Fly Me to the Moon

We went to the South of France in May to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and flew into Nice especially to visit the Musée National Marc Chagall.

The Bay of Angels, 1962

This was a once in a lifetime experience for me as Chagall is one of my favourite artists.  One room was filled with huge canvases illustrating the Song of Songs, paintings that he dedicated to his second wife Vava.

Le Cantique des Cantiques III, 1960

We stayed for about a week in Arles at the elegant Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus, decorated with terracotta tiles, carved furniture, vintage bullfighting posters, wrought iron, beautiful textiles and photos of the luminaries who’ve stayed there over the years:  Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and scores of famous toreros.

Charlotte Rampling, 1973 by Helmut Newton

Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus, staircase

My best souvenir of the entire trip was found at a flea market in Aix-en-Provence.  Aix is a supposedly gracious city filled with fountains.  It was a bit touristy and traffic-filled so we walked around town, visited the flea market and went onto Marseilles.

One of the “thousand fountains” of Aix

My prize was a pair of Luna Moths in a frame.  The price was €20 and I was offered to take them for €15.  So I did.

Actias luna is found in North America. When the adult Luna Moth leaves its coccoon, it is not ready to fly.  It usually hatches in mid-morning and climbs a tree trunk to hang its wings, so they can fill with blood. Once the wings are inflated, the adult moth will wait until nightfall to fly off to find a mate. Adult Luna Moths don’t eat; in fact, they don’t even have a mouth. They only live for about a week, and their only purpose is to mate.  They are lime green when alive and dry to a beautiful cream colour when they have died.  I think that if any creature could fly to the moon, it has to be a Luna Moth.

Male luna moth and coccoon

Female luna moth and coccoon

I cleaned the glass, re-gilt the frame and wrote a letter in French to Steve about my experience of our trip, which I collaged onto the sides of the box.


Solid ground

For both Steve and I, marriage represents the confluence of two streams and also a rock:  solid ground from which to step out – lovingly – into the unknown of the ever flowing future.  Not only do we step forward together on shared ventures, but each of us envisions our marriage as a stable base from which we can individually grow into our unique Selves.

I had an immense day on Saturday in which our home and my studio were on the Moretonhampstead Secret Studios Trail.  I felt Steve’s emotional and physical support in every way in the weeks that I prepared for this event:  my début as an artist.  Although I have been completely comfortable identifying myself as an artist for a number of years, until now, I haven’t had a solid place to base myself as an artist.

Besides welcoming guests into my newly re-Vamped studio, a very special part of the day was taking small groups of people to see our wedding quilt Cleaved.  I showed them the slate which I’d photographed together with the red rose petals sent to me from Steve and told the story of our meeting and long distance courtship.  Then I showed our wedding invitation with the photograph on it.

And then the quilt itself.  The front with the appliquéd grey slate and red rose petals, and water ripples, river washed stones and two feathers quilted onto the white silk.  I also revealed the back of the quilt made from fabric I’d painted, stamped and then screenprinted with words from our written and emailed love letters.

I finished by reading out loud the quote from Rainer Maria Rilke that is screenprinted onto the front of our quilt:

“Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky”. – Rainer Maria Rilke

It was a very special part of a wonderful day to share and reflect on one of the hopes and intentions for our marriage, and to realise that it is indeed manifesting itself as a very solid place to stand and to venture forth from.

Words of Love

Love can be expressed in a myriad of different methods, but the most timeless and most treasured will always remain the classic love letter.

Sometimes letters are preferable to face-to-face contact because they can be written as the thoughts come to the author’s mind. This may allow feelings to be more easily expressed than if the writer were in the beloved’s presence. Further, expressing strong emotional feelings to paper or some other permanent form can be an expression within itself of desire and the importance of the beloved and the lover’s emotions. The expression of feelings may be made to an existing love or in the hope of establishing a new relationship. The increasing rarity and consequent emotional charm of personal mail may also serve to emphasize the emotional importance of the message.

Other times, especially in the past before the wide use of telecommunications, letters were one of the few ways for a couple to remain in contact. When one of them lived some distance from the other, the “being apart” often intensified emotions and many times a desired normal communication could lead to a letter expressing love, longing and desires .

