Saturday, December 23, 2006
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
I've been thinking a lot about portraits lately ~ the act of creating them, the role of the artist in rendering an individual according to a particular perception, and especially (and I cannot emphasize this enough, people) the responsibility of the sitter to at least try and resemble the painting.
I recently finished reading The Portrait by Iain Pears and highly recommend it. Told completely in the form of a monologue delivered by an artist to his subject, an ex-friend turned mortal enemy, it is at once a thriller and a fascinating exploration of the balance of power in the relationships between artist and critic, society and art, and how these dynamics play out in the realm of an intense, almost obsessive friendship. At first put off by the prospect of the single focus narrative, I found could not put it down.
And I've been trying to work on a portrait of my mother. My goal was to convey her spritely spirit by using an off-kilter angle and clear, bright colors without the darkening influence of shadow in order to create a stylized and playful image. To communicate joy without falling off the edge into sentimentality. But I'm a little unsure of my ground here. So far, what I have managed to communicate is, Help! My daughter needs art lessons.
Normally I do not fret about failure in art. As I've said before, I am a terrible but enthusiastic painter. This isn't false modesty; I really don't mind my lack of prowess as much as you would think. And that's only a little bit of a cop-out.
But mostly I'm all about the process. And since I rarely expect anything to turn out well, I get to be thrilled when something turns out to be very nearly the image as originally conceived. Failure in art is never truly a loss and always an opportunity to learn. No one failed who didn't try, no one learned who didn't fail.
That said, however, in this case I feel like I've let Mom down. Foolish and sentimental I know, but there it is.
I keep reminding myself that the art of portraiture takes many forms. Even a single page search of 'portraits' on artnet is a study of the myriad approaches people have taken in rendering the individual as subject matter. It may be expressive and primarily about color and space. It may be a psychological exploration of personalities and relationships, or a technical examination of texture, pigment and tone. It might be all of the above, or something else entirely.
In part, I've been painting my mother as a meditation, trying to channel her spirit and keep her with me in the process. I am a skeptic in matters of extrasensory perception, psychic activity, the alleged chattiness of wandering souls and the idea of life after death in general. But Mom was a believer in such things and I confess to wanting, against all reason and hope, to summon her to me. Magic thinking. It's embarrassing to admit, but at times I find myself whispering, as I try to capture a light in her eye or the line of her cheek, "Where are you, Mom?" I dare her to come see me. Prove me wrong. She'd like that. Oh, how we'd laugh...
In the end, of course, it's just paint on canvas. I knew that. I know that. But the meditation itself brings peace and focus and for me that will have to be enough. The picture will reveal it's own truths. As for achieving an actual likeness well, possibly not. But then that's why Daguerre invented the photograph. And for everything else, there's a memory card.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Monday, December 11, 2006
But winter is beautiful in Southern California. The December light is strong, clear and golden, casting deep, beckoning shadows. As always when my spirit is restless and off-balance, I feel an urge to run toward the water. So I grabbed Turk, who was busy coaching various football, golf and I believe some cooking competitions from his headquarters on the couch, and headed west.
We wound up on Balboa Island in Newport Beach, which was busy getting ready for the annual Boat Parade. Always an equal-opportunity neighborhood, the good people of Balboa had bused in some snow for the underprivileged Children of Newport, many of whom had never seen snow and wouldn't have a chance to see it again, at least not until they hit the family ski lodge up in Big Bear. They shrieked and ran and pelted each other with snowballs, their flip-flops flapping merrily in the sun.
The area had been roped off with yellow crime scene tape, which seemed appropriate as much of the snow had turned to a heavy slush and some of the hurling balls looked lethal. An adorable 6 year old commanded her family of six, "Line up so I can hit you!" which seemed an emminently practical plan to me. Someday she will be President. Turk walked by with his hands in the air.
"Don't shoot! I come in peace!" he pleaded.
"Surrender monkey," I accused. The little girl laughed.
We wandered down to the waterfront, where we found further evidence of global warming in the form of marauding polar bears and confused sea lions. And penguins in search of a movie.
Even I had to smile at the penguins. And the sea otters. And the cotton-y snow on the roof. And the reindeer carousel. Well, everything, really. If there is one thing funnier than rich people, it's rich people decorating for Christmas. It's endearing.
When I found myself wanting to pet the sled dogs I knew it was time for a drink. We hopped back in the car and headed for Woody's, an old haunt not far away. The sun was dropping fast and promised a spectacular show. "Hurry," I insisted. "I don't want to miss the sunset."
We didn't see the sunset. I'd forgotten that Woody's faces east. So we sipped our pints contentedly, basking in the sun's reflected glory.
We watched as two young blondes cavorted gaily on the deck of a yacht just outside the bar, a nice-looking man smiling on with benign goodwill.
