Friday, February 15, 2013

mist and mysticism

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.” 
--Juliet, re: Romeo

The goal for Edinburgh was simple: see the stars.
Because, when I went to Bath, I saw stars. Lots and lots of stars.
And if you have the privilege of living where there are few city lights at night, you can see blankets and blankets of stars. They make the heaven so fine, that you forget you want the day to come.
But then you see light beams cutting through clouds, just like they do in paintings.
And you cannot help but be struck by awe, and pay homage to the master artist and his garish sun.

As I walked through the National Gallery, I am always struck by how incredible even the smallest of paintings is.
It is miraculous solely because of the light.
I saw a small pendant painting of the Holy Family that made me stop dead in my tracks, because it was illuminated with a light that didn't come from the sun-filled skylight above me, it didn't come from the paints or the paintbrush or the canvas.
Where did that light come from? I couldn't discover the mystery.
I fluttered from painting to painting. I started with the Caravaggio (now fully lit in the light of the sun, robbed of some of the gloomy, reverent mystery that it oozes at nighttime, but full of a lucid, mysterious glory during the day. Light emanated from the painting. A direct stream of light, unlike the Holy Family's mystic, golden gleam.
The painting of Niagara falls was full of rainbows, dancing light, light reflecting off thousands of millions of water droplets.
The tantalizing mystery remained out of reach.

I walked into the Greyfriars graveyard twice. 
Once when it was sunny.
Once when it was cloudy.
The weather had changed, but the atmosphere remained.

As I sat eating Haggis out of my coffee cup in the soft, quiet courtyard of the close, singing softly to the white pigeon nearby, drinking in the smell of Edinburgh (it smells like rich meats roasting and potatoes frying and warm bread baking and very dark, smoky whiskey fermenting. If I ever made a perfume, I would bottle up that smell and call it Eau de Edínmbourg, and it would be magical) and soaking in the warmth of the sun and the emerald sheen of the grass, I wondered not how painters captured All This in a painting, but how All This got here in the first place.
I was struck by how beautiful the sunbeams are.
No one has ever explained to me why sunbeams are so beautiful.
There's a why to the way things are; but there's no why for beauty.
Beauty just is, I thought.

Satisfied with that thought for the present, I finished my haggis, tripped on several loose flagstones, and went to go find my friends.

"Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retired:
Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be desired,
And not blush so to be admired."
--Edmund Waller, Go Lovely Rose

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