Innocent, naïve sensuousness - that’s the best attitude to deal with April’s cruel mixing of memory and desire (1). So, nothing like going cycling on a balmy spring evening, along the park gates, dazzled by the brilliant green leaves poking through the rusty , mossy bars. And with the sky a deep luminous grey, promising spring rains to stir any remaining dull roots. (it’s a grey so soothing, so lenient…., offering such a calming complement to all those exciting shades of green (2))
Safe immersion in Spring’s relentless blessings can also be achieved during the day, on a sunny lawn, by taking off one’s socks and gently dipping two sets of pale winter toes into the luscious grass. The ensuing (sensuously wriggling) relief forms, together with the obvious sense of ridicule, a sure remedy against any Spring melancholia.
Thus inocculated against malicious Spring stirrings, one can then savor the summer-like release that lets the city unwind on the eve of a long Easter weekend. The streets much emptier than usual and flooded with Spring’s lazy evening sun, people nonchalantly loitering at traffic lights instead of impatiently waiting to cross, music coming from cars’ open windows. The local shop owner sitting at his till, basking in the last sun rays falling through the open door, humming along with a feverishly languorous Arab song on the radio while serving the few customers still having to stock up for the weekend.
Melancholics should however not push their luck during those early Spring days, which may awaken many an unfulfilled and (worse!) unfulfillable longing. For instance, trips to crowded, wired up Easter Holiday destinations (sunny sea-resorts, April in Paris, …. ) are to be advoided. On the other hand, staying at home listening to Bach’s Mattheus-passion may be a very honorable & rewarding occupation but should not be repeated each year (a bi- or even tri-annual frequency seems optimal)(3). Pleasant social intercourse, especially when combined with some healthy outdoorsy activity, is of course highly commendable but should definitely not take up the entire 4 days of a long Easter weekend. (4)
Some travelling however should be done, preferably by train (5). And preferably to a friendly city with a river, an unpretentious city not needing hordes of Easter-tourists to be alive. For combative melancholics living in the Lowlands & vicinity, Liège/Lütttich is an excellent choice.
(I tried it out myself last Saturday, and I can confirm that, even in slightly adverse personal circumstances (5) Liège proves to be forthcoming. It had been a few years since I last had been there, so the arrival came as quite a shock. The old station was simply gone and replaced by an ambitious new high-speed terminal under construction. Impressively soaring perspective lines & vanishing points galore, on the ground & up there in the roof – but the whole concrete & metallic construction did seem a tad megalomaniac. And not really concerned with offering travelers a cozy space.
But I enjoyed the shock of the new, and doted on the multiple endearing improvisations to accommodate travelers during the construction works: from temporary iron bridges, over wooden planks to provisional office-containers sporting incongruously old- fashioned wooden doors-with-handles.
Leaving the terminal-construction site I felt slightly dis-oriented at first, wandering along heaps of rubble of the old station buildings, before recognizing somewhat further off the re-assuring remnants of the old station neighborhood, with welcoming open air cafés.
So there I indulged in this foremost sunny spring activity : sitting on a café terrace, sipping from a drink, pretending to read but meanwhile observing all the goings about. The travelers hurrying to the station loaded with suitcases, the locals sloshing to the convenience store to get their Saturday newspaper and their cigarettes, the quarreling couple, ..... And a few meters further, a man and woman, clad in black leather, speaking American, lazing about, looking very cool & relaxed, surrounded by air travel suitcases including musical instruments cases (one for a bass apparently): black jazz-musicians having played a gig at one of the excellent Liège jazz-joints I presumed. (Which was confirmed when a trendy goatee-beard sporting man crossed the street, shaking reverently the couple's hands and saying admiringly “hey, you were good last night! When are you going back to Chicago? ”) )
But ahum, I digress, back to my Easter travel tips for melancholiacs! When in a friendly city, do program a visit to a local friendly museum. (7) And assuming combative melancholiacs often have a large measure of humanist geekiness, I can warmly recommend an ancient art museum. One where you can eruditely revel in Spring, gazing lovingly at a small, elegant, dancing figure, sculpted in bronze in the 2nd Century AD or so. A swinging figure with liberally fluttering antique draperies, representing a "hora" (seasonal goddess). A figure probably not unlike one of the examples having inspired Botticelli when painting his Prima Vera. (8)
Also, dear combative melancholiacs on an Easter city-trip, do take a stroll around the fountain in one of the local parks! And for the humanist geeks, preferably one with a passable copy of an ancient statue. (The Liège park has a creditable go at the Laocoon, against the background of a lovely spraying fountain).
And my advice regarding brisk river walks in the city of your choice? Well, you being a melancholiac, you will end up near the river anyway …. Walking & walking, gazing at the apartment buildings on the other side of the river, wondering how it would be like to live there. And wistfully gazing along that glistering stream, to the far off hazy horizon, wondering how it would be to walk & walk & walk, all the way up there….
a mixture of motley notes
(1) Ok, so I have already quoted TS Eliot-on-April back in January, so what? The Waste Land
(2) It’s my litmus test for landscape painters throughout the ages: how sensitive are they to greys & greens. Pity the painters indulging brilliantly blue skies only! They miss out on a whole palette of deliciously delicate color combinations. Some examples of painters that do pass the test: Claude Lorrain (he has the additional merit of having introduced luminous grayish haziness in landscape painting), Watteau (with silky greys & greens) , Daubigny, Boudin, Corot, Pisarro, Cézanne. (As to contemporary photographers, I’m of course keenly keeping track of the greys & greens in Roxana’s work )
(3) So please refer to last year’s Easter post for heartfelt ruminations about the Passion.
(4) In all their laudable zeal for well-adjusted sociable behavior, combative melancholiacs should be careful not to overdo the jolly sociability! They should not forget that they do need (and are entitled to) their dose of solitary wandering & contemplating (for which Easter weekends offer the precious free time). Hence, one day of social immersion should suffice.
(5) Train rides of course are replete with memories & desires (& their potential cruelties) ….. – so let me suggest some unfailing stratagems to avoid looking wistfully out of the window for the duration of the entire trip: in my experience one can confidently rely either on the naïve-sensuousness- method ( as evoked at the start of this post) by reveling in the train’s rhythms & smells & sounds & visions. Or on the companionship of an engrossing book (eg Oliver Sacks’ ‘Musicophilia’ ) or of some CD's (eg Magdalena Kozena singing Händel arias, or Fairuz .... yes, to assuage memory & desire's potential cruelties, Fairuz may be the best choice).
(6) Suffering from a mild gastric flu (undoubtedly picked up at work to spoil the weekend) I arrived at Liège station, feeling quite poorly & feeble. So blessed be the “Pharmacie de la Gare” with its highly competent pharmacist, who instantly alleviated my distress by dispensing not only effective anti-flu tablets, but also her genuine concern.
(7) And really, you could do much worse than going to the newly opened Liège museum ‘le Grand Curtius’, which matches the new high speed train terminal in ambition but far outdoes it in user-friendliness! It brings together (and to the light) the collections (which often were not even on display) of several old musty Liège museums (which had their charms though ...). In any case, their riches are now pleasantly presented & with all due art historical care. And the staff, newly hired, is on its best behavior, endearingly enthusiastic in its eagerness to please the visitors.
(8) yep, am reading Aby Warburg right now - so am having a keen eye out for any antique pathos formulae (& for vigorously fluttering drapes in particular!)