Seeing the beauty in a life well-lived

I was listening to the audiobook of the Louise Penny mystery The Brutal Telling in the car the other day and was struck by the lines spoken by Inspector Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec:

“The leaves had fallen from the trees and lay crisp and crackling beneath his feet. Picking one up he marveled, not for the first time, at the perfection of nature where leaves were most beautiful at the very end of their lives.”

brutal cover

 

I also found out subsequently that in the Regina Spektor song Time is All Around, she also says “Leaves are most beautiful when they’re about to die.” Put that way, it sounds a little morbid, but I found the idea to be one of beauty.

 

 

Yes, in the literal sense the vibrant colors of autumns leaves can be breathtaking. But what the lines made me think about was the beauty of what I call lived-in human faces.

In the Penny novel, the inspector spends a deal of time looking at the life of Emily Carr (1871-1945). I had never heard of Emily Carr until we went to Vancouver last year and saw a show of her work. There is even an Emily Carr University of Art in Vancouver. She was a very important artist and writer in Canada, receiving much of her inspiration from the art of the Pacific Northwest indigenous people, particularly the Haida of the Haida Gwaii (at one time in history called the Queen Charlotte Islands) in British Columbia.

haida-gwaii-trip-map

 

She documented what was a disappearing way of life and landscapes that were being destroyed. Among her famous paintings are Raven, 1930:

 

raven.jpg

 

and Vanquished, also 1930:

Vanquished

 

Emily Carr was not a traditionally pretty woman, but when I look at photos of her I am struck by the beauty that emanates from her. She chose her own path, was often ridiculed, and wasn’t considered an important artist until later in her life. She spent much of her time alone, with her beloved animals, traveling in her caravan and painting, memorializing a culture threatened by Euro-centricism.

Emily 1

Emily 2

 

I’ll never forget the moment when I had an epiphany of sorts about the beauty of faces of those not young and smooth and still untried but of those who’ve been through troubles, taking life as it comes, and aging with grace and dignity. I was watching the movie Beyond Rangoon (1995), which takes place during the 1988 uprising in Burma, or Myanmar.

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What I took away from this movie was the image of the face of U Aung Ko, the guide who helps Arquette’s character escape to Thailand. He was the heart and soul of the movie. His face to me conveyed as much as his words or actions. He has a beautiful face.

103N-126-007 BEYOND RANGOON

 

After that I started paying more attention to the faces around me of older people, not necessarily like the leaves in the quote about to die, but who having lived and learned and loved and sometimes suffered and hopefully found peace, giving them a beauty beyond pure looks. There are countless images I can add to prove my point but I don’t think it’s necessary.

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Baba Ji, photo by Laurent Auxietre, Nepal

 

In 2008, Jyll Johnstone released the documentary Hats Off, about then 93-year old actress Mimi Wedell, who passed away in 2009. She began her modeling and acting career when she was 65. The film’s tag line is “90 is the new 40”.

 

Mimi
Mimi Wedell

In terms of how I live my own life based on these reflections, I am proud of who I am becoming as I age. I like myself better now at 56 than I ever  have. I’ve never lied about my age, and I never will. Why? I’ve earned every laugh line and crow’s foot and the now emerging gray hairs. If I had the gorgeous snowy white hair my grandmother Cottraux (coincidentally we called her Mimi) had, even when she was a younger woman, I would show it off. I have no interest in cosmetic surgery. Yeah, I’d like to lose a few pounds, but apparently not enough to give up chocolate. Life is too short to give up chocolate.

chocolate

Don’t get me wrong. I care about how I look. I usually wear contact lenses, although more and more these days I wear my eyeglasses. Seeing is becoming pretty important too! I wear a little eye make up. I’m not saying we should let ourselves go, but that we take pride in what’s good about ourselves. I’ll never be drop dead gorgeous, but I like to think I have a kind face. That is my idea of being a beautiful person.

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me
On my 56th birthday, laugh lines and all.

In American popular culture, there is such a heavy emphasis on youth, on cookie-cutter beauty standards that are unrealistic and potentially harmful. The green leaves on the trees are of course beautiful. I love the green of spring and summer. But as the leaves continue their leafy journeys, they change into works of art, bursting with color and causing us to gaze with awe. We should celebrate ourselves as we enter into the metaphorical autumn and ultimately winter of our lives. All of the seasons of the year are to be enjoyed, as are all the seasons of our lives.

green

autumn

Peace and hugs.

We❤️ Van (or, A Weekend in Vancouver, or, I Want to Live in British Columbia)

Last month, Bob and I spent a long weekend in Vancouver. Several times I saw the “We ❤️ Van” motto. It took me a while to figure out that it’s a reminder to recycle. And I hate to admit it took me a while to realize Van refers to Vancouver. Please note that my mother’s second husband’s name was Van and he wasn’t my favorite person on the planet. Every time I saw it I thought of taking a picture and sending it to my siblings with a 🚫 drawn over it. That explains why I was a little slow on the uptake on that one.

We heart Van
It depends which Van you mean.

By the way, can anyone tell me why the Vancouver airport designation is YVA? Just curious.airport

One of the things I love about being in Canada is the positive vibe to everything. Even the street signs and pedestrian crossing lights have a “wow, here’s what you can do” message rather than a “you better not do this” implication.

green circle
Isn’t the green “yes” circle much friendlier than the red “no” circle?

