Friday, December 25, 2009

The lights of Christmas

This time of year is all about light, of course- since the nights are so long, and various religions celebrate light in different ways. Here in New Mexico, there is the persistent influence of Hispanic tradition, and Christmas eve is the night that the farolitos and luminarias are everywhere.

I think sometimes they are both used to describe the candle placed in sand inside a paper bag, but I looked it up and the luminaria is actually the bonfire lit outside a home on Christmas Eve. Both are meant to show Jesus where to show up, I guess. Farolitos are everywhere all winter here, in fact there are artificial electrical ones that many people put out, but they, too, are the traditional Christmas Eve decoration. On Canyon Road, where many galleries are, and the streets surrounding it, like Acequia Madre, people decorate with hundreds of farolitos and some also have luminarias burning in front. The bonfires are often of pinon, so they are very fragrant. The whole city shows up to walk around and look at the beautiful patterns of light, stopping at the bonfires to sing carols, stopping in where cider is simmering on the stove, watching "farolito balloons" being launched into the air by candle power. It's way cold, so you have to really bundle up. Luckily last night the wind was pretty still, but I had on a tank top, a thin turtleneck, a heavy sweater, my down coat, and a down vest unattractively zipped on over the coat, plus long johns, jeans, wool socks, waterproof Merrell boots I bought here, hat, neckie thing, heavy gloves. I actually did pretty well with the cold, because most of the time we were walking. It went down into the single digits last night and will for the next few nights, but the sun is out right now.

I would not have been able to take decent photos without a flash and I didn't drag my camera with me so I'm using stuff I found on the internets- and my apologies to their authors, not readily available to identify.

In this photo you can see how people make patterns with the farolitos.

This one was taken on Canyon Road.

I found myself singing rousing versions of Christmas songs, remembering every word from my days of high school choir. Back then, there was no politically correct inclusion of Chanukah songs (which would be pretty lame, anyway) or- what, Kwanzaa? Nobody had heard of that then. So yes, Come all ye faithful and behold Christ the Lord, I'm right in there with you. As a New Yorker, I was pretty amazed at the sense of openness to singing in public. At one point, a woman came over to where we were standing, singing "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." I only knew that one line from the song, but she kept gesticulating while she was singing, like Join In, and even though I said, I don't know the song, she seemed disappointed, like I was ruining the fun.

It was really beautiful and although there were tons of people out walking around it was all very orderly and celebratory for the most part. Always a few rowdies, but nothing to get all upset about. I wouldn't want to live in that area, beautiful as it is. First of all, it's historic, so there are numerous restrictions of what you can do with your house. And then to know, every year on Christmas eve, you have to be lighting candles and making cider for the city of Santa Fe- what if you Just Weren't In the Mood that night? Oy, I have a ways to go before feeling like I belong here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Answers on demand

A few days ago I had a home inspector look at a house I'm considering buying. He was quite thorough, I thought- except for a few comments on the differences between men and women, which sounded kind of homonid-man-ish, I liked him. He sold his house and is currently renting until the right one comes along, which, according to him, will be outside of the county, and a few other things that I don't remember, but I had kind of stopped him by asking how he knows this, and he took out his pendulum.

Now before your mind goes in the gutter, please note the photo:

The description: You can be sure that this pendulum will help you attain a clear mind and obtain a compassionate, loving answer to any questions you may ask.

My home inspector had a quartz pendulum with a big chip broken out of it (apparently that doesn't matter.) And the way it works is, you hold the chain between your thumb and finger, and ask the pendulum a yes or no question. Usually, yes is away and towards you, and no is side to side. I was fascinated by this. Now you can't just order something online or even go to the local new age bookstore to buy one. You have to go to Las Vegas, NM, to buy one from a guy who makes them. And the pendulum chooses you, not the other way around. The way that works is you use a necklace first, and then you take it with you, and then you ask the necklace to help you find your pendulum. 

I don't have too many necklaces here, but I do have one that has a hanging thing on a chain, so I tried it at home. But it didn't seem to do much. Then I looked online and discovered that not only does the pendulum choose you, but you have to train it first. I won't go into the process, which is quite detailed. You can look it up under "dowsing." It's just like when people find water with the forked stick. How does it work? I don't know. It might be similar to the Magic Eightball. I find that to be a great source of answers: "ask again later."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

High Desert Society

I was asked to a benefit for Common Cause on Sunday by a person I don't know. This is a long story I don't want to go into. Anyway, it was very interesting in a lot of ways. It was being given at a house up in the hills by a couple who have been active in politics for a while here. I don't know the whole history, but he ran for office at one point and his politics are very progressive.

So I want to describe the scene a little, because I had the distinct feeling I had wandered into a Godfather movie- like at the beginning of the first Godfather, when they were having the party at the western house and the senator was there. It was late afternoon and the sun was setting behind the mountains, which could be seen from the wrap-around windows of the house. The house was pure Santa Fe style. There was art on the walls but it was random stuff, mostly small photos or drawings or watercolors and it was hung higgley piggley. I wanted to take it all down and group them in an interesting way. There was a grand piano and a bunch of chairs set up- the hostess told me she gives piano concerts. She was lovely and natural in the way that many women are here- no makeup, hair undyed in a simple style, wearing some kind of hand-woven vest, looked like it had been made by some native person, South American maybe.

I had worn a long skirt and a red sweater, because I figured even though it was in the afternoon, people would be dressed nicely. I think there was one other woman with a skirt on and she had long hair dyed a vivid red/orange, Indian jewelry, heavy-ish makeup. When she told me her name, I asked if she was related to a crafts center in North Carolina that is quite well-known and she said yes, that the town was named after her family. Other women were wearing pants, vests, maybe a blazer here and there. It was quite a low-key crowd. The host was handsome as some white-haired male politician who are in good shape are. He was passionate when he spoke about how money and corporations are running amok in this country, and how people are being more and more dis-enfranchised by the income disparity. I was rather touched by this noblesse oblige. Well, who else is going to get things done if not the rich? His politics were definitely in the right place and I found that kind of moving.

