"I like winter. I like its contradictions: cold but cosy, sparse but beautiful, lifeless but not soulless. The fences were smoothed with ice, the ground white, crunchy. The trees shut themselves down, skeletons standing firm against the winds, and the ones that line the top of the ridge, exposed and bent like wizened old men." - Poppy Adams
Alchemical Mysticism and Fairy-Tale Science
I love the work of surrealist painter Remedios Varo (1908-1963). Varo was one of the few acknowledged female surrealist painters of the first half of the 20th century. She defied the male dominated artistic world of that era through her unique and peculiar approach to Surrealism.
Varo, a Spanish born painter who entered the Surrealist circle in Paris before the German occupation, was forced into exile to Mexico at the end of 1941, where she would stay until the end of her life.
Varo said, “I arrived in Mexico seeking the peace I had not found in Europe because of the turmoil there - for me it was impossible to paint amidst so much uneasiness.”
Her dream-infused, allegorical work combines the elements of classical training, alchemical mysticism, and fairy-tale science. Her art is a mix of reality and dreams and the in-between.
Varo’s father nurtured his daughter’s artistic potential by helping her in developing technical drawing skills. He also opened the doorway to her vivid imagination by presenting her with fantasy and adventure books. Being influenced in a technical and philosophical manner by her father, and spiritually by her deeply religious mother, Varo was torn between the two worlds.
In her paintings, Varo found a safe place to revolt against Catholic practices from her maternal side, which the artist found restricting. She combined mystical beings and utopic machines together to give birth to her unique and enchanting style.
Varo created androgynous looking characters with facial features that resembled her own. Her works are sprinkled with alchemical symbolism, magic, and memories. She has built a multidimensional world where she could fully express the multiple aspects of herself, interweaving the woman artist, the mystic, scientist, and spiritual being all into one.
She broke down the border between the everyday and the incredible. She also had a love of mischief, and an ongoing need to escape in all its forms.
An Invitation to a New Year’s Eve Party
Remedios Varo was also a writer of uncanny fables and strange recipes intended to conjure up dreams, but perhaps her most significant achievements on the written page are her letters.
She had a habit of writing to strangers, a practice immortalized in her friend Leonora Carrington’s novel ‘The Hearing Trumpet’, in which the character Carmella Velasquez
"writes letters all over the world to people she has never met and signs them with all sorts of romantic names, never her own. These wonderful letters fly off, in a celestial way, by airmail, in Carmella’s delicate handwriting. No one ever replies".
Below, read Varo’s letter to a man whose address she picked at random from the phone book. Inviting him to a New Year's Eve party.
I haven’t a clue if you’re a single man or the head of a household, if you’re a shy introvert or a happy extrovert, but whatever the case, perhaps you’re bored and want to dive fearlessly into a group of strangers in hopes of hearing something that will interest or amuse you. What’s more, the fact that you feel curiosity and even some discomfort is already an incentive, and so I’m proposing that you come and spend New Year’s Eve at house No.—— on —— Street.
I’ve picked your name almost at random from the phone book, I say almost because I looked for the page where those of your profession are to be found, I believe (perhaps mistakenly) that among them there’s a greater chance of finding someone with a generous spirit and sense of humor. I should make clear that I’m not the owner of the house and that she is completely unaware of this gesture, which she’d probably call harebrained. I’m merely invited to go there, as are a handful of other people, so in order to attend you should call xxx-xxxx ahead of time and ask for Señora Elena, firmly declare that you’ve met before, that you’re a friend of Edward’s, and that, feeling lonely and blue, you’d like to go to her house to ring in the New Year.
I’ll be among the guests and you’ll have to guess which one of them is me. I believe this could be amusing. If you’re a young man under thirty, it’s probably better not to do anything. You’d probably get bored. While neither I nor the other guests are elderly, we’re not a bunch of crazy teenagers, either. Ah!
