Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Isaac ~ It begins

The wind gusts get stronger and stronger, and there is a constant patter of rain.  Sharp through these sounds, I hear a frog croak emphatically from the courtyard next door.  It's such a vast, turbulent world in my eyes, and I am a giant to this frog.  I hope he shelters safe in his little nest, and I shelter safe in mine. Today has been tense.  Fitful showers and fickle breezes under a gray sky all day.  The first rain shower began just as I left Matassa's, where I was picking up some last minute supplies.  That was about 8:05am.  The air was hot and sullen and the rain sporadic and light most of the day.  It seems now like it has decided to storm in earnest, but for now I do still have power.

I keep thinking of baskets with too many eggs.  Like the two window panes beside my bed, above the back door.  My drawing board is now wedged flush against the wall, between those panes and my night stand.  Like the shutters that I had to wedge shut and couldn't latch because I couldn't open the window from the inside.  They're now tied tightly with an octuple thickness of twine, in addition to being wedged.  The walls tremble now in the stronger gusts, but I remind myself that this house and its neighbors have been around for worse storms, and are still standing.  We're going to be fine.

I wanted to get some sleep in before the worst began, but I'm just too keyed up.  I listened to the radio for a while, trying to get some info on what to expect, but it just made me irrationally nervous, so I turned it off.  I've started a jigsaw puzzle.  I have my Nook fully charged, and a full library to read by candle light.  I may nap on the couch for a while, too.  I some extra hours worked and had a relatively calm evening, with all my preparations made.  I'm as ready as I'm going to be.

I believe I'll post this now, while I still have internet.  I'm sure I'll have more to report down the line. I expect to be up most of the night, and completely drained by the time we next see the sun.  Better rest as much as I can while I can!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Isaac ~ Pre-Storm

The early morning sun is bright in a brilliant blue sky and the air is clear as crystal and eerily still, except for the occasional fitful stir, making light silken flags and delicate fronds twitch nervously, but leaving all else still.  The office buildings stand silent, giants locked in still waiting by some curse. I see more people on my walk, but they are all strangely mute, speaking in hushed voices, except for those rambling with illogic and unreason on the corners.  As I reach a stretch of street where the traffic thickens, I realize the stillness that has me on edge has been deepened by the dearth of traffic on more distant streets, Rampart, I-10, thoroughfares normally gently humming on the edge of hearing at this time in this place, but now virtually silent.  The city knows what is coming, and even the pigeons are mostly absent.  It's such a pretty morning, and so surreal.

The day passes as all days do, with talk up and down the corridors about plans to leave, plans to stay, staying safe either way.  On line updates are my brain-breaks, and towards the end I turn my thoughts to what I can take with me. What I can work on without internet when the power goes out, as long as my laptops have some battery left.  What I need to get at the store. Checking again to see when and where the storm will hit, how big it might be.

I leave work and the sun is wandering vaguely in a drift of high cloud.  The sky is gray, the air hot, and the sporadic breeze of the morning has become more intense, more insistent, more constant.  I get home, and for hours I'm closing shutters, stowing potted plants, making lists, taping windows, checking the lists to make sure I'm not forgetting anything, returning calls to my mother and some friends, reiterating my plans, reassuring everyone that I expect to be safe, that I've done what I can, that we've been told to shelter in place, that this is not Katrina, that I'll text everyone on Wednesday when the storm has passed.

Finally night falls, and I've done all I can think to do for today.  Tomorrow I will hit the store one more time, since they expect water pallets in the morning.  I'm tired, but I can't wind down just yet.  I grab my camera, and prowl the streets.  After a trip to the river and a glance at Bourbon Street, it's time to go home.  There is laundry to finish, lists to check again and update, and a printer to move even farther from the windows.

And then sleep.  If I can.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Birdfoot Chamber Music Festival, 2012

This week New Orleans has hosted brilliant musicians from all over the world as part of the very first Birdfoot Chamber Music Festival, an endeavor spearheaded by friends of mine from the New Orleans dancing and musical community.  Tonight I went to the first evening concert.

