Nothing Stays the Same

Downtown Nashville

Image via Wikipedia

One aspect of home schooling – for better or for worse – is that the student as immersed in the peer pressure cooker.  My son is independent in lots of ways, but that fact remains that he and I are together a whole lot of the time.  It doesn’t seem to bother him, for which I am grateful, but I do worry that he’s going to be lost when he goes off to college.

But then, on Thursday, we had one of those milestone days.  For example:  the first day the kid pulls themselves upright and toddles across to your outstretched arms.  They day they figured out they could dress themselves, or when they squiggle their hand out of yours as you’re walking them to school.   Thursday was one of those days.

He got up and did his school work.  He studied for the SAT math test.  He did a lesson in Arabic, and one lesson in graphic arts.  We had a discussion about the history of film, and talking about how readers add meaning to texts.

Then, he had a bagel with peanut butter and brown sugar and an apple for lunch, took a shower and gathered his things and drove himself to Nashville for a meeting with a college recruiter from a small liberal arts college in Ohio (Almost all small literal arts colleges are in Ohio, I’ve discovered.)  He met her at Bongo Java in east Nashville.  He wasn’t sure which one she was.  All the grown-ups had laptops and notebooks, he said.  She recognized him; he was the tall skinny kid in a hat.  They had a good meeting by all accounts. Then, he drove to an apartment complex across town to teach aikido to a group of middle school refugee students.

On the way, he stopped at Church’s Fried chicken and got a box of chicken legs because he was hungry.  Now, this may not sound like much, but for some reason it struck me as momentous.  This is the kid who expect mom to fix him breakfast, lunch and dinner to order whenever he’s ready.  And, he used his own money.

He brought his own mats for the class and he and his sensei set up on the tennis court where all the children in the apartment complex gathered to watch and try to copy the moves of the seven lucky kids who’d signed up for the class.

My son drove home – thirty miles or so on a winding two-lane highway in the truck he bought for $100.00 before he could even drive.  My husband and I were relieved, as always, to hear that rumbling engine pull into the drive.

At dinner last night, my husband asked me if, a year ago, he’d told me that my son would drive himself to Nashville, meet with a college recruiter, drive across Nashville, picking up and paying for his own dinner, then teaching martial arts to refugee children, if I would have believed him.  No, absolutely not.  Not in a million years. It’s the small things, those little milestones that remind us that nothing stays the same.

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Exhibitions: Masterpieces of European Painting

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1828, "Birchington-on-the-Sea" from the Museo de Arte de Ponce

Luis A. Ferre had a successful iron works business in 1950.   But, while in Europe in 1950, Ferre conceived the idea of bringing a healing force to landscapes in his native Puerto Rico that were  “scarred” by the works of man.  To “soften the scar,” Ferre brought European art  to Puerto Rico.  Over the next several years, Ferre collected an impressive collection of art from all over Europe that became the Museo de Arte de Ponce.

A selection from  Ferre’s Museo de Arte de Ponce is on exhibit at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee.  I’ve seen Renaissance-era paintings in books before, but never original paintings in the flesh, so to speak.  The power and beauty of these paintings overwhelmed me.

The first thing that hit me was how old the paintings were.  Many of the paintings were from the 1400’s through the mid-1800’s.   I could see the spider-web cracks in the centuries-old paint so it was clear what I was seeing was indeed old.  But, the subject matter, the color, the detail that defined each piece had the power of the immediate.  The colors – blues, reds, ochres – were as vivid as if they’d been painting just moments ago and the paint were still wet.   Many of the  pieces seemed to be lit from within.  With an almost photographic quality, I felt like if I’d dared reach out and touch the painting, I would have felt the rich fabric of draped robes, or the coldness of a golden chalice.

In the exhibit hall next to the Arte de Ponce exhibit was an equally astounding exhibit of ancient Greek artifacts that told the stories of mythical  Greek heroes.  To juxtapose these two exhibits is to create a stark contrast.  The rich, boisterous and fantastical Greek myths are illustrated with flat profiles in solid black or orange on terracotta.  There’s no expression on Odysseus’s face.  There’s no flirtatious aspect about Helen as she brings down a bloody war between Sparta and Athens.  These pieces — various kinds of vessels with traditional Greek decoration — speak so eloquently because of the history and the  stories behind them.

But, the art in the Ponce exhibit speaks to us because it is alive.  Painters of this era moved beyond flat 2-D images and brought forth  fully formed human figures capable of expressing complex emotions through the tilt of a head, the slope of a shoulder, or the drape of a robe.  Yet, the most amazing aspect to me was the vividness of color that has lasted for centuries.  The painters’ ability to light a figure from within brings the figures to life in a way that the Greeks might have mistaken for the work of gods and goddesses.

Review of Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin

   

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

In a sort of steroidal six-degrees-of-separation excercise, In Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann spins a giant tale out of several disparate small tales.  Sometimes the threads spin with a a leaden sense of doom, somtimes with a jolt of recognition and joy.   

Set in the mid-70’s days of Vietnam, racial tension, and sexual revolution, Let the Great World Spin begins with a discomfiting scene at the World Trade Center twin towers.  A tight-rope walker has inexplicably strung a wire between the twin towers and is performing a breathtaking balancing act, mid-air, in the exact spot that, years later, takes a punch in the gut from two airplanes.   

