December 29, 2010

Miss Potato Nose.

This past year, like Alice, I went down the rabbit hole. No Queen of Hearts in my story, but a Miss Potato Nose. She also yelled, "Off with their heads", at the top of her lungs, while she swung her machete around and changed the life of all of those about her.
I have read and reread the book by Martha Stout: The Sociopath Next Door. I had read it prior to having my head cut off and still could do nothing when it happened because we want to believe that those whom we like cannot be so heartless. 
Only now am I getting round to it, and I have acquired a nice new potato-peeler.

December 27, 2010

Paper Cut.

I have a problem - well perhaps more than one, but I have such a broad interest in everything around me that I always find myself doing something new. It's probably what I need, or I would specialize. 
Since I bought some printed paper this whimsical cut-out just wouldn't go away till I made her.

December 26, 2010

Gandhiji

More stamps than envelope, it seems. Gandhiji's tranquil face looking back at me multiple times, like looking through a kaleidoscope.
Last time I went to the post office they were out of 98 cent stamps and I bought 1 dollar ones, which are far prettier. I think I will continue doing that. They might even have different ones, which will make my envelopes more interesting too. Of course, I could just stick on 100 penny stamps.

December 23, 2010

Paper mosaic.

When a day is just plodding along, or worse than that even, when very little seems to go the way I would like it to go, then I am totally taken aback when I suddenly come across something that will just flood my head with ideas and flush out any disappointing feelings I may have.
It can be something simple. Like this morning when I saw a picture of a caterpillar, and the colors were so wild, that I immediately wanted to make a vividly colored caterpillar of my own. Recently I saw a program about fractals and there I went again, like Alice down the rabbit hole. Head spinning with inspiration.

Words, that are strung beautifully, do it to me too. 

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”
 – Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

  
If I can't mosaic anything of scale, then why not mosaic something small and light. That is what you see in the picture. I am making paper mosaic tiles and placing them on a little wooden box. It looks like nothing this close, but when finished I will post the end result and it will look entirely different. You will see.

December 18, 2010

The Big Hat.

Your life experiences build you layer upon layer into whom you eventually become. It is also the life experiences of those whom you encounter along the way, that influence you in becoming who you are. As a woman, I have a strong admiration for women who disown certain conventions and seek out the experiences that make them multi-faceted and very interesting. I can name a few from the past, Baroness von Blixen, Mary Kingsley, Margaret Mead, Delia Akeley and Isabella Bird a.o. If you think that there are no modern day women who adventure out, then names like Jane Goodall and Alicia Colson come to mind, but granted I can find very few and most are scientists. However on the bright side, there is Sophie, who writes a blog journal about her hotel in the West African town of Djenne, Mali, where she has settled. Sophie, in turn introduces Edith Watts, of Papua New Guinea, in her October 18th, 2010 blog entry. Fascinating women. But they are not the only ones. Many women these days travel the world (outside the tourist circuit), live in little known pockets of the world and do interesting things. One day, future generations will hear of them, only, right now, it is not easy to find them even on the internet. 
Let's hope that they are keeping journals. 

It was Sophie who mentioned "wearing the big hat" when writing about Edith Watts and when I was going through my black and white photographs from a while back, I found this one of my mother.

Foreign movies.

You say tomato, I say tomahto. When I say ball, you hear bowl. Seriously. 

A friend was going to bring my dog to the office, and I asked her to also bring the bowl. She called to say that there was no bowl in the kitchen. Puzzled, I told there was one by the fridge and heard her say, "Oh, you want her ball". I have told this story to others and Americans hear bowl for ball and I, when they say it, hear ball for bowl and bowl for ball. As if life is not confusing enough.

I was having dinner with a very likable man and we were making the usual small talk, which I am not good at even at the best of times. I asked him what kind of movies he liked and distinctly heard him say, "porn movies". I know my eyes must have glazed over when I looked up from my plate. He held my gaze and said again, "forn movies", (which I know are, to some people, almost the same as porn movies). "Ah", I said somewhat relieved, "forrin movies". 

Oh well, you say tomato, I say, tomahto. What does it matter? No reason to call the whole thing off.

I used pen and ink (Hydrus, Phthalo Green and Venetian Brown) for the peacock feather and washed in a watercolor for the yellow.
Lately some readers have asked if the photos and drawings are my own. Everything used in my blog is my own and all photos, writing, drawings and made objects etc are done by me with the exception of a few and I always mention if they are by someone else in the text.

December 6, 2010

Twitter & Tumblr & More.

