Page 6 of 8

I SPEAK FOR THE DEAD

I speak for dead people—some with real historical lives that can be read about in books, some who live only in my head, but I hear them speak. Just because people are dead doesn’t mean they never existed. Just because people are dead doesn’t mean they don’t have a story.

The challenge for this writer is to portray these people as authentically as possible, a daunting challenge at best. Sometimes the facts of their story have been written down, at least some of the facts. As any writer or reader knows, sometimes there are big holes in the facts of someone’s story. How they thought and felt is another matter. Even writing what I think and feel about my own life can be a mission sometimes, at least in a way that others will feel compelled to read it. Throughout history, I bet people who journaled felt the same pressure, at least the ones hoping to publish–very tricky this stuff of portraying a story, anybody’s story. And what about the one’s who didn’t journal? Who speaks for them, especially when someone else tells their story and gets even the facts wrong?!

So, in walks the Trickster to help move this process along, sometimes referred to as one of the Archetypes found in all stories. Carl Jung, an inspired psychiatrist who explored mythology with the idea of explaining a collective consciousness, found Archetypes to be shared by all cultures, all human stories, just wearing different costumes, events, hairdos etc.. The Trickster with a dual nature—half animal, half divine—creates havoc for all, and presto-chango, here comes a story. One must have some sort of havoc to get the ball rolling, the story, that is—the events of a life. I have yet to meet or hear of anyone who doesn’t have a story.

How can I explain my need to write the words of the dead? The Trickster enters into my stomach (through a process I don’t entirely understand) and creates this “havoc” or a “gut feeling,” and away I go. I start hearing dead people talk. Dead does not mean silent, as long as there is someone to hear them and type down what they say (I hardly write anymore, my hand hurts). So, I hear it, and I type it. Whether or not the dead are happy about this, I have no idea. They haven’t said one way or the other, but they keep talking, and as long as they’re talking, I’ll keep listening, and typing, speaking for the dead, as best I can.

Then there’s music, I hear that, too. But that’s another story…

Green (my addition) Dragon from the 13th century Southern Song Dynasty.
Trickster, is that you?

And Happy Birthday to my daughter Ashlee! What a story she will tell…

WALLACE STEVENS: West Imagining East


WALLACE STEVENS took to heart Kakuzo Okakura’s question, “When will the West understand, or try to understand, the East?” Okakura’s 1906 treatise on the Chan Buddhist and/or Zen infused tea ceremony, “The Book of Tea,” fell into Stevens’ hands by way of his Harvard acquaintances, Walter Bynner and Arther D. Ficke (Willis). His first national recognition as a poet was winning Poetry magazine’s 1916 contest, and a $100 for his play, “Three Travelers Watch a Sunrise,” a story woven around three Chinamen fixing tea in the Pennsylvania woods (Murphy 132). This was a direct result of Stevens’ brush with Tao, The Way, or The Path, that which encourages the artist to develop a “wide and keen observation, eventually to find in enrichment of the spirit, the secret of the rhythm of nature.” (Sze 18)

Maureen Kravec noted, the play evinces “the early modernist fascination with chinoiserie.” (Kravec 310) The layout of the play on the page is interesting, in that it presents an amalgamated version of a play and a poem. For example, the line breaks would not be such in the dialogue for the usual play format. The form is sometimes referred to as verse drama, but Stevens reworked it a bit after his win “to have the play a play and not merely a poem” (Murphy 132).

