Monday, November 27, 2006


Villa Street, where my maternal grandparents lived, was called California Street when I was a boy. It ran north and south off Olive Street, down to the slough where it ran to dirt 3 miles away and was lost in the sand and cottonwoods of the river. The street was back ended by the high school, and the audible atmosphere of the block was wallpapered by the sounds of the nearby campus on weekdays, then band practice in the later afternoons, then the cheers from the stands of football games on Friday nights and the thunder and squeal of rock and roll bands playing the after game dances.

Homes and the land they sat on were more self-sufficient at the middle of the last century than the are today, and my grandparents bought the one bath, two bedroom frame and stucco house for less than $5000 in 1950, partly because of the existing fruit and nut trees on the quarter acre lot, and the two rows of table grapes, one honey gold Concord, one deep ruby blue Ribera, both delicious. These grew along the south property line where old Mr. and Mrs. Powers lived.

On the north side, next to the Scrugg’s, were two rows of citrus trees: oranges, and a grapefruit tree, maybe two. Two English walnuts and an almond tree shaded the front yard, a Meyer lemon, another couple almond trees grew in back with some lawn to mow and a kitchen garden strewn in the spring with packets of poppy and wildflower seeds.

A vacant lot faced across the street, used by my granddad for growing corn and melons, drying and shelling the nuts, and then later, for drying the redwood cones that provided the seed that he sold to the world and added a little income to his modest US Forest Service retirement.

It was a quiet and homey neighborhood on the whole. I remember the roar of a huge nightmarish Air Force B29 flying low over town into the bright light of a full moon rising above the ridge of the Sierra to the east one evening at the end of a war, most likely the Korean, though the end of that war came as I recall while grandma and grandpa and I were in the house trailer on Lake Havasu with The Stevensons and Aunt Alice, the night I caught the flying dollar bill the wind storm blew through the banging door, the subject of another post.
A propane tank exploded on the lower level of a duplex down the street one night and the duplex went up in flames, the poor neighbors silhouetted in their nightclothes as the fire trucks screamed across town from the station house at City Hall.
Old Mr. Powers drank, and he’d wail at Old Mrs. Powers now and then. Other than any of that there was not much more noise to be heard than my grandma talking on the phone which hung on the wall of the little hall and pantry at the back door, or further inside the house, there was sound of the television and Queen-for-a-Day, or Cousin Herb or Lucy or Cronkite and his vibrant 1956 report of the sinking of the Andrea Doria.

And of course, in the summer, the sound of the house and yard was colored by the sound of water running. Always the sound of water running. Water splashing out on the ground from a 4 foot high, 3 inch diameter aluminum pipe stand. Water running through the cooler. Water through a hose, water splashed through a thumb to make just the right spray required for zinnias or the chrysanthemums under the carport, water rhythmically chucking through a lawn sprinkler, or just the humming sound of water through a soaker hose, lazing out the nozzle into the small irrigation ditches opened and closed with a hoe or the point of a shovel, the dirt blanched gray by the sun, then turned dark and gooey and cool by the water.

These yard ditches were Mississippi Rivers to me. They were the Nile and the Congo, they contained hours of Amazonian mud play, they were my dream world: I was a god creating London and New York and Los Angeles, cities and civilizations in the dirt, which, as if by the very rules of our strange but shared human nature, I could then destroy by flood, or, when my towers and bridges were allowed to dry to adobe hardness, blow away with the pellets of a Beebe gun. My own Fort Apache, my Saracen fortress, my little Coliseum. There were no PlayStation platforms back then; no Nintendo, no Atari, and the few pinball games around were of no interest to me. I had the universe in the mud of my grandparent’s back yard.

At the very back of the yard, back behind the garage next to where my granddad built another bed-sitting room and bath, and behind the storage room he built to rest his saddle and tack and his tools, back behind where he kept all his nails sorted by penny size in Prince Albert tobacco cans, back behind the water cooler on the back wall of the extra room grew a single and beautiful and entirely wonderful Hass avocado tree which was always worthy, almost sacredly worthy, to receive the continual and extreme high maintenance it required.

