Friday, March 27, 2015

VASHON ISLAND



I have been in the Seattle area all week and I have so many as-yet-unposted photos it's not even funny. Tuesday I went to Bainbridge, Wednesday I hung out downtown, among other places at Pike Place Market, and Thursday I took the ferry with my rental car to Vashon Island.

I was kind of scared of the ferry and actually thought it might be open to the somewhat frigid air but these things are like ocean liners! Huge and unbelievably comfortable, with room to stretch out,  a ledge for your coffee, whole big seats yourself, and time to dream as you gaze out the window at the shoreline and gulls. The one to Vashon (less than 15 minutes) had half-finished jigsaw puzzles on some of the tables! So you could pitch in by placing a piece or two, and commuters maybe work on them each day. Plus a large gruff-voiced woman in a baseball cap who looks like a man takes your money, barks "Lane 1," and off you drive straight onto the boat! Couldn't be easier. Also this is interesting, you don't have to pay to go off the island. You only pay to go on.

Anyway, I've been meeting people and visiting and being taken out to eat and peering over ferry schedules and google maps so have not had time to reflect/report back as I'd like.

I will say, however, that I'm staying at the Betty MacDonald Farm on Vashon and it is probably hands down my favorite place perhaps in the world. A woman named Judith Lawrence runs it and if you want to reserve a room, you have to call and talk to her so she can make sure you're not crazy or a whiner. I had a delightful half-hour talk with her on the phone before coming and she sent me an envelope with a hand-written note, brochures, maps and a ferry schedule with the appropriate routes high-lighted. When's the last time you got that kind of service from oh, say, the La Quinta Inn?

Anyway, I'm staying in the "Cedar Loft." It's the third floor of a gambrel-roofed barn in which one of my also all-time favorite writers, Betty MacDonald, used to use to raise chickens in. An entire wall of east-facing windows overlooks Puget Sound. There's a deck with chairs, tables, and a pair of binoculars. There are daffodils, tulips, flowering Asian pear trees, all manner of things I can't identify on the acres of grounds. The air is thick with birdsong. The loft is filled with kilim rugs, daybeds, stacks of books on Native Americans, gardens, birds, antiques, architecture, and of course Betty MacDonald who I don't have time to go into it but you should love, too!




PLUS A FULLY AND I MEAN FULLY STOCKED KITCHEN,
AS IN PILES OF LINEN NAPKINS, VOTIVE CANDLE HOLDERS,
NUTCRACKERS, CORKSCREWS, ENGLISH CERAMIC CREAM PITCHERS, ET CETERA.
AND CREAM, ORGANIC EGGS, GOOD COFFEE, BUTTER AND ENGLIGH MUFFINS IN THE FRIDGE.
WIFI.. HIGH COMFY BED. MASSES OF EXTRA BLANKETS AND COMFORTERS.
A WOOD STOVE AND CORDS OF SPLIT WOOD. CLOISONNE CONTAINERS WITH BOXES OF CLASSY WOOD MATCHES. TWO HUGE ARRANGEMENTS OF FRESHLY-CUT CAMELLIAS.  A PRIVATE-ISH BEACH.
IT GOES ON AND ON...








BABY FERN AND HORSE TAILS
Crazy, right? This morning I am taking the ferry to Southworth to give a mini-retreat for some mothers in Bremerton, one of whom is offering me (I think) her cabin for the night. And I might come back here for Saturday night before heading back to LA Sunday.

Truly, this is my kind of spot. 

Thank you to everyone I've met this week. So much hospitality, so much kindness and generosity. I'm kind of overwhelmed.

MT. RAINIER/SUNSET.
A BALD EAGLE NESTS IN THE FIR TREE, DIRECTLY ACROSS FROM MY LOFT.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

THE FERRY


THE FERRY FROM SEATTLE TO BAINBRIDGE ISLAND


EXULTATION is the going
Of an inland soul to sea,—
Past the houses, past the headlands,
Into deep eternity!


Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?

