Saturday, October 29, 2005

Eighth Bulletin -- An Old Queen in a New Museum

On Thursday I went with a friend to check out San Francisco's newly re-opened de Young Museum -- I could quote miles of statistics about how many pounds of copper (950,000) were used to create the bizarrely wonderful perforated and embossed "skin" of the building, etc etc -- but on the other hand, I could just as well suggest visiting the de Young website for that information.

It was an outstanding experience. I am not a great museum goer (though most people imagine I must be -- "Oh you're an artist!" they say, "-- you probably ADORE going to museums!!" No, I don't. I detest going out in GENERAL. I would much rather stay home and sleep, eat, play computer games and pet cats) but this one was worth every moment spent there -- the building was as much an exhibit as any of the huge number of items inside it. The special exhibition currently on view is about Egypt's only female Pharaoh, HATSHEPSUT.

Now I imagine that all of you are just as clued in on the lady as I ... was NOT: for instance, I had no idea that she was styled as a KING, despite rather obviously being a woman. I can just imagine the grammatical nightmare posed by the information cards accompanying the exhibits! There were many uncomfortable compromises involving such constructions as: "The King sits on HER throne ... " etc (that's not an actual quote, just an example of the type of thing available). Nevertheless, it caused a powerful ripple of sympathy and what Doris Lessing calls "with-feeling" to imagine the weight of responisbility resting on the distant lady's narrow shoulders, being the one and only recorded female Pharaoh. She ruled 10 centuries after the pyramids were built (again, I'm only quoting something I read there three days ago, not verbatim) so she represents an odd hiccup in the system. After her death, her nephew Thutmose III did what he could to erase her cartouche (i.e. the hieroglyphic symbol representing her) from the inscriptions on statues, but he did not succeed, it seems, from erasing her from our knowledge.

How strange it is, then, to gaze upon that serene and smooth-skinned face, with its delicate eyebrows and false-beard and try to imagine the thoughts that animated its living owner. Ha -- and not in English of course! Nothing so simple. I can see speech bubbles in hieroglyphs ... incomprehensible thoughts ... the gulf of time almost too vast to contemplate and yet, and yet: she looks so contemporary, so much like you or I (give or take the decorative cobras and "simple three-wig hair-do")! There was, perhaps, an edge of politics in the choice of such an exhibit to open the de Young's new building to the public -- was I the only one who noticed a curious resemblance between the faint, cat-like smirk on Hatshepsut's carved representations and the almost identical one that typically adorns Hillary Clinton's face? Oh the first and only phemale Pharaoh! Yes.

There was much, much more to engross and distract our attention, but I will mention here only the wonderful vista, staring up from the entrance coutryard to the museum's main building. It is enclosed in such a way that, looking up, we see an elongated pentagonal shape which perfectly frames the sky -- the sky itself becomes an art-work, framed and ever-moving for our delectation! Breathtaking.

And -- a moment of only-in-Berkeley Zen: returning from the museum, I got off at BART's downtown Berkeley station and stopped at Andronico's to pick up a few groceries on my way home. At the checkout counter, the checkout clerk noticed the TINY sticker -- barely an inch square -- which announced that I had been a visitor at the de Young Hatshepsut exhibition -- and he stopped what he was doing to chat with me about it -- the CHECKOUT CLERK!! -- and said how much he was looking forward to visiting the museum himself, soon.

Ah, California.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


It's been over a week since we got to Berkeley and I've not posted a word coz ... I'm wholly preoccupied in pleasurable pursuits such as: cat-petting; eating; going for walks; eating; decorating porcelain bowls; eating; meeting with the director and cast of the Berkeley production of HARVEST; cat-petting; chatting over wine and great food with our friends and hosts, Laura & Kiran; inevitably, eating; cat-petting; meeting the team at the Centre for South Asian Studies over at the U, in preparation for the small art-exhibition they have kindly agreed to host in mid-November; cat-petting; going to San Francisco for a day trip to meet a cyber-buddy of EIGHT YEARS' ACQUAINTANCE for the FIRST TIME; walking around a little more; getting bitten by cat fleas; eating; sleeping.

