Wednesday, June 21, 2017

SOUTH BEND-BOUND





GARDEN, CARMELITE MONASTERY,
MONTEREY, CA

I'm a bit overloaded on traveling this month.

First Sioux Falls, SD, then a lovely trip to Livermore, CA, to attend my nephew Allen's high school graduation. On the way home, I stopped in Monterey to visit with the one and only Fr. Pat Dooling. Fr. Pat said 9 am Sunday Mass at the Carmelite Monastery after which we repaired to breakfast with Miss Anne Breiling, she of the soon-to-open Shrine Coffee in Santa Cruz.

I stayed for two nights at an airbnb in the Monterey-adjacent town of Seaside which not to put too fine of a point on it, is kind of a dump. The good news is that my room was in by far the most charming dwelling--most charming building, or really sight, of any kind--in the entire town. Very tasteful with sisal rugs, antiques, and delightful gardens.

SUNSET OVER SEASIDE, CA

Tomorrow I'm headed to South Bend, Indiana, and a Catholic literary conference at Notre Dame entitled "Trying to Say God." I get to give the keynote address Friday night at 8, which is kind of past my bedtime but maybe with the time change and lots of coffee I'll be okay.

Yesterday I had a visitor, Mr. Anthony Santella of NYC. Anthony helped me plant my two five-gallon Joseph's Coat climbing roses on either side of the sea-green paint-peeling vintage wrought iron trellis. We are enjoying a freakish heat wave in Pasadena and when we took the roses, which I'd been frantically watering lest they wilt, out of their black plastic pots, the soil literally steamed.

Anthony was a joy. Prior to planting, we sat at my dining room table and nibbled and yakked for several hours on a variety of subjects. He has a PhD in computer science and works at Sloan Kettering mapping the nervous system of worms.

Here's a little bio I just picked up online: "I am a post doctoral fellow at Sloan Kettering Institute working on image analysis and visualization of large in vivo microscopy data sets.  The first goal here is to reduce terabytes of images of embryonic development to the manageable form of segmented nuclei and cellular lineages. Then comes the harder problem of analyzing and understanding the result.  I am also interested in visualization methods that aid interpretation of these data sets by highlighting important developmental events."

"I graduated from the Computer Science Department in May 2005 with a certificate in Cognitive Science.  Broadly, my  areas of interest include: graphics, computer-human interaction, and computer and human vision.  My larger interests include the visual arts and the influence of technology on society, especially the underprivileged and marginalized." 

So you can imagine the conversation was lively.

One thing I learned is that you can store your urine in jars and after a while it makes good fertilizer for your garden.

I return home Sunday and am home till Saturday, when I leave for 10 days at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in Temecula, CA.

Here I hope to see and talk to no-one--while I process June.

FAIRY-KISSED GERANIUMS,
NORTH GARFIELD AVE.
PASADENA, CA



SCENES OF HOME

Friday, June 16, 2017

LIGHT UPON THE SCAFFOLD: THE PRISON LETTERS OF JACQUES FESCH



Here's how this week's. arts and culture column begins:

Servant of God Jacques Fesch (1930-1957), a murderer who spent three years and eight months in solitary confinement, experienced a profound conversion before his execution by guillotine in a French prison.

“Light Upon the Scaffold: The Prison Letters of Jacques Fesch,” edited by Augustin-Michel Lemonnier and translated by Matthew J. O’Connell, is the title of his collected prison letters.

Jacques’ father, a bank director, was dominating, cynical and virulently atheistic. His mother was weak. Worse, the two neither loved nor respected one another. Thus Jacques had little moral and no religious guidance.

As an adult, Jacques was lazy, a sensualist and a dreamer. He married his wife, Pierrette, already pregnant, in a civil ceremony and soon left her. The murder took place during a botched robbery attempt, part of a plan to buy a boat and sail to Polynesia.

Jacques was arrested and held in solitary confinement at La Santé Prison in Paris. Though he originally spurned the prison chaplain, the two gradually became close. An old, loyal friend was ordained a priest during Jacques’ incarceration and visited frequently. Jacques’ lawyer, Baudet, was an ardent Catholic.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

CHERRY HILL PICK-YOUR-OWN FAMILY FARM




For this week's arts and culture piece, I went and picked my own damn cherries!