--Emily Dickinson

CHERRY BLOSSOMS
(I THINK)

Monday, March 23, 2015

I HEART SEATTLE


I SO WANT TO LIVE HERE! A MOSS-COVERED WINDOWLESS CABIN IN A GLEN.
LOOK, EVEN THE CHIMNEY HAS MOSS ON TOP OF IT!
Oh my God, who knew? People, there is a whole beautiful part of our country known as the Pacific Northwest.

In it, everything is covered in moss!




7th  STATION OF THE CROSS


TWO WEEKS AGO I WAS I PALM SPRINGS.
I FEEL LIKE I'VE GONE FROM THE DRYEST PLACE ON EARTH TO THE WETTEST.
Eighty-five women and I had a stellar retreat over the weekend. Seldom have I felt such responsivity--is that a word; responsiveness?--and warmth.

I'm here for a week, during which I'll explore downtown and at least one of the islands (Vashon), and possibly Bainbridge as well.

But today I'm going to rest. Today I'm going to wander among the trees, walk down to the nearby bird sanctuary, and drink in the quiet


MOSS, MOSS, THAT WILL MAKE THEM SLEEP...
MOSS...

Friday, March 20, 2015

L.A. MASTER CHORALE DIRECTOR GRANT GERSHON AND THE WATER PASSION

LOOKS KINDA SCARY, DOESN'T IT?...

Last week I got to interview the director of the L.A. Master Chorale, native Angeleno Grant Gershon.

He couldn't have been more helpful or accommodating. I enjoyed our conversation to pieces.

Here's how the piece begins:

The L.A. Master Chorale has been called “the most exciting chorus in the country” under the leadership of Grant Gershon by the L.A. Times.

Director Gershon, a native of Alhambra, is currently in his 14th season. Composer John Adams says, “Grant Gershon is one of those rarities we call ‘the complete musician.’ My respect for his musicality — for his conducting, his extraordinary musical intuition and his formidable ear — knows no bounds.”

For the 2014-2015 season, Gershon chose three pieces about the Passion: Richard Einhorn’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” and for the weekend after Easter, “The Water Passion After St. Matthew” by Chinese composer Tan Dun.

“It’s quite a trio of contrasting pieces, sonically and emotionally,” Gershon observes. “They’ve been the pillars of our season this year.”


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. AND RESERVE YOUR TICKET!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

TRUE ENCOUNTER


Tatiana asks
“What do you desire?”
“Nothing.”
Response of an old Jewish woman
survivor of the Holocaust.
A terrible story.
But, how could one desire nothing?

‘What is your greatest desire?”
“Just to die.”
Tatiana still could not believe it.
Finally, “I have a desire…
but it is only a fantasy.
Only one person ever loved me,
my mother.
I no longer remember her face, only a silhouette.
I would give everything to be able to see her face.”

Tatiana asks
“Do you have a memory of her?”
“One day she gave me some little boots,
of white felt, that she had made.”
“How did she give them to you?”
“In the morning, she woke me up and she gave them to me.”
“Did she have you put them on?”
“Yes, she had me sit in a chair, she slipped them on my feet.”

“But how was she positioned…kneeling?”
“Yes, but what absurd questions you ask!
Anyway, yes, she was kneeling, to put them on me,
and she asked me if they fit…”

Suddenly, silence.
“Oh, Lord, I see my mother’s face.”



The most important question of all…
what is true encounter?


--adapted from an interview, Tatiana Caika, philosopher at Kiev Academy of Science
related by Aleksander Filonenko, Orthodox theologian

--sent by Scott Eagan of Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario

I SAW THIS RAINBOW OVER THE MT. JACINTO RANGE THE OTHER AFTERNOON.
IT WASN'T RAINING! 

Off to Seattle tomorrow for a week. Have never been. Excited.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

SUNNYLANDS




Sunday I went on a bit of a field trip. I visited Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, former home of billiionaire couple Walter and Leoneore Annenberg. The house is hidden away and costs to tour, so I confined myself to the front garden and grounds.