Right -- and now that you're up-to-date with my affairs, I can get on with the serious business of posting a list of Premium Blonde Jokes:

Seven Degrees of Blondes
A married couple were asleep when the phone rang at 2 in the
morning. The wife (undoubtedly blonde), picked up the phone, listened a
moment and said, "How should I know, that's 200 miles from here!" and
hung up.

The husband said, "Who was that?"

The wife said, "I don't know, some woman wanting to know if the
coast is clear."
Two blondes are walking down the street. One notices a compact on
the sidewalk and leans down to pick it up. She opens it, looks in the
mirror and says, "Hmm, this person looks familiar."

The second blonde says, "Here, let me see!"

So the first blonde hands her the compact.

The second one looks in the mirror and says, "You dummy, it's

A blonde suspects her boyfriend of cheating on her, so she goes
out and  buys a gun. She goes to his apartment unexpectedly and when she
opens the door she finds him in the arms of a redhead.

Well, the blonde is really angry. She opens her purse to take out the gun, and as she
does so, she is overcome with grief. She takes the gun an puts it to her head.

The boyfriend yells, "No, honey, don't do it!!!"

The blonde replies, "Shut up, you're next!"
A blonde was bragging about her knowledge of state capitals. She
proudly says, "Go ahead, ask me, I know all of them."

A friend says, "OK, what's the capital of Wisconsin?"

The blonde replies, "Oh, that's easy: W."
What did the blonde ask her doctor when he told her she was

"Is it mine?"
Bambi, a blonde in her fourth year as a UCLA freshman, sat in her
US government class. The professor asked Bambi if she knew what Roe
vs. Wade was about.

Bambi pondered the question then finally said, "That was the
decision George Washington had to make before he crossed the Delaware."
Returning home from work, a blonde was shocked to find her house
ransacked and burglarized. She telephoned the police at once and
reported the crime.

The police dispatcher broadcast the call on the radio, and a K-9
unit, patrolling nearby was the first to respond. As the K-9 officer
approached the house with his dog on a leash, the blonde ran out
on the porch, shuddered at the sight of the cop and his dog, then sat
down on the steps.

Putting her face in her hands, she moaned, "I come home to find
all my possessions stolen. I call the police for help, and what do they
do? They send me a BLIND policeman!"
Ok. Now forward this to someone else who needs a laugh today!!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Sixth Bulletin (still in New Yawk)

Two days left before I hit the road again, time to publish another post. So here I am. Yes, I know -- my last post ended on a highly energetic note, but that's because I was at an outstanding computer-station at the home of friends in Long Island (translation: they have broadband and are upgraded as of the most recent twitch in the MicroSoft spectrum) and everything was working perfectly. By contrast, the computer I'm currently at doesn't like Blogger and doesn't so much as allow me to read "Comments" -- I only get to know who's said what when I go to Yahoo and read the incoming mail.(an aside to Amro: this is why I haven't answered!). So I've not been able to load pix from Vermont and was too discouraged thereby to write up my further adventures.

My stay in NYC has been excellent, meanwhile. Amongst various thrills: on Friday (7th Oct) my friends K & N came over to do a first reading of my current work-in-progress, a short play that is currently titled EVOLUTION. N is an artist -- a sculptor and potter -- and the same afternoon, I visited her studio at Hunter College and saw the piece she was exhibiting downstairs: it was composed of a large (forty?) collection of buckets and pitchers and containers arranged on the floor of a large room; inside the receptacles are objects wrapped in wire and drowned in water. It's like walking in on the scene of a renovation of some sort, where the work-men have left their equipment in water and then wandered away, perhaps for too long. Intriguing! And rather cool. I liked it.

Back at the flat, N had brought all the necessary items for making Sangria -- so we did -- and when K arrived, he had excellent snack material in the form of pita bread and spicy hummus -- so we nourished our bodies before diving into the reading. I thought it went VERY well -- I will not describe the play just yet because it's still in development -- but when I say it went well, what I mean is that we were able to get all the way through it without much pain or pausing.

