Wednesday, January 31, 2007

geek language

I met Jewel and Beth for lunch yesterday. Old friends, from older days. We had some catching up to do. I told them I've been taking some classes in web development and Beth expressed some surprise that I would veer so far from my artistic roots to something so mathematical. Actually, I feel quite the opposite: all this coding and all these programs seem to sync up perfectly. It's all new tools for self-expression.

With my love for language, words, and objects, it just makes sense that I'd be drawn to something that has the power to translate symbols and code into gorgeous images and colorful grids and text. It's not math, it's a perfect form of digital expression. And like any language, there's always more to learn, always a higher level of fluency to attain. That's the great challenge. I'm really just starting out.

And of course, I never did mention it to Beth, but I've always had a thing for mathematical equations. Call me a dork, I don't care. I love breaking things down to their basic elements, finding out what makes things tick and how to propell them forward. That's art, if you ask me. Math too, just like computer code or French or the owner's manual in my car, is just another beautiful language to master.

Monday, January 29, 2007

radical lace & subversive knitting

I've been knitting ever since I was a little girl. It was a skill that my mother taught me. An invaluable lesson in arts & crafts. I used my talent to create household or personal items. Say, a scarf or a patchwork pillow made from tidy, hand-knit squares. It was about form that followed function, as an afterthought.

Then in college, I met Hildur Bjarnadottir, an icelandic textile artist who came to my school to teach as a visiting instructor. I've always been fascinated with textiles and textures, and so I decided to enroll in her class called "Textiles and Beyond," an exploration of textiles in contemporary art. The class was very influential in my understanding of art and my appreciation for female craft, too often viewed as second-rate.

Hildur was totally rad. Young with fire-red hair. And an obsession for crocheting giant ten-foot doilies with three-dimensional skull and hand-gun borders. Growing up in Iceland, she was exposed to all of the traditional fabric crafts, for which the country is so well known, alongside an edgy, avant garde art scene. Her question, Is Craft Art?, was a recurring theme in her work and in her class. We certainly learned fiber skills—felting, crochet, embroidery, knitting, spinning, sewing—but we also learned how to approach form from an entirely different perspective. Form does not necessarily follow function.

My favorite piece that I made in the class was a piece of soft, undyed felt that I sculpted around a plain old rock. I sewed on a turquoise zipper so that you can unzip the felt and take the rock out. A custom-made jacket for a rock. It was the first time I created something in which the function actually followed the form. The whole thing emerged out of a process, thus it just made sense from a conceptual standpoint. And yes, I did come to the conclusion that craft can be art. Especially if it has an underlying message.

I haven't seen or spoken to Hildur since, but I still attend my bi-weekly knitting club. And just this morning, I learned about an art exhibit called Radical Lace & Subversive Knitting at the Museum of Arts & Design in New York. The title immediately made me think of Hildur, and wouldn't you know it, her skull-trimmed doily is actually on display at the show. Hopefully I can make it down there before June.

Photos courtesy of www.hildur.net.

Friday, January 26, 2007

how much wine does it take

to make me fluent in French again? More than I thought it would seem, as I tried to converse with my friend Marie last night, and clenched up at the first sound of accent égu. I swear that didn't happen in Paris. Just asked Col, I was a veritable francophone. Still, being able to order un café hardly signifies a handle of the language. Sure, I can understand and speak it. But can I really express myself? Will I be misunderstood?

When it's the difference between having food or going hungry, finding directions or being lost, somehow we get by. But when it's a matter of putting oneself on display, and proclaiming, "this is what I can do!" (how do you say that in French?) somehow I think the extroverts have an advantage. Maybe it would help to drink French wine. Ours was from California.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

mind less

I seem to be at odds with my mind these days, so complex are the goings-on in there. Questions and theories become proclamations and decisions and bustling conversations. Emotions turn the table, back and forth, cloaking sensible thought in absolute chaos. Argument, disillusionment, confusion. I know what I want. I know what I’m saying. I think I do… wait a minute. I think too much.

And then in a split second, I am shown the mind reduced to life in simplest terms. What year is it? Do you know who the president is? Trick questions, I ask? To some, like my grandfather, they’re just tricky.

I used to think old age signified an inherent wisdom—an oracle. Like the Owl and the Ancient Tortoise. Not so. That’s really just in movies and storybooks. No, real-life old age is a return to life in its simplest terms. Gone are the dynamic conversations and tug-of-war mental games. The mind is a stock library of 3 or 4 stories from the past. And though a few words and facts change here and there, the stories stay surprisingly intact. All other memory fades away. All confusion is gone. All complexity. All emotion even, it seems. Gone.

