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Benedicta Bertau: illustration for  “E SONO FELICE

Over a year has passed since last I published a blog post. Thanks for still being there, dear Reader. Much has happened since March 23, 2015. For now, let me just share this with you – that I am now also drawing and painting, and actually illustrating. How this all came about, that’s what this post is about:

Karl+Bertau_+Garden+(2008)

Karl Bertau: Garten (2008)

 

My father always carried a small green sketch block with him. He would take out his black pen, quickly draw what he saw and date it. Later, he would often take a brush and some water and turn his drawing into a water-color. He filled 80 of these little green sketch blocks. My father was not a visual artist by training, but he drew and painted, even with oils, at least as long as I knew him, 43 years of his 88 year-long life.

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one of the little green sketch books

 

 

 

 

I have followed his example every now and then. Never with true consistence. But seeing the world with a pen in hand is one of my ways of connecting to reality.

 

 

 

 

Last Christmas, I was invited to a party where each guest was to bring one gift to be randomly re-gifted among the present guests. So, I spent Christmas morning in bed, drawing and painting a set of 29 inspirational cards. I took my inspiration both for text and motifs from my set of “Abraham-Hicks” Well-being cards. But I also made things up. And thoroughly enjoyed myself. Here are some of those cards, prompted by that experience of aimless joy. These drawings are not perfect, they are my exploration into imperfection and free play. Aimless joy, indeed.

29 thoughts Benedicta Bertau

Benedicta Bertau: from 29 thoughts for Christmas 2015

And then, Gigi Borruso invited me to illustrate his column for the Italian language magazine Focus-in which is published in France. What an honor (and what fun!) – here is the link to the blog which was just born out of this collaboration:

E sono Felice

E SONO FELICE is an ironic, poetic, and disarming column. Gigi Borruso slips into the (fictional) character Felice Sghimbescio who writes “letters to the powerful of this earth.” Felice is a simple man who lives in a dingy hole somewhere in Palermo. He does go to evening school, where his teacher encourages him to start a “blogh” and share his thoughts on current events. Felice writes as he thinks, doesn’t mince his words, is naive and, in the tradition of the fool, a truth-teller. His grammar may not be completely correct, but his world is view spot on – maybe because he cannot imagine anyone could read his words. He is funny without wanting to be so. He is fearless. – So far, he has written a letter to Matteo Renzi (Italy’s prime minister), Sergio Marchionne (the current CEO of FIAT-Chrysler Automobiles), and Christine Lagarde (the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund). If you have not yet found a good reason for learning Italian… I promise E SONO FELICE would be a good reason to…

And here the first four illustrations I created for this venture – all on packaging paper or the card board backs of note books:

Benedicta Bertau Felice portrait March 2016

Benedicta Bertau: illustration for  “E SONO FELICE” – Portrait of Felice

Benedicta Bertau Felice 2 Matteo e i canguri

Benedicta Bertau: illustration for  “E SONO FELICE” – Matteo e i canguri (4/2016)

Benedicta Bertau Felice (3) Marchionne Einstein e i fagiolini

Benedicta Bertau: illustration for  “E SONO FELICE”- Marchionne, Einstein e i fagiolini

I still feel a little self-conscious around this… I am not a trained visual artist! I am not an expert!

Well, if this post can encourage you to take up pen, pencil, brush, or anything at all and create, I’ll be happy. Why not?
It is one of the perfidies of the age we live in that we think (and are told) we must be experts before we can do anything. Not true. Not human. Go play. Now THAT is human.

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This weekend, the weather was finally good, and nature was responding… Filled with gratitude, I went to the Botanical Garden of Palermo and enjoyed its somewhat derelict beauty. Thanks to the lack of care (probably due to the lack of funds and, therefore, workers), the garden expresses the cycle of death and rebirth beautifully – there is always the dead or dying form of the plant or flower to be found nearby, no frantic cleaning up has happened and removed all the traces of death, and the miracle and timelessness of nature is fully visible. Including the rotting grapefruit and giant lemons on the ground, while the tree is preparing its buds that already smell so sweetly.

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And, during a hike through the Sicilian countryside near Termini Imerese, I encountered fields of Asphodelus, the dusty pink variety found in the Mediterranean. The delicate flower covered the meadows of the underworld, according to Homer. And therefore, according to some, Demeter’s daughter Persephone bore a crown of asphodels. Searching for an image of Persephone online, I was struck by the immense amount kitsch available (and created!) – is it possible that there are so few tasteful images with the power to connect us to the deep truths reflected in the myths, but only soppy kitsch, connecting us to the most sentimental and therefore earthbound aspects of ourselves and humanity?

