Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Easter Bunny - Random Thoughts

Much of the magic of Easter, for young children, centers around Easter Baskets, The Easter Bunny and the eggs and treats he hides. Adults inhabit a different world. For the religious there is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, a concept difficult for the 6 year old mind to wrap around. For parents there is the pride associated with dressing their offspring in fancy new clothes, which young children invariably find uncomfortable. These children are then taken to church were they tug at their collars and yearn for the guy in the pulpit to stop talking so they can get back home and hunt out those chocolate rabbits and creme filled eggs hidden around the back yard.

At our house the Easter Bunny arrived as soon as re returned from church service We were herded into our parents bedroom at the front of the house while he went about his business in the yard.
We were then released to scamper about sniffing out the eggs and treats hidden among the shrubs and  rosebushes. We could always rely on something being placed at the base of the concrete birdbath.

Waiting in my parents room always gave me time to ponder, even at 6 I had a tendency to over analyze things, how did the rabbit know the precise time we got home from church? Also, he went to the next door neighbors house in the morning and ours in the afternoon, a routine that seemed inefficient at best.

When my nephew was young he come to the conclusion that the Easter Bunny was a man in a bunny suit. My brother explained that he was a magic bunny, not a man in a bunny suit. My nephew insisted that his bunny suit theory was correct. They struck a deal. They would leave out both an apple and cookies. If the apple was eaten they would know the Easter Bunny was a bunny, if he ate the cookies my brother would concede that it was a man in a bunny suit.

It's a good thing my brother likes apples!

Happy Easter
Happy Spring Fertility Festival
Happy Passover

Let's see have I left anyone out........


Friday, March 22, 2013

Art That Follows Me Around or I think Van Gogh is Stalking Me!

My parents made sure that I developed an appreciation for art from an early age. I have a childhood memory of going to an L.A. museum with my parents, who were, at the time, taking an art appreciation course. As we looked at the works on display they imported to me an my siblings the insights and information they had received. Gainsborough's "Blue Boy" and Thomas Lawrence's "Pinkie" were always a highlight of our trips to the Huntington Library during my young years in L.A.  A visit with my parents during my early teen years to a retrospect of the work of Claus Oldenburg introduced me to the wonderful and imaginative work of this most original artist. The spare, angular interior of the museum on the U.C. Berkeley campus provided an excellent setting for his outsized world view. Visits to museums across the U.S. and Europe were always integral parts of our family vacations.

I live in an art rich city. Our public art plus museum collections contain an almost embarrassment of opportunities to see and appreciate works buy many of the world's greatest masters. This is augmented by special exhibitions providing me with the opportunity to appreciate an even wider range of works. Taking a cue from my parents, I make it a point when I travel to seek out the museums of the cities I visit. This has resulted in my often encountering the same work in different settings.

I have had the privilege, and good fortune, to view Van Gogh's "A Starry Night" 3 separate times in three different venues. It's permanent home is New York's Museum of Modern Art. During my first visit to New York the museum was closed due to the herculean task of dismantling a major Picasso retrospect. Upon my second day of wandering the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, an art institution so vast that it takes at least two days to fully appreciate, I discovered, on an upper floor in a distant corner, the European Collection of the Modern Art museum. It had been loaned to the Metropolitan during the Picasso show. It was there I encountered the famous Van Gogh piece for the first time. It is a piece of incredible power. The madness and emotions of the tortured artist seem to emanate from the canvas and bombard the viewer. You can feel the inner demons he attempted to exorcise in his work in the swirling brushstrokes of the night sky encircling the stars. It left me simultaneously breathless and exhilarated. On another visit to New York, some years later I was able to see it at it's home, along with the rest of the works I had seen on that earlier visit at the Metropolitan. I experienced the same deep emotional response as I had the first time I saw it.

A special exhibition was mounted in Chicago centering on the summer Van Gogh and Gauguin shared a home and studio. My ex-roommate had come for a short visit over the holidays. Attending this exhibition was to be our major activity during his time here. We moved through the crowded galleries commenting to each other about the works on view. I suddenly saw, over the heads of the crowd the top portion of "A Starry Night". I watched my ex-roommates reaction as he viewed it for the first time and fondly recalled my initial encounter with the remarkable work. This same exhibition was touring Italy when we were there. Of course we did not take time out of our all too brief visit to see it again, we had the collections of the Vatican and Michelangelo's "David" to sate our artistic thirst.

