CUBA: Art & Soul

The beating pulse of artistic creativity permeates everything in Cuba. I am not talking about souvenir art like papier-mâché 1950’s cars in chartreuse, red, and royal blue to be used as desktop ornaments, or Cuban flags or Che t-shirts. I am talking of art that transcends the bounds of the ordinary to reveal the extraordinary, art that draws back the veil.

A US citizen can still only enter Cuba from the US with a US-vetted educational group. My group was mainly Jungian analysts. I am not a Jungian analyst though I have my visions, and was as excited as the Jungians about the symbolism and archetypes of Cuban Christianity that overlay the African religions.

Sightings of Jamaya (Ee-mai-YA; also spelled Jamalla), the Cuban personification of the archetype of the Black Madonna, goddess of land and sea, led to ripples of excitement in our group. Her flowing robes, her golden aura, her white baby.

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It rained every day except one, but even on the rainy days we went singly, in duos, threes and fours, or as a group to museums, galleries, churches, restaurants, and concerts, or strolled through old Havana, Cienfuegos, or Trinidad. We struggled to grasp the dichotomy to our Western minds—Jungian or not—between the vibrancy of the art, colors, tastes, and sounds with the dilapidated buildings, meager goods, and government repression.

I became obsessed with the question: Is creativity expressed most radiantly by indomitable people under duress? Perhaps because it is the carrier of life itself?

Even the most “transcending” art I saw, including of Jamaya, was infused with humanity, with human emotions, gestures, and instincts—humans merging with animals, Jesus sitting on a chair after the Crucifixion looking very worried.christ for blog
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Sometime a wry sense of humor, or not, speaks to the current political situation. In the center courtyard of the magnificent National Museum of Fine Art in Havana is a sculpture that is a masterpiece of ambiguity. A rusted iron smoke stack rises as a steeple out of a small Monopoly-style church. Sitting at the top is Christ on a cloud, seemingly all of smoke. As my Jungian analyst friend Jean Shinoda Bolen said, “Holy smoke!”Jesus on smoke stack.

Yet, is it a write-off of religion as nothing but smoke? Or an embracing of the Christ spirit as generated by believers? Or something else?

Christianity has come back in force in Cuba, but remains vaguely frowned upon by some. Is this sculpture debunking religion or showing the tenacity of belief in something beyond the tangible, perhaps even manifesting something beyond the tangible? We went to a church service. The place was rocking.

We were told that Cubans have freedom of speech (and, thus, of artistic expression) but they don’t have freedom after speech. That is, for the most part you can say what you feel and think, though it might need to be somewhat camouflaged, but you cannot ask others to join you in a movement and you cannot do active protest. This demarcation holds social protest in place, supported by years of masterful maneuvering by Fidel that makes most Cubans feel grateful to him and the on-going government for what they receive, including full free health care, an excellent free education up through doctoral degrees, and government institutions that support advanced art education in painting, sculpture, dance, and music.

The poverty line has been lifted way above where it was before the revolution and the people seem happy, though income discrepancies are rampant. Hotel workers, through tips, earn more than medical doctors. (Cuban joke: A man tells a stranger he is a bellboy. His wife clarifies, “He has delusions of grandeur. He’s really a doctor.”)

To continue: housing is, by and large, very decrepit, and luxury goods are not available. There are no large grocery stores, or, it seems, large stores of any kind.
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There are many car repair service stations, but you have the feeling every Cuban male has learned how to repair cars with tin cans and wire. The cars themselves are works of art.

Our hotel had a grand marble lobby and wonderful restaurants. Still, the light fell out of the ceiling of my bathroom and crashed in the sink, my coffeemaker didn’t work, and my curtains were missing a third of their hooks, and the apartment elevators were so slow I used the stairs from the fifth floor. We rejoiced with the general manager—a woman—the day the embargo on parts from the US was lifted so the elevators, and hopefully many other things, could be properly repaired. That said, the hotel spaces were filled with the best art—beautiful, creative, whimsical, celebratory, exquisitely painted—I have ever seen in a hotel anywhere.

Perhaps this containment of artists in a stratum of life where they can express themselves fully only through their art is like a greenhouse. The art is required to burst fully open, ignoring deprivations, expressing the world of beauty and so much more precisely because it does not have access to what is beyond the greenhouse. Then again, it could just be that Cuba is warm and sunny.

Surely it is the “warm and sunny” that has fueled the exuberant music that has supported Cubans throughout their history, but what blew me away was the choir Cantores De Cienfuegos directed by Honey Moreira. choir for blog, bestWe had a private concert with this a cappella chorus of angels!

They have won international contests, which seems beside the point when you are lifted in their embrace. (You can hear them on YouTube to get an approximation of this extraordinary experience of musicianship.) 

The last day we ate at a privately-owned restaurant that had three large prominently displayed paintings of Fidel Castro. On first look, even second look, they seemed simply to be photo-realistic paintings. Yet something was “off.”

Fidel tongue copyLooking closer at the profile view, I saw behind the straggly moustache that Fidel’s tongue appeared to be sticking out like that of a silly yapper. Perhaps it was that he has a strange lower lip. Perhaps the artist was leaving the question open?hands for blog fidel to crowd.

 

 

 

 

 

In the study of his hands, I realized his left hand is in his sleeve as though he has a trick up there and the thumb of his left hand has traces of red, like blood, on it. But then again, his right fingers have the same red. What to make of that? Nothing or something?

