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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Passion and Fear on the Street

I've been inspired to write more times than I can remember over the past few weeks but haven't had the time to sit down and record my thoughts before they slipped away. Jet lag, cultural adjustments, a head cold and the accompanying cold medications, whatever. Now I need help and it's not the medicinal kind.

I love to walk. My husband and I both live in a part of our city where we are close enough to our jobs and necessities where we could probably do without a car with a little bit more planning. Walking is one of the reasons I love to travel and work overseas. "The road," or sidewalk or pedestrian pathway has proven to be the best pace for me to experience a city or countryside and reflect on what I see. I always find inspiration for my work while rhythmically taking one step at a time taking in the view.

My feet have pounded the pavement or the gravel without accompaniment for more than half the time over the past 20 years and I've never felt threatened or in danger until now. I have a certain amount of street cred and have always taken precautions in insure as safe an experience as possible. Something has changed. During the past two years I have been accosted twice. During September of 2004 I attributed my pocket being picked to an increase in unemployment and professional thieves in Paris. There were even French TV specials focusing on this around Christmas of 2004. Since that time I have taken even more precautions regarding my "papers," money, camera and such. Still, I have learned that this is not enough.

This past weekend I traveled to Barcelona with an Australian friend who has traveled alone much more than me. I have wanted to visit this city for more than twelve years but never thought it would be the best place to travel alone. My friend is older so she has had more time to explore but had never been to Spain. We both had money belts or secret compartments or whatever but it seems that this does no good when a thief is willing to be physically aggressive.

My friend and I were between the Musee Picasso and the Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter around 8:30 this past Saturday night. We were looking for a cab since it had been a long day of rain and bitter cold. (unusual for Barcelona, we were told) Someone came up behind me and reached down and grabbed my day pack which was hidden by a bag of books and wrapped around my wrist. I resisted. I pulled. I screamed LOUDLY. He pushed me into a motorcycle that was parked on the sidewalk. I was wearing a leather coat that looks like it was run over by a motorcycle already so I wasn't hurt. Not badly. A little sore. A little traumatized. Ok, pretty traumatized!

I jumped up and ran after him NO HESITATION. I SCREAMED "STOP HIM!!!! YOU *&^% MOTHER *&^#$&! STOP! I ran more. I Screamed more. Then I worried about my friend who I had left on the street. So I stopped. Now I know my response. I always wondered what I would do if someone accosted me. He got away of course. No one tried to stop him. He ran through crowds of people. We reported it. My friend looked him right in the eye and is a figurative painter. She could draw him. She looked at books of photos of criminal faces. (Spanish men are beautiful but that makes them even scarier when they are confirmed criminials.)

Now I continue to relive this experience. Its made me pretty jumpy on the street and more than anything made me wonder if I am at an age that regardless of what I wear I am considered a potiential target. (I am in my mid 40's) I love to walk at night and I always stay in areas that are well lit and have people out and about. I think nothing of walking for an hour and half late in the evening by myself along the Seine... from the Palais de Tokyo to my atelier. There are people out and about of every age. It is the most beaitiful time to enjoy the monuments and architecture. It is a dilemna for me.

I fear I have been naive and lucky until now but all of that doesn't matter since I don't want to give up something I love (like walking) out of fear. I can't do it. On the other hand I know that two times is a warning that I need to do something more... take a self defense class? This is something I have always wanted to do. Carry mace? I used to carry it all the time until it became such a hassle at the they take it and ditch it... I wish I had mace in my hand when this creep attacked me - or a taser on the end of my umbrella - or something. Pain without permanent injury is my preference. Something he would remember for a long, long time.

I would appreciate any comments or suggestions travel savy folks can give me. I am travel savy. Ask any of my friends or students. BUT... I am not as young as I once was so now I think I need to do more. Savy is obviously not enough. Being careful is not enough. Staying home or taking cabs everywhere is unacceptable. Please share. Foil, since you've spent some significant time in Barcelona (which was STILL great and inspiring even with the rain and the cold and the crime!) The cop who recorded my story and list of stolen items was ADORABLE...what can I say? I am an artist and I appreciate beauty.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

openings and closings

Its been a short week full of stops and starts, sweet moments, frustration and exhaustion.

There has been headway followed by ineptitude and corruption of faith. I wrote Fed Ex a letter yesterday since they didn't honor their second day guarentee on a shipment I sent to NYC right after the Subway the tune of fifty bucks! versus like eight.

One thing I've learned over the years is that a pointed letter can make all the difference when it is read by the right person. (If I had paid eight bucks it wouldn't have mattered. A guarentee is a guarentee... especially a fifty dollar guarentee!)

I spent the day pounding the pavement and looking at early 20th century art from Vienna at the Grand Palais. If you haven't seen the Schiele schow at the Neu Galeri across from the Met you should. It closes on the 2oth. It takes a lot of dough to get all those paintings and drawings in one place from all over the planet.

The Vienna show gave me an entirely new appreciation of Schiele's landscapes and the role Klimt played in the Secessionist movement. He was the master! He could do anything he damn well wanted since he had the chops...ALL of THEM. This isn't so obvious if you only know the work he is most known for. They are great but there is even MORE and different work that is less well known that was jaw droppingly masterful.

