Thursday, December 2, 2010

How to hide a sketch in plain sight

As I commute to Wall Street I draw my fellow passengers. But it is rather awkward when they catch me staring at them. What can I do?

1. wear a hat with a big brim. No problem, I own a Tilly hat. But the Tilly hat inevitably starts a conversation with some hearty type asking me what river rafting or mounting hiking or glacier gliding I've done (almost none, I like the hat)
2. wear sunglasses (but I only have the clip on ones, not cool)
3. get over the embarrassment and draw anyway.

There is an invasion of personal space that an artist must negotiate to make images of other people. At the Art Students League, models are paid to pose. It is understood I will stare at them and make marks on paper or canvas. But the commuters probably have the right to tell me to bugger off...they didn't agree to model. But I want to find a way to do these quick studies. I'm inspired by other commuting sketchers on the subway. Drawing from photos is rather, uh, flat. Reality yields more as the subject shifts, thinks, nods off, moves their hand while holding a book, cellphone, rosary beads, a child's backpack...they hide and reveal parts of themselves and morph through an artist I can capture the movement and select the most telling expression. But did I capture their expression or project mine? Maybe it is an indefinable both. And here is my stop. Gotcha.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Good news and the proper use of envy

I just found out one of the books I designed for Benu Press, High Notes, by Lois Roma-Deeley, has won a design award and will be part of the 2011 New York Book Show! Don't know yet just what it won, it is in the general trade/poetry category, but to be part of the show, an honor.

I became a designer because one day in my early 20s, as I was filing signed author contracts in a wall full of gray metal cabinets, I watched a graphic designer working in the spotlight of her full spectrum lamp. I was transfixed. She held up a bright photo and font sample, squinted at them as she held them at arms length and called over to me "Hey Carlson, do you think this type looks like cowboy boots?"

"Without pausing for thought I blurted, "I want your job!" I wanted her job, her work questions, and the drafting table with Pantone swatches and pots of rubber cement. I wanted her straight hair and 20-20 vision too but was wise enough to know that envy is a good prod for careers but rather undermining when applied to the realities of appearance.

I took design classes and was not one of the better students, the professors would say, "Carlson, stop illustrating the cover and use type and design features to express the author's concept!" I looked at the best work in the class, a bit enviously, and decided I'd figure out what they were doing that made it work so well.

I carried my portfolio from art director to publishing director looking for my first book designer job. One creative director took the time to sit me down and say "Carlson, see all the other people in the waiting room, they all want this one job. I am going to do you a favor and tell you I don't see anything in your portfolio that stands out, this is a tough low-paying field. Do yourself a favor and find well paid work where you can excel!" I looked at her shelf of design awards and decided I'd find a way to get there.

After years of designing book interiors I watched the brilliant Cynthia Krupat design a cover for a Farrar Strauss & Giroux book. She repeatedly photocopied some type to give it a weathered look. "Ah hah!" How cool, she had ways to play with type that made the design fit her aesthetic while serving the book...I hoped some day to create covers that looked like I had designed them, in the way everyone could identify a Krupat design. I envied the happy authors and editors and marketing folks who felt her cover was right, right for the vision and the marketplace. In order to get cover design experience I took on freelance work since my day job was as an interior designer.

Sometimes they turn out well, other times I wish the muse had visited with a larger bucket of ideas. I look at the work of the best folks in the business and know I still have a lot to learn. But it is lovely when the universe sometimes says "Hey Carlson, good one!"

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, November 26, 2010

Why spend? Black Friday becomes Pencil Sketchday.

We're kinda broke and don't need any more things in the apartment at the moment (other than the digital camera I yearn for...but that can wait until it goes down in price or my ships sail in with full cargoes of cash). So here is Black Friday and Jim, Caitlin and I went to sketch folks at the local Starbucks while Natalie worked out at her gym in Queens.

I discovered the line for the bathroom offered quick sketch opportunities of people tense and expressive in posture. I tried to not make eye contact since that was when people figured out I was drawing woman tried to catch my eye and I managed to evade her! Then I heard her talking, it was an old friend Charlotte, who I hadn't spoken to in years. Hah!

