Monday, May 21, 2012

These pics are from the House of the Eight Mezzuzahs in Girona. The only pic I took of the interior was of the contemporary staircase in the entry room to the quarters of the woman who lives in that house. I was too moved when I went into that space to think about taking photos, regretfully now, but what I most remember is the incredible feeling of peace. It overwhelmed me, brought me to tears. I came away with the knowledge that despite the tragic end brought to the Jewish people of Girona, they had lived in peace in that town fro many centuries. It was a great gift to me that Rosa allowed me to enter the house where I experienced the joy of that knowing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Israel 2012

I’m now at the artist residency in Herzilya until May 1, an eagerly awaited fly-away date for home when I can escape this residency apartment where a big hairy dog left deposits of dander that, despite all efforts, is keeping me in an almost continual allergic state. I’ve gotten medication from a pharmacy today and hope it’ll take effect today to lighten my spirits and energy level.

My apartment at the artist residency in Herzilya, Israel does have, as its saving grace, very large windows that face East. I look out at the tops of trees with many birds flying by and flitting about the often wind-bending branches. The tiled roofs of the private homes in my view are the usual terra cotta color. In the distance, I even see the sea, and went there today by bus. The sky is not the blue, blue you find in Spain but made lighter and more grey, I’m told by the ever present desert that not only drops its sandy grit on rainy days to cover balconies and formerly freshly washed cars, but also daily dulls the sky view. On rare days when it is cloudy, true blue seems to peek through the openings, but not on the many cloudless days. Somehow, and despite taking long stretches of time walking outdoors each day to partially recover from my coughing sleepless nights, I’ve still been getting some artwork accomplished. There is some space to work and a terrazzo floor that I cover with newspaper. Miracle to keep working, I’d say.

It’s been over three weeks since I’ve last posted a blog. Was off-line in Fomentara (an island off the coast of Ibiza by ferry). Then, in Tel Aviv since April 5, I was staying with friend Mary Schoenberg. Our traveling gave me no solittude for adding a new post. I did take many pics along the way though and a selection  follows this narrative.

About Fomentara: it’s an astonishing island, very stony and rocky, filled with plants, bushes and short trees with succulents popping up in every possible crevice. Stonewalls are everywhere. Olive and fig trees abound. They even grow wheat. The grape vines, cut back each year were showing sprouts of green leaves by the time I left to return to Barcelona. The nearby towns in Fomentara are charming, very Spanish with white stucco churches and piazzas surrounded by shops, restaurants., and very good coffee bars.

Eva Eckhardt, my Munich friend from the time I had a studio in that city, 1982-84 for making those 27 metal masks on the theme of the Holocaust, was my generous host and a fabulous cook. We walked and walked throughout the island. She introduced me to her broad network of foreign friends who spend months there each year, sometimes all year (even through chilly winters) on that spectacular island. Her charming Spanish friend Favier from Madrid loaned Eva his car so we could go father afield, and most importantly to and from the ferry to pick me up from and six days later shepherd me back to the Ibiza ferry. He’s getting his lovely house spiffed up for the July/August tourist season to rent out at 400 Euros a night, and spent several evening with us in heady dialogue.

Eva has the most stunning view of the sea from her front patio. Her house is in a very peaceful part of the island, even pristine. I enjoyed watching the sky and sea change its colors throughout the day and into the star filled nights. Her house is solar, and feeds a generator so she can charge her cell phone and watch TV.

Fomentara was the best part of my Spanish stay. The residency in Barcelona left me with no artist pals to go about with. I had to spend a lot of time on line finding out how to get about. I managed a worthwhile day trip to Gerona (as described in my last post). Buying pastel fixative for my studio work was nearly an all day affair, first finding an art supply store, then passing it by repeatedly until finally, finally, I found it and negotiated for what I wanted with the non- English speaking staff.

I produced artwork in Barcelona that I’m happy with though had I been to Fomentara first, its flora and fauna, the rocky, rocky ground, and our walks along the edge of cliffs that drop precipitously into the still-icy water fearlessly below would have inspired other work. My only difficulty there was the spare use of water at the solar house. It reminded me of those two separate and difficult Ridgefield weeks without electricity/water/WIFI, etc. last summer/fall.

In Israel, Mary Schoenberg (with whom I was staying in Tel Aviv) and I went first to Tivon by train (not far from Haifa) for Seder with Mical Sella’s family and daughter’s in-laws. Her four-year-old grandson stole the evening by reciting the Seder story from memory and to our astonishment. Though he spoke in Hebrew, his going on and on was admirable. A sign however, of the preference I’ve often seen in Israel for sons. He, naturally, found the Hafikomen (wrapped matzoh that is hidden early in the Seder to be hunted for at the end by the eager children). Seems his older sister didn’t even try.

After coming back to Tel Aviv, we left again for an overnight in Jerusalem, mostly to visit the Old City and the Wailing Wall. We spent two nights at the Ein Gedi resort so as to visit the fabled Dead Sea and sink our bodies into the salty brine where the mountains of Jordan faced us from the opposite shore. I found the celebrated spa with its sulfur pools to be shoddy, unkempt, and off-putting. I did not lather myself with the mud from the trough set on the beach on the way to the sea. Those who did looked like statues as they stood waiting for the mud to dry before washing it off. Does that mud really have the therapeutic properties so highly lauded there?

