Thursday, March 31, 2011

March 31, 2011 – Cesar Chávez

Back in college, I had the privilege of seeing Cesar Chávez speak. It’s a moment that, years later, remains with me. If ever I was in the presence of a saint, it was that moment. Today we celebrate Cesar Chávez Day in California. It’s a holiday that is now celebrated in eight states and destined to become a national holiday — deservedly so. The best way to celebrate is to learn more about Cesar Chávez’s life, his work and the non-violent, struggle for social justice.

¡Sí, se puede! Yes, we can!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March 30, 2011 — Please! Don’t call it Frisco

In October 1968 Sonny Gaspar sent a San Francisco postcard to his parents in Pinehurst, Mass. Somehow, this postcard ended up in one of my I’ll-use-this-for-an-art-project-someday piles. So here it is. Sonny didn’t have much to say. He was staying with his pal Tony Mendoza and could be reached care of the Plaza Hotel at 988 Howard Street. The hotel’s sounds swank, but I doubt it was. There is a new apartment building on Howard Street now. Three weeks after Sonny sent the postcard he said he would be off to Los Angeles. Did he go? Did he fall in love with our City and stay like so many of us have? Was he having a wild time in North Beach? The Haight? Had he let his grow long? We’ll never know. There is so much our imaginations could read into the card. The only thing Sonny was telling mom and dad was, “Please! Don’t call it Frisco.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 29, 2011 – Googly Eyes

I have had this little bag of googly eyes for a few years. I knew that I’d find something fun to do with them one of these days. Today is the day. Today is the Queen of Googly Eyes’ birthday. Of course I am talking about Amy Sedaris who has taught us that everything is better with googly eyes. It’s true. Happy Birthday Amy!

Monday, March 28, 2011

March 28, 2011 – Franciscan Manzanita

An important event happened today in American History in 1776. Invoking 1776 might make one assume I was referring to something that happened on the East Coast. But the event that happened on March 28, 1776, occurred right here in San Francisco when Juan Bautista de Anza decided where to built a fort we call the Presidio.

The Presidio was the oldest continuously operated military base in the United States when it was closed in 1995. Since then it has come under the management of the National Park system. While the Presidio played a major role in military preparedness and also in the response to the 1906 earthquake, it never really saw any serious conflict. That was until the Army left. Since then it has been a constant battle over the direction and change the Presidio would take. And being San Francisco, passions and tempers have been high. When I watch the news and see what risks people are going to around the world to overthrow dictators, my fellow San Franciscans screaming about the future of the Presidio seem particularly ridiculous. Public input is important, but a bit of perspective would also help.

When the Presidio became a park, my initial reaction was that it was not a pristine wilderness. And while not pristine, it is great how much restoration has taken place in the Presidio. It’s not the place de Anza visited 225 years ago, but it is a bit closer back to what it was. One of the best discoveries was some hidden, rare Franciscan Manzanita. It had not been seen growing in the wild since 1947. California has nearly 100 species of Manzanita (it’s a personal favorite) and many are endemic and have a very small range. Franciscan Manzanita’s original range was limited to our end of the Peninsula. You can see some in the Arboretum in Golden Gate Park. The location of the Franciscan Manzanita in the Presidio is a secret. The Army may be gone, but there are still some top secret spots.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

March 27, 2011 – Bears

A few years back, late one summer I was driving out of Sequoia National Park and saw Bear Crossing signs. And then there he was, a big old bear munching away by the side of the road. Not the most dramatic encounter, but I was exited nonetheless. It was the first time I ever saw a bear in the wild. All the trips to Yosemite, Yellowstone and other parks, and I had never seen one before. But for most of us, we live in places where bears are more likely found in place names then out in the woods. The Bear Valley Trail at Point Reyes is one of my favorite places. It’s been years since any bears have been seen in those parts.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

