Luxe, Calme et Volupte
Recently I received an irresistible invitation to a voyage, and I am currently
preparing to depart for a land of mysterious charms where
all is order and beauty, luxury, calm and pleasure.
Call me foolish, if you will, for investing my life’s fortune in a fleeting intuition, but
grant at least that I’ve the courage to take a risk (although for me it was an easy
decision, one with which you’d probably concur if you knew my alternatives).
But my italics betray me, and the attentive reader already suspects that, by
invoking first Baudelaire’s poem and then Matisse’s evocation of Saint-Tropaz, I am
constructing an extended metaphor and that, far from being a swashbuckling
adventurer, I’m a near-sighted, knocked-kneed scholar for whom a drive to the local
convenience store is excitement enough.
But let us examine the metaphor closely: the painting, itself inspired by the poem,
and reminiscent of some Mediterranean fable – this painting, with its little pastel
brush strokes like so many disembodied bricks floating in the luminous air, its
unnatural colors combining with the archetypal simplicity of its forms to the point
where, for a moment, the scene dissolves into pure design…and reappears,
magically transformed into the present beach at Baiting Hollow on this July
morning, with its own glimmering waters, its own “misty sunlight of those cloudy
skies,” its countless, diminutive, sea-hewn stones whom centuries of sun have
bleached pale apricot, sunset grape, its spiral shells, their voluptuous white
chambers streaked with caramel, its fantastic vanilla cloud-castles, white-winged
gulls or distant sails, adrift on cerulean blue – this painting, I say, is for me the
invitation, a fleeting glimpse, an earnest for the soul, vague but persuasive, while
the journey is nothing other than the happy labor of recreating these poetic and
pictorial impressions in music.
For I need to respond to the world (of art and of nature) in an articulate form,
without sacrificing the mysterious, to “speak the language of flowers and all silent
things,” to distill from experience order and beauty.
So maybe now you can understand what I meant when I spoke of taking a risk, and
perhaps you’re willing to grant me a certain courage after all. For this journey is a
one-way affair, and the treasure I invest is my time on this earth. (Though,
honestly, what else would I do? Investment banking? Open a fast food chain?)
But if, as I embark, the path and even the goal seem as hazy as the far horizon
when I stand on Baiting Hollow’s sandy shores, this is no cause for worry: it’s only
as one approaches, an oar-stroke at a time, that the Unknown Country reveals
itself. For the soul’s a homeless wanderer, and the promised lands he dimly
dreams are brightened through his sojourning. And he is but the little image of the
world’s soul who fashions, as it goes and from its needs, all loftier things, the gods
and the heavens, and order and beauty too: Oh, may I awake, at journey’s end, in
some bright, unknowable, nascent Kingdom that lies sleeping, just the other side
of this music!