From Walter’s NYT obituary

"The lavish way of life enjoyed by Mr. Annenberg and his wife, Leonore, was most visible at Sunnylands -- completed in 1966 at a cost of $5 million -- where the couple spent the winter months. An airy, Astrodome-size extravaganza of glass and Mexican lava stone, pink marble floors and clustered plantings, the 32,000-square-foot house -- surrounded by well-guarded fencing -- sits on acres of rolling terrain. A well-primped, mock-English country landscape in the desert, with trees, hills, ponds, waterfalls, it has a nine-hole golf course and even an artificial swamp for the birds that Mr. Annenberg liked to watch."

Nowadays, especially with the Southern California drought, folks are a bit more ecology-conscious, so the front gardens are water-conserving, lovely, and free. I enjoyed wandering about in the 96-degree sun and taking photos so bright and Disney-esque that they look like they were photoshopped, (but I assure you were not!).

The surrounding communities are likewise almost surreal. How do people find their way home? I'd wondered on the way over, especially if they'd had one too many martinis. There was not a store, not a sidewalk, not a person, not an item out of place: just perfectly manicured lawns and endless cookie-cutter condo complexes. Everyplace looked exactly the same: a locked gate, a bed of petunias, a guard booth. Who were they guarding their stuff from? Who did they think was going to steal it: the retired banker and bridge-playing wife who lived next door?








Then again, I was hardly opening my own place to the public for free, for people to use the very cool restrooms, enjoy the views and sit on a bench in my gorgeous desert garden.



Sunnylands billed itself as a West Coast Camp David. The Reagans were close friends and frequent visitors. and as I took in the palo verde, ocotillo and barrel cactus, I couldn't help but think that decisions had been discussed or made here--Reagan was an enthusiastic "hawk"--that resulted in the deaths of untold numbers of people in lands that were not quite so "well-primped."

One photo in the Visitor Center especially caught my eye: the two couples relaxing on a mid-century sofa: first Walter, then Nancy, then Leonore, then Ronnie: arms linked.

Walter was leaning casually back looking bored as if to say,  Hey someone has to be a billionaire, all in a morning’s work and if you’ll excuse me, now I’m going to play a few rounds of tennis.

Ronnie had on a pair of tan slacks in a red and black plaid. Hey he’s one of us, certain Ugandans probably think upon seeing a photo of Idi Amin relaxing. Just so, many of us see a Western movie star. A beloved politician. Much of the rest of the world--especially those in countries where U.S. backed right-wing death squads murdered and pillaged with impunity during the Reagan years--see an insane, power-hungry butcher.

What is the truth and what is a mirage?

What did that American flag, riffling gently in the desert breeze, really mean?

What are we really going to have to answer for when the sheep are separated from the goats?

The visitors were mostly older couples: the men in Bermuda shorts and polo shirts, the women in perky capri sets and visors. In the ladies' room, I caught the face of a fellow visitor in an unguarded moment. She was studying her bejewelled-sandalled feet with the look of an anxious lost lamb and, with a stab of sisterhood, I so understood. Should I have used the red polish instead of the pink? Does my gut show in these pants?

In fact, I understood all of it: the desperate desire for security and safety, the frantic effort to contrive a life with no sudden surprises, the anguished yearning to be loved.

The Annenbergs were philanthropists and art collectors who gave away over two billion dollars in cash. I've enjoyed the Annenberg Space for Photography in L.A.  The Annenberg Foundation also funded the Not A Cornfield project, also in L.A., in which my friends from the Echo Park Film Center played a huge part.

I thought: There is nowhere to go in this world that is pure enough for the purity we yearn for. There is no money or heart or life that is entirely clean, and no money or heart or life that is entirely dirty.

I thought of how, before coming out to the desert, I'd been complaining to a mutual friend of the noise in L.A. She'd mentioned her friend, Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ, who spends much of his time in federal prison for witnessing against nuclear weapons.  She'd mentioned that the only time Fr. Steve can get quiet time in prison to deeply pray is around 2 in the morning. So he arranges his schedule to get up then, in the middle of the night. And in solitary confinement, he prays: for the world, for peace, for all of us.

