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?