Thursday, April 30, 2009

Recent Illustrated Journal Entries

This blog celebrated its second birthday April 17th. Happy belated birthday to the Late B(l)oomer!

It occurred to me that if I wanted to get better at doing travel journals, I'd better do some practicing. So, these are two pages from a recent trip to Madison's Olbrich gardens. I worked from snapshots, and tried my best to keep them simple. I wanted a combination of sketches, in this case of the garden's beautiful Thai pavilion, and information. I only used a Pitt artist pen and a grey brush marker. My next real chance to do travel journaling will be May 9th, when I travel on Amtrak to Washington state.

On a sadder note, my cousin called me from South Carolina to say that my uncle, my dad's only sibling, passed away this morning. Although he had an accent from decades of living in the South, he looked a lot like my Dad, who died in 1983. I counted on Uncle Gene for that resemblance, and for the family stories he knew and was happy to share. I'll miss him.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Life, Death, Art and a poem

mixed media tiles (click on image to see detail)

One of the things I keep trying to do is create art that isn't like everyone else's work.  I contributed a couple small acrylic paintings this week to a show that was about 75% watercolors of spring flowers.  There is nothing wrong with paintings of flowers, but it's hard to stand out from the crowd when that's what I choose to do.  This isn't the clearest photo, but it is an example of some mixed media work I've been experimenting with lately.  It involves creating texture with acetone on styrofoam meat trays.  Once I have an interesting pitted texture I paint with acrylic and add gold leaf.  The resulting tiles look organic, earthy, like terra cotta. Sometimes I collage on gold leaves or tissue paper shapes.  People are usually fascinated.  I took this to my hairdresser today, just to show, and I think it's sold.  I'll know when I have cash in hand.

It has been a roller-coaster for the heart this week.  Two women in online reading groups became grandmothers this week. Two women in my neighborhood reading group lost loved ones - a son in his thirties, a husband just fifty years old.  New folks joining the party, and some leaving.  There has been a whole lot of hugging going on, virtual and actual.  Spring has arrived in southern Wisconsin, the leaves a green mist on the bare tree branches, and the daffodils and grape hyacinth paint splashes of color in my garden borders.  There's new life everywhere, but also the end of life, just in case we get too giddy and forget that we are mortal.

I love reading the poetry from The Writers Almanac, and this appropriate one was posted a couple days ago.

by Sharon Byran

Middle age refers more
to landscape than to time:
it's as if you'd reached

the top of a hill
and could see all the way
to the end of your life,

so you know without a doubt
that it has an end--
not that it will have.

but that it does have,
if only in outline--
so that for the first time

you can see your life whole,
beginning and end not far
from where you stand,

the horizon in the distance--
the view makes you weep,
but it also has the beauty

of symmetry, like the earth
seen from space: You can't help
but admire it from afar,

especially now while it's simple
to re-enter whenever you choose, 
lying down in  your life,

waking up to it
just as you always have--
except that the details resonate

by virtue of being contained,
as your own words
coming back to you

define the landscape, 
remind you that it won't go on
like this forever.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dash and Dart Revisited

cover of the 1943 Caldecott honor winner

A long time search has ended for me.  I finally found the book that I remembered from when I was a child in the 1950's.  I had a hardcover book with appealing illustrations about twin fawns, but I was shaky about the title (Dash and Dot?) and I didn't know the author.  I could see the cover in my mind's eye, and I spent years thumbing through the children's section of used book stores, asking owners, but with no luck.  Then by chance I was looking over a list of Caldecott award winners and nominees and there it was!  Like unexpectedly seeing a childhood friend.  I ordered the hard-to-find book through our interlibrary loan system, and read it yesterday.

At first I was surprised by both the illustrations, which are muted and simple drawings, and the text, which is clearly intended for the youngest readers.  So many children's books today are large, bright, and feature animals that talk or are shown dressed in human clothing.  The only color here is on the cover, and that is muted.  The pencil drawings inside are of forest scenes, pine branches, squirrels, and of course deer, all printed in quiet sepia.  The text is simple, a rhythmic sort of prose poetry describing a year in the life of twin fawns, Dash and Dart.  The story centers on their birth, weaning, growth, passing seasons and the male's eventual first sprouting of horns.  

Mother Doe is teaching her babies.
They learn about sounds.
In the great forest
There are many kinds.
There are near-by sounds.
There are new dangerous sounds.
There are old safe ones.

What was it that made this book so important in my mind?  I'm not sure, except that I always gravitated to fiction and nonfiction books about nature, and I loved to draw even as a child. Perhaps this book is too simple for children today who spend much of their time in structured play dates, sports and electronic media.  But for me, this was a book that grabbed my imagination and lived in my memory and did not let go for half a century.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

From My Garden

5x5 inches, acrylic on canvas

I enjoyed painting the rhododendron buds so much I decided to try painting flowers from my own garden.  My yard has many mature trees, so most of the year there isn't much sun.  But in early spring I have lots of bulbs and spring ephemerals.  The bloodroot is blooming, and the Virginia bluebells. But my favorite is all the daffodils, enough to cut freely.

Here's a different poem, from the 2009 Wisconsin Poets Calendar.  I haven't seen any salamanders yet, but I've heard the spring peepers.

by Joan Wiese Johannes

A current tickles my toes
as lightly as the twinkle of a star.
Rain has awakened salamanders.
They are crawling toward me, 
climbing through rich earth.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

April Virtual Sketch Date

5x5 inches, acrylic on canvas

Here is my entry for the April Virtual Sketch Date challenge  I thought about trying one more collage, but had had the urge to paint.  My first thought was to try the oils I bought but have not used, but I wanted to get this done and dry quickly.  A few months ago I bought little five inch square canvases to try, so one was enlisted for this project.

