Season of Light

Starting now with the darkest season upon us, it’s time to shut shades and shutters against the dark and light candles for solidarity, candles for early morning yoga, candles at dinner always. Twinkle lights inside and out.

As times change and families grow, I miss my old friends and our holiday rituals. I’m thinking of my friend who lives on Bainbridge, her fondness for the cheer of lighted candles – even the glow of a candle on the breakfast table.

And though she’d try not to, she always used to cry during the “thankfuls” around the Thanksgiving table. And I might get teary this year with so much to be grateful for (including electricity – truly a miracle when recently unpredictable because of storms). I’m so eager to see everyone and the little cousins together again.

Thank you for being wonderful readers with thoughtful comments, I appreciate all of you. I wish you warm gatherings radiant in candlelight, festive with food and family and friends!

turkey candle holder

“All The Light We Cannot See – and Dark

Reality kept intruding into my re-reading of Anthony Doerr’s novel, “All The Light We Cannot See,” a book I initially avoided out of fear but read this summer with great pleasure.

The book is about Werner, a small, white-haired German orphan boy who “likes to interrogate the world,” and Marie-Laure, blinded by cataracts at the age of six, daughter of the principal locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Chapters within the book’s complicated structure slide open the lives of Werner and Marie-Laure during the years from 1934 to 1944 and beyond, as smoothly as the intricate puzzle boxes Marie-Laure’s father constructs for her. He also builds a detailed miniature model of their Paris neighborhood to help her learn to navigate the real one by herself.

Smell, touch, and sound describe Marie-Laure’s reality. At the museum, “Botany smells like glue and blotter paper and pressed flowers. Paleontology smells like rock dust, bone dust.” “The breast feathers of a stuffed and mounted chickadee are impossibly soft, its beak as sharp as a needle. The pollen at the tips of tulip anthers is not so much powder as it is tiny balls of oil.” “Everything is composed of webs and lattices and upheavals of sound and texture.”

Werner and his sister Jutta find a primitive radio, take it apart, put it back together and hear music and broadcasts from far away in France – magic, a miracle. Werner’s gift with electronics provides his escape from work in the coal mine where his father died. He’s trained and then assigned to a special unit in the German army, searching out and destroying unauthorized transmitters.

When the Germans arrive to occupy Paris, Marie-Laure and her father flee, clutching the priceless and cursed diamond (or a copy), which is at the heart of the book’s mystery . After walking through war-ravaged countryside, they arrive at Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast to live with Marie-Laure’s great uncle Etienne. He resides in a skinny four-story house that hides a transmitter in the attic.

The woman who cares for Etienne, Madam Manec, greets the famished Marie-Laure with the fragrance and sizzle of “egg, spinach, melting cheese.” Madam Manec is 76-years old, and brave in the way of French resistance fighters – who have always seemed the bravest possible people to me.

Last week during a long day in Seattle of reading the book on ferries and in waiting rooms, we drove home through a wind and rain storm to find the driveway littered with tree debris and our house lightless on the dark bluff. A scramble for flashlights and candles restored a dimmer familiarity.

After snuffing candles and going upstairs, curious about Marie-Laure’s world, I crept back down without my headlamp to get an extra blanket. I grasped the stair rail and felt for each step, suddenly uncertain about depth and number. I thought how limited my perception in the dark and how rich Doerr makes Marie-Laure’s world.

But it’s Madame Manec I think of today, my heart aching, after a friendly soccer game between old enemies, a rock concert, and cafes in Paris became scenes of devastation and sorrow. I wish Parisians her courage, wish for light in the City of Light.


International Postcard#1

The Broad

Tickets are free to The Broad (rhymes with road), the brand new contemporary art museum in downtown Los Angeles. Sweet Baby’s dad made reservations before we arrived on our recent trip.

Built by Eli and Edythe Broad to house their collection of postwar and contemporary art, it’s an appealing museum with a concerted effort by the staff to welcome visitors. Just two floors, the inaugural installation is arranged a little chronologically and a lot by artist (with early and late pieces from the same person).

The building itself is a Gaudi-like grotto on the inside, while a “veil” of fiberglass-reinforced concrete panels and steel, penetrated by slits allowing daylight, floats over the entire structure. The corner of the veil lifts over the entrance. Loaning the collection is a big part of the museum’s mission, and the building celebrates the huge art-storage capacity sandwiched between its floors. The stairway, glass elevator, and escalator tunnel through this storage “vault,” so visitors glimpse art on giant steel racks.

The first floor installation of up-to-the-minute pieces features giant chromogenic prints by Thomas Struth, including three floor to ceiling photos of tourists staring up at “David” in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence. A huge photo of the Ferguson riots is the latest acquisition.

I love the out-of-proportion everyday things that make you look anew: one of Jeff Koon’s puppy dogs, Robert Theirren’s huge stack of ceramic dinner plates near the entrance, and his Alice in Wonderland-like gigantic wooden table and chairs you can walk under (echoing Sweet Baby’s reality with the undersides of tables).

The Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s hour-long, nine-screen video piece entranced us. In a graceful old house musicians each perform the same piece of music but are filmed separately. We cold easily have stayed the whole hour in this thrilling room full of sound and image.

We didn’t have a reservation to stand in line to see ourselves reflected in Yoyoi Kusama’s experimental artwork “Infinity Mirrored Room: The Souls of Millions Light Years Away” – but next time!

Wheeling around in her stroller, Sweet Baby took it all in. Fellow visitors interested her most, children, babies, tall people and wide – beards and hats – every entertaining possibility. In the elevator going in, a fellow passenger greeted Sweet Baby. Her dad smiled and said, “It’s her first museum.” (I love to observe our sons respond to people who speak to their daughters when they are out and about.)

We ate lunch on the museum’s plaza – near an improbable grove of 100-year old olive trees – gnarled and twisted, full of story – how do you transplant a 100-year old tree?

Lunch outdoors in warmth, under an umbrella with a happy Sweet Baby (she tucked under her mom’s scarf and had a snack herself), shared experiences to talk about, feeling “recalled to life” (meds for weird pneumonia aboard and working) – moments to savor.

Sweet Baby at Broad Museum