Sunday, May 28, 2006

May 28 - Earthquake on Java

I just found out that there was a massive earthquake on the island of Java, near Yogyakarta, an area I knew fairly well. Oh I really feel impacted by this. I'm not sure how to say it other than a part of me still feels very invested in this region and in the Javanese people, even though it's been five years since I've had any real interaction there. I did my undergraduate degree all about Indonesia and Southeast Asia, I've read there classic literature in their own language, lived there, ate with Javanese families, shared in their ceremonies. These people still remain with me and I often feel disturbed that I've not found a way to continue in my original path of some sort of humanitarian / environmental service there. I've thought about that many, many times over the past five years.

In a wave of emotion I wanted to call up some humanitarian aid organization and say "what can I do?" and rush over there to help. After all, how many people in the world already are able to speak Indonesian and have a rough knowledge of how to interact with people and get things done over there. Not too many, with the exception of Malays, Singaporeans and some Australians probably. But I'm no doctor or anything of that sort. I don't think I would actually be much of an asset in an emergency. But I do like building and aside from the death toll, the major tragedy on Java is that zillions of people lost their homes. This may not seem hugely traumatic, except that I remember how difficult it was for people to afford to build homes there. My host family had been building their home for fifteen years, just adding to it piece by piece when they could afford new walls or floors. And this wasn't fancy additions, I literally mean just walls and floors and simple furniture. And if large extended families all lost their homes, they will be extremely hurt financially, as help usually comes from extended families.

So now I'm wondering if I should volunteer my hands-on building skills. I did Habitat for Humanity for several summers as a teenager, and I enjoyed and was pretty good at basic building tasks. And I'm used to lots of hammer / nail / heavy lifting kind of work now from doing glassworking. I looked on the Habitat for Humanity website and found that they already had several building projects scheduled for 2006 / 2007 in the Yogyakarta area, exactly where the earthquake hit. So now I'm wondering if I should volunteer. I really want to. I hesitate because I'm starting a business right now though and Marco has no job yet and we are not at our most cash-rich point in life either. But I feel like I really want to do something.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

May 25 - Studio news and a far-away greeting

Yesterday I signed a check and filled out a rental application for a studio space. Yay!!! It's in the lowertown area of St. Paul, where there are loads and loads of artists and architects. I have big windows and a view on the Farmers' Market. Soon I can get working.

While I was filling out the check I noticed yesterday's date, the 24th of May. And I thought to myself "ca c'est l'anniversaire de Stephane, n'est-ce pas?" Et si je n'ai pas tort, c'est ses trente ans. Alors, joyeuse anniversaire Stephane, des Etats-Unis! Je metterais des bouteilles de biere dans un riseau froide dans la foret et j'en leve un dans ton honneur. Je te souhaite de bonheur.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

May 23 - Skull and Crossbones on Ozzie Wine

An interesting note:

Last night we had dinner with my neighbors. The husband is a runs a wine shop and is crazy passionate about everything having to do with wine. According to him, Australian wine is chock full of artificial chemicals and will generally be a recipe for headache and bad times. So now you're warned.

May 23 - Downtown Typing

I'm downtown at the St. Paul Public Library. Marco dropped me off downtown on the way to some job interviews in Minneapolis. I have an appointment to visit a studio space that is for rent later this afternoon. It's in the artists' quarter near the farmers market. It is in a building built around the 1920s, has cement floors and big windows and costs $430/month with all utilities included. I'm hoping it will be nice because I am really eager to get a space and get working regularly.

Marco and I, with Emily on sunday, made a big weekend of visiting Art-a-Whirl, which is an open house of all the art studios in Northeast Minneapolis. Pretty interesting from the standpoint of seeing how other people make use of their studio space. Pretty mediocre from the standpoint of artistic talent. I spent more time looking at various shelves and work tables that people used, or at their business cards and flyer design. There was only one other woman working in stained glass. And like most other stained glass workers I meet she just made cheesy angel suncatchers. She was kinda nuts and talked about every detail under the sun. We learned she was going through menopause, was a gemini, comes from Chicago, and thinks Marco is a hottie. It's wierd to be doing the kind of glass work I plan to do because there is really NOBODY doing the same thing. I am the only person I can find almost anywhere that is setting out to create stained glass with modern decorative design. That could either be good or bad for me. Time will tell....

Sunday, May 21, 2006

May 21 - The McMansions of Woodbury

Heh heh, just one funny thing.....

