Saturday, March 31, 2007

Christian Monasteries, Middle East

I heard a lecture this afternoon by William Dalrymple, a Scot, who is in the long line of briliant, and intrepid Brit travel and history writers. I read his first book quite some time ago, following the Silk Road. His current book is called THE LAST MOGUL, a messy piece of history of the British Raj. But what he was talking about was an earlier book called HOLY MOUNTAIN, which was about the many Christian monasteries in the crescent shaped geograhical arc from Istanbul to Southern Egypt -- the monasteries that were built during the Byzantine period when Christianity first became an accepted religion. He and a companion followed a pair ot traveling monks but he talked about what exists today.

Little understood by Americans is that Christianity is a Middle Eastern religion and the roots, its earliest writings and art and litergies were maintained in the monasteries of the Western Mediterranean. It is not a Roman or European religion at base although both have greatly changed it from it's beginnings. When the Dark Ages settled on Europe after the fall of Rome, the Byzantine Empire continued and was officially Christian until it fell to Islam centuries later. But even so, the Byzantine era monasteries continued and even today harbor texts from that time, the monks wear the same robes and beards and beleive the old beliefs. He showed pictures illustrating how a motif of saints sharing a holy waffer was almost the same in a 6th century Egyptian monastery and on a Celtic era chruch in Scotland.

Dalrymple offered two major points: One is that the Middle East is far more complex than American media portray it. Part of that is because Christianity has always been tolerated in the Islamic world, and Christians, until quite recently, have not at all been persecuted the way Europeans have persecuted Muslims [kicking all out of Spain and Italy, for instance] and Jews -- we know what happened to them! Bagdad, says he, had a sizable Christian population until the current war. But now almost all Christians have fled Iraq, mostly for Syria [Damascus] because an intolerance has been let loose that did not exist before.

There were many more points, lots of wonderful slides,great anecdotes about ancient monastics and current day dislike of Catholics. A very good talk, bringing together coherently various things I knew about but didn't grasp in the large picture.

Friday, March 30, 2007


When I go to the Housing Works Thrift Shop [I frequenty three different ones] I always look through the book shelves for poetry books. I seldom fine even one. Today I found about four feet of poetry! When you consider most poetry books are less than half an inch thick, that's a lot of poetry. Actuallly many were poetry literary magazines {books really} . I bought seven, at $1 each! While I love bargains, it's a crying shame, even in a thrift store, that poetry is so cheaply available. I should probably go back and buy some more...

A couple days ago I read an interview with Lawrence Ferlinghetti [picture above] who is 85 and still going strong. He was the publisher of the Beat poetry, a poet himself, of course, and still active in the San Francsico poetry "scene". He told the interviewer, from Poets and Writers magazine, that his recent book has not been reviewed by anyone. She checked this out on the internet and found it true and asked didn't this upset him:? He answered that there are two cultures: the media culture which is currently hyping every old and fledgling "celebrity" for their fifteen minutes of fame; and then there is the culture made up of wrtiers, artists, professors and serious readers [I'm paraphrasing]. He says that when global warming really hits and elecltricity goes off, people will go back to reading as the parallel culture always has done.

I love the idea. But unfortunately I don't think he's right. The fossil fuels will be used up but elecricity is so important the engineers will finally move in panic to use wind. solar and nuclear power so they don't have to turn off the lights and the gadgets. It's going to be a lot harder for the manufacturers who depend on plastic, which comes from the fossils too. They'll have to learn to recycle maybe all those dumps of cars and cell phones and Pampers. But they'll learn to do it, and in a hurry when the crunch comes. Still, yes, I beleive people will continue reading and maybe even reading actual books and magazines ... maybe.

Certainly people will continue writing. Words and actual ideas will continue to fascinate the few minds that manage to get educated, just as colors and shapes will continue to fascinate those with visual talents. And, of cousre, music will continue. Yes, I agree with Ferlinghetti that there are parallel cultures and that they will continue. I tried to read an essay on the computer screen that was sent to me in a email this week -- I just couldn't find the structure, the flow of ideas. I'm sure it was a fine essay but not in pixels! Not for my eyes. I have more than four feet of poetry books to read; I read poetry slowly [often reading a poem more than once] so that's going to take some time ... hurray! How many perceptive minds will touch me? What insights will I get? What appreciations will I understand? What questions will they ask? I look forward to finding out.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art

It is so easy to get into a rut, to think, oh, I want to get home to do this, finish that. Not doing the wonderful things that are on an amorphous "to do" list that just keeps getting set aside. Fortunately occasionally a visitor from out of town appears and we actually do those things. [I had lived in San Antonio for six months but did not visit the Alamo until my parents visited six months later! So typical People joke about not taking the Staten Island ferry until a visitor arrives.]

Today Arthur and Gloria McDonald from Charleston, S.C. met me at the Rubin Museum for lunch and to see the exhibits there. I met Arthur on my trip to Mongolia. I had not met Gloria. I am SO glad they came to town. We had a lovely visit, I enjoyed their almost-British accents. Plus, I got to the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art which is only four blocks from where I work and I am a member, so I have free entry any time. Fortunately the Mongolian exh ibit was still on display on the 2nd and 3rd floors. The wonderful show on the 4th and 5th floor I will write about in a few days when I go back and take even more time to enjoy it. I ABSOLUTELY promise myself I will do that, it's a great show.

The Mongolian exhibit had modern photographs as well as artifacts, all interesting and the exhibit was, as their exhibits always are, highly inforamative. The Rubin is one of the most people friendly museums in the city.l Arthur and I assured Gloria that the inside of the gers we stayed in in the tourist camps were much like the ones in the photos -- only with better beds. What a wonderful, fascinating and, yes, exotic place Mongolia is. I am enormously happy I was able to take that trip. My roommate, Kay, was a wonderful companion. Kay and Arthur and I often played Hearts with a changing variety of other players -- one long midsummer night in the Gobi when the temperature had been in the 100s all day, we sat at a picnic table under the enormous sky, with the desert changing from beige to orange to gray while a jillion stars came out overhead, playing cards in the relative cool of evening. Traveling is among the most wonderful experiences! As Arthur, Gloria and I talked we discovered that, on separate trips to Morocco, we had had the same wondeful, personable guide.

