27 April 2007

The Birthday that Wasn't

Today, Star ought to have had a little birthday party at school, but there was much ado about nothing in Beirut today and school was canceled. But I wasn't to know that last night when I was preparing for the festivities. Star decided that bubble-blow would be a great party favor for all her little friends at school. I liked that idea, except for the fact that bubble-blow is exactly the kind of thing that gets branded all the time. You can't just get bubbles, they're going to be barbie, pooh bear, dora, or diego bubbles. That's bad. Yes, it is. I think kids ought to be free from that kind of thing, especially when they’re blowing bubbles.

So, I got out my wrapping paper and covered up the labels. I did a nice job too, see?

I've got all 25 of them ready (oh, I don't think there are that many kids in her class, but I figured better too many than too few) and waiting. Just as soon as the "mood on the ground" stabilizes and people go back to their day-in day-out, Star will have a great class party. This weekend of course, there will be two parties. Dandelion on Saturday, Star on Sunday.

26 April 2007

See and be Seen

I'm about half way through the first book in the Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz. Why am I reading the trilogy? First, because Mahfouz is the only Arabic-language writer to ever receive the Nobel Prize for literature. Second, it came highly recommended. Third, it is well written. Not even being translated into English could ruin the quality of the writing.

(those reasons are in chronological order, not priority order. Nobel Prizes have not redeemed other authors I’ve picked up in the past)

So, like I said, I'm about half way into the first book, Palace Walk, and I just (literally 5 minutes ago) read the passage where Amina, the mother in the story's central family, has been persuaded by her children to venture out into the street for the first time EVER. This is a very traditional family, with a very authoritarian, unkind, and distant father. He leaves for a short business trip when her teen-aged and adult children convince her that there is no sin in visiting a nearby mosque/shrine (Amina is devout). She covers herself with her maid's shawl, veils her face, and is accompanied by her male sons. We get a third-person omniscient description of it:

As she crossed the threshold of the outer door and entered the street, she experienced a moment of panic. Her mouth felt dry and her pleasure was dispelled by a fit of anxiety. She had an oppressive feeling of doing something wrong. She moved slowly and grasped Kamal's hand nervously. Her gait seemed disturbed and unsteady as though she had not mastered the first principles of walking. She was gripped by intense embarrassment as she showed herself to the eyes of people she had known for ages but only through the peephole in the enclosed balcony. Uncle Hasanayn, the barber, Darwish, who sold beans, al-Fuli, the milkman, Bayumi, the drinks vendor, and Abu Sari', who sold snacks - she imagined that they all recognized her jsut as she did them. She had difficulty convincing herself of the obvious fact that none of them had ever seen her before in their lives.

I've often thought about what the veil does both to the one veiled and to the one seeing it. It certainly sets up an uneven relationship, one in which I would guess that the concealed party has more power. Sort of like the soldier in camo--there's a degree of protection in being able to vanish.

I've also thought a lot about my relationship to the fact that some women cover (to varying extents). Our neighbors on the floor below are Muslim, and the wife covers her head and wears clothing that covers her from neck to feet (pant-suits, but the kind that reveal nothing). Inside the house though, she dresses just like me. My husband has never seen that. He's also never seen her hair, the way it compliments and softens her face. He has no idea that she is beautiful. I, because I'm a woman too, have access to a part of her world that is not available to any man who isn't blood-related to her.

Appearances, what we allow others (and which others at that) to see is ultimately about control. You can't stop others using their eyes to judge the world. The best you can hope for is to really get what it is that they might see in you.

25 April 2007

Will to Art

I've written about artistic intent, originality, authorship etc. on a number of occasions. Those exercises are interesting, but today we are faced with something of a conundrum in the form of a Jean Arp collage.

That's Arp's Collage with Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance 1916-17.

To make this collage, Arp apparently dropped the blue and white paper scraps onto the lager, gray paper and then "further developed the collages by arranging the pieces automatically, without will."

Now that's really something. Is Arp saying that he is able to overcome free will? I think he must be, because if he was a determinist that would be stating an irrelevant, obvious fact. Why bother? I don't think he did. I think Arp thought he had a will that generally got in the way of the automatic process he favored.

So we've now come to the $50 question (except the $50 is fake). Assuming you've got free will (and those of you who follow my husband's blog know that he's been thinking a whole lot about that lately) can you shut it down? Can you will not to will? Isn't that like thinking about not thinking?

Well, Arp thought he could, and according to MoMA's page about this collage, it was by willing not to will that Arp's subconscious was able to allow a more essential, natural composition to emerge. Yeah.

For a while I've been thinking about doing a series here at Impart Art where I go through and recreate the works of other artists, and every time that thought crosses my mind this collage comes with it. But now that I've gotten myself good and confused about free will and whether I can will myself not to will, well, I don't think I'm interested.