The Dead Sea has shrunk since my 1977 visit. They say it’s from the country’s extracting its minerals for commerce. Mary and I sat in plastic chairs in the water. The water lapped over us. The chairs are a sign of being older rather than on my more adventurous1977 trip when I definitely and bravely waded out (the sea floor wasn’t then as dense and irregular with solidified salt) and floated on my back for some time. While we didn’t venture farther into the sea for a full floating experience, the water sufficiently dried out my skin so that it took days to rehydrate.

Back in Tel Aviv, we spent two days going to the wonderful Tel Aviv Museum. It was the current show that completely fascinated me, Roundabout, Face to Face, presenting artworks mainly from the Far East, Australia and New Zealand. The work is so fine as to put the contemporary European (and American?) works to shame. This confirms my idea that when a part of the world is thriving, their art is the best. Note how America came to the fore as an art producing country after the Second World War when we were the undisputed leader of the world.

That main exhibit currently at the Tel Aviv Museum had the best artwork I’ve seen in quite some time. It was beautifully displayed and took Mary and I hours to complete our viewing. Their other, permanent collection is organized according to time, reflecting Israel’s focus and passions from early on to now. The most current work follows Europe and the US inclinations for video and installation. Not my cup of tea.

Most striking everywhere in Israel are the trees and the plantings, always with flexible pipes surrounding the root bed  to deliver the drip, drip of water necessary to keep them thriving. The dessert is definitely moving towards bloom, and eventually it surely will. Here in Herzilya, the streets smell sweetly from blossoming bushes though the path can be marred by people not curbing their dogs. In Tel Aviv, it’s an obstacle course with that in mind. Sad to say, men there find it perfectly fine there to pee in the streets. I suspect, as with dogs, the fierce odor is a macho staking of ground. Was the same in my neighborhood in Gracia part of Barcelona.

I confess to now being eager to get back to my comfortable home in beautiful Ridgefield with my piano, studio, friends, family, and the Wilton Y. I am struggling to work here, not that I don’t have ideas, but allergy form the dog who’d been in this apartment before I arrived has sapped my energy.

Every artist residency is different with the best being full of interesting artists, and where they feed you fine food in a congenial environment. I’d let go of my desire for going only to those residencies when accepted at the Custom House Studios in Westport, County Mayo, Ireland, 2004. I had to rent an apartment and feed myself, but as soon as I arrived, was surrounded by lovely people who made my stay an absolute delight. For this trip, with staying with Eva on Fomentara for six days, and then with Mary in Tel Aviv for two weeks, I thought it OK to accept the one-artist residency in Barcelona and this 3-artist one in Herzilya, with being responsible for meals. I definitely won’t do that again. My one friend Gemma (Catalan poet – we’d met at Sancriti residency last year) was helpful with advice, especially for my trip to Girona, but she was very busy with her fullest teaching load this time of year. Fortunately I’d been to Barcelona before and with the Web managed to get about on foot and with the Metro.

Israel is another story. There’s no public transportation on the Sabbath. This year Passover went through into the next weekend because of ending with a Thursday night holiday just before the Friday Sabbath. It was matzoh, matzoh, matzoh everywhere. I’m now even more grateful to be from America where you can travel every day by mass transit, and where food options can stagger the mind.Let me tell you that I LOVE BREAD. There is good bread here but it took a while for it to be freely in the shops. Best foods, tuna sandwich, Israeli salad, tahina, felafel, hummus, coffee latte.

Here at the residency in Herzilya, there’s presently only one other artist, a German from Berlin. He's working on a project with an Israeli artist and is basically never here. I think he's moved out. So far, I’ve had just in one visitor in seven days. Neal Sherman is the head of the Fulbright office in Tel Aviv, and visited to see this place and explain the process for being sent abroad (India was my thought) under the Fulbright Roster to which I was appointed least year. Later in the week, I’ll be having more visitors and the residency may show my film, Crossing Cultural Borders on Friday.

There’s simply not enough guidance or attention coming my way to be enjoying my stay here. Had I understood the situation, I’d have worked out other connections to round out this art-working stay. I am working anyway,  grateful for the over two weeks going about in Israel that’s given me a flavor of this challenging and challenged country, but how tedious it is to be making do.

On Holocaust Day, by 10Am on Thursday, April 19, I made sure to be on the street when the siren rang throughout Israel. All cars stopped. People got out of their cars. It was so powerful to be present during this solemn occasion. I had to walk briskly about after the two-minute siren stopped to compose myself. 

You can’t be in Israel without everyday reminders of that terrible tragedy, and as well, the Arab situation, protests, the boundaries, the terrorists. At the Herzilya Museum yesterday, again there were videos and installations, all speaking of soldier brutality and protests in other parts of the world (a Spanish artists show). When I was in Germany I noted that Der Spiegel as well as the newspapers were often highlighting human abuses in other parts of the world as if to show that the German nightmare was not necessarily German, but part of the human continuum of misery. Perhaps it's the same here, at least with the current show at the Herzilya Museum.

I find it very hard to keep letting the constant reminders of Israel and Israeli troubles into my heart and mind. The newspapers,  the International Herald Tribune has a daily Haretz section, and the Jerusalem Post of course speaks of it, shouting out all of the predictable sides. It is their news, and these are my people. None of us can escape that centeredness, it follows us wherever we go, just as the more personal details of our life comfort and/or haunt us. Hopefully though, this fact of human consciousness can allow us to see the rest of humanity with their individual and group struggles with compassion and understanding.

Let it be known that the land here, as everywhere is beautiful, hauntingly so.

And now the pics: first - Fomentara..

The Seder, visiting nearby ancient Jewish tombs, and the beach

And Jerusalem (where I did put a message in the wailing wall), and Ein Gedi, then back to Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv -last days there..