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.