Saturday, March 31, 2007

art that makes you giggle

Nikas Safronov is a genius. Creating an entirely new genre of art ~ let's call it celebrity historical kitsch ~ the Russian artist has made a name for himself with a form of portraiture guaranteed to appeal to the vanity and imagination of high profile egoists everywhere. And me. It appeals to me. I adore this painting. It makes me laugh. And really, isn't that what we ask of all great art? That it make me laugh?

Of course it is.

As detailed in today's issue of the
La Times, (click on 'photo gallery' for more) Safronov re-imagines movie stars, politicians, tycoons and their wives as historical dukes, earls, popes and emperors with a lively brush and (one must assume) even livelier humor. George Clooney grins, impossibly sexy, as an elaborately tressed dauphin while Madonna, consistently self-satisfied, appears as a linen-draped virgin.

Naturally, there are detractors.

"There are dozens of gifted and talented artists in modern Russia, but Nikas Safronov is certainly not one of them," fumes Marat Gelman, a Moscow art critic and gallery owner quoted in the Times article.

Well, sure. But how many gifted and talented artists are this laugh out loud funny? Or would think to paint themselves as Renaissance lords or Franciscan monks?

The practice is not without precedence; Rembrandt made use of historical costumes and props for himself and his sitters back in the 17th century. But it was the 17th century. And he was, you know, Rembrandt.

More importantly, Safronov will happily paint you and me as Renaissance lords or Franciscan monks. And I am here to tell you, we need this.

I think I might like a portrait of myself envisioned as
Madame de Recamier, or perhaps Artemisia Gentileschi. Maybe I would like to appear as an elaborately-coiffed courtesan of the medieval period, or a pearl-draped Queen Elizabeth I. Or a wench. A nun might be fun. Or even Catherine de Medici. I'm not sure. Clearly, I need to give this some thought.

And so should you. I firmly believe that everyone should have one of these hanging over their fireplace. It would serve to keep us humble ~ imagine taking your latest rant against foie gras or the evils of excessive corkage fees too seriously under a dramatic image of You as the Emperor Napoleon ~ and certainly your dinner parties will never want for conversation again as your guests feast their eyes upon your own personal version of this:

So go ahead and ask yourself; who would I want to be? George and I dare you.

Monday, March 26, 2007


I went to yoga this morning for the first time in a couple of weeks and found myself literally coming face to face with the fruits of my own sloth.

As I hung there in Downward Facing Dog, quietly contemplating my Suddenly Swinging Belly and groaning my way through a Decidedly Defeated Warrior (to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to war with the body you have, not the body you want) I was struck by how much I had let myself slide, and how little time it had taken to do so.

We were entertaining again this weekend ~ the house was already clean and really, how often can that be expected to happen? ~ and again the larder was full of Fabulous Forbidden Foods (herbed goat cheese...foccacia bread...tagliatelle alla Bolognese... CAKE! I never get to eat CAKE!) while I was full of...well, let's just say I was full of excuses not to cut back, work out or basically discipline myself in any way.

As can be expected, I am now sporting one magnificent Muffin Top which, though it sounds like a yummy yoga pose (yay!) is actually that soft tubular roll that billows inelegantly over low-riding jeans (booo!)

We had a new instructor today; one with whom I was not familiar but apparently everybody else was. She is a tiny Korean woman ~ no more than 5 feet tall and 80 pounds if that ~ with the body of a dancer and the manner of a marine drill sergeant. No soft-spoken hippie-child she, with the caressing tones and gentle exhortations to "listen to your body," and "just do what feels best for you today..." that I have become accustomed to and seduced by.

No. When this little Yoga Sarge yells, "Plant your feet!" you plant your feet; when she bellows "Dig deeper!" you start to burrow down and when, to the sweet background flutter of flutes and Hare Krishnas she barks, "Lift higher!" well, you damn well lift till you break something.

She, meanwhile, is twisting and contorting her own body with all the strength and agility of a Chinese acrobat. If a glittering trapeze had dropped out of the ceiling and she started to fly, I would not have been in the least surprised. As she moved with effortless grace into a standing split, her body one elegant vertical line, head tucked behind her ankle and feigning confidence that we would follow her example, I was heard to gasp out loud. And not just because I was trying to, you know, stand upright.

Later, when Zen Master Zena asked if we could feel the stretch during some sort of twisted, CIA-invented, one-armed, sideways, leg-up-in-the-air-plank/torture and we all cried out in pain, she giggled.

I love this girl.

She's only teaching the Monday class for two more weeks. If I can keep the chips out of the pantry and the cake out of my face, I may be able to get myself back into some sort of shape. And maybe my inner warrior won't feel as defeated as my outer warrior looks.

Just in time to go on vacation. Namaste.

Monday, March 19, 2007

I've got a right to sing the blues

The Irish Blues
by Pat Donohue

Well I woke up this morning
I got outta bed

my face was all ruddy
my hair was all red
And my eyes were all swollen
I thought I was dead
I woke up today with the Irish Blues

I haven't been around for a couple of weeks because the hubs and I have been busy cleaning, polishing, painting, shopping and even doing a little remodeling in honor of our turn to host the annual St Patrick's party for Turk's merry band of golf buds and their wives.

