Real-Time Travel; last day in Catskill

Tomorrow’s my last day here, and it will be busy.  Chae Eun and I are going into Catskill to pick up packing supplies (and road food) and take photos, then we meet Purcell for lunch and a last bit of “networking” (something to do with Art Omi and a visit to a paper artist) and then, back here to pack up and load the car.  I want to head out very early Sunday morning.

I may not be stopping in Cleveland, or at least only overnight.  There’s been bad news from Chicago.  On Wednesday, Purcell took Chae Eun and me to the Saugerties lighthouse (beautiful); we had a picnic there, and stopped for ice cream at one of the ubiquitous and excellent roadside stands. I came back late to find a number of e-mails and text and voice messages.  An old and very dear friend and mentor is gravely ill (and so is another, which I learned last week, though she is recuperating). I think I need to get home and be with the others who care deeply about these remarkable people.  It’s a sad time. Thursday was spent on long sad phonecalls, trying to hear while waiting for 35 people from the Wadsworth (or was it Boston?) Athenium to climb up to the Tower.  They were here in the main house, but never made it upstairs, for which I am glad; I was not in a good frame of mind for “networking”.

Other than the sadness of these events, it’s been a good residency; productive in planning and sketching, and unexpectedly productive in other ways.  I needed what solitude I could get, to simply slow down and process everything that happened in the past two months before I got here. (I arrived here exactly two months from the day I learned that I’d been shot down; it seems like a year at least).

When I get back to Chicago, besides rallying with my friends, I’ll need to hit the ground running.  I’ll have two weeks to pack and ship out a huge number of artworks for three shows, beat a lot of fiber and make several hundred sheets in the back yard, finish up as many more of the (S)Edition books as I can for a fourth September show, and beat even more fiber to take to Jentel…and, very likely, effect the largest change, so far, of the New Life.

So, blahgs might be short and sweet or even nonexistent.  I found another entire blahg from the second or third day in Edinburgh; it somehow got buried in a job application folder. Though it’s not a great one, I’ll leave you with a little more time travel. 

Just in case you thought I was getting too cultured, what with this networking stuff and all.

Time Travel: Edinburgh, with Museum

 

Polished cross-section of bony limestone, which I wanted to steal.  It probably weighed a ton.

This morning, after another session trying to get the correct password to work at the guest house, to no avail, I headed to Waverly to try to get my railpass in person.  On the way there, though, I got sucked into a gigantic used book sale put on by the Christian something-or-other league.  It’s probably a good thing that I’m traveling; lots and lots of fascinating stuff.  There were many gorgeous old bindings.  I saw some wonderful samples from the l700s on up.  I did buy myself a present, a trade book from 1869, for 4 pounds.  It’s Dante in Italian, very small but thick, quarter-bound with a vellum spine and a shiny paste paper loosely resembling vellum.

Then Waverly, where great huge crowds of people were queued up.  I took a number and pulled out the Lonely Planet, and found that internet access on a rented computer was five minutes away. I got out of there.  2 pounds later, I had checked e-mail, ordered the railpass (which still hasn’t been confirmed) and had my credit card denied by a hotel in Glasgow, the night before the flight back, because it was an American account.

Then, I stopped in to the National Museum of Scotland. I confess that I don’t really enjoy most large museums, so I expected to just duck in and out, check on some information I needed for the research part of my trip, and shoot a few of the Lewis chessmen for Linda. But, it was fascinating, one of the best I have ever visited. I spent hours there. It’s historical, cultural, geological, a natural history museum, and an art museum both in the artifacts displayed and the manner of their presentation, much of which could be called contextual installation work. It traced the development of Scotland from pre-pre-history, well before humans, via reconstructions, large dioramas, and geological samples; and then, as humans entered the timeline, it traveled through all their permutations, presenting a plethora of excellent artifacts that have been found here.  And, it continued on to the present. They allowed a non-diner go out to the open-air rooftop restaurant, for some great city views, as well.  Excellent.

