Sunday, June 28, 2015

Peas and Thank You

Nothing new to reveal, but I love creating original notecards . . . when I'm inspired. I also love buying notecards and stationery, and probably have more than a lifetime supply of each onhand. There're lots of reasons to choose the quicker communication, e-mail, however, and sometimes it's the perfect delivery method.

Case in point: Recently a neighbor brought me a gift of fresh picked sugar snap peas she'd grown on her community garden plot. The peas had been harvested an hour--maybe two--before they were delivered to my door in their perfect one-person helping. I began to wash them and popped one into my mouth where it exploded into a vine fresh goodness. Another one met its fate the same way. I can't remember ever tasting such fresh peas, even from the Farmers Market!

I looked at the little pile of peas in my colander and was inspired. Here is the e-mail I sent to my neighbor. If I'd had eaten any more before e-mailing, I would have needed to spell THNX instead.

This picture is the only thing left of the peas. Yum!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Reflections on Spoleto Festival USA

Looking for something to test my readiness to be "on my own in a group," I screwed my courage to the sticking place (thanks, Lady MacBeth and Mr. Shakespeare, for that GREAT metaphor) and signed up for a Road Scholar flex-program to the festival. I paid my money, booked my flight, ordered some extra tickets, packed my bag, and did it!  I’ve dreamed about attending the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC, since it first began forty years ago.

From June 1 through June 6, 2015, I immersed myself in the music and performance opportunities available at the mainstream festival with its international artists and specially assembled festival musicians— and its shadow festival, Piccolo Spoleto, with its hundreds of performances offered by mostly Charleston-area performing artists.

June 1 – 6 doesn’t sound like much of a time period. But I saw/heard fifteen programs in that time. Other than daily breakfasts, attending several lectures about Charleston and the festival itself, taking two walking tours and riding on a mule-pulled wagon through the historic section of Charleston, I was either at a performance, walking to a performance, or grabbing a meal to sustain energy for the next performance. Oh, sure . . . I slept. But I wish I hadn’t needed to.
Geoff Nuttall hosts the chamber
music series with the finesse
of a professor and the
lightness of a comedian
(see NYT link)

I attended a small but stunning Australian circus, a Vietnamese water puppet show, “Romeo and Juliet” performed by The Globe Theatre, a new work commissioned by the festival for the Shen Wei Dance Arts, a festival performance of Bach’s “Passion According to St. Matthew” (the link takes you to a review that does it justice), a cabaret sampler of historic music, and four separate and glorious chamber music programs hosted by Geoff Nuttall with inspired and varied offerings. 

As part of Piccolo Spoleto, I saw and heard all of Bach’s cello suites played in the French Huguenot church by Natalia Khoma, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” presented in conjunction with Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” and more . . . more . . . more.

Natalia Khoma played all six
cello suites (two concerts)
with her eyes closed
(see review link)
I didn’t for one minute yawn. I didn’t for one minute wonder why I’d bought a ticket for this or that particular performance. I didn’t cough and sometimes I barely breathed. The festival was fabulous, with an energy and life to it that I haven’t experienced since I was an adolescent discovering the breadth and depth of music. I don’t know if it was because I was internalizing it more than usual because I was alone, or because the performances were truly amazing. A little of both, I suspect. Regardless, I haven’t felt that moved by musical performances for decades. The chemistry of passionate and gifted musicians coming together in non-routine constellations had something to do with it, too. The audience could feel the energy rippling and flowing over the edge of the stage.

Yes, I’m old . . . and my memory can be challenged annoyingly, but I hope to cling to the memories of Spoleto and the thrill of my audience participation for the rest of my life. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Half a BLT

 Recently, I had an isolated but attitude-changing encounter with a man I’d never seen before and never will see again.  I was visiting Charleston for the Spoleto USA Festival, and he—having just been seated at the next table at the restaurant where I’d stopped for lunch before my afternoon concert (my first at the festival)—was glancing at his menu. When my BLT (the tomatoes, fried green) was delivered, I said something like, “Oh, wow,” to the waitperson as he set my plate down in front me. It was the most impressive sandwich I’d seen in a long time.

“That sure looks delicious, ma’am. May I ask what it is?” the man asked me, the way we all might do when we’re trying to decide what to order from a varied menu. His lunch companion arrived just then. They began to converse, and I began to eat.

I couldn’t help but overhear snippets of their conversation as I ate. When the waiter took their order, his companion ordered breakfast. The man who had been chatting with me ordered only coffee. As their conversation continued, it became clear these men knew each other only slightly (through connection with a distant cousin who’d recently died), and the breakfast-eater had fallen on hard times. The host for the meal was the man I’d talked to.

My 1:00 o’clock concert was coming up, and I was getting full. I looked at the huge half-sandwich remaining and the mounds of fries I couldn’t possibly eat and was inspired to ask a question I’ve never asked of any stranger before. His answer was affirmative.

“Why ma’am, since you asked . . . I don’t want to be rude . . . why, yes, I would love to have it.”  By the time the waitperson brought it to him in a box, we’d struck up a real conversation.

“What brings you to Charleston?”

“The festival.”

