Saturday, January 24, 2015

Favorite Reads

This past year I read 60 books, an all time high for me, but a pittance in the world of literature. Because we are allowed a finite number of books in our lifetime, I choose with care, trying to allot my time wisely. For the past seven years I've kept a list of everything that I read, give it a rating and jot a sentence to remind me of its content. About 60% is fiction and 25% has some Jewish theme as I frequently read on themes related to my artwork. I am in two book clubs, one that has been going for around 30 years and reads a broad range of current literature. The second is focused on creativity and the arts. That assures that I am introduced to books I might not pick up on my own, but which I am grateful to discover.

I am surprised at how easy it is to identify the ones that are standouts. They are the ones that stayed with me, where plot and characters remained lodged in memory. Interestingly several of them are debut novels and all of those have some otherworldly elements. As a child I loved fairy tales and mythology and perhaps these are the adult versions, often weaving mythical creatures and historical fiction.

The Debuts

Three Souls (2014) by Janie Chang is set in China and told through the eyes of a woman who has died and is looking back at her life. It begins with "we have three souls or so I've been told, but only in death could I confirm it". The novel begins in 1935 and looks back upon the politics of a changing China. The main character is guided by her three souls, one stern, one impulsive and one wise. She must make amends before she can move on in her journey. On this premise one is taken into her life as a Chinese woman in search of the matter which must be remedied.

The Golem and The Jinni (2013) by Helene Wecker takes the Jewish theme of a golem made of clay and imbued with spirit coupled with a jinni drawn from Arab folklore. It sets them loose in turn of the century New York and lets them evolve, often testing the limits of their natures. It is an odd premise, but Wecker makes it work, truly bringing them to life.

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope (2013) by Rhonda Riley also creates one of the central characters out of mud. This creation has the ability to mirror another person in form and being, even to alter gender. It too is a weird premise, but it works. It examines what it is to live life with a secret. Beautifully written, it also creates an unusual and touching love story.


I weigh nonfiction on a different scale. Did it give me information I didn't know previously? Did that information affect me on an emotional level?

The Lady in Gold (2012) by Anne Marie O'Connor followed the story of a Klimt painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the life of its owner and the efforts of her descendants to recover the painting. It takes us deep into Austria during WWII and the Nazi reign both during the war and distressingly after. The first part of the book explored Klimt's life and relationships that led to the creation of the painting. The second part was the destruction of both lives and a world under the Nazis. The third part was as disturbing as the second. It explored the difficulties survivors had in regaining their artwork even after the war as Nazis continued to reign, creating countless hurdles and ironically laying claim to this painting of a Jewish woman. A movie titled Woman in Gold will soon come out and I will be interested in how they address the post-war period.

The Birth of the Pill (2014) by Jonathan Eig explores the creation of the birth control pill which placed women in control of their lives. I came of age after this time and sometimes forget the limited choices biology imposed. It is a character driven book for it took a cast of four key characters to make this a reality. The fifth character is the environment in which the Pill's creation unfolded, a culture which was resistant to contraceptives largely because of the Catholic Church. Meanwhile women were desperate for a simple and reliable form of contraceptive. It seems that even today we continue to fight offshoots of this early battle.

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher (2012) was addressed in an earlier post and introduced to me by my Arts bookclub. It looks at Edward Curtis and his role as both photographer and ethnographer of Indian tribes at a time when their culture was being quite intentionally destroyed. A fascinating exploration of a life driven by a singular passion.

Authors On a Roll

I've read at least two books by each of the following authors and can vouch for their staying power.
All the Light We Cannot See (2014) by Anthony Doerr is my all time favorite this year. While I read it in my bookclub, I had already discovered the author's book of short stories titled Memory Wall. His new book is set in France during WWII. It juxtaposes a young blind French girl in St Malo with an orphaned German boy swept up in the machinery of the war. His task is to trace radio broadcasts of the resistance and that task ultimately causes their stories to converge.

Transatlantic (2013) by Colum McCann is a book that leaves trails of breadcrumbs through time. There are three discrete, but connected stories; Frederick Douglas on an international lecture tour in Ireland in the mid 1800s, two aviators who attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic in 1919 and George Mitchell in 1998 trying to broker peace in Ireland. The stories connect through interrelated generations of women.