 

Pictish carvings.  I love the accuracy and economy of the line.  It was good to  see them in person.  I’ve also long been fascinated by the little creature in the top of the second photo.  The other carvings are so very accurate, so what IS he? There are a number of carvings of him, all the same. Sometimes historians call him the ‘elephant’ but that can’t be right.

Evening was spent attempting to use the wireless at a Starbucks, then not quite two hours at a massive cybercafe; they closed while I still had just under 30 minutes to go! I lost a pound. They wouldn’t extend it till tomorrow.  They were Russians, I think.

I had a very late sort-of dinner in the room to save money (Hmmm. I buy a book I can’t read because it’s beautiful, and then eat cheap stuff.  Feed the soul first; that’s me.)  Yogurt, fruit and oatcakes, with jelly filched from the breakfast room.  And then, I tried to plan the rest of the trip. Frustrating.  I’m going to be locked into a schedule, won’t be able to just stay longer when I find a place I like. I need, oh, a year or more here! It’s 1:30 and I’m signing off for now.

                                           Now, what man wouldn’t look great in this?

 

Weathering Whethering

It’s been a rainy time here in Catskill, with one crowning, utterly spectacular two-hour thunderstorm, beginning at 3am a couple of nights ago. I also witnessed the largest raindrops I have ever seen this week, while up in the tower; I thought for sure that it was hailing. They were incredible, like plummeting, globular, over-ripe fruit. The rains come every day, often angrily, but they pass quickly, and then all is fresh, benign, verdant and gorgeous (and some of the storms have their own savage, transformative beauty; something I have always been fascinated with.  I actually would love to spend a winter on Lewis, which everyone described by saying, “It can be fierce“).

I’ve changed how I’m approaching my work.  Rather than making little tests and maquettes, I’ve been drawing, drawing, drawing and I’ve had those thrilling, pivotal “aha!” moments. I now have what I came here for; I know how the beginning of the new series of works will go.  There are plans for four pieces so far, and the first stirrings of a fifth that is something unprecedented for me, and collaborative; I’ve started fishing about to locate my partner for that work.

They are all a departure, a new direction to reflect my own. Only one, so far, is a book!

There’s been a significant amount of other work done, too.  The way to the new path is becoming clearer. I’ve learned, and continue to learn, a great deal since April, and while there still are storms, my internal atmosphere is becoming as windswept, deep and clean as the May skies Orkney and Lewis gave to me.

Yesterday, I visited Women’s Studio Workshop, and my great hostess, Purcell, met me there. We had a grand time. What a warm, wonderful place!  It had a huge palpable spirit, everyone bustling, busily working but cheerful, friendly, open, communicative, willing to meet folks and share, and focused above all on the art being made. It made me nostalgic. If all goes well, I will get to make work there and be a part of it for a time too, and I am so looking forward to that. In fact, it does me a world of good simply to know that such an artist-run place can and does still exist; and, moreover, that they have lasted thirty-five years.  I attribute that to the fact that the founders are still actively involved, always expanding their vision but keeping the (highly) original spirit intact. Good for them! 

In any endeavor, it’s not the place, it’s not the facilities nor the physical environment (no matter how fantastic they may be), it’s the people involved who bring it to life (or the reverse). And though I’ve been privileged during this troubled year to visit places that have moved me deeply with astounding beauty, it’s the people I’ve been connecting with, known and new, in person or in cyberspace, who are helping to sustain and renew my spirit, by re-teaching this teacher essential, primal lessons, afresh.  I’m grateful.

 

The Story of My Life (and Blahg)

Sometimes, I am Not Too Smart.  (Or, as my old dear departed friend Mr. Ed used to say, I am “three fries short of a Happy Meal”).  In fact, perhaps it’s most of the time.

I started blogging with absolutely no plan on my Mac site. It quickly became a great way to keep in touch with the four or five long-time friends who immediately started reading; we’re far-flung geographically. Then a few old friends I thought I’d lost touch with found me, and we reunited, and that was a bit of sweet unexpected icing on the Blahg cake.  Then it became apparent that some book artists were reading after viewing the web site, and I made some new friends; also very, very good. Some folks put my work on their blogs or web sites; excellent. A few students told me they were reading, so I became even more consciously careful about what I wrote. Then, I found out that other people were reading with deliberate, specific ill intentions.  Not so good.

