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All Posts By

Mercy Robinson

August in New Brunswick

By | 2016, Europe | No Comments

This week I’m remembering being in Paris. It had such symmetry to it that I wouldn’t usually be attracted to but found very appealing. At Le Jardin des Tuileries the trees and shrubs were pruned to perfection and aligned so meticulously around the grass. This order was contrasted by the stark wildness of the flowers in the gardens that seemed chaotically scattered and whose intricate beauty was accentuated by the relative emptiness that surrounded them.

Paris was romantic and I found myself infatuated by its calculated aesthetic. But now I am home surrounded by the reckless abundance of August in New Brunswick. Summer here is becoming overripe. It is thick and sweet with the wild growth of July that is starting to fade into the enchanted rust of autumn. It is magical and bursting and free. I crave no order, no sparseness and no emptiness. I am happy for my home to be filling in the space around me and for becoming lost in it and carried by it. It can be overwhelming going back to the place that holds you closest but I am comforted by the clovers and the wild roses and the evergreens that ground me here.

framing life

By | 2016, Europe | No Comments

In our many visits to galleries, museums and historical sights I have been perpetually frustrated by the generalizing of a history that is deeply nuanced and specific.
The pedagogy of history is notorious for its forgetfulness, but something dishonest is communicated in the absence of life’s little regularities in our history lessons. In naming what is significant it trivializes, makes lost, what it considers unimportant. It says: You are redundant. Your little garden is redundant, the way green looks on pink is redundant, feeding your children is redundant and kindness and caring are redundant. It starts to make you feel a little inadequate after a while. Indifferent and perhaps ashamed.
For this reason I am happy to have visited the art history museum in Vienna to see what the northern renaissance artists chose to frame. The drunks. The peasants. The dances. The cold.
Hunters in the Snow, by Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel, struck me as grounding and honest. A striking depiction of a winter scene, a group of men return from the hunt with little to show for it, nearby a fire is being tended and clung to and down below, in a frozen valley the dark silhouettes of little children play on the ice.
Here is the history I’m looking to know: the story of what it is to live in the hours that make up the days. To feed and be fed. To keep warm. To mourn and to play. To laugh and to cry.
To frame this story, to name it worthy of paint and canvas and space, is to venerate living for its own sake, for its fullness and roundness even in the smallness of time and space. Especially in the smallness of time and space that none of us ever have or ever can escape. Bruegel makes me feel acknowledged and at home in the world.

Market Morning

By | 2015, All Things Travel, Asia | No Comments

We’re in Laoag city. Walking to the market this morning, the air’s warmth hugs my body. It’s eight a.m. and the sun’s rays are delicate but assuring. Getting anywhere requires the utmost alertness of the senses since the vehicular and pedestrian traffic are off the hook and sometimes indistinguishable one from the other.   People just hang off the sides of buses, bikes and jeepneys, jumping on and off as they please. To cross the street is to risk being run down by a swarm of tricycles or a big truck carrying boxes of fruit or cases of glass bottles of coca cola.

We miraculously manage to arrive at the market. All of us. In one piece. As soon as we go into the tent we are enthusiastically approached by several vendors with menus all boasting a number of dishes I have never heard of. These women are brilliant; all four of us buy an empanada and watch as one woman’s experienced hands roll out the bright orange dough and stuff it with fresh papaya, mango, local longanisa and then crack an egg into it.

As our empanadas sizzle in the deep fryer we fidget with a box-like machine that apparently produces coffee. I jam a five peso piece into the money slot and a small paper cup pops out of the bottom of the box which then fills the cup with a murky liquid that looks just like river water. I shyly ask the empanada lady if this is normal. She shyly tells me to “taste” as though if I liked it she would confirm its normality but if I didn’t she would do what she could to remedy the situation, obviously eager to please. After I awkwardly and apologetically reject the river water, she makes me a new coffee. It’s sticky and sweet.

By this time the empanadas are hot and crisp. We sit down at a table with a red gingham plastic tablecloth, which is promptly equipped with local vinegar and banana ketchup. I douse my empanada in vinegar and crunch into it; the egg is yokey, the fruit sweet and the longanisa spicy and rich. I’m in the Philippines and I’ve just bitten into the beginning of a two month long oriental adventure.