Posts Tagged ‘culture’

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

― William Wilberforce

Night Lines graphite on paper 8x10

Night Lines
graphite on paper
8×10….

…Back-tracking ….an aside that is part of the story…….

Beatrice was my grandmother’s housekeeper/maid. Beatrice cleaned house, washed clothes, helped cook and care for my grandmothers 9 children. Beatrice only had the one daughter, LiliMae, born about the same time as my aunt (circa 1924). Beatrice would bring her to work with her six days a week until she was old enough to attend school. Hence, LiliMae and my aunt grew up together.

I do not think LiliMae went very far in school for as Beatrice became too old to continue with the heavy daily work, LiliMae took over and when my grandmother died, she stayed on and worked for my aunt and other members of the family including my own.

The family took good care of Beatrice and continued her salary until the day she died and then paid not only for her funeral and burial but that of her husbands as well. LiliMae stayed in the run down rented shotgun home of her mothers, married a good and kind man and continued working six days a week. My aunt and Uncle took care of all her extra needs whatever they might be. This was all quite normal in New Orleans where slavery was still alive and well just hidden under the veneer of social correctness.

LiliMae, being 1 or 2 years older/younger than my aunt (I never knew for sure) was in her late 70’s when I arrived on the scene in New Orleans. Still working for my aunt but only every so often as she was quite frail and arthritic from all the years of hard work. LiliMae’s husband had long since departed and my aunt was “taking care” of her in the sense that she would take her to the grocery or just go buy groceries for her or to the doctor if LiliMae could not go by herself, and of course as tradition demanded, she continued her weekly salary.

With my arrival and the fact that my aunt was now getting a regular month stipend and had more opportunities to go out and spend her money in the social circles, she turned the care and feeding of LiliMae over to me, proclaiming in the classic southern princess tradition, that she “just couldn’t take it any more”.

Yes, LiliMae was a bit of a pain, a 4-foot 3-inch scrawny whirlwind of a woman, an incessant talker and complainer, she reminded me of my maternal grandmother, but I always had a tender spot in my heart for her and her plight in life and her ability to continue despite any and all obstacles thrown at her.

So once a week I went to see LiliMae. Now this was a very big thing for her and when I arrived she would come out of the house, before she would let me come in, and loudly make sure the entire neighborhood knew who I was and what I doing there and the fact that I (“a white girl”) was taking care of her “black ass” as she use to say. This would continue on for several months until LiliMae’s knees gave out and the doctor suggested a knee replacement. Medicare took care of most of the cost and my aunt (or rather Nan) paid the rest. The recovery was slow and so home health care was needed. But something else was going on and it was two months later when the second of the home health care agencies quit because LiliMae was beginning to prove to be “too difficult to handle”, that I realized there was a serious problem. I took her to another doctor and after some test she was diagnosed with bi-polar dementia. I managed to find another agency to help out and make sure that LiliMae was taking all the correct medications, to do her exercises so she could get out of the wheelchair, but it was becoming a downhill battle.

Of course I kept my aunt informed of everything that was going on except the fact that before her surgery, she had me take her to the bank one day and added my name to her account in case of an emergency. She said I was the only person she could trust not to steal her money. LiliMae knew my aunt larcenous heart very well and I could not, in good faith, tell her of this occurrence. Over the years LiliMae had managed to set aside over $20,000 from her salary and gifts and whatever, and she was afraid my aunt would take it all back.

A year passed and by this time my sister had her hooks deep into my aunt and along with my first cousin Nora they decided that LiliMae was a “family” concern and that “thank you very much” but she would take over now, and boom!, that was that. My relationship with my aunt was strained at best at this point and with my hands being tied and no voice in the matter, I stepped back.

One month later they, the family, put LiliMae into a State-run nursing home. My aunt being the closest thing to a living relative signed the papers and walked away. Within a week my aunt had made arrangements for all of LiliMaes possessions to be sold at auction. I do not know what she did with the funds.

No one asked me about anything, so I waited out of curiosity to see what was going to happen. Two weeks passed and my aunt called me saying, “The nursing home wanted to “talk to you”. When I asked about what she responded, “I have no idea”. I knew she was lying through her teeth as she always did when she did not want to face anything difficult. So my aunt and I went to the nursing home and we discussed the financials, I explained the situation and said of course I would turn over the account to the state for her care. My aunt never said another word except “well that’s taken care of”.

I would visit LiliMae once a week until she no longer recognized me; the home had put her in bindings to keep her from hurting herself, she was heavily medicated, and she would nonsensically rant to anyone who was close. My aunt never mentioned her name again; it was like she never existed.

LiliMae died of a heart attack about a month after I stopped coming to see her, I received a note from the Home saying they wanted me to know since I was the only one who ever visited her and that she would be buried next to her husband.

I laid a flowers on her grave and there was, like most things those days, a sad finality to it all, and perhaps I was the only person who shed a tear.

 

“Yes, the wind came up–” Mrs. Sharpe began. She paused. “And changed us all,” Petra said softly.” ― Blue Balliett, The Calder Game

Eyes Wide Shut, graphite on paper, A4 (8x10)

Eyes Wide Shut, graphite on paper, A4 (8×10)2015 —

The story Continues….

