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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention


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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention

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February 29, 2004

Sex and Good Taste

I love to buy the weekend edition of the French newspaper Le Figaro. It's loaded with extras like two magazines, Madame and Le Figaro, and a TV guide. It can be quite entertaining. On Valentine's weekend, Barbie and Ken made the front page. Although I didn't try to read the whole article, I think the gist of it was that in all these years of being boyfriend and girlfriend, the two permanently popular dolls never had sex (and now they're split).

Or so their parent/company Mattel would have us believe. My question is how would we know? The fact that these creators/employers, no doubt, tried to prevent this natural act from occurring means to me they pretty much ensured that Barbie and Ken made love one night and then ever since. There's hardly a greater aphrodisiac than forbidden fruit, and how could a romance go on 40+ years without being physically consummated? That seems unnatural, even pitiful, to me like either they're both incredibly neurotic or Ken's impotent or worse. I fear this is a poorer role model to follow than their virginity. Does one or both have major issues and have never gotten any mental health help, which in fact has become a socially acceptable choice since they've been each other's eternal dates? Or could they have a bad relationship that keeps going on and on? (Let's not even pose the question of whether Ken is really gay.)

Not to mention that Barbie and Ken not having sex would be so "not" of their generation--at least if you take the date they emerged on the market and every little girl in America's consciousness. I can speak expertly of this since I was one of those girls and owned the original Barbie and Ken, the original dream house and car. It is true that Barbie was born, I'm guessing, as a teenager but in the late 50's human teenagers wouldn't have been interested in her. Elvis was hot, and they were too old for her. As far as I'm concerned, she grew up with my friends and me. She lived through the social and cultural revolutions of Civil Rights for African-Americans, equality for women, the burning of bras and experimenting with sex, drugs, and all to the driving rhythms of rock and roll. In the many chameleon reinventions of Barbie, I distinctly remember hippie clothes. So I sincerely doubt that she abstained, but I believe she's been subjected to intense pressures to maintain the appearance of being a "good girl" (when I hope that concept has gone with Scarlett's wind) throughout her middle age. It's not that abstinence isn't desired in the healthy physical and emotional growth of a young woman, but being a "good girl" is archaic and damaging to the female gender. There are also complex but glaring issues of entrenched sexism between boys and girls of this age that muddle the case.

There is one last alternative: Barbie never wanted the institution of marriage and chose to keep her sex life out of the public domain. In spite of her decades-long celebrity, Barbie has been tastefully discreet. Sans the prudishness, this suits the French sensibility just fine.


Back at Villa La Reve in Vence, Jim and I were almost completely cut off from any media. There was no time to read Le Figaro, no telephone or TV, and no Internet connection. We took a day of R & R and needed many more of them. Seeing new sights, hearing new sounds, being in a different milieu almost constantly is a huge amount of sensory information, knowledge, and change for a brain and body to process. Following M. Matisse's path, searching out the beauty and art that exists everywhere in France was exhilarating but draining. It was important for us to understand the villages and cities, the authenticity a place holds dear to grasp the big picture of Matisse's life and art, to see what he saw and imagine the ambience that inspired him. It was unadulterated happiness, but our brisk schedule was not.

After Matisse left Picardy, he either lived in Paris, Nice, and Vence or traveled to incredible settings to paint and would stay for three or four months. He had the luxury of time to absorb and assimilate the colors and scenes, the towns and people before him. There was also the simple fact that Matisse was in his own culture, and we were learning a new one. In our journey, cost and a deadline were also factors. We tried not to stop anywhere for less than three nights, but that wasn't always possible. When we could stay longer, it allowed us to slow our pace. One of the best ways to gain awareness and insight is to make the effort more effortless ie. Being somewhere for an extended time allows the environment to seep in unobtrusively and permits perception to grow like young shoots.

Besides following M. Matisse, this was our journey too. We were changing our lives, seeing anew for ourselves. We needed time for reflection. Certain life events like Mother's death can't even be imagined much less scheduled. We're not long-term planners anyway. We like our options open as long as possible, so we can change our minds, stay or go. No matter what--part of our passage had to be our own. So this was a day for Jim to paint on his hero's balcony, where the master himself looked out every day and created his visions. Jim wore his classic Panama hat while painting with passionate abandon. He had a grand time. I worked on my Diary though problems with my Dell computer continued. Little did I know they would plague me for months to come.

Late that afternoon Joelle introduced us to her neighbor, a man whom I will call M., who had lived in his charming 400 year-old house across from Villa La Reve for 50+ years and had known Matisse during the artist's entire tenure in Vence. We'd admired the house and garden from across the rue and were delighted to snag a chance inside and to meet the elegant gentleman. He greeted us at the door with great aplomb and gave us a tour of his historic residence. Jim will tell the juicy details in his book, but suffice it to say we were enchanted with the erudite M. who possessed such refinement and genuine warmth as a person with true class always does. He also told us good stories about M. Matisse and his long-term companion, Lydia. I would like to drop by and see M. for chats and invite him for tea and for lunch with champagne. I might even curtsy if he kissed my hand.

That night we celebrated by taking Joelle and her daughter, Sourya, out to dinner, Provencal at its best. Matisse infused the good taste of the South of France in every painting he composed.


In our cozy living room in Collioure, I savored my perusal of Le Figaro. The French must love Barbie. Madame also had a Barbie blurb titled "mamie Barbie." Yes, it's just how it sounds. They were lauding the premiere of Mattel's "seniors" in Barbie world. What! The baby boomers are becoming grandparents, and so it is in Barbie World, which has always reflected us.  This blurb was above one of Paris Hilton whose name may be famous but she is lacking in the grace of M., H. Matisse, or Barbie. Her sex life has no need to be imagined or debated since she became a self-made porno star. Besides the notorious video, her route to acclaim followed from being an underage party girl and most recently from being a spoiled brat on TV. She seems to favor having the media record her misguided youth instead of hiding it which was the old-fashioned solution.

From what I gathered, Le Figaro reported that Ms. Hilton wins the bad dressing competition for the year. Evidently. From the large photo, one might think she is the perfect candidate for that American reality show where some friend or family member nominates an unsuspecting victim as being in desperate need of a makeover. The mean hosts are then loosed to attack their prey and fly him or her to New York to be made fun of on national television.  

As the French well know, Barbie would never be a nominee for this vitriolic spectacle. They would never label her as the worst dresser of the year, and her behaviour could never be called guache as Ms. Hilton's.  She could use a few lessons in unfeigned chic from dear M., H. Matisse, or even Barbie.  Poor Paris, the French have targeted her as tasteless even though she bears the name of their beloved capitol city.  But the French aren't impressed with bad taste no matter who displays it.

(Note: We're off to Morocco to find Matisse there. I'll be back late next week.)

posted by Beth on February 29, 2004 | View All Diary Entries

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