YOU CAN’T TRUST YOUR MIRROR


I have always felt that the mirror takes advantage of our gullibility. For instance, when I pass a mirror, I see a middle-aged blonde woman, who at one time, if not exactly pretty, is at least interesting.

mirror2

The word ‘interesting’ is interesting in itself. It’s a word people often use to comment on something, rather than telling them what they really think. If they don’t want to insult the artist’s latest effort, which they hate, it seems kinder to tell them it’s interesting.

Some years ago while we were at a family gathering, while watching a cousin across the room, a relative said “You’re not attractive, and I’m not attractive, but she’s attractive. To show that I don’t hold grudges, I am still speaking to her.

But back to the mirror, I was shocked to find from a photograph, that my hair is silver! Everyone else had told me it was, but I chose to believe my mirror. In the 70’s, when hippie clothes were in style, I bought a long denim dress, which I thought was quite cool. But when I saw a photograph of myself wearing it, I looked just like a mushroom in a long blue dress. The mirror had lied once more.

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I don’t obsess about my clothes, but I must confess that I do have a fixation about my hair. Along with so many other things that youth steals, I truly miss having good hair. Throughout the years I have invested in numerous wigs and hairpieces in a variety of colors, and it has always been fun. I was greeted by a fairly close acquaintance once at a large dinner party while I was wearing a very cute wig, and she asked to be introduced. What is true is that I am older than I look, and the hair on my head is exactly where it should be given the hard life I’ve given it.

At one time or another, I have been a blonde, had various shades of brunette, or a combination of the two, and for one luau we gave, it even became black. Later instead of actually dying it, I bought a black wig. This was after seeing the movie “Chicago” with Katherine Zeta-Jones dancing her way through killing her husband.

I was astonished to discover that the nice woman who cuts my hair, is wearing a wig! You just never know.

I always wanted to have red hair, since so many people in my family have it, but the only time mine became red was an accident. I gave myself a home perm, and instead of following directions and waiting a certain amount of time, I put some brown coloring on it. It immediately bunched up, became brilliant red, and looked exactly like a Brillo pad, or Harpo Marx in drag.

It would have been OK except that a widower friend of ours brought a new girlfriend to dinner that night to introduce us. She was a pretty and much-younger natural redhead with long flowing curls she had a habit of tossing around during dinner. Worse that that, she arrived accompanied by an unannounced Schnauzer dog, who snarled at my two dogs, a German Shepherd and a large Dobermann, who did not snarl in return. It was not a happy occasion. However, it did put the lie to the old saying that people look like their dogs because she did not look at all like a Schnauzer. And they did not marry.

So what I needed to tell you is not to believe anything your mirror or your friends tell you about your hair. If you think you are a willowy 5″8″, and blonde, then you are, and in the real scheme of things, why does it matter anyway? It’s OK to believe whatever you wish.

HOW THEY SEE THINGS–THE OUTSIDERS


bill traylor_0003

bill traylor_0001

Bill Traylor’s talent surfaced suddenly in 1939 when he was eighty-five years old and had ten more years to live. By then he had left the plantation in Southern Alabama where he had been born a slave in 1854.

After Emancipation, he scratched out a living as a sharecropper before moving to Montgomery, the state capitol where he slept on a pallet in the back of a funeral home and spent his days watching the world pass before his eyes on Monroe Street, the center of the city’s black district.

One day he picked up a pencil stub and began to draw what he saw and what he remembered. He ultimately produced hundreds of drawings and paintings. He was a born storyteller who pushed images of the life around him toward abstraction with no loss of vitality.

His work exists because of Charles Shannon a young white artist and admirer who watched him drawing on the street. He began visiting him every day and while hearing stories about Traylor’s life, he watched him recreating scenes still vivid in his mind as well as that of passing strangers. Shannon brought him art supplies, and buying some and taking others for safekeeping he saved the memories of a long life.