Chamber music.  A chamber, a room, but somehow more intimate.  A space only the privileged few might enter, and to enter that small auditorium and be awash in unparalleled music created so close by felt intimate, and was a privilege.  When you listen to an orchestra from the mezzanine or balcony, most of the sound reaches you, the purely music part of the music experience.  But up close, you hear the touch of horsehair to heartstring, the breathing, the thud of heel to floor that punctuates music as a physical art.

And the physicality of music seems most evident in the playing of instruments that are people-sized or larger.  The pianist's shoulder blades jut out with a tension suspended in the breadth of the chord he pounds out from the keyboard.  Each knob of his spine is the next step in an arpeggio.  The cellist must hear the notes she draws from her instrument not only with her ears, but with her knees as they embrace its body, and in the resonant throb beneath her breast like a second heartbeat.  The cutaways in the back of her strappy black gown reveal the muscles straining to express the visions of the mind in tones that both rive the soul, and mend it.

Violin, viola, violoncello, the syncrony of their bows is a dance in unison, with now and again one dancer stepping out with a spring and a flourish, then merging seamlessly back into the chorus steps, until all diverge into reels of their own, only to rejoin suddenly, intuitively, into the shared pulse that moves them.

This is a music that speaks of Life.  Not just the life of a single person, though that's there, but LIFE as it is created in the space amid people.  The four on the stage.  The eighty in the room.  The hundreds, the thousands that brush against and bounce off of each other every day like Brownian particals in a sunbeam.  The billions that flush the face of the earth with living blood and hearts beating each a rhythm of its own.

The music is the briefest of conversations between strangers, as riffs call and answer from one player to the next.  It is the intimate discourse over years of friendship when a melody is split and shared, when each player expresses only some of the notes.  It is the reflection that comes alone in thought, almost unaware of the discourse that surrounds and informs it.  And it is the teeming of individual thoughts as they unspin unshared but simultaneous and harmonious... or discordant.

This music is life, each bar containing the unexpected, in spite of the illusion of notation on a page.  Anything could happen in spite of, because of, the best laid plans.  And as the music jerks into silence and you wonder if it can ever go on, with a gasping breath, sudden and literal, the musicians are jolted back into meter with all the drama of electrical cardioversion.

And as the magic unfolds, there is, all along, the page turner, solemn and correct, performing the stately, reverent ritual that marks the measure of each eternal moment, reminding all caught up in the endless ecstacy of a sublime phrase that this, too, shall pass.  Time is a process not to be stopped, and the most divine music is a march, slow or fast but always inexorable, toward it's end.

There are two Birdfoot events left.  Party in the Piazza tomorrow, 5/25, 5:30-8pm at Piazza d'Italia, Lowes New Orleans Hotel, 300 Poydras St. for $10.  The Gala Celebration, Saturday, 5/26, 8pm, Dixon Hall, Tulane University, $25 for adults, $10 for students.

Go, listen, live.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Saturday Night at the Myrtles

This past weekend I spent a wonderful evening and morning with some amazing women out at the Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana.  In addition to being an absolutely gorgeous property, the Myrtles is chock full of fascinating history, and is really, rather, quite haunted.  Now, this was, in fact, a bachelorette party.  But I'll let someone else immortalize the randier details.  I want to talk about the spooks!

We arrived at the Myrtles just in time to check in and deposit our baggage in the Coco House, a spacious cottage brought over from the Coco Plantation, and head across a wide lawn to the courtyard amid the main buildings for the mystery tour.

After a brief history of the building's construction and the lives of the first two owners and their families, our tour guide Zach began leading us through the rooms.  First he led us into Mrs. Stirling's day room, where the third lady of the house would conduct her day to day business and take her daily nap.  This is apparently the favorite room of one of the house's more active haunts, a slave girl named Chloe, who was mistress to the second owner, Mr. Woodruff.  Zach told us of a time when re-enactments were staged on Halloween, and a young woman hired to play Chloe was so terrified by the apparition of a woman confronting her as she paced the room rehearsing her lines that she turned to flee to the safety of... the adjoining bathroom.  The door slammed itself shut before she got there, she ran smack into the door, and fell to the ground screaming, swearing she'd never set foot in the house again.