I think my head is about to explode. I just don't understand where people find the time to do it all, and I don't even mean ALL. I mean, what they do behind their computers. I get numerous personal emails that need responses. I get business emails that need to be taken care of. I Blog, and if you are reading this you already know that. Then this Summer a friend invited me to see her photos on Facebook. Turns out you need to register to be able to see them, and once registered, there were many happy reunions with people from the past. People who had worked for me, friends who I had lost touch with and friends I see monthly, weekly or daily too. Soon I had a bunch of friends. Then there was the Tweeting, but I drew the line there, because I am hopeless at small talk and that seemed like small talk to me. But I like to at least know what is out there, so checked into Tumblr, which is a blogging system that I know I don't need. I like Flickr. I spend some time there now and then because I like seeing other peoples photos, but I have never uploaded any of my own. 
Now I come across Pinterest. Which is interesting, but I just don't see how one can manage it all.......and yes, many bloggers whose blogs I read, have Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, and some others.
Between the phone, the mobile phone, text messaging, emailing and T, F, F, T and the others, reading blogs and actually living life and reading a book now and then, I think I have no option but to let my head explode. Perhaps I am taking this Slow and Simple idea too seriously, and should leap back into the Speed and Stress lane again, where everyone's head has already exploded.

December 5, 2010

What's the rush?


Lately, I seem to have been looking down a little more, and that's how I found the feathers that I stuck in my little art book. The ragged looking one will make a great stamp.
The day before Thanksgiving I was on the grocery store parking lot, in the middle of mayhem. A well-dressed man in a nice car was so concerned that I would take the parking spot he had his eye on that he stopped his car right in front of mine. I mimed something that was supposed to say: now what are you doing? His reaction was not well-dressed at all, but I had no time for him because two cars down, a car had backed into another.
What's wrong with having Thanksgiving on some boring Sunday in February? Travel will be cheap and the airports not crowded. There will be months of time for dinner preparations and getting the house in perfect shape for company. There will be no family feud about going to the one for dinner and not to the other. Shopping will be a pleasure in the almost empty stores.
Why not turn everything inside-out and upside-down and walk to the beat of your own drum?


November 26, 2010

Black Friday Shopping.

I also went shopping this Thanksgiving weekend. Photo-shopping, that is. I used the following pictures. The bee and the woman, I clipped from magazines, and I had already worked the picture of the woman posted here quite a bit (can't seem to find the original). The photo of the roses I took in Monterey several years ago and I scanned the leaf. I think I might have another hobby.




November 13, 2010

She used to be a beautiful baby.

I bent down to plug my laptop into a socket which was inconveniently tucked under a piece of furniture. Instead of repositioning myself, I just tried it anyway, and soon felt my one leg sliding slowly away from the other. It was all in slow motion, and I had time to realize that if I let this continue, I could easily split down the middle. Too late to bring the leg back so I dropped my rear end to the floor. Far less painful than being split in two.
I looked up to see Athena in her usual position in the bedroom, sleeping most of her day away. 

I wondered that if I was in a really disastrous situation, would she come and save me, so I gave a plaintiff cry for help and I added a little whine for good measure.

She opened her eyes and raised her head; her paws one draped over the other most elegantly. I whined again, and in the bubble over her head I saw her think: "What in heaven's name are you doing on the floor? So unlike you". I think she blinked once or twice before she decided that it was impossible to continue holding her head up, placed it on her paws, and went back to her mid-morning snooze.

If I ever end up half-dead in a ditch, I think I can only expect a sympathetic little sniff from her, before seeing her tail jauntily disappear in the distance. So much for that.




Here she is wearing her rosebud baby collar and her favorite worried expression, which is totally fake. She never worries at all!







November 9, 2010

Rare birds.


Recently at a concert, where a soprano from New York sang the stars from the heavens, I glanced around as I settled in to listen. Across the aisle sat a baby-boomer Harley guy, with tattoo's up his arms and in his neck; his  chains catching the light. His face tilted upwards, his eyes closed, listening to the music in quiet appreciation. Although he seemed oddly out of place, it was good to see that we don't have to fit into society's little boxes.

The same week, at Petsmart, I approached a store associate, who was standing by an older woman with a mangy looking little dog on a lead.  He had sad eyes and was missing a large part of one of his ears. The elderly woman turned and gave me a snarling smile, telling me that it was not yet my turn because her dog was being trained as an assistance dog. Her expectations were clearly high. I looked at the dog and he looked up at me with tired eyes, and I am sure he was saying, "Do I remotely look like a dog that would be able to do that?". I wanted to pluck some of the woman's tail feathers, but thought better of it.

Later at the dog park (my life seems to revolve a lot around dogs), a man sat down next to me on the bench, while his wife settled on the armrest. He was hesitant to talk, but when he did he mentioned Mark Twain's autobiography, which is on the best-sellers list. I said, quite innocently, "So you are a NPR listener?", because that day it had been mentioned on the radio. I added that I liked listening to BBC news on that station. "I don't like that stupid English accent", he snapped. His wife scoured the sky for any birds flying by to study. Now there is no denying that my accent sounds British to some, but it's not. I realized that he wasn't happy at being found out that he listened to what he might consider a "liberal" station. I felt like feeding him a worm.