The original photograph of this rhododendron bud was provided by Jeanette Jobson. I cropped it and tried to simplify the image.  My colors are a bit darker and more intense than the original, and I was doing some guessing because I don't have rhododendrons in my yard.  I don't know this flower very well, and people who do may notice things that aren't quite right.  Still, it was fun to paint, especially since it's Earth Day. 

I enjoy doing these challenges because they persuade me to paint or sketch subjects I might not ordinarily try, and there is a time limit, so I can't procrastinate.    I also really enjoy looking at other artists' responses.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Adams Family in Fairfield

HH Adams, Charles Adams, Aunt Minnie holding Dan, Doll, Annie L. Adams (Fairfield, WA)

Annie Lucretia Moore Adams, my maternal great great grandmother

Main Street, Fairfield, Washington, Summer 1908, from the cover of Early History of Fairfield: Glimpses of Life in a Pioneer Farming Town, published by Ye Galleon Press, 1960

I have written here before about my efforts to unearth family pictures and stories. Why I couldn't have been more interested when my mother and grandmother, who loved family history, were alive I cannot say. Perhaps it's just that now that I am retired I have time available, and the internet makes sharing information easier. At any rate, coming up in three weeks I'm taking a two week trip with my sister-in-law to Washington state, where my grandmother was born and lived as a child. Besides a chance to gawk at the Cascades and the Columbia river, the trip is an opportunity to visit places she lived, and meet a couple distant cousins.

Grandma Tess often spoke of her Adams family, though I didn't pay enough attention at the time. She was born Bernice Ann Adams, and her paternal grandparents were Herman Heinrich Adams and Annie L. Adams. Her father, Len Adams, was a handsome railroad engineer who eventually was shot by a coworker. Bernice's mother, Nellie, remarried the son of a wealthy businessman in Spokane, but that's another story. Until her death Bernice corresponded with her cousins in Fairfield, though she never saw them again. I think she'd be pleased that I'll see Fairfield, visit family graves, and meet at least one of the surviving Adams clan there.

Among Grandma's papers was a book published by her cousin, Glen Adams. Adams founded Ye Galleon Press that specialized in local history. The paperbound book Early History of Fairfield has several stories about the Adams family. Here are a few excerpts that show a little what these folks were like, and what it was like to live as a pioneer:

With the coming of the first permanent white settlers from the Willamette Valley of the Oregon Territory and various parts of the Midwest, early social life settles around Fairfield was limited to the companionship of the members of the family among themselves and an occasional visit with some other pioneer passing through the area for the first time. As years went by and several families took homesteads in the Rock Creek area or the Rattlers Run area, for instance, each family sought companionship with neighbor families and found Sundays the best day for visiting each other. A neighbor family might be invited to dinner and to spend the rest of the day. The elders visited together, or perhaps men might go out in the wood shed or kitchen to play cards while the children played games and in winter turned to coasting down the snowy hills or skating on creek ponds.

Mrs. Hermine (Adams) Holt and her brother "Bert" Adams, remember that even the Indians liked to call upon the white families and often wanted to spend the night at their home three-fourths of a mile southeast of what is now Fairfield. These Indian guests never knocked at the door, but were always offered the shelter and warmth of the hay loft in the barn. In one instance the old medicine man named Peter Sam spent all night with his bed near the stove in the house after aiding Hermine's and "Bert's" ailing mother with a tea he had made from chokecherry and rosebush roots.

from reminiscences of J.W. (Bert) Adams, written in November, 1960

I was born February 24, 1875, on a farm near Eugene, Oregon, so I will be 86 years old on my next birthday. My sister, Minnie Holt, will be 91 on her next birthday; and my younger brother, Otto, who lives in Spokane, will be 82. My father, Herman Heinrich Adams, was born in Prussia in 1839; and my mother, Annie L. Moore, was born in Indiana in 1846. They were married in 1886 after my father had recovered from bullet wounds he received in the Civil War. Father bought an 80 acre farm in Eldora, Iowa, and farmed there for six seasons. My older brother Will was born there, and Lem, Minnie, and a little girl Annie Mary, who died in infancy.

It used to get very cold in the wintertime in Iowa and Father thought that it would benefit Mother's health to move to a milder climate, so they sold the house in 1873 and went to California on the train, then up to Portland, Oregon, on a boat, finally settling in the Willamette Valley near Eugene. My father rented the land at Eugene and worked hard to make a go of things. Mother was busy looking after the children. Besides, the three children they brought with them from Iowa, I was born in 1875, then Roy in '77 and Otto who was the baby of the family, in '79. The older children went to school a little in Oregon but I never did, for we moved from western Oregon when I was five... Father found it hard to harvest wheat in a rainy climate. Machinery was crude in those days and rust got in the wheat.

I was just a little chap when we went over the Cascade Mountains, but I remember it alright. We went east, winding up along the McKenzie River, the wagons going through the deep timber so that it was kind of dark, and then finally we went through the McKenzie Pass and got into eastern Oregon where it was drier. Once we drove for several miles across lava rock and I heard my father talking about it being hard on there horses' feet. It jolted the wagon pretty good and the wagon tires got all shiny from rolling over the sharp rock...