The pictures, of course, are from Mongolia -- thet top one is a ger camp ["yert" is the word the Russians used for gers, which is the word the Mongolians prefer]. The second is a scene from the archery competition at the Nadam festival. Sometimes I am almost overwhelmed at the richness of memories stored up there in my gray matter!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The temperature soared to the 70s today. People were wearing parkas with the fur lined hoods up, other people were wearing spathetti strap sundresse -- in short everything was on the streets. No, the dandelions didn't shoot up as high as the ones in the picture, but they're on their way.

I was lucky to have a short day of work and so indulged in two, no, three of my favorite things. I stopped at Barnes & Noble for a couple of my favorite magazines, then went on up the street five blocks and stopped at Ollie's Chinese restaurant for a $6,00 lunch -- which, will, in fact, also be lunch or dinner tomorrow since I brought half of it home. That's two favorite things, then I came home, changed to flipflops as a short sleeved t-shirt and went out to Riverside Park to sit on a favorite bench full in the warm sun and read for an hour. I know the pundits say to start with a mere fifteen minutes of sun. But this is a northern sun, not a hot Caribbean or Florida sun. An hour did not even turn my arms pink. it just poured vitamin D into me with the wonderful warmth. Lovely!!! And the week is supposed to remain warm and sunny. Lovely, lovely!!

Monday, March 26, 2007

More on the Quit Show - the New York Attitude

Above #13, by Mary Anne Ciccotelli, one of the ribbons on it is for best use of color. The picture doesn't even show how very colorful it is for the border fabric has all the colors of the main body. {The woman in the photo is unknown, it's not the quiltmaker.] When I go to a show I try to find the motifs -- even when there is no curator, when it's open to all as this show was, usually there is one or more motifs -- reflections of the time, the place, the ideas floating in the air. One of the motifs of this show was COLOR -- lots of it, bright, bold, aggressive, color sometimes for its own sake. A couple of years ago I saw a show in Brooklyn where many of the members were also in the Quilters of Color organization; then too I noted the use of color. But in that case much of it was inspired by African fabrics. In this case, the color is very similar but only a few quilts were full of African fabrics. More, I think, were full of Japanese fabrics -- not the recent Japanese quilters' love of taupe, but bold colors, lots of orange koi and other motifs.

Below are a couple more quilts, "Stars and Stripes" by Maggie Williamson and "Tropical Fantasy" by Margaret Morris. I took the photos mainly because they were quite close to each other and at that particular time the crowd was not too thick. But I tipped the camera, as you can see. I do not know any of these women [the guild is very large, and I'm not awfully active]. I felt, throughout the show the color was brilliant, aggressive and unexpected. It's an in-your-face feeling. A New York feeling.

After all the bright quilts the quilt below, "Heart-a-flutter" by Shirley Clark was a rest for the eye -- black and white with tiny hits of red! but it too is a bold design. We know different parts of the country, different cities have their own parochialisms, their own attitudes and tones. I felt the strength of design and color in this show was very New York. Also very New York was the excellence of execution. I've been to smaller quilt shows, both on Cape Cod and upstate, and found neither design nor execution so strong. It's the competitiveness here, the feeling that one MUST do an outstanding job and most make a statement people will remember.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Empire Quilters Guild show

This is the" best of the show" quilt, "Where Is the Quilt Show" by Anna Faustino, seen here in pink sweater. Anna is a fairly new quilter who has devised a quilting/fabric weaving method all her own [which she teachers]. She is so hooked on quilting, has such fertile imagination and bold graphic sense that she's getting into national shows and winning prizes and attention. She show so many quilts at the Guild Show and Tell one wonders if she has time to eat or sleep or maybe employs a Santa's workshop full of elves to make the quilts she keep producing. It's wonderful to see someone throw herself heart and soul into an edeavor and succeed!

The show was a success. The weather cooperated and the aisles were so full of people it was sometimes hard to see the quilts because so many people were around. The quality of quilts was very high. The venue was not ideal, it was somewhat too crowded and quilts had to be shown on two floors. Lighting was adequate on the main floor but not very good on the lower level; I felt lucky to be on the main floor. Here are my quilts being looked at by show goers. I listened for comments -- not many about the butterflies which sort of surprised me. But I heard curiosity about the diary quilt and several people took time to read the captions. I felt they held their own without being in any way particularly outstanding.

A full day of volunteering in the somewhat disappointing members boutique where I sold only a few things but had a nice opportunity to chat with people I have not had a chance to meet otherwises, has left me tired -- especially since I was wearing new shoes which seem to have crunched the toes of my right foot -- and they were flats, not heels. Still, I love the shoes and will keep wearing them because I think they'll "give" before my foot is damaged. Ah, what pain a woman suffers for vanity!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Martha Mitchell Play

Last night at the tiny, claustrophia-inducing theater space in the basement of the Drama Bookstore, the International Center for Women Playwrights produced an evening of eight exerpts from plays. The final piece was an exerpt from Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro's MARTHA MITCHELL. A one-woman play about that maligned Watergate victim, wife of the corrupt John Mitchell, Attorney General under Nixon. I have known of this play since its first performances because my friend Geralyn Horton, Boston based as is Rosanna, is a playwright, actress, director, singer, played Martha and has done so in various venues including, most successfully at the Edinburght Fringe Festival to excellent reviews and full houses.