And there we all hang, in the desert: nailed to the paradox, nailed to the cross

For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation,
brought low everywhere in the world this day
because of our sins.

We have in our day not prince, prophet, or leader,
no holocaust, sacrfice, oblation or incense,
no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you. 

--Daniel 3: 37-38.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

DEATH AND RESURRETION IN PALM SPRINGS

I HAVE NEVER BEEN ABLE ADEQUATELY TO CAPTURE THE QUALITY OF
THE AFTERNOON, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA LIGHT GLOWING THROUGH BOUGAINVILLEA.
BUT DAMN IT, I'M GOING TO KEEP TRYING.

 Palm Springs. Palm Springs. Palm Springs.

Balm for my harried soul. Though my hay fever is acting up "something terrible" (as we say in New England), I am seriously thinking of moving here for the summer.

Before leaving, I grabbed a few books from the shelves of the place where I'm staying in LA: Colin Thubron's Siberia, L'Assommoir (The Drunk) by Victor Hugo, and a 2004 book by a Natacha Du Pont de Bie called Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures of a Food Tourist in Laos.

I've only so far read the latter and was delighted by de Bie's sense of adventure (frog eyes, scummy home-made wine, fiery chili peppers), her love for the party-hearty people of Laos, her avoidance of political correctness. She searches far and wide for authentic Laotian food and includes recipes.

A couple of excerpts:

"Bamboo is one of the oldest forms of plant life. There are over one thousand species and they flower with shocking infrequency; some flower only every seventy-five years, others (like Dendrocalamus strictus) every twenty to forty years, and one (Bambusa vulgaris) every one hundred and fifty years. But what's really peculiar about them is that their flowering is synchronised. All the individuals of a given species reproduce at the same time wherever they are located in the world, whether in the forests of Laos or in someone's oriental theme garden in Milton Keynes. I mean, how do they know?"
p. 181

"America was never 'officially' at war with Laos, but as the Ho Chi Minh trail crossed the border of the two countries, they bombed it anyway to root out the Communists. The pilots' respect for Laos was so low that they used to dump excess bombs on Lao land when returning from Vietnamese raids, just to empty their load. As a result there were more bombs dropped in Laos than on the whole of Europe in the entire Second World War--three hundred thousand tons fell in Xieng Khoung Province alone. The results were catastrophic for the civilian population.

The CBU26 cluster bomb was most widely used (though twelve other kinds of clusters have been round)--a huge bomb-shell containing six hundred and seventy tennis-ball-sized bomblets, each of which contains three hundred metal fragments that strike people at such pressure and speed that they cause horrific damage. The main bombshell opens in midair, scattering the balls over a kilometre or more; ten to thirty percent did not detonate on impact.

Those undetonated bomblets are still lying around in their millions like super-landmines, buried under topsoil, hidden under leaves and grass. They get less stable as time passes. A sight touch and they go off. At least a hundred people a year are killed or injured in this way. Typically, the casualties are poverty-stricken farmers forced to clear new land but forty per cent are children and one-quarter of the deaths are toddlers who pick up the balls thinking they are toys. I found it hardly bearable to imagine."
p. 202

For more, see "Secret War in Laos'; "Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos"; and a January, 2015 piece from The Guardian: "Laos: Thousands suffering from the deadly aftermath of US bomb campaign."


I CAN'T GET ENOUGH OF THESE COLORS.

Friday, March 13, 2015

VAN GOGH'S "THE MULBERRY TREE"


When I go to a museum, I don’t like to look at a hundred pictures for a short time. I like to look at one picture for a long time

I’ve often visited the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, for example, simply to stand before Vincent van Gogh’s The Mulberry Tree.

Van Gogh was notoriously obsessed with color. The Mulberry Tree includes olive green, ocher, burnt sienna, ivory, pale yellow, butter yellow, cobalt, forget-me-not blue, putty, taupe, sparrow, blue green, sea green, pea green, cedar green, chartreuse, chrome yellow, agave green, pine green.

The thickly laid-on paint has an almost incarnate quality. The branches of the mulberry tendril, swirl, quest, seek, reach. Against a Madonna-blue sky, the tree seems almost to be on fire.

