16 March 2009

Oh yeah, the elephant...

I started my journey in India in Trivandrum, Kerala. From there i went to Kovalam, then Amritapuri, then Ooty, then Mysore, then Tiruvannamalai (via Bangalore. I just like to say Bangalore), and now i'm in Auroville, just north of Pondicherry.

I went to Tiruvannamalai on kind of a whim - okay, i went almost everywhere on kind of a whim, i only planned to do Kerala and Auroville. I'd heard of it, it's supposed to be a very sacred city, and one of the major Shiva temples is there. The city lies in the shadow of Mt. Arunchula, where Shiva purportedly appeared in a column of fire, and the mountain is revered as a manifestation of the god.

The temple, Annamalaiyar Temple, at the foot of the mountain is amazing. It's centuries older than the gothic cathedrals of Western Europe and rivals them in both size and beauty. Leaving my shoes somewhat nervously at the entrance, i was greeted by beggars and monkeys as i walked into the first part of the temple complex. I was wandering through, slack-jawed, watching devotees do puja, drawing mandalas in colored wax on the temple floor, and prostrating themselves on the ground in front of Nataraj, Ganesh, Parvati... I was given permission to go even into the inner sanctum, which non-Hindus typically aren't allowed to do. It was incredible, but my most wonderful experience came as i was passing through one of the minor sanctuaries. I looked to my left and there stood....

An elephant. Her face was marked with both the bindu and the three white horizontal stripes of the Shaivites. As i stood gawking, someone approached her, held out a coin, which she reached out and took with her trunk! She swung her long nose around, gave the coin to her handler, then swung back to the person in front, and gently bonked him on the head.

Of COURSE i was next in line. I got a little elephant snot on me, but it was totally worth it. I got blessed by an elephant!

14 March 2009

Mangoes, and the Tamil Word for Honky*

I don't know what it is, but i believe it's being directed at me a lot. Today i was handwashing my laundry, and i think i brought much amusement to the Indian women walking around the place where i'm staying. One of them brought me a bucket, said some things in Tamil (one of the oldest languages in the world), pointed at some things, and then walked away.

*clueless white person

Mangoes have JUST come into season, and i'm extremely grateful. yesterday at the fruit stand, the young mother running the place said to me conspiratorally, "They just arrived today. Very fresh, very sweet." I bought 4. I didn't know i'd never really eaten a mango before. This morning i had for breakfast a little green and pink one, small enough to fit neatly in the palm of my hand. Tree-ripe, not cargo-ripe, it was the most divine thing i'd ever eaten. The yellow-orange flesh was like silk dissolving into sweetness in my mouth. I paid 34 rupees per kilo - less than a dollar. Slightly more expensive are the big ones that are yellow when they're ripe. They're even sweeter. 4 mangoes lasted me less than 24 hours; luckily the fruit stand is just down the road.

11 March 2009


She was walking down the street with her mother, who was carrying her baby sister. She stared and grinned at me, like most of the children do. I grinned back. As i passed, she let go of her mother's hand and turned to walk with me.

"Hello!" she said brightly in almost unaccented English.
"Hello!" i replied, charmed immediately.
"How are you?" she asked.
"I'm good! How are you?"
"I'm fine! What's your name?"
"Caroline, what's your name?"
"Sasika! Ten rupees please!"

She was probably 7 or 8; i only give money to the children.

04 March 2009

Seen in India

An elephant, a saint, lots of stray cows, lots of colorful silk, a festival, a white-bellied sea-eagle, a pale white crab scuttling towards the sea under cover of 5 AM darkness, many many kind smiles, even more wide-eyed children.

22 December 2008

Willow Goes to the Aquarium (picture heavy post!)

Last Friday, Angie and i took Willow to the city aquarium! We had a wonderful time. She and i both have a close relationship with him. He and his family live at Twin Oaks as well, but because his mother is Dutch, they come to Europe frequently, and they'd been staying with me for a couple of weeks in Barcelona, which i was thrilled about. Anyway, Angie and i are kind of like his crazy aunts. And we adore him.

The aquarium is near Port Vell. You walk into a atrium area where there are lots of plants growing, and walk down a ramp to get to the main aquarium.