And two more authors of books that I've addressed in an earlier post...

Night in Shanghai (2014) by Nicole Mones addressed prewar and wartime Shanghai and the experience of black Jazz musicians within it. I recommend any book by Mones and have read them all.

I became a fan of Chimimanda Adichie this year when I read Americanah (2013) in my bookclub and intrigued, followed with her earlier book Half of a Yellow Sun (2009), set during the Nigerian-Biafra war. Americanah was a look at the experience of a Nigerian woman in the United States, examining our culture, both white and black, through outsider eyes. There is also an excellent TED talk by this author.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Perfect Memory

 "All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was". -Toni Morrison

I have two projects ahead of me with my artwork. One is a body of work on loss of memory which I will be exhibiting at a conference mid-year. The other is a piece on the theme of water for the Jewish Artists' Lab exhibition. Ever frugal, I am trying to find a way to knit the two together so I get some additional use out of the piece for the lab.

In this year's Artists' Lab we have a series of artist led sessions. Along with another artist in our group I led a discussion on the topic of metaphor and memory. We examined how water is used metaphorically in both the Bible and our language. I soon discovered that I had stumbled across a rich topic. Metaphor by its nature lends itself to artwork, creating layers of meaning.

In researching this topic I ran across the quote at the top of this page and found it quite thought provoking. Morrison talks of how for writers the act of imagination is bound up with memory and equates it to flooding, trying to find our way home. Here's what she says:

"Because, no matter how "fictional" the account of these writers, or how much it was a product of invention, the act of imagination is bound up with memory. You know they straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. "Floods" is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.

Writers are like that: remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place. It is emotional memory - what the nerves and the skin remember as well as how it appeared. And a rush of imagination is our 'flooding'."

So how does this relate to loss of memory? One of the things I've observed in my parents as they lost memory was the way they clung to their prior identity. As I explore the question of what happens to identity as we lose memory, I have concluded that identity is very persistent. Even if they no longer possess the capability to do the tasks of their prior identity, it remains an important part of how they see themselves.

My late father was deeply involved in technology in his day, a man before his time in many respects. Then time passed him by. His identity as a tech savy person was deeply embedded and in his later years he had a propensity to purchase technology even if he could no longer comprehend it. He returned to the path he once carved.

Similarly my mother who had been a first grade teacher collages every day, but she calls it "cutting and pasting". She has a wall on which she has pictures of things that interest her that she calls her "bulletin board". She returns to deeply engrained aspects of her life as a teacher. Their world narrowed as they aged, just as the river's path was straightened, yet they flood its banks, seeking the life they once lived, the person they once were.

I've begun to play with some paintings on the theme of water. I've been away from painting for awhile so I have this barrier to crash, an uncertainty about where to begin. I find the best way to push past that gatekeeper in my brain is to just start, no research, just paint the imagery in my head, reminding myself that I can always paint over it. The images in this blog entry were a means to jump start myself and are likely to go through many iterations. The one above is on the concept of Flooding as Remembering.  I may write the quote over it when it is further along.

When I first thought of memory and water I was reminded of language that links the two, how we talk of memories bubbling up and streams of consciousness. Have you ever followed how a memory arises? Sometimes it can arise quite obliquely. Something triggers a tangentially related memory which in turn triggers another and another until there is a wave effect. The small paintings were an experiment in stepping into my mother's mind and creating waves of memory, Each image associated with one nearby.

She has been pondering lately if her father was left handed. A thought of her father might trigger a thought of her brother who her father asked her to look out for or of a dress he made for me as a child (he was a tailor). Memories move like water, fluid, wavelike, taking us places that may be far removed from our starting point.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

An Annual Ritual

cc courtesy of Win Naing- floating bnw  on  Flickr
Any resolutions this year? I've long given up on them. The fact is I do what I want to do anyway. Instead I build on the natural patterns in my life through my annual number counting ritual. We are what we count and what I count is telling, revealing the focus of my efforts and the gradual shifts of emphasis over time...books read, paintings completed, exhibitions of artwork, blogs written, speeches given. Expression in its many forms. And once I start tracking an activity it begins to grow.

