Pigeons, Anonymity, and other stories

Pigeons

That part of our mind that nobody can see, that is ours and ours alone, where we keep our goals and wishes and dreams of happiness, is the higher mind, and it is ruled by the planet Jupiter.

The part of our mind that drives us to carry out tasks, fulfill duties and responsibilities, is the lower mind, and it is ruled by the planet Mercury. It is the part that is visible to others and that unites us with others. Here, we are all like Mercury’s birds, the noisiest birds of all: pigeons. They don’t merely flap their wings; they clap them, and they share information to survive – like we do.

“Some yogi in the Himalayas said that if the walnut looks like the brain, it must be good for the brain.”

“Really? I’ll take it to the lab and check it for properties.”

“Hey, this is pretty rich in antioxidants and omega 3s.”

“We should write an article.”

“Let’s have a conference.”

“Notify the press.”

With the busyness of our lives, the tangents we go off  on, and the u-turns we take to get back on track, we aren’t always able to work on the dreams we hold in our higher mind.

Until those rare moments, usually once a year, when Jupiter and Mercury cross paths in the sky and our higher and lower minds unite. These rare moments help us make tangible plans to make a dream come true, fulfill a wish.

For every wish fulfilled, though, the universe asks us to let go of another. It’s how it keeps our egos in check. We fulfill a wish and we release one that the universe says is not meant for us.

And we mourn the loss.

But if we psychoanalyze ourselves, we’ll realize that we aren’t really mourning the loss of that  wish. It was just an illusion to begin with, and having it come true could have been a disaster.

What we really mourn is the loss of that layer of ego that dissolved when we let the wish go.

Dreams and wishes are bittersweet.

Yin Yang.

 

The Footprint

(Epic of OP, part 2)

 

Not far from the Kingdom of OP was the Valley of Eye. It was really meant to be the Valley of I as in I for ice cream, but it was mistakenly registered as the Valley of Eye as in (touch your forehead) Yin Yang Eyes.

The Valley of Eye grew around a giant footprint found on its rocky terrain. The people of Eye believed that one of the gods had walked through their valley and left them a footprint. They built shrines to thank the gods for this privilege, and in no time, the Valley of Eye had become a pilgrimage site that rivaled the city of Embrun in sacredness.

Worship of the holy footprint was the economic base of the people who lived there. Everyone earned money from religious rituals and the sweet simplicity of spirituality, but not everyone was happy.

“Yuck,” thought the young people of the valley. “There must be more than this in life.” They’d go to the footprint at night and chisel the edges away under cover of darkness. They wanted the footprint to disappear, but it just sunk deeper into the ground and affirmed its presence.

 

“We’re doomed,” said one of them.

“The last thing I want is to spend the rest of my life selling incense,” said another.

“Or taking pilgrims ’round the footprint, chanting mantras-“

“Or decorating shrines-“

“Or making garlands-“

“We should ask the god Op-Pollo to deliver us from our fate-“

“We could ask the Oracle to help us – they say Op-Pollo speaks through him-“

“What Oracle?”

“The Oracle at the Temple of Op-Pollo. In Embrun, remember?”

“That’s right! I’d forgotten all about the Oracle!”

“We should go there.”

“What about our tools?”

“Hide them behind those rocks.”

“Let’s go!”

So the young people of Eye set out to the sacred city of Embrun.

When they arrived at the city gates, they saw a beggar sleeping on the ground. A boy among them called Samuel gently shook the beggar’s shoulder and asked him to move to one side; he was blocking the entrance.

The beggar opened one eye and said, “Samuel.”

“How do you know my name?” Samuel asked him.

The beggar opened his other eye and named the rest of them.

The young people of Eye were surprised. They watched the beggar move slowly to one side and waited for him to explain.  Instead, the beggar showed them a rock of iron pyrite and asked, “Do you know that all that glitters is not  gold?”

“Yeah?” they all replied.

“Good,” said the beggar, putting the pyrite away. He then handed Samuel a rock that was dull and grey and said, “Then remember that all that is dull and grey is not ordinary.”

Samuel held the rock on the palm of his hand and everyone saw it turn into a ruby, then a sapphire, then back to a rock that was dull and grey.

“Magic!”  they all cried.

“Magic in the rock,” said the beggar,  and he vanished into thin air.

The young people stood frozen in disbelief, until Samuel dropped the rock. He picked it up and said, “We better go to the temple for some answers.”

When they got there, the temple attendant told them that the Oracle wasn’t seeing anyone that day.

“What!”

“But we came all this way-“

“Why not?”

“We need to talk to him-“

“Ask him-“

“Please-“

The Oracle was indisposed.

“No way!”