"I'll bet there are orgies on that yacht when this place closes," said Turk, a bit wistfully I thought.
"Want to stick around till closing and find out?"
"Nah. I'll be lucky if I can stick around till the end of Happy Hour."
We downed our beers and turned toward Harpoon Harrys in Sunset Beach, where the sunset and a cozy dinner by the fire awaited. I'm still not fit to go out in public. But I haven't flipped anyone off in days.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Can I get a woo-woo?
And because I am such a very clever girl and quite capable of doing several things at once I happily balanced my Corona(s), my lime(s), my handbag, my eyeglasses, my shot glasses and my brand new Canon Powershot SD600 Digital Elph with video capability thank-you-very-much and took the following 3 minute work of cinematic genius.
Do not adjust your set. The picture is sideways because that is how I took my movie. I started with the camera turned on it's side because, well, that's just how I like to take pictures. I have decided to think of it as 'edgy.' That's 'edgy,' as in 'incompetent.'
Do not adjust your audio. Yes, I am aware that Blogspot does not have video capability. This is actually quite convenient because as it turns out, neither do I. There is no audio. It seems I managed to take a music video without the music.
Can I get a...oh, never mind.
Fortunately, Trishy had an actual real live professional Mistress Cinematographer on hand. I wonder if she happened to catch Lukas Rossi and Posse when they showed up. Or Donal Logue. God knows I didn't. Robbie spotted them. Me, I was too busy searchin' for my lost shaker of salt.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
We lost my dear mother on Saturday, the 14th of October. It may seem strange or even foolish to you to say, given her 93 years, but I never saw it coming. My mother was such an overwhelming presence in my life that I can't believe that I will never see her ~ whom my brother called 'That Little Smiley Face' ~ beaming up at me again.
Less than two weeks earlier we'd spent some quality girl-time shopping for clothes. We had bought her three new outfits ~ one in mulberry, one in camel and one all blue. A few pretty tops. She was still so full of life, then, and spirit and style. We'd gone 'antiquing' together, and to lunch at her favorite Chinese buffet restaurant. I'd wheeled her chair past the offered dishes, describing each and filling her plate with whatever struck her fancy. She wasn't wearing her beloved Chinese robe, but I wish she had been. She'd eaten heartily and happily; she loved the egg drop soup. She told me to be sure and leave the waiter a good tip. We were making plans.
We'd discussed my coming back to get her in January to bring her to my place; to her sunny blue room in California, when she was feeling up to travel. We would do more shopping, and she was going to buy me a Buddha statue, just because I'd said I needed one. Or wanted one. She was always wanting to give me things. We were both looking forward to her coming.
When my brother called just a few days after I left to say she was in the hospital with an infection and that I should come back, I thought it would be to keep her company while she went through her course of antibiotics in the hospital. He said she improved as soon as I got there.
"When you come back to get me, I 'm gonna come live with you, " she'd told me when I'd left a few days prior. Her eyes twinkled mischievously as she pointed at me.
"We'll see," I'd told her smiling. I loved taking care of her. She found ways to make it easy.
"Hug me like you mean it, Ma" I said one day, instructing her to put her arms around my neck so I could help to lift her out of her chair.
I can stll feel the soft skin of her cheek and gentle breath in my hair as she whispered emphatically into my ear, "I do mean it!" I treasure that moment.
My mother was beautiful, in every meaningful sense of the word. Auburn-haired, petite and lively, she met my tall, blonde and handsome father while working as a dance hostess at the Arcadia Ballroom in New York City. They were married one month later. During the war, while my father served in the Army, Mom became a civilian employee of the Navy,where she worked as a radar inspector, a fact she was extremely proud of all her life.
In their late forties, at an age when most of their friends were looking forward to kids leaving for college and grandchildren, she and my father adopted two tiny tots, in an era long before Angelina and Madonna made orphan-shopping acceptable and chic. They opened their home and their hearts, and gave my brother and I a sense of security we would never have otherwise known. They gave us a family.
I am sorry to say that I was not always grateful. As a teenager, my mother and I battled long and often. She was a daughter of the Depression trying to raise her own in an age of rebellion, and I was not of a disposition to make it any easier. It wasn't until I grew much older that I clearly understood the bravery of what she had done; the everyday heroism involved in taking two complete strangers and offering them your heart and your soul; a lifetime of unconditional love.
I admired my mother. She was strong-minded and big-hearted; funny, generous, and kind. Quirky. Eccentric. Unique.
Above all else, she was true to herself always, and she tried to teach me to be the same. I wish I were more like her.
She consistently made me laugh, and imbued me with her sense of whimsy, not always to our credit. As we were wheeling our way down the hall of the assisted living home one day just a few weeks ago, mom turned to me and asked, "What's that song we like?"
We like many songs, but I know which one she means.
