April 12, 2022- Gilbert Gottfried died today, at age 67. His was a classic New York voice, brash and direct, thinly masking a huge heart that cared for many of the same people he was “trashing”. My encounters with his work were relatively few: There was Iago the Parrot, in the animated “Aladdin” movies of the 1990s; an occasional Groucho Marx or Jerry Seinfeld imitation, on a talk show seen in a doctor’s office waiting room and there were his appearances on various celebrity roasts-each mirroring the work of his role model and mentor: Don Rickles (who he also would tear apart, on certain routines). The word is, Gilbert could take it as well as dish it out, in the Noo Yawk style. There is no one left who is quite like him, on the stage of comedy. He traded in political “incorrectness”, to remind us all that no one is perfect.
I have personally evolved into maintaining a modicum of “political correctness”, primarily out of common courtesy. Certain words, especially racial or gender epithets, have never been in my repertoire; others, when I felt forced by peers, in young adulthood, came chokingly out of my mouth-in private conversation. I felt sick afterwards, and those pejoratives were soon gone from my very consciousness. Then again, my sense of humour is dry, situational. I would not be one who could pack the house-or clear it, when deemed necessary. Gilbert Gottfried could do both.
For most of us, the ebb and flow of courtesy towards others is a balancing act-between offering the respect that human beings inherently deserve and the admonitions that are frequently needed. It helps to be generally nonjudgmental, as well as to have the moral compass that offers judgement when it serves a purpose.
Gilbert Gottfried lived by making that distinction.
March 17, 2022, Newnan, GA- The conflict in Ukraine brings up images of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, at least for me. Thus today’s visit to the Picasso Immersion, at the Pullman Warehouse Exhibition Hall, in Atlanta’s Five Points area, was particularly poignant. Guernica, for the unitiated, is the large painting in the center of this montage of Picasso’s cubist works.
Picasso’s works, from 1890-1960,were largely his reaction to the horrific World Wars, Spanish Civil War and what he saw as the rise of materialism. Pablo Picasso had his own mind about the political reality of the day and would depict those he regarded as corrupt and decadent, in a monstrous manner-representing Francisco Franco, for example, as a pile of inedible food, in Guernica, itself named for a village in northern Spain that had been bombed by Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War.
Picasso was a varied artist, though, and was able to represent people beloved to him, in a more conventional manner. He wrote poetry as well, such as the autobiographical “A Lonely Road Is That I Walked”:
“I walk a lonely road, the one and only one I’ve ever known. I don’t know where it goes, but I keep walking on and on. I walked the lonely and un trodden road for I was walking on the bridge of the broken dreams. I don’t know what the world is fighting for or why I am being instigated. It’s for this that I walk this lonely road for I wish to be ALONE! So I am breaking up, breaking up. It is the lack of self control that I feared as there is something Inside me that pulls the need to surface, consuming, confusing. Being called Weird, I walk this lonely road for on the verge of broken dreams. And so I walk this lonely road and so just keep walking still” – pablo picasso
Like e.e. cummings after him, Picasso created in a self-deprecating fashion. He was somewhat devoted to his children, who were the only people allowed in his studio, while he worked. From the 1920s until the end of World War II, he hobnobbed with the avant-garde, in the south of France, only occasionally returning to Spain, for short periods of time. He reacted to what he saw as crass materialism, by becoming a Communist after World War II and continuing to depict members of the economic and social elite, in unflattering ways.
Picasso has always been a source of fascination to me, although admittedly an acquired taste, and requiring of considerable pondering and rumination, as to the meaning of his surrealist work. This immersion event has whetted my appetite for exploration of other great artists of our time and of earlier eras.
There was no corned beef and cabbage for us, today. The crew gathered for St. Patrick’s Day dinner, at a Taco Max in Dunwoody, north of Atlanta, and enjoyed fairly copious amounts of guacamole-along with rather good Mexican dishes. The children have their own take on everything, much like Senor Picasso. I hope to see them reach for the stars and not suffer undue hardship. It was a rare, but most enjoyable visit with our Dunwoody family.
May art, and creativity, ever be honoured and encouraged.
