Tuesday, 29 July 2008

summer fairy tale

Once upon a time there was a distant country with green valleys and bright stars and small houses with flowering gardens and silent winds. When night fell upon that country, the lights used to flicker in the warm kitchens until all the children were in their beds, sleeping peacefully.
But the Little White Princess refused to sleep. Wearing her white cap and her shining white silk dress, she stood at her small window all night, wailing bitterly: I am not whole, I am not whole, what shall I do, what shall I do. In vain did her parents try to prove her wrong.
Thousands of doctors were brought in, they counted every pore of her skin and every hair on her head and every bone and every cell of her body, look, you are whole, Little Princess, stop crying, go to bed, sleep tight.
Thousands of wizards were called in the middle of the night, they looked at every corner of her soul with silver mirrors and checked her every movement and every path of her young thoughts with silver maginfying glasses, look, you are whole, White Princess, stop lamenting, go to sleep, dream beautifully of all the round and full things of this world. But the Princess wouldn’t listen. Every night her sorrowful song resounded over the country I am not whole, I am not whole, what shall I do, what shall I do.
One day, the king and the queen open the castle gate wide and cried bitter tears: Little White Princess, go out and try your luck and may the stars help you find those missing parts you keep talking about.

And so the Princess went. She travelled through spring forests and golden wheat fields and autumn clouds and heavy snows, singing her everlasting song, and the animals of the earth and the birds of the sky were shaking their heads and talking to one another in their strange languages tsk tsk little girl, don’t be foolish, go home, don’t you know your kind is never whole, tsk tsk what a stupid child, this White Princess after all...

On a summer morning, she stopped and stood in the fresh air and just looked. She saw the valley before her opening towards the rising sun, and still the light had a milky quality in its dampness and still there was a strange softness in the flowers with their bent heads of white.

She entered the valley full of joy.

There, in the middle of countless flowers, she felt a strange numbness in her limbs and fell asleep.

She dreamt of one red flower, glowing with unknown passion in a sea of gold. Oh, she cried in her dream, if I could see that flower, that only flower, and kneel before it, I would be whole.

But then the light of noon fell on her face and she opened the eyes and saw the bloody poppies on stems of gold dancing for her up in the sky, and her heart shrank and she knew then that her dream had been a lie and her mourning made the birds restless in their little nests and the fish ill in their blue rivers: I am not whole, I am not whole, what shall I do, what shall I do. She kept on going.

On a late afternoon, when the rain had moistened the colours of the grass and the earth was soft brown and the woods a boundless silence, she met a dark purplish horse in the fields. The horse spoke to her: Little Princess, I can take you somewhere, to a special place where you can find the answer to your prayer. The Little Princess clasped her hands and shouted with delight: Let’s go then, my purple horse, let’s not waste a second.

Wait, said the horse, I have a white brother. Which one of us do you choose for your journey? The Princess frowened. I shall go with you, my white silk dress glows more beautifully against your purple heart. And so they went, thousands and thousands of miles, they flew over the earth.

On a late evening, they reached a distant castle. The horse stopped. The Princess dismounted. Now you have to go alone, the horse said. The gate is closed. Before the gate, you have to wish hard for your answer. If your wish is strong enough and your heart is pure, the gate will open.

And then what
, the Little Princess asked.

Then you go in
, the horse laughed, turned around and left.

The Little Princess stood before the gate, stretched her arms with her little fists clenched, and wished hard for her to be whole, for the gate to open. On the other side of the world, the Gatekeeper felt her wish blow like a storm through wood and brick and iron and stone and force the walls to curve and the latchkeys to break open. He took his stick and hurried out to prevent this from happening.

Little girl, he started. The Princess frowned.

I am a Princess, you know.

Oh, I am sorry, said the old man in his sweetest tone, with this funny suit you have over there and this white cap, I thought you might be a little g... but wait, no you can’t be a princess, you are a chef, aren’t you?

The Princess looked at him incredulously. Pride and desire fought on her face.

