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  • John Diamond-Nigh

A #red-hatted (mystery) woman

#Tolstoy is hot right now, in part because we have the time to read his ten-gallon books; and also because his later non-fictional books laid out a blueprint for social justice that seems increasingly apt. Trying his best to strip #Christian #scripture (as Jefferson did) of its institutional accretions, Tolstoy arrived at a Christ of primitive pacifism; a dissolution of caste divisions, a disgust with institutional religion, indeed a call for the end of most institutions. Maybe that’s why Putin never mentions Tolstoy in his glorification of Mother Russia.

Every year I return to a chapter in #Anna #Karenina in which Levin, the tormentedly conscientious landowner and Tolstoy #dopplegänger, unhappy with the posh of his own aristocratic life, decides one summer morning to join the peasants as they mow Kalina Meadow. The peasants are surprised, bemused, but what can they say? They give him a spot in the line, jest a bit and away they go, #scythes swinging in unison like the bows of violins in an orchestra. It’s hard going for Levin, but he hangs in there, and in fact enjoys himself so much he stays and shares a peasant’s menial meal of water, salt and rye bread. It’s an allegory, of course, of Tolstoy’s incipient, drastic, ‘Christian’ #egalitarianism. More than that, it’s a rhapsodic #pastorale––the scythe-sharpening, the juicy smell of grass, the glossy, evening river, the old rugged men.

On the topic of old sages loving scythes, Carl Gustav #Jung, living in his small fairy-tale dwelling at the edge of a lake, would join the neighbor farmers each summer, take up a scythe and help them harvest their grain. Pictures show him, by then one of the world’s most venerable men, having the time of his life, old hat on his noggin, toiling in that recurring ritual of our survival––the #harvest.

My mother loved country auctions. I tagged along. My first audacious independent bid at six or seven was for a barrel of old scythes. The crowd cracked up. My mother, mortified, tried to undo the bid, but the auctioneer sailed on. In time I got the hang of them. No burdock or thistle was safe from my medieval upper-cut.

Pastoral art and #music console us––John #Keats “To Autumn," #Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, John #Constable’s The Hay Wain, David #Hockney’s recent painting of English landscape. Hockney, in fact, wonders why pastoral landscape has fallen so wholly out of fashion. We need the food that such landscapes afford as much as folks did in the Middle Ages. We still watch the Tour de France as much for the picturesque tour of the countryside as for the cyclists. Shunning rural life and its mellow lessons of seasonal change, we have blundered to the brink of grave climate alteration. Shunning its tranquility, we have blundered into a poisonous scuffle of mutually destructive militancies. Many of us, glad to say, are actually thinking about food these days as more than the consummation of an automat and a debit card.

Harvest belongs on the A-list of #archetypes. The #Brueghel painting really doesn’t need much explanation. Note that tiny soccer game. Note how dramatically far into the distance both paintings reach. Both in fact are tour de force meditations on just what #distance is, what it means and what it means to meaning itself.

#Daubigny is overshadowed now by the Impressionists whom he directly fore-ran. His work reminds me of #Haydn (sunken between Bach and Mozart). As with Brueghel, you behold nostalgic, egalitarian, country, summer toil. It could illustrate a Tolstoy passage, catching Tolstoy’s poignant love of country and work. There is one dot of color––a woman’s hat. Red, as it happens. Who is she? One of the peasants? A gleaner, a thief, scavenging, let’s imagine, for stray stalks of grain that had fallen from the wagons. Food for her kids. Or maybe not. But something sets her apart, a mysterious flamboyance. Anna liked red as well.

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