From there we visited the haunted mirror in the foyer.  The custom in Victorian times, as Zach explained, was to lay out the dead for viewing in the comfort of their own homes instead of in funeral parlors.  While the body rested in the house, all mirrors would be draped with black cloth to prevent the soul of the departed from being drawn into the mirror and trapped there.  But someone must have missed this mirror at some point, because you can clearly see the image of what looks like a face trying to get out on one side of the glass.  Along the other side are what appear to be a child's fingerprints, and an eerie weeping or drip pattern in the middle.  These very same markings have reappeared multiple times, within weeks of the mirror being disassembled, thoroughly cleaned, and re-silvered.  This mirror is the only area of the house were photographs are permitted, and I got some good shots of the markings.  Others did as well.  More on this later.

From the foyer with the mirror, Zach led us to the dining room.  Here it was that some of the other active presences suffered the hurt that parted their restless souls from their earthly bodies.  Remember Woodruff's mistress, the slave girl Chloe?  Chloe had been brought into the house as a nanny for the Woodruff children, but fell suddenly out of favor when she was caught eavesdropping on her master's important business meeting.  As punishment, he had her ear cut off and banished her from the house.  But Chloe had an absolutely fool-proof plan to get back into the family's good graces.  She intended to win back their favor by nursing the two Woodruff children back to health from severe illness.  And not one to wait for chance ailments, she made them a cake infused with oleander.  Sounds like a snap, right?  Well, Chloe misjudged, and the cake ended up killing both children, along with their mother, while Mr. Woodruff was away on business.  When he returned and learned the truth, he had Chloe hanged from a tree on the property.  Today many visitors have reported seeing a dark, young woman wearing a turban, with a fold of cloth draped over the left side of her head, just the way Chloe wore her head scarf, to hide her missing ear.  Such a figure has even been photographed on the property, along with the shadowy images of two children.

From the dining room we were taken to the ladies' parlor, where the ladies would withdraw after a meal.  Zach reported that every medium that visits the Myrtles finds this to be the psychic center of the house's mystical energy.  The bedroom above is known as the doll room because of the antique dolls that have adorned the mantle piece over the years.  As if dolls weren't creepy enough on their own, there have been stories about them, as well.  As we listened to these tales, I felt something brush along the back of my arm.  I turned to see that the nearest people behind me were strangers standing over a foot away.  I gave a mental greeting to anyone who might be a bit closer than them, the gesture was not repeated, and all in all I'm proud to report that I was not actually wigged out.  It really wasn't very dramatic.  I might have simply been in the way, or maybe someone was feeling friendly to their visitors.  The room was really too lovely and comfortable to feel creepy.  I have to say that the few encounters I've had with the departed have been domestic and soothing, and that's really how this felt.

From there we were shown the gentlemen's parlor, where the... fourth? owner (or possibly the third) was shot in the chest by a stranger who rode up to the porch on horseback one dark night.  Legend says that he reeled back into the room, turned, and with his young son, with whom he'd been playing in that room, fled deeper into the house.  He made it up the first seventeen steps of the central stair, where he collapsed, just short of the top, into his wife's arms, and died.  To this day, visitors sometimes hear his faltering steps on the stairs.

In the final showroom, the children's dining room and later the game room, we were shown the photo of Chloe between the general store building and the main house, and the shadows of the children on the room by the dormer window of their room, and our tour was concluded.

As we were enjoying a relaxing dinner in the Carriage House Restaurant on the grounds, a woman who had been on our tour came to our table to show us a photograph she'd taken at the haunted mirror.  I was unfortunately away from the table, so I didn't get to see it, but she promised to e-mail it to us, and I can't wait.  Apparently she'd caught Natalie, one of our group, in her shot of the mirror, and, clinging to Natalie's side, was the apparition of a small child.  I think it's significant that Natalie is the member of our group who has a little girl of her own.

