PARIS NOTES #4: The Male Nude or An Exhibition of Muscle

Musee d’OrsayYou’re not allowed to take photographs inside Musee d’Orsay, my favorite museum in Paris. Yes, other people, more sophisticated perhaps, may go to smaller specialized museums, the Guimet Museum of Asian Art, the Rodin, or La Musee Nissim de Camondo, for example. And the Louvre is filled with tourists and the occasional connoisseur checking out this masterpiece or that red on black vase depicting a chariot race from 400 BC.

But for me, it’s the d’Orsay, and today was my first return in three years. The catalyst was the grand exhibition of male nudes now on view, specifically “The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day.” And there he was!

Strange how muscle-bound males are not all that exciting. Neither are the perils of barely clad saints such as Sebastian, a favorite subject with those arrows stuck in his chest and buttocks. Just what angle were the archers shooting from?


Achilles, with or without an arrow in his ankle, wassimilarly a model of muscular repose, and Prometheus, even with the vulture eating his kidney, seemed to have the world under control. Why not with those abs and biceps?

Hiding behind a half-wall, I snapped the portrait of Prometheus (1868) by Gustave Moreau before the guard caught me. (Moreau has his own little museum to be visited in the next few days as I hear he shocked his peers by hallucinatory. Let’s see.)

Hermes was slightly more charming, youth that he is with that cute little hat, as was John the Baptist as a boy, radiating faith. It made me think about how people believe the religion they are taught until they are old enough to accept that not only do their parents lie but maybe their culture also, and maybe the story is too large for only one version.

It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that naked men could be portrayed as what I’m used to, skinnier and prone to listing this way or that. It happened with the advent of photography and self portraits. And people such as Francis Bacon who threw red and yellow paint around like wounds of existential angst.

Yet, the heroic vision of the male body as muscle remained. Think of the photos of Mapplethope for one.

So there I was, a woman trying to find the men within the bodies. It was difficult to do. I think it is sometimes difficult for men also.

Leaving I saw a young man, fully clothed, kissing a young woman. I whipped out my iphone and took a photo before the guard charged. He did, but I had seen love unmuscle-bound, and I liked it, and I understood it, and I got the photo.




Art is not God Unique in France. It is but one god in the panoply of Olympians, along with children, food, wine, great shoes and scarves, élan, and the ability to make sex elegant wherever.

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I will avoid here the demons of politics, taxes, unemployment, price of apartments, immigration, and other pesky things that perturb the sangfroid public (national cool). They exist, mais oui, but I have seen more outrageously wonderful clothes than ever before here. Even the tourists have upped their style quotient. They got the memo.

Oh, I forgot the dogs. The French love dogs, but you already knew that. They love dogs of all sizes, but most dogs are small so they fit inside small apartments. So far I’ve only seen one large dog. In from the suburbs?

Back to art.

Now, October 24-27, is FIAC, the annual international fair where the major galleries handling contemporary works come from the great art centers—Paris, New York, Zurich, and Berlin mainly—to exhibit across the heart of Paris, indoors and out.

Yesterday, I walked from the apartment in the 6th arrondissement to the Louvre and then the length of gardens to the Tuileries (literally through statues) to the Grand Palais where I wandered, stunned. The “selfie” of me in front of the mirrored insect cage tells all.

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Three hours later I emerged, having passed on going to the balconies that contained the second half of the exposition. Walking back along the Seine, through a drizzle under a leopard-patterned umbrella, I was dazed. Everything always is a possibility for exploration, for breaking through to freedom, to playing one’s lute strings, for dancing with the panoply of gods.

Enjoy this small taste of the art and people inside the Grand Palais:


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PARIS NOTES #2: Ode to Older Men or The Glass Ball

In my last blog I said that old men with remorse were as common as corn in Iowa and that an old man without remorse was a rare and precious being, or too stupid to know his mistakes or too scared to acknowledge them. I woke on my fourth day in Paris prepared to write of street musicians and art and cathedral bells, but feel first the need to put more nuance on what I said.

I never said most old men should feel remorse, but I do say that most do feel remorse, and most of those have reason to. Note: I’m speaking of Western men, they are my vast field of experience.

Look around. Who are the saddest, old men or old women? Is it the majority of old men or old women who giggle, hug, and twinkle? Yesterday I was on Skype with my 96-year-old mother and when I told her I loved her, she said “I’m glad I kept you.” Try beating that.

My life contains older men who do laugh, hug, make jokes, and twinkle, who lived, and live, with integrity and empathy. Those qualities, along with great storytelling, burnished their being. They glow. I’m writing this blog so they know I see.

My life can be played as an organ, the kind in each of the cathedrals surrounding me in the 6th arrondissement. Want precious rare old men, male peers? Pull out that stop and the music broadens with divine older men. Want children zipping by as highlights? Pull out that stop and little people in bright colors run by holding hands and zooming toy airplanes.

