Monday, June 15, 2009

And, Yes, More...

A final weekend installment...

Sunday proved to be the first clear, sunny day we've had in weeks here in sunny Southern California. It was a pleasure to see that glint of sunlight once again, on waking. We had begun to wonder if we'd ever see it again. A good day for the drive out to Topanga Canyon, to make good on a promise to visit a friend's studio. It happened, also, to be Open Studio day in Topanga, so she had a good crowd of visitors while we were there.

Having seen Rachel Holloway's paintings only online before--as you'll see them if you click on the link--we were delighted to have the chance to see them "live" in the studio. Here's one we liked a lot...

(not very well cropped on my cell phone)... which gives a sense of the way in which she blends plein air landscape painting with a contemporary painter's understanding of abstraction. Working--surprisingly, at this scale and with this density of image--in watercolor, she opens up a wonderful sense of space by the inclusion of up-close foreground material and, in this painting, with the power lines draped from where we stand, as viewers, way into the distant hills. Their effect is also to draw the eye into the picture, bringing us along with it, and focusing its impact.
Then, too, there's a really interesting thing that happens when you move up closer to the surface as you lose the pretext of the landscape and your eye gets more involved with the marks than with the image. Here's a detail from a different work that will give you a better sense of what that means:

Originally from England, Rachel works out of a long tradition of English landscape, making it very much her own. We had a delightful visit with her and her husband, who was a student at the same college as I at Cambridge--though I have to confess I was there a good number of years earlier. With an amazing variety of skills, they have built their own house in the canyon--she as designer, he as builder, and live comfortably among the wildlife there; Matthew, we discovered in somewhat gory detail, has learned the art of decapitating rattlesnakes when they invade.

From Topanaga we drove down the the Pacific Coast Highway and followed it way north through Malibu, Zuma Beach and Trancas, turning inland and up a mountainous road with very lovely glimpses of the ocean to reach the home of another artist friend, Lita Alburquerque, who was celebrating her husband, Carey's birthday with their annual "Pasta and Poetry" bash. We have known Lita for many years, but this was the first time we had made it out to this very remote area where they live. I can't imagine how they manage the commute to get into town, as they frequently must, to work: though the drive is a beautiful one, it's also long and winding. I'm sure they're rewarded, though, by the joy of living in a grand natural environment and the peace that goes along with it.

It seemed to be our day for Brits. Those helping Lita and Carey celebrate included, to my immense surprise, a man who had attended the same "public" (read private) boarding school as I in Sussex, on the south coast of England. We were even, pretty much, contemporaries there, give or take a year or so, and shared some common memories of teachers and events, like the five-mile cross-country course with its steep hills and the thirteen dikes (water-filled ditches that we had to forge, breaking the ice in winter) as we approached the finish line. We did not know each other at the time, but had some mutual friends, including one who was later killed by Indians on an Amazon adventure, and another--with him at the time--who was the son of a famous British composer. As if that were not surprise enough, there was also a fellow Geordie at the party--and a fellow poet, now living here in Southern California. (A Geordie, by the way, is a person born in Newcastle, a Tyne-sider. I'm absurdly proud of being one, even though I spent only the first year and a half of my life there!) And an old Etonian, from a neighboring Cambridge college to my own--though of a very much more recent vintage than myself.

We enjoyed good pasta, excellent wines from Italy, and had all brought poems to read--a rare occasion, these days! We are too busy, too caught up in the speedy passage of time to enjoy the slow pleasures of poetry. Here's the one I took to read. I wrote it a few years ago, but it still felt fresh and right:


Sometimes I hear his voice
in mine: my father's turn
of phrase, a sudden, plaintive
note, a particular tonality,
a hint of affected modesty.
I hear it when I read a line
aloud, or start to preach
my version of the gospel.

Sometimes, more startling,
I hear my own voice in my son's:
a raising of the timbre to sound
a note of protest, indignation,
the anger carefully concealed
behind a conventional politeness
or a charming smile, the quick,
ingratiating deference of tone.

And thinking this, I wish now
I had heard my grandfather,
who died before I could recall
his voice. From his stern picture
I imagine it firm, but gentle,
the master copy of the voice
from which my father's
was imprinted, and my own.

And I hope now, too, to live
for long enough to hear in Joe,
my grandson's voice that echo
of the generations, father down
to son; and perhaps not least
for him to recognize in his,
when he is grown to manhood,
some echo of the sound of mine.

A good crowd, excellent company, a great celebration! Actually, all in all, a pretty darn nice weekend--even though it did mean staying in town.

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