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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A River in the High Ardeche

The Ardeche region of France is full of twisting mountain roads with vertiginous views across a wild terrain and vertical drops of hundreds of feet. The occasionally glimpsed village sits nestled on the peaks like a jewel set amid the rocks and pine forests, aloof and independent of the rest of the world. Driving here is both frightening and ecstatic--one misturn on the hairpin twists sans guardrails and one plummets to certain destruction --yet there is also a sense of freedom akin to weightlessness. It is an intense voyage and I was always glad to find a respite from this sensation of unearned flight by traveling down into the meandering river beds that snake through these mountains. Here is solid ground and peace, enveloped among the stones that bear the mark of centuries of moving water. I spent the night in one particularly beautiful valley and in the morning, wading in the midst of round boulders and clear pools I began a sort of moving meditation on the fascinating nature of water.
I became particularly engrossed by the patterns made by the water as it moved among the stones, braiding over itself, forming concentric rings, refracting sunlight. Everywhere there was evidence of energy and an organization of this strange form/no form that had sculpted the valley

Mid photo above water striders balance on the surface tension.


Adding to the magical aura of this place, the wildlife seemed amazingly unafraid. I could gently stroke the dragonflies resting on the warm stones and they didn't stir until they were finished sunbathing. Lizards came and went in the sand at my feet. I crouched by a spider in her moisture beaded web mid stream among the rocks and water spray...

And more than once an image of my presence became entangled in the water's story.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nomadness....My Faery Caravans and a Pilgrimage to Sainte Sarah


Gypsy Dreams Blog Party
 
From earliest childhood I dreamed of living a life of freedom in a home on wheels. My parents were confirmed travelers and the love of the open road became an intrinsic part of me almost before I could walk...


It was only natural that the traditional Romany vardo became the symbol of my longing, fueled in part by my grandmother's stories of stumbling across hidden Gypsy encampments in her own childhood. I often drew myself standing in front of my longed for caravan, accompanied by a pair of goats and a grazing draft mare with shaggy fetlocks...






















A few years ago I began to make and sell miniature fairytale versions of my dream house in natural materials from field and forest---these photographs are a few examples. (You can learn more at   http://www.pandorajane.etsy.com)
But my real life adventure was just beginning...


For more than fifteen years I carried a small black and white photocopy amongst my belongings as I moved from one part of the US to another. It was the image of a dark faced saint within a low, barrel vaulted crypt filled with glimmering tapers. She was beautiful and powerful, romantic and mystical, more the stuff of dreams than reality.
So was I surprised then---in May, 2007--- to find myself experiencing in person the magic of the festival of Sainte Sarah, patron saint of the Rom people? Yes and no. Perhaps I had set my intention years before, when I first made that photocopy---and out of longing and focus it became inevitable.



           I have experienced the phenomena twice now and it hasn't lost any of its fascination for me...


On her feast day of May 24, after receiving throngs of visitors who kiss her feet and face, petition her for miracles and leave tokens of gratitude for answered requests, Sarah leaves the low ceilinged crypt of the Romanesque church in Saintes Maries de la Mer to travel the brief distance to the sea. Accompanying her are the horseback mounted Camargue guardians and a stream of visitors from around the globe. Small Gypsy girls in the ruffled polka dot dresses of Flamenco dancers play in the gentle surf as the adults jostle and try to anticipate Sarah's exact path into the water, straining to be as near her as possible. She will be carried out to the horses' chest height in the sea, through a narrow pathway that opens through the human crush and then as quickly closes. My daughter and I stand in warm, ankle deep water among the crowd. I feel surprisingly safe (despite being packed in like the proverbial sardines), at peace, and part of something larger than myself. The beach and stone breakwaters are lined with spectators and the cries go up as the figure of Sarah, held high, advances among a sea of outstretched arms. Then it is just as quickly over---she is paraded back to the crypt while around the ancient church a long night of music and dance commences.



Sadly for those of us with a romantic bent, the traditional caravans of the Rom have been all but replaced by the uniform white of Ford transit vans. A few of the craftspeople bring traditional style wagons to the festival, although a bit more of the magic is lost each year.
 



 But sometimes even the dog gets to have his day---in a handmade caravan dog house.

                                And the organ grinder's cart yields a moment of baroque pleasure...


As for me, my life has come to be one often spent on the road--no lovely caravan yet, just a white camping car traversing France since May, 2009. This blog is a document of not only my art but also a small part of the overwhelmingly beautiful scenery and historic sites I've enjoyed in the country I now call home. It is also a reminder to be careful what you wish for... it just might come true.