The walkers in Canada clearly have a jauntier air to them than their American counterparts.

jaunty walker
Doesn’t he look like he’s having a good day?

The signage is also clear; it’s a very bicycle friendly city, and to prevent pedestrian/bicycle mishaps, the paths are clearly marked as to who should be on which side of the path. It was very helpful to this pedestrian, who has spent a lot of time at UC Berkeley and UC Davis dodging bicycles.

walk ride
Keeping the traffic polite.

Even the post boxes are more fun and colorful than the boring blue boxes in the US.

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I was worried about finding vegan food, but I needn’t have been. The first night, we found a wonderful place, The Acorn, that I wish I could go to every week. Creative and wonderful flavors, like being at Millennium or Sanctuary Bistro in Oakland/Berkeley, but a little quirkier in atmosphere. The beautiful, willowy hostess and wait staff in their flowy black dresses and faint Québécois accents made me feel like I was an American in Paris.

facade 2
S’il vous plaît venir.
cheers
First decision–drinks. I always look for fun non-alcholic drinks, and they had them. Mine is called the Little Bitter. I forget what oddball cocktail Bob picked.

menu 2

But what to eat? It was hard to choose.

specials
The special; two kinds of mushrooms so I’m in!

Pleasantly fed, we went back to our hotel and turned in for a good night’s sleep in preparation for our trip to Granville Island the next day.

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To get to Granville Island, we took an aquabus from Hornby Street Dock and headed to face the tourist crowd on a Saturday.

 

bridge 3

The island has a huge public market, art galleries, boutiques, a marina, and oddly, Ocean Concrete, but even that has been transformed by the Brazilian art duo (and twin brothers) Os Gemeos, into a public art project. Take a look at Ocean Concrete.

concrete 3
Ocean Concrete silos, Granville Island.

Scenes at the Public Market:

 

After a day of walking the sea wall and maneuvering through the tourist crowd, we headed back to downtown and set out on a trek for dinner to Yaletown, an old industrial area that is a successful example of urban regeneration.

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I  had less luck with the vegan food in Yaletown, although I did find vegan chocolate ice cream, so I was happy.

After so much walking, we decided to stay closer to the hotel on Sunday, making the short walk to the Vancouver Art Gallery. Don’t let the name gallery fool you; it’s a world-class museum and currently is showing a Picasso exhibition that I was excited to see.

 

Bob with signs

The Picasso exhibition is sectioned by the 6 women who served as muses during Picasso’s life: Fernand Olivier, Olga Kohklova, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Dora Maar, Françoise Gilot, and Jacqueline Roque.

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Fernand Olivier:

 

Olga Kohklova:

Picasso 2a
Head of a Woman (Olga), 1917
Picasso 3a
Portrait de Femme (Olga), 1917

 

Marie-Thérèse Walter:

Picasso 6a
Guitar Hung on a Wall with Profile, 1927
Picasso 7a
Marie-Thérèse’s Face

Dora Maar (you can tell from his portraits of her that they had a volatile relationship):

Pablo and Dora 1
Picasso with Dora, far right.
Picasso 9a
Woman in a Hat with Flowers, 1944
Picasso 11a
Weeping Woman, 1937

 

Françoise Gilot:

Pablo and family 1
Picasso and Françoise with their two children, Claude and Paloma.
Picasso 12a
Françoise, 1946
Picasso 13a
Claude et Paloma, 1950
Picasso 14a
Femme assise, 1947

 

Jacqueline Roque:

Pablo and Jacqueline 1
Pablo and Jacqueline, 1957

One of my favorite sections of the exhibition was the video loop playing of Picasso painting on glass with filmmaker Paul Haesaerts filming from the other side, made in 1949.

But wait, there’s more! There were also wonderful exhibitions to see of the streetscapes of photographer Harry Callahan, photographer Steve Waddell, text art by Barbara Kruger, an historic look back at Canadian artist Emily Carr, and a moving exhibition by Bharti Kher, a female artist in India whose work was a revelation to me.

Callahan:

Waddell:

Kruger:

Carr and Paalen:

Bharti Kher:

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Tired? Hungry? Let’s visit the cafe! It’s one of the better (and lovelier) museum cafes I’ve been to, and they had vegan options!

vegan soup and cookie
Vegan soup and cookie, thank you!
flower water
Flower petal water.
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The cafe patio.

 

All refreshed, we then headed for a walk to Stanley Park, a gem of the city.

Lord Stanley 1
Lord Stanley himself.

I want to live in the park restaurant.

I had a much needed coffee. Bob happily tried the beer.

Bob

Back to hotel for a rest. Finally, the traditional feet picture!

feet 2

A last dinner at the restaurant Notch8 in the Hotel Georgia, a beautiful hotel that if you have to ask how much a room costs, you can’t afford it. We did not stay there but in the Metropolitan next door. I especially liked the Art Deco architecture of the vestible.

 

Sadly, we had to leave this beautiful city and head back to our real lives. But I can dream. Someday I’ll get back there. Look for me under the sign of the diva, or on board the little houseboat of my dreams.

Diva

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