I know I’ll be able to see beauty in it one day, when I am indeed able to see clearly.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sunday, January 21, 2007

palimpsest

Is it possible to fall in love with a word? I came upon palimpsest for the first time back in college. I was writing my senior paper—on the act of writing as a way to concretize love and to make it eternal—and was stunned by a passage I read in Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body:

Who taught you to write blood on my back? Who taught you to use your hands as branding irons? You have scored your name into my shoulders, referenced me with your mark. The pads of your fingers have become printing blocks, you tap a message into my skin, tap meaning into my body. …Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights; the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places, the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like braille.

A palimpsest in literal terms is a manuscript or piece of writing that has been erased to make room for more writing. Yet traces of the previous writings still remain. In Winterson's exquisite story, the narrator gets to know her lover’s body by exploring its every physicality, by mapping it out, and by engraving herself into her lover’s body and vice versa. The hand and the fingers are the direct tools for reading and writing the human body. The two lovers form a unique union this way by breaking through the barriers of skin and flesh and human physicality in general. They respect the body because it enables the human soul to become visual, to hold mass “like braille.” The palimpsest imagery shows a surface written on excessively and compulsively over and over, changed, edited, reworked; the two lovers superscribe themselves onto each other’s body. Thus they essentially become one in two separate bodies, for they have kept within their own body, and at the same time, have left a piece of themselves within the other.

This passage makes so much sense to me, when I think about all of the souls and lovers who've crossed my path, whose skin I've marked and whose mark in turn has etched its way onto my skin. A mark I've tried to wash away, and yet the traces still remain. In unpoetic terms, we might call that baggage or experience. But let's be poetic and call it palimpsest. As long as I have this physical body, I'm a manuscript still being written, still being reworked and edited. And I have hands to read my lover's skin, to write my own story on his back. It's the masterpiece we're after, the piece we'll leave behind. In writing. When the body washes away.

Friday, January 19, 2007

strange dolls

My friend Beth makes dolls. Strange dolls. Perhaps it is the very nature of being hand-made that lends a certain emotion to their gaze. I find them beautiful with their wide, glassy eyes so void, yet full. Void and full at the same time. I know that feeling... we've all felt that at one point, haven't we? It's a very human state of mind. Full of uncertainty, yet void of answers. Full of feeling, yet void of feelings. A dismal outlook? Perhaps it's all in your perspective.

When I see these dolls, so lifeless and full of soul, I am struck by my own dichotomies and vulnerabilities. The line between here and the underworld is as thin as a tightrope and always a balancing act. If you look into these disturbing eyes, you might see fear, but you might also see hope. Void of answers, yet full of questions. Void of feelings, but absolutely full of feeling. Who knew a mere doll had such a lesson to teach?

Beth creates many of these little creatures. Here are some of my favorites:


Thursday, January 18, 2007

clean for kitty

Always keep your rooms tidy and your dress presentable, my mother used to tell us girls, just in case the Queen Mother decides to pop in for tea. She had the right to be so silly, for one day when my mother was still a young impressionable child, the Queen’s mum actually did pop in for tea. And she stayed the night too! Or at least that’s how the story goes.

Well, I have another reason to be clean: Au Lait. My silly cat in a strike against hunger (I’m trying to help her lose some weight) has taken to licking—nay eating—my clothes if I forget to put them away. At first it was just ribbons and plastic bags, then woolly hats. Now if I leave the closet doors open, she’ll start hacking on the hems of my lovely skirts at random. Dear God, if the Queen Mother ever does come to tea, please don’t let her wear lace.

I found Au Lait chewing on the sleeve of my favorite jacket today. Does it taste good? I can’t imagine that it does. I said, “No!” very sternly (just how I learned in self-defense class) and squirted her with the water gun. That’s the fifth time in two days and now I’m beginning to think she likes it. Am I creating a mutant? The other night she almost tried to jump in the bath. Who ever heard of a sea-faring kitty? In any case, I still love the little beast dearly. I need her and she needs me.

And now for the moment at least we’re both clean.

Monday, January 15, 2007

just like my mother

I want to be just like my mother. I've always wanted to be like her with that cool English accent, warm and huggable mummy personality, and unique aesthetic—classic, yet always approachable. She always wears a scarf. She can write. She can stitch. She can knit. She can draw and always seems to know the perfect way to sketch a twinkling eye or a moss-covered eve. She's always inspired the artist in me. She sings. She can play the guitar, the flute, and the piano beautifully. In fact, everything I know about music, the arts and the crafts, I can say I learned from her. In the old days, they'd say she was quite the accomplished young lady.

