Delicacy

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I’m so fascinated by the actress, Alice de Lencquesaing, at the moment. I saw a movie with her called, Le père de mes enfants on television, and spent most of the film admiring her subtle performance. She embodies the spirit of ‘fineness’. She has this quiet inner strength to her acting style that is expressed so beautifully on her face and body. And rather than seeming weak, her vulnerable performance in the film highlights the strength and backbone of her character, Clémence Canvel. It’s such a beautiful film.

I was reading this short, four-line poem by Jane Hirshfield (found in The Best American Poetry 2011 anthology) last night in bed, and suddenly it hit me why I loved her performance in the film so much:

The Cloudy Vase


Past time, I threw the flowers out,
Washed out the cloudy vase.
How easily the old clearness
leapt, like a practiced tiger, back inside it.

I immediately reacted to the metaphor of a tiger leaping into a fragile vase. That’s how I reacted to the character of Clémence: she was like a silent tiger encased by delicacy.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a handful of people mistake me for a teenager. This is not the first time it’s happened, I do admit I look young for my age. Still, every time it happens, I get defensive. Usually, it occurs within a context of someone not taking me seriously, or wanting me to ‘prove’ my professional credentials. Other times, I can already feel myself being talked down to, like a child. All this based not on what I say or do, or how I present myself, but on my small frame. There’s one word often used to describe me by strangers that I think is meant as a compliment, but which tends to irritate me: delicate.

I like the word ‘delicate’ itself, I also love its variant, ‘delicacy’. There’s something pleasing about the way it sounds when said out loud. But when this word is applied to me, it loses its charm. So you know what I’ve started doing? I’ve begun to reconceptualise it. Delicacy often implies fragility, weakness, and a whole list of similar words listed in the dictionary:

Delicacy * noun 1 FINENESS, exquisiteness, delicateness, daintiness, airiness; flimsiness, gauziness, floatiness, silkiness.

Lots of pretty ‘ness’ words. And its opposite? Strength, of course. So says the dictionary. But language isn’t a static thing, we often make our own meanings. I’ve only begun to notice quite recently how I’m drawn to some images that may outwardly seem to be the epitome of delicacy, but which also carry an underlying strength, confusing this logic of supposed fragility. I like things to be contradictory, maybe that’s why. Delicacy can be a strong thing, and strength can be a fragile thing. I want to remember this every time I feel myself starting to get defensive. This post will be my own personal reminder, I suppose. By the way, do you recognise Alice from the movie L'heure d'été? Another subtle and beautifully acted film, which if you haven’t seen, I highly recommend.

Image sources: pictures of Alice de Lencquesaing found here.