Thursday, April 16, 2015
Sailing for somewhere, sometime, somehow
From my point of view, there is a lack of realism to the world that is (rather, the world that was) in this depiction of French King Louis IX departing for the Seventh Crusade in 1248 from Aigues-Mortes / Le Grau de Roi in the south of France. There is a quaintness to it, a fantasy-like quality to it, a view of medieval times absent the poverty, the disease, the cruelty –- much less the horrendous butchery and destruction wreaked in hand-to-hand combat with swords and axes. No, the representation here has more the appearance of a wealthy family setting off on a Sunday afternoon cruise on the blue Mediterranean Sea under a sunny sky. The work, incidentally, is among those in a Fourteenth Century manuscript by Guillaume de Saint-Pathus entitled, "Vie et Miracles de Saint Louis." Louis was captured and ransomed on this venture. Undeterred, he went on to lead the Eighth Crusade in 1270, during which disease did him in, as it did much of his army. Louis should have stayed at home. Moving to (not with) the music, "Greensleeves" came along a bit after the crusades but before Ernest Hemingway, so it seems to even out and to be appropriate without too much stretch of the imagination. Read on, if you are curious.
I wish I could paint
I do not know if this is what Ernest Hemingway had in mind when he wrote the following words in a 1953 letter to art historian Bernard Berenson:
"Christ I wish I could paint. I was painting that town (Aigues Mortes) in my head with the crusaders off loading their baggage and their piss-pots to leave from Le Grau de Roi. I remember that Crusade so well that I always have to be careful not to say I made it. But I didn't make it ...."
While Hemingway did not make it, he probably had seen reproductions of this painting of Louis IX departing from Aigues-Mortes / Le Grau de Roi in the south of France for the Seventh Crusade. The representation here is among those in a Fourteenth Century manuscript by Guillaume de Saint-Pathus entitled, "Vie et Miracles de Saint Louis."
What collared my attention were Hemingway's remarks about "painting that town in my head" and "I remember that Crusade so well that I always have to be careful not to say I made it." If I would have been among Hemingway's biographers, I would have grilled him to elaborate on those words .... on those thoughts.
I have been re-reading some of Hemingway's correspondence from "Selected Letters," edited by Carlos Baker, and a few of his short stories. I am not sure why. I noticed the letters among other books a few days ago, picked it up and began reading it again. I do admire Hemingway's work. Not long before she died, I wrote a few letters to his fourth wife, Mary, and she was kind enough to respond.
Back on point: I suspect Hemingway was saying that he was so much of a student of the Crusades that, at times, he might have felt he had been there and, actually, might have had dreams of having been being there. This subconscious reality was strengthened and magnified just by having been to Aigues Mortes / Le Grau de Roi, a port "complex" from which crusaders set sail for the Holy Land.
Not long ago, I wrote in a comment somewhere that novelist Ole Rolvaag "is among some of the authors whose books I have held in my hand while walking the streets of Minneapolis and the prairies of South Dakota, retracing the footsteps he took and then wrote about more than one hundred years ago." Hemingway is another author I have done the same with, holding his short story while walking alongside and canoeing in the Fox River (Big Two-Hearted River) in Michigan and others from among his stories while strolling a few boulevards in Paris. It was not difficult for me (especially in the Michigan woodlands) to believe I was walking only a few hundred yards behind Hemingway rather than a few decades behind him.
This is getting too complicated to explain thoroughly but briefly, so I think I will end my discussion now and, maybe .... that is a maybe .... continue it another day .... maybe, even, from another place and another time ....
Essentially, you may or may not understand, these things are a search to see within one's self (me) by seeing within others ....
But, one last thing: I have been near Aigues Mortes / Le Grau de Roi, passed by them, but never there, and now I am curious about them and wondering about the possibility of spending a few days there to see if the ghosts of Hemingway and his crusaders might be found where the land meets the sea ....