I found this little picture recently, tucked away in an old portfolio. It’s an unfinished collage I’d begun to make – using magazine clippings. I’d started to add some elements with pencil, too.
Took me back.
It was Paris, 1988. The view from a tiny self-catering studio appartement in what was then called Residence Orion, in La Defense, the quartier d’affaires (business centre) of Paris. The apartment overlooked the Seine and there’s a little park that juts out into the middle of the river. It was autumn and the days were grey, everything was grey, except for these trees, whose leaves blazed with autumn colour.
To the right of this spot was a bridge, the Pont de Neuilly. There was no connecting metro station at that time between La Defense and Neuilly, so you had to walk across the bridge to get out of La Defense and to a metro station. The ugly fretwork sides (it was a temporary bridge) were smothered in cobwebs from which hung hundreds of spiders, some of them, immense (it seemed to me). I was terrified of spiders.
There was no other choice, if you wanted to get to the other side, but to run the gauntlet of this spider ghetto and to make the ordeal even worse, there was often a crossing wind which would scoop up bunches of them and hurl them at you. Or try to. Tenacious things, spiders. They’d cling on to their webworks for grim death, or, expelled, they’d dangle, bouncing on an invisible thread until the gust passed, when they’d scramble back to continue their work.
I was at the beginning of a new cycle in my life and would be adventuring in Paris for five months.The season didn’t fit my mood. I wasn’t grey, so why was the world? I wanted it to be full of colour. To be spring. So I think in this collage I was trying to evoke that. In hindsight, it represented hope and promise.
I’m not afraid of spiders now. Since those days, I’ve crossed many more bridges and the winds that cut across them brought events far more terrifying than spiders.
When I came across the collage again today, I felt compelled to put it up on the blog. Then I felt compelled to tell its story. I didn’t know its story until I started writing it. Now I’ve written it – or an aspect of it – what of it?
Well, it came to me that I was to post this for those who are afraid of spiders.
See, I know now that, however it manifests, all fear is ultimately fear of death. And I know that that particular crossing wind will come to me and there’s nothing I can do to prevent the coming of it, so there’s no point in being afraid of it.
In fact, there’s every reason to hope that when it comes, the crossing wind will take me on to my next big adventure. It’s written into that little tree with the blazing paper leaves. I’m thinking of the burning bush that Moses encountered on Mount Horeb. A bush that burned yet was not consumed.
And the spiders on the bridge. The picture seems to be saying that there’s so much blazing to do, there’s no time to be afraid of being extinguished. And those spiders are about bouncing back from crosswinds and getting on with the blazing.
Are you afraid of spiders or are you blazing?
I’d like to know.