In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.
On Thursday we left Montreal rather precipitously, planning to attend a 2:00 pm graveside service for an elderly friend the following day in Washington, D.C. After two hours in solid rush hour traffic, trying to get out of the city, we headed down the Northway, but by the time we reached Albany it was already late and we were exhausted. So we crashed in a motel in Schenectady, and the next morning reassessed our plans; it was clear then (as it had really been the night before) that we just didn't have enough time to make it to Washington by early afternoon.
So we contacted our family and friends, explaining the situation and saying that we'd be with them in spirit (as one of them remarked, Jewish funerals and long-distance travel are a difficult combination), and instead made a right-angle turn onto the New York Thruway to go see my father.
As it turned out, we had a beautiful drive, both going and coming, and a wonderful fall weekend in the countryside that I love so much. After all the busyness of preparing for J.'s book launch, it was a restorative few days, with long nights of deep sleep, natural quiet broken only by the calls of geese and the chatter of squirrels and chipmunks, foggy mornings that gave way to bright clear days, the saturated color of hardwoods in autumn, and time for me to wander in the woods and along the lakeshore, and sit quietly looking out on the meadows. I had been wanting to go there very much; this felt like an unexpected gift.
Most importantly, it was a good visit with my father, who's doing very well. We had already shopped for a turkey, and bought a giant stalk of Brussels sprouts, a berry pie, lettuces, cranberries, and new potatoes at the local farmers' market on Saturday morning -- all the ingredients for a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner for my father, his girlfriend, and four guests. The next day Dad and I raked and hauled a lot of leaves, and then he went up on the roof to clean the gutters while I steadied the ladder and fetched whatever was needed. It was such a glorious day - crisp and bright - and I felt so happy and so much in the moment. In spite of his age, Dad was very nimble up there on the roof, and quite glad to be getting this task done. At one point he asked for a rope, and I tossed him a coiled clothesline, which he deftly caught. "Nice toss, eh?" I remarked.
He grinned down at me: "And did you see that catch? Left-handed!" and it seemed like twenty, or thirty, or forty years had just been erased.
He sat back on the roof and surveyed the shingles, and the trees beyond them that so faithfully shed their leaves to clog the gutters and the drainpipes. "You're going to need to put a new roof on here one of these years," he said, turning back toward me after a few minutes with a wry look.
"How old is it?" I asked.
"This one's original, and it's still OK," he said, gesturing toward the addition he and my mother put on in the 1990s. "The other one has been replaced once. I did it with Harold Shaw, long time ago." He shook his head: "I didn't like doing that work very much."
"At least it's not as steep as ours was in Vermont."
"Right. I went up there with Jonathan once - that was really steep. No matter what, houses are so much work, there's always stuff to do..."
"But it was fun; your mother and I had a good time building it, figuring stuff out."
He uncoiled the rope: "OK, Bethie, now go get me a bucket half-full of water, and let's see if we can get any of it to go down through the drain..."
It's finally here! After three years of effort, I'm thrilled to announce that Jonathan's book of photographs of the turbulent years of the late 1960s and early 70s, How Many Roads? is finally launched. In addition to the book's 91 sepia-toned photographs, it contains an introduction by Teju Cole, essays by Steve Tozer, Hoyt Alverson, and myself, and a preface by Jonathan.
We've published it in both a paperback version and a limited-edition hardcover, with or without a signed photographic print. The books will be available for pre-order at special prices through the end of October. Paperbacks will ship soon, hardcovers at the end of the month. All the details are on the Phoenicia Publishing website.
We hope you'll take a look; this book would be a good gift for anyone who remembers or is curious about the 60s, or who'd like their children to know what it was like. (And, of course, it could be a great passive-aggressive gift for someone you know who voted for Nixon!)
This past Wednesday, we held a lancement (launch party) at our studio, which meant that we had to clean and reorganize it -- for the first time, really, since we moved in. So not only do we feel like we have a book we're proud of, but we've got a studio that feels almost new.
For my own part, I'm extremely happy this project is finally out in the world. The book's title, drawn from the Bob Dylan song, not only echoes one of the book's sub-themes -- what the interstates did to rural New England -- it also describes the circuitous path we've been on to this point! Jonathan and I have done so many publishing projects for clients and other people in the past that it makes me very happy to finally see some of his own work collected permanently in book form. It's part of his own photographic legacy, and it's also social documentation of an important period in American history that has a good deal to say to us today. Although these photos were taken before we met, our experiences of that time were similar. The process of revisiting this part of my own past has been both interesting and fruitful: I understand more about how I was shaped by these events, and also about the fateful turns our world has taken since then. Meanwhile, the accounts of the people and events of those years are already becoming simplified, distilled, and distorted -- or so it seems to me. Even recent history deserves a closer and more first-hand look than the textbooks are likely to give.
