Category Archives: Prose Pieces

Montaigne and Stefan Zweig

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montaigne

During these times of uncertainty and colossal collusion by those in power, I find solace in the timeless wisdom of great thinkers. I consider none better than my mentor, the sixteenth century writer MONTAIGNE whose exquisite analysis of self in his collection of essays have sustained my faith in truth.

The following is taken from an essay dedicated to Montaigne by Stefan Zweig, a great and deeply perceptive visionary who understood the consequences of corruption and evil in the world. Stefan Zweig considered Montaigne as ” The one who remains standing in the chaos of the world.”

I will not translate it except for the first line, referring to power “ There is only one error and one crime: wanting to lock up the diversity of the world in doctrines and systems.”

The rest of the paragraph is déjà vu all over again. Montaigne who lived in the sixteenth century was a witness to intolerance, the inquisition and religious wars.
zweigStefan Zweig who lived in the twentieth century was a witness to the ignominy of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Reading in the original allows me to savor the clarity of ideas even more deeply because the language itself has a beauty and resonance that soothes and inspires.

Il n’est qu’une erreur et qu’un crime: vouloir enfermer la diversité du monde dans des doctrines et des systèmes. C’est une erreur que de détourner d’autres hommes de leur libre jugement, de leur volonté propre, et de leur imposer quelque chose qui n’est pas en eux. Seuls agissent ainsi ceux qui ne respectent pas la liberté, et Montaigne n’a rien haï autant que la “frénésie”, le délire furieux des dictateurs de l’esprit qui veulent avec arrogance et vanité imposer au monde leurs “nouveautés” comme la seule et indiscutable vérité, et pour qui le sang de centaines de milliers d’hommes n’est rien, pourvu que leur cause triomphe.

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Stream of Consciousness

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Where do thoughts come from?

When I allow my mind to wander it comes up with random images and words that seem to float in from another world. I find it most fascinating as if connecting to an alternate reality or some collective imagination inspiring me to see and feel beyond the ordinary.

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Vladimir Kush

I do have a plethora of adventures to feed my wandering mind for a lifetime. Perhaps it isn’t so extraordinary then, when sitting in the ordinary surroundings of my living room to be summoned by thoughts of exotic music and places I visited in the past. A sound might recall the musicians I met in a village nestled in the foothills of Annapurna in Nepal. A spider sneaking past the window sill suddenly becomes the leader of thousands of white spiders that appeared out of nowhere one morning as I stepped out of my tent while camping under Mount Ararat in Turkey. A figurine on a bookshelf recalls the sacred shrines of worship I visited in desolate places in the valleys of Afghanistan where the wind seemed to whisper secrets from the beyond.

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Gennady Privedentsev – Mountain Butterfly

From there I traveled on a bus to Pakistan through the Khyber Pass and thought I would never live to talk about it. And perhaps I did leave part of my soul somewhere in the Hindu Kush mountains or the desert I saw in the distance beyond the wall of the house where I lived in Shiraz, Iran in the seventies.

I had no radio or TV to interfere with my thoughts back then and read lots of books and wrote poetry, which I addressed to my favorite authors. It was even easier to let my mind wander  as I wrote sentences using several of the languages I knew just like Salvador Dali did. I admired his ramblings and the imagery that sent my imagination soaring into surreal combinations. That was such a long time ago but here it is again, a morphic resonance linking the past and imposing itself on my random thoughts.

And my world is filled once more with sounds that paint images and dreams. I find a poem written by the French poet Andre Breton and am drawn into a surrealist fantasy —

A flanc d’abîme

Construit en pierre philosophale

S’ouvre le château étoilé

And a bit further down on the book shelf I meet Mallarmé who inspired Debussy with his poem:

L’Après Midi d’un Faune.

Yes, I understand you, Mallarmé

I understand your hermetic imagery

tripping into my thoughts

I understand

When by chance

I wandered into your poetry

And touched by your symphony

Have added this, my melody

surrealism

A Poem for Mallarmé

And the Countess addressing the sea and the seagulls flying in pair

Summoned an artist to melt pastel into the air

And add licks of shadows around clouds bathed in pink

Inviting Orpheus to appear beyond the crests of the sea

© Mariette Bermowitz 2012

The Little Tree

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My little treeI live on the ground floor of an apartment building facing a six lane parkway. There is constant traffic flashing by, with the swooshing sound of engines and howling cries of ambulances on emergency runs. In the winter time it looks barren except for the rows of trees along the bicycle path stretching all the way to the beach.

If not for those trees I would find myself engulfed in the sight of all that hurried movement. Instead I gaze at the feast that nature presents in new ways with every passing season. I am also blessed with a luxurious lawn under my kitchen window cared for by a loving Italian gardener. I once told him of my appreciation for the care and beauty he was bringing to the outside of our building and certainly into my world. As a reply, he planted a little tree that I could see from my window.

That little tree has grown, but not much. I sometimes wonder if it isn’t intimidated by the gigantic pine tree shielding the front of the house next door. Or perhaps it looks small in comparison. But with every season that little tree goes through a transformation that fills me with awe. In the springtime the tiny knobs covering its barren branches turn to emerald as delicate leaves appear to clothe the little tree in its new attire. Then in the summer its mane of green leaves shelters the multi-colored flowers circling its trunk. When the first chill of autumn makes itself felt, my little tree turns its lovely crown into a dazzling jewel of gold and russet tones as if glowing with pride at having captured the sunshine. Then one by one the leaves fall, gracing the lawn with a carpet of muted color until the little tree stands naked and bare. But I imagine its twisted little branches reaching upward to the sky as if in prayer. It will stay for months in meditation reminding me that nature also prays for life to be rekindled.

This winter however, a most disastrous event took place. The East coast of the United States was hit with a hurricane that destroyed most of the houses along the shore. The sand from the beach at the end of my parkway covered the streets. Windows were smashed, cars overturned, trees ripped from the safety of cement sidewalks.

Fallen treeI witnessed a perfect storm called Sandy. I watched her from my window as the wind slapped the buildings and the houses along the street. An eerie emptiness hovered along the parkway, as if the cars had floated away, suddenly replaced by ambulances and fire trucks, their sirens shrieking into the air.

I watched with trepidation as the delicate frame of my little tree bent under the wind, and feared it could not resist this force testing its courage. I imagined its beauty gone, its festive attire gracing the seasons, its celebration of life even in winter with its branches sending up prayers to the heavens.

Well, my little tree made it! While many of the bigger trees had surrendered and fallen, their enormous roots ripping the sidewalks into tatters, my little tree had trembled and shaken but remained whole. Was it sad that the big pine tree in front of the house next door had fallen? I walk by and see giant roots splayed on the grass. But a fragrance of pine remains, a reminder of its former beauty and grandeur. Meanwhile, my little tree stands proud, and seems a bit taller as it awaits the spring. And I can’t help but think that this little tree is so much like me.