30 December 2009

From Mind to Matter

Is it still homesickness missing places, times, and people who simply aren't anymore?  Isn't that just living in the past?  My mind has been playing a slide show at light speed, split-second images and impressions of pure joy, inspiration, beauty, contentment:  flashes of golden green summer days, times laughing with my mother, glimpses of holiday dinners with loved ones.  But what about when it isn't even my past?  Scenes I've only imagined splash over my mind's eye like longing:  a room full of warm sunlight, shag carpet, and macrame plant hangers; plush couches, fire roaring in the grate, and velvet drapes; clean, sleek, Swedish living-spaces.  Every one of these images barely registers before it has passed, to leave a yearning for something precious… just out of reach.  I want to plaster these scenes on the walls of my life, to pour them into the grey and empty spaces, to connect them one to the next until they propel me into making art and substance and deep satisfaction.  If I could just hold them a little longer, long enough to recognize what is there that speaks so eloquently to my heart and spirit, perhaps then I could fashion even a reflection of it here in the real world.

But the real world is constrained by my own inability to bring to form the images in my mind, not to mention already filled with dark, shabby antique decor which is not mine to replace.  How do I begin to create these marvelous scenes when I can barely remember them?  One image at a time: for every splash of inspiration, I must cling to one thing in it, draw it into existence, enough for memory to sustain it into being.  Then I will call it my art.

08 October 2009

NextCat: ThisCat

NextCat(tm) has arrived and become ThisCat(tm), whom we are calling, for the time being until she reveals another name, Kiwi. She was born July 17th, making her 12 weeks old Friday. The adoption didn't go quite as I had imagined. The woman has a cat she won't spay because she "doesn't like to," so she quite often has kittens in need of homes. She lets them all live out in the garden, so while not feral, they are poorly socialized with people. None of them cared a whit for me, let alone decided to choose me to take one of them away. Two the woman had never caught at all. I watched them play and sat on the terrace until they'd all gone off into the hedge. No, not the scenario I had in mind at all. So, of the ones she could catch, I chose the friendliest and away we went.

It is unsettlin
g to have a stranger move in to our home. It's been so long since Mango and Wordsworth were new that they were part of me, I knew and loved them so well. Now I've chosen to love a bouncy, silly kitten who doesn't have an indoor voice. But she seems to be a quick learner, from needing and accepting further instruction on the uses of sandbox to picking up Craig's games with her to extracting herself from places she shouldn't have gone to begin with; I have great confidence in her.

Kiwi's first visit to the doctor went just fine last week. She is in good shape and behaved quite well. For her age, she has very long legs. We may be raising a panther. I've o
ften bemoaned the size range available in dogs but not in cats. Of course, we can only "domesticate" the cat up to the point where he can stop us. Dogs want to be part of a pack. As long as it's clear who is alpha, they are happy. Cats don't care. If there is disagreement, there is no submission because they believe we are equals. It is with careful thought to that future panther that I am cultivating relationship with Kiwi. Kitten teeth never belong on human flesh, all the more so when the 3 month old kitten is proportioned like a cat already. I forget that she truly is still an itteh bitteh kitteh until I look at her face, see her tiny nose and over-large ears.

For now, she is little Kiwi, dual-phase kitten: on/off. "On" demands constant play, having grown accustomed to siblings and outdoors. "Off" relishes a warm lap. There is no intermediate state. She is either shouting for attention or purring as though life has never been this warm and dry and full-belly.

03 October 2009

Nuit Blanche 2009

It is a joy to return to the City of Light, to the home of good friends, in anticipation of a full night of art, the Sleepless Night: Nuit Blanche. The English language Press Kit was a welcome resource, preparing me for the strong presence of video installations. I like video. As with all art, some is fantastic, some is rubbish. But for me, it is just not as engaging in a setting where the audience is moving, wandering, as other more sculptural media are. But video is the modern form. It can speak with greater breadth and depth than can oil on canvas. I am the first to admit I've had my fill of dark old Dutch Masters, rooms of prosperous men in fabulous hats. But Nuit Blanche lays a lot of ground to cover, stylistically and, more pragmatically, geographically. So I peruse the Press Kit, read the descriptions of the major artists and their works, and do a little planning for the night.

Now, after a decadent meal of crepes and cider (we watched a mountain of butter disappear onto the griddle even as a good and tasty portion of it was disappearing down our gullets), we head off into the night.