There is much to be interpreted into and out of the myth of Demeter and Persephone and its connection to the Eleusian Mysteries of Ancient Greece, and I do not want to attempt drawing a final conclusion or present scholarly research. But, returning to my experience this weekend, I imagine and experience this:

Life and Death are always present, one without the other is impossible, they are an integral part of our human experience. Having a body means living with death – so does the plant, the animal, the human being. Since I have the gift of consciousness, I can experience a time- and spacelessness beyond this cycle, where life and death are mere passing thoughts. I can, at times, sense the contemporaneous existence of these experiences, and feel one step closer to my divine and infinite nature.

I shared this poem by Rumi (probably in a translation by Coleman Barks) last year, but why not repeat it? It’s just yet another expression of this experience.

Winter is a time for death.

Do you think death is a bad thing?

Then you still haven’t got it.
You’ve lived countless lives and died
countless deaths in an endless process of evolution.
Each death has brought you more life.
Without, death, there is no rebirth.
The ultimate death has nothing to do with the body.
It is the death of your self as separate from God.
You are standing at the edge of his ocean of Love.
Plunge below the surface of separation.
Dive into the mystical depth.
Dissolve yourself into that sea.
Like a moth around a candle, be irresistibly drawn
to the light until you are engulfed by flames in an inferno of communion.
The lover chooses the fire because he knows the secret: “The honey is worth the sting.”

– Rumi

All pictures taken by Benedicta Bertau in Palermo and near Termini Imerese, March 2015.

Reproduction without asking = NOT good.

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Hello, dear Reader –

I finally published it this week – my website, www.with-the-flow.com

and then – here are some Sunday morning thoughts for you:

thought 1 – soul trap

thought 2 – soul calling

thought 3 – not with the flow?

Rimini 2013

Rimini 2013

thought 1 – soul trap

About a month ago, the back up drive and the hard drive of my computer stopped working entirely, within a couple of days from each other. My laptop sounded as if a giant cricket had taken up residence inside it. The mouse froze, and the word “HELP!” (I am not joking!), appearing out of the darkening screen, was the last thing I saw before all activity ceased. I will spare you the details of the following events – the phone calls, the visits to various Apple specialists… The final verdict was: all data lost and retrievable, but only if much money is paid and the hard drive sent into a specialized facility…

I am sharing this with you not just to encourage you to taking backup solutions seriously for files you do care about. The experience shook me awake to the fact that even though it’s virtual, the stuff on our computers is still cluttering our lives. It differs only in form from the clutter in our closets, attics, and cellars – but it is still THERE.

Yes, I did have a moment of shock – I’d lost all files, projects in process, an exam paper, research notes, poetry collections, teaching notes, scripts, photos, and music from my past 10 years. And what I have not somehow shared via FaceBook, email, or this blog is indeed gone – deep down into the void of immaterial – what? where? So yes, there was shock – but very quickly, I felt relief. Because, let’s face it – I am alive, I did not loose the roof above my head, nor loved ones, nor do I live in fear. Now, I have about 50 files on the replacement hard drive (thankfully, I did not have to buy an entirely new computer – yet).

I feel lighter, and more conscious. I feel my soul expanding again. The electronic files may just exist in virtual space, but that still offers plenty of opportunity for letting me get stuck – my soul is holding on to traces of thoughts, work done, photos taken and not shared, remnants of procrastination, music bought and having died into – completely retrievable – shadows of itself. No virtual clutter on my computer – and I notice HOW MUCH of my words and pictures and thoughts IS OUT THERE, in the completely elusive trap we have created – and which we (at least most of us) don’t even understand the workings of.

Venice 2012

thought 2 – soul calling

As to my second thought, it is connected to the fact that I have finally, after much work and procrastination, published my website. What took me so long (2 years of wanting to do it, and 1 year since I started on writing and building the site)?

Aside from the fact that the realm of the virtual has the ability to suck up our soul and life forces, taking us out of real time and space – here was my conundrum: the longer I live, the more I know, the more I realize that I know very little indeed. That is not a discovery reserved to me, I know. Everyone I have this conversation with has a more or less similar experience. We human beings walk from birth to death (and on…) along the narrow path of this paradox – the more I know, the less I know – the more I know, the deeper I stand in the mystery of not knowing, which holds the mystery of knowing in its lap.