In the final painting the viewer sees Castro’s back with his arms raised before a crowd. His left hand points further to the left. He is exhorting his audience, which the viewer sees as faceless blobs as, the artist seems to be saying, Fidel saw them also.

Is this an artist “speaking” his truth?

Our group is gravely concerned about what will happen when the international hotels and luxury stores arrive, when Americans arrive by the tens of thousands, when ceiling lights no longer crash into the sink, curtains hang right, and new cars arrive.

I’m not sure the Cubans will know what hit them. How will their exuberant humanity hold against the onslaught? What will save Cuba from becoming Miami?

Perhaps there will be help from Yamaya who protects land and sea or Jesus who rises out of the ashes, but I suspect it will be up to the Cubans to save themselves and protect their humanity through their warmth, ingenuity, and creativity. For this, they do have one more god to help them, Elegua the Trickster, a direct import from Africa.

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Elegua is a child, either male or female. Here she is in the all-white dress of the Santeria sect of Christianity, sitting in the entry room of a small temple to Jamalla nestled between shops in Trinidad de Cuba.

Elegua should not be confused with childishness. She is powerful and uses wiles to make things right. I place my bets on her ingenuity. I place my bets on Cubans. I place my bets on art. It matters. Cuba is a triumph of creativity and humanity over circumstances. We have much to learn from her.

Paris, after being with Syrians and Palestinians

I sit by the Seine on a chilly day with a blue sky and languid clouds overhead. I love my new coat, a motley blue and black fuzzy thing, wrapped around me. The river runs grey.

If I do not write today, it feels I may never again. It has been months since I have written as I have sunk deeper and deeper into a vast well of being without expressing that I feared and resisted, even as I knew I, somehow, chose it. I was – wasn’t I? – meant to achieve something with my life, to be not only a contender but at least in the semi-finals.

Instead, I am coming to terms with . . . being. Only that. Not achieving, not defining. It is a state not subject to interpretations, comparisons, or judgements. Out of it something discernible is starting slowly to bloom. It has no relationship to what I expected of myself or how I defined myself. Whether it is a result of a lessening of faculties or a gaining of new ones I have no idea, and I hardly care.

It is a sensuous state that is not actually sexual. Sex? What is sex? Will it ever return to my life? Do I wish its disturbances?

The issue that slightly rankles is not being anyone’s #1. That is different in nature than lying in bed with someone, being held, having dinners together, deciding together which movie to watch. It is having some one person who knows, more or less, where you are and what you are thinking, though I don’t believe anyone knows what someone else is thinking fully, which may be a good thing. Thinking is over-rated.

I lied to you. I am not by the Seine, not yet anyway. I am in an apartment a couple blocks from the Seine with intents to go to the Seine. I described the sky accurately though, and I do love my new coat. See, you believed I was by the Seine even though I wasn’t.

My little deception is nothing like the terrors (damn that word, so sick of it) happening to the women from Syria I was with the last week of August. We were in Turkey. I was one of a team of people giving leadership training and trauma healing to Syrian women in Gazientep, which has hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in it and seems to be the site of the Syrian government in exile. We presented more than 20 male leaders, including the Prime Minister of the government in exile and the President of the National Coalition, with a statement and plan on protection of civilians and we told them they needed the help of women. We brought all these male leaders together in one room for the first time. Everyone needs the help of women to get things done, including other women.

Those women have more to deal with than small lies and the picayune problems afflicting a woman with a new coat and a warm apartment a couple blocks from the Seine. These women had family members murdered because of the work they did and they choose to continue. These women have lost husbands, brothers, fathers, and cousins if not to barrel bombs, snipers, bombs, gas, and drones, then to the irreconcilable differences of being on different sides of the multi-faceted divides.

I wonder if the pharmacy is open Mondays. I need to replace my LeClerc compact (color: Ivoire) that I got a year ago.

I have a new Facebook friend who chastises herself for feeling great pain over her losses when so many people in the world are suffering such larger losses. I don’t know her but I like her and assured her, pulling up remnants of wisdom from that which remains and seems so far away as to be up from my big toes, that a loss is a loss and the Syrian women know this, too. They equated the death of one team member’s brother as a teenager to a car accident to their own losses. They cried together.

I’m reading “My Promised Land” by Ari Shavit. It was recommended to me over and over when it came out a couple years ago. Now I’m reading it, safely ensconced in the 6th arrondisement, after having spent last week in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It takes a Jew to tell Jews that Jews have and do perpetrate terrors (damn that word). They did it deliberately and calculatingly in the claiming of Israel and they do it today in Palestine. Mass slaughter then and picking people off daily now, one by one, in the West Bank. Gaza is excluded from the ping here and ping there death. Gazans are, instead, cyclically slaughtered in mass.

Right! I have to remember to call my grand-daughter who, due to a decision by her mother when she was 12, is Jewish. Today is her 7th birthday. 

I had my first up close and personal experience with tear gas 10 days ago – my god, was it just over a week ago? – in Beit Jala alongside Bethlehem. Israeli soldiers were on all the rooftops waiting for our quiet walking protest of 150 or so people to approach their police tape. Not touch it, just get within 10 feet of it. No conversations, no give and take, no telling the marchers to back off. We were instantly bombarded with tear gas, front, back, center, and sides. The intent wasn’t to disperse, it was to punish us for holding any thought that civility and rationality would have any influence on where they build the wall, that nonviolence had a chance against an establishment determined to divide Beit Jala and to appropriate parts of it. Land grabbing is as routine as chewing gum. Take over Palestinian villages that existed for hundreds of years through generation after generation? Did it in 1948, doing it now.

