Sunday, November 27, 2016

ADVENT GRATITUDE






I welcome these early-dark days, and the winter coolness in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains. Constantly seeking out quiet, I walk frequently to the chapel at St. Elizabeth of Hungary to pray Vespers.

Above is the doorway of the main church, and a shot of the Westminster Presbyterian Church just south of St. Elizabeth.

Thanksgiving day, before wrapping up my polenta pine nut torte and departing for my friend Julia's,
I walked up to the church as well. I knew the chapel would be closed but the walk was itself lovely, what with the changing leaves, brisk-ish for Southern Cal air, and smell of cooking turkeys wafting o'er the sidewalks.

I sat for a bit in the Mary grotto.

Then I walked around to this side niche and prepared my heart for Advent.






ANGEL'S TRUMPETS


Sunday, November 20, 2016

A DOCUMENTARY ON BILL W.: THE CO-FOUNDER OF AA

BILL W AT THE BEDSIDE OF A FELLOW ALCOHOLIC
AA IS NEITHER RELIGIOUS NOR ANTI-RELIGIOUS

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

William Griffith Wilson was born on Nov. 26, 1895. For recovering alcoholics the world over, the fact that the date falls near Thanksgiving is no accident.

Several years ago, California-based producer Dan Carracino and New York City director Kevin Hanlon became fascinated by Bill’s story and the phenomenon of Alcoholics Anonymous. Their documentary “Bill W.” was released in 2012 and recently aired on PBS SoCal.

ANGELUS: Neither of you are alcoholics. Why Bill Wilson?

Kevin: About 10 years ago I happened to be reading Ernest Kurtz’s book about AA history — “Not-God” — which I found to be a page-turner. It’s a fascinating story even if you’re not an alcoholic or don’t have people in your life who are alcoholics. Bill W. was on the precipice of destruction, of death, and found a way out that no one else had been able to find before, at least not on the scale that he did.

Dan: It’s just a fantastic story. No one knew how much was hanging in the balance that afternoon in the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel in Akron, Ohio, where, on May 12, 1935, Bill made the fateful phone call that led him to AA co-founder Dr. Bob Smith. The whole trajectory of the history and treatment of alcoholism changed that afternoon. It changed because Bill figured out that in order to keep sober himself, he had to help another drunk.

READ THE WHOLE COLUMN HERE.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

TO BE UTTERLY UNNOTICEABLE



I've been following along with the daily entries in a book I gather was wildly popular in its day: My Utmost for His Highest by old-timey Protestant guy Oswald Chambers (1874-1917).

The entry for November 16 reads in part,

"We have a tendency to look for wonder in our experience, and we mistake heroic actions for real heroes. It's one thing to go through a crisis grandly yet quite another to go through life glorifying God when there is no witness, no limelight, and no one paying even the remotest attention to us. If we are not looking for halos, we at least want something that will make people say, 'What a wonderful man of prayer he is!' or 'What a great woman of devotion she is!' ...

To be utterly unnoticeable requires God's spirit in us making us absolutely humanly His. The true test of a saint's life is not successfulness but faithfulness on the level of human life."

To be faithful on the level of human life means that, long before a crisis arises, we have pondered the deepest questions of existence. We have already ordered our lives, hearts, bodies, and blood to the poor, the prisoner, the immigrant, the discriminated against, the disenfranchised and all the powerless of the world--never forgetting that, left to our own devices alone, we, too, are powerless

We have one ear perpetually cocked to the Sermon on the Mount. Our routine of prayer, patience, gratitude, creative nonviolence, hope, and the seeking of beauty is in place.

We have a long way to go.
We continue our sowing.


 



Monday, November 14, 2016

THE RAWNESS OF INTIMACY

SCENES FROM THE ALTADENA CREST TRAIL

From Fr. Ron Rolheiser's column this week, entitled "Our Resistance to Love:"

"Sensitive people, on the other hand, struggle with the rawness of intimacy because genuine intimacy, like heaven, is not something that can be glibly or easily achieved. It’s a life-long struggle, a give and take with many setbacks, a revealing and a hiding, a giving over and a resistance, an ecstasy and a feeling of unworthiness, an acceptance that struggles with real surrender, an altruism that still contains selfishness, a warmth that sometimes turns cold, a commitment that still has some conditions and a hope that struggles to sustain itself.

