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Saturday, January 18, 2020

My Beautiful Things

Male peacock at Holy Trinity Monastery, St. David, AZ

Years ago, the first time I ever visited a U.P. friend in her house, I came back out, bubbling over with enthusiasm, to the car where the Artist had waited. “She has rocks everywhere, hand-made quilts — books, of course — even a wasp’s nest!” He asked, “Does she have objets de vertu?” The phrase was French but not familiar to me, and I asked what it meant. “Beautiful things,” he told me. I was taken aback (why was he even asking?) and protested, “I already told you she has a wasp’s nest!” 

My Upper Peninsula friend had a kitchen full of her home-canning projects and a living room overflowing with books. Out on her porch were numerous wind chimes. She had chickens! I found her world enchanting, chickens included, because just as Amy March envied girls with nice noses, I always envy girls and women with horses and/or chickens. Chickens, whether beautiful or not (and chickens do vary in looks), all make those lovely, soothing, soft clucking sounds. And my grandmother had chickens, so there’s that, too.

Male in full display mode
I’ve never yearned for peacocks, but we enjoy seeing them at Holy Trinity Monastery south of St. David, and the males were in full display on our last visit, where we lingered to watch them. If only this male had displayed against some background other than green shrubbery! Well, the monastery is always a peaceful place, as it should be, away from the larger world’s hustle and bustle. — Not that our ghost town winter is characterized by hustle and bustle, except for bombardments of daily news, and even those are easily left behind, simply by walking out the door and into the quiet desert. 

Peahens are beautiful, too, in their quieter way.

But birds, lovely though they be, are leading me away from my subject -- the one I have not even begun to address -- which is: my own beautiful things. 

Cheap, modest beauty

Things I buy for myself are rarely new or expensive, particularly during my winter seasonal retirement, when five dollars on a non-necessity is a splurge that comes straight out of the grocery budget. I have to think very carefully before taking the plunge. Crucial question: Is this something that will give me lasting pleasure? Last year I splurged on an unframed painting at an estate sale, something I still look at often and enjoy, and the latest self-indulgence this year is another painting, this one a complicated Chinese scene from the past, appearing to represent an important dignitary arriving by horseback (in a village, perhaps?), preceded by an entourage to announce his arrival. I particularly like the little black dog cavorting in the background at the upper left. I like the touch of whimsy and the real-world feeling that little dog adds to the scene.

Not one of those subtle, understated and exquisite nature studies from a Japanese master, still this work charms me and will, I’m sure, continue to do so. In the same vein, I recently bought four small Navajo sand paintings, their artists identified by name and photo on the backs. These, of course, have spiritual significance, as well as aesthetic excellence, and they could not be more at home here in Arizona, so how could I resist? 

(Fourth is over my desk.)

And with the newly acquired Chinese and Navajo works, the walls of my little reading and writing corner are full, so now, shelves full of books (beautiful to me), writing tablets stacked on the desk, ephemera and mementoes tucked into the frame of the mirror, art on the walls, boots (when I’m not wearing them) propped in the corner between bookshelves (one pair) and (the other) perched high above, the entire corner gives joy to my soul. All of these are material objects. All beautiful to me, each adds to my happiness and contentment, and I love them in ensemble, both night and day.

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