We find, by plan, an interesting melange of sound, motion, light, and color. Giant glowing multicolor crystals had grown up inside Notre Dame. A monstrous UFO-like disco ball hovered over the Senate and Luxembourg Gardens, spinning and dancing its lights across the grounds, the pond, the low-hanging clouds. A 40 voice motet was played through 40 speakers in a circle, giving the effect of being in an incredible choir.

Shadows of sweetly frightening figures played across a screen in the park. Imagine the music from The Nightmare Before Christmas. A hillside covered in red umbrellas looked down on a lake, glowing with blue, white, and red lights beneath its surface. These are but a few of the wonderful artworks Paris put out for free, for the night, for the people. If I were Parisienne, I would take that Press Kit well before, find the most auspicious bit of sidewalk or square, and put up my own art. It's quite possible that some of what we saw was exactly that. The whole scene would be enriched by greater density of art, one night of Burning Man distilled, more participants encouraged amongst the audience. And of course, more fire is always good. Like many of the pieces themselves, the Sleepless Nights are growing works in process around the world. Find one near you! Take it it, mull it around, see what comes out, and call it your art. (all photos: cvl)

17 September 2009

NextCat: the prequel

It has been nearly the year of freedom which I promised the Man. He has graciously given me early release for insane behavior. Time to pick up the harness and leash and tie myself down to a cat once more. NextCat(tm): we've been talking about NextCat for ages. I'm hoping for someone affectionate, dainty, clever. The Man says s/he will be antisocial, clumsy, and stoopid. And I will love NextCat because of and despite everything s/he is. A neighbor knows of several piles of gattini. It doesn't have quite the same ominous ring, but wise ones know to beware the dangers: "Thar be kittens."

Before s/he is real and here and getting into everything and shattering my illusions (along with stemware and stuff you'd never think of), I have a few fantasies. NextCat is going to make the passeggiata with me in her own special cat pram. We will scandalize the grandmothers, desperate for bambini in a country with one of the lowest birthrates in Europe. NextCat will ride on my shoulder, travel by train, and stay in hotels. NextCat will learn to use toilets.

The Man will be endlessly amused as I attempt, and fail, to teach NextCat any and all of these things. He will be amused right up to the point where a big, fat, uncoordinated tail clears his desk of all delicate electronics. I am sanguine with the fact that when she is entertaining and sweet, she may be our cat, but when she is the other thing, she most definitely will be my cat.

I still miss my Two Cats. We were together for so long, their whole long lives, and through so much. What little troopers they were. My one-woman cat, cantankerous Mango, and my sweet little man, Wordsworth. No one could replace them, and I'd never want to try. But there are always the poor homeless, needing what I can provide. So, it is time to start it all over again, to give my heart to a little ball of fluff and pointy bits. Weak as I am for marmalade tabbies, I've had my femmina rossa. So even though there is one of those rare beauties available, I'm drawn towards someone different, someone who won't make me see ghosts, maybe a nice black cat just in time for Halloween.

In one week, I will accompany Federica to meet some of the kittens she knows. Right now, she knows at least a baker's dozen looking for their forever homes. I would love to have a gamboling flock, but now isn't the time. I've prayed so fervently to find NextCat and to know, without doubt, that this is the right cat. It is my intention to sit down amongst those mewlers and have one, just one, crawl up into my lap, and find love at first sight. Knowing that there are always more homeless cats and hoping to bond especially well with NextCat, it is my intention to walk out of that house next Wednesday with only one. We'll see. Once she is settled, in a year or so, perhaps she'll like to train up CatAfterThat. . .

26 August 2009


Another church, museum, castle, ruin, plaza/meydan/piazza/trg/Platz/place/nàmèsti/square, nearly every Old Town blurs into every other through cobbled streets and labyrinthine back allies. Window shopping stuff I don't need which would only clutter the flat and become one more thing for some future someone to wonder over and eventually discard, I realize that my prize today would be to feed a stray cat, perhaps be allowed a pat down its back.