So thanks to the models, mostly anonymous, and to the three of us indulging our inner artist. Natalie joined us glowing with health. Spending Black Friday in the gym puts her in the halo of workout ethic.

Yes, having a lovely holiday.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book collections and book-a-brack

Last week we were invited to a lovely dinner party with new friends, Valeria Susanina and Jack Womack. They are both lively minds, he's a writer, and their bookshelves are well organized offerings of loveliness. Their friends were lovely too. Since Jack and I are the same age, he handed me vintage 1960s and 70s catalogs to peruse...each item of clothing, toasters, luggage, clocks, brought back time-shots, the way sniffing Chanel #5 invokes my Grandmother's elegant and yeasty soul. I hope to get back soon to devour his books on typography and design...

I came home and looked at my disorganized and doubled-up collection. The books used to be in order, by kind, before the fire. Then they were shoved in boxes and stored for three years. And when I put them back in our rebuilt apartment, I had half as many bookshelves. They are a hodge-podge, treasures hidden behind paperbacks and magazines and old mechanical cameras, all teeming in their shelf slums. I want to invite Jack to see my really cool books. Show Valeria some of my drawings and our family photos...and the truth is, I will have to, finally, go through the books and reorganize, prune fiercely and shed the unread or no longer loved tomes. Another donation trip to the housing works cafe is in our future...

It is a daunting thought. The books, just now, are shifting in mutiny and shoving their spines out in a j'accuse way. I pity the ones that will have to leave...but look forward to finding once again my 1910s books illustrated by Frank Pape, novels embellished with Ernest Shepard's amazing line work, and the small joy of having nearly every Diana Wynne Jones book... and the poetry, and the books about maps, and the design section, and the fine art... plus I need an entire bookshelf for the volumes I have designed inside and out, with maps, illustrations, and graphic design. Although even there I am willing to make cuts. Only the best, dammit, only the best shall remain.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back to the Front Lines of the City Bloggage

There is an escaped robber somewhere in the bi-state area. Despite every danger, I have gone outside and returned safely. I need to stop listening to the news. I could have taken the dog for a walk without piling on any additional fears. There is plenty of threat on an ordinary day! For instance, the dog is color blind and does not regard red lights as any more significant than green. She leans towards traffic with a careless disregard for her own three-dimensionality. And given her height challenges--she barely rises above my ankles--I have to wonder if the ordinary car driver or lawless skateboarder can see her in time to avoid a calamitous collision. Plus she tries to eat hazardous roadside materials. She sniffs strangers and who knows what kind of weirdos they are? Worst of all, no matter where we go, someone says "ooooh, cute, a hotdog doggie!" I just told the hound we are no longer going to go into an orange alert state based on breaking news threats, besides, she doesn't see orange and only eats fruit if there is nothing else better to chew.
I read a poem at the Fall Marsh Hawk Press launch a few weeks ago and four short poems at the annual Brevitas Festival last weekend. I have now done enough readings that fear is at a low throttle, could be classified as excitement. My pulse goes up, I take a deep breath, brush aside an urge to flee or pee and then I am behind a podium and I have a wobbly faith that the words I wrote will not let me down. Then I start to enjoy reading my own work because it sounds right in my mouth. It only took a few decades. My very first reading, at an open mic at the Columbia U. Bookstore, I was so hyped I spoke in a freaky high voice at twice the speed of Minnie Mouse. And by the time my voice stopped racing my audience was snoring. Gotta start somewhere.
I am writing again. Poems and prose. In dribs. Drabs. Dabs. While listening to jazz violin. Something about syncopation and the almost voice of a fiddle. Wish I could write that sound. Draw that beat. Tried. Not in me. I will leave great jazz poetry to the folks that have a better ear. But I can listen, oh, yes, I can.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A gift for the producer

I wanted create a unique card to thank Mr. Li, who has done so much to make The Joker's Game happen. So I decided to paint him as the magician who is pulling the musical out of his hat. The butterfly refers to his previous show. Mia Shen (translator and lovely person) was able to write a thank you for us in Chinese. Mr. Li seemed to like it! He said he will get it framed for his office.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Foot soup

After a delicious Italian dinner hosted by the producers, Jim, Mark and I enjoyed a traditional foot massage. Tony led us to one of his favorite spots and left us with a "take care of them" to the desk lady.

