Please Forgive Me

Please forgive me.
Don’t take my reticence for sullenness,
or my half-smile as an attempt to be polite.
I only lack the energy to be more engaged.
Will I be rejuvenated?

Please forgive me.
My heart is wounded.
It’s not broken.
If it were, I would feel despair.
I don’t.
I’m still moving forward,
although I’m unsure of the path.
Will I stumble or persevere?

Please forgive me.
I know I’ve been absent-minded.
My brain is like a sieve.
I try to remember, but I can’t.
I do care.
There are too many things swimming in my head;
my thoughts are a runaway train.
When will it slow down?
When will I be at peace?

Please forgive me.
I’m not jealous, just proud.
I truly do rejoice in others’ good fortune,
though my own bad luck becomes sharpened.
I look to their success as hope for my own.
When will I overcome?

I don’t know.
Please forgive me.

Pardon

I love bookstores. I wander around checking out new releases and bargains, not just the books, but also the movies. If there’s a café, even better. I can have a hot chocolate and a snack while perusing a magazine. Libraries, on the other hand, suck the energy right out of me. I go in, do what I need to do, then leave.

I first realized this when I was a college student. I would simply take out whatever I needed for research papers. If that wasn’t an option, then I would photocopy what I could. In extreme cases, I would take notes from a resource. After every visit, I felt so tired and lacked a desire to do anything, let alone more studying.

This condition was never more evident then in Paris. I lived there for a year as a graduate student. My Master’s thesis was entitled La Condition Féminine dans Le Père Goriot d’Honoré de Balzac. Consequently, I had to spend time in a library or two.

As I was planning out my paper, I investigated a local public library—une bibliothèque municipale. I can’t remember much; it was a short visit. I do remember feeling out of my element. It wasn’t set up to function as public libraries do in the States. I know one of my friends felt the same way after her own investigation.

Once I determined the obvious—that my research would be limited to collegiate and specialty libraries—I sought out those that would be the most helpful to me. My first visit to the Maison de Balzac was productive, and a bit amusing. Productive since I discovered a treasure trove of information for my thesis. Amusing since I was a young American woman dressed in her college sweatshirt, blue jeans, and sneakers entering this small space with older professorial French (I assume) men. The librarian, a young man, seemed a little surprised and delighted, or perhaps bemused, when I arrived with a “Bonjour” and “Pouvez-vous m’aider?” I made many visits to this library. I also spent a lot of francs on photocopying.

I’m sure I may have gone to other libraries, but the only other one that stands out in my memory is Sainte-Geneviève. First, there was a line to check into the library. I presented my student ID and was directed to the next line where I received a seat number. Only so many were allowed in at a time. I don’t recall if there was a time limit or not. Either way,  it wouldn’t have been a problem.

I climbed the spiraling stairs into the library proper and took in the vaulted ceilings, the upper level with wrought iron rails, the long tables with students studying at their assigned seats. I felt overwhelmed; practically every seat was filled with someone writing, writing, writing, note-taking, note-taking, note-taking. I located my seat, three quarters of the way down the table with only one access point. The tables were rather close to each other. I’m not a small person, nearly 5 feet 11, and I carried a cumbersome book bag.  I hugged it close as I inched my way in, repeatedly murmuring “Pardon.”

I took off my coat carefully; room was tight. I sat down, organized my things, and made ready to do research. I took a deep breath and prepared for the annoyed glances. Inching my way back out, I reiterated all the previous pardons. I was pleased to have quickly completed my resource quest with the card catalogue. Yes, that’s right. A card catalogue. The internet was in its infancy twenty years ago.

With the help of the librarian, I retrieved all but one resource. That particular book was on the upper level. I had no idea how to get up there. I spotted one spiral staircase, but couldn’t figure out how to get to it. In addition to wrought iron rails, there was also caging. I admit I didn’t look too hard, nor did I ask for help. I felt very intimidated by the whole building and its environment. I wouldn’t care now, but at that time, I thought, “So what’s one book?”