While building the site, I struggled with the fact that I could not define my work, that I resist this act of condensation. Conversation with friends* over the past few days have made me word it much more clearly – my business, my work, my vocational calling is that of being human, and of supporting others to do the same (because it’s not automatic, just like being in a relationship is not automatic).

You’ll find greater experts in probably any of the services I offer. But what I specialize in is not being specialized. I specialize in keeping my abilities, activities, curiosities as large and encompassing as possible. I believe the human being grows and thrives when seen as complex, and when he/she is supported in this complexity. How many qualities and nascent capacities were cast aside in the pursuit of mere definition, and perfection?

Venice 2013

Venice 2013

thought 3 – not with the flow?

What if true perfection did lie in living fully in imperfection? Not resting in it, nor using it as an excuse, but accepting it and using it as a springboard into curiosity?

How many times have I seen the pursuit of “being perfect” paralyze people in their will to act?

How many times have I soured my days, not breathed, held back from simply doing my best because I held my soul forces in the tight fist of the illusion of perfection?

Here’s to treading lightly, doing our best, and embracing the imperfection of being perfectly human!

 

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers
Let me keep company, always, with those who say
“Look” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.
~Mary Oliver

 

Venice 2012

Venice 2012

 

*and also these two blog posts, which circulated on Facebook:

Photographer Alan White Is Chronicling The “Death Of Conversation” Due To Smartphones

We are emotional beings and need human-to-human contact to feel good.”

http://www.buzzfeed.com/alanwhite/a-photographer-is-chronicling-the-death-of-conversation-due

Cadence Turpin: A Better Way to Introduce Your Friends at Parties

http://storylineblog.com/2014/08/12/a-better-way-to-introduce-your-friends-at-parties/

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After a long pause from posting on this blog, I am moved to share a journey with you. Ten years ago, I left Berlin after having lived here for two years. I have not been back in between, and am doing something of a pilgrimage into my past. In Berlin though, no pilgrimage can be entirely personal. The city is so full of history – both visible and invisible layers mingle and pile up. And today, August 13, 2014 is a day of remembrance:

Construction began on the Berlin Wall on this date in 1961. After World War II, Germany had been divided up by British, French, Soviet, and American occupying forces. The city of Berlin lay completely within Soviet territory, but it was also divided. Soviet forces controlled the eastern part of the city and the country, and they were increasingly concerned about locking it down against the democratic West. The border was porous after the war, and millions of East Germans emigrated west in search of greater opportunities. By 1961, they were leaving at a rate of a thousand per day.

So in the early hours of the morning, East German soldiers quietly began laying down barbed wire: a hundred miles of it just inside the border of East Berlin. It wasn’t long before the wire was replaced by a six-foot block wall, which the East German authorities called an “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart.” Nine years later, the wall was raised to 10 feet, but people still tried to escape. Finally, in 1989, with the end of the Cold War, East and West Berlin residents gathered on either side of the wall and began chipping away at it, knocking off blocks with sledgehammers and climbing back and forth over it. The wall was formally dismantled, and Germany reunified, in 1990. (Thank you to The Writer’s Almanach for these paragraphs)

Where once the Berlin Wall was, a thin line marks the ground, unnoticed by most. A friend of mine asked a young woman from Berlin where the wall was, and the young woman said, amazed, “what wall ?” 

The “Berliner Mauerweg” is a cemented path that follows the entire length (160km) of where the Wall once stood. Today, I saw a group of people running – they are part of the “LG Mauerweg,” a running club dedicated to running along this path…  Only 3 sections of the Wall itself are still visible. One of them is on the Bernauer Strasse, very near to where I lived for one of the two years. The famous “East Side Gallery” was created on a part of wall that was not the actual border – which at this point in the city was formed by the bank of the Spree river.

Much must be left unsaid. I would like to mark this day with an invitation to take a walk with me through the former West and the former East of the city. Allow your imagination (or, for some, memory) to take you into a time when this city was divided by a wall…  a wall dividing this vibrant, cosmopolitan, alive, cocky, loud, teeming with humanity and the entire spectrum of what that entails. So many lives, so many histories, so many points of view at every step. Berlin is no less alive or cosmopolitan today. As I walk the streets I wonder – where is your wall now, Berlin?