While I listened to the CEO of Common Cause give a very stirring speech to suggest that perhaps everyone should immediately make out a check which would enable them to hire more computer geeks to work there so they can be viral and utilize Twitter and Facebook to get back on the radar screen (slightly reductive version of his shpiel) I mused upon how I would not be in the company of rich people in New York, and I enjoyed hobnobbing. They had some snacks out, but I noticed NO ONE WAS EATING ANYTHING. I ate a cookie, encouraged by the guy who brung me. It reminded me of a weird thing that happened to me when I first went to the U. of Wisconsin and wanted to pledge a sorority (I was a follower then.) At the sorority I wanted to be invited to (my roommate was a legacy there and she would soon be asked to join) I was given a cupcake to eat, or maybe a tray of cupcakes was offered to me and I took one. But I didn't have time to eat it, because they were talking to me and asking me questions. So I didn't know what to do with the cupcake- it seemed rude to throw it out, so I said I'd just take it and wrap it in a napkin. After all, this is what my grandmother did all the time! But that didn't go over too well. I wasn't asked into that sorority, and the secondary sorority didn't ask me either, because they assumed I'd pledge the other one because of my roommate. I never did join a sorority. That was a defining moment for me. I should have learned to control my sweet tooth from that experience, but I never did. Hence the cookie, one of those butter/caramel crunchy sandwich cookies with chocolate in the middle.

Monday, December 7, 2009


It started snowing late this afternoon and I almost decided to stay in and turn on the gas fireplace, but I coaxed myself out to hear Susan Meiselas talk about her work at SFAI. I'm so glad I did, because I wasn't that familiar with all she had done and it was fascinating, disturbing and stimulating all at once. There was a decent size crowd there and I know Lucy Lippard was there because Susan made mention of it. Also Mary Charlotte from KSFR was there with her dog. Anyway I'm getting off the point.

I was astonished at the work she'd done. She's won practically every award a photographer can win, including the MacArthur (seems I'm seeing a lot of MacArthur winners lately.) She spent a great deal of time documenting the insurgency in Nicaragua in the late 70's, and those pictures were very strong and also horrifying in some cases. Then she went back there 10 years later to find those people in the photographs and documented that in a film. Finally she recently did a project with the cultural association in Nicaragua, where she printed the photos digitally on fabric as large murals and placed them where they had originally been taken, so people could respond to them. She talked about the responsibility of the documentary photographer and about memory and how photographs show the passage of time in their breakdown, and how past and present can be brought together by documentation.

She's done other work with the Kurdish people, documenting the genocide that took place under Saddam Hussein. More recently she has created an archive of photos from Kurdistan, making copies of people's personal photos and researching who was in them. Many of this photographic material was hidden away for years. There was a lot to think about. I wondered how she can continue to believe in the inherent goodness of mankind- probably she doesn't. As I was leaving, I was invited to come to the dinner afterwards, but I decided to go home. I wanted to think about what I had seen. Besides, I'm wussy about driving in the snow despite my new tires, which so far are all they are supposed to be.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Living alone

I want to go off topic tonight to honor a friend who died. Friday morning I got an email from the head of my department at NCC that a dear colleague, Stacy Israel, had passed away the weekend before in her sleep. Stacy was 49. She and I both teach the Creative Voice class, and Stacy had been teaching art appreciation and art history. She got her degree at SUNY Purchase but it wasn't an MFA- I think it was an MA in Art Education, and I think she always felt a little insecure about that. She wasn't a practicing artist, but she made things, drawings and such. When we had our faculty show last year she tacked up a found object and it seemed to resonate nicely with my burn drawing that hung next to it. She was a big fan of my work, and everyone's work, and she was one of the most generous people I know.

Here's an example: I had work in the flatfiles at ArtSPACE New Haven for years, and every year they had a benefit with a silent auction of the flatfile artists' work, and a live auction of more well-established artists' work. I happened to put in some digital prints that year- it was when I was experimenting with printing on Japanese paper, and I had some palm tree photos from Costa Rica. They weren't very interesting, I think, in retrospect. Stacy would usually go to the benefit and we'd hang out and have fun. It's kind of embarrassing when no one bids on your work. The starting bid was $75. Stacy bought the piece and I'm pretty sure she did it out of friendship. Because she came from a fairly wealthy family. Her late father left her a decent trust fund I guess, and she established a foundation at NCC to benefit the art club and the art department. One time she surprised me with a necklace she had made for me out of red glass beads for my birthday.

She had enormous energy and attention to detail. Her assignments for the art appreciation class were always so interesting, and she did them first herself, to show the students what to do. I could never bring myself to put that much energy into teaching. And she always showed up for school looking kind of elegant- always some nice bracelets, black blazer, scarf, and her hair was almost white, blown out straight. I felt like a shlub compared to her.

They said she died of arterial sclerosis. I don't know how that kills you- heart attack? When I got the email, I just stared at it. It just doesn't compute. She smoked and drank, but lots of people do and they're fine. I was sorry I wasn't in Connecticut to attend the memorial. I heard there was a huge turnout, which doesn't surprise me, and I'm sure many tears were shed. It's funny how you take some people for granted. The last few days I've been reminded of her in little ways over and over. We weren't close friends; I don't know who Stacy's close friends were. But I looked forward to seeing her and it makes me terribly sad that she is not of this earth anymore. Not celebrating Christmas, or seeing in the new year, or even finishing her grades. I'll really miss her.