Here is the run down of Beijing massage:

1. place feet in boiling water.
2. while sissies whimper--that would be me--10 minute shoulder massage.
3. pummel, jab, pull, knead, twist, scrunch, fillet, pop and sooth feet with skin cream.
4. repeat step 3 for 60 minutes.
5. massage begins to feel good when flesh surrenders to tenderizing.

Because of 5,000 years of considering feet as nerve keypads mapped to your entire body, massage therapists will tell you where you have problems. For instance, while exorcising my big toe I was told I was having trouble sleeping. True! While I writhed in tickle-torture as arches assaulted by 20 finger bayonets, I heard my guts were in disorder. Also true (see older blogs on Genghis Khan revenge).

I took a photo of Mark's feet, which, like a lobster, had turned as pink as his masseuse's gown.

Mark had never done anything like this before. He LOVED it and declared it was like crack, instantly addicting. He couldn't wait for his wife Kelly to come to Beijing and share this experience. And she did, and loved it just as much as he did and accurately had her headaches and breathing difficulties diagnosed. There is something to this...especially when it costs a fraction of what it would in New York.

It felt terribly wrong to put shoes on my feet after, like trapping clouds in leather buckets.

Monday, September 27, 2010

After the Dream some Pure Lotus

When our bus got back to Beijing from Dream Valley, Jim, Mark and I had dinner at the lovely vegetarian restaurant Pure Lotus. Steven Fock, the COO, drove us there as we would have had not a chance of finding it on our own, tucked as it is behind a gate and S shaped driveway. The place is lyrically lovely, very much a spot to bring a romantic date. They specialize in food that has the taste and texture of meats, but are magicked tofu. Our friend Kemin is mildly scornful and won't eat there, he thinks if you are going to make veggies taste like meat, just eat the cow. But I was entranced. From the muted purplish lights and multi cultural videos, objects, and music, it was like eating in an ABC Carpets with wait staff in glittery tunics. Mark got a bit tired of my taking photos (before the food arrived we were cranky) and snapped that I should stop photographing and try to actually experience reality. I was sort of flummoxed and put my camera away. How could he mistake me, an artiste, for one of those funny tourists that snap snap snap bad photos all the time? Er...When I could marshal what to say a few days later, I told him I have a creative process that involves the camera and in fact my photos have been on book covers and featured in magazines... he got it. By the end of the trip we were joking about it.

The food was delivered in imaginative ways, from statues to shells to giant leaves. And was delicious. From skewers of grilled "meats" to spring rolls so delicious I still have dreams about them... I was handed a purple-blue lotus as I left and it graced my hotel window the rest of my stay.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The trip to Dream Valley

One afternoon Tony Stimac, the director, had to leave the rehearsal studio in Beijing to attend the VIP opening of an arts complex he is helping to create in the mountains--an hour due East from the city. It is near Niangniangding Mountain and some ancient temples (as best as I can tell). Jim, Mark, Kemin, and friends of classical music and modern dance were invited to attend. We caught a cab that hit terrible traffic and were 15 minutes late for the chartered bus. Luckily the bus waited for we stepped on, young women in long satin dresses handed us complimentary tickets, two handed of course which is the polite way to do things here, and we took our seats in the back near Kemin and his entourage.

Since this was our first trip out of the big city, I sat next to a window and took plenty of blurry snapshots of the passing countryside. The mountains around Beijing emerged from the smog once we were on the highway. Soon time worn hutongs and new condos filled my view. Then we were into areas of countryside where the agricultural fields looked familiar but the buildings and sheds were decidedly Chinese. Jim pointed out how many lines of trees had been planted. China is going green. Even in the city all the motor scooters are electric. So instead of announcing themselves with noisy belches and tinny thrum, they can quietly sneak up on pedestrians and pass by with a few microns of air space to spare. This causes me to jump rather a lot.

