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The Renovation

* Gustave Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers(1875)

Having witnessed the appalling Floor Scrapers, it is rather hard to imagine the painter would conjure up such a poignantly beautiful rainy scene two years later (Paris Street, Rainy Day). Nevertheless it is from the former painting that an answer is given of why Gustave Caillebotte seemed to straddle between Realism and Impressionism, but was never really belonging to either school. The Floor Scrapers is by no means idealistic, but also seems somewhat coy in comparison with the curt-spoken realism. The matter-of-factness is the only sentiment the viewers can procure from. Labourers scraping the floor- Caillebotte made no hints of effort or any intention to highlight their pain of slaving away, or to concoct a romanticism to trumpet such unconventional topic. The only supposed “embellishment” the painter made was the angle the scene was taken- the slightly slanted view unintentionally prolongs the floor, the real beauty then lies in how the light gleams through the window and eventually positions at the workers’ naked backs and the floor. A truly impressionistic beauty Caillebotte at length created.

Last night I dreamed I went back for the first time the place I came from, leading by a Ghost who was inexplicably cryptic of his former identity, or even a name. Or it was not a dream at all, for I awoke the next day to the blurry sight of my mud-stained feet, which pointed to the doubtless evidence of a late night wandering. The Ghost was equally mute with the reason of such untimely expedition, only that it lulled me into action in the most ineffable manner. I felt as if I was being mind-controlled.

Details are spared for my encounter with the Ghost, and my subsequent reaction, which, I can now only reveal, not without some horrors and jerks. I was by no means, however, utterly astonished. I will start with my first glance of the town, after so many years when I left it, half stealthily and half reluctantly. The town poised like one from a black-and-white photographic book, one that informs its readers the aftermath of an atrocious war. Objects were robbed off colours, only tinges of yellowish-green or greyish-beige were visible if one scrutinized them closely. The sparse colours leaned upon whatever that drooped, the pipe, the leaves, the broken tiles, as if a painter was decidedly unsatisfied with his monochromatic painting and thus hastily added some colourful taints in a swish. I remembered the town as one ever-shrouded by a veil of mist, but that heavy layer was now unfolded, and everything was barely laid before my eyes. I could have felt the town’s every whispering and every pulse, but in reality it seemed miles away when you could easily behold with your eyes.

The town was made conspicuous with exclusion of people. Yes, where had all the folks gone? The Ghost answered me not but pointed his near-pulverized finger toward an old factory. That factory was already deserted in my days. The Ghost and I went in and saw the scene which I had seen every day when I was young- a little dancer swirling and twirling to the music inaudible to us. The ripples she created with all those incessant rotations kindled an illusion as if the angels from Heaven were also in participation, hence the golden and red sparkles that were constantly before our marveled eyes. A sacredness besieged the little dancer and ensconced her securely with the encompassing holiness, therefore nobody never really accounted her appearance, or if she really looked as harmless as her dance. The Ghost dissented and determined we should go, despite how I feared I would lose the little dancer forever if I went away once. The little dancer would never disappear, the Ghost told me plainly, nor was she ever lived.

We then proceeded to the house where a renowned miser family lived. The family had always dined in their basement, for fear the food would be stolen following by any untoward invasion. Thanks to an immortal myth that ran through the family history, that those misers could unfailingly allay people’s variety of fears, the family was never short of its flowing adoration. I saw the plates still lying on the rusticated table and wondered whoever last worshipped its occupants. Perhaps it was the family’s last meal, the Ghost replied.

I was henceforth afraid to raise again the question of the town’s desertion. Something traumatic must had happened here. Something huge and tragic, brought along with the wind and rustled through in self-same fashion, had left the town dangling there like a baby deprived of its parents. The Ghost admired the town’s engulfing silence nonetheless, and gently implored to linger around longer. I lent my slippers to the Ghost and went home alone, barefoot. Tenderly I cooed myself again to sleep, determinedly forgot anything that I witnessed or divined. Tomorrow I woke up and would deem it a bittersweet dream.

I awoke with heart heaved with nostalgia and longing. I also found an uncanny resemblance between me and the Ghost, who, until I left, still refused to give me its name.


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