March 26, 2011 - Eschscholzia californica

At the corner of Oak and Steiner there is a small, overgrown patch of garden. It’s unkempt and currently full of very green grass. The other day I noticed a handful of California Poppies in bloom. Nothing more signifies spring in California than the arrival of our state flower. They start turning up everywhere this time of the year. On a good wet year like this, Antelope Valley is one of the best places for the full on fields of poppies experience. But closer by I always like to get out to Mount Diablo in the spring. The trick is to go around the mountain to Clayton and come in on the east side by Mitchell Canyon. From there it’s a long hike to the top if you like. There is no reason to climb if you don’t want to. The best parts are the meadows of poppies and wildflowers on that side of the state park. That is a hike that will take you into the world that inspired Arthur and Lucia Mathews. It’s California Poppies in a pre-subdivision California.

Friday, March 25, 2011

You Art What You Eat!

The saying is “You are what you eat.” In my case, I prefer to say, “You art what you eat.

Nearly one quarter of the 365 pieces are now done. As the 2011 Project progresses, I am beginning to notice patterns. One pattern is that I paint a lot of food I like. These are just some of the food-based pieces. And to be sure, there will be more.

March 25, 2011 – Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Today is the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. 146 people died in the flames or by jumping to their deaths to escape the flames. Most of the victims were young, immigrant women. The tragedy was worsened by inadequate fire safety and locked doors that prevented escape by many. The NY Times ran a good piece today with the history. There is plenty of information online. At an early age I knew this history, only due to a 12 year old’s fascination with books about disasters, manmade and natural. There is also an organization helping to memorialize the event called Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition.

Ironically the building itself was “fire proof” and survived the fire. It still stands in New York today. But the best memorial to those 146 lives lost may be the legacy of workplace safety laws and fire codes that protect us all today. The horror that happened 100 years ago helped energize the union movement and the growth of the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union. Even if we don’t work in a factory or have never belonged to a union, many of the protections we take for granted were fought for a century ago. And on this day, 146 lives were lost.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

March 24, 2011 – Road Maps

It’s no secret that I love cutting up old road maps. Maps are a staple in my art. Old ones are getting a bit hard to find. Sometimes I pass them up due to the price. I have seen old gas station road maps for $8 each at antique malls. Each map is in a plastic sleeve looking precious to justify the price. Some collectors are appalled the way I take to them with scissors and exacto knife. And I don’t pay $8. I go to the next booth down the row and often find the same maps in a stack for a dollar each.

I particularly like maps from the 1950’s and 1960’s. Those were the days when gas stations gave them away for free. It was a time when each oil company had it’s own series printed up. As I use them for collages I get a huge variety of different color palettes, fonts and graphics. In those days many an artist found work doing illustrations for maps. The more recent generic ones from AAA or Rand McNally are dull by comparison.

Today’s piece pays homage to the road map. In all its forms, it is disappearing to be replaced by the GPS and Internet. Just as dated are some of the logos and images of gas being pumped by smiling, uniformed attendants. The Sunoco logo takes me back to a time when my mother pulled the blue Ford Galaxy into the station and asked for, “Two dollar’s worth.” $2!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March 23, 2011 – Mango Pudding

The Richmond is a dangerous place. The Richmond? In San Francisco? Well, “dangerous” but not in the way you might think. It’s a nice walk through the Panhandle and into Golden Gate Park. If you duck behind the Conservatory of Flowers and follow the path you find yourself in The Richmond. A few blocks later and you’re on Clement Street. It’s the street where you can get a bag-o-dim-sum for under $5 and those good Chinese almond cookies for cheap. And of course the markets have some real bargains. Mango Pudding is my particular addiction. It’s such a simple mix and easy to make. It’s not quite jello and it is not quite pudding and it is perfect. The walk is just under three miles each way. Keep walking and you can eat all the dim sum and mango pudding you like.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

March 22, 2011 – The Mission

The Mission. In San Francisco it refers to the neighborhood but it cities and towns all over California and the Southwest, “The Mission” usually refers to the oldest church in town. We have one of course as well, in The Mission. Over the years I have visited most of them in California and many in between here and West Texas.