Near us sat a young woman from Wales named Tanya who directs and teaches in a music school and a film maker who has lived all around the globe and was originally from Hawaii. We enjoyed meeting them. Mark is so good at talking to new people.

Dream Valley is in the midst of construction. An entire valley with tall rounded peaks, including one famous rocky notch, is being excavated and transformed into a series of theater complexes, classrooms, and, to help support this output of arts, they are building many condos. Tony said the whole idea boiled down to "if we build it, they will come." He is acting as a creative consultant for this enterprise which they call an "Eastern Culture Aggregation." All the condos have already been bought as investments. Hopefully people will want to actually live here. It is so beautiful, I'd buy in if I could.
Newly completed Dream Valley Theatre
Tony Stimac welcomes our arrival. Kemin Zhang on right.
Famous notch.
We arrived and there was Tony, in a white suit, looking very pleased as he stood on the steps leading to the brand new arts reception center. We were led to an open area with many windows and huge photos of dancers as shades against the sun. We sat in chairs covered in cloth and tied with bows. The Beijing Contemporary Dance Theater performed several modern pieces, very skillful, in that style where the dancers' faces are utterly expressionless while their bodies do all the feeling. The first dance was "Changes" and the men and women wore skirt-like dance costumes. In "Crossing" they unrolled cloth lines on the stage and danced with and over and around the demarcations. They were so thin and graceful and precise. Their artistic director watched them from her VIP seat. I wonder if that made them more nervous? One dancer rubbed her leg when she was off stage and looked to be crying, had she injured herself?
Men and women dance in skirts.
The little boy is the only person I saw who yawned through Classical Music.
Speeches and welcomes were made in formal Chinese by our very own celebrity Charolotte MacInnis! We are used to seeing her on TV teaching Mandarin “Growing up with Chinese” or talking culture in casual outfits. Looking smashing in a long gown and heels, she is the very definition of poise. Tony spoke, Charolotte translated. Hands clapped. And the Beijing trio played Beethoven and Tchaikovsky with great skill (although I prefer my Beethoven to be less lovely and more in your face). Outside the floor to ceiling windows I could see orange trucks hauling rocks on unpaved roads as crews worked on building condos in the yellowish stone hills. Behind me, curious construction crew and families of staff peered through the window of the rear door with wonder. One older woman held up a toddler in his split no undies pants. This was the first performance here and a very grand opening. Scores of photographers recorded the event. How crass some of them had jingling keys, and very few of them seem to realize that on a digital camera it is possible to turn off the fake sound of a "click" and I wished I could scold them. But did not. The cellist gave one of them a look to kill.
The really last row...Workers watch through back door. Even the toddler.
Outside were the condos in the colors of the stones of the mountains. That is Mark Allen's head in silhouette.
Inside were gift wrapped seats, large posters of dancers, and a slew of photographers.
Charlotte was MCCharlotte translates Tony's remarks.
The reception offered small coffees and smaller sweets. Since we had missed lunch it was sad that we didn't have real food, I ate several teensy tarts...I got to meet Dong Yuan, Director of Cultural Industry for Beijing-Tianjin Real Estate, and major partner in Dream Valley. I was most enthusiastic and asked her about schools and classes. She assured me they would teach from children to adult, including summer programs! What a great thing!!! In time, Dream Valley will become a highly respected training program for professional artists. And a Musical Theatre Works East for musical theater training.

We were handed a complimentary book of the art show. I hadn't realized I'd missed a gallery opening while munching and gabbing! I passed a diorama of the finished center and took photos of it. Then took photos of the same view under excavation as we low geared it off the mountain. The bus ride back to Beijing went quickly. Tony stayed behind, a bouquet of bright blossoms in his arm.

Mark Allen, Tony Stimac, Jim Racheff admire view.

