An Illustrating Lunch in a Little Museum

“Can meet for quick lunch at 1:30.  You need to pick place.”  The text from my son, Tim, came in at 11:30 a.m.  I had just enough time to change clothes, walk to the subway and travel from where I was staying in Brooklyn to 63rd and Park in Manhattan where my son was working for the day.

Fortunately I had a little extra time because I accidentally round myself on the wrong train. Luckily, I soon discovered my mistake and was able to get off and switch to another train that delivered me within blocks of my destination.

I walked from the station up Lexington Avenue looking for a restaurant where my son and I might meet to eat.  At 62nd I turned to head over to Park Avenue and then up towards 63rd Avenue.  I saw the building where my son was working but no restaurants or cafes.  So I started back towards Lexington.  I hadn’t quite gotten to Lexington when a sign on a wall caught my eye.  “Maurice Sendak Exhibition and Sale,” it read. The poster featured an illustration I recognized from the Sendak’s classic children’s book, “In the Night Kitchen.”

The main gallery for the Museum of Illustrators is open to the public and free of charge.

Curious, I opened the red door, stepped inside 128 E. 63rd and found myself at the Museum of Illustration.  The museum, founded in 1981, is the home of the Society of Illustrators, established in 1901 to promote the art of illustration.  Its membership has included such illustrious artists as N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell, among others.  The five-story townhouse was purchased in 1939 by the society for its headquarters and over several years was renovated to create offices for the society, two galleries and a bookstore on its lower floors for special exhibitions and programs and on the third floor a lounge and library for its membership. In the 1960s, that space was converted into a handsome bar and a cozy but airy dining room that, I discovered, is open to the public from noon to 3 p.m. for lunch.

Among the works on display at the museum were illustrations from Sendak’s “The Night Kitchen.”

It was an ideal spot for my lunch with my son and sent him a message to join me there. In the meantime, I walked into the main gallery where the works of illustrator Maurice Sendak were on display.  Sendak is regarded by many as “the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century,” according to the New York Times. “Where the Wild Things Are” and “The Night  Kitchen” were two of the best read books on my sons shelf when they were growing up so it was a treat to see Sendak’s original sketches, watercolors and ink drawings in this special exhibition. More than one hundred pieces hung on the walls representing some of Sendaks’ rarest work from his books, theatre designs and commercial assignments.  Incredibly, all of them were for sale but at prices beyond my pocketbook.

I hadn’t quite finished viewing the entire exhibit when my son came in. Given his limited 30-minute time for lunch, we went directly upstairs to the bistro, took a table and quickly ordered.  I chose the Cobb salad which was fresh and delicious and reasonable.  Halfway through my meal, Tim received an alert on his phone from a friend.

The bistro serves food for lunchers with illustrators’ works on the walls.

“Where’s your meeting?” he asked referring to my appointment that afternoon.  I told him. “You’re not going there,” he said firmly.  The area, he explained, had been placed on ‘lock down’ when pipe bombs, delivered to various locations throughout the city, had been discovered.

Some of Sendak’s rarest works, such as this sketch, were displayed in the museum’s special exhibit.

With my meeting postponed, I suddenly had two free hours. I decided since I was already there, and somewhere safe, to spend the afternoon at the museum and its relaxing bistro. I went back to the Sendak exhibit and finished looking at the Sendak exhibit.  Then I worked my way up the artwork hanging on the stairway wall to the narrow halls of the second floor where illustrations by the members and now in the society’s permanent collection of 2,500 were

The bold, black and white art from comics such as The Vault of Horror was displayed on the museum’s bistro walls. There’s a bit of humor, along with horror in this illustration of a detached arm hanging onto a subway holder.

displayed.   Magazine illustrations, comic books drawings and cartoons was included.

I returned to the third floor bistro so I could have a closer look at the Norman Rockwell mural that permanently hangs over the bar in the lounge and the illustrations from Mad Magazine and E.C. Comics in the Tales from the Crypt special exhibit. A number of the bold, strongly stylized black and white comic book illustrations came from horror titles, appropriate since Halloween was just around the corner.  Weird Fantasy, Weird Science, Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt were among the comic book titles represented.  The illustrations were detailed, gory and violent in some.  Their graphic-ness disturbed some when they first appeared but their creators were also pointing out hypocrisy, prejudice and inhumanity.  More than 70 pen and ink drawings from the 1950s by some of the genres most celebrated comic artists were on view. I took my time examining each and reading the extensive commentary written by the curator Rob Pistella.

The red canopy of the museum welcomes visitors to the home of the Society of Illustrators.

The afternoon went by quickly.  Before I knew it, it was time for me to leave for my appointment rescheduled from earlier that day.  My plans had taken a sudden turn and given me the unexpected time to spend in this little unassuming New York museum.  In future trips, I’ll check the museum’s calendar and gladly return to the bistro for another lunch.

 

Popping In on Pink at FIT

One of the things I love about travel is the surprises it often brings, even when the trip is tightly scheduled, as it was for me on a recent visit to New York City.  In town for both business and personal reasons, I managed to work in some unexpected stops at a couple of places in the city I’d not been previously.

The first came on Tuesday. My day was full of meetings with me running back and forth from Greenwich Village to  the lower West Side on the subway. It started with a lovely lunch meeting at Mary’s Fish Camp in the Village; then I hopped the Number 1 train to my next appointment on 29th and 7th Ave after which I returned to the Village to drop in on a filmmaker at her office in the West Village.

The sign at the top of the stairs leading to the exhibition clearly says it all.

With my day over, I had a couple of hours free before I was to have dinner with my son.  I had learned about an exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology called quite simply: “Pink.” In all the years that I’ve been to New York, I had never gone to this little museum, located  on 7th Avenue and at 27th street on the college’s block long campus. FIT is part of the State University of New York‘s system and focuses on those disciplines related to the fashion industry.

The Ralph Lauren gown worn by actress Gwyneth Paltrow to the 1999 Academy Awards was intended to recall Grace Kelly. It is one of the items displayed in the Pink exhibit at FIT.