"Que Sera," I say, and she laughs delightedly.
"Yes, that's it!" We start singing out loud,
When I was just a little girl I asked my mother,
what will I be
Will I be pretty,
will I be rich
Here's what she said to me...
A couple of the old birds working the puzzle table glance up at us and quickly avert their gaze; they're 20 years younger than Mom, and seem to think us odd. Go figure. We sing louder.
Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.
In the end, her tiny, frail body just couldn't take any more. My wonderful, beautiful, resilient little mother spent her last hours surrounded by loved ones ~ my brother, my sister-in-law and me. I barely left her side. I wanted to be holding her hand when she died, letting her know I was there. That it was ok. That we were ok. That she was cherished.
A few days later, in a chaotic and somehow comically surreal blur of activity and grief we all ~ my husband, my brother, my sister-in-law and their two sons ~ saw her safely home to New York, where she rests now with my father under a bronze headstone that reads "Together Forever". I want that to be true.
A few weeks ago, I could not have imagined a world without my mother in it. Now I can, and for me it is a more frightening and lonely place. I have never known such profound sadness. Yet I know that the world is a better place for her having been in it, and for that I am forever thankful.
Aloha, Mom. I miss you.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
In the past few days things have not been going well for my little mother, and I find my concerns for her too raw, too difficult to put down here in this, my flimsy little conceit of a journal. I cannot forget that these pages are accessible to all, equally to those of good or ill will, and that while I have the right to expose myself to any sort of scrutiny I wish, I cannot assume that right for anyone else.
But I've been reading A Salty Piece of Land by Jimmy Buffett, a reliably breezy, occasionally reflective and always snappily narrated tale of adventure in the Caribbean, and I came across a passage (very) late last night that gave me pause and odd comfort. In it, Cleopatra Highbourne, the 101 year-old captain of the 142 foot Lucretia muses at the end of her long, adventurous life:
"Tully, this is not the same city I knew as a teenager, when my father and I raced from Martinique. Hell, there were rapids on the river not far from where we sit. Miami was just a trading post then, where the Seminoles would bring their fish, fur, and gator hides down to the market. Tully, I am damn near as old as this city. Age is like an opium dream. I'm not quite sure what is real and what is not anymore. I find myself rambling more, and I think I talk to as many ghosts as humans."
It is that kind of wisdom that I already miss.
My mother has never sailed or been to Martinique. But her life was full of hope, wisdom and beauty, and her reality these days has the fluid quality of those opium dreams, seeming to weave effortlessly back and forth between the world I know to be true and another which I cannot or will not see. There is some solace in knowing that such dreams are universal and timeless.
Mom has always been a stubborn and resilient woman. And although I need her to continue to be, I acknowledge that her own needs may be otherwise, and greater. I know it isn't my call. Right now, I have a feeling it's hers. And right now, I have a feeling I'm 1346 miles from where I should be.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
So I just dropped in to say hey, and if I haven't been around it's because these have been some alternately hectic and hazy days. Not unlike my youth, come to think of it, drugs and all - only now in Mom's case they call it 'assisted living'. I think I always did. Anyway, Mom and I are fixin' to blow this popsicle stand any second now. Six-thirty curfew be damned.
Catch you later. Or as we say in Texas, ciao! Y'all.
Monday, September 18, 2006
Swirling, sniffing and 'chewing' our wine in the proper fashion, we are learning to use descriptive phrases such as, "...an amusing little wine, with just a hint of tobacco and cork and a nice, strong finish," without smirking. Turk holds his glass aloft, squinting into it's ruby depths and murmurs, "It's a saucy little floozy, with just a whiff of cigarette butts, long nights and turpentine, and a strong, strange finish." Excellent. But I think he's talking about me.
He is bonding with Kevin, the barman who came in after the tour to help with the tasting. Kevin, a very funny guy who retired from a desk job a couple of years ago, allows as to how he has moved on to what is probably the best job in the world.
"I just have to remind myself," he said as he sipped an light-bodied chenin blanc with traces of melon and grapefruit and just a suggestion of lemongrass, "not to drink the whole glass. I have two more tastings this afternoon. I don't get to finish a glass until the last one. And then..." He winked.
Aaron, our tour guide, is explaining the importance of holding one's glass in the correct manner.
"In some of the local restaurants, grabbing the glass like this, " he says, grasping the goblet by the bowl, "will result in bells, sirens and whistles going off all around you." Kevin adds the sound effects.
"A spotlight will hit your table, the staff will come running, and you will be forever ostracized by the locals as a beer drinker from Chicago." Turk laughs out loud. He is not just a beer drinker from Chicago. He is their king. And he doesn't care who knows.