My accent sometimes incites reactions that are beyond my understanding. Like the woman in a car, who was in the assumption that I had locked my dog in a car with closed windows. She screamed that she had already called the humane society, so I walked up to her to explain, but she just bellowed, "Go back to Canada, and stay there". "Why would I want to go to Canada?", I asked but of course, I knew what it was about. My accent. I should have tied a knot in her beak. Silly bird.

You meet some rare birds sometimes and I am not talking about the biker at the concert, who didn't fly with the flock.

The birds in the drawing are a Sunday morning practice. I wanted to see if I could do something like this.


November 4, 2010

Bohdi Leaf Skeleton.


I have never watched much TV. There is a reason for this, I think. I grew up without television, not because I wasn't allowed to watch it, but it simply wasn't available. TV was only introduced in South Africa in 1976 and I might just have developed an early immunity to the TV-virus.
Of course, there was always a TV in the house later wherever I lived, and I did enjoy watching certain programs. I am after all not from another planet.
Then, about 10 years ago, I lived and worked in Barcelona for a while, and there too I had television but I had difficulty getting into the Catalan language and if you like reading then it's so simple to put on some music and settle into a book and forget about television altogether.
When I got back to Arizona, I remember I was making the bed while Sally Raphael was on and thinking that I didn't want this kind if thing in my home, and cancelling the cable and switching to DVDs. I had to forfeit PBS and some other things I was fond of watching, but it was either the one, or the other.
I am now staying in a home where there is television, and the first two weeks it was practically impossible for me to unglue my eyes from the screen. I just loved watching NatGeo, PBS and some cooking shows. How could I have lived without this for so long?
Week two, I discovered that TV-life consists of reruns and reruns and then some more and I went to the local library for some books and now the sullen screen sits in a corner sulking and feeling very unloved.

When shooting the skeleton leaf in the picture I was reminded of my time in Barcelona. I had bought some there in a florist shop, but they are easy to make. Just use sturdy leaves such as magnolia or maple, dry them in phone book for a few days so that they are nice and flat, and then place them in water. Clean the water daily to avoid decay, and soon you will find that you can carefully remove the remainder of the fleshy green part as it rots away with an old toothbrush and dry the skeleton.

October 26, 2010

There is something about snail mail that I like.

This morning the mailman had a parcel for me. My sister-in-law loves sending things (and I love receiving them), and she had already told me that something was on its way. It took long enough, but then it had to come all the way from Thailand.
Even the wrapping was na rak (cute) in the way Hello Kitty is cute. Hard to believe that Hello Kitty has been around since 1975. I read in my book that the Thai have their own characters that appear on stamps, train tickets and obviously on Thai Mail packaging. Manga, the Japanese cartoons and characters, which are popular here too (although, I must say I don't know anyone who is interested in manga, but when I go to my favorite art supply store, there is a whole Manga department, so there must be quite a bit of manga drawing going on).

I am working on a drawing of a peacock feather that I found when staying with a friend who has about 25 peacocks wandering on her property. They were an endless source of entertainment for Athena, my dog, although I don't think the peacocks shared in the fun.

Another thing I am doing is using my old trusty Minolta again with expired film. I have seen just wonderful photos made with expired film. You never know what you are going to get, so it is senseless to work towards an end-result. You just shoot subjects that aren't important and see the magic or the black magic that appears, because some just come out totally black with nothing to see.

I know you can photoshop anything and everything, but this is a little different. I like a little different.

October 20, 2010

All one leaves behind.

This picture was taken in White Sands, New Mexico, when my life was still what I considered 'normal'. Three years later all has changed. Surprisingly, change, although it takes a little getting used to, can be exciting. I can't say that it is easy to have so much change in one's life, however I am seldom bored these days, and boredom is something that I can't abide.
When I was a little girl in South Africa, most Sunday's would be spent at a riverside, usually the Vaal, but sometimes the family would get adventurous and we would end up in a new location, like at a dam. I suppose water was an essential element for a family of Dutch people to enjoy themselves. My grandfather built boats that would chug along the river with everyone on board. His shed was never empty as there was always the beginning of a new boat in it.
Fishing was another hobby of his. Upon arrival at the river, he would take his rod and tackle, chair and hat, and settle at the river's edge in the shade. He would catch barbell, catfish, which it is said can even travel over land. We did not eat them and he would release them after calling some of us over to admire his catch. I thought they were ugly and they smelt of the river mud, but it was his pleasure, along with reading and perusing maps, because he was a traveller at heart. I think most of the geography I learned was based on him showin me all the places he would have visited if his life had been different. He had wanted to go to sea, but was very short sighted and needed glasses, so that never happened. He loved water, especially the sea, I think, because of where it could take him.
What is genetic or what is delivered by the imprint your family leaves behind on the sands of your life?

None of his progeny has any interest in fishing, but both my brothers are avid and good sailors. We are all three interested in the world and discovering it. Imprints, I think. Our myopia? Genetic for sure.