In my 3 decades as a professional artist, I learned that no one survives on talent alone. It takes sponsors with connections, galleries with connections, and other artist willing to bring you along with them up the ladder, and most importantly it’s all about timing.

I knew nothing of these things in those early days as I was wrapped in the warmth, comfort and magic of the great grandfather mountains of Santa Fe, my illusions were undauntable, my addictions intense; because for me it was all about the paint. I jumped into that rich emulsifying pool of art and swam with the sharks never realizing that what I was painting was unique and would give way to a lifetime of exploration, adventures and more failures and rewards than I could even imagine.

Those first years I rode the western wind which allowed me to define what I would paint giving me my women in robes who took center stage and brought much acclaim as I participated in multiple shows dealing with women in art. My landscapes of Stairs and Awnings brought my first exclusive contact with a gallery. Everything clicked; I was in the right place at the right time with the right stuff. I became a member of a very small group of 5 artists called the Multi-Cultural Artist Group and we painted large murals on the sides of many buildings in Santa Fe. The one on the old Records and Archives Building on Guadalupe St is now considered a local landmark. In addition I was elected to the Board of Directors of the Santa Fe Society of Artists. I began teaching on the side to mostly young and talented teens. My reputation was growing, and it was quietly said I had created a new genre.

Five years in Santa Fe and then we moved to Tijeras, New Mexico. By then I was represented by 2 galleries in Florida, one in Houston and a third small gallery in Albuquerque. My work was too different to be considered “New Mexican” and I rarely sold within the state. Aside from the galleries, I was getting into multiple competitions nationwide taking many awards.

Twelve years later as my work was continually growing and evolving with the times, the west wind changed course bringing a warm southernly breeze that entered the window one cold Thanksgiving and a seed was planted. It was watered by my love for the woman who was my aunt but whom I thought of as a mother, one who came to me and begged a favor.

When I could not say no, another path opened, this one darker. In my Pollyannaness, I did not know at that time it would require every ounce of my heart and soul, every fiber of my being in order to accomplish was was set before me, and to survive the battle to come. My husband would latter say that my whole life was leading up to this point, and was preparing me for the final confrontation with Capitán.

I would not pick up a paintbrush or a pencil for the next five years.

“We are all exactly where we are supposed to be, doing what we need to do at any point in time.” Unknown–

Paper Play 7 mixed media on paper A4 (8x10)

Paper Play 7
mixed media on paper
A4 (8×10)—

 

 

The story continues……….

If bridges were burning behind me, I did not notice, but the smoke did cloud my eyes for a while as I moved forward in life. Once the air cleared, everything was bright and new again, another door opening, leading me forward and my heart beat with anticipation as the plane landed on that cloudy and humid day.

New Orleans has such a unique pervasive smell. It envelopes one like a favorite old blanket in need of a good wash. Centuries of stale beer, urine, fried oysters, and mold have saturated every brick with an empyrean scent, one known only to those who were shaped from the muddy waters of this city’s embrace. Of course there was also the dampness that always hits you in the face, forcing you to breathe though a wet sponge soggily saying: Welcome Home. That is, if I was going to call some place home, this was as good a place as anywhere, better, because here there were open arms waiting to embrace.

Embrace is a mild word as my aunt and uncle consumed me with love and affection, and plans. I would live with them until I found a place, I needed a job, I needed to meet so and so, I needed clothes, “my god” my aunt said, “what are you wearing, you don’t own a stitch of decent rags!”

I found a wonderful one bedroom in an old Victorian and then I hit the pavement looking for work. My first cousin crawled out of the woodwork offering to help me find a job as she had an employment agency. I agreed even though I knew I would never meet her standards or that of her clients. She reminded me of her position, the favor she was extending and how difficult it might be for someone of my character. I smiled and continued looking on my own.

Fortune lead me to the doorstep of WSMB AM Radio and a position as a receptionist. This pleased my aunt immensely and was considered an acceptable position, since one of her sisters and a brother had worked in radio. The work was simple and I had the pleasure of meeting every big star that came into town.  It was a small station and overall only number three in the market but they had a stellar morning show that was entrenched in the number one slot for morning drive time. My cousin would call once a week with a job offer for me and I would say I have a job and she would say but this better; and I would say but it pays less, and she would but it’s what you should have. I would then politely thank her and hang up, shaking my head.

My life was going along quite nicely. In my spare time I was writing for my aunt again, and her talks, installations and speeches were gaining popularity within the social circles she traveled. My relationship with my aunt and uncle took on a deeper closeness that is difficult to explain. To say I was wrapped in the comfort of love, feeling protected, strong and secure would be an understatement.

Within 2 months, I was promoted to continuity at the station and a month after that I made a proposal that would change the course of my life.

The station had a problem slot: afternoon drive-time: 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm. They were last in the ratings and everything they tried failed.  I listened to all the noise, the talk, the discussions going around and one day I walked into the manager’s office and said, ” John, why don’t you put a woman on the air.”

He laughed and said. “That’s never been done, and who would you suggest?”

“Me”, I answered.

There was silence and then he said, “bring me a proposal and we shall see.”

