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Bits and bobs about my life in my lovely home, Thatchwick Cottage, Pretoria, South Africa.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday, 24 May 2010: Seraphine de Senlis

Seraphine de Senlis was the topic of the movie, Seraphine (2009) that my artist friend, Rhoda and I watched on Saturday evening. I had no previous knowledge of this French painter of Naïve Art and I found her creations and the story of her life moving. Seraphine was born in 1834 in Arsy, France. Orphaned at seven, she spent her childhood in a convent; her early years as a shepherdess and the rest of her life as a household drudge. But Seraphine was driven by her desire to paint – through the nights in the shabby bedsit; through the shelling of her village during WWI; when encouraged by the German art critic, Wilhelm Uhde; and when forgotten and unappreciated in the post-war years until Uhde found her once again. Sadly, her childlike spending of her patron’s money alarmed his sense of caution during the Great Crash and eventually insanity ended her virtually hidden career. She died alone and friendless in a mental asylum in 1934 (some put the date at 1942). She never knew that some of her paintings, brilliant images of leaves, flowers and feathers which seem to swirl and quiver, hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In the movie Yolande Moreau does a wonderful portrayal of the painter – scrubbing floors, emptying chamber pots and washing linen in the stream. Gazing with affectionate worship at the image of the Virgin Mary, mesmerised by the sunlight dancing on leaves or the image of her own work worn hand submerged in a pail of water. Making her own paints of glowing colours, grinding her mixtures with mortar and pestle from concoctions of mud from river beds, wild flowers from the hedgerows, a vial of blood from the butcher’s bowl and molten wax from the votive candles at Mary’s shrine in the village church.

‘She was obsessed,’ whispered Rhoda to me in the dim light of the cinema. ‘Well, so are you when you get going!’ I answered back. In the seat next to me, a young girl sat weeping. It was that kind of movie. That kind of life – Seraphine de Senlis.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

23 May 2010, Sunday: Falling in love with Jethro

Isabella's with its pink and white candy stripe decor, its range of teas and luscious, decadent cakes is just the place to be seen in Pretoria suburbia at the moment. And who better to be seen with than month-old Jethro. I am not sure if he is enamoured of his Grandma or not; he is far too sleepy to decide. But certainly I am falling in love with Jethro at each tète-et-tète we have.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday, 18 May 2010: 'Olive Kitteridge'

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is not really a novel; it is a series of short stories spread over a period of some twenty-five years and held together together by location, a small town in Maine, and the indomitable character of Olive herself. Olive is a 7th grade school teacher who has taught more than a generation of the town’s children; the wife to a man much nicer than herself; and the overweening, tiresome mother to a rather unpleasant son. Olive is crusty, awkward and insensitive. Yet in spite of rather than because of her sensibilities, she often says something that is just right in a particular situation – a former student contemplating suicide, a wayward girl suffering from depression. But she is equally capable of putting her untactful foot right into it – usually when her nearest and dearest are concerned. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Olive appears as a middle-aged wife, an aging spouse, a widow, a mother out of touch with the vagaries of her son’s very 21st century lifestyle and finally, as a elderly woman learning to appreciate the clumsy comfort of companionship and even, new love. I enjoyed the humanity of this book and was delighted to discover the writing of Elizabeth Strout. This was an interesting choice for a Pulitzer Prize winner (2009), such a understated gem populated with believable, small and endearing rather than larger than life characters.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday, 15 May, 2010: Time enough to smell the aloes?

When will I have time enough to discover whether the autumn-flowering aloes have any scent at all?

Maybe when I retire. My thoughts turn periodically to this matter. Certainly I do not want to wish my life away. I have always been of the opinion that work is salutary for body and soul and have thrown myself into my job with enthused dedication for the past thirty years. Yet these days the notion of freedom from deadlines and quotas is increasingly seductive.

I fear that I have entered into the phase entitled Imagination, which the experts say is experienced 6-15 years before retirement. The next phase, if all goes to plan, will be ushered in with my sixtieth birthday next year. Thephase of Anticipation, of crucial importance to a fulfilled retirement. So, if the research is to be believed, I am not yet Anticipating, just Dreaming. Of afternoon walks in the park to enjoy the autumn aloes and gaze at lizards asleep in the sun. Of mornings cutting and piecing my untouched stash of quilting fabrics. Of packing cupboards straight and spraying the roses weekly and not sporadically. Of ignoring emails and trying out cookie recipes instead.

But again the experts caution that this blissful state of Doing What One pleases only lasts for the first year of retirement – the Honeymoon Phase. Followed by Disenchantment and Reorientation. Daunting prospects. Maybe I must just quit complaining and stay at my desk as long as I can.
Your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Thursday, 13 May 2010: Mother and Child

‘Mother and child’ should perhaps have been titled ‘Mother and daughter’. The movie newly released in my part of suburbia to coincide with Mother’s Day focuses on mother and daughter relationships within the context of adoption. The structure of the movie is ambitious – three complex stories which play out over more two years in the lives of three main characters. Annette Bennnng gives a professional performance as the middle-aged woman haunted by her experience of having given up her baby daughter for adoption when she was only fourteen. But her transformation from bitter, emotionally isolated and dowdy to nice, attractive and happily married in the space of a year was a little unconvincing. Naomi Watts portrays the daughter, thirty seven years later, as a gorgeous, promiscuous and emotionally stunted woman who also undergoes a transformation to pregnant and vulnerable. Like a Shakespearean tragic heroine, she dies, conveniently in my view, to allow the director to tie up the loose ends of her and her mother’s stories without the angst of a reunion between two troubled women. The third story is predictable so I leave that without comment except to say that it flows into the events of the other two tales. Personally I prefer the quirky realism of Pedro Almodovar’s Mother’s Day movie – All about my mother (1999). But that must wait for another blog.

Mother and child’ is a thoroughly women’s movie, not recommended by me for husbands or young children. Was it altogether too melodramatic, too contrived? I doubt it. Every adoption story I have heard from close friends and family with firsthand experience have all been stranger than fiction.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tuesday 11 May 2010: Celebrating 20 years of friendship

Dressed in our gladrags, on Friday evening Theresa and I shared a night on the town. Dining Italian at Capeesh, just a stone's throw from Thatchwick, we celebrated twenty years of friendship. 1990-2010. Fifty-somethings now; thirty-somethings when we met. Theresa was branching out from former journalist and full-time mum to publisher; I had just finished my doctorate with the idea of a little self-help book for women reentering the workplace a-bubble in my mind. It was a happy match.

Theresa is my inspiration friend! Just a few minutes with her and I am bursting with new ideas, insights and projects. Side by side we have travelled a few valleys too. Bereavement, serious illness, a beloved son's health in jeopardy. On Friday evening we drank a toast to life, friendship, God's abundant grace and future plans.

Monday, 10 May 2010: Kissing cousins

Joelle and Jaelene meet their new cousins, a moment of some big-eyed awe.

Jethro making us all grin.

A little girl and the wonder of a baby.

A new nursery to explore - what toys does Jethro have?