Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Usin' The Google

Maria Bartiromo: "I'm curious, have you ever googled anybody? Do you use Google?"

President Bush: "Occasionally. One of the things I've used on The Google is to pull up maps. It's very interesting to see -- I've forgot the name of the program -- but you get the satellite, and you can -- like, I kinda like to look at the ranch. It remind me of where I wanna be sometimes."

Interview with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo, Oct. 24, 2006 (Watch video clip)

Snap of Cold!!

Finally we're getting some REAL Minnesota weather! Funny I used to hate winter here but this year it's been so mild that I'm actually thrilled that there's a bit of snow and sharp, biting chill. The days are beautiful and sunny with vast pale blue skies and white snowy vistas, but every exposed part of your skin stings with sharp needles of cold. You're breath turns white in the air. It freezes onto your scarf. Your nose waters and turns red. Aaaaaahhhhhhh this is what's great about Minnesota!

I guess I can say all this because this year I have a great thick parka, a wooly hat with ear flaps that looks like a Russian, knit mittens lined with fleece and the essential long johns. With all this I walk the 40 minutes to and from my studio and I LOVE the walks. I don't actually feel cold and I find it so invigorating.

The St. Paul Winter Carnival is on too. On sunday Marco and I went to see the ice sculptures and the giant snow slide. It's been so warm they had to import ice from Minneapolis for the sculptures - there wasn't enough ice on St. Paul's lakes! That ludicrous! I swear I've never seen such a warm winter in my whole life.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Whoohoo! I have a client!

I just signed my first contract with a client. AND I got paid 50% of their window price! Whoohoo!

Wait, it gets better..... two days ago I also went and got my check from Gallery 360 where I did my Christmas exposition - more $$ than I expected!

Finally I'm making some money. I can pay my rent!!!! Aaaahhhhhhh........

Just hope I can keep it up...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cars on Parade

Here are some of the cars in our world today:

What do the extra feet do exactly?

I'm partial to this one because they remembered to include the stained glass.

Be sure not to miss the teeny tiny driver way up there in the air.

How does she reach that little burger that's on the tray in the front?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

My Clever Crafty Friends

Lately I've complained about Minnesotans, specifically their high-and-mighty lefty moral ways but that really only tells half the story. I really love Minnesotans sometimes too. I think people are absolutely fantastic here sometimes.

Last night was the belated Christmas present exchange party amongst my group of friends. This annual event goes like this: Everyone brings gifts and they're put in a big pile and nobody knows what's inside. Then we play a sort of game where everyone gets to open a gift or steal one from someone else and it's lots of fun. In past years, before I was living in MN again, they exchanged second-hand gifts from their homes. This year Emily proposed instead that everyone make something that costs under $10.

What was so fantastic was the creativity and quality of the handmade gifts. Everyone in this group is so crafty. They all love to create stuff with their hands and do it so well. (Despite generally having so-called "intellectual" professions - lots of teachers, lawyers, computer tech, playwrights, musicians). There was homemade Portuguese spirits made from Pineapple (similar to Italian limoncello) in a neat cork-topped glass decanter. Emily made little Japanese crocheted amigurumi dolls, including ones that resembled the people who couldn't make it to the gift exchange (amazing! so-cool...), there was a homemade handbag in a cool citrus green fabric (this is what I got to take home!), there was a beautiful black and white photograph of an event that my friends had all participated in, there was a big glass jar of plums marinated in rum, there was a picture frame made out of leftover cedar wood from a handmade cedar canoe that one girl had built earlier this year. I made a set of glass coasters, and each one featured a photo of a truly astounding hideous interior decor from the 1970s (the images were from a book called Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible '70s" - it cracks me up.)

I just love to see all this creativity and talent. I think we grew up in a culture where there are so many commercial, mass-produced items bearing down on us and we are the first generation, at least in the US, to return to the pleasure and meaningful substance of hand-made creation. I mean, my friends do this all the time, not just for Christmas. All year long they knit each other mittens, make each other mead or flavored rums, cook dinners and cakes and truffles for each other, just for fun. I think living in Minnesota is advantageous too, because people here actually still have a pretty decent amount of free time, compared to life in bigger cities that I've lived in where people work such long hours and barely have time to cook dinner in the evening before going to bed.

Below: an example of Japanese amigurumi dolls similar to what Emily crocheted (and a new idea perhaps? It could battle with her crocheted squid.)

