Last Tango in Tinos

Friday, October 2nd, 2015 | Art, Gay, Stavros, The Dating Game, Travel | 2 Comments

Stavros, Dean & Mike, and I spent a few days on Tinos last week, one of the larger islands in the Cyclades. Tinos isn’t on the radar for many non-Greeks, and perhaps because of this, the island feels somehow less corrupted by tourism. The Venetians controlled it until 1715, long after the rest of Greece had fallen to the Turks, and a legacy of the long Venetian presence is a mixed Catholic/Greek Orthodox population and elaborately designed dovecotes that dot the entire island. There’s a thriving marble folk art industry. Every door and window on the island has a carved marble transom, each house incorporating some marble decoration or detail.

Most people make the pilgrimage to Tinos to visit the church of the Panagia Evangelistria, or Our Lady of Tinos. It was built on the spot where a miraculous icon with healing powers, thought to have been made by Luke the evangelist, was found in 1823. A few years earlier, Our Lady appeared to an elderly gentleman, telling him to wake up and dig up the icon. He told a local priest of his vision, but they both agreed that it may have been the devil in disguise, so best to proceed with caution. Mary kept appealing to this guy, disrupting his sleep to no avail. She finally moved on to a local nun who was a little more receptive to her directives, and bingo, she led some guys with shovels right to it. The icon was found the day after the creation of the modern Greek state, so Our Lady of Tinos was declared the patron saint of the emerging Greek nation, and the construction of the church was its first large architectural project.

On the feast day of the Dormition of the Virgin (August 15), penitents crawl from the port up the hill to the church on their hands and knees as a sign of devotion, many seeking to be healed in some way. There are carpeted crawl-ways leading up the hill, and, at the top, a ghoulish statue of a crawling believer with outstretched arm and no face. It really freaked me out, the statue, reminding me of the Ghost of Christmas Future, the one who finally spooked Ebenezer Scrooge into buying that Christmas goose and new legs for Tiny Tim. The icon is displayed in the church under a mound of glittering jewels. I stood in line to photograph it, everyone in front of me kissing it and praying feverishly, but when I finally got there, I just sort of stared at it, not really able to comprehend what I was looking at, a mound of shiny baubles under glass. Beyond the reproduction icons and plastic holy-water bottles of the main town, ah, the magic begins. Great food, villages unspoiled by time, dramatic landscapes, fantastic beaches, charming little museums, and people living off of and sharing the bounty of the rugged landscape.

We stayed in an apartment overlooking the bronze-age acropolis of Vryokastro. Starvos and I ascended to the top of the acropolis early one morning, to see the sunrise, and got in the way of a humpy hunter chasing a cute little bunny, who seemed annoyed to see us in what was clearly his domain, shotgun shells strewn here and there along the path, his hounds barking and howling, just like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I like to think that we saved a bunny that day.

In Kambos is a museum devoted to the work of Costas Tsoclis, an artist who creates paintings and sculptures saturated in antiquity and nostalgia, and that often extend beyond their frames. Outside he’s created a fabulous and whimsical large-scale semi-abstract depiction of St. George slaying the dragon. Inside are several room-sized painting installations. The museum is so well designed, that even the bathroom window frames a poetic installation, a single cross leaning against a corner of the empty back courtyard, blue skies and a single cloud above. The only restaurant in town was run by a man named Stefanos, an older gentleman with a wide and toothless smile, who served up cuisine of ingredients entirely home grown, including these fantastic fried wild herb “horta” balls. We ate at his son’s restaurant in the main town a few nights later, and it was just as delicious.

Driving north across the center of the island, we turned a corner and suddenly it seemed like we were on the moon. For as far as we could see, the entire landscape was filled with giant boulders, as if someone dumped a bag of giant rocks everywhere. In the center of this tremendous cyclopean rock-scape was a quaint village, Volax, with all of its houses built into, onto or around these massive stones. An artist covered the doors of vacant houses with handwritten transcriptions of various Greek poems, giving literal dimension to the weirdly poetic experience of the village.

I climbed Mt. Exobourgo one day, site of a crumbling Venetian fortress, the administrative center of the island from the 13th to 18th centuries, while Stavros slept in the car. Standing for 500 years or so, the fortress and town inside were dismantled by the Turks in 3 days.