Of course, this is my worst nightmare, that something will happen to me and no one will know. I called my friend Janet in Albuquerque and she said we should email each other every morning. So the next morning I did, and she replied. But then she called me later and she said she didn't want to do it because she didn't think it was healthy to focus on death every day, even if it was the lack thereof. I see her point.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

Full hearts and stomachs

I spent Thanksgiving at Rob and Gary's and spent the night there. In the photo from the left is Gary, their friend Jack, Rob, and Janet. Rob, Janet and I have known each other since junior high school. That would be something like close to 50 years, although there was a 25 year period that we weren't in touch. But still. That's a long time. It's wonderful hanging around with them, for a lot of reasons, and Rob and Gary's house is over-the-top wonderful. Rob is an architect and designer and loves to shop and travel, so he renovated the house, which is in Nob Hill in Albuquerque, a lovely area atop a hill (duh) near UNM. The house is a deco design, wouldn't be out of place in Miami Beach, and is filled with beautiful objects and art. Gary has worked on the terraced garden and patios outside, and it is gorgeous, plus it faces a view of the mountains. A huge kitchen with tasteful gray cabinets and variegated light green 1" tile backsplash arranged in interesting geometric patterns. So much stuff, everything you can imagine you'd want to cook and to entertain.

There's a beautiful guest room with its own bathroom, and I was snuggled under about 4 down comforters, because it was cold last night. I didn't want to get up but of course I had to, and I decided I wanted to empty the dishwasher before Rob and Gary got up. Faced with the array of cabinets, I puzzled over where things went. Would the little frying pan go in the third drawer down in the fourth bank of drawers, where there were other pots, or would it go under the oven? How about the spatula, and the turkey baster? Utensils drawer # 3 or 4, or in the container on the counter with the wooden spoons and whisks? I did the best I could.

We went for a long walk around the neighborhood, discussing house styles, etc. Then ate a very rich breakfast of leftover stuffing and eggs. Then Rob and I went to his office to hang my work. I had three pieces framed to put up in his office during a gala party he's having Friday night, and because he had used one of my pieces on his holiday card, printed in gold and black duotone. They looked pretty great and I hope they get noticed or even bought. That would be nice.

The next thing I did was go to the Apple store. There is no Apple store in Santa Fe, oddly enough. My bluetooth speakerphone for the car has never worked with my iphone. What a nice experience actually making an appointment with a genius for the same day, getting there and being helped immediately. The store was crowded of course, this being Black Friday and after Apple had sent numerous emails announcing a one day sale event. I lusted over a new 24" iMac. But anyway, the genius fixed the problem fairly quickly (some different way the Jabra thing has to be configured for the iPhone) and was on my way to my next errand, which was 30 miles south.

I make my drawings with a pen type of thing that is attached to a burner apparatus. A woman in Belen, NM is the source of all this stuff and I had spoken to her on the phone several times but I thought, well, I'm within shouting distance, why not go over there and discuss the different points and so forth. As an important aside here, I really need to create an interesting story for how I do the drawings. I've always been honest when people ask: wood burning tool. Oh, they say, slightly let down. I know an artist who claims he makes millions of little burned dots with a stick of incense. Maybe true, who knows. But I need a better story, so I'm asking for suggestions that sound interesting and mysterious but plausible- no journeys to the rain forest to find the proper burning stick, for instance. If I tell people, it's a secret, they get in a huff. You can't win sometimes.

So this woman and her husband live in a development in the middle of nowhere, except it's really not the middle of nowhere, it's in Belen, which she told me is a "blue-collar railroad town," and it developed long ago because the railroads have a switching area there. It's so odd to see these scrunched together residential developments surrounded by vast landscapes, strung along the interstate. They had beautiful views of mountains and their neighbors' back yards. They were lovely people and she and I talked for an hour about dogs (she had two) burning, growing gourds (she uses the tools to burn designs on gourds, grows many of them herself in pots outdoors, but due to the vagaries of growing real flora, the shapes she intends don't always show up) and the lack of town planning. I bought another burning pen with a different point on it and something to clean the shmutz off the points that develops as they burn stuff. They seem to have a nice life there. Ten miles away, in Las Lunas, there's a super-Walmart, a Lowes AND a Home Depot, along with a bunch of other stuff- you know, one of those mega-outdoor-shopping centers. I didn't see a movie theater there, though. That's always my measure of civilization.

Friday, November 13, 2009

another Friday night

So here's an example of Santa Fe weather. Forecast was cloudy and rain. Around 2 PM it rained for about 10 minutes. Then the sun came out, but the sky was still full of clouds. That's when the best skies happen. I went to an opening at the art institute tonight and on the way in, took this photo:

It's hard to capture what happens when the sun and clouds are out together. It's so magical. Not many people were at the opening. I left to stop at Trader Joe's, mostly to get cash without having to pay a fee, but as usual, buying more stuff than I intended. Actually the only thing I bought that I didn't need was a box of an oreo type cookie mint ice cream sandwich kind of thing. Since I've been here I've gained weight- I don't know exactly how much, maybe 5 pounds. That's a tremendous amount of weight for me. I saw it on myself in the mirror at yoga, or maybe I was just surrounded by very slim people. I don't have a scale here. One thing I always have in the house is an assortment of dessert items.

After TJ's, I stopped in at a Canyon Road gallery where Roz Chast was signing copies of her new books. One was a collection of her cartoons from about a 25 year period and it was a big book. The other was a children's book, slim enough to carry out without backbreaking effort, but that one was completely sold out by the time I got there. I didn't want to be too obvious in taking Ms. Chast's photo, and a sizable line of people waiting for her to sign their books deterred me from leaning in and asking her if she minded, so this photo is taken from a discreet distance. You can see that some people loaded up on books. My own feeling about Roz Chast is that she is close to genius. She should get one of those grants, but she probably makes enough money that she doesn't need to, so I'm glad they award it to other oddball types who are doing more oddball pursuits.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Takin' the train

Today Tina and I took the train down to Albuquerque. I've been wanting to take the train, especially since I live near the depot, and it looked like fun. The train is relatively new and they don't quite have it worked out. Right now it only goes in the morning and evening, nothing in the middle, nothing late at night- just for commuters, and students, as we found out. So we had to plan our afternoon based on the schedule. It cost $8 round trip to Albuquerque, $6 if you're over 65, but we got charged the regular price because we didn't understand what the ticket person was saying. But we could have bought the tickets on the train for the same price anyway.

