Two things. I was reading Gertrude Stein today -- Everybody's Autobiography (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Exact Change, 1993). And Stein is discussing the flat surfaces of painting and wooden houses and skyscrapers which
is a wrong name because in America there is no sky
there is air but no sky of course that has a lot to do with
why there really is no painting in America no real painting
but it is not necessary when there are houses and windows and air. (p. 188)
And I began, naturally, to wonder what Stein means. The definition of air seems always to be caught up in scientific language -- gases -- and then the definition of sky is visual -- appearance, expanse. And perhaps it seemed to Stein, visiting America in the 1930's, that we were progressing from wood to steel, and becoming more industrial than agricultural, where air and space would be more useful and appropriate terms than sky. But France, where Stein chose to live, still identified itself by referring to farms and villages; in fact, it still does: every Parisian has a home village. And Stein, of course, famously said that her country was America but Paris was her home town.
Why set up these opposing forces -- sky and air, home town and country, France and America?
Stein herself must have needed sky rather then air. (I could say something here about how she abandoned her scientific studies for literature, but I won't). The sky changes from place to place. The clouds in Normandy are different from the clouds in Alsace, and different still from the skies of Mystic, Connecticut or Napa Valley. The way we look up changes. What we are looking for changes, depending upon where we are doing the looking. The sky is what we look at when we are dreaming about ourselves being here or there; the belonging thing.
The second thing today was a house, a former school house, on the sea. It has always been the one house in America that we dreamed about. Yes, it appears to have sky. Today, my husband was invited into the dream house. Perhaps, the tenant said, the house might be for sale. My husband drew me a diagram of the house to show me where the bedrooms were tucked away and where the glass wall faced the sea. We traced the house to its current owner; he is not selling. But for just a few moments there, we lived by the sea.
So here is a drawing-painting for Gertrude and for the house by the sea; the sky is on the right.