Since I last wrote you, I’ve been on the road for four days in the manure-pungent hobbit-land of Galicia. In spite of the thousand years of Camino passing through, it is still remote, with stone houses topped with grey slate roofs, a lot of mossy rock. The photo above is of tombs, many decorated with the twin towers of Santiago: the tomb as a cathedral, which Santiago is. Created around the dubious bones of a discovered saint, and on the site of old Roman cemeteries, there is more than a bit of death built in to the pilgrimage. But nature redeems the melancholy at times. It is spectacular here.
I am mostly walking through green tunnels. I discovered yesterday that I could make it rain on me, even when it wasn’t raining. As I passed under certain trees, a pattering would start, as if the tree was raining only for me. It was strange and delightful. Often no drops would fall on me, but water was clearly dropping in a delightful way. I experimented and found out that my footsteps and two walking sticks were enough to send an imperceptible signal through the roots up into the branches. I could feel myself enclosed in a delicate, quivering bubble of green world, where I felt the reality that a flap of a butterfly’s wing can start a chain reaction… viscerally felt it. This tree language felt communicative and magical, as if the trees were greeting me.
On the other hand, some trees really scared me. They seemed positively threatening, especially this one with the pentangle hung in the branches and piles of salt at the roots. Witches are common here in Galicia, and with due respect to nature worship, I am not sure all of them are benificent. The Galicians would agree, even though they have shrunk their local witches into little cute souvenir dolls. This is the kind of tree that might grab you in these old-growth forests.
Misty mornings, cold– in the 50s– and often rain. I was walking through the forest and came on a little old lady selling raspberries and a beautiful fuschia colored raspberry liquor in a little bottle. She took me for five euros for a basket of strawberries and a small bottle of whatever that drink was. I don’t know if she was a good or bad witch… I suspect just mischievous. That was a hard day, over 15 kilometers and late in the day. I had to do some business for a morning in Sarria, the biggest city around. Travelers, do you remember how much time and energy it takes just to get into a new town and find an ATM and a store? I was buying a new pancho for the rain, one with sleeves and zipper, like a raincoat that can cover a backpack.
You know you’re doing real travel when the locals don’t really care that much about you. Though not pleasant, you can be sure that you are in the midst of true travel. There is a good tourist structure here and there in the woods though… adequate albergues. But some parts of the day I was just grateful to hear traffic somewhere, anywhere, or see another hiker. I am still hiking mostly by myself…wonderful for contemplation, but sometimes eerie in the green, stony world of Galicia.
This is Carlotta, my sort-of friend for three hours climbing into the ancient hilltop village of O’Cebreiro. The landscape looks like this. To Carlotta it all looks like food.
It was three hours of pure bliss. Julia and I both hired horses from Victor, who guided us and the mounts up the mountain. I haven’t ridden a horse since childhood and it was great. We went through dark tunnels of forest, breaking out to amazing views on the switchbacks. Carlotta likes to eat. My only instructions with her were 1) don’t make any fast moves or she’ll throw you and 2) don’t let her eat. Both were easier said than done. She wanted to lean in to eat all the way along, and Victor would shout “Ayee, Carlotta!” I like to graze too, so I could sympathize. Eventually I got better at controlling her, but as Victor said, wisely, “Horses are big.”
That’s Bonnie trying to drink water from a flowing pilgrim spigot, although there were plentiful horse troughs. I found myself going up a mountain on a horse by accident. I had walked a few miles out of town and someone called out to me, “Are you on the Pilgrim’s Forum?” It’s an online information site about the pilgrimage. We started talking at a bus stop. Julia is from Britain and Nadine is Australian. Turns out they had this plan to take horses up. I asked if they minded if I joined in… the rest is history. Horse’s shoes on stony paths really do sound like the coconut shells of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And they have a 10th C. chalice in the church. Close enough.
I bought Victor and his daughter Carlotta a beer afterwards. He would like to develop a sort of Pony Express for the Camino, with horses, half day rides and food and lodging. I loved this ride so much. Victor told us that you can ride horses directly into one entrance of the Cathedral of Santiago. Can you imagine the steps of the horses echoing in Gothic arches? I would love to do this.