As a playwright in the UNO graduate MFA program, I find this quite intriguing, although not a total surprise. At the turn of the last century, Stevens and other poets were enthusiastic about the literary possibilities in the new art theatres popping up all over the East coast, emulating the independent theatres of Europe. Stevens shared the bill at Provincetown Players with fellow poets, Alfred Kreymborg and Lawrence Langner, but unfortunately before “Three Travelers” was produced, Stevens was intimately involved with the production of his second play, “Carlos Among the Candles,” and had a harrowing experience. The lead actor forgot three of the twelve pages of dialogue, and the whole production was a huge disappointment. After one opening night, the show was shut down, and Stevens fled the theatre, referring to the entire affair of producing theatre as “the horrors.” (Murphy 132)

I couldn’t find the original pear-shaped vase Professor Qian mentions as a possible inspiration for this play (Qian 39), but I did find this motif, which captures the spirit of the three Chinamen in the story, that of the first being “short, fat, quizzical, and of middle age. The second is of middle height, thin and turning gray; a man of sense and sympathy. The third is a young man, intent, detached.” (Loving 494)

The play incorporates the aesthetics of Chan/Zen to guide the audience through the horror of suicide and lynching, “the invasion” of humanity, and in my opinion to give people an alternative to despair, or as the Third Chinese says, (the one likened to Stevens’ personae), “The candle of the sun/ will shine soon/ On this hermit earth” (Loving 499).

After the American Civil War came a plague of black lynchings, mostly instigated by the Ku Klux Klan. In Stevens’s own Pennsylvania locale occurred an infamous lynching in nearby Coatesville circa 1911. Although the black actors in “Three Travelers Watch a Sunrise” don’t speak, their actions and body language signify this major theme, and by juxtaposing black actors with a body hanging from a tree “the invasion of humanity,” albeit a suicide, the audience is forced to think about this tragic topic of lynching. Stevens incorporated this Taoist idea illustrated as the “[…] value of suggestion. In leaving something unsaid the beholder is given a chance to complete the idea and thus a great masterpiece irresistible rivets your attention until you seem to become actually a part of it. A vacuum is there for you to enter and fill up the full measure of your aesthetic emotion.” (Okakura 46)

This play may not be regarded as Stephens’ “greatest masterpiece,” and it was a flop, due mainly to the poor production, i.e. the sun did not “rise”–a light bulb flashed on instantly (Murphy 138). Stevens used the vacuum of Taoist space in and around a bottle to invoke an aesthetic emotion. The story begins with the Second Chinese saying, “All you need/ To find poetry/ Is to look for it with a lantern” (Loving 494), and if that doesn’t work then, “There is seclusion of porcelain,” the same porcelain with “[…] the three figures/ Painted on porcelain/ As we sit here,/ That we are painted on this very bottle” (Loving 499). The bottle represents the very earth we stand on, illuminated by the lantern, held by the old hermit that holds the light of imagination.

What made Stevens’ psyche so receptive to the “rhythm of nature” art produced by the Oriental Taoist? For one thing, Stevens inherited the influences of the New England transcendental movement voiced in the monumental writings of Emerson, an earlier Harvard graduate, and the likewise Emersonian naturalist, Walt Whitman (Bloom 10). Stevens embraced Emerson’s transcendental message for students to observe that “all things in Nature, the animals, the mountain, the river, the seasons, wood, iron, stone, vapor, have a mysterious relation to his thoughts and his life; their growths, decays, quality and use so curiously resemble himself, in parts and in wholes, that he is compelled to speak by means of them. (Emerson) The world is a “picture-book” of every passage in human life, and in every object of Nature is where the poet will find the essence of man.

Emerson himself studied the Oriental nature of Buddhism, as received through the sages of India, and wrote extensively on the matter. (Gordon) The magazine, The Dial, in which Stevens would later be published, was initially formed as a transcendental publication with Emerson as one of its early editors. Stevens was influenced by his Harvard philosophy professor, George Santayana, in whose honor he wrote, “To An Old Philosopher in Rome.” (CP 508) An avowed atheist who aesthetically mirrored much of Emerson’s Naturalism, and later called himself an “aesthetic Catholic,” Santayana fostered in Stevens a creative imagination, and offered a “sensitive account of the spiritual life without being a religious believer (Saatkamp). Santanyan died in Rome under the care of nuns–interesting in that Stevens allegedly converted to Catholicism on his own deathbed.