This was my first chance to get a taste of the play and I loved it. It should be a classic. It should tour the country and be produced at colleges and community theatres everywhere. It remains very relevant. Long before Hillary spoke of a a "vast Republican conspiracy" Martha Mitchell was caught in such a web. She was not ladylike about finding herself trapped. The play is made up of monologues and songs of which we got only a brief taste last night.

I've had many discussions on the topic of "does the cream rise?" Here is an instance supporting my belief that, no, the cream sometimes does not rise. The play has been done several places but it should be known like many other one-person bioigraphies are, TRU, for instance, or the Holbrooke Mark Twain, or THE BELLE OF AMHERST. Those are all a bit easier on the stomach of conservative [male] theatre producers. An angry woman, an alcoholic, who proudly admits that when her husband hit her she fought back and "gave as good as I got." And she's still fighting, with the telephone and the press -- this is not "feel good" theatre. This is asking what's rotten in Washington, back in the '70s and now in '07.

My contention is that cream cannot rise if it is uncomfortable -- and many women's subjects remain uncomfortable to society at large. Our entertainment is so homogenized, so controlled by the first readers who reject anything they can't handle, and then by the money-men who reject anything they think they can't sell, that works like MARTHA MITCHELL are not given consideration for major production. For years it's made me sad to go to events like last night's, where playwrights have to put together their presentations -- and these all incomplete, just shavings off the whole -- to be shown mainly to other actors and their friends. Some put together too quickly with inadequate rehearsal, some inadequately acted. This is not communication with the public, it is a sad attempt to believe someone's work can reach others, but it's never more effective than preaching to the choir.

Geralyn said to me when we had a long talk Friday, that she wonders if live drama can exist much longer in the face of 21st century media, especially the internet. I said yes, people will always want to act as people will always want to make music ... but Geralyn might be right. That acting impulse can now happen on videos that are instantly put on the web, or on podcasts. Not an optimistic thought -- for real acting and drama, like good music making, requires discipline and personal commitment and the work of acquiring superior skill that goes beyond innate talent. Will that continue? I sure hope so.

Friday, March 23, 2007

All in a Day's Work

I come across all kinds of interviews in the transcription work I do. Here's today's example: Interviewe to Actress/Model: Tell me about your brow maintenance routine. Are you a daily plucker? -- Believe it or not, of cousre you believe it -- she got a straight answer, Not every day, but whenever I think about it.

Another memorable interview was an imprisoned Nelson Mandela's daughter reading a letter in which her father told her to always remove the skin from cooked chicken to avoid getting fat. I well remember a very smooth talking Ken Lay who made Enron sound like America's greatest company. In the '80 rock musicians were not just potty mouthed, they were inarticulate. But lately musicians seem to have become smarter. I'm especially impressed with Bela Fleck and Karen Crow. Anyway, I get an education ranging from hedge funds to mascara.

I've picked out twenty of my 40 or so butterfly postcards to sell at the boutique of the Empire Quilters Show this weekend. Here's a scattering of them. Plus the nine butterflies [not postcards] that are matted and ready to be framed. And a dozen attic window wall quilts. I hauled all those plus my two show quilts down to FIT this morning and was amazed that when the Migrating Monarchs were being photographed for the CD of the show, the color of the background was so much nicer than it seemed on my wall. What a difference some decent light makes! I'm eager to see the whole show tomorrow. I expect it to be very nice and generally very high quality. Of course there will be venders to visit as well. More about that soon.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

More star quartets

So here are #19 and #20 of the star quartet series -- the same star in differnt color choices/ dark-light reversed. If I were in an art/design class someone would explain to me in simple terms general rules that any beginning artist must learn about what is more pleasing, the somewhat busy dark background with the star imposed on it or the light background with nothing impeding appreciation of the star ... excep the insipidity of all that pastel background. As I was working I really thought the light would please me most. Now, side by side, I prefer the stronger color of the dark background and strong gold border. I am sorry I did not have a binding for the light one in a medium purple but I chose a pastel toned print. Part of the "rules" for this series is that I use up stash fabric that I don't think I'll use otherwise ... thus the gray background fabric. and the pale backbround fabric of the other. The photo doesn't show it, but it's very light yellow with very light floral print. Ofen I remember when various fabrics or items came into my life but I have no idea where that came from. I suppose I bought it thinking it would be a nice blender fabric. .. and so a stash grows ...

In fact, I'm not quite done, the light one still had hand stitching to be done, label and hanging sleeve. I spent the time this afternoon when I might have been doing that making price tags for the 20 butterfly post cards I hope to sell at the quilt show this weekend. Then I went over the notatons on the diary quilt piece. The notations are for me, not really for viewers and I don't expect people to read them. I got a pen that writes white on dark fabric at the New Jersey show -- the vender assured me it would truly show up. This seems to be true. I don't know if it will fade. So I'm ready --- wondering if I put things into my biggest duffle to transport down there all at once. I could make two trips -- it's not so long on the subway. Or I could pack stuff up and hope to get a taxi -- which is not easy at 8: a.m. when everyone is going to work -- but a lot easier than facing the subway crowd with a big rolling duffle. ... Logistics. Out in the rest of the world people just put stuff in their cars and drive wherever they're going.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Water, not for everyone

Several years ago I traveled in northern India and found it far more wonderful than I had expected. My last night was in Gangtok, Sikkim. Early the next morning I was leaving the small group to return home, so it was arranged that a young man with a spiffy SUV would take me down from the mountains to tiny Bogdara airport four hours away. As we drove through the post-dawn streets I watched a familiar site; Bags of garbage that had been left on the sidewalks were being picked up by trucks -- not the bemoths of NYC, more like ancient pick-ups. Well oirganized civic services. The previous morning I had watched a boy of about 8 squatting out side his house beside an open gutter by the road brushing his teeth and spitting into the gutter. I realized his house probably did not have running water. At the outskirts of the city a bridge crossed the Testa River which flowed down from the grand mountiains to the north. On the bridge one of the "garbage trucks" was parked. The workers were vigorously throwing their load of garbage over the rail into the river.