Yes, I know this is a bit compulsive and yes I am. I've learned that I need to feel a sense of movement and this is my way to track my efforts. When I first left my job I think I was fearful that I would lose my drive and dissolve into a pile of mush. Hasn't happened yet. I've learned that driven people are driven no matter what the circumstances. The only difference is that now I find my own path on which to drive. Because I write about my path in this blog you will likely be hearing more of some of these themes this year. So here is both a preview and post view.

This year I hit a new high in books read, 60 of them. Now to confirm any thoughts you might have of my compulsiveness, I not only counted books but pages, about 24000 of them. A separate blog entry will address those books that left the deepest impression. Books often feed ideas that I address in these pages and in my artwork. They are an important element in offering me new inputs when I run out of internal inspiration.

I've been busy exhibiting my past artwork from the Jewish Identity and Legacy Project (JILP) in both solo and group shows. If you missed their development in these pages, you need only click on Interview Project at the top of the page. I just hung the work for one more solo show and am winding down this series that has occupied the last several years. It will feel official after I send off some paintings I sold when the show comes down. My new show is called Capturing the Stories and my talks about it will explore the oral history aspect behind the artwork. I've added in paintings from the Dvora Stories which also grew out of interviews.

I make prints of paintings I sell so I can continue to exhibit them which of course fails to free up any room in my studio. This year I solved that problem by adding space. My husband and I had shared a studio for many years in a building of artists' studios. Recently the space next door opened up and we leased it and inserted a door between. Side by side studios, an artist duo's dream. Now I must commit to making the space my own. I am still adjusting to it and mentally taking ownership.

My new series of artwork that I have begun to rough out is focused on loss of memory. I have a show scheduled for May so I need to dive in and tackle this subject, one I've often written of in these pages. It is a personal theme in many ways as much of it is based on my mother's loss of memory. Writing and painting is how I process the events in my life, trying to find both meaning and understanding. As I develop the artwork, I will share the work and underlying stories here.

This year I again serve as the Resident Writer for the Jewish Artists' Lab which involves writing yet another blog. The Lab has a theme of water, a subject that is frequently used metaphorically in the Bible. I am considering how to marry the theme of water with my other theme of memory, an association our language often makes. Things bubble up in memory or we experience a wave of memory. It offers some rich material for both artwork and writing which you will hear more on.

My genealogy consulting continues to grow as I did research for a number of clients in Australia, Israel and the US. Often their focus is on their Jewish Polish roots, an area I've become rather adept in. As I've largely concluded much of my own research, I enjoy applying what I've learned to others' puzzles. I've written about some of the puzzles in this blog and I often use them as examples in talks I do on genealogy. Family history has been the engine for much of my artwork and will always be an important thread in my explorations.

My public speaking continues to expand in scope along with my interests. I do genealogy talks, talks on oral histories with elders, talks on my artwork and talks on the Holocaust, the latter in conjunction with a dear friend who is a survivor. I am beginning to work in association with the Mn Historical Society and have a series of talks scheduled through them. If you had ever told me I'd be on the speaking circuit I would have stared at you in amazement. Oddly enough I enjoy it and find the feedback and interaction informs my other efforts.

Writing is something I pledged to explore more deeply in 2014. I write this blog as well as the one for the Lab. Between the two of them I am writing every week. Blog writing is practice in both thinking and writing, something one does with some consistency which is an important element in practicing. I am often surprised when I encounter someone who reads this blog and has knowledge of my life. As an inward person I sometimes forget that I am also rather public. Your comments and likes are always appreciated and help sustain the effort of writing.

This year I took several writing classes and workshops at our local writing center and found that essays are very much my medium. I hope to take those learnings and carry them into a writing/art project that will grow out of my last series of artwork and interviews, or perhaps my next series. I think a deeper marriage between art and writing is a direction I will test over the coming years. As this deepened focus is new to me, I seem to be circling it unsuccessfully thus far, trying to muster the discipline required to tackle a new direction. I remind myself that every endeavor started with that toe in the water. I think the trick is to do it without outcome in mind as that creates too much pressure. Once you are floating out there in the middle, it is easier to add in your arms and legs and voila, swimming!