Here's how the piece begins:

Ever since my first spring in Los Angeles 27 years ago, my heart sings at the opening of cherry season. And every year for about the last 20, I have told myself I’m going to take a field trip and pick my own.

This year I finally did. One good place to start is the town of Leona Valley, outside Palmdale, which is a kind of cherry mecca.

Even before embarking, I could see it was a whole other world up there. The farm stands sell local farm-fresh honey and eggs. The names of the cherry varieties conjured visions of Tuscany: Tartarian, Tieton, Chelan, Lapins.

There were many orchards to choose from. One website proclaimed in bold letters: “Remember, we have a $5 per person minimum purchase and we do not allow eating the cherries while picking in the orchard. Pick, pay then eat!”

I was almost tempted to visit that one just to see how the rule was enforced. Did a guy with a cattle prod wander around zapping anyone caught sneaking a stray Rainier? Did a gal in a Smokey’s hat patrol the orchard with a bullhorn, braying, “You, clad weirdly in black and clutching a rosary, I saw you scarf that Bing!”


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

HEROES




I slept badly all last week, mainly because I felt called to wake around 2 or 3 am PST in order to "help" Garbiñe Muguruza, my most beloved female tennis player, win the French Open. I don't even have a TV, never mind the Tennis Channel, so I did this by watching the scores of Rounds 1, 2, and 3 on my phone.

Garbiñe (who last year beat Serena Williams to win the tournament) went out Saturday in the 4th Round. The victor was shown in the pumped-fist, teeth-bared, king-of-the-jungle pose that has become de rigueur for sports "heroes" in our culture of aggression and violence.

Somehow the whole event depressed me way more than is rational.

Then yesterday, on the elliptical at the gym, I burst into tears: the terror in London, our withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, the fact that North Korea may lob a nuclear weapon over to San Francisco or LA any minute, a recent gushing NYT piece about a guy whose last act on earth was to commit suicide--this is now called "choreographed death" and is of course thoroughly endorsed and praised by mainstream culture.

It feels as if the whole world were sickening and dying. Still, nothing is solved or helped, I need to remind myself, by name-calling, snarkiness, or making the other into "the enemy."

Real activism and real resistance take place in the innermost chambers of the heart.  That is where the resolve forms as to how to order our daily lives, actions, thoughts. That is where I, for one, ask for mercy for my own failings, sorrow with the suffering at the core of the world, hunger for righteousness, truth, and beauty: natural, artistic, moral.

That is where I know that if I were told I would die next week I would go on doing exactly what I do already. Pray, write, work in the garden, practice the piano, sit down face to face, one human being to another, with family, friends, fellow recovering alcoholics, strangers passing through. Listen. Participate. Give of my substance. Respond.

This morning's NYT carried an article about a ballet dancer, Gray Davis, 31, who jumped down onto the subway tracks over the weekend to rescue a homeless man who'd been pushed off the platform. He was leaving the theater with his mother and his wife, also a dancer, after seeing her perform. “At first I waited for somebody else to jump down there. People were screaming to get help. But nobody jumped down. So I jumped down.”

31 years old. Works for American Ballet Theater. Probably a bit more concerned about his body than most.

"The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." That made me weep, too.






Wednesday, May 31, 2017

JUNE PILGRIMAGE



IT'S JACARANDA SEASON IN LA


I'm off tomorrow for the first of three June trips.

The first is to Sioux Falls, SD, to the ordination as a priesT of my dear old friend Timothy J. Smith.

The second will be to Livermore, CA, to the high school graduation of my nephew Allen E. King. I hope to arrive in time to take in the Centennial Light Bulb. From there, I'll motor down to the Monterey area to visit with my another dear friend, ordained a priest for decades, the one and only Fr. Patrick Dooling, who will say Sunday morning Mass for the Carmelite nuns. I also have slated to take in the "Secret Gardens of Old Monterey." And to stop in on the way back home to Santa Maria CA and some other dear friends--Dona Tensie Hernandez and Dennis Apel.


