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Archive for the month “June, 2018”

Lip Service and Children

My father used to scold me,” Don’t be so sensitive Pat”. And so I was, and am, now accepting my emotional responses are who I am.

But this week has been a strange and terrible one, one that actually caused a change in policy decreed first ,but later denied by Trump. Well at least it was reversed. The one about tearing children from their parents, recalling images of the holocaust, the gas chambers… where the separation ended in tragedy and death.

Recently I read an article by motherless Rwandan refugee Clementine Wawariya and although now living in the States, she has a problem with the words we use such as genocide. She writes,” I hated the word immediately. I did not understand the point of it then. I resent and revile it now.. it is tidy and efficient. It holds no true emotion. It is impersonal when it needs to be intimate: cold and sterile when it needs to be gruesome. It’s hollow, disingenuous, the worst kind of lie.The word genocide cannot tell you, cannot make you feel, the way I felt in Rwanda. The way I felt in Burundi….it’s not like the holocaust…the killing fields in Cambodia…ethnic cleansing in Bosnia…There’s no catchall term…You cannot line up atrocities like a matching set. You cannot bear witness with a single word.”

One might say we should celebrate the power of the people to protest, who caused the President to reverse his ruling, but ironically, I suppose, the entire horror show makes me feel helpless.As all of those victims of holocaust, genocide and autocratic societies must have, the words cool containers for the lives destroyed . In wondering what these victims could do, they must have experienced that knowledge that they were helpless, their fates determined by others or one other, and they played no role in choosing their own fate, changing the outcome of heedless power.

The images of children, the detention centres, the callousness and ease with which the proclamation came down takes one ‘s breath away. It’s more useless talk about a kinder society and instead of living out those values, the words are given lip service. Just yesterday I was told a story of school bullying where in spite of parental attempts to diffuse the situation and even direct appeals to a principal and the perpetrators’ parents, the victim was continually shadowed with whispers of ‘ loser’ from October to June, until that school year ended. How did she manage?, I asked . The mother reliving that agony related, “ therapy.” In spite of a year of torture, the mother quietly asserted she did not think much of the school. And again I thought, everyone has made such a big deal about bullying and when the beast is identified, it is ignored, the jeers and guffaws, silent looks, threatening calls and vicious silent attacks that erode children’s confidence and never ever leave them.

I taught at Northern Secondary and one year we had a principal Jim MacCarron. He was a big guy, over 6 feet tall and almost that wide. It was the years of burgeoning gangs, and I was told as well, that at the south doors, if you wanted, you could get any drug you wanted, but no one stalked or bugged you. We had kids from all over at that school, close to the size of a small city- someone said 2100- maybe, some came to play football, the so- called gifted hung out there, learning disabled and hard of hearing adolescents, regular kids, all co- existing in a dilapidated school , truly much like a community of diversity. Anyway, big Jim got word of a race riot that was building on the grounds. He did not wait. He waded right into the thick of it, right dead between the thick bodies of gangs ready to fight, and guess what?It dispersed, the rats drew back, and the scene fraught for explosion disappeared. I’m not saying Big Jim was perfect, but on that day, he demonstrated to the school, he was a person who took action.

Today it feels like the talk is just talk and while it is great that issues are out in the open, it seems to be more of the same, little change and improvement. All that is booming is technology that has created its own set of problems .

And how scary is it that my four year old grandson must be instructed how to play dead should a gunman enter his classroom, so I worry there is more talk than role models who lead by example.

And the despicable Corey Lewandowski aid of repulsive Trump mocked a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who had been separated from her mother as she illegally crossed the southern border. He, in his stupidly and display of callousness, brazenly and embarrassingly cried out, “Wah- Wah.Wah.” What a world. You can put a child’s picture on a Gerber package, but obviously it holds no impact on adults with no values, morals or compassion. There are no words for that low level piece of trash, representative and extending the American government. Mrs. Trump’s Jacket from Zara said it all.

The values we once strove to uphold are mocked: honesty, compassion, goodness have been trampled upon and the leader of the free world deplores sharing, support, only intent on self- proclamation, self- serving politics. Who cares if human rights are ignored or dictators who have their own families murdered are lauded and exulted as being smart or good guys?. How is it possible that our own little Fords with scant knowledge and little apology for their ignorance have been elected here? Crass and repugnant. And even our own Justin Trudeau has promoted a pipe line that will destroy aboriginal lands, pollute the environment when two- faced he has pronounced he is for the reverse. Where have the people of honour gone?