August 21, 2010

First Day of School.

I suppose if you are 6 going on 7, and you have already lived in Holland, USA, France and now Thailand, you learn to take everything in your stride. Fleur, in her school uniform is ready to start the new school year. She certainly isn't afraid of much, if she can wrap a python around her neck.

August 18, 2010

Rattler before breakfast.


Such excitement this morning. Athena was barking and when I went outside, out of the corner of my eye I saw a snake attached to the wall. My brain said, "plastic" but as I walked on I heard the rattle. Then I realized it was real.
Why I thought it was plastic was because a neighbor had left some contraption he made with chicken-wire and plastic snakes to scare away the pigeons that seems to plague many of my neighbors, but not me, with me to get rid of. I thought yesterday's wind had blown one, that had missed the garbage can, into the courtyard. But no, this one was real and rattled. It was a little over 2 ft, and the Rural Metro Men came to remove it.

March 1, 2010

Laughter and the Weimaraner.

 
She makes me laugh so often. Last night she had taken a swim in the pond and did not smell very good, so when I went in to cook dinner, I decided to let her dry a bit and then rub her down with a spray I have, that cleans her coat (and makes her smell better too). Athena does not like being shut out and usually will stand alert by the glass door, hoping I will see her and let her in. Not so this time. I had heard a little whine, but when looking at the door she was not there. The second whine took me to the door, and she was lying on the mat, with just her nose in the crack of the sliding doors. That was all of her that would fit, but she had gotten as close as possible.
She looks a little serious in this picture, staring so intently with her opal eyes. You wouldn't know she was such a clown.

February 27, 2010

Seydou Keita, Mali photographer,

One great discovery I made while researching Mali was the photography of Seydou Keita. A personal discovery that is, because this pioneer photographer had already been discovered. I used one of his photo's for the above illustration, and sketched it on copy paper, of all things. The young woman's stance, with her foot on the chair, her wide skirts and especially her arms and hands fascinated me.

February 20, 2010

Keeping it tidy.

Frankly, the drawing has nothing to do with what's on my mind. I just drew this big, old crab for my 6 year old niece to send to her in reply to the pretty card she sent me showing off her new talent in writing in cursive. 

Drawing, writing and reading are my methods to not have to think about the sorry state of affairs in which we find ourselves. During the week, it is part of my job; in the weekend I force myself to find ways to distract my mind for else one might lose it and that would be very untidy.


There has been a little bubble of an idea floating peacefully along in the back of my mind for many years. Never really acted upon. Never used for any purpose. Sometimes surfacing, often not.
Last weekend, when not even drawing could still my restlessness, I suddenly sat down and wrote the outline of a story and since then I have been collecting facts to which I can attach my fantasy and a new diversion was created.


Main character: Sophia Mumms, adventurous, young traveler of limited means in a post-WWII world, embarks on a journey that takes her to Mali and beyond.


Now I had to discover how she would travel (cargo ship), what she would eat; where she would sleep; who she would meet and most importantly what would she find herself in the middle of (murder and theft)? A story needs excitement, an intricate plot, subplots and some romance. So I have found myself looking for answers to many the questions I have. Although I have traveled extensively in Africa, my interest has always been East Africa, and now I am discovering the West through names like Dakar, Djenne, and Timbuktu; people like the Dogons, Fulani and Tuaregs, and a 2,500 mile river, plied by river boats and pirogues, forming the back-bone of the first part of the story. 

In my travels on the web, I stumbled on Sophia herself. I found this marvelous blog by Sophia, Djenne Djenno. This is not my Sophia, but a modern day artist, and life adventurer who runs a hotel in Djenne, Mali. There are such amazing people to be discovered, that one hardly need write fiction. Reading her enjoyable and interesting blog I am strongly reminded of Isak Dinesen and her time in Africa.
listening to: Miriam Makeba - Africa, Nawang Kheechog - Rhythms of Peace, Joe Cocker - Ultimate Collection.









February 9, 2010

Dancing strings.

Not quite sure what to make of this. It took me far longer than any of the other projects in my little art book. When you turn the page and the strings are taunt, it gives a very different effect. But still, it is as if they are alive, doing whatever they please. I have noticed something else about my book. It smells of a very nice perfume. I had not noticed this before even though my nose has hovered above the paper for many hours. 
 

February 7, 2010

Holy Rosary Convent, Edenvale, Gauteng.

