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Friday, January 07, 2011

So what?

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-Luxembourg Garden's Medici Fountain in May 2006
with face sculpture by Swedish artist Lotta Hannerz;
read my Paris Deconstructed blog post 
about being a woman alone in Paris that day here



Isn't this woman utterly amazing? All she does is breathe. I truly love and admire her. What a meditation she is. "So what?" she seems to whisper-breathe. "I am in Paris, in the Luxembourg Gardens Medici Fountain, commissioned by Catherine de Medici . . . but . . . So what?"

The question So what? was a weed of rudeness in the field of my life growing up, a thistle you didn't want to touch, best to leave it alone to grow by itself, prickly and ugly. Mouths got slapped for saying such things. I didn't even think it, because it stood up and declared persistent insolence, superiority, rebellion, put-down. These were not in my floral repertoire.

Fast forward to the year of the door into freedom -- Paris 1997 when I'm 40 (nine years before these photos).

Two things.

One. I found thistle weeds in the luxurious flower beds of the Luxembourg Gardens. Was there some mistake? Thistles -- weeds -- in one of the grands jardins of the most elegant city in the world. But there was no mistake, they had been planned and planted. Tall, regal purple Scottish thistles were designed among snapdragons and I don't remember what else. I stood there dumbfounded, trying to comprehend many things at once: How did a garden designer understand how beautiful they are, and worthy of formal beds? How had I scorned them? Why do things in Paris look so frickin' beautiful? They're weeds! for heaven's sake . . . and then from the splashing water of the Medici fountain under the plane trees I seemed to hear someone whisper: Et alors? So what?

Two. I went to a jazz club called Petit Journal with my sister, across Boulevard Saint-Michel from the Luxembourg Gardens. It was my first time sitting for a prolonged mutual welcome of jazz. Our mother was freshly gone two months before, she who left behind New York jazz for a life of church music in the Midwest. Now with my sister in Paris: a door, a spiral stair down to a tiny, wall-lit, cave-like cellar. A female vocalist just on the other side of that table, no stage, who looks like Dianne Wiest with a voice like Etta James'. A quartet packed tight, playing loose -- bass, piano, drums, horn. Hours of So what interpretations of standards, and a little improvisation.

Today, almost fourteen years later, I'm still a baby in jazz, listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane play So What. But all these years since the freedom door, I've been practicing (as in, practicing to get better at it) So what. What does that statement (more than a question) mean to me, now? It means letting go, like thistles that let wind carry away their down. It means being unbounded by clocks, ought-tos, appearances, fears, expectations, shame, regret, jealousy, tidiness, judgment, offense, binary choices (and lists!). It means seeing beauty in the of-course lovely, and also in the untamed, thorny, worn, shabby, discarded, muddy, unknown and mixed-up ordinary-sometimes-even-ugly beautiful. I probably still wouldn't say So What? to anyone out loud, because spoken it just sounds bratty. But I say it to myself, and to Inge, when we get too serious and need to lighten up!

Et alors? So what?

How about by way of reply, a 1959 live recording in New York of a jazz musician who loved Paris and felt more welcome there as a black performer than in his own backyard -- Miles Davis, with John Coltrane in a gorgeous, untamed but highly cultivated field of So What? (Great article about Miles and his long love affair with Paris here.) Listen, view the video (also with members of the Gil Evans orchestra and Jimmy Cobb on drums) at full resolution, and feel the heart in Miles' eyes. Then, at about minute 4:29, when Miles and Trane (don't I sound hip, baby?) start blowing So what behind Wynton Kelly's piano playing, see if your fetters haven't come untied.

The video is followed by more photographs of the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, from my solo trip in 2006, not the year of the thistles, for sadly, I have no photos of those. But really, So what?

Newsflash: I need orange has offered her beautiful thistle photo, from the Luxembourg Gardens!







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-Does the chap in glasses not look like he is saying, "Et Alors . . ." ?
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65 comments:

Claudia said...

Et alors? J'adore!

The Solitary Walker said...

The lotus grows from muddy roots through muddy water, and only flowers when it's an inch or two above the mud.

Ruth said...

Merci, Claudia!

Ruth said...

Robert, so beautiful. As Nanao Sakaki says, keep your feet muddy.

Artyjen said...

Loved the post today :) It looks like I might be going to Paris this summer (my first time) and have put those gardens on my list of things to see.
xoxo Sioux

Ruth said...