Perhaps these are just some of the reasons I deplore politics. It’s so easy to say the right things, to stroke the consciences of the world, but double deal. And of course in Trump’s case, he just lies, not bothering to even give mouth service to what we had once been taught was for the good of others and the promotion of a just and humane society. The beast has been let out of the cage and the world has been darkened . Yeats wrote,

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Our good friends in La Jolla say they are embarrassed to be Americans with Trump at the helm. And yet people still support him, do his biddings. And the little weasel Jeff Sessions quotes from the Bible for rationale of separation of parents and children . With an arrogant smirk. And as in the crusades, the mindless find words to back up their idiotic stance, fundamentalists well versed in twisting whatever is available to toughen their stand, even though separation of state and religion is the rule. From homosexuality, abortion, child marriage, child abuse, slavery, terrorism, some advocate chants a verse , believing he has legitimized his horrendous argument. How hideous is all of this.

And yes, people are standing up. Even Stephen Colbert who nightly shines a light on the evils of Trump in the Whitehouse encouraged his viewers to call and protest the degradation of children to their representatives. And perhaps the photo ops of the distraught children helped so the policy was reversed. Well, at least that. And as brash as Robert De Niro twice affirmed at The Tonies, “F**k Trump.”

My mother used to lament that she hoped that she would leave the world in a better place for her children than she had found it. I too have that wish for my grandchildren, but I fear it will not be so.

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Apologies to Paul Simon

Don’t know why the Pul Simon concert made me so teary-eyed and even two days later I was wallowing a bit in nostalgia.

We dashed from our 7:30 arrival from San Diego to the concert Tuesday night. For mom and pops days our son had bought us tickets for the show. In spite of trepidation of a late arrival, we missed only ½ of Paul Simon’s opening of America. The audience was all ready engaged, attentively listening, as we fumbled into the wrong seats, stirring the ire of those all ready comfortably reposed at the ACC

We had great seats. The crowd was large and because of the venue, ( although Massey hall would have been more intimate), we had a sense of the man, the singer- song writer, even his soft grin, but no real clear penetrating look into his eyes.

This music is not harsh, or requires boisterous playing. Rather thoughtful strumming, intelligent and quirky. It rocked me back, suggesting lullabies for the 70’s grownups as it does not jar, rather caresses. To refer to Simon’s tunes in this way is not disrespectful, rather the music of our life, the soulful notes that surprise when you least expect them, evoking a time of love, of friendship, of meaningful transitions. As my son, Jordan stated,”It’s about growing up” .

My first remembrance of Paul Simon is the coupling of the dark haired boy with the wildhaired Art Garfunkel in Carnal Knowledge, a breakthrough movie when I was a boomer , young and impressionable.Not sure as I write this: why the movie stopped time for me and focused me, maybe something about the carelessness of love; I cannot say for sure . Critics in 2004 had written,” Ah, the sweet smell of ’70s American cinema when anything was possible” and “[Carnal Knowledge], misunderstood by critics and viewers, Nichols’ satire of male chauvinism is by turns witty, provocative, funny, and depressing…” Roger Ebert weighed in, commenting,”…within that universe, men and woman fail to find sexual and personal happiness because they can’t break through their patterns of treating each other as objects.”

Garfunkel once said of Paul Simon,

“He was really a great joker… was kind of like Lenny Bruce – tearing hypocrisy off of the American cliché. And it brought out my funny side. I’m not bad myself, I have a good ear for the absurd. So we kept each other going. We became each others’ pals.”

And the music says all that, a bit absurd, but not bitingly so. Tales of incongruity, sudden flashes of insight and the repetitive refrains. We heard the songs in the 70’s as a witness to a developing America on relationships, setting out, observing the incongruities of love, friendship, politics, almost erasing the singers who quietly sat back, looked out over their country, contemplated and played with melodies and words.

With the writing of Bridge Over Troubled Waters, in 1969, a tv show “Songs of America” mixed live footage with political rallies and the American landscape, depicting Bridge as a response to the heavily politicized turmoil of the preceding decade. It was the time of Vietnam and Woodstock, MLK and RFK, Cesar Chavez and the Poor People’s March.These political images were controversial, especially coming from the gentle folksingers Simon & Garfunkel.The show was a commercial failure, beaten in the ratings by a Peggy Fleming ice-skating special. Yet instead of commentary for many of us, the songs sparked internal personal imagery associated with the significant moments of growing up.