This week I found myself looking for my primary school on the Internet. I was clearly drinking from a full cup of nostalgia and I was not alone, because the next day there was a nice fat letter amongst my mail from my primary school friend, Paddy. She too, was looking back. Birthday's tend to bring this on.
There isn't much to be found about our years at Holy Rosary Convent but I did discover things I did not know. 
The order was established at Killeshandra in Ireland and the sisters were sent to Africa as missionaries. First to Nigeria, but later in the 1940's, as the order grew, also to Transvaal (now Gauteng), where they started a school in Edenvale, to support their missionary work in Vereeniging, where the Sharpeville Massacre took place in 1960.
As I remember it, our classrooms were, at the time in temporary buildings under some tall pine trees. While I was there a new building was built behind the brick schoolhouse in the photo.
So much for the history, because what captures my interest are the women who were our teachers. They were such a mystery to me, in their crisp white tropical habits, of linen and cotton, and when it got colder, unbleached woolen cardigans. I can still imitate their soft, Irish lilt and belt out the Irish songs we were taught in music class. They formed a little Irish island in the middle of the African veld.
After having seen Walt Disney's 'Sleeping Beauty" I could never escape seeing Sister Mary Gemma as Flora, the strong, benevolent leader, Sister Mary Genevieve as Fauna, sweet and timid, and Sister Mary Teresita as Merriweather. Although my relationship with Sister Gemma was the strongest as we corresponded for many years, well into my adulthood, it was however Sister Teresita who fascinated me most once I was well out of her reach. She was all too slap-happy with her ruler or pointer, and when angered, her face would redden from her collar up to her coif, and there were times when I feared that she would erupt like a volcano and I would see molten lava spouting out of the top of her head.
Regardless of Merriweather, I had a wonderful time and still think I was fortunate enough to get an excellent start in life because of the good, though somewhat old fashioned schooling at HRC. (We called ourselves Hot Roasted Chickens). When I left for high school I had already had a year of Latin, a nice little foundation for math, had read Shakespeare, Dickens and many other great authors. I had been taken to musicals, eisteddfods, and learned song (can't say I learned to sing, but that had to do with my own limited abilities) and dance. I could write bread-and-butter notes (check this link if you like entertaining, etiquette and the finer side of life), knew which knife and fork to use at an elaborate dinner and walk up straight and elegantly. 
None of these skills are particularly helpful in the life I live now. Manners are not really required much these days and tableware has been reduced to a single fork. Long, newsy letters on fine stationary have been replaced by emails and Latin, I believe is no longer required in any academic direction. 

We cannot prevent change and progress, but we can regret the loss of some of the finer things in life. Therefore, Paddy and I are going back to writing letters (even though the first one Paddy wrote got lost in the mail from South Africa to Arizona). No more quick exchanges zipping along the web, but letters that take longer to write, longer to arrive, but are sure to be savored longer by the recipient.
Listening to: Appalachia Waltz, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Mark O'Conner.





February 2, 2010

Open doorway in Rome.

I think this is what they call 'noise' in photography, but I took this picture a long time before I had heard of 'noise'. It was also the time when you had one roll of film in your camera and you used it under whatever circumstances you wanted to take a picture. A high ISO would give more noise, be more grainy. This picture was taken under low light conditions and I had to open the aperture. Still, I have always liked this picture taken through an open door in Rome.
Camera: my faithful Minolta, which is gathering dust now that I have gone digital.

January 31, 2010

The Cookie Thief.

I was on the phone when I came to the realization that, from the corner of my eye, I had seen Athena walk by quite often in the space of time I had been occupied. I was concentrating on the business call; it was late in the day and I was tired. I saw her walk jauntily in again, and a moment later, make her way outside with a sheepish look on her face and giving me the whale-eye. The call lasted another 30 minutes at least, and I was now aware of Athena's regular visits to the kitchen, but was unable to investigate. When I did, I saw that someone had put the large box of dog biscuits on the floor in the laundry room and Athena had clearly been making her selection and burying them in the garden. There were numerous little heaps here and there where she had hidden her stash.
The picture was taken on a downtown walk and worked on to diffuse the background and concentrate on Athena's eyes. I have been interested in Digital Art, but I will first have to know the terminology and work with the software a little (or a lot).
I admire Susan Tuttle's work and somehow artists like Susan give me licence to alter my original photo's to something a little different.
Listening to Shanghai Girls by Lisa See.

January 29, 2010

January quiche.

Recently a friend used the expression, "real men don't eat quiche" and almost immediately I decided to bake one. I made a January version. A low-fat version that is, but it tasted good. Spinach, eggs, milk, shiitake mushrooms, feta-cheese (I chose fat-free.....well, it is still January) and store bought puff pastry sheets. I like to make my pastry dough with lard, but that would have defeated the whole purpose probably, although the pastry sheets are not free of fat.

If you do decide to make delicious, flakey pastry with lard ask your butcher for fresh lard. Don't buy the stuff in cans. It's processed (hydrogenation = trans-fat) and we don't want that. Here it is easy to get fresh lard because it's an important ingredient when cooking Mexican food. Still there are people who react as if you are talking about poison when you mention lard, yet they will eat their orange processed cheese that has no taste or fast-food hamburgers. How often do we eat something made with lard? A couple of times a year maybe? Point made. Go for taste.

