Motionless Futurists.

For Fluffy mou

Italian artist Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) was a key proponent of Futurism and a signatory of their 1910 Manifesto. He was most interested in depicting light and motion. Although a native of Turin, Balla moved to Rome in 1895. Here he met his wife, Elisa Marcucci. The couple had two daughters, Luce and Elica.

Now Balla pursued his artfull time earning a living as an illustrator and a portrait painter. But, after meeting Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Balla adopted the Futurist style. He used the style not only in his paintings but in his clothing and furniture designs as well.

Around 1904, Balla and his family moved into an old monastery in the area of Parioli (corner of via Paisiello and via Porpora) and Balla began painting inside his home as if it were a three D painting. The Ballas often had visitors and, during World War I, Balla’s studio became a meeting place for young artists.

In 1926, the Balla family was forced to move to another neighbourhood, that of Delle Vittorie. Here, at via Oslavia 39b, Balla lived and worked until his death in 1958. His daughters continued to live in the house until their own deaths in the early 1990s. And it is this house, inhabited by members of the Balla family for 68 years, that’s recently been opened to the public thanks to a collaboration with the MAXXI  (Rome’s National Museum of Contemporary Art).

Entrance of building where the Balla Family lived, via Oslavia 39b, Rome

Part of the L-shaped hallway with its pastel colored amoeba-like shapes… Futurist painting, said Balla, wants to destroy immobility. So notice the painting hangings above (now copies, the originals removed). They are hanging from the ceiling as opposed to hanging on the wall. This way the painting can move if there’s a breeze and help Balla keep his painting in motion.

the combo living room and laboratory with its lavender floor tiles, handmade furniture and textiles….

Balla and his daughters would frequently move around Rome to paint in en plein air thus the need for various portable easels as pictured above. However, they lost their enthusiasm for outdoor painting during WWII. On March 23, 1944, Elica was painting en plein air when she heard an explosion. It was a bomb planted by members of the Italian resistance movement that the SS Headquarters on via Rasella. Thirty-three German soldiers were killed so the next day, in retaliation, the Germans massacred 335 Italians at the Ardeatine Caves. That day the Ballas lost their enthusiasm for outdoor painting and began staying at home to paint. Obviously, this influenced their subject matter and style.

In the foreground towards the right is an asymmetrical frame with tiny shelves. Called a “smoking cabinet”, the frame holds a textile representation of smoke.

In the living area as well as in other parts of the house are many examples of Luce’s handiwork. Elisa, her mom, was a seamstress just as Balla’s own mother had been a seamstress. Luce and her sister undoubtedly learned how to sew from their mom.

living room area with Balla related video going on

view from the living room window

bathroom dressed in painted tiles

Walking into the kitchen the first thing you notice is a painting by Elica showing her parents and sister sitting at the table. The mother, Elisa, is reading the paper, the sister, Luce, is sewing, and the family patriarch simply sits and reflects.

Notice the glass door with a yellow frame? It has a most incredible story…somehow the adjacent apartment had to, as some form of compensation for damage done, give one of its rooms to Balla so a big hole was made to create an opening.

The kitchen is the room I most enjoyed—the plates, obviously, were designed by Balla.

the kitchen balcony

to the left a sink for doing the laundry and to the right a sink for washing dishes…

counter with marble cutting board and hand painted flowers

painted matchbox handging on the wall

how to close a cabinet Balla style

more handpainted décor…

Balla’s portable table setting

Luce Balla’s bedroom…Luce (1904-1994) was the Balla’s eldest daughter. Her work focused more on textile arts.

Notice the jacket hanging in the wardrobe…a jacket made by Luce based on the designs of her father. On the table are examples of Balla’s Futuristic flower sculptures that his daughter helped him make. They were then sold and helped subsidize the family income.

Luce’s “antimacassar” for the armchair…

Still Lifes

rug designed by Balla but crafted by his daughter Luce

The mural on the ceiling was also meant to hide the electrical wire that crawls across the ceiling.

more of Luce’s Futuristic Patchwork

Elica Balla’s bedroom…Elica (1914-1993) threw herself into the Futurists movement and participated in many exhibitions. After her father’s death, her main desire seemed to be that of perpetuating her father’s fame. In the mid-80s, Elica wrote his biography “Con Balla” when she was in her late 60s (unfortunately, the book is now out of print).

To the right are the stairs that led up to Elica’s “loft” for dreaming. Elica had a passion for clouds and had a mirror fixed above the window meant to reflect another mirror placed on the sill. That way Elica could have various views of the sky.

Futur Balla décor in Elica’s bedroom

desk under loft
“Colonial” desk and chair made from orange crates by Balla
Futuristic Frame
Balla’s shoes

Back in the hallway, built in storage space Balla style

A jacket designed by Balla hanging on the hallway coatrack….Balla was very interested in fashion and wrote the “Dress Manifesto Antineutral” describing Futurists clothing. Fashion designer Laura Biagiotti developed an interest in Futurist creations and began her own collection of Balla’s work (with 130 works now at the Biagiotti Cigna Foundation). So inspired by Balla, Biagiotti based her Summer/Spring collection of 2015 on Balla’s works.

hallway umbrella stand to hide the pipes

The hallway makes a turn and trades its pastels for primary colors. This part of the hallway led to Balla’s Red Studio and to the bedroom he shared with his wife.