Today I'm reading an article about the water crisis that affects much of India ... and have recently read how seriously a similar problem will (or already does) affect much of Africa, China and many other parts of the world. Already half the people of the world don't have the kind of clean water and sanitaion Romans enjoyed 2000 years ago. Already a billion people lack access to drinking water and half a billion have never seen a toilet. Those are staggering numbers. How blindly we Americans go about flushing toilets and taking showers and watering lawns, filling swimming pools. As with all other resources, Americans use four times more water per day per person than the average person elsewhere in the world.

No, I suppose I won't change any of my habits. A lesson I've learned from traveling a great deal is that we need to step out of our parochialism and understand that our lives are privileged. This is not a "count your blessings" situation; it's an open your eyes and realize we share a small planet with limited resources with a lot of people who don't have what we have.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Pema Chodrum again

Actually I have been quilting, two in the star series in quick sequence, not quite done but maybe tomorrow with pictures, or maybe the next day, quilting is always a more labor intensive than I expect it will be. I was standing in a line yesterday and heard two young women behind me. One said, "It was a tiny quilt and it cost $100." I couldn't help but turn around and say, "Quilting is very labor intensive." One of the young women said, yes, her mother was quilting something and had be at it for three months.

Today I was putting price tags on the dozen attic window type wall quilts I hope to sell next week at the guild's boutique at the Show. Practically giving them away at $50. But, in fact, I want them out of the closet. I'm willing to take whatever my portion of that will be and let the guild have their portion but for closet space. Those who live in houses with attics, spare rooms, garages, and lots of closets cannot understand the "closetphohia" of an apartment dweller.

As noted in the title a little bit of Pema's good sense -- it being Sunday, I'm in a bit of a Sunday mood. Here's a quote from THE WISDOM OF NO ESCAPE: The truth you believe in and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything else. ... Holdling onto beliefs limits our experience of life. ... using your belief system this ways creates a situatio in which you choose to be blind insead of being able to see , deaf instead of being able to hear, to be dead rather than alive, asleep rather than awake. She later mentions the well known dictum "when you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha." Which she says means, really look at what you believe, look at it from all angles, get to know it well and you will no longer put it on a pedestal.

This makes sense to me; I think it will not make sense to many people who haven't been reading Pema Chodron. I suggest, if you're curious, pick up any one of her slender books which are written in the most accessible, understandable way and look at them ... critically. Very critically. Looking to see it it makes any sense to you. If not, okay. She is not writing to convert anyone. Her talks have been collected and published because students have found them useful. I find her writing so full of good sense, it gives me considerable peace.

Another short quote: " ... the desire to change is fundamentally a form of aggression toward yourself." Yes, this goes against allthe self-help books on the shelves. Acceptance is possibly the hardest lesson she is trying to teach.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

American Folk Art Museum

It was slushy and mushy out after the snow/sleet fall of the last 36 hours, and every street corner was a lake of melted water not going down frozen drains. The sun was out, very warmly adding to the size of the lakes. And it is St .Patrick's day, when people flock to midtown for the parade and deck themselves out in green coats, scarves and hair. I had errands to do but deciced to treat myself to a stop at the American Folk Art Museum since I've been reading about "outsider" artist, Martin Rameriz.

What a sad story! So incompletely told in th show and article in their magazine that I can only imagine he did not deserve the treatment he got. Ramirez came to the US in the '20s to earn money for his family in Jalisco, Mexico. But he spoke no English and got caught in the depths of the Depression when work was not available. He was found wandering streets of L.A. and did not speak -- possibly terrified and not understanding English -- and was put in a mental hospital where he spent the last half of his life. Nothing suggests anyone tried to speak Spanish to him, or made any attempt to get him back to his family.

But he began drawing, using pasted together bit of paper that he found and whatever writing/drawing insruments he could scroung. His works are strongly and dynamicaly graphic. They are obsessively repetitious -- there are a lot of drawings of the same man on a horse with a pistol, a lot of trains comeing out of and going into tunnels, a lot of careful parallel lines in the landscapes. There are scary madonnas with rattlesnakes at their feet and sometimes he's used cut outs from magazines in a collage manner very effectively. His work is strange, as outsider art usually is -- individual and unique. His story, with so much missing makes me very sad that a man who seems never to have been violent or dangerous to himself or anyone else was kept in an asylum and never saw his family again. There are many outsiders, of course. Many artists feel like outsiders although most manage to have at least a small gruop of like minded friends to communicae with. But true outsiders, like Ramirez, obsessively making a statement .. perhaps just to pass the time but also to use his mind, his talent even under difficult circumstancs leave us pondering what it is to be human and stuck in a strange world.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


I never read just one book. I think I'm reading five right now. One is Pema Chodron's THE WISDOM OF NO ESCAPE. I thank Gary Hill for telling me to read her. Her books are short, simple and so full of good sense I'm feel an internal calm reading a short chapter each night. This book is a series of talks she gave during a month-long retreat at Gampo Abbey where she lives on Cape Breton Island at the eastern end of Nova Scotia. I have not been to the abbey but have been to Cape Breton and it is beautiful!

The most basic advice is to meditate by simply noting the out-breath while sitting quietly. Inevitably thoughts will crowd in, usually much sooner rather than later. When you pull yourself away a little you say to yourself "Thinking". Simply that. Not as if you're doing a bad job of meditating, not accusingly, simply recognizing this is what your mind is doing. And if you're like me -- like most people -- that's exactly what your mind wants to do. It does not want to relax and just notice the outbreath, or just be still. In fact, most people will say that it is the mind's job to think. Yes! of cousre it is. But one point of meditating is to see for yourself that the thinking mind is running along familiar tracks while another part can observe itself. That other part can choose to concentrate on the breath, or on whatever.