The train is called the Railrunner, and has a big cartoony roadrunner painted on it, which I find funny. Tina has seen a roadrunner (the state bird) but I've never seen one. The train comes so close to the traffic when it comes through town, it's a little scary. One time a truck was in front of me and had stopped in the no parking area, and then the gate came down right on top of him, but he couldn't move at that point or he'd cause severe damage.

 So as you can see, the train is double decker, and it's very nice and clean and comfortable. Not many people were riding on the way down, but it was maybe half to three-quarters full on the way home. It goes through some really nice scenery, but also goes past some funky housing, mobile homes, vehicles in various stages of rust and disrepair, industrial areas. It takes an hour and a half, almost twice as long as by car, but then it is saving energy. I wonder if it will ever be widely used. When questioned how fast the train was going, a very nice and enthusiastic ticket taker said, "79 mph," with no sense of irony. Mabe it was going that fast for 15 minutes, but more often it was crawling along, and since there's only one track, when the train comes the other day, it has to pull onto a side track for a little bit.

Once we got to Albuquerque we had to take a bus, because we were having lunch with Marge at Tamarind, which is at the UNM campus. Not far from downtown, but definitely not walkable- so the bus was free when you had a train ticket, we hopped on and were there in 10 minutes. But like most buses in cities where people don't use public transportation, there was a pretty down and out group of folks on the bus. One young guy asked us for 35 cents. We said no, but the guy sitting across the aisle gave him his train ticket, which would allow him to ride the bus all day for free. 

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Life in a bubble

Yesterday I went up to Dixon with my friends Rob and Gary. Dixon is a small town north of Santa Fe, just off the road up to Taos. It's quite pretty there, and like almost every small town in northern New Mexico, there are a number of artists there, and every year they have an open studio event the first weekend in November.

Rob and Gary know a lot of people up there, so we did a lot of visiting and socializing, and that was fun. We saw some arts and crafts. It was a beautiful day.

There was one artist, a landscape painter, who was wildly popular. We didn't go to his studio, because we ran out of time, but we saw about six of his paintings, three of which had been bought by people who were visiting at the house where R and G's good friend lives. The paintings were framed with gold frames from Mexico. Supposedly the guy produces at least one painting a day and orders the frames by the hundreds. The whole idea of art and who is an artist in New Mexico is testing my judgmental side in a big way. But these paintings were lovely.

Dixon seemed like a throwback to my early hippie days. It felt very much to me like what life was like when I was in my twenties in Tallahassee. I knew people over the years who lived that way, in Cornwall, CT, for instance. It's pleasant, but it's not for me. Even though Santa Fe is hardly a city like New York, it feels urban enough.

Anyway, we visited a family that has a self-supporting household, with a big geodesic dome that is a functioning greenhouse, full of amazing things growing, including a fig tree that produces fruit, melons, all kinds of greens and root vegetables. It was beautiful and lush inside there. They also have chickens and turkeys- one of them a beautiful male turkey who refused to pose for a photo.
Well, since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I worried that this guy's days were numbered. But no, the husband said they've already killed this year's bird. This guy is NEXT year's meal. Oy.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The low road

You can either take the high road or the low road to Taos from Santa Fe. The high road goes up through the mountains, through the little town of Chimayo, and up around some beautiful forested areas. The low road goes through more of a canyon, along the Rio Grande for some parts. It's not a very pretty drive except for about 10-15 miles as you go around the curves of the mountains (the part that I get a little dizzy on.)

There was little evidence of the snow that they got in Taos on Thursday. Today got warm and sunny again, but even yesterday when I drove up there the road was completely dry. The landscape in Taos is sort of valley/mountain/mesa kind of thing. I stayed in my friend Lisa's house, and we watched an incredible sunset Friday night from inside her living room.

I can see the attraction to living up there. It's much rougher around the edges, I think of it as a cowboy town. You're living out in the country, not much to do (I don't think they have a movie theater there.) So quiet and still, with the mountains looming. We went to the Harwood Museum Friday afternoon and saw an interesting exhibit about land and earth and water in New Mexico by three European artists. One took photos with a camera attached to a kite, and they were really beautiful. Printed small, for a change, arranged in a frieze around the room. There has been an ongoing theme of Land Art exhibitions in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos since the summer.

This is a wood carving from the 30's, part of the Harwood's collection:

Sunday, November 1st is the Mexican Day of the Dead. I'm going to see what's up with that- people go and have picnics and family gatherings in the cemetery. This piece reminded me of my ex-husband Eric. Not because it looks like him, but because he liked to draw skulls- he called them "smiley boys."

Today I went to visit Alan Powell, who's building his own house in Arroyo Seco. He showed me around where the TV would go, where the one suit would hang, where the guests could do a little work on their computer. He's figured out precisely where the winter sun will shine through the wall of windows on the shortest day of the year. It's quite remarkable all the details he has considered, and the house will be a work in progress for a while.

I stopped in at the Walmart in Taos to get windshield wiper fluid and Halloween candy (and I haven't had a single trick or treater come here.) I would not want to live somewhere where I'd have to shop at Walmart. I hated myself for even going in there. I drove back after that, letting people pass me because I just didn't want to rush. It was another beautiful day. I took this photo along the way.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Plaza at night

Four Seasons

Well, I was wrong to gloat about the weather, because the last two days have been as cold as January in New York. Low twenties last night and tonight is supposed to be colder. And it's still October. Everyone is complaining about it though, so I guess it's unusual. There was supposed to be a lot of snow and there has been a little, but most of it will be further north in the mountains. I'm going to Taos tomorrow and I'm sure there will be snow up there.

