Wednesday, January 13

A warm canto to soothe the trembling earth …

This post has twice been disrupted and upended by seismic events. One frightening but not lethal, and the other on a much greater scale with a horrendous toll in death and suffering we do not yet know but which surely “will be more than any of us can ever bear” as one celebrity mayor once so emotively warned in the steaming aftermath of a cataclysm closer to home.

I had wanted to follow up my previous astronomy post with another one about my penchant for a different type of celestial gazing: satellite spotting. This was prompted by a comment made by Jeffscape — he of the much appreciated Irrelevant Irreverence blog — asking whether I have ever observed the International Space Station (ISS) through a telescope. Jeff’s question quickly started the tiny spacecraft of my mind racing and wanting to share with all of you the joys of catching a view of the ISS as it majestically sweeps across the night sky or a glimpse of an Iridium satellite flash flaring its light out of the late evening or even daytime sky.

But while scanning the trembling stars for some inspiration for the post, that plan was preempted by the earth shaking below, not exactly beneath me here in south-central Spain, but way over in northern California, with epicenter in Eureka.

You see, I have family in Eureka, namely my aunt Joan Gold, whom I mentioned in one of my earliest posts on this blog. Joan is a painter and collage maker, born and raised in Brooklyn (‘God’s country’ as my also Brooklyn-born father will always quip). She studied art at The Cooper Union and the Brooklyn Museum, and then, in 1955, at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Caracas, Venezuela, under a US State Department fellowship to paint and study.

In Venezuela she met, fell in love with and married Fernando, my mother’s oldest brother, with whom she had four children. The demands of childrearing and teaching as associate professor at Universidad Metropolitana in the Venezuelan capital, and an environment in and out of the home that was cruelly unwelcoming to the idea of a woman with a paintbrush and not just a broom, all combined to largely put her art work on hold for much of the 24 years she remained in Venezuela. In 1979 she returned to the US, along with her by then adult children and minus one soon-to-be-ex-husband, and settled in northern California, where she would take up her brushes once again. And she has immersed herself in her painting ever since.

Except for my earliest pre-memory years (the five I spent in Caracas, where I was born, before moving to the US), Joan and I have seen each other but a handful of times and perhaps only once in the last 25 years or so. Years and decades slid by with no contact. Blogging has brought this connection back to life.

But I was very much in touch with her husband, my tío Fernando, with whom I had always enjoyed a warm rapport in my childhood and teen years, a ‘quiet understanding’ we would come to call it. This later blossomed into one of the most important friendships in my life, one of those relationships that gently, almost imperceptibly but firmly, changes the course of one’s little rowboat. I will not go into the loving details but just say that Fernando had much to do with my coming to Spain back in 1985, and even more with why I have stayed here for these past 25 years. But this influence was also ‘quiet’ and it is only now, over two decades later, and more than 10 years after Fernando passed away, that I have come to realize just how strong it was.

However resolutely I push and pull the oars and eye the compass, the years have taught me that there are always unseen currents at work, there is a silent hand at the helm and secret rudders steer our craft.

I savor the irony in discovering that now, as my appreciation for the warmth and care and direction Fernando gave me ripens to gold, even while my memories of him are going sepia, my connection with Joan has reawakened and bursts out in full living color.

For Joan Gold is anything but sepia. She is all color and all colors. A student, master, connoisseur, visual poet of the rainbow, an impressionist in a kaleidoscope. Her art work is non-representational and focused, as she explains on her web page, on “luminous color”, striving to create in her studio “a place of refuge, filled with color and light”, furthering art’s mission to “communicate joy, balance, harmony, beauty and serenity” — something I feel she achieves to marvelous effect. But judge for yourself in the accompanying slideshow of photos of some of her work that I have downloaded from her website.

And, like me, she is also a fledgling blogger. This cyberworld has allowed us to get back in touch. Throughout the day on Sunday, after learning of the California earthquake, with the epicenter apparently very close to her home in Eureka, we were in touch by email. Fortunately, we soon learned that there was no loss of life, just property damage and a lot of rattled nerves. This brought back scary memories of a truly horrific earthquake in Caracas that Joan, Fernando and my four cousins lived through back in 1967, a tremor that did cause major damage and several hundred deaths. I recall my cousin Fernando recounting how, 10 years old at the time, he hid under his bed spellbound with fear throughout the shaking.

On Monday, Joan emailed me, saying: “yesterday was spent cleaning up the broken pottery and telling each other how fortunate we were because it could have been so much worse … when we had that earthquake in Caracas in 1967 I kept counting my four chicks for days afterwards, always afraid one might get out of sight. It is an awful experience and an extraordinary one to feel the earth jolt and shudder under you and to see the walls around you lean and buckle.”

So there you have my aunt Joan. Thanks to blogging we now keep in touch and I can take pleasure in seeing her from afar, now well into her eighth decade, survivor of two earthquakes and the shipwreck of a beautiful love and impossible marriage, busy in her studio everyday, diligently keeping up her end of the artist’s stern compact with the daemons and genies of inspiration and creativity (see post on Elizabeth Gilbert's wonderful talk), weaving and unweaving the rainbow day in and night out, a chromatic Penelope painting her own merry-go-round Odyssey.

