The Hidden Secrets Of Growing Old ~ Part 1:Pentimento
Sitting here on a May morning, curled up in my favorite spot on the chintz sofa in front of the picture window in our living room, I’m gazing at a single salmon colored rose just peeking out of its bud cover. It seems to glow with its own light. Slowly my view spreads out, easing into the quiet of the young day and drifting across Olive Avenue to the poplars in the distance.
A gust of wind shudders through the light green sheets of leaves, when—amazing!—a cold wet sting of ocean breeze slaps me in the face. In an instant, I’m smelling the briny whiff of the Atlantic Ocean as surely if I were back on the beach I used to walk as a child. How is it possible—a November wind bringing its salty self across half a century of time and a continent of space as I sit here on a summer morning in California?
This must be what my friend Joan meant some forty years ago when she told me about pentimento. I was in my early thirties then and Joan, who seemed very old to me, was in her late fifties. We’d just finished a long hike through in the green hills of southern Ontario. It must have been June because school was out and wildflowers were everywhere. We were resting on the grass, drinking from our canteens and gazing out over a field of willowy flowers with centers composed of tiny white blossoms.
“Queen Anne’s Lace,” Joan told me.
I was admiring them in my usual extravagant way, remarking on the delicacy of their faces and the graceful way they swayed in the wind.
“Where you see the flowers,” Joan replied, “I see a pentimento.”
I’d never heard the word. “It’s a painter’s term,” she said. “Canvas is so expensive that artists sometimes paint over their old pieces to have fresh surfaces. For awhile, this works just fine. The new painting completely obscures the old one. But in time the top layers grow transparent with age and then the earlier images bleed through. That’s pentimento.”
“Pentimento,” I repeated, liking the pleasant staccato of the word in my mouth.
“It comes from the Italian meaning ‘repentance,’” Joan told me. “Because the painter has changed his mind about the composition. But still, after awhile, the original is there too.” Read more »