Kept for the end of our June 12, 2018 concert, Kodachrome stimulated the excitement of a kid’s first camera, and how wondrous it was to be able to frame and shoot pictures, making the selection, feeling empowered, even in a small way . My own first camera was a little black box of a Brownie with a leather handle. After taking pictures, I took the film to the drugstore, waited a week or two for the processing and then in black and white, back then, I sorted through the pictures attached in a little blue book : my pictures, of friends arms looped around one another at funny angles, blurred images of my cousins, often causing me to wonder why I had selected those particular shots in the first place. But we, were crazy in delight to commandeer technology that put us in charge, even if the results were less than had been imagined.

The song says,

They give us those nice bright colors

They give us the greens of summers

Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day

I got a Nikon camera

I love to take a photograph

So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away.

He repeats the last line, much as an annoying kid would, begging and badgering for a new roll of film, a classic moment as the mother doles out change from her worn wallet, thinking that somehow this is developing a talent, or getting the kid out of her hair.

And the kid, cherishing that camera, feeling pretty fierce, strides away with his new toy, a petulant adolescent thinking everything force-fed in school was a waste of time,

When I think back

On all the crap I learned in high school

It’s a wonder

I can think at all

And though my lack of education

Hasn’t hurt me none

I can read the writing on the wall

Then the antidote to homework, annoying sweaty hours staring at the blackboard, learning useless information about English kings and incomprehensible math equations and more useless school stuff is proclaimed in Simon’s Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard.Real life, the kid believes, happens by just hanging out at the park, usually after dinner, playing ball, being carefree at the mall or hanging with friends, or with bestie Julio in the schoolyard. Yup, it’s aimless, unprogrammed , open ended and freeing.

Still mothers, to be ignored, hang from windows, screaming , “ Do your homework. You’re going to land in jail”. But the kid just wants to hang out on cloudless nights on the basket ball court, or meet friends at the park.Simon chants,

Well I’m on my way

I don’t know where I’m going

I’m on my way

I’m taking my time

But I don’t know where

Goodbye to Rosie, the queen of Corona

Just hanging out.

Even the choruses, soothes, like humming, repetitive sounds melodically bangs around in your head; it’s a way to avoid teachers, moms and all else of that annoying stuff that gets in the way of just being. The flow of words is easy, good background to the kid’s thoughts and just kicking up some dirt.

From hanging with the friends, Simon moves into other relationships of first love or infatuation, all the messiness of adolescence that sweeps you off your feet.I remember the music of Scarborough Fair through a slow twirl of fuzziness as if unwinding a gauzy scarf or viewing sepia photographs of a beloved, yet there’s a formal English country mood, of formal politeness, established in the repetition and rhythm of “Parsley sage rosemary and thyme”, even a shyness of enquiringly whether your friend will be going where you are headed. Maybe you linger at the bus stop or bike by her house, hoping to catch a glance and run into her by accident. Scarborough Fair was not part of the song list that night, but the pervasive hope of expectant tentative young love was present in his oeuvre.

But then, from wishful dreaming, you grow up and get serious and you encounter that first( or second ) real love that turns into disaster. So you deal with the irony of lost love, ending those romances that somehow did not persevere from the initial heart- thrumping glance that infatuated, tickled your heart and made you experience something you had not ever known before. So 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover provides an exit strategy from that fall from innocence,

Get on track, Jack Just slip out the back, Jack, make a new plan, Stan

Don’t need to be coy, Roy, just listen to me

Hop on the bus, Gus, don’t need to discuss much

Just drop off the key, Lee, and get yourself free.

In shaking off the ball and chain, there is freedom, joy even in the rhyme as Everyman Paul Simon plays with lyrics and demonstrates copious fun with words. Being cocky, self assured, you dump that person and stride off, cockily. It’s all part of growing up.

From impetuous first love to seductive affairs, Paul Simon explains in The Graduate , the very perplexing entanglement of an older lover in Here’s to You Mrs. Robinson, her allure as an older woman. We put precise pictures to words as we envisage a young and very awkward Dustin Hoffman and the black shocking stocking of Anne Bancroft’s seduction, but more so, the youthful Hoffman dashing across many miles , banging at church windows to his wedding, abandoning the mother for the daughter. Oh my! Shoop Premium writes, “Throughout the film, we are reminded of the mess the older generation has made of the world, from the artificiality of their vision—‘one word: plastics’-to the emptiness of their marriages. Mrs. Robinson epitomizes it all. Worn out and a drunk, possessing everything but feeling almost nothing,”her life riddled with secrets.