Pyrgos, on the north central side of the island, is one of the island’s largest villages, with several museums devoted to marble art and production. The houses and streets seem to be interconnected physically and visually, as if carved from a single block of marble. There are so many villages to tell you about, each with its own unique character, charm, and history, but enough already.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Stavros and I had decided the week before departing for Tinos to be just friends. Once on Tinos, we further decided to start seeing other people by seeing the same guy, and at the same time. His name means “sugar” in Greek, and he is as sweet as they come, a sort of furry Greek Mighty Mouse: short, muscular, carpeted in fine hairs, laughing and smiling. He’s married, to a woman, and has children, but he eagerly jumped into our four arms. He was tender, passionate, and talked to us for hours, so free with the details of his life on the island. I remember looking at Stavros across our Mighty Mouse sandwich and seeing someone different, someone I hadn’t seen before, my boyfriend being passionately engaged by someone else. I felt for a moment as if I were an intruder, but then Stavros looked into my eyes, kissed me, and suddenly I felt like we were celebrating not the end of something, but a new beginning. Remember Audrey Hepburn at the end of Roman Holiday, returning to her duties as a princess? On the plane now back to my life in San Francisco without Stavros, invoking Audrey when asked about my favorite island, I say “Tinos,” Tinos without hesitation, glassy-eyed and with memories that I’ll cherish forever.

A Day in Marathonas

Thursday, September 24th, 2015 | Art, Gay, Travel | Comments

The boys, Stavros, and I took a little day trip to Marathonas last week, just a little northeast of Athens. It was here in 490 BC that the Persians were crushed by a considerably smaller contingent of clever Athenians. In a pivotal moment in European history, the victory proved that the young democracy could appoint the kind of political and military leadership necessary to repel such an ambitious empire while at the same time avoiding a return to tyranny, leading to the eventual rise of Classical Greek civilization and its continuing influence today.

Near the site of the battle, in Nea Makri, are the remains of a sanctuary and bath complex dedicated to the worship of Isis and other Egyptian/Hellenic gods. It was built around 160 AD by Herodes Atticus, the Roman consul of Athens and buddy of the Roman emperor and total heartthrob Hadrian. As far as I know, it’s the only such complex found in Greece. Herodes was inspired by a similar complex that Hadrian built at his villa in Tivoli, in turn modeled after an Egyptian sanctuary in Canopus on the Nile Delta.

On the site are replicas of the statues found there. The originals are located in the Archaeological Museum of Marathonas, a wonderful little museum nearby, which also includes finds from the area going back to 4,000 BC. The statues combine characteristics of Egyptian and Greek goddesses, and, as if designed for a Cecil B. DeMille epic, are very theatrical and seem oddly not of their time. One statue holds in her hands three small roses, symbols of both the Egyptian Isis and the Greek Aphrodite. Another Egyptian-looking goddess holds a sheaf of wheat, symbol of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, closely tied to the change of seasons.

A few days earlier, at the Museo Archaeologico in Athens, I had seen a statue of Antinous, Hadrian’s lover, as an Egyptian god. Antinous was associated with Osiris after he mysteriously drowned in the Nile and was deified by Hadrian. The wall label indicated that the statue was found in Marathonas, so I’m assuming it was part of the temple complex there. But Antinous was pretty much everywhere during that time. The sad obsessed Hadrian not only declared him a god after his death and commissioned thousands of humpy statues of his likeness, he also built a city on the site of his death, Antinopolis. He also identified a star in the sky as Antinous, a rosy lotus that grew along the Nile as the Antinous flower, and proposed a new constellation of Antinous being carried to heaven by an eagle (the constellation Aquila. Remember Ganymede was swept up to Olympus by Zeus, in the form of an eagle, to be the gods’ cupbearer).

Ganymede was the loveliest born of the race of mortals, and therefore
the gods caught him away to themselves, to be Zeus’ wine-pourer,
for the sake of his beauty, so he might be among the immortals.