I pardoned my way back to my seat, giving my fellow students a “Please don’t hate me” look. I took a few notes from the shorter texts and determined I would need copies of the others. This did not take very long. I thought, “They’re going to kill me.” Another deep breath before pardoning my way back out, where I then sought out the librarian to whom I explained that I knew very well how much photocopies cost. After a few minutes, she handed me a thick packet. In a brave, brief second, I opened my mouth to ask about the other book. I knew I was trying the patience of the students at my table, which was quite the understatement. If I got this book, I’d have to look at it right away. I closed my mouth and let the question die in my throat. I wimped out.

Of course, I still had to collect my things. The thought of the exasperated looks from the students as I pardoned my way back to my seat was painful. I arrived at the conclusion I would not be returning to this library except perhaps as an admirer of its architecture. It’s a beautiful library after all. I muttered my pardons and added a few mercis. I packed everything up, took a deep breath, and began my litany. “Pardon. Pardon. Pardon.”

I checked my watch as I left. A half hour. Maybe forty minutes at most. I was completely wiped out. No other library had sapped my energy like this one. Please don’t misunderstand me. I bear no ill will toward libraries. I simply can’t spend much time in them. Even with so many adding small cafés, I still prefer getting lost in bookstores.

Journey

I listen to the hustle and bustle of the airport. Travelers dash from one end of the terminal to the other. Anxious voices explain flight delays; teenagers mope about Grandma’s lack of WiFi; spouses warn each other to keep the peace. Only the young children enjoy the adventure of travel, squealing with delight at the planes. I open my eyes to the congestion of people around the gates. Anticipatory, and occasionally annoyed, expressions pass among the ticket holders. I walk over to one gate for closer inspection.

A little girl with golden curls à la Shirley Temple smiles at me. I smile in return and wave. She giggles and waves back. It always amazes me how children have such keen perception, especially little tots like this one. A young woman hurriedly passes right by my side; she shivers as her wheeled suitcase glides through my foot. The little girl exclaims, “That’s not nice!” Her mother looks down and reminds her to stay close. Their turn to board is coming up. The young woman has a moment of perplexity, then shrugs, chalking up the child’s remark to the general confusion.

As even more people approach the gate, I decide to find a less populated spot. I take a seat next to an elderly gentleman. He adjusts his scarf and buttons up his overcoat. I study his face. He is resolved. His announcement will be made as he carves the turkey. He knows the disbelief and the denial that will follow; his defense is prepared. Across the aisle, a man with salt and pepper hair studies his crossword. He’s trying to focus, but his thoughts return to an empty apartment. He considers his options. He chooses the usual Chinese take-out for his holiday meal. This is not just pure imagination on my part. I recognize their expressions and demeanors. I know the signs of someone who is preparing for an argument and of someone who has no one.

I rise. I wander around the shops and cafés. I inhale the aroma of coffee and wish I could taste it again. Seated at a nearby table, a gray-haired lady kindly addresses a tabby in a carry case, offering it a bit of her tuna fish sandwich, “Here’s a treat for you.” I kneel and reach out to pet the ball of fur, but I receive a hiss of defiance. “No need to be testy,” admonishes the lady. She looks up and, despite her glasses, squints. For a moment I think she can see me. No, she’s looking through me, checking the time on the TV screen that hangs in the middle of the terminal. A flurry of announcements adds to the chaos. I give a small laugh at the surprised gasps of those whose names are called for final boarding. I turn away.

I head toward the large glass windows and peer out at the sky. It’s a clear, crisp day. I wonder how far the sky’s blue stretches until it melts into the darkness of space. I cannot imagine how far space extends until the eternal light bursts forth. I wake from my reverie at the sound of a baby’s hungry cry. I notice none are looking out. Even the children have grown tired of the airport game. They seek new distractions.

Planes continue to land and take off at regimented intervals. On board, passengers tap fingers and feet to mark the time until they arrive at their destinations. The passage of time no longer concerns me. I quietly await my final conveyance

Shhhhh!

In 2012, the silent movie The Artist won the Oscar for Best Picture. Jean Dujardin stars as a silent movie star whose career is affected by the advent of talkies. I saw it in the theaters and loved it. As a cinephile, that may be a given; however, silent film appreciation took me awhile. I’ve tried different genres with varying success. Silent movies initially didn’t impress me. They have a constant musical soundtrack, dialogue cards to read (so no looking away), and limited special effects and stunts (not a requirement, but helpful with certain plots). The camera doesn’t change scenes as fast as our modern eyes and short attention spans are accustomed. Remember: these are moving pictures.