January 24, 2010

Cross stitch embroidery sampler.


This sampler hangs in my kitchen and was made by my mother. The stitches are very small and it is made on a tight weave. She painstakingly copied it from a very old and worn piece and reproduced it as authentically as possible when she worked at the Zuiderzeemuseum in Enkhuizen. The original, I believe, was from the 1700's.

I was reading some Dutch/Flemish blogs and came across Lapjes, ditjes en datjes with beautiful photo's of the recent polder winter landscape by Liliane Grauls. She is also a cross stitch embroiderer and is having a 'give-away'. In the land of Blogs give-away's are a common happening. This is such a beautiful piece of work, that must have taken many hours to make and I invite you take a look at Liliane's blog and leave a comment to participate in the give-away. Good luck.





January 23, 2010

Poppies. Poppies will put them to sleep.


 I was reading a story in the most recent New Yorker by Jill Lepore called "The Iceman" and it is about 'cryonics'. No idea what that is, well, neither did I till not too long ago. I was taking a certification class in San Francisco in Neuro Liguistics, and because our class was once a month over a period of time, many of the students would stay in the same hotel for the days we had class and we got to know each other quite well. 
When she entered the room in her bright yellow stiletto's on that first morning, teetering over to an empty chair, I remember thinking how the shoes did not seem part of her. There was nothing else glamorous about the woman, in fact, she was pleasantly plump and her clothes were a little out of date. She had the face of a friendly Russian peasant, and if given a muffin bonnet and mittens, would have not been out of place in a Dickens novel, with her deep set eyes and her thin, mousy hair, which reached to her shoulders.
It was quite some time into the classes that I found myself at the same table with her at dinner and, just like in class, it was clear that she liked attention. She said she was a medical doctor, but could not practice in the U.S.A. because she had received her degree on some island in the Caribbean. It was remarkable that she wore a different pair of stiletto's every day, always a little too large and clearly always expensive, just like the handbags and briefcases she had. We all have our little weaknesses, and if this was hers then who was I to judge?
Every time we talked, which wasn't often as I was beginning to avoid her, because of the free medical advice and increasingly peculiar stories about her husband, she lisped an invitation to her home in Vegas. She had recently moved there and had a lovely home with a lovely guest room. She was sure I would enjoy a visit to Las Vegas. It so happens I am not as infatuated with Las Vegas as many others. At the time, I had to go to quite a few conventions, and these were often in Vegas, however, after we had our last class, I agreed to  come and visit. It seemed a little off that she kept saying that I should come by car and not fly. I am only 5 hours from Vegas, so I would have gone by car anyway.  Just before I left she suggested I get tickets to a balloon flight and a show for us both.
The balloon flight was expensive, so I only got myself a ticket and called her to arrange her own, but I did get tickets to the show.
When I arrived, I stood before the closed door, of the 'lovely house' for what seemed like a long time, even though I had called her when I was within the city limits to let her know I had arrived. I rang again. Silence. Then after another wait, her husband opened the door, and let me in to the darkness within. He told me I could wait for her in the living room, and left again immediately. I sat and looked around me. It was a nice house, two storey, but the furniture, though expensive, was ragged and worn. Long tatters hung down from the sofa's. Interesting books were on the table. Beautifully bound books on subjects that are not commonplace on a coffee table, on ancient history, astronomy, and medicine. My vigil lasted a long time, and glances on my watch told me that if we didn't get a move on, we would miss the show. There certainly was no time for the lunch I had already missed.
When she made her grand entrance, down the stairs, balancing on her high heels, it was almost as if she had forgotten we were to go to the theater and I reminded her that we should leave, if we wanted to be on time. She returned up the stairs to change. I stared bleakly at all the spheres of marble, wood, pottery, shell and other materials that decorated the room. Too many balls, I thought. 
Seeing she lived there, I thought she might drive us to the theater, but she reluctantly told me that they did not have a car.  We got into my car and I asked her if she knew the way. It was no matter she said, she would ask her husband, and started to call him before we were out of the driveway. The call became a comedy. They argued and argued, and he would ask her what she was seeing now. Did she see a brown building with orange lettering on the left? Then she should go right, and she would in turn report this to me, but as things go, I would be on the wrong side, and would have to make a turn and a turn and a turn and so on it went.

I am a patient woman in many situations, but this was getting to me and I asked if she could just put him on speaker phone please, so that I didn't need to deal with second-hand information. Her husband, she said, did not speak to other people, only to her. I wondered if it might be considered overly dramatic perhaps, if I banged my head on the steering wheel a couple of times and let out a long, loud scream.

