All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Category: Favorites (Page 2 of 3)

Any post that I re-read and say to myself, “That’s good, I wonder who wrote it.”

Peering into Dark Places

Why oh why is the world like this? I was listening to the bizarre
account of the two little girls who where stabbed in Illinois. The
suspect/culprit is the father of one of the two. How could it be? How
could a person become so enraged that they would kill their own child.
Obviously the answer is that this person is broken, a broken human,
aberrated and twisted by a lifetime of apathy, violence, and despair.

What
is it about our society that crafts these wackos? They are works of
beautiful twisted art, perfectly shaped from babes to fulfill their
seeming lifelong purpose to go out in a blaze of violence and
destruction.

Remember the runaway bride? It was so long ago
now, and I don’t give a crap what her name was, I don’t even remember much
about her particular case. It is lost to me lo these many days. What I
do remember of the incident was that I’m sure she was mad at somebody.
There was anger, displaced resentment against, I can only imagine, her
parents and their relentless pressure for her wedding to be perfect,
her husband to be perfect, for her to be perfect. She had been arrested
and convicted twice for shoplifting. Her family was wealthy,
upstanding, but they’d demoralized her, belittled her, drove her insane
with their control, her church’s control, her community’s control.
"LEAVE ME ALONE!" She acted out in the only way she didn’t know how.
She flailed and writhed to cause them pain in the way that gave her
control. I want to hurt them, she screamed to herself. She didn’t care
about consequences. She was not thinking. She just wanted to hurt them
because it was the only thing that she felt she could do.

Fight or flight. Let’s do both, shall we?

So
back to Zion, Illinois. Let’s paint a picture of this guy Mr. Hobbs and
his life. He was born into poverty, possibly lower middle class. His
parents struggled all their lives. Dad was an abusive type. He worked
long hours at a menial job. He resented his lot in life… these damn
kids, this damn job, and his meager life of anonymity. So he drank. The
alcohol helped him not care. When he’d smack his son around, he didn’t
feel a thing. Damn kids, clean up your goddamned room! Pick this shit
up! Your mother’s too soft on you. And he’d whack ’em, whack ’em good.
When he wasn’t hitting his kids he was just gone.

Sooner or
later, Jerry started getting into trouble in school. First he’d just
pick on those littler than himself. He was the classic troubled bully.
As he got older, he got into more and more trouble with the
authorities, both school and otherwise. He dropped out of school.

You
should be able to figure out the rest from here. When he got into a
dispute with anyone or anything, he lost it. He’d start lashing out
with whatever was handy. He didn’t care. His rage flooded his senses,
brought back his powerlessness. Somewhere deep down he remembered the
lessons of his father.

They are bringing it on themselves. Bitch doesn’t listen to me. She’s a fucked up bitch, telling me what to fucking do.

She
screams that she’ll kick him out, or she’ll leave him, or call the
police. She used that threat a lot. She used it like a blunt object.
I’ll call the fucking police, she screamed.  She doesn’t deserve to be
treated this way, she’d say.

Goddamnit… treat HER this way.
What about how you’re sucking the life out of me. You – you’re doing
this to ME, fuck you, bitch, I don’t give a fuck how you feel you
deserve to be treated. You’re a whore and bitch, and – and.

He
was cooling down in county lockup. He wasn’t so enraged now. The
bruises from his tussle with the cops who responded to the domestic
disturbance were starting to throb. Four of them had piled on. They
seemed to take pleasure is roughing him up. "Hit a woman, didcha, tough
guy. You’re a big fucking tough guy, hittin’ a woman. You hit kids
too?" He rubbed his shoulder where they’d wrenched his arm high up on
his back in a chicken wing. They’d clubbed him in the kidneys too.
Damn, that hurt. He couldn’t sit comfortably. Was he still mad? He
hurt, but he’d calmed down. It was out of his hands now. Remorse
started to creep in. Damn it, he didn’t mean to lose control. She was
just – doin’ it again. A twinge of rage lit off like a spark plug.

He
was sentenced to 18 months in state prison. This was the final straw.
The judge could see where this was going. This guy needed to know that
society was serious and that he’d done wrong. Justice decided that he
spend some time outside of the boundaries of society, an adult time
out, so to speak.

Jerry, fully intended to change his ways.
He thought about it every day. He wrote crudely spelled sentiments to
his wife. He loved her and looked forward to turning it around. He saw
all the good in his life. It was modest, but they had a little house, a
beautiful daughter, and he could always get some work. It’s not like
they needed much.