Next we meet a young Irish man trying to make sense of the life his brother, Corrigan, has chosen to lead – the life of a priest whose only church exists under the freeway in the projects where his congregation – a group of hookers that include a mother and daughter team – ply their trade.  

Next we meet Claire, a blue blood Park Avenue wife struggling with loosing her only son in Viet Nam.  Through Claire, we meet Gloria, another grieving mother, but from the Bronx, a million miles from Park Place in the seventies.  Gently unfolding fully developed characters, McCann gives us a judge, desperate for something, anything, meaningful in his life.  He gives us a self-centered new-aged artist and the woman who is more than ready to walk away from him, given good enough reason — which she has after a monstrous car crash.   

If any of these tales sounds comical, they are not.  They are wry, ironic, and sharp.  But not comic.    There is no “I knew it all along” moment for the reader.  McCann’s writing is delicate enough  to avoid reeking of conicidence yet strong enough – like the tightrope- that each scene carries its own weight.   In Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann suspends relational definitions.  People slide into common orbit through nothing more than grief.  With nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, lives change.  With nothing but shared awe at a speck prancing boldly in the sky, bonds forge.   While familial relationships  form the baseline bonds for most people, sometimes it is the encounter with a stranger that leads to the most important bonds. 

The end of most books telegraph their arrival by dwindling pages and a sense of denouement.  Even very great books can have unsatisfying conclusions.  The best books leave the reader missing the characters.  The ending of Let the Great World Spin took me by surprise.  Literally, I must admit I was fooled by the inclusion of a readers’ guide in my edition.  When I reached the last page of the last chapter, I expected to turn the page to a new chapter, but I didn’t.  It’s not that the book ends abruptly – not in the way that disappoints a  reader hungering for resolution.  The abruptness is due instead,  to the circular nature of the tale.  I was engaged to the last word.  Though I expected to read on, immediately I knew that the story ended right where it needed to end.   The only way to survive loss is to keep moving.  McCann’s story moves  in a rich, full and expanding circle.  Being a Nashvillian, I couldn’t help thinking, in the words of  bluegrass musician Alvin Pleasant Carter,  “Will the circle be unbroken, Lord, by and by, Lord, by and by.”

It’s Greek to Me

parthenon

If you’ve not been to Nashville, you may not know about our version of The Parthenon.  A full-sized replica of the ancient Greek structure stands in the middle of Centennial Park near Vanderbilt University.   It’s such an accustomed sight that I hardly notice it anymore, but Friday I had the opportunity to revisit the architectural gem.  On the bottom floor of the building is a fine arts gallery that has changing exhibits.  I was thrilled to see several collage and mixed-media pieces among the oil paintings.

Athena Gilded

The main level, though, is where the jaw-dropping piece of art resides.  I is a 41 foot, 10 inch statue of the Greek Goddess Athena by Nashville uber-sculptor Alan Le Quire.  I’ve seen Athena before, but each time I’m bowled over – at first by her massiveness, but ultimately by the uncanny grace and detail of LeQuire’s work.  You can see an amazing slide show of the making of Athena at http://www.alanlequire.com/athena.shtml and visit LeQuire’s  gallery at  http://www.lequiregallery.com/home.html 

We visited Athena in her temple to see a production of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.   Three actors in traditional masks performed the tragic tale, and in place of the Greek chorus between scenes, each actor gave a brief recitation on the art of Greek tragic  drama. 

Their voices echoed eerily in the cavernous room where we sat in chairs at Athena’s feet.  The masks magically transformed the actor and despite the stiffness of the ancient drama convention, the modern audience had no problem suspending disbelief in order to travel back in time.  Theater has come a long way since Sophecles’ day, but it doesn’t get anymore dramatic that Oedipus at the golden-sandaled feet of Athena.

LBJ’s Words of Regret

pictures 076coolwater1

 

Lyndon B. Johnson is quoting as saying the following to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin (in current issue of Newsweek Magazine): 

I knew from the start if I left the woman I really loved – the Great Society – in order to fight this bitch of a war (Vietnam) on the other side of the world, then I would lose everything at home.  All my programs.  All my hopes…All my dreams.”

 

I think this is the saddest, most heartbreaking statement.  The regret in those words is palpable and powerful.  I actually cried when I read these words.

I’m trying to think of a way to visually represent the power and loss behind these words.

First Craft Show

I’m getting ready for my first craft show. Being from Music City (i.e., Nashville, TN) it seems appropriate that my first show is the “Music and Molasses Festival.” Don’t scoff!! We go every year. We buy a five pound bag of freshly stone-ground yellow corn meal and a gallon jug of sorghum molasses. That’s supposed to be a year’s supply for us, but last year I found the ultimate recipe for sorghum cookes and we discovered that sorghum tastes good on fresh cornbread. We were out of both by January.

I seems like I should be nervous about my first show, but I’m not (yet!). Nervous is almost a state of being for me, but since I’ve been doing my collage art, my confidence is stronger. I’m really feeling more excitement than nervousness. My studio is a wreck and there are new pieces all over the place in various stages of completion.

In any case, where better to be in the Fall than outdoors (even if it is next to the sheep exhibit) listening to bluegrass music and munching molasses cookies (and hopefully, selling my art!).