Well, I suppose I could bake a cake for you, if you would just open that gate for me. A huuuuuge chocolate cake, what do you say?

The Gatekeeper laughed. Ay, White Princess, your cakes are of no use to me, look here, look what I have for you. And he opened his arms and unfolded his hands and all the sweets of the world started to flow and dance and circle round the White Princess, rainbows of melted chocolate and almond biscuits and tartes aux fruits and turkish delight and ginger bread and baklava and fluffy, transparent cakes with rose water and raisin breads and sorbets and cinnamon apple pies and colourful icecreams like sweet music. You can have all of this if you leave now, he said and winked as if suddenly amused. But the Little Princess stood there still and smiled and sang her sad song in a little soft voice. The old man bowed his head. The gate opened.

It was night when she entered the castle. Before her eyes, blooming across the lit sky, there stood one strange little tree in a sea of darkness.

She took a step closer. It was not a tree, just bright tufts of white grass and long waving plants reaching towards the sky like branches, and on those frail, tangled branches myriads of small yellow flowers glowed with a pale light and danced in the summer breeze.

What is this? the girl asked slowly, where are we?

The Gatekeeper put his hand on her shoulder. Little Princess, he said almost inaudibly, the yellow flowers... and when he said this the small flowers rose in the air like yellow butterflies and she didn’t know anymore whether they were flowers or butterflies with gold powdered wings which kept turning in circles about their heads, they are you.

Me? the startled Princess stared at him in disbelief.

Yes, your selves, the possible ones, the ones you lost, gathered here for ever, dancing their endless dance.
The breeze was now cold.

You mean...

Yes, White Princess, every time you make a decision, every time you choose a road and take one step on it, the inevitable, irreversible one, a Little Princess dies in you and her self turns to a yellow butterfly and comes fluttering to live here with the others. They are all here, all your selves, countless Little Princesses who might have been.

Oh, whispered the girl and took a long breath. She stared for a moment, an endless silence, at her tiny white shoes. And if I don’t choose but am forced to go one way or another? If I stand still and still the road unfolds me?

Those Little Princesses are here also. Choice or not, they are still dead, surely you can see that, don’t you, Little One?

But old man, the girl raised her voice suddenly, how can those little 'me' be here already, if I am small and still to grow and still to choose and still to walk, countless times and countless roads?

The Gatekeeper shook his head smiling. Well, my dear, this is a big question for big learned men and philosophers, not a little one for little girls errr sorry, little princesses.

She turned to stare at him again. Did they come here also, to look at their selves like me, those big learned men, did they open the gate too?

The old men laughed and shook his head as before, now you got me, Little Princess, no, they didn’t, not one of them.

Why, did they go for the ginger bread?
Her face was serious but he knew she had made a Little Princess joke.

He wanted to say something but at that moment a butterfly came down and sat on her forehead. You see, he said and stroked her hair gently, this little soul here is the one that died when you chose to ride the purple horse.

She felt something like tears in her eyes.

Would I have known the answer then, to my big question, if I had ridden the white horse and my white dress had become one with his white heart?

The Gatekeeper smiled and kissed her on her cheek, where another butterfly had settled, flapping its golden wings. He disappeared.

The girl stood still whilst the night was lighting up around her. Another butterfly came, a deeper shade of yellow, and then another one and another one, saffron and lemon and peach and amber yellow and their hues flowed into one another and their veil of gold was floating around her, wrapping her tightly as the veil a priest would wrap around a sacred corpse. They sat in her glowing hair, they covered her radiant skin, their silken beating of wings devouring the silk of her white dress, her white little chef cap, they burned on her arms like thousands of cold fires, they closed her eyes and filled her mouth.

The first one to enter her blood hurt. And then she felt growing, she felt expanding, she felt her body explode and then expand again, and an overwhelming fear paralysed her, the fear of the moment when the world would cease to contain her, and she would contain the world. Stop, she shouted in the voice of her devasted blood, you have no life, go away, I chose you not, I mourn you not. I refute the possible, I turn my back to all dead futures.