The day came that Jerry had waited for.
Here was his big chance to start over, to take control of his life and
live it. His wife accepted him with open arms. She’d fallen in love all
over again, mostly. Jerry, it seemed, was a new man with a new outlook.

Mother’s Day 2005

"Jerry,
don’t worry about it. It’s okay. It’s Mother’s Day. I don’t want to
fight about this. I’ll punish her tomorrow. Can’t we just have a
special day without yelling?"

"No, she took that money, she’s got to answer for it. I won’t have any daughter of mine growing up a thief."

"Look, can we just drop it?"

Little
Laura pranced out the front door with a nahnahnah to greet her friend
and scamper off to play. There it was again. His blood began to boil.
She’d sassed him. They’d all sassed him, made him feel powerless.,
revealed his impotence. Nahnahnah, there’s nothing you can do, you
stupid son-of-a-bitch with your limp dick and ugly face, they seemed to
say. His face twisted up almost unrecognizably and he charged out after
her. I’m going to drag her back to the house by her hair if I have to.
She’s not going to get away with this. I’m the man around here. She’s
the kid. She’s got to listen to me. He flew down onto the path where
the two girls were laughing and giggling. "Come here," he yelled.
"You’re going home."

"Mom, said I could go out," she retorted.

"I say you can’t, now get over here."

"I’m not coming and you can’t make me. Mom said I could stay out. Leave us alone." and the girls turned to leave.

First
he slapped her, then grabbed her hair and threw her down. Her friend
had a small pocket knife and stabbed at Jerry to protect her friend.
She didn’t know any better. She thought she was protecting her like on
TV. A knife?! raged Jerry’s mind. You’d try to stick me with a knife
you little bitch. What the fuck kind of parents do you have. And he
grabbed her wrist twisting it unnaturally. She yelped in pain as Jerry
snatched the knife and stabbed it back at her. Stick me, will you! He
slashed and slashed and slashed. His daughter’s horrified face looked
to him like contempt. SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!! He silenced her
disdain. That’ll teach her.

As soon as it was over, the rage
left him and the weight of what he’d done came down. It was only a
matter of time, but he was strangely calm. It was all out of his hands
now. He was free.

Contemplations on the Breaking of the Bread

I wrote this after one of my Confirmation classes. I think it’s
about the best contemplation on the Eucharist that I’ve ever heard,
that is, I like it and it sums it up for me. I always try to look at
the rituals of Catholism through the eyes of an outsider. Are they
silly? Where did they come from? Why do we do them? What does it mean
to believe? And what is belief? They may be silly, but there is a
wisdom that can be grokked if you know how to get in there, separate

yourself from your preconceptions, supersititions, magic, and just see
and know a thing for what it is. Life isn’t any deeper than what we
are. That is, it’s plenty deep enough, thank you. You just have to look
and listen and ponder. It’s all there, the spirits, the magic, the
flavor – all there right in front of you. It’s not weeping concrete
stains in the shape of the Virgin Mary. It’s not miracle medical cures.

It may not even be eternal life in heaven.

And with that I begin my meandering through the true nature of the Holy Eucharist.

The next week we talked about spirits. First we talked about the
spirit of a tomato? They all looked at me quizzically. Eh? Tomato? I
explained where the tomato comes from, where it is grown, how it is
cared for, who picks it, how it arrives at the supermarket etc. The
tomato becomes more than what it would first appear. The tomato, the
more you know about it, its journey, the more it becomes a symbol of
something deeper, and the deeper you go, the more it becomes an icon
– it actually becomes that thing it represents.

Take the beef cow for example. “Ew!” they all chorused. “We
don’t want to know about our food being alive at some point.” They
all shuddered, thinking about the slaughterhouse, the death of the
cow as it arrives at their plate, all ground up and cooked. How can
knowing the path of the cow make our enjoyment of the burger any
better?

Ah, I said, but you miss out on a great opportunity to imbibe more
than just a burger. Take, for example, my experience in the Basque
Country of Spain. We lived near a rural community called Oiartzun in
the north of Spain. In the town, the country folk each raised and
slaughtered their own cow. They would raise the cow for a year or so,
and then they would kill it. They fed their cow the best of things,
alfalfa, cabbage, beets, turnips, the best of things. They would grow
and cultivate an entire plot of land just for the cow.