I have such a crush on Hadrian. First of all he’s exactly my type with his big face and wavy hair and beard. Secondly he turns his boyfriends into gods. He wrote an autobiography, unfortunately lost, that I am hoping turns up someday.

But anyway, back to the little Archaeological Museum of Marathonas… in addition to the Egyptian-Hellenic god statues, there are many interesting grave stele and funeral monuments, including a herm unusual for having a penis and not a head. I’ve often wondered if one day archaeologists will find a hidden room somewhere filled with all the gentle-talia that have been hacked off of old statuary. I can imagine some modern-day Shemp opening the door and all the marbles spilling out around him in a river of white willies.

Greece and the Newly Single Girl

Thursday, September 24th, 2015 | Stavros, The Dating Game, Travel | Comments

I recognize him immediately, that guy who is just not the marrying type. He’s in his mid-40s, extremely handsome, never married, but he talks dreamily of marriage, spending lives together, dish patterns… I am drawn to him like bees to pollen, sure that once he samples the depths that are possible with sustained intimacy, he’ll blossom into that other guy, the one I’m certain I’ll be with forever. Then one day there’s the guy I recognized at first—the one in the wheelchair that I shoved down the stairs to make way for my fantasy—that guy who isn’t quite ready to settle down or explore perpetual commitment. Just not the marrying type at all.

I’m in Greece, visiting Stavros and traveling around with him and my buddies from San Francisco, Dean & Mike. A few days after our arrival, Stavros announced that he and I would be better off as just friends, apparently misreading my busyness and distraction over the past few months as a lack of interest. I wasn’t sure at first if it were a pre-emptive breakup based on misinformation or a genuine desire to reposition himself in the relationship, but our subsequent conversations have clarified the urgency for both of us to embrace a different kind of companionship. In a way there’s some relief on both sides. We like each other so much and have so much fun together, but he’s focused on a career that’s going to make being together a challenge. And there are those 6,000 or so miles between us. Or maybe we both knew from the beginning that we wanted different things? It’s painful and uncomfortable, but, but… actually, but nothing, it’s just painful and uncomfortable. I don’t like the idea at all of being 50 and single, so my suitors better start lining up, the twilight of my 40s is quickly slipping into the darkness of 50ness. But, soft! what hairy forearm through yonder window breaks?

Greece, on the other hand, has been a delight, and despite breaking up, Stavros and I have had a great time together as usual. Except for that brief moment when we tried to drown each other in Ormos Giannaki. We’ve been toodling around with Dean & Mike, showing them Athens and beyond, bonding with antiquity as well as the vibrance of city and village life. We visited Mycenae and the remarkable Tholos tombs there, then spent a few days with Yorgos & Filios at their getaway in Methana, then the theater at Epidavrus, the beach and ruins and Tomulus of the Athenians in Marathonas, the Temple of Poseidon at Sounio… I’ve written about these places before so won’t bore you with details, but stick around for some more entries about the rest of the trip.

So let the Dating Game begin. I’m currently accepting applications from eligible bachelors. If single and furry and slightly over-the-hill and planning to be in the San Francisco Bay Area, please send a self-addressed stamped envelope with your name and shoe size to Sanfranchrisko, San Francisco, California.

Deep in July it’s Nice to Remember the Fire of May that Made us Mellow

Saturday, July 11th, 2015 | Food, Stavros, Travel | 1 Comment

It’s July in San Francisco. Cold, foggy, drizzly. Now that my show is up and the dogs are sleeping, I’ll attempt to fill you in on some of my adventures of the past few months.

In May I spent a few weeks in Greece, exploring the northwest mainland and Corfu with little Stavros.

We visited Nikopolis, which Octavian founded following his defeat of Marc Anthony and Cleopatra. Napoleon’s troops plundered and looted the site in 1789, the treasures eventually ending up with the Ali Pasha when he defeated them. So as with most of these ancient sites, there’s not much left, save for some interesting floor mosaics, two theaters, a quaint little museum with the plunderers’ rejects, crumbling ruins and an aqueduct, all beautifully set in gently rolling hills. The stadium, buried under weeds and bright green grass, nibbled on by sheep, must have inspired several Romantic odes. A shepherd told us with a snicker that his sheep were part of the stadium restoration.