But it was too late. Some say the Little White Princess died the moment she became whole. Others say the gods took her just before the last butterfly sat upon her heart. Before that last beating of the golden wings, she vanished, because no mortal is ever to know what it is to be whole.


  1. Oh, why did she leave the white one alone, there in the field if she was a real princess?

    Welcome back!


  2. thank you :-)
    maybe she was not a real princess, who knows. but the movie is so wonderful, yes.
    I know that hedgehog :-)

  3. hi roxana, hope you had a lovely holiday. Some great pictures, especially the bottom four, they have a rather strange quality about them as if you had photographed them at the bottom of the sea.

  4. magical photos. who is that charming child?

  5. an entrancing fairy tale ... haunted enchantment …. the sheer range of scenes you conjure up, in both words & photos …. the little girl “wailing at her small window” – “thousand wizards looking at ever corner of her soul” -“the bloodred poppies on stems of gold”…..

    she’s utterly disquieting & endearing at the same time – that longing little girl (oopps, princess) with the doomed sense of the irrevocable, of the irrevocably lost selves, “the countless selves who might have been” - all the passages we did not take …

    Our kind may indeed never be whole , but our kind (& in this case you as its particular representative) sure has imagination aplenty to evoke all of our unreal & real conditions

    PS: where did you find that enchanting little girl with her “white little chef cap”? – & what came first, the idea for this fairy-tale? The words? The pictures?

  6. thank you :-)

    sorlil: you know, I hadn't thought of the sea at all, but then a friend told me the same thing, underwater flowers, so I guess it must be true :-)

    lotus and ffflaneur: she is really sweet, isn't she? :-) well maybe she is a real princess after all! but I have to confess that the idea about the 'little chef cap' doesn't belong to me, I heard some people joking about it :-) and she is playing in a park, but it looked so much like a field that I thought the pictures would fit the others, taken in the Danube planes about 2 months ago (like the rest of the following series, it will take a while until I get the mountain ones ready). and this answers also the question about the genesis, I had the pictures and thought some of them had this 'fairy tale' quality about them. however I only wanted to show a few in the beginning, but the story developped and more and more images wanted to be in :-) it was really a symbiotic process, images giving birth to words and the other way round. but the main idea is a very old and constant obsession of mine.

  7. we liked these! t was in accord with the underwater feel. me, i'm a sucker for those poppies!

  8. Hello, roxanna!

    I liked these pictures..they reminded me of 'the singing ringing tree'.

    Why are you so unsure about her being a real princess? If you wanted her to be a princess enough wouldn't that make her a real one?

  9. swiss, I thought about you when I saw how those poppies came out and when I wrote that they were the flowers she saw the first moment she opened her eyes. like the flower you once painted. it seemed to me that they would look exactly like this, still half dream, half real.

    I thank t for looking at my pictures too.

    btw, you haven't shown us any paintings for such a long time.

  10. hi anonymous. yes, I think you are right :-) I'll leave out the 'maybe' for once and agree, she is a real princess!

  11. some flower pics going up in the next twenty four hours. as for the paintings as soon as i can get my stupid head round white balance!

  12. nor am i forgetting segalen

  13. oh flowers! your legendary garden again, swiss? :-) what is wrong with the white balance?
    take your time with segalen, it's ok, I can wait :-)

  14. i can't get the colours in the paintings to reproduce in the camera. need to sit down and figure it out properly but where to get the time!

  15. Oh I love this - how beautifully images and text work together, never just illustrating but illuminating, interweaving and touching and drawing apart again, casting lights and shadows. I felt really touched by your tale, you conjure up such rich worlds, in textured language and with images that seem as much real as imagined. I understand the girl’s (princess or not) hunger for wholeness, for being all, and at the same time often find myself immobilised by being unable to make choices when there is so much to do/be/imagine.
    Am thinking about your very interesting question - will post soon.