Want the solo sounds of a lute curling upward? Pull out the stop for a younger man.

Want serenity? Pull out the stop for silence dressed as a younger man who controls a glass globe, precarious life, translucent, on his fingertips. Have him in front of the cathedral at rue Bonaparte and blvd. Saint Germain across from where Hemingway, always old and young, wrote at the restaurant Les Deux Magots.

Want transcendence? Watch the glass ball and know that reaching old age without breakage requires concentration, the light touch, recognizing what is precious, discarding what is not.

PARIS NOTES #1: to butter or not to butter

croissantTo butter or not to butter, that is the question. The croissant on Air France may be small compared to what will come but they are buttery enough that my childhood farmland belief that everything is “better with butter” is in conflict with my waistline and my belief that the French know best when it comes to food.

I will be in the heart of Paris in two hours, most likely having tea at Laduree on the corner of rue Jacob and rue Bonaparte in the 6th arrondissement, a block from where I once owned a duplex apartment. Said apartment was a casualty of my divorce. Non non non, said apartment was a gift from the cosmos I had for ten years until the man to whom I was once married got beyond his guilt for having a secret second life complete with apartments in Beijing and San Francisco and a woman twenty years younger and he found an arcane Virginia law where he could claim the entire apartment because his money paid for it, despite my name being on the deed for half. Zut alors!

(Ladies, when your husband cheats, massively, do not expect remorse to last, though it will most likely return with old age, as though it mattered then. Remorse in old men is as common as corn in Iowa. If an old man doesn’t have remorse, he is a rare and precious being, or too stupid to know his mistakes, or too scared to acknowledge them.)

Is it my imagination or are the heterosexual stewards on this plane flirting with me? God, I adore European men. Their radar hones right into the energy of your being rather than a wrinkle here or there.

The plane is descending, my ears are starting to plug. Paris, I am coming home. The kicker is I will be staying at my old apartment. The new owners (yes, after a couple years he sold it) needed the combination to the safe and my former soul mate, or whatever, was forced to connect us. Praise email!

Last month the new owners stayed in my apartment in New York. This month, after years of loss, I’m in theirs/”mine” on rue Jacob. The furniture and art is still there, the silver, the linens, the plates, and the espresso machine. Oui oui oui, I understand I no longer own it, but the goods, the beauties, are there on their own to be savored.

The real question is: to forgive or not forgive. Except it was always irrelevant to me, beside the point, even if it wraps this up before I turn off electronic devices.

Forgiveness is less a virtue than a tool. A handy one that raises you, use it as a crowbar, a lever, a rope ladder, and most importantly as an eraser. And eat croissant as though it were the heart of the universe.

“All electronic devices need to be turned off and your seat returned to upright position.” Landing.

Traveling Light Becomes a Blog

patricia smith meltonThe hermit side of me is being dragged here kicking and screaming. She wants to sit cross-legged at the entry to a cave, Paleolithic paintings at her back and wildflowers spread across the distance in front.

It would be a warm day and the sun would be gentle where it touched my hermit feet and legs. My head would be just into the shade. The hermit wants never to work, to lay the burdens down like offerings up to that sun, to have them vaporize. She wants to ease into forgiveness and forgetfulness and into the yellow of the little flowers right over there.

But the tough steeled thing of me has dragged her here. Welcome, dear reader, let me talk to your heart and, thus, clear my own. The wheel has long been invented but knowledge is a delicate thing woven of math, time, space, senses, conjectures, bone fragments, DNA. Sixty-five billion neutrinos stream from the sun and go through every cubic centimeter of your body every second.

When I first took yoga in the YWCA nearly 50 years ago, my consciousness would rise out of my prone body during meditation and float above it and above the bodies next to me. When I asked the instructor privately if there was anything I should do with this, he went wide-eyed and said, “Don’t tell anyone. They’ll get scared.” It never happened again, and I never told anyone. Until now, but this is the least of it. And I will speak of the more of it and post it here under “Slouching Toward Enlightenment.”

So I drag my hermit self here because she and I live in this world, and I’ve grown to love it here. It took a long time. At seventy, I want to smash my face into the pomegranates of life, I want juice sluicing into me, I want young lovers and wild gardens of beautiful things. And I will write of these things and post them on “Woman of a Certain Age.”

The tough steeled thing of me is being re-shaped, tendered back down inside like a prong to nudge up the poet and meanderer and say “dare with me.” The hermit shivers, “What are you doing now? Again? More? Really? Necessary?”

The past 12 years were years of being an activist for women power, witnessing the savaging in the Middle East, getting emails in the night from desperate sisters in Afghanistan and Palestine, and having unending astonishment at people’s courage as they were being violated. The steeled me, well-tempered by now, will continue to write of rights and needs and wonders, and will interview women around the world and post their words here under “Peace By Peace.”