February19, 2022, Bullhead City- The large dining hall, filled with picnic tables that are meant to encourage families to sit together and strangers to follow suit, getting to know one another, at least in cursory fashion, is the enduring draw of Great American Pizza and Subs, in Golden Valley, AZ-about a twenty minute drive from this thriving town, itself just across the Colorado River, from Laughlin, NV.
The family-owned establishment, open Thursday through Sunday, draws people from as far as a hundred miles away. It is, as the name implies, a place that celebrates patriotism and a conservative view of life. I happened upon Great American, by chance, this evening, and put politics aside, for the sake of a fine meal-a robust “conservative”, meaning “small”, calzone. Taking up one corner of a large table, and spotting a family of seven looking about for seating, it was easy to invite them to take up the rest of the space.
We had a pleasant conversation, centered on what the adults and children noticed of the posters, paintings and other memorabilia which filled the walls and mantles of the great hall. These ranged from the serious (A warning to all patrons to mind their manners) to the whimsical (A Billion Dollar bill, featuring the likeness of Donald J. Trump).
The most important things, though, were the welcoming ambiance and the quality of the food. The rest, however tightly held people’s convictions and tenets are at any given moment, there is much in those areas that will neither be remembered or matter, fifty years hence. Kindness, generosity and respect for dignity stay in the person’s mind and heart for ages.
February 12, 2022- The songbird’s voice was reminiscent of Amy Winehouses’s. If I had wandered into the room with my eyes closed and had been living under a rock, for the past eleven years, I’d have sworn Amy was in the room. As it was, the gentle, forthright soul who was belting out tunes, over the cacophony of eclectic instruments, including her own beatbox, bore a slight physical resemblance to the late, long-suffering British master of R&B. The two other women in the room, each a talented musician in her own right, just stood and watched in awe. The rest of us, men of varying ages, were equally cognizant and appreciative of her presence, even as we were focused on our own instruments and as three of the younger among us were increasingly engaged in an improvisational spoken word trialogue, the decibel level of which was rising by the second-yet did not cancel out one word of Shawna’s powerful delivery.
For my part, I was more or less ephemeral, by choice. It had been a long while since I had sat in with the group, and many of the members were new. Shawna and her mate were the only ones I recall from last year. The others, true to the spirit of the establishment, were politely cordial, but a step short of welcoming. This is a loosely closed circle, which lets people in momentarily, and only gradually over time will accept the unfamiliar. Each member seemed to select one or two others, with whom they would interact. The rest were ignored. I was just glad that the hostility, encountered on my last visit, had gone away.
Shawna and her partner, who declined to introduce himself, once again, were otherwise gracious and accepting of all in the group. The hosts, keeping to the front of the house, eyed everyone a bit warily, understandable, given the noise level at times, but were cordial enough, as we entered and left. I’m actually glad that they abided the scene-no one was destructive, or particularly vulgar in their speech. Nine young men showed the utmost respect for the lone woman singing and playing several instruments, in their midst, as did I-the only elder in the room. May it never be otherwise.
It was, despite the reticence of its members, a fine evening of music and catharsis. It also gave me the realization that I need to bring my drum with me, on the rest of my forays. In that sense, this was the first step on a journey of a thousand miles.
February 4, 2022- In the 2019 film, : “The Rising Hawk”, a small party of Ukrainians fends off both a much larger Mongolian force and their turncoat Ukrainian allies. This is reportedly based on an old Ukrainian legend, of a heroic fighter who lived into his nineties and his wife and helpmate, who in this telling is the daughter of the turncoats’ leader. It is a somewhat farfetched, and rather formulaic, action film, with people switching sides when convenient for the plot and brute strength displayed at exactly the right moments. It’s also a sign of the cinematic times that the film uses plot twists from at least three other films.
