Monday, December 30, 2013

a moment in the day: the insult

In that moment, the woman was mildly insulting with what she said to me, and I was mildly humiliated by what I'd done to deserve the comment. And for me, mildly is enough to make me feel more than mildly bad. But then it occurred to me that I might write about this. Because, even though it was mildly humiliating, it was also mildly interesting, and I could easily use it for one of those "moment in the day" pieces I sometimes write, one of which I hadn't written in quite a while. This made me mildly happy.

Then I woke up and it was all a dream, and I couldn't even remember what the dream moment had been, and I had nothing to write about after all.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

christmas revels

Recently, I caught the opening of the Christmas Revels down at the beautiful Scottish Rite Building. They always change up their area and era of focus for this annual production of historical wintertime celebration, and this year the Revels takes place in 18th century Central Europe, which made it extra fun since my date for the evening was not only from the Czech Republic but heads up the Czech School of Portland.

Somewhere during the show, she leaned over and whispered that the big illustration on the stage floor was actually a reproduction of a famous astrological clock in the Old Town Square in Prague.

And from further away:

That's one of the things I like about the Revels productions. Their attention to detail. I never would have known the image on the stage was more than just something pretty had my friend not mentioned its significance, yet there it was, another bit of historical detail - which they later made come alive on stage, actually, in an esoteric sketch about the complexities of time.

The players for this year's production are headed up by Eric Stern (the town mayor and clock maker, who plays a mean accordion), Burl Ross (who plays Hodiny, the clock maker's assistant, a charming comic with the chops of an old time European circus clown) and Ithica Tell (the  Empress - stately, full of presence, and plays a great straight man to Ross' clown).

photo by david kinder

Some favorite moments. Let's see. There was a beautiful couple songs back to back: Što Mi e Milo (Macedonian) and Shen Khar Venakhi (Georgian) - amazing harmonies that made me close my eyes involuntarily. The first was sung by all women, and the richness of the harmony was surprising. The second brought in the men, too - slower, softer, almost mournful, which is interesting as this medieval hymn to the Virgin Mary is apparently often sung at weddings in honor of the bride.

Some of the music in the Revels is historical and some is newly composed, and I have to say, I may be a layman when it comes to the tunes of Old Europe, but to my uneducated ears, the new stuff sounded as authentic as the old stuff. I particularly loved Jaschkele (with a Russian feel) and Rachenitsa (in Bulgarian style - and in 7/8 time), both composed by the town mayor, Eric Stern.

Another favorite moment: Nevijska Koleda (from Croatia) - a gorgeous song that started with all men's voices, then a wash of women's voices coming in, a beautiful, pure sound, a cappella, building and building until I had to close my eyes again.

And Dragana I Slaveya, which is (as I read in the program) a fiendish story about a nightingale and a girl having a singing contest. If the girl loses, the nightingale gets to cut off her hair. If the bird loses, the girl gets to cut off his wings. [!] But what beautiful music for such a creepy tale - a sort of call and response that then folds in together, a tune that twirls and hovers around one note like a hummingbird.

I love that the Revels gives me the opportunity to hear music I never would have had the chance to otherwise. Live, in that beautiful space with great acoustics. One other note: we had a third member of our party that night, a boy around... [I have no sense of age in people.] ten? I wondered if he'd be as engaged as the grown-ups with this performance of old, traditional music. Luke laughed and laughed at all the comedy throughout and had a great time.

You can check out more info on the Christmas Revels here.

ulterior motives

Ten years ago today, I wrote an e-mail to an artist I didn't know.

Hi--I'm a member of the Rufus Wainwright message board. In which I go by circusgirl. Anyway, I was in Portland recently on a visit and made it a point to stop by the Froelick [Gallery] and see your exhibit.

Big Venus - Stephen O'Donnell
Wow. I just wanted to say you're quite a talent, in both aesthetic and content. I really enjoyed your pieces in person. When I peeked at the Big Venus on the website I thought it was done in oils. I think my favorite pieces are the Castor and Pollox and the Toilette of Medusa (hope I'm not mis-stating the titles). The Medusa I love for so many reasons. It's so beautiful, but the idea behind it, the significance, just goes in so many layers. If I'm not being unclear. I love the paradoxes--the mythos/mythos, man/woman, good/evil, ugliness/beauty. Very cool. Castor and Pollux I thought was just so pretty and poignant. But I liked them all. Forgive me for sounding silly, but I just left impressed enough to feel the need to call upon you and gush a little.


Yes, that's what I said. The Rufus Wainwright message board. I'm not going to tell you just how much time I spent on that message board goo-gooing over Rufus Wainwright, and I'm not going to tell you how embarrassingly old I was when I was doing this.


In my defense, the artist I was writing to that day was also a member. Steveo, he called himself. Also in my defense, being in the circus can be kind of like being in jail. A jail full of big tops and cotton candy and the laughing, happy faces of children. I'm not knocking the children. It's just that when your life is nothing but big tops and cotton candy, when everyone around you [and most of all your husband the clown] thinks about nothing but big tops and cotton candy, you get stir crazy. And when you find something you like, you grab on and hold a little too hard.

Rufus Wainwright - Detail - Stephen, O'Donnell

It was on that message board that member Circusgirl had heard member Steveo mention that non-member Rufus happened to be playing a gig in Portland, Oregon, right around the time of the opening of his (member Steveo's) art exhibit Mythos at Froelick Gallery. Steveo kind of hoped Rufus would see the exhibit while in town, but the one who saw it was Circusgirl.

I've never been a big writer of fan letters. Well, there was that one time I wrote to Steven Spielberg when I was about thirteen, but that was less about the fan letter and more about my aspirations for submitting my script for the sequel to the film E. T. Which I also hoped to star in.

Well, and there was that time, even earlier, when I wrote to Sally Struthers to tell her how much I admired her acting and her crusading for animal rights, but that time I wrote the fan letter because my cousin told me she wrote one, and I wanted to be just like my cousin.

I'd say most fan letters have ulterior motives. We want to tell the artists, writers, actors, activists that we love what they've done, but we also want other things. An autograph. To feel smart. To congratulate ourselves on our taste. To feel a connection to our heroes.

The day I wrote the fan message to artist Stephen O'Donnell, I had ulterior motives. Like that one about feeling smart. Witness the incredibly thought-out [but decidedly awkward] wording of my note. You're quite a talent in both aesthetic and content


I also wanted to find someone to talk about art with. I really did think that somehow this accomplished artist would find my comments so engaging that we might strike up a conversation and then I could talk about lovely things like beauty, symmetry, iconography. Motif. Impasto. Chiaroscuro. Whatever that was. Anything, as long as it wasn't big tops and cotton candy.

I also hoped we could talk about Rufus Wainwright. Because, at age thirty-five, I was, in fact, a thirteen year old girl.

And if I'm honest with myself, I'll say I wanted something more. A human connection that I hadn't had in a very long time, out there on the road with all that nothing but cotton candy. A human connection that maybe even held a hint of that tiny, hidden desire I felt while standing in front of those beautiful self portraits of that man in a dress.

The Toilette of Medusa - Stephen O'Donnell

A hint. I didn't need more. Just a quick, innocent fan letter was enough.

My list of ulterior motives was pretty long that day, but it didn't include starting up a quick e-mail conversation that would lead to a longer e-mail conversation that would lead to a deep friendship that would lead to my finding the guts to leave my fifteen year marriage and career and move to Portland to meet and get to know and eventually marry that artist.

But in the afternoon of the day I sent that message, Stephen wrote back.