I bravely said, OK! And as I walked out of the office I was shaking but smiling. Three days later I presented the who, what, why and the benefits of putting a woman on the air, mainly me, in a 10-page proposal. The station manager smiled and said. “We’ll let you know.”

Three weeks later I was called into the office and told that the only way they could put me on air was if I had a 3rd degree engineers license so I could work the “board”.  OK, I said and went out, got information, learned it, took the test and came back with an endorsed license in hand.

Within a week I was on the air and within a month the ratings rose to put us in 3rd place.  The station thought it would be better if there was a duo so there could be more repartee, and we went though 6 men who refused to play with me, only wanting to get rid of me and take over. Then Richard came along, 20 years my senior and a veteran in radio with that unique deep voice.  We were magic and a star show was born. Within weeks we were number one in the afternoon drive time and I became the first woman on-air in the city of New Orleans. My aunt was especially ecstatic since a lot of my conversations were about her eccentricity without ever mentioning her name, but all of her friends knew and her popularity soared along with mine.

However, I was not recognized for that accomplishment because our greatest competitor and the number 1 station in the city, decided to fight back by putting a woman on in the morning drive time slot and she became known as the first woman on-air and received all the publicity. Simply because the morning time was the highest earning sales time slot. That was fine with me, Richard and I held onto our number 1 position for the afternoon, I became a star and advertising for our show increased exponentially to make our show extremely profitable for the station. I was asked to MC numerous charity events and special events like the Summer Pops. No matter where I went, there was free food and drink, people knowing I would mention them on the air. I got to interview every big name star that came into town, and aside from Richard’s and my repartee, up to date music became our signature. No other station could touch us.

I rode this lovely train for over a year and then I received a phone call, out of the blue, that would set me on an unexpected path that I would follow for the rest of my life.

 

“ …and a new day will dawn, for those who stand long, and the trees will echo with laughter.” Led Zeppelin

Girl with Bird (2008) conte crayon on paper 22x24

Girl with Bird (2008)
conte crayon on paper 22×24—

 

The story continues……….

Funny how when I look back on my days in the Galapagos, I never realized at the time that I was the only woman running any kind of boating operation.  There were lots of women there doing wonderful things from scientist to photographers, shop owners to hotel managers (there really were 2 hotels!), it just all seemed natural.

So, there I was managing 2 boats and an all male crew of fifteen.  Actually I gained the respect of the captain and cook of both the boats and they in turn kept the unruly crew in line, I only had to intervene a few times.

Six months after my arrival construction began on “the road”.  Steps would be built down one side of Baltra Island and up the side of Santa Cruz Island; a small makeshift ferry would unite the two landings.  At the top of the stairs on Santa Cruz Island homemade “buses” would carry the tourist across the island down to the bay.  The road was poorly built to begin with, using red scoria as a base, which under the heavy rains would melt into pools of rusty-red giving the impression of a bleeding wound in the land.

Better material over time would be brought in, better busses enabling more traffic; and with more traffic came the first murder, the first rape, and the first outbreak of measles. A jail had to be built for the drunk and disorderly that the potential of tourist dollars attracted and at the same time little bars and restaurant sprouted up hoping for its share of new source of income.

Our business was booming, the company growing in fame and fortune, which made Capitán happy and kept him completely off my back, which made me happy. I went out with the one of the boats whenever I could but mostly my work became managerial with the exception of meeting each group of tourist as they arrived and getting them settled either on the boat at Baltra Island or bringing them across land to pick up the boat in Santa Cruz depending on their scheduled tour.  I fell into a routine that would vary only slightly from my morning meet with the milk truck from the highlands to afternoon coffee with the Port Captain who was the highest authority in the land.  Those afternoon coffees were most pleasant conversations on just about any topic. The Captain turned out to be a former math teacher of mine, I did not remember him, but he said he always remembered me as “La Dorada” (the golden one).  The nickname took and it was by that name I came to be known and respected.

Evenings were either spent at my house with a good book or with friends on one side of the island or another, good conversation, wine, food and laughter melted the nights.

Two wonderful years full marvelous adventures, some heart breaks, much joy, unique and fascinating people both natives and tourist from all walks of life filled my experience file and gave me great joy.! I felt I had finally found a home, a place where I could stay forever, a place where I was just one more different person among many strange and different people.

That was unfortunately an illusion.  Unbeknownst to me, the money Capitán was making off the two boats was being re-invested (with the help of a few associates) into the refurbishing of an old cargo ship into a cruise vessel that would enable him to carry 125 passengers at a time for one and two-week cruises. During the last trip into Guayaquil for a re-fit, I was invited to dinner with him and his new partners.  The people he would be working with on the new ship and the people to whom he had just sold the business along with the two smaller boats.  I was informed I could stay on with the new owners or join him and work on the larger cruise boat.  It would mean leaving the islands and living in Guayaquil. I told him I would give it some thought and let him know.

The new owner of the island business was an Englishman married to an islander. He was a fanatical re-born Jehovah Witness zealot who had harassed me every chance he could get on the islands for my manner of dress, mainly shorts.  Although his wife and I were friends, I could not tolerate this sanctimonious man and his died in the wool religions convictions.

The writing was on the proverbial wall and I certainly did not want to work on a large cruise ship.  Never liked the big boats, and I did not want to live in Guayaquil. So I searched around the island for alternatives and was offered a position at the Darwin Station, which I thought I might accept, until the nightmares began.