Willow is an extremely smart child, and i say that without the bias of the "crazy aunt." He's engaged and he remembers and thinks quickly and critically.


Willow and i were both quite into the blue lobsters. I was particularly interested also in the fish in the Wrasse family, which were all very colorful.

I loved sharing this with Willow - he and i were equally excited about the animals! Okay, i might have been more excited.



The best part was the tank that was tube-like, with a moving sidewalk going through the tube. Sharks swam over your head!


It was SO COOL.


After the tanks, we came to a playground-like area.


There were tanks that you could get underneath, with manta rays in them!


There must be something very interesting up there...


Willow is an underwater explorer!


After the aquarium, we went to lunch with ice cream for dessert!


And then we headed home...



A VERY fun day!

Strange Paths

When i was three, we had an exchange student from Spain - from Sitges, to be precise, which is within Catalunya, and only about an hour's train ride from Barcelona. After thinking about it and being busy and not getting around to it and forgetting, i finally got in contact with her and we met for lunch last Wednesday!

It was a little strange, meetings like this have a high potential for awkwardness. The last time we saw each other i was maybe 7, when she surprised us with a visit at Christmas.

And twenty years later....


She took me out to a restaurant in Gracia, the artsy, high-end fashion area of Barcelona that is home to lots of Gaudi's work. The place we ate, Cerveseria Catalana, was very typically Catalan, as one might imagine from the name. We had tapas, and she introduced me to a Catalan onion dish that was delicious.

Roasted green onions, from which one peels the outer layer, then dips the soft white part into a sauce made of oil and vinegar, roasted red pepper, spices and some other ingredients. Yum!

We barely made it - she was leaving for Prague with her family the next day, and i would be gone by the time she got back, so it really was our last chance to meet, and i am really, really glad we did!

20 December 2008

Dali is Not Overrated

On Thursday, Ethan and i went to Figueres, a town almost to the French border, to see the Dali Museum. We got on the train early in the morning, and an hour and a half later i was thrilled to see the Pyrenees mountains in the distance!



There are several, of course, but this is THE Dali Museum - the one he put together himself, which is what makes it so very amazing. It's supposedly the largest surrealist object in the world, and i believe it. It's so much more than a gallery where paintings hang; the whole thing is one big installation. It's like walking through one of his images. I LOVED it. We both did.

The building that houses the museum is a theater that was damaged during the war, and when it was rebuilt, it was rebuilt specifically for this purpose, but Dali apparently loved the idea that it was a theater and so it wasn't changed much, to my understanding. There's a courtyard that houses this sculpture:


Inside, there's a stage like setup where there's a massive, massive painting, and the tiers of the theater where the seats would be have been enclosed to make gallery hallways. The wings of the stage also have galleries, and everywhere there are alcoves housing curious installations, like this sculpture which included some kind of piano and the whole thing had music playing in the background.

One of my favorites was a piece where you walked up to a hole in the wall, looked in, and discovered a magical wonderland on the other side.


One whole room was taken up by "Portrait of Mae West," and you had to climb up this small staircase to get in the right place to view it. Coming in, it looks like this, and from the staircase, you see...


I was also excited to see a lot of prints and drawings, which aren't usually featured, seems like the curators pass over them in favor of melting clocks.


I also loved this drawing of his wife, Gala, who features prominently in his work. It looked also to me like some of the signatures on the pieces said both Gala and Salvador Dali. I wondered if she assisted in his pieces or if some of them were hers and she didn't get any credit.

After the museum, we went to this restaurant i had found online the night before, the only vegetarian restaurant in Figueres, El Cafe del Barri Vell. It was AMAZING. A tiny little restaurant with a funky exposed-beam ceiling and warm red walls with creative but simple food that was clearly prepared with a lot of care.


We had this sampler of guacamole, hummus, and baba ganoush, and all three were some of the best examples of each. I also had a salad with avocado, fresh soft cheese, peanuts, and a mint-orange vinaigrette. Here's the best part - it was cheap!

Then we walked around a little while longer, and came home on the train. DEFINITELY worth the travel time.

