Sunday, June 24, 2012

TIYDK#2 - Melchior Marionettes

Paris redux!
Ah, Paris. Its cabarets, its street life, its corn fields... No, wait, I'm back in Indiana, and fully immersed (instantly, absolutely) in the many projects of family and the ambitions of my children.  Approaching St. Fiacre eco-critically seems a distant echo, but returning to that good work is what Monday is all about. So for now: the week-end. Not one, but two grandmothers in town, and our list of The Indiana You Don't Know places to go bright and shiny.  While I was away, Mac and the kids went to our local organic farmer (a site I realize we now visit frequently - see you at the corn maze in the fall!) and the 19th-century village of Conner Prairie (I love that it is billed as an "interactive history park" - Oliver's favorite part was a shop-keep's denial of knowledge of toothpaste).  My last day in Paris was (really) all about the 19th century's fervent, systematic re-assembly of France's patrimoine (the Cluny museum and its current exhibition's stunning recreation of the shattered inner portal at Cluny; the Cité du patrimoine et de l'architecture's playground of plaster casts and re-creations - a drive so insistent it carries over to the 20th century and I marveled to find myself walking within an apartment of Le Corbusier's Marseilles housing).  And so we all had thoughts of this moment in recent history when, seemingly, all history could be recaptured, reassembled, and reanimated (and I think, deeply moved by Jeffrey Cohen's essay on grey ecology, of the fears and desires that motivate this reanimation of history: not just remembering it, but making it "come alive" again). 

A biniou in Indiana?
And so marionettes - yes! Marionettes and their long, strange, slightly renegade history (the medieval connection (here it is!) in the name itself, "marionette" being a "little Mary," the Virgin Mary being one of the first figures re-animated by the art). Marionettes and their "potentially creepy" (to quote Oliver) presence. Marionettes and their secondary street status compared to theater (this, learned from its still-rebellious defenders in the Czech Republic, still resentful of the German hold on, well, everything for a while there, but especially high theater culture). Marionettes and their mechanisms' links to blinking and weeping crucifixes. Marionettes with a theater in Nashville, IN with cool old image boards and broadsheets proclaiming the evil (and thus fining) of marionette performances.  And it was the kind of performance where the mover of the marionettes was right there on stage with them and so the wonder became to forget that she was there and to think that the dragon really was coming towards you, and that the opera singer really was straining to reach that last note, and that the monkey on the trapeze really was tremendously pleased with himself at having somersaulted in the air, free of all those strings.  Iris asked about magnets and suction mechanisms, looking for the machine within. Oliver duly noted the subtle aesthetic line between "creepy" and "cool." Eleanor wanted to know more about the lives of can-can dancers.  Slipping in and out of the uncanny with that one gesture that made them believable as bodies and characters, and that other gesture that relegated them to the slightly ridiculous, jerky world of willful manipulation, the marionettes danced and pranked and made me think of gestural verisimilitude, and "low" culture rippling beneath history, and all the ways we play to animate a vibrant matter that animates us: the block of wood, the stuff of history.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Paris je t'aime (of course)

 Any day that starts like this is going to be a good one. Where last night was a series of images posted on le facebook to various dear ones, today, the city intertwined into a narrative. And so herewith, a Day in which Paris Insistently Revealed Itself as Wondrous.

And so you start at the Pavillon de l'Arsenal which is devoted to cool new architectural projects and to telling you the history of l'urbanisme (the urban planning) of Paris. And so, it starts in the Middle Ages (Philipe Auguste, the ramparts, etc.) and continues all the way to today, with stops in the 1960s and 1970s that still look more mod and cool than anything today. Upstairs: a show on "Re. architecture": recycle, reuse, reinvest, rebuild. Very cool. And a realization that Paris really didn't stop in the 19th century (no, really).

