ZEGG-A Week in Community

An hour by train out of Berlin, Belzig is in the formerly East German countryside
–of lakes, streams, forest and fields of corn, wheat, and sunflowers;
–of small villages with new homes built into 17th, 18th, and 19th century wattle and daub half-timbered barns or stepped brick Gothic and slit windowed old pitched roof storage buildings;
–of a walled Schloss (castle) and the ancient hand painted Church of St Briccius built in 1470 and
–of a populace fresh and young, friendly and open with whom I played in a huge zigzagged pool/ water park down the road—a park with a waterslide, a whirlpool like river, a mushroom shower and fountains. The children and teenagers there so very happy and innocent and eager to meet me….

Here in Belzig the intentional community of ZEGG—the Center for Experimental Cultural Design—has its garden and encampment. And here is where I spent a transformative week as a “Sommer Gast”; even the assignation indicates the quality of ZEGG—As a Summer Guest—not a volunteer or an employee– we come to work and eat and live and care about each other and the land in a paradise of blooming flowers, a vegetable garden, cherry, apple, pear, and plum trees, blueberry and boysenberry bushes set in a wild forest of pine and alder, sweet scented linden and oak.

Sunday evening the new guests gather with Zusula, a joyful Greek refugee now German who directs ZEGG and who yet has the energy and heart to welcome and shepherd Summer Guests through their week or weeks here. We become our own small community within the larger permanent group of 90 people of all ages who live and work here. As the week progresses we eat and work together, share tents, and meet each evening in a buttercup yellow room with a kilim carpet to sing and chant and share what we are experiencing during the day, or to speak on a “Forum” topic like love relationships or what one would like in this community that one didn’t have On the first evening, Eva, a radiant and sexy red head, taught us a lovely song
Cuckcoo…As I was walking
In the May morning
I heard the birds sing
Sung in a round, the song was ecstatically lovely—like a Baroque cantata. Then Daniel and Christina played Schubert on the piano.

Our group of six women and two men experienced breakthroughs and indecisions
—Tim, a handsome 24 year old—beautiful and magical—and a raw vegan who ate like a rabbit–came here with his guitar and all he owned, fell in love, and committed to a year long internship
–Daniel a Dutch fellow, having left his job and home, found his calling as a professional singer and he is trying it out with us
–Maria, a sweet woman from Vienna found peace here after having just left her stressful career as a social worker
–Christina, another person who left her job and was ready for change
–Lucia, a sexy Italian film director came here frazzled and kept the city inside her most of the time she was here but came on a wonderful ride with me one late afternoon and felt moved to chant to the wheat field and sunshine
–Dannae, a California glass artist then Manhattan office manager came here weeks ago after living in various WWOF organic farms and participating in Findhorn and Tamera, two other intentional communities like ZEGG where she worked and lived for the past 14 months, came here to learn German and to discover her life’s work.
–Eva, a retired educator and Tai Chi instructor came here as a first step in her retirement, came to connect with like minded people.
–and here I was, a runaway from the pleasant but rather meaningless month I’d spent mainly riding my bike and perusing the art museums and galleries of Berlin, finding happiness here hoeing the cabbages or picking cherries, even scraping labels off of marmelade jars so new jam could be put up in the recycled jars.

It all sounds rather simple and too sweet perhaps but somehow life at ZEGG is just that—simple and joyful—a day filled with wonderful vegetarian food, work and leisure—the days all beginning with the chefs presenting our breakfast to us—their morning gift—the meal from heaven direct—oatmeal, corn flakes, musli, rice pudding, yoghurt, sunflower seeds, cocoanut, raisins, pumpkin seeds, wheat germ, hazelnuts, sesame on one table….and fresh whole grain breads, and spreads—savory (tofu curry; tahini, tomato, eggplant, herbed cream cheese, peanut butter) and sweet (many kinds of home-made marmalades and jams, fresh honey, butter) apples, and fresh vegetables—cucumber, tomato, carrots, sweet red pepper—plus coffee and six kinds of herbal, black and green teas. And we have the breakfast twice—in the morning before work and then in the half hour break we all have at 11—yum. Inside the tables all have candlelight and fresh flowers but most meals were taken outside in a garden overlooking the forest and distant fields and woods. Lunch and dinner—again with the chefs always smiling as they and describe what they’ve created and offer for our pleasure– have heaps of fresh lettuce and grated carrots and beets as well as various lasagnas, couscous dishes, polenta, soups and vegetable stews.

As for work—we were responsible for four to five hours a day, six days a week and work, like the breakfast is rather like a smorgasbord –a lot of little tastes of different tasks all essential to everyone’s basic though not luxurious well-being —one day I prepared marmelade jars; another I washed, chopped and bagged chives; another, I hoed the garden and pulled carrots out of the ground; and another I picked three kinds of berries fending off stinging nettle plants and horseflies while other people painted walls, dug ditches, cleaned rooms, peeled potatoes, washed stairs—all simple tasks that would be tedious if one had to do them every day but by changing daily, nothing seems really like labor—and everyone seems to go at their tasks cheerfully—as contribution to community rather than work.

I found myself experiencing “kleine freuden”—“small joys” with so many things—a label that peeled off easily, being able to chop chives in the sunshine; finding a soup delicious, discovering twenty or thirty little pink baby pigs behind a village I’d ridden my bike to one sunny afternoon. On the first day I heard that some people would be painting the Children’s Center and all of a sudden I realized I had something to give—I offered to design and paint a mural…and so met with the families and asked what they’d like, heard their suggestion of soft images coming from the sides and base of the wall… I then spent much of my afternoon free time as well as two work days first drawing the many wildflowers around the community—poppies, snapdragons, wild onions, sunflowers, Black-eyed Susans, grape vines and climbing peas to name a few—then painted them on a 20’ wide wall-great fun—and my first mural ever. Mothers and fathers would come by to thank me, bring me mango juice, offer coffee, appreciate what they saw—a garden of flowers growing inside for their children’s rainy days. I fell in love with each flower, even believing that the flowers at our dining room table were introducing themselves, hoping to be included. In the end the wall was filled with all different flowers so realistic that the children could find them outside the door so the mural became a kind of gentle educational tool as well as a brilliantly colored wall design. One by one most every man and woman with children came to me in gratitude for my gift to them of the mural—very heartening. In fact, Suzula brought our small group over one evening as well and then thanked us all for our work each day—this place is one of gratitude and joy comes when everyone feels so valued.