We were visiting the Aristizabals house one Sunday afternoon. The
family wanted to show off their prize cow. The mother, Maria de los
Angeles, took us to the stall where the healthy looking young cow
stood munching on some nice fresh greens. The cow raised her head and
glanced our way, half-curious as to who were these intruders to her
space. She couldn’t be bothered to turn around and give us her
attention, head down munching on her lunch. Maria de los Angeles,
anxious to show off her cow, grabbed a pitch fork and poked the cow,
yelling, “Yeha yeha.” The cow did not budge an inch. She poked
harder but the cow did not move.

Mikel, the father and cabinet maker, gently clucked to the cow and
patted it on the rump. She turned as easily as if on a trivet. Beautiful
she was, healthy strong, and big. Everyone in the family beamed with
pride for their cow.

Some time later, we heard that Beltza had been slaughtered, the
meat packed into two large freezers in the family’s farm house.
Ekiñe, the youngest daughter, excitedly told us they had
bought a new young calf. She laughed as she told us they had named it
Beltza.

Later, during the Christmas season, Laura and I were invited over
for a holiday season dinner, on the menu, Beltza. I knew her, I
thought.

We shared with the Aristizabals the finest cut of meat from
Beltza, a cut from which there was only enough for one meal. I
remember that meal, the communion, the shared experience, the
newness, the realness, the depth of experience, appreciation for the
life that we had taken as well as the life that we were living, the
sacrifice, the brotherhood, and community. Beef had never been more
alive to me, on my taste buds, but more importantly in my heart.

I had used that story to illustrate to my class how knowing more
about reality around you leads you to deeper satisfaction. Sometimes
it’s not pleasant. Sometimes there is pain, even death, but by
closing yourself off to it, you close yourself off to the richness of
life, the beauty of living. Without awareness, consciousness, life

becomes unseasoned and bland.

Stupid Argonauts, I should’ve staffed the vessel with women

I dismounted my bike, grabbed a couple of dollars from my bike bag,
and started into the bakery. Coming up the sidewalk were four
young attractive women. A man walking into the bakery ahead of me,
stopped short, arching his back and his head at an awkward angle as he
gawked. I almost walked into him. I cleared my throat, "Ahem, con
permiso." I shook my head, wasn’t that the damnedest thing. He should’ve
taken a picture. It would have lasted longer.

I made my way to
the line in the panadería. It was just after eight o’clock in the
morning, the busiest time. The line was long, the bakery crowded. I
tried to get there earlier, but sometimes, you just can’t get out the
door.

The young women, stepped into the bakery, chatting loudly,
giggling, carrying on. They were noticeable because they were all
dressed in filmy, revealing, noodle strap dresses, high heels, and an
unusual amount of makeup for so early in the morning. There were indeed
hot, and they were about to unleash their wiles on a bakery full of old
weak men. Poor devils.

The
bakery came to a complete
stand-still. It was like a television freeze frame, ala TJ Hooker. A
fifty-ish short balding man walking toward where I stood, muttered to
his friend, "… e gusta el lechón con gandules." I didn’t hear the
first part… Me, te (you), if it was a question or what… but the
point was clear. "Pork and pigeon peas" go well together in a sexual
way. The innuendo was unmistakable, and I tried to contain a smirk.
Only
a Puerto Rican can say he likes pork meat and pigeon peas in a way that
connotes sex. I mused on comical variations, taking liberty, but
couldn’t push it to hyperbole in Spanish. I like marshmellows in my
coffee. I like ketchup on my burger. I like little toys with my happy
meal. And slowly, with feeling… I like salty… deep fried… artery
clogging, pork rinds mashed into gigantic mounds of green bananas.
Nope, just cannot push it far enough. Everything sounded sexual in
Spanish.

I
shook my head to myself, and watched the funny time warp
within the bakery. The women were standing directly behind me
in line, carrying on, obviously excited by the eyes burrowing holes in
their flimsy clothing. I had a good vantage point to observe the
leering, as I was directly in its line of site, and despite being clad
in
a bright red spandex skin suit, bike helmet, and
sunglasses, was completely invisible. I was a camouflaged nature
photographer, dressed in bright orange, invisible to the color-blind
wild beasts. It was absurd. It was hilarious. I continued to watch the
reactions from behind my bright blue lenses, the population of older
men visually undressing the
women with their unabashed desires and their longing gazes. These
people
have not even the tiniest slice of shame, their decorum thinly dressed
in colorful food metaphors.

I asked Esteban for a dozen eggs. "Esteban, I don’t have an egg carton today, do you think you could rig me something up?"

"Sure," he said as he proceeded to put the eggs in a paper bag.

