This was my message to my fellow Miss Demeanors this week:
The fire at Notre Dame and global reaction to it reminded me how important places are to people, not just for worship, but also for commemoration, celebration, and consolation. I heard a commentator, who happened to be a former parishioner of Notre Dame, choke up when he talked about the beauty of the organ at the cathedral and the many concerts he attended.
I attended Catholic schools and for years resented the time I had been forced to attend church. It wasn’t until I began traveling to Europe that I discovered they could be sanctuaries where I could think or just absorb the quiet when I needed consolation. Libraries, beaches, and forests are other places where I am able to reach deep within. In Ireland, I was surprised how moved I was when visiting primitive stone formations. I couldn’t believe or even begin to understand how monk huts brought tears to my eyes.
So after the near destruction of Notre Dame and with Easter and Passover near, I thought the Miss Demeanors might go a little deep this week. My question is, what places touch your soul and why? Please feel free to send photos. I think Susan has a few of trees filed somewhere. Michele
Susan: I do, in fact, have hundreds of photos of trees on my phone! This is one of my favorites because I think it gets at the holiness of what I feel when I’m wandering around the woods. In fact, I suppose I view my walks as a form of prayer. I’m thankful, I’m observing creation. I’m always always plotting out a twist in a novel or trying to work out a character’s motives. Because my children and my dogs have all loved the woods, I’m also conscious of my history here. No matter how stressed I am, it soothes me.
Michele: Oh, Susan. I can see why that’s one of your favorite photos. It feels inspired.
Robin: I’m like Susan, I get out and walk, especially when I’m writing. Getting away from my keyboard (and distractions) helps me re-energize. At least once per walk, I’ll be stopped by something – a play of light, a sound – and I’ll just take it all in with deep gratitude that this is the life I’ve made for myself.
Here are photos from two recent walks, one in one direction, and one in the opposite direction.
Michele: Wow, Robin. Just wow. If we ever have a Miss Demeanor summit, I nominate your place.
Robin: I’m ready for you! There’s a wine bar, a brew pub, and a boutique coffee place, all within easy walking distance 🙂
Tracee: This is perhaps why I got a degree in architecture. I think place is so important, and underrated in every day life. Because of my love of architecture I’ve seen amazing structures around the world. Let’s call them the usual suspects, from monuments in Europe to Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and the Taj Mahal in Agra. These last two in particular remind me that time is not a continual march forward. The scale of the Hagia Sophia – accomplished in the year 537 – changed the course of architecture and, in some ways, civilization. We certainly don’t give credit to that part of the world today for their significant advances and impact on us today. When I’m in these places I feel the weight of history and any tiny daily problems evaporate.
In honor of this week’s tragedy in Paris, I’ve included French photos. Certainly Notre Dame, but also – an homage to Susan! – a photograph from Monet’s favorite place, his gardens at Giverny.
Cate: I love The Caribbean. My mom was born and raised in Jamaica so that’s part of it. I feel a cultural connection to the people and the way of living. The patois. But since my great grandparents passed in my teens, my family hasn’t really been back to that particular island.
I do make it somewhere in The Caribbean nearly every year, however. The lush green smell of the air, the sight of the water, the rich colors on the homes and art and landscape inspire me. The warmth calls to me.
This is in Jamaica below.
Paula: At the Santa Barbara Writers Conference some 30 years ago, I received an insightful critique of my work that pointed out that there was virtually no setting whatsoever. I realized that must be my army brat background talking, telling me that I had to make do no matter where I was. (The onus is on you, not the setting.) At least that was the attitude drilled into me. Now that I’m older and have stayed put for extended periods of time, I write setting more easily. I set my Mercy Carr series in one of my favorite settings, Vermont. Because I could.
Alison: I love this question because thinking about the answer reminds me that I need to spend more time in exactly such spaces. Scrolling through pictures on my phone to add to my answer, it’s clear that I have a split personality: urban and rural. I have an embarrassing number of photos of trees, rocks, and landscapes and an equally ridiculous number of photos of museum exhibits. My life itself is split: I spend most of my weekdays in a city and most of my weekends in the woods. My soul finds peace in both places.
I love cities, and I especially love the quiet of museums within cities. Wherever I’ve lived, I find myself becoming a regular at the local institutions of art. When I lived in Leningrad/St. Petersburg, I went to the Hermitage just about every day. It was the same story in Boston and Philadelphia and, for the past twenty years, New York. There’s something about knowing the bustle of city life is just outside the hushed quiet of long, tall hallways displaying beautiful–and, sometimes, not-so-beautiful–things. As soon as I finish writing this, I’ll be walking over to the Met Breuer because my soul needs just such an excursion.
Having said that, I love being outside away from everything human. Always have. My husband and I were married in the Wasatch Mountains, under the trees, with a very vocal bird singing throughout most of the ceremony. As long as I’m not cold (I hate being cold), nature soothes my soul. Walking, dancing, swimming, reading, writing … I can think of very little in life that isn’t improved by having nothing above my head but sky.
Alexia: Cities, museums, and churches
Despite (or maybe because of) having grown up in the suburbs (which I detest), I love cities. There’s an energy downtown which gives me a literal buzz. I feel myself light up when I’m in the heart of the concrete jungle surrounded by an eclectic mix of stately buildings dating from hundreds of years ago, jazzy buildings from the art deco era, and modern steel and glass–especially when that steel and glass is being artfully integrated with the old brick and concrete. I love being surrounded by people–I can be as alone as I want to but never feel lonely. When human interaction overload drains my beleaguered introverted soul, I go downtown to borrow some of the city’s vibrancy to recharge. Doesn’t even have to be a big city. A small town with a legit downtown will do. Petula Clark’s song, “Downtown,” explains it. “…the lights are much brighter there, you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares, and go downtown…”
I get the same thrill from museums, especially art museums, that I get from downtown. Something about being surrounded by beauty and history charges me up. I love to imagine the stories hidden behind the museum pieces. My favorites are mundane objects like coffee pots and spoons and living room chairs that transformed from utilitarian object in some ordinary person’s daily life to art object on display for all to admire its loveliness. I’m a believer in functional being beautiful as well.
I find peace in churches, particularly old churches. That’s why I join the altar guild at whatever church I join. Calm descends on me as I set up for, and clean up after, Eucharist. The simple rituals of setting up and taking down, filling up and emptying out, settles my mind and relieves my anxieties. Which is ironic AF because what I’m really doing is setting the table and washing dishes, which I hate to do at home and find all sorts of ways to avoid. Granted, at church, they’re the Lord’s table and dishes, but still…
Cate: Cleaning relieves my anxieties too. I take that cleanliness is next to Godliness line very seriously…
That’s said, woe to anyone who thinks I should pick up his socks…
Alexia: Some photos of the city I’m in.
I decided to stroll home (away from home) through a sculpture garden.
Paula: I’m a sucker for museums, too. And gardens. Especially sculpture gardens. one of my favorite places: MOMA’s sculpture courtyard. And the Musee D’Orsay.
Robin: Same. I love the Rodin sculpture garden on the Stanford campus in Palo Alto and the Monet gardens in Giverny.
Readers, we’d love for you to jump in and share the places that touch your soul, including photos. Especially photos!