The inside skinny on tear gas is that it is worst than you imagine. Well, worse than I imagined. There was the moment when I thought my lungs would implode and I would die. Then there was the moment when I realized my lungs were not going to implode, nor would I have permanent eye damage and the skin on my face probably would not peel off – all while running uphill for two blocks with a younger male colleague pulling me along, and the fuck moment when I realized the canister in front of me and rolling towards me was going to explode at my feet just as I reached it.

It’s unfortunate the Picasso exhibit at the Grand Palais doesn’t open until the 22nd. I know some more cerebral art critics pay little attention, but, give me a break, the man was a god. An annoying human maybe, but a god. Gods tend to be annoying. 

So Germany is leading the welcoming of Syrian refugees to their country. Isn’t that amazing? Has the middle of the human populace attitudinal bell curve in Europe shifted enough so people in some nations can gather together and act as humanitarians? Our hearts thump louder at the possibility even as I am among those getting pissed as hell at the wealthy Arab states who allow in zero Syrian refugees even as Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon stretch and stretch and care.

And the US? When did such a large portion of our populace, and our representatives, become stingy? What, we’re afraid people who are better educated and more resourceful will come in and help our economy and standard of living?

I need more protein. Not eating four legged creatures and finding fowl less and less appealing . . . the health food store at Place de Furstenberg should have tofu, or a protein powder. Ah, there’s Yen and that incredible thing they do with tofu where they make it taste like . . . well, nothing else I know, but so delicious.

I have the right to mourn my losses. Friends have died, few close relatives remain, my ex-husbands are forgettable, my beauty requires good sleep and good hair days, my body weakens, the avalanche of words is sometimes a dry bed creek. I am no one’s #1. It is the bane of almost every incredible woman I know over 65. Not all of us, but most of us. If we have not already come to terms with living alone and dying without having rocked the world, we need to do it now. Otherwise, all realization of existing beauty now and in the future is lost – not only our own beauty, but that of being here in what, on the best days and even most of the worst, is an incomprehensible miracle despite the killing and slaughter and madness and, yes, terrors.

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Today’s grey Seine

 I need to go out.

Will I think of the Syrian women and weep by the Seine? Has this writing released the damned flood? What will become of us all?

Paris has survived terrors.

I wonder if that place that gives Thai massages is still open on rue Christine.

On Beauty: Chihuly in the Garden

ALERT: Be prepared to slow down. Glass, greenery, and mind-alteration ahead.

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Last week I was at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Miami where the 83 acres of barely tamed palms, cycads, and flowering trees were embedded with the blown glass art of Dale Chihuly. It was glorious, and forced me to rethink my beliefs about beauty.

Beauty is not absolute. We may cluster around Monet’s waterlilies, Venus de Milo, and Vermeer’s woman with a pearl earring and gasp in awe, but beauty is not absolute.

My heart may skip a beat over any painting by Odilon Redon or Wassily Kandinsky. Yet, beauty is not absolute.

We may feel a visceral snap, zap, ping that seems to have come across 40,000 years to reach us when we look at cave wall drawings of bison, horses, and deer. Still, beauty is not absolute.

To keep it simple let’s focus only on the visual arts even though the principle that beauty is relative applies to our perception of beauty in music, poetry, dance, film, and humans.

The functioning principle is: Beauty is relative because humans decide individually what they believe is beautiful and what they believe is not. The work of art is not saying to itself “I am beautiful.” We do that, and we have different opinions.

Humans assign beauty and other values to art based on filters inside ourselves that we do not even realize exist. Everything we see passes through these filters and is judged – tainted or enhanced – by them. We feel that we are discovering beauty or ugliness when, in fact, we are assigning beauty, ugliness, and all sorts of other qualities to art – and so much more.

The filters are determined by where we live, when we live, our experience, our education, and our wildly-varied personal quirks. It is all personal. There is no other explanation for Elvis on black velvet.

FullSizeRender 6This is not to say visual arts are inert, flat, dead. They have internal resonance determined by their color combinations and spacial relationships. Paintings and sculpture have “chords” just like music. Their colors, scale, and depth can be analyzed and charted. They may be “harmonic” or discordant.

The majority of people prefer “harmonic” – that is, mathematically balanced – resonance where the light spectrum of different colors feel “connected” with each other and the spacial relationships feel cohesiveness, i.e. most people don’t like things to “clash.” Most of us like art we perceive to resonate harmonically inside itself that, by extension, then resonates inside us.

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Until last week I never resonated with the blown glass works of Dale Chihuly. I found them stunning but soulless. Analytical, intellectual, a little too like a painting by Salvador Dali. Slick. Lacking the mess of human emotions.

But the idea of walking through the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden to see Chihuly’s glass works in sito was intriguing. Besides, my host was charming, and it was a sunny day with blue skies over Miami.

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My friend and I were enchanted, and I saw Chihuly’s art as for the first time.

Suddenly the works were not shallow, but sensuous, brilliant, outrageous, and organic. Yes, organic. They created an Alice in Wonderland world where everything was alive, and slightly dangerous. They rose from the earth among vines and flowers. They “bloomed” and thrived on the sun like the carbon-based life around them.