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“Outsider” art encompasses all sorts of art which lies outside the boundaries of official culture, otherwise thought of as those on the outside of the established art scene. Typically, though not always, an outside artist doesn’t move in the mainstream of the established art world. The sculptor Beatrice Woods might have been thought of as an outside artist, and surely her lover, the artist Marcel Duchamp, would have been seen as part of the movement (if the term had been around then).

See my blog NAUGHTY LADY for more about Beatrice Wood. She wrote a book called “I Shock Myself”. I’m not sure which was shocking to her, her art or her sex life! Her favorite reply when asked to what she attributed her old age (103) was “I like young men and a piece of chocolate every day.” Either way, she was a grand old lady.

Beatrice fell in love with the French artist Marcel Duchamp when she went to Paris as a young woman first starting out in the art world. She quickly formed relationships with Duchamp and his friend Henri-Pierre Roche, two of the avante-gard artists of the time.

Duchamp bounced around trying any number of art styles, never really settling on any one type. He liked to think of himself as a Dadaist or conceptual artist, or anything which challenged the conventional thought abut artistic processes.

In 1917 he submitted an upside-down urinal to the Society of Independent Artists show. It was titled “The Fountain” and signed “R. mutt”. It was rejected even though the rules clearly stated that all works would be accepted if the fee were paid. Instead it became even more famous than it would otherwise have been when he had his friend the photographer Man Ray photograph it, and then take it to New York where it was celebrated as a huge joke by the reigning artists of the day. Clearly Duchamp would qualify as an “outside” artist even though he had been classical trained.

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The na├»ve art of Grandma Moses, another artist with latent talent, falls into the category as well as some of the following type of art. These paintings by Henry Taylor, a Los Angeles artist, and some of the art we classify as folk art are by those considered “outsider” artists.

Henry Taylor
Painting by Henry Taylor

Banksy, a pseudonymous of an England-based graffiti artist, political activist, film director and painter is also considered an outsider artist. His satirical stenciled street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humor with graffiti. Banksy’s work can be seen on streets, bridges, and walls in cities throughout the world. The son of a photocopier technician, he trained as a butcher in Bristol, but became involved in graffiti during the great Bristol aerosol boom of the late 1980’s.

Banksy does not sell photos of street graffiti directly himself, however, art auctioneers have been known to attempt to sell his street art on location and leave the problem of its removal in the hands of the winning bidder.

Banksy

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BETTE DAVIS?


Navajo Grandmother

Navajo Grandmother”, original watercolor painting, Kayti Sweetland Rasmussen

I met an young man of 17 today who made me realize how far out of the loop I really am.

He acts in his school plays wants to be a character actor, not a leading man, because they are more interesting to portray. We talked about movies, and I, an inveterate movie lover, had no idea what he was talking about! Apparently zombies are pretty big in the movies today, and his excitement in telling about these films was infectious. Out of the fullness of my ignorance I tried to enter into the conversation and tell him about movies I have liked in the past, but he had never heard of them. Incredible!

I began to realize that what the younger generation likes abut films today is more about special effects than story line. It took me a minute to appreciate his thinking. It was also more about looking at the film with actor’s eyes, and he’s right—seen in that aspect, they do deliver more punch.

When teaching at the college level, I used to feel part of the chatter, but the kids of today have jumped ahead at the same pace technology has moved.
Nothing lasts, and what a shame that is. Or maybe it is just that it make us antiques feel redundant. But if we are the “beta” generation, there is the realization that today’s kids will take their preordained place in line as well.

Where do all the yesterdays go? Tangled up in a heap in a memory folder. But tomorrows are filed under Hope.

Get back in the groove, Grandma!

THE YEAR THE MOUSE ATE THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE


watch cat
The resident Watch Cat by KSR

The Christmas cakes and cookies have been baked, and the cards were made and sent on time for a change, the presents bought and wrapped. I’m feeling pretty good about Christmas this year instead of having a near panic attack as is usually the case. But one thing I’m not making this year, or maybe ever, is another Christmas gingerbread house.

