Ein alter Mann, der lächelt, ist wie Blumen im Winter
(An old man who smiles is like flowers in the winter. -German proverb)
Tried to catch dad doing the Charleston Shuffle, but his arms were too fast for my exposure, and vanished!
A display of energy like this is rare from him, these days, but he had perked up considerably after a big breakfast together on the verandah.
Also done by this father-daughter pair on Saturday: swapped files, showed each other our Flickr photos (with background story narration), watched one of the BBC’s Planet Earth DVDs., shared a visit from friend and artist Ace Polintan, had halo-halo ice cream with leche flan on top (decadence), took selfies with the camera’s remote control, and watched the sky for rain.
Of course, after all this (plus his stunt on the dance floor) he had to take a nana nap. :)
Had such an inspiring meet-up with the brilliant street photographer behind WordPress blog Malate, Elmer Valenzuela, last night. In a bar overlooking an urban crossroads, filled with young people in ridiculous hipster getup, throbbing with live music and strobed with laser lights, we sat over a dozen beers and a sizzling plate of that classic Filipino drinking snack known as sisig (it’s minced pig’s face, now doesn’t that sound lovely? Perfect foil for lots of booze.)
It was so great to finally meet Elmer Valenzuela in person, and to find him every bit as genuine, artistic, and nice as he seems on his blog. He’s incredibly modest, insisting that anybody could do what he does…the sign of real passion. “No, not everyone,” I assure him…my reluctance to pull a camera out of my bag, not to say point it at someone on the street, borders on neurosis. I carry my DSLR in a backpack everywhere…the streets of Singapore, the streets of Manila…but it’s pretty usual to come home having taken not a single shot. Terrified of street photography.
Back to Elmer’s blog, where he disses would-be street photographers who shoot from the safety of their cars (Eeep, that’s ME!) and worry about something happening to their cameras (Again, a raw nerve, goddamit). In his post Shadow Selfie: Overture to Street Photography, these words from Robert Frank sit, emphasized, centered, and pointing an accusing finger at me:
If an artist doesn’t take risks, then it’s not worth it.
We parted ways, but not before we aimed our cameras across the table at each other. I don’t know how his shots went, but mine were absolute crap in the low, low light, and I deleted them in disgust. I sped home through empty streets at 2 in the morning, stopping at a 7-Eleven to pick up a cheap pack of smokes and a couple of balut (fertilised and partially developed duck eggs) from an old lady out the front. Local wisdom says that balut gives you, er, staying power, stamina, or spunk. I’m running out of time in Manila, but if there’s one thing I would love to do before I go, it’s take Elmer up on his invitation to go for a street photography walk around Intramuros, the oldest district and historic core of the City of Manila. Maybe those duck eggs will work their magic, and I’ll master my fear of the fascinating, inscrutable street.
I arrived in Manila a week ago, and hit the ground running. Have been out almost every night, as different groups of friends sweep me off to gatherings, get-togethers, and parties in hotel rooms, in rapid succession. The trend seems to be: 3 days of going out, followed by one quiet day at home with my dad, resting, doing my laundry, and organising my schedule.
I am starting to feel the effects of so much socialising, drinking, and eating (food I’m supposed to avoid), but I have been loving the precious hours spent with “my tribe”: the raucous laughter, the feeling of being totally accepted, familiar, and unconditionally loved; the sparkling joy of conversations that dive—without polite preamble or censorship—into the depths of some of life’s great themes: how to live, how to die, how to engender change, how to make a difference, reconciling one’s real and imagined families, protecting integrity, nurturing creativity, food as encoded culture and as an expression of selfhood, the roller-coaster ride that is love, sex, and attraction, the role of poverty and its codependency with government, the absurdity of democracy, the ravages of time and the melancholy poetry of ageing…
As you can imagine, the sketchbook has suffered some neglect. Here’s a sketch of Darwin airport from my seat on the plane, and the facade of a hotel in Singapore, on Duxton Road. Nothing new to show, but I will try to do some sketches if I am home for most of the day, tomorrow. :)
N.B. I wrote a long blog post about this, right after it happened, but failed to save my typing and lost it all when my browser crashed.