The third trip will be to South Bend, Indiana. That's right--the campus of Notre Dame. Here, I'll give a talk Friday evening at a big shindig of a conference called "Trying to Say God: Re-enchanting the Catholic Literary Imagination."

In between, I hope to spend some time with a visitor to Los Angeles, artist Anthony Santella, currently of Harlem NYC. Anthony is a brilliant artist, works at some brainy job at I believe Sloane-Kettering, and will be in LA for a worm conference. That will give some small idea of his wide range of interests. Even more importantly, he is kind and funny. Welcome in advance, Anthony!

Anyhoo, here are a few links to some of my recent work

May 4, 2017: "Restoring the Soul" podcast with Michael John Cusick.

Part 1.
Part 2.

May 15, 2017: Pieces of Faith podcast with Andee Zomerman.

May 22, 2017: Feature essay "Sex, Lies and the Gig Economy," Mind & Spirit.
 

A PASADENA MAGNOLIA

Sunday, May 28, 2017

SCIENCE IS FICTION: 23 FILMS BY JEAN PAINLEVÉ

JEAN PAINLEVÉ AND HIS CAMERA

This week's arts and culture column begins:

Jean Painlevé (1902-1989) was an early visionary in the genres of educational, science and nature films. A three-disc set from Criterion, available on Netflix, is called “Science is Fiction: 23 Films by Jean Painlevé.”

In an introduction to “Science is Fiction,” editor Marian McDougall wrote: “The joy of experiencing these films, short cinematic gems that renew a sense of the mystery and miracle of nature, is to unearth a still fertile root of cinema and the revelation that there are film hybrids yet to be realized.”

The films, she continued, include “anthropological accounts that unfold like fiction,” “painterly descriptions of technological processes,” “absurd juxtapositions,” “animated fables,” “city symphonies” and “mechanical ballets.”

Painlevé was the son of a French prime minister and a mother who died two months after his birth. Well-educated and well-loved, he was also an outlier and a daredevil. “My only friends at school were Jews and outcasts,” he later remarked.

He took his first photographs at the age of eight, using the bottom of a glass bottle as a lens. As an adult, he befriended the Surrealists, raced cars and lived sans benefit of marriage with Geneviève (“Ginette”) Hamon, his lifelong helpmeet and collaborator.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

OUR FRIEND THE SEA HORSE.
THE MALE GIVES BIRTH!


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

WHITE HEART OF MOJAVE: A VISIT TO DEATH VALLEY





Somehow I neglected to publish this a few weeks back. Here you go!

This week's arts and culture piece begins like this:

In the early 1920s, Edna Brush Perkins, a Cleveland socialite, and her pal Charlotte decided to come to California.

“Charlotte and I knew the outdoors a little. Though we were middle-aged, mothers of families and deeply involved in the historic struggle for the vote, we sometimes looked at the sky.”

Gazing at a map, Edna saw “a great empty space just east of the Sierra Nevada Range and the San Bernardino Mountains vaguely designated as the Mojave Desert.”

“Was the desert just a white space like that?” she wondered. “The word had a mixed connotation; it suggested monotony, sterility, death — and also big open spaces, gold and blue sunsets, and fascination. We recollected that some author had written about the ‘terrible fascination’ of the desert. The white blank on the map looked very wild and lonely. We went to Los Angeles on the Santa Fe [Railroad] in order to see what it might contain.”

In those days, there was no paved road into the Mojave. And when they arrived in Los Angeles and aired their plan to explore it, they were met with discouragement on every side.

“Our friends drew a dismal picture of us sitting out in the sagebrush beside a disabled car and slowly starving to death. ‘You could not fix it,’ they said, ‘and what would you do?’ We suggested that we might wait until somebody came along. They assured us that nobody ever came along.”


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.






Friday, May 19, 2017

CORITA KENT


Corita (center right) at Immaculate Heart College Mary’s Day celebration, 1964. Image courtesy of the Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles.

This week's arts and culture column is on renowned Catholic artist, Corita (formerly Sister Corita) Kent.