I have been to Carmel. It was resurrected from ruins and, while I am glad it was rebuilt, feels rather sterile and artificial. Nearby is Soledad. I went once and sadly, found adobe walls under tarps melting in a winter rain. Nearby is San Juan Bautista. It’s one of my favorites. I like the sense of years of continual usage and the historically preserved town. It remains a particular active church. A visit there inspired my Hometowns piece. One of my more significant works to date. I also love the ruins of the abandoned missions in New Mexico. They inspired another series of paintings. In New Mexico the Native Americans were far less welcoming of the Spanish missionaries.

Many of the missions have had towns grown around them like in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. But I really like the more isolated missions for a more “authentic” experience. La Purisma is another favorite down near Lompoc. It’s one of only two California missions managed as a state park. It was well restored as a WPA project back in the 1930s.

On Saturday I was at the Oakland Museum. They currently have a large show of art from Missions in the U.S. and Mexico. And while I appreciate the opportunity to see all those bloody, bloody saints and scenes of martyrdom (including noses being sliced off – ewww!), it is not the same as experiencing the work in the missions. The dust, the smell of candles and incense, the inconsistent lighting all seem the way it is meant to experience the statues and paintings.

Monday, March 21, 2011

March 21, 2011 – Melt

The recent winter blast of rain and snow has put the Sierra snow pack over the top. I know how good it is for all us of us in California to have that water dense, snow pack. But, what I am really excited about is the melt. Before San Francisco, I lived in a lot of wintery places. Waiting for the melt and for winter to end, seemed endless most every March. And just when you’d think spring had arrived, it was snowing again. It was gray days with crocuses poking through snow — herring waiting to run. Here in San Francisco, there is no such thing. But I wait for the melt in Yosemite. It’ll still be a while at that high elevation. There is nothing like the rush of water into Yosemite Valley during the melt. The first time I experienced it was back in May 2005. That started me painting moving water, something I had avoided beforehand. I have about six weeks to go, but I am already planning the trip.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 20, 2011 — Ghost Town

I have visited ruins all over Europe and throughout the Southwest U.S. But there is something different about ghost towns. Rhyolite (near Death Valley just over the Nevada State Line) and Bodie (on the edge of California north of Mono Lake) are my two favorites. I first visited Rhyolite over 10 years ago and have been going back every time I am nearby. I was just back in Rhyolite a month ago. I look and keep telling myself there is less and less of the old Cook Bank every time I go. The ruin is even fenced off for safety now. When I returned home, I compared old photos I took a few years ago and was able to confirm the ongoing decay.

The history surrounding ghost towns is something I find compelling. I attribute it to their stories of rapid expansion and near sudden demise. How so much could happen in a place and draw so many people in. How a town grew with a sense of permanency only to be abandoned a decade or so later. Perhaps it is because I live in one of those towns that started as a boom town. San Francisco has also survived its series of ups and downs and calamities. But our setting,on a beautiful, and conveniently located, bay has made us always stick around and, when necessary, rebuild.

Now I see another road trip to Bodie in my future.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

March 19, 2011 – Super Moon

It’s almost time for the super moon. The media hype has been, well, a little silly. But that is the nature of much media hype. They call every rainy day in California a “storm” nowadays. In New England when a normal foot of winter snow falls in Boston, the local news all but declares end times. This week it’s super moon. And considering some of the awful stuff happening in the world, let’s enjoy the distraction of the super moon and bask in the glow beaming down from the Mare Tranquillitatis.

I saw the moon last night when the sky had a chance to clear. Yes, it was big and bright. This evening it’s cold and wet. The heat is cranking and I am staying in. But I know you’re up there, Super Moon, hiding behind the clouds.