The first dream came and I saw myself lying in a coffin, peaceful, but there was terrible sense of foreboding and I was afraid.  In the second dream I saw myself standing next to the coffin looking down at myself and I was crying. Again, the same sense of foreboding and fear.  In the third dream, I was standing next to the second me with my arm around her shoulder, as we looked at the first me in the coffin. In the dream I told the second me, in a very sad but comforting voice: “It’s time to go now.”

I turned in my resignation the following week, contacted my aunt in New Orleans who screamed “yes!, yes! Come!” Within the month I was on a plane bound for Louisiana.

 

 

 

“Reality lies in the greatest enchantment you have ever experienced.”― Hugo von Hofmannsthal

Shadows, 2014, oil on canvas, 76x50 cm(30x20) -

Shadows, 2014, oil on canvas, 76×50 cm(30×20) –

The story continues…….

An overview:

The memories and smells of the Islands rise up and smack me in the face occasionally.  Triggered by some inconsequential, word, sight, smell, it would be as if I was there again in the moment, time traveling back to the land that was apart from time itself.

Anyone who has ever lived on an island knows the feeling, a core memory of belonging to the land, standing still in time as the rest of the world ceases to exist. The memory of Galapagos held no exotic scented flowers or wide white sand beaches, these “Enchanted Islands” as they were known held a course, barren, raw, base memory of salt, sweet rain, baking bread, stale beer, urine, coffee beans drying out on metal rooftops and the unforgettable odor of freshly slaughtered beef in the sun. A memory of ingenuity and strength enabling survival.

Since I was already a permanent resident of Ecuador, and an accredited “Guide”, getting my Colonist card and permission to live on the islands was a simple matter of tons of paperwork accomplished in a miracle of a week.   I took the next available plane out, a TAME airlines DC8 cargo plane delivering supplies to the Ecuadorian Navy who had a long-established base on Baltra Island, a former US base during WWII.  TAME also flew a passenger plane out one a week for tourist.

Baltra Island was nothing more than flat, barren rock with a large shack on the high ground that served as the airport with a runway that could handle jets. Down the high cliffs a large docking area was built for refueling purposes for the Navy and any other boats willing to pay the high price.  Only a few scattered trees struggled to survive on this arid rock amidst the debris of the US base.  The foundations of these remained, the wood having been carried away by local settlers over the years to build their own houses on Santa Cruz or San Cristobal Islands.  Baltra Pine it would be called.

One of the two company boats was anchored at the dock to pick me up and make the 6-hour journey back to Santa Cruz Island.  A 3-mile wide channel separated Baltra and Santa Cruz Islands; but at the time there was no available access from one island to another except by boat,  a 6-10 hour voyage from the Baltra dock, out to ocean, and back to the far end of Santa Cruz Island, safe harbor and town.

The company had also rented me a 2-room house constructed out of lava rock with a detached lavatory connected by a raised walkway.  The house itself was also raised as it was nestled in a grove of mangroves sporting a usable dock. However that dock was only useable at high tide when my house would become an island unto itself.

The first thing I did upon settling in was to remove my shoes.  I would only put them back on once a year when we took the boats back to Guayaquil for a re-fit.  My feet would quickly develop thick calluses enabling me to walk on any surface, including the sharp lava fields.

The mainland travel agency would arrange cruises and inform me what the tourist wanted to see and how many days (or weeks) via Ham radio. (I was HC2WG once I obtained my radio operators license). I would then plan the menu and the itinerary sending the list for both back to the agency.  The tourist would be informed of their itinerary and the ordered food would be shipped out for the cruise on the same plane as the tourist.  There was a cargo freighter that would visit the island once a month or so, bringing canned goods, beer, rice, any vegetable capable of surviving the 10-day trip., building materials, and anything else anyone could buy on the mainland and have shipped out.  We would also receive some basic supplies in this manner but it was costly.   It would take me 4 months of gentle coaxing before I was accepted by the locals thereby giving permission for me to buy locally grown fresh food (eggs, milk, green vegetables, tomatoes, cheese, potatoes, meat, fish, pork) reducing our operating costs.

I would not only be managing the operations/maintenance of the boats and its crew but also serve as guide until both boats were operating, as one boat was still undergoing renovation.

At the time “The Road” as it would come to be known, had not yet been built across the island (enabling a connection between Baltra and Santa Cruz), electricity ran for 4 hours a day, and fresh drinking water was collected from the roofs of individual houses during the rainy season and held in concrete tanks. There were no fresh water wells, even in the misty moisture laden highlands.   (Water filter though the ground and the porous rock to accumulate in  equally porous aquifers that would touched by the sea.)   The main piped water from the town well was brackish, good for toilets and cooking but not much else.  In the center of town near the docks was one bar, one bakery, the port captains office, a small and very dirty hospital with no doctor just a midwife/nurse (usually a doctor would come out every few months for a week), a church, a small tienda (store) selling everything from canned goods to miscellaneous supplies and used items for trade, and the homes of the islands inhabitants. The large bay of Santa Cruz would anchor many fishing boats, sail or powerboat available for hire by tourist to tour the islands and of course the never-ending flow of the traveling cruise yachts headed out across the pacific.  In the highlands where the soil was rich and the climate alluvial, farms flourished, run by immigrants that came from Europe in the late 1930’s.