When one chooses to read an interesting book, s/he chooses to put that auto-thinking mind aside and pay attention to what the books says. Same goes for watching TV or a movie -- and for much else we do. But left to its own devices the mind goes along "thinking" abot first one thing and then another, randomly very often. A great many people fear letting the mind pause and just pay attention to the out breath. The random mind can be a tyrant, {this is me talking, not Pema Chodron] afraid to pause in its "thinking"t. Most of the time it's merely dwelling on the gunk of every day life ... and I mean gunk ... watch it for a while. How many times do you have to replay that bothersome conversation or wonder what to eat for dinner? How much have you missed in your daily life because the mind was doing it's tyranical chattering -- and you didn't see the just opened leaves or the pretty girl standing on the corner and didn't hear what someone said to you? "Thinking." What Pema Chodron goes on to say is probably wiser than just this; but noticing the "thinking" is a way to start. I have been trying to add a picture of Pema Chodron but tonight the scanner and blogger aren't cooperating. ... Well, I've got five books to dig into so I won't keep trying to solve the picture problem

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Global warming --

Too warm today -- March weather is often freaky. It's not possible to dress comfortably, too hot, too cool, no rain gear with it starts pouring ... carrying around a silly umbrella with the sun blazing. On the sidewalks, at the corner Korean delis are buckets of daffodils and bunches of roses all kinds of beautiful colors. Unopened hyacinths look promising and cyclemen are SO beautiful ... some place it's spring ... perhaps only inside long plastic green houses. One cannot believe in nature from what is available for sale. Who knows where all those flowers came from or under what conditions they were grown?

How, for that matter are we to have any solid knowledge about much of anything. Over the weekend I read a about an international panel's report on global warming: It predicted lack of water for large parts of the world, esepcially in Africa and some parts of Asia, much starvation ... within fifty years. This report wasn't given in the US so it got little coverage. Then yesterday's paper had a major, long article saying, pooh-pooh to Al Gore, he's exaggerating. He's not a scientist so we must not believe anything in his movie/book. In other words, relax everyonoe, go on worrying about the stock market but don't forget to keep on shopping ... using up whatever resources you can afford, gas, electric, all that stuff in the supermarkets, and malls. Go to keep the GNP churning.

Maybe the earth has undergone such warming cycles before; but it can't be denied that there has never been so many people on the earth, all needing food and water and reasonably clean air. That alone changes how we can think about what is happening. Also never before have so many forests and jungles been cleared, never have so many emissions gone into the atomsphere. Doesn't anybody feel any responsibility? Well, apparently not. While one group of theoretical scientists are muttering about possibly never being able to understand dark matter or dark energy [since they haven't quite figured out what gravity is yet], the wo/man in the street, like me today, just fusses that it's not possible to dress comfortably in this changing weather. No, there's no moral to this story ... except that we have such small thoughts, small concerns. Can't we just maybe a minute or two a day think about the bigger world ... we earthlngs may be alone in the universe but as individuals we are far from alone on this one small planet.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rewards of Traveling

It's been a busy day but for a dedicated reader even in busy days time can be found for reading: at meals, on the subway. In the NY Times i read a quote attributed to Aldous Huxley, "To travel is to discover that everyone was wrong about other countries." I would say, rather it is to discover that every other country is like no other country. The painting of a waterfall above is by Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kalela. The article I'm reading saying he is the "natioinal Finnish painter" which would make him the equivalent of Jan Sibelius as the national composer. The Finns are a people unlike the other Scandinavians. They have one of those strange languages that is diffrerent from almost every other in the world. They have a mixed history of being ruled by Sweden and then by Russia and have only had their own country a short time.

Because I like bargains and read ads, I went to Finland a good many summers ago and found myself part of a tour group in which I was the only America. All others were Europeans. This was a strange sensation but a very interesting one. 4 or 5 English teachers were the only ones I could converse with easily, others were German, Italian and French. The guide spoke all those languages (and more!) and gave us a daily lessons in Finnish history with plenty of Sibelius played on the tour bus's speaker system. I learned more in 10 days than I had ever imagined about Finland and I loved it. A beautiful country of forests and lakes. I actually stood astride the Arctic Circle! I saw free ranging reindeer and Sami, the reindeer herders. I saw art shows but did not learn about Gallen Kalela but did learn about the Kalivala, the national epic.

To me traveling is a form of enrichment that is better than collecting gold jewelry or sporty cars or even wonderful art works. Since we're having spring-like weather, I've put my fleece robe in the laundry bag and donned the cotton batik robe I purchased in Thailand. I cannot wear it without remembering the tiny mom & pop shop in a small Thai city where gramma was stirring the big pot of indigo dye, nephew was stamping plain white cotton with a design block dipped in melted wax and other family members sewed simple garments from the batiked fabrics while yet others tended the shop that was the second story of the dying factory. My memory is full of such wonderful experiences. I may be warm in my fleece robe but I have no sentimental attachment to it. It's looking kind of tatty, I think it'll go out; but this batik robe wil never be thrown away. Yes, I know not everyone shares my interest in and love off traveling but the article quoted at the top says that tourism is the world's biggest industry, bigger even than oil! So I have lots fellowship in my wanderlust, the world is still huge, and, indeed, no country is like any other -- for Americans, you only need to cross the northern border and discover Canada is very much a place of its own although it may seem much like us superficially.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

It's Later Than You Think

Today is the once-a-year day when I can go around reminding myself, It's later than you think -- not because I'm feeling philosophical or depressed or harried but simply because it IS -- we changed the clocks and nothng about my body rhythms is fully adjusted to that change. It's later than I think although my computer has adusted it's clock for reasons too mysterious for me to fathom.