Friday, March 18, 2011

March 18, 2011 — Life without the Liner Notes

I often use my mixed media collages as a way of preserving lost or soon to be lost elements of our lives. In some ways all visual art captures and preserves a moment in time. And there are times when artists do it with a real intent of preservation. I certainly am not unique. Just a week ago I saw an exhibition of the work of Lauren DiCioccio (see my art blog for details). She does an amazing job of preserving day-to-day items in her art.

For today, the item I want to preserve is liner notes. Acquiring music by downloading has all but ended liner notes. Just a few albums have a PDF of notes (and it is not eally the same). Without the notes, and ability to speak Portuguese, I would have no idea what Cesaria Evora was singing about. Or for that matter, that she never wears shoes. Nor does Susana Baca. I’ve seen them both in concert — great experiences and definitely barefoot.

What is really missing without liner notes is the experience of listening to the album for the first time. The ritualistic unwrapping of the CD or record; the first playing, the sitting down or lying on a floor; and reading and looking at the liner notes. It’s a cultural pairing that we’ve lost. Listening to an album for the first time by hitting play on the computer is not the same.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March 17, 2011 – Evacuation Day

Today is a holiday. It’s Evacuation Day. Some students, and public workers in Boston as well as other parts of The Commonwealth (as in Commonwealth of Massachusetts) have the day off. Now, it can only be a coincidence that a public holiday falls on St. Patrick’s Day. in a state, where at one time, it seemed you had to be Irish to get a state job. Evacuation Day celebrates the British evacuating Boston on March 17, 1776. George Washington’s troops had managed to drag canons from Fort Ticonderoga across the Berkshires and across Massachusetts. They had surrounded the city and were ready to begin shelling. The British chose to pack up and pull the fleet out.

I always celebrate Evacuation Day, as it was on this day, 21 years ago, I left Cambridge and moved out to San Francisco. As I fled, er, I mean went, to Logan Airport there was the sound of artillery fire in the distance. It was for a reenactment, but it did lead to a sense of drama for the exciting day. The next morning I woke on the floor of an Oak Street flat. I opened the window, smelled the spring air infused with eucalyptus. I looked out the window and saw a group of people doing tai chi in The Panhandle. It’s been home ever since…

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March 16, 2011 – Working in the studio

The photographer David Wilson has been documenting the process. Today he came to the studio as I finished the 75th piece all about Kelp. I also hung more of the 4x4 canvases and rearranged the test install.

Each piece is signed and dated on the back. The title serves as the date.

March 16, 2011 – Kelp

Kelp seems to be the word of the day. It is the best, natural source of potassium iodide, which can inhibit radiation reaching the thyroid gland. The capsules have flown off the shelves. I got some kelp snacks, just in case the worst happens in Japan and we get an even bigger dose. It all is taking me back 25 years ago when I lived in Switzerland. It was during Chernobyl as radiation spread in pockets around Europe. It’s the same old misinformation and disinformation campaign. Alas, not all retro experiences are good ones.

As for kelp, let’s keep it beautiful. While I have never been diving, I have been to the Monterey Aquarium a bunch of times and I do love the kelp forest. A folder full of photos of the big tank and, at last a painting. It makes me want to take a little road trip down the coast.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 15, 2011 — Loteria

As a California artist, I don’t think I could do this project without including Mexican loteria cards for a piece. It seems almost everyone uses them at some point. Many artists also make their own updated versions of loteria cards. I did a little of both with today’s piece. I have been attracted to the cards and using them in art for years. I am not even sure if artists in Mexico use and are influenced by the cards as much as we are in California. For some reason many of us in California and throughout the U.S. are drawn to these little cards and images. It’s one of those instances where one culture imports something from another culture and takes off with it. Not as big as Christmas in Japan, but it’s a start.

Monday, March 14, 2011

March 14, 2011 – Popular Mechanics

I don’t have memories of Popular Mechanics lying around the house. My dad read the New Yorker. We were a family that, when something was seriously broken, you didn’t fix it, you called people. I suppose I always knew the magazine existed, but I never really looked at Popular Mechanics until my thirties.