Steven’s disillusionment with Christianity was made public in his published and first critically acclaimed poem written in 1915, “Sunday Morning” (Bloom 22). Instead of going to the obligatory church service (that is, for Christians who want to go to the Heaven in the King James Bible), Stevens’ character chooses instead, “Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,/And the green freedom of a cockatoo/ Upon a rug mingle to dissipate/ The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.” (CP 66-7) Note the lower case “h.”

By this time the Christianity Stevens grew up with in his Dutch/German Pennsylvania home had “dissipated” in his face. His father experienced a mental and spiritual breakdown, as well as a bankruptcy, which must have affected Stevens enormously, and he wasn’t speaking to his father at the time of the latter’s death in 1911. It would seem the Christian home where his mother read the Bible every night couldn’t sustain familial devotion in negotiating a riff triggered by Stevens’ choice of Elsie for his wife. Never recovering from her grief, his mother died soon thereafter. (Peiu)

Only after these events did Stevens find a voice that appealed to a wider audience. Stevens found comfort in writing to assuage these real life tragedies, and his exposure to the active tranquility of Chan Buddhism helped him fill the void where a dogmatic religion had been. The “awakening” first seen in his “nothing that is” poem, “The Snowman,” (1921) sustained him in the years to come, and so, despite the lukewarm relationship with his wife, Elsie (Voices & Visions), Stevens found in his imagination “The loneliest air, not less was I myself” (CP 65). Other than a short break after the release of Harmonium in 1923-30, he never stopped writing.

Professor Qian has eloquently presented a thorough investigation regarding Stevens’ reading habits on Buddhism, and Stevens’ exposure to Chinese Landscape Art and Oriental ancient artifacts at the MFA in Boston and exhibits in New York, specifically those which flowered from the Southern Sung school, fueled by the Tao of Chan Buddhism, which in turn inspired the Zen school of Japan (Qian). It seems only natural that a sensitive, individualistic hardhead like the Dutch-German Stevens (I should know, my mother was a Stevens, and both of my parents came from Puritan/Quaker stock) would be receptive to the “awakened state” of Chan Buddhism.

Stevens’ birth place of Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn–a haven for Quakers, who fashion their belief around meditating on the “internal light,” and southeastern Pennsylvania is full of quiet vistas for contemplation, but not many 19-year-olds would question, “why people took books into the woods to read in summertime when there was so much else to be read there that one could not find in books.” (Qian 96) Stevens’ bent for the philosophical started at an early age.

Maybe one way to analyze how Stevens felt about Chinese art is to show an example of the “orientalism” he loathed. The following is a painting by Eugéne Fromentin, an artist who thought “a painting should be neither eastern nor western, but a conglomeration of both […] I [Stevens] can only say that I detest orientalism: the sort of thing that Fromentin did […] although I like it well enough the way Matisse does it“ (Qian 200).

Let’s compare the aspects of Chan Buddhist Chinese landscape to this painting. Is there a state of “active tranquility? Is the figure in harmony with nature? Does the water flow? Can you see the water’s source? Does the wind “breathe” a rhythm throughout the picture? Do the mountains in the distance evoke a “quality of spirit” (Sze 21)? I agree with Stevens. The man (I think it’s a man) is in the center, not off to one side in contemplation. There is activity on the man’s part, that of riding a horse. This is about a journey, not contemplation of the “rhythm of nature.”

The man riding the horse may be in an awakened state, but there are no clues to this. The image is a manipulation of Nature, not a transforming moment of clarity in awe of Nature. The road cuts through the heart of the meadow and the water has no visible source. There is no flow. Is it a lake or a bay? The grasses do not move with the “breath” of the wind. The scene is probably proportional to reality, but where is the, “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” (CP 10).