There's this phenomena going on in the US right now (those of you who live here know what I mean). New houses built in new suburban housing developments are massive, absolutely gargantuan. They have four car garages, who knows how many bedrooms, walk-in closets, deluxe laundry rooms.....they are absolutely enormous.

These kinds of places are being built all over Woodbury, the suburb near here that I detest (and that I wrote about in this blog about a week ago), as well as in other places, eating up the countryside. Normally when I drive by I get angry and irate stewing about how much of that space actually gets used and how much energy is required to heat that *^&##!&! kind of house etc etc.

But I just saw an article today that gave me a ray of sunlight -- a new terminology for these homes that I quite like and will employ from now on. Pick the term you like: you can now call them "McMansions", "Garage Mahals" or "Hummer Homes", depending on your mood. Any of them work so well!

Well, gotta run, I should be off to brunch with Lauren and Emily instead of typing. Ta ta!

Friday, May 19, 2006

May 19 - An Artistic Crash and Burn

Yesterday was such a humbling defeat. Ohhhhhhh crash and burn.....

As I said in the past few days I started working on my first real stained glass panel (as opposed to glass mosaic) since being back in the US. It went real well at first -- nice modern design, good glass cutting, good first stage of soldering.

But then I got to a point where I wanted to do a very simple clear border with lead, something I'd done on another project back in France with no difficulty whatsoever. But as I wrote about two days ago I couldn't buy the lead that I usually use. So I bought the type of lead available and tried to make do.

Well, to make a long story short I bungled it big time. This lead I bought had none of the properties that it was supposed to -- flexible, malleable, easy-to-cut. Hell, we don't work with a highly toxic substance just for fun. We use lead because no other metal has the same physical properties as lead. End of story. This was everything lead should NOT be -- rigid, hard to cut, unforgiving. I couldn't use it. It messed up my plans. So I had to use soldering technique #2, which is something called the Tiffany foil technique. And in doing this I made a real mess because it should have been planned for from the start, which I did not do and it turned into a pile of solder slop.

So now my panel looks pretty from a distance but is a true horror of bad soldering close up. It's like a gorgeous blond who turns and flashes a rotten toothy smile. I shudder. Monsieur Andrieux, my instructor, would have had a fit if he saw this monstrosity.

Anyway here's a picture of it from a distance. Like I said, don't be fooled, she's a real beast close up. The problem is the ring connecting the blue/green glass and the clear glass. And it's a hasty photo with mediocre lighting.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

May 17 - Heavy as Lead, Light as a Kite

After a good walk in the sun (our summer weather is back) I went out to run errands. First I went to the biggest stained glass supply store in town. I wanted to get a certain type of solder and a certain type of lead for the window I'm making. What I found out is that having been educated in stained glass in Europe, I'm in an strange and unfamiliar land here. I'm like a classically-trained Japanese sushi chef who wants to buy ahi tuna and short-grained sticky rice, but the stores only carry are walleye and brown wild rice.

Of course the details will mean nothing to most people. Suffice to say that neither of the products I wanted were there, so I asked the desk clerk how I could get them and she didn't know so she got their manager. He started to lecture me about how "Europeans do "architectural" glass and Americans don't", whatever that means. And "nobody carries THOSE (meaning my) products" because nobody does it that way. Blah blah blah-dee-dah. He had a really condescending air like "those Europeans are all monkeys trying to solder with a chewed branch". So I got their crappy lead and dropped hope for the solder and now I regret it. Which continent has 1000-year-old windows still standing, eh buddy?

After that I made another stained-glass-related stop in Minneapolis and this cheered me considerably. Last week I dropped a resume at the most "classical" stained glass studio in the Cities, which also seems to be the biggest and highest reputed in the twin cities. They do really European-style cathedral windows and such. For my own window designs this isn't really my style, but it could be fun to do really high-technique classical stuff for a while.

So I get there and the foreman, Larry comes out to talk to me. Turns out that he wants me to work for them as a glass painter - the only catch is that there is no position open at the moment. He takes me into the painting room and introduces me to their two painters who are working at their light tables on a series of apostles heads. Turns out they are the only two glass painters he knows of in the whole Twin Cities. He's visibly excited that he's discovered another one - me - and basically promises me that he will hire me as soon as he can open a position. In a total reversal of the earlier store scenario, very few people in the US can paint glass or even know what classical glass painting is. He is dying for someone with the sort of European-trained skills that I have. So, my unusual training work both ways it turns out. At least it's a pretty good score: a 1-for-1 record on my resume deliveries.