I find the earliest dramatic films are indeed photo-like; the camera remains focused on the actor emoting. As a child, I remember seeing parts of the Keystone Kops. These comedies moved at a break-neck speed. Not natural movement. For the most part, by the 1920s, the images started to pass by at a more natural pace. Albeit, film direction does depend on filmmaker, genre, and country of origin.

Besides expanding my horizons, I wanted to experience the performances of famous actors like Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino, and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. I would often put the movie on fast-forward because it moved too slowly—again the image, not the plot. I enjoyed the comedies better than the dramas.

Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp in The Kid (1921) is one of the most famous vehicles for the character. It’s a great movie. No fast-forwarding. As with any old movie, I’m always intrigued by the slice of history: the fashions, the living conditions, the look of society, etc. I’ve seen a few of Chaplin’s films as well as some of his shorts and I have found elements of pathos and social commentary along with the humor. One I’ve not seen is The Immigrant (1917), considered to be among his best.  That’s on the to-watch list.

Another classic silent comedy is The General (1927) with Buster Keaton. I found myself laughing out loud. I had never seen him in anything before. His expressions are priceless, although he never smiles. Strange perhaps, but it most definitely adds to the comedy. I have watched as many Keaton vehicles as possible. He has become my favorite from that era.

Nosferatu (1922) I saw after seeing Shadow of the Vampire (2000) with Willem Dafoe playing Max Shreck. The latter truly scared me, but the former creeped me out. Some will know the film from its ending—the rising sun shining through a bedroom window and destroying the vampire. The image that remains in my memory is the one of the vampire rising from his coffin while on a ship. He goes from being horizontal to vertical. The scene is seamless, making the modern viewer think, “That’s a neat trick, especially for 1922.” It is one instance of adept and effective special effects from the era.

Another example is J’accuse by Abel Gance. He made the movie twice, once in 1919 and then again in 1937. I find the original, at 2 hours 46 minutes, to be the better version. (The 1937 version is about 95 minutes.) The plot is more developed, allowing the final scene to have greater meaning. It’s an antiwar film made in France while WWI was still raging. The final sequence is called the March of the Dead. Soldiers rise from their graves to remind the living of the horrors of war. They are dressed in uniforms from different time periods. They are also in various states of decay. The make-up and the ghostly effects are just plain spooky.

Of course, there are more silent movies that can be mentioned, but these examples cultivated my interest. It isn’t always easy to appreciate silent movies. I still find myself fast-forwarding through many. I wasn’t sure about seeing The Artist in the theater since I would not have the power to speed it up if desired. Fortunately, that was not an issue. I’m glad I had developed an appreciation for silent movies prior to seeing it because I may have just missed out on a great movie.

Grandma’s Ring

Recently, I moved into my parents’ house. I can no longer afford my own place. Fortunately, their house has five bedrooms; two of which are upstairs with a full bath. The larger of the two was my grandmother’s room. It is now my bedroom.

Despite having more furniture and arranging it differently, I couldn’t help but see flashes of my grandmother’s effects. For example, I hanged a picture where she had a coronation plate of Queen Elizabeth II.

My grandma was born in England in 1913. Her biological mother, Christine, was unwed. So, a friend of the family, a widow with four children named Elizabeth, adopted her. Flo thought it odd how Aunt Christine would bring her birthday gifts, but not her siblings. She found out the truth in 1927 when she and Elizabeth were being interviewed for visas to the States. Her older siblings were already here. Elizabeth answered honestly the question as to whether Flo was her natural or adopted child. Flo always felt her mother’s heart was broken by having to admit she wasn’t really her own. Elizabeth passed away soon after.

By this time, Christine was married and living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Until her departure for the States, Flo stayed with them. She liked her stepfather, but wasn’t too crazy about Christine. Her words. When asked to stay, Flo simply replied she wanted to be with her family. My mother once remarked to her, “Ma, you know, you probably broke Christine’s heart when you said that.” Flo never thought of it that way; she just wanted to be honest.