The special exhibit, “Pink: The History of a Pretty, Punk, Powerful Color,” explores the changing significance of the color pink in fashion over the past three centuries.  It’s eye-popping displays of mannequins dressed in clothing from the 18th to the mid-20th century are elegant, colorful, curious and brilliant.  Represented in the 80 ensembles is everything from glamorous gowns to hip-hop influenced threads.  Children’s clothing from the past are presented as are contemporary men’s and women’s suits, dresses, pants and lingerie.  From high fashion to the everyday, it’s all included in this special exhibit.

You’ll see designs by such contemporary fashion industry giants as Valentino, Gucci, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. And there are styles by the more avant-garde such as the Japanese designer,  Rei Kawakubo.  It’s quite a treat to see some of these styles up close and so beautifully shown.

Pink was a fashionable color for men in the 18th century as well as for women.

Hot pink, pastel pink, pale pink, bright pink. Every imaginable shade of the color can be found in the exhibit.  “Pink” curator Valerie Steele also places into perspective the color culturally and explores how it came to be so strongly gender associated with women. That was not always the case. In fact, you learn in the exhibit that pink had neither a feminine nor masculine connotation in the 18th century but rather was associated with “elegance, novelty and aristocratic splendor.”  Perhaps one explanation for this is because the dye used to produce the brighter shades of the color popular at the time was newly discovered and came from Brazil, undoubtedly making it an expensive and limited to only those who could afford it.

The idea that pink was for girls didn’t taken hold until the early 1900s and was further reinforced with the highly publicized purchase in the 1920s by railroad tycoon Henry Huntington of artist Thomas Gainsborough‘s renowned paintings, “The Blue Boy” and “Pinkie” by Thomas Lawrence.  In the 1950s, according to the curator’s commentary, that the stereotype solidified.  But the exhibit also explores how other non-Western cultures have embraced and continue to use the color in dressing both sexes.

Not only is outerwear on display but historic pink undergarments, such as this corset, is included.

I spent nearly two hours browsing through and photographing the exhibit. Pink is, after all, one of my favorite colors (as long as it’s a warmer toned pink).  I have had and still have a lot of pink in my wardrobe. When I was a teenager, my bedroom walls were painted a hot pink.  So the FIT show was  an appropriate stop for me to make.

The clothing in FIT’s exhibit is handsomely and tastefully lit against black backgrounds that make the clothing and the color stand out.  If you find yourself headed to New York between now and Jan. 5,  plan to visit the FIT exhibit and museum.  Admission is free, it’s fairly easy to get to by public transit and it’s certainly not an exhibit that you’re likely to find elsewhere.

As for my other ‘surprises’ from this trip, you’ll need to wait for an upcoming blog.

A luxurious pink bodice from one of the gowns displayed embellished with a bouquet of silk flowers.

Solomon’s Story Pole Is Towering Artistic Achievement

“We are all one. No matter whether the color of our skin is brown, black, white, red, yellow; no matter whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist; no matter where we come from. We are all one,” said artist and former timber businessman David Syre welcoming guests to the dedication of  the 38-foot story pole he commissioned to stand on his Whatcom County farm.

Lummi carver Felix Solomon speaks to those gathered at the dedication ceremony of his most recent commissioned piece.

I was fortunate to have been among the 100 who attended that recent rainy day having been invited by a friend who was the guest of the artist, Lummi carver Felix Solomon.  I had met Solomon just the week prior at his home where he graciously took me out to his workshop where the totem lay awaiting transport to its new home.  The 35-foot cedar log had been transformed by Solomon over the past several months from a rough piece of timber into a majestic and colorful totem.  Solomon had been given little guidance by the commissioning Syre, leaving it up to the master carver to come up with the figures and design for the pole.

The various tools of carver Felix Solomon used when working on one of his projects await their master’s hand.

Solomon drew on his familiarity with the work of carver Joseph Hillaire,  in carving this pole, to carve both sides of the pole instead of just one. Hillaire (1894-1967) is regarded as one of the greatest Coast Salish artists and carvers of the 21st century.  His work was extensive but may be best remembered for his two friendship poles carved for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, one of which went to Kobe, Japan where it was placed. Hillaire and a generation of Lummi carvers ahead of him instituted what is known as ‘story poles,’ according to Seattle Art Museum curator Barbara Bretherton. The poles are tall like totem poles but they tell a story.

Topping the story pole is an eagle with its wings outstretched.

Solomon’s story pole represents “The Creation of Life Story.” At the top of the pole is the eagle, the being that flies closest to the spirit world but is still connected to the earth, according to Solomon.  The moon in its talons represent feminine energy and the reproductive cycles.

Directly below are placed the faces of five animals found on Mount Baker, the Nooksack River and in the Salish Sea–the wolf, the mountain goat, the bear, the cougar and the sea wolf or Orca.

Next comes the design which Solomon received special permission to use in this pole, the Sun Dog, which was on the door of the Lummi Nation chief when they signed the Treaty of 1855 with the United States. In that treaty, the Lummi relinquished much of their native homeland but they retained the rights to the natural resources found there, specifically the salmon, and have seen themselves as protectors of these resources ever since.  It is one reason the Lummi Nation has been a key activist in local, state and regional environmental issues.

The River Woman holds a basket of life in her hands.

Below the Sun Dog design is a concave oval that Solomon says represents the Lummi elders and ancestors.  The crescents on the side are the voices that pass down the tribe’s stories from one generation to

another.

On the back side of the pole are rain clouds that pour into the Nooksack River with the River Woman holding a basket of life in her hands.  At the bottom can be seen spirit dancers, two-legged humans who were the last to be created.

Solomon has received considerable recognition for his carvings and creations.  One of his ‘story poles’ is located in Bellingham’s International Airport; another can be found in the Silver Reef casino in Ferndale,  Wa.  The National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. honored him for his canoe carvings.  But the Creation of Life Story pole is the largest piece he’s done to date.