The piece begins like this:

The Center for Spiritual Renewal in Montecito was founded by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a community with an interesting history. Visiting there recently, I spotted a coffee-table book entitled “Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent.”

Anyone who grew up in the New Hampshire Seacoast-Boston area, as I did, knew Sister Corita from the huge Rainbow Swash design on the gas storage tank that was visible as you whizzed by on the Southeast Expressway.

I remembered her from my youth as a zany nun. She seemed old to me then, a somewhat quaint figure who’d managed to escape what I then viewed as the straitjacket of organized religion.

In fact, the Rainbow Swash was designed on the back end of a decades-long career that included innovative teaching and social activism, as well as art.

As independent curator Michael Duncan put it in his “Someday is Now” essay, “A unique contributor to Pop Art and the generator or an effective style of socially engaged art-making, [Corita] has been rediscovered by a new generation bred on Photoshop, grassroots activism, font-tweaking and DIY publishing.”


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


Monday, May 15, 2017

THE G2 GALLERY: NATURE AND LIFE PHOTOGRAPHY


SOME OF MY OWN "WILDLIFE" PHTOGRAPHY.
SCENES FROM THE HDK APARTMENT BALCONY. 


This week's arts and culture piece is on a wonderful gallery. It begins:

Smack in the midst of Venice’s über swank-hip Abbot Kinney Boulevard is a welcome oasis featuring nature and wildlife photography: The G2 Gallery.

Founded in 2008, the award-winning G2 “facilitates change by bringing attention to environmental issues through the persuasive power of photographic art.” All proceeds from its art sales are donated to environmental charities.

The gallery was founded and is run by Dan and Susan Gottlieb. Dan was trained as a lawyer, Susan as a nurse. Widely traveled, the couple has long been interested in environmental causes. In the 1980s, Susan began removing the garden from their home in Beverly Hills and installing a California native plant garden. (I learned of G2 while taking a class at Sun Valley’s Theodore Payne Foundation, a Southern California native plant mecca.)

Susan’s garden is now designated by the National Wildlife Federation as a certified Wildlife Habitat, and by the Xerces Society as a certified Pollinator Habitat. She has just published a book entitled “The Gottlieb Native Garden: A California Love Story.” You can take a virtual tour and learn how to visit at gottliebnativegarden.com.

So those are the folks behind this worthy cause.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.




A MILLION TIMES BETTER THAN TV.
HOUSE FINCHES, TITMOUSES, BLUE JAYS, SPARROWS...
AND ALWAYS, THE BIRDSONG...

OUR LADY ABOVE THE DOOR

SOLAR-POWERED FAIRY LIGHTS
THAT COME ON LIKE MAGIC AT NIGHT!

HUMMINGBIRD CAFETERIA


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

THIS, THAT, AND ROSES



LA's winter rains have brought an insane bounty of spring flowers. Pasadena is known for its roses to begin with, but they are outdoing themselves this year. You'll be driving along and see them cascading off walls, around fountains, over fences.

This "nothing special" stand, trellised along an ordinary office building, capture some of the there-for-the-taking magic.





ROSES,
 HUNTINGTON DRIVE.
SAN MARINO, CA

More news: I've been doing scads of radio interviews and podcasts for my new book which I know you've bought, Holy Desperation.

Last weekend I gave a talk to the Orange County chapter of a Catholic women's organization called Magnificat. I didn't quite understand before meeting them that they are "charismatic" and speak in tongues! So that was a bit of a surprise. The audience was incredibly warm and welcoming I sold lots of books (a turn of events always dear to a writer's heart). And they very generously gave me a hotel room the night before in the hotel where the talk took place. Which was Anaheim, CA.

Anaheim in case you've been asleep all your life ALL ABOUT Disneyland. Harbor Boulevard, the main drag, consists of blocks and blocks and traffic-clogged blocks of high-rise hotels, gas stations and chain restaurants. The Embassy Suites lobby was filled with shrieking, cell-phone clutching teenagers, the girls, to a person, in Mickey Mouse ears.