And this 1970s room is similar to the ones that I featured in my coaster set. How's that for a conversation-starter over drinks?:

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Memories in Music

I'm waiting for dinner to cook (a coconut milk curry) and I'm messing around with a website I had forgotten about called Pandora. The website creators have taken millions of songs and catalogued them according to musical criteria (minor or major key, types of beats, musical texture etc.). So you can make a "radio station" that you like and they will play songs of the same musical type. It's pretty fascinating because their library is so large and they come up with lots of unknown good stuff.

Anyway I was listening to some suggested songs when Manu Chao came on. Some songs hit you like an icicle through your body and stop you because they evoke such a strong sense of memory. This song had this effect. I haven't listened to Manu Chao in years since my CDs have been packed away so long. But once, back in California, I used to listen to it. I think this particular album we copied from Marco's two cousins when they visited - a good time in my memories.

Anyway this song came on and it had such a strong wave of memory the second I heard it. It was the song that goes like this:

Que voy a hacer , Je ne sais pas
Que voy a hacer Je ne sais plus
Que voy a hacer Je suis perdu
Que horas son, mi corazon

Ohh I remember this song. I remember it now but I had forgotten it. It feels so much like the era of California, the dusty feel of Mexico nearby, Spanish-French-English, these languages all melting together. I vividly remember driving along the coast to take photos up north of San Diego. I was listening to this with the windows open, rocky coast, blue sea. It must have been september, not so long before we left for Singapore. I could feel the sun, taste the air. It was such a strong tangible feeling. It's a strong sensation of memory.

Rude French Gestures

Hee hee this is funny. I just found this link - the "Attitude Game". It's an official French government website for tourists visiting France -- it teaches tourists how to interpret nonverbal French gestures. My vote for the most typical French gesture is the one titled "BOF" (the man with the raised eyebrows and dubious look). Who thought to make this site?

PS my thanks to my favorite radio show for leading me to this - "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" ( I love those guys....

More about France

This trip to France that I just returned to was probably the busiest trip I've ever taken anywhere. Two weeks passed in a sleep-deprived and social blur. Marco and I pretty much spent it seeing everyone we know there. Dinners, lunches, studio visits, late-night clubs, coffee, happy hours and all of it again the next morning. But I can't comlain -- revelry and dining, they're the best activities in France.

One remarkable phenomenon is that there is a wave of fertility dashing and crashing across the seas of our acquaintences . My goodness! I'm pretty unfamiliar with everything related to pregnancy and babies, since I was the youngest in my whole entire extended family. So imagine how awed and befuddled I was when during this trip we were in the presence of no less than 6 couples we know who are having (or just had) babies. I am so naive in all these matters. How mind-boggling. The oldest of the babies who have been born, Remy, is already a year-and-a-half old and I admit he's quite charming. His parents, Philippe and Sophie seem to really enjoy him and take everything with good humor. (Thanks Philippe and Remy too, for the ride from the airport!). The youngest new baby, Augustin, was just three days old when we met him. He was so tiny. Pyves and Maria (his parents) didn't even know how to give him a bath yet. It really made me realize there is no instruction manual with children. I would have no idea what to do! But it was sweet to see big tall Pyves holding such a tiny little person. Anyway I wish all the new parents and soon-to-be parents good luck. There is also Lucie, born to Manu and Magalie (I first met Manu as a young surfer in California!). And two more babies coming from Marc and Thu-Huong and Philippe and Sophie again (#2 already). Two of my friends from my stained glass classes are also having babies! Holy cow! So many babies....

New Year's Eve was a blast, probably one of the best I've spent in several years (since the memorable incident of Marco in the Paris metro... ;-). Marco and I went down to Montpellier, a bright sunny palm tree-lined city on the Mediterranean coast with Marco's friend Binouze and Binouze's Mexican girlfriend Carla. We all spent New Year's together. First we had a big dinner of lobster and shellfish at an Indian restaurant, the only place where we could find that had tables available. It was a total feast. Then we popped a bottle of champagne at Place de la Comedie, the main city square, with hundreds of other people and counted down the seconds to the New Year. People were climbing the big public fountain and it was young and energetic and sort of crazy. Then on a whim we headed out to a nightclub, which turned out to be pretty much the best nightclub I've ever found. I was just lamenting to Britt a couple weeks ago that I always have wanted to find a great nightclub, but have almost always been disappointed. Well this was THE great nightclub. Every song was great. It was as if they were playing all the music I love, but loud with a good sounds system and DJ and lots of happy people around. The mood was great, there was just the right amount of people, everyone was up for the whole night and we danced until 5 or 6am until we couldn't dance anymore. Binouze and Carla were so funny and we all left with big grins on our faces.

