As a boy, I was not yet equipped with the endurance and briskness that today characterize my walking, so my late Father usually had to dupe me into the long, leisurely, philosophizing walks that he liked with promises of ice cream . Neither one of us cared about ice cream, really, but what the hell? it’s a goal and somehow a goal is what was necessary to get me on the road. I used the same motivator on my boy; he’s never cared for ice cream either; but what the hell? it was a goal.
My mother needed no perplexing self-deceptions, not to die even, and certainly not for walking. Quite simply, she saw it as a cheap, low-tech, not disagreeable and necessary transport option, especially for kids. Herself the embodiment of what “determined stride” and “brisk and business-like” mean, she was the goal-sought-itself and she could see no rational reason to see walking for what it was in itself, according to herself.
That meant that, during my childhood, walk mostly meant walking when walk met the criteria “cheap” and “necessary”, in that order. Dad and I had to put together a self-dupe to get me walking with him because Ma’s perspective meant that I walked a great deal from the moment I got off her tit and on my pins. After all, learning paternal philosophy during long, object-less strolls becomes somewhat of an effort when you spend your day striding dutifully from one dull moment to another. Thus were the two poles that compassed my childhood and make up the two legs on which I am launched in life.
It is my affection for contemporary dance that puts me in mind of the contrasting but strangely similar poles on which my life’s legs turn.
A landscape architect called Céline Le Tixerant has put me in mind of both childhood and contemporary dance.
As a personal favor, Céline is paying me a professional visit during a time out from her Dad’s care. I need some advice on putting together “a sustainable renewal” proposal for the little park in my co-op. The lawns and flower beds are quite run-down, are threatened by the recent changes in rainfall patterns; there is a rising clamor in the co-op association to make them “nice” again; I am sure that “nice” means ecologically-damaging lawn care and expensive-to-maintain flower beds; I and some others, Charles, Alice’s husband, notably, want to turn it into wild meadow and shared garden/playground space. Céline’s all for it, too.
A propos the poor, abused lawn, it begins raining cougars & wolves – so intensely that the fat, hot, heavy drops just splash off the parched earth, dispersing in the air or rolling grossly into the overflowing drains along the cracking asphalt walkways.
We sigh and I offer tea.
As I am making it, we chat bonelessly about my landscaping ennuis. From somewhere in the conversation, the word éphémérides – “associated events”, “repeated events”, “passing events”, “cosmic events” comes up.
Then the tea is ready.
We walk into the sitting room and I lay the cups and teapot out on the commodious glass top of the fiery-red club-foot tea table. We sit down next to each other on the matching fiery-red récamier which will probably be the pride of my life.
Céline suddenly hops up, crosses the room and rustles through an enormous rough-cloth handbag. She pulls out a thick-looking book, sits down again and shares the legal-size book between our laps. She invites me to look through it with her.
It’s a presentational book she has prepared for a cultural project in Nantes. It’s titled Moment Suspendu – “Suspended Moment”, “Floating Space”, “Place Apart”, “Outside Time” …
“Tu vois, Tracy,” Céline says, sliding her finger over some line drawings – some determined squiggles, some relaxed figures – “I made these after dancing, as an extension of the dance.”
She turns the page: “These are landscapes of the different places where we were dancing with Peter.”
I look at her sidelong. She’s intent on her moment apart.Céline has a shrill – girl-child – voice, is tiny, fragile-boned, full of a plain enthusiasm for living life. She certainly knows her business, too, since in the five minutes after coming in she had distilled the lawn/co-op problems into a single essence and outlined to me how I might most successfully shape my presentation to the association.
There is dance in her lines and figures, which makes me think of what dance is, which brings walking to mind, which brings memories of my parents.
Her unconscious smile graces an easy gravitas. As the French say, Céline has a certain serieux.
Our tea is “chai”, it has a little Christmas spice in it: No milk, please, she has said.
I feel good sitting down with her, here, hearing the rain crashing straight down beyond the ice-clear window panes. The rain’s falling drue, the French say, dense, thick, like hair.
Looking between the sketches and aquarelles and Céline’s profile, I remember how I felt when I was seven or so, sitting in a quieter corner of the playground, admiring Susie Holmes’ turning on her tippy-toes with her arms flung out, showing me herself: Moi!
– That’s the first time I saw a dance that wasn’t country square or swing, I think.
I have to bend slightly forward, look around Céline’s mass of very abundant, very curly, brown hair to see the images in the book.
Céline’s presence calls out sensibility – feeling and sensitivity, all at once, as Jane Austen meant. Her sérieux calls out sense, meaning. These pictures too call that out.
She, turns the page again, shows me, all in a rush, just as they must have rushed from her charcoal, pencil and brush, sharp geometrics, crowding squiggles, a flick of color – a lady at a train station coiled in her toils, some tree roots, a landscape.
Every one of the images makes sense to me as dance, as a complex choreography of sensibility, as part of Céline’s ongoing story, as part of our brief story, as part of this history.
I am thinking of dance within the story shaped by my parent’s contrasting desires and demands: two legs, two poles of sensibility swinging and turning on each other, like two helices generating unique sense at every step forward. It’s me, my choreography, or anybody’s choreography, all choreography, for that matter, that drives the tempo of a continuous turning on tippy-toes, arms flung out: hug the world or not? Spin? Or not? To light speed, Cap’n? Or not?
Céline turns the page. The book now takes on an air of medieval manuscript.
Before I can report my own characterization, though, I am genuinely absorbed by the fragment of watercolor running along the upper border of the book, an architectural cutaway of a mangrove swamp, quite lovely. I am opening my mouth, but no sound comes out.
I stop thinking of dance and return to here and now. “My brother asked me to make this for him, to liven up a boring presentation,” Céline comments.
Then she turns the pages and shows me sketches, drawings, watercolors that she’s made for business and herself, sometimes idly, sometimes purposefully. I guess it’s the colors over, on, in? the lines that touch me most, or at least, force my attention now..
Is color the equivalent of tempo in dancing? Is technique the painterly equivalent of choreography?
I don’t know.
I feel I do know that the mesh of the lines and the reflections of color I see are a splash of Céline’s sense, that her story(ies) is/are a mirror that situates the splash of color or the strength of line, that the framing gives way to sense of these images that we share and enjoy sitting side by side on the fiery-red récamier …
As I think this, she tells me she doesn’t sign them. The sketches and paintings, I mean.
“What?” I say, “Why ever not?”
“I put a stamp on them so people know where they come from,” – situating things is important to the spectator’s full enjoyment, she says. “But,” she dontinues, “None of this really belongs to anyone once it’s made like this, once it’s shared.” Distancing is just as important as situating, she thinks.