It was the vintage issues from the 1950’s that I had “discovered.” I have been using bits of Popular Mechanics in artwork ever since. The ads in the magazine are great. They predate the era of late night TV advertising and are pretty funny. You too can have that he-man voice! I love the do-it-yourself projects from an era when people actually did it yourself. I own an old, homemade end table that clearly was made form a plan in a magazine like Popular Mechanics. One of those things I picked up at a garage sale. I no longer use the table; it’s stored away. I need to find a fan of this genre of home furnishings and find a new home for the piece.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

March 13, 2011 – Uranus

Quiet, cool and blue, Uranus was just was mistaken for a distant until this day 230 years ago when it was “discovered” by Sir William Herschel while using a telescope in his garden. Uranus was named for the ancient god of the sky. In 189 the newly discovered element of uranium was named for Uranus. Astrologically speaking, Uranus is the planet of individuality and new and unconventional ideas (I like that). Its discovery coincided with the time of the American and French Revolutions.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

March 12, 2011 – Waiting for the Wave

Turning on the 11 o’clock news on Thursday night was a strange experience. Watching a tidal wave inundate the Japanese coast live was surreal. It was difficult to grasp that it was real and happening at the very moment. Cars zooming down the road while 5,000 miles away I sat on my couch watching water rushing towards them; water that the drivers probably couldn’t see.

The next morning we spent waiting for the tsunami waves to reach California. And while there was serious damage to some harbors, it almost doesn’t seem right to even mention it in light of what’s happened in Japan. For the most part, people along the coast in California really did heed the tsunami warnings. The images from Japan of the water rushing in will say with us a long time. One of these days, when we have our big, seismic event in California, I imagine the memories of what we watched on TV the other night will come right back to us. If you’re near the water after the earthquake, pick-up the broken knick-knacks later and just get to high ground — fast!

Friday, March 11, 2011

March 11, 2011 – Eclectic Music Day

It seems everyone likes to claim they have eclectic music tastes. Really? It is one thing to have a few types of genres you like to listen to, but that is not necessarily eclectic. Eclectic is gambling on the oddest things you could find on vinyl back in the old days in Cambridge. Music that was even too strange for college radio stations. Would you buy a boxed set Ukrainian opera in Filene’s basement? Something so awful they couldn’t even sell it at a department store in Kiev. The internet makes it all so much easier for those of us who truly appreciate the eclectic. What the neighbors must wonder at times.

If we were to have a holiday called Eclectic Music Day – today would be it. Today’s birthdays include Flaco Jiminez, Bobby McFerrin, Nina Hagen and Lawrence Welk. I won’t say I like I like Lawrence Welk – but I sometimes can’t resist getting sucked in while channel surfing and PBS is running the old shows. Parodies never can do it justice, it’s so, so wonderfully strange.

When I realized the mashup of today’s birthdays I just had a vision of Nina Hagen appearing on the Lawrence Welk Show. Nina Hagen, The Queen of Punk who won her crown when she played with herself back on live Austrian TV back in the 1970’s. What happened to the swivel chair she sat in? Is it in a museum somewhere?

Maybe Nina Hagen would have been booked on the Lawrence Welk Show accidentally. I always regret not going to her concert appearance back in Providence in the early 1980’s. It was legendary. The show sold out and was full of nice kids from Brown come to see “Nina” the German girl who sand about the Luftballoons. Ooops, wrong Nina.

So, do the day proud, and go listen to something eclectic.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

March 10, 2011 – Resources and Products

I spend a lot of time looking through and cutting up old maps. Even maps that are 40 or 50 years old can show a great deal of change. I have 40 year old road maps that show small towns that are now large suburban cities. For example, Walnut Creek, California was a small town on maps from the 1960’s. Then there are the small towns that have disappeared from many current maps. Small towns that were on maps because of a now disused railroad depot can be hard to find on a newer map. Comparing maps from different eras can be a history lesson.

