows us the x-rays.  One lung had a module in early December.  It was gone three weeks ago, and is still gone today.  But the other lung had three "little guys" last time, and they're still there.

"It still means the drug is fighting the cancer, doesn't it?" my husband asks.  "If left to their own devices, nodules like this . . ."

"I've seen them double, triple in size," Dr. Bravo agrees.  "In just a couple weeks' time."

This really is good news.  For the moment, time has agreed to stand still.

We agree to treat her again with another round of doxorubicin, and make another appointment for three weeks from now.

At the National Gallery, there's also a wonderful Louise Bourgeois exhibit.  I recommend it, if you happen to be going up that way.   I've always loved her sculptures, those strange, knobby, totemic poles that are so poignant and sad and funny at once.  She moved to New York to be with her husband when she was young but she never stopped longing to be in France. She lived a long time, from 1911-2010, almost a century, and she never stopped missing France.

She wrote:
"You cannot arrest the present.  You just have to abandon every day your past.  And accept it.  And if you can't accept it, then you have to do sculpture."

I have never learned how to sculpt, although in third grade my art teacher gave us clay and told us to make something we loved.  I made a rabbit, although, knowing me, it probably started out its life as a dog, until the ears got too big.  It was bronzed a yellowish green, the color of an unripe peach, and we kept it on a shelf in my grandparents' house for decades.  It was still there when I walked through that house for the last time.

Bourgeois concludes: "If your need is to refuse to abandon the past, then you have to re-create it."

I want to.

I will.

But beyond a few dozen digital still-lifes, all I have are these words.

Rooftop view, Corsica port

in the Languedoc

picking out lunch

Who can resist a market?


Underneath the very finest tables you will still find dogs

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you had good news for Zoe.
    re-creating. Recreation. Nice. Nice, France?