At the far end of the island was the Darwin station situated in a large bay where the “Beagle” its scientific research boat anchored.  It was populated by a small staff and overrun most of the year with visiting scientist conducting one experiment or another. They had their own generator which enabled them to have what was known as “24 hour magic”.  My house was situated halfway between the center of town and the Station.

A small inlet separated one half of the island from the other, access to which was only by a row-boat, then climbing up rough-hewn steps cut from the lava rock.  This area was known as “the other side” and was inhabited by a fairly large population of German immigrant settlers. Of course from this side, town was also considered “the other side”.

There was only one sand and rock “road” (more like a wide path) that went from town to the highlands and from town out to the Darwin Station. There were a few vehicles on the island, but most belonged to the Darwin Station.

Everyone walked and everyone had a rowboat or speedboat, but most importantly everyone had a good sense of humor, which was key to survival.

Not everyone who came to the islands would stay, they would have difficulty adapting to the harsh conditions the islands imposed.   Only if you were willing to allow the islands to change you, to become enchanted, would the islands give back to you and like the ever evolving resident animals, you would learn to survive to the fullest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.” ― John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

Yellow Feather (2001), oil on canvas, 77x102 cm (30x40)

Yellow Feather (2001), oil on canvas, 77×102 cm (30×40) —

An aside to the story…….

On September 30, 2013,  a moment expanded. I was rushed to the emergency room, ashen colored, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing with pain in my lower lungs.  They thought it was a heart attack. They ran every test. They sent me home saying nothing was wrong probably just stress.

Four days later I was back in the emergency room, the pain increasing, the breathing more difficult.  They ran even more test.  They concluded I must have had a Copd flare, even though I did not have Copd.  They gave me a steroid inhaler and sent me home.

That was on a Monday, I went back to work and by Friday I could barely walk 10 feet without gasping for breath, by Sunday the pain was intense, I was panting continuously with every movement. The morning of Monday, October 9th I knew something was very, very, wrong and went back to the emergency room.

As they checked me in, my blood pressure dropped dramatically and my lungs started to collapse.  For the first time in my life I was frightened. Frightened because I did not know what was happening, only that people were swarming all over me, working to keep me alive.

Ten hours later, now stabilized, I was admitted to the acute care wing of the hospital.  There I stayed for the next 8 days.  It took another 6 weeks to recover.  I had pneumonia coupled with acute pleurisy. The pain in my lungs was caused by the air sacs collapsing; I was having trouble breathing because my lungs were filled with fluid.

The fact that I almost died gave me pause and I noticeably changed.

All of us are in a constant state of change. Every word, every action, every incident we experience changes us in some form or another.  We are not the person we were yesterday nor are we the person we will be tomorrow.  Seldom are we aware of what is transpiring so caught up we are in our own lives.

What triggered my change and my awareness was not so much that I almost died but because in the all time I was gone from work, off line, incommunicado, no one called or wrote or e-mailed to see if I was OK or ask: where are you?  Of all the people I know, of all those I communicate generally by e-mail or online daily, no one in that week, or the next, questioned my silence.

When I did go online to Facebook, before I updated my status, I saw there was one message waiting for me from a friend I had never met in France, asking how are you, where are you? I stood corrected, there was one person who cared. It made me smile. It also made me aware how very insignificant my life had become to others. How very shallow all our lives had become.

So I laughed, and I laughed, I shook my head, and said to the universe: thank you for that extended moment in time, thank you for the awareness, now lets get to work on what is really important.

Not sure what that is but I know the others out there are no longer very important to me, what I do from this point forward is focused on what is good for me and improving my quality of life so that when the important stuff does come sometime before I die, I will be ready.

You may think that is selfish. Perhaps it is, perhaps for the very first time in my life I care more about me than other people.  Unheard of for an Aquarian! Perhaps it will only last for a short while, perhaps forever but my light is shinning so very bright right now it’s almost blinding.

Whatever I am moving towards I travel slowly, steadily, quietly with a smile caught in a new extended moment of time filled with joy.

That is not too shabby.

 

On Letting Go

Posted: November 25, 2013 in journal, Women, Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

“We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell —

Portals- (2013) -oil on canvas-77x61 cm  (30x24) --

Portals- (2013) oil on canvas- 77×61 cm (30×24) —

An aside to the story.

 

“Get over it!” “Move on” I tell myself, but it doesn’t go away, it hangs over me like a little cloud.   Six years now and one would think I would have just accepted it all and moved on, but deep in my stubborn brain I have not!

In 2007 the economy was starting to collapse, we were in Florida at the time.  The real estate bubble kept getting bigger and bigger and I could see it all crumpling around the edges.  I wondered why no one else could ……

My galleries were closing, grants dried up, classes got smaller so we packed our bags and went back to New Mexico. I built my beautiful studio, I went looking for students, I went looking for teaching positions, I went looking and found brick walls.   To this day the brick walls are still severely in place, and the economy has not recovered.  At this point I no longer believe it will and that this is a new reality.

