Friday, May 31, 2013

Painting is amazing.

As some know, I took two drawing courses this past school year at the U of North Florida. (We senior citizens don't have to pay tuition, just parking, supplies, and lab fees.) I completed Drawing I and Drawing II.

Now this is very basic drawing, drawing what you see, perspective, value, line. Almost all the work was done in graphite or charcoal. We also worked  a little with black and white conte.

My first course was a real eye opener about drawing. I didn't feel that I was very good. But I learned a lot. That course was pen and ink, then graphite, and some color pencil. I learned about such things as contour drawing and blind contour drawing and one-point and two-point perspective.

My second course concentrated on value using charcoal. I did not enjoy working in charcoal until near the end of the course, when it finally dawned on me the value of working in charcoal, learning to recognize value. Then I began to enjoy using charcoal. I've used it a little since the second course ended.

In both courses, we had to produce a portfolio at the end of the course. This was a valuable experience. Showing a range of work, and seeing how your work looks, and receiving criticism from your classmates and instructor, is critically important. It was not something I expected to have to do when I signed up for the first course. It was an exciting experience. As an artist, you must be able to take criticism. It's a great way to learn.

Some of the students were amazing artists, although every single picture by every single artist had something that could be improved. And we all knew it.

Here's the thing. I enjoy drawing much more than I thought I would. I can stand in front of my easel for hours. I've been working mostly in pastels. I'm particularly drawn to oil pastels at the moment. I'm working with still lives and abstracts. I have so much to learn. I've barely scratched the surface. I can't wait to take more courses.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Before Sunrise, or pride preceedith a fall

[movie review: Before Sunrise]

For me to review a movie, it must have something special about it. It's not just entertaining. It must have a thematic element that goes beyond mere plot and entertainment. Now, it doesn't have to be deep. It doesn't have to be astoundingly brilliant. I really don't expect those elements from a movie. But it needs to have a subtext that I find intriguing. Before Sunrise has that element, and it's an interesting one, one that goes beyond those of most movies.

The concept is intriguing. Boy, who is on his last day in Europe, meets girl. They fall in love...or do they? He asks her to spend the rest of the day with him. Their love grows...or does it? At sunrise, he must go back to the states. What will happen? This is not a trivial matter? Well, I won't spoil the movie for you. But, the subtext, the struggle for the truth about love...well, I won't spoil it for you.

Now this is a movie for fan fiction. I'm telling you, Before Sunrise begs for fan fiction. Maybe I'll give it a try.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

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Google Reader Is Going Away

As probably the whole world knows by now, Google Reader is being discontinued in July 2013. I'm solving the problem, at least for now, by following my favorite blogs by email for those that offer the option. Some don't; all should.

I'm asking that all my followers, if you want to continue being notified of my posts, to please sign up to follow my blog by email. It'll add another email to your inbox, and multiply it by all the others you follow by email, your inbox will become much larger. That is the main drawback. But you will not have to rely on a third party to tell you what's going on.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I Love New Orleans, a city risen from the dead

This past weekend I visited my daughter who lives in New Orleans. It was the first time I'd been there since about one-month before the city was struck by Hurricane Katrina. I didn't know what to expect, although I'd heard the city was pretty much back to normal. What I found is much more than what I had expected. New Orleans is a city risen from the dead.

My daughter lives on Napoleon Avenue near the corner of St. Charles Avenue, in the Garden District. Napoleon is a wide street divided down the middle by a large green median. On either side the street is lined with huge Live Oaks that spread their limbs out over the street like sheltering arms. It was an overcast rainy day when I went for a walk along the street, which was perfect for the mood I was in. There is so much sensual material to deal with as you walk along that you don't know what to pay attention to first.

One thing you have to deal with is the broken sidewalks. The tree roots are so large and high that they've broken and lifted the six-foot-wide concrete sidewalks into an uneven surface, perhaps dangerous to some, although the joggers, of which there are many, don't seem to mind. These roots and jagged sidewalks add character that says Nature rules.

Opposite the trees along the sidewalk are the iron fences, many of them covered with white-flowering jasmine bushes that fill the air with their pungent odor. There are also brick or concrete walls dividing the street from the front yards of the two- and three-story Victorian mansions. You can't help but sneak a peek through the cracks in the walls at the gardens within. Most of the gardens are filled with flowering plants of all  types and colors. Patios and fountains also abound. And, as I looked at the mansions, I longed to sit on their large porches and balconies. I wanted to live in one of those houses. Here and there between the houses are the old school buildings and churches, such as Touro & Sophie B. Wright Synagogue & Charter School. I also came upon St. Elizabeth's Asylum, first built in 1865 and renovated several times. They are both huge buildings with lush green landscaping.

I passed the restaurant we had eaten at the night before, the Superior Seafood and Oyster Bar--New Orleans, with its triangular shaped gas lights projecting from the walls and the window seal flowering pots filled with white and purple Periwinkles. While I was there, a trolley rolled by on St. Charles Avenue.

Near the end of my stroll, I came to 1812 Napoleon Avenue, which made me think of  Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, commemorating Russia's defeat of Napoleon's army. I could hear the drums and violins and cellos and other instruments, and the fireworks exploding overhead. It was a fitting end to my journey: New Orleans has been victorious over Katrina. It is more alive now than ever.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Kindness of Strangers (2): Magic or Madness?

