Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Wrapped Road

I've been thinking about the globally known, innovative artist Christo lately, and that he should come and do a large scale environmental art project here in Big Sur, kind of like his 1.5 miles long, 1 million square feet of Wrapped Coast in 1969 in Little Bay, Australia. He also Surrounded Islands in Key Biscayne in 1983. Hey, it's only about 20 miles from from Lucia Lodge to the Nepenthe. It's worth exploring, don't you think?

A Christo coast would be an artsy rendering of Big Sur that could also prevent avalanches of earth and rock. The generally accepted viewpoint among experts and most locals is that we're (more or less) going to see Big Sur slide into the ocean with this winters's rains, shutting down the highway and trapping us here. Not so bad, you say, until supplies (and bank accounts) run dry.

This makes for an interesting quasi-PTSD experience to the Basin Complex Fire, which denuded the mountains of stabilizing flora, and promises to fill our rivers and springs with sediment from over 200,000 burned back-country acres.

I'm wondering how "erosion control fabric" (used in the Australian installation) fares against steel mesh in keeping the rocks at bay. I'm grateful for CPOA, our valiant non-profit community group that has worked tirelessly with an alphabet soup of government agencies to mitigate the upcoming hazards and educate our bilingual population about flood and landslide risks.

Also impressive are the construction teams who, among other things, are coordinating the massive project of helicopters hanging curtains of steel along the unstable cliffs, as if they're capturing some unpredictable animal beneath a net.

Yes, that's it, Christo needs to wrap our Big Sur coast in Cal-Trans orange, just in time for Halloween! The kind of saffron color he used in the Central Park Gates in 2006. (In the world of blogging fantasy, it can all be done by the end of the week.)

Think how beautiful the coastline would look at sunset, Big Sur dressed in flame-colored nylon, contrasting with the cobalt blue of the Pacific Ocean. We have a few years of potentially disastrous landslide scenarios. Let's get word to Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude about this. My bet is that they'll a) think we're bonkers and b) seriously consider helping out!

Wrapped Coast near Sydney, Australia
Recently scraped Torre Canyon cliff
O yeah, that will hold it
Road worker Cory, who says he wonders daily "how he'll make his first million $"
Central Park Gates, New York City

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Twins, Arriba!

A lifetime ago I lived in Madrid. I wore polka-dotted short skirts, tiny heels, and drank like a Spaniard in the city's many bars and nightclubs. I learned to speak Spanish, a fondo, with a petite bearded Radio Nacional disc jockey named Javier. Boy, did we have fun. I still grin remembering it all, decades later.

This was about 5 years after dictator Franco's death, near the beginning of La Movida, a riotous time of social, sexual and pharmacological experimentation by Madrid's youth, artists and intellectuals. Naturally I considered myself all three, except my art form was more of the, um, intimate kind.

Feria in Sevilla captured my heart, but even more, the impromptu Flamenco dancing I saw among men and women in their street clothes at the smaller village fairs. Those proud hips, arms and shoulders, that unspoken and delicious conversation! Not to mention the mesmerizing music and song, which in part derives from Arabic culture, an intrinsic part of Spain for 700 years (711 - 1492, yes, some things I remember from college.)

Somehow, I now find myself, via the wonder of email to my humble cottage on the mountain, (and courtesy of Santa Cruz dance teacher and choreographer Janelle Rodriguez) at a beginning Flamenco class at Pleasure Point Fitness Studio in Soquel, California.

Fourth generation Brisas de España Flamenco dancer and master teacher Carolina Lugo and her extraordinary daughter Carolé Acuña greet us on Sunday afternoon, two dynamic beauties patiently teaching a room full of mostly belly dance students. We begin with floreos, those perfectly formed twirling hands, almost like mudras, our wrists spinning around as we raise and lower our arms (elbows up!) in different combinations.