“Oh, ma’am, you have a treat in store! Will you hear “Paradise Interrupted” [a new opera by Huang Ruo commissioned by the festival]?

“No, I’m too late for it—I just got here last night, and its last performance was yesterday.”

“I got to hear it rehearsing and it was wonderful!”

He went on to explain . . . and this accounts for my knowing anything about him, “I’m the sexton the church where they rehearse and I’ve never heard anything like that music in my life. And. . . in Mandarin! It was so beautiful, and I met the man who sang high, like a lady.”

“Yes, he’d be what’s known as a countertenor. There are only a handful of men in the world who sing those operatic roles.”

“I had never heard such a perfect voice before. That opera was beautiful. And the other one, too . . . in Italian ["Veremonda, L'Amazzone di Arogona"]. I’ll never forget it.”

His comment almost made me cry. I thought of how many people go through life without ever having a chance to experience the arts at their most sublime—and how salvific that experience can be. We continued to talk—the Seahawks, the people of Charleston, the tourists to come for the festival—and I don’t think I’ve ever heard, “Bless you, ma’am, thank you, bless you,” so many times—over and over from both gentlemen.

As I left the restaurant I realized the tide in my heart had turned. When I was first seated in the restaurant and handed a menu, I was wondering why I thought I this week in Charleston had been a good idea. . . why I thought traveling on a weeklong vacation-trip by myself was doable this soon into my widowhood. I was feeling mightily sorry for myself. I’d been walking through the city to get my bearings, locating venues for the many performances I had tickets for. I was hot and tired and lonely.

Then “the incident.” That little conversation took me out of myself and put me into another’s shoes—just for a couple of minutes. But that’s what happened, and no longer was I feeling down. I was feeling extraordinarily happy, thinking about the extraordinary ability of the arts to touch us all because of that serendipitous sharing of food and conversation.

As I settled into the Dock Street Theatre, about to hear the program of chamber music played by the gifted musicians at Spoleto USA, I had no inkling as to how rapturous the next hour-plus was going to be. But I was ready for it. I’d stopped thinking about myself and my heart was open. 


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Reader, can you spare a . . .

This beautiful creation by Stan Clark of 
AstroBotanical was recently on display 
at Artiszen Gallery in Vallejo, California. .
 During the time I was active on the Seattle Fringe Festival Board (almost fifteen years ago, now), the Columbine shootings took place. As you probably recall, that hellacious act was a topic of horrified conversation for many weeks. A few months later (when everyone shuddered at just hearing the word “Columbine”), I gave a fund-raising speech for the Festival.

While I don’t recall my actual words, I do remember their gist: “Being involved in fringe theatre may not be a career path for the actors and directors, may not meet audience standard, may ultimately fail on an artistic level, but one thing is for sure: People who have the freedom and opportunity to express themselves through creating any form of art seen by others are generally not people who express themselves through violent acts. The arts, as a creative outlet, can be salvific to people who may feel they have no voice.”

I meant that statement from the bottom of my heart, because I knew firsthand how self-expression in any medium that has an audience—whether it be performance or graphic—how essential it is for a healthy self-image, which—in turn—is a critical part of managing interior rage, anger, and discontent.  

Now . . . what does the now defunct Seattle Fringe Festival  have to do with Artiszen Gallery in Vallejo, California?  

Vallejo’s population until fairly recently has been notoriously underserved in the arts. As the first city in the country to declare bankruptcy, it does not have funds to grant for the Arts. In fact, it doesn’t have the funds to grant for meal or shelter programs. Its government is barebones. When Artiszen Gallery opened a few years ago in an especially depressed part of Vallejo, it was hailed as one-of-a-kind.

Freely opening its doors to the townspeople who lived in the neighborhood, it has gradually become a stunning showcase for local artists who may have no other voice in the community. Some of the artists are out of work; some are youth who may or may not be in school; some are managing addictions and suffer deprivation that I can hardly imagine. BUT THEY ARE ALL WELCOME inside the gallery, and—as a result—the quality of creative work is ASTONISHING. Artiszen is credited with changing the neighborhood it serves and has become a local icon for the personal turnaround that comes from aspiration.

Now, my pitch: Artiszen is in the midst of raising funds to provide classes and gallery space for aspiring youth and adult citizens of Vallejo to show their work by means of a Kickstarter fundraiser. Do you know how a Kickstarter Campaign works? A dollar goal is set with a timeline. People make pledges. If the dollar goal is filled,  pledges immediately come due (on donors’ pre-registered credit cards). If the entire amount isn’t pledged, no one pays anything.  They are out nothing. Zip. Zero. And—unfortunately, so is the recipient of the Kickstarter. In this case, the gallery. It gets nothing. Zip. Zero.

I’m asking my readers to look at this link and ask yourselves—can I spare $25? With less than two weeks remaining in the campaign, your small donation could be redemptive for someone with the desire to express him or herself creatively. It could make the difference between a life as a respected citizen and life as a disenfranchised person, even a criminal. That sounds melodramatic, but it’s true. You're giving the gift of hope.  

Please . . . help Artiszen.  Click here to read more.