The work was completed just five months before van Gogh’s suicide. He was at the mental asylum at St.-Rémy, where he’d committed himself in the spring of 1889 after the famous ear-cutting incident. In spite of periodic debilitating attacks, possibly from epilepsy, he was incredibly prolific during the year he spent there. .

He may have been mentally and emotionally fragile, but he was clearly in absolute command of his craft. His person was apparently untidy, his studio a volcanic mess, but his purity of heart shines through like the sun.

Van Gogh himself described his brushstrokes in the piece as “firm and interwoven with feeling, like a piece of music played with emotion.”

Van Gogh was a misfit and a lover of Christ from youth. His religious yearnings were central to his work.

Prior to his art career, he considered becoming a pastor and ministered to the coal miners of the Belgian Borinage. In his one surviving sermon, he wrote: “Our life is a pilgrim’s progress…And the pilgrim goes on, sorrowful but always rejoicing—sorrowful because it is so far off and the road so long; hopeful as he looks up to the eternal city far away, resplendent in the evening glow.”

His subjects were simple, homely: a pair of work boots, a group of peasants sharing a meal of roast potatoes and coffee. Deeply grounded in the Gospels, he painted over thirty works featuring The Sower. “One does not expect to get from life what one has already learned it cannot give; rather, one begins to see more clearly that life is only a kind of sowing time, and the harvest is not here,” he wrote in a letter to his art-dealer brother (and sole means of support) Theo. [33]

Many art critics see van Gogh’s religious leanings as the sign, or even the cause of, his insanity. In Van Gogh, Frank Elgar writes:

“During the year he remained at the asylum he produced another hundred and fifty pictures, and hundreds of drawings, working as one possessed, interrupted in his labor by three long crises, followed by painful prostrations. He painted Yellow Wheat, Starry Night, Asylum Grounds in Autumn, a few portraits including that of the Chief Superintendent of the Asylum, delirious landscapes, surging mountains, whirling suns, cypresses and olive trees twisted by heat. In compensation, rhythm became more intense: whirling arabesques, dismantled forms, perspective fleeing toward the horizon in a desperate riot of lines and colours. What he represented then on his canvases he seems to have seen through a vertigo of the imagination. The fire lit by his hand was communicated to his brain. A feeling of failure overwhelmed him. Could his works be inferior to those of the masters he admired?"

My own impression isn’t of a man beset by fear of failure but of a man on fire with the mysteries of suffering and love. While confined to the hospital at St.-Remy, van Gogh also painted three seldom-mentioned works: The Pietà, The Good Samaritan, and The Raising of Lazarus.

In fact, standing before The Mulberry Tree, I wonder if van Gogh was inspired by Luke 17:6: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.”

As for van Gogh: “Certainly, I do not believe that my type of insanity could be persecution mania, because my mind, in a state of excitement, always concerns itself with infinity and with everlasting life.”

Perhaps that longing for infinity is what draws me, again and again, to the paintings, the letters, the Christ-like arc of van Gogh’s short, tormented life. Perhaps his ability to channel his suffering into his work is why I tend to go to see The Mulberry Tree when I’m in emotional pain myself.

Van Gogh carried a life-long torch for his beautiful cousin Kee. His father and his uncle, Kee’s father—clergymen both—were violently opposed to the union. Kee herself did not return his love. He was too volatile, they all agreed, and too poor.

He had long ago become disillusioned with all institutional churches. “That does not keep me for having a terrible need of—shall the say the world—religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars.”

Monday, March 9, 2015

APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA, AVERTED

PALM SPRINGS POWER-PROVIDING
WINDMILLS IN THE DARK

WAS FRIDAY A FULL MOON?

PASSING CARS.
NO-ONE STOPPED.

Whoa, well I had a bit of a scare Friday evening around 8. I had left LA in rush hour for what I knew and didn't really mind would be a long drive to Palm Springs. As I have many times before, I was poised to spend a week to ten days at the house of my friend Christine, who by the way deserves an all-star hospitality medal.