The works resonated with the plants. Newts crawled on them, dragonflies rested on them, and birds walked among them. The plants, animals, insects, and glass were at home with each other.

IMG_2936This 180 degree turn in perception reminded me of a book I read years ago. The author explored our ability to change instantly what we think is ugly to what we think is beautiful, our ability to re-perceive.

She used the example of palm trees, how she considered them ugly until one day she saw them as beautiful. Reading that, I suddenly no longer saw palms as ugly but as beautiful.

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Hold on. We’re going to take this to its extreme.

Years ago, within seconds of starting to meditate on a beach in California, I watched the setting sun become the center of a universe of love that held – in fact, was – a beating heart. Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub, through the sky, the ocean, the sands.

FullSizeRender 12My mouth was slightly open. A fly came to hover in front of it like a hummingbird. I saw my mouth through the fly’s perspective – a damp reddish cave. How inviting!

The fly came closer, but did not enter. As the fly, I reconsidered. As a person, I felt no abhorrence.

In the suspension of a world divided into beautiful and ugly, what would normally be felt as grotesque was felt as exquisite. I understand this is shocking when viewed from the constraints of normal perception and judgement, but it was a lesson I have never forgotten. It was a world alive in beauty without filters. It touched me so deeply that I could not speak of it for months and then only in tears of wonder.

As humans we assign not only designations of what is beautiful and what is ugly but of what is alive and what is not. We say a tree is alive, but glass is not.

FullSizeRender 10We are as wrong in assigning life as we are in assigning beauty and ugliness. Everything is alive, everything is made of energy.

Sometimes we know this – an hour on the beach looking at the sun over the ocean. Sometimes we don’t know this.

Glass, to me, is now organic, both as the substance of glass and as the expression of an artist.

Most days the filters have less and less power. Most days, there is more and more beauty.

Thank you, my friend, for taking me to the garden. Thank you, Chihuly, for creating new forms of life.

The show continues through May 31. More on Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden and its programs at www.fairchildgarden.org. 

 

Menagerie of Loneliness, or Making Mermaids out of Manatees

My relationship to loneliness is that of an amateur, not a true expert. We are sniffing out what to expect from each other. She arrives on panther feet during the night and waits, languid but alert, tail slightly flicking, for me to open my eyes.

black-panthers-wallpaper-hd-1440x900“You’re awake. Want to play?”
“No, go away.”
“You’re sure you don’t want to play?”
“No, I do not want to play.”
“Sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Go away.”
“Why don’t you want to play?”

By the time I’ve brushed my teeth, she has skulked into the corner to wait 24 hours before trying to entice me again. I attribute her persistence to the fact that, like the majority of women of a certain age, I live alone. The panther of loneliness wants cuddling and petting and knows we do too. She knows that, even if we prefer dogs, we are in this way all cat women.

Loneliness is also a state of many older women who do not live alone, which is its own kind of hell. Great women of a certain age outnumber great men of a certain age by 10,000 to 1. My friends and I have done the math. Really, this is the true ratio.

It is single men, including the great ones, however, who are most ravaged by loss of intimacy and loneliness, but that is a little off track . . . though not so much. We will talk about mermaids in a bit.

First, let’s take the stigma off of loneliness. Loneliness is a sign of good mental health. It is a healthy natural response to being a social creature without enough meaningful warm social contact. It shows that you are tracking the reality of your socio-emotional life and registering that you are alive in real time and have needs.

By extension, it shows you are not willing to compromise yourself and the quality of your life just to avoid being alone. The last 1/3rd or 1/4th of your life is a time to contemplate, grow, explore, travel, learn new things, experience the wonder of existence, be awestruck, and bring to the world your experience, love, and wisdom. It is not a time to waste on meaningless diversions and social junk food. You are not a sitcom.

But while loneliness registers reality, it invites fantasy to ease the way. Our imaginations create solutions to life’s big and little problems. On to the mermaids.

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Sailors created exquisite sea creatures – half-fish, half-human female – out of blubbery manatees and dugongs. With the sun flickering off their tails under the waves and their hair unraveled in golden skeins, mermaids lured them into impossible dreams. Lonely men on the same old same old unending magnificent ocean found solace in watery visions of intimacy that were possible only in their imaginations.

Imagined mermaids with good hearts wanted to mate with the sailors. Imagined mermaids with evil hearts, i.e. sirens, called them to crash into cliffs and to perish. (See photo of a mermaid of the nasty kind luring innocent sailors into danger. She’s also vain, note the mirror.)

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Whether the mermaids wanted to make love with the men or were sirens luring them to their deaths had to do with the imagination of the sailor, not with the dugongs. Dugongs and manatees presumably have no need for fantasy. If they thought anything about the sailors, it was to stay away. Harpoons. (See photo of a dugong, kin of manatees.)

But humans have for millennia created beasties to lift us from burdens, boredom, and trials. We create and, in turn, are mesmerized by phantasmagoria – conjoined beasts or conjoined humans and beasts. We “in-body” our fears, desires, and impulses into imagined beings – good and bad – that reveal to us who we are. We used to think they were real. Now we go to Jungian analysts.

Still, in our minds we make love to mermaids, ride bareback on unicorns and winged horses, rise out of the ashes of devastation as brightly-colored birds. We also cringe and quake before werewolves, vampires, cyclops, and ogres. We ride some dragons and slay others. We invented these creatures in order to cope, to rise again, and to take our fears from amorphous into form – dragons and vampires can be slain.

