Category Archives: media

NOLA zoetrope

The last time I was in NOLA – way before Katrina – I dismissed the city as a theme park. This time, I’m not here as a tourist. I’m in a real neighborhood at a residency established by the people responsible for the first Free Tibet concerts back in 1995, in a little house behind their own.

This is the Bywater, formerly the Upper Ninth Ward. It runs along the river bordered by the French Quarter and Treme. I stand in front of the levee looking up – I am beneath the river! Enormous freighters with names written in foreign alphabets crawl back and forth along the Mississippi. I climb the the steep rusty bridge over the freight train tracks and the levee and come back down to a pretty green walking trail called Crescent Park. The day is gowing hot. People wearing spandex ride fast bikes toward the French Quarter while others, heads down texting, are walking their dogs. Dogs are everywhere and they are lucky dogs because New Orleans has hundreds of dog parks made out of empty lots when the river broke the levees, buildings collapsed and eventually the rubble was taken away.

I ran into one dog today, in a voodoo supply store, a fat hairy dog riveted by something on a top shelf.

NOLA is a bowl in a swamp, where it seems the apocalypse has already happened. The survivors are in various stages of getting over it, standing up and falling down, like a Laurie Anderson song. It is a port – freight trains run along the commuter lines. it is commerce and joy, voodoo and nunneries, community and desolation. People on the street smile, they nod, they say,”how’s your day goin'” and sometimes they stop to tell you how their day is going. The clothes! Prints on stripes, dresses over shorts – this is a city that loves its skin. Po-boys are delicious, gumbo not so much, hipster cafes painted shades of orange behind shutters next to drink dives and one-stops, BMW’s with Jersey plates drive behind construction trucks and Havana Chevys and then there’s the Bark Market that sells pet supplies on one side and art supplies on the other. And the Death, Pharmacy and Chicken museums. An Improv theater in the Healing Center along with the food co-op and trance making supplies.

On my (white) side of St. Claude, soft bellied bearded men sit in cafes eating cake and reading novels, while on the other side an emaciated Haitian rides a stolen bike around in circles. The Quarter is a 20 minute walk away, as is Treme, as is downtown. It is a city of writers. Walter Percy lives on, his old writer’s group still meeting every Friday at a certain bar.

One wonders, where do the people who get pushed out go?  Houston?  Katrina didn’t do them in, they say, it was the government building substandard  levees and infrastructure, the broken pumps; it was America that almost killed them. NOLA, they explain, nodding wisely, is a blue dot in a red state.   

The cats, however stayed and multiplied.  You see them everywhere, in the stores, on stages, grooming their tails in art galleries, hunkered down on stoops, sneaking out of alleys. Always single, They patrol grocery stores, pose on cafe counters and have serious expressions. On every other porch there is a plate of half eaten food. They don’t need water because, as I said, NOLA is a bowl in a swamp.

My computer pings. It’s a weather alert but not for me: a blizzard is sweeping West to East across Northern Vermont.

Fiction wins

I’m deeply involved in a writers community in my city. It’s a Meetup group that has maybe 200 active members. When the founder disappeared (who knows the real story behind this), they (who are they?) formed a 501C3 that required a Board, so that was formed, and after their terms ran out, a second Board came forth but a year later almost all of them quit in a huff without telling anyone why, without a transition plan. Then a transitional team tried to form, but they too quit (what is it with quitting boards?) and now there is an emergency community meeting because we have to pay the rent.

This has been going on for months, and now half of us who used to be copasetic in community don’t speak to the other half: being writers, we started sending each other overly long, acrimonious, analytical and philosophical emails and neglected our own novels.

I unapologetically fled. I was able to get out of town to a residency where I determined to convince my novel to forgive me.

I’m thinking of something that happened to a famous writer whose name I’ve forgotten. She tells the story of having thought of writing a novel about – I’m quoting from Amazon here – “a researcher (female) who sets off into the Amazon jungle to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under mysterious circumstances.” But she never wrote it, and in due time her idea went away and settled in the brain of another writer, Anne Patchett, who actually wrote that story, which she titled “State of Wonder”. These writers met and kissed.

This story of course sounds too good to be true, but even if it isn’t, there’s a lesson behind it, which is more less that there are only so many ideas floating around the universe and if you don’t write your novel, someone else will.

Moby Dick and Us

1 of 7 Stella Moby Dick prints at Anders Wahlstedt Gallery, NYC,

“Extracts”. 1993 1 of a series of prints exhibited at Anders Wahlstedt Fine Art, NYC

Moby Dick has inspired visual artists always and these prints are superb. I think it’s the language, the way images roll through the story. Like water. Like whales.