When the love interest is special and unique, as was Elaine in The Graduate, the beloved seems to sparkle as if s/he has twinkling diamonds on the soles of her feet, barely touching the ground.S/he is the next door neighbour, the tomboy, the one who hung with the guys. And all of a sudden and with a flash of a smile, the bounce of a ponytail, you were smitten, the caterpillar incredulously transformed into the butterfly as the object of your affections unexpected, an epiphany. Simon proclaims,

People say she’s crazy

She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes

Well that’s one way to lose these

Walking blues

Diamonds on the soles of her shoes

She was physically forgotten

Then she slipped into my pocket

With my car keys

She said you’ve taken me for granted

Because I please you

Wearing these diamonds

And we think of the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the charges of music appropriation. Yet the music reflects the moments of life, sudden bursts of insight and even now these lyrics trigger the music, never to be forgotten. And reflect on Picasso and how his use of African masks enlivened his work, too, making something new.

Oh, little darling of mine, I just can’t believe it’s so

Though it seems strange to say, I never been laid so low

Such a mysterious way and the course of a lifetime runs

Over and over again.

Boy in the Bubble moves beyond just personal perspective. Using the freeze frame of the camera, we move slowly even scene stopping to reflect and ponder meaning. One website chat presented numerous interpretations of the song, ranging from the literal in terms of a boy with an autoimmune disease unable to live in society to insights on South African society to bomb blasts in Nevada. Like a good piece of Abstract Expressionism art, the artist gives you the canvas and the viewer or listener creates their own interpretation,

These are the days of miracle and wonder

This is the long distance call

The way the camera follows us in slo-mo

The way we look to us all( boy in the bubble)

Then that societal critique and awareness, that frozen moment as Simon looks through his lens, empathizing with “the other” in Call Me Al.The words say it all,

A man walks down the street

It’s a street in a strange world

Maybe it’s the Third World

Maybe it’s his first time around

He doesn’t speak the language

He holds no currency

He is a foreign man

He is surrounded by the sound

The sound

Cattle in the marketplace

Juxtaposing sobering thoughts, the memories of Elvis, trekking to Graceland, the Elvis story- because growing up, the hip shake of the master was seen as provoking young people to sin, and his love story with the kohl-eyed Priscilla and her inflated beehive hairdo were in the news that made us gawk and gyrate with abandon. And of course from the newspaper enlarged photos, we knew he was a soldier too.

So too the lilting clear sounds and lyrics in Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War underscore the days, reminding us of all the forbidden fruits we have been told not to covet,

They dance by the light of the moon

To The Penguins

The Moonglows

The Orioles

and The Five Satins

The deep forbidden music

They’d been longing for

Homeward Bound returns us to the performer, Paul Simon, suitcase in hand, fresh from one night stands, he longs for home, a place of quiet and calm,

I wish I was,

Homeward bound,

Home where my thought’s escaping,

Home where my music’s playing,

Home where my love lies waiting

Silently for me.

That concept of where is home? and how to get there? has been threaded through books and songs forever. In Grade 13, I studied Robert Frost’s poem,The Death of the Hired Man, for our provincial exams,” Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”: likely the only line of poetry from Grade 13 that had made meaning for me and actually stuck. At the arrival towards our own home, I would always repeat this line until my children would murmur,” Yes mom, we know…home is the place…”

The final Sounds of Silence at the concert’s end was particularly brutal. Of course silence can connote alienation, distance, withdrawal or death and the ultimate conclusion of the journey .For Paul Simon at 76, his journey continues, providing the boomers with more than sounds of silence, echoing through the unforgettable songs bits and pieces of their growing up that resound with the happiness and awareness of lives well lived in periods of turmoil , confrontation, challenges but also excess, evolution and experience.

Guess I’m still Feelin Groovy😘

The Perfection of Pasadena

Last March in La Jolla, I met a woman from Edinburgh who raved about the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena.Always interested in exploring new venues, I pushed for more details. Years ago, we had risen at 4:30, boarded a van and in those wee hours had trundled to our seats for the New Years Day Rose Parade. When the crowd dispersed after the splendiferous floats, we looked for our pickup on the emptied streets, taking in storefronts, lanes, less than ordinary streets. But my new acquaintance’s expressions of awe about Pasadena had impressed and so I decided we should go.

From the renovated Roaring Twenties boutique hotel still in the state of renovation to a Thomas Keller inspired meal to the supreme museums , Norton Simon and Huntington, this was a dream visit to Pasadena that overturned our initial notions of a rather dreary city from many years ago.