There weren't many houses along the way so we did not often get to sleep indoors, but just camped along the trail, and we children liked it fine if it wasn't raining. We left Eugene late in the year, after the crop was harvested, and got clear across the mountains to Baker City before winter closed in. Father thought about going into the cattle business in eastern Oregon, be really didn't have enough capital for that. There were large herds of wild range cattle in all colors. Once we met a huge bunch that might have been two or three thousand head and Father thought they might stampede right over us, but they shied off and went around...

We lived in a house over the winter of 1880-1881, but it was just an unpainted abandoned house that no one wanted. Father was anxious to find some land he could settle on, but it was pretty wet in the spring so the roads were very soft and it took us some time to get up into the Palouse country. Mother had a sister, Mrs. Joe Beattie, living on the farm where my sister Minnie lives today, so we all came up here, arriving in the Fairfield area on June 12, 1881, too late to get a crop in that year.

Joe Beattie had taken up a homestead and a timber culture claim, each of 160 acres. After reaching the Beattie place, Father could not find any desirable land to homestead, so he traded almost all his horses to Joe Beattie for his homestead right. When they got through trading Father had just a span of mares, one colt and a good black riding mare that my brother Will had ridden all the way from Eugene...

As soon as the trade was made with Mr. Beattie, Father took the team of mares and the wagon on a trip to Walla Walla, where he worked in the harvest to get a little money for the coming winter. That left Mother and six children all alone and at first Mother was afraid of the Indians who kept traveling back and forth between Coeur d' Alene Lake and the little camas meadows along Rock Creek and Hangman Creek. The Indians paid little attention to the time and would drop in at all hours of the day or night, always hoping to be fed. The Indians were always friendly, even the older ones who had fought in the battles with the whites in 1858, twenty-three years earlier. Mother got to be friends with many of them and never had any trouble...

The first school got started in 1884 when I was nine year old. A family by the name of Bibbee that lived on what is now the Reifenberger place got a school district organized and called it Curlew. At the time thousands of birds lived in the prairie grass that covered the hills in Rock Creek valley. There were prairie chickens in generous numbers and they were about our only meat supply in the early days. The curlews were ground nesting birds with long bills and a distinctive call. Thousands of them lived in the tall thick grass, but when the railroad came, so we had a good way to sell wheat, the land go plowed up and the birds disappeared.

Father used to haul wheat to Spokane Falls, just a small place then, but when the Northern Pacific built up through Spangle in 1886, teams and wagons took sacked wheat to Spangle. It took two years after this before there was a railroad in Spangle...

Roy, Otto and I went to college at Pullman, and I taught school in 1887 at Harp School northwest of Mt. Hope. I also taught at Curlew, at Alpine, both east of Fairfield, and then at Albion. About 1902 my mother bought out Pierce Greene's grocery and dry goods store in Fairfield, the store that Fred Zehm started in 1888. Ott ran the store for a year or two then I had the store business. We burned out in 1906 with the old wooden building and that same year put up the concrete block Adams and Co. building... We also built the house where I live in 1906. At first there was no basement, but later Herb Dopke worked with a little team of mules and we dug out a full basement. House and store used to have kerosene lights, but in 1909, some time after the railroad was built through Waverly we got electric lights. I was in the grocery business about 45 years...

Gerald Holt also wrote about the family:

Arn Holt and Hermine Adams were married in April, 1898. After their marriage he followed the carpenter profession, first going to Yakima, where their daughter Carrie was born in 1900, then to Seattle where he worked for contractors. Daniel was born in Settle in 1901. Then the family came back to Fairfield for a short time. Evans was born in 1903.

The family lived at the foot of Mica Peak in a one room cabin and 40-foot tent while Grandpa Holt built a large sawmill for Jim and Emanuel Hansen. After completing the sawmill he brought his family back to Fairfield where they stayed with Herman and Annie Adams. In December 1909 fire destroyed the ranch house. All the neighbors came as they saw the smoke clouds rising. Uncle Bert Adams had his rising horse in a pasture behind the house in town and
never did catch it to get to the fire. Everything burned except the picture of the old buildings which Hermine Adams Holt tossed out the door. The picture with its broken glass still hangs in the house...

In 1922 the family moved to the Herman Adams Sr, farm one mile south of Fairfield, turning over the responsibility of the farm to the oldest son Dan. Grandpa Holt then had time to indulge his favorite pastimes of smoking and cribbage. He owned a car but refused to drive it. He preferred his trusty bicycle and pedaled all over the country on it...

His mother-in-law, Annie Adams, also had a car experience. When she was about 70 she decided she wanted a car. She went to the Farmers' Alliance and told Louise Lindstrom she wanted to buy a big Studebaker. Louie, not wanting to get into trouble with her husband, tried to convince her that she didn't want a car. She walked out in a huff, hopped on the next train to Spokane, and bought the car there. It was delivered to Fairfield and Charlie Adams started to drive it home for her. When they got to the mailbox she decided she had all the gadgets figured out so she insisted Charlie move over and let her drive. She put it in low gear and stepped on the gas. Up the hill they roared, on over the top into the barnyard. That was the end of Great Grandma Adams' driving career...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Vintage Dolls of the World

pen and ink, watercolor in Moleskine sketchbook

We've been home almost three weeks and all my good habits, like working out, like scheduling time in my studio, like housecleaning, are right out the window.  I have turned into a slug.  I read and I take walks outside.  At night we watch movies on DVD. That has been about it lately. Maybe this is just spring fever, a time of transition.