Then over to the Musée Carnavalet to see the signs that Michael Camille first loved out loud: shopkeepers and tavernkeepers (here, Le Chat Qui Dort - how else could the mouse get so close?). And to see an Atget show. All original prints (with their texture and patina and thickness of paper); all striving to capture and hold on to a Paris that was disappearing (which starts to be a part of being in Paris - not just the seeking of authenticity (let's not get started on that), but the nostalgia for this or that. Atget lavishes it onto a photograph, onto every photograph. The destruction of streets he frames just so I had just learned about in the Pavillon de l'Arsenal's timeline.  So, to treasure all of Paris always.

Lunch in the Marais where one can enjoy a fully full falafel while listening to Abba. Because that's just how hip the Marais is.

I completely blame the glass of wine at lunch for what happened next.

Actually I went to Galeries Lafayette (which takes much girding of the loins) knowing that it was the only place in Paris I would readily find a Becassine figurine. My last morning in Brittany, I received an e-mail from Mac transmitting a deep desire from Eleanor for a Becassine, a Breton heroine that you basically trip over in every store in Brittany but for whom the rest of France doesn't have much truck.  This was one of those crazy escapades (no complaints: it comes complete with a 19th-century stained glass dome!), but I miss my Eleanor's cheeks and her tiny searching fingers and so yes, of course, I went and now, sweet one, Becassine is on her way to you.

And then. And then Paris did that thing where it just decides to give and give. I was born here. I've been coming here fairly regularly since 1989. But never before had I even faintly noticed the Musée de Minéarologie.  Well, today, I did. It's part of the École des Mines and it. is. splendid.  The entrance staircase alone is filled with paintings of different "massif" rock formations, and strewn with large exemplars from ex-colonies (the Malachite from Cameroon, you see).  The work on alabaster, and Jeffrey Cohen's and Valerie Allen's work on stones and materiality, and Roger Cailloi's lyrical everything, and Genevra Kornbluth's book on medieval gems, and Marbod of Rennes (author of De Lapidibus) himself, absolutely compelled me to find this place and revel in it.

And revel I did. You are not allowed to take photographs in the Musée de Minéarologie (?) (!) (?) so this is a guerilla shot while the curator was distracted with the one other lone visitor that was there when I was. I want to write about this visit more extensively when my internet connection isn't so slow about uploading images (I guerillaed a few more times). For now, we can just feast our eyes on the colors, and that wondrous tendril stretching forth in the upper left-hand rock.  This Musée is completely 19th-century: glass vitrines and cases filled with rock samples from all over the world. Here, Czechoslovakia is still a place, as is the USSR; the categories may be scientific, but the site of origin is always given its colonial name.  Here, gypsum is listed in the category "Roches et Minéraux aux services de l'homme."  Here, samples of the various marbles used in Napoleon's tomb are on display.  Of course, the Arsenal and Atget had primed me to look for those Romantic operations. This is also a "school of mines" proper and the entire display is clearly a study collection (lots of posters explaining chemical compositions, and so on).  And of course, I ran into Morton's problems with wonder and aesthetics (the really big challenge to doing ecocriticism for me is turning out to be the utter difficulty of putting aside the aesthetic drive of wonder).  But geez, look at those rocks!!! Colors, forms, combinations - each more impossible than the last. Surpassing the inventions of art. And this, surpassing my understanding: meteorites. A simple question emerges: how do you know it's a meteorite? How do you know it's not just a rock that hasn't been discovered yet?  And yet, a whole case of meteorite ("essentiellement de la ceinture des asteroïdes entre Mars et Jupiter" - how do they know???). I can't wait to find out the answer.  And this museum, and these these stones, somehow encapsulating for me the drive to simultaneously rationalize and marvel that became Paris in the 19th century. Pushing me ever harder to discern a terminology, an approach to what wonder may have emerged from and produced in the Middle Ages. Merveilles - émerveillement. Wonder - wonderment. Merci, Paris.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

And now: Le Faouët - Ste. Barbe

The banks of the river Ellé
You arrive here after walking down the many steps to the chapel of Ste. Barbe, after picking your way down an ancient path whose old stones keep the earth from slipping, after finding the (gallo-roman? druidic? no one knows anymore) fountain and its source, after climbing down one last steep hill. You arrive at the source of the rush of noise that has formed your entire experience - and everything comes together and every falls apart. I am not sure what to do with my wonder.  It is naïve and specific and not new.  It has been felt by the countless others who have made this walk and undoubtedly been spoken and written about more poetically, more eloquently.  So what to do with it? Fold it into art history writing? But beware the eco-mimesis I have just exercised which, Tim Morton assures me, aestheticizes nature, creates distance, brackets out this concept and experience of nature as something we can't touch/critique - only feel and marvel at (and is thus at the root of our demise with the/our environment).

