FAREWELL SWEET PRINCESS


“Look what I found Mom! It’s your silver charm bracelet I took five years ago when I left home!” All delivered in a voice of some amazement while my daughter nodded her head in sage acceptance, reminding me of the lapis ring she took from me some years ago. I recall the pair of scissors I brought from my mother’s sewing basket when I married 69 years ago. They long ago lost their edge, but then so have I in the ensuing years. Perhaps they were payback for the beloved stuffed raccoon my mother kept when I left on my honeymoon.

Is this an unconscious method of keeping some part of our childhood or of our past? I think it must be, though I can’t imagine why I took scissors–surely there were other things more useful?

Our Kate, world traveler that she has been as a tourist or traveler, departed today for London as a resident which is an entirely different thing. She called the other day to tell me about the woman in Paris who wore a full length mink while leading her little dog wearing an identical coat. She said “I fit in Paris—I have tried to fit in in London, but it isn’t the same.” Although she has been a frequent visitor of her new home, it will take time to “fit in” as she calls it. A Londoner of my acquaintance says it sometimes takes a long time to feel comfortable in that large labyrinth of a city. I might add that all moves take time to make you comfortable. It’s more than learning which Underground gets you to where you want to go. It’s really about making the people you smile at, smile back. Bon Voyage my Kate. Please don’t make Luca wear a fur coat.

BAREFOOT HUMMINGBIRD


beato_harris_1

She lived a life that would have been considered outrageous even by today’s standards, but Beatrice Woods began her life in 1893 as a daughter of a wealthy, socially conscious family in San Francisco. Ultimately, it was her exposure to the arts that ruined her mother’s hopes for her in 1912, when Beatrice rejected plans for a coming-out party and decided she wanted to become a painter.

Supervised by a chaperone, Beatrice went to Paris to study, but it was in Giverney, home of Monet, that rebellious Beatrice ditched the chaperone and moved into an attic with her painted canvases.

220px-Beatrice_Wood_and_Marcel_Duchamp

Moving to Paris, she decided to become an actress, and while taking acting lessons, Beatrice became became part of a Bohemian group of artists, and where she was introduced to the artist Marcel Duchamp. “We immediately fell for each other,” Beatrice recalled. “He was an enchanting person.” Duchamp introduced her to Henri-Pierre Roche, a French diplomat, writer and art collector, who became her first lover. He was also the first man to break her heart. Beatrice had found herself surrounded by Bohemian men who thought little of bourgeois morality. During this time she became known as the “Mama of Dada”.

“Marcel shocked me because he said that sex and love are two different things,” Beatrice later recalled. Yet she fell into a relationship with both men, and remained life-long friends with Duchamp. In 1953 Roche wrote a semi-autobiographical novel called Jules et Jim, about a threesome, which some some erroneously suggested may have been inspired by the association of Woods, Duchamp and Roche.

In 1948, Beatrice moved to Ojai, California, to be close to the Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti. She built a home in the small peaceful village of artists a little south of Santa Barbara and surrounded by lovely rolling hills. There she taught and pursued her art for the next sixty years. At age 90, at the urging of her friend Anais Nin, she became a writer. Her most famous book is “I Shock Myself”.
220px-Beatrice_Wood_Luster_Chalice

I first became interested in Beatrice in 1985 while teaching a class in conceptual art and Marcel Duchamp, and when I learned that she was living in Ojai, I welcomed an opportunity to visit her.

If you want the local lowdown in Ojai, California, a resident says “People rarely ask what you do—they ask, ‘what brought you to Oja?’ I love that. Ojai is a beautiful sleepy small community of artists, farmers, and a few people who simply want to relax and enjoy life.

The prospect of seeing poppies drew us up into the green hills above the town. We had been graced with the sight of enormous 5 inch wide white flowers along highway 101, and Ojai thought enough of them to name a park Matilija—Ma-till-a-hah.

Matilija Poppies
Matilija Poppies, watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Winding up through the hills we came upon Beatrice’s little house where she lived, worked and had a small gallery of her work. The door was answered by a diminutive Indian man who introduced himself as “her humble servant.” Beatrice was momentarily engaged in another room but we saw her as she darted past the doorway like a barefoot hummingbird. Draped in colorful sari and Native American jewelry, she was an iconic figure, even better than I had thought

When she floated into the gallery and found my interest in art, her “humble servant” brought cups of tea and she described the art displayed in the room. She was quite open about her relationships with Duchamp and Roche, and introduced us to her German Shepherd dog,
Roche” who wandered into the room in search of a pat on the head.

Her sculptures were funky, funny and engaging and told a wry story of her life. One large piece was of a brothel on fire, with girls leaning out the front windows while a variety of men were pouring out the back doors. Beatrice explained that the men were “the mayor, the police chief, etc.” It was plain that her way to get even with the men who had hurt her throughout her life was to put them all in erratic or hazardous situations in her art.