Jim later told me that when we left, Tony was hoping the opening ceremony, signing, publicity, would somehow get the word out and help ensure this venture is a success. He was feeling a bit...tense... especially since a high-placed government official had left the show early, practically running out of the room. Apparently this man had located a group of other officials and commandeered a bus to come directly to Dream Valley, he was so impressed with what is being started here. Tony gave a tour to the even more high-ranking officials, apologized that they had missed the live show, and happily watched their positive reactions. Something tells me Dream Valley will become Reality Valley.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dirty air in Beijing...

Not everyday is a smog alert! But the air was awful last night, I tasted dirt in every breath... Hopefully the rain will come soon and I can make my way to the terrific gardens around the Summer Palace. Today the visibility is about 3 blocks. Two rough poems, first drafts...

AQI Hazardous

Ah sun how you squint through this yellow fog
as if your yolk burst.

All of Beijing fades behind me...
before memory.

We stroll a stone path around a lake
shops lit by red lanterns and laser sparkles.

Lady want see my store?
Lady want drink my disco?

Air gritty on my tongue,
thick in my lungs

Two-step dancers and paddle boats sway
lights scattering into inky ripples.

Let wind from the ocean or mountains
wash this sky blue tomorrow.

Outside our hotel, Beijing, 4 pm, hazardous smog.

The Drum Tower

Built in 1272 during the reign of Kublai Kahn
24 drums thrummed the evening hours,
using water clocks and incense timers...
Three times it has been rebuilt from ashes.

Now the arched roof keeps acid rain
off the one remaining drum.
A single oxhide wide, bearing sword scars
from the allied invasion of 1901.

Isn't history fun?
Drum Tower on smoggy night behind hutong rooftops.

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Dragon painting now on view at Jefferson Market Library

I am part of a group show

Dragons and Magic

An exhibition at the Jefferson Market Library
Greenwich Village, NYC
425 Ave. of the Americas (10th St.)
Sept. 7, 2010 - Oct. 29, 2010

Illustrations based on the classic children's books
The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Graham and
The Magic City by E. Nesbitt

I am in the show because my friend Flash Rosenberg printed out my digital drawing in her studio and put it in a frame and my daughter Natalie delivered it to the library on the very day she moved to Queens! I owe them both a huge hug of thanks. I, of course, did not finish the art before we left for China, so I spent the first week of rehearsals (for my husband's musical that was translated into Mandarin) in Beijing painting the bongo playing beat dragon (on my laptop using wacom tablet with digital pen in photoshop) while various actors and creative team watched me with bemused interest during their breaks. Not sure if any of the Chinese actors understood what the art was for, but they liked seeing it emerge. This interpretation is based on Graham's novel, The Reluctant Dragon. Like a precursor to Ferdinand The Bull, the dragon doesn't want to fight knights, including Sir George, preferring to read, write, and recite poetry. So I thought why not make him a beat poet dragon? The title is "Bongo Beat." I look forward to seeing the artshow at the Library, one of my favorite looking libraries in New York, a 19th century turret rising over Greenwich Village.

UPDATE! Great news, an agent contacted me after seeing this art and asked if I was working on a children's picture book. Yes I am, I told her. Several actually. Wow. Hopefully this will lead to something. See, doing the show, which involved no money, just a leap of effort--and I do love dragons--has lead to the delight of possibilities.

Decided against the close-ups of bongo playing. Jim suggested adding tail.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lulichang Cultural Street--Art Heaven

During a recent lunch hour Jim took me to the ancient art supply hutong. It was lined with shops selling brushes, rice paper, blank fans, inks, how-to books on calligraphy and art, blank books and far more. I was agape. The occasional tea shop, with hand made pots and offering delicious sips of lychee tea, punctuated the street (bought tea, one of the few always expensive things in Beijing). The shops also sold art prints, original art, chops (blank stones ready to be carved with your Chinese name and used as ink stamps), small statues, clothing and antiques.

Some of the calligraphy brushes are as long as a man's forearm. They are used to write poems in water on pavement. Like listening to spoken verse, the words disappear in time. An evaporating recital. Fabulous to watch.

Even on this most ancient of streets, some enterprising shop owners had put up a starbucks-like coca-cola branded sign advertising "Coffee: Latte, Expresso, American" and the whiteboard sign rested against an old stone lion statue the size of a child.

