Out of Chaos, Love

Recent full moon over our roof in Paris…IMG_0837For weeks now, with all the natural and human-made disasters, an endless loop has been playing in my head. It involves something I read long ago in a haze of sleeplessness and overwhelm following the birth of my first child.

I was emerging from after effects of an emergency C-section, trying to relocate my body and my self under the baby weight, through the pain of moving any one of my 700 muscles, every one seemingly connected to a stitched incision across my lower abdomen. I was completely in love with my baby daughter, but in a state of intense confusion about the birth. We were both alive, I had been conscious and greeted her when she was born, and isn’t that all that counts? But it hadn’t been what I’d hoped for us. I had prepared for the event like an Olympic athlete, but because her cord was around her waist and across her chest like a safety belt (which was a surprise because it didn’t show up on prenatal ultrasounds), there was no way I could have ever delivered her like the Super Mother I planned to be.  To make up for this, I would be a breast feeding champ. That however, was not proceeding smoothly either, so I called La Leche League for help. My apartment became LLL meeting HQ for several months and among other perks, I got a subscription to their magazine. Somewhere in a file in my office is an article I cut out back then, in which a young mother of toddlers describes her toy and sock-strewn living room as the incarnation of Entropy, the Law of Thermodynamics according to which all systems tend towards greater disorganization. The word Entropy transported me back to 8th grade science class and my disbelief when our teacher tried to explain it. This seemed to go against every moral and spiritual principle holding the world together. The universe was disintegrating, everything was breaking down and there was nothing we could do about it. Very demoralizing.

On some level, I refused to accept it, pushing it to the back of my mind for future consideration. So here it was again coming from an exhausted fellow female. I read on as she described watching her little ones sleep, her paradoxical feeling of peace after a hectic day where everything seemed to be spinning out of control, knowing her devotion to these two little people would energize her to pick everything up and put it all in its proper place, once again. She ended the essay with, “The opposite of Entropy is Love,” love being the invisible organizing force that heals and restores in seemingly hopeless situations. This made me smile and gave me comfort; I’ve never forgotten it, and it’s been on mind lately, making me wonder if there’s a deeper truth here and how it relates to the world.

Among other ways to take my thoughts off the headlines, I’m working my way through a paperback collection of vintage NYT crosswords. P. 105, clue 53: “Offspring of Chaos, to Hesiod,” four letters, the last two already filled in: “O-S.” Really, “Eros”?

Feed the clue into a search engine…yes, the poet Hesiod, thought to be a contemporary of Homer, recorded Greek religious beliefs (what we call myths) thus:

“In Greek mythology, Chaos (Greek: Χάος), according to Hesiod, Chaos (“Chasm”) was the first thing to exist: “at first Chaos came to be” (or was) “but next” (possibly out of Chaos) came Gaia, Tartarus, and Eros (elsewhere the son of Aphrodite)…”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_(mythology)

Eros, the creative force of love and life, what some people call the numinous. Realities beyond the Laws of Thermodynamics…Isn’t there a theory that even so-called “black-holes” open onto fountains of light?

My new mantra and field of research in the face of current events: Out of Chaos, Love, Out of Darkness, Light…

An endless loop playing in my head xxxxx Aliss

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Harvesting Truth and Denial

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For several years now, I’ve been spending summers in Ulster County NY, about 2 hours northwest of Manhattan. To attract tourists, the Hudson Valley often refers to itself as the US equivalent of Tuscany, quite a stretch of the imagination, but justifiable in terms of natural beauty and abundant local produce and wines. As a fan of history, I’ve enjoyed exploring the area’s heritage.

When I was there this summer I visited the Mathewis Persen House in Kingston, NY, a site recently excavated and opened to the public. DSC03682The house stands a block from Main Street at the “Four Corners,” the only place in North America where four pre-Revolutionary houses face each other across an intersection. This part of town is called The Stockade because the first European settlers built a fort here to contain and protect their dwellings. It was burned down twice, first by the Esopus tribe and then by the British. The house itself is made up of five different constructions, from the original stone walls built by a Dutch apothecary in the 17th century to more modern additions used as an inn and then for municipal offices. Student interns guide visitors through the different spaces, pointing out building materials left exposed to tell the story through architecture, century by century.