Also on that first visit to New York the Whitney presented a retrospect of the work of the great American realist Edward Hopper. My time was too limited to attend this, however, several months later the show moved to San Francisco, my home at the time. It was there I saw for the first time "Nighthawks". The paining is odd and ambiguous, almost eerie. Despite it's hyper-realism, the figures depicted seem to inhabit a realm that is almost surreal. The attention to details such as the interiors of the shops along the street draw the viewer into this world. It's permanent home is Chicago's Art Institute, which is where I encountered it next. Having the opportunity to see it a number of times since I never tire of it. At one point another retrospect of Hopper's work was touring. "Nighthawks" was loaned as a centerpiece of the show. It's place at the Art Institute was left blank. A small card with a black and white photo of the painting explained it's absence. Finally, along with the rest of the retrospective, it returned. As I stood before it I smiled. Although I was glad others were able to experience it as I had, it felt like I was welcoming an old friend back after a long time away.

While in the Impressionist portrait gallery of the St Louis Museum of Art I came upon a Gauguin which had been part of the exhibit with Van Gogh. In the center of the room a sculpture by Degas had been in an exhibit I had seen in Milwaukee. The Art Institute mounted an exhibition of Jasper John's works entitled "Shades of Gray". While visiting the Nevelson Museum in Houston two of the pieces I had seen in that show hung side by side in one of the galleries there.....I could go on.......

I find that as I experience works of art in different settings, juxtaposed against different works, I gain a different perspective. I see things in the works I may not have seen before or gain a greater understanding of a pieces place in an artist's timeline.

Art, you are free to follow me around. In fact, I encourage you to do so. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Civil Unions - It's Just Business

For the first time in my working life I have a job that will allow me to add my partner to my health insurance. This will save us several thousand dollars a year. In order to make certain that we were partners and not just two random people trying to scam the system, specific documentation of the relationship was necessary. In states where same sex relationships are not recognized I would have simply requested a form from my employer, filled it out and returned it. In states where same sex unions are recognized, i.e. Illinois, we had to go through the steps necessary to obtain the state's official recognition.

On a day we both had off we went downtown to the County Building to apply for Domestic Partner status. After 16 years of cohabitation and 6 years of dual ownership of our condo we were going to pay a fee, sign some papers and have the state of Illinois rubberstamp our foreheads officially certifying us as a committed couple...or so we thought. Upon arriving at the County Building we were informed that since Illinois was so progressive that it now recognize Civil Unions the Domestic Partnership designation was no longer available. Our only option was a Civil Union. The fees involved with a Civil Union, while fairly modest, are twice those associated with a Domestic Partnership. Furthermore, where the Domestic Partnership would have taken 90 minutes or so, the Civil Union requires two visits over two separate days. The first to obtain a license (what are we dogs?), the second to go before a judge and have him rubberstamp our foreheads certifying us, after 16 years of cohabitation and 6 years of condo co-ownership, as a couple in the eyes of the law. While processing all this information I was simultaneously holding an inner conversation with myself which went something like "I'm just trying to same a few bucks! Why is this getting so complicated!"

After getting the license it was a couple of weeks before we could arrange a common day off to go to the courthouse. During this fortnight I found myself explaining to everyone who was working themselves into a tizzy over our upcoming "Ceremony", "We're just doing it to save money for christ's sake. We've been together 16 years! If it was important to me on a personal level don't you think I would have taken care of it before now? No veils, no flowers, no gowns, no tuxes! I intend to wear jeans and a sweatshirt!"

The day arrived and we got on the El to go downtown. This is what we encountered next. The area where the ceremony is performed is in the basement of the Courthouse. We enter a room with badly stained carpet and several rows of stackable chairs decorated with equally stained framed prints on the walls. Plastic plants and a large furnace completed the decor. It resembled the waiting room of a Greyhound bus station. Behind the desk sat a silver haired woman who seemed to be waiting until she completed enough years in the state's service to collect her pension.

Shortly we were ushered into the Judge's chambers. Picture a poorly furnished windowless room featuring the kind of fake wood paneling found in the finest of trailer homes. Faded U.S. and State of Illinois flags completed the decor. The Judge was a tall balding man shaking from the effects of acute alchoholism. You could almost feel the romance in the air.

The Judge read our "vows", his words resounding with the passion and conviction one would expect to hear from someone reading a phone book. The entire process clocked in at approximately 5 minutes. Upon leaving my partner suggested that if we had exchanged rings the ceremony might have dragged on for a quarter of an hour. We then had lunch utilizing a gift card given to us the previous Christmas...this was November...we don't eat out much.

After 16 years of cohabitation and 6 years of owning property together the State has now declared our relationship valid within the borders of Illinois. If we should decide to venture into the neighboring States of Indiana or Missouri all bets are Iowa we're good.....