She turned fourteen on the ship. She couldn’t see what the big deal was about the Statue of Liberty. She didn’t care for Ellis Island either. Margaret, her sister, was waiting for her. Until Flo could get to her, she had to put up with the loud and brash Americans directing the newly arrived immigrants. Again, her words.

She had a difficult time adjusting to life here. Besides dealing with her adoption, the students at the Brooklyn high school she attended teased her about her English accent. Can you imagine Brooklynites teasing someone about how she spoke English?

Flo remained in the States for the rest of her life. Albeit illegally. Her visa expired. She worked for the Edison Company. When FDR created Social Security, Flo received a card. She had four children with an American.

In 1963, my grandfather Harry went shopping for a wedding ring with my then 16-year-old mother. I’m not sure what the story was: she never had one or something had happened to the one she had.

My mom helped her father pick out a ring. Harry was too excited to wait for Christmas so he gave it to her early. Flo was absolutely delighted. Three days before the holiday, Harry passed away. Did he know or sense it? Who knows?

Flo never remarried and lived until 91. As my mother and her siblings went through Flo’s things, her only request was the wedding ring.

I unpacked my belongings into my new bedroom. Everything was everywhere. I couldn’t remember where things were, despite having carefully marked the boxes. Most of my possessions were placed into storage. I looked around me, trying to imagine my stuff over the shadows of my grandmother’s. I decided to open the small box with my jewelry. I found an envelope labelled “Grandma’s Ring” written in my mom’s script. I opened it to see the wedding ring. I had forgotten I even had it. At that moment, I felt welcomed.

Sense and Remembrance

It’s strange how memories get triggered. A turn in conversation, a photograph, a scent, a sound, sometimes even a touch or a slight breeze. Childhood memories remain vivid if attached to any one of these things. Other memories return when confronted with a trigger. The past becomes clarified, for better or for worse. Perhaps a new context is revealed to us. Perhaps not; maybe an old one reasserts itself to comfort us, warn us, remind us, or any number of motives about something we forgot or simply wish to remember.

Today, I went to the Unveiling of my best friend’s tombstone. The rabbi spoke about the reason for this ceremony: to remember and forever carry with us the memory of her life. A glimpse of her on a swing in elementary school, another of dancing at a junior high dance, chatting at get-togethers with our mutual circle of friends, becoming closer until we were best friends. At the luncheon following the ceremony, her sister, dad, and I discussed her love of expletives; a memory popped up. In college, she sent me a letter (my age is made evident here since email was in its infancy) which began traditionally, “Dear Leslie,” but was then followed line after line with a certain “f” word. There may have been a few other words before the “Love Deb,” but I can’t remember. I do remember laughing my ass off.

The rabbi spoke of her strength in dealing with the disease that killed her, but I always think about her sense of humor. I would love to speak with her again about all that has happened and is happening in my life: the fibroid tumor, the part-time job with crazy hours, the loss of my home, the move back with the parental units, the starting of a new career, and more. I think of what she would say; it’s nothing exact, just knowing there would be quite a bit of her sailor-like vocabulary in there. I smile. The stress falls away, if only for the moment. I’m sure there are other, and better, stories. Memories are fleeting; the triggers recall them to the present, but they don’t always remain.

I refer to the fox in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “Le Petit Prince” when discussing memories and senses. After the Little Prince has tamed (befriended) the fox, he finds it’s time for him to return home. He asks the fox about the purpose of this time spent together. He considers it a waste of time; why befriend one another if, in the end, the Little Prince will never see the fox again. The fox explains the meaning of friendship and, in fact, what’s essential in life. He looks at a wheat field and states how the wheat had no meaning for him. As a fox, it is not part of his diet. Now, it will always remind him of the color of the Little Prince’s hair. It will not be a sad memory due to their friendship. His life has been enriched.

The fox also explains how each becomes responsible for the other. The Little Prince had left his beloved rose to travel and gain knowledge. When he first arrived on Earth, he became dismayed and wept at the discovery of a garden of roses; his rose was not unique. However, the fox enlightens him. Because the Little Prince loves her and takes care of her by watering her and shielding her from the cold breeze, she is unique to him. She is like no other rose. She brightens and perfumes his planet. They are responsible for and unique to each other. The Little Prince’s footsteps are like no others for the fox. He doesn’t have to be afraid he is being hunted. He is most certainly not like any other fox for the Little Prince. What’s essential is invisible to the eyes; one can only truly see with the heart. This is the fox’s lesson.