Anyway, today I decided to sketch these little dolls that Grandma Tess gave my sister and me fifty years ago.  She and Grandpa would go on summer driving vacations and then bring us gifts, often dolls of the world.  They never traveled to Peru, just for some reason these dolls appealed to her.  I got them back, along with many others, when Mother died in spring 2004.  They were dusty, but I cleaned them with an old dry toothbrush, and they today look good.  After looking at our Peru trip pictures, I realize their costumes are pretty accurate, too. When we were at Machu Picchu, there was a market near the train, and a lady was selling miniature llamas.  I bought one for the girls, but he didn't get sketched.  Maybe another time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Childhood Easters

Easter, 1957, my sister, grandfather and me

Happy Easter, late, to those of you who celebrate it.  Ours was relatively warm and sunny, though in Wisconsin it isn't unusual for it to snow on Easter.  I was always puzzled, as a child, why Easter cards and advertisements showed light-weight dresses, white shoes, and flowers, when in my world, more often than not, we were still wearing winter jackets for Easter egg hunts.

At the time when this snapshot was taken, little girls always dressed up for Easter.  My mother and grandmother took delight in making sure my younger sister and I had new dresses, shoes, spring coats, and hats and gloves.  We wore these pastel outfits to church, and were expected to keep them clean through the noon meal.  After that, when we hunted for hidden eggs outside, we could change into casual clothing.  

Since we had dogs on the farm, finding all the eggs was something of a race.  Dad was pretty good at hiding the eggs, but the dogs often found them before we did.  We'd look near the roots of a tree, under a bush, near the back porch step, and find nothing but a few bits of colored shell.  The really bad thing that sometimes happened was that nobody would find an egg, until much later in warm weather.  They made terrific stink bombs then.

The routine was that we would be dropped off at Sunday school, and while we were there Mom and Grandma would work on Easter dinner.  We'd come home, eat, then go out hunting eggs. After that our grandparents often had baskets with candy, marshmallow peeps, and little toys. We got good candy, and sometimes little panoramic sugar Easter eggs from the Rexall drugstore where my grandmother worked.  My mom knew I liked my marshmallow peeps stale, so she'd buy them early, open the package, and let them get good and chewy. The other treat she sometimes put in my basket was a little seed tray of marigolds, the kind you start early on a windowsill.  I loved watering the seeds and waiting for them to sprout.  She baskets for me until I was way too old, maybe in my thirties, and only quit when my sister and brother had children.  Then the baskets went, as they should, to the grandchildren.

Those Easters are fun to remember.  These days the holiday is much quieter.  My husband and I sometimes make a good breakfast and have egg wars, cracking hard-boiled eggs against each other to see whose cracks first, or we just go out to a restaurant buffet for Easter ham.  I don't wear dresses, and certainly not a hat and gloves.  Time passes. Things change.  This year we joined friends for dinner out, which was very enjoyable.  I hope I don't ever spoil today wishing I had yesterday.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Vintage Imagery for Spring

This past winter I spent some time going through old books at my local consignment shop, looking for illustrations that I might be able to repurpose.  These are all from a children's book from the 1880's called Young Folks Jungle Stories.  If you'd like to use them I am happy to share. This one is a magpie chasing a rabbit.

I could see adapting these for collages or cards.  The original paper was yellowed and crumbling, and some images were damaged.  I repaired each with Photoshop Elements.

I also found a stash of vintage tags, and I think I may use some of these pictures to make gift tags.  I'd love to hear if you find a use for these vintage illustrations.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Baby Steps Toward Spring

The warmth of our house's foundation and the eastern exposure make this the spot in my yard where flowers bloom first - not counting the snowdrops that bloom as soon as frost leaves the ground.. Here are the first blooming daffodils, surrounded by little blue scillas, that seed themselves everywhere.

Yesterday we looked out the window and saw a red-tailed hawk on our bird feeder. He was probably looking for a tender squirrel or chipmunk to have for breakfast. The big bird flew off before I could reach my camera, but afterward I noticed these purple crocuses blooming in the dappled shade under the gooseberry bush.

Traveling around the country, and even the world, makes me keenly aware that my little corner of the world isn't the most beautiful spot. We can't see mountains or the ocean from here. Our house is small and undistinguished. But there is quiet beauty to be found, if a person takes the time to look, in the steady progression of flowers and plants coming up beneath the bare trees. Soon the Virginia bluebells will nod under the maples, and the bloodroot and trillium will bloom in the leaf rubble. The ferns will send up lacy green fronds. From now until the killing frost in autumn the flowers will come up, then wither and die back, only to be replaced by others. The goldfinches at the thistle seed feeder are gold once more; I'm looking for the hummingbird to return from his winter vacation and the wren to return to her house. I hope I never lose the capacity to see the quiet and familiar beauty in my own back yard.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Marta's Pastel, the Art Exchange

pastel on brown sanded paper, 4.5 by 6.5 inches,

Soon after we returned home from our recent travels I received a package from my friend Marta. This winter several of us promised to create a piece of artwork for one another, pretty much any medium. These days getting any mail that isn't a bill is a thrill, but to get an original piece of art from a person you admire, well, it doesn't get much better than that!