I try to be good
but faith and begorha
I go to bed laughin'
and wake up with sorrow
and what do you bet
it's the same thing tomorow
I tell you my friend
it's the Irish Blues...

I'm happy to say it went really well. At least everyone seemed to be having a blast. A party's only as good as the friends who gather, and you couldn't ask for a lovelier, livelier group of people.

Well now I'm a grown man
And just like my daddy
I like to go out on the feast of St Paddy
And take on the ways of a much younger laddy
And wake the next day
the Irish Blues...

You know a party was a success when you wake up to find the food gone, the bottles empty, the silver in the sink and a football in the fireplace.

Well last night
the Guinness was flowing
and last night
we really got going
with singin' and dancin' I couldn't refuse
I woke up today with the Irish Blues

I spent yesterday enjoying the memory of the evening before, still vaguely high and in partial recovery with NPR, where I heard this wonderful bluesy little number on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. I'm committing it to memory and singing it next year. The gang says we're hosting again. We've decided to take it as a compliment.

Yes and last night
the Guinness was flowing
and last night we really got going
with singin' and dancin' I couldn't refuse
I woke up today with the Irish Blues

Sing along here...
(Fast forward past the greetings, about 3 minutes or so in.)

Sunday, March 04, 2007


On television, my other, better reality, everybody is talking to dead people. Patricia Arquette can't get a decent night's sleep what for all the dudes and damsels in distress banging around her dreams on Medium. Then she has to figure out how to prevent/solve/explain how she knew about the mayhem in the first place. How the woman gets to sleep at all is the biggest mystery. You'd have to knock me out with a mallet.

Meanwhile, over on Ghost Whisperer, spirits are constantly dropping in on poor Jennifer Love Hewitt, causing her false eyelashes to flutter and bosom to heave as she smiles beatifically and sends them on into the light. Or the tunnel. Or Better Place; wherever the hell it is they're meant to go.

And on my absolute drop-dead favorite 'I see dead people' show,
Six Feet Under, the Fisher Family gets to hang with the dearly departed at their clients' very own funerals (cool!) and are occasionally comforted in their you-can-imagine-quite considerable angst by their deceased father, who smokes and jokes and is even able to give them the occasional hug. Now really, is that too much to ask?

One of the wonders of New York are the glories of it's mass transit system, and I will hear nothing to the contrary. On my last day in Manhattan I took the subway to Grand Central and picked up the 1:15 on the LIRR out to Pinelawn Station, which is located right next to the memorial park where my parents are buried.

It was off-peak hours, and I had the car nearly to myself for the hours' ride out to the station. I hiked across the windswept grounds in bitter cold, but the sun was brilliant in a clear, cobalt sky. Pinelawn Memorial Park is a lovely and well-maintained place, peaceful in it's way, and serene. I had an hour to stay, but if I missed the next and last train back to the city, I'd find myself stranded overnight. It wouldn't have been the first time.

After Dad died, Mom and I came to visit here whenever I was in town. I know it brought her comfort. The last time we came together we arrived quite late, after 4:00 pm, because she was always fussing around so much that attempts to get her out of the house before 3:00 were futile. It was cold then too, and dark, and we didn't attempt to leave the grounds until after 5:00. When I drove up to the gates and realized they were locked I did what any sensible person would do. I started shouting.

"Oh my god, Mom! We're locked in the cemetery!"

At first startled, Mom started giggling. "Oh, my!" she exclaimed. And she laughed again. In fact, she was practically rolling.

"Mom, it's not funny! We're going to wind up spending the night in a car in a cemetery! Oh, my god, what am I going to do?" I wailed, driving around frantically until finally finding a caretaker to unlock the gates. Late and lost; me panicking, Mom giggling; this is the story of our lives.

This is the story I wanted to go on. I wanted to laugh with her about it all over again; tell Dad and feel him smile. I stood there over the bronze plaque with her name newly embossed in gold next to his: Ruth 1913-2006. It is brutal in it's finality. I don't know how I could have thought this would make me feel better.

I have not been dealing particularly well with my mother's death, and I thought that a visit to the cemetery would help. There, I thought, I would meditate and find peace. I was going to write that I didn't know what I was looking for, but that's not true. I know what I was looking for; it's just that it isn't quite sane.

I was looking for her. I was looking for a reprieve. I was looking for another chance. I wanted the last year of her life back so I could make it better. I wanted a chat, like Nate and Dave Fisher get on TV. I wanted a do-over.

Of course, what I found was not what I wanted. She is not with me as I sit on the stone bench overlooking her grave, gazing at the white birch that was planted because, she said, it was my father's favorite. She isn't there. He isn't there. They aren't anywhere. The story of their lives has ended; the story of our lives together. And that is what I can't seem to wrap my heart around.

What I know is what I've always known. All life is change. To accept love is to accept loss; to accept loss is to accept pain. To know the one is to embrace the other, and I've spent my life trying to avoid the unavoidable. I need to stop yearning for things that cannot be. I need to accept. I miss them. But I have to understand. This is the end of our story.