Though my reason for this morning trip to Chambery is far from ideal, as I sip my Cafe Glace, I can feel my bones loosen as the city’s charm works its magic on me.
So much empty space reaches its body from market to market, from boutique to cafe. Ancient cobblestone polished by the tracks of over 700 years of foot traffic. The light steps of locals trace these ghosts of Sovie’s 1295 kingdom capital, and it is hard to be upset about my little tragedies.
My waterlogged laptop, the bike gear tear in my jeans, the broken teeth of my expensive wallet zipper, and the never-ending soap drama of getting prescriptions in a foreign country. Okay, I am still upset about the laptop, but really, I shouldn’t be.
How many people have trampled over this very spot with no grasp of what the word laptop could possibly mean? How many trousers have been torn from ankles here? I am lucky to have coins to spill from my wallet, and experiencing another country is a gift I will never regret.
Privilege checked for the moment, my mind can wander from red roof to gray tower, awed by the morning mist that enchants Chambery’s center even further.
I can see eras of petticoats catching on the stone underfoot. The same stone clacked by horseshoes and soothed by wooden wheels for hundreds of years. Ivory canes stamp the places in between, and language passes like a human symphony. Moss grows in tufts along pale walls and collects in green patches where stone and cobblestone make their corner, forever.
Amid the regular chatter, my ears pick up on the sound of English from the table beside me. I overhear one woman, dressed in green beaded lace that travels from collar to floor, telling her knit sweater companion that “you cannot truly be yourself in front of others. That is simply the performance of self.”
I have heard this remark before, and though I have previously decided it doesn’t strike in me a complete note of truth, it does spur delicate digestion of the words.
Which me will I dress in today?
I flip through endless hung selves in mirrored closet,
What does it mean to perform for others?
Is the self another? Does the girl I touch from inside count
as a swollen head, tracking the movement of her limbs? My limbs.
Do I have to belong to anyone?
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder,
but what if it’s not beauty but being?
We belong to our beholders, to the eyes
wandering along scrubbed skin. The eyes that
climb the length of our bodies & burn our image
in the back of our retinas, just like science class.
You- there. The you that is me,
the one I see in flipped phone camera,
do you see me- some faceless puppeteer?
Or is it her you see? Pretty & Confident & Smiling
at the lens. The same being regarded
by marbles, inlaid in friendly heads.
They have seen so many girls.
Spent years seeing a teenage basket case
and observing an accomplished woman,
watching a comic, a sad girl, a girl full of laughs too late at night.
Do they mean their words when they purr them to my ego?
When we smash our faces together and smile?
There is nothing to do but laugh at the other eyes,
the yellowed and bloodshot who whistle
from mut mouths.
Twisting unintelligible words through yelps and howls.
They see fresh meat walking- how miraculous- an object
they window shop and wish they had the year and money to buy.
Even their selves are elusive. A moment
changed by the next, but this I know.
All staring eyes trace the outline of my back
and imagine what lies beneath. Sometimes
thin and rumbling ribs, or a heart beating & bleeding
fresh and blue, still a lace cage of bone. This I know.
I am a woman,
shaped by those who see her. Owned
by all versions of the truth.
This weekend, the 17th and 18th of September, France hosts the “Journees du Patrimoine.” In Chambery, the celebration of French heritage means that their historical attractions are open and free for the public.
Aside from the buzz of museum patrons and sightseeing families, the town swells with the typical Saturday traffic of its weekly market.
The pedestrian square overflows with vendors of all kinds. Large cheese trucks with flagrant fair, vegetable tables bright with organic orange and local green. Other vans open their doors to hanging meat, and farmers create castle walls from crated chickens. The hens scream through beaked mouths when his rough hands bind their red flailing legs, and I can’t help but cringe away from the sound and sight.
It feels so cruel to shove life into cardboard boxes, even if the strapped and peddled journey leads to a happy home, to a daily life of eggs and stroked feathers. Even if their small life serves infant hands as they are both taught about the circle of life.
It still feels wrong.
Chicks & Chickens
Is there anything worse than life in a box?
Strangled semblance of a free-beating heart.
The heart still bleeds.
Even if you can’t see it.
Even if you lock it away.
Even if you close your eyes & scream.
You will still smell iron, dripping.
Metallic nature will lick on your tongue,
the veins caught in your teeth.
This is the way of life. This is the fate
of the delicate & delicate hearted.
If you can’t fight & win with bare hand, you are weak.
Because words can’t break the force of muscled arms,
elbows locked around necks stop the sound from echoing.
Words are latent. They slither,
poison like Eve’s serpent.
Lingering in that empty space between ears & biting
after its smart tongue has been severed.
A walk through the loud market brings me to my true objective, the Musee de Beaux-Art de Chambéry.
Entering the former grain hall, its sliding door entrance lacks the awe of the paintings inside. Mounting its three flights of stairs and resting my eyes on painted canvas and wood, I begin to enjoy the quiet beauty of this Savoie art.
The museum houses a small collection of art from the Middle ages to the 20th century, focusing on beautiful renditions of the region’s landscape and religious paintings. The landscapes are soft and understated as the religious works boast gold and violence in their typical fashion.
Among the others, one painting stands out for its subtlety and elegance, despite the hints of violence that lie beneath first glance.
Judith Presentant la Tete d’Holophere Vers
Draw violent lines into soft curves.
Light reflects on faces from imagined source,
but the faces are imagined too, and
aren’t we all?
All our digits & prints just figments of some God’s imagination.
Some say life makes no sense without a Him,
without their voices singing hymns to Him in the sky.
But isn’t that the point of all this?
Nothing is meant to make sense, nothing is meant to do anything
Isn’t living all the more magical this way?
What is living but a waking dream of life?
Our dream. Our life.
Our violence and our severed heads
Who’s to say that is the end?
Perhaps like stars, our souls burst into that same dust of being.
Perhaps our faces come home as the earth takes flesh from bone.
Isn’t this more magical than heaven?
Isn’t nature more righteous?
The rivers that chisel rock & the drops that dew our skin
are followers of no right or wrong.
All they know is stardust. Gravity,
the buzz of perpetual motion inside ourselves,
the falling and severing of molecules,
love & hate stirring between lips & hands
is just movement.
All the same, as we are.
It all gets kinder
if we stop straining to know anything for certain.
Some things just fall from the sky like rain,
all bodies are flooded with dust & some self we named soul,
and life just flows,
leaving rocks & the rigid behind.