Before the Belle Epoque…
While battling the Corona Blues, I’m busy plotting my ‘beautiful’ post-pandemic life — are you not?
A couple of years ago, before we knew a pandemic was in the making, I jokingly said to my climate activist friend, “If we’re headed for doom and gloom, we might as well have the Belle Epoque now.”
She got mad at me. “A Belle Epoque is the last thing we need.” She could only see the hedonistic orgie and blind pursuit of more. She couldn’t see what I saw: a chance to redefine “beauty” before we self-destruct. A chance to redefine what we give value to and make daring shifts in how we live, together, on this planet.
A year into the pandemic, after a lengthy bout with the virus, I’m finding myself battling the corona blues, and plotting my post-pandemic Belle Epoque. Are you not? Dreaming of exchanging your comfy duds and the spell of captivity with free flowing champagne, spontaneous dances, bursts of creativity and flirty kisses. Meeting the fatigue, struggles and setbacks with creative and sensual gluttony. I don’t know about you, but my heart speaks to me of uprising, and once the doors open, my psyche expects catharsis. I deserve it. We all deserve it. The freedom to live.
But what catharsis? What freedom? What life?
The Belle Époque (“Beautiful Epoch”), also known as the ‘golden era’, refers to a period in French history between 1880 and WWI in 1914 that was characterised by optimism, regional peace, prosperity, colonial expansion and technological, scientific, and cultural innovations with a flourishing artistic climate, in Paris particularly.
All last century wars were also followed by optimism and a spur of growth-think of the roaring 20s or the pastel 50s-though not everyone got to the party in time. I see a similar phenomena erupt in the wake of the pandemic. A hedonistic orgie for those, who feel entitled to once again taking and having it all, readily justified by the economic necessity of getting the wheels spinning again. But at what cost? Spinning us where?
Admittedly, my imaginary Belle Epoque is reminiscent of times before I understood the full gravity of the world’s trouble and began to hold my personal life and dreams up against climate and capitalistic damage and white privilege shame.
I’m reminded of my confirmation at 14. I struggled to write my personal creed, because I felt something divine about the universe, a presence or wisdom beyond human form that I couldn’t find in the voice of God and the bible stories. So I didn’t believe in Him, but I wanted to participate and have the party and the gifts. How I managed to bridge the gap between my conviction (and inner knowing) and my desire for the riches and belonging I cannot tell, but surely it was my first exercise in holding the paradoxical nature of my humanity.
Today, when I dream of leaving the world’s trouble behind to have my own Belle Epoque, I feel that same blush of shame. How will I reconcile lessons from the pandemic and climate challenges and my desire for carefree pleasure and new adventures?
Despite my eloquent talk about the need for change, the answers I expect of myself elude me. If my life has been about exploring and living freedom inside and out, that freedom is now, if not at the expense of yours, at least deeply linked to yours. What used to captivate me, provide value and meaning no longer seems to move me. While I long for levity and more carefree days, I find myself grieving the loss of innocence alongside the loss of biodiversity, other species, clean air, water, soil, and food, and mourning the idiots with money enough to pollute space with tech debris, mega-microwaves and fake stars. Inside this grief, I search for my own daring shift, oddly bereft of direction.
Problem is, it’s never been a problem being me, until now.
At midlife, I’ve woken up to the startling awareness that…1) I’m a white, privileged woman, meant to consume to keep it all going, while destroying it all the same, 2) participating in this violent, destructive world makes me half-insane, 3) and last, I think I suffer a case of awakening fatigue, losing faith in our ability to change much, let alone ourselves.
Maybe the beauty of the pandemic is exactly that we’ve been locked up with ourselves and each other, forced to not only face our fears, hopes and longings, but also confront all the messy human stuff we cannot be and deal with. If you haven’t numbed out or joined an army of “liberators,” you’ve probably spent a good amount of time reflecting upon values and lifestyle choices, how they impact your overall health, and the health of the planet. Questions I’ve asked myself and those around me: What is a good life, what is true wealth, what do we value, what is freedom, what is truth, what do we trust, what do we need, what is enough, and how do we live wisely, with what we know now.