Jim went back to rehearsal and I kept wandering. I inserted myself in a cluster of Chinese to cross a busy thoroughfare (and avoid becoming road kill). The other half of Lulichang had more shops selling chops and antiques. A few stringed instrument shops as well. But plenty of bookstores, artshops, and galleries as well.

At the end of the narrowing hutong, I saw a man in the window who painted on a big sheet of rice paper. Vermilion flowers exploded on a gray and black tree branch... Entranced, I went in to watch him. His wife hurried forth, all her front teeth missing, and assured me in blurry English that he was famous and had been on Canadian TV and many art magazines in the US and Canada. She eagerly showed me laminated articles. I thought he was only a bit better than a Bob Ross, not a deep talent. I wanted to love his work but didn't, there was a leaden quality to it, although a 4 season study of the Summer Palace was lovely. His wife tried to sell me the Summer Palace set for 32,000 RMB! Now even divided by 6.8 to get to US dollars that is a hell of a lot of dough. I was not going to pay $4,700 (1.00 Chinese Yuan = 0.1471 U.S. Dollar). I had to leave without a purchase, there was no way I could convince them I couldn't afford such prices.

I soon found shops where I assume I bought original art (unless it was printed so well I can't tell the difference) and bought a large lovely wall painting of two white birds for Natalie and a sketch of the great wall for Caitlin. At a percent of what the famous artist wanted.

The street is daunting to walk on. Traffic flows in all directions. Rather like a stream with many rocks and waterfalls...tourists, like myself, wander in drunken eyelust darting at shiny things, determined cyclists--often with another passenger or bulky load--arrow through the foot traffic, the pedi-cabs make noisy passage, a horse pulls a heavy cart, school children race and bounce balls, and seem to come from all directions at once and then the cars, kings of the road, brake for no one, and honk their imperious way through the throng. Kindly strangers often indicated I was about to be run down. I hopped like a rabbit off the street into more shops.

I found a carved wooden monkey holding a peach in one hand and licking peach juice off his finger. His feet rested one on top of the other. Now I am not saying Jim looks like a monkey, but I will note the uncanny resemblance to Jim deep in thought as he writes lyrics. I bought it for him, especially since he has been reading the long myth of The Monkey King.

By 3 pm I was hungry. Just off Lulichang I found an old fashioned eatery that had a sign in English assuring me it was a "designated tourist restaurant." I ordered, from the photo heavy menu (so good for illiterates like myself) a bowl of rice noodles with egg and tomato. It was delicious but a bit tricky to eat. One older gentleman kept staring at me. He wore the white silk traditional shirt the younger generation avoids. Was I making an embarrassingly bad a mess of my dining? He came over and instead of admonishing my chopsticking, he asked where I was from. I told him Beijing and New York had a lot in common, always busy and plenty of art to see. He liked that answer. Wished me well. The waitress brought an empty plastic bin and placed my shopping bag in it and put the bin under the table. What an excellent idea! More US restaurants should do this. Especially since a close inspection of the floor is not advised when dining. I either see small roaches looking about for crumbs, or in some places, heavily stained fly swatters stationed all around the room near the floor. Doesn't bear thinking about. I returned to my lunch and took out my new blank accordion page book (size of a hand) and drew the scene.

At one shop, a sales woman with excellent English helped me to find a good beginners set of rice paper printed with character outlines and instructions on how to draw them indicated by arrows. I also bought a brush and bottle of ink. I looked at the art in the room and said to her that it was all rather pretty but only one piece in the room seemed to have real mastery. I pointed to the one painting. She assured me that this was in fact their featured master painter (always compliment the customer?) and he had an exclusive contract with them. She led me to another room and showed me more of his work. Oh he was good! A real artist has a feeling of discovery in their work that schlock art cannot have. The Bob Ross artists of the world repeat themselves without finding anything new to say. This guy used the watercolor in a very loose and suggestive way, leaving out needless detail, capturing motion of water, solidity of land, and beat of sunlight with astonishingly few strokes. I assured the sales woman that I will come back with Jim and we will buy one of his paintings to remember our trip. I am sure Jim will love this work.