After that I drove home in a good mood. It would be nice to have a regular 9-5 job with other people after all these years of trying to scrape stuff together on my own.

Near home I drove along the road by the St. Croix Beach. When I neared the beach a kite-surf kite rose up right over me into the blue sky, such a surprise. I got out and watched the man skimming over the very windy choppy surface of the river with an enormous plume of white spray behind him in the sun. I watched for awhile as he did huge jumps and spins. He was good, quite good, and went fast. But it did remind me of San Diego, and made me think of the days there. Made me think of Beaute Vulgaire and La Ruda loud on the car radio. Made me think of my bare feet on the sandy front step of our house, made me think of surfboards and sequoias, cold beers and quesadillas, bad braunschweiger sandwiches, oatmeal and many things.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

May 14 - Volcano on the brink of eruption

The most interesting thing in the news these days, to me at least, is that Gunung Merapi, "the Mountain of Fire" in central Java is close to erupting.

Indonesia has the most fascinating volcanos in the world. They really look like mysterious tropical island volcanoes, emerald cones rising above vast areas of palm trees. I could see a different volcano, Gunung Semeru, out the back window of my host family's house when I lived there, but only on clear days, when it would rise out of the mist. Java's volcanoes are the world's most violent volcanoes. When they blow, it can change the atmosphere of the whole earth. I hope that people are safe, of course. It sounds as if most have successfully evacuated. But I still find the event very exciting and interesting.

May 14 - Tools!

Brrr....still rainy and cold. What's up with this May weather? Where's the sun and bumblebees?

Yesterday I bought tools! I've been waiting to get a studio space to start working on glass. But I have been getting so eager and antsy that I couldn't wait any longer. So I got most of the rest of the tools I didn't have yet -- tools to make lead and foil windows. I even got a soldering iron! Probably I did this because it's so wet and cold out that I'm not very motivated to go fishing or hiking like Marco and I did last weekend. Anyway, now I have already started on a REAL project. I'm already really far into it. I'll put pictures up when it's done, which should be tomorrow or the next day if all goes well.

Speaking of cold rain, I got a flat tire in the cold rain last friday. Had to walk home in it (ok, it was just a few blocks). The tire was totally flat, a real pancake. Can't imagine what caused it. Marco changed it for me yesterday morning while I went to the glass and tool shop.

Friday, May 12, 2006

May 12 - Garage Sales's freezing out here!!! Where did summer go?

Marco and I got up early this morning to hit the city-wide garage sale day in Woodbury. Woodbury is a city I hate with a unique and potent intensity (it's a vast sprawl of huge plastic houses and arrogant SUVs with no character that has consumed the once-beautiful countryside like a cancer). But I'll buy (I like to say recycle) their junk if it's really cheap.

So Marco and I went from house to house at 8am, finding deals. I'm proud to say that we were focused shoppers, only buying things we had already decided we needed. And the things we did buy were really cheap, like a good hammer for 50 cents, a power drill for $5, a kitchen scale for $1 and a fishing net for $1. I have gotten into the idea of recycling and re-using as many of the goods floating around in society as possible, so this was a cool trip. It was also my way of saying a big fuck you to Woodbury, a suburb that would seemingly to prefer to consume and squander every resource on this planet. Motherfuckers.....

Thursday, May 11, 2006

May 11 -- Callback

Sweet! I've only dropped off one resume, and I just got a call back from the studio I left it at. The foreman, who hires people to work on glass, was super excited about my portfolio! They don't even have a position open, but he wants me to come in and fill a formal application so that when they do open a position he said I'm the first person he's going to call. Not bad.....

May 11 -- The Big Spawn

When it rains it pours they say...... or in this case, you start fishing and suddenly everything around you seems to relate to fish.

Specifically the big fish-related news today is that the springtime fish spawn that I remember from my childhood is happening today. There's a pond next to our house, connected through a series of other ponds to the stream (THE stream, the one I talked about fishing in two days ago) which in turn connects to the huge St. Croix river next to us. A native species of fish called the Bigmouth Buffalo swims up these waters and comes to spawn in our pond. They flop and jump at the very edge of the water, with their backs coming out of the water. You can see their fins, their heads and bodies really well. They make noise. They deposit eggs. It's pretty interesting to see. It usually only lasts one day.

I don't believe I have officially announced it yet in my blog, but I should let everyone know...... Marco and I have decided to stay in Minnesota for a year or two. I get to spend time with Marco and my friends and my family, and spend time in our lovely northern praries, forests and lakes. Marco seems to like it so far actually (big relief!) and we have found some pretty cool places both in the city and outdoors. My only regret is that I don't get to go hang out with my friend Shelley in California, at least not soon. But I still plan to come visit!