The other really noteworthy thing on this trip was that I visited the studios of two friends who studied stained glass with me. They are absolutely fantastic! I was so impressed. My friends Marc and Antonio both have fully functioning studios. They have clients. Their shopfronts look great, with lighted stained glass displays in showcase windows. They have discovered all sorts of clever ways to deal with the zillions of little needs of the business, like how to display panels with lights, how to do glass fusing, how to build their worktable and so much more -- all of this similar to things I've been trying to figure out too. I was so impressed. It was good to see them too. I also saw a few other stained glass friends and several of them also have started studios. There seems to be a good deal of success going around. Two people (one, Heidi, is another American like me) also did a year-long trip of all the historical sites in the world of glass. They visited and worked in glass studios in India, Syria, Egypt, Italy, Lebanon and more and they plan to write a book out of the material they gathered. So cool! It was really nice to be able to come back and talk with all these guys. So inspiring to see the activity and creativity that they are creating.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Further thoughts on "politics"

It's 4:30am and I'm wide awake. Aahhh jetlag. I think it's pretty fun to be awake in the quiet of the night however. Very mysterious and engaging.

I I've been laying in bed for about two hours thinking about things. But I've just figured out something that has been puzzling me for many many weeks.

Back on November 30th I wrote a long and rather anguished entry in this blog about feeling out of synch with the politics of the people that I have known a long time from here in Minnesota. But it's not really straightforward politics that was troubling me. I was trying to articulate something else, and I just figured out what it is.

Something that has struck me since returning to Minnesota is the strength and vitality of people's moral convictions. When we talk about moral convictions we tend to imagine right-wing or Christian people, but most of my friends and family here are strongly left-wing and some are not religious at all. Even so, they and most other people here display a strong cultural tendency to define their world in terms of moral liberal positions. I think this tendency got stronger in the past several years in opposition to Bush and the tension that his administration has produced in American society.

This kinda stressed me out but I couldn't quiet define why. Even though I grew up here and was raised with the same "liberal values", I felt that since being back I've somehow become a black sheep who has gone over to "the dark side", so to speak. But I couldn't put my finger on why, what do I believe in that's different? Even though I may not call myself left-wing, I most certainly am not right-wing.

So laying awake here in the early morning with jetlag I figured it out. Here it is:

I just realized there's one common thing that most of my friends and family here do. They define their activities and their social groups according to moral beliefs. This creates a sort of set of lines that they draw in the sand. People all over the world do this, but I feel the tendency is particularly strong here. They will accept people, products and activities up to a certain moral boundary then go no further. For example, most of my friends will only listen to a minimum of "commercial" music because they oppose corporatization of music at some level. When you ask why they dislike a certain group they will most often mention the social beliefs it promotes or exposes, not about aesthetic criteria like voice, rhythm or such. Morality is at the core of many of their daily decisions - ones that superficially appear not to have a strong moral component.

This is where I feel out of alignment.

When I say they "draw a line in the sand" I mean that they put a limit on the experiences or the relationships they are willing to have. They reject certain elements of society and will explore no further. They want nothing to do with certain types of people, products and habits.

I find this terribly constricting, like a wool sweater that's too small. I don't criticize them for what they do. It's entirely understandable really, because in America the pressure to join the herd of mindless consumers who lives life in front of the TV is very strong and they are doing everything they can to retain intellect and independence. This is part of their effort to do this.

But still, it is constricting.

For me there is nothing more interesting or exciting than crossing social boundaries, specifically the ones that I oppose the most. I love to find out how the world looks from other peoples' eyes. This is what has always drawn me to anthropology, and specifically ethnography, where a person goes to live within another society to learn about how they construct and view their world. I want to experience the sensations, both tangible and intellectual, of people who hold very different beliefs.

I illustrate the difference like this:

My friends and I have one clear commonality. They, like myself, believe that Bush has made some grave mistakes by engaging in the Iraq war.

Part of the frustration for both them and I is not understanding how can so many people support Bush when his policies seem so flawed to us? Sometimes this question seems absolutely mind-boggling.

So their reaction is to loath these seemingly-illogical beliefs. In turn they reject Bush and reject his supporters, who are often grouped into three categories - Republicans, evangelical Christians and oil capitalists. My friends and family generally speak badly of these three groups of people, particularly in the context of Bush, and generally avoid interaction with these types of people and even go further as to reject activities and products that they associate with these people (like SUVs, Christian rock, Sunday night football for example).

My reaction is a little different. I'm not sure why but it's just the way that I am. I am as equally puzzled by these other groups of American society, seeing that I did not grow up amongst them. But this sense of puzzlement leads me directly to a strong sense of curiosity. Why do these people believe in what they believe in?