I have read this book with my students for almost eighteen years. Once we arrive at this point in the story, my students are asked to think how their own memories are triggered. Easier said than done. A student understood very clearly when she described how a certain perfume reminded her of her grandmother. The memory only made her feel sad and miss her grandmother even more.

I have one powerful memory of coming home from elementary school. How many times I walked home from school, you can do the math. I don’t remember my grade or exact age. The autumn wind, brisk and crisp, whipped around my legs as my feet crunched on leaves. The books weighed down my arms. I didn’t have a backpack or book bag until college. I turned the final corner, arrived at the driveway, and began the long walk up to the door. Even as I clasped the screen door latch, I could hear the music. As I opened the front door, a wave of warmth washed over me accompanied by the sound of Pavarotti’s voice and the smell of tomato sauce. As he made meatballs, my dad’s singing aligned with the Italian tenor. The memory ends there. I know I must’ve gone into the kitchen, greeted my dad, and then continued into the den to do my homework. I don’t really remember. I also don’t know why this one particular time when my dad was singing and cooking, which he still does, remains more vivid than other occasions. I only know this memory is evoked with the sound of Pavarotti or with the smell of tomato sauce.

Childhood memories tend to be hazy, especially with age. Many have faded to vague impressions or a split-second image with little to no context. Some stand out, though, very clearly. I believe these memories are the ones that make us unique. How we remember friends, family, and all those for whom we have been and are responsible, keeps them close.

The Kid in Me

I once worked with a music teacher who conducted a symphonic orchestra. One weekend, a concert was given at a local performance arts center. My best friend Debbie and I decided to go. We didn’t know anything about classical music, but we figured we could use a little culture. We previewed the program and recognized one or two composers. Of course, the titles of the selected pieces meant nothing to us.

The concert began. Part of the first musical piece sounded familiar to our ears. A fluke, surely. However, the next one also contained recognizable phrases. We complimented each other on how we were not as culturally ignorant as originally believed. We patted ourselves on the back.

This continued. About a quarter of the way through the concert, it dawned on me how we knew this music. I leaned over to Debbie and whispered, “Looney Tunes.” She had to cover her mouth with both hands to stop from laughing out loud. Our knowledge of classical music came from Bugs Bunny.

When I saw my colleague at work the following week, I complimented him on the performance. I also mentioned how almost all the pieces played had been used in Looney Tunes cartoons. He just stared at me. I guess not everyone appreciates Bugs Bunny.

It’s the kid in me. I own all six volumes of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection. When I need a good laugh, I’ll watch some classic cartoons. I occasionally quote the characters. It’s a good barometer for kindred spirits. One morning at work, I said “Another day, another carrot.” A colleague nearby laughed. A kindred spirit. This was a science teacher, not the previously mentioned music teacher. He was most definitely not a kindred spirit.

Of course, it has to be Looney Tunes. Not just any cartoon series has this effect. In college, my friends and I were on our way to dinner. During the conversation, I remarked, “I keep my feathers numbered for just such an emergency.” Two broke out laughing, the other one exclaimed, “What does that mean?!” Coincidentally I was wearing a denim jacket with all the Looney Tunes characters on the back. So, I could point out Foghorn Leghorn, the rooster I had just quoted. My non-laughing friend had no idea about any of these cartoons. I was in shock. How was it possible to have never seen a Looney Tunes cartoon? She answered she preferred others like Jem and Tom and Jerry.  Jem? Really? At least with the mention of Tom and Jerry she held on to her street cred. We also agreed upon Josie and the Pussycats and Scooby-Doo. The latter is the only other cartoon series I know that gets quoted regularly.