Afternoons and evenings at ZEGG are free—to walk in the forest, to ride a bike around the villages and fields, to swim in the natural pond on the property, to hang out and have wine and chocolate or play guitar and sing in the pub/lounge—a place filled with sofas and soft lighting—or just to drift to sleep in a hammock. I rode many kilometers in every direction around ZEGG, each trip a discovery—thanks to Suzula’s generously loaning me her fat tire bike. There are hours open to do whatever pleases you…and hours to talk with people—there seems to never be a rush here or a stress—work gets done, food is ready and everyone gets what they need and want every day. What a wonderful week it was….

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BERLIN–SOMMER 2011

Summer life here is so easy and welcoming–I live in Kreuz-kolln–a neighborhood that was once all Turkish and quite poor and still has half its population Muslim–with the women all covered in clothing–but not black or dreary at all-silk scarves of every imaginable color and floral pattern cover their hair and then all kinds of often matching and flambuoyant outfits –some incredibly sexy albeit properly all body covered–and the women are out on the streets, in the cafes, taking their children out and about, even smoking!!  The business streets are mostly run by Turkish men–and can you ever get fabulous olives, fetas, yoghurts, grains, nuts and dried fruits everywhere–in fact there is a “Turkish Market” by the canal two days a week and it is bustling with everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to biryanis made on the spot to buttons, Muslim clothing to Bulgarian blue cheese,.   Two kinds of shops are pretty unique–there are lots of extravagant floor length formal dress shops and then shops full of glitzy gold and crystal housewares.
The neighborhood has just recently–within the last four years– been sort of gentrified by young artists from all over the world.  The result of this is that many of the heretofore abandoned stores on the side streets–which by the way are all cobblestoned on both road and sidewalk–have become little one-off clothing shops wherein 20 and 30 something fiber artists make dresses, tops, skirts, tee-shirts–whatever they fancy –and they are very creative both in design and in fabric.  Or people open bar/restaurant/music venues in these old storefronts and there’s a “Berlin style” to them all–walls are taken down to whatever paint is stable–so often you have the history of the place traced on the walls–sort of like what David Ireland did when he renovated the 1908 barracks at the Headlands Center for the Arts.  Then painting, sculptures, the odd cheap tchatzki, a hookah, a broken mannequin wearing a mask, a life-sized plaster sheep, velvet drapes and cool lighting is added…and the thing that makes these places distinctively “Berlin style” is that the whole place is hand-built and all the sofas, chairs, tables, lamps–everything –comes from Flea Markets and Salvation Army so all all is completely recycled, funky and mismatched  to a point to look wonderful.
Plus the sidewalks are wide everywhere and all the cafes have tables and chairs outside and everyone seems to live all their hours on the street. Breakfast–fruhstuck– seems to be the favorite all day–I go to Cafe Liberda where I am greeted by a happy server Elmas–and where the chef –Marat, a Tunisian with a Turkish name who speaks “only” German, Dutch and French–arranges Brie and white cheese, Mortadella and Bologne, tomatoes and olives, into a  a virtual breakfast bouquet with pineapple slices, strawberries, cherries, grapefruit and orange slices, grapes and apples with a soft boiled egg and two kinds of fresh bread as well–all for 4.5 Euros which seems to me quite reasonable for what is really a breakfast for two.
The weather has been glorious–mostly warm dry and sunny–with the occasional crazy downpour or sun-rain-sun-clouds-sun-rain days and I spend them riding my wonderful fat tire bike–the biggest heaviest bike Ive ever had–she’s white and clumsy  but never falls into cracks or train tracks, can take curbs with elan and I’ve come to love her–I call her Bruni–short for Brunhilda Wagner (you must get the operatic reference) as she’s convinced she’s beautiful lithe and young…which in my eyes she has become.  We ride for hours every day along the canal that runs across most of Berlin, is lined with willows, oaks, maples and linden trees that are in bloom and give the whole city an impossibly sweet scent–ah. Sometimes as well I go to the huge and forested Tiergarten which has lovely marble statuary, fountains, and  formal gardens but which is predominantly forests and willow rimmed lakes and streams, with occasional green lawns, rhododendrons and ferns, wild flowers and spruce, linden, maples, acacia, and is full of singing birds–you’d never know you were in a city.
In  Kreuzberg and Neukollnthere where I live there are few cars and they drive at the speed of a bike plus bikes have right of way, with cars and pedestrians both yielding to bicyclists, who, by the way aren’t those slick Lycra clad type speed riders–no. Here everyone–from the postman to the mother with her child in a seat, the businessman in a suit to the delivery men are all on bikes–riding at a leisurely pace, no helmets, no bike outfits–as if we all lived in a village rather than a city–and Berlin is flat, has bicycle lanes and low curbs everywhere  so riding is easy easy easy–There are parks everywhere as well–it is one of the greenest places I have ever lived.
People here seem mostly young–babies are everywhere; parents walk their children to school, and people seem to talk away their hours in cafes-The girls and women wear layered flea market skirts and tops and always scarves..funky and cool, but what  fascinates me  is the style of men here–they all seem slight as feathers, concave at the belly, hairless, boneless even, skinny arms and legs, smoking and not a muscle evident in a limb–they seem to carry books and have deep intellectual conversations, read the paper  or play with their children.   There are of course workmen about with rotund beer bellies and a gruff way about them.  At last there are the classic pink blondes often in wire rims–Only the gay men are muscled  and the Turkish men are quite handsome–black hair and blue eyes.
There are music and art festivals all the time–I went to the gala opening of “Based in Berlin'” a five venue selection of the best contemporary art here; then spent a weekend at the “48 Hours Neukolln” fest with hundreds of installations, interventions, paintings, videos, and performances on the street, in storefronts, galleries and tucked away in all kinds of venues from  a prison to KarlMarxPlatz,  from allotment gardens to an old brewery…  I was led on a wild goose chase through a low rent housing project looking for a rabbit; was given a massage; saw a video of graffiti artists in the process of spray painting a train; helped build a “Neukolln” –a cardboard replica of the cathedral in Cologne–out of pfennig copper coins and glue stick–“because we are all pretty poor here” the artist said “but the people here, by donating just small 1, 2 and 5 cent coins,  paid for our cathedral nevertheless”  ; went on a Sound Journey with an 11 year old girl at the mixing deck while we sat in a makeshift plane in the cellar of a store, our silhouettes and our route projected onto a screen facing the street; went into a “hotel” the rooms of which were old Airstreams inside of the ground floor of one of the traditional buildings here.  The Christopher Street Parade–Gay Pride–was wilder and more fun than any I’ve been to in San Francisco or New York.  And there’s a World Culture Festival, Berlin Fashion Week and the Yoga Festival all coming up….
On Tuesday June 21–the Solstice–the whole city has a tradition of free music in every neighborhood–I heard techno, rap, singer-songwriter, 30s torch songs, reggae, and pop just in my area and elsewhere there were choirs, symphonies and more rock, reggae, anything you’d like–with the city putting up the stages and sound systems and all the musicians playing for free.  This idea of giving away, of recycling, of reusing is endemic here–and inspiring.  At the 48 Hours there was the “Fest der Dinge” (Festival of Things) that consisted in people bringing clothes, chairs, housewares books to give away and of booths that helped anyone make things from remaking/reupholstering chairs to planters from recycled plastic buckets.
So there you have it–Berlin in brief–It’s great here–a little like Montreal, a little like Brooklyn…mostly uniquely Berlin
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Christopher Street Parade–Berlin