I opened Moby Dick the day the towers went down on 9/11 and spent the year making 100 wax prints, painting over images appropriated from the web. Seeing Stella’s “Extracts” pings my heart – where he used lattice, I used images of the towers’ twisted grid. My city was freeze-framed under water,  images of whales watching diners through broken glass.

The book is a volcano of inspiration. What is it with us and the whale? We hunted, dismembered, idolized and ate. A tremendous price for our unchecked population as we gorge ourselves on the earth’s resources.

Rereading now with the Burlington Writers Workshop lit group. Joyful! Overwhelming. Capricious. Universal. Scary, all of the above.

UBU ROI, our nightmare

We’ve considered him stupid, moronic, evil, incompetent, mad, racist, misogynistic, a pedophile, self-aggrandizing, lying, stupefying,  narcissistic, character flawed, disgusting We’ve mocked his hair, his ties, his mouth, his little fingers, his wife, his children , his bone spurs, his deal-making, education, university, his gold leaf, his diet, the elevator, his advisors, cabinet and his lack of a dog. We call him a clown and we make Ubu Roi his avatar, Pere Ubu, Alfred Jarry’s surrealistic joke of a dictator who wants to be the king of Poland. That play so horrified its audience, it closed the night of its premier, but this performance has lasted over 500 days to become a national – no, a global – nightmare.  

At this moment, his most despicable action is holding hostage immigrant children to get his way – he wants his wall, and Congress is figuring out how to give it to him.

Rusdie and the “Rubble of Truth”

I start this new day indoors with a warming fire, dog in the vicinity of my feet. Outside it rains hard. I look at my planet from the safety of my window and marvel. How the brown earth is a skin with the color green bursting from every pore with haze sweating off the surface of the pond, how tears flood the gulley, how the lilacs have been and are now gone without protest, how the swallows investigate the eves of my house as further nests, and how I wish they would accept my invitation to stay.

This is from Rusdie in the New Yorker. I’ve always disliked him, but this version of “why we write” reminds us of possibillities beyond ego and mood.

“In Germany, after the Second World War, the authors of what was called Trümmerliteratur, or “rubble literature,” felt the need to rebuild their language, poisoned by Nazism, as well as their country, which lay in ruins. They understood that reality, truth, needed to be reconstructed from the ground up, with new language, just as the bombed cities needed to be rebuilt. I think we can learn from their example. We stand once again, though for different reasons, in the midst of the rubble of the truth. And it is for us—writers, thinkers, journalists, philosophers—to undertake the task of rebuilding our readers’ belief in reality, their faith in the truth. And to do it with new language, from the ground up.”

 

Egyptian Blue, transmission

A  painter friend visited a cemetery in Egypt. She was walking with her family when she saw in the distance a robed woman who seemed to be throwing something from a bag on the desert floor.  She hurried ahead and saw that this woman, amongst others, was tossing handfuls of ground pigment into a tomb, or maybe into several tombs. The pigment color, a dense, bright blue, was extraordinary against the muted neutral tones of the desert landscape. The photos she took show an open, domed beehive structure, a tholos tomb,  the floor saturated with layers of this intense pigment, also with dried corn kernels. In one photo, a man stands to the side with a broom. At one point, he offered my friend the broom; for her to do some sweeping? Or perhaps for him to sweep for her? – she has no idea.

The history of the color is intriguing.  It was developed around 2600 as an alternate pigment to the rare and expensive mineral lapis lazuli, made from sand, copper, and sodium-carbonate, CaCuSi4O10m, a testament to the skills of the chemists of antiquity who understood how to control the temperature needed for successful synthesis. Amazing too was its consistency over time until it was “lost” during the dark ages. Lost and found again, when in 2009 it was discovered that Egyptian blue shows exceptional luminescence (it has since been made into a crayon), indicating its possible use in imaging devices.

But here’s what really intrigues me: new research shows that Egyptian blue produces infra-red radiation like that used by TV remotes. In other words, when compressed into infinitesimally thin sheets and compressed, the infrared quality of  Egyptian Blue makes it a communication device.

So,  back to the modern Egyptian women spreading layers of artificial blue pigment embedded with corn kernels in desert tombs. Assuming my friend hasn’t happened on a performance piece, maybe we can consider this scene a ritual having to do with decorating a tomb as Pharaoh’s was decorated and also providing the dead with what it needs in the next world, in this case, the color blue, which we now consider a medium for communication. And isn’t this a universal desire, as witness, for example, my dog Bandit buried under a tree with his bowl.