We had been in one such restaurant the previous night, and it was the only disappointing meal of the trip, all the more so because it was Julia's Kitchen at Copa, named for the late and much lamented Julia Child. The food was bland and the service stiff ~ Madame Julia would not have been pleased.
In fact, although we were lucky enough to indulge in some scrumptious repasts, the very best meal of our tour may have been the picnic we enjoyed on the peaceful grounds of the beautiful V. Sattui winery; a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, a book of poems and...well, no poetry exactly, but we did substitute a hunk of some exotic-sounding Spanish cheese and a nice salami. Which is almost the same thing, I'm sure. Cheers.
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Now, I don't know if you've ever had a room with it's very own private sauna ~ we certainly hadn't ~ so just let me say this: if you have a choice between a room with an ocean view and a sauna, take the sauna. If you have a choice between a balcony and a sauna, take the sauna. If you have a choice between a TV, a mini bar, a phone, internet access or even a window, take the sauna. You will not be sorry. And you will thank me later. Hoping to recreate what had been a perfect evening the first time, we hit town again gambling on the availability of our room. Needless to say, the hotel was booked solid for some business convention or another in what I can only imagine was a terrible waste of our room and our sauna. Forlorn, we moved on.
Just around the corner from Cannery Row is Pacific Grove, a truly beautiful community of stately Victorian homes and elegant beach cottages. Originally settled as a Methodist summer camp, Pacific Grove grew in population as word got out of the area's breathtaking scenery and unrivalled beauty. Today, many of the old mansions have been converted to popular Bed and Breakfast inns, and we found a room in one of these. The first thing you notice about this stretch of the coastline are the colors; each time we come this way my travel log reads the same ~ remember the colors! There are no blues or greens or grays here. Here there are only azures and turquoise, heathers and mauve. The sky is cobalt, the flowers fuscia. Wild mustard and orange cactus cover the slopes and hills. The sea is wild, the coast spectacular ~ the famously gorgeous 17 Mile Drive is here, winding along adjoining Pebble Beach. When I win the lottery, (which, let's face it, I'm due to do any day now) this is where you'll find me, enjoying the fruits of my non-existent labors.
We spent the day hiking the coast and had a delightful dinner at the same restaurant we'd enjoyed on our last visit. The genial young host at Abalonetti's on Fisherman's Wharf was adorable, and even saw to it that we got 'our' table in time to enjoy the sunset. We dined happily on artichoke hearts and sauteed eggplant, succulent mussels, fresh King Salmon, and a rich mushroom ravioli.Afterwards, we strolled back to the Martine Inn, where we took a bottle of wine and sat outside at a tiny stone table in the terrace garden, watching the waves crash along the shore and musing dreamily as one does, deep in merlot and the moonlight, about sailing and serenity, everything and nothing. And which house would be ours when our ship came in.The lovely Martine had everything we could have hoped for in a romantic inn: a warm and cozy room decorated with period antiques; wine and hors d'oeuvres in the library, an amiable staff and, of course, that spectacular view.
There was only one thing it didn't have. It didn't have it's own personal sauna. Sometimes, life can be so hard.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
But none are more romantic than the fabulous Moonstone Beach, just off Pacific Coast Highway 1, and one of the most wildly beautiful bits of coastline I've ever seen.
I'm not sure what a moonstone is precisely, except that it's one of my birthstones and I'm sure I should have one. Probably several. But whatever a moonstone is, I know it must be enchanted, for I never fail to come to this beach of coarse dark sand and diamond-tossed, blue-green waters and find creatures of myth or whimsy. Sometimes it's just stars on the water. Or it could be that mysterious lean-to, intricately constructed of driftwood and tied with seaweed, looking for all the world like the skeleton of a prehistoric giant, gazing mournfully out to sea.
It might be a seawitch, undone by her own sorcery and trapped forever in spectral driftwood.
Or it could be a sleeping dragon, a shaman's stick left resting on his charmed neck.
On black rocks sleepy sirens wail and whisper siren calls.
The sea elephants of Moonstone Beach are a friendly lot and quite accustomed to respectful commune. I'm not sure how long I spent gazing soulfully into my merfriend's eyes, or watching her pals splash, dive and swim mischievously toward me. I'd steel myself, wary, and dare not move, meeting inquiring eyes with my own and wondering just how close we would dare each other to come. Each time they dove, they'd surface just a small bit closer, before laughing (I thought) and swimming gaily away.
Time and reality fall away in places such as this, leaving behind only essential truths, which are felt more than reasoned. I am no clear-eyed seeker; what little wisdom I possess has had to chase me down, knock me on the head and beat me sensible. And yet serenity finds me at this beach. Always.
We are all connected on this planet. In this universe. We need to take better care of each other. We need to take better care of every living thing on this earth; of this ocean. We need to take better care.
This is beauty. This is truth. And that is all I know, or need to know.*
* with many abject apologies to Keats