I hadn't printed it out -- I've been working on it ever since I got to New York (well, it was a quarter-written before that -- I began it about six months ago and stopped after 10 pages) and only tapped out the final bits in the afternoon just before I left for Hunter College! So we read it straight out of the computer -- I was on my laptop, while K & N sat at this computer, the house computer, which is a desk-top -- and it wasn't too uncomfortable, I thought.

It's a great privilege to hear something out loud,in other voices. It immediately, for instance, establishes those bits of dialogue that sound quite normal on paper but are unintelligible in audio. My real concern was whether the concept was too slight to be worth writing about -- and it was good to be able to get someone else's opinion. K is a very good critic because he doesn't flinch from saying negative things (without being nasty) -- which is what I desperately needed at this stage. For N, this was the first time she was assisting with a reading. She offered interesting counterpoints. All in all: I believe it MAY be a worthwhile project, but it still has a distance to go(I would say it's about three-quarters done, now). I have an idea of how I can improve what's already here and as to whether it's worth further work well ... I'll do the work first and then decide!

On Sunday evening, I attended a performance of an excellent double-monologue called IN THE CONTINUUM. Written and performed by two women, Danai Gariri and Nikkole Salter, it was an exploration through multiple characters of the stories of two victims of HIV, at the moment that they realize they've been infected. As stories there was nothing we haven't already heard/read in the newspapers but as performances, they were OUTSTANDING.

Gariri played a respectable Zimbabwean woman, married and the mother of a seven-year-old boy and Nikkole plays a New York teenager still trying to claw her way out of the slums she grew up in. Each woman played several roles, as the main characters interacted with the other people in their lives. Each actress was so skilful in making the various transitions that one barely noticed that they were alone on-stage, with no visible interlocuters. At one point, Nikkole, playing the part of the mother of the infected girl, bouncing a newborn baby on her shoulder -- and the "baby" was only a bit of cloth that she patted and petted tenderly -- was able to intersperse the sound of the baby's whimpering cries with her own speech so expertly that the tiny form of the child bloomed to life in front of our wondering eyes. Like I said, outstanding.

And last night, I went out into the thin mist and rain to see WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT -- stop-action animation, in clay, by the incomparable Nick Parks. Recommendable to the max! Including the short-feature that precedes the main movie, starring the penguins from Pixar's MADAGASCAR ... I'm still snickering!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Fifth Bulletin ...

It'd probably be more honest if I referred to these posts as "bi-monthly statements" rather than bulletins, huh? I can't seem to scrape together the energy to write an account of recent events until long after they're over. For instance, my stay in Vermont was so full of activity that it seemed to me it would be INDECENT to post accounts immediately afterwards. A bit like the first time I encountered home video -- it was at the home of a friend's relatives, at a family gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving in Chicago, about 15 years ago -- and they kept filming the dinner in progress then watching the results on their monitor. It was surreal -- like being a flower watching its own time-lapse photography -- a recipe for terminal self-conscious.


So I'm now back in New York, currently at the home of friends in Long Island (alert readers of this blog will recognize that I was here some weeks ago too, attending the birthday party of the local grandchild ...) and looking back over the past few weeks. I have pictures to post too, but I'll do that later. I arrived in the city last week, on Friday from Boston, where I spent a night after arriving from Vermont.

The first two days/nights in NYC were taken up with helping (? not that I am ever of any practical assistance -- OBSERVING is probably the operative term) my friends K and A get ready for their departure to India. Believe me, I have received a massive education in how to be cool: they went about their packing, their preparation and departure as if they were merely sauntering out to do their laundry -- they were SO CALM AND COLLECTED. Whoa. K is Indian, A is Madagascaran (-ese? Don't know!) and they own a tasty little curio shop on 77th st between Amsterdam and Broadway -- it's a small shop with BIG atmosphere -- a bit like stepping through a portal straight into the sixties. The incense is REAL, if you see what I mean.

Now that they've left, I am knocking about in their apartment all on my own, and thrilled to have that luxury -- I've been maintaining a small column for Kai Friese's CITY LIMITS magazine, about being a hermit -- and the funny thing is, it's all true, what I write in the column: I REALLY ADORE being alone. Maybe it's because I so rarely am? Maybe it's because New York is a great city in which to be alone, because in an apartment -- unlike in space -- EVERYONE can hear you scream?* (*ref to the sub-title for the first ALIEN movie) Whatever. It's a great little apartment, on the upper west side, totally IMMERSED in eateries and little shops and a walking museum of PEOPLE -- whooooaaaaa -- what types, what amazements! Every person who walks past is a character of some sort -- even their DOGS are characters of some sort -- and the super-rich are in short supply: it's relatively ordinary people in the upper west-side -- with a strong accent on RELATIVELY.