They sat on the ground silent and morose, and passed the beggar’s rock around. It crumbled bit by bit going from hand to hand until one of them noticed a glassy shimmer on its surface.

“Looks like this rock has a gem trapped inside.”

“The beggar said there was magic in the rock.”

“That guy wasn’t a beggar. He must have been-“

Right then, a pair of giant hands scooped them off  the ground. “Ahhhh!!!” they screamed in terror, holding on to fleshy fingers wearing rings made of fool’s gold.

When they dared look up, they saw that the giant hands belonged to the mighty Op-Shiva, god of transformation. They looked at the god in awe and wonder, and bowed in reverence.

 

They looked up again when they heard a thundering sound in the sky.

What’s that?” someone asked.

“Looks like a giant pileated woodpecker coming our way!”

“That’s not a bird! That’s another giant god!”

“Can anyone remember which god paints his face red and black?”

“Oh no! It’s Op-Maul, god of war!”

“What does he have in his hand?”

“Looks like a net! I think he’s asking Op-Shiva to launch us in the air so he can catch us with his net.”

“Oh almighty Op-Shiva!” someone begged. “You wouldn’t do that to us, would you?”

Up in the air they went.

Op-Maul danced in the air, catching them with his net in twos and threes and bouncing them around. He was having the time of his life until the crows arrived. Then the air turned a bit serious. Op-Maul flew down to Shiv and gave him the net. Shiv put the net on the ground and waited for all the young people to clamber out of it. He then picked it up and flew to the heavens with Op-Maul.

Everyone collapsed on the ground speechless, but they found their voice when they saw the crows forming a circle around them.

“Look at the crows; they’re circling in.”

“Maybe they’re waiting for us to die so they can eat us.”

“Are we going to die?”

“No you’re not,” cawed one of the crows.

If the youth hadn’t had such a draining day, they would have run back to the Valley of Eye and away from this place that was definitely bewitched. They would have run back to all the religious rituals and to all the sweet and simple spirituality of their valley, and never looked back. Good thing they couldn’t move a muscle because they would have missed something important.

“We’re Op-Pollo’s birds,” cawed another crow. “Here to make sure Op-Maul doesn’t come back and play with you.”

“Go to sleep,” the crows cawed. “You’ll see the Oracle tomorrow.”

 

Samuel woke up at daybreak. He was relieved to see that he still had the rock that the mighty Op-Shiva had given him. He had not let go of it even when he was airborne. He had an inkling that in this rock were the answers they were all looking for.

He got up, and like the rest of his group, went to wash in the river. They were all bruised from being scooped up by Op-Shiva and bounced around in Op-Maul’s net. The marks on their bodies were the only proof they had of their encounter with the gods, an experience that would unite them long after the bruises had healed.

Back at the temple, there was bread and coffee for all those waiting to see the Oracle. When Samuel sat down to eat, one of the crows perched on his shoulder, and he shared his bread with the bird.

“What’s your name, crow?”

“Caw!” answered the crow.

The temple attendant opened the temple doors  and invited the young people of Eye to be the first ones to see the Oracle. Excited, the group crowded around the attendant and went inside.

The crow perched on Samuel’s shoulder flew to the Oracle. Samuel raised his eyes and saw that the Oracle was a beautiful woman.

“I thought the Oracle was a man,” he said.

“I had to replace him,” said the attendant. “He couldn’t hear Op-Pollo’s words anymore and was speaking gibberish. Now tell me, will you be the one to tell the Oracle why you’re here?”

“Yes,” said Samuel, and he stepped forward and addressed her. “Oracle of Embrun, she who speaks the words of Op-Pollo; we come from the Valley of Eye.”

 

The Priestess of Delphi by John Collier, 1891

“Continue,” said the Oracle.

“The lives of the people in our valley are tied to the worship of a holy footprint. We want something different for ourselves.”

“You seek what is there but hidden from you,” said the Oracle.

“Where exactly?” asked Samuel.

“There, ” said the Oracle.

“What about this rock that the god Op-Shiva gave us?” Samuel asked her, showing her the rock.

“It is what is hidden,” she said.

“What about the footprint?”

“Op-Pollo, god of gods, set foot in the Valley of Eye to put magic in the rocks,” she answered.

“Wha-“

Before Samuel could ask another question, Jane, a girl among the young people of Eye, spoke.

“I’ve seen rocks like the one Op-Shiva gave us on the banks of the Eye River. I think what the Oracle is saying is that the rocks where we live have hidden gems. Op-Pollo came to our valley to put magic in the rocks. The gemstones are his magic.”

Everyone started speaking at once.

“We’re going to mine for gemstones!”

“We’ll learn to polish them-“

“Make jewellery!”