Intimacy isn’t like heaven. It is salvation. It is the kingdom. Thus, like the kingdom, both the road and the gate towards it are narrow, not easily found. So be gentle, patient and forgiving towards others and self in that struggle."

We resist love but we also ceaselessly seek love, insist upon love, blast through every obstacle to burst through with fresh love and new life.

Last week I hiked the Altadena Crest Trail in the San Gabriels, not far north of my apartment.

I was struck by these roots from some native bush--a kind of buchwheat perhaps--that were emerging from and growing along what appeared to be solid rock..

In spite of everything, heaven and nature sing.








Friday, November 11, 2016

THE CASHORE MARIONETTES


THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN:
JOE CASHORE

This week's arts and culture column is on Joe Cashore of the internationally-acclaimed Cashore Marionettes.

The piece starts like this:

I first became entranced by the weirdness of puppets — and puppeteers — through internationally acclaimed stop-motion animators The Brothers Quay (“Street of Crocodiles,” “In Absentia,” and “This Dream People Call Huma Life”).

Of the craft of puppetry, they observe: “That’s a huge legacy that goes back to the 14th century. Our own work probably descends from the turn of the century, with Richard Teschner and Władysław Starewicz. The tradition of European puppets — aside from classical puppetry — was always very symbolic and very serious. It wasn’t for kids. They took on serious metaphysical themes. Growing up in America, we always felt like everything was Rin-Tin-Tin Land. It just felt like everything was gravitating towards kids and they wouldn’t take the metis — the craft — seriously.”

Joe Cashore, the puppet-maker, puppeteer, creator and director of Cashore Marionettes, doesn’t reference European masters like Richard Teschner and Władysław Starewicz in his interviews or act. But the metis, and the mystery are very much in evidence.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE. 




Friday, November 4, 2016

ALL SOULS: EAST L.A.'S CALVARY CEMETERY

MOM'S BURIAL, SEPTEMBER 2012
NORTH HAMPTON, NH

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

What with the Solemnity of All Saints, the commemoration of All Souls, and the many recent local Day of the Dead celebrations, my thoughts have turned, as they so often do, to burial plans.

Before passing away from Alzheimer’s in 2012, my sainted Protestant mother took me aside to tell me of her own interment desires. With a dreamy look in her eye, she produced a moldering newspaper clipping she’d clearly been poring over for years: an ad for cut-rate caskets. “Look, here’s a nice beaverboard model,” she enthused. 

She’d worked it all out. No flowers (people might have to spend money). No cortège to the gravesite, just family (people might have to waste time). No eulogy, just a simple service (people might have to think of something nice to say about her).

I understood completely her impulse to avoid both the death industry and  making an unnecessary show. Personally, I would like to be laid to rest in a plain pine box beneath a live oak.  That would be after, however, a high Mass. I’m with Servant of God Dorothy Day, who once said, “If I am reincarnated, I hope I come back an opera singer!”


LITTLE BROTHER JOE AND NEPHEW ALLEN

Monday, October 31, 2016

"THE TEARS OF ST. PETER:" PETER SELLARS DIRECTS THE LA MASTER CHORALE

"THE TEARS OF ST. PETER"
LA MASTER CHORALE

For this week's arts and culture piece I got to interview the theater and opera impresario Peter Sellars Down-to-earth, approachable, warm, wise, smart and kind.

Him, that is, not me.

Here's how the piece begins:

For two performances only — on Oct. 29 and 30 — Peter Sellars will direct the L.A. Master Chorale in “Lagrime di San Pietro” (The Tears of St. Peter), an a cappella Renaissance masterpiece by composer Orlando di Lasso.

Sellars, as you may know, is the internationally-acclaimed theater and opera director who shot out of Harvard in the late 1970s to do ground-breaking productions of Shakespeare, Gogol and Mozart, and who hasn’t stopped since. When he’s not traveling, he makes his home in Culver City and is a professor of world arts and cultures at UCLA, where he teaches art as social action and art as moral action.

Last week he was kind enough to share his enthusiasm and excitement about “The Tears of St. Peter.”