Stevens found many things to his liking in one of his favorite books on Chinese art, “Painting in the Far East,” by Laurence Binyon (Qian 27), and Binyon touches a Western nerve when speaking of Turkestan where “we touch three great civilizations at once: India, China, and Greece,” where “Apollo transforms himself into Buddha” (Binyon 28). For me, that is one more key to the thinking of Wallace Stevens and his interest in Chan Buddhism. Steeped as we Westerners are in our dogmatic religions (and we’re not the only ones), it might be beneficial for us all in the East and West to pause and contemplate that we all share a common ancestry from an earlier time.

Recent blood DNA studies are pointing to one small group in Africa that populated the entire human race starting around 100,000 years ago, a blink in the evolutionary timeline. (Sykes 277) If anything, Stevens may have found a cultural inheritance in the “quietism” infused into Chan Buddhist art that had been lost somewhere along the way. In “Six Significant Landscapes” (1916) “An old man sits/ In the shadow of a pine tree/ In China” (CP73). So many of them do. “Viewing the Moon under a Pine Tree” in Ma Yuan style (Qian 104) is an example of this type of old man Stevens got inside of to “breathe” and “awaken” not only to read about in his poem, but as a way for himself to physically experience this “breathe.”

Through the years, Stevens collected many Chinese artifacts, but one of his favorites, a carved wooden figure of “the most benevolent old god you ever saw,” was shipped back to him from Peking by the sister of Harriet Monroe, the editor of “Poetry” magazine. The old man carried a staff, and a lotus bud. For Stevens, this old man, a Shouxing, “is so humane that the study of him is as good as a jovial psalm” (Qian 157-8).

The implication here is obvious. Stevens filled his spiritual and mental cup, in part, by reading about, viewing at museums, and surrounding himself with Tao-infused artifacts, especially of the Chan Buddhist type, because they stimulated his imagination, and infused his poetry with an “awakened” awareness. This was his way as a Westerner to experience the gifts of the East. He continued to study this phenomena to the very end and invented his own rhythmic dance with the river of life that continues to flow East to West and back round again. Imagine that. “Surrounded by its choral rings,” in the Buddhist breath, Stevens discovered “A new knowledge of reality” (CP 534) and shared it with us with his words.

Now. Everyone take a deep breath.

Works Cited

Binyon, Laurence. Painting in the Far East: An Introduction to the History of Pictorial Art in Asia, Especially China and Japan. London: Arnold, 1908. 4th ed. rev., 1934. Reprint New York: Dover, 1959.

Bloom, Harold. Wallace Stevens: The Poems of Our Climate. New York, Cornell University Press. 1977

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essay “Poetry & Imagination” (1872) http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/authors/emerson/essays/poetryimag.html 9 Nov 2006

Gordon, Robert. “Emerson’s Earliest Interest In India.” http://www.infinityfoundation.com/mandala/i_es/i_es_gordo_emerson.htm 11 Nov 2006

Loving, Pierre. Shay, Rank. Fifty Contemporary One-Act Plays. Cincinnati, Ohio. Stewart & Kidd. 1920. 494-500

Okakura Kakuzo. The Book of Tea Classic Edition. USA: Tuttle P, 1989 46th ed.

Peiu, Anca. “After the final no: The World of Wallace Stevens” http://www.unibuc.ro/eBooks/lls/AncaPeiu-STEVENS/chronology.htm 11 Nov 2006

Qian, Zhaoming. The Modernist Response to Chinese Art: Pound, Moore, Stephens. USA, U of Virginia P, 2003.

Saatkamp, Herman. “George Santayana”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2006 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2006/entries/santayana/ 10 Nov 2006

Stevens, Wallace. The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. New York, Vintage Books 1990.

Sykes, Bryan. The Seven Daughters of Eve. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2001.

Sze, Mai-mai.( trans). The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting. Chieh Tzu Yuan Hua Chuan, 1679-1701. New York, Princeton University Press 1977.