The Red Studio

The entire house is highly painted and decorated until you get to the Balla’s bedroom. Here the original furniture has disappeared as have many of the art objects. For a while those who controlled the Balla estate transformed the bedroom into an office space. There is no “feel it on your skin” sensation in this room as with the rest of the house.

This screen is not a Balla original put painted in his style (maybe to fill up the space left by original objects that had been taken away). It reminds me somewhat of Fortunato Depero (who designed the Campari soda bottle still used today).

desk
wardrobe
unfinished painted screen
painted chair

The Ballas had a nice big terrace and used it a lot for socializing and for creating art happenings. The doors leading to the terrace were two: one in Luce’s bedroom and the other in Elica’s.

entrance to the terrace from Luce’s bedroom
entrance to terrace from Elica’s bedroom

During the last part of his life, Balla had his bed placed in front of the terrace door in Elica’s bedroom so that he could look outside and see his terrace in the foreground dominating the rest of the world.

the Balla terrace as seen from the corner of via Oslavia and via Vodice

After Balla’s death in 1958, Luce and Elica continued to live at via Oslavia until their own deaths in 1993/4. There is little information available as to how they lived these final years.

The Balla daughters lived a sheltered life. They were taught at home by private tutors instead of going to school. They were also expected from an early age to help their father actualize his designs as tapestries and other design objects. Bascially, the entire family evolved around Balla and his artistic activities.

Hopefully, someday soon a woman will decide to write about the life of these two daughters who lived in their father’s shadow even 35 years after his death.

Giacomo Balla is buried at Verano Monumental Cemetery in Rome (being a family tomb, I would assume his daughters are here, too). See fotos HERE. Other Futurists at Verano HERE.

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Related: Casa Balla, MAXXI +  Casa Balla. Dalla casa all’universo  + Casa Balla. Dalla casa all’universo e ritorno: le foto della mostra e dell’appartamento opera d’arte + Coloratissimo e luminosissimo + Balla prima di Balla + Giacomo Balla e quel balcone su Villa Borghese + “Giacomo Balla e la via dei Parioli” di Giovanna Alatri + Casa Balla: apre a Roma la straordinaria casa futurista di Giacomo Balla + Dal primo autoritratto alle ultime rose. Su Rai3, la mostra di Giacomo Balla a Roma + Giacomo Balla 150 dalla nascita. Quando l’apertura di Casa Balla di via Oslavia? + Le decorazioni del Bal Tic Tac di Giacomo Balla restoration + more Casa Balla + affreschi di Balla al cabaret Bal Tic Tac at via Milano 24 Rome + Laura Biagiotti, omaggio al Futurismo. Sinfonie d’avanguardia in passerella, evocando le geometrie accese di Giacomo Balla & Co.  +

Bibliography:  Elica Balla, Con Balla, Milano, Multhipla Edizioni, 1984.

Posted in art, Daily Aesthetics, Textile Arts | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Diana Vreeland’s Travelling Eye

Time moves faster in New York City. Surrounded by masses of bodies always in a rush makes me claustrophobic.  So, for relief, I stretch my neck to look up as if the sky were the Sistine Chapel ceiling. NYC is heaven for some, hell for others. For me it’s a limbo, a penance I have to pay to enjoy its pleasures.  Like the MET.

In 1870, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was born and its first acquisition was a Roman sarcophagus. Later, in 1946, the Museum of Costume Art merged with the MET as The Costume Institute. For years it was just a bunch of dated dresses collecting dust.  Then Diana Vreeland came along and, with an explosion of extravagance, pumped life into a cadaver.

Hugh and I were in New York to celebrate my birthday. Diana had curated the exhibit The 10s, The 20s, The 30s: Inventive Paris Clothes 1909–1939 and I was anxious to see it. The exhibit included designers like Paul Poiret (who began his career making doll clothes for his sister), Madeleine Vionnet (known for her bias-cut Grecian style dresses), and Elsa Schiaparelli (addicted to Surrealism).

Schiaparelli’s evening jacket designed with Jean Cocteau had me drooling. I was dripping all over myself when this woman came up to me and loudly said: “Where in the world did you get that dress you’re wearing?” To my amazement, it was Diana Vreeland and she was asking me about one of my own creations. Intimidated, I stumbled around for words thinking she was going to rip me to shreds. Instead she said “Darling, that dress is wonderfully wicked. “ When I told her I’d made it, she stared at me with x-ray eyes. Ten minutes later I was in her office drinking Scotch and water. Water, she said, is good for your health.

Since we were both addicted to our Daily Aesthetics, we had much in common. Her aesthetics were by far more sophisticated (and expensive) than mine. But, she said while eying my dress, bad taste is better than no taste at all. “You gotta have style,” she continued, “It’s a way of life. Without it, you’re nobody.”

You know the saying in vino veritas, well it works with Scotch, too. And soon Diana was telling me all about herself. I‘ve found that people are always willing to talk if they find someone willing to listen.

Diana had been very unhappy as a child. Part of her unhappiness stemmed from the exceptional beauty of her mother and sister causing Diana to be considered the ugly duckling of the family.  But at age 14, she decided to change this and initiated a self-improvement program. She started keeping a diary aimed at helping her achieve perfection and decided to: 1. Transform the way she looked 2. Improve the way she spoke 3. Work hard in everything she did.  Diana’s strategy was “Become the best possible version of yourself”.

To transform her looks, she relied much on fashion.  Because the way we dress not only changes the way we see ourselves, it also changes the way we’re seen by others. But clothes aren’t enough. Diana understood that it took style and personality to make a nondescript person appear wildly attractive.