We spent the night in Parga, a hilly resort town on the Ionic. Standing up after resting on a bench by the sea, I felt my camera slip from my lap. It seemed like forever after my eyes locked with my neighbor’s that the “plunk!” that we both anticipated finally came. There was quite a scene as a local fisherman and his kid tried to get it out of the water for me. A large crowd gathered and cheered after they finally fished it out. People around town were pointing at me all night. I was able to save the images in the camera, but since the camera was on when it fell into the water, the electronics shorted out. I used my iPhone for the remainder of the trip, and realized how dependent I’d become on my camera to document and record my experience. When I first traveled to Europe in the mid 80’s I refused to take pictures. This is when I was studying photography at the Art Institute but considered myself a conceptual artist. Ideas and experience were paramount, the object inconsequential. I didn’t want anything mitigating my first Grand Tour. I wanted to experience the real things that I had read about and studied in art school, with my own eyes, that I’d seen in textbooks and in movies… I didn’t want my memories contained within photographs, they’d always be alive in my head. And of course now I don’t remember anything. Thus I’ve become one of those obnoxious tourists who takes pictures of every pre-historic thimble and my memories are fairly restricted to what has been photographed.

From Parga we traveled to Mesopotamos and visited the Nekromanteion, site of the ancient oracle of death and the door to Hades, where people came to connect with their dead ancestors. Three rivers join nearby and flow to the underworld. This is where Odysseus made his trip down under. On entering the temple grounds, visitors participated in an elaborate ceremony and were fed snacks laced with narcotics. After passing through a series of underground passageways, they’d pose their questions to the oracle, and the priest appeared to rise from the ground and fly around, the awed but quite stoned pilgrims unaware of the cranes and ropes hoisting them aloft. A busload of German women appeared at one point and pushed past me and Stavros in the underground chamber and held their hands solemnly to a crack in the wall, presumably seeking communion with lost loved ones. Then they hustled up the stairs and back on the bus.

On the way to Corfu, I read Lawrence Durrell’s Prospero’s Cell, written before WWII. Not much has changed, it’s still all “Venetian blue and gold—and utterly spoilt by the sun.” Durrell says that while other countries offer discoveries in “manners or lore or landscape,” Greece offers something harder—”the discovery of oneself.” I don’t know that I discovered any new me, but I did enjoy the manners, lore and landscape.

We stayed on the west coast, in the Lido Sofia apartments, perched on the cliffs overlooking Agio Ghordios and the sea. Our hostess Sofia was charming and hospitable, and made us feel like we were old buddies staying in her home. A panoramic view of the sea, a beautiful pool, free wifi, lovely rooms and home-cooking… all for €25/night. A week in Greece is cheaper than a weeknight dinner in San Francisco.

Seriously, every other guy in Corfu is named Spiros, after the island’s patron saint.

One night, in the beautiful little mountain village of Kastellanoi, we listened to a soulful singer play guitar and croon about love, on the main square with just a few other locals, drinking homemade wine, watching our souvla sizzle away on the grill across the street.

Old town Corfu is surrounded by three imposing fortifications, dating from the period of Venetian rule. The architecture of the old town also dates to the Venetian period. Passed down to successive French, British, and eventual Greek governments, the predominately Venetian buildings of the old town incorporate elements from each of the town’s occupiers.

The Spianada, or esplanade, in old Corfu town is a large verdant park running between the town and the old fortress, with a bandstand, fountains, statues and a cricket field. At one end of the Spianada is the Royal Palace of Corfu, now the Museum of Asian Art, a grand neoclassical building with a beautiful pockmarked Doric colonnade. Running alongside the Spianada is the Liston, a long building with gracefully vaulted galleries, archways and hanging lanterns. The Liston was constructed during French rule, designed by a French Engineer as a mini Rue de Rivoli, now lined with elegant cafes and restaurants. When first constructed only noblemen were allowed to enter and walk along the street and under the arches. A special list ensured the area was kept elite. The name “Liston” is believed to be derived from a Venetian word that referred to both this list and a wide and straight road.