24 April 2007

The Family Jewels

Here is an image of two necklaces that my paternal grandmother gave me. I'm sure that they were Christmas presents.

The green one most definitely came from Central America where my grandparents lived for two years in the late 1980s. I could not have been older than 12 when I received it. At the time I'm sure I didn't know or care that I'd been given jade. 10 years later fashion had changed, I was an adult, and suddenly the necklace was interesting to me for the first time. I've been wearing it ever since, and wearing it out. A few years ago I re-strung it with plastic spacer beads between the jade stones.

I have no idea about the origins of the other necklace (other than its entry into my life as a gift from grandmother). It came in a very lovely orange box. Because grandmother traveled the world several times over I have no idea where it might have come from. My amateur-gemologist husband tells me that this one is amber. Maybe it is. Grandmother has very likely been to the Baltic States and the Dominican Republic where amber comes from. When I saw her two weeks ago I didn't have the necklace with me or I would have asked her. But she might not have remembered anyway. Like the jade necklace, this one sat in the basement of my parents’ home for a decade before I changed my mind about it, and quite likely two decades before I retrieved it.

In part I value these necklaces simply as gifts from my grandmother. But part of me values what they represent to me now; the foolishness of my youth, the transience of fashion, the merits of waiting a few years or decades before discarding another's treasures. And another part of me reflects with something like wonder that my grandmother never seemed concerned that I (as a child) didn't know how to appreciate these gifts.

23 April 2007

The Bastard of Istanbul

While in the US I started and finished 'The Bastard of Istanbul' by Elif Shafak. In the author's acknowledgements she states, "Between the Turkish edition and the English edition of this novel in 2006, I was put on trial for "denigrating Turkishness" under article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. The charges that were brought against me were due to the words that some of the Armenian characters spoke in the novel; I could have been given up to a three-year prison sentence, but the charges were eventually dropped."

Well, folks, that's pretty much why I bought the book, and I only bought it because there is no library to borrow it from. I really wanted to read it. I'm glad I did. It is a book full of characters who are (usually in more than one way) between cultures. And since that's my whole life, I was interested.

Its the first time I've read a book and thought "I could write this better". How's that for arrogance? But honestly, there were too many times when the reader is told rather than shown, and the telling wasn't convincing. On the other had there were some sections that were perfect. There's no other word for it, they were really that good. Its too bad that many of the characters seem like rough sketches or paper-doll cut-outs. Oddly, its the dead characters that really seem alive.

Anyway, enough of that. In one rather neat section, the author describes various dishes in a restaurant in terms of modern art they resemble:
Sesame-crusted ahi tuna tartare with foie gras yakiniku appears as Francesco Boretti's The Blind Whore (you'll have to scroll down). Prime rib-eye with hot mustard cream sauce on a bed of pasison fruit vinaigrette and jicama materializes as a Mark Rothko Untitled. (No I don't know which 'Untitled' the author intended, and I've made no effort to find one that could be recreated in steak, mustard, and passion fruit.)

These dishes are brought to the table where one of the central characters is having dinner with a cameo-character who is even more paper-doll like than she is. When dessert arrives (without the reader hearing the characters order) they are described as Peter Kitchell's April Blues Bring May Yellows and Jackson Pollock's Shimmering Substance.

At first, both characters find it a bit overwhelming to munch their way through great works of art but eventually forget and eat freely.

Art as Food, made by a chef who wanted to be a philosopher and then an artist, and after failing at both turned to food. I'm still trying to figure out why the author included this restaurant scene at all. It wasn't one of the books strong moments, and I can't help trying to figure out what she meant for it to accomplish, because I must be observing its failure to deliver. Otherwise, would I be wondering?

20 April 2007


Happy April. I just got back from St. Louis and a trip to see my grandparents who are just outside Vegas. Yes, this is the first time I've posted in a month. No, that wasn't intentional. No, I haven't given it up. Yes, I expected to have more down time while in the US, but yeah, that was silly of me. What's that? Yeah, it was a good visit, but I'm happy to be back. Yes I am.

That's me on the way back down from Angel's Landing, a spectacular hike in Zion's National Park, with siblings, of course. My dad took the picture.

I've been reading, reading, reading which has been a nice diversion from writing, writing, writing. Art played an interesting bit-part in one of the books I got on the trip and I think I'll blog that tomorrow.

A trip to St. Louis always involves at least a few hours of going through my old stuff (which is very neatly confined to two cedar chests--when I impose on people I'd like to think I do it with care), and this visit I hit the jackpot. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon my photo album from highschool, which really was more like a portfolio showcasing the wish I briefly entertained to become a photographer. I also retrieved a necklace that my grandmother gave me at least 15 years ago that (like most things she has given me) I had no appreciation for at the time. My parents had taken good care of my 'Northern Renaissance' and 'Art and its Significance' text books after I left them there six years ago. Anyway, foder, all of it is foder.