We made some “pretty limp attempts” when our children were small, but one year when the grandchildren arrived, I went all out and built the world’s biggest, most fabulous three-story gingerbread Victorian mansion ever imagined by man or child.

It stood about 18 inches high, and the gingerbread was totally covered with either frosting or candy. It was beautiful beyond belief and everything a gingerbread house should be.

At the annual Christmas party it was the hit of the evening, and as its architect and builder, I glowed with pride. It stood on its own separate table in the place of honor, but unfortunately, I have lost the photos I took of it from every angle, so you will just have to take my word for it.

When the season was over, we carefully lifted this enormous confection and lovingly packed it away till the following year. We protected it with tissue paper, and carefully sealed the cardboard container against dust and dirt in the attic.

The following Christmas, while taking down the collection of holiday decorations, I opened the large cardboard box, to find——nothing.

Going down stairs, I asked my husband what he had done with gingerbread house box. Just as puzzled as I, we looked inside the box, and found one or two pieces of candy. Nothing else. Just two pieces of candy.

As we all know, it gets pretty cold and lonely outside for a small mouse, and our mouse obviously has a sweet tooth as well, so who can blame him for seeking shelter in a warm box containing a feast fit for a king, and even inviting some friends over for a snack or two? Not I.

THE SPORT OF FALCONRY


We stopped into a funky little store in Pescadero for an ice cream cone, and were surprised to see the young man behind the counter holding a hooded falcon on his hand. Never having seen a falcon up close and personal, we were fascinated with the creature. The young man was a member of a falconry club and introduced us to his feathered friend as long as we kept our distance, which I was happy to do after taking a look at his extremely long and sharp toenails.

Falconry is the hunting of wild quarry by means of a trained bird of prey. The art of falconry may have begun some 4,000 years ago in China or Mongolia as the falcon was a symbolic bird of ancient Mongol tribes. Traditional falconry knowledge probably spread into Europe during wars in Arabic countries. Today, there are falconry clubs all over the world.

In nomadic societies like the Bedouin, it was not practiced for recreation. Instead, the birds were trapped and hunted on small game during winter months in order to supplement a very limited diet.

Finishing our ice cream, the young falconer told us that ‘If he doesn’t feel like hunting, he won’t. People think birds like to fly, but they only do it to get something to eat.’ That may be true, but I still like to think the small birds visiting our birdbath are having a good time.


“The King’s Falconer” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

This painting of the falcon and his uncompromising companion was done from a black and white photo of my aunt and uncle, who lived in Saudi Arabia for many years.

HIDDEN STAIRWAY WALKS IN SAN FRANCISCO


Among the many enviable sights in San Francisco are the hundreds of stairways up and down its forty-two hills. The sometimes majestic, quirky stairways link the diverse neighborhoods of this wonderful city.
Adah Bakalinsky’s book, Stairway Walks of San Francisco describes each of the walks. Pack a lunch and let’s go.

For this stairway walk you need to go along Battery St. to the large brick Levi Strauss building, and a small stairway on the side of the hill across the street takes you up through thick foliage and flowering plants in season. Climbing about 375 steps with small stopping places to catch your breath, you will pass the entrances of charming houses built on the side of this steep hill. In the many times we have climbed it, I have never discovered where they enter with groceries, etc. I’m quite sure they don’t carry things up and down by foot. But this fairyland of whimsical private entries has captivated my imagination for years.

This walk is famous for the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill. Home to a large flock of feral parrots comprised of both cherry-headed and blue-crowned conures, midway up the hill while enjoying the view of the startling blue of San Francisco Bay, the chatter of these birds seem to surround you. For years they were cared for by Mark Bittner, a young musician living in a cabin on the hillside. They became quite tame as you can see.

The culmination of this walk is the crowning glory of Coit Tower at the top of Telegraph Hill. With a 360 degree view of the city and the Bay it is well worth the climb. Find a nice place to sit and enjoy your lunch and then go inside. The tower was paid for with money left by Lillie Hitchcock Coit at her death in 1929.