I also like to think that in some cellular way, the ancient world understood that this exquisite color is capable of communicating through layers of existence.

What’s in a parade?

Our great leader wants a parade! He deserves one. After all, he stopped our American Carnage, just as he said he would in his  inaugural speech.  And  didn’t he vow to bring back our borders,  (although he never said where they went)? Also to get back the wealth that the world ripped away from the middle class, at least get it back to him, and make “America First”, although this last has not gone over well with some, but hey, they’ll figure it out? And didn’t he invent that great phrase “alternate facts”? Get that old failed Washington Post to add up all his 2000 lies, falsities, misleading statements? Fire an FBI director? Decide to deport a home grown gang? Grab pussy because he could?

So much to celebrate, America.

He didn’t get a military parade for his inauguration, so let’s make up for that. Remember that his inauguration was the biggest crowd ever, that he won the popular vote, but someone stole it, and maybe those are the people who should  pay for the parade, like they will for the border wall, although that’s Mexico.  Beside, that  fatter guy, Kim Jong-un has parades all the time, so why shouldn’t he? Bigger ones, because of his bigger button.

So while it’s will be heartening for us to see all his hardware, and know our great leader and his generals will be there to protect us, I still wonder, is there anyone around to stop him?

Equality?

Equality is a great idea unless it means we should all be equal white people.

Nowhere in the culture do I see white people expressing a desire to be persons of color. That said, I do see a growing awareness that people of color are not just victims of white people with whom we need to empathize,  We’re evolving, to be sure; it’s no longer legally possible to enslave, torture, appropriate other people to do the bidding of white people…except perhaps in the way that white people make celebrities out of  black people for entertainment. I experience Beyonce not as a white person in black face, but more as a  black person in whiteface (an imitation of her heritage for consumption by others.)

We’ve evolved to the point – with the help of affirmative action, guilt, fury, activism, pressuire –  of integrating people of color into elitist institutions. As long as the institutions value all imaginations, histories and experiences, this is a welcome step, unless the message is,  “how to be white”.

Equality is possible when the imaginations, histories, desires,  of “other” peoples and cultures are equally weighted with those of white people; when the imagination of an artist of color is of equal interest, on its own terms, without white interpretation, and is a vital participant in the history of art, music, literature, then we have forgotten the word”tolerance”, which is really a demeaning term.

As usual, the arts lead: Here’s a short list of contemporary artists of color with individual approaches to identity:

Bethany Collins
Rashid Johnson
Kara Walker
Ellen Gallagher
Chris Ofili
Ifeoma Anyaeji
Marc Bradford
Kehinde Wiley
Mel Edwards
Kerry James Marshall
Yunka Shonibare
David Hammons

So many more.

Widewalls.com has an interesting conversation: “The cultural identity is defined by both its own members’ living experience and the search for a definition and the perceptions of others, especially those in power. How does the racial identity of an artist affect the way they create art and the perception of it by the masses?

Where My Girls At?  20 black female artists with current solo exhibitions.

Artnet.com: 10 black artists to celebrate.

Culturetype.com: Major AfricanAmerican Contemporary Artists

Hyperallergic: for a take on some 1971 history

 

 

 

 

So, Queen Oprah?

I think of Oprah in the White House, not as a president but as a sort of Matriarchal Queen elected for life.  Opulent, corpulent, magnificent. She won’t govern, she will inspire, bequeath, prophasize, cajole, praise, and propose. Should she start cutting off heads, she will be sent to the space station. Actually running the government will be Prime Minister Bernie, Elizabeth for Labor Secretary, Robert Reich for Economic Development, John Louis running Justice, Michelle Obama heading the  newly formed department of Womanhood. Bill McKibben for the EPA. Barack as State, for Health and Human Services. Congress will morph to a Parliament, the electral college disbanded, lobbying made a felony, all guns banished. And universal health care. A living wage, a minumum monetary guarentee for all paid for by the billionaires. 

Yes, I  do notice everyone named here is a Democrat. Yes. Let us assume that, In this scenario, the DNC has been transformed into a transparent organization no longer able to manipulate candidates via super delagates. In this scenario, Republican party is confined to Alabama until it comes up with an agenda favorable to the human race, the planet and agrees that corporations, really, are not people.

We will be Norway with a better climate.