La Grotta Beach Bar in Palaiokastritsa is the world’s most picturesque swimming hole. One descends a steep stairway to a terraced cafe carved out of the steep cliffs surrounding a cove of icy blue water. A sole honeymooning couple alternately dipped into the water and embraced on the rocks, making out as the water crashed around them, upright versions of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, the rest of us their captive audience, sipping our freddo cappucinos to the thumping chill-out lounge music.

On the slopes of Mount Pantokrator we visited the abandoned village of Old Perithia, first established in the 14th century as Byzantines moved inland to hide from pirate and mosquito attacks. As pirates and mosquitos became less of a problem, people slowly trickled back to the coastal towns, and now only about five people live there. The per capita taverna ratio is 1:1, with five tavernas operating amidst the crumbling, Venetian-style houses. The per capita ratio of churches is even higher, with 1.6 churches for every resident.

We popped in for a visit to Empress Sisi’s little retreat in Corfu, the Achilleion. Elisabeth was the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I, the Empress of Austria, as well as Queen of Hungary and Queen consort of Croatia and Bohemia. She built the retreat in Corfu to honor Achilles and her love of Greek culture, a monument to platonic romanticism, aestheticism, and escapism. It was constructed in sadness, built after her son Rudolf’s murder/suicide, which set into motion events leading to WWI.

Of the many memorable meals on Corfu, one of the most memorable was at Archontariki, in Sinarades. Angelos, the owner, sat outside smoking and chatting to everybody who passed by, and invited us in. After ordering, and as Angelos and his son Vagellis chatted with us, we saw Spiridoula, the mom and cook, run down the street to buy items for our meal. The food at this family run restaurant gem was packed with flavor and sensation. The menu contained many of the same local specialties as in other restaurants in Corfu, but Spiridoula’s food was different: much more flavor, expertise, most ingredients grown by her and her family. Her “Grandma’s Meatballs” were exactly what I imagined my grandma’s meatballs would have tasted like, if I had had a Greek grandmother.

After throughly exploring the beaches, towns, castles, sites, sounds, and tastes of Corfu, we boarded the ferry for Igoumenitsa and drove inland on the road that connects the west coast of mainland Greece to Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki is only 160 miles away, but it takes about 5 hours for a regular person to drive there. (A Greek, 2.) The new road is a public works masterpiece, snaking through and around the breathtaking Pindos mountains and a bazillion tunnels.

And what a beautiful place to have the car break down. We stalled in a tunnel, and as soon as we pulled over a phone rang. The person on the other end asked if we needed assistance. How’s that for efficiency? We got off the main road so we could drive slower and stopped off in Dodoni. Dodoni was the site of an ancient oracle devoted to Dione, Aphrodite’s mom. Priests and priestesses interpreted the sounds of the rustling leaves prior to dispensing their oracular guidance. The theater dates to about 300 BC, but was destroyed by Aetolians, rebuilt by Philip of Macedon, destroyed again by the Romans and then rebuilt by Augustus. Archaeologists have uncovered artifacts going back to Mycenaean times (1600-1100 BC). The theater is surrounded by mountains, fields and trees, just preposterously scenic. The site was undergoing another restoration, so I couldn’t climb to the top, but above is a panoramic photo by Onno Zweers, from the Wikipedia entry about Dodona.

We stopped for the night in a little alpine village in the Pindos mountains, Metsovo. In Ottoman times, the residents were granted special tax privileges in exchange for guarding the mountain passages and servicing passengers. Indeed there were three mechanics in this quaint little town and about a million places to stay for under €40/night. Stone and wood houses are tucked into the hillside, arranged like eagles’ nests rising upwards in a natural amphitheater from the central square. The village is the center of the Greek Vlach community. The Vlachs were originally nomadic shepherds, who claim descent from Latin-speaking Wallachians of what is now Romania. At the time of our arrival kids were running up and down the stairs of the bell tower in the central square, ringing the tower bells 400 times–representing the 400 years under “slavery,” a local priest dramatically told us, or the years under Ottoman rule. Georgios Averoff was born here, considered one of the great benefactors of modern Greece, who contributed to many social, educational and infrastructure projects, including the stadium of the first modern Olympics, and a museum and school of cheesemaking in Metsovo! The butter served at breakfast was truly the most amazing dairy product I’ve ever experienced. Sweet, complex, aromas of grass and herbs… I felt briefly in communion with the cow’s olfactory and taste sensations, imagining myself chewing the cud with the other girls on those bucolic hills. We missed seeing the 14th century monastery there, but we ate a lot of butter.