The thing is, I have such a hard time with dressing for the weather here. The drop in temperature when you're in the shade, or after the sun goes down, is so extreme that I end up dressing for the cold and am hot. And people say, "layers." But where do you put the extra layers? Do you carry around a small suitcase with a heavy jacket, scarf and hat? So far I've noticed that you can experience all four seasons in one day. So I keep looking around to get clues of how to dress. Right now it's just plain cold so that makes it easier in a way.

It's been a busy week. I can no longer work on the patio so I've been working on a sketchbook for this project. I was sent a moleskin sketchbook with a bar code and my name in it, and a library card. I've made books with moleskin sketchbooks and expected a medium weight paper, but this has a lightweight beige paper and the theme I was assigned is "danger danger." I wanted to change it but can't. I came up with an idea about birds, because I've been making bird drawings lately. Each page will have more and more birds on it until the last page will be almost completely black. Then I came up with the idea to paste in pages from this weird pentecostal hymn book I bought at a tag sale this summer and paint the birds on top of that. There are a lot of pages in this book- 80, I think. It's more work than I expected but I'm not one to drop the ball.

Monday night I heard Rackstraw Downes talk about his work at SFAI. He was quite amazing. All of his work is done on site and if you check that link you'll see that his paintings are very detailed. Someone in the audience asked him about his eyesight, and he said he still has 20/20 vision for distance but he's finally needing reading glasses- which he doesn't wear when he works. He pointed out that most artists' work starts to become softer as they age. Monet, Degas (who had such bad eyesight that he couldn't work outdoors at all,) Rembrandt, for example. A lovely, thoughtful man, who has written extensively about art also, and just won the MacArthur "genius" grant.

Tuesday I went to Site Santa Fe to hear Nancy Holt give a talk. Her partner was Robert Smithson, who designed and constructed Spiral Jetty and was an early pioneer in Earthworks, now called Land Art. He died in a plane crash in the 70's in a small plane while looking for locations for his work. Parenthetically, I have a dear friend from way way back who lived in Salt Lake City for years and never heard of Spiral Jetty. In fairness, it was covered by water for years, but is now visible again. I included links both to the Dia Foundation website, which maintains Spiral Jetty along with many of the other Earthworks, and the Robert Smithson website, which is maintained by the gallery that represents his estate. There was a huge retrospective of his work a couple of years the Whitney I think.

Nancy Holt lives here and has made her own art over the years, but mostly what she showed and talked about were a series of slides from the 60's of her and Smithson with the artists who became enormously famous: Richard Serra, Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Joan Jonas, Michael Heizer. It was fun and a little depressing to see these artists, many of them gone now, young and excited about rocks and earth. (I didn't bother linking all those names.) She was saying that they all lived in Soho and as soon as they crossed into New Jersey they'd feel happy and free. The art world was so much smaller then. And the West was the frontier. Even if it was only as far west as Jersey- there was a lot of wilderness. I wonder if it's still the same now.

By the way, someone who might actually know (albeit second- or third-hand) told me that Jimmy Hoffa is not buried in the Meadowlands.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The city different evolves

Last night I went to a really interesting talk about the exhibition Through the Lens: Creating Santa Fe at the History Museum. It's a show of photographs starting from early 19th c. ones to contemporary pictures. What I learned was that Santa Fe was really a construct almost from the start- by commercial interests like the railroads and Fred Harvey who established restaurants and later hotels along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railway. Interestingly, when the railroad was extended into New Mexico, it was determined that it was too difficult to go through the mountains into Santa Fe, and the tracks went through Lamy. The style of architecture was a deliberate amalgam of pueblo and Spanish architecture, and there was some reconstruction to bring existing buildings into this new vernacular.

The Palace of the Governors, at one end of the Plaza, which now houses the museum and where Indian artisans sell jewelry each day under its portal, was originally a kind of simple neo-classical building, but was restored to the now familiar style, using adobe and earth tones of the pueblos and vigas, the heavy roof rafters that extend out from the walls, a feature of Spanish architecture.



Because of the railroad bypassing the area, city fathers figured out ways to get people to come, by producing different pageants, mostly conquistador kind of stuff. In the 30's they used WPA money to give artists traveling expenses to come to the area. Eventually, the fake pageants became beloved community rituals. Due to political action groups, "Indian Fair" was established in 1922, and now Indian Market is a huge enterprise. It was always the intention to present the area as a layering of three cultures- Hispanic, Native American and Anglo- and I guess what surprised me was that this was such a contrived identity. By the way, I'm oversimplifying the history here. I didn't take notes.

This is a photo in the exhibit, by Norman Mauskopf, from 1992:

Notice the guy in the back with the shorts and tevo's. Reminds me of a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode where Larry is sitting next to a guy with shorts on in first class, and tells him he should wear pants, and an argument ensues.

The room was packed for the lecture and unfortunately in the middle of it there was suddenly a weird noise and people started jumping up and calling for a doctor. Then we all waited for the ENT's to come, but there was no drama. The lecture went on.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mundane details

A friend asked me today what my days are like here. This week has been pretty lowkey- we had a nasty rain/snow storm on Wednesday which meant both patios filled with leaves, and no working outside those days. Next morning, clouds still filled the sky. I took some photos on my walk.