I left at 4 pm to avoid the rush hour, returning by subway and starting to feel like an honorary Beijinger. I took my usual seat at rehearsal and I handed the monkey to Jim. He smiled. It fit just right in the palm of his hand.
Calligraphy in water on street
Modern art and calligraphy supply store

Can you see the crickets? Tthey sang again as soon as I stopped taking their portraits.
Looking out of a gallery into an alley
Entrance to Eastern side of Lulichang Street
Lovely horse jade pendant
Here I ate lunch
Men discussing a large calligraphy painting and water evaporates from words on the street.
All dogs are small in Beijing, large ones killed on sight by police to control rabies
Lovely sales lady in teapot shop, her cousin makes many of the teapots
Wish I had bought this set... next trip. The lotus seeds rotate near the frog. Very cool.
Enterprise, modern, on Lulichang, a starbucks-like western sign

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cheap Cure suggested by my Dad...yogurt saves the day

Just 100 grams of live culture, via yogurt, and I am quickly getting better. Yay Dad for the suggestion. I had been taking pills with "live" culture so I could avoid the milk, which doesn't agree with me, but that didn't work. Not so live after all...and I would far rather suffer a bit of milk than a bout of traveler's belly.

With my new found freedom I went to the following amazing places:

1. A good bye party in a photo studio hutong for Kemin's supermodel girlfriend Mia Qiqi (nickname in English).
The hutongs are built in a warm gray brick and as I stepped up to the raised door I suddenly realized there was a courtyard inside. Just like the temples, an entrance needs a gate. This courtyard was small but fit a table and chairs and the table was laden with party food that included French pastries, fresh tiny apples the size of my thumb, and vinyard grapes with their snap of citrus and earthy tang. The inner rooms of the house had been combined into a studio with drop cloths and lamps at one end and a computer and cameras at the other. A cluster of beautiful people sat and watched a slideshow of fashion photos on the large monitor. The old wooden beams looked like an inverted hull of a ship over our heads.
Mia is not only tall, thin, 23, and beautiful, natch; but artistic, fully involved in a charity for kids and adults with special needs, and wildly in love with all things Paris. She is off to live in the city of lights for awhile and when not modeling, learning French, and taking art classes, she will be drawing her adventures in her whimsical dreamy art and words. And no doubt publishing them at some time! The party was full of Beijing's artsy types, from the supermodels who swayed overhead, to photographers, TV show hosts, producers, actors, and a man who has to be the world's expert rubic's cube performer--with a book out too! He did every variety of rubic, one of them looked to be 8 or 12 squares across, and he also did one blindfolded. He could do them one handed and blindingly fast. A normal cube he could do in under 22 seconds.
We got to talking to a very attractive honey blonde woman named Charlotte MacInnis. I asked her how long she had been in Beijing and she got a bemused look and said she had been born here. She must be assumed to be a foreigner all the time. She does two different TV shows for CCTV, one on learning to speak Chinese and the other on cultural events in Beijing! That night when we got back to our hotel room, we turned on the TV and there was Charlotte, in a pink hoodie, explaining how to say "I'm sorry about that" with video clips, grammar cartoons, and her own warm and animated face! Charlotte grew up in China, then attended Columbia University, and returned to work here in Beijing. She described a huge culture shock coming to America! Unfortunately, acting parts for whites are somewhat limited since non-traditional casting isn't done very often, but she seems very involved in her shows. She has written over 60 episodes for the language show!
I also got to talk to Nick, a friend of Kemin's who grew up in the Midwest and developed strip malls. He looks Asian but I quickly saw how American his gestures and expressions are. He came to Beijing 10 years ago when his bilingual and real estate skills were highly in demand. He was able to name his own price (plus a villa and full time driver) but soon enough, more folks came over and things got a bit more competitive for guys with his skills. He said he is currently involved in developing good nursing homes in China. He says what currently exists is appalling, even for people who can afford to pay, it is like incarceration. Locked in, fed and pilled three times a day, an occasional sponge bath, and nothing else. And these are the "good" ones! Awful. He feels happy about what he is doing, it makes up for all those strip malls! he says with a laugh, and he is looking at multi-use places with retiree apartments on golf courses with hardly any help provided (other than doctor access and house cleaning) to full hospital care and everything in between. When he speaks about nursing homes the Chinese at first say no way, never! Because their images of such places are so grim. But once he describes what he is doing, they want to sign right up. He says he has to start with the very wealthy, but hopes this model spreads to the middle class as well, with a bit less luxury... His very cute toddler Darwin carefully picked up runaway grapes from under the table and threw them out. And what grapes didn't drop from his pudgy little fingers went into his mouth.