 

Here is to walls falling, being cleared away, inward ones and those that separate on a physical plane. Sometimes I think, that’s what this human journey is about – taking down the walls, for as John Donne said in his Meditation 17 “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions”

“No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee….”

Tschüs, Berlin – und danke!

  • Source John Donne: famousliteraryworks.com
  • Historic images from the book seen also in the gallery “Die Berliner Mauer 1961-1989” by Volker Viergutz (Berlin Story Verlag)
  • All other images by Benedicta Bertau
  • For some reason, I cannot create a slide show – since wordpress changed its features. If anyone can help me, please do.

Posted with gratitude to Binewin for five full and beautiful days and greetings to the Stammtisch “Zur ewigen Vorfreude”

Rumi: WINTER

Winter is a time for death.

Winter is a time for death.

Then you still haven’t got it. You’ve lived countless lives and died countless deaths in an endless process of evolution.

Do you think death is a bad thing?

The lover chooses the fire because he knows the secret: “The honey is worth the sting.”

Then you still haven’t got it.

Plunge below the surface of separation.

You’ve lived countless lives and died

countless deaths in an endless process of evolution.

to the light until you are engulfed by flames in an inferno of communion.

Each death has brought you more life.

IMG_9841

Without, death, there is no rebirth.

Like a moth around a candle, be irresistibly drawn

The ultimate death has nothing to do with the body.

IMG_9827

It is the death of your self as separate from God.

IMG_9830

You are standing at the edge of his ocean of Love.

You are standing at the edge of his ocean of Love.

Plunge below the surface of separation.

IMG_9845

Dive into the mystical depth.

IMG_9794

Dissolve yourself into that sea.

Do you think death is a bad thing?

Like a moth around a candle, be irresistibly drawn

to the light until you are engulfed by flames in an inferno of communion.

The ultimate death has nothing to do with the body. It is the death of your self as separate from God.

The lover chooses the fire because he knows the secret: “The honey is worth the sting.”

IMG_9751

All pictures taken by Benedicta Bertau in Venice and its lagoon, February 2014.

Reproduction without asking = NOT good.

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with the flow

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Wishing you all a happy Advent/Holiday season, which can be challenging, but always offers the possibility to

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.

Live in silence.

Flow down and down in always

Widening rings of being.

— RUMI

IMG_1440

Photos taken in Venice and Sicily, Italy.

sunset over the catskill mountains

sunset over the catskill mountains

I have been back here, visiting, for a few weeks already. I took many of these pictures in the first few days of being back. I wanted to post them, share them here, together with my experiences of New York, Brooklyn, the Hudson Valley. Tonight, I had to turn back from wanting to take a road trip to Pennsylvania – it was snowing too hard. So, while the November storm shakes the swing on the porch, I’ll finally post this. With the help of Walt Whitman, and as a tribute to a place I feel such deep love and kinship for, and to the men and women, children, animals, houses, whose friendship enfolds me, whether I am here, or there. And then there is the fall in NY…

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4

These and all else were to me the same as they are to you,

I loved well those cities, loved well the stately and rapid river,

The men and women I saw were all near to me,

Others the same—others who look back on me because I look’d forward to them,

(The time will come, though I stop here to-day and to-night.)

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5

What is it then between us?

What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?

Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not, and place avails not,

I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,

I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it,

I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,

In the day among crowds of people sometimes they came upon me,

In my walks home late at night or as I lay in my bed they came upon me,

I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution,

I too had receiv’d identity by my body,

That I was I knew was of my body, and what I should be I knew I should be of my body.

Excerpt from Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” – Leaves of Grass, 1900

Photos of slideshow 1 are taken in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and at the Cloisters Museum in Fort Tyron Park (where medieval art and architecture that was saved, and probably also “saved” from Europe is displayed most exquisitely, thanks in large part to the Rockefeller monies). Maybe I shall dedicate a post, one day, to musings about art elsewhere than the place it was made in, for. Let me just say this much here – when we hiked the Compostela path in the south of France and came through Saint Guilhem-le-Desert, we did not find the cloister there… because it is here. “Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not, and place avails not…” ?

Photos of slideshow 2 are taken in Columbia County, NY. Ghent, Hudson, the spectacular Conservancy area on the Hudson, and Chatham.

All photos are taken with gratitude.