Ste. Barbe

I know what to do with the wonder I feel about art. I decode it: I find its sources, assumptions, repercussions, formative ideologies, insistent effects. I have great enthusiasm for making it vivid and present to the reader. A stroke of lightning, and Jean de Tolbodou's survival of its storm, provoked the creation of the chapel of Ste. Barbe - discuss. 

To and from

But to write about the fountain path that leads from the chapel down to the river, stopping at the fountain in between the two, I am finding that much harder. Part of it is a simple problem: integrating what have been established as two separate worlds (art/artifice/culture/civilization and nature/nature/nature/nature).  Part of it is a bigger problem: is integration really the goal here? Would I be slipping towards some kind of Edenic reconciliation between construction and matter , between mimesis and presence? Or do I "let" these two realms exist separately - bodily knowing that they actually occupy the same continuous space (but then once again worrying about creating some Edenic unified whole)? So, ok - let it be said that I find myself between two quite possibly artificial (but they feel real to me) dichotomies. Or, let it be said that the challenge of this piece is to break those down, to reconfigure the opposites so that they are not that, but not dissolve them completely so that they are the same either. Ok.

But then, a really big problem. If we don't put things in opposites that we can then reconcile or deny, we put them in layers we can work through. So I could work my way down the devotional experience of Ste. Barbe from the most delicate artifice of the stained glass down through to the pillars, the walls, the path, even the river - but the undermost layer, the raison d'être, the dynamo, the drive, the goal of hundreds of years of pilgrimage and pardons hosting 2000 people as little as 30 years ago, is this water source - and its fountains, its miracles, and its sheer existence. And here, there is great resistance - nothing works. We have an enormous problem of unrepresentability (Mac knows the long German word - wish I could remember it). The fountain itself is from 1708, replacing countless older frames of the source bubbling up from the small slit you see in its basin. So, ok, erase the fountain. The water itself moves, makes an incredible delicate sound, which you can readily contrast with the rush of the river not too far below. So, ok, I'll speak for the water, describe it, perform eco-mimesis, anything to get you to experience a sense of this, because it was so marvelous. But then, how to convey the movement of the water, the realization that this water, coming forth all on its own is pure presence, is without mimesis? That there is no photograph, no video, no writing, no mimetic representation that can bring it forth. How, working my way back to the devotional context of Ste. Barbe, to not think of the absolute presence of this formless matter and of the absolute presence of Christ brought forth through the ritual of the Eucharist. Or perhaps the question is how to think of them.

Inside the chapel of Ste. Barbe
Because of the lightning that killed her father after he beheaded her in the 3rd century, Ste. Barbe is the patron saint of anyone who works with fire: artificers, firemen. Because canons of ships were named "Ste. Barbes," she has also become the patron saint of sailors, and the ex votos here (the latest from 2000) reflect Breton beholding to the sea. An entire world/realm/space of devotion is here in the stained glass windows and altar and ex votos and that enormous whale rib that was given to the chapel. There is literally an inside and an outside - or maybe it only exists architecturally, maybe it's only constructed.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Introducing Le Faouët - St. Fiacre

Inkpot Monsters
Again, all I can do is jump into the fray. The eco-fray. The tumultuous world of the jubé of Le Faouët.  It's late, and I'm headed out again early early tomorrow morning, so just a few glimpses for now. My thoughts are more unformed than they've ever been about a project, and yet I don't think I've ever been more excited. I brought Tim Morton's Ecology without Nature along for the ride (an excellent lunch companion) to make me uncomfortable about any definition of nature I might have thought I might have had. Good.  So now, to revel and quake in/at all the possibilities. First, monsters who write. The one on the left looks back to Saint Martin being baptized, the one on the right to two women. They may or may not be in relation to them (and part of the point in the essay will be to talk about an entity that constantly collapses - iconographically, narratively - even physically if I factor in the insects which had rendered most of the jubé a "dry sponge" until it was vaccum packed (move over Christo!) ten years ago, infiltrated with insecticide and then injected with resin and silicone - wow!)).