I won’t discuss today’s cartoons, since I fail to see the humor in them. I think they lack a certain quality, a certain cleverness or perspective, whatever it was that makes the original Looney Tunes timeless. How many sayings are part of our vernacular that come from these cartoons? A couple of examples are: “Of course you realize this means war” and “He don’t know me very well, do he?” Notice I didn’t give the most obvious one, “What’s up, doc?”, because everyone knows that one, whether or not they have ever watched Bugs Bunny.  I have my doubts, though, if everyone is aware of the other two.  I will end with a familiar one so everybody will be in on the joke. “That’s all, folks!”

Age Does Matter

Watching old movies is one thing, understanding them is another. Movies themselves are time capsules, a preserved piece of history. More than just fashions, hairstyles, and language are represented; we see what life and society were like at a given moment—for better or for worse. The course of history develops us as people, and through cinema we can revisit the past.

When I was about fourteen, I saw Casablanca for the first time. My mom rented it one night when we had the house to ourselves. I was excited to see such a classic. Alas, it did not hold my attention. I could not understand what the fuss was about. I was quite confused. Why were the Nazis in Morocco? Why did the French police captain played by Claude Rains help them?

Obviously, I had not yet learned about European history and the Second World War. Although I received a good high school education, history class is really just an overview. As it turned out, I had the opportunity to study in Paris where I enrolled in French history classes. I don’t know if the reader has ever studied history in the place where it was made. Saying it is interesting is an understatement; an eye-opener is the more accurate term. In Paris, I learned all about the Vichy government and collaborationism. Oddly enough, an infamous collaborationist was tried and convicted during my stay.

The combination of being a history enthusiast and Francophile had kept me busy reading books and watching documentaries over the years. A few years ago, I decided to give Casablanca a second shot. I felt like a delinquent cinephile for not appreciating it. I love it! Now that I understand it, now that I know the history behind it. I am older and little bit wiser.

Please don’t think course work is required for comprehension of old movie themes and events. More often than not, movies teach us. They are indeed reflections of ourselves. In recent years I have learned these past images are not always different from the present ones. Problems we deem modern creations have actually been around for quite some time. Watch practically any movie from the 1920s and pre-Hayes Code 1930s to discover a gritty reality.

One example is Heroes for Sale from 1933 starring Richard Barthelmess and Loretta Young. He plays a war veteran who develops a drug addiction due to injuries sustained in battle. Even though he kicks the habit, he can’t seem to find employment. He finally gets his break and soon develops a machine to aid factory workers, promising it’s not meant to replace them. However, a corporate takeover and a new regime think otherwise. The factory workers riot, accusing him of betrayal. He relinquishes his patent out of guilt and donates the money to charity. The Depression has come; these workers will not find other jobs. He himself is once again traveling around the country on foot or by train looking for work. This is one of many films centering on World War I and its effects on a generation of men.

Industrialization, drug addiction, poverty, and gangsters are other prevalent themes, to name just a scant few. They are outlined in such classics as Three on a Match (1932 starring Joan Blondell and Bette Davis), Public Enemy (1931 starring James Cagney), Scarface (1932 starring Paul Muni), and Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921).

These realities were not completely swept under the rug with the advent of censorship, simply whitewashed. Even historical dramas lost their zing (that’s another story) while comedies were reinvented.

I feel I have learned more history through classic films than any book or documentary. Facts and figures are informative, who did what and when; but to truly see people in another time, to witness their daily lives, and to hear their voices enriches my own present, our own present.

Weekend Trip (Part II)

Unlike others visiting Philadelphia, once I climbed the “Rocky Steps,” I entered the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I did not see the permanent collection, just the special exhibit. Fine by me. Renoir is one of my favorite artists. His later work was being displayed.

I do not know how much you may know about the Impressionist, but he suffered from rheumatism. His hands were gnarled, yet he could still hold a paint brush in one of them. The last part of the exhibit, and the best, was film of the elderly Renoir painting with his rheumatic hands.

What really caught my eye, though, was a photograph. Have you ever seen something that strikes you, but has no meaning to someone else? This was one of those moments. I am a French teacher by trade; cinephilia is my hobby. My friend Jen who was traveling with me is a Spanish teacher. So, the photograph of Jean Renoir meant nothing to her. Perhaps neither to you.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir is the famous Impressionist artist. In his works, he often painted his family, in particular his middle son Jean.