Truthfully, driving from San Diego towards LA is a pain, and almost makes me regret the decision, thinking the speedy little train that runs along the idyllic coast would have improved my mood, but then navigating from train to hotel, to museums would have been a chore so we have no choice but to be stuck in traffic, moving very very slowly. Yet I had checked that Norton Simon only opened at noon so we had actually planned for a later start.

Because my background is art history, I often complain that people do not really look at the paintings, reading the descriptions at the side, and besides my training provides me a way to look at a work and explain it to my husband, pretty close to the audio narration. However, we decide to take advantage of the audio guide as a way to investigate the collection’s highlights. Although explanations appear to last roughly 3-5 minutes, I with a Masters in Art History and years of study , learn something new!about every piece before which I stood. Apparently the entire guide takes about 4 hours, we stayed for 21/2.

True to my subverting nature, I begin the tour at the end, rather than the beginning, my eye caught by 19th Century Masters, intrigued and pulled towards familiar works from textbooks. Bernard’s wooden cupboard decorated with Breton women, then abstract shapes in Vuillard’s little piece of women lead towards Van Gogh’s colourful renditions of trees, his mother, reminding me of his “ unique” colour systems, heavily impasto strokes and wild genius. Nearby are Gauguin’s painting of Tahitian locals in missionary garb, looking directly at us. Degas’ attempts to get right the legs of his dancers along with the his wax cast sculpture that have the power to freeze me on the spot, remembering the discussion of the adolescent girls as young prostitutes pushed by their poverty into the arms of patrons. I observe the tipped head of the pubescent dancer much like a young race horse contemplated for its fine lines.

A thundering Manet of a rag picker recalls for me the genius man who initiates modern art, he forgoing a realistic background, erasing its depth in a silvery backdrop, the words of his friend Baudelaire in his head, influences of Velasquez in his heart. Reading the brochure later, I’m saddened to see I’ve missed the Goyas and Ingres, those timeless prints and paintings forever etched in my head from university art study.

Because the guide is so good, we give ourselves over to it, proceeding slowly on the hard floors, sitting when we can. At the very end of the hall, past Giacometti’s stretched soul, colourful and monotone Picasso’s, an enormous Sam Francis beckons. Maybe it’s his use of globs of blue and blacks, open wide spaces that float across the canvas.They attract me beyond the light- filled precision of Northern Renaissance masters or the exuberant physicality of the High Renaissance, or even the clever transformations of Braque and Picasso that eventually lead me on to these abstractions by painters like Frankenthaler, Klein , Pollock and the more lyrical Francis. For me, it is the craft of application of paint that suggests the abstract artist’s knowing along side his realist comrades of the underpinnings of shape, form, colour, line, perspective but choosing to go directly to your soul and heart, eschewing the usual human or landscape representations that evoke your pity, joy, intelligence, the predecessors commandeering the old tricks of the trade: such as figure placement in triangles, the Golden Rectangle, meaningful eye glances, etc. With a focus on the media that artists use, the most brilliant artists go directly for your gut , your emotions, wringing from you angst or sublime happiness, a wicked dab of blue hitting a glob of red just in the right way so the white that conjoins them leaves you a space to catch your breath.

There are stupendous Rembrandts here at three points in his career. The guide again providing more for reflection too: that the portrait of the boy is unlikely his son Titus, ( wrong age ); that the canvas may have been cut. ; that the fuzzy thing on the boy’s shoulder could be an homage to Rembrandt’s recently departed monkey. The colour modelling and self- probing expression of the faces on his portraits as well demonstrate even to the ingenue how extraordinary a master Rembrandt was/ is.

There is so much here, but the guide, truly deepens the experience.The sculpture garden based on Monet’s at Giverny’s in France although not an exact replica does replicate the water lilies gently floating there. Glimpsing the oversized powerful Maillol sculptures of women makes you pause and gasp. And you have never truly looked at a Henry Moore until you realize how his shapes based on bones and natural forms , for example, are echoed in Nature until you observe them here. Set among lavender, hermercallis, germander, bay figs, silk floss trees, tulip tree and lemon- scented gum groves( to only name a few), the marriage of form and setting is unspeakably sublime. Especially when the sun touches both hard and soft surfaces, illuminating deeply while obscuring them. And have I almost forgotten Rodin’s Burghers of Calais at the entrance, their intensity framing your approach as they, heavily hewn from rock, intent on their path move away from the building.You in.