Wallowing in turmoil and unable to completely comprehend and accept that everything I had worked for and planned was gone, that I had been reduced to a mere piece of meat in the retail industry, that for all my talents, ability, skills, experience, I had nothing that was considered of value, consequently, I found it difficult to see anything positive.

It lead me to the conclusion that what I was going though is a variation of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

All my life if there was a crack I could find a way though it; if there was the traditional lemon, I would make gallons of lemonade; if there was dark I would find light; if something needed changing I would change it for the betterment of all…….

I do believe that it is not so much the fact that the world has changed, the world is always in a state of change; but that I was not allowed to change with it, that I was left behind without that crack in the fabric, without the lemon and only the dark; begetting anger and pride, which became my stumbling blocks to any real recovery.

People I knew backed away from me unable to deal with my frustration, responding in silence to my cries of woe.  My husband says I had such an extraordinary life that no one can relate to it and that they never will, they cannot comprehend the driving force that make me continue, they cannot accept the current failure.

Slowly in spite of the syndrome, acceptance is taking place. More importantly understanding comes into play.  Learning to face each day with joy is now a reality.  I paint now only for me, when the mood strikes. The need grows less with each passing year.  Looking at everything I have done with new eyes, I take pieces of the old, meld them with new elements creating an image of who I am today.  The paintings are just as strange and different as my life has been; they have become my therapy, showing me the way out. One day they will all be consumed by the great bonfire, a sacrifice to the gods for a life well lived.

This Thanksgiving, I am more grateful than ever, my eyes are opened, my head is clear.  Grateful for a beautiful studio, grateful for the job I do have, grateful we can pay our bills and put food on the table, grateful that I have had the life I had, that I could accomplish so much in so little time.

I have been carrying this rock for a long time now, slowly I now let it go and watch it roll down the hill, disappearing into a deep crevasse.

One stone does remain: my stubbornness;  for I still hold onto the belief that somewhere out in that brave new world, somehow, there is a bit left for me to do……

And so the story will continue…..

 

 

We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in their place.

Daniel J. Boorstin —

Kachina Dream,2013, oil on canvas, 35x50 cm (14x20)

Kachina Dream,2013, oil on canvas, 35×50 cm (14×20) —

 

An aside to the story……

Capitán’s eldest sister and the first-born, was named Eleanor after her mother.  She went by the nickname Noni but behind her back was called “the war department”, for her iron fisted, unrelenting rule over not only her parents but also all her siblings.  A milky skinned redhead, her thinking was completely linear, a progressional,  pre-determined path to personal and societal success, there were no deviations, and no obstacles she could not overcome to achieve her goals. She was beautiful, graceful, intelligent, cruel, selfish, and very determined.

Patricia Roberta was Capitán’s youngest sister, and although he was the last of his siblings, Patty was the last girl, only 11 months his senior. A green-eyed brunette she stood in the shadow of her successful elder sister and watched with admiration and jealously.  Unlike Noni, Patty’s thinking was complete circular and it revolved around herself.  Spoiled and petulant she obtained whatever she wanted by whatever means necessary.  She considered herself to be quite special, and in many ways she was, but her values were shallow, based on what she thought society required of her, her personal needs superficial and her innate view on life was that it owed her more than she got.

Noni was very good at setting and achieving goals; Patty was very good at making other people tend her needs and make her happy. Noni allowed Patty to hang at the edges of her success and Patty never forgave her for the cruelty.

Noni choose carefully and married into an established local Irish dynasty. She gave birth to 4 children. Patty married the man she fell in love with, contracted a debilitating internal virus at a young age and was left barren.  Her greatest desire to be a mother would go unfulfilled and her sister would remind her of this failing for the rest of their days.

While Noni never had a kind word for anyone, Patty had a heart that was too big compensating for the great emotional need for a child; and it was that emotional need that softened her edges giving her an almost irresistible sheen, allowing her to move with ease at the mid to upper levels of New Orleans society.

When I was born Patty bonded with me like no other, and I must have reciprocated, because from that day forth, unbeknownst to me, she became my surrogate mother.  When my own mother had the 4th of her 6 children, Patty asked if she could adopt me, as my mother was capable of having many more children.  My mother was horrified at that thought and never forgave Patty.  Denied the one thing she wanted more than anything, Patty’s love for me grew exponentially over the years. Something I would not discover until much later in life.

Noni had a wealthy, powerful life, a full life, a rewarding life, and while her 3 sons succeeded in law, government and the arts, she would abuse and bully her only daughter into obedient submission, leaving her to grow into a fragile, bitter, narrow-minded, clueless, uneducated woman. My first cousin and one who would become the underlying sponge that soaked up the lies, the half-truths and innuendos, created by Capitán, spreading them as gospel.

I was in New Orleans when Noni was released from the hospital after a major heart attack at age 82.  None of her children, grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren had time to collect her from the hospital and bring her home.  Patty and I did. Physically weak, breathing shallowly, her fragile body seemed to disappear within her big four-poster antique canopy bed.  As I sat in a chair next to her listening to her breath, I could hear Patty down the hall on the phone making more arrangement with the maid, with a nurse and others when Noni reached for my hand and pulled me over.  “How could I have never known you were so kind?” she asked, “I am so very sorry.”   “Its OK, Noni, rest now.” I answered.  She died quietly 3 weeks later in that same bed.

