Tag Archives: films

A Real Woman

4 Apr

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Jacky: A real woman needs a man

Gracieuse: Then I’m not a real woman

— Sport de Filles

As the largest festival of its kind in the United States, the French Film Festival in Richmond at the Byrd Theater was an event which I had anticipated for months. Carytown has that “je ne ces quoi” which makes it the perfect host. Cafes and shops lining the avenue were filled to overflowing with not only French speakers but German, Italian, Spanish. It was the closest I can imagine to being on a Parisian street. The Byrd Theater is an amazingly beautiful venue, its restoration supported by the Richmond community. Upon entering the lobby, a rich plushness transports patrons back to the earliest years of cinema. Surrounded in lush red, gold, and mahogany paneled walls, I marveled at the frescoes glowing behind carved wisteria trellis. A central chandelier in green, red and crystal white was breathtaking above a red velvet curtained stage, flanked by sconces, their low burning orange shades reflecting against the golden copper gilt. The space spoke to me of a time when coming to the theater for a film was an event. In our age of multiplex box cinema, where the screen takes precedence, this venue spoke of a wider experience, of film being an addition to life experience rather than a replacement.

All of the films I saw were excellent, but one principle quickly made itself evident: exceptionally strong central female characters. Perhaps it’s a French characteristic or just evident in the films I chose, but each one displayed a view of the lives of women that perhaps cut too closely. Friday evening’s film, Cigarettes et bas Nylons, explored the relationships between French WWII brides awaiting their journey to America in a processing camp. The film opens with their preparation at camp, chocolates, cigarettes and nylons symbolizing the abundance of American life. From the group, two main female leads emerge, their stories in direct opposition. A young French widow, Marie Therese, travels to small town Alabama to her new soldier husband. As peacetime unwinds, she finds herself the bride of a shell shocked alcoholic, whom she had married for security and a father for her young son. This story contrasts against another bride, Jeanette, who is told her new soldier husband has been killed before she can board the ship to America. Her journey back to a small French village and the judgments she receives from her family and from men in her town fuels her longing to go to America, to enjoy its freedoms just like her “sisters” from the bridal camp. As their stories unfold, however, she comes to realize that no one’s life is entirely fulfilling. She travels alone to America, only to discover the dream of husband and American promise is just that …a dream. The characters’ greatest comfort is in friendship, within the intimacy they create with each other. Husbands seem ancillary to the true emotion and tenderness they share. Jeanette eventually finds love in America, but as a result of following her own path, alone.

Saturday, I viewed Sport de Filles, the story of a young woman, Gracieuse, impassioned by the love of sport horses. Her desire to take a horse “all the way” opposes the expected feminine path, namely find a husband and train horses on the side. In rehabilitating a cast off dressage horse, she finds freedom from a feminine stereotype. But what most interested me about the film was the male lead, Frantz Mann, an older trainer who must face his own aging masculinity. Mann’s relationship of twenty years displays a power struggle all too common among powerful women and the men they love. His partner, Josephine, owns the dressage training facility, the horses, and the business. Mann, a previous champion rider and now coveted trainer, brings in the business, namely young wealthy women riders. I found this inner story intriguing, the interplay between older men and younger women, the yielding to the man’s sexual capriciousness by his same age partner, and how her control of the business and his passive aggressive resistance underlies his own sense of emasculation. He has sexual power. She has money. And it’s the desire by each for the other’s power that ends the relationship.

His younger lover Susan, a forty-ish English woman, tells him, “Its incredible how sexy you are for a shriveled old man.” And the power construct reveals itself quite easily in that. I saw the romantic relationship narrative: older man grasping at power and clinging to his fading ego, younger woman as a spoiled sexual plaything gaining power through him. Gracieuse’s character directly contrasts against Susan, but she is distant, cold, and driven. Gracieuse is miserable at home with a boyfriend and father, only alive when she is in seat. Each film at the festival had a question and answer session post screening with the director. During this one, a young man asked, “Did you mean for this to be such a strong feminist film?” Patricia Mazuy’s reply? A slightly laughing, “No.” His question revealed more to the audience about the interplay of men and women than he had anticipated, I think.

At Sunday’s film, I hit a wall…a question that has plagued me about the absence of a mate in my own life. I must play a role in order to be acceptable or interesting to the opposite sex? I must be soft and helpless? OR I’m an independent ball breaker, cold and hard…a feminist? It seems there is no in between. I’ve always tried to be myself, who also happens to be female. And I thought I’d meet someone who is also himself, who also happens to be male. He’d be impressed by my strength and my intelligence, relieved that he didn’t have to fix me, carry me, or rescue me. He’d just enjoy me and let me enjoy him back. I found out differently. A bartender once told me, “You are the kind of woman I’d never date: driven, talented, intelligent and hot. . . . too hard”. I’m not joking. A male friend tried to help me understand this dilemma. In a recent letter he said,

Something else I had thought about the other day….you trying to explain your “softness”. . . maybe what you meant was that you don’t bear that vulnerability that men seem to be drawn to maybe?…That subservient “need”….in that you don’t have that desperate fawning thing . . .And most men have to have that being needed so that they can have control and boost ego, and it is all about possession and what you get-not about giving ….Anthropologically, it seems my gender has been trained to quest and hunt (in relationships as well)-but only for the easy prey….or if the quest is harder, it is more about the ego challenge itself…you just seem to realize your own ‘self’ and independence…

Even in some analyses of the heroine’s journey, the ultimate boon is to be independent from the domestic role. Seriously? Joe’s hero gets to be master of both worlds and I get to be powerful and alone?