There are a few political movements, current in a few countries-including this one, that seem to be dependent on plot formulas turning in a certain direction, at just the right moment. It is no accident that the leaders of these movements have established their standing with a fair audience by borrowing shopworn tactics of demagogues past. There is a lot of wishful thinking on the part of those who believe that the world ought to unfold in a prescribed and orderly manner, as prescribed and ordered by a certain elite. Life, however, is not formulaic. There is an urban myth that Benito Mussolini made the trains in Italy run on time. Another credits Adolf Hitler with the humming of the German economy, by the late 1930s. Neither tale is true. Economies on a national scale have numerous moving parts, not credible to any one person-or clique. Effective strikes and slowdowns by labour movements can bring even the most hardheaded tactician down to size.
The film itself, ironically, demonstrates the humanity of the tough Mongolian leader, seen crying at the death of his son. There is also enough brutality on both sides-or on all three, if you will, to once again show the futility of war-even as there is a nod to valour. Finally, there is a split-second switch of fealty, near the end.
Is life formulaic? No, as it happens. Free will most often seems to get in the way of the best plot lines.
December 29, 2021, Santa Fe- In many rancheria homes, of Spanish Land Grant-era New Mexico, a rattlesnake skeleton is embedded in the middle of a bench (banca), that extends out from the wall of the central living room. It is not certain, as to the origin of this practice, but Georgia O’Keeffe observed it, in her “town home” at Abiquiu, Mew Mexico.
I had the pleasure of visiting the O’Keeffe Museum, in central Santa Fe, this morning. After being awakened by a voice that was neither male nor female, I noticed that it was 7 a.m. and that a light snow had fallen overnight. Cleaning off the car with what was little more than a feather duster, left by the previous owner, I found the streets bare and traffic rather light. A fine breakfast at French Pastry Shop and short walk around the lobby of La Fonda Hotel began the morning in earnest.
There was a fair crowd at the O’Keeffe Museum, as the doors opened at 10 a.m. In keeping with Georgia’s advice to her students to pay as much attention to the small and subtle, as to the large and boisterous, each of us took turns in looking at the paintings, sketches and ceramics, in each of nine galleries. Most of the offerings were the work of Georgia O’Keeffe herself. There were a few photographs of the artist, by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, who also provided scenes of New York City, as did their mutual friend, Ansel Adams, who, like Georgia, is more associated with depictions of nature. A more contemporary student of Georgia’s work, Josephine Halvorson, is the first artist-in-residence at Ghost Ranch, where Georgia spent most of her time, after the death of her husband. Josephine has a gallery of her work in this museum, being the only artist other than Georgia O’Keeffe herself to be thus honoured. Josephine painstakingly studied Georgia’s life and work at Ghost Ranch and provides scenes such as the one below.
Of all of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work, her Blue Paintings appeal to me the most. Many of them were marked “Do Not Photograph”. There were at least a couple which were recordable, though. Here is one such.
Not all of her work was earthbound, however. On a plane, between New York and Albuquerque, this scene was captured in her mind and made it to canvas.
In contemplating this scene, I recalled my own first airplane flight, from Newark to Atlanta, in 1969, and a similar feeling of being in a very different realm.
Once finishing a satisfying visit to the O’Keeffe, I paid a quick visit to my friends at the coffee house, Henry and The Fish, bought a birthday present for a friend in Prescott at the Palace of the Governors and stocked up on ballpoint pens, before strolling down Burro Alley- a perfect representation of the type of small neighbourhood that Georgia liked to frequent.
December 28, 2021, Santa Fe- In any meanderings, one never can be quite sure as to what will be encountered-especially in a quality museum. The greater part of this morning brought a new appreciation for the creativity of the Scottish Lowlands, a place I’ve yet to see.
After sleeping as if on a cloud, at Albuquerque’s Monterey Inn, I headed back to Old Town, and Blackbird Coffee House. Breakfast was put off a bit, as I grappled, along with a nice family from Texas, with the parking registration machine-which was out of paper. Fortunately, neither of us were visited by a parking warden, in the time spent enjoying a meal. Blackbird delivered nicely, as it always has.