Projecting energy also makes a person captivating. So Diana made it a point never to be idle but always in motion.  Because the more energy you expand, the more energy you create.  She loved to dance because it gave her a feeling of vitality and let her energy flow.

Improving the way you speak also means having something intelligent to say. That’s why Diana often spent days in bed reading. And this helped prepare her for her career as a fashion columnist.

While at Harper’s Bazaar, Diana penned the column “Why don’t you…” full of extravagant and playful ideas.  Like: Why don’t you tie black tulle bows on your wrists? and Why don’t you wear fruit hats?

Diana was also known for her sayings such as “blue jeans are the most beautiful things since the gondola” and “the bikini is the most important thing since the atom bomb”.

Our senses are biased. The “halo effect” reflects that bias. We tend to make overall evaluations about people and places based on appearance. And fashion, that courts and seduces the eye, helps manipulate those evaluations. But Diana’s eye was not a product of fashion. To the contrary, her sense of fashion came from having developed her own personal aesthetics and from those aesthetics she educated her visual sense.

Diana’s eyes were hungry and in constant motion searching for nourishment. They were hungry for novelty that could make her dendrites grow.

Vision is often considered the most important sense organ. However, there’s a difference between looking and observing. One is passive, the other active. Diana’s eyes were active. And for that reason she believed that the eye must travel.

John Berger, in Ways of Seeing, writes that seeing came before words and that “the relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.” The way we perceive what we see is affected by knowledge and belief, by our way of seeing the world (Weltanschauung).

When walking down the street, notice the men looking at women and turning them into objects. This looking is not a reciprocal experience as women, when walking alone, avoid eye contact because eye contact attracts attention it’s considered provocative as Victorine Meurent knew well.

Years before I’d been to the Musée d’Orsay to see Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe. The woman in the painting was looking at me.  She was sitting on the grass totally naked next to two men fully clothed. I’d read that the painting had created quite a scandal and that the first time it had been shown, an outraged man tried to hit it with his umbrella.

You see, the painting made men uncomfortable because of the way that the model, Victorine Meurent, looked at them. Men, accustomed to rubbing their eyes all over women’s bodies, could not accept Victorine’s gaze that said “instead of you looking at me, I’m going to look at you”.  Even in terms of using the senses, women were not considered men’s equals.

Victorine, Manet’s favorite model, had often been described by art historians as a drunk and a prostitute.  But it wasn’t true. Victorine, who from a poor family, wanted to be an artist. She sang in cafes, gave violin lessons, and modelled just to earn money for art lessons. And, in 1862, going from one gig to another as a street musician playing her guitar in cafes, she met Manet. Intrigued, Manet asked her to model for him. He painted her eating cherries on the street, as a matador without a bull, and as a woman with a child near Gare Saint-Lazare.

Victorine also posed for the paintings considered to be Manet’s most scandalous: Le Dejeuner as well as Olympia (who’s wearing only a black ribbon and a pair of slippers). It wasn’t as if women had never been represented without clothing before. But they had been represented as goddesses or mythical beings who were nude but not naked. Because alone I am nude. In front of you, I am naked.

Victorine had one of her paintings accepted by the Salon the same year Manet had been rejected. In all, she was accepted by the Salon six different times and, in 1903, accepted as a member of the Sociéte des Artistes. Nevertheless, the art critic Adolphe Tabarant, saw her not as an artist but simply as a drunk aging beauty who had arrived at a “fin douloureuse”. He even wrote that Victorine was dead even though she was still alive and painting.

When in her 40s, artist Norbert Goeneutte painted Victorine with her guitar. But, as we well know, age tends to make women obsolete. So, too old to model and unable to earn enough money from her paintings, Victorine became an usher in a theater until she moved to Colombes outside of Paris.  Here she lived with the piano teacher, Marie Dufour, for 20 years.

After the death of Victorine and Marie, the contents on their home, including paintings and a violin, were burned in the yard. All that’s left of of Victorine’s struggles to become an artist is Le jour des rameaux, a painting now located at the museum in Colombes.

Nutritious food also helps.  Bell peppers help reduce the risk of age related macular degeneration.  Blueberries reduce the risk of cataracts and glaucoma.  The beta carotene in carrots and sweet potatoes combats the loss of vitamin A which is the leading cause of blindness in poor countries. Chia seeds contain much omega 3 that helps protect the eyes from macular degeneration and dry eye syndrome.

Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness. To help prevent diabetes, limit your sugar intake, drink a lot of water, exercise and lose weight.

Sight is the most relied upon of the senses. To prepare for old age, we can exercise our eyes just like we do our bodies. Here are four examples:

To relax your eye muscles, with enthusiasm, rub the palms of your hands to heat them up then place them over your eyelids.

To exercise focusing, sit in a comfortable chair then stretch one arm straight out with the thumb sticking up. Gradually pull the thumb closer to your eyes then further away again.

To exercise peripheral vision, sit with your head facing straight ahead. Without moving your head, look towards the left then look towards the right.

To increase blood circulation to nourish the eyes, stand up straight with your right index finger in front of your eyes. Now sway to the left then to the right while continuing to focus on your finger.

Imagination is visual. It gives us the ability to envision something that doesn’t exist. Maybe that’s why Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge.

Many athletes use visualization to enhance their abilities. The famous golfer, Jack Nicklaus, for example, used visualization to prepare for tournaments. He would visualize a routine over and over again so when he actually had to perform, he would hit the ball perfectly.