CHRISTOPHER STREET –PRIDE PARADE–  I settled in with a Kindl (beer) und Fritz (French fries) and felt sehr Deutsch…Set to begin at 12:30, the parade itself didn’t arrive until 2 but beforehand people came and came and came, some dressed wildly, most just average folks in groups, with families, old and young, gay and straight, almost all drinking beer.  Met Thomas (German, 50, raised in Britain) and Terry (French,43) very much in love and sweet and congenial—we talked a good while as they cuddled and told of their coming engagement and marriage—they’ve been with for three months but it was the first time ever for each that they have found love—really very touching and true.  Thomas runs an art gallery and Terry teaches school.  We shared beer for at least a half hour til they left to meet friends.

Then met Tobias and Peter—handsome men both—about 40 and in a seven year relationship—we talked and waited for the parade, watched a silly man in lederhosen prance amidst a throng of boys with “Born this way” stamped on their naked chests, met a pair of lovely young girls from Israel—twins– and a trio of beautiful Italian girls, an older artist Sybil from France, a hunky boy Thorsten in a furry rimmed cowboy hat and a tight pink teeshirt,  assorted trannies in fetching sequined gowns and stilettos, and then came the Parade…

The PRIDE PARADE arrives…..Hours of fun with everyone delighted to pose for photos:-

-a loud and crazy brass band made up of a dozen or so  good old boys wearing yellow and black—the colors of the Deutch Postbank

–a bevy of nuns—yes the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence looked gloriously lavish in pink

–a grand dame holding 30-40 helium balloons and wearing  a Federalist judge’s blonde wig, smeared lipstick, blow up Dolly Parton breasts and a Heidi-like pretty little laced up pinafore top with the most amazing skirt–a carousel complete with red and white striped circus roof and a riding platform with horses and trucks, polar bears and motorbikes, zebras and police cars—

—creepy gas masked armies and leather bondage tribes

—a long gray-haired BoPeep in red polka dots

—a six pack of girls in rainbow Afros

—nuns and  altars boys preceding the Pope and his bishops

—a muscular hottie bodypainted like a Picasso  painting

—lots of older men teetering on stilettos or platforms and wearing  silver lame or glittering golden evening gowns, their balloon breasts bursting out of cleavage revealing tops, pearls and satin gloves, wigs of bouffant blonde curls, of roses

–lots of twins—two white bobbed pink and pudgy  men in black and white checked minidresses; a pair of bodysuited  striped things– even their heads and faces covered–

…a trio of wind power towers with Mylar hoops and windmills on their heads

—a pack of roller derby lesbians in black and red careening through the crowd

—a Dominatrix of a certain age in a leopard- lined chariot drawn by leather bondaged “horses,” their faces masked and reined

–and my favorite couple- a trannie—fully decked out in leather and fishnets—strolling down the street with his grannie

All these festive people and hundreds of other costumed partiers appeared between  huge semis hauling ballooned trailers filled with partying gays and lesbians and their friends, each one  blaring techno music and sometimes dropping leaflets, teddy bears, condoms and stickers—many of which I had emblazoned on my shirt by the end of the day—all in German of course and supporting equality…I danced and took endless photos.