Carver Felix Solomon with his completed story pole in his workshop only a week before the pole was dedicated.

In order to accommodate the 39-foot cedar log from which the totem was carved, Solomon had to expand his workshop by building on an addition.  The massive totem took Solomon months to hand carve once he worked out the design.  It had to be specially engineering with hidden reinforcements from the bottom so that it would stand securely once positioned into place.  Just sliding the pole from Solomon’s workshop and hoisting it carefully onto a flat-bed truck for transport to the Syre farm was in itself an engineering feat. Solomon gratefully recognized those responsible for that part of the project during the dedication ceremony.

Originally, the ceremony had been planned to take place around the totem. But  rain forced organizers to move it to under the tent that had been erected for the grilled salmon luncheon that followed. Before the ceremonies began, Beverly Cagey brushed the pole with branches of cedar, blessing it while her husband, Jack and their grandson, Hank, accompanied with singing a chant and drumming.

Beverly Cagey brushes branches of cedar over the story pole prior to the dedication ceremony.

Guests gathered beneath the big tent, just steps away from the log cabin that stood close by the Nooksack River.  Nooksack tribal drummers led the small procession that included both the artist and the patron down the short path from the cabin to the tent where Darrell Hillaire, Lummi Nation elder, stood at the microphone waiting to introduce  the speakers and witnesses and welcome the day’s guests.

Lummi Nation member Darrell Hillaire welcome the Nooksack drummers, the host and artist in the opening processional.

Syre spoke and told how he viewed this story pole as one of unification.  Solomon thanked him for the opportunity, gave a brief description of his work on the pole and recognized those on his team who had assisted during the process. Then, as is tradition, Solomon presented the four ‘witnesses’ he had designated for that day with ceremonial blankets which each of them draped over one shoulder for their turn to speak about what they had ‘witnessed’ that day.  Among them was a childhood friend of the host, a Nooksack tribal member, who remembered the times the two had together playing along the river and in the woods on the farms where they grew up.  They had not seen each other in nearly 50 years and had, as

Jack Cagey, foreground, awaits his turn to speak as a witness as host David Syre welcomes the guests.

the friend put it, “a lot of catching up to do.”

Jack Cagey, a Lummi Nation elder, stood from his place at the table where I was sitting and spoke of the need for greater communication between generations, for the need to talk face-to-face and not just through electronic devices.  Another of the witnesses, Candy Wilson, read a poem that I found particularly moving, the name of which I unfortunately missed in her introduction. Their words were eloquent, appropriate and heartfelt. Clearly they were speaking about more than just the pole; they were making a case of for humanity and the practice of it towards one another.

The dedication ceremony program with a description of the story pole, an art piece by Syre along with cedar and feather were set at each place.

Ninety-minutes later, the ceremony drew to a close and everyone was invited, elders first, to share in the grilled salmon luncheon that had been prepared especially for the day. The meal is as much a part of these ceremonies as the ceremony itself because it gives time for those who gathered that day to share not only food with one another with stories across the table.

Solomon’s story pole towers over those who came to the dedication ceremony on a rainy Pacific Northwest Day.

By the end, the rain that had steadily fallen had stopped so that people could walk across the field to where the story pole towered and admire Solomon’s finished work.  Indeed, it is a commanding and colorful piece. It is one of Solomon’s finest accomplishments to date. The public isn’t likely to see this fine story pole unless they catch a glimpse of the eagle’s upward extended wings from the country road that passes close by the pole’s location., ut it’s sure to stand for a very long time on this private property as a powerful reminder that, in the words of Syre: “We are all one.”

 

 

 

The Sounds of Silver

Summer is a reason in itself to celebrate in the Pacific Northwest but this summer, there’s one more thing to celebrate and that’s the silver anniversary of the Bellingham Festival of Music.

I’ve written before here about the festival which happens every July since I moved from Los Angeles to Bellingham.  In fact, the festival is one of the reasons that brought me and my family to Bellingham.  Although I didn’t realize, the festival at the time we first began to consider and explore this area was only three years old.  As the three visits we made before deciding to relocate here were all in August, we missed the festival but became aware of it.

Maestro Michael Palmer greets orchestra concertmaster Richard Roberts at the opening concert of the festival’s 25th season.

Soon after settling in, we began to buy tickets to attend some of the concerts and we’ve been faithful festivalgoers ever since.  Through the years, we’ve heard some amazing music performed by an orchestra with top-notch players from major orchestras around the country, including the N.Y. Philharmonic, the L.A. Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony and the Montreal Symphony.  And the guest artists who have soloed with them are world-class.  Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I’m sitting here in my small community listening to the kind of classical concerts that you usually only find in large, metropolitan cities.

A map marking all the cities from where come the musicians that make-up the festival orchestra.

For any music festival to have survived 25 years is an accomplishment, let alone one that thrives in a community of 100,000 (and less when it first began) and now runs on all volunteer help.  Much credit must be given to the festival’s hard-working boards who  put in hours and hours of time all year to bring the festival together.

A salute must also be given to the man who’s been the artistic director and conductor since the beginning, Michael Palmer.  Palmer, who I’ve come to know in recent years, has a gift for pulling together musicians, most of whom only play together once a year, to present tight, strong performances of classical favorites as well as contemporary new pieces.  It’s a strenuous and demanding job in the three short weeks of the festival’s duration.

Artistic director Michael Palmer, left, confers with composer Aaron Jay Kernis whose “Symphony No. 4, ‘Chromelodeon'” was given it’s West Coast premiere at this year’s festival.

Of course without such talented and professional musicians, the festival would not nearly be the quality it is.  Sitting among the ranks of players are the first oboist for the Boston Symphony, the first violist of the Cincinnati Symphony, the first clarinet and flutist from Atlanta’s Symphony and the first bassist from Seattle’s Symphony, to mention but a few.