Any change you want to make in your life begins in the imagination. To make that desired change, use visualization. Seated and in a relaxed state, close your eyes and imagine doing what’s necessary to make the desired change. Keep practising this visualization a couple of time a day until you get results.

Seeing is believing. You cannot believe in God unless you use your imagination.

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 (from Cool Breeze, aka The Age of Reconfiguration ©)

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Julia Child & Taste

Scrambling eggs was my specialty.  I could scramble them with onions or cheese or mushrooms.  I could also mix ‘n match them with tomatoes & basil or ground pepper & goat cheese or sour cream & bacon. Anything you could put in a sandwich, I could scramble with eggs. Unfortunately this was the extent of my culinary talents so I decided to enroll in Paris’ best cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu.

Located on rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré, the school was run by Mme Brassant, a petite but intimidating woman who was the quintessence of a Parisienne. Everyone in my class was French except an American woman who easily caught one’s eye. Her name was Julia Child and she was so tall that, when standing next to Mme Brassant, I always thought of David and Goliath.

Since we were both Americans, it was only natural that we started hanging out together. Often we’d have onion soup at the nearby Au Pied de Cochon or go to Les Halles to buy vegetables or to Dehillerin’s to buy cooking utensils. For me Dehillerin’s was like going to a museum and made me think of Brancusi sculptures.

Constantin Brancusi was a Romanian artist who moved to Paris where he began making abstract sculptures. So abstract that his sculpture of a young woman’s head was considered a phallic symbol and removed from an exhibition. Then, in 1926, Brancusi shipped crateloads of sculptures to be exhibited at the Brummer Gallery in New York.  But when the customs officials opened the crates, they were stupefied. The crate was labelled “Art” but, as far as they were concerned, what they saw inside had nothing to do with art. Since artwork was duty free, the officials thought that the sender had labelled the contents as such to avoid paying import taxes. So they relabelled the objects as “kitchen utensils” and imposed a $240 tax on them.

Julia was with me when, at Dehillerin’s, I bought my first fouet à œufs, a whisk to beat eggs. Afterwards we went to her house on Rue de l’Universite and used my new whisk to mix martinis much to the amusement of her husband Paul. Julia had met Paul when she’d worked as a spy. Well, not a spy like Mata Hari but she’d been part of the O.S.S. in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where she processed top secret communications. It was here that Julia and Paul met and fell in love. After their marriage, Paul was assigned a diplomatic post in Paris and the couple moved to France.  Living in Paris, she said, had made her open up like a flower.

Like most Americans, Julia grew up eating the typical diet of overcooked pot roast, canned vegetables, and desserts made with Jello. It wasn’t until France that Julia discovered the pleasures of food. She told me about her first meal in Rouen, a culinary experience that changed her life forever. She ate oysters, sole meunière along with excellent wine. It was this meal that made her attend Le Cordon Bleu. Julia later joined with her friends Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle to write a French cookbook for Americans.  They even gave cooking lessons (The School of the Three Food Lovers) in Julia’s kitchen for American women in Paris.

Eventually, Paul and Julia moved back to the U.S. Because of her cookbook, in 1962 she was invited to appear on WGBH, an educational TV station in Boston. Not knowing what she could talk about for 30 minutes, Julia arrived with a copper bowl, a dozen eggs, mushrooms, a whisk, skillet, and hot plate then made an omelette. No one could crack an egg with one hand like Julia! The viewers were enthusiastic. And this led to “The French Chef”. Julia was 49 years old.

Julia said cooking required courage.  Once she messed up while flipping a potato cake and it fell into pieces on the stove top.  She told her audience: “I messed up because I lacked the courage to do it the right way”.  Then she picked up the pancake pieces, pressed them together and said “But you can always pick it up and, if you’re alone in the kitchen, who’s going to see?”

Julia died two days before her 92nd birthday.  Her last meal was onion soup.

Taste

Good food is about good taste. Taste and the tongue live in symbiosis. The little bumps on the tongue are known as papillae and most of them contain taste buds. There are about 10,000 of these buds on the tongue but they wear out every 10 days or so and are replaced. But as we get older, some of those cells go away forever.

There are five types of taste buds and they are located on different parts of the tongue—sweet on the tip, salty on the sides, sour right behind, bitter on the back and umani in the middle. “Umani” is a term borrowed from the Japanese and means a “pleasant savory taste” similar to that of soy sauce.

Taste works in collaboration with the nose. When you eat, the chewed food releases chemicals that go to the nose. Olfactory receptors send messages to the brain making us conscious of the perception of taste.

Our first taste, that of our mother’s milk, leaves an eternal imprinting.

We can taste something only when it begins to dissolve and for this we need saliva.

Much of taste is smell. Food smells more when it’s hot and we can smell something only when it evaporates.

Marshal McLuhan warned that we are drifting away from real taste because of artificial flavorings.

We lose our sense of taste as we get older. Maybe that’s why as we age we increase our tolerance for spicy foods.

Having a bad taste in your mouth is generally caused by bad oral hygiene. However, a constant taste in your mouth may be an indication of a health problem. A dry mouth from a lack of saliva can be related to medication, smoking, and advancing in age. A sour taste is common of acid reflux. A metallic taste can indicate respiratory infections whereas a bitter taste indicates liver problems or hormonal changes. A yucky taste in general can indicate respiratory or neurological problems.

Food affects our mood. Eating regular meals helps keep our blood sugar level steady. That’s why it’s important to eat moderately and not to skip meals.