We translated middle-eastern dance moves into their Flamenco variations, worked on some complex footwork and challenging spins, moving into intense combinations. Soon, those of us who dream of undulating in the desert to a swirling violin see ourselves instead in a candle-lit tavern in Andalucia, snapping our skirts to a dramatic guitar.

Flamenco feels staccato, strong, a study in contrasts, the powerful arms, the delicate handwork, the concentration in the footwork, the serious faces, all of the energy pulled in tight, close to the body, inward.

"Your back ribs meet your front ribs," says Carolina, "shoulder blades down and moving towards each other. And what does this do?" she continues, with a broad smile and thumbs up gesture, "Yes, the twins (our breasts) Arriba! (Up!) and proud." This is the only dance form where women, she adds, have balls. And with all that stomping, they hurt!

Attending a new dance class always takes me back to the first grade. Some amateur dancers are shy, hiding in the back of the class, working out the moves, eternally grateful for the teacher's guidance. Others with more experience help lead the class by example. We ask questions, smile sideways at each other, gasp with exasperation. There is courage here, and a deep desire for real beauty.

The community of dance never fails to make me happy. Carolina introduced students to perform the famous Sevillanas folk dances at the end of class, with a beautiful singer as well. Suddenly I was in the countryside outside Huelva, (where some of my Spanish friends lived and where Columbus, having recruited local sailors, departed from) watching teenagers in jeans dance perfect Flamenco. I can still see them, downing shots of local sherry and laughing in the sunshine.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sleeping under the stars

These crisp fall nights are magical, with our cricket choir, and soft breezes tickling the wind chimes. “We should sleep outside tonight,” says my husband, and, since he has the soul of a weatherman, I listen, and we trundle outside in our fleece boots with our flashlights. Soon we'll be taking down our screen doors, building fires in the stove and putting warm blankets on our indoor bed. Summer nights outdoors become a memory.

One of the best things about sleeping outside under the stars is waking up in the morning, with the coral pink horizon fluffed out along the line of the slate blue ocean, paler blue sky above. It's kind of an inverse sunset. Instead of dramatic orange and magenta flames where the sea and sky meet, these gentle morning colors, seen through the floating veil of the mosquito net, give the day a calm beginning.

How many of us in our modern world are able to see the sunrise, flashing at the ridge-top, brightly transforming dawn into day? The theory that much of the human race’s alienation is a result of our lack of connection to the rhythms and beauty of the natural world makes perfect sense here in Big Sur. Humans naturally relax in nature, feeling a deep trust, born of a millennia of nurturing by this planet.

Waking up to songbirds' dawn chorus is pure delight. Sometimes flocks of doves swoop down from the ridge line above us, headed off for their morning meeting in the trees below. Or sleek crows sail by, powered by their melodious wing-beats. They always seem like they’re talking to each other. They’ll chase red-tail hawks away from their nests, two or three of them bird-dogging the larger bird, shrieking their disapproval.

Every vision has its price, of course. There are restless nights when we inadvertently open the net and mosquitoes bite our fingers and faces. Those ace pilots of the wee hours, strafing us, alerting us with their unmistakable high-pitched whine. Fortunately I find it humorous to smack myself repeatedly in the dark, with little or no success. Sometimes we turn on the flashlight and hunt them down against the netting.

A touch of insomnia is a good thing outdoors: we wake to watch the Milky Way, which stretches from the ocean below to the mountaintop behind us, slowly moving across the heavens during the night. Orion returns this month, emerging from the south flank of the Partington watershed, at I’d say around 2 am. We watch the phases of the moon for optimal sleep quality, a goose-down feather new moon is best, not the overpowering street-light full moon, though it can produce epic dreams.

Initially, sleeping outside by myself was a little scary. The bed is appealing— sturdy pine beams beneath a sheet of plywood, mattress topped by a cushy feather bed, soft jersey cotton bedding, yet it sits on the point of the hill, and feels exposed to, well, the entire universe.