I've seen Marta's sketches, watercolors, and oils online, but not so many pastels. When I asked her why she chose pears as a subject, she said that her figure drawing instructor said that if you want to learn to portray figures, paint pears. As for using pastel, she told me that she loves intense color (as I do) and that pastels allow her achieve that goal, plus they have the advantage of less clean-up than oils. Please visit her blog here:

I love the repeated shapes in this piece, the texture, and the sense of mass and volume. I'm looking forward to getting this painting framed and up on my wall as a reminder of the good art friends I've made online, and how much I value their friendship and skills.

A bit of serendipity, when my husband read me the morning Super Quiz from our Madison newspaper there was a reference to this poem by Robert Browning. It mentions both springtime and pears, so I'll share it.

Home-Thoughts, from Abroad
by Robert Browning

Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That lowest boughs and brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England - now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops--at the bent spray's edge--
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when the noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
--Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Another Stab at Travel Journaling

In comments, readers of this blog have asked if I sketched while we traveled.  The answer is "sort of."  I prepared some pages ahead of time in my regular sized Moleskine journal with maps and engravings I found.  This page had our itinerary, with a map of Peru I scanned from an old atlas.

This is also from the regular sized journal.  I had glued in the engravings before we left, and I added other papers and writing on the trip.  It helps to carry along a glue stick.

I did this sketch when we got home from a photo I took in the market at Pisac.  Truth is, I'm in the original photo, but I edited myself out of the sketch.  There isn't time for this sort of more detailed drawing when traveling with a group.

I also have a smaller notebook, about 3.5  by 5 inches.  I had prepared some backgrounds ahead, but the sketching was done in restaurants and on the bus.  These are really simple sketches.  I probably could go back and add color or more shading or detail, but this is what I was able to accomplish in the time I had available.  I think it's important to realize that these quick impressions are just that, sketches, not finished drawings. I like to think that what they lack in "perfection" they have in immediacy and energy.

Another "on the spot" sketch, or impression.  I was too tired to hike up another step, so the others went on ahead while I sat on a terrace and sketched.  Again, the tan background and texture was done ahead of time before the trip.  I also took a photo of this scene so I could add details later if I wanted, but when I got home I decided this was enough to remember the place.

I did several quick sketches in museums.  Nobody seemed to mind, and while the drawings are rudimentary, they helped me look carefully.  I did a page not pictured here, a drawing of a weaver.  My husband said people were walking by looking over my shoulder, but I honestly did not notice.  I guess that's good because it indicates to me that I'm more involved in drawing than in worrying about being watched.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Another Wisconsin Film Festival Weekend

Ah, springtime in Wisconsin. Palm Sunday, and the bikes parked around the capital square are dusted with snow. Must be time for the Wisconsin Film Festival! Here's the television ad, complete with hand-sketched Mad Town chickens

We've been attending the Madison festival for a number of years, and we always have fun, even when the weather doesn't cooperate. This year the festival sponsored two hundred films in ten locations within walking distance of the University of Wisconsin. The festival lasts four days, which must be exhausting for the volunteers who run it, but we just saw six films in two days and were plenty satisfied. I suppose a person could see, say, five films a day for a total of twenty, but we have learned our limits when it comes to sitting and watching. My eyeballs and backside can just tolerate so much.

My husband and I have always watched movies, lots of movies. When we were students at UW Whitewater ( we went for movie dates downtown, and on campus. When he was doing his grad work at Madison we went to movies all over campus that the film societies sponsored (all before home videos or DVDs). The thing about this film festival is the packed theaters, the enthusiastic and mostly considerate audience, and the fact that we can usually get tickets for films where the director is there to answer audience questions. What more can avid movie-goers want?

This year we emphasized documentaries. There was a fun collection of award-winning British television ads, many of which were visually creative and funny. This great clip is an example:

I liked the combination of science and art in the documentary Between the Folds, which looks at several artists and scientists pushing the art of origami to amazing new levels. THere are wonderful examples of origami work here:

Another film with an artistic emphasis was about the photographer Julius Shulman, famous for his elegant photography of modern architecture. This one, Visual Acoustics, narrated in part by Dustin Hoffman, gave me a new appreciation for design.

Finally, the most entertaining one of all for me, was called Paper or Plastic? This documentary told the story of eight participants in a national grocery bagging competition. It is nothing short of an ode to the working person, and a celebration of people who will accept nothing but their best.

So that's it for 2009. Back to watching DVDs at home and the occasional matinee screen at the multiplex. We'll be waiting to see what goodies the WFF will bring next spring.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Rest of the Story, Cusco, Lima

We still had a day in Cusco before we flew back to Lima.  Dick and I decided to not go on the optional tour this day, and that turned out to be good.  Not everyone in our tour group was as interested in museums as we are, so we slept in, and planned to visit the Museo Inka (an archeological museum) and the Pre-Columbian Art Museum.  The Inca Museum is housed in a Spanish mansion, and has a beautiful collection of pottery, textiles, metal working, and a display with mummies.  The Pre-Columbian Art Museum glitters with jewelry made of gold, silver, bone and shell, and is also very beautifully presented - though not often in English. Neither museum allows indoor photography, but I did sketch some of the jewelry and pottery shapes, as well as a woman who was demonstrating traditional weaving in a courtyard.