Sugars and refined starches can see-saw our moods. First they take us up, then they take us down. Then there’s the pinecone-shaped pineal gland that sits alone in between the brain’s two hemispheres.  It produces melatonin, a hormone that regulates sexual development, sleep cycles and the aging process.

Since ancient times, mystics have given much importance to the pineal gland believing it to be the connection between the physical and the spiritual world.  Considered a source of enlightenment, it’s often symbolized by an eye on the center of the forehead generally known as the Third Eye.

The Third Eye is the eye of the imagination, intuition, and visualization.  But sometimes it’s closed and needs to be opened. Sunlight is very important for the pineal gland and we should soak up at least 30 minutes of sunlight every day.  That’s why sundried fruits and vegetable are good for us. Dark green vegetables such as kale and other greens like turnips, mustard and collard are also important especially if eaten raw.  The pineal gland also needs serotonin as found in almonds, bananas, hot peppers, rice, and potatoes.

The pineal gland does not like processed food. Nor does it like fluoride that’s often put in water and toothpaste because it calcifies the pineal gland and keeps it from functioning properly.

Process foods are full of chemicals (food additives) meant to cause cravings (so you’ll buy more). Fast foods are loaded with sugar and eating fast food all the time leads to addiction. And it’s this addiction to sugar that causes some children to suffer from attention deficits.

Taste is not just in the mouth. Whereas the French love cheese, the Chinese hate it. And Italians like butter but not the way the Danes do. Thus taste is also a cultural experience. In the words of David Le Breton, “faced with the multitude of sensations possible at any time, any society established its own selection criteria.” In other words, your cake in my mouth will not taste the same as my cake in your mouth.

The mouth is a gate that lets the outside come in.

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(from Cool Breeze, aka The Age of Reconfiguration ©)

Bibliography:

Howes, David and Classen, Constance. Ways of Sensing, Understanding the Senses in Society. Routledge. NYC. 2014.

Sensual relations : engaging the senses in culture and social theory on archive.org HERE

Paterson, Mark. The Senses of Touch, Haptics, Affects and Technologies. Berg Publishers, Oxford. 2007.

The senses of touch: haptics, affects and technologies by  Paterson, Mark n archive.org HERE

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Camille Claudel and Touch

This morning the Parisian sky is the 55th shade of grey and totally matches my mood. I’ve just gotten back from Avignon after having accompanied Jessie to visit her old friend Camille who, years before, had been committed to the asylum of Montdevergues. It was my first experience visiting an asylum and the whole encounter still has me shaking. So, to exorcize the demons I saw, I’m sitting here at Café de la Rotonde with a carafe of pastis, pen in hand.

“Asylum” is a funny word. It comes from the Greek άσυλο (asilo) meaning “sanctuary”, a place of safety. But I saw nothing safe about Montdevergues and its dull walls that were like chipped blankets of stone.  It reminded me of Ten Days in a Mad House. Journalist Nellie Bly had pretended to be crazy so she could be committed to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum in New York.  After ten days, she left and wrote about the brutality she experienced while locked up. Meals were decaying food, a bath was a bucket of cold water dumped over her head, rats invested the excrement covered rooms, and, if she complained, she was beaten. It was an experience that would make a sane person go crazy. Nellie learned that a woman had no voice once a man said she was a lunatic.

Troubled by the vision of Camille in such a terrifying situation, I begged Jesse to tell me her friend’s story. 

Jessie Lipscomb had moved to Paris from London in 1884 to continue her art studies. Here she met Camille and the two became friends. They not only shared a studio, they also worked as practiciens for the famed sculptor, Auguste Rodin. Camille Claudel was only 19 and Rodin 44. Jesse maintained a professional attitude but, unfortunately, Camille fell in love with Rodin and became his lover. Eventually Jesse returned to England where she married a pharmacist. Camille, instead, married an impossible dream.

Initially, it was an experience that gave Camille the opportunity to learn much about sculpture. But she was a promising young sculptress and wanted to be more than just Rodin’s assistant. Rodin expected Camille to help him finish his works instead of working on her own sculptures allowing him to create the myth of superman` productivity. Camille was a genius living in a man’s world and, unfairly, would never be considered much more than Rodin’s protégée instead of an artist in her own right. Camille was left blurred.

Camille worked on both The Kiss (1882) and The Gates of Hell (1880-1890) both considered to be two of Rodin’s masterpieces.

Just as Camille had moved closer to herself artistically because of Rodin, the sculptor, after seeing the “Tomb of Giuliano de’Medici” in Florence, said that “Michelangelo revealed me to myself”.

Rodin had promised Camille he would marry her even though he had no intention of doing so as it would have meant leaving his companion of 20 years, Rose Beuret. Camille felt betrayed, humiliated, overwhelmed and, as a result, often reacted irrationally.

In 1892, Camille and Rodin, after more than 10 years of being together, separated. The separation changed her work as well as her finances. Initially, Rodin tried to help her economically but Camille  no longer trusted him. She said he tried to sabotage her career and called him The Ferret.

Debussy’s waltz.

Le Valse is one of Camille’s most erotic statues.  So erotic that academics forced her to drape the lower part of the statue. Just like Michelangelo, she was censored. After Michelangelo’s death, there was much controversy over the Sistine Chapel nudes. So artist Daniele da Volterra was hired to cover up the genitals in The Last Judgement with fig leaves and loincloths. This earned the artist the name of Il Braghettone, The Breeches Maker.