I actually have the gift of time. At the end of 2014 I left a board I have been very engaged in over the past eight years and calculated that it frees up over two entire work weeks of the year. That is just shy of two hours a week. I am framing my challenge for this year as what would I do if I had two extra weeks? Or two extra hours per week? Paint, write, read? Perhaps float in the middle of painting and writing?

Those tasks I used to think I'd get to, organizing my home, working out more often...You know the list, we all have it. They used to be resolutions that never got done and may well continue as such. The reality is we do what interests us and fortunately I have no shortage of interests.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Santa and the Maccabees

The holidays are over and quiet resumes in our small household. We love the hubbub of family, but it also deepens our appreciation of the quiet we so often take for granted.

The holidays also force a different reflection on my part. As a secular Jew married to a non-Jew I say the blessings over the Chanukah candles even as we debate what to get for Xmas presents for kids and grandkids. We don't have a Christmas tree in our home, but we enjoy the festive atmosphere at my stepdaughter's home and the family gatherings that go with it.

One evening one of my stepdaughters asked me to explain about Chanukah to her daughter. I demurred thinking about all those times I was asked to do that in grade school, the only Jewish kid for many years. I wasn't sure I could do it justice, but I also thought of it as a bit player in the whole scheme of Jewish holidays. What can I say...It's a minor holiday promoted so Jewish kids don't feel left out. I think about the question behind the question. How do you explain to a child that there are many different traditions? And for me, the larger question of how do I explain that being Jewish is an important part of who I am even though it doesn't appear to be.

It is a question that faces every secular Jew. Why does this matter? I didn't always realize it did. My former husband wasn't Jewish and I remember Christmas celebrations with his family. An aunt would always propose midnight mass and I would catch my husband's eye with a look of desperation. "Get me out of this!" it screamed. Celebrations are fine, but hold the religion. Somehow we never went. I wonder if they did when I was no longer on the scene.

In our own home my ex had wanted a Christmas tree. It was a part of his tradition, but made me feel as if I were abandoning what little linkage I had to my heritage. We compromised by hanging an ornament on a spindly palm tree in our home. My ex then did a sumi painting of it on rice paper on the cards we sent out that year. Wishing you a warm holiday season. An artistic homage with a twist.

Then of course there were the gnarlier questions. How would we raise those theoretical children that I wasn't even sure I wanted to have? Why Jewish of course. I couldn't conceive of anything else. My then-husband was puzzled. I didn't seem particularly Jewish. Why did it matter so much? I wasn't quite sure myself except that it would have felt like a betrayal of who I was.

So who exactly was I? So often being Jewish in a Christian culture is defined by otherness. I related a story to my stepdaughter of when I grew up. It was a time when everyone decorated their home at Christmas. Everyone but us. As nighttime approached and the lights came on, our house was the only one that remained dark.

My parents struggled with how to raise their Jewish kids so they didn't feel left out. At Christmas they made a mild concession. They let us hang a stocking. I still remember getting little figures of people in my stocking. Then they began to feel a bit guilty and decided they had to stop this before it got baked into a tradition. This was complicated by the fact that we believed in Santa so it wasn't just a matter of them stopping the gift giving. It had to make sense to us. I would love to have listened in on their conversation as to how to tackle this dilemma. Their solution was to go directly to the man. They called Santa at the North Pole to tell him we were Jewish and that he must have stopped at our house in error. My brother and I were not bothered in the least by these ill-gotten gifts and screamed in the background for them not to tell him.

Chest with Star of David pulls- Sorolla Museo

Much of my experience of being Jewish was being outside looking in. I lived in a Christian culture and with friends I decorated Christmas trees and painted Easter eggs. No confusion there, it was their culture, not mine.

I often think of a drawing I did as a child. The assignment must have been to draw Christmas in a time before cultural sensitivity was expected. I drew a Christmas tree. I stood next to it, but behind me was a dresser. Each drawer had a drawer pull shaped like a Star of David. Some part of me was hidden in that chest. I am amused at the way I covertly asserted my heritage, a hidden Jew of sorts. On a recent trip to Madrid, I was startled to see a chest with Stars of David on each drawer and flashed back to my drawing. I wondered what stories filled these drawers.