When I was younger and feeling despondent, I would say, "Mummy, can you please, please play me the Moonlight Sonata?" And she would always oblige. She would sit down at our old stand-up piano that was given to us by one of the church-members. She'd lift up the creaky lid, flip to page 72 in the old yellow book, and she would start playing. She would would lull me into a quiet slumber. And then, without warning, she would transition abrubtly into bouncy Bach and swift 16th note progressions. Just to make me laugh I guess. It's that sense of humor that always keeps me smiling.

Now, I realize that it's not quite normal to always love your mother and smile when you recognize bits of her in yourself. In fact, I think usually it's quite the opposite. But tonight as I was going through some old photos of her (she'll turn sixty in a couple of weeks), I found one that was taken of her when she was about my age. She and my dad were living in Manchester, Vermont at the time. She was probably working at the Equinox life-guarding in the summer (they still use the logo she designed way back when) and teaching skiing at Magic Mountain in the winter. I wasn't born yet.

As I look at that picture, I see bits of me in her. By deduction, I guess that also means that I see bits of her in me. And yes, it truly does make me smile.

paris: pictures

Here's a whole bunch of pictures from our fabulous New Year's vacation!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

paris: food

We went to Paris with the mind and appetite of a true gourmand. Full appreciation for flavor and culture and atmosphere. Revisiting old flavors and discovering new ones. There wasn't much that we tasted that we didn't like, but here's a list of our favorites and where to find them in Paris.

1. baguette - any corner bakery in town. Some boulangeries also offer (or only offer) an artisinal baguette. These have a thicker crust and taste a little more hearty. Both versions are equally good.

2. fromage - Cheese. We loved the cantal from Fromagerie Quatre Hommes on rue de Sevres, where they carry fresh truffles in season. We also loved the beaufort from the local Shopi grocery store.

3. wine - any wine you drink in France is normally good. This time around, we were exploring the low-budget variety and were very pleased with the Nicolas brand of wines that run between 2 and 3 euro a bottle. You can find a number Nicolas wine stores around the city. In restaurants, we liked ordering wine "en picher" in a pitcher. Just for fun.

4. hot chocolate - you'll find the best you've ever had at Angelina on rue de Rivoli. At 6 euro a pop, it's pricey but worth it. They also offer Mont Blanc, a meringue topped with whipped cream and lovely chestnut cream. You might as well order both while you're there, but the Mont Blanc (named after a mountain in the alps) is very sweet.

5. creme brulee - any old cafe will do for this. But we especially liked the version at Cafe George V. It had mangoes in it and they caramelized the top right in front of you by pouring liquor on top and lighting it on fire. It was pricey, but large enough to share.

6. galette des rois - the only time you'll find this delicious almond pastey-tasty treat is during the holidays until January 6 (Epiphany). They sell it at the grocery stores, but you should really spring for a fresh-made one at a pastry shop. The galette des rois is a traditional food, in which a bean or porcelain figurine is baked right in. The person who gets the bean wears the crown. They'll give you a crown at the pastry shop.

7. croques - toast with cheese baked on top. The most common is croque monsieur with ham or croques madame with ham and egg. They have a delicious Croque Monsieur at Cafe Beaubourg. We liked the croques at Le Cafe, a tiny little cafe where they let you choose your own toppings. Try salmon with chevre (goat cheese) and honey drizzled on top. Yum!

8. cafe - you have a few options: cafe creme (same as cafe au lait), expres (espresso), allonge (american style), cappucino... we liked the plain espresso (that's what you get when you order "un cafe") with a little bit of sugar.

9. crepe - with nutella and banana or my favorite: lemon, butter, and sugar. You can find crepe stands all over the city. There are a few on Boulevard Montparnasse.

10. les huitres - oysters. We reallly liked the restaurant Le Petit Lutetia on rue de Sevres. A wonderful selection of oysters (you can get a tasting platter of four different kinds). They also have a delcious menu to follow. Try the Beaumes de Venise wine!

11. chevre chaud salade - one of my absolute favorites, it's a green salad tossed with dijon dressing with toast and baked goat cheese on top. Our favorite version was at Le Petit Lutetia on rue de Sevres.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

first day back in paris

Thank you, my gracious city, for staying just the way I left you! We arrived in Paris on the 28th of December, just after Christmas. Our hotel, a fabulous little find on rue Mayet, was the perfect welcome with a colorful lobby and cozy little room with a view of Montparnasse.

A relaxing promenade around Saint Germain brought us to the typically Parisian Cafe Saint-Peres. It was cold, we were hungry. So we settled down to some warm and toasty croques (they would be the first of many) and coffee.

We were finally there, in Paris together.

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