Best best best of all –at the tail end of the parade I met beautiful handsome blue eyed Stefan and his red-headed best friend Freddie from Cologne who swept me up into their party and we spent the next six hours together dancing and drinking well into the night—first we trailed after the last semi, they buying caipirinhas for me as we danced several kilometers into the Tiergarten to the angel and then all the way to the Brandenburg Gate. Polizei were following the last truck and sometimes sounding a siren but weren’t really doing anything to control the crowd—in fact ten or twelve of them were out on the street partying with us… On the way Stefan insisted that I must try a currywurst and bought us each a platter of sausage with a sweet sauce and bread—it was still a hot dog and I wasn’t into it so he ate both our plates and on we went with caipirinhas and sex on the beach down to the thousands of people all dancing and partying.  Many hugs and expressions of love from both of these wonderful men—they were so sweet, not only keeping me refreshed with beverages, but buying us waffles und wursts and laughing and talking and hugging all day, the best of friends forever…At the end we found a great disco truck and danced full bore for an hour or more, Freddie finding a cutie to kiss, Stefan and I and assorted great guys dancing in a tight cluster of happy energy.

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New Rochelle and Ursuline High School Reunion

Last Saturday I made La Pilgrimage to New Rochelle–my hometown–….first an egg salad Bagel and coffee to get me on my way, then the #5 Express to Grand Central—its vast and beautiful dome so familiar and exciting really—the grand entry to New York via train…this time it was Meto North out to leafy Westchester, the tracks lined with granite and poplar…New Rochelle’s downtown arrives and it is the same weary collection of worn-out shops and empty streets.   Taking a cab up North Avenue I watched the buildings separate and then Iona College, its Colonial brick buildings and rolling green lawns a prelude to the lovely part of New Rochelle…the twin lakes in front of the Gothic castle of New Rochelle High, generous homes, near mansions each, along the Avenue and certainly up Broadview where Steffi Lewis lived and past Georgina’s turreted Queen Anne. I had the cabbie let me off maybe a half mile before Ursuline and ambled my way there taking pictures and remembering my life here—walked up the slate path to the verandah of the grand old French Second Empire manse where Mimi Kellerman used to teach ballet—the new young family renovating it greeted me with smiles and said the last owners had gotten rid of the dance studio but they’d heard about those days—the dining room now was filled with light and light oak floors—could have been where I’d spent so many years trying in vain to forcefit my unwilling sturdy German body into a petite ballerina en pointe—I loved every class if not the horsey teacher who was rumored to be Esther Williams’ relative, who wasn’t warm, but the dreams lived here and I took dance dutifully for years and years…..just as I took riding for years and learned to jump and finally rent/curry/walk/ride and love the beautiful chestnut mare they called Debutante for her high spirits and high arched head martingaled to control her energy—she had black mane and tail and pranced her way around the ring and over jumps and I virtually lived at the stable with her that teenaged summer near the reservoir…a place more like the real country than New Rochelle—that reservoir we walked in as children with my father and went to get away so many Saturdays reclining on “Beauty Rock” or walking in the woods around the water…but I digress

I continued down North Avenue past names I recognized-Trenor Drive where Patti M. and her beautiful cherished brother and nasty old hag of a grandmother lived, Patti who committed suicide soon after high school…past Bon Air where Joy K. lived in a sea of stuffed animals and pretty dolls…and Berrian Road where sorry Marilyn B. lived with her pinchpenny old World Jewish parents, the house always smelling of of Gefilte Fish and where she was virtually an unwelcome outcast—they had a gorgeous Royal Blue velvety wall to wall in the living room but we were never allowed in there , the furniture all covered in vinyl like the pathways over the carpet.  At last I came to my street, to the Fays’ four story brick home now for sale by Sotheby’s, once filled with the myriad of the Fays—13 children??so Catholic and red-headed..all living across the street from the still very posh Wykagyl Country Club—all colonnaded red brick Georgian buildings…rolling lawns of the golf course where we would sled in winter and where I longed to belong but Mom wouldn’t hear of it—they had no tennis courts—though one year when I was in high school she did relent and we spent that summer in the pool and I wore a free Rose Marie Reid bathing suit and a flowered bathing cap in a water ballet—another dream—every year these suits were donated to the girls and the show was magnificent to me—like something on Broadway or better…and finally I was in one…ah

On past the weed-ridden graveyard and the old Gothic once Methodist Church turned Synogue but now abandoned, for sale and sad…I remember the Ichabod Crane of a minister and the red velvet curtained choir area by the altar, the white gowns we wore at Christmas carrying candles down the soft evergreen carpeted aisles past all the mahogany pews to sing carols—we were angels there and I loved it…not Sunday School, though, bored and no one there I was friends with except maybe geeky Norwegian Bjorg one of the 22 Christian children left at Roosevelt School on a Jewish holiday—She was my guarantor of being an outsider and I disliked her for it—she lived with her very European parents in a strange world.  I finally come to Roosevelt Elementary School itself—site of seven years of my life, a grand old Georgian brick school with vast high ceilings and great windows, cookies in kindergarten,a bike rally for which Daddy decorated my Schwinn, Miss Jewel who visited me in the polio ward of the hospital where I spent months with pneomonia in first grade, mulberry trees and silk worms we carefully fed and watched grow each day til they’d spun cocoons of pale yellow silk and finally flew away…Roosevelt now a retirement home  Then past the bridge over the old railroad tracks—through the dense foliage I looked for the concrete “Hut” we used to hang out in with boys, smoking cigarette and sometimes kissing them,,our wild world under the street where no one could find us…and finally past the shops—all different now, no old nasty man shoeing us out of his cigar store, no ironic Italian running Betty Allen’s where we’d always go for cherry cokes after school.