For the past 3 months, I’ve been locked up with a new love. Two dreamers who, despite themselves, are doing the relational dance, with ample time and space to explore intimacy, love and the dynamics of self and other, me and we, and the give and take of attention, emotion and freedom. In short, nowhere to hide, all our dirty underwear hung out to dry. Meanwhile, with impermanence breathing down our midlife necks, the “lock up” has us in daily discussions of what matters and what to do with the rest of our lives.
Conversations oscillate from tiny house living, vegetable garden, sailing the south seas, desiring community and doing things that matter, to global travel, drinking wine, dancing, moving to a sunny island and bathing in the dead sea. Oh what wouldn’t I do to see the world once more, before it’s gone, before I’m gone, but there’s that shame again-consuming, taking, polluting. He wants to live and experience, while I feel called to help usher in a more wholesome world and have half forgotten how to live. He holds no illusions of a beautiful turn-out for our world, while I struggle to hang onto a silver lining — that what we choose to do now, matters.
To have a choice seems a privilege of the few, and yet, we are the many who make up the world. What does it mean when we say, humanity has been placed in proper proportion to the web of life? That we have understood interconnectedness, where we — as individuals and as collective — are neither above, beyond or at the center of LIFE, but equal participants in the ecosphere and life processes with the very special responsibility to care and clean up our act. Wet techno dreams of Mars isn’t the answer; the proliferation of future generations and life on the planet is.
That is to say, we can cry, bitch and worry about and blame this, that, and the other for the climate, the pandemic, and the world outside of ourselves, but we are intimately stuck with the situation, within ourselves, amongst ourselves.
In a recent conversation with a mystic writer friend from Schwarzwald, we shared our latest reflections on the pandemic, the rise of conspirituality and the fraught global discourse in which everyone’s out to win the narrative war, but no one listens to one another.
“I surprised myself and my family at dinner last night,” she said. “I announced I was fed up with the grandiose world changing project. I don’t believe I can change people; all I can do is perhaps add a little beauty.”
“I’m exhausted trying,” I added. “The divides in people’s perception of reality at display right now is profoundly humbling. Makes me think I’ve fooled myself into believing we’re evolving, when in reality, it doesn’t take much trouble, before fear and fight takes over and we regress. Feels like my world saving ambition is being cut to size. My ego too.”
“Our life here, being with the kids, the dogs and horses, and sitting by the fire at night,” she said. “It’s been such a gift.”
We laugh and let relief soothe our worn spirits. It seems, the dissolution of the old “world” of power structures and values and the divides between people have muted and made many of those on the awakening path withdraw, probably to adjust their own sense of reality and purpose. Not everyone is born to be passionate about elevating planetary consciousness, but rather busy living, where they are, with what they got.
Still, we’re all in the liminal, where fears, sorrows, hopes and longings can either fade or flower — depending upon where we stand, what we water.
Cut to size? Not my spirit, no. Feeling the doom and gloom is important, but staying there until you can see in the dark isn’t constructive; neither is glorifying the light, the shallow positive, because it may blind you to the full range of reality. And so, we oscillate in search of equanimity — a centered place from where we can take the next step.
The Belle Epoque vision is maybe too short-sighted; what I, what We, need is a renaissance. Renaissance means “rebirth” in French. We need a rebirth. With a new language, new values, rituals, and ways of living and doing in dynamic harmony with all life on this planet. A renaissance rarely rolls in overnight. It will happen on its own time. Still, the urgency of change is palpable and the path ahead may be scarred by death, drought, delusion and destruction. How will we meet it?
In a recent film “La Belle Epoque,” a nostalgic man gets to relive his youth, re-created by an company specializing in fulfilling people’s fantasies. While we can wallow in the glossy images of the good ol’ times, forgetting all the terrible, sad and sulky parts, there’s no going back. But we can apply our imaginations to script the path ahead and train our eyes towards beauty, our hearts towards courage and compassion.
Yes, my Belle Epoque will be self indulgent, as I seek to re-cultivate joy and wonder amidst these complex, challenging times and transmute the grief and the grind of chaos into renewed creativity. I want to ‘just’ live, as best and as simple as I can, in resonance with the soul, soil and sensual belonging to this world, this life, this time.
Remember, time isn’t running, it’s coming. It’s a gift.
All rights text and photos © Lone Mørch 2021
Tagged: covid-19, Belle epoque, coronavirus, corona blues, regeneration, pandemic