So, I moved to WordPress, because I could password-protect posts when I felt I needed to update my actual friends on various situations. And then, I went to Scotland.

Being Not Too Smart, I’ve suddenly  just now realized how very public WordPress is, by looking at the blog stats and seeing that there are a lot of folks popping in to glance at my blethering via the ‘tags’ (I deliberately don’t use ‘tags’, but apparently ‘categories’ work the same way).  This has been rather nice so far; welcome. For one thing, I found this hilarious story because these folks linked to blahg (I’m going to buy the book, too. I’m envious of their experiences. Well, except for being sexually attractive to a sheep, which somehow reminds me of my younger pub days). 

I’m just feeling Not Too Smart because I didn’t realize this would happen. I admit it.

And THAT is pretty much the story of my life:

Forge ahead blindly on faith, find a great path, hit a wall (or, have one flung at me), adjust, find a way around said wall or discover a completely new and better path that simply ignores the wall.

Works for me.  So, I guess I don’t care if I’m Not Too Smart. At least I’m never bored.

Many thanks to (almost) everyone who’s stopped by!

 

 

Be Here Now

Midnight oil time travel terminal.

I’ve now spent a couple of days time traveling into the future, or at least casting lines out there.  It wasn’t as much fun as traveling back to Lewis, but it will be grand when I get there.

I haven’t put my Scotland photos on Flickr yet, because the wireless here is just plain weird.  The signal is strong, but it periodically just cuts out.  Dies.  It did that three times during Flickr uploads, and I lost them, so I gave up.  It was much easier to just post a few images on Blahg while time traveling.  Wordpress saves as you compose, even uploaded photos, so the blahgs survive the crashes.

This was the future-time travel: I’ve been nominated for a very nice grant.  Getting the application finished was not at all nice, due to said wireless crashes, as well as some  frustrating formatting on the required form.  It took almost two days!  But it’s done now, sent in just under the wire (whew).

And, I got selected to receive a different, very fine residency and grant for next summer!  It’s a two-tiered process, and now it has to be approved by the funding people.  I won’t know for sure till November, so I won’t give the details yet.  But, trust me, it’s sweet, a good shot in the arm.

Keep your fingers crossed (for both) for me, please!  These things could go a long way towards helping me step into  my New Life, aka: The Future.

Our hosts are also sweet, and fun, too.  The two collaborating artists left last weekend, and a nice and funny young painter, Chae, came in their place; she’ll leave when I do.  We’ve been hanging out a bit in the evenings, checking out places in Catskill.  Our hosts took us both to dinner in Hudson on Wednesday, which was a blast, and we got a jaw-dropping tour of the first floor of their truly amazing house afterwards.

They also had a possible explanation for the existence of the Tower: they thought that the original Victorian builder might have wanted to periodically climb up there so he could feel like the lord of the manor, surveying his domain. (When they bought the place, there weren’t even any stairs in there, though.  There was a huge TV antenna on the top floor, with no way to get to it.)

We’re being urged to network while we’re here, and so, I’m scheduled to meet some artfolks next week with my hostess. She’s also coming with me when I go to get a tour and meet some of the people at Women’s Studio Workshop.  It’s only 45 minutes away, and it’s a great, venerable place that I’ve never been to, so I’m really looking forward to finally seeing it.  

There’s been some art progress, though nothing I want to show or talk about yet.  And I’m trying really hard to photograph at least one of the wild turkeys that populate the area.  I’ve seen a great number of them, but they see me, too, and take off like huge gawky missiles before I can click the camera open. 

So, that’s all there is.  I’m back, and starting now, I intend to (try to) remain in the present. 

(At least for the rest of the summer).

Time Travel: Free Church meets Freethinker

My last view of Lewis.