Yesterday I was paging through an old atlas where each state also had a separate, black and white map titled Resources and Products. Those old-fashioned maps that had little symbols of miner’s pick axes, factories, corncobs, shoes, autos, etc. It harkens back to playing Game of the States and learning what was made in different places. In a modern atlas, I can’t imagine creating a map for each state to show what is manufactured in Massachusetts, Michigan, etc. As a country, the United States makes less and less.

It’s become a challenge to find locally made products, or even domestic ones, in the United States. It’s the same in many of the world’s wealthy nations. We have lost thousands of good paying, manufacturing jobs. We have cities and towns where moving away has been the only option to find work. The trade off is access to tons of cheap, imported consumer goods, often of dubious quality. Relatively speaking, stuff is cheap. We no longer repair things — we replace them. If it breaks, it goes to a landfill. The recent popularity of the television show Hoarders is something we might want worry about.

A few years ago I was running short of everyday glasses. They gradually break as you’re washing dishes, etc. I went to my neighborhood hardware store and bought a reasonably priced, decent quality set of new glasses for the kitchen. I opened the package and was surprised to see they were made in New Jersey. If we want to buy domestic products we’re going to have to look hard for them. The more of us who do, the more demand there will be. It could be like the way consumers drove up the demand for organic food. 20 years ago, organic produce was a challenge to find in many places. Today Walmart is the largest purveyor of organic food in the world. That is the same Walmart full of cheap, imported stuff.

People in China and India need those jobs making stuff (and they could keep quite busy making stuff for local markets). We need to start making stuff here again too. If we want to put those little symbols of products back on our map, we have to start seeking our products made in our own country.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

March 9, 2011 – Stir-Fry Nation

Jennifer Lee puts the melting pot metaphor to rest for the final time when she describes America as more of a stir-fry than a melting pot. She writes, “We are a stir-fry; our ingredients remain distinct, but our flavors blend together in a sauce shared by all.” It’s all in her book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. The book has two of my favorite topics — Cultural history and in particular the immigration experience. And it’s about Chinese food. I did love this book and learned even more things about the role of Chinese Food in our culture. I have to thank the library for recommending this one. Another great pick in their On The Same Page Series.

Ironically, just before picking up this book, I did a piece for the 2011 Project on fortune cookies and then one on chop suey. So today it is about the stir-fry.

You’ll note my stir-fry is in my trusty, old, cast iron frying pan. I used to have a wok, but that never made it out here from the East Coast. Space is at a premium in a San Francisco kitchen, and you can make a stir-fry without a wok. I am sure some purists would disagree. But that is what is so great about a stir-fry there are no set rules. The stir-fry does make a great metaphor for America, because pretty much anything goes in it. I was aghast when my Australian friend Alan once tossed in peanut butter (a trick I have since copied many times. My cousin Bekah is a good cook, but when I saw the smoked kielbasa going into the stir-fry, I had my doubts. We are both half Polish-American, but I was raised on much more traditional Polish cuisine. Bekah, having far less experience with Polish food, clearly had no issues with using smoked kielbasa in a stir-fry. Needless to say, it tasted great and I do the same thing all the time. The only question is what’s next? Could I put soy sauce and hot oil on pierogis instead of sour cream and call them Polish Potstickers?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

March 8, 2011 – MUNI Transfer

For some reason, I have saved a handful of old MUNI transfers. Not surprisingly, they are all from the 17th of some month. 17 is my favorite lucky number. Today I was mostly looking for all sorts of purple bits for a collage and this transfer popped out. Like my earlier Homage to a Fast Pass, public transportation related bits of ephemera should be preserved in some form. As ticketing becomes more high tech paper will completely disappear. The last time I flew, I even noticed iPhone posers using their screens to show their boarding pass. I just don’t need to be that cool (yet). In the meantime, a bit of hoarding of paper can lead to some more art.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March 7, 2011 – Nag Champa

All the technology in the world, and we still don’t have odorama for computers. If only you could scratch and sniff today’s piece through your computer screen.

