Friday, June 22, 2012

What I Am Happily Doing On My 70th Birthday


Seventy years ago on this day, my mother labored to give birth to her first-born daughter. I was born about 2:30 EST, delivered by old Dr. Hackett in Olean, N.Y., a small town in western New York State. The nurse was reassuring when my mother arrived at the hospital, "Don't worry, Mrs. Thompson," she said, "Having a baby is just like shitting a pumpkin." And so, apparently it was. I could write some metaphorical statement about my birth and Cinderella's pumpkin as ornate and magic carriage, but I'm leaving that potential connection unexplored.

70 is a BIG birthday and as part of the on-going celebration, I have a BIG birthday trip planned. A week from Saturday, I fly to Paris, where I will meet my friend Aggie Eyster and spend two weeks in an apartment owned by a member of her family. Two weeks in Paris. What an invitation. My daughter Mary B immediately said, "Mom, make this trip your birthday gift to yourself." 

So, today on my 70th birthday, I am making serious preparations for Paris, anticipating an intimate dinner with ES this evening and receiving birthday greetings via Facebook. Birthday wishes woke me up this morning. My iPhone began to give off little alarms shortly after 7:00 a.m. This is a first, I thought, still to sleepy to reach for my phone.

Today might be characterized as a typical Mary Margaret Hansen day at home. And what might that be like, specifically? Well, I decided to do the following in no particular order:

1. Read another chapter of 'the exhaustively researched and opulently illustrated' "Versailles" by Jean-Marie Perouse de Monteclos.  Last night, I read twenty pages of Nancy' Mitford's old biography 'The Sun King'. For some reason, I've been focusing on Versailles and have exactly six days left to peruse "Paris Walks" and guide books.  I did make plans for a second visit with Ginny and Bill Camfield, hoping they will mark my laminated accordion map with 'places to see, eat and walk in Paris'.

2. Wash all of my Bakelite bracelets in the kitchen sink and then choose which ones to wear in Paris. I've never washed my bracelets. Why now?
2. Plow through at least one more closet in search for that pair of little white, many-times polished Mary Jane shoes that once belonged to Alex Camfield-Heitman. Why am I searching for little white shoes? Because they are iconic and I have photographed them in many places for many years. 

Several weeks ago, it occurred to be that if I flew these little white shoes to Paris, I could photograph them in Versailles' Hall of Mirrors, or under a metal chair in the Tuileries or next to a tomb in Cimetiere De Montmartre. 
Do you think I can find them? Anywhere? I've searched every box in my studio, twice.  I've gone through the cache of items I store at Lee Office Solutions and at PEC Corp. I am systematically going through every closet in my house. I last used them in an installation in Marfa, September 2005. That would seven years ago, but as I rarely throw or give things away, those iconic little white shoes have to be somewhere. 

Last night, a good friend called and gave me suggestions for places to visit in Paris. When I told him about the little white shoes, he laughed and said, "You know, if you don't find them, you aren't supposed to take them." I know that. Still, I'll be searching for them for another week. 

I must like traveling with talismans, taking something from home that seems particularly suited to my destination. Years ago when I spent a week on an island in Maine, I took an eiderdown comforter purchased on eBay. Just thought it would wonderful to sleep under in Maine and it would also make a fine photograph. The photograph ended up in a collage.
I packed a vintage silk parachute for my trip to Bonaire with Beth. I thought it might be great blowing in the Trade Winds on a beach. Beth ended up wearing it and I have to say, she looked regal and quite Merchant Ivory when she wrapped it around herself and struck a pose. Of course, it's all in the eye of the beholder. My eldest daughter saw this image and declared, "It just looks like somebody wrapped in a wet sheet." Or words to that effect.
Actually, this idea of taking something with me is the counterpart of collecting objects from far-away places. Years ago, I read about 'objets trouves', those collected objects that are carried from the very place in which they are likely to have context, like a beach pebble shaped by waves. "An objet trouve," wrote Paul Shepard, "...the found object...is a compelling presentment, an initiative taken by an incomprehensible world on my behalf. My part of the bargain is to grasp such pieces, wrench them from their setting, take them home, and, by arranging them in some new configuration, bring them into my life."

Shepard writes more, "We can take pieces home...and play a game of composition, miniaturizing the universe. Thus do we incorporate ourselves in it despite the disarray that it seems to be."

Do you see that I am doing exactly the reverse by taking objects from my life into new settings, putting a part of myself in the Hall of Mirrors and documenting it? The little white shoes are important.

3. I also decided it might be nice to wear my mother's Georg Jensen bracelet in Paris. This entailed a look through 'important papers and objects' high up on a closet shelf. The bracelet is not there. I searched my bureau and the bracelet is not there either. I know it is in this house, just like the little white shoes. Am I not supposed to engage in a 'reverse objet trouve'?

My bureau drawers revealed brooches I made in the 1980s with hand colored photos. Should I wear several of these on my lapel while in Paris? I found two scarves I bought from a Paris street vendor in 1981. Should I take one of them to wear now? 

Or should I do what I did in Turkey in 2009? My good friend George Beatty asked me to photograph him in front of mosques and temples and amphitheaters.  

After a day or two of this, I asked him to return the favor. Perhaps this is the way to see and remember Versailles, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre's Pyramide, street markets, the Seine?

All of these activities may seem like digressions from real tasks, but this is precisely how I've happily spent this day at home. Immersed in thoughts, making connections, seeing tableaus, searching for objects or books that illustrate where my mind takes me. I did not even open a Paris Guide book. Oh, well.

My birthday has been filled with all of these musings and searches and iPhone greetings. It is now mid-afternoon and time to make my bed, carry out the recycling, empty the dishwasher, shower and dress for the rest of this day. ES will be here at 5:00. I can hardly wait to tell him what the nurse told my mom 70 years ago about a pumpkin.

2 comments:

Mary said...

Sounds like a perfect birthday

Sharon said...

You are taking "my" dream trip. I have wanted to see Paris since I was in fourth grade and had a teacher who studied there. I've read "Without Reservations" by Alice Steinbach, and I have "The Most Beautiful Walk in the World" by John Baxter and "Hidden Gardens of Paris" by Susan Cahill next up in my reading queue. I look forward to your posts about your trip ~ I will be taking notes.