And when I was violated – a country we will visit, but less than we will savor travels to Paris, my geographical heart home, in October and the Galapagos with its blue-footed boobies in January. To be posted with photographs under “Road Show.”

At seventy I often feel grief and ecstasy at the same time. It resembles fine wines. Reds.

Come travel with me. My hermit self is. We will travel light.

Survival Cannot be Left Up to Men – Jean Shinoda Bolen

An interview with Jean Shinoda Bolen by Patricia Smith Melton


Gas in Syria, the government shut down, kittens all over the Internet. What’s a woman to do?

We persevere, pray, seed circles, write emails, pound on doors, and realize that the grassroots really is a force for change.

But, Jean, the grassroots is being trampled on.

The grassroots rises up again because it’s only the surface that gets trampled, the roots run deeper. Look at the Arab Spring. It rose, it got trampled, and it will rise again. It is like the seasons of the myth of Persephone, where you disappear in one season and you come up in the spring. I have great faith in the collective wisdom of women.

What is the role of humor in the face of tragedy? How do we stay the course?

You have to be able to laugh at what is also ridiculous in the midst of tragedy. I have written of the goddess of healing laughter, the goddess of mirth. In the worst of times the ability of women to laugh together a moment before they cry together is a strength that humanity has through women. Men don’t seem to be able to do this.

It’s the humor that we’re in the same boat together, the humor of women to laugh at a wrinkle. It says, “We’ll get through this.”

You write of the gods in every man. Which one can we work with?

Actually all of the archetypes of the ancient Greek gods are potentially in any women.  We usually have at least one of them as part of ourselves. When I am lecturing, I tap into Hermes, the messenger god. He also the one god that can go from the heights of Mt. Olympus to down into the underworld.

Some women become like Zeus. The gods are all in all of us, but men sort of repress them.

Men repress the gods or the goddesses in themselves?

The goddesses, and they suppress the gods that were not successful on Mt. Olympus and aren’t successful now. The patriarch is really hard on boys and men, it cuts them off from sources of deep meaning in themselves.

My grandson’s favorite color at age four was pink, but when another boy said pink was a “girl’s color,” he dropped it like a hot potato.

Right. That’s what happens to boys in a patriarchy where they can’t even have a choice of colors without being labeled or mislabeled.

Let’s say I’m in a situation that is confrontational, say a board meeting, and there is a man who at least fancies himself to be an alpha male, and I realize we getting nowhere. What is my best move?

 In the early days of feminism there was assertiveness training about saying truth to power. You have to stay in relationship to the man as a whole person, not just the Zeus that sort of takes him over.

So you get his attention by whatever means, but not by anger, then you gain strength in unexpectedly speaking to him from your heart with authority. There is a heart authority that people recognize. It’s a more effective way to make your point than to take him head on because he cannot afford to be humiliated in front of the board. Humiliation is the major fear that alpha males avoid.

What we need are alpha males who could imagine what it might be like to be a woman, little girl or boy, a person with a different skin color or religion who cannot control their circumstances or who are not believed. Lack of imagination leads to a lack of compassion. We need imaginative, compassionate alpha males and empowered and equal women.

Do you think it is innate in a child or adolescent to want to make a difference, to bring good to the world?

Our archetypal underpinnings make us different. If, for a girl or woman, their archetypes are in the categories in which Persephone, Demeter, Hera, and Aphrodite predominate then to be attractive, to be pleasing, to be receptive is a natural thing. It is part of the psychological makeup of that girl or women.

But the girl that speaks up from the very beginning, that finds bullying innately awful, who says “that’s not fair” and wants to do something about it, she has a strong archetype of Artemis, the huntress at the heart of the moon. This is the girl who is interested in nature and is often a runner, though not always. It is an innate element in some girls from the beginning, just not for every girl.

If a tipping point is reached where women’s influence started bringing major change in in the global community, what are the first benefits we would see?

That’s easy. What I refer to as the Mother’s Agenda would be at the top of the list. We would live so we provide for all children what each of us wants for our own child. Education, health, opportunities.

And there’s reproductive rights as well because you can’t take care of more children than you can take care of. Not every woman is into being a biological mother, but all women have a kind of relationship of looking out for children, animals, nature. Maybe not all women, but almost all women have a relationship to the earth as home. We understand when you abuse women and children they don’t grow up well and terrorism is one part of that.

Can a terrorist be changed?

Almost anybody can change, but there are kids who have attachment disorders, who become sociopathic, become egoistic, and can’t see a future for themselves. These children may be raised around terrorism, but I don’t think the mothers in these cultures want their boys to grow up that way.

An alliance of mother energy can change this. We are at a teeter-totter point in history and this teeter-totter can be tipped in either direction. Women in sufficient numbers will be that pivot that tips it for the sake of the children.

