The Energy of Place

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When you travel do you ever pay attention to the energy of a place? Do you notice feeling better in some locations over others? Have the feeling of Deja vu in a place you’ve never been? Or been repelled by some place for no obvious reason?

For many years those questions did not come up for me. But as I have learned that all of life is energy and some energy resonates with us and some, not so much. I have started to notice how a place makes me feel. One example is Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I visited there a few years ago with my sister and niece. Perhaps it was the heat and humidity but I did not find anything about that place enjoyable. I was as prickly as the heat and so was everyone around me. I did not resonate with this energy and normally I love cities on the water. 

On my recent trip back to the UK, Diana and I visited Oxford again. On our bus trip last year we felt that we didn’t get to spend enough time exploring so this year we took the train and our own self-guided tour.  I love Oxford. Maybe it’s all the history, all that knowledge wrapped up in those stone walls. Or, the fact that the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland played on the banks of the River Cherwell. Diana and I took one of the boat tours guided by a Punter, which is basically the same as a gondolier but without the singing. Floating down the river past the Botanical gardens just felt right. I was relaxed and happy. I feel good in Oxford.

London feels good to me also. Paris, not so much. I had always been more intrigued by Paris. I have dreamed I was a writer in the Palace of Versailles long before I ever saw photos or stepped inside its walls. I have dreamed in French and in one dream I sang the French National Anthem standing in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. So, it took me by surprise when I arrived in Paris and didn’t feel any connection to it. I was disappointed by my response.  I give credit to the fact that I only spent 4 days there and perhaps it wasn’t enough time to give it a fair shake. But, frankly, I found its hype as “the most beautiful and romantic city in the world” overrated. There were things I liked about it but overall I found it a tough city to navigate. I felt that I went to Paris with love in my heart and it spat on me. Literally. Twice.

One of the things I liked about London over Paris is that you can see the history through the architecture.  In Paris in the 1840’s each arrondissement was  taken to the ground and all rebuilt in the same stone, with the same iron work and the same wide avenues. Paris is built in a circular fashion and each neighborhood is like a wheel with a park in the center and the streets coming off it like spokes. We just walked in circles until we figured that out. From the Eiffel Tower Paris is the beigest city I have ever seen. You can tell the residential neighborhoods by their ironwork and colorful doors, the churches by their spires and the government buildings by all the gold leaf otherwise it all looks the same. 

London, on the other hand is far more colorful and diverse. I get bored with beige and, did you know, that beige is the color of repressed anger? No wonder the Parisiennes are so cranky! haha.

I find it very interesting to notice these things. And, as I pay attention to the energy around me, I realize I can manipulate my own energy by putting it in places that resonate with me. I do plan to visit Paris again when I can spend some leisurely time there. But it will be hard for me to tear myself away from going back to London. After we spent a few days in Brugge and Amsterdam and it was time to take the train back to the UK, I told Diana, I feel like I am going “home” to London.

Taking Back My Power

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A few years ago (I”m trying not to remember specifically) I had 3 of my paintings stolen.  Yup. It happens, I guess. There was a new restaurant in town. A Cajun place on campus corner and I ended up hanging 3 of my paintings there.  Some time later I went back for dinner. What I found was the place bordered up. The restauranteurs had fled in the middle of the night and taken everything not nailed down including the kitchen sink … and my paintings.

I contacted the landlord, who owns a great deal of campus corner, and did not even get a courtesy call back.  My friend was more angry than I at the time. I buried the anger under self-blame “Oh well, the food wasn’t that good I should have known better” and “They’re gone, nothing I can do about it.”  So, I moved on and kept painting. Unfortunately, though I had photos of the paintings they weren’t good quality photos. Not the quality that prints could be made from. So, it was a real bum deal.

Losing a painting, or two or three, isn’t the end of the world. They weren’t Picasso’s after all. They were still my work. Something that I had envisioned and brought to life and they also represented different periods of my life I was going through at the time.  I had emotional attachment to them. I would have sold them, but to a good home.  I did a pretty good job of pushing them out of my thoughts and only occasionally did I think about them.  Until today.

This morning I woke up and while reading “Finding Water” by Julia Cameron, I was inspired to repaint the Paris bakery painting. It was one of the first paintings where I think my personal style started to develop. As I write this I have sketched the drawing and finished the under-painting. When I finish this writing I will get back to putting the actual color to the canvas. I might actually finish it today.

When I painted it the first time it took me several weeks of classes to paint. Now that I’ve had more experience I might be able to knock it out in a day. Which, also inspires me to find the not so good photos of the other two and repaint them as well.

Today I am not just painting a picture. Today I am releasing a long-held anger and resentment toward the “thieves” who took my paintings with them and probably just tossed them in a dumpster.  They could do that. But what they can’t steal from me is my creativity, my memory and my skills. I could paint dozens of that Paris bakery if I wanted to.  So, the jokes on them. And I feel better!

