Sunday 2 October 2011

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Certain seasons arrive all of a sudden: in later years winter (especially the Christmas period) has been summoned earlier than usual by mince pies that go on display at the end of August; spring showers turn up unexpectedly and summer is like a Houdini act: now you see it, now you don't. Or rather, now you're wearing four layers of clothes, now you're wearing almost nothing.

Autumn, however, floats about, hovers and finally comes down in a choir of rustling leaves. I first notice its appearance when the air takes on a crispy, metallic feel. Not cold, but cool, comforting and translucent. I, then, look around to see the changes. The victorius heather that reigns supreme in summer with its pinkish-purple flowers, sees its territory decimated. The hustle and bustle of June, July and August give way to a slower pace, the better to savour the stillness around you.

This year, September started strangely. Then, again, the weather has been most unusual of late. As I write, temperatures in London are predicted to rise to 27-28 degrees (Celsius). Earlier this month, the remnants of a hurricane that had swept through the eastern coast of the US reached the UK and gave us gales that wouldn't have been out of place on a tropical island in the Caribbean in the middle of October. But still, autumn is here.

Whereas for me winter's monochromatic landscape resembles a painting by Jackson Pollock on LSD, autumn seems to be the product of the soft brush stroke of a Degas or Monet. In the case of the former, an exhibition has just opened at the Royal Academy under the name "Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement".

The pieces on display prove my point about autumn resembling an impressionistic painting. Degas captured hundreds of positions from various angles. Autumn works in shades. Hundreds of them. A leaf is not just either orange or yellow, but auburn and chestnut at the same time. Rumour has it that when asked why he was so interested in ballet dancers, Degas answered that it was because the dance form was all we had left of the combined movement of the Greeks. Autumn is Mummy Nature's last annual plea for life before it is plunged into the darkness of winter. That's why after a slow start, autumn suddenly explodes into a multitude of colours. It's nature's way of saying "I'm still here, still, alive and this is what I have to offer". The same happens in a ballet show when the soloist (man or woman) pirouettes endlessly in the middle of the stage. It's their own way to stand out.

There's a third element. Degas's paintings don't normally depict performances but rehearsals. The effect is a frank, revelatory, behind-the-scenes exposé of the workings of a dance company. To someone, like me, who's been involved in the performing arts for a number of years, Degas's ballet pieces convey a feeling of Nostalgie. Likewise, autumn is synonymous with melancholy and memories. This leads to a contrast between the gold carpet laid out in front of our eyes and the cyan pigment that adorns our insides. Blue might not be the ruling colour in the surrounding landscape (unless you include the sky), but when it comes to soaking up the fresh, morning breeze stirring the coppery leaves above, enjoying the spectacle of nuts-munching squirrels and watching enviously the acorn-collecting children, you're damn right I've got the blues.

© 2011

Next Post: “Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts”, to be published on Wednesday 5th October at 11:59pm (GMT)

Photos taken by the blog author.


  1. You're so right, Cuban. Autumn *does* resemble a Monet or a Degas. Such a poignant post, filled with a sadness that somehow seems fitting to a season that leads us into a dormant winter. Luckily for me, we're in spring and, after the first spring rains last night, the garden is rain-washed and dancing joyously!

    Judy, South Africa

  2. Just jammed to that blues number while getting ready for cocktails in the sun.. is this really Autumn?? This glory of steaming sun? Heaven mon ami... p.s. am green with envy that you've already seen the Degas... cannot wait, cannot wait!!
    Thankyou for this splendidly poetic post!

  3. Lovely post. Loved every line. Nostalgia seems to be top of my mind at this point as well.
    Wherever I have lived, I have loved the time of transition of seasons, especially when the weather went cooler.

  4. This is lovely. I'm really hoping that the nice weather holds out for another couple of weeks.

  5. Actually, I have READ a lot about the Degas exhibition! :-) No, I ahevn't seen it yet and at £13 a pop admission price it's very likely that I'll give it a miss and go back to my book on Impressionism which I bought at the National a few years ago. Whenever I'm n the mood for a jab of impressionism all I have to do is take advantage of a family trip to London (central London, that is, I might live in the sticks, but this is still London) and pop by the National. Free admission and you get to see all the impressionistic pieces you want.

    Thanks for your comments.

    Greetings from London.

  6. Lucky you - to see the Degas exhibit! There is something about autumn that is poignant to the wise soul - maybe because it's a reminder that another year is ending and we, while getting wiser, are also getting older. Yet, I don't know if I would trade that sadness for the mindless joys of children. I like having depth and seasoned intelligence. We will be tactful and pass over the gray hairs and wobbly knees. Have yourself a tot of Cuban rum and feel more cheerful!

  7. Enjoyable bit of descriptive writing.

  8. I love your “choir of rustling leaves.” We’ve had oddly summery weather in New England too but we’re due for a first frost tonight.

    That Degas reproduction has been hanging in my bedroom since I was a child. I love the quality of light and how empty space balances filled space. There is motion and music and yet it’s calming. I wish I could see that exhibit in person. Thanks for sharing. Lovely park photos too.

  9. Sarah, you're right. The light in that painting is magnificent, one of the reasons why I like it so much.

    Thanks a lot to you all for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.



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