In the weeks after Steve and I met, since we lived 200 miles apart, we communicated via email, text messages, instant messaging and the written word.

love letters

I surfaced designed the fabric for the back of our wedding quilt using a feather stencil, a vine stamp and screens made from some of our handwritten and emailed love letters.

I pieced and stitched them together with a photo of Cleaved, printed onto silk, at the place where they intersect.  I wrote in depth about the process here.

‘Words of Love’ was written by Buddy Holly and recorded by him on April 8 1957. Holly harmonized for himself, by tape-recording each part and combining them.  This version features him singing in harmony with himself, being one of the first tracks by a major artist to feature vocal overdubbing.

Buddy Holly

The Beatles covered this song in 1964 for the album Beatles For Sale.  John Lennon and George Harrison, who were fans of Holly, harmonized on their version, holding to the vocal and instrumental sound of Holly’s original as well as they could.  Ringo Starr played a packing case on this song as well as drums.

The Beatles

Unspoken feelings

Over the weekend that we met, Melinda and I talked a lot. We spent as much time as possible in each other’s company and talked about everything from the properties of non-Newtonian fluid to the merits and demerits of Melinda’s first Birmingham balti curry. On the morning of Melinda’s return to Devon, we carried on talking – about canals, about a building in Digbeth – next to UB40’s old studios – that is covered in some remarkable graffiti.

But we did more than simply chat. We found ourselves opening up to each other and – as we later discovered – talking more freely than either of us had done in a very long time about ourselves, our beliefs and our thoughts.

So where to go from here? As we parted that September Monday morning – me to return to my office in the Custard Factory, Melinda to catch her train back to Devon – neither of us knew what would happen next. I knew I had met someone wonderful and extraordinary. I knew that I wanted to see Melinda again. And I knew that we had seen into each other’s souls; each of us opening a door and shedding light on places that had been hidden from view.

So, I texted Melinda to say that I hoped that she had caught her train on time and that she had managed to find the doughnuts she wanted for the journey. She had, but the train was full – and I texted my worries for the safety of the doughnuts. From Exeter, Melinda texted back to say that she’d arrived safely – and so had the doughnuts, only for them to meet a “dire fate”. I replied that their fate was not dire, they had simply met their destiny: a destiny called Melinda.

And, naturally, I wasn’t really talking about the destiny of a box full of Krispy Kremes. I was talking about the destiny of a box full of excitement and nerves known as Steve Coxon.

Doughnuts of Destiny

From there on, we were in touch every day in some way. When we weren’t sending text messages, we e-mailed. And when we didn’t e-mail, we wrote letters – the old-fashioned way – choosing paper and ink and words carefully. We exchanged gifts by mail too. Books, feathers, petals.

At first we talked about our weekend in Birmingham. I tracked down the graffiti artists responsible for the house next to UB40’s studios and discovered they were from a Brazilian group of artists who were about to decorate the Tate Modern in London. And we e-mailed each other a lot about them until – one day – Melinda asked what we would talk to each other once we got tired of Brazilian graffiti artists. I replied that there was no end of topics – she could ask me my favourite colour, my recipe for North Staffordshire oatcakes or my favourite quote. In other words, I said, there were enough things to talk about to last a lifetime.

Getting to know each other in these early days through the written word was wonderful. Both of us are thoughtful people and I, certainly, find it far easier to express myself in writing than through the spoken word. I have time to put my thoughts into some semblance of order and meaning before they appear on the page, rather than let them come tumbling out of my mouth.

Getting to know each other through writing enabled us to explore deep feelings and thoughts that – otherwise – may have been awkward to express face to face. So much of the spoken word relies on intonation that meaning can evaporate into the air. A written exchange, by contrast, is fixed and can be re-read, re-examined and questioned.

But, you may ask, what about spontaneity? I don’t think either of us had any trouble whatsoever in communicating with real spontaneity. While some of our written messages were carefully drafted and considered, others were dashed off in seconds – simply because the thoughts and the emotions contained within those words were already fully formed and bursting to be read.

Now, of course, we can simply reach out or turn our heads to say “I love you” – and do so every day. Yet we still write to each other – using Instant Messenger to send little notes to each other, even when we’re only at different ends of the flat. And we still text. But putting it in writing as we got to know each other – giving unspoken feelings a voice – is something that we both feel brought us much closer together, much more quickly, than if we had relied on the spoken word alone.