Every child reacts differently to being an outsider. Some press their nose against the glass and want in. Others come to embrace their otherness. Otherness can be a gift, allowing one to see the world more clearly, creating a space from which to appraise the world at arms-length. That perspective often serves as a creative engine and it allows one to challenge and question. Now imagine a culture in part defined by otherness, an otherness not always visible. I begin to understand why many of the people I have developed friendships with are Jewish. I am drawn to differences, people with a bit of attitude who question and challenge the norms, creative people. It is a constellation of traits found in otherness.

But Judaism is more than otherness. It is a religion, a culture and a heritage. I grew up in a Reform temple and went through the religious school until I was 16. We had a comparative religion class where we attended different churches and learned about their beliefs. I was fascinated and rather appalled at the idea of dogma. Why would you ever believe something because someone told you to? It was a foreign concept to me for questioning was clearly encouraged in my family. In my confirmation class we debated if God existed and if so in what form. The rabbi led the discussion and it felt like the ultimate in questioning. I think it was then that I decided I could be Jewish.

My relationship to Judaism has ebbed and flowed throughout my life. My exploration of family history drew me closer and my reading about the experience of Jews throughout history formed a self-created curriculum of sorts. For several years I've participated in a Jewish artists' lab which has deepened my understanding and built a community of like-minded creative people. My artwork too has explored the Jewish experience.

Yet as many American Jews, I live in both worlds. My current husband is not Jewish, but our values and beliefs are very similar. He is an artist also and perhaps as such has a touch of the otherness I seek. The fundamental aspect of Judaism that spoke to me at 16 still speaks to me. I need to be free to question, to challenge and to explore. I am grateful to be part of a heritage that gives me the room to do so.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Lives We Touch

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Do you have someone who in the course of your life influenced you in some significant way?

I've been thinking about this because of a note I recently received from a former boss, one of those people who believed in me when I was still learning to believe in myself. I went to work for him when I was around 30. He was about the same age as my parents back then, not too far from the age I am now. It of course seemed much older then.

I had left a career running nonprofits, shifted from social work to finance and as a newly minted MBA begun a career as a commercial lender. I had grown up in a time where many my age considered business slightly suspect and now I was entering that world with some trepidation. I remember feeling as if I were masquerading. There I was surrounded by all these conservative bankers in their grey suits. "This is so not me", I thought. I kept my head down, sure I couldn't let them see the real me lest I jeopardize my job.

At the same time I looked around at coworkers who had gone from business school straight into banking and wondered if I had made a career mistake in creating and running nonprofit organizations in my 20s. As much as I had enjoyed the work, perhaps I'd missed valuable time building my business career and would never catch up. The corporate world didn't take the nonprofit world very seriously. Many thought of it as a retirement career with no appreciation of the challenges it presented. By contrast working for a corporation felt easy to me compared to those years in nonprofits. All those resources at my fingertips and I didn't have to sweat over making payroll, piece of cake. All I had to do was keep my opinions to myself and try to fit in, that was the challenging part.

And then I went to work for Warren. Warren was a conservative banker. Our politics clearly differed. He had spent his career in banking. I could easily have swept him into the stereotypes I carried in my head about this foreign environment...except for the fact that I got to know him. I have always found that men who had daughters and were married to strong women were more supportive of women in the workplace. They had to be. Just as they wanted a life full of opportunity for their daughter, they saw their daughter in the young women who worked for them. Warren had both a talented daughter and a thoughtful, intelligent wife and fully supported the young women who worked for him.

This was a time when a woman working as a banker on a national level usually found herself to be the only woman in the room. I felt conspicuous and different by gender, politics and values.

I used to go into the bank's big conference room to present to credit committee, all men of course. I would sit down in a chair facing the committee, all of them lined up on the other side of the table waiting to pounce with the one question I hadn't contemplated. I would sink in wondering if they had cranked my chair lower, feeling a bit like Lily Tomlin's Edith Ann, a little girl in a big chair. Often I contemplated throwing a phone book on the seat first. Having read that it was important to take up physical space, I would spread my papers out on the table.

It was an intimidating place and not an environment that made a young woman feel particularly welcome. Especially one like me.

I was fortunate to land in the oasis run by Warren. He was in the final leg of his career and was in a senior position, but without illusions about further rises up the corporate ladder. I remember one time Warren joined me in the credit committee to speak on behalf of a loan. "I'll stake my career on it", he'd said. "What's left of it", he'd added with a wry chuckle.