[ Fill This Space ]

The end of semester exhibition, [ Fill This Space ], was last Friday, the 12th, and it went well. I wore the fancy velvet dress i made, and i got lots of compliments on it! I was very happy that my framily was able to come - Ethan, Angie, Pax, Hawina, Sky, Kassia, and Willow were all there, as well as some friends of Pax's that happened to be in town that day. The school looked great and there seemed to be a healthy turn out, though i left after an hour and a half.

Some of my work i displayed in my studio, and my main piece was displayed as more of a "showcase" piece, with almost a whole room to itself. Those of you who have been reading know that i've been working with the theme of the body, and this was a continuation, or rather the first step in a project that is the culmination of all these thought processes. At the beginning of the year, i sent a ton of emails out to friends and acquaintances and posted on forums and facebook and myspace asking for people to send me their "body stories" - we all have them, and i'm fascinated by how they affect us and how we carry them within us. The response was completely overwhelming. I was humbled by how many people chose to share some very raw and hard things with me; as well i received poems and ecstatic tales of joy. So, naturally, i froze. I had no idea how to carry on, how to do this justice. It felt like i had been given a great responsibility.

Then we got to the "Minimalism" theme at school, and though i was quite skeptical at first, after hearing the arguments for minimalism, i decided that instead of trying to create some elaborate, showy, complicated work for the Body Stories, the best thing to do was just to let them speak for themselves. So what i decided to do was to make simple white plaster casts of bodies - no faces, just bodies, mostly torsos, in different positions. Then i put one line from each story, in black transfer letters, directly on the cast. I displayed them very simply, though i'd toyed with the idea of making like forty of them and filling the whole wall, but i wanted each individual to be able to speak for itself.


I will only post about half of the pieces as close ups, but i should let you know that most of the stories i got were about hard experiences (to put it mildly), and so it may be triggering for some folks to see this stuff.






I was very, very happy with the way this came out. Unfortunately due to cost constraints, i'm leaving these pieces behind. However, i'm proud enough of it and i think it's important enough that i intend on pitching it ruthlessly to galleries and remaking it when i get back to the states.

08 December 2008

It's Been A While...

So! It's been a while since i've updated, and there's been a lot going on. The Expressa't exhibition opened with my installation in it, and an image of it was used on one of the promotional postcards, so that was really exciting. I presented my minimalism project, which went over very, very well - some people really loved it and some people were really offended. I don't have any images of it yet, but i am cleaning it up and adding to it to hang in the exhibition. I've been working on a bunch of sewing projects, i've finished a very fancy dress and a bag using materials i salvaged from a dumpster, finally got the hems done on the first pair of pants that i made, and am planning on working on a couple more things before i lose access to the sewing machine. My classes are over now, and i have my "exit interview" tomorrow, then we set up for the exhibition which opens on Friday.

Ethan got here about ten days ago, and i am so, so glad he is finally here! We have been hanging out at home a lot but also have been to two art exhibits and the beach, and have walked around the city a bunch. We have been through the Gracia neighborhood, where much of Gaudi's work is, and to Santa Maria del Mar, a gothic cathedral that is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. We also saw a great collective street art project. Pax and Hawina and their son Willow (who's almost 7) got to Barcelona last Tuesday, followed closely by Sky and Kassia, ex-members of Twin Oaks and good friends. So, this group that we are calling "Framily" (friend-family, as opposed to biological family) is almost complete - Angie gets here on Wednesday!! We are all orbiting around Willow to some extent, though i am pulled away by school. Last night we all piled into the big bed in the room that Pax and Hawina are staying in and watched "Stardust", this great kids' movie with Robert de Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer. Loved it, and loved the feeling of all being together, much better than being on my own all the time.

However, Pax, Willow, and i all have colds. Sick again! Hopefully it is something in the air in Barcelona and it will get better once i leave... one good thing to look forward to about leaving.

Ethan and i are hoping to go to the Dali museum in Figueres, but it is a good train ride away, almost to France, so maybe we will do that this coming weekend, or sometime in the week between the exhibition and when we leave for Amsterdam, on the 21st. My time in Barcelona is winding down quickly!