Dawn now, and veils of mist drift through. I have decided to stay one more day. This place has a sort of poignant, piercing beauty I have felt in only a few places: Big Sur, the Lofoten Islands in Norway, Karpathos in Greece, Hampi in India. I’ll catch up with my writing and sketching.
I keep losing photographs and writing because there’s no wifi here. I’m doing everything on a wavery data signal from my phone. Time to stop.
More later, I hope. Suzanne
This morning was a very flowery walk, on this bright Sunday right at midsummer. The Solstice is called Sommerwende in German–summer’s hinge, summer’s turning point. in a tiny village I ran into a personal Gabriel angel carrying lilies.
As I’m sitting here at this very moment church bells are ringing madly. Congregants are carrying an effigy of the Virgin into the hills to a shrine, some combination of Solstice with the Virgin. The Catholic Church always covers all its bases.
Flowers were strewn in the path of the effigy. I think that’s what I saw in another village I walked through today, the sidewalk blossoming with wildflowers for a block or so. The trailside flowers are spectacular too. See why I said it was a flowery day?
The bells just stopped… they literally pounded the heck out of my ears for a half an hour. There’s no way to miss that it’s midsummer. I started out in the church to see it, but I felt like a voyeur. This celebration is for the village, not for me. The ancient bells turn 360 degrees, mounted on a huge wooden top that rotates on an axis. Centrifugal force keeps them turning. They have not stopped after all. The turn of the season is worth a little noise.
I was so lucky to stop in this village to witness this. I got a lovely bed in its own cubicle, with a view out the French doors. This hotel is built in an old monastery and the owner is a pilgrim himself and built in some luxury pilgrim lodging.
I am walking much too slowly to do the entire Camino in just six weeks, what with flowers and paintings and magic soup and monasteries. I am about twice as slow as the guidebook. I’ll be going on to Galicia to finish up and get my Compostela. Galicia is Celtic and believes in its witches. The main witch of Galicia is made into beer taps. She’s very inspiring, and whispered to me that it was okay to skip ahead.
It’s this kind of breezy day, with high horsetail cirrus clouds all prancing toward the west, in the direction of the Camino.
Your slow Camino wanderer, Suzanne
I’m sitting here in the cool, clean Estella public library. It’s beautiful… they have incorporated gothic pillars– and I’m sure they are genuine– into an ultramodern design, very striking. I was just blessed by the priest in the church with the view you see above in a small group of 10 pilgrims. I was the only American, as I often am, and was so glad that I worked up the courage to go.
I wanted to pass this blessing on to you. Most of my readers are friends old and new, near and far. Your reading this means so much to me. Traveling alone is so much a matter of attitude, and seeing your remarks and comments make me feel like your spirits are on the road with me.
The blessing was quite personal. The village priest took our names and had a short conversation with all of us. Then we took pictures, right there in the cathedral smack in the middle of mass, as a group. I was thinking of friends and the problems we all face as I was walking. I came upon a ruined church in the countryside
with an alter where people had written their hopes, dreams, and why they were walking… eerie, lovely and strange. We are creatures who suffer, but also rejoice.
Estella is a good time town. If I could, I would have you all to the meal I had over an extended two hour lunch in the square. Even the town’s motto is about eating: midieval foodies! A quarter bottle white wine (Navarra chardonnnay), water, the appetizer, melon with Serrano ham,
then lamb stew with big red roasted pimento peppers, and a cake with caramel and a honey drizzle for dessert (14 E). The cake was for Scott’s birthday, which I missed.
Life is full of troubles, but pleasures too. The words of the blessing card I got from the priest end with “so that we may reach the end of our journey stregnthened with gratitude and power, secure and filled with happiness. I with that for you.
Testing one two three… better than the finals I give! I’m learning how to take photos with my Iphone. All flowers from my cutting garden: alstromeria, roses, hydrangea. Dear reader, let me deliver them to you. Suzanne
I owe this delightful quote to Chester Arnold, a Bay Area narrative painter. What a great metaphor! He extended it a bit: there are cults and fanatics, for example. And, paraphrasing, he noted that “Art is essentially an irrational activity, like religion.” Laughter erupted in the audience.