The Huntington is no less an excursion into the fantastic. At the Library Exhibition Hall, you are confronted with the Gutenberg Bible, a milestone in world history, the 15th Century oeuvre that initiated the spread of literacy. Nearby are Shakespeare’s plays, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and a note from Abraham Lincoln along with Susan B. Anthony’s legal defence for voting illegally. It is overwhelming and simultaneously humbling to stand before these benchmarks. I enquire if these are perhaps facsimiles , for years prior, having dragged my family to Chantilly to view Les Riches Heures de Duc du Berry , I was disturbed to learn the originals were kept under tight lock and key, away from the eyes of hungry tourists. But these at the Huntington are the real deal!

The American Gallery reminds me of the Isabella Stewart in Boston with the marriage of furniture and paintings. Here we find quilts, tables, spinning wheels and early portraits. Having just finished Cernow’s Hamilton, I am fascinated with three separate paintings of George Washington. Much as I would have expected, tall, unassuming, quietly intelligent and thoughtful. The Mary Cassatt as well displays a believable mother-child relationship , the push and pull evident in the faces of the pair.The European Gallery offers us free audio guides, but although descriptive, they are not as insightful as the ones at Norton Simon’s.

I too could pick out the contrasts of the famous Pinkie by Thomas Lawrence – although I did not know she died shortly after the painting of this portrait of tuberculosis. The Blue Boy is a stopping point, for he is beautiful, an icon, most recognizable as a symbol of childhood, well! a wealthy doted upon one, albeit the incredible brushwork on his gleaming outfit perfectly suggesting both rich fabric and artistic talent by Thomas Gainsborough, the favourite accomplished portraitist in the 18th Century. Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse is well explained by the guide as well , with a focus on the atypical colour choice of her brownish dress to highlight the whiteness of her skin and the Greek figures in the background, selected for their symbolism , erased, redrawn. Momentarily we stop at the 15 foot high stained glass designed by Edward Burne-Jones, not fully appreciative of William Morris and the Pre– Raphaelite resurrection here. With a collection of 400 paintings, 300 sculptures, 2500 objects of decorative art, 20,000 prints and drawings, this one single gallery housing European masters is a home for concentrated study, not a mere day ramble.

Before we head back to San Diego, we want to meander in the gardens. Wisely we have brought our readers so as to find a shady nook and rest among the beauty of this immense 207 acre estate.Although the Rose Garden wonderfully overwhelms in scent and fragrance, not to mention size, colour, variety and elegance of bloom, today we can only wander the perimeter as the pathways are blocked off. And although the Chinese Gardens are exactly and beautifully recalled as we remember them in Shanghai, it is the Japanese Gardens where we rest and read after pursuing the paths that treat us to small bridges overlooking iridescent fish and bonsai gardens. These 12 acres were renovated in 2011-12 with a new tea house by a Kyoto- based architect and craftsman. Situated on the slopes of a canyon, Japanese red pine, junipers, cycads, willows, wisteria and sweet olive trees bend and frame the restful scene. Fruit trees such as apricot, cherry and flowering camellias, azaleas, lilies, iris and lotus all coalesce in a storybook setting. Not surprisingly, we have been directed to this particular garden, time and again by previous besotted visitors.To augment the experience here, there is the historic five- roomed Japanese House that recreates the realm of an upperclass dwelling in the 19-20 th Century. Much of the structure crafted from Japanese woods that included persimmon, red pine and zelkova were also built in Japan and shipped to California in 1904. Complementing the construction are American- sourced woods.

There are subtropical, Australian, and desert gardens as well as a special botanical garden. But we must return to San Diego, our feet beginning to tire after more than five hours exploring gardens and galleries.

We planned to stop at Vaca in Costa Mesa adjacent to the Segerstrom auditorium. Their Paella Valenciana, a combination of chicken, scallops, chorizo, prawns, bomba rice, saffron aioli is exquisite and worth a visit. The previously night Bacchus Kitchen in Pasadena was likewise an anticipated fresh food delight, exactly as chef Thomas Keller might have expected in his pursuit of fresh ,local, simple foods where the delight resides in the produce itself. I order the crispy duck breast on chervil chive barley, orange- scented olives, sautéed green radishes, in rosemary oil. My husband chooses the New Zealand lamb that he proclaims is the best he has ever experienced, somehow not “ lamby.”. Handcut fries with homemade ketchup resemble no fry, even cooked in duck fat, that we have ever eaten, these so light, crispy and delicious. The absolute queen of fries, we agree.

