Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Little Girl Lost

* Cecil Beaton, Eileen Dunne the Blitz Victim (1940)

( It is a wonder of how Cecil Beaton, a renowned fashion photographer of his time, would tackle upon war photography at the first place. Beaton made no secrets of his obsession with freaks, but rather than a compulsive collector of monsters like Arbus, beauty and aesthetics could be considered or rendered freakish in his photography. That more or less explains why Beaton opted for the traumatic aftermath of the war-stricken victims, than the gilded façades of the flawless models. Beaton had the magic of turning something unpleasant into something beautiful, or something hauntingly intimate, which only permits appreciation in private. )

The little girl has been lost for weeks and not a trace is found despite the effort of all villagers. Also absent, too, but for some days, are the little girl’s parents, who, cloistering in their remote abode, decline all kindness and premature condolences. For sure the aged couple have every right to hold on their hope, dim though it might be, but the lilies before their house grow strong and cheerful, as if such could be an unwritten letter from their lost daughter, reassuring her felicity even though she is far away and nowhere to be seen.

And in the first night of the little girl’s failure of negotiating her way out of the labyrinthine forest, she barely cries but sighs angrily with frustration. She finally resolves in making beds on the lush lawn, since the day is growing dark and chill. A little girl she still is, innocent and without fear, no precaution is needed even when she is in the farthest from civility. Singing herself to sleep as she is habitual to do every day, her songs contain no human fleshes but cobwebs, cone-shaped den, blue puddle glistening beside the trees and everything that is now within her keen observation.

Yet more weeks later the old couple decide to venture out themselves. And stealthily they head to the forest, with a heart eager to hear the calling of their daughter which, crispy as the trembling leaves of spring, catches them off-guard from nowhere and makes the whole incident a merely protracted charade. The two elders’ impractical dream and exciting journey met their abrupt ends, as what stands before them casts its sprawling shadow that shrouds them all. With their heads bowed at this sight of unexpected majesty, the old couple need not to witness themselves to notice what stands in their way.

And it is a tiger that stands judging her. The little girl can feel the tiger’s narrowing eyes and shortening breath, yet in return she stares straight at him the eyes wide and transparent, expressive of no wariness nor astonishment. Even the cruellest monster startles at a sight so tender and artless. When one knows not what is love the immediate reaction is however frustration and fluster, as the tiger tramps the ground and let out a booming cry so wounded. But the little girl budges not, and a slight smile plays upon her lips.

It is with ecstasy that the aged couple finally see their beloved daughter again, yet for the sake of modesty they, with much pain, hold back their intractable emotion. Before her parents the little girl lies rapt in her dream. Moonlight descends upon her and forms a bright disc around the little reclining body. The Holy Circle renders the little girl a star turn, as her parents and the tiger all gaze at her at the rim of the invisible circle, not without much amazement. And before long, while still standing stock-still, the old couple will witness the tiger’s transgression of the hallowed orders. Into the circle the tiger abrasively ventures, and before the seniors’ disbelieving eyes slowly and gently, he disrobes the little girl.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Prodigal Son

* Joachim Patinir, Landscape with St. Jerome (1515-1519)

(Joachim Patinir was perhaps one of the pioneers in Western art who made landscape the main spectacle of his paintings. Unable to eschew wilfully from the tradition, the themes of Patinir’s paintings are still predicated on biblical narratives. Yet the lionized deities are mostly dwarfed by the grandiosity of the landscapes, which are often divided by several rock formations. The rocks look sharp and precipitous which makes the painting an unnerving sight. The mood of Patinir’s landscape painting resides more on the predicaments of the Middle Ages than the chequered, gilded wonder of the Renaissance the painter was born to. That explains why I have always seen Patinir’s painting as an indirect memento mori.)

Cleanliness and clarity dominate the wintery tone of the village. The stillness of the air makes the time seemingly trapped in a hapless warp. In addition to the stasis is the absence of snow which heralds no festive felicity to this remote land. Christmas is just around the corner and the children have already given up wishing unavailingly for a spell of flake magic. Together with the po-faced adults they stare out of the windows to the stretching roads, which are devoid of any substance to be made an interesting spectacle saving a long-standing rock formation. Part of the scenery is therefore blocked by the rock, while the keen eyes of the children fixate on its looming presence, as if anticipating something astounding swinging out of the shadowy corners.

And the children’s wishes are not put in disdain. Out from the darkest silhouette cast by the sharpest facet comes a lone traveller, trudging laboriously with back laden with burdens. The adults confirm their unfamiliarity with the approaching stranger. The children are in the nascence of their fluster, sniffing in the air the anomalous coming by. At a certain distance the traveller appears to be a prey to the formidable nature, as the former is almost subsumed by the grand scenery, mainly the rock. Nothing can be more threatening to the villagers than the dwarfed stranger, which mobility is a scourge reminding their own incarcerated lives.

The traveller should feel their malice in return when his exhaustion triggers no concerns or hospitality from the villagers. Yet no astonishments are expressive, either. The children, who can be described as wide-eyed, stare at the man as if lending their numerous transparent eyes to mirror up his fatigue. There are even more obstacles in extorting her whereabouts. Nevertheless the jaded traveller asks for water and victuals, and thankfully the villagers are not too unwilling to provide some.

Before long the night descends. The only time he can dredge up those memories without fearing the intrusion of others. The images come before his eyes in snippets, partly owing to those reminiscences which are now in a train of wild rhythms. Even in privacy, words are too honest and daunting a means for piecing together his past years. Instead, he only permits his mind to dwell on the consequences. A motivated youth in his heydays; a series of trifling affairs to while away the sweltering and stifling days, which result in an entanglement of a heart too susceptible and tender. All amounts eventually to a fractured heart and his adamant insistence on leaving the village he is ever fond of. No tears are shed from either side’s farewell.

It is in doubt whether the villagers all recognize there resides tonight the prodigal son they were wont to gossiping about. The children, in particular, relate not this enigmatic intruder to the one they romanticize much after their bed time stories. Yet their curiosities are always piqued when among them inhabits an unwelcome stranger. No sooner do the adventurous children decide to rouse the stranger, and out of filial duty to their responsible parents exclude him from the village. A plan is set that they will venture into the barn (the place where the man is assigned to spend his night) and with no pain inflict on the stranger they will wheedle him into immortality. One by one the children tiptoe out to accomplish their task.

The remembrance of the past makes his eyes grow heavy. The scene before him is now only dimly visible. He snuggles up a bundle of his worn clothes for comfort, yet warmth is not something that comes immediately. Winter. Long days of winter are by no means unbearable when in his vagabond years are riddled with days of biting frostiness. How he longs for one single prick that generates surges of heat flowing through his livid veins, and makes himself whole again; the renewal of one that was once so loved by everyone. He dozes while greedily toying with this beautiful thought, and is not aware of the coming of the rustling noise that can be broken down into hundreds of them, in which the stranger hazards unalarmingly as the nocturnal activity of mice.