It’s not that I fear wild animals, though barking coyotes can give one pause, and the stray rattlesnake on a hot summer night can give you a huge shot of adrenalin. It just feels so very solitary: me, millions of stars stretching out above, the huge mountain beneath and behind me, and the endless ocean, which sometimes sparkles with reflected starlight.

“Lord, your sea is so vast, my ship is so small,” as the old saying goes. Sleeping under the stars is glorious and daunting. And, then, there’s always the aliens who visit from the far reaches of the galaxy. (But that’s a subject for another post!)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Frida and Friends

There's nothing like a day with one's friends, doing something you never get to do together. Putting ourselves in a new environment, each of us taking our separate paths to arrive at the appointed time (more or less), with the twin goals of experiencing something new and appreciating the novelty of another way of life.

Two Big Sur bumpkins, one Santa Cruz gal and two City sophisticates (one of them 7 months pregnant) meet to enjoy a morning at San Francisco's MOMA, two days before the close of the fabulous Frida Kahlo exhibit.

Since I've left my laptop power cord in a San Francisco café, (there's a song there somewhere) there's been a bit of a delay in my sitting down to blog. I've also been basking in the joyous memories of such delicious friendships, pregnant bellies, soccer games, and cups of tea followed by glasses of champagne.

Our group contained two painters, a professional photographer, an entrepreneur and yours truly. Lots of stimulating commentary all around. I love the abundance of Mi Nana y Yo, My Nurse and I. Milk streams from the heavens as Frida nourishes herself at the breast of the great Mother. Her little body shimmers with power, lightning-like veins coursing through her dress. It bursts with erotic creativity and mystery.

The series of photographs of Frida's life—family, friends and events, was exceptional. One photograph, from her lover Julien Levy, is unforgettable. It's a small photo of a topless Frida, (the camera stops just above her nipples) with her hair down, wearing one of her signature heavy necklaces. Her right arm is bent upwards, hand resting on her head, she displays a bit of dark underarm hair. That faraway look in her eyes, which you see in so many of her paintings, transforms into something more dreamy than sad.

Each one of us shed tears at the film clip of Diego and Frida, the part where Diego turns Frida's sweet face to the camera, twice. She shyly tucks her cheek into his enormous paw, then takes his hand in her own and kisses it tenderly. Since we are all married ladies, we really get the authenticity of such domestic gestures, especially between battling, loving spouses.

One country bumpkin who will remain nameless was chastised by the rest of us for tugging on her underwear through her jeans while waiting for a table at the Samovar Tea Lounge. We can't take you anywhere, we cried, secretly delighted that she just didn't give a damn.

Before lunch, the non-pregnant city sophisticate proffered a special breath mint spray, given to her by another renegade mom. We dutifully sprayed the foul tasting green liquid (with the pretty hemp flower on the packaging) into our mouths. Results were disappointing, but the tea and delicious snacks at the Samovar were not.

I ordered the Russian Tea Platter, with the bottomless cup of black tea, which I filled many times from the enormous samovar inside the restaurant, both for myself and my luscious pals. We sat outside in the Yerba Buena Gardens, enjoying the bright sunshine and views of da big City. Later that day, we drank champagne and held our own salon on love, art, sex and death.

Frida would have approved!

Frida by Imogen Cunningham, 1931
Mi Nana y Yo. 1937
The Two Fridas, 1939

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Marvelous Mariah

When I first met Mariah Green she was a serious faced toddler with an abiding love for a very real looking, bald doll she'd named "Curly." Rescued from a relative's recycle bin, Curly and Mariah were inseparable for about 4 years.

As a little girl she would attend meetings with her Dad at the Henry Miller Library. These were strategic pow-wows filled with adults, debating how to best protect our coastal area, or designing a homeschooling program for local children. Mariah would sit patiently with Curly through the thorniest discussions, nodding and taking (pretend) notes.