In early October I spent three days, two nights, with the glass artist Meng Hoeschle and her delightful, multilingual husband, Herb. I was put up in a second, smaller house on the other end of their 5-acre property, and told to “relax”.
It was quite funny, me not knowing how to do that. I hadn’t brought any current project (as I didn’t realise I’d be in a separate house, and who wants to unload a heap of things onto someone else’s dining table, engage in something as unsocial as painting, or make a big mess?) so I was rather at a loss for ways to spend my time, while I was alone. I don’t watch television, so didn’t even check to see if it was plugged in. I had a lot of showers, they were definitely luxurious—the bathroom was as big as my bedroom/workspace on the boat!—and I took Nana naps! I tried to draw a little bit, but this was early days for my sketchbook pages and I lacked confidence.
The best part of my time there was, of course, the hours spent in conversation with Meng, and with Herb. If I wondered, on the first night (lying in the white cotton bedsheets, in the air-conditioned bedroom, surrounded by the deep silence of a night on the rural outskirts of Darwin) what the heck I was doing there—in a spotless modern cottage like a resort’s—I had the answer by breakfast the next morning.
Life sends you teachers when you need them. Both Meng and Herb were reservoirs of wisdom and joy, and I cried often during our conversations.
Meng and I talked late into the night, in her studio like an alchemist’s laboratory, while she moved briskly about the room, cutting sheets of glass, enameling them, then putting them into the kiln to slump. We talked about art, about craft, about putting yourself into your work, about the value of such work beyond measuring sticks like money or time. From the rafters, tinkling glass discs and globes trapped or threw ensorcelled lamplight out into the darkness of cycads and gum trees surrounding the house.
I fell in love with one of her pieces, that I have named Sea Wall, because looking through it is a bit like looking at a cross section of foaming ocean, and I love the submarine light that filters through it. The next day, Meng chose another of her works to give me…this one a turquoise tumbler that looks like the moment when a drop hits the surface of a tropical lagoon, frozen in time. It was still warm from the kiln, from the night before, and she wanted me to have something whose making I had witnessed.
Twice, during my stay with the Hoeschles, I was given the bulge and nuzzle of the sea to hold. Precious, precious pieces, representing their two radiant souls, and the gifts they gave to me, of courage and curiosity, of essence and message.
Today, because I cannot take them with me, I took these photos, and then wrapped each piece up in layers of bubbles and brown paper, for when we get back.
I’ve been trying to photograph and write the listings for some new journal designs to post to my ETSY shop this past week, but there have been so many social commitments, lately…I can’t believe the number of my friends with their birthdays in September, there sure was a lot of baby-making going on during the Christmas holidays! Oh, curious thought: Maybe Santa’s your real dad?
Here are four new journal designs in my ETSY shop…these are made with Spoonflower fabric designs by other talented designers, not me. Sometimes it’s nice to see someone else’s ideas on a journal cover, I get tired of my own style.
Clicking on the image will take you to my ETSY shop. If you want to purchase the fabric, instead, click on the designer’s name under the picture.
I only bought a fat quarter of each design, so there are only four journals of each. This is pretty much the last bit of bookbinding that I will be doing for a while, so if you’ve had your eye on something in my shop, best grab it now! I can’t take these with me when I leave Darwin (too heavy!) and I will have to put my shop in stasis until I manage to make something new on my travels. I know this all sounds so vague, but I feel as though I am standing at the edge of my known world, about to hurl myself into an abyss! I don’t know any more than you do about what is coming…only that I’ll be with my love, again, and that makes up for everything else!
Speaking of Kris, he left me some of his self-published books, and I have decided to put them up for sale on ETSY, as well! They were printed by small presses in the Philippines, but Kris bound them all by hand (very roughly, but the point of these books is the story, not the binding), so they can legitimately go on ETSY. (As of this listing, Kris is in Africa, cycling through Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.)
