Two Faces

How do you assess the quality of the candidates for the US Presidency? Naturally, you listen to what each one says, and listen between the lines for what is not being said. Same goes for what they do and don’t do. And you look for character: for empathy, courage and general decency. I’ve done all that, and I’m super happy that Joe Biden is President-Elect.

I also look at faces. I see things there. I don’t care about bone structure that may produce what many people label as “handsome”. I don’t care about hairstyle or a waddle under the chin. I do look for softness, a sense of the skin gently moving rather than looking like a rigid mask. I think we all need to be moved by life while remaining strong, much like well-rooted grasses waving in the wind.

I look for balance, a general verticality and symmetry. A head askew must put a lot of pressure on the neck … and the soul.

I look for soft eyes, open to give and receive – eyes that seem large and blend into the rest of the face. Eyes that are open rather than enlarged slits.

I look for a face that is alive as opposed to dead, one that breathes and leans toward the future, rather than to the past. A dead face is so sad to behold … no joy and no sorrow.

I watch the lips. Do they sweetly lie above and below each other or press tight for victory? Is the mouth languidly horizontal or curled up on one end? Do the words sound like a melody or a dog barking?

Smiles are nice. Do they ever happen on this face? If so, is it a smile of union or divide, of brother and sisterhood or conquest? And … if benign, does the smile linger past the immediate thought?

***

Faces can change over time, and I don’t mean the inevitability of aging. Faces can mellow. Faces can rediscover the joyous lines of childhood. Faces can turn toward other faces and see who’s there.

May it be so.

TV

Weeks ago I was visiting friends in Belgium. We decided to watch a movie in the family room, loafing on a bed-like couch. On came the film and open came my eyes. The clarity of the picture was stunning – all the details of faces and architecture were so clear. I just stared. My TV at home was a fuzz ball in comparison. Lydia didn’t think theirs was anything special but I sure did.

Okay … now why? What’s the big deal about sharpness of picture? Is it just so I can brag about having the best TV? No, no … it’s not a status thing for me.

Actually, why worry about the quality of TV reception anyway? Aren’t there countless other ways I could spend my time, ways that would be more life enhancing than watching some comedy show? Certainly. There’s a 1-1 conversation about what’s important in life. There’s a meditation session. There’s a walk in the woods.

While we’re at it, we can compare two paintings of a person: one is totally realistic, looking virtually like a photograph, while the other uses broad brush strokes to catch the character of the face. Surely there’s a place for artistic interpretation. And surely this can apply to TV as well – softness, blending, a pastel feeling … all can communicate beauty.

Yes to all of this. And yet I’m drawn to the crystal clearness that stood in that Nukerke family room.

Now it’s today, and I’m watching the Australian Open tennis tournament on TV. On my new LG OLED hi-def TV as a matter of fact. Belgium – meet Canada. Things have improved in my Belmont living room. I’m following the crispness of the tennis rallies with pleasure. But mostly I’m cherishing the close-ups of faces. Every little detail of skin and spirit is there. That’s what I want.

And what wonders await when I buy a subscription to the 4K movies and nature shows on Netflix? This consumer is about to find out.

Day Twenty-Nine: Rigueur/Douceur

The kids’ vests said it all: rigor and softness. We’ll ask the children to work hard and we’ll love them.

Lydia, Marie-paule and I visited the Toubacouta school for young students yesterday. I was there first so I walked through the gate into a courtyard with swings, hanging backpacks, and shoes lined up in neat rows outside of the main building. I sat on the step and wondered if this place would be a big part of my life someday.

When the women arrived, we walked towards the door and were greeted by a teacher in a lovely African dress, splashed with colour. She smiled radiantly and ushered us inside. Kids were spread over the floor in two groups, all sitting on big mats. Eyes widened and bodies started bouncing. Marie-paule and Lydia began talking to a few adults but I didn’t want to do that. I sat on a chair beside lots of young ones – about five years old. Within seconds, legs lifted bodies, hands extended to mine and personal space was just some weird Western concept.

Kids reached for my glasses. They rubbed my white arms. They sought my grey hair. I said no to some of it but mostly I loved the contact.

A shrill teacher voice in a language I didn’t understand jolted eyes wide and sent feet scurrying back to the mat. Tiny blackboards were distributed and students got to work with their chalk. Drawings, rather than letters, were created. Rags and a bucket of water were nearby for erasing and starting again. It reminded me a lot of the Grade 5/6 class back in Canada when the kids were doing Math.

The space was packed with noise … and movement. I smiled to think of teachers’ reactions to this situation back home. Every minute or two, a Senegalese teacher would yell at some kid. At least I think that was what was happening. It was rapid-fire words with definitely an edge to them.

Later in the morning, I got to attend a language class with about fifteen kids. French was the language being learned. It appeared that a new girl was joining the class and the lesson was about how to welcome her. As well as coaching the students about what words to use, the teacher had each child approach the new one, make eye contact and shake her hand. Very cool. When each student completed the task, the teacher smiled at them, drew them close and placed a kiss on the cheek. Yes, I was in another world, but it was still reminiscent of tender moments in Canadian classrooms.

During my time in Senegal, I’ve given away most of the gifts that the kids in Belmont had made or provided – bracelets, books, beach balls. What remained was four skipping ropes, donated by a creative young lady in Grade 6. Lydia advised me to give them to teachers at the school so everyone could enjoy them. Good plan. So I did.

At recess, one of the teachers took an orange rope outside. Soon she and a child were on either end and kids took turns jumping in. I should have suspected that they’d be naturals. Then Lydia grabbed a rope and demoed solitary skipping. Woh! Small eyes followed the bouncing human.

***

Lots of young faces
A few old faces
Faces

Day Six: Faces Together

I moved through Central Park on my way to the MET … the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As I roamed the pathways, I came upon an alcove filled with circular beauty. It was a huge sculpture of Alice in Wonderland and her friends. Alice gazed down at the Cheshire Cat … in love. I couldn’t look away from the beams of light that joined their eyes. I paused a very long time.

I climbed the stairs of the huge building and stepped inside to the grand space. The choices inside the MET are overwhelming, or so I perceived them:

Jewelry: The Body Transformed

Artistic Encountets with Indigenous America

Seeing the Divine: Pahari Painting of North India

Streams and Mountains Without End: Landscape Traditions of China

Corridors beckoned in all directions but I sat down. Why was I here? To learn about the art of different times and places? No. To experience myself as an artist, walking beside all these creators? No. Something else was present in the space. It had nothing to do with landscapes, or abstracts, or scenes of streets. It had everything to do with the human face. And not the solitary ones. What was drawing me were faces in communion with other faces. Contact.

So I roamed the galleries, rarely reading the descriptions accompanying the paintings or sculptures. Not wanting to understand, just to experience the connections. And it happened. Worlds of joined eyes presented themselves to me.

I took pictures here and there. Once I was in a gallery and looked down the hallway to the one next door. There stood two people facing each other. They were magnetic. For the next hour, it felt that some unknown force was drawing me from one exhibit to the next. And friends in stone or paint kept saying hi. I smiled back.

I don’t know what else to say. The rest is visual. I’ll transfer this post to Facebook and add a whole bunch of photos … faces all. You’ll get the idea.