Angus told me a bit about the Sabbath on Lewis, particularly about the Free Church, the stern Presbyterian offshoot that is the dominant religion on the island. It seemed confusing and, well, kinda grim and anything but free to me, so I won’t attempt to repeat what he explained; I know I’ll get it wrong.  He gave me a tape of the Free Church singing of the psalms, which he said are in a traditional sort-of call and response style, and he told me how this practice was recently found to be nearly identical to the singing in certain long-established southern black churches in the U.S.  He said that there had been a mutual exchange of music between these churches that amazed everyone involved, on both sides of the Atlantic pond.  I liked hearing that story, very much.

Because my bag went missing until a few hours before I left for the Catskills, I haven’t listened to the tape yet, and I’m not sure what, if anything, I’ll be able to hear of it, but I intend to try. I admire and respect people who have strong spiritual beliefs, as long as those beliefs don’t involve harming non-believers in any way, and as long as the believers don’t expect me to adopt their doctrine. As a (Christian) online friend often says,” your rights end where my nose begins”. Amen to that. I have my own strong beliefs, and they are private.  But, after hearing about the strictness of the Free Church, and reading a few things in Stornoway’s many religious bookstore windows, I did begin to wonder if I might be, oh, burned at the stake if I ever attempted to stay there for any length of time.

On the ferry going away from Lewis, near the end of the crossing, I met a fascinating-looking old man.  He was very thin, skeletal, his ruddy, scarred skin drawn tight over his skull and the tough cordlike muscles of his jaw, with an incredibly wide, almost lipless mouth. I could clearly see all the bones and tendons of his hands and wrists.  Yet he wasn’t pasty or ill-looking; his skin shone with the blood pulsing beneath, and there was a fierce, wiry vitality about him.  I was standing on the side deck, sheltering from the wind, watching the distant mainland mountains glide by.  He came out to smoke, expertly hand-rolling his own.

“Did ye enjoy Lewis?” he asked.

“Yes, very much,” I said, “it’s beautiful.”

The inevitable response to my voice came next, “And where are ye from?”

“Chicago; in America.” 

“America!  Hhhmmmmff.” 

There was a pause while he peered at me, probably deciding if I was, in fact, worth talking to. Then, “Yes. Lewis is –“ and here the wind jerked his words out of my ears, but I heard the last two all right, because he thundered them, “ – and Christianity!  (pronounced something like Crrrrresst-chee-yan-ehtay!)

“Oh, great,” I thought, “and he’s got matches, too.” 

But I said, “Um, yes, I could see that it’s very religious. I was, um, in Stornoway on Sunday.”

Another long pause, while he stared at me, smoked, then said, abruptly, “And where did ye go?

“Oh, I went lots of places, a friend drove me — “

“What church did ye go to? On Sunday!”

Gently, I said, “I didn’t go to church. I walked about the castle grounds. All day. And I had a wonderful day.”  He drew himself up and sharpened his gaze so that his clear, pale blue eyes actually did bore into mine. I could feel them. So I stared back, shot him a huge, wide grin and cheerfully said, “I was BAD.”

For 1/1000th of a second, his mouth twitched up and the corners of his eyes began to crinkle, but he quickly got control of himself, put on a sour, dour face, and said curtly, “Ye were.”

“But” I said, “I was told that if I did want to go, I should go to the Free Church.”

“Yes!” He almost smiled. Almost.

I tried again. “My friend gave me a tape of the psalm-singing. I haven’t listened to it yet.”

Another slow drag on the cigarette, eyes still intent on mine. “Hhhmmmmfff. In English?”

I threw down the trump card. “In Gaelic.”

I won a genuine smile!  So I said, “My friend told me that the way the psalms are sung is the same as the singing in some American black churches in the sou–” and his face lit up like the summer sun coming out from behind a supercell cloud, and he trumpeted, in an accent that would astound anyone below the Mason-Dixon line, “Allll-i-bama!

And that’s where we connected; I could share in his genuine, enormous pleasure in his church’s cross-cultural bond, and he knew I truly did, even if I was a weird American, and a heathen at that.  I let him urge me to listen to the tape, because “ye can never be too deaf to hear The Word”, and then we comfortably talked about places on the island, and where Angus had taken me.  As the boat came into the Ullapool harbor, he smiled at me again and asked, “Will ye come back again to Lewis, do ye think?” 