Incense can be very polarizing — there are people who just hate it and then there are those who burn it all the time. Like so many things, the key word is moderation. Nag Champa is my perennial favorite. I also will always associate with my late friend Fred down in Joshua Tree.

I grew up with incense. Mom even sold it in her hippie shop back in Buffalo. Of course, I didn’t quite understand that the main purpose of incense, back then, was to cover the smell of marijuana. But I was pretty young when I got the clue. We had tenants on the third floor who burned loads of incense. They made a big show of saying they burned the incense because my great grandmother cooked too much turnip. It was ridiculous. My great grandmother came over every Monday because my mom worked late. She would always be waiting for us when we got home from school and she also cooked dinner. After the incense incident, we had a lot of things like turnip and cabbage on Mondays. Grandma N wasn’t going to be told that her cooking was stinky.

As for nag champa — Last year, a friend had to go do some work at the studio of famous, local musician. I asked him, “What was it like?” He said, “The place “smelled like nag champa.”

Sunday, March 6, 2011

March 6, 2011 – Strawberry Tease

As soon as I was done painting, I ate my model. Posing deliciously for me, that strawberry had it coming. I love strawberries and buy them at the farmer’s market nearly every week. The California strawberries that get shipped around the country, particularly in the winter, may not taste all that great by the time they cross the country. The problem is they are not all that ripe when they head east. But here, they are local, picked a few days before in Gilroy or Watsonville and sent up to the City. But even our winter strawberries are teasing us. Tricking us to think it’s summer. They’re good, but nothing like the candy-like berries that will arrive in a few months when it warms up.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

March 5, 2011 – Rosa Luxemburg

I find it interesting to learn about people who were famous and considered very important during their lifetimes yet somehow have been nearly written out of history. They might have been artists, composers, writers or political leaders. Rosa Luxemburg is one of those “forgotten” historical figures. A century ago, she was one of the world’s most popular and influential political leaders.

When we read a list of the names of major 20th Century leaders, the list includes people like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mao, Churchill, Lenin, etc., Rosa Luxemburg most definitely should be included. In 2011 one probably needs to be a fairly serious scholar to be familiar with her legacy. Even all my lefty college professors never mentioned her. I first learned about Rosa Luxemburg from Margarethe von Trotta’s 1986 film.

During her lifetime, Rosa Luxemburg was big — very big. She attracted huge crowds wherever she spoke. I’ve often heard it repeated that she was as big as Lenin. She was a socialist thinker, militant anti-war activist and a major leader in worker’s revolutionary movements in Europe. After World War I, Rosa Luxemburg was assassinated in January 1919 in Berlin during the chaos of the attempted socialist revolution.

One could write a thesis (someone probably has) on why history has forgotten Rosa Luxemburg. And there is that line about history being written by the victors, but ultimately I feel Rosa Luxemburg has been disregarded because of her gender. No matter the ideology, we have a long way to go to recognize women as leaders equal to men.

In the post-Soviet world, many are quick to disregard any thinking with a hint of Marxism. I think it’s quite a mistake to throw out the red baby with the bathwater. There is a great deal to learn from history and about the state of the current world by reading philosophers like Luxemburg. Some of the things Rosa Luxemburg wrote a century ago are quite relevant today. Even a quick search online finds a quote of hers that could just as well be about Egypt or Libya today as it was about Europe a century ago:

The modern proletarian class does not carry out its struggle according to a plan set out in some book or theory; the modern workers' struggle is a part of history, a part of social progress, and in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight, we learn how we must fight.

Friday, March 4, 2011

March 4, 2011 – The Accordion is cool

Yes, the accordion is cool. If I had to pick my favorite instrument, the accordion wins. It’s an instrument that is exceedingly difficult to learn (oh to have the time). In less than two hundred years the accordion has spread and been incorporated into local music all over the world. As the accordion has traveled it has given birth to many musical genres from Forró in Brazil to Cumbia in Columbia to Norteño in Mexico. And of course, the happiest music of all, Polka!