Notice the artwork on the side of the Boys and Girls Club- the sign spells out "peace" in rocks of various hues. Rocks are embedded in a long wall with a spectacular gate:

This seems to be a residence, or several...I don't know the whole story about it but somehow I think it's linked to the painter of the Our Lady of Guadalupe mural (see earlier post) who happened to be there again today, putting in some details.
Here are some photos of the place I'm living, taken from the stairs leading to the bedroom/bathroom loft:
 I've spent a lot of the week at home, working, cleaning, reading, watching movies. Fridays are my yoga day. I'm not really over my surgery and am occasionally reminded by a pain here and there (and weight gain) but I take a gentle yoga class and I'm one of the better students in there, so I like that. It's such a relief to be in a place where older people such as myself are all around. It feels so forgiving.

The class is at a huge community center dedicated to a woman: Genoveva Chavez. I don't know what she did (probably should find out) but there's a cool mosaic of her at the end of the hall, see photo:

I completely love this place. You see the mountains all around. In the photo, you can see the windows for the two swimming pools on the left (one has a huge waterslide) and on the right, downstairs, is an ice skating rink. There are classes, machines, running track, basketball courts. Best part: if you're over 60 it costs $3.00 to get in, and do what you want, classes, machines, swimming, whatever. I think the rink might cost something, and you can rent skates.

I've thought about various things to learn here. A lot of my friends are into tango, so there's that to try (but I would need new shoes, and glasses don't seem to go with tango) but I could also take ice skating, since I've never been very good at it. Soon there will be skiing. And then of course the hiking, doesn't cost anything.

I bought new tires for my car today, slightly larger and better weather-wise than what came on the car. Those were bad tires, meant for mileage not for bad weather and bad roads, and I had to replace two over the years. Nothing like getting a slash in your sidewall and not knowing it until you're going 75 on I-95. So to test out the super duper tires I took a ride up toward the ski basin. It's a windy road and makes me dizzy so I only went about 8 miles. But it was beautiful. The light is so exquisite here. And the snow is starting to accumulate on the mountains.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Domingo musica

I went to a concert this afternoon at the Lensic auditorium. I got the cheapest seat available ($30), which was pretty high and far back (see photo) but the auditorium isn't that huge and it was very satisfactory. I sat next to a couple from Montreal who were on vacation, and Santa Fe was their last stop before going home- they'd been the Las Vegas because their son worked in Cirque du Soleil, then had seen the Grand Canyon. We talked about how much there was to see and do in Santa Fe and they were having a great time. The weather has still been wonderful, it seems amazing to me, and everyone comments on it. She took photos and I took photos. Then the usher came by and told us to be sure not to take photos during the performance and the Montreal woman said, oh yes of course not, and then made a sarcastic remark under her breath in French.

I love watching orchestras, especially the strings and the percussion. Today's concert was called "The Romantics" and it was Mozart, Mendelsohn, and Brahms. I would definitely like to come back in my next lifetime as a violinist. I was watching one guy in particular- he had a big smile on his face as they all sawed away at high speed on their instruments. I love to watch the cellists and the way their non-bowing hand does that tremolo back and forth thing. All in perfect synchronization with each other. I just think it would be fantastic to be able to play in an orchestra and make those sounds all together. And the conductor- keeping everyone under control, like trying to herd cats. Making sure no one was too loud, or unruly. I got a little hung up on watching the trumpet players and the percussionist during the last movement of the Brahms. They had nothing to do, and I was afraid the young trumpeter was going to whip out her cell phone and start texting, she looked so bored. She fidgeted a lot and then it was over and she was applauding the solo pianist with everyone else.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A little glitz

The weather has been so nice that I decided to do my burn drawings outside on the patio, which worked out great. I could hear the crickets, even in the daytime, and it sort of set a rhythm for me to make the burn marks. It was really pleasant and I don't have to deal with the smoke in the house. I wonder how long I'll be able to do this.

Here's an example of what I'm doing. This is a drawing I did in NY on a lightweight drawing paper. The paper doesn't take any water-based medium without buckling. I'd like to mount the drawings on black with gold leaf and not have glass over them. So I've started doing them on watercolor paper, which makes a darker burn so it looks different than this. The framing will be important so I think I'm going to go to a framer and get some opinions.

I heard the weather in the east is just horrible. Snow in CT, gray and dark and dreary in NY. I almost feel guilty enjoying the sunshine.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


If, like me, you like chocolate, and if, like me, you concern yourself with daily regularity, you will like McVitie's Digestives. Here is a cookie that combines chocolate, either milk or dark, and a fiber-filled cookie. Now some might say chocolate doesn't belong on a cookie that is related in texture to compressed sawdust, but they would be missing out.

I discovered these cookies when I was in London this past July, purely by accident, when I was looking for something in the expensive little grocery to satisfy my need for something sweet after dinner, and I was totally hooked. So much so that I brought the uneaten ones back with me to New York and then looked in vain to find a store that sold them. Just before I left for Santa Fe I happened upon them at Zabar's. They were 5.98 I think but I bought them anyway. There aren't that many in a package so they're long gone. But today I found them at a store right near me, and they were only 3.99. Cheaper than Zabar's- although the packaging isn't as good (they normally come in a sort of paper tube with a plastic lid that closes them and protects their freshness.)

This same store sells all kinds of arcane international foods- especially heavy on the British. Just blocks away. Almost makes up for the complete lack of a decent bagel here, even at a place called "Bagelmania."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

She's everywhere, watching out for us all

You see a lot of images of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I've always loved that image, all that fire or whatever radiating off of her. This one is painted on the bridge over the river behind my house. There was an old painting of her, and recently a guy painted over it and added the flowers and landscape, and the banner, which memorializes his friend. I stopped to ask him about it when he was painting. He said the friend's mother lives down the road. I live a few blocks from Guadalupe Street and there is a big church on the corner dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. And there is a huge statue of her, with a lot of gold (see what I mean?) I remember last summer when the statue arrived. It was a very big deal. The photo on the home page that I linked to doesn't do it justice. But you can go to their gallery page and see the process of installation. They are very, very proud of it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Random musings about being west of the Mississippi

Not much happened this week except for some frustration at art experiments that didn't work. I saw a lot of gold art when I was here in the summer. And I started thinking about it, thinking how it reflects the extreme light here. It's so bright that when you walk in the sun you're almost blinded. You want to get into the shadow so you can see. I bought a baseball hat just to keep the sun out, so I could see when I walk in the morning- otherwise I can't see the ground from the strong light blinding me.