Bonjour, Sioux (Artyjen)! Merci, et magnifique! As you are researching for your [possible] trip, do browse my Paris blog (linked in the caption between the two photos at the top of this post), where I've posted some things, both touristy and not-quite-so touristy. You can look at the topic "cloud" on the sidebar there for sights and themes.

Dan Gurney said...

Your post reminded me of a talk I recently attended on non-dual teachings where we were reminded that Adam and Eve were banned from Paradise as a consequence of eating fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

When we cleave the world in two, flowers and weeds, (what is a weed but an unloved flower?) good and evil, etc. we lose.

Paris is here, too.

Shari Sunday said...

I loved this, the pictures, the music, the thoughts. I learn so much from your posts. I would love to get to Europe someday, but meanwhile I enjoy your travels vicariously. I also enjoyed your play on the phrase "so what?" from the insolent sounding "who cares?" to "what does it really matter in the big scheme of things?" The one that irritates me these days is the phrase "It's all good." It is usually said in a cynical way when something happens that is definately not good. To me it sounds like "what do you expect in this lousy world?" I have usually heard it mouthed by people who have a big hand in making their own problems but never seem to recognize it. Oh, well, I'm going down another path here. Have a great day, Ruth

Woman in a Window said...

It's not to say it, or perhaps even to think it, but to know it as we know marrow in our bones. It diffuses the unmountability (is that even a word? if not, so what?) of mountains. It allows us.

I smile fully at this post, learning deeply of you, and liking what is in you.

xo
erin

The Bug said...

Man I really need to start thinking "so what" more often. There are situations where I can feel my blood pressure rising - and they're not even that big a deal. So what indeed!

Babs-beetle said...

I think Thistles are quite beautiful. I'm sure if they didn't grow wild, they would be cultivated and sold proudly.

I was proposed to while many jazz musicians were jamming in a famous (for jazz and sandwiches) London pub. There's nothing quite like a live jazz band.

Babs-beetle said...

I forgot to say that we should all say so what a lot more often, don't you think?

Jane Lancaster said...

Ruth... I needed this! I sure need to lighten up what with all the yuk that's going down... breathe Jane breathe and keep looking at that beautiful photo of the lady in the water...

Montag said...

Possibly the most sensual close-up of a nose that I have ever seen! And it is so calm and quiet... yet it invades our awareness like some quiet Genius of Scent.

ds said...

Thistles or no, the snapdragons and pansies look perfect in your photo--those colors!! Such harmony (what i'm getting from the piano solo in the middle of Miles' fabulous rendition--never mind the Master himself).
That nose knows, Ruth ;)

George said...

Paris, Miles and Trane, improvisational jazz, improvisational life, sitting in the the Luxembourg Gardens reading a book or playing chess, a game of sunset boules with your friends, a friend in Michigan who has actually deconstructed Paris. For a Zen francophile such as I, it doesn't get any better than this. Loved the video of Miles, Trane, and the rest of the musicians. If you want to see life played out intuitively, free from the prison of preconceptions, there it is! Thanks, my friend.

Jan Morrison said...

mmmm...your so whatness is refreshing. What so have you done with these words. You've wrung the what, the so, clean out of them. They are empty and luminous.
Choygam Trungpa used to say 'no big deal' with the same clarity and ultimate kindness.
so...what...what so ever!

Oliag said...

When I first read your post Ruth I thought to myself...well I've always been a rather "So What" kind of person...with more thinking I realized that there are many constraints that I adhere to...so once again I am brought to the realization that balance is what it is all about for me:)and I would dare say for Miles' music as well...love the music I'm listening to as I type!

J'adore the nose!

Barb said...

If we could just say "So what?" more (even just in our heads), we would be able to let go of should have, would have, must and just enjoy what is. A thought-provoking post, Ruth.

rosaria said...

Ah, so, so liberated, improvisational, bound to beauty with no limits. I love this post, its message, what it reveals about the narrator, the sense of Paris and jazz and Americans in Paris trying to fit in: what a picture you have described, what a lovable act of defiance in the "so what?".

Soul Dipper said...

Like George says, "there it is". Wonderful presentation playing to our senses. Many thanks, Ruth.

Terresa said...

I don't know French, but this is a good reason to learn it. Love this post.

Ruth said...