Vermont, however was a whole other trip. I'm only going to offer high-lights here -- one of which, DEFINITELY, was the afternoon that E and I were on our own at home and the cow got loose. Now I have to pause the movie here to explain (a) that there is a big paddock -- by which I mean, about two acres of lush green, sloping land, bordered by conifers on the eastern boundary, and the driveway of the house along the western boundary. (b) The cow is a young brown creature, of the sort I would call a Jersey, but probably isn't (I did ask Suzanna, but have now forgotten what she said. I'm pretty sure it WASN'T a Jersey, but for some reason that's the name my brain supplies when it sees a short brown bovine), and has not yet been bred (hence -- for you city slickers who are inclined to say, "Oh? You mean cows are just like women?" And in case some of you are sneering, let me assure you, this remark is a QUOTE -- I have actually heard someone say this -- it has not yet started producing milk) but is currently on heat (c) she has a companion in the form of a young (and still quite small) steer -- he is rather interestingly vari-coloured and Steve has told me that he belongs to a rare local breed, with a dark stripe along his back.

There is a final point I need to add: I am afraid of bovines. This is a rather painful admission to make, since I normally reside in a country RENOWNED for the herds of holy bovines roaming the streets -- of course, this may well explain why I don't especially LIKE residing in that country ...

Right. Got that? E and I were alone on the farm, with a feisty young cow running around loose on the driveway, no doubt searching desperately for a hot date. The steer, as I hope all you slickers, city-bred or otherwise, will realize was useless in the hot-date department. In fact, I was the one who noticed that she had got loose because I heard the steer bellowing -- and when I went out to see what the matter was (at a discreet distance, of course, not wanting any intimate encounters) I saw that he was upset because the cow was out of the paddock, while he was still stuck behind the thin orange wire which delivers a mild electric shock to keep them both in.

To begin with E tried to run after the cow, while she scampered this way and that, with the goats in their pen watching GOGGLE-EYED, like annoying bystanders watching a road-side brawl. Chickens scattered underfoot. The dogs would have loved to get involved but fortunately, I had locked them up inside. At one point, E did manage to actually grab the cow's neck chain but she raced off with him hanging on, so he let her go -- there wasn't really all that much choice -- it was either that or to become like one of those cartoon figures, flying sideways in the air, alongside a bolting brown blur.

I am sure some of you have realized what was soon to happen: E informed me that the only way to get the cow back in the paddock was for ME -- white-knuckled-with-fear-of-bovines-ME -- to hold the steer in the barn, while he shooed the cow back behind the electric wire. We'd worry about how she got loose later -- for now the important thing was to get her back before the steer got loose and we had TWO large herbivores on the loose.

Well, I can tell you I was bellowing almost as loudly as the steer. E said I was making a ridiculous fuss and that there was NOTHING TO IT -- and of course he was right. First he shooed the steer (his name, btw, is SITTING BULL) into the hay barn and then he gave me a stick and said, "Just poke him on the nose and tell him to STAY IN THE BARN -- and don't be a goose!!!" YOW! YOW! YOW! This was my worst nightmare come to life*(*no it wasn't actually -- the worst nightmare involved huge BLACK BULLS chasing me around the universe -- but close enough)!!!

But ... it really was that simple. I poked the young creature in his flank a couple of times and said, in a loud, quavery voice, "NO! STOP THAT! SITTING BULL GO BACK!!" And he DID. And E shooed the cow back behind the fence. And I flung down the stick and scrambled through the gate. And we checked the fence wire and realized it had mysteriously (we have no idea why) been turned off. And we turned it back on. And that was the end of that.

Totally fun, huh? And now I've got to stop, but I WILL RETURN, like the Terminator, to finish this tale of Vermont later today and add pictures too.