The panel discussion touched often on the idea of the Studio as a sacred site. Hmmmmm. If “art is disorganized religion”, then the temple must be the studio. The paint or materia prima (stone, ink, etc.) would be the sacrament and the artist the priest. Patrons, then, are the churchgoers. Chester Arnold also called the Internet “God’s Brain.” I added for myself that it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Chester stole the show, at least for me. His own paintings show a textural wit and intelligence: story deeply grained like rings in wood.
Oh studio, studio… what and where and when is your studio? Do you like visitors or not? How public or private, neat or sloppy, sacred or profane is it? I no longer have the studio in the portrait. Several artists I know have recently changed studios. We might romanticize the studio, but they’re a wink in God’s eye. There I go, getting serious again.
What’s the difference between selling out and simply selling?
I found myself arguing with myself over this post when I put it up last week or the week before, feeling oddly insecure and conflicted. I ended up making it a draft again, unposting it and pulling it offline. Yes, there were typos, but I think it was more that I had some problems with feeling authentic addressing the issue. My success in the arts is modest and my own skills at using the internet to market are certainly not advanced. Who am I to tell you what to do? Some of my advice goes against common consensus on internet marketing.
That said, I found that I had the most conflicts with the section called post and publicize carefully, so I’ve included the original draft and some revised thoughts below.
Sometimes I feel sickened by using the internet to publicize my paintings. It gnaws my brain into small pieces and inflates a sort of Virtual Persona Girl who has a crabby, fragmented, and narcisstic ego. That is certainly one form of selling out, and a dangerous one. That said, I’ll begin again…
What’s the difference between selling your soul and simply selling your art?
Many of us can envision– or have experienced– life before or without a television, but few younger people today can reconstruct the era of a world without internet. The Web now reaches its tentacles into every moment of our lives and every part of our bodies. ( I have a theory that cellphones are the new cigarettes, but that’s for another day.) Artists are engulfed in a tsunami of information and marketing possibilities. It has become harder and harder to decided what to do, or decide if what you’re doing is worth it. Here are a few ideas for those who feel adrift in the flood.
The route to success is not soley through the internet, or through sales. Many masters were obscure in their own time. I’m not suggesting that this is the way to go, or that you shouldn’t bother to try to publicize on your own behalf. But I will say that the artwork has to be strongly felt, beautifully crafted, and cohesive to make a mark. Artwork that is well-made will find an audience and buyers of some kind, with or without Twitter. You do need to clarify what success is for you. There’s a wide range on the spectrum. Are you Vincent Van Gogh, Matisse, Thomas Kincaid, Bouguereau? Are you looking for a small circle of people who love your work, or do you want to make big money? Somewhere in between?
Don’t chase genre. “Landscapes sell.” I’ve heard this too often to count. The other thing I’ve heard is “I’d love to do more abstract work, but it won’t sell.” The flood of images now available online and print has sensitized us to cliché and to inauthentic artmaking. Now more than ever, it has to be your own, even if your own work is very odd.
Find your own relationship with internet marketing. Marketing online will periodically change, and you’ll have to master new skills. It will repeatedly and radically shift its form, and you will have to find your own way through the maze. No one solution will fit without alteration over time. It’s useful to ask “Who is my real audience?” Why are you doing social networking, for example? If it is to socialize, you’ll be successful. If it is to sell, it may not work for you. Use networking to build authentic, friendly support systems. They may bring far more than you can anticipate. There’s no magic equation for marketing. And if you do things which feel false to you, simply to market, they won’t work anyway. Choose to focus on a few venues that feel fun and manageable to you. Be polite. Publicize others. Spend time online doing unto others what you wish they would do unto you– viewing, commenting on, and appreciating artwork.
Post and publicize carefully. Don’t rush to show too many works-in-progress, unless that is part of a plan or goal. “Works in progress” are intriguing, but save your energy for the finished work. Sometimes work can appear more impressive online than in reality, but it needs to be the other way around. If you find yourself “tweaking” your images too much, you may be over-identifying with an online image, not your original impulse.