It is hot to hellish in the San Joaquin in the summer; in winter the weather will freeze, it will ruin the oranges, which meant back then the near total destruction of the local economy. It is not the best country for avocados. My granddad was knowledgeable of plant and animal life, indeed his knowledge was learned as a requirement for his survival as a both a boy and an adult. He was an expert on the trees and the land he knew, and he held his avocado tree in reverence. That he had one to cultivate was a measure to him of his worth as a man.

He knew how to count a season’s crop by the number of small yellow-green flowers that bloomed in the late winter and he knew that two, three hundred flowers meant a third as many avocado pears.

He knew when to water; he would not over water. He knew which limbs to prop with two-by-fours: the trees are tender, the flesh of the branches as easily torn as their lizard like skins, and he knew how to support the limbs with baling wire cushioned with scraps of tire and gunny sack. He bermed the trunk of the tree with a mound of dirt and a mulched topping of fallen leafs, all in a ring the diameter of the tree and the depth of half a leg.

Avocado foliage is dense and the leaves are shiny deep green on top with rusty brown undersides. The fallen leaves crackle when trod, and a heavy dust rises. They give great shade. The give off the smell of anise, of licorice. My mud world was not allowed under the avocado tree.

Grampa loved the fruit; he would pull one he’d left to ripen on the branch, or find a pear fallen to the ground. He’d smell it, and slice it in half with his pocketknife, straight and clean across the length of the hemisphere, not touching, not scoring the hard inner seed with the blade and he'd gently and quickly twist it in two to look at the meat. I don't remember him cutting an unripe avocado. He would smell it again, then cut a slice and taste it, hand over another slice to me or whoever might be with him. If there were more pears he thought ready he would bag them, store them in crates in the garage with the nuts and fruit he dried, and the olives he cured, or put them in bags to give away, or take a couple into the kitchen to my grandma.

He liked them best with lemon and a shake of salt. We mostly ate them as they were or tossed in a salad with tomatoes and crumbled taco chips. We had no idea of guacamole back then.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Eat the Rich

Tomorrow we will be thankful for clafoutis.

~ ~ ~

Thanksgiving Day, 23 November 2006~
Among so much plenty and so many people and love and things we are thankful for a plate of blueberry Krusteaz at breakfast, and the wok that cooks them...

We are grateful, me and Beth and Coco, for a long hours walk on the Redondo esplanade at noon on a cool and crisp day.

We are grateful for the breeze and bounty of the sea. Crab came into season last week; we make cocktails at 3pm and wash down a half pound with a smart and clean bottle of Graves, the kind I will want to brush my teeth with in the morning...

We are grateful for the choice of pig and potatoes rather than turkey and potatoes this year, and we are always grateful for the flavor of fennel...

and then Papillon roquefort in the salad dressing.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Confluence

The Confluence, acrylic on canvas, 1992, 60x38 inches.
From the collection of Ron Notto and Darrell Andre
I last saw this painting a year ago this month, and sat under it in une chaise ancienne d'aise.
I was fever strapped, head wrapped, holding a shaky pen that reminded me too much of old Tio Augie: Renoir in 1917.

Yes, I was the old woman at the end of the hall.

The painting is not so dark as I recall, nor quite as bright, but it no longer matters that what started as morning became evening in the summer month it was painted. It is all done by light from within the paint; you two saw that and you two told me, but I think the light from your spots in the ceiling gives it the brilliance: the light comes from within your walls.

At first the canvas was a cliffy ravine, chaparral, a spotty hillside of a thousand strokes, gray and green thumb print daubs, familiar country, something to look at with little illusion; formatted landscape, not portrait.

Then it was The Secret Garden under this river scene. There are wild cats in that painting; it is more bas-relief than pentimento. I made a few mistakes that year, there are lots of trailing vines and flowers, the wall, then the city, the bay and the horizon, still landscape; my life that year, all painted over.

Turned around it became this portrait of a shared landscape, a piece of our own earth, something more than me, and it hung above the color stations at Architects and Heroes with 30 other smaller paintings made just before Michael and the Pompeian calendar finally freed the slaves in my heart of all perspective and all of us walked with Elise across Alta Plaza to the party.

He’d watched each swipe of my brush, he sat there with the dog and I loved him transfixed while I danced…

That damned Claude Lorraine! Fuck him, fuck Turner, fuck the very morning, fuck all.