This was the one day we struck out on our own to eat, and that may have been the reason we ended up using all the Pepto Bismol tablets we packed for the trip.  The competition for tourist money in the restaurants is fierce, and we decided to try an eatery on the main square.  It was pleasant and clean, and we were seated by a window that allowed us to watch the passing parade of locals, tourists, dogs and cars around the central plaza.  I ordered a beer and stuffed peppers, and Dick ordered cuy.  That's guinea pig, a delicacy in Peru.  Actually, he got half an order, and I sampled some.  It didn't taste like chicken to me, more like roasted pork, or maybe the dark meat of turkey.  It was palatable enough, though there are too many little bones for my taste. We were fine for a while, but before long we were both in digestive trouble.  Maybe it was that lunch, a sort of revenge of the guinea pig. However when we met up with the rest of the group later in the evening for a nice buffet and music we discovered that virtually everyone was affected, so maybe it was the snacks on the train to Machu Picchu. Nobody knows.

These friendly ladies persuaded me to take their photo for a little money.  They were on Loreto Street, a long narrow street, as old as the city itself with a good Inca wall on each side.  There is a large local market on this street too.  People everywhere downtown were smiling and friendly. At least two young girls, maybe third or fourth grade, came up and asked us if we were from the United States. and if we liked Obama.  One said something roughly like this: 

Washington is the capitol of the United States. California is a big state. Do you live in California? Obama is good. Before Obama, Bush. Before Bush, Clinton. Before Clinton, Bush. Before Bush, Reagan. Before Reagan, Carter... 

and she continued back to about Truman.  I'm not sure why children made little recitations, except to be friendly or practice English.  

It only takes about and hour and a half to fly from Cusco to Lima.  We originally were supposed to have most of the afternoon free to rest before our trip back to Wisconsin, but we had missed our Lima tour at the beginning of the trip, so our guide arranged some activities for us to make up for what we had missed before.  Our first stop was the Museo Larco.  This museum is also an 18th century Spanish mansion, but is built on the foundations of a pre-Columbian pyramid. Our guide gave us a tour of the rooms of Moche, Nazca, Chimu and Inca art and artifacts.  We could photograph here, and this Moche head gives a good idea of the beautiful quality of the pottery. There is also a separate exhibit of pre-Columbian erotic pottery which is amazing for all sorts of reasons.

Jose, our Lima guide, said he'd take us on a "panoramic" tour of colonial Lima, which meant we wouldn't be getting off the bus very often, and we wouldn't be shopping.  Lima is the largest city in the Republic of Peru, on the coast overlooking the Pacific ocean. It is home to over 8 million people, and one third of Peru's population.  Obviously we didn't see all there is to see. This Spanish screen is part of the Lima Cathedral.

We were in Lima on Saturday, and it happened to be the day when people at the Monastery of San Francisco were bringing offerings to Saint Jude.  The area outside the church was crowded with pilgrims, vendors selling rosaries and candles, and lots of tourists.  We walked through the church admiring the moorish tiles, paintings, and carved work.  But the church is really famous for its catacombs, where the bones of thousands of church supporters lay.  We could not take photos, but there are quite a few available online if you Google "Lima catacombs."  I wasn't horrified or disgusted, but with our tender stomachs the claustrophobic and warm catacombs were not anywhere we wanted to linger.

Only a couple block from the Cathedral and monastery is the Palacio de Gobiermo, the Government Palace.  There is also a Legislative Palace and a Palace of Justice.  On Saturdays various branches of their military have a "changing of the guard" and a parade around the plaza, and it is very popular.  We were tired by late afternoon, so we sat on a park bench to listen to the band, and had a chance to interact with some evangelicals who invited us to prayer study. We could honestly say we were on our way back to Chicago, but thanked them for their invitation.

The Coat of Arms of The Republic of Peru, with vultures.  According to Wikipedia the shield consists of three elements.  The top left shows the vicuna, the national animal, on a light blue field, the tree on the top right is the cinchona, a source of quinine and the flavoring in tonic water, and the bottom has a cornucopia with coins, spilling on a red field representing the country's mineral resources.

We ended our last day with a bus tour of part of the Miraflores district, the most upscale part of Lima, where our hotel the first night had been.  It was getting dark, but we saw modern apartments, homes, hotels, shopping, lovely parks, and many restaurants. Our time was rapidly running out, and much of our energy as well.  We ended up at a final dinner featuring regional dishes and pisco sours (the national drink - not what you want on a tender stomach) , and then headed for the airport.  Our time in Peru was finished.   

It was a long and frustrating trip home that lasted more than 24 hour all together, with delays and discomfort.  But none of that matters as much as the things we did and saw, and the people we met.  Thanks to UW Whitewater for offering the trip. I will always remember our journey to this beautiful country.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Machu Picchu

This was our big day, the day I hoped for since I first saw a photo of Machu Picchu in my first year Spanish book.  To get to the site from Cusco, you have to take the train.  I took this photo from our train car across some tracks.  Our car was set up for dining, and had large observation windows at the top as well as the side.  It takes two hours to get to the town at the base of Machu Pichhu, Aqua Calientes.  So far as I can tell, the town exists to house and feed people from around the world who want to see the Inca city, a thousand feet higher.

The ride was not boring.  We were served a breakfast of rolls, cheese, meat, fruit and coffee. Good thing too, since the train left the station at seven in the morning.  We loved watching the scenery roll by, seeing the landscape change, becoming less agricultural, more mountainous. Eventually we spent our time with our necks craned back, watching the sheer cliffs and the gradual transformation of the world into cloud forest - a world where mountains trap clouds, the edge of the jungle.