Renart preaching
Yipee! Three scenes pulled from the Roman de Renart which I only know through books from my childhood. Eager to read whatever edition of the medieval text is at Gibert Joseph. I think a lot about Jacqueline Jung's terrific statement about sculptors highlighting the "sensory domains peculiar to their medium" (I think that's it - memorized!) and here, beholding Renart gripping his wooden pulpit on a wooden jubé (from whose tribune the priest preached) really drives her point home.

Hovering angel

Angel soles - ha! ha! (oof!)

Suspended Man
If you think that's great (and it really, truly is - they are so very much perched for flight), then check out this Suspended Man on the other side of the jubé (we're on the east now, with the altar behind us, where only the clergy and nobility stood.  I'm fascinated by the movement of his hair - it seems to be responding to gravity, as though he were mid-swing. Something that I'm very eager to work out is that all of the socle figures on the east side seem quite alarmed at their precarious suspension. (Well, those who can't fly - there's a duck and a goose who are unperturbed, but whose webbed feet as splayed, as though for landing).  Where the angels hover gracefully on the west side, two men, a cat, and a monkey are totally freaking out on the east side - why this mimesis here?

Biniou Man

The famed biniou of Breton music lore! Slighted as an allegory of laziness!  Rats!

Biniou Man's Monkey

No wait! Monkeys! This monkey, right under Biniou Man, to be specific. Howling (less before the damage, but I love the trace of red paint inside his mouth) and clinging to his socle.  A Music Mimicking Monkey if there ever was one.

Branch Man

And then this guy is a mystery: a man holding a branch (I think) beneath his chin. Medieval friends, what think ye?

The floor of Le Faouët
And last but not least, the incredible moss floor of Le Faouët.  It's like this especially in the eastern end, all around the altar, which produces this fantastic bright green effect. For you see, Le Faouët was built atop a river (a gallo-roman fountain is still nearby) and the water seeps up continuously - there is not a single dry stone in the entire place.  Soon after the chapel's construction was initiated, the daughter of de Boutteville made a donation for a hospital to be built next to eat - healing waters.  The hospital was torn down long ago (although the modern hospital is only a few blocks away even today), but the dedication stone remains. It's been embedded in the house next door which is guarded by two growling dogs, so I couldn't get a good shot. Will have to bring those guys a treat tomorrow to get closer.  Ah, art history!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Home. Here. Home.

That old tree in that one place.
I don't know where to begin. How to separate out any emotion enough to see it and write about it. It's not that there are so many (happiness, gladness, wonder, and memory really are it), it's that they're so intertwined. I find myself agreeing with this beautiful post that proposes a "spatio-temporal geography" for ideas - a place and a time where ideas thrive, exist, are something.  The deepest pleasure of reading Bryant and Bogost and Bynum in Brittany (ok, aside from the alliteration) has been the presence of, quite simply, a more animate universe.  This friendship I feel myself coming alive into has (why do I realize this only now?) been uniquely epistolary for the past two full years. The joy of it emerging in voice and color and food and discussion and shared silences is near inexpressible.  It is a presence, a thing in and of itself, and it is manifest here, and it takes my breath away.  The joy, and let's add poignancy, of walking everywhere in town at seeing/remembering the children walking ahead of me, is all-enveloping. I realized, again shocked by the simplicity of the realization, that where in the academic job market, you don't necessarily choose where you go (Indiana? sure!), by contrast on sabbatical, you do choose. We chose Josselin - and dreamed about it, and walked the streets via Google maps, and read about it, and bought Breton folklore books in advance. And eventually, we came to feel that Josselin chose us: that this was exactly our place, that things fit, that we knew here (ourselves, the world, some days even What It's All For).  Feeling the town's agency again, being led down that street instead of the other, finding that old tree that we all loved for its mossy gnarliness, listening for the familiar sound of the babbling brook at that one spot.  This is where the idea of me as a person takes place.