“We better go get our tools!”

After thanking the Oracle and the temple attendant, Jane and Samuel led a very animated group of young people back to the Valley of Eye.

“I’m not going to become a miner, ” Samuel told Jane.

“No? After all this-“

“No,” he shook his head. “I realize now that what I was looking for was meaning in my life. It was hidden from me, but I found it during this extraordinary…” He couldn’t find the right word.

“Pilgrimage,” said Jane, finding the right word for him.

“Yes.”

“Does that mean you’re going to light incense and walk around the footprint chanting mantras?” she teased him.

He smiled and nodded, “Possibly.” He took a more serious tone and said, “I’d like to replace Op-Pollo’s simple shrine with a temple. Op-Pollo should have a proper temple in our valley,” he said.

She turned to look at him, and she could see him envision the temple in his mind’s eye: an elevated structure with Doric columns made of limestone, very much like the one in Embrun.  She interrupted his vision and said, “You’ll have to get a permit, and I have a feeling the neighbouring valleys will contest it.”

“Maybe you’re right,” he said. “I guess it will only happen if Op-Pollo allows it.” He then looked at her and asked her, ” What about you, Jane? What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to make jewellery with the sacred gemstones we’re about to discover,” she told him. “They say that every gemstone has a particular energy that may or may not suit you. If you wear the wrong one, it will break or you will lose it. I’d like to learn to match people with the right gemstone.” She paused, took a deep breath,  and added, “I’m also going to marry you, Samuel.”

They held hands and continued walking.

When Samuel’s wish to build a temple in the Valley of Eye became public, the temple attendant from the sacred city of Embrun requested a private audience with the King of OP. He packed his sack and set off to the Kingdom of OP on foot. Along the way, a pair of strong ebony hands lifted him off the ground and he found himself sitting behind a rider on a stallion.

“If it isn’t El Cristo Negro!” he exclaimed. “Where are you headed dear old friend?”

“On my way to succor a damsel in distress,” El Cristo laughed. “Where are you headed?”

“To see the King of OP. A young lad by the name of Samuel of Eye wants to build a second Temple of Op-Pollo. I need the king’s help to stop him.”

“I see,” said El Cristo.

“Will you join me?”

“No, but I will take you there.”

After ridding his kingdom of Op-Maul, the King of OP had taken up the reins of government with seriousness and dedication. He began by repairing all that needed immediate attention – starting with the roads. He worked hard alongside his people, and El Cristo Negro came to pay him a visit from time to time. How the king cherished his visits for this was the man who had changed his life.

If ever the king slacked off in his duties, El Cristo would not enter the palace; he would simply leave his salutations to the king with the palace guards. With time, the king saw the connection: El Cristo honours me with his presence when I’m a good king, and deprives me of it when I’m bad.

“Does this mean the king has been slacking off lately?” asked the temple attendant.

“Aye,” said El Cristo. They  had reached the palace gates and the guards sounded the trumpets. The king had ordered the guards to announce El Cristo with trumpets no matter the hour. El Cristo helped the attendant dismount and wished him luck. “Give my salutations to your king,” he told the guards and rode off.

The king was luxuriating in a perfumed bubble bath when he heard the trumpets play the notes that announced El Cristo. He didn’t rush to get ready because he knew he had been pretty bad lately. He just couldn’t live up to El Cristo’s expectations on a daily basis. All this hard labour made his muscles sore and he needed to relax from time to time.

His twin Royal and Loyal scribes knocked gently on the door and peeked in.

“El Cristo sends his salutations, sire,” said Royal. “He gave the temple attendant a ride. Should I have him wait for you in your study?”

“Good idea; and give him some hot soup to warm up.”

“Will do, sire.”

“I’ll get your bath towel and jojoba oil, Your Majesty,” said Loyal, and he helped the king get ready.

In the study, the temple attendant expressed his concern about Samuel’s petition to build a Temple of Op-Pollo in the Valley of Eye.

“They already have a holy footprint, Your Highness. If they  build a temple, nobody will journey to the sacred city of Embrun. Why would they, when they can all flock to Eye and kill two birds with one stone.”

“I see your point,” said the king. “Any suggestions, Royal and Loyal?”

“Have you sought the counsel of the Oracle?” Royal asked the attendant.

“Yes, I have,” said the attendant.  “She said, ‘Some time is sometimes the time that is timely and time that is timely is sometimes  the sum of time.’ “

“Not that garbled talk again!” cried the king.

“I know what she meant to say, You Highness, but I don’t like the meaning of it,” said the attendant in a forlorn voice.

“Not very nice when someone tells you it’s time to retire,” said Loyal.