There is some debate as to whether or not Camille and Claude Debussy had an intimate relationship. Camille gave a version of Le Valse to Debussy who kept it on his studio mantelpiece for 25 years. It makes one wonder if his 1890 Valse romantique was inspired by Camille’s statue.

Shakuntala.

One of Camille’s masterpieces is that of “Shakuntala” based on the Hindu wife of Dushyanta. But the sculpture actually represents her and Rodin. Like Shakuntala’s husband, Rodin forgets his promise. But eventually his memory returns and he begs forgiveness. Shakuntala loves him so she welcomes him back and tenderly lets him embrace her.

The Mature Age (c. 1899) was a three piece figure showing a man turning his back on a young woman and being led away but a decrepit old woman.  It was obviously based on Camille, Rodin, and Rose. Rodin did what he could to keep Camille from exhibiting the sculpture at the 1900 Universal Exhibition. This rejection intensified her feeling of paranoia and that Rodin wanted to destroy her.

Breakdown.

You don’t just wake up crazy as did Kafka’s Gregor Samsa .

Camille’s mother did not like her eldest daughter and obviously favored her other children. Camille was talented, ambitious, independent in thought—all characteristics that Camille’s mother believed to be inappropriate for a woman who should only conform and seek a respectable marriage. Her father, instead, supported his daughter’s desire to study art which only created more distance between Camille and her mother and siblings. Camille’s childhood imprinting was instrumental in her breakdown.

Rodin was old enough to be Camille’s father. But there was nothing paternal about his behavior towards her. She used her skills to make his sculpture, her ideas to inspire him, and her body to pacify his passions. And for the latter she bore the stigma of being a mistress which, especially at the time, was considered the same as being a prostitute. It’s rumored that Camille had born Rodin at least two children. But there is no doubt that she had at least one abortion that her zealot brother Paul held against her.

For years Rodin had promised to marry her but he lied. Her dignity demanded that she leave him.

A nervous breakdown occurs when you can’t cope with stress and trauma. You begin to have difficulties controlling your behavior and even doing the simplest of things. Like keeping up with personal hygiene. In 1905, living alone with her cats in her studio on the Île Saint- Louis, Camille began to unravel. Rodin, despite his commitment to do so, no longer wanted to pay her rent creating an added economic stress for her. Overdosed with difficulties, Camille snapped and thus lost her only true patron, the Comtesse de Maigret.

Betrayed by the man she had given herself to, Camille became more and more of a recluse and distanced herself from others fearing that they might hurt her, too. She alienated herself from everyone including herself and began destroying her work. But the worst happened when, in 1913, her father died. He’d been the person she’d felt closest to. One week after her father’s death, Camille’s mother and brother had her committed then destroyed what was left of her studio.

If there is a villain in the story of Camille, more than Rodin, it’s her brother, Paul. The doctors at the asylum tried to reason with him insisting that Camille was not insane. But all Paul cared about was getting her out of the way.

Paul Claudel was a writer, diplomat, and right-wing religious fanatic. In his youth he’d considered becoming a Benedictine monk but, instead, chose a more prestigious career with the French diplomatic corps. Despite his moralistic attitude towards his sister, Paul had a long affair with a married woman and mother of four. She also became pregnant by Paul. And despite Paul’s talents as a writer, it cannot be forgotten that he was a misogynist who hated Jews and Muslims.

In 1917, after more than five years of being a prisoner in a mental institution, Camille wrote one of her doctors begging for help. Her only crime, she said, was that of wanting to live alone with her cats. Not only was she deprived of her freedom, she wasn’t even allowed to make art or correspond with the outside world. Despite the doctors’ claim that Camille was not mentally ill, she stayed imprisoned until her death 30 years later.

During WWII, there was a shortage of food thanks to the German requisition and rationing of food.  The Vichy regime literally tried to get rid of patients in mental institutions by starving them to death.

In all the years that Camille was forced to live in a mental institution, the self-righteous diplomat who travelled the world visited his sister only a handful of times while she was in the institution he had placed her in. And not even one visit from her mother. At the age of 78, Camille died alone and was buried in the asylum’s mass grave.  Her family didn’t bother to claim her body. Only her doctor attended her funeral. He was witness to her small body wrapped in a sheet being thrown into a hole with a clump of corpses.

Doubting Thomas.

Touch can provide proof of existence. Think of Jesus and Thomas. We’re told in the Gospel of John that, unlike the other Apostles, Thomas missed seeing Jesus after his resurrection and doubted that Jesus could be alive. So Jesus appeared to him a week later and said: “Touch me and stop doubting”. But to Mary Magdalene, already a believer, Jesus said “Noli me tangere”– don’t touch me.

It’s said that on his deathbed, Rodin called out for his wife. And when his lifetime companion, Rose Bueret, appeared, Rodin said “No, not her, the other one” no doubt referring to Camille.

“There is always something missing that torments me” Camille Claudel.

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(from Cool Breeze, aka The Age of Reconfiguration ©)

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The Smell of Chanel

The Twenties were roaring and I was in Paris. Autumn leaves paved the boulevards and the crackle they made when walked upon sent vibrations up my spine. I wanted to move and resonant with the world. And I wasn’t the only one.

Women walking the boulevards dressed differently than they had before the war. The new woman was young, athletic, short-haired, and short-skirted. You know, ready for action. Women were no longer prisoners of corsets and meters of fabric. The new fashion was a political statement.