Jean Renoir is one of the most famous French directors of all time. He did some acting too. My image of him mainly stems from what is considered his masterpiece, La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game). A teddy bear. The movie was made in 1939 with an older and portlier man, playing the clown. The World War One era photograph showed a young, slender, and serious cavalry man. Jean Renoir?! Mon Dieu!

Why the photo should amaze me so I do not know. Perhaps it is akin to seeing an elderly relative as a young person with his/her whole life still ahead. Just when you think you know someone, surprise!

However, in this case, I was well aware of my ignorance. So, I read Jean Renoir’s autobiography and another biography. I viewed more of his movies, in both French and English. I have approached a sense of the man and his unique story telling. He explained very clearly his views, how he created; yet no one could possibly replicate his movies any better than his father’s masterpieces.

I have gained an even greater respect for the artist and the creative process. Pierre-Auguste Renoir felt he had finally attained true artistry in his later years, as displayed at the special exhibit in Philadelphia. This is hard to believe, appreciating all of his work. How Jean Renoir felt about his own is not clear to me. I know he was prouder of some films than others, due to finished product and whether or not he achieved a certain goal.

I cannot continue to dwell on understanding the creative process of Renoir, father and son, for it is beyond comprehension. I can only watch a silent reel of one in his last years and gaze at a youthful photo of the other in awe and wonder.

Weekend Trip (Part I)

Last summer, I took a weekend trip to Philadelphia. I had only been there once before. It was an eighth grade class trip to Washington D.C. We stopped by the City of Brotherly Love to see the Liberty Bell. We may have seen more, but I cannot remember anything else.

Thus, I decided to educate myself on American History. I also planned on visiting the museums, including the famous Philadelphia Museum of Art. Famous how? The steps Rocky Balboa jogs upon lead to the museum entrance.

My Pilates instructor Michele is a huge Rocky fan. She requested a photo of me at the top of the steps, in triumphant Rocky pose. Plus, the Pilates bag she gave all her clients as Christmas gifts a few years ago must be prominently displayed. This tradition began with another client’s trip to Hawaii.

Confession time: I had not seen Rocky. Bad, movie buff, bad! Like every other red-blooded American during the Cold War, I watched Rocky IV. However, all I had ever seen of the original were bits and pieces when it played on TV.

So, off I ignorantly went. A statue of Rocky Balboa stands by the bottom of the illustrious steps. Of course, the Pilates bag and I posed with it for a photo. Then up the stairs. My friend Jen jogged up. Considering the heat, I chose the slow, but steady pace. I felt I still deserved to raise my fists triumphantly in the air. All this and I had never seen the movie. These photos are now displayed on the Pilates bag travel wall chez Michele. Somehow, I sensed it was time. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and could finally understand why so many look to it for inspiration.

I began to wonder about other classics I had not seen. Yet again, I did not want to be a delinquent cinephile. A work colleague encouraged me to view the historical drama A Man for All Seasons. Sir Thomas More, a devout Catholic, unsuccessfully navigates the royal court after Henry VIII separates from the Church and the Pope, creating the Church of England with himself as the head. Being a history buff, I got wrapped up in its intricacies. Politics have not changed these past centuries.

Michael Caine appeared on “Charlie Rose” promoting his second autobiography. They spoke a bit of Sean Connery and The Man Who Would Be King based on the Rudyard Kipling tale. Two former British soldiers travel to Eastern lands in search of treasure and power. Things do not quite work out as expected. Since the movie popped up repeatedly in conversations, I finally saw it. The dangers of believing oneself a deity makes for a compelling story. A lesson learned in ego.

I have to admit, though, The Elephant Man is the most touching one. It is about the life of Joseph Merrick who was severely disfigured from birth and had to eke out a living as a carnival attraction in the late 1800s. My heart broke when Merrick cried out “I’m a human being!” when cornered like an animal by an angry mob. Though hidden beneath make-up, the actor John Hurt utilized his voice beautifully. Quite an extraordinary, sad story…and all true.

As more classics I have not seen are brought to my attention, I will remedy the problem. I have to admit, however, I have no interest in some films, due to genre, actor, etc. I will not name them to avoid offending anyone. My only thought now is: What will happen on my next trip?