And then at last the formal green lawns and white trimmed brick buildings of Ursuline come into view and the Reunion begns way over in some new buildings—I sign in and see lovely Tina S., the soap opera star, our Senior Class President, gifted, beautiful from Bronxville and she’s surprised, didn’t know I was coming, had thrown a posh party for all the class last evening in her Upper East Side apartment—too bad I’d missed it…but no worry the event built and built and was wonderful—-first we started to find each other—so many older ladies I didn’t recognize—at all—do I look this old, I ask myself? I look at the pictures and know that I too have aged  But up close I recognize most everyone I knew. I meet up with AnnLee who’s slender and pretty, still tall as a giraffe in a polkadot dress like mine..and MaryBeth who’s on a cane and looking weary…Bonnie being her same bouncy self  and Gracie Burns, still sweet and earnest and Catholic as a nun though living, yes, in San Francisco—we will perhaps rekindle a friendship when I return–Gay N. tall and jangling with bangles and beads, slim as a reed and a bit wild…Sugar — wild white hair and flambuoyant silks, an artist ever sure of herself, ever a bit cynical , and many cute Kathys.   I hardly remember any of them but then I did remember Patricia –the brain—the same face but now elegant with age and busy little Frances L. now a computer science professor—Many of my former classmates actually have or had stellar careers as well as the requisite 4-6 children and 2-14 grandchildren, most living back in Larchmont or New Rochelle…many, though, in Manhattan. There were many pearls, many pictures, many pecks on the cheek and exclamations of “Oh Kathie A.—how great to see you!!!!We didn’t know you’d be coming”

It was all really a delight—from the “Changing Shoes”mini-performance of her one-woman show/book by Tina —40 minutes of funny vignettes from her flubbing a live TV line as a cardiologist asking for the spatula not a scalpel, to leaving a plane seat saying “I’ve got to catch the next train”….at 17,000 feet— to recounting her hike up Kilamanjaro with the “Board of Outbound Bound all dour wearing brown and she in hot pink, seeing Ghengis Khan in a vision when she nearly lost on her way to the top—a delightful show… really..followed by lots of pictures and chat

Then we filed past photos of nuns and there she was –Mother Frances ghoulishly grinning and we all said how we despised her—then I did my rendition of her teeth gritted “Grrrrrls I was APALLED to find an Ursuline grrrrl wearing lipstick…” the word spewed out like a poison….They all laughed and indeed I was asked to perform her again in front of the inverted V staircase where all graduation pictures have been taken since the beginning of time  and where we gathered for a  formal picture…and then before a mike in front of the assembled masses from my class and everyone loved me and I felt reborn into this class of girls I barely knew…my clique not here, not Linda who died of pancreatic cancer, nor Barbara R. who was put back a grade and finished somewhere else, not Georgina who disappeared…so here I was amidst girls I’d vaguely known but who did know me I guess, as they told me they’d talked about me at Tina’s last night, had said that even then I danced to a different beat, was smart and wild all at once…..and who found me exciting and interesting now here at the Reunion.

We then heard Mass full of angelic girls singing hymns and presided over by a blissful loving priest whose arms seemed perpetually open and welcoming—the arms of love to the maybe two hundred women and girls before him in the lovely white and beige chapel—brilliantly lit with gilden chandeliers—Baroque and yet quietly elegant

On to the lawn for wine and champagne, for meeting old friends and having excellent hors d’oeuvres—steak this and lobster that….a mingling of older and the beautiful young graduates here after only five years gone—but it was obviously our party—throngs of us all dressed up and trilling about our grandchildren and miscellaneous other facts of our lives—most were retired and doing volunteer work—we lingered on the green lawn waiting for a rain that never came and then were ushered with great ceremony into the Library for our private Golden celebration—champagne and gifts, good food and pastries…..and time to have everyone come up to a microphone and tell their stories—I was amazed that we were together for seven hours and time just vanished into the night and we were all still ready to hear more stories, to be happy to reacquaint with each other.  When I told my story of career and family, I felt so much love coming at me—what a joy!!

At last, many hugs later Kathy A. and Missy M.—all slender and elegant on her way out to the Cape to tend to her three enterprises out there—she who came from 11 children whose mother would nonetheless have the time and love to make Sugar a cherry pie any time she showed up at their house—drove me to Manhattan and I rode the 4 out to Brooklyn on a train full of hipsters and moms, old black men and kissing couples back to my son’s apartment …feeling quite fine.

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Fashion & Politics 2010: Flying Blindly Backwards

Consider the fashions today.   Do you think the images mean anything significant?

Witness Tommy Hilfiger’s faux family lounging around their Ford woodie Wagon on butterfly chairs and atop Tartan metal coolers—striped university colored scarves and camel haired coats, tweeds and turtlenecks.  Here we have quintessential prep school graduates, a family of rich people with nothing to do but attend football games and prepare picnics for each other.  When the same ‘folks’ dress up,  Nordstrom dresses the men in pinstripes while dinner parties at Kate Spade have men in suit and tie, women in basic black cocktail dresses–unchanged since 1950.

Guess channels the hoodlum look of Rebel without a Cause-in a mini-series picture ad—the Bridget Bargot cutie with puckered presumably (the ad’s in retro black and white) powder pink lipstick offers a cherry from her coke, meets a James Dean lookalike, his pompadour dripping with Bristol Crème, on the next page , licks her straw suggestively and of course comes together, Broadway musical –style, with him on the final page.  In an alternate Guess spread we have a Jackie Kennedy cum Sophia Loren type in white cashmere coat, signature huge sunglasses, retro suitcases  and a lacy slip of a dress rushing somewhere under the spotlight of a set.  Pencil skirts and platform shoes, Madras plaids and Pin-up gals gallop all over the pages of Vanity Faire and Vogue

Kathy Griffin’s “Salute the Troops” show on vhl  is pure Varda – provocative blondes like those on calendars my Dad stashed in his studio.  Oh we have the occasional throwback of tie dyes and ruffles of the 60s in Juicy Couture and  Elle, in its 25th Anniversary issue, includes this look but simply as one of the “Classics” that also include the  “Safari Look” –think how splendid it is for the great white man and his cohort/wife to go out and  slay big wild animals on the ‘Dark Continent’–, the “Camouflage Look”—isn’t war wonderful—so many jobs!!  Think how good Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq have been for the economy???  Well, for Haliburton anyway.  and –the “Motocross Look” look –  really West Side Story returns (see above) .