There are lots of ways to use gold- you can get gold paint of course, but that's cheesy. Then there's powdered gold pigment, and gold leaf. I've been playing around with the pigment and the gold leaf, both of which require adhesive and a sealer afterwards. It looks really cool on black. I got very seduced by it. But I'm still not sure about the cheese factor. I go back and forth between thinking about what I would try to show in New York, and what intrigues me here. It feels very different.

I had dinner with someone I met on Sunday, a doctor. He proceeded to inform me about enneagrams, telling me how Rumi is a type 4, like him. The artistic, melodramatic outsider. There are 9 personality types. I took a test online and it was something like "The Achiever" with a bit of "The Investigator" and some of "The Helper." Nowhere near type 4. I was pretty skeptical, but this man was really into it and kept referring to people in his life as being a type this or a type that- and his own behavior over the years, he was a type 4, so of course he'd be a certain way in a certain situation. I had never heard of the enneagram, but that's only one of many ways that people here seem to like to use to explain the mysteries of the universe.

One thing that throws me a lot is the time difference from the east coast. I have to keep reminding myself that it's two hours earlier- so if I think of calling someone at around 9 PM, it's too late. When I wake up in the morning, my friends and family have been up for two hours or more. First thing I do is check my email. I don't like the feeling of being on a different schedule.

I finally started receiving my NY Times in the morning. It took a week and a half and a lot of phone calls. I figured it would get here eventually, but when I called the Times I guess they called the manager of the newspaper delivery for the district and he called me a few times to ask if I'd gotten the paper. I hadn't. So he thought maybe someone was taking them, but he rode by here himself to see what the situation is. He moved the address sign for the house next door so there wouldn't be confusion. I wonder what they thought of that- they're from Texas and have a big ol' SUV sitting out there. Anyway I started getting the paper, finally. But it's strangely organized. It has about 10 sections, because they're not put together, it's kind of in bunches. No matter, though. I do enjoy reading it and doing the puzzle until Thursday or Friday when I can't do it anymore.

I've been thinking about dogs, too. Lots of dog-walkers behind the house, along the river. I look on the humane society website every few days. I stop myself though. Not time yet, but it would be great to have a little companion here.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The limits of language

This weekend I'm taking a seminar on Rumi at St. John's College. St. John's is in a lovely spot, above Canyon Road in the hills. It's one of the last of a particular kind of college- committed to the liberal arts and discourse. Not at all what I experienced as an undergrad. I'm not sure I would have been up to it.

I met an artist from Iran this summer and she kindled my interest in Persian poetry, telling me about a poem called The Conference of the Birds. More about this at some point. My friend Dom and I were browsing at the used bookstore here and I found a book on Sufism and a book of some of Rumi's poems- so seeing the seminar on Rumi listed on the St. John's website, I was excited at the opportunity. Because I have to say, Rumi's poems are a little hard for me to relate to. But now I see that it's the translation that is a little opaque to me. And by the way, off-topic, is the Kindle meant to suggest sparking an interest? You can get samples of books before ordering them. But it's a sweet word in a way, isn't it? Kindle. Like kinder (children) it almost seems like a diminutive.

The seminar is for the weekend only- six hours spread over Friday Saturday and Sunday. There's food, and on Friday, there was wine. The food is kind of fancy, like last night it had a Persian theme, and there was a predominance of round balls. Some were beef with spices, some were pistachio/apricot rolled in confectioner's sugar. Then there was hummus and two kinds of home-made pita chips. So of course I had a little wine and then I was sort of sorry I had, because I couldn't think as clearly. And this is a very smart crowd. Almost all are women, different ages; one male poet who is the least talkative, and the "tutor" who is an expert not only in Middle Eastern literature, but Western lit as well; reads Farsi of course, and is very good at framing questions to direct the discussion. He gave us a great deal of material to read, and also to listen to. It was password protected online and I couldn't drag an audio file off to post here. But probably listening to a Rumi poem in Farsi is not what you planned to do with your time.

I will say this, that besides hearing different peoples' responses to the poems, I've become much more familiar with the depth of Rumi's writing, and learned that the most popular and famous of his interpretors, Coleman Barks, has taken tremendous liberties with the text, often draining it of the Islamic, mystical aspects which seem to me to be very important. So seeing several translations together has been really interesting, and makes one wonder what Rumi's intentions were, but in fact, one could ask if that is even relevant, if the poems that result from the interpretations are meaningful in their own way.

Here is an example of four interpretations of the same quatrain:

1. Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase, "each other"
doesn't make any sense.

2. Beyond belief and disbelief
lies the vast expanse of ecstasy
where the mystic lays his head
on the cushion of Truth.

3. This valley is different.
Beyond religion and cults.
Here, silently, put your head down
Engulf yourself in the wonder of God.
Here, there's no room for religion or cults.

4. Beyond Islam and unbelief there is a 'desert plain'
For us, there is a 'yearning' in the midst of that expanse.
The knower of God who reaches that plain will prostrate in prayer.
For there is neither Islam nor unbelief, nor any 'where' in that place.

I'll supply a bibliography for anyone who's gotten this far! The first interpretation is Coleman Barks'. I'll bet if you've got a book of Rumi poems, they are translated by him. Tomorrow, our last day, we'll be mostly listening to the poems being read in Farsi. But it's amazing how many ways Rumi's poems have been interpreted musically- from folk/country to Philip Glass to chanting. Our tutor says he is the best selling poet in this country. Could that be true?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thoughts about Oz

The wind has been fierce since last night. This morning it was 39 degrees according to my phone, but it felt very cold as I took my morning walk/run. I've posted a photo taken on the path, which today was full of elementary school kids from the school across the street. It runs behind my house as a dirt road, crosses a big street, then goes through fields and a park, alongside the riverbed.