  16. marjojo, thank you for your visit and your detailed comment, it means so much to me! and more than this, after I have seen your work, I am honoured by your appreciation and touched by the warmth of your words.

    and yes, I am looking forward to your answer :-) I've been thinking about this since then and am still puzzled :-)

  17. swiss, yes, I can imagine this can pose quite a problem. but do try to sort it out, pleeease :-)

  18. it is quite a problem! tried again today but sooo not happy with the results! am going to try my camera phone....

  19. "And all that could have been" says the song.
    But then again, knowing what could have been and becoming all that could be are two very different things.
    While the first one would certainly create countless regrets and cast an unfathomable despair, the second one is out of reach for mere mortals, just as you wrote.
    The obsessional question to me is how to get at peace with what we are and what we have. Because the desire for what is not is a thirst than can never be appeased.
    I still wonder how you can do that without extinguishing the fire that burns inside...

    "Breeze still carries the sound
    maybe i'll disappear
    tracks will fade in the snow
    you won't find me here
    Ice is starting to form
    ending what had begun"

    I loved the pictures, as always! I hope Ill be able to see the whole "Japan collection" sometime... ;)

    Only 3 days left! :)

  20. oh pascal! :-) what a surprise!

    yes, how to become content with what we've got... I don't know. I suppose one can learn this, at least if we believe Voltaire's Candide. but he lacks so much verisimilitude ...
    and could a truly 'bovaric' soul ever learn this? (I suspect 'bovaric' is quite a barbarism in english :-)

    I didn't know you wanted to see the Japan-pictures, I would have put them all on a cd for you :-)

    3 days!!!!!

  21. oh pascal! :-) what a surprise!

    yes, how to become content with what we've got... I don't know. I suppose one can learn this, at least if we believe Voltaire's Candide. but he lacks so much verisimilitude ...
    and could a truly 'bovaric' soul ever learn this? (I suspect 'bovaric' is quite a barbarism in english :-)

    I didn't know you wanted to see the Japan-pictures, I would have put them all on a cd for you :-)

    3 days!!!!!

  22. a contrary voice: I always thought it was our choices that made us whole...

    so I see this story as a paradox; it was her travels and the choices she made on the way that made her whole - selecting the brown horse, refusing the goodies etc and not those yellow-flower-like-unmade-choices thingies that she saw in the end.
    only 'our kind' can be whole then...

    so beautiful they look, the plains of the danube...wild horses are so rare to find these days

  23. yes, zuma, I understand your point. I think it is a matter of perspective, one feels this way or not. I have grown to believe that this is also - perhaps - a matter of temperament: the vitalist will always value the whole, the 'hic at nunc', the melancholic will always pay attention to the loss, the absence.

  24. ahh Roxana, how i love love this story of the little white princess. i'm back again to read it, just the words this time. the images are beautiful in themselves but i can't decide if they are distracting or have made the story more magical for me? i don't know. i can't really sum up and say what the story is about as it touches me in many aspects while i am reading it. enchanting, sad, sad. it's all very real to me...the little white princess, the purple horse and those many many yellow butterflies of ourselves. i love how the doctors counted every pore and hair on her, her imperfect reason for choosing the purple horse, and especially the passage where she begins to contain the world and shouting, you have no life, go away, I chose you not, I mourn you not. I refute the possible, I turn my back to all dead futures. it really touches at the core how it all came together.

  25. mien, please forgive the delay in answering, what you wrote about my little story touches me immensely! thank you so much, so much...

  26. "the flower'ly obsession, which moves even the tallest of the mountains"

  27. This magical tale perfectly photographed, these magical images perfectly told! This was posted before I had found your blog, and it is a treasure not to be missed. She, each animal shown, and every single blossom-butterfly are wondrous to behold!

  28. ahh, such an enchanted tale! so many layers, so many thoughts to tread, so many answers and none at the very same time in this never-ending quest for wholeness (or the essence? shall i say?).

    could it be that we become whole the moment we give up everything, have nothing left, and then we ought to die?

    thank you so much, Roxana