Nor is this an escort service, instead, it’s a psycho-humorous experiment, nothing more. I’m almost certain you won’t go. One needs a lot of nerve to do it and very few people have that. You may also believe it’s a case of a prank played by some friend of yours, or that this letter is a clever advertisement to lead people off to a dubious place, et cetera, et cetera. Nothing of the kind: the house is an extremely respectable bourgeois residence; I, and everyone else, mild-mannered members of the bourgeoisie who nevertheless, as is happening to me at this very moment, may feel an irresistible impulse to make some adolescent-style mischief, in spite of my age and in spite of everything else.
I am going to copy this letter and send it to another stranger as well. Maybe one of you will show up. If both of you came, it would be something extraordinary and unheard of.
So until soon, maybe …
On second thought, I believe I’m crazier than a loon. Do not dream that the living room will be crossed by an aurora borealis or by your grandmother’s ectoplasm, nor will there be a shower of hams or anything in particular happening, and, just as I give you these assurances, I hope in turn that you’re not a gangster or a drunk. We’re nearly abstemious and halfway vegetarian.
This letter was translated from the Spanish by Margaret Carson and was included in the book ‘Letters, Dreams & Other Writings’ by Remedios Varo.
A New Year, A New Sunrise
Sleep and Poetry was written in December 1816. The idea for the poem came when he was staying at Leigh Hunt’s house. He was finding it difficult to sleep because there had been so much stimulating discussion of poetry earlier in the evening.
A bed had been made up for him in the study in which there were classical busts and pictures which looked down on him from the walls. Far from calming his over active brain, they served to stimulate him further.
He did not sleep at all that night; when dawn broke Keats immediately started writing Sleep and Poetry.
This was the longest poem he had written at the time. Here are the first 18 lines...
Sleep and Poetry
What is more gentle than a wind in summer?
What is more soothing than the pretty hummer
That stays one moment in an open flower,
And buzzes cheerily from bower to bower?
What is more tranquil than a musk-rose blowing
In a green island, far from all men’s knowing?
More healthful than the leafiness of dales?
More secret than a nest of nightingales?
More serene than Cordelia’s countenance?
More full of visions than a high romance?
What, but thee, Sleep? Soft closer of our eyes!
Low murmurer of tender lullabies!
Light hoverer around our happy pillows!
Wreather of poppy buds, and weeping willows!
Silent entangler of a beauty’s tresses!
Most happy listener! when the morning blesses
Thee for enlivening all the cheerful eyes
That glance so brightly at the new sunrise.
The Art of Divination
Another one card reading for this issue...
The Nine of Cups is often called the 'wishing' card. It comes as a sign that the planets are aligned and is a wonderful time to make a wish.
It is also an invitation to have fun and be grateful for what you have.
This is the message from the Nine of Cups,
"Glance around and feel your heart overflowing with love and appreciate everything you have created in your life.
Start or end every day by creating a mental list of the three things for which you are most grateful for. Over time, this will intensify your sense of contentment and your ability to attract what you wish for.
It's important to appreciate what you have and cherish it because it may disappear later or you may need to adjust and adapt. Life is always in a state of change.
And life is not perfect. When you focus on the obstacles in life, they can appear to grow larger and more insurmountable. Meet every challenge with the belief you will overcome it and you probably will!
With a strong positive outlook and a high level of belief your subconscious mind will become a powerful ally.
Sometimes you have to abandon the struggle and just do something to cheer yourself up. Just live in the moment and give yourself permission to indulge in life's pleasures.
Party, enjoy good food and wine, appreciate the arts, relax, watch a movie, spend quiet time in the great outdoors and experience beauty in everything.
So for 2022, feel your heart overflowing with love and appreciate everything you have created in your life. And have fun...”
Have a beautiful 2022 and may all your wishes come true...
“The dream of my life is to lie down by a slow river and stare at the light in the trees - to learn something by being nothing.” - Mary Oliver