To what did she attribute her longevity? Her stock answer was “I owe it all to chocolate and young men.” Beatrice Woods died in Ojai at the age of 105 in 1998.

Her personal and artistic style intrigued me, and I developed a number of pieces as a dedication to Beatrice.

Out Of The Woods
“Out Of The Woods” clay sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Beatrice Lives
“Beatrice Lives” clay sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

ETERNAL RIVALRY


IMG_20150207_0001

Like beautiful, headstrong sisters in a potboiler novel–one a rosy-cheeked English aristocrat, the other a purring Gallic seductress–London and Paris have vied for centuries to be crowned queen of the European capitals. Each has soaring cathedrals and treasure filled museums, a great river, and an iconic tower, and enough shopping and dining to occupy fashionistas and foodies alike for months.

Real hissing matches occur occasionally, and the hairsplitting could go on for years. Think of “The Tale of Two Cities”. During all the years since Dickens wrote his masterpiece, nothing has been settled. The statistics are notoriously confusing especially in the hands of tour guides who extol their chosen city with their iconic attractions. Their main arguments seems to be over who has the most visitors. Personally I wouldn’t visit a city just because or in spite of its number of visitors.

These cities have absolutely distinct personalities. I may be wrong, but my take has always been that London is a man’s town, with its solid stability, its mighty Thames river flowing majestically as a grand avenue to the sea, along with the solemnity of Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the imposing fortress of the Tower of London with its history of incarceration and stash of royal jewels.

In Paris, the Seine River is more intimate, lined with waterside walkers and strolling lovers past the gargoyles of Notre Dame, it’s Eiffel Tower seemingly woven of gossamer, and sparkling at night like champagne bubbles, could not be more feminine. As Rick Steves observes, “The is something enduring about London and endearing about Paris.”

LUCA, HE’S DA MAN!


mini pin 2 I had known Luca for the better part of nine years. Handsome, dark, sleek and energetic, always with feminine admirers at his beck and call. He was always around somewhere each time we visited Seattle, leading us into unplanned though amusing adventures somewhere in the city.

I remember him accompanying our granddaughter Kate several years ago. She in a charming white dress reminiscent of a warm summer afternoon in Paris, he paying court to her while ignoring the rest of us.

We dined at a small chic French restaurant in downtown Seattle nibbling on an amuse-bouche while waiting for a delightful crab and leek quiche, which held no appeal for Luca. After lunch we strolled around the streets popping into shops along the way. By the time we hit the shoe store Luca had had it, and he and Kate continued on their way.

When Kate graduated from the University Luca appeared at the party afterward, dressed in what he somehow thought appropriate—a black cap and gown on which he had someone put his name! I saw and read it quickly and it translated to “U.C.L.A.” A terrible faux pas when the institution of the day is the University of Washington.

On our visit to Seattle the past weekend, Luca showed up, sexy as ever, but not quite as sleek as in the old days. He may have put on a pound or two, but as ready for a good time as in the past. He was staying with our daughter who, great hostess as she is, catered to his every whim.

The first night of our visit, tired from the flight, we retired early. Dr. Advice quickly fell sound asleep while I drifted in and out for awhile. In my half sleep I heard the bedroom door quietly open, and before I knew what was happening, Luca climbed in beside me. It was a plan stunning in its simplicity. Accustomed as I am to Charlie sharing our bed, it seemed quite natural, so I let him stay. After all, Luca is a tad smaller than our old Dobermann Pinscher Max, who weighed 110#.

mini pin

His “mother” Kate, returned from a diving trip in Thailand a few nights later, and rescued Luca from the overweening “grandparents” both great and regular.

BLIND AS A BAT AND TOOTHLESS TO BOOT


Wht the Hell
“What The Hell!” original multi-media figure by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

There is something viral about the Heathrow airport in London. For the third time the minute my feet found the restroom after landing, my teeth fell out.

I can’t read a word on the map without my reading glasses. I know we will find our hotel, if it’s the same place as it was. English hotels don’t seem to stray for a century or so. But finding a dentist to put my teeth in order was another question. Finding one to do it in a week was another problem.

I always felt comfortable being lost in Venice and in London. I knew I would run into water at some point in Venice, and the English have been trained since babyhood to be polite, and someone always shows up to help. Paris is another side of the coin. I once asked directions in my best high school French and received a snarl much as if I had tried to grab a bone from a starving dog.

Dr. Advice says he hates being lost, but we found him sitting happily nursing a beer with a group of artisans in a bodega in Guadalajara an hour or so beyond the agreed meeting time.