"Um, do you think you could put them in a cardboard container? I’m on my bicycle. They’ll surely break in a paper bag."

"Oh, sorry, he proceeded to break down one of the cardboard trays used to deliver the eggs, and put it inside a plastic bag."

"Um,
do you think you could put some plastic wrap around it. They’ll surely
fall out. Sorry for the bother. Next time I’ll be sure to bring my
receptacle."

"No bother, really. Service is why we are here." And he handed me five eggs crudely wrapped in plastic.

"Esteban,
I wanted – Um, nevermind, good day." I wasn’t going to get my twelve
eggs today. The sirens had conspired with the gods to keep me from my
goal.

Construction Jaimito

Jaimito, leaned his elbow on the window of his truck. It was
going to be a long day. He was glad he’d gotten up at the crack of
dawn, gathered up his crew and shoved off in the twinkle of new
light. He’d roared out over the road in his shiny yellow dump truck,
loaded with blocks. He had more blocks than he could haul in one
vehicle, so he loaded the excess in a smallish VW beetle, cramming
them in through the windows and hatch until there was room for only
the driver. He had to get the materials to the project site, and
Jaimito was a resourceful fellow. “Can’t be done” was a phrase
not in his vocabulary.

The road in the early morning was twisted and bumpy. He
down-shifted and roared over a rump shaped mound. He smiled and let
out a yip. The morning did that to you, filled you up with so much
optimism that even small victories were cause for celebration. The
way was filled with craggy opportunities for victory, and Jaimito
passed the time pretending that each bump was a great and wondrous
obstacle, fitted especially for him to conquer.

Upon arrival at the work site, Jaimito and his crew set about
unloading the blocks, and staging them strategically. It became
apparent immediately that there was a problem with the grading.
There was a large bump where the plans required a level surface.
This was not going to do.

“We’re going to need to move this earth!” Jaimito exclaimed.
“Let’s get these things out of here.” Large pillow like rocks
were quickly dispatched to lower ground. “Hmm, we still have a
problem with this giant vein of protruding bedrock here,” he said
aloud. Time to get the rock pulverizers.

This was fun work. Crushing rock had to be the best job on the
planet. He imagined he was a large ancient elemental force and with
a whoop and a holler, the rock crumbled before his hydraulics and explosives. Where
others saw obstacles, Jaimito saw opportunities, and where there was
drudgery, Jaimito made fun. Perhaps it was no coincidence that his
crew was the most productive, the most motivated.

“Okay, men,” he exclaimed. “We’re all through, go ahead and
leave the vehicles and material where they are. We’ll get an early
start tomorrow.” And with that they headed home leaving the shiny
yellow dump truck, and the yellow VW Beetle and the blocks behind in
the cleared area where he had dispatched the giant rock.

A Taste of Puerto Rico

puertorico03.jpgYou have arrived on the island of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory in the Caribbean Sea. You have traveled a long way, about 1000 miles south east of Florida in the Greater Antilles and about 500 miles north of Venezuela. I would love to tell you all about Puerto Rico, but instead of all the basics, I will try to give you the flavor, el sabor, of Puerto Rico. El Sabor means "the flavor" in the local language of Spanish.

Flavor is something that is taken very seriously here.

It is hard to talk about where I live without mentioning food, as it is a central focus of local culture. The other day, I was in a cafeteria ordering food, and there were people around me picking out their lunch items from the displays. They asked for the food to be served on their plates with such cariño (care, or adoration pronounced cahr-EEN-yo), I almost believed they were speaking to a beloved family member, like a dear grandparent, in the most reverent tones. Each dish, yuca in garlic sauce, fried pork, beans liberally applied to the top of the rice, was carefully selected with much respect and devotion.

These were gruff men, in from construction sites, labor jobs, working hard in the hot sun. It was a hot day, as it is hot year around, 85o and with tropical humidity. Some of the men were picking up food for their co-workers, selecting it with the same care as their own. They were on a mission to obtain that special dish, a taste of home-cooked comfort food like mom used to make.

As I watched these men all pick their lunches, I heard them laughing, joking, teasing each other in a jovial manner. Although sweaty from a hard morning of work, they welcomed the rest, air conditioning, and the smells of food that seemed to bring them alegria (happiness pronounced ah-ley-GREE-ya).