Anyway, I left in the light, around 4:00 and was approaching in the dark, around 8 (Palm Springs is about 100 miles from LA, giving you an idea of the traffic). The ride is a straight shot on the 10 freeway, and after you at last exit the 10, you get on Route 111, which is a divided highway, two lanes both sides, which goes for a dozen pretty much deserted miles into the smallish city of Palm Springs.

I did notice the "Check left rear tire" light had come on a few miles back, but that comes on fairly frequently to tell me my air is low. So I thought well I will put air in as soon as I get to Palm Springs, I knew just the gas station. I was thinking how cool the windmills looked, lit up red in the dark. I was admiring the full or almost full moon. I was contemplating the little meal of feta cheese and olives and carrot ginger soup and bread sticks I would put together in Christine's blessed kitchen, as I was starving and had to pee and my back was killing me and it had been a long week, a long day--I'd rented a storage space and a U-Haul and friends had helped me move the rest of my stuff out of the house in Silver Lake where I'd lived for four years--in fact, a long few months.

Out of the blue, I started to hear that dreaded sound and feel that signals a flat--bump, bump, bump. And then, without warning, my car went utterly, completely out of control and began berserkly fishtailing in what felt like fifty yards in either direction. Steer into the skid I remember thinking (though maybe that's only on ice), but nothing I did--I'm sure I tried to slam on the brakes, and I was desperately trying to steer the thing back on course--made a particle of difference.

I know there was a car a short distance back, cause I'd checked my rear view mirror a few seconds before, but apparently the person or persons sailed on by as when I came to rest what seemed like five minutes but was probably five seconds later neatly and safely in an empty parking area, the car was nowhere to be seen.

I got out, shaking, to look at the tire and saw it was not flat. It had sheared completely off the rim, as if cut the whole way around with a jagged serrated knife.

I got back in the car and put on my flashers. A bunch more other cars passed. I just sat there quietly for several long minutes, feeling my heart beat and saying Jesus Christ over and over not as a swear, but as a greeting and a thank you.

MY VEHICLE MIRACULOUSLY CAME TO REST IN THE WELL-LIT PARKING LOT OF THIS
OFF ROAD QUADS RENTAL PLACE,
ONE OF ONLY TWO OR THREE COMMERCIAL ESTABLISHMENTS
ON THE TEN OR TWELVE MILES OF ROUTE 111 COMING INTO PALM SPRINGS
A bottle of water had splashed all over the car and I was afraid my phone had gotten soaked but no, the phone had catapulted to the floor over near the clutch pedal and was safe. I remembered I half-finished travel mug of coffee so I thought to finish it, there in the dark. I'm pretty sure I re-applied my lipstick.

And then I called AAA Plus, checked my manual for spare tire info, took all my bags out of the trunk area so the guy could get to the tire easily, and started slowly packing the parking lot in the dark in a hyper-sensitive state of looking at the stars and feeling stunned to be alive. That was when I started realizing, Oh my God, if that had happened on the 10, I'd be dead and probably so would a few other people. I remembered the two rosaries I have twined around my rear view mirror and how I always touch them and make the sign of the cross when I got onto the freeway and how about ten miles back I'd realized I hadn't done that this trip and touched them and made the sign of the cross then.

I thought about how faith isn't superstition. Faith isn't voodoo. Faith doesn't protect you from evil and from harm and from being killed in a car accident. Faith just makes you grateful for any good that happens, for any time you're not hurt. Faith makes every time you fetch up safe seem like a miracle.

If it's your time, it's your time. Apparently it wasn't mine, yet.

But I am kind of shaken up. They have to order a special tire, which won't be in till Wednesday, so I won't be going to the qualifying day at the annual Indian Wells tennis tournament which is kind of a ritual each early March but that's okay.

Convinced every event has a deeper meaning, I'm pondering. It is QUIET out here, which is the first quiet I've experienced in months without having to brace/prepare/cope for a work thing or a moving thing or a life thing.

I have been saying yes to too much. Time to say no to more activity, yes to some rest.

AAA

MY TRUSTY FIAT