Back in Athens I had only a few days to visit with my buddies: G, who works high in the Greek government and has read more english literature than anyone I know and pens highly literate pornographic tales on the side; M, a gentle half Greek/half Brit giant in search of a meaningful relationship with an ever-elusive succession of increasingly distant and increasingly older daddy bears; T, engaged with intellectual life and microbiology; and P, my froggy nurse buddy and student of English desperately seeking his Prince Charming. I didn’t get to see T, but I had a salad of baby valerian greens one night. They call it valerian, but I later discovered that it’s what we call mâche. A different species of valerian grows out of cracks in the sidewalks in San Francisco, so ubiquitous that it’s not even noticed, a tough drought-tolerant summer blooming perennial with heads of pink flowers that attracts both rats and cats and smells like cat pee. And there it was on the menu! Or so I thought, this common weed that is thought of as food by only certain moth and butterfly larvae. Remember when arugula was an exotic green? I daydreamed briefly of the valerian revolution I would ignite upon my return to drought-stricken northern California… Ah, but only mâche, already available at Trader Joe’s, and not the stuff growing out of the cracks in front of my house… G took us to Piggy-popoulo in Pagrati for souvlaki. Pagrati is a little off the beaten tourist track, with many restaurants catering to locals. In Metaxourgio, I went to a kalamaki place called Elvis, “Sweet Home Alabama” blasting in the background, and later that night met up with P for drinks at one of my favorite spots, the Dyari Cafe. The host is always charming and welcoming. This time he treated us to a liqueur that he made from the insides of the apricot pit. “Pit” is “kookoutsi!” in Greek. I love that word, and what a kooky idea for a drink! We ended up in Kerameio, a bar in a former pottery workshop in Keramikos. The bar was packed with noisy hipsters, but P and I sat alone in the central courtyard, sipping raki and talking deep into the night. The courtyard was open to the sky, a single tree sharing the sky above us with the moon, the crowded hipsters pressed against the glass walls framing the courtyard, music blaring on their side of the glass; on ours only the sound of rustling leaves, the sweet smell of jasmine, and the intimate banter of dear friends.

New Installation: Scylla & Charybdis

Sunday, July 5th, 2015 | Art | Comments

My new exhibition is up, in Oakland, at the Mercury 20 Gallery. If you can’t make it to Oakland, no problem, just click on over!

It’s a photographic installation that I’m calling Scylla & Charybdis, after the two sea monsters that Odysseus had to choose between and sail past as he worked his way back to Ithaca and his beloved Penelope. Choosing between “Scylla and Charybdis” has come to mean choosing between two equally unpleasant options.

I’m looking at the gallery as the setting for a kind of aesthetic journey, inviting the viewer to contemplate new ideas about beauty through a visual engagement with our subliminal and overt anxieties about the body.

At the center of my installation are two 12-image photographic grids, composed of the same 12 black and white images, but arranged in different ways to evoke abstracted versions of the two creatures. The component images are closeup photos of the same large hairy male body.

A third grid, called “Swell” is composed of closeup photos of a man’s long white beard and furry shoulders, the images arranged to echo a tumultuous seascape, and bringing to mind Poseidon, the god of the sea.

Flanking the grids are large color images of spider webs. The webs are blurry, set against a lurid red background, creating a kind of psychologically charged space. Insects wander into spider webs, only to be trapped and devoured. My installation is an aesthetic trap, the viewer lured into my world, invited to wander through and consider a very different kind of artistic subject matter.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Saturday, February 14th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Breezing into the Windy City