Tony Stimac
Amazing Rubic's Cube guy
In the photo studio
Nick and Darwin

Mia relating to toddler Darwin. She is tall when standing up!

2. The Temple of Heaven
You would think I'd have known how important it is to have a street map, in scale, with English, Pinyin, and Chinese characters on it. Right? Sigh. I got out at a subway stop I thought was close to the large park which holds the Temple of Heaven compound. I ended up walking miles through hutongs and busy highways (passing a district of plumbing supplies), over rivers and under seems like every inch of street that hasn't been taken over by parked cars has a merchant selling trinkets and produce on a bit of cloth over the curb or sidewalk. I kept asking directions of people who could only point, backtracking and second guessing my miserably out of scale map...before I finally saw the southern gate. The first tourist shop selling cold water in a bottle was like finding an oasis after sweating through the cement desert. The droplets of cold felt like heaven against my forehead. The young woman who sold me the water practiced her English on me. She was amazed I was from New York City. I told her Beijing was just as amazing as the big apple...
Here is what the guide books say: "The Temple was built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifice to Heaven. It is much bigger than the Forbidden City and smaller than the Summer Palace with an area of about 2,700,000 square meters....The Temple is divided by two enclosed walls into inner part and outer part. The main buildings of the Temple lie at the south and north ends of the middle axis line of the inner part. The most magnificent buildings are The Circular Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan), Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) and Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qiniandian) from south to north. Also, there are some additional buildings like Three Echo Stones and Echo Wall. Almost all of the buildings are connected by a wide bridge called Vermilion Steps Bridge (Danbiqiao) or called Sacred Way."
I moved slowly because of the heat and my now tired legs (I had spent the previous week chained to the bathroom so I'd lost a lot of walking muscle). But I was glad I'd taken the southern route. The gates and walkways each led to buildings of greater size and magnificence, culminating in the three tier Temple of Good Harvest.
I didn't buy the audio tour or join a group. The signs were in Chinese and English. Not to mention loudspeakers everywhere playing music or giving lectures... I relished taking it slowly. Letting my fingers touch the warm slightly pitted marble and glazed heads of tile dragons. The entire place was designed to go together. It is "branded" by symbols. Square for earth, round for heaven. Blue and gold tile to speak of heaven. As I stood in line to look into the temples, I was surrounded by all the languages of the world. I took so many photos the camera grew hot in my hands. But my little pocket camera was defeated. I could not find a shot that showed how it felt to be there with ancient history all around me. I tried to imagine the Emperor taking three days to make his annual report to god. Everything one man does to make prayer becomes separate buildings. There was a yellow roofed structure just for changing his clothes. I was unable to be the Emperor in my mind. It was much easier to think of myself as a worker with a twig broom sweeping the many steps and paving stones. I sank onto the steps on the shadow side and joined many other weary visitors and simply looked at the brightly colored pagoda shaped rooftops against the gray backdrop of skyscrapers.
I bought a charmingly illustrated tourist map of the park and enjoyed the almost English translations...
I followed an ancient covered walkway through the park. Small children played as their parents rested a moment on the sides. Off to my right a group of singers were enjoyed by a large middle aged crowd and everyone sang the traditional songs except for me. Some large white bumpy stones turned out to be where sacrifices where beaten to death with mallets before dispatch by knife became popular.
And there at the eastern gate was the subway stop I should have used. I gratefully hobbled down the many steps and went back to the hotel for a nap.

Oh, time to see a run through of Jim's play, more later...