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Several months ago I commissioned a small painting of myself for a tabletop. (See photo.)

As a Sagittarius, I am a centaur, half-human, half-horse – and a hunter, wild and humane. The painting makes me feel capable and strong. It is good to own your animals.

I wish to own my panther. I realized that in the writing of this blog, which kept shifting and morphing over several days.

My dog Phoenix, named for the bird, and I as centaur would walk with the panther through the city, the country, relationships, and time. I would get her a collar with diamonds.

See how slinky and elegant she is? She would purr if panthers could. Instead she growls in a way that sounds like a purr. I ran out of excuses not to play.

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PS: See photo of the centaur Sagittarius against a cosmos of star creatures, on a tabletop. 

Fighting with Perfection in Paris

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(Hang in there, this blog all comes together eventually. Plus there are photos of lovers, redheads, and dogs at the end. See example to left.)

 

Fighting with Perfection in Paris

Perfection does a hatchet job on Good. She’s a diva that tolerates no supporting cast, and She has been riding roughshod over my ability to write a blog since I arrived in Paris 12 days ago.

In addition to not writing blogs, I have not been to two of my neighborhood restaurants, Laduree and Mariage Freres. They are my usual haunts and I believed they were essential to my settling into the City of Lights.

I have been taking long walks and hundreds of photographs with a focus on lovers, redheads, dogs, children, art, and the homeless that I post on Facebook every day, but no writing.

What is going on?

Let me tell you as best I understand.

For one thing the Israeli killing of 2100 Gazans and then claiming more land in the West Bank ad nauseum not only depressed me but has shown me definitively that there are people who are not only far more expert on the subject than I am but who write much better. (Un-huh, I know Israelis were targeted by Gazans firing missiles and that 50 some Israelis were killed – all except six in the military – but this blog is not about politics and I’m not in the mood to equate 50 some Israelis to 2100 Gazans and call it a draw.)

For another, I have been taken over by an internal son et lumiere show in which a cacophony of characters bide with each other for the spotlight. Inside me is a mélange of languid sexy women wearing silk lavender, clowns in cone hats with red pom-poms on top, the child I was on the farm in Iowa, an overly-sensitive female who is subject to Stendhal Syndrome, and a hawk-eyed hunter-photographer who preys on and captures the innards of innocent people.

Over it all sits the Perfectionist Judge (she’s a female, dammit!) who says that if I write something it has to have a deep and meaningful impact in addition to good grammar. Otherwise, it isn’t worth bothering with and clutters the landscape.

Also, I’m in an apartment I once co-owned with a husband we don’t need to mention except that I don’t want you to think I could ever have bought an apartment in Paris on my own. The apartment is exactly as I left it except the floor-to-ceiling silk curtains are shredding on the window side and there is a humidor on the desk and new sheets on the bed – oh, and an updated master bathroom. This is a special kind of déjà vu made possible by the new owner.

Thus, a sonne et lumiere and cast of characters goes with me through the streets, into the cafes, across Luxembourg Gardens, and into the Louvre to view 17th and 18th century French paintings. It is a pleasant but timeless experience that is not very solid, wobbly even. Writing a blog requires concrete sentences in real time.

However a deep and impactful truth (at least for me) has finally taken form. I believe that having our moorings loosened and our time sense scrambled – and losing people, gaining people, and experiencing our self as multiple people is imperative to becoming more aware of the miracle that we are here at all. We cannot know more until we give up old beliefs that we know what is what. We need to be tumbled.

Often this happens by trauma. Breakage and loss undo our world, and in undoing our world they make us look again, experience again, change. We are forced to be flexible.

We are forced to be flexible in what we thought was existence – large and small – and who we are in it. It is easiest to do this if we accept the unmooring and the cast of interior personalities and float.

The Perfection Judge says, “This is not adequate. It’s too airy-fairy. You need to say something helpful when our world is in such crisis.”

You see, the Perfection Judge tolerates that I post photographs of redheads and lovers on Facebook, but she wants my blogs to have more depth, which means the only way I can write is to stand up to Her and say, “Half-ass and mediocre are just fine, thank you, anyway.”

Even so, I will now make an attempt at depth, or perhaps just at loosening your moorings: There are as many stars in the universe as there are grains of sand on planet earth. Odds are beyond all reckoning that we are not the only thinking creatures in infinity.

We don’t know much of anything but we experience that we exist. That is a place to start.

Two days ago I bought a work of art titled “Paradise Lost.” (See photo. Xavier Somers, Flemish, is the artist.)

In the beginning were Adam and Eve and they discovered the pleasurable things that men and women can do together. Behold, Eve laid an egg in the nest of temporal life and free Paradise lost 010 (2)will. Alongside it in the nest is the devoured apple of self-knowledge. The beginning was the awareness that we existed. It might not be much, but it is a start.

Everything my knowledge and experience tell me is that bliss is the natural state and it is humans who f**k it up. We all know the second part of that sentence. I believe the first part is true also. We “fell” out of grace into self-knowledge. It was the only way to know we are here. Now the task is to climb back up and join self-awareness with bliss. (. . . which raises all sort of questions such as which came first the bird or the egg.)

In “Paradise Lost” the golden male has a large key that inserts in the keyhole of the golden female. It joins them into one creature, a larger egg with legs. I’m just letting you know that without further comment.