There are problems with saying that in object-oriented ontology (chiefly, prioritizing the human experience, seeking it out most insistently).  I'm prompted to do so for the old but elusive gladness of feeling like I belong to something wondrous.  I'm also provoked by a response that my camera had to this wondrous world.  The Bois d'Amour has been planted with poppies and foxgloves galore.  Your eye moves through the landscape guided by color as much as form, and you feel light in all the possibilities.  And so, perchance to dream to capture it, you take out your camera, and, having read books now that truly imaginatively seek to displace the dominance of the human subject, you marvel (you get it!) to see your camera struggle to find a face within the foxglove.  It does this little thing where it will box and trace out a face when it's telling you it's focusing on one.  I see through this when I'm taking pictures of actual faces, but here, of course it leaped out at me: even technology seeks out the human. (That doesn't argue that seeking out the human is an inevitable response - quite the opposite, it made me want to question the insistence more). More interestingly perhaps: technology sought out the human in nature. (Lots of parentheses here, because I'm reading a lot of stuff that is questioning the boundaries of categories (like nature) - so, technology sought out the human in this realm we've deemed the natural so often metonymically conjured up by flowers).  Writing about a nature (deep breath) will be difficult.  Naïve animism (it's alive!) and dichotomous moralism (it's good! it's evil! it cares! it doesn't!) can(have) both elicit(ed) powerful writing - but... well, but let's see if there are still other ways to write about what we have deemed the natural world, and its entwining with human existence - to the point where the boundaries blur.

Because if this is my walk home these days, then yes, I can claim that the love I feel for the trees and the water and the house further down on the island and the people in it are all absolutely indistinguishable. Seamless, continuous, absolute.  I can ask what is a part and what is a whole of all this and see the fluctuations: how one rose in David's garden can be the whole of it, how one phrase of music can be that one that reveals the whole piece. We have this wonderful phrase, don't we: the "telling" detail.  The one that speaks (for?) an ever-expanding greater whole: garden, gardens, Eden - music, Music, Kant. And so to turn ALL of this to the wooden choir screen of Le Faouët - to wonder about the power of the forms I've been writing about here gathered around and into an object that is the natural world (wood) and represents the natural world (Eden) and embeds human figures into one nature-morality scenario after another (Adam and Eve, vices and virtues, oh, and the Roman de Renart - discuss!).  We go today, a first look, seeking the telling detail, that one that will make the work of art speak, that will draw us in, choose us, makes us parts of a whole even in just that moment (with or without ritual, depending on your place in history), or in that place where image is such that an idea is a material thing.

Monday, June 4, 2012

TIYDK #1: the Exotic Feline Rescue Center

Welcome to a new feature of the blog, named by the kids "The Indiana You Don't Know," or TIYDK for short. Even though there's no easy way to pronounce that, it's better than the title Mac and I came up with which was "kids, the new roof means no family vacation this year, so let's explore this wacky state we live in!" - much better. Our opening adventure was the Exotic Feline Rescue Center and here you see some of the kids assembled before Rodney, a leopard (look between Oliver's and Jakob's heads - there he is!), who was discovered in a home in Long Island during a police response to a domestic disturbance call. All of these cats come here through completely twisted paths, the most common being the human desire to "own" (control? possess? display? exploit? tame? what the hell are they thinking?) a wild animal. You learn crazy things while one of the many volunteers there walks you through the small path carved out for people that winds through the terrains of the 95 cats that can handle seeing humans (there are 233 cats there in all, but many of them freak at the sight of human beings): crazy things like, it's still legal to own a large wild animal in 21 states (9 don't require a license of any kind); like, tigers breed well in captivity and so are the ones most often found in the most insane situations (gang headquarters, breeding bunkers, roadside zoos). But they're safe now, they can rest - and they live alone or in groups, survivors of our wiles.

