Friday, February 27, 2009

Systematic Landscape by Maya Lin

Maya Lin, the extraordinary artist who won the design competition for the VietnamVeterans Memorial while still an undergraduate architecture student at Yale University, exhibited this beautiful work of art at the De Young Museum from October 2008 through January 2009.

This sculpture, the largest in the Systematic Landscapes exhibit, is comprised of over 65,000 2x4 boards forming a ten-foot tall wave.

For a glimpse of how they installed this, click here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New Orleans - Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Today is the first day of lent, or Ash Wednesday. While the ashes Christian worshippers place on their foreheads are from the palms of Palm Sunday, it made me think of the phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.

When I was in New Orleans with my book club, another member of my husband’s expansive family, Dr. William Perret, gave us a tour of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.

Dr. Perret is a retired dermatologist who is now a passionate New Orleans historian. His tour was so good that he made the “City of the Dead” come alive.

He explained why the dead in New Orleans are buried above ground. Since the water table is so high, burial plots must remain shallow. Unfortunately, floods or even strong rainstorms lifted coffins up out of the ground. No wonder there are so many stories about zombies in this town.

Early in the tour Dr. Perret pointed out that one grave is often shared by multiple generations. We all looked puzzled and he quickly said, “I will explain how later.”

In the mean time, he taught us about the different funerary symbols that depict our mortality. A handshake symbolizes continuing links after death.
An upside down torch with no flame conveys a life extinguished.
An hourglass with wings of time depicts our fleeting time on earth.
A vessel with a flame, sometimes draped with a funeral pall, represents the eternal spirit of man.
Hurricane Katrina damaged many of the graves.
Many of the plantings were destroyed, but an occasional cemetery fern persists.

Each grave has its own personality. Many are adorned with cast iron or wrought iron fences so characteristic of New Orleans architecture.

Some graves are adorned in a grand fashion.

Others adornments are heartbreaking.

This cast iron grave is still available via mail order.

Members of the Jefferson Fire Company No. 22 bury theirs here.

The angel with the clipped wing is the iconic image from Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Her wing was broken long before Hurricane Katrina.
Many of the dead have their stories carved in stone. Mabel L. Shaw "never did a mean act nor said an unkind word".

Charles Beck loved to bowl.

R. Sekinger had a different passion.

A charitable society wrote the ironic message “For the Relief of Destitute Orphan Boys”
Dr. Perret did explain how all those generations can fit into one grave. After at least one year and one day, after the bodies have decomposed, a grave may be opened up and the remaining bones may then be scraped to the back of the grave, making room for the next family member.
On that cheery note, I nevertheless highly recommend taking the tour with Dr. Perret or one of his colleagues. You may make reservations at Save our Cemeteries, the group that trained him. He is a volunteer and does not charge for his services but he would greatly appreciate a contribution to the organization that is pledged to preserving and restoring New Orleans’ Cities of the Dead.

Flickr set here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler!

Since today is Mardi Gras, I thought this was a good occasion to dust off a few photos from the New Orleans trip I took with my book club in November 2007.

We started our weekend getting our palms read by Otis. Otis was a very smart man. He knew we were all talented, creative, and loving. I have to admit, though, he was pretty uncanny on some of his readings.

With the help of one of my husband’s many family members in town, we were able to get a great rate for a small block of rooms at the Maison Dupuy.

We ate breakfast here every morning:

Where else but in New Orleans could you buy hot dogs with the choice of eight hot sauces?

With Mardi Gras over three months away, there are still lots of beads:



and drink:

Now multiply this by a ten thousand and you will come close to understanding how crazy it must have there been today.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Six-Word Memoirs

Thursday night my friend Camille called me up to ask where she could buy the green stuff that florists use. I knew that she and her daughter Cressida were hosting a literary luncheon at the Stanford Grill. Camille had invited me when she was at my house about a month ago. She told me that the theme was going to be six-word memoirs and gave a couple of examples. I was intrigued and sat down to write mine without hesitation. I thought about what events in my life defined me and came up with: "Indonesia: survived. Amsterdam-grown. Paradise found!" The punctuation came later that night.

After Camille left, I looked around my calligraphy supplies looking for suitable paper to write my memoir. Years ago my mother gave me a large roll of antiqued silver paper that she found at a garage sale. I always loved this paper but could never find a use for it. It is not acid-free, so it is unsuitable for scrapbooks and it is too fragile to tie into a bow, but it was perfect for this event.

When Camille called about the green floral foam, she told me that she was going to make six floral arrangements. Six? I said. Why don't we create six table names? I have the perfect paper. We brainstormed and came up with: lyrical, harmonic, athletic, aesthetic, adventurous, and inquisitive. I offered to write out the guests’ six-word memoirs as they arrived. Did she need any help with the flowers? Sure, let's meet in the morning.

Friday was a great day filled with flowers and calligraphy.

The Saturday luncheon was pure fun.

Guests selected their tables:

Cressida, who works at our favorite independent bookstore Kepler’s, explained the idea of six-word memoirs came about when Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a six-word story. His response was “For sale: babies shoes, never worn.”

In 2006, Smith Magazine challenged its readers to write six-word memoirs. The response was viral. The first book they published as a result of this challenge is “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure” and their second book “Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak” published just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Camille shuffled all the papers before we read each others’ memoirs, allowing for anonymity, but it turns out most of us had no problem claiming ownership. The women outdid themselves. Their memoirs ranged from humorous:

"I tried my best, pobody's nerfect"

to poignant:

"Dad died, Mom cried, I tried."

and everything in between:

“Love at first sight, many times.”

“Two children, I watch in wonder.”

“Ready to climb the highest mountain.”

“I gladly take time to listen.”

“Married, worked, raised kids, finding way.”

“Every day is happily ever after.”

“Dropped ball in Little League, survived.”

Camille then challenged us to write another six words inspired by our table name. I can tell you that it gets easier with practice and over-thinking makes you loose your mojo . After a while, we found ourselves counting words on our fingers every time we heard someone say something memorable. I might as well warn you now, this can be addictive.

Thank you, Camille and Cressida, for a fun afternoon of reflection and inspiration!

How about you? What is your six-word memoir?
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