Teeth and eyesight become even more prized in later life, when you realize you can’t read the phone book, a map or a menu. I miss my relationship with the telephone directory. I used to believe you could find anything you were looking for in one. Now it contains everything but your can no longer see it.

When you are forced to call Directory Assistance you receive a disembodied recording from India asking for answers you can’t supply in one word.

The menu, the cookbook, and of course the map can only be read if written in large type–extremely LARGE TYPE. Mostly I’m sad about just plain reading. When I pass a bookshelf I need to stand on my head to decipher the titles. Reading is one of the main things I do and is entirely dependent upon the whereabouts of my glasses.

And I forgot to mention the pill bottle! Who can read that small print? They crowd all the information on one tiny little bottle and expect you to read it?

Three years ago when they finished excavating my mouth I discovered that you could survive by pulverizing all your food in a blender, but it isn’t nearly as much fun. Food vanishes. Not literally of course, but our concept of food as habit, as pleasure, as love.

Steak becomes a memory. You don’t smile because there is nothing to smile about. Your dentist becomes not only your best friend, but a constant companion. The waiter at a favorite restaurant supplies your lunch before you order. Soup and ice cream as usual? You nod while sadly watching your companions chomp away at their salads.

The same waiter is discreetly pleased when you next show up with glasses and teeth.

STAFF OF LIFE


Beside soup and possibly love, bread is perhaps the greatest source of sustenance the world has ever known. You can’t live on love alone, but it is possible to live on soup and bread.

It was 9:00 o’clock on a sunny summer morning when a small group of bright-eyed women, aprons in hand, converged on my kitchen, all intent upon taking home a loaf of their very own homemade bread for dinner. It wasn’t a regular cooking class, just a few curious friends interested in finding out what was so mysterious about a food which had sustained humans from nearly every culture since they stumbled out of their caves. We were doing different yeast recipes, and each woman took her choice of one.

The variety of bread around the world is mind-boggling. From tortillas from Mexico to the airy croissant of Paris, each have their place in history and on our dinner tables.

Bread is politically correct, not caring if you are a Democrat or a Republican, or a Catholic or Jew. A few yeast cells in a bowl of flour and some water, in a suitable length of time, can transport you to nirvana. The added pleasure of bread making is the glorious smell of baking bread, better to me than the most expensive bottled perfume.

*******************************************************************************************************************************************

Once on a rainy morning in Paris a line of people drew me into the convention hall opposite Notre Dame cathedral where a large group of professional bakers were contending for prizes in their particular offerings. A good many were making sculptural renditions with bread dough. There were baskets, animals, flowers, etc. All impractical but beautiful.

The divine smell combined with the excitement and chatter of the great number of onlookers all engrossed in watching the expertise of the various bakers, was a morning I won’t forget. If you are a bread baker, or if your mother or grandmother supplied your daily bread you will know what I mean.

A week or so ago, I had made two kinds of bread plus a few jars of apricot jam. A grandson stopped by and promptly relieved me of a jar of jam and a loaf of bread. Clearly the smell of one or both were too much for him. I well remember my mother’s kitchen on baking day. It was like waiting for Christmas to come before she would allow me to cut into the warm loaf and slather it with jelly. It was a nice beacon to get me to hurry home from school on those days.

***********************************************************************************************************************************

In my own kitchen on our communal baking day, the several bowls were rising nicely except for one disappointed lady, whose dough looked sullen and unhappy with its situation in the bowl, so we had a vote and decided it might be better to toss it in the waste bin and she could try again. Given the unpredictability of yeast dough, the silly thing began to rise nicely while nestled comfortably among the leftover cabbage leaves! Not that it was planned, but cabbage can make a good biga, otherwise known as a yeast starter. Serendipitous.

We keep our kitchens so sanitary, and have all sorts of modern equipment to make baking fast and fun. We fuss over the dough trying to make it perfect. But yeast has a mind of its own and will do whatever it pleases.

In my first summer of staying with the Pueblo, I became part of the morning baking for the village. There were six of us working together to make about twenty-four loaves.

After the dough was mixed and while it was rising, a number of pieces of wood went into the beehive oven, and when the heat felt right and charred a small piece of paper, the dough went in. No timer, no thermometer, no bread pans, nothing fancy. When someone figured it was right, the first loaf came out and was thumped to see how it sounded, and it was pronounced done. Their people had been making bread the same way for centuries.

***************************************************************************************************************************************

My friend whose dough took a vacation in the wastebin, reminded me of that day recently. I don’t know if any of them still make bread, but I do. Every week. Drop over sometime and have a warm slice with butter and jam.