As a child, I loved learning about Early American history and imagining heroic pilgrims seeking freedom of conscience in the New World. When slavery was mentioned at George Washington’s Mount Vernon home on the Potomac near where I grew up, or when we drove by the statue of a lone Confederate soldier called “The Thin Grey Line” in front of the courthouse in my first home town on the Mason Dixon Line, I was able to file it all away in the back of my mind as vestiges of a past that no longer defined our country. When I visited the Huguenot Street historic site in New Paltz NY, as an adult, I was touched by the rough hewn homes and church built by French refugees fleeing religious persecution. DSC02879A mention of slaves sleeping on the stone floor of a cellar in one of the 17th century stone houses was chilling, but wasn’t it a reminder of how far we had progressed now that our First Family was African American?

Here in Paris in July 2013, I attended an evening with author Ta-Nahisi Coates at the American Library. Mr. Coates had planned to talk about his memoir, The Beautiful Struggle and his move to Paris, but as he told the mostly white audience, following the recent acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, he had changed his mind. Instead he would describe his research and conclusions about how White Supremacy was woven into the very fabric of our country’s institutions from the beginning and had never been erased. All through his talk, I kept remembering how ecstatic French political commentators had praised America in November 2008 for wiping out 400 years of karma overnight by electing Barack Obama. When other voices here foresaw a devastating backlash down the road,  I was disgusted by their cynicism. Obama’s reelection in 2012 seemed to vindicate my pride in my country’s evolution. Now it was as hard to listen to Mr. Coates as it was to read the headlines and watch smartphone footage of young black men being shot down over and over in our streets…but I refused to despair, focusing on what I wanted to believe.

Then Trump was elected…

During the Mathewis Persen house tour this past summer, we climbed up to an attic-like second story and our guide showed us a small room near the master bedroom where slaves were thought to have slept. Neo-Nazis and Klansmen had just marched through Charlottesville. The word slavery could no longer be brushed aside. Clearly it is embedded in our collective consciousness, as deeply here in “The North” as in “The South”.

At the end of the tour, I slumped down on a bench in front of a film about Ulster County history. It was very moving. I learned Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in a Dutch-speaking household just a few miles away. She was freed as an adult, but according to the heartless custom of the time, her children remained slaves. When her son was sold illegally to a plantation owner in Alabama, Sojourner Truth brought suit with the help of her employers and was the first African American woman to win a case against a white man. (For more on her life story and slavery in Ulster County, see links below, worth your time!)

Another sequence showed how a few decades later, volunteers in the 120th Infantry regiment from Ulster County NY fought for the Union at Gettysburg. Hundreds were lost, half the recruits, plunging the entire county into mourning.

A few steps away from the Four Corners, a monument to Sojourner Truth stands in front of the old Court House where she won her case.DSC03687

Across the street at the Old Dutch Church, an angel honors the 120th and their fading banner is displayed reverently on a wall inside the sanctuary. DSC03683DSC03685

It’s not over. We are still harvesting evil and courage, denial and truth…

To be continued xxxxx Aliss

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sojourner_Truth

http://hudsonvalleyone.com/2013/11/15/long-closed-new-paltz-burial-ground-welcomes-remains-of-a-huguenot-street-slave/

http://thelittlerebellion.com/index.php/2011/02/slave-burial-site-in-new-paltz/

http://www.hrvh.org/exhibit/aa07/about.php

Back on the Beat

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I’m embarrassed to admit that while other people are surviving hurricanes, earthquakes, and violent religious and racial persecution, all it took to knock me down was a cold virus. Very humbling and frustrating!