I am selling his two best books:
“Dream. The day you stop dreaming, you are as good as dead.” —the Monsoon Dervish motto.
On a home-built Chinese junk that had no engine, electricity, radio, GPS, not even a compass, my partner, Kris Larsen—a carpenter by trade, an adventurer at heart—crisscrossed the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific for seven years, from Australia to Madagascar and Japan, covering a total of 45 000 miles.
Forever broke, dodging officials and flying by the seat of his pants, Kris found himself trading spices in Zanzibar, collecting sea-cucumbers on a deserted island, and entertaining gangsters in a Japanese night-club. In Sri Lanka he was arrested as a suspected Tamil terrorist; in Comoros he was chased out of the harbour by gun-waving policemen. He survived a 360º rollover in a typhoon off Taiwan, finally stopping on a beach in the Philippines to write this book.
For the next seven years he tried to find a publisher for his work: anywhere, anyone. Nobody was interested. Frustrated, he typed the text onto a CD and on the next trip to the Philippines he paid a printing press in Davao to run 200 copies of the book. Each book has been bound by hand and covered with old sailing charts, and every copy is different. The first printing sold out in 4 months around the Darwin waterfront. Roughly bound and roughly written in Kris’ pronounced Russian-English, this book is surprisingly funny, entertaining, and inspiring, too…it’s gathered a small following of readers from around the world.
“If I could choose one thing to take with me on a round the world trip, I would take a warm sleeping bag. If I was allowed two things, I would add a good passport. In that order.” — opening lines of Out of Census
This is the first volume of an autobiography by my partner and belovéd—a mad adventurer and prolific writer— Kris Larsen. It follows Kris’s growing up in Eastern Europe under communist rule, his days as a tramp and a rock climber, his brazen escape into the West, going half way around the world as an illegal alien with dodgy papers, over-landing to India and beyond.
It’s a humorous take on the life of a would-be refugee that nobody wanted, showing how little you really need in order to do the things you always dreamed about. You want to go on an expedition? Put on your boots and go.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ― H. Jackson Brown Jr.
So proud of my friend Kat’s evolving blog, Zero the One…it’s got a new look, stunning photographs combined with fun fonts and design, light-flooded videos featuring creatives and thinkers that she has met on her travels (and at home, which happens to be Rome…a historically rich seam for creative mining), and a brave, beautiful, distilled raison d’être:
We are shameless artists, seekers and movers who care about epic shit.
And a good story (that we live out).
This place holds special personal significance, and walking around the ruins was a sentimental experience for him. Kris grew up in the drab, oppressive environment of Czechoslovakian Communism. Everyone lived in fear or suspicion. The state determined every step of your life for you, well in advance. You were not encouraged to shine, or dream, or even enjoy your life. His father was a government official, but even they fell out of favour regularly, and when Kris was 13 his father died in a car ‘accident’ in which his brake cables had been cut. Needless to say, travel was not allowed (beyond the borders of neighboring Communist countries).
Yet, somehow, ten-year-old Kris—a voracious reader, and a serious, thoughtful child—managed to develop and nurture an adventurous, determined spirit. He tried to build a boat out of scrap wood in his apartment building’s communal courtyard, and he compiled a list of many countries, many places in the world that he wanted to see with his own eyes. Family, school and state did their best to squash such fanciful dreams, but I suspect they only sharpened the edge of his will. Eventually he escaped, traveling around the world, ticking off his list as he went, in his search for a new home, and finally settled in Australia. The ruins of Great Zimbabwe was one of the must-see places on his childhood list.
Every time Kris manages to reach one of the places on that list (and there have been many, now) it is an exultant declaration of his independence. It is the universe telling him that he is worthy of love. It is an affirmation of the validity, the possibility of his dreams. And it is another deep hurt, inflicted by his past, that life has kissed and made better.