Late that night, I was told where my room was and it was definitely not the 'lovely guest room we have'. It was a makeshift bed in the computer room, but I was tired. Not too tired to see the size 14 shoes in the bathroom though. It gave me some idea who was staying in the 'lovely guest room we have' and sure enough, the next morning I found myself face to chest with what I would call an American basketball player with no manners. I looked up at him as he did a little dance around me to get into the bathroom first. 
We had a 'to do list' that day, with lots of errands like picking up prescriptions, do some shopping and paying bills here and there. I was beginning to feel a little used by the time we had lunch, and when the bill came, my companion acted somewhat  alarmed, and then sighed with relief, I knew I was being  taken for a fool. She had left her wallet in my car, but would definitely pay for lunch later. Naturally I paid, just like I had paid for dinner the previous evening.
For some strange and peculiar reason, as we got back in the car, she said that  she felt that I had trouble that could be resolved with Black Cohosh. I was  totally unaware of having any trouble at all that might require Black Cohosh. Now, we had to go to Wholefoods to pick up Black Cohosh, however most of the 2 hours we spent there went into shopping for other things. Not by me though, because I settled myself in at the coffee bar and did some people watching. I did notice that when she went to pay with a check, she was asked to go to the upstairs office. I must have looked a little puzzled then, I am sure.

I considered leaving and going home when we returned to the house but I was hot and we decided to spend some time in the pool. This is when she suggested that I become a member of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, where they would remove my head after death, freeze it and live again hundreds of years from now. By now my eyes must have started to bug out a little.  She explained cryonics... in detail. I tried to make my way out of the pool as I don't do well with stories about frozen heads, but on she went. She was also wondering if I wanted to finance her business that she had in mind (mayor light-bulb moment for me). I am far too polite for situations such as these. Cut off my head and finance her business. By now it was after midnight, I was hungry and I was contemplating peeing in pool because the mad woman kept on talking about frozen body parts.

She acted quite surprised when I said that I had decided that I should head home. What? Without dinner? It was close to 3 a.m. She felt that I couldn't leave until she had given me the Black Cohosh. I felt that I could, but that I would really like the money that I had spent on the ticket and lunch.

It took a long time before she opened the door to the bedroom, to which she had retired to change, and let me into her boudoir, with its glamorous orange fur headboard and bedspread and gold colored walls. She was clearly distressed, her little peasant face nervously smiling at me, as she pattered around in her feathery high heeled slippers and diva-like dressing gown. She paid me in cash, which surprised me a little. I didn't think I would see the money at all. She went into her bathroom as I waited on a little full-skirted tabouret in gold and lace and I watched her in the mirror as she opened the new bottle of Black Cohosh, take out some capsules, and fill it again before she put the cap back on. 
In the first light of the new morning I hit the road, still shaking my head in amazement at this other worldly experience, opened the window and threw the bottle of Black Cohosh out on the freeway. "Poppies. Poppies. Poppies will put them to sleep. Sleep." The words of the Wicked Witch of the West rang in my ears as I headed home.
The poppies were painted in Hydrus watercolor on smooth drawing paper. My favorite paper to work on.






January 18, 2010

Feather paper cut and drawing.


A guinea fowl feather in pencil; a guinea fowl feather cut-out, backed with cheese cloth, dyed in tea, and a poem by Isak Dinesen.
If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a colour that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?

Isak Dinesen is the pen-name of Karen Blixen, best known from the film "Out of Africa". She was a formidable writer and had a farm in Africa. She was also twice nominated for the Nobel prize in Literature, and a Danish baroness.
Often I reread her work, my favorite being "Out of Africa", knowing that I am attracted by the romance of the period. I grew up in post-colonial Africa and there were then still remnants of those bygone days. For a child, it was a happy place to be, full of adventure and discovery. I recently read "Dark Star Safari" by Paul Theroux and he describes his travels from Cairo to the Cape in the new Africa, with its hunger, disease and inability to help itself. Fortunately, not too long ago I had read "Africa Trek" by Alexandre and Sonia Poussin,  who travel by foot from Cape Town to Cairo, which off-set the starkness of Theroux's novel and focused more on the generosity, kindness and laughter one also meets in Africa. Africa, Africa, Africa, when will I stop dreaming of Africa? My dreams are just dusty memories.

I too have traveled from Cairo to the Cape, though certainly not on foot, but there were buses, trucks, ships and trains involved. I did it in increments, visiting one or two countries at a time. However, I carelessly appear to have skipped a bit like the whole of the Sudan and Ethiopia. Just don't know how that happened, but I do know enough to have an opinion on Africa. I also know much has changed. In cases for the better, but in much I think things are worse than before.


Still when I decide to draw a feather, it's no wonder that I choose a Guinea Fowl feather because my drawing is an escape of the times we live in. I see too much hardship around me these days, and indeed I find it difficult at the moment to see much pleasure in daily life, so I draw and paint and relive memories. All I need is a pencil, some paints, some paper, and since recently an X-acto knife, to travel to Africa.



January 17, 2010

Kudu paper cut.