Here’s where I started arguing with myself. I do think we can use blogs as a journal; they can clarify direction and act as a reflection. If we can use notebooks to move our artistic process along, then we can also use the internet as a to0l to amplify our creative process. Regarding the “works in progress” riddle– what to show, what to hide, what to contain– I’ve decided to show selected works-in-progress online, but limit their frequency. In my last post, Six Phases of Creativity, I decided to put the raw or “draft” works in context by showing them sitting on my worktable. I have a strong feeling that marketing really can overtake and subsume the production of quality art. Look at Thomas Kincaid. I think we must always delicately adjust our courses, and to consider containment or withdrawing from marketing as an option.
Though painting-a-day posts have their place, posting prematurely– or too often– can be mildly deceptive to the viewer, and can rob the work of energy needed to explore the work. After all, you’ve already gotten a charge from having it seen online. On the other hand…
Get your work out to everybody possible. Make links available and write simple email show notices. Don’t get caught in the false reality of virtual approval. The statistics and numbers give us a feeling similar to gambling. They are fun, but not real, and have addictive qualities. Shows, sales, and real-life appreciation by actual, not virtual humans is what feeds us. The internet can be a net that falsely traps us in distant admiration, or it can be an open, inspiring road to reaching out to more people in an authentic way. Success may choose an indirect route, and require time, that rarest of all elements in the shifting cloud of Internet.
Pompeii, December. We stepped off the train from Naples into the first rain of the season, Vesuvius wreathed in fog. The ancient wagon ruts filled with water, but we could still use the stepping stones in place for two thousand years. It’s a large city, a grid of named streets, fast food counters, offices, fountains, floors, stores, a harbor, rich and poor homes, bread ovens, baths. Interrupted business is everywhere evident… those businesslike Romans! Wild dogs slept sadly on the cold stones. We bargained for a 10-euro umbrella for two. The rain worked to our advantage; we had a lot of the site to ourselves. It was a day for ghosts and images brought in on rainclouds and reflected in puddles. Pompeii!
Myth Notes: Pompeii is a web of Greco-Roman mythology, with a dash of Isis from newly-conquered Egypt. It was wine country (Dionysius/Baccus/Silenus) and was on the coast (Posiedon/Neptune). I think the Romans would have been appalled at how we got so much information on Roman culture from Pompeii; it was a hick commercial village far from the centers of power in Herculaneum and Rome.
Studio notes: I’ve done Holga, Lomo, and pinhole toy photography for many years. We chose to take the Lomo Fisheye and Lomo Sprocket Rocket with us, as they used 35mm film rather than the more awkward– but more fun– 120 mm film. At airports now , many security guys have never even seen film. I hand-carried it in a ziploc bag without film containers. It always caused consternation and dismay in the security lines. What the heck is film?
This is my image of true love: looking into the light of eternity, together.
The Etruscan “Happy Couple in the Villa Giula museum in Rome used to be painted and draped with fabric. They had wine glasses and perfume bottles in hand and were reclining and eating at the same time– wonderful. She had her earrings and jewelry on originally too. This is the most famous of the tomb sculptures and is still incredibly moving for its feeling of affection and love. Not to mention the great “dos”, his and hers.
Then, the Romans invaded, and everyone started thinking about money, real estate, commerce. Look at the new portrait of the married couple, Roman-style! Brood, worry, and scheme… not much trust there. And no more damn reclining in married portraits.
When not buying something or conquering someone, in their spare time the Romans loved their soft and ahem, harder , images of sex. This is a sweet one from the Secret Cabinet of Pompeii, a collection of erotic/ironic art in the Naples Archeological Museum. We did get in, though the guidebooks report this is often dicey. It was deserted. I think there’s a basic misunderstanding about what was erotic and what was common during the height of the Roman Empire. Phallic-shaped signposts, lucky charms, and house decoration: common and boring. Wall-painting series of “menus” showing different sexual activities you could choose in the brothels, especially if you’re illiterate: interesting, erotic, naughty, not boring. She’s light and he’s dark, showing the power of the guy, or something; this painting convention continued through the Renaissance and later in erotic scenarios. It’s Pan and his goat, but she seems happy.