He buffered the people who worked for him from corporate politics and created a safe place where I could be myself. He was an authentic person and in being so, he allowed those around him to be also. He came from an earlier time when people worked for one company their entire life. Tall and lean, I picture him packing up at the end of the day, reaching for his hat and briefcase, part of the ensemble of men of his era. No computers sat on desks until some time later and he never crossed over to that world.

He was a bit of a dad to me, accepting and encouraging. He supported me and gave me opportunities to grow, seeing potential in me that I didn't always recognize myself. And he gave me practical advice that later paid off. Max out the 401k contribution, save your money and invest. And most importantly he advised "You have to manage your own career". When I decided it was time to leave before he retired, he coached me on negotiating for my new job.

Several career steps later I had caught up on that career growth I was so worried about at 30. Now I was managing other people and dispensing my own advice, especially to young women who I cautioned not to sit around waiting to be recognized for their good work. They could find themselves waiting a long time. While I would share their talents with others, they couldn't count on that happening in the broader workplace. They needed to make sure to let others see their accomplishments and talents and to actively seek out opportunities. Basically it was a female perspective on "you have to manage your own career". I too had the special opportunity to recognize and develop talent and to watch it bloom.

When I left my career in finance, I did my first solo art show. This was now almost 15 years after I last worked for Warren. I sent him an invitation and he came to the show with his daughter. Each wrote a lovely note, obviously a family talent. Warren wrote of watching me blossom, of his pride in me for managing my career and being brave enough to venture into new areas filled with unknowns. In fact I soon found that my skills from running nonprofits in my 20s were quite applicable to the project management I now engaged in as an artist. I knew how to figure things out and I was energized by those very unknowns.

So now I've been reinventing my life for eight years and I got an email from the gallery where I had exhibited at my start. Warren was trying to reach me. Now I'm not hard to find on the Internet, but that wasn't part of his world so he tried the personal approach that is so much a part of who he is. His wife had run across some old letters they had kept, among them the note I had written him almost twenty five years ago when I left. Touched he reached out once again. "What did I say? " I thought. Probably much of what I've written here, but from an earlier perspective. There are people who touch your life without even realizing it. And we in turn touch other lives as well, each on both sides of that equation. Looking back from the age Warren once was, I have a different appreciation for the messages and values that he shared. It is not just about managing your career, but shaping your life.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Getting Lost

I recently read of an author new to me, Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost. She writes of the unknown as our exploration in life and the engine for artists. And as the name of her book implies, she writes of getting lost. The word itself derives from Old Norse and means disbanding armies. We throw away our constraints, our strictures, our discipline of time and destination and let ourselves move into the unknown, perhaps as my mother does each day without choice as her memory flees. Never one to like change, the unknown, she is now thrust into it. My daily phone call is her map of the day.

Ironically it is through this process of losing ourselves and discovering what we don't know that we navigate life. This is particularly relevant to artists.Solnit writes," Certainly for artists of all stripes, the unknown, the idea or the form or the tale that has not yet arrived, is what must be found. It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own."

As an artist I am seeking to lose myself and as someone who values control, I often struggle against myself. I think about the relationship between what my mother describes as wilderness, the unknown she navigates daily, and my effort to let go of control and lose myself in an unknown that opens doors for expression. Perhaps the difference is that I can enter and leave at will.

My mother loved the unknown after it had become familiar, still carrying its gloss of newness, but no longer threatening. When we traveled together she used to dread the move from familiar to unknown. "Can't we stay here?" she would plaintively ask as we readied ourselves for a train ride to a new city. Soon the new city would be her favorite as her dread got transferred to the next. I was her touchstone, the constant that allowed her to make these changes that opened up worlds for her. I think of that now as I serve as a new sort of guide.

On a recent visit I took her to an apple orchard. She bought a sunflower, a fall ornament that I affixed over a picture frame. Each time she saw it she exclaimed at how much she liked it. Each time I reminded her of our visit, no longer in her memory. Even as she couldn't remember the facts of our visit she remembered how it made her feel. She tells me that she likes when I come in because we go out and do things together. Once I opened up the world to her. She seems to remember the exhilaration of the unknown that we once experienced together even as new facts are quickly shed. Remembering the feeling is enough.