Monday, December 29th, 2014 | Art, Food, Travel | Comments

I love going to Chicago. It’s like “the big city” in a way that New York and LA–and certainly little San Francisco–somehow aren’t. Maybe it’s the grandeur of the architecture, or just that everything seems so… what? Big? Even small plates at restaurants seem huge. I was there recently, and even I came home bigger, after stuffed pizza, fat steaks, half pound burgers and Whitey’s chocolate malts. Whitey’s is in Moline, on the Iowa border, where Big Chris’ family lives. We stopped in Moline for a few days to visit with them and see the “Self-Taught Genius” show at the Figge in Davenport, across the Mississippi. And Whitey’s malts every night. And there are all these fantastic slow-foody restaurants, with local products, vertically constructed architectural dishes, craft brews and spirits. I remember going to Italy in 1993 with Bob and discovering field greens, which seemed so exotic at the time, and then coming home trying to find things like arugula and frisée, which at the time weren’t yet widely available. I’m so happy that people are rediscovering their local farmers and producers. It makes visiting those places more special, when something uniquely of the place can be experienced.

At the Art Institute of Chicago we saw a show of James Ensor’s work, centered around the restoration of his Temptation of Saint Anthony. What a wonderfully tortured artist. Having never successfully resisted greed or lust myself, I found his anguish at the brutality of modern life quite intense, and so lushly theatrical.

There was also on view a more recent body of work examining the drama of modern misery, from 1980, Sarah Charlesworth’s Stills. Each of the 14 photographs is 78 inches tall, and features a blown up reproduction of an image from a newspaper of a person falling from a tall building. They’re beautifully unsettling, shocking documents that reduce existence to the split second before it’s all over.

Of the many wonderful dining experiences this time around, my favorite was a seemingly dumpy Polish place on West Division, called Podhalanka. We were given a menu, but quickly discouraged from making any decisions and simply asked how hungry we were. “Average hungry” for the two of us resulted in white borscht with sausage soup, cabbage soup, grilled sausages, stuffed cabbage, potato pancakes, pierogi and Cherry juice. One of the most memorable, satisfying and authentic Polish meals I’ve had in Chicago. The staff quite clearly hoped to give us an experience of Polish cuisine, and share their lovingly made traditional creations, rather than just feed us. I felt like my aunt Agnieszka was cooking–just for us!

My cousins took us out to a pubby restaurant called Publican that describes its food as an homage to bear, pork and oysters–a rowdy place, well-suited to my fun-loving cousins. It’s the kind of place where you could jump on the tables and sing the Whiffenpoof Song. My cousins, who are around my age, have a knack for finding mates who look exactly like what my husband should look like. When the time comes, I’m putting those girls to work on finding the next one for me.

Two More Days

Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Film, Friends, Stavros, Travel | 2 Comments

I’ll be 48 for only two more days. Ron was 48 when we briefly went out nearly 30 years ago. Well, we didn’t really “go out,” we actually just boinked a few times, but man did I have a crush on that guy. His big gray mustache and eyebrows, his deep bellowing laugh, the craggy lines on his big face. I completely fetishized the late 40s for much of my baby gay days. I’m that age now, but somehow can’t make the leap to thinking of myself as his peer, or having my grays and wrinkles and ear hair fetishized.

My sister died less than 2 years ago. I still wake up crying, I still can’t wrap myself around the notion of Susie being so profoundly gone. I read about Syrians and Palestinians losing several generations of family members in one brutal moment, and wonder how in the heck they do it. And I have a home and hot water.

Life used to be this thing that was forever in the future, so many things to do, so much time to get it all done, later, always the possibility of later. Now it seems that later is now, and the only inevitability is more ear hair, more gray, a body that gets progressively less cooperative… On the bright side, I’m totally on the road to becoming the man I love, or at least looking like him. As soon as my back hair grows in I won’t need anybody. I used to think of old people as a sort of other species, that they were cranky because they were of a different sort of genetic material. Now I find myself complaining about Republicans and dirty sidewalks and noisy kids and the changing demographics of my neighborhood. I listen to the Carpenters with no irony.

And then Davide came to visit, fresh from his breakup, and dated up a storm while he was here, no not a storm, some sort of southeast Asian typhoon-like squall, and with all these guys with beards down to their bellies and bellies sitting on their laps.