It was a beautiful day. Sunny, a tad nippy but promising spring is somewhere a few rotations and a bit of tilting of the earth away. I walked a great deal, in fact, more than I've walked in many moons. And I was definitely dragging by the time I got home but that's what it will take to regain the lost strength. Among my stops was my favorite thrift shop, Housing Works, which supports AIDS groups. They get great donations. I nearly bought a David Hockney book but it was quite heavy so I decided that if it haunts me I'll go back tomorrow and see if it's still here. Hockey, along with Lucian Freud, are my favorite British contemporary artists. What I did purchase was easier to carry, a book of Billie Collin's poetry, SAILING ALONE AROUND THE ROOM -- a title I love.

I had not heard of the Brooklynite poet until he was named Poet Laureate about five years ago. Since then I've read one book of his poetry and this will be the second.

I've just finished reading a book of poetry by Mark Smith-Soto which I liked a lot He refers a great deal to his childhood in Costa Rico and the various characters from that time and place. He now teaches somewhere in the NY area. Sometimes I feel that the serious poets are the ghosts in the literary machine. Almost no one knows their names;they seem mostly to write for a small community of people who mostly also write poetry. It's too bad more people don't pick up books of poetry; with the
notoriously shortened attention spans [whcih I only partly beleive actually exist] poems are ideal, often short enough to read in less than a minute. And if it grabs you, you can read it several times in ten minutes and really pay attention and get the juice out of it.

I noticed that the Collins book had a bookmark in it at the poem, "Insomnia" . I surmise something about the former owner.
It begins:
Even though the house is deeply silent
and the room, with no moon
is perfectly dark,
even though the body is a sack of exhaustion
inert on the bed,
someone inside me will not
get o ff his tricyhcle,
will not stop tracing the same tight circle
on the same green threadbare carpet.

There's more ... so, for those who fear poetry, what don't you understand? Poetry reading is not hard work. Try it, you'll like it. ... And tired as I am after my walking today, I think this will not be an insomnia night ... though I know about the mind's tricycle making tight circles on the carpet.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Lovely Things

This is a postcard I received this week from SAQA, the Society of American Quilt Artists. From the title I take it to be the third of a series. I am fascinated by it. After a brief moment one realizes it is a box with drawers, three on each side and each holds a small square quilt. I think the quilts are 12x12 inches although I am not totally certain of that. They are by twelve different quilt artists. Wouldn't that be a wonderful treasure to have on a wonderful big coffee table!!!? This will be auctioned at a spring event that occurs at approximately the time of the opening of this year's Quilt National in Athens, Ohio . I hope I'll be able to go see Quilt National. In the past I've combined visits to Quilt National with visits to my family in Indiana and will do the same again if possible.

I have been reading the two most recent Art in American magazines and, as usual, I look at the great variety of things artists around the world are doing. The creativity of the human being is utterly boundless whatever art medium is chosen Today I went briefly to the Empire Quilters Guild March meeting. It was charity quilt day, Many women had brought their sewing machines and were sewing away, others were layering quilts -- the room is a hall with many big round tables - and others were finishing the quitls with tied yarn. The colors and patterns, most simple traditional patterns of squares, was equally varied. We are told many organizations have asked for the donated qujilts, many for children, but also for wheelchair bound or bedridden adults. All that I saw should cheer the recipients wih their mixtures of wonderful colors in strong patterns.

When I was young I read about the Impressionists painters and their fascination with light. I could see it in their paintings but I was uncertain if light has really was different in different places. Then I went to Greece and suddenly I knew what they were talking about. Greek light, reflecting off the surrounding seas, has very little in common with American Midwstern light.

I had been in New York a few years before I worked in high story of a building and could look out at the sky. Then I realized that at about 4;00 on sunny winter afternoons a light I called "lambent" covered the city and turned the bricks of buildings pink or salmon while the light itself had an apricot glow. This is only a mediocre picture of the sky at that hour and from street level, which isn't quite as good. It is nearing my building [canopy at lower right] looking north up West End Ave. Even when it's very cold, and even though blue is technically a cool color, this afternoon light has a soft warmth, I think.

Friday, March 09, 2007


The cold snap seems to have broken, and I'm glad. I had enough cold wind in my face. Not long ago I re-found a poem that for reasons I cannot explain gives me a strange little trill when I read it. Its by Mark Strand and I don't know if this is the whole thing; but it's enough for me.

And I stood in the moonlight valley
watching the great starfields
Flash and flower in the wished for
reaches of heaven.
That's when I, the dog they call Spot,
began to sing.

Let me ask this: if this does peculiar [wonderful ] things to your insides, leave a comment. I'd like to know if others agree and what you think it might be ... I don't quite know. I'm afraid I can't answer you unless you leave your email address; I'm going to find out next week if I can change the set up on this blog so I can answer people. I have SO much yet to learn ... and if I didn't know the depths of my ignorance and complacently thought I knew all that was worth knowing, I'd be so bored I'd go to bed and never get out. As it is I'm very glad to get up each day and most days I learn a little something.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Tree and More Butterflie

Here we are in the depths of winter and all it took was a few hours escape from the Island of Manhattan to give me food for thought for days on end! I'm not sure if that's sad or wonderful. Anyway the above quilt of a tree made by Wendy Butler Berns of Wisconsin was at the Quiltfest in NJ. It's a very interesting quilt, more so "for real" than in a photo. But what amazed me is that I had been looking at that quilt for a whole week, Feb. 19th to 25th. Yes, really. I keep a desk calendar published by the American Quilters Society on my desk at work and when my mind wanders as I do automatic typiing, I look at the quilt of the week. [Alternatively I look at a picture of Mt. Everest taken from Namche Bazaar on a sparkling cold morning - the picture shows part of the trail I would take the next day as I walked toward Everest - everything about that pictures makes me happy!] Anyway I was surprised to see this quilt on display -- I don't know why.