Lillie was a true San Francisco eccentric. She loved to chase fire engines, and at age 15 after running to see a fire, she threw her schoolbooks to the ground and pitched in to help the firefighters. She became the mascot of Engine Co. No. 5 and an honorary firefighter. As an adult, she loved to gamble, often dressing as a man in trousers, and smoking a cigar.

Inside the tower you will be charmed by the murals on each wall. Commissioned by the Public Works of Art Project, they were the first of the New Deal Federal employment programs. Created by artists mainly from the faculty and students of the California School of Fine Arts, with one done by Adah Bakalinsky’s father, which includes a likeness of her as a young girl. Most paintings are done in fresco, with the exception of one in egg tempera.

Take the elevator to the top of the tower and after you have enjoyed the amazing view of the City of St. Francis, walk down the other side into North Beach, where small shops, bakeries and restaurants will paint the finish to a perfect day. Be sure to stop at Molinari’s Deli for cheeses, perhaps some ravioli or maybe a sandwich for dinner.

Grab your walking shoes, your camera and a sandwich and let’s go!!

POTATOES AND POINT


How much thought or credit do we give the humble potato? Boiled, baked, fried, mashed, scalloped, put into a salad or pancake, it remains true to itself, satisfying hunger throughout the world.
Nearly every country on earth pays tribute to the potato each day. Before the advent of “healthy eating”, most dinner plates contained the requisite meat, potatoes and gravy.

A Norwegian friend uses an apocryphal story to illustrate how poor they were. Each child was given one potato, and told to point to the light fixture above where a herring was hanging. Thus the meal of “potatoes and point was born”.

The Potato Famine caused the migration of a million Irish during the 1840’s. This sculpture of Annie Moore and her brother stands at the quayside in Cove, Ireland. She was the first Irish girl to go through Ellis Island.

We have mashed potato clouds, Mr. Potato Head, even Marilyn Monroe once posed in a potato sack which didn’t do her any harm, and Dan Quayle didn’t know how to spell potato when he was Vice-President.
The potato farmers moved away from Long Island, New York in the 1940’s due to the same fungus that blighted Ireland’s potato crop a century earlier.

Willian Levitt and other developers like him moved in and built Levittown, one of the first planned neighborhoods of copycat homes, and the American suburb was born on a bed of forgotten potatoes.
Today every market, super or Farmer’s, bursts with tuberous exuberance, red, white, yellow, sweet and even blue.

POTATO PANCAKES

2 cups grated potato
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves chopped
2 large eggs
2 Tbs. potato starch or flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt 1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 cup minced scallions

Fry in about 3 Tbs. vegetable oil till nicely browned. Dr. Advice likes applesauce alongside his. A dollop of sour Cream is nice too

I sometimes put all the ingredients except the scallions into the processor about 30 seconds . The texture will be grainy. The pancakes will be quite thin (called criques). Cool on a rack. They can be reheated to crisp up.

ATTAINING BALANCE THROUGH MEDITATION


Meditation doesn’t have to involve sitting cross-legged on the floor trying to clear your mind. The pleasure of losing oneself in something beautiful or meaningful such as art or music answer this need abundantly.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love” tells about her four month visit to Italy where she grew several sizes larger, while exploring the joys of spaghetti in all its meltingly delicious forms. The next four months were spent in India learning to meditate while sitting in a dark cave clearing her mind. I prefer to look at something beautiful or thought-provoking.


Meditation” Bronze by kayti sweetland rasmussen

This quiet bronze is very peaceful to me. It invites stroking, and it encourages me to close my eyes and breathe deeply, much as one would while in the practice of yoga.


Oil Painting by Brad Young”

This large oil painting hangs in my friend’s home and I would go to her home just to stand and study the painting. It is by her son, Brad Young, and I don’t know the title, or even if it has a title, but it is thought-provoking. I’m sure everyone sees a different image from mine, and I too, can see something different each time I see it. When I photographed it, I was able to turn the image into various directions, and found that it was intriguing, however it was viewed.

This is what art should be; a visual feast to enjoy forever. Something to give balance to our lives.