Meanwhile Vanity Faire does a big article on the Barbizon Hotel where, in the 40s, after successfully passing “looks, dress and demeanor” tests, young girls just out of their Seven Sisters sorority houses came to live and work a year or two in Manhattan before retiring to Connecticut or Westchester to replicate their privileged childhoods through to the next generation. Pictures show a genteel Grace Kelly having brunch, and a virginal blonde Ginger Rogers being tempted out of bed by a –surprize–dark haired vamp—one Katherine Hepburn—This was the world of the Plaza Hotel, of skating at Rockefeller Center, shopping on Fifth Avenue and seeing Broadway plays.  Aldo’s got their blonde perched atop a 50s Nickelodean and Sam Edelman has a girl in a rubber swim cap and slippers—shades of Esther Williams and of water ballet garb at country clubs in the 50s– while in another ad, a preppy in Bermuda shorts, aviators and a sports shirt with hanky in the pocket waterskiis in front of presumably his mansion in Miami.

Lest we leave out the hair dye ads my mother followed—was it Clairol who gave us the blonde, redhead and brunette triplets??  They’re back nearly intact in Clairol’s Nice’nEasy ads and Express delivers the same long curly locks on three lovelies, with one a very light African-American (toss that to the multicultis)

Or check out September Vogue’s spread wherein a platinum blonde channels Lana Turner in high necked cashmere sweaters and either pencil or circle skirts.  She wears a dainty diamond studded cross, her signature of virginity complemented by the crossed arms saying “don’t touch me ‘til we’re married.”  But just in case her purity’s too convincing—- the girl reclines invitingly on a Danish modern couch on one page and on another, she reveals just enough cleavage beneath her leopard cardigan (read—there’s a sexual kitten waiting for you) to keep the boys coming round to woo her.  The editors, though, seem to cast her as a married virgin: “In another age, suburban wives kept house—and themselves—pristine”

“We are so ready for Spring”  fashion editors at Vogue proclaim and guess what we are given?  A blonde girl in pink perches on a New York  Times dispenser—can intelligence be acquired, by osmosis,  directly from the bottom up??  Another blonde  in  5” golden platforms and a flowered pencil skirt snaps photos while her stripe-suited suitor leans against a Bentley—she’s no tramp though, appearing later in the spread in a flowery puff sleeved dress down to her ankles.

Flip through Vanity Faire, Vogue, Glamour, Elle, People, Us, or whatever popular rag you choose and astonishingly you’ll discover that the Liberation movements of the 60s apparently never happened.  You’ll find most women are young and blonde–still. Black woman are rare and have Caucasian-style straight hair and the few Asians are lovely sylph-like creatures—more Geisha than real.  Latinas?  Almost absent—Jennifer Lopez does the trick for the Americas, doesn’t she, after all?

In this age we have media-grabbing Palin and her “don’t tax me” Tea Partiers who want to vanish the last fifty years, who  would like us to return to the nice world of Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver—an utterly white world where Black people are still in the kitchen, where Latinos are still in Mexico or wherever they’re from and Asians haven’t really gotten on the boat yet.  Ah yes, the delightful world of cottages with big lawns, cocker spaniel puppies and country clubs down the street, a world of Ivy League privilege of the very very few.  It was a pre-Feminist, pre-multicultural world, a world where no one would think of sitting in where they weren’t welcome, a world of proper courtesy and everyone had a place in society—a safe world where corporations were just growing into their megalithic own but where the small town and the local business were the ideal to which the well-off white people—just like all the pretty people in the ads of 2010– strived—pre-Beatnik—pre-Hippie—pre-antiwar protest,  pre-Civil Rights, pre-everything that jarred the white world out its smug complacency and absolute power.

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Juneau, Alaska in June 2010

June is the right time to come…as the skies are full of every shape and color of cloud while the air is fairly warm; the flowers are abundant–buttercups, berries, cow parsnip and rainforest jungles of moss and lichen covering everything–bark, stone and ground.  There are days of sunshine as well and glaciers, forests–steep and heavily wooded with Sitka Spruce and hemlock–and mountains, snow capped and teeming with waterfalls surrounding  the Gatineau Channel, the inland passage between the mainland and innumerable islands that make up the Southeast area of Alaska.  Juneau…the Alaska State Capital–is a mixed bag–ugly concrete state office buildings, parking garages, and hotels wih a port to huge city-building scaled cruise ships that disgorge thousands onto the town daily and block the harbor views–but Juneau is also a small town still with Victorian buildings in ice cream colors nestled among rhodedendrons and lilacs, fireweed and lupine, small sweet homes up steep streets with the forest out the backdoor.

I arrived here in Juneau just as the biennial CELEBRATION 2010 began.  It was astonishing, moving and brought to life all the photos of native Alaskan regalia that I’d studied and taught in my Art of the Americas class.  It began and concluded with processions through the streets of Juneau with all 52 dance groups, in full regalia, drumming and dancing and singing/chanting their way to Centennial Hall where they were greeted by the 102 year old Elder Walter Soboloff and by many other dignitaries of the Tlingit, Tsimshian and Haida groups.  Then in two different venues the dance groups performed traditional dances and story songs in beautiful regalia–robes of black and red with button patterns, each individual to their clan–Ravens and Eagles, Dog Salmon and Killer Whale, Frog and Wolf.  Some dances recounted myths–like how Raven stole the Light and gave it to man–; others were love songs; still others reenacted the process of catching salmon with men paddling in circles around people with carved sculptures of salmon bobbing within the circle.  Children as well as Elders were participants in every dance and often the singers and drummers with strong voices and powerful drumbeats were women as well as men.  Three days of performance brought one into an otherworldly awareness of cultures alive and throbbing with life here in Southeast, an area known mostly for totem poles, but an area rich in oratory, dance, song, story and regalia hardly known in the Lower 48.  Indeed Alaska really seems like another country and the native peoples as still another nation…but one in which each clan has its own chief, its own stories, its own regalia, its own identity.  What they all share is the land and its surrounding seas and rivers–rich in salmon and seal, walrus and whale, cedar and berries.  I felt privileged to be among the 5000 who attended Celebration, to be among almost entirely native peoples who were there to express or learn about their own cultural heritage which the Elders were eager to share and invite the assembled attendees to embrace and continue.