With Noni’s death, Patty stepped with ease into the societal vacancy gaining the respect and admiration she craved.  In exchange for all she did for me over the years, I would help her go even further, by becoming her ghostwriter. She achieved great acclaim and fame if you will, for her talks, her committee installations, her prayers in multiple women’s groups and organizations throughout the city.  This would open the door to other latten talents and others would come to compose the tunes she heard in her head that would later be recorded by the Boston Pops.  Her world would grow, bloom, flower; her ego was now off the charts but her personality became child-like, loveable, generous, kind and those qualities made the superficial side of her seem insignificant.

A lovely side effect for me in this relationship was that Patty rarely bought anything off the rack.  All her clothes were classic in style, color and hand-made by her personal seamstress.  Worn only one season, she would give them away to charity each year making sure the charity knew exactly from whom the clothes came from; I received my yearly donation as well, and for about 25 years except for jeans and flannel shirts I never had to buy another stitch.

There is no lesson to this tale, no moral, no insight, just an observation, just a story to set things in perspective.  A family not unlike others who held grudges all their lives, who made people pay dearly for real or imagined offenses.   A family who lived and died by the drama they created, thereby giving their lives a reason for existence, meaning and purpose.  They lived two lives, their private ones which were “nobody business” and the public ones where “saving face” was paramount.  They were all unforgiving until the end, on their deathbeds, asking for forgiveness for a lifetime of cruelty.

I was not like them, never wanted to be like them, never truly understood them or their reasoning, never admired them, but I did find them amusing and I always loved them all in spite of their multiple failings.  All I ever asked of them was to be accepted and of course never was, except by Patty.

 

 

“I am sailing into the wind and the dark. But I am doing my best to keep my boat steady and my sails full. Arthur Ashe –

Collaborated Dyptich with Naomi Rebouf (top) acrylic on canvas- overall size  30 x 60 x 7 cm (12” x 24” x 3” )

Collaborated diptych with Naomi Rebouf (top) acrylic on canvas overall size 30 x 60 x 7 cm (12” x 24” x 3” )-

The story continues….

 

I have often wondered what  life would have been like if my parents or any family member actually cared enough to push me in a direction instead of just letting me drift and then condemning  the action.  When there was a dilemma I always wished there would be someone who would say “do this”, “try this” or better still “let me help you”, but alas that never came to pass and so I just went with the flow.

That flow led me to accept my sister’s invitation to come back to Ecuador for the holidays. Capitán had not interfered in my life for nearly two years now, busy with his new trophy wife and the potential of more children.  However, fate had other immediate plans and a rush translation project kept me working though the holidays.  It would not be until after my birthday in late January when I boarded a plane for Guayaquil and a 2-week holiday.

It was the rainy season and the invasion of “grillos” a cockroach/cricket hybrid, invaded the city by the millions. Most people had left or were in the process of leaving for the beach and clearer weather; my sister and her family were no exception.

Salinas was not the Miami Beach it is today, back then it was a quite beach town with a few high-rises, many good restaurants and open beach bars serving ceviche and good Pilsner beer. I was siting in one of those bars when I saw her sail into the bay.  My heart skipped a beat and a great longing rose in my soul.  She was a 65-foot ketch, painted white with a single blue stripe and cut the water like knife; I could feel her spirit from the shore.

It was love at first sight and I began to ask around.  Her owner was a retired ex-patriot Russian and the yacht had achieved a bit of fame, as she was the first ferro-concrete sailing vessel to be built in Ecuador and was in Salinas doing trial runs.  Rumor had it she was preparing for a maiden voyage across the Pacific and looking for crew.

Bedazzled, I could not help but stare longingly at the yacht as it sat at anchor and when I could stare no more, I had a friend motor me out and requested permission to come aboard.  Alexander Bell was the Russian Capitan’s name, whether that was real or not was unimportant.  A man in 60’s, this was his life’s dream; we sat and talked for two hours. I finally asked him if I could join the crew. He asked if I knew how to sail, I lied and said yes and I added, “I can cook under any conditions.”  “Then join us at 8am tomorrow”, he said, “and we will see.”

Now I know this may be hard to understand, how as a young girl, hardly ever having put a foot on a moving vessel let alone a sailboat that size, how I could succeed, but I knew what to do and when to do it.  The ship and I bonded that day, she told me everything I needed to know and when it should be done, voices in my head, feelings in my being, visions in my eyes. It was all very magical.

At day’s end we caught a grouper and I cooked, for desert I was given the job.  There would only be 3 of us plus the Captain: John a British engineer, myself and Charlen a coastal Indian marine carpenter who would take his turn at watch and finish some of the final touches on the woodwork as the voyage went along. We would sail for Panama in 2 days as a knockdown cruise.

Without a second thought, I packed my bags, moved on-board and the adventure began.

We sailed the evening of the second day and for the first time in my life I was truly terrified. On engine power only we motored thought the navigation channel to open ocean. There were only the channel lights and compass readings to guide, I had to rely on every available sense and trust Alex’s voice adjusting the course to compensate for antiquated maps.  My heart left my body several times as we slid along side what seemed to be a dark monster of a cargo container vessels before entering the open ocean.