Puerto Rican food consists of mainly rice (arroz pronounced ahr-ROHZ) and beans (habichuelas pronounced ah-bee-CHU-ey-las) in a sauce called sofrito. There are many variations of this dish. Sometimes the beans are white, pink, green. Sometimes the sauce has potatoes or another root called yuca or pumpkin (calabasa), and different herbs. I like my rice and beans with an avocado on top. When the avocados are in season, they add a refreshing accent to the dish.

Some other typical Puerto Rican foods are rice and chicken (which is my favorite), fried meat pockets called acapurias (pronounced ah-cah-POO-ree-as), fried fish fritters called bacalaitos (cod fish pronounced bah-cah-lah-EE-toes), plantains (a cousin of the banana that is eaten green here and tastes like potatoes). One of my favorite snack foods is something called tostones (pronounced toe-STONE-ays ) which are fried mashed plantains. They are sort of like round french fries, but tastier.

I picked up my lunch, paid my five dollars, and stepped outside into the hot tropical sun. My car, a little Ford Focus, was like an oven, so I let it cool a bit before getting in. Once back on the road, I realized my oasis of comfort and rest was over, as the cars and hustle and bustle of San Juan closed in around me. San Juan is a very crowded metropolitan city of 2 million people in just a few square miles. I would compare it to Newark, New Jersey in terms of population and crowding. In general, Puerto Rico is a pretty small island, just 100 miles by 35 miles. Oops, I hit a pot hole. I should pay more attention. I sure don’t want to have to change the tire again, especially since it has started to rain heavily. In fact, it rains very heavily almost every day, but only for a short time, and then the hot sun drys it out in just a few minutes. You can watch the steam rise up off of the hot streets. There is so much sunshine and so much rain, that rainbows are a frequent occurrence. I stopped taking pictures of them after about a hundred.

I finally got back to my office where I checked my e-mail and had a cup of coffee. Coffee here in Puerto Rico is truly something to savor. Local culture, as with all things of the palette, holds coffee as one of its most prized possessions. Puerto Ricans will proudly tell you that during the 1600’s to 1800’s Puerto Rico supplied the Pope in Rome with coffee grown here. They will also tell you that la tierra (the earth) in Puerto Rico is better suited for its cultivation than any other coffee growing country, including Colombia. It is just that Puerto Rico doesn’t have as much land to grow coffee as Colombia. Coffee is Puerto Rico’s quiet little secret and is only exported to the finest coffee stores in the US. I drink it every day and consider it one of the finest pleasures.

After a hard week at work, we decided to take a break and head for the beach. You can go the beach and swim every day of the year in Puerto Rico. The heat which makes you sweat, also allows you comfortably enjoy the ocean any time you want. The water in the summer is sometimes as warm as bath water. I prefer swimming in the winter when it is slightly cooler and more refreshing.

The Infinity Beyond, and the Infinitesimal Within

I don’t mean for every entry I write to become some kind of
philosophical journey or meandering… but I just can’t help it. This
melancholic soul of mine just can’t seem to sit still. Maybe it’s all
the hard times we’ve been through in these past few years or all the
joy we have because of our daughter. I don’t know what it is, but I
just can’t seem to shake this smile I have.

I have something else, that I want to write here, but I haven’t had
the motivation. Something happened to me about a year and half ago that
started me down this path that I believe is the right one. Although as
I mentioned I don’t have the energy to get it down. I’ve been trying,
believe me, but it’s just not there yet. However, for the sake of my
sanity, I have to get something down, some results, fruits so to
speak… better to show than tell anyway.

Tonight was a late night at work. We didn’t leave until around nine.
Roberto, Laura’s brother and Miray, his wife, were nice enough to look
after Olaia while we toiled away. Since we were in meetings until late,
we hadn’t had a chance to eat. Once again, Roberto and Miray came to
our aid with a tasty Lebanese dish, a kind of middle eastern meatloaf
with pita bread and accompaniments. A meal like that after a hard day
at work can’t help but leave you punchy and happy.

I don’t know how exactly we got started on it… wait, oh yes I do.
Miray was talking about ruts. She says, a bit self-consciously, her
life might look like it’s in a rut. It’s not, she assures us, but well,
you know, it might be. She takes care of her children, she cooks, she
cleans, she picks them up from school. She thinks for a bit. Well
there’s not much else, she concludes, but it feels full. She says it’s
not like she feels empty, but sometimes when thinking about all the
plans from college, what you imagined your life to be like, what
potential, the dreams you never fulfilled. It’s the things for which
you have no taste anymore. This doesn’t taste the same. Was it I who
changed?