After an evening of nuptial talk, bachelorette games, and wedding cake vodka, we all went to our beds for the night's repose.  Only one of us, though, had anything like a restful night.  I dreamed all night that I was lying awake in bed, afraid that the haunts were coming.  At one point in my dream, a small, ghostly white puppy came over and wanted to play, and I reached to touch it.  It felt so real, and when I looked over at Nathalie, she said she could see it, too, but I knew it must be a ghost puppy, because it was playing tug'o'rope while hovering a foot off the ground.  Then I dreamed that I was laying stock still under the covers, knowing Chloe was in the room, but if I stayed still, she'd let me alone.  In all of these dreams, the details of the room itself and my sleeping arrangement, on my back or on my side, and Nathalie on the other bed, to the left of mine, were exactly true to reality.  I only knew they were dreams because I'd wake up from them, realizing I wasn't actually afraid, and didn't actually sense any presence.

Jayna reports that she dreamed of ghostly figures materializing around her, coming nearer and nearer, while she was unable, in spite of every effort, to reach over to wake Ellen, her bedfellow, or even move or speak at all.  Ellen, in turn dreamed several times of turning over to look at Jayna, and seeing a corpse with shining blond hair.  Nathalie's dreams intrigue me most.  She dreamed that the little girl came to her, and that she spoke soothingly to the child, telling her what a happy place this home was, that the owners took beautiful care of it, and that this was a good place for her, and she did not need to come home with Nathalie, but should stay here!  The girl in her dream, she says, was around six or seven.  I had thought the Woodruff girl was younger than that when she died, but when we questioned our guide for the history tour the next morning after breakfast (Zach again), he told us that the boy was nine and the little girl seven at the time of the tragedy, a detail that had not been in his tour the night before.  Eeeerieeeeee!

The history tour had more info on southern, antebellum customs and architectural details of the house, which was wonderful.  Afterward, as we lounged in the row of rocking chairs on the front porch, we called Zach over and got him to tell us more stories of the ghostly goings on.  In spite of the terrible night sleep we all of us except for Jeanne had, the ghosts are much more playful than terrifying here, by all accounts.  This place is very most definitely worth a visit and an overnight stay.  If staying in the main house is too potentially scary for you, there are cottages like the Coco House and Caretaker's House, as well as a block of rooms in a new building behind the Carriage House Restaurant.

But I'd definitely like to come back myself and stay in the main house at some point.  In... any room but the doll room, though!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Meditation on 100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum

Image borrowed from The Chinati Foundation Website. For more information, visit them at www.chinati.org.

Over the holidays I visited the Chinati Foundation, in Marfa, Texas, to see Donald Judd's 100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum. Housed in two abandoned artillery sheds in the vastness of West Texas, each work fits into the same outer dimensions and is crafted from the same material: sheets of aluminum about three quarters of an inch thick and polished to a satiny shine.

The works fill the glass-encased space of the bunkers, airy above the concrete floors and amid the brick pillars. The tour for these spaces is half an hour, total, which didn't give me nearly enough time to give each work the attention I wanted. I found them fascinating and soothing and compellingly contemplative. Not nearly enough time to examine each of the 100 works, but enough time to write a poem upon them, penned into my little notebook as I wandered around and among them. I hope you enjoy it. I think I'll send it to the Foundation.

Meditation on 100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum

Fleeting glimpses of
Endlessness encapsulated,
Caught in the corners
Of light and shadow
Where sharp hard sheets
And obdurate joinings
Flicker, fade, evanesce,
Boundaries flooded, washed away,
In a spreading sprawl of mirrored time...

Time arcing though blue sky with the sweep of
Planets slanting over ageless mountains swept by
Shifting sunlight, shimmering, in the metal mirage and
Then, with a millimeter sideways slip of focus, suddenly
All endings
Coalesce into prismatic space,
A single moment...

Infinity inverted
One hundred times.