I've started working here, and catching up on my podcasts while I work. Today I listened to the broadcast on Studio 360 about The Wizard of Oz and had an epiphany about how it's possible that this movie had a profound affect on me as a child. I watched it every year without fail. Salman Rushdie wrote a book about it and he talked about how it was really not about coming home, but rather about getting away from home. Scholars talked about how the Baum book was proto-feminist: Dorothy and her little dog, taking off for a place that was so much more beautiful and exciting. Could this be the story of my life?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fall is all about yellow

The Book is sealed

Yesterday I went to Yom Kippur services. This summer I had lunch with a wonderful woman whose partner is a rabbi at a shul, HaMakom, which holds services at a pretty little church in town, so I decided to go there. It's a progressive synagogue, both rabbi and cantor are women, and though I don't know all the history, someone told me it broke off from the larger reform temple here, Beth Sholom.

First thing was, everyone (except for me and a few others) were wearing white, or almost white. In all my years of going to High Holiday services, I knew the rabbi and cantor would always wear white, but never the congregation. No, it was always an event to dress up for, wear new fall clothes and all that. In Miami Beach, it was still sweltering but you wanted to wear a little suit, and when I was a kid, it was unthinkable to wear pants. That has changed, obviously. But here people were wearing white jeans, crocs, and the like, some were dressed beautifully in long flowing garments, many had little yarmulkes pinned on their heads, pretty crocheted ones, even beaded ones. The rabbi invited all of us to put on a talit, the prayer shawl that is usually worn by men. I've never had one on, in my recollection, and it was a nice feeling, to be wrapped up in it. Especially since it was cold in there.

Another thing was, there was a dog there. It had a little outfit saying it was a service dog, but it was a cocker spaniel and the person who brought it was most definitely not blind. Who knows though. It was pretty well behaved but at one point started to bark (it wasn't a particularly loud part of the service, perhaps it saw a vision of some sort.) I thought maybe Lucy would have enjoyed going to services and she was already dressed in white, but maybe she would have been bored. For a portion of the service a beautiful little girl, barefoot, pranced around the synagogue giving hugs to almost anyone. It seemed she knew everyone, and she was quite enjoying herself. Her mother was on the bima and the little girl particularly enjoyed hopping on one foot up and down the aisles. Everyone seemed amused.

I'm making it sound like it was bedlam in there, and it wasn't at all, I just found it refreshingly, but disconcertingly casual. After all, this wasn't some happy holiday- it was the Day of Atonement. I atoned for the snarky remark I made about the dead flies the other day (which I've vacuumed away.) It was a beautiful, moving service. Instead of a sermon, there were three people who are involved in the Judaism course- the teacher (mother of abovementioned child) a woman of 75 who will be Bat Mitzvah in May, and a man of 60-something whose partner is Jewish and who is converting. Their commitment to the religion and their willingness to immerse themselves in theory and ritual was very inspiring. I felt a real sense of community in that room, and a lot of acceptance and love. Most of the congregation (and Santa Fe as a whole) is comprised of somewhat older transplants. The rabbi referred a lot to her sermon of the night before, about "sageing instead of ageing." Something I would like to remember. When I would tell my story, they'd say, you won't want to leave. We'll see. I met some lovely people and it was the first time I've spent the entire day of Yom Kippur at synagogue, culminating in a beautiful pot luck break-fast.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Chapter two- the signs

Back in Santa Fe, this time for real life- or what passes for real life in my sphere of being these days. I rented a condo for a year and will be here till January, when I need to go back home to teach spring semester. And since I've been talking about moving out west for years, and coming to Santa Fe for at least 15 years, I figured it was as good a time as any to spend more time here.

A friend of a friend was offering this place to rent. It's in a great location near the railyard, where the farmer's market, Site Santa Fe and a number of galleries are. It's also an easy walk to the Plaza. Not sure if I feel okay walking home at night, though- no one else does except the drug dealers. Yes, there are drug dealers in Santa Fe. Anyway, it was being used as an art studio by the owner, but it's really a large 1BR 1.5 Bath apartment with two patios. So I figured I could work and live here. So far, my second day here, I'm far from being settled and organized, but that will come. First I have to clean it better and get rid of the dead flies. I did not leave dead flies in my apartment for my subtenant.

It is so odd the way people show up when you don't expect, and how Santa Fe seems to create a vortex of those experiences. Hours after I arrived, I was getting into my car when a woman walked by with a dog that started barking at me. I looked over and the woman said, "Donna!" It was Eileen Torpey, a woman I know from grad school who lives here, and whom I've been in touch with, but not recently. She happened to be walking along the "river" (it's really just a tiny stream at this point) which is behind my place. I also ran into a woman who owns a gallery in the little town of Madrid in Target- she had been sitting a seat away from me on the flight out here. I was so excited to see someone I knew that I gave her a little hug, and she laughed.

However, last night I went to an opening of a group show because someone I had met at open studios this summer had a piece in it. I talked to him, but didn't see anyone else I know, except for the guy who works at the art supply store. I kept in mind Jackie Battenfield's advice to talk to at least four people at any opening you go to and I forced myself to say a few things to people I was standing next to, looking at the art. But no one continued the conversation. In fact one woman looked at me like I had two heads. Slightly discouraging, but it's early in my stay.

I loved the double rainbow I saw as I came out of (of course) a natural food store. It had just started to rain and I took a few photos with my phone. As I drove, it looked like I would drive right below it, as if it was the St. Louis arch. Could there be a more perfect sign than a rainbow my first day?