And this Adam and Eve devoured the apple. Of course! If we’re going for self-awareness, we need to get as much as possible.

And the nest is made of barbed wire. And so it is. Look around.

And because our self-awareness is still so miniscule, such a grain of sand in infinity, we harm each other and call it justified and self-protection and rational.

And I look around this apartment where loss has occurred and where beauty and blessing pour in the windows, and I cart my mélange of characters around with me and tell the Perfection Judge, “Bugger off.”

I say, “Bugger off. You, Perfection, are the scourge, thinking you know what is right or good. You, who wants life in perfect grammar and manners and brilliance. Look around, Perfection, next to the lovers are the homeless. Look, Perfection, look well, and tell me that you have a right to judge. We rejected you when we began to become aware and to care for all that fails your false standards. Bugger off.”

Photos of Parisians below, being their essential selves, even when dogs:

kiss 20 kiss11 dog19 dog18 dog15 cafe1 red head8 red hair3 homeless8 homeless3 cafe2

 

 

 

The Eyes Have It: Chicago’s Art Institute

First time in Chicago in four decades. It was too cold and windy to land in after graduation, so I went further east, suitcase and borrowed money in hand, to Washington, DC. The first days there, in what I mistakenly thought would be an international city but was still a sleepy southern town when I was 21, I went to the National Gallery of Art and gawked. Yesterday, having just arrived, I went to the the Art Institute of Chicago. I was not alone.

image You would have thought I was alone but I was not, and it wasn’t because of pods of high school students or tourists with museum maps. I was surrounded by 1500- to 2500-year-old people who overwhelmed me by their humanity – Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Indians, and Tibetans. Statesmen, philosophers, fighters, conquerors, ordinary people, and gods. Mostly male, some female.

Why now so strongly? It’s not that I’ve never seen a marble bust before, I’ve seen plenty. It’s that I’ve never “felt” a marble bust – or stone or terra cotta or cast bust or bas relief or, yes, Carrara torso – so alive. They were cold, they were separate before.

imageNow they told me their story, how they carried themselves in the agora, their sense of responsibility or defeat, their innocent inability to explain that they didn’t know they were still innocent, their bafflement, their serenity inside the temple.

They told me through the turn of their head or the jut of their jaw, but they told me mainly through their eyes. We held conversations of a phrase here and a phrase there. My job was to listen, just that.

 

 

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There was a painting of a man taken from his (Egyptian) tomb that I’d first seen in a compendium of art in a book I bought with that borrowed money so many years ago. I was struck by it then for its realism, I was almost mowed down yesterday by its eyes. This was a human being! He lived! He walked, talked, wore a wreath at least for his funeral but surely for other occasions also. Bet he was married and had children, maybe a business, or . . . what? What, dear human male, did you do when you had a viable body and mind? You had, I believe, a sense of wonder tempered by caution. I saw it in your eyes.

 

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Why now? Perhaps because I am of an age where more people are dying around me than are being born. Of an age when people who have died are still real to me. Of an age where I not only understand the shortness of life but the aliveness of life. Of an age where nothing, nothing, nothing matters so much as caring and loving and holding, and beauty. Beauty as both treasure and key to treasure. Of an age where callousness is fatal.

It was not only the people who revealed themselves to me, but the sculptors, unknown and nameless, who created each work, and I use the word “work” here as a precious thing, for the physicality of stone, marble, and paint require muscle in the duty of message and transference. It also requires intelligence of execution (training and skill) and emotional elasticity and, ultimately, wisdom.

image One cannot expose the eyes of resignation of the philosopher without understanding that understanding being human is to know resignation.

imageOne cannot make the eyes of a fallen warrior “dead” without knowing what leaves the body at the moment of death. imageimageimage

One cannot reveal innocence without knowing innocence in relationship to experience.

So the people revealed, and their revealing artists, surrounded me on the Chicago Art Institute and it was crowded, not by people with museum maps but by tangible presences that had navigated vast distances to say “I am because I was. Feel me, companion.”   imageimageimage

Returned: one angel’s wing

[This blog, be forewarned, speaks of hope. It was written, unabashedly, in the face of the harm, cruelty, and violence humans do to each other.]

IMG_3536Five and a half years ago I lost an angel’s wing. I also lost a husband, a house, and my trust in the bulk of humanity. 

I stopped grieving the husband two or three years after he told me of his separate parallel life.

The house I never missed. It was a McMansion that fought back hard against my attempts to make it human-friendly. A truckload of furniture would arrive – soft sofas, curved wood rockers, Afghan rugs – and, once they were unloaded, I’d look around to find in which room they had disappeared.

We originally called the house “The Stage,” recognizing it as a phase my husband seemed to need to go through. He never got through it, he loved that house.

As for my trust in humans, it will never return to fuzzy-edged naiveté. I live by: I could be betrayed, heart-broken, forgotten, and cheated on at any moment, but that’s not an adequate reason not to love and embrace joy.

In any case, any bitterness has been replaced by a manageable sadness, patience, and loving acceptance. The book of humans could be titled “Varieties of Foibles.” We don’t even treat ourselves, let alone others, as we would like to be treated.

And poignancy is an okay quality to live with. Its merging of joy and pain is spot on with the truth of life.

While the house was an obdurate beast, the garden we designed together was breathtaking – pockets of restfulness, a (recycling) creek with two dams, koi fish, water lilies, lotus, Siberian irises, a mediation house 9 feet off the ground with glass walls and a steeple of copper, and the green grass circle where we were married standing on rose petals.