Once we got to Aqua Calientes, we had to make our way through a market to the bus.  Buses run constantly, whizzing tourists up a steep, winding gravel road with hairpin curves to Machu Picchu.  It rained in the morning, March is the end of the rainy season in Peru, but we were lucky, the sun came out.  The altitude here is lower than Cusco, only 8,000 feet, and it got warm.  I was glad I brought a short sleeved shirt and capri pants.  I was also glad I brought sunscreen and bug spray.  We were much closer to the equator than we are here in Wisconsin, and despite warnings, lots of people got sunburns.  Being Wisconsinites we are used to bugs, but I was glad I had a tube of repellent.  The park people spray for the sort of mosquito that carries malaria, but they have a sort of midge that can bite if you don't watch out.

This is the entrance, and I was reminded of places like the London Tower and the Grand Canyon.  This is a place to meet people from all over the world, to hear a half dozen languages being spoken at any time.  There is also a nice restaurant, and an exclusive lodge for those who can afford to stay.

This is us.  We made it.  There have only been a couple times when I was so excited that I was moved to tears, at the Sistine Chapel, at Stonehenge, but I was moved to tears at seeing Machu Micchu.  

Photos don't tell the whole story of how huge the city is, how awe inspiring.  They don't let you see or hear the Urubamba River, silver in the valley below, or the toy town, or the little blue Peru Rail trains.  They don't show the bright song birds, iridescent blue millipedes, butterflies, or llamas grazing on the terraces.  You can't see the sun and shadow passing over the mountains, terraces or stone ruins.   Still, photos hint at the magic of the place.

I took this photo while our guide was explaining something about the history of how these massive stones were carved and moved.  This little guy is a viscacha, a critter that looks like a cross between a mouse and a rabbit.  It is related to a chinchilla.  Later, a couple lizards joined him to sun on the rocks.  Can you tell I'm easily distracted?

It was a challenge walking through this world heritage site.  There are hundreds of uneven and steep stone steps, and some are not for anyone with vertigo.  I suspect a person could visit a dozen times, read all sorts of histories and books about archeology and never learn all there is to learn.  There are several hikes around the area that we did not have time to try, although two younger women from our group did stay at the lodge overnight and hike the other paths the next day.  I am just grateful that I had the opportunity to see this place for myself.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Discovering My Hiking Limits

Our tour operator wanted to give us as much for our money as possible, and perhaps didn't realize that this group's varied interests made getting them all from place to place on a schedule a bit like herding cats.  The schedule needed daily adjusting. If you ever go to Cusco, you can save money by purchasing a Boleto Touristico del Cusco, a pass that gives you entrance to sixteen sites for a reduced price. We did not see all sixteen, and it might be too exhausting to try.

This woman with a baby llama, in fact a herd of llamas, was posing for tips outside a small adobe factory that produces fine alpaca and vicuna goods.  Several knitters in the group convinced our guide to take us there to buy alpaca yarn and fine woolens and learn how to spot the difference between the acrylic sweaters and hats sold on the streets and the real alpaca goods.  It turned out to be an interesting stop, and I did buy a baby-soft alpaca sweater in natural colors.  Tip - real alpaca costs more, and the nice sweaters have no seams.

Another archeological site close to Cusco is Tambomachay.  By this point I had a good night's sleep and my initial headache had passed. So I headed uphill to this wonder of Inca architecture.  By the time I made it the quarter mile or so to the site I was winded again, and the best I could do was plop myself on a rock and wait for the others. Tambomachay is made up of a series of platforms, niches, and fountains that have flowed freely since they were built 400 years ago. Water flows down from a spring higher up.  The Incas worshipped a water god, and this was both a resting place and a place of ceremonies. This is also where one starts the four day hike of the Inca Trail.  Actually, it is part of the Cusco ceque, a set of imaginary lines radiating out from the city to all parts of the Inca empire.  

The Sacred Valley is an area between  Pisac and Ollantatambo, and the Urubamba River flows through it.  You can see Pisac, a popular market town, in this photo.  The Urubamba is a tributary of the Amazon, and is popular for fishing and rafting.  This entire area is very beautiful and we got off the bus several times for pictures and short hikes.  The vendors at each stop made making a quick get-away tough.

The Incas had to terrace the mountainsides in order to grow vegetables.  Our guide said they started at the top of the mountain and worked down.  Each terrace was developed by hauling soil up from the rich valley below, and every one has a slightly different microclimate.  We had the chance to get out here above Pisac and hike what Danny our guide called a "short and easy" section of the Inca trail that wound around this mountain and ended up at a ceremonial site. My husband and the younger members of the tour wanted to go, and I didn't want to be left behind.  Silly silly me.  How could I have forgotten my creaky knees, sore at sea level, much less the high altitudes of the Andes? However, the scenery was stunning and I made it to the end, but there were times when my legs, complaining about the hundreds of stone steps, made me consider just staying there forever.

After our like we took a short side trip to Pisac for a chance to find "facilities." Touring tip: carry small change and a packet of tissues for visits to bathrooms.  Anyway, this mask adorned the Pisac area tourist bureau.  I'm not sure, but it looks to me like a representation of a puma, one of the three Inca main deities.  I wish I had been more energetic about taking pictures at the market here, because vendors sell everything, from clothing to rugs to food.

After a really fine lunch at a place called the Inca House in Urubamba, where we had typical Peruvian fare and some live music, there was still one more site to visit.  It was getting on to late afternoon, and in the interval between our lunch and now, my knees had settled into a dull ache and had begun to stiffen, so while my athletic husband and some others continued to the top, I settled in with my sketchbook half way up and just drew.  It's nothing I plan to share, but that bit of sketching allowed me to rest and really look at the walls and surrounding scenery.  

