"First of all, move me, surprise, rend my heart;
Make me tremble, weep, shudder, outrage me!
Delight my eyes, afterwards, if you can . . .
Whatever the art form, it is better to be extravagant.
Denis Diderot, 1713-1784
I love that my acceptance letter for the Chateau d'Orquevaux Artists & Writers Residency contained this quote. It covers everything imaginable about art, including its philosophy, and everything unimaginable, or, more correctly, not yet imaginable.
The first day--3 days after the email showed up in my box--I was cautiously excited, as in, how could this have happened and I'm not sure I believe it, and is it really even a big deal. When I read it to my husband, he was so happy for me. He's so supportive. He started right in on plans for a new computer, another camera lens, first class airline tickets and a limo service so I wouldn't have to rent a car and drive. A friend staying with us at the time wondered what kind of scam it was. I didn't want to listen.
I spent the whole day thinking of all the things I would need to do before the trip in ten short months, like develop a portfolio, do the genealogy so I could connect with the chateau in the ways I do when I travel, improve my skills, read books, and, of course, refresh my high school French. My husband cautioned, pace yourself. He's right, but I couldn't help myself.
The next day I started in on the genealogy. Wading through 12600 entries in ancestry.com and building a spreadsheet took two full days and I was left with no connection to the region at all. My Frankish ancestors had almost exclusively been on the Channel coast, some four-five hours from the chateau, and, besides, they had moved on to England by the twelfth century five hundred years before the chateau was built.
I'll have to come up with some other approach, though fictionally placing Robert the Brus at the Chateau is not completely out of the question. Books started coming to mind--John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, Paul Theroux's plethora of travel literature; Jorge Luis Borges; Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Some research into Diderot got me to Milan Kundera and a bunch of literary articles on their similarities and writing. Of course, I'll have to re-read all my Kunderas now. And last, so far, The Mind's Eye by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Then, there are the French lessons. Yes, I need to pace myself because by day three I was descending into the dark place where the only question is what could I possibly have to offer the other in-residence attendees from my meagre and simple, accidental talent? Well, it might also have been the migraine which quite possibly came from all the over-thinking. My greatest worry that day was how would I possible keep up a social media log of this tremendously wonderful opportunity.
On day four, all was better, the deposit had been paid, I found a great notebook in my stash, and I'm vowing to just take it one day at a time. How over used is that sentiment, but how useful it is to keep one out of one's head.
A word or two about the photo. This is a 1936 Linhof Technika field camera. Since my grandfather left me a treasure trove of photographs from the 1930s, I can only assume that he took the ones from the latter part of the decade, and into the 1940s, with this camera. It's in great condition, with the plates and carrying case all intact. But it doesn't seem very user-friendly to me. How far technology has come. Technika, by the way, is a Czech word for both technology and technique. Nickolaus Karpf, who joined the Linhof company in 1934, designed the first of a long line of models still in production today. The photo in the background is of me taking photos at the Petrified Forest in the Painted Desert in Arizona. I hope the combination of these two images adequately illustrates Milan Kundera's philosophy, in concert with Denis Diderot, of the unrealized possibilities of oppositions--past/present and technique/technology.