The angel’s wing (Carrara marble) was in the garden. When I had the opportunity to claim some furniture and art from the house, I didn’t have the presence of mind to remember the garden. It was a hit and run mission (legal and with written permission) – and it was unbearable to point my finger at items I wanted and needed (I had nothing) while his financial manager took photos and made a list.

Last week, five years overdue, the wing returned to me. The house is being sold. I wrote and asked for the wing. He didn’t say “yes” directly, but copied me on the email asking a friend to pick it up and deliver it to me.

IMG_3520The wing sits close to a statue of a seated woman titled “Waiting for an Angel.” I did manage to get her five years ago. She has waited all this time. Some things meant to be yours return.

They are together in my garden and today my first iris bloomed – an old-fashioned purple bearded iris of the kind my mother grew. It is among allium, and peonies that will bloom soon, and a lilac bush that bloomed  two weeks ago.IMG_3529

 

The foibles of humans make good things more tender than they might otherwise be. Life wants to be wonderful. Or maybe the return of the wing and the hope it embodies – angels do visit earth – is making me a little drunk.

 

 

Girls v. Boys: who’s manipulating whom?

I know little girls can manipulate with those innocent smiles and conspiratorial whispers that tickle your ear. I’m fully aware. But a couple days ago my six-year-old grandson did a classic male manipulation of my four-year-old granddaughter that I have not been able to get out of my head, not because I wasn’t familiar with it but because I am too familiar with it. I just didn’t know it started so young. It means the job of nurture to smooth out nature is harder than I ever imagined.

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This blog may not pertain to, or even make sense, to some of you. If so, think of it as a missive from an alien planet, and consider yourself lucky.

Anyone who know me knows I am smitten by my grandson. I call him “my super nova.” I adore his dreamy math-obsessed mind. He is wry, sensitive, and sometimes completely out of it. Even so . . .

The situation was: both children were in my care, we had arrived to NYC late the night before, it was mid-morning and they were eager to get out into the city. As I hurried to do some unpacking and breakfast clean up, their physical push-and-shove (with age-appropriate giggling) was edging towards getting out of hand. I told them to take it into their bedroom.

The laughter turned to ominous shuffling sounds. Josie started to cry and came out, incoherent with sobs. Ben rushed by without looking back. I heard a door slam.

Me: Where are you hurt?

Josie couldn’t talk.

Me: Point to where it hurts.

Josie shook her head “no.”

Me: What happened?

Sobs and hiccups.

Me: Were you scared?

Josie: He. . . he. . . Ben . . . (incoherent) . . . I couldn’t get up, . . .

Me: Were you under the covers and he held you down and you got scared? (No gramma intuition here, this is classic kid stuff.)

Josie, shaking her head “yes”: But I’m not hurt. Ben didn’t hurt me, I’m not hurt.

Me: You were only scared.

Josie: Ben didn’t hurt me.

Me: I understand. Maybe we should tell him that. . . I look around . . . Where is he?

Josie: He’s in your bedroom. That’s what he does. He walks away and goes into another room and shuts the door.

Me: Really?

J: Un-huh . . .

After a few more hiccups, we went to my bedroom door. It was locked.

Me: Ben, you cannot lock me out of my own bedroom.

Josie: I’m okay, Ben, you didn’t hurt me.

There was silence on the other side of the door. Josie repeated herself. I was aghast and annoyed. She was petitioning him at a door he locked against her after he frightened her to tears. That happens when you think you are suffocating.

Ben, clearly realizing locking my bedroom was beyond the limits of acceptability, opened the door and rushed by us to their room, muttering. He took a stance with his back to us and continued to mutter.

Josie and I stood at the doorway. She whispered to me: He’s saying ‘Josie doesn’t like me, nobody likes me. I’m always to blame.’

Me: He is?

Josie: That’s what he always says.

She was perfectly composed, relating a fact. She knows the routine. My six-year-old beloved grandson knows how to turn wounding his little sister into his being wounded. And she accepts that she is to tend and reassure him. She really wants to know he is okay and happy.

imageKnow what? She wins. Her advanced emotional IQ allows her to wrap her head around her feelings and his feelings. It might not change this common male-female dynamic as she grows up but it gives her more knowledge from which to make decisions that care not only for his welfare but for her own.

I don’t imagine for a second that Ben didn’t fully experience his version of events as real, honest, and true. I’m sure he did, and that he felt like he was abandoned and cast to the bottom of a dark well while Josie, the little darling, got all the sympathy.

I accept he was in misery. I just don’t accept that his emotions were based on facts – or that stomping into another room, locking the door, and being silent for an extended period while his sister was petitioning him was necessary or helpful.

imageBut he was successful. He deflected the possibility of being blamed into that he was the wounded party.

HOW FAMILIAR IS THIS? Aaaarrrgh.

And I was suckered in alongside Josie, thinking “Poor Ben. How can we make it better?” My grandson snookered us both.

Okay, many of you reading this will say, it’s only an older and younger child thing – or maybe Josie was a wimp. The girl is not a wimp, she is rock solid. Furthermore, she knows not only where her socks are, she knows where his are. She knows where everything is in my kitchen, bathroom, and closet. She dresses herself in mesh tutus, tights with holes at the knees, and dirty tennis shoes. She knows who she is, and that includes being her brother’s keeper. She adores him.

imageBen also adores her. They are emotionally intertwined. Pick on one or the other and you’ll have to contend with both of them.