And then Stavros and Giorgos came to visit. I seemed to be sick the entire time they were here, but with me hacking and wheezing we went to Lake Tahoe with Big Chris and the dogs, took the ferry to see Ai WeiWei’s show on Alcatraz (a few visually dazzling sculptural statements, but generally Public Art for people who like confirmation that what they think they’re experiencing they are indeed experiencing: lots of stuff to read, politically correct, softcore, nothing particularly memorable or challenging), we visited Julia Morgan’s Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, met with my movie group, had a reception for my show at Mercury 20 and the same three guys who eat everything at all of our openings came and ate all of our deviled eggs and pickled veggies, attended a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner in honor of Big Chris’ little sister’s birthday, celebrated my grand-nephew’s first birthday, attended an authentic suburban party in honor of my friend Thomas’ 50th birthday, with taco truck!, spent a day driving up and around the Sonoma Coast, saw a million movies together including Cloudburst, known as the best geriatric lesbian road movie every made, but it’s really the only geriatric lesbian road movie ever made and it put seven of us to sleep, plus two dogs… and then they were off, back to Athens, the visit over way too fast. Now I miss my little Stavros again, the dogs my only furry companions, pushing me into an increasingly tinier corner of the bed as they flash their fuzzy tummies at me to rub.

I hope you all saw Dean Smith’s show at Paule Anglim’s. It was great, paintings from before his current obsessive compulsive squiggly line and check phase. I was mesmerized by the simultaneous flatness and depth, some like windows onto some unreachable but lush and possibly fleshy scene. Those surfaces are something else, so much happening, with lines, strokes and waves going this way and that… and Dean’s hand nowhere but obviously everywhere. So satisfying to see paintings that have so much physicality and visual allure, that change so radically with proximity.

And now my sister Carol is visiting. We’re up at my other sister June’s for the day, in Santa Rosa, the first of my birthday celebrations. Last night Carol and I watched a wonderful Italian film, Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso about a studious shy recluse, Roberto, swept away by a gregarious stranger, Bruno. Virtually the only person in town while the rest of Rome is off to the country celebrating Ferragosto, Roberto lets Bruno use his phone, and then reluctantly agrees to take a short break from his studies to share a quick drink with the dynamic Bruno, who is eager to show his gratitude for the use of Roberto’s phone. Once in the car, numerous delightful diversions ensue, with Roberto gradually relaxing and letting himself enjoy the various unexpected and wild whims of Bruno. After 2 days on the road together, Roberto, excitedly egging on Bruno to pass cars, laughing wildly, declares the past 2 days to be the best of his life. The car swerves off the road, Bruno is thrown safely to the shoulder, but Roberto, our shy recluse, trapped in the car, is crushed to smithereens as the car tumbles down the cliff.

It can all end any minute now, so stop resisting and enjoy the ride.

Spotlight: Rosy-Fingered Dawn

Sunday, September 28th, 2014 | Art | Comments

Yesterday at the gallery a woman walked in and expressed her admiration for my “beautiful flowers.” I talked with her about the Cecile Brunner rose, and explained that the grids in the show were not actual flowers but were comprised of closeup images of large hairy men. “You mean big creepy guys?” she asked. “No,” I replied, “men that I find beautiful, big hairy bodies that I love looking at.”

In a way I found this exchange encouraging, that she was experiencing beauty in something that she had previously considered with such hostility. I aimed for subtlety in this show, like William Friedkin slipping in a flash of a sexually graphic image, to arouse a subliminal response in my viewer, but to subversively steer it in a different direction.

For this particular piece, Rosy-Fingered Dawn, the title is taken from an epithet in Homer’s Odyssey, a metaphor for the beginning of Odysseus’ journey, marking the dawn of a new day and symbolizing his journey from inexperience to triumph. It refers to the personification of the goddess of the morning, rising out of the ocean with rose-colored fingers, gently scattering dew.

My model for this piece was someone with whom I had a torrid but brief yet unforgettable affair. The piece records our final moment in bed, my hands running through his chest hairs, the sun rising in the background, each of us soon to depart in very different directions. The images form a sort of deep red rose, a traditional symbol of romance and passion. It’s a record of the pleasure that we experienced, the dawn bringing not only the end of our time together, but the promise of a new day and new aesthetic challenges.

Preview

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 | Art | Comments

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