Give Me Space

Alf and I made plans to spend the day in Carmel the weekend after Christmas.

Instead of taking the sane way, we chose the back roads that took us through the center of Gilroy and up and around and down the mountains that paralleled highway 101. That turned out to be a 30-minute detour that left Alf fuming and me hyperventilating. The day was already ruined.

What were we thinking? We envisioned a casual stroll down cobbled stone streets, lazily peering into store windows for the Christmas decor, enjoying a leisurely lunch at a French restaurant expertly prepared by the chef of many years with a fine reputation.

Instead we jostled our way down the streets side-stepping the tourists with their pedigree dogs, which didn’t want strangers petting them with gooey fingers from their over-priced pastries. Why don’t people leave their dogs at home? When did it turn trendy to wear them shopping? I can sort of understand a purse dog, if you can call that thing a dog, but a Burmese Mountain dog? There’s no avoiding him, he’s a defense tackler blocking the street.

I saw more dogs than children. Probably the kids stayed home with the grandparents and the dogs went to town. There’s something wrong here. IMG_9666

Lines were out the door at every decent restaurant. Casual wear in the stores was priced at $300 and up. And that was the sale price. Really? I can get that same sweatshirt online for $15.95.

It was cold gorgeous – sharp blue skies, piercing sunlight – boot and jacket weather. Boots were popular. Everybody was wearing them, except me. I checked the price of an elegant leather pair that caught my eye – $475. With a few more dollars, I’ll go to Europe.

The art galleries disappointed me. Mostly touristy seascapes in glaring colors, the kind you see in every beach town from Maui to La Jolla to Acapulco. I think the same painters make a circuit. Jose takes Acapulco, Sven’s is Carmel, Max paints in a bar in Maui, and Teresa is the barracuda in La Jolla. They’re all related. These were Teresa’s last three husbands.

Calvin says, “Next time leave Alf home and take me. My nose needs an outing and I love gooey.” beagle

Shakespeare with a Spin

We just returned from the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon where we saw four plays, two of which were from the Shakespeare canon. The Comedy of Errors was ridiculous, The Tempest was great. The other two were modern dramas full of angst and despair, the kind of thing I like because it’s kinda where I live. It also brings out the best in a cast.

Alf and I have been going to Ashland for 27 years now so you can imagine how many plays that translates into – yikes we should be experts, but we’re not. Acting companies muck around with the settings and costumes and even with some of the lines so every play looks and feels different from year to year. We’ve seen Julius Caesar performed in gym outfits, The Taming of the Shrew in a boardwalk setting (right picture), and Romeo and Juliet with a Mexican backdrop.  Screen shot 2013-05-11 at 2.46.42 PM

ErrorsThis year an African-America cast did the Comedy of Errors (left picture) and the director set it in Harlem, so you can imagine the farce and mayhem on stage. The costumes were everything you’d expect to see in a Sunday church setting. Alf loathed it. I enjoyed the spin.

Our biggest adventure was missing out on the Groucho Marx play, The Cocoanuts. All the other plays were at 8 pm and I assumed this one was too, but no it wasn’t, it was a matinee, and we were at the mall shopping while Groucho was yucking it up with the audience. I could have kicked myself. We rushed to the box office, told them our plight, asked to be added to the next performance only to be told it was on the day we were going home. So Groucho came and went without us. “Man does not control his own fate. The women in his life do that for him.” Alf couldn’t agree more.

Calvin says, “All those settings, all those new smells, why don’t you take me with you? I know the hotel takes pets. I checked online.” beagle

 

Are Museums For Americans Too?

In his book Priceless, author Robert Wittman says that more Americans visit museums than go to ball games.

Hmm.

I was recently at the MoMA in New York on a Friday night when you can get in for free. There were hordes of people waiting in line, more crowds already inside the building, and there were ten people deep by almost every painting hanging on the walls.

All of them were speaking a foreign language. French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, you name it, I heard it.

And the Americans?

There were two. My friend, Elle and me. We didn’t speak much because we were craning our necks to see the Picassos, Van Goghs, and Monets in the room.  

There was a group of Italians occupying the middle of the room listening with rapt attention to their guide. He was a tall man, with greying hair at the temples, immaculately dressed in a European-cut suit and a yellow ascot. He was pointing out historical details about the artists with a flourish of hand gestures. This all in Italian, of course. And without a textbook.

Behind me were people of all ages, jostling for position, photographing Van Gogh’s Starry Night on their iPads. They spoke Russian.

Even the guards, in their blue uniforms, whose job was to make sure visitors kept a respectable distance from the masterpieces, looked foreign-born.

So where were the Americans?

In the Architecture and Design exhibit? No.

Viewing the current exhibit? No.

In the contemporary galleries? No.

When I rounded the corner by the Painting and Sculpture Galleries, that’s where I spotted them.

In line waiting to get into the restaurant.

Does that count as a museum visit?

Calvin says, “Only if you snap a few pics on the way to the bathroom.” 

Eccentric Art

Two friends met in a pub and over beers exchanged stories about their college years as art students.

Michael was British, 30’s, balding hair, with glasses that slipped down his nose.  Jeremy was American, 30’s, with a pony tail, and a beard. They became friends while at a gallery opening in Chelsea, New York.