I’ve been thinking much of the same things these past few years –
not that my life has been boring, but I’ve been beating myself up for
not accomplishing more, for not having what I wanted to have at the age
of 32.

And you know what it’s all pretty simple, we concluded and somewhat
heartening, which is really all that is important when you’re trying to
cheer each other up and feel good.

What do you use to study the world around you? Maybe you use a
telescope for looking at the infinite outside of our solar system,
distant stars, great novas, vast expanses that dwarf the imagination.
It’s so large so great, you feel filled up staring at it, as if you
would never get bored staring at the same stretch of sky, that you
would never never get old before your time? You lose yourself way up
there, imagining you are hanging upside down over this calm sea of
infinity.  You begin to forget the grass upon which you lie, the blades
that formerly scratched your back, made your legs itch. It all seems
less important. The crickets fad into a distant blanket of white noise
lost beneath the threshold of your consciousness. There’s that big
thing… and it’s all that matters.

Perhaps, though, there is something else that captures your fancy
more. Maybe, just maybe you’re fascinated by the microscopic. You want
to peer into these little spaces that no one knows about. It’s not
enough to know the grandness of things… it’s the smallness that
captures your imagination, the mundane, the infinitesimal. You know
your world. It’s the small things that give you pleasure, the squeeze
of a tiny hug, kissing a boo-boo to make it feel better. Do you come
home to a little dog to whom you are the entire world and who cannot
contain herself as she leaps and jumps knocking over everything in her
path. Do you feel those things? It’s easy to miss the little things
while you are staring off into space.

So it was that we concluded that there was the infinity outside of
ourselves and the infinity within; one, an infinity of greatness and
journey and abundance. One spirit sees and does what all large and
great spirits beg to do… to stomp, to dream, to make loud noises, ignite
fires, and light up the world. The other seeks to pacify and understand
and foment. It loves the broken, embattled and the weak. Its empathy
and compassion and patience temper the fire, baffle the noise, and
dampen the vibrations that ripple all around us.

Prepare for the Dragon, but Beware the Rats

A young pupil in a quandary for direction, asked his teacher how he
may judge the battles upon which to draw his sword. "How, sensei,
should I pick my battles so that I may be victorious?"

The teacher paused, and with a firm wisdom, replied. "Young student,
this is not an easy question to answer, but I will give you the best
advice I can give you." He lowered his voice to a whisper.

"Beware the great beast, for he may slay you with a single
swipe of his claws or with but a blast of his fiery breath. Step
lightly and do not choose this battle with a thought of impunity."

The master lifted his eyes and raised his voice emphatically.

"Be mindful always of the rats that scurry about the beast’s legs, for they will surely devour you in time. Step boldly, and always take this battle wherever it can be found."

If you can do these things, you will be victorious and a champion in your own right.

The Great Salmon

How do you judge the value of a salmon steak. Take the person who
buys it. Without the money for having bought that salmon steak it
wouldn’t be a reality. It would never arrive to the hands of the
seasoner. Sprinkle lemon, a little cilantro. Sprinkle precious drops of
olive oil. Rub it into the pink meat. Let it set. So without those who
would season the meat, there would be no great salmon steak. You have
to give those seasoners credit. Let’s pass that filet to the grill.
Without the griller, the right temperature, a few smoldering briquettes
for smoky flavor. Watch that meat, it only takes five minutes to cook a
piece of fish to perfection. Too hot, it’s blackened… too cool and
you risk it falling apart. Pass that fish to the serving plate. They
eat it, exclaiming, "Wow, that was the most wonderful salmon I’ve ever
eaten. My hat is off to you chef."

"Ah, but," he replies, "I couldn’t have done it without the
seasoner. That salmon was only as good as the seasoner. Seasoner, my
hat is off to you."

She smiles politely, "Very well, but without the buyer, I wouldn’t
have had anything. Without that great delicacy to start with, I
wouldn’t have anything to season."

"Thank you, but my part is a small one." says the buyer.

It was a fine salmon and all are in accord. They had made a fine meal and it was a team effort.

And then my mind drifts off to the salmon waters of the North
Pacific. I see a great strength darting through the cold ocean waters.
Is this greatness a gift of the buyers, seasoners, and grillers? I
think this as I imagine its life, and I see that the grand beast was
magnificent.

From Ancient Caves to the Guggenheim Museum

guggenheimday.jpgI’m not sure just how much you know about this magnificent building,
but it was recently finished under much international pomp and
circumstance. The Guggenheim in New York sought and found a city that
would undertake the newest task of supplying a location worthy of
housing the greatest modern art treasures of the world.