What a beautiful mystery along the river, ten thousand swipes of the nine inch brush.

I don’t want dinner to end. I want you to watch me paint this forever.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The View from the Tranquil Cottage

The View from the Tranquil Cottage, 2002, acrylic on board, 2x4 meters.
From the collection of Ron Notto and Darrell Andre

From Three Views: Watercolors from Home and Abroad...

The view from LaBoissière is very broad and very deep. Its breadth from north to south exceeds the range of human peripheral vision; it cannot be wholly seen without turning the head. The furthest depth of the view, from the terrace, from the sale à manger, from the pool, or from my bedroom windows stretches in receding planes 50 miles into the east, where, with the naked eye, the ancient, ducal, hoary and mostly renaissance Château de Biron appears as a grain of sand on the horizon. Within these extremes is a landscape of lush romantic splendor in perfect tandem with the best features of the Classic Ideal, as if Claude Loraine had conspired with Constable to balance nature, to set it straight for the poet and the painter. It is a man-made, and very human landscape. Below the potager and the lawn is the hedge, behind is the road and then a field of hay. Poppies bloom in May and June, in vermilion. The coquelicots, the red-orange poppies, shout loudly of Claude Monet. They, and he, are everywhere. There is a line of poplars at the end of the close field; the poplars shade a source, a spring that once laundered sheets and togas in the Second Century. The spring fills a pond; the pond is stocked with two dozen Koi swimming in transparent water. Oak groves wander off in trapezoids. There is more hay, fallow plots here and there, more grapes, more corn, and wet fields of viridian that become the primary yellow of sunflowers in July. Healthy cattle, Blondes d’Aquitaine, raised for the table, punctuate the fields with soft ochre. Hamlets and villages lie across the panorama; Bernac with its church and single cypress; Montbazillac, twenty miles away, overlooking the valley of the Dordogne; Puyguilhem where the Roman city stood; the house tops of Castillionnès. It is farmland, paysage, in vast expanse and it stretches away to the South and distant dreamy thoughts of Cahors, Toulouse, Matisse and the Mediterranean.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Two Watercolors from Oregon

Yes ol' darlin', Oregon is green, forever green, but there was a golden red glow in the deep November of those late afternoons before your leaving, before the warming, when we all flew cheap and never stayed long enough.
Pinatubo had just exploded.

You know my affection for vermilion.

Riding to the country house with Mary’s Peak transparent across the fields in the west, you had salmon in the hamper, red lettuce in paper towels, and before playing the board games I sang ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ for some unknown Irish reason, sock sliding with Yorgo on the butter oak floor.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Maggie's Painting

Visionary landscape of undetermined location and title, 2002, acrylic on canvas, 42x60 inches.
From the collection of Maggie Bennington-Davis

Where are you? Where is this? What is that roadway river way down there… with one bridge to cross?

Is this completely made up? Is this GPS or dreamland or what: where is it?

Oh yes, dreamland, made-up, created, but I’ve been on that front hill before…all that grass, the foxtails, the rocks, the rocks come from home and that’s Poggibonsi out there along the Willamette, the Dordogne, the Tule, the river that circles the world.

Are you in an airplane?

No. I am flying. The air is thick as water. I can breathe. There is no gravity. Something about gravity.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The 3D Rembrandt and Stephen Wiltshire

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait, 1659, (detail),
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

From Artrift, an interesting site. The James Elkins quote is certainly food for thought, but Artrift seems not to have heard of Riccola.

And watch the amazing Stephen Wiltshire.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ceremony at Cap d'Ail

This was painted in 1994.

This is the dramatic scene I was talking about here took place in 1990…

Rinaldo and Darrio showed me everything from then on, asked the questions, looked at all the pages in the portfolio. They made an altar. The Spanish saint, the Italian angels, the tiles from Toledo, the candles in the evening, all dusted with his ashes. We ate salty fish, got happily drunk, then turned into Romans and pretended to understand pre-Rennaissance perspective and I painted the scene for them later, the dramatic scene with all of us in it from the evening of this morning, I am so very fortunate.

The urn was half-full.

The girl and the boy at the lower right are channeling Mozart for me and my friends.

Monsieur Bones claims today for the dead, ha ha. Or is it tomorrow? Every day belongs to at least seventeen saints in my book.