This year, much to my delight, also joining the violin section is a young woman named Rachel Frankenfeld Charbel who grew up in Bellingham, played in the Sehome High School orchestra before going off to college at the University of Texas in Austin to study music.  She was among one of my sons’ closest friends as a kid and now plays with the Cincinnati Symphony.  It makes the festival’s 25th anniversary particularly special to those of who have watched her mature into the fine musician she now is.

Violinist Rachel Frankenfeld Charbel grew up playing in Bellingham and is now a member of the festival orchestra.

Also special to Bellinghamsters is the Calidore String Quartet that has become recurring guest artists at the festival.  This young, gifted ensemble has emerged as a major chamber group winning awards, prizes and recognition throughout the world.  To have them return every year for the festival is a special treat for all of us.  The violist also happens to also be a Bellingham native and coincidentally, a classmate of Charbel’s.

Music Festival chair Karen Berry, right, with two members of the Calidore String Quartet, cellist Estelle Choi and violinist Jeffrey Myers.

Only three concerts remain in this year’s 25th anniversary season; one this evening with guest violinist Simone Porter playing Prokofiev’s “Violin Concert No. 1 in D Major;” a free chamber concert on July 18 at the Whatcom Museum of History and Art and the final closing concert on July 20 featuring the festival chorus singing Poulenc’s “Gloria” with the orchestra.  If you’re in close range, I encourage you to attend one of these and if not this year, plan to go next year and celebrate yet another season with the Bellingham Festival of Music.

 

 

Totem Memorializes Local Tragedy

On this weekend in the U.S., people are honoring the memories of the country’s military  who died in action. But another memorial is on my mind today prompted by an article that appeared the other day in the local newspaper.  That is the beautiful totem pole memorial that stood along the trail of Whatcom Creek on the edgeof Whatcom Falls Park in our city.

The healing totem was especially beautiful in the spring when the trees surrounding it flowered.

Sadly, the totem was recently removed, I read in the Bellingham Herald after someone vandalized and ‘tagged’ the pole with graffiti.  Not long ago, a friend of mine had told me that the box that sat atop the pole, was missing and wondered why.  Now the entire pole and the two carved wooden benches that sat beside it are gone after city workers removed them and placed them in protective storage until they can be restored.

While the city’s action is commendable, that of the vandals was disrespectful and, frankly, inexcusable.  I am giving those individuals the benefit of the doubt that they apparently are unaware of that they not only did they deface a significant Native artwork, but in so doing they insulted the artist, the Lummi Nation and the families of those killed in the 1999 Bellingham pipeline explosion for whom the pole was intended to memorialize.

The vibrant, bold colors of the totem can be seen in this detail of a salmon.

The 15-foot cedar log pole was created by the Lummi House of Tears carvers under the direction of Lummi Nation’s master carver Jewell James. Its bright, bold and beautiful paint was applied under the supervision of head painter Ramona James.  The pole took months to carve and paint before finally being erected and dedicated during an Earth Day ceremony in 2007.   “The pole is to restore the stream and its habitat and to remember the three boys who lost their lives,” carver James told American Profile reporter Heather Larson.

James referred to the three boys–Liam Wood, 18, Wade King and Stephen Tsiovras, both 10, who were killed when the Olympic pipeline (now owned by British Petroleum) carrying gasoline exploded dumping an estimated 277,000 gallons into the creek that runs through Whatcom Falls Park, located in the middle of Bellingham.  Liam was fishing after having just graduated from high school; Wade and Stephen were playing, as they often did together, further down creek.  It was a day that darkened the sky over Bellingham as the black cloud billowed above the park.  The explosion literally stopped life in town as everyone, myself included, wondered what had happened and emergency first responders rushed to the site.

Lummi Nation master carver Jewell James speaks at the dedication ceremony.

The explosion made national news, changed national pipeline regulation (although the families of those who died will tell you not enough) and some believe awoke Bellingham to the dangers that unregulated and aging pipelines pose for not only our city, but others like it throughout the country.

Lummi Nation tribal members as well as family and Bellingham community members gathered on April 20, 2007 to dedicate the healing totem.

I was present, along with a few others, on the day of Lummi Nation gave and dedicated the totem and benches to the city. The ceremony was emotional and moving with other Pacific Northwest Native Nations witnessing the event in order to pass the story along to the next generation. Those gathered listened solemnly as carver James spoke eloquently about the need to promote healing for all those impacted by the explosions, wildlife as well as human life, and about the importance of being good stewards of the environment.  Members of the Lummi Nation, also delivered a heartfelt messages for the family members attending. Lummi drummers and flutists played.  Blankets were draped around the shoulders of the deceased boys’ young friends, now high school students, participating in the unveiling during the ceremony.

The parents of Wade King, Frank and Mary, watch as their son’s personal belongings are placed into the memorial box on the totem.

Then, James asked the family members of the victims to bring forward the items that they had brought to be placed into the memorial box positioned atop the totem.  One by one the personal belongings of Stephen and Wade were handed up the tall ladder to the tribal member who carefully laid them inside.  A teddy bear, a baseball card and cap were among the things. The lid was fitted tightly and sealed.  Tears streamed down the faces of not only the family members but others who were that day.

And, as the ceremony was ending, two solitary eagles soared and glided over head, just as James had told Wade’s mother, Mary, earlier that day that they would.

As if on cue, two majestic eagles appeared, silhouetted in the sky, as the totem’s dedication ceremony concluded.

It was a day I’ll never forget.  When I read about the vandalism of the totem and its removal, my heart ached.  The city is apparently intent on repairing and restoring the totems and benches but in the meantime, there is a huge emptiness where they stood in the opening by the creek. The runners, walkers and visitors who pass by it will miss it.  The totem served as a somber, dignified reminder, as well as a memorial, to those who tragically died on that early June day in Bellingham.  That’s what’s on my mind this Memorial Day.

Violins, Nopales and Kansas Connections

This was supposed to be a piece about the fabulous cactus salad that my friend Juan Ramirez cooks up.  But during the course of putting it all together the other evening, the topic turned to violins.  Specifically, his violin.