Now it is time to work. It's 11:15 pm here. Some things never change. Jetlag doesn't help.
Tomorrow I am getting up early to see a show on 20th C Melancholy in Art..(described as a divine state associated with great minds that is now treated as depression.) NOW I feel better!

Tomorrow is the last day. At least its a Monday so the line can't be as long as it was today (a three hour line.) The only time I've stood in line for three hours was to please my husband when we saw the Vermeer show on a FREEZING January afternoon MANY years ago. I was glad I did. I must confess I was amazed to see so many Americans enduring the misery of the line to look at Art.

Such behavior is typical of the French - or Springsteen fans. The difference is that the French are LATIN people and will break a Que to be sure if you give them half a chance! Liberte' Fraternite' Egalite'....

Thursday, January 12, 2006

late but not forgotten

Loss of life is a drag for the living...especially when we are confronted with the fact that it can be cut short... unfairly short. It is like a wound that resists healing. One of the things that helps me get past it is that kick in the ass and conscious effort I try to make to live as fully as possible every day afterwards. (Until I am comfortably numb again.. the laissez-faire of American life).

My last night with my husband for a long time was spent at an informal wake for the musician Bryan Harvey and his family. We needed to be elsewhere (sleeping!) but realized this celebration of life was more essential to our soul than a few zzzz's. Jazz standards and an open mic for musician friends from both the east and west coasts brought everyone to their feet and to the dance floor. At the end of the evening as each musician packed up a lone booth broke into an acapella version of Amazing Grace. My heart skipped a beat and the tears we felt were finally for joy.... bye bye blackbird.... good bye.

Now we are left with a commitment to make the best of the time we have left. This life is what we make of it, however much time we have left.

My resolutions for the next year are ongoing but the ones I have tried to embrace NOW are as follows:

a) take better care of my teeth (I hate going to the dentist and after an 18month absence from THE CHAIR I was thrilled to learn I didn't have any cavities...) Somethings haven't changed since I was 12....

b) I will tell people I admire and know of as an aquaintance how much I appreciate the good work they do and the contributions they make to our community.... I am very shy and not prone to starting up conversations with people I don't know well. I will change. This is hard work for me but after all that has happened during the last 12 days it is a start.

c) I will make a greater effort to connect with my siblings. I do love them very much BUT we are very different and live on opposite coasts (all three). We are like kittens that came from the same litter but all seem like different breeds (and no, we aren't adopted and we definitely share the same DNA even if we've doubted it at times!)

d) Try harder. I get discouraged by the politics of, government, meetings, blah, blah, blah.

e) Worry less about things of little consequence

f) Eat better and live more: greener, more simply; green tea, less coffee. live music, less TV. More passion, less excuses.

g) Laugh more. cry less.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Flickering Flame

Its very difficult staying focused this year. The aftermath of losing the Harveys has taken hold of our friends and city. A candlelight vigil last night was appropriated into a political ralley for the media with bright lights and an amplification system playing God Bless America. This took place in front of the Harvey's home where their lives were taken from them. It made me angry. Friends of the family who came prepared with candles and musical instruments just turned around and left in disgust.

I heard someone fumbling at our front door and I opened it and it was my beloved standing there weeping. It is just too much...too horrible...too sad.

Hence, I have made nary a resolution, though I am working hard to prepare for a flight out of here on Monday. I'd feel better if my damn passport had arrived. That's ANOTHER story.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Wisdom of Hippocrates

Yesterday was a spendidly beautiful day in our neighborhood. The weather was sunny and mild so we took a walk through Carytown with the goal of picking up some fresh bread from the Bistro down the way. There was a three-piece ensemble playing klezmer music on the corner a few blocks from us. The street was pretty quiet, otherwise. Was walked to our favorite French Bistro to discover that they were closing early and we could have as much bread as we wanted for free! Wow...FREE bread for the people to begin a new year! Bagettes, croissant, country bread perfect for much as we wanted. We were attending a dinner party later in the evening so we planned accordingly.

We wound up being out very ate last night visiting with friends who are all only in town for a brief few weeks before heading to Quatar, Buenos Aires, etc. Intense conversation stimulated my senses to the point of exhaustion. We arrived home at 1:30 am to hear a garbled message on our machine that something bad had happened to people we know who live south of the James. It was too late to return her call.

We returned her phone call this morning and neither her or her husband could talk to us about it because their children were in the room... they told us to get a paper. We went online to read the local paper and learned that the new year of 2006 that we were so happy to welcome in the door had slammed itself in all our faces.

Our community lost a lovely couple and their two daughters yesterday. They were an integral part of their neighborhood and perfect examples of living life and making art as best they could, to the fullest, each and every day.

The article linked to the title of this post doesn't mention that Brian Harvey played Fat Elvis for the kids at World of Mirth or the fact that everyone we know spends time in this spectacular shop when they come to town. Its a destination for the children and those who are young at heart.

We are in shock it is so fuckin awful. This is one time I don't think it could have been worse.
There is a memorial growing at the entrance to World of Mirth and I am listening to one of Brian's CD's from his House of Freaks days. The music is so poignant and telling... and I am reminded of the beautiful Hippocrates sentiment that my beloved echoed at the memorial service for our daughter Annabella: Life is short, Art is long.

And that's just the way it is, like it or not.