It was only then the sound of other ships, foghorns, lights and moving ghost in the dark disappeared and the silence of the night overwhelmed. I sat at the wheel feeling I had conquered the world, reveling in this exhilarating feeling of slicing almost soundlessly though the swells at a steady 6 knots.  We followed the coast up to Panama for the next 7 days; went though the amazing Panama Canal and anchored at the Balboa Yacht Club on the Caribbean side.

The Yacht club itself was nothing more than a huge wooden building with a covered deck/bar restaurant/seating area, with a view to the entrance of the Canal.  A well-known landmark to boaters and cruising yachts from around the world.  A place where you could find line-handlers to help get your boat though the canal, mechanics, food, drink, showers and served as a port of entry to the country of Panama for many years.

We would anchor here for 3 months. Alex Bell returned to the US to obtain a new refrigeration unit as the one installed in Ecuador ceased to work.  John would be left in charge while he was gone and the new Briggs and Stratton engine would be given a complete overhaul, including the generator and a few other mechanics that acted up during the trip up the coast.  I flew back to the US, quit my job, quit my apartment lease and packed a travel bag of minimal items of clothing and necessities. The remaining clothes and nick-knacks went into two boxes and stored at my Sicilian grandmother’s attic in Galveston.

Three days after my arrival back in Houston I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket to Panama City and my grand adventure began.

 

“There are people who come into your life just to strengthen you so you can move on without them, they are supposed to be part of your memory, not your destiny.” Rashida Rowe 

Alternate Realities #4, 20012, graphite on paper, 46x56 cm(18x21)

Alternate Realities #4, 20012, graphite on paper, 46×56 cm(18×21)

The Story Continues……….

 

The two guardian angels my grandmother saw standing on either side of me, must have put their heads together and created a small miracle.  My first impression of the cold canyons of NYC did not encourage me nor make me to want to stay.

Somewhere here was my mother, but that thought was fleeting and I discarded it as quickly as it came.  So, there I was walking down, or maybe it was up the street, intent on finding a phone booth (quaint isn’t it now a days?) so I could locate the bus station, to see how far my $50.00 would take me when I heard a distant voice calling my name.  Not really sure I was hearing correctly I kept on walking and the voice became louder. I stopped, turned around to see a woman running towards me waving her hands and calling my name.

I just stood there not believing what I was seeing; it was my girlfriend from the high school in Houston.  She grabbed me and pulled me close, thousands of questions and I with few answers.  She was working in NYC and had just taken a 30 day leave of absence to go to Florida to care for her mother and I was coming with her, finito.

It was during the drive down to Florida the reality of my situation came to lay its arms around my mind and heart.  This was a rescue but not the answer, because the one thing I had not told her or even admitted to myself until this point, was that I was pregnant.

The house was on a sandy street near the water, the air warm, salty, moist, like breathing though a damp sponge.  It was your classic 50’s style Florida concrete house with an enclosed lanai, a palm tree in the front yard, lizards dashing everywhere you looked.

Her mother was in her late 60’s, had been ill and was in need of a little more care than her stout Baptist Missionary Church could offer.  She also collected dolls.  Entering the house was just a bit spooky.  The curtains drawn against the sun, light filtered in through cracks leaving bright streaks across the wood floor, dust mots floated in the light.  The entire living room, dinning room and part of the kitchen and lanai were covered with wall-to-wall glass cases filled with dolls from around the world and every century. Beautiful and eerie, it was a dedicated museum.  Larger dolls sat in small rocking chairs, or around little child sized tables dressed with tea sets.  There were dolls on rocking horses and dolls on small teeter-totters. And there was one special doll to whom I was introduced.

Her name was Querette, after the letter “Q” stamped on her porcelain head.  She was child sized and sat in a little rocking chair.  She had blond ringlets with ribbons and was dressed in traditional French fashion of the 20’s complete with little black patent leather shoes whose soles were scuffed.  It was the first thing I noticed and when I inquired why, my girlfriend laughed and said it was because sometimes Querette walked around at night.

I slept on the sofa in the lanai and the days passed quietly with restless nights, the house filled with the soft little voices of the dolls. However, my condition was now 7 months along and my friend and I sat down to discuss a plan of action.  I could not go back to New Orleans and I could not go to South America.  She was heading back to New York and her mother would not allow me to stay because of her religious beliefs; there was only one option remained.  I called Garry in Houston.

It was the last place I wanted to return to, but the only choice I had, so I packed my things and two days later took the bus to Houston.  Garry had sent me money for the bus fare, found me a place to stay to have the baby, arranged for a private adoption, found me an apartment, sold me a car, gave me my life back and a chance to start over.

I did manage to call New Orleans and quietly found out that Dino had indeed gone to California.  He thought I had abandoned him and was already involved with another. I told him everything and wished him well.  I also called my aunt who had suspected the truth and made me promise to call one a week and come back on holidays.

For the next year or so I would be surrounded by my first circle of friends; I would find a good job at an oil company translating seismic drilling reports from French to English; I would meet the man I would one day marry and that Christmas I would accept my sisters invitation to spend the holiday with her in Ecuador.

The wheel of fortune would spin once again.