Thursday, November 26, 2009

La Donna Mascherata

This image has been posted all around Milan for the past weeks to promote M.I.N.T., an international show dedicated to both modern art and antiquities. Thus the metaphor of the older woman with the mask of the younger woman's face.

Never mind the fact that its purpose was clearly spelled out; it might as well have read: "Charlotte Moore. This is (for) you." Because every time I saw it—and I saw it everywhere—I felt like I was looking at a public unveiling of my own current psychological make-up. It perfectly illustrates the way I see myself, except that at times, the face and the mask are in reverse relationship.

It's like this: some days, I'm young inside (so young, so ten-years-old, so willing to dance naked, high kick, act silly just because it'll feel good) yet the face that I see in mirrors betrays me. Other days, my face has the miraculously youthful glow of a time traveler in reverse, but my heart and mind feel the weight of years. Things are hard in this "sandwich" time of life; truths come a-knocking that we were—once upon a time—mirthfully oblivious to. I don't think I'm old; I'm not. But I am getting older, and it's a bizarrely complicated dance. Things aren't in sync. The face says one thing. The mind behind it says something else. And then they get all tricky and trade places. Things aren't linear and orderly; they are liquid and inconsistent, and as Janet once wrote in her greatest (in my opinion) unproduced script of all time, messy. Life is messy.

I don't even know how to get dressed in the morning sometimes, because I don't know what me I'm going to be that day. What will I project? Anything? What will I try to convince the world? Will I be able to pull it off? What will be comfortable? What do I really feel like having against my ever more ornery skin? Who, exactly, am I these days?

When Janet and I were preparing to write RIPE, we conducted some informal research among our friends and I remember very clearly one of the respondents saying that she felt that people judged her based on her appearance and that it was horrifically unfair, because inside—inside—she was someone else. I know what she meant. At a certain stage in my life, I too was probably guilty of looking at older women and either making assumptions about them or sort of erasing them from my field of vision. I didn't dislike them or find them bothersome, I just wasn't interested. Now I study them all every chance I get, trying to find where the mask starts and stops, and who the woman really is. And I've noticed that these very same women look at me, and there is in their eyes a kindness I never would have expected. A complicity. They know about the mask-thing too. And they know about the layers, and about the difficulty of really being seen for who you are.

The M.I.N.T. show ended yesterday. But the streets are still full of masked women. It's just that now we are not in photographs. We are just our selves populating this city that sometimes sees us, but most often does not.


  1. it seems I'm channeling you, Char, only you have much superior visuals. For a week or so I wanted to post about mirrors, and who we see when we look in it, and how the woman in the mirror sometimes isn't the woman we expect to see. And here you did it and so much better. That image is so striking and powerful, partly because the 'mask' is an actual human face. Or looks precisely like an excised face (hello Dr. Lecter) that she's holding before her. Eerie, true, perfect. And then the woman behind the mask, she's extraordinarily beautiful. She's just older. I love this image and all it's provocative attitude. But I like what you wrote even more. 'A bizarrely complicated dance.' That describes life, period. Life before we age, life as we do. I remember my mother always saying she'd look in the mirror at age 45, 55, 67, and she never saw the person she felt like inside. Now Rick says that about himself. And when we dream....when you dream, how do you look? Do you see yourself and wonder why your hair is so long, why you look 22 again? Sometimes I do. Life is messy. Unpredictable. Strange. And I go from feeling invisible to highly recognized. I know exactly what you mean. And from America....Happy Thanksgiving xxx

  2. I knew it was coming from somewhere! I'm glad it was something you had on your mind too, I think we all do. I'm interested that Rick says it about himself. I didn't know if men went through this or not. To me, Rick looks as he has always looked. Only better. (Ha! Ha! What a funny thing to say! I haven't really seen him with my own eyes in about 8 years!) You know, I don't know what I look like in my dreams. Isn't that strange? I'm always just looking out of my eyes, not at myself, so I have no idea. It's just that true ageless "me" that acts in the leading role. The one that lurks behind my ever-aging facade in real life. All this said, I still think you should write about mirrors. You are so eloquent, and the subject is anything but exhausted. And you do these things such perfect justice. C

  3. I'm sure I won't say this as eloquently as the two of you... but I've felt that invisibility, that not feeling the way you look for a long time too. I guess all of us do. And for some reason I had the feeling, too, of being sort of like the ex beauty queen... like someone others used to notice but no longer do. But even before that phenomenon it seemed no one ever saw who I really was... Again, invisible. It's very complex, for all of us. Then, just now, someone recommended a film I hadn't seen, Elegy, so I looked it up and found the trailer, and what do I hear but this quote by Dennis Hopper speaking to Ben Kingsley: "Beautiful women are invisible. We're so dazzled by the outside that we never make it inside." Not saying at all that the beauty bit pertains to me, just that it's hard to be really seen ever I guess... We all have this inner truth that we want others to be aware of and that is so hard to reveal.

  4. Oh Anna. So much of what you say is true! You are the person I was referring to, but I didn't want to drag you into the public eye unawares. But now you've identified yourself, I suppose it's okay. You know, my mother, who never ever considered herself beautiful, didn't suffer this feeling of not being looked at anymore. She's looked at more now, then ever in her life. What she has at 77 that makes her glow, is incredible physical health and people tell her she is beautiful all the time. Yet, and yet, when she first moved to NY, she was hit by a bomb of invisibility. People, due to her age, simply didn't even see her! I went to a lighting store with her once, and I was stunned by how long she had to stand there before someone would say, "Hello." It seems to have eased over time, because she's become completely (like Italian women) "in charge" of the situation. Now, you better watch out when she walks in the door. But...yes, despite the beauty factor, we are clearly, often, not seen. What gives me hope though, and which I enjoy so much, is the complicity I notice between women who DO see each other. It's like having a secret code. Have you noticed this? --Charlotte

  5. Yes indeed, I have. There is recognition between us, and appreciation. It doesn't happen often enough I think, but it does happen. And when it does it's tremendous. A light switch turns on. It's a great secret code, like having your own private language.