“Is that what she meant?” asked the king and Royal in unison, surprised at Loyal’s insight.

“Yes, Your Highness,” said the attendant. “But the thought of retiring and spending 24/7 with the wife scares me.”

Royal whispered a few words to the king and the king told the attendant that they were in need of a gardener. “My suggestion is that you train a new temple attendant, and join the team of gardeners at the palace.”

“You should train Samuel as the new temple attendant,” said Loyal.

“Brilliant idea,” said the king.

“He’s not qualified!” cried the temple attendant with indignation.

“He will be once you train him,” said Royal, understanding that it is human nature to feel irreplaceable.

“We’ve settled the matter,” said the king, rising. “My Royal and Loyal scribes, please see that the temple attendant has a bed to rest for the night. You will go to the Valley of Eye tomorrow and bring Samuel back with you.”

The twin scribes started their journey early in the morning. Half way there, they saw a traveller approach in the opposite direction. The traveller’s cape billowed around him as he marched down the road, swinging his arms back and forth, back and forth, like a soldier. Each time an arm swung forward, the rays of the sun bounced off the rings he wore like scintillating flashes of golden light.

The traveller stopped when he reached Royal and Loyal to bid them good day.

“Good day to you too,” said the twins.

“From a distance, sir, you appear to be a magician with hands that spit fire,” said Loyal.

“My rings must sparkle in the light,” laughed the traveller, showing off his rings.

“You shouldn’t wear such expensive jewellery on the road, sir,” advised Royal.

“Nonsense! These are not expensive rings; they’re made of fool’s gold,” said the traveller. “I meant to give them to my nephew Samuel, but it slipped my mind,” said the traveller.

“What a coincidence,” said Loyal. “We’re headed to see a Samuel…”

“He lives in the Valley of Eye,” added Royal.

“A coincidence indeed!” exclaimed the traveller. ” He took off his rings and gave half to Royal and half to Loyal. Please wear them so you don’t forget to give them to Sam. Tell him they’re from his Uncle Shiv!” he said as he carried off marching down the road.

“Have you noticed that we meet strange people when we travel?” Royal asked his brother.

“Yes I have,” said Loyal.

When they reached the Valley of Eye, they were told that Samuel would be leading a walking meditation tour around the holy footprint in about 15 minutes. Would they like to join?

“Yes,” said Royal, and he bought 2 tickets.

“Please don’t tell any of the fellows at the palace about this,” Loyal whispered to his brother.

“Trust me, I won’t,” said Royal.

They loved it. Walking on the rocky terrain chanting mantras felt like being on a different planet. They would never admit it, but the twins  found it enchanting. Before the tour group headed back, Samuel pointed to higher ground and said they could all sit on the rocks over there to watch the sunset. Did everyone have a flashlight? Everybody did except the twins.

“Stay by my side,” Samuel told the twins. “My flashlight is bright enough for the three of us.” He then sat down, opened a thermos and busied himself pouring cocoa into clay cups for everyone. Royal took this opportunity to talk to him.

“Samuel, my brother and I have come here to ask you to accompany us to the Kingdom of OP. Our king would like to speak with you.”

“What about?” asked Samuel, still in a meditative state.

“The King of OP will not allow you to build a temple to Op-Pollo here. Right now, your valley and the sacred city of Embrun offer pilgrims something different but of equal importance. If you were to build a temple to Op-Pollo here, the sacred city would suffer.

“My girlfriend pointed that out to me,” said Samuel looking at the sunset.

“The king would like to offer you an alternative. The temple attendant in Embrun is about to retire. Would you like to take his place?”

Before Samuel could register the question, a glimmer of light caught the corner of his eye. He turned and saw the twin scribes wearing rings that played with the rays of the setting sun. “Where did you get those?” he asked, awakening from his meditative state.

“We ran into your Uncle Shiv on our way here. He said to give them to you.”

“Oh my god,” said Samuel, sinking his head into his hands. “Oh-my-god.”

“You okay, Sam?” Loyal gently inquired.

Samuel nodded and looked at the disappearing sun, tears running down his cheeks. He felt the warmth of being loved. He felt the warmth of… what was the word he was looking for? It came to him. Innocence. You know what I mean; the time before the apple. He knew that Op-Shiva was telling him to pay attention to this moment, to this offer of taking the place of the old temple attendant, and he said yes, I will take it.

 

When the old temple attendant came into the king’s study and saw Samuel standing there, he realized that Samuel was the right person to replace him. He knew he would be able to trust this young man with the Temple of Op-Pollo and its secrets. He would begin his training immediately.