 

Composer Ramirez with Bellingham Festival of Music orchestra conductor Michael Palmer after a rehearsal for his “Suite Latina” at the 2016 festival.

A composer and violinist, Juan has been in residence in Bellingham for the past three weeks where he has played in the first violin section with the Bellingham Festival of Music orchestra.  Last year, his work, “Suite Latina”, was performed by the orchestra with the Calidore String Quartet as soloists. The music evokes the sensuous dance rhythms of the composer’s native Mexico. The piece was originally written for string quartet and first performed at the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival in 2001. Juan adapted it for quartet and orchestra, especially for the Bellingham Festival where it was given its world premiere and a standing ovation from the audience.

The 2016 festival audience gives a standing ovation at the world premiere of Ramirez’ “Suite Latina” for string quartet and orchestra.

But the celebrated composer is also known for culinary artistry as well, with his specialty being his native Mexican dishes, especially his mole, made from a family recipe.  It’s a recipe that takes him three days to concoct and includes much grinding and pulverizing of ingredients using a blending machine from India in order to get just the right texture and consistency.  Most Americans I know think of mole simply as sauce with Mexican chocolate as the key ingredient.  Chocolate, specifically cocoa, is a main ingredient in Juan’s family recipe, but it is only one of 18 ingredients that go into his tasty, slightly spicy sauce.  Adding his mole, which is more pasty than the runny stuff usually poured over standard Mexican fare, to homemade enchiladas or to chicken turns the ordinary into an extraordinary treat!

Juan serves up his mole dish.

I watched Juan in my kitchen warming the mole on the stove and assembling the equally as delicious cactus salad made with nopales, or the big, flat paddle-like leafs from the prickly pear plant, that we began talking about violins.

I asked if he ever had any trouble traveling with his violin on airlines, given the recent headlines about one professional violinist whose instrument the airline, United, insisted be checked as baggage instead of carried on board with her.  “Not since the new laws,” Juan answered referring to the FAA rules revisions in 2015.

Then I asked where, when and how he found his violin.  “That’s a good story,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.  His violin was made in 1748 by Carlo Antonio Testore of the Milano school of violin makers who were crafting their instruments in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  It’s uncertain exactly how it came to America, but it was the possession of a plantation owner in Macon, Georgia prior to the Civil War.  He gave it to one of his favorite slaves who, upon the plantation owner’s death, “laid this instrument away as a keepsake,” according to a 1916 letter detailing the history.   The violin became the slave’s son, after his father died. The son had moved to the small town of Pratt, Kansas where he worked as a train porter.

At the mention of Pratt, I stopped Juan and told him that I was familiar with the town, having grown up in Kansas.  What a coincidence, I thought, for a musician who lives in Atlanta and plays with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to be standing in my kitchen mentioning Pratt, Kansas!  But the story continues..

The beautiful tiger grain of the back of Juan’s Testore violin is as rich-looking as the sound it produces.

The son, unable to pay a debt owed to F.A. Erwin, the writer of the 1916 letter, turned over the violin as payment. Eventually the Testore ended up in a violin shop in Wichita, Kansas.  Juan was a student at Emporia State Teachers’ College (now Emporia State University) in Emporia, Kansas (also a place with which I am very familiar) when he visited the Wichita shop to have his bow rehaired.  The shop owner took the violin out of its case, Juan said, and handed it to Juan to play.  “I fell in love with it and the sound,” he recalls. But being a college student attending Emporia on a scholarship, he had no money with which to purchase it. The violin went back into its case.

Juan transferred from Emporia to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. When his teacher told Juan he needed a better violin he knew exactly the one he wanted. But when he contacted the Wichita violin shop owner Juan was told that an 80-year-old doctor had bought it for his son who had decided to take up the violin.  Juan was disappointed.

The composer/violinist proudly holds his cherished Testore violin.

Three years later, the violin shop owner notified him that he once again had the Testore violin. The doctor’s son, it seems, had switched from violin to accordion, and the violin was returned to the shop. Elated by the news, Juan dressed in his best clothes and walked down to the bank to ask for a loan in order to buy his prized instrument.  With the money granted, Juan booked a flight and headed back to Wichita where the shop owner took the violin out once again and handed it over to Juan.

It has now been his violin for nearly 46 years and he’s not likely to part with it anytime soon.  You might say the story has come full circle.  Juan plays it as a violinist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in Atlanta, Georgia, only a little more than an hour’s drive from Macon where the instrument first was traced.  And in 1988, Juan took it with him to Milan, the city where it was made, and played it in the city’s cathedral.

The cactus salad is ready to eat!

His story wrapped up just as the cactus salad was ready to chill in the refrigerator. Those same hands, which so nimbly had moved all over the fingerboard during the playing of music by Leonard Bernstein in the concert the night before, now turned to the delicate task of rolling enchiladas drizzled, inside and out, with Juan’s grandmother’s mole. That is another story.

 

 

A Swedish Birthday Surprise, Relatively Speaking

Birthday surprises usually come in the form of parties or gifts. I’ve received both. But last year for my birthday, I was surprised to learn about a new relative.  And fortunately, it came as a welcomed surprise.

The news arrived not with someone standing on my door, but in the form of a large mailing envelope sent from Sweden. I immediately recognized the return address as that of Bo, cousin to my aunt Marie who was married to my father’s brother, Dale. I’ve known Bo nearly my entire life. His family and my own have become like extended family. I spend time with them whenever I go to Sweden, as I did earlier this summer.

When I opened the envelope from Bo, I expected to find a birthday card, but was surprised to find much more.  Inside was a letter that read:  “As you are very like Pippi Longstocking in many ways there is some connection to her in you I must say…As the author Astrid Lindgren who wrote the book is a kind of relative to your mother.” Along with the letter was a family tree linking my mother to the Swedish author as a fourth cousin.  My mother’s fourth cousin?

The books of Astrid LIndgren on display here in a shop window in Vimmerby have been translated into 70 languages.
The books of Astrid LIndgren on display here in a shop window in Vimmerby have been translated into 70 languages.