Girls with Horns! What can I say? You can check my Mythic notes at the bottom for more ideas. Here’s an Egyptian version of girls with horns. They seem to have water buffalo horns, an image seen still in Naples because of their wonderful water-buffalo mozzarella cheese. You buy it from the deli, little balls swimming in a salty sea, and carry it home in a tied plastic bag like goldfish from the fair. Mozarrella alone is a “secondi piatti”– main dish– in Naples. It’s grilled a bit, served with bread, and that’s it.
And now some Pompeiian paintings of girls with horns. The “encaustic” they used included wax, but the paint actually used soap (lye-based) as the “caustic” medium binding the pigment to bond with the walls. These are not frescoes– the plaster was dry. These are wet, slippery paint layers. They then used the hot wax to seal the walls as a varnish on top, which they could buff to a high shine. The first girl definitely has horns; the second may be more of a crescent moon, perhaps Diana.
Horns or crescent moon? What say you?
For the last happy couple, Scott and I, the morning after our arrival back, at the IHOP at 6AM. We are not reclining and eating, like the Etruscan couple, but you see a soft upholstered booth, coffee, empty plates and cups, books, and happiness. Good enough.
Mythic notes: I saw a lot of images of Europa on the Zeus-Bull. She was taken to swim on Zeus-Bull’s back through the Straits of Bosphorus– Bosphorus means ox-crossing– dividing Europe from Asia/Turkey–in other words, the Straits of Istanbul. Europa and Io merge women with bull or cow, and then put them in water– a river or sea. They might be a holdover from a more ancient cow -goddess, or metaphors for mass migrations and settlement of cattle people, but I just thought that the girls with horns were cool. The Romans idealized the Nile as a source of fertility; Roman matrons would buy vials of Nile water at the local Isis-temple and douse themselves with it to increase conception.
Book notes: The Social Animal by David Brooks was a great buy. It’s trending sociological research, carried by his made-up, somewhat borg-like characters named Harold and Erica. The characters provide a framework for reporting findings from everywhere. Intriguing. Many are saying that the creative/artistic mind is the big money earner in our new world. Well, let’s hope. He lets Erica do art after she retires, and there are a few pages on the latest social research on music, painting, and other arts. Recommended for a rousing non-fiction read and a juicy idea source.
Studio Notes: I’ve done large paintings of both Europa and Io as abstractions.
Three weeks in Italy! I felt like I was dipping my toe into a river of souls. It was a time of borderlines and thresholds: old year to new, marble to flesh, ancient streets filled with modern people, and classical beauty in the faces of people arguing, eating, buying stuff, driving Smartcars. The ancients seemed to live, and the Christmas crowds of elegant Italians seemed temporary flickers haunting the alleys. Meet some of my marble buds.
The Capitoline Walls… this guy is great. Is he a David figure? To us he looked like he had 400 years of saying “Hey, Sailor” to his credit. Cocky. Just sayin’…
An achingly blue winter day, and I couldn’t tear myself away from the brilliant negative shapes against the stone. Youth and horse… stunning contained force, and a tremendous face. I like the entire Capitoline hill, and this museum piazza was designed by The Big Mike, Michaelangelo.
Capitoline Hill, sunset from the museum cafe terrace. Murmurations of starlings, kinetic. The whole Hill was formerly a nest of state oracles and seers. They liked the elevation so they could interpret flights of birds. Nowadays the seagulls have invaded. Oddly, they fly at night in the city, shrieks and white forms soaring in the darkness, a bit ghoulish.
Classical sculptures are virtually all knockoffs—copied from ancient Greek sources, now lost— or propaganda for the ruler du jour. Some mighty bodies were made with removable heads so the next Caesar could just screw his own on. The head of Constantine below is 5 feet high, so the whole sculpture, with pedestal and base, might have been 50 to 70 feet or more. Statues of this mass can so easily verge on Facist architechture. But they impress. Think of Lady Liberty!
What has that flawed eye perceived in its time? Think, too, of paint and decoration, fabrics and jewels originally draped around the sculpture. The marble we see now is more a bone structure. Ripped from their original colored and decorated context, they become evocative collage pieces. But some still shine. I felt that it wouldn’t take long to develop a real relationship with them. The more we like them, the more they come alive, like any so-called “object”, I suppose. I’ll miss hanging with them.
Next: Happy Couples and Horned Gals: More Archaic Art Friends from Rome and Naples