And finally our boutique hotel Dusitd2 Hotel Constance, a renovated posh hotel from the roaring twenties its elegance renewed , its Art Nouveau spirals and curves charming: in ceiling decoration and hallways, bar banquettes and courtyard ( no wonder a movie company is pulling up as we depart for the Huntington). Refurbished with future plans for a gardentop swimming pool, self parking and a Cuban bakery to further enhance this luxurious stopover.

Fortunately the drive from Costa Mesa to San Diego is swift so we are back home at a reasonable hour, reflecting on the perfection of Pasadena.

Kusama and The Happening

A happening is a performance, event, or situation meant to be considered art, usually as performance art. The term was first used by Allan Kaprow during the 1950’s to describe a range of art-related event or multiple events.( Wikipedia)

Not having booked for the Kusama event in the city, I joined the long lines that snaked around the corner of the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) in Toronto. Finally on my third try, I managed a ticket: interested in discovering the hype that was drawing thousands in persisting for hours in a line for daily rush tickets. I had read about Kusama, most articles focusing on her pumpkins, depression and withdrawal from society. So originally I did not have a sense of what Kusama’s art was about.

Whether the not usual attendees, particularly young folk, were just interested in joining lines or actually had a sense of Kusama ‘s installations, I do not know but about 70% of my fellow participants looked to be between 20-40, young, hip, a number with baby strollers, intent on garnering same day entrance.

Kusama’s six rooms are a mix of Alice in Wonderland and the Happenings of the 60’s, where one, (at least a Baby Boomer!), almost expects Alan Ginsberg to be reciting poetry outside the doors or a sardonic sage Andy Warhol stuck in a clutter of bell- bottomed followers lolling outside the space that becomes your own for 20-30 seconds. For the set up of Kusama’s show, for this “ happening” , the viewer follows a path and patiently waits for their own personal entry into each of the six rooms.

Beginning with the weakest room, Kosama declares that she had used her fear of sex to create an environment of soft red and white stuffed phalluses. This room is entitled Phalli’s Room and it is like standing in a garden of drooping, sad little red and white cacti, rendered harmless by their cuddly shape and decorated dotted surfaces. Yawn. Interestingly, these misshapen penises lose their identification as sexual warriors ready to attack. In stead they might decorate a mirror in a teenager’s room or be thrown by toddlers at one another amidst their other stuffed toys. Kusama appears to have overcome her fear through subjugating and transforming the texture and shape of the phalluses, rendering them impotent. I recall the work of the Surrealists such as Magritte, de Chirico, Dali who also played this game, trivializing nightmares, fantasies and neuroses through shape, size and context in their art.

The next rooms combine light and mirrors to provide that sense of infinity with which Kosama is associated. In “Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity” , her arrangements of refracted lights change from green to pink to red and you might just be caught in a kaleidoscope of fascinating glittering shapes. The end of eternity for me was fantastic, generating awe. As if on a ledge overlooking the scene ( my husband said one took on the persona of an alien from outer space), you are privy to all the fantastic shimmering lights of the world, dazzling, radiant, a subdued and changing colour spectrum . It reminded me of continual fireworks that rather than bursting above, continue to gleam from beneath your feet, engulfing and surrounding you as if you DO stand at the very edge of the world.

In stead of the lights I associate with the cast of a city emerging atop a river or lake generating an implosion or inner explosion , the scene feels calm, magical, wondrous and overpowering as Alice might have as she shape shifted. If this is the end of the world and eternity, it is a last mesmerizing grasp of beauty, somehow satisfying and ironically reassuring because of glittering golds and navy blues intermingled with the soft tingle of a radiant colour pallet, regally reminiscent of the Hiroshima Memorials to the victims of war. With dangling rectangular lights emerging from the backdrop of smaller illuminating gold and orange lights, momentarily the box within which you stand for your 20 seconds goes dark : no doubt to signal the absolute end, yet you’ve seen the demise of eternity in its magnificent glory of refracted light and steadfastly believe it will return- which it does. Or perhaps you are sated and ready to end your life with this final burst of beauty. So ironically again, you do not accept the darkness as the absolute end, only a pause in the beauty that has warmed and engulfed you.

In the following box ,” Love Forever,” you become a voyeur and through a window observe more of those fascinating lights now arranged in colourful hexagons, approximating the dizzying effect of love. From a darker beaming floor, a performer might commandeer your attention in Las Vegas to the streaming visual shower of neon sparkles on the ceiling as you can fix your gaze at your sweetheart through the two windows at either side of the box, peering as a voyeur might at your heart’s desire. In truth, it faithfully approximates that flash of magic one experiences when they catch sudden sight of their beloved. Hot pinks, lush reds , happy greens flood over the lights that continually change until all the colours converge and dazzle, creating both a confusion of depth, space and flatness, an illuminated walkway towards your beloved glimpsed and observable in the peeking windows. Being with my hubby of almost 45 years , this was my favourite. He is enclosed in the window for my eyes only, and I his in “Love Forever” in the midst of gorgeous lights that radiate into our own eternity.