What a discovery! Astrid Lindgren is one of Sweden’s most treasured authors. Her books about the freckled-faced, pig-tailed girl, Pippi Longstocking, has become a children’s classic throughout the world. Her books have been translated into 70 languages and made into several films and television series. There is even an Astrid Lindgren’s World, a children’s theme park and a popular family destination located outside Lindgren’s hometown of Vimmerby.

Families leave Astrid Lindgrens World after a day at the popular theme park.
Families leave Astrid Lindgrens World after a day at the popular theme park.

Lindgren herself was honored last year when her picture was placed on the 20 Swedish kronor, replacing that of another beloved Swedish children’s writer, Selma Lagerlöf. Bo had enclosed one of the freshly printed bills inside my letter. In addition, Lindgren and the characters from her books became the subject of a set of shiny silver commemorative coins.  One of these, along with the folder with spots for the other coins, I also found in Bo’s package. I want to collect the entire set.

Children's author Lindgren was honored in 2015 when her picture was placed onto the Swedish kronor. There is also a commemorative coin set.
Children’s author Lindgren was honored in 2015 when her picture was placed onto the Swedish kronor. There is also a commemorative coin set.

Having learned about my Lindgren connection, I of course made it a priority on my recent trip, to visit Lindgren’s hometown of Vimmerby where she was born, where she is buried and where Pippi’s adventures are set. It was a part of my trip to which I was most looking forward.

I drove into Vimmerby mid-afternoon on a Saturday. It was only a 48 minute drive inland from Vastervik, where my husband and I had disembarked from the Gotland ferry. The shops in Vimmerby’s town square had closed at two o’clock. I would not buy any Pippi Longstocking souvenirs to carry home. We strolled into the charming square, empty except for a handful of visitors like ourselves.

Play strutures like this child-size cottage sit in Vimmerby's town square for children to explore.
Play structures like this child-size cottage sit in Vimmerby’s town square for children to explore.

At one end of the square sat the old, mustard-colored Town Hall and opposite is a lovely hotel with patio tables on the porch.  In the center of the square, near the hotel, are several small play structures taken from Lindgren’s books:  a sailing ship,a cottage, Kindergarten-sized children were crawling in and out and climbing up and down in delight.

I meet Astrid LIndgren's lifestize sculpture which sits in he hometown of Vimmberby, Sweden.
I meet Astrid Lindgren’s life-size sculpture which sits in he hometown of Vimmerby, Sweden.

On the other side of the square, nearer the Town Hall, is a life-size sculpture of my famous cousin sitting at desk with a typewriter. It felt a little odd to meet my newly found relative in this way, but was quite an honor at the same time.

I next sought out her resting place in the neatly kept, hilltop cemetery. Thanks to some local residents, I found her gravestone, alongside that of her parents and sister. It was a simple stone for such a celebrated figure, quite humble and unassuming. I wondered if it reflected her personality in life.

The famous author's grave stone is a simple stone in the Vimmerby cemetery.
The famous author’s grave stone is a simple stone in the Vimmerby cemetery.

As we walked back through the streets of Vimmerby we noted the spots where Pippi and her sidekick, Tommy, had their adventures. Then we headed out to the Lindgren family home, where Astrid was born and lived as a child. The little house is located on a farm known as Näs in Vimmerby.  It stands exactly as it was when Astrid grew up there, having been restored by Lindgren herself. Tours of the house are available almost daily except when closed for the winter from mid-December until March. Unfortunately, we arrived after hours. Had someone been around I might have told them that I was a ‘cousin’ from the U.S., in hopes that they would take pity on me and allow me inside.

In the Exjoibit Jaöö. Lindgrenäs life and achivements are presented for visitors.
In the exhibit hall. Lindgren’s life and achievements are presented for visitors.

Also on the property, owned by the city of Vimmerby, stands a modern glass-walled exhibition hall where her life and achievements are displayed. But again, we were too late and unable to go in. I was disappointed but until only a year ago, I didn’t even know that the woman remembered here was even remotely related to me. Now that I do, I will return the next trip to see both the house and the museum.

Back in Stockholm, three long, large banners hung down from the city’s concert hall.  On two of the red banners were the words: Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award with the name and image of the winning author—Meg Rosoff—printed on the center banner. The award is presented annually to presented to authors, illustrators, oral storytellers and reading promoters to honor her memory and promote interest in children’s and young adult literature. It is the largest such literature award in the world.

Banners of this year's Astird Lindgren Memorial Aware stream down in Stockolm's Concert Hall.
Banners of this year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Aware stream down in Stockholm’s Concert Hall.

Lindgren’s apartment  in Stockholm where she lived for 61 years, is also open for tours but reservations must be made in advance. Even though we were unable to secure reservations, Bo accompanied me to apartment. The apartment itself looks out over a large park, Vasa Park, bustling with children. Lindgren would be pleased, I’m sure, to hear their gleeful shrieks and young laughter outside her window.

Next time I visit Sweden, I will return to these places for an inside tour. For now, however, I have the commemorative coins Bo sent to me and the 20 kronor bills that I collected and carried home to share with my family. How many people can say that their cousin appears on their national money? What a birthday surprise that was!

 

Beautiful Music in My Own Backyard

Summers in the Puget Sound area, where I live, don’t officially start, weather-wise, until July 13, according to local meteorologists.  But in Bellingham, summers begin when the musicians from around the country arrive for the Bellingham Festival of Music.  That happened last week.

The Bellingham Festival of Music begins its summer season with a picnic for the musicians at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.
The Bellingham Festival of Music begins its summer season with a picnic for the musicians at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.

The Festival, now in its 23rd season from July 1-17, is one of the things that I look forward to every summer. In fact, the Festival is one of the amenities that attracted us and ultimately convinced us to move to Bellingham. It must be a draw for the musicians too as every summer, 44 musicians from major orchestras across the U.S. and Canada (plus additional players as needed) assemble here to play two weeks worth of some of the most beautiful music in the world.  We like to think that they are also playing in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

It all begins with a welcoming picnic for the musicians, conductor Micheal Palmer, the chorus members, sponsors and the families who host the musicians in their homes during their stay.  This year’s picnic took place at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal which offers a terrific view of the Bay and Bellingham. It’s an ideal spot for returning and new musicians to meet this year’s Festival board members, local sponsors and the home hosts.

