Look out the window. Happy St. Swithin’s Day!
On this day in 2013, we were wandering the fairy-tale streets of Sarlat, a Périgord village of golden limestone, remarkably unchanged since the 16th century.
Here I sketched the birthplace and childhood home (on the right, below) of Étienne de la Boétie (1530-1563), philosopher, poet, government official in the reign of Charles IX, proponent of religious toleration in an era of bitter religious conflict, BFF of Montaigne, and, most famously, author of Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, in which he—centuries ahead of the French and American revolutions—questions and protests the inclination of human beings to acquiesce in their own oppression by tyrants.
Had he not succumbed to an outbreak of dysentery at the age of 32, what might he have gone on to write? His house (which, when la Boétie was born there, had just been completed five years earlier) seems an appropriate post for Bastille Day.
A new painting has won an honorable mention at the Art League’s All-Media exhibit at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria (the opening reception is tomorrow evening).
The hot summer weather inspired both the painting and my research into lemonade recipes. The one I like best is found in How to Make Real Lemonade from Scratch at TheKitchn.com.
On my mother’s birthday, I always bake her an apple pie in honor of the hundreds of apple pies she made for us, and we light a candle and sing, our voices some years joined by those of friends (thank you Karla, Rob, Kathy, and Ivan). I’m sure my mother is getting much better pie in the Great Beyond, but we continue the earthly tradition. Happy birthday, Mom!
A Hello to July, with a poem by Mary Oliver.
Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines
creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many,
fill all day with the sticky
sugars of the sun.
Come with me
to visit the sunflowers,
they are shy
but want to be friends;
they have wonderful stories
of when they were young -
the important weather,
the wandering crows.
Don’t be afraid
to ask them questions!
Their bright faces,
which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds -
each one a new life!
hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,
is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy. Come
and let us talk with those modest faces,
the simple garments of leaves,
the coarse roots in the earth
so uprightly burning.
Writer Richard Meryman speaking at the National Gallery of Art. Excerpts from recordings of years of conversations with Andrew Wyeth, and others, are woven into Meryman’s latest book, Andrew Wyeth: A Spoken Self-Portrait.
Think of the now-passed-away artist you greatly admire, and imagine being able to listen to him/her voicing thoughts about life, art, work.
For Mothers Day, the family is obliged to go on an outing of my choosing, and this year it was the beautiful gardens of Dumbarton Oaks, all dressed up in their spring finery. Here my husband and daughter find an unusual rest stop above the cutting garden west of the Prunus Walk.
And also for Mothers Day, a poem by George Bilgere, “Laundry,” of which I did none today.
My mother stands in this black
And white arrangement of shadows
In the sunny backyard of her marriage,
Struggling to pin the white ghosts
Of her family on the line.
I watch from my blanket on the grass
As my mother’s blouses lift and billow,
Bursting with the day.
My father’s white work shirts
Wave their empty sleeves at me,
And my own little shirts and pants
Flap and exult like flags
In the immaculate light.
It is mid-century, and the future lies
Just beyond the white borders
Of this snapshot; soon that wind
Will get the better of her
And her marriage. Soon the future
I live in will break
Through those borders and make
A photograph of her-but
For now the shirts and blouses
Are joyous with her in the yard
As she stands with a wooden clothespin
In her mouth, struggling to keep
The bed sheets from blowing away.
For the first of May, a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872–1906), who spent part of his brief but prolific life here in Washington, DC.
Sweetest of the flowers a-blooming
In the fragrant vernal days
Is the Lily of the Valley
With its soft, retiring ways.
Well, you chose this humble blossom
As the nurse’s emblem flower,
Who grows more like her ideal
Every day and every hour.
Like the Lily of the Valley
In her honesty and worth,
Ah, she blooms in truth and virtue
In the quiet nooks of earth.
Tho’ she stands erect in honor
When the heart of mankind bleeds,
Still she hides her own deserving
In the beauty of her deeds.
In the silence of the darkness
Where no eye may see and know,
There her footsteps shod with mercy,
And fleet kindness come and go.
Not amid the sounds of plaudits,
Nor before the garish day,
Does she shed her soul’s sweet perfume,
Does she take her gentle way.
But alike her ideal flower,
With its honey-laden breath,
Still her heart blooms forth its beauty
In the valley shades of death.
—Paul Laurence Dunbar