I have been wanting to see Louise Bourgeois’ massive bronze spiders at the remodeled San Francisco Modern Museum of Art, and finally got there this week. They were as wonderful as I expected, muscular, dynamic, fun.
The bonus was the Vija Celmins retrospective. Her work starts as representations of single objects (very moving, somehow, painted with love on gray backgrounds) and moves into meticulous graphite representations of the ocean, the desert floor, the night sky. All very tenderly, lovingly done.
Talking around the table about the mixed message of Thanksgiving–my discomfort with the often phony-feeling professions of gratitude, and of course, what we did and do to native populations. A friend suggested that there should be a Jewish holiday– if there isn’t one already–called “Misgiving.”
But someone asked me what sincere gratitude would sound like. I think something like this:
Perhaps the World Ends Here
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
Yesterday I listened as my favorite spiritual leader, Margaret Holub, struggled for words of consolation after the Pittsburg shooting. She said that words didn’t come quickly to her, and I reflected that anyone to whom words came in facile way after a such a rift in the social fabric would be a charlatan. That online meeting we were a part of was faltering, baffled.
It’s hard to get in touch with grief when the fabric that binds us is stretched so taut that random attacks against schoolchildren, worshipers, politicians who don’t agree with you becomes routine. After all, the unrelenting business of life goes on; you still have to floss your teeth, eat, be somewhere on time.
I think what consoles in these moments is touch, candlelight, song—the primitive ways we come together as human animals in a world that contains darkness beyond words. Taking an extra moment to hold those you love close.
So here’s a song by Aly Halpert:
And last night, thinking about what poem might help, I came up with this:
In New York I went to see an exhibit of drawings by Picasso, Klimt, and Schiele. Schiele, who died at 28, saw Klimt as a mentor, but took his erotic drawing further, I think. These certainly seemed like the best of the show to me. I wonder what it is that makes a line on paper come to life?
We’ve enjoyed Santiago a great deal, especially the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombiano where we went twice. The bottom floor is called “Chile before Chile” and as you walk in, you are greeted by these grand wooden grave markers at the end of a long hallway, some lit, some in shadow:
They are supposed to reflect the spirit of the departed, and provide a very eerie introduction to the pots and fabrics and other ancient artifacts.
We mostly went to the seaside town of Valparaiso because Neruda had lived there and his house is a museum we wanted to visit. But what captivated us more than the house was the incredible street art. Art on walls, on doorways, on steps on lampposts, just about anything that can be painted or collaged. Here is a gate made of bicycle parts:
The city is built on steep hills with ravines between them, and there are many concrete walls and concrete and stone sides of houses that lend themselves to large murals. To get a sense of the variety, look here.
Every time you turn a corner, there’s some new marvel. Here are a two of my favorites:
A skeletal sax player–on a house wall next to a barred window.
We took a trip to Northern Chile especially for a visit to Alpha Aldea Amateur Observatory site to see these stars. A completely different sky than the one I’ve seen all my life.
It was thrilling to see the mysterious constellations of the southern hemisphere, Scorpion with bright Antares at the head, Aquarius, the Magellanic Clouds, and the famed Alpha and Beta Centauri, which glitter near the horizon.
As we wandered through the Santiago airport, I was stuck by subtle differences. Of course, the lines, the security, the crowds were familiar, but I loved the box of confiscated objects by the security line—what do they do with them, I wonder? They already have filled one box and are working on the second.
I understand most of the stuff, scissors, Swiss Army knives, kitchen knives, the odd corkscrew or fork. But who travels with wire cutters, I wonder.
A book swap stand by the gate also caught my eye.
Very much like our little libraries on the street, only unfortunately without books when I walked by. I’ll certainly leave a book when we leave Chile. Also, though I’ve seen this once or twice before, they had a big children’s play area between gates—such a great idea.
El Calafate, a town in Argentine Patagonia, has the look of a frontier town, with buildings thrown up slapdash out of whatever scraps were at hand. The landscape itself is sere and twisted.
The gorse-like bush at the edge of the photo with the yellow flowers is called el calafate, and despite its thorns, its berries are picked for jam and liquor, makeup and whatever else the industrious population can think to make of them.
But as the natural wonders that surround the town have become an increasing tourist draw, it’s as if a Disney theme park had appeared next door, and hotels, restaurants and shops have instantly sprung up to accommodate trekkers, sightseers, and tourists of all sorts.