SELF PORTRAIT

A friend of mine has pointed out that I have no images of Michou, my cat, on my blog  –  so, here is one.

 

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Looking at all the objects on the mantelpiece in my bedroom, I thought to myself: “all these objects are like a self portrait.”  So here we go.

First on the left there is a photo of a lotus flower, pale pink on a bluey grey background. In December 1993 I went on a trip to India, visiting the sacred sites of southern India. Here we are visiting the ashram of Sri Aurobindo, the Indian saint. He had a close companion, a Frenchwoman who was called The Mother. She took beautiful photographs of flowers, and this is one of them which I have kept. I like it for its simplicity and purity.

In from of it is a small photo, in a round decorative frame, of Prittiwi, my first cat, sitting on the window ledge and reaching out with her paw to a plant of purple heather. She was a Chartreuse, a continental breed, blue grey with chocolate undertones.This was a favourite breed with Colette, the French writer, who has written some wonderful stories about cats. I was living in Brussels at the time and studying Sanskrit, so I gave her a Sanskrit name.  Prittiwi means earth, or earth goddess.  She was a rescue cat and always very timid, but beautiful and gentle. I loved her dearly.

Next there is a photo of an adorable ginger cat asleep. Her name is Mela and she belongs to the Ty Mawr convent in Wales where I go on retreats.

In front of this is a small photo of my mother in a silver frame. She is arranging flowers in our flat in Brussels. She must be in her eighties. I love this photo. It shows her complete absorption in any task she is doing, be it cooking, sewing, or arranging flowers. It is a very graceful photo, her white hair is swept back in a chignon, her expression is attentive, her hand stretched out towards the flowers. I have caught her unawares.

Behind her is a postcard. It shows a painting by Lucian Freud of his mother, Lucy. On the back, dated February 1988, is a message from my friend Katie. She has just been to visit his exhibition. Lucian painted several portraits of his mother, of which this is one of the last and the one which, I think, shows her most at peace. Katie took care of his mother during her final years. She had taken an overdose after her husband died.  I always felt that Katie, through her love and care, had brought Lucy back to life. This card reminds me of Katie, one of my dearest friends, who played an important part in my life.

In front of Lucy is a small and very beautiful bronze Buddha, emanating that sense of stillness which all Buddhas do.

Next to it another circular, decorative frame, this one is old, about the 1900s? and contains a photo of my mother’s Pekinese dog, showing just her arm holding the Peke. She adored him and this reminds me of her when she was young.

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Behind him – more cats! A postcard of a painting by Elizabeth Blackadder showing three cats.

Half hidden behind a succulent plant in an apricot orange pot is a photo of Amma, the healing Indian saint. I met her once, in Ireland, when she gave me a great bear hug which nearly knocked the breath out of me, and then a second time when we had a good laugh together. She emanated huge warmth and energy, an experience never forgotten.

Still behind the plant is a card from a friend, another cat lover. It is a painting of two cats, one black one sitting behind a tortoise shell cat. It has the delicacy of a Japanese print and it has come from the Ixelles Museum in Brussels.

In front is a pebble, covering up a bare patch in the paint.

Almost at the end now on the far right is a photo of my mother in a silver frame. She was seventeen, wearing a white cotton blouse falling in folds from the neckline, soft and pretty. She has a pensive look on her face, which is beautiful, gentle and sensitive. She had light brown hair and blue eyes. Did she have any presentiment of the life ahead for her?

When I was born my mother was forty two, and when I was nine she started working very hard, as a cook housekeeper in boarding schools. I had only known my mother as worried, careworn, and old. When I saw this photo for the first time in my thirties, my eyes filled with tears.

Last of all on the right hand side is a photo of my oldest and dearest friend, Rezza. Now ninety three, she has been a land girl during the war, a teacher of small children, dietician, yoga teacher, and teacher of circle dancing. She has been my guide and mentor for many years. She can still sit cross legged on the floor and bring her legs right up to her head. When her daughter published this photo on Facebook it got over a hundred hits, as they say.  “Fame at last!” said Rezza.

Above the mantelpiece is a painting of the plains of Saskatchewan, where my mother was born, painted by me.

These objects do not, of course, give an exhaustive picture, but I hope they will have given a glimpse into who I am.

Here is a poem which I wrote on one of my retreats at Ty Mawr convent. It is called In the Stillness Dancing.

 

 

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