Following quiche and coffee, I headed over to the Albuquerque Museum. As it happens, the headlining exhibit is showcasing The Four, a pair of related married couples whose heyday was Glasgow’s fin-de-siecle, when the great British port and industrial giant was in full ferment-followed by full flowering, from the 1890s until World War I. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, his wife, Margaret Macdonald, her sister, Frances Macdonald and brother-in-law, James Herbert McNair were the prime movers behind the neo-Renaissance of the Scottish Lowlands at the turn of the Twentieth Century, thus becoming known as The Four. They drew their influences from previous groups of Glasgow artists, notably the “Glasgow Boys” of the mid-Nineteenth Century, but also the Celtic Revival and Japonisme artistic movements, which emerged in Gilded Age Britain. The Four were also called Spook School, by more conventional art critics, due to their distortions of the human form. As an architectural designer, however, Charles Mackintosh relied largely on rectangular sketches. His great buildings, including Hill House and the Willow Tearooms, of late Victorian Glasgow, chartered by the entrepreneur Catherine Cranston, as well as The Lighthouse, now the site of Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture.
The Four were completely-rounded artists, producing not only buildings, but ornate and solidly-constructed furniture, a variety of paintings, fabric art and metallurgy. One of their prime acolytes, Anne Macbeth, was largely responsible for bringing embroidery into its own, as an art form that became a staple in secondary school arts curricula.
The Mackintoshes eventually relocated to London, while the McNairs, remaining in Glasgow, found their fortunes fading. Frances died in 1921, after which her disconsolate husband destroyed nearly all of her work. Charles and Margaret kept their body of work in trust, and it remains curated by various art galleries in Glasgow and in London.
Those of us who have the fortune to visit the Albuquerque Museum, until January 22, are thus treated to an appreciation of Glasgow’s fin-de-siecle flowering.
There is furniture:
Gesso (pronounced JE-so) is a hard plaster of Paris compound, usually applicable to sculpture or painted wood.
Repousse’ is the process of hammering a metal piece into relief, from the back side.
While the Glasgow Style itself faded, after World War I, the influence of The Four was long felt, as far afield as Vienna and Dresden, as well as here in the United States. Art Nouveau developed alongside Glasgow Style, and was profoundly influenced by the work of The Four, and any of the more than 70 other adherents of the Style.
After ninety minutes of immersion in the work of the Mackintoshes, McNairs and their colleagues, I spent an hour or so with New Mexico’s own avant garde. There are provocative depictions of religious themes and modernistic expressions of Native American spirituality. Young Indigenous people love science fiction as much as any of their contemporaries. I leave you with a depiction, by Tony Price-not a Native himself, but one inspired by Indigenous lore.
December 9, 2021- Having supervised three mathematic classes, the past 1 1/2 days, one of my favourite concepts comes to mind. The Fibonacci sequence, devised by Leonardo of Pisa (aka Fibonacci) in 1202, was one of the harbingers of the Italian Renaissance, bringing Indian mathematical concepts to a European forum. Leonardo Bogollo was the son of Bonacci Bogollo-thus his nickname, Fibonacci (“fi” being short for “son of”).
The process is actually quite simple. Starting with the number 1,(though some mathematicians begin with zero), each number is added to the one before it, in the series. Thus, 1+1=2; 2+1=3; 3+2=5; 5+3=8; 8+5=13; 13+8=21, and so on, through the infinity of numbers. The sequence also operates in a negative direction.
The sequence has uses in poetry and in music. In fact, the original device was used in organizing Sanskrit poetry. It may also be the structural device for an expanding tower, or for a pyramid built in reverse order. Further information on the Fibonacci Sequence may be found here: https://www.mathsisfun.com/numbers/fibonacci-sequence.html.
November 30, 2021- Son was busy, during our after-lunch walk, counting any and all critters he spotted along the nature trail that wends it way along Mill Creek, just east of the apartment complex which was, until this afternoon, my Texas home for a week. There were eight squirrels, a crane and probably five green beetles of one kind or another. Such is the condition of an ecosystem that is in the early stages of a managed recovery.
Lunch. Yunhee made her third classic Korean meal in a row. After mandu gook (dumpling soup), and miyok gook (seaweed soup) came bulgogi (the famous Korean marinated barbecued beef). Every meal taken at home was heavenly.