A kudu is quite easy to draw and I did this from a photo I had. I used 2 pages. Not that it matters, I have another 50 or so in my journal, but I was trying to make something using more than 2. Paper cut of grass, paper cut of the kudu head and then backed the cut with some bronze paper. Both the ears were supposed to hold the pages together but I snipped off a little too much of the one ear. Uh oh.
I was asked, "What if you make a mistake in your little journal", and my response was, "Then I make a mistake". I make mistakes all the time in life, let alone in my distraction.
I still have no name for what I do. It's not a hobby, it isn't my work. It all started out as 'practice' for the book I am making for my niece, Fleur. It was to be an album of the pictures I had of her. Then it seemed like a fun idea to enhance the album and I spent time looking at the possibilities of scrap-booking but that didn't much appeal to me. Mainly because it seemed like I was taking the easy way out, buying stickers and stamps. That's me, I never take a bloody short cut. Wish I would really. But not in this. I am enjoying trying out the different techniques and converting them into something usable for Fleur's Book. I am getting better at it too, except for ears, they get snipped off heartlessly.

Cactus in the sun.


When I want to go on a little adventure, I go to L&P, whatever it may stand for, our local Asian grocery store. Across the road is a French creperie surrounded by various places selling tacos, burritos and tostadas. L&P offers items that I didn't know existed. I usually come home with some vegetables that require a google before I know what to do with them. They have enormous frozen ducks and fish with eyes that prevent me from buying them. I don't think I can prepare something that has bigger eyes than I do. L&P don't even know what they sell, because at the check-out there was an interesting package with what looked like dried bulbs. I asked what it was. It was something to make rice-wine with but it was from Vietnam, and even Mr. L&P didn't know what to do with that. 
I usually encounter a winter visitor and invariably they say, 'interesting store' or 'I don't know what to buy here' but I do. I come home with cream crackers, which clearly haven't got a foothold in the U.S., and herbs and spices, that I can't find in the regular supermarket. I also bought some cookies, but when I got home decided that they were probably riddled with transfats, and so not really edible. However, there are peanut cookies (no transfat), sesame cookies, large bags of all kinds of rice, nasi kruiden (we Dutch eat a lot of nasi), pickled lemons, and bean sprouts. I made some atjar tjampoer today, a sweet and sour pickle of green cabbage, green beans, bean sprouts, carrot and more, to go with my nasi.


January 6, 2010

Lotus flower paper cut.



I like this paper-cutting business. I like carving a rubber stamp even more, so it seems that every time I draw something it also has to be made into a stamp since I have discovered the technique.

I was recently looking at some artists' blogs and I admire the precision with which some of them work. For us amateurs 'quick and easy' seems to be the way, but although I am not really precise when I draw and paint, and am often disappointed by a smear from the back of my hand, or graphite smudges all over my page because I forget my hand rubs over the drawing, I am not interested in 'quick and easy'. If you are doing something for your enjoyment, why want to get it over with?

Still, the lotus flower was quick and easy to draw, cut out and I had read somewhere that you can enhance the edges of a cut-out with a color pencil. Well, that didn't work very well for me, so I had to color the whole paper-cut with a watercolor pencil. I just dotted the second page with the same design and voila. Quick and easy. 





January 4, 2010

Geen oliebollen maar tamales.

When I first moved out here I knew what burritos were, or at least I thought I did but I had no idea what tamales were. Those little packages of corn leaves, tied carefully at both ends that hold masa (corn meal slaked with lime) and filled with bits of beef, little strips of potato and an olive. There are as many variations as there are mothers and grandmothers, who make tamales in great batches for the holidays. I hand painted 18 plates, like the one you see above, all with different designs inspired by south western petroglyphs, when I first got here. In spite of the tamales, I miss my mother's oliebollen and appelflappen on new year's eve. 

January 3, 2010

Il Papiro, Firenze.


My journal from Florence is now, since I discovered it again, a great source of empty pages for me, that need to be filled. I have sometimes kept a journal but I never read them again. By the look of things, I don't think anyone will write my biography, and need notes to guide them. When I travel I do carry a notebook and sometimes jot down experiences, but more as a guide to my photos than anything else. 
I was recently asked if a blog was like a journal, but I don't see it that way. I write my blog for family and friends who often asked about my life in the United States. Funnily enough, I don't think many look at it, but now I have come to enjoy keeping a blog whether it gets looked at or not. Perhaps it has become a journal after all.

January 1, 2010

2010, long awaited.

 
Such stillness on this first morning of the new year. In a journal once bought in Florence and never used, I cut "2010 Born on a Blue Moon", because it was the second full moon in a month on new year's eve. Midnight moved on quietly. A few hisses of fireworks far in the distance and the howling and barking of the coyotes in the hills. There had been warnings on the radio that firing guns into the air is against the law. Very comforting. I wonder if people who do this actually know that what goes up, must come down. On the other hand, what goes down, must come up and so we fervently hope for the economy in 2010.

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