From Celebration to Glacier Bay was like moving from New York to China–I flew by bush plane across wilderness mountains and bays to the entirely white homesteaded community of Gustavus and boarded a small squarish former Navy mine runner–the Seawolf– with mahogany trimmed staterooms and a sweeping viewed dining table on the stern.  For six days we chugged slowly though Glacier Bay–mountains and glaciers everywhere–and kayaked amidst icebergs, watched Marjorie Glacier calf, paddled close to two Black Bears who snuffled and clacked their jaws at us to stay away, saw otters with babies on their bellies, seals leaping out of the sea and, at last, Humpback Whales blowing and diving, their tail fins the last sight before disappearance and then an amazing whale who rolled around and then breached, rolled and breached ten times right in front of the Seawolf.  To see a whale hurl its many tons out of the water for a wild breach takes one’s breath away and was the best moment ever of this trip.

Came back to Juneau and met up with a woman I’d met 15 years ago when I was here researching the Arts of the Americas course–Sue Ann Randall– who has lived here more than 30 years, who lived like a homesteader in North Douglas on land without water and electricity, a woman who raised four children in the wilderness and who now is returning to school for a degree in ceramics, a move in her life which she attributes to my inspration–which  makes me feel so grateful. I stayed at the historic 1913 Alaskan Hotel–tres Victorian, not especially well-maintained, once a brothel or a miners’ hotel–there’s a controversy of fact here–but I loved the old furniture, the fact that the place had history and the fact that it is part of historic Juneau, plus that it is in the middle of rip-roaring six bars in a block Juneau of the old days.

Next entry will recount what expires during the National Endowment of the Humanities Summer Institute on Peoples and Cultures of the Pacific Northwest Coast and Western Alaskan Cultures of Alaska…….

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COACHELLA 2007

COACHELLA 2007
Oh where to begin???? I just came back this afternoon about 4 (I left Coachella at 6:30am) feeling like the festival was a marathon which I thoroughly enjoyed but which was a lot physically like Burning Man–but without the freedom to drink and carouse at will–Don’t ask me today if I will repeat the pleasure!!!

So I’ll tell you the challenges first and then the great stuff.
–The drive down took 11 hours–6 freeway stalls near LA and two full hours crawling through Indio (three miles???) getting into the site. With the help of a master scam king I managed to park near the campground saving me at least an hour of carrying my gear inside.
–There were 16,000 people camped, cars anywhere from a block to a mile away–you do the math on the process of moving tents, food etc from car to site.
–The campsite’s being without cars and RVs was nice, a sort of a polychromed fabric-domed suburbia with “streets” and “blocks”–the only problem really was that there were about 40 shower stalls to serve all 16,000 of us–and showers were closed half the day and seemingly randomly at night which was less than stellar after 12 hours in the 103 degree heat–
–The other serious bummer was that you couldn’t bring either water or food or alcohol into the music site and there were no ins and outs either so you were therefore required to buy buy buy everything on site–pizza slice $6, Haagen Daz $6, frozen Lemonade $5, BBQ beef $10-12, burger $6, water $2, beer or wine $7–It was hot–over 100 every day so one had to drink a lot of water–and subsist really on junk food–by the end of the three days I craved a real fruit smoothie and a salad. In fact the best deal I found was Sunday morning’s Bloody Mary–which I had because they had run out of breakfast burritos (eggs in a wrap–$5)–that included an amazing condiment bar of carrots, asparagus, string beans, jicama, olives, and celery that I made a meal out of –yum I felt healthy all day despite a number of glasses of cheap white wine

As for the great stuff
–the SITE first of all is drop dead gorgeous–green lawn–soft real grass, lovely–surrounded by palm trees and mountains–blue and bluer into the distance. And at night the nearly full moon and stars covered the sky.
–The interior lawn was filled with all sorts of Burning Man-like art and a whimsical array of shade structures–silk on bamboo, pod-like organic places to chill out of the blazing sun, one of which housed a dj booth where some excellent djs (Bassnectar among them and Pocket) spun house music throughout the festival. This is the site too where water jets sprayed us with a fine sweet cool mist and a silver-bodied wild woman sprayed a rocket-load of water at whomever she targetted from her platform near the dj booth–There was also a geodesic dome where I think amateurs found a stage and strange bicycle driven merry-go-rounds and steam locomotive driven amusement park rides. At night the site was alive with lights and motion everywhere you looked
–All this was backup to the music which was FABULOUS–5 stages all more or less reachable in time to see whomever you chose–that is if you held up in the heat. I was knocked down by it by still managed to see maybe 30 bands in the three days and I LOVED so many bands, I feel embarrassed like a teenager–who can’t say whom she loves best.
So with this caveat– here were my favorites:
FRIDAY:
–INTERPOL–their ecstatic drone and beat–I’ve loved them for a while now
–JESUS AND MARY CHAIN–who would’ve guessed–I never heard them when they were big but loved them here–harsh, hard driving
–STEPHEN MARLEY–I thought I was DONE with Reggae but here comes another Marley with a great range from old skool reggae to something Celtic to hard reggae–he was great
–OF MONTREAL–kind of BritPop, Indie, incredible sound, their own, brilliant