Farewells. I left my little family behind, after a lowkey, but well-spent week. We did not leave the house much, but did take in a few nature trails-including the aforementioned Mill Creek Trail; the latest James Bond film-replete with an Agent 007 who is not Bond, James Bond-and a JB mini-he; and a couple of restaurants-the surprisingly good Tommy Tamale and the earnest, but not overwhelming, Jake’s Burgers and Beer. About the latter, the perky server, Maria, took good care of us, when she wasn’t hanging out with her friend-but that is a maturity thing, not a matter of character. The fare itself was lackluster.
Aram and I had important conversations about spirituality and preparing oneself for parenthood-before even trying to start a family. He has a clear vision about both matters, which I find re-assuring. I was also able to give him extra moral support, while he finished a college project he found nettlesome at times. I’m ever happy to be with my little family.
Return flight. I wandered into an American Airlines bank of check-in stations that were apparently meant for connecting passengers. The agents looked bored out of their skulls, so they were more than happy to check my bag and direct me to the correct gate. TSA is a bit more exacting at DFW than at Sky Harbor. Shoes and belts still come off, and the efficient site manager has bins underneath each standing point along the conveyor belt. Woe be unto anyone who takes a bin from the used pile, which is unsanitized. The manager reminded me of Queen Latifah’s character on the current “The Equalizer”- as officious as needed, very professional and very sure of self. The confusion over a delay of the flight turned out to be confusion, and not fact. My flight to Phoenix left on time. I had a relatively brief waiting period in the boarding area and the plane was loaded on time. Nice seatmates, from Louisiana and California bantered, mostly with one another. I occupied myself by watching a silent screening of “Kong vs. Godzilla”, which I have seen as a captive audience, once before. The Hollow Earth theory is something of which I had heard before, when I was about twelve. Thankfully, it has been relegated to B-grade SyFy.
Sky Harbor. Once on the ground in Phoenix, it took only fifteen minutes to retrieve my checked bag. I had changed the shuttle time to Prescott, owing to the rumoured flight delay. So, back upstairs it was, to Blue Mesa Tacos. The new cook was being strictly supervised by the manager, but she was doing a fine job on her own-for which I praised her. The quesadilla was perfect.
Around 6:20, the shuttle to Prescott arrived. As there was space available, I made a quick appeal to the driver and explained the switcheroo. He was glad to take me along, and by 8:30, we were all back at Home Base.
All good things come to an end, followed by other good things.
November 20,2021- The four ladies were alternately jumping, twirling and swaying, with the energy of twenty-year-olds, though they were closer in age to yours truly. All the while, they kept their COVID masks securely on their faces. This was for the duration of a 40-minute set by local artist Jonathan Best, and his troupe of blues and funk musicians. Half of it was a funk rendition of “Blowin’ In The Wind”, which I think Bob Dylan would thoroughly enjoy. The other 20 minutes was devoted to Sly Stone’s “Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself”.
I was given an egg castanet, which is about what you would expect-a mini-Easter egg shaped rattle, for the purpose of joining in the festivities. Jonathan goes full-on, bringing his audience into the fray. Whilst dutifully shaking the instrument, I felt as if I was watching a band of dervishes, even when three of the women took off their masks. The fourth, in addition to wanting to guard against COVID, also didn’t want men to see her face, and so kept tugging her mask against her nose. To me, it is six or a half dozen, whether I see a person’s visage or not. The show was the thing. It was all just a great way to spend a couple of hours on a mild Saturday night.
The Raven is the sort of place where patrons, and the bartenders, help the lone server clear tables, when she is overloaded with delivering food. This discomfits the standard dining patron, but for me, and several others, it is second nature. We are more like family, than “us and them”. I kind of like it that way.
That is part and parcel of living in a fairly mellow town. There are those who see everything through an ideological lens, but their influence here is diluted by the culture of broad acceptance. A patron who tried to push the envelope with “Let’s Go, Brandon” ,(poor Mr. Brown, he just wants to race his stock car), was brought into the festivities by being given a larger castanet. Jonathan is a progressive, but ideology is left at the cafe door, when he is set to perform. He knows that conservatives and reactionaries love a good, lively performance as much as anyone else-and so we all rock out together.
The days before Thanksgiving are a great time for such in-gathering.
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