Yay…I can hardly wait.

Death of the romantic ideal, that’s part of the heroine’s journey, they say. I’m so very excited about that. Women get to be their own mothers, find out their fathers were failures and overcome. . . to be alone or with other women. Aces.

On Sunday evening as I watched Therese Desqueyroux, her emotional numbness to the point of insanity disturbed me intensely. Set in the 1920’s, Therese walked willingly into a social role only to discover that the position would not “quieten” her mind. Her imagination would not fit into the role of wife and mother. If she remained, she would cease to exist. Her desire to lead an independent life was so great, she attempted to kill her husband with arsenic. I was so struck by her reply to his questioning of her motives. He had thought it was over the wealth of land their “merger” created.

“You think this was because of the pines?” she says.

To write about this has been difficult. Questions which the films provoke still linger and I continue to think about what it means to be me, a woman who wants to be a woman but one who does not want end up solely in the company of other women, “put out to pasture” so to speak. I think of Gracieuse riding, bending the horse to her will and of Jeanette, walking down a long road, alone. And of the change in Therese’s eyes as she walked away, free from her past and I know these women will be with me for quite a while.

Cigarettes et bas Nylons

Sport de Filles

Therese Desqueyroux

What Cannot End

5 Mar

Love is patient and kind;
love is not jealous or boastful;
it is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. . .

— I Corinthians 4 -8

Nearly every weekend I go and allow. In learning to look for small things, the gift of a story comes to me. In return, I get an experience, an adventure.

Sometimes, small moments converge into a message, a lesson like a perfect tiny shell in plain view upon the sand as the moments on Ocracoke.

But this story isn’t just about a cafe au lait,
or a restaurant,
or a walk and a drive,
or a film.

It is about Love.

And how we may look into its face and know ourselves.

My never ending quest to find a café au lait as good as Ryan’s leads me to the Lamplighter Roasting Co., a small cafe tucked into a Carytown neighborhood in Richmond. This tiny place, reminds me of the boats on Silver Lake, flags flying from the mast on the roof. A heavy woody caramel smoke smell of ground espresso hits me like a door upon walking in and I order my usual…a red eye cafe au lait. The barista’s call rings out a few minutes later and I look down to see a perfectly formed heart in the froth of my coffee.

Sweetness in the Froth

Mornings on the road
spent  in burlap and sips of bitter black,
coffee air and steamer squeals,
poster windowed cafes,
I scribble notes in the spaces between the sips
from a paper cup.
I pause on a perfect heart.
Crowding in from the night into a worn book,
thoughts accumulate like stacked napkins

Post coffee, I walk to Selba, a lovely restaurant on Cary Street for brunch. The room opens into partitioned spaces of sleek modern blended into Edwardian conservatory, like a deck on a great ship liner. Soon, I am wonderfully tended by David, one of the bar men. He brings me a fresh hot plate of Crab Benedict, the sea scent of it drifting upward as I gaze down upon tiny micro greens adorning the tops of perfectly poached eggs, their leaflets bowed out in little green hearts.

Perched atop my bar stool

like a spring jay among bare dogwood budded branches,

the piano player’s hands puts keys to motion

‘Sunday morning rain is falling. . .’

and I lay hand to lined paper, thoughts

on tiny heart sprouted eggs rich and hot…

I pause,

tilt my hand before

winging concrete streets,

past bright crayon colored doors. . .

A few more hours spent in Carytown yields doughnuts and cupcakes, and thoughts of those with whom to share them. Walking. I’m always walking; it strikes me that I have become the journey.

After an hour or two of shop wandering, the part I dislike the most arrives, the drive home. I’ll be back inside the concrete walls, locked doors and bells of my normal world of school and home, familiar all too soon. Leaving Richmond, I drive a different way, through Byrd Park toward a single bridge. Over the water and then down the street, winding to the left I see it, a sign in front of Westover Baptist.

Love Endures All

A third heart proclaims…love
bears, believes, hopes and endures all.
I stop the car . . .take the picture
like the random dreamsicle sunrise while
driving to school.
When I pause to see
the exact moment of dawn,
a small line moving me through the day
in quiet philosophy.

Bright sunshine made the air more crisp, more clear this Sunday on the downtown mall in Charlottesville. I click along the brick and stone courtyard toward the Paramount Theater, the last sweet dregs of a velvety headed cafe con leche in a paper cup. And even though the air bites my cheeks and fingertips, I throw my heart to the sun and let my hair blow into tangles in the playful wind. Black letters on the marquee read…The Princess Bride. Inside, at the Paramount, I move along the plush carpet, past gold gilt walls, among the couples and small children giggling, holding hands festooned in wool mittens and clutching popcorn buckets. Seated in velvet, the crystal and gold chandeliers dim, brushing light from the walls like the closing of a child’s eyelashes.