SATURDAY–oh my, a day I was dragging from the heat and hardly any sleep and wanting to see bands from one end of the venue to another–a mile or so– and heat heat heat heat but the music ROCKED:
–the CHILIS playing more of the old stuff (unlike last year’s Lolla which was so esoteric jazzy that I spaced on their whole set)
–ARCADE FIRE–this band is about epiphany, ecstacy, all the songs like a graduation or funeral anthem–strings, chanting, hallelujah real–what can I say–you have to have seen the Fire live to know what it feels like to see God or someone like him/her
–TIESTO–late, I was tired but this dj made me stay–hard beats, electric lights–I wished I’d spent more time here as the Good the Bad and the Queen were thin (I’d had great hopes–Blur, Clash and Verve meets someone great–) compared to this Ibiza quality dj who the crowd was too tired and hot to really appreciate
–DECEMBERISTS–I’d never even heard of them but their hard-rocking and sometimes sweet Celtic songs were a delight to my soul
–RAPTURE–electronic, electric, got me dancing while nearly heat-dead
–HOT CHIP– an quintet of geeks playing synthesizers, drum machines and thumping their bodies to their computer generated beats–this group is amazing–I’ve seen them 5-6 times, from Iceland Airwaves (an October Indie hard rock fest that’s the deal of the decade–$600 for 3 day rock fest, hotel and airfare) where NOONE in the USA had ever heard of them to a big Mezzanine gig now Coachella–they rock big time
DAMIEN RICE—David Gray crossed with some happy rock energy, still potic and romantic—a sleeper for me

SUNDAY
–MANO CHAO–Latin, reggae high energy renegades best seen live—I danced though their set, nearly heat-dead, singing along, wildly dancing the salsa-regsae-son they played, while th3e band played on in wild abandon
–PLACEBO–the band ecstatic, the lead singer like he was chanting his heart out loud, hallelujah like Arcade Fire but different–compelling, beautiful
–WILLIE NELSON and CROWDED HOUSE–both sounding good, but both really and obviously dated, done, singing the old stuff but relics we must pay tribute to–not entirely unlike the punk driven stars of the whole show—
–the RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE– I met so many people here from Australia, Scotland, England, Virginia, North Dakota, everywhere, here to see RAGE as if they’d come to see God. The band WAS driven, hard, a passion I needed to hear but since they’d never rocked my world, this was my first go round with the band. They felt like what you’d HAVE to listen to after you’d ended a passionate but doomed love affair and needed to bang your head against something hard –in the end I loved Rage like everyone of their die-hard fans

So there you have it–Coachella 2007–from a single point of view–written at full moon midnight after a ten hour drive home and a few hours to assimilate and wind down to regular life at a mild 75 with tap water free but no wild bands chafing at the gate to be heard. I could see myself there next year….

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At Home at Stars

Why do I find this moment so exquisite, so rare?
‘S’Wonderful,’ the blonde woman plays on a fine old Steinway
I taste the salad–exotic greens, Gorgonzola Blue, candied
pecans–and sip a smooth dry Chandon cocktail.
in this most elegant of San Francisco restaurants
The piano notes slide like fresh oysters into
the almost breathing space,
this room filled with flowers,
the primary colors of circus posters
and champagne adverts from the 1930s
I am here, dressed in a Nordstrom suit,
black, slender, slit at the leg…
I wear the medallion my father gave me
many birthdays ago,
and a diamond dinner ring from Brasil
At long last, I belong here,
my venue, the opera,
my transport, a restored British motorcar.
I sit by the piano overlooking the lovely people,
streaming through the satin room
and I want for nothing
no company
no compliments
the music sparkles into my heart
and
I am
content.

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98 in the Shade

98 in the shade
as ravens circle up to the sun
Heat shimmers from the slickrock
the air is hot
still
silent
Here in the shade
a rattler waits
under a juniper tree
for the afternoon wind
Here in the shade
I sit still
look at marks
some old ones painted
on the sinuous canyon walls
that rise, sheer, before me
Still, like the air
still, like the lizard, the snake
out of time in this dry canyon,
I sit watching the pictures on the wall,
waiting for them to speak.
I could stay here forever,
become stone
and never know more of the stories
than I do right now.

–Cedar Mesa
Grand Gulch Wilderness, Utah

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What I Got from AM Radio

WHAT I GOT FROM AM RADIO

It never occurred to me
in all these years
of listening to rock and roll
that I signed up a long time ago
for perpetual teenage torture.

It was always a bad moon rising
over my hopes
that some cute boy would ask me out.
Always running on empty into the parties
and out alone onto mean street
wishing a guy with tatoos
and a Harley wanted to sweep me away.
always attracted to poor Italians,
from the wrong side of town,
outsiders born to run
from whatever
was white and good and proper.

And who did I think I could be?
wearing black from the time I was twelve,
wishing for sex and romance
but cooped up in the suburbs
with nothing to do but listen to my AM radio,
feeling lost and
out of all the places I was supposed to be…
no,
there was nowhere I was really supposed to me,
not at home in the afternoons
because no one was there
and no one particularly cared
whether I was there after school
not hanging out at the soda fountain either
because the guy there didn’t like any of us much,
and told us so
although there was never much of an us,
not at a club or a friend’s house either—
I belonged to no place,
had few and fickle friends…
So it was just me and the AM radio
and paper dolls I made of a dream girl
I called Lorraine

who had long hair
and lots of clothes
and nothing much to do,
like me,
but pretty.

So is it any wonder
that I wanted the passion
they sang about in rock and roll songs?
that seemed to stream through the cruel eyes
of the tough boys wearing black leather jackets,
who loitered around the Loew’s downtown,
who themselves had nowhere to go but the streets,
but never my streets.
My streets were full of empty green lawns
trimmed up to English gardens,
and lined with silent houses
divided by hedges,
streets where no one ever even walked their dog,
streets that no one ever wrote a song about
or I never heard one
listening to the radio day or late at night,
alone in my suburban bedroom,
waiting for a cowboy or a hood
to take me away.

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