a brief encounter
A warm spring day.
I am sitting in Jardin de Luxembourg.
An elegant, elderly French gentleman on the bench next to me
initiates a relaxed conversation.
He is Parisian by birth.
I mention my Greek origins.
‘Greece,’ he says, ‘the mother of European civilization.’
He tells me of his life-long fascination with Greek mythology.
‘Paris also has her myths.
Though they do not unfold in stories in the way that the Greek myths do,
they are there, extensions of her history.
We should pay more attention to them.’
The perfume of the warm air slides gracefully around us.
A tacit understanding hovers between us.
We sit together in its vibrancy.
An angelic whisper floats downwards
towards the deep tone of a clarinet
that extends upwards to meet it,
creating an acute verticality.
Columns of purple light shimmer,
suggesting a transcendent architecture.
I stand inside of it, part of a mythic story
that extends deep into history and projects far into the future.
My movements are elongated.
I am not alone.
The thoughts and perceptions that pass through my mind
are embraced by a presence around me that draws me
I dance in connection with something
I feel reality and imagination
dancing exaltedly inside and outside of me.
I walk through the arch of the Invalides,
a complex of buildings with a central dome looming upwards
that houses aspects of the military history of France,
including the tomb of Napoleon.
History seeps towards me from all sides –
from the empty moat surrounding the buildings, to the iron cannons,
the arches, the cobblestones, the numerous statues.
I enter the corridor at the left,
which though dark, offers light at its end.
I reemerge into the sunlight and a lush green garden.
I enter the military hospital where a friend of mine is staying,
recovering from a knee injury. We spend a few hours together.
My friend was one of the ‘demoiselles de Gaulle’,
a group of women who followed the general during World War II.
They landed in Normandy shortly after D-Day,
where they served as intermediaries between the Allies and the civil population.
They arrived at battle sites to take care of the soldiers
and the organization of life after the fighting had passed.
Out of her window, the golden dome
of the Chapel de Saint Louis des Invalides glistens in the sunlight.
We are here, in this place of kings, soldiers and historical events,
talking casually and laughing.
History surrounds us and embraces us.
Our afternoon resonates in a context
that extends beyond us.
TRANSCENDENT VERTICALITYBill Viola Tristan’s Ascension
Grand Palais, Paris 2014
A tall screen occupies a round room.
At the bottom of the projected image
a man lies still on a stone slab.
Droplets of water begin to ascend.
They gradually increase in quantity
until they become an upward moving waterfall.
I stand in the center of the round vaulted space,
directly in front of the image.
I feel the waterfall passing through my body,
reinforcing my verticality.
At its full strength,
the figure is lifted off of the stone slab
and rises upwards,
as if by the force of the water.
Feet still planted firmly on the floor of the room,
I feel myself transported with him into another realm of reality.
Looking down at myself from above,
I feel both human and other.
The strength of the waterfall then slowly decreases,
until it is reduced to isolated drops
that float upwards and then cease altogether.
I stand revitalized in the ensuing
stillness and silence.