Janet Lightner,co-owner of Boundary Bay Brewery, served brews with her sister, Vicki, at the Festival of Music picnic.
Janet Lightner, co-owner of Boundary Bay Brewery, served brews with her sister, Vicki, at the Festival of Music picnic.

The potluck picnic, provided by the Festival Board member and volunteers, is tasty and plentiful.  Following appetizers and drinks, with local prize-winning microbrewery Boundary Bay serving up some of its finest beers, the picnickers head off to the buffet table and dinner. Afterwards, this year’s Board Chair, Karen Berry, officially opened the season by introducing maestro Michael Palmer who, in turn, introduced this year’s team of musicians.

Thumbs Up
Festival musicians Marci Gurnow and Christian Colberg give the buffet table a thumbs up at the opening picnic for the Bellingham Festival of Music.

Section by section, starting with the first violins of course, the musicians took their turn at the podium to share with the evening’s guests their answers to the question: “What was your most embarrassing moment as a musician?” There were some great ones: insects falling onto instruments and being flung into the audience, missed cues, parts of bassoons falling out during performances, women’s undergarments landing on violin scrolls during a Tom Jones’ show, auditions that turned out well despite mishaps and being encouraged to pursue other professions.  It all made for some entertaining anecdotes.

Many of the Festival’s musicians have been coming to Bellingham for years.  They have become a ‘family’ in the sense that they know one another’s spouses and children, have forged long-lasting friendships with their home hosts and share in the joys and sadness of one another’s lives. Last summer, one of the musicians stayed beyond the Festival dates in order to have her wedding in Bellingham. This year, a group from the orchestra is throwing a baby shower for an expectant father who’s playing here while his wife, nearing her due date, remained at home.

Bellingham Fesitval of Music Chair Karen Berry welcomes the musicians and guests at the opening picnic.
Bellingham Festival of Music Chair Karen Berry welcomes the musicians and guests at the opening picnic.
Maestro MIchael Palmer takes the podium to introduce the Festival musicians.
Maestro MIchael Palmer takes the podium to introduce the Festival musicians.

This long-term bonding has, over the years, made the orchestra tighter when they play together onstage. At least that’s my belief having now gone to concerts for the past 20 years. Although together for only a short time, with rehearsals only days ahead of each concert, they meld into a solid sound.  I have often found myself astounded to be sitting in my own backyard–nearly literally as the concert hall at Western Washington University where they play is within walking distance–and listening to world-class performances.

Principal bassist from the Seattle Symphony Jordan Anderson shares his ‘most embarrassing moment’ at the Bellingham Festival of Music picnic.

For Festival goers, the concerts are a bargain with ticket prices topping at $45 for premiere seating in a small, intimate performance hall of just 650 seats. I recall the many years that I lived in Los Angeles and

was a subscriber to the L.A.Philharmonic. Travel time from our home was 45 minutes at least, depending upon traffic, bargain tickets were usually no less than $45 and in the top tiers of the 3,000 seat hall, plus parking costs and don’t forget money for the babysitter. Granted, I no longer need to pay a babysitter, but all the other costs of hearing live classical music and experiencing outstanding performances in as beautiful a natural setting as you’ll ever find make the Bellingham Festival of Music an incredible deal. Especially for us locals.

Donna Lively Clark from the Festival orchestra's viola section tells the picnic guests how much she enjoys the shopping when she comes to play.
Donna Lively Clark from the Festival orchestra’s viola section tells the picnic guests how much she enjoys the shopping when she comes to play.

If you don’t live in the immediate area, you can spend the week vacationing and enjoying the classical music concerts at night and any one number of activities during the day–strolling the art galleries and shops, tipping a few brews on the ‘Tap Trail,” hiking or biking on one of our many trails, playing golf on one of 22 courses here, fishing, kayaking or sailing on the Bay. I can’t think of a place I’d rather be.

 

One on One with Beatle Paul

When I was kid, my parents often sat down on Sunday evenings to rest and relax watching their favorite television programs. For my dad, it was the Western about the Cartwright family, “Bonanza”. For my mom, it was the variety show hosted by the radio announcer turned TV personality, Ed Sullivan. My childhood favorite was “Lassie,” about the heroics of a talented and loving collie that aired earlier than my parents’ picks. Most of the time I didn’t care which of the two programs they watched as I liked both. Until February, 1964.

IMG_0961Bow
The Beatles take a bow after their performance onstage.

I had heard at school from some friends who had older siblings that Ed Sullivan was presenting a new music group that evening that had come all the way from England to appear on his program. Even though we lived in the heartland of the country, word about this new band had spread. My friends were very excited about it so I thought I must tune in to see what it was all about.

The channel was turned to the CBS affiliate. I sat down on the floor and scooted up close to the screen. The suspense was terrific.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Sullivan announced in his “really big” distinctive voice, “The Beatles!”

The girls in the television audience went wild as the four-member rock band launched into the first of three songs: “All My Loving.” In the second half, they played two more including the one I remember best opening with the four beat introductory measures: “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” A record 73 million watched that evening and the rest, as they say, is history.

I, like every other pre-teen and teenager then, was taken by this mop topped group from across the Atlantic. I liked the strong,driving beat of the music, I preferred their “British” sound to the saccharine tones of Perry Como, my Mother’s favorite popular singer, and I quickly learned the lyrics and the melodies. My parents were less enamored.

My Dad surprised me with the Beatles first album.
My Dad surprised me with the Beatles first album.

But when my Dad returned from his national photography convention that spring, he presented me with a gift that “all the kids in Chicago were buying,” according to the salesman. I nearly flipped when he took out of his bag and handed to me the record album: Meet the Beatles. It was my first long play record and certainly my very first rock music album. I still have it, the album cover shows years of love but the record still sounds great when you pop it onto a turntable.