Oh Dan, I love your comment. First, I want to hear the talk you heard. Instead, I'll read some stuff about nondual teachings today. Thank you. This is something I have felt inside me since I could think. My life began then to be an unlearning of it from the outside, a cleaving in two. Since the time around this Paris door, the small non-split child is being allowed to run free and connected, one with everything. It takes time for the training of dualities to be undone, it goes so deep in our flesh.

Yep, Paris is here. It's here in me, and I also literally bring it to the farm, consciously, because it is so important to me as a symbolic choice.

Thank you for your presence and how you nudge me in this direction.

Ruth said...

Shari, oh thank you for your excellent comment. I hope you can get to Europe some day too, because I know that you are drawn to the beauties there. My sister and I had borne the lion's share of caring for our mother until she passed away with Alzheimer's. The 2 week trip to Paris was spontaneous (planned in 3 weeks) and truly was a culmination of my life to that point, because thoughts of my mother were so weighty right then. I think it's a good thing, when a parent or other close one passes, to get away from home for a bit, to feel isolated from your regular life, so that you can really examine the questions of your life without all the entanglements. Even if it is to a bed and breakfast an hour away.

What you describe about "It's all good" does raise the hairs on my arms a bit. When I face that kind of cynicism, it is one of those times I remember Inge's mantra: Just because someone throws you a ball doesn't mean you have to catch it. I try to let it skim over me whooosh. Because it really can be toxic to take it on. In some ways I want to vent and be cynical too! And that's why it's toxic for me.

Ruth said...

Erin, to get to that point, where we know it, know anything, in the marrow of our bones, once the practice has been completed, or we just knew it innately, this is freedom, and truly we can move mountains.

Your perceptions take my breath away. Thank you for them, always present in your comments.

Ruth said...

Dana, yesterday, the day I posted this, my words were hovering in my ears all day, like a nagging banshee, because something quite no-big-deal was tormenting me. This morning I can honestly say about it, So what?, both the thing I was obsessing about, and the fact that I was obsessing!

How will I feel tomorrow? Who knows?

:)

Ruth said...

Hello, Babs. I didn't know Scottish thistles were Scottish, and their national flower, until 1979 when we went to Scotland.

Proposed to with jazz? Smart proposer! And I wonder if you said, "So what?" ?

:)

freefalling said...

Ha!
I've just taught my notoriously uptight father the beauty of saying (and practising) "whatever".
You're so right - it's all about letting go (one could almost say "freefalling").

Ruth said...

Thanks, Jane, yesterday I needed it too! Breathe, Ruth, breathe.

Ruth said...

Montag, beautifully said. This is one of the most powerful pieces of art I have ever experienced. I'm happy that its effect comes through even in photos.

Ruth said...

DS, those color harmonies in the gardens are wonderful. It is such a pleasure to see the gardens change year to year. Yes, Wynton Kelly's playing is natural and harmonious, he is such a master at improvisation, as are Miles and Trane and the others as they back him up.

Ruth said...

Dear George, there is a sense about the Luxembourg that feels different from the other gardens. Maybe it's all those chess tables, and men playing petanque. It is a true gathering place of Parisians, as well as tourists. Maybe we should meet there for coffee! Air France has some amazing deals right now, we'd have to book fast.

Isn't the video wonderful? I was impressed by the videography, by CBS producer Robert Herridge, it says. Watching the musicians in the background I feel like I am experiencing a window into a world of ultra smooth flow. Free from the prison of preconceptions . . . intuitive -- Yes!

Thank you so much for your warming comment, while you're away. I hope you're having a beautiful time in SC.

Ruth said...

Jan, those are wonderful things you've said about this post, thank you so very much. "No big deal" can also seem flippant, but when said with kindness it so changes it. When I hear "what so ever" I hear the Dalai Lama . . .

Ruth said...

Oliag, I feel that it is a blessing to always have been a "So What" kind of person, within the constraints of honesty tempered with kindness. The balance we seek is like water leveling out as it seeks its end.

It's nice to learn more about you. We have had different upbringings, yet we have much in common, you and I.

Susan said...

Ah, another connection...I, too, would have received a slap in the mouth if I had ever boldly uttered those words. My mother never entertained any form of disrespect, and I find myself wearing her shoes sometimes. I often feel the urge to slap people who present such disrespectful disdain, especially sullen youths.