As soon as I settled in, I nabbed a coffee at the nearest Starbucks (you are never more than 200 yards from one in Anaheim) and set out for a brisk constitutional. Surely there is more to Anaheim than Harbor Boulevard was my thought. Indeed there is. Blocks and blocks and blocks of lower middLe-glass ranch houses, bungalows, pawn shops, liquor stores and gritty strip malls, where I gathered the vast horde of people who provide the labor needed to keep the Disney franchise and its offshoots rolling, live, weep and raise kids.

I saw some lovely old-school courtyards with hibiscus, blooming succulents, and more roses.

Back in my 14th-floor, unimpeded-view hotel room, I threw open the drapes, reclined on the gigantic bed, and basked in the sunset,




SUNSET FROM ROOM 1401,
EMBASSY SUITES-SOUTH, ANAHEIM CA

Today, safe home, I'm writing a piece about Servant of God Demetrius Gallitzen, "Apostle of the Alleghenies." Then I'll head to Rite-Aid for more Flonase, followed by the noon Mass at St. Philip.

STAINED GLASS WINDOW,
VESTIBULE,
ST. PHILIP CHURCH, PASADENA

Saturday, May 6, 2017

CHARLES AND RAY EAMES


RAY AND CHARLES EAMES
© 2017 Eames Office, LLC (eamesoffice.com)

This week's arts and culture column is about the Charles and Ray Eames Foundation.

Here's how it begins:

Charles and Ray Eames, husband and wife, were one of the foremost design teams of the 20th century.

Charles’ background was in architecture. One of his first commissions was St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas (1934). Architectural Forum published a review, after which well-known Finnish architect Elliel Saarinen offered Eames a fellowship to the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where he would eventually head the industrial design department.

That’s where Charles met Ray, whose background was in painting and color. They married in 1941 and moved to Los Angeles. The documentary “Eames: The Architect and the Painter” tells the story.

For years, 901 Washington Boulevard in Venice was the design team’s nerve center. Walking into the Eames Office, one former employee observed, was like walking into a circus: animation stands, photographs spread out on tables, models, a screening room, a woodshop, salt water tanks, all with the je ne sais quoi Eames patina.

The Eames didn’t hold with rigid rules. A design degree wasn’t necessary in order to work for them, but rather imagination, flexibility, intuition, the ability “to think and to see” — and a capacity for incredibly hard work.

“For them, these names like painter and architect, they weren’t job descriptions; they were ways of looking at the world.”

“Life was fun, was work, was fun, was life.”


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. 

THE EAMES HOUSE, PACIFIC PALISADES CA
http://eamesfoundation.org/

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

THANK YOU, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION!


OH BEAUTIFUL FOR SPACIOUS SKIES.
OR HAVE WE SOLD THEM, TOO?...


Ha folks I am officially old now.

I turn 65 in July--I know it's hard to believe, I'm so mature--and I have applied for and been accepted to Medicare!

Adela from Kaiser is coming over TO MY APT. this afternoon, such is the individual attention, to pick up my app for Parts C and D or however it goes. I'm gonna get me a "Silver and Fit" card and will thus get "free" gym (for 20 bucks a month).

My only real ailment (besides tingly hands at night, intermittent skin conditions, and a chronically sore back) is hay fever, which right now in Southern Cal is rather a 24/7 problem. (Side note: I got a prescription for allergy eye drops with two refills and sometime between the time I picked up the first prescription and the time I called for a refill which was less than two weeks, my insurance (not Medicare yet) had decided they didn't cover it anymore. Weird, right?).

It's happening! I'm old and all I want to talk about is my "health problems."

I promise I won't bring them up again unless I come down with something really gross or otherwise interesting. But I do want to emphasize I am ALL, at this point, about being old. Bring on the "senior" discounts! Hold the door. Carry my packages. And give me some money.

Meanwhile I continue to dig up Bermuda grass in my "garden" and finally got a chance to go back to my beloved Lower Arroyo last week around the magic hour.

Here I became entranced by the mysterious beauty of sage, which is in its full glory right now. The heady fragrance is really required for full effect.  

But here are some pix.