I had already bought the special magazine about the Fab Four with a cover identical to that of the album. I read it cover to cover devouring the bits of info about the twenty-something Beatle members. Paul McCartney, the “romantic” of the group, became my favorite Beatle.

Beatle cards were collected like baseball cards by young fans such as myself.
Beatle cards were collected like baseball cards by young fans such as myself.

I collected Beatle cards. Each was the size of a baseball card, (which I also collected,) featured a photo of the band and was autographed by one of them. I practiced capitalizing my “G’s” like George Harrison’s and still write it that way today.

During the six short years the band toured in the United States, I never saw the Beatles in a live performance. Tickets were too expensive and they seldom performed anywhere near my small hometown in mid-America.  I finally got my chance recently when Paul McCartney performed his One on One concert in Vancouver B.C.  I was finally in the same room as Paul, along with nearly 16,000 other excited McCartney music fans.

McCartney charmed his fans at his One on One concert in Vancouver B.C.
McCartney charmed his fans at his One on One concert in Vancouver B.C.

Paul may be 73 now, but I was a teenager again as I took to my seat high above the arena stage. McCartney came out to the roar of his audience as he kicked off the evening with what was clearly a crowd favorite–“A Hard Day’s Night.” For the next two hours, the beloved former Beatle played a program filled with mostly familiar songs–including “Lady Madonna,” “Let It Be” and “We Can Work It Out”–from the Beatles and Wings, along with a couple newer tunes.  I and the crowd sang along with most of them. In between, while switching out bass guitars or moving from the guitar tot he piano, he told stories about the songs, about his band mates, about his life.

I never knew, for instance, that the beautiful ballad “Blackbird” was written in response to the Civil Rights movement.  Or that Beatle producer George Martin changed who sang the lead part because John Lennon couldn’t both sing and play the harmonica on the last line: “Whoa, love me do.”

Between songs, McCArtney told ancedotes about the Beatles and his bandmates.
Between songs, McCartney told anecdotes about the Beatles and his band mates.

Some performers who’ve been at it as long as McCartney has, resent singing the old hits. Not McCartney. He clearly enjoyed playing them for the audience and came back at after taking his final bow he returned for an encore (clearly programmed because of the choreographed pyrotechnics) for another 45 minutes.

I looked around at the audience who were waving their arms and singing to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”.  The feeling was magical. Many, like me, were teenagers when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, but it was a multi-generational group.  That a band together for only ten years could produce so much music that has become part of the popular culture is remarkable. I relished every minute of McCartney’s concert. Though those young Beatles stepped onto Sullivan’s stage more than 50 years ago, for me it was almost like seeing them for the first time, because in way I was.

The encore at McCartney's concert was a display of light and pyrotechnics.
The encore at McCartney’s concert was a display of light and pyrotechnics.

 

Finding Faces of Phoenix in a Surprising Place

Travelling is an adventure.  No matter how many times I have visited a place, I seem to discover something new, something that I overlooked before or failed to take in during previous visits. This happened to me on a recent trip to Phoenix.  I lived in that city for five years a long while ago. The city has grown tremendously since then although the city’s core remains much the same as it was then.

This trip I stayed with good friends Eileen and John whose home is around the corner from where I last lived in Phoenix, just one block from Phoenix College.  At the time I lived there, Phoenix College was not nearly the size it is today. Early one morning, I decided to stroll through the campus just to see what had changed.

The oblelisk-like moasiac sculpture stands 18-feet tall.
The oblelisk-like mosaic sculpture stands 18-feet tall.

At the end of my walk, I headed down the parking lot towards the little duplex where I once lived. But before I got to it, I came to an obelisk-shaped sculpture towering on the corner. I had to gain a closer look.

The three-sided artwork is filled with faces from the Phoenix community.
The three-sided artwork is filled with faces from the Phoenix community.
Topping the sculpture is a steel abstract of the Phoenix bird.
Topping the sculpture is a steel abstract of the Phoenix bird.

The three-sided sculpture was filled from top to bottom with faces.  What a curious piece, I thought. Each face was different.  Their expressions drew me in. I moved around and around the piece, looking up and down, trying to get a better view of the ones placed higher, towards the metal abstract Phoenix bird topping the structure.

I must return to the house, grab my camera, come back and photograph this intriguing art piece, I thought. When I did, I asked Eileen if she knew anything about the sculpture. Indeed, not only did she know about it, but her own face was among those on it!  Together she and I walked back to the corner where it stood. But as hard as we tried, we couldn’t find her face amongst the many. “My daughter knows exactly where it is,” she told me, “I’ve forgotten”

My friend Eileen's face is among the many on the sculpture.
My friend Eileen’s face is among the many on the sculpture.
The expressions of the sculpture's faces draw you in.
The expressions of the sculpture’s faces draw you in.

The piece, I later learned, is titled “Faces of a Community” and represents the diversity of ages, cultures, and people who make up the Southwestern city of Phoenix.  During the making of the artwork, my friend’s face was molded in plaster by one of the artists, locally renown maskmaker Zarrco Guerrero.  The mold was then used to create a clay likeness of her face which was attached, along with the many others, to the final piece. The pieces were glazed in blues, terra-cotta and creme colors and carefully positioned up and down the obelisk.  It would have been fun to watch as the artists’ placed each of these faces and the manner in which they established the relationships of one to another.

The final piece was installed in 2002 and was the end result of a collaboration between artists Helen Helwig, Niki Glen, MIchael Anderson and Guerrero. Students, teachers and community members all participated in making the life casts and moulding the faces. Today, the 18 foot tall sculpture anchors the northeast corner of the campus where, undoubtedly it attracts students and visitors, like myself, who just happen upon it and provides a perfect way to finish or begin a walk around the Phoenix College campus.

The faces were cast from life models and reflect the diversity of the Phoenix city.
The faces were cast from life models and reflect the diversity of the Phoenix city.