Solnit draws a distinction between losing things and getting lost.

"Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control. Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train.

Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss."

I picture my mother and I on a train. She facing back and me forward, as we share this journey.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Museum Meanders 2

After several large museums we needed a palate cleanser. We headed out to a small museum called the Museo Cerralbo. This museum used to be the home of the Marquise de Cerralbo (1845-1922) who was an inveterate collector of many objects including a wide range of paintings. While the collection included an El Greco, Tintoretto and Zubaran, the salon style did not lend itself to easy viewing of art. It was more interesting as a perspective on how the wealthy of that period lived as the home still reflects the way in which they lived in it. Periodically I would glance out the window at the busy street and feel wrested from a turn of the century world.

An hour later we were on the street by the Parque del Oeste, near the Royal Palace of Madrid. Within the park is the Temple de Debod, an Egyptian temple from 2BC which was a gift from Egypt to Spain. The temple is open and free to visitors and is an unexpected surprise in a Madrid park.

We walked to the end of the park, down steep steps, along a road that bordered the railroad tracks and across a railroad bridge filled with striking graffiti to arrive at the Pantheon de Goya. The chapel of San Antonio de la Florida contains Goya's tomb as well as his artwork. His frescos decorate the cupola and ceiling. Mirrors assist you in viewing the frescos on the ceiling. An identical chapel was built next door to allow this building to be devoted to a Goya Museum.

After leaving the chapel we discovered the Cafe Mingo, the oldest cider house in Madrid.  Since 1888 it has been serving roasted chicken and homemade cider. We were charmed and a bit intimidated, faced with finding vegetarian items for my husband. I was delighted when the "chicken man" consented to my request for a photo.

A short walk took us to the Palace Real and its park and gardens which presented beautiful vistas while a peacock strutted over his domain.

The next day we were ready once again for a foray to a big museum, the Prado.  We had been to the Prado twice before and I don't think we've ever "finished" it, though not for lack of trying.  We did a focused visit with an emphasis on the Spanish artists that one often does not see elsewhere -Velasquez, Goya, Ribera, El Greco and Zuberan with additional visits to Bosch and Rembrandt.  Seven hours later we limped out of the museum.  Bested once again.  Unfortunately they don't allow photos so it is all a pleasant mush in my head.

The following day we decided to go to Toledo. We had been there once before, but many things had been closed. This year is the four hundred year anniversary of El Greco's death and they are showcasing his many works in Toledo where he lived for much of his life.  Toledo is also the home to two of the three remaining synagogues in Spain. We took a train from the nearby Atocha station and then caught a bus up the steep hill to Toledo.  When we exited the bus we were faced with a warren of narrow streets leading downhill.  Street names change frequently so it took some time to get oriented.  Banners announced El Greco sites, many of which are church altarpieces that he painted. We found our way to the El Greco museum which houses his paintings of the apostles and is recreated in the style of his time.

It is located in the former Jewish district so almost next door was the synagogue I was seeking. The Synagogue of El Transito felt mosque-like in its design, ornate and intricate, but there embedded in carvings was Hebrew text, 522 years after the Jews were expelled from Spain.  It was built with the support of the King and his treasurer Samuel Levi.  It later became a church when the Jews were expelled.

Madre by Sorolla
Today was our last day in Madrid and a very satisfying one.  We had two small museums on our list, the Sorolla Museum and the Lazaro Galdiano.  The Sorolla Museum is the former home of Joaquin Sorolla who painted around the turn of the century.  He was quite successful in his own time and is known for his striking use of light.  His home was beautiful and we got a flavor for how he lived as well as enjoying his artwork. I especially loved a painting he did upon the birth of his third child.

San Diego de Alcala by Zubaran
Nearby was the Lazaro Galdiano museum, the former home of Galdiano.  Galdiano was a wealthy publisher and had an amazing art collection that holds extensive Goyas, several paintings by Bosch and my favorite Zubaran.

And on our way to the metro stop, one last museum, an outdoor one of sculpture, the Museo de Escultura al Aire Libre de la Castellana.

So concludes our travels in Portugal and Spain. And that art museum list we keep of those we've visited; we're up to 145.