Left my glasses at a tortilla shack in town today, will go back and get them tomorrow. In the meantime, just a post of things I’ve been playing with, lately, and not a lot of soulful writing… because I can hardly see what I’m doing!
In the first three photos are some of the art I put into old-fashioned letters to friends…though I’ve since learned that Guatemala’s post office no longer functions. (The government put a Canadian company in charge, but hasn’t paid the company’s fees in past months, so the postal services have shut down.) Bummer. May just have to post these from Mexico.
Also, some meaningless photos of paint…I’ll be going home to Australia later this year, and I’ve just realized that I can’t take my paints with me. Arrggh! So I am doodling, playing, experimenting, and being quite heavy-handed with the palette knife these days, trying to use up as much as I can. Hopefully they won’t dry out before Kris gets the boat (and all my art materials) back to Darwin…though they’re at least a couple of years old, already, and dry out very quickly on the palette.
That’s all for now…have a great weekend!
The friend from university who first introduced me to Dylan Thomas went into a coma last December, and everyone who knew him left messages on his facebook…in the hopes that he would wake up and know that he’d been missed. In honor of our Thomas connection, I (mis)quoted* these lines from the poem Fern Hill.
Three weeks ago Luis passed away…a mercy, really, after being so long in coma. We were not close, but his death was made more poignant because he was so young (we were born the same year, 1974). To me it seemed an urgent message to get as much as I can out of this life, because we never know when it will all come to a halt.
The lines of the poem have stayed with me… sometimes I lull myself to sleep with them. Dylan Thomas was a sorcerer of lilting, musical language…his words dance, surge, rise and ebb like the ocean he was named after. I had a sudden urge to write them out somewhere that I would see them often, and decided to whack them on the cover of this Moleskine watercolor sketchbook. The curly waves were inspired by what I could remember of Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa.
* …Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
—Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas
It started with a book that I bought to read on the flight from Johannesburg to Capetown: The Search for The Rarest Bird In The World by Vernon R.L. Head, a South African bird-lover. It was a strange book, surprisingly dreamy with a lot of beautiful language, images shimmering like a tree shot with sunlight and a thousand cherry-sized birds. An emotional book, with just touches of natural science. I read that book 8, maybe 9 times…it was not very mentally taxing, just a pleasant ramble through forests and savannahs, chasing birds with one’s thoughts. I wanted to keep it, but didn’t want to read it a 10th time…felt strangely compelled to interact with it, somehow.
I started doodling and painting in its pages…beginning with the catalog of eggs used for the endpaper design, the large white spaces around chapter titles, then moving into the text…
At some point this feather thing took over, and I set aside the altered book project to explore feathers in my sketchbooks. Colours, brush marks, how to make a feather using a single stroke of the brush…
Moved from sketchbooks to watercolour paper, with a mapping pen to draw fine lines, and a lick of gouache to sometimes give a highlight.
The final version is at the top of this post…a series of feathers using yellow and sepia paint, on rough watercolor paper. A present for my Colombian friend Liz.
“Just erotic. Nothing kinky. It’s the difference between using a feather and using a chicken.” ― Terry Pratchett, Eric
Cartagena de Indias’ oldest operating restaurant, La Vitrola stands on the corner of Calle Baloco and Playa de la artilleria (Artillery Beach). It is said to be the best restaurant in Cartagena, and among the best in Colombia, though I couldn’t tell you as I have never eaten there (reservations till the end of June, strict dress codes, no children allowed, average price of dinner between 40 and 80 dollars) and when I drew this I sat on the ramparts across the street, eating my pastel de pollo lunch (like a tamale of rice and chicken, wrapped and cooked in banana leaves) which I buy, most days, from an old man who pushes a cart around and cries his wares in three notes, like the call of some bird: “pas-TE-LES!”
I drew this looking down calle Don Sancho from a tiny spot of shade along the murallas (the stone walls that surround the fortified city) in the midday heat. You can tell I was deeply impressed by the cathedral’s dome, as I seem to have drawn it twice as large as it should be…it’s all dome, and no church underneath!
One of the most entertaining ways to explore Cartagena de Indias is through books. Besides reading two novels, simultaneously, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that are set in the Cartagena of old, I spend my evenings reading a marvellous book called “Plazas y Calles de Cartagena”, written in the 1940s by Raul Porto…one of the city’s respectable, scholarly and most avid citizens. In it are gathered the histories, nomenclature, legends, rumours and quotidian information of every single street in the historical centre and Getsemani
Of calle Don Sancho the book says: “no young person of the neighborhood could possibly survive in house No. 36-51 (currently occupied by the offices of ‘El Mercurio’) because of the headless ghost of a priest named Marin, dead for more than three centuries, that was sure to appear. One thing is certain, the house has a reputation for being haunted, and by 9 in the evening there is no young man that will come near it…”
Walking these old streets with all these marvellous stories rattling around in my head adds yet another layer of fascination to the experience, and where other visitors may be standing in a nondescript cobbled plaza between park and church, I thrill with my ‘special insider’s knowledge’ that I am standing on the spot where the conquistador Pedro Heredia’s house (he is the founder of the city, and his was the first house of stone ever built) used to be. Eavesdropping on city tours I can confidently say that not one of the local guides herding tourists around has ever given such a detailed and interesting narrative of the town as reading a couple of books does.
The heat was so withering up on the bare battlements that I caved in and bought a hat–my first!–from one of the many vendors who prowl the walls, pestering tourists–the only people crazy enough to walk around the fortifications at high noon.
Mexican hot sauce. The bottle was very pretty—with a wooden cap and everything; but the sauce was insipid…