I was visiting my friend, Mona, who lived on rue Chapon in a tiny apartment with a big fireplace. Mona was exotic, intellectually sophisticated, and loved to go shopping. Often we’d have a coffee at Angelina’s on rue de Rivoli (they have the best Mont Blanc in all of Paris!). I was busy talking about my problems with Hugh when I noticed Mona, who is usually very attentive, was not looking at me but looking over my shoulder. “Just what are you looking at?” I asked. “It’s her, Coco Chanel”, replied Mona. “Coco who?” I asked. Mona looked at me as if I were a barbarian and said “How can you not know who Coco Chanel is? She is the most avant-garde fashion designer of our time. “

Feeling that she had to liberate me from my ignorance, Mona grabbed my arm and said “Let’s go!” After walking some minutes, I found myself in front of Chanel’s shop on rue Cambon with Mona introducing me to the world of Coco Chanel.

Gabrielle Chanel’s mother died when she was twelve. Her father abandoned her and her sisters at a Catholic convent in central France.  Here the nuns taught her how to sew.  After leaving the convent, she earned her living as a seamstress but also as a cabaret singer earning the nickname “Coco”.

Coco was not talented enough to sing professionally.  At the age of 23, she became the mistress of Etienne Balsan, a wealthy textile heir who provided her with a life of wealth and leisure.  And much partying.  Coco began an affair with one of Balsan’s friends, Capt. “Boy” Capel.  Capel got Coco an apartment in Paris where she began experimenting with hat making.  Capel gave her the money to open her own shop but he gave her something even more important—an awareness of style. In fact, it’s said that Chanel’s double C logo represents a ”C” for Chanel and a ”C” for Capel.

Coco’s biggest contribution was that of creating fashion that would permit women to move. Basically she transformed male clothing into female fashion.  She claimed that “luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it’s not luxury”. First Coco liberated women from corsets.  Then she introduced jersey fabric, traditionally used for undergarments and sports clothing, to high fashion.

The idea was to be simple yet elegant.  Coco also introduced the collarless cardigan, black sweater with pearls, female trousers, the little black dress, costume jewelry and the shoulder bag.  And of course, there was her perfume Chanel No. 5.

Coco helped change the way women and their bodies were perceived.  Women were no longer still-lifes but action movies.

During WWII, despite the difficulties for her fellow Frenchmen, Coco continued to live a life of luxury at the Ritz Hotel surrounded by Nazi officers. Not only did she party with them, she took them on as lovers, too. There is no doubt that Coco was an opportunist and tried to make the best out of a bad situation.  Unfortunately, post-war France did not guarantee that same privilege to all women.

Tondeurs and tondues.

At the end of WWII, over 20,000 French women were accused of having had “horizontal collaborations” with the Germans.  Even prostitutes, who sold their bodies to the Germans in the same way bistrot owners had sold their wines, were singled out and publicly humiliated by having their hair shaved off then paraded in public semi-naked often with swastikas painted on their foreheads.  This punishment was obviously misogynistic as it was restricted to women.  Furthermore, because of a war instigated by men, many French mothers of young children had husbands in German prisoner-of-war camps. Without pleasure, they slept with German soldiers simply to feed their children.

Coco was not subjected to this shame.  Instead, she went off to Switzerland with her German boyfriend.  Here they lived in style for many years until Coco decided to return to Paris to save the fashion industry as, in her opinion, it had become too male dominated.  Upon her return, she was asked about her Nazi boyfriends to which she replied “I don’t ask my lovers for their passports”.

Nazi documents confiscated by the Soviets indicate that Coco had been a German spy with the code name “Westminster”.  Maybe it’s this that caused Coco to be a morphine addict for the rest of her life. Living with yourself is not always easy.

Inside rue Cambon was the famous faceted mirrored staircase, designed by Coco, that connected all four levels of the building.  That way, while standing on one floor, she could see what was happening on the others. Maybe her staircase been inspired by Duchamp’s 1912  Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 which had been inspired by Muybridge’s photo sequence Woman Walking Downstairs.

Chanel No. 5

Beauty is not just visual. Even fragrance was part of Coco’s aesthetics.  She loved to go to the marche aux fleurs to inhale the mix of intoxicating aromas. Maybe it was here that she decided to put flowers in a bottle. The summer of 1920, Coco met the perfumer Ernest Beaux and asked him to create a perfume for her clients`. He presented her with various samples in numbered bottles. She chose the sample labeled “No. 5”.

Even if one could not eat salt and pepper alone, said Beaux, it was difficult to imagine a meal without their presence. One enhances the other. And this was the philosophy he used when making perfumes. What made Beaux’s perfumes so successful was his revolutionary use of a molecule called aldehyde. Chanel No. 5 was a mix of lily of the valley, jasmine, rose, and iris root. Just like the flower market. And the iconic bottle looks somewhat like a whiskey decanter. It has a very simple label with sans serif lettering.

Elsa Sciaparelli was one of Coco’s biggest rivals.  Elsa’s best known perfume was “Shocking”.  The bottle had been designed by artist Leonor Fini who said she’d been inspired by Mae West’s dressmaker’s dummy. The perfume came in a box that was Shocking Pink, Elsa’s signature color. Jean Paul Gaultier liked the Schiaparelli perfume bottle so much that he appropriated its form for his eau de toilette.

When asked what she slept in, Marilyn Monroe responded “Chanel No. 5”.