Now she's 16 years old, and the cliché of blossoming couldn't be better applied: She's like a breath of fresh air, a glass of cool spring water. She has her mother's smile, her father's stride, and she is uniquely, utterly herself. Mariah embodies a reality that is felt, not seen, that is content, not form, coming from within, instead of structure imposed from without. Organic, at-ease, happy, calm, yet ready for the principled action of adulthood.

After our visit, I recalled a quote from the coming of age story within Shakespeare's Hamlet, — Polonius' advice for young Laertes as he goes out into the world:
“This above all: to thy own Self be true.
And it must follow, as the night the day,
that thou canst not then be false to any man.”

How does a young woman like this come to being in our Big Sur world?

Mariah Marlena Green arrived in Big Sur on Jan. 2, 1992, a Capricorn baby born to Laurie Celine Green and George Garner "Tim" Green.

Some of her earliest memories are of picking strawberries at beloved local painter George Choley's strawberry patch at Mucha Vista, going to the laundromat with her Mom, and hiding in the closet in order to eat as many chocolate Easter eggs as possible. She remembers carrying Curly around at my wedding, watching everyone celebrate.

Mariah was a Big Sur Charter School student until she was 9 years old, when she decided to go to Captain Cooper, the local elementary school. She appreciates that she was independent as a little person; with about 3 hours of school per day she was totally caught up when she went to regular school. Her Dad tutored her in math, which she loved.

Mariah started reading on her own at 9, and liked books she could relate to, like Julie of the Wolves . Her favorite times included community events and concerts at the Henry Miller Library, hanging out with friends Stefan and Kiley on the ridge, and, starting when she was about 6, helping her Dad build her room, as well as helping him maintain the ridge road with his stable of earth moving equipment.

Now a Junior at Carmel High School, I ask her about the differences she senses between Big Sur kids v. town kids. "So much of the focus there," she says simply, "is about what you look like, and what you have, not about who you are." She feels though, that her peers respect her because she’s not into status. Kids spend a lot more time on the computer in town, she notices, and have more of a hard time expressing (or knowing) who they really are. Hmmmm. Welcome to the world...

One way to make growing up in Big Sur more fun, she suggests, would be to have more community events, getting together to dance, watch movies, hang out. Young people are more isolated here, and would definitely benefit from this. Such a simple, basic concept. I make a mental note to pass this idea on to our local non-profit for kids, Big Sur Arts Initiative.

Part of Mariah's lovely presence comes from the tranquility that country living brings. While she remembers being a little afraid of the dark when she was small, and has a healthy respect for Mother Nature's stronger moods, her storms and fires, she says she is "nature crazy" now, and wants to go to college in a small town in the mountains. Her family camps in the Sierras every summer, and it's her favorite time of the year. That was especially true for her after this year's huge fires.

Mariah easily expresses her gratitude for her supportive family. "It's great to grow up somewhere where you can experience everything and learn who you really are, v. living in pop culture," she says. This summer's fires came when she was in San Francisco with relatives, and while she was pragmatic about that, her scariest moment was when she learned that her Dad was leaving the ridge, something he'd never done during a fire before.

As you might imagine after all those years with Curly, she's a "a natural" with little people and is Partington's most popular children's companion. While she thought of being a kindergarten teacher at one point, all those hours each day in a classroom does not appeal to her.

Mariah's plan is to take a year off after graduation, then go to college in Colorado, Montana, or Arizona. She's interested in becoming an Outward Bound instructor, or doing alpine rescue work. She wants to travel to the Himalayas, learn more about Sherpa culture, which she finds fascinating, and to climb Mt. Everest.

With her strong sense of herself and her straightforward values, Mariah's adventures will be sure to bring her many inspiring challenges and much joy. We are eager to watch the next chapters of her young life unfold!

Mariah in front of her room in the structure she helped build
At Easter many years ago with our ill-fated wee bunny
With friend Chloe Bright
Curly and Mariah