Willis, Patricia C. (curator) Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, 1997 http://www.library.yale.edu/beinecke/orient/mod7.htm 11 Nov 2006

Notes

“Wallace Stevens – Man Made Out Of Words.” Dir. Richard P. Rogers. Sr. Consultant Helen Vendler. Voices & Visions Series. Natl. Endowment for the Humanities. Wash. D.C. 1988.

Poetry has dedicated a slide show of the original copy of Stevens’ playbook, “Three Travelers Watch a Sunrise” here: http://www.poetrymagazine.org/webexclusive/vol8no4.html

“Three Chinamen on Porcelein” – http://www.rugreview.com/stuf/chincer.htm

(This was a class presentation for Professor Zhaoming Qian’s graduate class Modernism & the Visual Arts November 2006 at the University of New Orleans)

THEATRE OF THE MUSE–A DIVINE EXPERIENCE

Enter stage right. THEATRE OF THE MUSE™

REAL THEATRE FOR EVERYONE IN THE COMMUNITY

Mission: Model THEATRE OF THE MUSE™ after the church structure with franchise potential. People would recognize comfortable parallels. A Minister/Reverend/Priest would now be the Director. The Choir is on call for all the Musicals. The Musical Director, Dance Captain, Stage Manager, and Costume Designer replace Elders and Deacons. And the Communion is the Dinner after the Friday night event, along with the collection plate to help with funding, since the entire Congregation or Membership would be the Executive Producers. Ongoing rehearsals would take place one night a week.

To be a member of THEATRE OF THE MUSE™ would require some sort of tithing whether it be money or labor. Remember, this is modeled from the rituals of established religions. Members would focus on their daily play readings for their upcoming event. Artisans in textiles, carpentry, or props would offer their skills, just like members of a church gift their skills to their congregations. Prior experience in theatre would not be required. On the job training is always a preferred method for learning. There would not be the pressure to be a “perfect” performer, other than fulfilling one’s inner desire to present their personal best.


Print a book endorsed by THEATRE OF THE MUSE™ with a collection of accepted Universal Truth such as, but not limited to, the words attributed to Jesus or Buddha or Krishna or The Dalai Lama or Voltaire or Kahil Gibran or Moliére or Mohammed or Beckett or…Gertrude Stein? Well, why not? Women need someone, and Gertrude was considered “sagely” in her time. Let people decide which sage speaks to their personal needs.

THEATRE OF THE MUSE™ is where people go to celebrate life and purge their angst, not learn ways to hate or generational racism or condone war or be fearful. A fulfilled life lived–the goal.

People can still seek treatment from experts like Psychiatrists or Doctors if they have unanswered questions or needs. They can retain their belief in Religion. THEATRE OF THE MUSE™ does not expect nor desire to replace the faith one has in a particular Religion. The goal is to enhance life and offer ritual to those who need it.

The weekly Production would take place every Friday Night, with one extra rehearsal, so participating in THEATRE OF THE MUSE™ would not interfere with other religious practices.


The Crucifixion of Jesus
could be presented in December, and in January King Lear or Rent or Oklahoma or The Odd Couple or The Ramayana (India) or The White Snake (Chinese)

Plays like ‘Nite Mother could be used to deal with the tragedy of suicide with a guided discussion by a professional following the performance. Psychologists have used this approach as an effective way to reach suffering people, and sometimes get amazing results. Sponsoring a Psychodrama event with dramatic action guided by professionals in the field has proven to increase physical and emotional well being (Moreno 2000).

Members could present their own productions in a once-a-year festival, featuring new plays. Writing is very therapeutic and journaling is encouraged in most rehabs. The reason being, it opens up a dialogue, a gateway to the mind that essentially seeks pleasure, not addiction to life-killing habits. Most people just want to be heard, be understood. Ask any Psychiatrist.