That city was Bilbo, Euskadi (BILL-bo, eww-SKA-dee) (Basque spelling of
"Bilbao" (BILL-bow) as in bow wow (dog bark)). In a city still trying
to overcome the difficult times of industrialization and civil war,
civil strife, and national identity, it is difficult to imagine what
the Guggenheim means to them. It is certainly a mark of national pride.
Critics in the community of Basque artists are quick to point out that
the museum is nothing more than an American icon dropped like a big
golden arch on top of an already repressed culture… call it McArt.

Whatever the case, it has brought a lot of attention to a city that is
trying to define itself apart from Spain and Spanish notoriety. They
have done it by building the building that was said to be unbuildable.
Basque engineers and contractors designed many firsts, from types of
I-beams to special suspension techniques to pull off a great coup for
the Basque People.

So we went through the galleries, as of now not that great a
collection, but it’s getting there. Once they (Guggenheim) get beyond
the dumping of art from their basement in New York to fill space here,
and start putting together a unique collection that has a personality
all of its own, then we’ll see some great things from Bilbao. I have to
say that among all the works in the Museum, I enjoyed the most the
works of contemporary Basque sculptors and painters. In all honesty, I
found their work more relevant than most other things, like American
pop icon Andy Warhol, and some of the various modern art competing for
eyeballs alongside fire extinguishers, hoses, and stairwell exits. I
swear one time I actually mistook a fire hose connector as a piece of
art. It was placed at the same eye level as the rest of the works, and
when I didn’t see a placard next to it, I figured out what it was. I
had a good chuckle about that one. There are other pieces worth
mentioning too (if only for their irrelevance), a teenager’s room
enclosed in glass with books and clothes strewn over an unmade bed, to
the giant billboard sized (actually about three stories) that had was
just one word. You know, I can’t even remember what it said… it was
nothing important, even though it was trying so hard to keep everyone’s
eyeballs. There was the ballpark style billboard with the rotating
shutters that had three messages. First a picture of a jar of Vaseline
and a cucumber, later the words "the problem with relationships" and
later a peach and a hammer. I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t make much
sense. It seems out of place in most settings excluding any California
art school.

There were the paintings that were only white, there were painting that
were only red, there were paintings that were only blue. Notice a
trend. I wonder if it’s patriotic brainwashing or something. Anyway,
they are mostly about color, attempting to understand art and the world
better through only one color. What is red, yada yada yada. We’ve been
through it folks. How much merit does it have. I don’t think they built
the Guggenheim to house canvases of red, white, and blue on a McSesame
McBun.

Of course there were bright spots. Laura loves Joan Miró for his
abstracted language, use of symbols, and extremely empathetic portrayal
of the dark years in Spain this century (during the civil war and under
Franco). For many he was a voice… er rather gave voice to the
emotions and the tearing and confusion that existed at that time. It
was his art that better than any other served as the hieroglyphs of the
middle portion of this century, what we felt, who we were, and where we
were going. Andy Warhol by comparison was but fifteen minutes of that
time, perhaps while Miró was on the toilet or something.

It’s worth a visit if you get a chance to go by there sometime. I’d
like to take another look in a few years to see how it’s developing.

From the New to the Ancient

We went to some ancient caves in the country. We witnessed what few
have seen, paintings that were over 12,000 years old, charcoal and iron
oxide drawings of horses, deer, bear, fish, goats, and cows. They were
so remarkable because they signify that humans have been living in this
area for… well a very long time. This particular cave was basically
in someone’s back yard, protected by an iron gate. Years ago it may
have been the summer hunting home of our human ancestors as they sought
game and enjoyed the valley of plenty.

Some of the drawings were simple outlines, themselves sophisticated
abstractions of the 3d world. Others were fully colored with rust and
have withstood over 120 centuries in that still cave. I stood there
before those simple scratches on the caves trying to imagine this
person there, with stick in hand, under torchlight, depicting
something. Why did they do it? I tried hard to see that person. I
squinted through the battery powered halogen lights until I swear I
could see it, there in the dark, an arm reaching out with a stick
rendering immortality.

They may have believed that by drawing these animals they might render
them more vulnerable, perhaps they would be able to hunt easier, like
capturing their soul, their spirit.

And then a thought popped into my head, something that Tom had said to
me while we were playing basketball the day before. "Visualize your
shot." I swear I could sometimes see that ball make the arch and drop,
swish, before I shot it.

