Broken dreams

 

 

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I hesitated very much to write this post but it must be done.  Last week I was visiting the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusets in the United States.  I went on a week-long trip with a dear friend of mine.  She was kind enough to introduce me to the rich culture hidden in this beautiful part of the county  Besides enjoying the pretty scenery with its  villages set in hills covered with forests, we made it a point to visit the many museums in the area.  During our time there a couple of dreadful things were reported in the news.  One was the college shooting in Oregon and the other was the bombing of the MSF hospital in Afghanistan.

The last museum we visited was the Norman Rockwell museum.  He was, of course, the very talented illustrator who created some of the most iconic images of American life.  He did very lifelike portraits of President Eisenhower and President Kennedy as well of other leaders like Nehru and Nasser.  We learnd a lot about his technique of using photographs and his meticulous methods.  He created four wonderful ideological paintings to illustrate what became  known as “The four freedoms”. They are:  freedom of speech and expression, freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom of worship.  These paintings were taken to the UN recently and Pope Francis was photographed next to them.

Many of the subjects of the Norman Rockwell paintings are inspirational.  I found myself tearing up when I looked at some of them, such as the famous depiction of a friendly cop sitting on a stool at a lunch counter, gently observing a little boy who has a cloth-wrapped bundle indicating that he is running away from home.  For me the face of the soda jerk carried such experience, such gentle cynicism, that I think he is the focus of the study.

My problem is that cynicism can no longer be gentle.  How I would love to believe in that colourful world of practical jokes, of Santa Clause, of dutiful marshals escorting a lone black child to school.  The USA depicted by Norman Rockwell is a utopia.  That marshals have to escort a student indicates that there are grave problems, social injustices, conflicts, but somehow, there is faith too that some good spirit in America will struggle with the problems and that right will prevail. His depictions of childhood and young love have none of the anxiety and violence that pervade the lives of youngsters today.

How are we doing on those freedoms, by the way?  Decades after the paintings were executed I wonder if more citizens of the world are “free” in the ways shown.  Are cops today viewed as caring “uncle” figures?  Is the  server behind the counter an “alien”,fearing deportation, struggling to form a union so that he can earn $15 an hour?  Those GI’s depicted with such humor and affection, do they today suffer from post-traumatic stress or do they believe collatoral damage is just part of the ” stuff” that happens?  Make no mistake, I admire the United  States, it’s people, its natural beauty, its great wealth so often put to good, to great purpose.. I long to cling to that ideal of Western civilization that can shine  forth in the United States…..and yet…..as we wandered in Williams College in the shadow of the Oregon tragedy, I wondered how safe I was.  Why not there and at that moment?

The illustrations of Norman Rockwell are a sort of monument to a dream; a dream of a safe, sober society where everything is somehow going to be OK.  I fear we have awoken to a nightmare

Food…for the soul too!

 

 

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This day was so full of good things that I hardly know where to start.  A dear friend of mine invited me to her time-share in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusets, USA. The leaves are just starting to turn and the weather is perfect; pleasant temperatures, no humidity and sunny skies.  The accommodations are very spacious and well appointed.  After a smooth trip down from Montreal and a quick stop in a grocery store that can only be described as palatial we settled in for a quiet evening yesterday.  Today we went on an outing to the nearby Shaker Village.  The Shakers, as many of you may know were a religious sect that flourished in the 18th century in New England.  They were master designers of furniture, farm equipment and barns and accessories like baskets and boxes.  These accomplishments sprang from their religious conviction that people should live in rural communities and that every action and product should be a form of prayer.  Thus, if someone set out to make a basket it should be the most unadorned, functional and beautiful basket one could design and produce.  The name “Shakers” is a deformation of Quakers, the austere Protestant sect the members of which came to America to practice freely.  The Shakers addedd the element of physical action as a form of worship.  They wrote and performed thousands of religious songs to be sung at their long and loud religious services.  At the village we visited today, we had the good luck to be on time for a musical session.  This was led by a gentleman who directed us to sit “Shaker style” with men on one side of the room and women on the other.  He explained some of the actions that were performed during the singing of rather simple hymns.  He was joined by another man and two women singers and , guess what, audience participation was encouraged.  I don’t have to tell those of you who know me that I was among the first on my feet to “clap to the right and stamp to the left” to praise God and stamp out the devil.  When you consider that a couple of hundred people would participate in services, Shakers and “worldly people”, it is not surprising that the sound from such services could be heard a mile  away.  Besides clapping and stamping, Shakers “shook out evil” hence the name.  They are such an interesting group and well, Wikopedia exists for a reason.  They died out for two reasons: they insisted on celibacy in their villages and their methods of farming to sustain the community could not keep up with modern techniques.  Their music is interesting and their philosophy, very parallel to Eastern notions of ecstatic worship and austerity, is facinating.  It was a lovely day to wander around the property and observe some of the arts and crafts being practiced.

We had a great homemade supper on our return and spent much of the evening observing the eclipse of the moon.  How beautiful and mysterious it was.  Human beings, the wonderful forested mountains in this area, a large wild turkey we saw on the road, the Shaker beliefs, the truly wonderful eclipse of the moon, and a kind friend……..what more could I wish for?

Oh, I do have one thing to wish for, if you enjoy the posts and have time to,read them now and then, please follow on isobelmtl.wordpress.com rather than on the Facebook  site.  I have to keep up my numbers.  Thanks  iso