Jane was debating whether to move to the sacred city with Samuel or to stay in the Valley of Eye. She was working in a mine, thinking, “Should I, shouldn’t I,” when a chunk of rock came loose and fell into her hand. She turned it around and couldn’t believe what she saw. She took it to her workshop and chiseled all that was dull and grey away, and found herself looking at the biggest blue sapphire she had ever seen. She polished it smooth, and when she held it under the light, the light illuminated a six-rayed star on its surface. With tears running down her cheeks, she understood what Samuel had felt when he saw the twin scribes wearing Op-Shiva’s rings. She felt that warmth of being loved, that warmth of innocence he had talked about.

She brought the gemstone close to her mouth and whispered, “The Star of Op-Pollo.”

She set the star sapphire in a ring for Samuel, and she gave it to him on the day he was officially named Attendant to the Temple of Op-Pollo.

She found that she could not leave her valley, could not stay away for too long, and she asked Samuel if he was okay with them spending time together on weekends. She could see his disappointment, and she loved him more when he said, “I’m okay with that.”

 

 

More Modern Art for the Yin Yang Soul

 

Paris, 1930s

 

New moon in Aquarius. The help of another.

Piet Mondrian did not want to follow any of the modern art movements of his time. He didn’t want to be known as an artist who painted in the style of Matisse or Picasso. He wanted people to look at his work and recognize it as a Mondrian.

He had been working in his studio for days, trying different things, hoping for a breakthrough; but everything he painted looked like something someone else had done before. Exasperated, he grabbed his trench coat and went out for a walk.

The moment he stepped onto the sidewalk, a vision of pure colour crossed his path and disappeared round the corner: a man dressed in red trousers, a white shirt and yellow tie, and a blue blazer of the finest quality. A dandy with no fear, thought Piet, looking at his own drab clothing.

He walked for a few blocks and was about to cross the main road, when the dandy crossed his path again. Curious, thought Piet. He’s taking a different route, but we seem to be headed in the same direction.

The moment Piet put thought of the dandy away, he crossed paths with him again. The encounter felt perfectly synchronized, as if to say, “don’t forget me.”

Piet ran back to his studio, flung his trench coat on the ground, and grabbed a canvas. He painted a grid in black and white to represent city blocks. He then filled three blocks in red, blue and yellow to remember his source of inspiration.

When he had finished, he sat next to the window. He leaned forward and looked at his hands with stains of paint. He had found a new palette thanks to a dandy who dared to dress in vibrant colours. He turned to look at the finished painting resting on the easel, and was surprised to see a harmony of unbalanced parts. He had managed to hold a large red square in place with a small blue square and a touch of yellow. Who would have thought that red could be so manageable.

A door was opening for him – a door leading to new exploration.

He had found his own style.

 

Composition in Red, Blue and Yellow by Piet Mondrian, 1930

New moon in Libra. Maybe tomorrow.

A friend Mondrian had gone to art school with in Amsterdam came to Paris and paid him a visit. He looked at Mondrian’s new paintings with skepticism. “They’re not symmetrical,” he said. “We were taught symmetrical balance above all.”

“I remember,” said Mondrian. “The idea behind that was to give the viewer a sense of calm. You know why?” Mondrian asked him.

His friend waited for Mondrian to reply.

“Because parts that are equal cancel each other out and drain a painting of vitality,” said Mondrian. “Look at my paintings! They challenge you to find balance in unequal parts and they’re filled with vitality!”

His friend looked at the paintings again and began to feel energized. “You’re right, Piet!” he said, holding a painting up. “Let me have this one! Name your price!”

“That one’s not finished yet, dear friend,” Piet told him with a glint of mischief. “The blue square needs one more coat of paint… You’ll have to come back for it another day.”

 

Composition in Red, Yellow and Blue by Piet Mondrian, 1930

New moon in Pisces. Make me whole.

Mondrian took the day off from work because of renovations in his studio – his landlord was having the old bathroom tiles replaced.

The sun was shining and the air was fresh, and he decided it was a good day to go for a walk and visit the new art galleries that were springing up in the city.

He had become so attuned to the primary colours that he found himself glancing up each time a blue skirt or a red beret or a yellow scarf came into his line of vision. Parisians were opening up to wearing the pure colours, but unlike his dandy, they were not bold enough to wear them all at once.

When he went back to work, he painted a grid on a canvas and filled one space with red and another with blue. He called it, “Yearning for Yellow.” He then took another canvas and painted a similar grid, and filled one space with yellow. He called it, “Yearning for Red and Blue.”

 

Yearning for Yellow (Composition with Red and Blue) and Yearning for Red and Blue (Composition with Yellow) by Piet Mondrian, 1931

New moon in Sagittarius. Catch me if you can.