I have learned to let go of some of the "ought-tos" in my life, but unfortunately, I still feel the pull of getting up to do them, if only for fleeting moments.

I have always thought thistle is beautiful. There are so many different varieties. I'm glad they make it a part of the formal gardens.

I love this post...this watching your brain meld the elements of this post...the connecting of the dots.

The photographs are stunning, as always.

Ruth said...

Yes, thank you, Barb. When I observe my behavior in regard to this, I am amazed at how conditioned I am/was/have been, to be attached to my ego and the ways everything I encounter affects it. We have to keep stepping back, take perspective.

Ruth said...

Rosaria, thank you for your beautiful, kind, generous reflection. No limits. That's it, isn't it? If we just understood our own grandeur!

Ruth said...

Thank you, Soul Dipper. I'm glad the visual of that video was there for you, George, and all of us to witness. I love it.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Terresa. I don't know French either. But there are a few phrases that can make a big difference. Maybe Et alors? is the most important one. :)

Ruth said...

Letty, you make me smile. You've given your father a great gift! What a difference between him saying it, and a child growing up saying it, disdainfully.

You are the letty-go freefaller. :)

It's rauf's birthday today!

Ruth said...

Dear Susie, simultaneously with this posting I was struggling with a petty ego matter. I needed to listen to my own words here, and to the ones of Ruiz at the bottom of my blog, not to take anything personally. The other thing we have to do is to speak up when we need to, to express our needs honestly. It's so hard to do, when a person has been shaped in certain ways growing up, as you and I have. I think once the practice starts, it does get easier, gradually. I know you are working on it as I am.

Thank you for your kind comments and thoughtful interaction, as always, my friend.

Jeanie said...

Hey, Hip Ruth! What a gift to visit you this morning (two days after the departure of my friend from Paris and wishing I could return with him), to see these wonderful images and hear more of your Parisian stories. You may well appreciate this -- one of my gifts from Jerry -- smuggled through customs -- was two small poppy seed pods from Giverny, which he had tied together with antique ribbon, remembering our day there, a year and a half ago. Like you, seeing the thistles, I was a bit taken aback at the gardeners weeding. Well, of course -- how else does it look so nice -- yet they seemed as out of place in the garden as the thistles did at Jardin du Luxembourg!

I enjoy Miles Davis tremendously -- I look forward to the clip.

(By the way: Did you see "Paris: The Luminous Years" on PBS? If you didn't, perhaps you can come for tea and telly one winter's day!

Arti said...

Well Ruth, after reading through this post, my reaction is: Even the thistles and weeds were not planned and planted, so what? I walked passed the beautiful Luxembourg Garden without entering due to time constraints... how I missed the chance for beauty and inspiration. BTW, that face sculpture is some work, a bit eerie though.

Ron Bennett said...

What a wonderful blend of art, jazz and prose - it is always a delight to visit you here. - Ron

I must get back to Paris soon!

Margaret Bednar said...

I saw this on your Paris blog a few months ago and loved it! I still need to read all the way through your wonderful visits there. I love your reflection on "So What". I guess what might be damaging is the extremes of this phrase. To care too little, or not at all is usually not good. But to have a balanced so what, a "polite" version of it, perhaps, is a healthy outlook. Hmm. Does that make any sense? LOL

deb said...

Ruth,

I have learned the "whatever" , the "so what" from my husband, my children. And from competitive sports strangely enough.

Sometimes I can have a poker face but my heart can be shattering. That's not good either.

My friend returned not too long ago from a business trip to Paris, and it made me think of you. I have to read you posts on this.

While I offer up no level of expertise about jazz whatsoever, I find it interesting that when I had my own little apartment while attending university, and didn't own a tv initially, I listened to my very very small collection of cassette tapes over and over. An eclectic group, most bought in the clearance bin. Among them was the Spoons, Johnny Cash, Julio Eglesias, (sp) , and Miles Davis. And I learned just recently that my eldest daughter made a cd of mixed music for studying and Miles Davis was someone she stumbled on in her youtube journeys and included him.

Hope you are enjoying a fabulous weekend so far, Ruth.

Deslilas said...

In the 60's I was a student in the Lycée Saint Louis close to this beautiful garden. My memories about this period are in black and white as the movie Electre. I've more recent colored memories of this quarter with my children.
I don't know if the Weeds of the Luxembourg garden are as funny as Nancy Botwin's ones ( cf Mary Louise Parker).