Similarly,” The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” is as well a panorama of a non ending sea of lights, most concentrated at a horizontally plane, some greens and blue, a city scale at midnight when every street light, shop light, house light is turned on, dancing against the velvety black of a night sky, but many small bright iridescent accents also shout out too in a created sky. This recalled for me the Yad Vashem Children’s Garden in Israel of the rising and descending spiral of individual candles/ lights against the darkness, both a cry out to an enduring presence but terrible disappearance of tiny flickering souls.

You have followed Kosama’s little path into this incredible place of beauty where the opposition of loss and presence combine, signalling the yin and yang of life: forever and nowhere; destruction and beauty; light and absence. And with these juxtapositions, you enter your own interaction with the mysterious, incomprehensible ebb and flow of what it means to be human- and the loss of that.

To ensure no iPhone pictures, an attendant accompanies you into “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins”, the final box. And as the pink phalluses, this is a static composition full of interesting immobile shapes transforming a memory of homegrown gourds into a tactile form. So as we began our journey with soft art creations reminiscent of Claes Oldenberg and Jim Dine( think of the former’s huge hamburger) and her artist friends in the 60’s so we come full circle back from our lightfilled experiences.

We return to Alice’s world in a place of polka dotted stickers, chairs and tables covered with those dots applied by the participants. It is an exhibit of the visitors- making as are the best kind of artscapes wherein it is is personalized and made meaningful by the viewers’ own minds and bodies: the artist providing you the props, the means to internalize and come to grips with the elements proffered, participants organizing and making meaning through memory or suggestion -as most will by recalling an explosion of fireworks, a sudden burst or closing off of light.

The gallery has given you a set path through which you follow and enter into the rooms, but no one controls your response to what you see or feel. The arrangement of horizontals, mirrors, rectangles guides your reaction because we are programmed to think of clustered horizontal arrangements as sky or lake, the directionality of these surfaces imprinted by your own experiences of sky, land’s end, etc. or chaos wherein there is no pattern, organization or structure whatsoever . But Kusama’s intimations are merely beacons we need not accept in our personal realms, yet we do gravitate to the signposts in our experience as guiding our perceptions. That she approximates love as a kaleidoscope of colours to suggest emotions may be a common feature of love, that we cogitate that the end of eternity may be a cessation of all lights crashing from the ablaze of lights stimulates rational overlays from books, stories, our own acceptance of what we have experienced empirically. So she plays with our senses as notions of reality, subverting as she has done the phallic symbol from fear to friendly.

Although Kusama created many of these boxes in the 60’s, they are brilliantly refreshed, rendered new by the iPhone. Every person I noted entering was taking a selfie to extend and remember and record the experience, much as the infinite mirrors expanded the images bouncing from the originals. The viewer could now take the scene away, making it their own on their own mirror/ camera, they as the true subject of the exhibit, the happening, the light creations as backdrop to themselves.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times and obsession with selfies, that the younger audiences do not really come to see the art. Note how many of Van Gogh’s irises are mere decoration for a ridiculously grinning self portrait. These “new” happenings are self centred, the gaze turned inward, not out towards the works or even the world: light the most appropriate means to be used to satisfy this passion of the instantaneous, certainly a present day symbol. In the twist of this art as once a communal happening to a contemporary inner personal moment for self-aggrandizement, Kusama affords a dying yet endless vision, an evanescent one such as that caught momentarily on the iPad, that lasts a second, capturing the viewers’ fascination of themselves at a particular event, eyes turned towards superficial self, not a piercing glaze of insight.

At least Alice went down the hole in search of the white rabbit, meeting and confronting the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, but here the spectator is both Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumber, searching not for another, but their own elusive Cheshire Cat smile. Yet pursuing the white rabbit does suggest a chase of the impossible or a dream, the white rabbit so curious, so strange that Alice cannot help following. Yet too, our sense of this exhibition is a happening that exists on multiple levels, the physical and the spiritual, enduring and singular; Kosama achieves this brilliantly.

The wait in long lumbering lines well worth the journey, a mocking Timothy Leary winking behind a light in eternity.

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