I began traveling to see how other groups of humans make their way in the world, to see for myself what works and what doesn't, attempt to understand why. This traipsing through other people's lands and lives does move me to learn more of history, how each group has come to be who they are. Clichè or not, those who fail to learn from it are doomed to repeat it; human nature does not change. But now, maybe only just for now, I am jaded. Ancient cities are just accumulations of people and their stuff. Old is only there because no one bothered to tear it down. It's all just what people going about the business of living have left behind. The mystery and the magic have gone out of it for me, for now. I am tired of kings and conquest, the fighting to and fro to gain and lose another hill. War, then and now, is adolescent and a wicked waste. Yet, mankind seems never to tire of it. I see little evidence that we, as a species, will ever understand that enough is enough. We have one planet to live on, a finite piece of real estate. It would take far too much agreement among essentially egotistical, self-serving humans to share it responsibly.

Not that the curiosity has abated, but my focus is shifting. Individuals are still working it all out for themselves. That is where I stand, in the middle of one life, trying to make the best choices every day. What people do with their own private corners of the world, the daily rhythms and rituals to keep body and soul together and head out of the oven, remains fascinating. Dougie MacLean's Scythe Song has the line, "This is not a thing to learn inside a day." It put me to thinking about these discreet boxes of time, between waking and sleeping again, when so many things do come to pass. There are happenings in life that seem too wonderful or too horrible, simply too big to fit inside a day; a birth, a death, walking out, jumping in. I try to remember that I can't know what of these things may have already happened inside this day to anyone I meet on the street. I fault people for being wrapped up in themselves, oblivious to everyone and everything around them. But, perhaps, if I took a greater interest in their lives, understanding would spread, human connection would be strengthened. Maybe, just maybe, one day at a time, we could go from fighting The Other to lifting up each other. And some day, historians and tourists might look back and talk about the era when humanity began to grow up.

For now, I'm ready to let the old stones lie under their dust, step off the tourist road, and appreciate life and lives where they appear and move through their days in this age.

08 June 2009

God is Still Big

After reading a previous post (Hum Deyli Lai) an observant friend heard something in a film that she thought might be it: "Al hum du'Allah," an expression of devotion in the Muslim faith. As I considered this new information in context of my new favorite mantra, at first it seemed okay. The God of Islam is the God of Abraham is the God of Judaism is the God of Christianity is my big God. I frequently call Him by many names given to Him by His chosen people in our Old Testament. Same God, one more name. All People of the Book. Islam allows that Jesus was special, a prophet, even of virgin birth by the breath of Allah. But then it struck me. Would I want to be called by a name given me by those who actually call my son a liar (that he was not the son of God ~Mark 14:61-62, John 14:6), diminish the value of his work, and discount his sacrifice (that we can be good enough for God on our own and do not need salvation ~Romans 3:22-25)? No. Now that I know what sounded like "hum deyli lai" means, it cannot be for me. El Shaddai, God Almighty, is my big God and Jesus is His son, my redeemer.

11 May 2009


It's in Spain. I remember 1992, the Olympic Games, and wondering why, with the opportunity to tell the world anything it chose about itself, Barcelona went for the basic geography lesson. Yes, that was their tag-line, "Barcelona... it's in Spain." Now, after less than 48 hours in that gorgeous city, full of art and life and culture, it became as clear to me as "Montreal... it's in Canada." Throughout that summer of '92, Spain was sending a message, not to the world, but to its own citizens: "Barcelona... It's in Spain... Like it or not." And Catalunyans don't like it, not one bit. Sure, they can speak Spanish (after all... they are Spanish), but the menus, street signs, and general mind-set are pure Catalan. Where my western-hemisphere Spanish is loathsome to the rest of the country, in Catalunya I can drop the lisp which never comes out in the right place anyway. Wretched, New World Spanish just means I'm not one of "them." My Colombian friends are more welcome in Barcelona than if they were Sevillanos. In fact, locals are from Catalunya 1st, and Spain only if pressed.

Having abandoned my Spanish phrase book, deciding to get by on what lurks in the recesses of my memory, we set out to take in as much of this place as possible before we had to move on, twice: under 24 hours on the first pass through and less than 12 on the way back. Let me just say, "Gaudi." Not "gaudy," but Antoni Placid Guillem Gaudi y Cornet. Perhaps, in the eyes of some, there might be a connection, but honestly, the man was a genius. Brilliant. Please appreciate with me a few of his architectural gems in Barcelona, bits of Walt Disney's imagination on city streets in the real world.
photo: Craig Lewisphoto: 555-Nase
photo: Charles Curling