We have now concluded the time travel section of our Blahg, unless for some reason, such as a lot more rain, we feel compelled to flesh out the very sketchy notes that we have remaining.  Please return your seat backs and tray tables to their normal upright positions, and once again: we thank you for choosing Blahg. 

 

 

Time Travel: A Bard’s-Eye View

My favourite photo of a Lewis beach; the Carribean meets Scotland.  The color is unenhanced.

I’ve already written a bit about the utterly grand tour of Lewis and a bit of Harris that Angus so generously gave to me, and since I’m time-travel blogging chronologically, and I’m at that day, I’ll show you some of the places he showed me.

The somewhat embarrassing thing is, is that I don’t know the names or exact locations of some of the photos, and that’s the down side of any tour, even an incredible one like this.  Like the Orkney bus driver said, we zoomed from place to place. We were most enjoyably talking, talking and talking the entire day, periodically interrupted by me suddenly exclaiming, “Oooooooohhhhhh!” as we’d round a curve and yet another spectacular view would be revealed, completely derailing whatever train of thought I’d been traveling on.  And, on the other hand, the conversation was so interesting that I didn’t really pay attention to where we were headed; just watched things appear before me, like a film.

Here’s what I know: we went first to Point, to see the house Angus had just built on his father’s croft land.  Then we drove down to Tarbert, in Harris, passing the place where he’d been born in a traditional (but turf-roofed) black house, and several awesomely huge sea lochs, enormous fjords that cut into the island, surrounded by great steep jagged stony mountains.  At Tarbert, we turned back up to Lewis to places where we had astounding views of immense beaches, and to a place where we saw the new green-design houses, and just across from them, we were high over another gigantic beach.  (We could just see two tiny human specks down there, moving, surrounded by vast white sands, and Angus said, “Hmmmm, it’s quite crowded today.”)  Then, we drove down to another beach, and got out again and walked for a bit (and I walked ahead alone for a time and just stood, completely mesmerized). We went on to Callanais, and the Black House village. Those are on the map, so I know where we were, and I’m reasonably certain of the road we took to get to the Butt of Lewis, the northern tip of the island, because we went past the Dun Carloway broch (but didn’t stop).

I took about 20,000 fewer photos than I would have if I hadn’t been with Angus; he was doing something wonderful for me and I didn’t want to wear out my welcome by pestering him to stop (well, at least too often). Poignant abandoned stone houses were everywhere, many of them within yards of the newer concrete houses that replaced them.  And, I saw places where peat had been cut and stacked to dry, and a couple of folks working at that. Though peat fires have been in my consciousness for as long as I can remember, going back to my very earliest memories of my great-uncle Mac’s stories, this was the first time I had actually seen this, other than in photographs (which I didn’t take, of the peat or deserted houses).

I didn’t walk the two-mile circuit around Callanais, deaf, experiencing it in relation to the smaller stone circles that surround it as I’d planned, but that will happen.  I could easily spend many days in any one of the places we visited. That is the largest gift Angus unknowingly gave me with his tour; the certain knowledge that I need to come back and do just exactly that.

On the road to Harris.  You can see some of the rulers of the Harris roads at the side; the black-faced sheep.  They wander free, and in the evenings, will come down to the road and lie on it, for warmth.  You have to get out of the car and chase them out of the way.

Enormous loch on the way to Harris; the rectangle in the water is a salmon fishery.

The other end of the same loch, with boat heading out.

A beach – for scale, look for three farms near the shore.  

On the beach.

The central circle of the Callanais stones.

In the black house village.

Sea stack at the end of the world, near the Butt of Lewis.  There’s nothing to show the scale, but trust me; it’s huge, and I’m standing over a long sheer drop to the sea. (No, that’s not my initial – or rather, I didn’t put it there).

Next stop, Canada and the states.  Again, these are gigantic.

Tapadh leat, caraid.