Why I Travel

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As Diana and I planned our trip to London we decided to take a short train ride on our first afternoon to Cambridge.  We’ve both been doing some genealogy and I had discovered a 7th great-grandmother was born there in 1655. Diana had found a 3rd cousin who had been shot down a few miles from Cambridge during WWII in 1945 and was buried at the American cemetery there.  Thus began what we dubbed our “WWII Tour”.

Through Ancestry.com Diana had met a cousin who told her the story of Gordon Henry, the fallen soldier. And, had put her in touch with Chris who had information about the crash and lived near the site. Diana contacted him and he volunteered to meet us and give us a tour of the cemetery. We had no idea what we were in for.

We were straight from the plane having just dropped our bags at the hotel and ran to catch our train. We were road weary and hungry. Chris and his girlfriend met us. The cemetery looked a little like Arlington only smaller. Very beautiful grounds and peaceful. We thought that Chris was just going to show us to the grave site. Turns out that 19 years ago Chris and his little sister stumbled upon debris from the crash site. Chris didn’t know what it was exactly but knew enough to take it to the military where they traced it to the site of the crash of the Flying Fortress. The plane had taken off and one of the engines had failed. The pilot managed to maneuver the plane away from the village of Bury St. Edmonds but only two of the crew survived the crash. Gordon was not supposed to be on the flight that day. Another crew member was sick and Gordon took his place. Chris told us that this other crew member had never really recovered from the survivor’s guilt.

Chris knew this because once he knew what the debris was from he became obsessed with the story. For several years he continued to excavate the crash site. He showed us photos of the site and all the bits, including live ammunition, he had found. And he had spent the last 19 years tracking down the surviving crew or their families. He had even traveled to America twice to meet them.  Chris had photos of the plane, the crew, family members and other details connected to the event. Three of the crew members are buried in this cemetery along with Joseph Kennedy and Glenn Miller.

Chris is telling us all this as he walks us around the cemetery showing us the headstones. When we get to Gordon’s the cemetery Curator comes out with two small flags, the American and British. He puts them in the ground at the Italian marble cross and touches a button on a remote control and plays taps. It was one of the most moving events of my life.

This man died 67 years ago and no other family member had ever been able to visit this graveside.  And here we stood, 5 people all strangers to each other, except for Diana and I, and all strangers to Gordon. But he finally received his funeral. 

Inside the offices were more photos and text and a book with the names of all the US soldiers buried here. Diana got lots of photos. I do not think that I can convey the depth of emotion that this event evoked and the sense of wonder & awe at all the events that had to happen that brought us all together on that day.

Several days later we had made our way to Amsterdam with our tickets to Anne Frank’s house. Diana planned this as the first thing we would do assuming it would have a somber effect on us. In honor of this event we both reread her Diary. I didn’t know when I read it years ago, as a child myself, that her father had edited out parts that he thought unflattering to his wife and parts that dealt with Anne’s budding sexuality. She was 14 after all. We read an updated and unedited version. I finished the book just an hour before our tour.  And it did, indeed, have a somber and sobering effect.

It was not what I expected. Having read for years that they lived in an “attic” I had something totally different in mind. It was really like living on two floors of a small apartment. But with 8 people living there, it was tight quarters and they kept all the windows blacked out – so it felt dark and oppressive. It was easy to see how they could live there for 2 years undetected from the street. And so incredibly sad that they almost survived the war. They were turned in, no one still knows who did that, only about 2 months before the end of the war in 1945.

A few days later we are back in London. After having ridden the London Eye we made our way to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Built in the 1600’s by the architect Christopher Wren, this Cathedral is stunning. The first thing we noticed was how bright and light it was in comparison to others we’d seen. Turns out Wren used clear glass panes in the windows rather than stained glass. And the Fleming family (of which Ian is a member) had donated a total of 23 million pounds to have the stone cleaned inside and out.  As we stood in the foyer deciding on where to start our self-guided tour a volunteer asked if he could help us.

“Ah, you are from the States” (we got that a lot). He asked where and we told him Oklahoma. He went on to inform us that at the other end of the church we would notice there were stained glass windows not original to the church. That part of the church had been bombed during the war. When they replaced the windows it was decided to honor the US war dead who had fought for Britain. So each of the panes is a state flag or seal and he wanted to show us ours. Diana mentioned her cousin and having visited the cemetery. To which he informed us that all the US cemeteries had books with the names of the soldiers buried in them. But, it had been decided to put all the names in one book that would be housed at St. Paul’s. Just under the window with the Oklahoma State flag was a table and under a red velvet cover was this book. He opened it for us and we found Gordon Henry’s name. Turns out our volunteer was leading a free guided tour at 2 which would finish at 3:30 and end at the cafe where we had a reservation for high tea.