Moby Dick is the story of men looking for whales. The protagonist, Ishmael, decides to ship aboard a whaling vessel because he wants to find and kill Moby Dick, the whale who bit off one of his legs. At the time, hunting whales was very profitable mainly because of their oil. But whales offer something even more valuable—their rancid vomit known as ambergris that’s used to make expensive perfumes.


During the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette tried to escape so she dressed as a peasant and headed towards the border. Unfortunately, she was also wearing a perfume by Houbigant. Since poor people couldn’t afford fragrances, her smell created suspicion and she was captured betrayed by perfume. But that didn’t stop Marie Antoinette’s dependency on perfume. In 1793 when she was taken to the guillotine, she carried 3 vials of perfume in her corsage to give her strength.

Napoleon loved Josephine’s unwashed smells. Josephine, on the other hand, loved the smell of violets. When she died, Napoleon had her grave covered with the little flowers. Before going into exile, he picked some violets from Josephine’s grave and put them in a locket. He wore the locket until the day he died.

Aromatherapy.


Smells can affect us physiologically. Aromatherapy uses aromas to improve psychological and/or physical well-being. Via the olfactory system, smells affect the limbic system. The limbic system is the part of the brain that deals with memories, emotions, and stimulation.

Even insects and animals are affected by smells. Peppermint is a great mice repellant whereas mosquitoes are repelled by the smell of citronella. And bay leaf repels kitchen pantry insects.

Place rosemary under your pillow to prevent nightmares. Inhaling nutmeg oil or valerian oil can help reduce blood pressure. Nutmeg oil also reduces anxiety and anger. The smell of roses has a soothing effect. The smell of sweet oranges increases alertness. A whiff of peppermint can relieve pain and improve alertness. Lavender relaxes but also improves blood circulation.

So why not make a scent necklace? You can use tiny tea balls or little pouches with scented cotton balls. Let’s say you suffer from anxiety attacks so you can fill your tea ball with lavender, rose petals, and lemon rind. Or you can put a few drop of helichrysum essential oil on a cotton ball and put it in the little pouch. And the moment you start to feel anxious, hold the scent up to your nose. Take a long and slow breath filling your diaphragm. Hold a couple of seconds then exhale through your mouth.

Smell diary.

Unfortunately, with all the chemicals bombarding our daily life, our senses have been dulled like a knife that’s lost its sharpness and no longer cuts well. To keep smell alive, it needs moisture. So drink a lot of water and humidify your air. Exercise also intensifies smells. And when we’re hungry, our sense of smell is stronger. But our sense of smell weakens with alcohol. Stay away from stinking places because prolonged exposure to bad smells weakens the sense.

The sense of smell also may fade with age. So to reanimate your sense of smell, why not keep a smell diary for a week. Write about the smells in your daily life and try to describe them. Often we use comparative descriptions such as “it smells like…” but there are plenty of adjectives to explore such as woodsy, leathery, balmy, fresh, delicate, exotic, floral, musky, peculiar, unfamiliar, pungent, putrid, smoky, zesty, sweet, tart, whispy, lemony, aromatic, coppery, burnt, fragrant, metallic, moldy, salty, spicy, soapy, sulfurous, medicinal.

No one better describes fragrance than Luca Turin. He described Chanel No. 19 like a “bitch perfume, like green sharkskin pumps.” Whereas Le Labo’s Oud 27 is “properly pornographic: a wet-hair note and a couple of macrocyclic musks of the kind found near the rear end of deer take over…really raunchy.” Turin also says that in daily life, smell has shifted from symphony to jingle. That is, the smell of your fabric softener is a door chime whereas Christian Dior’s Diorama is a full orchestra. But “fine fragrance is getting dangerously close to a ringtone: inventive, often distinctive, catchy even, but with lousy sound quality.”

And the scent that drives men wild is bacon.

Practice smelling. The next time you’re at the grocery store, sniff the produce. Experiment with the basic method used by perfumers and sommeliers. And, with your eyes closed, hold an orange a little more than 1 cm from your nose. Focus on the smell and let your olfactory receptors take note. Your breath will warm the orange making it easier to smell. Then move the orange away, wait a few seconds then repeat holding the orange under your nose as you sniff it. Smelling takes place in the bridge of your nose so after inhaling, try to hold the odor molecules in your nose. Now try to visualize what the smell does.  Does it create a mental picture or remind you of something?

Smell and memory.

Smell has an important role in the brain’s limbic system. Memory and smell are good companions. A particular smell can resuscitate memories. Every time I smell honeysuckle, I think of Texas. And the smell of cloves reminds me of my mother. She’d invented her own air freshener. Using a white tea kettle with stenciled flowers, she’d boil spices like cinnamon and cloves until the whole house smelled like a bakery.

Smell also influences our sense of taste. Both smell and of taste use the same receptors. And the foods we eat can change our own smell. For example, because of its sulfur compounds, eating cabbage can change your body odor. So can garlic and onion.  Rub a piece of crushed raw garlic on the sole of your foot and 20 minutes later you will have the taste of garlic in your mouth.  

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(from Cool Breeze, aka The Age of Reconfiguration ©)

Bibliography:

Burr, Chandler. The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession. Random House, NYC. 2004.

Kummer, Corby. “A Rose by Another Name”. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/417604/a-rose-by-another-name/  Retrieved November 22, 2018.

 Vaughan, Hal. Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War. Knopf. New York.  2011

Perfumes: The A–Z Guide Turin  Luca Turin  (Author), Tania Sanchez  (Author) Profile Books; Main edition (August 6, 2010)

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