Late one afternoon, I received a phone call from my daughter. She had a flat tire and had pulled over on the side of the road, and would I come help her.

I drove to where she was, which was only two or three miles from my home. I parked my car in front of hers and opened the trunk of her car to remove the spare tire and the jack. I also found the triangular reflecting emergency stand I had bought at a yard-sale for a dollar, and set it up. I took out the tire, then I began trying to remove the jack, but it was wedged beneath a cross-over bar that held it in place. It was getting dark as I pulled, and tried twisting or lifting, the jack, but it would not come out from beneath the cross-over bar. It was stuck. A car pulled up behind me and red and blue lights started flashing. It was a police car, giving me some added protection. I returned to trying to remove the jack, getting more and more frustrated, feeling like a fool. My daughter and her friend stood off on the side of the road watching me, waiting.

A car pulled up beside me. In the near darkness I could see a man with a woman passenger. The man got out of the car and walked up and asked, "Can I help?" I said, "Well I can't get this jack out." He reached down, picked the jack up, and handed it to me. "Anything else I can help you with?" I managed to stammer a "How did you do that?" He didn't answer. I said, "No, that's it." He walked back to his car, got inside, and drove away as I stood there dumbly holding the jack in my hand.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Kindness of Strangers

I find it humbling that I have benefited from the kindness of strangers more than once. This story is one instance that is pretty amazing to me. It's rather mundane, I suppose. But to me it was a miracle.

My wife Susan and I were parked outside of a major chain home supply store. We'd just finished shopping. I couldn't get the car started. The ignition would not turn over. The battery was probably dead. A few rows of cars away, there was a group of men, construction workers, one of whom saw us in our dilemma. How he knew what this dilemma was, or that we were stuck, I do not know. He came walking over to us. He was Hispanic, who knows, maybe an illegal alien, I don't know. He didn't speak English as far as I could tell. He motioned for me to get out of the car, which I did. He got in the driver's seat and stared at the dashboard. He turned the ignition key part way and looked closely at the instrument panel. I'm not sure what he was looking at, although I imagine he was looking at something to do with the battery. After thirty seconds or so, he leaned closer to the dashboard and, as if now was the right moment, he turned the ignition key and the engine started running. He got out of the car and in broken English told me I needed a new battery. He walked back to his group of men while I stood there dumbfounded. I got back into the car and drove directly to an auto-supply store. I've often wondered if this man was a real person or an angel. All I know for sure is that he was kind to me and my wife for no reason at all.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Lawrence Durrell: Travel Writer Extraordinaire

I've been reading from The Lawrence Durrell Travel Reader, edited by Clint Willis. The book contains selections from several of Durrell's travel books. Durrell lived quite a while in the Greek islands just before and long after World War II. And he wrote about his experiences.

Besides being interesting stories in their own right, it's Durrell's power of description that amazes. He is one hell of a writer. I'm sharing with you a few of his magnificent descriptions. This is writing at its best.

This first quote is perhaps Durrell's philosophy of travel writing.

"It is here [in the landscape of a place] that the travel-writer stakes his claim, for writers each seem to have a personal landscape of the heart which beckons them."

The author is in a ship in a storm:

"Throttled down as far as she would go the HDML skidded along the surface of the sea with the waves breaking over her in a series of stabbing white concussions. We braced our feet firmly and listened to the dull whacking of the hull against the water, and the dismal sound of crockery being smashed in the galley. From this time forward we lived on all-fours, crouching like apes whenever we wished to move about the ship."


"The dawn came up as thick as glue; westward the sky had taken on the colour of oiled steel. The storm had passed over us, leaving behind it only a heavy sea propped up in an endless succession of watery slabs."

Here is a description of Kalymnos:

"Never has one seen anything like it--the harbour revolving slowly round one as one comes in. Plane after stiff cubistic plane of pure colour. The mind runs up and down the web of vocabulary looking for a word which will do justice to it. In vain."

Here is a description of Leros:

"The harbour is choked with sunk craft, and the little town has been very badly bombed. A miasmic gloom hangs over everything. God help those born here, one mutters, those who live here, and those who come here to die."

And Leros again:

"The evening comes down, smudged with rain, from a sky of dirty wool. We stand at the great bay window and watch the skirls and eddies roar into the landlocked harbour and dance like maniacs in the riggings of the caieques."

Finally, perhaps ironically, he writes about his years in Corcyra:

"How can these few hastily written words ever recreate more than a fraction of it?"

Yet that's what travel writers do, try to express the totality of their experience in a few words. Durrell comes close to doing so.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Travel: It's The Journey That Counts (Travel Story)

When I was in Europe back in 1971, I rode in a hovercraft across a body of water. It was a commuter hovercraft with maybe twenty passengers. I was completely focused on the experience. It was a thrill riding in this air/boat in the shiny glittering choppy surf. I felt as if I were the only passenger and that this ride was a special gift from Providence. And it probably was, because I've never forgotten it.

Here's the thing, though. I cannot remember where this body of water was, nor which country it was in. My inclinations say it was in England. But, I'm not sure. Did I cross the English Channel in it? I think not. Was I in Scotland or France, even Spain or Italy? I cannot remember. What I do remember is the excitement, the wonder, I felt at riding in that amazing craft.

I think this reflects the notion that it isn't the destination that matters--it's the journey. Where I was and where I was going then aren't important today. What is important is the experience and the memory of it.