Egret and crab

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


I have been gone for the last five days. Family obligations. My step sister's son was having his fifth birthday up in the Central Valley and I had told her that I would try to make it. The party was held in one of those bouncy rooms at a McDonalds. I fulfilled my filial commitment and took my leave fairly quickly.

Prior to the party I stopped at the Alzheimers group home where my dad is now living. It was clean and the Filipino attendants were wonderful. Without Filipinos, nursing would collapse. They are a serious cog in the nurturing wheel.

My father is back in the mnemonic incantation phase. Shnaim, shnaim, shnaim, shnaim shnaim shnaim shnaimshnaimshnaimshnaimshnaimshnaimshnaimshnaimshnaimshnaimshnaimshnaimshnaimshnaimshnaimshnaim shnaim , "Mr. Sommers, what does schnaim mean?" I had to explain to them that shnaim means time in my father's native hebrew tongue. Best as I can tell, he is telling the world that it is in fact time. But the body seems pretty strong still, fortunately or unfortunately. He is getting on mostly okay but won't stop pissing in the closet.

I tried to make some inroads. Cut through and make contact. He was an army photographer, transmitted the first atom bomb photo while in the service during the big war. I showed him my new camera and he took a picture of me. Discussed his old Hasseblad rig. He fades in and out, in one rare lucid moment he confided that he didn't know exactly what had happened and how he had gotten there. I can relate. He said I looked good. I must confess that I am starting to see him at certain times when I look in the mirror.

Hard for me not to cry when I leave my dad's.

I drove up to the Bay Area that evening. Had decided to spend a couple days visiting friends that I never get to see much when I am up because I am usually working.  Kerry is a very old comrade and audiophile friend and his place was my first stop. He has made some subtle adjustments to his system and we listened to some classical reference music, marches and woodwinds and a great recording of Jonas Starker playing cello. The big shot. A shtarker is a "big shot" in yiddish. Phenomenal system, the acoustic instruments seemed real and alive in the room. He built his own speakers with a variety of horns and ribbons and has successfully plugged a subtle midrange hole.  

Kerry's world is fairly small and mine can be overlarge at times and it was great to spend some time with him. BigD and his wife, an incredibly smart molecular biologist stopped by after dinner and hung out.

The next day I got a call from my mother and then my brother. I am now officially a great uncle. My younger brother Buzz's daughter Rachel had a child, a large baby girl. Not being a breeder myself, I can get corroboration as to my advancing age now from my siblings. Congratulations to the whole family.

I have been giving some thought to age and this peculiar "life" business. I think that it is a watershed moment in a person's life when they have the realization that life is truly finite and quite exhaustible. I had my first brushes with mortality at 14, 15 and 16 when the chronic active hepatitis fought me to near death. I was given three days to live during the lattermost episode. My pancreas emptied out and I threw up pure bile, my feet started itching and I actually started the initial phases of dying. The doctor called it necrosis. Somehow thanks to my mother's constant care, I pulled through. I believe that having been smacked in the face with death so early gave me a unique perspective on the flip side of the equation.

Having cycled through a whole list of infirmities since then, I see why the scribes thought that youth was wasted on the young. Because as temporal as it is, it is quite precious. As far as I can tell you get one shot, so make sure that you make it a good one. I think that you will be able to mention at my funeral that I left little on the table and squeezed as much out of the damn thing as I possibly could. Such a cruel and bittersweet game. In the end you lose everybody that you have ever loved, unless of course you were lucky enough to go first. No wonder they had to invent heaven. Pretty raw deal.

Kerry and I headed over to the park the next day. A whole bunch of tai chi people were moving through their slow paces in the grove between the DeYoung and the Science Museum.

I don't want to go off on a big negative riff but the DeYoung is a pretty rotten museum at present. Used to be on the of the greatest egyptian revival architectural wonders anywhere, now it is a perforated, teflon modern box with a lot of stupid stuff inside.

It does have two of the nicest chilean wine (jubea chiliensis) palms you will ever lay eyes on out in front. 

I went in and took this picture of two ladies under a giant piece by german uber artist Gerhard Richter which he took of 600 badly photographed pictures of electrons that he potchkeyed together from the newspaper.

Contrived, ironic, pretentious, trite, pick your own adjective. Modern art, to me, is someone drawing on the lavatory walls in their own excrement. Quite thin. We went to see the Trevor Traina collection of photography. Most of the work was simply awful. There was a fantastic Arbus, a really great portrait of Queen Elizabeth, a gentle shot of a bride at Niagara Falls and next to it a wonderful campy florida photo of a family sprawled out over their station wagon. Maybe a couple others.

docent, deyoung tower
Mostly it was poorly composed, out of focus shots that begged the question why? Did the photographer click the shutter because he could, or because he or she should? Was it merely the random selection of a petulant chimpanzee with a stopwatch? I thought it was  in need of a great edit. If that was great photography I am ready for my screen shot, Mr. DeMille.

The problem with modern art is that I always think I will see somebody snickering when I pull back the curtain. 

There was a nice collection of alaskan art that we enjoyed. Went up to the ninth floor tower and caught magnificent views of the city in all directions. An absolutely, stunningly gorgeous weekend. I really liked the Ruth Asawa wire creations and the neat shadows they cast in the vestibule.

There was a Jean Paul Gaultier show downstairs but the photographs had already given me a headache and I just couldn't take anymore. 

