Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Way of the Samurai

This fuzzy out of focus portrait has been taken countless
times by Parisian tourists.  It is the Mona Lisa and
despite bad photography, has inspired artists for
centuries... and more recently your friend and blogger.
Bonjour and konnichiwa, my good friends,

If you’ve been following along in my blog, you know that I’ve been reading a lot of French literature to get a feel for the mindset of where Paris lives in the literary sense.  I’ve read many of the French greats (Balzac, Proust, Flaubert, Camus, Maupassant, and Zola) and many American/English authors that have lived in and were influenced by Paris as expats (Chaucer, Dickens, Maugham, Joyce, Beckett, Miller, and Orwell).  There are many more to read, and many more I haven’t mentioned.

The book that has influenced me most however is one you might never expect.  Even I was surprised to find myself a devotee of Miyamoto Musashi and his Book of 5 Rings.  WTF?  You might ask. It is not literature, per se, rather than an outdated and outmoded set of instructions for being a good Samurai.  How does this help a person living in Paris in any way?

Let me explain.  Fencing has been an interest of mine for years, but Paris has provided me with ample opportunities to take it up and I have.  Musashi  explains, of course, how to become a master swordsman.  Well this makes sense, but he also explains that a master in the martial arts, one must also partake in many of the other arts.  Musashi himself was a great painter and his paintings are venerated more as religions icons than works of art.

Back to Paris; is there a better city to take up the arts?  I don’t think so.  The way of the samurai seems more suited to Paris than ever I might have imagined.  My fencing is improving and so with it, my ability to create art.

Here are my latest observations:

Lifestyle:  I work on a computer all day and there is term that works very well to describe someone in my profession; obese.  I’m far from obese, but I did put on some bulk earlier in the year thanks to being sick (it was the slow recovery that was the culprit).  For the first time in years I’m relying on diet and exercise (next section) to deal with it.
  • For a man in Paris, it’s nearly essential to be slim.  For one thing, it’s difficult to buy clothing.  French fashions are simply designed with a slimmer man in mind and even if you get larger sizes, you’ll look like 10 pounds of mud in a five pound bag.  This is one city where being a woman is advantageous.
  • My Paris diet was acceptable and I’ll return to that soon, but it’s no match for the extra weight.  To remind you of the Paris diet rules: 1) Only eat food that you really like, 2) only eat when you are hungry and 3) spend more than 2 hours at any large meal and be sure it is with friends or family.  I lost a pound a week this way and got into great shape… but that was pre sickness.
  • My post-illness diet is a sort of an Atkins thing.  High protein and fat with no carbs.  That means NO Bonne Maman chocolate and caramel tartelettes!  It also means cutting back on champagne!  Lastly, it means that I will be a very happy man when this diet is over and I can return to my Paris diet.

Sport: I have been an athlete, but I would not call myself that right now.  Fencing continues for me.  It’s getting more and more exciting as the steps are becoming more natural and we are starting to hit one another with more enthusiasm.  Here are a few fencing observations:
  • It was suggested that it might be time to step up my practicing to twice a week.  One of my fellow students said “How else will you learn?”  I don’t know. I’ll give this extra day a try next week and let you all know how it goes.
  • Without considerable (any) out of class exercise, I can feel my muscles tightening and quickening in the anticipation of the next class.  I’m certain that my brain is feeding my muscles with the information that they are going to have to act quickly… and the muscles are repairing.  I’m just simply… stronger and faster.
  • Fencing is FAR more physical than I ever would have guessed.  Fencing to the first 5 points takes about (a guess) 5 minutes.  The energy I’ve been expending would exceed a 3km (2 mile) run.  Every muscle gets used and every pore sweats.  Your eyeball muscles strain to attack your opponent…
A landscape by the master samurai Miyamoto Musashi.
Note the long and deliberate brush strokes of a swordsman.
Art:  I started art class last Thursday.  I thought it was a beginner’s class because, I am a beginner.  Perhaps I didn’t understand the French on the website properly, but for 30 extra Euros or so a semester my class is a “live” class, meaning that there will be models.  Here’s what I observed:
  • When I got to my first class, a nude model was already posing and there were about 7 other students furiously sketching.  I thought that perhaps after learning to draw apples and shit for a couple of months, we’d start with the live models near the end of the semester.  Reality check!
  • Since I don’t know how to draw (hence the classes), I nervously sat down and began to sketch in the manner of the person next to me.  Disaster.  I tried my own way.  Disaster.  The instructor gave me some tips.  Disaster. Disaster. Disaster.
  • During the break, I felt that I had already been identified as the classes’ retarded monkey, though I struck up a Frenglish conversation with one or two people.  The topic of fencing came up, however, and my instructor exclaimed that he’d always wanted to try out the sport.  I gave a small demonstration of a couple of fencing moves to light applause and class resumed.
  • After the demonstration, I thought of my mentor, Musashi.  I cleared my mind and thought of the relationship between fencing and art.  The points in space, the perspective, the attack… and the result is below.  Perhaps there is hope.  Can’t wait ‘til next week.

I call this "Nude Reclining - 15th Try".  
Vampires:  I haven’t reported on vampires lately since there has been low activity.  I think they prefer the cooler weather.  I’m sure the city’s vampire hunters prefer it as well.  On the hottest days I’ve seen in Paris so far, I’ve witnessed vampire hunters (heading for a meeting?) heading through Chatelet in full leathers.  They wear thick leather to protect themselves from an opportunistic bite should a vampire get too close.  If you want to see a vampire hunter for yourself, I recommend a café near Les Halles.  Order up some champagne and wait.  You’ll see them.
That is all for now my dear friends and readers!  Please tweet, repost, facebook, comment, follow, like +1 or whatever you can do with a click to spread the word.   Many thanks for reading.

Your friend,
Sir Robyn

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