Mara, a classmate of mine, took this picture of the opening of Expressa't.


Here's Ethan looking at some boats. We thought they were - or at least one of them was - battleships.


When we went to the beach, we sat by the sea for quite some time, and Ethan made this nice sand sculpture:


This is my favorite painting from the street art thing we saw, though there was lots of really amazing work out there:


Sunday we all went to Can Mas Deu, the community nearby that i've been to many times. This is where Sky and Kassia are staying:


19 November 2008

Work, work, work!

Another post about two kinds of work, art and kids.

Yesterday was my weekly gig with Alexandra and Arthur, with whom i play and speak English for two and a half hours. Alexandra and i are like two peas in a pod, and we get along famously even when we don't understand each other. Although, when i tell her i don't understand her, she often says with frustration, "Jopé!" (DARN it) with LOTS of emphasis on the "h" sounding j. She is charming. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for me to understand her brother, with his 3-year-old's version of Spanish, but Alex "translates" (from Spanish to Spanish). Arthur is usually with his mom or at a playgroup for at least part of the time, so often it is just me with Alex, much to my relief. Arthur is a volatile child who likes to be at the center of attention all the time, and when he's not he can react quite violently, throwing things with wild abandon and biting. Luckily i have started to figure out how to handle the two of them together. Yesterday the solution was two harmonicas. I will miss these kiddos a lot when i go.

Today i finished my project for the Expressa't exhibition. This is an annual exhibition that Metafora participates in, in conjunction with the Ambit Dona resource centre, for World Aids Day. The title of the exhibition means express yourself, in Catalan. All of the works are a response to or a commentary on HIV/AIDS, and i'm really excited to be a part of this. Here's the piece i'm submitting, minus the installation component (yes, i, the painting snob, have made an installation piece):


And here's what i wrote about it:

I chose to focus on joy. Though my project began with a very important element of collective oppression, as my paper people came to life, they were undeniably dancing. So i decided to liberate them instead and let them wind their way freely through the space. Though i also experimented with a mulitcolored set of figures, i chose to make all the silhouettes red, to more intentionally represent the HIV/AIDS community. As i finished the piece, i worked more deliberately to let the figures dance, and i based many of the images on forms from dance around the world, as well as trying to capture casual movements that the average person makes during the day. Some of the figures are very sensitive and emotionally expressive, others are more still, and each one genuinely seems to have an individual personality! The message has become one of hope, a celebration of the resilience of humanity in the face of whatever we may face. Suspended in the air on a lightweight thread, they are always slightly moving, and always connected to each other.

My plan is to install this piece in a spiral or circular manner. I'm quite excited about it, people really respond to them, though i wonder if the response will be different in a gallery setting.

And here's a painting i finished today:


The photo doesn't represent the color very well, it's represented better in this slightly out of focus detail.

Tomorrow i am hoping to go to the nearby community to work in the garden, and then i have my second and likely final acupuncture appointment, which i am very excited about. Our next round of projects is due next week, so i need to get cracking on that, and we will be installing and opening Expressa't. All my "to-do" stuff wraps up next Friday, which is good timing, because that's the night that Ethan arrives!

14 November 2008

Deux Fourchettes, Pas de Stylo

or, what language am i speaking, anyway?

I've finally gotten connected in Barcelona. I'd been having a good time, but not really feeling a part of the city, not really meeting people i was interested in spending a lot of time with. This was partly due to the unfortunate experience i had at Yara's. However! A few weeks ago i finally went to visit Can Mas Deu, a community on the northwest side of Barcelona.

It's amazing.

There are around 25 people that live collectively in this old building, which was once a hospital and before that a hacienda of some kind, and the whole house is a massive do-it-yourself. They run their own plumbing with horizontal wells, grow their own vegetables, run a bike shop, share meals and common space, and on Sundays they open to the public and run workshops and classes and show movies. They also cook lunch and have a coffeeshop. I've been out there every Sunday since then. I love the chance to get out of the city - though it's relatively close to a metro stop, it's situated on a beautifully wooded hill - and everytime i'm there i meet wonderful people.