Survival cannot be left up to men because they don’t know how.

That’s a strong statement.

Well, the patriarch acculturates men and, combined with the natural archetypal energies in men, it means that we have brilliant left-brained men, and the macho men of the world make the decisions for the rest of humanity. Many of them have undeveloped right brains to the point that they have asymmetrical brains. The state of the world is in the hands of men with power and many of them are not whole.

They don’t have full resources.

No, if they did they would make different decisions. If there weren’t a bullied little boy in them that had to suppress his authentic self and wear the colors he was “supposed” to wear, definitely not pink, it would be different.

But when a tipping point happens, it happens quickly. The great sign of the possibility, and it’s all related here, is the sudden acceptance of gay marriage.

I use the labyrinth as my image. You aim for the center, but as you walk the labyrinth you don’t know where you are in the path, but suddenly you’re there.

My work with individuals in this transformational change is to help people to be their authentic self, to listen for their wisdom and dreams, and to connect with bad things that happened to them as well, so they understand it is all part of the story they are living.

Each of us has our magnum opus, not a book, not a monument. We have the magnum opus of our own lives that we are meant to live out.

. . . .

Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book on Atalanta, the Greek goddess of runners known for her firm grasp of her own worth, will come out in the fall of 2014. Harper and Row Publishers is also reissuing anniversary editions of “Goddesses in Everywoman” first published 30 years ago, “Gods in Everyman” published 25 years ago, and “Goddesses in Older Women published” 10 years ago.

On a Saturday that feels like Sunday

On this Saturday that feels like Sunday,
somewhat cooler than I’d wish
as I practice not having obligations,
as least not immediately,

when spring rises in the coolness
and the tree blossoms turn green
with traces still of pink,

on this Saturday that feels like Sunday
I wonder what Sunday will bring.

Will I wake from liquid into an incandescent thing
with wings, wet, vulnerable, poised for flight?

On this Saturday that feels like Sunday
the pregnancy is nearly obscene,
the tumescence liquid crystal.

Only missing is the sound of spirit
whishing from body. It won’t happen.

I will be here tomorrow on a Sunday like others –
grounded with what we have of mystery,
love and explosion.

Those Things

Those things one is supposed to know,
how to tie your shoes
and tie up your life and dreams
into reasonable patterns

that can be discerned when needed
to assure you that your fiber
will cover the stream of unattached
things that glide like translucent platelets

on the sclera of your eyes,
and are all around you,

time, people, places, memories,
what was thought to be,
what is imagined to be,

what your heart thinks is real
but your mind rejects,

what your mind thinks is real
but your heart rejects.

Those things, bundled,
neatly, or not so neatly,
casually, vibrantly, bursting
out of the bag, calliope of chaos

beyond time,
outside of beliefs,
not collectible into Something.

Those things one is supposed to know,
where have they gone off to now?

Infinite Loops

International Women’s Day – March 8, 2007


In the beginning was the word, idea, energy, imagination
that created thoughts, tides, walking, breathing,
the micro and macro, universes mirroring each other inward and outward, infinity –

language, blood, laughter,
material world of joy and pain and children

and aches of hearts not knowing what they have lost,
sensing a home to be regained through briars of chaos and schism that may not be here

except as imagination is unleashed.


Plump-plunk in the middle is you, me, us, we, mother, father, extended family –

those dancing at weddings, those starving,
and so many sold for sex and labor, those killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, those killed by guns,

those who will be killed by guns, those killed by ignorance,
those breaking bread, those tending the ill,

those who sing acappella in cathedrals or showers, those who use everyday bravery to feed their children,

those who birth children in deserts or well-lit private rooms, those being born, those dying,

those given to generosity, given to fear, given to despair, those who hold hope as their most hard won possession.


Infinity visible on earth:

A small yellow bird eating seeds along a road.
A French horn in a cathedral in Germany.
A woman’s hand touching mine in the dark as she said, “Help me.”

A baby whose tears ran down my cheek.
Warm pebbles under my feet on a beach in Italy.

My hair stood on end once when Afghanistan police closed
in around me.

Young lovers in a park, kissing.
Ice on the bloody nose of my stepson.

I danced in a spring wind off a new cornfield,
pretending to fly.

Sometimes I am more alive than ever I’d been before.


Your soul is imagination in love with real time.

Imagination unleashed dances with the last digit of pi.

Love set free guides us home.


You, who ties the kids’ shoes,

who frets about bad hair days and your weight,
who thinks people will find out how dumb you are.

and shovels the walk and sends an email,

you, with the bad knee, who clings to the past
as if it defines you, who feels so busy and pressured,

who feels despair over U.S. policy, who feel the world is beyond repair.

who feels guilty your life is good and you’ve suffered little,

Your burnished beauty is ready for primetime

plump-plunk in the center of infinity

in your reality show.