Sunday, March 25, 2012

Body, Brain, Emotion

My husband and I had been promising ourselves a trip to France for two years. At first it was in lieu of Christmas gifts and then a birthday. We bought each other French travel books. Life gets that way.

Then just before Thanksgiving a former student of mine, Nicole, called to ask if we'd like to join her and her husband Greg in Chamonix—the French Alps. My immediate answer was "Oui!".
It was a trip that stretched first my body and then my brain. I don't mind saying the idea frightened me at first. I'd never skied a trail more than 2 miles, these were to be up to 14 miles and in the Alps. My mind imagined a fairy tale world full of St. Bernards and Hannibal's elephants crossing the Alps. Could I endure it?
Well despite my fears, I could, in fact for 6 straight days (though every muscle in my body changed and reorganized daily to do so for the deep, heavy snow). The experience was unlike any I've ever had. I felt as if I were on top of the planet—the clouds spread below us on our very first day. The slopes were steep, fast, and hours long—14 miles or so each—bringing us down into villages that had half an hour before looked like those that surround tiny toy train sets.  It put me to the test physically which is something I really appreciated as I enter into my 55th year. I even found my St. Bernard on top of a Swiss mountain—as part of a tourist photo offering.

Another skill put to the test was that of being a communicator. Chamonix attracts snow lovers from all over Europe. Languages fly. We were traveling not only with Nicole but also her husband and his friends from Poland—many of whom had minimal English to my non-existent Polish. But my brain began to work in new ways. I felt that if I were to live in Europe I would become a much better communicator in many ways.
After Chamonix, Jim and I traveled to Paris. There my brain simply exploded and I am still recovering—piecing together a new way of seeing. As a college student I had loved my 5 years of art history. Finally in Paris I came face to face with many favorite pieces of art and I walked the streets and ateliers that have beens beacons to my intellectual/artistic life. In France the art instead of being represented in words, slides, and plates in books, here were physical and the artists' world one no longer imagined but of actual light and atmosphere.

As a painter to see another painter's method of working, their approach to the paint, the stroke of oil on canvas, what they observed—there are no words. Awed by the masters, since my return, I have not yet been able to successfully put paint to canvas and my concepts on interaction change hourly.

Back in the states, we had much emotional work to do. My brother-in-law passed away while we were away and my parents are making a monumental life decision. Sleepless nights. All consuming.

Home at last all of the experiences are coming together. Suddenly I feel like the forest in spring—bursting with newness and full of potential. I may be the elder, the professor, but it is from my students I learn and I grow. Thank you dear Nicole for the opportunity to let life open anew.