What did I find at a vender's booth! Among other things, I found ANOTHER butterfly design book -- plus this one which lacks the color illustrations of Bea Oglesby's does have MOTHS! There are 8 or 10 moths and I'm eager to make a quilt with them. I have an idea percolating. I also have a couple of projects to finish before I plunge into moths and a possible [short term?] UFO that's been started and put on hold but not for too long... I hope. Well, come to think of it maybe there are three UFOs I really want to finish before they becoming semi-permanent UFOs ... Ah ... if I but had world enough and time ... Perhaps an inappropriate quote. Andrew Marvel was trying to seduce someone. I have been seduced by a mass of moths. More about that in months to come.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Quilt Artist, Jeanne Beck

For me the best part of the New Jersey Quilt Fest was seeing the one woman show of quilts by Jeanne Beck, a quilter/fiber artist who lives in the Finger Lakes section of New York. Her works are about texture with inspiration -- for most of the quilts shown, although she has another series about people/places -- from natural textures. She manipulates fabric in all the ways that are being written about lately, dyes with various techniques, painting, adding layers of different textiles, felting, gilding, plus quilting and embroidery. Complex surfaces draw one in to study all the variations, the use of interesting embroidery stitches and threads as well as subtle color changes and textures. [I believe the picture at the top should be rotated once to the left -- I thought I did that in my edit program but apparently not]

I've gone to Jeanne Beck's website,, [if I had learned the technique the guy at Apple tried to teach me you'd be able to click that but I don't understand how to add it that way]. It's a lovely website with excellent pictures but no picture can show the texture, the complexity of the surface. While these are quilts, with three requisite layers [and more] a backing and binding, they would not be recognizably quilts to anyone who does not know about the modern movement of art quilts. In fact, for my enjoyment, they don't need to be quilts at all. I don't care if they are backed or bound, the important part is the surface.

I cannot say that any one was my favorite. I found the embroidery especially fascinating. For instance the cream/black one in the middle had a great many French knots for texture in the middle section. They are a simple enough stitch but were used very effectively. And the top quilt had lines of embroidery stitches I had not seen before, not so complex, but remaniscent of Oriental calligraphy.

Sometimes i wish I were a wealthy lady with a big house with many walls on which I could display art. It would be wonderful to have many pieces and to change them every few weeks so I never stopped really seeing them as one does if something becomes too familiar. But I have no space to spare, nor money for art purchases. Perhaps that makes me look all the more intensely when I come upon someting like Jeanne Beck's work which I looked at closely, and wandered on and then an hour later returned and looked at all over again. They not only good enough to look at twice but to live with as well. And I had a few pangs of serious envy. I wish I could do that. I don't believe I will ever attempt that sort of art quilting, it's the accomplishment of self-expression that I envy.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Small Things Challenge

Among the special exhibits at the quilt show I saw yesterday was one called "Doing Small Things" which was from Fiberarts Connction of Southern California and had been instigated by well-known quilter Peg Keeny. I didn't photograph one of those quilts but I read the artist's statements along with contemplating how that fit the quilts. There were several echos of the "perform small kindnesses each day" which one quilter wrote a mentor had advised her. This is hardly new or earth shaking advice; it's given by Sunday School teachers, Scout leaders, and mothers, not in a knee-jerk way, I think but it is a cliche that seems a little akin to stand tall with your shoulders back and head erect.

Still it's staying with me and it's a Sunday sort of subject (okay, so that's a code word for preachy). The quilter writes that she had tried to follow this advice which can take the form of opening a door for someone, chatting with a baby, picking up something someone has dropped. I try to do these things myself. I'm not sure, if I get seriously introspective, that such basic good manners is strong enough to offset various selfish, less socially helpful impulses. I think I'm a nice person and I'm sure that quilter is a nice person and, indeed, if such advice simply makes people a tad nicer, kinder, then it's oil for the often squeaky wheels of social intercourse.

Another view is that the woman says this advice has stayed with her, which means the mentor had a positive effect on her life which is to say that we can do the same by offering even cliched advice .... if it falls on fertile ground. I think of the parable of the wheat that is sometimes sown on fertile ground and some times among the rocks and tares. She was a sensitive child, which I think I was, and the advice fell on fertile ground. Now I wonder about the extent to which those small kindnesses have become habit. Many of us have a habit of good manners -- and many seem not to have that habit. Does it become less a kindness if it's a habit? No, I don't think so. But if the woman is keeping a tally of doing a small kindness each day I think she should attempt to do a kindess above and beyond the habitual ones. ... Or is that too much to ask?

Beyond small kindnesses, what about small generosities? I note that I do not put change that is given to me when I purchase something into a pocket, I put it in a wallet that is then put in my purse. Men usually carry change in their pockets but not women. So when I see panhandlers on the street asking for spare change, I cannot simply reach into a pocket and produce a few coins, it's a process to take money out of a pocket inside a pocket in a sense. I THINK about keeping change in a coat or pants pocket but I don't do it so I rarely give panhandlers change.

In fact, I'm more likely to give change to guys on the subway, sometimes with a hard luck spiel and nearly always if they're Hispanics, expecially Mexicans, singing a song. I'm a total sucker for soppy Mexican music. But that aside. I nearly always notice when someone has a hard luck story, the people who give money are are the black and hispanic people, and very rarely the whites. The givers may have been there, or know people who are, the whites don't; but they usually look like they can afford to give better than the others.

So that is my sermon today, not telling anyone what to do -- what the hell I'll tell you, BE KIND. And it was occasioned by a quilter saying to her circle, "let's made quilt on the the theme of small things, small acts." A pebble dropped in the pond, I got splashed by one of the ripples, I guess, it was a small thing Peg Keeney did.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Quiltfest, Someset, N.J.