“I lived in a house owned by a woman who married all the divorced men in town. By the time I got there she was hostile to everybody,” Michael said sipping his beer.

“Our RA played the blues on his harmonica every night. Midway through the year we plotted his murder,” Jeremy said wiping the foam from his upper lip with his fingers.

“Were you caught?”

“We stole his harmonica,” Jeremy said with a smirk. He knew we did it, but could never find it.

“Another guy is the house was a transvestite. He was tall and walked with a golden cane with an eagle handle,” Michael said pushing up his glasses.

“No wait. He lived in my dorm,” Jeremy said.

“Must have leased himself out. It’s how he paid his tuition,” Michael said. “There was another guy, weasel-like, lived in his left brain. Wasn’t friendly.

“I hated by those types. They talked in lists and appointments. Why they were art majors baffled me,” Jeremy said.

“It salved their little brittle brains. A third guy grew weed in his room in his mother’s tea cups under goose-neck lamps,” Michael said.

“Like the guy in my dorm. He grew it in the bathroom, under fluorescent lights, in Styrofoam containers from the local fast food joint. No pun intended,” Jeremy said chuckling.

“Sounds like we went to the same school.”

“Did you learn to make good art?” Michael said.

“No. Just how to dodge the bullets until graduation. That’s why I have a PhD in Oceanography.”

“Mine’s in Culinary Arts. I make a mean brioche,” Michael said.

Calvin says, “My career was defined the instant I smelled rabbit on the puppy farm.”

How To Enjoy Failing

There’s a saying on my wall that goes like this:

INEPTITUDE

If you can’t learn to do something well, learn to enjoy doing it poorly.

I love it.

If I’m honest with myself, I do everything poorly.

For most of my life, I wouldn’t go near things that interested me because I was sure I wouldn’t do them well.

I was a perfectionist.

But over the years I learned that perfectionism paralyzed me.

I had no fun.

I was a grouch.

So I took the plunge.

For example, cooking. I didn’t know how to boil water. That kept me away from a lot of recipes I wanted to make.

Now I boil water like a pro. Big bubbles, medium bubbles, and small bubbles.

The rest of the recipe, ask me another time.

Take painting. All my life I was told that to be a good painter, you had to learn to draw.

Drawing bores me. Too much attention spent on details. I don’t have the patience.

So I mess with watercolors on the best paper I can afford to buy. The paper produces some really good stuff, and I take the credit.

Writing. The ability to write a novel alludes me. I’ve tried so many times, only to get stuck in the middle with no way out of the maze I’ve created.

But I’m terrific at beginnings. Great characters. Lots of action. Compelling hook.

Anybody out there need an epic first chapter? Talk to me.

The truth is, I live with failure every day, but I don’t let it stop me anymore.

It scares me. I’ll admit that, but I’ve gotten used to being frightened.

I tell myself somewhere in all this mess, there’s a gem in there.

Most likely it will take somebody else to spot it.

Calvin says, “I see it. It’s the bone I buried under the chaos in your study.”

For Better or For Butter

My friend, Alice is the mother of an artist son. Not a graphic or computer artist, but a fine artist. The type that spends hours in a studio slapping paint on a canvas and brooding over it. No painting is ever finished. And he hates everything he does because it’s not perfect.

Alice invited her friend, Naomi to lunch recently to talk about this. Naomi is also the mother of a fine artist. Her daughter is an accomplished, well-known oil painter who makes a full-time living making art. Naomi has years on Alice in the patience department.

At a seaside restaurant, Alice asked Naomi, “If you tell me my son won’t be famous until he’s in his 40’s, then I need anti-depressants or alcohol.” Alice decided to start drinking then and there and ordered a glass of wine.

“Be happy for him. Life will eventually move him on, for better or for worse. We’re only mothers, not God,” Naomi said and ordered a dry martini with a twist.

That didn’t help much. Alice unfolded her napkin and stared out the window. The waves crashed against the rocks and spewed white foam in her direction. The waiter came with their drinks and a basket of bread sticks and a plate of butter balls piled high in a mound.

Naomi added, “Your son has decided to live his life as he sees fit and you need to let him.” She sipped her martini and bore into Alice with her eyes.

Alice snapped a bread stick in two and stabbed a butter ball with one of the halves. The butter ball rolled off the plate, onto the table, and kept rolling right into her lap. Naomi followed it as it made it’s journey off the table.

Alice was embarrassed. She couldn’t return it to the butter plate. She couldn’t leave it in her lap. And she couldn’t drop it on the floor because, knowing her luck, she would probably step on it as soon as she got up from the table.

Instead, she popped it into her mouth and washed it down with her wine. “Not bad. Needed a little garlic.”

“I see where your son gets his creativity from,” Naomi said as she took another sip of her martini.

“So what you’re saying is that I should forget the whole business and take on a hobby,” Alice said.

“Buy a dog. That will distract you,” Naomi said draining her martini.

“I’m over the pet thing, too much work,” Alice said. The waiter was back at their table waiting to take their lunch order.

“I’ll have another martini, this time with a pickled onion,” Naomi said.

“And I’ll have the escargot…skip the butter…I’ve had plenty,” Alice said.

Calvin says, “We don’t distract. We love you to distraction. Now how about rolling one of those butter balls in my direction? I’ll be under the table with my mouth open.”