Twu Wuv

For the thousandth time,
familiar lines piece together
the worn scraps of love in my crazy quilted heart.
‘I will always come for you.
This is true love…do you think this happens everyday?”
My eyes dwell on

their nodding heads in the sunset,
a perfect heart.

“As you wish…”
the grandfather’s eyes squeeze my throat.
This story is about a gift,
about felt kindness,
about what is mirrored in the heart.

You cannot lock in the heart.
It will grow like the dawn until
it no longer fits
inside your chest…
and then you must walk inside it,
an arc rung around the sun
reflecting life inside out
outside in.

In me see you

that cannot

No Small Thing

31 Dec

Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart

— A.A. Milne

Small things.

Last night I went to see  Les Miserables. To be honest, I knew the story but had never experienced it the way in which the musical presents, close and intimate, personal and real. So many characters, so many lines registered in my heart that I had little room for anything else when I left the theater. Sacrifice, that is what the story is all about…sacrifice. Perhaps I understood it all too well. The film tired me emotionally and I went home to tissues and sleep.

Sunday, I tried to write but grading papers got in the way and I think I was still trying to process the night before, this meaning in sacrifice.  During my dinner at Dish before the film, I met a young couple from out of town who were interested in knowing more about places to go and restaurants here. I paused from my dinner of little plates and tore a sheet from my notebook, writing down some of the names of places I love . Then, I went to sit back at the bar and smiled that smile. The “I do so like to see the young people in love and having fun” smile. And it gave me a great pause.

Last night as I tried to write, the words still wouldn’t come. I tried to imagine myself in my little kitchen in Ocracoke and it just wasn’t working, so I finally opened the DVD that one of my former students had sent to me, and began to watch: Finding Joe. 

That’s when it all made sense. From beginning to end, the idea of the journey and everything that has developed in the last few weeks just became clear. I’ve been on a  hero’s quest. In its simplest terms, I am on the path to my most authentic life. Each line from the film, each idea, reaffirmed that I am discovering myself and conscious of my own evolution. What causes me the most confusion, frustration, and pain is fighting against myself all the time. Adhering to “shoulds” and t “shouldn’t’s” puts me into a place where I lose my authentic self,  and the sight of my path. I remember walking the darkened streets in Ocracoke with only a pen flash light and not feeling afraid. Of actually enjoying the quiet darkness and the comfort of a sandy path. There I discovered that when I act out of a sense of complete inner conviction, it never goes wrong. And I attain a sense of peacefulness that is hard to describe. Joe would say to me,  “Stop fighting, stop. Allow. Say your truth and let it be Remain in the immovable spot, following your truest self and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”

Most people walk this planet asleep,tigers among sheep, eating sheep’s food and pretending to enjoy it. And then the tiger comes and force feeds us the truth about our selves and our lives and we choke. But then we grow and know, I am a tiger, meant for a tiger’s life.

I need to remember that being  awake is to walk a singular road, intersecting companions, experiences, challenges, and gifts of insight.  So much of what the journey really comes down to is small things, basic things that we all need. Life becomes cluttered with trivialities and in that cluttering, we lose ourselves and the chance at happiness. The simplicity of Ocracoke reminds of the life I truly want.

Once I watched that film, I knew that beyond the next month or two, I have no plan, no real expectations and that’s okay. Life should be a series of small plates, small plates shared at the table of life with others. Journeys intertwine for a reason. And I needed to think of my challenges as not being put into my life to inhibit me, but being presented with challenges in which I can grow and eventually make a difference. In other words, I have begun to see that I make a difference inside the challenge. I am an active participant, not a victim.

I have struggled whether I should make this blog public. It is so intimate. Its personal. I’m letting a lot of strangers into my inner world. But its tied into learning my purpose. Now I simply cannot look aside from sharing it. To allow this kind of personal scrutiny is risky, I know. This is the beginning of my bliss, though. One of my friends said to me,”We all have things we want to do before we die Cyndi, but you…you actually do them. ” He said, “One of my coworkers saw your picture while I was messaging you on Facebook and I told him about your bucket list and how you really live that way. I said to him, ‘Wanna see her tattoo?’ And then I showed him the pictures and he was like..wow…WOW.”

My friend also told me a story about having regret over never telling a girl how he felt when he had the chance when he was fourteen. It had stayed with him all these years, so he found her, and told her about his regret. He laughed about the fact that she didn’t remember him and how ironic that was, but the true issue is this:

The things you regret, the things you want to do but never do because of should or shouldn’t have the power to limit your life.

And when your life is limited, you remain a tiger among sheep.

I think I’ve already made the decision, to not worry about what others think of me, to live my most authentic life. And my wish is for everyone to live life with such intention, to follow their bliss, to have the Universe bring them their greatest happiness. Heaven is within us. Joe believed that.

I have fear.. we all do. But having the courage to do and to share what I have been given is the only way to happiness.

I heard the call, Joe, and I’m listening ….and following. Really,its no small thing.

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