Mondrian joined the crowds of people at the Place de la Concorde for the Christmas festivities. He was watching a man on a bicycle balancing a tray of candied apples when he spotted the dandy making his way across the square. “Hey there!” he called after him, but the dandy kept going. Mondrian hurried his step, careful not to bump into people, all the time calling, “Hey there! Could I have a word with you?” The dandy got lost in the crowd, so Mondrian went faster, around and in between people, trying to reach him. “Wait up! You with the yellow tie! He looked above people’s shoulders trying to spot him. “Wait up, yellow tie!” Alas, he reached the end of the square and the dandy was nowhere in sight. He looked all around but his colours were gone. He stood there disappointed.

Children came up to Mondrian and tugged at his arm. They asked him if he had been playing hide and seek with the colourful man. Mondrian laughed. Yes he had, he told them. You looked very funny chasing him, said the children. It’s a pity he got away.

Yes, it was a pity, but he’d catch him on canvas.

 

Place de la Concorde by Piet Mondrian, 1938

New moon in Gemini. Jack be nimble.

One of Mondrian’s most treasured possessions was his gramophone. He played jazz music while he worked in his studio. It helped him get through the fine brushwork needed to create an even and flat surface. When the day’s work was done, he raised the volume and practised the Charleston. He was as particular with his dance moves as he was with his brushwork.

In the evenings, he made his way to a jazz club. He only danced with women who could keep up with him and perhaps teach him some new steps.

 

Illustration from La Fleur dans l’atelier de Mondrian by Jean-Philippe Peyraud and Antonio Lapone

One evening, he chose to dance with Claire. She was as nimble as he was. He gave her all his attention and ended the evening in bed with her.

When Claire saw him at the club after that, Mondrian acted as if nothing had happened. She was furious and she was hurt and she asked him, Had she not meant anything to him? Would nothing come out of their lovemaking? Mondrian took her to his studio and showed her what came out of their night together: a new Mondrian hanging on the wall.

She looked at it and told him she would have preferred if he had painted a flower. She wanted permanence. He was married to his work and to his style. She slammed the door and left. The slam of the door tilted the painting on its nail, and Mondrian found himself looking at a new kind of balance; the dynamic equilibrium of imbalance. He called it a lozenge.

 

Lozenge composition with Red, Blue, Yellow, Gray and Black by Piet Mondrian

Months after disappearing from his life, Claire knocked on his studio door. She was leaving Paris and had come to say goodbye. She gave him a flower – an artificial one – so he would always remember her. When she left, Mondrian painted the flower white. He kept it in a vase next to the work that had sprung out of their brief encounter. He had sold dozens of lozenge paintings since then, but had held on to the original one.

 

Illustration from La Fleur dans l’atelier de Mondrian by Jean-Philippe Peyraud and Antonio Lapone

New moon in Virgo. Chin up.

Mondrian was in a taxicab on his way to buy paints. Familiar colours caught the corner of his eye and he looked outside. The dandy was standing on the side of the road, hailing a cab himself.  Stop! he told his driver. The driver slowed down and moved to the side of the road. Mondrian got out and looked behind. No! he cried when he saw the dandy gone. This time, he felt more than just disappointment; he felt a sense of lack. He didn’t have the stamina to carry out his errand anymore, and he asked the driver to take him back to his studio.

Once there, he played his latest Louis Armstrong record. He got out his paints and saw how little red he had. No matter, he thought. He’d make do. He started work on a new canvas, singing along to “Memories of you.”

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWB3fWZIiPY

 

A lack of red (Composition in blue, yellow and red) by Piet Mondrian, late 1930s

New moon in Taurus. Secure your survival.

Fear washed over Mondrian. The Nazis had organized an exhibit of what they considered to be degenerate art, and some of his paintings had been on display. If war broke out, he would be in danger. What was more, he knew that his prowess as an artist, dancer and lover would not save him on a battlefield. He needed to leave Europe, and he began making plans to settle in America.

During this time of imminent change, Mondrian painted larger and busier grids. He sometimes felt like leaving them empty of colour – to reflect how unhappy he felt about having to move away. But he always reconsidered, not wanting to betray

his source of inspiration,

the source of his own style,

the dandy.

 

Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue by Piet Mondrian, 1937

New moon in Capricorn. Hard work pays off.

He didn’t feel like dancing. Instead, he made himself comfortable in his studio. He sat on the couch, sipping wine, listening to soft music, and gazing at the painting he had finished earlier that day. He had managed to balance an asymmetrical grid with only a small square of blue. It wasn’t just the square he had chosen to fill with blue that stabilized the grid; it was also the shade of blue he had used. The Chinese called it yin yang blue.