The accordion is still often maligned in American culture. Years ago, it often was seen as the “ethnic” and working class instrument for immigrants. Generations later, many people who dismiss the accordion don’t even realize they are perpetuating bourgeois and anti-immigrant attitudes that linger in our culture. They need to step back and just listen. The accordion is the ultimate immigrant and has made a home for itself in all corners of the world.

Now mark those calendars, it’s less than six months to Accordion Festival in Cotati, California.

Two Months, Three Days

The pieces for the 2011 Project are starting to fill up my wall, 303 more to go.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

March 3, 2011 – Banana Seat

I had a different idea for a piece in mind for today. Then I came across this sample of naugahyde. Blue glitter naugahyde to be more specific. What sort of fabulous cow must have produced this stuff? I’ve been saving it for a future project for a few years. It’s a sentimental thing – my first bike had a blue glitter naugahyde banana seat. The bike is long gone. Even if the bike still sat in some basement on the East Coast, I’d have the good sense not to ride it anymore. I know some folks think that it’s hip and cool to ride old, little kid bikes. For me, it’s just kind of silly. As silly as if I tried to fit my size 13 feet into an old pair of size 7 keds. It’s not going to happen. But I do have to say, the first time around, the banana seat was cool.

March 2, 2011 - Olmec

Today we went to see the big giant heads at the de Young. When you think of the Olmec, it’s the first thing that comes to mind. And yes, a big giant head greets you as you enter the special exhibit. It’s grand, it’s imposing, and you could leave after that and feel quite satisfied with your museum outing. But there is so much more to the show. I may have painted a big Olmec face when I got home, but what I really wanted to do is learn to carve jadeite and make some ceremonial axe heads. The treasure trove of jadeite and serpentine carvings is amazing. All safely behind glass, but I’d love to be able to handle them. They just beg to be touched.

The exhibit is another example of why you need to see art in person when you have the opportunity. The books and photos just can’t convey the feeling you get when you see the work in person. I avoid the overused word exquisite. The work in this show well deserves to be called exquisite. If it were a new body of contemporary work, it would be fantastic in itself. At 3,000 years old, it’s rather amazing. When it comes to antiquities, an Olmec show is not going to draw the crowds that Roman, Greek or Egyptian work would, and it’s shame. From a pure artistic point of view, the Olmec accomplished things that wouldn’t be matched for thousands of years.

At the risk of sounding like a cheesy “History” Channel program, one really wonders what was going on down in Mexico 3,000 years ago. Where did the Olmec go or who came to them? There are so many different faces in the carving that you can’t help but see Asians, Polynesians, Africans and Europeans. Small figures that look at times like a fusion of the world’s cultures. There’s a pendant that looks Maori, ceramics that look Phoenician and I might have seen a small Buddha. Many of the pieces could be taken out of the context of the exhibit and then people could be asked to guess where they were from. The answers would literally be all over the map.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 1, 2011 – Yellowstone

Happy Birthday Yellowstone! It’s the world’s first national park, established in 1872. Of course it was there long before then, but I am so happy that it has been preserved for us all. Having just been to a few of California’s national parks last week, I can once again say, the National Park Service is one of the things America has really gotten right.

Sure it’s beautiful, but what really makes the place so special is the abundance of wildlife. There are not many places where you can wake up in a freezing cabin to the sound of a bison chatting with a Toyota just outside the window. Step outside and find fresh wolf tracks right outside your door. Something about sleeping on top of that caldera fills your head with weird dreams. If you stop a moment, you can just feel it percolating. So many places in the park are steaming and stinking. My immediate reaction when I first visit was primeval.

I’ve been to Yellowstone twice. It’s not the easiest place to get to. Far from any major airport and flying near to the park is quit costly. I actually think the most practical way to get there from San Francisco is simply to drive. It does take three days with plenty of stops along the way. Yellowstone is the perfect main course for a road trip