Use monitors to prompt actors, so memorization is not a factor in participating, and put up screens for the audience to sing along, follow the bouncing ball for Everything’s Coming Up Roses.

THEATRE OF THE MUSE™ aspires to be a community theatre that serves the people in the community, enriching lives and hearts, by providing an outlet for emotional growth and unrealized talent.

The Arts have always transcended gender, race, sexual orientation, and nationality. Why not use the Arts to save humanity from itself? Art has always been an outlet for people looking to find meaning in their lives or a release from misery. Why not use a weekly “hands-on” dose of the Arts to help people explore the divinity within?

THEATRE OF THE MUSE™. Your ticket for a divine experience!

©2006
All Rights Reserved

Work Cited

Moreno, Zerka. Psychodrama, Surplus Reality and the Art of Healing. London, Routledge: 2000.

THEATRE OF THE MUSE

IN THE BEGINNING

1. In the beginning, The Muse created the words and the music.

2. Now humankind was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of their souls and the Spirit of The Muse hovered over.

3. And The Muse said, “Let there be light,” and the stage was lit. 4. And the Muse saw that the light was good and separated the performers from the audience. 5. And there was tragedy and there was comedy—the first theatre.

6. And The Muse said, “Let there be conflict between the performers to separate words from words. 7. So The Muse made conflict and separated the words of theatre from the words of everyday existence. And it was so. 8. The Muse called the words “story.” And there was the storyteller, and the listener—a performance.

9. And The Muse said, “Let the stories be gathered into one place, and let sounds vibrate around them.” And it was so. 10. The Muse called the vibrating sounds “music.” Performers moved to the rhythms of the music and it was called “dance.” And The Muse saw that it was good.

11. And The Muse said, “Let the stories and their music be produced by living creatures according to their kinds: Ceremony, Ritual, Masquerade, Egungun, Italian Opera, Musical Theatre, Tragedy, Comedy, Farce, Beijing Opera, Capoeira, Puppetry, Pantomime, Noh, Kabuki, Sanskrit Drama, MTV—any event where two or more are gathered to express talent.” And The Muse saw that it was good.

12. The Muse blessed the performers and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply in number. Fill the earth with the light of theatre for the benefit of everything that has the breath of life.” And it was so.

FEDRA LIVE AT THE ROMAN THEATRE IN MÉRIDA, ESPANA


13 July 2007 –Val and I took the bus from Madrid to Mérida to see Fedra, yet another adaptation of the twisted, tragic Greek love story about a woman (Fedra) who madly adores her stepson, Hippolytus (Fran Perea), an unrequited love, the outcome of which dooms Hippolytus to death. Playwright: Juan Mayorga. Director: José Carlos Plaza. Ana Belén, a truly talented singing star born in Madrid, plays the sexy, unhinged Fedra with adroit skill.

The spectacle of a modern production in an ancient Roman theatre was one of the highlights of my UNO playwriting residency this summer. (the other: the reading of my play, Graffiti, at Chaminade in Madrid). Even sitting on sharp rocks in the top row of slave seats didn’t bother too much, especially since we’d been warned and had come prepared with seat cushions. (Me & Val)

Agrippa built this Teatro Romano in 18 B.C.E.. Mérida was founded as a Roman outpost circa 25 B.C.E.; commissioned by the Emperor Augustus from whom the name of the city, Emérita Augusta, was taken.

Except for the ice in the drinks at the bar, the venue does not offer much 21st century luxury. The show started at 11pm—to avoid the heat. The summer heat in Spain immobilized my body, a draining, dry, insidious heat. Just to keep moving, I was forced, at times, to drink copious amounts of refreshing tinto de verano, a mixture of red wine, and something like 7-up with the all-important ice.