THE WONDER OF BREAD


The joyful pealing of the bells of Notre Dame de Paris formed a beautiful musical accompaniment to an early morning cafe au lait and beckoned us across the Pont Neuf in spite of the pouring rain.  A frequent and sudden occurrence in Spring, some people were equipped with umbrellas, and others like me just got wet.

A large tent set up across the square from the cathedral pleaded for us to join the group who were hurrying in to get out of the rain.

Our senses were immediately assaulted by the delicious warm smells of baking bread.  We had stumbled into one of those memorable moments of travel I’m always talking about.  This time a competition of Paris bakers.

There were at least fifty bakers plying their trade, some wearing the toque blanche, and all offering an invitation to tasteThe variety of things made with bread dough was amazing; baguettes, rolls, loaves of many shapes, and even sculptured flowers and an Eiffel Tower.

Meanwhile, the sound of the bells and the rain on the roof of the tent, mixed with the warm and comforting smells made me feel I could stay in there forever enfolded in the familiar and sensual scent.  Much better than French perfume.

I am a bread baker.  Some of my most delightful memories are of bread baking in my mother’s and my grandmother’s kitchens.  I hope those same memories live in my children’s memories of my kitchen.

Bread actually is the staff of life.  Every culture has been making bread of some kind since the beginning of time.  The ingredients are so incredibly simple I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t make it.  Flour, water, yeast and maybe some salt for taste.  Yeast flies around in the air begging people to use it to make their bread rise (or their beer ferment).  You can even make your own sourdough by fermenting grapes.  Just put them in a cloth bag, bash them about a bit,  add some flour and wait a couple of weeks.  Voila! yeast!  Of course you can buy it already packaged, and it would be faster but not nearly as much fun.

Not for nothing do they call it your “daily bread”, it has sustained people all over the world for millenia.  The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam touts “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou beside me singing in the wilderness”.  Possibly the reason they were doing so much singing had something to do with the jug of wine.

The slang word for money is of course “bread” and we absolutely do need that!  So put your money on homemade bread, it’s a Wonder.

NAUGHTY LADY


The Naughtiest Snake in the Woods KSR

Beatrice Wood’s life was extraordinary in every way.  She was a charismatic artist who died at the age of 105, which was extraordinary in itself.  I only met her twice both times in her home in Ojai, Ca., and was hooked on her whimsical, sometimes naughty clay sculptures.  More than that, I was hooked on her!  She was about 100 at the time we discovered her home/studio in the hills of beautiful bucolic Ojai, a charming town above Santa Barbara, which we had always loved.  As a fellow sculptor and lover of clay, I had long been familiar with her work, and her life story.  She had appeared both in newspapers and on TV, so when she suddenly appeared around a corner, she was not a visual surprise.

A tiny, spry and witty little lady, she was like a barefoot hummingbird, draped in colorful sari, and loaded with Indian turquoise and silver jewelry.  I had been a lover and collector of Indian jewelry since my time of living with the Southwest Indians.  Her masses of long grey hair were held in check with more silver, and large Indian earrings bounced from her ears as she pounced about the gallery describing each of her sculptures, and the reason behind the creation of each one.  Her general factotum,  was a small Indian man, who had answered the door at our knock, and introduced himself as her “miserable and humble servant,” though I am sure he was more than that!  I suspected perhaps even a sometime lover!  She had lived for a time in India and adopted the colorful sari as her day-to-day garb forever after.  I believe her connection to India was to be lifelong.

She was rebellious, radical and romantic, and determined to be an artist, so she fled to Paris in the 20’s for several Bohemian seasons as a painter and actress, where she fell into the loving clutches of two Frenchmen: Henri-Pierre Roche, the author of Jules and Jim, and Marcel Duchamp, the iconoclastic Dadaist, who cemented his artistic fame by entering a men’s urinal upside down in an art exhibit to thumb his nose at the current darlings of the art world.   Both men would break her heart, as would a future husband, giving the subject line for many of her subsequent sculptures and paintings.   She took up pottery in her 40’s in So. California and her glazed pots and crudely-made sculptures are intriquing, as is her wonderful transluscent glaze.   I did a series of small pieces using her method, and found they were fun and exciting and immediate        One of our favorite Beatrice sculptures is that of a bordello with all the ladies screaming out the windows as a fire burns brightly around them.  In the rear, men are rapidly scrambling to escape, with the names of the mayor, the police chief, etc. inscribed on the building. Her humor was bawdy, funny, and left no doubt that the broken heart of her youth was being healed with “spit-in-your-eye” jesting. Her white German Shepherd dog was named “Roche” as a salute to one of her earlier romances. James Cameron of “Titanic” fame, fashioned the role of the adventurous 101-year old Rose after Beatrice Woods. When asked to what she attributed her longevity, her stock answer was always “A piece of chocolate every day, and I like young men”!

“Out of the Woods” KSR