Deslilas said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsJ_wwIvDWU

Elektra with Irene Pappas on youtube.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, you have a very thoughtful friend, which I already knew from your posts about Paris. His organic gift is so much better than something purchased might have been. And antique ribbon! From marche les puces perhaps?

Hope you enjoyed Miles. I can't seem to watch it enough times to satisfy something in me. No, I haven't seen the show. I love the idea of coming to your cozy "cottage" and watching that!

Ruth said...

Arti, in three days you had to choose what to see and do among all the exuberance of Paris, so it's understandable that you didn't get inside the Luxembourg. I have never been to the museum there, which I regret. There will be a next time for both of us, I hope.

At first I found the sculpture eerie too. But once I perceived her as only breathing, I have not found her eerie since.

I can't wait to read your review of "The King's Speech"! I love Colin Firth, and the movie sounds fascinating, I look forward to your take . . .

Ruth said...

Arti, in three days you had to choose what to see and do among all the exuberance of Paris, so it's understandable that you didn't get inside the Luxembourg. I have never been to the museum there, which I regret. There will be a next time for both of us, I hope.

At first I found the sculpture eerie too. But once I perceived her as only breathing, I have not found her eerie since.

I can't wait to read your review of "The King's Speech"! I love Colin Firth, and the movie sounds fascinating, I look forward to your take . . .

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, Ron. I hope you and Jane can return to Paris soon. There are tremendous deals on Air France at the moment from certain cities, but you have to book by the end of the month and travel by the end of March.

:)

Ruth said...

Margaret, yes it makes perfect sense. I appreciate how you process things. Maybe like all things, So What should be used in moderation. :)

Ruth said...

Dear Deb, though I don't know from personal experience, there must be something about sports, the trying and failing, trying and succeeding, and failing again, to help a person take things less seriously.

I have spent my life far away from jazz, so learning it now is utterly new, fresh and wonderful. When I went to Paris in 1997 (with my sister), a friend asked me to pick up a Miles Davis poster for him. I looked and looked and never found one. I ended up finding one of Josephine Baker. I couldn't tell if he was disappointed in my choice. Since my friend is gay, perhaps it wasn't what he'd hoped for. :)

Ruth said...

Daniel, I love this image of you there, studying, and watching Irene Pappas. I picture you as a black & white sort of guy, for some reason. :) I have had dreams about the Latin Quarter that make me feel as if I have lived a previous life there, and strangely enough, I had a déjà vu about it in front of a Lycée which brought it all back. I wonder if it was yours?!

I haven't watched Weeds. I hear about American TV shows from friends in other countries :)

California Girl said...

at first I thought the face was photoshopped. good thng I read about it. very disconcerting. probably more alluring in person?

J.G. said...

"So what?" is such a useful phrase, with so many meanings possible. I use it with my writing students (after explaining my particular meaning) to say "Be more direct," "Tell me more" and "Go deeper." It's an effectively challenging encouragement, in response to a weak conclusion.

Language is wonderful! As are your musings about Paris, jazz, freedom and weeds. Thank you.

Marcie said...

Love the 'attitude'..the 'throw-your-hands-up-in-the-air'..and simply enjoy whatever it is for whatever it is. So much to think about. Et alors..so what?!?!?

Ruth said...

California Girl, the face sculpture was disturbing at first in person. It was later, after I kept looking at the photos, reflecting, and writing about her, that I came to love her as a breathing meditation.

Ruth said...

J.G., oh that's true, and good! Yes, it is a great reflection that way, when writing. It's often easier to step outside your own writing with another reader, workshopping that way.

Thank you for your kind comment!

Ruth said...

Marcie, your dogs know!

Ginnie said...

This is a good post for me to be reading today, Ruth, and not before. So thank you for another way to look at this dance called Life.

I need orange said...

I was there, I was there! :-) Just this last September.....

I have a shot of the thistles.

You are welcome to nab it and use it in your post, if you like.....

:-)

http://ineedorange.blogspot.com/2010/09/september-8-bit-more-touring-and.html

I need orange said...

I should have said -- please feel no compunction to use it. :-) I surely didn't want to take away from the "so what?" intent of your post...... :-)

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

So what if my comment is two weeks late? I am still smiling over this one ...