“One of the things that’s most overwhelming about the piece is that at the 11th hour the person who’s had the most courage and insight and who truly understood in such deep ways who Jesus was and what he was asking fails to come through.”

“Upon this rock I will build my church,” Christ tells Peter.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

DIA DE LOS VIVOS


MAGNOIA POD.
YOU CAN FIND THESE DESICCATED OBJECTS LITTERING THE GROUND
IN MY HOOD.
BRING THEM HOME AND IN A FEW DAYS THE SCARLET SEEDS
MAGICALLY APPEAR!

I suddenly realized the other day that ever since I've been writing a weekly arts and culture column, I've had little time to devote to my blog.

Yup, it took that long to notice!

I've had way less time to wander (but with a purpose), toting my trusty camera. I still take lots of walks but I'm usually trying to let my mind lie fallow. My home away from home is the chapel at St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Here, I sit quietly and ponder the mysteries of the universe, or go to a place beyond pondering...

Another project that's taken up much of my "spare time" has been clearing the more or less abandoned lot behind the house where I live preparatory to installing a California native plant garden.

I myself have hauled countless bags of brush and leaves, dug up old river stones from beneath a bank of dusty jade plants and pored endlessly over books of native plants. But my friend Jerry has done the lion's share of hard work and landscaping. He's a native Angeleno: an old-school handyman type guy with a pickup, piles of tools (want a branch whacked off? Jerry will do it. Want a pair of sconces hung in your bathroom? Jerry will do it. Want a beautifully-shaped curved path to the site of a future pergola and three loads of pea gravel to line it? Call Jerry) and a real eye for design, form, and beauty. While meanwhile insisting that since he has no certificate or degree, he has no "talent." We've worked well together (I am paying him, of course), though he tells me I'm "intense."

Me?

I had a bit of a health scare recently but learned yesterday that things are more or less okay and the dire news I feared was not forthcoming.

That makes me very grateful. I kept thinking, "I have to get that garden in!"

And now--with Jerry's help--I will.

AUTUMN COMES TO MY LIVING/DINING ROOM

Friday, October 21, 2016

KAZUO OHNO, TAKAO KAWAGUCHI, AND THE ART OF BUTOH




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

Recently I caught a mesmerizing dance performance at the downtown REDCAT Theater: “Takao Kawaguchi: About Kazuo Ohno - Reliving the Butoh Diva’s Masterpieces.”

Ohno (1906-2010) was one of the founders of the revolutionary dance form known as Butoh, an avant-garde discipline, often done in white body makeup, that arose from the ashes of World War II.

As defined by Ohno himself: “Basically, ‘butoh’ means to meander, or to move, as it were, in twists and turns between the living and the dead.”

To watch a YouTube video of Ohno is to be transported to a world that is leagues apart from the aggressive, brute athleticism that characterizes so much of our contemporary skating, gymnastics, modern dance and even ballet.

“The best thing someone can say to me is that while watching my performance they began to cry,” he once said. “It is not important to understand what I am doing; perhaps it is better if they don’t understand, but just respond to the dance.”


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Friday, October 14, 2016

EL ANATSUI AT THE BROAD

DUSASA I
EL ANATSUI
The adventure continues!

This week's arts and culture column is about a field trip I took with some friends to a museum in downtown LA. I wasn't able to describe possibly the best part of the trip, which was our lunch afterward at Grand Central Market.

Anyway, here's how the piece begins:

A few weeks ago, I went on a field trip with some friends to The Broad, the new-ish downtown L.A. museum of contemporary art.

My friends wanted to see an exhibit, since closed, of the photographer Cindy Sherman so I bought a $12 timed-entry ticket, too.

“I am trying to make other people recognize something of themselves rather than me,” says Sherman

Really? Well, how about taking a picture of one of them?

Instead, Sherman has made a career of taking photos of herself in various disguises.

There’s the repulsive clown series, the sexual fantasies series, the silent film star series, the fashion photo series. In each, she presents as vapid, vaguely grotesque and a person with zero inner life.

Why, here’s Cindy looking like a battered woman. Cindy looking like a British matron with a prosthetic nose. Cindy looking like a mental patient wearing a red dress, creepy brown hat and one green glove. What could it mean?

Nothing.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.