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A sobering winter reverie

Lingerie shop window in Paris.
Lingerie shop window in Paris. - Magdalena Randal

DRAWING ON THE ARTS by Magdalena Randal

“Do not imagine that Art is something which is designed to give gentle uplift and self-confidence… “

-Julian Barnes

“I was the first woman to burn my bra - it took the fire department four days to put it out.”

-Dolly Parton

The trees here in Paris are like those I loved in Pictou. Their humour is sobering. During the barren time we are presently moving through -yet again- it helps me to see them tall, strong and lighthearted. One morning in the Jardin des Plantes, I ventured to join them. I stepped up onto a pedestal made by the remains of a tree that had been cut down. In its hollow, carved by weather over time, some plastic junk food wrapper was coming apart in a shallow puddle. Above that sludge, I held myself erect in solidarity with the timber on either side of me.

My gaze fixed on the empty space before me, I enjoyed a winter entertainment such as I have never experienced. I imagined who the creators of each approaching footfall might be. The rat-a-tat shuffle I presumed an old man with a cane was making, was in fact a young Japanese lady trussed up in fluorescent lycra. Even though I only had a brief glimpse as she passed, my mind recorded the whole image. And, as if to make certain I would have enough detail to consider later, another woman, dressed almost identically, shuffled through my field of vision just after her!

Wondering why these people were jogging in the park dressed like clowns, I laughed, realizing the trees probably chuckle at my attire when they watch me pass too…

“The biggest joke is the brassiere,” the tree next to me exclaimed. It seems making like a tree initiated me into the fraternity of one of nature’s most noble emanations. My eyes widened. I probably looked a bit clownish myself to passersby- perched, as I was, on the platform. But I didn’t care how silly I might seem, warmed as I was, by some imagining in the company of two very generous souls.

“Johnny! Look at that.” Johnny, was the tree on my left. To my right, his friend Jolene was indicating another jiggling passerby whose brassiere was indeed rather evident in seams beneath her nylon running costume. “Johnny, how much do you think they spend on those things?”

While I consider myself conscious of the environment, I never once stopped to think that brassieres are a waste of resources. I listened closely. “That reminds me of old Paul the pine tree planted by the statue of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre,” Jolene continued. “Why instead of just letting him droop, transforming as he ages, they put that prop up against his most tender branch. Hey! I guess if our parts drift too much we’ll have tree bras attached to us too- God forbid.”

I was intrigued by the notion that a tree might refer to God. Could these ancient growths be headed for the same kind of trouble that we humans have got ourselves into by naming a force in charge of making brassieres? Just as I was about to indulge in some winter melancholy, toppling toward a depression, a kindly little girl appeared. “Maman!” She cried “C’est une femme qui écoute les arbres!”

The child’s arrival silenced the trees. I wanted her to wander back to where her mother was beckoning her, as I wasn’t finished listening. But she extended her tiny hand to me so I let her help me down from my reverie.

That evening on a busy street corner at rush hour, I came upon another Plane tree all alone. It was majestic under a delicate coating of snow, a man-made street lamp cast a gold light on it. I thought about Jolene’s concerns regarding the necessity of brassieres. I wondered if someday men might just shine their gaze on women in a way that transfigured any perceived lack instead of making up ways to correct or alter what is magnificent in any condition.

These hopes were dashed when, further along the avenue, my senses were assaulted by the violence of what I saw in a lingerie shop window; felled mannequins of headless women tied up in brassieres – a sight deadlier than winter. It was a scene that made me take a tree’s questioning of brassieres’ very seriously… As an evergreen in Pictou might say, someone deserves a tuning for creating the image now burned into my mind.

Magdalena Randal is a Nova Scotia artist and filmmaker currently studying in Paris.

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