Venturing outside again after several days of extreme inertia, inspired to see new murals in the ‘hood, like this one, rue Henri Noguères, Ars Longa Vita Brevis, signed Lima Lima-Raphe. The title is a latin translation of a quote from Hippocrates, open to different interpretations:

…”it takes a long time to acquire and perfect one’s expertise (in, say, medicine) and one has but a short time in which to do it”.[3] …”art lasts forever, but artists die and are forgotten”[3] (in this use sometimes rendered in the Greek order as “Life is short, Art eternal”), but most commonly it refers to how time limits our accomplishments in life.[4]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ars_longa,_vita_brevis

Thinking about art, trying to keep playing music, writing, researching, has kept me going over the past few low energy days. Here’s more nourishment for thought and soul, a beautiful article from the Washington Post, “This is Your Brain on Art.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/lifestyle/your-brain-on-art/?utm_term=.c8a54fbdf078

To be continued, xxxxx Aliss

Last rays of summer

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Sunset on the Hudson near Kingston, NY, August 2017

Suitcase unpacked but emotions and thoughts from summer travels still in unmarked boxes, waiting to be sorted and put away. Seasons turning, another year counting down, ready or not:

Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round
in another form. The child weaned from mother’s milk
now drinks wine and honey mixed.

God’s joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box,
from cell to cell. As rainwater, down into flower bed.
As roses, up from ground.
Now it looks like a plate of rice and fish,
now a cliff covered with vines,
now a horse being saddled.
It hides within these,
till one day it cracks them open.

Part of the self leaves the body when we sleep
and changes shape. You might say, “Last night
I was a cypress tree, a small bed of tulips,
a field of grapevines.” Then the phantasm goes away.
You’re back in the room.
I don’t want to make any one fearful.
Hear what’s behind what I say.

Tatatumtum tatum tatadum.
There’s the light gold of wheat in the sun
and the gold of bread made from that wheat.
I have neither. I’m only talking about them,

as a town in the desert looks up
at stars on a clear night.

Translated by Coleman Barks.

Livin’ in the USA

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Small town in New York state, two houses on main street, one with flags from Russia, the US, and Hungary over a sign in English, Spanish, and Arabic that says, “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor” and right next door, huge red flag with the name of Pres. 45 and a picture of him in the front window, snarling…

I wonder how these neighbors get along? Scenes from our on-going American sit-com…

Stay tuned! xxxxx Aliss

Doors forever open…

DSC03639 (1)Happiness

A state you dare not enter

with hopes of staying

quicksand in the marshes, and all

 

the roads leading to a castle

that doesn’t exist.

But there it is, as promised,

 

with its perfect bridge above

the crocodiles,

and its doors forever open.

— Stephen Dunn

 

Happy Birthday Buttes Chaumont Park

Paris 19th…Now:DSC03606and then, before landscaping, Eiffel’s bridge, and the cliff-top temple:DSC03607My favorite park is celebrating a big birthday–150 years… I thought I knew it by heart, but new signs commemorating remarkable trees and the park’s transformation are full of cool factoids:DSC03611Did you know this tree is called “horse chestnut” because in ancient times its fruit was used as fodder? That this former quarry was a horse cemetery in the 19th century? That draft horses from Vincennes are still used here for logging? DSC03610.JPGPlanted in 1870, this sycamore is 25m tall. Tiny picnickers and miniature bench give an idea of scale…Another specimen:DSC03609Planted in 1865, this one is 20m tall. Symbiotic parasites thicken its bark while its survival strategy creates an “elephant foot” shape at the base. In Greek mythology  plane trees symbolized regeneration and it’s dark heavy wood was used to build the Trojan horse…It’s so huge I couldn’t fit it into one shot. People left of the trunk (center) add perspective.DSC03608And on the other side of the park:DSC03613An association called Kaloumba had set up awnings, tables, chairs and traditional games from all over the world, for all ages. One item from their beautiful collection:DSC03612

Kaloumba specializes in keeping these alive as cultural, social, educational and therapeutic tools, organizing workshops to make your own games from recycled materials, to then keep or sell for worthy causes. Check out their website: http://kaloumba.com

Happy Birthday Buttes Chaumont 🙂 xxxxx Aliss