Monday, January 18, 2010

Roanoke - and explorations on weddings and looking real

This weekend Chris and I went to Roanoke to celebrate his birthday a bit early.  Both of the people we talked to about going said emphatically that we HAD to stay at the Hotel Roanoke.  I'm so glad we did!  It was built at the end of the 19th century by the railroad company that was building the tracks through Roanoke and basically creating the city as it is today.  The hotel is on a hill above the rest of the city, right next to the tracks.  There's a wonderful bridge which crosses a couple of streets and the tracks then ends directly in downtown so you can walk comfortably there.  The hotel is a throw back to older times when living was gracious and full of community.  I've never seen such a well-used lobby!  Saturday evening we spent some time there just to people-watch.  There are two fireplaces around which people were congregated, talking.  There was a large room with many seating areas.  As the evening progressed, people who were done partying at the wedding they'd attended, came and sat there and continued their revelry.  There were game boards for chess, checkers, backgammon and cards.  Chris beat me soundly at Rummy 500 while we watched the activities.  There was a grand piano which was a player piano!  It was so cool to hear it playing - there were several children who stood, transfixed, watching it as if spirits were moving the keys.  Later in the evening there was a wonderful guitarist, Tim Martin I think his name was, playing in the pub which was packed.  There is another grander dining room on the other side of the lobby where one can eat in true southern style, but Chris and I didn't go there.  We chose to eat downtown instead.  It was lovely to see how many people were there, visiting, chatting, having fun together.  I can't think of many community areas like that anymore. 

The breakfast was stupendous!  We got the buffet brunch and had our choice of homemade omelets, french toast, grits, spoonbread, fresh fruit (including pomegranates), toast, pastries, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, juices, etc., etc.  The spoonbread was delicious!  I made the meal my lunch and wasn't hungry again until after dinner time!  Again, the community feeling there was delightful.  The dining room was packed.  The service was excellent.  The food was delicious.  I felt completely taken care of.  It was the perfect place to spend a birthday weekend!

The reason we went to Roanoke in the first place was because of the Rembrandt exhibition.  35 of his etchings are on display at the Taubman Art Museum which is in walking distance of the hotel (right across the pedestrian bridge I mentioned before.)  The museum just opened up in 2008, so it's brand new and quite a spectacular space!  We chose to go Sunday right when it opened at noon.  We were joined by 100's of women and their mothers - there was a bridal show at the same time!  Chris was flabbergasted by all the activity that prompted!  There were vendors of every ilk - department stores, florists, photographers, catereres, wedding consultants, and even someone selling girdles so one could look "just right" for the special event.  I so wanted to talk to the girdle salesperson to see what she would tell me about their product.  It would have gone along so well with the work I'm doing with this blog.  I didn't though because Chris was there and we were ready to leave.  But my goodness, I hate the pressure women feel about having to look just perfect for their wedding!  Perfect nails, perfect hair, perfect figure.

I had a client once who asked me to photograph her.  She was planning to get married and wanted to give her husband nude photographs of herself at this stage in her life.  She used to be heavy (self-reporting) and had been working out for a very long time to get fit and to feel gorgeous.  She came to my house ready for the photos.  She had gotten her hair and nails done, she'd shaved pretty much everything on her body besides the hair on her head, she'd put lotion everywhere.  She'd brought props.  I felt honored to be photographing her, and I also felt somehow sad for her.  She was a very beautiful woman, but the makeup and hairdo were like putting plastic over top of the beauty.  She posed as if she were a centerfold (minus the raunch), in poses meant to be sexy and provocative.  I sensed it wasn't the real her but was rather the person she thought her husband would want her to be.  I wish we could accept ourselves as we are as beautiful.

When Chris and I were planning to get married, I went to the store where I wanted to buy my dress and tried some on.  That was bizarre because the salesperson seemed to not want to sell me anything - she said they didn't have a good selection.  Whatever.  They had what I wanted.  At any rate, I tried the dress on, liked it, was planning to get it.  She looked at it on me and suggested I get it altered a bit because it was a bit too large.  That sounded right.  Then she suggested I get an undergarment to wear with it.  I can't remember what it was called - Hugs?  She said women just must wear them with their wedding gowns because it helps keep the tummies in and the buttocks tucked.  I almost told her to go fuck herself - that my body was just fine as it was, thank you very much, but I realized that wouldn't be very polite, so I managed to simply thank her and tell her firmly that I am who I am and don't feel a need to manufacture a different body for one particular day of my life.  My husband-to-be already knew how I looked and was delighted with it, and I was too.  It really pissed me off!  (Still does, I guess, based on the strength of my feelings right this second!)  Why do women have to feel so inadequate on their wedding day???  As if they weren't already spectacularly beautiful simply glowing from the joy of marrying the man or woman they love with all their hearts and want to spend their lives with?  It seems like the glow from that love should outshine anything any manufacturer could apply over it. 

I chose to wear a dress I felt comfortable in, shoes I could actually walk in, have a haircut I liked that felt authentic, and only wore a little bit of lipstick (Chris hates kissing me when I wear lipstick because it gets all over him(!) and is disoriented the once or twice a year I wear make up because I don't look like me.)  I felt good.  I felt free.  I felt authentic and happy.  And I didn't have to worry about messing something up - like my face if I smiled too broadly!  Our wedding was a spiritual event more than a social one, and our choices were made accordingly.  It made us both so happy.

Anyway...  I think I was talking about the Taubman Museum and the Rembrandt show!  I certainly can get carried away when I believe strongly in something!

The Rembrandt etchings were beautiful.  An etching is made by covering a copper plate with a layer of wax, then drawing through that with a thin stylus.  Then the artist bathes the plate in acid which eats into the copper where the wax has been drawn away.  The etchings are incredibly small and detailed.  The one above, for example is only about 4" big for the whole thing.  His face is about 1.5" big.  I am stunned by the detail he can get into such a small drawing.  The drawings in this exhibit were primarily of beggars.  Beggars were as marginalized in society then as they are now and it was perhaps even stranger to draw them then than now.  Artists made their money doing society portraits, not drawings of beggars.  But the etchings are beautiful, so authentic, so humane.  The faces are old and lined and full of the indignities of life.  They are beautiful.  I guess one reason I'm drawn to them personally is because Rembrandt chose to paint and draw what he saw before him, as opposed to beautifying something because people preferred to see things "just so."  That's what I do in my art - paint what I see before me, exactly as it is (as well as I am able).  I find utmost beauty in what is real and authentic.

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