"Et sacies bien qu’il fu contrefais al vif"
With Karl Steel's wonderful new book project in mind, I wondered about medieval exotic pets. There are leopard gifts and rhinoceros gifts (and Lawrence Norfolk's spectacular book) and Villard de Honnecourt's famous lion, "drawn from the life," and bestiaries and the leopards in the Cluny Unicorn tapestry. All gifts preoccupied with place and travel and power and presence. What must it have been like when the lion roared in his royal European park? One of the lions this afternoon (rescued from a retired Hungarian physician in Ohio), having eyed us a while, glided up to a highest point and, after a few guttural evocations, roared. I've never felt anything like it. There was steam coming from his mouth: some impossible heat from deep within his body. There was a wall of sound - not something that enveloped you, something that came at you and insisted there, pressed flat against your entire body. There was absolute stillness amongst the human beings, Oliver's heart beating fast beneath my hand as I pulled him to me. And there was nothing aggressive about the lion's stance, about his body. He wound down his sound with a series of lesser and lesser grunts, his work here done. We, completely ridiculously, so puny, but we had to give something back... clapped. The volunteer was as open-mouthed as we, saying he'd been in the visual presence of a "full roar" (wind-up to wind-down) but about ten times in his four years at the place. Wild.

And then the meat. So much meat. This tiger hunched, his lips quivering over the meat, his eyes transfixed. I wish that I could remember the numbers better, but of course it's an astounding amount of meat. Most is bought, but a good deal is given. And here, a strange symbiosis: the farmers all around, including a large number of Amish farmers, will give their carcasses to the Rescue Center, and avoid some huge processing fee as well. A kind of "everybody wins" situation, a new arrangement. Having visited a couple of Amish farms now, I can't imagine two worlds, two environments, farther apart than that of the Amish and that of these tigers - all of the Amish that we know are vegetarians whose sense of place goes deep into the roots of the soil they till. The deceased horses and milking cows they give to the Rescue Center go to tigers and lions whose feasting on raw meat was somehow frightening to see (yes yes, calling The Raw and the Cooked); animals who are now at rest after lives of upheaval and disorientation and continual uprooting. But the tigers benefit from the (many, many) Amish communities all around. They eat and eat, and so fight only briefly, over baths and playing balls and basking spots. Many shifts in morality here.

The way this place is laid out, there are enclosures near the path in which the meat is offered and some lions and tigers who don't fear humans roam. But each encosure-near-the-path is also connected to a much wider enclosure that retreats into the forest, and even the caretakers very, very rarely if ever go in there. They have been able to observe some really fascinating behaviors, though; what I would call the big cats' manipulations of their environment. Yes, there is the marking of territory (which apparently can take up to three months and is an incredibly methodical and intentional process - much to consider here). But there are also pathways within the tall grasses that lions and especially tigers make for themselves. They tread the same ground over and over again until they have dusted out walkways within the green - and that is where they'd crouch and wait if they were hunting; it's how they claim this place as theirs now. It's their tilling. There's something here about my naïve realization that animals manipulate their environments, that they are involved in deforestation and path-making - that maybe for them nature isn't natural either.

This place is 30 minutes from where we live and it took us ten years to get here. This is going to be a good summer. Indiana, like many Midwestern states, I think, is a strange place: flat in so many ways, and terse and plain. But beneath the lack of regulation and absence of government support, communities emerge: Amish villages, big cat rescue centers run entirely by volunteers, earth homes. And little rough touches: the poison ivy growing up the poles of the enclosures; and the decidedly down-home practice of revving Harley-Davidsons every once in a while to make the lions roar. Every body, then, making noise into the open.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A week

The choir screen at Le Faouët, in Brittany - 1480s
In a week I'll be in Brittany, in the Morbihan, to be specific, in La Faouët, Vannes, and Josselin to really be precise.  In the midst of this incredible double-sided wooden choir screen, of the archives of its parish, and of the rarest and best of friendships, respectively.  There will be four days in Paris and they are all spoken for by museums, so more on those glorious days another time.  The screen was one of the last thing to elude us when we were in Brittany for sabbatical.  Turns out there are two Le Faouëts in Brittany, one in the Côtes d'Armor and one in the Morbihan.  Laugh now, but that was inconceivable at the time, but we were well on our way to the wrong one before we realized our mistake and this was towards the end of our stay.  I had known for a while that I'd wanted to study the site, so vows and promises to self had to be made, and research on this end done, and now, now, I'm going. It's a veritable feast of eco-criticism.