Sorry this is a lousy photo, I should have charged the battery of my camera yesterday. Anyway Empire Quilters took a bus to the Quiltfest at Somerset, New Jersy today. Mancusco is the presenter so it attracts good one-woman shows, and many fine quilts as well as lots of venders. But the venue is lousy -- actually it's the lighting of the venue that is lousy. This is the thrid year I have seen this show and I always curse under my breath about the things I cannot see well.

However, a full day at such an event gives me plenty of food for thought, and for blogging for three or four days. i kind of wish I had gone to any one of the three or four major art shows in NYC last weekend so I could compare the iighting. Mancusco is a respected producer of quilt shows but I think they are more interested in the commercial -- popularion, likely attendance -- than in showing the quilts to best advantage.

Anyway, the the quilting question bothering me for the past few years has had to do with the density of quilting now to be seen on most qujilts. Historicaly quilting [the almost last step in making a quilt, i.e., when the three layers are sewn togehter with lines of stithcing, by hand or by machine, ofen with decorative design] had to be no more than twoi inches apart to keep the filling [batting] from shifting around. Once upon a time it was loose cotton or wool stuffing and apt to shift with use and washing. Today batting comes in large sheets and does not come apart. Close togehter quilting is not necessary. For some time during my quilting years the amount of quilting was the quilters' choice and was expected to add to the overall attractiveness of the quilt, usuallly by echoing quilting lines or filling in large spaces with attractive and related designs.

In the last few years, say five, two thing have happened. Home quilters have learned the free motion quilting technique done with feed dogs on the machine down and a special see through foot. They first became adept at stippling which was a fill-in kind of meandering line and then at various other kinds of free motion quilting. At the same time they started using lots of special threads, variated or metalic which gave an additional interest to the surface of the quilt. I am not an historian but it seems to me that Carol Bryer Fallert was one of the first well known quilters to popularized this method. In Carol's art quilts the quilting adds surface interest and beauty to her designs.

This kind of dense quilting has almost become de rigour in all kinds of quilts. It has been adopted by traditional quilters as wel as traditiona-comtemporary quilters. Sometimes the result is a quilt that has become so stiff it can almost stand alone. This is excellent for wall quilts which are best stiff and hanging straight. But it totally destroys the soft coziness ofr bed quilts. And very often the close stitching, whether stipples, or whatever designs, overlays an interesting not twist on a traditioina l pattern but detracts rather than adds to the pattern itself.

The second innovation in the quilt world of late is the long arm quilting machine. The people who purchase this expensive mechanism very often pay for their investment by doing custom quilting for those who can pay to "send their quilts out". In this case the quilting is usually very dense and whether or not it's appropriate for the quilt depends on both the quilter's insistance and the long arm-quilter's adaptablity and skill. More and more people are having others quilt their quilts since we are in an economic upswing just now.

Thus nearly all the quilts I saw today were densely quilted. Sometimes this added to the beautfy of the quilt and sometiems it was simply there like a too fussy dress on a woman who might look elegant in something simpler. Both these developements are farily new and I am aware at shows like this that my eye is being trained/accustomed to the "new look." Just as I used to get accustomed every year or two to a different skirt length. Our eyes do adjust and that which is not the current standard starts to look weird, dowdy, old fashioned. Just as mini skirts were a disaster on fat-kneed women and those with thunder thighs, so intense, all over quiilting is disturbing on various quilts.

Quilting women have always been early adapters [they used sewing machines for piecing as early as they could get them[ and they have also been copy cats and insecure about their own tastes. Most quilters do not have the self-consciousness of people who have had formal art traiining, they have not been told to think for themselves at eachs step of a quilt's consctruction. Instead they feed their insecurity by taking classes where ever/whenever they can and so are fed the latest styles and cliches both in construction and surface quilting.

I must admit I am thinking about this because I recognize my own "Me-too"ness. I cannot real do free motion quilting on my old machine; I need to sew basicaally straight, or at best wavy, lines. I cannot stipple and do fancy all over designs. It's probably lots of fun ... I keep considering purchasing a new sewing machine Then I think: for $5000 or so I can take a fabulous trip to ... [a lot of places I swAnt to go] For now, I'd rather travel and meanwhile if I'm stuck with being a very out-of-it quilter, so be it.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Quilts All Over the World

It's time to write some more about quilts and textiles. I've been reading a new Quilters Newsletter Magazine which mentions a quilt show in Khazakistan. And I notice there and in a French quilt magazine i recently bought that a quilt show is going to be held in Czech Republic next month. Some months ago in Artful Quilter's Ring, Jenny Bowker who writes "Notes from Cairo" [where her husband is an Australian diplomat] mentioned she helped mount a quilt show in Libya. Wow! All over the world quilts are being seen. We know about the fabulous, in fact, amazing, flowering of quilting in Japan.

In the Empire Quilter's Guild we have a wonderful variety of nationalities -- but that should be expected in a place like NYC with people from every part of the globe living here. Off hand I think of two Russian women, a couple of Swedes, a couple French, a woman from Indonesia, several of Chinese background, a Peruvian, and others from Eastern Europe whose countries I don't know. Still, with quilts recognized in many parts off the world as fascinating art work, the snobbish, insular and, yes, somewhat provincial New York art world is utterly uninterested.

Not a quilt, but an appliqued and embroidered work of great intricacy and size is a Buddhist banner being made by what is called The Mongolian Queens Club. On the back of the flyer of which I show the front, it is described as "80 elbows length." I've been wondering if that is from wrist to elbow or finger tips to elbow. At any rate, a very large textile work with the astonishing complexity of traditional Tibettan Buddhist art -- remember Buddhism was brought to Mongolia by Grushi Khan, the grandson of Ghengis. It was Grushi who invited the high lama from Lhasa to his court to teach his sons [he had quite a few wives and quite a few sons] religion and that high lama, when he returned to Lhasa, became the Dalai Lama, the politically most important lama in Tibet.