Below I am placing images of her artwork in the alchemist’s kaleidoscope. As a soundtrack for Joan’s art I offer one of my favorite tunes, Warm Canto, from Mal Waldron’s 1961 album The Quest, which I am embedding for the audio just under the slideshow. In another post I would like to discuss this musical performance further. But for now, let me just invite you to listen to the piece as you watch Joan's art work gliding by; listen to Eric Dolphy’s stirring clarinet solo, most especially to the squawk at 1 minute 14 seconds into the video …

… and ponder the following question: is that dark squeal a 'mistake' or is it the soulful signature bleat of this great reedman? For me, much more than a defect, it is the crowning touch, the most memorable bit in a very memorable piece. The moment where the emotion of the song breaks through, where the reed seems to shudder and crack and the artist yelps with emotion, like the telltale hitch in the voice of a storyteller ruing a sour personal fate.

What do you think? Defect or virtue? Or is there a difference?

And when you’re finished, if you find the time and inclination, visit Joan Gold at her blog, take in and enjoy her art work, wish her the best, help quell the aftershocks with your kind words, celebrate her courageous colors as she gratefully counts her chicks …

* * *

Forgive me if it seems callous on my part for putting up this post, concentrated as it is on the Eureka earthquake, which, however frightening it must have been, was a mere tectonic hiccup compared to what has happened in Port-au-Prince. Haiti, a beautiful and once lush land, the first nation to win its independence in Latin America, but long ago withered to the woeful status of most impoverished nation in the western hemisphere, with one of the world’s highest indices of pain&suffering per square inch and capita. And now the capital city writhes further buried under untold tons of rubble and a thickening avalanche of misery.

I am sure Joan’s prayerful tally of her four chicks and assorted blessings will echo all the louder and darker as one dreadful dispatch after another comes limping in about the devastation in Haiti. And here I sit talking, writing about rainbows and Penelopes, bass clarinets and errant squeals. I hope it does not sound flippant. But when I turn my thoughts to the dire situation unfolding in the land of the great Toussaint L’ouverture … words, images, metaphors, prayers all seem to fail me. May those suffering souls be with all of us, in our thoughts and prayers … ¿and actions?


  1. A terrifying thing to experience—an earthquake. I can only imagine it. My prayers are with all who have been affected by it, either in Haiti, or even California's less powerful, but nonetheless effecting quake.

    Will listen and ponder now.


  2. Living in the midwest, I've only experienced the terror of tornados. My heart goes out to all the dashed families in Haiti and Eureka.

    I'm popping over to visit Joan...

    (you guessed right on my piece today, btw)

  3. Poetikat: a "virtuous defect", I can go with that.

    willow: I see that you did indeed pop over to visit Joan and even signed up as a follower. Sweet of you, as always. And, as always, you have my gratitude.

    (i was actually hoping my guess was wrong, btw)

  4. A terrible experience on both corners of the thoughts go out to everyone, Joan included.

  5. Crazy stuff, earthquakes. Although, having grown up a Californian, I prefer them to hurricanes.

    I guess Haiti's screwed either way.

  6. I am always fascinated by how people come into our lives ever so softly and make a mark that lasts forever. Your uncle Fernando's is proof of that. Life has also taught me that things happen affortlessly, given a chance, and this reconnection with your aunt surely happened when the time ripened and you were both ready.
    Isn't it amazing the power people have of rekindling one another.

    It seems that there is a parallel in our 25 years in Spain, and I 25 years (November 1985) in the States :)

    Last month, my Lisbon also felt a mild aftershock (5.0) from an earthquake that took place at a fault a hundred and some kilometers south of Portugal, but when one compares that mild sysmic activity to the devastating effects in Haiti everything is put into perspective. You can help through different organizations, but you still feel so helpless.

    Now, off I go to visit your aunt...

  7. that last paragraph speaks volumes to my feelings...

  8. This is a wonderful, wonderful post. If I read it in a National newspaper I would be mightily impressed, but it's better because it has sound and motion.

    I like how Joan lives in Eureka and her name fittingly is Gold. I'm inspired to get off my duff and paint some more.

    Thanks Lorenzo Lapis Lazuli ( if that is your real name)

  9. Hi, Clever Pup. Thanks for the kind words.

    Yes, as I mentioned in one of the first posts on this blog, having an aunt and blogfriend&follower with the name of Gold is almost too good to be true for a blog that invests in alchemy metaphors. And Eureka does rhyme with gold in an alchemist's imagination.

    No, Lorenzo Lapis Lazuli is not my real name, but it is not too far off. My blogging friends call me LLL, which is fine, or you can call me Larry, as most other people do.

  10. Earthquakes can be scary and deadly big or small. Timely post, sadly. We never know what the Earth has in store for us under the surface of the land or sea.

  11. With a few months' perspective on the devastation in Haiti, reading this post I'm struck by what seems to be the truth of how things are for us humans, that all losses are losses, big or small, and we feel them as we feel them, no right, no wrong, no comparisons. Even those in Haiti who lost on a massive scale, after having suffered so much already in life, experience it piece by piece, loss by loss, one chick at a time. In some way your incredibly moving post, honoring Fernando, Joan, the Haitians, and the human in us all, helps me get my head around how we suffer.

    I started following your Aunt Joan after the previous post and am enjoying her thoughts on art and life very much.

    This is a tremendous tribute to your uncle and aunt, with a delicious warm canto accompaniment.


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