SKINNY DIPPING IN THE HIGH SIERRAS


The first ever backpacking trip for the seven year old grandson took months of planning. It’s like waiting for Christmas—it takes more than twelve months to get there, and childhood excitement grows until it explodes. The fear factor sets in as departure time gets closer. As they watch the backpacking gear stack up in readiness, they begin to doubt their readiness for this great adventure. Their nine year old brother had made his mark in the wilderness two years before and offered great encouragement as the time approached.
Seven seems to be an appropriate age to expose a rambunctious boy to the wilderness, and the Forest Service insists upon that age before they give a permit. The have enough discipline to listen to wise old grandmothers, and enough fear of the unknown to look before they leap. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

We were hiking at 10,000 feet in the Sierras where the sun never gets around to melting the snow pack even by August. It’s pretty cold at night, and a cozy sleeping bag sometimes isn’t as cozy as you might like. The chipmunks are very busy night and day getting ready for a really cold winter, so the nighttime traffic over sleeping bodies, including exposed faces, is a real “treat”.
Mealtime is always a contest to see if you will get breakfast or they will.

It was an eventful beginning. After a short walk from the trailhead, we took a boat to the actual trail. My husband and I had hiked often in this area, and felt it was a safe enough beginning introduction to the pleasure of the outdoors. We each took a boy, and I was in charge of the smaller one when we took off. We immediately ran into a lot of snow, and I had to be the one to “take a short cut” and get two of us lost!

Mountain trails lose their familiarity when covered with snow no matter how often you take them. This should be printed in very large red letters on all maps, and pasted across all foreheads before embarking.

We remained lost all day while a formerly smug granny consoled a frightened 7 year old boy. But all was well when Dr. Advice showed up and offered a ton of unwelcome and humiliating advice, and we settled down for the first night in the wilds of California.

We had hit a great time to have it all to ourselves, as we encountered very few hikers, and the more elevation we gained there were no others. When we got to the top of the mountain, the sign identified our location as “Dick’s Peak, 9,700 feet”. There are lots of small beautiful and icy cold lakes scattered throughout the Sierras, seducing sweaty hikers to cool off in their pristine depths.
“But I didn’t bring my swimming suit”! both boys cried after I sensibly suggested a swim. “Who cares”, responded Dr. Advice, divesting himself of his clothing. “There is absolutely no one here to see you”, I told them, after they fiollowed suit.
So now they are captured forever in paint, contemplating the beauties of the wilderness, sans clothing.


Both boys are now grown with families of their own. Both are still interested in the outdoors, and the younger one is a wildlife biologist.

OUR VANISHING VOICES


I Am Home sculpture by kayti Sweetland Rasmussen
“One language dies every 14 days. By the next century nearly one half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on earth will disappear as communities abandon native tongues in favor of Enlish, Mandarin or Spanish”.
As one Native American in Parker, Arizona, who is one of the last speakers of his Chemehuevi language says “It’s like a bird losing feathers. You see one float by and there it goes—another word.”
Many people around the world speak dialects, and broken languages (those whose country ajoins another often collect words from their neighbor and add to their own, thus contaminating the original language.)
When languages disappear, they take along with them the legends, customs, etc. of the people. It takes away knowledge.
Language identifies us. The Seri people are an idigenous group of the Mexican state of Sonora. The Seri language is distinct from all others in the region and is considered to be a linguistic isolate.
The people say “Everyone has a flower inside, and inside the flower is a word.” The petals from the Seri flower are dropping rapidly, and with a population of slightly below l.000, it won’t be long before the petals are gone from their flower.

When governments attempt to destroy a native language, much as the United States did to the Native American, the language in its pure form loses much of its flow. In the sculpture above, the returning child is enveloped by his mother’s robe which is embellished with the stories of his people. A familiar story told in another language, never achieves the original tempo.
I found it interesting to read that the three languages proposed to substitute the remaining languages are said to be “English, Mandarin or Spanish”. In California alone, those three languages are readily apparent.