We walked past the rose, japanese and botanical gardens and bopped into this segue tour tooling through the redwoods. Kerry and I painted together in college and he was always very good. Think he stopped as I did, somewhere along the way. We decided to go up to the sister museum Legion of Honor and see some great paintings and get the bad taste out of our mouths.

The Legion is such a great museum. Rodin's Thinker is perched in the courtyard. Great place, one of my favorite views of the city.

Newly wed, Legion
Rooms upon rooms of masterworks from baroque through impressionism. A lovely Manet, the Absinthe Drinkers. A very atypical, understated Picasso landscape done late, I think in 1932. A shack in Montmarte by Van Gogh that is of course, perfect.

Mostly I thought about my father as I walked around the place. How lucky I was to be his son, especially on the aesthetic level. There are rooms there that resemble him at the height of his collecting, in spades.

How many other kids had a Van Dyke, a Sir Joshua Reynolds, a Sir Peter Lely canvas in their living room? Exquisite blue and white oriental and ivory. People ask me where I learned about art, if I got my eye from my mother? The truth is, and it took a long time to admit this, but I got it all from my dad. I thought it was normal for a family to have a Gainsborough in the hallway. My father helped me develop my eye immeasurably. And now it's too late to tell him.

I, of course ran in the opposite aesthetic direction, fleeing from his patrician tastes towards my more egalitarian notions. I saw little use for the inlay, the marquetry and gilding. And now as I get older find that I am fleeing back towards him, wonder of wonders?

Docent, Legion.
tower shadow , treasure island
Went to Dave's decent dim sum restaurant Tong Kiang for lunch with Kerry. Cruised over to the East Bay and spent the midday with Robert Bijou who has recently moved from Montecito to a new perch high over the East Bay. 

A wonderful spot, we had a Thai lunch that was great, an espresso and then visited his new work space. He is flourishing and exuberant in his new locale.

Ended up at Gary and Melissa's. She bought a monster cowboy ribeye and we feasted on it and the truckload of potatoes left over from last night's big catering gig. Saw Denis Kelly and Kathy and watched him tend his lovely community garden. Talked about life and the market.

Next day I drove up to Marin and had breakfast with Ron at Miller's Deli. The place that asked me what kind of bread I wanted my corn beef on last time. Thought I would give the restaurant a second look. I asked for pastrami and eggs. The latino server looked at me like I was from the moon. I had to direct him. "Take the pastrami and mix it with scrambled eggs. Am I the first that has ever asked for it?" I think he comprende'd. It was allright I suppose, eggs kind of dry, but the latke was rubbery and hard like a hockey puck. Completely inedible.

Ron says that the Marin jews are basically so lame that the only thing they know how to order is a corned beef sandwich so I needed to have a little understanding. After breakfast we drove around to China Camp and looked out on the gorgeous bays.

Next day I went to the Giants game with the gang and sat in the Silver Oak seats, courtesy of Matt. Sea of orange, thought it was Halloween. Took the 400mm lens and got right in there. Stopped the ball in its tracks several times. I don't like the Giants, being a Padres fan but like the Dodgers even less. Zito threw a dominating shutout. Should have taken a picture of Boche's weird eyebrow with the incredible lens which I suppose Doug is going to want back some day.

I did a lot more stuff, went to the Alemany flea market with Kerry, explored Treasure Island for the first time. I knew a zillion people at Alemany and they all thought I had some secret motive for being up in the bay, some secret auction or painting. Wouldn't believe that I was just a tourist.

I accomplished everything I wanted to do except I didn't get to see Isak. Pride week, I thought that the Castro would have been a zoo. Hopefully next time. Did catch Warmboe for a second on my way out.

Met Cam (at the bar of course) in Salinas yesterday and drove down to Pebble Beach on a wild goose chase. Drove the rest of the day and made it home late last night, happy but very exhausted.


Anonymous said...

Great summary of your trip! The pictures are great, especially the one of your dad and the Treasure Island stairway.
It looks like you have a secret thing about docents.

Michael Stutz said...

The portrait of your father is very fine. Tough and delicate at the same time.
Ruth Asawa was a generous acquaintance of mine when I started my sculpture work. It is great to see her recognized, as so many wonderful artists are somehow forgotten as trends change.

North County Film Club said...

You were away from your blog for so long that I started to worry. Glad you're back in full force!

MC. said...

This was a great tale, Robert. As were the images. On the subject of your Father, regardless of how the words describe his circumstance, when one looks at the photographs you took of him ... his eyes are still there.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see your voice again. Sorry about your father same boat but further own the river with my Mother. Shitty way to finish a life. Peace yo.
Deli guy

Anonymous said...

A very nice article, Robby Thank you for the update on Dad and the pictures. Baby is just released from hospital today, so i havnt seen much of it but they are doing fine, julia says. love you, buzz

Anonymous said...

Robert, it is NEVER too late to tell your Father that he gave you the gift of seeing ART...Do it when You can.....I could tell you a story...... Carol

Anonymous said...

Dear cousin Robert,
I thank you deeply for the latest blog.
I was startled and surprised to see that photo of your dad, my first cousin I have known since 1939!!
It's quite late in the night and I'm a little worn out so this will not be a proper response to your life sharing blog.
Please keep them coming!!
Your grandparents, Pessa and Kaitz-as we called him- would be very pleased hear and read about The Blue Heron and it's creator.
Please, stay in touch--it couldn't hurt.
cousin Ralph, Pessa's younger sister's son.