He had attended a lecture given by the Theosophical Society about yin yang colours. Apparently, yin yang blue had the power to make-or-break. He had taken a chance with it, prepared himself mentally for success and failure, and lo and behold, he had succeeded. His Composition with Yin Yang Blue was a masterpiece.

He would sail to America with the painting in his hand, and he would find a safe home for it once he got there.

 

Composition with Blue by Piet Mondrian, 1936-1942. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Photograph of Piet Mondrian holding his Composition with Blue

New York, 1940-1944

New moon in Leo. Kundalini awakening.

When Mondrian arrived to New York City, he could not believe his eyes: there were dandies everywhere. His body quivered with excitement, and all that energy travelled up his spine and  burst out of his crown chakra. This is what Op-Pollo must have felt each time he birthed a child, he thought.

In Paris, he had painted black grids to represent the city blocks he walked in search of a dandy dressed in primary colours. Here in New York, city blocks were filled with all three colours combined in every way.

For the next four years, Mondrian would liberate the primary colours and allow them full expression in his paintings.

 

New York City by Piet Mondrian, 1942

New moon in Aries. A leap of faith.

He looked at his ‘New York’ painting with a feeling of accomplishment. He had replaced the black grid with a dynamic colour grid that managed to hold itself together. What if he were now to break the solidity of the grid? He wouldn’t destroy it; he would just make it more pliable – he’d loosen it up with squares of colour. He wondered if he would be able to balance an asymmetrical and pliable colour grid. He’d have to get to know the colours more intimately to make this work.

He turned on his gramophone and played a Harry James record.

He set to work on his new experiment, listening to Woo Woo Boogie Woogie.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8chF0tohecg

 

Broadway Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian, 1943

New moon in Scorpio. Yin Yang Balance taken to extremes.

Mondrian was in his studio doing the preliminary design for a victory painting. He was anticipating the country’s victory in World War II, and he wanted the painting to be ready for it.

He thought of Claire and turned to look at the white flower in the vase. He decided that the victory painting would be a lozenge, for old times’ sake.

He started his design with a pliable grid. There was no going back to a solid one.

The next step would naturally be to dissolve parts of the grid – to break away from the city block pattern that had become his signature.  He was ready for it. He just needed to make sure there was enough grid to hold the painting together.

Mondrian died before he could complete the painting. Even unfinished, there is enough grid holding it together.

 

Victory Boogie Woogie (forever a work-in-progress) by Piet Mondrian, 1944

New moon in Cancer. My dandy.

Claire sat down with a cup of coffee to read the paper. There was an article announcing that Piet had died, and she was saddened by the news.

She remembered the day she had gone to his studio to say goodbye. She had been struck by the number of red, blue and yellow paintings covering the walls. She still had the intensity of those colours in her mind when she bumped into the man who would become her future husband.

“Oh! Please excuse me.”

“No worries. You alright?”

“Yes,” she said, and couldn’t help laughing. “Sorry, but you look like a Mondrian painting.”

When she saw confusion on his face, she explained that Piet Mondrian was an artist who only worked in primary colours.

He had looked at his red trousers, blue blazer and yellow tie, and laughed along with her.

Claire stopped reminiscing when she heard him coming down the stairs. He walked into the kitchen wrapped in his blue blanky and kissed her tenderly.

“Good morning, love.”

The Tongue of a Woodpecker

 

All he wanted when he was little was to be a songbird, but  whenever he tried to sing like one, his tongue would get entangled.

“We’re drummers,” his dad told him. “Songbirds sing and woodpeckers drum. That’s how it is.”

His mom taught him how to wrap his tongue like a cushion to protect his brain, and to strike- strike- strike a tree with his bill. He did as he was told; he had no other way to communicate.

As he grew older, he decided that if he had to be a drummer, he’d be the best drummer there ever was – the drummer with the fastest beat. He went in search of a tree with good acoustics to practice, and he found a magnificent dead tree: tall and smooth, debarked and devoid of branches. He gently tapped on it to test it, and his taps resounded throughout the neighbourhood. Wow! This was the best sounding piece of wood he’d ever come across! He became fixated on it and drummed on it for days, rapidly and repeatedly, perfecting his beat. Attracted to his fervor and zeal, songbirds came to sing in the surrounding trees, and he’d accompany them with his beat. He was having the time of his life, until Hydro showed up.

It seems he had been drumming on a utility pole, and had carved such deep holes in it that the pole was not considered safe anymore. It had to be replaced.

When Hydro showed up, all the songbirds left the area, but not the woodpecker – not him. He had become one with the utility pole. He kept on drumming while a new utility pole was set up next to his. He kept on drumming while the wires were transferred from his pole to the new one. He kept his beat despite all the human activity around him. Hydro measured the situation and decided not to remove the unsafe pole that day. Let the woodpecker have it for a bit longer.