His life's work, left unfinished when he was run over by a tram at the age of 73, is the Sagrada Familia. A church of spectacular vision and scale, Gaudi set about "growing" his beloved plane-trees in stone within stone walls. A small but invaluable museum on
site describes and illustrates the geometric processes used to create the soaring, branching columns supporting the roof. Beautiful as it was to see his inspired work, the inspiration itself was more so. Cruising up the Canal du Midi in the south of France, we were flanked nearly the entire way by Gaudi's plane trees. It was easy to understand why he would be moved to recreate these trees to support the soaring roof for a house of God.

photos: Craig Lewis

The Sagrada Familia remains a work in progress. Although the visionary is gone, those who remain to carry on appear to be giving full effort to honor his marvelous vision. However, if you want to see this amazing creation, be warned that it is in peril. A transit tunnel is either under construction at present or at least being fought for and against. As much as I favor public mass transit, it would be a tragedy to undermine this sanctuary's roots and risk its collapse.

24 March 2009

Hum Deyli Lai

A dear friend in San Francisco shared with me how a friend of his spent time in Africa, how that individual was so moved by the people there and the way they express awe and appreciation. When they observe something beautiful or marvelous, they say (something that sounds like) "Hum deyli lai," God is big. I love that. As children we learn that God is great and God is good and that we should thank Him for our food (amen), and while all that is true, something about this simple acknowledgement touched me afresh. Hum deyli lai; He is here with me and across the country with my girl friend and around the world with other friends, and I have seen Him reaching into each of these lives in just the past month to show us His love and power over the most personal events we face. Hum deyli lai; big enough to see beyond my experience, to know the consequences I cannot imagine, to work for my good even when I don't know what that would be, especially then. He has used this particular friend to speak ~actually, to sing~ comfort to me before. I doubt the friend has any idea what a vessel of God he is. He's forgotten the night my world was torn apart ~he didn't know it then or for months after~ when the music he and another made gave me a still place in the darkness to say goodbye, to stand with friends at my side in that unspeakably lonesome place.

Hum deyli lai.

16 February 2009

So What About Love?

Valentine's Day ~ chocolate, flowers, loooooove. But what for those of us abandoned by Cupid this, or every, year? What for those with passions burning, but a restraining order in place? Alone no more, nursing old grudges and broken hearts, Valentine's Day can have new meaning! Not flowers, but feathers! No intimate dinner for two, but a flash mob armed with pillows and pent up ~and goose down~ emotion, venting wildly, bursting with joy, frivolity, and life-long issues with holidays invented to sell cards, candy, and self-loathing.

photo credits: Aimee L.
(yelp), al bar (flickr)

20 January 2009

Gap Term: MidLife (part 1)

Eight weeks ago, we departed Italy for HomeLeave, recently informed that we will be staying there for the duration. So, we must find ways to make our place, to build a satisfying life there. With this in mind, I am touring my homeland with an eye toward the possibilities for that life. Italy, not being my place, my people, nor my identity, will never be home without conscious effort to make it so. And not just the effort to do it, but to determine what that means. Few of the default settings there ~beginning with the landlord's grandmother's cast-off furniture in our flat and ending with frightful fashion and la bella figura on the street~ are anything I'd choose. But default settings remain until someone decides what would better suit. Without exposure to the rest of the world, it's easy to have creativity stifled, to forget originality and individualism, to become mired in the status quo.

So now, it is a smorgasbord of forgotten wonders to be back in San Francisco, to see people's self-expression, to feel the freedom to be whomever and however one wants to be. . . let your freak flag fly! A friend commented, and I marveled, over how anyone can wear anything here and probably find a group which fits like a glove ~leather, fingerless, or silk. Many places are full of people unlike those in other places, but San Francisco is full of all those people and more. Chutney and I held a micro-BurningMan in Via Poggi; why not a San Franciscan colony at Lerici? I will never fit in, will always be la straniera. La straniera the better!

Maybe SantaConItalia is far in the future, but it sure was fun here! Imagine roving hoards of Santas all over the City, with a few Grinches and the odd elf thrown in. Santas on the subway; Santas in bars; Santas cropping up everywhere! Here is the Duboce Park stop of the Haight group of SantaCon 2008. R to L: Renata Foucre, her friend Santa, and myself. This group was on its way to Union Square to meet up with the other 2 groups of Santas. Non-Santa people's reactions were the best. They would see one Santa, "Pff, so what?" Then the magnitude would begin to sink in. Perplexity would give way to smiles, laughter, and pointing.

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