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Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

A Very Interesting Excursion

June 29, 2015 | by

Looking for van Gogh in Belgium’s mining district.

the-sower-sower-with-setting-sun-1888

Vincent van Gogh’s The Sower, 1888, which was inspired by paintings by Jean-François Millet.

Earlier this month, Nellie wrote for the Daily about van Gogh’s time in the Borinage and its effect on his art. In this follow-up piece, she reflects on her own travels in the region.

On a sunny but cool afternoon in mid March, I stood on the muddy ground of a closed and abandoned mine in Belgium. Behind me, a handful of pigs screamed from inside a pen in one of the decrepit buildings. A large, lean, mean-looking dog, which in fact was not mean at all, stood nearby, tethered to a long rope.

It was my first time in this place, the former mining district of Belgium, called the Borinage, though I spent the nearly six years prior writing a novel that took place there. From 1878 to 1880, before he declared himself an artist, Vincent van Gogh lived in the Borinage, trying to be a preacher, and the story of what may have happened during that time is my novel’s subject. I didn’t go to Belgium while I was researching or writing the book—the mines are all closed these days and the area developed; I told myself there was no point in going if it didn’t look just like it had in the late nineteenth century. But Mons, the city that sits right at the tip of the Borinage region, is this year’s selection for the European Capital of Culture and, as a result, is home to all sorts of interesting exhibits and performances, including the first-ever exhibition of van Gogh’s work from and related to this period of his life: it opened, strangely, just a few weeks after my book had been published. It was a coincidence too odd to ignore, and I got on a plane to go see this place I had long imagined.

I have been struggling to articulate what this visit was like in any coherent way. I knew, all those years, that the place I was envisioning was real, but in my mind it was a place that no longer existed, a place to be conjured and imagined, not to stand on with two real feet. To be confronted with the reality of the place in physical space was quite a different thing. I expected that there would be nothing left. In a way I was right, and in a way very wrong. Read More »

Idle Bird

June 10, 2015 | by

Van Gogh finds art in the Borinage.

coalmine-in-the-borinage-1879(1)

Vincent van Gogh, Coalmine in the Borinage, 1879.

In October of 1879, Theo van Gogh went to visit his brother, Vincent, in the Borinage coal-mining district of Belgium. Theo was en route to Paris, where he had business to conduct as an art dealer; Vincent was doing self-appointed missionary work. The pair walked along an abandoned quarry that reminded them of a canal they’d frequented as children in Holland, but now there was an undeniable rift between them. Theo, upset by Vincent’s appearance—he had given away nearly all of his clothes to the miners, and had ceased bathing—told him, “You are not the same any longer.” He felt that Vincent was wasting his time in this squalid place, and suggested that he leave to take up a different trade.

Angry at his brother’s inability to understand him, Vincent wrote a letter to Theo on October 15 that would be the last for ten months. The brothers had been writing letters to each other almost unceasingly since 1872, when Vincent was nineteen and Theo fifteen. This would be the first and deepest rupture between them, a silence that would never repeat itself. Referring to Theo’s accusation of “idleness,” Vincent wrote with bitterness, Read More »

Advice to a Rhinestone Cowgirl; How Not to Write a Poem

August 27, 2010 | by

I'm young, poor, and unemployed in New York. I have no family connections, and my friends are all similarly destitute. I want an inspirational text; are there any novels about sympathetic social-striver types who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps without losing their friends and their souls in the process? —Camilla D.

Funny you should ask. All day I've been walking around with the Glen Campbell song "Rhinestone Cowboy" stuck in my head:

I've been walking these streets so long
Singing the same old song
I know every crack in these dirty sidewalks of Broadway,
Where hustle's the name of the game
And nice guys get washed away like the snow and the rain ...

One identifies. As Glen says, there'll be a load of compromisin' on the road to his horizon: I worry that this tends to be the case. And even though I know you don't want me to tell you to read Lost Illusions, you must read Lost Illusions, if you haven't. It is spooky how often some detail of Balzac's Paris will remind you exactly of New York—like seeing your own face in a daguerrotype. A very louche daguerrotype. The hero does lose his friends and his soul. Plus his illusions. But you can handle it. I believe in you!

(Plan B: Breakfast at Tiffany's?)

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Cité Soleil

June 15, 2010 | by

Jeff Antebi’s photography appears in the summer issue of The Paris Review. Below, he describes his time in Cité Soleil, Haiti.

I went to Haiti for the elections in April, 2009. When I got back home and started showing my work, people were most gripped by the photographs from Cité Soleil. People kept asking me what they could do to help improve the lives of people there. I think it was a profound awakening for Americans to know that only an hour and a half from Miami, people were existing in deplorable conditions. It was the proximity that drew people in. It’s one thing to say “the largest slum in the Western hemisphere.” It’s quite another to show people what it’s like to live on top of eight feet of garbage, where during the day, toxic fumes burn off the plastic bottles and waste. That was really the first time I had ever experienced that kind of reaction from one of my essays—people specifically asking what they could do. I immediately started making plans to go back and focus exclusively on Cité Soleil. I returned three months later.

I had put a lot of my photos from my April trip on to my phone. Once I was back in Cité Soleil, I was able to track down a lot of the kids and show them the portraits I’d taken of them. The kids went nuts. I mean, these are kids who are so funny to begin with—animated, humorous, curious, engaging kids. They had a lot of fun scrolling through photos and recognizing their friends.

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