But, hey, why couldn’t he have come to her, asked if she was okay, and said he was sorry and meant it, maybe even dried her tears? And we could have talked about how to keep rough-housing under control in the future. Why couldn’t he? Why not?

Okay, I have seen him saying “It was an accident, Josie” before leaving the scene. I’m not 100% fair here. I ‘fess up.

And I’ve known of women who are manipulative and take advantage. I’m especially acquainted, secondhand, with mothers who emotionally terrorized their sons from childhood on. These crazy-banana women make it hard for the rest of us.

But to the point, while I’m sure women also do this to men, it is a common male-female dynamic as Ben did it to Josie, and as Josie accepted it. After witnessing this dynamic as an on-site play between little people, I dreamt for the first time that I verbally decimated my third ex-husband. I always could have but even in the worst of it, I chose not too. Finally, after five and a half years I was willing to reduce him to ash. It was a little scary. In real life you cannot reconstructed people who are ash left on the floor. Good thing it was a dream.

The central question is, knowing your skills of coping and forgiveness are larger than those of a beloved person who wounded you, what choices do you make when they blame you? We each find our own answers to that.

Josie is already finding them. Brava, little girl. Keep exploring and embracing, and protecting yourself. Gramma’s got your back.

Easter in NYC: costumes

imageEaster Sunday, frivolity in front of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. A flowered cross, and two tired grandchildren. Oh well, I had fun. Adults at play. I’ve been thinking about camouflage and masks and this Easter in NYC fit right in.

Masks are presumed to hid identities but don’t they also give the opportunity to reveal our inner essence or a wannabe self? A fox? A devil? A swanlike beauty? A pirate? A lone ranger?

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We wear the daily masks and costumes of the entrepreneur, intellectual, nice person, young Turk, teacher, artist, elder states-person, sexy grandmother. We cover ourselves with the masks of our preferred persona. We do it for protection and for advancement and even subterfuge. And as denial against hard times.

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If costumes and hats are masks, fanciful or daily mundane, aren’t make up and plastic surgery also? They deflect the viewers’ perceptions from the naked you in the direction you prefer: I am a person of style, I am a person with money, I am superior, I am gifted, I am eccentric, I am open and loving, I am clergy, I’m cool, I’m hot.

Or instead of deflecting, do they reveal the true you? The beautiful you?  What if we all gave full bent to dressing as the creature we feel we are? A daily mardi gras? Could we wear rabbit ears daily? Tiaras?

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Only the truly poor are deprived of the ability to mislead through what they wear and how they wear it. The man in front of the church was already dressed as a character, the homeless man. What would he have chosen to wear if given a choice to be not poor? What clothes would be his inner essence? A philosopher? A traveler? A visionary?

Yet, it was a lovely day. So many people smiling as though we were on the inside of a communal joke. A day when clothing is meant consciously as play, as celebration of rebirth and resurrection – resurrection of self, which seems to depend upon a time of dormancy and returning to the ground, of gathering strength to rise in full bloom, the miracle of being human and sacred.imageimage

Foggy Sunday at MoMA

The plan on this foggy day in NYC was to go to MoMA to see the Gauguin and Jasper Johns exhibitions, both new, both nice, both somewhat intellectual. No photography allowed, which was fine with me. I respected both exhibitions but was not hit behind the knees, my criterion for OMG art.

Then I joined the throng of foggy-Sunday people in the galleries of MoMA’s permanent collection, the paintings you see on postcards, calendars, and posters with good reason.

Before we proceed, however, I want to draw your attention to a little Odilon Redon still life hanging quietly in the corner. image

See in this photo of “Wildflowers in a Long Necked Vase” (1912) how no one is looking? Redon may be the best kept open secret in the art world. There used to be a small room devoted to his paintings tucked into the lowest level of Musee d’Orsay in Paris where we few Redonophiles gathered in silence, excepting an occasional gasp or swoon.image

imageRedon is my drug of choice, discovered when I was 21, unemployed, and newly arrived with one suitcase to Washington, DC. For two days I stood in front of his paintings at the National Gallery of Art instead of looking for a job.

I can spot a Redon across a crowded room. He was a real deal mystic not a William Blake angel-oriented one. He contained the ecstasy of mystical vision inside the “real” world of fear and monsters. His prints, unlike his painting, are seriously scary. But that’s what I think it’s like for mystics on earth.

And, living in this world, we are best to keep our eyes open, and embrace it all. I had a great time being infused with art, and embracing the Sunday crowd.

imageSee redhead in front of Frida Kahlo.

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See blue haired girl in front of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” just as the guide told her charges that Van Gogh’s stint in the south of France hadn’t gone so well, and he cut his ear off.

imageSee little Asian girl almost touching a George Seurat before a panicked guard rushed over.

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See couple in front of “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth (discreetly next to the elevators) as the young man asked his young women,”Does it remind you of when you were a girl on the farm in Russia?”

imageSee man in a plaid shirt in front of a minimalist Miro.

imageSee hair-flippity girl next to flippity red Matisse.

imageSee Max Ernst’s “The Blind Swimmer (1934),” and think how explicit is that! Cited as having a subconscious association, it’s perhaps not so subconscious as it once was.

See that humans can transcend, given colors, forms, and lines with which to re-pattern ourselves and to answer questions for which we have no words, subconscious or conscious.