So Marco's looking for work here, and I'm looking for work AND a studio space. I want to work for another glass studio for a year to gain some insight into how to run a studio. But in the meantime I plan to start constructing some glass works and selling them around town. I'm really impatient to get that started now. I have my first designs in mind, and a few boutiques I plan to approach to try to sell them at. Just need to get my tools (oh my tools! I love my tools!) and start building!

So to sum up today: fish eggs, spawn, job hunting, glass designs

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

May 10 - More on Killing a Fish

Last night I woke up and lay awake thinking about how to kill a fish. I was a little worked up still about bashing it on the head with a rock. I'm not queasy about killing a fish -- in fact I quite enjoyed catching and cleaning and eating our fish. Fishing, killing food is natural. I have no regrets. But our method was kind of brutal and I wanted to figure out a better way. Marco looked on the internet today and it seems perhaps the best way is a swift blow right above the eye with a hammer or a metal rod.

I forgot to mention too, that while fishing last night we also saw a small muskrat and a gigantic beaver swim right by us. I mean this beaver was an oil tanker! It was huge!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

May 9 -- We caught a fish!

I can't believe it we just caught a fish!!

Britt will appreciate this a lot (Britt, are you reading?!?!). We caught it at my stream, THE stream, our stream..... the pretty little stream right up the bikepath from my house. I played there for years but never saw anyone fishing there. We caught a fish right off the bikepath bridge!

Marco and I bought fishing poles on Sunday. And Sunday afternoon we had a ridiculous fiasco catching weeds and trees and rocks in the St. Croix river.

But this afternoon we thought we would try again. So we walked towards Afton, and on the way we crossed the stream. When we looked in the water there were fish, big ones! So we got out our worms, cut them up (boy, those nightcrawlers have muscles!) and threw in our poles. Right away I got some fish nibbling on the worm.

Then, ten minutes later, Marco's pole bent WAY down, I heard splashing....BIG splashing....way under the bridge. Marco looked at me like "what do I do" and started reeling it up, and I was running around thinking "What do we do now? We have to cut it's head off so it doesn't die an agonizing death of suffocation."

A huge fish appeared on the end of the line (huge for us at least). So I grabbed the end of the line with the fish, put it on the ground, put my foot on it to stop it from flopping around, and tried to cut it's head off. But our big cooking knife didn't even dent it with both of us pushing on the knife. I thought "whoa, what do I do!?!". I just knew it's cruel to let fish suffocate (it said this in the Minnesota "fishing ethics" guide after all.) So I ran over and got a big rock. It took both of us to hit it on the head until it stopped flopping around. It's head was so solid. It was brutal and I felt wierd and so did Marco and we suddenly were there with our fish in the middle of the bikepath.

But a minute passed and I realized I was amazed and proud too. I had killed my first fish. I felt like suddenly I was participating in something so old and natural and human.....catching your own meat instead of buying it in a sterile plastic package. This sounds silly, perhaps, but I said thanks to the fish and to the stream, who is like an old friend to me in a way. And I felt grateful and excited. We had our own meat. Gathered from our stream.

So we came home. It started to pour rain just after that, but by the time we were nearly home the one big gray cloud was passing and evening rays of sun were coming out just behind. My neighbors were outside so I showed them our fish and they lent us a kit to clean and filet the fish. The trees were wet and bright emerald green in the sun. We scraped the scales off the fish and cleaned it in the driveway next to the forest in a radiant golden sunset light.

Now we are in the kitchen and the fish......which by the way is a smallmouth bass - not a typical beginners' fish! And it is cooking in the oven in white wine with leeks and fennel. Mmmmmmm.This is going to be such a magnificent meal! What an exciting evening!

Monday, May 01, 2006

May 1 - No time to write....

Computer time has been in short supply around here in the past three weeks, and that explains my lack of entries.

The crappy thing is that I've actually had loads of stuff I've wanted to write. Suddenly lots of stuff is going on. To give a 30-second summary, Marco arrived, we cooked Easter dinner for 14 people, we saw Salman Rushdie speak, it was my birthday, Marco has begun to integrate into my friends, we've both started job hunting, we've seen deer and beavers and herons in the lovely pond which is now ringed by spring-green trees, we saw a funny one-man play, we visited artists studios, we've started big "foodie" plans which are cool and exciting.

There's more I want to write about all these things. But aint got the time. Gotta go.....