Maybe that’s it, perhaps what I could begin to see through the dark was
something familiar, something that even through 12,000 years of
separation, felt close, felt familiar, more than just an old scribble
that invokes more questions than answers. Archaeologists and scientists
study those drawings wondering why most of them point to the back of
the cave (or was it out), why they drew so many horses, but really only
ate deer. What did they signify? Why did they do them?

Maybe they were visualizing their shots, learning more about these
animals that lived with them. An art teacher once told me that drawing
was 99% observation. I fully believe that, and I think that intuitively
ancient man without written language to communicate, realized that
rendering by drawing was the beginning to understanding better the
world they lived in. By recreating creation in abstracted forms, we can
begin to make sense, grasp the truth from a different perspective,
understand it in a new way. The ancient humans were no different then
we, they were not as unsophisticated as we would like to believe,
silly, superstitious people who thought that by drawing animals they
would be able to hunt them better. What is that? Magic? How silly.

Maybe what’s silly is how quickly we dismiss those old lessons, the
first lessons. "My God, that really captured the spirit of the moment!"
we exclaim. "How well you’ve captured her spirit in that photo!" "That
song really takes me back." "I cried during Titanic." "She has her
mother’s spirit." "I feel the anguish in Picasso’s ‘Gernika’."

We’ve been learning that lesson throughout the centuries as artists seek out new abstractions, new ways of looking at reality.

Isn’t if funny how we’re still drawing on walls? Why do we do it, what
does it mean? In the end I can only say that I believe it is
representative of our struggle to understand ourselves and to
communicate what we understand to others. If my trip from some of the
newest to some of the oldest has taught me anything, it has only let me
know that we share more in common with our ancestors than I thought.
Rather than primitive savages running around in a fog of barely
conscious sentience, scared of everything, and fearful of their
surroundings, struggling to separate themselves from the animal
kingdom, I see them as sophisticated, intelligent, aware, emotional
human beings who knew there were things they did not know and sought
them out.

Is Art Made by Computers Art?

OR what sort of Art might a computer make? Would we accept it as Art?

If computers might indeed someday become sentient or intelligent,
then why would we assume they would want to create art. When we think
of computer art, we think of pretty computer generated colors, swirls,
mathematics, fractals, raytraced solids, quirky animations, etc. But
these are the sorts of art WE make with computers.

Maybe computers would make completely unintelligible art, art that
is neither visual, audial, or textual. Maybe a computer will find art
in the making of a network connection run better. Maybe a computer will
creatively skip processing steps in order to arrive at the same answer.
Computers might fill idle time with "entertainment" which could be as
complex as finding bugs in each other’s operating systems, or running
their CPU idle processes (hey, WE watch TV).

I guess art/humor/beauty/hate depend so much on culture, it would be
hard to conceive of those things by a computer. It’s like asking how
someone will be when they grow up without knowing where and with whom.

How can we know the computer as equal, as sentient/intelligent before it is born?

We wouldn’t share:

  • the same native language "binary" (we speak it, but only passingly),
  • the same cuisine (raw electrical energy, Americans like cow meat),
  • the same customs (they might have a handshake, but we keep forgetting what to put in the packet header),
  • the same bodily function (they coredump, we… well),
  • sexual orientation (would they be
    homosexual/heterosexual/asexual? We as humans still can’t decide even
    if homosexuals are okay… what would we do with computers that are
    mated via hub with 20 different computers? Call it polygamy? Does the
    Alpha Server reign supreme over it’s tribe of Microsoft Clients *G*?)
  • the same concerns (we worry about the morning commute, the
    kids, our savings… what would it be like to worry about being
    unplugged by a careless cleaning crew, to commute through a jammed
    network cable, to not have arms, to not have eyes, to not have smell,
    etc.)

What happens when the race we’ve created begins to find that it
doesn’t really have much in common with us, when we find that they
aren’t much fun to talk to? They don’t care about sports, politics,
getting laid etc. What happens when the little children that needed us
for so much, every keystroke, every brushing, every time they needed to
be let out to play in the yard, every scrap of technology, know-how,
advancement, runny nose, bad day, college tuition, and approval stop
needing? We think we understand them, and because we share so little in
common we project our biases onto them. We call them mindless machines,
and we turn our backs on their rights. Do we use them to test viruses,
cosmetics, Microsoft software?

MOST people would say that computers weren’t sentient, and you would be one of those people, because "Most People" said it.

So we probably would decide that computers still can’t create art, because we expected them to create art we would like.

Isn’t that just typically human though?

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