The story behind the story: The Hunting Museum

August 22, 2015

Ekphrasis– a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art. (Merriam- Webster Dictionary)

I had the extreme good fortune of spending a month in Paris this summer. The first week I was there I participated in the Left Bank Writers Retreat, led by the fabulous Darla Worden. I highly recommend it. On one of our forays, we visited the haute taxidermist’s shop, Deyrolle, at 46 rue du Bac, where they have been selling everything from exotic butterflies to ostriches to black bears since 1831. deyrollestorefront

The shop is above a very swanky gardening shop where you can buy a metal chair like the ones in the Jardin du Luxembourg for a mere 500 euros, (shipping not included.)

chairs-in-jardin-du-luxembourg

The Jardin du Luxembourg, where my writing group met every day.

It was a hot day in June, and as I climbed the stairs to Deyrolle, I was feeling the summer heat. I had been to the shop before and I didn’t like it. On this day, I felt agitated, hot, and hyper-aware. I looked around quickly and went back downstairs to wait for my group.

deyrolle2When Darla asked me how I liked it, I told her I didn’t, and that I knew it sounded “woo-woo” but I felt like I was picking up some sort of energy from the taxidermy. Perhaps I was just being anthropomorphic, I don’t know, but it made me uncomfortable enough to leave.

deyrolle1

 

 

The following week, when I was on my own, I visited the Musee de la Chasse et Nature, 62, rue des Archives, in the 3rd Arrondissement.  I don’t know how to describe it, except that it is in the Hôtel de Guénégaud (1651-1655), a fabulous seventeenth-century house with a courtyard.

Faisanglier by Julien Salaud, 2015

Faisanglier by Julien Salaud, 2015

The museum displays antique firearms, trophies, tapestries, and paintings, but also fabulous contemporary works. There is a small room decked out as a kitschy hunting lodge by American artist Mark Dion, that has a definite Wes Anderson vibe.

I had a similar response to the animals there. It was visceral, but then again, there were some creepy exhibits. The one I wrote about is called “La Nuit de Diane” by Jan Fabre (pictured at top of page).

Mark Dion's Hunting Lodge installation.

Mark Dion’s Hunting Lodge installation.

After I left the museum I was haunted by multiple reactions to the exhibits– visual, physical and emotional. I have never had such a physical reaction to art before. I had to write about it. When I went back and read about Fabre’s piece, I learned that his owls have human prosthetic eyes, not avian.la nuit detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fabre himself said of the piece, “these figures also return the passage from life to death.”

My friend Nita Ann read my story and said that it reminded her of the Rod Serling T.V. show, “The Twilight Zone”, which we used to watch as kids.twilight zone How very apt. Isn’t that just another name for Fabre’s “passage from life to death”?

The central stairway in the museum.

The central stairway in the museum.

 

 

Here is the link to my story, which was published in August in Ekphrastic: writing and art on art and writing.

 

 

 

 

 

Bad Dog

Delmar

Delmar

           Available to read online, in the March 2015 issue of Bluestem Magazine:

     The story behind the essay:            Boris on Terrace

 

 

 

The awful day I describe in Bad Dog happened in November of 2013. Our physical wounds, human and canine, healed fairly quickly. My daughter has scars on her shin, and the little black dog, Boris, has a set of hard, bumpy scars over his neck, in the outline of the jaws of Delmar (pictured above), the dog who attacked him. When Boris’ fur grew in over the scars it came in white instead of black. It was about three months before he would play again. Now, a bit over a year later, he is happy and playful and healthy.

We now have three dogs; a purebred America Bulldog, Blossom, and two rescues. Boris, a Scottie-Cocker (?)  mix, came from Fuzzy Face Rescue of the Northern Neck,  near Fredericksburg, Virginia. I found the shelter through a search on Petfinder.com. They take dogs from high–kill shelters around the state.

three slugs

Fleetwood (center) is about 18 months old now. He is an English pointer-black lab cross from the Franklin County Animal Shelter in Virginia.

I cannot express how much I support the adoption of pets from shelters. If your local shelter does not have a pet that suits your preferences, have a look on Petfinder.com, where you can search by breed, age, gender, and distance. Or do a web search for breed-specific rescues. If you can’t adopt, then consider a donation. That is how I found my dogs.

Delmar (pictured at top) was a sweet, loving dog (to us). He had a high prey drive and was overly fearful of strangers. I believe he had other demons, resulting from the life he had before he came to us, at six months old. We gave him a good home for three years, and we did not hesitate to adopt a rescue again. My mixed breeds have been my healthiest dogs by far, and they show their gratitude every day.

Boris terrace

About the essay:

I had never written a creative non-fiction essay before this, but I was so haunted by this experience that I felt a need to write it, just to get it out of my head, and park it somewhere else. On paper, I suppose I could look at it more objectively and with some distance. Writing it out was cathartic, and though it still upsets me a little each time I re-read it, the exercise of turning it into an essay was empowering.

The first time I ever read a piece of my own writing to an audience, I read this essay. I was at the Novel Retreat at the Vermont College of Fine Art. I was extremely nervous. I absolutely hate being the center of attention, and I was a wreck about putting my work out if front of people. But the attendees and faculty of this retreat were a warm, welcoming, and companionable audience. With two glasses of wine and a pep talk by new writing buddies, Victor and Maryka, to buoy me, I began to read, and my voice was a little shaky. About a minute into my five-minute limit I began to lose myself in the emotion of the story. It helped that I had on reading glasses and the audience was a blur when I looked up. But I got through that reading, and I felt I had overcome a hurdle.

After the retreat, I put the essay aside, while I concentrated on my novel. When I realized that I needed to try to get my work published, I saw that I had pitifully few pieces to offer. When the nonfiction editor of Bluestem Magazine contacted me, with interest in Bad Dog, I was delighted. She said that she liked my story and was considering publishing it, but she felt that the ending paragraph didn’t work. I’m so grateful that she bothered to ask me to tweak it because now it is published. I hope you’ll read it, and please let me know what you think.

 

 

Scrapbook

The story behind the story:  Scrapbook

My story Scrapbook is one of 42 pieces of flash fiction featured in Microchondria II, the literary journal of the Harvard Bookstore. The finished book is in stock.

You have your choice of four different cover designs. However, if you don’t want to order the book you can at least see my very own name, listed as a contributing author. If you email me or fill out the form below I will send you the text.

The story behind the story:  Scrapbook

 (Spoiler alert! Read the story first!)

Scrapbook was inspired by two things, the first being a 1914 scrapbook, assembled by my grandmother, Elsie Curtis Nelms. It seems to me that people were more sentimental then. Things were saved and treasured. Granny Nelms is also the inspiration for my character Elsie in my novel. One of her children, Jimmy, died of scarlet fever at the age of five.

Secondly, the story was inspired by Harvard Professor Dr. Matthew Kaiser. Two years ago, I took Dr. Kaiser’s Harvard Extension School class, English-156a: Crime and Horror in Victorian Literature and Culture.

The class was fascinating, and one of the things Dr. Kaiser discussed was the Victorian obsession with death and mourning. He showed us macabre photographs of families posed with dead loved ones, which was, for a time, a fashionable thing to do. The images were unsettling. They stayed with me. The images below are not from my grandmother’s scrapbook. I found them on Google.

 Scrapbook1 Scrapbook2 Scrapbook3