Last Sunday i met Juako, a Spanish guy living in Barcelona, and Meela, an exuberant Turkish nomad, as well as her British friend Charlie. They're all staying in another collective house, which is right in the centre of the city. They invited me to come over on Tuesday to have dinner and hear a talk by some French activists about their social projects in Lyon.

And so i discovered another amazing place in Barcelona. I love it because it's this funky activist centre, the whole thing is very DIY, cozy and colorful, with a wide variety of people running in and out, right on one of the poshest streets in Barcelona. I have no idea how they came to own this property.

The talk by the French people was great. It was all in Spanish, but i understood amazingly well, i suppose because they weren't native Spanish speakers either. Their projects sound wonderful, and i hope i get a chance to visit them when i'm in France. I was talking with them afterwards, and it was this beautiful melange of languages, all three of us moving in and out of French, English, and Spanish, and never missing a beat. Most of the time i was talking to them, i wasn't even aware of which language was currently coming out of my mouth. When i asked them if they had any contacts in Paris, the guy asked me for a pen, and i dug through my bag, and produced two forks (deux fourchettes), but no pen (pas de stylo).

I've unfortunately just been through a week-long bout of mysterious illness, in which i had no real symptoms, just extreme, extreme fatigue. Following advice from my favorite naturopath and a visit to an acupuncturist seem to have me back on track. Also, the charger for my laptop arrived today, so coming soon, along with stories of the acupuncturist, are pictures of Halloween and new artworks.

06 November 2008

An Exciting Week

On Saturday, my laptop charger caught on fire! I smelled smoke, looked down, moved my legs away from the cords, and momentitos afterwards, the connection between the charger and the cord burst into flames. Okay, it was one flame, but nonetheless very dramatic. According to the guy in FNAC today, Dell doesn't have a retail presence in Spain, so it will be at least a while before i get a new charger. So i am without laptop, and blogging on a public computer isn't very appealing, especially posting pictures. At the moment i am using my kind and generous Austrian flatmate's computer, so updating at least.

I said before that this is not a political blog. Nonetheless, i momentarily suspend your art/travelblog experience for reflections on the elections. I wrote this in my paper-journal last night.

I am watching the 2008 presidential elections from a swanky, smoky bar in El Raval in Barcelona. This will possibly be the most pivotal election i will ever witness and the outcome is so unclear. The polls have only just started to close, and we're watching CNN on a cinema sized screen. They're posting the results little by little.

In a way i wish i was in the country, but this is a remarkable experience. This bar is packed with Americans, but also people from all over the world - Finland, New Zealand, Great Britain, Poland and more. I was talking with this Polish woman sitting next to me and she said in perfect English, "We're just here for support," and cheered wildly when the first numbers for Florida popped up with Obama in the lead.

I don't really believe in politics as such. I basicallz gave up direct political activism after getting burnt out in college, and decided that living well and in line with my principles was the more important. Living in community, radical intimacy and communication, herbal medicine, becoming a doula, teaching yoga, and my new healthy beauty project are all forms of social activism that sustain me, rather than burn me out.

All that being said, it is an incredibly heartening experience to be in this room full of excited, engaged people. And if John McCain wins this election, i'll be job-hunting in Barcelona.

Obama is a politician, like anyone who could conceivably win an election. And i'm skeptical and waiting to see if he sticks to his guns througout his term. Even if he does, there is still plenty i don't agree with. Also, i think it's quite a potentially dangerous trap to see his election as proof that racism no longer exists, which i've heard a lot of hinting around at. There's also that the whole thing is kind of culty, what with the chanting and all. But seriously? If i had to pick something for so many people to chant, "Yes we can" is not at the bottom of the list.

In more radical circles, it's considered passé to some extent to be interested in the elections and sometimes even to vote, but i just have to be excited about this. Despite my reservations, i'm excited about Obama. I think he's great. I think what he stands for culturally is incredibly important, and i'm excited to be around to see how it unfolds.

Though, what will i read about on the internet if not Sarah Palin? (Okay, so it's lowbrow, but booing her, along with the whole room, when she was on the screen last night was really fun.)

Also, my adrenaline from staying up nearly all night and excitement at the results fueled a painting that's going really nicely. Pictures of it someday...