The open road

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Here we are at the beginning of a new year.  The time of year when plans are conceived and resolutions are made.  We shake off the disappointments of last year and dream of possibilities.

Like a traveler on the eve of a trip, we are full of anticipation.  Our senses are heightened.  We see, hear, smell, touch and taste with childlike intensity.

It is the time of year when courage visits us, kicks the chair from under us and propels us to explore new realms.  Listen to her and travel the open road.

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”           – Rainer Maria Rilke

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Beginner

A few weeks ago, my sister asked me why I hadn’t painted for her. “I’m just a beginner,” I told her.  I need more practice and more practice and more practice, and more…

I took a watercolor painting class at the National Academy School in New York two years ago.  In the months that followed, I painted intermittently and by the end of that year, I had given up.  I had numerous paintings that look like blobs of yellow and orange paint that did not resemble a fruit let alone a pear.  Very few turned out the way I envisioned it and this frustrated me.

But, there is something about creating vivid images that led me back to painting earlier this year.  This time, I tried painting with pastels. It wasn’t easy either, but it is a forgiving media and I was able to correct my mistakes more easily and create several paintings that I liked.

Playing with pastels led me to acrylics and then to mixed media. I experimented with different supplies–acrylics, pastels, ink, water-soluble crayons and oil sticks.  I watched endless YouTube videos for several months before I finally decided to take an online mixed media workshop by Juliette Crane last October.

That class led me to creating this:

portrait 1

It’s not perfect but I like it.

I can’t thank and recommend Juliette’s class enough.  Her class made painting fun.  I fingerpainted, splashed ink, and doodled with pastels.  I learned to focus less on how the final piece would turn out and more on the process.

I still cared about the outcome and most of the time, I still struggled at different stages of the painting when it wasn’t turning out as I had imagined.  Still, I kept going. I painted over aspects I didn’t like and kept painting  or I would set aside the painting for a few days and work on it again until it turned into something I liked.

mixed media portrait2

I still have a long way to go but, for now, I am enjoying being a beginner.

P.S. Ira Glass talks about being a beginner.

The rain in Spain

Several months ago, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of loud drumming.  My hazy brain still full of dreams tried to make sense of the racket.  Is someone banging on my door?  Did my neighbor suddenly take up the drums? Am I still dreaming?

It took another minute or two before full consciousness set in.  My neighbor wasn’t playing the drums.  No one was at the door. The sounds came from right outside my bedroom window.

Heavy rains rattled against the metal body of the air conditioner like the tapping of typewriter keys. The steady pitter-patter of the rain and the gush of water flowing down the drains hypnotized me.

Last year in April, it rained everyday for almost a week. Every morning, I woke up to raindrops hitting the cobblestone streets of a small village in Andalusia.  After a long and snowy winter in New York, I was looking forward to warm and sunny days in Competa, a whitewashed hill town in the south of Spain. Instead, we were rained out in an ancient stone house with no central heating, 2,000 feet above sea level.

I spent every morning in Competa staring out the kitchen window and wishing away the rain.  Like a sulky child,  you could almost hear me chant, “rain, rain go away, come again another day.”

With barely enough heat inside the house, I whiled away the long afternoons up on the covered roof terrace, where it was warmer during the day.  I read books.  I ate meals. I wrote. I ate some more and wrote some more.

The rain didn’t diminish the view of the mountains that surrounded the village.  On those rare occasions when the skies did clear up, albeit momentarily, I saw the Mediterranean.

Some nights, we braved the slippery streets of Competa to venture down to the local bar. Rainwater flowed from the highest point of the village like miniature waterfalls that followed us down the steep steps to the Plaza Almijara.

Bar Perico became our haven in Competa.  We sat outside when the rain cleared or at the bar next to locals and ate boquerones fritos or jamon serrano topped off with red sangria.

Several rainy days in a row in a sleepy hill town brought on cabin fever.  Driving on narrow, winding, cliff-hugging roads in the rain seemed like a bad idea but one day we braved the slippery roads and drove to the neighboring villages.  We went to the beach in Nerja where we ate delicious seafood and walked along the Balcon de Europa. We also ventured to Frigiliana another mountain village a few miles away.

But, most of the time on those long drizzly days with nothing to do, we stayed put. Up there on the terrace under the tin roof, I listened to the rain.

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

-Langston Hughes

I love brunch

I love brunch. I love waking up a little later on the weekends and think about what I’ll have that morning.

Coffee is an essential part of the meal but it is equally appropriate to have champagne cocktails. You can have a sweet and savory meal at the same time.

But, most of all, I love lingering over my food and catching up with friends or family after a busy week.

I took the first three pictures last January at Untitled in what essentially is the basement of the Whitney Museum in New York. It has a relaxed and casual atmosphere making you feel refined and homey at the same time.

The last two pictures were taken at two different restaurants last February in Johannesburg.

The Hudson River

One afternoon in late November, I received my “new” used Pentax K1000 in the mail.  It didn’t come with a manual so I had to look up the instructions.  It took me about thirty minutes just to load the film.  Determined not to miss the last minutes of light, I walked down to the river and took these pictures.

The weather was crisp.  The sun was setting.  It was a perfect autumn evening caught on film.

Apple pie

On a cold winter afternoon when I was in DC, I met David at Kramerbooks Cafe for dessert and coffee.  We didn’t really plan on the dessert part but, I saw the apple pie in the display case.  It had me at hello.

When I was growing up in the Philippines, apples were a luxury.  We could only have them on special occasions. Back then, I associated apple pies with Christmas.  I remember the smell of butter and cinnamon wafting throughout the house on Christmas eve when my mother baked them from scratch. I could never wait until after dinner to eat pie.

All of this changed when we moved to the U.S. many years later.  Apples were inexpensive and every store sold pie. My mother didn’t have to slave in the kitchen all day.  My father bought apple pie from the grocery store every week.

There was a downside to all of this.  The store-bought pies were always a disappointment.  It never tasted as buttery as my mother’s freshly baked pie. It contained too much sugar masking the tartness of the apples. It also had a gelatinous consistency I didn’t like.

Baking was always intimidating to me.  I love to cook but baking, to me, required more time and work. But, a few years ago at Christmastime, I craved freshly baked apple pie.  Intimidated or not, I had to have one and the only way I could was to make it myself.

I remember vividly that first pie crust.  I’m sure I missed a step or forgot an ingredient. The dough was fragile, breaking in bits and pieces when I rolled it out.  Although the filling was delicious, I couldn’t quite call it a pie without a fully formed crust.  Luckily, my next pie baking episode was much better.

Over this past holiday, I had every intention of baking one but, I never quite got around to it.  So, when I saw the pie that January afternoon at Kramerbooks, it was kismet.

Imagine

I had been living in New York City for over a year before I finally got to Strawberry Fields in Central Park.  I had always wanted to see it.  A few times while walking through the park, I thought of passing by but, because of something or another, it eluded me.  Finally, on a crisp October day when I was out finishing a roll of film, I finally made it to this popular spot.

Just inside Central Park on the West side a few blocks from where he died, this memorial to John Lennon was created by his widow, Yoko Ono.  At the heart of Strawberry Fields is this black and white mosaic bearing the word Imagine.  I like the simplicity and timelessness of this mosaic that pays homage to Lennon’s famous song.  Created by Italian craftsmen based on a Greco-Roman design, it was a gift from the city of Naples.