Sunday, April 22, 2012

Snapshot: What we choose to emphasize in [our] complex history

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places -- and there are so many -- where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

- Howard Zinn

Snapshot: Life as art - Maya Angelou

Because of the routines we follow, we often forget that life is an ongoing adventure....Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art: to bring all our energies to each encounter, to remain flexible enough to notice and admit when what we expected to happen did not happen. We need to remember that we are created creative, and can invent new scenarios as frequently as they are needed. 

- Maya Angelou
Thanks to Terri Windling's blog for this quote (

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Art notes: Pissarro, Dufy, Caillebotte

Lately I've been studying the work of artists Pissarro, Dufy and Caillebotte. It turns out that Caillebotte is the creator of some of my favorite paintings, but I'd never realized they were all by the same person. I wasn't aware of the work by Pissarro, but kept running across mention of him as being a strong influence on many of his contemporaries, especially Gauguin and Cezanne (the latter is one of my favorite artists). I found his life interesting - his background and youth as well as his commitment to his family (in a time when fellow artists were quite negligent of their partners and children). Also, his sustained artistic focus and exploration was exciting to see. He stuck with his experiments and investigations - kept up a strong practice - in a way that I found to be reminiscent of Buddhist practitioners. Dufy was fascinating in how he started with a strong academic foundation and then devolved (in a good sense) to use looser rendering of images and refuse to limit color to a merely descriptive function (in his work it could convey all kinds of things: emotions, memories, etc.). Of course, this may not seem like much of an innovation now, but it was during the time period in which he worked. Indeed, he was criticized for not being serious enough. I have a more complex reaction to the art of Caillebotte. Much of his work leaves me cold, but there are three pieces that move me: Les raboteurs de parquet (workmen stripping the floor of a luxury Parisan apartment), a display of fruit and a view of snowy Parisian rooftops. Also, I appreciate his many paintings of people looking out windows and gazing over Paris. He painted at a time when the city architect Haussemann was tearing down large sections of medieval Paris and turning it into the more modern wide-boulevarded city that we know today. You can imagine that it took a great deal of looking to get used to this new place.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book review: Le Road Trip by Vivian Swift

Le Road Trip: A Traveler's Journal of Love and France follows on the success of Vivian Swift's delightful and genre defying first book When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler's Journal of Staying Put In Le Road Trip Swift has given us another gift for the senses. This book celebrates in both word and image how to be a tourist in your own life - take it in, savor it, but also don't take any of it too seriously.

Her "chocolate box" approach to books allows you to read in any order you like (though chronological is fun because it gives you the unfolding experience of the trip). As with her first book, "Le Road Trip" is completely hand-lettered by the author as well as full of her gorgeous watercolors and line drawings, perfect and often obscure quotes as well as thoughtful reflections on what it is like to travel (and be in love). I find that Swift's books lend themselves to re-reading. You'll always notice something new, most notably in the deceptively simple illustrations.

How I wish this book had been around when I first went abroad as a teenager and young adult. It'd have been a help and encouragement to find my own unique way of traveling - the way that was right for me. Indeed, I plan give this book to anyone about to travel or live abroad (perfect for exchange students, college year abroad students and even Peace Corps volunteers). On the surface "Le Road Trip" is about a trip to France, but really the subject is universal - the joys and, at times, difficulties of any kind travel outside of the familiar (going to college, living on the other side of the globe, starting a new relationship).

Nancy Pearl, Seattle librarian and book reviewer extraordinaire said it best: "A perfect gift for travelers, those with artistic souls, those with a sense of wonder, those who are hug-the-hearths--in short--nearly everyone on your gift list."

All I can add to that is be sure to put yourself at the top of that list!