A not great shot of saint Fiacre at Le Faouët
The choir screen is in the small church of Saint Fiacre, an early Irish saint (but let's say of shared Celtic culture because we're in Brittany) who left Ireland for France to live in solitude in the woods. His knowledge of herbs, his love of the woods, his deforestation efforts all converge into his iconography as a hermit with a shovel.  He's the patron saint of gardeners and the modern Catholic saint cards (collect them all!) show him tilling the earth, hewing if you will.  But that's just the beginning: the church emerges in beautiful Breton stone from a forested landscape - not as ensconced as its companion, the church of Ste. Barbe, which I also want to bring into play, but well in connection with the idea of wood, and forests (Le Faouët connoting the beech tree after all).  The choir screen is double-sided with an "official side" (which you see above) - Adam and Eve kick things off, the Crucifixion tops things off, and angels on pendants work to either weigh down or buoy the whole scene.  The "back," which would have faced the clergy as I understand it, if filled with wild flora and fauna having their way with the human figure - a priest vomits up a fox (or a pig, in different versions I've read), plants writhe, and animals dance.  This is the side that interests me - no, they both do - but this is the side that has been relegated to "popular religion" and which I want to examine anew for the objecthood of its natural forms.  I can hardly wait to be in the presence of this work.  To understand the space, its relation to a set of stained glass windows (relegated here as the "high art" of the space in scholarship - much that I wish to rethink there), its relation to itself, to the landscape and legend around and outside of it. 

Even the plainer stuff of art history I can't wait to do: the restoration records (surprisingly few, so judging the polychromy will be tricky, but Vannes's archives have good stuff here); the movements into national patrimony (the French departmental archive system is ridiculously well organized - ask any researcher of Italian or German art; or, just try the diocesan archives: at Chartres, there was no catalogue of holdings, it was all in Abbé Bizeau's head, he said smiling and tapping his temple).  The patronage is already terrific: a nobleman by the name of Olivier de Loergan, and so to begin to understand his motivations and his other commissions and (gulp, actually, much work needs to be done here - but I'm also vowing to not go all the way down the rabbit hole of noble patronage - I've always been more interested in popular reception anyway, and the ecocriticism will push me back out there). [Later edit: most peculiar: I've now found a source that cites Olivier as a sculptor "anobli par le duc en 1469" - wow! really? will have to investigate]. All of this is for an article for a special issue of the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies on late medieval devotion - there's great interest in materiality and devotion, and the wonderful editors agreed this site could provide some good thinking on it all.  So, I will witness, photograph, read, think, and write for 10 glorious days.  Ultimately, it's a time to flesh things out, to put Tim Morton's Ecology without Nature into practice, to let Ian Bogost's Alien Phenomenology dance in my brain, and to, as ever I think, see if I can catch a glimpse of this other, medieval, world.

... "and other delitefull smells"
It's also, wondrously, a time to live within a most bountiful friendship.  Within hours of our very first walk past David's house, its island and gardens and smoking chimney were part of the children's bedtime stories.  Swiss propriety, Virgo timidity, and my general insecurities dictated that it should be left at that. And yet, I wrote to the owner of the house, thanking him for the boon to our bedtime stories that his house had given us. And he called, and we ate together, and saw the seasons change together, and now there are flowers from Hawaii, and homemade chocolate cake, and a long epistolary exchange filled with his beautiful writing.  And soon, the warmth of voice, and the possibility of that incredible place, the presence of friendship.  All this, I want to bring back, so that it floods life here with its gladness and mystery and seeking.