This leads me to just the opposite conclusion - I want to learn more about them. It makes me curious to visit the places they visit, try the activities that they do, eventually even meet and spend time with them. I want to try on their life like a pair of shoes, to see life through their eyes. They must have reasons for believing or behaving as they do. And the more I disagree with their positions the more I actually feel drawn to them. I draw no boundary. In fact I am compelled to create connections. They more people frusterate and confuse me, the more they intrigue me.

I feel this way not only about Bush and his supporters but for zillions of different types of people in different situations, not always political. For me this is the best sensation, viewing the world from foreign and unfamiliar viewpoints. It tests my own beliefs, makes me challenge myself and breaks me out of my preconceptions and habits. It makes me understand so much more of this world.

In the years gone by I have dined, talked, worked and conversed a lot of types of people. Some I enjoyed, some I detested. But either way I liked the interaction. There were subsistence farmers, cigarette-factory owners, graduates of the world's most elite universities, people who make their living by breaking rocks into gravel by hand, gigolos who sleep with tourists for money, members of large upstanding catholic families, people who worship ancestral spirits, muslims in headscarves, acquaintences of Dick Cheney, transvestite theater actors, daughters of French diplomats, published academics, taxi drivers from Ethiopia, stained glass makers, waiters and waitresses, French people who love Bush, people who sell poached birds in cages on the street, nuns who try to keep decaying monasteries alive, struggling restaurant owners who work 6 days a week, illegal loggers, a man who's father exterminated communists, people who lost all their family in a war, people who built their own home out of logs.

I guess the result of all this is that I now accept a lot of different ways and beliefs. I may not always agree, but I can live comfortably with their presence in this world. I draw few lines in the sand.

I don't want to put boundaries around my life. I want to roam through many beliefs, and collect wisdom where I find it. I indeed have my own personal morals but they are quite unusual since they come from so many sources. And I mostly apply them only to myself. Other people live with different circumstances from my own and I am happy to let them live in a way that suits their life.

The only problem with this is that I feel awkward here at home now. Minnesotans are pretty vocal about politics and beliefs so these topics arise often in conversation. And when someone rallies against evangelical Christians or preppy guys in business suits, for example, I just can't take their side. Even when I agree with certain underlying principles, I just don't want to create a boundary of us-vs-them. I don't want to take sides. I don't want to "get political" I don't want to villainize some imagined group of moral enemies. I don't want to adopt rigid viewpoints. In fact I do feel a sort of contrarian reaction where I actually might argue on behalf of the criticized group, even though I'm not actually "on their side", just because I don't like the way that the moral wall is clamped down on the them. This occurs when I'm feeling more cantankerous and less patient.

As a result I sometimes wonder if my friends sense this, and erroneously believe that I have "become republican" or something of that sort. After all, my boyfriend does come from a corporate career and I did grow up going to church a lot. This could easily slide to a belief that I am "not on their team".

I would be very sad if this happened. Because underneath it all I adore my friends and family and all their beliefs. They are creative funny people and have shown me an unrivaled warmth and hospitality since I've been back to the US. My time spent with them is great. I don't want to be at odds with them. But at the same time I can't pretend to share their moral boundaries. Some of my tastes in material things also fall way outside their accepted boundaries - including my thorough enjoyment of crappy commercial pop music, small-town meatmarket nightclubs, church camp. Just be assured that I also like local organic farms, public transport and NPR.

Whew, I hope this makes sense. It is still the wee hours of the night, but I feel wide awake like three in the afternoon. It's still only been a few hours since I got off the plane. Now I'll try to go get some more sleep. Goodnight....

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Back from France - Happy New Year!

An hour ago I just walked in the apartment from my return flight from France. I'm not tired yet but jetlag should kick in soon.

It was a good trip. Extremely busy. It gave me so much to think about. It was my first trip back after living there for two-and-a-half years. It was strange to fly so far to a place and find such an incredible sensation of familiarity, especially in Paris, even though I no longer have ANY desire to live again in Paris (although I would consider Montpellier). People and places felt like I had been there all along and never left. I realized that France has had quite on influence on who I am now. This only really became clear to me on this trip. Parts of my habits and thoughts have become so French (or perhaps European?), while others remain extremely Minnesotan. A mix of "Oh yah, that's pretty good" and "Oui Monsieur, je prefere le St. Marcellin" and each one completely genuine in it's turn. I thought a lot about this. So strange....

But I don't want to get too philosophical now.

Marco is still in France for one more week to spend more time with his family. I'm going to go back to work in my studio tomorrow. I have lots of ideas I want to test out now. I hope I can get my new kiln to work. I also have to get the cat from my mom's house - we are going to take care of her while my mom is in Florida. I hope she doesn't pee all over our apartment.