Since I am familiar with Euripides’s story (428 BC) about the lustful Phaedra titled, Hippolytus, I was able to follow along with the plot, all in Spanish. Through the ages the story has been retold by Seneca, Racine, and the bilbaíno, Unamuno. But this version, premiered at the Classical Theater Festival of Merida, was obviously written for Belén—long, longggg monologues. In truth, the other main characters had their time in the spot, but Belén owned center stage. However, in conversing with an educated male of Mexican/American heritage, I was impressed with his confession, “the performance brought tears to my eyes.” Belén’s numerous, long soliloquies didn’t ruin the drama for him.

Since Mayorga won the National Theater Award last month for Fedra, and received 30,000 euros from the Ministry of Culture, the play, and most definitely Belén struck a chord in the hearts of many. But even Mayorga admitted, “It has been said that I have written this work for Ana Belén, […], but it is not true.” The “author” doth protest too much.
Fedra Review

Regardless, the production and set stunned me with the extraordinary mix of ancient and modern. A large red rectangular (or trapezoid?) shaped backdrop was placed upstage dwarfing the actors and used as a prop from time to time, to lean on, crouch next to, and so on, and a diagonal line cut into it illuminated with a laser light during intense moments.

The stage lights were strategically placed to highlight the various headless statues and half-ruined columns, and the excellent surround music track of eerie voices, coupled with occasional fog, added depth to the sword fight and tragic end. Bravo!!! The crowd wildly applauded during curtain call and rewarded the cast with a vibrant standing ovation–a welcomed event for me after sitting two hours on rocks (cushion notwithstanding). The pageantry of the event overwhelmingly carried the night.

The theatre seats about 6000 and the adjacent amphitheatre could have held 15,000 on a good day in the province of Augusta Emerita. Other productions at the 2007 festival: The Persas, Lisístrata, Adiós, Brother Cruel, Andrómaca, The Banquet of Orfeo, The Troyanas, Metamorphoses, , Orestíada, Antígona, Orión, & Electra.

The next day Val and I toured the relic of an amphitheatre adjacent to the theatre, where many gladiators and animals met their bloody death to entertain the local population; obviously one, if not the ancestral origin of the bullfight staged in Spain today.

ESPANA JULY 2007

Segovia – I found my eye gravitating to an old woman sitting in front of a building that is probably representative of the type that was torn down for the monstrosity of a gothic Cathedral built next to the Plaza Major in the 16th century.

She is scouting for potential sales among the turistas looking at her shawls. I obliged and bought two colorful crocheted items, a direct contrast to her own dark attire. Perhaps her husband is dead. Our guide, Miguel, said women, both Catholic and Muslim, are consigned to black in widowhood.

An elegantly dressed elder walked passed me with a small bright gold cross on his lapel, minus the Christ figure.

It seems his wife is alive, but of course, who would know since men have never been constrained by this black garb tradition. The people of Segovia, and Spain in general are a mixture of the stately, peasant, and entrepreneurial middle-class type. Not so different in that regard from populations everywhere.

Madrid – Parque del Buen Retiro – my refuge in the UNO workshop storm. My years living in Manhattan taught me the value of Nature in an urban environment.

The landscaping in Retiro Park feels more sculptured than Central Park, and Retiro seems to have more older trees; certainly not from rainfall that averages 17 inches a year (Manhattan gets about 47 inches), but from the springs and aquifer under the Madrid basin…more research. I did notice extensive sprinkler/watering systems in Retiro that water at night.

I found oak trees in Retiro that look over 300 years old, and the Cedars of Lebanon are very old and majestically tall with a canopy over 60 feet – at least 300 years. The plaque says they were brought from Lebanon in the 17th century. (Keith standing at the base of a cedar)

Mérida: Roman Theatre – The Temple of Diana – Roman ruins galore – Established in the year 25 BC with the name of Emerita Augusta by order of Emperor Augustus to protect a pass and bridge over the Guidiana River. Two legions of Romans settled here and built a cultural outpost. The Amphitheatre was the stage for bloody entertainment.

But, Roman culture is in my blood – and gene pool.
I love all things Roman!.