My dear friend V. brought these flowers yesterday: how absolutely gorgeous they are! We're at the height of fall color here, with some leaves starting to come down, but other trees still green. Last week brought a string of the crisp warm days, crowned by blue skies, that all New Englanders and Quebecers anticipate and love. J. and I walked back and forth to the studio on a couple of those days, enjoying the slowness of foot-travel, and the swish of the dry leaves in our path.
Exciting announcement coming on Monday, so stay tuned! Right now I'm heading off to the market, where the fall harvest is in full swing.
Portrait of my husband, pencil on paper, approx. 14" x 10." 1988.
We've been going through a lot of old boxes and drawers lately, and I found a bunch of drawings that were nice to see, both for the art and the memories. I'm not sure I could even do a drawing like this anymore, or if I'd want to, but that kind of realism and detail were what I was into back then, and it was good training.
Thingvellir, Iceland. In the far distance you can see Skjaldbreiður, ("Broad Shield"), the prototype for all shield volcanos worldwide.
Standing in the main rift, Almannagja, which marks the eastern edge of the North American tectonic plate.
Three years ago, this past weekend, I was at Thingvellir, the great rift valley of Iceland. It was my 59th birthday, so I'll always remember the date. A lot happened that day that changed me. Even though we didn't witness an active volcanic eruption, we were surrounded by raw evidence of the earth being born in the not-too-distant geological past, and by a kind of beauty I had never before seen. Something happened that shook up my sense of time and solidity, and of my own identity within it. It took me a long time to understand why I felt so captivated by the strange forcefield that is Iceland, but one result was the reawakening of my own artistic creativity: not just because of wanting to express what I had seen and felt, but because I had a renewed sense of myself as an intrinsic part of the creation that is always happening, a link in the human chain of becoming, creating, and passing away that mirrors events in nature.
Three years later, I've got an unfinished but fairly extensive book manuscript, a lot of directly-related artwork, and seem to be back on a track of sustained drawing and painting. I'd hoped to go back to Iceland again by now (and we will, eventually, who knew we'd go twice to Mexico instead?) but, more importantly, it has become for me a kind of spiritual island, an Avalon in the middle of the far northern ocean, both real and mythic. I visit it in my thoughts, and feel sustained and encouraged by what I discovered there.
Lake Þingvallavatn. Charcoal on prepared paper, 30" x 22".
Often I don't understand the reasons I'm drawn to a subject until much later. But I think I'm reactioning to the world and the news: reminding myself of the ordinariness and beauty of human lives, the stories in each face; our individualism, our commonality.
There's something monumental and timeless about the Mexican people. These qualities touched me: maybe I want to look more closely.
Lately -- well, really for the past couple of months -- there's been almost no time to draw or paint, but I did get it together to do this charcoal drawing on Monday. I've been wanting to do a series of drawings of Mexican faces, and this is the first of them.
It felt very very good to have my fingers become sooty, and to see the tones emerging on the paper.
It's unseasonably cold here in Montreal. We haven't turned on the heat yet, but we're definitely into the fall wardrobe. I had to wear gloves yesterday morning, biking downtown to sing - seems awfully early for that - and there's a frost warning for Thursday night. Typically for our city, as I wandered around in the underground yesterday between services, I saw people wearing parkas, wooly scarves, and hats, and also plenty of young people with bare arms and tiny skirts, though often with tights and ankle boots. My leather coat is as far as I've been willing to go so far - it's still September!
There's color in the trees, but I'm still anticipating an Indian summer with lots of warm days ahead. (Hold that thought, please!)
Things have been so busy around here, between work deadlines and getting ready to launch J.'s new book (yes! at last!), that I haven't had much time to blog. But here is a question for us to ponder. The other day during a break, as we sat in our studio drinking coffee and talking about the books we're reading and the things we've been writing, J. asked me: "Do you think writing is getting more important or less so?"
I thought that was a pretty profound question, and I don't know the answer; I'm not even sure what I think. He elaborated to say that what he meant was that as communication moves so much more toward the visual, and away from reading and writing words, do writing and reading actually gain in importance or lose ground? As your exposure to computers, the internet, social media, tv, visual advertising and mass media, and short-form/sound-byte content have increased, does it make you want to read and write more, or less? Has your own capacity for taking in information one way or another increased, or decreased, or remained unchanged? And how do you feel about it?