When Hydro finished and left, the woodpecker flew to the new pole. He drummed on it and immediately felt nauseous. The new pole had been sprayed with something nasty, and it would probably take many rains to wash it away. Best to go back to his old pole. But the interruption and the bad taste in his mouth made him loose momentum.  Even when the songbirds returned, he couldn’t get  his old fervor and zeal back. That’s when Mars came to the rescue.  Mars plucked him off his pole and said, “I’ve been looking for a bird to match my style – my beat, so to speak. I hear you’re the best drummer there ever was. You’re coming with me, woodpecker.” That’s how he became Mars’ sacred bird.

When Venus saw Mars strutting around with a pileated woodpecker perched on his shoulder, she wanted her own bird too.

“You can’t have my bird, darling,” Mars told her when she asked if she could borrow the woodpecker. “My bird, my style. You need to get to know yourself and find a bird that matches who you are.”

She slapped him.

“What was that for?” he asked, taken by surprise.

“I know myself, Mars!”

“You’re right, darling, I’m so sorry. That’s not what I meant at all. You know how bad I am finding the right words. My tongue gets all tangled up. Of course I know you know yourself.”

“So what exactly did you mean?”

“My woodpecker is a drummer. Drums of war don’t go with your beauty.”

Now she was furious.

“Drums of war go with love and passion, Mars! Passion for a man! Passion for a woman! Love of country! I bring people together! Unite them under a cause!”

“Exactly, my love, you’re right, absolutely right. That’s why you need a bird that’s not so hard-headed-  I mean, cool-headed-  I mean to say that you need a bird more like you. Come on my love, my darling, my cuchi-cuchi, you know what I mean,” he said, tickling her under the chin. “Please forgive me…”

“Oh, alright. I do love it when you call me cuchi-cuchi. You do find the right words sometimes…”

While the two snuggled together up in the sky, a magpie was born down below. Pica-pica was her name and she loved it, loved saying it: Pica-pica, Pica-pica.

She had an exuberant personality. She paid attention to all the sounds around her, and she imitated them to everyone’s delight. She was daring in her pursuit of all things shiny; she had even swiped a coin from a human’s hand. She and her friends had come across an abandoned utility pole with holes deep enough to stash away their shiny treasures. They’d spend time there chatting and admiring the things they had: crinkly candy wrappers, rhinestones, marbles, thimbles and more.

Life couldn’t be better for Pica-pica, until the day she saw a silver bracelet dangling from the branch of a tree. She smelled a trap, but could not resist reaching for it. The moment her bill touched the bracelet, human hands grabbed her and put her in a cage.

She was driven to a lab and anesthetized. When she woke up, she saw two pairs of human eyes looking at her. She also saw a mirror and she walked up to it. She recognized herself, except there was a sticker with one of those stupid emojis stuck on her breast. How dare they, she thought, and tried desperately to peel it off.

“Incredible,” said the lab technician.

“Incredible,” said the psychologist. “She recognized herself, which means magpies have visual self-awareness.”

The two had just performed the ‘mirror self-recognition’ test. Birds were known to distinguish themselves by their sound and by their scent, but never by how they looked.

“What a smart bird,” said the lab technician. “As smart as a great ape.”

“As smart as a dolphin,” said the psychologist.

They peeled the sticker off Pica-pica, and took her back to her habitat.

Even though she was back in her familiar surroundings, Pica-pica felt different, no longer so carefree. She was hanging out with her friends at the abandoned utility pole, and found that she couldn’t be as chatty and daring as she was before. She began to feel a bit of an outsider, when Venus came to the rescue.

Venus plucked her off the pole and said, “I’ve been looking for a bird as intelligent and passionate as I am,  and I’ve been told that you’re the smartest and most exuberant bird there ever was. You’re coming with me, magpie.” Pica-pica spread her wings and wrapped them around Venus’ neck in an embrace, and that’s how she became Venus’ sacred bird.

“That’s a pretty hefty choker you’re wearing today, darling,” Mars told Venus.

“Mars! That’s my bird!”

“OMG I’m so sorry, darling, my love, my cuchi-“

“Shut up, Mars.”

When the woodpecker and Pica-pica met, they were like magnets; they were attracted to each other and repelled by each other. They were different and the same. Mars and Venus helped them cross that line of resistance by pushing them together.

When their bills met, the magpie understood the woodpecker’s individuality; his need to be the best that he could be. When their bills met, the woodpecker understood the magpie’s need to please others and to belong.

Self and self-less. When they come together, they sound like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDPITj1wlkg

 

The End