This was Ollaytatambo, another sacred site.  In the town below there was a market, and to tell truth, I was so tired at that point I don't remember much of what I was told.  I do remember that on the way back to Cusco we stopped, once it was dark and the stars were out, to see the sky of the Southern Hemisphere, Orion looking not quite the same, and the Southern Cross. Oh my.

Some Quechuan women who sang for our group at Ollaytatambo. The woman on the far left is blind, and was playing a harp when we first arrived.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Working Hard to Sell Art in Cusco

7x20 inches, watercolor

I didn't paint this. I bought it from a young man, perhaps 18 years old, named Daniel. He and other street vendors stood outside our hotel every morning and evening, selling silver, faux alpaca sweaters, and those funky caps with tassels and earflaps. There was another artist too, a teen named Joseph.

There were other Daniels and Josephs everywhere, in the squares, at popular tourist roadside stops. Always polite, they had portfolios of their work ready to display. Sometimes I asked their names and I would get a waggish reply, Pablo Picasso. Grinning, and I would reply in Spanish, Yes, and I am Frieda Kahlo. I asked one how old he was and he said he was fifteen. I asked our local guide if these street artists did their own work or bought it elsewhere and resold it, and he said a little of both. Part of me wanted to support these kids, and part of me didn't like how similar many of the scenes were.  I guess they paint what sells.

I spoke to both Daniel and Joseph several days, but never long enough to find out where they studied, or how successful they were. Our tight schedule and the fact that if I bought from one vendor others swarmed around kept our conversations short. But the last night Daniel was there, and no other vendors. I asked him if he did his own work, and he eagerly said si. I asked him about the paper he used and he said he used Canson paper, and Winsor Newton paints. Then he flipped thorough his watercolors there were some that weren't exactly like hundreds of others I had seen. He had some partially finished, and had thumbnail sketches. I would have liked a lovely monochrome sketch of a Spanish doorway, but didn't have the cash to pay him what I thought he deserved. I finally bargained a bit for this standard scene because I liked the design and colors. He rolled it into a tube for packing, and I was on my way for $30, after I asked him to tell Joseph I was sorry I missed him.

While it is usual to bargain with vendors, I didn't want to pressure this Daniel too much, and felt that the price I paid was a bargain, even if he does paint that same design over and over again. I had to bite my tongue when another traveler suggested I had paid too much, that it wasn't that hard to paint a scene like this. I'm certain the person who was critical doesn't buy materials, doesn't paint, and certainly doesn't work long days trying to make a living selling paintings. I hope Daniel and his friends find lots of buyers who appreciate their artwork.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Coca, Cusco, Etc.

Our second day in Peru started early; we all had to be on the bus to get to the Lima airport by 6:30 in the morning.  This was the day when I learned that not everyone is capable of keeping to a schedule.  I should have known that.  But eventually we all did get our hour-long flight over the mountains to the main tourist city in Peru - Cusco.  This photo shows the red tile roofs of this ancient Inca city, where the Spanish invaded in the 1530s, destroyed Inca buildings and temples, and built their own homes and churches on the beautifully built Inca foundations.

The first thing guides tell you is that Cusco is high.  Really high, something like 11,000 feet. Altitude affects almost everyone who visits. We were encouraged to drink coca tea, which tastes pretty much like green tea, to help acclimate ourselves and prevent altitude sickness, and we were urged to rest.  The air here is seriously thin, and even short walks the first day left me gasping.  The city is also hilly, like Seattle or San Francisco, so walking a couple blocks to a museum or restaurant can be a challenge.  The locals tend to be short people with wide shoulders and great heart and lung capacity, and they walk everywhere.  It's humiliating to be passed up by an apparently ancient person when walking up a narrow cobblestone street.

It is also a UNESCO world heritage site, so the buildings keep their original character, even the MacDonalds that came to the square six months ago.  

Cusco was the capital of the Inca empire, the "Navel of the World."  The oldest part of the city was built in the shape of a puma, with the site that is now the cathedral as the heart.

We stayed in a very nice hotel, the Picoaga.  It was once a Spanish home, and has a beautiful central courtyard.  This is one of our guides, Jose.  He lives in Lima, and did his utmost to accommodate our group of two dozen, with their varied needs and interests.

We also had a Cusco local as a guide, a well educated and charming man who knew everything about local history and culture.  The first day he took us through the Cathedral, pictured here on the left.  It was cold and rainy that day, and between the wet and the thin air I wondered how the trip would go.

After the cathedral we visited another church built on Inca foundations.  The Spanish took any Inca temple they found and built a Catholic church on the foundations.  The area has had several major earthquakes.  The newer construction always crumbles, while the Inca foundations stand.  This church and former monestary covers the Temple of the Sun.

The last place we visited that rainy day was another Inca ruin called Sacsayhuaman (pronounced similarly to "Sexy woman").  If the weather were better and we weren't so tired, we could have walked to the site, but we were happy to get a bus ride.  The place might have been a fortress, or something else.  The stonework here is what will remain in my memory, the huge shaped and interlocking stones weighing at least 130 tons.  There are huge doorways, like this one, build to allow an Inca king to be carried on a litter through it.  Much of the smaller stonework is destroyed, stolen by the Spanish to build their own walls in Cusco.  

Soon after we left this area the sun came out, and a double rainbow touched the green fields and trees.