The final event that happened was on Sunday during the Queen’s Jubilee. We had tickets to Battersea Park for the Boat Flotilla.  The beautiful weather took a turn toward the cold and rainy. Of all our days on this trip, this day was the most frustrating because of the weather & crowds and we were having a hard time finding a spot so we could see. We had decided to throw in the towel and were leaving the park when Diana saw a spot that might work. So we decided to be troopers and give it a try. We met the nicest family behind us who became very concerned that we get the best view. And in front of us another gentleman who offered me his jacket and a sandwich.  Standing next to him was an elderly man in a London Fog.

The first gentleman turns to us and says, “I’m sure you don’t know who you are standing next to.” Of course, we didn’t. Then he introduces us to his father, Charles Clarke. This man turns out to be the last surviving member of Stalag Luft III. The German concentration camp that the movie The Great Escape is based on.  The escape happened in…. wait for it…. 1945.  I didn’t remember much about the event but looked him up on-line. Sure enough, he was legit. And it turns out of the many that escaped almost all were recaptured and executed. Charles was one of three that was not recaptured. I just turned to Diana completely stunned. There were minimum of 60,000 people in the park that day. What were the odds that we would end up standing next to this man after everything else that had happened?

This is why I travel. There were many other sites we saw that didn’t involve this war. We met many wonderful people and got to see the Queen.  And not one of these events would have happened if I hadn’t made the effort to make the trip.

I travel for the sense of adventure, awe and wonder. Not in a million years could I have created these events on my own.  Nor would I have thought I even wanted to.

I will end by saying this. I had always said that funerals were for the living. I don’t believe that anymore. I do believe that spirit lives on. But now I am convinced that not only does it live on but how we honor them is as important to the departed as it is for the grieving. It’s not to say that his family didn’t grieve his passing. They probably had some kind of memorial service for him. But for some reason it was important to him to have someone acknowledge the event where it happened. I was honored to be part of it. This trip was deeply personal, emotional and meaningful. I have been changed by it.

There is a beautiful video at this site www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries.ca.php

And if you are interested in Charles Clarke check out  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1246442/British-veterans-forced-gruelling-Long-March-Poland-enact-journey-65-years-later.html

 

Art and Travel

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Two of my favorite things to do are put my oil paints on canvas and travel. Recently, I’ve been able to do both as part of my work. 

I just returned from 3 weeks in London, Amsterdam and Belgium. This is where the art meets the travel. Not only am I collecting images I intend to paint soon but I was in the land of artistic overwhelm. We spent a full day at the Victoria and Albert museum where this one facility alone houses 4.5 million artifacts; paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, jewelry, architecture. The opportunity for inspiration knows no limits. In Amsterdam we visited Rembrandt’s home, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijks Museum.

I was excited to learn that Rembrandt made a very fine living for himself as an artist, teacher and dealer in the 1600’s long before the advent of the internet. This dispels some of the myth that all artists are starving, addicts or crazy.  Rembrandt’s home was large and luxurious even by today’s standards. Unfortunately, like so many, his spending kept pace with his income and he suffered some unfortunate investments toward the end of his life. But, his art made money!

Also, in Rembrandt’s home we saw a video that showed the methods used to study a painting to determine if it is authentic or copy. Turns out a painting has a DNA much like a person does.

 At the Van Gogh museum you learn that he wasn’t born an artist. He and his brother, Theo, worked for the same art dealer. Van Gogh was an adult before he decided to study art and  see if he had any ability.  And, he produced all of his work in a ten-year period. The museum is orchestrated so that you see the progression of his work rather than seeing it piece-meal in variety of places or books.

In all of the museums, castle’s and cathedrals you see that art has played a part in people’s lives from our earliest times. In the earliest days the church and the wealthiest families commissioned paintings, sculpture and the decorative arts.  Many artists were basically put on a retainer. Often the paintings and sculpture were to commemorate the monarchies, or as political and religious propaganda for the church. 

One of my favorite quotes is “Art is power and people with power always have art.” Art was not always intended as something to just decorate the walls and halls with and people didn’t choose it because it matched the sofa. Art made a statement and art was often revolutionary or at least illustrated the revolution.

The amount of art that has been produced since the dawn of human kind is staggering, historical and often beyond comprehension when you know they created such works with often very primitive methods and tools.

Art and travel colliding in my world is enriching it beyond measure. It’s one thing to see these works in photographs. But so much more impressive to stand before it in person in the very spot the artist stood as he worked out his composition. The pieces take on so much more meaning for me as I walk in the footsteps of the artistic giants who forged the path so that I could one day put my oil on a canvas or stand before their works and marvel on a foreign shore.

And what is even more inspiring and comforting is to know their story. To know they questioned themselves every time they picked up a brush. Could they do it? Would they do it? Would it be accepted? Would they be successful? Some were rewarded in their lifetime and others never knew their contribution.  But the human part of the struggle for every person seems to be the same no matter your field.